For Liv

Life is precious.  While we all talk the talk and spout those words, few of us walk the walk and appreciate how real they are.

Last weekend, I received a three word text from a friend; Liv is dead.  I gasped and felt my heart drop to the floor.  At that moment, the details didn’t even matter.  What did matter was that Liv was twenty-two, a kind soul, a talented artist and a life partner to Michaela, a young woman I have known since she was ten years old, the daughter of a dear friend of mine.  Theirs was a love that most people will never experience and the maturity with which they shared their lives far exceeded most marriages I have known.  All he did was hop on his bike (with a helmet) heading home to hang out with his girlfriend when a truck turned into the campus of one of the five colleges in the area, hit and killed him.  Just like that.  No warning.  No satisfactory explanation.  No do-overs.  Life is precious.

Liv was born Olivia.  He was, truthfully, the first transgender person that I had ever known beyond the few that had gone very public with their transitions.  Even then, my knowledge of him was primarily through Michaela’s mom who, truth be told, initially needed some time to adjust to the (not actually all that unconventional) unconventional relationship.  In short order, she came to love Liv for all the same reasons that her daughter did and his gender identification straight up did not matter.

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I recall when Michaela first began to date Liv thinking, “hmmm…dating a transgender person” with no judgment (well, maybe a little) but, admittedly, a curiosity and wonder.  I had certainly heard of transgender (truth: some people have not) but never truthfully gave it much thought as it was not a situation that I ever anticipated finding myself in.  As my concerns (for lack of a better word) about Jess and her unusual-for-a-boy behaviors continued to increase, so, too, did my interest in Liv and, more to the point, Liv and Michaela’s relationship.

As a parent, you only want your children to be healthy and happy (successful and rich are just bonuses).  Throw any wrench into the mix and the first fear is: Will they have a good life?  Well, I am here to tell you that Liv was enjoying not just a good life, but a wonderful one.

In the days since his death, I have spent a fair amount of time with Michaela.  She has told me that Liv defined himself as gender-queer.  And, interestingly, she spoke of the reality that, while acceptance and understanding for the transgender community is growing, evolving and improving, there is “no space” for gender-queer.  She spoke those words with an undercurrent of anger and disappointment.  Liv was leading a happy, loving and successful life, but was still, in many respects, misunderstood.

At nearly six feet tall with a beautiful smile and spirit, Liv had his breasts removed about a year and a half ago.  It made him more comfortable in his own skin.  He loved to bear his chest on the beach, even if that “beach” was the lawn outside the home that he and Michaela shared.  He kept the rest of the parts he was born with.  He was gender-queer and he was happy.  So, too, was Michaela.  And now, the life that he had so fearlessly approached was gone in a horrible, tragic instant.

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Michaela, herself a tall, beautiful, creative, accepting and loving young woman has shown incredible grace in these dark days and, with the same strength and commitment that she poured into their relationship, has soldiered through.  The shock has not worn off.  Her rabid support of all things Liv is indicative of their love.  In fact, when the first press released referred to him by his birth name, Olivia, Michaela found, amid her deep distress, the strength to contact the editor and correct the error.  She allowed that it was an “error”, but made damn sure that it was corrected.  Nothing would sully Liv’s memory.

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Life is precious.  Embrace the wonderful things in life and live like there is no tomorrow.  A devastating event like this should remind us all to walk the walk.

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Never Stop Pushing

Last week, Harrison’s guidance counselor asked him if he would speak at the annual “My Story” assembly which is held for seniors at the end of the school year.  The subject matter, I assume, is self-explanatory.  Both flattered and anxious (about the speaking in front of 500 people part, not the content) he, after the hemming and hawing typical of an eighteen year-old,  somewhat reluctantly agreed.  The assembly was scheduled for today.  This morning, as he was heading out the door, he voiced his public speaking concerns to me (and I, in a proud moment, resisted the urge to offer him a Xanax to “take the edge off”) and I confidently assured him that he would be fine.  He left the house with nerves appropriate to the task,  a reminder to not read it too quickly (memories of his Bar Mitzvah speech racing through my head) and assurances from me that “he could do this”.

Below is the text of his speech.  He read it to me last night and I made no changes.  It is from the heart, almost unbearably honest, powerful, memorable, heartbreaking and meaningful.  I would be remiss if I did not mention that it also made me ridiculously proud.

When you look at someone, you think you know their character. When you look at me

you see a somewhat tall, brown-haired kid with a huge nose. You think you know what you

want about me. You see my Warriors Swimming and Diving jacket – immediately you know that

I shave my legs, idolize Michel Phelps, bathe in chlorine and am likely to miss a shot on a 4 foot

hoop. Except, all of those things are false – except for the last one at least. We see the way

people look and think we know everything about them. But this is far from the truth.

We all have stories. Memories of these stories, I believe are the most important thing

we have as people. Some stories are filled with joy, others with grief and sorrow. We all have

faced, continue to face and always will face hurdles. I appreciate these hurdles because the

ones I have cleared and stumbled over thus far make me the person I am today, and who I am

proud to be.

High school, much like life is a rollercoaster. I am confident a huge majority of you have

heard this analogy before. In 7th and 8th grade I could not wait to get out of Baker. I was

officially a man, well, kinda, and couldn’t wait to experience what BHS had to offer. I had some

hiccups, however. I would say, one of my biggest challenges was my younger sibling. George

had been well known. With his bright yellow curls and sky blue eyes, he was anything but

ordinary in appearance. As he grew older, he developed a personality to match. George was

notorious for his rambunctious disposition in our close-knit community. Having been diagnosed

with a mood disorder, ADHD and severe dyslexia to top it all off, George was very difficult to be

around. People have commented to me time and time again about my incredible patience with

younger children, but George knew how to push my buttons and then some. Granted, his

diagnoses played a part; I couldn’t help but believe that little one had it out for me. I found

myself isolating, well, myself, from the family in order to diffuse any issues that arose – to the

point that I can’t even remember the last family vacation we could all be together in the same

room. But before I knew what had happened I lost my brother – and I woke up the very next

day to a little girl in the room adjacent to mine.

George had always had a preference for typically feminine things. I didn’t care, nor did

my parents. Slightly a-typical for a little boy to yank dolls from the shelf at the store over a

truck, sure, but hey – what does that matter. As not if by chance, on her 10th birthday, she woke

up, announced she was a girl and skipped off to school to tell the world. She had spent years (if

it was longer or shorter, we will never know) keeping this inside, and this is her story. Did I

struggle at first coming to terms with a major life event not far from a death and birth? Yes. Have things gone back to normal? Of course – yet she is still a very tough person to be around

due to her behavior.

Look – this is just one little anecdote of my time in high school. I spent two years

benched from sports due to bilateral shoulder injuries. My mother spent months stuck in bed

with a horrible back injury. My parents split up just this year, thankfully not due to my sister,

but their own things.

But this is no contest. So many other people have and will speak today with things that

we all cannot fathom. We all have unique stories – this is why we are all unique people. We all

have memories we hold dear, and memories we try to shed away. I can tell you, not that I am

older and wiser, because I am certainly not – but I have learned that these challenges have

made me who I am. My story is not the easiest, but it is also not the hardest by a long shot. We

are all out of here in a very few short weeks. We do not know what each other face in the

upcoming weeks, months and years. We do not know what everyone else has overcome to

make it this far. What is the most important is that we have our stories and we stick to them.

Be honest with yourself, and never stop pushing. Thank you very much.

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Wow, right?  (Indulge me in my kvelling…things have been so challenging for so long that I grab and hold onto the good stuff a little bit harder and tighter than I might otherwise.)

Perhaps most touching is the outpouring of supportive comments, texts and messages Harrison has been receiving from both classmates and teachers since he spoke.  His has not been an easy adventure (remember, I dislike the word journey) for him or, for that matter,  anyone in the family; siblings, cousins, grandparents, aunts, uncles and family friends alike.  The fact that he was willing to put himself out there, take a risk and share his story is, to  me, anyway, impressive.  Not sure I could have done it when I was his age.

And remember:  Be honest with yourself and never stop pushing.

p.s. As we speak, Harrison is at the high school Athletic Banquet at which he is being given an award for “Most Improved”…a true testament to his successfully facing that damned bilateral shoulder injury and having not stopped pushing. 

p.p.s. Why am I not at said banquet you ask?  Because he insisted it would be boring and that I not attend so had I suddenly announced that I was going it would have been too obvious that something was up.  I want him to experience the thrill of hearing his name called which, I am quite sure, will surprise him. 

p.p.p.s. Yes, I did consider sneaking in the back so that I could watch.

p.p.p.p.s  With visions of him skipping out before he is awarded, I texted the friend he is driving with to not allow him to leave early. Good thinking, right? 

