A Comprehensive List of Reasons We Aren’t Having Kids

Writing

Since getting married, people keep asking me and my husband if we want kids. Since neither of us has ever expressed even the slightest interest in procreation, it seems odd. But the really odd thing is when people argue with us about it after we try to politely demure. You could stop with the question when we say no, and I politely talk about how grateful I am that other people have them, but instead you keep interrogations going. Since we are getting tired of repeating ourselves, here’s the list of reasons.

Prepare to be horribly offended.

  • We don’t want to.
  • Kids will cramp our style? Why? Because our style is called “being irresponsible” and “sleep.”
  • You all frown on people who smoke weed around their children
  • People keep telling me how brilliant our child will be, and that might be true, if we win the genetic lottery. But they’ll also be insane, and we’ll possibly produce a Lex Luther.
  • Don’t you all think I’ve done enough damage to my body?
  • Listening to the cries of children gives me horrible flashbacks to my childhood.
  • I’ve already taken care of lots of kids, so I know better.
  • My husband straight just hates kids, you guys.
  • OR… we can both write.
  • We’re just a pair of selfish assholes.
  • OR… I can continue to play subversive aunt to all of your children
  • I literally can’t do it all without dying and frankly I like writing and activism better than raising kids.
  • Between my husband and I there is only one fully functioning adult and we both agree it’d be best to raise kids with two.
  • I wouldn’t wish my medical conditions and epic-genetic trauma on my worst enemy.
  • Just general laziness.
  • Neither one of us wants deal with the fallout of possibly having a douchebag. Which is to say, we’d have to hate our own child.
  • After 28 years, I’m finally getting good sleep. Fuck you for asking me to give it up.
  • Children aren’t fluffy and they expect to be fed more than twice a day on a regular schedule.
  • Our cat wouldn’t like it.
  • Christmas and Disneyland are usually involved in our descriptions of hell.
  • Do you REALLY think it’s a good idea? I mean, if you know us? DO YOU?!!
  • Because we are too irresponsible but also responsible enough to know we are too irresponsible.
  • It’s all fun and games to tell children to rebel against authority until you are the authority.
  • Children’s birthday parties.
  • Pregnancy, for either of us.
  • We’ll never like our child as much as we like each other and we’ll both also do a poor job hiding it because of aforementioned laziness.
  • “No, honey, Santa isn’t real. He’s just something some white people made up to get people to spend money. Sure, go ahead and share that information with the masses.” Do you really want my child in school with your child?
  • Children are like biological weapons factories and my body is basically virgin soil for the all the good my immune system does me.
  • I don’t actually carry the gene that makes me addicted to baby smell, because I’m a mutant.
  • I secretly hate taking care of kids even though I’m really good at it.
  • I’m also really good at physics but I have yet to see such a mass campaign to get me into scientific fields.

 

 

Advertisements

Practical, Realistic Suggestions for Exercising with Chronic Pain

Writing

Working out is super hard under the best conditions, but especially hard when you are a chronic pain patient. Over the last year and a half, I went from being bed-ridden to being functional on most days again. I work out probably 5-6 times a week (unless I’m injured) and I’m continuing to reach a healthy weight. If your goal is to lose weight, I can’t help you. The reason I can’t help you is because MY goal was to create a sustainable lifestyle so I could be healthier again. Research will tell you that exercise doesn’t matter for weight loss, and maybe that’s true but I know for a fact that it matters if you want to be healthier. So please don’t expect that I can tell you what to do about the number on the scale. That number might be perfectly fine and healthy for you, it might be too high, it might be too low. I don’t know. But what I do know is that I wanted to be able to dance again.

Now, up front, there are some basic barriers to this that the social justice community needs to take up as part of our list of causes. A lot of my success has depended on access. I’m able to exercise BECAUSE my pain is better managed and my pain is better managed because I can exercise. My pain is better managed because I now have access to medical marijuana and acupuncture and supplements. For people living with chronic pain in poverty, this challenge is a lot harder. Medi-Cal covers acupuncture but most doctors won’t take it, medical marijuana isn’t covered by insurance and that access depends on where you live. Supplements aren’t covered, though Vicodin and the like are. The most likely outcome as a chronic pain patient with Medi-cal is that they will shove prescriptions at you and hope for the best, because that’s what the government covers. Yet another reason we need universal health care, especially as research is currently implicating the exact drugs chronic pain patients are on as part of the health crisis among poor whites. So before we start lecturing anyone about how I did it so they can too, you can put some hours into fighting income inequality and poverty.

