family

day 12: everything happens for a reason: [no, really]

 

Thursday, 3/17/2016

So today I have to email a new doctor and I don’t want to. I feel like I’ve paid my dues in the medical realm. 

On May 21, 2013, I underwent elective brain surgery. Why would anyone elect to have their brain cut open? Absolutely debilitating headaches that take you out for hours to days at a time over the course of four years, and continually get progressively worse, push you to the point of saying, “Yeah, sure! Slice my head open. Sounds good!” 

(warning:one mildly graphic scar photo a little ways below - but if you’ve watched ‘Scandal,’ this is child’s play)

My elective surgery saved my life. After opening up my brain, my baller neurosurgeon/friend/mum’s colleague went to find my parents. We’ll call him BallerDoctor. It’s a little strange to think of my brain just chilling in the open air. Also do you want to know my biggest regret in life thus far? Forgetting to ask BallerDoctor to snap a pic of my brain while he was mucking around in there. I mean, I had the chance and the chance will never present itself again (at least it better not.) I blew it. Merp.

“Becky’s brain was gray and very little oxygen was reaching it, therefore it was not pulsating well. She'd been living on borrowed time. In addition to the procedure agreed upon, I had to cut through the lining of her brain, remove some dura from the top of her skull, and make a little patch in the back to give the brain more space.”  — Why, yes - I AM so smart that my brain is extra big and needs more room to compute its brilliant ideas…. 

Apparently, the scans I’d been having to monitor my very common (but also rarely and severely symptomatic, hence the choice to have surgery) brain malformation had not told the whole story. 

Let me tell you something - waking up from brain surgery is a b***h. When I woke up from the successful surgery, I almost immediately started vomiting. Actually, I was HURLING. I’d been ‘under’ for longer than expected and my body was not loving the repercussions of that extra anesthesia, so it decided to rid me of it in the most vile way it knew how - for three days. At one point I begged my doctors to give me enough pain meds to kill me because l really did not think I could take the pain. My time in neuro-ICU is pretty foggy due to a plethora of Michael Jackson’s pain meds being IV’ed into my body (they are MIRACULOUS,) but it’s truly remarkable how your body doesn’t forget that level of excruciating pain. Wanna know the weirdest sensation? Feeling every.single.pulsation of your brain. In case you didn’t know, it pulsates the way your heart beats. And if your brain had been slammed up against your skull for years, you wouldn’t know that. But once that pressure is relieved, you find it out real quick and it is weirrrrrd.

Getting to the point of choosing to have brain surgery was a four year process that began in 2009. 

Feb 8, 2009 |

fly back one day early from college auditions at my mum’s annoying insistence. She has these things that she calls ‘holy spirit holds’ where she knows she’s supposed to do something, but she has no real, concrete reason why. You might think she sounds wacko, but I kid you not, every time she’s honored that “feeling,” it has paid off.  There was no reason for us to fly back a day early and I wanted to miss an extra day of school, but she had a “feeling.” As a high schooler not particularly interested in the school part of high school, I was not amused.

Feb 9, 2009 | 3:45pm -     

pull my car over on the side of the highway due to severe stomach cramps. They pass, so I ignore them.

Feb 9, 2009 | 7:00pm -     

in rehearsal and turn to a friend and tell him I think I’m gonna puke  

Feb 9, 2009 | 7:15pm -    

make it to the bathroom just in time to start uncontrollably throwing up blood. Not vomit with some blood in it or the type of blood that comes out after you’ve been vomming for a while and have scratched your throat. No. I was throwing up only blood. And not old blood. I was throwing up pints and pints of fresh, red, blood and I couldn’t stop.

Feb 9, 2009 | 7:45pm -     

Mum picks me up from rehearsal and takes me home, while I continue to vomit blood into a trashcan in the car. 

Feb 9, 2009 | 8:30pm      

Mum calls 911

Feb 9, 2009 | 8: 45pm     

Ambulance arrives. I code in the ambulance on the way to the ER, so they divert and take me to the closest hospital, not the one we requested.

Feb 9, 2009 | 9:00pm  

Arrive at the hospital. My whole body is numb and tingling 

Feb 10-18, 2009 |        

ICU. Since they can’t find the source of the hematemesis (or as I like to call it, vomming blood,) and since the vomming didn’t stop for three days, they decide to look at every part of my body. I have the first of many MRIs, CT scans, spinal taps, blood patches, bleeding time tests, blood draws, and neurological exams. Over the course of this week, they discover a brain malformation, a blood disease, a connective tissue disorder, and cysts down my spinal cord. This vomming blood episode flung my previously asymptomatic existence into symptomatic overdrive. While that was extremely painful, it was not life threatening. And unless it’s going to kill you, you can pretty much convince yourself, and your body, to do anything. 

[If my mum had not heeded her “holy spirit hold,” this would have all gone down in Chicago - a city where we knew no one and had no medical connections. We would have been forced to spend a week in their ICU and then go through the grueling and complicated process of having records transferred to Houston, choosing new doctors ourselves, and trying to explain a medically inexplicable situation to people who were not there to witness it.] 

Over the course of the next couple of months, we ironed out the members of my medical team and began to look for ways to calm the symptoms.

[If I hadn’t coded in the ambulance, requiring a diversion to the hospital that was closest, as opposed to the one of our choosing, I would never have the team I have now. This team of internationally recognized doctors not only saved my life, but they have become a part of my family. They’ve answered calls and texts in the middle of the night and met my family and me in emergency rooms in the early hours of the morning. They’ve even come to my shows and performances.] 

