Dear, Lexi

Have you ever been nervous to meet a 6-year-old? It must sound absurd, especially coming from someone who is 34. But on August 26th of this year, I got the first-date jitters thinking about meeting Lexi Townsin, who as of that evening, was the first person I had ever met with Blau Syndrome.

“Will she like me?” “Will she be confused that her parents are excited to meet a stranger in NYC?” “Will she understand why meeting her will change my life?”

I often joke that kids tend to gravitate towards me, because at a “towering” 4’10”, they usually think I’m one of them. I’m immediately accepted into their world because we can have conversations at eye-level. And while meeting Lexi was a breath of fresh air because of how radiant she was, she was onto me. She knew I wasn’t a kid – not because of some unnatural intuition, but because she wasn’t completely a kid, either.

When I was growing up, my cousins used to make fun of me, because at family gatherings, rather than playing tag or Barbies, they would find me sitting with “the adults”, propped up next to my aunts and uncles, having conversations about life as though I had already lived it. But when you’re born with an incredibly rare disease like Blau Syndrome, you, for better or for worse, have already lived it… and a lot of it.

It would be impossible to suggest otherwise. When you have to experience adult-like scenarios like swallowing pills, taking eye drops, getting poked and prodded, going to countless doctors’ appointments, and waking up in the middle of the night for a special pancake breakfast because you have to fast for a hospital procedure, it almost makes more sense when a sick child reaches greatness earlier than most.

And Lexi surely did. Anyone that knew her was so fortunate to have been blessed with that gift. I only had the opportunity to spend a few short hours being captivated by her personality in-person, but since she overflowed with wit and sass, I left our meeting feeling lighter. She made me laugh. She knew the sweet look she could flash her parents when she wanted a meal they knew she wouldn’t be able to finish, which was proven as I watched her father snack on a larger-than-life portion of fish and chips while I spoke with them about all of the great work they’ve done for the diagnosis I shared with their daughter.

Most importantly, she had a voice. And not just the voice that knows how to speak up when something isn’t right, or that charms passersby on the sidewalk, selling lemonade for the foundation her parents created out of devotion to their child – she was also vulnerable, and kind, and knew how to express herself when she was scared, or in pain, or tired. She had learned so many hardships about life at such a young age, that it’s a wonder she had any joy left in her at all.

But that’s what speaks to Lexi’s spirit. Even though so much of who she was can be attributed to how she was raised by her amazing parents, it was always so evident that they felt they were the lucky ones, having a daughter whose laugh scared the clouds away each day. I think it’s pretty common to see siblings fight, especially at the ages that Lexi and her older brother, Felix were. But witnessing their bond, again, showed that her affect transcended any social norms that could be assumed of a 6 year-old.

After meeting Lexi, I had envisioned my future relationship with her. I pictured international phone calls when she was struggling to adjust, or confused about dating, or if she simply needed an ear when she had any concerns about life that I would have hopefully figured out by the time of her asking. I wanted to give her the understanding that I so desperately could have used at her age, and frankly, could use now. But most of all, I was excited to watch her grow. I decided that if someone so young was already such a bright light, how lucky the world would be to have her in it.

And it was.

Even though it’s an understatement to say that Lexi’s time on this earth was cut short pre-maturely, it’s pretty unbelievable to think about how many people felt who she was, even just by watching her videos. Social media can be a sterile place, but somehow, Lexi managed to break that barrier as well, with her touching attempts to raise awareness surrounding her circumstance.

I’m not sure why I’ve been afforded the opportunity to be granted more physical years than Lexi, and as I sit here, living with the same medical condition plaguing my body, the anger, and disappointment, and true heartbreak are overwhelming. During a time where not much makes sense in my life, she did. In a quick encounter a mile away from my apartment on a routine weeknight after work, she helped me understand why people don’t generally see my physical deformities the way I once saw them, and for the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel so alone.

