Thursday, July 12, 2018
One year since I took my first-ever sincere pregnancy test to be sure the uterus about to be removed contained no life but my own.
One year since a one-hour surgery stretched to three while my family and friends waited, trying not to think something had gone wrong.
One year since one of the most difficult hysterectomies my gynecologist says she's performed.
One year since the last time a stranger's blood kept me alive.
One year since I woke up, confused and disoriented, unable to feel anything between bellybutton and upper thighs, to the news that the difficult surgery had been a success but I'd lost so very much blood that I needed oxygen for a little while more, and to rest while the local they'd used on top of the general wore off.
One year since I tried to explain to the nurse that losing so very much blood was a thing I just did on a regular basis, but probably just hurled garbled syllables at her.
It was a mess in there, I'm told. Endometrioma, asymptomatic endometriosis, massive fibroids, something called 'spongy uterus' and an ovary so deeply grafted into it that there was no hope of saving it. My fallopian tubes were nowhere to be found; there's no way to tell if the uterus ate them or they were simply never there. My reproductive organs, at their end, were a collection of womanhood gone rogue. One lone half-ovary lingers, spiking my life with cravings and mood swings that no longer act as harbingers of, well, anything.
They couldn't stop the bleeding for a long time during the surgery, the doctor told me frankly when she came to see me. I told her not to worry, I'd never been able to stop it either.
But it's stopped now, and the change is extraordinary.
A little over three years ago I staggered, crying, towards the top of the Panoramic Trail in Muir Woods, where my then-boyfriend was hoping to propose. I was defeated long before we reached the top, moving a hundred, two hundred feet at a time before I had to hold a tree to stand. He chose a more accessible location for his proposal, and I accepted, because (among many other reasons) what better metaphor for married life can there be than kindly and patiently holding your beloved's hand while she tries to overcome her own malfunctions and fight her way to the top of the trail?
Three months later I was in the emergency room, with doctors explaining that my iron level was life-threatening and probably had been for months. I'd known I was anemic, but not how deep that particular crisis had become. I fought my way through supplements, infusions, transfusions, hormones, exercises, and every other suggestion made to me, until finally the only thing left was "Stop losing blood, for good."
So what's life like now?
I still wake up tired a lot of days, because my sleep habits have never been great, but it's "Man I stayed up too late again," not "I'm not sure I can move my legs today." I can actually, if I don't set an alarm, sleep long enough in a single night to wake up refreshed. I come home from work and sometimes I just...do housework or work on a project because I feel like it, not because I'm racing a deadline and out of time.
I started back to the gym eleven months ago with gentle treadmill walks, and added in light weight training a few weeks later. I miss sometimes because I'm busy, but I don't skip workouts any more because I'm too exhausted to do them, and I've steadily put on muscle. I can walk on the treadmill at a three-mile pace, or run on the elliptical, for thirty solid minutes without stopping.
My husband and I just got back from a trip to Ireland, where we walked over fifty miles in two weeks, including a grueling trek through the London Underground with all our luggage, hefting our fully loaded suitcases up and down the steps with one hand at times. One of the highlights of that trip was the day I took off solo hiking, only to end up slightly lost in a Galway sheep pasture, falling and badly injuring my knee. I could still walk, but a year before an injury of any severity would have been perfect reason to head back to the B&B and declare myself done for the day, or maybe the week. Instead, I hiked another three miles that day and more the two days following.
But it's the little things, the small changes most people don't understand, that really stick with me. Today I'm wearing a pale lacy peach dress and a white sweater. I never would have dared before; my pre-hysterectomy wardrobe is a cavalcade of long, full, dark skirts chosen because they wouldn't show blood as badly, and dark or patterned tops that I wouldn't stain with bloody hands by accident. I pack extra tie-dye in the space in my camping gear that used to be reserved for a massive supply of cloth and disposable backup pads. We planned our recent vacation around when we wanted to travel, not when I hoped to have the best chance not to be navigating airplane bathrooms on a half-hourly basis and trying to explain to flight attendants that their choices were let me up out of my seat or clean up the blood themselves. An entire complicating factor has simply just been...taken out of my calculations.
