Sunday, February 19, 2017

My alopecia journey: a side effect to life.

I've been thinking a lot lately about my hair--or hair loss, as nature would have it--and what a peculiar few years it has been since this weird side effect of life started.

I call it a side effect of life, because my hair loss didn't come as a side effect to an illness, or to a medication I was on, or even to the weight loss I experienced after WLS a few years ago--though that was what we thought was the initial cause. After three years of losing hair, growing it back, and then losing it again...I finally looked back, and lo and behold, it appears to have been a side effect to life in general.

Want to know the real clincher here? The salt in the paper cut? The turd on the already annoying Sundae life decided to serve up cold? When I was younger, I actually joked about how much I wished my hair would fall out, so that I could fill my closet with wigs. I'd been born with thin, wispy "Muppet Hair" that grew in thin and transparent. I didn't have a full head of hair until I was three years old, and even then it was the hair of an eighteen month old. When I was a teenager, I couldn't grow it past my shoulders without it becoming a matted, damaged mess, and I abused it with color, perms (what? It was the 80's, don't judge me,) back combing, heat styling, and generally doing whatever I could to manipulate it into a style that looked decent. No small feat, considering the fact that it always resembled: Muppet Hair.

Mnah mnah.

Yeah. That's me.

When I would sit and talk with friends as a young adult, I would say that my dream scenario would be to have a closet lined with wigs of all styles and colors, that I could choose from, and become and new woman every single day. I remember saying--jokingly, of course--that I wouldn't be sad at all if my hair fell out, because then I would have the excuse I needed to become a legit wig wearer. (This was when I was young and stupid enough not to realize that the only reason a woman needs to wear a wig is that she wants to, and that there didn't need to be a "legit" reason--but again, I was young, and foolish....)


Yup. I actually self-fulfilled my own prophecy. I'm about 90% sure that God himself heard me running my mouth, and said, "Be careful what you wish for." (I think He says that a lot with me. I remember making jokes when the lovely Farrah Fawcett died of rectal cancer, only to have my recent "butt tumor" experience, <click here to read about that> which was a big, bold wake up call from The Big Guy that I couldn't ignore!)

ZAP. Much like he did when I was a tween and prayed for big boobs. ZAP. Backaches for life. Or when I was a teenager, and I prayed for a whirlwind romance filled with excitement and mystery. ZAP. First marriage from hell. Or when I openly wished we could move far, far away from Washington State, and all of the family drama we experienced there. ZAP. Now you live in South-freaking-Korea!

This is my youngest son outside a Korean temple. Isn't he cute?

In other words: be careful what you ask God for. Not that I was "asking" God to make me bald. I wasn't. I was doing what's known as: running ones mouth. But yeesh, telling people that you wish you could have a closet filled with wigs was a bold statement, and apparently The Big Guy overheard me making it more than a few times.

ZAP. Alopecia.

Self-fulfilled prophecy.

But, I my alopecia journey didn't come after an illness. Though a lot of people with hair loss are mistaken for cancer patients, most of us are perfectly healthy, happy individuals, who happen to lose our hair. Sometimes we lose ALL our hair, other times we lose some of our hair, sometimes we even lose our brows and eyelashes. Sometimes the lucky ones will lose leg and other body hair, as well. Though I shouldn't joke about them being "lucky," should I? With the aforementioned "zap" theory.....

I've just lose spots on my head, some of my eyebrows, and most of my upper lashes. I haven't lost any other body hair, and most of the time my hair grows back in the spots I lose. My upper lashes haven't grown back yet, but I've had regrowth on my eyebrows. I don't take medications or do any treatments for my hair loss. It's hereditary, so I know it's something I'll likely experience off and on forever, and so I've opted not to fight it, since 90% of the treatments offered are unsuccessful and the results are only temporary. I've become cool with the hair loss. I don't like it, but I don't fight it, either. It is what it is.

My loss started after we lost our daughter. We'd been foster parents for a year, had a little girl during that time, attempted to adopt her, only to have her taken away in the eleventh hour, and placed back into the home of some dangerous and irresponsible relatives. We never saw or heard from her again. It was a shattering loss, and we still speak about it in hushed voices, and with reverence. It absolutely wrecked us--all six of us in the family--and in the months after it happened, I noticed my first signs of hair loss. My widows peak was growing further and further back, and my part was widening. You could see my scalp through my hair in places.

Three and a half years since I've seen this face.

