Seasonal Attitude Disorder (December 12, 2012)

Seasonal Attitude Disorder


I am really trying to be enthusiastic about the holidays this year. On November 30, 2011 Eddie and I signed our final divorce papers and I was just emerging from a bout with cervical cancer. The complicated and conflicting emotions involved included being grateful for my life while wondering what on earth I was going to do with the rest of it. I was at a loss and that pretty much sapped my close-of-2011 energy. I was lonely, depressed, afraid and reclusive. I sat out December altogether and spent a low-key New Year’s Eve with close friends.

2012 has had its ups and downs but by and large, I am healthier and more whole than I can ever remember. The cancer is in remission, memories of an unhappy marriage began to recede and occupy their rightful, proportionate place. I grew professionally as I settled into a day job as the head writer for a housewares company, formulated new and interesting friendships, even took a couple shots at romance again. As the record currently stands, these forays into attachment did not end happily, but there was a time I believed I could never risk my heart. So there’s a simple pride in having put myself out there.

More than five weeks ago, as regular readers of this blog are aware, L’il Red (my beloved bike) and I were involved in a somewhat hellacious accident involving an unwise yellow-light decision and a moving SUV. I was thrown from the bicycle, landing squarely on my tailbone and sacrum (the base of the spine) in the process. Both of these bones are fractured but despite the weeks of discomfort behind me as well as the months of recovery ahead, I know it could have been much worse.

And dammit, I like to think of myself as a tough gal but continuous pain, drug side effects and the limiting of my range of motion are conspiring to upend this self-image. I hurt without medication. I struggle to eat and sleep when taking it. And no matter the state of physical discomfort, the holiday season is here to make me feel more pathetic and alone than I might otherwise. It’s frustrating because I was bloody determined not to be a humbug this year.

I have a pre-lit Christmas tree in my living room, a gift from the most recent boyfriend. When I find myself in the throes of pain, or sleepless from its relief, I turn on the four foot tall symbol of holiday cheer. Admittedly is is tougher to scowl when surrounded by glittering lights, but this kind of reminds me of those lamps doctors recommend to patients with Seasonal Affective Disorder. The light takes the edge off but it’s no real substitute for the sun you know? Likewise the flickering tannenbaum brings a fleeting comfort but it doesn’t replace the real sense of belonging, togetherness and celebration that the holiday season portends, and for which I yearn.

I’m writing about these feelings because I wish to master them. Know thine enemy and all that. I feel myself slipping into the usual Christmas despondency and the hope is that by recognizing it, I can hold it at bay. Growing up the eldest child of abusive and neglectful parents, the 12 Days of Christmas usually involved a rundown of why I didn’t deserve the blessings bestowed and what I had done to disappoint my progenitors throughout the calendar year. I am 34 years-old now. I don’t need or deserve to hear these voices this year – from my lips or anyone else’s.


America’s Health Care System is Still Broken Part II (April 24, 2012)




I will keep writing about this because I am one of the lucky ones. I will keep screaming about the system’s inherent abusiveness because I can and I must – for all those who are sicker, less financially solvent and don’t have a forum in which their voices may be heard.

Nearly a year ago, I wrote this post, recounting the stress of divorce compounded by unexpected health news of the unfavorable kind. After being diagnosed with Stage 2A cervical cancer, I learned that I was considered persona non grata by prospective health insurance providers until I was in remission. At the time, I received the core-rattling news that none of my women’s health needs would be covered for 3-5 years, or until the part of Obamacare that forbids insurance companies from playing pre-existing condition roulette with people’s lives takes over in January 2013.

Since I wrote the first post in this series last year, a few important events have occurred:

  1. I underwent a successful procedure in June, 2011 that completely removed all cancerous cells from my body – no chemo or radiation required. A six-month checkup in December found no evidence of irregular growth.
  2. I have since gotten into the healthiest shape of my life. I was already no slouch in the exercise department, but have taken the upkeep of my temple in whole new directions. I have learned, through therapy and hard work, to better manage stress. I am invested in a romantic partnership that brings untold levels of peace and satisfaction. I am more careful about what I put into my body and my approach to preventive medicine has changed completely.
  3. I am officially divorced, no longer on my ex’s insurance plan and employed full-time at a housewares manufacturer with great benefits.

