In Case You Are Jealous of My Friday Night

People often comment on my Facebook posts (especially fellow ladies!) saying what a fabulous life I have. They see me gliding from event to event, effortlessly, cozying up to public figures and instagramming delicious food (and coffee drinks)!

I don’t blame you all for commenting, or even feeling a twinge of jealousy or resentment. It’s natural, and to be completely honest, the same thing goes through my mind when I’m instagram- or Facebook-stalking my friends and colleagues.

But, do you want the brutally honest truth? Because here it is.

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There’s A LOT that gets filtered out of my life when I post on social media. Like, a hell of a lot. When I publish a photo of me in a gorgeous dress with my hair and makeup flawlessly done at an event enjoying the company of others, here’s what you don’t see:

You don’t see/hear the laughably-inevitable meltdown/pity-party two hours earlier about not being able to wear the shoes all my other girl peers are wearing (heels, stilettos, etc.).

You don’t see the panic attack I’m having as I’m rushing to make it out the door on time and have to stop and raid every drawer in the house for urinary catheters. Since they are delivered and I need a doctor’s prescription, it’s not like I can waltz into a public restroom with a few quarters and get a catheter out of a dispenser. (But you can easily find tampons or condoms, no doubt!)

You don’t see the frustration I feel when trying to find the perfect purse to match my outfit— that is, one that is sleek enough to carry easily but that will fit at least 5 catheters (because when your LIFE depends on using a plastic tube every three hours, there’s no room for guesstimating. Better to overestimate than…God forbid. And if I have an infection…forget it.)

You don’t see me up all night with indigestion because my digestive tract is much slower than everyone else’s. That expensive dinner I had cost me a good night’s sleep.

But most of all, you don’t see the struggle it is as I try my best to “fit in” (say what you will about being an individual, but don’t kid yourself— EVERYONE wants to fit in) while treading the delicate balance of staying “healthy” (whatever that means, because I haven’t felt “healthy” in many years) and being able to breathe easy and have some semblance of a social life.

That all being said, I know how truly fortunate I am. I have opportunities that many of my peers with spina bifida do not. I don’t lose sight of that.

But, today is Friday. Tonight, God willing, I actually am going out on a Friday night alone (a rare occurrence!) to attend a social / professional function. Just a while ago, I got off the phone after talking to my medical supply provider and my urologist’s office back-to-back. It feels like I am constantly having to negotiate how important a life-saving product is to me. Negotiate how many times a day I am allowed to pee. Can you imagine having your visits to the bathroom regulated? These are questions I actually get from my doctor’s office. (They will actually insist I drink more water, and then ask me why I use so many catheters!)

Not to mention my private medical insurance, which makes me jump through bureaucratic hoops just to be able to receive these bare necessities.

I don’t want to be calculating. I don’t want to be counting catheters. I don’t want to leave half of my meal untouched because I’m afraid of indigestion. I don’t want to walk into the place and immediately scan where the bathrooms are. I don’t want to wonder where I’ll park my wheelchair.

Tonight, I just want to act my age, and know that I’ve earned it. Tonight, I don’t just want to LIVE, I want to feel ALIVE, and know that my posts on social media actually reflect the fabulous reality.

On Sitting Alone at a Starbucks on a Sunday

 

 

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Let me preface this post by stating that I rarely eat alone. Or drink alone. Or think alone. In fact, I usually hate being alone. In any situation. More often than not, being “alone” to me, means listening to my Pandora stations or binge-watching videos on YouTube. Even reading by myself is difficult to do.

 

But, today I found myself drinking a latte at Starbucks. Alone. Don’t misinterpret me. I needed this “alone time,” badly. I needed time to think and feel and wallow and assess and reassess and analyze and reflect. The thing is, the longer I sat at that Starbucks alone, yet surrounded by strangers, the more I realized I have been doing this to myself in many ways for a very long time. A very long time. 