Then I had WLS, and lost 100 pounds. The process of getting approved for weight loss surgery is not easy, and if I'm being honest, it darn near drove me insane. I had to lose 10% of my body weight, which doesn't sound like much (to some,) but when my doctor looked at obese me and said, "You need to drop 25 pounds," it was like telling me to spin straw into gold. So what did I do? I said goodbye to cheeseburgers and got my big butt to work. It took me 6 months, but I did it, I got down 25 pounds. Then things got worse...I had to go on a liquid diet for 2 and a half weeks prior to surgery.  I can honestly say that the liquid diet almost killed me. My teeth were gross from a lack of chewing, my gag reflux kicked into high gear because I was so grossly sick of liquid nutrition. It was foul...and sure enough, my hair thinned even more during this time. Of course it did. Because when it rains it pours.

Once I had my surgery (and by the grace of God, survived another two weeks of post surgery liquid diet) I started to notice that my loss had morphed from a deepening widows peak to a full on bald spot on the left front side of my head. Shortly after that, I discovered another round bald patch on the back upper right side of my head. They started out small. Maybe the size of a dime. But they grew quicker than I was prepared for. I started dreading washing my hair, because I would up with handfuls of my precious Muppet Hair in my hands and in the drain. This went on for a couple months, until I couldn't hide the spots anymore, and I bought my first wig.

There's something about being forced to wear a wig, as opposed to wearing one because you want to. It takes all the fun out of it. You're suddenly self conscious in ways you never expected. Everywhere you go, you're convinced that everyone knows you're wearing a wig. You feel itchy and hot and aggravated. Trying to bio hide hair underneath a wig is tricky and stressful, so I opted to shave my head, which created an emotional response I wasn't prepared for. Suddenly I felt like less of a woman. Like the fact that I had breasts and a vagina and a uterus didn't count for anything, because my crown of glory was gone. I felt less feminine, and unattractive. I pushed away my husband and wouldn't--still don't--let him see my head without a hat or scarf.

Some women are bolder than I am. They flaunt their bare heads proudly. I don't do that. I'm not sure I ever will. And I've been told many times by many friends--including my own husband--that it's "okay" to do do. But I don't. I don't want to.  It's my hang up. I'll either get over it or I won't, but I am in awe of the women who strut their stuff with their bald heads exposed, loud and proud. Those women rock. I'm just not "there."

With time--about 8 months, to be exact--my bald patches eventually filled in, and I wore my natural hair again. I fashioned it into a very, very short pixie cut, and went back to coloring it, playing with it, wearing headbands and barrettes. My stylist had fun making it blonde for me, which, in retrospect, probably wasn't smart, as it fried what hair I had, but hey, hindsight is 20/20, eh? I felt like myself again, and assumed that the loss had been simply due to the stress of a failed adoption, and a massive weight loss, but that it was over now. My hair would continue to grow, and all would be well.

Well.....all was not well.

We moved. Not just across town, or across the state, or even across the country. We moved to a different country. My husband took a job with Samsung, and we moved to South Korea...a move that caused so much stress, I'm still catching my breath. In the space of two months, we broke the news to our family and friends, we cleaned out and sold our house--which we'd lived in for 13 years, we packed up all of our belongings, and we moved a family with four children to a country where we didn't speak the language and didn't know anyone.

So yeah....stress. It also seemed to contribute to my hair loss, because...unbeknownst to me, within the first few weeks of living abroad, my hair had started to thin again. In all of our pictures from our first months here in Korea, you can see that my widow's peak had started to recede. You can see my scalp through many of the pictures during those first few weeks here in Korea. I'm shocked and embarrassed that I missed the clues, and was walking around like that. But it wasn't until I came back to America for my first summer home that I discovered another round patch on the top of my head. And then another.

It was happening again. Friggin' great. Side effect to life.

I went back to wigs. I didn't mind, other than my children saying that they hate it when I switch between colors and styles all the time. They wanted me to pick a color and style and stick with it, which I tried to do, but after about 9 months, I had to go back to being creative and having fun with my hair. I'd always had fun with my hair when it was coming from my own follicles, why not have fun with faux hair, eh? Besides, when life gives you lemons (i.e. female hair loss before the age of forty) then make lemonade--have some fun. Find joy in the big fat bummer life decided to serve to me.

