Finding home

12241591_10153788546021350_2546363106105606442_n-1It’s been six months since I’ve officially relocated to the UK, and to say it’s been a rollercoaster ride is a slight understatement. I anticipated an adjustment period, considering the fact that I was leaving behind everything familiar and opting for complete immersion into a new home, new environment and new people. But despite having lived in the UK for a few months in the summer of 2012, it was far more destabilising this time around. I think the fact that this move was permanent contributed to that emotion. But six months in, I think I’ve found my centre at last… and the ability to write as if I were a native Brit.

Anxious excitement dominated my first month or two, which makes sense because I was eager to close the gap and be here, but I had no idea what life would be like once I actually moved. That realisation started to seep into my brain toward the end of my second month, beginning of the third. My excitement quickly turned serious when I began looking for work to fill my free time and become a contributing member of society. I began this stage with apprehension, knowing full well how difficult it was finding the right job back in the states after graduation and worrying I’d find a similar struggle here. Now that it’s over with and I’ve found work, I feel pretty confident saying it was easier and quicker to find a job than it was a few years ago, but it certainly felt like a never-ending, soul-crushing experience.

It was about when I’d sent out around twenty job applications and the rejection emails started coming through that I felt myself slipping into a darker mind-set. I swiftly went from “I’m going to get a job!” to “I’m never going to get a job,” which, as you can imagine, wasn’t a fun thought train to ride. For the next few months, I was a wretch to be around (shout out to my amazing husband for putting up with this nonsense!), having slipped deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole with each passing day. I slept for ages and never felt rested when I finally pried myself out of bed, I hardly ate, I very rarely took the time to dress myself or make an effort on my appearance and I started questioning my every decision. But from the outside looking in, I made damn sure that any and all my connections back home and on social media thought I was cheery and enjoying my time off work because I didn’t want anyone to think I was pathetic or wasting away in London – even though that’s exactly how I felt.

I’ve battled depression before, but this was a new level I hadn’t experienced yet. I was so deep in it that it took me a very long time to even notice that I was, in fact, depressed. Coupled with the extreme anxiety and desperation to find work, it was a debilitating tug-of-war that left me utterly empty and defeated. Everything ached all the time despite having hardly moved all day every day, headaches plagued me regularly and I sought refuge under the covers more often than not. Part of the time, I wondered if I was genuinely sick and contemplated visiting my GP, but in hindsight, I now know better. Some days I was able to pull myself out of the fog to send out another job application or two, but eventually it became so much work just to think of positive things to say about myself in a cover letter that I just left it… for weeks at a time.

After a few months, I finally understood what was going on and reached out to my husband to help me not only find positivity, but to fully invest myself in finding a job. Thrilled that I was taking the initiative to make a change, he gave me a new perspective and ideas on how to improve my job search tactics. I’m forever grateful to him for his help, because not only did it give me the boost of encouragement I needed at the right time, it also brought responsive replies from the new jobs I was now applying for. These replies eventually led to interviews where I felt I could finally demonstrate, in person, what I could bring to the table.

An onslaught of rejection emails were replaced with interview opportunities and eventually having to choose between two jobs. What started out as a bleak search turned into a plentiful choice, and the sudden change in my outlook was enthusiastically welcomed. I finally felt like I had purpose again, had my footing balanced and could re-emerge into the world bright-eyed and bushy tailed.

These last six months have served as a harsh reminder that life is better handled with some outside help, and it’s okay to ask for words of comfort when they’ve been depleted from your own arsenal. I’m much happier now even compared to when I first arrived on UK soil. My relationship is stronger than ever, I’ve got a job I enjoy in a brand new industry and I’ve learned how to recognise negative thinking and come out the other side a better person. It wasn’t an easy journey and I don’t hope to repeat it any time in the near future, but I think it was necessary to teach me that I have value even when I don’t feel like I do. Starting your life over at a young age is an intoxicating idea, but it’s certainly not for the faint of heart. I’ve had to remind myself that most people would also struggle with such drastic changes all at once, and I’m not a weaker person because of it. I’m indebted to those who helped me realise my worth during a tough time, and encouraged me to find different ways to make London feel like home. I can confidently say that now, that’s exactly what it feels like. Even if it took me six months to get here. Better late than never, right?

