I saw this meme shortly before the new year, and to put it lightly, flipped out.
What do I mean by being worse?
Melting into me. Relaxing into the lack of chill. Folding into the absurdity of it all. Running up and down Gun Road for fun. Being chalant, wondering about the etymology, then confirming that chalant is indeed slang because the main rule of English is that there are no rules.
I have a bit of a life philosophy, mostly existential, as the former teenager reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being in between lifeguarding shifts. It could just as well be otherwise.
We get to do this.
Themes I can see as I look back on my poetry while editing a full length manuscript and submitting a prize portfolio.
Getting worse. At some point in my late 20s, I stopped having much shame. I’m sending the text, sending the email. I have 18 pages of a Word Doc tracking mostly rejected writing and have an Aquarius moon, I don’t notice the hurt. After doctor appointment on doctor appointment, having to claw my way to an endometriosis diagnosis, what did I have to loose?
It took deeper reflecting after a conversation with my coach about goals for early 2023 to understand more of what I want out of running. I was having trouble pinpointing a “goal” race. Rather, I had a bunch of shit on my calendar that to me, looked like fun trail time with unusual distances. I may shoot for time goals at some point, but mostly I want to go outside and be. I feel the friend I lost in the moon, in crows gliding, in the soft peach of sunrise and sunset.
I am not alone in these haunted moments. A group of us (we all went to an MFA program together) wrote a joint eulogy and wrote through our memories of her.
I am conflicted about writing much about grief on the blog, but like processing chronic illness grief through this venue, I continue to process the loss, even as I’m back to doing things like opening my mail. It seeps into the everyday.
I feel other people carrying their grief as they enter meetings, enter supposedly joyful spaces. So much to think about. To quote what Mandy wrote in i want people to think: I want people to think of the body’s resilient failure, rising from bedspreads of fire and ash screaming “I eat men like air” and then I did.
Have you ever been so sure you’ve done something, that when you come to the realization you did not do it, your world rattles?
I had planned a long weekend in Philadelphia with my favorite communities: writers and runners. AWP was back, and Sunday the Love Run had a celebratory half marathon through the city. Everything I could dream of, right?
The first few days in Philadelphia filled my soul: connecting with new and old writer friends, finally experiencing the punk-rock Tirefire Reading series, writing in the garden of the Rodin museum.
Things started to fall apart at packet pickup Friday afternoon. I was so excited to show my girlfriend the running community, to show her the ridiculous things we do to get hyped. As I tried to locate my bib number, my name was not showing up. So weird, I thought. It must be a glitch, I thought.
Then I considered—I was receiving promotional emails, but did I get a bib number reminder email? As the realization washed over me, I searched my email receipts for registration. I generally register when it first opens (can’t miss those discounts), so it had to be there. Right? It wasn’t. I ask Athlete Information if they have registration today. Nope. It completely closed on Wednesday.
Fighting tears in the convention center hallway (is it even a writing conference if you don’t cry in the convention center?), I’m panic texting my coach and another run friend. What should I do? What are the options? Extremely stubborn, I didn’t want to miss out on a race weekend I prepared for. We find that the B&A Trail Half Marathon still has spots. I text the AWP 2 Hype 2 House 2 Queer chat that I’m leaving that night. I get home, try to calm down and relax with my cats. I’m prepared physically, why should a little stress derail me? I started infusing humor as fast as I could, texting my coach, I should have opened this with I’ve made a huge mistake.
Not to brag or be dramatic, but the half marathon was the worst I have ever felt in a race. Perhaps because of the stress of the previous 48 hours, perhaps because I’ve been struggling with my ferritin and thyroid levels, perhaps because imbalances from years of chronic pain decided to flare in my back—everything was NOT GOOD.
The race didn’t begin that way. I started cruising around 7:45 pace. I was going for it, knowing all my workouts and long runs indicated this would be an easy start to push from there. My plan was to start pushing to bring it down to the 7:30s after the first third. I took my first gel around mile 4.5 and said bye to my friend, she was folding a workout into the race.
I wasn’t feeling bouncy or fresh, but I still felt like I could hold strong for the second half as I approached the turnaround. From years as a swimmer and past races, I knew I didn’t have to feel perfect to be able to dig deep. Around mile 8, my body started to rebel in all the ways: nausea, tightness in my back to the point that I could not drive my legs. All in all, NOT GOOD. Still, I know these things can pass.
I took my last gel around mile 8.5. I gave myself another pep talk. One bad mile wasn’t going to stop me. As I continued, things got worse. Total body pain. Nausea. Heaving. Why couldn’t I at least vomit and get it over with? That’s when I started to panic. The last time I felt this terrible in a race, it was before my first surgery in 2018. This was not a time to relive medical trauma! I turned up my music, asked Ashnikko to give me strength.
