Friday, January 5, 2018

New Year's Resolutions

Every year, I wade through the resolution posts and blogs, watching people far and near set goals to improve their lives.  Everyone has things about themselves they want to change, me included.

This time of year doesn't sit that well with me, though.  Everyone is busily rejecting their weight, their habits, their indolence, their smoking, and any number of other things about themselves.  There's a massive industry dedicated to helping you cut away the parts of yourself you don't want.

I'm not just talking about the weight loss industry, though it profits the most from this time of year.  We're decluttering, downsizing, streamlining.  We pick out something we don't like about ourselves, like financial irresponsibility or a habit we haven't previously been able to kick, and we build a huge plan to defeat it.  We declare enemies (sugar is the devil, laziness is weakness, Netflix is a trap), and gird up for battle.

Few people seem to remember, when they're declaring enemies, to declare allies as well.  I want to be stronger, sleep better, and spend more time doing the things that are important to me.  My love of working out is an ally; if I indulge it I'll hit the first two of those.  If I get stronger, I can hike more, and take more pictures, and create beautiful things.  If I get more sleep, I have more energy during the day to get necessary tasks out of the way early and go do things I want to do.  My tribe is an ally.  They support me and love me and reach out to spend time with me, creating fun and wonderful experiences.  They encourage me to grow, cheer my victories, and commiserate with my losses and failures.  They love and value me, keeping me grounded in an understanding of and appreciation for the person I am right now.

Right out of the gate, a lot of people fail because the plan relies on them already being the person they're trying to become.  They want to be the sort of person who gets daily exercise, so they exercise every day until they strain a hamstring and then never go back to the gym once it heals.  They want to be the sort of person who contributes enough to their 401K to retire early, so they double their payroll contribution on the assumption that they can cut down on expenditures, and put off new shoes or car repairs until they're emergencies that end up costing more.  Then, when the big plan fails to pay off because they weren't ready to start living it 100% of the time, they get demoralized and give up altogether.

You're not the person you want to grow up to be yet.  You're the person you are, and that person has an entire gorgeous rich life that has formed you.  Everything about you is an evolution, a culmination of generations of lives that came before you and years (if not decades) of decisions you've made for yourself and your life.  You're a whole complex being right now, and setting goals for that person as if they were a stranger is never going to work.  To be effective, a goal is a map from where you are to where you want to be, but maps are no good if they only list a destination and no other points of reference.

If you've embarked on a new plan or a new goal this year, let me ask you:  what are you keeping?  What is it you love about yourself, that fits in with the person you are right now and the life you want to have?  Have you also resolved, in addition to all your changes, to keep your empathy and your good sense or your optimism and your self-care habits?  When you took stock of your life, to decide where change needed to happen, did you mark out, as immutable boundaries, what you're preserving in yourself because it has value?

For those who make resolutions each year, I hope that you'll stop and lay out, for each thing you've resolved to change, something about yourself that you love enough to preserve.  I hope you'll look at your allies and how you can help yourself reinforce your goals and dreams.  I hope you'll be able to embrace the person you are now as valuable and worthy instead of regarding yourself as just an ingredient in some finished product.

Because I have a sad secret:  if you can't love anything about yourself now, you won't be able to love the new you either.  Life's not a set of Cinderella shoes you'll be able to fit if you just cut off the right bits and pieces of who you are.  It's a long messy process of hurling yourself towards death and hoping to find enough joy and beauty on the way that you're not wasting the trip.

I love you all.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Uniforming My Ally

I have been some form of 'overweight' for my entire adult life.  For the first couple of decades out of high school, I agonised about my body, how to make it thinner, how to make it prettier, how to squish and scrape and starve it into acceptability.

As a Fat Girl, I convinced myself I deserved only frumpy, uninteresting, practical clothes.  I fooled myself that I wanted a 'classical, practical style' when what I really meant was "I don't feel comfortable wearing clothes that attract attention."  For years, my 'look' was a pair of sturdy jeans or cargo shorts, a solid-color tee for work and a funny tee for play.  Dresses were reserved, conservative.  Long skirts, dark colors, to the point that at least one set of co-workers assumed I was Pentecostal based on my style of dress.  My one concession to color and vibrancy was a collection of tie-dye dresses bought at festivals, all long and full-skirted.

I envied those other Fat Girls who wore the pretty dresses, who always looked nice and put together, who rocked the bright colors and the feminine lines.  I told myself, "Well, when I get thinner, when I look better, when I reach the goal, I can dress like I mean it, too."  I also envied them their comfort with their bodies, their ability to adorn and joyfully decorate something all social pressure pushed them to hide behind a sweatshirt or baggy pants.  A smaller voice whispered, "If I ever stop resenting my body, maybe I'll dress nice BEFORE I get thin."

