Growing up I always knew that my family was lucky. It was something that my sister and I were reminded of often; no doubt in an effort to ensure we did not blithely assume that every family was able to go on the vacations that we could, have the treats that we got, and go to the private schools that we attended. The fact that my best friend in middle school had an indoor heated pool was not – my parents had determined – going to be an excuse for poor behavior of a lack of empathy towards those with less.
While I would like to credit myself for growing up without a silver spoon stuck too far up my ass, the real credit truly does belong with my parents. Somehow they managed to strike that ever-elusive balance of providing absurdly incredible opportunities to us while also leaving no illusions as to the fact that only a great many lucky coincidences and years of hard work had made such opportunities possible. This is how I managed to end up traveling around the world before the age of 18, seeing in each country we visited examples of just how much my life was handed to me on a platter.
For instance, at my high school the question was never if you were going to college – it was where. The average student in my graduating class (did I mention everyone graduated? The school worked very hard to keep people from falling through the cracks) applied to at least six schools. Everyone took the SAT and the ACT, and doing some SAT II tests wasn’t uncommon.
The overly belabored point here is that when I graduated high school in 2009 yikes… at just 18, there was a very well defined path in front of me. What I was doing next wasn’t a question or something that needed figuring out. My job was to pick a school, go to it for the required four years to get a bachelor’s degree, then either find a job or go for some additional degree. All I had to worry about was what I wanted to study.
In case you haven’t worked it out yet, I didn’t do that. Don’t get me wrong; I thought I was supposed to, and I definitely tried to follow the nicely paved and well-lit path set out before me. After two medical withdrawals from Willamette University, I took a fucking hint. This path wasn’t going well for me, so naturally, I decided to step back and reevaluate without doing anything rash or making any big life choices.
Just kidding. Of course I didn’t do that. I was 19 by then and there was a whole world of bad choices to explore. Bad choices I was fully convinced were brilliant decisions that other people simply failed to appreciate or understand. I know what you’re thinking – this is the part where I confess to a really bad tattoo, a piercing that I never show in any kind of company, or tell you I got into stripping without having the appropriate muscle tone or rhythm. Stripping when you’re missing one of the two is fine, but when you’re lacking in both it usually is just sad. However, none of those things were my choice. Instead, I made the brilliant decision to legally tie myself to someone else.
That’s right guys. I got married at 19. Surprise! Now you’re probably wondering why the fuck I would do something like that. After all, there really isn’t any reason to hurry along, right? Well that’s very true unless you don’t believe in sex before marriage, or one of you is in the military. I definitely don’t have a problem with premarital sex. Now the military incentivizes the everliving shit out of being married. How? Well you can’t live off base as a single enlisted Marine (such as husband to be, Justin), but when you’re married they pay BAH – base assisted housing. This essentially doubles your pay. At least. Then there’s your food stipend, because you aren’t eating in the mess hall anymore. Oh, and did I mention that field day isn’t a thing when you’re not in the barracks? Basically, being married = better when you’re enlisted.
There was a catch to this whole letting married at 19 thing. Justin wasn’t stationed here in Seattle. There isn’t a Marine Corps base here. Sure there are people on Bremerton with the Navy, and some are at Joint Base Lewis-McCord, but you don’t get to choose where you go. They just tell you. Which is how my brilliant posterior ended up getting married in Indio, California. For the population of everyone, that would be in the middle of the high desert. Think the not-Palm Springs area, then realize I drove over an hour to get to the courthouse. Why? Because that’s how far the nearest courthouse was from base.
If any of you are for some reason struck by an insane desire to visit 29 Palms, don’t. Walmart is 45 minutes away, as is the nearest movie theater. I never found out where the nearest mall was. In the six months (nine? They all merged together) I was there, I found precisely one thing about this strange nightmare of a hole that I liked. Just one. They had a drive-in movie theater. So every two weeks, two new movies would go up. Five dollars a person for both movies. First up was always a kid friendly movie, then there was usually an action movie to follow. As a broke young couple, having ten dollars and snacks from home cover date night was a miracle.
Okay, I lied. I also loved how much I read there. Justin and I discovered the Sword of Truth series while living in 29 Palms, and thus the strange game of Book Racing was born. Book races were a special kind of fun, which was a good thing because with no bus system and easily 95 degree plus weather each day, I wasn’t getting up to much. Especially without a car.
