Friday, December 18, 2015

You are not a naughty child.

Exercise is not punishment. Eating is not bad behavior. You are not a naughty child.

"Moving your body should never be done as punishment and you do not have to earn your food. Some even add “because you’re not a dog” to that statement but I disagree. I don’t make my dog earn his food either. I feed him because I love him and I’m a responsible canine-mom." Read more here.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Be yourself. Enjoy the journey.

I've seen so many people working toward improving their health say "I hate myself. I want to become a different person."

Even I get frustrated when I lose fitness or training isn't going well and often have to remind myself that it [fitness, health, life, etc.] is a journey, not a destination.

To be the runner you want to be, you first have to be the runner you are right now.

To be the swimmer you want to be, you first have to be the swimmer you are right now.

To be the walker you want to be, you first have to be the walker you are right now.

To be the yogi you want to be, you first have to be the yogi you are right now.

To be the person you want to be, you first have to be the person you are right now.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Pinterest and fitness

I have a Pinterest board dedicated to health, fitness, and mental wellness. It includes recommended workouts and stretches, motivational quotes, and training plans. I try to keep it weight-neutral and body-positive, but some things slip by past Moniqa when present me would know better. Let me know.

Are there any motivational posters or quotes or workouts you'd recommend?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Motivation, Drive, Discipline

A friend recently asked me how I find the drive, discipline, and motivation to work out, because—let’s be honest—it can be REALLY hard sometimes. I have four(ish) main strategies/components that help me.

  1. Big-picture, long-term thinking: This one is extremely personal and will not apply to most people. The truth is that I am not at all good at running consistently, and I frequently see fits and starts throughout the year. I don’t have an addictive personality, I don’t have reliable self-discipline, and I do believe strongly that fitness should be enjoyable and I should rest when it’s not. So there are A LOT of rest days.

    However, I do know there is a very strong correlation between my bouts of depression and long periods without exercise. This knowledge keeps me jumping back on the bandwagon every week. I don’t get the runner’s high to keep me going. Regular exercise brings my daily moods up to normal. I don’t receive positive reinforcement of feeling great . . . just feeling well enough to function.

    I get up and go so I can keep going on.
  2. Timing: Personally, I have to commit to working out in the morning because I will always be too tired and hungry after work, and I will always be drained from evening rush hour traffic. Sometimes this means I set an early alarm and grumble in bed for an hour before getting out the door; sometimes it means I'll jump right out of bed at 5 AM to run and then sleep another hour after my shower and before work.

    This makes me more mindful of my sleep, which also improves health and performance. I make responsible choices more frequently when I ask myself how much I’m gonna hate life the next morning and how many days a single late night is going to make me miss working out as I spend nearly a week recovering from feeling time-lagged.

    Find a time that you like and just do it. If that means 10 jumping jacks, pushups, squats, or burpees every time you get up to go to the bathroom, just do it. Every little bit counts.
  3. Accountability: First, a story. Life happens. In this case, I spent every free minute last week preparing for a weekend camping trip AND had two migraines that week. I walked a lot over the weekend but could not train. It took two more days to rest and recover from heavy drinking, camping with 800 hundred strangers, the elements, and the minimal comfort of an army cot. I think the primary reason I managed to run Wednesday morning is because I mentioned to a friend the night before that I would try to.

    When I have a feeling the next morning will be tough, I don’t hesitate to make a Facebook post asking for some encouragement. Friends are always happy to tell me to kick some ass. It doesn't always work, but when you have someone who will later ask “how did it go?” and you don’t want to say, “Well . . . I didn’t go,” it can be VERY motivating.

    3a. Community: Joining a fitness forum where people have similar goals and cheer one another on can also be hugely motivating. Even if you’re much weaker than all the rest, they’ll remind you that everybody started where you were. No one runs a marathon on a mere whim.

    Some groups focus heavily on diet and weight loss or strict discipline and elit performance, and that doesn’t work for everyone. Lots of groups have a different focus and vibe, and there’s at least one out there for everyone. I’m active in at least 5 Facebook fitness groups and also connect with friends via the Fitbit app and challenges. Everyone is very encouraging and supportive, and connecting with a community can turn self-discipline and accountability from drudgery to enjoyment.
  4. Goal setting (or accountability, part 3b): I only started running because some friends pressured me into signing up for a 10k race in 2010. Being my first-ever race, I had to train for it. I continue to register for fun and difficult races often so I feel compelled to get out and train. I don't motivate myself well without an event to train for. Last year I did over 30 events including virtual runs, and this year I’ll do about 20, not including social running events.

    Sure, I can easily walk a 5k if I must, but failing to train for anything longer makes for a painful event. I may not train to win or compete, but I train to finish strong. I’ve undertrained for a few races and cried across the finish line, but that’s far from ideal. I’m not likely to just skip a race if I didn’t get around to training, because these events are so expensive and I want my stupid fucking race shirt. So I train.
What works for you?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Race Report: Playtri Stonebridge Ranch Triathlon

After signing up with me for a sprint tri on a whim in the spring, taking a hard fall on the bike course, and not finishing the race, my friend received a free registration for a future race, bought a bicycle and swim lessons, and signed up for the Stonebridge tri because it offered the super short Super Sprint distance. I signed up for the same race so I could be there to support her. She didn’t bike. She didn’t run. She didn’t learn to breathe in the water. She didn’t go. I ran alone.

I did not, however, do the super short Super Sprint. I’d wanted to stick to a challenge more on my level and signed up for the Sprint, which happened to have a 750-meter swim course . . . 50 percent longer than my two open water experiences. Fortunately, I was struck with a bout of depression in the weeks leading up to the event that prevented me from worrying or fretting about the difficulty of such a distance for me.

Race day: I was ready to give the event an F several hours before it started because there was no on-site parking and the transition area was as far away as possible from everything else, specifically, 300 meters from any portapotties and just as far from the swim exit. So after walking my bike nearly a half mile from the car to transition, I walked a quarter mile to get my timing chip and then back to transition, and a third of a mile to and from the portapotties—twice.

One positive: The water was about 10 degrees warmer than my first and only OWS race a year ago. But the air was chilly, so I chose not to warm up and spend another 45 minutes shivering before the race. I was nervous about the swim but confident in my ability to start slow this time behind the other swimmers. It wasn’t as rough as I expected. I didn’t swim well and did spend a fair bit of time on the backstroke and was nervous with so many other swimmers so close. The finish was to the east with the rising sun in my eyes for 300 m.

I supposedly improved my pace by an unbelievable amount since my last tri, so I highly doubt the course was 750 meters. Three weeks ago I’d swum 300 m in a pool race in 9:14 minutes and then Stonebridge in 17:41. Sure, I’ve been taking swim classes, but I’ve not been improving my speed that much, especially in open water.

From the swim finish, we trudged up a 15-foot high hill and back down the other side to the transition. My bike transition is always slow because I need sunblock, socks, and gloves. Whatever.

The fucking bike course STARTED UPHILL for the first HALF MILE. It felt like most of the course, at least two-thirds, was uphill. I felt slow and worried I wouldn’t make the cutoff. I actually improved my bike pace significantly over my last race, though I’d not touched my bike since then, and I know that’s the only part of the course that was measured accurately.

I worried about starting the run with a half hour til the course closed, but the run was on sidewalks and crossed no roads, so I wasn’t that worried. My last three tri 5k paces were 12:28/mi on 3/29, 17:09/mi on 9/7, and then 9:37/mi on this 9/27 event. Nuh-uh. I set an INSANE 12-minute tri PR because the 5k was two miles. How the hell is this shit USAT certified?

The medal was great, the volunteers were great. I will never do another Playtri event because I’m sick of their not offering women’s size shirts and this event pissed me off so much.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Race Report: The Jailbreak DFW

Friends expressed interest in the Jailbreak mud run, so I signed up to run it. None of my friends signed up. I ran alone. With a few hundred strangers.

I went anyway because I wanted the stupid t-shirt, medal, and beer. I drove an hour to Roanoake, parked a half mile from the start line, and jumped into an earlier wave to get this shit done and over. Points for free bag check (but which I think ought to be standard in the industry), shady trails, flat course, pleasant weather, decent beer (Shock Top), and a quality race shirts in women’s sizing (which also really ought to be a standard offering but is frustratingly hard to come by).

