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Homesick: A Memoir of Family, Food, and Finding Hope

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Chapter 1: Twitch

This twitch is driving me crazy. It's 1997, I am twenty-four years
old, and for a year I have been in physical discomfort. That is 365
days with my butt twitching and an inability to contract my gluteus
maximus muscles. Three hundred and sixty-five days with bugs up my
ass, 365 days of wanting to jump out the window, 365 days watching
the entire lower half of my body turn into jelly and atrophy. This
is a sick joke.

Now, understand, it is with these muscles that women often feel
sexy. The tight squeeze, the swaying of hip to hip, the alignment
of the pelvis and the flattened stomach are what gives a woman so
much strength to conquer the day. Losing this sensation is
basically losing my connection to any kind of sensuality. So it
doesn't surprise me that the depression I've often suffered from
has become stronger and more unbearable this past year. Of course,
this darkness, my old and dear friend, has led to the
recurrence of my bulimic symptoms and to the deterioration of my
emotional self.

You might say, especially if you are a psychiatrist, that it's my
emotional fears, depression, feelings about my sexuality, past
disappointments, and all that crap that have caused my building to
collapse. I will not deny this. My coping skills are far worse than
they were, but after a year (and, yes, I am as bored with this as
my world-famous neurologist suggested I ought to be), I am at my
wit's end. I'm trying so hard not to lose my mind, but I'm very
aware that my power to intellectualize and make any sense of this
is descending rapidly.

I've tried to become as spiritual as possible; I've always believed
in the mystical and magical journey through life, but after such
pain, I need a tangible answer. I used to be able to heal
myself from my depression. I learned how to use my body to ward it
off, with vigorous runs, enlightened yoga, and
techno-electric-charged race walks. Only, now I can't do any of
that. And without that, my mind is not getting enough juice, and my
creative soul, the one that carries the nervous depression and
adrenaline out of me, is utterly blocked.

It was the same when I painted. I want to paint again, but that,
too, is locked within my ailing body. I need to dance while I move
the paintbrush, or simply feel the energy flowing throughout my
body onto the canvas. I studied ballet for thirteen years. The
mirrors, the leotards, all of it had an impact on my self-esteem. I
had to stop in my last year of high school. I thought I'd never
find anything as fulfilling. When I began to paint I was relieved.
I was able to merge these two passions. Music or silence set the
backdrop as I moved my body to the rhythm of my strokes, to the
colors I saw and heard, and to the composition I was creating. I
was using a freestyle improvisation. My gestures, my actions, and
my inspiration came most deeply from my pelvis, deeply from my
core. But now thinking about painting depresses me because I no
longer have the energy to get downtown to my studio, let alone
paint. Some osteopath actually said that I had no chi.

It's these painful twitches, though...they're absolutely maddening
-- and in the most demoralizing place. Of course the twitches are
not in my eye, not in my shoulder, but in my asshole. And
they just keep on pulsing and breathing constantly. It's quite the
symphony, with a wonderful crescendo. Great large and climactic
twitches fizzle into small fluttering twitches that keep me
gripping my thighs for hours. It's like there is a huge monster
grabbing me between my legs. I've been telling the doctors that I
think this actually all began in my stomach, that it's gotta be a
digestive problem. After I eat, even the tiniest of meals, a
sucking candy or a rice cake, for God's sake, my stomach begins to
fill up with air. I begin to choke and the food just doesn't want
to go down. It stays lodged in my chest and flows back up into my
throat. Then, every sensation, especially an overwhelming sense of
muscle weakness, becomes pronounced.

Ugh, and taking a shit (vulgar no matter how you put it) is like
giving birth, with the baby's head getting stuck for hours. I even
have to stand and massage my stomach as I go, just to make things
move. But then the sensation is always there, singing its lullaby
or rock music all freakin' day long. Me and my twitch.

I can't exercise at all, can't even walk comfortably. The other day
I taped myself up to see if it would help me run. I thought it
might make my buttocks feel stronger and help me forget the twitch
a little if my cheeks were pushed tighter together. I wrapped a
large piece of masking tape around my cheeks as if it were a belt
that kept them squeezed together, and I ran. God, how I need to
sweat and pant. But I had to keep stopping to redo the tape because
it wouldn't stay stuck to my sweats. Then I just gave up because it
also made my hamstrings burn and ache. I had to limp from the
reservoir in Central Park to Fifth Avenue to hail a cab. I was
afraid I was going to have to ask my doorman to carry me upstairs
to my apartment.

All year I've begged my internist, Dr. W (for Dr. Worthless), to
make this stop, to find the cause. It has taken him months to take
me seriously. When I first went to see him last summer, he reasoned
that I was too young to be put through a series of medical tests,
and he attributed my discomfort to stress. So I carried on with my
life, trying to move through the days like a machine. I painted at
my studio, worked at a nonprofit art organization, and scouted for
beautiful/eccentric homes for a well-known design magazine. Okay,
maybe it'll go away, maybe it's nerves, I thought.

The problem, though, was that I was depressed and tired all the
time, and then the physical symptoms became worse. It was getting
harder and harder to leave the house. I would wake up, attempt to
go to the bathroom, and then the twitch would just take over.
Forget the studio. Forget work. Forget seeing friends. Forget

I would panic most mornings and rush up to 87th Street and Park and
sit and wait in Dr. W's office, sometimes for hours, to see him. As
I sat there holding my breath and clenching my legs together to
stop the twitch, I'd rummage through the pile of magazines,
flipping through all the fashion ads. Oh, there's Uncle Ralph
with his two dogs in a Purple Label ad. Whadda ya know, there he is
again. Not his face but a Ralph Lauren fragrance ad with a young
beautiful couple wrapped in velvet and in love. The good life,
huh?...things to aspire to.
Reminding me of everything I hated,
everything I loved, everything I wished I could be...but that
was then. Look at me now.
By the time Dr. W called me into his
office, I had finished skimming the magazines from the late
eighties, with Paulina and Christie Brinkley splashed all over
them, and gotten through the nineties, with enough of Crawford,
Turlington, and the fashion world up my nose.

