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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.”

 

Check out my website: nicholekanney.com

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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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Naughty by Nature-al Instinct

naughty by nature

Where it all went down

You down with O.P.P.? That last P has stood for many things, raising a debate about the actual meaning of the popular 90’s hip hop song. I’m going to try to decipher the true meaning in relation to my own experiences.

Summer 2004. I was working in a drugstore in the swanky Rittenhouse area of Philadelphia. The store was attached to a popular hotel, and our stockrooms were shared common spaces with hotel staff. From the moment I started my shift, I knew it was going to be “one of those days”.

Since it was centered in a prime tourist spot, Saturdays were always busy. It wasn’t uncommon for us to have six registers open with lines of 3 people deep. The store had a separate “One Hour Photo” center, where we kept many of our high dollar items (electric razors, appliances, etc.). I was scheduled to be the closing manager, again not uncommon, as I was a full time college student and weekends were fair game.

The first incident occurred after the rest of the management staff had left for the day. It was early afternoon and busy was as usual, until I noticed a shady looking fellow hovering around the photo area. I did as I was trained, and asked him if he needed any assistance. He politely declined and I continued about my business. Next thing I know, the fire alarm is ringing.

 

This too wasn’t all that uncommon, especially being attached to a hotel. It seems like a guest was always burning something in the provided kitchenette. So, as I was rallying up the employees and the customers to promptly evacuate the store as per protocol, I noticed the same shady fellow cleaning out the high dollar items behind the photo counter. I also noticed his friend standing by the fire alarm. The guys swept the photo center and took off, long before the cops or fire department arrived.

Oh well. Write up the report and move on. The fire department cleared us to reopen and we went about our day, resuming business as usual. It was early evening when the next incident occurred. I caught a young boy, probably about 12 or so, stuffing his shirt with DVD’s. I stopped him at the door and asked him to return them. He told me I better leave him alone.

“Give me back my merchandise. Those DVD’s aren’t yours,” I said.

He pushed me out of the way and gave a cue to his friends, waiting outside. Unfortunately for me, his friends were the shady characters from earlier. They drug me onto the busy sidewalk, (where no one stopped, by the way). I kicked at them, and I heard one say: “Get her into the alley.”

Oh hell no. I watch too much SVU to know what happens in alleyways. I struggled against them and broke free of their hold. As I turned to run back into the store, my face was met with a fist. I stumbled back into the lobby of the store, where my body gave in and collapsed. I was out for a few seconds, and when I got up, I found a group of people hovered around me.

“I’m sorry everyone! Please go about your day and thank you for shopping here,” I said.

I was helped up by a 17 year old cashier named Mary. She helped me to the office.

“I didn’t know you were such a big fan,” she said.

“Fan? What are you talking about?” I asked.

I was pretty dazed but I was sure she was the one not making sense.

“Didn’t you just faint because you saw the guys from Naughty by Nature?”

“What?”

Apparently, while everything was occurring outside the store, two of the members of the 90’s hip hop group were busy buying antacids and candy inside the store.

“So, I got jumped by some thugs and Naughty by Nature just stood by?” I asked.

“You got jumped?” Mary was truly surprised.

After several years of reflecting on the situation, I realize now that O.P.P. obviously stands for Other People’s Punches. Even in a potentially violent situation, the universe still finds a way to throw a curveball at me to make me laugh in the end. So, No. I am not down with O.P.P and am not part of the whole party.

Push Button for Stick Figure Dancing the Lawnmower

Nothing like waking up on a Sunday morning, desperate for a cup of coffee, only to realize you’re completely out of half and half, which by the way is not comprised of half of anything mixed with half of anything else, but that’s a story for another time. You could use milk, but it’s just not the same, and you really want that good fresh cup.

Cue my Sunday. Luckily, there isn’t anything in Richmond that isn’t within walking distance, like the convenience store at the end of my block. Despite the snow and wind, I put on my boots and bundled up, throwing a hat over my bed head. I was glad I slept in basic black pants that hid the fact that I was still technically in my pajamas. I started down the sidewalk in search of the Holy Grail in the form of a paper pint container.

The store is on the opposite side of the street and diagonal from my house, requiring me to cross two streets to get to it. No problem, right? Not necessarily. I get to the corner and see the sign that directs me to “push button for walk signal”.

 

push to walk

I stare at the black circular button in the center of a yellow box in the middle of the pole. I think, “Really?” I look at the cars stopped at the traffic light, making eye contact with their drivers, trying to determine if they are waiting for my inevitable decision.

If I don’t press the button, will the light never change? Will it change quicker if I press the button? Does the performance of the traffic light even rely on the button at all? I mean, who am I that I have been granted such power? Traffic control at the simple push of a button.

None of that is accurate. The button just triggers the red hand graphic across the street to change to an obviously racist (I mean why are all the people white?) depiction of a person walking when appropriate. That’s what it really does, right?

I’m still not convinced. I truly believe it’s some kind of hidden camera social experiment to see how many people fall for the button concept, thinking it has some bearing on anything at all. Think of it as the twist in the next M. Night Shyamalan film. For 90 to a hundred minutes you spend thinking traffic is moving steadily and the light is changing at a predetermined time. A pedestrian approaches, pushes the button, and the camera pulls back to see a group of scientists on another planet recording how many people push the button.

Not me. I’m not falling for it. I really really really like to follow directions, but I also don’t like to be the punch line to another person’s joke. As I stand on the corner of 5th and Main, the Village Pantry sign looming not so far in the distance, my creamy grand prize so close, I find myself at the intersection of my own personal anxieties vs. the socio-morality of basic human existence. To press or not to press….That is the question.

Welcome!

Thanks for checking out Everyday Ordinary. This is a new blog I’m launching, and will work in conjunction with Everyday Ordinary, Pure Comedy, my current project of a collection of linked short stories. This blog will address the non-fiction inspiration of each story.

Sounds, boring right? Well, that’s just the technical purpose of this page. It’s true purpose is for you to enjoy reading about a typical day in the life of someone who seeks to find the humor in all things.

My goal is that you will come here when you’re having a not so awesome day, and by the time you finish reading you will have laughed and realized not to take life so seriously. Because the universe has a hell of a sense of humor, and it’s dead set on making you the punchline.

Enjoy!

-N