I think today will prove to be one that makes his “never stop pushing” mantra worthwhile.

Loss and Gain

I challenge you to present to me a person who has not experienced loss of one kind or another.  In return, I will give you $1,000,000.00.  Take your time, this could take a while.  Guessing you are still thinking because, as best I can tell, that person simply does not exist.  (Nor, for that matter, does the million dollars I just offered up, so it is all good.) Some loss is welcome: weight, debt and toxic relationships come to mind.  The vast majority of loss, however, sucks.  Or does it?

In the past several years, I have lost my breasts (to cancer), my father (fuckin’ cancer again), my son (to become my daughter), my marriage and soon, my oldest child (when he leaves for college in September).  Yes, that last loss is clearly a huge gain for him, but the guttural feeling remains the same.  No matter what precipitates the loss, you are still left without something which you had, leaving a void that will, at some point, need to be filled.  The question is how.

I was just 39 when the mammography technician escorted me to a small, private room following my imaging.  I instinctively knew that nothing good was going to happen in that room, yet it truthfully never occurred to me that I was about to be told I had breast cancer.  Why it was a shock is a mystery to me: my mother had been diagnosed when she was 41 at a time when young women simply did not get breast cancer.  Apparently, I had the arrogance of youth coursing through my veins, and it kicked my ass.  With two little boys at home (yep, they were both boys then) and a father and father-in-law that were both fighting their own cancer battles, I straight up did not have the emotional, physical or mental capacity for this.  But, guess what?  No one gave me a choice.  I liked my breasts well enough.  Were they as fantastic as they had been in my twenties?  Well, no, but they were mine and I would have preferred to keep them.  The surgeon told me at our first meeting that there was “no chance of breast conservation”…so there you have it.  File under: a loss.  It could have been much worse and as other friends of mine have faced this diagnosis I have seen just how easily I got off.  I had excellent reconstruction and if you want to get literal, I also lost the need to wear a bra.

When my father died at 68 from lung cancer I was as prepared as I could have been.  In fact, he far outlived his initial diagnosis which would have taken his life within the year as opposed to the nearly three that he rallied.  I recall a friend asking me once if I was prepared for his death.  “Hell, no!”  In fact, he did such a great job of living with cancer that it was easy to forget that those toxic cells had taken up residency in his lungs and brain.  The day he died he was pummeled by a stroke while getting dressed to go to the office.  I was, I guess, somewhat emotionally prepared, but the loss of his presence is felt every day.  Despite the warning, ultimately he was here one moment, gone the next.

I did not lose a child.  I shudder to even think of that.  No, I did not lose a child, but I did lose a son.  I used to live with a rambunctious, wild, rough and tumble little boy who seemed to be following in the footsteps of his older brother.  His name was George and the old-fashioned lilt of his name only made him cuter, his incorrigibility slightly more endearing.  Being the second born, he had secured my spot in the “mom of boys” society which, as I have written before, is a membership which anyone with the title wears (mostly) with pride and (always) with empathy for their female brethren.  Jessie is still the same person, in many ways.  She is not, however, the little boy I spent ten years trying to understand.  I love and adore Jessie, but I did lose George.

My marriage is a subject not for these pages.  I will only say that Rich was (and continues to be) one hundred percent supportive and respectful of Jessie’s transition.  I have often mentioned (and marveled at) his willingness to enter (and not run out screaming) The American Girl store on a busy Saturday when I simply could not.  The disintegration of our marriage was not related to either of our children, no matter their gender.  That being said, it is still a loss.

And now, as Harrison’s graduation from high school is just a few short weeks away, I am acutely aware of how different things will be around here once he has packed up and moved out.  The dynamic in the house will, yet again, change.  His absence will be palpable.  There will be one less car in the driveway, no more need for S’Mores ingredients to be at the ready, my lawn will overgrow more quickly and that fucking litter box will become my responsibility.  The sound of his iPhone shaking him awake, the errant hairs in the sink after he has shaved, the three clinks of his toothbrush against the porcelain to rid it of water after he has brushed, the incessant banging on the doorbell by his bestie Alex each and every time he is here (which is often), the piling of his swimsuits on the side of the tub after practice and his otherwise uncharacteristic impatience with Jessie will all be memories only to be revisited on school breaks.  The silence of his sounds will be deafening, but I will, once again, adjust to the loss.  He is off for great things.

Loss can very well beget gain.  My breast cancer took my breasts, but gave me the strength to be able to say, “I can do this” and (usually) mean it.  My father’s death took my dad, but left me with him sitting on my shoulder, whispering in my ear, reminding me that “everything works out”.  George’s transition to Jessie took my son, but gifted me with a daughter who has more strength and chutzpah than I would ever dream to have.  The end of my marriage took my security and longevity, but left me with a friend and co-parent who knows all about every loss and gain.  And, finally, my loss of Harrison to the hallowed halls of UMASS is truly a gain of a fiercely kind and independent young man who is off and running.

Yes, I have had loss. So, too, have you and everyone you know.  There are days that I wallow in it and hover dangerously close to a “woe is me” frame of mind but, in the end, I know that it is all part of life. If I didn’t have these losses, I would most certainly have others and I might, as a result, have fewer gains.  That said, please, dear G-d, to not take that as an invitation to offer up any more losses in a quest to challenge me.  Deal?

As I write this the death toll in Oklahoma continues to be tallied in the wake of a vicious tornado ripping through town.  The loss there is incomprehensible: homes, schools, pets and lives. It is made even more horrible given the complete lack of warning for what lay ahead.  The only thing worse than loss, in my mind, is not having any idea it is coming and not being able to see clear as to what you are also gaining.  I’ve seen this over and over again as the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings, many of whom have lost limbs, continue to emerge, each and every one of them all seemingly appreciative of what the loss has helped them to gain.  Unthinkable events can, in fact, make us stronger.

No Sleep Plenty o’ Shoes

Oh, how I wish I could sleep.  I am quite sure that doing so would work wonders against the crying, short-temper and general bitchiness which seems to define me of late.  I am equally convinced that last night’s shoe shopping experience would have been wayyyy better.

In a few short weeks, my niece Sara is having her Bat Mitzvah (heretofore known as her BM, heehee…that never gets old) and, as such, several outfits for the entire family are in order.  I have begged Harrison to try on the suit I bought him last year for his semi-formal (did I mention that he long ago surpassed the ability to fit into a kid’s suit?  Read: man’s suit, man’s price tag) and he has, not surprisingly, failed to do so.  I am going on the assumption that it will fit.* I do so knowing that there is an excellent chance that it won’t.  That, however, is among the least of my worries.

Jessie needs two dresses; one for the service in the morning and one for the dance extravaganza at night.  I flat-out refused to purchase two new dresses, mostly because of the stress of doing so.  It is not that I bristle at her wearing a dress (that ship sailed a long time ago), rather her taste borders on eighteen year-old, stacked, leggy, curvy young woman as opposed to the eleven year old that she is.  In searching her closet I chose one dress that is more than appropriate for the morning which, for the kid set, at least, is far less important (fashion-wise, that is) than the evening.  In fact, she has worn it to Temple before with a sweater, tights and patent leather boots.  All we need to do to make it work is to lose the earlier accessories and add a cute pair of flats.  And therein lays the problem.

Okay, I admit to having a shoe thing.  I admit to having purchased more than, um, let’s say two pairs of wedges this season.  I even admit to perhaps having a problem with my love of shoes which may have been passed along to my child.  I cannot, however, sanction my eleven year old (transgender) child wearing heels or wedges to a BM party.  Am I wrong?

To her credit, she insisted that in our quest we go the way of Payless Shoes for her footwear.  “They are inexpensive, but not cheaply made” she argued (incorrectly).  So after a “Shabbat” dinner of Chinese food, off we went to begin the battle, er, search.  Now I don’t mean to sound obnoxious, snooty or rude (and if I do, blame it on the lack of sleep) but the shoes at Payless are nothing short of horrible.  And, much to my horror, she spotted several (all inappropriate) that she would have been more than happy to purchase.  In a not so proud moment, I got so skeeved that I insisted, in a perhaps too loud voice, that there was nothing there and we were heading to the far superior (and I used the term loosely) DSW.  Fortunately, the two stores are close together since this expedition began at 8pm on a Friday night and, as everyone knows, I am in a constant state of exhaustion and, um, short-temperedness.