It’s hard to reconcile why something so terrible had to happen to someone so special. Maybe we won’t. And I’ll refrain from saying the cliché thing, about how we can “learn” from Lexi’s passing, because I’m not yet in a place to accept that this is our reality, or that there is anything we can possibly gain from her absence that is of greater value than being able to get more time.

What I can say, however, is that for reasons that I’ll probably never know, I am still here, and I am still fighting this unfortunate illness, and I will do everything in my power to continue to forge ahead with the grace, and warmth, and valor that Lexi applied to her courageous daily fight being a patient with Blau Syndrome. And now, as I’m writing this from the “comfort” of a familiar Rheumatology waiting room, I’m thinking of Lexi. And even though the hole in my heart is great, I can picture her toothy grin cheering us on from wherever she is, and reminding us that while it might be difficult right now, tomorrow is only a day away.

xoB

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21-Day “Beauty-Binge”

I haven’t felt like myself for a very long time. In fact, I’m not even sure anymore of what my “self” looks like at it’s core. There are pieces of me that have stayed intact because they are so crucial to my existence, like compassion and intrigue, but the rest just sort of feels like it’s been on auto-pilot.

A lot about being a sick person is doing things every day that you don’t physically and mentally feel like doing. It’s getting out of bed, bathing, contributing to society in some way (going to work or school, for example…), and it’s checking off items on a list that prevent you from failing at life completely. Do laundry. Pay rent. Feed the dog. Feed yourself. Even typing this out feels monotonous. And what I’ve learned is that you can go into a downward spiral quickly if you aren’t aware of how unintentional your habits have become.

When you are chronically ill, and these things that you don’t feel like doing still have to be done, there is a lot of energy that gets used just accomplishing these and other basic tasks. I have always had a theory that it takes more energy to do the things we don’t want to/feel like doing than things we want to do, because we also have to compensate for the lack of motivation that exists when a general interest or desire isn’t present to push you. So when we’re just getting by, and we’re trying to make it through each day, what happens to all of the expendible activities that we simply don’t have the energy to accomplish?

What happens to our joy?

It’s sad, but because I live alone in NYC, I very much depend on going to work each day so I can support myself. I don’t think that this is a different fact than other people who have to work to survive, but other people aren’t completely depleted just getting ready in the morning. For me, there are many days when I have to pick between going to work and taking a shower. Other people might argue that both are non-negotiable, but if you know that after you’ve hit a certain wall that nothing else will be possible, you have to prioritize the things that will immediately cause big problems, and that might come at the expense of things that seem unfathomable to put off.

So then as your health declines, you start to become a robot in a sense. You start to feel like everything is a race against time, trying to get the bare minimum done before your body closes shop for the day. And when you’re living in that mentality – survival mode or bust – it feels like anything “off the list” so to speak, feels like a luxury. It starts to feel like the things that you once loved are very much out of reach, as long as you want to stay afloat in the areas that truly require your attention.

But that’s no way to live your life, when there’s no “living” involved.

I have always had a pretty extreme personality. I’m usually either completely invested in something or it practically doesn’t exist. So when I started to go down this path of maximizing my time, other things were sacrificed that I couldn’t have anticipated in the very beginning. You figure that small things can be skipped, but small things add up.

So with that said, I decided I’m going to spend the next 3 weeks tackling a small piece of the puzzle. I’ve heard many times through the years that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit, so I will be spending that many days assigning some time to doing my hair, doing my makeup, and putting together an outfit that makes me excited to walk outside my front door. I want to feel put together. I want to feel approachable. I want to feel worthy of being seen.

At first pass, it might seem that this is a superficial challenge that I have set my eyes on. However, I think there is a lot to be said for how we present ourselves to others. I don’t think that a full face or big hair is the reason others should value us, but if we aren’t putting any effort into how we look every day, it could be perceived by others that we don’t value ourselves. And if we send the message that we don’t value ourselves, how can we expect others to think we have value?

This is basically a social experiment.

We have clothes in our closet that we reserve for special occasions – I would like each day in the coming weeks to be special. I also am interested to see if my committment to something so basic trickles into other aspects of my life – will I be encouraged to try new things, or be more social, or get to work on time, simply because looking nice on the outside makes me feel better on the inside?

