What a little dinosaur soup ladle taught me about love

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A little over a year ago, I went on what I thought was the perfect date. He was cute, relatively funny, and had a good job as a software engineer. Although I did not have a lot in common with him, I thought to myself, this might actually work. I was so relieved that he had not been grabby, chauvinistic, or whiny that I did not stop to think about any of his other characteristics. When he asked me on a second date, I eagerly accepted. I honestly thought that he was the best that I could do.

   

On the second date, I realized just how little we had in common. I found myself trying to hide my nerd streak, using smaller words and feigning interest in soccer. Despite having little to talk about, I convinced myself that this was enough to make me happy. Before the second date was even halfway through, he asked me on a third date, and I accepted.

   
Later that night, he then invited me back to his apartment to play video games. While getting a glass of water, I noticed a dinosaur soup ladle sitting on his counter. When I complimented it, he handed it to me, saying that his mom had ordered them in bulk on Amazon as a gag gift.

   
Shortly after, he asked me to sleep with him. I turned him down and went home about an hour later. A few days later, he took back the offer of a third date.

   
Although the date had been boring, I was devastated. I had been so relieved to be around someone “normal” that I had forgotten to think about what I actually wanted. I threw the dinosaur soup ladle so hard that I almost knocked a picture off the wall.

   
As I picked up the soup ladle, I considered throwing it in the trash, in hopes of forgetting this boy who wasn’t worth my memories or my time. 

   
I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

   
I gently placed the dinosaur back on the counter. This dinosaur was proof that I was done with settling for “nice enough.” It was a reminder that I should pursue whatever I wanted with confidence, and that I had the right to say no to anything that did not make me truly happy. I prayed that I would maintain that level of confidence and spend the next year only pursuing things that made me smile.

   
Shortly after that experience, my friends took me out to celebrate my birthday. That night, I met a guy. THE guy. He and I talked all night, never once having a lull in conversation. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I could be fully myself, and it scared the hell out of me. I begged to the universe for some sign that I was not letting my insecurities cloud my judgement. Then I asked him what he did for a living, and I knew.

   
He studies dinosaurs.



Since that night, he and I have been inseparable. He encourages me, makes me laugh until I cry, and supports me like no one else (apart from my parents) has. I am so thankful to have spent 2018 holding his hand through movies, vacations, surgeries, trivia nights, doctors’ appointments, family gatherings, and everything in between.

   
I know how I am spending the rest of my life, and it is in part thanks to a dinosaur soup ladle. Thank you, little dinosaur, for making me reevaluate my priorities and pointing me to a man who loves me when I am unable to love myself.

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On Kavanaugh and reporting…

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Like most women in America today, I am angry. I am angry that we live in a country where 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted before they graduate college, and that perpetrators of sexual assault often walk free. Most of all, I am angry at seeing how people criticize someone for attempting to speak her truth. I am not a confrontational person by nature, and when possible, I try to keep my political opinions to myself. But anger fuels change, and that is why I cannot stay silent about the responses I have seen to the Kavanaugh and Ford hearings.

Part of my job involves working with survivors to ensure that they receive the necessary accommodations to continue their education and to avoid retraumatization in their classrooms and residence. As a result, I hear terrifying stories that no one should hear, let alone experience firsthand. These students come to me terrified and unsure that telling their stories will result in real change. They fear that they will not be believed, because they were drinking, or they wore an outfit that showcased their figure, or they were too afraid to get a SANE exam afterwards. Many of them did not even recognize what happened to them was assault until someone told them otherwise, and by then, it was often too late to obtain physical evidence. These students often fear that I assume that “boys will be boys” and that I will ask them what they were wearing or what they drank when they were assaulted.

The same things that many of you are asking about Dr. Ford’s testimony. 

When people survive sexual assault, they often cannot remember specific details of what transpired. They remember things like the perpetrator’s beard, a coffee table, or the texture of a couch, because they had to dissociate and to focus on something unrelated to the assault to survive. These people come to me, knowing that a beard and a coffee table are not evidence in a court of law, and they are terrified that I will dismiss them. 

