Going In Circles

A snapshot of how I was feeling over a year ago…

How do I explain what I’ve been feeling lately? In a nutshell, I guess I could say that I’ve been depressed. It’s not as though I haven’t experienced this before. We all have those moments. But usually these moments are predicated by the dissolution of some promising relationship or the feeling that I’m stuck in my life. Neither of these scenarios applies to me right now. In fact, now that I’ve picked myself up and moved to another city (granted, Philly is not far from NYC but it feels as though I’m in a totally different part of the country), I know I can do this again.

I can think of a few reasons that I haven’t adjusted to Philly as well as I would have wanted. It’s not that I’m lonely. I’m not. One of the benefits of being a corporate citizen is that I’ve met many other corporate comrades who also relocated here for a shot at a solid career trajectory. We have become the bachelorette society of Philly. Last night we went out for authentic Greek food for dinner. (Check out Zorbas if you’re ever in Philly. It’s off the beaten path just a bit (a good thing as far as I’m concerned), inexpensive, and features simple, high quality food. However, I would skip the chicken souvlaki if I were you. That’s too cliché. Go for the pork. In fact, I think that’s a good rule in general. When in doubt, always go for the pork. (I suppose I should apologize to my Jewish brethren for this piece of advice, but truthfully most of my people are non-kosher, American-assimilated, pork-eating Jews. Amen!) Anyway, when I first thought to make reservations at this fine establishment it seemed that only four of us would be in. But then others chimed in that they wanted to join. I happily increased the reservation to six people. A few days later, I heard from other members of the crew that they wanted to join. The day we were scheduled to dine together I had to call to change the reservation to eight people. I could hear the agitation on the other end of the phone when I made this request. I was put on hold for a minute and was then told that the restaurant could accommodate us but we would all have to squeeze in together at our table for six. “No problem,” I said. “We’re a tight group.” An hour before launch, I was told that another member of our group was planning to attend. (Truthfully, I should have known this since she and I first discussed checking out this neighborhood together. But when I sent out my text asking for a confirmation she did not respond. Oops.) So we showed up at the restaurant, where we were originally supposed to be a group of four, and then a group of six, to eight and finally nine. That’s a whole lot of souvlaki! Back in NYC, everybody is so busy trying to plot their world takeover that I’d be lucky to get three people to agree to have dinner together on any one evening. So the fact that my friends and I took over an entire section of a restaurant on a regular Saturday night is a pretty remarkable thing.

But let’s not stop at that. My friends and I were quite the spectacle. I think the highlight might have been when a member of our crew suddenly began to slurp her wine with a straw that was shaped like a penis. Being the compulsive person that I am, I grabbed the straw and tried to fix the testicle replicas that were grossly lopsided. (I’m still not sure why I was so insistent that our precious straw penis should be as true-to-life as possible. I could speculate that this fixation was somehow a response to former sexual frustration, but I’d rather chalk it up to run-of-the-mill OCD tendencies.) As I was trying to force the testicles back into position (men: be warned), the waiter appeared behind me to ask if we needed anything. In horror, I nearly dropped the penis straw to the floor. The waiter remarked, “That is quite interesting. Please, proceed.”– although I usually prefer the kind that are wider in girth and battery-operated.)

