Black Me Out

9:11 PM

Photo and tattoo cred: Knot Eye Studio, Indianapolis
TW: depression, suicidal thoughts

This is the hardest story I've ever had to tell.

Well, I suppose I don't have to tell this story. But it's been clawing at my brain, my heart and my skin for months. It's one I've wanted to share with so many people, but I'm never sure if they will understand. I don't know if they'll judge me, or if they have been silently doing it this entire time and nothing I say will change it.

But I want you to hear it, reader. Because stories like these need to be told.

It's a long one, so here's the TL;DR. This summer and fall, I moved back to Chicago. I was in an inpatient mental health center for four days. I got divorced. I wanted to die.

The hardest part of talking about this is that I don't know where to start. And I don't know what to divulge. So let's start with the least (emotionally) painful part, and that's the tattoo pictured above.

--


If you would have asked me a few years ago if I ever wanted a tattoo, I would have answered with a resounding "no." Between the needles, the pain and the idea of never being able to get rid of it ever, getting a tattoo seemed like an ordeal I didn't want to endure. Like, whyyyy would I want to invite more pain into my life?

But about a year after my endometriosis diagnosis, my tune changed -- partly because, around that same time, my attitude toward my body changed, too.

At my worst, I viewed my body as the enemy, as a husk I was trapped in. It felt as though everything I did to help or harm my body didn't matter in the end because it was going to do what it wanted to. After my first surgery, which helped only a little, a long list of medications and countless other doctors and therapies, I was exhausted, defeated and all but completely broken.

Eventually, I was tired of feeling helpless. Piece by piece, I stopped waiting on doctors and therapists and started to reclaim my own body. I switched my diet. I started to exercise more. I listened attentively to what my nerves hated and uhh... hated less. I learned to say no, and I learned to make loving myself an active goal with actual, tangible activities, rather than something I kind of thought about from time to time.

Around last Christmas, I decided I wanted the most permanent act of reclaiming my body I could think of - tattooing it.

Like many endo sisters, I'm covered in scars. Not all of them are from endometriosis, though. Scars from a lifetime of painful acne are littered across my face like stars. I have one on my arm from a day of archery at summer camp. There are two on the bridge of my nose from chicken pox and another on the bottom of my foot from when my friend accidentally ran it over with his car. (He's still my friend; it's cool.)

I wanted a scar I could choose. And what better symbol for this rebirth, this yearning for the morning and my overall endometriosis journey than a sunflower?

After waiting for months and months, my incredible tattoo artist, Alice Guerin at Knot Eye Studios in Indianapolis, finally moved me off of her waitlist. I had three whole seasons to decide if I really wanted to do this, but even as I walked up the steps to her studio, I was biting the inside of my lip and my heart was pounding.

Alice's sweet demeanor put me at ease. I had explained the significance of this tattoo to her via email, and she was thrilled to help make it happen. She and I chatted as she printed off the stencil of her gorgeous, hand-drawn design to stick on my back right shoulder, and I nervously looked at the ink and needles next to the chair I'd be sitting in.

But once that stencil was on my back, I was in love. I knew this was what I needed to do - for me and for no one else.

If you're curious, the entire process took a little under two hours. At its worst, it was probably a seven or eight on a pain scale of one to ten (don't we love those?), but most of the time, I hovered around a five or six. It's very doable, if you've ever endured endometriosis pain. That's for sure...

Looking in the mirror after it was all done, I smiled. A beautiful act of self-love, of claiming my body as my own, of celebrating life and art and all that's within it.

I never wanted to forget how strong I felt that day. And soon, I needed to remember.

--

July rolled around, and I turned 27 years old. I celebrated in my hometown near Chicago with my husband, Andrew and one of our best friends, Ethan. He and Andrew went to college together, and when Ethan eventually moved to Indianapolis, we also became close.

The three of us were joining my former roommate, bridesmaid and another best friend of mine, Michelle for a trip through the Pacific Northwest. I was thrilled. I'd always wanted to visit Michelle and a few of my other best friends out there, and finally, we had an opportunity to do so. I was looking forward to hours of car karaoke, learning new things about each other and telling hilarious stories with three people I loved very much.

Possibly most of all, I was looking forward to hiking in Glacier National Park. I'd recently bought hiking poles to ensure my endometriosis wouldn't interfere with our vacation plans, even though my surgery in November left me pain-free most of the time. I'd grown strong through rock climbing and practiced a few mini-hikes in preparation. I dug through message boards for chronic pain patients. I poured through REI equipment to determine what I actually needed and what looked cool but wasn't necessary. (Hiking shoes and wool socks are very necessary.)

