Yesterday I went into New York City for the first time by myself. This may sound like no big deal given that I am 27 years old, after all. But it was huge to me.
I was never a huge city person but that was probably because since the age of 13, I have associated the city with serious doctors’ appointments, being hospitalized, procedures, tests, ER visits and utter chaos. I have so many awful memories of driving into the city in the middle of the night because there was no way any local hospital was equipped to deal with my complicated medical situation. There have been so many times when I would be getting ready to go into the city at 5am before surgery or an early morning test.
I even have an extremely vivid memory of leaving my surgeons office right after having a drain removed from the small part of my back, walking out with my mom, leaning into her while saying that I wasn’t feeling well. Next thing I knew I was on the ground in some guys arms, starring at my mom who repeatedly was telling me she was there with me. As I was becoming more coherent, I remember the man telling my mom that both him and the other guy who was with him were doctors and asked if I just had blood drawn, and that it would probably be a good idea for me to be admitted just to get some fluids in me. When my dad pulled up with the car, he obviously was shocked to see me on the ground surrounded by a bunch of people. Thankfully, my parents were okay with taking me home, not saying anything to my doctor, but just getting Gatorade and salty pretzels for me on the way home.
There was always this Blockbuster right before Mt. Sinai Hospital which sent me into anxiety mode since I knew that once I saw that sign, the hospital wasn’t far away at all. And to this day, anytime I see a huge blue sign in the city, I can feel my heart rate increasing.
While I understand the appeal of the city, I was never able to form positive memories there. I did go out with my friends a number of times and it was enjoyable but it was never anything I felt “safe” doing. It was never anything I would have done if I wasn’t completely comfortable with the people I was with. It was more me going because that was normal and by not going, I would have seemed like a failure in my eyes. I don’t know.
But anyway, yesterday I actually took the train in and met my dad at his office ALONE. I have commuted with him a good amount and when I am with my dad, I am okay. I have also taken the train and had him meet me at Grand Central Station once or twice which has been fine too. But this was this first time I actually walked the streets of NYC by myself ….
I got on the train and immediately turned on my iPod to allow the time to go by a little quicker. The train in and of itself was never a trigger for me since anytime I was sick, I always drove into the city with my parents. But once I got off the train and started walking into Grand Central Station (of which I don’t even know the front entrance from any other entrance), I turned on my iPod even louder to drown out mostly every noise imaginable.
After being proud of myself for finding the front entrance (ha!), I just walked the streets and barely heard any of the background noise. I just concentrated on what the music represented and how if I kept walking, soon I would be meeting my dad and I would have gotten through my first time walking the streets of NYC alone.
I ended up having a really great night. I wrote a post a while ago here about how my grandfather always said to “bank it” after accomplishing something so you know you can definitely achieve it, and more, the next time a challenging situation arises.
There are a lot of things that are scary to do. There are a lot of traumatizing experiences that patients with Crohns disease and ulcerative colitis go through. We identify so strongly with things beyond what most people would realize. Sometimes sounds and smells can take you right back to a time in your life that was awful for you so it is easier to avoid a lot of things.
I am a huge believer in never pushing these triggers. There is a balance in my opinion. For example, I completely stopped watching all hospital shows because it became too much for me. I would be turning away from the TV every ten seconds. This is from someone who would never miss Greys Anatomy and even loved watching re-runs, had DVDs of the series, etc. I still don’t watch it and never plan to because it doesn’t matter. My life won’t be changed if I never watch another show that takes place in a hospital again so why torture myself?
But some things, I do like to push myself when the timing is right – and then knowing I can do it makes me feel empowered too.