Hi again, everyone! While half of our dynamic duo is still on her hiatus (during which time, she’ll be creating and starting her own online nutrition-based education/coaching system – Go, Nikki!), the other half, Kate, is here to give you our fifth podcast episode, “Self-Hate and Female Rivalry.” This podcast episode focuses on how we, […]
By: Katherine Itacy, Esq.
Dated: June 3, 2018
Ok, so I have been going around for quite some time, claiming to feel like I am an active mind and spirit trapped inside a diseased body.
I’ve made this claim, knowing full well that I could have it a lot worse: I could actually have become paralyzed; I could have completely lost my mobility and independence. I’ve tried to imagine what it would feel like if I had become paralyzed, and I’ve tried to empathize with others who are.
I’ve tried to adjust to my physical disabilities, and accept the fact that a large part of my identity is now that of “disabled person.”
I’ve struggled a lot with this over the last decade, and even more so over the last two and a half years. As a child and young adult, I always said: “I have diabetes. I’m not ‘a diabetic.’” I refused to let my health dictate who I am, and instead, have tried to identify myself in terms of my accomplishments. For years, my identity was that of a student-athlete; then, a criminal defense attorney and civil rights activist.
I refused to let my medical conditions dictate how I lived my life. Until they did. They took over my daily life, ended my identity as an active attorney and activist, and sentenced me to limited mobility and a reduced quality of life.
I’ve had to acquiesce to the fact that many days, my illnesses stop me from making plans or accomplishing certain things. Through it all, I’ve tried to keep a healthy perspective regarding my life, and how I continue to be fortunate in a lot of ways.
But I’ve never felt more grateful about my life, and more empathetic and impressed by another disabled person than when I heard the story of Jean-Dominique Baby.
The 44 year-old editor-in-chief of French Elle was going about his life one day, planning a weekend adventure with his 10 year-old son, when he suffered a major stroke.
Nearly three weeks later, Mr. Bauby woke up from a coma and learned that he was a quadriplegic, with the use of one ear and one eyelid. He was suffering from what’s referred to as “locked-in syndrome,” which is when the mind is aware and fully functioning, but the body makes it all but impossible to communicate with the outside world.
Through the assistance of medical professionals, Mr. Bauby was able to communicate by blinking his one useful eyelid. Anyone trying to communicate with the editor would have to read off letters in the alphabet, and watch as Mr. Bauby blinked to indicate which letter he wanted to use. This was done, over and over, letter by letter, until words and sentences were formed.
As impossible as it may seem to even hold a conversation this way, Mr. Bauby blinked approximately 200,000 times over the course of ten months in order to compose his memoir, “The Diving Bell and The Butterfly.” In it, Jean-Dominique Baby describes what it was like for him to actually be an active mind trapped inside his own body, with his mind and imagination being akin to a butterfly, trapped inside a diving bell.
To the best of my knowledge, the above image is an example of an open-bottomed “wet diving bell” from the 1700s, which was used to transport divers to and from the water’s surface. The divers could sit or stand in the bell, with their heads out of the water, in order to adjust to the difference in outside pressure to their ears.
According to Wikipedia, a closed diving bell is “a pressure vessel for human occupation” under water. It makes sense that Mr. Bauby would equate his experience to his mind and spirit being trapped inside a pressurized underwater vessel; I’ve often found myself making similar comparisons in my situation.
Jean-Dominique Bauby’s book (and life story) is simply incredible. He writes almost objectively about his condition, with no sense of whining or “woe-is-me” found within the pages.
And as inspiring and heartbreaking as his story is, it becomes even more devastating to learn that just two days after the book’s publication, Mr. Bauby passed away due to complications from pneumonia.
I know it does little-to-no good to compare your situation with others, because there will always be someone worse off than you, and always someone better off than you. But when you’re indulging in a little self-pity, it does help to read a story like Mr. Bauby’s, if only for a little life perspective.
How could you possibly wallow after hearing such an inspiring, yet tragic story?! Personally, I find such motivation from stories like Bauby’s. The human spirit is so resilient, even when the human body fails us.
From now on, if I ever find myself immersed in self-pity or anger towards my physical impairments, I will remind myself of Jean-Dominique Bauby, and the mental and spiritual strength he summoned during such unimaginable circumstances.
