Tag Archives: IDENTITY
Less than two years after Anne got married, her husband’s parents called with the news that his sister had a rare brain disorder and he might too. At first, the news changed everything. And then, in a lot of ways, it changed very little. Pete’s sister, Bonnie (not her real name) had been diagnosed with Cadasil, an inherited condition in which blood vessels to the brain become thick and congested. Usually migraines are the first sign that the brain is trying to make due with a reduced blood supply, typically around the age of 30 or 40. Anne’s sister-in-law was 48. Her diagnosis came after a period of train-stopping migraines and an MRI that revealed early brain damage.
For several years after the diagnosis, Peter watched his parents’ world revolve around his brother. Plenty of second-born kids grow up in their older sibling’s shadow, but try having an older brother with autism. Peter had just turned 1 when his parents got word of TJ’s diagnosis. And, as Peter is quick to point out when things don’t go his way, “It’s not fair.” Looking back, his mom, Lauren, agrees. It wasn’t fair that Peter had to sit on the sidelines for several key years so his parents could focus on TJ. As Peter formed his first words, his parents lived in fear that TJ would never do the same. When other kids played at the Gymboree, Peter stayed home so a legion of specialists could play games with TJ.
Lauren started to notice things when her son was about 2 years old. She and TJ were regulars at a playgroup of kids born around the same time. This allowed the moms to compare notes as the kids started to sit up, crawl, and walk. “It was so interesting, just to see all the different kinds of development taking place,” says Lauren. “And TJ was right along with them.” And then his path started to diverge. He would start crying in the middle of playgroup for no reason. Sometimes the cries escalated into screams and Lauren had to scoop him up and get them both home. Then the other kids started forming words, but no words came for TJ “And that’s how I first noticed that he was different and how something might be wrong. That’s how it started for us.”
My blog explores the connection between health and identity so I was thrilled when I read my friend's essay about how allergies forced her to give up an identity she had come to love. She is kind enough to let me post it here. When my allergy doc asked, “do you color your hair?” I initially felt flattered. The artistry of Scott, my beloved hairstylist of the past 15 years, often solicited such accolades. Instead, the question was one of many that she asked on the penultimate day of my patch test, a four-day diagnostic that aimed to uncover the reason my eyelids had begun swelling, deflating, cracking, and bleeding. The test involved having potentially allergenic substances dotted onto my back, from shoulders to waist, and waiting to see which provoked a reaction similar to that on my eyelids. Once we identified — and I avoided — these substances, said the doc, my eyelids would return to normal.
Kids of nurses have it both good and bad. Donna remembers her middle daughter saying, “Try being a nurse’s daughter — it’s really fun. Unless you’re bleeding from every orifice, she doesn’t care.” Laurie did not bleed from every orifice but she definitely got her mother’s attention. This is the story of my cousin’s curved spine, and the surgery that made her upright. I told it before, from Laurie’s perspective. Now it’s time for her mother’s side of the story.
The first sign was pain. And constant reminders to stand up straight, not slouch. At first she thought she was just lazy, otherwise she would have better posture. By the end of high school, my cousin, Laurie was in pain every single day. From after lunch to the end of the day, her back and head ached. At her mother’s insistence, she went to a doctor. And then another, and another. “We went to 7 or 8 doctors, and they all said I had a curve in my spine.”
Family stories give teenagers a firm footing in the world. Researchers surveyed 66 families with kids aged 14-16 for a study published in the Journal of Family Life. Teens who could correctly identify where their parents went to school or how they met were less anxious or depressed, and less likely to act out or disobey their parents. Apparently, stories about parents and grandparents help form strong identities.