Tag Archives: Health

Fill Me Up Friday: Ding-a-Ling Day!

Click on this picture to this and other work by Brian O'Boyle at Behance.com for this image.

Click on Van Winkle’s beard to see this and other work by Brian O’Boyle.

As I return to the land of the living, I sometimes like Rip Van Winkle. You know, that guy who fell asleep for 50 years and then woke up to find his beard had grown a foot long, his wife had died, and that his close friends had fallen in a war or moved away.

Unlike Rip Van Winkle who resumed his usual idleness once he returned to daily life, I feel motivated to work hard and love hard and play hard.

You know, YOLO.

I want to live like every day is a holiday.

And guess what? I found out every day is a holiday.

Did you know today is National Ding-a-Ling Day.

Yes, it is. And I’m not talking about the Salvation Army Bell ringers. Nope. Today is the day where we’re supposed to cut loose and act a little weird.

What am I doing to celebrate Ding-a-Ling day? I’m connecting with folks who are slightly off their rockers writers and artists whose words & images I love!

To that end, today is my first “Fill Me Up” Friday. I’m asking you to leave a comment for me in which you share ONE of your more recent blog posts and paste the link in my comment section.

Wait, How Does This Work?

  • Leave a short comment and then share a link to ONE of your posts. Remember, I’ve been out of the loop for a while, and I’m trying to figure out what’s going on in your world, so tell me about you, yourself and… you!
  • Click on a few links left by others. When you show up at someone’s blog, be sure tell that person, “Renée sent me.” Oh, and remind him/her to visit you at your place.
  • If you like each other, you might decide to do crazy things together follow each other!

Do me a favor and celebrate today and every day! I’m so grateful for each one of you. Here’s a link of me doing something a little out of the ordinary. Enjoy:

Oh, and if you haven’t entered the giveaway to win one of my 4×4 canvases, you might want to click HERE. There’s still time to win.

tweet me @rasjacobson

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My Own Yellow Brick Road

Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 9.06.17 AM

When Dorothy Gale of The Wizard of Oz started her journey down The Yellow Brick Road, she was terrified and, with the exception of Toto, completely alone. A girl whose life was turned upside down after an event that was completely out of her control, she didn’t yet know that the cyclone would bring unexpected gifts to her life. She didn’t know she’d make new friends and learn valuable lessons along the way; she was simply trying to survive. It was only later, when she felt safe and whole, that Dorothy was able to express gratitude to everyone who helped her as she limped along down life’s path.

As I tap out this post, I’m far from feeling whole, but I’m feeling well enough so that I’m able to look back at the events of last 9 months with the tiniest bit of ever-emerging perspective.

During the weeks I spent recuperating at my parents’ house last August, I paced the hall, occasionally stopping to look outside to the large picture window in their family room. It was summer – normally the season I love most – but during benzodiazepine withdrawal, I was unable to step outside to enjoy the sunshine for even a moment.

One particularly difficult afternoon, my parents’ footsteps seemed especially loud. My father had the television on full blast, and when I tried to calm myself by taking a hot bath, my mother barged in on me as I laid naked in the tub.

A few hours earlier, my mother and I had an uncomfortable exchange. She’d gone to the grocery store to buy a whole chicken and had made some homemade broth for me, which I tearfully refused. It wasn’t that I didn’t want what she had made – I did! I was starving! – but I simply couldn’t put anything in my mouth. I was sure that anything I ate was going to make my symptoms worse. When I tried to explain that I couldn’t eat the soup she’d made, my mother crossed her arms over her chest and gritted her teeth at me.

“Well,” she growled, “You can make your own food if you don’t like what I make for you.” Yanking open the refrigerator door, she pushed me toward the open compartment. I stood weeping, trying to decide which foods wouldn’t taste like poison. Everything seemed dangerous.

Standing in my mother’s kitchen, I panicked. Having already left my husband and son in hopes of finding a better place to heal, suddenly I felt I’d made a terrible mistake in coming to Syracuse. My parents did the best they could, but I needed more than they could give.

Something inside me understood I needed more than a house with a roof over it in which to heal. I needed love and patience and kindness. I needed someone to murmur encouraging words and tell me I was going to be okay.

Stepping into sweatpants, I put on my sunglasses and dared to walk across the street. As my bare feet touched the hot asphalt, I prayed to G-d the entire way, begging Him to let Gina be home.

