Teens these days.

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(Photo: Carol Kaliff, Hearst Connecticut Media)

Today kids across America walked out of school to protest gun violence and the inability for our government to pass common sense gun control.

That’s incredible. I can only imagine being a government & politics teacher, or any other branch of history/American studies, and witnessing your students actively participating in and organizing peaceful protests. Or deciding not to participate because they didn’t agree with the protests. Either way, it’s a teach by doing moment. It’s teaching kids to be actionable instead of simply memorizing facts or spitting out theory.

Facebook is flooded with posts of alum, teachers and parents talking about the school walkouts or walk ins, where assemblies are being held in memory of the students killed due to gun violence. CNN is live-streaming the walkouts and the words of our CT Senator Chris Murphy. Across the nation kids are holding up signs stating their beliefs and desire for the adults in charge to be actionable. They are no longer complicit and trusting that adults will get the work done. The Parkland students showed them that their voice matters even when they are unable to vote. That you don’t have to wait until you’re 18 to voice political opinions.

I was young for my grade and didn’t turn 18 until I was in college. I remember being furious that I couldn’t vote in the primaries that year, even though I would be 18 by the general election. I was always highly opinionated when it came to politics, thanks to my mother who was always a well-informed citizen and my brother, who walked into the Democratic Headquarters at 16 to start volunteering. I would tag along with him, making calls to remind democrats and independents to vote, checking in on our elderly residents to see if any needed rides to polls, attending Chris Murphy’s debates when running for Congress, joining the Young Dems chapter my brother helped start and my favorite part of the process: going from poll to poll on election night to watch them count then ending back at Headquarters or a restaurant to hear the results roll in. I couldn’t vote, but I was more engaged in the political process than most adults.

Which was why I was furious when adults would undermine my intelligence in my teenage years. I would often hear that my opinions, and the opinions of my peers, were just echos of my family’s beliefs. I understand the thought, and recognize that may be true in some cases, but I could never understand why my civics teacher would take so much time explaining our nation’s workings to us, only to tell me that my opinions were just something I inherited from my parents when I got in a fight with a classmate over Bush’s reelection. Of course my family influenced my beliefs, but I was also smart enough to research and act on my own. I was old enough to hold opinions.

I remember a car ride where my mom and brother were talking a politics. I listened without much input, thinking instead of my recent civics lesson on political parties.

“What if I’m a Republican instead of a Democrat?” I asked my family.

I was constantly the lawyer of the family. I always wanted to think about situations from a different angle. A contrarian, always thinking of the other side before agreeing with my family.

“Your beliefs line up with the Democratic Party,” my mom replied.

“But what if they don’t? What if I’m a Republican instead?” I asked.

“Then you can be a Republican.”

I went home and did all the research I could on both parties. I spent hours trying to understand the difference and political platforms. I weighed policies against my moral beliefs and found that I did side with the Dems.

All of this was done my freshman year of high school. Clearly I was already intelligent and thoughtful enough to question my beliefs and recheck them against my political affiliation. My thoughts and opinions haven’t changed much. They evolved slightly with the times and my maturity. Whereas I used to think we should eliminate marriage entirely, calling everything a civil union, so we can eliminate the religious context of marriage, I’ve realized that battle gets misconstrued and calling everything a marriage is a better angle. I used to be much more fiscally liberal that I am today. I used to be pro-choice under medical necessity but am now entirely pro-choice. Tiny tweaks, but my adult mind is still in line with my teen mind.

So I still get angry that I was always underestimated. That adults did not believe that I researched my policies enough. To be fair, this still happens. I was constantly accused for siding with Hillary instead of Bernie because she was a woman, when in reality I thought she was the most qualified candidate we ever had and her fiscally moderate policies enabled me to reap benefits while still covering costs of social security and welfare.

People may say that I was a different type of teen. That not everyone was as mature. Well then, why not teach them to find their own opinions instead of dismissing them?

I think adults fall into an awful habit of thinking kids don’t know enough. We talk down to them and assume they can’t possibly understand. But clearly they do.

Today’s teens are living in a world where any question they have can be answered in a matter of seconds on their phones. Teenagers are actually MUCH better at recognizing “fake news” than we are. Aside from their obvious increased technical literacy, they’re also taught how to seek out information. As students, they have access to online encyclopedias and academic research. They’re constantly being told not to trust sites like Facebook and Wikipedia, and instead fact check every piece of information they want to use. They’re writing research reports and getting graded on whether or not their facts are confirmed. They’re much better at finding the truth than we are.

Without the ability to vote, I believe they’re getting antsy. I remember talking to my cousins, just shy of 18, about how much it sucked to be unable to vote in such an important presidential election. And now here we are, with massive school shootings happening at levels that I can’t even comprehend, and they’re done with us adults. They can’t vote, but they can speak for themselves and remind politicians that they’re voting very, very soon.

We need to stop underestimating kids and instead listen to them. That’s how I treat the kids I babysit. I never want to influence their own moral and political beliefs, so I just listen to them and encourage them to think about where they stand. The other day a kid I babysat was doing a project on trans kids and I found that she knew way more than even I did. I offered no opinions and instead just let her inform me on the topic. When I was watching some younger kids, someone came to the door who was running for local office. What followed was an hour long conversation with the kids about what their platforms would be and how they can run for office within their school. While I would steer at times, like suggesting they invest in scientific research when they said they wanted to stop all hurricanes, I let them carry the conversation.

We invest so much time and money into our kids and their education. But often when they want to show us the results of that investment, we don’t listen. While what happened at Stoneman Douglas was horrific, it is inspiring to see the students use their voices and speak up for themselves when a politician is dismissive of their question. Unless you’re a teacher or school employee, the topic of school shootings will ALWAYS impact the kids in your life more than it will ever impact you. Empower them to use their voices, especially if they’re teenagers. I’m so proud of these teens who are speaking up for the students in Sandy Hook who are still too young to speak for themselves. There are no longer only parents representing their students, but students themselves being actionable.

Keep going teens. Stand up for what you believe in and know that your mind is worthy of respect and your opinions are worth being heard.

Moving on.

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When I moved to Chicago, I thought I’d leave before college graduation.

I wanted to be a teacher and it made sense to my seventeen year old self to only go to an out of state college for three years then come back to CT or NY to get certified within that state. But when I changed my major three days into my freshman year, that plan went out the window.

I was supposed to move back to the East Coast after college graduation. Actually, I did move back to the East Coast. Well, kinda. I did not renew my lease in Chicago. I packed up and planned to move home but was called in for a job interview. The day before going home, I put all of my stuff in storage then went on the interview. I figured that if I didn’t get the job, I could come back and get my stuff. Then I packed all my clothes and headed home. We immediately went on vacation for a week where I found out that I was being called in for a second interview. After vacation, I headed back to Chicago and took the job. So essentially, I just over packed for vacation

When I started working in Chicago, I had no immediate plans to leave. I always knew I would eventually end up on the East Coast, but I never had a definite time frame. My standard answer was that I would be in Chicago for two more years, which turned into three, which turned into four. Two years ago, I was ready to pack up everything and move to Los Angeles but breaking my knee put those plans on hold. I wasn’t too upset about that though because Chicago always pulled me back.

I’m nine and a half years into my extended stay in Chicago. I love this city with my entire heart. I love the people I met and the strangers who greet me with the kindness and optimism that can only be traced back to the Midwest. I love taking an hour long walk after work along the lake and finding myself still in awe of our skyline. I love the neighborhoods I lived in – Lincoln Park, the Southport Corridor of Lakeview and now Uptown. I love that I always find something new in the city like how expansive Montrose Park is or where to order the best Chicken Shawarma plate. I love when I find myself back on DePaul’s campus and replay the memories: the quad where I used to run through the sprinklers after a night of drinking, the dorm where I met my best friends, the hall where I was initiated into Chi Omega. I feel the pit in my stomach churning when I find myself by my old place on Cornelia, wishing I had enough money to buy the townhouse that I loved so much. I like the way we all gather inside for long nights of beers and Christmas lights in the winter and eat outside every night in the summer. I love Eagles games at Mad River, our annual Christmas Trolley and late nights after comedy shows at Old Town Alehouse. I love how it’s in the middle of the country so flying to either coast is not a hassle. In college I cried on every ride to the airport down Lake Shore Drive. I knew I would be back soon, but I never wanted to leave. I would strain my neck looking back at the skyline on the way to Midway until it was completely out of view.

I never wanted to permanently live in Chicago. I stand by that. For every reason I have for loving Chicago, I have another reason I want to be home. The thought of raising children so far away from my family is worse than leaving Chicago. I don’t want to be a long distance aunt anymore. I missed a lot of my nephew and cousins growing up and while I don’t regret my time here, it’s bittersweet to see all the time lost whenever I realize how old they are. While I pride myself in being a lot more present these days because I’m more financially stable, I want to be able to join in on all the little things the next generation of my family will bring. I want to be at sports games and school plays and whenever I have my own kids, I want sleepovers with cousins and dinners with grandma. Beyond family, I miss New England. I miss having four seasons instead of two and being so close to so many major cities. I don’t like that each time I come home it’s an event. I want to be able to visit with friends without feeling like I’m stiffing my family. I’d like to be able to relax instead of making sure I got to see everyone while home. And I miss New England falls. GOD how I miss New England falls. I miss the hills and the trees and the mountains. I miss the foliage and the scent of October. I miss being able to hike up real trails instead of city paths.

But each time I think I’m ready to leave, something pulls me back. It’s not easy being in love with a city so far from home. I wish New York or Philadelphia had the same vibe as Chicago.

I know that in the next few years I’ll be leaving this city. Where I’m going next I’m not too sure of. I don’t know if I want to spend a year in LA living in warm weather for once before returning to the East Coast, or if I just want to head straight home. I’m not even sure of where on the East Coast I want to live. While I’m 90% sure I’ll end up in New York City, which would split the difference between my extended family in New Jersey and my immediate family in Connecticut, I’m not positive. I may jet out to California in a year then head over to New York City a year or two later. But whatever way I split it, I have two years max left in Chicago.

I’ve set dates on moves before, so I know things can change. But the problem is that I keep on delaying my departure which makes it more difficult to leave. I fall more in love with this city with each passing year. There are some good reasons why I haven’t left Chicago, like breaking my knee and wanting to stay with my medical team until completely recovered, but the truth is that I’m also terrified. I wasn’t scared of going to college. Everyone made some sort of leap that year. And while I was constantly scared after college, it was also a normal transitional period. But here I am, in my late twenties, and there are no external forces like going to college or joining the workforce to push me out. This decision is completely self-motivated and I’m the only one that can execute it. I’m scared that I won’t find the same support group I have here. I’m worried that moving closer to my family will keep me from hustling in comedy. I’m concerned that my constant indecisiveness on where to live will be what keeps relationships from forming.

My friends in Connecticut and Los Angeles will all confirm that I’m not a great long distance friend. I miss and love them but get distracted when I’m in a different city. I push away from the ones I’m really close to because it hurts to know we no longer live close enough to be dependent on each other. I try to separate myself so I’m not disappointed when their life eventually goes on and they find someone to fill my void in their new city. I want to change these things about myself, but I know that it’s something I struggle with.

