I have to get a glucose tolerance test tomorrow, which is not a punishment.
That’s what I keep telling myself because I feel like it is.
I have suffered from random medical conditions my whole life: juvenile rheumatoid arthritis as a toddler and preschooler, and then it went into remission. Irritable bowel syndrome from the time I was a colicky baby; that goes away if I eat scrupulously gluten free and don’t have anything too spicy. Insomnia, anxiety and OCD in grade school and on and off ever afterwards. Painful, long, heavy menstrual cycles and unidentified joint pain as a teenager. Chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia as a young woman. Fibromyalgia has over 200 possible symptoms and I couldn’t memorize them all, so I dismissed every strange thing that happened to my body after the diagnosis as “a fibromyalgia thing.” But for the record: facial hair, female pattern baldness, painful irregular cycles and a strange inability to lose weight aren’t “a fibromyalgia thing.” They are symptoms of poly-cystic ovary syndrome, a genetic condition that makes your body produce elevate male hormones.
The bad back and side aches that used to have me in bed for a couple days out of the month aren’t “a fibromyalgia thing” either, they’re a PCOS thing: the cysts that form on the ovaries when you don’t ovulate properly can swell and rupture, causing referred pain.
That time I thought I was pregnant and ran to the doctor gushing blood, only to find there’d never been a baby, and then the doctor diagnosed me as prediabetic and just needing to work harder to lose weight to feel better? That was a PCOS thing as well.
PCOS causes insulin resistance in many women, which is one of the ways it makes us fat. Some women with PCOS are average sized but the majority are fat despite great effort to lose weight. Some women get fat from PCOS hormones without being insulin resistant. Some get fat just from PCOS hormones, which in turn jacks up the hormones even further since hormones are stored in fat cells, and then the next episode is worse. They can become insulin resistant just from that cycle when they weren’t before. Some of the average-sized women with PCOS are also insulin resistant. It’s just one of the things that happens. My doctor wants me to take a glucose tolerance test, especially since I once tested as pre-diabetic even though my more recent blood sugar tests have all been back in the normal range. This is so that he can see if I need to take metformin in addition to the progesterone I’m already on, and in addition to being in ketosis which is supposed to help. I’ll have to fast from all food from about eleven tonight and get to the hospital at six-thirty, which is tricky because I usually stay up very late working and sleep until ten. But I’ll have a big late dinner and sip water at night. I’ll have to drink a glass of sugar water for breakfast at the hospital, ruining my keto progress, and get my blood tested a couple times over the course of two hours, to see how fast the blood sugar goes up. That’s a normal, albeit annoying, part of the diagnostic process for PCOS. It’s not a penalty. It’s not something the doctor’s doing to embarrass me.
It just feels that way, that’s all.
I grew up getting punished for being fat. My mother thought it was appropriate to put a husky eleven-year-old on Weight Watchers. Weight Watchers, on paper, claims they don’t allow people under eighteen on their program, but that’s a lie. They let them join if a parent signs off. They don’t have a separate diet for kids, I just ate what my mother ate. When I lost weight she would reward me with a muffin. When I gained she would berate me in front of my siblings. My siblings got glasses of milk at the dinner table, and I got a glass of water. They got margarine and I got fat free butter-flavored spray. They scooped their food onto their plates with regular serving spoons, but mine was served in a measuring cup or weighed on a scale before it was given to me. And I could not lose weight, because I have a genetic condition that was going untreated. 1990s style low-fat high-carb diets do to women with PCOS what hot air does to balloons. And then the verbal abuse would start. “Go on, have a cookie. Have a whole SLEEVE of cookies. Go on eating until you’re as big as a hippopotamus. We’ll have to make your clothes out of bed sheets. Your husband will come home and say ‘well, Honey, you’ve lost weight! You only weigh THREE hundred pounds!” and so on.
Diabetes was also referred to as if it was a punishment. “You’re going to get type two diabetes. All obese women are pre-diabetic. You’ll get diabetes and have to give yourself shots.” And I know that’s nonsense. Some thin women get type two diabetes. Many fat women don’t have type two diabetes. I have an illness that puts me at risk for diabetes no matter what size I happen to be. But it still resonates. And so here I am, a thirty-six-year-old woman, shaking with all the fear of a chronically ill teenager who knows she’s unattractive and wishes her mother could ever see her as more than fat– all because a doctor prescribed an annoying blood test for something that isn’t my fault.
Why am I talking about this?
People are sometimes uncomfortable with me because I speak so openly about chronic illness, trauma, abuse and other hard topics. They tell me I’m being inappropriate and not “spreading the Kingdom.” I’m sure someone’s going to get mad at me just for talking about yucky things like the menstrual cycle at Patheos in this post. But I still feel I ought to speak about yucky topics. Yucky topics are where I’ve found Christ.
When I’m suffering my embarrassing symptoms that nobody understands, there’s Christ suffering with and in me. I have met so many chronically ill people who have been suffering with Christ their whole lives and didn’t know it, because nobody ever told them He was there. And so I talk about it.
When I was being berated by my mother twenty years ago or teased by internet trolls just the other day for the sin of being an unattractive woman; when other sets of trolls are taunting me for talking about chronic illness and libeling me by saying I made the whole thing up— there is Christ, slandered until it cost Him His life, scourged until He looks less than human, nailed to a cross for blasphemy when He never blasphemed; despised by the whole world for no fault of His own. We’re not the same. I’m a sinner and He’s innocent. But I’m innocent of the things I was abused for, so we suffer together. I have met many people who were abused, who didn’t know that Christ is a victim like they are. And so I talk about it.
When I am ashamed of myself for something beyond my control, like a blood test, there is Christ as well.
And He’s there with you too.
Wherever you happen to be, no matter how mundane or stupid, scary or depressing, there He is.
And if, by chance, there’s somebody with PCOS reading this: for Heaven’s sake, it’s not your fault. You didn’t do it to yourself. You are a beautiful child of God and He is suffering with you. Ignore the haters. Get your blood tests on time. Let me know if you want to swap keto recipes; I found a great one for waffles.
The life you’re living right now, and not anyone else’s life. The sufferings you live with today, and not some more fanciful sufferings. The baggage you carry now and not a prettier set. That’s your path to sanctity and Christ is with you in it. He doesn’t expect you to be anybody else. He loves you just the way you are, and He wants to suffer with you and also to make things better for you.
I believe that. And that’s why I write about it.
And now I’ll get ready for my test!
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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