Friday, September 23, 2016

Tales of a Hypochondriac

Growing up, I don't recall being particularly scared of pain.  It wasn't that I was fearless. Far from it. I was afraid of a whole host of unconventional things--like music boxes and the dancing alligators from Disney's Fantasia (tales for another time, I suppose)--but I wasn't particularly afraid of being hurt.  I spent entire summers of my childhood, skinning my knees on the knobby branches of apple trees and trampling through honey bee filled fields of wildflowers barefoot.

Now that I am older and more prone to romanticizing, I like to think that I take after my Irish grandmother, who, the tough broad that she is, had every last one of her pearly whites crowned sans novocaine, which I think is pretty much on par with Patrick Swayze stitching up his own knife wound in the dimly lit backroom of a bar in the movie Roadhouse.  Which, p.s., is currently on Netflix.

Side note: I saw Roadhouse for the first time a little over three years ago and must have somehow conflated it with From Dusk 'Til Dawn, because half-way through the movie I turned to Moses and asked: "So when are the vampires showing up?"

It's one of his favorite stories to tell.

Anyways, where was I? 

Oh right.  

So this lack of fear of pain served me well as I got older and started getting into gymnastics because from about the fall of 1992 until the summer of '99, I was pretty much perpetually injured.

I don't think I was ever an especially talented acrobat but that hardly mattered to me because I loved it.  It made me feel simultaneously powerful and free.  I was continually impressed by the strength, elasticity, and resilience of my own body.

I can't quite place when these feelings towards my body started to change but it was probably casually interwoven with the awkwardness of adolescence.

Once this shift occurred, my body was no longer an impervious marvel.  It was something that could be sickly and foreign.  It became a source not of empowerment but of concern.

It wasn't so much that I began fearing pain but that I began fearing death.  Perhaps all adolescents' contemplation of mortality manifest in such bleak and pervasive ways. Or perhaps I am just a bit of a weirdo.  After all, it I who when my father read to us about the lives of the catholics saints, asked him to detail how precisely they were tortured.

It wasn't until my mid-to-late teens, though, that I truly started to dabble in hypochondria. I remember one Christmas, I must have been sixteen because I was listening to Ani DiFranco's Not a Pretty Girl on my deskman. We were driving home from my grandparents' house through the snowy streets of Ithaca and I remember thinking: Boy, I really hope my appendix doesn't explode.  

In retrospect, I think this was probably brought on by overconsumption of Bacos and Hidden Valley Ranch.  But hindsight 20/20.

In any case, I managed to keep these wayward feelings in check until I moved to California and started graduate school.  Perhaps it was the cross-country move.  Perhaps it was the rigor of my scholastics.  Whatever the true cause, the buzzing little apiary of my anxiety had been kicked and out poured clouds of dense neuroses.

I have probably always been a bit inclined to obsessive thinking.  In some ways, it is what churns my creativity and sharpens my attention to detail.  But this wasn't a slight inclining.  This was full blown plunging.

I would stress constantly about everything: my papers, my monthly budget, my teeth, etc.  I would spend hours playing WebMd Russian Roulette: is it congestion or is it cancer?  

During this period of my life, I was always dying of some rare form of cancer.  It had been growing in my body for years and any day it would emerge like an ugly cabbage amongst the petunias and I would be dead.

As I am sure you can imagine, given what happen to my brother, I think back on this time with such pangs of guilt and regret.  What a young, blessed, and healthy fool I was.  My how perspective is a powerful thing.

The summer after I finished graduate school, I went to Ithaca for a few weeks to visit my family.  At the time, my Irish grandmother, that titan of dental work, was sick in the hospital with pneumonia.  She eventually recovered because, of course she did.  But at the time she was very ill, so I went to go see her with my mom and my brother Scott. 

It was the first time in my life that I had truly seen my Grandmother defeated.  She said that she was ready to die and I may have responded by yelling at her: Grandma, where's your fighting Irish spirit!?

To this day I am not entirely sure why, but this marked a turning point for me.  As I drove home through a late July rainstorm with my brother Scott, we talked about life and love and fear and when the conversation turned to my anxiety, my brother Scott paused and said: "Wendy, it's mind over matter.  You need to just stop."

In that moment, something that had been dislodged in me for so long had been pushed back into place.  My mind!  It was as if I had completely forgotten that my mind and body were connected.  I had forgotten that my mind was a strong, elastic, and resilient thing.

And just like that, the hornets were herded back to their nest and hum of constant low-level nervousness ceased.

Since then my hypochondria has all but disappeared and my anxiety has been relegated to a brief fluttering of panic when confronted by a grocery store stand full of hard avocados.

Even through the worst of it over these past two years, I haven't succumbed to the mania.  Not even a little.  Even when my world was upside down, my mind remained calm and level.

That is, until recently.

When I got sick, I was never truly worried.  Frustrated, sure but not worried.  And, yes, I did log on to WebMD a few times but it was all for diagnostic purposes, I assure you.  I knew that something was wrong and I was pretty sure it was lupus (not a bad guess by the way, given my symptoms) and while that sucked, I would live.

It wasn't until I was out of the hospital and the parade of visitors had dwindled that I began to truly digest all that had happened and the sheer gravity of the situation finally settled in.

Since then, I've been in a not entirely uncalled for state of hyper-viligence about my health.  In some ways, because I have been sick for so long, I have forgotten what normal feels like and the slightest twinge will send my speed dialing my primarily care physician's office.  Is this heart burn or a heart attack?  Are these allergies or is my nervous system shutting down?

Moses swears that it is nowhere near as bad as it was and that it will take time to readjust.  And I would never actually say this to him, but I think he's right.

I am trying to be patient with myself.  I feel like I say that a lot here. [Database scan complete: pattern detected.]  But as someone who was going to wait for the new Game of Thrones book to be released before watching the new season, only to binge read all of the episode summaries and then watch all of the episodes within a 24 hour period of them becoming available, patience may not my virtue.

On the plus side, I already had a rare disease, so I can probably cross off the "has rare disease" on my list of things to worry about.

For a little while at least.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

On Choosing Grace

Who's got two thumbs and a rare infection in her heart valve?

---> This gal!<---

*Taken the day I was released.  Lest you thought I was sitting around taking selfies the entire time...*

There she is.  In all her sallow, hospital gowned glory.  Never too ill to feign a duck face for her adoring public.  Filtered just so as to keep up the pretenses of her attainable beauty/mask just how dirty her hair is.  Juuuust like a Kardashian.

Initially I wasn't quite sure if I was going to blog about this but then I felt the chill of the post-hospital slump of attention and suddenly I was at Bachelor contestant levels of: somebody notice meeeee!

Also, this saves me postage on my newsletter.

So here we are.

Fortunately for you, I really don't have the energy to regale you with this tale in the same manner of tedious detail to which you've become accustomed, so you will get the abridged version.

I'm sick.

I've been sick since early July.

First I thought it was the flu, but then when I started to feel better, it came back.  Then I was like: well, maybe it was just a virus and now I caught another virus, but it came back a third time.  I went to the doctors, but all the blood tests were normal.  Then I started to have shooting pains in my abdomen.  Autoimmune disease? Kidney stones? Appendicitis?  No. No. No. All the tests and scans were negative.

Then my doctor did a blood culture and suddenly it was: get thee to a hospital.

So I cried because the last time I stepped foot in a hospital was to say goodbye to my brother.  And then I put on my big girl pants, waited 20 minutes for a cab in 90 degree heat, and skirted death in rush hour Boston traffic while my cab driver played what I can only assume was Pokemon Snaps on his cell phone.

I was eventually diagnosed with Endocarditis, which is caused by bacteria entering your blood stream through your mouth (often via dental work), and taking up residence in your heart valve.  If left untreated, it can lead to sepsis and death and other unpleasant things.

In my case, it lead to embolisms in my spleen and brain and a heart murmur.  The effects of which, remarkably and miraculously, are all temporary and will result in no permanent damage.  I feel a little bit like the third Perverell brother who cheated death, when everyone else around him was getting straight up murdered.

And the sad thing too is that I love learning about rare conditions and would find this all truly fascinating if I hadn't had to live through it.

Now I am on a four week course of IV antibiotics, which I am administering myself, at home, like the badass I am.