I don’t need evidence to believe them and to support them. I am not a lawyer or investigator in their cases, just as many of you criticizing Dr. Ford are not personally involved in the events transpiring. Why, then, is there such a need to discount someone’s perceived experiences in a public arena? If you are one of the ones doing this, shame on you. Quite frankly, I do not care if you are conservative, liberal, or somewhere in between. You can surely find a way to support your candidate or your beliefs in certain ideals without calling someone who has come forward horrible names. 

As you criticize Dr. Ford’s testimony and call her names, I want you to think of the students in my office, who prior to meeting with me, had only ever told their therapists about their experiences with sexual assault. I want you to picture the students who have sat in my office sobbing, saying that no one will believe them. 
Those students are listening to you call Dr. Christine Blasey Ford a liar and say that “boys will be boys.” Even if you don’t believe Dr. Ford, or if you believe that there is not enough substantial evidence to deny Judge Kavanaugh for a job (because this is a JOB interview, not a criminal trial), consider how you are phrasing things. Chances are, you know people who have experienced sexual assault—people who didn’t have a SANE exam or physical evidence to prove what happened to them—and those survivors are picturing you calling them these very same things. 

If you have made statements criticizing someone who reports being sexually assaulted, as you go to sleep tonight, I want you to thank your lucky stars that you can fall sleep without having to have two separate points of exit from your bedroom. I hope that as you fall asleep and wonder what dreams that you may have, that you are reminded that for many of my students, it will be a restless night. A restless night where on top of reliving their past trauma, they will hear your words—your words that criticize what someone was wearing or drinking, or calling someone a liar—echoing in their heads. They will remember you making a public spectacle of someone who is within her right to come forward and, as a result, never come forward themselves. That may seem like a difficult burden to bear, but I promise you that it doesn’t compare to the burden that many of my students face every day.

I want to be “that girl”: a chronic pain journey

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I have dreams of being that girl.  The girl who books a last-minute flight after one too many glasses of wine and never meets a stranger.   The girl who gets out on the dance floor and does not care that she is off-beat.  The girl who brings a flask as a plus-one to a wedding, spends as much time in the gym as she does eating cheese fries, tells all the best stories at brunch, and is more concerned with living her life than posting about it on Instagram.

I want to be free.

Unfortunately, my soul is currently trapped in a body that does not share those same values or abilities.

The last two years, I have battled a plethora of illnesses.  Because of infections, autoimmune flare-ups, and diagnoses yet to be named, I live with pain and fatigue that I never expected to battle in my 20’s.  The world keeps spinning faster and faster, and I am at a standstill, staring blankly at a mirror whose reflected vessel does not match the soul that is trapped inside.

For a while, this slower pace did not bother me.  Distracted by a romantic relationship with a homebody, I was able to suppress my need for spontaneity with Netflix marathons, Sonic slushies, and homemade dinners for two.  In those moments, my adventure was a person, not a place or a new experience.

Even after the breakup, my soul was somewhat content with a simple life.  It had been almost two years since I was physically capable of little more than going through the motions, so as I slowly reintroduced old activities and travel into my life, the constant pain and planning felt more inconveniencing than detrimental.  I no longer knew how to live my life any differently.

Then I had oral surgery in December and was given a hydrocodone prescription.  Honestly, I probably only needed ibuprofen for my recovery, but the hydrocodone gave my aching bones and joints the relief I did not know that I was missing.  For almost three weeks, I had a taste of what it was like to be that girl again.  As long as I took that white pill every four hours, I could go up and down stairs, hang out with my friends for hours on end, and be that girl who danced like no one was watching.  I felt invincible until I realized that I only had four pills remaining.

Weaning off hydrocodone and reintroducing myself to pain has been a mourning process.  The soul of the girl who has always kept a bag packed “just in case” is now trapped in a body that cannot even blow-dry her hair without pain and tears.  Although I yearn to be carefree, a night of spontaneity means three days of recovery.  I long to turn strangers into new friends and flings, but how do I explain that I need to plan adventures around my medications and may have to cancel last-minute?  How do I keep my love of travel alive when airport security, terminal changes, and minimal leg room on last-minute flights cause unbearable pain?  Will I ever accept that a stranger’s comments about my weight, exercise regime, or diet do not change the fact that I really am doing my best to make it through each day?  Will I ever feel like I have a right to mourn my old body, when I work with students who are battling far worse than I am but have twice the resilience?

I want to be that girl again, but my God, at what cost?

