When I was on vacation somewhere around fifth or sixth grade, I had the pizza at a seafood restaurant. I have no idea if that’s relevant. I didn’t like seafood, though.
I got sick. I got really weirdly sick. I didn’t have a life-threatening fever or hospitalizing dehydration or anything, just a lot of pain and symptoms it really wouldn’t accomplish anything to share.
I was kid. With weird symptoms. I saw a lot of the children’s hospital over the next…while. Not admitted, no, just in for testing. I had an upper GI and a lower GI. If you don’t know what those are, count yourself lucky. The nurse for the first one told me the barium tasted like a thick milkshake. She LIED. The nurse for the second one told me the barium was disgusting and the faster I could get it down the better. I liked her a lot more. They tested me for lactose intolerance. They tested me for…everything, I suppose.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome was barely a recognized thing back then. It still requires a differential diagnosis, so I suppose I’d still have to go through all of that today, but I remember being really disturbed by how little my doctors seemed to understand about what was happening to me. They eventually called it Spastic Colon and sent me home without much of a treatment plan. Sorry. Not treatable. Watch your diet. (I don’t know, Mom. Am I remembering this correctly?)
When I was in eighth grade, I got a bad headache. A really bad headache that would not go away. An I can’t stand being upright headache. My doctor said it was a pinched nerve from my too-heavy backpack and prescribed massive amounts of acetaminophen. Guess what that does if you take too much? Causes massive headaches.
More doctors. More blood draws. More questions. I remember sitting on the floor of someone’s office playing with toys meant for kids much younger than I was while my mom answered questions for me. A bad neurologist. A good neurologist. I have migraines like my dad. A principle who thought you could attend class with a headache. I was homeschooled for eighth grade while both parents worked full time. A better high school. My attendance record was fifty percent over the next four years.
Do you know what happens when teenagers all see each other regularly and you get to join them sometimes? They get close. You get accepted. They are friends. You are lonely. I mean, don’t get me wrong. From what I know of other’s experiences, I had it good. I was never bullied. I mean that. No one ever gave me a hard time for my attendance or anything else, and I had just as many handles for bullying as anyone else. I read all the time, sat alone at lunch, didn’t dress in fashion, didn’t watch the shows they watched or listen to the music they listened to. But they were all nice to me. Everyone. I walked from one group to the next and was welcomed in them all. But I didn’t belong to any of them.
You know what I learned? That people can tell when you want an answer to “How are you?” Believe me. It’s just a greeting? They don’t stop moving. They don’t face you. They really want to know? They stop. Their shoulders, hips, feet, they face you and wait. There’s a difference between “I’m praying for you,” and “I’ve been praying for you this week.”
I learned that I saw things others didn’t. I saw the looks people gave each other, even the ones they thought no one noticed. I saw the hope. I saw the fear. I saw the loneliness. I saw the push and pull of social groups. I learned the difference between being accepted and being embraced. I learned the difference between being useful and being wanted, between being used and being seen. I learned that even in the midst of chronic pain and loneliness, there was much to be grateful for.