Cracking, and putting myself back together

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About ten days ago, I cracked. My exterior shell and interior soft bits had been stretched and strained for months, and finally the load was too much to bear and the cracks showed up on the surface. Prior to drowning I was able to at least call out that I was coming to pieces and with some help and encouragement I clawed my way back to the surface.

And then? I went home.

Part of my remote-working contract stipulates a number of paid trips back to Salt Lake per year for work. Last week was my first, and the timing could not have been better. It air was cold and bluebird clear, there was snow on the mountains and my schedule allowed for plenty of time in the office catching up with co-workers. I rocked a big work presentation that went swimmingly, and STILL had plenty of evenings free for catching up with friends, going to plays, hosting a book club, and celebrating my niece and nephew’s birthdays with Mexican food and lots of cake. My last night in Salt Lake we had a gorgeous snow storm (not Jonas level, but 8-12″ in the valleys and a few feet in the mountains). My flight home gave me some gorgeous views of freshly snowed-on mountains and stormy clouds obscuring the highest peaks. I am getting all swoony again just thinking about it.

Basically, it was the perfect week and I’m already counting down the days and weeks to my next trip.

Until the end of last year I have lived in Utah my whole life and I consider Salt Lake my hometown. In ways that some people will always think of their childhood neighborhood or their parent’s house as “home”, for me, it is a mid-sized city nestled between the Rockies and a Great Salt Lake. No matter where I am, or how happy I am there, Salt Lake will always be home. And that’s okay. This is a new emotion for me, this home-sickness, when I moved to Salt Lake to go to college I did not miss any previous residence(s), I just felt like I was home.

Now that I’m back in the Valley of the Sun I am trying to take your wonderful advice to heart. I have carved out some time for creative pursuits: I’ve doodled ideas for a dozen paintings, done a color study-sketch for three, and started the first with a promising layer of base paint. I picked a gym and am testing out two different yoga studios in my area (one is hot yoga, do you have thoughts or opinions about hot yoga?). I am researching some hiking and outdoorsy adventures for future weekend jaunts, and Mr. Blue Eyes and I are taking advantage of the mild weather to work on our backyard, he is building me some raised planter boxes for flowers and vegetables and we have plans for a patio and fire pit and a couple of citrus trees. In a few weeks our backyard will no longer be the depressing state of dead sprinkler parts and piles of partially-dead weeds. Baby steps, my friends. Baby steps.

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Blues and Reds

Do you ever have those self-realization moments that hit you like a truck, right in the heart?

I’m there: I have a pretty potent combination of the Blues and the Mean Reds.

I am both sad and lonely and hurting and frustrated and scared; I’ve been doing that body-shaking ugly cry at my desk for the last 10 minutes because I don’t want to be blue or red, I just want to be me. I feel like I’m angry and on-edge and heart-broken and completely alone, all the time. It’s emotionally and physically exhausting and probably makes me a not very fun person to hang out with. I’m having a hard time finding and focusing on the good things in my life, even though I intellectually KNOW there are many of them. I’m having a hard time finding me, and that is a terrifying place to be. Where am I? Am I hiding? Lost? Have I jumped ship? Or am I so altered that the Me From Before doesn’t exist anymore and I’m stuck with this messed-up version of Blue and Red Harriet?

I know moving is hard. I know uprooting your whole life and trying to make it grow 700 miles away is hard. I know finding new friends is hard. I know figuring out how to live with a boy (for, basically, the first time) is hard. I KNOW all that, but I’m still a sobbing, blubbering mess. Is moving one of the most stressful things an adult can do? Yes, yes it is. Do I give myself much allowance for that? No, because I’m Super Woman, dammit, and Super Woman is not to be defeated by something as mundane as moving. Small pox, maybe. Or a nuclear holocaust. Or maybe the destruction of humanity and unicorns in one swift blow from an intergalactic army. But moving? Psssht, like it’s supposed to be hard? (And also? That other stuff is horrible too, but part of me still says “Just rub some dirt on it and get back up and DO something! You’re freaking Super Woman!”)

Yeah, I probably have somewhat unhealthy and wildly unrealistic personal expectations in times of crisis.

Can you do me a favor? Can you tell me two things you love? Two things that bring you joy? And while I know that “family” and “my kids” and stuff are probably near the top of your list, can you give me something to DO that brings you joy? I’m crowd-sourcing here; help a girl out.

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An adult-sized A+. With sunscreen.

For over a decade I have dutifully gone to the dermatologist at least once a year; I track my moles, their shape and coloring; I carefully note if any new ones show up, even the tiny ones; I wear sunscreen like it’s my damn job. My latest check-up earned me a solid A+, which I’ll admit, made me more than a little proud of myself. My doc was most impressed and legitimately surprised that the top part of my forearm and the underside are the exact same hue, which has a lot less to do with winter than it has to do with my always wearing sunscreen or long sleeves. He was shocked that there was not a single tan line on my back or shoulders, not from last summer, or the one before that, or the one before that. It’s not that my skin can’t take a tan, it’s that I go to extreme lengths to keep it from changing color in any way. In fact, in 15 years I think I’ve only had two or three sunburns, and only one of those was so intense it blistered. I just…I’m really really careful. Always.

Here’s the thing, for me, an A+ is not really an “excellent! superb! you’re a dermatological overachiever!” kind of mark; for me it is essential. Almost 30 years ago the major medical research university here did an enormous study on melanoma and whether or not there was some kind of inherited genetic propensity for the disease. The long and short of it (but really, only the short) is that yes, there is a genetic marker for melanoma and it runs in both my maternal and paternal lines and me and my four siblings all have that marker encoded into our DNA. My oldest brother had an enormous hunk of his back cut out at age 13 because it was teeming with cancerous melanoma, my other brother has had basal cell cut off his face, I’ve had bits of both melanoma and basal cell cut out from head to toe, I have lost track of how many aunts, uncles, and cousins (first cousins, not thrice removed, we’re talking close relationships here) have had the same procedures, two have died from melanoma and one is currently in treatment. So, skin cancer. It’s a big effing deal to me.

So. I have super pale skin*, which is what I naturally came with, but I make sure to keep it that way. I don’t wear shorts, I don’t wear tank tops, I rarely wear a bathing suit and I slather on sunscreen and then a few hours later I do it again. If at all possible, I will be in the shade instead of in the sun.

*Seriously, it’s hard to write about this without coming across as some kind of white supremacist; I am just trying to say that my heaven-sent stock color is 80% albino, and here I am at age 32 and that is still, more or less, the case. And for me, that beached whale-parchment-milk colored-sometimes even a little blueish-white skin is a really, really good thing. If your stock color is pinkish, or yellowish, or tan, or brownish, or blackish, or green or orange or blue orpinkortealorWHATEVERCOLORISFINE!! NO SKIN COLOR IS BETTER OR SUPERIOR THAN ANY OTHER SKIN COLOR!!!


What I was thinking would be a quick, possibly pithy commentary on how pasty and alfredo-like my arms and legs look and how for ONCE I got a gold star for it instead of mockery from the Popular Set has quickly divulged into a freaking mine field of political correctness, attempts not to offend, and generally trying to come across as a good human. My point is that overall the healthiest epidermis is the one that has the least amount of damage, and sun is the primary source of damage of skin cells, so the closer your adult skin is to the relatively less damaged skin of your childhood, the better. The fewer traces of sun discoloration, the better. So, as the summer sun warms everything up (at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere), remember to protect your skin cells, mmmkay? Your 50-year old future face will thank you for your efforts, I pinky swear*.

*Pinky is a digit on your hand, not some kind of color judgement. For the love, I quit.

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Ovaries, Menses, and Morphine

Warning, I’m about to get all up in my own lady part business. If you get queasy reading about ovaries or uteruses (uteri?) or blood or pain, you should probably move along today to something else.

Ah, I know, here is a video about a baby elephant playing tag with a dog. Try watching that instead.

For those of you who are still with me, hi, welcome to my lady parts.

Sunday night I had another ovarian cyst rupture. Luckily, I was already at Urgent Care when that happened. I started blacking out from pain; the nurse gave me a shot of morphine and then did an ultrasound to confirm what I already knew: ruptured cyst. Now, I’ve dealt with my fair share of pain over the years—ribs popping out of my spine a half-dozen at a time, multiple times per week; I’ve had ribs so far away from my rib cage that they were cutting off blood circulation in the arteries that run under my collar bone and down my arm. My pelvis was cranked almost 90 degrees from where it should be and my neck and spine at one point were collapsing into my chest cavity. I’ve taken an airbag to the face, had a concussion so severe my brain was actually bleeding into my cranial cavity and pooling under my eye sockets (hello, killer black eyes!). THAT ALL BEING SAID, rupturing cysts are the only thing so far that have sent me in to shock, that have made me throw up from pain and black out just to escape my own body.

This is probably my 7th or 8th ruptured cyst in the last 10 years and it just doesn’t ever get easier. Apparently, about 30 percent of women have cysts on their ovaries, for many women those cysts can be shrunk by taking birth control. Unfortunately, the 3 or 4 types of birth control I’ve tried give me terrible 6 week long periods, soaking through super-absorbent tampons in an hour and losing fist-sized blood clots, then a blissful 1-2 week break followed by another 6 week long period. Seeing my own blood in the toilet almost always gives me a little panic attack, I’m sure this is leftover from the sexual abuse I suffered as an early twenty-something (and resulting non-menstrual blood that filled the toilet), but I have to give myself a little pep talk before I can put in a tampon or stand up so I don’t start hyperventilating. I can’t function having to do that for six weeks at a time my whole life; it’s just not worth it. Once upon a time there were surgical options to have those cysts scraped out, it’s super invasive and very painful, and the problem is that within a few months or a few years the cysts grow back. Big Insurance isn’t really keen on paying for multiple, ineffective surgeries; and most women aren’t all that thrilled with the idea of multiple very invasive surgeries without any real chance of fixing the problem. I have toyed with the idea of an IUD, but apparently my lady parts are super tiny and my doctor is legit concerned that I’m not big enough to get the damn thing in. Yes, IUDs are small, thumb sized, really, but the duck-bill clamp-thingies they have to use to open you up enough to embed it in your uterine wall are…not so small. They are terrifying, actually; for me the duck-bill clamps are far worse than a pap smear or anything else that happens at the OB/GYN’s office. Dah, it makes me hurt just thinking about them.

So. Where does this leave me? I have periods on a somewhat normal schedule, no birth control, bad cramps most of the time, and every 6-18 months I have a cyst rupture, get a shot of morphine take a day off work, and get back to my life. Is it ideal? No, it’s not. But it’s so much better than bleeding for 75% of my life.

Also, can we talk about morphine for a minute? I’ve never tried hard drugs, not even pot, and I’ve never really wanted to. But, oooohmygoodness, if that stuff makes you feel HALF the kind of relaxed happy that morphine does I can absolutely see how people can get addicted. Frankly, I am pretty sure I would get addicted after trying it once. Morphine makes all the hurt go away, and I can feel it coursing through my vein, warming up my arm and shoulder, and when it hits my heart there is this immediate flood of calm and happy that shoots through my whole body. Lawsy, it’s a good thing that I only receive morphine a) under extreme pain and b) administered by a medical professional. If I could get that stuff in a sippy cup I’d be sucking that thing constantly. Sooooo good!

(Yes, part of my love of morphine probably stems from the indescribable pain it immediately takes away. But the other part is the perfectly calm, happy feeling that is so very rare for me to experience. Also, probably exacerbated by the horrible, nauseating, will-I-live-through-this-feeling terror that happens immediately before a morphine shot. See: ruptured cyst.)

