Growing up female is tricky business. There’s so much we’re expected to do, expected to say, nod, smile, grin, hide the negative, put on your happy face, kiss ass, kick ass, love this because everyone else does and OH MY GOD don’t do that because it’s not lady like.
I’d like to take a second to thank my parents for not raising me to bow down to those around me but instead taking the time to encourage me to question everything, dig deeper, be strong, to foster my desire and passion for writing, and above all else, raising me to be HAPPY.
Sure there are things they wish I was doing instead of what I am doing right now, a vision they probably had for my life but they have always supported me…or at least made me feel supported in whatever I chose as my path.
So for me, when I’m not happy, I have failed. When I’m not myself, I have failed. I haven’t failed when I don’t kiss someone’s ass just because I should. I haven’t failed because I haven’t achieved some sort of materialistic goal. I haven’t failed because things aren’t in some sort of perfect magical sublime order (although my OCD disagrees vehemently with that statement).
Things could be better, sure. I’d really love to be employed. That would rock. But I’m not. What I am is fulfilled. There’s not a paycheck with that, no, but there is peace, happiness, and a strong sense of self. I am doing, right now, exactly what I am meant to be doing.
What anyone happens to think of that does not matter to me.
It doesn’t matter to me that someone thinks I *should* be getting paid. Or that I *should* be doing this or I should have tried harder at that. Wanna know why? That worry is theirs to bear, not mine. That worry is not on my back.
I’ve survived hell more than a few times. Yes, others have gone through worse hells but this one, this one is mine. Filled with potholes of chronic pain, Postpartum Mood Disorders, loss to cancer, addiction of a spouse, a special needs baby, divorce, and the struggle to redefine myself after living an a hostile environment for so very long – an environment which I allowed to completely turn my sense of self inside out.
When I was in therapy, one of the TOUGHEST things my therapist asked me was “Do you know who you are? Really know who you are?” Then she challenged me with this beauty…”I don’t think you’ve ever truly shown your true self to anyone, not even to yourself.”
You try sitting across from someone who has just said this to you and stay tear-free as you realize, “Fuck. No. I haven’t. FUCK. Who the hell am I???” Yeah. That session rocked my world.
Do I know who I am now?
Yeah, sorta, kinda, okay, maybe not but sorta…um… what was the question? I’ll be figuring out who I am until the second I take my last breath because I believe every experience, every exchange, changes us to a certain extent. Maybe not to our core (although there are those type of experiences out there – trust me – I’ve had a few) but they change us ever so slightly.
For the first time in years, and I do mean, in YEARS, I am comfortable in my own skin. I am comfortable in my own head, in my own soul. I’ve hit the trifecta and baby, can’t nobody stop the trifecta.
The best part of all of this? I’m with someone now who loves me for ME, supports me, and is happy to just BE himself with me. Seriously, y’all.. this is the hollywood ending. I’m not gonna lie and say it’s not work, because it is – but when it’s honest, compassionate, filled with trust, and adorned with love – it’s a hollywood ending even if there is a lot of behind the scenes work.
All that hell I’ve been through makes it worth that much more.
I’m growing bolder in lifting the veil off the person I’ve become over the past two years, figuring out how to translate it all into words which sit on a page (or the Interwebz). Like a giant glacier, I am thawing in the ever-warming world, water oozing into a waiting and welcoming ocean.
I may not be perfect, but I’m me.
And in the words of Amy Poehler (via Tina Fey via Schmutzie’s blog):
“I don’t fucking care if you don’t like it.”
Because I’m done bending over and making people happy just because that’s what the world expects me to do – I’ve never been very good at it anyway.
As Laura Thatcher Ulrich once stated, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”
Way back in late 2010, the last week of December, to be exact, I decided to weigh myself. I hadn’t been on a scale in months. Too busy running a house with three kids 6 and under. I didn’t have the time. I liked being an ostrich. If I didn’t think about it, it didn’t matter, right?
My feet killed me. I mean, really killed me. Sharp shooting pains in my arches. My knees were giving out. I could hardly stand up once I sat down. My legs were weak. My arms were weak. Walking was a chore. I’d get out of breath just going from the living room to the kitchen. Shopping at Wal-mart exhausted me. I couldn’t play with my kids. A blob on the couch. This was not living. Sidelined in my own life instead of a participating. Life is not meant to be lived like this.
So I got on the scale.
On the Wii. Which, as those of you who have Wii know, can be harsh. Not only does your Mii suddenly put on a Sumo Wrestler fat suit, the computerized voice shrieks for the whole world to hear that you’re “OBESE.”