I get put on some headache medicine, one of which I quickly had to stop taking due to the fact that it made me forget everything. Literally. My mum would tell me to do something, I’d agree, and later when she’d get annoyed that I hadn’t done whatever it was we’d discussed, I’d get frustrated and tell her the conversation never happened. This was initially chalked up to me being an annoying teenager (which I indeed was,) but a couple months in, my mum realized that I wasn’t that annoying (no, really.) I forgot how to get places that I regularly drove to or that I had conversations. I’d call my dad and he’d say, “Treasure, you called to tell me that a little while ago.” It was scary.

I became a pro at lasting through never ending MRIs (the longest I ever did was 8 hours with very short breaks) despite being claustrophobic. I have a phenomenal system and if you need tips - I gotchu. I became oddly used to the sensation of peeing myself provided by the contrast medicine used in CT scans (don’t worry, I didn’t actually pee myself.) I once watched a blood draw butterfly needle pop in my arm and send blood flying everywhere - I barely even blinked. I’ve passed out from having too much blood drawn at once, and I learned how to keep still while a doctor sticks a long ass needle into the space around my spinal chord, and then later injects blood into that space and tells me to “take as much pain as I think I can."

The day the blood vomming began was one of my first days of rehearsal for a production of “Beauty and Beast.” I’d been out on tour for my junior year of high school with the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, “Whistle Down the Wind,” and came back to Houston really nervous about adjusting to life off the road. “Beauty and the Beast” was one thing that had me really excited. And then I got sick. 

A combination of miracles, grace, and patience on the part of my school, the company producing “Beauty and Beast,” and the cast I shared the stage with, allowed me to continue on in the role of Belle. In a way, it saved my spirit. It planted a seed that I would need to survive the next four years. Amidst a never-ending slew of doctors appointments and bad news, it was a reminder of the thing that brought me joy my whole life, even while muddying through the darkest circumstances. For just a few hours every night, I escaped my reality and stepped into the shoes of a young woman who also needed hope, and refused to believe that new beginnings weren’t possible. You could hear little girls gasp when I appeared at the top of the stairs in my yellow ball gown. They reminded me that magic was real - and I needed all the magic I could get. Over four days, we got to tell 20,000 people that magic was real in a massive outdoor theatre that is the stuff of dreams. My dad loves to describe leaving the theatre early one night to catch the metro, and hearing my voice echoing across Hermann Park. He says he stopped with tears in his eyes and just listened to me sing “A Change in Me”, whose lyrics couldn’t be more fitting to the two months we’d just pushed through. 

Two days after my high school graduation, I was met with the following words from a cardiologist (we’ll call him DrNoName):

“well, I hate to say this - you need to find a new career. You have a grossly enlarged aortic root. It is more than likely another symptom of the greater issue we can’t yet diagnose. If you continue to pursue this career path, you will likely die. The over-exertion on your body will cause your aorta to burst. I know you’re going on a mission trip in a few days to work with children, but you cannot pick up a child. You can’t even move a box. Not until we figure out a way to reduce this dilation.” 

I could see his lips moving and I could hear what he was saying - but I couldn’t compute. Two days after my high school graduation, and DrNoName was basically telling me that my life as I knew it was over. This was supposed to be a “just in case” check-up. When my doctors suggested I see a cardiologist, it was as a total precaution. They had no reason to believe anything was wrong with my heart, but since almost every other major organ had been looked at over the last three months, it “couldn’t hurt” to check my heart, too. Up to now it had been scary and weird, but nobody ever even remotely mentioned death as a possibility. The idea wasn’t even on our radar.

You will likely die? I felt all the breath leave my body and I just barely squeaked out a quiet “ok.” 

Insert Judy Moyes into the conversation. Things to know about my mum: 

  1. She is mad smart - one of a handful women in the world to be accepted to the Cambridge University med school in 1974. Seven degrees and a phenomenal pediatric oncologist.
  2. She is not to be messed with  
  3. We would not have made it through months of testing, diagnoses, worsening symptoms, college decisions, and doctors appointments without her
  4. She cannot stand morons 
  5. She is fiercely protective 

“Excuse me, DrNoName, would you mind stepping outside for a minute to walk me through these test results a little more extensively?” 

Yo, that’s how you know that Jude is PISSED. 

She ripped DrNoName, who you can well guess is no longer a part of my medical team, a new one for the way in which he relayed life altering medical information without any type of hope or concern for the way a teenager might react to that information.

[But you know what? If he hadn’t been such a dumbdumb, we never would have been placed with my now cardiologist, who we’ll call DrNotToBeMessedWith. DrNotToBeMessedWith runs not only the cardiology department, but also the entire internal medicine department of the hospital and the Heart and Vascular Institute where my care is based. DrNotToBeMessedWith never misses my 6 month stress echo - in fact, he stands right next to me the entire time. He also managed my cardiac care during my brain surgery … from CHINA, because that’s how much he cares.] 

