The Boob Thing, Part 1

Most days, my after work ritual is the best 3 minutes I get in a day.

I peel off layers of itchy fabric from tailored pants and professional blouses and swap them for soft clothes — a warm hoodie and cotton loungey pants, or a breezy dress, depending on the season. 

One evening in October 2017, still light outside since the time hadn’t changed yet, I looked down at my bra tossed casually across the bed and noticed a drop of blood in the center of its left cup. That’s really weird, I thought, dismissing it for an unseen cut on a finger, a fleeting reminder to get a manicure.

A few days later, another splotch of blood in my bra, slightly bigger than the first time. I glanced at my naked breasts in the mirror. They looked normal, with a droop that comes with extra pounds and extra years. Is that a smear of blood? I leaned closer to the mirror, out of the shadow of the poor lighting. Yes, a smudgy trail of blood heading up to my shoulder. I grabbed my left breast in my hands and lifted it up to look at it; as I did, drops of dark, rusty blood dripped out of my nipple.

I had my first mammogram in my 20s, having found a weird knot that seemed out of the ordinary, even for the uneven terrain of my tissue. Mammograms aren’t so bad, and over the years, I’ve become accustomed to the radiologist saying, “Well there’s something here but not no worry — let’s do a quick sonogram to be sure.” At some point, the something there turned into a slightly bigger deal than usual, so I found a wonderful breast specialist who I’ve seen regularly since. She graduated UVA med school with my brother, and on my first visit, she realized she knew him, and called in the nurse to bring her some warm sonogram lube. “I’m not putting that cold stuff on Matt’s sister.” It was an odd thing to hear while laying topless on a table, but endearing nonetheless. Like all the women I love, she’s a bad ass bitch, and I’m so glad I found someone as warm and brilliant as she.

Speaking of bad ass bitches.

All the Bridges women have lumpy breasts due to a scary sounding but mostly benign condition called fibrocystic breast disease. Our breasts are also very big, even in proportion to our big, round bodies. If I close my eyes, I can still see my Grandmother Imogene standing in the doorway between the dark living room where we cousins snuggled down on quilt pallets, and the bright kitchen, her silhouette haloed by the intense florescent lights. In my mind, she’s dressed in a button-up floral housecoat, arms folded and resting on the top of her chest, her large breasts gently propping up her elbows. I’ve noticed I do that sometimes, too. 

My Aunt Virginia has been my sherpa through all my breast issues. She’s walked me through most of my mammograms, and one particularly scary time, detailed very clearly what a needle aspiration would look and feel like. Luckily, I didn’t need it. But luck being a complete asshole sometimes, she has been diagnosed with Stage 3 metastatic breast cancer, which had spread to her bones. We texted yesterday. She’s doing well and says she’s “still fighting but doing pretty good.” I think it will take a lot more than this bullshit to get her. That’s what I keep telling myself anyway.

Year in Review: 2019

My annual round up of answers to random questions. I like having done this for a while. Perspective and retrospection are always nice to have. Here are the posts from 2018, 201720162015, and 2014.

1. What did you do in 2019 that you’d never done before?
Committed to having a cleaning lady come every two weeks. This is not a luxury, although it seems decadent at times. For my fellow depressed people, cleaning my apartment is my Impossible Task — it’s the most outward sign of the way my brain works. I love order, I love cleanliness, I love a beautiful space, but when things get slightly out of control, I am no longer able to get them back into control. It’s impossible.

Having someone come regularly has been almost as beneficial as talk therapy and medication have been in some ways. Not only does my home become a welcoming, warm respite from the outside world, I think having another person come here and show it love shifts the energy of the physical space.

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I didn’t make any last year. Here’s the thing: my life is lived in fits and starts. I’m very critical of myself when I look at myself by the hour or day. But if I zoom out a little, I improved and made progress in the ways I wanted.

