I am not at the movies right now.
I am sitting on my bed, at the not-movies, writing this blog, not eating popcorn, because I was not feeling well enough to haul my butt up and go watch the dumb Jungle Book which, yes, looks dumb, but at least it’s at the movies.
Durbin and Hana and Olivia are at the movies. Right now they are probably shaking off their umbrellas and getting out of the car. Later Durbin will text me to tell me that the movie was dumb. Yes, Durbin, I know it was dumb, but that’s not the point.
This is the point: there’s a feeling that’s almost worse than not feeling well enough to go out and do things, and it’s wondering if you are. I have been very sick in my life. I have even, for a short time, been bed-ridden. But there’s nothing I hate quite as much as that middle-ground in between sickness and wellness where you have to either take the risk or pass it up.
Maybe I would’ve been fine at the movies. Maybe I would’ve started feeling better, maybe it would’ve taken my mind off of the headache and chills and sitting here writing about them is actually the worse option. But maybe it would’ve been terrible.
But here I am, starting at the end. I’d better go back to the beginning.
Imagine, for a moment, that it is the first of April. A Friday, and a busy one at that. Imagine that you are me, and you wake up to finish packing for the weekend because you’ll be driving three people an hour and a half into the countryside for a non-stop two day rehearsal. You have to finish packing now, in the morning, because you have a math class in the afternoon, and then you have to put special allergen-free food in a cooler and pick up your classmates and get to the countryside in time for the dinner that you can’t eat.
Now imagine that the thing that wakes you up is not your alarm, but a massive and searing pain in your abdomen. The one that means diarrhea.
This is Day One.
Your first reaction is terror: how can you get through the weekend if you’re this sick? Your rehearsal is in a barn, for goodness sake, with a shed for a restroom! What if you have to pull over on the way with those three other people in your car and they wonder why you’re taking so long in that gas station when you said that you just needed to pick up a bottle of water?
Sometimes the worst part about being sick is all of the effort that goes in to hiding it. That’s why you decide to do this next part, even though it is slightly embarrassing: you send a message to your cast’s group chat, explaining how sick you are. You don’t go into detail because you are not a monster, but you tell the truth.
At this point in your life you expect people to be understanding, but you don’t always expect them to be kind. Your classmates are kind. They ask after you, offer up their support, try to find ways to make you more comfortable with the situation. You are on the toilet, happy-crying. This is what it’s like to make new friends.
Now that the cat is out of the bag, you have to find a possible solution. You know that you are due for your shots soon, and that sometimes the day or two before you take them your stomach can start acting up. You were planning to wait until after the weekend to obtain them from Durbin, who is the designated friend that your mom has run errands for her. He has driven the shots up in a cooler on his most recent trip from Houston to Austin, a favor in itself. But it is time to call in another one.
You send him a text: Ugh I feel bad bc today is very busy so I can’t come get them myself, but truthfully I am having a lot of diarrhea and I need to take my shots if I’m gonna make it through the weekend.
He responds: Same.
Durb agrees to take the large styrofoam cooler carrying your very important medicine to his meeting that morning and then drive it to your math class on campus. Your things are packed, your stomach cramps, a plan is set– it’s time to go. You look out the window just in time to see that it has started pouring rain. Brilliant.
On the way to class a nearby car turns a corner too fast by a curb you were standing too close to and a huge spray of water soaks you, just like in a romantic comedy, except when your phone rings it’s not a cute stranger who accidentally dialed the wrong number but the two of you hit of off and go out for coffee and laugh about how wet your clothes are. Instead it’s Durbin, waiting outside your math class to deliver your needles.
“That’s not how an umbrella works,” he says when you arrive, soaking.
“I got water splashed on me!” you shout, struggling to balance the heavy cooler in your arms while maintaining a grip on your book bag. “Thank you, thank you!”
Durb waves goodbye and heads back to his car. You don’t know this at the time, but you won’t see him again until the night of Chloe’s wedding. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves– that is on Day Nine, and this is still Day One.
