Category Archives: women’s health

MLK and Mental Illness


mlk-dream-bannerI went to church yesterday. As is usual with most Unitarian Universalist churches, the day was spent in reflection of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Those of us who are caucasian pinned pink ribbons to our tops, a reminder for the day that people are treated differently because of their skin tone and that as caucasians, we have a duty to acknowledge our ancestors’ history and challenge injustice whenever we witness it. I had planned to pen an elaborate post regarding my thoughts on the service.

Then I had a mental health episode. It was a rough night, and I struggled with old coping mechanisms such as self-injury and alcohol. This is not the life that I want to lead, and I recommit myself to my overall health – including my spiritual and mental health.

Today I began to wonder, what would Dr. King say about how we treat the mentally ill in this country. I found this blog and wasn’t surprised to learn that Dr. King himself often battled with depression. People who are challenged with mental illness tend to be some of the most self-reflective and empathetic people you will ever meet. It’s not lost on me that someone like MLK who spent his life thinking deeply about injustice would struggle with the psychological impact of such a dreary reality.

There is still a stigma against the mentally ill. I could never compare this to the experience that African Americans have had in this society. Yet I’m compelled to call out injustice wherever I see it, for mental illness is something that does not discriminate based on the color of your skin. If we know that mental illness is stigmatize, and that racial minorities are discriminated against, one would shudder at the injustice of mental illness within those communities. Unfortunately, culturally speaking, some groups balk even more at the thought of mental health treatment. My husband is from India and there’s a long history of denying the need for therapy and that one should fix things on their own, which is a damaging and dangerous perspective. Damaging because it belittles those of us who seek help. Dangerous because it suggests a path that almost always fails.

We need to speak out in all of our communities that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, rather it’s something that many of us will experience at some point in our lives, just like MLK did. There is no weakness in asking for help as it is true strength and courage that allows you to recognize that you can’t do it alone. Growing up, we’re not taught to deal with these issues, so we need to learn from those who can help us. Regardless of our backgrounds, there is a counselor that can meet our needs.

If you need any support in exploring these issues, please reach out to me. I’m listening.

This Is Me


me-before-after

Greetings, friends! Sorry it has been so long since I have posted, but as you can see, I’ve been busy focusing on myself and my health over the past year. But, with my previous post, I’m taking the opportunity to start writing more, both on this site and in novel form – all of course while still focusing on improving my health.

I would like to add a little bit about myself that I haven’t revealed before. My pen name is J.B. Stilwell, but my real name is Jimel Razdan. I was born in Huntington, WV, which is a fact that I’m quite proud of even in the face of getting extremely saddened when I visit my home. The economic conditions, not to mention the crime and drug issues, make me weep for my birth community.

I hope to post more about my life in the Huntington area, my life as Jimel writing as J.B., and what it’s like being an Appalachian transplant in a Midwestern metropolitan area.

I hope that you all had festive holidays and will have a healthy and prosperous new year!

Getting Real about Getting Healthy


hope concept

Much has happened since we moved to the Chicago area.

I spent a month on the couch in severe pain. Testing showed that I had ovarian cysts and a tumor, which required surgery. After the surgery, we learned that I have Stage IV endometriosis. During the first surgery, much of the endometrial tissue was removed, along with my left ovary and fallopian tube. Unfortunately, since I’m Stage IV, I still experience continual discomfort with random episodes of sharp stabbing pain. To treat this, I will be having a full hysterectomy in January, which will mean six to eight weeks of more healing time.

Given my physical health challenges and a familial episode that was sparked by my sometimes illogical sense of aggravation, I decided it was past time to really be serious about my overall health–for my benefit and my family’s benefit, particularly my daughter, Maya, because she deserves a healthy and happy mom. To this end, I decided to accept the diagnosis I was given when I was twenty-six. I went to a psychiatrist for re-evaluation and was finally honest about some things that I had never told a mental healthcare worker before–specifically about my compulsive spending, days of elevated irritability, and episodes where things seem to explode and my behavior becomes erratic (which often leads to self-injury). The psychiatrist confirmed what I was told fourteen years ago–I have bipolar II with hypomania. I’m not rejecting the diagnosis anymore.

For now, I’m on new medicine, and so far the change has been so amazing, I’m mentally kicking myself for not doing this sooner. Of course I will likely have to fight the urge that I had so many years ago–once I feel good for a while, I will need to resist the urge to convince myself that there’s nothing really wrong with me, those episodes were just me having a “bad day.” More recently I had justified all of this by saying that I had an intolerance for a**holes. Like I told the psychiatrist, with so many different episodes with different people, the only common denominator was ME. Therefore, I need to get over myself and accept the fact that I’m the one with the issue so I can treat it and go on with my life.

So that’s what I’m doing. As you can expect, you will read much more about my journey in upcoming posts. Until then, health and blessings to all.

Losing My Choice


bloody background with a knife

I hadn’t planned to have surgery when we moved to the Chicago area. Unfortunately, my body decided NOW was the time to resolve an issue that I didn’t even know that I had.

A couple of weeks after arriving at my sister-in-law’s, I began having unbearable pain on the left side of my abdomen. At first the pain was just annoying, so I didn’t think much of it. Slowly it became bad enough that I spent most of my time on the couch with a heating pad wrapped around my belly. I began feeling like so much pressure was building up that my body would explode like a macabre pressure cooker. I finally gave in and told my husband that I needed to go to the emergency room (I grew up “learning” that you only seek medical attention if it’s absolutely necessary because healthcare is expensive, yo!).