I researched treatments. Shampoos, oils, herbal regimens, hair replacement surgery, hair restoration processes, acupuncture, steroids, injections, etc etc etc....and chose not to do any of them. After much prayer and introspection, I decided that doing treatments that are only (at best) 30% effective, and usually not at all permanent, and hurt like a son of a gun, that I would just accept my lot in life. Honestly, when the rest of my health is A-OK, and my biggest complaint is having really crappy hair, then I am doing alright. Besides, I've come to enjoy the ability to be a brunette at breakfast, a redhead for lunch, and a blond by dinnertime. This cannot be achieved with my Muppet hair.

It wasn't easy. Losing my hair was a punch to the gut. In a world that accentuates a woman's beauty above her mind, her words, and her actions, it can strip a girl of her femininity when she finds herself without her "crowning glory." Despite having female parts, it felt like I was less of a woman not having hair. This was a struggle I had to grapple with for a while before I could come out the other side of it a better person. It wasn't easy. Talk about an emotional roller coaster. But I did come through it, stronger and more confident than ever. Sure, I still struggle with self esteem, but I'm a heck of a lot better off than I was two or three years ago, that's for sure...

That said, I'll be danged if I'm ever going to tempt God to give me a lesson like this again. Don't like my legs? Shhhhh, don't say a word. ZAP. I've now got elephantiasis of the calf to teach me a lesson. Don't like my nose? ZAP, the next morning I'll wake up with Carl Maudlin's nose...

i've learned my lesson. I swear I have. Besides, being a bald woman isn't the worst thing I could go through. Last month, I had a cancer scare and it put some things into perspective. I've got healthy, awesome kids. I've got a husband who still seems to love me and find me irresistible, despite my lack of hair and fondness for long, sexless flannel nightgowns. I've got a career I love, and readers who follow and support me, no matter what I write. Who the heck cares about freaking hair?

Well, I do. A little. But not as much as I used to. I'm learning to love me, AND this peculiar, inexplicable side effect of life God's blessed me with.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The story of the colon that tried to kill me.

If you are easily grossed out, or like to make fun of people who grow things in their butt, please skip this blog post. It's a doozy.

Most of you know that I got violently ill with a bacterial infection over our Christmas holiday in Boracay, Philippines, and that I struggled for about a month to get over it. During this time I missed most of a trip to Boracay, had to cancel a trip to Saipan, had about a dozen and a half I.V.'s, and stayed in the hospital twice. Ick. What a crappy (and expensive) winter. What you might not know is that my husband and I went to bed last night thanking God for that disgusting infection, because it kinda saved my life.

Here's where this tangent becomes a doozy. Prior to getting sick in Boracay, last summer I'd had the onset of some small symptoms of a gross and embarrassing nature. As a mother of four children born from vaginal births, I assumed I was having hemorrhoid issues, which has been commonplace for me over the years, so I'd made the decision not to pursue it with a doctor until I was back living in the USA--eighteen months from now. I know, I know. Who ignores bleeding from *there*? Well, you'd be surprised. And I'm almost certain you yourself have ignored symptoms in the past out of embarrassment or laziness. So yeah. That's what I did.

Fast forward to after we came home from doctor friend tried diligently to help me recover from that nasty infection, but once it got to my intestines, it stalled. The bleeding increased to alarming proportions, and I (finally) confessed to Kyung Shin what was happening and how alarmed Monte and I were getting. She sent me to the hospital for treatment and tests, where I was given a CT scan. During this scan, they noticed polyps, and upon my release, I was told to come back in a week for a follow up appointment to schedule a colonoscopy if my infection (and diarrhea of Dumb & Dumber proportions) had cleared up enough to, erm, go in.

This is actually about 1/10 of what I did about 15 times daily. Nope. Not kidding.

The hubby and went to my follow up feeling pretty chipper. I was feeling better, the bathroom issues were clearing up, I no longer laid on the floor, curled in a ball, crying all the time. We walked into the gastroenterologist' office laughing and joking, talking about stopping for burgers on the way home, since we didn't have the kids with us. But when the doctor started talking, crap got serious, real fast. In his broken English he explained the severity of the situation. Key words stuck out to me: tumor, large, bad, immediate, rectum, cancer, dangerous. The room spun, and I turned to my husband, cracking up, crying, and said, "I have a tumor in my *** hole. I'm going to go out Farrah Fawcett style." The doctor and Monte exchanged a look that clearly said she's losing it, and the doctor said "I'm very sorry." Long and short of it: I had a large tumor on the lower part of my intestine, upper part of my rectum and it had to come out stat.

