Put Away Your Scalpels

Tonight I went walking with my daughter.  It was great to be outside; strolling in the sun and the breeze.  It’s been some time since I’ve felt myself really move, felt alive, watched her laugh and live beside me.  I would have missed out on today as well, if not for a little white lie.

This morning I had an appointment with my dermatologist.  Just a regular checkup, though it seems like my checkups are never really “regular”.  I am blessed on my father’s side with a large Irish bloodline.  This also means I am somewhat un-blessed with very fair Irish skin; pale, burns easily, lots of moles.  I very frequently have irregular moles removed.  Almost always, they end up benign, and we’re good to go.  This past April, however, was my 3-year cancerversary.  Having a melanoma removed from your thigh at 37 is an experience, let me tell you.  So I take my checkups seriously, and when my doc sees something he thinks should go, I listen.  But today was different.

The reason?  I have just come out of the other side of one hell of a migraine cycle.  It was basically an entire month of pain, grouchy wife/momma, weekends trying to rest, meds, early evenings, rinse, repeat.  It happens; you take it a day at a time and get through it until it fades.  But while you’re in it, it’s crap.  There’s no way to sugarcoat it; it just plain sucks.  Not only for me, but also for my family.  It’s draining on all of us.  My husband carries the extra weight, my daughter (age 7) has to give up her Momma to this mystery ailment she can’t see or fight against, and I just try to endure while my body depletes until I feel like there’s nothing left for anyone let alone me.

Since I’ve rebounded, the last several days have felt like a cloud has finally lifted.  My energy has started to return, I’ve been able to exercise again, I’ve been enjoying time with my girl and my family, I’ve just been able to breathe.  So today when my doc said he wanted to remove another mole (from the top of my foot, no less, inhibiting my mobility for a couple of weeks to heal), I was surprised how my logic voice of ‘probably a good idea’ was so loudly drowned out by my inner spirit screaming out “NO CUTTING!!”  All I could think was ‘not today; not now; I need more time to feel good, more time to breathe, more time in between hurting and being the Mom who can’t play on Saturday because she’s trying to heal, more time to be human and whole and just….ME‘.

Thing is, I didn’t think I could explain that to my doc without sounding like a raving loon.  And at that point, he was already readying the scalpel and lidocaine; I didn’t have a lot of time.  So I blurted out the only other thing that came to mind.  “Uh, I have a wedding to attend this Saturday, and I think there will be dancing.  Is your concern level pretty high on this one?”  Not very smooth; but it worked.  He said it was only a minor concern, and that as long as I had it taken care of within 4-8 weeks, we’d be fine.  He then said it was probably better to enjoy the dancing and nice shoes without the foot incision, and to have fun.  That smarted a little more than the cut probably would have, but don’t fool yourself thinking I spent a lot of time dwelling…I hightailed it out of there as fast as my mole-covered legs would take me.  (After responsibly scheduling my return appointment for 4 weeks out; I’m not completely throwing caution to the wind here, people.)

I will say I fully enjoyed my walk this evening.  Guilt free, headache free, even if it wasn’t mole-free.  I’ll hold on to this one for a little while longer.

I Am Not My Hair

Hair

Hair. Everyone has it. Short, long, straight, wavy, fine, thick, colored, grey. Some people have their “signature” style. Others are experimental, always switching it up. Often, it reflects a person’s personality. Or for some, it reflects inherited features (or a lack thereof).

For me, at forty, I guess you could say I have a certain style. (Well my sister, who owns her own salon, would say I have a boring style, but I digress…). I’m not one of the “switch-it-up” types, really; that’s not my personality. I’m used to how I wear and style it. I’m used to how thick it is, how long it takes to wash and dry. I’m used to how it feels when I run my hands through it, when I hold it in a pony altogether, and when I let it fall loosely against my bare shoulders.

What I’m NOT used to, however, is losing it.

It’s not uncommon for everyone to lose some hair every day. Particularly when washing, hair comes out. And when your hair is longer, as mine is, it’s noticeable at the bottom of the drain. But over the last month or so, the amount I’ve been losing has been steadily increasing. As you may have noticed by the photo with this post, the amount I’m losing as of now closely resembles a small forest animal. To say it’s unsettling is an understatement.

