Those of you who know me, know for the span of my nearly 18-month service mission with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I was sick.
Constant pain racked my gut the moment I entered the missionary training center. Within a week of of leaving home the pain was so intense I collapsed and couldn’t breathe or move.
The pain wasn’t new, but the severity was.
In high school I suffered the same pains my senior year as I threw myself into various activities, classes and programs.
I remember it was so intense I swore my appendix had burst. We hurried to the emergency room only for them to refer my to a OBGYN. She placed me on a form of birth control claiming it would resolve the pain.
In my first semester of college I again visited a different OBGYN and was placed on a different kind of birth control. Neither seemed to minimize my pain and the doctor speculated I may have endometriosis.
When I mentioned that to yet another OBGYN while I was in the missionary training center he gave me two options: go home and have a hysterectomy, or go home have babies, and then have a hystorectomy. Only then, he said, would the pain stop.
The general doctor in the missionary training center recommended I return home and figure out the pain, then return to my mission.
He loaded me up on Naproxen and sent me on my way. Within a month or so I was in the emergency room again. They did x-rays, ultrasounds, and CAT scans, bloodwork and urine samples and still found nothing obvious wrong with me.
I went home frustrated and scared. I was in contact pain and it was getting worse. Pain so sever my arms went numb and my hands shook. Pain that made my eyes glaze over and my head swim.
My mission president offered to send me home.
Another trip to the emergency room.
A visit to a specialist in Baltimore.
An exploratory surgery.
Another trip to the emergency room.
Halfway through my mission everything hurt. Eating, sleeping, teaching, walking, driving. It all hurt.
Finally I found a degree of relief when the bishops mother-in-law offered to help me. She worked with me the rest of my mission and helped keep the pain at a manageable level, but it never left.
She placed me on a diet of berries, brown rice, black beans, vegetables, and fish for the rest of my mission. No sugar, dairy, grain other than brown rice, any real spice, fruit other than berries, corn or corn products, or potatoes, meat other than fish and limited amounts of chicken and turkey were permitted.
I was always hungry and always aware of the dull ache in my gut, but I could handle it.
Finally, I finished my mission and returned home exhuasted and overwhelmed, but satisfied.
Within a week the pain vanished.
Then I went back to school.
Like an old friend it was back and all too familiar. Angry, frustrated, and embarrassed I walked into the counseling center and scheduled an appointment.
After weeks of frustrating and mind opening I finally accepted what the pain really was all along—anxiety.
My parents and closest friends had tried to tell me, but I couldn’t believe the amount of pain I was in could be summed up as something as simple as anxiety.
I was ashamed.
Years of pain, a couple thousand dollars in medical bills, and constant worry had been a part of my life for years. My family and friends were invested in helping me cure the sickness that drove me to my knees every night.
The least I could do would be suffering from some strange illness to make it worth all the time and energy I, and everyone around me, spent trying to fix my body.
But before a year ago I never considered anxiety to be a health problem, just an emotional imbalance you could fix with some happy thoughts.
I really was sick. My pain was real. I used to think anxiety was only in your head, but for me it’s in the gut.
There were other problems as well. The medicine I took for so long and in such high doses eventually gave me new problems. The surgery made things worse (cutting someone open and digging around in their insides isn’t exactly comfortable).
And don’t even get me started on the food situation.
But the root of every problem was anxiety.
Anxiety isn’t simple or something to be embarrassed about like I thought it was, it’s normal. Fear, worry and concern are normal emotions.
We ALL experience them almost every day.
Basically, we ALL expierience anxiety. Just like we all expiereince love and anger and sadness.
How we handle it though? How it manifests itself? Thats different for everyone.
Every time I was completely absorbed in a class, a cause, or a competition the pain in my gut appeared and made me miserable. It took me a long time to realize that pain was just my body’s way of telling me I was too worried.
It was telling me I need to learn to cope without rushing off to the emergency room, panicking, pushing through, or loading up on pain relievers.
I started to exercise to release the tension that builds in me during the day to day grind of school. Running turned from something I hated to something I needed.
That little action made a world of difference.
It’s harder than just taking medicine or zoning out on Netflix, but it works better.
All the stress that fills my mind everyday is emptied on the treadmill or the track. When I don’t run I can feel the stress building inside me, threatening to collapse into gut wrenching pain.
When I can’t run or I can’t work up the motivation to run I do yoga. Even five minutes in bed before I get ready for the day gives me time to discard my stress.
I also started to realize that the majority of things in life don’t matter. The grade I get on an exam? Not relevant to my eternal happiness. How people feel about me? Not applicable to who I actually am.
I stop the stress before it becomes a problem. I think my way out of my fear and convince myself it’s not worth my time.
Gradually I’ve overcame a deep struggle that I’ve fought with since I was old enough to understand it.
I’ve accepted what I have and who I am in the moment, rather than always being unsatisfied with my current state and character.
I was afraid to at first. I thought if I accepted who I am I would lose my drive to become better, and in a way it has.
I used to feel compelled to change because my weaknesses stood out above every other aspect of my character. They weighed on me and caused me endless amounts of pain.
Now they’re on the same playing field as my strengths. They make me who I am and I can’t apologize for that.
Now I change because I want to. Not because I’m afraid not to.
I’m satisfied with who I am and what I’ve done. The flaws I have are a part of me and I have to believe people will forgive me for the mistakes I make because of them.
The pain in my gut taught me humility. It taught me patience. It taught me peace. It taught me to be satisfied with even my worst efforts.
It still comes back every so often. How could it not? I’m not perfect.
When it does it reminds me to relax.
Accept what I cannot control and control what I can.
Take ownership of who I am without shame or fear.
Run until the worry and stress are gone.
And always be brave. Be happy. Be satisfied.