My memory card wouldn’t work, so I carried my camera the whole way for nothing.

I was pleasantly surprised to scale the first wall obstacle easily on my own. I skipped the next one because I was tired of waiting in lines so much. Later I was confused to see people ahead of me struggling to climb the tire wall, moreso when I had no trouble darting right up it.

Eventually I just got bored with such long stretches between obstacles and a half hour of queuing at obstacles and the course being a mile longer than the 5k advertised. I skipped obstacles and walked a lot. I had a triathlon the next day and nothing to prove.

I crawled through mud, got my medal, drank my beer, stood in an even longer queue for 45 seconds of “showering,” and drove home. I showered as quickly as possible, scarfed down some Ramen noodles, and dashed back out to the Jenny Lawson book signing at Half Price Books.

Which meant several more hours of queuing. But I got a cool pic and get to say The Bloggess took my virginity since it was my first ever book signing.

TL; DR: This event did nothing to entice me to get back into obstacle racing. I can buy my own beer.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Swim strife

This time classmate Miguel did not come and coach ragged on Emily the whole time and that was definitely worse than every other class.
When we went to begin backstroke drills, he instructed us to first do 50 yards just kicking and then 50 swim. He turned to me to repeat himself, saying that I had mistakenly swum when he said kick in last class. I stared back blankly. “Oh, you don’t remember, do you? No matter. This time, just kick.”

I knew he was talking about Emily’s mistake last week, which she then repeated this time. I know we’re both white girls in black sport suits, but I’m easily twice her age and wearing a neon green swim cap. And this is our fourth class together and there are only three students total.

Surprisingly, he praised the work I’d been doing to improve my form and said that was very good when I finished a lap. Then he turned to Emily and said that was “very bad, not good at all.” We thought for a moment he might be jesting, but he was serious and went on to tell her what was wrong. She became very flustered throughout class.

I just don’t get it. The rest of the time he does a gret job pointing out what individual things we should work on to improve our form and explaining them in detail, and it’s been very helpful. So why the negativity? As I said before, this is a city rec center swim class. It’s not a master’s class, it’s not a team practice, it’s not a private coaching session, no one here is training for the Olympics.

I may have very limited experience with teaching, but I’m fairly certain you’re not supposed to tell your students that their efforts are “very bad.”

Just two classes left.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Swim struggles

In swim class last Tuesday, after instructing us to swim 50 yards front crawl at 80 percent effort and I did, coach asked me in a dubious tone if I was sure that was 80 percent. To which I nodded confidently, breathless, which upon seeing he conceded. It was not an unfair question, but he’s seen my abilities with regards to speed and conspicuously didn’t ask it of my classmates.

To be honest, it was not 80 percent in that I cannot fully comprehend sprinting and have nary a fast twitch fiber in my body, but it was 80 percent in that I would maintain a challenging, gasping pace throughout class without floundering.

Yes, I am a slow swimmer. This is why I paid for a swim conditioning class. But I am only slightly and not always slower than the two young teens in my class. I push myself, really, enough that I'd probably cry except that I'd drown.
At the end of class, he said to me alone that two times a week (how often our class meets) is not enough exercise, so I cheerfully informed him that I run and bike all the other days, not mentioning my frequent two-a-days on top of that. I’m more interested in learning what I can from these sessions than challenging this man.

Later I wondered what on earth he meant by “enough.” Enough for what? It might be enough and all one has time for if she has a full time job and maybe children. It might be enough and all one has time for if she’s a full-time student with other extracurriculars. It might be enough for someone recovering from a running injury. It might be enough for someone looking to crosstrain for her sport. It might be enough for anyone at all trying to add enjoyable movement to their lives.

This is a city rec center swim class. It’s not a master’s class, it’s not a team practice, it’s not a private coaching session, no one here is training for the Olympics or any other competition for that matter. I’m here for triathlon but not to compete; I wanna make sure I can knock out the swim on race day and have something left for the bike and run.

There are three classes left in this session; I don't think I have it in me to sign up for the next. I hate that these are so late in the evening and am really looking forward to going back to my 5 a.m. practices. I’ll keep training through the winter and think about classes again after the New Year.

I support abortion on demand. But I didn’t always.

I was raised Catholic and was vociferously pro-life throughout most of my teenage years. I believed everything the youth group leaders taught me about a woman’s responsibility to carry a child and to sacrifice her life for it if need be, about abortion being a “Holocaust,” all of it. I wore the ABORTION IS HOMICIDE t-shirt to school and believed myself a crusader for those who had no voice. I twice attended the March for Life in Washington, D.C., with my youth group, shouting all those cheers (Hey hey, ho ho, Roe v. Wade has got to go . . .) and praying for the little babies unfairly robbed of their “right” to life, “the lost generation” they called it.

I moved away from home for college and tried to attend church on campus with a new friend but immediately realized I’d only been going for so many years to spend time with my friends from the church youth group. Then I understood that I only believed what I’d been taught and had no idea at all what I really believed. I stopped attending church and started exploring other faiths.

About the same time, I had a revelation: because abortion is a really hard choice and an unwanted pregnancy a tough position to be in, I couldn’t help but respect and admire the women who made the right decision for themselves in that situation, no matter what their decision was. As I became a woman, other women suddenly became humanized to me; more than mothers, martyrs, and murderers for the first time ever.

It was a few years more before I adopted a pro-choice viewpoint, and even then I thought I should advocate for “reasonable restrictions” and oppose late-term abortions because I still thought of them as barbaric as the pro-life movement had taught me. But when I tried to reason with pro-lifers, certain there could be a middle ground; I’d been wrong. They had no interest in being reasonable; I was only ever a baby killer to them.

In early 2013 I sat in a presentation by a woman who explained how becoming a mother moved her from pro-choice to pro-abortion, and I adopted the pro-abortion identifier, too. She loves her kids and being a mom, but she spoke about the realities of the pain and dangers of pregnancy and childbirth and how experiencing them herself helped her understand that no one should ever be forced to go through that. She also explored our culture’s weird fetishization and glorification of motherhood and the silencing of any negative feelings anyone has about her own pregnancy, birthing, and postpartum experiences. And how this culture is a lie designed to pressure more women to bear children without their fully informed consent.

I’ve also learned that restricting and criminalizing abortion does nothing to decrease abortion rates but does cause more deaths of people with uteri. It doesn’t matter if one believes life begins at conception. The ways proven to decrease abortion are to increase access to contraception and comprehensive sexual education.

I’ve learned to accept that I was indoctrinated and brainwashed as a child. I try not to dwell on the harm I caused during my pro-life days, and I’ve learned to embrace the challenge of spending the rest of my life atoning for that. I enjoy doing advocacy work: writing, donating, debating, educating, and fundraising.

I support abortion without restrictions. I support abortion on demand. I support abortion for everyone who wants one for any reason at all. Abortion is a social good. Humans have a right to bodily autonomy, even and especially if they have a uterus.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Celebrate Bisexuality and Visibility Day

I wrote a piece for the South Florida Gay News. Check it out.

“Ironically I’m writing this piece about Celebrate Bisexuality Day, a day I'd never even heard of before receiving the assignment. As a bisexual woman all too familiar with bi erasure, I’d been looking forward to Bi Visibility Day, which Google now informs me is the same thing as Celebrate Bisexuality Day and is also called Bi Pride Day. My ignorance of the holiday dedicated to honoring my own sexuality seems an apt similitude for the bi erasure endemic to our society and serves to highlight the necessity of CBD.”

Thursday, September 17, 2015

On Depression and Training

CN: depression
My depression meds spontaneously stopped working a few weeks ago* and this week has been really really hard. But I'm fighting really hard and want to share.

Saturday I ran in the morning, took a nap, and then struggled to get out of bed again, succeeded in arriving at the pool fifteen minutes before close and getting in a mere five laps just to get it done. Sunday I got in a decent run and swim.

Monday I'd planned to do the same but woke up dead tired and had to call it a rest day. I struggled to get out of bed at all. Tuesday I struggled to get out of bed and went into work late but ran after despite a tummy ache and swam hard in swim class that evening. Wednesday I struggled to get out of bed and went in to work late but swam after.

