My apologies for the late post this week. On Tuesday night, I ended up with a bad case of reflux that kept me home on Wednesday. It’s finally settling down, but it’s led to a period of reflection. I’ve had one other round with some reflux this year, and both times have aligned with certain themes, and I’d like to use this space to share some of my journey, since it’s top of mind tonight.
There was one other time in my adult life where acid reflux was an issue, back in 2007. And, since I am dedicating myself to honesty on this blog, here’s an idea of where my life was at. I was married to my ex-husband, in a deep depression, unmedicated. I was employed, but working long hours in a hostile office environment. It was one of the few times of my last marriage when we were not living with anyone else, but our apartment was a mess and riddled with fleas and cockroaches. I was smoking, anywhere from 2-10 cigarettes a day. We were regularly recycling our soda cans for cash and using it for either more soda or more cigarettes. I had no drive to do anything, and was not only unhappy, but more miserable than I would allow myself to admit. I couldn’t see that this person I thought I loved, that I thought loved me, was not only using me for my willingness to work and support us on my paycheck, but was also emotionally manipulative.
That’s the setting for my last bout with reflux. I was hiding everything: misery, the squalor of my “home” (a term I use very loosely – how can such a place ever be a true home?), depression. My skills at building defensive walls to keep others out of my life were at an all-time high, and it happened in a way that felt effortless. Of course, walls like that, stressors like that, they don’t happen without taking a toll on a person, mentally, physically, emotionally. I didn’t know at first that it was reflux, only that my stomach was bothering me, and I was having a lot of discomfort in my stomach and chest area. Despite the squalor of our “home,” because of my job, I was lucky enough to have insurance, so the doctors ordered a spectrum of GI testing. The takeaway? Acid reflux, here are some pills that might help, try not to lay flat, and good luck.
So, I tried to live with it. Some days, since my commute was an hour on a good day each way, if my stomach was feeling rough, I would choose to take a sick day rather than risk having to drive home over a ~30 mile commute fighting extreme nausea. This led to my then boss asking if the symptoms were psychosomatic.
Eventually, the reflux got better. The depression got worse. So did the marriage, especially once I started working on my health by working out and eating better, which helped minimize a lot of my depression symptoms and led me to wanting a better lot in life. Unfortunately, I was the only one in that relationship willing to really fight and make significant changes.
Earlier this year, when I was blindsided by a bout of reflux that happened to coincide with (or possibly trigger, I’m not entirely sure) a panic attack, I was completely thrown off guard. I ended up going to the ER, because reflux and a panic attack was not even on my radar, and the combined symptoms can look a lot like a heart problem. They said it looked like indigestion/reflux, and prescribed some medication. I brought up the incident in therapy, since I was flummoxed as to why I would have it coming back now. My life, my home, my job, my relationship are all very different from the situation I described above. Even though life isn’t perfect, I’m in a much different, less volatile place now. My therapist at the time (1st therapist) mentioned that some people experience a physical (somatic) response to re-opening past wounds in therapy, and, since we had been working through some different areas, it might have struck a nerve.
So, on Tuesday night, when I experienced a similar discomfort and nausea, I took the time to work on calming exercises, trying to head off the physical panic, and took some of the medicine I was prescribed a couple of months ago. Between resting and saltines on Wednesday, and my session with my therapist (new/2nd therapist), I realized that some of the areas I’ve been working on individually, in session, and even in my marriage are bringing up painful memories from that same time frame again. Add in other, general stressors that would possibly have thrown things off kilter on their own, and it’s pretty easy to see where these symptoms are coming from. I suspect, given the pattern over the past couple of months, my body is revisiting the same pains, just as my heart and mind are, in an attempt to resolve and heal.
This hypothesis, this realization, leads, as many things in life do, to a decision. How do I want to deal with this? Do I want to bury the pain again, avoid it, and hope it doesn’t resurface on it’s own? Do I want to refuse to believe that emotional memories can impact physical health, and spend hours upon hours, and who knows how much money on tests that may or may not reveal a deeper cause? Or do I want to treat the symptoms, continue to work on emotional healing, and see where things land?
All things considered, I think focusing on my therapy, focusing on getting back into my healthier routines (7-9 hours of sleep, physical activity and sunlight more days than not, and a balanced diet), and managing any symptoms that might crop up is the best, most consistent and manageable route at this point in my life. And so, feeling like a broken record, I again will say that I will keep working on at least getting to my baseline of healthy habits, be gentle with any stumbles that will inevitably occur.
What differences do you see in your life over the past 11 years?