Causes of rapid hair loss run the gambit. For women, it can be anything from stress to thyroid issues to sudden dietary changes to bodily system trauma, and on. In my case, it is likely related to the shock to my body combined with the lack of nutrition experienced with my appendectomy/infection back in December (explained more fully here). Upon discussion with my med contacts, it’s the likely culprit. My naturopath actually likened it to the way animals react to severe sudden stress; they rapidly shed all their hair. Only they don’t freak out about it the way humans do, because it’s part of their normal cycle. It seems more acceptable when you think of it in those terms, though it’s still a little harder to accept for me, personally.

As I mentioned, I’m used to my hair. I like my hair. I’m fond of how I look with my hair. I’ve been trying to accept that we’ve resolved the reason for it falling out, and I’m fairly okay with that. But it’s not slowing down. And while I can see some regrowth in it, it doesn’t regenerate nearly as fast as I’m losing it. And I’m concerned with what I may see in the mirror a month from now. When I sit with that thought too long, I’m most certainly NOT okay with that.

All emotion aside, there is no arguing the reality I can see in front of me every day. My body has changed significantly over the last two months; I am continuing to heal. It is a process; and my hair, or current lack thereof, is a strong reminder of that. I am also reminded that embracing change is much easier than fighting against it. Which is why today I visited the salon for a much needed cut and re-style. Instead of hanging on to the old damaged hair that is quickly losing ground, I opted instead to cut a lot of it off and work more closely with the newer hair coming in. I was surprised how much I like my shorter, cleaner bob; it actually looks more like “me” than my older style.

When I think about it, though, I’ve been sinking into this newer “me” for a while now. Newer, starker, thinner, more awake to life, less hair, more clarity, me. No, I am certainly not my hair; but there are similarities. Because in a lot of ways, I am also color and thickness and curl and length and growth. Sometimes, I lose myself and fall. But I always find my way back.

Reclaimed Self

ReclaimSudden loss of self.  I suppose that’s how I would describe it, though it’s not quite sufficient.  But I’m at a loss to explain, in any better capacity, the lack of identity I’ve been experiencing for close to a month, now.

Initially, I came down with the flu.  Two days later, I found myself in the hospital for an emergency appendectomy.  Only it wasn’t your textbook case of appendicitis; they found I also had an infection – my appendix were gangrene.  I was told that had it gone on much longer, the outcome could have been very different.  In other words, I very likely would not have been writing this today.  A slightly elongated (and entirely miserable) hospital stay followed the surgery, and I came home four long days later; shaken, weakened, in pain, and utterly changed.

Fear became my nemesis.  I was afraid to sleep, afraid to eat, afraid to move.  Afraid to fully face how tenuous and fragile life really was, perhaps.   I couldn’t help but feel I got lucky; I got a second chance, somehow.  Maybe I was afraid to really embrace what that meant.  In addition to the psychological delay, there was also a physical lag; my body simply did not respond the way I was used to.  The combination created quite the unexpected hurdle to climb as I stumbled through my recovery, bit by bit.  I slowly learned to check my expectations at the door, and start taking things one day at a time; a difficult thing to do when all I wanted was to feel even remotely like myself again.

Sometime later I went out in the world, literally, for the first time in three weeks.  I felt like an imposter in my own body.  Fifteen pounds lighter, not fully healed; my pants were too large, my rings loose, my frame moved differently.  I walked delicately, afraid to step wrongly, afraid to fall.  Fear rearing its head, again.  Sitting at a table in Panera, eating alone, I was exhausted.  I wanted nothing more than to be safe in the familiarity of my living room, on my couch, resting.  But that was my goal for the day, to venture.  To exist.  To be in the world.  Not only that, I had to start increasing my mobility.   So that day, my objective was to go out, even if it was only briefly.  Venture.  Be human.  Breathe air.  Move.  It required more effort than you might think…but I succeeded.

As I did the next day, and the day after that.  Although there have been small unexpected setbacks along the way to navigate through.  My body is still a bit of a foreigner to me.  It still looks different; my frame, and even my face, staring back at me in the mirror.  The woman I see is changed, sharper around the edges.  She is more cautious, less trusting, mostly of herself; not as brave.  Not yet fully reclaimed.

But she hasn’t given up; she is still moving forward.  Maybe she just needs a little more time to learn how to move in this new self; or maybe it’s more about learning who this new self really is.  I don’t think you can go through something like this and not really be changed by it, can you?  Maybe it’s less about reclaiming, and more about rediscovery.

I’m not sure yet, of the answer.  I’ll let you know when I figure it all out…but really, whoever does?

Blood, Sweat and George Washington

The ups and downs of parenting; unpredictable, sometimes unmanageable, and yet often immensely enjoyable.  Case in point – my daughter; she alone is a 7-year-old ball of volatility.  Combine that with parental efforts at lab work, random rites of passage and motherly attempts at hairstyling, and you’re on your way to a snapshot of the last 24 hours in my parenting journey.

Initially it started off with my daughter’s desire for lovely bouncy curls.  She wanted ones resembling those she received at the hair stylist the other day after a quick trim (and truly, they were quite fetching).  The problem?  Momma is not adept at styling hair.  Mostly, we leave that to our Auntie – she owns her own salon, and can do mighty amounts of hair magic.  But currently she lives 2,500 miles away, which leaves Momma quite on her own, and very in the lurch for delivering on the hair front.  Since it was late on a school night when the request (more like ‘demand’) was made, and we currently don’t have any curlers, I had the bold idea of trying to rag-roll her hair as an experiment.  She seemed up for it, so we washed, half-dried, and rag-rolled our way to a happy little knot-tied head in no time.

Next we had a not-so-pleasant task to attend to.  We needed to take a small blood sample from my daughter’s finger for a food sensitivity test we are running on her.  As they kindly sent us two lancets, we had already used one on Daddy’s finger a few days earlier as an example (which didn’t seem to be as useful as we had hoped).  Now we needed to do the actual deed on her finger, and she was not having it.  We tried preparing her for it, reasoning, cajoling – nothing.  We then tried the ‘forceful hold’, which led to immediate hysterics and a physical clamp-down.  Not pretty.  We took a break so we all could breathe, which resulted in her locking herself first in the bathroom, then in her bedroom.  Then we all sat down for another conversation; she gave us a rather convincing argument of why she didn’t need the test at all, and we tried to use the kindest possible way to knock her argument down and explain that we were doing it anyway.  She somehow let slip that she had poked herself with a sewing needle earlier that day; oddly enough, that was our in.  We were able to convince her that the lancet wouldn’t hurt any more than the needle; that (along with a bribe that eventually was upped to $20) finally got her to reconsider.  Her last request was that she be able to push the lancet herself, to which we agreed.  Only given that we were now 45 minutes into the ordeal and the parental units were tiring quickly, we didn’t realize that we had actually fallen for a carefully calculated ploy.  No sooner had I set the lancet in my sheepishly grinning daughter’s hand did she launch it behind the dresser; the heavy, immovable, unable-to-reach-underneath-flat-against-the-wall dresser.  We’d been had; and my patience was about gone.  We retrieved the lancet and again resorted to the ‘forceful hold’; we finally got a finger free, and got the lancet in place.  Again the hysterics ensued, at least until the blood started to flow; then she was fascinated.  “Wow, Mom, look at it drip!”  All at once, she was fine.  We filled all five circles in no time flat.  My husband and I just looked at each other in wonderment.  The whole ordeal had taken over an hour; we were exhausted, sweating and spent.  I wasn’t sure which turnip we had really just gotten the blood from; her, or us.

A mere half hour later, my daughter popped out of bed and into the living room full of excitement.  It seemed the lower front tooth she had been wiggling for the last two days had finally worked its way loose.  As she animatedly waved her tooth in the air, she yelled she had lost it and then gave us a huge happy grin.  Only she looked less like a seven-year-old and more like a boxer in round seven of a prize fight; teeth and gums smeared with red, and more blood oozing from the gap in the front.  Honestly, it kind of freaked me out.  I was ready for the gap in her teeth; I was not so ready for all the blood.  She was so thrilled, standing there smiling from ear to ear, and I was trying ignore my gut instincts towards my daughter and her bloody mug.  I pasted a fake smile on my face and steered her towards the bathroom where we rinsed her mouth out, secured the tooth in her fairy pillow, and finally got her snuggled into bed.  I was hard pressed not to immediately follow her; it had been one heck of a night, and I’d had enough blood and sweat to last me quite some time.

