Friday, February 24, 2012


Hey y'all. Apparently, I'm temporarily southern.  If you haven't already guessed, I enjoy writing. In that vein, I've been challenging myself to write in genres outside of this blog.  Below is an example of something I've worked on.  It's non-fiction, based on real things that happened in my real life.  But instead of being all snarky about it, I've went in the opposite direction.  Law school forced me to write whatever I needed to write in as few words as possible.  In the following piece, I do my best to undo that habit.  It may come off as too lyrical, but again, I'm pushing boundaries.  I'll return to my usual snark next time. Enjoy!

*     *     *

The Venus de Milo sits poised in the Louvre.  Pale marble shoulders flow uninterrupted towards flawless breasts.  A sleek profile, with hair curling around a comely ear, exposes the delicate line of an unscathed neck.

A mask is placed over my nose and mouth, filling with a vaguely sweet fog. Just breath deeply.  Count backwards from ten. My eyes involuntarily close as the gas steals my consciousness with unwarranted impunity. 

An artistic rendering of Venus might be bereft of arms, legs, or a corporeal form.  But there is always a face, a head, and a neck.  If nothing else, these parts comprise a goddess turned human by the deft hand of a skillful artist. At age seven, I lay insensate and oblivious to the scalpel carving a new silhouette, a bloody mélange of Venus incarnate. If you cut and shape a child, hacking away at what is ugly and distorted, will you create a woman that is whole and divine?

I was born with a hemangioma on the side of my neck. 

It's a benign tumor of the blood vessels charmingly referred to as a strawberry birthmark.  At six months, the red, bulbous growth enveloped my left ear and obstructed my hearing. Maybe it will go away. My infant neck was powerless to support its magnitude, which wrecked my countenance and twisted my spine. Maybe she’ll outgrow it. A hemangioma can become ulcerated and infected, adding illness to disfigurement. Maybe it won’t go away.

These reasons were pleaded in hope that insurance would cover the desired series of treatments. A girl should not have to grow up looking so different. The insurance would not pay for cosmetic surgery. My doctor had a saying, a joke. “We’ll get you looking beautiful by your junior prom, I promise!” It became a mantra, really.  You don’t look pretty now, but you will someday.

Plastic surgery is not pretty.  Especially long term plastic surgery, which offers no immediate results and yields no instant gratification.  Did Venus suffer the hunger and thirst that precedes an operation? Would she be fitted with an IV and put under anesthetic, only to wake up in terrible pain, confused, bruised, swollen, and vomiting?   Is this what happens when a goddess impersonates a human?   Each procedure quilted skin to skin with stitches so small and numerous that my doctor could never keep count.  He always lost track after fifty.  Can you stitch a human to imitate a goddess? Despite the surgical procedures, I still did not look normal, so the entire process would be repeated the next year.  And the next. After all, a girl should not grow up looking so different.

For a while, youth shielded me from censure.  The natural curiosity of other children had not developed into full-fledged criticism, and for a while they accepted my hemangioma as just another anomalous encounter in their brief life.  But the year I was seven was the year, I had tissue expanders.  Two sausage-shaped balloons were inserted into my neck and filled with saline. Their purpose was to stretch out my skin, so there would not be a gaping hole in my neck after they severed the remnants of my hemangioma.  For two painful months the implants remained in my neck; two months spent not in the seclusion of a hospital, but at home exposed to the real world. It was for the best, though. After all, a girl should not have to grow up looking so different.

When I first came home from the hospital, something strange happened. Despite my best efforts to force my skull upright,  my head constantly cocked to the right,  My doctor explained my body was reacting to the foreign substance trapped inside the only way it could.  It turned away from what was painful and unnatural. I thought that was odd, that my body no longer recognized itself. 

The bulbous implants embedded in my neck sparked a catalyst that fractured the definition of human. Everybody stared.  Everybody asked questions. After the two months the implants were removed, but I still did not have that instant gratification I so longed for.  I still did not look like every one else.  I still wasn’t ready for the junior prom; and now the veil was lifted. 

Questions and stares ranged from curiosity to disgust. I purposely kept my hair long so it would hide my neck and ear. My family took pains to remind me that my unusual appearance did not make me a bad person.  I was kind, smart, and ambitious, but no one said beautiful.  If some one loved me, they refrained from mentioning my appearance. Should a child grapple with humanity? I knew nothing but an alien shell. 

My last operation was performed when I was fourteen.  What was once inspired by a desire to prevent disability, morphed into pure art and confused beauty with perfection.  This  procedure involved a skin graft.  A piece of skin was taken from my groin, and shaped into an earlobe. Trapped in the throes of puberty, just the mention of the word “groin” made me terribly uncomfortable.  I was mortified that my doctor had not only seen that secret part of my body, but that he had managed to turn it into an earlobe. When I returned to school the next year, with an earlobe where there previously was none, I could not explain to my friends how it was done.  I was too embarrassed.  But mortification aside, this surgery was the most memorable because it was my last.

I was tired of it all.  I was tired of pain, bruising, swelling, and stitches.  I was comfortable with my appearance. Beauty was subjective and fluid; I was never going to look perfect.  But that was okay.  Because I was smart, and kind, and a good friend.  Because I had a family and friends and a God who all loved me, despite my funny-looking ear and my scars. It’s ok to grow up looking different.
When the skin graft operation was over, my mother and doctor discussed options for future treatments.  But I was beautiful.  I did not need more surgery.  I owned my body.  I had my own voice.  

I declined any future treatments. 

My doctor was astounded.  My mother was worried.  But, I was free.   I wore my hair up again.  I no longer cared who saw my ear and my neck. The artist never completed the sculpture, but a human emerged anyways. 

Twenty-five years after that first operation, I gave birth to another hemangioma, a quarter-sized one attached to right leg of my youngest daughter.  I’m inordinately proud this hemangioma.  It’s a second chance to let nature, not the scalpel, take its course.  At two years old, her hemangioma has already lightened considerably.  

A girl can grow up looking different.

*     *     *

Close up of my left ear and neck, seventeen years after the last operation.

A picture of me at 9:00 pm on a Thursday night in my bathrobe.

Monday, February 20, 2012

30 Million Day Blog Challenge #9: Short term goals for this month and why.

The next prompt in my 30 (million) day blog challenge: Short term goals for this month and why.

I started this post back in January, but never finished.  So my first short term goal for the remaining nine days in February is to finish this post.

My second short term goal for what is left of February is to make it through the hellish month that is February.  The weather has been strangely cooperative.  February is easier to deal with when the daytime highs are in the low 40's (Fahrenheit).

My third short term goal for February is to go back to the gym.  The gym I've been paying for since November 2011 that I've neglected to frequent for the past eight or nine months.

You see, sometime early last spring I gave up on going to the gym.  My gym has free childcare, which I couldn't take advantage of because Toddler refused to be torn from my side.  I'd drop her off kicking and screaming, and 15 minutes later I'd hear my name called over the loudspeaker to come retrieve my inconsolable child.  "Don't worry," they said. "Just keep bringing her back, she'll get used to it."

I tried that.

They lied.

That meant I had to go to the gym at night, relinquishing the few hours of family time we have when Husband comes home and/or alone time I have with Husband after the kids are asleep.  But I'm tired of paying $45 a month to continue my inability to climb stairs without being winded. So I've decided to give the gym another try. Today, at exactly 9:13 am, I brought Toddler to the childcare room.  She walked in a bit confused, but soon made a bee line to some toy cars with nary a look back.  I got to work out for one glorious hour on my own terms, without having my name broadcast for all to hear.

My final short term goal for February is to finish a short story I've been writing.  I enjoy starting creative writing projects, but rarely finish them.  And by rarely, I mean never.   This also explains why I have a bevy of two-sentence blog posts waiting to be finished.

And to keep things realistic, here are some more goals for this month:  Eat. Breathe. Sleep. Wake.

Now those are some goals I can manage!  Basic existence for the win!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Valentine's Grinch

You may have noticed that Valentine’s Day came and went with nary a word from me on this blog.

That’s because Husband is a Valentine's Grinch.  And now, so am I.

Screw you, Hallmark!

From day one, Husband made it clear Valentine’s Day was not for him.  Too commercial.  Too contrived.  Too unnecessary. 

This used to piss me off mightily. What was wrong with gift-giving?  What was wrong with setting aside one day a year to celebrate love? I wanted to feel special.  Didn’t he want me to feel special?

Thus, Valentine’s Day drove a minor wedge between us.  And for me, at least, it became a point of stress, anger, and disappointment.  I couldn’t let go of the expectation of Valentine’s Day accolades, even when I knew he wouldn’t cooperate.

Flash-forward 10 years, and finally something clicked.  I do feel special.  I do feel loved.  Every single day.  

The funny thing is, I have nothing against Valentine’s Day.  It is nice to set aside a day to show some one you love them.  Lots of people use gift-giving as a way to show others that they love them, and that’s great.  Sometimes people need a special gift, even if it’s just a small token, to feel loved. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.

It’s just that, Husband and I show love differently.

Gift giving between Husband and I is kind of stressful. Did I spend too little?  Too much?  Will he truly appreciate it?  

But the words he says, the things he does to help me out, and the time we share together every single day, outweigh any gift he could give me.  We also usually do something extra-special for our Anniversary, but even that involves going somewhere extra-fun or extra-special together, as opposed to gift-giving.  

And for what it’s worth, when you share a joint bank account, and check it regularly, it’s difficult NOT to learn where gifts came from and how much they cost, which sort of ruins the surprise.

Maybe things will change.  Maybe someday I’ll decide again that gifts are important, as a means to show you made an effort to think about something your significant other would like and acted accordingly.  

But between him and I, at least right now, ignoring Valentine’s Day makes both of us feel AWESOME.*

*Caveat: Husband, if at any time you change your mind, and feel like celebrating this, or any other holiday, with items such as flowers, chocolate, and coffee, I would welcome these efforts with open arms, and would love you even more, forever and ever, amen.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

I'm A Real Hoot At Parties

My husband is in the middle of looking for a new job and seeing as I’m a stay-at-home mom, his ability to find paying work is a bit vital.  For two months now, I’ve been teetering on the edge of a panic attack, feeling like at any given moment I might cease being able to breath or move, and I’ll probably just feebly curl up into the fetal position behind the couch for the rest of my living days.

After working with my therapist on controlling this anxiety for nearly a month and a half, I broke down and went to my psychiatrist for medication.  And I’m surprised to find what a relief this is.

I take medication every single day for my bipolar depression, and will probably do so until the day I die.  This condition not necessarily situational, it just exists as an ever-present state of being.  I’m ok with taking my depression medication, never once have I questioned or lamented it.  It can and does keep me from dying.

But I was very anxious about the mere thought of taking medication to deal with my anxiety.

You see, my anxiety was so wrapped up in this job-hunt situation that I kept thinking I’d just get over it, or get used to it, or something.  That I’d be able to talk myself through it.  And though I just barely kept it all together, it was like putting a lid on a pot of boiling water.  The water is rolling beneath, there is steam coming out the sides and it won’t be long before it starts bubbling over.

So, I’ve turned to medication.  And an hour after popping that first pill I feel... clearer.  I’ve actually sat down and written this whole post from scratch, the first time I’ve been able to do so in months, and feel good about it.*

So, at least for a while, I’m on medication for depression AND anxiety.

I’m a real hoot at parties.

And I'm ok with this.

*Fun Fact: I have a plethora of half-written posts, so when I run into writer’s block I just flesh out one of them.  Dirty Secret: Four of the past eight posts I’ve published came from that well and now the well’s done gone dry.

Monday, February 6, 2012


Because of my bipolar depression, I’m careful to note changes to and patterns in my mental state.  This past November was rough, despite the fact that autumn and Thanksgiving are some of my favorite times of the year.  I love autumn.  Its cooling temperatures are a relief after a baking hot summer.  It heralds the start of school, and even though I’m not a student, it still fills me with optimism for the upcoming year, and feeds my hungry need to keep learning new things.

No, it’s February that’s supposed to be my worst month.

I first realized this when I was in college, even before I knew I was bipolar.  Like any good liberated woman on campus, I listened to my fair share of chick music; Ani DeFranco, Dar Williams, Indigo Girls, etc.  I was only a few steps away from dreadlocks and patchouli.  Fortunately, I liked washing my hair and smelling like flowers, albeit chemical flower odors manufactured by brand-name shampoos.  Don’t judge; this was before I knew about Aveda.

Anyhow, my senior year in college was marred by a rough February.  The thing is, nothing was really going wrong.  I was getting straight A’s in school.  I had an awesome group of friends.  I had a loving boyfriend who would later become my husband.  I had a part-time job in student leadership that was fulfilling enough that it would command a place on my resume for the next five years.  Everything was going right.

So why was I so depressed?  I wondered.

Walking to and from class and work, I’d listend to *OLD LADY ALERT* mixed-cd’s on my brand-new discman.  Every time this particular song came on I’d cry.  Despite the tears, I always seemed to listen to this song rather than skip it over.  I think, in a way, it was cathartic.

From “February” by Dar Williams:

First we forgot where wed planted those bulbs last year,
Then we forgot that wed planted at all,
Then we forgot what plants are altogether,
And I blamed you for my freezing and forgetting and
The nights were long and cold and scary,
Can we live through february? 

You know I think christmas was a long red glare,
Shot up like a warning, we gave presents without cards,
And then the snow,
And then the snow came, we were always out shoveling,
And we’d drop to sleep exhausted,
Then we’d wake up, and it’s snowing.

So... that's it.  February is here, and I'm on alert.  So far I'm doing ok.  I have a lot of anxiety about something that I can't discuss here right now.  The anxiety is bad, and I'm fighting to keep it at bay, lest it render me utterly catatonic.  But it's entirely situational and as time passes and life events unfold, it will hopefully ease up.  

Until then, I'll continue plowing through February, one day at a time.