"The way I want to live is at odds with what my body can endure"

Of letting go of dreams and finding joy in acceptance

Hello and welcome to another premier! I have decided that every now and then I want to make space for a guest writer whose work I admire. So, today’s essay is brought to you by Michelle Polizzi, and it was first published in her newsletter “Sunday Drive”. I loved this piece because it sits right at the intersection of memoir and nature writing (or “place writing”, if there’s such a thing) and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, too. I’ll meet you in the pop culture pleasure section.

“Are your toes always this dusky, purple sort of color?” my feet were bare on the floor of the doctor’s office. 

What she really meant was, do your toes always look like they belong to a gurney-bound cadaver?

“Um, no?” I replied, suddenly unsure of what my toes were supposed to look like. All I knew was that I was experiencing excruciating pain, at seemingly random moments, and I need some help now.

“Your toe isn’t broken. I think what you have is called Raynaud’s Syndrome,” the doctor said, looking at me with compassionate eyes.

She proceeded to tell me that my body overreacted to the cold. The blood vessels in my toes constricted too much to conserve warmth, leaving the tissue in my toes and fingers without blood supply.

Each episode would render my toes without circulation until I got them warm again, meaning long-term exposure to the cold could result in serious tissue damage.

“How do I treat it?” I asked.

It was February in Colorado, and snow had begun to fall outside.

“Unfortunately, all you can really do is avoid the cold.”

——

When I was ten, I stepped on a shard of glass on the porch while playing “restaurant” with my cousins (I was the server).

When I sat down and pulled my injured foot onto the opposite thigh I was surprised at how fast the slick blood spilled down my leg; how red and shiny it was. Though I plucked the glass out of that warm wound by hand, I still felt as though there was something deeper inside, a piece I’d missed.

For months, I still felt something sharp wedged inside the base of my foot. Every doctor told me it was just scar tissue, that I was simply imagining the feeling of something that was there once, much like the way a soldier imagines a phantom limb. 

The last doctor I went to told me that yes, indeed, there was something inside. Not only that, but I’d have to have it surgically removed. I didn’t have a choice.

Then, on the operating table, the anesthesia wore off too soon and I opened my eyes to watch the surgeon threading a long black string into the sole of my foot at the end of the table. 

“Go back to sleep,” the nurse had said. She placed the plastic mask over my face and sent my mind back into blackness.

Later, the doctor showed me the specimen that had come out of the plastic cup. Inside, I didn’t see any glass. Instead it was a small, fatty-looking blob with lumps like clouds.

“Scar tissue,” he’d said. I only looked at it once (he wouldn’t let me keep it), but I was amazed at how my body had defended itself against a foreign invader. 

Unlike that piece of glass, which could be removed and resolved, my new diagnosis was not caused by a single entity.

With Raynaud’s, the threat of pain was everywhere.

——

The second doctor I went to was a rheumatologist, who held my fingers and toes gently, inspecting each one from knuckle to tip, checking for ulcers, calcium deposits, signs of autoimmune diseases. 

There was nothing else — just the fact that I couldn’t bear the cold.

There is a heart medicine I could take, he said, a vasodilator (meaning it widens the blood vessels to boost blood flow, and therefore increases warmth).

“It can make you short of breath,” he said. “Anytime you exert yourself. Walking up the stairs, exercising, that sort of thing.”

Me: the hiking, running, biking, yoga-loving person. 

I couldn’t imagine not being able to exercise.

Not being able to walk up a mountain trail in the dew-soaked morning. 

Adventure, the outdoors: it was my life.

Instead of taking the medicine, I resolved to just stay out of the cold. I could use Hothands and invest in a new pair of nice warm boots.

I could not, would not, let this affect my quality of life.

——

I soon learned that when the doctors said cold, they did not only mean winter

Cold also lurked in the refrigerated aisle at the grocery store. It found me reaching in the freezer for a bag of frozen fruit to make a smoothie. It breathed onto me through the air conditioning in cars and offices. A cold beer from the fridge; a cool summer night; Autumn; apple picking; the frozen insides of a pumpkin while carving Jack-O-Lanterns on Halloween. 

All of these things, once ordinary and harmless, signaled the potential of pain.

There was no going back to the way it used to be.

——

These days, I am still struggling to reckon with all that I’ve lost. 

What I will always miss about winter is the way it made me value the warmth of my life. Whether I was out on the snowmobile or building a snow fort or hurling snowballs across the yard, the invitation to step back inside was always there. 

