Here’s a New One: Vaccines Are impure

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Vaccines are huge right now, especially after the recent measles outbreak and good evidence that diseases which were previously all but eradicated are blossoming into existence again. While there are still some people whining about how horrible it would be if their kid caught the autisms (because apparently having autism is worse than getting an extremely painful and potentially fatal disease), that myth has been decently debunked at this point. Of course after the autism scare came the “vaccines contain mercury” freak out (oddly enough people didn’t seem too worried about the tuna they were eating, which contains more mercury than vaccines), then bits of fetuses, formeldahyde, aluminum, borax, and even GMOs (the horrors).

My particular favorite was the site that said vaccines were dangerous because they contain viruses.

Update: that is a lie, my new favorite is the site that says Nazi mass murderers work for the FDA and promote vaccines.

But now there appears to be a new concern. Are vaccines pure enough for the kids of crunchy moms who refuse to feed their kids anything but the naturalest, least chemical food, or clothe them in anything but pure cotton (maybe we are finally living up to the Leviticus laws)? NO! Of course not. They have MSG in them, they might include GMOs, they contain not organic eggs, and they might even have animal proteins in them. Ew. On top of that, it’s becoming more common for religious protests against vaccinations to include the idea of impurity, citing the idea that trusting God is more important than taking care of your health, and of course getting their panties in a twist over whether or not human fetuses were involved in making the vaccines.

All of this is scaremongering. In particular, the assertions that chemicals or GMOs have unknown consequences on the body is ridiculous, especially since to one extent or another all vaccines are genetically modified. But the idea that the human body needs to stay exactly how it was thousands of years ago in order to be pure is just plain dangerous, wrong, and also NO ONE ACTUALLY BELIEVES IT. If they did, they would be living significantly differently. Unless you eschew all technology, medicine, science, and advances that might adjust the way your body functions (like oh, I dunno, electric lights), you’ve already accepted on some level that you’re artificially adjusting what it means to be human.

And that’s totally ok. Clearly we all do it and there are likely some elements of the modern lifestyle that aren’t great and others that are vast improvements on the past (see: vaccines). You don’t lose your special pure human card by existing in a society with technology and medicine. There’s no such thing as being an impure human with bad stuff in your blood, you can’t shed toxins (unless you’re a liver), and also none of this is relevant because vaccines save thousands of lives.

Look, if you want to treat your body like a temple and do some sort of spiritual god test of everything you put into it, that’s fine. But when your behavior affects other people it’s no longer the most important thing that you feel safe. It’s time to start relying on the facts that we have from decades of science. Those facts say vaccines=awesome. Sorry.

Vocal Fry is Not a Crime

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Once upon a time there was a new feature in language called vocal fry. It sounded a little like a cracking or growling sound and was generally an unconscious way of speaking. For some odd and utterly non factual reason, this feature of language became associated with young women, which meant that everyone and their brother and their uncle and their dog felt the need to comment and inform young women that it was bad, hurting them, and making them less hireable.

No one knows why the way young women talk is such a big deal to so many people (in particular old, male type people). Especially since vocal fry is also common among young men, actually causes no damage to the vocal chords, and has been around for quite some time, and is actually a totally normal feature of speech that most people use on a regular basis. So why the hate on women for using the speech pattern?

Well as with many things, this is another trend that you can add to “things we hate young, mostly upward mobile women for” because it seems that the only reason people dislike it is because it’s associated with the ladies (and a side helping of misunderstanding the nature of language change. Language changes. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. Move on). Everything from leggings (sluts without pants!) to uptalk (why do you talk like you’re so uncertain you stupid girl!? Oh wait, most British people also use uptalk? Ignore that, it’s bad when you do it) to feather tattoos on your ribcage (trashy! so trashy!) is deemed horrible when young women do it. And yet there are all sorts of other people who engage in these same behaviors that don’t receive the same repercussions. In fact, there’s little evidence that any of these things cause any actual harm or problems to anyone (except that some people keep bitching and whining about them).

I’m really over the concern trolling of people who want to tell young women what to do, who say they’re just looking out for the well being of teens and young adults. Nope, sorry. There is absolutely nothing wrong about behaviors that you find kinda annoying because they’re different. And the oh so weird coincidence that many of those behaviors are associated with teen girls? Huh…might just say something about you.

So get over it. I’m vocal fryin’ dawgs.

