Blog note — slowin’ down for November

Guys! I’ve been pretty good at sticking to a twice- or thrice-weekly blog schedule here at Stretchmarklandia. I’m committed to providing you guys quality whining and snark with a reliable stream of bad words.

November fast approaches, and I promised a whole bunch of people this year that I would do NaNoWriMo in earnest. That’s right — if you like my bad words, imagine 50,000 of them!

So things are going to slow down for a bit here while I redirect my creative energy at my novel. I still have articles in the queue, so it won’t be a ghost town over here — I just won’t be as prolific as usual. Not until December, at least!

And here is where I vent: MY GOD I AM SO TERRIFIED. How the fuck do people write so fast? My fiance succeeded at NaNoWriMo a couple years ago and has a pretty kickass fantasy manuscript to show for it, but I am the slowest writer of all time. I’ve been copy editing since 2008. I can’t not edit while I write.

And on the personal front, I’m moving in about a month, so my life is extra super nuts right now! This is the worst year ever to put myself up to this!

That said, I’m excited. I’m in love with the characters in my story, many of whom are unapologetic ripoffs of my friends and/or their Dungeons and Dragons characters. My protagonist is a woman with IBS, because every time I see one of those regular-Jane-gets-summoned-to-save-the-world tropes, I always wonder: how is regular Jane so robust and athletic? In my story, she is neither of those things, and her tummy gives her lots o’problems! Innovation.

Wish me luck!

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Chronic conditions aren’t gross

Adorable black cat

My roommate’s cat always eats too fast and then vomits. I still don’t think she’s gross.

People are selectively squeamish when it comes to health. I’m aware of this because my chronic health issues come from a reproductive organ, and people really don’t want to hear about your ovaries. An exchange might go thus:

Concerned Party: Natty, you feelin’ okay?

Natty: Not so much dawg. I’m in some pain.

Concerned Party: Oh, that sucks. I feel a socially acceptable amount of sympathy for your plight.

Natty: The pain is coming from my ovaries.

Concerned Party: THE HELL NATTY, TMI. I’M TRYING TO EAT HERE.

If that sounds like an exaggeration, someone once called “TMI” on me for mentioning my lady mustache. Because apparently it’s extremely offensive to think that a woman is capable of growing hair on her face. (Don’t even get me started.)

Some people are privileged not to have to think about ovaries on a regular basis. That’s the thing about organs — we tend to take them for granted when they’re just quietly doing their jobs. But I don’t have that privilege, because my ovaries like to grow sacks of fluid that explode and ruin my shit. Some health problems carry different stigmas than others. Some of them can be discussed openly — seasonal allergies, for example, carry relatively little stigma. But digestive disorders are another deal.

I link to Chris’s posts about Crohn’s a lot — see I’m Tired of Hiding My Stomach Problems and The Isolation of Food. See a trend there? The pressure to hide, to downplay something that affects virtually every hour of his life.  My friend documents her stomach problems in a really poignant blog called Things That Hurt My Belly ( seriously — READ this. Beautifully written). Her tagline is “No one ever wants to talk about poop.”

It’s a silly tagline, but it gets to the heart of what I’m talking about: people with chronic conditions feel a great pressure to closet themselves, for various reasons. We don’t want our employers to feel like we’re expensive liabilities. We don’t want to make people uncomfortable. We don’t want to field a bunch of questions or have our validity questioned.

But sometimes, I just want to turn to whoever is next to me and say, “Fuck, my ovary is killing me.”

Ovaries are not gross. Half the population has them. Intestines are not gross. They’re heroes, really, and I’m glad to have them. It seems like we’re socially obligated to walk around pretending that we’re hollow, that our organs should be seen but not heard of, that we should pretend that there’s nothing underneath our skin — no spooky, scary skeletons, no brain matter, no blood, no digesting food, no nothing.

We’re also supposed to pretend that our bodies are working at 100% at all times, even when that’s not even possible. Guess what? My boobs hurt today. My hormone fluctuations are making my boobs hurt, and now you know. It’s annoying, and it’s detracting slightly from my quality of life.

Pretending you don’t have organs and/or pretending that your organs are working perfectly is a privilege, a feat much easier for those whose organs are closer to the ideal.

Chronic conditions aren’t gross. They’re not inconvenient to hear about; they’re inconvenient to live with. So listen to your friends whine about their insides. Be thankful that you’re just hearing about it, not living it.

