Have you ever felt like your life was just perfect and you wouldn’t change anything about it? Maybe you have, but it’s unlikely. I think people don’t typically take into consideration how great like is until it isn’t great anymore. At the age 12 you definitely aren’t concerned with death or cancer or being sick. If you do get sick, no big deal right? You get to stay home a few days from school. At the age of 12, you have your whole life ahead of you. All you care about is turning 13 so you can call yourself a “teenager.” Then at 13, it’s all about turning 15 for a learner’s permit and 16 for your drivers license. I remember as a preteen “wishing my life away,” I wish I was 13. If only I were 16 I could go see that guy anytime I wanted. But what if one day all of that wishing was cut off? What if you were forced to grow up over night and your wishes became “I wish I could just go see my friends and not have to wear a mask. I wish I could go to prom. I wish my friends would come visit me in the hospital. I wish my friends didn’t treat me like I’m contagious. I wish more people were organ donors.” I’m not going to pretend it’s all bad, but being labeled a “special needs” kid does something major to the teenage mind. I’m currently 24 years old and half of my life has been spent consumed with the crappy hand I was dealt in life. Some of the things I have to say aren’t things I talk about often. You may laugh; you may cry. But all I care about is that you are able to take something away from my story to help you somehow. I know my teenage self would have loved to have known I wasn’t alone.
I guess the best place to start any story (unless you are a movie franchise – I am looking at you, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The X-men movies) is the beginning. I was born on February 11, 1989 in a hospital in Huntsville, Alabama. My name was “Baby Girl Poore.” Which meant my parents didn’t give me a name. A few days later I went to live with my foster parents who decided Dana Nichole was better than Baby Girl. Meanwhile, in a small city not even on the map, Julian and Linda McGriff decide seven years is long enough to wait to adopt a baby and after the New Year they called and were removed from the waiting list. Before they get the chance to call DHR and inform them of their decision, DHR calls them and in January of 1990 I went to live with the McGriff family who decided Kati Lynn was even better than Dana Nichole. The McGriffs will be referred to as Mom and Dad now.
I had an amazing childhood. I was a normal kid. Well as normal as an only child can be, anyway. Music was a huge part of my dad’s life and so it became part of mine. My dad played the guitar and fiddle and I wanted to be just like him. At age three I began playing the fiddle. It was so small it really looked more like a toy.
My dad and I would stay up super late on the weekends and watch boxing or movies. If we weren’t watching Star Wars, we watched Batman (Michael Keaton Batman.) I recently found an old diary of mine that had this entry: “Tonit we watched Retern of th Gedi. Jadda the Hut ate a frog.” I can’t make out the date but it was some time in ’95.
My parents told me early on that I was adopted and stressed how special I was. I took this to mean I should go to school and tell everyone that I was more special because my parents picked me and everyone else’s parents didn’t have a choice. That isn’t at all what my parents told me. In fact adoption agencies stress not saying “we picked you” because it implies the child is picked from some sort of line up. I’m convinced, though, that no matter how you phrase things, you can’t change a child’s perspective. My dad had an amazing job and made really good money. We went on vacations a lot and my parents were a super happy, crazy in love couple. Such a happy childhood!
Then, my dad lost his job, my mom had to head out to get a job of her own. My mom got stressed and my dad got depressed. It was very hard on my family. My parents got deeper and deeper in debt. It was one if the most difficult things my family had faced. I imagine if asked, my parents would say they had rather spend the rest of their lives like that than have to deal with their next big challenge.
When I was in the 5th grade, I started having some “female problems” that I promise I will spare the details on, but this will be important to know later. Then in the 6th grade I developed a seemingly chronic sinus infection. Now, that’s not a real thing, but every week I was at the doctor with severe nausea and fatigue that was always diagnosed as a sinus infection. I also developed severe headaches which seemingly further proved the sinus infection. I also had this weird tingling in my head. My mom dismissed it most of the time because kids complain and the doctors were certain I had sinus infections. When you are born, you have a “soft spot” that heals up. Your skull comes together around your fontanelle and encases your brain. Well for some reason this never happened to me and so I have a massive “dent” in the back of my head. In the 7th grade I was convinced this was the source of my headaches and my mom decided to take me to the doctor for a head scan. Amazingly, everything was fine. To me, it’s a little disheartening when you KNOW something is wrong with your body and everyone says your fine. As we sat in the doctors office waiting to talk to the doctor about what might be wrong, his nurse comes in to do the “work up.” Temperature, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure. Blood pressure… Who expects a healthy 12 year old to have blood pressure problems? She checked my blood pressure in one arm and looked at me funny and rechecked it. She took the cuff off and put it on my other arm. She checked it twice in the other arm. She politely excused herself and came back with a different nurse who did the same thing. I jokingly said “do I have one?” They exchange awkward glances and leave the room. Within a few seconds the doctor came in and proceeded to do the same thing they did. The doctor looked at me and asked “How do you feel?” I replied “I feel like I’m missing school, which means I won’t have perfect attendance. But otherwise no different than normal.” He then looked at my mom and told her something that would start the downward spiral that is my life.
