I had enough. It started my third week of being here, that stomach thing: sick by day with diarrhea, awake by night throwing up. Some days were better than others, but after three weeks, my condition worsened. I went back to the states for a week and couldn’t be out of sight from a toilet for more than 3 hours. I couldn’t keep any food in my belly, and over the counter medicine wasn’t working.
Part of me felt miserable, as I was constantly hungry and thirsty, because my body craved energy in any form. But any time I ate or drank, it rushed through my system and I was sick in 30 minutes.
The other part of me thought that it was just something I had to deal with. It was my burden to bear, to suffer for The Kingdom. This is the name of the game when living on someone else’s turf, eating from someone else’s kitchen, in a foreign country working with ministry. If I am sick, my body will eventually right itself and I will get better.
So I dealt with it. I worked in my cabin so I could be comfortable in my weakness. I didn’t tell my family I was sick because I didn’t want them to be upset that I was sick overseas. I didn’t tell the staff here I was sick because I didn’t want to be THAT American who couldn’t suck it up and live like they do. I didn’t want to be a burden. And every day that passed, I got weaker and weaker.
I had diarrhea or threw up every single day for 6 weeks. I rarely slept through the night, so my rest was broken. Many days my stomach was wound so tightly in knots. I was frustrated with myself, feeling like I couldn’t do all the work I wanted to in a day because I just felt weak, off my game, out of it.
Then I hit my bottom. One night, like clockwork at 4:30am, I woke up to throw up cause my body couldn’t process the meal I had eaten 8 hours before. 8 hours no lie. And I felt desperate, crying alone, sinus cavity filled with the tortilla bits from dinner- this was my low. For a moment, I thought to cry out for the guard Panchito who I knew was on duty. And no doubt, he would come running and hold my hair and get water, but I couldn’t be vulnerable like that and I couldn’t be a burden. So I didn’t call for him, and I suffered alone. And when I laid back down in bed, I begged God to take it from me, this cumbersome selfishness that isolates me and dictates how I handle suffering.
When I had to energy to get up and go to the office the next morning, I couldn’t stop crying. It was God breaking down the walls I had built, and out flooded every emotion I had. He provided opportunity to safely share this physical illness I was experiencing, and the fear and desperation that stemmed from it in my heart. And there was immediate response, a medication to take away the nausea, a tea to settle my stomach and appointment made with a gastroenterologist for the following day. And they asked, why didn’t you tell us sooner? And I didn’t have a good answer.
Why do we let ourselves hit the bottom before we ask for help? Why don’t we ask for help when we are slipping down, in prevention, for support? Help is available at every rung on the way to our lowest lows. But we don’t always let ourselves believe that. How many times have I been that friend on the other side asking, why didn’t you tell me sooner? I wish we could have done something to keep you from so much pain for so long. When will I take the words I say to others and start applying them in my own life?
We are all guilty of this, waiting to say something until it’s too late, or until we simply can’t take it any longer. But friend, the road to recovery from the bottom is a LOT longer than from that point in the road where you start seeing warning signs. Ask any person who has struggled with depression, eating disorders, self-esteem, you name it. If you don’t struggle with one of these issues, ask they next person you see. The struggle is embedded in our everyday lives, but if it’s so common, why is there such shame in it? What keeps us from being vulnerable and honest with others about things that weight heavy on us? I bet we don’t have a good answer.
What if we all thought this way instead: You’ve been sick every day for six weeks, that’s six weeks of suffering we could have avoided. That’s six weeks where your healthy spirit could have been working at full capacity, enjoying the mission you are tasked to. Plus, there’s just something not right about your stomach not processing a meal for 8 hours. You shouldn’t be throwing up your 6pm dinner at 4:30am. You were designed by a God who made you for a purpose, to daily reach your full potential in Him for his Kingdom, and you can’t do that when you are suffering. So let’s address it and get you straight, free of judgement or condemnation in your lows, overwhelmed with a loving response toward your health.
How radical would that be?
When the test results came back, it was a parasite and a bacterial infection. It was something my body couldn’t process on its own. It was a problem that could only be fixed with proper treatment, with help. And I’m telling you, after 4 days of medication and full nights of sleep, I felt stronger, strong enough to lace up sneakers and go for a run. Now, it’s been almost 4 full weeks since I’ve thrown up and I finally feel like I have rehydrated, like I am 100%, all in, every day.
This is how we are made to be. If you’re feeling less than your full self, reach to a trusted friend who responds with love, to help you get your heart aligned with Christ, to guide you back to Your Maker, to help. There is no shame in saying something, anything. You might start something new, give courage to someone else in a similar situation. You are worth the help.