Sally O’Malley Lives In Me

For my entire life, I wanted to be a performer. I danced from the age of 4, and then was cast in the Nutcracker for about five years slowly making my way up to prestigious roles. Our family home videos are testaments to my desire to be a comic; they show my aptitude for clowning around and making a room full of people laugh, mostly at me and not with me, but I loved it nonetheless. I remember the moment I saw Molly Shannon in Superstar while I was in second grade and I thought — in the romantic way movies portray love at first sight— that she was the most brilliant woman I’d ever seen and I would be like her. So I began mimicking Mary Katherine Gallagher and Sally O’Malley. I’d prance around the hallways of middle school making all the kids laugh and it felt like power.

This was what I wanted for my entire life.

That was until I got sick when I was 20 years old. This year marks seven years of dealing with chronic abdominal distention/bloating, daily loose stool, diarrhea, amenorrhea, and thyroid issues— to name a few. As I’ve written in earlier posts, I’ve been diagnosed with several different disorders, illnesses and ailments, many of which most doctors cannot tackle or don’t have the interest in trying to in the way that it demands: with time, effort, and original thinking.

You also know that I’ve done all the protocols, diets, and tried various supplements and forms of both integrative and western medication. I’ve done it all, short of a fecal transplant. Living with chronic illness and health issues— especially ones that are a mystery— is living in perpetual darkness. I don’t care what anyone tells you, illness changes the way in which you exist and walk through life; through relationships, through jobs, through love, through family.  Your body is your vessel and it can change you no matter how effervescent your spirit may be. I fought for years to just “get back” to where I was before getting sick. I searched for a magic bullet, where there never was one and never will be. For almost seven years I had the mindset of needing to find the cure so I could get back (as if it were even an option) to being 20 years old and living the life I had envisioned for myself. But guess what Yaël? That isn’t how life is. Our experiences shape who we are, what we do and how we decide to live and work. They make us, even if is painful.

Two weeks ago, I got accepted to a doctorate program in Chinese medicine at the National University of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon. It is by far one of, if not the most, renowned classical Chinese medicine programs in the world. I received the acceptance letter and felt a pit in my stomach. In that moment I realized I had a decision, and recognized the feeling that pursuit is not only driven by happy go-lucky, joyous feelings. Pursuit can be driven by steadfast anger, passion, and unfortunately suffering. I recognized that all along I was trying to get back to a part of me that I desperately didn’t want to let go of, a part of me that I mourn for because it is forever gone. I recognized, for the first time, did I even want to go back there anymore?

For days I’ve been wrestling with the decision of whether or not to go. Is becoming a practitioner the best way for me to work with medicine and healthcare? Should I turn the experience into a book? Should I write a documentary? A film? Should I be in healthcare policy? Should I work in agriculture and environmental policy? Should I just go back to Upright Citizen’s Brigade and try to make people laugh because that was the best five years of my life?

I could ask, and ask, and deliberate. I know you could too, we all can, because we hardly ever know. But two things happened:

  1. I accepted the reality that my experience changed me, even if I didn’t want it to.
  2. The GOP healthcare bill was released.

A defining element over the last seven years was the incredibly consistent behavior of male practitioners and their egotistical and entitled knowledge of my female body. Here is the thing: a woman’s body is inherently—and I mean in every single way—different than a man’s body. The functions, hormones, what foods we need, what energy, care, minerals, vitamins, and how bacteria and illness manifest are unequivocally different. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise.

For years I have been side coaching women through health ailments and observing this very reality before my eyes. I’ve seen how god damn hard women work through pain, discomfort and through their natural biological tendencies. I see how hard they fight to exist and fit in a world that doesn’t let them walk comfortably unless it is vaguely patriarchal. I experience women who visit doctors only to be treated like they are an 1800’s hysterical women complaining of issues that are imagined.

A staunch and conservative 13 men and 0 women are in charge of writing the GOP health care bill. Let me repeat that. Zero women are involved in devising the new GOP health care bill. I don’t need to go into what is already wrong with the proposed health care bill and what will happen to millions of people, most of you reading this know and will likely be affected.

So I decided, with no hesitation or ambivalence, that I’ll be attending graduate school in the fall for a four year doctorate program in Chinese medicine, focusing on women and sexual and reproductive health. I don’t know how I will feel come four years, but right now it is for you, dear women. You are what push and motivate me because my illness is no longer about me. It stopped being about me three years ago when I started researching other people’s illnesses with as much fervor as I did my own, but I was too busy worrying about what I’d missed to realize.

There is nothing we can do about the shitty things that happen to us, except let them change us with consent because they will either way. They will change you either way. Your experiences will make your mind think differently, your passions be fired from different fuel. Sometimes that fuel isn’t always joy, or pleasant— at first.

I guess if my words matter or help anyone, I want to tell you that it is ok to change. It is ok to deviate. It is ok to realize that who you thought you’d be is something completely different than where and who you are now. I keep thinking of people judging me, the people who represent who I wanted to be, and comparing myself to them. But guess what? It doesn’t fucking matter and no one gives a shit. So do what you want for yourself, follow what is curious, even if it is painful as hell, and know that there is a 99% chance you are not alone.

Finally, thank you to the 13 men outlining my healthcare coverage for confirming my decision to kick your ass (metaphorically, but I will get through medical school imagining myself as Sally O’Malley jumping and kicking at those individuals).

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