“The scar meant that I was stronger than what tried to hurt me.” -Anaïs Nin
I frequently talk about troubles, struggles, triumphs, crashes and burns. I talk about how, after crumbling into little pieces, I’ve attempted to glue it all back together and move forward – stronger than I was before breaking.
Not to be dark and dreary, but I am convinced that, as women, we may never stop facing struggles, unfortunately, on global scale. It’s something that is hitting particularly hard today, Inauguration Day, when all you magical females and males are standing strong and defending our rights by Marching. FUCK YES, I wish I was in Washington, holding hands and waking with you…or in any of the many cities that are walking for an important cause and defending our rights. Perhaps we don’t have a president that makes us proud to be Americans, but we still have each other – and its days like today that show just how strong community can be.
Currently I am in London, feeling wimpish and incapacitated, due to back pain and spasms in my neck, stomach, ass, legs, and a terrible ache in my head (I know, waahhhh, get over it – but it really hurts). This is all a result of a pretty crazy surgery I had over a decade ago, when I developed scoliosis after making the decision to end my 11 year career as a gymnast. I completed my third year at level 10, just before entering Elite trials, and checked out — you can see my last competition HERE. As a result of the quick termination, my back completely spazzed. I went from being a national champion, to ignorantly checking in to HOAG Hospital for a very intense operation, thinking nothing of it. I had no idea what I was in for.
To backtrack, I was training about 30 hours per week (5 hours a day, 6 days a week), and when I stopped, had an unexpected growth spurt. I went from being a tiny little 5 ft. nothing powerhouse, to a flaily 5ft. 5 in., spiral spined disaster.
One of my ribs was protruding, so I was brought in for x-rays a couple months after I quit gym. Doctors told me I had scoliosis, but it was minor and I should return for a check up in a few months. When I did, my spine had swiveled into a 48 degree curve, and surgery was the only option if I wanted to have a “normal life”.
I remember the night before like it was yesterday, but I wasn’t particularly nervous. I was more annoyed that I couldn’t eat a Happy Meal or drink water.
They took me in, drugged the shit out of me, and put me under. I “woke up” in the ICU, after 6+ hours under the knife (they took out a rib, collapsed my lung, removed a number of disks between my vertebrae in order to straighten it out, fused my spine with my ground up rib bone – as you can see in the first image above – and put in two metal rods and 10 screws). They inserted a chest tube that reached through to my stomach to drain the blood. I spent three days in the ICU and was then moved to my own room, where I spent the next week, on a Morphine pump…I remember very little, just pain. I remember them removing the chest tube and I definitely recall the pain I experienced when I got home, where I remained on bed rest for about a month, and experienced the deepest depression I hope I ever have to go through.
THIS WAS THE WORST, SCARIEST, BEST, AND MOST PIVOTAL EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFE. I WOULDN’T CHANGE A THING.
I was in misery. So much pain. My mother sent my brother and sister, who were also young at the time, on a trip to Europe with my dad, so they wouldn’t have to hear me wailing in agony. She stood by my side, took me to the bathroom, bathed me, and nursed me back to health.
Eventually I realized, after plenty of time spent pitying myself, I was SO FUCKING LUCKY to have the opportunity to regain my health again. Somewhere during the depression that came with living inside of a drugged out and horrifically pain-filled, broken body, I recognized just how fortunate I was. Mostly to have my mom and the knowledge that I would heal eventually. Not everyone heals after varying traumas, but I finally hit a point where I got out of my head and recognized I would. Some people lose their arms, their legs, their ability to do the things most of us take for granted…FOREVER. I was going to get better.
Now I wake up grateful for my my arms and legs (even if they hurt). I wake up proud of my accomplishments and excited for what I might be able to achieve in the future, since I have these blissful abilities. I wake up and don’t take my life for granted. Recently I wake up hoping, as an American woman, which I am lucky to be in the grand scheme of things, regardless of everything, that none of this will change…
I got pancreatitis from what was basically an accidental, prescribed drug overdose, dropped 20 pounds (from the 105 I currently, healthily weigh), couldn’t keep food down and was rushed to the ER. I was injected with anti-nausea medication through an IV which I happened to be allergic to – only about 1 in a million are intolerant of the drug. The allergy results in a “psychotic reaction”, which involved me tearing the needle from my arm and pretty much flipping my shit for about five hours. It is difficult to describe the feeling of fear pumping through your blood…
I was poked with Benadryl until I stopped screaming, and they would let me go home. The doctors informed my mother that they haven’t seen this deadly disease in anyone under the age of 60. It is typically drug addicts and alcoholics, who have been abusing for decades, who get diagnosed. I was only 16. I weighed nothing and had probably ingested a total of six Smirnoff Ices at this point in time.
Being young and resilient I fortunately was able to shake the illness, and went back to my senior year of high school, a sickly waif in agonizing pain, only to receive positive reactions from the “popular girls” who asked me about my diet secrets (no joke). I was appalled and discouraged, but also tremendously vulnerable. Was never one who cared that much about fitting in, but really, bitches?! Not all women are great, but three fucking cheers to those who are — and there are plenty of us out there. THANK YOU.
I tackled the 2-year eating disorder that succeeded this weakness, and have been battling the physical and emotional issues that accompany being a woman ever since. From WEAK, sad females, or men who have sought some kind of gratification or feel a pathetic sense of power through sexual abuse. NO. No more.
This is why I praise you who Marched. We are power. We are strength. As women, we bleed every month, we give birth, and we experience more than any man will (but MAD LOVE TO THE MEN WHO WENT OUT TOO, we are all equal after all). And I am no man hater, but I am all about girl power, and the men who recognize it – there is NOTHING stronger.
The world is in a place that bums me out a lot, and I know I am certainly not alone here. Fucking shit, DONALD TRUMP is president?! Yep. But you know what is amazing? Taking a bad situation and finding the great in it. What I saw today, while basically bedridden in London, was people all over the world Marching — standing strong. And even in the smallest of cities, attendance was higher than the number of supporters who showed up at his inauguration.
The best we can do with a bad situation is stand strong, speak out, and UNITE.
People, politics, experience, health, life…it might try to break us. But with guts, guidance, perseverance, unity, strength, and a genuine belief that you can do anything you want to (YOU CAN), we will WIN.
*photos by Gus Melton at Nick’s Cove