Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Not Your Crazy Cat Lady

"Let me guess. You're like, a crazy cat lady, right?"
I don't remember how I answered him, probably some polite little obligatory response, but I do remember being really annoyed by that question, especially since the tone was notably derogatory.

The crazy cat lady is a pejorative archetype that any woman with a cat or cats has heard. A lot. For a while I tried to embrace it, à la "nasty woman", but ultimately it always struck me as patronizing and sexist. My husband has never faced similar criticism, despite the fact that we share a home and he plays an equal role in the care of the animals. Cats and dogs are so gendered that it's automatically assumed that I'm the driving force behind the cats, while he heroically puts up with them, and by extension, me. Perhaps you've been asked if you're a crazy cat lady, probably by some dude who can't breathe with his mouth shut, but maybe it came from a colleague or acquaintance trying to start a conversation. The motive doesn't matter to me as much as the meaning, and the meaning of that question is designed to make you feel stupid for being a woman.

Just a regular Thursday night. (Source)

Looking back at the history of the crazy cat lady, it seems that the relationship between women and cats has both frightened and intrigued people, particularly in Western society. Cats have been portrayed as the suspected familiars of witches, the companions of lesbians, and the hoarded pets of mentally ill spinsters. During the women's suffrage movement anti-suffrage propaganda depicted activists as kittens in an effort to characterize them as infantile and silly. Cats meowing, "I want my vote!" as though the very idea of women voting was as ludicrous as a cat wearing clothing. Alternately, cat-woman hybrids are also fetishized as hyper-sexual, wanton temptresses. (Catwoman is the obvious example, but also Cleopatra and literally all modern day cat Halloween costumes.) Just the term "cat fight" brings to mind scantily clad women fighting in a manner that's both erotic and absolutely ridiculous.

And I think therein lies the crux of the matter. That the crazy cat lady trope, in all of its many forms, is designed as yet another way to make women feel discredited, dehumanized and inferior.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Caleigh Bird

Hi all! 

Just a quick post to share an amazing artist with you.  It was such a treat for me to work with Caleigh Bird, who is not only incredibly talented, but also professional and courteous. She creates custom pieces (paintings and drawings) based on photographs you provide, and although I hate to sound like a salesman, they're such a unique and special thing to have for yourself or to give someone as a gift. Like, yeah, I'm sure your mom really wants another scented candle for Mother's Day, but then again, no she doesn't.

    Anyway, Caleigh makes the process very simple and keeps you in the loop every step of the way.  I sent her my favorite photos of Aidin and she picked the one with the best lighting/detail. After getting my approval she began, and within a couple of days I had my first in-progress update email.  About a week after that I got to see the finished product and it's currently en route to me!

The photo I provided Caleigh:

The finished product:

I absolutely love this and will treasure it always.  You can find Caleigh Bird on InstagramFacebook, or check out her website here

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Bad Girl

           When I was thirteen I began to suffer from bouts of terrible stomach pain and nausea.  Because these episodes came and went, it was hard to figure out what was going on.  One day I would be fine, the next doubled over the toilet, willing myself to throw up.  After several doctors visits and tests it was concluded that I had stress-induced gastritis. Basically, I was unintentionally making myself sick. My mom took me to quite a few therapists but they all struck me as pandering and the whole act of confession felt somehow self indulgent. I would often point out that comparatively, so many people had it so much worse.  In all those visits I don't think I ever voiced how satisfied I felt in my discomfort.  How it felt earned.

           I went to school every day,  went to church every Sunday and said my prayers every morning and night.   I tried to do the right things, but even then I felt the facade slip sometimes.  It's hard to articulate, but I felt that I was, intrinsically, bad.  And when I say "bad" I don't mean it in the sort of sexy, smokey eye, sneak a smoke behind the gym kind of way.  I mean genuinely not good.  Poor quality. Not deserving of good things or worthy of good company.   When something bad happens to me I'm never surprised or offended.  I get it. I accept that I somehow deserve it.  And when things are really good, it's worse. The heavy tension of waiting for the bottom to drop out.

           When life is good I become so painfully anxious that any pleasure I might get from the good is ruined by the fact that I can see the threads holding up my happiness and THEY ARE SO THIN.   For a long time, I would cut them myself just to release the pressure. I would self-medicate to avoid worrying about how tenuous it all felt.  Ultimately, I just got used to it. I learned the signs that heralded bad episodes and I taught myself some tricks to keep them at bay. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't.