I know that Chicago will always be here to visit. But I loved being a resident. I know my close friends will remain my close friends and I’ll probably come back as often as I jet to the East Coast right now. And I know that if I ever find that I made the wrong decision, there’s a three story walkup on Cornelia Ave. that I’m more than happy to put a down payment on.

I chose the perfect city to become an adult in, both legally and mentally. Any pain or hurt is almost always the result of loving something, so I’m thankful that I found myself in a city that I loved so hard.

After almost 10 years, I’ll finally answer the most frequently asked question of an East Coast transplant: Chicago is WAY better than New York*. But sometimes the thing we love most isn’t what fits best.

*(Except for the pizza. NYC thin crust over Chicago any day.)

Let people lead their own stories.

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As a Chicago resident who is also a huge Eagles fan, I spend almost every Sunday of the football season at Chicago’s Eagles bar, Mad River. This past season I went alone for the first time. I was scared of going to a bar alone but figured if I got there early enough, I could grab a bar seat which would make my solo journey a little less noticeable. When I got to the bar there was one seat left at the end next to a woman around my age. I figured she was saving it for a significant other, because I’m a bad feminist, but decided to ask anyways. To my surprise, she was also alone. I soon found that there are a lot of solo riders at sports bars. East Coast transplants who don’t have the energy to convince their Bears friends to peel away from their own game for an afternoon to come to an Eagle’s bar. I spent the rest of the season sitting at the bar and getting to know new Eagles fans.

Over the season, I inevitably made new friends. When you’re spending 6 hours, or 12 hours during playoff games, at a bar, you get to know people well. We exchanged stories of superstitions, trash talked Chip Kelly and shared fond memories of watching games with our families.

After the super bowl, one of my friends and I went back to Mad River for one last drink at the bar that brought us so much luck that year. Without the distraction of the game, we got to chatting about our lives. During the season I had been at Mad River healthy, was absent for a couple weeks, then came back on crutches. As I recovered, I went down to one crutch then eventually was able to start walking without them. Everyone knew I had knee surgery, and made sure to keep a close eye as I stood on the bar pouring champagne into the mouths of fellow fans after our NFC championship game, and she wanted to know the full story. I proceeded to tell her all about the accident and struggles with my first doctor. Before I could get into the story with my first doctor, she asked: “Did he let you get an MRI?” “No!” I responded, with a hint of excitement of recognition in my voice. “You always know a bad doctor when they won’t prescribe a MRI,” she responded. I could tell that she had experience in that area.

She proceeded to tell me a story about how she almost died due to a doctor not prescribing a MRI. When she pushed for it, her doctor still wouldn’t budge so she stopped complaining. On a visit home, her mom forced her to a different doctor, who saved her life with emergency surgery.

I was speechless. Here was this person who I got to know well over the course of several months, and I had no idea that she had such a near death, life defining experience. I knew she preferred American to Whiz but didn’t know why she had a scar on her head. It’s not so much that I didn’t notice it, I just didn’t really care when I saw it. Chalked it up to a childhood accident, or car accident, or who cares what, it’s not my business.

One thing I’ve realized about myself is that I don’t really ask anyone their story. It’s not that I don’t care about the story… in fact, I often find it the most captivating part of a person. I have just realized over time that people will tell you their story when they’re ready to tell you their story.

There are large chunks of my life that I’ve told to a stranger but am not willing to share with my close friends. There are things I don’t want my coworkers to know but broadcast on the internet. There are points in my life where I would tell telemarketers that my dad was traveling, or tell guys at a bar that he worked in IT, because I didn’t feel like being reminded of his death.

I’ve also learned a thing or two through life. My mom always taught me that there were things about people that were far more important than race and when I would refer to someone as “my Hispanic friend” she would press me to help her remember who the person was beyond their heritage. What was their personality? Where could she have met them before? My friends have expressed how much they hate that the “where are you from” question is the first question asked of them. I’ve learned that friends have hometowns they don’t like to be reminded of and asking about family life is not always a warm opening.

Through all those experiences, I’ve learned that we never need to feel pressured to hit every base right away when getting to know someone. I remember I used to hate when I would disclose that my dad died, only to be asked how immediately. I thought that was so self-indulgent. Why does it matter? So you can quantify my hardship? So you can make sure it was a freak accident that wouldn’t happen to you? The only time I was ever cool with it is when people asked because they could relate. My dad died in a car crash, their mom died in a hospital. Not an exact match, but enough of a community.

A lot of times we ask abrupt questions because we genuinely want to know more about people. The intention is fine – we’re curious beings and want to know about the others around us. But after my dad died, and I hated being asked that question, I started challenging myself to not ask other people questions that are too pointed. When I did that, I started finding out that the stories eventually come out anyways… now they just come out on the owner’s terms. I have to imagine that’s a much healthier way to go about things.

For quite a few years, I’ve trusted that I’ll eventually come to know the things about my friends that I’m curious about. I’ll learn their heritage when we’re in the middle of a conversation about our grandparents and they talk about their immigration process. I’ll figure out where they grew up when they tell me about their favorite baseball team. The reason they limp will become evident when they disclose their birth defect after a long night of chatting about god knows what. Eventually everything comes out, we just have to decide who sets the pace.

I usually find more out about people when I’m willing to talk about my scars. I expose some of mine, which makes them comfortable to do the same. Humans want to connect and we will unravel those complexities eventually. Let’s just find a pace that suits both of us.

I don’t always follow my own advice, and sometimes my curiosity gets the best of me, but I try to remind myself to work on letting others tell their own story. Allowing them the space to tell it, but also not asking the type of questions that will force them to. We always get there eventually.

I think the world is a little healthier if we let people lead their own stories.

My scar.

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Last week I went to one of my routine orthopedic appointments following my knee surgery. These days the appointments are less exciting than they used to be, which is a good sign. After two years of diagnoses, MRIs, physical therapy and both a minor and major surgery, the mundane check ups to see how I’m healing are welcome guests.

