Mental Mazes

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As an accumulator of words, I tend to randomly record my thoughts as I’m moving about and navigating the labyrinth that is the DMV commute.  Oddly enough, these colloquies that I have with myself in my head and then jot down in a frenzy to avoid forgetting and to clear some space for more mental capital, will often surface in one of my online repositories at what seems like a very relevant point in time.  The story you will read below is an example of one of those moments when the discovery of things I’ve written on the go and the context of a personal experience align and seem appropriate to share.  And although this is something that occurred several months ago, it’s still so relevant in light of our current state of affairs surrounding mental health and wholeness.

I saw something on the train this morning that found a cozy seat in my mind for the remainder of the day. As we whizzed past the trees and buildings and I attempted to focus on my morning ritual of reading, I happened to glance up and noticed another young woman reading too.  Ok, what’s so surprising about that?  Well, she had her e-reader open that was shielding what she was actually reading – a book on depressive illness.  I can still see that title in big, blue text with the image of a person holding the world on her back.  And in that moment, my world literally stopped because I had so many thoughts swirling.  First off, this was the same woman whose curls I had just finished admiring as we climbed the escalator.  The curls were poppin’!  I remember saying to myself, “I wish my curls were that cute!  Go girl!”  But, then I started feeling sad and wondering why such a young, beautiful, and Black woman was trying to hide from a train full of strangers that she was reading a book about depression.  Now, she could’ve easily been reading it for a class, to help a loved one, or for her professional development.  I shall never know.  But, I do know that it troubled me that she didn’t feel like she could be free.  And then, it was like wow, how many of us are riding into the city every day to do work that we like but aren’t passionate about while also trying to juggle emotional scars, financial woes, racism, and/or relational drama?  Or how many of us don’t feel like we quite fit where we thought we would?

Those are heavy questions that are coupled with elaborate situations and complex answers.  But, no one should ever feel as though they have to carry it all alone.  The load is always lighter when there’s help.  I hope that one day we can all experience the freedom of riding through this life with genuine company and some consolation that we are not our insecurities or fears, or the misrepresented labels that others have deemed appropriate for characterizing our being.  My hope is that we also figure out how we can freely rise to…reach out to those around us and reach deep within ourselves to embrace our individuality.

If I Can Help Somebody

I had quite the number of “firsts” over the last several days.  I’d love to spend the next few paragraphs documenting my safari adventures in Africa or grape smashing in Italy, but then you’d be walking in my imagination instead of reading the truth.  Part of me struggled with the idea of sharing this story not because I have anything to hide, but because I like to keep my personal life…personal.  I choose not to spill tea on my timeline particularly about my own life. *shrug* However, I decided to write about my experience this past week because it may save someone’s life.  It’s an assignment that’s bigger than me and any feeling I have about being private.  Here’s some context…

I can now say that for the first time in my life I’ve had a biopsy, CT scan, been transported in an ambulance, been admitted to the hospital, and seen what an operating room actually looks like all within a week.  And yes, the room really looks like what you see on TV!  It feels like a freezer, the doctors scrub in, and they even listen to music.  But, save yourself the visit and just take it from me.  I think all of these “firsts” are starting to sink in for me now that I’m home and feeling like myself again.  But, just a few days ago, I endured several agonizing moments.

I had a scheduled liver biopsy about a week and a half ago due to elevated LFTs (liver function tests) that surfaced some time ago during a routine physical exam.  After being tested for everything under the sun, the biopsy was the last course of action to determine the reason for the elevation.  I was freaked out about the entire thing since I had never had any similar issues and was otherwise a healthy adult.  I spent about a month contemplating if it was the right decision.  After much thought and prayer, I decided to have the procedure done, because I didn’t want to be in a position where there was something I could’ve done about a potential serious issue that I avoided simply because I was scared.  Sometimes you have to do it afraid.  Plus, I knew this was one of those times in my life where God was testing how much I was willing to release control and not allow the fear of the unknown to lead me into a state of worry and defeat.  Why?  Because I worry…a lot.