If you have any thoughts or comments regarding Mr. Bauby’s life story or his memoir, “The Diving Bell and The Butterfly,” you can let me know by leaving a comment below, or reaching out to me via Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Google+ or Twitter.
’Til next time, my friends!
By: Katherine Itacy, Esq.
Dated: May 30, 2018
Hi, everyone! I’m back from my surgery, and thankfully, I still have a few of my wits about me!
While the recovery process is still ongoing, and the original pain has returned, I am so thankful that the neurosurgeon was able to remove most of the tumor and untether my spinal cord. Even if none of my other neurological deficits are alleviated, and the pain remains the same as before the surgery, at least the doctor and her team were able to prevent paralysis!
Lately, I’ve been thinking about those of us with chronic pain. It’s so hard to describe sometimes, and can be so wildly subjective to the individual. On a scale of 1 to 10, is my 7 a ‘real’ 7? Or is it someone else’s 10? Maybe someone’s 10 is another person’s 4. No one really knows, because you we’ve never been able to objectively quantify someone’s pain. But what if we could?
My husband has often told me that he would take the pain away from me and feel it himself if only I could be spared from it. In fact, he’s said he’d take away all of my medical conditions from me if he could. Obviously, it’s an incredibly sweet sentiment, but I’d never want him or anyone else to have my disabilities.
But that got me thinking….
The hubby and I also talk a lot about the criminal justice system, as well as the discrimination that persons of color frequently face in America. He’s obviously coming from the viewpoint of law enforcement, but also as a person of color and a legal immigrant into this country. I, of course, have my limited insights as a former criminal defense attorney and civil rights activist, as well as my experiences as the wife of a Haitian male and the step-mother of a Haitian-American male.
We talk about how frustrating it is when individuals offer opinions about the experiences of persons of color in the United States, when those individuals don’t even try to consider what it might be like for a black man or a Latina female, for instance. Being able to understand what another person is experiencing or feeling is the definition of empathy. Often, it’s impossible to fully understand, but we, as people, need to at least try. Otherwise, there’d be no compassion for our fellow human being.
So what if it were possible to put yourself in someone else’s shoes for a short time?
And no, I’m not talking about the plot of Freaky Friday. I’m talking about virtual reality.
With all those new VR goggles boasting lifelike experiences, I asked the hubby this past weekend: What if someone created a “Day in the Life” VR game to foster greater empathy towards others??
Maybe the user could experience what it’s like for the average black man to be pulled over several times in one day, just because he “fits the description” of a wanted suspect?
What if you could experience what it’s like to be in solitary confinement in prison, or on death row? How about being a day laborer in Southern California during the summertime? Or an undocumented person, traveling through the desert brush with a Coyote smuggler and a group of others trying to illegally enter the country?
How about experiencing, through VR, what it’s like for a police officer to canvass a dangerous neighborhood for an armed robber? Or a soldier on patrol?
What about trying, through VR, to make it through the day as a homeless teen on the streets of New York City? Or being a person in a wheelchair, trying to navigate yourself around a busy college campus? Or a single parent, working two jobs and trying to raise your children alone?
Now, I’m not suggesting that we create a VR game that would create pain or trauma for the user. But wouldn’t we, as a society, get along with each other better if we could better understand the struggles that so many of us endure in our lives? Don’t you think that Congress would benefit from a little more empathy before it proposed and voted on various laws?? That the average person might be a little less judgmental or self-absorbed if they better understood what others go through?
Of course, it’d be very unlikely that people with limited empathy would even want to try the VR game, but wouldn’t it be awesome if they did?
Who knows – maybe future generations could be required to play the game during high school, sort of like having to carry around a robotic baby for a few days to understand what it’d be like to be a teenage parent!
What do you think?? Could a game like this be helpful? Do you think it’d work? That the people with limited empathy would take such a game seriously? If so, what other experiences do you think it would help the user to be exposed to?
I’d love to know what you think!
Maybe I’ll even make it the subject of a future podcast episode! You can learn more about the podcast I co-host with my BFF Nikki by visiting the website here. You can also follow us via Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, or Tumblr. We always appreciate feedback!
‘Til next time!
Hey there, friends!
I hope you’ll take a listen to the latest podcast episode from “Hammer Time with Nikki and Kate: A Disabled Lawyer and a Personal Trainer Walk into a Podcast.” In it, I talk a lot about the power and influence medical professionals have over our lives; the importance of putting advanced care directives in place, as well as suggestions for how you can ensure that your voice is heard by your doctors.
The podcast is also available for streaming on Google Play and iTunes.
Let me know what you think! And make sure you’re following the podcast!
Happy World Book Day! Here’s hoping that by next year’s event, I can celebrate it with the publication of my own book! 🤞🏻📝📖🤓👩🏻💻
By: Katherine Itacy, Esq.
Dated: March 20, 2018
At this time, one week from now, I should be lying completely flat in my hospital bed, starting to recover from my second tethered cord release/laminectomy/complex lipoma removal neurosurgery. That’s if all goes well.
This surgery comes exactly thirty years (down to the month) after my initial neurosurgery. And with each passing day, I am more and more grateful that I remember very little from the initial surgery. Thank heavens for a four-year old’s limited memory retention!
In my continued pursuit of full disclosure and an authentic voice, I thought you should know: I’m scared shitless.
As most of you already know, I’m a bit of a surgery veteran at this point in my life. I’ve undergone well over forty different surgeries and procedures so far, and the majority of those occurred within the last decade. I’m not new to anesthesia or to operating rooms. I’m also relatively accustomed to high levels of pain.
I’m not scared of needles or IVs (I mean, come on: I’m a thirty-year Type I Diabetic!), I have no problem being in a hospital and I have complete confidence in my neurosurgeon.
But I’m scared shitless.
I just have this strong sense that I may not wake up from the procedure; at least, not in the same state of mind and soul. And I’m almost creepily calm about the possibility. I have all of my advanced care directives in place, ready for the hospital staff to receive and review. My family and close friends know what I would like to have happen if I pass (donations in lieu of flowers; body donated to Brown Medical School for cadaver study, followed by cremation and destruction of the remains; a fun, upbeat party instead of any sort of funeral or wake, etc.). And because I am very open and direct with others about how much I care about/love/appreciate them, it’s not really so much about not having closure with my loved ones, should I expire.
I’m a pretty practical and prepared person (how’s that for alliteration?!), so I have a lot of the paperwork and legal contingencies already in place. The statistical probability/possibility of my untimely death is totally understandable to me.
In all honesty, what’s bothering me the most is that I haven’t finished my life’s purpose yet.
My social/civic activism and criminal defense career (both of which I saw as my collective calling in life) were shut down so quickly, so dramatically and so completely since my spinal cord started re-tethering over two years ago. I’ve been working so hard to make peace with that reality, and with the fact that I may never use my legal mind ever again. But through this process, I felt the strong pull towards writing a memoir about my life’s success and struggles, particularly dealing with a diseased body. I’ve now written 210 pages of that memoir, and have begun to start the editing and peer-review process. Sadly, there’s no way it’s going to be finished within the next week, and that really frightens me.
What if I poured my heart and soul into this project, only to leave it unfinished and unread because my body finally got the best of me?
Thankfully, I have a wonderful and talented friend who has agreed to take over the project and submit it for publication if I pass or become incapacitated, and that’s a huge relief. The thing is, in the end, it still wouldn’t be one hundred percent my voice and my vision.
I’m not so self-absorbed that I think I’m the only person who’s ever felt the need to pass on their little gems of wisdom or insight into life’s fragility and unfairness. It’s just that I would never be okay with leaving this world without doing more for its betterment. I haven’t done enough. Frankly, I’ll have never done enough, but come on – ten years of activism and indigent defense cannot be my entire legacy.
If only I believed in an afterlife, my ghost would be stuck in limbo, in perpetuity, for all of my unfinished work.
Alas, I don’t, so you’re all probably safe from seeing my spirit hanging around.
And hopefully, my fears over next week’s surgery will all be for naught in the end.
But just in case, please know that I’ll be leaving this world (or my conscious mind) with these wishes and intentions:
For every single person to find warmth, comfort, love and passion; for everyone to live in good health, with pure hearts and compassionate souls, living to make their lives and the lives of those around them better; for everyone’s life to count for something substantial, and for each person’s life to have less pain, no hunger, a sense of peace and a clear and positive place in this world.
Each one of you matters, and each one of you deserves better. The world deserves better. Be better.
All my love,
By: Katherine Itacy, Esq.
Dated: March 4, 2018
It’s been a long, long journey since I started feeling the symptoms of my spinal disorder in December of 2015. Since then, I’ve retired from my job (today, actually), gone through a number of painful medical procedures and nauseating pain meds, lost a good deal of mobility and had to adjust to a new “quality” of life. It’s made me feel sad, defeated, depressed and downright incensed.
I’m not a person who easily asks for help or admits defeat. I’m not someone who gives up easily or just accepts her circumstances. I fight. I persevere. I persist.
I made it through neurosurgery at the age of four and relearning how to walk. I’ve made it through thirty years of Type I brittle diabetes. I’ve made it through an eating disorder I created from withholding insulin from myself. I made it through a toxic first marriage and an even more toxic divorce. I’ve made it through dozens of surgeries, all of which occurred while running a successful law practice.
But over the last decade or so, I’ve had to start accepting my physical limitations and the consequences that stem from mistreating my mind, body and soul. My idea of what I’m capable of enduring and achieving in this life has changed; it had to. And that royally pisses me off.
While we were still living in Del Rio, Texas, I realized just how angry I was; not so much at any of the doctors that had demonstrated such horrific bedside manner; not at my poor husband, who was simply trying to keep positive and believe that we would find something, anything, that would help alleviate some of my daily pain.
I was angry at myself, at my shit body. Was it not enough that my diabetes was already waging war against my nerves, my hands, my eyes and my breasts? Was it not enough that I face a huge risk of going blind, having a heart attack, suffering from kidney failure and/or having a limb amputated in the future? Was it not enough that I’d been born with Spina Bifida Occulta and a huge lipoma across my entire back? And that the damn lipoma had wrapped around my spinal cord at the age of four and started pulling on it so tightly that the cord was ready to snap? Now, 28 years after having 90% of the lipoma removed, there was something else happening with my spine?
I now had to wake up each day (and in the middle of many nights) in debilitating pain? Be unable to sit, stand or walk for any ‘normal’ period of time? Endure persistent (inexplicable) muscle spasms all over my body? Pain shooting down my sacral area (i.e., ass), legs and feet? Be so tired that I sleep for 21 out of 24 hours or 30 out of 36 hours, leaving me to question whether I’d fallen into a warped version of a Disney movie and in need of a prince to come kiss me awake? Be unable to use my legal mind, which I’d spent years crafting and refining; which enabled me to perform (what I thought was) my calling in life?
I’m lucky. I have wonderfully supportive family and friends. But not a one could fully understand what I was going through; not a one could seem to counsel me through the rage I was feeling towards my own vessel in life.
I’d only tried counseling once before, and that was when I came to the realization that I needed to get a divorce. That thirteen-year relationship had shattered the person I once was, and I needed help putting her back together. It took a while, but it worked, and I finished counseling stronger than ever before.
But as I sought explanations and treatment for my plethora of symptoms from this (then-) unknown spinal disorder, I realized that I needed help once more. And maybe, more than anything, I needed to find a group of people who could really understand my feelings. I vowed to myself and my husband that as soon as we made it to Detroit (our next destination), I would try to find a support group to join.
My plan had to be adjusted after it became clear that we wouldn’t get to Detroit for a while. There were delays in the application process; then a natural disaster and a government shutdown delayed my husband’s training academy. I came back to Rhode Island last June to stay with my parents while Yvens finished up this job change and training. I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to receive outstanding medical care here while I wait.
But the anger resurged. So my primary care physician referred me to a counselor who focused on helping patients adjust to their disabilities. It’s been so constructive to let some of the steam out of the pot, and it’s been really helpful to have my feelings be validated by someone who hears even more tragic and dire stories than mine on a regular basis.
Still, my counselor supported me finding a support group so that I could share my story and hear similar stories from others in comparable conditions.
As I was searching for a chronic pain support group in Rhode Island, I got news that I’d been misdiagnosed for the last 2+ years. What was actually happening to me was a recurrence of my spinal cord being pulled. Yup, I have tethered spinal cord (“TC”) again. Twenty-eight years after it first tethered.
My dad figured I was one of the rarest medical patients to ever live. He always thought my getting TC to begin with was such an uncommon thing. But my new (and totally awesome!) neurosurgeon assured me that I was not alone in having TC once again. In fact, she’d recently released a tethered cord for a patient who went forty years in between his first and second TC!!