I’m pretty sure Gina could tell something was wrong with me right away, but maybe she couldn’t. I certainly believed that anyone who felt as crazy as I did simply had to look the part on the outside.

Ever gracious, Gina pushed open the screen door and offered me a cup of tea. At that point, I was having weird fears and I confessed I was scared of tea. Without batting an eyelash, Gina offered hot water with lemon.

My hand shook the entire time we talked. I told her what was going on, that I’d stopped taking an anti-anxiety medication and that I was afraid I was losing my mind. I told her about my crippling insomnia and scary dreams.

Gina listened, remaining calm and reassuring. “Do you like massages?” she asked.

Nodding, I looked at the lemon floating inside my teacup.

Gina stood up, went into her kitchen, and opened a drawer. She copied a phone number on a tiny scrap of paper, which she handed to me.

“This place offers acupuncture and therapeutic massage and a bunch of other services,” Gina said, returning to her chair. “I think they even have a juice bar and a cafe with organic food.”

I stayed at Gina’s house for several hours that day and, again, the following day. Sitting in the safety of my old friend’s screen porch, the two of us beaded bracelets and talked quietly. Occasionally, we were joined by one of her cats or one of her children – but mostly, it was just the two of us.

Eventually, despite the fact that I was inexplicably terrified of talking on the telephone, I screwed up enough courage to dial the number on the scrap of paper and make an appointment for a massage.

Looking back now, I realize that asking my parents for help set me on a path: my old personal Yellow Brick Road, if you will. Making the difficult decision to leave my immediate family to take care of myself brought me to Syracuse, which brought me to Gina, which ultimately brought me to the next part of my journey, where I made another decision which saved my life.

At the time, I didn’t know I was on a journey.

I simply thought I was alone in Hell.

What I see now is that I  was never alone, for when we ask for help, the Universe always delivers a response.

What is a difficult personal challenge you’ve survived?

• • •

{Today, I thank my parents – Phil & Joan Schuls – for offering all they could to help me during some of my darkest hours. And I thank Regina Barnello Wright for answering the door when I came knocking.}

tweet me @rasjacobson

Warts and Unwelcome Surprises

My feet, without warts these days.

My feet, without warts these days.

I was certain I’d contracted the stupid wart during my time spent barefoot on the slippery deck of the middle school swimming pool, where we girls were required, by law, to take ten days of instructional swim.

After weeks of applying Compound W with no visible improvement, I pulled off my sock and showed the offending bump to my father and, a few days later, I found myself sitting in his car. As he drove down the Boulevard, he warned me that the doctor was probably going to have to burn it off. He told me it might hurt.

But I wasn’t worried.

I was tough.

I’d had a mouthful of silver fillings put in without Novacaine.

Besides, that wart was gross.

I wanted it off.

Dr. Stone’s office was dark and cluttered with odd pieces of furniture, weird lamps and gadgets. An olive green corduroy jacket drooped from a hook on the back of his door. After inspecting my foot for less than .3 seconds, the doctor walked across the room to retrieve a silver thermos from a cooler. Uncapping the top, white swirls of smoke escaped as he took an extra long Q-Tip swab and stirred it around in whatever magic solution was in there.

I didn’t flinch as the liquid nitrogen sizzled against the offending wart.

When he was finished, the doctor explained what was going to happen and what I needed to do.

I hardly heard him.

But then my father piped in. “While we’re here, doctor…” he started. “She’s got something in her left ear…”

What is it? I wondered. Is it a tumor? Why hasn’t my father mentioned it?

Dr. Stone flipped on his headlamp and leaned in to get a good look, his face too close to mine. His chair creaked.

“Ooooh!” The doctor pushed back in his rolling chair. “She’s got a big ole blackhead in there.” I swear the man giggled as he jumped up to get his instruments.

I was horrified. The wart was bad enough. I didn’t want another ailment. “Dad!” I whispered, covering my ear with one hand. “How long has it been there?”

“I don’t know.” My father shrugged. “A while.”

The doctor returned with an instrument of torture, which he used to scoop out whatever was inside my ear. This second procedure took forever. Every once in a while, the doctor made happy noises.

I sometimes think back to that day in the dermatologist’s office.

Back then, I thought the worst thing that could happen to a person was getting a wart. Or a blackhead in her ear.

Now I know better.

tweet me @rasjacobson

Interview with my Friend, Author, Kasey Mathews

Click here to buy Kasey’s book via Amazon!

It is impossible for me to close my blogoversary month without celebrating my dear old friend’s Kasey Mathews‘ brand new book Preemie: Lessons in Love, Life & Motherhood, which is being put out on the shelves today at a bookstore near you! I’ve known Kasey since 6th grade. We were in House 3 together. We even went to Senior Ball together with our most excellent dates. (Hi Lenny & JMo!)

Anyway, Kasey’s book has been born! The premise? I’m lifting it from the back cover of her book:

In her early thirties, Kasey Mathews had it all: a loving husband, a beautiful two-year old son, and a second baby on the way. But what seemed a perfect life was shattered when she went into labor four months early and delivered her one-pound, eleven ounce daughter, Andie.

One pound and eleven ounces, people!

A can of Progresso soup weighs one pound and three ounces.

Here is my interview with Kasey. Subscribe to her blog, follow her @kaseymathews or via Facebook.

• • •

rasj: Kase, you are brutally honest in your memoir, especially about how you did not want to touch Andie when she was so tiny. You call her a “half-done baby” and admit that – initially — you didn’t even want to see her. I imagine in anticipation of this book coming out, you discussed these feelings with her. How did you explain things so that she could understand?

Kasey: When I began writing this book, I had to put aside my worries of “what will people think,” and that meant Andie, too. I just never could have opened up as much as I did, and I think the story would have suffered.  Of course that doesn’t mean I didn’t worry once it was all written down. But I decided it worth the risk of judgment to give voice to the thoughts and feelings I believe so many mothers have (not just preemie moms) but are too afraid and ashamed to say out loud.

As far as Andie is concerned, she’s such an old soul and just seems to “get” things on a different level. I haven’t read her the book yet (although I’ve recently decided to) but conversations around her birth and my reaction have been ongoing.  I remember a time when we were curled up in bed together looking at the photo album of her first year. I had pointed to a photo of her just after her birth and told her how afraid I was of her.  She had replied in a teasing voice,  “Well, that’s really nice, Mom. What kind of parent would think that?” To which I replied, “Well, me, I guess,” and we had both laughed. But when we got serious, and I explained to her that my fear of losing her was so great and so overwhelming, and that I ultimately had to learn to choose love over fear, the look in her eyes told me that she understood.

rasj:  You mention that a dog attacked you when you were 5-years old, resulting in 49 stitches and scars. You said that your father offered you plastic surgery to “fix” the scars, but you refused. Looking back now, what do your scars mean to you? And do you think you gained something from that terrible accident that actually helped you on your journey with Andie? 

Kasey: Some of us have scars on the outside, but we all have them on the inside. I believe our scars tell our stories. They make us who we are. Andie’s birth was such a traumatic event, and I think I referred back to my dog bite as a frame of reference, because it was the only other traumatic episode I’d ever known.  What I gained was the perspective of looking through my parent’s eyes and for the first time truly understanding how they felt not knowing what was going to happen to their child.  Although the circumstances were different, that perspective gave me the strength to know that they’d walked the path before me, and that I could do it as well.

rasj: During the darkest times, you found strength in homeopathic medicines. Can you explain how non-Western therapies (like energy work, Reiki and yoga) have helped you and your family?

Kasey: Until Andie’s birth, I hadn’t known about Holistic medicine and discovered that it was truly an “alternative” way of looking at a medical situation. It differs from traditional western medicine in that it approaches the body as a whole interrelated system, such as the lungs, gut and skin are all tied together within the human body.  These alternative therapies made so much sense to me, but I want to stress that we used them in conjunction with traditional medicine, and I truly believe that pursuing these parallel paths account for Andie’s tremendous success.

rasj. Did you ever contact the pediatrician who predicted Andie would always be small and that she would have learning disabilities? If you could talk to him now, what would you want to say to him? 

Kasey: For years I wanted to, but felt it wasn’t worth the stress it would cause me. Recently, however, after Andie’s 11-year-old check up where her growth was nearly off the charts, I used the device of writing a letter to release those pent-up feelings. The letter was never sent but the writing of it allowed me to tell him just how wrong he was about everything. And in that same letter, I also thanked him; because what I came to understand was that as difficult as he was to deal with, his doubt was ultimately a gift. He fueled our belief and conviction that Andie would prove him so wrong and show him, and so many others, that she would not be what they wanted her to be, but what she wanted to be.

rasj: I adore the way you show Tucker and Andie interacting with each other, how he becomes an unofficial part of her physical therapy. But it isn’t always perfect, right? They fight, too, right?

