by Jennifer Esposito
80 degrees and sunny. I had not noticed either fact that day. At the moment I was shivering, yet covered in sweat as I sat naked under a paper gown getting poked and prodded by yet another doctor. I had just spent the last hour in the doctor’s office going over every detail of my medical history, personal history, family history, current symptoms, well being and state of mind. Now was the moment of truth, the exam!
She checked my pulse, took my temperature, ran her hands around my body, listened to my heartbeat, all in a very quick 5 minutes. She wrote some things down on her chart, took a beat, removed her stethoscope and gently put her hand on my slumped back. My body stiffened at her touch, yet melted from exhaustion. Was this it? Did she find it. A lump, a bump, a swollen something that would explain years of unanswered, unexplained illness. Was it cancer? Was I dying? And if so, how long did I have?
I didn’t even care about the facts at the moment. I was just so damn happy to finally have some answers. I actually managed to smile in the face of my pending doom as I looked up at her with hope. She smiled back sadly and said, “Jennifer, do you want to kill yourself?”
I stared at her blankly. I had no words. Tears just rolled off my cheeks. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. Did she actually just say that? I know I told her I was depressed, but that was because I was sick all the time. Wouldn’t that depress anyone? Killing myself though? Was that what was written on my face? My mind raced and my insides screamed.
Did I not just describe an hour’s worth of what have now become debilitating symptoms? Symptoms that I have carried with me through my life like a weight, which now felt like 100lbs. Sleeping close to 13 hours a night and waking up exhausted, constant stomach problems, raging panic attacks, joint pain, knees buckling, extreme weakness, yellowing of my skin, extreme sinus headaches, numbness, tingling, and hair and nails so weak they would just break off from a simple touch. Not to mention the huge lump that was now protruding from my neck, just under my ear.
In spite of all this though, I had managed to become a self made, hard working, award winning actress. Almost 15 years as a working actress in a god forsaken, takes no prisoners business that would make the strongest man crumble. Managed to own my own home by the age of 25. I was a friend, an aunt, a godmother, a sister and a self respecting 35-year-old women. I had traveled to foreign countries alone. I have had good relationships and bad. Cried, learned and gotten back up. I never had an eating disorder, I worked out and never took a drug in my life. I learned to meditate and developed a strong spiritual center. I’ve been at my lowest and knew to count my blessings for what was, rather than for what was not.
At the moment though, it was too hard to count blessings when you’re too tired to even see. Did this sound like a person with a weak constitution? Someone who would kill themselves and take away everything I had worked so hard to attain?Are you suggesting my symptoms aren’t real, like so many others before? That somehow this is all due to stress or maybe some kind of imbalance? I’ve been offered anti depressants, Valium, Ativan, Klonopin, enough to start a small drug ring. I had been tested for MS, Lupus, Lyme Disease, hepatitis, rheumatoid arthritis and a slew of others. All of which turned out to be negative. Not to mention the numerous colonoscopies, barium enemas, MRI’s, CT scans, x-rays, nerve tests and so much blood taken that I could have filled a river’s worth. I’ve been told I had Epstein Bar, irritable bowl syndrome, chronic fatigue and treated for an fathom parasite that was never actually found. All of which I was given some sort of medication and a suggestion to see a therapist. That all this could be some sort of depression.
How is it when doctors can’t figure out your symptoms it somehow becomes your mind? I was so tired of explaining and begging people to help me. I felt so ignored! I’M NOT CRAZY! PLEASE DON’T SEND ME AWAY WITH A PRESCRIPTION FOR VALIUM AND A NUMBER OF YOUR FAVORITE THERAPIST!! I DON’T NEED ANTIDEPRESSANTS, I NEED HELP!!!!!!!!! Nothing, silence, a small sigh is all that came out of me, that and tears.
There is something that happens to you when you feel unheard for so long. You die a little. I was physically, mentally and spiritually done. I was ready to take the obligatory prescription, along with the diagnosis of crazy and go. I was done fighting for an answer and proving my sanity. Then out of nowhere I heard a small voice say, “I need help. I need your help, please.”
The voice I barely recognized as my own. It was a vulnerability that I didn’t even know existed. I was begging for my life with as much energy as I could muster and I was laying that responsibility at her feet. She put her hand on my shaking hand, looked me in the eyes and said, “I will help you. I will find out what’s wrong.”
Maybe she actually heard me. It’s amazing how the human spirit works. Even though I had heard this phrase before, I somehow believed her. She took what seemed like 10 vials of blood, I put on my clothes, picked up my 100lb weight and went home and waited.
~Jennifer Esposito, award-winning actress, was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2009. Celiac is an autoimmune disease that is inherited, in which the lining of the small intestine is damaged by eating gluten. Celiac is linked to everything from terminal stomach cancer, dementia, infertility, chrohn’s disease, IBS, thyroid problems, and even skin and eye disorders. If left undiagnosed it can be deadly.
Jennifer is currently working on a new book about her life-long personal and professional struggle with the disease and she is currently working on a gluten-free cookbook. She has already written 75 recipes that are not only delicious, but heal and nourish at the same time. She has founded Jennifer’s Way, which will promote and educate people about living a more healthy lifestyle. She will be launching JennifersWay.org in the immediate future.
Click next to see Jennifer in some of our favorite movies and TV shows of all time.
Jennifer Esposito stars in the Academy Award winning. Crash.
Jennifer gave us a memorable performance in Spike Lee’s Summer Of Sam. Here she is in a scene in an unforgettable moment with Adrien Brody.
Jennifer Esposito played Stacey Paterno on the hit show, Spin City with Michael J. Fox.
Currently, Jennifer stars in the CBS hit, Blue Bloods, seen here with Donnie Walhberg.