Stop Being Thankful It’s Not Worse

I got this quote from the always-excellent Ardra Shepard’s Tripping on Air (IG: @ms__trippingonair), where Ardra shares her journey with multiple sclerosis, including navigating others’ reactions to the way she handles it.

This is a concept my mom taught me a long time ago. At first glance, it seems self-absorbed, and obviously it’s important to keep things in perspective. When I was 22 and complaining because of some perceived slight from an acquaintance while we were out at a bar, it was important to be reminded that my problems weren’t that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things – that others had it so much worse and were dealing with real issues.

But, that same year, my grandmother had a stroke and had to move in with my parents who were dealing with such major financial problems that I was jolted into a new and unexpected level of responsibility while my father’s law partner and best friend was suddenly diagnosed with an aggressive cancer that would kill him only a few months later, and my parents couldn’t attend my college graduation because of the convergence of all those issues, my mom let me off the hook.

Yes, it was true that I had food to eat, a roof over my head and wasn’t living in a war-torn country. There were so many people worse off than I. But she let me know that sometimes it’s okay and even important to take a minute for yourself to, to grieve and even feel a little sorry for yourself. Hearing my mother say that shocked me because although she’s pretty good at playing a martyr (sorry, Mom!), promoting feeling sorry for oneself isn’t generally her style. But she’s dealt with her fair share of true tragedy, trauma and loss, so her perspective was important.

As an adult, I go back and forth between “it could be worse” and allowing myself to feel my emotions. Don’t get me wrong: I’m always aware that literally billions of people have it worse than I do in every manner of life circumstances, including those that cause me the most pain: health, finances, loss and family issues.

But it doesn’t take away from the fact that these things DO cause me a lot of sadness, anxiety and pain. As mentioned ad nauseum, I’m literally in physical pain all the time. When I don’t give myself some room to acknowledge, grieve and even wallow (in moderation), it backs up on me, and when eventually I can’t hold it in anymore, the emotional pain becomes a tidal wave that I can’t manage.

I know I’m not the only one. Just because we say to ourselves “It could be worse” does not mean we’re OK. I think we want to say it partly because we don’t want to be self-absorbed jerks, but also because we feel like we are supposed to “get over it,” whatever “it” is. See the silver lining! Be optimistic!

Sometimes people say “It could be worse” because another person pressures them to feel that way. That phrase can sometimes be almost weaponized. I was once was in a conversation with someone whose wife had died of cancer and he had gone to a “grief course.” He recounted the anger he felt at another person in the group who was grieving the loss of her 81-year-old father. He thought she had no business being in the group because he felt the loss of his wife at a younger age was more painful, and that “she needed to get over it. Other people have it worse.” Never mind that he knew nothing about the woman’s relationship with her father or that he said in that very same conversation how everyone is supposed to grieve in their own time. The woman’s feelings made him uncomfortable in his own grief, and didn’t “measure up.”

In the Tripping on Air post’s comments, a woman shared that her own doctor told her it could be worse when they found that her MS was progressing. I experienced that myself when I explained my extreme fatigue to my first rheumatologist 10 years ago. He told me to have children because then I’d really know what exhaustion was. Did it matter that I was a 28-year-old who could barely move sometimes because of fatigue and pain? No, because “it could be worse!” Perhaps he was compensating for not having an answer, perhaps he was truly that flippant. I don’t know. But what would that attitude have gotten me? I have children, and yes, my exhaustion did get worse, as did a number of other symptoms. But now we know that it wasn’t all in my head (I knew that then and said so). Would I be any healthier now if I had just been thankful I wasn’t as tired as I could be? Did Elsa make anything better by concealing-not-feeling? I think we all know the answer to that. (Ahem, it’s “no.”)

I’m in no way suggesting we ignore the suffering of others. There’s sadly quite enough of that. And of course it’s important to keep things in perspective and not let negativity take over our lives. But we need to get away from the idea that just because something could be worse or because someone else is suffering more that our own struggles must be left by the wayside.

Caring for others and taking care of ourselves do not have to be mutually exclusive. While I’ve met a few women over 30 who haven’t matured past that teenage tendency to amplify their problems and comfort over others’, most women I know live to do for everyone else first. We think that by downplaying all of our struggles, even to ourselves, we’re somehow better serving our families, our friends, our jobs, even our communities. We think it makes us “strong,” and that being sad or mad at a bad situation in our lives makes us weak.