The day after I received my recurring TC diagnosis, I took a shot in the dark and tried to see whether a “tethered cord” support group existed on the World Wide Web. Guess what: I does! On Facebook! So I joined the group and took another shot in the dark; I asked its members whether anyone else had recurring TC. Take another guess: several had! And while some of their stories were a bit bleak (e.g., one woman has had FOUR TC release surgeries in the last fifteen years, and anticipates needing more in the future!!!!), just knowing that there were others like me out there was so sadly comforting.
Of course, I hated that anyone had to endure a tethered cord. It can paralyze you, and often messes with your bowel and bladder functioning (as it has with mine), on top of many other things. And up until a few weeks ago, I didn’t even know that what I had was recurring TC. But it’s been so helpful to be part of a community (albeit, an online community, which, up until this point, I hadn’t been the biggest fan of or participant in) where people just get it.
I’d forgotten just how important it is to find and surround yourself with people who get it; who get you. And it doesn’t have to be all of you; I’m not sure I could ever find anyone (other than myself) who has experienced and felt every single thing I’ve experienced and felt. But in times of stress or pain or loneliness or anger or sadness, it’s essential that you be able to confide in, vent to or simply be with another person who understands; who will know just what to say and what not to say; who can tell you, with authority, what has at least worked for them in the past when they felt the way you’re feeling. It can make all the difference in the world.
And I’d encourage you to be that person for someone else when they need help. Remember how helpful friends, family and even near strangers have been to you in the past when you needed a helping hand or a listening ear.
It’s like this past week, when a good friend called to thank me and my BFF Nikki for our most recent podcast episode, where Nikki and I had discussed self-care and self-love. My friend called to say that she had recently ended a toxic relationship, and had really identified with our mention of ending toxic relationships in your life as part of your own self-care and self-love.
Simply hearing that our podcast struck a cord with another person made me feel incredible! Did I discover the cure for cancer? Nope. But maybe I’d reaffirmed for my friend the validity of her decision to end the relationship. Who knows? Maybe it’ll encourage another listener to do the same with an unhealthy relationship in his or her life. Not that I’m out here trying to break people up; it’s just that Nikki and I wanted to share our discussions and our experiences with others in order to make people’s lives better. We wanted to connect with people, and let listeners know that they’re not alone. We want them to know we get it.
Knowing we’ve done that for even one person out there is pretty indescribable. It’s one of the best and most basic parts of being human; it’s the shared human experience.
Be that for others, and know there are others that will be that for you. Not a single one of us is completely alone.
Get it? 😉
By: Katherine Itacy, Esq.
Dated: February 16, 2018
As I mentioned on my very first podcast with my best friend, Nikki Marchesseault, “Hammer Time with Nikki and Kate: A Disabled Lawyer and a Personal Trainer Walk into a Podcast,” I recently read this amazing book, “Love Warrior,” by Glennon Doyle Melton. I’d heard it was a good book, and I was looking for a new memoir/autobiography to read, so I gave it a chance.
Man, was a captivated within a few pages! This woman can write. She is an incredible storyteller, and was so unabashedly honest about her struggles with bulimia, drug and alcohol abuse, and generally feeling like an outsider in the world.
She explains that after a very long time of abusing and neglecting her body, she finds out that she’s pregnant, and decides at that very moment that she will quit her methods of self-abuse cold turkey in order to protect her child’s health and embrace her new role as a mother.
Glennon and her partner then get married; they end up having three beautiful children, and she really enjoys getting into her new roles of wife and stay-at-home mom.
Unfortunately, ten years into the marriage, her husband admits that he’s been having one-night stands since just a few months after their wedding. At this point, Glennon has to decide what her future is going to look like: Will she stay with her husband? If she does, will she ever be able to trust him or be intimate with him again? If she files for divorce, how will her life as a single mother work when the rest of her family lives miles and miles away? How will it work out with co-parenting their children if she’s still so mad at her husband?
At this point in the book, Glennon describes her anger and feelings of utter betrayal at this seemingly perfect man destroying the family that she has been so fully invested in for the last decade. She turns to spirituality and goes to counseling, does yoga and controlled breathing, and eventually realizes that if she can ask her higher power for forgiveness at being a flawed individual, then maybe her husband isn’t a monster – maybe he’s just flawed, too, and is entitled to the same forgiveness from God that she is.
