Putting Aside the Pretty

Last month, while my sister and brother-in-law were over, I became I’ll with what I thought was food poisoning. A few hours later after not being able to hold down water, my husband took me to the ER. I threw up right in the lobby which made me terrified for whatever was happening to me. I was given meds for pain and after a few hours and a CAT scan, was misdiagnosed with appendagiatis (not appendicitis) which can mimic those symptoms.

I have a need to understand what has been happening these last couple of months. Writing or talking it out with family/friends/therapist or praying or crying alone and distracting myself with good TV and books is usually gets me where I need to go. But this has felt like a ride I cannot get off.

I was told I could go home and take Ibuprofen. It would all be over in a few days. I was given water. After a couple sips, I was back to writhing in pain. When I asked how could I go home and not drink water, the doctor asked me “So you want to be admitted?” I said yes even though he clearly didn’t think my condition warranted it. He made mention of having seen over 40 patients that night and having 12 minutes left on his shift. He did however agree to let a doctor know who would want to evaluate me for admission before beginning their shift.

It was strange and sad and infuriating not having my pain taken seriously by him. After the next doctor came in, she correctly suspected it was my gallbladder which was confirmed by an ultrasound. However, she made sure to show me a picture of my uterus, telling me “I had to take a picture of it.” I was thinking for what and are you planning on showing someone? I told her I was aware of my fibroid situation and my embolization was actually originally planned for the next week. She said she believed I could have both surgeries in back to back weeks because they are “different organs.”

I don’t know who needs to read this but we are not a series of parts. My body or anyone else’s should not be treated or spoken about as if we are a game of Operation. Healing and rest are essential. Taking your time is vital.

The decision was made for me to remove my gallbladder. There was no chat about drainage of the infection or anything else. Through a morphine-induced haze, I asked about medical nonsurgical intervention and she waved it off. The next day I was in pre-op and the doctor came to see minutes before being wheeled back. The anxiety I felt was unparalleled. I thought she was there to explain what was going to happen and provide a bit of comfort as this would be my first major surgery.

Not so much. She started one of her sentences by saying “This may not be the right time” and launched into pressuring me into getting bariatric surgery. I was flat on my back, panicked about going under anesthesia and praying for peace of mind. I was flat on my back having to turn her down and defend my decision not to undergo bariatric surgery.

I was exhausted, angry and felt powerless. My trust was broken. I trusted her to see me as a person in a vulnerable position, not some kind of defective set of parts or an amorphous blob. The nurses could see me and treated me with kindness and respect. This is what still infuriates and haunts me. Even though the surgery went well. Even though the rooms were clean, food was fine and my love was by my side in recovery.

A couple times, two of the nurses would either not not give me my full dosage of pain meds or just Tylenol. Yes, I had stitches and painfully practiced walking down the hall and had to press a pillow to my stomach not to scream when I coughed or laugh.

But I made it home. A few days later, my beloved grandfather died. A week after that, a friend who brought my husband into my life, passed away unexpectedly. Grief is a wild animal, feral. I have no idea when it will creep up and in floods fond memories, what ifs and the gut punches that sent me sinking into the floor.

The optimist in me wants to look for the happy for every sad: the service was beautiful, I felt strong enough to write a poem for him, I got to reunite with my father’s side of the family, all of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren were there, at least my surgery was successful and we flew to and from Florida safely, I applied to be my city’s next Poet Laureate during my recovery, met virtually with my Rainbow Fund writing group, and when my car didn’t start this week, we had another to drive Hubby to the ER (he is ok) and he is healing through a particularly painful flare while at the end of a stomach virus.

Tomorrow, I am facilitating a full class entitled “Our Whole Black Selves” and I have the opportunity to write and discuss our joys, strengths and triumphs in a safe space with other Black people. I need this time. Part of me wants to crawl out of a deep soaking tub and into the comfiest bed to sleep for a week. It sounds great but being in community, writing and releasing is truly where I need to be.

