Jul 21, 2012

The Truth Behind the Smile

I will state right up front that this is one of the hardest blog posts I have written and it's taking all the courage I can muster to write it. Here goes...

Most of my friends and readers know that I have been dealing with some hard-hitting health problems lately. In fact, it's been kind of a common theme for me throughout my life and something I've become used to dealing with, from a sensitive stomach as a kid, to endometriosis as a teen, to kidney stones in my 20's, a bad gallbladder in my early 30's, interstitial cystitis in my late 30's, a thyroid that's going bad as I turn 40 (which pretty much affects your entire body), and a heck of a lot more in between. Aside from the bad gallbladder (which I had removed) most of these issues are life-long and ones that I will always have to deal with.

My faith is the most important thing to me in my life and I believe everything happens for a reason. So I trust that there is a greater purpose to all of this and I am accepting of it. I still try to live life to the fullest despite these issues and I try so very hard to be a positive, happy person in all that I say and do, but it's not always easy and I'm not always successful at it.

I am also an open book, so I like to get it off my chest when things get overwhelming. And for the most part, I do. I think, however, a lot of people would be surprised at how much I do NOT say. I do not want to be a chronic complainer or a downer. I don't want to be negative. Most days, I like to forget to whatever extent possible that I am not 100% healthy.

Health complaints are so taboo to a lot of people and there is a bit of hesitation in talking about them because of that anyway. I lost a friend on Facebook over it...they thought I talked about it too much.

But I've also been wrongly judged based on all of the happy pictures I've posted of trips I've taken and events I've attended. I've actually gotten comments about "how much better I am doing" because I am smiling in a photo, when in actuality, it was a day that was a painful struggle for me to even get out of bed.

Some don't understand why I can be at a Coldplay concert, yet have seemed distant or unreachable, not knowing that one of the chief symptoms of the latest issue I'm dealing with (hypothyroidism) is depression and fatigue and that for every day that I actually get out to enjoy something, I spend several more days in bed trying to recover from it.

I am not writing this for sympathy. I don't feel sorry for myself so I don't want anyone else to feel sorry for me either. I don't even think I'm writing it for understanding for myself as much as I have come to realize that I need to speak out for every single person out there who may be in my shoes and may be hiding behind a smile like I often do, and may be facing judgement for venting or for not talking about it enough.

A good friend of mine who I got to see this past weekend said something to me that meant the world to me and gave me a lot of the courage I need to write this post. She thanked me for the things I have written about and the times that I have spoken up.

She said to me, "So many women are going through a lot of the problems that you are but don't say anything. But it really needs to be said so that we know we're not alone."

I do not think a happy medium really exists when it comes to discussing health issues, so to those of you who are reading this and are in a similar situation, I want to say to you...just simply be. Don't be afraid to speak up when you need to speak up. Don't be afraid to hide when you need to hide. As one of my favorite quotes say, and I cannot stress this strongly enough...

"Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.”

And to the rest of you, I say this:

Another favorite quote and one that would make the world a much better place if we all followed it. (And believe me, I know it applies to me as well, as I've been guilty of not always following it myself.)

You really have no idea if the person you see smiling in this photo:

May actually be spending the majority of her days in bed looking like this:

...fighting all of the problems her thyroid is causing her - her 10th infection in as many months from an immune system that is pretty much shot, trying not to be too stressed because of heart and blood pressure issues, trying not to cry over the huge clumps of hair that have fallen out during the shower that took everything in her to take, reading as many inspirational quotes as she can get her hands on to fight the depression that no medication can cure because thyroid-related depression is quite different from regular depression, avoiding the scale so she doesn't have to face the 30+ pounds she has gained from a metabolism that has stopped doing its job, feeling guilty because she hasn't called her grandmother whom she loves desperately but can't bring herself out of the brain fog and depression long enough to pick up the phone...did I mention already how many parts of the body the thyroid affects? Yeah, pretty much everything.

The person who you see smiling at Disneyworld:

...may be hiding the wheelchair that she's sitting in because the exhaustion she is feeling is so severe, she can't walk by herself, which in turns leads to emotional/mental distress over the fact that she feels like a worthless burden. (Note: I need to point out that that is by no means the fault of my AWESOME husband who lovingly pushed me all over three parks without one complaint and spends every day of his life not only caring for me but telling me that I am loved, beautiful, wonderful, worthy and amazing when I most need to hear it!)

