all posts, community, mortality

let’s talk about death

burial cemetery countryside cross
Photo by Mike on Pexels.com

I seem to be drawn to fields of study that general society deems taboo. From talking about vaginas and all things women’s health, to my desire to talk about death, I really seem to have no boundaries. And so, with that, let’s talk about death.

I recently came across the profession of death doulas, and if I have a calling, I think it’s to become a death doula one day. More on that in a bit.

A doula I believe traditionally is defined as a woman who serves, and is used to denote women who work with other women, specifically in a birth and postpartum context. Both birth and postpartum doulas work as support people for pregnant women/moms, helping them to navigate various systems and life changes. Historically, communities were stronger and so the need for doulas was not so defined (women generally were supported by other women of varying ages, from friends to skilled midwives, and this support could start during the pregnancy and continue through childrearing years). But as we’ve become more individualized and modernized, this communal support has seen rapid decline, and so the doula profession developed to help remedy the lapse of the support.

So then, death doulas? Well, another consequence of the rapid modernization and aggressive individualism has been a shift away from dealing with death. We don’t tend to our deceased personally, we often have family members in homes that we don’t visit, we see more and more people dying in hospitals alone, or dying after enduring unending painful medical attempts to save/prolong their lives. More and more people are starting to feel that the way we treat the dying, and the lack of support around the times of dying are wrong, and it was from this belief that the profession of a death doula was formed.

The first formalized death doula I believe was Henry Fersko-Weiss. Inspired by the birth doula model, and disappointed by his own experience with his father’s and many of his patients’ deaths, Ferkso-Weiss wanted to create a profession that would allow for people to die better.

I know this is a weird and uncomfortable thing to get around. How on earth does one die better? Dying is miserable! It’s the end of life, etc. It’s hard to wrap one’s head around it, but that doesn’t make it any less important. A consequence of our culture’s death aversion has been increased fear. I distinctly remember my own personal existential crisis around age 7 or so when I confessed to my best friend that I was terrified about dying and becoming nothing. She replied back that this is why many people turn to religion, because it gives us something to believe in (very wise words for a 7-year old). This led me to years of trying to decide whether I believed in something or not (jury’s still out) and if not, how did I make sure I had a meaningful life until my time was over. The culmination of years following show a web of confused choices as I tried (and continue to try) to figure out what is important to me. As a result, I personally come across as erratic and fickle because I seem to change my mind instantaneously when in actuality I am constantly weighing my choices via long term projections, and thus constantly tweaking my day to day behaviors.

Now many people think that thinking and talking about death will get you depressed and worried. I believe the results of the death doula profession are seeing the opposite. Many people find that understanding that we are mortal and working towards accepting that allow them to appreciate life more. And people draw to being death doulas seem to be extreme lovers of life. My personal role model is Alua Arthur. She has an amazing video called I Plan People’s Death For A Living, which so distinctly highlights why she does what she does, and how it’s not as morbid as you think.

To fill the time between now and when I start actively studying to become a death doula (so after the baby (babies?) is (are?) in high school most likely), I have begun the process of reading all there is to read on dying, death, and how we as humans think about it, and how we process and deal with our/our loved ones’ mortality. It’s a fascinating field. And yes, it definitely can provoke the waterworks, but that’s just part of being human.

It’s also interesting because having the skin condition/autoimmune issues I do has made me much more aware of my mortality. If everyone is going on about how your 20s are your magic years, your skin is still great and you are super healthy, yatta yatta, than I already identify as someone who is past her prime. And I don’t feel negatively about this, but I do believe it influences the way I see the world and makes me think about the future in a more concrete fashion than many of my peers. Like when I said I wanted kids before 30, I realized I was 26, that it takes 10 months (ish) to create a baby, and so if I want to be done having kids by 30, it was time to start (and luckily my partner felt the same way).

I’ll end there for now, but this will probably be a running series of posts because it helps me get things out of my head if I write them down.

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all posts, eczema, women's health

on biomechanics and katy bowman

pexels-photo-556669.jpeg
Photo by luizclas on Pexels.com

I’m combining all my other blogs’ content to this site. Please bear with me as I post older content.  🙂

I haven’t posted in a while because “times [but mostly things in my life] they are a-changing”. What I mean by that is that I have a bunch of exciting things I’m trying to get involved with that are still centered around my various beloved themes, including:

  • community
  • women’s health… and now, a throwback,
  • biomechanics!

Let me catch you up. Once upon a time I was a confused undergraduate trying to narrow down the vast world of supposed choices to figure out my next step post-college. I knew I had splashes of talent in various areas, but that I was also relatively unskilled overall in a whole larger host of things, making me not a great candidate for any job (at least that was the opinion I had of myself). I remember I came to a point where I narrowed the choice down to two respective options:

  1. go to graduate school for biomechanics. Specifically comparative (non-human) biomechanics, but with the desire to see if I could follow in the footsteps of those inspiring people who learn from nature and then connect that learning to something in the human world (e.g. the tensile strength of sharks’ skin as a model for bulletproof vests, or the boxfish’s shape as a model for the most aerodynamically stable (and ugly) car), or
  2. go to physical therapy school. Essentially PTs are the biomechanists of the medical world (so in this analogy an orthopedic surgeon would be more like a biomechanical engineer). This therapy path would allow me a more direct way to give back to the people and help others.

As you may know, I ultimately chose physical therapy, and then ended up leaving it about halfway through the program because the physical contact (manual therapy, measurements, etc) with patients was not conducive with my skin condition. This  ultimately made physical therapy less than an ideal career for me.

So then, the deluge. How am I full circling back to the idea of biomechanics (though not necessarily comparative this time)? Well, first I started working in the field of women’s health a little over two years ago, which has since led me to undertaking the process for a prenatal and postnatal coaching certification (I actually just finished this past week and am officially a certified prenatal and postnatal coach!). I am also tying that field of knowledge to a few other movement-related initiatives, including the current co-creation of a course for single mothers of color (but I’ll go into more on that when it’s further along). I also am in the process of figuring out if I have the time to set up and lead stroller/carrier friendly walks in a local nature reservation.

While in the midst of these various endeavors, I also ended up finding Katy Bowman, a biomechanist and movement educator known for her Nutritious Movement company, which builds on her nature-based movement ideologies/passions. She believes in modifying our every day human environments (along with many movements we do) to better promote health and wellness, because movement-optimized environments require us to move better by their very nature. An example she gives is not having a couch in your home. This then requires you to do more squats (if you end up sitting on the floor, or chairs of lower heights), and forces you to move your hip, knee, and ankle joints in greater ranges of motion. The no-couch life also facilitates less sitting time by virtue of there not being any comfy furniture to sit upon, thus increasing your NEAT which helps your body even at the cellular level.

As I delved more into her material, I realized I had found someone that encompassed that overlap in my interests that I didn’t know existed; she is not a practitioner of health or medicine therefore not subject to the insurance whims, nor is she just an academic  stuck talking only to other academics/writing scholarly papers while being removed from the direct societal implementation. Bowman also intersects nature with the manmade world, bridging the choice I was stuck between (loving the idea of physical rehabilitation and the like while having a passion for being involved in natural environments, but unsure of how to make either a thing). Even more excitingly, after some light searching I discovered she too has a masters (in health studies, while I’m health sciences, but close enough) so I know it’s possible to straddle the academic world even in a health-esque field while not being a PhD or MD.

This is endlessly inspiring to me because now I’m starting to think it isn’t impossible to focus on prenatal and postpartum women and work with them and their babies/ young children to create lifestyle changes and increase our movement, while doing it all in nature. Though I’m not fully sure of the direction I’m going to end up going to get it started, all in all, things are looking to be very promising in the near future.

I have also used Bowman as an entry into foot health (using her book Whole Body Barefoot), subsequently contemplating the health of my own feet on a more regular basis. Since I left the category of a nulliparous woman (a woman who has never given birth), I’ve been thinking about how my body alignment changed during pregnancy and how now I still often feel joint laxity and generally less in-tune with my body. This has resulted in me walking more duck-footed than I had previously. I am testing out her suggestions to improve my foot (and global postural) health presently, but honestly ,uch of her program is just good practice for regaining balance and better alignment generally (like doing calf stretches and one leg standing balance exercises). I’m already noticing that I am more able to abduct my pinky toes further since starting. My personal goal is to retrain my feet to be able to wear minimalist shoes (or shoes that alter the natural foot mechanics the least). This includes working my way to comfortably wearing shoes with no heel lift (which normal even sneakers and many types of sandals have).

Before that book, I also read Bowman’s book called Diastasis Recti: The Whole Body Solution to Abdominal Weakness and Separation. Though the content is obviously useful for postpartum moms, the condition of diastasis recti (DR) can impact men and nulliparous women too.

In this book Bowman talks about how our modern lifestyles put a lot more pressure (force) on our cavities (diaphragmatic, stomach, and pelvic) and so to combat that we need to make environmental changes in our lifestyle. This includes actions like sitting less in the day and returning to using our bodies to move more (rather than always having appliances and tools to help us).

The point isn’t to remove all modern conveniences entirely if it’s not possible in our lives, but to balance out those convenient factors so our bodies have a chance to regain better mobility and functional strength while we continue to go about our daily lives.

The most crucial exercise Bowman suggests as a takeaway from her book is better rib engagement. This is done by drawing our ribs down and back without just sucking in our stomachs. We need to get our ribcage muscles and joint attachments to be less stiff because it impacts our ability to use our arms in their full range, and can cause issues if we move our pelvises with our ribcages all the time. Anyway, the book is definitely worth checking out to hear Bowman explain all of this (she does a much much better job).

The last thing I read by Bowman was a paper she put out about Movement Ecology. She addresses movement in multiple avenues, highlighting how we as a species gravitate towards decreased movement, which means more than just decreased exercise. She investigates movement as a broader topic, looking at how our daily activities and the environment around us help move and change our bodies in multiple ways, including at the cellular level (e.g. literally deforming our cells as when we lay on an object and our cells flatten). It’s cool stuff!

The fun thing about Bowman’s work (and I’m just talking about the books/papers I referenced in this post, so foot health techniques, diastasis recti prevention, and movement ecology practices), you can already come up with a fairly comprehensive program for prenatal and postpartum mothers to help them stave off lifestyle-related aches and pains, and regain more function respectively, while building foundational blocks of strength and mobility. And that’s what I’ll be playing around with next with my own routines.

On a tangent, I wonder how much of the severity of my topical steroid withdrawal would be alleviated  if I moved more?

all posts, community, miscellaneous

a community is like a spider web

spider web formed on green leaves
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Jake and I had been talking when he said something that made my brain go “OH!” and basically re-wired years of misguided searching. What he said to me was, “I think you are confusing community with suburbia. You grew up in a suburb, but you had a community… most of the time suburbia is not synonymous with community.”

Now that may seem obvious to you readers, but for me it was an eye opening moment. For years I have waxed poetic about how and where I grew up, equating the two in my mind and constantly yearning to find that again as an adult, in a new place. We actually currently live in a suburb (though a weird one because it acts like a seceded city from a larger nearby one. It also gets terrible amounts of run-off traffic that only a coastal town abutted by a huge city can get).

When Jake said that to me it hit me that that was what is missing from here versus where I grew up. I lived in the same place from ages 11-23ish and got to re-invent my life in my community over and over again. I had friends in the area sure, but even after many of them came and went I had their parents, my neighbors, new co-workers with whom often shared people in common who we knew, random encounters with townsfolk, etc. The life felt interwoven and connected despite me spreading my wings in multiple literal towns.

So while I was taking a bath today I was thinking about my community and what it takes to have one and why I don’t have one here. Some of it is definitely a product of time. I have only lived in this town for 10 months now, most of which I was pregnant for or had just given birth, and for all of it I was sleep deprived and battling topical steroid withdrawal. So yes, I haven’t been spreading my roots as aggressively as I could have. I started out strong: when I moved here, I baked cookies and delivered them to neighbors’ houses with hand-sketched phoenixes as a weird get-to-know-you thing; and then I also made it a point to meet all the librarians during multiple library visits, and also explored the farmers market on occasion. But then between my physical condition and my pre-to-post baby phase, I grew tired.

That and was hard to establish a deep connection when one is in different stages of life. Our neighbors are mostly all parents with kids who are between 9-19 years old, and the parents themselves are probably all in their 40s (I’m guessing). Many of the parents include one of the couple who is a state native, and if not born-and-bred in this town, they were probably born in one within a 15 mile radius, and thus lots of them have family around. Many of them are working, or randomly gone a lot of the time so it’s always a chance encounter when I do see them.

It’s also just a different type of town than what I grew up in. This is car community. I’ve tried to make it walkable to the extent that I love, but the sidewalks end randomly and the roads are hilly and windy, and people tend to speed aggressively. It was fine when it was just me on foot, but with Fiona in her stroller I just don’t feel as comfortable.

But how does this relate to a spider web? And why am I thinking about spiders when I have such a phobia of them? Well, I’ve been reading a lot of southern-set books lately (first ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’ by John Berendt and most recently ‘The Prince of Tides’ by Pat Convoy), and the one thing they have in common is a deep-seeded love for their environment. They talk about the flora and the fauna and the smells and the colors as an important part of the experience around the stories they weave.

In The Prince of Tides (which is fiction), there is a background story within the story that talks about how black widow spiders helped save the family from a murderous intruder (because the children released the spiders all over said intruder) and how afterwards the family never killed another spider again, and it made me think about spiders and my own fear of them. Then when Jake and I were discussing community, I thought to myself, “hey, a community is kind of like a web” and that led to this post.

A community is like a web. And by this I mean that the ideas behind a web almost fully apply (if taken with creative liberties).

A web is built slowly over time,
One thin gossamer strand at a time
With the determination of knowing what it should look like
But innately, without blueprint,
With knowledge of its fragility
And understanding of the need for constant adjustment
As bugs and debris and miscellaneous items rend it broken.
It is made over an existing space
Be it flora, or the existing corners of a barn
Or something in-between
The web does not exist without some sort of baseline structure
But it can be recreated over and over again in new places
As need demands, thread by thread
Again and again as it suits the needs of its creators

Anyway, that’s where my mind was roaming today. I think it’s also why I yearn to move back to my parents’ area. I found a community I liked and now I just want to return to it so Fiona can experience it too. Maybe that’s lazy, but I make no excuses for it.

all posts, community, miscellaneous

dolly parton and body positivity

Screen Shot 2018-12-13 at 2.38.24 PM
Cover photo from Variety 

The other day I watched one of those Netflix originals movies called Dumplin’ (based off a book of the same name by Julie Murphy), and for some reason it just grew more and more on me and I actually ended up watching it twice in a row (the second time because I wanted to share it with Jake). I’d say I was drawn to the film because it depicted a coming-of-age story and body positivity in a better, more realistic light. Rather than stick to tropes about the misunderstood teenager or underappreciated mom, the story came into its own by the protagonist teen learning to accept her reality (being overweight) and not let her own misconceptions color or limit her life experience. I know that’s vague but I am attempting to avoid spoilers for anyone interested in watching it.

A majority of the movie characters also fan-girl over Dolly Parton and use her songs and words as inspiration to live their best lives, such as:

  • “find out who you are and do it on purpose”
  • “you’ll never do a whole lot unless you’re brave enough to try”

among many others that pepper the movie with external applicability and general charm. The whole point of the movie, besides family bonding, was to show the importance of developing confidence and trust in who you are and those in your life who support you, even if you don’t understand how or why.

I feel that this resonates so strongly with living with eczema. It can be a constant battle to accept yourself in this skin, and not assume everyone is silently judging you or that you don’t belong. However, it is also crucial that such feelings don’t stop you from being genuine and always trying, even if it feels uncomfortable. And as for those supporting you, you have to be able to accept that they see you beyond your skin, because the skin you’re in doesn’t define who you are.

I personally don’t know much about Dolly Parton, but after watching this movie full of her quotes and songs, I am inspired to learn more about her and listen to her music, especially if I’m ever feeling down. Dolly Parton fans feel free to throw out recommendations.

I also inexplicably wondered what it would be like to have regional eczema balls (the dance kind), that allow those living with eczema to let their metaphorical hair down and mix and mingle in a somewhat formal setting to create their own sense of magical community and touch of the unexpected. Actually I do know how that got into my head. I had been talking with a friend who got into dancing and it just felt like something that could be a lot of fun. Just imagine if you had a room full of understanding people who get the red-skinned, elephant-wrinkled, constant itch and snowflake life, and so they can all dance despite it, no worries, just silliness.

all posts, community, miscellaneous

hot flashes with a side of holidays

close up creepy dark darkness
Photo by Toni Cuenca on Pexels.com

Happy belated Halloween! Yes, I know I’m a day late but I’m including other holidays to pad my belated holiday post.

I started writing this at 3am on Halloween, and boy was I feeling it. I’d say I was doing about as well as an old cracking, stiff black leather couch on a dry heat kind of day when hot human flesh sprawls on top it (aka I was both drying out and exuding an uncomfortable amount of heat). To compound that, Fi kept waking up around every 2 hours, and it takes me at least 15-45 minutes to go back to sleep after she’s cared for, so deep healing sleep was not in my repertoire the other night, folks.

And so, instead of sleeping, I got all ready to chat about my once favorite holiday, Halloween. Did I mention how I absolutely love to dress up (or did before my skin started raging against the machine that is my body)? Anyway, I truly believe this day (or days) of year is (are) incredibly magical. For one, there are so many different cultural holidays, from our Halloween roots of Samhain, to All Saints’ Day to Latin America’s Día de los Muertos, to harvest festivals, to Guy Fawkes Day, etc.

Let’s start with the American classic holiday, Halloween. We all know how the holiday is celebrated today, at least in North America (though I’ve got a fun example of how it’s changing in an eczema-friendly direction that I’ll talk about later in the post), so for now let’s skip back a few decades to talk about Halloween’s origins.

Here’s the shortened history. Halloween had its roots from the Celtic festival Samhain, a celebration of the end of summer and the start of the harvest season. Because of the weather changes from summer to winter, it was also believed that this was a time when the worlds of the living and the death overlapped, and spirits could return to earth. To celebrate, the Celtic priests (Druids) made large bonfires where people brought sacrifices from their farm production, and they dressed up in animal skins. When the Roman Empire conquered the Celtic territory, they introduced other festivals that blended into our current holiday lore, such as commemorating the dead and festivals of fruit and trees (one which may have inspired the old tradition of bobbing for apples). The blending of Christianity into the Celtic territories led to holidays like All Souls’ Day, which was like Samhain but people dressed up as angels, devils, and saints, and eventually All Saints Day was moved to November 1st and Samhain (which became All Hallows Eve, and then Halloween) became the night before or October 31st. Halloween in America started out more similarly to the harvest festivals, then formed into an amalgam of folklore, ghost stories, mischief, and asking for treats. Over time it was reformed to try to be more community-based with parties, and with treats being given out to avoid tricks becoming the norm. At some point costumes were encouraged, first as a way to deter roaming spirit from recognizing living people, and then it was more for fun as it was modernized to what we know it as today.

Speaking of modernizing, there’s a new version of Sabrina the Teenaged Witch redone as a Netflix original (called Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) that definitely takes a much darker take on the 90s sitcom. In it, Sabrina is a half-witch, half-mortal who is constantly taking on the patriarchy, which is particularly creative when the patriarchy in question is not always that of humanity. But that’s where I’ll stop just in case anyone is planning on watching it (noting that some of the themes and violence are not appropriate for young children). If I were to try to liken the show’s general theme to that of eczema, I’d say it would be that you should always feel free to fight to create your own space, your own identity, and your own world even when the options seem to be telling you that you have a limited amount of choice. I’d elaborate more but I’m trying not to give away too many thematic spoilers.

And as promised, here’s a fun eczema-friendly movement that’s developed. Called the Teal Pumpkin Project, it’s a movement that is in recognition of the growing amount of life-threatening food allergies. Pioneered by a mom named Becky Basalone from Tennessee in 2012, she painted a pumpkin teal to indicate that she would offer alternatives to candy on Halloween, as her son had anaphylaxis and she wanted to have a way for him to still enjoy the holiday without worry. The Food Allergy Research and Education organization picked up the Teal Pumpkin Project and helped it gain country-wide recognition in 2014, encouraging people around the nation to put out these teal pumpkins to let families know that there are allergy-free (non-edible) treats available. So now, for those children out there that may be going through some sort of systematic inflammation disorder (be it food allergies, eczema, or something else), they also have a way to still partake in the festivities of All Hallow’s Eve. If you want to be involved, you can paint a pumpkin teal and put it outside your house, and then add your house to the teal pumpkin project map.

FARE_TPP_NOURL

Now for Día de los Muertos (or Day of the Dead). This holiday has seen an increase in recognition in the states over the years (just look at movies such as Book of Life, or the newer Disney movie Coco). It entails a celebration of one’s deceased, honoring their lives by creating an ofrenda (or offerings) for them of food, flowers, colorful skeletons, and people don brightly colored clothing and have parades and music and festivities to celebrate their family. The belief (of which developed from a mix of Aztec culture and Catholicism) is that on the Day of the Dead one’s ancestors come back to visit on earth, but it is disrespectful to grieve for one’s deceased, so instead it is a day of reunion and remembrance and happiness.

And lastly we have Guy Fawkes Day. Many of you may be familiar with this holiday due to the 2006 movie V for Vendetta, that centers around this elusive date of November 5th (easily remembered by the ditty: “remember remember the 5th of November, the gunpowder treason and plot. I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.” The history behind this holiday was that under various monarchs in England, (but primarily under King James I’s rule), Catholics were persecuted, unable to marry, fined for refusing to attend non-Catholic services, etc. Various attempts to overthrow the ruling king were enacted but the most famous was that done by Guy Fawkes and company. Their plan was to use gunpowder to blow up parliament on November 5th, 1605. Somehow, a letter was delivered to parliament about the plot, and Fawkes was stopped November 4, and subsequently he and his team were sentenced to be drawn and quartered as punishment for high treason. Celebrations with bonfires started after the plot was revealed and November 5th became known as Guy Fawkes Day, (even spreading to America as Pope Day where people burned the Pope in effigy). Although America stopped celebrating their version, in Britain, Guy Fawkes Day entails (even today) bonfires, fireworks, parades, and of course, burning Fawkes in effigy. The holiday has taken a spin where Guy Fawkes is sometimes seen as a hero, a change which is attributed to the movie V for Vendetta, where V wears a Guy Fawkes mask as he attempts to topple a fascist government regime. Spoiler alert: in the movie, V goes on a last stand rampage to kill off the remaining “bad guys” and results in him sacrificing himself. While he is dying, he shares a “kiss” (put in quotes because the heroine, Evie, kisses his mask), and then he dies and she puts his body onto the train with all the explosives, that runs under parliament. Maybe if V had lived in this time period, instead of deciding to sacrifice himself he would have jumped into the bandwagon of #unhideECZEMA, but pioneered his own movement to be about unhiding burns, and then he could have removed the mask and gloves and found himself worthy of living a new life with Evie. But then there wouldn’t be a movie.

Speaking of movies, here’s a side note to end with (though it’s not family-friendly and it’s quite violent and whatnot): the movie Deadpool actually supports the idea really well of skin issues not being a big deal. Spoiler alert: Ryan Reynolds’ character Wade, aka Deadpool, becomes horribly disfigured from a mutant experiment and spends the first movie chasing after the psychopath doctor who did it to him to get the doctor to make him good-looking again before he is wiling to go back to see his beloved girlfriend/fiancée, Ness. When that plan ultimately fails and he is going to be forever scarred, he is still reunited with Ness and she is upset at him for wasting time away from her, but unfazed by his skin. The old adage holds true, love is goes deeper than skin deep.

And now here’s to me hoping my skin is cooler tonight and I can sleep.

 

REFERENCES

Born, Courtney. “Origin of the Teal Pumpkin Project- Interview with FACET’s Becky Basalone.” Living Allergic, https://www.allergicliving.com/2014/10/23/the-origin-of-the-teal-pumpkin-project-interview-with-becky-basalone-facet/. Accessed 30 Oct 2018.

Greenspan, Jesse. “Guy Fawkes Day: A Brief History.” History, https://www.history.com/news/guy-fawkes-day-a-brief-history. Accessed 30 Oct 2018.

“Halloween 2018.” History. https://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween. Accessed 30 Oct 2018.

Richman-Abdou, Kelly. “Día de los Muertos: How Mexico Celebrates Its Annual ‘Day of the Dead’.” My Modern Met, https://mymodernmet.com/dia-de-los-muertos-day-of-the-dead/. Accessed 1 Nov 2018.

all posts, community, eczema

how to live your fullest life with eczema

woman stands on mountain over field under cloudy sky at sunrise
Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

Two days ago I was working on a post where I mentioned a book I was reading (The Little Book of Skin Care: Korean Beauty Secrets for Healthy, Glowing Skin by Charlotte Cho) and how it explained that Koreans have a different mentality about their skin. Their attitude is that skin care regiments are to be enjoyed, rather than thought of as a chore. My thoughts were that it would be amazing if there was a way to cultivate such an attitude into the lives of those with eczema, to get us to see managing our skin not as a burden, but as something we could learn to embrace and therefore lovingly treat ourselves during our routines. My hope is that the better the attitude we can have about the inevitable (having to put in a lot of time to manage our skin), the better we can mentally feel about living with eczema. Speaking of living with eczema…

I watched a webinar from the National Eczema Association that same night called Unhide Eczema: Storytelling for Healing. It features 3 speakers, including Ashley Lora, Alexis Smith, and Mercedes Matz who each went into detail about their experiences with eczema and how they found community through opening up about their individual journeys living with eczema.

The major takeaways from the webinar were:

  • show the world your skin. Don’t hide away and fear the general public’s response but rather embrace your skin and “unhide eczema”,
  • change how you talk about yourself and eczema. Don’t say you are suffering from eczema, but rather say you are living with it. The power of words is remarkable, and having an empowered attitude or at least one of acceptance is so important, especially as it is a part of you. So change the way you talk and change the way you think about yourself and eczema, and
  • speaking of empowering, empower yourself and others by sharing your story. You’d be surprised by how many people have eczema and need to know they aren’t alone.  The power of telling your story might even help you heal!

The idea of empowering oneself when you have eczema and sharing your stories brought me back to an article I had recently stumbled upon about a woman who cured her eczema through faith. Specifically, it was this woman’s power of belief that drew me. I think it can be so hard to find a way to keep believing you will heal when you’re stuck in the midst of a bad flare, and that is when it becomes essential to find your voice and talk about what you’re going through. Whether this is sharing a story about being miraculously cured, or of just finding a product that made you feel just a tad better, the ability to speak up and open up abour your experience is such a powerful tool. For one you are giving yourself a voice, regardless if it’s driven by frustration or elation.

You’re also you’re giving yourself a chance to build community (which I’m sure by now you know I’m obsessed with, but for good reason). Community is so important in this day and age because not only can you pass down the wisdom of the products you’ve tried, but you can continue to reinforce that you are not alone. I can’t state the value of this enough.

Just imagine you are in a public place (let’s say a movie theater) and you start to scratch an itch on your neck and you are feeling self conscious because you didn’t cover up your eczema with clothing layers today, but instead of sinking into your seat or averting your eyes, when you notice the person sitting next to you watching you scratch, you speaking speak up (before the lights have dimmed and the previews have started of course). And said person is like, “Wait, you have eczema too?! Omg have you tried x? And did you hear about the meet-up to visit the new eczema clothing company? Free samples! Oh and have you joined the eczema walking and group? Heard about the fair? Tried the eczema yoga morning classes?” And then someone else overhears your conversation and they chip in, and then another, and then before you know it you’ve made all these new connections and been inspired by all these new ideas on how to augment your own care and all it took was not worrying about hiding your flared-up neck, and being willing to chat. On a side note, apparently the NEA’s annual Eczema Expo is a lot like that dialogue interaction (I hope I can go this year!!).

My point is you have to be brave and take a chance. If nothing else comes of it, at least you are increasing awareness, and that alone helps trickle into better attention by the powers that be, which can lead to policies changes, shape doctors’ standard protocols, cause businesses to make new product lines, etc. Plus you spoke up and expressed yourself, which is huge. It is so important to not feel like you have to hide the part of you that is as impactful and long acting as eczema.

I’m totally with the #unhideeczema movement because it can be so damaging to have to modify everyday life habits to take care of your skin that the last thing you want to do is hide away, not to help heal, but because you feel ashamed. There is no reason to be ashamed. Over 31 million people in the U.S. alone have eczema. You are not alone.

And so that is why I think it’s so important to take these chances, speak up, show some skin! Because this is your life, and yeah you may be living with eczema, but don’t let that stop you from living!

And here’s a recent picture of me living it up with Fi in our comfy autumnal pajama apparel.

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One last thing, if you don’t know where to start telling your story, get some ideas from the National Eczema Association. The organization goes into more detail about the mental benefits of writing your story in a recent post here.

all posts, community, eczema, miscellaneous, women's health

girl power! on collectives and community (and witches!)

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Eczema is a devilish disease that is best thwarted mentally (in my case) by keeping myself busy reading, researching, and daydreaming. The strongest distraction as of late has been collectives. I have always had an affinity for all sorts of collectives because I think that when the project comes together from all that cooperation, it showcases the greatness of an amalgam of multiple minds. As such I have become more aware of collective collaborations over the years, especially when it comes to the arts. As I am often entangled in women’s health, below are a few of the more recent finds that are all women/all girl collective efforts.

The Secret Love of Geek Girls is an anthology created by Hope Nicholson and other artists, of prose and comic forms, which encompasses various topics such as divorce, coming out, asexuality, young love, and other aspects all from the lenses of women who identify and/or embody the idea of a geek. I absolutely loved it. It’s an anthology I have purchased to randomly flip open pages to read when I’m feeling a certain kind of way. Also I think it would be an awesome idea to create an eczema anthology one day, to share the experiences and feelings and worlds of those afflicted.

Girls Drawin’ Girls Tarot Deck  is a beautiful tarot deck done by the Girls Drawin’ Girls, a group formed by Melody Simpsons (who worked on the Simpsons). The group was formed to allow women a space to compete in a traditionally male-dominated industry. Speaking of tarot, I’ve gotten very interested in it lately. Not only does it gave a strong history of feminine mysticism but some people in the medical and health professional fields have been starting to use it as a therapeutic device. Jessica Dore uses tarot in her clinical work as she becomes a social worker, and Dr. Art Rosengarten, a clinical therapist, uses tarot for psychotherapy. There are a few older studies (like this one from the 90s) about tarot used for therapy, and the general impression I got is that due to the symbolism, tarot helps to give the clients a more visual way to process out their thoughts and bring forth aspects that are on their subconscious. In my head, if nothing else I see it as being a therapeutic tool, much like the Rorschach (ink blot) test but more multifaceted, and I would love to see more studies done on it. I also personally want to learn how to do tarot readings for the storytelling aspect, but if it makes me subsequently be more in the moment, reflexive, or mindful (or if nothing else, distracted from my itches), I’m not complaining.

And since we’ve delved into tarot, and are thus already over the line and into mysticism, we must then talk about witches. The history of witches in America (as I understand it to be from listening to the tours in Salem and from this Smithsonian article), is mostly a tale of fear mongering. It started in Salem, Massachusetts (at the time the town of Danvers was also a part of Salem). A young girl and her cousin (Elizabeth and Abigail), whose slave (Tituba) used to tell them stories to amuse her and her friends, supposedly faked going into a possessed fits, their friends followed, and then religious men got involved who started calling out all witches to be persecuted (usually with the sentence of being jailed forever). A witch ended up encompassing any wayward woman (or sometimes man), such as one who didn’t behave as expected, who was promiscuous, who spoke her mind with the candor of a man,  who dabbled in the art of herbal healing, etc, and evidence for arrest included visions for a time. The tension was ramped up because of various families in towns competing for resources and believing the high tensions to be the result of devilry (witches were thought to commune with the devil). I’ve heard it thought that there may have also been competition for tourism and so slandering the other parts of Salem (e.g. Salem Village versus Salem Town) with the threat of witchcraft was a surefire way to insure more money into your own town (but I’m not sure this is true- I just heard it by word of mouth). The culmination of events led to the infamous Salem Witch Trials, with 200 accused, and the death of 20 people (not including those who died in jail).

Today there is more of a new era of witch culture in America. Well there are two blurred and overlapping lines of “witches”. There are the herbalists and healers who had had a bad rap in the past for practicing medicine and healing outside of the realm of religion/formal hospital training, and then there are the new age witches (which can also include herbalists and healers). As I live very close to Salem today and Vermont/Maine, I do get glimpses of both, but only limitedly. A lot of Salem is rampant tourism like the Harry Potter store Wynott’s Wands (though their wares are beautiful and I found out that their wands sell well as batons for conductors, which is really cool).

One example of the new age of witches is HausWitch, the store creation of Erica Feldmann who describes it as “a modern metaphysical lifestyle brand and shop” where they sell “witchy” wares made by independent makers, including a lot of self care body products, journals, courses (like tarot readings and seasonally-focused events), etc. The most interesting aspect of HausWitch and stores like it are the modernization of witchcraft as an inclusive movement. HausWitch for example, works to create community and thus holds many different events and healing practices and activism discussion among other activities to foster connections. Traditionally, a bunch of witches together in a group was called a coven, and was seen and portrayed as a dangerously bad thing, but in seeing covens today, they are essentially just another form of community with the commonality, instead of being location, sparking the starting connection.

Personally, as a person who is always trying to find ways to foster community wherever I go, I think the whole new resurgence of witchcraft is pretty cool, and I’m excited to learn more about it and see where else in the country it’s happening. I am particularly biased because I have always loved herbalism and since my eczema has gotten crazy, self care, and so any movements that entails taking care of yourself and immersing yourself in a community that is seasonally-inclined, is my cup of tea.

 

REFERENCES

Blumberg, Jess. “A Brief History of the Salem Witch Trials: One town’s strange journey from paranoia to pardon.” Smithsonian.com, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/a-brief-history-of-the-salem-witch-trials-175162489/. Accessed 17 Sept 2018.

Dore, Jessica. “Tarot + Psychology: An Interview with Dr. Art Rosengarten.” Jessica Dore, https://www.jessicadore.com/tarot-psychology-interview-dr-art-rosengarten/. Accessed 17 Sept 2018.

Heaney, Katie. “Does Your Therapy Need More Tarot?” The Cut, https://www.thecut.com/2018/07/does-your-therapy-need-more-tarot.html. Accessed 17 Sept 2018.

Semetsky, Inna. Integrating Tarot readings into counselling and psychology. Spirtuality and Health International. 2005;6(2).