On Being “Better”

The scary scope went well. The stents have been removed and the doctors said that the bile is flowing as it should be. (Side note: I’m tired of the word ‘bile’.) So basically it went as well as it could have, which is awesome.

I thought this would be the end of this post, that a successful final procedure would mean I would be healed, able to move forward, and get back to my normal life. I was kind of a chump for thinking it would be that easy.

The last six months have been the hardest I can remember. There was pain, uncertainty, and things that have been chronicled on this blog that I really just don’t have the energy to rehash. They weren’t the best months.

And now people, who have heard that the scary scope went well, all say the same thing when they see me.

“I’m so glad you’re better.”

And I smile and thank them and change the subject as quickly as possible. Because I am not better. There are no drains anymore, yes. The stents are out, of course. I’m tan from spending time reading outside, I’m taking walks again, I’m even eating, softening up the parts of my body that had begun to look slightly emaciated. But I’m not better. All of the drains and pain and breathing tubes and scary stuff just moved inward, where it all sits, like a hospital supply closet in which I’m trapped.

The other day, I was helping a friend shop for a dress to wear in her friend’s wedding. We were walking through a department store, looking for every champagne-colored dress we could find, when someone next to me put on hand sanitizer. The smell of the alcohol burned and I was immediately back in the hospital room, with a tube in my nose. A few days later, a friend was wearing a dress she’d loaned me when I had drains, because it was long and hid the bile bag. The visual reminder of drains became quickly physical as I started to shake and could feel the scars that pepper my abdomen start to ache.

And inside, things aren’t normal. I get weird spasms all the time, like I can feel my bile duct. I still hurt after I eat, just not in the same way. We were told it would take time for things to calm down, so I am just waiting it out as best I can. I don’t want to be the person who calls the doctor’s office every day, panicking about this ache or that flutter. I just want to be who I was Before. But instead, I’m stuck in the After.

Here’s what After looks like. I feel separated from my friends and family because for months, I was the center of everyone’s world and, though I hated every second of it, I got used to it. And now it’s time to resume Life as Normal and I feel lost by myself.

I’m more negative than I’ve ever been in my life. I get irrationally frustrated and angry with people. I assume everything is an attack on me. I assume people are angry that I’m not acting better yet, that I’m not normal again, even though the wonderful people in my life have assured me that this will take time and that nobody is snapping their fingers, waiting for me to magically return to my Before.

Every twinge makes me panic. I’m afraid, all the time. I’m ridiculously easily overwhelmed.

And I’m afraid to eat. And not because of pain, though I wish that were the reason. I’m afraid of what eating will do to my body, that I’ll gain a ton of weight because I didn’t eat for three months and lost weight and now my metabolism is wrecked and I’m not exercising at the same level and so now there are good foods and bad foods and the urge to restrict, an urge that had long lain dormant before all of this happened.

And I can’t stop thinking about dying. When I’m in an elevator, I imagine it crashing to the ground and think of how the last people I’d see are the woman holding flowers, the teenage couple with the matching TOMs, and the old man with the cane. Yesterday I was nearly t-boned in an intersection and I had to pull over after to calm down because I hadn’t realized I was crying and shaking and hyperventilating.

These are the things I want to shout at people when they congratulate me on being better. But I already make everything awkward enough without being Shouty Whining Girl. So I keep this stuff to myself and avoid seeing people as much as possible, essentially maintaining my hermit, shut-in status. Could someone please send me a used and tattered wedding dress, so I can complete my transformation into a modern Miss Havisham?

The drain bags are gone, but there’s still bile swirling around in my body, seeping into places it shouldn’t, making me crazy and sad and stuck. This is why I’m still seeing the drama doc, to help me figure out how to deal, how to fight, and how to actually get better. Because that’s all I want, y’all.

I just don’t know how to do it yet.

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