Monday, October 30, 2006

Blonde Ambition

I saw her again this past Friday night, the same woman I’d seen at the gym a few Fridays ago and whose image haunted (taunted?) me for the duration of my workout.

She was standing in front a day locker, clad in an expensive-looking and perfectly-tailored suit. She was tall, taught, and tanned. She wore sleek high-heeled shoes and clutched an improbably small designer bag. Her straight blond hair was glossy and perfect despite the windy, rainy weather, and the brash fluorescent lights bounced off her lacquered nails and sparkly jewelry. She chatted with an equally put-together and equally tall, taut woman about a spinning class. When you looked at her, you just knew she was someone who never missed a workout or skipped a spinning class.

She certainly looked like she a body that worked the way she wanted it to--and she didn't look anything like me.

When I was in high school and college, it was the pony-tailed, lean-legged and perennially tan lacrosse girl who elicited such comparisons and insecurities in me, but now that I am an adult and in the professional world, I found her counterweight.
I am short, I am stocky, and when it rains, my curly blond hair is hard to control. I’d arrived to the gym in my version of “professional” attire—a corduroy skirt, sweater set, and boots with a low heel I’d worn since I had to walk around campus all day and cannot function in heels. It wasn’t sleek or stunning, it was pragmatic and perfunctory. I’d changed into my gym clothes, and yes, I still wear t-shirts from my alma mater (Georgetown), including the cheap ones we used to get in exchange for helping students move into their dorms or the ones they’d give away at campus functions.

I wasn’t there for the spinning class (my muscles felt too weak for that) or to keep up marathon training (the only time I’m involved in marathons is when I am cheering on friends who run them). My goals were much less lofty—to keep the junk in my lungs moving around so it wouldn’t become infected, to boost my energy after a draining week, to lose the vestiges of steroid weight that continually tormented me.

I headed for the treadmill and chose one that didn’t face the room where the spinning class was held.

For obvious reasons, I’d never been much of an athlete (my stint on the JV basketball team was short-lived; my brittle bones broke when I caught the ball at an awkward angle). But I’d always loved going to the gym and feeling like I was doing something for my body that could make a difference. I was proud when I got there and irritated and impatient when I couldn’t. At least that’s how it usually was, except when the same glossy idealized figure I’d been comparing myself to for years re-emerged and made me doubt myself and my presence in that gym.

But later that same night, as I walked to Starbucks to work on my book, I realized it didn’t really matter why both us were at the gym on a rainy Friday night. She might look the part of the well-sculpted, athletic woman much more than I ever will, but I was still there, plugging away on my treadmill and working on strength training. I was doing what I needed to do for my body and my goals, and though they were quite different from hers, they were no less valid or worthy.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Growing Into Grown-Up Advice

As some of you may have gleaned from bit and pieces of past posts, I consider my father one of the most incredible, inspiring, and memorable people on earth. I write this with no reliance on hyperbole or cliché. He’s overcome more odds than anyone I know and has faced an array of difficulties and challenges so complicated that even the most inventive fiction writer couldn’t have added more incredulous twists.

As a result, he’s pretty damn wise in matters of the heart and of health—or, more accurately, the constant intersection of those two forces.

When I was growing up, I didn’t always want to hear his advice, and if I didn’t tune him out completely, I’d reach into my arsenal of adolescent zingers and sarcastic quips. As an adult, though, I find that I am the one who seeks out his input and feedback. Part of this shift is basic maturity, I think. But with my father, it’s also the fact that so many of our experiences are similar as a result of our medical histories.

Like most people my age (26), I feel like almost every single aspect of my life is fraught with questions. I suppose this never changes and I will find myself asking just as many questions ten years from now, but all I know in this moment is that questions, not answers, rule:

How much time should I spend teaching other people how to write versus working on my own writing?? Am I doing everything I can to manage my health? Can I afford certain lifestyle choices that make being “stable” more likely? Should we move out of our tiny but efficient condo soon, or stay close to my hospital and where we work for as long as possible? Can I conceive and carry a baby, and if medically I can, how do we navigate all the subsequent risks? Are we prepared for the worst-case scenarios? Are we ready emotionally and financially to abandon the time frame for having children we devised when we got married? At the end of the day, is that really even a choice, because is there ever an “ideal” time, especially when you have to weigh so many competing variables? I could go on and on.....

These aren’t rhetorical for me; in fact, I threw most of them at my father in my typical rapid-fire style just the other day and my husband and I were de-briefing him on a recent medical consult. He took it all in, nodding in earnest at points of higher emotion, mulling over other points over in silence.