Today I got up early and went for a bike ride but cut it in half because my tires were low and bugging me. I racked the bike on my car and was overcome with inexplicable overwhelming despair, so I decided to walk a bit since it was pretty outside. I stopped in the dog park for a few minutes to watch puppies play. These things should have cheered me up but didn't. As I headed back to my car, I realized I probably should have locked my bike or put it in the car, but no harm no foul and no use berating myself for failing at higher functioning in this state. I couldn't get past the strong urge to cry for no reason at all, though, and decided to call in to work.

I'm missing swim class now because of a migraine and feel bad about that because these classes are important to me. But tomorrow is another day.

I made an appointment today to see my doc, but he doesn't have any openings til next Friday, so that fucking sucks. #thanksObama** And I have a sprint tri the following Sunday and would be worried about the 750m OWS (my max OWS to date being 500m), but I just don't have any spoons/bandwidth to stress over it.

#justkeepswimming #perseverance #fuckdepression #journeynotdestination

*It took me two weeks to figure out what was wrong and another week of hoping it might be temporary. This is the fourth week, and it took til today to gather spoons to make the appointment with my doctor to ask about changing meds. The first available appointment was Friday afternoon next week. And we're looking at several weeks after that to see if something new will work for me. The thought is daunting, but my anxiety is well managed at present and I lack extra spoons/bandwidth to stress over it.

**Over a week to see my GP has been new since the ACA took effect. I can walk in for acute things like strep, but I don't know whether my doc might be out of town now and I'd have to see another practitioner if I try to walk in, and I've never seen the other doctors at this practice and fear they'd tell me to wait for my doc anyway to change my prescription. It could be worse; it's a minimum 2.5 months to get an appointment with my OB/GYN since the ACA, so here's hoping I don't get a yeastie or STI outside of my pre-scheduled visits. That's a rant for another post.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Weird Cramp

Last week I started a twice-a-week swim conditioning classes at a local pool. Thursday I was lucky enough to have a one-on-one session with the coach to work on my form since the other three students did not attend. The classes are capped at nine students, so we’re all pretty lucky to have a small class in the first place.

But a weird thing happened at class last night that has me really confused and still uncomfortable today. Near the end of practice, after doing 150 yards of front crawl sprints with short rests between each length, I got a stitch in my side and told the coach I had a cramp. I’m a slow swimmer and have never practiced sprints before, so I wasn’t surprised by the development. I mentioned it because I wouldn’t be able to continue swimming hard for the last few minutes of class.

‘A cramp? Where?’ he asked, confused that I pointed to my side, right where you get them while running too. A pool employee came over and asked if I was sure it wasn’t in my legs. No, I told him. Side cramp, pain. And they both vociferously assured me that wasn’t a cramp, couldn’t be a cramp; you could only get cramps in your legs; you don’t even use those abdominal muscles while swimming. It must be your liver or lack of oxygen due to poor fitness. Definitely not a cramp.

I didn’t want to argue with them, one of whom I know is a swimmer with many accolades to his name; I just wanted to not sprint full tilt against my classmates anymore for the last five minutes of class. So I nodded, got some water, sat out a lap, and took the kickboard to do a slow cool-down lap.

I was confused and uncomfortable because I know it is a cramp. I’m among the 70% of runners who have experienced side cramps; I just hadn’t had one while swimming laps before. It’s a diaphragm cramp caused by a combination of too shallow breaths/too little oxygen plus movement and sometimes weak abs. Swimming is a full-body workout, and my abs sure are feeling it today. I just learned that all strokes engage your abdominal muscles. I struggle with swimming because I run out of breath long before my muscles fatigue, and sprinting surely exacerbates the issue: movement + shallow breathing/insufficien oxygen.

So it makes sense that I might get a stitch in my side while swimming several hard laps. What doesn’t make sense is the complete refutation that it could even be possible. Cramp or no, the logical conclusion is that something about my form needs improvement. And the coach had been continuously telling me what I could focus on and improve in each lap.

I worked hard, I pushed myself, and I got a cramp. Why was it such a big deal?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Sports Bra Recommendations

Breasts are a big deal, especially when it comes to running. Through several women’s fitness groups and friends, I’ve collected a list of sports bras for ALL SIZES and tips on how to choose and treat them. I hope you find this helpful and share with your friends.

Add your recommendations in the comments!

Don't wear two bras. Do invest in one that fits your body and provides the level of support you need. Wearing two bras on top of one another will not provide the same support as one properly fitted sports bra. Wearing two also gets really hot. (Source:

Don't bind with Ace bandages. It is dangerous and can cause serious issues such as tearing muscle, bruising of the ribs, misshaping the spine, and serious lung damage. (Source:

While many sports bras come in S/M/L sizing, women with C cups or larger need bras with a cup and band size.

Take care of your bra. Investing in a good sports bra is pointless if you don’t treat it right:

Don’t wash it every time you wear it. “I will only wash my sports bra every three [workouts],” she says. You can take it in the shower between washes and rinse it out.
Don’t put it in the dryer. That can really take a toll on it.
Don’t use fabric softener. It can erode the fabric’s sweat-wicking properties.

A, B, C cup brands/stores
Ross, Target, Walmart, JC Penney, etc.

Shock Absorber (30B to 40HH)

Ds, DDs, DDDs brands/stores
AKA Title Nine Last Resort (Up to 40DDD)

Shock Absorber (30B to 40HH)
The band size runs tight.
Also sold by Title Nine as the Trade-Up sports bra

Under Armour Armour Bra (Up to DD)

Moving Comfort (up to DDD/E)
Some friends like this brand, but I find its support highly inadequate for DD/DDD running.

F cup+ brands/stores
This place is amazing for larger chested women. Bras are $60 US but way worth it and lasting!
Similar to myintimacy, large boobies extra welcome!
Shock Absorber (30B to 40HH)
This site carries Enell, Panache, and Orange Zest Nursing Sports Bra by Cake.
This particular Glamorise style is very supportive of a 50F. Follow their sizing guide; don't assume size:

All Sizes
ENELL (32C to a 54G and custom size orders):
SUPER supportive.They have a regular one and a light version for lower impact sports.
Awesome customer service. Take the time to measure yourself properly. Best bras I've ever bought are from these folks.
(30A to 56G)
Lauren Silva 
Their site has REALLY slow-loading pages; be patient!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Blackland Triathlon Race Report

I signed up for the Blackland Triathlon because the event was near my home and I really liked its charity that works to combat food scarcity for low-income families. I’d completed my first tri in March and had two more tris rained out, a 10k tornadoe-d out, and missed a duathlon due to illness and injury all within a two-month period. So I was REALLY looking forward to getting back on the horse, bike, whatever.

Two weeks before the race, I drove the bike course so I’d have an idea of what to expect. I was dismayed to find it included difficult hills compared to my usual training course around White Wock Lake. So I planned to ride it a week before the event, but my knee had been giving me trouble after an incident with a coffee table, and I knew I’d be better off resting than pushing it.

Race day dawned 80+°F and 65% humidity before even sunrise, and in the three minutes it took to air up and mount my bike on the car, I found myself melting, bug-bitten, and dreading the day.

This was my second sprint tri, and this time I took the time for warm up in the pool. Which was apparently useless since the race was delayed 15 minutes and I didn’t get in the water again until an hour after I’d been out and standing on increasingly sore calves. It was tough to watch one of the first 50ish swimmers get pulled in the first three minutes of the event; someone near me overheard her say that her shoulder had given out. Ouch.

I was really thankful that this event started in the shallow end so I could get a strong push off the wall, whereas my first race had us jump in the deep end, and I just kept sinking (literally and mentally) before I could get myself going. I paced myself well for the first time in my four swim races and felt really good about this one. I confess I took forever in T1 trying to put on sunblock and eat and hydrate. I can’t swim with anything in my stomach, which makes race-day nutrition one hell of a challenge.

That bike course was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I overheard more experienced riders telling first timers not to let this event put them off triathlon because it was rough even in their opinion. It was VERY hilly and hot. The last three miles of it, I sang the whiny “Ow” song aloud to myself because I was alone, bored out of my skull, and breathing raggedly due to the pain. I don’t think my sitz will ever forgive me.

