August is Gastroparesis Awareness Month. To help spread the word, I’m going to tell you my story. When I was 19 (1999) I started having stomach issues. I had an endoscopy/colonoscopy done. I was told I have IBS. Over the years, I have learned to deal with that. It caused a few problems but was otherwise manageable.
On Mothers Day in 2012 I had severe pain in my abdomen. When I finally got to the doctor, she said it was an ulcer. No exam. No tests. So I dealt with it. I managed. A year later, after seeing a new doctor, I was able to get another endoscopy/colonoscopy done. I had not one but seven ulcers all at the top of my stomach. I watched what I ate and managed. The doctor put me on prescription antacids to help. I continued to have severe pains when I ate and for hours afterwards. The doctors never did much.
Finally the pain got so bad that in 2018 the doctor sent me to a GI specialist to get me some help and yet another endoscopy/colonoscopy followed by a gastric emptying study (GES) and blood work. This time I got several diagnosis. IBS, ulcers, an elongated colon, GERD, and Gastroparesis. I had never heard of that one, so I did some research. Or tried to. There really isn’t much information out there. They gave me some papers with a diet. Over half the foods cause me severe pain. No vegetables unless it’s baby food. No fried foods. Mostly poultry, potatoes, rice, and pasta. Even then, sometimes I’ll be in bed for days with stomach cramps, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, headaches from losing liquids, and generally feeling like I’ve been beat to a pulp.
I look fine. People think I AM fine. Nobody wants to hear about it. Nobody helps. Nobody cares. 4% of the population has this illness. Only 4%. So many people have died from it. There is no cure. There isn’t much research. Doctors don’t know what it is and don’t want to learn how to treat you. You’re considered a hypochondriac. In reality you’re exhausted, alone, depressed, and hungry. The fear of eating is so real. It’s not an eating disorder.
Gastroparesis means your stomach is paralyzed. It CAN’T digest food. You may have good days where you can eat normal foods, but they don’t last long. Sometimes you can eat a certain food but other times that same food will cause excruciating pain. You never know how you will feel. The only medications that are FDA approved have too many side effects or quit working within a few months. Insurance doesn’t pay for treatment. And even though you spend most of your time in bed hurting and unable to eat, disability is almost impossible to get.
Another common misconception is that if you’re not losing weight then you’re not sick. This is such a lie. You’re body can go into starvation mode and instead of using the nutrients that you do get, it stores them. So you actually gain weight instead of losing. Those of us with GP have had to form groups on Facebook and websites to do our own research and support each other because nobody else will. I’ve been diagnosed with GP for a year. Even family and friends don’t support me. I’m expected to live my life like everybody else when in reality I’m in pain and probably throwing up when they’re not looking. I may complain to those closest to me (my kids and my husband) but I don’t tell them everything. I work. I clean house. I cook when I can. I pay bills. I try to do things with them when I can. But inside I’m hurting, screaming, crying, and praying that some doctor somewhere will find a way to help me live through this.
So for all of us who have this, please help raise awareness. Please spread the word. Someone you love may have this and be afraid to tell you for fear you won’t understand. That friend or family member that you never see may be trying to explain this and don’t know how. Or they may be misdiagnosed and not know what’s really wrong. Be there for them. Be there for us! Love us even though we can’t do what you do. Love us even though we aren’t who we want to be…. a healthy person. Gastroparesis is real! Help us spread the word!