Eating Ghosts and Body Image

I haven’t been diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder, and I don’t really think I’d qualify since I’m actually a physical mess- no imagined defects. But I don’t like my body at all right now.  I need to lose weight, and I have to admit, I have had times when the ghosts of past eating disorders start to haunt me.   It’s been three years since I stopped the chemo for leukemia that lead to weight gain. I’ve lost some of the weight, but not where I need to be to not feel so ‘inflated’.   I’d FINALLY gotten to a place where I could tolerate what I looked like, and then BOOM.  Nineteen months of heavy duty chemo to keep me alive gave me jowls and a gut that I hadn’t seen since the 90s before the last anorexia relapse.   Throw in what seems like some diabetic complications that makes food stay in my stomach for longer than normal, with horrible, very visible bloating (and often bad diarrhea when it finally starts to ‘move’), and food is becoming something that is causing some bothersome battles .

I know way too well that once anorexia or bulimia gets a foothold, it is extremely difficult to get rid of.  I’ve also been through some times with abnormal weight loss when I had undiagnosed GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disorder).  So, on one hand, I’m terrified of an eating disorder relapse, and on the other, I really, really need to lose the chemo weight.  And, the discomfort from the stomach sluggishness adds to the feeling of ‘fat’ (yeah, I know, fat isn’t a feeling).  I don’t know how to lose weight without getting into trouble (I did Nutrisystem for a while, and it is very effective, but I had some sort of reaction to something in the products).  Nobody takes me seriously, when I show up at this weight, and mention a fear of getting trapped in those cycles again.

I’m 50 friggin’ years old, and an RN (disabled, but I’ve still got my license).  I’ve never felt ‘normal’ in terms of emotional developmental stages- partly because of the eating disorders disrupting normal emotional growth (which began by the time I was seventeen, in earnest, so part of me is still stuck there- as with any addiction, emotional progress halts at the time the addiction kicks in), and also because I’ve never gone through the ‘normal’ marriage, children, love, etc. that the vast majority of 50 year old women have been through (thank you rape in 1987, and working a lot of hours, and also hours that greatly sabotaged any chances of meeting someone to have any sort of relationship with).  My brain still has that craving to have the body I had in the past (during the un-fat years), and it’s  so much more complicated than that.  I don’t really care what I look like in someone else’s eyes.  I like that I no longer have to deal with peer issues with clothing and external appearance… the battle is with how I see myself more than anything.  Since I’m rarely around anybody else, my opinion is always the ‘loudest’.

I don’t want to be scrawny.  I find that incredibly unattractive. I’ve been on the lighter end of my weight range for my body type and height… I don’t like bone protrusion, but I do remember liking to be able to feel them not too far away.   My ‘good’ weight in terms of looks, and how I feel in my own skin is actually higher than what most people would probably be OK with.  When I began my last relapse with anorexia, I was seriously fat, give or take an ounce… so when I lost %40 of my starting weight , it was a huge difference (that I couldn’t see). While I didn’t look anorexic, my mindset was entrenched in disorder.  I looked like a ‘normal’ person.   I want to be at the weight I was when I got out of treatment last time- or where I settled out at when my eating stabilized for about 11 years.

I think that’s why it’s been so hard- I’d finally been relatively accepting of my body until the chemo blow-up.  Staying alive is a good thing; I’m thankful for that.  And yet the mechanism to do that has created some really miserable feelings about this carcass I lug around.  I was extremely ill with the leukemia- six weeks on isolation in the hospital, then 50 doses of IV arsenic given while I was connected to monitors (I did get to go home afterwards, but it was about 10 weeks of daily trips to the hospital for either the arsenic, or shots to increase my white blood cells; there were 2 5-week cycles).  There was no option but to go with the treatment plan, or I could have literally dropped dead at any time (know of two people with the same form I had who did just that- though it took them about 24-36 hours for docs and their families to know they were not coming back from the bleed in their brains from such deficits in blood clotting; one was 11 years old, and the great-nephew of a friend).  In so many ways, I’m SO incredibly fortunate.  Does that make me a shallow jerk for focusing on my weight?

It’s not really about my looks. It’s about feeling physically uncomfortable in my own skin.  The photo isn’t a great angle, and my usual jeans/t-shirt ensemble isn’t very flattering – but you get the idea.   At least I wasn’t gross.  I was also somewhat miserable in this photo from the GERD… but I didn’t feel fat.  I was 43 in that photo…

I could live with this... c. 2007-2009; leukemia diagnosed in 2010.

I could live with this… c. 2007-2009; leukemia diagnosed in 2010.