In reality, working through our emotions fully and authentically is healthy and makes for better versions of ourselves. It doesn’t make you ungrateful or unaware of the blessings in your life. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about the plight of others. It just means that you have a challenge and you are doing what you need to do to meet it head on. It doesn’t get stronger than that.

“Aladdin, The Redux” reviewed

In summary, if you have kids, clear your mind of the bad reviews and go see the new “Aladdin.”

Is “Aladdin, The Redux” as I’ll refer to it, the greatest Disney movie of all time? No, of course not. Are old songs redone as good as in the original? Definitely not. (The song production was a really weird choice.) Does Will Smith pull a Heath Ledger-as-the-Joker turn and maybe upstage Robin Williams as Genie? Absolutely not (but he also wasn’t bad per se). But overall, it was visually beautiful, funny, and actually a good expanded story.

Naomi Scott, who plays Jasmine, is perfect. I actually loved the expansion of Jasmine’s story. In fact, the slight changes to the story were an improvement. As much as I love Emma Watson & “Belle,” separately (there’s just something about the live “Beauty & the Beast” that does NOT work for me, and B&B is my favorite Disney movie) Naomi’s Jasmine felt way more authentic. Mena Massoud made for a pretty hot Aladdin, and as Naomi is stunning, they were a freakin’ gorgeous couple. Will Smith isn’t Robin Williams, but he does a solid job as Genie, and we definitely laughed a lot.

The girls haven’t seen the cartoon version, despite our attempts, so they don’t really have a comparison but they LOVED this version. The only dicey part was when Jafar goes nuclear, which is when our 4-year-old started crying. But it wasn’t so scary that she couldn’t be quickly soothed by the assurance that the good guys would be okay, and Jafar would get his. Disney justice! (Where’s the justice for all the cartoon mothers you’ve killed, Disney? RIP Jasmine’s Mom.)

The girls want all the songs on their playlists. The new Jasmine song “Speechless” was great, and Naomi Scott killed it. But good God, what were they thinking in the production of the original songs? It’s hard to describe, and I hope someone else can comment, but it was like the tempo of the lyrics was verrrrry slow compared to the rest of the music. It wasn’t singing, it wasn’t rap. It was jarring, and certainly neither shining nor shimmering nor splendid. So most of the songs going on the playlist will be from the 1992 version, with the exception of “Speechless” and the new version of “A Whole New World” by Zayn Malik and Zhavia Ward. #Zaladdin

I’m still not sold on Disney’s moneygrabs, er, live remakes, but I’m good with 2019’s Aladdin.

Richard Madden in “Cinderella,” my favorite of the Disney live action remakes. Will take any thread of opportunity to post pictures of Richard Madden.

Sexy Summer Strategizing for Chronic Illness

Memorial Day Weekend has come and gone, and y’all know what that means! Summer has unofficially started! Wearing less and going out more, it’s going to be hot hot hot!

Just kidding. Well, I live in Florida, so it WILL be hot hot hot, but not in the “sexy summer fun” type of way I see popping up on magazines’ social accounts. This is the time of year when I go from being a smug Floridian “living in paradise” to an embittered shut-in glaring at most places north of us. (Yes, even you Atlanta. I lived there for two years and experienced some crazy pleasant breaks in the summer heat a few times so don’t @ me. Texas and Arizona, I’ll give you your inferno-esque due.)

But for me, summer’s unofficial start also meant a bunch of doctor’s appointments for “summer strategy sessions,” as my cardiologist puts it. And I’ll tell you what, the outlook feels bleak at this moment. I know many autoimmune and chronic illnesses are affected by the heat, but for the purposes of this blog, I’m just dealing with post-orthostatic tachycardiac syndrome (POTS) and a positive antihistone blood marker that has all the symptoms of lupus, requires a lupus drug but isn’t quite lupus. Still testing to find out what it is, or if it’s just a precursor to lupus.

I checked with my cardiologist the other day to see if I was imagining that my symptoms (blood rushing, heart pounding in my ears, nausea, dizziness) start as soon as I hit the garage. I’m not. Apparently, the heat’s effects are immediate.