The girl worth having

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“Why don’t you tell me that ‘if the girl had been worth having, she’d have waited for you’? No, sir, the girl really worth having won’t wait for anybody.” -This Side of Paradise

I don’t fulfill the “proper” gender roles. My male friends say that I “think like a guy,” and my female friends call other girls who act like me “bro-ey bitches.”

If someone asks my opinion, I give it. At a bar, I am watching football instead of the guy at the bar watching football. I don’t know how to contour my makeup, I choose swimming laps in a pool over tanning beside it, and most importantly, I always order French Fries instead of a salad.  As much as my friends may need me to be, I will never be the friend who can feign interest over the boy who smiled at them once for ten minutes, willingly watch The Bachelorette, spend hours at the mall picking the perfect outfit, or encourage them to settle down.

I don’t wait. I am impatient and impulsive at my best and demanding at my worst. I have always prided myself on being independent and confident, but lately, these traits I have valued so much have been used as insults.  Honestly, the last few weeks, I have felt like I took a time machine back to 1948 to get unsolicited opinions about my failure to comply with traditional gender roles.

Over the last few weeks, I have been told that I should hold my opinions until I know a guy well, and that because I am unable to make a guy feel “needed,” I will be single longer (and that’s important because…?). The words bossy, assertive, and blunt have been used repeatedly, and supposedly, my running errands without makeup is a cardinal sin, because I might *gasp* see someone I know.

Why is it that, as a woman, I am expected to put my life on hold until I find a life partner? How does traveling alone make me brave? If I were a man doing these same things, I would be called a catch and be encouraged to go on all of the adventures of my dreams. No one would be reminding me to watch my drink or suggesting that I find a man to travel with me so that “I can feel safe on my trip.” Instead, as a woman, I am frequently encouraged to “look for a person to share my adventures with” and settle down.

I am done apologizing for refusing to wait. I only have one life to live, and this isn’t Jerry Maguire. You don’t complete me, and my life is not going to be spent waiting for someone to lead me down a path that I might not even enjoy. I’m not waiting on you, I’m not waiting on a man, and I’m sure as hell not waiting on my aching joints to get the memo that I am an independent woman on a mission. I will be the girl who books the last-minute plane ticket across the pond. I will sit alone in a restaurant, at a play, or with a book in my favorite coffee shop. Most of all, I will be the girl who rolls my eyes and mutters a curse word under my breath when you tell me that I should not do these things.

And I will not apologize for it.

One day, I will probably settle down with “my soulmate” and have the American dream, complete with crushing student loan debt and 2.5 children. And if you are the type of person who wants to settle down at a young age and fulfill that American dream, I genuinely hope that you find a person who treats you with the love and respect that you deserve. Finding a soulmate, however, does not mean that I have to stop living my life until he shows up. “The girl worth having won’t wait for anybody,” so Mr. Right better have his running shoes ready if he wants to catch me.

