life

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 9: yoga + police reports

Monday, 3/14/2016

Yoga is changing my life. I will say it 45,000 times no matter how cliche I sound since we’ve already established that I semi love cliches. 

But for real - I did two catch up yoga sessions today (writing takes a lot longer than I thought - lesson 87 million in 8 days.) And my body and mind feel 75,000 times different. Can you tell I’m into big numbers today? 

My mind feels so much clearer and my body so long after yoga. I have never had so much awareness of what it is to feel physically squished as I do now that I’ve started regular yoga practice. No more squish for me. I used to have a fish named Squishy actually. 

                       RIP Squishy

                       RIP Squishy

.After yesterday’s entry, and my digesting it, I decided to request a copy of my police report. So I emailed the detective who was in charge of my case for form clarification (the NYPD website, like all government websites, is hella confusing.)

I've got a lot of mixed emotions about filling this piece of paper out but also a weird peace in knowing it will provide me something tangible. Almost as if in some weird way, it's proof that it happened - why I go through spells of feeling that I need that proof is complicated. Partly because my memory is so foggy and partly because the police didn't believe me. One of these days, we will get to that part of this experience. 

It’s crazy to think that I’m almost two years down the line and only just now getting to this point where I'm ready to read their take on it. That’s a lesson in being patient with others and myself. 

I doubt that it will shock you to learn that I do NOT excel at patience even a little bit, 

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 2: don't ya know that you're toxic?

Monday, 3/7/2016

So in the past few weeks I’ve become pretty obsessed with the idea of removing any and all toxic chemicals and allergens from my life in my food, beauty products, and household cleaning products (yes, yes - this is me being your typical white girl. Case in point: I simply cannot let the chance for an apropos Britney gif go by without taking it.)

But seriously, I was shocked when I learned about the harmful chemicals present in what we are lathering our bodies with ladies (and gentlemen.) Unreal.

What’s more unreal, is the junk we allow into our minds. I’m realizing that part of my desire to remove all this material toxicity from my world might stem from my subconscious knowing that I need to deal with the mental toxicity too.

Chemicals are the toxins affecting my physical body, and negativity is the toxin affecting my mind. 

boat jump.jpg

Negativity: well, that’s general. But I think it’s only general because it’s so widespread. It’s a pesticide that seems to spray every part of life. When was the last time I didn’t feel negative? Four days ago on the speedboat in Antigua. Jumping off the boat, eating on the beach, flying through the waves (sometimes whilst seriously questioning if I was about to go overboard,) hearing JD’s story, and laying in the water while it rained. Four days?! Four days is a long time. The inner knowledge that my life doesn’t look the way I want it to still existed that day, but I felt the teeniest part of my adventurous spirit peak it’s head around the corner and say, “hey, nice to see you again.” I remembered that I get to choose which steps I take next. 

Not too long later, I got some news that inspired one of the worst feelings around. Envy. 

Envy is an icky icky thing. There’s a reason that its known as one of the seven deadly sins.     

[Can we talk about that ‘America’s Next Top Model’ seven deadly sins photo shoot though from like a million seasons ago for just a second? So good.]

Envy makes me feel gross. Like what type of person doesn’t want to be happy for someone else when something good happens for them? I don’t think anybody wants to feel envy. It’s certainly not something we go around advertising. “Hey everybody!! I’m so jealous of blah blah blah, hear me roar!” But we do feel it. We are human after all. 

What’s interesting about my experience with envy these days is that it always turns to annoyance at myself. Probably rightly so. My thought pattern tends to go like this:

  1. “I wish                            would happen for me!” 
  2. “ Yeah but how could                            happen for you when you're too afraid to try?” 
  3. “Uhhhh hello have you seen the last two years of my life? Cut me a little slack.” 
  4. “Yeah, Becky, you’ve given yourself enough slack - it’s time to put your big girl pants on and get over yourself. If you want                    ,  go get it.” 
  5. “You’re right. But what if I try and                    happens and [insert negative emotion or experience here.] 

So, I have the awareness to know that envy is childish and unhelpful. Thank God. #winning (at least a little bit.) What I have trouble getting away from is the “slack" part. The me version of the little Lizzie McGuire cartoon that tells us Lizzie’s thoughts on the show, Lizzie McGuire, (a very important part of my pre-teen years) having this internal convo is not wrong.

I have needed to cut myself slack - yes. But I’m thinking it’s been the wrong kind of slack. It’s been the slack of excuses instead of the slack of mindfulness. And excuses lead back to negativity. And negativity leads back to the pit. And the pit sucks.

Negativity accuses and mindfulness observes. Negativity beats you down and mindfulness asks to help you move forward. For example: 

Thought: “I really need to prioritize my health and wellness.” 

Negativity: “ Yeah but today has been a tough day. And if ordering Indian food and cookies makes you feel better, you go ahead and do that. But don’t complain when you’re fatter tomorrow.” 

Mindfulness: “Am I actually hungry? If not, what am I trying to ignore by eating Indian food and cookies? If I am, is there a healthy option that doesn’t employ deprivation?” 

Negativity complicates everything. It strips away the simplicity of - this is how I feel - ‘x.’ This is what I want - ‘y.’ 

The more I read about life and health, the more I realize that to live a life of mindfulness requires retraining the brain. It is 100% the opposite of how the world communicates with us and therefore, 100% the opposite of how we’ve been conditioned to communicate with both ourselves and others.

I now feel overwhelmed. 

This whole 52 day thing is starting to feel like a total chore and why did I even set out to do this in the first place? I need a little reminding. So I go stalk the Team Wadadli (the Antiguan rowing team) Facebook page, and subsequently stalk a ton of other teams' Facebook pages and blogs, as one does, and I’m reminded why I started. (Don’t even try to tell me that you do not do some social media stalking every once in a while!)

The fact that I need reminding on DAY 2 scares me a little, but hey - keep on keeping on. And looking at those photos and videos of them coming into the harbour, the excitement, the sense of accomplishment, the victory... well, it gave me just the reminder I needed. 

In case you can’t guess it by now, I don’t believe in chance encounters, but I do believe in divine appointment. I believe that people are put in our paths and we are put in others’ paths for specific reasons, usually without knowledge of it. I know that JD was put in my path to jolt me awake to the adventure of life. It’s only with a sense of adventure that I would be willing to fight my way back. And the only way I'd hear that was if the vessel was completely new.

PS: I can’t decide if this is going to be suuuuuuper awkward if for some bizarre and very unlikely reason JD ever reads this. Hopefully it would fall on the - I’m so glad my story impacted a complete stranger in a positive way spectrum and not a - this random chick is crazy spectrum. But as one of the best people I've ever had the pleasure of knowing once said to me, “it’s none of your damn business what anybody else thinks about you."

I have no idea where this leaves me and I have no idea what the next step is. There seem to be a bajillion to choose from. But I do know that the negative part of me wants to say that I’m getting nowhere, while the mindful part of me wants to encourage me to keep moving, even if at a snail’s pace. And for the first time in a long time, I'm going to choose to be mindful - not negative.