SO, how to figure this out.  I don’t want to get sick.  I don’t want the torment of being ruled by calories and food.  I don’t want to be a slave to the scale.  Those years (which were on and off for about 22 years) were horrific.  I see people  (media, wherever) who have been engrossed in EDs for decades, and what merit is there in that?  My identity is in being an RN… not a stick, or something that others know is unwell.   I don’t want the mental fog as it relates to everything but the ED.  There is no life outside of an ED when someone is IN it.  Relationships with anyone and anything else are half-assed at best.  I don’t like the victim mentality of being caught up in anorexia or bulimia.  It’s so incredibly selfish, and I know that.  People want to either ‘rescue’ (those people are nowhere to be found when things get better) or run like hell from the chaos of someone who is ruled by numbers (that really mean nothing).

I go see my MD in a couple of weeks for a flu shot, and to discuss the bloating issues, as well as some other things that have been unpleasant.  If some of that could be managed better, I might feel less inclined to have to restrict a lot  in order to just feel ‘comfortable’, which will lead to weight loss, which is good, but can also lead to getting swept up in cutting back even more.    I know the cycle.  But looking at me now, I’m not taken seriously- so will have to approach this with my doc from the physical standpoint of the horrible bloating.

Ramble, ramble, ramble….  now back to regular programming.  :/

 

Suicide… It’s Not About Dying !

Tonight we learned  that Robin Williams is dead, and the consistent information is that he took his own life.  Social media being what it is, there are many comments.  Most are of shock and acknowledging the incredible talent and genius of a brilliant actor and comedian; another  who is gone too soon.  There are some  comments that are just rude and clueless.  But there are also those who just don’t understand how someone could get to the point of feeling that it was just time to give up on life, that it was too painful.  That there is no hope in sight, and that the people closest to him/her would be better if he/she was just gone… Thank God most people don’t understand what it’s like to be so far down in a pit of ‘no hope’ that suicide makes sense.

Suicide isn’t as much about dying as it is about wanting the pain to stop.  The cause of the pain isn’t really that important, though addiction is often a component.  Alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, gambling, etc. are ALL ways to numb some sort of emotional pain.  I worked as an RN in drug/alcohol rehab and adolescent psych for years, and nobody ever listed death as the main reason they considered suicide.   I had a good friend (also a co-worker) who was so solid in his sobriety and recovery  when I knew him.  He became a well-known therapist in the city where we worked.  Recently, I found out that he killed himself a few years back , while  I  was searching for him online, hoping to reconnect.  He had great local resources about where to get help (including where he could get away from town for treatment).  He knew the warnings… and yet, he relapsed into drugs, and overdosed in an amount that was said to be inconsistent with an accident.   I was able to find a close friend of his who could help me fill in the blanks, enough to know that something happened to take him into that dark hole of depression and relapse. Those are never good together.

With Robin Williams, he had resources and had recently gone back to treatment for a ‘tune up’ of sorts, knowing that he was feeling a need to protect his sobriety, not that he’d relapsed  (common knowledge).  He was getting help.  None of us know what his pain was from.  We look at the professional aspect of the man and can’t make sense of what could have been so bad in his life that he decided to give up.  But even if we knew the ‘reasons’, for most, the decision to end one’s own life will never make sense.

In 1982, I was battling an eating disorder, and got to the point of feeling very overwhelmed and unable to see that things were going to get better.  I don’t remember wanting to die.  I overdosed and was in a coma for 3 days.   I was lucky to have survived, and was able to get past those feelings of just wanting to go to sleep so I didn’t hurt (in my situation, nutritional ‘rehab’ was a huge part of clearing up my thinking).  I remember taking the sleeping pills, but don’t remember ‘death’ being my goal.  I don’t remember taking the 50 antidepressants.  I don’t remember the ambulance trip, or anything else until  I woke up in ICU three days later.  At other times, always when dealing with eating disorders, I would find myself in a mindset that didn’t see an end to the overwhelming hopelessness I felt.  I would feel myself on the edge, and yet I didn’t ever want to die.  I just didn’t want to feel so much pain.  It’s an incredibly dark place to be… and there’s a feeling of loneliness that has no words to adequately describe it.  Even with people in my life, they didn’t understand what was going on in my head, and the surrounding circumstances made things more isolating.

For those that don’t understand, please be thankful that you have no frame of reference for that kind of despair.  Please look around and see if there is someone who might need a quick phone call or note to say that they matter, and to just check in to see if they’re OK.  If someone you know has changed and either seems really down, OR suddenly ‘up’ after a period of severe depression, see if they’re really OK.  When someone makes the decision to give up, sometimes they are so relieved at making the decision, that their mood improves.  That type of ‘improved’ mood (sudden) is an alarming sign.  Gradual improvement is more likely due to good treatment ( medication for the biochemical issues, and/or psychotherapy to resolve emotional pain).  Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions.   When someone approaches from concern, it’s unlikely that it will make a situation worse.

