Monday, July 14th, 2014

 

Lessons in Compassion: A Weekend Experience In Three Parts.

It’s 2 am on Sunday night/Monday morning, depending on you schedule.As a chronic insomnia sufferer, I see this as Sunday night.  Your results may vary.

This weekend, I attended, in an official capacity, the Curve Nation Expo held in Orlando, Florida.  I was there along with the Editor in Chief of POSE Magazine, Tiffany Jones Keaton, as the media sponsors of the event.  When I got there Friday afternoon, the hotel check in was one big cluster f*ck.  Nothing major or radically life altering, mind you, just the silliness we have all experienced when checking into a hotel that is not necessarily prepared for a huge influx of customers ranging from your average traveler, to one of several family reunions in attendance, along with multiple conference attendees.  ”Guaranteed” 4pm check in time at the International Palms Hotel and Conference Center in Orlando, Florida on International drive turned out to be more of a “suggested time” as opposed to a guaranteed time.  I didn’t get my room until 5 pm and due to lack of  communication by the staff, I was never called (as promised) by the front desk when my room was ready, nor did I get my luggage brought to my room until 6 pm.  Again, nothing earth shattering.  More of an annoyance if anything.  However, it seemed to foreshadow what would end up one of the worst experiences I’d ever had in any hotel in my 48 well-traveled years of life.

DISCLAIMER: I want to STRONGLY clarify that what you are about to read has NO REFLECTION on Curve Nation whatsoever. They are not responsible in the slightest for the events that unfolded. That blame is squarely on the hotel and hotel staff. The staff of Curve Nation are comprised of a group of AMAZING, caring and benevolent people who probably saved my life and my faith in human beings as a whole. This goes for the attendees of the expo as well.

I had a wonderful time Friday afternoon and Friday night, gathering with all these beautiful plus sized ladies and gentlemen.  I made some really great connections with fabulous people.  Numbers and hugs were freely exchanged during this early stage of weekend solidarity.  Vendors were shopped.  Glasses were raised.  Dancing and hilarity ensued and I was truly geared up for a weekend of not just work, but fun and friendship.  I was privy to watching these gorgeous women walk the runway, preparing for Saturday nights fashion show event.  I learned so much watching these confident beauties strut their stuff.  I was mentored by a woman who is a staple in the plus size pageant circuit. Ms Plus America 2004, Debbie Shannon, on how to walk for shows.  I got to engage with some of the models and we partied as though we have all known each other for years, because for many of us, we have known each other for years either as professionals or acquaintances on Facebook, Twitter and various other social media platforms.  Instagram memories were made and already, the promise of a fabulous weekend was in place.

Saturday morning, I attended a lecture by plus sized model,actress and event hostess Rosie Mercado, who shared with us her back story on all the trials and tribulations she went through before achieving the success and fame she has now.  I got to hug up on the Mogul Diva herself, Ms. Gwen DeVoe, Founder of Full Figured Fashion Week in NYC, who I had just interviewed for POSE Magazine only a couple of months earlier. (Click link to read the interview!)  She gave a fabulous seminar as well that had all of us laughing and raising our hands and voices in testimony.  I met amazingly talented photographers, bloggers, models and designers; all who embraced me immediately as the new Feature Editor of POSE Magazine.  I met the Double Divas themselves, Molly Hopkins and Cynthia Richards of LiviRae Lingerie.  You couldn’t ask for more down to earth people.  What you see on their television show is completely unscripted.  They are exactly who they are in real life.   And of course, the entire staff of Curve Nation, CEO Devine (who I stupidly referred to as “Dee-Vine” as opposed to “Dev-in-nay”, which is the correct pronunciation…proving that I, too, can be a real idiot on occasion) and his other staff members who were so gracious and wonderful hosts.

Basically, I was in plus sized heaven…until lunchtime.

Saturday afternoons horror story began with a simple text from Tiffany that merely said, “lunch!”  Yes.  Downtime.  We were going to have a break.  A lovely buffet was set out and of course, I partook.  The food was unmarked…meaning, there was no explanation of what each food item was, let alone a description of ingredients.  Having severe food allergies, I inquired if anything contained nuts, specifically, a pasta dish which looked to me to be penne pasta with an alfredo sauce.  A woman behind me inquired of one of the bus boys who was bringing out the dishes, what each item was.  I eavesdropped cautiously, listening to him tell her what the items were.  I even forewarned another woman that I knew had a shellfish allergy, that I had heard the stuffed mushrooms contained crab meat and told her to forego that dish.  But, when I went to help myself to some pasta alfredo, I noticed that there was what resembled perhaps minced garlic in the pasta.  I asked the busboy, what is in this dish.  He said, “pasta and cheese”.  The woman behind me said, are there nuts in that?  Of course, I listened attentively.  ”No, no.  No nuts.  Pasta and cheese.”  Okay.  So I took a scoop and proceeded to join Tiffany in the banquet room with several other conference attendees and some staff of Curve Nation.  I took a bite of this dish and instantly, I felt that old familiar itching in my throat that I feel when I come in contact with an allergen.  I drank a sip of water after swallowing the food…and felt fine for the moment.  Then, I took another bite, just as my throat started to close.  I immediately whispered, hoarsely to Tiffany…”Nuts.  Are there nuts?”  That’s all I could manage as a spit that second bite out of my mouth, drank some water that barely got down my throat.  The wheezing began.  I felt light headed, faint, dizzy.  My body started to get covered in big red hives.  I pulled out my epi pen (never without it!) and my inhaler.  Immediately, the women around me recognized I was in serious trouble.

