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Failure to Brake

The last time I was on a bike was probably 2007. But whatever, it’s a bike, I thought. I think I can handle 28 miles downhill.

These were my thoughts as I awoke at 1:45 AM, not even 24 hours into my vacation in Maui, preparing to see an unforgettable sunrise at Haleakala Crater and ride the scenic and winding path down to the beach. I wasn’t scared—at all. Tired, to be sure, but what was there to be afraid of? We had a bike guide, a truck was following us for medical and insurance reasons, and surely they wouldn’t let anyone get hurt. No one needs that kind of press.

Plus, they were making us wear giant bike helmets with chin plates, obscuring our faces so much that it was nearly impossible to wipe our running noses after the blizzard conditions we experienced at the top of the crater—and its no-show sunrise.

I was so pumped about the bike ride, in fact, that I volunteered to be first in our pack, riding directly behind our guide. It was up to me to lead by example—follow Kim’s hand signals to brake, move to the right or left, slow down or coast.

Our group of ten was given bikes and allowed to ride them about 20 feet in a test run before our first downhill curve—then we were off! Watching as cars came up the mountain mere feet from my unprotected shins gave me the shivers, but I locked my concentration on Kim and followed the leader. The safety video we’d watched back at the base stated that the safest speed to travel at is 18-25 mph. However, as I picked up speed around a curve and tried to pump the brakes on my bike, I couldn’t help but think I was accelerating far beyond that—and way beyond my control.

Around the next curve I went, closing in on the distance between me and Kim. I squeezed down on the brakes. HARD. But the road kept going downhill and though I hoped I could slow my bike down further with my mind, it didn’t work. I was eating wind; I was jumping off road reflectors; I was spinning around hairpin turns as my heart pumped with similar increasing speed.

Kim motioned for us to brake, and I tried again with no success. One of the most important rules of safety we’d learned back on the bus was not to pass anyone, but in the absence of working brakes, I shouted out to Kim from her left with a wavering voice, “I’m passing you! I don’t think my brakes work!”

Soon I was five feet in front of her. Then ten, winding around a curve. “Brake!” Kim shouted. “Brake hard!”

“I am!” I screamed back. “My hands hurt I’m braking so hard!”

My life didn’t flash before my eyes—instead, I saw a vision of my body splayed out in the middle of the road. I thrust my energy and all of my muscles into the brakes. Slowly but surely, as the road leveled off, I was able to stop my bike.

Kim signaled to the rest of our group to follow suit and she ran up to me. I hopped off the bike, pulled off my gloves and wiped my sweaty palms on my windbreaker pants. “Yeah, these brakes are pretty shot,” Kim said while inspecting my bike.

Um, what? Is there a reason you didn’t check that before I took off on the most perilous bike ride of my life?

As Greg and I mingled with the other riders while Kim and our driver Shannon swapped out my bike, they too shared concerns about our speed and whether or not their brakes would work. Thankfully, my new bike’s brakes squeaked in tune with the rest of them and we were off again, zooming past lush scenery, mountains fading in the background, beautiful horses behind wooden fences, lavender groves…and I was eating air and loving every minute of it.

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Skin Deep

Most of you probably don’t know this, but in addition to suffering from Crohn’s disease, I have a condition called vitiligo, and it’s making my skin change color. Vitiligo is what Michael Jackson suffered from—the disease that turned him white and may have led him to bleach his skin (the verdict is still out on that one). Why do I personally believe he bleached? Because as someone who also has vitiligo, I know it doesn’t leech out all of your pigment overnight.

It started over a year ago with a white spot on my hand. I had a few other small places on my arms that didn’t seem to tan like the rest of my skin, but doesn’t everyone? However, during a routine visit with my dermatologist, I mentioned it and he said we’d keep an eye on it. Six months later, the white spot had grown a little bit and spread. “Try this cream,” my doctor urged. I applied two different ointments and a separate lotion, day and night, to no avail. The vitiligo seemed to be spreading much faster as I rubbed the gels and creams in and I became convinced that they were causing my skin to turn white. Besides, I was getting more patchy white leopard spots on my arms and legs. So when the creams stopped working, I just said “screw it.”