Obese. Me. Yup.
I’m 5’8. I weighed in at 281lbs that day. I cried. 19 pounds away from 300 pounds. Wow. In my head, I 300 pounds was the number I would never reach. Yet here I was. Staring the bad boy down. So disgustingly close.
No wonder my feet were sore by noon. No wonder my knees were constantly giving out. No wonder my back killed me. No wonder I couldn’t play with my kids. I was OBESE.
This had to change. No more excuses. Time for action.
I started slowly with Wii. I did guided work outs via the Trainer in Yoga. I did Choose your own workouts too. Signed up for My Fitness Pal and tracked my calories. Stopped eating crap. Drank more water. Moved on from Wii to real world hiking at a local botanical garden. I tweeted about my progress. Shared on Facebook too. So many friends encouraged me. I found @bookieboo on Twitter. Started using the #mamavation hashtag occasionally and found even more support.
I could play tag with my kids in the front yard and keep up with them. I walked the neighborhood with them – 1.5 miles up and down some mildly hilly terrain. While pushing a double stroller. I went from not able to push that stroller up a hill to looking forward to the burn I would feel in my thighs. I bitch-talked myself up and down some nasty hills in my in-law’s neighborhood. I KNEW I could do it. And felt so proud of myself when I did.
Eight months after that horrific weigh-in, I’ve lost a little over 50 pounds.
Earlier this summer, I was hiking 3 miles every day. 1.5 if it was really humid and hot because let’s face it – there’s exercising and then there’s insanity. I’m not quite insane. These days, I’m hooked on an exercise bike. I’m up to 8miles in 30 minutes. I’m a hot sweaty stinky mess when I’m done and I love it. If you had told me I’d be this into exercise a year ago, I probably would have laughed at you.
Exercising and eating right have become a habit. People notice I’m healthier and looking better. They ask me how I’m doing it – expecting me to answer with some sort of fad or get thin quick scam. I’m not into those. I’m into lifestyle changes. Yes, it takes time. But it’s a lasting change. I’m less likely to put the weight back on given that my habits have changed. There’s literally no change in cost to me – no diet pills, no gym membership, no fad foods. Everyone loses weight differently and yes, some people need the structure of a program. Turns out I just needed the motivation of staring down 300 pounds to run in the other direction.
Technically, I’m still obese if you go by the numbers. My BMI is 35. It WAS 42.7.
I don’t feel obese. I can run up and down 14 steps without getting winded. AFTER going for 30 minutes on the exercise bike. I don’t cling to the railing of the stair case for fear I’ll collapse. My thighs are slowly developing muscle definition. I don’t crave (alot of) fatty foods. I haven’t had soda in.. well…. it’s been a long damn time. I’m not capable of pigging out anymore because I get full quickly these days. Water and I are best pals.
I still want to lose 80lbs for a total of 130lbs lost. So yes, I have a long way to go but I’m taking it day by day and as long as I continue to feel healthier and see changes in my body for the better, the numbers really don’t matter. I don’t use My Fitness Pal anymore. My diet has changed so much I’m capable of keeping my calories where they need to be without really thinking about it. I don’t deny myself an indulgence here and there. I just work out harder or eat lighter the rest of the day if I know I’m going to indulge.
Losing the weight has also improved my mood and outlook on life. It’s shown me I can do anything if I just decide to push through the barriers. You can too. There’s fight deep inside you even if you don’t feel it right now. It’s there, just dying to get out and push you forward. Let it escape and motivate you through the hard times. You’ll be glad you did… trust me.
The following post is very descriptive of a difficult period in my life. I have not shared this story with very many people until now. Within the past few weeks, it has been swirling about my head, wanting to come out. As it did in the story, it took me a very long time to get these words on to paper. But tonight they came. I’m grateful. Grateful to have them off my chest and out in the open. If you feel you cannot handle a difficult and potentially triggering read, go watch the following video, Michael Franti & Spearhead’s Say Hey, I love you. This song makes me sqeeee with glee every time I hear it. Also, FYI, the triggering things in this post? Start right off the bat. Be SURE this is something you can handle reading before you scroll past the video.
A Quick Note:
The following intertwines words I wrote tonight with words I wrote in college as part of a short story. The words in italics are from the short story. Toward the end, there are words in bold italics. They are explained directly below, in red.
When I was seven or eight, or perhaps a little older, I wrote a poem about death. It was quite graphic. My mother kept it in her jewelry box for a very long time. She may still have it today – I don’t know. You see, as a child, Death and I often played in the same sandbox. That bastard repeatedly stole relative after relative. He snatched them out of my arms as a greedy toddler snatches toys away from other children whilst shouting, “MINE! You can’t have them!”
I hated him.
Death faded out of the picture for a few years after he stole my grandmothers. My junior year of college, Death came back with a vengeance and stole my grandfathers. Just for kicks, he stole both of them in less than three weeks. Insolent greedy toddler prick.
For the first time, I experienced a deep, dark, sinister physical grief. I often lost control of myself. I hit, punched, kicked, screamed, cried, wailed, and writhed until I passed out. I drank. Heavily. In places I should not have. With people I really should not have. I did things I now regret with people I really should not have. And then….
I signed up for a Creative Writing Course as part of my Major Coursework as I sought my degree in English Literature.
As part of this course, I wrote a short story about a Latin American Author, Alfonsina Storni, who killed herself as she faced certain death due to cancer.
Still grieving, I struggled to write this story. You would think it would be easy. But no… it wasn’t. A numb void – that’s what I was when I set out to write this story.
It was spring. Slowly, the buds poked their heads out, the freshness of a reborn earth filled the air, the chirping of baby birds echoed across the forest. Rain fell to push the buds closer to blossoming.
Spring. Rebirth. Water.
There was a lake nearby the college. I often drove to this lake, sat there, dipping my toes into the cool water as I watched the ducks and geese swim and fish. Sometimes I even fed the geese, getting them to eat from my hand. I even discovered an underwater cement jetty at one location which allowed me to walk almost halfway out into the lake yet only be ankle deep in the water. The mere thought of standing in the middle of the lake like that still makes my head spin – very surreal.
As I struggled to understand Alfonsina, I visited the lake more and more.
You see, she killed herself by diving into the Atlantic Ocean from some cliffs in Buenos Aires. I struggled to understand why she would do such a thing – why, when she was a mother and would leave behind a son. I struggled with this because I was not yet a mother but I could not bear to think of my own mother doing such a thing.
Finally, I began to write:
I know they talk about me all the time. They say what a bad mother I am, those proper mujeres de Buenos Aires; what a distraught pilgrim she is, along for a ride of simple ecstacy. How crazy she is; the woman who lives away from the society she should be embracing. I see no point in embracing the false, that which inflicts pain and suffering upon others for mere appearances. Stretching out under the covers, I open my eyes to face another day. At least today there is no treatment for my cancer. Today I have all to myself and know exactly what to do.
After tossing the covers aside, I reach for my bathrobe. I pit-pat to the bathroom to shower before heading out for the day. No one else is home, my son is off at University listening to his Professors ramble. Warm water flows about my body for more than half an hour. Water lifts my soul. It is my freedom, my saviour.
It is dark outside now, night. I have a glass of wine and a pack of cigarrettes beside me. As I sip on the wine, I hear crickets outside. I also hear the soft echo of traffic just down the hill from my dorm room. There is a soft breeze which plays with the leaves on the tree outside my window. I let the last sentence rumble about in my head for a bit as I chat online with friends.
Water has been my own saviour. I grew up on the Jersey Shore, less than a mile from the beach. Each day as I walked to school the air was infused with the scent of saltwater. To this day, that scent is a very soothing scent for me – sometimes I smell it even when it is not there.
I think this is why I was so drawn to the lake just outside the town limits of my college. For me, water is peace. Water is solace.
As I lay down to sleep, I continued to brainstorm about this story. Due in just a few days, I had to finish it. I had to…
The next day I wrote a few more paragraphs.
Alfonsina comes to life on paper. And in my head.
Every action intentional, deliberate. This woman had a plan.
I find what I want, a pure white ankle-length dress. Low cut, it hugs my curves as I slide it down over my naked body. Staring at myself in the mirror, I smile, sliding my hands down over the cotton fabric, smoothing it over my hips. I rub some blush upon my cheeks and lipstick upon my lips. I whisper to my reflection, “I am Alfonsina Storni, and I am beautiful.”
From there, I briefly summarized Alfonsina’s life. Her childhood, her marriage, her life as a single yet determined mother. And then. Then I type a single word.
What’s perfect? Who is perfect? Who says things are perfect? Who has that authority? How did they get that authority?
I had learned an important lesson…not everything is perfect nor could it ever be, at least not here on Earth. Earth by its very nature exists on an imperfect plane, riddled with rills, ridges and faults.
Sorrow and guilt live among those ridges and rills, I thought to myself. So does death. Death. Perfect.
My story is due within a day or two. I need to write my conclusion.
I have to write her suicide.
The next day it rains. A deluge. Complete with thunder and lightning. Lightning. Water. Person. Death. Perfect.
I change my clothes. Flowing skirt. Flowing shirt. I grab my keys and purse. Run for my car. Drive to the lake. Park my car. Sit and stare at the choppy lake, listen to the thunder and watch the lightning. I get out, leaving my keys in the car. I won’t need them anymore.
I walk down onto the lake’s beach. Into the angry water swirling under an angry sky. I begin to cry. I wail. I scream. I shout. I lift my arms to the sky and ask why. I scream even louder. I pray for lightning to strike the water. I contemplate sinking beneath the water and staying there. I wonder how long it will take anyone to notice I am gone. I breathe. I wonder what it will feel like to fill my lungs with gulp after gulp of water. What the sting of lightning will do to my body. Grief has finally opened it’s gaping mouth to swallow me whole. I’m circling the drain. Gleefully.
The rain beats down on my face, mixing with the saltiness of my tears. I close my eyes and am reminded of the ocean. The ocean – Alfonsina.
Then it hits me.
At first it is a whisper. Then a scream.
Is not what my grandfathers would want for me. Is not what my grandmothers would want for me. Is this really the BEST I have to offer? The BEST I promised my grandmother? IS it?
I scream back. Angry at them for saving me.
I wade back out of the lake and trudge across the muddy beach. I get back into my car. I’d left it unlocked so anyone finding my vehicle wouldn’t have to break in.
I sit there, in my car, until the storm begins to subside, draped over the steering wheel, drenching my seat, crying, wondering what’s next.
I finally start my car. Drive back to school, trudge up to my dorm room, change, and plop down in front of my computer with a deep sigh. I open Alfonsina’s story and stare.
I begin to type, my hair still soaked, dripping onto my shirt and arms.
As I walked to the edge of the cliffs, I hear the thunderous roar of the ocean greeting me. My eyes drink in the beauty of the view. The cliffs went down about fifty feet, and at their bottom, a small sandy and rocky beach stared up at the sky. In the distance, several boats bobbed about in the ambivalent sea as they struggled to find their way.
I closed my eyes, held my hands out, and drew in a deep breath, relishing the scent of the sea. Keeping my eyes shut, I breathed in the sweet scent once more, holding it longer this time. I sat there a long while, holding it in longer this time. I sit there a long while, listening to the waves crash and the sea gulls cry overhead. Here, at Mar del Plata, I find my peace. Here, I glance into the mirror of God and am appeased momentarily. But then the pain and horror of my cancer grows larger and looms heavy. Recovering from a radical mastectomy, I’m to be home. But I had to come. Water is my saviour.
I draw out a small pad and my favorite pen. I write a few lines, as I always did when I visited the cliffs. Today is different though. Today is the last time I will ever drive here.
I Am Going to Sleep
Teeth of flowers, hairnet of dew,
hands of herbs, you, perfect wet nurse,
prepare the earthly sheets for me
and the down quilt of weeded moss.
I am going to sleep, my nurse, put me to bed.
Set a lamp at my headboard;
a constellation; whatever you like;
all are good: lower it a bit.
Leave me alone: you hear the buds breaking through . . .
a celestial foot rocks you from above
and a bird traces a pattern for you
so you’ll forget . . . Thank you. Oh, one request:
if he telephones again
tell him not to keep trying for I have left . . .
(*Note here: The above poem was mailed to a local newspaper by Alfonsina the day before she committed suicide. Those are HER words, not mine.)
I sign my name with a flourish and set my purse on the paper so it will not blow away. Standing up, I smooth my dress down over my body as the wind plays with the bottom of my skirt. Walking close to the edge of the cliffs, I lift my head in prayer. I ask God to forgive me, explaining I could no longer endure the pain. I take one last deep blissful breath of that sweet scented Atlantic air. I dive head first over the cliffs, my eyes wide open to see just what endures below God’s mirror.
My apologies for not posting as much – a girl can get worn out, yanno!
And I am worn out.
I’m gonna tell y’all something that up till now I’ve only shared with family and one close friend.
I struggle on a daily basis with chronic back pain and have since I was 18. It’s been a long time since I’ve last seen a doctor about this but it’s getting to the point where I need to do so, and soon. Over the course of the past week, I’ve had my face go numb twice. This my dear readers, is a very scary feeling and experience. Very scary indeed.
Over the past few months, I’ve had other symptoms rearing their ugly head as well:
weakened grip in both hands (they also spasm when I pick up things and I’ve thrown/dropped things quite a bit – pray for my cell phone, won’t you? The poor thing has been dropped more than I care to admit)
severe lower back pain and muscle tension (I can’t stand/sit for much longer than 10-15 minutes unless I’m using my heating pad)
difficulty swallowing (this has happened just a couple of times but again, pretty scary)
What bites is that right now, like many, many Americans, I do not have health insurance. I recently applied for government assistance with that and am hoping (no, praying) that it goes through.
I am sure these issues are complicated by a very bad habit I have had since college – “popping” my neck, shoulders, and back. I do it because it temporarily relieves the pain. Everyone I have ever seen for my pain issues has always given me a lower back brochure and exercises and sent me on my way. Nevermind that until recently, it was all in my upper back, shoulders, and neck.
So please bear with me as I navigate this very bumpy and painful road. Sometimes I may just have to disappear for a bit and hopefully I will be able to post an explanation. But if I drop off the face of the earth again, just say a little prayer for me and my buddy pain…
Monday was Charlotte’s cleft repair, pharyngoplasty surgery, and ear tubes.
Tuesday morning she got the nasal tube they put in to aid in breathing removed. Then she ate. And ate some more. And drank.
So we were discharged Tuesday afternoon.
She stopped eating Wednesday morning. Stopped talking by the middle of the day. She was also refusing all medication and foods.
We were instructed to return to the hospital.
So we did.
And there we stayed until yesterday morning when her appetite and fluid intake finally picked up enough to make me feel comfortable with bringing her back home.
Our stay was riddled with issues.
The first issue was failure to get written consent for her ear tube surgery. The surgeon took the time to track down where the breakdown in communication happened and did apologize to us but then just a few sentences later admitted that post-consent happens quite a bit in her practice with her adults. Yeah. We’re SO not going back to see her.
Second issue arose during our return to the hospital. The ER had a hard time getting ahold of Charlotte’s doctor to approve admission even though we had been instructed to return by them. We arrived at the ER at 830p but did not get a room until nearly 2a Thursday morning.
Third issue was our day nurse on Thursday. She was a bit flighty and had a propensity for over-explaining things and failed to be prompt in her attention to us. My daughter’s med pump went off repeatedly as did her fluid pump with no response from her whatsoever. She was apologetic and spent some time trying to kiss Charlotte’s behind but I had the nurse replaced. It’s not my kid you have to impress, lady.
Fourth and fifth issue happened on Friday.
Fourth: A tech walked into our room and asked if I wanted to give Charlotte a bath. I said that I did. So she got everything ready and decided we needed to give Charlotte a sponge bath in bed. We had Charlotte lean back over a bowl of water and wiped her hair down. The tech realized she didn’t have water to rinse with so she went and got some while I tried to keep Charlotte calm and still. The tech returned with the water and began to pour it on Charlotte’s head. Charlotte screamed. I reached up and felt the water. It was absolutely scalding. I immediately told the tech to stop and get out of our room. The water she had gotten was entirely too hot! She acted surprised and I had to ask her several times to leave the room. I asked our nurse to make sure she was not allowed back in our room. I didn’t see her again during our stay.
Fifth: At about 1p the phone in our room rang. I answered. It was a prank call. I hung up. They of course, redialed. I was very unsettled (they said horribly mean and rude things to me) and called our nurse. He came right away and handled the situation beautifully. Unplugged our phone and had our phone number changed. A report was filed.
I don’t tell you all of this to complain. I’m telling you all of this to stand strong. I got flustered only twice during our stays. The first was immediately after surgery when we had to hold Charlotte down as the anestethia worked its way out of her system. She was angry, confused, and frustrated. Kept pulling at her IV, her nose, and wanted to be done with all of the pain. I admit that I cried. It took four hours for her to finally calm down.
The second time was when we got prank called. I was very very scared. I didn’t know if it was someone from inside the hospital or outside. I felt very vulnerable and afraid. I even had a plan in place if someone we did not know were to burst into our room. But nothing came of it and I was able to get back to sleep within the hour.
I am glad this past week is behind us.
On a positive note, Charlotte’s speech is ALREADY improved. She’s saying words that we can now understand a lot more often. There are sounds she struggled with before that she is now making with seemingly no effort. We still have quite a bit of work ahead of us but for now, we’re miles away from where we were this time last week.
Last night was rough but I have hopes tonight won’t be as bad. I think she’s got some night terrors and trauma residuals going on as a result of spending the week at the hospital. Teething tablets and a night light finally helped her go to sleep on her own last night but she spent the bulk of the evening in the living room with me. We’re going to have her return to school so her mind will have other things to focus on as well to help leave the memories of this past week behind.