the purge

DesignNo, I’m not referring to the horror movie – this is about something far more awful and frightening. Every so often, my neat-freak boyfriend designates a “Cleaning Day,” an entire 24 hours devoted to tidying up around the apartment and getting rid of anything we haven’t used in a while. As a shopaholic and natural hoarder (seriously, it runs in my family), I can’t help but get a little panicky when I’m asked to throw things away. So the conversation with my boyfriend goes kind of like this:

Me: “I can’t do this.”

Him: “Yes, you can. Let’s start with this – which clothing items don’t you need?”

Me: “I need everything.”

Him: “Okay…Which clothing items don’t you wear anymore?”

Me: “I wear everything.”

Him (holding up sequin-covered top and dark blue wrap skirt): “Even this belly dancing outfit you bought on a whim?”

Me: *nods solemnly*

I wish I were naturally this neat

I wish I were naturally this neat

Okay, so maybe that belly dancing costume was an impulse buy. And maybe I’ll never get around to taking dance lessons or using my indoor trampoline or figuring out how to put on those outrageous fake eyelashes I bought. But for some reason, it’s still super tough to get rid of things. I LOVE shopping and I love things. I get a thrill out of receiving a package from Amazon because it’s like a gift from my past self to my present self. Nothing lifts my mood on a bad day quite like buying myself a little something.

Shopping has never been a problem for me, though, because I always stay within my budget. The only issue now is that there’s barely any space left in the small apartment I share with my boyfriend and my dog. The closets are full and there’s not many places we can put new things (even though we’ve gotten creative with our storage options.) So when it comes time to clean up the place, I know I’ve got to let some things go. And to be perfectly honest, a lot of the things I’ve accumulated fall neatly under the category of junk.

What my apartment would look like if I had my say

What my apartment would look like if I’d had my say…

So why do I hoard “junk”? I think that at the heart of hoarding is an anxiety that there will come a time when you’ll actually need and use the “junk.” The problem is that usually that time never arrives, and you’re keeping all that crap for no reason. As someone who has struggled with anxiety issues before, I’m perfectly aware that letting go of irrational beliefs and the anxiety associated with them is extremely freeing. So for the sake of being freed and relieving my home of pointless clutter, I decided to put together a list of five things I don’t really need in my apartment. Here goes:

1. Magazines – I’m a total magazine hoarder because it just feels weird throwing away all that information, you know? I have no problem getting rid of flyers and receipts, but magazines sometimes have content that’s worth revisiting and rereading. In the olden days, this may have been a legitimate reason for keeping glossies forever, but the beauty of technology means that now most major publications are also posting their content on their websites. So goodbye, magazines!

2. Shoeboxes (and all pretty boxes, really) – I have a ton of boxes from ShoeDazzle (you know, the hot pink boxes all their shoes come in?) and perfume boxes

3. Business cards – I used to keep these in an ever-growing messy pile, just in case I need people’s contact info in the future. But now I just save the number and email in my phone and throw out the cards.

4. Books – I am a HUGE bookworm and a believer that you can never have too many books. That said, I’m also aware that there’s only so much space in the apartment. Enter the Kindle, my favorite way to download ebooks and carry an entire library around with me everywhere. And those books I own that I know I’ll never read? I donated those, and now my bookcase no longer looks like it’s going to topple over from the excess weight.

5. Clothes I know I’ll never wear – Okay, so maybe I did keep the stupid sequined belly dancing top, but there’s definitely a lot of clothes hanging in my closet that I didn’t even know I owned. So everything I was 100% sure I’ll never wear again (or even once, since some stuff still had tags on them) went to my sister and to charity.

Voila! My apartment is now free (or at least freer) of clutter and junk!

 

(Images from weheartit.com)
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invisible

Warning: this post is about to get REALLY personal. But it needed to be written, so here it is.

A few days ago, my friend Alyssa (who has previously written in this blog) posted in her own blog about her fear that publicly revealing her struggle with Rheumatoid Arthritis would invite future employers’ (and any number of people’s) discrimination against her. “I’m tired of hiding who I am,” she wrote. “I’ve accepted who I am, and I just hope that there are enough good people in this world who can accept me too.” I must say, I’ve always admired Alyssa’s honesty and openness when it comes to her writing. Telling the world about her arthritis is certainly brave, but I can’t imagine it would be easy. And while I don’t believe that there should be a hierarchy of disabilities, I do think that invisible disabilities sit at a higher tier in terms of how hard it is to deal with them both physically and emotionally.