I sniffled through T2 and openly cried through the first 3/4 mile of the “run” (I didn't run) until three women walking caught up to me, and I decided to try to keep pace with them. They were also runners new to tri who’d intended to run but just had nothing left. Our legs were OK, but the heat was killer, and I never caught my breath even walking it all. They were cheerful and welcoming and kept a better pace than I could have alone. Honestly, I’m not wholly certain I could have finished alone. There was no shade on the 5k course, and we hit it at the 11-12 hour. We were very lucky to have volunteers with ice cold water and Gatorade at every mile.

The finish line and festival took place in an open-air, unshaded amphitheater. The only good think I can say is that there was ice cold beer. I couldn't bring myself to walk the sunny half mile back to transition nor the additional half mile to my car and called Mom for rescue. As I waited for her, I kept standing with the intention to walk back to transition, but I just couldn’t do it. I felt bad leaving my bike there til almost 1 p.m., but in a surprising twist, it was not alone nor the last bike. The Blackland Tri volunteers should be SAINTED. No hyperbole.

Fortunately, my bike fit easily into Mom’s Jeep, and she and I had already made plans to meet at that location to get her signed up for a rec center membership and water aerobics classes (at the pool where the race was held and where I regularly train), so at least something good came out of all this.

Today I got my race results and compared them to my first sprint. My swim was 3 seconds slower this time, but I paced myself much better, felt better throughout, and didn’t have to take long breaks of back stroke, only one brief stretch of breast stroke. One person passed me in the water who was kicking way too hard and splashing so much that I couldn’t see anything and was scared to maintain my pace, and it took a while for that person to pull ahead, so I think that’s what got me.

As horrible, awful, miserable, wretched, and no-good as the bike portion felt, scaling my spring race’s 13-mi pace up to this one’s 15-mi distance shows that I only finished 5 minutes slower yesterday, which I’m OK with.

I couldn’t ever catch my breath enough to run at all, so I ain’t even mad about those numbers. My transitions sucked, but there was a much longer distance between transition and the timing mats. It was 98°F yesterday when I finished, and I’m not sure how I managed to race for over 2 hours outside without getting dehydrated, heat stroke, OR sunburned.
Unfortunately, this all has me re-thinking whether I want to go for an Olympic distance tri in another month and a half. I may need to wuss out and buy a padded cover for my fancy saddle, because the bike shorts just aren’t cutting it. I’d ridden longer distances before but never suffered as much as at this race, and I had to sit my butt in a bathtub with three 10-pound bags of ice after the tri so I could walk the next day.

I don’t need to decide yet. I start twice-a-week swim classes tonight for the first time ever and won’t be looking at my bike for a week. I can reassess after I’m recovered whether to register, which should be about payday anyway.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Summer Vacation

Early in August I went on a 5-day Carnival cruise with my family from Galveston to Cozumel to Yucatan to Galveston. It was a graduation gift for my brother/belated senior trip for sis and me/birthday gift for me since my birthday happened during the trip. Mom, I, sis, brother, brother’s best friend, and brother’s best friend’s mom all went.

Driving to Galveston early Monday morning with sis after she flew in from SLC was lovely. We arrived right on time for the rest of the family to check out of their hotel (they having driven the previous day) and set out to find parking and the port. Mom had special boarding because she’s disabled, so she and Mom-2 split off from us kids, who waited nearly 3 hours in a jam-packed cattle line among coughing and crying children before reaching the boat, a process that effectively put me off cruises for a VERY long time . . . before we even started.

After boarding, we hung out in Mom’s cabin and tried to order room service food since Mom couldn’t walk all the way to the buffet and we were all very hungry after the long ordeal. It didn’t arrive in the hour before our required muster meeting, so we set off cranky for the safety whatever. Every cruide requires passengers to line up where the lifeboats are and listen to a presentation about what to do in case of emergency; this one was broadcast at such a painfully loud volume over the speakers that I plugged my ears the whole time and still heard every word crystal clear.

After over 270 words, I can finally say something positive. When the muster demonstration ended, the little girl beside me wearing pink ribbons in her braids said she liked my hair and I returned the compliment.

We had Monday afternoon to explore the ship a bit, and I grabbed my swimsuit and camera for a single ride on the top-deck waterslide before changing for the evening stage song and dance show preceding dinner. The show was super white and sorta cute, the costumes horrifying, and the choreography painfully awkward. The one POC dancer among 14 was definitely the best and had the most joyfully expressive face throughout each night's performance.

Tuesday was a day at sea, and Wednesday we docked in Cozumel and made our way to the meet point for our excursion. We were very lucky to encounter a bicycle-trolley driver who saw Mom's difficulty with her walker and knew how far the meet point was AND how much farther the distance to our transportation was from there. He took care of our moms and spoke to the tour guide to make sure they could meet us at the curb and walk as little as possible.

Once there, we took a van to an attraction called Discover Mexico, which touts its accessibility for guests with limited mobility. Which was devastatingly misleading. The museum and grounds have low, wide, smooth paths and planks for wheelchair users but require LOTS more walking than my mom could do with her walker. The tour group was too big for us to hear anything from the back that the guide said, and the only available adult wheelchair the facility offered for loan was in use by another guest. They brought out the other wheelchair, but it seemed to be a child's size, and the oblivious guide's confusion as to why a woman couldn't fit in a chair half her size added insult to escalating irritation in the intense heat and humidity.

So our moms ditched the tour and caught a van back to the dock to enjoy the shopping there. The long shopping strip along the pier actually required less walking than the "accessible tour." We four kids stayed longer for pictures, piña coladas, and a recreation demonstration of the Papantla flyers performing an Aztec ritual wherein five men climb to the top of an 18m pole, one sits playing a drum and flute, and the other four descend head first in slow circles attached by hand-knotted ropes.

We then went back to the shopping strip at the dock and drank a lot. We were hot and in need of refreshment, and 18 is the legal drinking age, so the boys got to drink too. We took silly pictures and purchased frivolous tourist crap and had a really great time amongst ourselves and later caught up with our moms.

Since this is getting long, I'll put the rest in a "Part 2" post.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Random Acts of Kindness: Abortion Clinic

I wrote and mailed this letter to an abortion clinic in my area.

Dear SW Women’s Clinic, 
Every day on my way to work, I drive past this office. And most days there are protesters sitting outside it pointing their signs at oncoming traffic. (Most often I see an old man, the kind of person who doesn’t have a uterus but needs to be in control of them, it seems.) And every day it makes me sad and a little offended on behalf of your staff and of all women.
So I’m writing this letter to say: Thank you for all you do. I can only imagine the flak and the hate you might face because of your job, especially in our conservative state. Thank you for continuing to do the work that you do.
In contrast to the visible signs of opposition you see daily, I’m writing this to show you support. I have never used your services and many women never will, but we appreciate and support you still. Know that you’re appreciated even by those who will never find cause to call or come in. Thank you for being there for those who need you, and thank you for caring for our sisters, friends, nieces, daughters, aunts, girlfriends, wives, and mothers. Thank you for being there despite the risks it means taking and despite the ill will directed at you.
Your work is important. My friends and I just want to say so.
signed by me and 16 friends whose info I won't share here

Monday, July 20, 2015

Triathlon costs

Related to my previous post refuting the “running is the cheapest sport” myth, I started trying to calculate the costs of training for triathlons and gave up. I buy bottom-tier gear and am still out hundreds of dollars. You can see why this is a VERY white, upper-middle-class sport and why I exclaim to others that I saw one or two POC at the last race among hundreds of participants.

