You know you have a sustained lack of appetite if…

  • you forget what hunger feels like
  • you feel this deep pain in your body and your first response is to stop eating; after three to five days pass, you realize that what you feel is actually hunger and the correct solution is to eat; except now your body can only process small amounts of food at a time
  • after such a realization, you remember that this entire sequence has happened at least once, and one time, you and your psychiatrist just started laughing at the ridiculousness that is the observation that a person forgot what feeling hungry meant
  • you are best friends with your GI doctor whose number one metric is not your blood pressure nor your lab work but your weight, fair and simple
  • the best part about breaking up with the boy is that you no longer have to deal with his annoying habit of forgetting to eat lunch, which had meant that during several dates you had to sit in a cafe and watch him eat lunch while trying not to have a panic attack or throw stuff at him
  • when you were dating the boy, you let him take you out to eat a grand total of ONE time (in a two month period)… and you almost bailed from the ice cream shop because it was so overwhelming
  • your GI doctor found you formula to supplement your diet when you are in so much pain that thinking about food is off limits; it’s marketed for toddlers who suffer from “failure to thrive” (and you think it is a brilliant idea)
  • your GI doctor loves your teenage sister because when you lived at home, her favorite thing to do was knock on your door and ask you if you ate recently
  • your local friends know that you’re going through a hard time so they invite you over for dinner or take you out to eat; they let you ramble while they’re eating but they tell waiters to go away because it still looks like you haven’t eaten anything and part of being your friend means making sure you’re properly nourished
  • you go to church potlucks but half the time you just look at the food and don’t take anything
  • if you eat dinner at someone’s house and actually like the food, your friends hand you leftovers because it’s such a rare occurance
  • people ask you what your favorite dish is and you haven’t the slightest clue
  • eating is a chore like brushing your teeth; you’re supposed to do it on a regular basis, but technically it’s still optional
  • your doctors have categorized ice cream as a healthy food because it has calories and you need them
  • you make dinner but by the time it’s cooked it’s the most disgusting thing you’ve ever seen and there’s no way you’re even eating it
  • you look at the clock and realize that it’s bedtime and you haven’t even thought about dinner
  • sometimes you start to eat dinner and after an hour and a half realize that you’re never going to eat the food in front of you and throw it away; then you realize that while you’ve accomplished something (throwing away the food that you were supposed to eat), you still haven’t accomplished the original thing you set out to do which was to eat dinner
  • when people ask you what kind of cake or food you’re going to serve at your wedding, you tell them that (a) you’re not getting married yet and (b) you would prefer to skip the food altogether
  • when you tell your GI doctor that you have a new boyfriend and that means you need his help because food comes up a LOT when you are dating, he thinks about it and says that while usually he would encourage you to just avoid encounters with food, he could see how figuring out how to deal with it might make social interactions easier so we can brainstorm. He also recommends that I give the boy time to adjust (aka this problem will not just go away.)
  • people feel bad when they learn that you have food sensitivities and can’t eat food with gluten or dairy in them because now nothing they’re serving for the party is friendly; no problem, you think, it wasn’t like you were about to eat anything anyways; plus, eating is a need, not a want
  • Thanksgiving and Christmas are holidays where you listen to older folks tell you their life stories and when you volunteer to do the dishes (not holidays where you cook or eat or otherwise think about food)
  • people ask you what you like to order at a coffee shop and after the longest time you answer: water
  • when people invite you to happy hour, you kindly explain to them that you can’t drink alcohol while in your mind you know that any activity that lasts for an hour and involves food is the opposite of happy and why would you want to spend your free time doing that anyway?
  • people ask you what restaurants are good in the area and you have no idea but can point them to the good gas station, the local library, the best shopping malls, the local bookstore, and even the ideal backdrop for photos
  • the bottom line is that you think about food as little as possible and only as a problem that has to be tackled

So, yeah, I suffer what medical professionals properly term as “anorexia”, that is, a sustained lack of appetite.* My body does not digest food properly (yay! functional GI disorder). Therefore, food often leads to more pain, which leads to an inclination to avoid food altogether. Eating is the opposite of relaxing and is simply something I do only because I have to. I’ve been dealing with this since 2007 at least.

Dr. Leo and I have put our heads together and decided that we can be a little bit more proactive about managing the situation. I’m already on an antispasm medication (dicyclomine) that’s specific to the GI tract. That’s helped a little bit. The formula has been a lifesaver for when I’m really busy or when I’m emotionally exhausted but still need to eat. But like the rest of my disease, there are seasons. Some months I struggle with one thing more than another. And food is currently a big issue for me. I can’t take more medication because I weigh so little to begin with, and my body doesn’t digest medication very well either.