I will be journaling about my experience and will be tracking things that are seemingly unrelated (i.e. my weight) – because my gut tells me that deciding to make my appearance a priority will open up new doors an opportunities for me, even if they are only benefits that I am able to see.

This mission that I am about to embark on is not about other people. It’s not about being attractive, and it’s not about pretending like I’m not sick every day.  In a way, it might remind others that even though I am sick every day, I’m worth spending time on. With this journey, my goals are pretty simple. I intend to live with intention. I want to find purpose on purpose. And I want to teach myself and others that I deserve to be loved by first loving myself.

Ultimately, there is absolutely nothing that I can lose by doing this. All I know is that I have no idea what else I’m supposed to do, other than to fake it until I make it. It’s a notion that I’ve tried in the past and in my recollection, has had a pretty high success rate. Also, I think it’s important to mention that for me, even though it will be physically daunting to accomplish this level of vanity, this is something that I’m actually interested in doing. I think it’s fun to play with makeup. I love my hair. And I also appreciate fashion. The only thing that I have left to do at this point is to do these things that I actually enjoy.

If other people are inspired by this and are feeling a bit lost in life like me, I hope it’s also understood that this is MY version of a “beauty binge.” I am not trying to perpetuate the idea that women are only beautiful if we have makeup on or that we have to be an “enhanced” version of ourselves to be valued in society. Beauty to someone else might mean drinking a ton of water to promote glowy skin, or it might mean sleeping more to prevent bags under the eyes. I only promote that we each determine what feeling beatiful looks like for each of us, and that we don’t discount the impact that ignoring that feeling has on other areas of our life.

So here goes, my dear friends.

All my best,

xoB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am not the problem.

I am not someone who uses my disease as a “card.” And I am not someone who uses that card to feel entitled to special treatment. I believe, seemingly way more conservatively than many, that while certain accommodations are necessary for me, physically, I don’t feel my struggle is worse than someone with different problems that I’m lucky enough not to have.

With that said, on Tuesday night, I impulsively bought a ticket for a concert that was scheduled for the following evening. I do a lot of things impulsively (read: last minute) – mainly, I think, because I get so much anxiety about making plans too far in advance, in case I’m not well enough to attend when the actual date arrives. The concert was for a band that had been my favorite growing up, and I took it as a sign that less than 24-hours in advance, there were still seats available.

Many people who don’t face a life-consuming illness would think that was the end of the story. But for me, that’s where the stress began. Once the commitment to something has happened (especially commitment to something that I’ve paid money for), the planning process ensues. Thinking about navigating through the next day, I took a shower before bed, picked out an outfit that I could go from day to night with easily, put all of my potentially needed medications in my travel pill case, and planned to leave some things at work, so I wouldn’t have to carry them in tow.

I woke up feeling proud of myself. Proud to have challenged myself to step outside of my comfort zone, and proud that I put myself in a situation of readiness, so my anxiety, (while still present), wouldn’t completely overshadow my interest in going to the event at all. And as usual, as the day went on, I started having doubts, taking the cold weather into consideration, and the fact that yesterday was also my long day at work (a 10+ hour shift), but I swatted those thoughts away, reassuring myself that I had done my part.

So as the sky started getting dark, and my day was winding down, I started to feel like maybe I didn’t have to leave anything behind. Perhaps, if I consolidated my things well enough, I could bring everything with me to the concert and go home knowing I wasn’t without anything I might need. Innocently (read: stupidly), I went to the venue’s website to see if I could bring in my lunch bag. And as I scrolled to the bottom of the page, my heart sank when I landed on the following statement:

“No Drugs or Paraphernalia. (Prescriptions Drugs will not be allowed into the venue unless they are in a prescription bottle. The ID of the person holding the prescription must match the name on the bottle).”

First of all, let’s address the fact that “Drugs and Paraphernalia” are not the same as “prescription drugs”, nor is the connotation attached.