Ok, so stay cool. But I can still do the pool and boat because I”ll be in the water, right?

Well the rheumatologist confirmed that the crazy rash I got being out in the sun last weekend was from increased UV sensitivity, due both to the anti blood marker(s) and the lupus drug I have to take for it. I didn’t burn – I kept applying sunscreen all day, but the itchy bumps that appeared everywhere were worse. Apparently my superior Italian melanin has finally met its match!

So I just need to avoid the heat and sun. In Florida. In the summer.

Last summer was rough. I was the sickest yet, but didn’t have much in the way of diagnoses or medication yet. We were on the right track but still testing. So I felt like garbage and couldn’t go outside. I didn’t have “strict doctors’ orders” yet though, so I was embarrassed to keep explaining to my family and friends. (Honestly, some of them thought I was being a baby about it, and after awhile, it gets old trying to explain an ailment that’s only partially diagnosed.) I was in a deep depression cycle, and it didn’t really end until the first “cool” front in late October.

Really just an excuse for a Ryan-Phillippe gif. You’re welcome.

I refuse to go there again this summer.

The first thing I focused on was taking care of my skin, both from a comfort standpoint (itchy, dry skin, rash or no rash, is lamentable), but also to soothe my vanity.

Before we dive in and I start extolling the virtues of more expensive-than-average and just-plain-expensive skincare items, know that I’m not a beauty product snob. (My cheapest favorite: Cetaphil bars are my go-to face and body cleanser. ) I use what works, but as I get older and have some health issues that affect my skin, it’s been a little more complicated and expensive.

I researched good sunscreen for people with lupus or taking lupus medication. A lot of dermatologists seem to recommend La Roche Posay sunscreen, so I’m trying the Melt-In Sunscreen Milk with SPF 60 which is $30 on Amazon Prime.

I purchased La Mer Creme de La Mer in the duty free shop on my way home from Rome last fall, and loved it. But when I ran out, I tried to go back to a cheaper (but actually not that much cheaper) option. Enough of that. My always-dry skin is way too dry with these illnesses and medications, so I’m going with what works best. The 1 oz size lasted a good several months, although truthfully I wasn’t exclusive with it, so I’m interested to see how long it lasts this time around. Surprisingly, the heavy Moisturizing Cream doesn’t make my face sweat as I thought it would in the heat and humidity, so I went with that instead of La Mer’s Moisturizing Cool Gel Cream (best for normal-to-oily skin) or Moisturizing Soft Cream.

I also got samples of La Mer’s Reparative Body Lotion, because of the “healing properties” of the “miracle broth” and tried it on the sun rash this week. Truly amazing results. FYI – a cosmetics source I know says the Lotion is more effective than the La Mer products cost, but for a reason. They’re super effective and feel amazing, so you’re not *just* paying for a brand name.

One last thing re: La Mer. I’m linking to their site because if you sign up your email address, you get $75 off a $350 purchase (this being La Mer, you’ll hit that if you get two products or certain sizes). But overall, shopping on their website is kind of a pain. I’ve experienced technical glitches and had to get customer service help every time. So I’d recommend shopping for these products elsewhere, preferably somewhere where you can earn rewards like Nordstrom or Sephora (both sell it, as does Neiman Marcus & Bergdorf Goodman, but neither have a rewards program). Nordstrom is my favorite because it has ShopRunner with free two-day shipping. If you go to the Nordstrom counter, they’ll set you up with good size samples to take home and try different products. Violet Grey is another good option when they have a sale (infrequently!) because it’s the only place I’ve ever seen a discount on these high-end beauty brands.

The next prong of my summer survival strategy was getting a Sleep Number bed, which we did during the Memorial Day Sale, which saved us $1,000. It won’t get here for 3 weeks, but I’m really excited. I’ve thought about getting a Sleep Number bed for years, but never actually tried one until our friends bought one and couldn’t stop raving, and their recommendations are hard-won. As some of my pain areas are being treated, I’ve been able to identify specific areas that are worst when I wake up. We stayed at the Sandpearl Resort last week, and I woke up in almost no pain, which NEVER happens in my own bed. Quality sleep is a huge problem for POTS patients, as are chronic fatigue and pain with both illnesses. As much as it pained me to buy a new mattress when the other is only 3 years old, if I can get better sleep and eliminate some pain, it would be well worth the money. The sale and 100-day window to test it out made it a no-brainer. I might need a separate post to share the in-store shopping experience, which was pretty cool. I’ll post the verdict on whether the bed is as delicious as I’m hoping in a few months.