Clinical depression isn’t sadness.  It’s not about ‘reactive’ grief that many people will feel during their life when they lose a friend or family member to death, or the loss of a job, pet, or if someone moves away who had been a part of daily life.  Clinical depression is often a biochemical disruption to normal thinking and feelings.  Hopelessness and helplessness become so pervasive that the ‘normal’ way of seeing solutions to problems just doesn’t work.  While suicide is a permanent solution to temporary despair, it doesn’t feel that way to someone who finds it  worth considering.  It doesn’t feel temporary.  It’s kind of like being too far underwater after falling off of a boat, and wondering if getting to the surface is ever going to happen… like there’s no air left in life, and no ability to feel that the surface could be reached with just a couple of kicks to reach the air that restores hope. Even if getting back on the boat is a ways off, at least there would be air.  It’s like treading water UNDER water, and never getting closer to the surface.  It’s hard to withstand that type of hopelessness and helplessness for a long time, and each person has their own threshold for how long they can hold on.

People can’t snap out of it.  They can’t just go pop in a funny movie and everything is OK.  It’s a disease, that needs treatment, and  support of friends and family that understand that the person is doing the best that they can.  And when the ones who are depressed are finding themselves going further from their normal way of looking at life, they need someone who can help them hang on…

But sometimes, it just isn’t enough.   And those left to make sense of the loss  will never have a good reason to satisfy the ‘why’ questions that inevitably come up.  It definitely isn’t fair to those left behind.  And while it’s something they have to live with for the rest of their lives, it really wasn’t about them.  Sometimes, there is nothing that will redirect a tragedy.  But nothing can take away the good memories the person leaves behind… always remember the good.

Intervention and Treatment Memories

I gained a lot of weight during the time I was on chemo for leukemia.  It’s been very hard to get rid of it, as I’m also perimenopausal, and limited physically as far as what activity I can safely do.  Add a history of eating disorders, and the idea of losing weight is actually rather frightening at times.  I guess in some ways that’s good, since I don’t take for granted how bad things got the last time I relapsed in 1995-1996.  It took years to put my life back together so I could eat normally, and longer than that before I could accept my body without being disgusted by it.  My oncologist told me just to be thankful I’m alive (which I am), and don’t focus so much on the weight.   Easier said than done.

The last time I started to relapse coincided with being diagnosed as diabetic, and suddenly having to account for everything that passed by my lips. I lost about 50 pounds over several months prior to, and after being diagnosed (not noticeably abnormal ), and was holding my own without any eating disorder behaviors (purging- laxatives were my vice, restricting, excessive exercise, etc).  I ended up with pneumonia later that year (November 1995), and lost quite a bit of weight in a few days, and the sensation of being ‘empty’ and seeing the scale numbers drop was enough to trigger the old eating disorder stuff that started when I was in my late teens and twenties (early 80s).  I’d been free of the anorexic end of things for many, many years.  It didn’t take long for being around food to cause anxiety, and for numbers on the scale, calorie books, and blood sugar meters to drive my entire life.  I lost another 50 pounds in about three months.  Other people noticed.

I worked at a drug and alcohol treatment center as a detox RN (and weekend charge nurse of sorts- if anything was wacky on campus, I had the last word if it was OK or not, though with serious stuff, I had plenty of folks to call for feedback and input) , so my coworkers were very aware of what addictive behavior looked like.  And denial.  And refusal to listen to rational feedback.  I coasted for a bit, but by the time a formal intervention was done, I was in bad shape.  Eating anything was excruciating.  Every night, I was asking God to just let me wake up in the morning.  And I literally crawled up the stairs to and inside my apartment.  Chunks of skin fell off of my heels.  Things weren’t good.

The day of the intervention was on the day after having worked a double shift.  I got off at 7 a.m. and went to rest for a while in one of the cabins my coworker had (she lived a few counties away and stayed on campus when she worked- we worked weekends and Mondays) while she went to do some discharge summaries, which I planned to do as well once I got some rest.  She came and got me at around noon, and asked me to come with her to get something to drink, and also drop off something in the Operations Director’s office.

I never saw it coming.  Inside the Operations Director’s office were my boss, her husband (who also worked there with the clinical staff), the medical director, day charge nurse, and several other people, including clinical staff who I worked with as well. There were 8-10 people there.  When I saw them all in the office, I knew what was going on.  I was terrified, but also wanted to stop fighting the wars in my head over something as ‘stupid’ as food.  It’s never about food, but that was what was going on mentally.  I was told of the plan to take me directly to my apartment to pack (supervised), then driven to the San Antonio International Airport to be put on a plane.  Someone would take care of my dog (that’s a whole different story), and my car could stay on campus where it could be monitored.  I’d fly to Houston, where an outreach employee would meet me, and be sure I got on the flight to Los Angeles.  That was the only way I’d be allowed to come back to work. What I hadn’t told them was that my primary doc had told me that I probably wouldn’t last a month, tops, if I continued as I was.  Their timing was perfect.  I wouldn’t have been ready before then.

