One should never judge a book by its cover. That has always seemed to be an issue with me. Not that I tend to judge but that I am often the one that is judged. Either it is a result of my skin color, my tattoos or even my profession. I believe that many people, often times the young people I meet and work with, assume that my carefree, humorous personality matched with my success means I never experienced struggle or failure or pain. And I always say to myself “if only they knew”. So thankfully, with the help of my blog, now they will know. For the first time ever in my life, I am sharing my personal story of resilience.
I do not share my story lightly. It was a very painful time for me and one that still adversely affects me physical, mentally and emotionally. I was regularly told by my mother not to share it with people for fear of being judged or pitied. As I have grown up I have realized that I would not be me in any sense were it not for my struggles and my pain. When I hear young men and women talk about their struggles I do not attempt to undermine their story by claiming to say I know their pain or I have been there and done that. I simply explain how I can relate because we, like so many other people, know what struggle looks and feels like. The key component, however, is how to overcome that struggle and to use it as a jetpack towards success rather than a crutch to justify failure. That is resilience. That is the essence of my story.
While my story of resilience could begin on that stormy August night when I was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck, or possible with the many years of bullying I endured because of my weight, the meat of my story really starts as a junior in high school at the tender age of 16 years old. While most teens my age were focused on dating and hanging out with friends, I was focusing time and energy trying to figure out why I was suffering from chronic stomach pains. I visited so many doctors in such a short time that if they had those cards that could be punched per visit I would have received free medical equipment, or at least a cookie or something. I heard every attempt at a justification imaginable- from concerns about my weight, concerns about the foods I was eating, to one doctor explaining to me and my parents how stomach aches were normal for teenagers. Even my older brother, who was pursuing his aspirations of becoming a medical doctor, got a kick out of that one. So despite every effort I received no answers and no solid advice. I was forced to hope that things got better- unfortunately that was not the case.
I very vividly remember the day when I was in so much pain that my brother had to physically carry me to my father’s car and we had to rush to the emergency room. Despite being in all types of agony the doctors had to run tests to discover what was wrong before attempting to address it. Thankfully, after an abdominal sonogram, the doctors figured out the problem- my appendix was very inflamed and was on the verge of exploding. Off to surgery I was rushed. During surgery my appendix did in fact explode, which could have been fatal. During the months of complicated post-surgery recovery, I ended up having one of those dreaded meetings with my parents, doctor, and surgeon to discuss my health. It was at that time that I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. It was explained to me that my intestine was not in good shape and that surgery was needed to remove the unhealthy segments and repair the healthier ones. As a teenager, none of this was making sense. I wanted to be normal for so long and now this was pushing me further and further away from that. With little to no options, my parents reluctantly agreed to the surgery. Little did they or I know what that decision would ultimately lead to.
One surgery somehow managed to turn into six. Releases from the hospital turned into return trips within a day or two, several hours in one instance. School began to become a distant thought as I spent more time in the hospital and at home recovering than I did in the classroom. Following three of those surgeries my surgeon commented in passing to my parents after each one, almost like it would somehow lighten the mood, that it was a miracle that I survived. As for me, I was an absolute wreck. I was exhausted, I was weak, and I was hopeless. I envisioned a life of non-stop medical issues and surgeries and hospital visits. The lowest point during this ordeal was when I contemplated how I would end my life and end the suffering I was putting my parents and siblings through having to see me in that condition. I am not sure how that happened, or when I realized that I was not going quit no matter what, but I knew I had to keep fighting. If I was able to survive all four times when it is arguable that maybe I should not have, maybe it was because I was meant to be alive. Maybe I had a greater purpose. Maybe I was meant to do something important. Rather than quit, I felt I needed to stick around to see what that was.
Finishing my senior year of high school was incredibly difficult. No one knew the ordeal I was in the middle of. I feared telling anyone because I thought it would open the door to more bullying and teasing. For months, I had to find ways to sneak into the bathroom during off-peak times to empty the colostomy bag I was fitted for. I had to look at my scars every morning wondering who would ever want to be with me. But I kept fighting. I needed to keep fighting. I had to keep fighting. I managed to graduate high school with a pretty decent average. My entire family, including myself, cried over that diploma like it was the most amazing thing we had ever seen. The summer after I graduated I had my final surgery to remove the ostomy’s and thankfully (knocking on wood) that was my final surgery related to my Crohn’s.
Despite the medication and the regular doctor visits, I am incredibly strong and healthy today. While I used to hide my story for fear of embarrassment or shame, I now share it on occasion to connect with the young men and women I work with to instill a critical life lesson- it’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you get back up. And to go one step further- getting back up is not enough. You have to fight back, you have to persevere, you have to be resilient. Pain is a part of life in so many different ways. We will all experience pain and failure and struggle. It is a given. It is just a matter of what you are willing and able to do to overcome all of it and soar. To wear that pain as a reminder of what you have had to endure to achieve your goals and dreams and success. To use that pain as fuel on those days and nights when you want to quit or give up or find the easy way out.
Being resilience kept me alive. It is what kept me fighting for my goals and dreams. It is what keeps me fighting even to this day.