My surgeon, who looks like he could be the star of his own Dr. Oz spinoff, asked me to lay down. He grabbed my book and tossed it out of my way with a chuckle. “What a fitting novel,” he laughed. I blushed as I saw him holding “Misery” by Stephen King. I told him that I was happy to fall in love with Stephen King after my injury because I can experience Paul Sheldon’s broken legs at a different sensory level than before my own injury.

After a series of routine tests, he sat down and started typing his notes. “You can start using cream now,” he told me. “For…” I started. “Scarring,” he finished for me.

It was funny. The idea of scar treatment cream didn’t even occur to me. Before my surgery, a few friends offered advice or ideas about preventing scars, but since the surgery the thought hadn’t crossed my mind. I guess focusing on getting by without putting any weight on my leg for two months, relearning how to walk and returning to work without slipping into a deep depression were enough to distract me from the idea of my scar.

I obviously knew it was there. It stared at me each time I put my leg up to watch television. I remember meeting it a week after my surgery. My PA laying me down on the table so I wouldn’t pass out like I almost did after my first surgery. She asked me if I wanted to see my scar before wrapping it up again. I decided that I did, because I didn’t want to crack my head open in the shower seeing it for the first time. I slowly pulled my torso up, took a little peek at it and breathed a sigh of relief. “It’s not too bad,” I said to my mom who was shielding her own eyes. I inherited my disdain for gore from my mother.

In the weeks that followed, I assigned my scar the personality of my recovery. When I was frustrated after being told that I would have to be on crutches a month longer that expected, I posed a photo of it on Instagram with the caption “this bish.” When I accidentally locked my knee and had a wave of pain more intense than anything I ever felt before shoot through my body, I glanced at my scar like it was her fault. I rubbed it occasionally after physical therapy as a reward massage for her hard work.

The truth was, I liked my scar. She’s ugly as hell, but I like her. She’s bright purple, takes up all the real estate of my left knee and messy, resembling more of a serpent than a straight line, but I’ve grown to like her.

I like her like I like all my scars. She tells my story.

My first scar is a raised wedge about three inches long on the left side of my lower back. When I was in seventh grade, I was at my brother’s best friend’s house and his sister turned off the lights in the room we were in. I stood up and tried to navigate to the light switch, only to trip and hit my back on a sharp object. When the lights came on, I saw a table saw lying next to me. I ran into the bathroom and found some bandaids to patch it up and didn’t tell my parents because I was afraid to go to the hospital. Two days later, when it was still bleeding, I mustered up the courage to tell them. Too late for stitches, it was already starting to scar. My parents cleaned and patched it up with some gauze. For the next few weeks, it would reopen as I tossed and tumbled through cheerleading routines. It finally settled into my skin and healed. Whenever I look at it, I think back to the days where we spent hours in Joe’s basement as young teenagers. I remember endless parties with him and my father, who both passed away since then. I laugh at my reluctance to go to the hospital and wonder if the next girl to wear my cheerleading uniform ever noticed the blood at the waist.

My second scar is on my hand. It’s almost impossible to see if you didn’t see it when it was worse. It’s from when I was in 8th grade and the aftermath of my dad’s death. Back then, the new fad was rubbing an eraser against someone’s skin until it started to burn them and tear their skin off. Even before Tide Pods, we found our idiotic ways to wreck havoc on our bodies. I was depressed, but never suicidal. I didn’t want to cut myself or inflict pain in a way that could have greater consequences, but the desire to erase the numbness from my soul was still there. So I would use my erasers and rub off the layers of my skin on the top of my hand. I made two inch marks that resembled an equal sign. Whenever I was feeling particularly depressed, I would take an eraser and rub as fast as I could until I felt pain. It became a bad habit – right before they would start to heal, I would rub them again. It’s not a habit that I’m particularly proud of, but whenever I step out of the shower and can see the redness of the scars coming out, I think back to those days and that tortured teenager. The scars remind me to take time and reflect, to be proud of who I am. Back then, I couldn’t talk to my family about my dad. It wasn’t that they weren’t willing to talk with me, it was that I pushed away the words whenever they came. I was closed off and distant, too numb to emote. It would take me many, many years to get to the place to open up to my family. The scars remind me that I’m no longer alone in my grief. That I flipped that pencil around and found words to use instead.

My third scar is about two centimeters long on the tip of my index finger. If you didn’t know about it, you might think it was just a fold in my skin. When I was a freshman in college, I was trying to fix a pin with a pair of scissors. The scissors slipped on the pin and lodged themselves into my index finger. I pulled them out and panicked at the sight of the blood gushing out. I ran into my dorm bathroom and ran water over the injury, which only caused more blood. I felt light headed and started to pass out. I grabbed at my shower curtain and fell into the bathtub. I pulled myself out and steadied myself on my wall then sunk down to the tile floor to gather my thoughts. I wrapped some toilet paper around the cut and starting making my way down the hall to my RA’s room. Since it was spring break, no one was really around, and he was the only resource I had. By the time I got to him, I was covered in blood and he freaked out. Our public safety car drove me to the hospital, where I sat in the waiting room alone. I looked around at mostly drunk people with swollen eyes from bar fights and started sobbing. This was the first time I was in a hospital since my dad died, aside from visiting babies, and I was terrified. Eventually I saw a doctor who glued my finger back together. Whenever my finger throbs in pain from sun exposure, I laugh thinking about how my roommate, when I returned, thought I cut myself shaving. There were bloody handprints lining our hallway, bathroom and room. It looked like a horror movie. Yet she thought I cut myself shaving. It reminds me of one of the best years of my life.

