From Whence You Came

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James Baldwin said “Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.”

I can’t forget how hard I’ve fought to stay alive. It’s been a struggle to eat, walk, to just exist without pain. But, the decades of chronic illness have also shown me the depths of faith, love and resilience. It’s driven me to use what I’ve learned to help others; to change the world’s perception about people like me (Sick, African American, women, disabled, etc…). And, Baldwin and my soul tell me I can make a difference.

I’m using everything I have to accomplish my goal. I’ve shared my road to diagnosis in my first memoir and now I’m working on a second one about the coping skills I’ve developed. I’ve also stared speaking publicly again. Most recently, I addressed a public forum hosted by the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association in Michigan on 12/9. Here’s are two snippets from my speech.

What you need to know about autoimmune disease

Search for disease beyond the surface
#autoimmunedisease #invisibleillness #chronicillness #chronicpain #igg4 #disability #detroit #spoonie #africanamerican #women #jamesbaldwin

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Trapped in A Cycle of Harassment as a Chronically Ill Person

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Here’s the sad truth: I expected to face some workplace harassment when I entertained the entertainment/ journalism industry more than 20 years ago. As a woman and an African-American, I was frequently warned about colleagues who had racial biases, were physical aggressive, would continue to ask for a date or tell inappropriate “jokes.” I wasn’t warned that the chronic illness I was battling would subject me to harassment. It would also prevent me from simply leaving a toxic workplace.

Over the years, I’ve had managers ask me to give details about my illness in violation of my right to privacy. I’ve been questioned about the use of my time off, which a company benefit is provided to every employee. I’ve even had on boss suggest that I was upset about a staffing issues because of my “condition.” I’ve had to work shifts that were tough on my body because asking for an accommodation might make me a target. I’ve stayed when I was ill so no one could look at my hours and try to use short shifts against me. I’ve used my vacation time instead of sick leave or disability so that I didn’t take more time off per year than other co-workers. I’ve returned to work as quickly as possible after procedures so employers didn’t look for a reason to let me go. I had to be better at my job so there was no excuse to doubt my ability.

Other than complain I could do little about these egregious violations other than complain or speak up for myself. Until the Affordable Health Care Act was passed I couldn’t leave a job. Why? I was unable to by health coverage on my own due to my pre-existing condition.

The autoimmune disease that tore through my body robbed me of job choices. My industry was going in a freelance direction. But, with bills piling up and the need for continuous health care, I couldn’t afford to be without a steady paycheck. I couldn’t take unpaid time off. I couldn’t risk having to explain my illness to someone else. Therefore, I endured being victimized repeatedly. I forced myself to work despite frequently being over burden by work while my healthy co-workers took unlimited time off.

Not much has changed over time other than I am now aware that it’s hard to be a woman and to be African-American in my industry and this world. However, it’s even more difficult and lonely to be a chronically ill person in the workplace.

Originally published in the Huffington Post: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/trapped-in-a-cycle-of-harassment-as-a-chronically_us_5a1ecd72e4b00579aa29f91c

My Suffering Is Not In Vain

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I know for sure my suffering is not in vain. I used my experience to help someone after I was helped by a stranger. I got off the nj transit train from nj to NYC following an hour long trek caused by the bombing delay. I Exited onto slick, wet streets with my cane. An Amtrak employee waiting for a cab with his own cane and boot talked to me about the pain of navigating the city while handicapped then he told me to take his cab bc ladies go first and I had some where to be. Got to the HSS for a cervical nerve block and an older lady was there all alone and trembling. She was getting radio frequency ablation in her lumbar region and was scared. She heard the nurses greet me and realized I’d be there. She asked me question and I explained id had it before, we went over the procedure and I encouraged her to take the sedative. I calmed her until we both went into our operating rooms. When we came out she told me I was a friend to her. She had a driver, housekeeper and assistant but no one to pick her up. I chatted with her until my fiancé came to get me. She had money I’ve never known but i had what was really important: loved ones to care for me. I hope, for a time, she did too. #backpain #autoimmunedisease #chronicillness #randomactsofkindness

Journalism In Black and White

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America is in crisis; while my new Huffington post blog addresses the shootings in MN and LA, I’m equally sick over the assassination of innocent police officers in Dallas doing their job to protect and serve the public while they cried out for justice. We all bleed red. We all grieve for our loved ones. We all know violence is wrong. Just stop!

Please read and share my post:

Journalism in black and white

I stumbled over the printer in the rear of our newsroom, next to the reporters’ cubicles and overheard a heated discussion over the latest police involved shootings of that killed black men in Minnesota and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I kept my head down and my eyes on my papers so I wouldn’t be sucked into the conversation and unleash my outrage because I knew I’d be called upon to suppress my feelings and give a detached accounting of the latest updates in each case.

Initially, I looked at the rundown, and unlike yesterday when I viewed the closer angle of a hole being blown into the chest of a man in Louisiana, I was not attached to the Minnesota traffic stop incident; that was until my assignments changed. I knew for the rest of the day, I would have to behave as if wasn’t completely disgusted by inability of our states, nation to stop the slaughter of its own citizens.

I’d avoid looking at the Philando Castile video until I had to do so. I knew, just from the description, that there was simmering anger and disgust inside me. After watching what appears to be Alton Sterling’s execution, I couldn’t shake the thought that there was nothing that could be done to right this wrong; not even a conviction would change the fact that somebody’s son, brother, partner, and father had died senselessly. In one day his name and those of so many other seemingly innocent black men, left to die in the streets of the USA flooded my mind and now I was adding one more to the list. As I typed out my first draft of Mr. Castile’s story, I almost felt like I could almost substitute any of those names in my script and it would work and that scared me.

Yet, as I watched Mr. Castile clinging to life in his video, I wondered how to tell his story differently so that everyone could understand that no one, regardless of race, should be gunned down because of an inherent fear they didn’t create and can’t escape. No one should have their final moments play out on a TV screen exacerbating the anguish of their families. No one should have to defend their right to stand, drive or walk in this country.

As a journalist, I’m not allowed to inject my blackness into my stories; to provide the unique angle I’ve seen through my own eyes. I know the humiliation of being followed, questioned, ignored or unfairly hassled because of my skin color. I can’t give my opinion about how I think this epidemic should end. I can merely tell the facts. But, I can tell the stories and explain them accurately so that these atrocities aren’t hidden or forgotten. By doing so, hopefully everyone else will see the truth and demand change.

Link in Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/journalism-in-black-and-white_us_577fad2ee4b03288ddc622fa

Stop Telling Me I Look Good

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Bent over at practically a 45 degree angle, I made my way to the rear printer in near the reporter cubicles in my office with the help of my cane. I was leaning on it more than I had been in the previous few weeks. Still, I slapped a smile on my face and hid the excruciating pain I was feeling.

I collected the wire copy, video notes and background information for the stories I was scheduled to write for the noon newscast and began the trek back to my desk. I didn’t really look around to see who was talking just feet from me. Just then, I heard the voice of a co-worker who I don’t often come in contact with in person because he works the overnight shift while I work days. I tapped him and a broad smile crossed his lips.

He innocently said, “You look good,” with surprise in his voice.

“I’m sorry next time I’ll come to work disheveled so I really appear to be sick,” I joked.

“No,” he replied. “I just meant every time I see photos of you on Facebook you look sick because you’re usually in a hospital gown.”

“You’re right. I’m working on perfecting the art of making the gowns look sex. I’m not there yet so I figure I’ll make a few more doctors’ visits so I can keep trying.”

He just laughed and walked away but I contemplated our exchange. He was right. My status updates on Facebook often discuss my medical struggles so I’m either in a hospital or home in bed. Rarely do I show myself looking dressed or glammed up.

Perhaps I haven’t because the last three years of my life were consumed with a string of medical procedures: lymph node biopsies, stomach and nerve repair. Yet, my chronic illness is only part of my life, not all of it. In that instance, I realized I needed to do a better job of reflecting that reality so I no longer here that irritating phrase, “You don’t look sick.” The truth is I know I’m not the only person battling an illness who finds that so-called compliment irritating. It’s almost as annoying as “You look good.”

Why? It implies that you’re lying about the extent of your sickness. It cheapens what I’ve been through. It also seems that without visible evidence of the damage my illness has wrought people don’t think it’s affecting as much as they think it should. Or, it makes it sounds like, for some reason, I’m exaggerating my medical issues for sympathy.

What’s not understood is that maintaining a semi-normal appearance is about the only thing a sick person can control. So, I know I, strive to not let my condition steal my last shred of dignity by allowing me to look haggard, worn out or on the verge of death even if I am. For me, simply saying, “It’s good to see,” will suffice.

*originally published in the Huffington Post on 6/1/2016: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nika-c-beamon/stop-telling-me-i-look-good_b_10241754.html

Mixing Business and Friendship

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I’d often said I got to work and when I leave; that’s when my real life begins. But, that’s a lie. My private and personal life are firmly intertwined and that’s a blessing.

My aching back reminded me it was time to stand up and go for a walk around the office. So I sent my story notes to the furthest printer and set off to get them. I was going to update a triple stabbing, a shooting and a deadly limo accident. The tone set by assignments, my physical pain and my personal troubles left me In desperate need of something to lighten my mood. I thought a fist full of Red Hots for breakfast was a good start.
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Then, as I rounded the corner by the assignment desk I saw my co-worker, Lori Stokes, on the way out. She stopped me with a somber look on her face.
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"I read your blog," she said referring to my post, "Rising from the Depths of Despair."

“It was beautiful. You are an inspiration to all of us. I want you to know how much you are loved. You are not alone.”

Lori’s word brought up a flood of emotion and left me on the verge of tears. She didn’t know it but I wasn’t feeling great before that moment at all. It was one of my bad days racked with thoughts about my choices and circumstances that left me unmarried, childless, sickly and often concerned with money to stay on top of my medical bills.

As she headed home, I realized that I sometimes I don’t like my stories or how I am required to cover them but I love the people I work with on them. We are stand united in grief, in laughter, in celebrations of marriage and births and in the loss of fathers, mothers and siblings. We are always there for each other and that’s not just a co-worker relationship that’s friendship.

Rising from the Depth of Despair

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Quite frequently, I’m asked how I always manage to have a smile on my face despite all my medical problems. The truth is I don’t but oh how I wish that were true.

I hide the pain, discomfort, fear and anxiety I have about living with an autoimmune disease until I am alone in my home. I console myself because, deep down, I know no one can change the fact that there is no cure for what I have and I will be ill over and over again.

When I sink into the depths of despair I see nothing but a past filled with agony, dread, and wasted promise. The depression about my helplessness somehow gives me amnesia about all my accomplishments, all the joy in my world.

I wail in my room trying to expel my anger and rage for being trapped in a frail body. I sit up, alone in the darkness, night after night waiting for morning. I toss and turn, haunted by choices or lack of them, like how far can I move away from a hospital? What can I wear that will hide my ice packs or my surgical scars? When no real answers come, I drop to my knees and pray. I don’t ask to be healed but for the power to endure.

In the throes of my struggle to release myself from my repetitive hell, I try to convince myself there are brighter days ahead. I repeat mantras to myself: “don’t give up,” “You have a strong mind and that’s greater than a weak body,” “You are greater than your condition,” “You are tough and independent so you never give in;” and “You have too much left to do to let this beat you.” Eventually, I get sick of my own self-pity and my thoughts shift to finding a way how I can thrive even when my body does not. Only then am I able to clear my mind and I sleep; that is my seed of hope for the next day.

I covet that seed and I pray every night before I sleep that it will grow. And, it does slowly, allowing each day to be easier than the one before. I go from sitting on the toilet to style my chair and brush my teeth to standing while I do it all.

Finally, when I can walk with my chin up, tears dried, regrets buried, pain muffled, fear repressed, and body stitched together as best as I and my doctors can; I resume my “I’m just like everyone else” routine. I begin again, knowing that any time; I could be in the depths of despair again but I can and will rise above it, slowly