Being hospitalized for a still-undiagnosed illness changed how I think about self-care and my career
I took a bite of food and anxiously waited for the impending, debilitating nausea to set in. It was May 2018, and for someone who once loved experimenting in the kitchen, meal time had become synonymous with fear, frustration, and an overwhelming sense of dread. That anxiety had become my new normal.
When the I first felt the pain at the start of the summer, I quickly shook it off as a simple stomach bug. I had been stressed at work—I was an editor for a local magazine at the time, which came with long hours and lots of responsibilities—so I thought a few days in bed would be just what I needed. I was someone who never got sick, I told myself. This can wait.
When the fifth day of severe discomfort rolled around, I listened to my body and decided to head to the emergency room. The staff was kind and optimistic. They sent me home, saying that I’d be just fine within 72 hours. Still, I was certain that something more menacing had been ravaging my gut.
I’d already researched symptoms for hours on end, and thought maybe leaky gut, IBS, or Crohn’s could be the culprit. As the weeks after my ER visit went by, my body started rejecting more and more food. Another hospital visit ensued, and by mid-June, I was unable to eat anything besides plain yogurt. I continued to do my job—even answering work emails from the ER—living the Type-A lifestyle I always had.
On the morning of Tuesday, July 17th, I was in the kitchen of my South Austin apartment when everything went black. Realizing that the debilitating nausea was about to return, I dashed toward my room, landing with a thud on the white comforter before passing out. By that afternoon, I was at the ER for the third time in two months, and I was finally admitted for further testing. In a hospital bed, at a low weight unnatural for most 25-year-olds, eyes hollow and glassy, with vitals that were less than impressive, I finally felt the gravity of the situation.
It was a painful quarter-life health crisis that took my perfectionist and workaholic self to a place I had never been before.
My hospitalization was four days of 4 a.m. blood-sugar checks, concerned whispers, and monotonous beeps from the heart monitor. Four days of constantly discussing how many calories I was consuming. Four days of meeting with doctor after doctor, armed with their clipboards and casual curiosity, all unable to figure out what was actually going on in my body.
To this day, my doctors are still not 100 percent sure what happened to me last summer.
Looking back at my undiagnosed illness, it seems like a dream, a blurred state of semi-consciousness. Those three months were marked by fragmented Netflix binges, trouble remembering what day it was, struggles to recall what I had said in conversations earlier in the day, and uncertainty of how long I had been asleep once I finally woke up. It was scary.
Still, I believe the experience has been one of the biggest blessings of my life. My health hit rock bottom, but it was a reality check. Last year, I was living recklessly—prioritizing my career to the point that I ignored my pain until I had to go to the emergency room; I didn’t think I could get sick. Yet my body was shutting down, even if it was hard to see that from the outside.
Almost a year after leaving the hospital, I live life much differently so that I can prioritize self-care. Gone are the days of continuously trying to please my employers at my own expense, pushing myself beyond my breaking point, and putting meal times and workouts on the back burner to get work done. While my natural Type-A tendencies are still lurking, I’ve developed healthy boundaries so that I don’t overwork. I’ve taken up kickboxing, realizing a deeper respect for my body and its power along the way. I have turned to traditional medicine and holistic treatments, and between acupuncture, reiki, meditation, and anti inflammatory foods in my diet, I’ve been able to start healing and prevent whatever happened to me from starting again.
I never expected any of this as a healthy 25-year-old. But what I’ve learned is something I hope to never forget.