I was either slowing down to heave as I ran, or I was stopping to heave along the side of the B&A Trail. With only a few miles to go, I passed some of the Faster Bastards cheering. I told myself to dig deep and felt a surge of adrenaline as I passed them. I can salvage this, I thought.
Shortly after I was off the trail again. They jogged by and asked if I was okay. I said, no, but I’m going to finish. I heave-run-walked my way to the finish, keeping it together enough to cheer on runners passing me, to say hi to people I have only interacted with online.
My final time was around an 8:30 pace, despite some 10 minute miles in there. While I am frustrated, I am so proud of this consistent training block. I stayed mentally strong in workouts. I felt relaxed in long runs. Despite dabbling in running for over a decade, I keep reminding myself that I haven’t truly been able to consistently run until being cleared for sport in August 2020 after my hysterectomy and second excision surgery. I’ve finally had a chance to build. After some rest, I’ll spend the spring and summer finding new limits on the roads and trails with the community. This is a hobby I love, even when it sucks. There are going to be challenging races along the way. Yesterday, I loved seeing friends reach their goals, knowing I will be in that place again.
A note because the pandemic isn’t over: I took a rapid test last night, I’ll take one later in the week, and I’ll wear my mask if there are places I must go.
It’s easier to put on red lipstick and scream on the inside.
In November, I spent two days filming with a crew for WebMD. I share my endometriosis journey to help spread better information, to break down the isolation of the alienating condition. Because it’s chronic, I worry how it will affect my career. I worry that people will just look at me as sick and weak. I know those are fears, not facts, so I’m so glad WebMD has a three part series about endometriosis in which I am one of the features (and I talk about these fears).
Legitimate endometriosis specialists and advocates will be on The Today Show next week. It feels like a change in awareness is coming. The air is less salty, even the ground has a spring.
I am thrilled, especially because earlier this month an endometriosis specialist in the area was on the morning news, sharing outdated knowledge. One of those statements was that it’s common for folks with endometriosis to have another surgery in two years. With true expert excision surgery, that’s incorrect. Let’s consider the monetary cost, without even mentioning the physical and emotion cost of surgery: the doctor expects someone to accept that every two years the patient will 1. take significant time off work and 2. pay for invasive $20,000 surgery? How is this acceptable care for something that has barely been researched?
I want to follow the light today. I don’t want to think about the doctor that told me I don’t look sick, when I went to her for help with a list of symptoms. Or the anxiety that comes with each ovulation. Or the depression that comes with a lack of change under a new treatment. I want to talk about music that keeps me going. The Warped-Tour-mixtape-generation has stuck with me through changes in media. I have all sorts of playlists, from running fast as an emo kid to getting to work and writing. Here are some highlights from my chronic pain playlist:
Ace of Base – The Sign I know what you’re thinking. Ace of Base? Life is demanding without understanding. This is Swedish pop, right? I’m trying to write these without major research, more with gut reaction. The sticky-pop has existential lyrics, like the period of time right before diagnosis.
Janelle Monáe – Tightrope [feat. Big Boi] I first heard this song in a spin class with “Crazy Eddie.” I associate this song with sweat on the floor, triumph in my heart. Joy in the face of pain. Belief in my body. I keep on blaming the machine.The fine balance Monáe sings about is just PERFECT. Don’t @ me, I love this song.
Amanda Palmer – Runs In The Family A friend gave me a collection of Amanda Palmer/Dresden Dolls songs in 2014 and my mind exploded. They blend performance, art, and theatrics beautifully. Runs In The Family captures the anxiety and rage that come with invisible chronic illness, and considers the question of intergenerational trauma. If wellness is this what in hell’s name is sickness. Want to say that I don’t look sick again?
Migraine – twenty one pilots I’ve agonized a bit over which twenty one pilots song to include. I was a late adaptor—coming to the band when Stressed Out was released. But of course, they were first signed to one of my favorite pop punk labels, Fueled By Ramen. I mean, they expemplifiy the dancy-pop-punk full of angst that I still can’t get enough of. I think I just like how sad and hopeful this song specifically is.
Panic! At The Disco – Nails For Breakfast, Tacks For Snacks Speaking of Fueled By Ramen, I have to be honest and include Panic at the Disco (no exclamation point right now, right?). A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out was inspired by Chuck Palahniuk’s books. Though I’m not Team Chuck since finding feminism, I can’t deny the sad-Vegas-pop-punk fusion I spent time with in high school. This song, and many of the early Panic songs, feel like when you’re trying to assert that you are in pain and deserve to be heard.
That’s an excerpt. The playlist will be constantly changing, like my levels of hope. Listen here.
