Thursday, June 15, 2017

Love is NOT enough: choose you


I used to have a pair of earrings that I absolutely loved.

These earrings were perfect. They were casual enough for everyday wear yet elegant enough for special occasions. They were long enough for me to be able to feel their “swish, swish” sound when I moved my head, but not too long. They were lightweight enough not to create excessive pressure on my earlobes, but heavy enough to remain in place without twisting or flipping around. They were affordable enough for me to purchase them, but not so much that they looked gaudy and cheap.

I loved their smooth, sleek texture and would often run my fingers across their surface. I also loved how they glinted in the light - not overly shiny and showy like some jewelry, but just enough to highlight their simple beauty. I loved their shape and how they were just the right width that I could wear my hair either up or down and they could still be easily seen. They were so pretty, and I loved how they looked, how they made me feel, and how they felt on me. I wore them everywhere. They were my favorite, favorite earrings.

But there was just one problem: my earlobes. You see, I have a nickel allergy.

I’ve had this allergy nearly as long as I can recall - longer than I recall, in fact. My skin reacts to nickel exposure pretty severely, I cannot tolerate having nickel against my skin for very long because it causes painful swelling, peeling, and sores. For this reason I tend to avoid costume jewelry because it is much more likely to affect me. Gold jewelry, especially 18, 22, and 24 karat, is safer for me, as is sterling silver, platinum, and other jewelry that does not contain nickel. However, I really wanted to wear my earrings - even though when I purchased them I realized that they were not made of gold and I knew a reaction was highly likely. I just decided to try to protect my ears as best as possible. I couldn't pass them up; they were too nice. They were such a perfect fit for me, it seemed. Even though other earrings of this type had proven to be problematic for me, I still really wanted this one pair - just this one.

I was told by someone that if I coated a portion of the earrings with clear nail polish and then let them air dry, I should be protected. I was excited to learn that trick, and I tried it. At first, it seemed like it might be effective. But I quickly discovered that it was not. It did work somewhat in that it slowed down the allergic reaction, but it did not prevent it from occurring. It only delayed the inevitable.

I tried to just wear the earrings sporadically rather than wearing them on a regular basis, and I also tried to wear them just for short periods of time and then take them off after a few hours of usage. But neither of these techniques worked well either. I still had painful, unpleasant reactions. I might have had them less frequently than when I wore the earrings practically daily, but I couldn't deny that I still had them.

I tried to just ignore the symptoms, to just “press through” and endure the pain so that I could still wear the earrings. Since it was clear that the pain couldn't be prevented, maybe I could just endure it. I was a strong person, right? Not a weakling. Surely I could handle some displeasure, some discomfort? I knew that the allergic reactions were unpleasant, but the trade-off was not having to refrain from wearing my favorite earrings...wasn't it worth it?

So I wore them, knowing what was going to happen. And it typically happened like this:

  • I would put the earrings on. At first, I would feel nothing other than the sensation/pressure of having something inside of my earlobes. But no pain.
  • Before long there would be a growing feeling of heat. It seemed to originate at or near the holes where my ears were pierced and then radiate outward down my earlobes, both front and back.
  • There would be a tightening feeling, also beginning near the site of my piercing and spreading, although not spreading as far as the heat.
  • Eventually I would grow accustomed to the heat, and although it was still there, I could ignore it.
  • My earlobes would begin to itch severely, especially around the piercing site (front and back side of the hole). Sometimes the itchiness could be alleviated by lifting the part of the earring that was inside my pierced hole up and down, up and down. Other times I might have to move the earring carefully aside and gently scratch the piercing site. If neither worked, I searched for over the counter remedies that could also help me to feel less uncomfortable.

I loved the earrings, but I couldn’t not see the damage that was caused when I wore them. How they caused my earlobes to become noticeably inflamed and reddish in color (and I’m a dark skinned Black person, so it takes quite a lot for any part of my body to become visibly reddened). How my earlobes would swell in size. How my earlobes would not only itch uncontrollably, but throb in pain. How I would develop small blemishes and/or bumps and unsightly discoloration around the piercing site. How when I removed the earrings there would be blood, and sometimes drainage (possibly pus? Ewww). How my earlobes would remain in bad shape for quite a bit of time afterward even after I’d taken the earrings out.

Even removing them was not enough to undo the damage that they caused. The toll that they had taken on my body lingered for weeks even when I had no jewelry on at all, almost like scarring.

It was difficult, but I eventually had to come to terms with the truth that no matter how much I loved these earrings and no matter how much on the surface they seemed perfectly made for me, they were not good for me. The evidence was there that time and time again every single time that I wore these earrings they caused me tremendous pain. It didn’t matter how nice they looked, how they made me feel about myself, how they boosted my confidence and made me feel ladylike or whatever. It didn’t matter how long I had owned them, how much money I had spent on them, how much effort I had gone to in order to still try to find a way to wear them, how little interest I had in any other pair of earrings. None of that mattered.

What mattered is that no matter how much I loved wearing these earrings, to continue to do so was to choose to keep inflicting pain upon myself.  And eventually I had to “wake up” and face reality and realize that it wasn’t worth it. Did I really want to risk developing sepsis, an infection, permanent scarring, possibly the need to amputate a portion of my earlobes, or whatever potential risk factor awaited me simply because I refused to give up these earrings? I had to decide which one I would choose - something outside of me that I loved even though it was harmful for me, or the actual me...my health, my longevity, my best interest. I had to choose me.

I had to let those earrings go.

I couldn’t keep them in my jewelry box either, because to see them would be tempting myself to want to put them on “just for a moment” and I knew that wouldn’t be good for me. Whatever good memories I had wearing those earrings, whatever residual good feelings, whatever nostalgia I had...I couldn’t hold onto that and still hold on to me at the same time. I had to discard of those earrings completely, never to be seen, worn, or located by me again. It was the only way.

But you know what? The thing that I didn’t realize is exactly how much those earrings continued to affect me even when I was no longer wearing them and even when to the naked eye it seemed as though my earlobes had finally healed after a few weeks had passed. At first there were no obvious signs of the internal damage all of those instances of wearing the earrings had caused, but in time the fact that there was lasting damage became readily apparent.

Because of those earrings, my supposedly-healed earlobes were now all jacked up on the inside. They were ultra sensitive and they were extremely susceptible to injury even when handled with care. They became inflamed easily and they took much longer to recover than they had in the past. They were so weakened and delicate now, even though they looked the same as before on the outside. They had been changed by that experience.

Those earrings also made it hard for me to be able to wear any earrings at all. For a long time I couldn’t have worn any earrings even if I had a desire to because there was so much damage done to my earlobes by those earrings. Nothing could have gone inside my earlobes until they had a lengthy period of rest and healing, earring free.

Then I finally healed. Technically, I could have started wearing earrings again. But I didn’t. I didn’t even have a desire to wear any, because I couldn’t fathom another pair could ever replace the ones that I had loved. And sometimes when I saw a pair of earrings, I grew a bit apprehensive about thinking about purchasing and putting another pair of earrings in my ears after what I had been through. How did I know it wasn’t going to happen again? Better safe than sorry, I thought; no thanks. It was almost like the trauma had created an aversion to earrings. So I went without earrings for a very long time.

I had once been someone who wore earrings all the time; I was seldom seen without them. Now I was never seen with earrings at all; most people didn’t even realize my ears were pierced because they’d never seen me wear any earrings. Something that had once been a fundamental part of my appearance was now gone - all because of all the times that I had willingly chosen my love for those earrings over my love for my own well-being.

Something interesting happened, though. Several years ago when I was dating the person who is now my husband, he purchased a pair of earrings for me for my birthday as one of my gifts. I had not mentioned anything to him about jewelry; frankly, I’d been hoping for some new books. He had noticed that I didn’t wear nor seem to own any jewelry and decided on his own to surprise me with some. Given that at this time he was a non-traditional college student working in retail, he wasn’t particularly wealthy, so this purchase probably swallowed up a substantial amount of his meager paycheck; it was a very sacrificial and meaningful gesture.

And the way he gave it to me was very thoughtful and romantic; he had created a book of poetry that included various pictures of me as well as scenes of nature as the book’s illustrations, and he had the book typed up and professionally bound like an actual book. Then he removed the earrings from their case, taped them to one of the pages in the first few chapters of the book, and gave the book to me as a gift along with some flowers. I had been pleased with the book and didn’t even notice the earrings until I was flipping through the book the next day. (Such a sweet, creative surprise.)

When I found the earrings, I removed them carefully from the book, held them in my hands, and looked them over. They were beautiful. They were very different than my previous earrings. They were actually different than the type of jewelry I would typically select for myself. But I still liked them. They were gold earrings that had tiny diamonds and amethyst stones (amethyst is my birthstone). They were medium sized. And they were 18 karat gold - nickel free.

They were earrings that I could wear without injury.

I hadn’t even told him (my then-boyfriend, now-husband) about my nickel allergy. The topic had never come up. So it wasn’t like he picked the 18 karat gold jewelry because he had advance knowledge that I needed nickel free jewelry. He just happened to choose it on his own - even though some other type of jewelry would have been a much more affordable purchase for someone whose salary was as low as his was at that time.

Mind = blown.

I was at home alone when I found the earrings. I put them in my ears slowly, carefully, one at a time. I sat still for a few minutes because it felt odd to have a pair of earrings in my ears that wasn’t the pair that I had loved for so long. It didn’t feel bad, but it felt foreign. Strange. Unfamiliar. I didn’t know how to take it and I almost reached up to take them out. Then I stopped myself and decided to walk over to a mirror and take a look at myself wearing them.

I gazed at myself in the mirror, paying especially close attention to the earrings. They weren’t ugly. In fact, they were quite lovely. But I’ll admit that they didn’t “do anything” for me. They didn’t sing out when I looked at them. They didn’t cause me to break into a silly, girlish smile and spin around like when I first put on my previous earrings. I didn’t feel the need to twirl them in my hands and smooth my fingers over and over them, and I didn’t feel instantly transformed when I put them on. They were nice earrings and all...but that’s all they were. They were just earrings. There was no magic. No spark.

I walked away, deep in thought. And then I got tied up with a phone call, and then some errands, and then I had to respond to a few emails, and then I realized I hadn’t eaten yet and stopped to make a meal. Though I was busy, throughout all of these tasks there were still a few free moments or two here and there where I had time to think, and when I did, I pondered the difference. I thought of the difference between the two pairs of earrings and how sad it was that this new pair, despite being more costly and fancier, didn’t give me the same “spark” as my old pair. I didn’t really see the point of wearing a pair of earrings if they didn’t create that same exhilarating feeling within me. It seemed like a poor imitation to me, and what was the point?

As I thought this to myself, I shook my head. And when I did, I felt something. The new earrings. They were still in my ears! I had gotten preoccupied with the day and hadn’t realized that I’d never taken them off. I had been wearing them all of this time and hadn’t even noticed. Hadn’t even noticed...because they hadn’t caused me any pain.

I sat in stunned silence as I pondered the profundity of that thought. There was never a time that I wasn’t aware that I was wearing earrings when I wore my previous pair. I always felt them. Their weight, the itchiness, the swelling...I always knew they were there. Was always conscious of their presence, of the discomfort, but I tolerated it because I felt the rewards of wearing them far outweighed the pain that they caused me. But this was a different experience for me, these new earrings. For me to be wearing earrings and be so NOT in pain...so at ease...in so much comfort that I literally did not even recall that they were there...I had never known what that felt like. It was astonishing.

I sat and thought some more, realizing the error in my former way of thinking. Here I was about to reject the new earrings because they didn’t cause me to swoon, completely disregarding the fact that they possessed other admirable characteristics. They were high quality; they were beautiful; they were chosen and given with love; they contained precious gemstones; they were new and different...but most importantly, they didn’t hurt me.

With my previous earrings I had to accept that they came with pain and that they would always cause me pain. It was part of the package. Yes, they brought me tremendous joy, but they simultaneously brought me massive pain, pain that never went away and actually increased over time. But these new earrings...with them I didn’t have to tolerate pain in order to enjoy their presence. I could simply put them on and enjoy their presence - pain free. I could just be me...just go about my day, and they were a quiet, non-intrusive complement to the rest of me.

No, they didn’t cause my heart to sing and cause me to feel all giddy inside like my other pair, but maybe that wasn’t supposed to be their purpose in the first place. Earrings are an accessory item. They are supposed to accentuate, to highlight, to add to an already complete ensemble. They aren’t a necessity, but they sure are nice to have. Maybe the reason they didn’t affect me in the same way is because when I put these new earrings on, I was already complete whereas when I put on the previous ones, I was looking for them to complete things for me, to be the “final touch.” And that isn’t what earrings are made for.

Those former earrings aren’t bad. I didn’t throw them in the trash or anything when I discarded them. They weren't - aren't - trash. They will make a stunning pair of earrings for whomever their next owner shall be. There is nothing inherently wrong with those earrings; they’re just totally, absolutely, unequivocally wrong for ME. They’re just bad for ME. But for someone else - some person who can easily tolerate nickel - maybe those same earrings will be a huge blessing.

And I’m not bad either, and I refused to be convinced that I am. I’m not less than, or defective, or flawed because I happen to have a nickel allergy. That’s just who I am. I’m not going to feel sad, guilty, or remorseful about that. I can’t have nickel in my life because nickel hurts me. That’s just the way it is, and I shouldn’t be shamed for that. I want to be whole; I want to be healthy. And for that, I personally need real gold, real silver, real platinum, etc. That’s what works for me. That doesn’t mean I think nickel is beneath me or that people who can wear costume jewelry aren’t equal to me. It means none of that. I simply require something else for me to be at my best.

You can love something. That love can be absolutely, positively, 100% authentic. It doesn’t make it fake; it doesn’t make it a lie; it doesn’t make it a game. But if it hurts, it DOES make it unhealthy for you. You see, love is not enough. You need more than just love to survive. If that thing that you love causes you pain, than that love is not for you. Let it go and be open to the real, lasting love that is meant for you. The one that will not hurt you but will fit seamlessly and effortlessly into your life; the one that will complement who you are and will cause you to glow in a way that only reassuring, stable, and healthy love can do.




Image is white text on a black background that states: "Love is not enough." Photo credit: HR Examiner

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