But that day, the only words I kept hearing over and over again were, “You will likely die.” I was MAD. Why did this have to happen? Why did I get 18 normal years with these stupid problems lying dormant and then everything came crashing down all at once? I felt like a shell of myself. Two girls who were my “friends” started questioning if the problems were real since they couldn’t see them. Cue us not being friends anymore. I had a few of my college options stripped from me due to the necessity that I needed to be close to high ranking emergency centers. Within my first two weeks at college, I had to wear a heart monitor for a week to gauge how my heart was reacting to the rapid increase in physical activity - under a leotard. It wasn’t exactly inconspicuous. I was mortified and I was guarded.

So how did I respond to this news? I decided to push my body to its limit. I drank until I threw up regularly. I stayed out way too late and never got enough sleep. I pushed myself to a breaking point until Valentines Day 2010, when I had to fly back to Texas for an emergency myelogram and blood patch. 

When you have a myelogram, they strap you to a table that resembles one of those spine inversion chairs (except you’re on your stomach,) insert a lumbar needle into your spine, push dye through that needle, flip you upside down, and watch on a screen to see which of the multiple spinal cord cysts I had, the dye would leak through. Once that’s been established, they determine how many of the many cc’s of blood that have been previously removed from your arm will be necessary to insert into the space around your spinal cord, then squirt blood into that space, until you can’t stand the pain anymore. That part is called a blood patch. The blood acts as a glue, sealing the holes in your cysts, and allows the spinal fluid level in your brain to rise back up to a healthy level. THE HUMAN BODY IS AMAZING. 

(she looks oddly happy and comfortable - I can assure you, I was not smiling.) 

Once they were finished, my doctors gravely looked at my mum and me and informed us that my levels of spinal fluid were alarmingly low. They lovingly, but firmly, reminded me that ensuring that I did as little as possible to exert force on those cysts, especially vomiting, was of utmost importance. I feigned innocence, though everyone in the room knew better, and went to recovery. After that day, I swore that come hell or high-water, I would never ever subject myself to that stupid procedure ever again. HA.

It’s funny when you think you get to control your own life. Fast forward three and half years, six weeks post brain surgery, and I’m still not able to walk. I can physically do it. Like I could put one foot in front of the other, but I couldn’t stand upright without pain so severe that I would pass out. Nobody knew what was going on and we started to think that I was stuck this way forever. Before my surgery, my doctors warned me that the cysts down my spinal chord made things much more complicated. There was a chance, small - like 5%, but still a chance, that I would be irreversibly worse off after surgery than I was pre-surgery. I decided the potential reward outweighed the risk. I began to strongly regret that decision around week three post-surgery. By week six, I was going out of my mind. 

My whole life, I planned to move to New York and be on Broadway - and if I’m being honest, I never doubted I could do it. Call it pride or call it confidence - it was what it was. I worked hard, I was talented, and I wanted it. During the fall of my senior year of college, my mum called me to say that the team she worked with at MD Anderson had just hired a new neurosurgeon (BallerDoctor.) After hearing about my situation he told my mum that he may be able to help me and would like to meet with me. 

Vehement no. In no way was I interested in meeting with a man who cut into people’s brains for a living. But as the year progressed, so did the headaches - and by spring break, I was feeling a little desperate. At the end of a very long appointment we made a deal. If the New York showcase that I was performing in with my class in a few weeks went as planned, then I would move directly to New York and forego surgery. If it didn’t, I’d come home and have the surgery. I'd had a pretty great year at school and enough of the visiting industry guests had expressed interest in me, so I thought my plan was foolproof. I’d move right to New York, and I’d get out of this surgery. 

Ha. Expectations were not met and I was devastated. I’d just come through what I considered to be the toughest months of my life (my first real heartbreak) and I was shattered. The last piece of hope dissipated and I realized that I truly had nothing to lose - no career to speak of, no one to spend my life with, and I couldn’t imagine it was possible for my headaches to get any worse. So I kept my word. And it saved my life.

[If my life had gone according to plan, I never would have had that surgery and I may not be here now. Borrowed time is a strange way to look at life on earth.] 

So here we are, six weeks post brain surgery, and I’m no better. My doctors are stumped and they recheck my charts. Maybe in those first three days of vomiting, I had burst the majority of the cysts in my spinal chord. The idea of doing another blood patch as a last ditch effort to improve things is pitched. Remember that? The inverted table hell? My short and concise answer was as follows, “F**k no.”

That’s how much “taking as much pain as possible" hurts. It was being marketed as a way to relieve post-brain surgery headaches and the inability to walk, and I was still saying no. But a week later, I conceded. If it was my only chance to feel normal again, I’d take it, because I sure as hell couldn’t take this. Two days later, I was up and walking around.

[If I hadn’t made the decision to drink myself into oblivion out of anger many a night during that first year of college, we wouldn’t have had the key to revealing the actual success of my surgery which gave me a completely new life.]

I haven’t had what I dub “brain headaches” since that day. I never thought I would know what it felt like to live life not in pain. Knowing what life New York is like, I now know that I would never have been able to handle it in my pre-surgery existence.

[If I never got sick on February 9, 2009, we likely would have found out too late that I had a brain malformation and a heart condition. A brain malformation that was fixed in surgery and a heart condition that has no bearing on my career path or my day to day life, despite what DrNoName said, because it’s controlled by medicine, diet, and exercise.]

My doctors never could figure out what caused the initial vomming up blood that started all of this. Every single test (and there were MANY) came back inconclusive. But I know what (or Who) it was. 

The day before my surgery, one of my mum’s friends from Bible Study called me and asked if I could come over. She felt like she’d "heard from the Lord" and wanted to share with me. I finished up my manicure and eyebrow wax (priorities, people. If I was going to die in surgery, I was going to die looking good) and headed over. She told me that, while she was praying for me, she felt led to turn to Psalm 91:4 in her bible: 

“He will cover you with His feathers and under His wings you will find refuge"

She said she had a vision of me in that operating room - that there would be feathery wings like the ones the Victoria’s Secret angels wear (I kid you not) on either side of me, keeping me suspended in the air - and that they would keep me safe. 

Listen, even I was like - “ok wackadoo" - and went on my merry way. 

Halfway through my surgery, BallerDoctor told my parents that one of the brackets keeping my head in position had malfunctioned. He had no idea how or why - there was a one in a million chance of something like that happening. It was as if someone took a hammer to the bracket because all of a sudden, it snapped, the screw grazed my scalp in a line as my head began to fly downwards, and then it was almost as if my head was suspended in the air, giving the cardiac anesthesiologist time to hold it safely in place before any damage could be done. I mean, this is brain surgery. It’s not ideal for your head to be moving around while BallerDoctor is in there with a knife. The surgery was abruptly halted while they retrieved another bracket and clamped my head again so that it wouldn’t move. Crisis over. I didn’t totally believe that story until I read it in the medical report a few months later. How was that possible? Because, Jesus. 

I don’t know why God has chosen to save my life over and over again. People tell me it's because I have a purpose, a great calling on my life. But there are people all over the world dying every single day. Are we saying that they had no purpose? No calling on their lives?  

Being faced with medical uncertainty has put a lot of things in perspective for me. Death is a reality - something I’m both afraid of and yet have been forced to come to terms with. Science would say that one of my medical issues will be the thing that takes my life one day down the road. Maybe. Maybe not. I know that day will not come until I have accomplished what I was put on this earth to do. And when that day does come, I’ll be one of the many all over the world dying that day, and it won’t mean I had no purpose or calling - it will mean I fulfilled it.

Almost seven months after my surgery, I got a tattoo of a feather on the back of my neck as a reminder of this saga. And you wouldn’t believe how many times since my assault people have asked me why it was there. A tattoo I never see unless I look in the mirror while holding another mirror - almost as if God just wanted me to be reminded that while I couldn’t see my worth or value, it hadn’t gone anywhere. He covered me with His feathers and He gave me refuge once before - why wouldn’t He do it again?

day 11: pet peeves in the 8th grade

Wednesday, 3/16/2016

I had a phone date today with my best friend who lives a million miles away on a tropical island and she dropped an awesome life lesson bomb on me.

When we were in the 8th grade, Truly suggested that we make pet peeves lists. It was middle school - we were all very into paper games. MASH determined the course of our lives and homemade fortune tellers decided who we should like. It was very important that you used gel pens and had a good “font” for handwriting.

We made our lists and gave them to each other during geography. I quickly wrote Truly a note -

“I feel like these are all about me”

She wrote me back: “hang on I have something to add”

So I subtly handed her her list. (I was not tryna get detention for the hundredth time.)

She passed it back. The final addition: “when people think everything is all about them.” 

It turns out that whole list was indeed about me. To this day, I fall into fits of giggles when I think about this story. 

Believe it or not, over 10 years later, we’re still best friends. As Truly recently commented on my Instagram, if our friendship can survive the 8th grade, it can survive anything. (Junior high = rough)

Truly moved to a different school for high school. Lucky for us, her school and my school were less than a mile apart and her house was two minutes from either location, so on any given afternoon, we could be found laying out by her pool before I had to head off to rehearsal. We signed with the same modeling agency in the 9th grade and bemoaned the lack of cheeseburgers we were allowed to eat until a year later when we both said screw this hip measurement thing, we miss french fries, and quit within weeks of each other. We snuck in and out of her house via the roof and spent countless nights in her bed laughing our heads off telling stories of our latest escapades. She’s family.

She moved to a small tropical island called Nevis about two years ago to be with her boyfriend (now fiancé - hello! - I’ll be at that wedding in Italy in May!!!!) and it was quite the adjustment.

Though I often rag on technology, I am so grateful for it when it comes to keeping up with those I love. Letters just wouldn’t suffice when it comes to everything we need to catch up on. So today we’re catching up after two whole weeks without a phone date (thank goodness we don’t have to worry about “phone minutes” anymore!) - and I’m telling her about all of THIS - the blog, the beach, JD, my new outlook, the negativity breakthrough - and she stops me and as her voice cracks, says, 

“I’m so happy I’m almost crying. You know we had our rough patch (we had our first fight since the pet peeves fight about six months after my attack and we were lame and didn’t talk for a bit)  and I think it was partly because I knew that no one could pull you out of the place you went to after what happened to you. It was dark and you weren’t going to hear anything from anyone that knew you and that was scary.” 

Those are not easy words to hear. Especially from your best friend. Especially when you know they’re true. I wasn’t going to listen to anyone because I was fine. I wouldn't even acknowledge the darkness to myself. But to know that my friend could not only see it, but could also see that I was rejecting offers of help to climb out, and that it scared her.. well that blew. 

But that’s the thing about true friendship. She didn’t run away. She waited. I wouldn’t have heard her two years ago. I wouldn’t have heard her two months ago! And she knew that, so she waited. And in her waiting, her objective never changed. She gently coaxed me in the right direction. She never let a conversation go by without asking how I was really doing and what steps I was taking towards my dreams, regardless of whatever version of BS I fed her that day.

