Category: Uncategorized

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.


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.

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.

Yet Another Nightmare

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

Cold Feet

Three years ago today, I was having my hair done before walking down the aisle.  While my feet are always like icicles under the covers when I go to bed, I was sure that I wanted to marry my husband.  Always.  I even remember telling my mom after just a few weeks that if ever there was a man I wanted to marry, it was Greg.

I’m not really sure what gives people so-called “cold feet” when it comes to marrying the person they love.  Although the stress factor shot up exponentially when we were in that dreaded wedding planning phase, I don’t believe either of us changed.  We already lived together, so the blame game on whose shoes were left out to trip over (mine) or whose pants were always in a pile on the floor (his) was already down pat.  We knew who vacuumed (him) and who dusted (me).  He knew that every so often I just needed to cry, and he brought me ice cream to cheer me up.  I knew that every so often he just needed to be alone and tried to give him his space, hard as that sometimes was.  We both knew we wanted a dog as soon as we could get one.  For so very many reasons, I just didn’t have any doubts, and I was never worried that Greg would “leave me at the altar.”

I knew that my life was only beginning and that although my days as a single girl were going to be over, I didn’t care – in fact, I was eager to see them go!  Greg has seen me eat like a pig (reasons why no one is invited over for tacos #47), has heard me snort from laughing too hard (maybe the reason I don’t eat pork is because I’m part pig), and has seen my alien hair (the best way to enhance my natural waves).  He’s watched me stub my toes – daily – and fall to the floor, not knowing whether I’m laughing or crying and he knows I almost always burn myself at the kitchen sink.  He knows if I call him a name out of spite I don’t really mean it and that I have a hard time not taking care of him when he’s too sick to want company. 

If either one of us had gotten cold feet at that wedding, I don’t know where I’d be today.  I married my best friend.  He’s seen me at my best and my worst and still loves me whether my face is covered in chocolate, I’ve just burped like a truck driver or didn’t realize I put my underwear on backwards. 

Three years ago my feet were light, comfortable, certain and confident.  It may have been raining, but my feet were warm because they were walking towards their future to join a bigger pair of feet that were about to crush a glass to signify the end of walking through life alone. 

Happy Anniversary to my incredibly patient, supportive, romantic, witty and wonderful husband.  When I’m in your arms, it’s pretty hard to be afraid of anything.

A Sappy Post

Just a few minutes ago, I changed my blog tagline to “Confessions of a 31-year-old anxiety queen…” 

Thirty-one!  I gracefully turned a year older Monday morning over a giant cinnamon crunch bagel, a chai latte and a birthday card from my dog thanking me for picking up his poop.  While it may not sound like much from my miniscule description, I actually had a wonderful birthday, complete with both homemade and store-bought gifts, surprises, and a lovely dinner out with my husband.

Some people prefer their birthdays not be a big deal.  But in telling people not to make a fuss, many of them are actually wallowing in their depression at having lived another year.  Imagine that!  Why be sad about inching closer to your life’s goals?  Why scoff at the wrinkles and grey hairs that show you’ve truly lived?  And why not indulge in the day where you’re made to feel special by all those who love you — and can eat your cake too?  I love birthdays and I think I’ll always prefer to celebrate. 

I’m not afraid to age.  I mean, I’d like to not age too fast, but hey, AARP is waiting, senior citizen discounts and early-bird specials await and I eagerly look forward to displaying a (preferably fresh) bowl of the best hard candies the grocery store has to offer:  root beer barrels, chocolate parfait Nips, dark coffee candies and those cinnamon/peppermint Starlight mints.  I’m also determined to prove that turning old does not mean your fashion sense has to wane.  Maybe I’ll be the first grandma to wear jeggings.  Er, scratch that.  I can’t even believe there’s an article of clothing with that name.  I’m just saying, I intend on shopping sales, clipping coupons, cooking, baking, going on outings, traveling, writing and taking classes for as long as I can because I enjoy life and each day I’m fortunate enough to talk to my parents, see my niece on Skype, walk my smug little dog and kiss my husband good night. 

If you’re afraid of getting older, don’t be.  There’s always a new Broadway show around the corner, a new television series premiere, a new restaurant opening down the street.  You might be in a rut, feeling sorry yourself — we all have these moments.  But even when these moments turn into days, weeks and months, flowers are blossoming, the sun is rising, chocolate chip cookies are being made and babies are being born.  I love living in a world with all of these things and I think birthdays are the perfect way to celebrate them all.