Home is where you make it

Reflections

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Now that it’s 2016, I feel obliged to reevaluate my life’s trajectory and try to find some meaning in the chaos thus far. Granted, that wasn’t my initial thought process. The inspiration actually sparked when I saw all those New Year’s Eve Facebook posts from all my virtual friends, updating the cyber world on their proud moments of 2015 and how they all hoped 2016 would bring even more. Apart from being slightly annoyed by all of those posts because, let’s face it, not all of them were all too impressive (SORRY), I sincerely wanted to share a post of my own. But no matter how much I sat and thought about how I could sum up the whole of 2015 in one relatively brief Facebook status, I simply couldn’t do it. Why? Well, to put it frankly, 2015 was littered with more painful, stressful, heartbreaking and overall difficult moments than anything else. But I don’t want to be so cynical this young, so in an effort to brighten up my mindset, I’m going to review my year and pat myself on the back a little.

2015 started out on a rough route, beginning with wedding dress stress that could really only happen to me. I fought with the owner of the bridal salon where I purchased my dress over moral and ethical values days before my wedding. It was incredibly hard and emotionally draining because I felt I was robbed of my “perfect wedding dress moment.” In the end of this months-long battle, I came out of it victorious, sort of, receiving monetary compensation for the trouble I had to go through. Even when I look back at this drama now, more than a year later, it still really upsets me. I hate that this woman acted so unprofessionally and made an already stressful time period even worse. But with further contemplation, I can admit that I’m also a little proud of myself for how I handled the situation. It was truly a, “holy crap, I’ve sure grown up!” kind of moment! For the most part, I kept my cool, I did my research to make sure I understood the law and that I wasn’t doing or saying anything that could hurt me. I asked friends and family for advice on how to proceed, and found I had a whopping amount of support on the matter. I made my point and I walked away with my dress in the end. I need to try and remember this part more than the emotional distress.

My wedding. My goodness. I’ve never cried so many happy tears in my entire life. It was truly the highlight and best moment of 2015, without a shadow of a doubt.

Shortly after the wedding, however, James had his final foot surgery. It’s amazing how quickly we can forget about the happy times when we’re faced with adversity, but this moment in 2015 was definitely top 3 of the worst. We dealt with a surgeon who was not only unkind, but also seriously and verbally doubtful of a positive outcome post-op. We fought with the NHS, and James suffered a great deal of pain. I, as his caretaker, found out how fiercely I cared for my husband and to what lengths I was willing to go to ensure his full recovery (insane lengths). For once, I had to be the rock in the relationship, and although I’d go home every night after visiting him at the hospital and cried myself to sleep, wracked with worry, I did my best to only show him strength because I knew how important it was to help him get better. But you know what? He recovered from the surgery and life improved. He will always have pain every day of his life, but now he can walk without an air cast, an accessory we both grew to hate. Small victories are still victories. One day at a time, right? Until then, we still hope for a cure.

My career was also going significantly well in 2015, having begun my second year as a news photographer in Cleveland. My coworkers seemed to like me well enough, and if they didn’t, they did a fantastic job at hiding it. I was given more responsibilities and trusted with higher caliber stories during a pretty interesting time in Cleveland history. I worked long days and often strange hours, sometimes tallying 9-10 days of work in a row. Some days were really tough, but others were amazingly fun. I made some pretty great friends at that gig, and the experiences I had taught me so much about the industry as well as myself. Let’s just say.. you never know how emotionally strong you are until you’re the first media responder at an incredibly grisly emergency scene. I left that job a better person, and as ready as I was to leave and start my life in the UK, I really do miss that place and the people who pushed me to excellence.

In late summer of 2015, my husband and I were finally able to apply for my UK visa. I have never put so much thought, energy and emotion into something before in my life. All of the necessary elements of our life finally fell perfectly into place and we were ready! And by early September, my visa had arrived. Apart from marrying my best friend, being told we can finally live in the same country together was the next best moment of 2015. I put my two weeks in at work the same day my visa arrived and began packing my life into a few suitcases. But before I could leave, my grandfather had a serious accident days before my flight departed. I dropped everything to be by his side, terrified for his well-being and questioning whether or not I should leave at all. Add this to the list of the most terrifying things that occurred in 2015 for me. But with my family’s blessing and promise to keep me updated on his progress and health, I made the journey to begin my new life. And I’m glad I made that decision because seeing my grandfather’s improvement over the holidays eased so much of the guilt I felt for leaving. Sometimes we have to make tough decisions. Or in my case.. often.