When thinking of the casual usage of “drugs”, especially next to the term, “paraphernalia”, we automatically think of something negative – drug addicts, drug abusers, and drugs that are illegal, used illegally, and possessed by someone who obtained them in a less than honorable way. However, when discussing prescriptions, or “prescription drugs”, as it’s stated on the website, the definition already explains that the drug is on a person who was prescribed to take them. And not just anyone can prescribe “prescription drugs.” Dog walkers can’t prescribe drugs. Bus drivers can’t prescribe drugs. Nor can circus clowns, accountants, or the girl who cuts your hair. Only a licensed medical professional is able to prescribe “prescription drugs”, which means there must be a good reason for doing so, other than “the patient wants to smuggle something into a concert venue.” Someone carrying prescription medications did not do anything wrong.

Next, let’s discuss the fact that I decided to be pro-active, because I was afraid I wouldn’t get into the show, and called the box office directly to ask about this “policy.” (I put policy in quotes, because I think it’s really nothing less than a scare-tactic, which I’ll explain later…). When talking to the numbnuts who answered the phone, he reiterated that the “policy” was true, and that it was enforced. After I explained that I am chronically ill, take many prescription medications every day to function, and that I don’t carry around 11 orange and white bottles to go with it because I’d need a sidecar to do so, the guy continued to repeat that the “policy” had no exceptions.

Because I’m me, I pushed back, which made the guy on the phone go talk to security. When he got back on the phone, the story was the same, except for the fact that now I was being told that I would “not be admitted into the concert with ANY pills on my person.” Woah, woah, woah. “‘Any’ pills?”, I asked? “Do you have doctors searching people at the entrance to the theater? Because I’m curious about how your security guards are qualified to determine whether or not the medications I’m carrying are over-the-counter or prescription.”

The guy on the phone continued to say, on repeat, “you will not be allowed into the theater with any pills that aren’t in a prescription bottle.” When I asked why it specified “prescription” on the website and if people carrying Tylenol were being sent away, he knew he had screwed up, and his method of avoiding it was to just stay committed to the phrase he had been using.

So I asked for my money back. I told the guy that I don’t ever use my medical condition as a button to push, but in this moment, I felt that I was being discriminated against, because nowhere during the ticket-purchasing process was I informed of this “policy.” The guy tried to defend this by saying it is “clearly” stated on the website, to which I replied, “when’s the last time you bought tickets for a concert and decided for ‘funzies’ to get check out the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ page? Also, I think it’s also probably very unlikely that someone who was carrying illegal drugs would call the music venue to ask for permission to bring them in.”

I’m just saying.

I continued to offer solutions, like bringing a copy of my medical records, or better yet, going to the pharmacy and getting printed proof for the prescriptions I was carrying. No dice for any of it. And obviously, I was told that they would not refund my ticket, so I got off the phone because I knew I wasn’t going to get through to this asshat.

Now, I’m staring at the clock, trying to figure out if I’ll be able to get home in time to get the pill bottle(s) and get back to the concert, and considering if it would even matter. “Would I feel safe enough to bring NO medications with me?” No. “Do I need more than one medication?” Yes. “Do I need to take a pill bottle for each RX?” Who the fuck knows? “If I decide to go the safe route and bring several bottles with me, will my bag then be too big to bring in without checking it, ultimately losing my access to my meds, anyway?” Probably.

As a last ditch effort, I called my regular Pharmacy and spoke to a Pharmacist that has been helping me for years. He felt badly about the situation, and even said that if I was closer to his store, he’d have made me a prescription bottle with my name on it to throw my pills into, but unfortunately, the store is on the block I live on, so I figured I might as well go get the real ones at that point.

After deciding that I wasn’t going to lose this fight (meaning, I was still going to go to the concert), I hauled my ass home in a cab (which I shouldn’t have had to pay for), quickly decided to take one pill bottle and risk throwing multiple meds in, changed my clothes, and ended up having to take the subway back to Times Square, because I knew I’d never make it in rush hour traffic. I rarely take the subway because of all of the walking/standing/stairs, but as a physically disabled person, I was unnecessarily inconvenienced further, because our country has no way to monitor the abuse of narcotics.

