Musings on life’s changes in my 40’s

In the rearview mirror of hindsight I wish I would have allowed my loved ones to make a big deal of my 40th birthday.  Black decorations, a cane with a horn, and a tombstone cake would have set the stage for humorous acceptance of the inevitable life changes coming my way.

Instead, I adopted the popular idea that by denying and fighting said changes I would age “gracefully”, which to me meant very slowly.  I quickly discovered that physiology and culture trump denial and that it is a damn expensive effort to not look 40.  My joy diminished as my ass started to fall and Continue reading

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Mature Skincare on a Budget

Firstly, I’m trying on this “mature” label… unsure of the fit… wondering if I can make it sound sassy in context… perhaps during the 6th decade as I tailor it to suit. Secondly and more on topic, I’ve searched for skin care to meet my basic needs since I was 13. While pimples have been elbowed out by fine lines and discoloration, a non harmful skin care routine remained my unicorn for over 36 years. Red, embarrassing, and painful reactions followed my use of many popular skin care lines sold in the U.S. Can you imagine the amount of $$$ I’ve wasted on products that landed in a waste bin after just a few uses? A few years ago I settled on Aveeno Ultra Calming foaming cleanser and moisturizer as the least harmful (yet still stripping), most affordable option, until my skin changed again, perhaps due to autoimmune issues, hormonal issues, age, or a combination of all those things and a couple that haven’t occurred to me. I tried everything from diet to dermatology and found corticosteroid cream the only effective treatment, which is when I began researching products again. I knew I reacted to chemicals and needed more natural ingredients in my skin care, AND I needed my face clean to avoid breakouts, AND I needed to retain and add moisture.

Red and Reactive, Dry Beyond Belief

Our universe finally smiled on my skin care quest in November 2017, and took pity on my worsening irritation and painful skin. I hate trying new skin care products, and once again I was justified.

When I stumbled upon Renee on her YouTube channel Gothamista

during a search for low Ph facial cleansers, I had a raw itchy reaction across my cheeks and forehead that lasted for 2 weeks following use of CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser, which is lauded by 90% of users as the best thing since coconut oil and matcha tea. Renee’s minimalist style and my-sort-of-girlfriend demeanor made me watch a whole eight minute video about pH levels and 2-step cleansing. Add free and engaging skin care education, and I may be a loyal follower. To cross the moat of my cynicism, the products she recommended needed to pass a 30-day trial, but I was willing to take a risk based on reviews across multiple platforms.

I have hypersensitive combination skin, at times with extreme dryness/dehydration, which is dependant on weather and skin care products. Low pH cleansers were the next logical step for me, however as my CeraVe trial proved, ingredients also played a role. 7 is a neutral pH level, or the level of water/tears, and I wanted to trial a cleanser with a pH level of 5-5.5, between weak coffee and normal rainwater. Our skin’s pH is approximately 5 and the goal is not to disrupt our natural moisture production by cleansing with higher pH products.  Cleansers and toners with a pH between human blood (7.5 pH) and seawater (8 pH) stripped my skin, which in turn reacted with an overproduction of sebum. It was a perfect  skin care nightmare with few low pH products available in stores.

This low pH cleanser changed my skin and made me very happy: 

60 Days Using COSRX Cleanser with No Reaction

Toners with humectants played supporting roles

I went with a local seller of natural matcha green tea cleansing cream for 1st step removal of makeup and sebum, but not until I used the COSRX cleanser for more than 30 days because our skin cells turn over every 28 days and I wanted a true trial (I don’t wear makeup 5 days/wk). I also added moisturizing toners, a departure from the drying alcohol-based toners I grew up with and believed were necessary to oust that pesky sebum.

Moisturizing Toners that I pat on my skin with my fingers

I enjoy my skin care routine (finally!) and haven’t reacted to one product recommended by Renee at Gothamista, however I must warn you–skin care can be addicting.

Not Today, Death

“Don’t cry. Stop crying,” she commanded, as I trapped my sobs and focused on her words. “Don’t cry. You have one heart, one body, one life. YOU have to fight for it. Stop crying.” The Infectious Disease Doctor seemed exasperated with me, as if my tears were drops of weakness that made me sicker. Briefly I thought my illness must seem measly to the towering Serbian blonde. In that moment I felt so small in my hospital bed. It was day 4 and despite innumerable tests, no bacteria had been found despite the appearance of my lungs on x-rays and a CT. “Maybe you aren’t finding anything because RA is doing this to me.” “You have fever and pneumonia, all signs of infection. This is what we are treating with antibiotic, ” she waved her hand at an IV bag hanging from one of the poles next to my bed. An oxygen machine ringed in pale blue gurgled and hissed in my left ear. The night before a child with big eyes stood at my bedside wearing a dress in the same shade. Intuition said I should keep that to myself.

When I created this blog 5 years ago I was 44, and fresh off losing a tough, unfair battle for my health and career. I’d been fighting since I was a kid, for myself and sometimes for those who I thought needed a champion, and I was spent. In hindsight, other people, especially those in power, not only preferred women who didn’t make waves, but rewarded them for not fighting. Maybe if I adopted a quieter, more graceful approach during the 5th decade, life would prove less bruising. In any case, I needed time to heal. What I didn’t know is that my fighting spirit would one day be the difference between life and death.

Lying in that hospital bed a few weeks ago, I feared going “…gently into that good night”, dying of pneumonia as the poet Dylan Thomas did, but after 5 years of curbing my fighting nature I was sorely out of shape. There are dreams I haven’t realized because I laid ambition aside, trips I haven’t taken, and works I haven’t written. Death takes who it can snatch away, especially if one cannot fight. Medical professionals are often champions when we are weak, their educated treatment hitting a bullseye and chasing away mortality. And then, there is luck and those who rage; “… rage against the dying of the light” – Dylan Thomas. One physician listened to my mumbles about rheumatoid arthritis as I was sliding near intubation, the ICU, and a large sucking mudhole next to my bed (According to a study published by the American College of Chest Physicians, every day a patient is delirious brings a 20 percent increased risk of prolonged hospitalization and a 10 percent increased risk of death). Once he consulted with my rheumatology office and hung a high dose bag of steroids, the mudhole disappeared. For me, rage didn’t look like the screaming, swing at the fences anger of my younger years. It looked liked grasping, holding on and repeating my assertion that RA affects the lungs, despite feeling small and weak. A reward for my tenacity is more time to write and dig my toes in the sand. Love is sweeter now, too.

My sixth decade begins in a couple of months, time enough to regain my strength, embrace my true passionate self, and resolve to live as loudly as I want. I understand now that I don’t have time to waste. Death is funny that way.

 

The Sun Rises on ArtPrize Nine

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She may be my favorite for today.

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Isn’t she beautiful?

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Safety Swimmers in the Grand River

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Play for Peace is by a Chicago artist. A lovely young man explained the piece to me and said he loves our city.

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Fascinating and a bit creepy

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Role Play is a tribute to the power, strength and resilience of women

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Seafarer

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Love bunny

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Informative piece chocked full of artsy history

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Spider sculptures

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Spirit of Freedom represents the power to choose, to respond, to change.

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Love the messages on these old beer crates.

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This piece is accompanied by a dance troupe during busier hours.

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Kids enjoyed rocking in these chairs.

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Woodburning

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Sticks for hitting the chimes are in the tin bucket.

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Always a favorite artist; this years’ theme is our oceans.

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Wonder how they anchored them in the river…

Are Trump’s Tweets the Newest Pavlovian Bell?

I felt a bit out of control yesterday,as if threatened, while in actuality I sat in the cool comfort of my suburban home, the only threat being the heat index outdoors. Disclaimer – I am an empath, ’nuff said. While I don’t subscribe to network TV, I admit I am a social media addict.  I write, and human contact isn’t an everyday occurrence, and this works well for me.  But after yesterday, I may just become a hermit.

Most of us are familiar with Pavlov’s dog and the conditioned response.  For those who are not, the short version goes: a dog will associate a neutral stimulus with food until that stimulus is always present at the time of feeding (like the can opener, or the crinkle of a bag).  At that point, the can opener becomes a conditioned stimulus.  Pavlov proved the concept of conditioned response by making his dog salivate every time he rang a bell (the dog believed it would be fed).

Over the past two years, Donald Trump tweeted a ton, and every tweet received press.  In the summer of 2015, in large part due to his provocative tweets, Trump received ten times the press of Hillary Clinton, and more than 20 times the press of his closest primary rival. No press is bad press, and in this case, the press and comedians helped elect President Trump through increased exposure, which has the effect of normalizing an idea.

Not only Americans, but people the world over lap up the President’s tweets like southern gravy and take to social media to either support or fight against what he said, dipping our psyches in conflict day after day, month after month.  So many of these conflicts are values-based, with no hope of changing anyone’s mind, yet we try anyway because core values are vital. The conflicts escalate because conflict hijacks the amygdala while the prefrontal cortex shuts down along with our ability to consider other perspectives.  Until scientists can prove the effects of prolonged exposure to Donald Trump’s tweets and the ensuing conflict, I am jumping off the tweet train because I hate feeling manipulated and now that my brain is working properly I can see the President’s tweets about football players and the NFL for what they are – a fun game for one of the most powerful men on earth.

Owning Disease Shame – One Story

I began this post several times, always with a goal of seeking your understanding.  Feelings as words fall flat, so I will simply relay the story of when I started to sense that I was responsible for a disease diagnosis and could somehow control it, and will end with a recent encounter supporting that illusion.

I managed rheumatoid arthritis along with working full-time due to an open-minded and kindly opportunistic Residency Program Director, the only person at work I revealed a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis to, at first.  During those first two years of RA, I excelled by working from home when I flared, sometimes as often as a couple of days a week during winter.  I spoke at national conferences, was elected to the board of a professional organization, and enjoyed the respect of my peers.  While I needed more rest, and at times the evening commute tortured my hands, I studied during off time and became one of the first in my field to earn a certification.  Biannual 360-degree reviews resulted in praise, pay increases, and even a bonus for the certification.  It would be remiss of me not to mention my diligent Chief Residents who made life easier, most of the time.  As challenging as it was, I had RA handled.

Then a new Program Director came on the scene, a new boss with a multitude of “better” ideas.  Within a month The Idea Guy notified Human Resources that I was ill.  He also sought big immediate changes during recruitment season, the busiest time of the year for competing medical residencies.  For 10 years I worked overtime during recruitment.  My new boss needed me on site  by 7:30a until at least 5p, yet I often stayed past 6p.  The RA flared and I started to limp and type painfully when I finally submitted a reasonable accommodation request under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  I mistakenly thought my past success validated my ability to perform; it was logical from my perch.  After my Rheumatologist’s recommendation and 2 months of diving into my medical records Human Resources determined that being on site was a job requirement, no work from home would be allowed forthwith.  All Residency Coordinators received new job descriptions requiring our signatures.  Within 8 weeks of the new Program Director’s arrival I was feverish with swollen joints and deep body aches I hadn’t felt before.  I tried harder as my new boss became more and more unhappy with my primary focus on recruitment.  He sought my apt attention for a minimum of 2 hours per day as he spoke and my task list grew.  Hiding my pain and frustration became impossible.  My Rheumatologist completed FMLA paperwork for intermittent leave and I asked if I could work at home on those days I could not make it in to the office for a full day.  Human Resources denied my request and began asking for re-certification of the FMLA paperwork every 30 days in spite of the physician’s certification that my disease was permanent.  It is allowable under the law and cost me $25 every month.

All of this happened between August 1 and December 10, the date I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.  I unabashedly wailed, “I CAN’T BE DISABLED!”.  Those few moments are indelibly etched on my heart and mind, both my hopelessness and the doctor’s compassion are a part of me now.  This was where my tenacity had landed me, with a prescription for an 11-week rehabilitation program and another for just a few Xanax to get me past the truth.  The story continues with a few months of me righteously (and pathetically) sacrificing my health trying to regain what I had lost.