So here I am with my fourth scar. Or, more accurately, fourth through seventh. Three tiny, almost invisible, scars from my first surgery, and one giant one running down my knee from my open knee surgery. This is just one more chapter in the story of my life. It reminds me of the show I was rehearsing for when I broke it. How devastating it was to have to cancel the show. It took three days until I finally found myself sobbing with my writing partner by my side and my director on Facetime, both holding my hand while I was the last to come to the conclusion that doing the show in a wheelchair was not the best idea. It reminds me of the extra months my writing partner and I gained to create the show, and how that show was the single best piece of art I ever made. I threw every single piece of myself into it – both physically and mentally – and the payoff came. It reminds me of our trip to San Fransisco to perform the show, and how I appreciated every single step I took in the city, knowing that my first surgery a week later would keep me from performing, or walking, any time soon. It reminds me of the long walk I took with my mom the day before my second surgery, both of us knowing that we wouldn’t be able to take another walk together for a long time. It reminds me of facing my biggest fear, which was general anesthesia, and the anesthesiologist who cracked jokes while giving me my medicine so I would feel more at ease.

It reminds me of my physical therapy team and how excellent they are. How resilient I was through the three times I had to relearn how to walk. It reminds me of walking into physical therapy after each Eagles playoff, and super bowl, win and celebrating because the whole staff was also cheering for my birds. It reminds me of watching both the summer and winter olympics while trying to build enough strength to tackle stairs. It reminds me of my perseverance. Of finding ways to make it work and learning how to live in a wheel chair for a couple months. It reminds me of my mom boxing my sister in my boxing ring and of my brother pushing me around the Field Museum. I think back to learning how to improvise without using my body between surgeries. Of the last show I did before my major surgery, and how hard I cried myself to sleep that night knowing that I had just performed for the last time in the foreseeable future. It reminds me of how I had to put my dreams and goals on pause for two years while I got better. Of the cupcakes, care packages and time spent with friends and family recovering.

I’m not someone who loves every part of her body. As much as I try to stay body positive, I have my demons. I hate myself when I gain too much weight and would do anything for calves small enough to fit into boots. I despise this wrinkle that is growing between my eyebrows because of the way I scrunch my face when I concentrate and spent hundreds of dollars on creams to reduce the acne and redness in my face. But one thing that I will always love are my scars. Each one tells the story of a stage in my life that contributed to the person I am today.

So you can keep your fancy scar creams. I’ll keep this ugly, crooked scar. Most of my peers will have one in fifty years anyways… I’m just ahead of the trend.

Sexism and Pain

hardship

As the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements gain power and voices, I’ve been nursing my most recent story in my head. I was quick to jump on with accounts of my own harassment, assault and constant struggle to be taken seriously in my career. I think it’s time to talk about my most recent medical journey as well.

Two years ago, I was rehearsing for a show when I bent backwards to narrowly escape a fencing jab. My left knee gave out and I crumbled to the floor. An intense and sharp pain shot from my knee through my whole body. It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt.. so bad that when my writing partner went to grab her car, I started throwing up. My knee started swelling immediately and I couldn’t put any weight on it without unbearable pain.

The morning after I went to the ER, the hospital called me to let me know they found a small fracture in my kneecap and advised me to get to an orthopedist as soon as possible. As it was Friday, my options were limited. I called every orthopedic office until I found someone with a Monday appointment.

That following Monday, I saw Dr. Trash for the first time. (Why I’m concealing the identity of a doctor that doesn’t deserve protection is beside me, but his pseudonym is not only fitting but also very close to his actual last name so it works.) I didn’t think much of having to wait over an hour past my appointment time in his office (all doctors operate like that, right?) and didn’t care that he rushed the appointment. All I cared about at that time was getting the medication needed to ease my pain and the doctors note to clear my absence from work. He asked about the injury and I explained it to him. I told him that it felt like my knee twisted and that there was bone on bone. He laughed at the description, citing it’s impossibility. He looked at my x-ray for about 30 seconds then diagnosed me with a dislocated knee. He advised me to stay in a thigh to ankle immobilizer and come back after two weeks.

I went home and, despite my medication, was still in so much pain that I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t even lay in my bed because laying flat was uncomfortable. For the next two weeks, I just dealt with the pain and powered through it.

Two weeks later, I went back to Dr. Trash’s office. When I said that I wasn’t doing any better, he said it was probably because I wasn’t icing or elevating. I told him I was doing that constantly and my office even got me a special chair to elevate. He told me I would be sore for a bit but that’s “just how teenage girls’ bodies are.” I was 25. I thought it was a weird comment but didn’t think much beyond that at the time. He wrote me a script for more pain meds and pushed me out as fast as I came in.

I started PT and spent the first month relearning how to walk because the immobilizer stiffened up my leg. I was in constant pain. I started to get worried that something more was wrong. My roommate has a strong history of dislocating her knee and I’ve seen her recover before. Her recovery was much shorter and appeared to be less painful, but I thought “oh well, everyone’s body is different.”

A month later, I was back in Dr. Trash’s office. At this point, I was starting to get really concerned. After relearning how to walk, I was finally starting to strengthen my knee at PT and it was met with intense, localized pain.

When asked how I was doing, I told Dr. Trash that my pain was getting worse with physical therapy. I told him it was localized and that it almost felt as if my knee was like a puzzle that didn’t quite fit together. He dismissed my pain, stating that these things take time and I would be sore for awhile, but I told him that I wasn’t sore, I was in pain. He told me that the way teenage girls’ bodies are stacked puts pressure on your knee and therefore causes discomfort. I revealed to him, yet again, that I wasn’t a teenage girl and that my pain wasn’t discomfort – it was sharp, localized pain. He mentioned my teenage girl body yet again, and said this is all common for girls dislocating their knee. I told him that I was concerned I tore something when I fell, and asked why I didn’t get a MRI. He told me that he usually doesn’t issue MRIs for women with knee dislocations since dislocations are so common in, you guessed it, teenage girls. Defeated, I gave up.

