Learning to Speak Again: How This Woman’s Story Reminds us that Anything is Possible

Today I’m reminded of a woman I interviewed years ago whose determination to overcome her grief deeply moved me.

I met Shalena almost 3 years ago at a women’s conference called The Tell Your Story Conference by Chandi Rae in Dayton, Ohio. There was something about her that seemed so genuine and so hungry for her purpose. As we engaged in conversation, Shalena began to talk about how she had gotten into the conference. After just a few minutes of speaking with her, I knew I had to interview her for a story.

Shalena was told that she would never be able to hold a conversation again, neither would she be able to read and comprehend. This was the diagnosis she received after a series of heartbreaking events shattered her world. She had lost her brother, her boyfriend, two grandparents and the father of her first child all within seven years. But Selena was determined not to believe the doctor’s report. Instead, she would stand firm on what God said about her.

“They counted me out, but I’m still in. I wish I could see those doctors and let them see what I’m doing now,” she said.

When we spoke again a few weeks later, I was blown away at how much pain Shalena had endured as a teenager. I hope her story encourages you to continue believing that all things are possible when we believe.

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On September 5, 1994, Shalena’s life changed forever when her brother was shot and killed close to their family home.

“He was walking my friend home at the time. About 15 minutes after they left the house, we got a call for my friend saying my brother just got shot,” Nikiema told The Weight She Carries. “My mother got into the car and I was so out of it I just ran about half a block to where he was. I got to him and he was laying on the ground, and he was dead.”

Shalena’s mother gathered her son’s lifeless body in her arms and began screaming.

Shalena, who was pregnant at the time, was so distraught that when the police arrived, they removed her from the scene and locked her in the back of their patrol car. Nikiema wasn’t having it. She climbed out of one of the windows that was ¾ of the way down.

“To this day, I don’t know how I got out of that window. They should have never locked me in the car because I don’t think I was that out of control where they needed to prevent me from being with my brother,” she said. “That took a toll on me and made things extra worse for me later on because I eventually had a nervous breakdown.”

Shalena’s breakdown was so severe that she was put on a number of medications. She struggled with the loss of her brother. His killer was never found, and within a 7-year span, she had also lost two grandparents and a boyfriend whose body was recovered from a body of water following a police chase, Shalena said.

Shortly after her boyfriend died, the father of her eldest son was murdered. He had been missing for a few hours and was last seen yelling out of a vehicle as it drove past his mother’s house.

“About a day later, his body was found in a creek,” Shalena said, fighting back tears. “He was beaten and killed by three men who were later convicted. My son is 25 now, but it still hurts me to talk about his father’s death.”

Overwhelmed by the degree of loss, Shalena tried to take her life by overdosing on three different medications.

She survived, but lost the ability to read and comprehend, and the various doctors treating her didn’t think she would ever be able to speak again.

“You have to learn to not go by what man says but by what God says. The enemy will put things into your head to try to take you away from what you are trying to accomplish, but you have to push through.”

“Sometimes my words still slur and you may be able to catch it, but they told me I would never be able to hold a conversation. But I kept fighting,” Shalena said. “I can read and I can comprehend now. That just got better within the last 5 years.”

As her body slowly recovered, Shalena began to notice that something else was going on with her body. The skin on her buttocks and legs began to change about 10-12 years after her brother’s death. Over time, the patches of irregular skin spread.

“I’ve been to the doctor four or five times between 2012 and 2015, and I gave up,” she said. “Some said it was eczema, others said I had vitiligo or psoriasis, but the patches on my skin don’t resemble any of those conditions.”

The only connection Shalena said she could make was with the medication she had religiously taken for years as a result of her nervous breakdown. She suspects she may have had an allergic reaction to the meds.

Ashamed of her skin condition, Shalena stayed away from swimming pools, and always covered up her legs.

One day in February 2018, as she was doing some work online, she stumbled upon an ad for an upcoming women’s empowerment conference scheduled to be held that weekend in Dayton, Ohio.

The “Tell Your Story” Conference created by Chandi Rae invited women to embrace their stories, and to use those painful experiences to step into their purpose.  Shalena, who lived over three hours away, didn’t have a working vehicle but knew there was no way she could miss the conference. It was exactly what she needed.

Following her brother’s death, Shalena’s life had spiraled out of control as she desperately sought to escape the pain that threatened to suffocate her. She moved frequently – running from her problems, dated men who were not a good fit for her, and made some choices that compounded her pain and left her broken.

 “At that point in my life, I told myself I would go after anything that made me uncomfortable. I went on the internet and saw Chandi Rae’s Tell Your Story Conference,” Shalena said. “I didn’t know who would be telling their stories or who the speakers were, all I knew was that I had been looking into the idea of telling my story for three years, and I needed to be there.”

Shalena reached out to Chandi Rae and the two quickly made arrangements for Shalena to attend the conference. She took the Grey Hound bus from Cleveland to Dayton and was blown away by the women who shared their experiences.

One of the speakers in particular, Berlange Presilus – whom The Weight She Carries previously wrote an article on – inspired Shalena to embrace herself completely and to own her truth.

Shalena left the conference determined she would no longer be ashamed of her body. Not only would she stop hiding her skin condition, she wanted to share her story to inspire others the way she had been inspired.

“I’ve had to fight discouragement, not just from doctors but from some family members as well. Some said women don’t like me and that I’m too aggressive, or that I can’t motivate people because I ‘don’t like people.’”

She immediately reached back out to Chandi Rae, who is a certified life coach, and enrolled in weekly coaching sessions.

Now, Shalena is doing everything she can to use her experiences to catapult her into her destiny, and is taking strides to become an inspirational speaker.

“I’m taking classes online to be a photographer, but as soon as I’m done with that, I’m going to focus full time on inspirational speaking. I will not give that up,” she said. “And I will not let me having a tongue-tie stop me because that’s what it has been doing all along.”

This year has proven to be a year of healing for Shalena. On Valentine’s Day this year, she committed her life to God and got saved in the same Baptist Church her grandparents raised her in. Over the years, she had deviated from the faith she had been introduced to as a child, but decided to return to her Baptist roots. The church embraced her lovingly, and she has resolved to no longer run when life gets tough.

Shalena has come a long way since the death of her brother 26 years ago.

“They counted me out, but I’m still in. I wish I could see those doctors and let them see what I’m doing now,” she said.

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