Darnell "Be the Hero of Your Own Story"

What makes a good story? All the good stories have hero. And all the good stories need a conflict or villain. Personally I have a healthy relationship with conflict. Growing up, the odds were against me.

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We lived in the city of St. Louis in Section 8 housing. My mother worked two jobs to support me and my brother. I remember having to learn how to scramble eggs, make ramen noodles and sandwiches at an early age. The inner city streets of St. Louis and 90’s sitcoms basically raised me. I had to say no to cigarettes, weed and other drugs before the age of 11.

I remember being sexually taken advantage of by members of my family. People who were supposed to have my best interest at heart.

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I was part of the desegregation program in St. Louis County. So I was bussed to another school and I had the hardest time fitting in. I had to be a double agent; smart in school so was accepted, and tough at home so I wouldn’t get beat up. I didn’t know how to deal with all the emotions as a kid of wanting what my classmates had, but knowing it was not in the cards for me.

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I was the first person in my family to graduate college, I’m a hero in my family.

In 2006, I lost my older brother to a heart attack. In 2014 I lost my best friend in a car accident. In 2016 I lost both of my grandparents in the same year. Through these losses, I learned that the world keeps turning. These experiences shaped how I deal with conflict. So when I had a stroke at age 34, I began to process information based on these past experiences.

I’m a trainer in a Crossfit gym. At the time, I was dialed in on my training and nutrition. I appeared as healthy as one can possibly be. Living the “right” way sort-to-speak so when the right side of my body began to fail me I was caught off guard. I went to the hospital and the doctors ordered a cat scan on my brain. I was confused because it was the muscles in my leg that were failing me. I was like, “Doc, it’s my leg. Why are we taking pictures of my brain?” When I got the results back, I learned that I had a 3 cm blood clot in my brain.

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My world was instantly turned upside down. I didn’t panic, but I knew that brain and blood clot wasn’t a good combination. I alerted my mom and told her I was being taken to ICU. I was assigned a doctor and a team of neurosurgeons who explained my options. Of the five opinions, only one suggested surgery. The plan was for me to go to an in-patient rehab center. They would let the blood thin and then radiate the rest of the blood out. Boom! No surgery.

I was in rehab for two days and I had a brain hemorrhage. I was readmitted into ICU. At this point, surgery was not only our next option, but our best option.

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Honestly, I’m still unclear what my official diagnosis was. It was a vascular malformation. My veins were knotted up in my brain and it seemed to be bleeding more. From the imaging and information gathered by doctors, there was no clear path to follow and my surgery would be uncharted considering all factors.

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After being briefed on how the surgery would go, the doctor wanted me to prepare for all possible outcomes. He explained the surgery was very invasive and I might experience certain short-term and potential long-term effects. These included limited movement and possible paralysis, both temporary and long-term. I might have to learn how to walk again, put on clothes, and feed myself. I might lose my ability to remember short-term and/or long-term.

So how do you prepare for such things? How do you come to terms that the way you knew life could possibly be changed forever? What if I couldn’t remember my mother? What if I had to learn and build relationships with the most important people all over again? I thought about the music and lyrics that shaped my life all being gone. I would be a blank canvas having all my past memories wiped, only to be convinced that they happened with no feelings that they did. On top of this, I might not be able to walk again, so being active and living a life that promotes activity could be forever changed. As they prepped me for the operating room and I took in the sites and prayers from everyone, my thought was, “what if I don’t remember my last memory?”

The operation was a success and from the moment I opened my eyes, I didn’t forget anything important. Greg, Mom, Jody, Bob, Thad, Quis, Jeremy, Grant and Dre. If I’m leaving anyone out sorry, I just brain surgery.

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Now the road to recovery could begin. Being a competitor, I was used to challenging the status quo. So hearing I couldn’t lift weights over 20 pounds for 3 months, no driving for the same amount of time was hard. Taking it all in, people around me knew I was listening but I was going to attack this thing. I was back to lifting heavy weight within a few months and I have little to no residual effects from the surgery.

Final thoughts, imagine taking your iPhone to the Apple store because of a minor problem. You get informed that you have to factory reset your phone and they’re not sure if you will get off of your data back. Imagine the panic, the uncertainty and frustration. Well, this analogy is what I faced but with my brain. Literally the plan was to do a “factory reset.” So here’s some truth’s that I have and helped me through this. In my time of struggle, I realize everyone is struggling with something. And right now, this moment, this is my test. I also realized that we don’t get to choose our battles, they choose us. And it’s how we attack those battles that speaks to the character of the person. I also realized that what I do matters and my reach was a lot deeper than I cared to acknowledge. It wasn’t until I came to accept all possibilities that might happen... I mean truly accept them. And then I decided that whatever version of me came out of surgery, I promised to be the best version of that Darnell, whatever the outcome.

I encourage you to fight to be the hero of your own story. Understand that it’s your fight, but you don’t have to fight alone. Hopefully you have a tribe of people to give you perspective and help you realize your importance and I did.

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Thank you to my support team:

Mike for being the first responder, Christa for telling me to go to the ER and being motherly for my mom. Jody for working the logistics and caring for me like a best friend should. Mihai, my gentle giant who protected me from situation and made sure I was always good. My mom for her care and love. She worries and that’s her way of expressing love. My pastor Jeremy thanks for the prayers and always making me laugh. LeAnne for the cookies. Jeremy, Jenny, Emile and Vin for the resources and love. Grant and Melissa for the love and my only healthy meal. A special thanks to Joe Freeman, worship leader at North Point, he did a mash up of my favorite worship songs.