But of course none of this changes the fact that Florida is unbearably hot, with no respite, from the end of May to at least the end of September. So ultimately, I’m going to have to figure out ways to be somewhere else while the children are on summer break.

A benefit of being a PR consultant is that when I *am* able to work again, I work from anywhere. Having an airline pilot for a husband helps in that respect as well. This year, I was still kind of reeling and adjusting financially from the loss of my income. It’s still been less than a year since I had to essentially shut down my consulting business because I was too sick to work. So frankly, I didn’t save enough for two months out of town. A road trip to the Adirondacks and family might be the extent of it this year, but I’m looking ahead to next year so we can save enough to get to cooler climes. More on the search for location(s) to come.

Why am I basically giving a public run-down of what I did last week? Partly as therapy; it’s not as heavy once it’s on paper. Partly as information for my friends so I don’t have to explain my limitations every time I have to say no to a boat trip or outdoor outing. Partly because I think I find really good products that y’all might want to know about. And partly because summer can be a wonderful time, no matter your location or circumstances, but it’s not rose and lobster bakes all day, every day for anyone. But like anyone else, I’m going to post palm tree pics from the Sandpearl pool on Instagram instead of the sun rash it got me. So instead I’ll stay real here. Happy summer!

Believe me, May, I’m aware of mental health! But I’m still grateful for Mental Health Awareness

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. And while I’m an avid proponent of building awareness and ending the stigma, unfortunately, the goings-on in May tend to make my own mental health a little too hard to ignore.

I just got home from a short trip to the mall because I had to escape my house for an hour. (No need to dissect the mall as my choice of respite; we’ll save analysis of my small compulsive shopping problem for another day.) I needed that little escape from my house I could feel the anxiety building, the physical effects starting to take hold.

I could feel my breathing become shallow and sweat start to form on my forehead, despite the air conditioning. The swarm of thoughts that start to build too quickly to really register swirled. I couldn’t focus and the irritability was right at the surface.

Why? Because being “Mom” became overwhelming. Despite the fact that I’m a ghoul who finds their children’s attention anxiety-inducing sometimes, I’m the center of their universe. And sometimes that spotlight is too much.

The subsequent guilt at realizing what was causing the anxiety piled on more. After all, how ungrateful can I be? I have two healthy daughters whom I don’t have to worry about feeding or clothing, and they go to an amazing school. My husband is a hands-on dad, one who is often available when I need to take a break.

In short, what the hell do I have to be running from?

But the thing is, like any other illness, mental illness does not give a f*ck about any of those things. I have battled anxiety and depression for almost 20 years, and yet I still have to remind myself that I can’t rationalize my way through an episode. I was, however, able to catch it before it became an anxiety attack, but I’ve been playing that game all month.

My husband and oldest daughter have May birthdays, and we just celebrated my daughter’s First Communion. If you’re not familiar, that’s one of the biggest moments in a Catholic’s life, and as such, involves no small amount of preparation or celebration. Additionally, my husband’s grandmother also passed away, and we had to travel to Miami for the funeral services.

But really, May is a LOT for everyone. The end of the school year, whether the year ends in May itself like it does in Florida, or June like it does in other parts of the country, you’re busy with the related projects, exams, awards ceremonies, proms, graduations, end-of-the-year parties and summer planning. I’m not just talking about planning for fun summer vacations. There’s also planning for summer childcare, daycare or camps. You’re shelling out money left and right.

Even people who aren’t parents or students can be affected by the ripple effect, maybe having to work around a boss’s schedule. Maybe you’re part of a professional society or volunteer organization that breaks for the summer and has end-of-year events.

There’s Mother’s Day in the US and many other countries, bringing with it plans and gift shopping, or maybe the grief of a lost mother or child, anxiety over fertility struggles, anger at an estranged family member.

You get the idea.

If you’re like me, the logistics of handling everyone’s schedules and making plans at this time of year is on par with the stress level around the Christmas holidays.