The first leg of our trip went smoothly, and we arrived at our Airbnb outside of Glacier. We pulled out a map of the park and chose a trail we felt was interesting enough to not be a literal walk in the park, but short enough not to totally wear us out - namely, me.

I woke up that morning feeling fine, if I remember correctly. Much of that day is a huge blur now. And I don't want to drag out this story with too many details, with "he said, she said," with finger-pointing or blaming myself.

Suffice it to say that I should not have done that hike.

I hadn't even reached the midway point when I began to hurt, ...but I thought I'd reached it. My left hip crease pulled and burned - a pain that I hadn't felt in years - and my ovary began to throb. But going off of what I thought our map had said, I figured it made more sense to keep going forward than to turn around. The distance would be shorter, I incorrectly believed. So I endured.

The entire way forward, I was scared for my life. As we got higher and higher, I began to worry I would lose my already unstable footing, slip and fall to my death, or at least serious injury. With waterfalls and a tiny glacial streams, that wasn't exactly an irrational fear. I drank water until my stomach couldn't hold any more, as if that would improve my situation. The Tramadol I had taken earlier was entirely useless. The pain began to shoot down my thigh to my knee to my shin, and I gritted my teeth with every step.

Upper Grinnell Lake, Glacier National Park (source: Travel Caffeine)

When we finally got to the glacial lake at the end of the trail hours later, I fell to the ground and cried - a mix of exhaustion and exhilaration. It was so fucking beautiful, and, endometriosis be damned, I had dragged my shaking, throbbing body to it. I wanted to vomit, and I'm surprised I didn't, but I was so fucking proud of myself for purely surviving.

...those emotions quickly vanished when I realized I had to hike back.

I wish I could say it was easier, but it wasn't. At points, my ears rang, and I couldn't see. I breathed heavily and tried my hardest to keep my shit together. No matter how many breaks I took, my condition didn't improve. And as the pain intensified, I realized my thoughts about the cliffs and rocks changed, too.

"What if I fall?" became "I could just throw myself off these rocks, and then I'll stop hurting forever."
"What if I don't make it?" became "I want to end it right here."
"What if I die?" became "I want to die."

When we finally arrived at Michelle's Subaru, I laid down in the back seat and burst into tears again - this time ragged sobs of anguish. I held my pelvis and rocked side to side, trying to take in as much air as my lungs would let me. My entire body felt like it was on fire, and I mean that in the strongest way possible. I knew I needed professional medical help but refused to admit it, lest I totally ruin my friends' vacation. I convinced myself that a meal, a shower and some sleep would have me back in order.


It was then I finally vocalized my earlier thought. "I want to die," I whimpered. "I want to die. I want to die."

Because of events in that park, when I came home from our trip days later, I found that my friendship with one of those people was over. I was completely, totally gutted.


--

I remember sitting on the couch and reading the text over and over. In my lifetime, I'd had my heart stomped on, been completely ignored without explanation and endured the hurt of ending both friendly and romantic relationships. But nothing prepared me for the shock and total confusion of hearing that one of my best friends didn't want to talk to me anymore. I replayed the incident at Glacier in my head over and over, and tried so hard to figure out what I did wrong.

Minutes before, I'd again admitted to Andrew I was unhappy in our marriage. This inevitably resulted in an argument that is between the two of us. On top of trying to determine how to best be happy with my husband, I faced losing another person I loved, and I knew I wasn't blameless in either of these scenarios.

My throat tightened, and I began to wring my hands, claw at my arms and thighs, and rock back and forth - classic early warning signs of the panic attacks I had managed to push aside years ago. I opened my mouth to sob, but nothing came out. My brain kept repeating, "Your body is always going to get in the way of your happiness."

In that moment, I believed it. My heart raced, and I spilled out this fear to Andrew, right in the middle of our argument. My breathing sped faster and faster, and my eyes fell on a butter knife I'd used to cut my dinner that night. Even though that particular knife would have done no damage to me, that was the first time in my life I had ever seriously considered taking a blade to my own wrist and ending it all.


I'm so thankful I had presence of mind to say the next thing I said: "You need to take me to the hospital. I need help. I want to die."

Shortly after, I sat next to Andrew in a cold waiting room, huddled inside one of my college hoodies. I hardly spoke and managed a few texts to my mom and my boss. After an assessment, the nurses on call had ruled I needed to be admitted to their mental health inpatient center. I was terrified and ashamed, but I knew they were right.