All this twerking hate is racist, so please just stop

I don’t write a lot about racism on this blog, even though it’s something I care about. There are many blogs out there that address racism way better than I could, written by people of color. That isn’t to say that fighting oppression is solely the domain of the oppressed, but I know that by virtue of my white privilege, many white people would be more likely to read similar content on my blog, even though POC live these issues and address them more thoroughly than I ever could.

That said, if you want to know why I get angry when I see people in my Facebook feed post about how “trashy” twerking is, see the following:

Dear Twerk Thieves and Ratchet Robbers. Here, Michael Arceneaux addresses the cultural origins of twerking (I discovered this link via Gradient Lair). This isn’t some recent 21st century phenomenon ushered in by Miley Cyrus:

Yet, amid all these works on mores and customs pulled from southern Blacks going mainstream, very few of them have been written from the perspective of southern Black people… One could most certainly trace twerking back even further if interested (the African influences are undeniable), but here’s the bottom line: there are actual people behind the contemporary history of all this and they’re being pushed out of their own creation— an all-too familiar pattern for Blacks in 2013.

Black Women and Twerking: Why Its Creators Face Bigotry That Miley Cyrus Never Will. Here, Trudy goes into detail about the racism, classism, misogyny, and other types of bigotry that inundates conversations surrounding Black women and twerking.

White appropriation of twerking is extremely unfortunate not because it’s “trashy,” not because of whatever misogynist, classist, or racist slur you want to sling at the dance — it’s unfortunate because it is a parody of another culture (see also: all the shitty racist costumes that crop up this time of year).

Read these articles and keep them in mind the next time you feel the urge to say something about twerking. Twerking is not some new invention of Miley Cyrus’s; it has a long history among women of color. When a white person makes an ignorant comment about twerking, they’re making an ignorant comment about somebody else’s culture.

Pain management and able-bodied privilege

Mameshiba Kidney Bean

One kidney, no NSAIDs
Source: Mameshiba

I whine a lot on this blog. A very good friend of mine — a friend who is much wiser than I am — told me that I’m not so much whiny as I am “honest.” I guess that’s a nice way to put it!

Here’s more whining: I’m not allowed to take NSAIDs anymore, and that makes me sad. I’ve written about how Aleve helps me survive my periods. It’s also my go-to when my ovarian cysts explode.

I went to the doctor about my fatigue. That’s another PCOS symptom. He, of course, sent for more tests, and then asked me about my kidney. For those new to my blog, I have the coolest kidney in the world. It’s big and does the work of two kidneys, because I don’t have two kidneys. I have one kidney. That restricts my life in only very minor ways (I avoid contact sports, which I would have done anyway, and drink a lot of water, which I would have done anyway).

However, I didn’t know that NSAIDs, especially naproxen sodium (Aleve), aren’t too great for your kidneys. My doctor, with his Very Concerned Doctor Face™, admonished me to stop taking NSAIDs.

“I need them for pain management,” I said. “I have polycystic ovarian syndrome, and my cysts rupture sometimes.”

For the next few minutes, I clarified that no, my kidney isn’t polycystic, my ovaries are, like I said. (My normal doctor is on leave right now.) And he was very sympathetic to the fact that cyst ruptures fucking hurt, so he decided to prescribe me another pain pill.

He prescribed me Tramadol.

I filled it it, but I don’t want to take it. I never wanted to take an opioid painkiller, even though my doctors have offered to prescribe them for me many times. I don’t like the idea of taking a drug that can cause dependency, that often does cause dependency, that has a litany of crappy side effects — that’s why I always took Aleve and gritted my teeth.

Now, a big part of this is my able-bodied privilege — I can avoid taking opioids because my body and its relatively low daily pain levels give me that choice. I’m not interested in perpetuating painkiller stigma. While painkiller abuse is a problem, the stigma attached to painkillers makes life harder for people managing chronic pain, people who need these drugs in order to live their lives. People who don’t need to deal with stereotypes about regular opioid use.

I’m lucky in that my pain is only so severe as to require medicine for a few days a month. I don’t need to take Tramadol every day, as many people do. In fact, the only medicine I take every day is Prilosec — and I have no problem going to work every day, cleaning my apartment, caring for my cat, and performing other daily tasks.

Am I happy that so few options exist for my pelvic pain? Hell no. But in that instant where I balked at the idea of taking an opioid as needed, I caught myself in an act of un-checked able-bodied privilege. I had to check my own stereotypes about painkiller use and abuse. I had to stop and reflect on the fact that I have a choice in this matter, that my pain allows me to take this drug, a drug that makes live bearable for many people, as needed as opposed to on a regular basis.

