• Ava Hoffman

Punching Bag Life

It is official. I give up. It is impossible to keep my toilet clean. I will single-handedly keep my toilet-bowl cleaner brand in business for life. It is a feat to make plans and stick to them. Waking up before 11am – that’s just a plain ole miracle. As for responding to calls and texts in a timely manner, forget it.

Grocery store trips are agonizingly long as we hunt for garlic-infused oil, oat flour, and a decent dairy-free yogurt. The vitamin and prescription stacks in the cabinet grow higher with every lab panel and doctor's visit. I go through diapers, baby wipes, and Sprite faster than ever. Date nights in are the only possibility most weeks. The installation of a heated toilet seat has made this IBD life a titch more comfortable.

These last few months have been the oddest mixture of hope and disappointment and excitement and frustration. Moving forward and staying still. Living in the tension of two extremes both being true. A couple of good days and then randomly waking up so much worse. One thing getting better and then a new thing placing me in the hospital.

The reflection in the mirror looks something like me…just more bruises, paler skin, and more prominent eye bags. If I stare too long, that reflection becomes a shell of who I used to be. An image revealing eyes hopefully searching for the me I long to be.

And as I’ve tried to wrap my brain around it all, I’ve decided that I feel like a bruise. I cannot win. I am just one mass of multiple bruises shaped into a slightly overweight usually bloated semblance of a girl.

Y’all. I feel like a punching bag.

Physically, each IV, lab draw, spinal tap, migraine shot, infusion site, and pump sensor or set poke leaves a bruise varying in size and severity. They layer over one another, each poke more painful as it stabs an already abused vein or patch of skin. The allergic reactions to adhesive pile on…Benadryl cream is my friend. Each dark spot heals more slowly than the last, and I have a new crop of scars to display.

Mentally, each bathroom accident, inconclusive imaging procedure, and possibility of another autoimmune disease batters a psyche already struggling to cling to hope. How much can I bear? How many more unknowns will I stash away in a file somewhere to sob over when alone? Each hard day, every migraine, anytime I reach for my heating pad…how much more?

And emotionally…oh the bruises my poor heart bears! Setbacks and shattered expectations settle amid the ruins of planned trips, coffee dates, phone calls, and career plans. There is more damage around each corner of this battered heart. And the endless wait. Wondering if the vitamins are doing their job. If my Crohn’s medication is finally working. If this migraine is my fault. Always more waiting.

Waiting for answers. Waiting for healing. Waiting for the next round of tests. Waiting for the next inevitable bruise. Battered. Broken. Giving out. Tuckered out. All done. I am all done.

But, much like a punching bag, my job isn’t done, and I don’t have the luxury of declaring when it is over. There is more to take. More bruises to bear. More to shoulder, fight through, and conquer. And that truth has led me to realize a few different things.

Do you ever poke a bruise when you discover it, hoping the second of pain will trigger the memory of how you acquired said mark? I do. And honestly…it hurts!

Bruises throb. They are poignant reminders that we get hurt. That we fall flat on our faces. We fail. That we don’t always move forwards. And that is okay. Backwards is not failure. Bumps are normal. Not moving at all is the farthest thing from a catastrophe. It is okay to pause indefinitely.

Healing is not linear. When I met with my doctors in early February, they explained my disappointing imaging results like this: I got worse after my diagnosis. The medication is working, and we caught it as it was catching up to the intestinal damage caused by my Crohn’s. The hope is repeated imaging this summer will show improvement. How NOT linear is that?! Y’all. I literally got worse first.

How we wait in the ER with a migraine.

And then, in early March, I started noticing my symptoms were consistently improved. And we started to celebrate…only to encounter a whole other set of circumstances requiring ER visits and a hospital stay. Health seemed even further away. Migraines. And we are back to waiting…to figure out what my specific triggers are, to learn how best to treat them…all while desperately hoping this is not another lifelong battle added to my medical resume.

No, friends. There is nothing linear about healing. And I am not good at waiting.

Good days bring such hope…only to explode in my face with two weeks of bad days. Those are the hardest days...those welts are the cruelest. Health is a distant memory and hope…well, hope is all I have. And we are back to waiting. Waiting for an MR enterography scan. Waiting for results. Waiting for remission. For a plan. Waiting for more labs, more scans, more shiners and more results.

Have I mentioned how terrible I am at waiting? I am much better at stabbing the bruises.

TR has been encouraging me to make a list of health milestones – big and little things I can tangibly see and feel that represent health. For example: (DONE!) Walking to the elephant enclosure at the zoo. No fatigue. Normal labs. Knowing my food triggers. A regular sleep schedule. Sleeping in normal underthings at night. Remission. Healthy weight. Working out – starting with once a week consistently. One year in remission.

While this chronic disease gig is new to him, I think he is onto something. These things remind me that bruises do fade. With time, they heal completely. Even scars become less noticeable as they lighten into the landscape of our body. The punching bag gets a break. One day, perhaps, the punching bag will be permanently retired. Backwards can still move me towards my goals. Bad days end. Bad weeks do not last forever.

