Thursday, October 24, 2013

The trouble with being a girl. (No, not that one. A different one.)

My house had many selling points when I bought it, neighborhood cemetery and ghosts notwithstanding.

The ghosts were actually kind of a selling point before creepy faces started showing up in the window condensation
One of the selling points was that it boasts two full bathrooms, one on the first floor and one on the second floor.

However, what this statement fails to take into consideration is the fact that, rather than both full bathrooms possessing a tub/shower combination, one bathroom has only a bathtub with no shower (albeit, a cool claw-footed bathtub from the 19th century), and the other bathroom has only a shower stall.

To make this even more inconvenient (considering that I really prefer showering over bathing), the shower is in the downstairs bathroom.

Then add to this the fact that the shower stall in my downstairs bathroom would seem claustrophobia-inducing to someone who lived in a camper.

Photo enlarged to show detail. Actual shower smaller than pictured.
Years ago, I remember debating with a male friend whether women or men have it worse in the parts of our bodies that we are expected to shave, wax, or otherwise render hairless. His weak argument was that men's faces and necks have contours and ridges where it's easy to accidentally nick the skin, and shaving is therefore worse for men.

I call bullshit on this argument, for many reasons.

First of all, shaving is often optional for men, as facial hair is often seen as attractive on a man. (Yeah, yeah, shaving is optional for women, too. Unless they want to wear a skirt. Or shorts. Or a sleeveless top. Or a bathing suit. And it's all very well to say that it's still optional, but find me anyone, man or woman, who would actually find a woman with caveman leg hair wearing a skirt attractive. God, you are so full of it.) Meanwhile, men can not only sport a full beard and moustache and still be considered socially acceptable, they can also just skip shaving for a few days. Stubble is also often seen as attractive on a man.

Women simply do not have that same luxury.

Secondly, there is the issue of surface area requiring to be shaved. Admittedly, some men are hairier than others, and so feel compelled and/or have it requested of them by significant others to remove hair from other areas of the body besides the face, such as the back. However, body hair removal still isn't really compulsory for men the way it is for women, and as such, men generally have far less skin that needs to be shaved than women do. Not only are we girls expected to shave our legs, we are also expected to shave underarms and the bikini area, at minimum. Let's not even go into what women who are not of Scandanavian descent have to go through, shall we?

Finally, for a man to shave his face requires him to simply stand up straight and move his head around slightly while also moving the hand that is holding the razor and coordinating these movements. He can even do this in front of a mirror, so presumably, this will reduce the likelihood of unfortunate nicks and cuts.

Women, on the other hand, have to twist and bend and perform feats of acrobatic skill, and try to reach places that we can't even see so that we can run a sharp object that is designed to cut things over the skin of the most sensitive areas on the body.

All of this was true even before I moved into my house, back when I had a full-size shower/tub combo in which it was not nearly so difficult a task.

In my tiny little shower stall, shaving is an acrobatic feat of Olympic proportions, and I deserve a goddamn medal every day that I actually choose to shave my legs.

I expect I'll be getting that medal in the mail any day now.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Truth is Out There

Some time back, maybe a year or so ago, Netflix recommended The X-Files in my "watch instantly" feed. This was a reasonable suggestion, because, aside from the atrocity that was the last season, The X-Files was among my favorite TV shows once upon a time. At the time that the show was actually on, the last season kind of soured the whole experience for me, but there were still episodes and scenes that I remembered fondly. So I took Netflix's suggestion and watched an episode. And I was immediately sucked back in, because I was suddenly able to remember back before the last season to why I used to love this show so much. Despite my interest in the paranormal, it was never the sci-fi plotlines that kept me watching.

It was Mulder, of course.

If I'm being fair, it wasn't just Mulder. The whole Mulder/Scully dynamic was a big part of the show's appeal for me (and I'm guessing pretty much all of the show's other viewers), and Scully was an awesome character on her own merits as well. (Although her skepticism eventually got kind of old. I mean, questioning your assumptions is healthy, but at a certain point, if you've seen that much freaky, unexplainable shit, and you're still insisting that there must be a perfectly rational, non-paranormal explanation, you're just being stubborn.)

While I am grateful that Netflix refreshed my memory that there really was a reason that I used to adore this show, having the chance to rewatch it has made me realize a couple things.

The first is that the so-called "mytharc" episodes - the ones relating to the government conspiracy about the existence of aliens - really hold no interest for me anymore. Though these episodes once had me riveted and glued to the screen, their power was in not knowing what secrets were yet to be revealed. Now, not only do I know, I also know that Chris Carter was pulling all of it out of his ass with each episode. (I may still be a little bitter about that last season.) Now, with a few notable exceptions (most of them season finales or premieres, like Anasazi or Biogenesis, or episodes that had some kind of impact on Mulder or Scully or their relationship, like Emily), the mytharc episodes bore the hell out of me. I already know how it ended, and what's more, I hated how it ended.

So the stand-alone "monster of the week" episodes are totally where it's at for me, and honestly? Those never get old. I could watch Rain King or Post-Modern Prometheus over and over again. But that brings me to my second realization.

You see, the show's original run lasted from the time I was 14 until I was 23. That means that I was watching it during what were arguably the most formative years of my life. And I realize now that it totally fucked me up.

I have read claims from a couple different sources that the term "unresolved sexual tension" was actually first coined for this show, though I have not been able to verify this. It would make sense, though, because when you get right down to it, the show was not really about monsters and aliens at its core. It was about Mulder and Scully, and their relationship.

Or, rather, their lack of a relationship.

Because it was EIGHT. FREAKING. YEARS. of unresolved sexual tension before Mulder and Scully actually consummated their relationship.

And what episodes like Rain King and Post-Modern Prometheus had in common was that they played on that unresolved sexual tension (or UST, if you will), keeping up a constant "will they or won't they" dynamic. By the time they actually kissed onscreen for the first time, it was almost anticlimactic, because everybody already knew that they had been in love with each other for years, and that there was no way either one of them could be with anyone else.

I realize now that those eight years of UST are the reason that I actually believed for my late teens and most of my 20's that years of sexual tension really could eventually pay off and develop into an actual relationship.

This was very likely the cause of most of the misery I experienced during the first decade of my adulthood.

It's all Mulder and Scully's fault.

And here I thought that I could believe in them. It just goes to show that Mulder's philosophy was right all along: Trust no one.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Dramatic irony. It'll fuck you every time.

Last night, I had a dream that I was dying.

It was pretty vivid, this dream. It felt pretty real. And it may sound like it was a nightmare, but it wasn't. Not even remotely.

Oh, don't get me wrong, it wasn't a wish-fulfillment dream, either. Even though there have been times in the last couple of years when a terminal diagnosis would have seemed like a blessing compared to the actual chronic diagnosis I received. I am past that now. I have found new reasons to move on with my life, new things to look forward to, and work toward. Although it would be fair to say that some of those reasons and things feel like consolation prizes sometimes. As I've said before, I'm not a saint, and as such, I'm not the type of person who would feel satisfied devoting my entire life to meeting other people's needs while completely sacrificing my own desires. Sometimes that feels like what I'm being led to do. That said, I wouldn't be happy living a completely hedonistic life devoted only to my own desires, either. But my point is, I have reasons to get out of bed every morning now. This is something that I could not necessarily have said, even a year ago.

Which may be exactly why this dream felt so real to me. Because, given my past history, it seems like exactly the kind of thing that would happen as the pieces of my life are finally falling back into place. Hence the title of this post - it's my favorite line from a favorite movie of mine, about a man who finds out he's probably going to die, just as he's really started to embrace his life (albeit, under much stranger conditions than those in my dream).

I don't know what I was dying from in the dream. I just had a vague sense of increasing weakness and dizziness and fatigue, which really could be just about anything.

What was really striking was my reaction to the knowledge that I was running out of time.

There was no denial, or bargaining, or even depression. My acceptance of my fate was immediate and absolute.

There was, however, anger. Lots and lots of anger. And with that anger came determination and a sense of purpose.

Recently, in the context of a discussion about how being angry is easier than being sad, I made the point that anger can serve a useful purpose, because it can keep you fighting when otherwise you'd just give up. I know this, because I've lived it. Anger can go too far, obviously, and become unhealthy, but it can also be fuel to survive from one moment to the next.

And this was the case in my dream. I remember that I was angry about the fact that I wouldn't finish school, after having devoted this much time and energy to it, and to the goals that I wanted to accomplish once I had my degree. But this anger didn't lead me to drop out. It kept me going to school, trying to soak up as much knowledge as I could about the subjects that have always interested me, in what little time I had left.

In another part of the dream, I was touring a mansion that (in the dream, anyway) I'd always wanted to see. I was weak and exhausted after walking around the first floor, and as the people with me went to go up the stairs to see the second floor, one of them told me sympathetically that they wouldn't mind if I sat down and rested downstairs instead of going upstairs with them.

This just pissed me off, and I pushed myself to follow them up the stairs, even though I felt like I was going to collapse with each step. Because, I remember thinking, this may be my only chance to see what was upstairs.

Not too long ago, I was talking to my mother about those first few months of illness, when I was struggling to find treatments that worked. During that time, I usually worked myself to exhaustion just trying to keep from falling further behind. It often felt like all I did was work and sleep. My house was a disaster because I did not have the energy to deal with it. On rare good days, when the pain was minimal, I tried to fit as much work and play as I possibly could into them, and I usually paid for it, as it left me completely drained and exhausted and took me several days to recover from. It was rough, and I wondered at the time if I would ever be able to balance work and pleasure in my life again.

When I said all of this to my mom, she said, "You get that from your grandfather. He's the exact same way."

It was an insight that surprised me. Not the observation about my grandfather, because it's common knowledge in my family that he always wants to be doing something - fixing, building, cleaning, something - and it's been hard on him the past few years that he hasn't been up to it. It was the observation that I shared this quality with him. It had never occurred to me before that I might be like him in that way.

I think it didn't occur to me partly because it was never physical with me the way it always was for him. You wouldn't find me willingly climbing ladders to paint over chipping woodwork, or doing loads of other people's laundry and carrying them from the basement to the second story, or asking my dad if I could borrow his tractor to mow someone else's lawn. When I do anything along these lines, it's in my own house, and only because it needs to be done (and in the case of yardwork, I pay a neighbor to do it for me). I'm not looking for opportunities to do any of it elsewhere.

It's also because I guard my leisure time pretty jealously. I always have. I never lived to work; it was always the other way around. I kind of resent the idea that 110% is the minimum standard anymore - that if you're not putting in a certain amount of overtime or signing up for extra shifts, or if you leave immediately at the end of the day, you're somehow not a good enough worker. I'm with Office Space on this one - if you want me to wear 37 pieces of flair, then make 37 the minimum. And honestly, in the social services field, I don't think my view is a bad one. Self-care is extremely important when you work in a stressful field (especially one that doesn't pay well), and it's not always encouraged by employers and supervisors in the field. At least, not in practice. They talk a good game, but when it's between the numbers and self-care, you are implicitly expected to have your problems on your own time, even if you don't have any of your own time left. But, as usual, I digress. And to be fair, when I work, I do work hard.

I think the biggest difference between my grandfather and me is that he suffered because he was no longer able to work, and I suffered because I was no longer able to do anything else, when I was able to do anything at all. But ultimately, my mom was right. It was two sides of the same personality trait.

And it's the same personality trait that has allowed me to maintain a 3.95 GPA over the last two semesters, despite the personal struggles I was going through. That, along with anger.

The same anger that was fueling me to keep moving forward in the dream, even knowing the end was in sight, even knowing that I wouldn't accomplish my goals in the long run, even knowing that I was driving myself to collapse.

So, no, it wasn't a nightmare. It was simply a reminder that even when things are at their most dire, I can still keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

"When are you going to get married?"

When I was in the last year-ish of my undergraduate program, I worked for a daycare center that was owned by a hospital, for the children of the hospital employees. Because many hospital employees work odd hours, it stayed open until 8 p.m., which worked well for getting hours around my class schedule - I typically worked from 2-8 p.m. I worked primarily with the 3-year-olds, but when the numbers started dwindling later in the evenings, typically around dinnertime, we would combine the children who stayed later. I closed up 2 or 3 nights a week, so often I would be left alone in the building for the last hour or so with a group of 5 or 6 mixed-age kids.

Two of those kids were an adorable brother and sister, ages 5 and 3, respectively. Seriously, they couldn't have been cuter. Blond and blue-eyed and fair, the boy was very rough-and-tumble but sweet, and the girl could have been a child model (and she knew it) but she was also sweet. They were relatively well-behaved, and when they did act up, it was mostly because they were fighting with each other. (I can still hear the 3-year-old's plaintive whine that I heard at least once every day that I worked there: "Hunter's aggravatin' me!") But overall, they were good kids.

(It just occurred to me that they would now be 17 and 15, and I want to cry.)

The reason I bring this up is because Hunter, the older brother, was always very concerned about my marital status. It disturbed him deeply that I was not married yet, and he often took pains to point out that I was not getting any younger.

For example, one day when he said something about what he wanted to be when he grew up, and I made a joking comment about what I wanted to be when I grew up, Hunter looked at me incredulously, and said, in a wearily patient, matter-of-fact tone, "Miss Natalie, you already are a grownup, and you already have a job."

Since I was only 22 at the time, I was mostly amused by this.

As I was by his attempts to help me find someone to marry. "Do you think maybe you could go to the grocery store and meet a man who was shopping there, too, and you could marry him?" he would ask.

"I guess anything's possible," I would tell him, laughing, before letting the matter drop.

Hunter and his sister's mother was single, and my psych-major self reasoned that Hunter was projecting his anxiety about not having his father living at home with him onto my love life.

Still, truth be told, I kind of took it for granted at the time that I would get married at some point over the next several years. A few years later, when I was 26 or 27, working at my first really professional job, my supervisor, who was a good twenty years older than me, would talk about her boyfriend, whom she'd been dating for something like 17 years. They didn't live together and had no plans to live together. I didn't understand that at all at the time. If they were going to put the energy into maintaining a relationship for that length of time, why not just take that next step? I just didn't get it.

I totally do now. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

In the last 12 years since my conversations with Hunter, obviously, I haven't gotten married.

At some point during that time frame, I ceased to view marriage (or even long-term marriage-like cohabitation) as an inevitability for me. I think it may have been sometime around when I bought my house - on my own, on my income, with no cosigner on the mortgage. That was around the time that I started to realize that I might, possibly, just be able to survive on my own resources in the long-term.

It was also because my house was mine. It was filled with my stuff and decorated the way I wanted it. I did not want to move again, ever. And I kind of couldn't imagine changing it to accommodate another adult's furnishings. And I liked being alone in it. I could see adding a child, and making changes to accommodate said child, but making changes to accommodate a grown man? No, thanks.

It was then that I started to understand my old boss's relationship. I could totally see myself having a lifelong exclusive relationship that would give me someone to go to the movies with and do other grownup activities with when I felt like it, but who would leave me alone in my own house when I didn't feel like it. That would totally work for me.

I haven't ruled out the possibility of marriage entirely, I just see it getting less and less likely. And I'm okay with that. Because the reality is, I hate dating. I hate it with a passion. I hate the whole nervous awkward phone conversations and tiptoeing around sensitive topics to keep from derailing things early on and do you wait until the third date or the fifth date to have sex? I hate it all. And I've rarely made it to a third date, much less a fifth, because on the rare occasions that I have a first date, I usually go home at the end saying, "Oh, hell, no, I am not putting myself through that bullshit again." But that's a whole other post in itself.

There are times when I think it would be nice to have a partner, but that's mostly for practical reasons, like financial security. When I say that, I'm not talking about marrying a rich man for his money. I'm talking about the security of having a dual household income. I'm talking about having the ability to pay all of my bills on time every month, rather than the bill roulette of "which utility is least likely to be shut off this month if I leave it unpaid until next month?" that I currently play every month. It would also be nice to have somebody who I could automatically assume would drive me to my colonoscopy instead of having to call my parents for that.

But overall, those are fleeting moments, and I'm okay with not having those things. I get by. Once I'm done with school, I might even do more than get by. I might be able to save and invest and other grownup things like that.

The real practical benefit I would get from having a husband would be that I wouldn't necessarily have to go through artificial insemination to have a baby. I would still have to use fertility drugs, probably, but the sperm would be free. But if I can pull together the financial means to buy sperm and do fertility treatments, I'm not really worried about it. In the long run, it would only save me about three or four thousand, an amount that could be easily trumped by the cost of a wedding, even if I went the City Hall route. (And I would totally go the City Hall route. Big weddings are a ridiculous waste of money, in my opinion. And I have no princess delusions with the associated need to wear some ludicrously expensive dress. If I must spend thousands on an inane ritual that would really be more about joint health insurance and death benefit eligibility for me (because, all else being equal, I would be perfectly fine with living in sin indefinitely), I would rather spend it on a honeymoon in an all-inclusive resort in the Maldives.)

My point is, though, that I may very well never get married, and I am totally okay with that.

But that has not stopped people from asking me over the years when I'll get around to marriage, as if that's all there is to it, I just have to want it enough, and for that matter, as if it's any of their business. But it doesn't happen all that often, and when it does, mostly, much like my reaction to Hunter's questions, I'm just amused by it. Maybe a touch defensive, because I wish they wouldn't assume that I even want to get married. There was only one time that it ever really irritated me, and that was mostly because the person's tone indicated that I was somehow less of a woman if I was unmarried, and that I apparently had some kind of societal obligation not only to get married, but also to be a model 50s housewife.

But just a couple weeks ago, when we were alone in my car during a visit, completely out of the blue, my 8-year-old niece piped up from the backseat: "Do you think you'll ever get married?"

(Ex-Social Worker Tip for Parents: If you want to discuss sensitive topics with your child, the car is the place to do it - especially if the kid is in the backseat. I think it has something to do with the lack of direct eye contact. Freud may have been onto something with that. But I have had many a deep conversation during long placement transports, and most of them were initiated by the kids.)