With that said, there are some pretty practical things that can help a lot of people that took me a while to figure out on my own, so I’m imparting that knowledge.

  • Go slow

The goal isn’t to do CrossFit tomorrow (OR EVER! WHY GOD WHY!), the goal is to be more functional and in less pain. The best way to start is to start out small. I started with short walks before they became long walks which then became yoga, which then became dance. 5 minutes became 15, 20 became an hour. OVER SEVERAL MONTHS. Especially with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, the goal is to avoid injury because injury sets us back and also makes us want to avoid exercise in the future. Injury in Ehlers Danlos is also permanent, so it’s NEVER worth whatever the push was for. Stop when it stops feeling good.

  • Have fun

A lot of chronic pain patients develop justifiable fears of movement because they exacerbate their conditions. We’ve developed negative associations with exercise because of past injury or poor pain management. The goal is to find things that you can develop positive associations with so that your brain and body start to associate exercise with a positive experience. For me, this means that I also had to think around social anxiety too. So planning around this, I knew I didn’t want to do competitive activities that involve a lot of social interaction. So I started doing yoga based on youtube and books, and walking. I love to dance, so when I was able, I started incorporating that too. After some time, I developed such positive associations that I kind of hate when I don’t get to work out. Coming from someone who grew up in a family that mocked me for yoga, this is a huge improvement.

  • Please for the love of God don’t push yourself to work out when you are ill

Pain is your body’s way of saying something is wrong, other people will encourage you to push past this. These people do not live with chronic pain and aren’t fragile and likely to be injured. These people should not be giving sick people advice. The goal is to be able to do more over the long term. It’s not a race and you don’t win by being injured.

  • Listen to your body

One of the degrees you get as a chronic pain patient trying to exist is in ignoring your body. “The pain is always there so I just ignore it.” “I can’t work if I don’t ignore the pain.” Even perfectly healthy people do this because we live under an industrial system that is frankly quite brutal. But your body is pretty smart and it does know what it needs if you learn to hear from it. Doctors gaslight us into not listening to our own bodies or health needs but this is a HUGE mistake if you want things to get better. You have to plan exercise around what works for you. On days when my shoulder hurts, I need to walk instead of doing yoga or I need to do a different form of yoga. I spent a lot of time also meditating and working on my anxiety so that I could listen to my body again, and because I spent that time I was able to create a system that worked without injuring myself.

  • Routine is your friend

This one is really hard because sick people never get sick on a routine schedule and because some of us (me!) didn’t grow up in a house with a whole lot of routines. This isn’t about always doing the workout or doing the workout at the same time every day or to the same level of difficulty. It’s about knowing that it’s better to do a little bit more often than to do big long workouts that tire you out. It’s about self-care routines like baths (hot water therapy is my best friend in the whole world, besides Epsom salt, but they are in a committed relationship with each other). You have to make exercise a sustainable life-long habit for it to work, so don’t try to show up to 90 minute fitness classes with perfectly healthy people if that doesn’t work for you. I don’t dance in a studio. I dance like I’m from North Highlands in my bathroom. But I do these things most of the time as part of my routine.

  • Your mental health matters too!

You know what makes it super hard to work out? Anxiety. SO HARD. So I had to actively start treating my anxiety. Depression makes it hard too. So does a whole host of conditions that can be brought on just from being in pain all the time. Again, this is something that we need to improve access to, so before you go around telling people to “get over it” I’m going to ask that you put some hours into expanding mental health treatment access. Your environment also matters a lot! We think we can just “power” through whatever, but we can’t. You have to reduce stress in your life to deal with the health issues and environmental factors make all the difference, so again, let’s work on poverty. But assuming you have some resources, I would encourage you to take up meditation and get your mental health issues treated like the real condition they are, because they will inhibit your ability to exercise and make routines. I don’t have a medical degree, so I don’t know that they would work for everyone, but there are free meditation apps like Brainwaves that I’m having a lot of success with for anxiety. Some mental health problems are also nutritional, I’m taking a B12 supplement (I have deficiencies both from my body being weird and my childhood) that has helped both my anxiety and energy levels. Some feelings come from having just experienced a lot of terrible stuff, in which case, there are a lot of promising treatments for most forms of PTSD. I’m not saying that things will be perfect. I still have lots of bad nightmares and flashbacks and all sorts of fun stuff but the goal here isn’t to be perfect, it’s to be happier and healthier.