My body no longer sets the conditions on me that it once did; gone is the constant awareness of the possibility that a miscalculation or delay will ruin both outfit and afternoon. Getting distracted while working on a project just means I'm stiff from sitting too long, not a dismayed realisation that I've missed one too many warnings from my body that catastrophic bleeding is imminent. I no longer have to plan to carve out six to eight days off work each year to receive iron infusions and see doctors, or an extra three to five sick days for pure exhaustion. I've found new confidence at work, to talk about projects I want to take on and challenges I want to seek out.
What strikes me the most is how the haze has lifted, and continued to lift. I have no idea how far down I was into chronic exhaustion after years of constant anemia, but about three weeks ago I found a new level of energy: having done all the things I *needed* to do, and all the things on my dedicated to-do list, I created a new long-term project for myself, and sat down to give several hours of time and intellectual labor to it.
As to that Panorama Trail that kicked my ass three years ago, we revisited Muir Woods last fall, and I'll simply say that a picture speaks a thousand words.
Thursday, May 3, 2018
I was already thinking about it because of Mity Myhr's presentation about 1989 at last night's Dionysium, but then a couple of songs I listened to a lot that year popped up in the musical rotation: Lyle Lovett's "Here I Am," for which I memorised the spoken part because I loved how the words fit together, and "Walking on the Moon," which was included in my mild obsession with the Police (I have no idea how my long-suffering mother endured the constant repetition of the Synchronicity album I'd appropriated from my older sister, especially when the first track started to skip and you kind of couldn't tell it was repeating...).
So here I am thinking about what it was like to BE a Smart Girl in the late 80s, especially an extroverted one. The desire to dim your shine so you can get along and be liked is a powerful counter to the drive to excel. That was the year I really discovered how few men in this world actually like women who are smarter or stronger than they are (and how many others are lying about it), and it started a 20-year-long fight with myself to accept "it's better to be alone than to cut off pieces of yourself to be loved." That's when I started to have enough awareness to see the boys getting praised and called on for knowing the answers I was 'showing off' by having. That was the year I decided a weight I'll never see again was 'obese' and really dove into that cycle of food-shaming and body-hatred that governed my 20s and early 30s. That's the first time I can really remember being aware of all the different directions in which the world demanded I become less.
One thing I really remember about that year was how rarely I talked about the things that I loved. In fact, several of the high school friends with whom I've reconnected are probably thinking to themselves, "I never knew she was low-key obsessed with the Police..." None of my friends really did, because by then they'd broken up but it hadn't been long enough for them to be retro so no one else I knew was into them; I was afraid if I said, "Oh hey this thing that no one else is doing is really cool to me!" everyone would think I was weird and liked stupid things. Enjoying them was just a thing I did on my own.
How does this tie into being an Extroverted Smart Girl? I built my arguments like brick houses because speaking an unpopular idea opened me up to criticism and unless I could support that idea, the criticism quickly became personal. Every point defensible, every position at least touching on if not anchored in objective fact. I got used to having to defend my positions in science classes with ridiculous amounts of backup because my hypotheses themselves held no value. Even now, if you ask me what I think, you'll likely get an answer on the tip of an evidentiary iceberg. I also got used to gauging, in a room, whether anyone wanted or needed to hear the opinion I held, and if I decided that answer was no I just opted out of voicing one.
Years later, when I started learning about different forms of intimacy, I realised that the one that's hardest for me is a specific kind of intellectual intimacy: the ability to express completely subjective opinion. The idea of sharing my online playlists, or my reading list, or making my Netflix queue public, horrifies me. What if I tell people what I'm reading and they think it's stupid and pedestrian? What if I tell you the band I like, that no one else likes, and everyone else thinks they objectively suck? How can I defend "I just like this song because it makes me feel happy," to my musically adept friends who will recognise that the beats are lame and the lyrics are trite? What if I'm the last person I know to find out this artist who creates beautiful things is also a terrible anti-Semite?
