Women I Know

Scrolling through my mind this week were women who have inspired me, paved the way for me, or just made me a better person by being themselves unapologetically, or sometimes apologetically. The writers, artists, and humanitarians. The scientists, teachers, and leaders. Today though, I remembered dozens that are rarely, if ever, mentioned in listicles. Although these Women came to me last, they are the ones who inspire me most often, the Women who keep me encouraged.

In my day-to-day life I’m grateful for the Woman who taught me how to be a Woman, how to work, and most importantly, how to stand up. Her devotion inspires me on multiple levels.

I’m inspired by Women who fight Autoimmune Diseases such as Lupus, Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Disease, Mixed Connective Tissue Disease, Hashimoto’s, Celiac, IBS, Grave’s Disease, AI Hepatitis, and several others. Many of these Women are raising children, keeping a home, working, then working some more. All of these Women are living life on their terms, pushing for better treatments, and pushing themselves every day. I tell myself that if they can do it, then so can I.

I’m inspired by the Moms I know because their well of energy on half the amount of sleep I get is mind-boggling. I have my grandson for one day and I’m whipped, done-in, Netflix ’til I fall asleep the next day. These Moms go from the crack of dawn until they finally put kids to bed, pick up around the house, and get to relax. At which point they fall asleep.

I’m inspired by the working Women I know because it isn’t always easy to meet expectations or to get out of bed when all you want to do is drink Nyquil and snuggle with the dog. These Women show up in every sense of the phrase.

When I look around me, in my community, in my family, I see inspiring and resplendent women everywhere. I see Women doing their best and generously giving to others. International Women’s Day 2018 birthed a thoughtful week filled with admirable Women.

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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.

 

Leave Joe Biden Alone

U.S. media and the Democratic Party are propelling Joe Biden toward a 2016 presidential bid that he does not want, but why?  Joe cusses when he doesn’t know the microphone is on, calls for wheelchair-bound Senator Chuck Graham to stand up and let the crowd see him, and extends condolences to the Irish Prime Minister on his mum’s death while she is alive and well.   Joe Biden is not smooth; he is genuine.  They will rip him to shreds, every gaffe in Joe’s past revisited by the G.O.P., who mistakenly admitted the Benghazi investigation was a political move to degrade Hilary Clinton’s support.  With Joe’s more than 40 years of public service, they are  likely collecting mud already.  He is a t.v. producer’s dream.

And how will he hold up after all he has endured?  In true Irish fashion, I imagine he will give his honest opinion, as he usually does, however when faced with stupidity he won’t hold back.  Joe’s colorful rhetoric is yet another potential distraction from the very real American concerns about costly education and healthcare, job creation, immigration, justice equality, environmental conservation, and gun-violence.  I voted for Joe in the 2008 presidential primary, eight long years ago.  In September Joe said in a speech that he was unsure if he had the emotional reserves for a campaign and told the Democratic National Committee that his “heart and soul are pretty banged up”.  I believe him.  Beau and Hunter, Joe’s sons, survived a car accident which killed his wife and baby girl in 1972.  While recuperating from broken bones that put him in a body cast, 4-year-old Beau often laid next to his brother Hunter who had a skull fracture and said, “Look at me, Hun.  I love you.”  Beau sat his dad down two months before he died from brain cancer this year and made Joe promise that he would be o.k.  Joe says Hunter, his wife Jill, and loving family and friends are supporting him and he has to get up every day or he would be letting them down; he’d be letting Beau down.  If Joe decides not to run for president, he is not letting America down, he is letting his heart mend, something only time and care can accomplish.

Dismantling Fear

Beyond survival, fear lurks not only in the dark corners, but also in the joyful moments, waiting for an invitation to withdraw serenity and instill anger and sadness.  Fear often wears a disguise of concern,  uses ego as a henchman, and usually surfaces as “what if?”.  What if I express an idea and people reject it/me?  What if I look stupid?  What if I fail or make a mistake (and look stupid)?  What if an accident or an illness takes away someone I love?  What if my health declines?  Thoughts run in gangs and possess a mob mentality.  I desire an upbeat, kind, and intelligent gang of thoughts to hang out with, but how do I control non-essential fear, the bully of my gang?

Fear lives in the amygdala, our base emotional center, where fear conditioning occurs and unconscious evolutionary memories are stored apart from complex reasoning in the cortex and higher learning in the hippocampus, .  The amygdala soaks up sensory input from our experiences and assigns emotional tags.  In similar situations we may feel threatened, fear triggered by a smell, a room, a voice, or an action.  Wired to react quickly to fear, I can easily damage relationships or sabotage my work by overreacting or withdrawing, two perfectly reasonable fear responses.

The amount of fear hiding out in my amygdala is understandable, thousands if not millions of memory bits collected long-ago during  times of abuse and rejection.  Understanding fear is a biological process, evolving with our experience, re-frames unreasonable fear responses as manageable.  Desensitization can minimize or even destroy unreasonable fears using exposure and relaxation exercises.  A rise in blood pressure and cortisol dumps dictate a two-pronged approach with relaxation at the center.  I am not addressing a phobia, but an imaginary fear, so I begin by imagining my worst fear.  Creating a list of fears aids in choosing the biggest, baddest and most destructive fear bully.

I can pick apart my fear of rejection, imagining a rejection letter, a negative blog comment, or an in-person query regarding what I do all day.  I can imagine “what if?” and write the story to its end, even if only in my thoughts.  Imploding from shame does not happen in real life, so I survive to write, live, and love another day.  Using diaphragmatic breathing and a memory of Lake Huron’s waves lapping the shore helps me release anxiety induced by my imaginings.  I also use exercise to reset my brain and confirm I am alive and safe, even if I do look stupid.  I’ll repeat my exposure and relaxation exercises until looking stupid or being rejected is unimportant and what may happen holds no power.

“Don’t give in to your fears. If you do, you won’t be able to talk to your heart.”
Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist