If my experiences during college have taught me anything, it is that writing is a powerful means of expression. Somehow, even when I don’t know what to say, I always have something to write. Last semester, and this one, was really rough for me health-wise. I grew quite frustrated and could not seem to express how I was feeling. So I wrote it down. And even though “One Second” is a poetic rendering of my struggles, it still does not do me justice. I am so much more than my disease, but I am also a writer, and it feels incredibly empowering to say that.
It’s amazing how long a second can feel.
At any time, in a matter of seconds, I could have a sickle cell attack.
As the crescent-shaped red blood cells coursing through my veins turn on me. They start to stick together and block the flow of blood in my body.
It’s surprising, the sheer amount of pain caused by the lack of oxygen to an organ.
It happened today. Honestly, it happens every day but the attacks vary in severity and usually, I can suppress them.
I’m not the type to complain, ask for pity or even tell people it’s happening, but this one was different — it only lasted for a second.
Just one second that felt like an eternity.
I was in class and all of a sudden felt I couldn’t breathe.
I resisted the urge to grasp my chest and fall back into my chair simply because I didn’t want to bring attention to myself.
Now I wonder if anyone would have even noticed. Would you?
And if you did, would you care? After all, there was nothing you could do.
It’s funny how stark the contrast is between my identities.
Most of the time I’m the only person like me in the room.
It’s like I have my own personal spotlight that follows me around.
I mean how many Nigerian-American Muslim women with a chronic illness do you know?
One second, I’m the only Black person in a room and I feel as if all eyes are on me; the next, I’m gasping for air and though I’m surrounded by people, they don’t see my struggles.
I feel that my pain is invisible.
But I’ve always known this. You can’t tell, you can’t see my pain.
Yet, I wonder if you ever notice the subtle signs: The blank stare in my eyes, the quiet gasps I take, how I slur my words.
I know it’s not fair to expect that of you. I know it’s on me to teach you to look for these signs. I know it’s on me to let you know I’m not okay.
But sometimes I wish you could just sense something was off about me. Sometimes I wish you would just ask. Sometimes I wish I could take you with me, just to show you.
I don’t know how to describe what happens.
One second I’m fine and the next I feel like I might collapse.
One second passes and no one knows it ever even happened.
One second and I feel all alone.
Today it was my ankle, a part of our bodies most of us ignore.
Today it demanded my attention as it burst into pain.
Every second was agonizing as I waited for the pain to go away, but the seconds continued to pass and the pain stayed.
Then it would stop and just as I would go to take a sigh of relief, I would be struck by pain again.
Today I limped home because with every pang, I felt my ankle would give out and I would collapse.
Today I feared I wouldn’t be able to walk to class tomorrow,
And worse yet, today I worried the world would not wait for me to heal.
Today became tomorrow and it happened again.
One second I was fine and the next, in pain.
I gripped my pen so tight not even the jaws of life could save it.
After several everlasting seconds, it stopped and I remembered I was still in class.
I try to refocus my attention and next thing I know it’s back.
I hold my breath so as to not scream.
I don’t know what to do.
I ask God for help, but as the seconds pass, I find myself still helpless.
As I walked across campus from class to class, I held back tears,
As I was in so much pain but couldn’t explain,
As I begged for someone, anyone to see my pain.
I guess I wrote this hoping I could get you to see a glimpse of what I feel.
But as I write, I realize nothing I do can adequately show you.
My story, this feeling, is just one moment of your day.
But I live my whole life this way.