I should add I did confront the surgeon at my post-op appointment. Her apology was more of an excuse as to why she said what she said and in the vain of “I’m sorry you felt that way” and congratulated herself on the gallbladder catch. I wanted her to hear me when I told her but if she couldn’t ever really see me, why did I think her ears would decide to open? I told her I hoped this would make her a better practitioner and that her larger patients already know they are big. We have mirrors and other people regularly pointing it out. I emphasized that I never asked her about weight loss—not even once. I also dealt with a back up for my primary who was rude and blamed the onset of my PCOS on obesity. I was 12 and not big in the slightest. His bedside manner was atrocious.

I am unsure outside of filling out the hospital’s survey and speaking to my real primary if there much to be done. My fatigue is real but so is my hope and will to open eyes.

I love myself enough to know when to enforce boundaries, advocate, embrace peace without shame and search for the joy.

We all need it.

I am craving it.

I love myself enough to acknowledge it’s healthy to mourn lost loved ones like my dear Papa Ze and Ms. Tina Zapata and allow myself to move through it all even when it’s ugly —especially when it’s ugly.

There is strength there, too.

In putting aside the pretty.

You Won’t Break My Soul

Many of us have experiences that cause us to slow down, examine how we react to things, and start making changes. Over the last week, I had two.

While in physical therapy, I chatted with a new friend as we were both left to do some independent exercises by our therapists. She and I made plans to go to an “Aqua Strength” class at her gym. She also offered to teach me some stretching techniques afterwards. I was moonwalking on air when I came home from the session. As we get older, it can be harder to establish new connections and I had made one with a bubbly, helpful person who is healing from the same injury!

After the class, she and I worked one-on-one with for almost two hours in their warm water pool. Now, here is where the first revelation came: she constantly had to remind me to put my shoulders down. I fully realized my natural state (when engaged in activity) is to have them hunched up around my ears. Although I was present with her, that realization was never too far away. It instantly conjured up a memory of an initial visit to an acupuncturist where he observed I hold my breath often during conversation. Between the shoulder and stifling of my breath issues, it’s as if I am in a near constant state of bracing myself for something to happen. It is as if my body is preparing for trauma.

Here comes number two: Many of you know outside of my writing I have worked for several years in the human services field. Yesterday, I spoke with someone who was having a particularly hard time which is nothing new because of the nature of my position. However, due to the intensity of the call which almost led me to trying to meet them for a moment, I had another flashback. As I was hurriedly throwing on clothes to dash over there, the mode I was in felt eerily familiar. I had just done this when taking my husband to the hospital just over a week ago (he is home and healing). The rush, the sadness and adrenaline pumping at the same time, and this urge to say “Forget about yourself because you know what you have to do ” enveloped me. Some of this is completely natural but the urge to grind a message of tossing myself aside into my being is unhealthy. While tending to and being of service to others is ultimately about that person, perhaps the message to myself in the midst of these emergencies needs to be more “I am scared but glad I am here to help right now. Let’s go!” and less “forget about you..you don’t count right now.”

All the bracing and unhealthy internal messaging sounds like one tight ball of trauma. It doesn’t sound like the woman who has been dancing in the shower to Beyonce’s “Break My Soul” all week and actually giggled with glee driving from home a shopping trip a few days ago (I usually hate shopping).

But it is the same woman.

I am both.

I am all.

As I take the time to breathe in and out, I release my shoulders. They don’t have to carry it all. When I am in “go mode”, I can be a bit kinder to myself.

It costs nothing.

And yet saves so much.

Pine Needles

It’s been awhile.

I hope the next post I write here doesn’t start off the same way. The last 3 months—which I believe is the longest break I have ever taken from writing here—have been a whirlwind. Some of the biggest things that have happened are this newly redesigned website, I am partnering with my local library to host a fall poetry series, more interviews for my book of prose and poetry, She Lives Here, I was featured in Richmond Bride Magazine, (first magazine feature) for my E-book, What I Love About You: A Guided Journal to Writing Your Proposal, traveled to see my family (vaccinated, double-masked with goggles on the plane—not playing with COVID) and I have taken some measures to address my physical and mental health.

At the beginning of June, I took a couple of days to visit my niece in PA which ended with me in the ER dehydrated and panicked. I was already on the road to addressing how to handle taking better care of myself but I did not realize how working, planning for more non-stop and still stressed about keeping me and my husband safe had taken a toll on me. I think when you are lying on an ER bed with your heart feeling like it is threatening to leap out of your chest, it’s time to make all the changes. It is time to slow down, abandon the shame that creeps up when you sleep too long, spend some time in the sun and stop pretending like you can push through everything on your own. My norm had become work, panic at any given time, planning for writing events, endless breathing exercises, and cleaning up after my psoriasis riddled body on every surface in the house.

In Florida with Hubby
My first magazine feature!

I was accepting all of THAT as my norm. It wasn’t until I read in the literature provided by my dermatologist that a study found that psoriasis can contribute to anxiety and depression by sending certain messages to your brain that I decided to stop the madness. If I thought I could make it as a raw foodist who does yoga and swims in saltwater pools everyday, maybe I wouldn’t have decided to make the changes I did. I am on new medication that has started clearing my skin, reducing inflammation and I can finally make it through the day without fearing I am approaching the edge.

I also went to a couple of Strongman training classes. I have hurt my back and my wrist but I will hopefully be back next week. It was a shock to the body to be back deadlifting such heavy weight but if I keep at it, I know it will feel like me again.

While I was at one of my lowest days a couple of months ago, I took a drive. I started to have thoughts I can’t bring myself to write here but they were not healthy. What I realize now is that I couldn’t see it for what it was at the time but I remember something that snapped me out of it—the smell of pine needles. My windows were down and I could smell something natural, strong and real after cooping myself up in the house for days. It reminded me how much I love being here, awareness and how much I wanted to fight to always feel that way. Outside of the ER visit, that was the turning point for me.

I spent so much time afraid of taking chances with doctors that I wasn’t giving myself a chance.

I was robbing myself of choice.

This past year and a half showed me that my world could be bigger. I could unapologetically share my truths. I am grateful that I realized I was limiting myself by not taking those chances.

I don’t think God made Kristina a limited being. A flawed one—yes but not a fearful, limited being.

That’s what I hope to express more here—an expansion, curiosity and exploring more of what’s to come.

Keep Going

 

On Saturday, I went to a women’s health fair where the focus was on physical and mental health. There was a plethora of great advice on how often to keep active (150 minutes a week), the importance of an accountability partner, fitness activities such as Zumba, walking or kickboxing and the health benefits of incorporating more plant-based and unprocessed food into your diet. I loved that it was from the perspectives of a nurse, Destinee King and a holisitic wellness coach, Yvette Leverette. What better way to bring traditional and alternative methods together?

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Pictured from left to right: Tyrell Clayton, Jamia Mills, Yvette Leverette and Destinee King

What was particularly impactful for me was Tyrell Clayton and Jamia Mills’ (Heart to Heart Mental Health Services– http://www.heart2heartva.com) presentation about the importance of taking care of your mental health. I especially loved how they stressed treatment measures by asking us if we had cancer, would we wait to get help? Would we put it off, hoping it would go away? Then why do we do dare do that with depression and anxiety disorders? These conditions have the potential to spiral into something else entirely that could threaten not only the quality of our life but our very life. They also outlined the 8 dimensions of wellness and spoke about how mental health is the origin of everything (positive and negative).  I was moved that I was hearing about treatment being a fully integrative approach from a clinical social worker, a young Black man open to talking about his experiences on his mental health journey. Jamia’s perspective and story was valuable, too as women are 40% more likely to develop depression.

After leaving the fair, I had many thoughts come up (some influenced by the event and others were a reflection of what’s going on with me) and I want to share them here:

Keep going. Keep going. Keep going.

Keep going to the events (sometimes you can’t make it but you know what I mean).

Keep educating yourself.

Keep supporting others’ events.

Keep buying others’ books and products.

Keep writing.

Keep exercising–even if it’s marching in place or dancing around the living room like a maniac.

Keep praying.

Keep trusting that you will find your place.

Keep confiding in trustworthy people.

Keep working at your relationship, marriage, friendships..even if you have to put your pride aside to ask something as simple as…”What happened?”

Keep reading.

Keep taking classes.

Keep getting help whenever you need it and keep giving whenever you can.

Keep your ears open even if you have to close your mouth.

Keep shouting..there’s a place for silence and there is a place for a VOICE.

Be open to whatever this world has for you….it will let you down, lift you up and teach you over and over again until you become the lesson.

Day 13

Labor Day was a good one for rest. I spent my time relaxing with my hubby, reading and gleaning wisdom from The Hollywood Commandments by DeVon Franklin, catching up on email and applying for a writer’s group that may take me in the direction that I need. I have been feeling this self-imposed pressure to narrow my focus and become more goal-oriented to grow my career. This is the kind of pressure that I welcome. Earlier this week, I sent a pitch email with some ideas for a guest blog and today, I got a positive response for one of my ideas. I will definitely share more about that in time.

As I was completing the application for the writing group, I became emotional. I do not like to dwell on the past but it occurred to me how stuck I used to be and how willing I was to step in and stay in my own way. I will be eternally grateful for the decision I made to take action over the last year and for leaving the stressful job I was in 4 years ago. I would have never had the mental space to even try to write. As I was walking with a friend at the park today, it occurred to me that although neither of our lives our perfect, our conversation was mostly centered on doing something about the situations we are in. Not just complaining and venting (though we all have our moments). This is the spirit of the Water-Workout-Write 21-Day Challenge. The spirit of Doing. Moving. Trying.

I am behind on my water intake but the night isn’t over and I will continue to sip and chug if I have to. And if I have to grab my 5lb weights again to do some semblance of a second workout, I will do that, too. I just won’t talk or write about it. I will do it.

Stay tuned for Day 14 tomorrow!

Day 5

This has been the hardest by far. If I had a word for today, it would be resistance. I am not sure it is worth trying to figure out why. My husband and I went to a late movie last night and didn’t wind down until almost 2:00am. I had a great time and I don’t regret it. However, I am sure in the deep recesses of my mind, I am sure I told myself the lie that I would get up before church and walk. I slept until the very last minute and then some.

My husband and I stopped by a juice bar which was refreshing but I knew I needed to drink some water. I got home and still didn’t do it. I ate and ended up passing out on the couch without a drop to drink. When I woke up, I was determined to make up for my laziness earlier. I felt achy and tired and my mind was screaming for this to be the day that I blog about the one day I failed and I would just wake up tomorrow and try again. But that is something I am used to telling myself.

I went out and walked twice as long and have finished about half of my water intake. And I will workout with my 5lb weights in a couple of hours. I just don’t want to slip up unless there is an absolute real emergency. And as I write this, I am reminded of how much I have been given. I have breath, arms and legs, presence of mind and I am safe.

There are so many others who cannot say the same. I am thinking of those trying to escape flooding in Texas, those who struggle with debilitating physical and mental health issues, those children who live in food insecurity and so much more. I am taking all that I have and making it into something good. Something worthwhile. I owe it to myself. I cannot even give more of myself, to my husband, family, writing and the community in which I live until I do that, live up to all that has been given to me.

I am releasing this spirit of resistance. It certainly does not serve me well.

Stay tuned for Day 6!

Comment below on how you combat resistant thoughts.