About three weeks ago, I found out my body was dying. Like, actually dying. Fibroid tumors, tumors that grow in fibroids, also known as uterine myomas, leiomyomas, or fibromas. They are firm, compact tumors that are made of smooth muscle cells and fibrous connective tissue that develop in the uterus. More than 99 percent that are found are non life-threatening. Ah, finally, for once I am in the 1%.
Before I went into my surgery, they told me my body was shutting down.
My organs were failing. Weeks before I found out, I was going through a very sudden very intense depression. I would wake up crying. I would trudge through my day, and I would fall asleep crying. My body was telling me. It was warning me. Sadly, this was not my first warning.
It has been a year full of supplements, drugs and acupuncture. My iron levels were so low (I was at a 4 and 12-16 is a healthy range) that I would go to iron infusions then do two shows after. It’s been a year since I’ve had gluten, dairy, beef, chicken, soy, or caffeine. I do my show, I go home. The hormones have done a number on my sanity and my voice, and I have lost almost 20 pounds, as I will go through days with no appetite.
And the pain. Oh, the pain. The tumors were pushing my organs all around and it would often stop me in my tracks. Sleeping was such a joke that just stepping into my bedroom gave me heart-humoring anxiety. I had extreme case anemia which left me feeling like I was constantly in ice. My white blood cell count was so low that I caught any cold within arm’s reach. I even suffered a small seizure after the Tony Awards. My brain could not retain information. I was losing my hair. I constantly felt like I had just been Dementor’s Kissed. One day on the train, my skirt literally just fell off. Still, I did not stop.
There are many parts to my story, too many to tell here. Too many to tell it all in one go. For today, I will not write about my anger at lack of research when it comes to women’s health… especially Black women’s health. I will not discuss the power of food, or the toxins in things marketed to women since birth: makeup, perfumed products and both diet food and drinks. That disability is $174 a week, or what happens when you are forced to face your demons in stillness without wine, drugs, instaworthy-pat-yourself-on-the-back-look-what-I-accomplished selfies, or constant motion. Those will come, but not right now.
Today, I want to tell you how I broke. Let me tell you, I share my story as I am still trudging through the thick of it.
This article will not end with Rocky fighting Apollo Creed. The Mighty Ducks have yet to defeat the Hawks, and the first Jamaican bobsled still doesn’t work. One of my favorite authors Brene Brown speaks about the danger of not telling that story in between.
We like to hear the shortened comeback underdog story: I was face down in the dirt and I fixed it and look how great I am now. But rarely do we hear (or want to hear) about the most important part, that uncomfortable, terrifying, dark part between having your face in the dirt to fighting and exploring your way back into the sunshine.
We live in a culture that tells us we are not enough. A lion could attack you, you could fight him off with your bare hands. You’ll stand there with blood and dirt in your hair and on your skin, sweat dripping down your chin yet if you open Instagram see that someone else fought two lions that day and you figure what you did was not enough…
I have accomplished so much in my life, yet it is never enough. I base my worth on how many jobs I book, things I can accomplish, temporary visitors I want to impress and I collect and hoard ‘yes’-es from strangers behind a table like precious lifelines. When I miss friends, I tag them in posts, send selfies or mostly think about them without reaching out.
I don’t return calls. I miss parties. I do not listen when people speak. I make lists upon lists upon lists, all of which were impossible to complete. I kiss my husband in passing, not fully enjoying the pure existence of him and the love we are both so fortunate to have.
I have not had a good night’s sleep in years. I had a miscarriage and went to work a few hours later.
When they told me a few weeks ago that my MRI had some abnormalities and I needed to come back right away, I told them I couldn’t come in because I had an eyelash appointment and a callback. Even as I write this, I wonder how it could affect my career. “I. Was. Broken. But I am Vasthy.” I am the strongest, I am funny. Best not show them anything else.
I stumbled upon the “on this day” section on Instagram today and a smiley picture of my friend Lauralyn and I from last year came up. I remember that day so well. I was being swung out of SpongeBob for the first time. It was the first night I’d had off in as long as I could remember. That was the day. The day I realized I hadn’t been hungry in weeks and that my clothes were starting to feel loose. When I look back, what breaks my heart the most is that it took me so long to see.
I wish they taught self care, meditation and stillness in school. I wish they expressed how integral it is to the work you do as an artist and how the American Dream is an exhausting one.
How important connection is, especially the connection with yourself. I mean, isn’t that how you create the best art anyways?
I am told I have two choices right now. Stay the same and have a short life, or change the way I have been operating since I was 13. If I’m completely honest, they are both equally terrifying.
For now I’ll say this, my dear artists (especially the ones who have been doing this for a while and have forgotten how far we have come): we decided to leave home and all that was comforting to us and move to one of the most expensive, intimidating cities in the world… to be an artist. That is some brave shit.
You are brave. We are brave. You are enough.
We have to say that every day. We have to take care of ourselves every day, mentally and physically. We have to be proud every day, especially when people or the business break your heart, and they will. We have to check in every day with why we moved here in the first place and why we are still here. My recommendation is to love and connect with the people around you. It’s all so short and in the end you will not remember who said no, how many likes that selfie got, or who saw your Insta Story.
You’ll remember the journey, the love and the connections. Because if you break, and you see who shows up, it all becomes very clear. I do not wish for anyone to break. It’s messy in here, but I plan to survive and I plan to write and use it all to create. I hope it helps my fellow strong broken ones.
Also by The Ensemblist:
Published in collaboration with The Ensemblist