I feel like I need to clarify at the point that I never had a “teenage girl’s” body. I grew boobs and hips before I ever knew what they were and never hosted a typical teen body. As an overweight 25 year old, I DEFINITELY wasn’t hosting one. I also grew up as an athlete and had my fair share of sprains, pulls and thrown out necks. I had chronic pain due Lyme putting water in my knee as a kid and carpal tunnel as a teen. I understood the difference between long term ache and “holy shit something is wrong.” Something was wrong.

Over the next two months, both of my PTs and I started getting frustrated with my lack of results and increased pain. There were sessions that brought me to tears because I was in so much pain. No one knew how to help ease it and it seemed that everything they did made it worse. I recall holding my breath and concealing my tears as my PT rolled out my patellar tendon because the pain was so bad it sent goosebumps to my skin. (Turns out she was rolling right over the actual trouble spot without realizing it.) Defeated, my PT checked in with me one day. “So it’s just a dislocation. Your x-ray didn’t show anything else, right?” “Aside from the ER showing a small fracture, nope.” “And your MRI was clear?” “I didn’t get a MRI.” “Why?” “My doctor won’t prescribe one.” “You need to push for a MRI.” he mumbled under his breath.

That was the jolt of confidence I needed to make another appointment with Dr. Trash. I decided I would push as hard as possible for a MRI then take it to another orthopedic surgeon. The night before my next appointment, I ran into my old roommate who broke her femur when I lived with her. As I was telling her about my rough recovery from a seemingly simple injury, she asked me who my doctor was. I told her it was Dr. Trash and she told me to run away from him. He was the same doctor who did her leg surgery wrong, and when she questioned him about her pain and bowed leg, he dismissed the pain and told her she would just have to wear long skirts for the rest of her life, like her problem was that superficial.

The next day I went into Dr. Trash’s office with more confidence than I had over the last 8 months. When he asked me how I was doing, I was honest and told him worse than when I came in. I told him that I was in immense pain that only got worse with PT. He told me women tend to feel pain worse than men, especially when it came to TEENAGE GIRLS DISLOCATING THEIR KNEE. I was done with his shit, and demanded a MRI. He told me he doesn’t prescribe MRIs for women’s knees because of the high statistics of TEENAGE GIRLS DISLOCATING THEIR KNEES. I told him I was not a teenage girl, and even my limited medical knowledge told me that there were enough ligaments and cartilage in the knee that a MRI seemed appropriate. He told me “honey, you didn’t do any damage to your cartilage or ligaments, you dislocated your knee.” I asked him how he was so sure, and again he gave me the stats on how common of an injury it was with teenage girls. He told me insurance would never cover the MRI. I told him I didn’t care, I’d pay full price for it. He then, defeated, told me “Well I guess I can falsify your prescription and tell them we’re looking for floating cartilage or something so insurance will accept it. Will that make you feel better, sweetie?” I resisted the urge to punch him in the dick, said yes, grabbed my script and walked out of his office for good.

After getting my MRI, I went to one of the best knee surgeons in Chicago. In my first appointment, he spent more time that Dr. Trash did in all my appointments and told me that the problem was that I chipped a chunk of cartilage off my leg. He said it could be seen a bit in the x-ray alone, but was clear as day in the MRI. The MRI also showed bone bruising and minor ligament damage, all of this caused by… my bone coming together when my knee twisted. EXACTLY WHAT DR. TRASH TOLD ME WAS IMPOSSIBLE. My new doctor, Dr. Hair, told me nothing was impossible in medicine. A few months later, I found out that the second thing I felt, my knee feeling like a bad puzzle, was also true. I had surgery that revealed a piece of cartilage as big as a nickel chipped off and lodged itself into another part of my knee.

It has been almost two years since my initial injury and I’m still recovering from my most recent major knee surgery which should correct my defect. I spent eight months of that time with a doctor who dismissed my pain and diagnosed me off of statistics instead of symptoms then didn’t listen when I told him I was in pain.

I wish I knew at 25 what I know at 27. You know your body. Trust it and listen to it, and the second a man starts comparing it to the statistics of teenage girls, run to a doctor who will listen to you. I heard stories that women often had pain dismissed by male doctors but had never experienced it myself. I wish I listened to the little voice that kept telling me something more was wrong, but instead I trusted that someone who thought my biggest symptom was being female knew more than me just because he had 50 years of medical experience. Every single day I’m thankful for my PT and old roommate who gave me the confidence needed to run away from Dr. Trash.

When I think about that time in my recovery, I fall into a depression. This injury changed everything for me. It kept me from performing and pursuing my comedy dreams, cost me thousands of dollars, made me miss months of work and stopped me from being a typical mid-20 something. Instead of going out, I had to relearn how to walk three different times. I spend $90 a week on PT. I lost friends because I couldn’t do anything for weeks at a time. For two years, I couldn’t perform or hustle like I used to while I watched peers get closer to their dreams. My plans of moving to LA were replaced with surgery dates and recovery windows. When I realize that this all could have been resolved in a single year instead of two had I not gone to Dr. Trash, I become furious.

So, ladies (and gents too), what can I teach you? Listen to your bodies and trust that know them. You are not reduced to a statistic based on your gender. And the second a doctor starts dismissing your pain or comparing you to a teenage girl, run the fuck away.

Don’t call me strong for surviving.

Grief, Uncategorized

I hate when people misuse the word strong. Which is a shame because it happens a lot. I wish it didn’t eat away at me. I wish it didn’t churn my stomach and make my body fill with panic and anxiety. But it does.

