Since we've just wrapped up 2022, it's time to start reflecting on how far we've come. As I think about the last 12 months, I can't help but feel a little antsy because I'm not where I thought I'd be. If I'm completely honest, I felt like the year went by far too quickly and time was never really on my side. One minute, I was getting ready to celebrate Easter, and shortly thereafter, it was Halloween, and then Christmas.
Holding on to the past
Last week, a former client posted a tour that I facilitated for Pepsi Nigeria over a decade ago and as I reminisced on the project, I started to relive emotions that I'd rather live in the past. What many don't know is that sickle cell has robbed me of so much. Being where I am today was never the plan, it wasn't even on my radar. There are many days when I ask myself "How on earth did I get here?"
Sickle cell never gave me fair warning. She never said, "Hey girl, I'm about to wreck your whole life, defer your dreams, plop you in a new city, and take you far away from everything that you know and love." What hurts the most is that I never even got to say a proper goodbye to the people who were integral parts of my support system. How do you move forward when you can't let go of the past?!
The quiet storm
In 2015, I was commissioned by a well-known financial institution to develop a web series on life on the African continent through the lens of a well-educated millennial. The project was going to take approximately 6 months to shoot and I couldn't wait to embark on that journey.
In what was a last-minute decision, I decided to take a quick 2-week trip to Seattle, Washington to visit my older brother, and sadly, that trip forever changed my life. The moment the plane taxied on the tarmac, I was rushed to the emergency room at the University of Washington Medical Center. I thought it was just another vase-occlusive crisis triggered by a change in altitude but little did I know that I'd tussle with life and death.
A team of 7 health professionals broke the devastating news, detailing how the Mycobacterium Avium Complex infection had spread from my lungs to the kidneys, liver, and entire bloodstream. The treatment plan was combination drug therapy for the first 6 months but treatment could last as long as 24 months. And just like that, life as I knew it came to a screeching halt.
In her 1969 book, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross developed the 5 stages of grief as it relates to death and dying. People often conceptualize grief as a reaction to death but it can occur anytime our reality is not what we wanted, hoped for, or expected. Three years of consistently working with a therapist have helped me understand that when you experience traumatic grief, you can move through the stages of grief quite quickly: starting from denial to anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.1
Dealing with it all
As I tried to make sense of my new reality, I was faced with a sea of never-ending problems. I had to pay back funds disbursed by the financial institution, cut ties with my business partner and co-creator, explain to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) why I had to overstay my leisure trip, and reassure friends/family that I would be okay.
In an article by the University of Washington, when you combine stress and trauma with grief, it can be overwhelming. Everything took a toll on my mental and physical health. It triggered the release of adrenaline and cortisol, impacting my sleep, and appetite; making it extremely difficult for me to function normally.2
Where am I today?
For a long time, I held on to all that anger and disappointment; hating the term "sickle cell" because she was the bane of my existence but in some way, I'm still not sure how, I quickly realized that it was holding me back from truly living.
This year, I know that I'm not where I was before but I'm headed to where I want to be. Like a wise person once said, always dare to dream. For as long as there’s a dream, there is hope, and as long as there is hope, there is joy in living.
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