I sat in a sterile room at Detroit Children’s Hospital listening to the doctor take roll call: Cellcept, Plaquenil, 81 mg Aspirin, Levoxyl, Naproxen, Vitamin D supplement, and Prednisone. I consumed these words practicing for the pills to come, but my heart sank as he fell down the list. Falling into a pit of confusion, I tried to grasp on to the little reality I could manage. Here is what I knew: take ten pills in the morning, three at lunch, five at night. Upon consumption of my medicine cocktail, a lovely spell fell over my body. The waves of pain that crippled my joints vanished, the chronic fatigue was curbed, and the possibility of blood clots diminished. My responsibility in life had been reduced to the size of a few pills, and in turn the pills let me live a life with responsibility. Unfortunately, this mutual agreement we formed stopped short of symbiosis. And, the magic fathered emotional agony that led me to question the importance of my medication. There was one, in particular, that became the ringleader of trouble. For me, Prednisone never really escaped the connotation associated with the word “steroid.”
This here is where my affair with food began, a lust affair. Everything on steroids looked tantalizingly edible, and a small snack easily turned into a feast. We had just gotten our kitchen redone that year, and I had found a sanctuary within it. Pomegranates, apples, and oranges crowded around the fruit bowl and reflected off the beige granite begging for a taste of my mouth. The produce on the counter was a mere offering of what the sub-zero refrigerator had in store. Milks, cheeses, lunchmeats, veggies, dressings, and more found their home in this chilled box. All the food in the world was at my fingertips, and Prednisone had created a bottomless cavity looking to be entertained. I ate all the time because I was always hungry. This continuous consumption even helped fill the gaps of confusion. The mist surrounding my life needed to be solidified by something, and food was something.
This constant procession of food that fell into my mouth did not continue without consequence. Soon the weight of the food began to find permanent residence within my body, and the side effects of Prednisone became visible. My cheeks began to swell, and my embarrassed eyes hid beneath them. The structure of my face elicited comments like, “Are you packing nuts for the winter? Your cheeks are huge!” I could tell when kids at school were talking about me. The side glance in my direction and a whisper in a friend’s ear. Soon my thoughts were consumed by food and how others viewed me, and I had given up on academics at this time. The school shortened my schedule to a half-day so I could attend all my doctor’s appointments. Lucky me. In this half-day, I walked through the halls knowing that I was the ugliest thing in the world. People had a hard time looking at me; my friends couldn’t shoot me a straight stare. A recognizable glance and a responsive wave would have saved my day, but no one wanted to meet those two slits in my face. So I became lonely. After a few hours of classes, I headed back home, walking parallel to the troop of students driving off to lunch with their friends. They’re Jeeps bouncing as the declined driveway of the parking lot met the street. They were ready to go to “The Big Salad” or maybe “Lunchbox Deli.” I could smell the vinaigrettes trailing behind their cars. A poignant raspberry with bleu cheese crumbling after it, tossed in a mixed green salad. My mouth watered at the thought of their food fun. With each step, I hoped one of those cars would stop for me, but no one ever bothered.
Upon my arrival home, I would sit in the kitchen waiting for my mom. My mother could always give me a straight stare into those slits that were bloodshot and inflamed. I absolutely hated her stares because she would get teary eyed. Her pity only led me to believe I was even more pathetic. I only wanted a friend that would remind me of the unfortunate life I was living. I started to personify food. A Pink Lady became the apple of my eye. I glided over to the fruit bowl and picked out a fresh one. I rubbed my hands along the rounded curves until my fingers come to a stop in order to cup the Lady. I closed my eyes and sunk my teeth passing the skin and going right for the meat. Crunching on the apple to diminish the bulk of the insides to juicy blood. Sweet nectar filling up my mouth until a swallow allows the juice to enter the cavity. I would eat a million apples and eat so loudly that I didn’t have to hear words like “Lupus.”
I walked out of Children’s with the looming uncertainty of having an ambiguous disease. One that meant pain, but never a clear, definite hurt. The doctor started me on 60mg of Prednisone during that first visit, a mistake that I have always had a hard time reconciling with. My symptoms and blood test results didn’t deserve the dose that I received. The side effects brought on by Prednisone were not ideal: the obvious weight gain, a roller coaster of emotions, confusion, and the stutter that paralyzed me in front of class. It was hard to find a conversation with my classmates when the thoughts and worries of one another don’t coincide. Through all of this I learned, always growing in my own ways. I realized that food could be a lot more that physical sustenance. As people we want to be understood by everyone, or someone. And food, it became an emotional backup for me. Sure a lot of people criticize others for using “comfort food,” but where were you when I needed a friend?