Speaking, Studying, and Salvation: the Gut-Wrenching Story of Me
In the months following graduation, many of us have come to find the truth behind that old adage about the "best laid plans of mice & men". Our guest this week shares the story of her courageous discoveries throughout the process of picking herself back up when life delivered a knock-down punch to the gut.
Did you know that your digestive system has bidirectional communication pathways that connect to both sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and that signals received in the digestive system can have an effect on reducing stress-induced corticosterone, anxiety, and even depression like symptoms? The digestive tract or “gut” is pretty integral to our well-being. When there is injury to the upper digestive system (mouth, esophagus) a tube is placed to direct nutrients into the stomach, or even the small intestine, in order to keep the remainder of the gut functional and prevent necrosis. This functionality allows for many wonderful things in your body to continue, such as the prevention of those depression like symptoms I mentioned above. WHAT! Isn’t that CRAZY?! But what happens when the injury is lower in the digestive tract and causes greater damage, damage that is life-threatening? Well, I could give you all the specifics about J-tubes (a tube that is placed in the small intestine that allows nutrients to enter the body) or TPN (a system of nutrition that surpasses that digestive tract and in some instances causes the digestive system to decay). OR you could just recognize that my intro had a Grey’s Anatomy edge to it and I’m actually leading you to a completely different soap-opera-esque topic through the use of an extended metaphor. What can I say, I’m a nutrition nerd who loves prime time drama and who also finds the digestive system fascinating!
I graduated in spring of 2012 from SUNY New Paltz with a degree in French, Anthropology, and Communication Media Production. Thanks to a lot of hard work I had finished my five years as an undergraduate without any loans. I had a summer job as a camp counselor lined up. I was going to spend the next year in France teaching English. I was dating a guy who seemed pretty great. I honestly thought that my life was set. 100% full health digestive tract (Back to that metaphor!)
It was at that point that I guess you could say I suffered a catastrophic injury to the gut. My experience at the summer camp left me feeling drained, taken advantage of, and distrusting. My visa paperwork from France never came through and, even if it had, I got physically ill every time I thought about moving to France (nauseous, anxious, depressed). I knew it would not be a good idea to move to the other side of the world at that specific time. And that boyfriend who I thought was pretty great ended up being very abusive, both emotionally and physically. At one point he held a lighter to my chest and told me he would light me on fire if I didn’t do what he said. When I woke up the next morning I thought I had been imagining the whole thing, until I saw the scorched hole in my t-shirt where the lighter had been. Another night I called my friend Brittany and told her that I had to get out because it wasn’t safe, only to convince myself that he needed me to stay and that I was being ridiculous. I wish I could say that I was the heroine in my own Lifetime Original movie of a life, but he ended up breaking up with me. The whole situation was a mess. I was a mess. My digestive system of life was a mess. I was going to need that J-tube.
Here’s the part where it gets better! You’re telling yourself as you read this. She wins the lottery! She invents Post-Its! She meets the Archduke of Genovia and becomes heir to a distant European throne and actually uses at least one of those majors she spent five years at a state school obtaining! You’d actually be very close. I worked in the child care of a gym. I worked in the footwear department at Dick’s Sporting Goods. I worked as an administrative assistant at a local theater company. That’s basically the same thing, right? I also started opening up to people again and tried my hand at dating. I thought I had found “the one.” It ended in fiery burning flames of awfulness. I made a few more relationship mistakes. Like one... hundred. Like one-hundred. I thought I found “the one” again. Spoiler alert: I hadn’t.
In bringing it back to my original comparison, I was ready for TPN, where the gut is considered to not be functioning well enough to sustain a body and may not even be worth saving. At the time if you had asked me if I wanted to die, it would’ve been a hollow “yes.” I needed something extraordinary to help me heal my soul from all the hurt that I felt.
STOP WITH THE LIFETIME ORIGINAL MOVIE ALREADY!
Your mind is exploding with how Hilary Duff’s sister could probably star in the movie of my weird, sad life. I know; I am sorry this part is whiny. It gets better. In the process of all of this shi….cough, SHENANIGANS, I somehow made some good decisions. I joined a Toastmasters club where I had the opportunity to learn from others and to grow in who I was as a communicator. Sometimes when people ask me why I joined Toastmasters I give them the standard “Oh, you know, I wanted to improve my public speaking skills” or “I had friends who spoke highly of it.” However, to be brutally honest, I wanted a place where for seven minutes I could talk about whatever I wanted and have others pay attention, not because they had to, but because they wanted to. Through my time in Toastmasters I learned to value my words, what impact they can have, and what power I can wield with them. There are parts of my life, as you know from the mini-series above, that I didn’t give myself that privilege. I denied myself the right to be heard. Not anymore. If I don’t open my mouth to voice my thoughts, how will others hear my voice? If I can’t respect myself, why would others bother to do it for me? I found myself reawakening to what I wanted and who I wanted to be. My life (or my digestive system in that analogy of the digestive system) was being restored.
