Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Burn Notices

Here is a little parable illustrating the universal truth of my life.

There is a cigarette burn singed into the passenger seat of my car. Earthquake dropped his lit cigarette there when I was with him in Las Vegas. My car was a couple months old by then. I had a couple months of perfection.

I hid that hole by purchasing some seat covers that almost fit the contours of the seat. I finally gave up on those and tried to repair the hole with a fabric repair kit I bought. I just made it worse and much more obvious.

I have already spent a couple hundred dollars to try to undo that burn. And I will spend a few hundred more when I turn in the car at the end of my lease.

I should have never been in Vegas. I should have never tried to fix the burn. That is the end of this sad allegory.

I can’t undo the things that have happened in my life. The things that I have done. The things that I have allowed to happen. The things that I did not do to prevent damage. I’ve been pondering my past decisions a lot in the last few days. Thoughts have been swirling around in my head, forcing their way to the front of my attention.

Maybe this is why. In an email blast from the National MS Society, there was a link to an article that outlined some new developments in MS research.  The findings were… troubling.

When it comes to people being diagnosed with MS, there is a large gender gap. Women get diagnosed in significantly higher numbers than men. I can’t control that I was born female. But for most days since then, I have made choices that have damaged me.  I may have actually made choices that have contributed to my MS.

In a study out of the Raúl Carrera Institute for Neurological Research in Buenos Aires, Argentina, researchers found that study participants were twice as likely to develop MS if they were obese at age 20. The study found that participants with a high BMI also had a high level of leptin.  Leptin is a hormone produced by fat cells . Your brain relies on leptin to regulate the sensation of hunger and energy expenditure.  Leptin also has a role in your psychological health and regulates fat storage.
Because leptin promotes inflammatory responses in the body, the study suggests that this response might be a cause of MS. So, more leptin in your early adulthood body, the more likely your middle-aged immune system will attack your middle-aged brain.

I was not obese at 20. In fact, I was in the best shape of my life at 20. But that was not a choice to be healthy. It was simply a result of being 20, in college, walking everywhere, and going out dancing. I would spend dinner money on Long Island Ice Teas. I would eat chicken quesadillas every day for a week. French fries were an acceptable breakfast. I was 20.

And—most likely—my myelin was starting to get chewed away. I wasn’t obese. But I certainly wasn’t healthy. I made choices then that may be contributing to my messed up central nervous system.

I made one choice in my 20s and 30s that—unlike my eating habits—was conscientious and thoughtful. I was on the birth control pill.  

There was another study recently published out of Kaiser Permanente Southern California. This one analyzed women who had either been diagnosed with MS or with a primary symptom that is a precursor to the disease.

The study results showed that women who used birth control pills were 35% more likely to develop MS. Women who had stopped using hormonal contraceptives one month before MS symptoms began were 50% more likely to develop the disease.

Well, shit.

Had I known that my choice to not become a 20-year-old mother may have contributed to my MS, I may have made some different choices. Maybe.  But when you are 20, do you ever really make decisions with thoughts about your life in the next 20 years? If I could do that, I would have a robust Roth IRA, a passport full of travel stamps, and stock in Apple.


I am stuck living with a cigarette burn in my upholstery. I can’t change the choices I made in my past.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Lion’s Share

I am often searching Pinterest for ideas and inspiration. I look for quotes that might inspire a blog post, ideas for my kid’s new bedroom, or cool derby pictures. Today I stumbled upon an interesting board. The owner of that board has something in common with me. We are both Leos.
I never check my horoscope. Not even the ones in the City Weekly that are trying to be funny. Actually, those attempts at humor usually end up making me a little sad.

As we humans move through this world, we all search out and find things that affirm and validate what we already believe. This is why people can read their horoscopes and think that the information in them applies directly to their own unique circumstance.

Let’s take today’s Leo horoscope as an example:

Your financial situation needs some attention. That could mean almost anything from checking your balance online to re-examining your attitude toward retirement. You know what to do.