The person you see smiling in a picture at her friend's post-wedding party:

...may not tell you that she showed up two hours late and almost didn't make it at all because she spent most of the morning/early afternoon in her hotel so drained that she couldn't even take a shower and was in so much pain that even the strongest of medicines wasn't making much of a difference.

The person who posts a pretty picture of something in her house...

...may not be showing you the mess that surrounds it because she has been too tired to keep up with housework, which in turn leads to feelings of being a lazy failure and a bad mother/wife.

The person who jokingly posts a photo, pouting over the bruise from their last ER visit:

...may not be telling you how they had to be stuck 7 different times because their veins are so bad, only to have all of them blow and no IV be given as a result. That they had to be kept overnight for observation for organ damage because their blood pressure was at emergency, stage 3 levels.

You know what the last thing someone who is facing illness needs while going through all of this? Judgement.

You know what they do need? Love. Understanding. Compassion. Help.

At a time when someone is already at their lowest point, trying to convince themselves that they aren't a lazy, worthless, good-for-nothing failure, they don't need someone thinking those things about them too.

They need to be uplifted, not brought down. They need to be supported, not shamed. They need hope, not condemnation. They need you to be there for them, not expecting things from them or judging them for what they can't do because you can't understand what they're going through because you saw them looking happy and well in pictures on the Internet.

If someone hasn't called you for awhile, but you see them smiling in photos, please don't assume all is well and take it personally. Cut them some slack. Some of my best friends in life are the ones that I can go for months without talking to yet pick up right where we left off without judgement or hurt feelings as if no time had gone by at all.

Tonight, as I write this, I am so very grateful for the people in my life like that. People who have been loving, kind and supportive, even when they're not always aware of all that I'm going through. They are the people that make the fight easier rather than harder.

One other thing that I feel is important to say, even though I risk going off on another long tangent here: Several years ago, I went through another severe illness that brought me to my knees. A bad gallbladder. I couldn't eat. I lost 45 pounds and had to be hospitalized because my weight was dangerously low. I went through eight months of tests. Eight months of switching doctors, trying to get answers.

I was told by one doctor I was anorexic and would die by Christmas if I didn't eat (I wasn't and not being able to eat was by no means a choice). I was told by another that it must be depression since all of my tests were normal.

I spent so many days, weeks, months doubting myself and my own sanity. "If I just push myself harder," I thought, "maybe it would all go away." I thought maybe I was just lazy, not tired. That my 24/7 nausea and pain were all in my head, because there was no explanation thus far for how sick I was.

Eight months later, one simple test later that the other doctors failed to do (a HIDA scan), I found out that my instincts were right all along. My gallbladder was bad. After being told for eight months that it was fine. By the time it was removed, it was diseased, discolored and covered in adhesions. It took me a good, solid year to be able to eat again.

I went through something similar with my endometriosis. Several years of being told by three different doctors I didn't have it when I highly suspected I did. Years of pain and fatigue that I cannot even describe in words. Over a year of infertility before finally one doctor went in via surgery and found my insides riddled with endometriosis lesions. Endometriosis so severe it almost cost me my fertility, all because doctors didn't listen to me or believe me.

Me, on my honeymoon, when my latest health struggle first surfaced.

Fast forward to last November. I began to feel fatigue like I'd never felt before (even though I've dealt with it all my life due to endometriosis). I had a whole list of symptoms I couldn't explain and went to the doctor, only to have my thyroid test come back bad.

I have had five more follow-up thyroid tests since then. 2 were normal. 4 out of the 6 total tests were not. But the doctor I am stuck with right now (because the doctor that everyone I know has recommended has no openings until September) won't treat me because of the 2 normal tests. Why? From his own mouth...because he doesn't want to be sued if I have bad side effects from the thyroid treatment.

So, since November, I have had to continue dealing with unimaginable fatigue, weight gain, irregular cycles, hair loss, depression, blood pressure swings, abnormal EKG's and possible heart-related problems, endless UTI's....I could go on and on. Basically every system in the body is tied to the thyroid and until someone finally treats me for this problem, I am just going to have to suffer.

Do. You. Have. Any. Idea. How. Absolutely. Hard. That. Is. To. Have. To. Bear?

I am practicing patience. I am practicing faith. I am practicing trust.

Because that little voice that reared its ugly head a few years back when my gallbladder was bad has been trying since November to get inside of my psyche once again and convince me that I am lazy. Worthless. Crazy. That there is nothing wrong with me.

Deep down I know better. And I know those of you reading this who may be in a similar situation know better too. So I urge you to believe in yourself, trust your instincts, listen to your body. But most of all, never, ever give up.

And to the rest of you, the same advice applies. Please, I implore you...you really don't know what lies behind a person's smile. You don't know what they might really be going through. What kind of battle they may be facing. Battles with their health. Battles with doctors. Battles with themselves.You don't know how much power your words might hold on someone who is so fragile that they are ready to break.
It really cannot be said enough times.

Jul 6, 2012

Katy Perry: Part of Me Review

My husband and I went to see Katy Perry: Part of Me in 3D on opening night and it was SO good I just had to blog about it. Being a concert enthusiast and fan of Katy Perry certainly added to my enjoyment of the film - it was like having an on-stage seat to her concert - but the takeaway message of perseverance, belief in yourself and staying strong despite life's obstacles, is something everyone can relate to.

I absolutely adore Katy Perry...her talent and energy just pop right off the screen. It's as if the 3D glasses let you glimpse her indomitable spirit. Singing along to all of my favorite songs was so much fun, but seeing Katy triumph over heartbreak was by far the best part of the movie for me.

And it definitely gives new meaning to the "Wide Awake" video above, especially the very end (you'll know when you see the movie). I cannot watch that video without crying at the scenes of her and her inner child now. Heart! Wrenching!

I hate how her kind heart was trampled on but am so happy to see her finding herself again. The Prince Charming scene at around minute 3:25 exemplifies that and I'm pretty sure every woman that's ever had her heart broken by someone feels that sense of victory along with her as she knocks him out cold.

If you're someone facing a tough time in life, are being held back from your dreams, or just need a positive, uplifting message, you should really go see this movie! I loved it so much I'm going to go see it again with my little girl (and I can't wait for her to soak in the message of love, faith and perseverance.)

And whenever Katy tours again in my area, I will move mountains to make sure I am there! It won't be the same as being right on stage with her as one is in this movie, but I know it will still completely rock!

Jul 2, 2012

Chester French Releases Eclectic & Entertaining "Music 4 TNGRS"

Many of my readers may remember my interview with the fabulous Chester French in 2009, and my coverage of their show in D.C. that same year.

The success of their album "Love the Future" led to appearances such as this one on Jimmy Fallon:

She Loves Everybody Jimmy Fallon Live by yardie4lifever2

And CF's fans grew so numerous that member D.A. Wallach now has over 1 million followers on his Twitter account. (Maxwell Drummey, the band's other half, is not on Twitter.)

D.A. is also the "Artist In Residence" for the hugely popular music phenomenon known as Spotify, and he and Max have been featured in GQ, Rolling Stone, Vogue, and many other highly-respected publications.

Fans have been eagerly awaiting CF's next album since "Love the Future," and finally, "Music 4 TNGRS," was just released on June 19.

The album features a mix of eclectic songs that discuss everything from the seriousness of life to deep love for "The Perfect Girl" (my favorite song off the album). It's hard to put one label on the sound of "Music 4 TNGRS." Indie, pop, rock, rap, electronic...it pretty much encompasses all styles and offers something for everyone.

The track "Interesting Times" is perhaps one of the more serious on the album, with lyrics such as, "I can't believe I'm going to die one day. Can't believe we'll all be gone." But it balances the seriousness of the vocals with a light, flowy electronic arrangement, with D.A. optimistically singing, "but it's all, but it's all, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful."

The most controversial song appears to be "Black Girls," more so for the music video, produced by the lovely Davida Williams, than the lyrics. The video definitely pushes limits that most music videos do not dare to go beyond and is highly adult in nature. I'd like to think that any criticism expressed is due to the erotic nature of the video and not the interracial or homosexual elements, but unfortunately, it appears we still have a long way to go as far as acceptance of the latter.

I had the opportunity to interview D.A. and Max about this issue as well as their new album and their answers were refreshing as always. (Many thanks in advance to my assistant Heather Mae Blevins for preparing the interview questions.)

"Spreading Love and Beauty" - An Interview with Chester French

What is the difference between the place you were at in your lives when writing the first album in contrast to the place you were in while working on the second album? (How has your status and lifestyle now, as opposed to being relatively unknown while working on the first album and being fresh out of college, influenced your writing?)

