The Problem with Words

As I was seeing beautiful black and white pictures of women for the #challengeaccepted posts on Instagram, I decided to use it as an opportunity to post the ugly things I’ve been told over the years. I know it shocked some people because my picture was cute but the words below it were tough to see. I felt it was important to express how words can be so damaging to a person’s psyche.

I kept it short on Instagram but decided to expand on it to see how far I’ve come in my own healing and thinking. No one should be told these things. I don’t know why I had to be the person on the receiving end of such hate and ignorance. It’s unfair. It’s unjust. It’s painful. It’s a problem with words.

I’ve been called a nigger.
I’ve been called ugly.
I’ve been called fat by men.
I’ve been called stupid by a teacher.
I’ve been called stupid by an employer.

I’ve been told I will fail.
I’ve been told I don’t matter.
I’ve been told I don’t exist.
I’ve been told I don’t belong.
I’ve been told I’m a sellout.

I’ve been called too emotional.
I’ve been called weak.
I’ve been called an Oreo.
I’ve been called unfeeling.
I’ve been called a valley girl.

I’ve been told I act too white.
I’ve been told I dress too white.
I’ve been told I’m not loveable.
I’ve been told I speak so well.
I’ve been told I’m not black enough.

My psyche has been systematically torn to pieces for 20+ years by the ignorance and racism from whites and blacks that started in my hometown of Macon, GA and has followed me through the years as a young adult and in the professional world. I reread my journal this morning from senior year of high school in 1995 and still have a visceral reaction to my words.

The pain of not being accepted.

The pain of being bullied.

The pain of desperately wanting to leave the south.

I never felt I belonged anywhere until the college years, especially junior and senior years at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY. That’s why I hold onto my college memories so fiercely because I found a group of friends so eclectic, smart, clever, and so accepting that I felt safe to be authentically me at that time. I’m glad I have scrapbooks and multiple photo albums that captured the fun times and great opportunities from that magical time in my life.

I honestly thought once I became a working adult that my work ethic and merit would get me ahead. As more years went by, the more oppressed and defeated I became. I would be told I’m an “expert,” yet companies could never find the money to give me a proper raise. They would be shocked when I turned in my resignation and then have the nerve to ask, “Is there anything we can do to keep you from leaving?”

I had been carrying all that negativity from racism, oppression, and feelings of inferiority on my back for so many years that I lost complete faith in my abilities and talent. I used to think it was a cruel joke that I received multiple awards in high school and college. I was constantly told I would be going places because of my talent. It turned out none of it counted in the “real world.”

My cancer experience redefined me. It helped to rediscover my voice that had been silenced for so long that I thought it was lost forever. I’ll never consider cancer a gift, but it was an opportunity to rediscover the things that once brought me true joy. Yet, I was still playing it too safe. I wasn’t fully taking back what control I had left over my life. I was remaining comfortable in the uncomfortable; still too paralyzed to make any serious moves.

It took a pandemic to force me to pause and pivot not just my career but also my mindset. Rereading that journal from my 17-18-year-old self this morning reminded me how much I’ve carried the hurt from people’s words that ultimately turned me into a shell of my former myself.

I’ve had a resurgence of my passions and confidence while rekindling old friendships and cultivating new and profound friendships. My mindset changed once I fully began to believe in myself and know my worth thanks to a lot of help from my friends. I’m blessed to have so many people continue to lift me up even when I’ve doubted myself all these years.

So, here’s what I repeat to myself now that I’ve shed that cloak of negativity that was suffocating me.

I AM intelligent.
I AM talented.
I AM worthy.
I AM inspirational.
I AM feminine.

I AM a writer.
I AM a performer.
I AM a Nut-Meg.
I AM a talker.
I AM a powerhouse.

I AM loving.
I AM sensitive.
I AM giving.
I AM kind.
I AM enough.

My newfound armor continues to grow thicker each day, so insulting or hateful words or rude comments no longer sting. They smoothly roll off my back.

I am different and always will be. And you know what? That is OKAY.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

And I Rise Up

I was in serious danger of losing myself. I haven’t been true to myself in years, especially once I began working after college. I was literally shrinking myself to fit in these impossibly confined spaces that were never meant to hold a force like me.

I did what I was told.

I followed the rules.

I didn’t take any risks.

Anyone who knows me whether in person or online knows that I am definitely a tad extra, expressive, creative, and dramatic. My dream since I was a little girl was to be an actress. I’ve always felt at home on the stage. So, when I didn’t follow my heart and try to make it as an actress, the disappointment in myself eventually suffocated me.

Each time I walked through the office door of my corporate jobs over the years, tiny parts of me died until it became larger chunks, and then ultimately my entire spirit died. I had a huge collection of various musicals on cd. I had thrown all of them away except my three all-time favorites – Rent, Jekyll and Hyde, and Chicago. I thought my days to be creative and fuel my soul doing things that mattered to me permanently were gone.

Why did it take a pandemic to force me out of the coffin and restore life back into me? I thought going through breast cancer and all the ongoing complications from it would’ve pushed me to follow my dreams, but no. The fear of being without decent health insurance sucked the life out of me.

This forced pause by the world and not by my body is what breathed life into me again. I’ve been networking in a way I didn’t have the confidence to do prior to COVID-19. I no longer wanted to put myself in job situations where I would be utterly miserable but feel forced to accept it for a paycheck and insurance.  

When would I finally rise up and be who I was meant to be?

That time has come. I didn’t realize the transformation from death to life had been taking place until this week. Others have believed me for years, but I didn’t believe in myself enough to do anything about it until now. Once I began asking others for help and suggestions, I couldn’t believe the sheer number of people who have been willing to take the time from their schedules to chat and brainstorm ideas with me.

Since this transformation, the following things have happened with more in the works:

I was in the NY Times.

I was in People magazine.

I landed my first part-time freelance job with a clinical trial company in Europe.

I landed my first paid speaking engagement for an upcoming panel about the lack of diversity in clinical trials.

I auditioned for my first ever voiceover job and got it.

I’m finally taking some risks in order to pursue what fuels my many passions and feel deeply empowered. It’s hard to describe the feeling. My smile has been exhausted but genuine in the past few weeks. I see a glow in my face. It’s like the light has been turned back on.

It was once so hard to breathe, but I now rise up in a way I never have before with new purpose, vision, determination, and belief in myself. I give myself permission to accept that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes but to continue to rise up. I’m finally being true to who I am. 

I

AM

ENOUGH.

These are the two songs and quotes that inspired today’s blog piece

Rise Up by Andra Day and  Who You Are by Jessie J

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

I’m Still Here

My birthday was July 3rd. I remember when I was young, I used to think I was just like the astrological sign Cancer. I thought it was fitting that I was born under this sign because I have so many of the characteristics. The irony is not only was I born under the Cancer sign; my body literally became a cancer two months after my 39th birthday in 2015.

Photo credit: horoscope.com

I think about my birthday differently ever since my diagnosis of stage IIA invasive lobular breast cancer. There’s an additional layer of heaviness with each year that wasn’t as thick pre-cancer. I can’t help but think about all the cancer warriors who didn’t get to live to their next birthday. Once you’re inducted into the cancer sorority or fraternity, it’s impossible to not be plagued by survivor’s guilt.

Why am I still here? Do I have an invisible expiration date stamped on my body?

I’ve seen so much death in cancerland. Some of us have experienced wrath from a few of those who are metastatic (stage IV) who get triggered when we complain about something in our lives post-cancer. “At least you don’t have stage IV and not dying,” is what some will often say. It’s important to not compare our cancer experiences with others because you have no idea what all they have been through up to this point. While it may not be stage IV cancer, there are other things experienced that are uncertain, frustrating, and could eventually become deadly.

What they don’t know is my story and how I nearly died at birth.

What they don’t know is how I sick I was as a child, constantly fighting off infections and hospitalized multiple times.

What they don’t know is how I’ve known I would get cancer since I was 18 but just couldn’t be sure of when and what type.

What they don’t know is the grief I feel daily over not being married and having a family.

What they don’t know is all the death I’ve seen from cancer before I was even 12 years old.

What they don’t know is my mother has had a rare blood cancer for the past 20+ years and it’s currently progressing.

From the moment I was born three months early, I have been fighting to continue living in this world. It took my parents eight years to conceive. I am an IVF baby. My mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer during the pregnancy. The doctors wanted her to have a therapeutic abortion because they said there’s no way both of us would survive this pregnancy. Their prediction was one of us or both of us would die.

When I made my grand entrance into the world, it wasn’t filled with excitement. It was filled with urgency and worry that my mother and I would die. My mother started hemorrhaging to death which is why an emergency cesarean was performed. Everyone was panicked because I wasn’t supposed to be born until the last week of October, but here I was coming out in July.

I was born 1lb 5oz at St. Luke’s Hospital in Davenport, IA. My parents didn’t even get to hold me because I was immediately rushed into ICU because I wasn’t breathing. My lungs had collapsed. Once the doctors got me breathing, I began to have grand mal seizures. After two months in the ICU, they discovered I had a benign fibrous histiocytoma in my right leg which was surgically removed. According to Google, fibrous histiocytoma is a benign soft tissue tumor that may present as a fibrous mass anywhere in the human body.

My body experienced trauma from day one and has never stopped. While I’ve never been surprised that I got cancer, I was surprised that I got in my late 30’s. The trauma continues with permanent damage and scars from cancer treatments and eight surgeries. It makes sense that I have fibromyalgia, too. I honestly believe this would’ve occurred later in life but was triggered thanks to chemo. I’ve had pneumonia twice as a child and twice as an adult.

The list goes on and on.

The physical and mental pain goes on and on.

So, why am I still here when others have died too young or have families who need them? I honestly don’t know. It is a shame that it took getting cancer to shake me out of simply existing to truly start living with purpose. The past year of my life was a little more difficult than I was prepared for, but my inherent resilience keeps pushing me forward, even when I don’t necessarily want to.

While I wait for my invisible expiration date to appear, I refuse to give up. I don’t to die on a bed of regrets. The song I’m Still Here by Sia perfectly sums up my thoughts at this moment because

I

AM

STILL

HERE.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

How Dark Am I?

I have repressed memories from childhood of the racism I’ve experienced. It’s the memories of the self-hate that seep into my mind. There are so many stories to share of when I first noticed I was different. I don’t mean quirky different. I’m mean when I noticed I was a different color that wasn’t found in my crayon box.

There was a time I loved the outdoors. I could lay in the sun, hike, play tag or kickball with friends all day. I loved soaking up the sun and smelling it on my skin.

Many of my white friends have always complain about being too pale or pasty and needing to tan. I wanted to be like them and tan too, but I was already brown. Did I really want to get even darker?

Me in my teens at the beach

I cringe even writing this. The self-hate is so evident. That fact I’m only recognizing this now shows how deeply rooted these feelings are in me.

Then I had another thought. If my white friends ever woke up my skin color, they would lose their ever-loving minds. Isn’t that what they want though? To be darker? As they want to get darker, I’ve always wanted to get lighter.

Many white people, even in 2020, don’t realize that black people of any shade can get sunburn just like them. I remember the first time I got sunburn when I was a teen and some of my white friends were fascinated by the fact my neck, shoulders, and back turned red and then peeled…just like them. “I didn’t know black people could get sunburn,” they would say. When I think back to that moment, I wonder if I purposely laid out in the sun until I burned so I could show I was just like them – them being white.

Now, I’m rarely in the sun. If I am, I always have a hat and sunscreen on. I’ve even used skin lightening cream in the past, which obviously didn’t work.

I remember when I was selected to go to Georgia Girls State at Middle Georgia College in Cochran, GA in the summer before my senior year of high school. I was so excited. There was a time I thought I might major in political science. My roommate was a black girl who was darker than me. She was kind of standoffish at first. I was slightly uncomfortable because I hadn’t been around many other black girls, let alone have one for a roommate. I acted like my usual zany self and eventually won her over. She kept saying I was “different,” but it didn’t sound like a compliment. She even wrote it on my banner at the end of the week. It felt more like she was saying you don’t act like a typical black girl, whatever that means. I’ve experienced this a lot in my life, even now.

Roommate’s comment – she spelled my name wrong. 🙂

Well, I was selected to take part in the mock trial. It was a big deal. They only selected three students to be the defendants and I was the only black one. I got to work with a judge, district attorney, defense attorney, chief of police, and a G.B.I. agent (Georgia Bureau of Investigations) to prepare for the mock trial. We even got to go off campus to film “the crime.” The jury was made up of students. I was the innocent friend who happened to get caught with the other two defendants. I had to tell the jury how I knew the defendants and what we were doing before “the crime.” The mock trial was held in the auditorium where the rest of the general assembly (all the students) were in the audience.

GA Girl’s State Mock Trial Cast – My given name is Megan Hester

I said we were at the beach just laying out before deciding to leave. When I uttered that sentence, I heard snickers from the black girls in the audience. When the mock trial was over, some of them asked why I would be laying out in the sun to get darker. They said, “Black people don’t do that.

That’s how deep systemic racism is in America. As blacks, every single one of us are aware that during slavery the light-skinned slaves got to stay in the slave owner’s house while the dark-skinned slaves had to be in the field. So, we inherently know that being lighter is seen as less threatening and aesthetically beautiful.

I continue working on my own Mixed Fragility and admit I’m struggling. Each time I look in the mirror, the first thing I notice aside from the chemo curly hair is my nose. It’s large. It’s not dainty like my mother’s. I’ve always compared my features to my mother who is biracial. We look nothing alike, yet white people always say we do because blacks often “all look alike” in their eyes. When I look at one my favorite pictures with my mother from when I was 10 years old, the difference is striking. I’ve always hated that I favor my father’s side who are dark-skinned and not my mother’s side.

10 year old Megan and Mother

What shades are considered light, medium, or dark? Where do I fall in the spectrum? I have a visceral reaction when someone in the black or white community calls me dark. I immediately take it to mean I am not considered attractive. How warped and heartbreaking is that? Will my exact skin color ever be seen in our society as beautiful and desired?

Just how dark am I?

Me on Wed 6/24/20

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie