Nika C. Beamon: Journalist, Author, And an Overall Badass Woman
Nika C. Beamon is a TV News writer/producer, journalist, and author. She has pursued a Bachelor of Art in Communications and Sociology from Boston College has received numerous awards including the Peabody Award for her coverage of the September 11th attacks. She specializes in telling stories, but never thought that the most incredible story she'd tell would be her own.
Nika is uniquely authentic, audacious, and resilient. She confronts issues within the Black community head on and isn't afraid of varying opinions because it's more important for her to tell the truth than to write a story for accolades and applause. Each book that she's written speaks to a different aspect of Black life from Black women and relationships, to career, to Black men and racial profiling, to how we approach illness. In Nika's personal memoir, Misdiagnosed: The Search for Dr. House, she discusses her own experiences with fighting and ultimately treating a disease that had tried to take her life on more than one occasion, but she refused to let it win. Nika learned that she had to save her own life if she wanted to live, and that's just what she did.
When did you first start writing?
As a child I loved writing stories, I just didn’t necessarily think that anybody else appreciated them, nor did I at that time care until I realized ‘Hey, people could actually like this and actually get something from it’. I read comments all the time and think ‘Hey, she actually got what I thought about it'. It’s those things that make you think, ‘wow, I can actually do this. This is really interesting. Maybe this is what I’m supposed to do.’ You’re always searching for what you’re supposed to do in life, but I think I was lucky in that sense for me [because] I figured out early at least what I thought I wanted to do; whether I was actually good at it or not is still yet to be seen, but I did what I had passion for. Work does feel like work by the way. It does. People always say if you have a passion for something it doesn’t feel like work. It does feel like work, but there are times when I know that I’m the only one who can do what I do or tell the story in that way and those are the things that I’m most proud of.
That’s awesome. So you’ve written four books so far?
Yes, two mystery books and two non-fiction books. Only one of the non-fiction books is a memoir, but yes, four since 1996. Dark Recesses, Eyewitness, Misdiagnosed, and I Didn’t Work This Hard Just to Get Married: Successful Single Black Women Speak Out.
Can you give a brief description of all of your books?
All of my books are about aspects of Black life that I feel were being overlooked. Dark Recesses is about people living in the Deep South and how they were being forced to separate their families because of racism. Eyewitness is about false eyewitness accounts, two people looking at the same scene and one of them mis-perceiving the suspect and of course the suspect has to be Black right? People generally get it wrong and unfortunately more of us are convicted because of that. I Didn’t Work This Hard Just to Get Married is about Black single women and somehow we have to be angry Black women if we’re single or something’s wrong with us or somehow we’re deficient in some way. Misdiagnosed is about Black people who are ill. For me, I was misdiagnosed for 20 years because they kept looking for the obvious. They looked at the outside, saw a Black woman, and didn’t look for any disease that didn’t affect Black people. But everything I had had nothing to do with being a Black person. There were so many things that needed to be addressed about Black life and I think just by my nature of being Black that was always of some interest to me.
Great. I found the title I Didn’t Work This Hard Just to Get Married really interesting especially in this climate in regards to Black women because I feel like we’re in a time where Black women are really flourishing in a very hyper-surveillanced way. We have the women who started Black Lives Matter, artists such as Beyoncé and Solange Knowles who are putting out works that speak to our culture in a very raw and transparent way, and the Natural Hair Movement has really taken over the internet. In other words, Black women are successful in various ways that have nothing to do with being with a man. How important do you find that particular book in the climate that we’re in now?
That book is interesting because it’s actually based off of an ABC News special about if you can have it all. It’s about single Black women. Everyone was miserable and I thought that was so interesting and so odd. I thought wait a minute, I’m Black and I never thought of myself as being miserable, I still don’t. Whether you’re married or not I don’t know that you’re miserable. Nothing I did in my life was simply to find a husband, to find a man. I didn’t go to college to get my MRS. I didn’t write books to meet a man, I didn’t have the job that I had just for that. I may have originally gotten into the business to help a man, but it certainly wasn’t because I didn’t think I had the skill to do something else. So I began to wonder how many women felt like the life that you lead is not predicated on whether you’re in a relationship or not or whether you have children or not. I feel like people do talk about that more than they did when ABC did that special or when I wrote the book.
I thought it was interesting that about a month after my book came out in May 2009, Steve Harvey’s book [Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man] came out in June about how to catch a man and that went on to be a best seller. People were still more interested in finding a mate than they were in fulfilling themselves and that is something that I always found problematic because this half concept, or that you need someone else to complete you…you obviously need to be whole whether you’re with them or not. Being single is a transitional state that most of us will be in throughout our entire life. Women out live men. So if you have a spouse, he may die before you, then what do you do? Women tend to get married later in life so then what do you do with the beginning part of your life? You’re miserable because you don’t have somebody? You don’t have a mate of any gender? There’s so many things wrong with that idea that being single makes you miserable that I wanted to explore if other people felt the same way. Because people were buying the Steve Harvey book, I began to think well maybe I’m wrong. People really don’t see that, people see women as an accessory to men and not as whole individuals. That was very odd to me. I think that we’re finding more women say that they’re proud of their accomplishments and proudly proclaiming that being single isn’t a death sentence, it’s not a miserable sentence, it’s not that they’re missing something, or that something must be wrong with them. So I think that absolutely is changing, but like you said, I think that we’re finding in all aspects of life people are not going to hide because their Black and you’re not going to mistreat me because I’m Black. I’m not going to let you sexually assault me because I’m a woman and then remain silent because I feel like as a woman I’m helpless. People are speaking up about all of the ills or misconceptions about them that are going on in the world and hoping to effect change and I don’t think that can be seen as anything but a positive thing.
Do you have any favorite stories from any of your books?
That’s a tough one. Obviously the most personal one to me is Misdiagnosed. It wasn’t something I thought that I would ever write. I spent my career writing about other people. You almost cringe at the thought of telling a story about yourself. It’s not for the reasons most people think. I’m an incredibly blunt person. My fiancé tells me I swing with a sledgehammer so when I tell the story, it’s going to horrify people. Not that I cared what their perception of me was, but I didn’t want their perception of me to make them miss the point of the stories in the book. I try to live my life with no regrets, I am who I am, I made the choices that I made, and I did what I did to get to this point, but I did have to filter some of the stories or at least learn how to tell the stories, not differently, but I think I had to tell them with the perception of someone else from outside.
I think the most interesting story for me in Misdiagnosed is breaking up with my ex-boyfriend. When we first started dating, well actually it wasn’t a date, it was the first time I attempted to have a one night stand and it went terribly, terribly, awry. It was funny to me and I thought it was God’s way of punishing me. I knew him for a long time and he kept asking me out and I had actually broken up with another guy and I thought I needed some time to myself and that I wasn’t ready to date so I kept ignoring him. He kept asking so one night we out with friends and he invited me home and I thought, “What the hell?” I’ll try something different. I’ve never gone home with just some dude so I’m going to do it and it’ll be fine. I’m a grown person and I can do what I want. So I went home with him and I ended up having a massive hemorrhage. I was bleeding so much and at first he thought I was having my ‘friend’, but I don’t have regular periods so I looked down and I realized I was sitting in a pool of blood, and he’s screaming “My new sofa!” which made it even funnier. I get up to go to the bathroom and he says, “This is like CSI: New York!” because there was just blood everywhere. He then calls another friend of mine and they both take me to the hospital and I had nearly bled to death. So that was a horrible way to end a first date, but he calls again for another date and he’s the one I was with for 10 years. Over the 10 years we had our differences, but none of them ever had to do with me being sick, and I was sick a lot.
But he cheated all the time. At some point I said, “Do you want to be here or not?” and he said “I don’t want to be here” and I said, “Well, you should go.” He went on to marry someone else, but we are still friends to this day, amazingly. He saved my life more times than I care to mention. He did do horrible other things, but I tried to balance out his portrayal in the book to be honest. I didn’t leave, not because I didn’t know that he cheated, but I told him as long as you continue to be there for me, take care of me and put me first, we have whatever deal we have. That’s what we lived with. The point where I could no longer live with it, I was fine at that point. I was okay with it because that’s the way it was supposed to be. I think I always appreciated that people could read our stories, especially stories about our relationship, and realize that nobody’s all good and nobody’s all bad. People have their faults and when you’re at the point when you can no longer live with it, you should be able to walk away with dignity and not be bitter about it. Yes, he did these horrible things and I didn’t want to skip them, but he was also the person that when my stomach ruptured, rushed me to the hospital and sat by my bed everyday. He was also the person that on our first date, took me to the hospital, stayed there all night, and was there when I woke up even though he didn’t owe me that. There’s a lot of things. And I hope that when I write any story that people are able to see multiple facets rather than a one-dimensional portrayal of him. I could have portrayed him as no good, but that wouldn’t have been fair.
Right, you didn’t want to portray him as a monster because he cheated.
Right, because we all make mistakes. I didn’t want to say that he had no redeeming qualities. It was important for me to be fair.
I know from Misdiagnosed, you’ve had to battle a rare autoimmune disease for the better part of 20 years. How did you go about finding your “Dr. House”?
I got sick in college. Me and my boyfriend at the time realized that something was wrong, but every time I went to the doctor they’d come up with a diagnosis that didn’t really fit. It became really clear to me early on that they really didn’t know what they were talking about. When I had gotten really sick with the boyfriend that’s in Misdiagnosed, I had had hemorrhages before so that wasn’t a surprise. My stomach had ruptured before so that wasn’t new. And with other symptoms it was like, okay, these things don’t fit any of the diagnoses I’ve been given. But I still did nothing which is hard to believe. From the time that you’re small, you’re basically taught to believe that when doctors tell you something, you’ve just got to kind of go with it. What were my options? I did go to different specialists and every kind of ologist there is…a gastroenterologist, a hematologist, but none of them could stop me from getting sick. I had two strokes before I was 35 years old, one of which happened while I was driving a car, and they couldn’t figure out what the cause was. And yet, I still did nothing. I still went to the same set of doctors. I had gone to 26 doctors by the time I was 26 and none of them could figure it out. So I thought, if there was something wrong with me maybe there’s no name for it. I just didn’t know.
The thing that really motivated me, my fiancé now and I had just started dating, and I really wasn’t feeling well. I was going to an infectious disease specialist and she took a look at my neck and asked, “How long have your lymph nodes been swollen?” and I said, “Oh, a long time” and I did know that they had been like that for a long time, but no one else had said anything about it and at this point I had been going to a doctor about every other week and not one doctor had said anything. She recommends me to a friend and so I go see him and after about five minutes he brings me into his office and asks “How’s Tuesday?” and I was a little confused so I say, “How’s Tuesday for what?” and he says, “For surgery. You might have lymphoma”. And I’m thinking he thinks I have cancer. So I ask, “Why do you think I have cancer?” and he says, “Because of your lymph nodes, did you not know that’s why you are here?”. I went home and thought to myself, “I’m not going to die. I’m not ready to die. I’m not even old enough to die. I mean I am, but I’m not, I’m not even 40 years old. How the hell have I’ve been going to doctors saying I’m going to die and how the hell did they miss it?”. So I decided then I’m not going to die and I’m not going to keep going to doctors who don’t know the answers because they are going to kill me. I had my first two surgeries and knew if I wasn’t going to die, I had to figure out what this is. I wrote down all of my symptoms and looked on the computer to see what these symptoms matched. Most of the diseases that came up were rheumatological so then I looked up who was the best doctors are in New York. I’m a journalist by trade so I sort of knew what to do, I knew how to research. I made an appointment with the top five rheumatologists. I’ve been to everyone else, I knew I needed the best. The first one said, “Well, you could have some type of autoimmune disease, but you look fine to me. You’re still working right? Well then you couldn’t be that sick”. I told him “Thank you, I’m going to leave”. He told me to come back when I get worse. I said, “I’m not coming back here. Next!”
Before I went to the next doctor I called the office to see if they took electronic records because I wasn’t about to waste my time. I then collected all of my electronic medical records from all 26 doctors and sent her office my file before my appointment with her. Once I got there the doctor said, “I looked at your file, I think I know what you have.” I didn’t know how that could be after 20 years. She said, “I had a patient with something very similar and it’s very rare.” She took out a piece of paper and wrote down the name. I had never heard of that disease before and it made no sense to me. I asked her how does she confirm this diagnosis. She said, “First of all I must tell you that there’s no cure, but I have meds that can make you feel a lot better and it’s as simple as a blood test.” And I was thinking, “You have got to be kidding me. 20 years and no one could figure it out and all it took was a simple blood test?” That’s all it took and I’ve been with her ever since. I feel better now than I did in my 20’s because I think she got it right. It turns out that the disease that I have, there’s a center [that specializes] in Boston at Mass General which is where I was in college and had I known at the time, I could have gone there then. So I went back to Boston and met with those doctors to make sure I was on the right course for treatment. Never again would I blindly follow someone else in terms of treating me and saving my life because I realized then if I didn’t save my own life, nobody else would.
I’ve learned a lot along the way, not that I have any regrets now, but I wish that I had known sooner that I should have done more and not followed doctors blindly. That’s part of the reason why I wrote the book. I wanted to let people know that when you know there’s something wrong with you, you certainly don’t let other people tell you that there’s not because you may not get as lucky as I have been. It took six months worth of biopsies to save me at that point. That took a lot of cutting and caused even more damage. For example, the untreated inflammation damaged my spine, damaged my stomach, and damaged my ovaries. Years and years of take this pill, take that pill and not doing enough caused a lifetime’s worth of damage. If you can prevent that, then that’s exactly what you should do.
I think that’s an incredible story and I think that’s great advice as well. Given all that you’ve gone through, is there anything that you’re afraid of?
That’s a good question. No. I always tell people at my job, there’s nothing that you could do that can kill me. I’m not going to let you kill me. I’ve fought too hard to stay alive. Absolutely, not. It might sound strange, but I tell people everyone needs a little sickness because it gives you perspective. It’s one of those things where you don’t realize the things you want to do in your life or the things you want to accomplish until the option is taken from you. I didn’t realize how much I liked to walk until I woke up one day and couldn’t walk, I didn’t realize how much I wanted to live until I couldn’t. I had to face the fact that if [her ex-boyfriend] leaves, I’m going to be alright. Sometimes it takes losing so many things to give you perspective about the things that you really do have and the things that you really hold on to. Someone asked me if I’m afraid of dying. No. I think we’re afraid of what’s on the other side. If there’s something on the other side. But dying, itself? No, I think I’ve got that down. I’ve been through enough pain in my life that I don’t fear the pain of dying anymore. I think that the biggest thing that I fear is that I won’t live up to my potential. That somehow I’ll forget how important it is to do the things that I want to do and end up not doing them. That happens to a lot of people. I hope that never happens. I drive myself hard to do the things that I want to do whether they seem impossible, improbable, or not. I go when I want to go, I rest when I need to rest, but I always keep going.
I think another fear is that I won’t do enough to help other people who haven’t gotten that lesson yet. If I can make a difference so that someone else doesn’t have to endure all of that, that’s all that you can hope for. I hope that my pain and suffering means something. It has to mean something. It can’t just be. So if you can turn it into something, it’s worth bearing your soul, your life story on the page. If it’s a cautionary tale for someone, then it’s worth it.
I totally agree. For me, I’m not afraid of the act of dying, I’m afraid of all of the living I’d miss out on. Marriage, kids, etc.
It’s true. When I was in my 20’s, I lived to work, I didn’t work to live which is something totally different. Now I work to live. I’ve told my boss, I’m going to go home when I don’t feel well. I’ll work as hard as I can when I’m here. But when I’m not here, I’m not here. I’m not answering the phone. When I need to eat I’m going to eat, when I’m sick I’m going to be sick, when I need to pee I’m going to pee and the rest of that workaholic crap, I’m done. I’m not throwing my back out to walk here in the snow anymore. I’m not getting on the road when it’s a state of emergency. The most important thing to me is to live and my quality of life and this ain’t it. This is a job. I’ve sacrificed for many years. I’ve gotten to work at the number one news station before I was 27 years old because I was willing to sacrifice all of those things. I’m no longer willing to sacrifice all of those things. My fiancé has a son. We make it to his graduations. We make it to his plays. I took off for all of those things. We took off for Halloween because we like to dress up like a family and damn it, that’s a holiday to us and I’m not missing that. That’s what’s important and that’s what I’m going to do. My job wanted me to work on Thanksgiving. I told them you have half a day because I have a family to get home to because this is what’s important to me now. I have no regrets, but sometimes I wish I would have gotten to this place sooner.
Lastly, what’s some of the best advice you’ve gotten?
My grandmother always said closed mouths don’t get fed. My mother said if you do ask for something, you’ve got a 50/50 chance of getting it. If you don’t ask for something, you’ve got 100% chance of getting a no. You’ve already given yourself a no. You’ve defeated yourself. It’s up to you how you want to play the odds. I volunteer a lot. People at work have said, “I can’t believe you volunteer.” I said, “What else are you doing on a Saturday?” My grandmother told me, "Of a little bit we must divide." We’re always blessed with so many things. We must help people who can’t help themselves. These are the things that have helped me become the person I want to be. Any advice that continues to help me become the person I want to be, I’ll follow. Sometimes I give myself my own advice.
Someone once asked me who’s the person I most admire, who’s my favorite writer. My mother always taught me it’s nice to admire a person’s work, but you don’t admire the person. You don’t know the person. Be the person you want to look up to and you’ll never let yourself down. I try to do those things, give myself advice that will help me be a well-rounded person. My mother told me, “You know, you always wanted children.” My fiancé has a son, maybe this is how I’m supposed to do it. God doesn’t always give you things in the package you expected it to come in.
I think I also try to internalize what those who raised me told me the most. I told you before, I swing with a sledgehammer. I told my grandmother one day, “You say anything that pops into your head.” She said, “I’m not going to die with anything on my chest. I’m not going to let them kill me, that’s for sure.” And I think I’m that person somewhere inside and that I’ve internalized that. What you see is what you get, I’m the same person anywhere I go.
That’s amazing advice. What about some of the worst you’ve gotten?
People give bad advice all of the time. I’ve had a doctor say, “Are you on disability?” And I said, “Should I be? I’m not disabled. I mean, I’m disabled to some degree, I use a cane to get around, but not to the point where I can’t do my job efficiently. I’m able bodied in every other way, my mind is sharp, I can’t imagine why I would do that.” I’ve been advised that I should get married whether that’s what I wanted to do or not. “You’ve got that man, you better hold on to him.” I’m thinking, “I’ve got to marry him to hold on to him? That doesn’t make much sense to me.” I’ve been asked, “Why write what you love when you could just make money?” That’s not who I am. I would not be good at writing something I don’t believe in. I’m not going to get married for somebody else. I’m not going to have children for somebody else. I’m not going to allow myself to get mistreated at work and not say anything. It’s just not in my nature. It’s in my nature to just be myself. So as long as I’m happy with that, and I’m proud of that, I’m okay with that.
To learn more about Nika and here work be sure to visit her blog here. Also be sure to follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Follow Nika's YouTube channel where she discusses living with chronic illness. Click here to purchase her books.