Clothes shopping in America as a woman of my size is an exercise in demoralization and disappointment.  You see something lovely and fun, you envision having it, and you find out that in no universe does it exist in your size.  The brick-and-mortar stores that do carry things in your size are reinforcing the frumpy theme, or presenting you with 'fashion' garments in a style three years expired and a pattern ripped from the finest hotel wallpaper.  Online shopping's made it both better and worse, because now a dedicated shopper can struggle through ten times as many disappointments to find the few pearls and hope that the reviews are correct about 'size runs true'.  There are shops that offer better sizing and options, but they can be both hard to find and expensive, and the ability to Google search opens up a huge range of opportunities to find that for some people 8 is still a 'plus size'.

I spent a lot of time not wanting to risk that 'runs true' should have said 'runs small', and convincing myself that jeans and solid color tees and long full black skirts were a perfectly respectable style, until a friend introduced me to a site that takes your measurements and sends you a custom dress, and offers dozens of styles, colors, patterns, and fabrics.

This recommendation fell on exceedingly fertile ground.  Some five years ago, I wrote about my body as my ally, about embracing and loving myself with my own best interests as my highest priority, and I've been trying to live that since.  I've discarded the idea that my body needs to be a specific weight for me to be healthy and happy, and shifted my body goals to functional things I want to be able to do.

The health trials of my last couple of years, and the attendant weight gains and shifts, have really taxed that resolve.  Random abdominal expansion due to fibroids, plus exhaustion due to anemia and energy loss, have left me struggling to reach a space of peace with how I look and feel.  I was down to wearing broomstick skirts I bought at festivals, and a collection of black t-shirts, because so few of my clothes still fit and buying more was emotionally devastating.

But, you see, at my core I love all things that speak of luxury and the personal touch.  I couldn't pass up a dress made just for me, my own dress chosen and sewn as if I had a private seamstress.  Just one, I thought, a nice pretty dress for my wedding, that's an occasion that deserves a dress just for you, right?

So my then-fiance took my measurements for me, and I chose my dress and sent off my numbers and prepared myself for disappointment.  When it arrived, I put on my dress nervously, to find that it fit perfectly and it was so pretty and so comfortable.  The deep V neckline, though, mandated a new bra.  Off I went to the Fancy Bra Store, where they fit you and help you choose, because it's my wedding, right?  I deserve a special bra for my wedding!

It's easy to shout down the demons that tell you that you don't deserve to have nice or special things, when it's only for one occasion.  Shut up, Traitor Brain, I'm the BRIDE you know and the BRIDE can have nice things.  Not me, but this alter ego I get to wear for one day.  And sometimes you can use an alter ego as cover to sneak into an entirely new way of managing some part of your life.

Once I had tried it, I was hooked.  I culled out all my sad, battered, frumpy clothes.  Armed with a set of my measurements, I slowly began to replace my work wardrobe with clothes that not only fit and flattered, but *expressed*.  I looked at things and I thought, "I would look pretty in that," and if they fit into the budget and could be made in my numbers, I bought them regardless of whether they were flashy or brightly colored or Fat Girl Appropriate.

I replaced all my too-small bras with correctly-sized models, dropping band sizes and increasing cups to find that life is way better when you're not crushing your boobs into your armpits.  Over the course of the last year and a half, as budget has allowed, I've cut the amount of clothing my wardrobe in half, but every piece fits, looks good, and is comfortable.  I've cut my shoe collection by more than half, but replaced many of them with cute, whimsical flats.

Don't get me wrong.  I still have my funny tees and my cargo shorts and my carefully-amassed collection of Converse.  I'll never give up comfortable blue jeans, or oversized hoodies.  I'm not getting rid of who I am, just letting out the part I've been hiding behind this layer of fat all my life.

Somewhere along the way, I became one of the Stylish Fat Girls I've always envied.  I have a manicure with flowers on it, glasses chosen because they accentuate both the color of my eyes and the highlights in my hair, lots of socks with cheerful profanity, a variety of comfortable and interesting shoes, and a small collection of clothes that make me look and feel put-together and in control of my appearance.

When I started reframing my body as my ally, I began to try and consider the way I treat myself as "Would I treat my beloved friend this way?"  I am not indulging myself, I am outfitting my beloved friend.  I am putting a uniform on my ally, so we can keep fighting together.