I loved how my cheeks flushed pink when I stood in the kitchen, how when I peeled off my wet snow pants and hung them over the heater my clothes beneath were dry and fresh. 

Something sweet always awaited me in that warm place: a cup of hot cocoa, golden cookies in the oven, an art project with my mom. 

To be inside in winter was to be encased in warmth, the true beauty of which did not exist without the knowledge of winter’s cold.

To live in this kind of climate would bring me comfort. I’d love to find home in a place with all four seasons, with trees that turn crimson in fall and mountains that sparkle with snow in winter and a bright, rainy spring that blends into a summer that burns with emerald and blue. 

Yet the way I want to live is at odds with what my body can endure.

I know now that, when it comes to the things we cannot change, joy lies within the ability to relinquish our dreams of what could be and simply accept what has already become.


Michelle is a freelance writer, storyteller, and essayist whose articles have appeared in publications like Bitch, Well+Good, and Healthline. She’s passionate about mental health, intersectional feminism, and environmental justice, and she’s an avid yogi, outdoorswoman, and world traveler. She’s currently pursuing her MFA in creative writing and is working on her first book, a memoir in essays. To follow more of Michelle’s work, you can subscribe to her newsletter, Sunday Drive or follow her on Instagram.

Her essay was part of a three part series, called “Where Winter Devours” and you can go back to read part one and two here.


pop culture pleasures

📚 I absolutely adored “Real Life” by Brandon Taylor. The novel tells the story of Wallace, a gay black grad student in the Midwest, struggling to find his place in the world as well as in his group of friends – while also dealing with racism at a seemingly progressive institution and among his liberal white friends. Nothing much happens in the book in terms of external events, but the language is incredibly dense and tender and cruel and beautiful and merciless and I’m grateful this book exists.

“It always seemed to him that when people were sad for you, they were sad for themselves, as if your misfortune were just an excuse for them to feel what it was they wanted to feel. Sympathy was a kind of ventriloquism.”

🎶 I haven’t shared a music recommendation for a while, but here’s one: I discovered Samantha Rise,courtesy of my Spotify weekly mix and it really hit the spot. What can I say, one of my favorite genres now seems to be “music that has me swaying in the kitchen late at night and dreaming of concerts where everyone just happily shuffles in place, feeling their feelings,” and I don’t know, does that make me officially old?

Listen, I know I recommend Helena Fitzgerald’s column in almost every issue, but it’s not my fault that she hits it out of the park week after week. Like this piece about the hopes and horrors of Three in the morning: “Three am is the wide becalmed ocean, glimmering in the moonlight, bright as a mirror and just as dangerous.”

Kaitlyn McQuinn also wrote a lovely column about how to navigate wanting more from life while also being a lousy decision-maker.

Lyz Lenz strikes a more serious tone in her “Men Yell at Me” newsletter, and in my opinion, she offers one of the most crucial takes on the conviction of Derek Chauvin, which is: Power should not tell the story.

Here’s a McSweeney’s take on Republican Marjorie Taylor Green attacking the Green New Deal without ever having read the 14-page-long proposal. It’s called “I will gladly explain why I hate the very hungry caterpillar, just as soon as I finish reading all 22 pages” and it’s a treat for everyone who liked “I’m a short afternoon walk and you’re putting way too much pressure on me”. You’re welcome.

Lena Dunham collaborated with plus-size luxury retailer 11 Honoré. That didn’t sit right with a lot of people in the fat activism space, and Kendra Austin explains why:

“The choice to collaborate for the first time with rich white Lena Dunham, who flashes her privilege like it’s a joke (…) speaks volumes. It’s a reminder that plus-size fashion is still an exclusive club intent on keeping authority and power rotating in the same circles, desperate to do anything but give fat Black women their flowers.”

🎧 Two podcast recommendations: Therapist Esther Perel, queen of hard truths, talks us through our collective Burn Out on The Cut and Jameela Jamil has the one and only JANE FONDA on I Weigh.

🇩🇪 Nora Tschirner hat mit Lara Fritzsche fürs SZ Magazin über ihre Depression gesprochen und Sibylle Berg schreibt im Spiegel darüber, dass wir für die Zeit nach Corona vieles anstreben sollten, aber bitte keine Rückkehr zur “Normalität”. Beides sehr lesenswert.


That’s all for today – thank you for stopping by! I would love to hear what you think about having guest writers take over the essay section – you can reply to this mail or leave a comment.

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Until next time,

Anna

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