 

I’m not an introvert, and I’ve known all my life that I thrive when being surrounded by people who love and support me, and who enjoy working with me.
So, what happened? Well, what usually happens? Life situations change, or people change. Or in my case, it seemed like both. At some point, as fiercely as I loved the people in my life (and I have the innate capacity to love fiercely and loyally), I realized I have long outgrown the dire need of acting like a 21-year-old. Why? Well, for starters, I just turned 29. My interests, though much the same as before, have evolved. I have evolved. 
 
I have long prided myself on purposefully seeking out friends who share my somewhat sophisticated, even precocious interests. I have always enjoyed spending time with the “grown ups,” and even as an adult, it pains me to say that I am quite often afraid of seeking out my peers. Perhaps it’s just “only-child syndrome.” Or, perhaps not.
So, the invites would come, and I’d turn them down out of cowardice or pure lack of interest in said activity. But the more invites I turned down, the less the invites came, and pretty soon, I began to feel isolated and ostracized. My closest “friends” felt more like strangers, and it made every single one of my attempts to communicate with them feel more like a confrontation.

 

It was then that I began to see it. Weekend after weekend of events I was not invited to. Social activities in my social circle I was excluded from. Friends who had been like family turning their backs on me.

 

I started feeling like I was back in grade school, or in high school, during those incredibly painful and humiliating years of ostracism and exclusion. As much as I’d like to say that I’m older and wiser now, and that I know better than to get caught up in the petty toxicity of social media, I wasn’t above it. I’m still not.

 

No matter how many times I would reach out to my friends, they would not reciprocate. My own invitations, my own attempts at repairing a grossly misunderstood rift, went callously ignored. And it’s nothing I hadn’t experienced before in my life, since early childhood.

 

It hurt. It bled. And whenever I would think I was already numb, another weekend would pass and the tears would begin to flow all over again.

 

Now, with open eyes and a heavy heart, I truly realize what was so simply yet accurately expressed in the film “The Jane Austen Book Club”: High school’s never over. 
 
Just because I quickly grew tired of the partying and booming music of my twenty-something peers, doesn’t mean I grew tired of them. 

 

But to my chagrin, I guess I’m still that girl. That girl who is forgotten when the sleepovers are planned. That girl who isn’t invited on road trips or to house parties or even Sunday brunches. That girl who has all but given up and now spends her weekends praying and spending time with those who truly adore her– her parents.

 

That girl who wants to change the world but can’t seem to find anyone to have coffee with on a Friday afternoon.

 

That girl, I see, has been proverbially sitting alone at a Starbucks on a Sunday all her life. Waiting. Hoping. Crying. Grieving.

 

The irony of it all is, this girl is often the envy of others who follow her Facebook page and complain about what a fabulous life she has.

 

I suppose since we tend to post about what we do and not what we don’t do, it’s an all-too-simple mistake to make.

 

Yes, I know I have an amazingly encouraging extended network– family and friends that live in other cities, other states, other countries even. Some, I have only met on social media! Sadly, most of these people are too far away for me to invite to lunch (or coffee!), but I will never stop appreciating their unconditional support and love. And yet, I still feel alone. 

 

That girl who is sitting by herself at the Starbucks, staring at a nearly-empty, now cold cup of coffee, is tired of waiting. She picks it up, throws it in the trash, and walks on.

 

The numbness has closed in on her once more. For now. But it’ll be back.

It’s never over. It never stops hurting. I’m never immune.

 

 

To the Woman who Aborted Her Baby with Spina Bifida

 

Dear Woman,

First off, let me say that I am not writing this on an impulse. In fact, I have given this a lot of thought and have decided to give this situation a “grace period” in which I could cool off, reflect, cry, pray, gain perspective from others in your situation, and allow myself enough time in which to answer you without anger or bitterness.

Of course, this time has allowed me to be more merciful and fair to you. But please know that I needed this time as much as you did. It’s not easy to for me to process my emotions about an issue that is so personal to me.