Once inside your math class you place your book bag, soggy umbrella, and giant cooler at your feet. The girl next to you looks at you strangely, and you remember that this weekend is better known at your school as Roundup, a time notorious for binge drinking and partying.
“Oh, no–” you start, motioning to the cooler, “This isn’t– I don’t have any alcohol.” She blinks back at you. “Really!” you say, “It’s just my medicine, here, look.”
With that you lift the lid of the cooler, remove one ice pack and both of your stare down at a nearly frozen dvd copy of Herbie: Fully Loaded.
“Oh.” she says. You lift the dvd to find your medication hidden under it, but she is now staring straight ahead.
Mentally, you curse Durbin for his prank. Physically, you slip the copy into your backpack. You’re going to watch it later, but he doesn’t have to know.
That evening out in the countryside you steal away for a quick moment after dinner to give yourself two shots in your legs. Your friend Kenneth comes along. He says he wants to watch, but really you think he just doesn’t want you to have to be alone for this.
Everything is fine until you pull out the last needle and blood spews from your leg. It’s the worst you’ve ever bled from your shots before, and you’re trying to act calm in front of Kenneth while you cup your hands under your thigh to stop it from dripping onto the carpet. “We’ve got a bleeder!” you shout, and he runs over with a paper towel. Eventually the bleeding slows, you pull up your pants, and the two of you walk to the barn for rehearsal. You start with an improv game and hope no one can see your legs shaking.
The rest of the weekend goes surprisingly well for three days of sharing a bathroom with six other people. There’s only one bad moment, on Day Two, when you’ve been rehearsing out in the sun for too long and your stomach is cramping up and all you can think about is how badly you want to sit down with a heating pad and wait out the pain.
But your scene is up next and everyone is filing into the barn. You’ve got one hand causally pinching your side with all of your might and the majority of your brain power focused on looking like you aren’t in pain. Just before your entrance another cast member, Gabe, walks over. A hand on your back he asks, “Do you feel okay?”
It’s a little moment, and it doesn’t make the pain better. It doesn’t stop your scene from going up next or give you a chance to rest. But somehow, it helps. It’s enough.
And, as you’ve learned to expect, everything keeps going.
On Day 6 you tell your mom. You’ve called her on your way to class just to chat, and when she asks how you’ve been feeling you say “fine” because you’re on a crowded elevator and even you are not that bold. Once out of earshot, you whisper to her the truth: it’s been six days of diarrhea and your medicine hasn’t been helping.
You can tell that your mom is worried. You can tell that this reminds her of the last time she got a phone call like this, six semesters ago, and instead of advising you to slow down she said nothing and you ended up in the hospital for Christmas. You tell her not to worry, but she emails your doctor anyway.
“I don’t have time, Mom,” you tell her the next time you catch her on the phone. “Not with everything that’s coming up.”
Day Nine is one of the more important days of your life. Your best friend Chloe is getting married, and you’ve been chosen to be a bridesmaid. The morning of Chloe takes you all out for lunch at a nice french restaurant. You insist you aren’t hungry, which doesn’t really surprise anyone. Most of the girls have known you since high school and are used to your fear of eating out.
“I’m not very hungry either,” Chloe croons, excited and nervous all at once. “Here, we can split a fruit cup.”
As the other girls arrive Chloe bounds out to greet them and you take a seat with the two bridesmaids that you are closest to, Bonnie and Sophie.
“What’s the matter, Shannon?” Bonnie asks softly.
You look up, surprised. “How did you know?” you ask.
Bonnie shrugs. “I can just tell,” is all she says, and you are at once comforted and in awe of how long you have known each other. High school doesn’t seem so long ago, but you realize that you met Bonnie eight years before. It’s another overwhelmingly emotional moment in a day that will prove to be full of them.
But for now you lean forward and whisper “Don’t tell Chloe.” You go on to explain that your doctor wanted you to come into the hospital as soon as possible in order to get some tests run, just to make sure that everything was okay, but that you didn’t have time because of the wedding. “I haven’t had a solid poo in two weeks!” you say with a laugh, and then Chloe is back, sitting in front of you with an easy smile on her face.
