As practically everyone in the Western world knows, today the blockbuster book Eat Pray Love hits theaters with Julia Roberts center screen. Like the book’s author Elizabeth Gilbert, we all have our journeys, and we all have our epiphanies along the way. Here are some postcards from mine that led me here. Now. Nourished. This is Part 1 of 3.
Whoosh, writing this was tough. My journey to being nourished started with, quite frankly, a whole lot of pain. These are moments in time from the five years that turned my life upside down.
I’m sitting at my desk at work in Manhattan trying not to wince while my knees throb so palpably I can almost here a thRUM, thRUM, thRUM coming from them. I try to stay focused on the screen in front of me and not freak out at the little voice in my head that says, “Oh my God, if you feel like this at 23, just think how much you’ll be hurting at 40 … 50 … 65!”
Most mornings I have trouble twisting the cap off the toothpaste.
I feel ancient and fragile and frail and … fat. Not obese, but fat like an overstuffed-cushion-straining-the-seams fat. With all this pain and the discomfort of too much me, I feel like I’m somewhere—in someone’s body—I’m not meant to be.
My doctors don’t know what the hell to make of me. I’ve had blood tests and MRIs, been shuttled from specialist to specialist and given cortisone shots in both my shoulders and hips, and they still don’t know what’s wrong with me.
It’s a summer day in San Francisco and I’m bundled in my woolies at the office of my new rheumatologist. I’ve been Christopher’s wife just three months. I’m away from friends and family and everything I’ve known, and now, based on what my doctor has just told me, I have a new title, too.
Part of me is petrified by what he’s saying; I have a disease that, if not kept in check, may kill me. As my doctor tells me how important it is that I “adopt a healthy lifestyle,” the little voice inside me howls, “HOOOWWW?”
Part of me, though, is relieved, too. The pain I’ve been feeling all these years finally has a name. There’s something we can do about it, medication he can prescribe.
So I do as he says and start taking pills, stay out of the sun and try to get a grip on my new reality.
It’s just days before Christmas, and Christopher and I are packing for a trip to Paris. I am busting out excited. After coping with the lupus diagnosis and adjusting to the drugs, I’m ready for something good.
The phone rings. I answer. It’s my doctor. “I got your pap test back and I have some news.” I gulp. “It has come back irregular. Highly irregular.”
“What does that mean?” I ask, feeling my legs turn to jelly.
“We’ll have to do more tests to find out what it means for sure, so let’s have you come back in.”
“But I’m leaving tomorrow for Paris.”
Silence. “Oh. Well, that’s fine. This can wait a few weeks.”
“You’re sure I shouldn’t be worried?”
“No, no. Don’t be worried. Just go enjoy your trip and we’ll get you in for more tests when you get back.”
It’s strange to look back and have such incredibly dichotomous memories of that trip. In the photos, I’m beaming—I’m with my beloved husband who has never been to France, in my old stomping grounds from when I was a student at the Sorbonne, in a city I adore.
But I also remember a deep, gnawing, unabating terror that’s invisible in the photographs. I was convinced that this would be the last trip Christopher and I would ever take together. As we sipped café au laits and nibbled on croissants, I already felt too much of a burden to my new groom to share these new woes.
So I kept them to myself.
It has been a year since that phone call from my doctor and I’m lying on the pullout couch with a pillow over my stomach. My mom and Christopher are taking turns keeping our puppy at bay. Instinctively, he wants to care for me after my hysterectomy.
Month after month of various tests turned up absolutely nothing until, a few weeks ago, I’d asked my gynecologist to take another look at the original results before closing the case. She’d called back two days later with a grave note to her voice.
“I hate to say this, Lia, but the previous lab misdiagnosed. You don’t have what we’ve been looking for all year.”
“Well that’s good.”
“You have something much worse.”
Forget jelly knees. I just collapsed. “What does that mean?”
“You have adenocarcinoma in situ, and they’re highly unpredictable, pre-cancerous cells. I’m going to set you up with an oncologist to get a second opinion, but I think you and Christopher need to talk about whether or not you want to have children. If you want to have a child, you need to do it now—and it will still be risky. Otherwise, I’d like to schedule you for a hysterectomy next week.”
I’m in such deep shock that I don’t feel anything. The cloud cushions me, in fact, until Christopher gets my call, hops on a plane in Maryland, walks through our door and holds me. Then I fall apart.
To this day, every time a new doctor looks at my chart their eyes pop and then they look at me and tell me how incredibly lucky I am that someone caught the diagnosis. That I’m lucky to be here, sitting across from them, alive.
It’s two days before the turn of the Millennium, and Christopher and I drive into Tahoe. All the cars have skis on their roof racks; we have beach chairs.
The week before, we’d put everything we owned into storage (or into the back of our truck, which now sports a nifty two-level storage system and chili pepper drapes thanks to Christopher) and moved out of our apartment. We’ve decided to take a life sabbatical and drive to Costa Rica.
The decision, like most huge life decisions, was long in coming and then made in an instant. Christopher was miserable with his job and questioning … everything. What was happiness? What did we really need? What are we here for?
And I didn’t have any stomach left for wasting time with things that sucked the life out of us. I was tired of baby showers (which were a regular occurrence for my friends back then) turning into pity parties … and then having to grapple with the guilt accompanying the admission that I didn’t even really want to be a mom. I was tired of feeling tired from the lupus. Truth be told, I was pissed at my body.
We were on a bike ride in the Marin Headlands one day in April fantasizing about chucking it all and driving to Costa Rica and I just stopped and got off, right by the estuary, and said, “let’s do it. Let’s just say right now that we’ll just figure out a way to make it happen and do it.”
Eight months later we’re in Tahoe in the dead of winter with no home and beach chairs on our truck.
Click here for Part 2: Soul. My soulful awakening around food happened during a year abroad in Europe. The reverberations, though, lasted decades.