29 Palms is also where I got my first glimpse of not only military life but also what the average enlisted Marine’s marriage was like. Spoiler that shocks no one – lots of drama, yelling, and occasional ring throwing.That is not to say there were no good times to look back upon; I will forever remember MoMo fondly, and frankly being stalked by coyotes is a rather interesting experience, but all in all leaving the land of BearMat was not a sad thing for me.
That first Christmas we drove back to Seattle and spent two weeks with my family – a story largely for another time – but now at 20 years old, I did not tell them that we had tied the knot. The fiction of a continuing engagement was upheld through some of the most sincerely told and poorly constructed lies ever uttered. Lies that we were not only allowed to get away with but, as I learned later, were sincerely believed.
Justin’s next duty station was a little known base that only accounts for most of the Marine’s on the West Coast. Camp Pendleton. No more desert, no more driving an hour to see a movie. Still no shortage of utterly baffling immaturity and pettiness. With his MOS training done (job specific training), Justin was now actually doing the job that he was signed on for and a new group of people entered our lives. Almost at once several things became apparent – having a place of our own off base made us a place for parties, we were a ‘good couple’ in that there wasn’t screaming, throwing things, or public fighting, and not having or trying for a kid made us an anomaly.
Camp Pendleton lasted for three out of four years of enlistment. We moved while stationed there a total of three times, and place we lived comes with more than a few stories. Rather than bore you with them all individuals, you can learn about Fallbrook, Oceanside, and living On Base through the links if you want specifics.
During these years I found a job selling coffee at a coffee cart on base, made (and lost) friends, and finally stopped lying to all of my family and friends back home about being married. Now before you think we had a ceremony and ‘got married’ – just no. Didn’t happen. The truth didn’t get slipped into life with no one the wiser. There also wasn’t a dramatic unveiling in which some irritating but unfortunately technically correct antagonist managed to expose the truth. Instead the most mundane of things was the instigator of candor. Taxes. Only thing more certain than death.
Well that isn’t quite right. The taxes themselves were fine, it was more that we hadn’t reported something the IRS considered income because we didn’t know about it, and a random audit had uncovered this ‘profit’. Clearing this up was relatively simple, considering the fact that the IRS was involved, but required information from my parent’s and their financial advisor. The financial advisor who could help us sort it all out by looking the tax returns and letter from the IRS over. You know, the ones saying we were married and had filed jointly. Once my parents knew, that side of the family knew. So, the other side of the family knew. Which meant there was no point in keeping the secret.
I think the best reaction to the news was my (now ex) ex step-father in law pulling me aside at a Christmas party to hug me and exclaim he was happy for us and that we were sneaky brats. The worst involved a now-ex friend taking us keeping the secret from everyone in Seattle as a personal affront and ultimately hitting me across the back with her entire forearm twice because she was angry and felt hurt. For the most part, people in my life simply shrugged and moved along with their lives. Turns out everyone really doesn’t stress that much about people not them…
With one potential source for strife and drama out of our lives, another one was required by law to arrive. After all, trouble doesn’t get to take vacation and it certainly doesn’t want to respect anyone else’s. Having now told those in our lives about the secret marriage still cringing whenever I remember that great idea and moved on base to leave the roommates with the dog that bit me, we encountered the first new bit of trouble. My hands were largely healed, apart from a little scar tissue that has thankfully been negotiated with. Unfortunately my hyper-awareness of dogs was not leaving along with the physical effects. It seemed that this particular incident had made me worried about the possibility of any dog attacking me at any time.
To his credit, Justin not only noticed this but had a proposed solution. We both loved dogs, and I didn’t like being nervous around even dogs that I knew and trusted. So when he suggested we get a dog I came around rather quickly. Then came the hard part. Finding the right dog. We needed one under 35lbs because on base housing had a weight limit for dogs, preferably a dog with a known history, a breed that we were familiar with and couldn’t punt over a fence, and that wouldn’t make Justin’s allergies go insane.
Enter Dakota. We very nearly stumbled upon her when we stopped by a shelter on the way to a doggie birthday party. One year old, somewhat uncertain about us at first, but clearly eager to love. We ended up missing the dog party entirely to take the 30lb boxer terrier mix home and start getting to know her. Seeing as she still sleeps in my bed every night, I supposed you could say she’s the perfect dog. I know I say that a lot.
