Thursday, December 17, 2009

Digestive Motility And The Holidays

For people who are healthy, the holidays can be a very stressful time. But, for those with digestive motility diseases and disorders, this time of year can be even more challenging.

The heightened focus on food during the holidays can punctuate the fact that the person with digestive motility cannot eat or cannot eat "normally." The aroma of baked goods and special holiday recipes can become increasingly more pronounced, whether it is at home, while visiting, or driving past restaurants. Having to cook for the celebrations when the person feels ill can evoke a multitude of emotions. The temptation to eat foods that the person knows is going to cause an exacerbation of symptoms can become overpowering. The roller coaster of emotions can truly become heightened.

For some, the holidays can be a reminder of the past, when he/she was healthy and was able to eat. Watching others eat and enjoy food while the patient is unable to can give rise to anger, overwhelming sadness and even depression.

The emphasis of the social impact can often times be painfully felt. Some may feel extra pressure to fit in and attend social gatherings. Some may punish themselves by eating just so that they will "fit in." Others may fear eating in public and feel embarrassed or self-conscience that they cannot eat. They may have anxiety that their symptoms will become apparent in the public/social situation.

Feelings of guilt may be felt because the patient is unable to meet his/her expectations or the expectations of others. Often times, the patient does not want to disappoint his/her family and so may even over extend him/herself in order to accommodate.

Because of the unpredictable nature of digestive motility diseases and disorders, the commitment to accept a social invitation can be unsettling. Sometimes that patient accepts with good intentions only to have to cancel because of the intensity of the symptoms. The questions arise as to how much they can mask in public so that they will not make a scene, become embarrassed, leave early, spend time in the bathroom, not be able to eat what is being served, or have an emergency situation?

The fact that many people do not understand the patient's illness can also be more apparent. Comments such as, "You look so good" or "Why can't you eat? You don't look ill!" can make the patient even more discouraged. The expectations that others SHOULD understand can be quickly shattered as the patient feels even more isolated and alone.

The added tasks that need to be done during the holidays can seem overwhelming to the already greatly fatigued patient. All of this can send the patient into a downward spiral, both physically and mentally, as attempts to accomplish what needs to be done may be futile. It may be another reminder that the illness is progressing. It may be another reminder of what the illness has taken away. It may lead to even more physical and emotional exhaustion.

After living with digestive motility disease for nearly 31 years, I have personally journeyed through some of the obstacles associated with coping with the chronic illness. The lack of understanding, the painful look of helplessness in my family's eyes, the not looking ill in spite of all the suffering, well intentioned people prompting me to eat, the feelings of guilt of not meeting my own expectations, missing out on many important family functions and events, not being able to work, and the long list of issues that so many others must face.

But after all these many years, I must say that through the support of my husband and family, the strong faith that I have as my foundation, the people within my extended family of AGMD, and time itself, have enabled me to weather each storm, become even stronger in will and determination, adjust to the ever present and ever changing symptoms, and camouflaging how I am feeling and what I am truly going through in public. I no longer feel hunger, I no longer have the temptation to indulge in eating something that I know will most likely precipitate an exacerbation of symptoms because the pain is far greater than that one morsel of food. I have learned to deal with the "You look so good" comments, the gifts of food from people who just don't understand, and many of the other things that accompany living with digestive motility. There are still times when my mind will battle with my body as I attempt to push myself to accomplish things, attend events, and take on more tasks only to be disappointed in myself because of the realization that will power can only get you so far. But the inspiration that I get from so many others walking the same road makes things just a little bit easier.

During the holidays, I still participate by sitting at the table and sipping tea. And even though my visit with family is abbreviated, at least I am able to still share some precious moments with those who I hold dear. This has become our "normal" life. And I am grateful to be alive and still be a part of each celebration. And during these times, I reflect on all of you and I sit in grateful humbleness of how enriched my life truly is.

If you are having trouble coping with the holidays because of digestive motility, there are some things that you can do. Some suggestions include the following: contact AGMD, call an understanding friend, talk to a psychologist or psychiatrist, tell your physician, talk to your minister, and/or write your thoughts in a journal.

Throughout these holidays, I want to remind you that you are not alone. AGMD is here for you. And know that I am with you in heart, thought, and prayer not only throughout this holiday season, but always.

May your new year be filled with hope and an abundance of blessings.