Divorce and Chronic Illness

During the last year I have battled with my health, and as a result have battled with loving myself. When I look in the mirror I see scars from surgeries, cellulite from poor lymphatic systems, bloated belly from something Ive eaten or just a mere buildup of poop. I see swelling and tension. I see the person I used to be with a few extra layers of stress. But part of what will make me a better Endowarrior, a better advocate for other endo warriors and ultimately a person who loves herself again, is addressing topics that Ive been harbouring for years. That buildup of stress is partly due to these psychological issues. So Im breaking them down, one by one.

***

When I was in highschool I met a boy, and he became my highschool sweetheart. Our naive child selves were blissfully in love for 8 years and then decided to get married. We held hands. We cuddled. We loved one another in every way. For 8 years we never argued (*red flag) and we came by very little stress. So when the stress hit, we didn’t know how to handle it. First, I wanted to start having babies. Lucky for him – and I say that because anyone who is married to a chef knows the chef is married to their work – we failed at getting pregnant for about a year before I went to the GP and got a referral to a fertility clinic. When the clinic asked for both of us to come in for examination I was ready, waiting in line. He, not so much. Taking time off work was the most challenging thing (in his mind) and he wasn’t all that interested in what the doctor had to say. But this was important to me, and reluctantly he came along. Results showed that he was perfectly fine to which he said ‘thank God its not on me”. Yeah,.. that happened. Let me just say it didn’t bode well with the doctor either. My results on the other hand showed a clear indication that I had endometriosis and thus an ablation surgery – the most robust surgery at the time – was to be scheduled for several months down the road.

In the meantime, my husband was accepted to be on Top Chef Canada – a reality TV series that took him away from home for 5 weeks, and delivered him back to me as a PTSD Zombie. In the past I was able to overlook his flaws, particularly those related to putting his work before me, drinking every night, and sometimes not even showing up until the wee hours of the morning. We were still young and I was able to keep making excuses for him. But once the PTSD kicked – a syndrome I read a lot about when someone is in a high intensity reality tv show like this, closed off from the world for an extended period of time, prided on winning – I was determined to get him help because it was only exacerbating these flaws. The drinking was endless. The working was like a drug. And his moods were manic. I was able to get him to see a doctor who evidently put him on a series of mood altering drugs; some of which helped and others made him an insomniac. That’s when he started coming home late, accompanied by another young lady. Unbeknownst to me, a large community of people were privy of this relationship and I was only speculating from the inside out. What fuelled my fire was my determination to have a child and start a family all the while he was galavanting around town with this other woman.

Over the course of 8 months, we struggled to find a balance of work-life and to gather tools to make us stronger as a couple – at least until the airing of the show and then perhaps the resolution of the show would give us peace. During March of 2012 the show started to air. My rockstar of a husband was kicking butt, and he was getting a bit more life into him. The anxiety and depression were still deep rooted, and I could support that as best I could, but we were challenged with having a baby which was increased by his absences yet again. A month before my surgery, and in the crux of the show airing, I woke up one morning and knew… I just knew I had had a miscarriage. In hindsight I could have, and perhaps should have, done a pregnancy test but in the depths of hollowness, that was much too logical. I felt empty. I felt lost. I felt, dehumanized. I was covered in bloody sheets. I called my husband, who didn’t seem to believe me, and didn’t rush home to be by my side. When all was said and done, he challenged me as to why I would lie about such a thing and was furious I hadn’t done a pregnancy test. This wasn’t the man I married. This Zombie – a hollow shell of the man I once loved – was challenging me on something my body knew to be true. If you have had a miscarriage, you know that immediate feeling of loss.

I was swallowed whole by the endeavour and honestly that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. There was only so much I could bounce back from – including the new revelation that this new girlfriend of his frequented our house during the week (late) nights when I was fast asleep and sometimes even slept over. While presumed, infidelity was not something I would tolerate but I could have worked through it if I was given the chance. Over a period of a month he continually refused to go to therapy; the last approach was when he said “You won’t want to go to therapy, you won’t want to hear what a bitch you are”. Again, I could have dealt with all of this, given the chance. But when the miscarriage was challenged I was left with nothing more to fight for.

Later that week when I insisted on accompanying him at the bar to keep tabs on his new relationship, and I drove us home late at night, he finally admitted that he didn’t want to have children. This to me was one less thing I now had to deal with. But the guilt set in. Here I was, scheduled to have a fairly invasive surgery for the purposes of fertility, and yet our journey to get pregnant had come to a permanent halt. What was I to do? I spoke to friends and family. I even spoke to my GP. It culminated into the idea that having three months – the estimated window of time I had to get pregnant following the ablation – of no period pain was worth the surgery altogether. My surgeon may have begged to differ but my body longed for a positive sensation after all of this.

During the surgery the surgeon found endometriosis on my ovaries (intrapelvic) and outside my uterus (extrapelvic) on my bladder and parts of my colon. These lesions were all cauterized with the exception of the those around the bladder as the surgeon didn’t feel comfortable in that area. I awoke from surgery struggling to comprehend how bad the endometriosis was. I wasn’t even aware endometriosis could infiltrate other organs. I thought it was purely a reproductive organ issue. I was struggling to comprehend how severe this had gotten and became immediately thankful that I had gone through with the surgery. Information back then was still truly lacking, and ablation was our best option, but with all I knew that day I was feeling accomplished.

My parents stayed with me for a few days, then my husband gleefully took over my care. I asked him why he was being so caring and he said, with a sheepish (and what I thought, selfish) voice “I like being needed”. But as the days went on and I began to gain mobility, needing him less meant things were going back to how they were before the surgery. He was at the surgery in body, but not in spirit, and nothing that I endured was impacting him whatsoever. It was only a matter of weeks before I packed my bags and left. There was nothing left to salvage. Maybe it was the endometriosis that gave me more clarity. Maybe it was the miscarriage. But I could no longer put myself responsible for his mood, his actions, his behaviours. I needed a fresh start, along with my clean uterus.

***

I moved away a few years later to a suburb of Los Angeles, taking my post-separation dog with me and started a new life. I admittedly still had a lot of endometriosis pain but it was primarily with my periods and I could mitigate the pain through Advil or basic low grade medications. Two years later Charlie (the dog) and I continued on our journey to Vancouver, residing back in Canada but still far away from my past life. It just so happened that when I wasn’t looking, I fell deeply madly in love again. My heart had had time to heal, and this man crept into my life when I least expected it. Only problem was he was in Ottawa; literally the other side of the country and where all my skeletons lay. Moving to Vancouver actually acted as some sort of a trigger for me, because two months in my body erupted with pain. I mean, earth shattering, overwhelming, everywhere pain. To this day I’m not sure how I got so lucky to be referred and accepted into BC Women’s so quickly but a specialist there was able to discern through therapy and pain pathways that over the course of 5 years the ablated endometriosis has continued to grow and spread all the way up to my diaphragm. A year later, living with this tremendously debilitating pain, I had surgery to excise (finally, to pluck everything out from the root) all of the endometriosis, but unfortunately the lesions on my diaphragm – while confirmed – were still in tact given the nature of their location. Only a thoracic surgeon can help navigate a surgery like that and it’s much more complicated. These are all things I learned after the surgery. 8 months later, I was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis. I had no idea I even had it, but this episode brought it out of hiding and my life turned upside down.

My man at the hospital biding time while I heal.

From early 2017 to late 2018 my man traveled constantly to be by my side. Every surgery, every test, every missed holiday that kept me from flying home. He passed the baton back and forth with my parents. Eventually the stress of being in Vancouver alone, caring for a dog that ended up passing away before my move, it was time to be in closer proximity to my support network. I moved back to Ottawa and into my boyfriend’s abode to start our life together. While the skeletons are still here in the city, we conquer them together. While I stare at the mirror trying to remember who I am he reminds me that he loves me. And while we have chosen not to try to conceive, he provides for me in more ways than I can describe. So, as I write this I get a little bit of my life back, and hopefully shine light on the fact that my divorce was a great thing after all.

Sidenote: There has been a great deal of focus on the effects of reality tv series, and how the high intensity environment can elicit depression. In the year my husband was on Top Chef Canada, several of the contestants were shortly divorced or had moved away for sanity. My research has shown this is not isolated to cooking shows but any reality show where the contestant is trying to ‘win’ and is disconnected from friends and family for a period of time. The loss of sense of reality plays into the need for winning. If you have a loved one who has gone through this and is suffering in silence, please talk to your doctor on their behalf. With the right care, hopefully the effects can be reversed.

https://www.marieclaire.com.au/reality-tv-mental-health

https://www.cnn.com/2019/03/29/opinions/reality-stars-and-social-media-opinion-intl/index.html

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