Life Lessons from my Body

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I was vomiting, light-headed, dizzy and experiencing extreme back, abdominal, and pelvic pain and had a consistent fever of about 102 degrees for three days, but I insisted that I was fine. I don’t like to claim illnesses and when it comes to getting sick, I often work under the, “if you don’t acknowledge it, it won’t be that big of a deal” model. Positive affirmations can be powerful but are not the best ways to manage increasingly serious health conditions. It wasn’t until a friend pleaded with me (and really it was sorta the fear /concern in his eyes, that really prompted me) to go to the emergency room, that I finally agreed. Once I got checked in, I quickly realized how serious my condition really was. I had a severe kidney infection. Bacteria had traveled throughout my bloodstream, poisoning it, and I was becoming septic. My body's core temperature was increasing to fight the bacteria, causing my high fever; and the extreme back, abdominal, and pelvic pain was from the bladder infection that had spread to my kidneys. I was sick and it took a really scared friend, my administrative assistant (who canceled and later rescheduled all my appointments for 10 days during and after I was hospitalized), several rounds of antibiotics, and more sleep than I’m used to, to feel better. If I would have listened to my body on day one, this wouldn’t have been as severe, but I insisted that I was fine which almost lead to my kidneys shutting down.

What is glaring to me about the way I often manage my health concerns is that I take a similar approach to how my mother managed hers. She taught me to be strong, impenetrable, and resilient, but none of those are congruent with being sick. She taught me to be a strong Black woman, and I’ve benefited from these lessons but my health often hasn't. The Strong Black Women tropes don’t serve us. They can trap us into ignoring our pain, preferring us to prioritize the needs of others over our own and potentially endangering our own lives. This was the lived experience of my mother, who spends her time serving her family, her church, her community, and God, but rarely herself. In her 49 years of life, I never once remember my mother being sick. To me, she was the epitome of healthy until she wasn’t. At 49, my mother died of gastric cancer and from her doctors, we learned that she probably had been battling it for years. I never knew. She didn’t slow down, she didn’t tell anyone, she didn’t prioritize her health. She stayed busy.

If you’re anything like my mom, you’re busy. You’ve got a ton of irons in the fire. You’ve got a meeting with your boss, a friend’s birthday party to plan, a church fundraiser to attend, a few shows to catch up on, bills to pay, a workout to complain about—you’re busy. Don’t be too busy for yourself. Don’t be too busy to manage your health. The reason why I didn’t go to the doctor when I first started experience symptoms was that I had a strategic priorities meeting the same day and I didn’t want to miss it. I persisted, but because I was so sick, I ended up vomiting into a trashcan in the middle of the meeting, subsequently embarrassing myself and looking foolish for not prioritizing my health. My body nearly shut down before I decided she was worth a visit to the doctor. This was my life lesson. This was the life lesson from my mother; don’t let it be yours.

 
 

How do you prioritize your health? Have you ever had to advocate to get a medical professional to listen to your concerns? Do you think your race or gender have anything to do with how you view your health or manage health concerns?

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