Each woman at that table, under Tiffany’s cool and calm delegation ran for specific things.  One woman, Talya, ran for ice water and ice.  Another ran for the hotel manager.  A third ran to her room for HER epi pen (should I need a second dose), another still ran for some Claritin and another still (whom I believe was Devine’s mother) ran to locate some Benadryl.  A fifth woman ran to find out what exactly was in the food I ate as different allergies need to be treated specifically.  As I was slowly losing the ability to breath at all, a man came in and the women all shouted, FIND HER SOME BENADRYL QUICKLY!  He ran out, well, rather, walked out…and came back shortly empty handed.  ”We don’t have any benadryl.”  Simultaneously, the group of women screamed at him, “YOU HAVE A GIFT SHOP!  GET HER SOME DAMN BENADRYL FROM THE GIFT SHOP.”  He disappeared again.   The rest of that moment was a blur to me.  I was losing the ability to breath rapidly.  My eyes were swelling shut.  My lips were bloating to Angelina Jolie proportions.  What I do remember is Devine’s mother grabbing whatever packet of Benadryl this man finally did retrieve out of his hand and running it to me, quite irritated by this man’s lack of urgency.  The Benadryl packet was expired, but I took them anyway.  At this point, the front desk manager, Sarah, came in…again, the same lack of urgency, casually saying, “Someone told me that someone can’t breathe in here?  What’s going on?”

At this point, Tiffany (Tip) took over and demanded to know who Sarah’s boss was and to get them on the phone RIGHT NOW as they really dropped the ball allowing this young woman, the front desk manager, to be in charge of the entire hotel while the general managers were no where to be found.  I didn’t get to hear all of the conversation as I was in and out of a state of awareness, but I do know that Tip gave her a very calm but extremely firm mouthful about how this entire situation was handled, rather, a lack thereof.

NOBODY called 911.  No one.  This was the STAFF’S responsibility as the women were far too busy taking immediate care of my situation, placing ice packs on my swelling throat, dispensing my medications, retrieving my inhaler, trying to keep my calm.  When Sarah DID return, it was with a lecture on how they are not allowed to dispense medications to the customers.  Honey, no one asked you to dispense…we just asked you to GET SOME.  However, what she DID manage to do was hand me an incident report form and casually stating that I would need to fill this out.  Sister, I’m dying in front of your eyes.  Are you seriously handing me a FORM to fill out?   The chef never came in to tell us what the allergen in the food was.  The busboys proceeded to bus all the tables surrounding us, but never once coming to where we were to offer cold water, a cool rag, ice packs, SOMETHING???   The lack of compassion from this hotel was abhorrent.  2 hours later, my wheezing had stopped.  At some point, the members of Curve Nation’s team had located two nurses who happened to be attending the conference.  These women stayed with me the entire time, keeping a watchful eye on my breathing, my swollen face, my ability to speak, etc.  They regaled me with funny stories to keep me calm.  Other people from the conference came back often to check on me.  I was feeling better, although my left eye looked like I had taken a punch to the face from Mike Tyson.

swollen eye

However, I attempted to be a trooper and try to attend the 3 pm conference given by blogger Kelly Glover of “Big Curvy Love”. (If you aren’t reading her blog, you should be. She’s HILARIOUS!)  By midway through her conference, I started to feel sick again so I left.  I went to the front desk to speak with Sarah and tell her how disappointed I was that NO ONE from the hotel staff seemed remotely concerned that one of their customers nearly dropped dead in their banquet hall and that her show of concern merely consisted of making sure I filled out a liability and insurance form.  At the moment I approached the desk, she was apparently giving report to the night manager, Kenny.  The look of alarm on his face when he saw mine immediately gave me the impression that had HE been in charge during the day, I would have been substantially better cared for.

Her reply to me was “Well, you were definitely a learning curve for us.  Next time, we will do much better.”

NEXT TIME????

My reply?  ”Is that what you think I want to hear?  How NEXT TIME you will do better?  How about, labeling the food that it may contain nuts or other allergens?  How about, when you ask kitchen staff if there are nuts in a meal, that they know to ask the CHEF who made it, instead of just asserting that it was just “pasta and cheese”?  How about the bartenders who were standing RIGHT THERE offer me a bottle of water?  How about you doing something more than handing me an insurance claim form?  How about the fact that it takes merely common sense to know that you should call 911 immediately, ask questions later.  My 5 year old granddaughter could handle that?  How about you show some concern and stay in the room, at very least?”

She replies, “Well, what can we do to make you more comfortable now?”

“Well, for starters? You could have asked that question about 3 hours ago.”

The conversation was going no where very quickly…and I recognized that.  This girl could give Malificent a run for her money when it comes to being an ice queen.  Not an ounce of compassion.  Nothing but a big wide eyed stare at me.  At this point, Mr. Kenny, the night manager about to adopt this nonsense into his lap looked at her and said, “Well, it’s not much at this point, but perhaps we can offer Ms. Cher for her stay to be comped.  Ma’am, is there ANYTHING else I can do for you, right now?  Some cold water?  Some food?  What can we do for you?”

I thanked him, profusely, for even the gesture…and let Sarah know, these are the things you say to someone who has just been through a very traumatic experience under your leadership in this hotel.  No, I don’t need anything else, but I truly appreciate that you asked me.

From there, I went to the hotel gift shop to purchase eye drops, Benadryl (the non expired sort) and a box of Claritin.  I paid the $40 in medication and as I was walking out, Mr. Kenny was walking past.  He said to me, “did you need something?  I am so sorry about this.  I am so sorry no one took care of you.”  His eyes showed nothing but compassion and concern.  This lifted me tremendously.  I told him, no, I’m okay now…I just went to go buy some medicine so I have it upstairs with me, in case I have trouble later.  He looked genuinely appalled that I had purchased all this medication on my own dime and said, let’s give that receipt to Sarah for reimbursement.  There is no reason that our hotel caused this to happen to you and you should be responsible for these purchases.  Again, money can’t fix it…but the GESTURE in compassion once more lifted me.  

