Ninety Days: My three-month PCOS Path to Wellness

Three months. Ninety days. A lot can change in a seemingly short time. Personally, I’ve been dealing with some fairly complicated relationships, and it hasn’t been the easiest few months I’ve experienced. However, if there’s one thing I am, it’s stubborn.

I made a commitment on November 4th that it was time for a lifestyle change. I had my first appointment with a new OB/GYN and finally felt like someone was listening. Someone believed me.

I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) many years ago, while I was still in college. In a woman with PCOS, the ovaries produce higher levels of androgens, sometimes referred to as the “male” hormone, which can stop ovulation, cause excessive body hair, acne, and depression. In some cases, small benign cysts form on the ovaries, further unbalancing the hormone levels. PCOS causes irregular menstrual cycles, excessive weight gain (despite weight loss efforts), infertility, higher risk of miscarriage, and may lead to gestational diabetes and Type II diabetes. It’s estimated that 10% of women have PCOS, and although the cause is unknown, doctors believe genetics may play a large role. Recent studies have shown a connection between insulin resistance and PCOS. When the body does not respond to insulin from the pancreas normally, the ovaries create more androgens. Additionally, the body’s insulin response throws off metabolic function, meaning the conversion of food to energy is disrupted. That leads to greater storage of fat cells, as the liver converts excess glucose to fat.

Although my hormone levels have never been “right”, the symptoms of PCOS never seemed to bother me too much. Sure, I struggled with infertility, had gestational diabetes during both of my pregnancies, and have to literally wax my eyebrows like every two weeks. But this fall, I started experiencing some new symptoms – hormone-induced acid reflux, painful cramping, hot flashes, and irritability. The acid reflux was the worst, and would occur at night, on the third week of the month, faithfully. It didn’t matter what I ate, or didn’t eat, as even water would bring it on. I discussed the issues with my primary care doctor, who claimed the problems were completely related to my weight. “Since you have PCOS,” he said, “it’s really difficult to lose weight, no matter what you do.” He was right. In the past, I’ve completed the entire P90X program three times, and while I felt my muscles aching, I never actually lost anything. Ninety days. Three months. Nothing Changed. Three times.

“The only thing I can do is recommend bariatric surgery.” The doctor said.

Bariatric Surgery. A few years ago, I went to a mandatory counseling session for people anticipating bariatric procedures, with my former landlord (a story for another time). She wanted emotional support, and while I had no plans of having surgery, I “fit the appearance”, and wouldn’t stand out. So, I played along, and I learned a lot about being overweight that night. I remember something about exceeding the weight limit of most commercially-produced toilets, and falling through the floor.

“We’ll give it a few months and if your weight hasn’t changed I’ll refer you to the bariatric surgeon in Indy.”

I left that appointment feeling defeated. Making my stomach smaller wasn’t going to help. I barely eat, much less overeat. Also, I didn’t have a problem with myself physically. I wasn’t progressively gaining weight, but I wasn’t losing any either. So, unless it was to correct a health issue, I was not having surgery to fit society’s standards.

The hot flashes were getting worse, and I spent countless nights every third week of the month trying to sleep upright and get some type of relief from the acid swishing around in the back of my esophagus. FWIW, estrogen relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing the stomach acid to reverse course and travel back into the esophagus.

It’s got to be menopause. That was also my first thought when I finally got pregnant and starting feeling sick, so maybe I should stop jumping to conclusions. I didn’t have a large choice of which OB/GYN to see, as my ACA insurance pretty much determined it for me.

I hate doctors, so I didn’t go into the appointment with high hopes. But once I met the doctor, I felt completely reassured. He was the first doctor I’ve seen in my adult life that did not write off all my problems as “a side effect of obesity.” Instead, he believed that the obesity was a side effect itself. We talked about PCOS and having done much of my own research through the years, everything he explained was right on target with what I hoped to achieve. He prescribed me hormone therapy to help with some of the cycle-related symptoms, and we discussed the value of a low-GI (glycemic index) diet. He also offered an appetite suppressant, to help me transition to a different way of eating.

I was happy he listened, but I wasn’t optimistic. I’ve tried this before. Dieting, exercise, starvation, etc. Nothing worked. But he listened. He gave me that, so I should give him the same. That night I came home and committed that we would do this. I didn’t know how, but there’s one thing I love – research. I set an arbitrary goal of 40 lbs. The dr. suggested that 10lbs a month loss is excellent progress, so I wanted to push myself a little more.

Forty pounds. I took the challenge head on. I started walking 20 minutes each day on the treadmill, and cut my daily carb count to under 100. I began weighing all my food and keeping track of my calories and carbohydrates. I set my caloric goals at the bare minimum, 1,200 a day. At first, I had a hard time meeting that, especially being on an appetite suppressant and not eating junk food. Every calorie I took in had to count. On average, my daily calories totaled around 1,000. With Thanksgiving right around the corner, giving up would have been easy. But within the first week, I watched the weight slip away. I lost 6 lbs.! That was only four pounds short of my monthly goal and I was only a week in. Can this actually be possible?

I obsess over numbers. As the days wore on and my food choices as a vegetarian were getting slimmer and repetitive, I started to worry I wouldn’t be able to keep this up. I learned about macronutrients and spent countless hours trying to determine the right percentages for me, and even more so trying to figure out what I could eat that would taste decent and help me meet my numbers.

Calculating, scales, numbers, math, time – everything in my life was revolving around my weight. This isn’t what I wanted. I was happy. I just didn’t want to be moody, hot, or full of stomach acid that wasn’t in my stomach.

I persevered, and little by little I decreased my reliance on refined sugar. I found 85% cocoa chocolate bars, where a serving size was 4 (FOUR!!!!) squares with 15 carbs/serving. That satisfied my need for chocolate, and most nights I’d only eat half a serving. Chocolate for 7.5 carbs with no artificial sweeteners? YES PLEASE.