If you look at Alyssa and me side by side, you’d be quick to notice my limb difference before you detect the slightest limp in her gait during the worst of flare-ups. Because it’s so visible, I’d been forced to come to terms with my disability long before I was even thinking about pursuing my dream career (or any job, really). To me, my arm proved to be more of a self esteem issue than a functionality one; I never had any real limitations (Granted, I’ve never been able to master the monkey bars. But that’s not exactly a skill I would list in my resume anyway). With my perceived handicap in the spotlight, though, I’ve managed to show that I am capable and that my arm is really no big deal. But when someone has a problem or challenge that’s not readily apparent, said issue becomes a whole lot bigger.

While I stand in pretty good physical shape, I know what it’s like to try to hide something too scary and shameful for other people to know. A couple years ago, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. I suffer from occasional panic attacks, and I worry constantly and excessively over things that A) are almost always irrational and B) I can’t control anyway. This anxiety, in addition to bouts of depression and an eating disorder that has followed me around for the past 8 years, reached its worst during my junior year of college. I was taking honors classes, working a part-time job as a writing tutor, and interning at the Oxygen Network when it felt like my world was falling apart. I was so afraid that someone would consider me less than capable because of the panic attacks, which only motivated me to work harder. I finished that year off with straight-A’s and I now work at Oxygen, so I guess you can see how I wouldn’t necessarily consider my anxiety a “disability” (though I take issue with the vague term “disability” for a variety of reasons, but let’s save that for another time). In any case, I’ve never been one to let obstacles become a deterrent to my dreams. And I’m not the only one who has felt this way, being that several celebrities have revealed their own struggles with mental illness in recent months.

Renoir’s Self-Portrait (1910)

Disney star Demi Lovato bravely opened up a while back about her battle with an eating disorder, a cutting problem, and bipolar disorder. In a recent magazine interview, actress Emma Stone admitted to having frequent panic attacks. And Amanda Seyfried has even taken medication for her anxiety during an interview. What these three young women have in common is success. They have each turned their trials into triumphs, and they continue to land great jobs in television and film. Of course, success is not exclusive to those who have overcome mental health issues. Rheumatoid arthritis didn’t stop Lucille Ball from becoming a beloved actress and comedienne, nor did it deter Pierre-Auguste Renoir from painting masterpieces even when he could barely hold his paintbrush.

My point is this: disability, whether obvious or invisible, should not be a source of shame and fear. Rather, your success and accomplishments should be a testament to your strength and adaptability. And those two qualities are pretty impressive in anyone, regardless of specific ability or lack thereof.

 

Peace,

Caitlin Michelle

 

 (All images in this post were found on Google and are not my own.)
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his side

Before I post anything, I just wanted to ground you in some context. Alyssa and I have known each other for almost a decade, and she’s one of my best friends. We’ve seen each other through headaches and heartaches and everything in between in our years as coworkers, classmates, and friends. She and Anthony have been officially dating for a few weeks now. They have graciously shared their story with me and have allowed me to publish it to this blog. Today’s and tomorrow’s posts will feature their story. So stick around because I can assure you it’s a good one. 🙂

BenchHey there! My name is Anthony. I was born and raised in Staten Island, New York. I am currently 21, as of March. I am a musician, audio engineer, photographer and (sadly) a Kmart employee. Now that you know some stuff about me, I’ll tell you why I’m writing in Caitlin’s blog.

Caitlin was kind enough to let my girlfriend Alyssa and me talk about our disabilities and how they affect our daily lives. While I am open about my status and disability, I don’t think many people know that I was born with HIV (Human Immune-Deficiency Virus) and a “minor” case of Cerebral Palsy. Some of you might’ve learned about HIV in high school, but I know most of you never paid attention in health class. It’s okay, neither did I.

All jokes aside, HIV is primarily a sexually transmitted disease, but it can be transmitted in so many different ways whether through semen, blood, breast milk, or natural childbirth. I contracted the disease from my birth mother. My foster parents adopted me at two weeks old and were unaware that I had acquired the disease until I was about a year old, if I remember correctly.