I’ll keep an open mind. I won’t take it unless the pain becomes unbearable. In the meantime, I’ll research alternate means of pain management — a good friend suggested breathing techniques and acupuncture.

But I’ll also challenge my assumptions about opioids. They’re not just menaces causing abuse epidemics. They’re powerful chemicals that need to be respected, and need to be available for those whose pain necessitates their use.

Fatigue is the most frustrating symptom

Lazy cat

This is how I feel most of the time.

Fatigue is one of my least favorite PCOS symptoms.

My polycystic ovaries are like crappy conductors of some amateur hormonal orchestra, and it’s trying to play Rite of Spring. Hormones affect emotions, stress levels, and sleep. I read someone once describe PCOS as being “like PMS 24/7,” and I kind of agree — you never know what the hormonal boogieman will bring.

My fatigue this week has been awful.

I hate fatigue. It’s not the most dramatic symptom ever, and it’s certainly nicer to deal with than, say, exploding cysts, but that’s part of what makes it so frustrating — drama can buy you attention from doctors. No periods? Dramatic as hell, I mean, ladies are supposed to get those every month, and you don’t want endometrial hyperplasia/cancer! But you’re a little run down all day? Uh, so?

Here’s how it goes when I tell my doctors about my fatigue.

They run blood tests. They run a Lyme titer because I spend a lot of time in the woods and grew up in Deerticklandia; it always comes back negative. They check my thyroid levels. My thyroid levels are normal. They check a couple of vitamins to see if I have any deficiencies. I don’t. (Friendly reminder, cysters — we tend to be low in vitamin D, so it never hurts to supplement and/or get some sunshine!) Also, I’m not anemic.

Then, they shrug. Once, my doctor gave me a vitamin B shot. It did jack shit, because my vitamin B levels are fine.

Fatigue is a symptom of PCOS. I have PCOS. Can’t that be the end of the diagnostic exploration? Can’t we figure out what to do from here? Hormonal birth control hasn’t helped me. I don’t want to take anti-androgens because my androgen levels are quite tolerable, and I’m wary of the side effects. Every PCOS treatment feels to me like dropping a nuke to remove an anthill.

Just make me less tired — can you do that?

I’m 25. I frequently experience orthostatic hypotension, and my blood pressure drops to silly low levels when I get up too quickly and after I eat. So I’m dizzy and worn out just from doing normal activities. On top of that, by about 4PM every day I find myself wishing I could turn in for the night. I don’t know how my peers actually go out and have social lives after work; this seems impossible to me. When I get home, I have barely enough energy to eat, shower, and bum around Reddit until I pass out. This sucks because this is the time I spend with my fiance. I feel like I’m a zombie when I’m around him. A zombie in love.

Not the most dramatic symptom. Probably not going to kill me. But it’s taking a decent bite out of my quality of life, so can we talk seriously about it, doctors? What do I do about this?

I drink a half-caff coffee in the morning, and that seems to get me through the early parts of the day; I am a morning person. I can work out lightly, but anything strenuous makes me want to keel over. Not because of poor cardiovascular endurance; nope, I can run for an hour without wearing out my heart or lungs. Maybe it is poor muscle endurance, but I’m actually naturally pretty strong (I mean, I can do a bunch of push-ups, at least). But my low energy levels, I suspect, are behind the fact that working out makes me feel like I have the flu. So can we fix that, doctors?

Do you experience fatigue? If so, what do you do about it? Sometimes a quick walk can give me a little more pep.  I also make sure I get lots of sleep, because clearly my body is telling me it needs it!

Medical sexism: Is PMS/PMDD real?

Two bloggers CONQUERING THE INTERNETS

Me with the lovely Lisa!

Last Saturday, I got to see one of my favorite people in the world: Lisa Sargese, Professor of Religion, social activist, healer, and blogger over at Lisa Loves Life Lessons. (Read her! She’s amazing!)

She brought up a conversation we started, but never finished, a few months ago: sexism in women’s health. We talked about the lack of good options facing women with reproductive disorders, including PCOS and endometriosis, and the dismissal of pelvic pain as being either an exaggeration or just something women have to live with.

She is brilliant, hilarious, and empathetic, and had a lot of good advice!

The conversation around medical sexism originally began when I posted a Facebook status about PMS, and another of my favorite professors commented that PMS is unheard of in some other cultures, and is theorized by some to be a condition invented for sexist reasons.

It’s an interesting thought!