I also increased my exercise every couple of days, walking a little faster, longer, and farther each time. Although the number on the scale was coming down each time I stood on it, what was most noticeable to me was the way I felt. I wasn’t cranky. I wasn’t overheating. And when week three rolled around, I had zero reflux. I felt better.

At my one month appointment, I had lost 25 lbs. I hadn’t even lost 25lbs when I gave birth, so this was insane to me. I started noticing around Christmas that my clothes were fitting differently, but the holiday also brought a lot of stress. Since I kept thinking of this as a lifestyle change and not a diet or weight loss strategy, as the initial goal was to manage my PCOS, I stopped weighing my food. I let the numbers go. I became more comfortable with my low-to-no-carb options, and as I conquered my sugar addiction, I found my sweet tooth subsiding. I just…ate. Then I exercised.

When I had my second month check-up, I had plateaued. They continued to encourage me, as I had not gained any weight over the holiday, but I hadn’t lost any either. “This is normal,” the doctor reassured me. “Just keep doing what you’re doing.”

I was frustrated. The only thing I changed was not weighing everything that went into my mouth. This is not how I wanted to live. I don’t have time for this. And it was definitely not something I’d keep up over the long-term. I reminded myself of my original goal. This was not about losing weight. It was about feeling better. And I felt better. Plus, when everything else seems to be falling apart – relationships, friendships, etc. – this gave me a sense of control throughout the uncertainty. I kept going.

On February 2, 2017 I had my three-month weigh-in. Thirty pounds lost would be ideal, and ensure that the diagnosis of insulin resistance was correct. When I stepped on the scale, and the nurse stopped the slider, we looked at each other. I was down 15 more pounds. Total loss: 40 lbs.

Forty pounds. I did it.

It’s been hard work. I didn’t get to eat fun cookies at Christmas, or partake in birthday cake on December 9th, or stuff my face with warm delicious dinner rolls and breads. What I do get is a heightened sense of taste, as my taste buds have recovered from being inundated with refined sugar. Everything tastes sweeter now, and I’m able to identify savory flavors and find them satisfying. I have chocolate maybe once a week now, and that’s a generous estimate, instead of every day. I no longer use artificial sweeteners at all, and drink my coffee with just cream. And my daily carb count is well below 50, sometimes under 20 on a good day.

I’ve moved on from walking to running mostly, and I strive for 1.75 to 2 miles a day. This doesn’t seem like a lot, especially if you’re an avid runner, but for me, it’s a huge accomplishment. I’ve also started an hour of Vinyasa yoga each morning, to clear my mind and stretch my muscles.

I didn’t discuss my changes with many people, only those closest to me. Because weight loss is such a touchy subject for many, I didn’t want to brag or come off as insensitive to those who are struggling with losing weight. I was there. I watched people’s transformations. And while I was genuinely happy for them, I was also mad that I couldn’t do it. Even Tony Horton couldn’t help.

My journey is hard for me to share. And as forty pounds has left, so has a portion of my confidence. I’m much more self-conscious about my body now. It’s unfamiliar to me.

I jiggle in places I never jiggled before, my skin is lumpy and saggy, and none of my clothes fit right. I’ve downplayed my hard work and progress, because I wanted to remain humble. But if I remember this for what it initially was (and continues to be), a lifestyle change and not a weight-loss solution, then my intentions should remain clear.

I feel better. Fat is not my enemy. My ovaries are not my enemy. Carbs are not even my enemy. My only enemy is my own self-doubt.

I don’t believe in pride, but I do believe in celebration. I set a seemingly impossible goal only three months ago, and I achieved it. Since my appointment last week, I’m down another 4 lbs., and am finding the lifestyle even easier to maintain. I allow myself a cheat here or there, (the shamrock shake is back guys!) but honestly, I don’t even crave carbs or sugar anymore so it’s a lot easier to pass up.

Each day is a new culinary adventure, and while I’ve stopped obsessing over the numbers, I enjoy the challenge. I’m hoping to complete a charity 5k later this summer, as that has become my new goal. Wish me luck, and here’s to health and happiness!

 

BEFORE: April 2016

BEFORE: April 2016

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Now: February 2017

Through the Porthole

When Lewis Carroll wrote Through the Looking Glass, it’s because he went to Walmart in Lancaster, Pennsylvania at midnight with some chick named Alice. Sure, that may not be what your high-school English teacher told you, but after my own adventures of the sort last Friday, I’m pretty convinced that was his inspiration.

Like the iconic lamppost in Narnia where Lucy met Mr. Tumnus, our point of reference in this story is an overpass* on the Lincoln Highway. *Upon further discussion with my qualified cartographer, Google Maps, I discovered there were multiple overpasses, so I’m not quite sure which one is “THE Overpass”, as you will learn about later on.

sim_city_monster

Actual visual representation of Lancaster, PA

Our story begins at HippoCamp16, a creative non-fiction writing conference set in the heart of downtown Lancaster. Navigating this metropolis proved to be more difficult than expected, considering it’s basically a real-life Sim City representation (building a city in the middle of a cornfield ensures it will never get attacked by giant robotic spiders, right?).

After finally getting settled in and finding the correct parking lot, I was pretty sure I had planted my roots for the next few days. However, the universe had another plan, and a mysterious force* pulled me toward the vintage television decorating The Angry Computer booth. *AKA Casey Telesk

“I need one of those things that has all the old Atari games on it. Will you take me to Target?” he asked.

“Does Target have them?”

“I don’t know. I’ll call, but my battery only has 2%.” As expected, the phone died before the Target Team Member could either confirm or deny the accuracy of the online inventory.

“They close at 11? In 30 minutes?” I inquired.

“Yeah, but it’s only 13 minutes away.”