I never was—as a kid, the next swim practice was always on my mind. Lists were necessary for everything: swim-meets, vacations, reading, goals, my future house. I was creating vision boards before they were trendy. Every Sunday, I’d cut out my favorite furniture from weekly newspaper circulars for my future house. Could it have been the naming? Or was it having something to look at in the uncertain fog of childhood? Endometriosis has been part of my vocabulary, my identity, for over a year. I have a name for the cloud, but what can I do with it?
I’m still a list-maker and planner. It’s also all about tracking workouts, moods (I am always a mood), self-care, physical therapy, and sleep. Why? I have still been experiencing significant chronic pain and fatigue after excision surgery. Tracking symptoms is a way to see patterns and identify triggers. The scientific collection of statistics is a ritualistic calming.
As I write this, I still think I should be more spontaneous. Instead, I plan my life around pain. My period is usually regular, so I plan everything—rest, social time, dates, workouts, events—around how I may be feeling. Otherwise, what if I’m caught in public without an arsenal of tampons? What if I’m stuck in a crowded event, in pain and unable to get to a seat? What if I have to cancel on someone because I didn’t anticipate how ghostly my body would feel? What if I’m so overwhelmed by symptoms I’m being a neglectful partner? Some days, I think a cane for high pain days would be a good investment. Yesterday, I barely made it up a flight of stairs before ceding to the elevator the rest of the day. This may be surprising when you look through my Instagram feed. That’s curation. I prefer to celebrate what feeds my soul online, especially when I need something positive to get through the hard days. I’m the master of the lean with the hip-cock.
I have been turning the phrase by Rio Cortez in my head for what feels like years: “I have learned to define a field as a space between mountains.” Time and space have a different meaning when you’re racing your limits. Energy is collected in an attempt to maintain inertia. That’s not what her incredible chapbook is about, but the title has taken on a meditative role in my life. I will repeat from my Goodreads review: “if we can communicate how history has made us, there may be space to move forward.”
Tracking, naming, and identifying will probably always be part of the process. I’m an amateur adventurer in all of this. At least until there is some sort of cure for endometriosis.
Some books I was thinking about while writing this:
Laurel, Tyler Mendelsohn
I have learned to define a field as a space between mountains, Rio Cortez
@friendwithendo posted a meme in the beginning of April that brought vague thoughts to the forefront of my mind. I’m embarrassed when I start sounding like I’m saying like back in the day, when I was a collegiate athlete. But my teen years were dedicated to the goal, then I was a Division I student athlete until 22. Shaking the mentality, or more specifically, the mentality that it’s not hard work if you’re not in pain, has been something I’ve grappled with while implementing the lifestyle changes that come with endometriosis.
How beautiful is that? Allow discovery and joy in your movement. In the momement. Despite pushing through daily pain with a smile, and doing things like causing a tibia stress fracture, I try to prove to myself that I’m not *weak* and have a high pain tolerance. Wuht?
I think of the line in Michael Downs’s The Greatest Show, “If people understood the full weight of the show they watched, they would be crushed.” Each day is a show I feel like I barely remember the lines to. I do not judge anyone else this harshly, I do not hold anyone else to this impossible, illogical standard. I don’t approach creating this way either. I consider myself a writer, exploring multiple genres, moving between fluid boundaries. Art isn’t limited to the page either. I look to multidiscliplinary artists like Lynne Price, Stephanie Barber, Jordannah Elizabeth, Amanda McCormick, and so many other incredible talents that transcend genre. Why am I not living like this when I’m moving? Is this impossible in running?
I tried something different when I ran the Charm City Run’s Sole of the City 10k earlier this month. A rigid personal best wasn’t on my mind. Since February, I had been on hormonal birth control and physically and mentally spiraling (I have stopped taking it and would like to say, if birth control helps you live the life you want, GOOD! Do you and you should not be limited in your access! It is not something I can tolerate. Yes, I am hard eye-rolling to all past and future individuals that say I should just get on birth control to make endometriosis go away. Read more here about how it is only a band-aid and not a long-term solution).
Even while struggling each day, I wanted to learn from the race. The course has a challenging hill during the final mile that broke me the previous year like the Baltimore Half Marathon broke my spirit in 2011. I’m looking at you, never-ending mile around Lake Montebello. I decided I wanted to negative split the Sole of the City, starting at an 8-minute mile pace that would be an effort but relaxed.
Dare I say the race was joyful? Despite the early spring humidity, the kind special to Baltimore where even your eyeballs are sweating, I was in relatively good spirits. It was probably the last time I wasn’t holding back tears or sobbing all weekend (I’m still looking at you, hormonal birth control). Reading Partners volunteers cheered at 26 points—one for each letter, yay, literacy!—an officer was singing for everyone at mile 2.5, which carried me to Charm City Run Fells Point blasting Kesha’s Timber around mile 3.5. Then I targeted someone a few paces in front that I had seen earlier in the race to bring me to the finish.
My ability to hold pace was a pleasant surprise. As reference, when I’m not doubled-over from endometriosis and related symptoms, my tempo run pace is comfortably at a 7:20 per mile pace. Keeping a relaxed mind helped me hold the sustained moderate effort. I sort of approached the Charles Street 12 this way in September 2018, but if I’m being honest, I thought it was going to be a rare approach. I had excision surgery in April 2018 and I was cured, right? RIGHT?! Cue the reality of chronic illness.
I’m learning from the Baltimore Flow and incredible healthcare providers—shouts to Sustainability Wellness and Indigo Physiotherapy—to listen to my body. To look at it as more than something broken. To approach athletics how I approach creativity—with an eye for discovery. I have to be creative as I continue to chase a sub-20 minute 5k goal. I have to trust that when I feel well, the work will fall into place. While I’m not, there is a process and joy can exist in discovery.
been reading Ross Gay’s The Book of
Delights, enjoying the energetic weaving path of his mind. How he sees the
world and translates that on the page invigorates my love of the short essay.
So does another book I loved in 2018, The
Baltimore Book of the Dead by Marion Winik. The essayettes read like poems,
therefore I was not surprised (rather, delighted) when I learned that Winik started
the project as poems. Our boundaries are not as tight as we think.
spirit of boundary-less writing, I have been writing flash essays (paragraphs?)
about endometriosis, meant to distill the daily struggles. Reading a symptom
list has never been enough to explain living with a chronic illness. For a
medical definition, read conflicting explanations of endometriosis online
(because there is no cure and the cause is unknown). I’m here to share a piece
of what it’s like to live with endometriosis.
So what is
endometriosis? It is a disease that can be treated with watchful
waiting. It is endometrial tissue ignoring boundaries and doctors unable to
explain the migration. I am being a poet over here. This is a current definition from one
of the top surgeons in the United States. The problem is, very little is known
because there has been little listening and study. You’re told symptoms will go away with menopause. You’re
told take the pill to pause your symptoms.
You’re told try Lupron to shut down your
hormones. You’re told take an
antidepressant to shut up.
is rethinking simple pleasures. No conferring with friends until 2a.m., eating
pumpkin muffins, going to a restaurant without meticulously studying the menu
and looking up ingredients without fear of bodily revolt.
is taking four Advil before work telling yourself this is fine. You’ve been prescribed 800 milligrams of Motrin to
survive these days in the past.
is pulling over sobbing in the middle of a 12 hour car ride because your worst
period day fell during planned travel. It was already three days delayed from
travel stress. You need to change your tampon every hour and a half and you’re
in so much pain radiating from your pelvis through your legs that you can’t
concentrate. Every bathroom in North Carolina has been filthy, lacked toilet
paper to clean up the bloody mess, and you feel like you failed your partner
because you cannot contribute to the driving.
is journaling as much as possible because on many days you’re in too much pain
to think past clichés. You’re afraid the energy you trying to smile through
small talk will take away from your ability to remember.
is taking up circus arts. The callouses on your hands, bruises in your elbows,
and hardened bumps on the top of your feet are leading to something. That physical
pain means you’ll do something dazzling, like hang upside down from the tops of
your feet with a serene smile. As Zadie Smith says in Swing Time, “But elegance attracted me. I liked the way it hid
is wondering why there is so little research unrelated to fertility. How can
you think about fertility when you can barely make it through the day? Why do
women’s bodies only matter if the concern is about children? Cut to every
horror movie where a woman finds her
strength because she is pregnant. What about the rest of us? Watch I Spit On Your Grave (1978) and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) again.
is trying anti-inflammatory diets, then eating dairy and gluten for a week because
it’s the holidays. You have the worst pain since before excision surgery and
decide to recommit to following the diet. You add weekly acupuncture, hip
stretches, and syncing your running cycle with your pain cycle because despite
all this exhaustion, you are still an intensely competitive athlete looking for
is longing for quiet time in the morning. Let me rephrase. It is longing to not
have to think about rationing time throughout the day. Karen Lord wrote an incredible
long essay about the day to day pain, stress, and impact as someone
working in the health & fitness field. She digs into the frustration, “I’m
lucky that after all the tests are run in the ER they tell me I’m the
healthiest person they’ve ever seen. I mean except for this, right? Right.” Like
the endometrial tissue, your symptoms continue to color every moment.
this gives you some insight into the day-to-day of living with endometriosis. Stay
sweaty and glittery.