There's an irony in this, because I'm a huge advocate for letting people enjoy the shit they like without judging them for it, and for the ability to appreciate the artistic merits of problematic stuff. If you like a band I think is complete shit, I'll tell you they're not my cup of tea but I'm glad you enjoy them. I'll advocate against enjoying *actively harmful media* but not shitty media. I've got ten thousand words on why "Fifty Shades of Grey" is dangerous and promotes abuse, but if it was just badly written I'd shrug and say "Everyone enjoys different things. Some people juggle geese."
Also, I legitimately don't *have* a lot of strong subjective opinions. A surprising amount of how I feel about various media is "Well, it seems nice enough." Maybe 10% of what's out there falls into either "I love that" or "I think that's terrible" territory. The rest is reasonably pleasant and generally unremarkable.
I've changed to a different sort of geek, the kind that offers reasoned and intelligent criticism and supports people finding things that they love, and it's made a real difference. "That's not really for me," is no longer met with a wall of self-righteous advocacy, so much as "Yeah, it's not everyone's cup of tea but I really enjoy it and it's been meaningful to me."
Maybe I'll still never be comfortable voicing subjective opinions, and maybe that's OK. For what it's worth, though, I still totally love The Police and will turn them up very very loud if they are on the radio, and probably sing.
You've been warned.
Thursday, April 5, 2018
Thursday, March 8, 2018
I've been watching as the International Day of Women posts go by, and it's been wonderful to see so many messages of inspiration and solidarity. I love all the support for women!
It's a good day to remember ALL the women.
Remember women in poverty, especially those struggling to lift their children out of it. Advocate for the safety nets they need.
Remember women living in abusive relationships, and look for ways to help them get out.
Remember women of color, because they face additional barriers to success and justice. Ensure that their voices are heard as well as your own and fight against racism.
Remember trans women, because they're in terrible danger just for being their true selves. Welcome them without question into women's spaces, and fight for their safety.
Remember disabled women, because their perceived weakness makes them targets. Demand accessibility, especially in feminist spaces.
Remember women in prison; they're much more likely to be raped or otherwise abused. Fight for reform to our justice system.
Remember women in forced marriage and prostitution, especially the young girls taken from their families. Support laws and organisations that help them.
Remember undocumented and refugee women. They're often desperately fleeing terrible conditions, but their status leaves them vulnerable where they should find safety. Seek meaningful, compassionate immigration reform.
There are as many ways to value and support women as there are to BE a woman, and we can't afford to leave anyone behind it hope they'll 'catch up' if we forge on ahead without them. So much of the work for women has been done by those who receive the least support, and for far too long we've failed to center *all women* and talk about issues beyond equal pay and reproductive choice.
Demand intersectionality. Demand inclusion. Demand opportunity for all women. Demand justice. And if anyone tells you the feminist movement can't support that, demand a new feminist movement.
Friday, January 5, 2018
This time of year doesn't sit that well with me, though. Everyone is busily rejecting their weight, their habits, their indolence, their smoking, and any number of other things about themselves. There's a massive industry dedicated to helping you cut away the parts of yourself you don't want.
I'm not just talking about the weight loss industry, though it profits the most from this time of year. We're decluttering, downsizing, streamlining. We pick out something we don't like about ourselves, like financial irresponsibility or a habit we haven't previously been able to kick, and we build a huge plan to defeat it. We declare enemies (sugar is the devil, laziness is weakness, Netflix is a trap), and gird up for battle.
