In January 2017, I came off medication that I’d been relying on to keep my body and my hormone disorder in check. For months, my doctor and I watched numbers go up, then down, and every three months, every single time I walked into that office, I felt as though I was going to simultaneously throw up while sprinting around the building because anxiety makes me fidget and have what I have often described as bouts of frenetic energy. You know, the kind where you suddenly have to put it somewhere so you find yourself scrubbing your kitchen floor on your hands and knees at 3 in the morning.
Unfortunately, I was currently sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, and while I am sure they’d love to have their floors polished by a mildly unhinged middle aged woman, I managed to limit myself to my chair, a shaking foot, and mindless consumption of the DIY TV that played in the corner.
After my visit in October, we were both feeling pretty solid in where I was. I wasn’t looking forward to the overindulgence and rapid pace of the holidays, but I felt I had a firm grip on what was working and how to maintain.
February 15, 2018. Check in. Chat with staff. Choose a seat away from other people. Consider the best method of cleaning each individual tile.
Fifteen minutes into the appointment, and we were practically doing our touchdown celebration dance in the exam room. There was endless praise (from her), a little choked up (me), and an overinflated sense that I had this all under control. As far as I was concerned, 42 could kiss my ass.
So when she paused to say she had to talk to me about something serious, I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready for the words she was trying to form or the way she was looking at me from her seat across the room. Yet, she didn’t seem to notice; she just kept right on talking in that serious tone, and all I could think about was how the wheels on her stool were leaving marks across the floor. How they just needed a little soap and water to fix them right up.
Kidneys, unexplained low functionality, dialysis. Nephrologist.
And just like that, I snapped back to a reality I’d never considered. One where I’d sit across from the same doctors that my mother had for so many years. One where all my efforts failed. One where I could not get by looking younger than I am.
We talked about my mother’s renal history, and we had to talk about how I simply didn’t know certain things about my family’s medical history. A maternal grandfather I never knew and no one ever talked about. A father who died too young of unrelated causes. A mother I couldn’t just call and ask anymore.
Over the next few weeks, it was in between the moments I waited that I considered my age, my choices, my life. Most of all, I considered my body and all the abuse I’d heaped onto it over the years.
The idea that my body suddenly had limitations, ones I had not actively chosen, was terrifying. The suggestion that I no longer had control over my self at its most visceral shut me down. I mean, sure there’d been more than one night in my 20s when I was admittedly a bit questionable, and there were a couple of stomach bugs that had taken me down, times when I didn’t have control over any bodily functions. But those didn’t count. They’d been self imposed, temporary. This was real and beyond my control, and it didn’t matter what I was doing because none of that mattered anymore.
I couldn’t talk about it. The few people that knew typically had the misfortune of calling in a moment of panic, so I confessed to my distractions. I lied to myself, told myself I didn’t need to tell my family or close friends until there was something to tell.
I considered who would (hell, who could) give me a kidney if I needed it. The list of eligible donors shrunk with each day I waited.
I lost count of the number of times I broke down over the next few weeks as I waited for more tests, for doctor’s calls, for results, ultrasounds, next steps. I tried to game the limitations that my doctor put on my work outs. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I cried gut wrenching sobs during cardio sessions. I pushed myself until my fingers sweat. Every time my phone rang—or worse, didn’t—the world seemed to stop spinning, waiting to hear what was next. I spent my time either trying to forget what was happening or thinking of nothing but. I hadn’t planned for this. I hadn’t considered genetics when troubleshooting lifestyle choices.
I convinced myself that clearly there wasn’t anything wrong as the tests had been forwarded to a kidney doctor and his office hadn’t called to schedule an appointment so obviously all was kosher. It was just a false alarm. A misreading of my blood work. It could happen to anyone, really.
I was sitting in Panera, sipping on green tea, when that call came. I had a panic attack in the spice aisle at Publix. Self check out. No thanks, no Girl Scout cookies today, but here, have the cash I have in my wallet. Breathe in. Out. See 5 things. Touch 4. Wait. What is it again? Why don’t I pay better attention to those anxiety PSAs I keep seeing online?
A few days later, and I got the all clear. All the tests came back solid. No explanation for the anomaly. It was now safe to return to life before it was rudely interrupted by the terror and fear that my body was giving me the big, fat middle finger.
As someone who’s never even had stitches, this forced me to confront how lucky I’d been. Sure, there’d been a few scares, but this was different. I had to admit that I’m now at the point where improbables move to possibles. And while all of this was happening to my physical self, it forced me to be really honest about what the rest of me needs sometimes, too. The sturdy backs of those I lean on when I am most afraid. Professionals I trust with my life. Outlets that allow me to funnel some of the fear and nervousness into something that resembles productive. Floors that need cleaning and ceilings that need starting at and fingers that sweat.
During this entire process, I became very aware of (and very thankful for) the body I have, the one that has let me push it to its limits and the same one that has been more than forgiving of my many sins. In the aftermath, I’m struggling to find the balance between enough and too much, and I have people who love me making sure I don’t go too far in my new commitment to myself. Another thing for which I am endlessly thankful.
So on Sunday, I compromised with the need to push with the logical need to rest, and we went for a walk. Nearing the end, Dave remarked how a year ago, we’d been on a similar walk and I complained about this big, steep hill we were on. I admitted I didn’t remember that, but it sounds about right. I’m not known for being a fan of outside or exertion or both of them in any combination.
I stopped to think for a minute, and I explained to him that it looks worse than it is. You see, that stupid hill hasn’t changed. It is still big and steep and outside. But I’ve changed since then, and I still don’t like outside much more than I did before; however, I am far more appreciative of my ability to spend time there. So, in a split-second decision, I did the most uncharacteristic thing I have probably ever done: I sprinted to the top. For no other reason than I could.