When I was in 11th grade, my doctor put me on diabetes medicine and told me not to get fat.
That was their best attempt at “healing” hormonal imbalances (imbalances that were almost definitely caused by stress and exacerbated by restrictive-and-binge-eating disorder and large doses of self-loathing).
I could go on for days about why American “preventative” medicine is so flawed, and that for the most part, doctors aren’t taught to look at the body as a whole and see what is actually going on.
But… whatever. I’ll save it for my memoir.
The story is, that winter I went on a trip to France with my high school class and we each stayed with a family for a homestay in Nîmes for 1 week.
Some homestay highlights?
At the dinner table on the first night at the home stay the family asked me about my family, I scrambled, and said – in french – that my mother was a prostitute.
Then I said she was a maid.
I was trying to say that she was a housewife.
It was terrible.
They also asked me that stereotypical “you’re in France and in 2005 question”: what I thought about George Bush. I have no idea how I answered that one, but I clearly should have said that he was a prostitute, too.
But back to diabetes medicine.
On that first night of the week-long home stay, once I was alone in the bedroom, I took out my huge diabetes pill and swallowed it without water, because… what choice did I have?
Then I went to bed.
I woke up in the middle of the night in excruciating pain. Looking back, I know that the pill had gotten stuck for too long in my esophagus and had burned an ulcer right at the flap between my stomach and esophagus. So when I lay down, stomach acid poured up through the damaged flap onto the ulcer, and it felt like the end of days. So back then, I sort of thought it might have been cancer.
I figured the medicine also probably had something to do with it, but wasn’t sure.
I went on the field trip with the my classmates the next day and it just got worse. Of course, the only time it felt a little bit better, was when I was pounding kinder-chocolat. The candy would temporarily coat the ulcer, but then the stomach acid would rise up and buuurrrrrrnn.
I was in constant pain, but I didn’t know exactly what was wrong or how to explain it to anyone. I couldn’t really sleep, because lying down was excruciating. And I felt so ill and scared that I didn’t go with my home stay girl to the day at French High School like I was supposed to. I had to explain to the family that something was wrong with me, and that it could be the… diabetes medicine I was on.
“est-ce que j’ai le diabetes? Um- non, mais, mon medecin, elle dit que … le sucre dans mon corps est… um, je ne peux pas manger beaucoup de nourriture parce que je ne peux pas prendre du poids. Uhhhhhhhh. Je n’ai pas de le “diabete”. Je dois parler au medecin. Je ne peux pas expliquer”
I became super anti-social and would sit in my homestay room, listening to Keane on my iPod, imagining that I was dating Prince Harry while dying of Esophageal cancer and it was a big news story and how would I handle the press? I would sit there on the floor staring out the window into the French winter and cry and cry, because for all I knew it really was the end of days.
The home stay mom was so nice, she was excited to practice her english with me (her english had an english accent), and she took me to the French “médecin” (doctor) where I had to explain, to the best of my ability, in french, that I was on diabetes medicine, and no I don’t have diabetes, and yes America is stupid, I know.
The most annoying part of this whole experience is that no one believed me. They all thought I was just being dramatic and trying to get attention. The doctor told me that I was just stressed being far from home.
So, ironically, while stress really was causing lots of other problems in my life, stress was not the thing that caused excruciating burning every time I binged on German candy or lay down or drank water.
But it was the English lady who was organizing all of the home-stays and day-trips who really didn’t believe me.
She told me on the last day of the trip on the bus away from Nîmes that I was a “huge disappointment”. I had let down the girl who I was staying with (by the way, the girl and I talked plenty, I was very nice, it was fine. And she spent most of the time with her boyfriend anyway. I even went out to a club with them and had my one-and-only high school drink (rum et coke) with them and danced on a table with the weird bubbles in the air with all the weird french girls and the “you look 29 years old” 17 year old birthday girl. With the ulcer. Smart. I am a smart girl.)
But apparently, according to the English lady, I made my homestay host girl cry because I was so anti-social.
This woman told me that I was making up my illness for attention, and that really, I was just depressed. I was depressed and also needed magnesium. She told me she knew this because she herself was depressed a few years before after her son had died, and she had really needed magnesium in order to get back to normal.
She didn’t tell me this in a sympathetic way. She was really angry.
Well, lady, you’re right. I am depressed. It is freezing here, and I have an eating disorder but I don’t know it yet, and I hate fish and ketchup and that is all the family feeds me, and I can’t sleep, and I also might be dying of esophageal cancer and the English press is being very difficult, we don’t know if we should go on planning the royal wedding or if I should be making funeral plans.
What is interesting is that years later, I have come to learn that I actually am really low in Magnesium. I now take it every night to help me fall asleep.
So I suppose I could thank her, but really I should have just recommended right back to her that she up her own magnesium dosage because she was meee–heeaaan.
(Pro-Tip: Actually don’t take too much magnesium orally, because it will give you diarrhea. Also if you use magnesium “oil” and spread it on your skin, don’t put it on legs you shaved that day, it will kill.)