Sunday, January 26, 2014

My Life Under The Knife - Part Two

O.K.  So, this second part was really, really hard to write.  I'm pushing myself here to write this shit down.  I think we might just have to have a part 3.  My medical history parallels with my childhood, adolescent angst, young adulthood crap, so I gotta connect the dots.

My doctor calls the osteoma I'm having removed next month, "conspicuous and painful".  I laughed when she said it because I thought, yeah, that about sums everything up.  Many of my past actions could be described that way.  My body has generated cysts on a pretty regular basis since around 2004, perhaps earlier because the onset of painful migraines in college have often proven to be the culprit of many problems.

We were fortunate to have a great college physician,  she was helpful in diagnosing my migraines as something related to my menstrual cycle as well as to allergens like sulfites.  The pain was pretty unbearable and so I was prescribed varying degrees of painkillers.  What's important to note here is that I am my father's daughter, he was an addict who also had OCD and bi-polar tendencies.  His family was riddled with mental health issues.  I was the holder of a complex genetic lottery ticket and looking back, anyone could have predicted that having access to pain medications, in a college setting, was going to be a bad mix for this not-quite-yet reformed troubled kid.  Let me tell you a little bit about that kid...

I had such unexplainable anger, jealousy and low self-concept as a young kid -- it led me to say some pretty horrible things to friends and family.  One in particular that still sticks with me is when my sister had suffered a horrible diving accident and I said that I wished she were dead - words to this day I can't believe I said and feel like another person said them.  I guess, I've had to tell myself another person said those words because otherwise the guilt would've consumed me.  Along with saying hurtful things, I became quite the liar and manipulator.  One of my best acts was the cycle of secret binge eating and then making myself sick just at the right time to make my mom think I had a stomach bug so I could stay home from school.  I was twisted enough to save the vomit in the toilet to show her.

It didn't take long for that behavior to catch up with me and I landed in the Principal's office, the psychiatrist's office and so on and so on.  In my mind, I had been found out and it dawned on me that I was ruining my chances to get out of my parents' house and be on my own (the 17-year-old that thinks she has all the answers).  I got my act together, but definitely not for the right reasons.  My GPA and SAT scores were less than great, I'd say fair, so I used the essays to ask (beg) for a chance.  I did get that chance, and almost ruined it all with my trademark careless manipulations.  Insert freshman freedom and that migraine diagnosis here and you have one bad mix -- it kind of made it easy to major in alcohol, drugs, and sex.  In high school, I didn't have healthy relationships - I had the antonym of relationships - secret, manipulative hook-ups and well, it seemed so easy to just keep that going in college.  It was what I knew to do and for some reason, I thought that's how I would be liked, maybe even loved.

It does make me sad, at times, that I wasted almost 2 years of college with foolish and at times, dangerous behavior.  But, I also understand those tough times shaped who I am now.  It took some key college personnel (I think I was probably destined for a career in student affairs), a couple of friends, and meeting Steve to help me put pieces together and grow up.  It took a lot of time to get my head in the right place -- I don't think I had a solid, healthy definition of love until about 2 years into our marriage.  But, it's like my body, my physical spirit, is stuck back in that time; the pain my body produces is like the drunk uncle nobody wants at the holiday table.  Part 3 - how do you get rid of the drunk uncle?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

My Life Under The Knife - Part One

I've had surgery 10 times - luckily 2 of those times gave us the gifts of Jack and Anna. Today, I've scheduled surgery #11 - I have an osteoma on my hairline that needs to be removed.  I am profoundly grateful to be alive and by writing my journey, I certainly don't minimize the much tougher roads that others have traveled.

My very first surgery was in the summer of 1990 - I had my jaw reconstructed because I had classically mis-aligned teeth and a serious under bite.  I was the kid with braces, retainers, palate expanders - the works. It was pretty awful at times. My orthodontist and oral surgeons patiently measured my bone growth for roughly 6 months to ensure that they would effectively treat my issues.  My jaw was wired shut for about 6 weeks and I lived on TCBY yogurt shakes and tomato soup.  My mom was by my side at all times -- she carried wire cutters in her purse!  The surgery was a success and I think for the first time in my life I was starting to build some self-esteem and confidence.

