Sunday, March 21, 2010

Medical Abnormalities

I am not an old lady. I have to keep reminding myself this, as my body every so often attempts to prove me wrong. Recently I've had two maladies that one would be more likely to associate with an 83 year old, not a 33 year old. They are both rather gross, so the squeamish among you might want to bow out, along with anyone who wants to look me in the eye with a straight face ever again. So that leaves the complete strangers, I suppose. Well, you've been warned.

The first condition started as a pregnancy side-effect, and after giving birth four times, I've learned that most of the side-effects are now my body's trained response. Ugh, I can barely bring myself to say the word out loud, so I'll whisper it: I've got (hemorrhoids). There, now I've got that out of the way. Not only is it a horrible, painful affliction, but it's also a painfully horrible word. I mean, look at it! Those double r's followed by the h? I can't stand it. And I can't spell it to save my life. If the illness itself has to be so detestable, why can't it get a nice, pretty word to make the situation easier? Love-iculitis Floweropathy. Or something like that.

The other issue I've had, and this one just popped up recently, is boils. Seriously, boils. Does that not scream 80-year-old man to you? Boils, in combination with my aforementioned problem, are more appropriate for some old guy named Walter who wears hearing aids and grows hair out of his nose. Boils. What the heck! If you don't know, and I'd actually be surprised if you did (since I have very few 80-year-old readers), a boil is basically when bacteria infects a hair follicle and travels under the skin. It swells and puffs and eventually looks like every teenagers worst acne nightmare.

Why do our bodies go haywire like this? These totally random, unexpected things go wrong and bam! You're in pain. And if it's something gross or female-related, you can't even whine about it to your friends without making them very uncomfortable. (Again, sorry, but you were warned.) I like watching medical shows with bizarre illnesses that have weird names, but I never want to BE one of those people.

What we need is more doctors like Dr. House. See, he wouldn't just assume that my random old-guy illnesses are normal. He'd know instinctively that they were related, two symptoms of the same illness. And then the whole team would get to work, trading witty banter while I go through a battery of tests on expensive machines that never seem to be needed by other doctors. House would realize that my depression is actually a neurological component of the same illness and add it to the list of symptoms. Someone would break into my house and swab things with q-tips while mocking my lifestyle. Meanwhile, back at the hospital I would have had a seizure during an MRI, been given a spinal tap, and vomited blood. House would demand Cuddy approve a ridiculously dangerous procedure while making at least three innuendos, and I would have either kidney or liver failure and possibly a heart attack. By then, I've been given 18 different medicines for all the different theories they've had, but that's okay because none of them have any side effects whatsoever. Right before I'm going to die, House will be talking to Wilson and cut off mid-sentence, mouth hanging open and eyes glazing, as he realizes that the reason I'm dying is because my mother went to Borneo when she was pregnant with me and got a rare tropical disease but the only way I could have caught it is if my father was Puerto Rican, which he isn't! So he'd announce to my family that my father's not my real father, oh and that I'm really a hermaphroditic meth dealer and now my husband's going to leave me, but at least I'll be able to walk out of the hospital after a round of antibiotics and be good as new!

If a person's going to have a medical abnormality, does it have to be gross and embarrassing? Can't it at least be good tv drama?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I'm The Victim Here

The class I'm taking is technically called "Creative Process and Imaginative Writing," but sometimes I think it's real name is "Figuring Out Stuff About Yourself While You Pretend To Write About Other People." I can't believe how much of myself is brought into these fictional situations, and sometimes the result ain't pretty.

I'll give you an example that's been churning in my head for weeks now. We start each class with a timed writing exercise - 10 minutes of writing from a prompt and the only rule is that you write continuously for those ten minutes, no stopping to think or cross out, just keep your pen moving. The idea is that when your pen has to keep moving, you don't have time to self-censor or edit or say "that's dumb" to every idea that pops into your head. I love this concept. As a person who tends toward perfectionism (or at least, towards being embarrassed when something isn't perfect, which is frequent) my internal critic works overtime when I'm writing. Especially trying to write fiction, I can barely hear the words I'm trying to write over the relentless mocking going on in my head. So writing fast gives me permission to silence the critic and write whatever pops into my mind. It's very liberating and frequently surprises me with the direction my writing takes.