Things I already had:
Sneakers for bike: $25 from Payless
Socks: $20 paid with a gift card
Vibram Five Fingers for run: $50 (if on sale) to $120, replace every 6 months
Sports bra: $65 each by Enell
Runderwear: $20 per pair
Road ID (emergency ID ankle band): $20 paid with gift certificate
Hydration pack: $25 on Amazon
Sport swimsuit: $85 by Speedo
Goggles: $15 by Speedo
Swim cap: $5
Weight lifting gloves, suitable for biking: $15
Saddle (bike seat): $200 (won in a raffle)

Extra stuff I had to buy:
Bicycle: $350 (gift from family)
[A low-end road bike runs $500-700. I happened to know someone who built me a usable one from scratch.]
Bike stand: $25 (gift from family)
Bike lock: $10
Bike rack: $40 (gift from family)
Spare tubes: $7 each
Repair kit: $15
Padded bike shorts: $50 (paid with gift card)
Helmet: $19
Tri shirt: $40
Bicycle fitting: $75
Bike maintenance intro course: $30
Bike maint. advanced course: $55
Energy chews: $2-3 per training/race
Race registration fees (for shortest/sprint distance): $70-120

Pool membership (next city over): $19/mo
Swim conditioning classes: $69/mo (8 classes)
Local rec center membership: $60/year

It is VERY difficult for me to afford this sport. It’s unfortunate that fitness costs are so prohibitive to so many people. I wonder what the field would look like if more people could afford to come.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Running ain't cheap.

A lot of people say ‘the great thing about running is it’s an inexpensive sport: put on shoes and go.’ This just isn’t true.

Some people can wear Payless sneakers for $25, but many require better support, cushioning, and traction. Most of us spend $75-$200 per pair of trainers, two pairs per year. And I’m talking Dallas, Texas, pricing, where the cost of living is much lower than most of the country.

Cheap cotton socks cause blisters. Decent sports socks range from $10-20 per pair, and you’re going to need more than one pair.

Sweats and cotton shorts cause chafing. I can get athletic capris on sale for $20, but they typically cost $50-100. Winter pants: $75-150.

Cotton panties chafe. Some people go commando. Some people can’t. Sports underwear made from materials that will wick sweat to mitigate chafing and materials that won’t trap smells are $20 on sale, generally $30-50 per pair. You’re going to need more than one pair of runderwear.

While the fellas may be able to run shirtless, the women who make up about 60% of runners need a little more. A technical fabric t-shirt, necessary because cotton causes chafing, costs $20-75 depending on the brand. Sports bras may only be $20 for the smaller women, but anyone above a C cup needs a bra that measures by both band and cup size. Those run $50-80 each. I need the support that $65 ENELL bras provide 34DDDs, and it’s recommended to replace them as often as your trainers. And we’ll probably need more than one.

Those are just the basics. We haven’t talked about an armband or waist pouch for cell phones and car keys, the cost of earbuds that stand up to sweat and motion, GPS watches, cold weather gear, headbands, sunblock, sunglasses, hydration systems, childcare, gym memberships for cross training and bad weather, coaching, race registrations, and transportation to safe trails and events.

We’re looking at a bare minimum $175 to even try the sport. Please don’t tell a runner how great it is that running is so cheap and easy lest the resulting glare turn you to stone.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Happy Marriage Equality Day!

At 9:05 a.m. CST, I walked into my office building’s lobby and saw the scrolling headline on the TV: “BREAKING: SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS MARRIAGE EQUALITY” and cried the whole way up the elevator. In disbelief, I checked my phone for articles, thinking maybe I’d misread the TV at a glance, and I couldn’t find anything online for another 10 minutes. But once I’d booted my computer and jumped on Facebook, the headlines flooded my feed, and tears streamed down my face for the rest of the hour. I was so unexpectedly overwhelmed with joy. I’d never before experienced such a strong reaction to happy news, and though I actually support marriage abolition, the news of marriage equality hit me hard.

I continued to break out into tears throughout the day as new articles, photos, and art crossed my feed. Mid-afternoon I posted a status half-jokingly asking the cost of tattoos because I now wanted a rainbow. A few hours later, my roommate texted to say she had an appointment that evening with her tattoo artist and to ask if I wanted to get one, too. Yes, let’s do it. She’d been thinking of getting her next tattoo, and my post spurred her to make the call.

I left work a little early to go to happy hour at Sue Ellen’s because I really wanted to share the joy in a group setting but didn’t have the spoons for the huge event later that evening. An hour and a half and a single drink was the perfect way to wind down the day and bask in the warm glow all around me. Then I walked back to my car to go to the tattoo studio.

The drive was swifter than expected, so I arrived a few minutes early and waited. And waited. I’m told that artist time is like that. An hour after my appointment time, I got to talk to the artist about what I wanted. I’d googled “cute rainbow art” that afternoon and found two possible drawings I liked and a third with colors I liked. I chose the first drawing, a half rainbow with a smiling cloud, and requested bright colors instead of the pastels its creator had chosen.

I had it tattooed just behind my left ear. It was my first tattoo, so I didn’t know what to expect in terms of pain, but I figured that a lifetime of migraine made this a reasonable gamble on my pain tolerance. It wasn’t that bad. We had to stop a couple times because my body was shaky, adrenaline or whatever, and it did hurt really bad right against the ear, but the skull bit was alright.

The healing scabby part sucked, but I survived. It brings me joy. People immediately asked if I was planning on my second, but I think that may be a ways off. I have some ideas, but interrupting training for healing is a big thing to plan for, and this is the first time in my life I’ve ever wanted something enough to have it done permanently.

I'll add a photo when I'm able.

Update: Two months later, I still love it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

NSV: Non-Scale Victory

NSV is an acronym popular in fitness circles that stands for “Non-Scale Victory.” It’s used to highlight and share health and fitness achievements independent of one’s body weight, since weight is never entirely within a person’s control, is no measure of health or fitness, and does not accurately reflect fat loss and/or muscle gain.

Mine, for example, has been largely steady this year, but pants that hadn’t fit in 18 months sometimes slide off my hips without a belt now, I have to tear off the sleeves from some of my favorite t-shirts, and I’m busting out of my favorite dresses, resigning myself to donating them elsewhere. My favorite shorty shorts no longer squeeze my belly uncomfortably but my thighs instead.

Though NSV’s can include improved run times and increased weight lifting ability, they typically take the form of seemingly mundane tasks that one could not previously accomplish, as a way of focusing on functional improvement in daily life.
My NSV’s of late focus on functional strength: more easily lifting and moving heavy or awkward boxes and furniture alone and with help in preparation for my upcoming cross-town move.

Sunday saw my most recent and amusing NSV: Though I sat in an aisle seat at the movie theater, I didn't particularly feel like standing and stepping out to let the little kid and dad out to use the restroom and totally miss all of the ‪#‎raptorsquad‬. So I tucked my knees to my chest and with surprising ease lifted my body up and back with my hands on the armrests.

In the past, I and the people around me have marveled at my ability as a casual outdoorswoman to keep up with seasoned hikers on difficult, lengthy, treacherous trails. One afternoon I went for a nature walk and was unexpectedly whisked away by a Korean hiking club for 5 hours. I also signed up for a weekend hiking trip not knowing it was on an expert-level trail; we were told the bus would meet us on the other side, so the only way out was up and over. Sometimes I hurt and I cried, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other, awestruck that my legs didn’t just give out. Years later I joined acquaintances known for their superhero strength and radical outdoorsing on a failed hike to find some caves while my friends took a nap; though it wound up being emotionally taxing, I kept up.

A happier NSV: This year I did my first headstand as an adult, and I didn’t hurt myself.

What are your NSV’s?

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Journey and Goal Setting

Fitness is a journey. You don’t ever reach one goal and just stop; you set a faster goal, a longer goal, a stronger goal, or a different type of goal altogether. This post is about my changing goals and myriad accomplishments.

I never intended to become a runner, but I joined a women’s walking group in April 2010 and we ended up peer pressuring each other into registering for a 10k race together. In eight weeks I used the plan “Day 1: Run as far as you can; Day 2: Repeat” to train from zero to run my first 10k faster than I expected in 1:16:19 on a day 85°F and 80 percent humidity, no less. I went on that fall to run my only sub-60 10k and sub-30 5k.

A lot of runners train to get faster and better at their chosen distances. I’ve never since been able to hit that 10-minute pace I so enjoyed and took pride in. Sometimes it gets me down, especially on days that I feel strong and swift and discover at the end of a run that I’m only hitting about a 13-minute pace. I find that I prefer to train for lots of new events with only a goal of finishing. I want to try everything.

In 2011 I ran my first obstacle race, the Warrior Dash, and finished in a respectable 00:40:51 after long lines at each obstacle and later that season attempted my first half marathon (13.1 miles). I was injured and under-trained for the half, and inclement weather shortened the course, but I finished and set a distance PR of about 4 miles that day.

Texas saw a dreadful summer in 2012, making it sort of an off year for me, though I did a couple mud runs with friends. That might have been the year I sprained my foot early on the course and walked the rest of it with my friends’ expressing their relief at not struggling to keep up with me.

I ran my first trail race in 2013, a brutal 10k that kicked my butt, but I loved every excruciating minute of it and its scenic vistas. The following month I proudly earned my first DNF at the Savage Race obstacle run. Choosing to DNF is one of the best life choices I’ve ever made.

At the end of 2013, I ran/slogged through a 15.2-mile Spartan Beast obstacle race. I went into it believing I could *maybe* make it through 9 miles and would definitely drop out. But the weather was glorious and I framed it in my mind as a beautiful afternoon hike. I finished in just under 7 hours and just barely before dark.

In 2014, I ran more races than any sane person should, including a dozen in May alone, and suffered several months of ITBS. I also ran two complete half marathons. Despite the pain and how much it slowed me down, I worked my way up to running for three hours straight. Running fast may get all the recognition, but running for three hours, even slowly, is no fucking joke.

At my second half marathon last year, I’d set a 3-hour time goal and was sad to come in at 3:04:00 until I looked back at how miserable and lonely and unmotivated I was at the start of the race that morning; the long, lonely, empty, shade-free course; the overuse knee injury that had plagued me and inhibited my training for 6 months; the last mile I’d spent limping and sobbing in agony and seriously contemplating dropping for help; the obnoxiously steep uphill final stretch; and all the money I’d raised for LLS. All things considered, that 3:04 was effing badass and an 18 minute improvement over my first half marathon less than two months prior.

I had spent most of the year with my heart set on completing the Spartan Trifecta, mostly just to prove I could, but I had such a rough time at the 2013 Beast and so much knee pain at the 2014 Sprint and Super that I ultimately decided not to go for the 2014 Beast and Trifecta, having already proven I could do all three within six months, even if I wouldn’t get the recognition for it. Giving up that goal was very rewarding in that it alleviated a lot of anxiety and dread and saved me a few hundred bucks, too.

For four years I’ve wanted to train for and run a full marathon (26.2 miles), but last year’s painful setbacks have me re-evaluating that goal. Last summer showed me how awful it is to log long miles in the heat for a fall race, so if I want to do a marathon, I’ll have to find a springtime event and commit to training through winter. This year I’m giving triathlon a go instead.

I like to give myself reasonable time goals to meet. My first tri goal was two hours, and I came in at 1:54. I have a bad habit of playing it down and telling people I’m only doing sprint tri’s for now, but there’s nothing easy about two hours of continuous cardio.

I’d thought I would go for a half Ironman (70.3 miles) this fall with an acquaintance but realized after the first tri how difficult that would be and decided that I am not interested in training for a 7-hour torture fest. I am, however, looking at an International distance triathlon in September, which is a distance twice as long as the Sprint, though hopefully I can get my time down.
So I’ve unexpectedly beat goals, met goals, fallen short, and found fulfillment in re-examining and throwing out other goals, which is an important ability to cultivate for one’s peace of mind.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Personal Journey: Setbacks and Silver Linings

It's been a rough several weeks. Free access to the office fitness center was suddenly and unexpectedly cut off at the beginning of the month. Building management never said a word in advance that their newly built fitness center would charge a membership fee, and it's up-front for the year rather than month-to-month, so my only indoor workout option is just gone.

However, lots of my coworkers are very interested in the new center and in the same boat financially, so a few organized a poll to find out how many employees would commit to using the center three times a week if our company subsidized the cost. Yesterday they turned in a list of more than 60 interested out of a total 200 employees. Our company rents 6 percent of the building space and may have some sway to get a group rate from building management, so fingers are crossed.

I've also been missing running and other workouts partly because I'm busy preparing to move at the end of the month, but/and the rec center by my new house is two years old, has a sauna, and costs half as much at the office center. So if I can tough it out two more weeks, I can get back to indoor workouts.

Yesterday was my first run in two weeks. We had a long, cool spring and then it suddenly got hot with no transition period. I'm terribly sensitive to the heat and literally afraid to leave my house, haven't biked in a month. I ran 3.57 miles of trail with a group—struggled, but did it—and then walked/ran 1.65 miles back to my car, including jumping a chain-link fence so I could walk through a well-lit baseball field instead of down the unlit country road with a blind turn.

I've also been adding more produce and homemade meals to my life, which is a challenge for me as I’m not much a fan of cooking, and I'm really proud of my determination and success with weekly meal prep. It’s mostly simple stews and rice, but it’s leading to less processed foods, fast food, and frozen meals, as well as a happier tummy.

Earlier this year I was dreading the thought of going dairy-free and/or gluten-free for the purpose of an elimination diet to determine why my stomach seemed to be hell-bent on my destruction, but I’ve eased up on spicy foods and found relief.

Just another entry in “fitness and health are a journey, not a destination.”

Monday, June 8, 2015


A post for posterity about my recent stateside hashenanigans.

After returning from Korea, I considered hashing in Dallas but spent several years failing to attend. One member emailed me invitations weekly for over two years. Then an Amtgarder spent another year or two trying to get me to come out. I needed a break and associated the hobby with severe depression, binge drinking and poor life choices.

Fully four years after leaving the ROK, I was finally ready to check out the Dallas hash. My first run with them was their 300th run, a Spartan themed event. I learned what an urban hash is, and I hated the trail. I’d never before hashed without climbing walls or fences or shiggy. Running on concrete just sucks.

The lengthy beer stops were new to me and circle was fun, though I’m sad to have forgotten so many songs. I enjoyed it well enough to return two weeks later, not having enough energy to attend weekly late-night workweek social events.

An acquaintance from Korea spontaneously invited me to hash with him in Tulsa at the Red Dress Run, which I’d forgotten about for several weeks until the Dallas hash. We’d met on a weekend trip in Korea, and though he’d never hashed there, he’s been doing it for two years now stateside.

It sounded like fun, so I drove up there for the weekend and camped out Friday with a bunch of hashers I’d never met at Bull Creek peninsula on Skiatook Lake. The ground was wet, but we were lucky enough to have cool, dry weather. We had burgers, hot dogs, and beers; a few of us swam in the muddy lake; we watched a glorious sunset; and later I spun some fire toys for the group. I missed out on the midnight trail because I’d already crawled into bed and was too tired and comfortable to get up and dress for it. I figured I was better off saving my energy for the next day’s trail.

Saturday was the annual Red Dress Run, wherein 60 hashers ALL wore red dresses and ran for charity. Our event registration fees bought us t-shirts, THHH cups, beer koozies, beer, snacks, and pizza. Trail wound through Tulsa, included two bar stops and additional beer checks, and jaunts across town via party busses between stretches of trail.

Many hashers balked when trail included a jump into a concrete drainage trench, but I was filled with glee at the prospect of finally encountering shiggy like we had in Korea. The event began at 2, I think we started trail close to 3, and we finally returned for circle about 7 p.m. I wanted to join the on-after at a local bar but was way too tired and crashed at a friend’s home instead, woke to a horrific hangover, and, disappointed, skipped the planned brunch.

The drive home was lovely, and I attended my first NoDUHHH (North of Dallas Hash) the very next day. Great crowd, good fun, great food.

On on!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Necessity of Self Diagnosis and Acknowledging Its Value and Validity

(Quoted insight from friends peppers this piece. Though it's been arranged to relate to surrounding text, I’ve chosen not to set up each paragraph of dialogue with a formal segue.)

We place a lot of faith and trust in doctors who’ve spent so many years becoming experts in their respective fields. To think that just a few hundred years ago we had little recourse but to act independently on what knowledge we could glean from our own research and experiences and those of our neighbors. . . . Just like we treat most common ailments today. We become very knowledgeable about the things we experience regularly, and we easily pick up treatments from convenience, grocery, and drug stores. Yet we as a society largely disparage self diagnosis and self medication of mental disorders.

