My body has never handled stress well. Come to think of it, does anyone respond well to stress?
Typically, my body reacts to stress in the form of gastrointestinal issues. This comes as no surprise considering I’ve dealt with acid reflux disease most of my life. Even with the high dosage of medication that I’ve been on for 17 years, my GI issues have made it known that they’re here to stay.
I was in college when my first case of stress-related acid reflux happened. As many students can attest, college is a stressful time filled with exams, projects, research papers, and very little sleep. Of course, I had an added stressor to deal with in spinal muscular atrophy. So, when the semester’s workload would begin to pick up momentum, I would crash and burn.
My response to stress was so out of the ordinary that it left my doctors perplexed. For starters, I would get these “episodes,” as I call them, only in the middle of the night, which was highly inconvenient. Stomach acid would travel up my esophagus, and as a result of using a BiPAP machine, I would aspirate. Aspirating would then cause me to jolt out of a deep sleep because I’d be gasping for air. From there, I’d immediately do a nebulizer treatment and chest physical therapy until I cleared out the phlegm.
About an hour later, I’d develop a high fever and chills. My mother would wrap me in several blankets and my comforter, and hold me tight in hopes of transferring her body heat while I fiercely shook from the chill. Within a few hours, I’d be fine — and I mean completely fine. Besides feeling exhausted from a sleepless night and some chest pain from aspirating, you would never know that I had been violently ill the night before.
These episodes happened fairly frequently throughout college, then tapered off after graduation. Of course, they didn’t disappear completely. Instead, they were more likely to be triggered by other factors such as poor dietary choices and physical overexertion.
However, as recent events would have it, my episodes have returned with full force. In fact, I cannot remember the last time my stomach was affected this intensely.
To an extent, I feel partially at fault for letting this happen. In the midst of being surrounded by such heartbreaking news and fear, I lost sight of taking care of myself. I handed the reins over to stress, raised my proverbial flag in defeat, and allowed my angst to take over.
After a week of debilitating stomach issues and a panic attack at 4 a.m. on a Monday morning (Dad, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry for frantically waking you up that morning), I realized I needed to make some changes.
I may not be able to cure myself, and I may not be able to cure what’s going on in the world. But just as I choose to practice giving love to others during this pandemic, I need to remember to give love to myself as well.
As I write this column, my chest hurts, my stomach feels unsettled, and I’m exhausted from another episode last night. And that’s OK. I didn’t expect my self-love revelation to miraculously fix everything.
Instead, I am being gentler to myself. I am accepting that my GI issues are not a cause for anxiety but rather a cry for rest. And I am making space to allow myself to simply do just that: be gentle and restful. To me, that’s what self-love is. And in due time, I know I will begin to feel more like myself again.
Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.
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