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5 Things I’m Thankful for This Holiday Season as a Person With Gastroparesis

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Having gastroparesis and juggling the dietary restrictions and specifications that come with it is always a challenge during the holidays, especially when so many events center around food. Not being able to eat solid foods — and sometimes not even being able to eat at all and being tube or total parenteral nutrition (TPN) fed instead — can be even more difficult during the holiday season.

What do you do at Christmas dinner with your family when everyone is eating turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, while all you can have is a chocolate-flavored Boost drink? How do you continue the tradition of building a gingerbread house with your brother when you’re not able to eat leftover icing or even the gingerbread? How do you get through sitting with your family for your special Christmas morning breakfast of blueberry pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon when you can’t even have a sip of water that early in the day without throwing up?

Despite these challenges, here are the five things I’m thankful for this holiday season, food-filled though it may be, as someone with severe idiopathic gastroparesis:

1. All of the ways I can eat potatoes. 

Pretty much everyone with gastroparesis who doesn’t have a feeding tube or TPN can relate to this one. Potatoes are the holy grail of gastroparesis-friendly foods. They’re bland, soft and don’t have any seeds or fibers. And won’t irritate anyone with sensitivities to dairy, grease or fat. They’re easily digestible and delicious!

Roast potatoes, home fries, hash browns, baked potatoes, mashed potatoes — the list goes on and on. Since I don’t currently have a feeding tube, delicious potatoes prepared in any number of delicious ways will be a holiday staple for me this year.

2. My family. 

While I may not be able to eat holiday cookies with my family or go to a Christmas eve brunch with them and consume of stupid amounts of breakfast food, I’m very thankful to have my family and be able to spend time with them during the holidays. Luckily, they’re all very supportive and understanding of my gastroparesis and the strict dietary requirements that I have, so I don’t have to worry about feeling uncomfortable not eating with them or breaking tradition by eating plain vegetable broth instead of roast beef.

3. My friends. 

I was lucky to have found my current group of friends because they all supported and included me throughout the difficult diagnostic process. During the holiday season, everyone returns from college to spend a few weeks in our home city, and I’m definitely looking forward to catching up. Despite my health issues and restrictions, my friends have never actually acted like my diseases are my identifying qualities, even if they’re visiting me at home when I can’t get out of bed or accompanying me to a medical appointment.

No matter what challenges gastroparesis throws my way, my friends are endlessly understanding and never make me feel uncomfortable for not being able to eat when they do, stay up as late as they can or have to say “no” to going to a party.

4. My diagnosis. 

I know, it sounds weird to say that I’m thankful to have been diagnosed with severe idiopathic gastroparesis. Surely I shouldn’t be grateful for my stomach’s inability to move and digest food?

I’m actually incredibly thankful to be going into this holiday season with a concrete diagnosis and treatment plan. As I’m sure most people with a chronic disease know, the period between symptom onset and official diagnosis is an incredibly difficult one. Now that I’m diagnosed and on the right medications, I know how to manage my symptoms.

I’ve had severe idiopathic gastroparesis for many years, but prior to being diagnosed I would force myself to eat, swallowing vomit and bile and nausea to keep up appearances.

5. The internet. 

I could practically hear you thinking, “Oh, look, another millennial with an unhealthy attachment to the internet,” as you read that I’m thankful for the internet, but hear me out. The internet has provided me with two incredible tools: support groups and online classes.

This past year I have had more hospital stays and painful gastroparesis flares than ever before, forcing me to take some time off from college and stay home (partially to rest, but mostly because it’s impossible to go to class when you have at least nine medical appointments each month). Being home alone and falling behind on my degree were my two greatest fears — surprisingly, I wasn’t too worried about feeding tubes and CAT scans. But thanks to the magic of the internet, I was able to continue my degree by taking online classes.

Internet support groups for chronic illnesses have their drawbacks, but personally, I find them very helpful. It’s encouraging to find other people my age with my disease who I can talk to.

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Lead photo by Thinkstock Images

Originally published: December 2, 2016
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