My blood pressure was 210 over 130. If you don’t know much about blood pressure, that’s stroke level for a child. “Normal” for a 12 year old would be no higher than 120/70. The doctor was amazed that I was walking around. I was a lot more concerned about my perfect attendance. I loved school and really wanted to be there so he finally caved and let me leave. When I got to school I went straight to class while my mom went to the office to check me in. Before I got settled in good my mom came running in and said we had to leave. The doctor felt really uneasy about it all and wanted to put me in the hospital. My dad is a two-time cancer survivor with polycythemia. I was no stranger to hospitals and was still more concerned about missing school. It was the fall which meant I was missing football games. It was my first year in marching band. I already had so much to prove; this was not helping. Around here, November means one thing: the peanut festival. We are well known for our peanuts and have a week long celebration that ends with a huge parade. The local schools have their bands march in it and compete. I missed that as well. Everything was going so wrong! The worst part was when they finally let me out, the doctors had no idea what was wrong with me.
My mom decided we should go to the children’s hospital in Birmingham. Within 24 hours they were able to determine that I was in renal failure. My kidneys weren’t working. Common symptoms of renal failure in female children are: high blood pressure, nausea, fatigue, “female problems” at an early age. Good grief! How long had I been sick? I spent a while in the hospital, but basically there wasn’t much that could be done besides treating symptoms. My kidneys worked well enough to keep me off the transplant waiting list, but not enough to keep me from feeling like crap.
Have you ever had one of those experiences where it feels like you are watching someone else’s life when you’re actually living it. That’s how I felt. At this time I was 13 and 13 year olds don’t and can’t really comprehend what all of that meant. I came home and lived my life like it wasn’t happening. I was honestly just glad something provable was wrong and that everyone wasn’t that sick all of the time. To me that seemed like a waste and what was the point of life if everyone felt that bad. I experienced a lot of things that I thought were normal but later found out weren’t. People would say things like “you’re so brave!” “You have such a great attitude about it.” “You’re a strong person.” “What an inspiration!” I didn’t feel like any of those things, but if you are told something enough, it goes to your head and you believe it. I was convinced I was strong. I knew I would be fine because I was brave and positive. After all, I didn’t feel scared or sad or angry or any other negative feelings associated with getting “bad news.” Then, the feeling of security wore off. I now recognize that feeling like nothing was wrong was numbness. When that wore off I started to feel things like fear, sadness and anger; so much anger. But people still saw me as the brave, strong, inspiring little girl with an amazing attitude. Think about teenage hormones and how crazy they make you feel and then multiply it with having a serious illness. But I couldn’t tell people how I felt. I couldn’t let them down. For some reason I felt an enormous amount of pressure to live up to these preset standards. Everything I was feeling was justified, but somehow it made me less of a person. It made me a coward and weak. These feelings started after I got a new kidney. I missed the entire first semester of my 9th grade year. I was taking 40 pills twice a day. I went from 100 pounds to 150 and developed severe acne because of the medicine. I was living in Birmingham away from my friends. I should have been grateful for my gift. I should feel blessed to be alive. And people thought I was, but I wasn’t. I resented the people who told me those things. I resented the ones who called me brave and strong because I knew deep down I was a fake. I resented my friends who didn’t have to watch what they ate or take a bunch of medicine. I resented my kidney. The realization that this was my life for the rest of my life was more than I could handle.
