Being diabetic I’ve gotten used to the possible health issues that normally accompany this disease: blindness, heart disease, kidney failure, amputations, and nerve damage. However there is a whole other list of annoying, but not so devastating, maladies available for my choosing and they are not as widely advertised as their more popular brethren. While I don’t distinctly remember putting any of these on my Christmas list I seem to have the pleasure of experiencing some of them first hand. Then again, in my life there is a tendency to have the most uncommon and unexpected things happen. It’s the ultimate M. Night movie, My Life with a Twist!
First on the highlight list began years ago when I noticed a small white spot appear on the back of my hand. It was soon joined by another and another and then another. As the color on my hands slowly evaporated my face decided it was missing out on all the fun and joined in by giving me a permanent “I-wore–sunglasses-while-skiing” look. It is Vitiligo or as many people like to call it, the Michael Jackson disease. The cells creating the pigment are thought to be damaged by the immune system and they stop producing any color. It can eventually cover the whole body or just stop progressing after a few short years. Much like my hands which are now 100% white giving the appearance I’m wearing gloves. (When that comes back into fashion I’m going to be the first in line at the glove store.) The condition is chronic and there are no known cures only temporary color corrections. Lacking any better options I play paint by numbers on my face every night by applying bleach on the darker areas and tanning lotion to the lighter areas. While it is not perfect at least I don’t have people asking what’s wrong with my face. On the bright side it’s not dangerous it just means I can’t play out in the sun too long, but seeing as I’m Irish that’s probably in my best interest.
Next on the list is gastroparisis: a condition which paralyzes the stomach so it does not like to empty and make room for more food. This too is a chronic condition with no known cure and will progressively get worse as I grow older. I suppose you can chalk this one under nerve damage since it is the Vagus nerve which controls this emptying process, but the docs never talked about this possibility. They are constantly warning of lower extremity nerves and never once did they say, “oh yeah, at some point you’ll be throwing up every day like a supermodel.” If I’m going to have a close and personal relationship with my toilet I at least want the benefit of the six figure salary and dynamic body, instead I have the shape of a Weeble. There you go Alanis, there’s your irony. The simple joy of the Reno buffet is a sad memory as is the salad bar with its indigestible raw vegetables. One broccoli crown stuck in the stomach can be an all expense paid trip to the operating room once it’s turned into a bezoar. (If you’re eating right now you may not want to look that one up just yet.) One good thing is I am saving a ton of money since I now order my meals off the appetizer menu and skip the drink since I can’t fit both at the same time. Either that or just skip the food altogether and drink my lunch like a good business man from the sixties.
The latest adventure is something fairly recent. It started off as one little pink bump on my leg. I thought nothing of it since it looked like a bug bite. Two weeks pass and another one shows up right beside it. Another month passes and I have five appear on my abdomen, then another five, then six more in the following month. Three months later and I resemble an incomplete dot to dot picture. Being a good patient I consider going to the doctor then never make the appointment. They are just dots, right? I mean they barely itch. Well not really. It’s more like hell yes they itch, but what’s a little calamine between friends? I search the internet for answers and find more than I ever needed to know. Now for me it’s not dramatic enough to just have an allergy to a laundry detergent or a new food I have to tell myself I have a colony of bugs setting up residence right under my skin and they’ll soon establish their own government. Even this doesn't get me to the doctor's, I wait for five months to pass until I finally drag myself to a dermatologist where she biopsies one of the bumps. She doesn’t offer much comfort when she says there could be multiple reasons for the rash and doesn’t want to mention any of them until the results are back. I am now certain they are bugs and she’s too skeeved out to tell me. That’s it, I’m going to have to join the circus and become The Bug-Girl, See the girl and her trained skin-bugs as they play “Yankee Doodle Dandy” on her arm hair. Ten days later and my results are in: I have Lichen Planus. Lichen Planus is when the immune system mounts an attack against the cells of the skin resulting in irritating bumps. There is no known cause for the immune system malfunction, but since Diabetes itself is the result of an over eager immune system I am not surprised. It’s not dangerous and of course it is a chronic condition with no known cure. There is a treatment which diminishes the bumps however it does not mean they are gone forever. Great, just great, at any moment I can become a six year old sent home with a mild case of the chicken pox. Well at least my white spots now have some color.