Lest we forget about the rag-rolled hair…  Fast forward to next morning; she was super excited to take the rags out to see what the result was.  I reminded her that it was an experiment, and whatever the outcome, we could always make sure it looked okay for school.  I unrolled the first couple of strips, and we could already tell the experiment was a dud; her hair has natural curl already, and I think the strips were just too thin and her hair really took it in.  It was really more of a funny kinky curl instead of the lovely large rolls she was hoping for.  As I took more of the strips out, her expression got worse; I reminded her of the ‘experiment’ discussion, and that I could simply re-wet it and dry it straighter for her.  Once they were all out, she took a final look in the mirror and exclaimed, “Mom, I can NOT go to school like this.  I look like Mayor Washington!”  It took me a minute to grasp her train of thought, but once I did I asked her, “Do you mean George Washington?”  Her response, “Yeah, Mom, my head looks just like George Washington!”  I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as I also corrected her, and explained that George Washington was actually a president, not a mayor.  She then corrected herself, “Okay fine, but I STILL can’t go to school looking like PRESIDENT Washington!!”  I’m happy to report that after employing a little water and hot air, her hair was presentable for the day; no George Washington in sight.

It was such an absolute shift from the night before; no stress, no pressure, no guilt over bloodletting my own child.  Instead it was a complete release of laughter and joy and sincere delight over the amusement of seven-year-old logic.  It almost felt like compensation for the trials of the previous evening.  I suppose, in a way, that’s exactly what the ups and downs of parenting are. You face countless struggles; many unpredictable, even unmanageable.  But the rewards are often more enjoyable than you would ever imagine; they make all the blood and sweat worth it.

Unpredictable

Children are so unpredictable.  As a mother, you work hard to make sure you learn them as well as you can; your own, anyway.  Their moods, their tells, their triggers.  You pride yourself on not only knowing them like the back of your hand, but being there for them whenever they need you.  You don’t often prepare yourself for the moments when you will fail them; when you can’t be there for them like you want to, like you feel you should.

For me, these moments most often happen when I’ve had a significantly nasty migraine, such as the one that hit me out of nowhere last night.  Well, it wasn’t completely out of nowhere; I’ve been having a string of them all week.  The cycle is familiar; it starts out with a bad one on a particular day, followed by recurring less-severe ones in the evenings for several consecutive days until I can get the cycle to break.  The triggers are varied; they can be hormonal, weather, sleep, stress –  the list is long and complicated.  I’ve been dealing with them since my daughter was born six years ago.  While I very much abhor them, I have settled into somewhat of a respectful truce.  I cannot conquer them, so I’ve learned to exist with them as best as I can, while improving my quality of life where possible.

I don’t hide them from my daughter; they are a part of my life, and they very much affect my life.  As such they affect my family’s life and, by proxy, affect hers.  As a result, she is aware when I have one; she is aware that I take medication for them.  She is aware that sometimes, they knock me out completely, like today.  This last cycle was rough, but I thought I was on the other side of it; when I went to bed last night, things were feeling fairly clear.  Then I woke up at 2:30 am in blinding pain.  They rarely present that way but, when they do, they’re merciless and almost impossible to control.  The few times they have, I’ve wound up in the ER for pain meds; it’s not pretty.  This time, fortunately, I was able to control it at home on my own, but it was difficult.  It also meant that I would be completely out of commission for the rest of the day trying to recover; both from the pain, and from the meds.