Kasey: Fight? Andie and Tucker?  No! Never! *laughs * Their bickering was so awful one day that I screamed at them to stop fighting and threw the apple I had in my hand straight across the kitchen. Fortunately, it missed both their heads, but… not the window! How’s that for perfect?

rasj: That’s awesome! Obviously, you have a great arm! Now tell us something wonderful that has happened to Andie since you finished writing the book.

Kasey: I think Andie would tell you the most wonderful event in her life as of late, was getting contact lenses.  She’d worn glasses since she was two and started asking about contacts when she was nine.  Her eye doctor (Dr. V. from the book) confirmed that she was a candidate for contacts, but needed to be at an age when she was responsible enough to care for them.  The contacts were her eleventh birthday gift.

rasj: Looking back, is there information you wish you had that you would want to share with parents of preemies?

Kasey: There are three vital pieces of information I want to share with parents of preemies. First, while in the NICU, cover your baby’s isolet with a dark, heavy blanket to keep him/her in as womb-like an environment as long as possible. Secondly, allow yourself to see a vision of your child in the future and hold on to that vision. And lastly — and this is for anyone who’s experienced any sort of event trauma  – remember you are not alone.  Know that most likely whatever you’re thinking and feeling, someone else already has thought those same thoughts and felt those same feelings and walked that same path.

There is Kasey now! Isn’t she cute?

• • •

Because Kasey is awesome-sauce, she is offering a copy of her book to one lucky winner.

For a chance to win:

Leave a comment about something regarding child-rearing that has been challenging for you.

Tweet us @rasjacobson & @kaseymathews

• • •

Other blogoversary giveaways you can enter to win:

The Write-Brain Book

Elena Aitken’s ebook Sugar Crash

A handwritten card from me

Tyler Tarver’s ebook Letters To Famous People

A hard copy of Tingo & Other Extraordinary Words

All blogoversary winners will be announced on June 2nd — at which point I will collapse in exhaustion.


Why Did I Stop Doing Yoga?

A gorgeous day to do yoga outdoor. (I’m in the front row in the green yoga pants.)

I used to practice yoga, but when I started teaching again — I stopped.

I was too busy. I had papers to grade. I had lessons to plan.

Blah blah blah.

Recently, I found my yoga mat and attended an outdoor yoga session.

It felt good for a hundred reasons.

But especially because I did feel a mind-body connection that I haven’t felt in a long time.

I’ve been running on auto-pilot for a while now, planning my son’s bar mitzvah, schlepping to and from fencing lessons, to and from religious school, to and from meetings about things that feel important but really aren’t.

Going through the poses made me slow down and focus on my hands, my hips, my breath.

At one point, I started weeping and I curled up in a ball and just let it come out.

I didn’t even know I had all that sadness trapped inside.

The instructor encouraged me to just be with it, so I allowed myself to cry. In public. I wasn’t exactly quiet. But I wasn’t embarrassed either.

Later, I felt lighter. Ad I decided I’m going to try to continue my yoga – even if it means practicing alone at home to a DVD.

Tweet this twit @rasjacobson

Words Worth Spreading: A #LessonLearned by Julie Davidoski

How cute is this girl?

When I think of Julie Davidoski, I think of chipmunks, side-ponytails and slap-bracelets. You heard me. This girl is single-handedly trying to revive that fashion craze. And she’s actually doing a pretty good job of it.

Julie has a happy-go-lucky blog where she (generally) writes about happy topics that make people smile. I feel honored to have her here today so we can see another side to our spunky girl: the introspective Julie.

For lots of happiness and a side-order of Smurfs, check out Go Guilty Pleasures. Friend her on Facebook and Twitterstalk her at @Julie_Davidoski.

• • •

Click on the teacher lady's bum to read other posts in this series!

• • •

Words Worth Spreading

You might think this post is going to be about the day I realized real love is better than endlessly staring at posters of Jonathan Taylor Thomas, or the time I almost needed stitches because of an unfortunate incident involving an unusually sharp shower faucet. Well, no. I still idolize actors and I still reach for the soap with abandon. I’ve got a lot to learn.

There is one lesson that seems to have stuck, though.

In 1999, I was 17 years old. I had recently earned my GED and was overcoming a history of panic attacks and a “mild” eating disorder (talk about NOT living up to that Prince song). I saw a wonderful therapist and felt heard, but I had one setback: I couldn’t stop myself from snooping through my mom’s email account, eager to catch a glimpse of my own name. It seemed like a no-brainer; she never signed out of Yahoo! (I’m not sure she knew how).

“Be careful what you wish for,” could easily be the lesson learned here, because surely it didn’t take long before “Julie” graced more than one of my mom’s emails. The email I remember best was to her friend, and the focus was on my weight, which was increasing at the time. The tone was disappointment. I cried. How was I going to stop obsessing over the numbers on the scale if she couldn’t?

For weeks I kept reading. I can only remember my name being associated with a number and nothing else. I knew my mom loved me unconditionally, so why did there seem to be a condition? As I read, I thought about all of the things my childhood girlfriends would say behind my back. I knew they’d all rather hang out with the other girls than me. I remembered the 8th grade schoolmates who said my crush, a geeky boy with a feminine side, might go out with me at the end of the summer – if he was desperate enough.

Then I realized something.

My mom had probably always talked about me. She would probably always talk about me. And there was nothing I could do about it.

Except there was.

My therapist didn’t bother masking her surprise when I shared that I’d stopped reading my mom’s emails.

“What made you stop?” she asked.

“I just realized I don’t want to know,” I replied simply.

She raised her eyebrows and jotted something on her notepad. “That is incredible progress.”

Her sincere praise made me realize, for the first time, that this might be a significant turning point in my life.

Now I know it was.

Not long ago, a co-worker blurted,  “You should hear what Lucy said about you when we were friends.” My response? “You know what? Please don’t tell me. I’ve been down that road, and nothing good can come of it.” I know she was not only taken aback, but also disappointed. She tried to tell me repeatedly, and I continually turned her down.

I get it. It’s like picking a scab.

But I don’t need any more scars.

Don’t get me wrong. I like sarcasm, juicy gossip and all Perez Hilton has to offer, but I never, ever want to make others feel the way I once did.

For the last twelve years, I have avoided seeking negative opinions, and have done my very best to refrain from spreading others’ harsh words**.

Positivity is a powerful thing, and as strongly as I believe in keeping negative words to myself, so strongly do I believe in spreading upbeat ones.

I think it’s working, because my family’s doing really well in the compliments department lately.

And by the way, you are looking so hot right now! Is that a new shirt?

**In other words, I’m the world’s best secret-keeper, so you should totally email me and tell me everything.

How are you when it comes to self-restraint when it comes to talking about other people?

When Hashtags Take You to Dark Places

The Twitterverse is usually a wonderful place.

Except when it’s not.

The other day I was looking for conversations about #teachers, and this post caught my eye:

I couldn’t help but reply:

I was trying to be funny.

Fayth didn’t think it was funny.

She read me the riot act.

She told me to stay out of her business.

Instead, I went and read her profile.

So I learned that Fayth is Faith.

And that she currently weighs 91 pounds.

But.

Her goal weight is 75 pounds.

Let me give you some perspective.

My son, Tech Support, is in 7th grade.

He is 5’3″ and weighs in at a whopping 88 pounds.

(He is like a walking skeleton. For reals. The kid is all elbows and knees.)

Anyway, I got worried.

The more I poked around, the more I could see that Fayth was struggling: with school and self-image. She admitted to cutting herself.

Something else was troubling Fayth, too. But she wouldn’t share, even when we shifted to direct messaging.

Fayth shares some disturbing images on her Twitter page. Pictures of her hipbones. Her ribs. Blood in a styrofoam cup. The food she eats (puffed wheat and diet cranberry juice). Directions about the fast she was on.

I tried to tell her that her photos and her words caught my attention.

That she scared me.

We private messaged for a little while.

She shared so little.

She is used to withholding.

I did lots of typing.

For a few days, Fayth disappeared from Twitter altogether.

But the other day, I saw this post:

So now I know this high school student weighs less than my son.

And today, I saw this:

I let her know I’m still here.

If she needs someone to rant to, there’s a stranger who cares.

Honestly, I don’t know what to do with this information.

I wish I knew where Fayth/Faith lived because I would drive over to her house and sit on the floor with her. I would be quiet and let her cry. Or not cry. She could be mad if she needed to be mad. But I would do my best to get her to whisper whatever her big scary thing is. Even if it meant telling her my biggest, scariest thing. Someone needs to pay attention to this smart girl who is doing dangerous things. To this young woman who is too tiny to wear a size 00. To the pretty young woman in the  baggy clothing. To the beautiful young woman who just got her hair straightened and spends all her time counting calories.

Because she isn’t going to be here for long if someone doesn’t help her find her broken places so she can repair herself.

And it is possible to fix yourself if you’ve got the right tools in the tool belt.

It is.

Do we have any responsibilities to each other on social media? Or do we just shrug our cyber shoulders?

The Curse of the Migraine

I started getting migraines when I was about 14 years old. The first time, my father came in my room to find me writhing on the floor. It is my understanding that I howled. My father squeezed my head, vise-like, between his magical hands.

He got me to relax, so I could sleep off the pain.

But my migraines continued, relentlessly, for decades — until they stopped.

Animation of an MRI brain scan, starting at th...

Image via Wikipediauntil they stopped.

After I had Tech Support, my migraines disappeared completely.

I joked that having a baby was a miracle migraine cure. I could eat bleu cheese again. I could eat chocolate and drink red wine — not that I’ve ever been a big red wine fan, but I could have chocolate – as well as lots of other foods that had been considered verboten for so long.

And then it happened.

The headaches came back.

Once a month like uninvited guests, frequently appearing at 5 am, they came with clunky shoes and suitcases and set up shop with their giant hammers inside my head. Sometimes they wouldn’t leave for two or three days.

Once, Tech Support came home from school to find me on the floor, crying and banging my head against the wood floor.

I’m pretty sure I ruined him for life scared him.

Because he called my husband.

When my husband came home, I begged him to kill me.

I asked him to buy a gun and kill me.

To please buy a rifle and put it in my mouth and pull the trigger.

I said all of this in front of Tech Support.

(Which was probably not good.)

But I couldn’t help myself.

(I never claimed to be strong.)

As my husband stabbed my leg with IMITREX, he told me to make an appointment with my doctor.

I got an MRI.

Everything looked good.

I was incredulous.

How was that possible?

How could my brain hurt that much and be perfectly fine?

So I became really good friends with my neurologist who put me on Topomax, which has been a wonder drug for me.

My migraines stopped almost immediately. I take the lowest possible dose of the medication –15 mg in a “sprinkle capsule” — a dose not infrequently prescribed for children.

The hardest thing about being on Topomax is that is kills my appetite.

And it is really hard to go grocery shopping when nothing looks appealing.

So our refrigerator is nearly always empty.

It is difficult to cook meals – something I used to love to do. I remember fussing over chicken enchiladas with tomatoes and cilantro, a little yellow rice. Spooning spinach salad with onions and pomegranate seeds, taking care about plating them on my rainbow-color Fiesta Ware plates.

Tech Support took Health class last year where he learned how important it is to eat three healthy meals a day.

Now he worries about my lack of calories like a Jewish grandmother.

“Taste this,” he implores pushing a forkful of something at my face. “You have to eat, Mom!”

Sometimes I try a bite.

But sometimes I don’t eat anything.

Not a single morsel. All day.

It’s very hard to eat when you feel full.

I know a lot of people who suffer from migraines, and everyone has a slightly different variation on a theme. Some people get a visual aura. If they can catch the headache during this phase, they can sometimes abort it. I think of them as the lucky ones. Some people get ocular headaches. No real pain, just weird visual symptoms. Some people see blue dots. Some people see swirls. Some people vomit. Some people don’t. Some people have migraines and are laid out for days.

That is something beyond my comprehension; I cannot imagine living with that kind of pain.

But I know people do.

So I’ll keep taking my Topomax, keep hoping that I won’t be laid up with an axe-to-the-skull-splitting-migraine while simultaneously praying I’m not cultivating a kidney stone the size of my fist that will one day need to be surgically removed.

Because that can be one of the unfortunate side effects of Topomax.

You can get kidney stones.

And it is my understanding that kidney stones suck way worse than migraines.

Have you ever had a migraine? What are your triggers? And what do you do for relief?

Things are Breaking

In the middle of December, I pilfered some of my son’s leftover Halloween candy; I had been craving sweets, and his box of purple NERDS looked strangely enticing. I dumped the entire box in my mouth and proceeded to chomp down on the little pellets, which turned out to be grape-flavored rocks in disguise.

