Nobody believes a woman with an invisible illness called Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome is actually sick.
Do you know what it's like to throw up almost every day at 2 AM, and then a couple more times during the day, and you just can't figure out what's wrong? Well, that's what 25-year-old Erin Delman's life was like during her fourth year in the PhD program of earth system sciences at the University of California-Irvine.
"When people would just say, 'Ugh, I'm hungover, I need a coffee, brunch, and an Advil,' I would think that sounded unbelievable," she told Cosmopolitan. "That's probably when it started, but I didn't notice [something was wrong] until my first year of graduate school, and the beginning of my second semester. I was so sick."
Delman was throwing up so much for at least two or three months that she had to take a 3-month medical leave from grad school. Finally, she was diagnosed with a rare condition called Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome (CVS).
She's currently on medical leave from grad school (her second one). Her parents are medical professionals, so having them around helped when the symptoms would come up. But the worst part? No one believes that her disease actually exists.
Mayo Clinic describes CVS as "episodes of severe vomiting that have no apparent cause. Episodes can last for hours or days and alternate with relatively symptom-free periods of time." These episodes occur often at the same time of day each time, with the same length of time, and with the same symptoms. It's believed to also be connected to migraines.
For months, Delman visited all kinds of doctors to find out what exactly was wrong with her and why she was throwing up so much.
"They found out that I have low immunoglobulin levels, which suggested an immune deficiency," she said. "I saw an immunologist, but he didn't really [have the] answer. I went to a psychiatrist to see if it was something that was related to mental health and they ruled that out, but I thought I was having a mental breakdown."
It was Delman's twin brother who figured out what may be potentially wrong with her. He was in medical school and sent her a link on Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome, which led to them finding a GI specialist in Los Angeles, and she was finally diagnosed.
Right now, Delman is undergoing treatment, taking an antidepressant and nerve pain medications called amitriptyline and and a coenzyme CoQ10. Throughout her last year of grad school, Delman struggled with explaining her absence from important life events because of her condition... and because very few people believed her.
"I would bail on my friends a lot and I was a flaky person to begin with. It was difficult for my friends to believe me. It really is an unbelievable condition," she explained. "It sounds like you're making stuff up! But a bunch of my very close friends [had seen] an episode at some point."
Living with an invisible illness is a struggle because there will always be skeptics. Delman only hopes that more people would get to know and be friends with people like her, because having friends and people who care is very important for her to function. It's a great comfort to have people who looked past her condition and just see her.
"What's amazing is that I feel totally fine when I'm not symptomatic," she said. "You have to laugh about it when you're feeling good, 'cause otherwise it's impossible to just live."
We wish Delman a speedy recovery.