Always a Liar

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At the end of December, as my joint pain started to improve, I started having debilitating neck and lower back pain. I knew it wasn’t my UCTD, but still tried to let the Prednisone and Tramadol take care of it. They didn’t touch it. I couldn’t sleep or work, so I mentioned it to the APRN I see at my primary doctor’s office during my followup with her for my Tramadol refill.

I told her that I’d been taking Advil for it, which helped a little, but I wasn’t sure how much I could safely take. Her response? “Just don’t take too much.”

“Yes, but… how much is too much?”

“Just don’t take too much. The Prednisone will help it,” she insisted.

“I’ve been on Prednisone for a month. This is a new issue.”

“The Prednisone will help it.”

A week later, my joint pain continued to improve while my neck and lower back continued to be debilitatingly painful. Since the APRN had refused to offer me any real advice or treatment, and I wouldn’t be seeing my rheumatologist for another two weeks, I tried ice, heat, more Advil, rest. It didn’t improve. On a Wednesday night, the pain got so bad I couldn’t even focus on the TV show that I was trying to watch.

I decided to go to the emergency room—which apparently was a mistake.

This morning, during my followup with my APRN for my monthly Tramadol refill, she asked if I’m seeing any other doctors. Confused, I said, “Just my rheumatologist,” which she should’ve already known.

“Are you getting any other prescriptions?” she asked.

Still very confused, I replied with my usual list: Prednisone, Plaquenil and, recently, Flexeril from my rheumatologist (I’ll get to that in a moment).

“You got a narcotic,” she said.

I’d honestly forgotten about the ER visit. During my followup with my rheumatologist, I told him how the APRN had brushed me off, how the ER had flat out asked me what I wanted them to do for me, and asked him about Flexeril. My rheumatologist wrote me a prescription for it and, within less than two weeks, my neck and lower back were back to normal.

I told the APRN that yes, I’d been to the ER, and yes, they’d prescribed me Vicodin, which I didn’t want.

“Then why did you fill it?” she asked.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but have I done something wrong? If you remember, I came in here to see you and asked you about my neck and back, and you just told me not to take too much Advil. So yes, I went to the ER.”

I did what I had to do so that I could get some relief.

As usual, she brushed me off, speaking as if I hadn’t said anything. She again started lecturing me, saying that I can’t take Tramadol and Vicodin together.

“I didn’t,” I said, “and the ER doctor knew my current medications and said that it was okay.” I also told her that my rheumatologist prescribed me Flexeril and that worked, that it was all I’d wanted all along.

She then lectured me about dependence on Tramadol, how I can’t go to the ER, and can’t get anymore prescriptions, or she won’t refill Tramadol for me anymore.

“I’ve been taking Tramadol for my arthritis for years,” I told her, “and I’ve never had any trouble with it, nor do I have any history of substance abuse.”

Ignoring that, she started talking to me about Tylenol and Advil. Even though she could have looked in my chart to see all of the various medicines and treatments I’ve tried over the past decade, I explained to her again that OTC pain relievers and NSAIDs don’t help. She then started talking about a new NSAID with an antacid, and how my insurance doesn’t cover it, but next time I’m going to try it.

She also interrogated me about why I waited so long to come in for a refill. I called a week and a half ago for an appointment and today was the earliest they could give me. How is that my fault?

It seemed like she wants to take me off Tramadol, which has long been a happy medium for me. It doesn’t completely take away my joint pain, but it helps enough so that I can function (unless I’m in a flareup). I’ve tried multiple OTC and prescription NSAIDs over the years, all of which she could see in my chart. None of them have worked, which is why I started taking Tramadol.

I was really confused and once again felt like she wasn’t listening to me. Since I haven’t slept these past couple of nights, I just didn’t have it in me to explain once again everything she already knows, things that we’ve already discussed multiple times.

On my way out, I went the wrong way. I’ve been in so many doctors’ offices lately, my exhausted pea brain is directionally challenged. She condescendingly pointed me in the right direction, as if I wasn’t already mortified enough. I stopped at the front desk to make my followup appointment for next month, rather than calling in to schedule it later. Before I left, the receptionist stopped me and asked me to sign a paper.

Again confused, I sat down and read through the three-page document—an agreement about narcotics, with a long list of restrictions. I can’t even fill my prescription at a different pharmacy. What happens if we were to move, or if I wanted to fill it at Stop & Shop while I get groceries?