As I have already indicated, I was fully prepared for my women’s health coverage to be excluded for 2012. Whether I think the situation is fair or not (not) is irrelevant. You know the saying, “it is what it is.” I was planning to bide my time, and though I am not religious, ask Mother Earth to keep the cancer at bay. My single-adult premiums on the new policy amount to $6,000 annually and while I felt forced into a “cross your fingers” strategy as pertained to the cancer, at least I would be covered under all other circumstances right? Wrong.

The new Big Brother in my healthcare decision-making world, a company that will remain nameless but rhymes with Dew Toss, Dew Field of Iroquois, has declared a blanket “pre-existing condition clause” that covers EVERYTHING for which I have ever been treated. Surprise! This clause runs the full calendar year, so I have the honor of forking over $6,000 in the event I am shot or hit by a bus (neither of which has ever happened), but if I need therapy (you know because I was depressed about having cancer), antibiotics, birth control or my first annual cancer screening – all of that must come out of my pocket. My doctor and I jumped through numerous hoops and made many arguments, to no avail. A girl who rides her bike 68 miles to work and back, under the age 35 with the bad luck to get a little spot of cancer last year, is reduced to nothingness until 2013.

And as we all know today, the conclusion above represents the best-cased scenario. Subsequent to the decision by a bunch of corporate bureaucrats that I am too risky for any sort of benefits, though my money is still welcome, a bunch of mostly old ,white men on the Supreme Court will sit in judgment of my fate beyond this calendar year. By June we are told, the ladies and gentlemen of the jury will decide whether to throw the baby out with the bathwater on health care reform, because a few hundred lobbyists and Tea Party crackpots chafe against the individual mandate portion.

So we can make car insurance as a condition of vehicle ownership law, but this is somehow different? Can they really declare that no part of the reform benefits the American people? What about the part where, I don’t know, insurance companies can’t refuse you access to ALL TYPES OF HEALTHCARE because you had a treatable cancer that was cured in one shot?

If the Supreme Court overturns Obamacare, I am out in the cold for 5 years, perhaps longer if an emboldened insurance syndicate decides so. I can’t believe this is America.

About the Supreme Court’s deliberations, the Daily Beast remarked in November of last year, “By agreeing to rule on the issue of national health care, the Supreme Court foolishly politicizes its deliberation process and needlessly damages its own reputation.”

But this is about more than a simple PR misstep, the negation of jurisprudence. This is about American rights and lives. I think I have a patriotic duty to protest my provider’s current right to kill or bankrupt me in the unfortunate event that my cancer recurs, or that I come down with the flu and need antibiotics and a short hospital stay. I want the Supreme Court to consider that with the same fervor with which they seem to regard a libertarian’s right to refuse health coverage when that refusal burdens everyone else.

Post-Op Political Musings (June 10, 2011)

A little over two years ago, I began my life on this blog as “Becky Boop,” anonymous, citified political commentator known for her thoughts on the peaks and valleys of the Obama agenda and slice of life pieces on day to day existence in a big metropolis.

I came out from behind my pen name in an effort to be as real a writer as I am a person. The death of a close friend, a long bout with unemployment, an impending divorce and surgery this past Tuesday for Stage 2 cervical cancer left me with a sudden desire to stop hiding behind a pseudonym. All in all, I feel I am better for it. Becky Boop may have been a lot of fun, but she was certainly no reflection of “me.”

However as I go over some of my posts from the last six months or so, I have a hankering for some of Becky Boop’s former silliness, the journalistic joie de vivre that seemed to come so naturally to my alter ego. I have gotten pretty far away from aiming my torpedo at the cultural and political movers and shakers who depend on bloggers and the media to state the obvious, to shout with definitive clarity that the Emperor, is in fact, walking around naked.

I spent a large part of the week in post-op convalescence, and since it is the summer and most of the network’s regularly scheduled programming is on break, I made CNN my constant companion. Even in a haze of discomfort and drugs, it was hard not to notice that this was a pretty fucking strange week, politically speaking.