I'll likely detail my time there in a later post, but I spent four days in the most uncomfortable room I can imagine. The mattress hurt my back, even hours after I woke up, and I barely stayed warm every night. Everything felt cold, sterile and lonely. The showers spat out just enough water to wash my hair without too many leftover suds, and I wasn't allowed to use my phone. I was permitted two 15-minute calls every day in the common room so I could talk to Andrew and my mom and update them on my care. (Also, I can no longer eat "fake" chicken patties because this is about all they offered me the entire time I was there. I literally want to gag thinking about it.)

I had a lot of time to be alone and think. The therapists helped me work through some grounding techniques in moments of panic or depressive episodes. I wrote out on a wallet-sized note card my plan for the next time I'm in serious pain to avoid what happened to me at Glacier. I interacted with people of all ages who were so different and yet so similar to me. Through it all, I felt heard.

In my moments of silence, I realized I was tired of being unhappy. I'd been unhappy the whole year so far, and I had chalked it up to a long list of things: seasonal depression, general stress, politics, everything. But deep down, I knew I had outgrown my circumstances. I had done all I could with Indianapolis, with my present life, and made the most of what I had. And it was time for me to decide: was I going to do the comfortable thing and remain discontent forever, or was I going to risk everything I'd worked toward and do what was right - for me, for the people I loved, for everyone?

A few weeks later, Andrew and I filed for divorce.

--

I don't want to go into detail about my divorce because it's still pretty fresh. But please know that we did not separate because of my endometriosis or my mental health, and please know how much I love and cherish Andrew as a person. And please understand that I know I am not blameless in our separation, and there are so many things I wish I could have done better or differently.

My close friend, Tom summed up my situation neatly one day: "It's not that either of you were bad partners. You just weren't the right ones for each other."

The two of us cleanly and amicably separated just shy of our three-year wedding anniversary. We'd spent seven years of our lives together, and facing a future without him was... I actually don't entirely have words for it.

This wasn't a matter of simply doing what was right for me. I knew Andrew needed someone I couldn't be, just as he couldn't be what I needed. To be honest, I changed a lot in a short amount of time, and to be even more honest, I got married much too young.

(Okay, I'm going to stop there before I divulge more than I'm ready to.)

I made plans to return home with my dog, Juno to Chicago, where I grew up and where my family still was. As much as I loved aspects of Indianapolis, I never felt quite right there. I knew I missed Chicago, and as I started to look for a place to live, I choked back tears of joy, knowing that I'd be back where I belonged. My family and friends, even some I hadn't seen in years, were ready to welcome me with loving, open arms.

And as fate would have it, I left Indianapolis in the most Tracy-appropriate way...

--

Months prior, Andrew, Ethan and I had made plans to go to a concert. But this wasn't just any concert to me. ...this was U2 and Beck - my favorite band and my favorite singer.

Honestly, I don't know who in heaven orchestrated this for me, but they must have known my life would turn into a literal dumpster fire in mere months and that I desperately needed this. I had just seen U2 a few months earlier at Bonnaroo in Tennessee, but I couldn't let them pass through my town without gracing them with my presence.


There were deeper emotions to this concert, however. In my transition from hospital to home, I listened to nothing but Beck's "Morning Phase" and U2's "The Joshua Tree." While I knew I wouldn't get to hear much of Beck as the opening act, U2 would be playing "The Joshua Tree" from beginning to end.

U2's music has been there for me since I was really young and had discovered them around age 11 (coincidentally the age I first showed signs of endometriosis.) And throughout 2017, there were times I drove around the city weighing my feelings about my marriage, my life and my future, and letting tears roll down my cheeks to their songs. On one particular night, I drove to a parking lot at 2 a.m., screamed, sobbed and slammed my hands against the steering wheel to their music. No matter how violent my tantrum or how overwhelming my feelings, U2 gave me the gentle assurance that I could overcome.

So before the concert, I scrawled this on a poster board:


I was in the pit for this show, mere feet away from my favorite band when they came out onto a Joshua tree-shaped platform, so I didn't want to be a dick and hold this up the entire time. I also had no idea if they could see it, and my handwriting is pretty shitty, so there's that...

As I became a tangled yarn-ball of emotions to the first tracks of "The Joshua Tree," I nearly forgot about the sign in my backpack. But as the band approached my side of the audience, I quickly pulled it out and unfolded it, careful to not hit anyone in the eye with my bony elbows.

I didn't expect much. As cool as U2 are, they have a show to do and maybe, just maybe, have concerns that aren't, you know, me. But in the off-chance they saw it, or someone in the audience who was also struggling saw it, I held it up high with my long, skinny arms.