On Monday morning, while I was carefully tucked in to bed with a new book, I posted on Facebook about my experience, and the more I think about it the more I would love to see some kind of study. I wonder how men would react to the lovely side effects of having a period. What would happen if all of a sudden their penis started shooting blood for 5-7 days, combined with a penile Charlie horse (cramps)? And what if every doctor and website calmly assured them that this was normal, and even that it was a “beautiful and important part of manhood and fatherhood.” (Ha! Snort.) And what if a few weeks later it happened again, and then again, and again? For thirty-plus years. How would they—the general male populous—handle it? And what if every so often a balloon of blood and goo exploded inside their testicles? No reason, no warning, no cure, just BAM!–paintball to the testes. Do you think Research and Development labs would try a little harder to figure out a better solution? Do you think insurance companies would be more willing to invest in a procedure that eliminated this kind of thing? Do you think pharmacists would be able to distribute morphine to sufferers? (Ok, that last one might be a bit of a stretch…but still, would they?) It is a pretty solid assumption that the heads of medical research labs, insurance agencies, and Big Pharma are mostly men, and if they had this kind of debilitating horror to deal with every month you can bet your ass they would try and find some way to reduce their pain and suffering.

Reason #20,304 why more women should pursue STEM-related fields, why they should seek advanced degrees and pioneer research projects. Go to college, ladies, and stay there until you have that degree!

And in the meantime, I’ll be here with my sippy cup.

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Anchors and Metaphors, Oh My

anchor [ang-ker]
1. any of various devices dropped by a chain, cable, or rope to the bottom of a body of water for preventing or restricting the motion of a vessel or other floating object.
2. any similar device for holding fast or checking motion: an anchor of stones.
3. any of various devices, as a metal tie, for binding one part of a structure to another.
4. a person or thing that can be relied on for support, stability, or security.

What is an anchor? It is a device–typically with hook-like arms that bury themselves in a secure surface to provide a firm hold–that can hold an enormous amount of weight in place, it will stop unauthorized drifting, but still give a little leeway for small movement. An anchor and anchor line are essential to the safety and integrity of a much larger mass. Both are sunk deep into water, debris, earth, and/or ice, and are completely hidden from view at the surface while holding the vessel steady against storms, currents, external forces and other potential instability. In fact, in many ways an anchor is often forgotten until it starts to slip and the once safe and secure cargo starts to lurch and sway.

Let’s talk about the life of an anchor for a minute (yes, this is a metaphor). Anchors have enormous hooks and barbs to secure their load, they often get hurled onto and then dragged across treacherous surfaces while trying to find a point of stability. An anchor carries countless scars, is covered in grime or barnacles, and spends its existence clawing for security in order to exert all its integrity and leverage in order to keep the load steady. An anchor spends every important and worthwhile moment of its life submerged.

Sometimes we are the cargo ship.
Sometimes we are the anchor.

Right now, and for the last several months years, I have been cast in the role of anchor…and I’m tired. I’ve clawed at everything within reach to try to stay steady, I’ve scraped and scrambled to eliminate or redistribute weight, I’ve grimaced during the storms, hoping I can force them to cease and desist by sheer willpower (not possible). I’ve held on with my teeth, when necessary, exerted strength and determination I didn’t know I had, and, in a lot of ways, I’ve had success. But, I’ve also been slowly drowning.

I’ve been sinking for a long time, bumping along a rocky field trying to find something to latch on to, and several weeks ago I hit my lowest point. A few days later I had a massive panic attack in my doctor’s office and my medication that had been an “as needed” fix became a wonderful, wonderful daily lifeline.* I took a few days off work and tried to let go of anything that was dragging me down. I tried to float. I cannot be the anchor anymore, I need to be the ship, one with multiple anchors and lifelines.

Is this scary? Hell yes.

Hell. Yes.

Do I feel like an anchor-failure? In most some ways, yes.

Will I give up completely on being a force of security and stability? No. But I need to make some serious changes if I have any shot of coming out on the other side. And, for right now, that is as much as I can process. I need to be the ship, and I need to (re)identify my anchors.


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*Re: medications. Dude! I had NO IDEA people could sleep for more than 90 minutes at a time! I had no idea they could breathe without having to consciously think about it! I had no clue that nausea and panic were not a normal person’s regular bedfellows…and work-fellows…and gym-fellows…and lunchtime-fellows…and Tuesday-fellows (and marshmallows?). I really wish I had known all of this much, much earlier! Better Living Through Chemistry, man. That should be tattooed on my (out-of-whack) chromosomes.