Dr. W aggravates the living shit out of me. He listens, takes
notes, and then speaks to me in his calm, methodical, and
patronizing style. He has been my parents' internist forever, and
they have great confidence in him. Six years earlier, when my
father suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage and was lying in bed in
severe pain during recovery, it was Dr. W who found the phlebitis
in his lung and leg that could have killed him. My dad was rushed
into surgery on Thanksgiving Day as I shoved hospital cafeteria
turkey and cranberry sauce into my mouth. I know I owe him a lot
for saving my dad's life, but my confidence in him helping me is
fading. He has never been able to provide relief. Everything is
always fine; he says my blood is good and I don't have hemorrhoids.
He suggested I watch my diet, give up acidic and gassy sugar-free
foods, and come back if I didn't feel better. How come he can't
make it stop? He's a doctor for goodness' sake!

After six months of this, Dr. W starts to shift his position ever
so slightly. He gives me a sigmoidoscopy, a test where they shove a
scope up the lower part of the colon to take a picture of what's
going on inside and they look for tumors or obstructions. It shows
nothing, so he sends me to other gastroenterologists. Dr. D is a
specialist who is known for a unique device he uses. It can
measure the fluttering and spasms of my rectum. I've now visited
him and his device five times. I have a ritual: I wait on the
corner of Central Park West drinking coffee and watching the
gorgeous guys go Rollerblading into the park. When the spasms get
really intense, I rush to his office so he can stick this thing in
my butt and see what I'm talking about. Each time he has said,
"Well, they certainly exist, but I'm not sure why."

Dr. W finally gives me an esophagoscopy, which shows that I have an
irritated esophagus and stomach lining (they call it a hiatal
hernia), a symptom common to bulimics. But that only explains some
of my discomfort, like the choking sensation and the acid reflux,
and not the twitch or the overall muscle malaise. W's diagnosis
doesn't stop me from continuing to vomit a few times a week even
now. Sometimes I convince myself that purging will stop the
twitching. As if I could only just vomit up the alien between my
legs everything would be fine.
Then, two months ago, he gave me
two colonoscopies (these evaluate the entire colon) as well as a
barium series (X-rays taken after digesting radioactive dye).
Took him long enough. The barium series showed that I have a
dilated small intestine, which is evidence that something else must
be going on. But Dr. W can't figure out what it's from. All year he
prescribed various medications...Propulsid, Levbid,
many meds I can't keep track, but they've warped my body even more.
Now I have glycerin suppositories to stick up my ass to calm the
spasms, and I use them frequently, praying they'll do something,
but they don't. Even with these medications, I can feel the
limpness in the lower half of my body, my tummy drooping, my thighs
turning to mush. I can barely stand up. How can this not be some
major disease?

I have questioned everything. Is this PMS, hormonal? I went to see
an endocrinologist, who said that some of my fatigue and symptoms
might be because I have low estrogen levels. She suggested I go on
hormone-replacement pills. No way. I didn't believe this was
the problem. Anybody with a continuous twitch in the ass would get
exhausted. That in itself probably caused these severely depressed
hormones. Then my kinesiologist said my adrenal glands were
definitely shot from all the pain. So last year I tried to
address the hormone issue and took progesterone to bring on my
period, but I got even more whacked. I just sat in the studio for
hours staring at my blank canvases.

Two months ago I went to an acupuncturist, who also suggested that
my sensations might be because I never get my period. Needles were
placed all over my body. I tried to do what he suggested, to focus
my energy on my pelvis "smiling." I was so tense that I couldn't
even enjoy this narcissistic candlelit ritual. It didn't work. I
loved him, though. I mean, at least he heard me. He thought it was
my spleen or liver and had me taking about twenty-four herbs a day
for a month. Trust me, any bit of Jenny that was left has been
washed away with those strange, crazy herbs. Since then, my eyes
and the lower part of my cranium have been twitching too, and I
feel spacey all the time.

My other daily ritual is hauling myself up to Barnes & Noble to
read up on my symptoms. I've read about cancer, connective tissue
disease, the candida yeast syndrome. I've checked for parasites and
have had five tests for Lyme disease. At one point I even believed
the mercury of my fillings could have been the cause. As I sit in
the bookstore I wonder who else has come in that day to solve their
own puzzle, who else is forced to diagnose themselves, who else is
as desperate as I am for relief.

Eastern, western medicine...who the hell knows anymore. I've been
to chiropractors, kinesiologists, massage therapists, along with
doctors with Harvard MDs on the wall...those arrogant fucks who
just take notes and stare at me like I'm nuts. Meanwhile, I keep
bingeing on chocolate. I'm like the person with lung cancer who
keeps on smoking.

Excerpted from HOMESICK: A Memoir of Family, Food, and Finding
Hope © Copyright 2004 by Jenny Lauren. Reprinted with
permission by Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
All rights reserved.


Homesick: A Memoir of Family, Food, and Finding Hope
by by Jenny Lauren

  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Atria
  • ISBN-10: 074345698X
  • ISBN-13: 9780743456982