MEET ALLISON

AFTER YEARS OF CHRONIC PAIN, ALLISON MAKES THE BIGGEST CHOICE OF HER LIFE IN GETTING A HYSTERECTOMY

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ON HER BIGGEST LIFE CHOICE:

"At age 25 I shuffled onto a cold table, surrounded by hovering, faceless figures in masks and scrubs. They put an oxygen mask over my face and told me I would fall asleep in just a few moments. During past surgical procedures I fought against anesthesia's abrupt oblivion, but this time I was desperate for it. I couldn't remember the last time it felt bearable to be in my body. I was scared. I was broken. I was ready. After years of endometriosis and adenomyosis robbing me of so many choices, I was taking my power back to make the biggest choice of my life: I was getting a hysterectomy.

Days before I had written myself a note that read, "To the girl on the other side of the scalpel, the dreamless darkness, the pain: I pray that things get so light you forget the girl full of knives and heavy stones you used to be. But not so much that you start cursing her for what she did to save you." I told people for years that I didn't want kids. I went to appointments for months prepared to assure doctors that I was emotionally and medically ready for this choice. Despite all of this, I found myself crying in my car on lunch breaks. I imagined how my children might have had my round cheeks and creative flare, my partner's curly hair and sensitive intelligence. I knew that a hysterectomy was the right choice, that it was my only hope to escape the debilitating pain and live the life I imagined. But it still hit me with an unexpectedly deep, hollow sadness.

"AFTER YEARS OF ENDOMETRIOSIS AND ADENOMYOSIS ROBBING ME OF SO MANY CHOICES, I WAS TAKING MY POWER BACK TO MAKE THE BIGGEST CHOICE OF MY LIFE: I WAS GETTING A HYSTERECTOMY."

It's been seven months since the hysterectomy, and I haven't forgotten the girl I was when chronic pain ruled my life. It's strange to me that I thought I could ever forget or blame that past self. I carry my scars, literal and emotional, as badges of a great battle survived.  When old aches or new trials surface, I look back on what I have faced and know that I will find a way forward. I am lighter, I am stronger, I am softer thanks to that painful, transformative experience. I've joked that my post hysterectomy aesthetic is Gandalf the White (bye never-ending periods, hello white jeans). But it's more than that. Like Gandalf, "I have passed through fire and deep water...I have forgotten much that I thought I knew and learned again much that I had forgotten." I have returned from great darkness to find myself changed and all at once more myself."

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ON THE FEAR OF LOSING HER ABILITY TO CREATE:

"I feel most myself when I am creating. Drawing, making flower crowns, and storytelling are some of my favorite forms of making. One of my most pervasive fears has always been that all of the creativity would be stripped from my life in some way. Chronic pain threatened to do just that. By the time I had decided on a hysterectomy I was in pain on a daily basis. I struggled to sit at my desk to draw, even with a heating pad and painkillers. The fulfilling creative life I had dreamt of was disappearing rapidly as my illness worsened. A hysterectomy seemed less terrifying when weighed against possibly losing my deepest dreams.

"A HYSTERECTOMY SEEMED LESS TERRIFYING WHEN WEIGHED AGAINST POSSIBLY LOSING MY DEEPEST DREAMS. NOW WHEN I FEEL SCARED TO SHARE ART... I REMIND MYSELF OF HOW LUCKY I AM TO HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO ANY OF THAT AT ALL."

Now when I feel scared to share art, to reach out to a maker I admire, to pursue a creative path, I remind myself of how lucky I am to have the opportunity to do any of that at all. It used to feel almost impossible to share my work, sometimes even to just finish a piece despite the flaws. Now I am deeply grateful and intentional when it comes to my creative practice. I saw it almost disappear, and I refuse to let that happen again. I am more passionate than ever about using the ugliness and darkness in life to bring more beauty and light into the world. I still feel intimidated by sharing art, I still fear failure as a creative… But I have proven to myself that making matters more to me than fear."

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ON USING SOCIAL MEDIA TO BUILD GENUINE CONNECTIONS:

"When most people think of social media, they probably don’t think of vulnerability. But for me, being vulnerable on social media is powerful, magical, and essential. I’ve been an internet nerd since I was in elementary school. I grew up in a rural town and often felt alone in my interests. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I could meet like-minded people online. And social media like Instagram and Tumblr made it even easier to meet kindred souls as I got older. I’ve met more lovely people thanks to social media than I can name- many in person when I was traveling through their cities! One of my bridesmaids was a friend I met on Tumblr years ago, and I can’t even imagine my life without her now. But I wouldn’t have met her or many other dear friends, near and far, without having put myself out there on social media. I also might not have even had my endometriosis diagnosis yet without social media! I was directed to resources for finding a specialist and support after sharing about my struggles online! I know that Instagram especially gets a lot of hate for being overly curated, too perfect, maybe even fake. I’ve seen people suggest abandoning social media altogether for better mental health. But I think the solution is to balance beauty with vulnerability. If we use social media to its greatest potential, it can allow us to connect over bright and broken circumstances alike. It’s scary to talk about the messy parts of life, but it can open the door for more genuine connections and deeper inspiration. I still catch myself worrying that I’ll be labeled negative or attention-seeking for talking about things like chronic illness, creative struggles, and feeling sad- but when I share my story I often find that it resonates with others. I’ve met so many amazing chronic illness warriors, creatives, and beautiful human beings thanks to sharing the seeds of what can blossom into really worthwhile conversations (and tending those seeds when I see others put them out there)."

"IF WE USE SOCIAL MEDIA TO ITS GREATEST POTENTIAL, IT CAN ALLOW US TO CONNECT OVER BRIGHT AND BROKEN CIRCUMSTANCES ALIKE. IT'S SCARY TO TALK ABOUT THE MESSY PARTS OF LIFE, BUT IT CAN OPEN THE DOOR FOR MORE GENUINE CONNECTIONS AND DEEPER INSPIRATION."

 Photo by  May Harthun

Photo by May Harthun

ON THE MYTH OF PERFECTIONISM:

"My first tattoo is a quote from The Book on Fire by Keith Miller that says, “Do not leave your life smooth. Make a scar, make a color.” I’m a stronger and braver person than I was when I got that tattoo, but it’s still really relevant for me. I am a fierce perfectionist, and that’s a huge stumbling block when it comes to pursuing what I want from life. I want to put my passion to work every day, to make and dream in a really tangible way. But I have to really push myself to put myself out there because my natural instinct is to keep everything close until it’s perfect…which isn’t possible, of course. I’ll waste time drafting the most elaborate plan to execute a vision, curating the most conducive environment for creating, letting myself get caught up in all of the preparatory stages and never making it to the important part: MAKING! I’m trying to be really conscious of when I start slipping into that pattern so I can realign myself with my greater intentions. I used to mistake perfectionism with wanting to improve. Now I know perfectionism is more rooted in fear than a desire to get better. As Brené Brown says on perfectionism, “The fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations, and being criticized keeps us outside of the arena where healthy competition and striving unfolds.” Bravery, for me, is sharing a piece, knowing how I could improve it, and taking that knowledge to the next one. Continuing to grow is what actually marks success as an artist."

"I USED TO MISTAKE PERFECTIONISM WITH WANTING TO IMPROVE. NOW I KNOW PERFECTIONISM IS MORE ROOTED IN FEAR THAN A DESIRE TO GET BETTER."

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ON THE STRUGGLE TO ACCEPT HER BODY:

"I have struggled with inhabiting my body for most of my life. When I was a teenager I plunged into the depths of anorexia. If you had asked me about my eating disorder back then, I would have told you it was a choice (it wasn’t). Every day my eyes were stones I threw at my body. When pursuing recovery, it was easier to start eating again than to look at myself with kindness. Just as I started gaining ground in my mental health, endometriosis emerged as my next battle. After years of denying my body, it felt like my body was denying me in return. Once again my body became a place I didn’t want to be, a place marked by pain, limitations, and shame. I’ve spent most of my twenties striving to improve my relationship with my body. One of the most powerful, grounding things for me has been getting tattoos. When I see the tattoos I have chosen reflected back in the mirror, I recognize myself in my body. I see the creative, powerful part of me that transcends unrealistic beauty standards and chronic health issues. I see positive, affirming experiences of being in my body in a deep, deliberate way. Tattoos help me remember that for all of my struggles with this body, it allows me to experience and create beauty…and that’s what matters most to me."

"...my body became a place I didn’t want to be, a place marked by pain, limitations, and shame." 

FINDING THE MYTH IN THE GIRL:

"Almost ten years ago, I wrote “Finding the myth in the girl” in a notebook - it felt instantly important. It speaks to something that guides me forward at my core. I have always resonated deeply with mythology and stories, and when I imagine my life unfolding in the best way it does so in a very myth-like fashion. I don’t mean in terms of my importance but in the meaning and passion behind my direction. There are powerful friendships, heartbreaking battles, beautiful adventures, sweet victories - all in alignment with a greater story that serves empathy, beauty, and light. When I am evaluating a potential action, I imagine how it would serve the greater myth of my life. If it doesn’t fit or benefit the direction, then I let it go. If it resonates with my vision, then I challenge myself to step forward. I’m still figuring out my path, but every day I do my best to be conscious of finding the myth in the girl."