So, off to Los Angeles I went.  Scared to death… I knew they made people EAT in eating disorder treatment.   But, I figured the sooner I got with the program, the sooner I’d get out of there.  So, in a feeble way, I’d begun to surrender on the plane.  By the time I got there, I was so exhausted from the double shift, then the intervention, traveling, etc, that the guy who picked me up thought I’d OD’d on something that made me semi-coherent.   I was just flat-out tired, and told him I was there for not eating (I never looked like I was starving as much as I was- curds of cottage cheese were something I worried about).  I was also exhausted from the battle fatigue from what had been going on in my head for months.  I’d been ‘confronted’ a couple of weeks earlier by a former coworker from another place I worked, about my weight (she was dropping off her child for treatment), and she asked if there was anything wrong with me.  I didn’t know how to answer.  It didn’t register that losing fifty pounds would be visible to anyone.  Seriously.  That jarred me a bit, but the intervention had the biggest impact.

I went to the treatment center in California (they no longer ‘do’  eating disorder treatment, thank God), and it was horrible.  The facilities were pleasant, and the food was really good (which amazed me, since I didn’t like much of anything, but all of the fresh produce ALL THE TIME was great) !  A few of the staff were decent, but eating disorder treatment it was not.  And the primary ‘assigned’ therapist I had was bad news… I was not allowed to speak about some things that seemed therapy-worthy to me. The ED patients had a table segregated from other patients in the dining room (and we were often like an exhibit in a zoo for the other patients who wanted to see if we ate), and one OA meeting a week (otherwise we went to AA).  That was the ED program. They may have been great for chemical dependency and/or dual diagnosis, but I was a generic eating disorder NOS (not otherwise specified) patient.  They didn’t get that right either.

When I first got there, I was so weak that when I went on the ‘beach walk’, I could barely make it.  Walking in the sand was exhausting, and I was having a lot of trouble even keeping a visual on the rest of the bunch who opted to do that activity.  My jeans were falling off, so they gave me a trash bag to tie two belt loops together, then trimmed the excess so it didn’t violate the safety rules about plastic bags.

The day before I was sent there, I’d packed up a detox patient to go there for more dual diagnosis issues than we generally dealt with at our facility, and then I showed up as a patient. Surprised her !   We sort of stuck like glue together, trying to make sense of the place.  Then another patient, AND person who worked where I worked showed up… They were both dumbfounded about the detox and treatment  process (so had a lot of questions), but come to find out one hadn’t told them all of the things she’d been taking. I told her she needed to fess up for her own safety.  They’d come to me (their former nurse) before talking to the staff there.  I wasn’t licensed in CA, and I was off the clock out there- but I was glad to be of some support.  We all needed each other out there.

There were a few of us ED patients, and we stuck together between groups, wondering where the ED services in the brochure were.  But, I managed to survive 36 days out there. The last 10 days, I had a virus of some sort, and wasn’t allowed to participate in any groups or meetings (but wasn’t sent home). They’d taken me to an ER, where they had me pee in a cup, and then decided I had a BLOOD virus- from a pee test…  The group would literally come to my room at the end of the session to say hello.  I could go outside and sit in the sun (or smoke), but no activities anyone else was doing. I could go to the dining room with everyone else, so it wasn’t like they were worried about me giving bugs to someone… but whatever.   I had a few roommates, some ED and one alcoholic,  (at different times) who were nice enough.  But I left there feeling totally unprepared for going home and making it OK.  I had no aftercare.  I was more scared leaving than when I got there.  But it was a great motivator to not want to ever end up in another situation like that was.

One really funny thing happened one evening, during my ‘banishment’ from groups, when I was outside  smoking.   One of the techs (fondly called the ‘clipboard jockeys’) came running around the corner asking if I’d seen the REST OF THE PATIENTS.  All of them !  :o  I told him no, and he was sure I must know something, even though I wasn’t allowed in groups. I really didn’t know. Come to find out that the rest of the patients were doing the evening community group, and after the tech checked everybody off of his clipboard, they went to another room to mess with him, and hide.  Eventually, all showed up, and the tech laughed, but I can imagine the thoughts going through his head about how he’d lost the entire lot of patients, except the puny one not allowed to go to groups.   That would have been a serious pile of incident reports and phone calls.

In the meantime I’d been told that I would NOT be allowed back to work where I’d been working at the time of the intervention until the director of nurses OK’d it (she had some serious boundary issues, and was also a neighbor of mine who had been in contact with my therapist in the treatment center- acting like some sort of information verifier.  The treatment center wouldn’t let me talk about being raped until my boss had reported to them that it had actually happened when she found the info and news clippings in my apartment when I was gone). Anyway,   I really liked that job, so that was a huge loss until I showed I was doing well enough to come back.   Eventually, I did get to go back, and stayed another couple of years until things started feeling unsafe with a huge increase in census, and no changes in detox/nursing staffing for several months.    But I’ll always be incredibly thankful that I got to work in that facility.  I learned a lot, and am a better nurse for my experiences there.  I still am in contact with several people I worked with there.