That's when The Edge stepped in front of me. His eyes skimmed the poster board and then locked with mine. He smiled warmly and sympathetically, winked and nodded at me, as if to say, "No, thank you." I pressed my fingertips to my lips, blew a kiss and mouthed my own "thank you."

I thought I'd exaggerated that entire interaction until the woman I'd made friends with next to me grabbed my arm. "Did you see that?! The Edge read your sign!"

Despite this new addition to the Top Ten Greatest Moments of My Life, I managed to keep my shit together for the show. Until they played "Running to Stand Still."

You should probably listen to it. Here you go:



So she woke up, woke up from where she was lying still.
Said, "I've gotta do something about where we're going..."

Finally, the tears I'd been keeping in - probably for a couple months at that point - poured out from my eyes. It's hard for me to explain exactly how significant this song has been to me over the years, especially in a year when I'd lost friends, my marriage, the city I called home and almost my life.

Sweet the sin, but bitter the taste in my mouth.
I see seven towers, but I only see one way out.
You've gotta cry without weeping, talk without speaking,
Scream without raising your voice.

As I sang the words with Bono, I knew he was singing my heart back to me. The words I couldn't quite put together, the feelings I'd felt alone in, the messy and terrifying ways my life had changed in such a short amount of time... all of that played back as I sang as loudly as I possibly could. And knowing I was surrounded by people who had felt as connected to this song as I had, in their own ways, was so deeply comforting.

She is raging, she is raging,
And the storm blows up in her eyes.

In just a few days, I'd load up all of my belongings and my faithful pup and drive away from a city where I'd built my life post-college. I moved from Chicago to Indianapolis just weeks after graduation, beginning my first full-time job and finally living within a few miles of my long-distance boyfriend. I had been diagnosed with endometriosis in Indianapolis. I helped form my first band. I lived alone for the first time. I totaled my car. I adopted Juno. I got married. I got divorced.

Those five years made me face things I didn't want to, but knew I had to. I confronted beliefs I knew were wrong, I changed things about myself I knew hurt me and other people, and I went through some of the most painful transformations I likely will ever go through. But I had weathered every storm that came my way. And I knew I could do it again.

If you're wondering how I'm feeling right now, I'm happy to say I am happy. But "happy" doesn't necessarily mean "without sorrow." I've grieved profoundly. I've had days when all I did was watch Always Sunny in Philadelphia, cry and take naps. Just last week, I sat on the phone with another close friend and tried my best to conceal my tears as I told him the situation with the friend I lost. I know I will feel more growing pains around Christmas, New Year's and all of those other holidays that make you nostalgic and kind of nauseous at the same time.

But I don't feel an active depression. I haven't wanted to hurt myself since my inpatient visit, and my medication keeps my moods stable. I'm beginning to think I may need pelvic floor injections again for my endometriosis, and oh, my new ob-gyn thinks I might have polycystic ovarian syndrome, too. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

There have been moments when I've wondered if I did the right thing. But as soon as I've thought that, something has come around to remind me that I did. I'm at peace.

As I alluded to earlier, having a chronic pain condition doesn't make me eager to invite more pain into my life. But sometimes, the best things you could do for yourself are painful. Sometimes, it hurts before it gets better. Sometimes, you have to scare the living shit out of yourself to get the life you deserve-  no, you need to live.

I'm happy because I believe in myself, and I know that the best is still yet to come. My world fell down around me, and yet I knew I was resilient. I knew I was strong. And I knew I would survive, as I'd survived so much before.

I regret it's taken me so long to write this (very long) story, but I'm sure you understand. And if you read this far down (and even if you didn't, but you probably won't see it unless you're reading this lolz), I want to say, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. It's meant so much to me to have an army of loving and compassionate supporters, some of whom I've never met or never even exchanged messages with, both in the endometriosis community and outside of it.

As I still try to sort out of my new life in Chicago, I promise to do my best to regularly update this blog again. Now that I have a little more emotional energy to devote to my writing, I'm sure I will want to tell more stories and share more of my never-ending emotions.

For you, I want to tell you that I believe in you. And that life is scary sometimes, but nothing is permanent. However you're feeling right now is completely okay to feel, but please know you won't always feel that way. Even happiness is fleeting. But there is absolutely nothing in the world worth hurting or killing yourself over, ever. And if you ever feel like you're at your end like I was, please, please call the suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Please don't give up.

She will suffer the needle chill.
She's running to stand still.

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2 comments

  1. Wow. I don't know what I have to offer here as a statement other than that I am happy you're doing better. I have had some similar experiences that perhaps would be best to be shared over a cup of coffee sometime. I admire your courage so very much, and I especially appreciate that you found the words to share it.

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