I’m not resolving anything. But here are some things I want to do:
– Read more books (maybe nonfiction?)
– Take a few classes (cooking? photography? calculus? drawing?)
– Write more
– Make the bed
– Do a stuff purge once a quarter
– Paint more
– Exercise

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Technically no. Sweet little Matilda (Piney, Pine, Tillie, Mati, Tillz) made it just under the deadline of 2018. Her parents are two of the kindest, loveliest people I know, and I love being part of their family.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Carol Atkinson. Her daughter Paula is my friend, and my podcast partner, and member of the inner circle since 2004. Carol and I only met three or four times, but she was the type of person who could feel and understand people immediately. She was a highly sensitive person and when I met her for the first time, I finally understood that the way my soul lives in my body was unique but not solitary.

At her celebration of life in June, after she passed away in April, always the helper, I passed the microphone around to 200+ person group that had come to be together in grief and love. As I listened to the sweet words of her yoga students, I felt moved to say this about Carol: She and I were cut from the same cloth. Both Depressed People, we love fiercely and can feel a loneliness unimagined by anyone else. I said, “Carol understood me in a way that my own mother can’t.” It’s not a compliment to Carol, and not an insult to my own amazing mother; rather, it was a perfect, overwhelming blessing, just for me.

5. What countries did you visit?
I went to Puerto Rico again! I stayed a whole week which is the longest I’ve been away from work and home in my entire life. It took me about 10 years to make myself vacation by myself, and this year when friends were able to come, I was slightly panicky that I wouldn’t get enough time by myself on vacation. What I dreaded became the thing that set me free. Fucking life lesson.

6. What would you like to have in 2020 that you lacked in 2019?
A few weeks ago, as I began to write this roundup, I felt overwhelmingly angry about this question. I looked back on previous years’ answers and I got angrier. I texted a friend, “I just cannot wish for romance this year. I’ve done it every year for as long as I’ve been writing this. I’m embarrassed by it.”  Embarrassment and anger, quite the duo.

In 2020, I want the same thing I’ve wanted since age 15. Romantic love and affection.

7. What dates from 2019 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
– May 8: Big Huge Work Project was over
– Columbus Day weekend: intense family stuff. Very un-fun, but I’m okay.
– November something: Gave a professional speech at a big conference. Not so much “etched” in my memory but it’s a thing that will anchor me to 2019, my first year at this job.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
There’s some stuff at work that I’m immensely proud of. I’ve pushed myself out of my comfort zone and rose to the challenge of my new job, accepting responsibilities that weren’t available before. I won’t go into detail; the importance of my TPS reports are only recognized by a small audience.

I’m proud of the way I’ve grown in my understanding of current Black issues in American society and how I’ve digested them for the podcast. I know I get it wrong sometimes, but my own understanding of the complexities continues to evolve, and I try to reflect that in how I discuss it.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Not enforcing a better work-life balance. When I started my new job in Sept 2018, I knew that my company was going through a lot of major changes that would require a lot of hours and hard work. I immersed myself in it because it was the only way to get it all done. And the truth is, it was nice to throw myself into a job that was rewarding, satisfying, and for which I was getting praised. It was awesome, until it wasn’t anymore. During the most intense period, I had a day time “to do” list, and then at 6:00ish, I’d make my evening “to do” list and go home for another 2 or three hours. I didn’t eat well, I drank too much, I didn’t exercise, I complained to friends.

I’m drawing a line for 2020.

This pace only ends if I end it. There’s always a new launch. There will be another microsite to build. The world won’t end if I only work 45 hours a week.

Ask me again next year.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I threw out my back in the winter. My knee started acting up in early September. I have a very specific memory of my mom getting a present for her 40th birthday (I was 12). It was a ceramic jar thingy that my parents eventually put the kitchen tools in (whisk, spatula, etc) that said, “After 40 it’s patch, patch, patch.” I didn’t get it at the time, but that’s what’s happening, I guess.

I have no major illnesses or injury but it feels like there’s always a new ache, a new weird spot on my skin, a new hitch in my giddyup. Acupuncture is amazing and I recommend it to everyone.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Vacation. Investing in a lovely woman to clean my house every 2 weeks.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
– Jayme for becoming a CEO.
– Marisa for becoming an amazing mother.
– Kat for enduring the toughest year of her life.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
All the pussy Republicans in Congress who are allowing Donald Trump to keep his office for their own political gain or power or money and not the good of the country.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Rent, parking, health care. Vacation.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Three “really”s?? I’m not sure that I got THAT excited about anything this year. The cleaning lady. I’m three “reallys” jazzed about that.