The intervention likely saved my butt, even though I had a lot of work to do ON MY OWN when I got back.  I got every professional book on EDs I could find, and did an ‘as if’ thing.   I looked at what I needed to do ‘as if’ I were carrying out orders for one of my patients.  I had to detach for a while.  Eventually, I was able to make it about me, and feel like I was doing OK. (The one OA meeting/group in town was ‘lead’ by someone who brought specific diets to show to the group- nothing 12-step about it, so I passed).  Whenever I see the show ‘Intervention’ or someone getting nailed on Dr. Phil, it brings back a lot.  Interventions are terrifying, but there was also a huge sense of relief at not having to go it alone any longer.

For those who think it might happen to them, just go with it.  Let everybody talk, and then be thankful that you don’t have to get well by yourself, and it doesn’t have to be perfect.  One step at a time, even if they’re baby steps.  A slip doesn’t have to become a relapse.  It beats being tied to an addiction that wants to kill you !  Things can get better, IF you are willing to let someone nudge you on your way (feels like an emotional sledge hammer, but in retrospect, it’s more of a send-off to the rest of your life :) ).

Tears From Cold Water

August 1, 2000.  That was the day my half-brother died.  I’d never met him, but since I’d learned about him in 1982, his 5th grade photo always had a prominent place  on my dresser (along with that of his younger brother, a half-brother I have met, though we don’t ‘do fractions’ very well… he’s my brother, and I’m “Hey, Sis.”).  Those photos are  still there. I remember looking at my e-mail at work for the last time  that day, and seeing the message from my cousin. (I didn’t have a computer at home).  She let me know that he was gone, and what we knew of the details at that time.  He’d drowned.  He was  a competitive swimmer as a child, and I couldn’t make sense of it.  I cried.  I went  up to the front office where the accounts person was still working.  I told her what I’d found out, and just sat there, numb, for a few minutes.  I stayed numb about much of his death for years.

My thoughts  immediately went to my birthmother.  She’d been through a lot in her life, and then her eldest son was gone.  I wanted to write to her, but I didn’t want to seem like I was being opportunistic in getting in contact with her during an unimaginably painful time.  I wanted her to know how much I was thinking about her, and that I wished I could do something.  What, I’m wasn’t sure.  But, I was horrified that she was having to go through the death of a child.  He was closing in on 30 years old, but as a nurse, I’d seen many parents face the deaths of their much-older children, and it was always a kind of grief that is unmatched.  But during that time, my bio-mom and I weren’t in contact.   I heard about her through other biological relatives, but it was a complicated situation.

Then I thought about the ‘what ifs’.  What if my bio-mom and I got back in contact, and the chance came about that I might meet my half-brothers?  I’d never know that with A.  What if I ended up with a relationship with my half-brothers, whatever it might be?   I’d never have that with A.  Had he known about me?  I later found out that he had.  But at the time of his death, all I knew was that possibility was gone in ever knowing A, face to face.  My hopes of some sort of  contact died that day.  It’s not a tangible loss.  It’s the loss of a dream.

In 2010, I ended up with leukemia.  I was expected to do well, but in case things ended poorly, I wanted to let my bio-mom know what was going on, and not just find out I’d died, if that should happen.  We hadn’t been on ‘bad terms’ by any means, it was just very complicated, and time was needed since our first contact by mail in 1982.  She did want to reconnect in 2010 and had been trying to find me (my name is pretty nondescript, and I’d moved from the last place she knew I’d been), and we’ve had an incredible relationship since then.

While I still have trouble talking about him, she told me what happened to A.  It was an incredibly hot day, and he’d gone out to the river to swim.  What he didn’t know was that the dam upstream had been released the day before, and much colder water than usual was flowing down the river.  When his body hit the water, that was so much colder than his core temperature, his heart just stopped.  Done.  Over. A life ended.  From cold water on a hot day.  He’d been used to going to the river.  He knew about water safety, and was an incredibly strong swimmer.  None of that mattered.

In some ways, that helped in easing some of the horrible images I had in my head of his last moments.  It’s unlikely he struggled, or couldn’t get his breath. He didn’t fight underwater.  He hadn’t suffered.  He may have felt an odd chest sensation for a few moments, not really long enough to register anything, but then…nothing.   That has been somewhat  comforting, to know that he wouldn’t have felt pain or the panic of final minutes.