I’m never one to pass on a shopping challenge. So, it’s Target or bust!

10:38 pm: We find my trusted Subaru snuggled in for the evening in the parking garage, and without much time to explain why I’m rousing the beast when I promised I wouldn’t have to drive it again until my 8-hour journey home on Sunday, I started the engine.

“Shit. Both our phones are dead. How do we know where to go?”

“I brought my car charger.” I proudly plugged my phone in, metaphorically patting myself on the back for being smart enough to remember it. Hashtag Two Master’s Degrees.

10:40 pm: We finally left the parking garage, having exactly twenty minutes to go 10 minutes away according to my aforementioned cartographer friend, who felt it necessary to repeatedly flash the words “Target will be closing soon!” in orange lettering across my screen.

During the drive, it felt incredibly darker than usual, and when I was instructed to “turn left in 300 ft.” I had to make a quick, sharp turn onto a barely visible side road that looked like nothing more than a field. It was then that I realized my headlights weren’t on. My Sube has daytime driving lights, which are always on unless you physically shut them off, which I don’t remember doing. Oddity #1. (Make a list, there’s more to come.)

olympics

Seriously, have you *seen* those athletes?

10:54 pm: We arrived at Target with six minutes to spare, according to the Team Member at the door. When I worked in retail, I always promised I’d never be *that* customer. The one who comes in right before close on a Friday night with a ton of questions. Yet there we were, quickly traversing the retail landscape in search of an electronic device reminiscent of a 1980’s video game. I suggested we head back to the Electronics department, where we found the poster-boy* for the retail stereotype of middle-aged stock boys.  He was definitely in a hurry to get home in time for his MMORPG guild’s midnight dragon raid. *I don’t normally judge people, but it’s OK to objectify people because the Olympics are on. Hashtag Overheard at Hippo.

“Do you have those plug-and-play Atari games?” I asked him.

Blank stare. I really hoped he didn’t freeze up like this when faced with the Dragon of Penultimate Loot, cause he’s looked like a total N00b right then. Thankfully, the Level 100 Ultra-Mage from Management stepped in to help him.

“No. We only have those at the holidays.”

Sensing their annoyance at our endless* amount of questions, I asked where the nearest Walmart was. You know the age old adage: “Where there’s a will, there’s a Walmart.” *translation: one.

“It’s pretty far away.” Stock-boy raider answered.

“What’s far away?” I sought clarification.

“Like 5 miles. But you have to go under the overpass…” his voice trails off to emphasize the hassle that getting to Walmart from our current coordinates would be. Oddity #2.

“There aren’t any 24-hour Radio Shacks nearby?” Casey inquired. The joke flew over stock-boy’s head like a car traveling on the overpass.

10:59 pm: Yes. We were literally only in Target for three minutes. Thanks to my handy Walmart app, I was able to locate the nearest store, presumably under the overpass that would, for some reason, be a burden to drive beneath.

dutch

The picture of me and the cow is safely under wrap in my parents’ photobook. For now, enjoy the sign, which sums it up nicely.

After ensuring that my headlights were on, I put my trust back into my beloved cartographer, who laid out a path* to the retail conglomerate. *On the way there, we passed a famous Lancaster landmark, Dutch Wonderland, a PA Dutch themed amusement park, to which my passenger was not familiar with. I have a picture of me milking a fake cow there when I was about 8.

I’m not sure if it was the overpass, or just the lack of battery power that results from using intensive GPS applications while charging through a cigarette lighter outlet, but right after we drove underneath, my cartographer appeared to have some sort of brain-freeze or absence seizure, and decided not to tell me that Walmart was directly to my left! Oddity #3. We were patiently waiting for the light to turn green to continue straight, when Casey noticed the bright yellow asterisk on the Walmart sign.

“So, Walmart’s right there.”

Again, I channeled my inner Vin Diesel and pulled off a sharp left turn, crossing three lanes of traffic* in an effort that made me question why Subarus aren’t one of the stars of The Fast and the Furious franchise.  *Granted it was late and there wasn’t a lot of traffic, but still F&F worthy in my eyes.

And now, my friends, is where we’ve taken that first step through the mirror, rummaged around to the back of the wardrobe, followed the yellow brick road, or pixie-dusted away. No matter which literary fantasy world* you prefer, we were right there in the thick of it. *Wonderland, Narnia, Oz, and Neverland, respectively, in case you don’t fancy rabbits, fauns, munchkins, or tick-tock-crocs.

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It was so weird I took a picture.

11:07 pm: We pulled into the wasteland of the Walmart parking lot. Empty shopping carts, left abandoned wherever they were last used, gave off a Rapture-esque vibe, as if their corresponding shoppers had been called upon. Quiet, dark, desolate. We got a spot close to the door, and were one of only a handful of other cars in the lot.

11:08 pm: Back to electronics. Didn’t get distracted by “Rollbacks” strategically placed near the entrance. Focused. We searched endlessly, tirelessly, through the entire department only to come up empty-handed.

“Let’s take a quick walk through toys. There’s got to be something we can use.” I suggest, still not wavering on my shopping challenge.

We rounded the first corner aisle, and like instinct my eyes locked to a black box with familiar yellow character. Suddenly, the light from Heaven above* shone down on this piece of merchandise, as the rest of the store became blurry, out-of-focus. All that existed in this life was contained inside that piece of painted cardboard. We have indulged in Tea with the Mad Hatter, eaten Turkish Delight with the Snow Queen, revealed the man behind the curtain, and parleyed with Captain Hook, and now standing before us was the Holy Grail of retro arcade games: PAC-MAN.  *Quite possibly, it was the green fluorescence from the overhead lights.

11:20 pm: PAC-MAN plug-and-play in hand, along with RF converter and other accessories, we headed to the check-out. In typical Walmart fashion, there was approximately three registers open and about ten-thousand customers in line.