My left hand

My left hand

The other treatment options available to me don’t sound very appealing—bleaching my skin (no thank you) or undergoing multi-weekly laser treatments that insurance likely wouldn’t cover. Perhaps if my original skin color were darker these are things I would consider. I’m not vain, but this past weekend I saw an African-American teenager who had a very obvious case of vitiligo, and my heart immediately went out to him. See, vitiligo can take over your whole body, but there are places it really likes. The underarms, for example. The hands. And on the face, it usually starts around the lips and eyes. This teenager’s legs were mostly white with a few patches of his original coffee-colored skin tone still present, but he looked like he was appearing in an ironic blackface. The strangers that must stare at him. I felt an immediate connection to him, and hoped that he had enough pride and confidence in himself to let it all bounce off of his back. It also touched me to see him surrounded by friends.

Seeing a skin-dred spirit (like that?), I realized how lucky I am. I was born with a very fair peaches and cream complexion. So fair, in fact, that most of my friends don’t even notice my leopard-spotted hands, the patches on my legs and arms. I’ve mentioned it to some and they swear up and down they don’t see it. My friends are all very wonderful people, and whether they’ve noticed the changes in my skin or not, I think I’m blessed. But at times, it’s also scary to see my skin evolve and lighten before my very eyes. To know I may never be able to show off a vacation tan again. To not know where it’s going to attack my body next. I have some spots hidden beneath my clothes that almost look as though someone has touched my skin with paint, fingerprints from a vicious monster of autoimmunity.

But I am fortunate. If and when the vitiligo starts to affect my face, I’ll be able to hide it easily with makeup. I’ll turn into a porcelain doll. I’ll burn much more easily in the sun. But vitiligo doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t itch. It’s not contagious and it’s not affecting my day-to-day life. Plus, underneath a black light, I look really, really cool.

My Civic Duty

First and foremost, I’ve noticed a few new people have recently subscribed to my blog.  I don’t know where you’ve come from or how you’ve found me, but I thank you for your interest and hope that my future blog posts will not disappoint.  Welcome aboard my journey!

Now, buckle up for the wild ride I like to call: “That time I almost served on the jury of an extremely high-profile court case.”

Lately, when I see a spider (or, more likely, THINK I see a spider and it turns out it’s just a hairball), I scream.  But the rest of my body doesn’t have time to react.  There’s no heart pounding, just floor pounding.  I don’t sweat.  And I’m not in a panic, just momentary terror followed by the discovery that either I am really brave and protected myself from the wrath of a centimeters-large arachnid, or that I’ve just killed a multi-legged piece of fuzz—and killed it a lot.

But a couple of weeks ago, I found high anxiety in the most unlikely of places for a law-abiding citizen such as myself:  the Superior Court of Los Angeles.  Ah, jury duty.  That white number 10 envelope most dreaded by Americans, regardless of age, sex or socio-economic status.  When we’re in a bind, we want the law to work in our favor; when it comes to repaying that debt, we want to run and hide; we delay; we make excuses, and we try to get out of it.  It’s shameful, really, and I have no shame, because that’s exactly what I tried to do.

I marched up to the Juror Waiting Room, a letter from my doctor tucked confidently under my arm.  An employee of the court gave me directions for the building in which I’d have my medical excuse interview.  Clutching my papers tightly, my laptop case banging against my thigh, I briskly walked down the street, crossed it, found the entrance and rode the elevator up to the 12th floor.  Panting, I dutifully took a number and waited, thinking about how wonderful it would be to drive in to work late and have a short day.

But like my workday would have been, this feeling was short-lived.  I was denied being excused from jury duty on the grounds that I had not had my doctor include her medical license number on the letter.  Defeated, my laptop still banging against my thigh, my upper lip moistening and my shirt becoming itchy, I rode the elevator back down 12 floors, crossed the street and promptly got lost.  Were it not for the friendly cyclist who noticed my direction deficiency, I may not have returned to the courthouse in time, angry, and profusely sweating.

Okay, whatever, I thought.  All my friends have served.  And it’s a Friday.  There’s no way I’m getting called for a jury, and they’re going to let us all go early.  I turned on my laptop.

“Ladies and gentleman, we have a panel to call,” the voice said.  And just like that, I had to pack up my laptop and serve.

Once outside the courtroom, I—and 36 or so of my new friends—waited a very, very, very long time for someone to tell us what was going on.  And then, She emerged.  She who remains nameless told us that because of the length of the trial, we’d have to be sure to fill out hardship forms and explain in detail what, if anything would require us to be excused from the trial—financial hardship, medical hardship, childcare needs, etc.  Great, I thought.  If they wouldn’t excuse me based on my doctor’s note, would my financial status be enough to excuse me now?

I turned to my neighbor and instantly said, “This must be a murder trial.  What do you think, two weeks?”

About 20 nerve-wracking minutes later, we were invited inside the small courtroom, and the judge began to outline the case.  “This is the trial of AEG Live versus Katherine Jackson”—sounds boring, I thought—“in the wrongful death suit of Michael Jackson—“

“Oh my God,” I said.  Out loud.  In front of the judge and lawyers.  I covered my mouth in embarrassment.  But I couldn’t contain myself.  I mean, sometimes I forget I live in L.A., but Michael Jackson’s wrongful death case?  What are the odds?

Well, apparently the odds for getting called this month were pretty great because the trial was estimated to go 90 days or longer, and thankfully the court was sensitive to the fact that most people cannot leave their jobs for that length of time…so they screened hundreds of potential jurors.  Maybe even thousands.

When the hardship form graced my lap, I began scribbling like a maniac.  “Work only pays 7 days,” I wrote.  “Exorbitant medical costs for Crohn’s disease.  Crohn’s disease requires that I’m in the restroom frequently and would interrupt the trial.  If I get even a cold, I must go visit a doctor immediately.  Pre-planned vacation in May and pre-scheduled doctor’s appointments.”

There, I thought.  That should be enough.

I turned my form in and took my place outside the courtroom with my 36 or so new friends once again.  And there we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

My mouth was drying up a little.  The perspiration was beading up.  And my heart began to pound.  And I’m not talking metaphorically.  I mean, I could hear the beat in my temples; I could barely breathe.  The afore-mentioned unnamed court employee began reading the numbers of the jurors who were to be dismissed based on their hardship form responses.

Five numbers were called.  Ten.  Fifteen.

My eyes widened.  My heart beat faster.

Twenty names.

Somewhere between 20 and 25, my number was finally called, and once again I couldn’t contain myself.  “Oh thank God,” I blurted out, heading back down to the Juror Waiting Room.

That was real fear.

Now, I’ve actually gotten some flak for wanting to get out of this trial.  If I was retired or unemployed and not immediately in need of work, I probably would have done it in a heartbeat.  It would have been interesting, and some of the witnesses are famous musicians.  But I wouldn’t have wanted cameras following me around afterward.  I wouldn’t have wanted the Jackson family mad at me.  But could I have made a nice piece of chump change writing a book afterward?  Sure!

However, I am the average citizen.  I am not rich.  I have medical necessities that would have been extremely difficult to account for in a 90-plus-day continuous trial.  And though I’m in a union and probably couldn’t lose my job, my job would be forced to hire a temporary replacement, and I would miss out on at least 83 days of pay, which helps fund my condo, my dog walker, the food we eat, the insurance that helps me pay for my medication, and much, much more.  So for all those of you who criticized me, shame on you.  Put yourself in my shoes!  Could you have afforded 4 months off of work?

The next time you’re afraid to serve jury duty, just think—it could’ve been worse.  You could’ve served on the king of pop’s wrongful death trial.  You could’ve been haunted by Michael Jackson’s ghost, and if your verdict did not please him, I don’t think a simple “Beat it” would do.

 

 

 

Shootin’ Up

I was nervous. But I can take a needle. I’ve been poked and prodded so much over the last five or six years, and I’ve even volunteered my blood to a couple of blood drives.

No, I wasn’t nervous about getting the shot. I was nervous about giving it to myself. Four times.

Allow me to explain.

In my last post, eons ago, I wrote about starting a drug called Cimzia, an injectable immunosuppressant used to treat Crohn’s disease. Unfortunately, I was denied the Cimzia by insurance on the grounds that I did not try another less-expensive treatment first. After months of phone calls attempting to coordinate between doctor’s offices, nurses, pharmacies and the insurance company, faxing various records back and forth and (politely) harassing medical staff, I was finally approved for Humira, a drug that works much the same as Cimzia.

