Greg came to the US to bring me back to Melbourne. I was off the drugs due to an allergic reaction, convinced the colitis was a one-off episode. After months of fixating on the status of the work visa, as soon as I let it go, it was approved.
Living in a foreign land, immersing myself into a new culture and starting full-time work while missing my loved ones and my old life brought on a whole new kind of stress. An ongoing sinking feeling in my gut became my new baseline.
Greg and I found a healthy rhythm together. Occasional fights were exacerbated by homesickness. I desperately missed my family, my bestie, my self-employment, my community, myself.
Being homesick became a constant ache in my heart, a void of joy filled with loneliness and daily tears. I soldiered on, trying to make friends, doing my yoga and meditation practice, pretending to be happy. A flood of untruths washed over – things will get better, I’ll be okay, happiness will return.
I tried to keep my head above water while the undertow of despair sucked me down.
When Greg dropped to one knee and proposed, elation rushed through me, a dream come true. The pressures of wedding planning, expectations and my fragile mental health turned my dream into a nightmare. We spent most of our ten-month engagement in a cycle of arguments. I questioned our future, doubting we would make it to the altar.
Inside of me the storm clouds of stress rumbled into a thunderous crash, soaking me in a downpour of anxiety. My nervous system was under attack, I had never in my life felt so out of control. There was no reprieve, I just kept pushing forward to the wedding.
I limped over the wedding day finish line only to be greeted the next morning by the colitis.
It held out as long as possible, but the disease has been building over the year, patient enough to wait until after the wedding to present itself.
The disease curiously appeared and disappeared over the next few months, eventually making itself at home, an unwelcome visitor. Various treatments were unsuccessful. Eventually, oral steroids began to do their job, vanishing the symptoms. I felt I had crossed another finish line, celebrating the final day of an 8-week course of steroids when bam, it came back. This time with a vengeance, a raging inferno.
My health was going downhill then quickly progressed to an avalanche of destruction. The drugs stopped working. I had lost twenty pounds, could no longer eat, there was crippling fatigue with gripping pain.
I had lost so much iron the pigment drained from my face, I looked like a corpse.
It was a sunny winter’s day when Greg pulled the car into the patient drop-off area for the colonoscopy. I was so weak I asked myself if I could make the walk from the car to the desk. My body was running on fumes, not a drop of gas left in the tank. I told myself I could do it. One foot in front another, one step at a time. The finish line was in sight.
When I awoke from the colonoscopy my doctor’s eyes pierced through me. She placed her hand on my wrist,
“Tara, you are the worst case I have ever seen. Your colon looks like ground hamburger meat.”
Her words enveloped me, a solace to my suffering. She affirmed I had reached rock bottom.
I was admitted to the hospital. Morphine, IV steroids, a slew of IV nutrients and medication poured into me. Drugs are miraculous; the symptoms dissolved away.
The side effects of the steroids raged a war inside of me: insomnia, leg cramps, an insatiable appetite, hot flashes and debilitating mood swings. Not to mention, the water retention was so severe within 36 hours I had gained back all the weight. My frail skeleton swelled into a puffy marshmallow.
Over the seven days in the hospital attention was only paid to the physical symptoms, my mental and emotional health were never addressed. My nervous system was stuck in fight or flight, consumed by fear searching to find the light in the dark abyss of my own mind.