But I still cry.  I have some CDs of his music sessions with friends, and it’s very hard to listen to them.  I’ve managed to at least hear his voice on a few songs, and I’m so thankful I have those CDs.  I’m sure I’ll get to the point that I can listen to them. But now, I still just cry when I think about the day I got that e-mail.   I can talk to my birth mom and brother about A.  I love hearing about when my two brothers were kids.  I have a bunch of photos of all of them, which are treasures, and I’ve got some of my bio-mom, brother, and myself together, which I’m also so thankful to have.  I think the three of us ‘kids’ could have been a nightmare together, in a good way ;)

When I see stories about drownings, I always think about A.  When I see those looney ‘polar bear’ ice water swims in the winter, or jumps into ice water after saunas,  I cringe.  When I think about how easy it is for life to be done, I am thankful for the days I have, and wish with indescribable intensity that A had had ‘his share’ of time on earth.  It took me about 12 years to be able to wash my face in the shower. I didn’t want to have to hold my breath in water when I thought my brother had drowned.  (I finally got the bright idea to look down when I rinse my face, so there was no need to hold my breath… :/ ).   Even though I never knew A personally, he was a part of my life for the 18 years prior to his death, in the form of ‘what ifs’, trying to guess what he looked like ,  and those precious photos on my dresser.   Now, I do have contact with my bio-mom and brother, and I’m  so incredibly thankful for the relationships with them. They really are special parts of my life, and knowing them has helped me know myself better.   I still think about A, though.

He’ll always be part of my life.

Finding Myself As I’ve Connected With My Biological Mother

I was placed for adoption at birth.  Growing up, I was told about the adoption as soon as I was old enough to grasp the concept of being a ‘chosen baby’ (name of a book my mom read to me).  It wasn’t a big deal, and I was accepted into both sides of the family like any other kid.  My parents (what I call my adoptive parents, since they’re the ones I knew growing up) made sure I had everything I needed, as well as a lot of ‘extras’ (music lessons, sports lessons, trips around the country, trip to Europe, etc).  And yet, there was the natural curiosity about where I came from, and who was ‘out there’ that was my biological family.  My parents were aware of this, and always told me that once I turned 18 or 21 (I forget which), they’d help me find my biological mom (or bio-mom as I refer to her on paper… sounds like some type of bio-fuel). :/   I call her by her first name in person, and with people who know me; I do respect her privacy by not naming her in posts.

I was encouraged to do a search when I was 19 by a psychiatrist I was seeing for eating disorders.  He thought that if I felt like I’d ‘come from somewhere’, I’d feel more secure in general.  I’m not so sure about that, but I did want to find her.   The adoption agency was contacted, and with two phone calls, the social worker had her on the phone. He explained that her wishes would be respected if she didn’t want contact, but she did.  We began writing and exchanging photos.  I was so excited to learn about her interests in photography, animals, and that she played the flute (I did, as well).  I was thrilled to hear that I had half-brothers.  She was still in contact with my bio-dad, and shared some information with him.   Both of their situations were complicated, and he didn’t feel comfortable writing, but he saw photos, and I found out I also had half-brothers on his side.  My bio-mom and I wrote for a while, but it was hard to just jump into a relationship (for both of us, actually).

She’d gone through hell during the pregnancy with me, mostly being shunned and shamed by her immediate family, and being sent across the country for the sole purpose of ‘giving me up’, staying with her aunt, uncle, and cousins (it was more complicated than that, but that will work for a blog post).  She wasn’t given a choice, and didn’t feel she had any options.  She never wanted to give me up, and back then, the biological fathers didn’t have any say.  She was almost out of high school when I was born, but for decades, having in illegitimate child was something that was dealt with in cruel ways.  It was felt that ‘it was for the best’, or (mostly) ‘what will the neighbors think?’ were more important than the impact that giving away a child would have on the two who created that baby.  My biological parents had dated for years.  They stayed really close friends until his death from cancer in the 90s, even with their own families.

Anyway, during the time we had  contact  when I was 19, things were  getting  more complicated, and she let me know she needed some time, but that if I had ANY questions, I was free to contact her.  She never cut me off completely, but I felt like giving her time and space was best.   If it meant that I wouldn’t have contact for years, and that it was best for her, that was gonna be  OK. I did have periods of time when I was frustrated with not having ‘general’ contact, but I understood that she had more people and situations to consider.  I had a lot of my own ‘stuff’ to work out, which became much more intense after I was raped a few months later, so I really wasn’t  in a great place to build a new relationship at that time.  It probably worked out for the best that we both took the time we needed to get some things ‘settled’.    I moved to Texas before and during this general period of time, and had contact with the aunt and uncle she’d stayed with during her pregnancy with me. The first Christmas in Texas, I got to meet the cousins in that family, which was amazing. There were times when we were talking, and I’d say something… they’d all get quiet, and finally one of them would say “You sound JUST like __  (bio-mom)!”. :)   I got close to one cousin in particular.   We’ve stayed in contact since  that Christmas in 1985, seeing each other whenever she was in Texas, talking on the phone, e-mails, and my visit out to her and her husband’s home in 1986.