And yesterday, I had to have four injections of it, right into my thighs.

It’s not like seeing a giant syringe, or using an epi pen, though it looks like a smaller version of the latter.  The needle is small (I didn’t even try to look at it because it’s shielded by a little rubber protector).  It’s so small, in fact, that I couldn’t actually feel the needle going into my skin—success!

I could, however, feel the medicine.  And for the 12 or so seconds I was required to hold that pen to my skin at a 90-degree angle while pinching my thigh, it stung and burned like nothing else.

So when the cheerful nurse gave me my first shot, I was none too excited to take a stab—pun clearly intended—myself. I wanted to cry. But I remained calm, took a deep breath, squeezed my eyes shut, counted, and it was over.

After two more injections.

I have to say, I’m braver than this blog would have most believe. Granted, like anyone else, I was nervous beforehand. The date of my training session was looming over me. But more than anything, I just wanted the wait to be over and to start feeling better.

I don’t know if I feel any better yet. I may be having a side effect of heartburn, and possibly somewhat itchy skin. Or those things might be happening just because. I may already be feeling like my stomach is more relaxed because the medicine is working—or it’s a placebo, or I’m just having a good day.

Regardless, the wait is over. The drug is in my system. And though I have plenty more to worry about—I’m going to be immunosuppressed now, for goodness sake—this one thing is off my plate, and the fear, the not knowing, it’s all gone.

New Year, New Fears

Forgive me, blogosphere, for I have sinned.  It has been 6 months since my last confession, and now it’s a new year.

To backtrack, in 2012 I lived through a go-kart race, a German roach infestation and plenty of slippery sneaky silverfish.  I climbed a rock wall on the top deck of a cruise ship and rang the bell.  I lived through a colonoscopy and an MRI, each of which made me face my fears of losing my lunch.

I took leaps to put myself out there as a professional writer, allowed people to read some of my short stories and even gained paying clients.  I got a new job and watched my husband do the same.  I hired a dog walker, something I was afraid to do because, well, it seems weird to have my key floating out there in the ether with someone I’ve only met once.  Okay, and because I’m a nervous dog mommy, but our dog walker is awesome about checking in.

It was a long year…a year in which I found it difficult to keep up with this blog while completing freelance work and fighting the frustration of long commutes compiled with the exhaustion of having an autoimmune disease.

Now, in 2013, I face another fear.

Last week my doctor informed me that the safest treatment option for my—emphasis on my personal plight since I know others have found success with other options—Crohn’s disease right now is to start a drug called Cimzia, which is an injectable immunosuppressant.  I know what you’re thinking.  Something that suppresses your immune system is safe?  Why an injection and not a pill?  You never seem stomach-sick—why do you need to be on medication at all?  And, can’t you treat it herbally?

For the first question, I’m up to date on my vaccinations—TDAP, flu shot, pneumonia, etc.  So I’m told that if I am feeling unwell I should see a doctor to make sure I don’t have any infections that my body might have trouble fighting.  Sure, I might become a hypochondriac at first if people are sniffling around me, but I’m hoping this won’t be an issue, and hundreds if not thousands of other Crohn’s patients have found success with immunosuppressants.

For the second question, my disease has not progressed to a point where I’m in constant pain, can’t work, or feel the need to complain.  I am fully functional and often find that overeating or certain foods at certain times of the day cause me distress.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t have moments where I suffer that are inexplicable.  It’s just that I choose not to share the gory details, because the symptoms of Crohn’s disease are frankly pretty embarrassing.  When my colon is inflamed, noises occur.  Frequent trips to the bathroom happen.  There’s so much more, but it can be TMI, so if you have specific questions, feel free to ask me off the blog.

To address the third question, the injection is the best option for me right now because the drug is safest for someone who wants to become pregnant.  Am I trying to get pregnant right now?  No.  Am I going to tell you when I’m trying?  No.  So don’t ask.  Apparently the drug stops before going into the placenta.  With other immunosuppressants, the drugs reach the baby and the small risk is that the baby will be born immunosuppressed and need to wait on getting crucial vaccines.  I’d rather not worry about that…I’ll be worried enough about having a newborn as it is!