Faking well

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The last couple of years have been littered with a variety of ailments and diagnoses. My anxiety, depression, shingles, neuropathy, PCOS, celiac disease, and glaucoma have been common topics on this blog. For the most part, I am an open person about my health journey.
What I haven’t been able to talk about, however, is my latest diagnosis. The latest diagnosis is the one that is incomplete, the one that finally has me convinced that maybe I can’t “fake well” anymore.
This summer, after finally being rid of my shingles-related neuropathy, I began to develop excruciating joint pain. My thumbs would swell and turn purple without any movement to trigger these symptoms, and the joints in my feet and ankles were so swollen that I had to buy larger shoes. Just to get out of bed in the morning, I often had to apply a heating pad to my stiff knees for nearly two hours, and no amount of NSAIDS or prescription medications seemed to help. The bilateral joint pain, constant swelling and stiffness, and uncontrollable fatigue had me convinced that I was about to get the same rheumatoid arthritis and gout diagnoses that my grandfather got an early age. Scared and desperate for an answer, I made an appointment with my primary care doctor. 
My primary care doctor took note of everything I had written down in my 3 pages of single-sided notes and my photos, and he agreed to run the necessary tests for autoimmune conditions. Five vials of blood later, I was told that I would hopefully have my diagnosis in a week. I should have remembered that nothing medical ever comes easy for me.
To my surprise, all of my blood-work was negative or borderline, and they told me that we could run the tests again next year. I was furious. I knew that my symptoms were not just in my head, and it did not help that the guy that I was dating at the time met my frustrations with a very tactful, “I don’t get why you’re mad that you don’t have something seriously wrong with you. Be grateful.”
Without a diagnosis, I only had symptoms that were considered to be in my head. I angrily made a doctor’s appointment and explained that even though my bloodwork was negative, my pain and my symptoms were not. After a lot of convincing from an assertive side of me that I did not know existed, y doctor wrote me a rheumatologist referral. 
My rheumatologist was thorough and kind, but even she could not find a definitive answer for my symptoms. Although I have genetic markers for many autoimmune conditions, only my inflammation and Vitamin D bloodwork appeared worrisome. My hand x-rays appeared mostly normal as well. With meloxicam and prednisone prescriptions, and a diagnosis of viral arthritis that should hopefully go away in 12 months, I was sent on my way to navigate the world as someone who is chronically ill without a label to justify the symptoms. 
Because my diagnosis is unclear, but my symptoms and pain are real, I feel a constant need to “fake well.” Well-meaning friends have told me that it’s great that “I’m not that sick after all,” and in my desire to avoid looking like I am faking sick (especially to friends and students that I consider to “have it worse”), I often find myself faking well.
Faking well means that I use a lot of energy that I honestly do not have to keep up appearances and to make people happy. For me, faking well means that I get to work earlier than usual so that I can walk slowly from the parking garage and reduce my pain levels. After all, without a formal diagnosis, I have no qualifiers for temporary parking. Faking well means that I say, “I’m fine,” as I discreetly hold a hot water bottle over my aching knees in a staff meeting. Faking well means that I use my lunch hour to take naps on a yoga mat underneath my desk. It means trying not to limp, passing off my dizziness and vertigo as general clumsiness, and making jokes about my small kidneys when, in reality, I’m rushing to the bathroom because I cannot keep food down with these medications. Faking well means that I am still icing and heating my joints when no one is around, turning down social invites that I am too sick to attend under the premise that I have to work, making jokes about my meal prep being a bag of gluten-free chicken nuggets (because honestly, I am in too much pain to make anything else), and pretending that I am okay with taking stairs in buildings that do not have elevators. My blood pressure is also through the roof because of my medications, but I fear telling my doctor and being taken off the one form of pain relief that I (kind of) have. 

I hear all the time that I seem like I am getting better, and while I am making some glacial progress, I am honestly just faking well. The energy that it is taking to fake well and to keep up appearances is the very thing that I need if I have any hope at being well. 
I learned this lesson the hard way just last month. Earlier this year, when my health seemed to be having a positive up-swing, I booked a solo-trip to Europe. I spent months planning this trip, and I watched much of my hard-earned vacation money go to medical bills instead. The week before the trip, I was worried that I would be unable to go at all and probably would have cancelled the trip if my flight had been refundable. 
Somehow, I managed to push through and even made myself believe my attempts at faking well. With a lot of begging for elevators and subway seats, I held out to the 9+ miles a day of walking. When I did not think I could walk anymore, or I missed train connections because of my slow walking, I took one of the pain pills that I had so carefully rationed during shingles and somehow pressed on. There were many nights that I went to bed crying, and some days, I could not sleep at all for my painsomnia, but I did it. I faked well for ten days in Europe and had never been prouder of myself. I genuinely convinced myself that I had almost completely walked my stiff joints away.
Then I landed in the States and tried to walk to customs without moving sidewalks. I started crying so hard from the pain that random strangers brought me boxes of tissues. It was in this moment that I realized for the first time just how much of a toll that faking well can have. 
The last few weeks, I have not made the same efforts to fake well. I have been pairing my dress pants with leather tennis shoes, I asked for a temporary departmental parking permit, and I have unapologetically said, “I am not myself today. Please give me the space that I need to be well.” It is hard, because I can see the confusion on people’s faces and a quick wondering of whether I’m faking sick when I limp at work on a Monday but put on heels for my Instagram photo (and only for the photo) of girls night out on Friday. Although I may not have a definitive diagnosis, my chronic pain and my symptoms are no less real, so please understand that I can no longer “fake well” all the time just to put you at ease. 

On being an extrovert with depression…

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The other day, I opened up to a newer friend about my struggles with anxiety and depression. Although my friend was supportive and encouraging, she seemed surprised by this confession.
“But you’re always laughing and around people,” she exclaimed. “I didn’t think extroverts got depressed.”

Her words made me think about the stigma that we place around a person’s mental illness and introversion/extroversion.

Books and tv shows depict the anxious, depressed girl as someone who sits in her room, wears a lot of black, and hides from the rest of the world. We are given this image of the quiet, beautiful girl who doesn’t believe in herself and cries profusely into her pillow or journal (as her waterproof mascara stays perfectly in place) until a cute boy asks her to prom and magically fixes everything. Depression and anxiety, however, do not discriminate. These conditions transcend race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and even extroversion and introversion. 

Although pop culture highlights introverts with anxiety and depression, extroverts with these conditions face their own unique battles that society cannot continue to ignore. Where is the character that looks like me? Where is the extrovert who tells me that it is okay not to feel okay? 

The reality is that I talk–a lot. My family has joked for years about me being their chatty Kathy doll, and I often ramble and cannot find a place to stop. I want to stop telling asinine stories or just listen, but I can’t. To stop talking means to be alone in my thoughts, and my thoughts scare me. 

For that matter, when I stop talking, I internalize every movement and word. My friends just looked to the waitress for the check? Anxiety is telling me that they’re annoyed with me and want me to stop talking. There is a silence or lull in conversation? Depression tells me that means they don’t want to be around me–and why would they? According to my depression, there is a long list of reasons that they would rather be anywhere than with me. 

Depression and anxiety, as an extrovert, tell me that I am only kept around because I am useful. They tell me that if I stop being the life of the party, if I stop listening to people’s problems at all hours of the night, that I will no longer be in their inner circle. And although I need time to recharge as an anxious and depressed extrovert, being alone and being happy feel mutually exclusive. How can I keep from drowning in a sea of self-deprecating thoughts, if no one is there to pull me out? 

As an extrovert with these conditions, I also feel that I owe people my happiest, most empathetic self–and it is exhausting. My conditions tell me that I’m not allowed to be anxious or depressed, and that I have to keep everyone else together. 

This especially rings true at work. I work with students who have various psychological conditions and chronic illnesses; they depend on me to alleviate their concerns and to advocate for them in the classroom. My anxiety and depression tell me that students will not trust someone who reeks of anxiety and self-deprecation, so I wear a smile and collapse from the exhaustion of my facade when I get home. As I rest and avoid the activities that I once loved, anxiety tells me that I am a hypocrite, because I encourage my students to be their authentic selves while letting depression tell me that I am too broken to do the same thing. 

I have finally, however, reached a breaking point. I finally understand that my thoughts and perceptions are not “normal,” and that I don’t have to suffer in silence just because I do not see someone who looks like me. 

So if you are looking for the character that looks like you, here I am. The girl who acts like she has it all together but secretly knows that her great support system can’t outrun a chemical imbalance or a past trauma. The girl who finally said “enough is enough” and started seeing a therapist.

My own little D-day, part two

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In my previous blog post, I mentioned that the eye doctor was on my list of D-Day doctor appointments. At that appointment, I was asked to come in for a follow-up appointment because my eye pressure was relatively high. I did not think much of it and scheduled two follow-up appointments: one for a visual field exam and one for visual evoked potential and ERGs.

My visual field appointment proved to be abnormal. For those of you who have never had a visual field exam, it is basically a video game for your eye–and I’ve never been good at video games. A bright flashing dot comes on the screen, and whenever you see it, you click a joystick to record that you saw it. The dots travel across all of your visual field, to test vision in each quadrant of your eye. The examiner said that she could not tell me the results until I finished the other exam 2 weeks later, and that’s when I knew that the results were going to be abnormal.

I came back two short weeks later for a VEP and ERG exam. During these exams, the doctor tests to see how your eyes connect to your brain. It involves connecting electrodes to the back of your head and under your eyes, and then watching a moving checkerboard screen. I was shaky throughout and felt like I couldn’t see anything.

These exams concluded that my eyes do, in fact, have some issues. I have lost some (minimal) vision in the upper quadrant of my visual field, and my optic nerve is tilted (though that is to be expected with my high nearsightedness). It also takes my eyes longer to receive signals from my brain. My ophthalmologist describes my eyes as a group of seventy-year-olds trying to use an iPhone flashlight. “Although they can get to the features eventually,” he said, “they may have difficulty remembering their lock code, locating the light, or pressing the buttons.”

With all of these factors in mind, he gave me a preliminary diagnosis of glaucoma and a temporary treatment plan until we can follow up at the end of this month to “rule out something more serious.” After a nice cry in the Sonic parking lot and changing my monthly HSA contribution to meet my new medical costs, I headed back to work and thanked God that it hasn’t been diagnosed as anything worse…yet.

So far, the only side effects have been slightly-longer eyelashes (thanks, lumigan) and an empty wallet. A one-month supply of generic lumigan eyedrops is $309, and my visual exams on the high deductible plan have totaled over $1300. Needless to say, I will be switching to a low-deductible healthcare plan at the end of the year.

Although I’m stressed about finances and keep seeing my October London trip flashing before my eyes (pun not intended), I do have a lot to be thankful for. I have a good feeling that my exams at the end of the month will rule out “anything worse,” and those exams will push me over the balance for meeting my high deductible. Once I have met my deductible, I can begin taking care of other health issues that I have had on the backburner, and mental health sessions will be available for a $20 copay instead of the $150+ per session. I’ve also been blessed with a supportive family, boyfriend, and group of friends who encourage me, pray for me, and keep me calm when my health-related anxiety attacks get the best of me.

Maybe I can’t see as well as everyone else, but I can see the many blessings I’ve been given, and that’s enough for me.

My own little d-day, part one

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Since I was little, I have known that my health was different from others’. At five years old, I was the kid who read the back of food labels to see if I could eat the snacks at the class party. In middle school, I read the pollen count reports before deciding how to apply my eye makeup for that day. I was the girl in high school who had to explain that, yes, I would be missing chemistry for the fourth time this week for another unplanned specialist appointment and internalize her teacher’s judging glare.

Then I got to college and forgot that I was a living, breathing pre-existing condition. Sure, I was still making my semi-yearly trips to specialists, but on a collegiate schedule that wasn’t an 8-5 grind, it was a lot easier to make those appointments and think of it as “normal.”

Now that I am in the real world (and–let’s be honest–on my own health insurance), I often put these things on the back burner, because my students “need” me, and so many of my sick days have been burned on shingles, migraines, and poorly-timed infections.

This is the story of how I let my anxiety convince me to schedule four of my annual doctors’ appointments for one day, also known as D-Day 2017.

D-Day 2017 began with a trip to the eye doctor. I was due for a new pair of glasses anyway and kept calling this a “preventative” visit, knowing that my recent blurred vision and decreased peripheral vision were anything but. With eye pressure readings of 24 and 26, I was given the standard “you are at risk for glaucoma” speech that I have heard since I was 12 and–after scheduling a battery of expensive exams that I couldn’t afford–was sent merrily on my way. More on this in another post.

Overwhelmed and relieved that my second appointment was cancelled, I drove to my next D-day battle: the women’s clinic. This is the appointment that I had feared most. As someone with PCOS, annual visits are always a little frustrating and invasive with a new doctor. Having to justify every morsel of food that I place in my mouth and every step that I do or do not take is never a fun conversation, first of all. Then, as someone with PCOS, I always have to drink gallons of water, wait forever with a full bladder because the doctor has a baby emergency, and then get prodded with the ultrasound dildo–I mean wand–to check for cysts. But this year was different. This was my first clinic appointment after surviving sexual assault, and I was terrified. Thankfully, I had chosen the perfect clinic and the perfect doctor for this situation. She listened to everything I had to say, and when I disclosed the assault, she immediately asked if I was okay and if I needed recommendations for a mental health professional in the area. She reinforced that I didn’t deserve what had happened to me and told me that while the first appointment might be difficult, that we could stop at any time. She followed that by saying that I could come back at a later date if I decided that I wasn’t ready, and that we would work it out with insurance accordingly. But I did it. I survived all over again, thanks to her, and headed onwards to my third d-day battle.

My third d-day battle was a breeze in comparison. My doctor, who initially thought it might be something more serious, decided that my arm numbness was instead a really bad case ulnar nerve entrapment & carpal tunnel that could be easily treated with therapy. I’ve been wearing an elbow brace for almost four months, but I am no longer waking up in pain or having my arm go so numb that I drop whatever I am holding. I have also learned how to use more assistive technology devices, which is great for me as a disability services professional!