Now, these are just a few massively huge growth experiences that I had in 2015. There’s SO much more that it’s actually quite alarming, but hey, I fit a lot of life experiences into short amounts of time all the time! I look back and think how in the world I survived that roller coaster – or better yet – how in the world I made it to where I am now. I want to say I’m lucky. That the world was just nice enough to keep pushing me in the right direction. But in reality, I know that I am where I am today because I was determined (or as my mother would say, stubborn) enough to succeed. 2015 gave me a million reasons to want to throw in the towel, huddle in the corner in the fetal position and give up entirely. I still firmly believe that one single person shouldn’t ever have to deal with the amount of tragedy and strife I dealt with in 12 short months. BUT in some weird, twisted way, I’m glad it was me. It pushed me into adulthood faster than anything else, but it was necessary to experience so that I could see for myself that I can handle the world on my own. That I’m strong and a force to be reckoned with when faced with an obstacle. And when the clock struck midnight on the morning of January 1, 2016, I truly felt ready for what the new year would bring. Because in my mind, I’ve already dealt with so much in my short life that what’s one more bump in the road? I’m where I always wanted to be in life. And that, my friends, is both amazing and terrifying. Bring it on, 2016. I’m ready!

This adventure

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Well, things have changed a bit in the last few months. Is that the understatement of the year? Hello, my name is Tanya and I’m officially an American expatriate living in London. It seemed like a far off dream that may never come to fruition, and now I wake up next to my husband every morning and find myself using words like “telly”and “crisps”and being genuinely awed by the constant beauty I stumble upon in this city. It’s strange when I’m the one with an accent and having to spell words with an extra ‘u’ or exchanging a ‘z’ with an ‘s,’ but I’m managing!

People talk about starting over all the time, as if it’s this imaginary opportunity that is too far from reach but still appears occasionally in our daydreams when days are rough – a wonderful possibility, but unlikely to happen. Yet here I am, living proof that it can happen.

The day I found out I was moving abroad and began telling friends and family, I was met with a chorus of “good for yous” and “well dones,” commending me for never giving up on my goal and finally achieving it, years later. Naysayers were shocked at my success, and supporters popped out of every nook and cranny on social media, suddenly donning team Tanya cheerleading outfits. I felt accomplished and excited and ready for this new chapter in my life, but more importantly, I felt fear. I was legitimately starting over. How the hell can you prepare for that?

By nature, I’m a planner. I make lists, I plan ahead and I like to think I’m usually prepared for almost any eventuality. But in this instance, I had no idea what I was doing or what to expect. I played it cool, calm and collected for the most part, but I was harboring a deep panic on the inside. Sure, I had previously lived abroad multiple times. But those instances were always temporary and for short periods of time. Was I ready for the long term? Could I hack it?

Even still, I don’t have answers to those questions. The reality of my fear grows each day. Some days I even struggle to leave the flat, afraid someone will tease me for my American accent or I’ll get hopelessly lost and be unable to find my way home. All of the stress and pains of finding a new job in my field that I once thought I had finally hurdled when I landed my last position have returned with a vengeance. Yes, I’m finally living in the city I’ve been aching to be in with my better half by my side, but I’d be lying if I said every day was a breeze. Even if you tried to imagine what it may be like to pack a chunk of your belongings into a few suitcases, say good-bye to all your friends and family, quit your job, leave behind all sense of familiarity and move 4,000 miles to a different country that operates far differently to what you’re used to… it still doesn’t scrape the surface of how it really feels. Hell, when I first got here, I didn’t know how to operate any of the appliances or even open my front door without getting help first. In a lot of ways, I feel like a child figuring out the world for the first time. And at the ripe old age of 25, it’s easy to see how that can be a major blow to your confidence.

The day-to-day stuff is hard. I don’t know anyone in this city, I’m alone and left to my own devices the majority of each day and I’m now 5 hours ahead from those I did know back home. I thought I could still seek support from the friends I left behind, but within days of moving, I quickly realized that my moving abroad symbolically served as the death of all friendships I once held. I thought it’d be hard keeping up friendships when I never got to see them anymore, but I thought I could make it work. What I didn’t think was that most (if not all) of those friends would choose to write me off and stop speaking to me entirely. That was something I wasn’t ready for. I’m not angry about it because I understand the difficulties of maintaining long distance relationships of any kind (um, hello!), but I guess I didn’t expect to be so on my own so soon.