My friends and I then proceeded to a couple of neighborhood bars, where everyone continued to indulge in a variety of alcoholic choices – everyone but me, that is. This whole week I’ve been plagued with an inexplicable vertigo. So I chose not to consume alcohol. The vertigo is a new symptom for me. When I was in my early 20s I used to get attacks of vertigo but they would come and go in a matter of seconds. Lately I’ve had near daily attacks of tinnitus, where one of my ears starts ringing. The attacks stop me in my tracks. I just cover my ear and wait for the ringing to go away, usually in about 30 seconds. After the attack it takes a couple of minutes for hearing to be restored in the ear that was ringing. But that was the only inner ear problem I was having until about a month ago when I had a sudden attack of motion sickness. I was in the car with a colleague and friend of mine after watching a “day-after” July 4th fireworks show in suburbia. My friend drove me to the train station after the show so I could get back to the city. On her way, she got a bit turned around and made a few sudden swerves. I immediately was consumed by an attack of vertigo and I pleaded with my friend to let me out of the car. She didn’t understand what I was feeling so she continued to try and find the entrance to the train station. All I wanted to do was lie still, but she thought that getting me home was the priority at that point so she was determined to get me to the train. Finally, she parked near the train station and asked if I wanted to wait in a nearby bar for the train to come. We walked into the bar and I ran to the ladies’ room, where I got sick. I emerged from the ladies’ room and told my friend that there was no way in hell I could get on the train. She didn’t understand but nonetheless offered to let me stay in her guest room overnight. I accepted. When we got back to her house, I threw myself down on the floor and started moaning. My friend told me the carpet wasn’t clean and she asked if I wanted to move. I did not. I could not. I stayed in that position pretty much the entire night and grabbed an early train out in the morning. I got home and got in bed. I did not emerge until the following morning, when I was due to grab a train to NYC to meet a friend who was traveling with me to Belize for vacation. God only knows how I did it, but I did. My travel partner is a reiki master and she administered healing energy to me the entire time we traveled from JFK airport to our jungle lodge in Belize. Within a few days of my arrival in Belize, the dizziness dissipated entirely. I quickly wrote off the episode as a consequence of too much partying and caffeine. In fact, I Googled, “Meniere’s Disease,” with which I was diagnosed when I had my initial attacks of dizziness. It sounded like exactly what I was dealing with, tinnitus and all. Yup, it’s just another idiopathic and degenerative condition that is thought to have some autoimmune etiology. Dear God: I know I love to eat pork but so do many Jews and I don’t see you punishing them for it. So I refuse to believe that you have abandoned me because of my palate (which, some might argue, is actually God-given.) If you’re still on speaking terms with me, I need to ask a favor of you: Can I please have a condition that is not idiopathic? Really, this is getting annoying. I remember when I fell while on vacation in the Bahamas and I was certain that I broke my knee. Nobody believed me at the time because I was still walking (granted, not gracefully). Look: When you have a nonspecific autoimmune condition that can’t be treated, your pain and discomfort threshold is through the roof. That doesn’t mean you don’t feel it. It just means that you push through it. So when, a month after my fall, a physiatrist sent me for an MRI that confirmed I fractured my knee cap, I was actually overjoyed. This is what medical care is supposed to offer. You have a symptom: You get a diagnosis and a treatment plan. Simple, right? I never understand why people get so depressed over an acute injury that will ultimately heal. In fact, when I was finally sent to an orthopedic doctor to evaluate my knee, his nurse remarked that I seemed way too happy for someone who had a fractured knee and she suggested that it must not be a bad injury. What an idiot. It is these types of attitudes that have produced a somewhat adversarial relationship between the healthcare delivery system and me. Hence, I often take matters into my own hands. I call out orders for prescriptions to my doctors as needed. For example, I know that when I travel I will need to take with me an arsenal of antibiotics for possible GI issues and steroids in the event that I’m attacked by a fleet of mosquitos (this was indeed a very useful remedy to have when I was in Belize). Since I tend to be my own caretaker, I treated myself for my dizziness by recommending to myself avoidance of caffeine and alcohol consumption, purported to be the most common triggers of attacks. And that treatment plan worked well — until this week.

I’ve also been trying to lose a few pounds. I believe in taking control of my self-image. If I think I’m too heavy, then I should change it or stop my complaining. I can’t run five miles a day so I can’t eat as much as people who do. I substituted breakfast and snacks with smoothies or crudités and hummus for a few days, and I continued to eat fish and lean meat and dairy for protein (hence, pork souvlaki). (Oh! Speaking of dairy — I had this amazing “bouyardi” last night. It’s a roasted feta cheese and tomato dish. Go to Zorba’s and get it! It’s ridiculously good! If you can’t get to Philly, just use Google to find a Greek place in your area that offers this deliciousness.) I also increased the number of times per week that I go for a swim. I do a bunch of laps and sit-ups off the side of the pool each time I go and I’ve even incorporated modified push-ups off the side of the pool into my workout routine. I went three times this week, despite the onslaught of vertigo. That’s right: Are you proud of me?

