The gravel cut into the palms of my hands and my knees as I crouched next to the garden shed. Cars sped down Virginia’s Route 29 just a few yards away — too fast, I hoped, to notice me on the ground in my bright pink sundress.
The parking lot of the roadside shed business was empty. My van blocked the line of sight from the sales office. The shed hid me from oncoming traffic. Appreciating my little bit of privacy, I could wretch in peace. While I was at it, I admired the pattern on my new dress.
It was my first time wearing the dress, a sporty little thing I picked up on sale at Athleta just a few days earlier. It was a perfect throw-up outfit — non-wrinkle, sweat wicking, and a subtle pattern that would hide flecks of what had been my lunch. The only downside was the bright pink NOTICE ME color.
Throwing up in public places is more comfortable if you’re camouflaged.
It All Started in a Little White Church…
I’m one of those “spiritual but not religious” people. Although I went through a few church-going phases in my youth, as an adult I connect with the Universe outside the confines of organized religion.
I’ve always wondered if barfing on the church carpet just minutes before my cousin’s wedding had an impact on my spiritual path. I was 13 years old and my mother and I had flown from Washington State to Connecticut for the wedding. I was scheduled to be the candle lighter.
Unfortunately, I was overcome by my first serious bout with motion sickness during the cross-country flight, knocking my equilibrium out of whack. I couldn’t stand for more than a minute or two before severe waves of nausea descended.
Puberty bequeaths many gifts. Hormone fluctuations, I learned many years later, can increase susceptibility to motion sickness. Whereas I was hoping for a new pair of breasts (which didn’t truly arrive until I was 45–and then not even “truly”), what I got instead was a proclivity for severe motion sickness that would plague me the rest of my life.
My mother and I arrived at the church. I looked adorable (I’m told) in the bright yellow floor length dress I had sewn myself for the occasion. My cousin the bride, radiant in her mother’s lacey wedding gown, met us in the foyer.
I took one look at her and threw up on the carpet, only barely missing the bridal hemline.
I not only didn’t light the candles in the wedding, I couldn’t even participate in the standing parts of the ceremony. For the next four or five days, in fact, if I wasn’t horizontal, nausea and fits of vomiting would overcome me. I didn’t know it at the time, but that episode set the framework for countless similar scenarios in the years to come.
7 Sick Lessons
When I told my sister Lisa about my recent PDV (public display of vomiting) next to the garden shed — which, I might add, was just the start of a four day adventure that eventually landed me in the ER with an IV pumping anti-nausea meds and fluids into my dehydrated sorry self — she said, “You should write a blog post about all the places where you’ve thrown up.”
My husband’s response to the idea was, “And who would want to read that?”
But my sister (a PDV’er herself — motion sickness runs in the family) can see the humor in these stories. The bigger challenge was to find the lessons. But if I can pull lessons from my rotting compost pile, than I can pull some out of the airsick bag as well.
So here goes…
1) Be prepared. You can’t prepare for everything in life, but if you know yourself well enough, you can have strategies to fall back on when the going gets tough. If you’re prone to panic attacks, for example, master those breathing techniques. If you’re prone to PDVs, keep a hotel shower cap in your pocket or purse, like the one I gacked into years ago standing right next to my sister in an elevator. A shower cap is easier to hide than a shopping bag and the elastic edge keeps things nice and tidy.
2) Lose the drama. Save your energy to handle the situation at hand. When I was still working as an international economist in the 1990s, I landed in the Korean capital for a round of trade negotiations. Already sick from the flight, I was loaded into a stuffy van that swerved through the chaotic streets of Seoul, straight to a dinner hosted by the Korean Finance Minister. I quietly excused myself four different times to excrete the seven-course meal that was served, preserving my energy (and my credibility) for the next day’s meetings.
3) Listen to your body. Most of us are either too busy to listen to signals from our bodies, or we think we’re too important to slow down. President George H. Bush learned this the hard way in 1991, when he spewed all over his dinner partners at a banquet hosted by the Japanese Prime Minister. According to Wikipedia, it’s what George H. is most remembered for in Japan.
4) Look for the silver lining. On our Caribbean honeymoon almost 20 years ago, my new husband and I hired a catamaran to transport us to prime snorkeling waters. Despite the Dramamine I had taken (never leave home without it), I got sick — not on the boat, mind you, but in the midst of snorkeling. The chum served as an oceanic dinner bell, drawing the most amazing array of fish we may ever see.
5) Stop worrying about what other people think of you. Long before we were old enough to have learned this lesson, Lisa and I sat in the backseat of her new boyfriend’s tiny airplane. We were all trying to make a good impression on Tom, whom my mother (in the front seat next to the cute pilot) and I were meeting for the first time. “I feel sick,” I whispered to my sister within a few minutes of being air born. “No you don’t!” she hissed back at me. “Yes, I do!” I insisted. This went on for a few minutes until I proved it. Tom quickly tossed me a potato chip bag, narrowly avoiding a stained and stinky carpet. Despite the collective mortification of the three women in that plane, Tom (my treasured brother-in-law for over 30 years now) transformed the incident into a bonding experience.
6) It’s okay to ask for help. As a child and young adult, I was fiercely independent. I’ll save the reasons why for another blog post some day, but suffice it to say, self-sufficiency was my number one priority. In my early thirties, the combination of motion sickness and migraines became increasingly debilitating. On my way to pick up my kids from school one day, I threw up after making a U-turn driving my own car. I made it to the school, but was in such bad shape that my husband had to leave work to rescue us. My sons, 7 and 9 at the time, sat on either side of me while I slumped against the side of the school, their little hands patting my head while I heaved. No more hiding behind the infallible I’m the Mommy, that’s why! mask. Instead, my kids (after many such rescues) now know that nobody’s strong all the time, everyone needs a hand now and then, and families and friends take care of each other.
7) Don’t take yourself too seriously. No matter where you stand on the socio-economic or political power scales, tossing your cookies in public is the great equalizer. It’s one thing to be brought to your knees in the privacy of your own bathroom. It’s quite another to have an audience witness your yack fest. Nothing reins in the ego more quickly than the public upchuck (and I mean that in a good way). Just let go and embrace it as one more small step toward enlightenment.
If you enjoyed today’s entry and are not yet a subscriber, sign up above for free delivery of new posts to your email inbox. (I promise to never share your information.) Social media likes and shares are always appreciated as well!