BirdAnyway, HIV basically affects the immune system. The disease restricts the immune system and hinders its ability fight off any bacteria, infections, colds, diseases or other viruses. HIV also leads to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), which basically means you lack an immune system and are not able to fight off anything, not even the common cold. People still think those with HIV/AIDS die of AIDS. That’s wrong. They actually die of the common cold or whatever they’re sick with.

Now that you know what HIV/AIDS is, I’ll talk a little about Cerebral Palsy. Cerebral Palsy (or CP) is similar to Alyssa’s condition, Rheumatoid Arthritis (also known as RA). Cerebral Palsy is a low-muscle-tone condition that restricts some parts of the body, if not all, from doing everyday things. People with severe CP usually are unable to walk or move certain parts of their body. In most cases, including my own, CP involves the mouth/jaw area. This causes the person to speak differently than others.

When I was diagnosed with CP, I wasn’t supposed to be able to walk or talk at all. However, my foster parents supported me in every way and I have thrived over CP with the help of some physical therapy as well as speech therapy. My CP is located in the tongue area. I can’t move my tongue, which keeps me from talking normally. I have a hard time sounding out S’s, F’s, and L’s. Most of it is from laziness, but with some effort on my side and the listener’s, I can be understood.

Living with HIV and CP have made me the person I am today. Sounds cliche, but it’s true. I don’t think I would’ve been able to do the things I do now, such as play guitar or any other instruments. I was on a 1st-2nd place bowling team for years until high school. I ran track, I was in NJROTC (Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps), I lifted weights, I did yoga, and God knows what else. Flower

As you can imagine, I was made fun of a lot as a kid. My parents wouldn’t let me out of the yard because of my HIV. They were afraid that I would hurt myself and bleed, and infect someone. They were also afraid of what others would think of me having the disease. This has caused me to be somewhat shy and reserved. By the time high school came around, I had learned to keep my shyness and antisocial habits at bay. However, I was still nervous and weary about my status and condition, especially in relation to girls.

HIV and CP both took a major toll on my social and relationship/sex life. I dated a few girls here and there, but the majority of them wouldn’t accept me for who I was. I wasn’t completely open about my HIV status until my senior year of high school. So the girls I dated then only knew about my CP. Still, CP was enough to throw most girls off; they would often think I was mentally handicapped. I shook every rejection off my shoulders because I knew I had better things to worry about in my life. I was always the “I don’t care, shit happens” kind of guy.

A few months ago, I let down my guard and started online dating. I met some pretty interesting people, but the same issue occurred. They didn’t accept me for who I am. Since then, however, I’ve met someone worthwhile: Alyssa. As she will talk about in her post, I had the same apprehensions as she did when we first began speaking. We both brought up the topic of health, and we kind of just accepted each other on the spot. She brought up her RA as I brought up my HIV and CP. Our conditions worried the both of us, and we had our fears about how it would affect our relationship if we ever did decide to date.

After some time talking and spending time with each other, we’ve learned to accept each other (including our health issues) completely. It wasn’t easy at first though. I was brought up with a close-minded father who made me anxious to date anyone of a different race or less-than-perfect body type or disability. I did not let that get to me this time, though, because I knew she was the one for me. Alyssa and I finally decided that it was time to meet my parents last week. This was hard for me, but I finally gave in to the idea and sure enough, everything turned out well!

White FlowerMy parents love her, my grandma loves her, even my dogs love her! Our relationship really brought my spirit up in every aspect I can think of. Before, I was never able to show affection to a girl because I was always afraid I would drool on her due to my CP. I was afraid I would get made fun of for not being able to pucker my lips. I was afraid I would be pushed away for not being able to French kiss. But now things are different. I show Alyssa all the affection I can, not only because she’s a bit insecure due to her past relationships, but because I know she won’t judge me for who I am. She deserves every peck on the cheeks, lips, arms, hands, wherever it may be. She’s really special to me. And as is said in Robert DeNiro’s film A Bronx Tale,”The only thing that matters is what’s good for you and how you feel about each other. Let me tell you something, when you’re alone late at night in bed just you and her under the covers, that’s all that matters. You gotta do what your heart tells you to do.”

– Anthony Arrigali

All photos in this post are courtesy of Photography By Anthony Arrigali

Stay tuned for her side of the story. Alyssa’s post will be published tomorrow. Thank you for reading, and leave your comments for Anthony below.

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