And lastly, sure, I could probably go see a homeopath and attempt a bunch of herbal remedies and diets—possibly with little to no success.  Unfortunately, I am running out of time to do something with trial and error.  My MRI showed that the Crohn’s is spreading to different areas in my system.  While I don’t necessarily FEEL worse, this can be dangerous.  Serious issues can include blockages, surgeries and colostomies.  I don’t want any of this.  So the Cimzia is preventative and may help me feel better in a way that I can’t imagine right now because I’ve lived with undiagnosed Crohn’s probably for at least a decade…I’m used to having a bloated belly, sores in my mouth, night sweats and a host of other symptoms that go along with my particular case of Crohn’s disease.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  I’m not afraid of needles.  I often watch as the needle goes in for routine blood tests.  But there’s something about knowing that I have to put the needle in my own skin that is giving me the willies.  I’m afraid I’ll do it wrong.  That I’ll either waste this incredibly expensive medication somehow, or that I’ll give myself an infection.  That it will hurt.  That I’ll have terrible side effects.  Or, worst of all, that it won’t work.

On top of this, I’ll be taking a drug called 6mp, often given to leukemia patients, which is supposed to help me not become resistant to the Cimzia.  It’s got a host of side effects of its own.  Because it can cause liver damage and mess with your platelets, I have to have frequent blood tests too.  2013 is therefore looking like a whole lot more poking and prodding than I’m used to.

I am inspired by a lyric in the Broadway musical Newsies (those of you who know me well, please do not roll your eyes at my obsession with those adorably capped dancers!):  “Courage does not erase our fears, courage is when we face our fears.”

I think it’s important to keep this in mind.  If I ever go zip lining again, I’m still going to be nervous.  Even after holding giant insects and arthropods in the palm of my hand, I’m going to be terrified when I see grasshoppers in my house.  And I’m never just going to be okay with throwing up.

But while I was once a Cowardly Lion shamefully holding my tail, I have since earned my badge of courage.  Do I run and hide from my fears?  No, not unless someone’s threatening to tickle my feet, or I’m in any real danger.  I may pout, cry, whimper, and attempt to gain the sympathy of others when facing my fears, but I do just that, head-on, like the newsies.

In 2013, I dare you to do the same.

Climbing

I stood two decks beneath it, staring up.  I took in the brightly-colored unusually-shaped blobs that comprised footholds and hand grips.  I gazed at the lengthy ropes, swinging precariously in the gusty ocean breeze.  I watched as the wall curved in a steep angle near the bell at the top.  And I looked at my surroundings on Deck 12, high above the surface of the sea, where the waves and strong currents had knocked me on my ass just five minutes earlier as I was schooling Greg at mini-golf. 

Sure, I could go rock-climbing for the very first time while at sea.  No problem!

My first mistake was telling everyone that I was going to do it.  “Are you going to go rock-climbing?” my in-laws would ask.  I found myself making up excuses as the questions continued day after day. 

“I don’t think the facility is open,” I’d say. 

“It’s raining…too slippery.” 

“The boat is really rocking, I’m sure it’s closed.”

It’s funny, because I didn’t FEEL afraid of the rock-climbing wall on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas.  I have always wanted to take a rock-climbing class because I’m not afraid of heights, and many hikers transition into rock-climbing at some point.  So why did I suddenly not want to go?  Was I afraid of failure?  Of being schooled by the little kid who nimbly scrambled to the top multiple times as if she were Spiderman’s illegitimate daughter?   

I think what got me the most had nothing to do with the climbing.  It was watching the other amateur climbers rappel down at accelerated speeds that got my stomach in a knot. 

So after signing the obligatory waiver form, velcroing on bendy lightweight climbing shoes, affixing a harness and a helmet, and posing for this picture, the very first thing I asked my spotter was, “Is there any way I can come down slowly?” 

I hadn’t even set foot on the wall yet and already I was worrying about what came after.  At least I wasn’t AFRAID to admit I was chicken!  But that’s the thing.  The wall itself didn’t scare me; it excited me. 

I really had no fear on the way up.  I scaled the first few steps very quickly, and then I hit a mental wall.  I couldn’t find a place for my either of my feet and couldn’t reach the next grip for my hand.  I just stopped for a good 60 seconds trying to figure it all out.  My spotter kept yelling at me to keep going and just find a place to put my feet.  I don’t know how I did it, but I got one or two more steps onto the wall before calling it quits.  “I think I’m good!” I shouted! 