Intellovert and Other Variations

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Personality typing and tests are super popular at the moment, particularly in regards to the introvert/extrovert question. How do we need to treat introverts and extroverts differently, how can introverts and extroverts get along even though they’re completely different, and what do you need to do to care for your introvert/extrovert self? I’m all for opening up discussions of the different ways that people function and thrive, but I’m certainly not the first person to point out that the introvert/extrovert dichotomy misses a lot of nuance in how people interact socially.

For the last five years or so, I’ve firmly identified as an introvert. I have a lot of social anxiety and so spending time in large groups is draining for me. I need alone time and personal space, I love to read and write (alone), and I recharge by taking long naps and watching Netflix. But in my current relationship, I’m finding that I want to spend more time together than my partner does, as he needs more recharging time than I do. I’m finding that when I’m out of work, I want to be with people nearly every day. So am I an introvert or an extrovert?

In my last therapy appointment, my therapist mentioned that one of my needs as a human being is intellectual stimulation. I get bored easily, and when I don’t have something to keep my mind occupied I start to lose it a little bit. Interestingly, I find that intellectual stimulation is an incredibly difficult need to fulfill without the help of other people, particularly in the form of conversation.

When I’m having engaging, deep conversations with other people, I feel my batteries recharge. When I have to make small talk, be around a large group of people, talk to someone I don’t know very well, or interact with other people for simply practical needs (setting up an appointment for example), I feel drained. Where does this put me on the introvert/extrovert scale if there are some social activities that I find rejuvenating and some that I find horrible?

Well it probably just makes me human, since I’m fairly certain that this is true of everyone. But it might make more sense to talk about introversion and extroversion in relation to specific activities or types of interactions instead of overall personality traits. I’m extroverted when it comes to intellect, puzzles, very close friends and family, and public speaking (yeah, I’m a weirdo). I’m incredibly introverted when it comes to big groups, loud atmospheres, strangers, casual acquaintances, or overstimulating situations.

It’s pretty easy to see some patterns here. There are some things which will make me feel rejuvenated whether or not they happen with other people: learning, validation, deep connection, feeling competent, or getting attention. There are other things that will wear me out whether or not they involve others: overwhelming environments, too many things to pay attention to at once, or repetition of basic information.

While introversion and extroversion are helpful concepts in some ways, it might be helpful to also start to think of how we recharge our emotional batteries with or without people. Almost everyone has some things that feel good and restful both with and without other people. These things might point towards what it is that we crave as individuals, what our emotional needs are. If we see what we want from our lives, it might be easier to set up social interactions to successfully cater to those needs.

Example: when I think of myself as an introvert, I try to schedule more downtime for myself. I inevitably end up bored and frustrated after a few hours of entertaining myself. If instead, I think about fulfilling my need for stimulation without an overwhelming number of things to pay attention to, I set up quiet coffee dates, game nights, movie nights, and other similar quiet activities that let me talk to other people and stay engaged.

Maybe I’m an intellovert: I get my rest and relaxation from exercising my brain. It’s quite possible that there are lots of other ways that people find rejuvenation. Perhaps someone is oriented towards physical exertion, human touch, sensory cues, or something else altogether. I don’t think it’s useful to get rid of the words introvert and extrovert altogether, but it might be time to rethink the ways we use them, or introduce some new concepts to think about when we’re explaining what fulfills our personalities.

Boundaries Mean Cruelty

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One of my favorite blogs in the world is Captain Awkward. It’s an advice blog, a format I rarely read, but in this case it deals primarily with scripts and suggestions for setting boundaries. Sure, there’s lots of variations on that, but almost across the board it’s about making space for yourself, aimed at introverts, weird and awkward types, the socially anxious, and those who live in the world of oppression. It’s fantastic and you all should check it out.

Thanks to the help of Captain Awkward, a lot of DBT, and a pile of friends who openly talk about self care and openly asking for what we need, I’ve started to practice boundary setting as often as possible. It’s amazing how difficult it is to open my mouth to simply say something like “please don’t talk about calories around me,” but there you go. The internalized people pleasing is strong in me.

I’m getting better. I can tell friends that I’m not up for hanging out if I need to, I can tell my boyfriend when I don’t feel comfortable with something, I can even to some extent enforce my boundaries in the online world. But for some reason it all breaks down when it comes to my family. My family has always been pretty close, and we like to get together. We like to party. We like to eat a lot of food together. And we like to spend a great deal of time together, especially around the holidays.

Now through the process of reading about the fleeting thing called “normalcy” I have gleaned that my family goes a bit above and beyond in terms of holiday activities. I, on the other hand, am fairly socially anxious and spending many days in a row with the extended fam can be a drain.

