*trigger warning-talk about self harm and depression
The tender age of sixteen is a time that should be collaged with coming of age moments. The first serious boyfriend, college applications, affirmation of friendships, and the saving grace of one more year ‘til graduation. Amidst all the adjustments and life changing decisions, the decisions I was dealt with was if I wanted to be radioactive or not.
It isn’t the norm for teenagers to be faced with the idea that a part of their body was disintegrating. But when you find yourself sweating in below freezing temperatures without a coat, vomiting every other day, muscle failures in gym class, and eating as if you consisted of a whole football team without gaining a stone -you knew something was up. From my body purging for weeks at a time, I found my muscles would clench to a fatigue. The lactic acid from my absorbent sleep in combination with my constant heaving felt as if I was a marionette, whose strings were being erratically pulled and swayed to the dynamics of unimaginable pain. Walking was a task of itself, with every step being a drudging attempt of transport being weighted down to it’s lowest degree. So when results of a blood test came back positive for Hyperthyroidism-Graves Disease, things seemed to start making sense. Though the thought in my cynical driven, gloomy Morrissey mindset was of my thyroid shriveling up and dying, causing my body follow. Which in my mind seemed reasonable since my system was seized by an organ burning itself out. Though what doctors failed to mention was that when the body undergoes a shock in hormones, the psyche tends to dip in activity resulting in depression and in my case self harm.
I resented my system and the body I was confined to. Every heave, falter, and white knuckle that would grasp around a bag as I purged the last bit of my dignity and lunch into. Why? Why this? My body was against me. Or it appeared so. Each breath I took ached while trying to catch what little energy I had to make it to class. Every exterior mark made was my own little crusade against what was happening to me internally. For every prod of a needle, every endoscopy, MRI, X ray, and colonoscopy-self harm offered some false sense of control. It seemed natural selection was doing it’s job as nature intended and I was just living out that idea. I didn’t see a reason to want to get better because this was my normal. I was barely living and moreso struggling to exist. I had better attendance at a doctor’s office than in class and the ill composed murals in the children’s hospital seemed to match my deflated sense of hope. So when given the opportunity to actually get better, I wasn’t so enthusiastic. But being a minor, my options were limited to invasive surgery or using radiation therapy.
Of course I chose radiation therapy, who doesn’t want to be their own nightlight? The process was to take a radiated pill and to be brought home where I’d spend twenty days in confinement. Every step I took outside my room was calculated. I was restricted to my room with the exception of the bathroom. I wasn’t allowed to prepare my own food, be in contact with people,or touch whatever someone used to avoid radiation poisoning. As days progressed the staleness of the hospital waiting area was replicated within my room. My world shrunk to a space fitting within four walls and a view facing a busy street. Watching life pass by, envying the starlings that would take flight from the tree in front of my window to parts unknown. Witnessing that made me yearn for my freedom again. I slowly went from patient zero to prisoner at Guantanamo. A gentle wind was nonexistent, and a ray of sunshine became impenetrable in my room. It appeared my room was encapsulating the presence of a walking-talking fester until the last day of my regiment. The first human contact I had received was that of my mom whose appearance was eclipsed by a bouquet of flowers. She placed them on my windowsill where a starling was perched out on the fire escape. Their colors stunned me as I sat up from my bed and crawled toward them. For the first time in what felt like years life was thriving in my presence. They were flourishing autonomously despite my Beatrice Rappaccini like “gift”. In this I saw beauty. Within the petals I saw the flower’s determination to thrive. Some of the stems embellished with thorns that verve with the kicking and screaming intent to live. My cell became a haven once the flowers were placed. It was then that I began to see the true vision of not only nature but of human nature. They were a physical reminder of resilience. The gift of the sustaining life within the bouquet offered me a sense of reassurement. I had been at my lowest low, and I was ready to take flight and begin my journey of recovery. I didn’t want to live. I wanted to thrive.