And while it’s easy to get down and out about the things I’ve lost and the changes I’ve been forced to go through, I try my hardest to see the best in my situation. This is my blank slate. This is my chance to rewrite my future, and for once in my life, there’s no question of whether or not these plans would permanently include my best friend, my partner in life, my soulmate. I’m here now and for as long as we choose to stay here. There’s no more wondering what may come because I’ve finally got the power to make those decisions myself. And as terrifying as that feels sometimes, I also know how powerful it is too. Not many people get an opportunity in life like this, and despite whatever reservations seep into my thoughts, I know I’m lucky and I know of all people, I’m strong enough to prevail and come out of this experience a better person. I may have a mixed bag of emotions, but at the end of the day, I know I’m right where I belong.

It feels good to be lost in the right direction

Women vs the world.

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A woman’s place is everywhere.

I’ve been debating whether or not to blog about this subject for quite some time now. I’ve found that if I voice my opinion on the matter, I get a lot of backlash, including from close friends and family. But I decided that’s not a good enough reason to stop myself from using my voice. Especially considering I find that blogging serves as a sort of personal therapy as well. To those who may disagree with my opinion: I respect you. However, it remains my opinion built up through my personal experiences.

So here we go!

I’ve almost chalked up two whole years at my current media job. I started out loving it and feeling very proud of my early success in the field, having nabbed the position shortly after graduating college and in a highly competitive, larger market. But the longer I’ve been here, the more certain negative aspects of the job really stand out. The worst of it all? Sexism and ageism in news media.

College professors warned me and other female classmates of sexism in the journalism field. It is no secret that women are held to a much different standard on-camera. After all, we have more outfit choices than a man’s suit-and-tie go-to, so with that alone, we open the floodgates to physical appearance criticism. I knew this going into the field, but I still find it incredibly hard to stomach. However, I’ve thankfully never had to worry about this because I chose an off-camera career path in the media industry. That should instantly eliminate the worst of sexism for me, right? Well, not exactly.

I am one of 5 or less women news photographers employed in my city. And by that, I mean the women who lug around video cameras and tripods to shoot news stories for local TV stations. (Let me be clear: there are some female multimedia journalists, or one-woman bands, but their job has much different expectations than mine. So I’m not counting those individuals in this explanation.) This means, on any given day that I’m sent out with my video camera and tripod, it’s very likely that I’m the only female camera woman in the field that day. Let that sink in for a moment. Out of the four news stations in my area, there are less than 5 women doing what I do.  I have yet to meet another female news photographer from a different station on an assignment. Ever. I’ve only ever worked side-by-side with men, typically aged 35 or older. And as I’ve found out, these men don’t see me – a woman – as their equal. They don’t say it in as many words, so much as strongly imply it as such. However, I think several other factors weigh heavily into their opinion that I’m not as equipped to do their job as a man: my young age + my petite frame.

So with a one-two-three punch, my gender, age and size chalk me up to an inadequate news photographer in many’s eyes. Some of it I can find understanding, though. I can see how experienced photographers view me as less experienced, because in working years, that’s simply a fact. I haven’t been working in the field as long, so I’m sure there’s lots for me to learn. In other words, my young age may be seen as lack of experience. Fine. And my size? Yes, I’m incredibly petite. And it truly does get difficult lugging around a video camera and tripod that are literally as big as I am. I can see how it could be easier to do my job if I were a big, burly, strong man. And finally, I understand that many moons ago, times were different and women would never be in a job like the one I hold now. And I totally understand that some of my male counterparts at these news stations were working during that time, thus my presence now alongside them serves as a shock and something to get used to. I say these things to show that I try to understand where the criticism is coming from before I let it get to me. I’m not closed-minded, I swear! But my patience wanes when the commentary from these men are said like this: “They sent YOU out to a scene like this?” “You need a big, strong man to help you carry those things!” “Are you old enough to be working?” I am not exaggerating when I say I hear these things, along with many other condescending variations, every single day from men doing the same job as I am, to complete strangers who approach me in the field. Especially considering the fact that I’ve always been hyper aware that I’m unlike most people that hold the same job. I don’t need some stranger pointing it out in the rudest way possible on a daily basis, you know? It’s simply unnecessary and not nice at all! I’m sure they wouldn’t appreciate someone saying these things to them either, would they? And I won’t even get into the catcalling and inappropriate advances I get sometimes. That’s an entirely separate blog post on its own! But let’s get one thing straight: I chose this job. So don’t pity me or view me as unfortunate.