“Shannon!” she says, plunking the fruit cup down in front of you. “Eat!”
You leave the restaurant early in order to have time to eat something light before heading to the venue. Once home you plop your head down on the counter in front of your mom. “Something easy,” you say, which is code for something that won’t hurt too badly should it come back up.
A tub of gluten-free noodles in your bag and your dress hanging from the hook in your car, you drive toward the wedding.
Even with all of your worrying and consequent preparation, sometimes you have a day that’s unpredictable. Someone does throw up in the bridal suite, but it is not you. For you, the rest of the night is golden.
You cry when you see Chloe in her dress for the first time. You cry when she walks down the aisle to “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You,” but it’s because you’re looking at Kirby’s face as he watches her walk toward him. You roll your eyes when you find Durbin at the reception, wearing a bolo tie because he couldn’t find a proper one. It actually looks good. You envy his ability to fly by the seat of his pants.
You eat a little chicken and drink a lot of wine. During the slideshow you count how many pictures of the couple are ones you took– it’s eleven. And then you dance for the rest of the night, with your parents, your brother, people you haven’t seen since high school, and some of your very best friends. It’s one of the most memorable, shining moments your life. And for the rest of the celebration, no one vomits.
On Day Ten you have to drive back to Austin. It’s a busy week with classes and rehearsals and auditions, and one very threatening math test looming. There is no time to stop at the hospital.
Day Eleven is the first time you write about it. It was a moment of frustration, a moment of fear. It was a moment of gratitude that whatever was going on with you had paused just briefly for Chloe’s wedding, and defeat at learning that it was now back.
Most of the time you are able to recognize that pain is just pain. When you were little and the cramps in your stomach would keep you awake at night you would imagine highlighting all of the afflicted areas in red, and then lifting them from your body and watching them hover over you. It’s just pain, you would tell yourself. That’s all.
Physical pain, you can get through. Physical pain is so small compared to loneliness. Sometimes the loneliness can go away, even when the cramps and the nausea don’t. Sometimes you can write about it and receive such an outpouring of love that you don’t feel alone at all. Those are the times that pain is more than pain. When it brings you something better, something that wouldn’t have existed without it.
That is what happens on Day Eleven. You write it down for the first time and post it as a caption in your instagram and you’re flooded with comments and messages asking after you, advising you to take care of yourself, telling you that you aren’t alone. It’s the same feeling you got when Bonnie told you that she can always tell when something is wrong– you feel at once looked after and also capable all on your own.
Day Twelve is a bad day. An awful day. The kind of day where you decide to buy a large fry from Whataburger because, hey, you’re going to have diarrhea no matter what you eat, so you might as well. Nothing changes, but it’s worth it.
At rehearsal on Day Fourteen you have to practice a dance. Quietly you take Kate aside and tell her that you’ve been sick all morning. “Oh,” she says, concerned, “Do you want to sit out?”
You shake your head no. “I just thought I should say something, just in case.”
On Day Fifteen you take your math test, and you are feeling pretty good. You get a snow cone. You watch some Netflix. In the evening your friend Ryan texts you, asking if you’d like a ride to Reilly’s birthday party. And you’re feeling good! You go!
About halfway through the night you start to feel a pain come on. This pain is specific. It doesn’t happen often. It’s not a warning for anything– there’s never any vomiting, but it will start in your upper abdomen, just above your ribs, and intensify until you can’t focus on anything else. Then, slowly, it will get better. There is nothing to do but wait it out.
You’re talking to a nice couple when you first feel it. It’s not frightening and it’s not terrible– at this point, it’s more of a nuisance. It stays while they tell you how they met at a Latin Convention. It grows as they talk about their first date. All of your energy has gone into keeping your face clear and bright, while behind the counter one hand clutches your gut. You’re looking around for a place to sit when you realize that you can’t keep pretending much longer. You also realize that, for whatever reason, it’s important to you that no one at the party knows what’s going on.