“Dude? Did we time-travel? Cause I haven’t seen lines like this since Black Friday and I don’t remember eating Thanksgiving Dinner yesterday.” Even more surprising to me was the notion that all of these people missed out on the Parking Lot Rapture, which apparently took all their cars too. Oddity #4.

As we waited in the self-checkout line, I suggested we get batteries for the game. Thankfully, the Mensa of Merchandising has studied consumer trends for years and has kept the impulse buys well stocked at retail facilities nationwide. I found an 8-pack of AA’s, which was, according to the package, “Ideal for flashlights, cameras, and robots.” I figured PAC-MAN fit somewhere between flashlight and robot, so I grabbed them.

The problem with impulse racks, is that it does, in fact, make people impulsive. That’s where we found the gallon of milk and box of Lucky Charms.

“What kind of world is it where people just discard temperature-controlled items like this?” Casey pondered the plight of our planet as the couple behind us found solace in our apparent silliness. Once we finally made it to the self-checkout, things went smoother than would be expected. I don’t think I’ve ever not put an “unknown item in the bagging area”, but this scan was successful.

“They totally thought we were high.” I motioned to the couple that once waited patiently behind us.

11:40 pm: PAC-MAN in hand, we headed back to the desolation of the parking lot, where I realize I my gas tank is quite low. Thankfully, cartographer is back in business, and informs me that there is a nearby Turkey Hill*. *A gas station, not an actual grassy knoll filled with birds, though I’m now convinced anything in Lancaster is possible.

potato

Fancy Carbs

11:45 pm: Gas tank filled, my stomach rumbled. I think the mashed potato martini* has worn off, and I grabbed a bag of pretzels, my PA go-to since the Midwest doesn’t understand what actual edible food is. We waited for the older woman in front of us to finish checking out – a total of $200 worth of scratch-off lottery tickets, $50 worth credited in winnings from the ones she cashed in.  Oddity #5. *Mashed potatoes dressed and consumed from a martini glass, because even carbs are upscale when you tout them around in a social atmosphere.

“Can I get a pack of American Spirit yellow?” Casey asked when the lady leaves.

The cashier, a tired, haggard, middle-aged man, likely annoyed that he’s missing the guild’s midnight raid for work, mumbles: “Need to cut back on those.”

I immediately shifted into defensive mode. I am well aware that the Olympics are still on, and judging is fair game, but really?

“She usually buys about $1000 a month in tickets. She’s needed to cut back.” The cashier explains, unknowingly saving himself from my inner Rosie Perez.

11:47 pm: We walked back to the car, anxious to get to the booth and transform it into the interactive beast we dreamed of. “I totally thought he was telling you to cut back on the cigarettes.”

“Ha! Me too.” Casey confirmed I wasn’t as tightly-wound as I had originally thought.

I opened the bag of pretzels and dove in. I was sharing a room, and didn’t want to be forever regarded as the roommate who crunched pretzels post-midnight. The silence broken by the loud chewing. Wasn’t going to happen. I had to eat them in the car, and so I did.

12:02 am: We returned to the hotel safely, however one can’t say we were unchanged. We stopped by the front desk to be granted permission to work on the booth, located on the third floor of the hotel, at such a late (early?) hour.

A befuddled manager looked at us like we had two heads, and I almost checked my reflection in the shiny lobby table to ensure that the underpass didn’t actually transform me into a creature deserving of a midnight guild raid.

“Your booth is in the common area right? That’s public. You’re fine.” He says.

12:05 am: Back at the booth, we brainstormed. And rearranged. And added. And subtracted. But something was still off. As a non-native English speaking young man changed the trash bags outside the conference rooms, we continued to pour over the contents of the booth.

“You wouldn’t happen to have another table would you?” Casey asked the young man, who was dressed all in black. “You work here right?”

Secretly, I had hoped he said “no,” because the story of a random guy who wanders around fancy hotels stealing trash bags is so much cooler.

The young man disappeared, only to return with his supervisor, an older white man who was incredibly friendly. Like super friendly. Like ridiculously helpful.

Now it may seem like the night had begun to settle down. However, we were merely approaching the Queen of Heart’s garden. That crazy Cheshire Cat had at least one or two more tricks up his disappearing sleeve.

12:30 am: After an additional table had been gotten, and the young maintenance crew awaited orders from their boss, we were just about to really sink our teeth into the meat of the work we had to do.

“You don’t happen to have any pieces of cardboard, or like a dumpster I can rummage through, do you?” Casey asks the man-in-charge.

“Legally, they can’t tell you yes.” I quip.

The hyper-friendly bossman chuckles. “We have some leftover signage from other conferences. Why don’t you come with me to pick some out? It’ll be easier that way.”

He dismissed the rest of the staff for the evening, and the three of us headed to some super-secret signage room. We passed an employee cafeteria, locker-rooms, an AV storage closet, some of the dismissed employees, and a historic house that apparently exists in the hotel*. There, we hit the backer board jackpot: A six foot by three-foot signage leftover from a marketing conference in May. Hashtag blessed. Oddity #6. *Exactly what is going on down here?!

Bossman left us to find our own way out, like two NYC movers carrying a random piece of glass across Park Ave. As we approached the elevator, we realized it’d take some finagling to get the backer board into the elevator.

12:45 am: We returned from our excursion into the publicly unknown parts of the hotel and the real transformation began.

2:30 am: I stopped being the nice friend who cares about other’s opinions. My management background came out, and I jumped in. No longer seeking permission for my actions, I created signs, set up merchandise, and displayed book covers appropriately. “Dammit Justin, stand up!” I had said repeatedly, as the makeshift frame for the cover of Justin Kassab’s latest novel, Strays, refused to stabilize.