When I complain to family and friends, they often ask why I don’t say anything to defend myself. Well, I sort of do. I try and make the exchange into a laughing matter, spitting back with a joke of “oh, yeah! I get a workout every day!” or something along those lines in order to cut the conversation short or make it a non-conversation at all. The problem is, I can’t be rude back. Partly because it’s not in my nature if I don’t know the person, and partly because I need to be a professional when I’m on the job. So despite being surrounded by jerks whose parents didn’t teach them to keep their mouths shut when they don’t have anything nice to say, I can’t let it noticeably get to me because it inhibits my job. When I’m on assignment, I need to get the video I need as quickly as possible, so I don’t have the luxury of getting into a heated debate about why I think I’m capable of performing just as well at my job as a young, petite female. All I can do is fake laugh, get what I need, and make disgusted, annoyed faces or mouth rude words as I walk back to my car. My only concern is excelling at my job, so that remains my number one priority. But the comments stay with me, even long after my work day is done. And that’s the part that bothers me.

Not only do men news photographers in my area not view me as an equal, but complete strangers are constantly coming up to me saying asinine things. No, I’m not an intern. Yes, I can carry all of this equipment all by myself. Yes, a pretty little face like mine actually does prefer to work off-camera. It’s the constant barrage that gets tiring and ruins the job for me. While I understand that with all things, there will be a level of criticism we must endure, I don’t believe that the amount I receive as a professional in my field is on the same level as most of my coworkers. That’s what makes it difficult: having to accept that while this isn’t the norm for most, it is for me. Simply because I’m different.

So let this blog serve as a polite request to kindly keep your criticism to yourself if it in no way helps an individual. My skin is thick enough already, so it needn’t any more. And to those of you young women looking for a career in the news media industry, know this: sexism and ageism is a very real, daily occurrence. And the only way to combat it is to keep encouraging more young women to jump in with us and grow in masses. I’m only one voice, but I know I’m not the only one fighting this. And to all you men (and some women) out there who think I’m incapable of doing my job as well as a man, well tough. Because you know what? I am doing it. And I’m really damn good at it.

Carry on.

This blog has quickly turned into a place where I pour out complicated details of my life, but I suppose that’s healthy and if people want to read it – cool.

My job gives me an opportunity to meet a lot of people under many different circumstances. They tell me intimate details about their lives, and some are heartbreaking and hard to hear. But as with any situation, I try to walk away having learned something new about life.. as well as myself.

In the news industry, you’ve really got to have a thick skin because you see, hear and experience a lot of traumatizing things. So one thing I’ve learned about myself is that if I can classify something as “all in a day’s work,” no matter how traumatically emotional it may be, I can shelve it and go on with my regular day-to-day as if it hasn’t affected me at all. For example, I’ve been to so many emergency scenes that I’ve lost count where people have been seriously injured or even died, but it doesn’t phase me. Mentally, I see experiences like this as simply the nature of my job, and it’s my duty to capture the experience in order to share it and teach others. But if something happens in my personal life, not even on par with some of the things I experience on the job, it has the power to cripple me for days at a time.

As most of you know, my husband and I have been working our butts off to finally get to live in the same city together. Visas and paperwork complicate the process quite a bit, but we take it day by day. Most recently, we had finally found an apartment in London that checked all of our boxes, and we quickly put down a deposit to make it ours. It’s been years in the making, and finding an apartment eliminated one of the final obstacles keeping us apart. We were thrilled! We started talking about how we’d decorate the place, what furniture we needed to buy, how we’d spruce up the back garden to make use of it during the warm months. We were having so much fun making plans because it finally felt like our future together – in the same place – was here. Well, in true “just our luck” fashion, this dream came to a grinding halt. The current tenant decided to stay last minute, so we lost our dream flat. All of our plans went up in smoke just like that. Back to square one. I wasn’t just devastated, I was angry. After everything we’ve been through, how dare the world do this to us?! The end was in sight! I allowed myself to get excited only to have the rug ripped right out from under me?! That’s not fair! That’s not right!

