The Drawing Board

a journey in chronic pain

Mary Ann Farley

Mary Ann Farley
Hoboken, New Jersey, USA
January 18
In 1999, at the very same time I was diagnosed with a serious blood clotting disorder (Essential Thrombocythemia), I also felt my face explode in a type of pain that no one could explain. After 13 months, I finally learned that it was osteonecrosis of the jaw (also known as NICO), a complication of the blood/bone marrow illness. I've had untold numbers of surgeries during this time, having spent most of it in pain. In 2004, the blood condition caused an internal massive hemmorhage during which I lost 70% of my blood volume, which in turn made the jaw infection much worse. This blog will detail my journey with chronic pain and all of its accompanying complications and emotions. I'll try to be as honest as possible without shooting myself.


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MARCH 31, 2012 11:24AM

Revenge of the Invisible

Rate: 7 Flag

Young geniuses are everywhere. This week, New York Magazine announced the arrival a 25-year-old female showrunner for HBO's new show, Girls, with a spectacular cover story. I read the article today, right on the heels of watching Oprah's interview with Lady Gaga, another astonishing 25-year-old who's accomplished more in the last five years than I feel like I have in my entire life.

Why these occurrences should feel like such a punch in the chest mystifies me, as I certainly have a lot to be proud of, but it's most likely because I'm now at the tender age of 53, which in this culture threatens a development most foul, and one every woman dreads with the passing of each decade--that one day soon I'll be completely and utterly invisible, and my dear-to-my-heart work will be irrelevant. To whom? To 18- to 39-year-olds, of course, that hallowed demographic that's the motor behind just about every media decision that's made.

Of course, invisibility and irrelevance is what I fear, and it's up to me to not buy into the bullshit of 17-year-olds selling wrinkle creams or magazines that basically ignore anyone over 40. But man, it's tough, as I feel just so bombarded. Even if I were to turn off the TV for good, this youth frenzy is still all over the internet, and even at the grocery store checkout, where magazine covers routinely celebrate incredibly young males and females for basically doing very little.

I can't seem to get away from the fact that the media simply isn't paying attention to me anymore, unless it has to do with things like menopausal hot flashes or Lifestyle Lifts, the latter of which, ironically enough, promises to make you relevant again by ripping off portions of skin attached to your face and throwing it in the trash. Yes, this makes me feel so very valued indeed.

This fascination with youth is nothing new, of course, as feminists have been railing against it for decades. But what's new to me is how personally affected I've become by it. There's a new type of ache that I've been carrying around lately that has entirely to do with the world in which I live and how it treats women my age. It's not a pain that comes from my history or my fears or my insecurities. It comes from the media, and I'm reminded of that old feminist chestnut that the personal IS the political.

At some point in a woman's life, how she feels is directly related to how her world treats her, whether it has to do with abortion, family planning, fair pay or media images, among other things. In my own case, I can no longer escape the chilling exclusion of women in certain areas of our society simply because we're not young anymore, and it hurts. It hurts bad.

Sure...there are 50-something female journalists still working, and Meryl Streep did win the Oscar this year. But they're more the exception than the rule, and nine times out of ten these gals have been to the plastic surgeon more than once to achieve that fresh face.

I admit that I've thought of plastic surgery myself, not that I can afford it, but then I'm reminded of the plastic surgery disasters that end up making the women look so much older, and thus pathetic. We're in a no-win situation, we ladies, damned if we look old, but damned to hell if we resort to plastic surgery that doesn't quite work out.

So what's a girl to do? How do I grab the reins of my consciousness and blast out the bullshit?

For one thing, I'm going to give myself permission to wear whatever I damn well please as I get older, "age-appropriateness" be damned. So what if I look like a crackpot. No one is looking at me anyway. I may as well enjoy my platforms.

Second, I have to constantly remind myself that I'm actually okay with growing older. I'm not mad I'm aging; I'm mad that I'm not respected for it...for my wisdom, for my compassion, and yes, even for my beauty, which exists with any age. Sometimes I look at my mom and am so moved by how cute she is, and no, it's not just because I love her. It's because she has an incredibly cute face that hasn't changed much since she was a kid. And when she puts a little makeup on, she absolutely sparkles. She never bought into the old lady style of dressing, either. She sports a Land's End look, which she's been wearing her whole life.

And third, I need to seek out role models of older women who are living fabulously and fashionably, who wouldn't be caught dead near a plastic surgeon's office. I recently created a Pinterest board called "Fabulous Seniors," which can be seen here. I think they're stunning, and I'm not just saying that in some kind of P.C. way. They really do look fantastic.

I probably also need to accept that I am going to hurt about all this for awhile, because my culture isn't going to change anytime soon, and I'm going to need time to find my platforms, 'natch.

Featured item from my Etsy Shop: the Brooks Locket.
The whole shop: maryannfarley.


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I appreciate your analysis here, Mary Ann. It's been hard these last few weeks to see females being devalued and disparaged openly in the media and politically. And, I think you re right, we just do whatever we want and make our stories the 'true' story. I only hope by doing so I can be a role model for my daughter.
Beautifully poignant as usual. I have very similar views as you but from a slightly different perspective. As being one of those 18-39 year old women the media likes to target nowadays, I feel left out and disgruntled by the exclusion of someone like myself having the slight chance of being beautiful just because I'm a larger woman and I don't do plastic surgery or seaweed wraps, etc. Physical beauty has never been my priority whether looking at others or myself. I try to stay positive and know that I am beautiful inside and that's all that matters whether others see that or not. That being said though, the overwhelming messages of needing to be perfectly beautiful, skinny, creamy clear skin, perfect hair and makeup, etc. sometimes has me feeling empty and low. I think twice about whether I should try to conform to society's "norm" and make myself look beautiful for the sake of everyone but then I remember, I shouldn't give a shit and I feel more beautiful knowing I am an individual and that every line on my face, ever scar on my skin is a bump in the road to my own "perfection". Each one making me stronger, proving I've lived harder and happier than many of those "perfect" people they show in the media. I send you warm thoughts and encouragement to get through these unhappy thoughts you are having about yourself that this awful media crazed society chokes down our throats every day and know that I think you are a beautiful person inside and out. :)
Thank you for your comments, ladies. Mypsyche, I'm confident that you'll be a wonderful role model for your daughter. And Violet, I can so appreciate your comments, because I was dealing with these issues as a younger person, as well, as I'm not what you'd call the buxom type. Measuring in at a whopping 32A (on a good day), I've always grappled with body issues, feeling so resentful that in order to feel accepted as a sexy gal, I'd have to insert large balloons under my chest wall by means of large cuts made by sharp knives. I made a clear decision a long time ago that I would NOT do such a thing to myself, even though I'd never judge someone who would choose differently. All these years later, I'm so glad I didn't do it, as along the way, I developed a blood clotting disorder, and god knows what complications might have come out of such a surgery. I'm also glad just from a human point of view...glad that I came to terms with that part of myself without resorting to drastic measures. Glad to hear that you're taking the same road and appreciating yourself for just how beautiful you are AS you are.
Just saw this, sorry so late, noticed your name in the feed and followed. My sisters and I joke about being invisible now. I have found beauty in being unobserved, anonymous, the on looker now. I slip beneath the radar and watch or try to become part of as me, not some expectation of what someone wants (PYT pretty young thing). It's been a transition, and although I don't grapple with such heavy physical ailments as you have had to, I just wish I physically felt better. Society does not validate us, and ya know, that is just fine. We are so beyond that. This post spoke to me deeply.
At 50 years old -- though I might soon be, or maybe in some eyes am invisible already, so far I don't see (or plan to see) myself as invisible. I might not be young-young or in the best shape of my life, but invisible? ... I'll wear to many bright colours for that.

It's nice to see the variation of older women as shown on Pinterest here but they all look incredibly thin to me. Another societal expectation? Maybe it's me, but by the time we hit a certain age, it's natural to wear a bit more flesh.
s/b: "too many" bright colours for that.
Rita...I can relate! There is definitely a certain freedom in invisibility. I remember reading that sentiment from a 50-year-old woman years ago in some article. I couldn't imagine relating to that one day, but now that I'm here, she's right...and so are really doesn't matter all that much. It just pisses me off that we're not valued for all that we bring to the table.

And Scarlett, those seniors did generally look thin, although it was hard to tell with some. Certainly the fabulous woman in white wasn't thin, but she wasn't heavy either. But you're right that we do get heavier as we get older...I know I have! And *nothing* I do gets those pounds off. I'm struggling trying to accept that as well. (sigh)

Thanks to you both for your thoughtful words.
I guess when it rains it pours and today is more exciting than yesterday.
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