We had to schedule an immediate tumor removal. The doctor wanted to do it the following Tuesday (it was Friday,) which meant I'd have to check into the hospital the coming Monday. He would, erm, go in colonoscopy style to try to remove it, but if it was presenting itself as flatter and deeper, rather than bulbous and off of the surface (sort of like a pimple) then a surgeon would be needed to remove it, and I would have to stay in the hospital for about 7 days. The doctor said that once the tumor was out, he would be able to look at it and have an idea of whether or not it was malignant, but that it would be biopsied to make sure. After researching colon tumors at home, we learned that the tumors that present themselves as flatter are usually malignant and invasive. The ones that are up above the surface are sometimes malignant, but sometimes not, but that the malignant ones usually had a very distinctive look. My odds were split down the middle. My age and overall health worked in my favor, but the size of the tumor, the bleeding, and my family's history with cancer didn't. It was a total crap shoot. (pun intended.)

We skipped the burgers on the way home. I texted a few close friends and my brother. Monte and I discussed things we've never, ever had to discuss before. If I was sick, where would we fight the cancer? In South Korea, or at home in America? If we went back to America, how could we afford to fight cancer? Would Obama care still exist? How would I fight cancer in Korea when I couldn't even get through recharging our kid's cell phones without getting exasperated? What if. I died? How would the kids get through life without a mom? How would my husband parent the kids alone? I would miss graduations, missions, college, weddings, grandchildren...just the thought of missing out on grandchildren buckled my knees. I kept telling my husband, "I don't want to die. I'm not done yet!"

Because my husband is out of days off, I had a good friend take me to the hospital that Monday (Hubby joined me that night), and by Tuesday I was a complete ball of nerves. I'd planned out a complete meal and before/after school schedule for my husband and the kids; I'd asked all of my prayer warriors in the USA to throw a good word in with the Big Guy for me; and I'd spent a lengthy amount of time praying for myself. I vowed that if He helped me to survive this, I would work harder at being a good wife, a good mother, and a good disciple. I admitted my flaws and mistakes and promised God to work harder on them, regardless of what He made the outcome of my surgery be. It was the lowest of the low for me--being so in need of a miracle, but feeling so unworthy of one. There's something about the humility of having a potentially cancerous tumor growing in my BUTT that finally humbled me enough to break me--so that He could put me back together.

I wish it were that simple. 

When they wheeled me in for the procedure, I started to cry. My doctor--who is agonizingly blunt and honest--asked me if I was alright. I replied with, "I'm just really scared." His response? "I am, too." Me: "THAT DOESN'T HELP AT ALL." Then he asked me to close my eyes, because they were going to put the sleepy time meds into my I.V., but I was too nervous to obey him. All I could think about was: what if the tumor is deep, and I bleed out? What if it's malignant and its aggressive and it's already in my lungs or liver or something like that? (I'd been wheezing because of the poor air quality here in Korea, which suddenly convinced me that it'd already metastasized in my lungs--don't hate. I come from a long line of worriers.) What if when I woke up again, my family's entire world was off kilter, because I had the big C? For some reason (I'm assuming it's acute hysteria) I prayed out loud. I asked God one more time to "please save me." And I asked my dad, who I'd decided was standing there in ghost form, likely wishing I'd calm down, to "stay with me." The next thing I remember is waking up.

My doctor.

During the time I was unconscious, my doctor sent for my husband twice. The first time was to show him (while I was unconscious with a camera up my butt--thanks, doc! Privacy Acts can kiss Korea's butt--pun intended.) that the tumor was presenting itself in the worst possible way. It was flat, only slightly domed, and appeared deep--which was usually the invasive malignant tumors (see the above tumor diagram.) The doctor told him that he "didn't know if he could remove it" and that it was "bad." My husband said the doc taken a deep breath, and said a very hesitant "I'll try." before sending him back to the waiting room, where he'd sat, fretting that he'd just given the doctor permission to do something he wouldn't succeed at, and that I was going to bleed too much, and still have to see the surgeon. This was all in addition to the knowledge that the tumor was presenting itself in the worst possible way, and had a high probability of malignancy.

A short while later, the doctor called for my husband again. Expecting the worst, he'd gone back into the room, where the doctor had held up a specimen jar proudly. He'd gotten it out, and it was, as my husband so eloquently put it, big and gross. The doc explained to him that when he'd injected the area, it'd punctured the tissue, and that the tumor had just risen right before his eyes, making it simple for him to just hook it around its neck and snag it out. The doctor, who was feeling quite proud of himself at that point, said that it "looked good," but we'd send it for biopsy to know for sure.

This is what I felt like after the tumor removal was over.