Around 6 pm, I started to get up from a nap, only to realize I was experiencing what is known as biphasic anaphylaxis, which means, my symptoms had actively started up again.  Now, both eyes were swollen shut.  I was wheezing profusely again.  I attempted valiantly to try to get dressed to fulfill my obligations to Tip to be there as her social media person and get to the Fashion Show to do my job.  By 7:30 when the show started, I had to admit defeat. I just couldn’t do it.  My feet were so swollen I could barely walk.  My eyes were slammed shut.  Every move I had made to dress caused my respiration to slow down again.  I took some more Benadryl, some Claritin, readied my second epipen just in case, put drops in my eyes and sent Tip a voice mail apologizing profusely that I simply could not be there.  Again, she was understanding, loving and told me to rest…but please, if my symptoms got worse, get myself to a hospital and text her that I was going.  I went to sleep.

At 10 pm, I heard a knock on my door.  Tip had gotten locked out of her room, her phone was dead, she needed her charger to continue working and photographing the fashion show (my JOB!) but her key card was not working.  The engineers could not get into her room.  Our room in the tower suite was very far from the main building where the new key cards could be made, but even after the engineer showed up with a new key card, she was still unable to get in.  I gave her my cellphone and told her, just go back to the fashion show.  I will wait her until your door gets opened, get your charger, charge your phone up for you.  When it’s done, I will get it to you.  I waited outside her room for an additional 20 minutes beyond the 20 minutes that SHE was waiting for someone to show up and let her into her room.  Mr. Kenny ended up showing up at her room and looked perplexed at what I was doing there.  I explained what happened.  He looked so visibly upset that this new situation involved me as well…that I tried to put him at ease by making a joke.

“You know, out of ALL the people staying in this hotel…you guys managed to knock out the only TWO people who were here in an official media sponsor capacity for this fashion show.  You really should have been in Vegas this weekend, Kenny, because those are some CRAZY odds.”

Despite himself, he laughed.  Shortly after I got Tip’s phone running, Mr. Kenny returned to my room at the behest of my husband who called the front desk from Tampa (he had to work over the weekend and could not attend the conference with me) asking him to please, send up some ice water to my room.  Not only did he show up with the ice water, but also with a bucket of ice and a turkey sandwich that he assured me was prepared by his own hands, NOT in the banquet hall’s kitchen, but rather, in the deli area, safely away from any cross contaminates that could have harmed me.  I was so grateful, that I think I probably would have cried (mind you, I had not eaten a THING but those two deadly bites of pasta, one which never even made it to my stomach) had my eyes not been swollen shut.  I told him, “You know, on Monday, I am going to read the General Manager of this hotel the riot act for what happened here, but, that said?  I am going to sing your praises so loudly because out of everyone in this entire hotel…YOU were the only one who showed me an ounce of compassion.  And, you weren’t even here when this happened.  I appreciate you so much, Kenny.  I really do.”

There was a moment.  A palpable moment that you could feel between two human beings, strangers, who genuinely were concerned with each other.  He, for my health.  Me, for his job…as it seemed so inherently unfair that he adopted any of this situation at all because Sarah had dropped the ball.

Part two of this story?  The manager above Sarah, but below the GM, Vicky, comes to my room for a conference at the behest of Tip.  She said, “You know, you owe my friend Cher and her husband an explanation as to WHY these events unfolded the way they did.  You owe that to her, her husband and her children.  They almost lost her.”

The statement Vicky makes in front of us at that point will make your jaw drop.

To be continued in “Lessons of Compassion Part Two: More than Words”.

Stay tuned.

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Thursday, May 15th, 2014

 

Breaking Down the Dr. Drew Controversy

On April 24th, 2014, Dr. Drew spoke with a male caller on his nationally syndicated radio show, Loveline, who was concerned about his girlfriend’s multiple medical disorders, which included, but was not limited to, Interstitial Cystitis, Endometriosis, Lactose Intolerance and “no stomach lining”.  We’re going to leave that last one out of this conversation because a) it is a nonsensical statement from a layman and b) has no bearing on this conversation.  Admittedly, I scoffed at that description much the same way Dr. Drew did.  Anyway, male caller was expressing concern about these multiple maladies his girlfriend had.  Dr. Drew’s reply lit the internet on fire. Dr. Drew goes on to tell the caller these are “functional disorders”.  Basically what that means is, there is something disrupting the normal process of the body, however, everything appears normal and the origin of the disruption cannot be located (remember this statement, it will become very important later).  Dr. Drew then went on to say that those conditions are “garbage can diagnoses”.  As a nurse, I can tell you that that phrase often comes up when one of two things occurs:  Either a) we can’t find a thing wrong with the patient so we give them some fancy word to cling to in an attempt to validate them or b) they are completely and utterly full of shit.  In my entire career as a nurse, I have never once heard any professional I have worked with refer to ANY diagnosis as a garbage can diagnosis.

Drew goes on to say that “garbage can diagnoses” is what you say when you can’t think of anything else to diagnose a patient with.  Technically, that would be correct.  What is INCORRECT, however, is that Interstitial Cystitis and Endometriosis fall into that category.  Let me continue with Dr. Drew’s conversation to the caller before we delve into that piece of garbage can advice.