As soon as I heard the news, my entire demeanor changed. My entire outlook on my future became bleak. “I’ll never get to London,” I thought. “It’s just not meant to be.” Neither of us had even moved into the place yet, but it still felt like someone took something of ours away. I cried. I punched pillows. I threw a mini fit in the privacy of my room. I yelled at my husband even though he had nothing to do with the tenant deciding to stay put. I just couldn’t handle it.

And then I gave myself time to think. A few days ago, I had a conversation with a coworker about personal battles we all fight in our private lives, and how we must then put on a brave face in public and act like nothing is bothering us. And I thought how easy it is for us to completely ignore our feelings like that for the sake of saving face. Unless it’s your job to remain unbiased, you’re allowed to let things affect you. But then I ask: how do you decide what is allowed to affect you and what’s not? On the job, I’m completely numb to emotion. But off the clock, it doesn’t take much to get to tantrum town. So how do I find a healthy balance?

Talking to people helps. It’s a blessing to have level-headed people weigh in on your situation and give you perspective. On the job, sometimes I’m that person for victims’ families. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that their situations are much more dire than the ones I’m facing right now, which brings me back down to earth. If someone whose grandson was shot and killed at close range by a police officer still has faith in the power of positivity and future change, who am I to let something like a silly apartment damn my future?

So here’s what I’ve learned: It’s okay to be sad, mad, hurt. To quote my favorite movie, Elizabethtown, “you have five minutes to wallow in the delicious misery. Enjoy it, embrace it, discard it …and proceed.” We are human. We have emotions and we shouldn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed of them. We NEED to feel what we feel, but once we have, we cannot wallow in it. Life is too short to fixate on one problem, especially if it’s a problem we have no control over. In my case, I do have control. I can find a new apartment. The world isn’t ending and my future isn’t doomed. For a hot second, it sure felt like it. But now that I’ve dealt with the appropriate emotions, I can move on to finding a solution to the problem. I remain stoic at work because I have to, but I need to face the experiences I’ve had even if it means returning back to the moment mentally and in private. If we ignore how we feel, the smallest problems can seem like nightmares and we’ll burst. Empathy is healthy and helpful. And it’s okay to admit that life is hard sometimes for everyone, but we can’t stop living.

We are intrepid. We carry on.

What hurts

Pain: The physical feeling caused by disease, injury or something that hurts the body.

We have all experienced pain in some form or another in our lifetimes. If the world is kind, we hope that it is only a temporary and brief experience. And even if we don’t get a say in how long the pain lasts, at least we get to cling to the hope that it will eventually lapse so that we can then switch gears to healing instead of hurting. But what happens when the pain not only has no end date, but also has an imminent promise of getting worse? Then what?

I mentioned last year the medical issues that were overwhelming my husband and me (yep, we got married!). We didn’t have concrete answers in regards to his nerve condition back then, so we were still able to see a glimmer of hope for improvement. The possibility of pain relief was still at least obtainable in our hopeful minds because questions weren’t yet answered. Unfortunately and fortunately (it’s a mixed-bag of emotions, here), we now have that definitive diagnosis of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. After yet another foot surgery in an attempt to improve his walking situation, James came out of it with seemingly more chronic, daily pain. So here’s what we’ve learned in the last few months that we didn’t know or weren’t told before:

1.) CRPS is not only incurable, but has a 90% chance of worsening and spreading to other parts of the body after time.
2.) There is no medicine on the market as of yet that successfully manages CRPS pain or guarantees any long-term relief. The medicines that doctors typically go for are prescribed on a strictly trial-and-error basis. Some possible treatments can also be super risky.
3.) Forcing yourself to push through the pain is the only way to try and mitigate or slow down the risks of the condition spreading (they think), but the minute you allow yourself to rest is when the pain can get its most excruciating.
4.) Doctors won’t let you just cut your foot off and call it a day if the idea of living your life in constant pain doesn’t appeal to you.
5.) The experts and specialists don’t really have good answers for you because they don’t understand it either.
6.) BUT James doesn’t NEED to use crutches or a foot cast anymore… if he can stand the pain.

So now what? My husband has an invisible disease that nobody fully understands and it has not only become the focal topic of our lives, but it also determines the majority of our actions and choices. We don’t realize how important and integral walking and standing are until the act of doing either incurs unbearable pain. Or participating in a conversation and suddenly being wracked with disorienting and distracting pain, unable to pay enough attention to really “be” where you are. I would never wish this condition on my worst enemy, yet I have to sit idly by watching the person I love the most living with it. That’s a type of pain I never expected I’d have to live with for myself either. For the rest of our lives.

I love my husband. I fully recognize that this awful situation is not something he brought on himself, and I have never and will never blame him for it. But it is certainly something I never could’ve prepared for, mentally or emotionally. I have moments of agonizing helplessness and guilt when I find that I have no offers of advice or suggestions to give James in order to alleviate the pain. I often find myself at a loss for words simply because I know nothing I say can stop him from hurting. That is a type of emotional pain I didn’t even know existed. There are so many different facets of pain, and I’m uncovering a whole slew of them lately. Whether we’re together or apart,  I’m constantly worried about his comfort level, wanting to protect him from any possible dangers that could increase his pain, but also trying to take care of myself as well. I morphed into caretaker mode because nobody wants to watch their loved ones suffer – we want to help. But I found that as I desperately tried to find ways to help, usually without success, I was letting the worry consume me so much that I stopped caring about my own well being. Even still, I struggle to find a balance between looking after my husband and looking after myself. I wonder, is this how first-time mothers feel as well – scared and unsure? Although, at least they can learn how to fix and/or improve things to encourage better quality of life for their children, right? Or they can ask professionals who can help too. I feel like this situation is so unique that there isn’t any one thing or person I can turn to for help, and it’s not something that sits well with me. Especially with the thought of the pain spreading. What happens if the pain becomes so intense down the road that he can no longer move, work, live a joyful life? How do I deal with that then? Then I remember that speculating what could happen later doesn’t help the now, so I try and drop it. But as with most things, that’s easier said than done.

I have gained a whole new respect and admiration for individuals with disabilities (seen or unseen). For those of you fighting off illnesses, caring for loved ones who are unable to care for themselves, living with pain – I salute you. You are far stronger people than I am, and I aspire to achieve the same strength. You don’t receive enough credit for the effort you put into creating and living a good life despite any real or imagined shortcomings you’ve been dealt. You face obstacles not with fear or defeat, but with determination. We are only given one life in this wicked world, so no matter what, we have to learn how to love it. Even if it hurts.

I’m learning as I go, and despite the agony we both feel sometimes, I’m so happy James and I have each other for support. And I will do whatever I can to help raise awareness and fund research projects so that debilitating, inhibiting, invisible medical conditions like CRPS can be eradicated. I can’t do everything.. but I can do something.

That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.

Tougher than life

Dream team

Months ago, I wrote a post about my complicated love life. Since the beginning of my relationship, there have been more naysayers and self-proclaimed “realists” than cheerleaders or supporters. Although it’s been hard hearing people doubt the longevity of my relationship with my husband-to-be, I’ve never had any doubts myself. (As they say, when you know, you know!) The biggest hurdle we’ve had to deal with as a couple is remaining a team while separated by 4,000+ miles and that pesky ocean. Long distance relationships are not for the faint of heart. Nevertheless, we’ve made it this far and plan to close the gap as soon as the visa paperwork clears. Whenever that may be…

I have faced many obstacles in my short life. I’ve made plans and sat back and watched them crumble before my eyes. But I believe my perseverance (and possibly stubbornness) keeps me moving forward toward my goals. With that said, these last few months have been some of the hardest I’ve ever faced, and they have certainly tested my strength.

My fiancé, James, recently lost his job that he loved so much, which had been the main reason for our decision for me to move to London to join him. It happened unexpectedly and suddenly, and not only put him face-to-face with unemployment for the first time in his adult life, but it also single-handedly halted the entire visa application process. You see, he sort of needs an income to prove he can sponsor me for the visa. Saying, “hey, we’re married!” isn’t actually enough, apparently. Part of me feels like I shouldn’t blame the company he worked for because outsourcing James’ job seemed to be the best option in their eyes. But at the same time, I feel like the timing and completely out-of-left-field nature of the situation makes me also feel like we were personally, maliciously attacked. Logically, I know it’s “just business,” but this seemingly small incident threw all of our plans back up in the air. Back to square one, we say. There was an end in sight to the long distance as soon as we said our I dos, and then the rug got ripped out from under us. Can you imagine how it feels knowing that after we have our wedding, we still won’t know when we can live with each other or where that will be? That’s not a typical stress in a normal relationship! Most couples can just pick up and move without thinking twice. But we can’t… until we have the paperwork that says we can – legally.