The other day at the gym, two women about my size stopped me to compliment my dress.  I showed them the pockets and told them where I got it, and one of the women said, "Oh, I've been meaning to try them, but I wasn't sure...I thought I should wait until I lost some weight."  I saw in her eyes the reflection of my own struggles with 'deserve' and 'maybe someday', and I said, "No, really, do it now.  If you can afford it, do it.  Don't wait.  This has completely changed my relationship with my body and how I look at myself.  It's so worth it."

(I've left out the names of the sites I shop at, because this isn't an advertisement for them.  It's an advertisement for the idea that you should come to terms with your body as it is, and understand its shape and its needs, and adorn it joyfully no matter its size.)

Friday, September 22, 2017


Nature waits on a taken breath, gathering her will for the darkness ahead.

Balanced, we hang with her between light and darkness, celebrating the harvest of our days while quietly calculating: will it be enough to take us through what comes?

In days past, this calculation was much less metaphorical and much more specific.  Count the potatoes and the apples, the grain and the grape and the berries preserved; would they hold through the winter?  Would we reach Ostara safely, bored with our winter staples but grateful for their sufficiency?  Or would we stagger desperately towards it through the last weeks of a starving, terrified winter?

If a fire or flood destroyed a storehouse, if rats found ways into the granary or the rotten apple spread its poisons, if a neighbor's misfortune taxed our own stores to share with them, the calculations would be off.  Lives could be lost.

Even after the advent of supermarkets, the harvest still held literal agricultural meaning for many people.  My grandmother's well-stocked shelves of quart jars were a testament to the annual cycle of 'plant, tend, harvest, preserve'.  Sure, the IGA in town sold canned peas and preserves, but as long as she owned a garden, she trusted her winters to its bounty.  No matter the state of those dark country roads, she would eat.

Today, American abundance doesn't wax and wane with the fruits of the harvest.  Here in Central Texas, 'winter' is mostly a relative term.  We look forward to a respite from the baking three-digit temperatures and perhaps one or two good freezes to kill off the fleas and mosquitoes a bit.  Most people I know can't tell you when things are or are not in season for them locally, because they're available year-round in the grocery store.  Fewer people every year depend upon the agricultural calendar to set the course of their days.

So how do we calculate the balance of abundance against necessity?  Money, mostly.  There's also a complicated dance of tasks begun and completed, investments of all sorts coming to fruition, and the ripening of our relationships.  We've shoehorned the language of American prosperity and task-driven stress into the cycle of seasons.

We tend and we gather, but our fruits ripen throughout the year.  For many, Mabon is a symbolic holiday, when we stop to pay lip service to the gods of harvest and reflect upon our accomplishments for the year -- a tally-time for annual scorekeeping driven by the prosperity gospel that says good people work hard, hard work rewards good people, and those who deserve it will have enough.

But the true beauty of celebrating the harvest is not simply in "Look, I got stuff!" or even the deep Puritan "I have worked hard and so I shall not starve."  There's a deeper understanding to it, a moment of rest and release, when we relax into the understanding of, "Come what may, I have done my level best and I am as ready as I can be to meet it."

Modern life is beset by anxieties, by the constant feeling that one must work harder all the time, every day, to gain more and have enough.  For so many people, that reality never ends; life is a constant grind of gathering with never a moment to rest and say, "I am as ready as I can be for the winter, and now I must trust in the gods and myself to meet what is coming."

So today, for Mabon, I will not reflect with pride upon what I have gathered, and what I have done.  This summer has taxed me deeply, in any case, and so my harvest is a complicated understanding of my capacities and limitations.  With that harvest in hand, and all that the year has brought me, I shall instead stop and hang here, quiet, in that balance of light and dark to rest.  I wait with Nature upon her taken breath, as we ready the will to plunge into darkness.

I have done my level best to meet what comes, and I am as ready as I can be.  I trust in myself, I trust in my harvest, and I trust in my gods that it will be enough.

Monday, August 28, 2017

People Need To Stop Yelling at Houston

There are a lot of talking heads today yammering about how "Houston should have been evacuated," like that's a thing that could reasonably have happened on a useful scale in the available time frame.  I heard one commentator on NPR describing the people who evacuated as "the ones who took the weather forecasts seriously."  Sir, we ALL took them seriously, but we know some things I think you don't.

This highlights something I know about people who aren't from Texas, that has been evident in the number of Dallas friends being asked if they're flooding:  outsiders really have no concept of how large this state is, and even more they have no concept of how large our cities are.  The Houston metropolitan area would fill up most of the state of Connecticut, and at 6.5 million people, there are more than 30 states with smaller populations.

Think about that for a moment:  getting the population of the entire state of Missouri out of an area the size of Connecticut in 48 hours.  You can't travel south (Gulf), southeast (Gulf), or southwest (storm making landfall).  You have, at most, five major roads capable of bearing heavy traffic to the cities with the capacity to take in refugees.  The two nearest cities with significant evacuee capacity and experience are Austin, around 150 miles away down a lot of four-lane divided state highway, and San Antonio, about 200 miles from downtown on the Interstate.  Initiating a mass evacuation on that scale in under two days is just not possible.  The laws of math and traffic deny it, even with contraflow.  We saw that with Rita, twelve years ago.  People sat on the roads for days, out of gas and out of water and out of food.  If that storm hadn't hooked at the last minute, tens of thousands of people would have been riding it out in their cars on unsheltered highways.

OK, say the talking heads, including some ignoramus in the Governor's office, then people "should have understood that if they live in a flood plain and they're getting 25 inches of rain maybe they need to evacuate without waiting for a governmental nudge."  We're going to do a little exercise called "Plan your evacuation."  It goes like this:

1.  Do you have a place to go?  Friends or family out of the path of the storm, who have room and the ability to take you in for an unknown amount of time?  Can you stay there for a couple of weeks at least?  Do they have room for your pets?

2.  If you don't have friends and family who can take you in, can you find a shelter?  Does that shelter have space?  Will it be safe for your kids?  Do they have room for your pets (most don't)?  Are you willing to abandon your pets to the storm if no one has room for them?

3.  Do you have a vehicle that will make it to your destination?  If you don't own a car (many in large cities don't), who will give you a ride?  Is their vehicle in good enough condition to make it?  Local government will probably try to arrange buses or other mass transit options, but assume public transportation is full or may stop running at any time during a major storm situation.  Bus drivers also have families they want to protect.

4.  Do you know what to take?  You have, at most, a couple of hours to locate documents, decide what to take, and pack it for travel if you want to get on the roads in time to beat the storm.  Important documents, family keepsakes, photo albums, hard drives or portable electronics, jewelry, food and water for the trip, and anything you want to be certain you'll ever see again.  What will you pack your belongings in?  If you're not taking your own car, can you physically carry everything you're taking?  Do you know where your copy of your lease agreement or your mortgage information is?  Do you know where the copy of your home or renter's insurance policy is?  If those items are electronic, do you have the means to print out copies for when you don't have power to your phone or access to your cloud?

5.  Have you taken pictures of all the valuables you can't take, for insurance purposes?  You need pictures of the front to show condition and the back for serial numbers, for electronics.  You need detailed pictures of your possessions so that insurance will replace them if you lose them all.  Anything you can't prove you owned, the insurance company has the right to refuse to replace.  How fast can you get those pictures, and where will you store them?  On a phone you might lose?  In a cloud you might not be able to access?

6.  If you're going to a shelter, or to visit a slightly dodgy friend with a roommate you don't trust entirely, do you have a way to hide and secure your personal valuables while you're there?  Predators flock to shelters, because they know that people have the entirety of their personal wealth there with them, and usually the means to identity theft wrapped up neatly in folders labeled "Important Documents."  Do you know that a shelter may simply give you a square of floor with a cot and a curtain, and you won't be allowed to carry all your possessions with you, if they don't fit in your space?

7.  Are you prepared to spend a day or more on the road to your destination?  Is your gas tank full right now?  Assume gas stations will be of little help along your route; they run out early on, and getting them restocked is a major endeavour for the companies who own them.  You'll need to turn off the AC and even the engine at times, to save fuel.  It's southeast Texas in August.  Imagine that it's over 100 degrees, and more than 90% humidity thanks to the approaching storm.  Can your kids and your pets and the elderly neighbor you're taking to safety stand that?

8.  How likely is your home itself to flood?  This is a trick question.  If your home is likely to flood, you probably know it, but the most recent FEMA flood potential designations may not account for the massive concrete-heavy subdivision that went in near you two years ago, or for the failure of a dam or bayou system nearby.  Harvey is filling homes with water that have never flooded before.  People who thought they were safe are bailing out their living rooms.

9.  How prepared are you to wait out the storm if you don't flood?  A lot of people can easily weather a few days with no power.  They've got camping supplies, or a generator, or just a real can-do prepper spirit.  As long as they stay dry, it's just a staycation as the city closes down around them.

10.  Do you have a job that you will lose if you can't make it back from an evacuation in a timely manner?  It's a horrible truth that a lot of employers will insist that their employees return to work immediately as soon as the roads are passable, and if you're in a shelter in Austin or San Antonio, you may find yourself out of a job when you can't leave your family there to go back to work.

Many people weigh the complications of an evacuation against the likelihood of a flood, think about who will be there to put out their house if it catches fire or to put towels under the doors to keep out small leaks, and decide it's safer to stay.

And many people in Houston remember 2005; a couple million people rattled down through this exercise and got to "safer to evacuate," packed up their lives and hit the road when Rita threatened the Houston metro.  All of us who were here in Texas then remember the pictures, of miles upon miles of parked cars on the highways, stopped with engines off to save fuel, people giving up and walking along the side of the road.  No food, no water, no bathrooms, no fuel.  There were texts from friends and family in transit:  "Still on the road.  Not moving.  No ETA."  I remember the National Guard trucks heading out of Austin, on their way to dispense aid in the form of gas and water to stranded motorists.  If not for a last-minute course change, Rita might have killed thousands of people trapped along the highways with nowhere safe to run.

Approximately a hundred people did die in that evacuation and there's no official count of how many pets were lost to stress and heat exhaustion.  Everyone knows at least one person with an "I was trapped on I-10 for 16 hours and moved less than a mile," horror story.

Houstonians who didn't evacuate aren't stupid, or arrogant, or naive.  They didn't have their heads in the sand and they didn't ignore the weather predictions.  They're people with a better sense of what's involved in a major evacuation, and what could possibly go wrong, than most of the people in this country.  Stop second-guessing their mayor, stop shaking your head at "those people" and mocking them for needing to be plucked off their rooftops by helicopters.

Help them.

Sunday, August 27, 2017


A mark on the severity of the situation in Texas:

Since I moved here in 2005, I've seen hurricanes in the Gulf, wildfires across the state, tornadoes nearby, a tropical storm that planted herself atop Austin, microbursts, and all manner of flooding.  Today, for the first time in all that time, my cell phone carrier texted me that they're waiving all call and text fees until 9/1 so people in the storm's path can communicate without worrying about money.  Call family, text friends, ask for help, check in safe.  Call 911 from the roof.

I joke about making pie for Hurricane Preparedness and whether wind chimes will make it through the storm, but I'm a couple hundred miles from the real action.  I won't flood, we're unlikely to have any property damage.  I'm at the edge of a storm that's hundreds of miles wide and covers millions of people.  I have friends worried about their flooded cars or water coming into houses.  There will be people who can't go in to work but don't get hurricane pay, so they've got to find that money in the budget until MAYBE they get some sort of disaster assistance.

The city of Smithville, about an hour east of here, is performing swift water rescues from houses.  Not rivers.  Houses.  People are being reminded that as they escape rising water, they need to take axes so they can chop through to the roof if need be; people escaping Katrina, you see, were trapped in their flooded attics and drowned.

There's a lot happening, and it's hard to keep track.  Midwestern friends, the reports I'm seeing match 1993 flooding, but instead of having weeks of watching creeks and rivers rise, this has all happened with about 48 hours of warning, and they're projected to see the water rise more.

Harvey's projections have been wildly divergent, but right now he's supposed to head out into the Gulf and come back into Houston.  This is probably the worst thing that could happen.  He will pick up more moisture and then, moving at a glacial pace, drop it all on a city where the storm drains are already full.

By all means, donate to short term resources.  Give to the Red Cross to support their shelters, and when the rebuilding starts there will be plenty of organisations helping out.

But...we have to have different conversations too.  Conversations about infrastructure, and about people who have no way to evacuate and nowhere to go.  Conversations about how we have to either work to slow climate change or work to build cities on the coasts that can withstand it.  Conversations about properly funded emergency management, and first response.  And conversations about how we can possibly survive the next 20 years if people consistently have to choose between safety today and safety tomorrow, with no chance to simply choose 'safety'.

These are hard conversations, but keep forcing them, keep having them, keep demanding them of your elected officials.  This will not stop, this will not go away, and if we just put Harvey into the category of Katrina, of "terrible things but what can you do?" then we're just going to watch more cities drown, and more people die.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Questions to Ask Before You Punch a Nazi

There's been tremendous debate of late over whether preemptive violence against neo-Nazis or Klansmen is appropriate and ethical.

On one side, there are those who say that no verbal provocation is ever an acceptable reason for an escalation to force. and on the other side are those who essentially consider going out in public wearing a KKK hood or advocating Nazi ideology as throwing the first punch and rendering yourself fair game.

I'm not here to debate those questions.  Each of us must wrestle with our own feelings on action, nonviolence, and escalation.  I can't make that decision for you.  I'm here to help you decide, once you've accepted that you're comfortable escalating to violence, whether *this particular moment* is a good one for Nazi-punching.  You should always assume that violence will lead to reciprocal and escalated violence, because it always might.

