| posted in: life 

The software project team that I am a part of recently reached a major milestone, our first release candidate. As a thank you and ‘reward’ the project leader setup a lunch out for all of us. I put reward inside quotes because for personal reasons eating in a group setting is difficult for me, and at times embarrassing.

You see I have what doctor’s have diagnosed as a Shotski’s ring in my throat. This a narrowing that can, at time, make it extremely difficult for me to swallow. When I have an episode I am unable to swallow food or even liquid. Sometimes relaxing at the table eases the narrowing and I am okay. Other times I am forced to visit the bathroom and throw-up to release the tension in my throat.

Over the 10 or so years that I’ve suffered from this affliction I’ve had six surgery’s. At most each surgery brought me a week or maybe two respite from the symptoms. Rather than continue to subject myself to the surgery I have instead tried to understand the emotional and situational conditions that exist around an episode. My belief is that by taking care of myself and modifying those habits or behaviors that seem to bring on an episode. I’ve learned that drinking lots of water before hand makes a huge difference, almost as if I am training my throat to swallow before each meal. I eat very slowly and cut my food into small bites to assist myself in eating.

Emotional control over the meal setting and company is a large factor as well. If I am stressed or upset about something my throat is tense and I will have great difficulty in eating. Fear also can bring on a reaction. Eating with other people is difficult because I don’t know if I’ll have an episode or not. And once it starts I cannot talk or explain. When an episode starts my face flushes and I often hiccup loudly. My mouth and throat fill with heavy saliva and mucus preventing me from talking. When this happens in public I feel as if everyone is watching me, which only adds to my upset and makes the episode worse. Therefore I tend to avoid group eating situations.

So having a group lunch, for me at least, is less a reward and more an ordeal to be endured. Will I be able to eat? Or will I have a bad reaction and have to leave the table one or more times to throw up? Will anyone say anything?

I debated all morning today about not attending the lunch. My fear was that I would draw unwelcome attention to myself by not going. Since everyone else in the group was attending my absence would stand out. I felt pressured to attend. The choice of lunch spots is not a place I enjoy eating. These two strikes were soundly against me and I was completely unable to eat my lunch. I had to leave the table twice and ended up asking the waitress to box my lunch. I couldn’t meet anyone’s eyes as I was afraid of seeing the questions and fears they might hold.

I left as soon as the lunch broke up and came directly back to my desk. So far no one has asked me about my difficulties at lunch but I am apprehensive about someone stopping by this afternoon. I am paying for not taking better care of myself this morning. I know now that I should have declined the invitation and lived with the consequences of not attending. At least then I wouldn’t feel like I created a scene in front of my peers in public.

The next time there is a group lunch I will simply decline to attend. I will ‘reward’ myself by doing what takes care of me and my needs.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.