On top of that unpleasant surprise, there’s a larger, more worrisome issue on our hands. James broke his foot when he was in military college years ago. After a misdiagnosis by the UK’s healthcare system, James’ foot condition worsened. He was constantly breaking the same foot or feeling excruciating pain even if the bone wasn’t broken. I’ve watched him suddenly buckle over in severe pain, tears welling up in his eyes, unable to speak for no understandable reason. He has logged more hours at the hospital in the last year than you probably have in your entire life. And I’ve never been able to be there in person for him. Nearly half of our relationship, James has been on crutches or wearing a cast, unable to move around like an average human being. He used to be a marathon runner, and now he has to stop and take breaks when the pain gets to be too intense. Specialists have examined his foot so many times we’ve lost count, and I’m sure all of the area doctors know his case by heart simply due to the amount of times he’s had to call and leave messages asking for a different kind of pain medicine because whatever they gave him this time wasn’t helping. He’s ingested so many terrifyingly strong pain medications and narcotics that I worry about the state of his organs and the tolerance his body has built up. After countless MRIs and X-rays, doctors believe he has Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) and Allodynia. He’s had several surgeries, including one a few months ago to kill a nerve in his foot to stop all feeling whatsoever. We pushed for the surgery because he wasn’t responding to pain management medications, and also because I really wanted to dance with my husband at our wedding in February. The surgery worked and he was walking around normally and we allowed ourselves to celebrate and get excited to dance at our wedding…  And then the chronic, crippling pain was back within a month or two and our hearts were broken. That phone call with James was probably the worst, most painful conversation I’ve ever had in my life. The doctor had told James he could run again in as little as three years, and now the boot is back on and the crutches are always at the ready. We thought we saw the light at the end of the tunnel. We were excited! And yet again, we were let down. Now, doctors see that two bones in James’ foot have fused together and need to be surgically separated. Until then, he will repeatedly break his foot because of the added pressure the fused bones place on his foot. However, his hypersensitivity and CRPS make it too risky to pursue this surgery until doctors can figure out a way to manage the pain. And although most Americans don’t understand this because we don’t have healthcare like the UK does, the wait time for James to see someone at the pain management clinic is, AT THE EARLIEST, 3 months from now (thanks, universal healthcare). So not only do I have to helplessly sit here in America while my other half is in agonizing pain every single day (physically and emotionally), I also have to stomach the notion that James may never find relief – or worse – it may worsen or spread to other parts of his body. I do the best that I can to be supportive and positive because scary health situations like this are best combatted by a strong, optimistic team. But it takes nearly all my strength not to break down myself, and I’m not the one dealing with the physical pain. I selfishly had this image of James and I dancing with big goofy grins on our faces to our song in 10 weeks, and now I’m trying to figure out a way to dress up his crutches to match the venue decor.

While there’s nothing we can do at this moment except stay positive and hopeful, it’s still hard to deal with. Even though James no longer holds the job that kept him in London away from me, he still has to stay in London now in order to remain with the doctors who have been working closely with him. Why doesn’t he come to America, you say? It’s been discussed, but American healthcare is astronomically expensive, which is an obstacle we simply can’t get around financially. And even if we could, it takes a minimum of a year for a non-US citizen to have their visa application accepted in order for James to remain here with me.

It has been an incredibly tough year for James and me. We have faced so much adversity, and sometimes it feels like it’ll never end. But I have to keep the faith because James deserves the best in this world, and if I can’t fix these problems, I can at least give him my best.

I chose to write this post because I think it’s important for everyone to remember that we are all fighting our own battles even if others can’t see them. We should not judge or criticize others for things we do not understand, and we should always hope for the best for people no matter what. I know our situation could be much worse, but for now, this feels earth-shattering. So please be kind to one another and help each other out. Even if it’s just listening when someone needs to vent or offering a hug to help someone de-stress – almost any little thing can help. Trust me, I can attest to that! James will be pain-free some day soon and we’ll get to live in the same place because that’s the only future either of us will accept. We’ll get there because we want to. In the meantime, we’ve got the power of positivity on our side and an absolute unwillingness to give up. And one day, at our vow renewal, James and I will dance without reservation!

When the world starts falling apart around you, all you can do is start picking up the pieces and putting them back in an order you can understand. And that’s what we’re trying to do.

To infinity and beyond!