3:00 am: PAC-MAN success. Television adjusted, and game functioning correctly. Bedtime is looking more and more like something I might achieve this evening.

Trash Boards

#TrashBoards provide stabilization for salvaged backer board.

3:30 am: Two words: Trash Boards. Two pieces of a dark espresso bed frame proved to be our ticket out of the porthole. We had one final mission: To secure the #CosmonautPhotoBooth to the backer board using spray adhesive. Then we could go to bed. Luxurious bed. The comfy down duvet, and an assortment of fresh, cool pillows were only one secure cosmonaut away.

3:38 am: Stationed in an alley beside the hotel, we spread the cosmonaut poster- which had been taped to the top of the backer board inside- out on the side walk and liberally sprayed the back with adhesive. However, being that it was still approximately 80 degrees with 1 million percent humidity, the conditions weren’t ideal for spraying. Also, from the outside perspective, it appeared we were graffiti artists, tagging the side of the Marriot with a cool name like “Ice” or “Rogue” or “Pete,” which is what one can only assume the cops thought as they drove by, peering into the alley. Our time was limited.

3:40 am: We’ve waited long enough for the adhesive to get tacky, and thanks to the almighty Trash Boards, we were able to smooth the poster onto the backer with as much finesse as two tired misfits sweating in a side alley in Lancaster, PA can do.

3:50 am: The end was in sight. Not a thing out of place in the booth…Damnit Justin! After re-stabilizing Strays, we called it.

cosmonaut

#CosmonautPhotoBooth and vintage radio

porthole

The Angry Computer presents: Through the Porthole: A Photography exhibit

 

pacman

PAC-MAN makes the table interactive

Many hours later, many different configurations, and many different experiences. The porthole was closing. It was now or never if we expected to return to HippoCamp 16.

4:00 am: I settled into bed. I really wanted to eat some more pretzels, but if I was opposed to eating pretzels in the dark at midnight, I certainly wasn’t going to be the roommate who chomped at 4 in the morning. Breakfast was in three hours. Hashtag Friendship.booth1

Check out The Angry Computer for awesome designs including Werner Herzog Greeting Cards!

For more information about HippoCamp16, check out Hippocampus Magazine.

 

The Writing Path

“‘Cause I need freedom now

 

And I need to know how

To live my life as it’s meant to be.

And I will hold on hope.  

And I won’t let you choke

On the noose around your neck.

And I’ll find strength in pain.

And I will change my ways

I’ll know my name as it’s called again.” Mumford & Sons – The Cave

 

The most expensive things in my house.

The most expensive things in my house.

 

I drove down tree-lined streets with no real direction, no end destination. I just drove. Using my car as my method of escape, I ran from everything. Hoping that somewhere, a path would clear and a sign would point me to where I needed to go. I drove fast, furiously, with tears streaming down my cheeks, desperate for the pressure I had created within myself to release.

Mumford and Sons blasting from the radio, trying to empower the positive voice, the beautiful voice, within me to come forward and free me from what I perceived to be my reality.

I'm officially a writer now

I’m officially a writer now

That day forever changed my life. Two months later, I was on a new path. In January of 2013, I left my career of 11 years in retail management and took a leap of faith. I started grad school. I went back to my roots, and chose to embrace the one thing that has always made me feel better: writing.

Of course, a lot of stuff happened in those two months in between the long drive and starting graduate school to get me to that place. But I finally had a frame of reference, some structure for myself (because working a 50 hour week, being a mom to a one year old, and being 6 weeks pregnant doesn’t allow for much structure).

As I sat in Bresieth 107 for CW501 on a chilly Friday night, looking around at the 17 other people in the room with me, I felt the panic welling up inside me (two years later, I’d learn that EVERYONE felt that same way). I told myself I needed to be there. My sister once told me that I was “good at going to school,” and while I didn’t know what that meant, I held onto it, because at that moment I just needed to be good at something.

Michael sat at his desk, supplies laid out perfectly, and ready to take on his first task. Austin entered, and I swear a Fabio photo shoot was in session. The air blew his chin length hair perfectly, and I swear the sky parted and a ray of sunlight shone into the room, adding a soft glow to his presence. Elisabeth looked so put together and sophisticated that I swore she was on her fourth degree. Nina already knew Bonnie, and Austin, Debbie and Bonnie had already been acquainted. I didn’t belong here.

Best part of graduation is the dessert.

Best part of graduation is the dessert.

Two and a half years later, I’m not sure I belong anywhere but there. In such a short time, I accomplished so much. Obviously, I’ve grown so much as a writer. Thanks to that leap of faith, I am now a full-time copywriter, juggling projects and freelancing, working as my own boss. My work is out there, my screenplays are getting great feedback in contests, and I pretty much spend a large portion of my day writing in some context.

But even more impressive (at least to myself) is the personal growth that came from this experience. As I received my MFA this past weekend, I had to really come to terms with reaching that destination that saved me from miles of endless nothingness.

I’m not nervous. I’m not worried. Because it’s really NOT over. The friendships that I have made during that time period are more valuable to me than the piece of paper in my hand that tells employers I may be able to write.

These crazy kids were my P.I.C. at Sunday's ceremony

These crazy kids were my P.I.C. at Sunday’s ceremony

I network without panic. I accept that rejection isn’t personal. I deliver feedback and receive it respectfully. I have found the balance between my family, my writing, and my friends.

I drove to escape my reality. Constantly running. Now I write. Not to escape reality, but to change it. To better it.

