This is my face….

I’m avoiding going to Walmart because I’m embarrassed about the way I look. Now this is a new experience.

Walmart has always been the safe haven for no-makeup, dirty hair, sloppy sweats grocery shopping. No matter how bad I looked, I could always find comfort (twisted soul that I am) in the fact that I’d see someone at Walmart who looked worse.

Enter AK’s (and although I am writing this from rural southern Virginia, where everybody’s grandmother is armed, I’m not referring to AK47’s). AK’s are actinic keratosis, a pre-cancerous skin growth. Like me, most of the people they affect are fair skinned and have had a fair amount of sun exposure. (My sun exposure didn’t come from lying on the beach or in a tanning bed, but from teaching riding lessons, competing in horse shows, running, gardening, and just being an all around outdoors-type of person).

On a recent visit to my dermatologist, she froze half a dozen or so of these little nasties off my face, and suggested I use a topically applied treatment for the rest of my face. What the treatment does is stimulates the body’s immune system and the AK’s are fought from the inside out. The result, lessened chance of developing squamous cell carcinoma.

So, now I am on week two of the four week treatment. Think of the AK’s and the cream as battling armies, think of my face as the battleground. It ain’t pretty. Remember the TV ad “This is your brain… this is your brain on drugs”? Yeah, that’s kind of how I feel about my current game face – this is your face on drugs….. as I said, it ain’t pretty.

Which brings me to an interesting twist on a theme I’ve already visited in these blogs, gratitude. I have never thought of myself as pretty (no big surprise to anyone who knows me or who may have read previous self deprecating entries in this body of work). I’ve always considered myself to be OK looking. Not someone who has ever gotten a wolf whistle (and someone who has long since decided I never will!), but not necessarily someone to be an object of pity by the more aesthetically endowed. That has changed.

I am painfully aware (in both the literal and metaphorical senses) of the red, swollen, scabby areas on my face. I apply makeup every day before going to work, but unless I enroll in the Tammy Faye Bakker school of cosmetology, I’m not going to cover up what’s going on from my chin to my hairline. Improve the appearance? Definitely. Make myself look “normal”? You know what they say about snowballs in hell? Yeah, this is my face on drugs.

Which brings me to my point (“thank God”, you are cheering, “she has a point!”). For someone who has always seen myself as a person normally filled with gratitude, I’ve been taking a whole lot for granted. “Little” things, like a “normal” face. Oh, I’m sure I’ll never be on the cover of People (yet another thing for which to be grateful), but I’m not in the case files of a reconstructive surgeon, either. I guess it’s like breaking your wrist (something I can relate to). You don’t realize how much you do with that set of bones, that mechanically wondrous structure, until it’s in a cast. Suddenly opening doors, opening a jar of pickles and closing your zipper are not automatic activities. You stop taking your wrist for granted – at least until the cast comes off…

So, for the next two weeks (and as long beyond treatment as it takes for my face to return to “normal”), I will be grateful for the fact that all of these red, burning areas on my face are being treated early, before they became cancerous. I will be grateful for my “normal” face when it returns. I will continue to wear SPF 50 on a daily basis. But for right now, I need some groceries, so I’m going to go shovel on some makeup, and me and my sloppy sweats are heading to Walmart.

The Gobble-uns ‘ll Git You…

I had a discussion with a friend recently (via email, sadly, as many of my discussions with friends are). Among the many astute observations he made is “I suspect the soul is not interested in an easy life”. I heartily agree, and upon further pondering, feel that not only is the soul not interested, it’s busy programming its GPS to somewhere in the exact opposite direction.

Most of us have at least a nodding acquaintance with yin yang; the balance of opposites…. light/dark, good/bad, happy/sad…. The reason for one is the other, the definition of the first is the opposite of the second, two forces locked in an eternal dance around the central void.

My take on yin yang is that the closer you are to the central void, the less you appreciate, or even experience, the condition in which you exist. Speaking meteorologically, the Poles have more extreme weather than the equatorial regions. Speaking visually black and white are more absolute than gray. Speaking emotionally, ecstatic and distraught are more acutely felt than “OK”.

One of my (several dozen) favorite sayings is “the good is the enemy of the best”. I’m grateful that I live this life as opposed to the life of a Somalian woman, an addicted woman, a widow, or a mother who lost a child. I have been blessed with a life spent mostly “above the central void”, not indentured to poverty, chronic illness, addiction or other physical or emotional want.

Because my mid-latitude life is a very pleasant place, I often think about, and rarely push myself toward, the more northern reaches of possibility. Occasionally the aurora borealis casts its mesmerizing glow and draws me northward. I steer by the North Star, journey forward, and have a few breaths of the rarefied air I seek…. then, gradually, the traveller discovers that perhaps a latitude of 55 degrees north will suffice, one needn’t seek the pole. I run against my own glass ceiling, the uppermost boundary of my comfort zone.

I have no wish to experience the horrors possible in this life, but their spectres linger somewhere behind my soul….. Don’t give up……slip up………cave in……look back. Push on, “Er the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you ef you Don’t Watch Out”*

The Gobble-uns, always with me…. The ones with names like “could have done better” and “should have done more” hound me on my journey, biting at my heels….always with me, their brothers “who do you think you are” and “what makes you think you could _________” hang on my back, I try to shake them free as I climb higher, keep moving forward; they grow heavier with each step. Then, seemingly without transition, certainly without conscious choice I find myself cocooned, safer, back near my own central void. Awakened from the dream of the dream.

Yet, from each climb, I have more strength, a new skill, a different perspective. My base camp shifts gradually northward, my center rises. More forays. I return. I regroup. And on I go to live, and fight, and climb another day, inching ever forward toward my own North Star.

*from “Little Orphan Annie” by James Whitcomb Riley, copyright 1890