             Recently I was getting ready to leave for work, feeling really antsy.  Very irritable.  I walked outside and everything felt wrong somehow.  I don't remember where I heard it referred to as "the curious dreads" but I cannot think of a better description for this particular feeling.  It's one I recognize right away and immediately go to work trying to shake it off.  I did my regular routine to check that everything was off and locked and in its place and then walked out to the car.  I got in, but suddenly couldn't remember if I had turned off the oven.  I knew I hadn't even turned it on that morning, but also, on some level, didn't know. I went back inside.  It was off.  I walked back out to my car.  This time I didn't even get to it before I started to suspect that after checking that it was off, I had turned it back on again.  That would be nuts, though.  Why would I do that?  But maybe I did?  I went back. This time I said, "OFF" out loud.  A lot. Sometimes that helps.  This time it didn't. I tried to leave, but again, couldn't. This went on for about ten minutes.  I started to cry out of sheer frustration.  I tried to FaceTime my husband.  Maybe if he could see that the oven was off then I could finally leave.  He didn't answer.
              This wasn't a super-rare occurrence, but a rough one  for me, in part because the more manic I get about something, the deeper the subsequent period of depression I'll fall into becomes. So I was waiting for my husband to call back, which was humiliating because I realized how ridiculous it all sounded.  If I could snap out of it soon enough, I might not even tell him.  Why burden him any more than I needed to? His life would be so much easier without me wildly swinging from one extreme to another. (Like my life wouldn't?) I was still suspiciously watching a cold oven when I realized that I felt bad for myself. I felt empathetic, as though I was outside looking in on this weird, sad sight. It didn't feel like something I deserved.  It didn't feel like something anyone deserved.

               That was the day I called a psychologist, who referred me to a psychiatrist.  At every session I have to fight my natural urge to be a cynical, sarcastic monster, which is hard. I have to fight my tendency towards secrecy and try not to lie about uncomfortable truths. I can't sugarcoat, or fake the fun, which is a shame because I'm so good at it. In the end I'm not hoping for much. I would love to be able to feel happiness without having it snuffed out by the fear that it will inevitably be snuffed out. Does that make sense?  I'd like to feel content, without an undercurrent of dread.   That would be nice.






Friday, March 31, 2017

But I Do

The other day I was driving Aidin home from school when he made me a bet.  If we beat the bus home then at dinner I would have to announce that he was the smartest person in the house and my favorite child.  

I agreed, but said that if we didn't beat the bus home, he would have to announce at dinner that I was his favorite person in the world and he loved me more than he would ever love anyone else.
He paused for a moment and then said, "But I do. When you make a bet it can't be true! It has to be something embarrassing!" 

Just putting this here so I don't ever forget about it.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Endo Comprendo

You know what I really don't like talking about?  My period.  Your period.  Anyone's period.  
And yet here we are, because in a cruel twist of irony I have been battling a disease that requires me to talk about my period.  A lot.  And while I'm not entirely comfortable with it, nor have I ever written about it before, I also recognize that it's a very isolating and scary thing to experience.  It's always a comfort to talk to or hear from someone who knows exactly how it feels.  It's like being thrown in jail and hearing a quiet voice ask, "What are you in for?"

What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis ("endo") is a chronic disease in which tissue that normally grows in a woman's uterus decides to go on a walkabout. 
Every month the ovaries produce hormones that tell the cells lining the uterus to multiply. If a woman doesn’t get pregnant, these cells are shed as menstruation. When these cells are found living and growing outside of the uterus, that’s endometriosis. These endometrial cells grow just like they would in the uterus.  Although endo usually stays in in the pelvic region, in rare instances it has been found in the kidneys, lungs, heart and brain.

What does it do?
Hurts, mostly.  
Common symptoms are pelvic pain, killer cramps, bowel or urinary issues, heavy menstrual flow, long or irregular periods, pain during sex, infertility and nausea.  (I would also argue anxiety.)  In my first outbreak I had a cluster of it between my uterus and my bladder, making it sort of feel like I had a UTI.  For a year. There is also a lot of a lot of new research coming out that endo contributes to vaginal and urinary tract infections as well.

What causes endo?
Nobody knows.  It is the Bermuda Triangle of diseases.

I was diagnosed thirteen years ago during a laparoscopy to see what was going on in my uterus. I had my first child via cesarean section, so I attributed my pain to that for almost a year before realizing that it wasn't going away. My symptoms included constant pelvic pain and the urge to pee when I didn't really need to.  Sit down, ouch.  Stand up, ouch.  Bump into something, ouch.  Have sex, OUCH. You get the drift. During the laparoscopy the doc removed a few cysts and a mass of endometrium from between my bladder and uterus, and for the next few years I felt pretty good.  Little did I know that sneaky-ass endo was ramping up for a come back.

