In June of 2018, I was smack-dab in the middle of promoting my first children’s book when I had to stop everything to deal with what turned out to be pretty extensive damage from black mold in my kitchen. I had just come home from Denver Comicon and we had 48 hours to pack up and get out of our house. We came home briefly a couple of times but all in all, the mold clean-up and repairs took 8 weeks so basically, the entire summer.
Yes, the mold thing sucked, but there was something much, much worse that we were dealing with that slowly began about a year and half prior to this “forced vacation” which all came to the surface just one month before the black mold discovery, and it was in our family. My son had spent all of 2017 and the first half of 2018 feeling like he was on the edge of remembering something traumatic that happened to him as a child but just couldn’t access the memories and in May of 2018, with the help of a lot of therapy and a lot of meditation to calm his brain, he finally remembered and it was bad. Real bad. (He is okay now and figuring out positive ways to help himself cope.) His memories are not my story to tell, but what happened to me as a result of it is something I would like to share.
The first thing that happened to me following Denver Comic Con and temporarily moving out of our house was getting an awful sinus infection (unrelated to the black mold, thank jeebus.) We stayed in one home after another (thanks to our generous friends) while we waited for the black mold to be cleaned out of our house, and through it all, I continued to reel from the memories my son shared with me, still sick, and unable to sleep. Then one night out of total exhaustion, I fell asleep and woke up 8 hours later. I felt so rested for the first time in weeks! But when I went to move, I discovered I’d slept those 8 solid hours only on my left side, with my shoulder shrugged up, and all the muscles around it were in total spasm.
I had spent that summer having countless long talks with my son, sorting through his awful memories that are old, yet new, while I also dealt with contractors, plumbers, painters, and electricians (Wil helped as much as he could but I tend to do this thing where I think I can handle it all and then I collapse when it’s over. So dumb, I know.) Eventually, my sinus infection went away (thank you antibiotics, and swimming in the ocean where I got hit in the face with a wave that literally launched whatever was left in my sinuses right out of there) and when we were able to move back into our house a few weeks later, I got several massages that focused on my shoulder to try and calm the freaked out muscles. I finally saw my own therapist in September to help me deal with the memories my son shared because I had developed such bad anxiety from it that I couldn’t sleep. Plus, I had lost ALL of my creativity and I knew it was because I hadn’t dealt with this stuff myself since I had focused all of my energy in helping my son those past few months.
I began the session by telling my therapist how we spent the entire summer dealing with this black mold in our house which was bad in itself, and then told her about the memories my son shared which to me, was way, way worse. Both situations are things I know I am not to blame, and I certainly had no control over, even though I wished I could have known to prevent it. At one point she said “It’s interesting to me that you had no choice but to drop everything and deal with this toxic thing that had been building up for years in your home, while essentially doing the same thing with your son.”
I saw my therapist a few more times after that, and also got my shoulder worked on a few more times. And as my son seemed to be doing better, my shoulder pain slowly improved as well. But like any traumatic thing that can happen, you may have moments where you think you’re on the path to healing and then something completely derails you and you feel like you’re back to square one. This happened for me emotionally as well as physically, in January of this year. The pain of both sent me into an anxiety tailspin I didn’t think I could get out of. I finally saw a doctor for my shoulder and was diagnosed with acute tendinitis, which I then made worse by lifting a 20 pound box not just up from the ground, but up above my head and out in front of me, three days after that doctor said not to lift anything heavy. Genius. I spent several days icing my shoulder and neck and having anxiety so bad that at one point, I had a full-on panic attack. I needed help, badly. I scheduled physical therapy for my shoulder, and emotional therapy for my brain.