A true friend knows when it’s the right time to tell you like it is, from a place of utter love, and even if it’s hard to hear, you hear it, because it’s them. Then, you take it to heart and you make a change. 

I want to be a friend like that. I can’t believe how blessed I am to have friends that are amazing examples of how to love others. I get chills when I think about the teachers that life offers us if we’re willing to open our eyes. Thanks Tru, love you mucho. 

day 8: rape & the righteousness of God : a glimmer of grateful light

Sunday, 3/13/2016

I watched the documentary “The Hunting Ground” today. I also had a conversation about the righteousness of God with one of my pastors. Talk about juxtapositions. 

These are two conversations that don’t go together. And yet, deep down in a place somewhere looking to get a little light, I know that they kinda do.

I know this because the idea that God is righteous in ALL circumstances, even circumstances that are heinous, is at the very core of my grievances with Him and this whole experience.  

Only 36% of rapes, 34% of attempted rapes, and 26% of sexual assaults get reported to the police. (National Institue of Justice)

26% of rapes reported to the police lead to an arrest. Of that 26%, 20% are prosecuted.” - FBI Uniform Crime Reports - 2010

The documentary is full of statistics, but these two haunt me and I have to do the math for myself:

- In 2011 reports from a 2010 study called "the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey” (which took place with the support of the National Institute of Justice and the Department of Defense) stated that 1 in 5 women had been raped or experienced attempted rape. Other outlets report 1 in 4, and some 1 in 6, so to be somewhere average, we’ll go with 1 in 5.

Ok so:

If 1 in 5 women in America are victims of sexual assault and there are about 157 million women in America   - that takes us to 31,400,000 women assaulted.  

- only 36% report their rape = 11,304,000 reported rapes 

- only 34% report attempted rape = 10,676,00 reported attempted rapes

- only 26% report sexual assault = 8,164,000 reported sexual assaults

The math in all of those situations brings you to at least 20,000,000 unreported assaults. So regardless of the fact that we can’t measure which 1’s in 5 experienced what version of assault, we can assume that 20,000,000 sexual assaults of some kind are unreported. 

Talking about rape only, 26% of the 36% of reported rapes (11,304,000) lead to an arrest - ok so that’s 2,939,040 arrests which = 8,364,960 cases without arrest. 

Of the 2,939,040 arrests, 20% are prosecuted - so 587,888 prosecutions, which = 2,351,152 cases without prosecution. 

So why does it shock people that survivors are hesitant to press charges? Especially when 98% of rapists will never spend a day in jail. (RAINN.org) Why report and go through the grueling process of attempting to bring a perpetrator to justice with those odds? 

Trying to give logic to that night and my decision not to press charges is a never-ending cycle. 

Trying to reconcile it with the righteousness of God is on another level.

But then I get a glimmer of light. And that inner conversation with God goes something like this: 

"What are you grateful for in that situation?" 

"What? Are you serious? What am I grateful for? Are you (expletive) kidding me?” 

“No.” 

“I’m not grateful. There is nothing to be grateful for.” 

“Really? What were you afraid of that night?"

“I was afraid that they wouldn’t let me leave. I was afraid that they would kill me. I was afraid that she’d been taken forever. I was afraid that I would have to call her mom and tell her that she wasn’t coming home and that I had no idea where she was. I was afraid that I was responsible for a horrible life she may be subjected to by whoever took her.” 

“And did that happen?” 

“No” 

Once I found one thing to be grateful for, it was a lot easier to come up with some more:

  • I’m grateful that my friend got out of that apartment.
  • I’m grateful that she doesn’t remember what happened there.
  • I’m grateful that this didn’t taint our friendship - she doesn’t blame me and I don’t blame her.
  • I’m grateful that I don’t remember the bulk of my time inside the other apartment.
  • I’m grateful that I had someone to call the next morning who answered the phone.
  • I’m grateful that my parents had the means to fly to New York from Europe.
  • I’m grateful that this was not the time that these criminals escalated to something even worse.
  • I’m grateful that I’m alive.
  • I’m grateful that I have amazing family and friends who have so graciously walked with me through the healing process.
  • I’m grateful that I’m not alone. 

I’m stunned to see even this tiny glimmer. 

Gratitude is a weapon of worship. It is allowing me a glimpse into where the righteousness of God exists in this situation.

My thoughts often veer off to,  “why did God save my life? Why me? Why not any of the other millions of people facing potential death each day?” 

In our conversation, my pastor stops me in my tracks - “stop trying to make yourself worthy of the righteousness of God; you’re not and you never will be. That’s the beauty of it. When you rest in your unworthiness, you honor His righteousness.”

This may seem harsh. I may never see the righteousness of God in that night. But somehow, it was exactly what I needed to hear. It removed the all-about-me attitude that was blocking me from seeing what I do see:  

- I do see that I not only survived, but fought my way through the recovery, and have come out the other side stronger and with a blazing passion to fight for change. So when God tells me that He will never let me be pushed past my limit, I know He’s right. (1 Cor 10:13, the MSG) 

- I do see that something guided me in the direction of home. So when God tells me that He will never leave me or forsake me, I know He’s true. (Deuteronomy 31:6, NIV)

- I do see that instead of this pushing my friend and I apart, we are closer than ever. I also see that my friend who helped me came, regardless of our history. So when God says that a friend loves at all times (is always loyal) and a brother is born to help in time of need, I know He cares about my heart. (Proverbs 17:7 NLT) 

- I do see that this experience has been one of the greatest trials I’ve ever faced, but that through it, I’ve experienced more growth than I could have imagined. So when God tells me to consider it a sheer gift when tests and challenges come my way because it means that my faith-life will be forced into the open, allowing me to become mature and well-developed, deficient in nothing, I know He is always on my side. (James 1:2-4 The MSG.)

- I do see that within hours of originally posting this blog, I had quite a number of people reach out to say that they were also survivors of rape or assault, and felt like they finally had a voice; or that their friend went through this and is struggling and they were sending it along so that they would know they aren’t alone. So when God says that He works all things together for good, I know that He can take even the most broken situations, and use them for good. (Romans 8:28 NIV.)

Now let me be abundantly clear - I AM NOT SAYING THAT RAPE IS RIGHTEOUS. What I am saying is that in my own personal experience, I am beginning to see that even in the most UNrighteous situations (caused by free will,) God can take what was meant for evil, and He can use if for good. And that right there, is in fact, the righteousness of God. 

So I’m understanding it just a little through the lens of gratitude. And this little glimmer of light shines ever so much brighter with each passing second. 

day 5: pick six

Thursday, 3/10/2016  

When I was nine years old, I went to visit my new school that I was dead against being forced to attend. It had been a long application and interview process and this was the day where I would tour the place that was to be my new stomping grounds. The fact that they accepted me was, in and of itself, shocking. In my interview, when the headmaster asked me why I wanted to attend the school, I broke down crying and said that I didn’t and that it’d be good if they denied me admittance. Then I proceeded to wipe my snotty nose on my yellow pearl snap button down shirt with a denim collar and little navy blue baby’s breath flowers all over it. He then very gently offered me a kleenex. 

I remember moments in life by what I was wearing. That was my favorite shirt at the time. Heck, if it still existed today in an adult size, I’d wear it. My fondest memory wearing it was at my Granny and Grandpa's house in the English countryside. We have a photo somewhere that I can't seem to find...

Granny and Grandpa Paul’s house was the keeper of my secret spot (which I now know was not secret at all.) In the very back of their garden was a big bush, and nestled up against the back of that bush, was a wooden bench. I would sit on my bench for hours, telling myself stories, dreaming about what my life would be, and laying down on it, just looking up at the sky. If I stood on the bench and got up on my tiptoes (thankfully, the trusty bush was tall enough to hide this occurrence from my Granny’s manner minding eyes,) I could see over the back fence and into a field that stretched for what seemed like a hundred miles - you couldn’t see beyond it. This last Christmas, we took a detour past the cottage and the new owners have changed everything. I hate change. I so desperately wanted to knock on the door and ask if I could go sit on my bench for just a moment, but the fear that I might discover that in all their changes, my secret place no longer exists, stopped me. I want to remember it in all its perfection - a place untainted by the realities of life. My greatest desire when I was a little girl peering over the fence, was to jump it and just run through those fields until I couldn’t anymore, collapsing in a fit of giggles, gasping for air. I’d still love to do that.  

My new school scared me. I knew that I was being sent there because it was a more academically focused school with the structure needed to tame my wild and rambunctious spirit. I wanted to be left wild.  Leaving my old school made me realize that I would have to make new friends. I’d never even realized that making friends was something you do and I wasn’t scared that I wouldn’t.

Sitting on the big leather chair inside the school office waiting for the tour to begin, a little blonde girl that I recognized from a basketball camp I’d attended earlier that summer, walked in with her parents and plopped down right next to me. 

“I like your Nike watch. I’ve got a turqouise Baby-G, see? But I like yours too. I’m Kitty.” 

“Thanks. It was my Christmas gift this year. I like it because it’s sporty, but I like yours too. I’m Becky.” 

Kitty and I didn’t know as we sat in our soon to be art room later that day, bonding over the Mary-Kate and Ashley movie, “Passport to Paris,” that our friendship would stand the test of time. We should have known - because any friendship that begins because of Mary-Kate and Ashley is obviously a good one. 

We had no idea that we’d become a part of the same friend group and watch each other go through our most formative years. We didn’t know that I’d be there when she got her heart broken for the first time or that she’d be there to see me and cheer me on as I fulfilled one of my biggest dreams. We were definitely clueless when it came to all the questionable decisions we would have a ton of fun (sorry, Mum and Dad) making together in high school. We couldn’t have predicted that during out senior year of high school, I would be rushed to the hospital, and that when I was discharged a week later, it would be with the knowledge that I was sick with life-threatening conditions. We might not have even believed how fun our 'senior summer’ would be - when our group of friends saw each other every single day, until that gut-wrenching day when the first of us went off to college, and the weeks involving lots of teary goodbyes began. None of us were going to the same schools. It was the first time that classes would finish at the end of the day, and the option of just driving to Kitty’s house to lay out in the pool or hang out on the third floor didn’t exist. 

The group text started almost immediately after the first of us left. Well, this was 2009, so it started as a group Facebook message. We had to be completely up to date on every nitty gritty aspect of each other’s lives. Our first Thanksgiving home was the reunion of all reunions and our best tradition began. Every Thanksgiving night at about 9:45pm, we all go to Kitty’s house, light a bonfire, make smores, eat her leftovers, have a few drinks, and talk into the night. (#holeyjeans) Personally, I like to think that in our subconscious we do it because it's Thanksgiving and this group of girls is one of the things we are most thankful for in our lives - but writing that down, I can see the girls rolling their eyes and going “ohhhh gawwd” at my puttering on. Thanksgiving is truly “our” holiday though. In college, that five day weekend was like the holy grail…always the scene of our most memorable, or not so memorable, nights. It still is. Though in our old age, we’ve become much more responsible. I think.

                                                           Thanksgiving

                                                           Thanksgiving

We know each other so well that sometimes it’s just weird. And other times it's perfect. The first time I had my heart shattered into a million pieces and told them via group text, not one of them called me for a few days, because they knew I wouldn’t be able to, or want to talk. But you better believe that my phone never stopped buzzing with messages for three days. We have seen each other at our best and at our worst, been there for each other’s highest highs and lowest lows…and those lows have been pretty dang low. We’ve fought hard and made up hard. We once went over a year without one of us, and it sucked every single day. But it took us all of about five minutes to get over it and welcome her back with open arms the first time she showed up to our standard “last night we will all be together before one of us leaves” dinner - and it’s never been different since.

Our lives are changing and so are we. We’re adults now who live in different parts of the country, with jobs and responsibilities. Our dreams, beliefs, and priorities have shifted and changed, but I have to believe that at the core of it all, our deep rooted friendship won’t. A few months ago, the last time all six of us were together, I threw out the idea of giving up on everything I came here to do - and every single one of them just yelled at me a version of “absolutely not” (Melanie’s version may have had a few choice words thrown in there...) because they know me and they believe in me - even when I don't believe in myself. (I’m vomiting at how corny I sound.) 

I can’t imagine my life without Mary Ellen’s long lasting bear hugs, Mel’s high pitched scream when I walk through the door or when a particularly funny part of a story is told, Eleanor’s bringing Curly Sue (her dog) everywhere we go - she’s basically the 7th honorary member of Pick Six, Kitty’s chuckle laugh, or Sarah’s “heyyyy” when she walks into a room. I have learned everything I need to know about friendship from these girls. They are my chosen family. They are a massive part of why I miss TX, but an even bigger part of what keeps me here. Whenever I come home, one of my mum’s first questions is - “Well, what are your plans with the girls?” because she knows. 

The group text that began seven years ago lives on strong today, and as I write this post, with tears in my eyes on and off at the gratitude I feel, my phone just buzzed to say I have a new message on our thread, and all seems right with the world. 

*~hugz n kisses~*

Day 1 : pants-less

Sunday, 3/6/2016

Well, I woke up in denial about not being in Antigua. Utter denial. Pure denial. Like, I don’t think a greater denial exists in the world that what I was in. I mean - would you want to have gone from seven days of doing nothing but waking up, eating, laying on the beach, basking in the sun, being on or in the water, reading, talking with your parents (who also happen to be two of the people you’re closest to in the world) and sleeping? If your answer is yes - go ahead and keep that to yourself, because you’re a weirdo, because I was here: 

I am rarely happier than when I am at the beach and in the water. I was born in London and raised between there and Texas - mostly in Texas, but I swear my soul was born in the ocean and out of the sun (go ahead and mock me for however cheesy that sounds - I’m aware, with you, can take it, and also love it)

Bottom line: New York is hard for me.

It’s dirty, smells bad (versions of bad include: pee, body odor, and trash,) is crowded, expensive, often cold, people are mean (or crazy,) there’s no space, if you want to see the sky in most parts of the city you have to crane your neck up, you can’t walk around barefoot or easily put your feet on grass, fresh air doesn’t exist, you can always hear your neighbors, the catcalling is ob-nox-ious, it’s transient, getting out of the city takes an immense amount of effort - the list could go on, but if you (and I) remember correctly, one of the things on my Prep Day list was to not be needlessly negative, sooooooo…yeah…I think you get the gist.

Basically, I need…..wide open spaaaaaaces…. if you don’t know who the Dixie Chicks are, we legit cannot be friends and I don’t know if I even feel comfortable with you reading this blog. Kidding. But please go listen to them on Spotify - conveniently and thoughtfully linked for you here ASAP as it will only make your life better. 

To be frank, there are many days in New York where I feel like I’m suffocating. "But you were born in London" you say, "that’s a big city, you should be used to it." Yes. But in London YOU CAN SEE THE SKY. But I (semi) digress. 

I recently read a book that asked you to list the things that make you happy - things that you’re grateful for - which are often, and not coincidentally, one in the same. My list included, (I won’t list everything because 1. you probably don’t care (I wouldn’t either) and 2. who’s got time for that?) in this abridged but unchanged order:

the beach, sunlight and how warm it feels, wildflowers, art in all forms, football, Texas, family, best friends, driving, safety, love, adventure, travel, food, joy, yoga, elephants, babies, wine, reading, cheesy things, sports, sweating, going for runs in the rain, cozy sweaters, photos and videos.

So you can more than likely see that being back in New York isn’t exactly thrilling for me. But add to that that I had decided to embark on this 52 day journey challenge thing - and I just didn’t want to wake up. They say the first step is the hardest for a reason. Changing my life (which is the basic way to say what I hope the next 52 days bring) is going to be hard because it’s going to mean I have to change. And the stuff I want to change isn’t like changing a pair of pants. Wait - actually - yes, yes it is. It’s like trying to change in and out of your skinniest leather pants. 