But, you E-mailed me asking for advice and answers. After choosing to terminate your pregnancy of a child with spina bifida, you want my advice, my insight, my wisdom, on how to have a “healthy” baby.

How’s this?

I have nothing to offer you. No advice, no answers, no wisdom, no tips, no magic crystal ball to predict what your next child will be like. 

My first instinct, upon reading your E-mail to me, was to hate you. After all, you managed to break down wall after wall of cautious, precarious illusion of self-esteem that I have spent 28 years painstakingly building. And for 28 years, it has worked for me.

 

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My Mami when she was about eight months pregnant with me. I am my parents’ only child.

 

When I first began blogging five years ago, I was moved by the many moms who contacted me. Most have had children with spina bifida, and some were pregnant with a baby with spina bifida, and wanted advice on how to handle the birth of a child with “special needs.” Or maybe they wanted solidarity; just the notion of knowing someone else out there in cyberspace can relate. I was elated at the idea of being able to help these women; give them a glimmer of hope for what the future held for their children. I offered them my friendship and unconditional support, and in return, I have been rewarded many times over by their reciprocity, their encouragement in my difficult times, and their genuine happiness at my triumphs.

Then I opened your E-mail. It’s as if five years’ worth of fortresses of support and encouragement from these moms and little white lies I told myself quickly eroded around me. I was exposed. Vulnerable. You shattered my illusion of invincibility.

I built a community of support and encouragement, of sharing knowledge along with the good, the bad, and the ugly about spina bifida. Women all over the world contact me to thank me for simply sharing my story, trivial as it may seem to many. Because the story of my normal yet fulfilling life gives them hope. It helps them to know their children can aspire to this.

And yet, I cannot help you, because you aborted your baby. You cut the common thread we would have shared. Now all I see is a large, dark chasm between us, because I am nothing like you. 

No, I am that child with spina bifida, the one you chose to abort. I look in the mirror, and I see the life that was discarded because it wasn’t deemed worthy of living.

And you ask me for advice because you don’t want your next baby to turn out like me.

And I am angry beyond words. Because in spite of all I have accomplished in my life, no one wants to have a child like me.

Not even my own mother would have wanted that. But she did.

 

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I was about 18 months old in this picture. Whether or not Mami envisioned having a baby with spina bifida, she and I have always been thick as thieves.

 

And that, plain and simple, is what frightens me the most. That maybe, just maybe, your story and my mother’s are not all that different. You each won the lottery that no one wants to win.

I wish you well…and maybe next time, take a second glance at your lottery ticket.

My Sin of Omission

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Yeah, it’s been a while, to say the least.

I spent the last few hours posting photos, status updates, and responding to Tweets about an event I attended in Orlando, and which I plan to write about on my other blog.

Earlier tonight, I put on my casual-dress-professional-cold-weather attire and was present at an exclusive preview tasting at a chocolatier.

I sipped great wine, ate fine chocolate, and mingled with friends, old and new.

We exchanged lighthearted conversation about our blogs, and weighed in on other recent events many of us have attended.

I exchanged hugs, social kisses, and sincere thanks to the people who hosted and invited me.

And I did it all with the utmost sincerity. Of that, you can be sure. 

No one knew that, for about a week, I’ve been dealing with a persistent, painful bladder infection that has me cringing every time I pee (a.k.a. “self-cath,” but whatevs. Peeing is peeing.).

No one probably imagined that, every night for the past three nights, severe bladder cramps have kept me up late and have almost brought me to tears. (Well, not really close to tears– but only because I have a pretty high threshold for pain. I’ve grown “accustomed” to it, if that’s even possible.) 

No one could have known that, just this afternoon, I was on the phone several times with my urologist’s nurse, scheduling what will be my first appointment in years with him. I’ve been in a urology limbo of sorts, because he is a pediatric urologist, and while technically, he is supposed to see patients until they turn 21, I am a “special case,” because I have spina bifida and an augmented bladder. He performed my bladder augmentation surgery– my most invasive and dangerous procedure to date– when I was 10, and I trust him with my life. 

