Doris Stevens

Type of Porphyria

Variegate Porphyria (VP)


For therapy, a caring doctor had recommended I write about my illness, that I state what it has done to me and how it has affected my life and finally, what I hope will happen no matter how unrealistic. Since it took a better part of my lifetime to unravel the mysterious maladies that plagued me most of my life, it was difficult to write about it in a less compassionate form. It is important to understand when you read this that it is possible to have been born with more than one congenital anomaly. In my case, I was born with a mild Arnold Chiari Malformation which accounts for an inability to nurse, dizziness and clumsiness in infancy and adolescence. Porphyria symptoms were not present until my early to mid-teens.

I am sorry to inform you that I have never loved you. I have truly never understood you and even worse, no one else has understood you either! Starting from my earliest memories you have caused confusion and misunderstanding. You caused my parents to believe I was ill mannered at the table. Because of this I spent unspeakably cruel hours sitting at the dinner table being disciplined, eating my own regurgitated food, uncountable hours of stomach upsets, pain and tears. My mother always believed I personally rejected her since I couldn't nurse, and believed I rejected her excellent cooking efforts from the beginning of my existence. By the time I was 10, I was labeled a hypochondriac and clumsy. All this due to my dizziness, chronic mild aches and pains and chronic cramping constipation. My complaints were stonewalled. I learned to bury you. Anything was possible. I could fight you. You and my parents made me strong, the physical pain from life's normal upsets meant nothing to me. I concentrated on being the best at school, my uncontrollable mood swings hampered my social life until I conquered that too.

Occasionally throughout my adult life you would dig yourself out of your grave and I would be desperate enough to seek out Dr. Exorcist only to relive the cycle of my youth. Sometimes he would refer me to Mack the Knife, Dr. Pill Happy and Dr. Nightmare. Most of the time this proved to be a bad choice. But, this was back when I didn't realize I had a choice. I was naive enough to believe exorcism always worked and to not obey Dr. Pill Happy was unthinkable.

You taught me to dance between the rain drops. I concentrated on family, college, and a successful career. Once I passed 40, the rain storm started becoming more constant, the space between the drops became smaller and smaller. Until I reached the day when my plodding dance steps were so limited that my family could take it no longer and forcibly placed me in a wheelchair. I learned what it was like to be short and invisible. I had limited cognizance, would blank out (grand mall siezures), lose my balance, get severe flu like symptoms, severe back, shoulder, neck and all over pain and migraines, and the list goes on. I lost my business, some friends, and hold on loving life. I learned what it was like to truly wish for death. I became desperate and even more desperate while the Dr. Mack's argued over the semantics of my illness. This is where I learned that you and I had been together since birth. What a wonderful feeling to have been vindicated and to have been healed! Dr. Mack could be a good guy after all.

I cut you out of my life, but experienced the most devastating blow to discover a month after Dr. Mack's handiwork, while having a wellness celebration or farewell BBQ party about you, that you had an evil twin (according to an unsurprised Dr. Mack the Knife), yet to be named. Fortunately your twin is not identical, but is definitely a Gemini, unpredictable. He's thought to be a rarity.

I can remember the feeling of morning. A bright new day, the delicate warmth of sunshine bathing my face, the sound of birds chirping, a smell and feel of morning air through the crack in the window, the feeling of warmth and strength flowing through my body, the excitement of a whole day ahead of me to attack and enjoy life. It seems like only yesterday that I would take my nature walks with friends, challenging ourselves to exceedingly longer and longer jog-walks each day. Building a sand castle at the beach, standing in the sun watching a parade, going outdoors on a hot sunny day, an outdoor BBQ, going to a day game at the stadium, walking my dog around the block, wandering through the grocery store taking goods off the shelf, standing at the stove long enough to cook something, taking a long drive, playing chase with my little dog, the satisfaction of scrubbing a dirty rental house clean, cleaning my own house, gardening, working as I choose, doing all these things I took for granted would last my lifetime. The excitement of seeing snow on the mountains and planning a ski trip still haunts me. I will never do that again is my slogan for today. Focusing on what I can do is my personal challenge.

Now if I have slept, I wake to the feeling of burning pain everywhere I can feel my body. If I concentrate very hard I can hear a bird chirp over the loud ringing in my head, my nose is too plugged to smell my own bad breath let alone the morning breeze, and if I roll carefully off the bed I may not feel a jolt of excruciating back or leg pain. If I awake with any energy it is a blessing I savour for the few hours it may last. Sometimes I truly dread a walk from here to there. The gentle warmth of the sun has become a seering pain to me that evokes a headache, nausea, stomach pain, and more. I am almost always hot and have flashes burning up all day and night. Feeling cold is a blessing. The heat from the sun can trigger such a violent reaction that even the vision in my right eyes spasms and fails. I live with constant pain, fear of eating the wrong thing, hoping I will be able to sleep when the time comes and counting the physical things I can no longer do as a regrettably growing list. Out of the blue my heart will thump, bump and race for what seems an eternity. The head ringing often becomes loudly unbearable. I have learned to surround myself with noise to keep from going mad. Even worse is the unwanted knowledge about my body that keeps flowing in. I spent a lifetime bearing you and burying you. I spent 20 years trying to find out why these things are happening and now the why's won't stop. The list of diagnoses and pills/things I am allergic too is too long for me to remember. I usually just list the highlights on medical forms. You make me feel like a freak of nature.

Dear John, the evil twin, I want you to move out. I want to hear silence, I want to walk my dog in the sun and build a sand castle at the beach with my granddaughter. I want to hop out of bed and go grocery shopping unassisted. I want to learn to love the things I have learned to hate because of you. I want to go dancing in the evening and clean my house during the day. I want to walk ten miles on a summer day. I want to be able to eat like anyone else and not have pain, gain weight or get sick. I want to be able to toast the New Year. I don't care about my career, it is gone along with my total naivity about humanity. Most of all, I never want to have to see your friends, Dr. Exorcist, Dr. Pill Happy, Dr. Nightmare and Dr. Mack the Knife again as long as I live. I want to feel the morning!


P.S: John, I have often been asked to write about you and to attempt this had caused me to be unbearable to live with for days, but a Dear John letter was a very pleasant task.