 

  • Get a new doctor if yours isn’t helping

This is harder because there are real access issues here, but if your doctor isn’t giving you the resources to improve, or doesn’t take you seriously, get a new doctor. It’s not conducive to you healing to have a doctor that gaslights you and a doctor that believes in you and works with you to achieve YOUR goals is going to make a huge difference down the line. Seriously, this is what they are paid to do, to heal you. Fire them if they aren’t working on that. And not to be too biased, but until male doctors step their game up, I’m going to say that I’ve had A LOT more success with female doctors at the helm. They’ve been more likely to treat me with compassion and respect and like an equal partner in the process. YOU DESERVE THAT, SO DEMAND THAT. If your doctor makes you uncomfortable, report them too. Just because they went to school for a long time doesn’t give them all mighty god powers. They are human beings, and while I suggest that you find a doctor that you feel you can trust to not micro-manage (I do whatever my doctor tells me now because she has already been successful, so I don’t question her except for clarification), I also will very loudly encourage women to self-advocate in the medical office. Every experience with your doctor shouldn’t be stressful hell. Stressful hells are not conducive to healing.

 

Bottom line here is that exercise is part of self-love and we are all learning that concept again after a lifetime of being trained to treat ourselves cruelly for the sake of production. So I’ll end with this reminder: you are a human being. This is beautiful. This is more than enough.

Trigger Warning: This Post is About Trigger Warnings and I Think You are ALL Full of Shit

Writing

I have PTSD. I was diagnosed when I was thirteen after putting away the man who sexually, physically, and verbally abused me from the ages of 2-13. It is a complex, challenging condition that I spend a lot of time working to combat and control so I can be a functional human being. I had it in high school, I also had it in college as a history major at an elite institution. I will never not have it, my therapist says too much damage was done for me to ever not have nightmares, which is to say my entire existence on this planet will involve never sleeping like a normal person. My triggers are so numerous and severe that to avoid them all would require that I never leave the house. Here is a brief, non-comprehensive list of things that trigger trauma associated memories and panic attacks

  • Budweiser
  • Ammonia
  • Hamburger Helper
  • Fly swatters
  • Rubber bands (specifically being hit with them)
  • Being approached from behind
  • Having a white male “square up” to me
  • Home Depot
  • Raisins
  • Depictions of incest, rape
  • Depictions of violence
  • Most crime dramas
  • Depictions of methampehamine
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Crowds
  • Phone calls
  • Christmas trees (Christmas in general is rough, Thanksgiving ain’t much better)

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point here, each and every single one of those has a specific association to trauma for me. Now, imagine for a second that I decided that the best way for me to deal with the trauma is to avoid it. HOW THE HELL WOULD I LEAVE THE HOUSE?

How did I study history? Or literature? Or anything, really? It’s almost like avoiding triggers doesn’t actually liberate you from trauma at all!

Or maybe they do for people that have a specific trigger or instance of trauma, I don’t know but it’s not my experience that this approach helps.

But my bigger issue with trigger warnings is conceptual. When it comes to the treatment of a severe mental health problem, where does the responsibility lie? I’d argue that the only people who should be telling me how to treat my PTSD are me and my doctor, but most certainly not university professors who don’t have training or classmates who don’t have the disorder themselves. Although I’m very public about my struggles, I also still think that my compatriots who chose to deal privately have the right to do so and we should respect that. So when a university administrator or classmate demands the removal of a reading, or even a content warning (for adults… did you guys actually follow content warnings as kids, I know I didn’t, and I took great pleasure in subverting the man in that way), on my behalf, it feels a little patronizing and, well intended, but particularly destructive if it means that it changes what conversations we are having.

I really want to believe this is well-intended, and I think for most it is. I think most professors are just trying to do what’s best by their students and that students are trying to deal with these issues. But we’ve made it such that saying, “hey, I don’t think this is the best way to do this” is now somehow a form of oppression and it isn’t. I was a poor student at Stanford with PTSD and I don’t believe trigger warnings are the best way to liberate me, and other people do. And that’s fine. You can disagree with me because this is America, and you have free speech, but the point here is that this issue isn’t one sided. Reasonable people can disagree about this.

 

But some of this doesn’t feel well intended and it’s because of the way people describe what happens when they are “triggered” by books like Antigone. They say it “makes them uncomfortable.” Now, I’ve had a lot of panic attacks and flashbacks and uncomfortable is not how I would describe the experience. I would describe it as debilitating, painful and challenging, but it also didn’t stop me from reading things for class because I recognize as someone who has spent most of my existence on the planet feeling “uncomfortable” (hungry, sick, tired, poor), that sometimes I’m going to feel uncomfortable. And sometimes I’m going to learn things from that discomfort. It just strikes me as an insane level of entitlement to assume that you’ll NEVER BE UNCOMFORTABLE during your educational experience. Are we sure that’s the goal, here? Because my goal is to get more services for the poor and to force the rich to deal with the challenges that face the poor. I actually don’t give a shit whether or not people at elite institutions are uncomfortable when encountering challenging readings. I hope the folks with PTSD get treatment to make real triggers manageable and I will fight and have fought for that treatment, but I don’t understand why I’m supposed to care about the discomfort of a bunch of kids who are supposed to be learning and who live in a contained, safe space to do that while the rest of the people their age are trying to survive poverty and war.  But what really bothers me is that these words, “makes me uncomfortable” are the same words that were used to silence me as an undergraduate.

