I grew up in the township of Pennfield, Michigan, about seven miles north of Battle Creek, which you may recall is the home of Tony the Tiger. If you are about my age, you recall hearing the Kellogg’s company slogan, “The best to you each morning,” just before the banjos revved up during the Beverly Hillbillies opening theme song. Or maybe it was just more salient to me, because I had a Battle Creek mailing address, and this was the only pop-culture reference I had ever seen. At any rate, Battle Creek, to my knowledge, never had a population that reached greater than 60,000, even when the baby boomers were at their peak. My graduating class at Pennfield was the largest one for a long time, with only just barely 200 seniors.
All this is to say, I grew up in a rural area, but not the sticks. I went to college in neighboring Kalamazoo, as in, “I got a gal, in Kalamazoo zoo zoo zoo zoo . . .,” a song you may have heard while watching M*A*S*H*. Or if you’re a hard-core tennis fan, you know that each year Kalamazoo College, my alma mater, hosts the boys 16 and 18 national tennis tournament, known as Nats at the Zoo, for the United States Tennis Association. I discovered, to my surprise and relief, that I was lesbian, while living in Kalamazoo.
It turns out, there was another lesbian there, and I met her. At least that’s what I thought in 1984, when I met said individual. My gaydar was underdeveloped, and I genuinely did not believe that there were any lesbians anywhere near where I lived, worked or went to school. One summer Saturday, I learned otherwise. My girlfriend took me to a picnic in the country at a nice farmhouse where at least 80 other lesbians were also in attendance. I was astonished! Where were they keeping themselves? They all looked so normal, no wonder I didn’t know they were there, lurking among the short-cropped farm girls of southwest Michigan.
I felt such a sense of belonging at that moment that I had never felt before, not even in Girlscouts. These were my people. I didn’t have to say anything to them about parts of my life, because those parts were shared by these women. We understood basic things about one another; we had inside jokes without even sharing a past.
That’s what it felt like for me last year as I ventured to the first conference sponsored by Adrenal Insufficiency United. All these people were walking around the corridors of the Embassy Suites, and they all looked pretty darn normal! When I registered the night before the meetings, I knew that there were other conference attendees; there had to be! No organization could possibly put on a conference for which only I had registered. . . and I had a roommate who I had corresponded with briefly prior to the conference. So at a minimum it was Tammy and me, but she hadn’t checked in yet.
There was also a doll conference in the hotel that weekend. It was a little creepy, because the doll exhibitors would open up the front rooms of their suites for each other to come through to admire their collections. More than once I felt like all those little beady eyes were watching me through the glass when I stumbled onto their floor. How was I to know whether the person at the table next to me for the free snack reception that night was a doll exhibitor or another person with SAI? Or PAI? Or TAI? How?
My anxiety gave way to relief and a sense of belonging the next day, when we all congregated to register and attend the opening sessions. There were all of these people! They knew what it meant to have to take the synthroid on an empty stomach an hour before being able to take that little white pill that sustained life and the struggle that I would have to remember to take the little white pill before my sluggish head and nausea reminded me. I didn’t have to tell them about what AI was or how it affected the body and my body. They knew. They understood things about me that my closest, most empathetic friends and family members could not, and best of all, I didn’t have to explain any of it. And because I’m secondary due to Cushing’s Disease, when we (the Cushies) all got hooked up together, I felt the most understood about this part of my life that I have ever felt before.
The saying goes, there is safety in numbers. I think for most of us, it has always meant that if you travel in a pack, you are less likely to get mugged on the street, or if you complain about your boss as a group, it’s less likely that any particular person will get in trouble. But twice now, I’ve also learned that it means that when you are amidst a group of people who are different in the same way that you are different, you can relax in a fundamental way that you didn’t even know you were anxious in everyday company.
I hope that if you’ve never experienced this in your AI journey, you’ll come to the upcoming conference. And if you have experienced it before, that you’ll come home to be with your AI family for a weekend of relaxation, understanding, and learning.
Visit our conference page to learn more about our 2019 conference and sign up. We hope to see you there!