AS TOLD TO BC PIRES
My name is Jesica Elizabeth Neisha Sadler and I have been chronically vomiting every single day of the last 12 years.
My mum gave my dad very specific instructions for my birth certificate: Jessica, Elisabeth with an ess, Nisha without an e. He got every name wrong. Except Sadler. Which is his name. So my name is Jesica with one ess, Elizabeth with a zee and Neisha with an e. But he’s very proud I’m different because he named me.
I told my friend Rosie that, one day, the sun and I are going to get married. I really feel the sun is the source of all my powers.
The University of Tampa wasn’t for me. After A LOT of parental convincing, I actually saved my parents some money by moving to London to do my photojournalism BA. Cause the fees in Tampa were WAY more. I made two charts comparing Tampa and London costs, down to the price of milk. Losing the sun by leaving Florida was the convincing part. Thank God for my stepfather.
I believe that, when the time comes and I fall in love, one day, I would be sitting with my partner and I’d want to extend the love that we have. I’d be, like, “There could be a mini-me AND a mini-you walking around!” And I think we need to do it for the sake of the universe.
It’s just me and my elder brother, Joseph, but my dad is one of seven siblings and I have two stepparents. So our really extensive extended family is extended even farther.
I couldn’t be who I am today without [it] so I’ve never regretted my suffering. Even though I’m not very Catholic. My family is Catholic and I believe in their love of religion works for them. But I’m not very religious.
I believe we are everywhere in the world. We are part of the sea, part of the sky.
I don’t know if there’s an afterlife and I don’t want to know. But it’s trickier to say whether I care.
My parents split up when I was two or three. A picture of them together is pretty strange. But they’ve both been settled in other relationships for a long time. We’ve had one stepdad Uncle Derwin Howell and one stepmom. My mother is Charlene Sadler. My father is Brian Sadler.
I only recently realised how influential my stepmother Auntie Roxanne Mohammed has been. [After] a stroke when she was 11, she doesn’t have much control over the left side of her body. And she’s the most independent person on the planet. To watch her put up her hair using just one hand is mesmerising. When I was 12, I developed a very rare gastrointestinal disorder called superior mesenteric artery syndrome, although I didn’t know what it was until nine years later. I also had gastroparesis. So, since I’m 12 years old, I’ve been chronically vomiting. Every day.
My brother Joseph is two years, two months and two days older than me. So we have matching tattoos of interconnected 2s. I would consider him, like, my life partner. He’s always there for me.
Superior mesenteric artery syndrome – we shall call him SMA for today - is very, very, very rare. So it’s very hard to diagnose. That’s why it took nine years. I worship the ground my gastroenterologist Dr Maria Bartholomew walks on. She saved my life. At 12, I was her youngest patient, and I’ve been seeing her for 12 years.
SMA is basically like a kink in a garden hose. But in the intestine.
My parents worried sick about me when I began vomiting every day. My mum still does. If she doesn’t hear from me every night, she [rings]. I can’t imagine her anxiety, as a parent, your child vomiting every day for 12 years. I don’t like to say I suffer… but I do. And it’s really hard for them.
People thought there was something psychologically wrong with me. I did every single test you could do!
Now, after years, it’s fairly settled that I throw up just once a day. Most times right after a meal.
There are days when I know I just need a salt bread and I good until night. Over 12 years, you learn the ins-and-outs of SMA & gastroparesis.
I had a feeding tube [inserted] twice, once last November, after I had stomach bypass surgery, and for three weeks in 2019, when my weight dropped. You wear it day and night. It’s in. And you don’t take it out. I was fed at night. This was the year before covid and everybody could tell I had a feeding tube in. During covid, masked all the time, I was thinking I could get the feeding tube again, Because nobody would know I had it.
Feeding tubes are not pleasant. What they give you is called “feed”. It’s like an Ensure [meal replacement shake] but it’s not sweet. You don’t ever want it to touch your taste buds because it does not taste good AT ALL.
After surgery, I had a drainage tube in my stomach for two days because they didn’t want anything staying in my stomach. I couldn’t even have water, just ice chips. One nurse came and was, like, “She not supposed to be having ice chips! Take ‘way those ice chips!” And I was like, “PLEASE don’t take my ice chips from me!” Never, ever, in my life have I been so grateful for water.
It’s unsure whether I’ll ever get better. I may have to vomit every day for the rest of my life. Either way, I know I could manage.
I have this one book you can apply to everyday life which I literally carry everywhere with me. The Pocket by the [Vietnamese Zen teacher] Thich Nhat Hanh. No, I don’t pull it out at the line at the supermarket, BC Pires. But I swear by lying in the sun for at least 15 minutes every day and I’ll read The Pocket then. Or sit with my coffee – decaf, because caffeine triggers the tummy – and read it. It almost got me to like suffering, in a sense, because, after suffering is grace.
I feel unsafe in Trinidad because I’m so small. I feel unsafe in London too. I’m not AS threatened in London because [violent attacks on women] happen a lot more in Trinidad. But, walking home in London, my keys are in my hand, my headphones are on my head but they’re [turned] off and I’m SPEED-walking from the bus to my house. Because I’m [so] small, even a girl could pick me up in one arm.
Imagine you’re in London, you’re walking in a dark street, it’s four degrees, and you bounce up a Trini… and you’re warm already! You forget about winter, you forget about the cold. It’s like the Trini warmth recharges your battery.
To me, a Trini is a person who has spent SO MUCH time in the sun, the sun’s warmth is just injected into their personality already. We walk around like sculpted seawater. We’re some of the warmest people on Earth, not because, yeah-yeah-yeah, we have vibes, whatever, but because there’s something about us inside us.
Trinidad & Tobago is my battery pack. When I’m away, I can tell when I need recharging. And not just from the warmth of the sun but from the warmth of family, the support that lets me rise up from a rough day.
Read the full version of this feature on Friday evening at www.BCPires.com