He then refers to the callers girlfriend as “somatically preoccupied”.  This means that the patient does NOT have a disorder at all, but rather, a psychological disorder that makes them believe something is wrong with them.  At this point, he then goes on to tell the caller that he wonders why she is seeing doctors all the time. (NOTE: Caller NEVER said this at the beginning of his call, this was purely an assumption by Drew at this point).  Caller states that his girlfriend actually rarely goes to see a doctor unless he pushes her to do so, based on her pain.  He says, in the three years they were together, she had only been to the doctor at least twice.  Here is where I side with Dr. Drew, when he goes on to say, “trust me, she saw LOTS of doctors” in her past, as she could not possibly be diagnosed with all those ailments in a mere two visits.  He is absolutely correct on that statement, as the average IC or Endo sufferer usually sees three to four doctors and/or has an average of four visits to doctors and specialists before she is “officially” diagnosed.  I concur with the good doctor on this assessment.

The next statement Drew makes is “was she sexually abused while growing up”?  When the caller states that she suffered some form of sexual abuse, (this occurs LATER in the conversation) he is never clear on what the definition of her sexual abuse was.  Was she raped?  Molested as a child?  Touched inappropriately by a family member or friend?  Or, did her sexual abuse mean she was taken advantage of by an older boyfriend? Did this occur as an adult woman? This abuse she suffered was never made clear, yet Dr. Drew starts to exclaim that he was “MAGICALLY” correct!  (Cue the peacock feathers as he struts around the station!)  However, what IS made clear by the caller is that while Drew is busy crowing over being right, the caller VERY clearly said “not growing up, though”.  This means that Dr. Drew was NOT correct about his assessment that she was abused as a child.  He, however, didn’t bother to expound on that.  Likely, he didn’t even hear the caller saying that, because he was too busy whooping it up for being MAGICALLY right.  And, as we all know, being right is so much more fun than the facts!

The next statement made by Dr. Drew is probably the one I found the most disconcerting of all.  He says:

“And when people have unexplained pain, particularly pelvic pain, it’s called ‘somatoform dissociation‘ and the only way her body, which was suffering during those early experiences, can tell its tale of woe is with pain and she really needs to see a trauma specialist and not a urologist.”

Now, this is where I stop with the verbatim and start being verbose.

First, somatoform dissociation is a nice way of saying, that shit is all in your head, Princess.  But, let’s break down a few things regarding this statement and try to stick to the facts:

  1. Dr. Drew did NOT acknowledge that the caller clearly said she was NOT abused as a child.
  2. Dr. Drew NEVER asked the caller when her symptoms began.  Without this knowledge, how can he make the association between her “abuse” she suffered and when the pelvic issues began?  How could he possibly know if she had these symptoms PRIOR to the abuse she suffered as a child ADULT?
  3. Why would you advise a caller to tell his fiancee that she needs to see a trauma specialist and not a urologist when you have ZERO knowledge of whether or not she has seen a psychiatrist in the past?  You never inquired.  You’re making a lot of assumptions here, Doc.
  4. And this is a biggie:  Interstitial Cystitis and Endometriosis are VERY REAL PHYSICAL DISORDERS.

Now, there were a lot of assumptions made on the part of Dr. Drew throughout this conversation that the caller was never invited to clarify.  However, this podcast sparked outrage in women all over the internet because, bottom line is, we were just set back to the dark ages.  Back to a time when complaints from women regarding pelvic pain meant that we were being “hysterical” (in case you ever wondered where the root of the word “hysterectomy” came from, there ya go, Folks!)  Let’s think for a moment about what could have possibly happened after the caller hung up the phone with Dr. Drew.

HER:  ”Honey, my IC is acting up.  I’m in a lot of pain.”
HIM:  ”Bullshit, Bitch.  Dr. Drew said it’s all in your head.”

Because THAT is the problem with Interstitial Cystitis in the first place.  It is a very hard disease to diagnose and almost impossible to treat.  There is no cure for this disease.  However, unlike what Dr. Drew seems to believe, it IS an extremely real disorder, one that I have had since the age of 14.  Oh, and let me clarify for the good doctor?  I was NEVER sexually abused as a child.  My symptoms began as a teenager.  Want to explain THAT one, Doc?  For years, I was misdiagnosed as having chronic urinary tract infections despite the fact that there was no infection found in my urine.  Still, doctors would hand me a prescription for antibiotics and send me on my merry way.

I’m not going to get into MY story here and now.  If you want to read about my personal journey with Interstitial Cystitis, you can find it in this article I wrote for POSE Magazine in March of this year.

The point of this breakdown is to make clear that Dr. Drew did not act in a very professional manner when taking this call.  Actually, I am being kind.  He was utterly irresponsible and terribly reckless.

The rest of the radio show segment consists of a bunch of sophomoric talk from Drew’s co host about how unexplained pelvic pain can also be caused by having sex with their guest on the show, Alan Thicke.  Tee Hee.  Let the high fiving and frat boy laughter begin.  Dr. Drew replies “that’s not unexplained, that’s impressive!”  Great, Doctor, because nothing makes a woman happier to have her pain and suffering minimized by a board certified internist and surgeon on a national radio show.  Jokes about “splitting women in half” all over California and corpses left in the wake of their MANLY MAN LIKE PENISES!  Of course, this is called “being Pinksyed”, this phenomenon of huge MANLY MAN PENISES causing inexplicable pelvic pain in women from coast to coast!  ARRRR ARRRR ARRRR (cue chest thumps).  You can hear the podcast in full HERE.  Thank you very much to my friend and fellow endometriosis sufferer, Brandi CK, for posting this and being the first to bring it to national attention.