You wind up pants-less, trying everything you can think of to get them back on, covered in a baby powder-lotion messy paste that you made when you tried to get out of your predicament, realizing you have no other option but to take the first awkward step… without pants...  It’s actually not that far off. I’m stripped to my core, covered in a mess I made myself after finding myself in a predicament that wasn’t my fault (how was Ross supposed to KNOW that the leather pants would be hell’s prison?) 

                                                                                                    Side-note: never did I think that I would tie a Friends episode into a metaphor for life... This may be a high point.

The only difference is that Ross called Joey - and I’ve been reluctant to call anyone. I may have admitted to some hard days here or there, but have I told anyone it’s been consistent hard days since August? Nope. Because that means accepting that I haven’t been honest with myself about the place I didn’t just magically arrive to out of the blue. It’s been a slow descent to a pit that has felt seemingly impossible to crawl out of. So I did some research and wasn't exactly thrilled with what I found.

If I’m honest, my first thought is - “oh good - one more lame statistic to fall into. First I’m a sexual assault victim and now I’m depressed.” (I’m not saying that’s a kind or valid thought, but I also pledged to honesty yesterday….dang those annoying pledges.) Prior to doing some research, I thought clinical depression was the term we only stamped on people who were always depressed and needed to take antidepressants forever due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. I was wrong.

Clinical depression is "marked by a depressed mood most of the day, particularly in the morning, and a loss of interest in normal activities and relationships  -- symptoms that are present every day for at least 2 weeks.” 20-25% of adults will suffer a bout of it in their lifetimes and women are at a higher risk (twice as many women experience this than men.) Two weeks, huh? Errrr try 5 months… Depression can be triggered by grief, social isolation, major life changes, personal conflict and any type of abuse. And it doesn’t always stick around forever. It can pass. 

Well, hallefreakinlujah. There’s a bright spot of hope.

Recommendations to treat clinical depression include, among other things, therapy. I was attacked in April 2014 and was in therapy until July of 2015. I struggled heavily with depression for the first four-ish months (with the fleeting thought of suicide coming once,) and then it more or less 'went away.’… there’s also a chance I willed it away and quit therapy that July because I just didn’t want to talk about it anymore. But the residual effects that I refused to deal with once those first fourth months were over, did not go away. They bubbled and boiled, always turned down at the last minute, until Thanksgiving 2015, when circumstances beyond my control finally turned the stove on HIGH. Every ignored and stifled piece of pain came bubbling up, blew the lid off the pot, and everything in me boiled over, creating a complete mess. The pot was empty and I had nothing left to give…and here we are. 

Tonight I went to church for the third time since abandoning it altogether last May. Showing up is hard. I more or less feel a silent rage when it comes to God and it feels hypocritical and fraudulent to sit in church when, if God was a person standing in front of me, I would probably punch said person in the face while screaming a few choice words… After all, nothing happens in heaven or on earth without His ok, right? So, where was He that night and why did he ‘ok’ this? 

Louie Giglio preached a sermon entitled 'The Comeback' and within the first five minutes of preaching he says, “God Almighty can turn the page of your life tonight and begin writing you a new story.” Well, ok. Day 1 of 52 days, and that seems pretty fitting. Not shockingly, I took that as another sign (I warned you in entry one about me and signs: see 52 Days.) I mean, write you a new story? And I’m writing about the 52 day journey? And today is day 1 which is basically page 1. And journeys are always stories to be told…I’m telling you - coincidences are not a real thing. 

He went on to talk about how we are so often shaped by what was and don’t lean enough into what we could be; that we have to stop re-reading the old chapters and walk in new life. Merp. Sometimes when you’re mad, hearing the truth is hard. Forget that - anytime you’re mad, hearing the truth is hard. Hard like, I go to a church where people ’shout down’ our pastor, (it’s not as terrifying as it sounds - stuff like - “That’s good, Louie!” or “Amen!” or “That’s real!”) and I just wanted to shout him down with, “Go away! Stop somehow weirdly seeing into my soul. It's annoying.” I restrained myself and through my severe annoyance, I felt a little truth slide through a crack of the barely open door of my heart and mind tonight. With it came the smallest amount of light. Maybe I should stop focusing on how mad I am at God. I’ve been doing a very solid job of making that clear… So now my question is, how do I actually deal with the old chapters without dwelling on them? No clue. 

But Louie (is it weird that I feel like I’m on a first name basis with a pastor after they speak a message I connect to? Probably, but it is what it is) suggested two things:

1. A desperate plea

2. ask God for the faith to actually believe for a new chapter. 

At the end of the service, another one of our pastors gave us the opportunity to raise our hands in prayer if we needed a renewal of the mind, and I (awkwardly and through tears) raised my hand. That was tough for me - for my pastors who once trusted me to be a leader in our church, to see that I’m in this place? It’s a pride thing (that I need to work on.) But you know what else? It was brave. And in that bravery, I felt a weight lift. It was trust. And it that trust, I felt my heart lighten just a little.

So I’ll start there even if it feels weird and I’m annoyed. Clearly, I don’t have any better ideas. My journal entry tonight finished with, 

“well on day 1, I cried out to Jesus for help and was honest for the first time about where my heart is at. what will day 2 bring?” - 

who knows?