Starting a new chapter — and owning who I am while doing it

FullSizeRender(1)Just over a month ago I made the jump from DC to NYC (for the second time) — without a job! This is the third time I’ve moved to a new city without employment, and I’m happy to say that I started my new job last Tuesday. It’s only been four days into the job, but so far I am incredibly happy :)

On day three of my brand new job surrounded by my new colleagues I was desperately trying to impress, I did something I didn’t think I would have done (or at least not that soon): I wore my stockings with a dress. You see, I had already chosen the outfits I wanted to wear in my first week at work (gotta dress to impress!). Nowhere in these outfit plannings, though, did I include stockings (it’s hot here and I hate wearing stockings in the summer, and especially hate to wear them with dresses, and ESPECIALLY didn’t want to stick out at my new job).

That and it was only one year ago I wore exposed stockings to work for the first time; one year ago I wore stockings with something above the knee; and less than one year ago I wore a dress with stockings at work for the first (and only) time. It may be glacial progress, but at least it’s progress.

After day 1 and day 2 on the job NOT wearing stockings my legs were really unhappy with me. Day 3 I had a choice to make:

1. Wear my original outfit without the stockings and continue to see a decline in my legs

2. Wear stockings, but change my outfit to include pants so as to conceal the stockings

3. Go with the original outfit AND wear the stockings

I wavered back and forth, back and forth, and back and forth a million times over. I even texted my new lymphie friend Alexa photos of my dilemma. Side note: I am so incredibly grateful to have a friend with lymphedema. There are people in my life who do everything they can to understand, but there’s no replacement for someone who has first hand experience of your struggles. 

The outfit I had picked was supercute and I didn’t want to ruin the aesthetic and supercuteness of the outfit by wearing my stockings. But I knew I was doing a disservice to my health by not taking care of my legs and my lymphatic system. BUT, it’s hard enough starting a new job and trying to comes off as super cool to your new colleagues, who also wants to stick out as different and…weird? What to do? WHAT TO DO???

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So I made the tentative decision to wear the stockings (but I gave myself an out that if in the morning I wasn’t feeling it, I could change my plan) because I was hell bent on wearing the outfit I had picked out. I felt like a million bucks in it, and gosh darnit I wanted to feel like a million bucks on my third day on the new job 😛 I tried the stockings on with my original outfit, but boy was I naht feeling my original shoe choice.

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Nude stockings + nude shoes = looks like I’m barefoot

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Annoyed that my supercute outfit wasn’t quite working with the nude shoes, I chose to wear black instead. But the black shoes didn’t work with the mustard sweater, so I switched out the sweater for a black jacket. Aha! We are in business.

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It may not have been the original supercute outfit I had picked out, but I made some adjustments to accommodate the fugly stockings and I’m happy with the results. I strutted my stuff the whole day through and although no one actually asked about them or blatantly stared, I still spent part of my day worrying they were staring, what they were thinking or if they might say something.

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I’m sitting here now watching I Am Cait (yes, I admit to watching that show) and find myself identifying with her story. No, I am not transgender, but I am different from the average Josephine walking down the street. Caitlyn Jenner and the other transgender people who proudly strut down the street as their true selves inspire others in their community because they see someone like them — someone who is different — owning who they are.

I spend a lot of time and emotional space worrying about being different. Worrying about sticking out. Worrying about being seen differently and treated differently. It’s a lot easier to hide something that is going on inside, and it’s a lot easier for other people to not treat you differently when they can’t see that anything is amiss. For me, I am able to “hide” my lymphedema from the world when I don’t wear my compression stockings. My swelling is mild enough that no one really ever notices there’s something different. But as soon as I put those darned flat-knit stockings on with the big fat seam up the back, I draw attention to it and I can no longer hide.

I wish that it didn’t bother me so much. I wish that I could be more confident in who I am, imperfections and all. I wish that I could visibly be different and not care what other people might think. But the fact of the matter is I’m just not hard-wired to not care. I’m hard-wired to care too much about what other people think. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just who I am. And I have to understand that is my starting point and it’s from there that my journey begins.

I now find myself in a position where I could inspire other people — not just others in the lymphedema community, but anyone else out there who is struggling with being different. By visibly wearing my stockings — my badge of uniqueness — I am not only making a statement that I am okay with who I am, but I am showing other people that someone else is different, too, and it’s okay to be different.

Maybe I’m making this into something bigger than it is, but that is what I get from seeing Caitlyn Jenner own who she is on public television. I am inspired by her ability to show the world that she is different, and in a way it inspires me to own what makes me different.