However, all that said, Dr. Drew did offer his sincerest apologies to the endometriosis community when questioned about it on a segment of “Watch What Happens Live” on BRAVO . What he failed to mention is the interstitial cystitis community. The failure there is that IC is a horrific disease that is very hard to discern from other pelvic disorders without extensive testing. It is very common for most IC sufferers to see multiple doctors before getting an accurate diagnosis. It is also very common for us to be told that the pain is all in our heads. More common still is the recognition that most doctors outside of the specialties of Gynecolgy and Urology, even know what Interstitial Cystitis is.  If I had a dollar for every time I had to educate an emergency room attending physician, well, I’d have lots of dollars.  While Dr. Drew, in an attempt to make “nice nice” with a very angry endo community, did host Dr. Tamar Seckin, noted endometriosis specialist, on his podcast shortly thereafter (Ep. 121), he failed to bring on an interstitial cystitis expert. I suppose this was a step in the right direction. However, this is the second time Dr. Drew has made light of Interstitial Cystitis in a matter of two years. This saddens me, because I have always found Dr. Drew to be a great proponent for women and women’s causes.

Still, despite his claim of “multiple apologies”, there is a very real sense that it smacks of #sorrynotsorry which is very disconcerting to those of us who suffer from these maladies.  And we deserve better.  Much better.

So why do this breakdown?  Because as a nurse, as a sufferer of both endometriosis (who ultimately had a hysterectomy in 2011 due to this disease) and interstitial cystitis, which I have had since the age of 14, I felt an enormous responsibility to change the direction of thinking when it comes to these diseases.  I mean, even my computer doesn’t recognize “endometriosis”, as it keeps trying to change the word to “optometrist”.  Click “add to dictionary” and problem solved.   Oh, if it were only that easy to educate physicians. Click “insert diagnosis into brain”. Downloading education.  Uploading compassion. Problem solved.

Perhaps an “optometrist” is necessary though, as you would have to be blind not to see the facts.  Interstitial cystitis and endometriosis affect millions of women every single year, causing debilitating pain, chronic suffering, fertility issues and depression.  Instead of blinders, I prefer a pair of rose colored glasses and continue my (naive) belief that there will be a cure for IC sometime in the future.  So long as doctors like Dr. Drew continue to get their facts straight and spread truth about this disease instead of conjecture and lies, we might have a fighting chance.

Now, if you’ll excuse me.  I have to pee.

 

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Thursday, May 1st, 2014

 

Sleeping With the Enemy…Revisited.

I can’t watch this movie.  I just can’t.

And yet, I do.  And I am.  Right now…as I am typing this post.

It was a long time ago, a world far away that I was a victim of domestic violence.  Yes, I know you are not supposed to say “victim”.  It’ s not empowering enough for most feminists.  It makes you sound weak, pitiful.  Yet, when you are going through it, you ARE a victim.  You can pretty up the words all you like, make them sound less pathetic, but the point is…you are still a victim until the moment…you’re not.  That’s when you can change your moniker from “victim” to “survivor”.

Or, the moment they place you six feet under and you become what your headstone says you were.

When we talk about women who died at the hands of their lovers, we don’t call them survivors.  They didn’t.  They were victims.  They succumb.  I will always consider myself a “victim” of domestic violence in some aspects, despite the fact that I survived, because of movies like “Sleeping with the Enemy”.  Because the scent of “Polo” still makes me significantly ill.  Because being in my home alone, I am still plagued by the inability to sleep peacefully.  Because I still feel my breath catch in my throat when I hear a certain type of gruff male voice.  Because certain songs can still make me break down and cry (I’m looking at you, November Rain).   I can’t wear red lipstick.  It reminds me of bloody mouths and bleeding noses, broken teeth and cracked jaws.

It reminds me of 33 broken bones in just under 3 years.

Yet, when I watch the part of “Sleeping with the Enemy” where Laura “dies”, (This is not a spoiler and that aside, the movie is 23 years old.  If you haven’t seen it by now, well…not my problem) I realize that the funeral scene could have just as well been mine.  The irony of all this is that the release of this movie came the same year as MY release from this relationship that has scarred me for life.  Maybe it’s not irony.  Perhaps coincidence.  I never get those two right and neither does Alanis Morrissette, so I don’t feel too badly.  The ironic part really is who I first saw the movie with.

Yes.  My abuser.  The love of my (then) life and the enemy I slept with.

We saw SWTE in a movie theater in Suffolk County, Long Island, shortly after its release date in February, 1991.  We had a good day that day.  No fighting, no arguing, no yelling, no throwing things.  It was what I would come to call a “safe day”.  I never put a time limit on those days.  The morning could start one way, the afternoon could end another way and the evening could bring us back to the “safe day” status once again.  I lived moment to moment with him.  I counted every breath with him.  Measured.  Careful.  Always concerned about not changing my facial expressions too often.  Never looking left, never looking right.  Straight ahead, always.  That night at the movie was no different.  As I watched Patrick Bergin beat Julia Roberts, I kept the hand to popcorn to mouth ratio well timed.  Counting my breaths…in 2…3…4 out 2…3…4…

I wouldn’t dare give him the clue that inside, I was terrified, watching my life play out on the big screen in front of me.

I felt like everyone in the audience was staring at me.  I felt that familiar hand squeeze from him.  He was putting me in check. His way of saying, “Keep it together, CP. Don’t you dare betray our dirty little secret.” I sat up a little straighter in my seat.  I crossed my legs casually. I leaned my head on his shoulder.  [LOOK AUDIENCE WE ARE A VERY HAPPY LOVING COUPLE THIS WOULD NEVER HAPPEN IN OUR HOUSE YOU BELIEVE US RIGHT]  My body was giving me away.  My breath was giving me away.  My silent count in my head was not working.  I inhaled deeply, the scent of the popcorn nauseating me.  I dared to glance sideways, to see how he would react to this man on the screen beating this beautiful, gentle woman.

He kept eating popcorn as though it didn’t matter at all.  And I suppose, to him, it didn’t.