You may think I am being vengeful 5 years later when I finally got up the gumption to reveal their behavior, but that’s not it.  For  purely selfish reasons and storage space I forgave a while back, but those days left behind a slime of shame that is reinforced with big and small hurts regularly.  The way to rid myself of shame is to own it, so here it is.  I cannot fully control Rheumatoid Arthritis or Fibromyaglia no matter how hard I try.

Waiting in the dentist’s chair last week I heard a conversation across the hall, the two women’s loud voices as clear as if they were in the room with me.  They began with a tirade against welfare, “except for those who really need it, of course”.  Then I heard, “But you know where they could really save some money?  If they actually looked deeper into these people collecting disability benefits.  At least half of them are faking and just sitting on their butts while we foot the bill.”  The other woman responded, “Yeah, I know.  They’re just lazy and don’t want to work.  I started working at 16…”.  I tuned out at that point.

 

Liars – A Short Story

Never shoulda told her.  She said nothing bad would happen.  Out of all of them, Linny’s Mom is the only one ever asked about the marks on my hands, the only one ever brushed my hair out of my eyes to look at me.  She promised I’d be safe if I told her the truth.  Instead, I stood up and lowered my jeans right there in Linny’s kitchen and watched their surprise, then horror, as they took in the welts on my thighs.  Linny’s Mom cried, “Good Lord!”, and enveloped me in a warm cushy hug that felt just like I’d imagined.  I closed my eyes until she let me go and told me to pull up my pants.  Linny is so lucky, I thought for the millionth time.  My eyes followed her mom as she wiped mascara streaks off her cheeks with both hands, sniffed long and deeply, then picked up her phone.  Linny slid off her stool and softly took my hand in hers.  She shook a little, like I do when Mama’s boyfriend is in the room.  Probably never seen her Mom cry like that.  “Yes, this is Mara Kivich at 1335 Lafayette Street.  I need to talk to someone about a child who’s being abused’, Linny’s Mom said to who I guessed was the cops.  She turned her back to us then mumbled, “Uh-huh… no, bruises and welts from a belt, oh… ok.”

Cops never did anything when they came to our house.  Mama always said we were fine, it was just “a yelling match”.  Dave was usually gone by the time they got there, slamming out the door like somebody did something to him instead of the other way around.  The cops wrote down Mama’s stories in little notebooks they flipped closed with one hand.  She had slipped on a wet floor and ran into a cabinet door that hit her right under her eye or stumbled on our steep basement stairs while carrying a laundry basket.  The fingerprint bruises on her neck were never asked about or explained and they never asked me anything, either.  An officer often said something like, “We want to make sure you’re safe, Mrs. Batch.  Please give us a call if you need anything”, or “We’re here to help if you need us”, and gave Mama another of their cards.  Upstairs I rehearsed what I would have said if they asked and pressed my face against the window glass until each cruiser turned the corner.

A wide shaft of sunlight fell across the kitchen island and landed on our feet while Linny’s Mom listened to the cops and mumbled a word once in a while.  Not for the first time I stared at a Fruit Loops box on top of a giant silver refrigerator with Linny’s drawings, spelling tests, and pictures stuck to the front with magnets shaped like stars.  They never ran out of Fruit Loops and there were juice boxes and grapes that Linny could just take from the fridge whenever she wanted.  My gaze moved to the Cookie Monster cookie jar on the counter.  I wished we were still scooted up to the island dipping our cookie halves in milk after scraping sugary filling off them with our two front teeth.  My stomach flipped while a “you ruined it” chant taunted me.  I never shoulda told.  Linny’s Mom hung up the phone and looked at me, her sagging shoulders and wrinkled forehead said it before she opened her mouth.  “They are going to get in touch with your Mom this afternoon, Sweetie.  I’m..I’m sure they’ll get this all straightened out.”  Linny dropped my hand, and ran to her Mom, who folded her into her arms just as she had done with me ten minutes ago.  I felt alone, the same relentless chant circling in my head.  “I’m…uh”, I stammered and looked away from Linny and her Mom, “gonna go”.  “”You can stay for dinner, Cam”, Linny’s Mom said in a weird high voice, like nothing unusual had happened, like my Mom often sounded.   She let go of Linny, but Linny’s eyes stayed closed and her arms remained locked around her Mom’s waist.  “That’s ok.  I have to ask a day ahead of time”, I reminded her.  Her arms circled Linny again as she nodded.  “Thank you, Mrs. Kivich.  Bye, Linny”, I said and walked quickly down a hallway lined with smiling vacation photos and out the front door.  Tears welled in my eyes, but I would not cry.