So this year I’m opting out of some of the festivities. I’m making sure I see all the out of towners, get some immediate family time in, and trying to fit in friends too. But I’m skipping almost half of our events.

Part of me is convinced that the message I’m sending by setting this boundary, by saying that I am an adult with a job and friends and responsibilities and in order to take care of myself I need to take these steps, I am telling my family that I don’t love them. Part of my brain still reads “setting a boundary” as “cruelty”.

I know that by taking time to myself I am doing my best by everyone. I’ll be a happier, friendlier, more outgoing human being in the times that I do see my family. I’ll be able to be more present with them and actually (hopefully) have good conversations and interactions instead of living in a state of stress and anxiety that makes me antisocial and cranky. I know that one day of good time together is better than a week of time struggling to cope.

So why is it that I still read it as inappropriate? Why do I still read the boundary setting as taking something away from other people when in reality my time is not something that I owe anyone, it’s something I choose to give to others? Somewhere along the line society has convinced me that certain people deserve my time, no matter what that means. Not only that, but they deserve my time in a fashion that is acquiescing and non confrontational.

This is not to say that my family demands some sort of creepy submission, but that challenging your family, setting boundaries, or even just asking someone not to do something is viewed as hostile by many people. Not showing up is seen as a sign, and it’s not a good one.

I don’t know what it is about family that triggers the “you should not be an independent human being, you owe all your time to these people” script in my brain. I don’t know if this is something that happens to others, the selective way the mind chooses people you cannot be an adult with. But I know that it isn’t healthy to feel like I’m five again whenever my family asks me to do things, certain that I don’t actually have any choices but petulantly running to my room or doing what they ask.

So I’m sticking with my boundaries. Discomfort be damned.

Food As An Emotional Modifier

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Some people eat when they’re in a bad mood. Most people, actually. Comfort food is a well known concept and we all have foods that are associated with home, safety, and good feelings. Some people don’t eat anything at all when they’re in a bad mood. Oftentimes depression can come with loss of appetite, and restrictive eating disorders are the extreme of “I feel bad I won’t eat”. Human beings use food to adjust and react to their moods.
For the most part this is considered unhealthy. Emotional eating is often at the heart of eating disorders, and many dieticians find that working with their clients to come to a healthy place with their emotions leads to a stabilization of diet. (FIND LINK) When we call someone an emotional eater, we don’t mean it as a compliment. Our thoughts/feelings are supposed to be radically separate from our bodies, and it’s unhealthy to seek out a physical solution to an emotional problem.
Except for the times when it’s not. Recently, I’ve started to try to regulate my emotions using food. “EATING DISORDER!” I hear you cry (or so I assume, I always cry out in distress when reading blogs). Well, not exactly. I’ve been trying to regulate my emotions using food by eating on a regular schedule, listening to what my body is craving, and eating until I am full. In addition to regular mealtimes, I’ve also been trying to notice when I’m getting cranky, anxious, sad, or otherwise unstable in some fashion and whether it has any correlation to how long it’s been since I’ve eaten. Guess what? It often does. I’m low energy and low happiness first thing in the morning, and I hit a low in the afternoon before dinner. Guess what these two time periods have in common? It’s been a while since I’ve eaten anything and I’m probably low on calories. Not having enough calories will make anyone more emotionally vulnerable.
Secret knowledge dropping time: our emotions are highly dependent on our bodies. Being tired, hungry, thirsty, cold, or sick will affect how you process what’s going on around you and what your reaction to the world is. Not all of these are things we can adjust immediately. If I’m having a bad day at work I can’t simply take a nap and feel more rested and thus stable. But I can go grab a snack or put on an extra sweater. I can use my body in a positive manner to influence how I’m feeling.
More often than not, things that are unhealthy for us are that way because they are extreme in some fashion. This doesn’t apply to anything (please do not go take moderate doses of arsenic), but for many things, we can use them positively if we understand how they actually interact with our bodies and minds. Exercise is another great example of this: too much or too little can throw us out of whack, but a moderate amount of exercise on a regular basis, and strategically applied exercise during times of stress can do wonders.
I don’t necessarily promote the view of the body that sees it as a machine (I think we’re far more integrated into our bodies than we will ever be with machines), but it can be a helpful metaphor when thinking of how to modulate your emotions. What kinds of things might this machine need to function better? Have I been getting too much or too little of any of the necessities? How can I make a small change right now to bring things back into balance. It’s not magic, but it is certainly a helpful framework for in the moment actions.