Acknowledgements

Special Thanks to everyone who made this journey possible for me: my cohort – Austin, Elisabeth, Reagan, Rachel, Tiffany, Chris, Kelly, Leah, Draper, Jonathan, Debbie, Joe and Michael, and an extra special thanks to Nathan and BFF Nina for putting up with me and keeping me grounded. My honorary cohort members: Taylor, Dawn and Barb (we wear pink on Wednesdays!) Casey: for being another insomniac weirdo that can make me laugh at all hours and truly being a great friend. Ken for reminding me to keep comedy funny. Shadowfax, Artyfax, Casey (the cat not the insomniac), Alice and the late former feline Japanese stripper Kiki for inspiring my fashion choices that got me through the days of residency. Kendrick and Aurora, because Michael Richey said “Your kids will only ever know you as a writer.” And you guys are the reason I chose to be better. Wally, because the endless support from day one is more than I could have ever asked for. And to my family: Mom, Dad, Robin, Shelley, Bud, Andrea, Mike, Billy, Dallas, Noah, Abby and Colleen who made every residency a possibility by taking care of my children and supporting me even when they had no idea what I was doing.

I love them all so much!

I love them all so much!

I’m finally living my “life as it’s meant to be.”

 

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Labor of Love Part 2

continued from Part One…

 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013. My sister agreed to take me to the hospital. As I sat at my mother’s kitchen table, all that I was thinking about was how tired I was. I couldn’t wait to get the checkup over with so I could come home and try to get some sleep.

My sister finally arrived at my mom’s, and I quickly whisked her out of the kitchen and we were on the road. It was like any other drive. There was no talk of labor, or babies. In fact, I noticed she had stopped for a coffee on her way to pick me up!

We headed straight for labor and delivery, as they were expecting me. When the nurse took me to an exam room, she explained that she reviewed my charts while I was en route, and the facts weren’t in my favor. Many times pregnant women experience false labor, she said, and since I was previously a failure to progress, the chance was extremely low that active labor had begun on its own. She said she’d do a quick exam make me comfortable and then I’d be on my way home.

There wasn’t much time for introductions. It was early, the staff was changing shifts, and there had been a few overnight deliveries. We got down to business. The nurse hooked me up to a contractions monitor, took both my vitals and the babies, then left to get a midwife. The midwife returned, looked at all the monitors and my medical history, and decided to do an internal exam.

My sister sat to my right, drinking her coffee. We both waited for the midwife to say something. Anything. She remained poker faced, and we couldn’t tell what was going on. She took off her gloves, looked at the monitor again, then turned to me and smiled. “Congratulations! You’re 6.5 cm dilated. Guess you’re staying.”

I looked at my sister, who almost dropped her coffee. We were as much in shock as the nurse, who returned with my admissions paperwork. The nurse said by the way I walked in and m overall demeanor, no one expected me to be in full on labor mode. My little boy would be here by the end of the day.

Reality started setting in. Wally was over 500 miles away, and wasn’t scheduled to fly in until the next day. He was going to miss the birth of his son. I had a few moments to process this information but then my brain shifted to survival mode. Planning, organizing, sorting, whatever needed to be done mentally to get through this.

My sister left the room to report the news to my mother. Needless to say, there was a level of surprise from everyone I had contact with throughout the night, even my other sister’s coworkers. As my nurse began the usual routine of baby delivery, prepping the room, poking me with things, attaching monitors and loud beeping machines to me, we started engaging in conversation. She asked who was with me today, and I FINALLY introduced my sister.

The nurse laughed and said, “oh, she’s your sister!” which it then became apparent she assumed we were a couple. I proceeded to tell her about Wally’s situation, which was becoming more stressful by the moment. He was trying to change his flight, which we all know is usually as simple as writing a neuro-physics dissertation. With the help of his boss, he sat at the Dayton airport, in a desperate attempt to get a seat on the next plane to anywhere in PA.

to be continued…

Labor of Love

Last Thursday, my youngest turned one. As many are when their baby’s first birthday approaches, I was too wrapped up in the festivities to find the time to write a post, but I wanted to share the story of his birth. Prepare yourselves, for this is not a sappy tale of love at first sight, nor is it a horror story of labor that never ends (ok maybe it’s kind of that).

Monday, August 12, 2013. I had a visit with my OB/GYN, and at this point I was being seen two to three times a week. However, it was coming to a close as we had scheduled a C-section for Saturday, August 17th. Being that I failed to progress with Rory, it was advised that I repeat a C-section. I agreed, but I wanted the same doctor who did my first one. He rearranged his entire schedule, and got special permission from the hospital to perform the surgery on a Saturday morning, as he was leaving to take his son to college cross country on Sunday and would be out a week.

The Dr. checked the baby’s heart rate and fetal movements, but since I only had five more day sof being pregnant, not much else was done. He prepped me with instructions for Saturday and sent me on my way. Later that evening, I began to feel light cramps in my stomach. I chalked it up to gas, as is ever so common during the third trimester, and settled in to watch The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for a school assignment.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013. Something just felt off. Now I’m the type of person who is hyper aware of her body, evidenced by the fact that I was less than four weeks pregnant (both times) when I knew I needed to take a test.

It was hot. I was sick of being pregnant. I had come off a long exhausting weekend which landed my oldest in the ER for the first time (that’s a post for a different time). I laid on the couch for most of the day, but as the day progressed I felt worse. I told my sister: “I imagine that I feel like I would if I ate bad chicken.” I decided to go to bed immediately after Rory fell asleep, as I was feeling worse.

I sat at my computer, in the basement of my parent’s house. I tried to focus on writing critique for the film I had watched the night before, but the cramps were getting worse. As the night went on, the cramps became pain. I turned to the only resource I knew for diagnosing medical conditions: Google. I had all the signs of labor, but since my water hadn’t broken I figured it was just my imagination.

Around midnight, I knew something was definitely happening. As I paced around the tiny room, alone, I decided to download a contraction timer app. What else is there to do when you’re alone and don’t think of the stopwatch app already installed on your phone. Sure enough, the app was reporting that the contractions were between 8 and 6 minutes apart.