I am an active, strong-willed, independent person and in the last few years, I've had a number of truly humbling experiences--experiences that have made me rely on others in a way that I normally would never allow myself to.  And as incredibly shitty as those experiences have been, they have contained within them powerful lessons on love and interconnectivity.

This particular incident has reminded me that we choose grace.

When I was lying in my hospital bed, I thought of my brother lying in his hospital bed, faced with a sickness far greater than my own--who, in the wake of that knowledge, was still so kind to his nurses and everyone around him--so I chose to mirror his grace.  Even though I was in pain and had been ill for so long, I chose not to complain, not to be sullen, but to be courteous, cheerful, and grateful.

When so much of life is out of our control, it's so empowering to be reminded that we at least have some choice in our response to it.

But I guess that's just me, waxing trite and virtue signaling alllll over the place.

And you can choose how you want to deal with that.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Honeymooners

I'm baaaack!!!

Okay, fair enough.

I've long come to terms with the fact that I will never be that blogger.  The one who posts.  Like, ever.

In my defense, I have been "trying" to write this post for about two weeks now.  And, of course by "trying", I mean fluttering into my draft folder for a few moments every so often before exasperatingly declaring that I am "not inspired enough" and adjourning to more decidedly Anthropologie-ish corners of the internet.  I am in the market for some adorable, non-dishwasher safe appetizer plates because that is the sort of bourgeois impasse I've come to.

In any case, tonight I have decided to interrupt a perfectly decent pineapple IPA and nostalgia fueled re-watching of Hook, to revisit this post for the thirtieth time.  I hope you realize what a huge imposition this is.

That's sure to get me some followers!

Anyways, a few weeks ago, Moses and I returned from our belated honeymoon in the South of France.

I will spare you the vacation slideshow.  My tolerance for sadism has significantly lessened since trying and failing to watch 50 Shades of Grey.  (More like 50 Shades of Boring.  Am I right?  <High five!>)  Instead, I've decided to compile a list of things I learned from my travels, with a sprinkling of photos because you're not that lucky (ridiculous photos were taken and attention must be paid).

I've decided that lists are my thing.

If you don't like it, there is the door:

At the suggestion of my mother-in-law, I was initially planning to keep a food journal while I was there.  And I was reallllly going to but I realllly forgot, mostly because I was too distracted by actually eating all the food and drinking all the wine.  So a list you shall get.

Nous commençons.

Lesson 1: French people are serious about five things: butter, coca-cola, nutella, easy accessibility to wine and beer in almost all places at all times, and smoking.

And I have absolutely no problem with that because most of those things are the best. But, I have to admit, it does give me better insight into the bloated, flotation device of a human that Gerard Depardieu has become...

Lesson 2: Taking a picture of famous art is better than looking at it with your eye balls.

Because, you know, eyeballs are overrated. Also, where could you possibly even find a high quality copy of this artwork?!

Lesson 3: There is another Versaille on the coastal highway in between Nice and Monte Carlo.

It's almost as magnificent as its sister location.

Also, it is most certainly NOT a pleasant, leisurely bike ride along the coast from Nice to Monte Carlo.  We later learned that the 25 miles of coastal cliffs that we biked up and down that day was part of the route in the Tour de France.

Lesson 4: Selfies have always been a thing.

Lesson 5: Speaking of's in really poor taste to take them in front of the human remains in the Parisian Catacombs.

[Not pictured, because we're not millennial monsters]

Lesson 6: You should take as many awkward kissing-in-front-of-the-Eiffel-Tower pictures as possible, until you've solidified your basic-ness to all those around you.

Not at all obnoxious.  Brave, I would say.

Lesson 6: Don't skimp on eye cream while you are traveling, unless you want eye circles the envy of any Edward Gorey illustration.

Lesson 7: When in Paris, buy a museum pass.

If only for the varied pictures you take with the artwork. (See lesson 2.)

Lesson 8: Private beaches are the best.

You don't want to be drink-less, parasol-less, and lounge chair-less like the rest of those public beach going plebeians.

Lesson 9:  It's not offensive.

(Except that it kind of is...)

Lesson 10: Always order wine and always take pictures of horse statues and/or signs.

These may or may not be related.

Lesson 11: Le Petite dejeuner is everything.

Lesson 12: Honeymoons are truly the best.  Moses and I have been together nearly 12 year and this was the first extended trip that we've taken together that was not structured around visiting friends or family.  It was so good for us because as it happens, there was a reason we married each other in the first place.

Just one reason, actually: so as not to die alone.

Only kidding.  #wenoses4eva

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

To Toe the Line (but not really)

As part of one of my modernist theory courses in undergrad, my professor asked us to spell out the phrase "to toe the line."  Half of the class spelled it as "tow" and the other half spelled it correctly.  I would say that we were having fun with homophones except that I seem to recall Fanon somehow being involved, so it probably wasn't fun so much as horrifyingly depressing.

I know, I know. Great story.  You laughed, you cried; it was Homeward Bound: the Emotional Journey.  What does this have to do with anything?  Nothing really, except that I thought about opening this post by ruminating on how I tend to toe the line on this blog between candor and reticence and I had to remind myself to spell it "toe" NOT "tow" (thus the recollected lesson) but then I thought I should probably look up the phrase to determine if I was using it correctly and...I sure was not.


My sincerest apologies to all those I have deeply offended over these past nine years by using the phrase "to toe the line" to mean to straddle/to test the boundaries of/to draw the line.

Shan't happen again.

Elaborately incorrect definitions aside, I think what I was trying to say is that I often struggle with my own boundaries with this blog.

Sure, no one really reads it, but some people do and if they don't, when I click publish and this disperses into the nebula of the internet, there is always a possibility that someone could read it.  And as someone who regularly plays my hands close to my vest (and apparently uses idioms with reckless abandon), I am always slightly uncomfortable with that fact.

I suppose I could get a journal and blog privately as they say, although "they" probably wouldn't actually say that, but there's a part of me that wants to use this to connect with others; to share these sparse and fleeting glimpses of my life with family and friends whom I don't get to see very often.

I am not a terribly social creature by nature but I do cherish the friendships I have deeply.  It is because of how deeply I cherish them that I only have volume enough in my heart for so many.  Before I was even familiar with her work, I had always seemingly subscribed to the Emily Dickinson philosophy on relationships: "the Soul selects her own Society--and then shuts the Door."  She really had a fascination with doorways.  And windows.  I could write an entire blog post about it but #priorities!

Anyways, I had even once told a good friend of mine, who wanted to introduce me to a good friend of hers that I simply was not in the market for any more friends at the moment.  Of course she introduced me anyways and I totally fell for her and had no choice but to rearrange the parlor in my left ventricle to make room for one more.  And I did so with gusto.

One of the more unexpected aspects of grief is how it has impacted my ability to be social.  Initially, it had extinguished the desire entirely. In the first six months or so, the thought of casually hanging out or, worse yet, having to make small talk with a new acquaintance was insufferable to me.  I would turn down invitations, saying that I wasn't feeling well and it was totally true.  I literally couldn't stomach the idea of sustaining polite chit-chat with a virtual stranger; it made my physically disgusted.

As time has progressed, it's gotten a little better but I still find it challenging to build new friendships and to maintain the friendships I have already built, which, of course, is frustrating, because I love my friends.  I want to be present in my relationships, but when so much of your emotional energy is devoted to the levies that keep grief at bay enough to be productive, there is just not much left over at the end of the day.

Time is the balm in all of this.  Even when I thought it initially impossible, it has been proven to me over and over again this past year and a half.

So what else is there to do really but to abide and to try in small increments--whenever and however I can manage it--slowly nudging myself back into my society.

I feel like I have a tendency to end posts like this somewhat defensively because I assume that you are judging me and I will be damned if you think I am writing this to engender sympathy or pity.  But I've decided that I am generally too defensive and ultimately, it doesn't matter if this gets misconstrued.  I always find it so refreshing and comforting when people speak frankly about their experiences with grief, so that's precisely what I am going to do.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

On Deleting my Facebook App, Crying, and Spring Snow Storms

A title that rivals the wispy brilliance of Joyce Carol Oates, to be sure.

I often wonder about truly prolific writers.  Because, the older I've gotten, the more I feel perpetually stumped for material.  I used to be able to coax moderately charming narratives from the mundane but, these days, my calls to the gap customer service line to fight my noble crusade of getting them to honor my expired coupon codes just seems downright prosaic.

Yet here I sit, sipping my Tempranillo out of a white wine glass because #yassqueen (also #the red wine glasses are all dirty and I am currently playing chicken with my sink #we're both winning), doing my best to conjure some content from the pallid humdrumness of the everyday.

Last week, I was sifting through my blog archive, which I almost never do on Friday nights when I am bored and all my favorite bloggers have already "taken the weekend off", and I came across a draft I had written a couple of months ago.  It was a fine draft.  A good beginning.  They always are.  But like so many of my drafts that mirror the lifespan of a Trader Joe's daffodil bouquet: it bloomed brightly and briefly, then shriveled and I was like "whatever, it wasn't that much anyways" and threw it into the waste basket.

I had written this particular entry during one of the few bouts of bad weather that we experienced in this milder than mild winter.  I had made some remark about having thus far suffered under the delusion that we would be able to glide into the spring with ease. I read this as the sun shined and the magnolia trees blossomed outside my window and thought I doubt I will be able to use this, blithely clicked delete and it snowed the very next day.  And the day after.

So let that be a lesson to all you writers out there: hoard your material.  You never know what you might be able to use.  Even if it seems like the writing equivalent to an empty chobani container, it might actually be something of value--it might actually contain the exact, dazzling turn of phrase you want to use in a situation you couldn't foresee.

But onto the more pressing matters of the day: why did I delete my Facebook app from iPhone?

A question for the ages.

And the answer is as delightfully nuanced as a Tamara de Lempicka painting.

See, you take one Women's Art History course in college and it gifts you with a catalog of pretentious references for the rest of the your life. But I do love her.  Only partially because she's Polish.

Anyways, the deletion of my Facebook app isn't nearly as dramatic as it seems because I still have a Facebook account.  It's not as if I've entirely liberated myself from the clutch of the claws of the social media beast.

Nope. I needed some room on my iPhone because I never delete pictures and I don't know how to use iCloud.

Well that AND I was starting to feel daunted by the immediacy of my access to it.  It's so millennial of me to see it as such a gross expenditure of excess energy to open my laptop and click the Facebook icon than to literally do the same thing on my phone.

But I assure you,  it is.

When I was teaching, in an effort to protect my sanity, I created a number of relatively arbitrary boundaries for myself:  I couldn't check my email after 8PM.  Why 8PM?  No reason.  But the important thing was that a line was drawn and I adhered to it.

Facebook is such a wondrous and terrible thing.  It brings out some truly lovely parts of my personality and some really, really hideous parts as well.  I don't act upon the grotesque because I am not entirely devoid of impulse control. Well, when I am sober at least.  But the fact that it can engender such insidious thoughts as: why did so and so's picture of their breakfast burrito get more likes than mine? I thought my breakfast burrito looked 100x more delicious.  Ugh, I HATE everyone.

Um, I am sorry but no.  Just no.  I'm thirty-one years old, I barely get ID'd anymore.  To say I am too old for this shit, would be an insult to the rest of the shit that I am generally too old for.

These days, it's hard enough for me to feel connected to others, the last thing I need is the virulent  strain of Facebook competitiveness to further the chasmic divide.

This brings me (sort of, but maybe not really) to the last prong of my trisected title: crying.  My relationship to crying has entirely changed over the last few years.  I went from crying whenever I remembered that swan's could be gay to only ever crying about my brother.

I had no more tears left for Tilikum or Jess in google chrome commercial.  (Both of which were guaranteed weeping fodder in my younger songs of innocence days.)  I couldn't even manage a good cry about work-related stresses like I used to.  Every day.  In the Otis and/or LMU bathroom stalls.  And it may seem strange to miss something like that but I saw it as so intertwined with the admirable parts of my personality--compassion, a desire to do well and help others--that to lose it so abruptly made me feel like a sociopath.

But, I am happy to report, that two weeks ago, I almost cried out of frustration after having spoken to my student loan providers.  And that, dear readers, feels like progress.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Who's gon' check me, boo?

For those of you unfamiliar with the Real Housewives franchise, these words of wisdom hail from Sheree Whitfield from Real Housewives of Atlanta.