One month and $1400 worth of appointments later, I can say that I will *never* do another D-Day again (at least, not on a high-deductible plan). That being said, my one day of appointments taught me a lot about myself. As a younger professional, I see how terrifying health conditions can be without access to insurance, or the ability to afford low-deductible insurance. If you are in perfect health and have always had perfect insurance, it can be easy to dismiss what others fear with healthcare laws, but we less-healthy ones have a right to be fearful of lifetime caps, pre-existing condition clauses, and rising out-of-pocket costs.

I urge you to listen to those of us who have pre-existing conditions and not just dismiss us as snowflakes seeking a handout. We do not have to agree on the methods to achieve accessible healthcare, but please just walk a mile in our shoes–because so many of us have conditions that prevent us from walking that far.

The dragon in my rib-cage and dementor in my brain

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The last five months have been hard.

Back in September, my boss suggested that I leave work early because I kept doubling over from pain on my left side. Assuming it was a kidney stone or an ovarian cyst like usual, I wasn’t thrilled about taking a half day from work, but because my director always seems to have this weird intuition, I decided to spend the $150 at Urgent Care just to be sure.

My boss was surprisingly right.  After an hour of being poked and prodded, the doctor found two small blisters on my left side and said the last thing that I expected: “You have shingles. What’s got you stressed enough to get shingles in your 20s?”

Oh, I don’t know. Moving hundreds of miles from home, starting a new job and worrying that I’m not doing enough for my students, figuring out student loan repayment, surviving a sexual assault and recovering emotionally as (former) friends deem it my fault…the usual 20-something’s stressors, I suppose.

Being the new kid in the office and determined to prove myself, I mistakenly returned to work too quickly. While I thankfully avoided the painful blistering, I spent the next month working while taking prescribed hydrocodone that did nothing to alleviate the dragon in my rib-cage.

That’s what the doctor didn’t tell me about shingles. I thought that I would blister for a few weeks and then resume my normal routine. Instead, I was one of the “lucky” few who developed PHN, or postherpetic neuralgia. PHN causes burning, numbness, itchiness, and a constant “pins and needles” feeling. In short, it’s hell. I would honestly take a month of kidney stones over PHN.

Because I am allergic to the pain patches typically prescribed, my doctor placed me on Neurontin, which at first seemed to be a miracle drug. For the first time in two months, I was mostly pain-free. I could actually walk to the parking garage without tears and stand up long enough to fix a home-cooked meal.

Then the side effects kicked in.

My anxiety began to spiral out of control. I would wake up every 2-3 hours, crying and unable to breathe. My vision would blur or double sporadically, and to read documents on my work computer, I had to magnify my computer screen to at least 200%. But the secret depression—that was the worst part. My depression was a low-hanging fog that clouded my judgment and left me feeling hollow most nights.

I would come home from work, exhausted from putting up a cheery front for coworkers and distressed students. I would feed into my brain’s lies that I wasn’t good enough, that my friends didn’t really love me, and that no one would notice if I disappeared. It was so exhausting that on many nights, I would sit completely in the dark, eat ice chips for dinner, and stare at a blank TV screen for hours until I fell asleep sitting up.

I was emotionally numb, but because the physical pain and numbness seemed so much worse, I didn’t tell my doctor. In my lessened state, I began to think that it was my punishment for taking on too much.

Once my nerve pain began to subside and I was able to taper off the medications, the side effects mostly disappeared. Within two weeks of stopping the medication, I felt like myself again. “Human Again” from Beauty and the Beast became my theme song blasted at top volume (sorry, neighbors).

