December 05, 2018

hospital bound

I was diagnosed with pneumonia the week of Thanksgiving. My doctor prescribed me a round of oral antibiotics and sent me on my merry way, back to normal life and the excitement over the upcoming holiday. My diagnosis meant that I wasn’t able to spend Thanksgiving with my family like we planned this year, but we face timed and got to talk to each other like I was actually in my aunt and uncle’s home with the rest of my loved ones. The antibiotics kicked my fevers, night sweats, chills and shakes, but a cough that just won’t quit still lingered. 

On Sunday night before I went to bed, I coughed up a pretty substantial amount of blood. The same thing happened on Monday morning when I woke up. Justin urged me to call my doctor and see if they could fit me in any earlier than next week for my follow-ups as planned. I was unable to get an appointment, but they had me talk to a triage nurse on the phone who urged me not to wait—get to the ER as soon as you possibly can, preferably within the hour. Justin called his mom out of work to take me, and I hastily dragged a brush through my hair and pulled my boots on, trying to tame the anxiety that was already starting to run rampant in my brain.

Hospitals these days always remind me of my dad, and when I was coughing up blood and phlegm and riding in the car for half an hour with Justin’s mom, all I could think was, “Please, God, don’t let me end up like my dad.” We were on our way to the hospital in Stevens Point where I would soon be ushered into an ER care room and taken for a CT scan with contrast. The doctors poked and prodded at me, and eventually came back with my results.

“You have a mass in your right lung and fluid surrounding it. We want to do a bronchoscopy, but we don’t have the technology to do it here so we have transfer you to Wausau.”

The entire 40-minute ambulance ride up to Wausau, I prayed that I didn’t have cancer. I had lost my grandma on my mom’s side and my dad to different types of lung cancer less than a year apart from each other. My seven year smoking habit didn’t really help matters either. That little voice in the back of my head reminded me that once my dad entered the hospital, he never came out. Worry gnawed at my heart as I anxiously awaited both the doctors to examine me and for my people to come sit with me. Being alone in a hospital is never something I’ve dealt with very well. 

When I was born, I was only 27 weeks and weighed 2 lbs. My dad could literally hold me in the palm of his hand. I spent the first 2 months and 10 days of my life with the hospital where I was born being the only home I knew. I had heart surgery at 10 days old to close the PDA valve in my heart with a metal clip that I still carry the scar from to this day. I was the tiny baby in the incubator, hooked up to all sorts of wires and machines. Once they took me off the ventilators and replaced them with cannulas and tubes up my nose, I figured out how to scoot down in my incubator and set off all my bells and whistles that would send my team of nurses rushing in to hook me back up to the machines. I just wanted to breathe on my own, and I suppose loneliness may have been a factor there as well. I just wanted human contact, but it also serves as concrete proof that from day one, I knew what it took to be a fighter and stake your claim in this world. 

Over the last few days, I’ve had all the good veins in my left arm exhausted from drawing blood. They’ve stuck tubes and cameras down my throat and into my chest, trying to figure out what the mass in my right lung is exactly. They’ve taken biopsies of my lymph nodes and stuck two giant needles in between my ribs to get samples of the blockages inside and the fluid that was pooling around my lung. I’ve gone over and over my family’s history of cancer, heart attacks and my own recent non-intentional weight loss since my dad died and the pneumonia made it worse.

The only answers that I have so far are, “Well, we don’t think it’s cancer, just an extraordinarily bad case of pneumonia” based on inflammatory tissue samples and signs of infection in the fluid they removed from around my lung. 

Justin’s mom drove him an hour one-way to come stay at the hospital with me. My mom and aunt drove four hours to come and make sure I’m okay. Being surrounded by family, both biological and the one that I’ve chosen to be with forever, feels like a gift. My dad was the one who showed up for me when I had my gallbladder taken out in 2014. He drove for five hours round-trip just to spend half an hour with me, picking me up from the hospital and running me around town to get my meds before taking me home. It means the world to me that I still have people I can count on now that he is gone. 

I’m supposed to go home on Thursday while we wait for the results of all my biopsies and tests that they’ve been running. To be honest, I can’t wait to go home and snuggle with the cats and sleep in my own bed again. In the meantime, I’m trying to soak up all the goodness that this experience has brought me instead of worrying how I’m going to pay for all of it once everything is said and done. The nurses and staff that I’ve met here have been amazing. Truly slowing down and taking the necessary time to rest has been good for my soul. And nothing beats getting to spend time with the ones I love the most. 

December 03, 2018

bokeh galore

I can't resist Christmas lights this time of year. My camera roll will probably be full of shots exactly like these for the rest of the month and I'm not mad about it. As long as I have pneumonia and I'm stuck inside anyway, might as well take advantage of the pretty lights while they last. (Though I'm supposed to shoot at a Christmas tree farm on Saturday in ~20* degree weather... we'll see how that goes!)

December 02, 2018

we need a little christmas

Today we dug the Christmas tree out of the closet and decorated the house for the holidays. Surprisingly, all of our strings of lights worked and there were only three ornaments without hooks on them. It’s been snowing since yesterday afternoon and I’m guessing we got 4-5 inches altogether. All of my Christmas shopping is done except for Justin. (Side note: why is it SO HARD to shop for the person who knows you the best?) I’m starting to get into the holiday spirit and I’m excited to see what the last month of 2018 has in store for us. Happy December!

December 01, 2018

on ten years

On Monday morning, I texted my best friend as soon as I woke up. Something about November 26 always leaves the taste of vinegar and honey lodged in the back of my throat. "I can't believe it's been ten years and how different everything is now."

She texted me back and said, "I'm so so proud of you. We are doing good. You're doing good."