Say what you will about christening her house after herself (Chateau Sheree) or her ability to pay income taxes, but she really nailed it with this one.

And I am only 20% embarrassed to admit that this has become my mantra of sorts as of late.

I haven't read a book or written a blog post in several months.

I can't be bothered to care about styling my hair, consistently showering, or applying eye liner but my nails must be pristinely manicured at all times.

I cried while watching Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (currently on netflix!).

I haven't given my dear friend feedback on her short story but have a document on desktop that reads: "Outfits for Honeymoon".

I binge watched the first 8 episodes of Making a Murder within a 48 hour period, but still have yet to watch the last two because shit got too real.

I told myself I was going to cut back on sugar only to then go and buy a pack of red velvet oreos.

I purchased (and consumed) three french baguettes from Clear Four Bakery over the past 72 hours.

And yet?

Who's gon' check me, boo?

I have also been on a real Rosé kick recently, even sampling one called Whispering Angeles. That, you can feel free to check me on.

Not to cross pollenate polarized cultural references but I like to think that this charming turn of phrase encapsulates the very essences of the Shakespearean aphorism: to thine own self be true.

But perhaps with just a dash more bitchiness.

And on the off chance I am being a little too subtle for those readers undiscerning of my particular brand of subterfuge, things at Chateau Wendy have been a bit frustrating these past two months.

I've manage to let most of it go, so in an effort to avoid the real housewife trap of "letting things go" only to bring them up every 5 seconds until some one's hair extensions get yanked out, I am not going dredge it all up here.  Ain't got time for that drama.

Suffice it to say, that this little spell has led me to the not so revelatory revelation that doing what you believe to be right should trump everything else: being liked, being diplomatic, being cooperative.

Because ultimately when I am adhering to my own principles, who's gon' check me, boo?

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Things I don't understand:

-How do we have four? Yes, FOUR, different, opened, and partly consumed containers of BBQ sauce currently in our fridge.   Last time I checked, our back patio was not a Texas Smokehouse joint.

-The correct placement for punctuation when using emojis.

Is it:



And perhaps more importantly, why am I now using emojis?

-Why people take car selfies and why pseudo celebrities and pedestrians alike make car selfies their profile pictures on various social media platforms.

-Instagram husbands and why my husband is not one of them.  Doesn't he love me?

-Chard.  I mean, what the hell are you supposed to do with it?

-How millennials are everyone born from 1981-2000.  How can a child raised in the pre-internet dark ages, who learned things like the Dewy Decimal System and how to look things up in a library card catalog in school, be part of the same generation as someone who had a smart phone and was effectively cyberbullying with it before they could even qualify for a learner's permit?

-How is Otter an acceptable middle name for a non-puppet?  Or non-otters, for that matter.

-The appeal of the Bachelor/Bachelorette/Bachelor in Paradise.  Sorry ladies, I like my reality tv trashy, but not like this...

-Where the smell of rotting citrus in our kitchen is coming from.  Spoiler alert: it's probably from rotting citrus.

-I was talking to someone recently who had never even heard of Virginia Woolf and I tried to be gracious and explain but my brain was all like:

Does not compute.

-Award shows not hosted by Amy Poehler and Tina Fey.  Why even bother?

-Boston sports culture.  I've tried to fein interest but now I just pretend to go spontaneously deaf.  It's just my 19th century hysteria acting up.

-Muffins: they are just as many calories as cupcakes and not nearly as delicious.

-How everyone on the T has a bulging backpack that they refuse to take off only when it's crowded.

-How despite getting the jumbo size tubs of coffee from Trader Joe's, we are perpetually on the verge of running out.

-Why I keep eagerly buying books that I then don't read.

-Why people keep asking how many Polish people it takes to screw in a light bulb, when I'm just one and I seem to manage fine each time.  But I guess that's only anecdotal evidence.

-Why after so many colossal box office failures, Hollywood continues to green light movies made by M. Night Shyamalan.  How does that old adage on foolery go again?

-Why I don't own this mug. Or this one.

-Where all the girl scout cookies we bought 24 hours ago went.  Because we definitely didn't eat them all after skipping dinner, while we were drinking bourbon and playing the Sherlock Homles: Consulting Detective board game.  Who would even do that?