So, some things you want to consider before you throw that haymaker:

Are you ready for a fight?  Not just "yeah, man, bring it!"  Have you ever been in a fight?  Have you been punched, kicked, beaten before?  Do you know how it feels?  Do you understand you could lose teeth, break bones, or end up in the hospital?  Do you have insurance?  How will you pay for a broken jaw?  Can you do your job with a broken jaw or your hand in a cast?

How many people are on the other side of this potential conflict?  Are you outnumbered?  Significantly?  How many of them look like they'd be happy to let their buddy tussle with you himself, and how many of them look like they'd happily jump in and get a piece of the action?  Is it possible that one thrown punch or even a shove could turn into a brawling mob?  Tip:  it is almost always possible.

Can the people around you handle the escalation to violence?  Are there kids nearby?  Are there disabled or older people who might not be able to get away from a spreading physical confrontation in the area?  Are you surrounded by people who have been advocating nonviolence, who may be placed in danger if you start a brawl with the skinheads across the barrier?  If you bring violence into a space actively and deliberately inhabited by those who seek nonviolence, you may make them unwilling targets of retaliation for YOUR choices.  Many of them are willing to take a boot to the head for justice, but if you choose to start the fight that causes that, then it's little different from you kicking them in the head yourself.

Is the opposition armed?  Are they carrying visible knives, sticks, bats, or guns?  Are you and those around you ready to engage a group of armed racists?  Do you understand that the moment weapons, even improvised weapons, become involved you start increasing the potential for serious injury, death, and felony conviction?  Do you accept the risk of serious injury or real jail time, and do those around you consent to that escalation?

Do you have bail money, or an arrangement for bail and legal support?  Once punches start getting traded the likelihood of arrest goes up.  Be prepared to cool your heels behind bars.  Are there cops nearby?  Are they wearing riot gear and carrying tear gas?  Are you ready to bring tear gas down on everyone around you?

Finally, one of the most important considerations:  is choosing violence the act of an ally or an expression of your privilege?  If you are or appear white, understand that the PoC in the area will suffer harsher consequences if a gathering turns violent than you will.  They are more likely to be arrested, more likely to experience police brutality, more likely to be targeted by the opposition in a free-for-all.  The color of your skin is a shield you can extend to those more vulnerable.  If you become an epicenter of violence, you strip them of that shield without losing your own protections.  Be mindful of what you may draw down upon those you intend to support, especially when the systematic injustice you showed up to fight means, inherently, that you will bear less of the brunt of your choices.

Overall, the choice to meet hate with violence should always be made with a full understanding of the possibilities.  We're living in a world where white nationalist terrorists murder protesters with cars and some states are moving to legalise driving into protests.  Our opposition is brutal, ruthless, and reactionary.  Choose your consequences wisely.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017


This post will discuss female medical issues in explicit detail.  If that's not your thing, please consider this your warning and move on.  I am talking about this because I can't possibly be the only woman experiencing it and it might help others to know they're not either.  Also, I am under the care of several competent medical professionals.  If you feel moved to offer me unsolicited medical advice, and you are not a doctor (preferably my doctor), please rethink that plan.

About a year and a half ago, in the course of the collection of medical catastrophes that was October 2015, I was diagnosed with uterine fibroids.  As they were 'merely annoying' as opposed to the several other issues rated at 'genuinely troubling' and 'potentially life-threatening', I set the matter aside to address when I had the others stable.  Once my iron levels returned to a reasonable norm, and I recovered from surgery and then from food poisoning, and got my foot out of the orthopedic boot, I set about looking for a new gynecologist (I had fired my previous gyno) who accepts my insurance and isn't an hour from home/work.

Meanwhile, my periods were moving from the moderately heavy ones I've had my entire adult life to something else entirely.  Since my 20s, I've had periods that were slightly heavier than most people's, but still didn't seem to cause the kind of anemia my late 30s offered (I could give blood about half the time up until 2010).  It was about 6-8 ounces of fluid loss (including but not exclusively blood), measured using the menstrual cup:  two heavy-heavy days, two moderate days, a day of spotting at the beginning and the end.  I've always had a lot of clotting, ever since my teens, and that hasn't changed.

They gradually got longer over the last year and a half, though only a little heavier.  By last fall, it was two heavy-heavy days, two moderate days, and ten days of intermittent spotting just heavy enough to need some form of protection.  Sometimes there'd be a day or two of nothing, then SURPRISE!  I understand this is common with fibroids, so it makes sense that as they've gotten larger the periods have gotten more annoying.  Additionally, the clotting's gotten much worse, which makes a cup particularly irritating:  Check cup on schedule, cup is empty, wash hands, walk back to desk, feel breakthrough, return to bathroom, cup is full of single clot.  Empty clot, spend rest of day anxiously waiting for another clot while nothing happens.

After consultation with my gyno and another uncomfortable vaginal ultrasound, we acknowledged that the first priority is to get the bleeding under control so that we can consider fibroid removal vs hysterectomy without the crushing pressure of the anemia driving the decision.  I also explained that the recovery from any surgery needed to take into account the festivals at which I camp in April and October.  To that end, she put me on a 14-day rotation of progesterone in February.  She said, "The next period will be as bad as usual, but after that they should start to taper off fairly soon."  I talked to a friend who's got similar issues, and was put on the same rotation; over three months her periods went from 10 days of wanting to die including 2 days of hourly bathroom trips, to four days of "hey, that's not too bad!" I did a lot of research and by and large the treatment I was put on seemed to help a lot of women.  So, I was hopeful.

It's at this point that someone invariably pops up to tell me the wonders of hormonal birth control and express amazement that I haven't been on it all along.  I agree, hormonal birth control is a wonderful thing...if you don't have migraines, especially migraines with visual auras.  I was never willing to take on a daily maintenance medication that increased my level of stroke that much.  It also turns out that it probably wouldn't have worked, if the progesterone was any indicator.

First period:  About normal.  Second period:  early.  I called the gyno and they said that since it was just a couple of days, it could just be my body adjusting to the schedule.  Slightly heavy flow, which was frustrating, but I told myself "Think how wonderful it will be when you taper off!"  Third period:  again a couple days early, arriving the Sunday morning of a camping festival I attended.  OK, annoying, but they should be tapering off now, right?  Also, gyno appt set up for the first time after festival I'm sure I won't be bleeding, because now my summer is open and I've got cleared time for recovery.  Heavy period.  Like, I've only had maybe ten periods in my life this heavy.  Three solid days of heavy bleeding, severe cramps for the first time in years.  I tell myself I'm ready for this 'tapering off' to kick in any time.

My gyno's office uses this electronic scheduler, where you go and pick out an appointment, but the scheduler doesn't allow you to differentiate between the actual doc and her nurse, who handles a lot of stuff very well but cannot have the "I think it's time to make surgery a priority" conversation with me.  The appointment I made for the first reasonable opportunity after festival gets moved because it was a nurse appointment, so I go into my fourth period of the progesterone.  The thing that I should have done was tell them how much worse it was instead of just telling them I was still having kinda heavy periods and some side effects.  They told me it usually kicks in after a month, but sometimes it could take longer, and if the side effects were too much, I could stop.  This is where I should probably have detailed the side effects, and the degree to which I meant 'still heavy' because when I told the doc about it in the appointment, her eyes got big and she said, "No, no, stop taking that, don't take any more of that."  Instead, having heard and read all the women talking about how bleeding less was so worth it, I soldiered on with it, unaware that the worst was still ahead.

So, about those side effects.  It started with headaches, which every site lists as a normal effect.  Fourteen days a month of what felt like low-grade dehydration headaches.  Lemme tell you, I was one hydrated motherfucker, because I kept drinking water to try and make them go away.  It never worked, but the massive water consumption is probably the only thing that saved my skin, when the hormonal widgeting started flinging the oil levels all over the place.  I haven't broken out this much since I was 15.  I also haven't had this much trouble regulating my moods since then either.  I've spent the last four months completely done with people's bullshit.  I've mostly managed to restrain it to 'snippy' but I've also unfriended about ten people because I just wasn't having any more pussyfooting maintenance of their delicate sensibilities and bigoted 'friends of friends'.  Turns out that part's been surprisingly good for my mental health; with 20% less fucks to give, I have heavily prioritized them.

However, the side effect that's affected me most is known as 'breakthrough bleeding'.  Randomly, at any time in my cycle, in amounts that varied from 'a few drops' to 'ruined outfit', I was bleeding.  Because this occurred in conjunction with an ankle injury that sidelined my cardio, I quit working out entirely.  It only took one instance of stopping mid-lift for a panicked rush to the bathroom to find that only the foresight of wearing a pad had kept me from bleeding all over the machine to make me extremely nervous about weights.  I stopped hiking, because a sudden rush of blood three miles from anywhere is a day-ruiner.  I've had to give up a lot of protests/rallies/marches because I couldn't be sure of bathrooms, of somewhere to check my "is that sweat or is it blood?" anxiety.  To say that I've missed these parts of my life is a tremendous understatement.