As I mentioned, I’m very honest with my daughter about my migraines.  Mainly because I feel honesty is important, but also because at six, she is keenly observant and can usually tell when something is up anyway; it’s no use trying to hide it from her.  So today when she hugged me to say good morning as soon as she woke up (shortly after 6:00, at which point I’d barely relieved the pain and gotten almost no sleep), she looked at me funny and asked if my head hurt.  I told her that I was going to need her help today and why, and gave her some suggestions about options for breakfast and activities for the morning while I slept in.  She kindly kissed me on the head saying “don’t worry, Momma, I’ll make good choices and come check on you real soon.”  It’s an odd mixture of guilt and sweetness to see your 6-year-old take care of you the way you do for her…

When I pulled myself out of bed a few hours later, I started to go through the motions of steeling myself for the rest of the day.  It’s odd how your mind will shift into survival mode, especially from a mom-perspective.  What food do we have in the house that’s relatively healthy that I don’t have to actually prepare?  What can I keep her occupied with for a full day and still move as little as possible?  Because regardless of what horrible shape I was in, the reality was that I had a daughter who required watching for the day, and she still needed me.  But as I mentioned, children are unpredictable.  And today was certainly one of those times.  My 6-year-old usually rambunctious daughter was so fluid today, I was amazed.  She entertained herself in the morning without complaint.  She helped with ideas for lunch for both of us.  When she clearly appeared bored this afternoon and needed to blow off a little steam, she willingly compromised with me by sacrificing a trip to the park in lieu of the swing set in the front yard (where I could sit in silence on the porch and watch her), even though it meant she would have to play alone.  She ate leftovers for dinner without issue, and helped clean up the living room without complaining.  She again compromised afterward by accepting Mom as her badminton partner (far lackluster in comparison to her friends) so that I could keep her near the house and not have to chase her down when it was bedtime.  And then, when it was time for bed, she went willingly with a big hug, kiss and smile.

Given my lack of energy today and basic inability to cope, I could not possibly have asked for her to have been any more amazing than she was.  Don’t get me wrong; my daughter, for the most part, is a pretty good girl (though she has her moments; she is six, after all).  But I felt like today, she sensed that I really did need her help; that by trying extra hard and being extra good, she really was doing something special.  It reminds me that we all have such an unlimited capacity for empathy and compassion; even at such a young age.  And even though my head can throw me for a loop in its unpredictable capacity for pain, it’s still no match for my daughter’s unpredictable ability to love.

Weight

We all carry weight. Every day, in different ways. Some of us manage it better than others, but we all carry it. The bill you know needs to be paid next Thursday. The project deadline you have coming up in a month. The argument you had with your loved one last evening that is still unresolved. The lab results you’re waiting on from the doctor’s office that you’re hoping, desperately, don’t carry with them bad news. The guilt over yelling at your child exactly like your father used to yell at you, even though you promised yourself you wouldn’t this time. Weight. It’s always there.

Not only is it consistent, but it is constantly changing its size; forcing us to make choices about what additional things we’re going to take on…what else we decide to carry. Some of the burdens we bear are necessary, almost mandatory (bills, family, health, etc.); we must shoulder and manage them the best we know how. But others are a choice. We have the option of adding to our loads, or avoiding the heavier burdens that may be trying to creep up our shoulders, just by making a different decision. You would think that deciding to lighten the load would be easy. But often times I think it’s actually more difficult simply because we don’t realize that it truly is just that – a choice.

Maybe we avoid choosing because it sometimes requires us to sacrifice things we want or need, or even sacrifice other people in order to lessen our own burden. We so often sacrifice our own well-being for everyone else’s; it’s human nature, after all. But what we fail to see is that by doing so, time and time again, taking on all of this weight so that others don’t have to, we create a load so burdensome that eventually we can’t continue to carry it. But how will we be available to all those we’re trying to aid if we’ve effectively lost ourselves, crushed under our own solitary burden?

If only we would allow ourselves to let some of it go – unload the weight that is not ours to bear. Many of these burdens are just that…not ours, but we bear them just the same. We think of it as selfish to be self-protecting. But so much suffers as a result; our health, our families, our jobs. Everything is subject to the fallout when we break from carrying too much. Unfortunately, we often only realize this too late, long after the pieces are already scattered.

I was reminded today that we all carry weight. And I was also reminded that it is okay to give yourself permission to lay some of it down. By doing so you are not a failure, you are not giving up, you are not sacrificing others, and you are not admitting defeat. You are simply acknowledging the limits of your being. For this brief moment, allow yourself the gift of being UN-burdened. The weight can wait.