My endocrinologist called the other day with the results from my latest lab work. I listened to the message as I pulled my daily vitamins from the cupboard. I know what she'd say-good results, stay on the Lipitor. True to form she did, but this time she said my calcium was a little low and I may want to consider supplements. I looked at the calcium supplements resting in my hand, (which I began taking earlier this year), “Sure doc, I’ll get right on that.”
I realized recently that losing a job is akin to breaking up from a long term romance. Whether married or just in a relationship you know when the boat is sinking before you ever see the water. You don’t want to admit it; you stay in denial until you are approached with the “we need to talk”. Shock and hopefully some dignity remains as you sign the divorce paperwork. If you are lucky you are handed a check to help ease the pain. Not quite alimony, but the corporations always do seem to have a rock solid pre-nup in place just for the occasion. There is no separation of albums or dishes, you are just asked to take your stuff and leave.
As the news spreads about your recent split the calls of sympathy and empathy begin to arrive. Some come with invitations to dinner, but most are just comforting words of, “well, it’s their loss. They are idiots and they won’t find anyone as good as you.” These words help dilute the shock right into anger. You cannot believe they would let you go, how could they? You secretly hope they are miserable without you and are woefully wringing their hands in regret. Dinners and lunches with ex-coworkers come with plenty of gossip of how things have fallen apart and you lick up every word with great delight. Instead of driving by their house, just to see if they are home, you get online and cyber-stalk them for any bad news. Overall, it’s not pretty, but you do have a good chance of not drunk dialing them at 2:00am after a 1/5 of Jack and a quart of Haagen Daz.
Slowly the realization of having to join the dating scene again comes into your mind. “But, but it’s been so long, I don’t know how!” is the first terrifying thought. You begin by asking your friends if they know anyone and if they could set you up. The want-ads become your singles bar and you may even hire a matchmaker. Just don’t expect your recruiter to dance on the roof with a fiddle and you’ll be fine. Mix, mingle and join a singles club, like Linked-In. Try to be appealing when selling yourself without looking desperate. Remember, companies want the best and the brightest, not a weathered old-whore.
But desperate you are and you’ll jump at the first job thrown your way. It’s not the best, but it is what you know and you think it can work out. Hey, it’s a job, right? Don’t worry, it won’t last: it’s a rebound relationship. It’ll go on for about 5 months until you realize your happiness is worth more than a 60 minute commute. Maybe you won’t quit right away, but since you are getting paid your desperation is not so apparent and that next magical job does come along. You bid farewell to the rebound and begin a new relationship. One you can’t help but compare with that “other” company. We used to do it this way, our food was better, our system was easier, etc. This can’t be avoided, but as you become comfortable you’ll soon notice you don’t think about the ex all that much anymore. You are not scanning the daily headlines for bad news nor are you asking your friends for updates. The ex no longer matters because one day you’ll suddenly realize you are in love all over again.
I did not set my alarm last night. Nor the night before or even the night before that. I am not on vacation nor am I sick. I am part of the statistic of the unemployed as of Tuesday. Never having been laid off before I am not sure how to deal with the experience. I awake every day at 5:30, my normal time but now with nowhere to go. Yet I feel not sad or angry. I have a calm acceptance of the situation and understand business is business. The premonitions I experienced in April mentally prepared me to a point, but I'm not sure one can ever be fully prepared to deal with it all. I expected to have my ego hurt or to cry, but I did neither. I was not happy and I also new I would never leave on my own. This was the universe's way of pushing my out to seek something better. It was the only way. Of course that does not make it any easier to accept. When it happened I felt the wave of panic descend: how would I pay my bills? Where is my resume? What am I going to do? I took a breath. And then another. I thought to my Buddhist training "just breathe." Others have gone through this, I am not alone. I can survive because I already did the ground work. Back in April when I suspected the layoffs were not yet done I did some preemptive planning and got my shit together. Now that the axe has fallen I am in a good financial place. I am also fortunate in that I have many great people surrounding me offering their services for job searches, resume writing, networking and most importantly their love. With their support I cannot fall, my feet will never touch the ground. Even in this dark hour I am truly blessed.
I don’t believe in God. There. I said it. I may bother some with this statement, but I’m not sure if I care. I am bothered by the wild attraction to religion, but this post is not about such issues. This is about my willingness to reconcile what I’ve felt for some time but could not say. I am not sure if I have reached an easy way to express the mixed ideas in a succinct manner so if I wander please stick around, I may get back to the beginning.
Religion is a subject which has always fascinated me by its power to help, heal, divide and decimate. Or should I say belief in a religion is what can cause all of these things from as far back to Egyptian days and Akhenaten’s attempt to switch from polytheistic worship for monotheism under the God Aten through the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, Henry VIII’s split from Rome, witch burnings (which last to this day in Africa), up on to prayer in classrooms, anti-marriage rights and the conflict between creationism and evolution. It would seem religion has the power to divide more than unite. But I must admit I do like the customs and traditions which go along with religions and find religion is more telling about a culture than any handbook could ever reveal.
I believe my first step towards non-belief began by leaving the Catholic faith although that had more to do with the church than with my belief. I did not understand why heaven would turn its back on a good person simply because of their sexual orientation. I could not comprehend a murderer could get in by saying “I’m sorry” and a few Hail Mary’s. If standing next to the murderer is a gay man who lived his life devoted to charities, helping the unfortunate, eschewing all material items, but in a long term monogamous relationship to another man St. Peter would turn that man away while stepping aside for the killer. How am I supposed to support and believe in a church and a supposedly unconditionally loving God while he has conditions on that love? I could not so after confirmation I turned away and never looked back.
I am not completely without religion though. Like many I have found comfort in Buddhism, but not faith. A Buddhist does not worship Buddha for Buddha is a title not a God. Anyone can become a Buddha if he or she studies long enough and reaches beyond this world and breaks the cycle of life and death. Which brings me to a strange point in my thoughts: how can I believe in reincarnation or ethereal powers if I don’t believe in a god? Simply the idea of reincarnation helps alleviate my fear of death. I cannot imagine missing out on life so by believing I’ll come back or at least maintain some sort of conscious thought after death eases my anxiety. Do I truly ‘believe’ it? No. Death is death and it scares the crap out of me. However I do believe there are things out there which cannot be explained or seen by our normal senses. They could be just energy patterns, but whatever it is I certainly don’t believe in a bearded old man sitting on high or any other powerful being taking such an active interest in our lives. I don’t believe we are chess pieces which can be controlled by any action but our own. I have no reason to be compassionate other than it is the right thing to do. Any ill I cause is not the Devil’s fault, it is my own. I don’t believe in God, but I do believe in myself. If I’m wrong well then I’ll be the first to admit it. But if I’m right I just won’t know it, now will I?
July was the month of good-byes and each one took a piece of me with it as it left.
The first is my friend Rachel did move away to Texas as I predicted. We spent a night packing, drinking wine and having a good evening together. Even while we packed her grandmother’s china we did not mention us parting. We ignored the lone star of Texas hovering over us. We did not cry until I left, until I had to let her go on to the next stage in life and I into mine, both on our own.
The second good-bye came when I took my grandmother’s ashes to bury them in the ground with her brother. During her life my grandmother was my biggest fan, my confidante and my mentor. She taught me about loving life, giving back more than you took and to remember what is important to me. I promised her I would bury her with the only family that did not reject her; the brother that loved her and took care of her when she was little. In July I finally had the courage to let her go and made good on that promise. Bringing her out to a graveyard 500 miles from my home felt like more of a good-bye than when she died. Having her ashes I could still hold her close, I could include her in the goings on in the house, she was still a part of my life. Putting her in the ground in a place I will probably never see again tore the covering off of the grief I’ve held in check. I didn’t want to say good-bye again, but I made a promise and it was the last loving thing I could do for her.
