Brianca Delaney avoids leaving her home. When she departs the house, she sticks to a definite route and destination. She still shudders with the memory of last year's panic attack, the bustle of Seattle's Third Avenue too much to bear. "It was horrible," she said, "I lost touch with my environment. My system gets so triggered; it's hard for me to focus."
In her former life, Delaney, 39, appeared confident and well-adjusted. Always "the smart one," she prided herself in academic achievement, excelled in college and went on to lead a fruitful career. Even now, her captivating sense of humor and frequent laughter do a great job of hiding the pain she harbors.
Delaney was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2006. Her attacks have become increasingly unpredictable and are a symptom of a much greater burden she's carried in silence over her lifetime.
During her first year of life, Delaney and her two siblings were taken from their schizophrenic mother by court mandate and reared by their grandmother. They moved from Missouri to Colorado, where Delaney was molested by various family members from the age of five. She was raped by her father, who visited on occasion, at age 10. Her grandmother told doctors that young Delaney was promiscuous, thus prohibiting investigation and protecting her son from prosecution.
Delaney experienced her first flashbacks of sexual abuse at age 18. Still, she went to great lengths to conceal her life's blemishes. She struggled with bouts of alcoholism, yet kept moving forward as one who had never known such trauma.
She reached a pivotal point four years ago when she was diagnosed with a uterine fibroid tumor. Truths too powerful to ignore began rising to the surface as she was now forced to step back from her fast-paced life.
In order to clear her mind and focus on her health, she quit her job and moved to Seattle to stay with a friend. This arrangement soon became strained, but without an income, she had nowhere to go. With homelessness came severe anxiety, nightmares, and bouts of depression.
Uterine fibroids are growths that develop in the muscular wall of the uterus. They are the most common tumors of the female genital tract and are usually non-cancerous. Twenty to 40 percent of women at or over the age of 35 have uterine fibroids of a significant size, and as an African-American woman, the risk factor for Delaney was even greater, at 50 percent.
While most fibroids don't cause symptoms, their size and location can lead to problems including pain and heavy bleeding. A dominance of estrogen stimulates their growth, yet it remains unclear what causes initial formation. Many link the tumors with stress, retained anger, or sexual trauma.
Their standard treatment: a hysterectomy.
In the U.S., at least 600,000 surgeries to remove the uterus are performed each year -- one-third to remove fibroids.
A surgical removal of just the fibroid, called a myomectomy, is often possible and preferred, as it leaves the uterus in place, yet only one is performed for every five hysterectomies to remove fibroids, according to recent statistics.
Delaney's fibroid is roughly the size of a honeydew melon. She believes its presence is directly related to the pain she has long stored in this part of her body. She is intent on taking every measure possible to keep her uterus, but the only option made available to her thus far is hysterectomy. She continues to struggle with the state health care system to find the means to undergo initial tests that could tell whether or not she is a good candidate for myomectomy.
In January 2006, Delaney entered an emergency shelter for women recovering from domestic abuse, where she lived for three months before moving to New Beginnings Transitional Housing in Seattle. For the first time, she made a commitment to personal healing. She prayed for wisdom, began accepting her past and eventually sharing her story.
She also began searching for her mother, as she felt a new urgency to connect and learn of her experiences.
With the assistance of her therapist and self-defense instructor, she filmed a documentary outlining her hardship. The process proved gut-wrenching as she recalled the whole truth for the first time, but the outcome was personal clarity as she identified reasons for her struggle, expressed the humiliating impact of violence and took the first steps toward healing. One year later, Healing My Broken Womb: and Giving Birth to Divine Creativity was complete.
"One of the things I've realized is I have to make sacrifices in order to become who I really want to be," she said. "I'm learning how to love myself the way I am, and that's huge."
Delaney's film premiered at the Seattle Public Library last July. She went on to provide copies for 10 local domestic violence shelters.
Although her health is forcing her to temporarily step back, Delaney considers volunteer work an important part of her healing process and aims to form her life around advocacy work, primarily helping others with mental illness and fighting what she views as economic discrimination within the healthcare system.
"I've always been silent, but now I have the courage to say something," she said. Delaney draws strength from civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. "They used their bodies, minds and all their energy to say no! They are examples of how you can change something if it's really not working," she said.
In 2006, she and two friends formed Divine Light Enterprises, a nonprofit organization with the mission of inspiring, educating and assisting others in transforming violence with the power of creativity. She hopes to help others process negative emotion in nonviolent ways through discussion and workshops.
A major breakthrough came last December when she found her mother, who she'd not seen in 25 years and only met twice. "It felt like a miracle in my life," she said. Since then, she slowly began uncovering her family's heritage of abuse. She intends to inspire others within her family to speak up, putting an end to the cycle of violence.
Delaney moved into her own apartment in September. Her health concerns remain unresolved and she continues to suffer from PTSD, but she also finds triumph in her newly acquired and fierce determination to create the life she wishes to live.
"I now have to adapt to change," she says. "I have to follow an internal code of ethics I've never had before, which means trusting my intuition all the time, being able to interpret what my body's telling me, and knowing how to keep myself safe."
Shortly after the film's completion, Delaney added "Yemoyali" to her last name, meaning Mother of healing, wisdom and transformation. The name originated from two angels of an African cultural tribe whose characteristics she wants to develop. It also incorporates parts of her birth name, Lisa.
"I'm trying to be the spiritual revolutionary I was born to be," she says. "I want to help people get back to the core of who they are as I get back to the core of who I am."