Self Portrait


Last year, a former student of mine, attending art school, sent out an email asking for self portraits.  I took this picture while Terry and I were in Memphis, before I even had an inkling that my mammogram was going to show any irregularities. If you look closely, I’m in the background. Or am I? You see me through multiple lenses and reflections. A clear image? Sure of identity and direction? Definitely not.

At this point, I had been living in NOLA for almost 2.5 years and found that unlike my experiences in Antigua, Los Angeles, Chicago, Marquette (Michigan) or even ski bumming in Colorado, I didn’t have a safety net in NOLA, nor had I been able to build one. Attending college/university and joining Peace Corps–both as a volunteer and then a recruiter–all had structures in place to foster friendships and help with issues like culture shock or work issues. Friendships were built over time, through shared experiences. One of the draws of moving to LA was the fact that I had a variety of friendships from different points in my life, as well as family, living within a 2 hour drive. I was able to build on those friendships and because LA was such a strong fit for me, there was lots to do and plenty of groups to join, so that I could lead a very full, balanced life.  My second stint in Chicago found me rebuilding my support networks as I began teaching on Chicago’s South Side. My family was only a weekend trip to Michigan away; I conveniently fell in love with and married someone who was also from the Detroit area living in Chicago; I joined the teachers union; and I somehow managed to juggle working full-time and earning a MA in Public History.

4 years ago, however, I was finishing up my masters work and starting to think about next steps in my career. At the same time, Terry was struggling with a year of recession directly impacting Chicago’s advertising industry (he’s a creative) and struggling to find opportunities to continue working in his field. In the spirit of looking for EMWA and opportunity, we decided that Terry should start looking for opportunities outside of Chicago. I was most interested in a job opening in Colorado, but as the fates would have it, the best fit that presented itself for his career was in post-Katrina New Orleans.

I suppose it was a little too much to ask that a city rebuilding itself would be able to offer me opportunities and support similar to my husband’s when I followed him south in the summer of 2009–but why not? And besides, I had found support and thriving opportunities in how many other places? I should be a pro at this.

But I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was for the realities of my life in NOLA. I will save the commentary on charter schools, unbelievably hot summers and post-Katrina demographics being in flux for another day, but let’s just say that by last fall, besides Terry, I didn’t have much of a support network in place locally to deal with the work-related dramas of the prior two years or to help me appreciate my NOLA experience in a more positive way. I had lost sight of the grounded, thriving, ready to go on adventures, creative, dreaming, scheming, planning, me.

The self-portrait reflects this reality.

And it also reflected my reality 2 months ago, smack in the middle of Pinktober and Breast Cancer Awareness Month. After a challenging year, I was back to feeling that my life was unbalanced, unsupported, over-worked, under-compensated–a perfect little storm of PTSD.

For the most part, while I was going through the diagnosis, treatment and recovery phases of my BC, I was in battle mode. I had focus and direction. I used my Ski Patrol triage skills to deal with what needed to be attended to, and did a decent job of not sweating things such as lesson plans. I gathered information on BC, reached out to geographically distant family and friends, spent a lot of time in doctor’s offices, actively fought for balance, joined a local support group, started reading through blogs of people in the BC Club, traveled home to the Midwest for most of my summer–even took a sewing class. I was actively healing myself–physically as well as emotionally–and I was doing a pretty decent job of coping, actually. I thought I might have the healing thing worked out!

However, no one really mentioned how hard it can be for many of us to transition from being a healing warrior to survivor–and this fall became very stormy in my world–and not just in regards to Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy. As the school year ramped up, my world became more and more unbalanced, but I was fighting the good fight. And than a situation at work triggered a chain reaction and before you know it, I was in uncharted emotional territory.

Two months later, I’m in a better place and I credit that to a couple of things:

•working with a wonderful therapist. One of my dear friends suggested that a good therapist is like a fairy godmother. I’ve found one.

•finding an article in USA Today by Liz Szabo about a new kind of breast cancer survivor group/social movement, a social media weekly support group #BCSM on Twitter 

I finally joined Twitter and have participated in 3 or 4 weekly #BCSM tweet chats. It amuses me that while Terry is watching Monday Night Football, I’m engrossed in an engaging and supportive tweet chat.

•Finally going live with this blog. It’s been in the works for awhile, but I kept putting it off. I’ve been reading many amazing blogs related to BC in the past 7 or 8 months, but wasn’t sure if I was ready to actually contribute. Thank you for finally nudging me to follow through, R.S.

And on that note, it’s time to go make breakfast and get on with my day. Hope you have a good one!

3 thoughts on “Self Portrait

  1. Pingback: Lost in Transition | Searching for EMWA

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