A few weeks ago, we spent about 45 minutes doing a series of timed writes that built on top of each other. We started by writing a list of our roles - mine included mother, wife, student, daughter, etc. Next, we wrote a list of the opposites of those roles - opposite of mother was child, or childless woman, or father; the opposite of worshipper was sinner, or preacher, or athiest; you get the idea. Then we wrote a list of people that push our buttons - mine included mouth breathers, whiners, interrupters, drama queens, and preachy liberals. What we ended up with were several lists of different kinds of characters. We picked one from each group and wrote a paragraph or two of them talking about themselves, trying to define who each of these people are. Finally, we put the three characters in a broken elevator and had them interact with each other.

My elevator ended up containing a preachy liberal, a childless businesswoman, and a stay at home mother (with her kids). Here's where it got interesting. The preachy liberal judged the mother for driving a gas-guzzling SUV and wasting the earth's resources by having so many children. The businesswoman was irritated by the crying baby on the elevator interrupting her important business call. And the mother - she just took it! She didn't stand up for herself, or be assertive at all, she felt embarrassed for having inconvenienced other people with her loud kids and wished she could disappear.

Are you seeing what I'm seeing? I took the role that I most closely associate with myself and TURNED HER INTO A VICTIM! I could have written this any way I wanted, from any point of view, with any conflict, and what came out of my pen was a worn-down, exhausted, embarrassed mother. Is this how I really see myself? I don't think so - I know that I'm more than just the one label of "mother." But it is quite possibly how I view that role, something to be picked on, to be looked down on, to be considered "lesser." I was shocked. I mean, sure, I've got issues with being a stay at home mom. Sometimes I think being in this house every single solitary day is bound to suck the soul right out of my body. But that's just sometimes. Most of the time, I'm good - aren't I?

After the exercise, we discussed what we learned from it. I told the class that I wrote my role as the victim without meaning to, and wondered if that revealed an ambivalence toward that role in my life. My teacher told me that my goal now is to write a story with the mother as the hero. And that's where my mind has been ever since. How to write a story where the stay at home mom is looked up to, celebrated, honored for what she does. I have to say, I'm completely stuck. I've got nothing. Sure, I could cobble together a decent plot with a mom at the center, but I don't think I could get the honest emotion behind it that would make it believable. Maybe it's because I just don't buy it myself.

So my goal now is to change my thinking about my roles and write a story with a mother as the hero. Since most of the mothers I know lead the same kind of lives as I do (i.e. slightly boring - no offense intended) I'm going to have to jazz things up a bit. Maybe she's a mother by day but when the kids go to bed - she's a crime fighting super-hero! Or she solves murder mysteries while cheering at her son's soccer game! Or she realizes that she's married to an alien who has taken on a human form in order to procreate and make the next generation of human/alien hybrids that are poised to take over the world! Oh yeah, I can make a mom a hero, I just have to stretch my imagination a teeny, weeny bit.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Run For It, Marty!

You can tell when spring is coming in Utah - as soon as the icy sidewalks finally melt, they are crowded with athletic, spandex-clad runners. The die-hards don't quit in the winter, of course. They trade their spandex for some high-tech runner clothes with names like Chill Buster 3000 and take perverse pleasure in how many degrees below zero they can withstand. Although how they run in crampons is beyond me.

My goal this year is two fold: 1) Do hard things and 2) Do things I've never done before. On the "hard things" list is dieting and various other willpower-requiring activities. The "never done" list is much more interesting and diverse, like learn how to play the piano and get something I've written published. A few things fit both categories, so on Saturday I tackled one: run a 5k.

Okay, so "run" might be stretching the truth a little bit. I did run, for a few minutes, but that was only because I got to the starting line just as everyone was taking off and I still had to pin my number on my shirt. The running was just to catch up to the pack; I didn't want to get lost before the race even started.

I was talked into the 5k by my friend and lately gym-partner Treasa. When I first saw her six years ago, I knew at once I wasn't going to like her. She was beautiful, thin, and perfectly dressed - I immediately classified her as "too cool to be my friend." (Seriously, how old was I, thirteen? Sheesh.) Anyhow, once I actually got to know her, I saw that she was all of those things PLUS one of the nicest people I've ever met. I've been trying to get to the gym more often so when she asked if I was interested in this 5k, I thought it would be a great motivator. I had over a month to train - if I followed a rigorous schedule, I could surely run 3.1 miles, right?

Okay, group, feel free to laugh along with me and the whole "rigorous schedule" thing. I made it to the gym about 6 times that month. Don't get me wrong, it's an improvement and I'm not discounting that at all. Going to the gym, even 6 times, makes it onto my "do hard things" list. However, it does not get a person ready to run 3 miles. Or even two miles. Or even from the parking lot to the starting line.

I could walk, though, so it was game on. I picked up Treasa and we drove to Provo. I parked, we went inside the school to collect our numbers and our swag (free water bottle and a pedometer, cool!) then made it outside just in time to hear the starting gun go off. We pinned our numbers to our new t-shirts and took off. And that was the last I saw of Treasa. When we caught up with the pack I was so winded that I started walking with the stragglers and waved Treasa to go on ahead. My only thought was "I am SO out of shape!"

So there I was, at the very tail end of the string of runners. I was basically alone, most of the time. There was a lumbering, 230+ pound woman in pajama pants ahead of me, but I passed her at the beginning and was left alone with my thoughts. My thoughts had an ipod to keep them company, which is always a good thing - when my thoughts are left to themselves, who knows what kind of crazy blog entry they'll come up with. Most of my thoughts were centered on the act of running itself. What is it about running that people are drawn to so magnetically that it'll make them get out of bed before the sun and pound the pavement in freezing cold/outrageously hot weather?

I remember being made to run in gym class; man, I hated it. The day we ran the mile was always the most dreaded day of the year for me. While I was never fat before I got pregnant, I was also never fit. The last time I had to run the mile, I gave it a good shot for the first little bit, and then I got a cramp in my side and started walking. Every time I passed a gym teacher, they'd yell at me to start running, so I would, but when I got to the far side of the track I'd start walking again. I ended up doing a 16 minute mile. It only occurred to me as an adult to question why it mattered how fast I ran. Why the heck didn't I just walk the whole thing to begin with? I'll tell you why: authority. Someone in charge told me to do something, and I did it. Teachers especially were always people I needed to please; maddeningly, even gym teachers who I would never, ever, in a million years be able to please. As far as I'm concerned, one of the best things about being an adult is never taking a stupid gym class again.

Granted, that is at complete odds with what I was doing at the moment I had that thought - I was running (okay, walking) voluntarily, and way more than the required mile. Plus, now I pay hundreds of dollars a year to go to a gym in order to torture myself on more expensive equipment than I could afford at my own house. Growing up is way more complicated than anyone ever told me.

At some point the runners ahead of me hit the halfway point and turned around, so I got a good look at everyone. They all looked like regular people, the occasional buff college guy but everyone else was just like me, only fitter. I felt bad for being at the very end of the line; the competitive part of me just hates, HATES losing, even when it was something like this where I had absolutely no expectation of doing any better than I was. Even so, I wanted to tell everyone as they blew past me, "Hey, I'm one of you! Look, I've got this shirt on that wicks! And my watch, it's a Garmin! I totally belong here!" But what I was really saying was, "I am an insecure person who is trying anyhow. Be gentle."

I felt pretty good the whole time. Every so often I'd look down at my ultra-cool Garmin watch and notice that my pace was a little slow, so I'd pick it up a bit. The whole race was over so fast (46 minutes, just slightly better than my high school time) that I wasn't prepared when I rounded the last corner and saw the finish line up ahead. Out of nowhere, the woman behind me, the one I passed so long ago that I had totally forgotten about, she takes off running and blows right by me! I was stunned! No one told me we're supposed to sprint at the end even though we were merely walking the rest of the time! So just like that, I'm back to being dead last. Crap.

My saving grace came in the form of a 7 year old boy I had given some encouragement to earlier in the race. His dad was way past him when the boy decided he was done and sat down on the curb. I talked to him for a minute and walked with him until his dad came back for him. They were just ahead of me at the finish line. I ran up behind them and stayed there until we crossed the finish line. My thinking was, if anybody saw me come in dead last, they'll think I'm with that kid and I was running slow for his sake. Genius! When I told Ryan about my brilliant plan, he nearly fell over laughing. "You mean you made up a family to disguise how slow you are?" Yes, in fact, I did, not that it mattered, and didn't we already go over the "I'm insecure" thing? Besides, apparently there was a 9 year old girl behind me the whole time that I never even saw, so it's a moot point.

All in all, I enjoyed myself. It felt cool to be doing something challenging. I will definitely do it again, hopefully though with a little more training under my belt so I can actually run. And maybe I'll bring my own kids with me, so I don't have to come up with an impromptu family at the last minute. After all, someone's got to come in last, and I still don't want it to be me.