I Hate People Who Take the Elevator

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A friend of mine made an off handed comment the other day. “I’m sick of lazy people taking the elevator!” To say that I was taken aback would be an understatement. I pushed him a bit, and he simply said he hated that everyone did it, that it was an engrained social structure, that obesity was an epidemic, and that it was a waste of energy.

I think it’s time to review both fatphobia and ableism 101, as well as how they’re intertwined. The first thing to note about something like whether other people take the elevator or not is that it’s none of your damned business because you know nothing about this random other person and their behavior isn’t hurting you (we’ll get to questions of obesity soon). There is nothing morally wrong about not wanting to be active right this instant. And in many cases, someone might be incapable of taking the stairs: some people have invisible diseases, and your assumption that everyone should take the stairs is part of the underlying cultural norm that other people’s bodies belong to us and they all have to be able and thin or they are doing something wrong. They are causing harm.

There are a lot of things wrong with the assumption that you should be able to tell someone else what to do with their body or that it’s any of your business what someone else does with their body, whether that’s how/when they have sex or their choice of diet and exercise. The moment we start deciding what the correct way for another person to treat their body is, the moment we’ve decided to try to take away their basic autonomy.  Everyone has the right to decide what to eat, how to move, where to go, and when you assume that their actions are fair game for your shame and criticism because you don’t like what someone else is doing, you’re implying that someone else’s body is public property. And that’s just really uncool.

There is nothing wrong with being fat. Spoiler alert: it is entirely possible to be healthy, happy, and active while being fat. The Health at Every Size movement has a great deal of information on this, but suffice it to say that genetics plays a huge role in your size, and that body composition makes a large difference. The “obesity epidemic” is based on the BMI scale, which does not take body composition into account at all and reduces many complex health problems down to “you’re a fatty, lose some weight,”. As this article points out, fat people often have to fight for the right to be able to eat food. Relatedly, they also often have to fight for the right to be inactive or rest. Any time we see an overweight person sitting down or watching TV or taking the elevator, we assume they’re lazy. We don’t do that with thin people, even though there’s not any law that says the thin person is more active than the fat person.

We tend to only accept a fat person as a “good fatty” if we see that they only eat salad or take the stairs every time. Fat people are by default considered unhealthy and lazy until they have proven that they do all the correct healthy behaviors and are still fat. Many people assume that if a fat person is engaging in any “unhealthy” behaviors, those behaviors are what has caused them to be fat (and thus a drain on society because all fat people are the worst ya know). Never mind that some people are fat because of disabilities.  Never mind that you literally have no idea whether or not that individual just came from the gym or not. Never mind that you have literally no evidence that taking the elevator is what caused this person to be overweight or whether or not this overweight person is unhealthy. Never mind that some people physically can’t take the stairs, even if they look able bodied.

It’s none of your damned business what anyone does with their body, what food they eat, and how they exercise. Bodies are complicated, and unless you’re someone’s doctor or intimately close to them, you don’t know even close to enough to make a judgment about whether or not they’re lazy. A lot of this is straight out concern trolling, and there’s good evidence that it’s not really about health in the fact that I don’t see any of these concern trolls telling me that they have a right to tell me to eat more and deal with my eating disorder because insurance! Public health! You need to be able to work! They’re not concerned with the state of my health and body because I am thin and able bodied and sometimes I rock climb and swing dance for hours. You cannot read someone’s health off of their body.

Maybe taking the elevator is an engrained social structure, and maybe we could do more to promote exercise. But any fat person or depressed person or sick person can tell you that they’ve heard it. They’ve heard it a thousand times. One more piece of shame is not going to help (it may actually make people fatter). There are more positive and more helpful ways to promote movement. I take the elevator because the stairs take longer and are boring. I’d rather exercise in a more fun fashion. So maybe that “just take the stairs” approach is alienating some people, and is actually an excuse to complain about fat, lazy people.

Yes, maybe it is more energy efficient to take the stairs. But we all make trade offs in our lives in terms of values and priorities, and how we treat our bodies is incredibly personal. If it’s so important to you, then take the stairs yourself, but stop haranguing others when you have no idea what their lives are like.

 

Wealth and Health: More Complicated?

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It’s no secret that the wealthy in America have better health outcomes than the poor. The disparities can be shocking. It affects quality of healthcare, food, lifespan, and can even affect whether someone will contract an illness after being exposed. There are many conclusions we can draw from this fact (the extreme wealth disparity in our country is not only unethical but is in fact contributing to illness and death, we need universal healthcare, America sucks), but the picture may not be as simple as some articles prefer to paint it as. In fact, the reason that the wealthy are healthier may not simply be because they have access to better healthcare and healthier food, safer environments and less violence, but it may in fact reflect the fact that our society is set up at every level to cater to their needs.

Those who are poor are most often those who are discriminated against for race, gender, sexuality, or disability, things which all contribute to poor health outcomes. Police brutality and the prison industrial complex come down most harshly on people of color. Oddly enough being beaten by the cops and sent to prison aren’t too good for your health. The mentally ill often have their diseases dismissed as “all in your head”, which can lead to loss of jobs, healthcare, housing etc. and bad physical health outcomes. These intersections get ignored when we simply look at class without reminding ourselves that class is affected by other identities.

One article points out that the marshmallow test is associated with positive outcomes later in life, and that those who tend to do poorly on the marshmallow test tend to be poor. But the marshmallow test has been criticized as measuring the skills that make you successful in a white, upper class world, rather than the skills that make you successful in a world where you can’t necessarily trust authority. Most of these studies seem to be indicating that the wealthy are taught the successful ways to navigate the world while the poor are hurt by the way society is set up.

So for those who are poor, you have every right to be pissed off. Society is set up to shorten your life span by creating food deserts, making organic and healthy food more expensive and more time consuming to prepare, by increasing your stress by taking away your choices, by housing you in neighborhoods that are more dangerous and houses that are less healthy, by making gym memberships expensive, and by continuing to not educate or miseducate the poor on what it means to be healthy.

But what can we do? If society is set up to see us fail, how do we take our lives into our own hands and decide WE WILL BE HEALTHY? One of the first things that I’ve found helpful is to reconfigure our conception of our own health: being healthy isn’t just a choice we can make for ourselves personally, it can also be a political statement. I’m sure I’ve posted my favorite Audre Lorde quote here before, but if I haven’t, here it is:

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

I didn’t mean to put that in big ol’ letters, but I’m going to leave it that way because I think it’s that important. When the poor and oppressed among us live longer and healthier, we actively resist the society that wants us to be so downtrodden we can’t resist. The more we can see our choice to be healthy as a gigantic middle finger to a shitty system, the easier it is to make good choices (or at least I think so). A big part of this is forming communities. Cooking takes time and energy as well as money. If you get together with friends and each cook something, then do a big swap so you have a variety of foods for the week, you’ve saved time, probably money (because bulk is awesome), and you’ve provided yourself with the added benefit of social interaction (shown to be good for your health!).

We can also inform ourselves: information is powerful. Know what kinds of foods make you feel good, understand what a balanced and healthy diet looks like (protip: it does in fact involve some fat and sugar), and understand what healthy exercising habits are (regular, but not compulsive). Share information with each other. If you find something awesome and healthy, tell other people about it (Rock climbing! Fun! Exercise! Woot!). Share resources like low cost clinics for physical and mental healthcare. Support those places! Spend some time volunteering for Planned Parenthood or a local clinic that provides similar low income care.

None of this can change the fact that your environment is out of your hands. But we can look out for each other: if one of us spots mold in another’s apartment, we can research how to get rid of it and the potential health risks. If one person works from home and has tons of friends who don’t have time to cook, maybe their friends can throw a few bucks their way and ask them to cook in bulk. Share EVERYTHING (ok maybe not everything, but recipes, tips, exercises, doctors, good apartments, job leads…your community will give back to you if you give to it).

Remember that statistics don’t mean all of us are doomed. They point towards trends but they can’t predict your individual life. If you want to fight those statistics, here are some resources for low-income healthiness.

1. Fitness resources for low cost

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/fitness/in-depth/fitness/art-20047989?pg=1

http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/6-ways-build-better-body-budget

http://frugalliving.about.com/od/beautyhealthcare/tp/Frugal_Exercise.htm

2. Healthy food for lower costs

http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/cheap-healthy-15-nutritious-foods-about-2-dollars

http://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/2012/12/27/cheap-and-healthy-food/

3.  Low cost healthcare (this should be easier with Obamacare!). I’m going to put Minnesota resources since that’s what I know.

http://www.health.state.mn.us/clearinghouse/public.htm

http://mn.bridgetobenefits.org/MN_Low_Cost_Health_Care_Directory.html

If anyone is interested, I am willing to host resources here and connect others who are interested in improving their health at a low cost. We can build our own communities that provide the same benefits that having lots of money does for the wealthy.