Anyway, for some reason this question surprised me coming from my niece, even though it shouldn't have. I asked her what made her ask, and she responded by talking about how one of her other aunts is married and the other lives with her boyfriend, and her uncle, my brother, is also in a long-term relationship. And though it may not have occurred to her, it was certainly glaringly obvious to me that all of these people she mentioned were significantly younger than me, and I felt that defensiveness rise up in me.

But that only lasted for a moment. Because after that moment, I realized that my niece had just handed me a gift-wrapped teachable moment.

So I talked about the life that I'd made for myself, how I'd had a good job before I went back to school, and I'd have an even better job after I graduate. And how I bought my house on my own, and supported myself, and found meaning in my life in ways that did not require having a man in it.

And though I didn't mention it specifically, I hope it was strongly implied that my sense of self-worth (and hers) is not and does not have to be dependent on whether or not I have a man. And that I do not have to lower my expectations or standards and settle for someone who is not good enough for me, just to be able to say that I have a husband, and neither should she.

Because that's certainly not a message she'll get from her mother.

I can, and do, live a completely fulfilling life without marriage. And so can she.

I also talked about how I wasn't ruling it out entirely, and if I meet the right person, I might get married someday. But I made it clear that it wasn't my sole mission in life to find that person. Basically, if it happens, great. And if it doesn't happen, great. I'll be fine either way.

Life doesn't offer many opportunities like that one, and I'm glad I recognized and took advantage of this one. I can only hope that I planted a seed of empowerment in the child that I love most in this world that will continue to grow throughout her lifetime.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The End. And the Beginning.

(Warning: I'm going to talk about periods again. And again, it's not gratuitous and it's completely relevant, and I'm not going to go into graphic detail. But it's in here.)

Wow. So, this took way longer than I meant for it to. But maybe that's not a bad thing, right? I mean, I really explored all of this in-depth, and gave myself the time I needed to think through how to say what I needed to say.

So, here I am now. In graduate school, pursuing a career path that I meant to follow years ago, but I probably never would have taken that step if circumstances hadn't forced my hand. (Although, as I've pointed out before, there could have been easier ways for whoever is in charge to make the point that I wasn't where I was supposed to be - a lottery win to pay off my student loans and cover tuition, maybe? Especially considering that as it stands now, whatever increase in earnings I will have after graduation will be entirely consumed by student loan payments - which I have accepted that I will be paying until I die.)

In any case, career-wise, things are on track for me. I even have an exciting new project in the works that I hope will end up being a catalyst for huge changes in how service delivery is approached in the mental health and social service field. I have big ambitions, and a vision to follow through on those ambitions. I'm going places. And I can't even regret any of the time that I spent on other pursuits, because every single professional step I took informed what I am seeking to do today. I can see, clearly, how every moment of it was leading to this point.

If you'd told me ten years ago that this is where I would be at 34, and where I would be headed, I wouldn't have believed you.

I haven't accomplished everything that I dreamed for myself as a teenager or a young adult. Career ambitions were not really important to me. I saw myself as a wife and mother, not a single career woman.

But I have accomplished goals that it never occurred to me to set. And they are all things that, had I gotten married and had children before I was 30, I probably would never have done. I definitely would not be on the path that I am now. Because I would have settled into motherhood and not sought anything bigger for myself or in service to others.

But what of motherhood?

I still don't want it any less. I've gotten a little bit better at dealing with facebook pregnancy and birth announcements. I made it through the royal birth coverage without shedding a single tear. But I do still want a child more than anything else in the universe.

And I'm not sure if I will ever be able to go back to adoption, without having had a baby. Right now, I can say for certain that, to me, it would feel like settling for second best, and that would not be fair to any child placed in my care. Maybe five or ten years from now I'll feel differently, if a baby does not come to be in that time.

Of course, it would be completely irresponsible to try to get pregnant right now, even if I could afford the procedure. In school, unemployed, and living on student loans. I'm not stupid or selfish enough to plan to bring a baby into that kind of insecurity.

But I am rapidly approaching my 35th birthday, the use-by date after which my doctor told me I would have less than a 5% chance of conceiving. And I will be 36 before I graduate and re-enter the workforce.

The conventional wisdom with PCOS is that the chances of conceiving are better when you're younger. This is certainly what my doctor has told me more than once. However, in the midst of my struggles over the past two years, I found a small but growing body of research that challenges that assumption.

There was one study specifically, done in Sweden, that claims that women with PCOS may actually have better chances of conception the older they get. Other studies have also shown that the menstrual cycles of women with PCOS become more frequent and regular as they get older, which would appear to support the idea that the chances of conception would be higher.

When I lost my job, I lost my health insurance with it, and as such, I stopped taking birth control, which kept my cycles regular. I had 3 pill packs left, and I planned to use them every 3 or 4 months to have the minimum amount of periods to keep my uterus healthy.

To my intense surprise, I haven't needed to use any of those pill packs.

Last December, when my first spontaneous period started, I figured it was a fluke. But, just as well, I thought, because it was that much longer that I could put off using the birth control I had left.

The second time it happened, in March, I was a little more surprised. This was not something that happened with my body. Clearly, it wasn't a regular 28-day cycle, more of a 3-month cycle if it continued, but going less than a year between non-hormonal-birth-control-induced periods was pretty much unheard of for me.

When I didn't have another period in June, I wasn't surprised. The one in March must have been a fluke, too. And now my body was back to its normal PCOS-defective self.

But then, at the beginning July, it happened again.

I can't emphasize this enough: without being on the pill, I had never gone less than a year between periods, and now I'd had three in a seven-month time frame.

Two could have been a fluke, but three? Is it possible that my reproductive system is getting its shit under control?

Could it be that those studies are onto something, and I don't have to give up on having a baby someday after all?

I don't know. And as I've said before, I'm afraid to hope.

But I still do hope.

I'm not ready to give up on this yet. And maybe I don't have to.

I can't help feeling that, if I am able to have a baby someday, it will make up for all the ways that my body has failed me thus far. Making me feel like less of a woman, because it produces too much testosterone and fucks up my metabolism. Causing chronic pain and making everyday tasks more difficult. Making me feel like a young woman trapped in an old woman's body.

If my body is able to bring a healthy, full-term baby into the world, all of that will be forgiven.

So, I'll finish school, and see where things go from there.

Who knows what the future holds?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Turning Point

I just submitted my final paper for my last summer class, which seems like an appropriate time for this post, as it will explain just how I ended up back in school ten years after graduating with my bachelor's.

In the midst of dealing with my not-so-mixed feelings about my sister's pregnancy, I was also dealing with choosing a course of treatment for my arthritis, as steroids are not really a viable long-term option. (I'm actually back on them at the moment, unfortunately, but I'll get to that later.) Because I still had some hopes of getting pregnant in the future, any drug that could not be taken during pregnancy was out for me. This ruled out the typical first line of treatment, methotrexate, which I was okay with because the potential side effects are fucking horrifying, and can cause death and hair loss. I'm not honestly sure which would be worse. Newer treatments that are heavily advertised like Humira and Enbrel have price tags to match their newness, and also have horrifying potential side effects, including a specific reference in the ads for increased risk of fungal infections common in the Ohio River valley, which is, as it happens, exactly where I live. Because these drugs are so expensive, they are not usually used until other medications have failed (and there has not been specific research on the potential effects of these drugs in pregnancy, so they would have been out for me anyway). Many other treatments for inflammatory arthritis that are advertised are actually heavy-duty NSAIDS, which I can't take because of colitis.

This left sulfasalazine as the most viable option for me. It is actually one of the oldest treatments for inflammatory arthritis available, and it is a combination of sulfa antibiotics and one of the ingredients in aspirin. As an added perk, it is affordable even without insurance, which would become important to me later. (However, my rheumatologist visits are not affordable without insurance, as I have had the unfortunate experience of discovering. This is why I am now back on steroids - she refuses to prescribe the sulfasalazine without seeing me, and while I can afford the meds, I can't afford the office visits and blood tests. I'm looking forward to the state healthcare option becoming available. Luckily, I wasn't starting out from a full flare-up this time, so I've been able to maintain a relatively symptom-free state on a relatively low dose of prednisone.)

I want to make it clear, though, that sulfasalazine has some nasty side effects of its own. It was basically the best of a lot of really, really bad options for treatment.

The side effect that has had the most significant impact on my life to date is actually the basic function of the drug: it suppresses the immune system. At the time I started taking this drug, I was working primarily with children under the age of 3, most of whom were in daycare.

As you might imagine, this did not go well.

I actually specifically talked to my rheumatologist about my concerns in taking an immunosuppressant drug while working with children, and she repeatedly reassured me that the effects the meds would have on my immune system would be hardly noticeable and should not cause a problem. I still kind of want to bitch slap her for her casual insistence that it would be fine. She couldn't have been more wrong.

I started taking the sulfasalazine at the beginning of April. From April to September, I had three colds, two sinus infections, and one brutal case of the stomach flu. I was sick more frequently in that five month period than I had been in the previous five years.