Dakota’s timing was eerily good. For one thing, we found her a year to the day after my childhood dog Luke died. At one year old, this put Dakota’s birthday not only at the time I lost my previous dog, but also a day behind Luke’s birthday. That’s right, Luke Skywalker was the kind of stubborn to make it a day past his 13th birthday. The other piece of fortuitous timing was that the new dog in my life managed to appear just long enough to have bonded and settled in before my health went to shit again.
With migraines there is something neurologists call the magic number (okay, headaches too, but we’re talking about migraines. Focus!) – getting to under 16 migraines a month. Does that sound like it’s still way too many well no shit cupcake but that should give you an idea of where people start sometimes. Now for a long time after working out the corn intolerance issue, I had been under that magical number. Not for headaches, mind you, but at least for migraines. Until for some reason that we still don’t know my friendly neighborhood migraines started to visit me. Every. Single. Day.
Imagine this. You wake up and your head is pounding. Even though you slept it feels like you’ve pulled an all nightery that you are way too old to manage, and you somehow know that the pounding in your skull was happening all night. Then there’s the impending doom. I have no other way to describe it. The knowledge that the crappy way you feel now and throbbing headache is the best you will feel all day. That no matter what you do, before the day is out a migraine will find you.
Then try to picture going about your day. You have to go to work, drive, run errands, calculate change in your head, multitask, make sense in conversation, and act like you’re okay. Why? Because this has been happening every day for a month now. Oh, and if you’re reaching for a bottle of any kind of medicine right now you should stop. That’s being saved for when It’s really bad. You can’t just take it for every migraine. That would be too convenient. Okay in reality it can cause rebound migraines and further exacerbate the issue. So you’re a month in, exhausted, migraine each day, pounding headache in-between migraines, sleep isn’t an escape, and no meds.
Well in my case I made it most of the way into month two, maybe into month three. Not sure which; for some reason, it all blurs together. Then I decided very calmly that if this was not stopped I was going to kill myself because I couldn’t take living in constant hell anymore. Especially since I was already getting botox every three months, and taking medication meant to prevent the migraines that were incapacitating me.
At first the nurses and doctors at my emergency appointment didn’t seem to take me seriously. I was calm, I spoke clearly, my pain wasn’t showing. In some ways, this was a compliment; I got so good at hiding my pain and pushing it away doctors didn’t see it. The only issue with my ability to stay outwardly calm was that I wasn’t being taken all that seriously. Anyone who has ever had an injury that didn’t show up on a scan or on bloodwork knows the look that I got, sympathetic but with clearly limited patience. Then a new nurse came in, one who recognized what it was that I was doing when she saw me. It turned out that she also had chronic pain, and knew from experience that I was disassociating to hide how bad I felt. She gave me some advice that may have saved my life:
“You need to stop keeping the wall up and let them see how bad it really is. I know that’s hard, but they need to see the pain you’re in because they don’t understand unless they can see it.”
Anyone else and I would have likely told them to walk into an open sewer and die, but this was coming from the one person that day who believed me, who demonstrated understanding, and who was trying to help. So I did one of the most terrifying and painful things I can do. I stopped hiding and blocking out the pain, let it very literally consume me and lost control.
My focus was largely on getting back under control for long enough that most of the shift in urgency isn’t remembered. What I do remember is sitting with my head in my hands crying and demanding that everything ‘go back in’. I can only assume I meant back into the carefully structured mental wall that keeps pain away for me.
Then people were very concerned. A marine was posted at the door of the exam room whose sole job was to watch me and make sure I did not try to harm myself, the on call psychologist was called and things were set into motion to keep me overnight. One way or another, they were going to treat me.
Five days later I left the hospital. DHE had been used to stop my migraines, but the reprieve was short lived. Only 24 hours after leaving the hospital the issue returned. Strangley, those 24 hours were enough of a break that I was able to cope. The addition of botox and anti-seizure medication worked to help bring the migraines back down a little. But as it turns out, the sudden jump was an indicator of something much bigger on the horizon. Not that anyone bothered to tell me.
Shortly after my hallucination free experiment with ergot, Justin’s enlistment came to an end. Even though we’d both had Veto Power, we were in agreement that it was time to say goodbye to California and hello to our hometown. Since there were two cars to drive up and I had a lot of friends along the way, the logical choice was for me to go ahead with Dakota and take my time visiting people along the way. This took long enough that my road home ended a few hours after Justin got into Seattle. Even though I left a week before him. I prefer not to contemplate the amount of speeding that likely happened in his car.