Then again, you might be reading this and have no idea what I’m talking about. After all, I DO suffer from anxiety!

But this is the reason why I’m grateful for Mental Health Awareness Month and awareness campaigns like Bring Change to Mind and Okay to Say (for which I used to handle PR) in the US, Heads Together in the UK and many more. The aim of things like an awareness month is to create more touch points where people feel they can talk about mental health and mental illness. It’s an opportunity carved out to hear people share their experiences or to offer support.

Talking or writing it out isn’t always enough (thank you, Cymbalta and Xanax), but sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s enough to help you identify what you’re feeling, and sometimes that’s enough to move on from the “moment” (using that word loosely, as moment can be hours or days).

“Building awareness” is often knocked as not being action- or results-oriented enough, and that can be true, especially in my industry. But with an issue that affects so many millions of Americans and millions more around the world, yet is still so taboo to discuss, making people aware that mental health is as important as physical health and should be okay to discuss is a pretty worthy goal.

As we finish out May, let’s strive for that.

The author, tired AF, after First Communion & the funeral, before the birthday party and in the middle of the wild schedule that is May.

Cheer for the Orange & Blue [J. Crew sale]

College football reigns in the South, , and Florida is no exception. But we don’t just rep our universities at tailgates. From conference rooms to pub crawls to advisory boards to College Day at the Capitol to college friends’ weddings, alumni wear their colors proudly – and in color cases like ours (orange and blue), loudly – year round. And in those cases, a t-shirt from Fanatics.com isn’t going to cut it.

Alumni from places with easy color combos, like Georgia (red & black), Alabama (crimson & white) or Ole Miss (navy blue and red), might not be on a constant hunt. But when your school’s colors are a very specific deep orange and a very specific royal blue, you can’t just run out at a moment’s notice and be sure to find the perfect outfit.

So even though we’re three months out from college football season, when we see a sale that’s overflowing with college color goodness, we’re shopping. Enter J. Crew’s Extra 40% Off Sale Styles sale. Here are some of our favorite selections. True, we’re heavy on Gator colors, but we’re sharing the orange with our Auburn & Miami friends.

And just to show there’s solidarity in fashion, we’ll even share this link for some good Florida State options – even if it causes us some physical pain…

  1. Flutter sleeve scoopneck tee – $10.99 (plus extra 40% off)
  2. Silk button-up
  3. Pleated-front sailor skirt in stretch linen – $69.99 (plus extra 40% off)
  4. Supersoft long-sleeve T – $18.99 (plus extra 40% off)
  5. Ribbed scoopneck T-shirt in TENCEL™ – $19.99 (plus extra 40% off)
  6. Midi wrap dress in allover eyelet – $76.99 (plus extra 40% off)
  7. Supersoft Supima® raw-edge V-neck T-shirt – $15.99 (plus extra 40% off)
  8. Strappy midi knit dress – $47.99 (plus extra 40% off)
  9. Driving moccasins in suede – $29.99 (plus extra 40% off)
  10. Pointed-toe slides in suede – $34.99 (plus extra 40% off)
  11. Striped enamel hinge bracelet – $19.99 (plus extra 40% off)
  12. Pave resin earrings – $16.99 (plus extra 40% off)
  13. Cora slides with buckle in suede – $46.99 (plus extra 40% off)
  14. Mini beaded drop hoop earrings – $11.99 (plus extra 40% off)
  15. Tippi sweater – $71.99 (plus extra 40% off)
  16. Ruched ponte sheath dress – $89.99 (plus extra 40% off)

Fresh Produce

There’s something so cool & summery about fruit & vegetable prints. It’s more kitsch than camp, but our feed was full of these colorful prints today. Since we’re still coming of the fun of the Met Gala, let’s keep it light with a full serving of fruits & veggies.

  1. Dolce & Gabbana Vegetable Tin Print Dress – $2,315
  2. Rails Madison Strawberry Wrap Dress – $178
  3. MSGM Fruit-Printed Dress – $845
  4. Modcloth Sentimental Special Sleeveless Dress – $79
  5. Parker NY Millie Dress – $318
  6. Staud Kiwi Blossom Small Salad Dress – $215
  7. Staud Maracuya Dress Fruit – $215
  8. Staud Pomelo Playsuit Ivory Crudite – $225