“OTC medications exist because you can self diagnose a bunch of shit and treat it without seeing a doctor. Yeast infection. Dehydration. Heartburn. Diarrhea. Constipation. Aches and pains. But suddenly that stuff all doesn't matter when it's other kinds of health? NOPE.” —Elyse “Mofo” Anders

Earlier this week a now-former Facebook “friend” asserted that when people tell him of their self-diagnosed PTSD or bipolar disorder, he knows that what’s wrong with them is not either of those things but that they are “idiots.” This attitude toward self-diagnosis is unfortunately all-too prevalent and contributes to furthering the stigma against mental illness in the first place by silencing those who do not or can not obtain a professional diagnosis for whatever reason.

“Misdiagnosis happens even when professionals are on the job.” —Danielle St. Johns

Self diagnosis is not inherently invalid, ignorant, or inaccurate. Yes, some people mess it up with the help of WebMD and determine themselves to have any and every ailment imaginable, but so do doctors all the time. To assume that every layperson is too ignorant to identify their own ailments is absurd.

“I have a hard time believing that any doctor understands what I think and feel and the way I think and feel better than I do. Anybody who does instantly has me suspicious.” —anonymous

You don't roll your eyes and dismiss a person who says they have the flu or a mildly sprained wrist if they haven’t seen a doctor yet, so why is mental illness different? A person knows what they're going through, and frequently doctors end up making things worse.

“The major difference is there's a lot, even in the medical profession, who don't believe mental illnesses [exist]. . . . Family history and years of doing in-depth research on what I have and don't have, and yet I'm supposed to take the opinion of a doctor who looks at one five minute survey and comes up with a different conclusion?” —Sascha Adeen Sinopa

Testing and treatment are prohibitively expensive to get, and the illness itself and surrounding stigma can create “long delays−sometimes decades−between the first appearance of symptoms and when people get help.

It took me over a decade to seek treatment for anxiety and depression. That doesn't mean I didn't know what it was before then. I found moderate success in managing both through exercise and talk therapy with friends. Should I have gotten a doctor's note to allow me to talk about my own mental health with others?

Even seeking treatment can cost people their jobs, future prospects, families, friends, and significant others, to say nothing of the financial cost and emotional strain of auditioning doctors and undergoing multiple tests.

“It has taken a proverbial army of counselors (5+), shrinks (4+), and doctors(5+) to get [a holistic diagnosis] over time. Oh, and my own degrees, one heavy on psych, and now a nearly complete nursing degree. That's a lot of time, energy, and privilege to be able to access that amount of care over the past 19 years.
So when people self-diagnose, I completely understand why, and am far more reticent to judge their motives or conclusions.” —anon

It's very different to say, for example, “I find it frustrating/unfortunate that misdiagnosis is so common,” or “It sucks that people can't get the treatment they need for whatever reason,” than to call the self-diagnosed “idiots,” drama queens, “special snowflakes,” and attention seekers.

"One thing I've found upsetting when talking to people who either don't understand mental illnesses or have a negative view, is that if they even believe it at all, they assume it's like everything else and that the symptoms come and go infrequently.

"That's not the case. It's chronic, and daily. People have been dealing with those symptoms their whole life. And yet, some random doctor, or Google phd is supposed to know better?
I hope one day that the psychological field can be changed to something that benefits patients and not the doctors' wallets." —Sascha Adeen Sinopa

Most people would be horrified to learn how frequently doctors dismiss their patients and treat them like ignorant children, especially women, fat people, and the neurodivergent—precisely those demographics in greatest need of professional help.

“Funny story: I went to my GP before I was ever diagnosed with depression or any other mental illness. I described my symptoms to them in layman’s terms, and they dismissed me because I didn’t know how to accurately describe what was happening. So a year later, after having researched more on my own because doctors didn’t help, I went to the doctor again and this time knew a lot of the terms for my symptoms. This time they dismissed me as a drug seeker because clearly people who actually have depression and anxiety don’t know the terms and would instead describe their symptoms in their own words.

"I didn’t get a diagnosis until a couple years later—after I had dropped out of college once and attempted suicide a couple times. I only got a diagnosis because my boyfriend at the time called the mental health clinic for me and made me go in and I was so far gone that it was obvious there was something wrong with me.

Oh, wait. That’s not funny at all." —DirtyNerdy

The plural of anecdote is certainly not data, but there are plenty of studies (some linked above) that support these horror stories as more than isolated incidents. What we desperately need is for doctors to treat their patients with professional respect and acknowledge that patients are THE foremost experts on their own experiences.

“My only issue with self diagnosis is that differential diagnosis is REALLY difficult. Many, many diagnoses have similar or overlapping symptoms, especially in children. Who’s to say this person has Bipolar? PTSD? PD?
“And then you get into comorbidity and it gets RIDICULOUS. Unfortunately treatment for the similar-looking stuff can be very different.

“BUT I never shame people who come to me with their own ideas about what label to assign to what’s happening to them. I'm lucky enough to have avoided diagnosis and all the limitations of the DSM-V thus far (that will soon change), but when it comes up and I disagree, I DISCUSS IT WITH THE PERSON and offer other ideas about symptom clusters from the perspective of someone with training and experience with trauma. (Unfortunately many other mental health professionals really don't have a good grasp of traumatic reactions.)” —Hannah Ulbrich, MS LPC-I

This is not to say that professional diagnosis and treatment aren’t beneficial in any way, only that they’re not obtainable for everyone and not always helpful. The antidepressant that’s doing wonders for my mood has a noticeable negative impact on my cognitive function: brain fog and difficulty recalling words and names. For now, I’m okay with the trade-off. Not being wretched and miserable is truly an amazing experience.

“And even though I feel I have a solid diagnosis, my options are to deal with soul-crushing anxiety or have the emotional range of an 8 pack of crayons.” —Anon

Though medical treatment may not always help, diagnosis alone can be beneficial. Myriad afflictions have not been well studied in heavily impacted demographics (i.e., ADD/ADHD in women and girls) making them difficult to identify and diagnose under the best conditions and virtually impossible to treat reliably. ADD/ADHD presents very differently in girls and women than in boys, is incredibly common in women and frequently undiagnosed and misdiagnosed as anxiety and depression, which are actually symptoms and comorbidities of ADD/ADHD itself.

“I was diagnosed with ADHD but the adderall destroyed my stomach and I can't afford other meds so I just try to do my best with it. Just knowing I have it, though, makes it so much better because I used to be ashamed all the time when I forget/lose stuff and that makes it all worse (aka creates more anxiety).” —Anon

I’ve never really believed that I was just about the only person in my whole family to not have ADD, but I did so well in school that I couldn't have gotten a diagnosis if I wanted one. It’s catching up to me as an adult, and from reading up on how it presents in women, that’s one self diagnosis I'm sure of and can now work on managing. My internal dialogue, since linking my symptoms with adult ADD, has moved from damaging self recriminations over clumsiness and the slightest of failures to “That’s just the ADD. You’re okay. Everything’s okay.”

Professional treatment isn’t always accessible, but we have a wealth of information at our fingertips to offset that reality. Sure, there’s tons of bad information out there, but for millions of sufferers, there’s tons of beneficial information to be found as well. And when you’re facing a lifetime of illness and have the hours and ability to devote to researching it, navigating one’s available resources to find the best answer can be incredibly empowering when missed diagnoses of one’s past have been endlessly disheartening.

Self diagnosis plays a critical role in improving quality of life for millions of people and helping them pursue treatment for anything physical from the common cold to a broken toe and for many types of mental illness as well.

Know that when you make quips about mental illness and self diagnosis, you’re speaking about 20 percent of your friends, family, coworkers, and community. So think before you speak. And consider just listening instead.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Earning "Tiger Stripes" is NOT Body Positive

I’m not sure how it happened, but in my youth I completely missed the memo about being ashamed of stretch marks as “unsightly flaws” (scars resulting from rapid growth stretching and tearing the skin), Around age 12, I grew hips and thighs and breasts and streaks across them all, which I accepted as normal, not knowing any different. Much of my life I viewed them with the same affection as the curves over which they ran.

Later I noticed the lotions marketed to reduce the appearance of stretch marks, yet another in a long line of marketing ploys to sell fabricated insecurity to me for profit, dating back to marketing ploys of the early twentieth century to tell women that their natural bodies were offensive to men and in need of deodorizing, depilation, and douching.

And so I find myself in adulthood on the web sighing heavily at every “tiger stripe” or "warrior marks" story, article, photo, or meme that cycles through my news feed every couple of months with the same general message about accepting one’s stretch marks as beautiful by proof of achievement:
One such example shows the tummy and hips of a slender fair-skinned woman with white stretch marks on her hips. Text over the photo says, “Your body is not ruined. You’re a goddamn tiger who earned her stripes.”

Such images and articles create a social narrative that tells women can earn the right to love their bodies if they have borne children (presumably because childbirth is touted as some altruistic universal moral imperative). But, like many women, I’ve had stretch marks since I was a child. Am I supposed to hate myself for healthy pubescent growth? This narrative makes it very clear that I have not earned the right to body acceptance until I’ve fulfilled my role as broodmare.

Lest you think I’m making this up and looking for reasons to be offended, let me quote Tanis Jex-Blake in an article profiling her as one of these stretch-mark mommies who dared to stand up for herself:

I'm sorry if my first attempt at sun tanning in a bikini in public in 13 years “grossed you out”. I’m sorry that my stomach isn't flat and tight. I'm sorry that my belly is covered in stretch marks. I’m NOT sorry that my body has housed, grown, protected, birthed and nurtured FIVE fabulous, healthy, intelligent and wonderful human beings. I’m sorry if my 33 year old, 125 lb body offended you so much that you felt that pointing, laughing, and pretending to kick me. But I’ll have you know that as I looked at your ‘perfect’ young bodies, I could only think to myself “what great and amazing feat has YOUR body done?”. I’ll also have you know that I held my head high, unflinching as you mocked me, pretending that what you said and did had no effect on me; but I cried in the car on the drive home. Thanks for ruining my day. It’s people like you who make this world an ugly hateful place. I can’t help but feel sorry for the women who will one day bear your children and become “gross” in your eyes as their bodies change during the miraculous process of pregnancy. I can only hope that one day you’ll realize that my battle scars are something to be proud of, not ashamed of. 
Jex-Blake was openly mocked on the beach, which is shitty, but so is putting down others to prop yourself up.
“But I’ll have you know that as I looked at your ‘perfect’ young bodies, I could only think to myself ‘what great and amazing feat has YOUR body done?’”
You know what my young body has done? Not that body positivity or human worth are in any way dependent on individual accomplishments or others’ opinions, but my body has overcome literally crippling knee pain and persistent depression to run three half marathons, a 15-mile obstacle course, and a few score other races; raised thousands of dollars for local and global charities; and used its privilege to promote body positivity without restrictions while inspiring dozens of others to feel and do the same. Not to mention that it’s spent fully half its life suffering incessant expectations and explicit wheedling for grandbabies without regard for bodily autonomy or health, largely thanks to people like Jex-Blake who perpetuate the idea the childbearing is the single worthiest thing a woman do to validate her existence in this world.

Our society’s obsession with women’s ability to bear children as their primary purpose in life overlooks entirely those women who’ve miscarried and lost children, who are infertile, and who are transgender. Messages that tell women they’re only worthy or useful as mothers are deeply harmful.

Womb-worship aside, this “earn your stripes” narrative relies both on fat shaming and objectification by expressing pride exclusively in young, skinny, white women’s hips and stomachs.

Another viral stretch-mark image comes from Rachel Hollis (also slender, young, and white) with what’s described by supporters as an “inspiring” caption she wrote:

I have stretch marks and I wear a bikini. I have a belly that’s permanently flabby from carrying three giant babies and I wear a bikini. My belly button is saggy. . . (which is something I didn’t even know was possible before!!) and I wear a bikini. I wear a bikini because I’m proud of this body and every mark on it. Those marks prove that I was blessed enough to carry my babies and that flabby tummy means I worked hard to lose what weight I could. I wear a bikini because the only man who’s (sic) opinion matters knows what I went through to look this way. That same man says he’s never seen anything sexier than my body, marks and all. They aren’t scars ladies, they’re stripes and you’ve earned them. Flaunt that body with pride! #HollisHoliday
The problem throughout this trend is encouraging people to celebrate specific so-called “flaws” only if they’ve earned them through the martyrdom of childbearing. In this specific example, readers are eating up the message that body pride is acceptable if one has lost weight and made her body acceptably small by society’s standards, and happiness is imparted by being suitably desirable to men, and they call this “empowering.”

Case in point: The comments on the Hollis article include “Yeah, she’s hot enough for me,” and “I’d hit it.”

One wonders for whose pleasure are women’s bodies and appearance when we call statements like Hollis’s “inspirational” and “empowering?”

To quote the character Inigo Montoya, "You keep using that word. . . . I do not think it means what you think it means."

And what of those 95 percent of dieters who regain weight; what of women who never lost weight or never lost enough to become slender; what of men, who have no equivalent body positive paradigm shift as of yet? Should we just accept that not every message is useful to every person and let people take their happiness where they can find it?

NO. Not when those messages effectively harm others by lifting up only one narrow body ideal. Not when those messages hinge upon objectification and outside approval.

When I brought the tiger stripes memes up for discussion among friends, one commented:
I have stretch marks from gaining and losing weight in a short time span.
Hurray mental illness!
*throws confetti*

If we’re celebrating stretch-mark scars as proof of overcoming difficulties, why don’t we see social celebration and acceptance of scars left behind from self-harm?

Over and over we see these articles, photos, tiger stripe memes featuring skinny white women. I searched the web to find a comparable meme-type image for women of color but came up short.
Thought experiment: Do you think we’d ever see viral photos of a fat woman’s stretch marks? Or a conventionally attractive woman’s photos with the depression comment? My pics with a caption bragging about puberty-induced stretch marks? Stripes on a woman of color, on a man, on someone just in their underwear in a slum rather than sunning herself on a beach?

There’s nothing wrong with any woman’s enjoyment of her body, though the reasons given in the viral examples above are problematic in very many ways. But the greater issue is our society’s deification of childbearing and using it as validation and excuse for just more objectification of women’s bodies, assuming they otherwise fit the standards of conventional beauty by being young, slim, and white.

The “earning your stripes” message is absolutely not body positive. Body positivity is not conditional, not exclusive, not based on ability or health or size or weight loss or class or gender or childbearing or any man’s opinion of a woman’s worth based on her sexual desirability. Think twice about sharing memes that lift up a few at the expense of many.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Flash Fiction: A Horror Story

I briefly belonged to a flash fiction writing group a while back. I only wrote a handful of pieces, and it was an interesting experience. As much as I like writing opinion pieces and telling stories about my adventures, I’ve never had any skill for fiction writing. None of my flash fiction pieces are entirely fictitious.

Prompt: Horror story
Word count: 285/300 max

It’s cold, and you’ve woken with a start.

Take a deep breath. Pause and release it slowly. Assure yourself that this feeling of dread, an icy stone in the pit of your core, was just a dream. Take another breath and listen--silence. Night slowly comes into focus as phantoms fade into memory. Shaking your head clear, you rub your arms absently. These damn drafty old stones: stately, but always so cold.

Seeking to banish and forget the fear lingering around the edges of consciousness, you think a hot tea ought to do the trick. And at the very least, it will warm you a bit. Listening a moment longer to the quiet, you muster the will with a determined inhalation and face the cool air with a brief shudder.
Disoriented a moment in the dark, you stumble, catch yourself, and fumble slowly toward the kitchen. Loud scratching startles you to a stop. Relax, just the wind in the trees against the windows. Draw a calming breath; you’re still feeling shakier than you thought.

You huddle over the warm mug, hugging it closely with a relieved smile as you take it back to your room. Sipping it in bed, you feel your body finally relax and you enjoy the stillness of the night as peaceful sleep beckons to you. Setting the mug down, you lie back and sigh, thinking of what a lovely day tomorrow will be.

Loud scratching again breaks the silence. Remember, there is no wind here at night. A steady clicking becomes louder, closer. You draw a shuddering breath and hear the mug smash just as a low growl rises beside you.

Holding your breath, you remember the dream.

It wasn’t a dream.