“Go ahead and ring the bell,” my spotter said.

I almost burst out laughing.  I was clinging to the wall for dear life with every extremity–how was I going to let go and ring it without falling?  But I had to clang the bell of success…I’d made it half-way up!  Somehow, I peeled one arm off the wall, the rest of me stuck to it like an old-school 80s Colorform.  Ding ding! 

And slowly, steadily, my spotter eased me down.

Notice of Eviction

Dear Unwanted House Guests,

The funny part is I do not remember you actually asking if you could live here.  There was no ad placed on Westside Rentals touting “a fun place for silverfish to hang out and do their thing.”  I received no applications and no permission was granted for your admission.  In fact, I expressly remember boarding up what I assumed was your favorite entrance with a totally insect-proof wall plate.  Yet, you ignored all the warning signs and chose to wreak havoc anyway.

Had you asked nicely if you and your dozens of offspring could lay eggs and take up residence in my laundry basket, I still would have said no.  Why?  Because I’m insectist.  This may not be very Buddhist or vegan-friendly of me, but I’m sorry.  You are NOT wanted here.

I never received a deposit for the tissues I’ve wasted returning your cousins to the dust from whence they came.  Nor do I remember a contract with a panic attack clause, which would have cost you extra.  Not only that, but you’ve kept me up at night, literally, wondering when you little heathens were going to strike next.  You’ve sent out messengers to the master bath and guest bath; I’ve even seen some of your relatives in plain view on my walls!  Have you no shame? 

I realize that you like the water.  However, now that it is gorgeous outside, wouldn’t you prefer to set up camp by the sprinkler systems?  I’d even settle for you creeping up across the hall, where our lovely older single neighbor may enjoy your company.  Or perhaps you’d like to pack up your things and move further down the hall to enjoy some authentic Russian cooking next door.

Regardless of where you go, you must go.  Because unless you get a job, establish credit and start paying off the hefty fines you’ve accrued for emotional and psychological damages, I’m through.  I’m kicking you out.  By whatever means necessary.  That’s right.  I’ve been told that Pic powder kills you.  So even if I have to gate my dog from your favorite hang-outs for a little while, I will.  Because I’m sick of it.  Mi casa is NOT su casa.  This is not your crib.  So go pimp another hood with your colony and leave us the F alone.

You’ve been served.  You have 30 days with which to comply or else it’s off with your tiny little heads.

Sincerely,

The Giant Armed with a Kleenex Box Who Screams and Swears When she Sees You

P.S.  My four-legged furry bouncer will be watching you.

Revelation

Revelation

I am NOT claustrophobic!  I may have a lot of fears and anxieties, but one place these things don’t come out to play with my mind is in small spaces.  I once had an MRI, but the scariest part for me was not knowing how the injection of radioactive material was going to feel (it burned).  I’ve been in numerous caves during family trips to Tennessee and Missouri, as well as some pretty confined spaces in an archaeological site in Israel.  I often sleep with covers over my ears and sheets tucked around my body, only releasing my sockless feet once the temperature rises too high. 

I’m not scared! 

You know what else?  I’m not afraid of heights!  During a field trip to the Sears Tower as a kid (what’s this Willis nonsense, now?), I rode the elevator up to the observation deck and was only scared when I temporarily lost my sense of hearing from the abrupt change in air pressure.  I pressed my body against the glass window and looked out onto the miles of cityscape countless stories beneath me.  I like the window seat on planes the best.  In college, when no one would climb the rickety ladder to the ceiling to put a gel over a light in the TV studio, I volunteered.  I drove lifts that extended high into the trees when I worked as a stage hand, and I even bravely walked over catwalks with no safety to catch me if I’d fall – okay, I admit THAT was a little scary.

I am NOT afraid of heights…but that doesn’t mean I’ll jump out of a plane.  Ever. : )

I also love thunderstorms.  The bigger and louder the better.  I was afraid of them when I was really young and I don’t quite recall when the sound of a storm began calming me down instead of riling me up.  But for years, I’ve loved them, and ever since moving from a very stormy state to a state that institutes severe thunderstorm warnings in the morning mist, I’ve really missed thunder and lightning.  Somewhere, I’ve even got a CD of thunderstorm sounds, sans music. 