That is, if they were really contractions. How do I know? I never went into labor with Rory, technically, so I couldn’t be sure. I called Wally, who was home in Indiana and scheduled to fly into Wilkes-Barre on Thursday, to help me prepare for surgery on Saturday. He definitely believed it was labor, and advised me to go to the hospital. How can I be in labor? I only needed to make it four more days.

I texted my sister Robin, who was working late, and told her how I felt. She told me to relax, and wait til morning and see how I felt. It was crazy to think I all of a sudden went into labor. I tried to sleep, but the contractions kept me up. Around 3 am, the app reported that they were coming stronger and closer: 5 minutes apart.

My dad woke up for work at 4 am. I heard him walking around outside the room, and for a short moment considered seeking his advice. For a short minute. Then I realized, (and anyone who knows my father will understand) that he would probably only offer to drop me off on his way to work. So I let that thought leave as quickly as it came.

By 5, the contractions were 4 minutes apart, and I was pretty sure that’s what they were now. My mom had mentioned that if I felt the baby moving, I wasn’t in labor. The baby was moving like he was hosting a damn rave, so I still had my suspicions. However, there was nothing else to do but take a shower. The water helped relax me. For like two minutes.

Finally, at 7 am, I heard my mother wake up. Exhausted from a long night alone, I headed up the stairs to the kitchen, where my mom was preparing to go for bloodwork. By the look on my face, she knew something wasn’t right. I told her I really didn’t feel well, that I was up all night, and that the stomach pain was becoming hard to bear any longer.

I called the dr.’s office, and they advised me to head to labor and delivery immediately to get checked out. My mom called my other sister, Shelley, (since Robin had worked late) and asked if she would drive me to hospital.

 

…to be continued…

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Scent of a Woman…With a New Dishwasher

Like most people, I prefer eating off of clean dishes. When we moved to our new home, which was equipped with a dishwasher, I was overjoyed. While slightly saddened by the fact that we would no longer compete for the title of “Best Dish Stacker”, (you know, where you stack the most dishes in the sink, or in the dish board), I was happy to not have to get my hands truly dirty.

Since I am allergic to one of the best grease fighting detergents on the market, we always had to settle for the next step down when it came to dish detergent. It’s a good thing there were never any oil slicked ducks roaming around my kitchen, because they’d be screwed.

Being a new dishwasher owner, I stared at the shelf containing the large variety of detergents available on the market. From pacs, to gels, to powder, packages were labeled with words like “Platinum”, and “Ultimate”. I started buying in, thinking to myself: “I want my dishes clean. Like ultimately clean. Like platinumly clean.”

But clean is clean. Right? Apparently not. Sure you can go with the “Original” formula, but then you’d risk your dishes just being clean. Aren’t your dishes worth more than that? I decided mine were, and definitely opted for the dishwasher deluxe spa package.

Then something else caught my eye. There were SCENTS! Suddenly, I went from standing in the cleaning aisle at Kroger to the middle of a Bath and Body Works shop where your nose is so overwhelmed you have to buy one of everything.

As I started determining if I wanted Lavender Harvest, or Fresh Lemon Grove, (ooo, this one comes in Ocean Breeze), it suddenly occurred to me that not only would this scent only be emitted within the confines of my dishwasher, but that there’s truly no need for fragrance on my dishes.

I’ve never seen anyone smell a plate BEFORE putting food on it. Have you? Leave me a comment and let me know!dishwasher

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Daddy?

Kids say the darndest things. At least, thats what they say kids say. Mine just started talking coherently a little while ago, but for every word that is incoherent, there’s one that’s clear as day.

Ive been around kids long enough to know they repeat everything they hear. Despite my sometimes sailor inspired vocabulary, im usually really good with what I say around them.

This post is NOT about how my daughter embarassed me in public because she spewed off a few choice words appropriate only for a dissertation written by the Hound from Game of Thrones.

Instead, the offending word is one that many parents yearn for their child to say: Daddy.

On one of our regular grocery trips to the local Kroger, in which I was quite proud of myself for managing to get both children fed, dressed, and out of the house incident free by myself, my daughter sat in the cart while I carried my son in a black Boba wrap.

One by one we added things to the cart, crossing off items from our list as we toured the aisles. When we arrived at the cleaning section, the aisle was full of other shoppers. I managed to finagle the cart to the area I needed.

I grabbed the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser from the shelf and handed it to Rory to throw in the basket. Instead, in this aisle full of people, she looked at the image of a happy, smiling guy with a shiny bald head and as clear as day she yelled: “that’s my Daddy”.

Knowing my husband, I actually thought the connection was hysterical. Shes often found resemblence to her father in other famous faces. She swears he’s Howie Mandel, and when we spent last summer in Pennsylvania, she assumed Cuban American music artist Pitbull was her dad and he was just away on tour.

Once I noticed the looks on other shoppers faces I started to assess the situation from an outside perspective. This tired, weary mother with two tiny children, shopping alone on a weekday morning, so pathetic that the poor child doesnt even know who her father is. She thinks its Mr. Clean for crying out loud. We must help her. Send her to Maury.

I laughed, told Rory that was not her daddy, which only made her yell “its Daddy!” Even louder and clearer, and threw the box in the cart. Finally I caved and accepted that Mr. Clean was my childs father. “Yes Roar, thats daddy. Lets go pick out some ice cream.”

As the other patrons looked at me with pitying eyes, I finally understood why my daughter can be such a clean freak. Its in her genes.

Mr Clean Logo is Daddy?

Are You My Daddy?

Trespassing Shmuspassing

 

Continued from The Parking Saga…

A “No Trespassing” sign. Right there, smack dab in the middle of her front door. That’s right. My crazy neighbor decided it wasn’t obvious enough that one should not break into her home, and saw necessity in hanging a sign on her door.