Ten years ago was just a normal Wednesday. I went to school like any other day. Everyone was restless after coming back from Thanksgiving break. I couldn't tell you what I was wearing or what I had for breakfast that day, but I can tell you this: it started like any other day and ended with me breaking down the walls of my brokenness for the first time.

Mrs. Lovrine's Family Living and Parenting class. (Yeah, the class where you take home the fake baby doll for a night. Anything to get out of the pacer test, which was required if you took health instead. Good old BHS.) We were discussing relationships and the red flags of abuse that everyone swears up and down they see and won't let happen to them. (Oh to be sixteen and ignorant again.) My brain went a few different places during her lecture. Instead of taking notes, I thought about my first love and friendships that had dissolved right before my eyes earlier that year. The raw emotions that come out when experiencing heartbreak for the first time. The sadness that always comes with letting go and settling for a small wave when you occasionally bump into each other outside the radio station or in the cafeteria at school.

Those overwhelming emotions spilled over into another world entirely. I was caught in a flashback, trapped between my classmates who were more doodling and zoning out than listening, with forty minutes until the lunch bell rang. The chair I was sitting on didn't feel real. Everything faded around me and was replaced with a movie in my head that I had seen too many times. Trapped in a little pup tent, experiencing things beyond my maturity level that at fourteen I wasn't prepared to handle. "Nice shoes, wanna fuck?" and always ended with my abuser saying my name, over and over again until it had lost all meaning to me. The panic attacks in chemistry class the year before because seeing him in the hallways at school was too much. The loss of my best friends since middle school and my first love all in the same breath because they all just kept telling me to forget about what happened and get better like it was a magic switch I could toggle on and off. It was too much.

It was all too. Much. I promised my friends I would meet them in the cafeteria when the bell finally rang for lunch, but I had something to do first. I all but ran to the guidance office, fearing that if I didn't at least request a meeting I would lose my nerve and not do anything at all. I signed in with shaky hands and prayed that I could find the courage to summon the words for everything that happened.

Opening up the trauma floodgates has brought so many amazing things into my life. From that moment in my high school counselor's office, I started embracing the freedom that comes from speaking your truth. I reported my abuser for that night in 2006 right there in the guidance office. I started going to therapy and working toward naming my demons instead of trying to run away from them. My therapist diagnosed me with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the relief that came from finally having a name for what I had been experiencing was immeasurable. It meant that I wasn't going crazy like everyone around me had convinced me I was.

In summer 2009, I was given the opportunity to attend the annual Writing and Thinking Workshop at Lake Forest College in Illinois. It was there, writing with purpose for six hours every day, where I was finally able to say what had happened to me out loud: I am a survivor of sexual abuse. I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and every single day, I am working to overcome the civil war that my brain wages against me. I am doing everything I can to work toward empowerment and recovery to take back this bright, happy, overflowing life that I know I am capable of living over my abuser.

One of the advisors asked me why my trauma was all I ever wrote about in the pieces I shared with everyone. I didn't really have an answer for him in the moment, but now I realize that it all comes down to this: once you experience something that strangles your voice, you'll do everything in your power to take it back. In 2011, I gave a speech to a small group of girls at my high school who were going through similar experiences. I told them my story and hoped to give them the encouragement to speak up about their hardships instead of suffering through them alone. Once you're able to harness your voice again, sometimes the only thing you want to do is help others who are going through the same thing.

After speaking my truth out loud, I dove into photography. I took a few of my friend's senior pictures and started my 365 self-portrait project that ultimately helped me find my true love in this craft. Through my visual archives, I've been able to catalog growth and progress where I wasn't able to see it happening in real-time. Looking through all of those images now touches a tender spot in my heart that aches for the pain my younger self didn't have the courage to express out loud.

So much of the recovery process is taking everything day-by-day, one step at a time (or an hour at a time, as my therapist so gently reminded me at the beginning of all of this). Carving out a life for yourself when you're still in the mud of trauma is hard work that comes with more ups and downs than a roller coaster. You'll feel bombarded by the statistics, knowing you are the one in every four girls that experience this kind of trauma before they even turn eighteen. Playing a guessing game with your own self-doubt when you're still not entirely sure who you are as a person opens up pathways to new traumas entirely, but also offers the opportunity for rebirth to give you a new beginning.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. You can just barely see it when you're first starting out, but it's there and it's worth working toward. Don't lose sight of that light. It will buoy you through your darkest moments, all those sleepless nights where you lie awake at night questioning every decision you have ever made. With time, you'll gain distance from your broken self and that light that you've been working toward will become brighter and brighter until the tunnel shatters completely. You'll shield your eyes from the sun, not believing for a second that you're really in the light. It's time to thrive now and leave the past behind, exactly where it belongs.

November 30, 2018

thirty days of thankful: day thirty

Today I’m thankful for... the nostalgia that always comes with endings. I have been thinking a lot about this project today, and reminiscing about when I was nineteen and twenty and just getting into the groove of my business, running around the old fish hatchery with my camera and my class of 2013 seniors. I am beyond thankful for every single person that has trusted me to capture them and their memories with my camera. Without them, none of what I am trying to build upon today would be possible. 

November 29, 2018

thirty days of thankful: day twenty-nine

Today I'm thankful for... the sense of responsibility that comes with getting older. I called and made payment plans for medical bills today where younger me would've just let them default into collections. Slowly but surely, I will get everything paid off and begin to pay off my debts.

November 28, 2018

thirty days of thankful: day twenty-eight

Today I'm thankful for... a day when I didn't even change out of my pajamas, but spent the majority of the day switching back and forth between spreadsheets and workbooks on my computer and brainstorming and goal-setting in my planner. Working with numbers is admittedly not my favorite thing in the world, but it's a necessary evil to break down my goals into manageable bits so that I can actually accomplish them.