  • Rep. Anthony Weiner – It is my privilege to report that today, June 10, 2011 is the first in many that Mr. Weiner’s name has been absent from the front page ofThe New York Times. While I find the congressman to be an epic, tasteless pig and a truly unworthy husband, folks, there’s nothing illegal about lying to your wife and the press. I am hoping that his absence from the headlines and Weiner’s refusal to resign means we are reaching the end of this sad, if titillating spectacle. I do not think Rep. Weiner should heed panicked Democratic calls to vacate his post, any more than I believed it wise when Governor Eliot Spitzer called it quits after the Ashley Dupre scandal. Is there anyone living in the State of New York who believes David Paterson was an upgrade? Weiner was voted in to do a job, and only his constituents have the right to decide his ultimate political fate.
  • Hillary Clinton – Former First Lady, Presidential candidate, Secretary of State, and future head of the World Bank? Yes! The fact that this story materialized so fast, and was just as quickly quashed by the State Department, leads me to believe that it’s probably true. Nobody expected Clinton to stay on for two terms as the nation’s top ambassador, and since she can’t launch another Presidential bid until the 2016 elections, why the hell not?
  • Newt Gingrinch – Yesterday was certainly a busy news day. Blink and you may have missed Gingrinch’s nascent presidential campaign imploding in a huge way, losing his campaign manager, spokesman and senior strategist before disembarking from an ill-timed Greek cruise taken with third wife Callista. From the outset, The Ging struggled to stay on message with the official Republican party platform (frankly, one of the few good qualities he had going for him), labeling Paul Ryan’s Medicare voucher plan a piece of “right wing social engineering.” Rather than play the game and work the media rounds until he had done successful establishment penance, Gingrinch said “eff it” and jetted off to work on his tan. John McCain, take note of a real maverick. While Newt technically remains in the hunt, it’s going to be tough to mount a credible campaign with no donors or staff. I for one will miss him.
  • Sarah Palin – Will we EVER be rid of this woman? For those who believe she is going to give up her various soap box perches and millions in speaker fees to re-enter the icky world of public service, a place where people tend to be held accountable for their ignorance (though certainly not always), I have a bridge to sell you. However, this week the focus was not on Candidate Sarah, but former Alaskan Governor Palin. After a nearly three year delay that no one has adequately explained, thousands of pages of emails sent in the first two years of her term were made public. There doesn’t seem to be anything as exciting as Palin’s version of Paul Revere’s ride in there. The story is in what’s missing. According to a report from Yahoo, the emails “have been heavily redacted, while 2,275 pages are being withheld for reasons including executive privilege.” Whatcha hiding Sarah?

Pseudo Cancer (June 5, 2011)

Is it possible to experience survivor’s guilt before even going under the knife? If so, that’s what I’m dealing with at the moment. I tried explaining this feeling to my friend Diane on Friday evening. A few years ago, Diane developed a tumor in her chest that began to push on her lungs. Months of surgery, chemotherapy and hair loss ensued, and I am proud to say that my pal is awhile past the coveted five-year remission milestone. Diane is a singer/songwriter, artist, writer, and all around beautiful and fabulous woman. The world needs her.

Two years ago, I lost one of my best friends, Jesika, to a lightening quick 17-day battle with Stage 4 ovarian cancer, At the time, 30 year-old Jes was a lawyer, recent Chicago transplant, and impending bride-to-be. She was just beginning the best parts of her life, and her fast demise remains an epic tragedy for many who loved her.

I have Stage 2 cervical cancer. But big deal. I am having surgery this coming Tuesday morning, and there is every reason to believe that I will be absolutely fine afterward – no additional radiation, procedures or body-wracking chemo required. I will immediately move from patient to recovery in the span of two hours.

Except for the occasional bouts of depression which are only tangentially related to living with the disease, and far more associated with feelings of confusion and loss stemming from my impending divorce, I feel absolutely fine. And somehow, for lack of a better word, that just seems….wrong.

Last Sunday I rode 30 miles in Chicago’s annual Bike the Drive event along Lake Shore Drive. My conception of people battling cancer doesn’t allow for that picture of vitality. I have lost a few pounds recently, but again, that is to be blamed on poor eating habits and grief, rather than debilitating sickness. I am able to work, to write, to meet friends for drinks and attend family events. I am not flat on my back, shrunken and surrounded by pill bottles, as I recall of my grandmother June when she succumbed to ovarian cancer herself back in 1991.

Today happens to be National Cancer Survivor’s Day, a time of reflection and deserved celebration for those who have conquered the disease in its myriad forms. It is also a day to recognize the family, friends and partners who stood by each of these brave people and ushered them out the other side. I cannot count myself as one of the survivors yet, but even after I am released from the hospital on Tuesday, I’m not sure I have the right to join the party.

There are those in my corner who bolster me with accolades about my strength and fortitude. But I don’t feel either of those things. In fact I have been rather, weak, scared and anti-social, far more wounded and fear-stricken by the idea of spending the rest of my life alone, rather than afraid of not having a life at all. Does this sound like the average cancer patient?

Like so many other social groups: wives, mothers, workers and now battlers of the Big C, I feel oddly anachronistic. It’s another area of our cultural fabric where I feel somewhat alienated, meeting the criteria and yet not quite what is expected. Don’t misunderstand me. It’s not that I wish I were sicker. I have enough other problems to wrestle. I just don’t know my place.

Smelling the Roses (May 24, 2011)

I am highly self-critical. I am not known to give myself a break very often, whether it’s a browbeating for past mistakes and poor decision making, pushing myself to do “more” (exercise, work, writing, cleaning) even when my body and spirit have clearly had enough, or simply honing in repetitively on perceived flaws.

The last seven months have been hellish by any standards: extended unemployment that caused me to question my place (like, if there was one) in the working world, fissure in a marriage to the man I still (and may always) consider the love of my life, and most recently, a battle with stage 2A cervical cancer. So clearly, if one is judgmentally introspective by nature, life has handed me a veritable buffet of reasons to feel like a loser.

I have written about the need to develop new pathways for myself, because at nearly 33 years of age, one thing is clear: the grief I give myself hasn’t amounted to to any sort of spiritual epiphany or life fulfillment. If anything I’m beginning to consider that my own unforgiving navel gazing (this blog bears the title with good reason), has not been a tool for healthy ruminating and moving myself forward, but rather an overly self-conscious roadblock that has led me to make “safe” decisions that instead blow up into explosive peccadilloes. I have been too afraid to follow my “inner voice,” which I am learning a lot about from an unusual authority – star publicist to the fashion world Kelly Cutrone.

In recent discussions with my therapist, I have shared that the one thing I have done right in the last few years was to take a gamble on myself, finally heed the inner voice that screamed at me all throughout my 20s that I was a corporate fraud. I didn’t want to climb the ladder, grab the brass ring or sit in the corner office fending off sniping barracudas. I wanted (nay, needed) to be a writer. That admission was not an acknowledgement of talent by any means. I was completely unsure I had anything to offer, or even knew where to start.

I am not going to rehash the two year-journey spent hustling down unpaid freelance lane, the strain I put on my marriage by asking Eddie to comprehend what must have seemed like a midlife crisis of sorts, where I remained unwilling to birth babies, yet brought no income into the home. It was one of the first truly selfish things I have ever done – and it came with a high price.

As someone in the business of self-flagellation, I often succumb to the inviting temptation to second guess the decisions that brought me to where I sit today: sick, alone, and financially shaky.

But on another level, I am covertly and tacitly aware that I am doing it. I am living my dream, however small and unintentionally isolating it may be.

This past Saturday, and for the second year in a row, I was awarded writing prizes from the Illinois Woman’s Press Association. Last year, I went on to take first place from the National Federation of Press Women in one of their “Special Article” journalism categories. This year, proving that I am more diverse in my skillset than I have otherwise been willing to admit, I received two second place certificates for work on this very blog, “So This is What Fat Looks Like?,” and “A Generation X Bedtime Story.” Additionally, I received a first place award in the state category, “Column Written Specifically for the Web.” That honor was received pursuant to a piece I wrote on education for RootSpeak magazine.

The latter distinction means that I will be able to try my fortunes at the national level in August.

As a struggling writer, I feel very blessed. I have a lot to say, an abundance of avenues in which to be read, and best of all, the occasional validation of my peers to tell me I haven’t turned my life inside out for naught.

It’s important to take a moment now and then to acknowledge that.