The third is the strangest. I said good-bye to a piece of my life that no longer should have carried any weight, but it did. I emptied out a box filled with paperwork from my divorce 16 years ago. Buried in the back of a shed were the legal documents relating to child custody, all of my personal journals, notes and other assorted items reflecting me and my thoughts for that tumultuous part of my life. I read the letters I wrote, but never mailed, so deeply filled with anger and pain. All of those items I kept to ensure my little girl would never be taken from me I could finally release. My baby is turning 18 in two weeks and the threat is gone yet I was reluctant to let them go. For so long I held on to those papers like an anchor keeping me from crashing against the rocks and even though they no longer mattered the familiar fear washed over me. My hand held them over the recycling bin only to draw them back. I read them again and again. Ever a memory keeper I wasn’t entirely convinced they needed purging or was that just an excuse? The person in the words no longer exists, that life no longer exists and my little girl is a fiercely independent woman I no longer need to worry about losing. I had to make a choice: stay tied to a past so blackened with misery or let go of the rope and left the waves take me to better shores. I chose to float.
It has come. The day all womankind fears, The day I must buy a bathing suit. Lord help us.
Today I go into the fluorescent lit rooms dreading the sight which awaits me. I know the lights are designed to enhance all of my physical flaws. In the mirrors I see pox marks covering every inch of my body, which is funny since I've never had the pox. Dimples, adorable on Shirley Temple, look cavernous on the back of my thighs. My skin is the grayish pallor of the recently dead or one who should be so lucky.
And who can forget the dreaded tri-fold mirror. Designed by Marquis de Sade's star pupil no doubt. I should not have to turn to the right and be horrified with the ungodly sight of an old lady's butt firmly attached to my own body. Oh the humanity. At one time it was a sight to behold, but now I resemble a product from the Island of Dr. Moreau. No one should have to look at it without the good fortune of being struck blind. Mothers tell their children stories to scare them into behaving, "better be good or God will strike you down and give you an Anita butt."
Of course I do have the option of buying one of those bathing suits with an attached pleated white sailor skirt, but I simply cannot wear one of those; at age 5 it is cute, at age 40 it should be a felony. I might as well say farewell to any remaining self esteem and don a white rubber swim cap gleefully adorned with yellow daisies.
My friend has offered to let me come over and try on some of her suits to see if they fit. This would save me from the above mentioned lights and give me the opportunity to use her children as a litmus test: If they start to cry then the suit is not for me.
Co-workers try to assuage my fears by telling me to look at other people. That I'll find solace in the fact that I look better than they do at that moment. But what if I am someone else's comparison model? I don't want to be "that girl" when viewed by others. You may be wondering why I do this. Why do I put myself through the stress, pain and trauma? Because I want to be able to swim up to the in-pool bar in Cabo and order a margarita. I think the desire to drink while lounging in a pool is a perfectly valid reason for going through all that torture, although no fair mentioning the occasional drunk slipping under the water. Thanks for the warning, but I'll take my chances. Maybe I'll just buy everyone a margarita laced with a Xanex then they won't notice my thighs because their eyesight will be too fuzzy. Either that or I'm resigned to swimming at night.
Seeing the names of long time employees on the roster of layoffs is frightening. I've worked here for 13 years and in any profession that is practically a lifetime. I assumed this kept me safe, but on the list are names of people who have worked here for longer than I and this really shakes the foundation of my so called security. What surprised me is how fast those leaving must pack up their personal belongings before being escorted from the premises. The personal effects littering my office would take me several trips out to the car just to scrape the surface and watching the RIF’s pack up one box and go told me I should clear out some of my junk. Now. You know, just in case.
In my desk were letters and statements from 1997, work reviews, pictures my now 17 year old daughter drew when in first grade. Photographs, books, knick-knacks line my shelves like a second home. I threw most of the paperwork away, saving the drawings and photos. I packed my books and went to take down the framed photos from the desk and wondered if I did put those away would I cause someone to think I wanted to leave? Now I was torn between cleaning up and put in the motion of actually being fired. What if they saw I had abandoned my allegiance? What if they had never thought to let me go and now this prompted the idea? What if the picture of my grandma and my dad were the only things protecting me from the layoff? I stood with them in my hand, unsure to pack or put back.
Superstitiously I put the pictures back on my desk, adjusted the tiny Kwan Yin statue, and set about back to work. I have a box of items to go home and a larger box to go home this weekend when no one is watching. I hope to have drawn a balanced line between a willingness to stay and my dignity when it is time to go.