I realized (thanks to my therapist and those damn metaphors again) that I was literally carrying a burden on my shoulders that I couldn’t figure out how to let go of, and I had no idea how to be free from it. She suggested I write a letter to the person who hurt my child, not to be sent, just to say what I wanted to say and move on. Turns out that was easier to hear than to do because I still carried those burdens for two more months. So much pain, physically and emotionally. She had also suggested downloading a meditation app to use and since my husband has one that he loves, I got the one he uses (Headspace) and started that part right away. After two little 3-minute sessions, I found myself looking forward to it because it was this brief moment in the day where I literally thought about nothing except my own breathing. I had no idea I was capable of controlling my brain from going down the rabbit hole of “what-ifs” or wanting to face the person who sought out my son all those years ago to traumatize him so badly that those memories were locked away, like a dark room in part of his mind, and he couldn’t find the light switch to see in there for over two decades. As I felt like I was getting my anxiety under control, my shoulder…got worse. I had been doing physical therapy for it but it was so slow to progress because something was holding it back. My chiropractor suggested I see this doctor who specializes in active release stretching and since I felt like I couldn’t stretch much of my shoulder, neck or arm, I thought I’d give it a try. I saw him nearly two weeks ago.
In my mind, I envisioned active release stretching as maybe applying pressure to the connective tissue, sort of like, I don’t know, a deep tissue massage. Boy, was I wrong. The doctor said I have frozen shoulder (scar tissue adhesions within the joint) and an impingement. He called an assistant in to help move my arm in several different ways while he held down spots in my trapezius muscle, my neck, and my rotator cuff. It was the most excruciating pain and after who knows how long (because time seems to not exist when you’re in such intense pain) I finally had to ask him to stop. As I walked out to my car with my dead arm hanging next to me, tears streamed down my face. I sobbed on and off for nearly two hours after that as I laid on my sofa at home with an ice pack on my shoulder and anti-inflammatory drugs in my system. I went to bed early that night and slept for 11 hours and when I woke up, I was sore as hell but I felt surprisingly better.
Since I was feeling better, I thought maybe I would try to sit down to my laptop and get back to work on my next book, but my brain had a different plan. Instead of working on my book, I spent that entire day in my pajamas, at my laptop, typing out a single-spaced five page letter to the person who hurt my child and by extension, hurt me. I said all the things I thought I would just hold on to until hopefully, one day, I’d get to say it to his face. I felt unbelievable anger and upset, occasionally getting up to ice my shoulder and move it around a bit, and wipe the tears from my eyes. After a couple of hours of writing, I began to realize I had carried this burden on my shoulder to the point that it was literally locked inside of me, frozen, causing so much pain I didn’t think it was possible to ever get back to normal again.
The following day, I tested out the mobility in my shoulder and I had so much more movement than I’d had in months, that it made me laugh and cry at the same time. At the end of that week, I went back to physical therapy, where they routinely test my progress and then do some massage, some exercises, and then ice it. Before we started, I explained what that doctor had done with my shoulder earlier that week, unsure if I had made the right choice to do that or not, so we tested my mobility again. While it isn’t quite 100%, it is very close. (I’m going back to that doctor one more time this week to work out the rest of it.) My physical therapist was amazed, saying she’d never seen such a huge change like this. I was about to tell her about the letter I wrote the day after seeing that doctor but decided not to, and that’s when she said “Sounds like you just had to endure that intense pain in order to get yourself back on track .”
Yesterday, Wil and I went to WonderCon in Anaheim so he could moderate a panel, and then we headed back up to L.A. in time to meet friends for a birthday dinner before going to the Kings game together. After the game (Kings won!) we walked out of Staples Center and I commented on the warmth that’s finally in the air. We drove home and as we pulled in to our driveway and walked up to our house, I could smell orange blossoms filling the warm night air in our neighborhood and got excited for this welcome change. As I climbed into bed, I realized this was the first day in close to a year that I didn’t think about the past, the what-ifs, the pain and trauma, or the words I had been holding inside me that became a poison, that I had finally let go. I turned off the lamp on my nightstand and laid down on my left side, the one I haven’t been able to sleep on in months, and fell fast asleep.