“You can’t always get the answers you need to pursue the dreams you have. Sometimes you just have to make a decision that might not make complete sense now and grow into it,” he told us. “It’s a risk, yes, but there are very few certainties in this world.”

He reminded us that when he was our age, he had two toddlers and was stricken with cancer and a muscle disease. He wasn’t able to work and was on disability. And yet he chose that time to take out a mortgage on a house for his growing family.

“Was it a huge risk? Yes. Were the conditions anything but ideal? Yes. Did everyone think I was insane? Yes. It was a terrible time to make such a big decision in terms of my health, but I needed to do that then for us to have a future later,” he said.

It was an extreme example, certainly, but it definitely made his point. No matter what the decision or question is—especially where health is concerned—very rarely will we have all the information and facts we’d like. Sometimes we just have to take action or risks in the present into order to grow into them when it matters most.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

And So It Goes…

Usually, I try to craft posts that can stand on their own, essay-type pieces that converge on some central insight or theme about illness and identity that go beyond the minutiae of my own daily life.

That’s usually.

Today I have no larger issue at stake, no idealistic nugget of reflection or speculation.

Right now, I am just frustrated. Frustrated that I woke up yesterday morning and for no apparent reason (or infection), could not breathe and had searing pain in my chest. Frustrated that instead of attending my Saturday fellowship meeting, I was hooked to a neb for hours. Frustrated that I missed my friend’s party and didn’t get to the pile of work or the trip to the gym because I couldn’t sit up without losing my breath.

But deep down, I am more frustrated by the amount of information presented to us at a fetal medicine high-risk consult this past week—or, as it were, all the variables involved in this quest that we have no control over. I am frustrated because I feel so overwhelmed, and every scenario on the table is rife with conditionals and unknowns and extenuations. I am frustrated because right now I can barely find room for joy amidst all the risks and percentiles and negotiations, frustrated that even the encouraging pieces of news seem momentarily drowned out by everything else. Frustrated because I thrive on being in control and crave concrete facts, and I cannot each out and get either of those right now.

I am frustrated because lately when I see babies, tears spring to my eyes without warning and I have no control over that, either. I am frustrated because my body has brought me nothing but complications since the moment I was born and right now I want just one thing, this one thing, to be uncomplicated. I don’t want to have to fight so hard, or give up so much.

And lastly, I am frustrated because I know sound whiny and self-indulgent and everything else I dislike so much and while I should have control over that, too, I don’t.

And that’s it, no threads or parallel narratives to tie together, no concluding statements that wrap it all up neatly and succinctly. Not today, anyway.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Little Victories, Big Changes

Last Wednesday, I had the makings of a nasty cold. One week later, I have the lingering remnants of said nasty cold, most notably decreased peak flows and lots more wheezing than normal.

And I couldn’t be happier.

A year ago, getting a cold guaranteed I’d eventually end up in the hospital. A few months ago, getting a cold meant I’d spend a few weeks languishing with bronchitis, and I’d start a long course of antibiotics—and often, I’d still end up in the hospital. But for right now, getting a cold means feeling miserable, forgoing all but the most necessary of commitments to get extra rest, and keeping my trusty nebulizer right by my side. I did it—I had a cold, and it didn’t throw my entire routine out of whack.

Knowing my immune system, this will probably still drag on for a few weeks, but I don’t care. It still didn’t get as bad as I’d been conditioned to expect it would. I am not naïve, I know I still need to hunker down for a long, cold winter laden with viral infections, but at least I am starting out my “bad season” on stronger footing.

Maybe I was just lucky this time, maybe the infection wasn’t a particularly strong one or I felt it coming earlier and responded as such…or maybe the changes I’ve been making in my life and in my schedule are beginning to pay off after all. It’s been a difficult mental battle to scale back my teaching schedule a bit, to say no to new writing projects I’d like to tackle to focus on the ones I already have, to actually build in space for resting when my preferred state of being is overly-committed and super busy.

Half the time I hate it, I feel antsy and irritated, like there are so many things I could be doing, so many things I should be doing. Why teach two classes when I could teach three or four and get more money? Why say no to another freelance job when theoretically I could squeeze it in late at night? Why not make plans for a Sunday meeting since my fellowship meets only on Saturdays, thus leaving an open window beyond the confines of the workweek? This is how my mind works, and this is the inner system of checks and balances I need to control.

But today, in this moment, I am beginning to feel the changes are worth it. I wasn’t as run down as I usually am by this point in the semester, and maybe that’s why things didn’t completely explode when I got sick. Like everything, it’s a trade-off, but right now, slowing down a bit seems a lot more tolerable than having my life completely disrupted by spending days in the hospital and falling even more behind.
Powered by blogger. Customized by PinkDezine.