First of all, let’s go ahead and say that any prediction or astrological intuition is tempered and diluted when it uses the phrase “almost anything.” And headlines on CNN in the last couple weeks tell us of the huge Internet security breach known as Heartbleed. So yeah, we all need to check our latest bank statements

Aside—Let’s all take a moment to change our online passwords, whether or not you were born in the late summer.

And as for my retirement, maybe I do need to re-evaluate things. Because, at this point, I just had 10-15 years lopped off my life expectancy. So I am thinking that a trip to Iceland would be money better spent than putting it in my woeful 401(k).

My point is this: This could be the horoscope of any person in the English-speaking world. People will always be able to see how it fits into their own world.

But when I looked at some of the character traits of Leos as described on this board, I found some reoccurring themes that I like to believe describe me. That I just might be the Lion found among the stars. Maybe there is something to this horoscope stuff.*
Except… Well… The Earthquake’s birthday is the day after mine…

Anyway, here are a few of the traits of a Leo that are common among the many descriptions of this astrology sign:

Sensitive but tough
I never thought of myself as either especially sensitive or especially tough. I always thought those two traits to be antonyms. But, it seems that one actually helps foster the other. As it turns out, people in my life see me as both tough and sensitive. The other day, my dad told Kidlet that I was the strongest person he knows. Kidlet responded by saying that he already knew that.

Needs to be adored
This one is a no for me. Actually, I am the opposite. I am usually quite shocked to learn that someone adores me. Maybe it is because I have never truly, sincerely, completely been adored. At least not for more than a short period of time. I'm not sure I know how that feels. And, honestly, feeling adored at any level tends to lead me into choppy waters.

I need books, a comfy bed, and Interferon Beta. I don’t need to feel adored. But, it might be nice to see what being adored truly feels like.

I very rarely feel confident. I can't remember the last time I felt like I was going down the correct path. I know my strengths, and I recognize my weaknesses. But even knowing those things doesn't help me feel confident with my choices. But, at least I am not faking confidence. At least I am honest with myself. I think that is of higher value than feeling self-assured.

Has a huge and fragile ego
My ego is actually under-developed. I am quite the opposite of this one. I hate being the center of attention. Even in my own mind. I'm not preoccupied with my own life and the gratification of my own desires. I am a lot of things. Some good, some not-so-good. But I have never been accused of being self-centered. That is opposite of my default state, not something I have worked to overcome. This Leo can't be accused of the deadly sin of Pride. 

And how is that for a lion pun!
I tend to hold the things—and even people—that I value very close to me. This opens me up to the tendency of becoming possessive. I am prone to jealousy. I think I am very giving, but sharing doesn’t always come easily to me. And I do believe that there are some things I should not have to share.

Guilty again. I always like to know how things end. I peek at the back of the book. I check on the fate of my favorite TV characters on Wikipedia. I hate surprises. I have a hard time waiting for something to unfold or materialize. So yes, I am impatient. Although, science is saying I might be on the right track with this one. A University of California, San Diego psychology study found that people enjoy things more when they know what is going to happen. This is true even when the story had an unexpected twist ending. I’ve said it before. Knowing is always better than not knowing. Science!
I am incredibly stubborn. But I am not sure this is always a bad quality to possess. When I get something in my teeth, I tend to keep it right there until I have finished with it. With things like crossovers, this is a great quality. For things like toxic relationships, not so much.

Ahem… I believe we’ve covered this one in previous posts…

Fakes confidence
Or as I like to call it: fwagger. Fake swagger. It seems to me that the more a person tries to convince you that he is confident, sophisticated and cool, the more he is insecure and afraid. I used to subscribe to the idea of "fake it 'til you make it." But I've reconsidered that philosophy. I now think that the more you fake, the deeper the bullshit. And, eventually, you have to wade through it all. Hopefully, you haven’t tossed aside the person in your life that could have loaned you some rubber boots.

Loyalty and faithfulness
This one was—by far—the most commonly mentioned trait. I don't think I have much to add for this one. Maybe I've just known one too many Leos.

There are about a million things you should be reading before you resort to reading a horoscope. Let me know if you need some suggestions. I have a list.

*For the permanent record that is the Internet blog, I do not believe in horoscopes, the Loch Ness monster, or the Meyers-Briggs personality classifications.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Some Assembly Required

It is the first anniversary of my Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis. Over these last 12 months, my world has been shaken up like an airport-gift-shop snow globe. And now I find myself trying to reassemble my life. I’m putting the pieces back together, scars and all.

In the 40 years B.C. (Before Central nervous system betrayal), I never could imagine the havoc being wreaked on my central nervous system. I was blissfully unaware that my immune system was devouring my myelin.

Now, in year 2 A. D. (After Diagnosis), everything is different. But nothing has changed. I am finding that things are infinitely more complicated now. At the same time, things are immeasurably more straightforward.

And that is a strange and wonderful place to be.
Here is a perfect example. I am back in the dating pool. I can’t decide if I am ridiculously stupid or ridiculously optimistic. But, I am dating. Which—let’s face it—kind of sucks. I am starting to be convinced that the only reason people couple up is so they can quit having first dates. (Well, except those people that will never STOP having first dates. But, I digress…)

I wrestle with telling dates about my MS. Should I tell them early in the first evening, so that they can make an informed decision regarding setting up a date number two? Or tell them after date six, when they are already thinking that they might kind of like me? It’s complicated.

And, it is also so simple. Explaining to dates about my MS tells them one thing about me. How they react tells me everything about them. So, MS is actually a fairly sharp tool that can help me remove liabilities before they take root in my life.

Occasionally, when driving with my son on some silly errand, he will drop a wisdom bomb on me from his place in the backseat. His latest one was lobbed my way this weekend:

Sometimes good things happen because bad things happen. If you didn’t have MS, you would have never have started Derby.

Kidlet is right. I never would have had the courage to even show up to tryouts. And last week, I found the courage to try a jump. I let all eight of my wheels lift from the ground and land again. That was an incredible moment for me. I never would have experience that feeling if I didn’t have MS.
This last year made me realize that there are no safe places. You never know where and when pain will sneak out of a dark corner and jump on you. There is physical pain. Quite a bit, actually. But the emotional pain is so much worse. And it happens in the most banal places. The neurologist’s waiting room. A Little League game. The break room at work.

I’m never really safe. So why bother to play it safe? There is disaster wreckage piled up in every corner of my life. But, now… I dare to jump over it.

Unfortunately, as my body gets stronger, my brain continues to betray me. And, really, is there anything worse than betrayal? In the Aaron Sorkin show The Newsroom, one of my favorite of many brilliant exchanges was:

Why can’t I forgive her?
Because you weren’t rejected. You were betrayed.

This year has been a year of betrayal for me. I think betrayal is one of the worst feelings found in the human experience. My brain, my heart, my trust have all been shredded. But this has also been a year of great discovery. I’ve met some amazing people, who constantly remind me that I am strong, and beautiful, and amazing, and balanced.

My life today would be unrecognizable to the Elys of one year ago. The Who and the What of the future have all been undone. Disassembled. Now, my body is covered with bruises. Some are little and round, created by injecting myself with Interferon Beta‎. Others are large and round, created from a skate wheel. My muscles are stronger and tougher than they have ever been before. Including—for better or worse—my heart.

Everything is different.

And nothing has changed.
It’s very complicated. And incredibly simple. I know what I want. I want to trust others. I want to feel safe. I want to take care of my loved ones and be taken care of by them. I want to laugh more than I cry. I want to go to bed every night knowing that the people I loved through the day will be worthy of my love tomorrow.