Max: Well this time we started out with some knowledge of how to operate a recording studio, which was nice. I definitely think that having toured a bunch and gotten a sense of our audience and what they seem to like about us helped us focus our approach for this album.

D.A.: I was in a more depressed, contemplative, and controlled place when working on the new album. I think we also knew much more of the possibilities in songwriting than we did the first time around.

The new album sounds a lot less indie rock, and a lot more experimental -- what was the instrumental writing process like this time around?

Max: I became fascinated with the idea that certain musical forms seem for now very fixed while sonic forms are more constantly evolving--at least in terms of what culture seems to appreciate--so the goal was to create a musical landscape that privileged sonic experimentation. The compositions emerged from the sounds more often than the reverse this time.

What is the main thing you hoped to accomplish on this album, that maybe you didn't include/achieve on the first album? What was it like writing a follow-up to your first widely successful album? More pressure? More fun?

Max: I just wanted to make something creative and consistently enjoyable and to learn a lot doing it. There wasn't necessarily more pressure this time, but there were a few specific people we had to please this time. Guessing people's taste is always an interesting challenge .

D.A.: I wanted this album to really capture our personalities and to be a little time capsule of who we actually were at the moment of its creation. The first album was more about our just trying to make "good" songs. This time I think we deployed the skills we'd acquired to send a more deliberate message.

How do you (DA) feel about Spotify? What made you want to be their artist in residence? (What do you hope to achieve during your time with them? How do you feel about "free" music and the current state of the music industry?)

D.A.: I first encountered Spotify as a user two years ago, when I heard about what it did and knew that it could markedly improve my life. My goal as Artist In Residence is to make sure that the company stays true to artists, unlike so many music companies past and present. I don't think music should be free (and it isn't on Spotify since even our "free" version is ad-supported). In fact, the business opportunity that Spotify represents is basically an opportunity to get most of the world to pay for music again by giving them an experience worth paying to have.

Will you be headlining your own tour for this album?

Max: Only if you want us to. (Editor's note: Yes, we do!)

Which album do you like (i.e. enjoy playing live) the most: Jacques Jams, Love the Future or Music for TNGRS?

Max: I think there are songs from each that are more and less fun to play live. Obviously we've played the newer music less, so I think there's some more immediate fun to be had with that material though.

How do you feel about the feedback and criticism the first single (Black Girls), the second single (Interesting Times) and your album as whole has received?

Max: I try to stay away from reading that type of stuff, but I was a bit disappointed that some people seemed offended by the video for "Black Girls." It bums me out that in a world with war and hunger people bother to get upset over music videos, especially one that I think is clearly more about love and positivity than hate and negativity by any measure.

D.A.: Agreed. We're just trying to spread love and beauty.

How do you feel about the "controversy" of the song, Black Girls? Did you feel like you were taking a risk with writing about such a "bold" subject? How did you decide to take the single from merely being racial, to adding homosexual elements to it in the music video, and further "pushing boundaries"? What was the brainstorming for the concept of the video like? (I think it's kind of genius -- way to go all out!)

Max: I sent DA a demo for that song in 2008, and I remember he told me the lyrical idea at a hotel in DC almost a year later. I thought it was a great idea, because it was really honest for him and about spreading love, tolerance and positivity. He and (director Francesco Carrozzini) masterminded the video.

D.A.: I don't really see any risk in the song. The only risk we took was that people wouldn't like it, and that's an unavoidable risk. No one has burned crosses in my yard because of it or anything. We wanted to push people to think for a moment about race and love, which are fraught matters. I think we achieved that.

Can you tell us a little bit about your involvement at Quad Sound Studios?

Max: We were president and treasurer there in college, although we mainly used it to make our album. I spent the night there a lot--working but sometimes sleeping.

Who (either Common, Masta Ace, Reflection Etermal, Nottz) have you most enjoyed sorting with?

Max: Working with Reflection Eternal was especially fun of those collaborations, because everybody was in the room at the same time hanging out and working. Real time hangouts beat virtual hangouts any day.

Who would be a part of your dream collaboration?

Max: Gandhi, James Baldwin, and Miles Davis.

D.A.: Stevie Wonder, James Baldwin yes!, Richard Feynman

Thank you, D.A. and Max, for the interview and for releasing yet another fabulous album for fans to enjoy!

For more information on Chester French and "Music 4 TNGRS" check out their website here.