Indeed, no one, save for my parents, would have known any of this, because, simply put, I haven’t talked about it. 

And why would I talk about it?

Since the holidays, I’ve been to numerous blogger events, celebrated birthdays, weekday happy hours, workshops, and the like.

My posts on Facebook have often been the trigger for playful, harmless jealousy. Friends often comment, wishing they had my life. From what I usually post on my Facebook profile, I can’t say that I blame them. By all accounts, I seem to lead a pretty fabulous life. 

I’ve got news for you, though.

Everyone omits on Facebook. 

Yep, that’s right. From the bitchiest posts to the statuses that are downright inspiring, we are all guilty of carefully vetting and considering the content that we post on our social media profiles. 

Why would anyone assume I am an exception? 

In fact, if anyone has good reason to filter her output, it’s me. 

Because my girlfriends don’t want to hear during our ladies’ night out about how my urine stinks of ammonia and looks as murky as swamp water.

Because, as bloggers, while we all over-share to an extent, no one wants to hear at a professional gathering of social media influencers how Miralax isn’t doing the trick for me just yet.

Because, God forbid I should choose the joyful family Christmas dinner in Puerto Rico as the venue for disclosing how I’ve totally slacked off on my neurosurgery stuff and am now desperate to schedule a follow-up with my neuro to find out the results of my MRI, which I had done before the holidays.

Because God forbid I be more human than people can actually bear. 

Unsurprisingly, the issues I just described above (and many more) are very common topics of discussion on many of the private online groups and forums I’m a part of that pertain to life with spina bifida.

You might find it odd, but I actually don’t share too much in these groups. Don’t get me wrong– I’m eternally grateful for the love and support many of these people show me and others with spina bifida. I’ve forged many great friendships with parents of children with SB, and with adults with SB, all over the world.

I guess that I don’t feel the need to share everything about the spina bifida part of my life with them. Heck, they majored in this, as did I!

But I want to share it with you. 

And I want to be able to share honestly and openly with you– without any of the following responses that I’m dreading right now, and that I always dread:

1. Pity. Please, absolutely NO “I’m sorry you have spina bifida” talk. It makes me feel as if you believe that living with spina bifida is pitiful and shameful. And trust me– I don’t need that. 

2. Discomfort, awkwardness, squeamishness. I’m sorry if I slip up during lunch and casually mention I have to go cath. Usually I say “pee,” but occasionally I will slip up and make some allusion to the fact that I use a plastic tube to urinate. Obviously, I overlooked the fact that you are not as used to this as I am, and any remark that you make along the lines of “ew” and the like will only make you come across as a jerk. Please, grow up and get over yourself. Call me when your pee is prettier than mine.

3. Holy talk. You know what I mean here. I consider myself to be a religious/spiritual person with my own faith and personal relationship with the Creator. And if you say you’ll pray for me, I’ll gladly accept your prayers, good vibes, etc. But please don’t attempt to make yourself feel better about my ailment by saying that “everything happens for a reason.” It’ll upset me, and will only serve to make me wonder why this “everything” doesn’t seem to be happening to you. 

Simply put– I don’t expect everyone in my life to relate to my struggles, anymore than you might expect me to relate to all of yours. If you can’t relate to the situation, that’s perfectly fine. I think admitting you can’t understand what it’s like, is actually the first step towards putting yourself in another person’s shoes.

The ugly truth about life is that permanent chronic conditions like spina bifida can’t be cured, anymore than you can bring your deceased loved one back from the dead or force the cast of F•R•I•E•N•D•S to do a reunion.

It’s just not going to happen like that.

We all go through difficult, challenging, brutal stuff. So from here on out, I promise to try to level with you. I’ll try to be honest.

Are you willing to try to listen?

 

“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.”   –Albert Camus