As we entered the store, I reminded her of the parameters of acceptable footwear: black (will work with both outfits), flat or very little heel, under $50 and comfortable.  Next thing I know, she is trying on pink high top Converse stating that they would be cute with the dress at night.  Yeah, they would, but having attended many a BM in my day, I was quite sure that such a choice would result in hysteria upon arrival at party and subsequent discovery that no one else was wearing Converse.  Right?

I somehow managed to convince her to cut the shit, I mean, see things through the eyes of me, her mature, more knowledgeable, loving and sleep deprived mother and try on a few different little black shoes.  At the same moment, I noticed that she shoes that I bought for me the BM just last week were now marked down 30% and, blame it again on the lack of sleep, I got pissed and started rifling through my wallet for the receipt with visions of a price adjustment dancing through my head.  Do you have a visual yet?

In a victory for me (I have to tally them whenever humanly possible) we left with the perfect shoes for Jess and a promise from Brendan, the store manager, to adjust my pricing if I come back with the receipt today.  I assumed, from the double success, that a good night’s rest lay ahead.  I was wrong.  But at least we have good shoes now.

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*Probably a mistake.  Oh, and his shoes might not fit, either.

#thingsthatmakemecranky

I am cranky.  Wanna know why?  If you don’t, you had best stop reading now.  You were warned.

  1. I’ve “written” (and I use the term loosely) and trashed about seven blog posts this week.  Some were several paragraphs long when I clicked, highlighted and deleted them.  There were actually some halfway decent sentences among them, a couple of interesting trains of thought and even a few clever witticisms, but nothing came together in any meaningful way.* It was irritating, frustrating and even a little bit thought-provoking; the main thought being: what’s my problem?  #thingsthatmakemecranky
  2. Sleep (or, more to the point, a lack of sleep) is mocking, torturing and berating me.  Falling asleep is not an issue.  In fact, I can (and do) fall asleep remarkably quickly.  I feel my eyes getting heavy and my brain shutting down and within a nanosecond of assuming the on-my-stomach-leg-bent-out-to-the-side stance I am out cold.  If only I could stay that way for longer than four freakin’ hours.  And those of you who are ready to espouse the virtue of any number of sleep aids (prescription and OTC alike) can save your breath.  I’ve tried them all.  It is, I am convinced, a conspiracy.  #thingsthatmakemecranky
  3. Mental overload.  I, like everyone else, always have a lot on my plate.  Most days I handle it with grace or at least have mastered the art of fooling everyone into thinking such.  Others days, like, well, today, however: not so much.   There is a definite correlation between how much is rattling around in my head, how I sleep (see #2) and how well I cope (and write).  Crappy thinking begets crappy sleep begets crappy writing oh, and crappy mood.* #thingsthatmakesmecranky
  4. I have cried on four separate occasions today.  None were particularly meaningful bawls, rather quick drops spontaneously erupting from my eyes (and, I might note, smearing my mascara in the process which, if I am being honest, could be a line item all its own).  While I can think of any number of reasons for the tears, none of the episodes rendered much in the way of relief.*  File under: yet another irritant, oh, and #thingsthatmakemecranky
  5. I’m not eating much. I am exercising regularly.  Yet, for some obnoxious reason, all my jeans feel snug.  Not tight, just snug.  Enough to make me crankier.  #thingsthatmakemecranky
  6. The cat who, admittedly, served his purpose by ridding us of the rodents who had taken up residence in our walls (where they also chose to die), has overstayed his welcome.  #thingsthatmakemecranky
  7. I settled into bed last night, inordinately excited to catch up on the “Modern Family” and “Real Housewives” episodes that I so carefully recorded only to discover that someone in the house (naming no names, it was the 18-year-old) watched and, I can only assume, enjoyed MF and then deleted it.  Said 18-year-old did not touch the “RH”, though.  I do take comfort in that.  However, #thingsthatmakemecranky
  8. I did a massive load of Jessie’s laundry two days ago.  It is all still in the dryer.  Gonna look like shit.*  #thingsthatmakemecranky

Okay, I feel a little bit better.  Now you, however, are probably all agitated and constructing your own list of that which makes you cranky.  Have at it and feel free to lift the hashtag.

*Much like this blog post.

Got Snarts?

It was about two weeks into my sophomore year in college. I was settling in, feeling (as) happy (as I got during those years) and a little bit cocky in my dorm situation.  Having hit the mother lode and pulled a ridiculously low number in the housing lottery (I mean really low:  as in #18 which is phenomenal given that the sophomores got last dibs on rooms) I was digging my single-on-a-co-ed-floor-in-a-great-dorm-overlooking-the-quad room.  The dorms were suite-style: a single and a double on either side of the bathroom which, incidentally, was cleaned by campus staff weekly.  I was pretty cool in my set up and relishing the comfort that came with being a sophomore and not a freshman.

In the middle of each floor in the dorm was a common area which was nothing more than an open space with some sofas and a few chairs.  (I suspect those common areas have grown up a lot since my day, but at the time it was commons heaven.)  A fairly good-sized group of kids, representing all classes, were hanging out enjoying the first few weeks of school before all those pesky papers and exams started piling up.  I had gotten up to grab something from my room when it happened:  I was walking away and (of course) there was a natural lull in the conversation (having nothing to do with my departure) during which I sneezed.  Oh, and farted at the same time.  Yes, I snarted right there, in front of everybody that I was going to be living with for the next eight months.  I vividly recall praying that the sneeze had been explosive enough to muffle (I dared not wish for a full mute) the accompanying fart, but, alas, it had not been.  Utter humiliation for me.  Peals of laughter for everyone (and I do mean everyone) else.  Yeah, it was pretty much the definition of embarrassment.

I wish I could recall  how I reacted, but I suspect it was not with the grace or aplomb that I would hope to display at my current, far more advanced age should the same situation occur.  At the time, I was horrified, embarrassed, nauseous and quite sure I was the only person in the entire universe who had ever sustained such humiliation.  The joy of my single-on-a-co-ed-floor-in-a-great-dorm-overlooking-the-quad was immediately eviscerated despite resolving to never leave said room ever again.  Sure, I was 18 or 19 at the time, but I might just as well have been ten.  It was brutal.

Fast forward to now.  I am pleased to say that I have never suffered at the hands of the snart since that fateful day, but I have grappled with other awkward, embarrassing and horrifying situations.  You probably think that I am going to lump Jessie’s transition into this category.  If so, you’d be wrong.  It amazes me, actually.  Sure, I have felt anxious and concerned and, well, nauseous over some of the changes that have come down the pike, but never, not once, was I embarrassed.  I never wanted to hole up in my room and not face people.  I never contemplated transferring out, credits be damned.  I worried and fretted and feared each new wave of the transition but I was never embarrassed.

As I was driving Jessie home today she shared with me a story of having snarted at recess today.  Until she told me, I had resolved any residual fallout from my incident in college (or had I?) but it immediately came rushing back, clear as day.  I can almost envision the acid washed jeans I had acquired over the summer along with the heavy black eyeliner that I favored in those days.  I shared the story with her, complete with the degree of devastation I suffered.  She looked at me quizzically, unsure what my problem had been.  She was not even remotely upset about her snarting.  In fact, she was, at the tender age of eleven, able to see the humor in it.  In fact, I believe I even detected a degree of pride at having accomplished a snart.

I cannot help but associate her total lack of discomfort with this potentially humiliating incident with her comfort in her current gender affirmation.  It is all about perspective, is it not?  What is a snart to a kid who, in fourth grade, started the week at school a boy, and closed it out as a girl?

I have often marveled at Jessie’s courage.  I have never, however, really thought about how I would manage should I be in her position.  As we had this conversation in the car (aside: why do these things always happen in the car??) I realized that she is a way cooler cat than I.  Her sense of self and lack of inhibition, while often exasperating, is going to serve her well as she continues through life.  She will snart without inhibition, opine without hesitation and succeed without compunction.   As a mother, that makes me proud.  That said, now that the whole snart incident is fresh in my mind, I am sure to begin fretting over it happening again. Oh, to be more like Jess.

