Her eyes were heavy and her head ached. Another night of not enough sleep had turned the morning into a trial. All she wanted to do was slip back underneath the soft blankets covering her bed and refuse to come out of her cocoon until she felt better.
Her stomach turned and she seriously weighed the pros and cons of just leaning over the side of the bed and vomiting on the floor. Her limbs were so heavy, and the bathroom was so far. Bile rose in the back of her throat and the burn forced her to her feet. She stumbled her way into the bathroom and leaned over the open toilet, waiting.
Moments later, a pitiful mouthful of liquid grossness was in the toilet and she was struggling to lever herself back upright. The moment she moved, the nausea struck again, and she returned to her previous position, waiting.
Eventually, it was over and she retreated to the shower, tossing her clothing into the laundry basket, not caring when her pants ended up more on the floor than inside the hamper. She’d take care of it later.
She leaned against the wall, resting her cheek against the cool tile and waited for the water to heat up. The coldness helped the fog clear from her mind and she let out a sigh.
Dragging herself out of the shower was a challenge, but the ring of her alarm was a powerful motivator. She yanked on the first clothes that her fingers touched, mentally thanking her past self for being responsible and hanging outfits up together. She made it out the door in good enough time that her lift hadn’t yet arrived which she considered a personal win. She hated making people wait for her, and it happened far too often lately.
She made mindless conversation with the driver, asking after his kids and how his weekend plans had gone, not really listening. Her head had begun to pound again and her stomach was growling despite the still present nausea. It was not going to be a good day, she knew that already. If she’d had any leave left, she would have called in sick and fielded the calls from her boss, but she’d already depleted everything. Time off now would directly impact her pay cheque at the end of the month and she simply couldn’t afford it. There was rent to pay, her lift club, food. And then she had to scrape together the money for a doctor’s appointment because along with her leave, her medical aid was exhausted.
A comment the security guard who worked at her apartment block had made the previous day echoed in her mind. It’s expensive to live.
He was right. When she thought about the cost of her medicine, her doctor’s appointments, the constant leave she took and food she ordered on the days when she just couldn’t find the energy to cook, it was ridiculous.
Perhaps she was better off just stopping the medicine, skipping the appointments and letting nature do what it would. She still got sick, even with the medicine. It was less often, and less violent, but she still got sick.
She’d continue to get sick. If they were lucky, they’d figure out a treatment plan for her that would allow her to suppress the symptoms, let her eat and breathe and walk around without looking like a zombie. If they were lucky.
Sometimes she thought that it would’ve been luckier to just have never gone to the doctor in the first place. She’d have been more miserable but there’d be no side effects from hideously expensive medication. She wouldn’t be weighing up the pros and cons of neglecting her teeth versus neglecting her eyes.
She’d be a mess, she’d be in pain, she’d probably have stopped eating entirely. Maybe she’d even be dead, who knew.
The driver called her name. He was parked outside her office building. She hadn’t even noticed that the car had stopped, too wrapped up in her own private misery.
She thanked him and gathered up her bags, trying to smile when he joked with her about partying too hard on a Sunday night.
She got to her office and sank down in the comfortable chair at her desk, closing her eyes for a moment and appreciating the way it contoured to her aching muscles. This was why she was working for a corporation. Comfortable chairs and free coffee. The coffee was no longer a perk she could enjoy without her digestive system kicking up a fit but she inhaled the aroma jealously whenever her colleagues got their fix.
As she did every morning, she texted her mother a greeting and assured her that she wasn’t dead. Mom was terrified someone would kidnap her on the way to work, or that she’d end up in an accident, or that some other calamity would occur.
Almost immediately, her phone began to buzz as though Mom had been waiting with it in hand, counting down the seconds until she messaged. She wouldn’t put it past her Mom who was frighteningly overprotective sometimes – not over the right things, but still.
Gently, she swept the buzzing phone which now resembled an insect on its back from how much it shook into the drawer of her desk and stuck her earphones in. She’d respond to the messages soon, she wasn’t a complete horror of a daughter, but first there were emails to check and progress updates to send.
She hadn’t worked at all on the weekend so she needed to request an extension on her 09:30 deadline. She could already hear the freak out this would cause, but there was no helping it. She refused to submit sloppy work, even if it meant that she was late. It was a cause of professional pride that even though she sometimes submitted work late, she rarely if ever had it returned to her because there were errors that needed fixing.
As predicted, as soon as she’d sent the email to her boss, the phone on her desk rang. She grabbed it and answered, trying to inject false cheeriness into her tone. No need to infect the rest of the office with her bad mood like a big human storm cloud.
Pacifying her boss took several minutes, but she got what she wanted in the end. She had to endure several pointed questions in the interim and ended up sharing far more than she wanted to about her messed up bodily functions but the call ended with her boss telling her to “take all the time you need” so she chalked it up as a win.
When she lifted her head again, it was just past 1. Time for salaah, and probably time for food, if she could find something that wouldn’t make her feel bad. Salaah first though, or there was no guarantee that she’d manage the salaah at all. She’d sent through the urgent work, so there was no need to eat at her desk, and she entertained thoughts of heading to the close by mall for some food as she made her wudhu.
Salaah done, and riding the high of the energy boost it had given her, she grabbed her purse and made the walk. Her stomach was roaring but as she scanned the offerings at the food court, she felt a growing sense of disappointment. She couldn’t eat here. She’d forgotten that again, for a moment. She’d felt good enough that her body’s needs had slipped from her mind.
She turned around and went in search of a grocery store. She’d cobble together something and walk back to eat at her desk after all. It was better, really. Cheaper, and she’d be able to pick up groceries for home at the same time.
She managed to look on the bright side right up until she was sat at her desk and attempting to swallow the meal she’d made for herself. Salad, not bad at all. Water, that was fine too. No dessert. No spice. No taste, it felt like.
She grabbed her phone and began responding to her mother’s messages, pausing to whine to a friend about how much she missed pizza. She’d finished her lunch but there was no satisfaction. Her body was craving salt and grease and bread.
Stupid body. It was the one that kept puking up everything she gave it.
Purposely, she sat forward, remembering what her doctor had told her about lying back right after eating. It was a sure-fire way to get her feeling sick. She needed to remain upright, needed to not eat for at least four hours before reclining and needed to eat nothing that would irritate her body.
Easier said than done.
She’d also been warned away from stress, but that particular order had been completely ignored. She couldn’t avoid stress. Attempting to would make her stress about all the stress she hadn’t been able to avoid and then she’d explode.
There was a half hour left of her lunch break. She scrolled through social media, jealously looking at pictures of food and smiling faces, of friends who’d gone to parties, had adventures and were enjoying their lives fully while she’d been moaning and groaning all weekend.
She hadn’t known about any of the plans. No one bothered to invite her anymore, because she kept cancelling. She knew they thought she was a flake, knew they thought she was exaggerating about how sick she could get.
Twenty three year olds did not constantly get too sick to move, not without it showing on their faces. She whined over having stomach issues – everyone dealt with that. Pop some Rennies and move on.
That’s what they thought. She knew it because not too long ago, it had been what she herself thought. She’d kept going, kept pushing herself and ignoring the signs that something serious was wrong. She was 23. Yeah, she was probably putting her body through a hard time but she was young. She had time to be responsible and recover. Right now was the time to slog at work and prove herself, socialize with friends and enjoy herself and do some growing up before her parents began to really push the hints about settling down and getting married.
Now, three months later, it was a little late. She’d deteriorated fast, and she couldn’t hide it any longer. She got sick, she lay in bed and she could barely eat anything.
Her family and friends thought she was being a drama queen and got impatient and her bosses had already called her in once to discuss her work performance. No one understood. She was young and she still looked healthy, even though she wasn’t. She could hold herself together. She wasn’t ready yet to stop trying to do that, no matter how much easier it would be when the truth of her physical state was written on her face and body.
Maybe if she looked as frail as a grandmother, people would realise that she wasn’t being lazy or dramatic. Maybe if she needed to spend a couple weeks in a hospital then she’d finally get something other than lectures to buck up and brace herself because the worst was yet to come.
She hated it, all of it. She wanted to give up, so often.
It made her feel worthless. Her brain was there, fighting against the fog and ready to work but her body made up part of her as well and its illness affected all of her. She couldn’t ignore it and isolate herself to just her brain. She had to give in, to learn her new limits and be mindful of them, and it was awful.
The worst part was there was no cure. In this, the worst really was yet to come. She had no end date on this period of her life. She had no way of knowing that this was like work where she’d pay her dues and put in her time and then the hard times would ease up. It was likely that her body wouldn’t suddenly find a way to be healthy again.
She’d never been a marathon runner or a martial artist, but she’d been capable of living her life. She got sick, just like everyone else. Maybe even a little more than most people, but it was all temporary and she could push through it, still be alright. Now, she wasn’t.
She’d always ruled her body, and now it was ruling her.
The rest of the day passed by in a blur. She’d cried a little, on her lunch break. Quietly and to herself, thanking God that she had her own tiny office and didn’t share it with anyone else and allowing herself to feel pitiful and sad. No one else was being sympathetic, and she deserved a little sympathy, even if it had to come from herself. When she was done, she stuck a cloth on her face and got back to work. She needed to not get behind so that she wasn’t playing catch up after work. That time was for prepping meals and taking care of other chores. She couldn’t afford to hire help and she refused to live in a pigsty but it was a balancing act between sacrificing cleanliness or sleep often. She was determined to get herself a head start while she was still feeling okay so that her next bad day wouldn’t be quite so much of a kick in the teeth.
When she collapsed into bed that night, it was with a tired sense of satisfaction. Chores done, house clean, lunch ready. Lunch that wouldn’t make her puke even.
And then she woke up in the middle of the night with her throat on fire and weight on her chest. She leaned over hurriedly, burping as gas pushed its way out of her throat. There was no vomit, her stomach had digested everything in it, but there was still weight on her chest from the gas built up within her.
When it was all over, she was drained and she’d lost a good hour of sleeping time. She felt like a wrung out sponge, and she’d need to get up in three hours for work. Vague ideas of staying awake to make sure she didn’t miss her alarms were quickly eclipsed by a blanket of exhaustion and she shut her eyes almost without meaning to.
The alarm rang, and she began the now familiar morning routine of puking up nothing, cuddling the shower wall and readying herself for work. She sat in a chair for Fajr, not caring even as a voice in her head took her to task for laziness. If she’d attempted to stand and pray, she would have given up less than halfway into the prayer.
Her nose was stuffy from allergies to the pollen from all the greenery that surrounded her apartment and her eyes itched. She nearly fell into the car when her lift arrived and the driver turned around to tut at her, telling her she was a mess.
Frustrated and overtired, she agreed with him, almost snapping and then guiltily apologized, excusing herself with the flimsy lack of sleep.
She got to work, messaged her mother and cursed aloud when her phone rang with an incoming call. She just wanted a quiet day. Just one quiet day. She lifted the device and answered, listening with half an ear to Mom’s chatter and trying to disguise the heaviness in her voice. It was no use, and soon she was being interrogated as to everything from whether she was wearing proper underwear to if she’d stayed home the previous night or gone out and “had a jol”. She almost laughed at the absurdity of that idea, and dutifully assured her mother that she was doing nothing exciting.
Mom extracted a promise from her to steam herself and clear the phlegm from her chest, informed her that some cousin was getting married and she’d be required at the wedding and then got down to the real reason for the call. With the cousin who was getting married’s wedding, everyone had remembered that she (an older cousin) was as yet not even engaged, more’s the pity and family had started asking if there was something they could do to help.
She was required to take a week off from work and come home to “see all the boys” the family would be suggesting for her.
Her head began to throb.
Mom reminded her that she could not be sick when she came home. It would spoil everything – not just the cousin’s wedding but Mom’s plans as well. She was to bundle up tight and not let herself get any more ill.
If only it was that easy.
When she’d finally managed to get away from the conversation, her head and neck were aching so badly she wanted to cry.
Come home, meet someone and get married. As if it were that simple.
But she doubted that anyone would listen if she tried to object. The family – all of it – still saw her as one of the kids and they knew better than she did.
God only knew where and how she’d find the money to afford the trip, not to mention the unpaid leave. She put it out of her mind. She had a few days to handle the situation, maybe some kind of decent idea would come to her in her dreams. She could hope.
A colleague poked their head in to ask a question and stopped short at the sight of her. “God, you look terrible!”
It was an effort to not shriek at the man. “What did you need?” she asked, silently praying for patience.
She assisted the man with his problem and then turned to her computer, starting to draft an email to her boss that requested she be allowed to work remotely for the week of the wedding, with the offer that she’d work two weekends as well to make up for it.
Then, she began to individually message co-workers, asking if they’d like her to take some of their grunt work off their hands after hours for a fee. Within an hour, she’d gotten enough of a stack that she’d be able to cover all the trip’s expenses.
It looked like the effort she’d gone to to get ahead of the chores at home was going to be eaten up quickly – she’d be living in her office for a while.
The joys of youth.
She tried to look on the bright side – as long as she didn’t collapse from the workload, she’d have a little extra money to stick into her almost non-existent savings by the time she got back. And maybe Mom or one of the other aunties would deposit in front of her a handsome, pious, rich young man who’d sweep her off her feet and take care of all her problems.
Yeah, and maybe pigs would fly and she’d turn into a princess too.
Well, hello there everyone. Did you miss me?
I missed me. I missed this. And I am terribly glad to be back.
So, context for this:
I’ve been doing a weekly radio show since March 1st, and this is the sketch I performed for it today. I wrote this specifically to talk about chronic illness and how that can impact a young person’s life. If you want to know more about that, there’s a podcast of my show and you can head over to Radio Islam’s website in a few days and listen to it once it’s been released.