Now....I am well aware the there is probably a medical explanation for what happened during my procedure. That is not lost on me. You can choose to look at with scientific goggles or spiritual goggles, and we've chosen spiritual goggles. And here's why: because despite being told, repeatedly, that the tumor was large and presenting itself poorly, the minute the doctor slit that tissues, my tumor rose up and completely changed shape before his eyes. This miracle came after countless local friends stepped out of their comfort zones to help and assist my family; dozens of friends and family prayed earnestly for my health; my best friends' family fasted for me; I asked my deceased dad to stay with me; and I begged my Father in Heaven to save me. I asked for a miracle--and He gave it, in the form of a tumor that changed its shape/presentation right in front of my doctors eyes. This miracle happened to me, and I believe it.

I am a habitual doubter. I hope to change that.

The wait for our next appointment was a week and a half, and despite having high hopes, my husband and I walked on eggshells. Every conversation we had about the likelihood of the tumor being benign was overshadowed by two things: the fact that I'd heard my own parents having the exact same reassuring conversations when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. And second, the fact that in my forty years on earth, I've dodged about a hundred and twelve bullets, and at some point, one of those bullets is bound to hit me. It felt foolish to celebrate before we knew with a surety that I'd somehow dodged that most recent bullet.

We got my biopsy results yesterday, and the first words my doctor said were: "congratulations, you can go back to your life now." Oh what joy this sentence gives. My tumor was benign, and I wasn't going to die anytime soon. Hubby and I breathed a guttural sigh of relief for the first time in weeks, and we left with a bounce in our steps. For the life of me, I don't know why God chose to bless me with a miracle, and so many go without. I don't understand why I was saved (for now,) but so many haven't been. I can't fathom why my prayers were answered, but so many aren't. The lack of fairness in this situation is not lost on me. All that I'm meant to understand is that my time here isn't over, and that this was a wake up call for me to live the way I promised God I would, eat foods that will keep my body healthy and strong, and start taking care of soul properly. To ignore that clear point to all of this pain, and fear, and worry, would be inexplicably foolish. My Father in Heaven loves me, and for some unfathomable reason, He chose to save me, and I intend to make it worth His while.

Me, after getting the good news.

For those of you who are rolling your eyes right now, I invite you to can it. I have a point. I swear I do. The whole point of my post is this: if I'd not gotten sick in Boracay, I never would've gone to the doctor for my, erm, toilet issues. I would have happily ignored it until I got back to America, and probably for a long time after that, as well. According to my doctor, because of the already impressive size of my tumor, there was a high probability that it would've became me cancerous by the time I dealt with it. I was ignoring something that would've eventually killed me.

I beg each of you to do one thing for me: listen to your body. If something weird or gross or painful is happening to you, get it checked out. And no, I don't mean on Web MD. See your doctor. Put your health first. There are people who love you and depend on you. Don't put stupid stubbornness before your role as husband, wife, mom, dad, sister, brother. Take care of yourself because you love them, even if you struggle loving yourself. Do not ignore what your body is trying to tell you...occasionally it's not just indigestion (or hemorrhoids). It might actually be something that can kill you. I'm living proof of that.

If your doctors look like these people, they're probably not real doctors.

Our Father in Heaven is ready and willing to help you. His love never wanes. He is, quite literally, always there, and always listening. You might not get the answer that I got, but He *will* answer you in some form. I'm one of His disciples, and it's my job to share that message with each of you, the folks that mean the most to me.

And so ends my cringe-worthy post. I'm alive. I'm lucky. I'm acutely aware of how much so.

Take care of yourselves. You're loved.


Friday, January 6, 2017

I recently noticed something...

... And it left me really bothered.

As many of you already know, I recently went on a Christmas trip to Boracay Island, Philippines, with my family from Christmas Day until New Year's Eve. My family went boating, snorkeling, paddle boarding, helmet diving, scuba diving.....and I caught a nasty food born illness or parasite that I am still fighting. Think: fevers, puking, body aches, cramps, delirium, and just about the worst case of the poops I think I've ever had in 40 years on God's green earth.

I've been to two doctors, been on IV hydration, on multiple medications, and still feel as though I were hit by a truck. I tried to go out for a late anniversary dinner with my sweet husband last night, and came home in tears, because I was just so tired and achy, and I literally could not stomach being out of my bed for one more second. In addition to feeling like caca 24 hours a day for 10 days straight...I've also used the restroom more in the last week and a half than I had in all my forty years prior to traveling to Boracay. Literally. I wish I were kidding. Nobody should be allowed to **** this much without dying. I may as well just move into the restroom. Live there permanently. Get a fax machine and a mini fridge set up in there. My children just know to talk to me through the door. My husband doesn't even bother asking me to hurry it up, because he's got to go. I't's my new habitat.

