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To the Letter

The pen is mightier than the sword, it is said, and that was never more apparent to me than last week.



With a sense of adventure, I had visited the new tattoo shop in town not once, but twice last week. The first day, the artist inked a small lunar cycle tattoo on my left calf, a nod to the beautiful moon I feel so connected to these days. On the second day, my left shoulder blade was adorned with a large pair of twin faces – not only a representation of my Gemini zodiac sign but also a cover up of an old set of initials that were nothing more than a blob. The last initial, a “C”, wasn’t even accurate, although it will always remain true that I was born a “CLC”. A longtime desire, updating that design felt analogous to stepping into the me I am today.


The aforementioned blow of the pen didn’t come in the form of the piercing tattoo needles. It came a few days later when the artist shared photos of my tattoo on Instagram. Like any good social post on that platform, it came with a series of hashtags to draw attention. The last one, as emphatic as “?!” at the end of a sentence, made my heart sink.


Three letters. Innocent enough as standalone members of the alphabet – B, F, and J. When combined in a certain order, however, they represent a level of anger and hate that is one I try to avoid.


I firmly believe everyone is entitled to their opinions. I do not expect everyone to conform to my way of thinking – what a boring sea of Pollyannas the world would be. My unexpectedly shocking reaction was to seeing that those letters and my image so closely aligned, as if association with that acronym flew in the face of the compassion in which I try to stay grounded.


Powerful acronyms have been on my mind for weeks. The original train of thought for this blog was, in fact, quite different than discussing inflammatory alphabet combinations. As I type that, I realize there is a highly unintended pun there.


In January of this year, I spent a blustery Friday morning engaging in my favorite activity: delivering Meals on Wheels. The stinging wind and frigid temperatures had blown in quickly, so I was donned in my fuzzy weatherproof Sorel boots, heavy parka, and a beanie for good measure. My attire helped protect me from the elements, yet I still returned home feeling as though my right toes were under attack by Jack Frost.


Within a few days, the intense sting spread from my pinky toe, to my fourth toe, to my middle toe, accompanied by an equally intense itch. Burning itch? Logically I assumed I had contracted the dreaded affliction athlete’s foot, perhaps from the damp combination of wool socks, sherpa lined boots, and puddles brought on by Mother Nature.

As it turned out, it was the onset of Raynaud’s Disease.


While this condition doesn’t bear an acronym that strikes fear into the heart of any patient, the subsequent tests revealed one that does: RA, or rheumatoid arthritis.


I took comfort that the battery of tests eliminated certain other conditions, namely lupus, which was a strong possibility based on some telltale symptoms last fall. I am also not in full blown auto-immune status just yet, at least not of the RA variety. I am, however, a very strong borderline case, with enough severity of symptoms that the rheumatologist wanted me to begin treatment immediately.


Learning about any medical diagnosis can create panic, although manageable auto-immune conditions seem par for the course these days. What will my future look like? Is this the culprit for symptom x, y, z in my body? How quickly will it progress?


I’m not stranger to troublesome letters. In my thirties, I was diagnosed with IC, interstitial cystitis, a mysterious bladder condition which causes hemorrhaging in the lining of the bladder. The resultant lesions can feel like fire burning in the depths of my body at times. It’s manageable, but I have shed tears on an airplane when I was reprimanded for getting up to use the bathroom. As far as the flight attendant was concerned, my ailment did not constitute an emergency.


In my forties, I was finally diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome; IBS for short. IBS is one of those pesky conditions that can’t be directly diagnosed. Instead, it is labeled once all other possibilities are eliminated (pun intended this time). I’ve claimed a “sensitive stomach” my entire life, but this diagnosis finally assigned it a name and a slight bit of relief along with it. Diagnoses, while not always accurate or welcome, can at least create a sense of mental normalcy and acceptance.


Both IC and IBS are incurable, and will probably not contribute more to my daily condition than being an annoyance. Both ailments are allegedly manageable with certain dietary restrictions, but the two lists could not be more incompatible. With the addition of RA and the AIP diet that can help control it, I’ll be eating nothing but lettuce for the foreseeable future.


All kidding aside, being in conflict with the alphabet is a bit disturbing. I am a lover of words and, by default, the letters than constitute them. It pains me that certain combinations stir complex and fearful emotions. I suppose, however, that is why I love writing – to evoke emotion. I can’t fault those letters for being served up like a lottery drawing that can either delight or disappoint the masses.


I will survive my IC, my IBS, and my RA. Not everyone will survive their ALS, their COPD, or their CP. And as for the other inflammatory combinations of letters, my own fighting spirit will keep shining its light and saying Y-E-S to love.



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