Uncertainty over whether Today Is A Bleeding Day has colored pretty much every aspect of my life for almost four months.  Yes, I carry pads everywhere, yes I wear them pretty much 100% of the time now, but the other thing about it is that it's demoralizing on a level it's hard for me to explain and the frustration and constant anxiety over whether I'm bleeding again is exhausting.  My body has been my ally, and I have been its, and now part of it is not cooperating with the plan we had by which I surrender a chunk of each month to it and I get my freedom the rest of the time.  I want to be mad at my uterus, but I know that it's not healthy, that it's decided to build itself some little fibroid friends and give away all my iron to them, but it's not really thinking as its best self right now.

Any of this, all of this, would have been on some level worth it, if it stopped the bleeding.  It hasn't.  This last period was something I can only describe as a nightmare.  Two days of showering while standing in my own blood.  A breakthrough while brushing my teeth that I was just too tired to fight so I finished brushing and then mopped up the puddle.  Less than an hour between cup changes (it holds an ounce, for reference).  The bleeding tapers off at night a little, so I can catch an hour, sometimes two, of sleep before the feeling of a breakthrough wakes me up to run to the bathroom.  I slept on a towel, just in case. I've bled on the office floor at work, I've bled on the bathroom floor at work.  Two loads of bloody towels in three days.  Just before I was ready to take myself to the ER and say "Something has gone very wrong," it slowed abruptly (there were no moderate days, just three days of non-stop then just over two WEEKS of very intermittent spotting).

Through all of this, I found the final fuck-you from the progesterone:  cluster migraines that happened to intersect with a round of weather changes to exacerbate them.  I hadn't had a migraine in two years; I got three in one week.  By the second day of excruciating pain, I had made up my mind to tell the doc that if she wouldn't take me off the progesterone I was finding a new doctor because I was absolutely done with that shit and never taking another pill.  Thankfully, her response was much more "No, no, that's not at all what was supposed to happen, clearly this is not the medicine for you."

In a perverse bit of luck, I started this entire progesterone debacle with dangerously high ferritin due to my liver's inability to cope with the last round of iron infusions.  I was lucky enough to escape any liver damage (in part because my ferritin's fallen from 1100 to 450 in the last two months to recover from the bleeding), but also lucky enough to have enough iron to turn into blood, so I am miraculously only my normal level of slightly anemic.  Score one for the Ally Body there, at least.

The only question at the gynecologist's appointment was which surgery and when, no question of whether.  I had essentially made up my own mind that fibroid removal was a losing game.  Last time I was checked, there are three and they are fairly large, so removal *could* have been an option depending on how they were attached, but I'm not even perimenopausal, so there's a strong chance they'd grow right back and I'd just begin a years-long process of regularly carving out chunks of a uterus I have no plans to use.  So, hysterectomy it is, about a month from now.  I managed to get them to move my surgery up from the last week of July, which would have been monumentally inconvenient for so many reasons.  I'll be out of work for at least a week; I plan to be hardcore serious about doing nothing that week but read books and pet cats.

Those who've seen me have been very kind not to remark on the fact that no matter how much I worked out, and especially the more I worked out, my stomach has just gotten...rounder.  The fibroids, per what I hope is the last incredibly and uncomfortable vaginal ultrasound for a very long time, currently approximate a 24-week pregnancy in size, and expand my uterus up to my navel.  When I was really heavy, this was not so noticeable.  But the reality is that the only reason I can still wear half my clothes in the waist (all the pants are long since given up on) is that I lost fat almost as fast as the fibroids grew over the last year and a half.  I don't know what my body looks like without fibroids any more; I've been holding off buying new work clothes for four months because I have no idea what will change.

The size means that I can not do the easier, quicker, vaginal removal.  I'll have a thoroughly badass lower abdomen scar, and a slower recovery.  I only asked about the fibroids on the last scan, and not if I've still got any ovarian cysts, which I've had the previous two scans; the fact that they have been in different places suggests they may just be a function of when in my cycle I was getting the procedure (usually about day 14), or it may mean that she'll be removing a couple of cysts while she's in there.  Aside from that, she won't remove or otherwise interfere with my ovaries unless she has strong reason to suspect ovarian cancer.  I have no interest in abrupt menopause, so I appreciate that.

I've been referring to this as the 'nuclear option' for resolving the anemia, and it really is.  My periods have been a contributing factor, but the absorption problem won't go away, so I'll still need to monitor my iron.  However, I expect this will end the need for infusions, and I might someday be able to give blood again.  My only real regret is that robot surgery is not an option, so I can't use this to threaten the other organs with robots if they get out of line.