Mel Stephens

@musiccitymel | contributor
I believe in love and coffee cups so big you have to hold them with both hands. When I’m not writing and being a wife and fur mom, you can catch me on Your BFF Podcast. My diagnoses: Fibromyalgia, Interstitial Cystitis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Endometriosis
Community Voices

Love After Life

Kelley was one of those people that became your best friend slowly and then all at once. We were the two lone nail technician students at a small community college in Nashville in a class full of cosmetology kids who were keen to highlight our hair and pluck our eyebrows into submission. But in our little nail tech corner of the classroom, we became best friends. Kelley was older than me. In fact, her daughter and I were close to the same age. I was just a year out of high school, engaged and had no clue what I was doing with my life. We took cigarette breaks even though I didn’t smoke just so we could talk about life. We talked on the phone over endless pots of coffee and for the first time in my adult life I felt like I had someone who truly understood me. She welcomed me into her family, no questions asked.

Growing up, my family had high expectations of me. They were also extremely protective. I wasn’t given a lot of freedom and my free spirited heart fought against it, for better or worse. I met a guy in a bar when I wasn’t even old enough to order a shot of tequila to help me make bad decisions. Yet I made those bad decisions anyways. Some people may be ready to get married at 19, but I was nowhere near ready. However, I thought that getting out on my own meant finding a husband and ‘settling down.’ I didn’t realize that at 19 I hadn’t lived enough life to settle from.

Kelley and I had a lot of conversations about my life choices. She was the only person who saw through the thin veil of confidence I wore that hid all of my insecurities about what I was doing. But she didn’t push. She never tried to sway me one way or another. She helped me talk through what I was ready to talk through as we ate endless amounts of chips and salsa in the afternoons and drove her Ford Focus with the windows down singing Believe by Cher at the top of our lungs. For those few months she helped me find a little independence where I was free from judgement. Where I was loved for who I was and had a safe place to land. And I should have held on tight.

I asked Kelley to stand by me at my wedding which she agreed to do. She even reminded me that her trusty Ford Focus was just outside if I needed a getaway car. She joked, but there was also a sense of seriousness in what she said. She saw the writing on the wall but knew I had to be the one to make the choice. I made a choice, but it was the wrong one. Kelley tried to reach out to me. She would call and when social media became a thing she sent me a message to let me know she missed me. The truth was, I missed her too. And I missed the me I came to know when she was in my life. I always thought to myself that I would call her back tomorrow. But eventually, tomorrow never came.

I didn’t know these moments would become the first breaths of my battle with depression. Living in a constant state of anxiety, ultimately my physical health began to fail. I was diagnosed with endometriosis and interstitial cystitis and I began to withdraw from life. I went through multiple surgeries to just try and alleviate some of the pain I was feeling. But there was still a pain that no surgery could correct. Where I came from though, you got it together. You pushed through. And I pushed and I pushed and I pushed until I broke. I went to counseling and finally got the courage to end the marriage but that was only the beginning of my journey with my mental and physical health. I became an island, pushing away those who truly cared about me because all I felt was shame. My mind was so consumed with the things I should have done and with the darkness my soul felt that I couldn’t handle anything more than surface level friends. People who were content to go out till dawn on the weekends while I self medicated with alcohol in an effort to forget the pain I was in. But those aren’t the people who are going to be there when we spiral. And spiral I did.

After an attempt on my own life, I moved back home with my folks. This was where the real work began to get done. I’d lost my job because I’d had to be out sick for multiple surgeries and I pushed everyone away so that I had nothing but time on this island of isolation to begin to scratch the surface of my depression. I began what would be a lifetime journey of working through anxiety, depression, shame, regret, pain and owning my shit. I finally reached a point where I felt like I could let people back in my life, and slowly I did. I was ready to talk to Kelley. To tell her how sorry I was for letting my depression win and push her of all people out of my life. To tell her how much I missed her.