And I know great beauty is born of chaos.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Spare Change

So once again, I am late to the party. The Fox television show House, MD has been off the air for a couple years now. And I had never seen a single episode, even after it was recommended by Diane Rehm on her NPR show. Lesson learned. Always trust a recommendation from Diane. Now that it's on Netflix, I’m hooked. And not just because of dreamy Hugh Laurie and his mad piano skills.

Like any worthwhile form of entertainment, House got me thinking. One of the good doctor’s mantras is that everyone lies. And they do. But, it was another thing he said that keeps rolling around my head.

Do people ever really change?

When I got my MS diagnosis almost a year ago, I had to quit smoking. And I did. Immediately and cold turkey. There is nothing like the threat of a chronic debilitating illness to scare you straight(-ish).

I’m stubborn. Precocious. Tenacious. I have been for my whole life, and that will never change. Quitting smoking was not me changing. It wasn’t strength or willpower. I was just stubborn enough to quit.

How is stopping a bad habit NOT a change? Because it is only a change in routine, not a change of who I am. I will backfill that hole where smoking used to be with some other habit—café mochas, as it turns out—because that need for ritual and pleasure will be there forever. I will never be able to remove that need that was once filled by smoking. Much like one of the two dozen scars in my brain, once it’s there, it is there for the remainder of my days. I can’t change it. I can only choose how I act on it.

I’m working on a project in my house. I’m moving my bedroom to the lower part of my split-level and creating a mini-man cave for the Kidlet in the soon-to-be-vacant master bedroom. I love a good project. Once I get going on one, I become very single-minded. Perhaps a bit obsessive. Maybe a touch excessive. But that has always been the way I do things. And the people who know me best know that about me.

Sister MSW helped me move an enormous and  heavy TV set from the lower level to the upper level. And this was after she had just run 10 miles. Yep, I wasn’t going to let her exhaustion stop me from enlisting her help. Enlisted may be too generous of a word. Drafted may be a better description.

When we had hauled all that weight up the stairs, she said, “You are in your manic stage of your project.”  She knew me well enough to recognize where I was in my head. Because that is how I have always been, and that will never change. I don’t mind the manic-project stage. I get shit done.

I used to think a good therapist could help me change. Help me change why I do what I do. But, the more therapy I have, the more I realize that the point of therapy is figuring out ways to cause myself less self-destruction while dealing with the parts of me that I cannot change.
Do people ever really change? Or do they just try to convince us that they have changed? Or maybe they are just trying to convince themselves.

Can people change? Probably not. Things change, people react. Reacting is not the same thing as changing.

Yeah, yeah. I know. If we can’t change, we will always be the caterpillar and never the butterfly. But I think that is a flawed, short-sighted argument. Becoming a butterfly was always what was going to happen to that caterpillar, unless he got eaten by a bird or squished by the kid that found him in the schoolyard. His caterpillar body may change, but the fact that he would eventually sprout wings never can. So, let’s all stop using the butterfly metaphor.
The science of psychology tells us this: People don’t change, they just become a more clear version of who they really are. People don’t change, only priorities do. If you think someone has changed, the truth is that you are only learning who they really were all along.

When I think about the people I know best, I can’t remember the last time one of them genuinely surprised me with something they did or something they didn’t do. I can predict their actions because people don’t change.  And that is OK too, because there is a certain feeling of security in knowing there won’t be many surprises. I've had enough surprises of late.

Nothing ever really changes.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

For the Love of Words: Fishnets Edition

Holy bleep! I did a crossover! I can do a crossover! I surprised the hell out of myself the first time I did it. It is starting to feel like my skating is shaping up a little bit. And, in honor of no longer being the worst derby skater in the world, we will finish up The Words trilogy by going over some of the best words that apply to those on eight wheels.

I’m sure you have noticed, Derby Girls all have phenomenal asses. There are reasons that booty shorts are part of the Boutfit. Tight shorts show off the callipygian (having beautiful, shapely buttocks; 18th century bootylicious) curves those girls that have spent so many sweaty, aching hours doing squats and lunges. On skates.

Bet you didn’t know there was a word for that. Come to think of it, there has probably been a word for that for as long as there have been butts. Or, at least words.

I have schwellenangst (fear of trying something new) when it comes to booty shorts. I’ve seen the results of a skid across a track while essentially wearing a Speedo. Looks like it hurts. A lot.
Speaking of asses… Derby can be a real pygalgia (a literal pain in the buttocks). Just to be clear about the meaning of this word, MRIs are a pain in the ass. Rink rash is a pygalgia. A subtle, but important, distinction.

OK, esoteric Scrabble words aside, the best derby words are from the Derby Lingo. You probably won’t find these terms as answers for the New York Times Crossword. But if you learn to speak a little Derby before attending your first bout, I think you will enjoy it a little more. And don’t worry. Derby fans love to talk to a virgin (someone at their first derby bout) about the ins and outs. Uh… so to speak.

Aside—Derby is a serious game played by real athletes and elite teams. It is also is a lot of fun, with deep roots in a subculture. And it never takes itself too seriously. But—fair warning—never let the funny smirk you get when learning the lingo distract you. Because that blocker that was behind you is skating up next to you, with the sole purpose of knocking your ass to the ground.

Disclaimer—I don't, in any way, consider myself an athlete. But, I can do a crossover now! So there’s that.

I think we have covered the booty shorts. But there are other articles of derby clothing that complete your Boutfit. Panties are the helmet covers passed around to the skaters before (and occasionally during) a jam. The skater wearing the star panty is the Jammer—the one who scores the points— for the next jam. The panty with the large white stripe signifies the Pivot—the one who sets the pace.

Also found in the derby lingerie aisle, fishnets are a grand derby tradition. And wearing fishnets can result in the iconic fishnet burn—mark of a true Derby Girl. It is a form of rink rash (the badass result of skidding across the track), with an awesome criss-cross pattern. A CroKiss (a Velcro kiss) is another badge of honor. This abrasion happens when you rub against the Velcro of another skater’s pads.
So those are the burns. Then there are the injuries that occur when you make contact with another girl’s skate. Sometime in a, shall we say, sensitive area. Actually, when you are a super-talented faller like myself, you can actually land on your own skate. Skate Rape leaves you feeling slightly violated, and you might end up with a Giner Shiner (that would be a crotch bruise). Stop laughing. First of all, I didn’t name these things. And second, they hurt for days!

But it isn’t only a skate that can invade your personal space. One well-placed backward hand in perfect derby stance may land squarely between the legs of the skater behind you. It’s called a Beaver Cleaver. And this is how we end up such good friends with our teammates. This is also what makes co-ed derby so fun. I wonder what they call it when you cleave the guy behind you...

And then there is the injury that will take you out of the game for months. Nine months, to be specific. Remember, in Derby, it's better to get knocked down than knocked up.

Are Derby Girls hostile towards babies? After all, when a pack catches up with--and swallows--the jammer, it's called eating the baby. Paints quite the picture, doesn't it?

The only thing cuter than babies? Animals! And there are plenty of animals in Derby terminology. For example, you will often find a herd of Zebras (those would be the officials) in a barcode meeting. You might find a Goat (an opposing player held behind a blocking wall) being pulled away from her team, slowing her down, helping your team control the jam by setting the pace.

Then there is the rare and mythic Unicorn. When a jammer scores all five possible points by clearing the pack and lapping the opposing jammer, that is a Grand Slam. The epic Jammer that can do that five times in one jam? That’s the Unicorn.

There was a rule change in 2013 that made this next one obsolete. But it is too good not to include. Before the change, it was, on occasion, strategically beneficial for a skater to receive a penalty. For example, if they were sitting on three minor penalties, they might have wanted to pick up a fourth before they skated as the jammer. This reset their minor penalty tally. So they were intentionally picking up a minor. Or… wait for it… Cougaring.