Few people seem to remember, when they're declaring enemies, to declare allies as well. I want to be stronger, sleep better, and spend more time doing the things that are important to me. My love of working out is an ally; if I indulge it I'll hit the first two of those. If I get stronger, I can hike more, and take more pictures, and create beautiful things. If I get more sleep, I have more energy during the day to get necessary tasks out of the way early and go do things I want to do. My tribe is an ally. They support me and love me and reach out to spend time with me, creating fun and wonderful experiences. They encourage me to grow, cheer my victories, and commiserate with my losses and failures. They love and value me, keeping me grounded in an understanding of and appreciation for the person I am right now.
Right out of the gate, a lot of people fail because the plan relies on them already being the person they're trying to become. They want to be the sort of person who gets daily exercise, so they exercise every day until they strain a hamstring and then never go back to the gym once it heals. They want to be the sort of person who contributes enough to their 401K to retire early, so they double their payroll contribution on the assumption that they can cut down on expenditures, and put off new shoes or car repairs until they're emergencies that end up costing more. Then, when the big plan fails to pay off because they weren't ready to start living it 100% of the time, they get demoralized and give up altogether.
You're not the person you want to grow up to be yet. You're the person you are, and that person has an entire gorgeous rich life that has formed you. Everything about you is an evolution, a culmination of generations of lives that came before you and years (if not decades) of decisions you've made for yourself and your life. You're a whole complex being right now, and setting goals for that person as if they were a stranger is never going to work. To be effective, a goal is a map from where you are to where you want to be, but maps are no good if they only list a destination and no other points of reference.
If you've embarked on a new plan or a new goal this year, let me ask you: what are you keeping? What is it you love about yourself, that fits in with the person you are right now and the life you want to have? Have you also resolved, in addition to all your changes, to keep your empathy and your good sense or your optimism and your self-care habits? When you took stock of your life, to decide where change needed to happen, did you mark out, as immutable boundaries, what you're preserving in yourself because it has value?
For those who make resolutions each year, I hope that you'll stop and lay out, for each thing you've resolved to change, something about yourself that you love enough to preserve. I hope you'll look at your allies and how you can help yourself reinforce your goals and dreams. I hope you'll be able to embrace the person you are now as valuable and worthy instead of regarding yourself as just an ingredient in some finished product.
Because I have a sad secret: if you can't love anything about yourself now, you won't be able to love the new you either. Life's not a set of Cinderella shoes you'll be able to fit if you just cut off the right bits and pieces of who you are. It's a long messy process of hurling yourself towards death and hoping to find enough joy and beauty on the way that you're not wasting the trip.
I love you all.
Thursday, November 16, 2017
As a Fat Girl, I convinced myself I deserved only frumpy, uninteresting, practical clothes. I fooled myself that I wanted a 'classical, practical style' when what I really meant was "I don't feel comfortable wearing clothes that attract attention." For years, my 'look' was a pair of sturdy jeans or cargo shorts, a solid-color tee for work and a funny tee for play. Dresses were reserved, conservative. Long skirts, dark colors, to the point that at least one set of co-workers assumed I was Pentecostal based on my style of dress. My one concession to color and vibrancy was a collection of tie-dye dresses bought at festivals, all long and full-skirted.
I envied those other Fat Girls who wore the pretty dresses, who always looked nice and put together, who rocked the bright colors and the feminine lines. I told myself, "Well, when I get thinner, when I look better, when I reach the goal, I can dress like I mean it, too." I also envied them their comfort with their bodies, their ability to adorn and joyfully decorate something all social pressure pushed them to hide behind a sweatshirt or baggy pants. A smaller voice whispered, "If I ever stop resenting my body, maybe I'll dress nice BEFORE I get thin."
Clothes shopping in America as a woman of my size is an exercise in demoralization and disappointment. You see something lovely and fun, you envision having it, and you find out that in no universe does it exist in your size. The brick-and-mortar stores that do carry things in your size are reinforcing the frumpy theme, or presenting you with 'fashion' garments in a style three years expired and a pattern ripped from the finest hotel wallpaper. Online shopping's made it both better and worse, because now a dedicated shopper can struggle through ten times as many disappointments to find the few pearls and hope that the reviews are correct about 'size runs true'. There are shops that offer better sizing and options, but they can be both hard to find and expensive, and the ability to Google search opens up a huge range of opportunities to find that for some people 8 is still a 'plus size'.
I spent a lot of time not wanting to risk that 'runs true' should have said 'runs small', and convincing myself that jeans and solid color tees and long full black skirts were a perfectly respectable style, until a friend introduced me to a site that takes your measurements and sends you a custom dress, and offers dozens of styles, colors, patterns, and fabrics.
This recommendation fell on exceedingly fertile ground. Some five years ago, I wrote about my body as my ally, about embracing and loving myself with my own best interests as my highest priority, and I've been trying to live that since. I've discarded the idea that my body needs to be a specific weight for me to be healthy and happy, and shifted my body goals to functional things I want to be able to do.
The health trials of my last couple of years, and the attendant weight gains and shifts, have really taxed that resolve. Random abdominal expansion due to fibroids, plus exhaustion due to anemia and energy loss, have left me struggling to reach a space of peace with how I look and feel. I was down to wearing broomstick skirts I bought at festivals, and a collection of black t-shirts, because so few of my clothes still fit and buying more was emotionally devastating.
But, you see, at my core I love all things that speak of luxury and the personal touch. I couldn't pass up a dress made just for me, my own dress chosen and sewn as if I had a private seamstress. Just one, I thought, a nice pretty dress for my wedding, that's an occasion that deserves a dress just for you, right?
So my then-fiance took my measurements for me, and I chose my dress and sent off my numbers and prepared myself for disappointment. When it arrived, I put on my dress nervously, to find that it fit perfectly and it was so pretty and so comfortable. The deep V neckline, though, mandated a new bra. Off I went to the Fancy Bra Store, where they fit you and help you choose, because it's my wedding, right? I deserve a special bra for my wedding!
It's easy to shout down the demons that tell you that you don't deserve to have nice or special things, when it's only for one occasion. Shut up, Traitor Brain, I'm the BRIDE you know and the BRIDE can have nice things. Not me, but this alter ego I get to wear for one day. And sometimes you can use an alter ego as cover to sneak into an entirely new way of managing some part of your life.
Once I had tried it, I was hooked. I culled out all my sad, battered, frumpy clothes. Armed with a set of my measurements, I slowly began to replace my work wardrobe with clothes that not only fit and flattered, but *expressed*. I looked at things and I thought, "I would look pretty in that," and if they fit into the budget and could be made in my numbers, I bought them regardless of whether they were flashy or brightly colored or Fat Girl Appropriate.
I replaced all my too-small bras with correctly-sized models, dropping band sizes and increasing cups to find that life is way better when you're not crushing your boobs into your armpits. Over the course of the last year and a half, as budget has allowed, I've cut the amount of clothing my wardrobe in half, but every piece fits, looks good, and is comfortable. I've cut my shoe collection by more than half, but replaced many of them with cute, whimsical flats.
Don't get me wrong. I still have my funny tees and my cargo shorts and my carefully-amassed collection of Converse. I'll never give up comfortable blue jeans, or oversized hoodies. I'm not getting rid of who I am, just letting out the part I've been hiding behind this layer of fat all my life.
Somewhere along the way, I became one of the Stylish Fat Girls I've always envied. I have a manicure with flowers on it, glasses chosen because they accentuate both the color of my eyes and the highlights in my hair, lots of socks with cheerful profanity, a variety of comfortable and interesting shoes, and a small collection of clothes that make me look and feel put-together and in control of my appearance.
When I started reframing my body as my ally, I began to try and consider the way I treat myself as "Would I treat my beloved friend this way?" I am not indulging myself, I am outfitting my beloved friend. I am putting a uniform on my ally, so we can keep fighting together.
