Almost three years ago, I underwent a total thyroidectomy to remove the second half of my thyroid gland, the first half having come out in 2006. During the intervening years, I was on a replacement hormone to help prevent the growth of benign nodules and to curtail the symptoms of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. But when a nodule expanded to almost 6 centimeters in diameter within about 6 weeks, it was time for the invader to go.
But Invader Zim has returned.
For more than a year, I have felt like crap. My GP said he thought it was the stresses of school and work and kids and divorce. My bloodwork looked normal. In reality, part of my thyroid was growing back, and I was experiencing all of the symptoms of hypothyroidism—fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, weight gain, dry skin and hair—that come with Hashimoto’s.
Although my bloodwork looks normal still, my endocrinologist and I made the call to rid Glamazon Island of this invader force yet again. After a five-needle-stick biopsy, there’s still no definitive answer, though he thinks it’s benign, giving it only a 5-7% chance of being malignant. Either way, I’m not a surgical candidate—one cell left behind would likely regrow new tissue again—and thus I go today for radioactive iodine treatment.
The 2+ weeks of a low iodine diet have been difficult but manageable. No dairy, no soy, no iodized salt, no se salt or seafood or sea products, no chocolate, no egg yolks, no potato skins, no red dye #5, no rhubarb, only certain beans, and only 6 ounces per day of meat. A lot of fruits and vegetables, and a lot less coffee thanks to no cream, and I’ve lost almost 10 pounds.
I’ve also been a gripey, exhausted freak.
In the midst of that was recovery from last month’s wrist surgery and a cervical epidural injection and work and kids and school, though I dropped back my class load dramatically.
Rango has been incredibly supportive, even when I’ve been a raging lunatic. The fluctuating hormone levels have made me agitated and fatigued. But I get up every day and do what I have to do.
I’ve mostly made light of it, joking with Max about whether or not I will turn into She Hulk after this is over. In all fairness, if anyone would be excited to get some new superpower after radiation exposure, it would be me. But I’m getting the lowest possible dose for this procedure.
It still scares the hell out of me.
Talking to Queen Frostine yesterday, I finally came unglued.
“I’m scared,” I admitted through welling tears. “I know it will be okay, but I’m still scared.”
She, like everyone else, has offered to do anything to help, but there’s really nothing anyone can do. Rango is here to prepare food and make sure the cats are taken care of while I spend 72 hours in isolation. I’ll be locked in my bedroom for three days, and then I have to carefully clean everything I came in contact with, to make sure I wipe off any radiation-tainted sweat and skin oil. All I can do is hang out and watch TV and sleep.
I sent the boys for some summer visitation with their grandparents in Alabama, and I miss them already. The cats will freak out and bang on the bedroom door for the entire three days, I’m sure. And Rango and I will only see each other from at least three feet apart.
Maybe that’s what’s most frightening for me, really, the shutting down my life. I can’t do anything during isolation. I can’t clean the house or paint the bedroom or work on my computer, since I’ll just leave radiation everywhere. I can sleep and eat and watch TV.
I hate being still, but that not being still is exactly what contributed to my getting sick. The constant drive for the last three years to always be moving forward and being productive has left me exhausted and not well. Even after my wrist surgery, when the doctor recommended I take two weeks off from work to recover, I refused and demanded to be allowed back within a week, even though it meant doing everything with one hand.
But this is where I have to admit that doing everything one-handed is far easier than doing everything single-handed. I am forced to rely on other people at times, and I absolutely hate it. My parents and Rango and some friends who will help cover the boys over the next couple of weeks while I have doctor’s appointments. The boys themselves, who have to be prodded and pushed to do their chores, but who also seem to get that Mom will get sicker if she keeps doing everything herself.
I’m going to take a shower and go swallow a pill of radioactive iodine and come home and hole myself away like I’m supposed to. I will let the world go on about its business while I go one about my business of resting and letting the I-131 do its job so I can get back to doing mine.
So please send me good thoughts. Send me updates of what’s happening in the real world.
And in two weeks when I can go back on a regular diet, send chocolate. Please. For God’s sake, CHOCOLATE!
Last week, I had this awkward moment of running into an ex (read: very brief fling) in an unexpected public place. We didn’t speak—just eye contact and awkward silence. The next morning, Facebook Memories reminded me that it was three years ago that day that the fling had happened. The next day (and for the next two) Facebook reminded me that it was a major milestone anniversary with a different ex, tossing pictures of Vodka-soaked memories at me like Molotov cocktails. Somewhere in the midst of that, yet another ex made his presence known.
This time of year marks the beginning of a couple of months of incredibly difficult anniversaries, from multiple relationships. Some days are reminders of more than one relationship—sometimes more than two—and the memories are not always kind. Yes, it is reminders of the hurt from other people, but it is also riddled with reminders of the choices I made and their lasting impact.