Now, you remember those ominous clouds on the horizon from a whole paragraph back? It’s okay if you need to go back, I won’t judge you too much. Sometimes I forget someone’s name when their labeled. Well once we got to Seattle, those clouds were very nearly directly overhead, and in case you somehow don’t know what clouds do, I don’t know you, you might live in a desert. Or a dessert. They drop a fuck ton of water on you. Whelp, these clouds opened up and poured. From the damage I would have sworn some fucker stole my roof.
It started with migraines. Constant migraines from waking to sweet oblivious sleep. With them came a level of exhaustion that made eating a task requiring gearing up for. Then there was how weak I felt. My entire arm shook when I tried to lift a glass of water, and stopping to lean against the wall on the way up the stairs became the norm. It took a blink of an eye for me to find myself barely able to sit up, my entire body wracked with pain.
There is something incredibly vulnerable/terrifying about having your body turn on you and let you down in a new way. I mean, I was already used to it letting me down and hurting me. This was just a wonderful new form of bad. After a few weeks/ a month of my body trembling when asked to do basic tasks assuming it didn’t out right refuse, I finally went to the doctor to complain about my migraines. Because I’m smart.
Thankfully I was seeing my primary care doctor that I grew up with. A doctor that knew me and knew how I usually looked when I came in. Which is to say way better than I looked when I saw him in October of 2013. If I had looked like hell warmed over that would have been an improvement on how I felt. Something about not getting real sleep for weeks and constant pain really takes it out of you. Go figure.
Dr. Kevin didn’t waste any time in getting to the heart of what was going on. After listening and asking a few clarifying questions, he did a quick physical exam to see if I found certain spots on my body painful. Every place he prodded was, which didn’t shock me. That’s when Dr. Kevin brought my world crashing down. He told me I had developed Fibromyalgia. I, of course, immediately knew he was wrong. Fibro was hard to diagnose, there was supposed to be at least a several month long drag out fight with specialists. Where were the lab tests? Things couldn’t be that simple. This was not how it worked.
Truth be told, part of me already knew he was right. I just didn’t want it to be that. The answer was supposed to be something that had a fix. Not another ‘learn to live with it’ thing. So off for a second opinion I went. They told me the same thing, but added on hypermobile joints. Now I was really panicking. The pain didn’t just leave once I knew why it was there. It would be amazing if it worked that way …
To spare us all a lot of pathetic, there was a chunk of time devoted to feeling sorry for myself. I couldn’t have serious pain meds, didn’t get anything for the pain on a daily basis, and the only thing everyone wanted me to do only increased how much pain I was in for the foreseeable future. Admittedly the foreseeable future was after less than a week. Sometimes under a day.
What did everyone keep telling me to do? Exercise. It’s torture to do when you feel like death warmed over at your best, but there you have it. Best treatment for fibromyalgia is exercise. Which of course only increases the amount of pain you’re in for the short term, because your body flares and tells you in no uncertain terms that what you’re doing is really dangerous.
Roughly 5 months after being diagnosed, I finally got fed up enough to commit to the gym. On my mom’s recommendation, I met with a trainer who had experience helping people start from zero. We met once a week. For 15 minutes. I thought it would kill me. Bit by bit, my training with Zoe progressed. We made it to 30 minutes a week. Then an hour. Now, at over 2 years, I’m there twice a week, for an hour each session. Zoe still kicks my ass.
The hardest part about doing physical therapy was making myself show up. Yes, I know how that sounds. But it’s true. Especially at the start, going in meant I was going to end up flaring and in massive amounts of pain. Pain I was putting myself through without any visible progress. Usually I would end up coming down from a flare just in time to have my next therapy appointment, so I never had a break. Then there was the fact that it was more than a little humiliating to for for 15 minutes, struggle to even sit on a recumbent bike, then be done. Especially since I looked fine.
The only reason I kept showing up was because I am far too stubborn for my own good. That, and I decided it was not cancellable. If I was going to prove all the fuckers preaching exercise wrong, I needed to give it a shot. And I really wanted them all to be wrong. Exercise as treatment is hard. Unfortunately, I proved myself wrong. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to the timeline.
So, diagnosed with fibro. Confirmed by a specialist, no pain killers of the opiate/narcotic variety, and everyone wants me to torture myself with exercise. Naturally the next step was for Justin and I to move out to our own place. The condo we found was out in SeaTac and was pretty great. It was just in SeaTac. A routine began, with Justin attending school and me trying to figure out how to survive with my new health issues. Rather quickly I became fairly isolated. It was far easier to escape into my computer than it was to cope with my body. Aside from therapy and the gym, I stayed in with puppy quite a lot.
