On being "That Kid"

If you catch me on a good day, I'll tell you the whole story and the punch line, which is that my memoirs will be called "Puking in cars with boys: A lifetime of chronic illness".

I was always "that kid".

We moved around a lot when I was growing up and spent countless hours on road trips; visiting extended family; seeing the sights. Which in retrospect, was amazing considering my parents drove us across the country and showed us this beautiful nation of ours. But those memories are all blemished by the harsh reminder that I threw up on every. single. one. of those drives.

I was always "that kid".

Chronic motion sickness meant that my older brother spent way too many of those road trips covered in my vomit or worse yet, anxiously anticipating the second it was coming.

My brother has the patience of Job.

I was born with a wonky heart, eczema covered skin and hiccups. My heart needed some monitoring but my folks were told that it self-regulated itself and is now just a run-of-the-mill murmur. 

I probably threw up right after this photo was taken. 

I had chronic headaches beginning in middle school and got a major cold per season. I was nauseous all the time. All the time. 

I wasn't able to stay up late; not because I had strict parents but because I would wake up the next morning, dry heaving. 

I was always "that kid".

I had my first major medical care when I was 17. I distinctly remember being on the couch, eating Fuzzy Peaches and hearing my mom cry out that supper was ready. I jumped off the couch and immediately felt sick. I thought I had simply gotten up too fast, but quickly realized something was up. My memory is sorta foggy but I remember hanging over the toilet and desperately wanting to just throw up so I could feel better. I remember feeling incredibly hot and clumsily trying to undress because I was sweating profusely.

What my parents later told me is that I had passed out and had some sort of seizure that resulted in me kicking the door, which is how they realized things weren't okay. My parents found me passed out, as white as a sheet with one dilated pupil and an around hot mess.

I was rushed to emergency where they triaged me in right away and I thought "This is it. I must be dying."

We suspect now, a dozen years later, that it was probably my first major migraine but we never got a definite answer.

I had every neurological test under the sun; every cardiac test imaginable; plenty of people poking and prodding me.  Every test was inconclusive. 

I was "that kid".

I spent all of high school so perpetually nauseous that people's "Maybe you're pregnant!" comments didn't even phase me anymore. 

If I had bought stocks in Gravol, I'd a been a millionaire. 

In high school, I had a penchant for playing dress-up in Dollar Stores and... vomiting. That was kinda my jam. 

When I was 19, I started getting the most excruciating muscle cramps. They were like the worst Charley Horse you could imagine affecting my hands, legs and on bad days, my face. 

They became so frequent that I would just put my hand in my brother's face and he would massage the pain away, while we kept talking as though nothing was happening. 

My brother wasn't just my older brother; he was my roommate and my impromptu physiotherapist.

"That kid" became "That womyn" who went to a new set of neurologists who put electrodes on my body and shocked me; who put me through countless MRIs that made my claustrophobia so pronounced that I sobbed while laying perfectly still.

Do you know how hard it is to sob while laying perfectly still? It's a goddamn talent.

I went on to keep Gravol in business, with cramped up muscles and debilitating headaches. 

I had another "seizure". More emergency visits. Once I even had to call an ambulance on myself. Exciting stuff! 

They found growths on my thryoid and for 5 years, I underwent dozens of ultrasounds, biopsies and ultrasound guided biopsies. In fact, I apparently underwent far more of them that is recommended by the Canadian Medical Association. Who knew! 

In 2012, I had a partial thyroidectomy. I'm the third person in my family to rock a scar that makes us resemble a human Pez Dispenser. 

Who needs matching butterfly tattoos when you can rock matching scars? 

Being "That Kid" shortly after surgery.

I'm smiling because I was finally off pain medication, which made me, you guessed it!, super nauseous.

I can't begin to tell you what it feels like to throw up after you've just had something surgically removed from your throat. It's a special kind of hell. 

 

I am allergic to animal protein, have severe migraines with neurological side effects, abnormal peristalsis, inexplicable muscle cramps, astigmatism and the list goes on and on.

There are "things" wrong with me that nobody can figure out. 

And because Dr House doesn't actually exist, I probably never will.

I don't talk publicly about my health all that much. I'm not ashamed of my body's tendency to feel like a Special Snowflake. I just don't want to be "That kid".

As my dear friend Margot once told me, we should decide what makes us interesting and I don't want my chronic illnesses to be it.

But I was compelled to write this post and speak more publicly about it after the tragic news of Robin Williams' death. 

Like so many others, my heart broke hearing that Williams was no longer with us and that his death was from his own hands. 

What pushed me to write so openly about my physical health problems was the reaction to the news that Williams was suffering from Parkinson's Disease; something that neither he nor his family had publicly discussed prior to his death. 

When folks heard that Robin Williams took his own life, people were incredibly shocked. They were devastated that he was gone, but also, in many cases, pouring out the usual crap about mental health and suicide. 

That his death was preventable; that he was being selfish; that he should have asked for help.

But all of a sudden, with the news of his physical illness, there was almost an audible "Oooooooh, now I get it!" 

I can't sit idly when I hear folks react that way.

"But", I hear them say "Robin made his living from his voice. Imagine if he couldn't talk?!" 

I talk for a living. That's how I make a living. 

I had surgery that had a very real possibility of permanently damaging my vocal chords. Don't lecture me about how devastating that would be because mama gets it. 

Why is it that people with physical (and VISIBLY physical) ailments are allowed to express desires to take their own lives because "Wow. Living like that must be awful."

But if what makes you suffer is a mental health crisis or an invisible illness then all of a sudden, you're a selfish dirtbag who "didn't think it through."

So, know that when you say "Well, he could have lost his ability to speak and that's his livelihood and who wants to live like that", you're telling a man who suffered mental health problems for years that his shit wasn't legit until it was physically affecting him.

And you're telling folks like me that how they feel isn't legit because you can't see it. 

There's no real, strong tag for folks like me. 

For "that kid". 

For the people who suffer quietly; invisibly; who don't have a fancy label. 

I wish my health fell under one big title, so I could say "I have X" and look at me! You can see what's going on by looking at me! It's real! 

But I don't.  

And I've accepted that I probably never will.

I will probably forever be "that kid" that bails on plans because I'm inexplicably ill even though I don't look it.

I will probably forever be "that kid" that has to show up to your party with a list of foods I can't eat.

I will always be "that kid". 

I'm okay with it, so you should be, too.