To make things even worse, immune suppression was not the only side effect. The drug can also cause debilitating migraine-like headaches and nausea, especially when taken on an empty stomach. Or when taken with too light of a meal. (To give you a frame of reference, a cup of Greek yogurt, two pieces of toast with butter and jelly, an apple, and a glass of 2% milk is too light of a meal.) It also took me a few weeks to learn that taking the medication immediately before eating would not work. It is imperative with sulfasalazine to have a full stomach before taking it, or you will - I repeat - you will pay.

In practical terms, though, what all of this meant for me was that I was not getting ahead at work. In fact, I was not even catching up from all my previous missed time and lost productivity due to this disease, and I was instead continuing to fall further and further behind.

You would think that working in a nonprofit social service industry would mean that the powers that be would have some basic concern and compassion for their staff. I mean, it's not like they're some soulless corporation who just sees an employee as a number, right? Yeah, not so much. The truth is, I was already jaded enough about the nonprofit industry to know that this is not the case (my experience is that nonprofits tend to focus even more on the bottom line than for-profits, and the quality of the services provided tends to suffer as a result). However, jaded as I was, I was still shocked by just how unwilling my employers were to work with me.

Technically, as an autoimmune disease, psoriatic arthritis is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and as such, my employers were required to provide "reasonable accommodations" for me. However, leniency with productivity expectations, even temporarily, is not considered "reasonable" for the employer, and as such, was not required. I was frequently sweetly offered other accommodations that would have been useless for me (what good would an ergonomic chair have done me when the majority of my work was in the field doing home visits?), but nothing that would have actually helped me to be successful in doing my job. I could have taken intermittent FMLA leave, but the majority of that would have been unpaid, and I couldn't afford to do that, so I kept working even when I felt like shit, calling in when I absolutely was not capable of working (or when I was pretty sure my clients would thank me for not being in their homes coughing up a lung over their newborns).

I still think that, had they budged even slightly, offering a reduced caseload for six months or even allowing me to "start over" with productivity to build back up to a full caseload expectation over a three-month period, it would have gotten me back on track. It also probably would have reduced my stress level and increased my resistance to illness a little bit. Instead, I was put on a performance plan that consisted of, "Since you did not meet the expectation of 45 home visits last month, you can make it up by doing 70 home visits this month and next month." When I was practically killing myself to get above 30 home visits in a month, you might rightly imagine that this plan did not go well for me. It was also further complicated by the fact that I was doing home visits with a client population that is pretty well-known for being unreliable with keeping appointments. There was no credit for attempts or cancellations. Even if I called and texted my clients to remind them of our appointment, and pounded on their door for thirty minutes, it did not matter. Only completed visits counted. Because, you see, the state wouldn't pay my agency for no-shows and cancellations.

(I want to note here that, in speaking with a family friend about this situation after the fact, a friend who happens to be a corporate attorney from one of those aforementioned soulless corporations, she told me that she was pretty sure the company she worked for would have offered the accommodations I was requesting, just out of a sense of basic human decency.)

Essentially, what happened to me over this period of time was that a job that I once adored became an albatross around my neck. I was terrified of losing it, because a single income in social services is automatically going to be paycheck to paycheck. But other than my interactions with many of my clients, I was starting to hate it. There were no other jobs within my agency for which I was qualified that offered a similar pay scale, and any other equivalent jobs in the field would lead me to the same basic problems I was having in this job. I felt like I was trapped in a self-perpetuating dead end loop.

On September 13, 2012, I was called in for a meeting with my supervisor, the program director, and the HR specialist. In this meeting, despite the fact that my performance plan had never progressed to a verbal warning or a write-up, and despite the fact that I was never offered any realistically helpful accommodations, I was told that they had "lost faith in my ability to do my job," and they would give me the option of either resigning or being terminated, effective immediately. Their justification for firing me never got more specific than "we've lost faith in your ability."

And just like that, I had no job, no income, no health insurance, a disability that could hinder my future employability, along with a mortgage and a car payment.

It may have looked like rock bottom, but this was actually a huge turning point for me.

In fact, it was the point from which, my sister's actions and their effects on my family notwithstanding, things started to look back up for me.

Of course, I was horribly upset at first, but the reality is that my employers did me a huge favor. Yes, I had loved that job in the beginning, but I had also maximized my potential for growth, and was hanging onto it out of desperation when it was no longer working for me.

I called my mom immediately upon leaving my former office, and she recommended that I call the family friend that I mentioned before.

Right now, I have to give this person a huge shout-out. I don't want to mention her name out of respect for her privacy, but I don't know if I could have gotten through the next few months without her guidance, concern, and generosity. She thought for me when I was too overwhelmed to think for myself about what my next steps should be, and her suggestions and advice were spot on.

The first thing she did was to put me in touch with a labor attorney who could give me some idea about whether I had grounds to sue my former employer for disability discrimination. The bottom line of that discussion was that, I did have grounds to sue under ADA, but it probably wouldn't matter that I was in the right, because they would fight me and fight me hard, and they would be able to out-money me and drag me through the mud to beat me. If I went through the EEOC to avoid paying for a lawyer (which would have been necessary in my financial position), my case could end up dragging out for years.

I still toyed with the idea on and off for a few weeks, but I ultimately decided that my energy would be better spent moving on than seeking vengeance. Because that's really what a discrimination lawsuit would have been for me.

The second thing that my friend did for me that day was to ask one simple question that singlehandedly changed my perspective and the course I chose to take in my life: "Have you considered going back to school?"

Of course, I had considered it in years past, but a few years before had kind of come to the decision that going back to school wouldn't be worth my time.

But as soon as my friend asked the question, I knew. That was my next step.

This friend was generous enough to offer me a loan to help me pay off my previous student loans and get me through the next few months. I am in awe of such generosity, and though I place higher priority on paying off that loan than I do on the federal student loans I have now taken out, I also intend to pay that generosity forward in any way that I can. (Spoiler alert: "Any way that I can" will probably not be financial in nature. I am still in the human services field. But you know what I mean.)

Over the next few weeks, I researched different master's degree programs and tried to decide which one would be the best fit for me. By the time I decided on a program - clinical mental health counseling - I had only three weeks before the November 1st deadline to apply for spring admission.

In that time, I managed to apply, write my admissions essay, make a last minute reservation to take the admissions exam (with my results just slipping in under the deadline), and secure three letters of recommendation. There are moments when it pays to be a chronic procrastinator, because when the pressure's on, we can get shit done. This was definitely one of those moments.

After all that frantic activity to get everything submitted, I had to wait another agonizing two weeks before I was contacted to schedule an admissions interview, and another three weeks before the interview actually happened. It was a group interview, and I wasn't sure what to expect, which added to my anxiety. However, once the interview started, led by two faculty members with about five other potential students, my anxiety melted away. It was like a small-group classroom discussion, and I was totally in my element. In addition to asking us questions, the professors explained the program and its expectations of the students, and I became even more excited with the knowledge that this program was a perfect fit for me.

I received my acceptance email only an hour after the interview ended.

This coming Monday is my last summer class, at which point I will have completed eighteen credit hours. And I am still convinced that I am now exactly where I need to be. I have a vision and a plan for my future career endeavors, and those will take me in a direction that I never considered before.

During the months that I was separated from my beloved niece, and intensely feeling, in turns and sometimes simultaneously, bereaved and enraged, I poured my focus as much as I could into my schoolwork, and ended the spring semester with a 3.9 grade average, despite my high levels of personal distress.

After my counseling techniques midterm, in which I had to complete a video of a practice counseling session with one of my classmates, I met with my professor who told me how impressed she was with my video, and that she was excited to think about the contributions I would go on to make in the field.

And it was then that I realized that, if I could pull that off against the odds that I had been facing, I can do anything.

There's not a goddamn thing that will stop me now.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Simple (But Still Long) Version

I do actually have an excuse for not updating this time. And even though the summer session has started in my master's program, and I have been busy with homework, that's not really the reason.

I have attempted to write the next part of my story. And that next part involves a lot of anger on my part. Rage, even. Some of my anger was irrational and based on the vulnerable emotional state I was in at that point. However, it involved someone who, a few months later, did something that devastated nearly everyone I care about. I might even describe it as the worst thing that has ever happened in my life. My family is only just starting to pick up the pieces from this event and move forward. And I think my rage at the person responsible (or persons, really, because her husband also played an instrumental role) is fully justified.

However, when I tried to write about it, it quickly devolved into enraged vitriol, and was not fit to be published.

Not so much because I'm worried about offending anyone's sensibilities (as I would guess that anyone who was easily offended would likely not make it past the title of my blog).

I was more concerned that it might be damaging to people I love who are also involved in this situation, if I were to put it all out there that way. That is the last thing I want to do. As much as I would love to lash out and fully vent my rage, I can't do that to my loved ones. Especially the two of them who are children.

(Note to my facebook friends who think I overshare as it is: You should see the thoughts that haven't made it into status updates. I edit far more than you probably think I do.)

Still, if you've gotten this far into my story, I feel like I owe it to you to give some information about what happened next.

So here are the bare bones.

A couple weeks after my 33rd birthday, my sister made an announcement. She was getting married! Oh, yeah, and just an afterthought, she was pregnant!

