I haven’t eaten food in three years.
Sweet and savory aromas wafted through the air as the waitress delivered my favorite vegan pizza. The dim restaurant lighting and catchy music created the perfect ambiance for my 18th birthday celebration with friends and family. The crowd later exited the kitchen with the next part of my meal—a slice of chocolate cake with the words, “Happy Birthday!” written in icing. I blew out the candles, and life as I knew it vanished in a puff of smoke.
Three more birthdays have since passed, but not another bite of food has grazed my lips. I have not eaten in over three years.
Well, shortly after my eighteenth birthday, my health declined, and I had surgery to place a feeding tube in my abdomen.
You’ve probably heard about feeding tubes. Maybe, you’ve been told that they smell weird or that they are strictly for babies and old people with cancer. I can assure you that the former is not true. And the latter… Well, there are many young adults who rely on these tubes for numerous reasons.
As you eyeball the pump in my backpack, which connects to a barely visible line under my shirt, I sense your expressions of pity. Your sorry eyes say it all. You stare at me as if my life is not worth living, as though I am a walking, talking anomaly.
I get it; the thought of not eating seems inconceivable.
Food unites people. Most people consume three square meals daily, plus snacks. Not to mention, we celebrate nearly every momentous occasion with some sort of delicacy. It may be difficult for you to imagine a life without midnight ice cream runs, cocktails with friends, work meetings over lunch, and awkward first-dinner dates. Before I needed a feeding tube, that was my life.
Occasionally, I still crave my favorite foods.
I’ve shed tears over desperate desires for chocolatey goodness or filling pieces of bread. The tiny button protruding from my abdomen often makes me feel self-conscious.
However, do not feel bad for me.
Don’t pity those of us who use feeding tubes. We are not to be pitied. The tube is neither a hindrance nor a limitation. In fact, feeding tubes are the exact opposite – they are freedom. I am able to attend college, hang out with my friends and fiancé, and even write this article because of my feeding tube. My feeding tube lets me live and love. I can be just like you because of my feeding tube. Feeding tubes allow people like me to live life to the fullest.
The only difference between us is that while you get energy from that sandwich and granola bar, I receive nutrition through a bag of formula pumped through a tube in my stomach. And now, when I’m sitting in a restaurant, that plate of vegan pizza is no longer within my reach.
Despite the challenges of navigating a life without food, I am stronger for it. We all have our obstacles. A feeding tube and a genetic illness happens to be mine. Perhaps your biggest challenge is the reason you’re alive, too.