No Tresspassing

This got me thinking. I’m new out here, and just learning the local laws and ordinances. Maybe I missed something. Is there a law that says you can only defend yourself in the case of a home invasion of you had a sign that says people shouldn’t break in? There’s always that fine print that defense attorneys love to find.

Should I get one? Is my new home not safe? Why doesn’t anyone else have one on the street?

I considered the source and decided to observe the situation. Now I’ve seen no trespassing signs in people’s yards, or on garages or large spaces of land, but never on someone’s front door.

After about 3 days, the sign moved to the top of the door. A few days later, to the bottom. Then it disappeared completely. Now I was even more curious? Who does this? And do the burglars approach the door and say “Oh, I was going to break in but I see there’s a sign.”

After a few days of trying to make sense of the whole sign conundrum, I had just started to give up. That’s when a simple walk by front window led me to another clue. The screen door didn’t close completely.

Even the sheriff stopped to make sure everything was ok, as the door was swinging in the “Windiana” weather. I suppose it didn’t latch properly.  So my neighbor would come and go, paying no mind to her broken door, or making any attempt to rectify the situation.

That must be the reason for the sign. After not seeing the sign for about a week, it suddenly reappeared on the door again. What is going on?  Ignore a broken door but taken time to hang a sign?

Just when I stopped trying to understand, the answer became clear: A big fat fluffy cuteness of a squirrel came running out of the doorway. So the sign was to ward off home invaders, just not the kind I’m used to. Unfortunately for my neighbor, squirrels can’t read.

The market is getting hot for Harlequin Squirrel Romance.

The market is getting hot for Harlequin Squirrel Romance.

 

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Parking Whores. Oops! I Meant Wars.

Continued from A Spot in the Park:

I go outside and step onto my porch. I politely greet her and then it hits me. A hailstorm of attitude like none I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve worked in customer service!

“Hi. Can I just ask for a small favor?” I ask. She replies with a dumbfounded stare. Maybe I wasn’t speaking loud enough. Or maybe my Eastern accent has her thrown off guard.

“Could you just move your car back a little bit,” I continue. “I have two small kids, and with the snow it was just hard to take them out this weekend.”

park

My guess is no.

“There’s a driveway there. I can’t back up.” Now it’s my turn in the dumbfounded staring contest. I guess she really didn’t understand that she could park behind the driveway. I pointed out that the house next to me is vacant, and she wouldn’t be in anyone’s way if she parked there, just a few feet behind where she currently parked. She continued staring at me. Nothing was getting through whatever is behind those dumbfounded eyes, so I thanked her, and retreated to my porch.

I heard her mumble something under her breath, so I turned back around. “I’m sorry, I thought we were done,” I said. “Apparently, you have more to say?” I caught her off guard. “I was on the porch and didn’t hear you. What did you say?”

“I said it’s public parking.” She mumbled.

“Really? This is how you want to start out as neighbors?”

“I’m the biggest bitch you’ll ever meet,” she yells. Because that’s an appropriate response when someone asks you to move your car.

Knowing that my daughter was at the door, and everything I do sets an example for her, I quieted the voice in my head telling me to punch the lady in the face.

“Just a fair warning,” I told her, “I’m the nice one of this house. You’re just lucky my husband wasn’t here.” Anyone who knows us will verify the accuracy of that statement.

So she gets in her car, I go in my house, and life goes on. Since that moment, we haven’t had any contact with each other. However, I have noticed that she refuses to park in front of her own house, which makes me wonder if there’s some kind of invisible parking barrier there.  When she attempts to pull forward, the little Neon bounces back. I’d walk over there to inspect it, but there’s only one thing stopping me…

…to be continued…(again)…

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A Spot in the Park

Since moving to Indiana, everyone I have encountered has been extremely friendly. Like incredibly friendly. The kind of friendly where neighbors bring you baked goods when you move in, and the guy who bags your groceries helps you out to the car, and instead of giving out candy during parades they give out gigantic stuffed animals.

So imagine my surprise when I finally encountered someone who was, let’s just say, not so friendly. A few weeks ago, when it was the bitter cold of winter and there was snow everywhere, (remember that?) we found out our neighbors across the street were moving out. Now, when we moved in, we got the scoop about everyone on the block. We were told they weren’t the friendliest people, but they were harmless. We got their backstory, baby mama drama and all, but they never bothered anyone so life went on.

That is, until they moved out and their daughter moved in. It’s a single family home that was converted by the mom into a double block so the daughter had her own apartment. When the daughter found out she’d have to pay rent, she left. Until now.

Mom and family were moving out of the right side of the house, and apparently daughter moved into the left. This seriously isn’t any of my business, but being a stay at home mom has given me a bit of a “Rear Window” complex, except in my case it’s more of a large front bay window.

Back to the snow. It had recently snowed just under a foot, requiring us to shovel a spot in front of our house where we can park. Since we originally hail from NEPA, we brought along our snow blower, making life a little easier, and being in Friendly-ana, we even did our next door neighbor’s sidewalks.

dont park my spot

That explains why she parked there…

Cue the weekend. Suddenly, a red Dodge Neon, with Ohio plates, is parked in front of our house. Thursday, Friday, Saturday. The car just sits there, nice and cozy, in the spot WE shoveled out.  That Sunday, our next door neighbor, with cupcakes in hand, comes over to tell us about the car. Apparently, the daughter has lived here before, and was known for causing trouble.

Someone parking in my freshly shoveled spot, while annoying, isn’t necessarily trouble. But I did have to park my own car up the street and figure out a way to trudge my two babies back to the house in a few inches of snow. So it was mildly inconvenient.

By Monday morning, it was more than inconvenient. It had gone on too long, and I was now past the point of being friendly. Besides, the car hadn’t moved so I didn’t even see the owner. While Googling “passive aggressive parking notes”, the daughter goes to her car. Now’s my chance.

…to be continued…

 

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