16. What song will always remind you of 2019?
Lizzo, “Truth Hurts”. First of all, that’s a bop. Even if it were written by a skinny white bitch, it would be a bop. But it wasn’t — it was written and performed by a completely unapologetic fat black woman and she’s manhandling the conversation about body autonomy, self-love, and confidence.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Ugh, I don’t really want to participate in this question. As a Depressed Person I walk a fine, fine, super fine line between holding myself accountable and punishing myself.

I wish I had done a bunch of shit, but I also know that I handled exactly as much as I could this year. If I had MADE myself make the bed every day, then if I failed, I would have gone down a spiral of self-hate and shame. I’ve become very, very good at recognizing what are the important things for which to hold myself accountable, and what are just resolutions for a checklist.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Questioning whether something is accountability or masochism.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
Went to Syracuse for the weekend, then down to Madison County, VA. Haven’t celebrated with my parents or niece & nephew yet, so I guess we’re going to ride this bitch all the way out.

21. Did you fall in love in 2019?

22. How many one-night stands?

23. What was your favorite TV program?
Fleabag. Schitt’s Creek.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Same as last year: “I hated Trump last year. I hate him now. So, no.”

25. What was the best book you read?
I didn’t read much. I dunno.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
2019 was not the year for cultural emphasis. I worked a lot. OH but I love Billie Eilish, not because of her music (although it’s totally growing on me), but she seems like a very smart person and I like watching her life unfold.

27. What did you want and get?
Professional respect, authority, promotion (kinda), credibility, and recognition.

28. What did you want and not get?
Same ol shit i didn’t get before. Last year’s answer could have been written yesterday.

29. What was your favorite film of this year?
Booksmart. So good! As my friend Jonathan recently said, “what kind of person would i be if I didn’t hate myself or lie about it.” Girl, same.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Turned 44 and celebrated with Matt, Patrick, and Kat in Puerto Rico. We laughed, drank on the beach, ate shitty food, and after the boys went to bed, Kat and I went on an adventure. I felt very loved. It was pretty fantastic.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
An ice maker, at work and home. A dishwasher and washer/dryer in my apartment. Getting less mail.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2019?
Paula said it best on the podcast recently, “my gender expression is a beat face and super comfy clothes like overalls.” That’s meeeee. I want to have a beautiful face, and want to be put together, but i am too old to suffer through an evening with clothes I want to take off (and not for sex).

33. What kept you sane?
This is a tricky question, because truthfully I was not sane, most of the time.

That’s the thing with mental illness–it’s not a toggle, it’s a dimmer. No such thing as sane vs insane. Like a lot of things, “sanity” isn’t black or white. Everyone who has depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness understands that there are good days and bad days. And this year I probably had more bad days than good, if I’m being honest.

The bad days happen more often when I work a lot and don’t do stuff that keeps me connected with people. What kept me from dipping way over into the “depression” is that I’ve learned exactly, specifically, technically how long I can be alone. I love being alone, but like a lot of good things, too much is bad. Even going to get coffee and making eye contact with one other person can make the difference between relishing in alone time and disconnecting so much I feel separate, alone, and untethered.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Lizzo. So unapologetic.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
If you listen to the podcast, you know I’m most passionate about the race crisis in the United States and the racist institutions that keep Black and brown people in a perpetual state of disadvantage.

This passion intensified in 2019, so now that it’s an election year, I expect this will be highlighted in 2020.

36. Who did you miss?
My mother.

37. Who was the best new person you met?
Technically, I met her last year, but my director at work has made a big impact on me. She’s my perfect partner; she’s Bulgarian, so she has an Eastern-European, no-nonsense tact in meetings and business interactions. She’s also very warm and nurturing. My favorite kind of woman is a stone cold bitch who’s a hugger.

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2019.
Most things in life are never as bad as what your brain would have you believe.

Also, don’t let your domain registration expire, forcing you to have to create a “.co” website.

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
It seems like I’m phoning this one in because it’s THE SONG of 2019, but I can’t argue with this Lizzo on “Truth Hurts”.

I just took a DNA test, turns out I’m 100% that bitch
Even when i’m crying crazy.