Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Looking Back, Saying Goodbye, and Staying Healthy in 2018

(Gunnuhver, Iceland)

2017 was an immensely difficult year for me, for many reasons. Every time I sat in front of my computer and attempted to blog, words jumbled together in my head. I didn't have anything to say that didn't sound superficial, and I had no desire to share my private, often painful experiences so publicly. All in all, I no longer enjoyed the idea of having strangers read about my personal life.

Aside from wanting to keep my personal life off social media, my family went through a number of severe health scares in 2017 that I find myself still coming to terms with. I believe I will always have trouble putting these experiences into words, but it doesn't feel right avoiding them entirely, as they marked two major transitionary periods in my life. Before I post another book review or travel post, I feel that I owe my friends and readers a bit of transparency, something we often do not see online.

The first health scare happened in February, a day before my 21st birthday when I fell off a motorbike in Yangshuo, China. I was immediately taken to a hospital (more of a clinic) where I was treated for cuts and bruises, and given 10 stitches on a deep wound just an inch away from my left eye. The next few days were a blur. I was in pain, could barely open my left eye, and was in the worst state possible to be celebrating a 21st birthday.

My mom, being my #1 support system, was devastated after hearing about the accident. She actually flew to Shanghai to make sure I was okay. She told me, after seeing a picture of my black eye and bruised face, that she banged her head repeatedly on a table. I imagined the absurdity of that image: my mom sitting alone in a room, gripping the edge of a wooden table and hitting her forehead over and over again like a madwoman.

“Why?” She must have begged God. “Why did you let this happen to my daughter?”

The physical recovery period took about 6 months and the scar has finally faded to a dull baby pink, but the emotional trauma of that experience took much longer to overcome—for both myself and my parents. Looking back on that experience now, I realize the accident could have been way worse. I could have lost an eye or broken a bone. Despite how we appear on the surface, self-esteem comes from a genuine contentment with life and a happiness within oneself. This is something that I had to learn on my own.

Fast forward to August. I was in New York City at the time, interning and enjoying being back in the city. Yes, our country was going through a hell of a time. Diversity took a backseat to deep-rooted hatred and violence. Women were forced to lay bare their trauma in order to prove that our cultural norms foster sexual assault. We decided not to protect a free and open internet. But despite these terrible events happening in America, I was still thankful; at least my family and I were healthy.

It was a Thursday night when I got the call from my dad. He told me he had waited a few days to call because he didn't want to scare me. But because he had no idea what was going to happen, he felt he should finally come clean: my mom had a hemorrhagic stroke.

Suddenly, all of my worries and frustrations—everything from the national news, to having to move apartments three times, to starting my last semester in college—disappeared. Nothing mattered anymore, except for the fact that my 56-year-old mom was in the hospital and we weren't sure if she was going to make it.

In the time between Thursday and my flight home on Tuesday, everything seemed to move in slow motion. I threw things, I banged my head on a table, I yelled at people I loved. I prayed to a God that I have never believed in. You could say that I was a zombie, because that is absolutely how I felt.

A number of MRIs and tests were done in the two weeks that I was home. The first MRI showed about a quarter-size bleed on my mom's right frontal lobe, a second one 5 minutes later showed that her brain was 90% full of blood and that nothing surgical could be done. My mom was transferred to Neuro ICU to wait for the swelling to go down. Her brain continued to swell for weeks while she was in a medically-induced coma, even after I had flown back to New York City to start my last semester of college.

A month later, my mom woke up in the ICU and immediately started writing with a pen. Her left side was completely paralyzed, but her mental capabilities were still intact. I flew home again in October to see her, and finally in December for winter break. As of now, my mom is learning how to walk again with a cane and doing physical, occupational, and speech therapy every week. She's returned with a refreshing sense of humor, an optimistic outlook, and a new purpose in life: to stay healthy and to get better.

2017 was tough. It really, really was. However, I'm choosing to look back on last year as a learning experience with a few important lessons:
  • Emotions (esp. showing emotions in public) do not make a person weak
  • You absolutely cannot rely on someone else to bring you happiness or support
  • Everything painful in life is a reminder not to take anyone or anything for granted
These all seem pretty self-explanatory, but these are lessons that I benefited from. No matter what life hurls at your face and then continues to hurl, there are always places and people to be thankful for.

So with that, goodbye tough year. Hello, 2018. I will not take you for granted.