After trekking across the city underground, I ended up just barely getting to the concert on time, and when I showed up and told security that I couldn’t stand on the line waiting to enter, they moved me right in, which was helpful.

But this is where my issue got real.

I was taken through the red ropes to bypass the queue, and before entering the building, they asked that I show them my bag. (This was it. This was what the previous two hours would amount to.) I stood there, so pumped and so ready for them to see the medication bottle and to confirm that it was my name on the label. But as I expected, the man doing the check only opened one of the two zippered sections (the one that didn’t have my medication in it…), pointed his flashlight on the top of my purse, and said, “Have a good night.” I could have had a bag of weed or a handgun in my bag and they would have let me through.

And this is why I’m frustrated. Not only did I figure that the “policy” on the website was garbage, I was repeatedly told on the phone that I “would not be admitted in without the appropriate proof” of medications I need to function. I was able to walk up to a security guard and ask to cut a whole line of people without showing proof, so why in the world should I be questioned about pills in a pill case?

Do I understand that there is an opioid epidemic? Of course.

But I am not the problem.

A few years ago, when they started cracking down on the narcotic prescriptions, it was a horrible adjustment period for the chronically ill. My specialists no longer wanted to manage my pain, because they feared being audited by the FDA. I had to start seeing a pain-management specialist, which was another copay from my wallet.

When it came to actually filling my prescription, many drug companies pulled way back in the production of these medications, so I spent hours calling a bunch of different pharmacies in New York to see if they had the pain medication I was prescribed. To make matters worse, I often wasn’t able to get accurate information on these calls, because pharmacists would either give me shit for calling about a narcotic over the phone (making me seem like a drug seeker, because in that moment, I guess I technically was), or they would lie and say they didn’t have it because they didn’t feel comfortable giving out that information. As a physically disabled person, I had to run all over Manhattan, walking in and out of storefronts, showing them that I had the paper prescription (to prove that I was legit), and question whether or not they had enough to fill the script. The anxiety I would get every month was absolutely absurd.

When they mandated that controlled substance RXs could only be sent to pharmacies electronically, my anxiety about this heightened, because at least if I had the physical prescription and the pharmacy didn’t have the medication, I could go somewhere else. However, if an electronic prescription is sent to a pharmacy and they don’t have the drug, they can’t transfer the prescription anywhere else because it’s a controlled substance. You have to then go back to your doctor and beg him/her to send it to a different location.

It’s a viscous, viscous process.

So my final question is this: At what point will it be enough for me to just be sick? To have to wake up in pain every day? For me to have to figure out how to be a contributing member of society, working full-time in an effort to keep my medical insurance and pay for all of my medical bills, while also juggling several doctors’ appointments each week and acute issues that come up, like visits to the ER or recovering from monthly infusions? When will it be enough that I have to plan every second of every day unless I want to face failure? And plan it to the point where it often overshadows any fun I could possibly have, and often makes me not commit to anything at all?

Why, on top of my horrible misfortune, should I have to do a song and dance because people are abusing the system? I’ve always been transparent about my illness and I am never defensive about proving that I’m sick, because I have plenty to provide in the way of clinical documentation since I’m ACTUALLY sick. But when I get up the courage to commit to an event, spending money I should be spending on medical expenses, and then have to be put out and basically treated guilty until proven innocent for a disease that I am just trying to navigate through, it’s frankly, bullshit.

As a manager, I always tell staff and coworkers that if you have a problem, you should come to the table with a resolve. So I propose that maybe we create some kind of ID card or wristband system that says that we are diagnosed with an illness that requires us the following:

  • prescription meds
  • narcotics (if necessary)
  • accommodations (a seat, low lighting, dietary specifications, etc.)

We have handicap tags for the cars we drive, why can’t we have something on our person to do the same function? I don’t care if I have to hang a huge sign from my freaking ponytail; we just need to find a way to address the issue without harming those who are already suffering.

I am not the problem.