It was Day 18 of the diet. Today, for the first time in over a month, I had the energy not only for a walk but for a real workout. I did yoga in the sunroom for twenty minutes, reveling in the ability to stand stretching my arms and feeling the weight of my body sink into my legs, breathing deeply in and out. My body felt strong, but my arms–what I could see of them–looked thin and gray. When I capped it all off with some push-ups and sit-ups, I could do far fewer than in my previous life.
I imagined my bone cells awaking now, busying themselves, getting excited to patch things up and strengthen. I pictured tiny holes in my withered bones filling in, gray material turning to a solid, gleaming white.
My last day of fatigue and “weirdness” had been four days ago. For the first two weeks of the diet I could characterize most of my days that way, but in this third week, most of the time I’d had steady energy. I’d had no muscle aches or abdominal cramps for a couple days now, either. Something must have adjusted within me. Maybe my body was now expecting meat and yogurt; maybe I’d crossed over into some Mongolian or Maasai way of being, with lots of animal products, little fiber, and few plants.
I still doubted this meaty diet was good for me in the long run. But at least today, pain-free as I was, I had some hope that it was healing my colon.
Today was Sunday. I spent the day preparing for Monday, for a writing workshop that would last all week. I was nervous about it. For the last two months, as I’d coped with my illness, I’d had little pressing to do besides rest and heal. It was a miracle, this timing–that the worst of the disease happened to hit right as I was wrapping up one job and beginning to look for another, preparing for the move to Portland. This timing had given me the space to breathe.
But for a week, starting tomorrow, I’d be in class all day. I’d leave the security of home, with its well-stocked fridge and its private toilet and comfy couch. I was packing a bag full of my special food: almond butter, hardboiled eggs, honey-mustard salmon, grape jello, probiotic cheesecake, ultra-ripe banana. I wouldn’t be able to eat any of the “goodies” or the lunch I saw listed on the writing workshop’s program. I supposed I would just have to sit at the formally laid table, fending off well-meaning servers, explaining myself over and over to the other writers as I ate my almond butter directly out of the jar with a spoon, then cracked my hardboiled egg open on my bare white plate.
I prayed that I would ferret out a secret bathroom in the building that no one else knew about. Or that I’d be able to go at times when the bathroom was empty, so that no one would hear the mortifying, explosive noises my body made. Especially no one who knew me, or who I’d explained my disease to. Oh, she’s the gal with the colitis, was what I didn’t want them to be thinking. Poor thing.
Conference events were scheduled for five to six hours each day. The first morning, to my relief I did find an out-of-the-way bathroom, and quickly learned when I was most likely to be alone there. As the day wore on, my body seemed to cooperate: I was going for longer periods without a bathroom, and my stomach granted me more time between the bouts of sudden ravenousness that often overcame me on this diet. I suspected adrenaline was a factor–the excitement of being social, and of learning.
At lunch I sat with a newfound friend from my main class, a “master’s” class for people who had finished a book draft. I briefly explained to my new friend that I had “a GI issue” that I was “trying to self-cure” through diet. She made a frowny face in sympathy, then shrugged, and didn’t even glance at my Pyrex containers as I spooned my Jello and cheesecake into my mouth. No one else at the table seemed to notice my strange food, either. While it was always painfully obvious to me that I was the odd one out, my oddity seemed almost invisible to others who ate normally, and today I was grateful for that. What a relief! I could pass for a normal member of society, at least for short periods.
As the week passed, more and more I felt relaxed, calm, and in synch. For the first time in several months, nearly all was right in the world. I was becoming a writer, one of my life dreams. I was getting good feedback from my teacher and fellow students. I was the author of a memoir that others found powerful. I was a supportive, helpful presence in class. I was a young person with happy energy. I was not the girl with colitis.
Midway through the week, a storm shook Madison the likes of which I’d never seen. It tore the roof off the boathouse next door, flung that roof up, and slammed it into the base of the window just below my writing desk. Ron and I were in bed at the time and awoke to hurricane-force winds and an explosion of bricks and shattered glass. But no one was hurt, and in class the next morning I had a great story to tell, and I wrote about it all on my writing blog. The storm felt symbolic to me. It was time to leave Madison. Time to wrap up this writing project, this phase of things, and move ahead with our lives.
At the end of the week I bade my classmates farewell, glowing with happiness, satisfied. The week’s focus on writing, the positive feedback, and my increased energy all served to restore a sense of rightness to my world. I’d been knocked down, but I was picking myself back up again.