Right before my jaw surgery, I found out that all 4 of my wisdom teeth were impacted. Some headaches and migraines had started to interfere with my final year in college, so it was suggested that the wisdom teeth be removed.  The surgery occurred in the fall of 1995, about a week before my first "real" job started.  My co-workers at Marymount University couldn't believe I was starting my job so soon after the surgery, but I assured them this was nothing for me.  Of course I was uncomfortable, but I didn't want anything to jeopardize me starting what I hoped was the start of my career in higher education.

My poor self-concept and struggles with anxiety and depression definitely made for a rough adolescence and young adulthood.  I'd like to think these early surgeries helped get me on a better path of self-acceptance. Without this confidence, I probably wouldn't have been able to sustain a relationship with Steve nor would I have been able to develop a career in student affairs.

Steve and I were married on May 30, 1998 and moved to Jacksonville, Florida in July of that same year. We then moved to Gainesville in 2000.  I think the distance from family and the climate change had a bigger impact on me than I really wanted to admit.  Over time, I had both physical and emotional challenges. Luckily, I now knew how to ask for help and found good physicians to prescribe medications that made sense for my allergies, asthma, and anxiety (Triple A!). Unfortunately, my medical problems didn't subside, so I had my tonsils and adenoids removed in 2003.  As an adult, it is rare for doctors to go this route and believe me, I wish I could have avoided it.  Imagine eating sandpaper and it just gets stuck in your throat. There wasn't enough Popsicles in the world!

In October 2004, Steve moved to Nashua, NH and I stayed in Gainesville to prepare our house for sale, finish my degree, and start a whole new journey that was filled with unwelcome obstacles and answered prayers.

Thursday, January 9, 2014


Mums (aka Grammy) would have turned 70 today.  Sadly, she died on October 21, 2013 and her death was all the more painful because we had to watch our children experience the loss of a grandparent.  Jack and Anna now have one living grandparent, my mother.  I lost all my grandparents by the age of 13 and I definitely remember feeling a void especially when so many of my friends had large families with lots of cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.  I cherish the friendships I've made over the years because those individuals have really been the extended family I and my family needed in good times and in bad.

Jack and Anna were born after my father died (November, 1997) and Steve's father died (June, 2006).  Trying to keep the memory of our fathers alive is something I try, almost desperately at times, to do for them.  And now, the thought of their memories of Grammy slowly fading is heart-breaking.  So, I write today with the hope that by journaling some of my memories, I'm honoring our Mums, Elaine Schaffer, Grammy to Corey, Dillon, Matthew, Logan, Jack, and Anna.

Our son Jack was born on June 17, 2008.  He was the 5th grandchild (and 5th boy) to be born on my husband's side of the family.  We had our own basketball team in the making!  Mums and Steve's younger sister, Susan couldn't wait to come visit us in Boston.  Mums didn't fly - she had a pretty paralyzing fear of flying and definitely let us know how much she hated it when we traveled by plane.  So, Susan, along with her husband and 2 children, drove Mums from Pittsburgh to come see us.  As a brand new mom, I wasn't really ready for a crew of visitors to come see us.  The thought of "hosting" anyone exhausted me and I had barely figured anything out in that first few weeks, but I knew it was important to Mums that she come as soon as possible.  I might have been a new mom, but I could understand her need to lay eyes on and hold her infant grandson just as she had done with the four that came before. I also had to depend on Steve to take care of things and give up some control -- something I'm not good at (surprise!). 

Mums' love for her children and grandchildren was unconditional and steadfast.  She made us all laugh and really smiled the most when she was around her grandchildren.  Whenever we had to say good-bye, Mums had this sweet, almost weepy way about her that was a look all her own - a look that made you feel so overwhelmingly loved.  When Mums held Jack for the first time, she was simply radiant.  I remember how very excited she was to bring Jack an assortment of new outfits.  We had been so fortunate to receive hand-me-downs from my sister and sisters-in-law, so I didn't want her to feel that she had to go to the trouble of getting too many clothes, but Steve was like, "no, you let the grandmothers do what they want, Gin."  There I go again - trying to control things!  Of course, those outfits she bought became my most favorite and Steve was wise to take many a picture of Jack wearing them.