“Heather, don’t talk about your childhood, it makes me uncomfortable.”

“We can’t use the term low income because it makes people uncomfortable.”

“We shouldn’t talk about rape/incest/poverty/racism/sexism because it makes people uncomfortable.”

The reality at most elite campuses is that the children are extremely unlikely to have PTSD. How do I know? Because Stanford doesn’t even have a PTSD specialist on staff, but they have 13 eating disorder specialists. PTSD wasn’t covered in my health insurance when I was an undergrad. And when I was an undergrad, openly discussing my PTSD, most of my classmates told me that I shouldn’t talk about it because of how it made them feel. They described It as awkward, uncomfortable, and like experiencing the pain of cognitive dissonance. They were not telling me not to talk because it was triggering THEIR PTSD. They were telling me not to talk because they didn’t want to deal with real life. So my concern is that we have very privileged college students setting the agenda of what we talk about and what we read about. A “hey, this has rape, its ok if you need to step out” was common educational practice before trigger warnings, and if that’s all that was happening from the movement to include trigger warnings, I’d be on board. But that’s not just what has happened, it has actually shaped syllabuses around the country and my feeling is that the minute books get banned, you become a fascist.

Since most of human history has involved rape, murder, genocide, and war, most literature and history would need a trigger warning. Can you study history and avoid trauma? Should the only people studying history be those without trauma? Should we be making that choice for other people? Who determines that? Who has the power to dictate what we read? Why do college students have that much control over the syllabuses of professors? Should they? It strikes me as a profound level of entitlement and privilege to assume that its ok to demand the right to shape the syllabuses of professors. My working class, PTSD having ass would never have assumed I had that right, so I’m trying to figure out how oppressed these college kids are if on the one hand they wanted nothing to do with my attempts to advocate for more mental health services for the poor, and on the other they are demanding (and succeeding in these demands) that professors exclude readings based on the personal preferences of the students in the classroom.

Since I taught real history, obviously my students encountered content that was challenging and probably deeply reminiscent of real oppression for most of them, on a regular basis. My students with anxiety and PTSD had never had such a sympathetic home. I created a space where we could address these feelings in a safe, academic environment that was full of love. When we talked about the victims of Japanese sexual violence, I, of course said to my students,

“This video will be difficult for some, and by that I mean at least 20 percent of women are sexually assaulted before the age of 18, which means this will be personal to several people, myself included, in the room. If you need to walk out, that’s ok. I ask the rest of you to respect this conversation.”

But this has been common educational practice for some time, so what UChicago and other university professors who are worried about the trigger warning situation is something else. It would be different if the trigger warning discussion hadn’t resulted in texts being removed or in the media being banned from public protests. Those are the tools of fascists. And here’s what I’ve learned about fascism, no matter how sympathetic the fascist is to my group of people, people like me do not survive fascist regimes.

Because we “make people uncomfortable.”

My Life is Not a Feminist Statement 

Uncategorized

I know this will come as quite the shock to some but I am an actual human being in normal life. I say this because some people have acted as though me and my life choices are somehow symbolic or worthy of public comment mostly because I’m a woman but also because of my social class and visible presence as an activist. I’m sure these people mean well, but I want us to understand that real life doesn’t fit so neatly into the parameters of “what is appropriately feminist” and that sometimes that is ok. Feminism should liberate and yet we often find ourselves socially circumscribing and regulating behavior based on an ideal that only works for a subset of the population. For millions of working class women, work isn’t liberation from being a boring housewife, it’s just time stolen from their children. Upper class women who do work outside the home rely on the labor of working class women who don’t have a choice.