I got a friend request from her husband followed immediately by a message letting me know that Kelley had passed away following a routine medical procedure. The family had tried to find me, but I had done such a good job of isolating myself that when she passed, they couldn’t. It was just a short time after she had passed that I had finally rejoined the land of the living only to find she didn’t live there anymore. Words aren’t enough to describe the need to tell someone who is no longer alive that you love them. It’s a pain I will carry with me every day of the rest of my life. We always think we have more time. Especially if you struggle with depression, it can easy for us to isolate ourselves because we get paralyzed by anxiety, shame, fear, and so many other complicated emotions. Kelley extended a life raft to me many times but I let it float away until it disappeared into the depths of the ocean of pain I was swimming in.

I can never undo what I did. I can never get those moments with Kelley back. I’ll never be able to tell her I love her or what her friendship meant to me or all the ways she was a catalyst for me beginning to figure out who I was. All I can do is close my eyes and for a moment we are back in her Ford Focus singing. Do you believe in life after love? Because of Kelley, I can tell you that I do. But I also believe that even when the darkness threatens to sweep us up, even when we are scared, even when we aren’t ready to take the first steps toward change that when the Kelleys of the world reach their hands out to us, we should take them. Because they love us without expectation of perfection and will give us room to be ourselves. They won’t force us to make changes we aren’t ready to make or get frustrated with us when we move at a snail’s pace. They’ll love us through it and hold space for us every step of the way. It is my hope that you’ll pick up the phone and call your Kelley and tell her how much you love her and how grateful you are that people like her exist in this world. Tell her for me.

Mel Stephens

We Need to Stop Looking for ‘Healing’ Like It’s a Destination

About 10 years ago, I tried to take my own life. This is an admission I’ve only recently begun getting comfortable with, but it’s my truth and I own it. In my early 20s, I was diagnosed with endometriosis and an autoimmune condition called interstitial cystitis . My life was lived in constant pain. On top of that, I was newly married and trying to adjust to a marriage that was, in a word, tumultuous, all while being shuffled in and out of various doctor’s offices looking for some semblance of relief. Years went by and I tried multiple treatment modalities, including numerous surgical procedures with very little payoff. My marriage, my health and my life as a whole was failing. I entered counseling that ultimately helped me to make the difficult decision to end my marriage. Though there was immense relief in this choice, there was also profound sadness. What people don’t often tell you is that even when a divorce is the right decision for both people, it’s still a mourning process. However, what I mourned the most was what I perceived as a personal failure: that because of my depression and medical issues, I had failed to make it work. I felt that somehow it was my fault I was sick, both physically and mentally. My physical health hit an all-time low after an unsuccessful surgical procedure that ended up costing me my job because I was unable to work. At the same time, I found out my ex was getting remarried and that sent me into a tailspin. It wasn’t that I missed him or wanted to be with him still; what I saw was him being happy while I felt like I was so far away from happiness of my own. That same night, I attempted to take my own life. The guy I was dating at the time broke down the door to the bathroom and saved my life. I wish I could tell you this was the moment that turned my life around, but that would be wholly false. That night started a long and frustrating journey to healing. At that time, I defined “healed’ as a destination.” It was an end goal and once I reached it, I was “allowed” to be happy, whole and healthy. What I failed to realize in that moment was how that mentality didn’t allow for life to happen in the in-between. It failed to acknowledge all of the grace and love that gets us closer to that destination or that my life was still valuable even if I wasn’t healed and whole. During this time of trying to find healing, I went to therapy, tried even more treatments for my interstitial cystitis and endometriosis pain, started to feel better physically, began a new career, dated, took a single sabbatical, started dating again, got remarried to an amazing guy, started a successful business and podcast, and my life had been on a general upswing for several years. Sounds like a happy ending, right? Wrong. I was hitting all these milestones and though there were happy moments, I still wasn’t happy. I still wasn’t healed. I’d read all the self-help books. I was putting in the work, so why hadn’t I reached the end goal? Why hadn’t I been healed yet? At the end of last year, my physical health began to deteriorate again and with that, my mental health went right along with it. One night, I remember crying to my wonderfully supportive husband and saying there must be something wrong with me. I should be happy and healed by now! I had done all the treatments, the therapies, the work; yet here I was, back in the same place. I felt sad, restless, confused and sick. What was so fundamentally wrong with me that I couldn’t find healing, no matter how hard I looked? Well, ask and you shall receive because the universe basically yelled in my ear with an answer: You aren’t finding healing because you’re constantly looking for it. It’s not a destination. Healing is a way of living. It’s the grace you give yourself on the days that the depression rears its ugly head. It’s the love you give yourself by slowing down when you don’t feel well physically or mentally. Mind. Blown. I had been looking at this healing thing all wrong. If I could only be healed by feeling well or happy 100% of the time, I would never get there. That’s just not how depression works. That’s not how life works. What I could do was acknowledge my depression, give myself grace on the tough days and enjoy the happy moments in between. The second I stopped viewing healing as an endgame, my life changed radically. Now, those bad days are a little further apart and they don’t last quite as long, because I can acknowledge that feeling like this doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me. It simply means I’m human, healing-in-progress. Often, we are so focused on the destination that we don’t see how much we are actually accomplishing. We don’t give ourselves credit for the wins, no matter how small they may seem and we certainly don’t give ourselves grace on the days we feel like we’re losing. There’s healing in letting go of finding healing if we can only let go long enough to find it.