Seriously, those things were friggin’ ridiculous.

I had hoped for sweetness – and initially, they were sweet — but I was utterly unprepared for the unyielding, rock-hardness of those tiny artificially flavored stones.

I felt my teeth crunch against something unnaturally hard, but my sweet tooth was unrelenting.

At some point, it occurred to me that my particular pack of NERDS had come from somebody’s leftover Halloween candy from one maybe two years ago, and I just so happened to be the unlucky recipient of that box.

Nevertheless, I kept chewing until every last bit of tart purple goodness had been devoured.

Later, my husband came home after an unseasonably warm day. The world was clearly confused. There was no snow. The sky was blue and tiny flowers were trying to bloom in my garden.

My husband asked me if I had heard that The Pretty People had separated.

I hadn’t heard.

photo by Jordan Gillespie @flickr.com

I opened my mouth but there were no words.

“What’s wrong with your teeth?” he asked.

I stood in front of the mirror and stared at my teeth, or rather, the now missing parts: the pieces that had been there but that had disappeared at some point along the way without my even noticing it.

I started to weep.

Partly for my broken teeth, but mostly because of The Pretty People.

Early the next day, I made an appointment. I couldn’t wait to see my dentist so he could get his gloved hands all up in there and make things right again; it didn’t seem like it would be too hard.

But it was.

My appointment lasted over an hour during which time I lay back in the chair and listened to the dental assistant go on about another employee whose dog had recently run away, how devastated she was to have had him unexpectedly wander out of her life.

When the dentist finished shaping and bonding, I had two new teeth: nearly as good as the originals – but not exactly the same. I kept looking at them.

“Will they last forever?” I asked my dentist when he finished.

“They’ll be good for a while,” he said, “but once something has broken… well, all fixes are temporary.”

I thought of The Pretty People.

I’ve always assumed every marriage has cracks and weak spots, but that these minor imperfections are things we can excuse in our spouses. Short of infidelity or abuse, I’ve believed most grievances are petty things that we can forgive in each other because we all possess our own heinous fault lines.

I mean, on any given Thursday I want to strangle my husband after I have punched him in the throat and given him a Super-Atomic wedgie.

But Lord knows, my husband is a patient man.

It is January now, and I can’t stop thinking about the impermanence of things.

I can’t stop thinking of friends who are wrestling with health related issues; another friend whose son had to be airlifted from Bolivia to Miami to receive treatment for something doctors have not yet diagnosed. I am thinking about the dental office worker whose puppy ran away. And I am thinking about the Pretty People – their children, their home, their lives.

An eternal optimist, I’m hoping the best for all of them. I’m praying that a Divine Spirit will cure my friend’s tumors, that my friend’s son will miraculously turn around so that his father can stop worrying about diarrhea and measuring urine output. I’m hoping that The Pretty People will rediscover what they once saw in each other after a little time away from their daily routine. I’m hoping that dental assistant’s puppy will find his way home.

Also, I’m hoping that my new teeth will hold.

I know nothing is solid, but I suppose in matters of the heart I prefer the illusion to reality.

Up until that December day, my biggest worry had been getting my sugar fix.

Who knew I had it so sweet?

What has rocked your world lately?

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Lessons From Laryngitis

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I get sick once a year.

Without fail, I get The December Glurg with a side order of cough that generally lasts until Groundhog Day.

Sadly, this year, things are off to the same hideous predictable pattern.

On the second to last day of classes, I showed up with serious laryngitis.

It’s a good thing my students were doing presentations; otherwise, I would have been sunk. Overnight my normally robust voice had changed into the squeak of a zit-faced boy going through puberty.

And I knew the cough was bad when my husband — who is ultra-tolerant when it comes to illness — moved all three of his striped pillows and disappeared into the guestroom.

None of this would have even been a big deal if I could have just gone home and gone to bed and rested for a week. Or three.

Except, I couldn’t.

I had to catch a plane to Florida the day after classes ended.

It was not a trip that could be rescheduled.

So I became one of those passengers.

The ones we all hate.

The ones who cough and snurgle and hork up luggies during the entire trip.

And remember, my voice was gone.

I carried around a small pad of paper upon which I had written this message:

I figured it would come in handy.

Inadvertently, I had become a walking, coughing sociological experiment. Because I soon discovered that when a person can’t talk, people respond with an awkwardish awkward awkwardness. Which is ultra-weird: kind of like layering the word awkward three times.

