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  • "It must be nice," she laughs, tugging the wrap sweater tighter, retying the cord as I swallow the words that dance on the tip of my tongue.

    Her body is beautiful. Amazing. It only just housed a new human life. It stretched to birth a baby, which I can only imagine, and it feeds the babe still. Her stomach is looser than what it once was but smaller than just a few months ago, and it will get flatter still.

    She looks fantastic.

    My words seem to be the only thing I can swallow. The nausea that ebbs and flows threatens to drown me, and I am so tired of treading water that I am tempted to let it. The world swims around me.

    "It isn't nice," I think. "It isn't nice at all to have trouble eating."

    I have wanted to vomit for most of the last 15 months. I continue to fight the feeling that comes after a spinning ride at the fair, a twisting mountain road, eating too much at a ballgame. A sickly quease threatens to erupt at any moment, haunting my days and disturbing my nights. On airplanes, I search seat backs for air sickness bags. On the street, I keep an eye on trash cans and planters just to be aware of my options.

    At work, when I feel particularly sick (i.e. all through this holiday season), I consider public transportation, but I can't. The ride would make me sicker with the cruelty of Catch 22. I only want a bus or the metro when I feel sick and cannot ride the bus or metro without throwing up. I walk home in the cold, in the rain, with a roiling stomach. More miles. More calories burnt.

    I fight for calories. When I took the wrong medicine at night, the one that kept me up, I considered throwing up but didn't waste either the medicine or the progress I had made in stomaching food. I just slept less.

    I fight to keep the monsters at bay as more and more people compliment me on the weight lost. They tell me that I look fantastic. The monsters creep closer as I look in the mirror and think, "I could stand to lose more. My legs are just so jiggly."

    My clothes don't fit. Conversations have started to prickle with barbs.

    "You don't look gaunt. I thought you'd look haggard."

    "You are right. I should look worse to match the way that I feel. I should look worse so you believe me."

    My symptoms, the side effects, mirror those my aunt experienced while she was fighting cancer, but this isn't chemo. This is my disease and my treatment. This is my life.

    "Try complaining about that to another woman in her 40s. We all have a little flab to lose."

    And I struggle to swallow more words. I can't tell anyone. I feel guilty writing.

    I struggle to hit at least 1,200 calories a day. I need more to balance my five- to 10-mile walking average, but I can't. Between the malnutrition, MS-induced fatigue, idiopathic hypersomnolence (words I have learned), and narcoleptic tendencies, my body craves sleep more than food. Food makes me sick. Sleep makes it better.

    I go to bed early, so early, but it doesn't help. I wake several times through the night. I get up for work in the dark quiet hours and walk into the office in the still-dark of night.

    "I'd love to get seven straight hours of sleep," she adds, the woman with the sweater and baby at home.

    "I am sure," I smile weakly. "How often is the baby getting up? When will I get to see her next?"

    I don't want to compete; I know she is tired. She might be more tired than me, but I wouldn't know how to begin to compare. We both need sleep, a spa day, some pampering. That's why we are here.

    I know she doesn't like what she sees in the mirror, but that is not real. I desperately wish I could make her see what I see: Thin isn't beautiful, not on me, not right now. It is sickness. It is hunger and exhaustion. Her body is marvelous; it just made a human life.

    Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but why do we behold ourselves with such anger, hatred and fear? How can we start seeing (and treating) ourselves with kindness?
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