Fast forward (I’d been back in my hometown for 8 years, not in Texas) to the period of time I was on chemo for leukemia.  My prognosis was generally quite good, but being an RN, I know that things can go wrong.  Complications can change things in a heartbeat.  I decided that if something should go wrong, I didn’t want my bio-mom to get a call telling her I’d died without the option of reconnecting before that.  I wrote her a letter, deciding that whatever her decision, it was going to be what was right for her, and that was what I wanted. As it turns out, she was ready to reconnect.   I had been talking to the cousin I’d been close to for years (bio-mom’s first cousin) when the call waiting clicked , but I decided to finish the conversation with my cousin, and figure out who had called after that; I didn’t get a lot of phone calls.   When I hung up and checked the call log and saw my bio-mom’s name, I freaked (in a very good way !).  I immediately called my cousin back and told her who had called, and she told me to call her after I called my bio-mom back !  She was excited, too !

I was elated and nervous to talk to my bio-mom, but something that had never happened in 48 years happened. I  heard her voice.   It was on October 30, 2010… coincidentally on the last day I had the arsenic chemo.  When she answered the phone, it took about two seconds to feel comfortable talking with her.  I don’t remember how long we talked, but long enough to do some catching up, and some general interests type of stuff. We also agreed that we wanted to keep talking on a fairly regular basis.

The next Spring (2011), she came to visit.  We met for the first time, and had fun getting to SEE and hug each other, and taking photos (which I won’t post out of respect for her privacy… her friends and family all know about me, but throwing it all out there for the world is different ;) ).   She and my dad met; my mom had died in 2003.  My mom would have loved to meet my bio-mom.

That summer, my cousin (bio-mom’s first cousin) and my bio-mom surprised me when they BOTH visited !   I’d known my cousin was coming (we hadn’t seen each other in about 13-15 years or so), but after she’d been inside for a few minutes there was another knock at the door (VERY unusual for me to have two people here in a MONTH, let alone a few minutes), and bio-mom was at the door !   We had a ball for the next few days.  They brought me a laptop and all of the accessories and a digital camera.  The laptop has been my primary source of social interaction; prior to that I had no way to interact besides the phone, as my other computer had croaked at least a year earlier.  The computer has been a life-changer, not only with social interaction but with the ability to have things delivered as it’s become more difficult to shop and drag things inside from the car.  They showed my YouTube, iTunes, and some other fun stuff, and I found Facebook a few weeks later.

With the computer, I’ve been able to have contact with my biological dad’s family, as well as extended family on my bio-mom’s side… I don’t have a family tree.  I have a family tree farm !  And it’s great.  (I’ve started doing genealogy stuff on Ancestry.com, and I literally have five trees going).  The next summer (2012), I got to meet my (half) brother, which was wonderful (and I really like him- not just care because we’re related- he’s a fun guy ! ).   I’ve messaged my paternal half-brothers (who are considerably younger), but so far no contact with them, and that’s OK.  They found out about me after their dad’s death (by many years), so I’m sure it’s all a little weird.

I’ve listened to my other maternal (half) brother’s recorded music sessions, though I haven’t been able to listen to all of them; he died in 2000 (I’d been told back then what had happened, and it destroyed any possibility of ever meeting him, even though I wasn’t in contact with my bio-mom at that time).  Since getting their elementary school photos in 1983, I’ve had them on my dresser (they’re still there).  They’ve always been close to my heart, and when A died, it was really hard, even though I didn’t even know if he knew I existed.  I later found out that he did.  But it’s still too hard to listen to his voice, knowing he’s gone.  I’m able to talk to my bio-mom and brother about him more now, but sometimes I still just cry, remembering the day I got the e-mail telling me he was gone.  I couldn’t stand the idea of my bio-mom going through that when she’d been through so much (more than I’m writing). I have some great photos of A, as well as the brother I’ve met.

Since that first phone call, my bio-mom and I speak at least weekly, and we sometimes have ‘marathon’ calls lasting for hours.  We have so much in common, and our general interests are very similar.  How we dress, our views on ‘dressing up’ (clean t-shirt, or if it’s really fancy, a woven top :p ), sense of humor, and other things are so, so similar.  It feels  great to know where I get some of my preferences and traits- even though I never knew what she liked/disliked until we started talking regularly (the letters had some general stuff).  There’s absolutely no awkwardness when we’re together.

We’re family.

Mammograms and Menopause…

Boy howdy, did I have a good time today.  Should probably be illegal, and yet it’s required by the conscientious medical provider I have, to the point of getting actual mail, not only e-mail reminders.  I think the last time I got real mail from my doc, it was an order referring me to an oncologist because my entire blood count was next to nothing, beginning the odyssey of leukemia survival.  So, they scare the crap out of me to let me know it was time for the annual (or so they’d prefer) boob compressing.  It’s an exam undoubtedly devised by a man who never thought that there could come a time when a very ornery, hormonal, fed-up menopausal woman somewhere in the medical invention universe would come up with a testicle crushing machine to ID nut cancer.  If my personal physician wasn’t female, I’d probably find some internet conspiracy theories to make myself feel better about blowing off said mammogram.  But she is, so I went.

The first time I had a mammogram was about eight or nine years ago. I’d heard horrible things about the girls  being smashed so flat, they needed spatulas to scrape them off of the table thingie when the exam was over.   It had been compared to the labor pains of the woman’s northern hemisphere.  I went in terrified of having my boobs stretched and pressed so harshly that I’d need to roll them up in those old pink foam rollers to get them to stay in my bra afterwards.  But I went.  I followed all instructions to a tee, including the ‘no deodorant’ rule.  My first thought was that the technician would be wearing a gas mask, but not the case.  And the exam began…

Eh.  Not a big deal.  Yeah, so I wouldn’t want to be holed up in those positions for any longer, but it wasn’t horrific.  I’d survived, and the girls weren’t bruised or misshapen. Still faced different directions. Back to baseline.    There was, however, a problem.  I tend to be somewhat intolerant of nonporous surfaces, and I sweat when in contact with them.  I’m also very heat intolerant, so I sweat just thinking about being slightly warmish.  My boobs also inherited this condition.  The first one let go of the table without much fanfare.  Peeled ‘er off, and tucked ‘er back in the backwards ugly-gown.  The second one?  Nope.  Did. Not. Want. To. Go. Home.  She was flattened down, and gripping with a suction I didn’t know was possible from a boob.  She put some octopi to shame that day.  I had horrific images flashing in my head about finally getting her loose, only to have the recoil  slap up against my forehead, refusing to move.  I’d have to drive home with a boob over my left eye, hoping like crazy that I didn’t get pulled over for ANY reason.   The sweat would be creating humidity in the car that would make driving hazardous. Ferns would grow.  Finally, I got it loose, and hunched over as I ran into the dressing room, hoping I’d been able to dislodge it without the tech getting any glimpse of the power struggle going on from a stubborn ‘limp’ tit on her table.  I wasn’t letting that boob get any ‘lift’ from air as I moved, lest she go airborne, and become too unruly to shove back into my bra.  Scary having something seemingly operating independently of the rest of me :o

I had another one the winter after I finished chemo for leukemia (APL). Once I got the OK, I had every crevice and loose bit of tissue  tested for any and all types of weirdness.  I wanted to know I was starting with a clean slate.  And so I did- and all came out OK.

Then, came today.  I had a routine oncology appointment today (is that an oxymoron?  ‘Routine’ and ‘oncology’ lumped together?) , so I scheduled the mammogram for after that.  That meant no deodorant for the oncology appointment (but I did mist the back of my shirt  with a bit of body spray).  Menopause has done some odd things with body odors.  I hadn’t anticipated that when it all started, but have come to understand that I smell really, really bad if I’m not layered up with whatever non-toxic odor neutralizers I can find.  I’ve been tempted to stuff dryer sheets in my bra.  As it is, when I get a whiff of my pits- which are connected to a sedentary body, creating no extra odor due to healthy activity- I  dash off (well, I limp, so ‘dashing’ probably isn’t accurate) to do a wipe down with witch hazel, as well as a moderate scrub with some old cheap washcloths with some texture to them.  A layer of non-toxic baby powder is also a good thing.  This is all when I’m at home, alone, with nobody to witness the tragedy of menopausal pits.

Anyway, I got through the oncology appointment and went to the mammogram appointment, and got in early, since it seems Tuesdays in Cancerville are fairly sedate, and I overestimated the time between appointments.  But, the boob squishing department was at a lull, and I got right in over there. Did I mention that the handicapped parking is down about 16 steps?  Anyway,  I was escorted to the changing room,  given the ugly-gown to change into, and then made my way to the exam room, where the tech had some questions.  Thus far, the pit stench wasn’t horrible.  Not my finest, but I didn’t think I’d kill anyone.  On to the exam.

As soon as my right (the first one done) arm was raised, the green mist appeared.  I was suddenly reminded of roadkill along the backroads of Texas in July, about two days after impact.  Buzzards were circling, and flies could be seen in cloud form.   I smelled like decomposition :o    Oy.  Those poor techs.  Menopause was making me smell like a dead opossum. Or skunk. With a witness.   I was horrified.  I laughed it off, and the tech just said she didn’t smell anything.  That must be part of the job application- must pass one of two of the following:  outstanding liar or absolutely no sense of smell.  The woman today seemed trustworthy enough, so my guess is that the part of her brain that interprets smell was blown out at close range in a terrible crossbow accident that left her otherwise unharmed.

I got out of there, and made it home so I could get the Brillo pads out after my pits.  I got my appointment clothes off (still emitting a slight green fog), and got my natural deodorant.  I thought about applying it with a spackling knife, but decided that might be a little too looney.  I’m not the queen of persnickety hygiene, but I try not to be a community health hazard.  At home, it’s just me and the dog most of the time (and she seems quite happy, no matter how much I’m mortified by the changes of menopause).   I like it that way, with few exceptions.   I just hope that when this whole process of ovarian retirement is over, I go back to being just a little whiffy when it’s hot out.  NOT being so toxic that I need to wear hazmat signs when I leave home.

My condolences to the mammo-tech.