Those little steps forward offer a glimpse of health. A peek at the girl I used to be. They are a salve to those dings, dents, and welts. Walking to the elephant enclosure last month felt like a miracle! Such a little thing and yet, a preview of the one day. A little step soothing the weariness that comes from taking every punch and continuing to press on. Giving myself grace is not my natural tendency. But oh how it is sorely needed, friends!

I am still waiting, don’t get me wrong. Waiting for meds to take effect. Waiting for a good day. For a few good days in a row. Waiting to not need diapers at night. To confidently schedule meet-ups, coffee hangs, and double dates. To shower and shave my legs on a whim, not worried about expending energy I do not have.

I am waiting for the bruises hidden deep inside to mend, too. The patience, impatience, anger, exhaustion, and myriads of emotions I cannot even name…those raw places will heal, too. Our hearts and minds will embrace the new marks and incorporate them into an updated schema. And as they do, I find myself needing the reminder that it is okay to feel them. To experience them.

These waiting seasons look differently for each of us. We choose to linger over our bruises differently. Confusion and feelings of loss are normal. Left behind and heartbroken are adjectives I would use for this season of mine. Tired of being tired. Scared and fearful may be words you identify with.

The beautiful freeing truth is each of these is okay. It is okay, friend! We feel those things for a reason. They have a purpose. I have to remind myself of this often. Embrace the bruise, the hurt, the emotions. Process. Sit with it for a bit. A long bit maybe. Sort through the marks and scars and reactions. Identify the lies. Replace it with truth. Repeat. Grow towards admiring the blemishes and lovingly brush them with appreciation.

And in the meantime, as I learn to cultivate that response, I’m learning to stop poking my bruises. To soothe and comfort instead. Being gentle with my aching parts and giving them time to heal. Acknowledging the bruises is hard enough…caring for them well is a whole different thing.

Some days it is sleeping 15 hours and spending the ones I’m awake for in bed. Drinking tea and glued to my heating pad, scrolling Instagram or watching Disney+. Some days it is pitifully calling my husband and asking him to bring home cupcakes. Once in a while, it is baking everything I can come up with and sinking into the couch and falling asleep at 7pm. There isn’t a right or a wrong way to heal. It isn’t linear, remember?! The constant is the determination…to keep going, continue fighting, pushing through the contusions. Pressing forward in hope and in faith.

The self-promise to work on not aggravating my bruises. To remind my heart there are no expectations of this journey. To be gentle in my disappointment and rejoice when I can do what I want to do or planned to do. To mourn with hope, celebrate the small things, and embrace the forced stillness with gratitude.

All with the knowledge that I will fail. And that is okay. Aware there will always be more waiting around the corner. That going the “wrong” way is not the end. The next bruise will heal, too.

Post-hospital proof of life. And yes. It includes the cat.

I will do what I can in the meantime…no matter how small and simple it may seem. I will take my vitamins. Schedule infusions and follow-up appointments. Track my migraines. Eliminate and add potential triggers. Watch my food choices. Remove and try potential trigger foods. Send my mama "proof of life" photos. Continue to discover what this ridiculous body of mine tolerates and utterly refuses to digest. Rest when my body clamors for it. Chase the cat down for a cuddly (or not so cuddly- do you see those claws?!) hug to soothe my aching heart. Experiment with new water packet flavors. Attempt to stay hydrated. And use my time wisely.

See, I’ve learned that even in the waiting, there are things to be done. Topics to research. Passions to find. “Taboo” conversations to have. Beliefs to be deconstructed and rebuilt. As bruises heal and scars mend, there are books to read, pieces to write, and pictures to order and hang. On better days, there are showers to take, toilets to clean, and muffins to bake. Some days, there are even plants to re-pot, elaborate suppers to make, and couples to invite to the house.

Waiting and growing exist simultaneously. Healing and maturing coincide. Restoration is a form of flourishing, no matter how slow or how painful. Active waiting.

I wait for better days, healthier days...one foot in front of the other. Plodding onward. Renouncing defeat and refusing to wear that. Rejecting the tendency towards apathy and casting-off the temptation to sit stagnant. Moving towards a season where I am not the punching bag. And in the meantime, I will proudly make my toilet gross, fully embracing that in and of itself, it is a sign of health, while hoping for the days where I can clean said toilet myself…those bruises healed and waiting for the next step towards health.

Bruises are unavoidable, dear friend. Physical or mental, emotional or even spiritual bruises are a part of the human experience. Fighting it is worthless. They are not the end, though. Far from it. We can acknowledge and care for them, or we can aggravate and poke them tirelessly. Our response to said bruises is always in our control. Always. Focus on healing well. Concentrate on waiting well. Find the salves that offer relief – choose them wisely.

I may be bruised, but I am not a bruise. Choose this truth, friend. Choose hard. Don't give up. Pick the path of active waiting. Breathe between the punches and face the next one head on. Choose hope. Love your bruises. Admire those scars. Mourn what was and look forward with hope in the same blink.

You will heal. I will, too. One day. Believe that <3

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