So that's my (current) life in a nutshell. Not so much fun. But hey, I'm alive, so I'm doing alright. Right?

But oddly enough....this peculiarly unfortunate life twist has afforded me some very interesting fodder for blogging. Namely: what women (myself included) have said in reference to my torrential case of the craps, and how sick & twisted it is that THIS is where our minds go when we hear someone is deathly ill with diarrhea.

"Imagine how much weight you've lost!"

"Ha! I'll shed those last few pounds with all this diarrhea!"

"Your face! You must've lost so much weight. Congrats!"

"Think of all the weight you must be shedding with all these stomach issues!"

"Well, if there's a silver lining to all this, you'll likely drop a few pounds."

"My pants fit so much better! I mean, I've crapped my body weight on the daily for a week, but my jeans fit nicely now!"

These are all comments that have been said to me lately. As in, since coming home with a nasty gut bug so stubborn that I am still on medication and being IV hydrated over a week later.....

Does anybody else see a problem with this?

These things were said by lovely, sweet, normal women. Women of all sizes. Women from all backgrounds. One of whom is ME, for Pete's sake!

(***A little background here: three years ago this month, I had weight loss surgery, and went from being 250 pounds to being around 145-155 pounds, depending on the time of month, and how active I am. I made the choice to get WLS because my weight was making me sick. I was pre diabetic, had apnea, and neuropathy issues. I wanted to feel good again, and I wanted to meet my grandkids some day. The physical prep for this surgery was excruciating and arduous, and the work since hasn't been a walk in the park, either. Anyone who says WLS is the "easy way" is clearly clueless and ignorant. It's constant work for the rest of my life, and that will never change. Every single day is a struggle for me, because food is the only addiction that you have to continue to dabble in and indulge, rather than quit cold turkey--and because in changing my stomach, the doctors couldn't change my brain. And the part of my brain that feeds my self loathing, insecurities, and addictions is still alive and well. My body might be healthier, but the way I see myself, accept myself, and understand myself will always be an uphill battle for me.***)

Anyhow...what these comments made me think was: how screwed up is it that we live in a world where women's minds immediately and innately go to a congratulatory state whenever any fellow female loses weight--whether it's intended or not?

Take for instance, the beginning of the school year at my children's school....I saw my son's old teacher, and she looked thinner in the facial area. Sure enough, I congratulated her. Told her how good she looked, and then beamed when she seemed so flattered and grateful. I did the same thing for a friend. She'd returned after being gone for the summer (in the expat community, people always holiday all summer) and looked slightly smaller than she'd been in June. Of course I complimented her, and she responded with a very enthusiastic thank you so much! Because we, as women, are trained to be grateful when someone tells us we look thin. It's ingrained into our DNA as females. If someone calls you a skinny b*tch, you say "THANK YOU VERY MUCH!"....even though being called a skinny b*tch is downright insulting. Using the word bitch in any term is degrading.

(I say all that while fully acknowledging that when I was overweight, I called my smaller friends "skinny b*tches" all. the. time. and I fully expected gratitude in return. Not nice, Brooke. I accept and own how not nice that was. Forgive me, friends, for I knew not what I did.)

What got me thinking was...what if the teacher I'd complimented in August was thin because she's battling an illness, or because she lives abroad and someone at home is sick, so the stress is making her appetite go down the toilet? What if the friend I'd complimented was thin because her husband made a discouraging remark about the size of her derrière, and she's been starving herself because she feels like crap right now? What if both of them are suffering in some random way that hasn't even crossed my mind, and I just pointed it out to them, making them feel even worse??

Or........what if I'm losing a little weight right now because my dad died two months ago, I've been grappling with some guilt and angst from that? Oh, and also because I missed my deadline with my editor, so my two new releases are getting pushed back again. Ugh. Also add in the holidays--which are ridiculously expensive for a large family like ours, not to mention the fact that our daughter's birthday and our anniversary lands in the middle of it all. Then pepper aforementioned stress with traveling to the ends of the earth with four kids and seven suitcases on rickshaws, fumey busses, two plane rides, and rickety boats. Then, to top it off, plop a stomach virus from hell on it all......