When we left the theater, I couldn’t gauge his mood.  His affect, as always, a blank canvas.  Over two years into this bloodbath of a relationship and I still could not read him.  We drove home in silence when suddenly he says, “I’ll never understand how a man could hit a woman like that.”  If I wasn’t so exceptionally trained in controlling my facial expressions, I would have given away the “are you fucking kidding me” that filled my mouth, but never left my lips.

“Mmm hmmm,” I said.

“Well, I mean, he basically hit her for no reason.  You know what I mean.”

“Uh huh.”

“You know that when I lose my temper, it’s because you provoked me.”

“Yes, I know,” I replied.

“But I love you.  I always love you.”

I smiled.  He was staring at my side profile looking for that smile.  The smile that says, it’s okay, this thing you are doing to me.  I’m fine with it.  He reached over, squeezed my knee, patted my thigh before stroking it, firmer, higher.  Oh, okay. Right.  Sex.  Got it.  The way you right the wrong.  The way you remind me you are still in control of this thing.  The way you pretend that I’m okay with all of this.  Sure.  We’ll have sex after we get home.  It was his version of the “reboot” button for us.  Anything that happens prior gets erased, thrown in the recycle bin and permanently deleted.  But, it also means I will have at least 5 hours of peace and quiet once you fall asleep…to shower you off my skin.  To brush my mouth clean of your kiss.  To throw up.  To cry.  To take my makeup off and assess the damage from earlier in the day.

And it was also during those moments of sweet repose for you that I would plan my getaways.

Watching the movie “Sleeping with the Enemy” alongside him, I knew my nights of plotting and planning would be forever destroyed.  There would be no more squirreling away of funds.  No more leaving clothes in hiding places.  No more hiding the spare key to the car in the back of the toilet.  He would now be forever aware that women definitely do plot to escape their abusers.  Even though he didn’t see himself in that light, I knew the lesson wasn’t lost on him.

I spent that night in terror.

When he wakes, will he start the scavenger hunt in our home?  Will he find the coins in the kosher salt container (It had that pull up lip that you could slide change and dollars into easily.  Plus, it was made of cardboard, so it wouldn’t rattle like say, a coffee can.  Yes, these were the things you had to think about) or the key in the bathroom?  Would he realize that in our car, where the spare tire used to be, there were spare clothes instead?  Would he look in the bottom of my daughters toy box and find copies of our birth certificates, medical records, anything I would need on the fly for when we fled?  I debated whether to start finding new place for all these things.  No.  No, I won’t.  I will leave everything the way it is.  To start moving things or getting rid of them means I no longer had a safety net.  I needed that safety net.

It’s all I had.

When this movie came on my television screen, just now, 23 years later, I watched only the beginning.  I only paid attention to the fear, not the inevitable victory.  I don’t need to watch that part…her transition from victim to survivor.  I don’t need to watch Julia Roberts get paid millions for a role I lived.  Julia lived happily ever after. (Now, that’s a spoiler, Folks. Sorry.)  But sadly, just like in the movies, sometimes real life comes with alternate endings. This is not the reality for many women and it certainly wasn’t mine.  My story of morphing from “victim” to “survivor” would include hospitals, three months in a bed, a brain now laden with epilepsy, physical and emotional therapy and the inability to remain in safely in New York state.

Still, my outcome is better than those who died at the hands of their abusers.  Now, all these years later, I have a different reality.  I don’t sleep with an enemy, but my best friend.  I am safe in my home.  I am safe in this life I have made for myself 1300 miles away.  And, despite knowing this, I still can’t watch this movie til the end.  I still can’t listen to those songs.  I still get queasy from the scent of Polo cologne.  But, I am alive.  Divinely alive.  Happily alive.

Phrase it any way you’d like, but I will always be a victim who survived.

I can live with that.

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Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

 

The People’s Couch:  People Who Watch People Watching TV

 

Upon hearing the premise, you’d have to say “What an incredible waste of time”.

I mean, why on earth would anyone want to watch a television show that shows other people watching television?  Sure, there’s a slightly voyeuristic appeal to it.  I mean, how often do you get to spy into the private moments of others watching television?  Okay, on Bravo, pretty much daily.  But, this is not your typical reality show fare.

Then again, let’s look at the reality aspect of it and understand that, while unscripted, it’s not entirely reality.  The truth of the matter is, these fine people we are spying on are fully clothed.  Their hair is done.  Their houses are clean.  Now, take a look at yourself while watching late night television.  The likelihood that you are in your sloppy yoga pants, your hair in a scrunchie and dinner dishes still sitting in the sink is probably close to 100%.

However, that doesn’t make The People’s Couch any less unrealistic.  The reason you ARE tuned in is to watch the reactions of a cast of colorful characters making observations about the television shows you already watch.  Do you find yourself screaming at the television during a Real Housewives Reunion?  How about making completely inappropriate jokes during Survivor?  Funny observations during Game of Thrones?

These are the reasons you WANT to watch The People’s Couch.  There is a wonderfully delicious sense of camaraderie watching complete strangers make the same observations you are.  It provides for at least a dozen “laugh out loud” moments during the show.  And, like in real life, there is a cast member for everyone’s taste.

First, there are the families:
The Resnick Family, which includes a dad and his three very sassy daughters.  These girls are incredibly silly but always make great observations with hugely animated gestures.  Once in awhile, we are treated to a visit from mom joining them on the couch.  Still, always a big laugh when dad tries to force his testosterone opinion out among all that estrogen.  Poor guy barely gets a word out between them.

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The Zeno Family, which consists of Mom Princella and Dad Lamont and their snarky teen son, Rashawn.  Mom and Dad Zeno have been together for a long time, are still hopelessly in love, which makes for a lot of endearing yet embarrassing moments for their 19 year old son.  The star of this show?  Mama Zeno, who will randomly vacillate between interesting commentary, requests for foot massages and, much to Rashawn’s dismay, the sudden need to stand up and twerk.  But, Daddy likes!  Daddy likes!

The People's Couch

The Egber Family, the only family not on a “couch”, Mom Julie and Dad Andrew and their two youngest sons Sam and Jack, snuggle in one helluva large bed and make all sorts of inappropriate comments at the television.  The boys are quick witted, smart and pretty much know everything about everything. The joy in this family comes from Dad, who forever needs to be schooled in pop culture by his precocious sons.  Also, recently?  We’ve discovered that Mom can have quite the potty mouth now and then.  We love her for that!

The People's Couch

Amanda and Kenya, sisters who live together and often the ones providing the greatest laughs because they generally say what you would only dare to be thinking.  Most of their funny happens through twisted faces, rolling eyes, or contorting into crazy yoga type positions when they are cringing in horror.  Also, Kenya’s cry of “AAAH MAN duh!” whenever she is appalled or thoroughly amused.  They are also the favorites of all their fellow cast members!

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Cathy and Destiney, these Persian Princesses are absolutely eye candy.  Two beauties who are often indulging in new beauty products, face masks, wrapped updo hair styles.  Destiney is definitely the more outspoken of the two with Cathy her “straight man”, making dry humor observations of her sisters kooky assessments.  They also are compulsive pillow hoarders.

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Then, we have the friends of The People’s Couch:
“The Boys”, as they are affectionately referred to on Twitter is a group of three beautiful human beings named Blake, Scott and Emerson.  (Sorry, Ladies.  They’re just not that into you)  These three all have experience being in front of the camera before as they are all performers in some right.  All three are funny, sarcastic, flippant and always have some hysterically funny anecdotes to share.

The People's Couch

“The Girls” consist of besties Brandy and Julie.  Both ladies are also comediennes and have worked together often over the years.  You can tell this by the witty repartee that occurs between them.  The non stop banter is enhanced by the presence of their three little doggies and usually, two big glasses of wine.  *clink*  And no, they are NOT a couple, but you would never know.  They finish each others sentences like an old married couple and by sentences.

The People's Couch

Last, but not nearly least, “The Golden Girls”, another set of three besties, however, these dames are forces to be reckoned with.  The Golden Girls consist of Teddi, Ayn and Sue, three “women of a certain age” who watch television together from the comfort of their community couch.  These three are probably the most saucy of the bunch because, face it, when you are a woman of a certain age…you can kind of say whatever the hell you want.

The People's Couch - Season 1

 

Shows that will be watched tonight, April 29th, 2014 will include:
Cutthroat Kitchen, Devious Maids, Long Island Medium, Deadliest Catch, Chrisley Knows Best and Million Dollar Listing New York.

So, if you aren’t watching The People’s Couch, you are missing what has slowly become the overnight sleeper cult sensation of 2014.  Tune in to BRAVO on Tuesday nights at 10 pm for a half an hour of the funniest show you will soon be addicted to.  And stay tuned at the end of tonight’s episode for a VERY special announcement!

Here, have a little taste:

http://www.bravotv.com/the-peoples-couch/season-1/videos/the-people-watch-mdlny

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

 

2014: A Brand New Year.

If you noticed, I did not blog throughout the entire year of 2013.

Mainly because, 2013 was a pretty horrible year for me personally, professionally and every other way, shape and form.

While there were some definite bright spots, like renewing my vows (twice!) in both Las Vegas and in Mexico,or spending my granddaughter’s 5th birthday in Disney, there were far more dark patches; times that I really didn’t think that I would make it through the remainder of the year without some serious professional intervention.

My personal health was poor throughout this year, and it made matters so much worse.  Anything you go through in your life seems far more trying when your health is not where it should be.  My stellar marriage was put through some incredibly trying times.  Relationships with family members worsened and in some cases, deteriorated altogether.  I feel like I spent most of 2013 in tears.  In short, things were hard.

And on the precipice of this brand new year, they are still…well, hard.

My best course of therapy has always been to turn to my writing.  It’s saved me through some of the most torrid times of my life.  Just to be able to achieve that sweet release of putting thoughts to “paper” has always managed to help me put things into perspective.  But, this year, the strength to even turn to my blog did not come.  A year long case of writers block caused by being in the throes of some of the deepest, darkest depression I have ever experienced.

People do not understand how seemingly happy people can be “depressed”.  If you sorted through my facebook photos from this past year, you would see dozens of “happy” photos of me, smiling brightly for the camera.  But, what you do not see are the seconds before the photo and the hours afterward.  Smiling on command is easy and that is what the camera captures.  But if we had the ability to see what takes place the second before or the seconds after the photo is taken, you would see the smile fall away just as quickly as it appeared.  Again, not saying there were not moments of genuine happiness, but in 2013, they were few and far between.

I think, if I were to be honest, I spent most of 2013 curled up in a fetal position in my bed.  Too exhausted to face the day, too tired to cry.  And when you are just too tired to even cry, that’s when depression is at its worst.  I find a good, hard cry to be cathartic.  It cleanses the soul, erases some of the negativity by releasing the pain and makes room for new, perhaps better emotions to seep into the soul.  But when you just cannot cry, when the pain of life is so overwhelming that you cannot even produce tears…when the thought of crying exhausts you, there is a problem.  Usually a problem that is much bigger than you are.