After almost four hours of blood tests and a CT scan, I returned home with the cryptic knowledge that I had a mass around my left ovary that was three inches in diameter – according to the doctor, “about the size of a clementine orange.” Part of the mass was cystic, with which is unfortunately something I am familiar. The other part of the mass was solid – no telling exactly what it was with only a CT scan. Cue panic. My family has a long history of female cancers, so not knowing what was growing inside of me caused me a great deal of mental discomfort. However, I kept reminding myself of something important – the women in my family are unbelievably strong and always beat cancer. I took a great deal of comfort in thinking of my 11-year-old niece Megan who has beat AML leukemia twice. Yes, we come from strong stuff – if it’s cancer, I’ll beat it!

I had many follow-up appointments, two ultrasounds, and an appointment with an OB-GYN surgeon. All during this time, the pain was so intense that I stayed medicated on pain pills most of the time. Even when I was “numb,” I would lie in bed, roll over onto my left side and feel a hard ball pressing against my insides. To add to this discomfort, the ultrasounds showed that the mass was pushing against my uterus in such a way that my uterus was in an “S” shape, to which I spastically thought, “Hey, maybe I’m turning into Super Girl.” Yeah, not so much.

Thankfully my blood tests showed no markers for cancer which was a shining beacon of relief in my fog of pain and hydrocodone. Still the surgeon laid it out straight – the mass was solid, meaning my body wouldn’t absorb it. I needed to have it surgically removed. Originally my surgery was scheduled three weeks out, but after hearing my pleas about the pain – and having to have an increase in pain medicine – my surgeon arranged his schedule so I could have the surgery as soon as possible.

I was eerily calm about the surgery, much more so than my husband. I’ve had abdominal surgery before, and aside from general anesthesia nauseating me, I had no fears about the procedure itself. As life would have it, what we learned after the surgery was the scary part.

In my surgeon’s words, internally the surgery was “very traumatic.” Before the surgery all we knew was that I had a mass. We didn’t really know what the mass was until he got in there poking around in my guts. Internally very traumatic meant that the surgeon had a lot of work to do. The mass was endometrial tissue  that had been growing outside of my uterus, along with scar tissue that my body had developed in an attempt to protect the surrounding organs. The tissue had amassed so much that it fused with my colon. With the intent of removing all of the bad tissue and preserving my colon, my left ovary and fallopian tube were destroyed. I was interestingly okay with this. In my head I was thinking, “I still have my right ovary and uterus, so all is well.” Maybe not so much.

A week after the surgery I had my follow-up appointment with the surgeon to discuss in depth what it all means. The good news, no cancer. The bad news, I have Stage IV endometriosis. Given that my husband and I had been talking about the possibility of having another child, the prognosis is horrible. The surgeon gave me options, none of which are ideal. For temporary relief I can either get pregnant or begin medication that will throw me into menopause. The pregnancy part is risky because given the extent of the endometriosis, I need to get pregnant within six months, and I have only a 10% chance of doing so without medical assistance (such as IVF). The medication that would put me into menopause comes with all of the delightful side effects that “the change” has to offer – hot flashes, mood swings, depression (hello! I’m already mentally ill, don’t need more, m’kay?). These options are considered temporary treatments because after the theoretical baby is born or if I would stop the medication, the endometrial tissue would start growing again every month when Aunt Flo visits.

The last option is permanent and irreversible in that I would no longer suffer from endometriosis pain again, but I would also never have kids – a full hysterectomy. When he told me this, I cried uncontrollably. So many different thoughts crashed through me, all revolving around one main theme – if I have a hysterectomy, I no longer have a choice about getting pregnant. Something about not having a choice in the matter made me feel like I was being psychologically and physically violated by my own body. Unlike other instances, I can’t get away from my abuser because my abuser is ME…well, at least a part of me.

The surgeon wrapped things up by telling me that if I did nothing and just managed the pain, I would likely require surgery again within five years. Not exactly something to look forward to for the future.

Dealing with this has been beyond challenging. I went to the ER on July 21 and had my surgery on August 31 – over a month in pain before I got some relief. I’m still recovering, but the post-op discomfort is a randy party compared to the pre-op anguish. I’m still processing all of it. I foresee more blog posts focused on issues such as this that affect women, and how we deal with them socially and psychologically (because hey, that’s how I psychologically deal with it…I write about it).

For readers of my work, I have been slowing working on projects during all of this, but obviously not as much. I’m also editing and proofreading novels for Booktrope Publishing – an exciting addition to my artistic inclinations. I will post more about those as novels get published. Until then, check out Booktrope’s website for more info on lots of great books.

Blessings and healing to all.

Powering through the Pain


hope concept

I had every intention to post the second part of my blog series “My Life Beyond Fat.” Unfortunately, my body had other plans.

I have been having severe abdominal pain for a while and ended up in the emergency room a few nights ago. After ER testing and follow-up ultrasound with my doctor, they confirmed that I have a 3.5 inch mass around my left ovary. The mass consists of two simple cysts and one complex, solid cyst that has the features of an endometrioma. I have a follow up with a specialist on Tuesday, which will probably mean an MRI. If it is confirmed endometrioma, surgery is likely along with a biopsy to confirm that it is benign. Until then, pain management…which means lots of pain meds, chamomile tea, laying around, and reading. It also means that I’m getting seriously behind on writing and editing work. That stuff can wait. I want this orange size thing out of my body!

Thank the Goddess we’re in the Chicago area now, close to family who is helping to take care of me. Wowza. My husband suggested that surely it didn’t hurt that much. I suggested that he stand close enough so I could grab his junk and twist it as hard as I could…then he would know exactly how much it hurt. *wink*