What do all of these pictures have in common?
Answer: I am extremely ill in all of them.
A. My muscles were so weak and my body so fatigued that I could barely stand. The simple act of kneeling down to rub a pig belly was nearly impossible and I was wiped out - useless - for the rest of the day.
B. This photo was taken in Hawaii this last March. I had to use the wheelchair service in the airport on our way home due to extreme joint pain and muscle weakness. My body was, essentially, eating itself in a scramble for nourishment because my guts weren't absorbing enough nutrients. On our last day of vacation Mike had to physically carry me to the beach.
C. Denali National Park. I was on death’s door. I often said with a shrug, "either I get better or I die, either option would be a relief." And I meant it. Don't get me wrong, I didn't WANT to die. But I also couldn't go on living like that. Everything hurt too much. I was waking up in the middle of the night from pain. Sometimes it was the throbbing pain in my joints, sometimes the stabbing pain in my gut. Worse than that, I was too fatigued and weak to really do anything but survive. I couldn't participate in life.
I have a chronic illness, specifically, Crohn’s Disease. No one knows what causes it, there is no cure, it is lifelong with active periods of ‘flare ups’ and inactive periods of 'remission.' Your immune system misreads healthy cells in the gut as foreign invaders and starts attacking itself.
Crohn’s Disease is characterized by stomach pain, nausea, and bleeding ulcers in the gut (I’ll spare you the gory details of my bowel movements). But it also comes with a whole host of other secondary issues including anemia, arthritis, extreme weight loss, skin issues, eye issues, fatigue, malabsorption, etc.
The medicines they put you on to manage the condition come with nasty side effects. Some of them fairly benign - like weight gain, 'moon face' (where your face swells up), and rage. Others not so benign - like cataracts, liver disease, and osteoporosis. But these side effects are preferable to the alternative.
I was born into a body that doesn't work.
As we move into Thanksgiving, I am reminded of my health struggles in two ways.
1. Turkeys are also born into bodies that don’t work. I feel a keen sense of connection to these innocent beings. Turkeys have been genetically manipulated by humans to grow incredibly big, incredibly fast. So much so that their legs can break under the crushing weight of their own bodies. They eat and eat and eat until they get so big that they break.
Fawkes was rescued from a local meat farm. We have to carefully control her food intake so that she can enjoy all the things that make life worth living - the sunshine, exploring in the bushes, and cuddles and pets from her caretakers for many years to come. In an attempt to fill her up without causing dangerous weight gain, we supplement her diet with leafy greens. But even still, she is perpetually hungry. We have bred her species to be starving, constantly, even when they are full. What a cruel thing to do - all for a bite of flesh.
She will always suffer. I will always suffer. But our lives are still worth living. She will always struggle with her body and its limitations. I will always struggle with my body and its limitations. I feel a kinship with her in this regard more so than with my own husband. Whatever our souls are made of, hers and mine are the same.
2. Thanksgiving is a holiday of gratitude - and Crohn’s disease helped me discover that I have a lot to be grateful for. When you are sick, you learn to appreciate and celebrate the little things. So many people take their health for granted. I certainly did before I was diagnosed.
Today I am grateful for…
Those who came before me and paved the way for making kinder food choices.
The privilege of rescuing animals and running a sanctuary.
And much much more.
Most of all I am grateful for all the people who have supported FMNFS over the years through volunteering and donating. When I have been barely able to function – the FMNFS family has stepped up and kept our doors open.
Despite our broken bodies, Fawkes and I will fight to live and - together - advocate for a kinder world for farmed animals. It’s a beautiful life and everyone deserves the chance to live it. Hope you have a happy Thanksgiving, and, that you let the turkeys have one too.