I subscribe to a newsletter called Hormone Horoscope. It’s cute and kind of silly, but it sends you information about how your mood might be doing depending on where you are in your cycle, given varying levels of estrogen, progestin, etc. I take it with a grain of salt, but as someone with an endocrine disorder, I know well that hormonal changes cause big issues.

On one hand, I can totally see the point that PMS and PMDD are vague conditions that seem to lack robust research. They could be methods of silencing women and dismissing real emotions by pointing to the “hysteria” of their uteri. PMS has been caricatured in our culture as just more evidence of how “crazy” women are, as one more reason not to listen to them and take them seriously. On the other hand…

Last week, my mood was so bad that I said, “This is it!” and scheduled a doctor’s appointment to talk about my fatigue and depression.

Now, I’m still not used to this whole regular period thing, so I didn’t draw a connection between being in the last week of my cycle, my depression, and possible PMS. I just knew I was miserable.

A few days later, I got my period.

It’s been a week, and my mood has improved a bunch — Hormone Horoscope says it’s due to my rising estrogen levels. Maybe!

My conclusion? We need way more research about women’s hormones and how they affect our lives. Including research about hormonal conditions women face, such as PCOS. We need to listen to women and their symptoms and develop a body of evidence so robust that we don’t have to ask whether sexism factored in to such-and-such diagnosis or treatment.

Essentially, researchers: put your money where your mouth is.

Until then, I’ll continue to eat lots of chocolate and deal with my mood wings on the fly. I mean, seriously, I’ll always eat lots of chocolate.

What do you think? How has sexism in women’s health affected you?

I was fat for a medical reason, but it doesn’t matter

Cat with a teddy bear

Chad and a giant teddy bear ponder the absurdity of the good fatty/ bad fatty paradigm.

Ragen Chastain over at Dances With Fat has written about the Good Fatty Bad Fatty paradigm — the idea that there are degrees of virtue a fat person, already sullied by their own fat, can strive for. Now, if you know the incredible work of Ragen Chastain (seriously, read her blog — nobody does this work better than she does!), you can already surmise that she thinks this paradigm is complete and utter bullshit.

She is right.

I was a “good fatty.”

Before my PCOS diagnosis, I knew something was wrong with my body. No matter how little I ate, I still managed to sock away fat as though I were preparing to hibernate. My skin did all sorts of strange things — there was acne, eczema, and my personal favorite, acanthosis nigricans, which made the skin in my armpits darken several shades and slough off painlessly, as though I’d healed a sunburn. I didn’t menstruate. This was the symptom that convinced some people that I might actually have had something medically wrong with me. I was very not pregnant, and very not menstruating.

Still, prior to diagnosis, I felt like a “bad fatty.” Even though I worked out, even though I ate a healthy variety of foods, even though I considered something like a handful of carrots dipped in hummus a “meal” — I was told by society, and by some of the people I knew, that I had a self control problem that resulted in a wide ass.

So my diagnosis came with relief. “I’m a good fatty,” I thought. “It’s not my fault. I can throw this in their faces.”

But there is no such thing as a good fatty, or a bad fatty. (Unless the fat person is also a bad person, I guess, and kicks puppies or something.) Fat is not a measure of virtue. Fat is just a measure of fat tissue.

Period.

I was no less deserving of dignity and respect prior to my diagnosis. I was no less deserving of proper medical treatment prior to the hormone tests that showed that I had a metabolic disorder. I was no less deserving of self esteem prior to the ultrasounds that revealed I had Swiss cheese ovaries.

Everyone is worthy of dignity, respect, and access to comprehensive medical treatment. Period.

Some people are fat because of metabolic disorders. Some people are fat because of side effects of medications. Some people are fat because of illness or disability. Some people are fat because of depression. Some people are fat because of eating disorders. And some people are fat because they just happen to enjoy food in large quantities.*

All of them deserve to be respected, and to have their choices and livelihoods left alone.

Nobody deserves to be a bully. Nobody is entitled to judge another person’s lifestyle based on some observations of that person’s size or eating habits. I’m not saying I’m not judgmental. If you’re a jerk who displays jerk-like behavior, I will likely judge you. I’m not perfect, and still fight my own cultural programming and susceptibility to stereotypes.

But when I do get the impulse to judge for reasons other than mean behavior, I check that impulse. It’s a simple process. You feel the urge come on to judge, and then you question it.

All it takes is two simple questions: “Do I know enough to judge? Does this person not deserve respect?”

And you know the answer to that.


*EDIT: And, as my friend Ange pointed out, some people are fat for no discernible reason. Thanks, Ange! Whatever the reason or not-reason, all deserve dignity.