The procedure itself was relatively painless and went well.  I was back to my daily activities within 24 hours and awaiting the results.  The preliminary report indicated there were no issues with my liver, but they also still didn’t have an answer for the abnormal LFTs.  I was a mystery.  And I was willing to accept that.  Sometimes you don’t get the answer you want in the way you want it.  That doesn’t mean that’s how the story ends though.  I was willing to take a backseat and continue to do my best to take care of myself even if everything wasn’t adding up.  I expected that one day it would all work out for my good.

Things quickly took a turn though.  The day after I received my preliminary biopsy results, I started having excruciating abdominal pain.  It was a type of pain that I’ve never felt before that literally brought me to my knees.  The pain was episodic and would dissipate after a few minutes.  Honestly, I thought I had taken one too many bites of a food that causes flatulence until the pain returned at least three other times.  I knew my body was trying to tell me something.  I went to Urgent Care, and my doctor sent me to have a CT scan given the fact that I had had an intravenous procedure a few days before.  Again, they found nothing, and I went home thanking God but also praying to God that the abdominal pain was a thing of the past.  Unfortunately, that same night the pain returned.  I spent the early morning hours sleeping on a bed in Urgent Care with my boyfriend at my side as an IV pumped pain medication in my body and we awaited the arrival of a technician to take an ultrasound of my abdomen in another attempt to determine what was causing the pain.  You don’t know intimacy until you’ve had to share a twin-sized hospital bed with your significant other for four hours because you don’t want him to sleep in the chair that’s only made for temporary sitting.  Somehow we managed to get some shut eye despite the beeping heart monitor and nurse station chatter outside the door.  But, even after the ultrasound, they still couldn’t pinpoint the cause of my abdominal pain or find anything that demonstrated I may have been having complications as a result of the liver biopsy.  I was sent home with instructions and pain meds.

Before we could even make it out of the building, I found myself in the restroom vomiting blood.  That instantly changed the game.  To make this long story short, I had to be transported to the hospital so doctors could perform a procedure called an arteriorgram to ensure one of my arteries or blood vessels hadn’t been punctured during my biopsy thus causing me to bleed internally.  While this was a procedure my doctors could’ve performed in the outpatient setting where I had been all morning, they preferred that I was in a hospital in case there were any other issues.  I didn’t want to go to the hospital of course, but I’m grateful to have had people around me who cared enough about me to do what was best.  They were my “hidden halos”!

They found no internal bleeding during the procedure, and I stayed overnight for monitoring.  Thankfully, my blood levels were stabilized and I was able to return home after one day.  It all happened so fast that I’m still internalizing what I’ve been through yet I have a considerable amount of gratitude for everyone who took care of me, prayed for me, and checked on me.  My KP physician team (Drs. Nguyen, Oh, Mathur, Camba, Brown, Truong, and Stone) demonstrated what it means to provide team-based, quality care, and I’m sincerely grateful for their professionalism and kindness.  The KP nurses and technicians and the Holy Cross Hospital nurses (Nurse Terri, Tonya, and Lissa) were extremely patient and gentle.  I know there were times when I probably wasn’t the nicest person (I was “hangry” and nauseous lol), and so I’m just thankful they didn’t take my frustration personally and made sure I was taken care of as directed.  My boyfriend was my rock throughout this entire ordeal!  I know I probably scared him, but I’m so very thankful for his comfort and love.  My mom was right there as always in Mama Bear mode!  Love you, Mom!  To everyone who thought of me, I thank you for helping me to endure.

I can’t deny this was one experience in my life that created much anxiety.  From the very beginning, I never knew what to make of it.  But, I thank God for the unknown and the fact that I had no choice but to take everything in stride, because it reminded me Who is always in control.  Ironically, I learned a song about three weeks ago by Mahalia Jackson called “If I Can Help Somebody.”  The song says, “If I can help somebody, as I pass along, than my living shall not be in vain.”  So, I tell this story hoping that I’ve helped someone to be brave enough to take whatever next step that’s needed to face your affliction head on.  I made it out, so that you could make it to the best days of your life.  Take charge and cherish your health, because it is definitely your wealth.  As for me, I’m doing well and hoping my next encounter with the OR is on Thursday night at Seattle Grace.