Scars

I am a fan of scars.  Yes, scars.  War wounds, blemishes, disfigurements.  Sounds crazy, I know, but it is true. It’s a good thing I am a fan, as I happen to have several scars of my own: some physical, some emotional.  In addition to the no longer angry, yet still deep red lines which inhabit the spot that used to be my breasts, I have two on my back –one low down, the other near my shoulder, another on my foot, one spreading across my pelvis from hip to hip and a small, almost indiscernible one under my chin.  Each has a story behind it and plays a role in me being me.  (And make me easy to identify!) I don’t mind them; in fact, they serve as a reminder of what I can do (even when I don’t think I can) , where I have been (even if I didn’t want to be there) and why I am who I am (even if it ain’t always easy to be so).

I know a young lady who will be securing a scar of her own this summer.  I consider it an achievement, a signal to the world that she has faced down an invisible demon and kicked its ass.  Ultimately she was diagnosed with Graves Disease, but not before enduring a tumultuous, difficult and uncertain period in her young life.  Recently she posted the following on her Facebook page.  She didn’t run it by anyone, including her parents, and spoke with an honesty that seems reserved for the less jaded (read: young) among us.  I applaud her for her confidence, bravery and utter lack of compunction.  I reprint with her blessing:

If you don’t like long posts, don’t read this. :). I have had anxiety for my whole life, and I finally got diagnosed in first grade. I went to therapy since then but in fourth grade, I started on my medication. The first pill i was on caused me to feel crazy, like actually insane. so I had to get switched onto different pills until I found the right one, the one I’m on now.

After a while, we realized a new problem, I was not gaining any weight and I looked very sick. we all just thought I just had a very fast metabolism. Then, my meds stopped working, so my family decided to get a second opinion from a different doctor. After our second meeting, he decided to diagnose me with ADD/ADHD. He was going to put me on a stimulant, but before he could, he had to make sure my heart was healthy. So he sent me to get an EKG.

He let my therapist know what was going on, and she told my parents to get my thyroid checked. At that moment, my family just knew that it was my thyroid. So, me, being the nervous person I am, weighing at about 69 pounds, sat in the chair waiting to get my blood done. I screamed and cried, so nervous about what was going to happen. Two days later, my labs were in. I was officially diagnosed with a thyroid disease. I met a bunch of doctors and was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease.

Graves’ Disease is an auto-immune disease that affects the thyroid gland. It makes the thyroid produce too many hormones which was why I was so skinny and so hyper. I am now on medication to balance out my thyroid. I will be getting surgery this summer and hopefully be back to normal.

So I would like to thank many special people for being there for me from the beginning till the end.

And I am so sorry to everybody that I have hurt and caused stress to.

Graves Disease, like so much other crap we all deal with, is invisible to the casual observer.  Actually, it is invisible to the naked eye, too, but that does not lessen its fury.  All the insanity that was doing battle in her body caused her to behave in ways that she was unable to either control or explain.  To add insult to injury, there was nothing tangible to the outside world that might elicit a conversation that could, in turn, educate enough to offset the hurts and stresses that ensued.

Not surprisingly, this beautiful young woman balked at the mere thought of the permanent scar across her throat that will result from having her thyroid removed. The same thyroid that has been torturing her (and, frankly, her parents)  for too many years.  She is young (did I mention that she is beautiful?) and her scar will be in a spot that everyone can and will see unless, that is,  she takes to wearing turtlenecks and scarves year round.  But, (and I told her this -although she didn’t ask) in my mind, that scar will forever serve not as a blemish, but as a sign of strength, courage and experience.  Every scar has a story and every story plays a role in making us who we are.  Scars have the power to initiate a conversation which may, in ways one never expects, help to heal, to learn and to grow.  A scar is a badge of honor for a fight that was fought and won, each red, raised line a one-man show of strength and resilience.  Everyone should have at least one.

This is not the first kid I have highlighted in my blog.  The first two were wonderful young men (hey Aiden and Cameron!) who were born female and had the fortitude to put themselves out there, gather up some scars and continue to make their way in the world.  All three of these kids have tremendous chutzpah…and the scars to prove it.  I embrace my scars.  It doesn’t mean I always like them, but I appreciate their value in my life.  I am betting these kids will, too.