Another decision I made was to follow my passions of fitness and nutrition. I decided to go back to school to become a Registered Dietitian, just like the woman who had helped start me on my journey of losing sixty pounds! At first I was suuuuuuuuuuper excited about going back to school. I was like a freshman in college all over again excited to absorb all the nourishing knowledge that would be offered to me. What I got was a slap of reality. SUNY New Paltz was like a warm cocoon where students were allowed to grow at their own pace under the loving guidance of professors and other staff members, and only spread their wings when they were fully ready to do so. My next undergraduate experience was like being thrown into the stampede scene in the The Lion King where I made it out alive, but just barely. I really don’t know how Mufasa fits into this analogy, but I did have a professor who was DEFINITELY like Scar. Things had to be juuuuuuuust so, you had to cow-tow (isn’t that a funny expression?) and if you didn’t...look OUT! I don’t want to play the pity card again on this one. I did make some great friends, I got my degree and I found myself working on the next step toward my dream job. I may have been burnt out on that school and in some super fun student loan debt, but I was definitely not burnt out on nutrition! However, I learned some hard lessons about the “real world” that even working in the real world previously didn’t teach me the first time around. In spite of having found my voice through Toastmasters and wanting to be heard, sometimes it is better to keep your mouth SHUT. Following authority figures can be hard, but there’s truth to that adage “Pick your battles.”
To nerd out on you a little bit, it’s like the Battle of Bunker Hill in the Revolutionary War. The Americans are determined to protect the hill and have limited men, ammo, and supplies. The British have ALL the things. The Americans were able to cause some casualties, but in the end the British just had more power and won the battle. Now OBVIOUSLY the Americans won the war, but in this battle they wasted resources and didn’t really gain much. In all seriousness, there will be situations in life where you want to fight, you want to prove that you know what you are doing, you want to win, and all you do is end up wasting resources that are precious to you, like time, energy, and passion. Sometimes it is better to wait for the right opportunity, the BEST opportunity, to speak your mind or to make a change. Learning that lesson was a hard experience. It was almost like swallowing some nasty medicine: disgusting, hard to get through, and eventually not needed, but helpful for healing (the digestive tract) in the long run.
Speaking of changes, let me talk about the last change that completely exploded my life (in the best way possible). Oddly enough this change was brought about by one of “the one”s who wasn’t “The One” at ALL. It started when he suggested that I check out this church that a friend of his went to. So I did. I was skeptical. There was no sheet music; I’m big on sheet music. There were a lot of people; I can be a bit claustrophobic. HOWEVER, it was home. It was a place where I felt accepted for who I had been before I walked in the door in spite of mistakes, welcomed for who I was in that exact moment, and loved for who I could (and would) become. I had been raised around the idea of church my whole life, but I’d never experienced anything quite like Northridge Church. I knew that God had led me through all of the craziness of my soap opera drama life so that I could rediscover who I was meant to be and truly begin to create my relationship with Him. I know that the idea of church and religion can be difficult to understand and you may even be rolling your eyes at me thinking I’m going to try and convert you through this very blog! Perhaps I am… Not to worry; I bring these emotions to you to let you know that in spite of how weird or hard or just gosh darn crazy life is, I have found something that makes me feel like me, something that gives me hope, something that affords me a purpose. I would hope that the way I’m describing how church changed my life would sound appealing and that it may be something you’d like to explore.
Jen, you’re starting to sound cult-y. It’s hard for me to describe how I feel about this without sounding culty. To be fair...a lot of people who are die-hard Fantasy Football teamers also sound culty. We love what we love. I don’t know who to credit the following quote to, but I feel that it applies: “From the outside looking in, it can be hard to understand, and from the inside looking out, it can be hard to explain.” I hope that you can accept that about my faith, kind of like how we accept that medicine works to repair damaged bodies, even if we don’t fully understand every biochemical aspect of its mechanism.
So where does that leave me now, In the digestive system of my life? Well, I am a mere nine months or so away from FINALLY becoming a Registered Dietitian. I am still so incredibly passionate about this field that everything continues to remain fascinating. I have several part time jobs that, even in spite of long days, I still adore. I have a church family that continually supports me and challenges me to be a better me. Have I found “the one”? Well, I have a boyfriend who I adore, who is the best and perhaps that relationship will progress, but he isn’t “the one.” I am. I am twenty-seven years old and have learned to love myself, in spite of myself.
My final advice to all you former leaders, current leaders, and leaders-to-be? Let the bad things simply be bricks that created the path to get you where you are today. Pick your battles, saving your energy for the things you are truly passionate about. Forgive yourself and be willing to love yourself. And of course don’t let the threat of failure or injury keep you from going with your gut; there is always a path back from injury, and besides, you never know what might happen!
Nutrition nerd out.
This post has been edited for grammar. All other content remains the original thoughts & expressions of the author.