This journey has not been easy, but I hope that in telling my story, you can learn what I have without the pain. Here is what I have learned:

  • Everything happens for a reason, and it is in my darkest times that I have been most faithful and blessed most abundantly. Although my illness was mostly temporary, I now have a partial understanding of what my students with chronic illness and depression go through, because I have lived it. As a result, I will fight harder than anyone to make sure that these students get the help that they need.
  • My students who face chronic illness every day are incredible. People aren’t supposed to be inspirational solely because they have a disability, but having spent six months unable to work out, cook, meet up with friends, or even move without pain, I have a newfound respect for my students’ strength, determination, and patience with others who don’t understand.
  • Having to start over on certain things doesn’t mean that I have failed. Because of the medication’s side effects and the resulting inability to maintain my active lifestyle, I know that I have lost muscle mass and gained weight—but I have also gained an understanding that my self-worth cannot come from my appearance or what my body can do.
  • There is no shame in admitting when I feel broken or need help. As the “Molly Weasley” of my friends, helping others has always been a huge part of my identity, and I feel guilty whenever I have to burden people with my own problems. I also constantly fear that needing help instead of providing it will keep people from wanting to be around me. It was in my brokenness and anxiousness, however, that I learned that I am enough, in spite of—and not because of—my abilities. I regret not seeking help from my friends, family, and church community sooner.
  • It is also okay to say no to people and to engage in self-care. I have learned that my true friends and family will understand when I say that I need a night alone with a glass of wine and a good book. Your true friends will too.

To my readers who may be going through hard times: you are loved, and you are no less of a person because of your trials. You have a right to feel pain, and you do not have to feel guilty because other people’s issues seem more extensive. Your problems are just as valid to you as someone else’s are to them, so take care, and know that you have someone in your corner.

Let’s call “locker room talk” what it is.

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Trigger/content warning:  the below post will discuss experiences with sexism, sexual assault, and “locker room talk.”  The post specifically talks about sexual assault from the perspective of a heterosexual woman, but it should be noted that sexual assault affects people of all genders, and no sexual assault should be diminished because of someone’s gender, orientation, or romantic expression.


Reading the news the last few days has filled me with anger.

This week, I have tried to deny that I live in a society where casual sexism and promotion of rape culture are not only tolerated, but encouraged.  I cannot begin to count the number of men and women (yes, women!) who endorse sexist comments as “boys being boys.”  Although this cycle of anger began with the responses and justifications of Donald Trump’s 2005 comments, it has snowballed into so much more and has forced me to reflect on other, more subtle micro-expressions.  I am not here to tell you to vote or not to vote for a particular candidate, but rather to ask that you reconsider the comments you make yourself about someone you find attractive.  Look beyond your friends’ “hot piece of ass” or “nice tits” comments—the ones that are interspersed with dangerous levels of encouragement to pursue body parts instead of a human being—and call “locker room talk” what it is: a perpetuation of rape culture.

I know that it is easy to dismiss these sexually-charged conversations, and years ago, I regretfully would have done the same thing.   Years later, however, I have to live with the effects of locker room talk on a daily basis.  You may think that locker room talk is a set of empty words or a fantasy wish-list, but allow me to tell you what locker room talk actually is:

  • Locker room talk is seeing that a guy on a school-sponsored trip has commented about your chest in a text message with his friends, and his friends asking for pictures instead of shutting him down.
  • Locker room talk is him taking pictures down your shirt while you were sleeping, and his friends sending back texts of approval.  Locker room talk is him sticking his hand down your shirt because “you didn’t say no” and “any man would want to.”  Locker room talk is subsequently the reason that you cry at 3 am and think that your clothes and your body are to blame for this violation, until two amazing friends tell you otherwise.  And even then, you are not fully convinced, because you saw the text messages he wrote about you to the friends who did not stop him.
  • Locker room talk is realizing that a different boy described his assault of you (to a guy you would later date and his group of friends) as a consensual conquest, and knowing that your “reputation” will forever be your words versus his.
  • Locker room talk is the thumbs up or the whistle that a guy gives his friend, when he is holding up a girl who will be too intoxicated to know or to remember fully what happens next.  She may not remember the traumatic events that transpired, but she will remember that thumbs up for years to come.
  • Locker room talk is the reason that some of the people closest to me will never know the grief and the struggles that I face today.  I have seen how they dismiss men’s sexist comments as something all boys do.  What makes me any different?  Can I be certain that they would see my assaults as different, just because they know me?  For that matter, would having them see my experiences as different help them to understand that locker room talk is not only sexist, but also a gateway to physical sexual assault?

So no, don’t tell me that locker room talk is okay, and that all men do it.  If people in your locker room are talking about grabbing women by their genitals without their consent, call them out, and then find a new gym.  Your mothers, sisters, daughters, friends, and fellow human beings deserve so much more.