But I’m also riddled with reminders of who I was, of the transformation that occurred over the course of two years. I am plagued by pictures of myself from those times, and then I see myself now.
And I weep.
I know. In the last three years, I finalized my divorced, worked three part-time jobs (and then no part-time job) while going to school full time, while finishing one degree and continuing to finish another, while now working full-time and schooling part-time, while winning a huge award, while establishing a new relationship, and while raising two sons with very little help from their absentee father.
And it turned out my body was revolting but I didn’t know it, hence the extreme fatigue and hormonal issues and weight gain. Followed by an injury that has kept me out of the gym since October and that culminated in surgery last week.
Reasons not excuses.
In my heart, I feel like a fucking fraud.
None of the other stuff matters, because I got fat again. Because I regained part of the weight I spent three hours a day, for fifteen months, fighting off. When I was a stay-at-home mom who had to rely on a distant and emotionally-inconsistent husband for everything.
So right now, I’m fighting not just the ghosts of my exes and my former life, I’m battling the ghosts of myself, and they are bitches.
They are snarky and blond, with thinner thighs and less sag and a tighter ass. They are unapologetic for their choices, even now when it’s me who has to face their implications. They remind me that they warned me, that I wrote openly about how I couldn’t relinquish control of my food and weight for the rest of my life, how exactly this would happen. (I told you so!)
How maybe if I hadn’t made some of those choices along the way, I wouldn’t be in this emotional predicament.
So for all of my talk then—hell, even this talk now!—who the hell am I to tell myself or anyone else anything??
In so many ways, it feels like I’m back in the summer of 2010, in chronic pain and uncomfortable in my own skin, struggling to keep the house and the kids together and still give Stephanie time to breathe and enjoy the things that make her soul feel not dead. Not even alive. Just not dead.
I have come to accept that things are often outside my control. Really, I’m good with that. This doesn’t even feel unmanageable, just unmanaged.
So I take a deep breath—I don’t have the luxury to get real high—and try to make the mental list of what needs to be done. I tally projects and plans and intentions and expectations in an ongoing psychic To Do list, and then I am overwhelmed by it all and I just want to crawl in my bed and go to sleep.
But I can’t. There’s too damn much to do.
And even if I could sleep, my goddamn ghosts are there, just waiting.
It’s like my own production of No Exit starring Stephanie as Garcin, Inez, and Estelle simultaneously.
Existential crisis, indeed.
Today, I have no swarthy internet wisdom. I have no words of encouragement or really anything else. I can’t find the out, not yet. I know I will eventually scratch my way through the dark, along the dank wall, and claw my way out if that’s what it takes. But there’s no door opening today.
Those most I’m getting today is dirty fingernails.
I fell in October and injured my wrist, and it turned out the slip and fall gave me carpal tunnel problems. A steroid shot in February triggered a 4-day migraine and pulled two already-bad cervical discs back of position. An MRI ahead of what will be epidural #10 showed a growth on the left side of my thyroid.
Ultrasound showed three new thyroid nodules, but no isthmus of organ. It looks like the surgeon really did get everything he could; I just happen to be a freak whose super power is regrowing glands.
But for the last 18 months, I have felt horrible. I told my GP that I felt like my thyroid was crazy, except there was no thyroid left. My bloodwork always looks perfect. He suggested it was stress—from work and kids and school and GOAL—and offered to put me back on an SSRI.
I have written before about choosing to take a mild anti-depressant when they boys were little. As a new mother in 2001, I was paranoid that something would happen to my child. I was bordering on becoming agoraphobic. My then-obstetrician started me on a very low dose, and I felt better taking it than not.
But after ten years on the medication, I was heavier than I’d ever been. I was miserable in my own skin, and I was unhappy in my marriage. I was absolutely numb.
I stopped taking the medication, I lost a ton of weight, I felt better, and I got divorced.
But then I felt bad again.
Yesterday was wrist surgery, next week is a thyroid biopsy to get a read on the nodules that are as big as what came out in 2006 and 2013, and a cervical epidural is the following week.
Worker’s comp is covering the wrist treatment, which is great for my wallet, but payment for missed wages doesn’t begin until I’ve missed a week of work—all of which has to be covered by me with my own leave or unpaid. It sounds unfair, but that’s how worker’s comp law works in Georgia and most states.
The orthopedist won’t let me return to work for at least five days. I also need to make sure I have enough leave to cover my epidural day and the activities for Tricky’s 5th grade graduation. I am in constant neck and back pain because of the cervical damage, topped by constant weakness and cramping in my left hand, combined with constant tingling in numbness on the other side of the same hand because of my neck.
I’m a damn mess right now.