In 2013, the problem was not only bigger than I was, it hovered over me like a large, black winged bird, casting a shadow upon me.  I went many days without showering.  I would stay in bed for days straight, scarcely exiting my room.  I would stare into the television set, enthralled with nothing; just an empty vessel waiting to be filled with something, anything.  I can’t tell you much about what I did in 2013.  I rely heavily on my Facebook timeline to remind me, but there’s a problem with that.  The problem being, I fooled myself with many statuses on there in order to fool the rest of the world.  I couldn’t have the world knowing how I was struggling with my depression.  The world, my friends en masse, they expect me to be funny, charming, irreverent.  Somehow, I managed to keep up that persona, or rather, facade, on my statuses.  But with every “LMAO” I posted, I assure you, there was very little laughing being done, let alone laughter that would remove my ass from my body.  I would type statuses, replies, comments with the same blank look on my face that I reserved for the television set.  I would appear interested and engaged when in reality, I could not care less about most of what I was writing.

Trying to keep up appearances became exhausting, hurling me into a far darker place than I had previously been, until in mid August, just before my birthday, I melted down altogether.  I wanted out.  Out of my family, out of my friendships, out of my marriage, out of my house, out of my bed, out of my job, out of my life.  Ideally, I just wanted to be left alone to rot.  For anyone who has ever experienced depression, you know that loneliness is the devil at work.

But, this is not where I am heading in 2014.  I am not over the depression.  Not by a long shot.  It’s plagued me all my life and I doubt sincerely, that it will take leave any time soon.  However, I am actively involved in making sure that I don’t spend 2014 with the blankets pulled up over my head.  I am in the process of healing the pain that encompasses me.  I have rid myself of the toxic people in my life who won’t allow me to breathe normally.  For those I cannot rid myself of, I have opted to ration my time carefully, wholly in consideration of my mental health.  You can have 15 minutes of me a week, nothing more.  The pain I experience physically, I am finally putting myself under the knife to heal.

Basically, I am not giving away another year of my precious life to this monster that is seeking to consume me.  I know it will be challenging, but it’s important that I remember 2013 as the year that almost did me in.  I am not a victim.  I will never be a victim.   I don’t want pity, not even empathy.  I just want another opportunity to ensure that I won’t be a statistic. I don’t want to fall prey to my long standing depression.  I don’t want to wallow in those deep waters any longer.  I have plenty to be grateful for.  I have healthy, happy, beautiful children and grandchildren.  I have a husband who truly loves me and wants me to get better and is willing to support me on that journey.  I have friends who are compassionate and caring.  I have a talent that not only earns me a living, but heals me in the process.

There is so much for me to live for and in that instance, I am richer than most.

My excuses have worn thin.  The time for denying my reality has come to a close.  I am not going to be a living dead girl for another year.  I have to be an active participant in making sure that I do not die.  Not a physical death, but rather, an emotional one…which I find to be worse.  A physical death. It’s easy.  Anyone can do that.  Suicide is never an option.  Not for me at least.  It’s too easy to make the choice to check out.  As the great Annie Lennox once opined, “dying is easy, it’s living that scares me to death”.  Living is harder, but the rewards of doing so are far greater.  With every sunrise comes the ability to change the course of your life.

I am not saying that it will come easy, nor am I saying I will be successful at it.  I am positive I will have days where pulling myself from my bed will be a hardship for me.  I am sure that there are days I will fail miserably.  But, I am also positive that, if I push myself, I will be able to rise to the challenge.   Mistakes quickly become regrets, but I will not punish myself for those.  I have been hard enough on myself…harder than any of you could ever be on me.

So, on this, the eve of my surgery, I am making myself the promise to try a little harder.

I give so much of myself to everyone in my life.  Why am I so reticent to do for myself what I do for others?  Am I undeserving?  Am I not valuable enough?  Not worthy?  Of course not.

Here’s my fresh new perspective on the matter:

Inside all of us, there is a child.  We all have that inner child.   It’s the one who laughs at inappropriate times.  The one who looks over at a set of swings while you are in high heels and an evening gown and decides that running over to the playground would be a blast.  The child who starts a food fight in the middle of Denny’s at one o’clock in the morning over pancakes.  The same one who secretly watches old 80′s cartoons on Saturday mornings, cross legged on the floor in pajamas.  But, it’s also the same one who cries when they are hurt.  It’s the same child who desperately needs a hug when they are inconsolable.  It’s that same child who begs for forgiveness when they have done wrong.

And I am the mother of this inner child.  She is me.  I am her.  It is my duty, obligation, desire to take care of her as surely as I would take care of my own children.  I would do anything for my children.  I would die for them.  I would give my last breath for them.  So, why not that inner child?  Why not give my last breath to fight for that little girl within me who is suffering and struggling?  Why not nurture her and love her the way she deserves?  Why would I leave her alone, abandoned, needing and desperately wanting?

She needs me as surely as I need her.

So, for 2014, I promise to be a better mother.  Not only to my children I have given birth to, but to the little girl inside of me.  It is my job to heal her and in turn, heal myself.  I will hold her when she needs to be held.  I will kiss her tears away when she cries.  I will wake her with a gentle hug at the start of her day and lay her down, bundled in warmth and affection when it is time for sleep.  I will rouse her from the nightmares that plague her and remind her, I am here.  Shhhh…I am here.  Nothing is going to happen to you, sweet girl…because I am here.  I will give her daily affirmations of how beautiful she is, how smart she is.  I will feed not just her belly, but her soul.  I will set her free to play, but keep an ever watchful eye on her, keeping her safe from harm, from all the dangers lurking in this world.  I will protect her from the bullies on the playground of life.  I will not abandon her when she needs me most.  I will be the mother to her that I never had in my own life.  

She will be loved.

All I can ask is that she forgive me the first 40+ years that I did not realize I had left her alone.

She is me.  I am her.  And in this knowledge, I am comforted, for I know she is a forgiving soul and will allow me back into her life.

Only this time, I will do things the right way.  And she will flourish.  She will grow.

And someday, under my guidance and with my unrequited love, she will heal.

She deserves that.  We both do.

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