Everyone means well when they tell you you’re strong. They admire you or are inspired by you or simply don’t have the right words for the moment. They want you to know that they look up to you.

Here’s my thing. If you look up to me, I’d rather you do it for my talent or some admirable quality I hold. If you want to call me strong physically, or because I stood up for someone who was being put down, or because I bit my tongue instead of lashing out, feel free to. But please stop calling me strong because my dad died.

I know death well. Five people that I loved very much died early in my life. Three of those deaths were sudden. And with each death, more people tell me how strong I am.

I’m not strong because I survive. Honestly, I don’t have any other choice but to go on.

When someone calls me strong because I have a dead dad, it feels patronizing. It feels like they’re really saying “I could never be/would never want to be/am terrified of being you.” It makes me feel empty and misunderstood. I am not strong. Call me a survivor, call me resilient. Before you go telling me how those words all essentially mean the same thing, let me tell you why they don’t.

They convey more of an idea of being knocked down suddenly, spat upon, thrown into a situation unwillingly and unexpectantly. They cover the nights I still spend sobbing from the pit of my stomach because it’s hard as fuck to love dead people. They account for the days I can’t eat or get out of bed or that time in high school where I spent an entire summer staying up until the sun rose because I was too scared and ridden with PTSD to sleep when it was dark. They show the times I had to run out of work because I couldn’t choke back the tears or stop the panic attack from happening or wasn’t expecting to have something set off a memory so vivid I had to throw up.

Strength is controlled and calculated. It is taking a situation and plowing through it. It’s stepping up and being brave and choosing to put on armor.

Resilience is standing there as shards of glass come flying towards you at a million miles an hour, bending your spine and getting cut and bleeding but still having to face the storm. Survival is dragging your body through tar because you don’t have the choice. It’s having to live when you feel like an alien in your own body.

Strength is a badge of honor. Resilience and survival are lifetime sentences.

To the girls in my life.

Life Lessons, Uncategorized

Girls,

We usually communicate through snapchat and dance parties, cards and sleepovers and many, many jokes and laughs. I think about you more than you may realize and try to live a lifestyle that does right by you. I’ve watched you grow up into young girls, preteens and teenagers and I am so proud of who you are.

I’m usually the comic relief. The cousin coming home from Chicago for a party or celebration. The babysitter who lets you mix sour punch straws with popcorn because I’m just as curious as to how it tastes. The bridge between my generation and your generation… in return for me making sure that you don’t set the house on fire, you serve as as a distraction from the bleakness of adulthood.

I was looking forward to you seeing a female president so early in your lifetime. When I was your age, I didn’t think women could be president. I don’t mean that I didn’t think they’d be able to be elected, I mean that I genuinely thought there was a rule that women were not allowed to be president. I’m happy you won’t be as ill-informed. I was elated at the prospect that for some of you, you would only know a black president and female president in your lifetime, and ready for the task of helping you understand the historical significance of that feat.

Instead you have a president that does not respect your body or mind. One that is racist, islamophobic, xenophobic, homophobic and sexist. I hope you learn what those words mean and then how to fight them. I hope you get bossy and fight back for any of your friends that may fall victim to the bullying or violence that your president elect’s words have incited. I hope you understand the privilege you have and stick up for those who don’t. I hope you are taught history as it happened instead of a PG, whitewashed version.

The adults in this country elected a man that says it is okay to grab your bodies. That criticizes women who do their homework and show up prepared. That has been accused over ten times of assault. That has bullied women for the way they look and harassed them on tape. Who sees us as sex objects or nasty women. And you weren’t able to have a say in it, and for that I’m sorry.

Because someone is an authority figure does not mean that you have to accept their behavior. If a man on the street were to say these things to you, I would have you run as far away as you can from them. Just because the president elect is saying them doesn’t mean you have to support it.

The president elect won’t be the first, nor the last, man to say or do these things to you. I’m not naive enough to think that you will never experience them at school, work or in the world around you. If and when you do, I hope you are bossy. I hope you learn how to say no and that no is the final answer. I hope you scream and yell and seek help when needed. I hope you speak up for other women instead of putting them down. I hope that if you are ever violated, you know that it is not your fault and that those who love you will help you fight back. I hope you never accept limitations and that you promote intersectional feminism. I hope you know that you can love whoever you want to love. I hope you fight like hell to be treated equally, and I hope you win. I hope your generation can be even nastier than mine. You have a lot of fighting to do.

Fight back with intelligence. He’s afraid of your potential. Reclaim the names he calls you. Own being a nasty woman, a bossy kid, an angry feminist. Speak up and work hard. That’s what scares him the most.

Know that there will be a female president. Personally, I hope that our next elect will be a lesbian woman of color. While I’m not sure if it’ll happen in our next election, I know that it eventually will. We just have to work at it.

Work hard, study hard, and don’t let anyone tell you what you should or should not do. Women are not limited. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Lessons from a political science major.

Uncategorized

One of my majors at DePaul was political science. I wish I could tell you some intelligent and mind churning explanation as to why I majored in political science, but I’m afraid that I’m just going to disappoint you. There were two reasons why I chose this specific major:

  1. I initially picked it up as a minor so that I would be forced to follow the news. I thought that my comedy would improve greatly if I knew what was going on in the world.
  2. I had a crush on my professor. It’s so cliché… but it’s so true. Dr. Khalil Marrar stole my heart and I decided that I wanted to take more classes with him so I bumped political science up from a minor to a secondary major.

Regardless of why I picked it up, I learned invaluable lessons during my time as a political science major. Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. Don’t just study the problem… find a solution.

One of the first things Marrar broke down for us was the meaning behind the name political science. It’s not history. If you want a history class, major in history. Political science is a form of… well, science. Which means that you study the problem… and then solve it. One of the most life changing lessons I ever learned in college was during Marrar’s Israeli-Palestinian conflict class. It was an advanced class where we spent weeks studying everything there was to know about the history and politics behind Israel and Palestine. We debated sides, read books on various wars and studied the psychology behind the leaders of both sides. At the end of the term, he presented us with our final paper: solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in four pages or less. Draw the borders and explain why you chose them. Every word you write over four pages counts as ten points against you.

Uh… excuse me? I have to solve it? Me? Numerous scholars, academics and politicians have already tried to solve this to no avail. And you’re putting it in the hands of a 20-year old sorority girl? It’s a conflict bred from hate, which means that no matter how logical a solution, they have so much emotional hatred towards each other that nothing works. But I had to solve it. And I did. In four pages or less. It was the most difficult paper I ever wrote – but I did it and turned it in.

No problem, no matter how large, is incapable of being solved. Maybe the solution won’t work, maybe people won’t listen to you… but at least try. Learning the past does nothing if you’re not going to help things move forward. No matter how impossible a problem seems, at least try to fix it. Proposing a solution shows that you were actually listening to the problem at hand. I use this lesson constantly with my friends. When they vent to me about a problem, I don’t stop there. I give my advice on how to make things better. I let them know that I was actually processing the information they gave me. It shows that you actually care.

  1. People will judge you. Prove them wrong.

I was an east coast sorority girl studying politics. The majority of my classes had no more than three females in them… and even some of the ladies were rude to me. I didn’t really make any friends in my major. While I had some wonderful classmates and professors, some weren’t so nice. People thought that I was stupid or airheaded and the amount of times classmates threw a Legally Blonde reference my way almost made me dislike the movie (almost, not quite). I had two professors make fun of my involvement in Greek life in front of my entire class… one dig was so bad that I had to take it up with my department head.

I got angry at first. But then I realized that anger is wasted energy. It all made me work harder. I felt like I had something to prove… that just because I may not look the type, I’m smart too. I had a classical political theory class where we had to write an essay every week about our readings. This teacher was known as a hard grader and only handed out A’s to those who blew his mind. I worked really hard in this class… I wanted to prove a point. I tackled Plato’s Republic and got straight A’s on my essays. One day, about five weeks in, we were chatting in class and my professor gave me kudos for my straight A’s. The look the faces of my classmates was enough to satisfy any self-doubt they caused me.

If someone slaps a label on you, defy it. Don’t get angry at another person’s ignorance. Instead, use that energy towards proving them wrong. You may be able to change their perception of an entire group of people in the process.

  1. There are so many other people in the world. Your problems are nothing compared to someone else’s.

Unfortunately, I’m not as traveled as others. Toronto is the furthest that I’ve been out of the states. I once had a history teacher tell me that being born in the United States is like winning a lottery at birth. For the majority of us, we’re able to experience opportunity and security that other countries only dream of. I understood this even more when I studied political science.

My every day is someone else’s dream. I haven’t experienced apartheid and no one ever recruited me to be a child soldier. As a kid, I was able to experience an education and didn’t have to worry about soldiers kidnapping me in the middle of the night. Clean water is a given and I don’t have to hunt for food. Not everyone has this.

There isn’t a day that goes by where I forget how fortunate I am. Even when times are tough and I feel helpless, I take a second to remember that I am healthy and I have more than enough. Just because I can’t do everything I want due to financial constraints doesn’t mean that I’m poor. Poor is relative. Poor people don’t have iPhones and an apartment in the city.

  1. You’re capable of understanding more than you think.

Let’s reemphasize that I took up this major because I had a crush on my teacher. He intrigued me, challenged me and treated me with respect. That means that I was pretty much a blank slate going into this major. I didn’t read the Wall Street Journal daily and had no idea what Al Jazeera even was. The area I knew most about, local politics, became irrelevant since no one in Chicago cared about the political happenings of Danbury, CT. A lot of my classmates chose this major because they were passionate about it. They came with prior knowledge that I just didn’t have.

I had to learn everything. I had to study and work really hard because I didn’t have the foundation that most other students had. There were times where I thought it would be impossible to get on the same level as everyone else. However, I reached out to my teachers and was honest and open with them. I let them know that I didn’t have the proper educational background and knowledge. I asked for explanations and supplemental readings. I worked really hard to be at par with everyone else. However, when all was said and done, I was extremely satisfied when I felt like I learned enough to step up to the plate. There’s this inexplicable satisfaction in knowing that you worked really hard to learn something that you didn’t think you would ever understand.

  1. There are multiple sides to every story.

Don’t just form an opinion based off of one perspective. When I was taking my Israeli-Palestinian conflict class, we had to read four books. Two were historical explanations of the events but two were from authors who were highly biased. One from Israel, one from Palestine. Authors whose families were murdered from the opposing side and had years of hatred in them. Authors that most educators would warn students to stay away from because of how biased their stories were.

But you have to look at every side to understand the story completely. By reading biased authors, we learned how deep seeded their hatred was. That this was an extremely personal conflict.

It’s easy to dismiss something you don’t want to hear. Most of us have opinions on topics. For example, I’m huge on gun control. It’s easy for me to see an extreme right stance and decide not to read it. I want to turn off the TV every time Fox is on. However, I listen to the other side. By listening to the other side, I can form an informed and educated position instead of one bred from emotion and personal taste. I can see the points that those opposed to me are making and counter them. There are two sides to every story.

  1. Read.

Oh man, did we read. Reading helps you formulate ideas… it helps you imagine and question the world. It gives you the opportunity to see conflicts through other peoples’ eyes. It keeps your brain active. Just trust me on this one and read.