Here’s where a lot of problems in my marriage really came to a head. Even now, I find it is very hard to think about our luck or look at them, largely because of how much what-iffing and self-flagellation I start to do. Hopefully you will forgive my overly brief recounting of the matter for the time being. Suffice to say that there were fundamental cracks that began to emerge. These structural flaws were only helped along by stressors such as money, chronic illness, and having limited support systems.
Perhaps at the right changes or help had come at the right time, Justin would not have decided to leave me in September of 2015. Perhaps not. Certain things about the last night I spent at our home still stand out to me with odd clarity. How sure I was that he was making a mistake. That he would change his mind just as soon as… I never figured out the as soon as. The way it felt when he offered to sleep on the couch that night, and the look I gave him that said quite clearly he was insane. Surely he knew it wasn’t as dire as that.
Only clearly it was. I moved back into my parents place, cried so hard I threw up, and then cried until I pulled a muscle in my neck. Then I cried. For the first (and only) time Zoecame to me for a gym session. My head-shrinker saw me twice a week and I lost track of the doctors that I ended up visiting. Eating was almost impossible and trying made my throat spasm shut on whatever I was trying to get down. My life shrank to existing from one second to the next and reminding myself that I did not have the option of choosing not to exist. Essentially I became Lord Voldemort, or at least was able to relate to him on a minute scale. Even now thinking back to that time reminds me of a quote from him in book four; The Goblet of Fire.
” I remember only forcing myself, sleeplessly, endlessly, second-by-second, to exist…” chapter 31 page 651. Each second I endured felt like an eternity of torment. All I wanted was to curl in on myself and vanish.
Then it got worse. If this surprises you then you really haven’t been paying attention. We separated on September 18th. I know because that morning I had to go and get my Botox redone before breaking the news to my parents and falling to pieces. On October 1st I crashed my car; which resulted in a near-totaled car, a deployed airbag, whiplash, and pulled obliques on one side. The other car wasn’t even dented. Yes, really.
The next day Justin came to see me. The hug he gave me and the way he looked at me made me feel that I was a broken glass figurine held together by Scotch tape. A blind woman would have seen the pity on his face. Then again at that point I was pitiful; openly begging a man that no longer wanted to be with me to stay. Every promise that I could think to make I did, and one of the final favors my now ex-husband did for me was to ignore them.
Though I will never know for sure, I suspect that when he left my childhood home that day, Justin left me and the chapter of his life I belonged to behind. True he agreed to think and wait before filing for divorce, but I don’t think that was anything more than a courtesy; recognition of the fact that one of us hadn’t seen things coming and needed a little time to come to terms with everything before all hopes were snatched away.
Divorce is a strange beast. For all that there are raw feeling and it represents one of the most intimate relationships ending, the actual process can be fairly clinical. There are forms to fill out, things that must be submitted to the court, and a life together to split the boxes that go and boxes that stay. Each state has a different way of doing things but in Washington there is a 90-day cooling period. This means that no matter what, even if everything is completely mutual and agreed, divorce takes just over 90 days. Why? Because from filing a petition, you have to want to wait 90 days before final orders are entered. Final orders include a divorce decree. If you’re planning on leaving a partner to run away and get remarried this is important. Scary news? 90 days is fast. Really fast. Most of the time people don’t agree on everything or need to mediate in order to reach an agreement. A two year or more divorce case can be a thing.
Thankfully, Justin did not want to fight with me over what really mattered, Dakota. Puppy custody went to me, and the rest was worked out with minimal fuss. Which is how we divorced in March of 2016, only 90 days after he filed. Suddenly I was single again. At 25, I had not been single since I was 19. This was a problem – how was I supposed to know how to flirt? Get or give a phone number? Even know if someone liked me? You should definitely be picturing Dr. Seuss’s Oh the Places You’ll Go about now.
Now, almost a year after the actual divorce, I’m doing okay. Life is weird that way. Don’t get me wrong – flirting is still a complete mystery, all of my health issues are still here, and I have yet to get the hang of balancing responsibilities, fun, and sleep.
P.S. You see those bolded words or phrases? Keep an eye on them! They’re going to be clickable very soon!