Last week, I was reminded that even though I’m afraid of a lot, there are a few things that will probably never faze me.  And as a self-described scaredy-cat, that’s really nice to know!

Full Disclosure

Sure, I’ve been writing a blog about fears that people in other cities, states and countries have been reading.  I’ve talked about my fear of ziplining, my fear of insects, my fear of driving fast and my fear of throwing up.  And everything I’ve expressed has been true, personal and honest. 

But I think thus far I’ve really only been spewing out fears that I know many people can relate to.  They’re common fears and it’s easy for me to write about them here, without judgment, because in the moment that my words are coming across the page, no one is trying to make me do anything about them.  I can’t see the odd looks on my friends’ faces or hear the creeped-out whistles or have anyone giggle at me and point.  You can only read and listen and I can feel proud that I’ve gotten the words out on the page, no matter how much hemming and hawing preceded them.

But this week I think I truly realized how hard it is having one fear in particular exposed.  Folks, I’ve got a fear of deep water, and perhaps, underneath all that, a slight fear of drowning.

Why

My parents are not to blame.  They forced me into swimming lessons as soon as I was old enough, and at the age of 4 or 5, I wouldn’t put my face underwater…not for a long, long time.  I jumped off the diving board at our community pool only once because my swim instructor PROMISED me she’d catch me at the bottom.  Only she didn’t.  I yelled at her and cried.  How can you break a little kid’s promise when they’re TERRIFIED???  It isn’t like riding a bike.  You can see the sidewalk and you know what will happen if you fall.  But the depths of the rippling pool beneath me were too much to bear.

Despite that event, I continued to go to the pool with my family, even jumping off the side of the pool into the shallow end (frowned upon by many lifeguards).  I continued taking swimming lessons and had perfect backstroke form, even perfect breaststroke form.  There was just one problem:  I couldn’t breathe.  I was told to blow bubbles out of my nose, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t get enough air out, and when I came up for air, I had to exhale before inhaling again, which tired me out after only a few strokes, and I’d have to stand up and start again. 

The result?  I can’t REALLY swim.  And it wasn’t for lack of trying.  I think I was in swimming lessons for 5 or 6 summers, but I could never advance.  And once my instructor told me I needed to start shaving my legs, I was done.

Still, my friend taught me to turn flips in the pool.  Once I learned that trick it’s all I did in a pool…that, and play catch and dog paddle around and float on my back.  I never even learned how to properly tread water.

The Event that Scarred me for Life

One summer, I was entertaining myself in the pool and my mom was sitting over on the lounge chairs reading a book.  I flipped underwater and opened my mouth by accident…and inhaled water.  Instantly my nose and throat began burning and when I surfaced I. COULDN’T. BREATHE.  I coughed and coughed but no air was getting in.  I thought I was going to drown.  I somehow got myself to the side of the pool and eventually choked up water.  But you know what?  NO ONE SAW.  No lifeguard came to my aid.  No other kid in the pool alerted anyone or swam over to me to make sure I was all right.  And I think that was scarier than nearly drowning…the fact that no one was watching.  It’s why I don’t really like swimming in lakes or oceans to this day.  People get immersed in their own thing and even if you’ve got a swimming buddy, they may not notice in time that you’re in trouble.  The thought of knowing that you can’t breathe, that you’re going to drown and someone is within earshot and you can’t call out…honestly, it’s just too much.

To top it all off, a young child drowned while in the kiddie pool at my swim club, just 12 or so inches of water with parents all around.  Years later while in a writing class in high school, one of my classmates wrote a poem about his baby brother and how he drowned.  It was the same kid, and I always thought about him, even though I wasn’t there that day at the pool, even though I didn’t know him.  I just couldn’t believe that in the midst of lifeguards and adults, some poor little boy could have suffered and drowned.

High School Humiliation

Like most kids, I dreaded going to gym class.  The ugly uniforms, the public display of my unathleticism and the daily dance of trying to hide my body while changing in the locker rooms…I think I’ve mostly blocked the shame and embarrassment out of my memory. 