But through it all, I have to keep going. I am irritated and petulant that the doctor won’t let me go back to work today. I understand that I need the tendon in my hand to rest and heal properly. I scheduled this surgery during the break between the upcoming summer semester and the just-finished spring semester—which saw my third perfect research paper in a row (worth 100 points) and maintained my 4.0 GPA.
I don’t like sitting still under the best of circumstances, and this is likely to drive me crazy. Even in pain, I push through because shit just has to get done. Rango and the boys help as they are able, but most of the housework falls on me. My standards and expectations differ from theirs.
There is so much to do, constantly.
But for the last month, I have felt as bad as I ever have in my life. Lethargic and weary, like pregnancy fatigue, plus horribly itchy, dry skin and stomach issues and this intense brain fog that causes terribly dysphasia at times. It feels like placenta brain, but it’s not. I am still gaining weight.
It’s hypothyroidism with blood results that look perfect.
So my endocrinologist has changed my thyroid hormone a bit. Even after just a few days, I am feeling less foggy. They asked me in pre-op yesterday to rate my pain. My wrist was fine; my back was not.
So this physical pain will hopefully be relieved before I start summer classes, but I can’t sit still for the next two weeks, waiting for that to happen. I have to keep pushing through. When I was at my worst over the weekend, a quote from Rune Lazuli popped up on my Facebook feed:
Got it. Really.
This is a reminder that I have to slow down and take care of myself. I have to be still in this and just let it heal. No matter how much glitter I may trail across the world, it’s not magical—not like that anyway. It will mend my broken physicality the way I like to think it mends hearts.
So I’m going to post this and get the boys on their respective buses and pick up some things at the pharmacy and then watch TV and maybe read.
Because apparently, this is exactly where I’m supposed to be.
After a couple of intense days of more “discussion,” I took the boys out for the afternoon. It was a lovely afternoon with my men and Max’s girlfriend, Kiki, followed by a delicious if tense dinner with Rango. (The man is a great cook, by the way.) Rango and I excused ourselves to the talk privately, again going in circles about the same issues from the last few weeks. We disengaged, and he went to sleep on the couch while Max and I drove Kiki home.
On the way home, Max asked if Rango and I were going to break up.
“I don’t know,” I replied carefully.
“Well, I want you to do what’s best for you, of course, but I love him to death. I don’t want him to leave.”
And then I remembered exactly how much my relationship with Rango impacts so much more than just me and him.
By the time Rango came into our life, DH had been living out of state for four months. In the two years he’s been gone, he has seen the boys for 34 days. On average, they talk to him every 3-4 weeks. Max and Tricky have very little expectation of their father, other than 1) he will eventually show back up for a brief period and 2) he will buy them something when he does.
For Max, especially, this has been incredibly difficult. He has 4 extra years of memories with Dad that Tricky just doesn’t have. He was hit hardest by DH’s withdrawal. He is also the most willing to seek out a relationship with him, but he tends to do so guardedly, with hope but no anticipation of regular engagement. Having just turned 13 when the move happened, it came at a really tough stage in his life.
Enter Rango, who understood being a child of divorce, being the child of distant and difficult parents, and being a teenage boy in a way I just never will.
And while he fell for me, he also fell for my boys. They hit it off immediately, and he established a solid, loving, imperfect relationship with them that is entirely separate from me.
He did what a good stepdad should do.
They fight sometimes. They give each other shit. But he also brought Max out of his shell, showing him that it was okay to trust someone other than Mom. He is a steady, constant, loving, engaging influence on their lives.
And he does it because he loves them, not because he loves me. (Though he does, certainly.)
So is that a valid reason to stay in a relationship?
No, of course not. But it is a reason to re-evaluate the strengths and reasons for that relationship.
When I got divorced, DH and I blew the boys’ world apart. Max has said before that we are all happier and better off after the divorce, but it has also been really hard on my children. (see above) Rango is a large part of why and how it got better. (see above) And I do not want them to have to extricate another important, loving relationship from their lives. (see above)
So Rango and I have called a détente. We realized how scary this was for the boys, and that’s just not okay. We have issues to work through, but we have agreed to stop them in their tracks and move forward, together and carefully, because there is more at stake than just us.
I’ll be honest (surprise!): it still scares me. Choosing to rely on someone else means allowing for the possibility of disappointment. I’m not one to run from adversity, so why the hell would I choose to run now? In the end, the possible pay-off is much greater than the possible loss, and returns on investment don’t come when you buy high and sell low.
So there are still things to work on, and we will. This was a warning to us both, to remember the lessons of the past. I don’t want to repeat the past, good or bad, and it is unfair to compare Rango or myself to those times.
While I was out with the boys, Max bought me a gift. He saw it and thought of me, even before Kiki pointed out to him that it was Alice:
And on the drive home, he told me, “Just because something doesn’t go the way you want it to, that doesn’t mean it’s bad, even when it feels bad. You can’t appreciate what you have now if you didn’t experience the bad you had before.”