In my case, this has led to lots of invasive judgment about how I spend my time and in my case it’s actually destructive. You see, I’m such a raging workaholic that I had to actually  be banned from teaching for medical reasons. I ran my body and life into the ground trying to live up to the radical social justice image set for me and that I set for myself. I’m a sick person and for such a sick person I’ve accomplished a lot. But I need time to heal from decades of suffering, which includes very severe abuse and horrifying childhood conditions. I’m taking that time now because my husband has graciously given me the ability to do so. But instead of acknowledging how much he’s liberated me from the martyrdom that would have killed me eventually, people are worried that my marrying him has suddenly confined my life to submissive servitude. It is true that I spend lots of time cooking because I like to and take pride in contributing to my family but my husband doesn’t make me do anything. 

Now, after what I’ve been through, if I wanted to spend my life doing nothing but that, I’d be justified but I don’t. I have about a million other projects going on. I’m working on my third draft for a book, I’m making this blog better, I’m drawing up plans to found my dream school, I’m still a very active mentor to lots of kids and none of my activism has stopped (except for the stuff I can’t physically do anymore). Oh, and I’m working very hard at being healthy so I can do more in the future. This break is temporary, like gap years men take that are financed by their parents that no one seems to feel any guilt about. This doesn’t exactly sound like the agenda of an oppressed housewife and none of it was Ross’ idea. That of course is not counting all the female labor I engage in for him or my community, which is valuable but never gets counted. My husband treats it all like real work because he was raised well. It’s not like I’ve ever been paid for any of these things except before I had to work and ruin my health to survive in addition to doing all of this.

My husband and I obviously had long talks about this before we made these choices, like all happily married people do and this arrangement is what works best for us right now. It’s a privilege that I have the option. What if, instead of assuming that anyone who makes different choices is wrong, we assumed that our female peers are grown adults who made choices that worked for them? Doesn’t that seem more pro-woman?

And besides, when you pressure me about work you are enabling a hardcore workaholic who will then do silly things like type this out one handed on her phone. Support my recovery by joining team “Heather needs a nap” if you sincerely want me more active in the future.

How To Be Healthier*

Uncategorized

*Spoiler alert, it involves people having more resources.

Unless your mother was some kind of kitchen Goddess who didn’t work, if you are poor, chances are fairly good that you have pretty limited access to healthy food. Unless you somehow attended a really great school or maybe if you were lucky enough to live in a major city, chances are also fairly decent you didn’t have the ability to exercise either (those of you who think walking is “free” and “easy” have never been a young teen girl in the hood). The end result of these two conditions being that there is a high risk of obesity. Now, if on top of those two things you also had a physical disability like I do, it’d be pretty easy to understand how I gained so much weight after I got injured and was no longer teaching. And gain weight I did. I won’t be posting any numbers of how much I weighed and lost because 1) this isn’t about that and 2) I haven’t owned a scale but in the intervening time between this year and the last I went from a size 16 to a 6 bordering on a 4. Considering that a year and half ago, I was in a wheel-chair this is somewhat miraculous so I wanted to talk about how I did it because the context matters.

I’m physically healthier and in less pain, which was my goal but I’m not going to pretend I’m not vain and a saint and don’t appreciate the side benefit of how much better I’m treated when I’m thin. So how did I do it?

The answer all people will tell you is hard work, discipline and routine and those are all true in my case. I built an exercise routine that I am now in the habit of that was safe for me and I watched what, how much and where I was eating.

But this oversimplifies and obscures the discussion, making it easy to dismiss things like “food deserts” and “access to resources” with lectures about trying super hard.

What I did anyone could do with enough time and money, but I would never have been able to do it, if I didn’t get out of teaching and North Highlands.

Why?

1) I had to have access to good food and transportation. The nearest grocery store with lots of produce is several miles away and I was too sick to manage the shopping and cooking, making me reliant on others and what was available, which was mostly processed food.

2) I literally did not have anywhere to really maintain yoga or walk to in North Highlands

3) My stress levels needed to decrease for my pain to decrease for me to exercise, which wasn’t going to happen with the way I was living.

4) I didn’t have access to pain management and medical care that allowed me to exercise.

5) I now have access to medical marijuana, which allowed me to get off the opiates, which has allowed me to exercise and eat better as well as solving most of my stomach issues. 

Now that I’m able to actually “take a break” (thanks to the socialism of marriage) and have access to all the food and medical care I need, I’m able to be healthier, in less pain, and happier with myself. But we never talk about the context that is required to achieve that goal or the fact that it’s a collosal waste to have people like me suffering when they could be functional and healthy. And it’s also a very costly one, because so many of my catastrophic injuries and problems could have been avoided with access to resources, thereby decreasing the burden of my medical costs.

And here’s the fun secret: there’s really no reason we can’t all have these things. We just choose not to evaluate how we design out cities, provide medical care or distribute food. 

Or we can keep shaming people on the Internet. That seems to be working.