Folks fell into four categories:

1. The Avoiders

These people could see I was crazy mad-cow sick and kept a wide girth. They avoided me and my pile of balled up tissues. They pointed me out to their children and said words I couldn’t hear but I imagined were something like: Stay away from that lady, darling. She is sick — maybe even dying — and I don’t want you to get whatever she has. The unfortunate woman who had to sit next to me on the airplane pleaded loudly with the attendant to have her seat changed. Alas, the aircraft was full, so she leaned away — her face toward the aisle — during the entire duration of the flight. Actually, I’m, not sure if that is true. I fell asleep about 13 minutes after takeoff.

2. The Whisperers

When I got to Enterprise to rent my car, I took out my confirmation materials and my little pad of paper. While I tried to whisper, no sound came out. I pointed to my sign. Strangely, the agent – lovely as she was — began whispering to me. She whispered all the rules about renting the car. She whispered my options for insurance. She whispered for me to sign here. And here. And here, too. I was amazed my her bizarre mimicry, which made me prompt her:

She laughed and corrected herself. But this happened several times during my time in Florida. Still, I would pick The Whisperers over the next group any day of the week.

3. The Shouters

While the whisperers adjusted their volume to low, the shouters went the other way. They seemed to assume that my lack of-speech meant that I was deaf and that by screeching at me, they might be able to break through my silence – or something. Or maybe they thought I would be better able to read their lips if they were screaming at thrash rock concert decibel. Again, I took out my little pad of paper:

One day, in need of tissues and cough syrup, I went to the closest Publix. A stock-boy was replenishing the inventory near the pharmacy, and I figured he would be the best able to help me. I showed him my note, and I could tell he was befuddled. It became obvious that the stock-boy was not a native speaker of English, and I wondered if he did not know what “laryngitis” meant, so I added:

I wondered if maybe the colloquialism of “losing my voice” confused him. (You never know.) So I turned a page on my pad and added:

His melodic accent had a musical lilt.

“Are we on hidden camera?”

I shook my head to indicate that we were not. He frowned, disappointed. I began frantically scribbling a message about what I was trying to find in the store, but before I could show him my words, he became hysterical. He shouted: “I don’t know how to help you! Go find someone else!”

4. The Rescuers

Thankfully, there are always people who try to help.

Amazingly, an elderly woman who actually knew American Sign Language materialized in the Publix and offered to interpret for me. I showed her my pad of paper indicating that I wasn’t deaf, that I simply had laryngitis.

She looked at the stock-boy at Publix like he had eleventeen heads.

“For goodness sake,” she said, “This girl has laryngitis! Just read what she writes on the pad and answer her questions.” She looked at me with gentle eyes and offered advice: “Drink lots of tea and rest up.” Then she doddered away.

Like the elderly woman willing to act as my interpreter, help also came in the form of a black man with a broad mustache who helped to lift my small bag into the trunk of my rental car. And a patient tattooed girl in Chipotle, who waited for me to write out my order — even though a line was thronging behind me. Help was the housekeeper in my hotel who gave me a few  extra towels: the Latino man at the main desk in the hospital who helped me find a certain room. He was at the gas station when the pump didn’t work, and she was in the airport when I really needed a Snickers bar.

Now that my voice has returned to normalcy and my husband has come back to our bedroom, I see that having temporary laryngitis was a gift. Being sick away from home made me think about the role I want to play in other people’s lives when I see them struggling: the roles we choose to take on every day in each others’ lives.

Back in 5th grade, I learned about the Holocaust and was amazed by the different choices people made. Later, as I taught novels like Lord of the Flies, I have tried to help students recognize that each of us has the capacity for awesome goodness as well as tremendous cruelty: that we can all be bystanders, victims, perpetrators and rescuers. It is like putting on an outfit: How much bystander do you want to wear today? How does cruel look on you? What about kind? How do you look when you slip into a little kindness? It is simply up to us as to which role we wish to play.

In general, I want to help.

Sometimes, helping wears me a little thin. But I am willing to get a meal and deliver it, pick up a few groceries for a friend: even if I get coughed on or exposed to her germiest germs. Even if there are no germs, just ugly, scary illness, I want to help if I can because I know how much I appreciate those little moments where people go out of their way to make things a little easier for me.

How do you respond when you see someone struggling? Do you try to avoid the interaction altogether? Do you get angry? Or try to help?

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