I had been dating this guy and when I got back home he broke up with me for not being my “normal skinny self.” I had no self esteem. The hardest thing I had to face at that point was even when I was gone for months at a time, everyone else’s life went on. My “friends” barely even noticed my absence. I felt like I had no friends and my unhealthy attachment to that guy felt like the end of the world to me. I felt alone and couldn’t tell anyone. I got very depressed, and I started cutting myself. I had this watch that had a thick leather band that hid the cuts pretty well and during the day I would twist it tightly to reopen the cuts. People who cut say things like “I do it to kill the emotional pain” and stuff similar to that. And it’s true that it releases endorphins that temporarily make you feel better, but that’s not why I did it. I couldn’t put words to it at the time. What I did know was I didn’t want to die. I had no plans or intentions to kill myself. And honestly cutting didn’t make me feel better. So why was I doing this? I saw therapists and shrinks when my mom found out what was going on and it was kind of helpful but of course they said I did it to relieve pain and stress. The words I couldn’t put to it are really clear to me now. I was punishing myself. For being weak and a coward and a fake and a liar. My insecurities and need to please everyone got me in some trouble in high school. I started doing things I didn’t particularly want to do to get people to like me, particularly where it concerned the aforementioned guy I had dated. This betrayal of my morals furthered the depression and worsened the feeling of needing to punish myself.
The only people I ever felt comfortable around were these guys who played D&D in the band room. It worked well since I spent the majority of my time in the band room anyway. These guys didn’t particularly like me, but for some reason they still let me play D&D and Halo and DDR with them. Fun times! I tried to get involved in as many competitive clubs as possible. I found that competing and being good at it made me feel less like I was weak. I excelled at band and music already so I joined the scholars bowl. This is a particularly touchy subject as it involves another PTBN writer who probably has no clue how much he affected the person I am. This need to compete was and still is a very big part of who I am. It’s not a particularly becoming trait, but it was much better than causing physical harm to myself. I consider myself a pretty smart person. I’ve always been an “A” student, but so was Nick. I got to take the ACT in the 7th grade, but so did Nick and he scored much higher. I drove a red Ford Mustang but so did Nick and his was a newer model. He was on scholars bowl so I decided I HAD to join also. Of course, he was a heck of a lot better at it than I was. I have NO idea why he was the person I felt the biggest need to compete with but nonetheless I did. I would love to say that I got better and smarter than he was but I never did. He seemed to know everything about everything. So, I started reading as much as I could about anything I could think of. One thing about Nick is his ability to retain knowledge of everything he comes across. I have a photographic memory so the more I read, the more I felt like I knew. But somehow he seemed to always know more. I was very unsuccessful on the scholars bowl team. It wasn’t nerves. I was performing musical pieces in front if large crowds since age three. I not only had to be smarter than Nick, I wanted him to know it to0, to the point I would choke when questions were asked that I knew the answer to. I would get so excited when he (rarely) got an answer wrong. What kind of person cheers against their own team? I’ll never forget the day he showed a small amount of acknowledgement that I was kind of smart. We were playing trivial pursuit at the D&D guys’ house. Maybe he didn’t actually think I was smart but he was kinda nice that day and I was playing really well so I didn’t feel like an idiot. That just drove me to read more and more. In my spare time, just for fun, I read trivial pursuit cards. Just having Nick to compete with got me focused on much more positive things and helped push me to be the best. Now, I’m not saying I’m smarter than Nick at this point, but I am a fountain of facts and useless knowledge. I still read trivial pursuit cards for fun and research at least one thing a day I think I need to know more about.
As mentioned before, Fall in south Alabama means the annual celebration of the peanut. The fair that we have is a big part of that and traffic is backed up for miles. And that pretty red Mustang I owned, well, it was a 5-speed. You just can’t have an automatic sports car. The day after the fair and about two hours in stop-and-go traffic, I was in a lot of pain. My left hip was killing me. I chalked it up to being sore from constantly pushing the clutch. However, the soreness never went away. I had to quit my exciting job working at a Sonic Drive-in that was, oddly enough, in our local mall. I finally broke down and saw a doctor. I was diagnosed with avascular necrosis, which, yes, is just as bad as it sounds. Because of the mandatory steroids I was taking, the blood flow had stopped getting to my femoral head (the ball of the hip joint.) As it’s a ball, imagine it as a clock; from 10:00 to 2:00 was dead. Perhaps you’ve heard of Bo Jackson; he had the same problem. The doctor decided our best option was to do a core decompression. Basically, he drilled a hole in my femur in hopes to restore blood flow. It kind of worked on my left hip, but it made my right hip worse. The only remaining option was total hip replacement, but no one wanted to perform that surgery on a 16 year old.