For a couple of days after a whippin’ the rules were looser, but getting home more than 15 minutes late was chancy, so when Dave called “Cam get in here!” as I came through the door I thought I’d had it.  “You almost missed it!  Your boy is about to fight for the featherweight title.  Come ‘ere.”  He patted the couch cushion next to him.  I forgot about Linny and her Mom as I watched Conor McGregor hammer another wiry guy on the mat, relentless until the referee pulled him off.  “Daaaamn!”  Dave threw his arm around my shoulders and squeezed.  “You see that, little girl?  One punch!  Bam!  Dude’s on the mat and what does he do?  What does he do, Cam?”  “He keeps beating on him ‘til he wins!” I yelled and bounced my sore butt off the cushion as the new champ strutted around the octagon, an Irish flag held high between his bloody fists.  “Look at me”, Dave said.  I pulled my eyes away from the T.V. and tried to look in the black pools of his eyes. My smile faded.   “Don’t you ever let anybody think you’re weak, whatever you gotta do.  Your dude there,” he pointed toward the screen, “he just showed the world not to fuck with him.”  He took a drag off his cigarette, exhaled in my face, and laughed.  “You understand?”  No, not really.  I rarely understood Dave’s wisdom.  I understood anger though, and Conor McGregor exploded with fury in the ring.  I nodded my head.  “Yeah, I get it.  No mercy.”  Dave smiled and stubbed out his cigarette in a sparkling clean glass ash tray.  My mother washed them and sprayed air freshener around every night before going to bed.  You’d never even know a smoker lived here.

When Mom came home she didn’t seem any different, just said “Hi, Baby”, but nothing about the cops or Linny’s Mom.  Dave left for the bar after we ate goulash and watched the news.  Sometimes he came in my room kinda sniffling after he got back and woke me up to say he was sorry.  He said if I learned to behave he wouldn’t have to whip me, if I would just be good he wouldn’t have to be so hard on me.  I always told him I would be better, and tried to figure out how until I fell back asleep.

Linny wasn’t at the bus stop the next morning, so I sat in our seat by myself and played who-lives-in-that-house.  I liked it more when Linny and I went back and forth and made up stories about people in the big white house with peeling paint and pink roses growing up one side or the triangle-shaped yellow house with a huge golden dog stretched out in the driveway.  Linny was silly and our stories much funnier than the ones I made up by myself.  She walked into class and sat down just as the bell rang, but Linny wouldn’t look at me.  I wanted to whisper to her, but Mr. Malcolm did not play around and he’d take away my recess if he heard.  All morning long I stared at the back of her head.  “Cammie Batch”, the teacher said, “please use “intention” in a sentence”.  He seemed irritated.  I looked down at my desk and tried to remember what intention meant, but all I could think of was going to Linny’s house for Oreos after school.  Mr. Malcolm put his hands finger to finger in a steeple like he did when someone else took a while to answer, like he could wait all day.  Normally I was good at this, but today my words disappeared.  Finally, the recess bell rang.  “Cammie, come to my desk”, Mr. Malcolm said as I watched Linny’s head disappear into the hall with everyone else’s.  After Mr. Malcolm reviewed the word intention (it was nothing but a hope, really) and told me to pay better attention that afternoon, I raced down the hall and out the doors.  There she was, right outside the building.  “Oh good, you waited”, I said.  “Cause I have something to tell you”, she said and shuffled her feet, her arms crossed tightly.  “I can’t be friends with you anymore.  My Daddy and Mommy said so.”  She looked relieved.