It happened slowly.  My periods have always come exactly twenty-eight days apart, like clockwork.  I have bad cramps the first two days and then I'm good.  Suddenly I was having cramps for three, five, ten days. My lower stomach/pelvic area became bloated and tender to the touch. When I laid down flat on my back I felt a lump just under my c-section scar (endometrium had amassed under my c-section scar, which formed a lump.). I put off going to the doctor because frankly, the Naval Hospital is not my favorite place to be.  I always seem to get the fresh out of med-school doctors who view signing a referral as a form of failure.  And daddy didn't raise no quitter!  The problem is that these bright-eyed Doogie Howsers are in such frequent rotation that I rarely see the same one twice in a row.  That means that every time I go I have to re-explain my entire medical history. It's a bit like going to urgent care for every appointment.  There's no continuity and they see too many patients to remember you, or even what disease you have.  (Although one doctor did remember my cervix.  No joke.)

But I sucked it up and went.  And went. And went. Over the next few years I saw countless different doctors, each with their own ideas of what would help me. 

*FYI they prescribe birth control for endo not as a cure but as a way to try to control the process by which the endometrial cells develop and thus, spread. 

 At least ten different kinds of birth control pills, sometimes getting prescriptions for two at a time, one to counteract the effects of the other (hormonal hell/weight gain/acne/lots of breakthrough bleeding). 
Ortho Patch (like wearing a dirty band-aid every day).
Depo shot (heavy bleeding for five months).
Mirena IUD (spotting for eight months).
Pelvic floor therapy (I'm sorry, there's just no way to dress it up.  It's vigorous fingering.)  
I went to the ER three times, had countless ultrasounds and doctors appointments and lots of breakdowns.  
The symptoms mirror a lot of other, more serious and scary things, so sometimes when a new symptom hits you think, "I hope this is the endo and not something worse."
Often when you voice your concerns, doctors shrug them all off or give you that "Whaddya gonna do?" look.  And usually, I can tell it's because they really don't know enough about it to have any idea how to treat it.

Four months ago I was exhausted and defeated.  I had endured two solid years of experimental treatments and side effects and I was DONE. I had the IUD removed, stopped taking the hormones and demanded to be put in the primary care of a gynecologist (until then I had to get a referral from my family doctor for EVERY gyno referral). Most importantly,  I started doing a lot of research, having realized that in order to be my own advocate, I had to educate myself.   It has taken these four months for my body to get back to a semi-normal state.  I am not "cured."  Normal for me is constant pain, but at least now I don't have side effects on top of that pain.

It's very disheartening.  In the past I ignorantly categorized chronic pain almost as a psychological issue. Perhaps a mild case of Munchhausen Syndrome mixed with hypochondria.  The reality is that chronic pain becomes a psychological issue, in that it starts to wear on your psyche. It's difficult to remain upbeat.  It's exhausting. And it's lonely.  So I guess that's why I'm writing this. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

You Aren't Special : Part II

I waited a little while to publish this, because I recently sent a letter of complaint to the company and was hoping for a response.  I didn't get one.  

Here's the email I sent:

Two years ago I was in the middle of my wounded animal phase.  (That period of time following disaster when you've limped off into the woods to recover in private.) I was still pretty beat up.  I had stopped writing completely.  I was having increasingly obsessive thoughts, which wasn't really new for me, but the intensity and frequency in which they took over was a little scary. And all of this was made worse by my endometriosis, which had returned after a long hiatus.  This meant medical appointments, ER visits and experimental treatments, all knitted together with the same fine thread of uncertainty.  Psychological and emotional struggles are heavy, but paired with physical pain, the weight was oppressive and constant.  Every day was the same.  Every day was bleak.

It was a lot, all at once, and I was just trying to keep it together.
        "I need something good.  I need a win." I thought.
And then I got the interview, and it was just so perfect.   I think if it had just been a midlevel encounter, I really might have kept floundering.  But it wasn't. It was the extreme I needed.  It was AWFUL.  It was bizarre. So bizarre that I suddenly had to write it all down. For probably the first time in my life I didn't have a notebook, so I had to go buy one.  I recorded it in detail. The decor, his tone, his expressions, his condescension and how it felt.  I didn't want to forget any of it.  In the time it took me to write it all out I wasn't obsessing over death, illness or guilt.  It felt wonderful.

I was still a bundle of bruises, but I was out of the woods.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

You Aren't Special : Part I

About two years ago my husband and I moved to Southern California, initially settling in San Clemente.  I immediately started applying for jobs (I tend towards depression when I'm not working), quickly landing my first interview at a local tech company.  They had a solid reputation and the position (project manager) sounded pretty interesting. I arrived for my interview at a large, industrial building.  Very sleek, with lots of stainless steel, glass and hard edges. Like a fancy morgue. After waiting for a few anxious minutes pretending to look over the resume I had brought along, I was called into a conference room with my interviewer.  We'll call him Mr. D. 