As she tries to co-parent, stay strong for her kids and heal herself, Glennon finally takes the time to care for her mind, body and spirit. Of course, this is really uncomfortable for her, because she’s never had a healthy relationship with her body, with food or with her feelings. She wants to run away from her emotions, but she learns the way of the Warrior, and works each day to submerge herself in her feelings and process them for as long as she can bear. The next day, she does the same thing and tries to process them for just a little bit longer. She doesn’t try and go from broken to full healed in a day, a week, a month or a year; she accepts that this will be a lifelong process for her, but as long as she keeps working on it, she will be able to get through it, as well as anything else life throws her way.
Anyway, all of this back story is to say that by the end of the book, Glennon has finally started to understand what self-love is all about, and how by taking the time to tend to her mind, body and soul, she will be a better person, writer, minister, wife and mother.
I think a lot of us, especially women, forget about this. We think that completely sacrificing ourselves to our partner or our children or our career is what is required or expected of a “good” wife, mother or professional. But once we get to the end of our lives, do we really want to have sacrificed who we are for the sake of others? Is that really doing anyone a favor? Would you want your daughters to do the same thing to themselves when they get into a relationship or start a family?
I’m certainly guilty of this. As I explain in my upcoming book, I spent years neglecting and abusing my body for the sake of my career, my clients and my now-ex-husband. Without a doubt, doing so has shortened my lifespan, made me unable to bear children, and severely impaired my quality of life. I had so little regard for my physical form that I damn near killed myself in order to help others and make my then-husband happy. How was that fair or respectful to myself in any way? Why did I think so little of myself and the quality of my life? Where did I learn to do that? Why did I think that was okay?
Anyway, Glennon ends “Love Warrior” by detailing a conversation that she had with her daughters about what it means to be “pretty” or “desirable” in this world. She explains that the definition of “pretty” is an always-changing idea crafted by corporations in order to sell products, so instead of wanting to be “pretty,” why don’t you try to be “beautiful,” meaning “full of beauty”? Figure out what you love in the world (e.g., dancing in your room, singing in the car, being near the ocean, volunteering for a charity, going to Bible study, being with your family, whatever it is that makes you happy), and fill yourself up with those experiences each and every day.
I can completely identify with and embrace her definition of beauty. Being a beautiful person should mean nourishing your mind, body and soul, and then making your happiness something that you can share with others. It may be hard to practice everyday, especially with how busy our lives can get with the mundane, everyday tasks, but the more often you can practice self-love, the more beauty you can share with the world.
It may have taken me a very long time (and becoming physically disabled) to understand and appreciate the importance of self-love, including nourishment and care for your physical form, but I get it now; thanks, in large part, to Glennon Doyle Melton.
I have now vowed to try and fill myself with beauty each and every day of my life, for the rest of my life, and I would encourage each and every one of you to do the same. I guarantee that you’ll be the happier for it, and our world will be that much more beautiful because of it.
By: Katherine Itacy, Esq.
Dated: January 24, 2018
Both of my parents have demonstrated an obscene work ethic my entire life. And sure, they came right out and told me and my brother to work hard in school and for the things we wanted, but I think that I learned subconsciously to mimic their true workhorse style.
You know how they say: “Work smart, not hard?” Well…that lesson was never taught in our house…. Instead, Mom and Dad just wanted us to take pride in the efforts we put into whatever we did. You give it your 100% best efforts, and you don’t worry about the rest.
I get (or got) this perverse high from working nonstop at full tilt, and it came on quickly in my early teens. As I was getting better at track (and training more and more each passing year), I was also working at Dunkin’ Donuts during weekends and summers. The manager there learned fast that she could use my “Work the hardest you can, even at your own expense” mantra to the store’s advantage. As a young teen, she had me working in the kitchen with the full-time bakers. Later, she had me driving the delivery trucks to their other stores, and opening one of the stores at 5 AM. At the same time, my coworkers learned to let me pick up the slack while they took extra smoke breaks and stole my tips.
You’d think I would’ve learned to ease up the pace a bit, but nope! Not me! It made me proud to come home exhausted from my shift, with my feet aching and my hair and skin smelling like stale coffee grinds and donut grease (despite numerous attempts in the shower to eradicate the smells).
My work ethic only increased after that, to the point where I was running my own law firm, on three different boards of directors, doing pro bono legal work for the RI ACLU and a few select clients, testifying at the RI State House on various criminal justice and civil rights bills, volunteering for a friend’s mayoral campaign, representing a nonprofit on a RI Senate Study Commission and coaching high school track throwers. My obsession with doing my absolute best for all of these clients and entities led me to neglect my diabetes and caused me to have almost forty surgeries and procedures over a four-year timespan.
Even the Deputy Defender at my last job told me (half-jokingly) during my job interview that she’d only come down to the branch office for my interview “to see how tired you are from everything you’ve been doing!”
Looking back on it now, none of it was for fame, accolades or a sense of power. And upon deeper reflection, none of those things were ever praised in my childhood home. The only goal that my parents ever encouraged us to pursue (besides attaining higher education and the pursuit of happiness) was to work hard at whatever we chose to do in life. There were no five-year or ten-year plans in place. We weren’t raised to be doctors or lawyers. They didn’t push us to go to Harvard or Yale. They wanted us to find our own way, and to find our own version of happiness.
Turns out: None of my major life decisions were prefaced with much premeditation.
As contradicting as it sounds, I never plotted out what sport I hoped I’d excel at, or what college I’d work hard to get into, and yet, once I made the decisions, I worked my ass off to give my absolute best to the task at hand. I stumbled upon throwing and had no idea that I’d be good at it. Same with law school! I only considered it after my diabetes precluded me from becoming a federal law enforcement field agent. And the only reason why I decided to run my own firm is because I’d left a few other incompatible associate/partner positions and a friend told me that he’d mentor me through opening my practice.
I have never dreamt of running for public office, obtaining a judgeship or becoming a senior partner at some huge law firm. In fact, I’ve always preferred working behind the scenes. Coming out of law school, I would’ve been perfectly content being a worker bee, doing the grunt work while others received the prestige. I hate politics (personal and professional), and the only thoughts I’d had regarding political positions were that it’d be great to be an adviser and help shape public policy/law without having to do all the hand-holding and deal-making.
I was in my glory in both college and law school, taking up to 20 credits a semester, getting a double major and a minor at Penn State while spending 2-3 school days per week on the road for track meets; doing research for three different law school professors on top of doing internships and writing a 100-page paper on the criminal justice system (when my writing requirement only required that I write 10 pages, if memory serves correct). I didn’t even realize that I was double majoring, or was earning a minor as well. Hell, I was three classes away from a second minor in African and African-American Studies!
It all made me feel useful. It made my life feel purposeful. I felt like I was contributing; like I was soaking up as much knowledge and guidance as I possibly could. Like I was helping as many clients as I could possibly help.
And while I have essentially stumbled upon every accomplishment and accolade I’ve earned since high school, and had no prior plans for any of the educational, professional or activism decisions I’ve made since then, it has somehow all felt like it was meant to be. I can’t imagine what my life would’ve been like, had I not been a hammer thrower or a criminal defense attorney.
If all of this was somehow preordained for me to stumble upon, what am I supposed to believe my purpose is now? I feel so confident that I’m supposed to be practicing criminal defense, representing indigent clients, doing pro bono work and advocating for justice and equity for all. I know I had a skill at legal research and writing. Yet now, I can’t even understand or analyze a single legal case. I’m in so much pain these days, I’m mind-numbingly laid up in bed, with every other thought being: “It hurts so bad!!!”
Almost a year ago now, I came to the heart-wrenching conclusion that I could no longer perform my job duties, and I immediately notified my employer. Just about one of the most soul-crushing things I’ve ever had to admit to myself or others. This workhorse has been put out to pasture. My heart and my soul (and my ego) want to be able to continue contributing to society. My mind and my body have taken that purpose away from me, and it is still something that I am adjusting to. Why put a purposeful soul into a defective body?
Best believe, if I could work, I would. I’ve been working incessantly since I was fourteen years old. I was able to earn a good living running my own law firm, starting at the age of twenty-five, in the midst of a tough economy and an even tougher area of law to turn a profit. I have no qualms about doing hard, thankless work; I’ve sure done it before. In fact, I’ve done a helluva lot of free work, and been more than happy to do it!
The workhorse in me sure isn’t happy about her crap body forcing her to retire. Quite honestly, being trapped in this body is one of the cruelest punishments I could ever receive. It’s stifling my spirit. I’m trying to stay optimistic that life will guide me to stumble into whatever’s meant for me next, but in the meantime, I need to conserve my energy in order to make it through most days. Time to put that workhorse spirit into adjusting to my new quality of life – goodness knows, finding peace with this reality will be the hardest work I’ll have done yet!
By: Katherine Itacy, Esq.
Dated: January 1, 2018
On this January 1, I came to find myself serving the Haitian Independence Day soup (known as “soup joumou”) to my Italian-/French-/Scottish-/Irish-American family. You see, this New Year’s, I am staying at my parents’ home in Rhode Island while my husband attends a law enforcement academy in Georgia. For these past three New Year’s, I have made my greatest attempts to come as close to the delicious Haitian soup as possible (knowing full well that it tastes nowhere near close to the real thing!). But for the first two years, it was prepared just for myself and my husband while we lived in Southwest Texas.
While making soup joumou is still a new tradition for me, it was very important for me to continue this tradition in Rhode Island, and to share it with my immediate family. It is my belief that when you partner with or marry another person, you should immerse yourself in their culture and traditions, and should be open to sharing your cultures and traditions with them. Having a greater understanding and appreciation for those things means that you have a deeper understanding and appreciation for who your partner is.
Now, I’m certainly not trying to say I’m an expert in Haitian culture, but I do love to learn more about it! In fact, after learning the story behind why Haitians eat soup joumou every January 1 (their Independence Day), I have to say – it’s one of the most badass traditions I’ve ever heard of! To commemorate the first successful slave rebellion by eating the soup that the slaves used to have to serve to their slave-masters?? I can’t think of a more befitting way to celebrate the independence of the Haitian people, and to keep that rebellious and resilient spirit alive!
Preparing to make the soup joumou takes about two-to-three days, and the actual cooking process takes about two-to-three hours. During this time, I reflected upon the last year, considered what’s in store for me in the coming year, and thought about the audacity of me trying to expose my family to some Haitian culture. Who am I to share this story or this tradition?
Yes, I am the wife of a Haitian man, and the stepmother to a Haitian-American child; but where do I get off trying to educate others about a culture that is not my own? These questions made me reflect upon the last (almost) three years, and what it has meant to be in an interracial-/intercultural-relationship. My husband and I could not have lived more different lives growing up, and for many things, have such different views and opinions from one another.
That being said, most of our relationship comes really easy to the two of us. We fell in love with one another, and decided to get married. To us, it really didn’t matter that we are of different races. Yes, a white woman married to a black man in America makes certain things more difficult for us. I have gotten used to the occasional black woman giving me the side eye because I am in a relationship with a black man.
Sadly, two of my all-time favorite artists (both of whom are strong, independent black women) have publicly stated their disapproval of black men marrying white women in America. I understand their viewpoint that as black women, who have traditionally toiled and endured in order to support and care for the black men in their lives, feel betrayed and disrespected when their men choose to build lives with women outside of their race. But both my husband and I are of the belief that if you fall in love, the color of your partner’s skin should not stop you from being together. Thankfully, we live in a post-Loving v. Virginia America; but Americans sadly aren’t universally accepting of relationships such as ours.
Sure, interracial-/intercultural-dating or marriage requires some additional education, empathy and understanding than the traditional relationship. And no matter how much I immerse myself in my husband’s culture, I will never fully understand what it was like for him in Haiti; nor will I ever fully understand what it is like for a black man in America (no matter how many African/African-American Studies classes I took in college, or how many Ta-Nehisi Coates or Michelle Alexander books I have since read). Not to mention, you are almost guaranteed to encounter a few ignorant assholes along the way who are anything but fans of your relationship. But if you’re willing to open yourself up to learning more about a segment of the population that you know little-to-nothing about, the relationship can have the extra benefit of making you a more empathetic, culturally-educated person. Talk about a win-win!
So, as my family and I enjoy my version of the soup joumou, I consider myself lucky to have met a man who is so willing to educate me about his traditions and experiences on this earth. Not only is the soup delicious, but it allows me to celebrate who my husband is and where he comes from. Quite a way to start off the new year, don’t you think?
Happy New Year to all of you, my dear friends and readers. I hope to finish writing my book and submit it to publishers by the end of this year. I hope that each of your resolutions come true, and that you all have a safe, happy and healthy new year!