Mel Stephens

We Need to Stop Looking for ‘Healing’ Like It’s a Destination

About 10 years ago, I tried to take my own life. This is an admission I’ve only recently begun getting comfortable with, but it’s my truth and I own it. In my early 20s, I was diagnosed with endometriosis and an autoimmune condition called interstitial cystitis . My life was lived in constant pain. On top of that, I was newly married and trying to adjust to a marriage that was, in a word, tumultuous, all while being shuffled in and out of various doctor’s offices looking for some semblance of relief. Years went by and I tried multiple treatment modalities, including numerous surgical procedures with very little payoff. My marriage, my health and my life as a whole was failing. I entered counseling that ultimately helped me to make the difficult decision to end my marriage. Though there was immense relief in this choice, there was also profound sadness. What people don’t often tell you is that even when a divorce is the right decision for both people, it’s still a mourning process. However, what I mourned the most was what I perceived as a personal failure: that because of my depression and medical issues, I had failed to make it work. I felt that somehow it was my fault I was sick, both physically and mentally. My physical health hit an all-time low after an unsuccessful surgical procedure that ended up costing me my job because I was unable to work. At the same time, I found out my ex was getting remarried and that sent me into a tailspin. It wasn’t that I missed him or wanted to be with him still; what I saw was him being happy while I felt like I was so far away from happiness of my own. That same night, I attempted to take my own life. The guy I was dating at the time broke down the door to the bathroom and saved my life. I wish I could tell you this was the moment that turned my life around, but that would be wholly false. That night started a long and frustrating journey to healing. At that time, I defined “healed’ as a destination.” It was an end goal and once I reached it, I was “allowed” to be happy, whole and healthy. What I failed to realize in that moment was how that mentality didn’t allow for life to happen in the in-between. It failed to acknowledge all of the grace and love that gets us closer to that destination or that my life was still valuable even if I wasn’t healed and whole. During this time of trying to find healing, I went to therapy, tried even more treatments for my interstitial cystitis and endometriosis pain, started to feel better physically, began a new career, dated, took a single sabbatical, started dating again, got remarried to an amazing guy, started a successful business and podcast, and my life had been on a general upswing for several years. Sounds like a happy ending, right? Wrong. I was hitting all these milestones and though there were happy moments, I still wasn’t happy. I still wasn’t healed. I’d read all the self-help books. I was putting in the work, so why hadn’t I reached the end goal? Why hadn’t I been healed yet? At the end of last year, my physical health began to deteriorate again and with that, my mental health went right along with it. One night, I remember crying to my wonderfully supportive husband and saying there must be something wrong with me. I should be happy and healed by now! I had done all the treatments, the therapies, the work; yet here I was, back in the same place. I felt sad, restless, confused and sick. What was so fundamentally wrong with me that I couldn’t find healing, no matter how hard I looked? Well, ask and you shall receive because the universe basically yelled in my ear with an answer: You aren’t finding healing because you’re constantly looking for it. It’s not a destination. Healing is a way of living. It’s the grace you give yourself on the days that the depression rears its ugly head. It’s the love you give yourself by slowing down when you don’t feel well physically or mentally. Mind. Blown. I had been looking at this healing thing all wrong. If I could only be healed by feeling well or happy 100% of the time, I would never get there. That’s just not how depression works. That’s not how life works. What I could do was acknowledge my depression, give myself grace on the tough days and enjoy the happy moments in between. The second I stopped viewing healing as an endgame, my life changed radically. Now, those bad days are a little further apart and they don’t last quite as long, because I can acknowledge that feeling like this doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me. It simply means I’m human, healing-in-progress. Often, we are so focused on the destination that we don’t see how much we are actually accomplishing. We don’t give ourselves credit for the wins, no matter how small they may seem and we certainly don’t give ourselves grace on the days we feel like we’re losing. There’s healing in letting go of finding healing if we can only let go long enough to find it.

Mel Stephens

Making Spoonie Friends Through Friendship Dating Apps

Let’s face it. Making friends as a 30-something-year-old woman is difficult. But making friends as a 30-something-year-old woman battling chronic illness? Damn near impossible, right? Most days we’re lucky to push through work or our regular daily schedules, let alone get out there to meet potential new gal pals. It’s also really scary to open yourself up to the idea of new friends when you struggle with your health. Not everyone understands when you have to cancel plans at the last minute because you hurt so bad you can’t even take a shower. Some people don’t get the damage chronic pain and illness can do to our mental and emotional states. I’m lucky to have a small core group of friends who are supportive and who don’t judge me for my limitations. But over time, other friendships have fallen to the wayside as a result of my illnesses and just the passage of time. Life happens and people grow apart sometimes when their lives no longer intersect. So, what’s a spoonie girl to do? This spoonie was googling “how to make friends in your 30s” in the middle of the night when I stumbled across the app “Hey! VINA.” Think Tinder for ladies to connect with new potential BFFs. Upon more research, I discovered there are actually multiple online friend-making options, but I settled on “ Hey! VINA ” after reading some positive reviews. I met my husband on eHarmony, so why couldn’t I find the Monica to my Rachel online? Admittedly, I was skeptical, but I typed out my bio and made sure to mention that I am a chronic illness warrior. How many women could possibly be on this thing, anyways? More than you think! In fact, upon first joining I viewed dozens of profiles. Soon after, I matched with a girl named Jasmin. I was drawn to her wit and sense of humor, but after talking for a couple of days I realized we had far more in common. Jasmin also struggles with chronic illness and we share many of the same diagnoses and symptoms. I could talk to her about my symptoms, even the weirdest of them and she completely understood. The best thing about her? Because she relates to the physical pain I experience, she also relates to the emotional impact of that pain. I had just moved and was missing my little support system. I was feeling lonely, despondent and my pain levels were through the roof from the added stress. One day Jasmin asked me how I was feeling. “OK,” I replied. I don’t know about you guys, but when people ask me how I’m feeling, I default to “OK” or “fine” because it’s just easier than talking about how I’m really feeling physically, mentally and emotionally. It can be exhausting trying to explain these feelings to people. Jasmin didn’t miss a beat. She asked me if I was really OK or if I was just tired of saying that I felt like shit. That’s when I knew I found a soul sister. That, and the fact that we had our first friend date at Target. Complete with lattes and buying crap we didn’t need, but definitely needed. We are both managing jobs and family along with our chronic illnesses, so we don’t get to see each other as often as we would like. But we talk daily and I love that I can just be 100 percent real with her. We can relate to each other’s pain and we lift each other up on the days where we can barely stand. We cheer each other on in this crazy journey called life. This spoonie life can be challenging and scary, but it doesn’t have to be lonely. There are people out there who get it that are looking for a friend like you. I know how scary it can be, but take a leap (or join a friend-seeking app in the middle of the night) and see where it takes you.

Paige Wyant

Jessica Stipe's Video Is Relatable for Those With Chronic Illness

Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Paige Wyant, The Mighty’s associate chronic illness editor , explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway. A woman from Florida named Jessica Stipe posted a video on Monday of the treatment she received from a doctor after calmly expressing her frustration at having to wait over an hour while sick and throwing up in pain. Though she made the appointment for 6:30, by 7:45 all the staff had done was take a urine sample. The video has been viewed more than 400,000 times. I'm severely sick and came to Gainesville after hours with a 6:30 appointment . By 7:45 was not seen still in severe pain and throwing up in the trash can . All they had me do was pee in a cup to see if I'm pregnant …. ummm I know I'm not … I asked for my co pay back so I could leave and go back home to bed and try to be seen elsewhere tomorrow because I'm just that miserable that all I want is my bed . The Dr was mad I wanted my co pay back and was unhappy with having to wait so long and proceeded to cuss me out . My daughter recorded it because they were so rude . When he saw it was being recorded he snatched my baby's phone and shoved her when she tried to get it back . Gpd is here now but says we can't press assault charges even though it's all on tape because she has no injury .. wtf .. he took her phone and shoved her she is a minor …. never go there for medical care .* for licensing and usage please contact: licensing@viralhog.comتم نشره بواسطة ‏‎Jessica Stipe‎‏ في 9 أكتوبر، 2017  Stipe’s Facebook post read: “I’m severely sick and came to Gainesville after hours with a 6:30 appointment . By 7:45 was not seen still in severe pain and throwing up in the trash can . All they had me do was pee in a cup to see if I’m pregnant …. ummm I know I’m not … I asked for my co pay back so I could leave and go back home to bed and try to be seen elsewhere tomorrow because I’m just that miserable that all I want is my bed . The Dr was mad I wanted my co pay back and was unhappy with having to wait so long and proceeded to cuss me out . My daughter recorded it because they were so rude . When he saw it was being recorded he snatched my baby’s phone and shoved her when she tried to get it back . Gpd is here now but says we can’t press assault charges even though it’s all on tape because she has no injury .. wtf .. he took her phone and shoved her she is a minor …. never go there for medical care.” The doctor, Peter Gallogly, has since written a statement defending himself, claiming he makes no excuses for his behavior, but that Stipes had been “increasingly belligerent and abusive” towards his staff. We can’t see what happened before the camera started rolling, but regardless, I was shocked and saddened by Gallogly’s behavior in the video. Stipe’s frustration with the wait time is a feeling I – and I’m sure many others with chronic illness – can relate to all too well. And it’s something I wish more doctors understood. When I make an appointment at an after-hours clinic (like Stipe did) or go to a 24-hour emergency room as a chronic illness patient, it’s because I feel like absolute hell and cannot bear another second of whatever agony my body has decided to gift me with at that moment. I feel pretty awful most days in general, so my friends and family know that when I say I need to get to Urgent Care stat, something must be seriously wrong. Sitting in an uncomfortable chair under the harsh lights of a bland waiting room is not fun for anyone – but when all hell seems to have broken loose in your body, every ounce of that discomfort is amplified and a single second can feel like an eternity. If I am willing to leave the dark, cool comfort of my bed where I have all my supplies at hand and endure the process of getting dressed, driving to the doctor’s office, sitting in the waiting room, speaking with people, etc., I must really be in a bad place. So I can empathize with how miserable Stipe must have felt after sitting around for over an hour. I totally understand the feeling of just wanting to go home, even if you’re not leaving with any answers, just so you don’t have to sit around in an uncomfortable environment a minute longer. I get it. But clearly this doctor did not. Doctors (and other medical professionals) are supposed to help their patients. In an ideal world, they would all be compassionate, listen to us, believe us, do whatever it takes to help us feel even marginally better. That’s not what this doctor did. In the video, Stipe tries to calmly and politely explain her situation – only to be met with rage from the doctor as he yells at her to “get the f*** out of my office.” Then, when he sees that Stipe’s daughter is recording, he lunges at her, grabs her phone out of her hands, and walks away with it. I understand if there are long wait times at an office – especially if it’s a clinic that accepts walk-ins and emergencies. I understand if the staff is spread thin and managing more patients than they should. I’m certainly not happy about it (you better believe I was fuming after waiting nearly three hours to simply get my blood drawn yesterday), but I understand. It’s indicative of the larger, complex issues with our overburdened healthcare system that probably won’t be solved anytime soon. In the meantime, what both patients and medical professionals can do is simply be respectful and do our best understand the other’s situation. For us patients, I don’t want to suggest that we should be accepting of ridiculous wait times while we sit around in agony. We just need to channel our frustration into something constructive that will result in positive change. On the flip side, doctors need to realize that the people sitting in waiting rooms aren’t just names on a list for them to check off. They are real people, and they wouldn’t have come to the doctor if they weren’t struggling with a serious issue. When they express frustration with the wait time, like Stipe did, it doesn’t mean they’re “impatient” – it just means they’re tired, sick, and want relief, even if that means going home. The doctor in the video may be stressed and overwhelmed with the number of patients he is trying to serve, but that doesn’t make it OK for him to react the way he did. He doesn’t attempt to sympathize or try to understand where this woman is coming from. He is angry and defensive – everything a doctor shouldn’t be. Although I am outraged by this doctor’s actions, as I’m sure others are as well, I hope this video can ultimately serve as a reminder of how important it for medical professionals and patients to treat each other with kindness and respect. Everyone deserves that. As those of us with chronic illness know, a little understanding and empathy can go a long way.

Mel Stephens

Life With Chronic Illness – The Unfiltered Version

I was about to post another witty or motivational quote to Instagram, when I realized that didn’t reflect my reality today. To be honest, it hasn’t reflected my real life for the last several days. Though I have only had a soft launch for my blog (partially due to the things I am about to tell you), one of my goals going forward with my blog has been to be as real as possible. Then, I realized I was hiding parts of me that are pretty damn important… for fear of what? Being judged, being misunderstood, perhaps? Then I realized, it didn’t really matter. What matters is putting my reality out there because there is somebody that needs to read it to know they aren’t alone. Because someone out there is feeling this way, too. I have an auto immune condition called interstitial cystitis, as well as endometriosis and chronic fatigue syndrome. These are all chronic health conditions. Each of these causes a variety of symptoms. But to give you the Reader’s Digest version, they cause me to be in pain most of the time. Some days the pain can be managed better than others. Some days, it is a feat just to get out of bed and do something as simple as take a shower. Sometimes the brain fog is so intense, I can’t even do some of the simple things I love so much like write or even read a book. Words don’t come to me or I will read the same sentence over and over again, my mind simply unable to interpret the letters on the page. Many times I have to decline doing things I want to do so badly all because my brain and my body can’t get on the same page. Some friendships fall away because they mistake my inability to do things with them as a desire not to, and that is simply not the case. Well-meaning people make suggestions about my diet or various treatments they have read about. I listen because I know their intentions are good. What they don’t realize is I have read hundreds upon hundreds of those articles and tried literally every single thing within my power. I have found some things that help, but more things that didn’t. We live in a society where people think every single problem can be fixed. I wish that were possible, but sometimes we have to accept that we will be left with more questions than answers, and that is OK. Here is my reality: I am sick and it is quite possible there will be no substantial cure found within my lifetime for my health conditions. But my illnesses do not define me. They are not who I am. I will have good days and I will have bad days, but those don’t define me either. What does define me is my ability to always find something to be grateful for and happy about on my toughest day. Even when I am screaming at the heavens and wondering “why me?” when I have been laying in bed for days on end. I will always have at least one thing to be thankful for. And it might be that one thing that helps carry me through when I feel like I cannot carry on. What defines me is that on the days that I do feel well, I get out there and I enjoy them. I feel the sunshine on my face and I throw my head back in laughter. I savor those moments because they are the moments that carry me through the darkness that threatens to engulf my soul when the pain sets in. As I type these words, tears are streaming down my face, but they are not sad tears. They are tears of relief and acceptance. I realized I have let fear hold me back from sharing this part of myself with those around me. I feared those around me wouldn’t accept me, because God knows I have dealt with that. But more so, I was not accepting myself and every part that makes up the big, beautiful mess that I am. I was letting fear help define who I am. There is no more room here for fear. I want those around me to truly know me, dents and all. Though physically I may be weak, I have a warrior spirit and a heart that feels intensely and loves completely. If you are reading this and you struggle with a chronic health issues or anything else that makes you feel less than, I see you. And you are fucking beautiful. Follow this journey on Music City Mel. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock Image By: Ales_Utovko