This was not the first such announcement from her. (Well, the wedding was a new addition.) The first time she did this was when she was a senior in high school. We got over the shock that time, and the result was my niece, who is and always will be the light of my life.

This time the announcement came when my niece had been living with my parents (without any change in legal custody, against my advice) for close to two years, because my sister had been, to put it bluntly, neglectful, and had never gotten her act together enough to rectify the situation.

Needless to say, given how much I wanted a baby and how crappy of a parent I thought my sister was at that point, "overjoyed" was not exactly the reaction I had.

Still, I tried to put on a happy face. I was deeply concerned about how this would impact my niece, but I tried to be supportive. In retrospect (sorry, but I'm going to be cryptic about this and not explain my reasoning fully), I do not think this was the reaction my sister was expecting from me. I think she was banking on the idea that I would react angrily. I think she wanted to alienate me.

A couple months later, she found out that she was having another girl, and her middle name was going to be Lucille. (She had announced a first name before finding out the sex.)

Remember how I talked about wanting to name a little girl Lucy? Yeah, my sister and her husband knew about that.

I have reasons for believing this was a deliberate effort to provoke me. I can't prove it, but that doesn't stop me from believing it. Because, you see, I was a social worker, and I had been pretty vocal about my opinions on my sister's parenting (or lack thereof) of the child she already had. Pushing me away would be beneficial to my sister's agenda. Even better if she could make it look like she was being reasonable, and I was being irrational.

Just her luck, then, that I was in an extremely vulnerable emotional state, with a dose of 'roid rage thrown in, because it worked.

I can't say I'm proud of how I reacted, but I'm also not going to beat myself up over it. I'm not a saint, and I had been pushed to my emotional limit, and I was on medication that had a significant effect on my mood and behavior. And that's all I'm really going to say about it.

She ended up changing the middle name, for reasons that had nothing to do with me, but the damage had been done by that time. That was pretty much the end of my relationship with my sister. We made small steps to repair things after my second niece was born last October, but that was before the weekend in December that she and her husband (a guy who is a complete nutjob, and he is the sole reason that I block all calls and texts from unknown numbers on my cell phone) took my older niece for an overnight visit, and then the next day sent a text to my parents saying that they were not in control anymore because she was taking HER children and moving out of the area, and they would not be in contact until they thought my family could respect them. And then for six months she did not allow anyone in my family to have any contact with my older niece (who not only lived with my parents for the two years leading up to this, but also lived with them from birth until she was two years old, and had previously been in contact with her uncle and me almost daily). A long legal case followed, but I will save my rage towards the family court system for another time.

I think it's safe to say at this point that any chance of repairing any relationship between the two of us is shot.

Like I said, things are getting a little better now, and my family has had two visits with my older niece in the past month, and this has lessened my rage a little bit, but a lot of irreparable damage has been done.


That is, believe it or not, the short version. And I'm going to end it here. I think it's possible that my next post will be the conclusion.

Until next time.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


I have a feeling this is going to be a long and rambling and somewhat confusing post. I apologize for that, but honestly, if you've been reading this long, you should expect this from me by now.

It's also more of an aside than a continuation of my story at this point, but hopefully my reasons for adding this in here will be clear by the end of the post (though I make no promises). A minor, possibly meaningless event in the last 24 hours, and a discovery that resulted from that, made me feel that this post was necessary.

The event was that, before I wrote yesterday's post, my mom and I went to a used book sale at the library and I bought 3 books in almost new condition for $2.50. Didn't seem that important at the time, and still might not be, but it will at least be relevant by the end of this post.

And yesterday's post was extremely hard for me to write, because it ended at the point where, when I was still living it, I started to give up. I was newly saddled with an incurable disease that was literally caused by my body attacking itself and causing chronic pain, and I was beginning to face the possibility that I would never even get the chance to even try to be a mother - the one thing that I wanted more than anything else out of life. Something that, without which, I didn't really see the point of another 30 or 40 years of life, even without chronic illness.

To be honest, I still kind of struggle to see the point of my life without children. (And I want it very clear here that I am only talking about my life specifically. I am not judging anyone who chooses not to have children or finds meaning in their own lives another way.) I know that I have more to offer the world than my possible childbearing and parenting potential, and I have other ambitions that I will get around to talking about later. I also do still find joy in other aspects of my life. But if I'm being totally honest, the thought of essentially devoting the rest of my life to my career (even if it is a helping profession) and coming home at the end of every day to an empty house just seems . . . well, empty.

But anyway, around that time, in March of 2012, I was starting to think that a terminal diagnosis would have been, in a way, kinder. A few months would have seemed like a gift compared to what at the time seemed to me to be a life sentence of physical and emotional pain. I remember thinking at the time, if I'm in this much pain at 33, how bad will it be at 73?

But I would also be lying if I said that I had given up hope completely.

I don't always necessarily think this is a good thing. It seems to me that there is some truth in the Nietzsche quote, "Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torments of man."

But still, even though it is sometimes to my detriment, I can't seem to give up hope entirely.

Yesterday, I wrote about no longer believing in God. That wasn't really much of a stretch for me, to lose that faith. I have always had my doubts, and even as a Catholic school kid I never really had any use for organized religion. And working in social services had only challenged my beliefs further. One of my absolute worst cases was a sexual abuse case that had landed on 16 or 17 other desks before mine over the course of about ten years. The children had been removed from the home as toddlers only to be returned to their abusers within a few months. By the time I got the case, they were teenagers who had endured years of physical and sexual abuse. They were also, understandably, wary about telling anyone about it. How many adults - social workers, teachers, counselors - before me had failed to act to protect them? I consider it one of my greatest career achievements that they were removed from that home permanently under my watch, and one of the perpetrators is now serving a 45-year prison sentence thanks, in part, to my investigation. However, it is an extremely bittersweet victory, because it does not undo the years that those children suffered. And I can't help but ask, what kind of loving god would allow that to happen? God, at least in his Judeo-Christian incarnation, did not really seem worth believing in to me.

(By the way, stories like that one are the reason that I have to suppress the urge to punch anyone who says that infertility is God's way of telling people that they're not meant to have children. If that's the case, God has an awfully strange set of criteria for parenting fitness.)

Anyway, even though my faith in God was always on shaky ground, I couldn't quite shake the belief that there was some sort of balancing force - fate, synchronicity, something along those lines - or the belief that things have a way of working out the way they're supposed to in the end, even if it doesn't seem that way when you're in the middle of it all. "Everything happens for a reason" is a mantra that my grandfather always repeated to me during tough times, and I always, mostly, believed it.

But even that belief was challenged at that time in my life more than it had ever been. What possible reason could there be to have a dream I'd already given up on dangled in front of me, only to be snatched away again almost immediately, leaving me face down in the dirt? I could almost hear the universe tauntingly singing, "Nanananana, you can't reach it!"

Still, like I said, I couldn't quite stop believing it entirely. And like I said yesterday, I'm willing to consider the possibility that maybe there was a reason for things to happen the way they did. Maybe the reason that I had symptoms that prompted me to go back to my reproductive endocrinologist back in 2011, and the reason that he got me started on the baby plan, was because I was on the wrong track with the foster-to-adopt plan. And maybe the reason that the baby plan was derailed so quickly was that there is actually a person I'm supposed to be with and have children with someday. Maybe.

Although, if that's the case, it also seems to me that, I don't know, meeting that person would have been just as effective in getting the point across as an autoimmune disease and two break-ins and everything else that has happened since then.

I'm also still afraid to have hope. I have a tendency to look for meaning and reasons and signs (as do, I think, most people), and I've found meaning enough times that I think there's something to it, even though I'm well aware of what any expert on operant conditioning would have to say about that. But I've also come up empty enough times to have a fear of getting burned again.

Still, the idea that there is some kind of meaning to all of this, that it will all make sense someday is a comforting thought. I found another Nietzsche quote today when I was double checking to make sure I had the one above right, that said, "What really raises one’s indignation against suffering is not suffering intrinsically, but the senselessness of suffering." If there is no meaning to the suffering, why bother getting out of bed in the morning at all?

So, I'm choosing to be cautiously hopeful. I can't make myself give up hope entirely, and even if I could, I wouldn't really want to live out the rest of my life that way. I'll leave myself open to the possibility that there's a reason.

Another thing that I have believed, over the years, is that there is something to paranormal phenomena. Sometimes. Now, don't get me wrong, I think most of the stuff you hear about is bullshit, but I think Christopher Moore may have been onto something when he wrote that "Science you don't know just looks like magic." So while I think Ghost Hunters is a crock, I still think there are ghosts out there - after all, we are all channels for electrical energy, and who's to say that a conscious energy doesn't go on exisitng once our bodies are gone? And Sylvia Browne is a con artist, but I do think there are actual psychics - I've even met one.

And I think we all probably have a little bit of that potential, even if it's mostly subconscious. For example, that sexual abuse case that I talked about before? I had the case for two years before either of the kids started talking about what was going on, but I knew from my very first home visit with that family that something foul was happening in that home. There wasn't any logical reason for it at the time, because in those first few months that I worked the case they behaved like any other client family that I didn't have this response to, but every cell in my body recoiled from those parents in disgust from the very beginning. I can't explain it rationally, because there is no rational explanation. It was intuition. A gut feeling. Instinct. Call it what you will, but it wasn't the first time my gut feeling was right, and it was far from the last time.

I've also had psychic dreams before. It's only happened a couple times, and I didn't realize it until way later, and the only indication at the time was that the dreams were especially vivid and memorable and took a while to recover from when I woke up. That said, I have a lot of vivid dreams, so it's not much to go on in differentiating the ordinary ones from the possibly precognitive ones.

However, last winter I had a dream that I think may have been a vision of what's still ahead for me.

Of course, it's also entirely possible that it was just a wish-fulfillment dream, and that's something I have to keep telling myself to protect myself from how much it would hurt if it never happens.

Still, it met all the criteria. Extremely vivid. So much so that I could still tell you every detail of the dream, right down to tactile sensations. Extremely difficult to wake up from. Extremely intense to process afterwards.

And it came at a time when I was trying to convince myself that it was worth it to keep fighting, even if I never got the outcome that I wanted.

So I had to wonder, and I still do, if the dream was telling me to hold on, because this was still out there for me.

In the dream, I was dropping my children off at daycare. Two of them. A boy of about two, and an infant girl. And they had names.

Remember when I said I named that possible daughter that I started to imagine my future with? Her name was Lucy. It still will be, if she ever comes to be.

And it was the name of the baby girl in the dream.

Which I suppose is not really so surprising, given how much energy I had put into trying to wish her into existence for so many months. Or, at least, it wouldn't have been, if she had been the featured character in the dream. But in that moment, she wasn't. She actually wasn't even really present in the part of the dream that I can remember, except in the background. I'd already dropped her off to her caregivers. She was safe and loved and happy and cared for, and I was thrilled to have her, but she wasn't my focus at the time. She wasn't the one I was interacting with.

The boy was.

I have also had a boy name in mind for some time, and that was the part of my dream that was really surprising, because the boy's name in my dream was not the name I had in mind. It wasn't a name that I disliked, and it's a name that I would consider using. It just wouldn't have necessarily been the first name that I would come up with.

His name was Andrew. Or, as I thought of him both in the dream and afterwards, Drew.

And when I woke up in the morning, what lingered the most for me was how much I wanted to know him, and the thought that maybe, just maybe, the universe was telling me that he and his baby sister are still out there for me when I come out the other side of this journey I'm on.

I still think Drew and Lucy has a nice ring to it.

It's a long shot, I know. But I still hope. I can't help it.

And the reason that I felt it necessary to post this today is that, this morning, after I had dredged up all those unpleasant memories and feelings yesterday, and they started to weigh on me again a little bit, I picked up one of those used books I bought and started reading it. Within the first few pages, the main character introduced her two children, a boy and his younger sister, to the grandmother they'd never met before.

The children were named Andrew and Lucy.

It was so startling that I actually had to put the book down. The dream came back to me like a sensory assault, albeit a pleasant one.

Maybe it's meaningless. A random coincidence. Maybe the only meaning is that I am so desperate for a sign that things are going to work out for me that I will assign meaning to anything.

Or maybe, just maybe, it was a message from the universe, telling me not to let myself get sucked back into the abyss that I started looking back into yesterday. Because maybe Drew and Lucy, those sweet dream babies, really are in my future, if I can find my way to them.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

You know those "this is what happens when you get caught driving without insurance" commercials? Welcome to my life.

On the off chance that anyone is still interested in reading this, I apologize for my delay in posting. I would love to give a really good excuse, but I don't have one. The freedom of having three weeks between my spring and summer classes kind of went to my head for the first full week, and I didn't do a damn thing. (Well, except take up painting, which I discovered I really enjoy. And it's also a relatively expensive hobby. I may need to start putting ads on here. For which I also apologize in advance.)

It's also possible that I was putting off this part, because I'm reaching the point where everything fell apart for me to the degree that I kind of stopped believing that my future held anything good. And I've had to claw my way back from that, and I'm still not all the way back out of it, so looking back into that abyss is not exactly something I'm looking forward to.

I have, however, reached the point where I'm wiling to consider the possibility that there was a reason for everything to happen the way it did.

But if that's the case, there had damn well better be some fantastic things in store for my future. Like a Powerball win. Or marriage to Johnny Depp. Or both.


Shortly after the second break-in, I finished weaning myself off the prednisone - with a couple weeks' worth left over, even - and everything seemed to be stable. No return of the rash, no pain, and I could walk without difficulty. (The side effects of the steroids, however, took some time to wear off.) Finally, I thought, I could get things back on track. I would get caught up at work, I would be able to start saving money back up again, and within a year, I would be able to go for my first (and hopefully only) IUI cycle. Nothing was going to deter me from the baby plan.

In fact, back in October at a flea market held by the Catholic school where my best friend taught, I had found a Jenny Lind changing table in good condition for ten dollars. (Those typically retail for over a hundred dollars.) I went back and forth about whether to buy it, because it seemed a little premature (and I could only imagine my family's reaction to the purchase), but it was a fantastic price. When my friend told her teaching assistant, a sweet old nun, that I was planning to try to get pregnant after I got some health issues resolved, the nun told me, "Well, maybe if you buy the changing table today, that's how you can let God know that you're ready."

It seemed like a nice thought at the time.

Within a few months, though, I would no longer believe in God.

The ten dollar changing table is now sitting in my spare bedroom, gathering dust.

I got through December with no return of the pain or rash, and mistakenly assumed that I was in the clear.

I celebrated that New Year's Eve with reckless abandon. I was so ready to close the door on 2011. 2012 was going to be my year. The year when I made my dreams come true. Nothing could stop me.

Or so I thought.

My celebration lasted exactly four days.

On January 4th, the joints in my right hand became stiff and painful and swollen.

Within a week, the pain had started spreading to multiple joints. Once again, I would go to bed with no idea of which joints would be okay in the morning and which ones would make me gasp in pain when I tried to button a shirt or walk up a flight of stairs. Also, the rash on my face had returned - most noticeably around my eyes, a condition that I referred to at the time as smallpox of the eyelids. Within a few weeks, the plantar fasciitis symptoms also returned, and I was walking like an 80-year-old again, as well as struggling to stand up from a sitting position.

Still, I clung with desperate tenacity to the reactive arthritis diagnosis. This was just the last gasps. I resisted going back to the doctor, hoping that if I ignored the pain, it would go away. When the pain was really bad, I would pop one of the leftover 5 mg. prednisone pills, which I knew was probably not my best idea ever, but at the time I thought it beat the alternative, which was admitting that the initial diagnosis might have been wrong.

On Valentine's Day (a day that I have always hated, but now have an extra reason to abhor), as I worked on typing up reports at work, my right wrist began to hurt terribly - but only when I moved it or touched it. The fact that it didn't hurt otherwise actually made the pain worse, because I would forget and turn my wrist as I reached for something, or would accidentally bump my hand against something, and the pain would literally knock the breath out of me.

When I got home that night, my dog, clearly meaning to be affectionate, licked my hand, and it hurt so horribly that I screamed in pain. Not one of those gaspy shrieks. A real, honest-to-god scream. My neighbors probably heard it. I felt terrible for the poor dog, who had meant no harm, but the scream was out before I could stop it.

And then it took me nearly an hour to get ready for bed. Not only was I trying to wash my face and brush my teeth and change into my pajamas one-handed (with my non-dominant hand), I was trying to do it without letting anything touch my right hand. And once I was in my pajamas, I sat on the edge of my bed and just cried for a while. I knew, by that point, that I was going to have to go back to the doctor. I even admitted to myself that I probably had something worse than reactive arthritis. Something chronic, most likely.

And I have to admit that part of the reason for my tears that night came from thinking, "I don't want to put up with this for the rest of my life. How could I ask anyone else to put up with it? I'm going to end up spending the rest of my life alone, because no one will want to be a part of this, and I can't say I would blame them for that."

I must have still been in a little bit of denial, because I still didn't go back to the doctor until a sore throat gave me a reason to make an appointment with my regular doctor. I brought up the return of the joint pain in that appointment.

I also admitted to my inappropriate use of prednisone to try to make the pain go away, prefacing my admission by saying, "You're probably going to yell at me for this."

The doctor chuckled. "I'm not going to yell at you," he reassured me. But when I told him how I'd been taking the steroids here and there 'as needed,' he got really quiet and serious. After a moment, he said, "Okay, I might yell at you." He proceeded to lecture me (kindly) about the risks of using prednisone that way.

And I took it, because I knew I deserved the lecture. Still, I tried to defend myself, explaining why I didn't want to go back to the rheumatologist. "If I go back now, she's going to put me on drugs to suppress my immune system. I work with toddlers. I'll be sick all the time."

And my doctor gently pointed out that prednisone suppresses the immune system, too.

Isn't it annoying when people dispute your argument with logic and facts?

In the end, he had the medical assistant schedule me for another appointment with the rheumatologist. The appointment was two days before my birthday.

By the time that appointment rolled around, the rash had started to get a little flaky, and when the doctor looked at it, she said, "You know, that looks a little like psoriasis." She found some more flaky patches behind my ears and on the back of my neck. She ordered more x-rays and blood work, but I ended up leaving that day with a tentative diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis, a new prescription for a relatively high dose of prednisone, and a follow-up appointment in a couple of weeks.

I wasn't entirely convinced of that diagnosis, until I did a little research. Remember how the podiatrist had refused to believe my claim that the plantar fasciitis pain was related to the joint pain?

From the Mayo Clinic page about psoriatic arthritis symptoms: "Foot pain. Psoriatic arthritis can also cause pain at the points where tendons and ligaments attach to your bones - especially at the back of your heel (Achilles tendinitis) or in the sole of your foot (plantar fasciitis)."

That cinched it for me.

Over the months that followed, I came to realize that I'd actually had psoriasis for a long time - just not anywhere really noticeable. I had wondered for years why dandruff shampoo never seemed to relieve the flaking and itching on my scalp - turns out that it wasn't dandruff at all. And I'd had issues with blockages in my ears and external ear infections periodically - even when I hadn't gone swimming - and I found out that it's actually possible to have psoriasis inside your ear canal, and the dead skin flaking off will cause blockage build-up and allow bacteria to grow.

The diagnosis explained a lot, really. Not that that made it any easier to swallow.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Two days after that appointment, I turned 33. Back on prednisone, reeling from the diagnosis a chronic autoimmune disease, and with two years left (according to my reproductive endocrinologist) before it would be too late to have a baby.

It wasn't one of my better birthdays.

Also? Life wasn't finished kicking me around yet. Believe it or not, the hits still kept on coming.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Infertility Awareness Day

I am excellent at procrastinating. Seriously, it's one of the best things I'm able to do. If one could make a living by procrastinating, I would be a billionaire by now.

And the reason that this is important for you to know is because, if I weren't so good at procrastinating, I would have bought a card for my mom for Mother's Day before May 11, and would have been able to share my discovery in time for anyone who is so inclined to act on it.

Because, you see, for many women, Mother's Day is one of the most painful holidays of the year. And I'm one of those women.

I'm in a somewhat better place this year than I was last year, when everything was still incredibly raw for me, and I had recently started to accept that even trying to get pregnant might be something I would never get the chance to do. I spent the entire brunch with my family unable to eat because I was so busy trying (and failing) to choke back tears. In fact, I spent most of the morning in a back room at my grandma's house, unable to stop crying long enough to even talk to anyone.

I will be eternally grateful for the text I got that morning from a friend who was right there with me, emotionally speaking, that said, simply, "Happy Infertility Awareness Day."

Because that captured exactly what that day felt like for me.

It was nice to know someone understood.

And I don't think this Mother's Day will be as bad for me as last year, but I still have already gotten a little choked up a few times just thinking about getting through the day.

On the bright side, there will be mimosas at brunch in the morning.

But when I was looking for a Mother's Day card for my mom, I found something in the Walgreen's greeting card section that I wasn't expecting.

The cynical side of me thinks that Hallmark just realized that they had a whole untapped market for Mother's Day, but still, it did me good to know that these cards exist.

Because, you see, I have actually spent a pretty good chunk of my life taking care of other people's children in various capacities. And I have loved each and every one of those children. My last two years of high school and all through college, I worked in daycare centers. I also worked as a nanny. I also taught preschool for a year. I have probably single-handedly toilet trained upwards of twenty kids. I worked in a residential facility for three years and essentially filled the "mom" role for those kids - I cooked for them, got them to school on time, made sure they used shampoo when they took a shower, did their laundry, disciplined them, and gave them hugs and told them what great kids they were. And for the three years that I worked for child protective services, I would estimate that at one time or another I probably had legal custody of about 20 or 30 kids total. Granted, it was custody as an employee of the state, but still, I was legally responsible for ensuring they were getting proper care. I have changed diapers and made bottles and spooned baby food for dozens of children who called someone else "mommy."

Not only that, but for most of my niece's life, I think it would be fair to say that I have been more involved in her care than the average aunt.

In sharing all of this, I am not trying to make anyone feel guilty for enjoying Mother's Day. Every mom deserves to be celebrated.

But I would invite you to take the time to celebrate all the women who are mothers in their own way, even if they don't happen to carry the title officially.

The ones who desperately want to be mothers but for whatever reason, can't be.

The ones who have lost children.

The ones who have given of themselves repeatedly for other people's children.

The ones for whom Mother's Day is often a day of quiet suffering.

Even if it's just a simple acknowledgement of how much it might be costing these childless mothers to celebrate all the women who have the one thing they want more than anything else in the world.

You never know how much of a difference it might make in someone's day.


In pretty much any situation, I would advise everyone to avoid platitudes. They are not comforting, they are condescending and dismissive. One that I've heard on Mother's Day before is, "Well, you're a mother to your dog/cat/etc."

I recognize that people who say something like this mean well, and there are some women who may consider their pets to be their furry children, but you want to be really careful about saying something like this. I know the person who said it to me last year had the best of intentions, but hearing it cut me like a knife. I love my pets, but they are not the same as children. I would not let my child sleep in a crate at night. I would not leave my child at home alone all day while I'm at work. I would not feed my child out of a bowl on the floor only twice a day. Saying, "you're a mother to your dog" can be extremely insulting to someone who desperately wants a baby, because having a dog or a cat or a canary is not even remotely the same as having a child. If you are talking to someone for whom Mother's Day is painful, please be sensitive to this. They don't need you to make it better, they just need to know that you care.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Exams are over, and I have 3 weeks of freedom before I start my summer classes. I'm hoping I can finish this up in that time frame. Because, believe it or not, even though I still have a ways to go in recounting this particular time in my life, just the small portion that I have already shared has given me a sense of relief. Already, I feel lighter.

Taking the past week off to focus on school has also given me a chance to consider how I want to proceed, because I will soon be arriving at a point in my story when it becomes inextricably tangled with another story that, for starters, is not entirely mine to tell. Additionally, it's a situation that is still unresolved and is acutely raw and painful for almost everyone involved, myself very much included. I have been debating on how much to share, because parts of it are completely relevant to the story I am telling, but would require a great deal of explanation to make sense, and again, those explanations involve others in ways that I don't think it would be fair to make public without their consent and/or side of the story.

On the other hand, this related story involves some of my own, shall we say, less than admirable attitudes and behavior at times, so leaving it out entirely feels a little bit like a cop-out.

Ultimately, I decided that I will include the bits and pieces that are most relevant to my experiences over the past couple of years, but without any major explanation or background. I will omit some parts entirely. So if at any point it seems like I am being deliberately vague or mysterious, it's because, well, I am, but I am doing it for good reason.

And as far as my own bad behavior, I'll just address that right here and now. I'm human. I screw up. I let what Anne Lamott refers to as "my tiny princess self" take over sometimes. I can be irrational and stubborn and vindictive. Sometimes even willfully so. In fact, even now the vindictive side of me really wants to tell this side story in a google-searchable public forum in its entirety to unleash some of my rage at the person responsible, because she wouldn't think twice about doing that to me. (And I know that for certain, because she did do it to me.) My decision not to do so is not so much motivated by any desire to be the bigger person as it is by my desire to protect the other people involved. But I digress. My point is, I'm not perfect, I behave badly at times, and I offer no excuses. However, I will say in my own defense that the past two years have beyond any question been the most painful time in my life, and soul-crushing despair combined with the previously mentioned long-term steroid treatment would probably not bring out the best in anyone. I take responsibility for my own bad choices, but I do think there were mitigating circumstances that should, in all fairness, be taken into consideration. And I'm going to leave it at that.


With prednisone, my symptoms cleared up almost completely. I still struggled at times with the plantar fasciitis pain, which was probably the worst symptom to have linger. When your feet hurt, your whole body suffers. However, in the podiatrist ended up giving me cortisone shots in my feet, and from that point forward, other than the prednisone side effects, I started feeling okay.

I want back to my reproductive endocrinologist in September. I told him about what had been going on with me medically, and he agreed that it would be best to put my baby plan on hold until I had a chance to recover and get more money saved up. He gave me a standing order for a test I would need completed to make sure my fallopian tubes were clear, and told me to schedule the test when I was ready. After all, I still had a little over two whole years left before my biological clock hit its use-by date.

That was, actually, the last appointment I have had with him to date.

Over the months that followed, I clung to the reactive arthritis diagnosis like a lifesaver. It would clear up, it would go away for good, and things would get back on track for me. When I first started trying to taper off the dose at the end of September and the rash came back around my eyes, I panicked a little, but I convinced myself that this was just a stubborn case of reactive arthritis. I spent more time on WebMD and read about cases where reactive arthritis took up to a year to completely resolve itself. Hopefully mine wouldn't last quite that long, but it wasn't unheard of that I was still having symptoms almost three months in. It would still clear up. I was not remotely willing to consider even the possibility that the diagnosis might be wrong. If it wasn't reactive arthritis, it was likely an incurable autoimmune disease that would require life-long immunosuppressant therapy. That was not a contingency I would entertain even for a second.

It's at this point in my story that, if I were reading these events in a book, or watching them in a movie, I would lose my ability to suspend disbelief. "Come on!" I would say. "They're just pushing it too far now. Nobody has it that bad." Logic dictates that there has to be a balance somewhere, right?

But when I say that this period in my life was relentlessly horrible, I am not even being remotely hyperbolic.

When my house was broken into that July, there had been a new tenant at the rental house next door for a couple of weeks. Many weeks later, I came to find out that the woman I saw in the house was not actually a paying tenant, but rather, she was a squatter. I couldn't really pin down her age, but she appeared to have a good 20 years on me at least. The first time I saw her, I smiled and said hello, and she glared at me hatefully without responding. Understandably, I think, I did not make any effort to talk to her after that. (One of my other neighbors told me later that this woman had said something about me being an adult protective services worker and she was sure I was reporting on her because she didn't have water or electricity. In fact, I'd had no idea that she didn't have water or electricity, and I've never worked for APS. However, I did work for child protective services several years previously, which was housed in the same office building, so it's entirely possible that she recognized me from having been in the office at some point. And this is only relevant because I think it may have factored into why I became a target for her.) She was in the habit of sitting in front of the open door in a state of undress that was not appropriate for a woman her size, but I tried not to judge - it was a hot summer, and that house does not have air conditioning. After the break-in, though, suddenly the door was closed and there was no activity from that house for a couple weeks. That is, until one afternoon when I saw a girl of about twelve climb through a window in the house and open the door from the inside. A man and two younger women who were standing on the sidewalk outside the house proceeded to go inside and carry furniture out. I called the police at the time, but the people were gone by the time they arrived. However, it left little doubt in my mind about who was responsible for breaking into my house. It even made sense that a child would have been the one to climb through my bathroom window to unlock the door from the inside, because that window really would be a tight squeeze for an average-sized adult.

After the squatters were gone, actual paying tenants moved in. They really weren't much of an improvement. They were loud and obnoxious, frequently fighting in the street late at night. They had a steady stream of visitors who I strongly suspected were actually customers - I was certain that someone living in that house was a dealer. I called the police with noise complaints after midnight on numerous occasions, and was usually informed by the dispatcher that a unit was already en route because I wasn't the first caller. I did not trust these people at all, but there really was not much I could do but watch and report any suspicious activity.

Still, I felt relatively safe. Other than that one house (which I am still hoping will be condemned soon by the city as a slum), my street was mostly pretty safe. It is a very low- to middle-income working-class population, but besides the house next door and one across the street, all of my other neighbors own their homes and had lived there for several years before me, and until my house was broken into that July, I had lived there for two years without incident. And even with that break-in, I had to take some responsibility for not making sure the window was locked. Lesson learned. From that point forward, my house was sealed up like a fortress.

So I was completely stunned to arrive home from work one rainy Wednesday in November to discover that my front door, which I clearly remembered deadbolting, was not closed all the way. And I walked inside my house to find this:

All that was missing was my TV. The one that I had replaced after the first break-in. It was worth $300. But the cost of the property damage added up to about $1500.

It was enough to make me kind of wish that I had just left the door unlocked.

It was also when I started considering the possibility that flat-panel TVs are overrated and far too lightweight to be practical. I did not replace the second TV and instead did a web search to find a new converter box for the old behemoth analog TV that required two people to lift and that I had bought used from a friend who was moving a few years back for $75. I'm pretty sure that pawn shop owners would laugh in the face of anyone trying to pawn it. But it works, and it's pretty burglar-proof, and at this point, that's all that really matters to me. In fact, by now, there is really nothing in my house of great enough value that it would be worth stealing. I mean, I have fairly nice furniture and a digital piano, but I'm pretty sure that a piano or a dining room table would be a little too conspicuous to steal and difficult to sell to be worthwhile to the average drug-fix-seeking home invader.

I have absolutely no way to prove anything, but I am quite certain that the second break-in had something to do with the house next door as well. It may not have been anyone who actually lived there, but if a dealer was operating out of that house, it could very well have been one of their customers.

After the police left, my dad rigged up a way for me to lock the front door again. It isn't pretty, but it has served its function. And by a particularly cruel twist of fate, the second break-in happened right after the new policy term on my homeowner's insurance started, which meant that the deductible again applied to my second claim in less than five months. Because of that and my backlog of medical bills and other drains on my finances, I still haven't been able to afford to get the door frame and wall fixed properly, even with my insurance settlement.

Like I said. If this shit hadn't happened to me, I wouldn't have believed it could happen.

Also, aside from the cost of the property damage, this incident made me feel a bit less secure in my neighborhood.

I mean, it's one thing to have someone surreptitiously crawl through an open window in the back of your house where they couldn't be seen from the street.

Whoever was responsible for this, though, had the audacity to bash in my front door in broad (albeit overcast) daylight. That takes some balls. Or, perhaps, they were just that incredibly desperate for a fix.

Still, I reasoned, anybody who had observed my street for a week or two would know my car and could be reasonably certain when I wasn't home. I believed at the time, and still believe now, that in both cases, the people who violated my home were not motivated to perpetrate any kind of violence against me, and struck at times when they could be quite certain that I would not be home for a while, giving them enough time to get in and get out. They were looking for a quick buck, and that was all.

When my mom suggested that I consider getting a gun after the second break-in, I shot that idea down (no pun intended) almost immediately.

"But what if you had come home while they were still there and surprised them?" she asked.

"If I had a gun," I replied, "I would be one of those responsible gun owners who keeps the gun in a locked case in the closet and the ammunition stored and locked up separately, so it wouldn't do me any good if I walked in on burglars. Even if I got a concealed carry permit, I wouldn't carry a gun at work, because I work with babies. So the gun would still be locked up at home. There's no point."

I also had several friends suggest to me that I needed to move, but this was not a possibility for me, either. For starters, I was a social worker. Being able to buy a house on my income was a stretch for me, and I had used a first-time home buyer down payment assistance grant that I would have to pay back if I moved within 15 years. I would also have to pay back my first-time home buyer tax credit. I could afford to pay back neither, nor did I have the money to make a down payment on a new house.

On top of that, I felt like moving would be like admitting defeat. Unfortunate neighbors aside, I love my house. It has character. It has history. It probably has ghosts. Besides all that, there was no question in my mind that it was my house. I'd felt it the first time I set foot in my house - it was meant to be mine. I wasn't going to let a couple of assholes push me out of it. I would not let the terrorists win.

I'm happy to report that I am still living in my house, and, knock on wood, my street seems to have settled down some. (I'm pretty sure that my current next-door neighbors are cooking meth, but at least they're usually quiet.)

However, one implication of having two break-ins in such a short period of time is that, in the future, if I ever decide to go back to my foster-to-adopt plan, the safety of my house and my neighborhood might be a red flag concern. Not for me, mind you - I'm pretty confident that I would be able to keep a child safe in my house - but for the social worker who would evaluate my home environment. In any case, if I do go back to that plan, it won't be anytime soon, but it's still something that I'll have to consider.

I wasn't as concerned about my neighborhood with regards to the possibility of having a baby, though, because if I got pregnant, nobody would be coming into my home to judge me beforehand, and I was pretty sure that I could keep my child safe.

My dad, however, had other thoughts.

I want to say here that I get that he was coming from a place of love and concern, but that meant little to me at the time. And his delivery and timing in stating his concerns left something to be desired.

When he was at my after house rigging up my door frame the night of the second break-in, packing up his tools and getting ready to leave, I said something about taking the prenatal vitamins that my RE had prescribed with a bottle of beer. I thought that I deserved an adult beverage after the events of the day, and after all, I was taking the prenatal vitamins to help prepare my body for several months down the road. I wasn't pregnant yet.

He stopped in what he was doing and looked at me. "Are you sure it's a good idea for you to have a baby?" he asked.

Up until that moment, I had actually been coping pretty well with the events of the day. I was working hard to maintain perspective - at least I hadn't been hurt, my pets were okay, they hadn't broken in while I was home, etc. - and for the most part, I was managing to stay pretty positive. However, this was my breaking point. At that point in time, I was down from 15 mg of prednisone a day to 5 mg, but that was still enough to keep the mood swings going strong. I felt my anger starting to rise. "What?" I responded flatly.

"Well, with everything that's been going on, and your neighborhood just doesn't seem like the safest place. Do you really think it would be responsible to bring a baby into this?"

The anger boiled over. "You and Mom lived in a fucking trailer when I was born, and you were both ten years younger than I am now," I exploded. "Was it responsible for you to bring a baby into that?" I brought up the name of someone we both knew who was, at the time, pregnant with her second child - a person who was, at the best of times, short-tempered and socially inappropriate and who I wouldn't trust to take care of my dog for a couple hours. "It's okay for her to have babies - plural - but because I've faced some difficulties in the last few months, you would judge me for wanting to have a baby?" I went on that way for a while, bringing up clients from my time in child protective services, making the point that I would be a better parent on my own than all of them with their best qualities combined - and I still don't think I was entirely wrong.

My dad tried to reason with me, but I was done. "Just leave," I told him. I was in tears by that point. And the tears continued for the whole next day.

And, off and on, for months after that.