Would all of those stressors warrant compliments from people? Not likely. I mean, when you break it down, whittle it down to the bare bones of what's really going on in my life, it probably isn't "compliment worthy," if you know what I'm saying. It's stressful and gritty, yes, but probably something you would offer a hug and/or some chocolate over...not compliments.

And yet, I keep getting told, "Hey, at least you're dropping some weight with all this diarrhea!"

Who says I wanted to drop more weight? Who says I'm happy about this? Who says this is a positive change in my life? I'll let you all in on a secret: I would take my 250 pound body back  in a heart beat, if it meant I could have one weekend with my father at Priest Lake, Idaho, or my Boracay vacation back, sans hallucinations and excessive TP usage?

It's important to share that I know it isn't as though my friends are trying to be mean. On the contrary. They're just trying to be nice. They're good women, probably some of the very best out there, and they're trying to find the joy in an otherwise crappy (pun intended) situation. Heck, even I've been doing the same thing!

What troubles me is.....why are women so quick to compliment each other on presumed weight loss? Why is that where we, as women, naturally go? Why do women feel this innate need to hate ourselves, our bodies and our shapes, and our friends' bodies and shapes, much that we would congratulate each other on getting a ****ing parasite that causes us to POOP FOR TEN DAYS STRAIGHT!?

Are we so inundated with pictures of the likes of Gigi Hadid, Kylie and Kendall Jenner, and Miranda Kerr, with their round, perfect butts and their perky B cup boobs, and their antagonizing flat stomachs...that we only consider ourselves, or our friends, successful when we're shedding pounds? Like.....for real? What about career heights, or family successes, or personal triumphs? What about volunteering, or teaching, or caring for each other without fanfare? What about successfully existing in a world not intended to support and uplift women?? Holy heck, that must count for something!

I don't know about you, but my friends are gorgeous. They are white, black, and every color in between. They are old and young. I have one who has a head of naturally curly hair that just sprouts from her head in ringlets, and another who wears black all the time and who struts like she's fresh off a catwalk. I have another who looks adorable in every hat she tries on, and another whose body looks like you could bounce a quarter off of her midsection. I have fat friends and in between friends. Friends who like cake, and friends who eat tofu. . I have one who is tall and unapologetically herself, and another who is soft and curvy and undeniably sexy, even when she's just trying to be a regular old mom. I have one whose smile could light Times Square, and another whose quiet presence feels like a cup of cocoa and a warm blanket.

I have friends who have fought--and WON!--against depression, eating disorders, sexism, ageism, racism, cancer, pancreatitis, obesity, being dumped, losing babies, and more. I have friends who have dropped everything they were doing to bring me Jewish Penicillin and York Peppermint patties because they heard I was sick, and others who write to me every single day, despite being 5 thousand miles away...just because they know I depend on it. I have women in my life who care for others as if their life depended on it, and who share their gifts with others because they know others can't go on without their help.

They give and give and give and give........and yet, we compliment them because they dropped a pound or two.

I say no more.

No more letting what the world calculates a woman's worth on determine how we value ourselves. No more letting a woman's size determine her worth. No more letting her size, or fluctuation of size, determine whether or not she warrants a compliment. No more letting her physical image, or more specifically, her weight, be the one thing we watch, monitor, and gratify her for. If we want to be smaller, then so be it. If we want to be bigger, then so be it. But that shouldn't be the one detail about us that her friends/family fixate on. Even if we mean it with the kindest of intentions. Women are worth more than that. We are not just pretty packages. There is more to our depth and internal qualities than anybody ever pays attention to, and I'm over it! Who cares if my pants fit better or worse after this stomach issue goes away?? I'm more than a size.

I am more than a size. I'm freaking Wonder Woman. 

I was a foster mom. I became a published author with a loyal following. I am a loving wife and a functional mother. I lost a daughter. I moved abroad to a place where I don't speak the language. I travel. I live. I laugh. I breathe. My body heals itself. My mind does, too. How freaking amazing is that!?

Yeah. I'd like to drop another 15-20 pounds. To see the numbers I used to see on the scale in high school. But frankly, I'm 40, and I've had four kids. It's not going to happen. Instead of fixating on the numbers, or how many rolls I have when I wear a swimsuit at the beach, I'd rather focus on how much healthier I am now than I was three years ago.