Dr. Leo has given a big thumbs up to all my local friends who have been having me over for dinner and dropping off snacks and just generally making sure that I’m doing okay and that I’m still eating. We’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that sometimes that means that I’m using the formula, which isn’t ideal but will work for now. And he’s also enrolled me in a psychotherapy program specifically targeted to anxiety related to eating and digestion. It won’t make the underlying problem go away, but perhaps there are some techniques that I could learn that would help in those moments when it all gets overwhelming and I hit fight-or-flight mode.

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I’m still not sure that I believe them. But I do want to gain a semblance of control over my life again. And not panicking because there’s an activity involving food would be a nice change. Dr. Leo calls it better quality of life. And as long as someone else is helping me fight, I can see myself taking this on.

With hope for what the future can bring,
Abigail Cashelle

*In medical parlance, “anorexia” refers to a sustained lack of appetite. A specific type of anorexia known as “anorexia nervosa” is commonly abbreviated as “anorexia” by lay persons. Anorexia nervosa specifically describes an eating disorder characterized by excessive weight loss and unusual concern for body image.

He said his hobby was walking…

Before I started talking to the boy, I actually went on a first date with someone from my university. That date can only be described as a total failure. He was late, and then he spent the entire date asking me questions about myself, so I felt like I was doing all the talking and that there wasn’t really a conversation. This guy didn’t understand having follow up questions. And he was totally clueless that the date was a failure; he thought it was a success. sigh.

My sisters and I have a running joke now about first dates. One of the questions I asked this guy was what he did in his free time. His answer? Nothing. After a long time, he added, Well, I suppose you could say that I like walking. So I followed up by asking him if he liked walking around Beaverville. His answer? No. After a pause, he added, I guess you could say that I only walk to and from school. In other words, even if you thought walking counted as a hobby, it still doesn’t really count here because it’s just something that he has to do as part of going to school/work every day. In other words, his only hobby is also a chore.

At the time, I figured that any walking was better than having no hobbies (although still pretty boring.) And then the boy came along, and we started talking. And want to know what one of his favorite hobbies was? That’s right, class; it was walking. Granted he liked walking in the park by his house, and he did quite a lot more walking than the average young adult. But still. Walking. He had other hobbies, but this was definitely one that he talked a lot about. Walking.

Now as I think back across the past couple of months, I think I might add walking as primary hobby to my list of red flags for potential boyfriends. If the most exciting thing in your life is walking and you can’t even identify anything else in your life that’s remotely interesting, you might be really boring. Or just plain lazy.

So next time you see me, I may introduce myself: Hello. My name is Abigail. And walking is not my hobby. And then you’ll know why.

All in a day’s work,
Abigail Cashelle

Writing… and taking risks

So the short version is that the boy and I parted ways earlier this week. We wanted different things out of life, so it didn’t make sense to continue pursuing a relationship together. Unfortunately, although we had closure in the breakup, it went down in a fashion that can only be properly described as mean. So I’ve been taking some time to recover, to process, and to heal.

Part of me regrets posting about him here because now it’s just another space where I have to explain what happened and let people down again. But I’m actually really glad that I did it. Because it helped me sort through some of the emotions that I was feeling. It gave me a space to write down how I was feeling as I was feeling those feelings, and then I was able to revisit them at critical moments later.

Some of the protected posts wound up being letters from me to the boy as reflections. And I’m not going to lie. In our last face-to-face conversation, I actually shoved my phone at him and told him to read two paragraphs from one of those letters. Because I didn’t know how to articulate what I was thinking. And writing it down made it more concrete for me… and also for him. I didn’t expect that that’s how I would show him this blog or even those letters. I don’t know that I really expected to even show him that particular one. But at that moment, it was perfect, and I’m glad that I had it in my pocket: both to look at myself to remind myself what I needed and also to show him what was going on in my head.

Relationships are risky. They involve being vulnerable and letting someone in to a part of your life where you’ve been self-sufficient before. It’s really scary. And that fear of rejection and shame can be paralyzing. There’s nothing like being told that you aren’t good enough for someone or that your faults overshadow any of your positive qualities. But there’s an interesting duality here: risk and reward. With great risk comes the potential for great reward and the possibility for significant hurt. As much as I wish that I could take back the past because I did not like the outcome, I realize that the person who I am and the choices that I’ve made have both provided an opportunity for such a scenario to unfold and give the potential for something else beautiful to blossom in the future.

Abigail Cashelle

Where I’ve Been, What’s Up with this Blog, and Other Misc Questions You May Be Asking

Greetings!!! WordPress tells me that it’s been eight months since I’ve posted to this blog. That’s a long time not to write. Maybe you’ve been wondering what I’ve been up to. Maybe you’ve forgotten that I’ve existed. Either way, here’s a quick synopsis of where I’ve been, the new directions my life has taken, and where I see this blog moving.


What I’ve been up to:

Once I got that faculty job in Fall 2014, I stopped writing as frequently on the blog. Why? Blogging for me was always an outlet to figure out my journey with chronic illness. It was a way for me to chronicle how I felt and where I saw myself going. It was a place where I could write down memories I knew I would forget, and a place for me to return to whenever I needed to look at the past and try to ascertain progress. It also served as an amazing way to answer the question of how I got to where I am today. Once I started working that faculty job, things changed for me. Life got a whole lot busier because I was doing a whole lot better. Things were still weird with family, but I had found a good rhythm. Besides, I was working three jobs — teaching, retail, and tutoring — and those took a lot of time and energy.

Then in Fall 2015, I returned to graduate school and moved back to Beaverville. Life was a bit simpler except for the fact that I was trying to cram two semesters into one, including such herculean tasks as reading 60 books in one term, passing comprehensive exams, teaching, and taking three classes. Somehow I survived. And passed all the exams and the classes.

Enter Spring 2016: I was planning to defend my dissertation proposal, which by now was less amorphous than previously. However, life (or the universe) had other plans it seemed. First, my paternal grandmother got diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer and given only weeks to live. I spent a lot of time on the road and visiting her, particularly because she kept telling people that she used to know me and I was someone special who lived far away but still took the time to come visit her. She passed away in early March which was really rough for me but probably good timing for her.

At the same time as her diagnosis, my new adviser suggested that I take a completely different angle on my dissertation project. He said that it would simply be a reorientation on my existing project. I knew that it would be a completely different project. At first, I was mad, but then I realized that he had identified a very finite, concrete project that I actually understood and knew how to accomplish. Plus I could get more training from him and could finish sooner. So I set aside my first proposal (maybe a second book?) and took on this topic. By now I have a working proposal that I’m planning to defend in the early fall, after I complete several months of research. (It’s a bit out of order, but nothing in this grad program has followed the beaten path, so what’s one more detour?)

Literally a few days before my grandmother passed away, someone new entered my life. The timing, as you could imagine, was not my idea of ideal. However, we started talking online, and he was genuinely supportive of me as I tried to navigate writing an obituary and helping my dad decide whether we were going to have a funeral or a graveside service and cleaning out all my grandmother’s possessions. Shortly after I got back to Beaverville, we had our first in-person conversation. And we’ve been talking (online and on the phone) and taking walks around the neighborhood ever since.

At this point, I’m not really sure what his role in my life will be long-term. I’m still pretty confused about where the Lord is leading me and why He arranged for all these things to happen at the same time. Some of the fellowship I’ve gotten is to just be open to the possibility that this is the Lord’s perfect arrangement even though I know in my head that there are too many things going on all at the same time. In the mean time, I’m praying and trying to just take things one day at a time.

Which brings me to the next point: where this blog is going now. I realized that one way I’ve worked things out in my life before has been to write on this blog. It was a good way to preserve memories without dwelling on them. I’ve been considering it for a while, but I’ve decided that this blog can become a place where I can write about “the boy” (that’s what I’ve decided to call him on the blog), the things that we’ve done, the emotions that I’m feeling, and the crossroads that we’ve come to. Some of the posts will be password protected. At some point, some of those posts may become public; or perhaps, they will only exist for me. Either way, I want a record for myself of how I’m feeling and the situations I’ve run into. Mostly so that I don’t have to hang on to the past and can live in the present. If at some point in the future I need to revisit the past, it will be there. And if life takes yet another turn and I don’t need a written diary any more, I’ll probably disappear again.

Also, dealing with all of these new changes has coincided with some health issues flaring up again. Which, if not anything else, means more scenes playing out in doctor’s offices. So don’t be all that surprised if you see some of those again.

Thanks for tagging along for the ride. Feel free to read selectively. I may post some retroactive posts before this one just to keep things in order (since I am a historian after all.)

See you around,
Abigail Cashelle