I know all of this is coming from the new regulations—and of course lawmakers didn’t consider chronic illness patients—but her attitude toward me has always been dismissive. Today I just felt completely dehumanized; she treated me like a liar, like a criminal.

Yet every time my husband has seen her and expressed his health issues and concerns, she’s been attentive and quick to work out a treatment plan for him.

Every

single

time.

I’m glad Mike’s finally getting things taken care of, but previously he hadn’t been to a doctor in over 15 years. I have a long history of having an autoimmune disease and documentation of seeing specialists and trying different treatments. When I see her, my concerns are dismissed; she flat out told me that I have “too much going on,” so she doesn’t “want to touch me.” Yet Mike has even more health issues than I do, and she told him that she would take care of everything.

I’m tired of being treated like a liar and a criminal. I’m tired of being dehumanized, having my pain and concerns dismissed over and over. I’m tired of sexism, ableism, and ageism in the healthcare field. I’m tired of playing this game.

I don’t have it in me anymore. I really, really don’t.

The worst part is, I can’t even just switch doctors, try to find someone who will listen to me and actually read my chart. The APRN told me that she got a letter saying that I’d filled a prescription for Vicodin, and told me that if I see any other doctors or get any other prescriptions, she’ll get another letter.

Which means that, if I change doctors, it’ll just look bad on my end; I’ll just look like I actually am drug-seeking.

No matter what I do, no matter how pro-active I am in my health, I’ll always just be a liar.

The Weight of Words

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Words and the way we use them are immeasurably important. The adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” never rang true for me. Growing up, I was a damned near constant target of bullying. Nothing has had a deeper effect on me than the words that permeated through my soul.

When you hear something often enough, it chips away at you. No matter how hard you try to just shrug it off, you begin to believe it.

Words are my art medium, so I feel an even stronger responsibility for their use. This is why I was appalled to see this:

Not because I didn’t know that “spook” was a slur, but because an entire publishing team didn’t know—or didn’t care. There aren’t nearly enough people of color in publishing, nor are there nearly enough white people in publishing who actually speak up or, at the least, listen to their colleagues.

It’s true that words often change over time or hold multiple meanings, but that’s never an excuse for using them. As writers and publishers, we have a responsibility to choose and use words wisely. As white people living in a world that has always been diverse and always will be, we have a responsibility to remember the weight of racial slurs, to teach each other and our children their meaning and why it’s harmful to use them.

I’m white, so I can’t know what it’s like to have toxic words lobbed at me, stripping me of my humanity because of my skin color, but I do know what it’s like to be pelted with poison

again

and again

and again

until it seeped into my skin and became a part of me. I’m a full-grown woman but to this day I carry certain negative beliefs about myself because I heard them said to me so often. The difference is, the words that hurt me aren’t intertwined with my daily life, embedded in society. I don’t have to worry about whether a book that I pick up to enjoy will remind me that I’m viewed as other and wrong in the world that I live in.

No one should have to worry about that.

Yes, “spook” also means “spy” in the U.K., but here in the U.S. it’s also a derogatory description of black people. Its etymology varies depending on the source, and the Merriam-Webster doesn’t even list it as a slur. A huge part of progress is remembrance; here in the States, we have a bad habit of erasing important things from our collective memory, especially when it makes white people uncomfortable.

The things that we don’t talk about always come back to hurt us as a collective, doing the most damage to people of color. Ignorance enables oppression.

This is why we white people need to remember the weight of our words, to teach our children and each other how septic they can be. Pretending they no longer exist enables an entire publishing team—linguistic professionals!—to overlook an eviscerating racial slur.

Just like it wasn’t my responsibility to explain to my abusers why their words were harmful, it is not the responsibility of people of color to educate white people about slurs.

As a nation, we must remember them and confront the pain they cause head on.

And dammit, we need more people of color in publishing. We also need more white people in publishing who are willing to challenge these things right alongside them.

Here and Queer: On Writing a Bi Romance Heroine

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*deep breath* There’s something you might not know about me.

I’m queer.

As in, LGBTQIA+. As in, bisexual (but I prefer queer). I’ve blogged about it before, and I’ve been out for years, but it’s not something I talk about often. Even though I’m proud as fuck to be bi—to be me—there’s another part of this story that is painful. Well, a few parts actually:

  • When I tried to come out to family, the first person I told said to me that there’s no such thing.
  • When I came out to my then-boyfriend (who was a complete scumbag anyway), all he could talk about was threesomes.
  • More recently, when discussing my sexuality with someone, they were all “Hold up. You can’t be queer. You married a dude!”

Thankfully, I had a fantastic support system when I came out: a whole bunch of queer people in my high school. We may have all drifted apart, as people tend to do after high school, but I’ll never, ever forget my friends Lisa*, Lacie*, Joy*, Phoebe*, and Starr*, who were all super supportive during the great LGBTQIA+ coming out party. (By the way, I’ve been searching desperately for Phoebe on Facebook, with no luck. I can’t remember her birth name or last name. I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately. I was one of very few people that she shared her name with and told she was trans, and I would love to know how she’s doing, how her story after high school unfolded.) This was before Twitter, so I can appreciate how very lucky I was to have such a support system.

Not many people are so fortunate.

via GIPHY

I’ve been thinking about my sexuality a lot lately. A lot. It’s extremely important to me that I don’t lose that piece of me. That it doesn’t get lost in my heterosexual marriage or these strange, dark times we’re living in.

Being queer is an extremely big part of who I am.

I knew that Krista, the heroine and main character of my work in progress Cruising with the Blues, would be queer. I also knew that she and Perry were meant to be. I’ve struggled so much with this novel, writing tens of thousands of words only to scrap them because I just couldn’t get it right. I think I was trying to do too much with one book: play matchmaker, address a few social issues, wrap up the series… You know, nothing major. 😅

In the very first draft I wrote, Krista was a bi woman struggling with depression. I wrote something like 5,000 words and then tossed it because it just didn’t feel right.

In my second try, Krista was a spoonie like me, only living with Lupus. (My disease is possibly pre-Lupus.) She was also bi. Again, I was trying to squeeze too much into one book. I threw away over 16,000 words, which stung.

With my third shot, I wrote another 6,000 or so words, cutting the mental and chronic illnesses. This time I approached the story from another angle, matchmaking Krista and Perry by using their shared desire to get their band mates into rehab. Once again, though, I was focusing too much on things outside of Krista, rather than on Krista herself. So I scrapped those words, too.

Altogether I’ve thrown out something like 20,000 words. Can you say ouch?

But fourth time’s the charm because this time around, I understand Krista a bit better. I now totally get why she’s so upset with Poppy for ditching their plans to share a cabin during the cruise.

Krista is in love with her best friend.

She’s also got a thing for Perry.

There have been two times in my life when I was in love with two people at the same time. It doesn’t seem fair that the heart can be so conflicted, but it happens. It’s a painful experience, something that you can’t just turn off—just like Krista’s and my sexuality.

While I’m still incorporating other elements into SOF4—getting Krista and Perry together, wrapping up the series, getting Jett and Max help—I’m focusing more on bisexuality and the stigma from all sides.

How non-queer people just don’t get how you can have feelings for and be attracted to both the opposite and the same gender.

How queer people often exclude bisexual people, writing us off as “confused” or “looking for attention.”

How you just don’t feel like you fit in with either the straight or gay world sometimes, or all the time.

This kind of erasure—from two opposite parts of your life—can be heartbreaking and confusing, to say the least.

By exploring Krista’s feelings for both Perry and Poppy, I’m hoping to give other bi people a safe haven where they can find characters they relate to. There are so few books out there with bi characters, and the few that do usually have them in same-sex relationships. I’m writing the book that I’ve desperately needed for years, damn it.

I wonder all the time if I’ll someday regret marrying a man. I love my husband with all of my heart, and I’m happily monogamous. Making the choice to be in a heterosexual relationship despite my still-very-much-alive attraction to the same sex is conflicting enough, without other people saying things like “But you’re married. You can’t be queer!”

To which I reply, “The hell I can’t!”

I’m over 6,000 words into Cruising with the Blues now. It’s both painfully and proudly #ownvoices—written based on my own experiences as a marginalized person.

(Side note: I feel kind of weird using the word “marginalized,” but I also feel that it’s important to call it like you see it. A lot of my bi friends have purposely assimilated into heterosexuality, because even though gay people are for the most part accepted by our culture, our society just doesn’t understand or accept bi people. And trans people, and ace people, and… *neverending sigh*)

The first 5,000 words came slowly, but now that I’ve realized where Krista is coming from, man am I on a roll.

Letting her shoulders relax, she melted back into the music. Perry moved with her, letting her set the pace and tone. His hands never wandered—even though she desperately wanted them to—and he kept a respectable distance between them. Still, he was close enough that she could feel the heat radiating off his body.

And something else.

Something like desire.

Or maybe she was just projecting.

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*Names have been changed to protect privacy.