Steve and I have been partners for 20 years and for a good bit of that time I watched Mums struggle with mobility.  Her knees in particular had caused her problems over the years, so we knew any time she traveled to see us or meet us somewhere, she really was stretching herself both physically and emotionally.  In the fall of 2009, I was so very proud of Mums when she took the train from Pittsburgh to NYC where we met her to spend the night and show her some sights of the city.  We then drove back to Boston so that we could treat her to classic New England fall festivals with hay rides and apple picking - I remember so vividly her attention to Jack being warm enough.  Every aspect of his outfit had to be just so.  Mums used every ounce of energy she had on that trip and it was clear to us that we would probably need to get creative for future family visits and I'm really thankful we did.

Anna Elaine Schaffer arrived on May 10, 2011.  It was exciting to have grandchild #6 be a girl.  Mums fell into her classic weepy happiness when we told her.  We named our daughter after Mums and Steve's grandmother - and she has certainly lived up to her namesake.  Anna is full of love, life, and attitude!  The picture above was taken during our family vacation to Amish country and Hershey Park during the summer of 2012.  It was our first attempt to meet somewhere that would reduce the strain of travel on Mums; our party of 13 had such a great time that we did it again the following summer in Niagara Falls, NY.

Of course, we didn't know our time was running out with Mums during the summer of 2013.  She had been suffering from some stomach ailments, but nothing definitive had been discovered, so I know I kind of put myself on an auto-pilot of sub-conscious denial that there was really anything wrong with her.  Then, the tables turned and I was hospitalized with viral meningitis in mid-August, 2013.  I had plenty of time on my hands being alone in that hospital room and so I talked to Mums quite a bit on the phone.  I'm so glad I got to have those chats with her.  She told me, "you gotta take care of yourself -- you are the mother of MY grand-babies!"  I will forever remember my marching orders, Mums.  We love you, we miss you - you are in our hearts forever.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Technology and Me...Oil and Water

I'm convinced that I have a metal plate in my head that my parents didn't tell me about.  Steve can't believe what happens to our laptop, TV, and Wii when I'm in the room.  I don't have a dislike for technology.  I remember thinking my mom was so uncool and perhaps a little cheap for being the last person I knew to get a cordless phone, VCR, microwave, etc.  I recall that I was pretty savvy with my Atari system and Commodore 64 keyboard - I didn't own a GameBoy, everyone else did and I was pretty good at playing Tetris! My sister and I laughed uncontrollably when my mom was assigned the job of training people on these new things called Macintosh computers for the middle schools -- what did she know, right? Our house at any given time had 3-5 different computers that she had to test out - she'd ask us to try different educational software.  I loved "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?"!  So, if I wasn't sheltered from technology then, why am I so bad at it now?

A colleague of mine made an excellent point to me recently that I've set myself up to be known as someone that can't be trusted to handle websites, technology, etc.  I think it was a combination of a loss of interest and a loss of confidence that has led me down this path.  I've built this wall up so high, I'm wondering if I have the energy it takes to break it down.  This blog is but one example of me trying to embrace the different world of media and technology we live in today. 

As I sit here, my husband is setting up my new Chromebook, I'm writing on a laptop.  There is also a tablet and my smartphone within reach.  Well. not really, because my kids already have them updated with their favorite apps.  I've got a long way to go.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Snow Day

I remember waiting and hoping my school would get closed during a snowstorm so that I could have a day of reckless TV watching and game-playing. As an adult, I want snow days for a little extra sleep and time to get something accomplished around the house.  Well, today has not been the snow day I had hoped for. It is cold, I am in pain and I go in and out of the revolving door of anxiety and depression. It might be a bit of cabin fever, but I also know the emotions I feel stem from the disappointment that my body can't keep up with what my heart and soul want to accomplish. I have been living with migraines since my college years and have struggled quite a bit with various gynecological issues.  But, my chronic pain issues catapulted in 2012 and I've since been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.  It's the worst feeling when I can't fully function as a mom and a partner to my husband. What's ironically more crippling is when the physical pain isn't too bad, but the emotional guilt consumes me all the same.

When I'm feeling down, I usually scan Facebook to check the updates of friends. There is a lot of good people out there doing some pretty cool stuff.  Sometimes, a feel-good story energizes me to get moving.  Today and many days, I'm inspired by Jack and Anna's Godfather, Joe. He is living in the Arctic Circle in Alaska and we are so very proud of him for making this journey. Joe has been great about posting videos and every time I watch, it's inspiring to see someone push themselves to take risks and try something new. Plus, watching those videos reminds me not to complain about Boston weather.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Creature Comforts

It's snowing in Boston. The schools are closed and I'm home fighting a cold, the kind that grabs a hold of your sinuses and won't let go.  So, I've taken my usual spot in bed with hot tea and my comfy college sweatshirt (the same one pictured), but, something is noticeably missing. Our Maine Coon, Buck died in August and this frigid cold and feeling of blah makes me miss him that much more.  Buck was the big bear carpet sprawled out in the middle of the living room, commanding attention.  I always secretly liked that he would get in the middle of wherever our kids were playing, with the attitude of an older brother saying, "hey, I was here first".  Buck liked to fight with Steve and cuddle with me - I was his groomer, his bed, and his place to drool.  I knew something was wrong when he no longer sought me out.  We discovered Buck had developed significant cancerous tumors and made the tough decision to have him euthanized.  This picture, like the day we said good-bye to him, is filled with so many memories of our 15-year journey with Buck (aka The Big Kahuna).

In the fall of 1998, Steve and I were living in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida when Steve's sister called and said she had found a cat with a litter of new kittens and was hoping we would consider taking a couple.  She even offered to drive down from Pittsburgh.  We really couldn't resist and agreed that we should take two cats. Buck and his sister, LuLu became Floridians in October, 1998.

Steve and I both had childhood pets who represented to us, trusted, best friends.  Kritz, who lived 16 years, was Steve's dog and Tippy Toes, who lived 19 years, was my cat.  Tippy helped me to feel safe when I was scared and loved me when I felt no one else would.  Steve and I had only been married for 2 months when we moved to Florida.  Newly married and working in new jobs, trying to meet new people, and living in a state you knew nothing about was to say the least...challenging.  I think Buck and LuLu made Steve and I laugh when we needed it the most and helped us to work as partners in our new marriage.  Reflecting back, I can totally see the validity in pet ownership before big life decisions like parenthood.

Steve and I came home one weekend afternoon to find blood all over the front of Buck's white fur markings on his mouth and chest.  We freaked out -- looked at him, looked at LuLu, looked all over our apartment, and couldn't find anything.  We took him to the emergency vet, they cleaned him up and said nothing was wrong with him and that he probably just killed a GECKO -- translation, put that in your Florida cat parent handbook.

Buck stayed true to his Florida roots and never took to the snow here in New England.  We even tried to gently remind him that he was a Maine Coon.  No, he wouldn't have it, he would be trying to find the warmest lap during this snowstorm.  I really miss him.  I'm proud of LuLu, the stereotypical scaredy-cat who balks at the idea of affection, has been coming around, trying to fill the role of snuggle-kitty.  The fact that I captured this picture of her on my bed is a start of our budding relationship.  Well, from the look on her face, I clearly still have some convincing to do.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Past, Present, and Future


That's me, standing in the ever-familiar backyard pool with my sister circa 1975.  I turned 40 on December 28, 2013 and I'm adjusting to the belief that it's true.  I don't say that to sound cliche -- I am genuinely surprised that I'm alive and that my bouts with anxiety, depression and other illnesses didn't cost me my life.  Some days are more of a struggle than others and I try to laugh my way through marriage, parenthood, and arthritis.

My dad's father died when he was 14, my father died when I was 23 and for both justified and completely illogical reasons, I envisioned myself as someone with a short shelf-life.  My mother and my sister are the only immediate family members I have left - addiction and mental illness took most on my father's side and diseases like cancer took those on my mother's side.  I've often been told to write a book because I have many stories to tell.  That is flattering to hear, but of course, scary to even think about starting.  So, I decided to start this blog as a means to share some of my experiences, but, also "record" stories for my children because I don't want them to miss out on their family history, the good and the not so good.

I write this blog with the hopes that a new year will inspire me to write about the important moments and catalysts that helped me get to my 40th year and share the new stories that hopefully get me 40 more years.

Details of the Photo

For me, the best part of this picture is what is happening in the background.  My maternal grandfather, Ernest Stephenson Goodman, Sr. and our neighbor, Don Randol, who was like a godfather to us, are taking a break and talking about gardening.  Whenever my grandpa would visit, he would plant my parents' fruit and vegetable gardens for the season.  As I got older, I thought it was weird that he would come from West Virginia for "vacation" and work the whole time.  My maternal grandmother, "granny", would bake a different pie for each family member while we were at work and school.  My mother's family had a work ethic that was indescribable and it certainly is challenging to take the time necessary to develop those values within our 5-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter.