Can We Talk about Anything Else

A year into this blog, I wrote about my lifelong dance with bipolar disorder. Clawing my way out of a deep depressive episode at the time, I was writing nothing and had nothing to lose. Even in 2013, coming out as bipolar was something only celebrities did in public When you’re not famous enough to announce it on Letterman, people look at you funny, and I was anxious about hitting “Publish” that day.

That’s nothing compared to the angst I feel as I click the publish button today.

Five years ago I was trying to move from IT to teaching. I’d found a teacher prep program. I got a part-time job as a para-educator at a place to get experience and student teach while keeping my old job. 

I’d forgotten, however, that my work at home mom status (WAHM) had not been entirely a matter of choice.

A few weeks into the new job, we were trying to get a group of preschoolers out for a walk, when I started to pass out. The other teachers in the group covered for me as I tried to recover, but I had literally fallen down on the job. I left to go home but passed out when I got to my car. 

When I woke up, I decided that an ambulance would scare kids at the school and stupidly drove myself to the emergency room. The ER staff ran bloodwork, and, discovering I was severely anemic, told me I needed rest and no driving. I said I’d always been anemic but never knew why. 

I was having my period and asked to go to the bathroom during the first hour. Having learned years earlier that ibuprofen could stop bleeding, I’d taken a pile of pills in the morning. They were wearing off, and about 20 minutes later I asked  to go to the bathroom again, and the nurse asked me about it. 

I don’t know why, but even wearing a Johnny that left little to the imagination, with wires and tubes attached to and coming out of me, I had to whisper when talking about my “period” (I cringed when I typed it just now). Most people – including me – would rather talk about anything else.

As I talked with the nurse and then the doctor, they realized I wasn’t having a normal period. I never had a normal period. I single-handedly kept Tampax stock prices afloat. I was the mother of the Mississippi.

For almost 20 years, I had mentioned “heavy” flow to various doctors or midwives, usually getting a pat answer like “everybody’s different,” so I accepted that anemia was normal. Going through a small bottle of ibuprofen every month to be able to leave the house for a few hours was normal. 

I never talked about it with anyone else because most other people would also rather talk about anything else. The very thing that makes it possible for women to have babies is also a subject that is most taboo.

The ER docs gave me a prescription and a referral. My regular GYN had retired, and the referral connected me with a new one. He got my health history and scheduled an ultrasound, quickly diagnosing me with a condition called adenomyosis, similar to endometriosis. The then-new doctor explained there were minimally invasive options to manage the condition but only one foolproof cure. 

Why am I bringing this up five years later when there are so many other things to write about?

Because the only cure for adenomyosis is it hysterectomy, which I’m having a week from today.

I’ve had enough surgeries over my life that I’m not particularly nervous about this one, but I am annoyed with myself. I’m haven’t let convention dictate my writing or conversations much in recent years. This topic maybe a doozy, but I realized convention had kept me from talking about adenomyosis and from finding answers years earlier. Period silence creates fewer places to get information and help  — online and off – for many women.  For me, silence caused multiple miscarriages, kept me working at home because I was terrified to be more than 10 feet from a bathroom five days out of every month, and nearly cost me the opportunity to do something useful.

So, while it’s not something I want or plan to talk about all the time, I’m no longer willing to tip-toe around it. 

Teeming with Life

It’s been one of those perfect puffy cloud days here in Vermont. Storms rolled through a couple days ago followed by another day of soaking rain. In their wake is a landscape so green and lush it fools you into thinking that our “brave little state“ is steeped in opulence.

Teeming, 18” x 24”

A little “Appalachian Spring,” I thought, would be the perfect soundtrack to get some hyper saturated trees and skies on canvas. But as the music started to meander, so did the paint and water. The greens and blues started to play with the sun and shadows, and pools, where so much in the woods begins, started to form, and I realized the green isn’t about opulence, it’s about life.

Stand and Create

Some people tell me I’m brave.

I hold it together when my kids need me to. I keep my life and job afloat, even when the worst depression at hit, but that’s being strong. It has nothing to do with being brave. 

I’ve known ever since I self-published my first short story that I wasn’t brave. I spent months working on that story, with the bulk of the time spent worrying if it would be any good and the next largest chunk of time spent wondering if it would upset anyone of my family who read it.

Writing demands authenticity. It demands courage. When I write about depression, when I write about teaching, authenticity is easy. There are no perceived consequences. When I try to write fiction or about subjects that might step on toes, my keyboard is quiet. 

I’ve never found the courage to get around that.

For a few years, I found expression in painting. I paint landscapes because I need to save and share the intense, often simultaneous, feelings of peace and power they generate, the way new converts want to share religious awakening.  

Authenticity is easy in that context. 

I realized this week, however, that cowardice can seep into every part of your creative life, and that, as much as comparison can smother it.

Knowing that the school year is winding down and my schedule is opening up a bit, I registered for a free abstract painting workshop. The first lesson was two week ago, just after one of my last parent-teacher meetings of the year. I knew I had to re-organize my teaching space to make room for painting, a job that should only take a few hours.

Instead of digging into the filing of papers and clearing off of work spaces, I spent the evening using a design app to rearrange the office/studio. Then I went to bed muttering to myself that the best abstract painters could all draw  better than I do anyway. On the night of the second lesson, I checked the workshop’s Facebook group, admiring the efforts of everyone else who had completed the first lesson and knowing that nothing I would’ve done would’ve been nearly as good, I started moving crates of books and desks in the office, wondering if I should be writing instead anyway.

And then I remembered that I often don’t write because I’m afraid to be authentic. I’m afraid of taking a risk and making people uncomfortable. And worse, I’m afraid of just being bad. They were all the same fears that kept painting from happening the first few nights right up until Sunday when lesson planning put cleaning and creativity on the back burner for another 24 hours.

By the fifth night, there were no excuses. My office was a studio again. My progress reports were finished. And the only thing keeping brushes in drawers was a fear that the work would be bad, that people who liked my old art would hate the new art, that people would laugh in my face or behind my back.

But the free course was short, and so is the summer when creativity can be on the front burner.  And that is exactly the time to be brave.  Or at least, to make a start of it. 

“Incoming”, 8 x 10, Acrylic on Canvas