My parents and I buying my first and only car, April, 2005. I think I look much more like my dad here.
My family at my wedding. I believe I look much more like my mother now. July, 2011.
As a younger kid, before puberty especially, I greatly resembled my father in nearly every way. Except that I was, you know, a girl. Obnoxious red hair, freckles, and a strong sense of sarcasm caused all my older relatives to comment how I was just like a little copy of my dad, but female.
And I could not have been more proud. As a kid (and to this day), I hero-worshipped my father. He had fought in the Viet Nam War, he worked grueling hours as a cement mason, and inspired my love of reading and learning. So when people told me I was like him, well, that was just fine with me.
I was something of a tomboy as a kid; my favorite activities were bike riding, running around the neighborhood barefoot all summer, climbing trees, and playing pick-up games of baseball. I also got into more than a young lady’s fair share of fights (according to my parents), but I swear every single one of those kids (boys and girls) had it comin’. They had insulted my hair, my freckles, my pale skin, you name it; and I wouldn’t stand for it.
No two ways about it – I was my father’s daughter.
As I grew older, I hit puberty, and things started changing. And not just the normal stuff. Puberty was when the pain started.
The first time I got a cramp, I was in so much pain that my parents thought I might have appendicitis, but it eventually passed. I suffered “growing pains,” mood swings, falling out with friends, and eventually depression.
#5. My voice is just like hers (and hers is just like her mother’s)
Me trying to get close to my husband. May 2001.
When I was 13, after we had moved from Missouri to Arizona, I learned all about the wonders of monsoons. In Missouri, if it hadn’t rained in a week, we may as well have been in a drought, but Arizona is, naturally, a different story. It is dry throughout most of the year, but for a month or two in mid-late summer, we just about wash away. (Fun fact: this is the only time of year you can find umbrellas in stores.)
This time of the year is called monsoon, and most of us await it with bated breath, because the moisture is so desperately needed. However, since all 9″-20″ of yearly rainfall happen in a matter of soggy afternoons/nights, power outages can be a problem during the bigger storms.
After one such power outage, I was helping my parents return all the digital clocks in the house back to the correct time, when I came around to the phone. Even though it was 2001, we only had one phone, and it hung on the wall in the kitchen, and had one of those nifty answering machines (not voicemail) whose message had to be rerecorded every single time the power went out. Being the only person in the house with the technological prowess to do so (read: the only person in the house who didn’t remember rotary dial phones), I recorded a short message and reset the time, and went about my business.
The next time a relative called the house and got the machine, the message played back, “Oh Wanda, I love the new message you put on here! Anyway, call me back, blah blah blah…”
I was mortified. At thirteen, I could imagine no worse fate than becoming my mother, and now I, apparently, sounded just like her! It was a disaster!
She tried to comfort me with stories about how my grandmother used to answer the phone and talk to my mom’s boyfriends when she was in high school (Nana and my mom sounding so alike that the boys never knew the difference), but really that just sounded like more of a threat.
This was the first time I realized that there might be a bit more of my mom in me than I ever thought before.
#4. I Needed Glasses
By the tenth grade, I was an avid reader of anything I could get my hands on, fascinated by this new “internet” thing, and defiantly sitting as close to the television as I could get away with while watching MTV and VH1. I had made in with a close-knit group of friends, guys and girls, and we spent many an evening spread across the floor of my living room, TV blaring in the background, noses crammed in books to study for our Advanced Placement classes.
And boy did I ever have a crush on one of my guy friends. He was, like, totally cute, and funny, and dorky, and perfect to my 14-year-old self. My parents didn’t like him very much either (they thought he was weird), which really just made the pot that much sweeter. So I had him over to study, along with my other friends, too, of course, as much as possible. And I sat by him in as many of our shared classes as I could.
It was in one of these classes, and due to my ridiculous crush (as well as the deep-seated, but incomprehensible, need to try on someone else’s new eyewear) that I found out I needed glasses. My crush had been suffering from headaches for a while, and it turned out his vision was in need of correction. He walked into AP World History looking like a modern-day Buddy Holly (which is what I’m into, I guess?) and I immediately fell in love with his glasses. And so I ripped them right off his gorgeous face and tried them on, because that makes any sense.
Right away, I noticed something was different. I asked my teacher;
“Has that map always had political boundaries?” The map in question spanned an entire wall of our classroom and was, in fact, a geoPOLITICAL map of the modern world (as of 2002). I never before had seen the lines denoting countries, or the bold-faced type screaming CHINA on the wall nearest my seat.
“I think I might need glasses.”
My father had perfect vision up until age 27, when an accident at a construction site nearly cost him his life. His face was literally crushed when a box of welding rod fell onto his head from about 30 feet up, and only his metal hardhat (which he had refused to switch out for the new, improved plastic ones) saved him. Every bone in his face was shattered; he lost nearly all of his front teeth; he underwent extensive plastic surgery, but still suffers from nerve damage, and damage to his eyesight.
My mom, however, has worn glasses since elementary school. When I found out I needed glasses, I supposed I was lucky enough to inherit enough of my dad’s genes that I had made it to tenth grade before needing them. Sort of like meeting in the middle.
Andrew and I rocking our glasses at the bowling alley.
When I came home with my revelation, there was a flurry of activity: an eye appointment, picking out frames, deciding between glasses and contacts (I opted for just glasses at the time, but within 8 months went back to get contacts). Eventually, after two long weeks of waiting and constantly borrowing my crushes glasses, now just to read the vocabulary words (mostly – it turned out we had very similar prescriptions), I got my first pair of glasses. And my second dose of “how to be like mom.”
#3. Dysmennorhea (A Long Word for Extra Sucky Periods)
My first memory of anything puberty-related is my excruciating first cramp, in a motel in Oklahoma during spring break when I was ten. I was in so much pain, my parents were nearly convinced I had appendicitis, only that the appendix is on the other side of the body. After what seemed like hours (surely it was only minutes), the pain subsided, and we all settled in to watch television while the car was getting repaired. If I remember correctly, it was the timing belt that had broken on our way back from our vacation to San Antonio, Texas.
In any case, the cramp was promptly forgotten and we all went back to life as normal. I graduated from 5th grade at the end of May, and I began middle school in the fall. Eight months after the initial harbinger of menstrual doom, and 1 month 2 days before my 11th birthday, I started my first period, and blossomed into a woman. Or whatever.
The first few years of menstruation were like what I imagine most young girls’ to be; irregular, sometimes painful, and generally just obnoxious as you discover all these new hormones and urges.
By the time I got to high school, my periods were still wildly irregular, while most of my friends’ had evened out. Mine were also ludicrously heavy, and the cramps I experienced, all the way throughout my cycle, were nothing to scoff at. Every time I complained, which, as a teenager, was loudly and often, my mom would sigh and say, “Why’d you have to be so much like me?”
Eventually, my doctor had to put me on oral contraceptives just to control all these symptoms, though I’ll tell you; word gets around in a small town, and when you have a steady boyfriend… People talked. I mostly was too relieved at the lack of cramps, the lighter, predictable periods to care, but I remember being at least a little bothered by the implications. Particularly because these were my same classmates who had witnessed me get carried out of the classroom, on numerous occasions, whimpering in pain. I suppose that’s how teenagers function, though, and, I cannot stress this enough, I was so happy to be free of pain, I didn’t give much of a damn what anyone said about me.
Later, I would attempt to go off oral contraceptives, and get a Mirena (R) IUD instead, but after a year of heavy, irregular, and painful periods, I was forced to go back onto oral contraceptives as well. At least now, they’re free. Thanks, Obama!
#2. The Big F…M: Fibromyalgia
If you’ve read my other articles, you’ll know that by the time I made it to college, I was beginning to suffer from fibromyalgia. At first, widespread pain, as is touted as the most common and pervasive symptom in all the Lyrica (R) commercials, did not plague me. I was merely tired… all the time. In my first two years of college, I spent the majority of my time, including class time, napping.
And no matter how much I slept, I never felt rested.
In my third year, other symptoms began to make themselves known; acid reflux and back pain. Still, my overarching complaint to doctors was of being bone-tired all the time, and never seeming to be able to get enough sleep (even if I was getting 12-14 hours a night… Or more!).
Around this time, my mom was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which she had suspected for years; but, as research on the condition was not as extensive then as it is nowadays, she had never been given a real diagnosis. She was prescribed Lyrica (R), and started to feel much better. I was really happy for her, because it seemed that finally a doctor had truly listened to her.
I never realized that I was about to go through the same thing.
Being of a scientific mind, I began to see various specialists to try to rule out causes for my exhaustion. The first on the list was an allergist, as I have always suffered from nasal allergies, and thought perhaps I wasn’t getting enough oxygen – surely that could cause me to be tired all the time. While I was, in fact, allergic to just about everything in the scratch test, the doctor didn’t believe my allergy symptoms were causing my tiredness.
Then I tried my college’s Campus Health. They sent me to a sports doctor, who sent me a couselor, who sent me to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist was the one who finally diagnosed me with fibromyalgia, and when he started talking about treatment I mentioned that my mother was on Lyrica (R) for FM.
“Oh, well, what dosage does she take? We’ll start you on that.”
My dad came to visit just before I got diagnosed. October, 2008.
#1. My Newest Addition: Neuropathy
Obviously, my mom was pretty heartbroken that I turned out to have so much in common with her. In the past two or three years, doctors have discovered that I also have nodules on my thyroid; due to my family history (my mom, her parents, and all her siblings have thyroid problems), I’ve something in the realm of 6 ultra sounds and 2 biopsies on the nodules, as well as trimonthly blood tests to make sure I’m not developing thyroid disease, or worse, cancer.
My mom and I even tend to experience FM flare ups at the same time. Part of this is a function of living in similar geographical areas (we each live in different parts of Arizona), and being sensitive to the same weather patterns. Right now, we are both in considerable pain from the monsoon season starting. The constant flux of barometric pressure seems to play hell with the muscles and joints, and we have even had stomach trouble. On the plus side, it’s always nice to have someone to commiserate with, and my mom is always just a phone call away.
When I visited my parents recently for the Fourth of July holiday weekend, i made note to complain to my mom that I had begun experiencing neuropathy in my feet. She has been experiencing the tingly, pins-and-needles pain in her feet for years now, and I often wondered how she could even walk! Now I know… You do what you have to.
“I demand a refund on these genes!” I told her, joking, as I explained how any prolonged pressure on my feet (from standing, being pressed against the floor when I sit, or against the wall of my too-small bathtub) causes tingling numbness in my extremities.
“Honey, if I could take away your pain by claiming you were adopted, I’d sign you away, trust me,”my mom replied.
I thought about this, and how my mother was completely serious. Because she is exactly that – she is my mother. I know she would do anything for me. I’d do anything for her, too. Which, yeah, I may have inherited a host of health problems from my mom, but I’ve also got her kindness, her indomitable strength, and on a good day, even her patience (I’m still more like my dad in that regard).
So, no, I wouldn’t give her up. She’s a keeper.
“Meh, then who would I have to blame all my problems on?”
My mom and I at her father’s Celebration of Life. 18 months after diagnosis, May 2010.