The other day at the gym, two women about my size stopped me to compliment my dress. I showed them the pockets and told them where I got it, and one of the women said, "Oh, I've been meaning to try them, but I wasn't sure...I thought I should wait until I lost some weight." I saw in her eyes the reflection of my own struggles with 'deserve' and 'maybe someday', and I said, "No, really, do it now. If you can afford it, do it. Don't wait. This has completely changed my relationship with my body and how I look at myself. It's so worth it."
(I've left out the names of the sites I shop at, because this isn't an advertisement for them. It's an advertisement for the idea that you should come to terms with your body as it is, and understand its shape and its needs, and adorn it joyfully no matter its size.)
Friday, September 22, 2017
Balanced, we hang with her between light and darkness, celebrating the harvest of our days while quietly calculating: will it be enough to take us through what comes?
In days past, this calculation was much less metaphorical and much more specific. Count the potatoes and the apples, the grain and the grape and the berries preserved; would they hold through the winter? Would we reach Ostara safely, bored with our winter staples but grateful for their sufficiency? Or would we stagger desperately towards it through the last weeks of a starving, terrified winter?
If a fire or flood destroyed a storehouse, if rats found ways into the granary or the rotten apple spread its poisons, if a neighbor's misfortune taxed our own stores to share with them, the calculations would be off. Lives could be lost.
Even after the advent of supermarkets, the harvest still held literal agricultural meaning for many people. My grandmother's well-stocked shelves of quart jars were a testament to the annual cycle of 'plant, tend, harvest, preserve'. Sure, the IGA in town sold canned peas and preserves, but as long as she owned a garden, she trusted her winters to its bounty. No matter the state of those dark country roads, she would eat.
Today, American abundance doesn't wax and wane with the fruits of the harvest. Here in Central Texas, 'winter' is mostly a relative term. We look forward to a respite from the baking three-digit temperatures and perhaps one or two good freezes to kill off the fleas and mosquitoes a bit. Most people I know can't tell you when things are or are not in season for them locally, because they're available year-round in the grocery store. Fewer people every year depend upon the agricultural calendar to set the course of their days.
So how do we calculate the balance of abundance against necessity? Money, mostly. There's also a complicated dance of tasks begun and completed, investments of all sorts coming to fruition, and the ripening of our relationships. We've shoehorned the language of American prosperity and task-driven stress into the cycle of seasons.
We tend and we gather, but our fruits ripen throughout the year. For many, Mabon is a symbolic holiday, when we stop to pay lip service to the gods of harvest and reflect upon our accomplishments for the year -- a tally-time for annual scorekeeping driven by the prosperity gospel that says good people work hard, hard work rewards good people, and those who deserve it will have enough.
But the true beauty of celebrating the harvest is not simply in "Look, I got stuff!" or even the deep Puritan "I have worked hard and so I shall not starve." There's a deeper understanding to it, a moment of rest and release, when we relax into the understanding of, "Come what may, I have done my level best and I am as ready as I can be to meet it."
Modern life is beset by anxieties, by the constant feeling that one must work harder all the time, every day, to gain more and have enough. For so many people, that reality never ends; life is a constant grind of gathering with never a moment to rest and say, "I am as ready as I can be for the winter, and now I must trust in the gods and myself to meet what is coming."
So today, for Mabon, I will not reflect with pride upon what I have gathered, and what I have done. This summer has taxed me deeply, in any case, and so my harvest is a complicated understanding of my capacities and limitations. With that harvest in hand, and all that the year has brought me, I shall instead stop and hang here, quiet, in that balance of light and dark to rest. I wait with Nature upon her taken breath, as we ready the will to plunge into darkness.
I have done my level best to meet what comes, and I am as ready as I can be. I trust in myself, I trust in my harvest, and I trust in my gods that it will be enough.