Inspirational Speaker and Television Personality Iyanla Vanzant has opened up on the medical conditioned she was faced with in 2016 that almost claimed her life.
In an exclusive article on Essence.com, she discloses details of the events that led her to the surgical room.
A few days before last year’s Essence Festival, I flew to Jamaica to speak at a former student’s two-day event for women. Minutes before I was to take the stage, I became critically ill, throwing up, and had cramps. I’ve been blessed to have never had a health challenge beyond a cold or having children. I thought, I have food poisoning. Let me get this out, drink tea and go do my presentation. I would not cancel the event. I finally got to where I could get on the stage.
I spoke for about 20 minutes, then had a revelation that I shared. “I’m standing on this stage, telling you the importance of taking care of yourself and I’m deathly ill. I’m leaving. If you come back tomorrow, I’ll be here.”
I left and they called a doctor. We all thought I had food poisoning, and they gave me medicine for it. I rested. The next day I was numb from the meds and finished speaking. I wasn’t feeling well, but it wasn’t as bad as the day before.
The following day I left to return to the U.S. and get ready for the Essence Festival. The meds had worn off and all the symptoms were back: the pain, cramping, nausea and dry heaves. I was trying to push through. In my mind I’m saying, I cannot be sick, because I have Essence in two days. By the time the plane landed in Baltimore, I was on my knees in a corner, with my face in a barf bag. They met me with an ambulance on the tarmac and took me to the hospital, where I discovered that one of the pouches in my colon had ruptured.
This type of rupturing can be deadly, as toxins can seep into your bloodstream. When I got to the hospital, they had to perform surgery on me immediately. Somehow my left ovary had positioned itself to absorb the toxins that were being released from my colon. They didn’t know that until I got on the surgical table. I got ill because the ovary had become overwhelmed, and the toxins were seeping into my blood. I had septic shock, which can kill you.
I had no previous symptoms. I’d had my hair and makeup done, and was getting dressed to go speak and this happens. Two weeks after I had my surgery, a very dear friend had his colon rupture while he was sleeping and he died.
It’s a common condition called diverticulitis, in which the colon develops pouches. Sometimes it is from diet. My theory is that a lot of times it’s from stress. Nothing goes on in the body that doesn’t first happen in the mind, so it has probably been a lifetime of little stresses building up. We don’t know when my rupture happened, because of the grace of my ovary.
They removed 13 centimeters of my colon and the ovary, then performed a colostomy. The procedure, which connects the colon to the surface of the abdomen, provides a new path for waste and gas to leave the body. I had to wear a colostomy bag, which collects your bodily waste and you change out the bag.
When you have a colostomy bag hanging off the side of your belly, you get real clear about what you take in, knowing that you’re going to see how it comes out. I had to do it at a physical level, but it was also about the emotional, psychological and spiritual level. What are you taking in?
Her lesson from the whole experience
So many of us take in stuff—what we hear, what we accept, what we accommodate and tolerate, what we entertain—and we’re not clear how it comes out. It can come out as depression, angry outbursts, the way we treat ourselves and the way we treat other people.
As women, you take things in and digest it, and you have to eliminate as well. We have to draw nutrients that feed our life and our soul and then eliminate the rest. That’s where a lot of us have problems. We don’t eliminate. We will hold on to people, things, clothes, ideas, beliefs and behaviors longer than necessary. Then when we have these dramatic eruptions in our lives—be it a breakdown in a relationship, a loss of a job, a rift in the family—we don’t understand why. You have to look at how you digested your experiences. What are you holding on to and how are you processing things through your mind and your heart? Your whole life is a colon. You have to eliminate.
I’m very clear that my experience was a warning. The lesson is, don’t hold on and don’t hold back. We hold so much energy, thoughts and emotions and have ruptures in our relationships and finances and internally with diseases.
People will take their clothes to the cleaners and do their laundry, but they never clean their energy. You vacuum the rug, but you’re upset with a friend, a relative or your partner for days and never clean your energy. That is a form of holding on. When you have a breakdown or are upset with someone, the way to eliminate toxic energy from your body, mind and spirit is clearing conversations. We have to have clear, clean and complete conversations.
We also have to renew and recharge our vision. Just because it’s a good idea in March, it may not still be a good idea in July if it’s not bearing fruit. In these 60 to 90 days, ask yourself, What am I doing? What is the progress I’m making? Do I need to make some additions or eliminate some things or people? I had my first summer at home in probably ten years. We have to create more me time for reflection and get off technology.
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