But the dread was worse when I became a junior.  You see, juniors and seniors had to enroll in one swimming class per semester, and not only was I going to have to figure out how to hide my body while getting naked and putting on a swimsuit, but I was going to have to swim.  In front of others.  In a pool that was mostly deep end. 

I was a really good student.  Raised my hand all the time in class.  Participated in tons of after-school activities…speech team, theatre board, plays, band, orchestra…you name it, I was doing it.  I was good at a lot of things, and the things I wasn’t good at, well, I could fake them.  Except for swimming.  My face flushed the first day our gym teacher had us swim laps.  I couldn’t.  With the way I breathed, I didn’t have the stamina.  I didn’t know how.  I was the only kid hanging out with a special instructor in the shallow end.

For an assessment, I actually tried as HARD as I could to swim a lap, but during the test I kicked so hard that I started having a major muscle spasm in my leg and had to stop.  My teacher accused me of just trying to get out of it.  I got a note and limped to my next class, and THAT teacher accused me of faking being late.  She hated me, but that’s another story.  It’s just all part of the gym class swimming humiliation.

No, I Don’t Own Water Wings

I currently have a pool downstairs at my condo that I have, on occasion, taken a dip in.  But I stick to the shallow end for the most part.  I’m NOT afraid of the water itself.  And I’m more comfortable in pools than I am in actual bodies of water with roaring waves to unsteady my footing.

Last year, my husband and I took a trip to Hawaii and decided to go snorkeling.  I pushed that thought to the back of my mind.  Because not only would I be wearing a bikini in public for the first time, not only would I be swimming in the ocean, not only was I going to have to breathe through a snorkeling tube and put a mask on my face, but I was going to have to swim WITH FISH. 

I am not AFRAID of fish.  I think they’re pretty; I also eat sushi.  But what if I touched one?  Ew ew ew ew ew!  What if it brushed against my leg?

All of this and more came to a head at Hanauma Bay, the premier place for snorkeling on Oahu.  I put the mask on, waved to the camera, floated and — NO!  The minute I felt water touch the tip of the nose part on my mask, I was up.  Clearly it was going to go up my nose, I’d inhale it, choke and drown.  I tried again and again and again.  It took me nearly an hour to finally realize that that loud sound coming through the tube was normal — it was not Darth Vader; it was just me breathing air.  Not water.  The cold water outside my mask was just that — outside.  And I wasn’t going to drown in 4 feet of water at low tide. 

Once I got the hang of it, it didn’t stop me from having panic attacks.  The safety video we watched before snorkeling warned us to stay off the corals.  However, it was nearly impossible not to swim over them at low tide and get stuck while trying not to injure the colorful stripey fish.  I had constant panic attacks where I needed to stand up and catch my breath above the surface.  Sure, I pushed through my fear and was proud, but that doesn’t mean I “got better.”  I am not miraculously cured of the fears associated with snorkeling.  I can’t make a panic attack go away or stop hyperventilating within the mask and tube once I start.

Do I WANT to go snorkeling again?  Sure!  But on my terms in a place where I can be comfortable and secure in knowing that I can stand up, pop my mask off and calm myself down again.

For those who have major anxieties and fears, I am sure that even if you’re a great swimmer and don’t fear anything to do with the water, you can agree that your fears are your own.  And you might not want them out in the open, discussed, and probed.  You don’t want to be pushed into doing things that make you uncomfortable; if you choose to conquer your fears you’ll do them on your own terms in your own time. 

This past week, I was a mess over having my fears of deep water and snorkeling exposed to just a few people…and I’m pretty sure they all knew about my water insecurities already.  But here I am sharing them all with you.  It’s not funny that I never became a strong swimmer or never figured out how to breathe properly (I DID find out I have a deviated septum that might make that more difficult, by the way) or am afraid to have fish touch me underwater even though I was totally cool swimming with a dolphin in a pool.  And it’s not sad.  You don’t have to feel sorry for me.  I don’t feel I’m missing out and MAYBE one day I’ll learn or conquer that fear.  And just because that day is not today, it doesn’t mean I’m a failure.  I might just be the bravest person you’ve ever (or never) met.

Yet Another Nightmare

Right now, I’m really glad I don’t live in New South Wales:

http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/sideshow/thousands-spiders-blanket-australian-farm-escaping-flood-165958059.html