“Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.” – Albert Einstein
The process of persevering through obstacles and challenges constantly perplexes me. Challenges and obstacles are profound things. They weaken your heart, and strengthen your mind. They give you fear, and provide you with courage. They make you different, and they make you special. They break you down, and they build you up. A life challenge, or a life obstacle, is a paradox.
I have been struggling over the past few years with a severe case of Celiac Disease, Eosinophilic esophagitis, Dysphagia, and chronic persistent GERD. Having it from birth, I suffered the symptoms throughout my childhood without realizing it. For ten years I suffered harsh pain, emanating from a severe condition of widespread eczema. I underwent years of experimented treatment, and traveled far and wide to find a doctor that could help me. After dozens of blood tests, acupunctures, and other forms of painful treatment, I found a cure: a tea composed of five natural flowers.
A year or two after suppressing the eczema, I began to feel discomfort in my chest and esophageal area. After eating meals, I felt an acidic burn that pierced in my chest, and then sharply burned my esophagus, a pain lasting for 24 hours seven days a week. After a while my entire chest and stomach went tight, and my breathing was stifled. My esophagus was also sore, and the constant burning irritated it.
Following a nasal and oral endoscopy, as well as biopsies and a few tests, I discovered I had Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease due to eosinophilic esophagitis. Immediately I wasn’t allowed to eat anything with gluten, wheat, dairy, or acid, even on a microscopic level. My body simply couldn’t digest them. When I did, I suffered the consequences: painful periods of acid reflux, long indigestion, and a full day of heartburn.
That was half the battle. The other half was not starving to death. As a teenager, I am constantly hungry. It was a hard transition to not only stop eating all foods that contained the products I couldn’t eat, but also avoid the products that I feared would bring on the pain. It was extra hard when I went out with my friends. This led and sometimes still does lead to sleepless nights due to sadness.
For the first two years of transition, I suffered worse than I had begun. I continued to get very bad heartburn and it began to take over my life. I was constantly worried about getting that familiar sour pain, and I began to think about it every second of every day. I woke up worried about it, and slept worried about it. School anxiety, every day stress, mistakes in dieting, and constant thought of heartburn, did bring on the harsh heartburn. Eventually I convinced myself the dieting and strictness weren’t working, and the constant pain began to cause me to lose my mind.
I began to worry about cancer, ulcers, and death, and fell into a state of panic. I thought I felt lumps in my throat and stomach, and that every tiny sense of pain was deathly. I began to spiral out of control, and before I knew it, I was in a constant state of worry and depression. I was so scared to eat, eventually my throat began to not allow the food to go down. I began to take an hour and a half to two hours just to eat a small meal, because I would chew on the same bight for an extensive amount of time. When I tried to swallow, either my tongue or throat would reflux and push the food back up, in fear of indigestion.
After having my throat and tongue constantly push the food back up, I began to become self-conscious about my odd eating habits. My friends and family began to notice my odd eating habits, and began to bring it up more and more. I therefore tried to eat faster, causing more indigestion and heartburn, thus decreasing the speed of my eating and increasing the amount I worried about eating oddly. Eventually I didn’t have any control, and I was permanently eating at a slow pace out of fear of heartburn, and my tongue and throat unconsciously wouldn’t let the food go down. This issue caused me to further fall into the deep depths of anxiety.
Today, I am on an all-natural organic alkaline diet, where I eat pure food, and constantly make juice and smoothies out of healthy vegetables and fruits. I am also going to begin mouth therapy for my throat and tongue issue, an issue said by my doctor to be a “brain digestive directing” issue. Basically, since over time the unconscious part of my brain developed the idea that heavy and quick eating caused heartburn, it unconsciously reprogrammed my oral digestive system to not allow my throat or tongue let the food down. I am convinced that I have the power and strength to overcome this hurdle of a challenge.