“Sorry, do you guys know where the bathroom is?” you ask, forcing a happy edge into your voice.
Moments later you’ve locked yourself in a stall and have curled up on the bathroom floor. The pain has taken over your body, radiating out from your core and into your arms and legs. You flex your fingers, an old trick to remind yourself that you are still in control of your body. After about five minutes you feel the intensity lessen and the wind-down begin.
Desperate, you dig through your bag and pull out your phone to type a text to Durbin. The pain has left your eyesight a little blurry and looking directly at the screen makes you feel sick to your stomach. You write: I am in a pickle.
No response, so you try again: I am at a party in a lot of pain, but I don’t want anyone to know.
After a few more minutes the cramping has nearly subsided, and you check the time. You’ve been gone for almost twenty minutes. You stand up and look at yourself in the bathroom mirror. It’s time to head back out.
“There you are!” Ryan says as you walk back into the party. “We’re thinking of leaving soon, do you want a ride?”
You nod, relieved. In the car your phone pings, and it’s Durbin. The message simply says: Come to Spiderhouse.
As Ryan drives down Guad you see the cafe coming up on the left. “Actually, could you drop me off right here?” you ask him.
You spot Durbin from across the street and give him a wave. “I didn’t think you’d actually come,” he says, surprised.
“I didn’t either,” you reply, and you realize that the pain is finally entirely gone, just like it had never happened at all.
And that brings us to the day I started writing this blog, Day Seventeen. The day that Durbin asked me to go to the movies with Olivia and Hana and I dressed myself and packed my bag and stood in front of the door, trying to decide if the reward was worth the risk. If the party was worth the possibility of sitting on the floor of the bathroom. If the vulnerable post is worth the closeness I may or may not feel with the people who will read it.
I didn’t go to the movie. Fully dressed, I laid back down in my bed and three hours later Durbin texted me to tell me it was great. Maybe it would’ve even been worth it. I just don’t know.
Something else I didn’t know was that over the course of writing this blog I would still be having diarrhea every day. I would get tired of missing movies and finally make an appointment to go to the hospital to see if something was wrong.
But that’s a story about another day. On the seventeenth day, I was still in that in-between place. The place of not knowing. A place where the risk outweighed the reward.
And even though it’s such a little thing, on Day Seventeen I was not at the movies.
4 thoughts on “Seventeen Days”
Shannon, it hard to imagine the pain you feel, but you are so strong. It is so inspirational to read about how you get through this, through the good and bad days, and how you find ways to remain positive. Even if there are times that aren’t positive, it is encouraging to know that the pain ends and life moves forward. Thank you for sharing your stories 🙂
I don’t feel your exact pain, but I can understand missing out on things, on the desire to NOT miss out on things, and the constant battle of what a thing is worth. I’ve been a celiac since I was 5; I’m now 23. The thought of going out to eat (on a date, with a group, anything other than with friends I know very well) makes me nervous… And often, I skip it.
No amount of nerves can compare to chronic pain. I so wish you didn’t have to deal with it, and even though I don’t actually know you beyond this blog and your Instagram, I wish I could help. It’s not something I’m expecting, because the Internet is big and strangers aren’t friends, but please feel free to reach out if you need someone that won’t see you the next day – someone that won’t ever look at you differently. (celiacprincess on IG).
Keep your head up, girlfriend! You’ve got this – even if it may not always seem like it.
I have Crohns too, I empathize with you, totally understand what you mean about feeling not terrible like when you are really sick, but just not well enough to do normal things- and no one knows because it is invisible!
As I was reading this, I was wishing your blogs were a book so I can take it with me to read everywhere I go. It’s interesting because I hardly read, but I get hooked into your blogs. I get to experience what you’ve gone through. Maybe it’s not the best or happiest thing to experience, but I enjoy all of it. I love understanding you. I love learning the lessons you’ve learned. I love all of it. Thank you for sharing, Shannon.