 Mr. D was underdressed in jeans and a t-shirt, seemingly reveling in the juxtaposition of the setting and his casual indifference to it.  This meant that in my new pantsuit,  I was extremely overdressed.  So in addition to standard interview nerves, I felt sort of silly.  Like I was trying too hard.  He sat back in his chair, relaxed, and started the interview.  He had an accent but it was difficult to place.  Somewhere between British and over-enunciated English.  (Like Madonna, post-Guy Ritchie). The motion sensor conference room lights did not turn on automatically, so after we sat he stood back up and flapped his arms around to activate them.

     “So…tell me about yourself.” 
     “Well…I just moved here from Japan.”
     “Oh Japan! I love Japan!” He says.  “International experience is so important for Americans.  What were you doing there?”
      “My husband is in the military, so we were stationed there for three years.” 
      “Ehh.  A military wife.”  There is so much blatant disapproval in his voice I almost think I must be imagining it.  No one would be that rude. 
      “Question.” He says, abruptly. “Would you rather kill or be killed?”
I think for a moment, then reply, “Kill. If my life is in danger.”
He shakes his head in disappointment. “No. Wrong.”
      “Do you think it’s okay to invade a country preemptively because you think they might eventually attack your country?” He doesn’t care about my response.  I can already see him formulate a rebuttal to whatever I might say.
      “Well…I guess if you have evidence---“
      “You don’t.” He interjects.
      “Okay.  Then no.  I don’t think it’s okay to invade a country without just cause, because you think that at some unknown point in the future they might turn against you.”
He’s not listening to me as he continues.  “Preemptive is the most dangerous word in the English language.  Americans use it to justify all sorts of horrific acts of war.”

[At this time the motion-detecting lights went out and Mr. D stood and waved his arms vigorously.  This would happen three more times over the course of the interview.]

      “So…I see here on your resume that you worked in the psychology department of a university in…Indiana? What were you doing there?”
      “I grew up in Indiana.”
      “Oh God.” He sighs.  “The Midwest. Is there a more horrible, ignorant place? And now you’re here.  Girl from the Midwest in sunny California.  You’re probably like, (He puts his hands up to his cheeks, widens his eyes and raises his voice) 'Oh my God! California! I can't believe it!' I hate it here.  The traffic is terrible.  The people all so superficial and stupid."
      “Well, it’s not as though I grew up on a farm.  I was actually born in LA.  I grew up in Indiana, but the town is large and fairly liberal.”
      “Liberal FOR THE MIDWEST.” 

I have to get out of here.  I can’t breathe.  If I stay much longer I will die and he'll stand over my body shaking his head, saying something horribly condescending like, “Small town girl in the big city.”

      “But a psychology department.  That’s interesting.  The human mind is so interesting, don’t you think?  Have you read ‘De Anima? By Aristotle?" 
      “No." I admit.  "I didn’t study psychology.  I worked for the department’s PR department.”
      “But how can you not be interested in the human mind?!?  How can you not want to know why you do the things you do?” he asks, incredulous. 
      “Did you major in psychology? I ask.
      “Okay, okay, let’s get down to business.  Do you know what this job is even for?  Do you know what you’ve applied to be??”
He interrupts me. "It’s a project manager position.  Software developers are lazy.  They don’t like deadlines.  You have to make them finish their work on time.  Can you do that?  Can you be assertive and tough?"
I tell him that I think I could, to which he dramatically raises his eyebrows and stands over the table to mock asses me from head to toe.  "I doubt that very much."

And so it went, for nearly two hours, until he stood abruptly.  The interview is over and I have no idea how it went. 

He shakes my hand and says, "You're not special.  You must know that?"
And I say, "Yes."  Because I can't think. 
      "You see, I've interviewed probably twenty girls exactly like you.  Twenty girls who think, like you, that they could do the job.  But you can't.  I think you know that.  It's above you. But thank you for coming in."

And he was gone.  I walked out to my car, just sort of shell shocked.  I called my husband, who assumed it must have gone really well, since I'd been gone for so long.  After I told him what had happened and convinced him not to defend my honor with a good old fashioned midwestern stabbing, I drove home with the radio off.  I was mad, but mostly with myself.  Yes, he had treated me like garbage, but I let him. Why didn't I walk out after five minutes?  Why was my response to being told I was a nobody to AGREE POLITELY?! 

There were many times in the following months when I would hit a low point and hear his voice in my head.  "You're not special.  You must know that?"
And my response, "Yes."