As much as my health struggles are hindrances on my daily life, they have helped me develop a certain view on life and learn many truths that have positively and permanently shaped me as a person.
Firstly, the pain has allowed me to open my heart to others. I have developed an ability to feel and sympathize with people’s pains and discomforts. When one describes an emotional or physical distress, I immediately feel the ache the person is referring to. I feel lucky to have developed this gift because I feel like an exclusive member to a unique group. What is most rewarding is the sweet tender warm feeling I get when the sufferer of an illness similar to mine smiles and lights up after learning he/she is not alone. I express my love for sympathy and for helping others through my philanthropy campaigns. I am constantly empowering others and myself to unite and make a difference.
Secondly, after a certain amount of pain and discomfort, a person begins to appreciate the small things and to realize what is most important in life. My priorities became philanthropy, family, friends, health, and education, all of which I appreciate the moments I spend on them. Celiac disease gave me depth. I learnt that there was more to life than clothing, cars, money, parties, and vacationing. Oppression and affliction also bring out an unseen unprecedented side of a person. I have inherently become gentler, softer, and more emotionally outward because of my Celiac Disease. I am not embarrassed to cry, and am not embarrassed to tell my story. I too have become passionate about art, music, poetry, progressivism, activism, civil rights, and humanitarianism, all of which when I study, I see the underlying messages and sentiments: pain, fear, passion, excitement, pride, courage, and faith, all emotions that I cherish. To say that my fervor towards the activities above came only from my health afflictions would be unreasonable and impossible to prove, but I am certain my pains have played a huge part in my developing a taste for the above. I can now relate to the pains of the civil right leaders in the 1900’s – frustration, fear, depression - and understand the passion environmentalists have towards the earth. After all, it is the earth and its produce that are saving my life. I understand the love and hope in poetry, and the peace and beauty in art. All of the above share a common element: passionate depth.
Thirdly, my physical and emotional struggles have molded and shaped me into a stronger minded person. Persevering and overcoming the seemingly “impossible life altering” challenges have fortified my mind, my body, and my soul. My mind became so strong from having to say no to enticing delicacies, and having to go through excruciatingly painful medical testing, that saying no to drugs and alcohol is easy, and having to go through the painful “stages of life” isn’t as bad as it would be. If I were able to suffer the feeling of having alcohol poured on a raw sunburn for ten years 24/7, and to suffer through years of painful testing and medical procedures, to have acid burn through my chest after meals for years, and to say no to candy - and at one point basic foods, then overcoming a challenge of an exam or a business issue shouldn’t be so difficult.
Eosinophilic esophagitis strengthened my body for obvious reasons. It has enabled me to handle other physical challenges, and resist pain. Celiac Disease is more physically demanding than most things I do in my every day life. The diet also keeps me feeling great, and will hopefully increase my life span.
Eosinophilic esophagitis strengthened my soul, in that it brought me closer to God. For a while I was discouraged. The pain, the crying, the depression, I thought they were all part of an unfair punishment. Over time I began to realize, evidenced by the reasons above, Celiac Disease was a blessing for me. The diet made me healthy, and the pain gave me depth and perception. I used to despise the tears, but now I embrace them. I see the tears as healthy, cleansing, and cathartic.
Eosinophilic esophagitis: it shaped my life. It sculpted me into a passionate and artistic person who could look beyond the surface. Thank you Eosinophilic esophagitis for showing me that life isn’t only about junk food. It is about passion and understanding. I have one message to the world and I want to make it clear: For those of you, who are fellow sufferers, keep the faith, because although the journey is a bumpy and painful process, the big picture at the end will be beautiful.
Yes I fear the future, and its entire hidden fate
I wince, I wail, I wait
For the wound, not to abrade
My throat, my heart, my soul
My simple peace of mind
A pain, a struggle hard to tolerate
I guess what I have to do
Is pray, smile, and appreciate
Isaac J. Kassin
17 years of age
New York, New York
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