So to me, having an injury that can be fixed is a gift. Having a running list of idiopathic symptoms that are connected to a nonspecific illness is not. If you’re a lady who has injured yourself doing yoga or something, just stop doing yoga. How about joining me for a swim? I’ve never heard of anyone breaking their wrist or spraining their ankle from swimming the breaststroke. (That said, I have seen some pretty awful form in the pool. People: If you are causing a tidal wave from a pool that’s only three-feet deep, hire a swimming teacher.) Granted, I’m sure none of us look as cute in our swimming goggles and lycra cap as we might in tight yoga pants and a racerback tank, but who gives a shit? Who are you trying to impress? Men don’t practice yoga, not any that I would deem fuckable anyway. And even if you’re into chicks you can find them when you’re cured. This is a slight predicament, of course, because hot men do swim. But it would seem odd to try and hit on someone while donning my prescription swim goggles that make me look like an alien. The upside is that at least I can focus on my workout without any possibility of sexual diversion. Additionally, my friends and I have realized that prescription swim goggles are a pretty handy thing to own. For instance, goggles are a great cooking utensil because wearing them can prevent oil splatter from going into your eye. (Of course, ideally one would be a decent enough chef that oil splattering would not occur but I personally am not, despite having owned a food business for a time – not my brightest moment.) The goggles can also be very useful in a rainstorm. The last time I was caught in a downpour I was completely blinded by the droplets that engulfed my lenses. I believe that when I returned home after being completely submerged I posted on Facebook that finding a quality boyfriend is like finding a reliable umbrella (that quote is one of my brightest moments). And, of course, goggles are absolutely essential when you’re with a guy who can’t control the direction of his ejaculation (see my story, Philadelphia Freedom). All told, goggles may not be the most sexy eyewear, but they may be the most versatile. At the very least, goggles are a solution to my workout problem in that they allow me to exercise with a limited risk of harm to my already delicate body. Goggles are the workout workaround!

Aside from the goggles, there’s just not much I can do to address how my body behaves. I have to just live with it. This has forced me to make a lot of sacrifices. I was striving towards being a musician and a filmmaker when I developed this autoimmune syndrome. The health issues took precedence. I did still finish my documentary. But that documentary is about autoimmune illness. I never produced the ‘mockumentary’ I planned when I entered film school. I also did launch a health food business but producing food and an online resource blog that was intended to help others live longer nearly killed me. I also have spent the last eleven years in corporate America because I need the health benefits and the salary to support my health-conscious lifestyle and comfortable environment. I don’t have the option to bootstrap and live as a freelance artist, although most people who were in my graduate school class do just that. And I do have loads of friends but I can’t play as hard as they do. I usually just sit on the sidelines. This reminds me of the way I felt when I was in elementary school and I was the last kid picked to play on a team in gym class. It’s not a good feeling. I know it’s not their fault but I’m feeling myself shut down when I’m around my friends because, well, I wasn’t meant to be on the sidelines and I feel inherently uncomfortable in that role.

And I guess that brings me to where we began. I know why I’m down. I once said, “Recovery is so much harder when you’re simultaneously fixated on survival.” It’s true. I have found it so difficult to live as an artist because I need the income and benefits that can ensure I actually get to live. But everyone has something that uniquely defines who they are. For some, it’s being a respected athlete or going to work for the Peace Corps. For others, being a corporate success or a good spouse or parent is the thing. That has never been the case for me, which is probably why I eschewed spousal contenders with whom I could have been content. Being content or successful by mainstream America’s definition never appealed to me. Being expressive does; whether it’s through music, writing, or filmmaking, because that’s where I’m gifted. I’m an average corporate citizen and clearly I’m not an athlete or a family woman. Channeling my expressiveness is what makes me feel like me. But I am instead seen as the girl who sits on the sidelines. And it’s this contradiction between the way others perceive me and the way I really am that has me feeling trapped. How can I change that?

I guess all of this is the reason I started writing again. It’s time to resolve this discrepancy between my public persona and my actual persona. It’s time to be inherently me. Do you know who you are inherently? And are you honoring that “you-ness?” If not, let’s now hold each other accountable to doing just that. It’s time to stop feeling down because we’re not nurturing the gifts that make us special. Whatever life throws at us doesn’t change who we are at the core, and it’s our obligation to feed that core ego – even if it’s just for a few minutes a day. Otherwise I fear we’ll wake up one day with the realization that we have been nothing more than also-rans. And I’m not OK with that. Are you?

Let me end with a quick story: This past week, my boss and I were talking about some upcoming restructuring announcements in our organization. (Did I mention that my existential restlessness was elicited by the knowledge that the job I moved for may not exist in a couple of weeks?) This corporate exercise has prompted me to think about where I’m going in life. I told my boss that while I hope to keep my job and I do find many aspects of the job to be rewarding, I don’t always feel that I’m encouraging the artistic side of myself. I said that whether it’s in my job or in my personal life, I have to figure out a way to do that. My boss replied, “I hear you loud and clear, sister. Nobody looks back on life as they’re nearing the end and says that they’re so happy they were able to hang onto a job that was circling the drain.” Enough said. Let’s get to work.

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