The second and third times were similar to the first, but by the time those events happened, I figured that I should just push through the pain. I’d live up to the stigma of being a 21-year-old who’s seemingly got the world figured out. I resolved not to let anyone see me in physical pain.
The fourth and fifth time, I hadn't touched a drop of liquor. I did have bread. The ER doctors diagnosed me with acute appendicitis, and kept me overnight. Come the moment I’d go for a final scan before surgery though, my appendix was normal. I was discharged, the staff shook their heads. Eventually, they diagnosed me with pneumonia. I did have pneumonia. But that didn’t explain the acute pain near my appendix.
Three years later, I consumed a granola bar made with pecans. I was twenty-six, at a mountain retreat where I was working with sixty singers. I missed my rehearsal because I was rushed to the hospital. The small-town ER doctors told me that it was stress. You see, I’d been secretly married for four months, but still required to participate in a public religious ceremony and a third ceremony that was basically a party in the middle of a meadow. They also suggested that it couldn’t be allergies, but instead something akin to IBD. After getting back to the city, they ran all sorts of tests. I quietly resolved to suck it up and do the tests, drink raw psyllium, which would supposedly keep such attacks away, and I would someday come clean about already being married. I did tell colleagues, friends, and most extended family about a year later. The psyllium helped, but secretly, I also learned to avoid pecans.
Two years later, I was diagnosed with an allergy to black walnut trees and pecans. I wanted to go to that stupid hospital and yell, “I TOLD YOU SO!” to the ER doctor who got it wrong. But instead, I figured that it was all my fault, and that of course I’d inherit some disorder no one else in my family had. My insides behaved.
Ten years later, I awoke in tremendous pain. I thought I might die, and I silently prayed that I wasn’t having a heart attack. I took Tylenol while my family slept, went back to bed, cursing the fact that I may have had a glass of prosecco several hours before, and it was probably that. If this was the new hangover, I wanted none of those, thank you. I resolved to keep all of this to myself.
Six months later, awakened by the same tremendous pain, I figured that I could will it away once more with two Tylenol. I didn’t have prosecco earlier, so maybe I truly was dying. My shoulders seized, and everything was taut. I went to bed, pretending nothing was awry, suffering all the while. No one had to know.
Three days later, my husband dragged me out of bed. Once again, I’d missed rehearsal, and I was very upset. They were taking pictures for a press release that day. I couldn't even keep water down. Knowing I was not the type to skip rehearsals, he put me in the car, and drove me to the nearest ER. After a quick admission, they sent me in for a C-T scan, then an MRI. As it turns out, the technicians located stones lodged in several organs. All courtesy of a gallbladder gone rogue. They scheduled me for surgery, and the operating doctor told me later that it was full to bursting with stones. Those stones attacked my pancreas, my liver, and I think even my kidneys were pelted with little rocks.
After that procedure, I resolved that I would not wait if anything of this sort happened again. I also shared my story. Friends who had their gallbladders removed nodded knowingly, those gallbladder attacks are dreadful. Tightness between the shoulders, internal organs revolting at the assault of little rocks from what should be a helpful little organ. Turns out that some of my relatives did lose their gallbladders too, except that my family refuses to talk about that kind of stuff. While it’s not exactly normal to have a malfunctioning organ, I can’t help but wonder why we don’t discuss this kind of stuff with our families more often.
Fast forward to today, and I realize I have another resolution to make. For the sake of my daughter, I need to make sure she is aware of my family history. While a deadbeat gallbladder isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, infertility, depression, or cancer might be. Turns out those things run in my family too, except that we don’t discuss them. As a result, we don’t always think to get the treatment we need.
Cancer has claimed quite a few of my loved ones, and while getting screened for it is terrifying, I’m coming to terms that it’s better to be safe than to die because something went undiagnosed. Infertility and depression are two other issues my family silently deals with, and unfortunately, we tend to suffer alone. As it turns out, many in my family suffer from some form of infertility, although they will never admit it out loud. It’s when I read their journals years after they’ve passed on that I realize that I’m not the only one in my family who is a statistic.
For depression, that subject is absolutely taboo. Oh sure, it’s okay to admit to postpartum depression, because that affects nearly 20% of all mothers. But to admit that you may suffer from depression any other time? Forget it. Don’t bother discussing it, you’re just soft. Except that you aren’t, and left unattended, it manifests itself in horrific ways. Anxiety is one manifestation.
This year, I made a startling discovery that my daughter suffers from anxiety. Part of that is due to the fact that she’s in fourth grade, and shockingly, many children in fourth grade suffer from anxiety too. Part of this is due to scare tactics used by school staff to effectively prepare the students for active shooter drills, or earthquakes. In my daughter’s case, she weathered two large earthquakes this summer, and discussed shooter situations with her friends. By the time school started six weeks ago, she was terrified to go. Add assemblies where the topic was, “All strangers are out to get you,” in the second week of school, and we ended up finding a therapist, because this is a lot for a nine-year-old child to take in. Some of her classmates are also in therapy, which is amazing to me. First, because it’s a resource that was unavailable to us as kids, and second, because this is actually a thing.
Had this service been available to us, would our lives be different? I can’t help but think that it would. Unfortunately, it wasn’t, and I’ve lost many friends to suicide as a result of untreated depression. This week, I lost a family member. I don’t know all of the variables that were in play, because we don’t talk about it. That is why a few weeks ago, I resolved to advocate for my daughter. I already advocate for my students, providing them a safe space. In my daughter’s case, I know she won’t always feel comfortable coming to me. So I promised her that if she needed to approach a teacher instead of me, then I would support her. I also promised her that she would never be alone if she was so incredibly sad, because we all fall into sad spaces from time to time. That when we do, she won’t be judged, only supported when she needs it.
All of these things weigh heavily on my heart. Yet just as I have resolved to support mine, some of my friends have resolved to support me too. I know this because as I broke down into tears at today’s rehearsal, several friends enveloped me in a giant hug and stayed with me. In that moment, that hug meant everything.