Instead of focusing on how much thinner my face looks now that I've been crapping myself silly for ten days, I'd rather focus on how much better I feel when a friend brings soup to my apartment, or when my bestie from across the ocean sends me a sweet text. I'd rather focus on the friends who seem to like me, despite my being a big boob who says the wrong thing in every situation, and the fact that I've kept for children alive for seventeen years. I'd rather focus on writing my books that bring people joy, and listening to music that makes me happy, and being around people that make my soul comfortable. Those are the things worth fixating on.

I love complimenting people. Nothing makes me happier than telling someone that their outfit is cute, or their hair looks great. But I am no longer going to compliment people when they appear to have lost weight. I don't know their whole story. And I'm not sure that the weight thing is something worth complimenting people on anymore. Like I said, WLS helped me to lose weight, but the mental part of food addiction and self loathing...that's all on me. And being told that having torrential diarrhea is a good thing because I might drop a pants size only seems to perpetuate the problem. I'm better than my weight. I am more than my weight. My worth is greater than that.

And so is that of my friends.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

I got sick.

While on vacation to the GORGEOUS (and alarmingly remote) island of Boracay over the Christmas break, I caught the crud.

Actually, the crud isn't accurate. I've seen two doctors now, and the consensus is that I (and my ten year old) caught a food/water born illness that (as yet) remains unidentified.

Yeah. Super gross. And painful. And crappy. (literally)

We don't know where we caught the illness, and as much as friends have tried to sympathize with me, saying "Oh, I caught food poisoning over my break, too, and I was off my feet for a full day!" I have to just shake nod my head and bite my tongue.

We've been sick for a solid week. And by sick I mean body aches, fevers, stomach cramps, vomiting, and torrential diarrhea....most of which is occurring at the same time. It was so bad that my son, Charlie, and I missed most of the week's worth of activities. My husband dutifully took our teenagers to do their awesome activities, and provided our eight year old with just enough sand castle and french fry time to keep him happy. He was a champ! (It couldn't have been fun for him to care for Charlie and me, on top of managing the other children on a busy island so far from home.)

At one point, Charlie passed out after throwing up and couldn't be woken up. I was so feverish that I was seeing geckos on the walls (think: hundreds of them) and my father...who died last month. At one point, I was so sick, and keeled over with stomach cramps, that I told my husband I was going to die in the Philippines, and I meant it. I legitimately thought I would. When we went to the hospital, I was told I needed to be admitted for IV rehydration, but we didn't have time for me to stay (8 to 10 hrs) before we needed to leave to make the arduous trip back to our home. We had to refuse treatment in order to get back to South Korea, where one of my good friends is a doctor.

It is a miracle we made it onto the flight(s) home. The trip to and from Boracay is done through two plane rides, a taxi ride, a two hour bus ride, and a ferry ride. The process takes no less than 12 to 18 hours. Going home so sick was awful. I cried and cried because my body ached so bad, and because Charlie was so hot with fever, and he kept vomiting. How we managed to get home without having an accident in our pants is inexplicable. We (still) have literally no time between the urge and the action, and how we managed to sit in plane seats is beyond me.....the grace of God, I imagine.

Just as we got onto our last flight, as we stood in line on the tarmac to board, our youngest child started vomiting (not illness related...he is on the Autism spectrum and has sensory issues, and we'd fed him orange just with high pulp. Let's just say, he didn't like it, and it all came back up at the feet of about a hundred other fliers.) By some miracle, the airline clerks didn't notice, and we were miraculously allowed onto the flight. We flew home, and within 12 hours of landing, I was in the office with my friend the doctor, and we are (finally) on the road to recovery.

The body aches are gone, as are the fevers and the vomiting. Though the #2 issues still linger.....isn't that just the way? We still don't know what it is that Charlie and I caught. All we know is, it seems to be getting better, and we're not going to die. I no longer ache everywhere. He no longer vomits until he passes out. Thank God.

I am grateful that my husband worked so hard to afford and provide us with such an incredible trip to a new country. I am grateful that the other kids were given so many opportunities that I never had as a child, or even as an adult. I am grateful that we saw such an awesome place--please, if you ever get the chance, visit the Philippines. The people there are some of the warmest, most loving, most helpful, most joyful humans I've ever met. And while our situation was unfortunate, and well, downright ugly, if I'm being honest, I'm not sure it's exclusive to Boracay or the Philippines. It seems as though it was just an awful, nasty case of bad, bad luck.

I'm mostly grateful to be alive. I legitimately didn't think I would be.

I woke up this morning without any aches in my arms and legs. That counts for something.

I will post pictures of my Boracay adventures as soon as I can.

Happy New Year, reader and writer friends. You are all loved and appreciated.