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At the end of the day I am so incredibly proud of myself. To others it may seem like a menial accomplishment, but for me it was ginormous. One small step for mankind, one giant step for Grace. I am excited to start this new chapter on such a good foot (pun intended!) and if this is any indication of what’s to come, bring it on!

16 comments

  1. Andrea Hames says:

    Good for you! I am seventy and have had lymphedema since the age of thirteen. I have finally gotten the guts to wear sandals with my stockings. It would feel so much better to wear them barefoot, but alas, I know the consequences. Enjoy NY! I am NYC born and bred and in Brooklyn at the moment to babysit. Stockings got me through a pregnant not NY summer! You look great!

  2. Anette Zielinski says:

    Fellow lymphie here – I feel your pain and admire your outlook. Have you ever worn the thigh-high stockings? I wear them and like them. It would be better for your legs than the knee-high and it would create a more seamless line when you wear the shorter dresses & skirts. Stay strong and rock it, Grace. I’m proud of you.

    • GracefulLymphedema says:

      Hi Anette! No, I have never wore the thigh-high, but I’ve definitely thought about it. My swelling is really just in my feet/lower legs, so my therapists have always said the thigh-highs aren’t necessary. Now that I’m wearing stockings more with dresses I’ve definitely wished I had some thigh-highs since as you mentioned it would remove the obvious break from stocking to dress :)

  3. Elizabeth Gaylord says:

    Congratulations! When you sent me the picture I didn’t notice you were wearing the stockings. I just thought you looked fabulous!

  4. Melanie C says:

    You did it! You are an inspiration for all women with lymphedema. I haven’t gotten the nerve to wear those awful stockings with a dress. And you’re right, summer is the worst. I have lymphedema in one leg after cancer sugary. You’d think after 10 years it wouldn’t be such an issue. But it is! Enjoy your new job, your super-cute outfits, and enjoy yourself. I think I’m stuck in pants if I want to keep the swelling down 😉

    • Charmaine Jensen says:

      Hello Melanie! I read that you said you have lymphedema in one leg after cancer surgery. If you do not mind sharing, what type of cancer surgery was it? I too had surgery for cancer and it was for my right breast in the fall 2009. ( 2 surgeries) I now have lymphedema of the left leg. It is is especially getting pretty bad from just below the knee to pelvis. I would be interested to hear from you charmainejensen@gmail.com please write to me.

  5. Pam says:

    Way to go! Keep doing it. Each time you do, it will get easier. Soon, you wont care that they are showing! I’ve had Lymphedema for over 20 years and always wear shorts or shorter dresses. we have enough to worry about finding comfortable shoes… the added pressure of hiding the stockings isn’t worht it! :) keep up the good work!

  6. Cristina says:

    You’re doing great! I have my stock two months ago and I dont feel prepare to wear dress or skirt but I want to be confident to do it and you help me to go for it. Thank you very much!!

  7. Astrid says:

    hello Grace it’s so good that you are using dresses. I’m 17 yeard old and I also hate summer time because if stockings but I’m now using ones that covers my leg completly and they are more comfortable and people notice them less. Hope it helped you

  8. Pad13 says:

    I am so impressed with you! You look adorable and you are an inspiration. I too have leg Lymphedema and its in one leg. I wear a thigh high on one leg. I started last summer wearing capris and letting the one stockinged leg show. I guess it is probably more noticeable than if I wore stockings on both legs but I really don’t want to wear them on the other leg! I do get a few states here and there and a couple of times people have said oh your ankle is really swollen! But for the most part it’s not too bad and I am just practicing the idea of not caring that I look different. I do wish though that I had a local friend who was in the same boat. (I live in the SF Bay Area)
    I never see anyone who looks like me. I guess everyone who does is covering it up.

    • GracefulLymphedema says:

      Great attitude!!!! It took me a long time to get to the point I was in this post. I know it’s silly, but sometimes I wish I had it in just one leg–I’ve convinced myself that it’s more “acceptable” to walk around with just one stocking because it’s clear that there’s something medically wrong, not like me where someone might think I just have a terrible sense of style 😉 Have you checked out the National Lymphedema Network? They’re based in Berkeley. There are really just two lymphedema research/advocate organizations in the US–NLN on the west coast and the Lymphatic Education & Research Network on the east coast. I wish I lived in SF!!

  9. Pam says:

    I have talked to people at NLN and they were very helpful at the beginning when I had so many questions. There are no support groups though. I would like to start one here. Maybe I will

    Regarding the stocking I’d love it if I could get one that looks like tattoos or even just some cute colors.

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