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How My Chronic Illness Inspired Me to Write a Murder Mystery

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The third time I threw up my dinner in the morning, nearly 14 hours after eating it, my husband suggested that maybe, just maybe, something was wrong. I didn’t just have the stomach flu. I was 22, newly married, stressed beyond belief in a graduate program for teaching, and the flu I thought I had wasn’t going away. I was sick so often it soon became routine: wake up, throw up, go to class.

No, I wasn’t pregnant.

By the time my Master’s program ended, I had been diagnosed with gastroparesis, a “broken stomach.” Essentially, my stomach could not digest food properly, holding onto every meal I ate instead of letting them pass through my digestive tract. This produced debilitating nausea. The food would sit there until I inevitably threw it back up again, shockingly undigested, the next day. I turned down a teaching position, lived on saltines and Gatorade and faxed my prescriptions to Canada at the local FedEx, trying to find the right medication. I was frustrated and underweight and fainting and aimless.

Books were my escape. Stories, in which no one was sick and every problem could be solved. I loved murder mysteries best, because my mood was dark and I knew I’d get all the answers in the end. What I was dealing with was vague and capricious and couldn’t be managed entirely, only sometimes held at bay, as though my stomach had become a petulant child I was constantly trying to appease. It felt unfair and senseless.

But books always made sense. So I wrote one.

It took time, and many failed attempts. But I had time to fail, and then to succeed. I had nothing but time. (And here I must acknowledge my privilege to have a family who would support me all the way despite living in a country that does not care for its sick and disabled workers.) I wrote a story about a girl who feels lost and aimless, and another who feels sick but doesn’t know why. I created a story where you, the reader, will get all your answers in the end. And you’ll learn that this illness, in all its confusing complexity, holds an answer after all.

Now, years later, I’ve found a new normal. It’s boring, involving eating the same things at the same time of day, every day with little variation. It involves the right medication, found after trying so many pills I couldn’t name them all if I wanted to. But I’m better, at a healthier weight, and I haven’t fainted in over a year. It’s a problem I’ve managed to… well, manage. Not all are so lucky. Chronic illnesses often aren’t well-known or understood, and GI illnesses in particular are shrouded in shame and silence. You won’t find them in a murder mystery at your local bookstore.

Until now. Happy reading. My mystery novel, “Monsters Among Us,” is now published.

Cover of Monsters Among Us by Monica Rodden.

Getty image by Borevina.

Originally published: January 11, 2021
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