Monday, September 28, 2020

Double Standards And Who Does More Damage

The more I look into the controversy involving a race announcer observing the fact that two ladies leading the race had more muscle mass, the more I realize just how fucked up social media is. Obviously, when injustices occur against women, I believe people should call out the perpetrator, but what happens when the people doing the calling out get it wrong? 

What's strange to me is how few people are correcting those who are pushing the absolutely false narrative that the announcer called the runners fat, and no, he wasn't joking about women's bodies or being condescending, either. Trying to force people to believe that it's a sin any time a man makes any comment about a woman's body is unhealthy. The pendulum has officially swung too far in the opposite direction when any comment made by a man, no matter how inoffensive, is considered an insult. The women in front were pacers. It's expected that they might have a different build. In true body-positive fashion, their strength and power along with all the different body types in that race should be celebrated. Imagine how hard it was and how long it took these two runners to achieve that kind of speed, power, and strength. Why is it so terrible to claim a sprinter typically looks different than a distance runner, and why is there no upset when these kinds of comments are directed at men? 

It would be great if society could shift attention away from women's bodies altogether, but the announcer's comment was more about two athletes than it was about women in particular. The conversation around what happened afterward was hardly productive, mostly because of the many individuals commenting who jumped to the wrong conclusion and also because quite a few of them post far more damaging content than a guy simply calling two fast professional athletes muscular. 

I haven't seen a response from Zdenka Seidlova saying she was upset by what the announcer said. She seemed pretty content to have been invited to participate in the race and even noted that she initially laughed and was nervous about the offer to be a pacer. Nowhere did I see any outrage on her part about the commentary. I have to side with Bill Maher here and agree that you shouldn't be more outraged than the victim, especially if that person doesn't even see herself as one, but, man, the vitriol that poured out against the announcer was shocking and really upsetting. 

I'm scratching my head at one comment I saw claiming young girls would hear the announcer's take on the situation and think "small= fast". Well, which is it? Are people upset he called the fast runner fat, or are they upset because calling faster runners muscular will make kids think it's really the thinner runners who are faster? The original comment got all kinds of mangled and twisted, so much so that it's hard to sort through all the bizarre interpretations, but I suppose it's somewhat understandable when one realizes there has been a relentless focus on women's bodies for years, something I have said before. The problem here is that the woke community keeps shooting itself in the foot, looking for outrage in all the wrong places. All this displaced anger could be put to better use and redirected toward far more damaging content. If you're really trying to protect young girls from being exposed to unhealthy ideas, why not start with the slew of individuals and runners who promote a restrictive lifestyle and make their own weight, diet, and their bodies a constant topic of discussion? I can assure you that these types do far more damage in terms of promoting unhealthy and potentially dangerous content than a guy making a comment about muscles during a track race. 

I find it far more concerning, too, that people keep pushing this incorrect narrative, that calling someone muscular is secretly calling them fat. A huge part of my own recovery included taking a look at the way my mind misinterpreted what was actually being said. It happened the other day, in fact, when a friend of a neighbor made a comment about my weight. I could have gotten upset, but the reality is that I'm pretty sure she meant no harm. I'm not going to lash out at her or lecture someone who was just trying to make conversation and maybe didn't choose the best string of words to say in a moment. 

I think it's a sign of a very sick society when a comment that was so very clearly not meant to be hurtful or critical in any way whatsoever is taken by so many people as an insult. I understand it on an emotional level, but I'm hugely disappointed to see such an extreme reaction that included wanting the guy to be fired and insulting anyone who disagreed with those who wanted to burn the whole fucking village down. I would understand the outrage more IF what the announcer had said had been negative or condescending, but it wasn't. If anything, it was a goddamn compliment. And if the solution to this kind of issue is to really take attention off women's bodies, which I'm actually for, then stop with the fucking double standards. 

For example, some critics of the announcer have Instagram accounts or blogs that include posts with images of themselves lifting up their shirts or posing in bikinis while making comments about their bodies and weight. It's the typical "Tee hee, lookie how tiny/fit/sexy I am" that's so common on social media. On the surface, these accounts might seem harmless, but if the goal is to get everyone to stop talking about women's bodies, why flaunt them and discuss size? I'm definitely not saying women should cover up here, nooooooo way; I'm just concerned and maybe a little confused about the double standard. Worse are those who feel it necessary to include "what I eat in a day" videos, before and after shots of various kinds, or "I'm thin but still have cellulite" photos, which is the kind of content that invites even more unhealthy comparisons and is definitely upsetting to a majority of individuals, especially those in the eating disorder recovery community. In 2017, a report by the Royal Society for Public Health was circulated. It reported that Instagram is the most "detrimental social networking app for young people's mental health." I have to ask, why is it OK for people to post all kinds of triggering content, content that has been shown to have a negative impact on viewers, but a man can't call a female athlete muscular and fast during a race? It just doesn't make sense. 

Don't talk about women's bodies!

Don't talk about weight!  

Don't talk about body size!

Oh, but it's OK if it's all for a few extra likes on social media.  #srongnotskinny #fitspro #whatieatinaday #fitisthenewsexy #nodaysoff   <------  #yuck 

Lastly, how many people honestly think an announcer would say "she's fat, and look how fast she is on the track! lol"? I mean, fucking hell. 

The incident has already blown past with most everyone already onto the next topic of the hour, but the lingering bad taste in my mouth from observing it will last. What strange times these are. 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Not Quite What I Meant

Recently, there was quite a lot of online outrage over a comment by a sports announcer when he said something about the two women leading the race. The way people were responding, I thought maybe he said something negative about someone's weight or commented on a woman's appearance. Instead, he simply observed that the two rabbits out in front in a track race had "much more muscle mass" than the rest of the field. Unfortunately, his giggle and hesitation might have made it seem like he was laughing at the runners, but, taken in context, this doesn't appear to be the case. 

I've been saying we need to take attention off women's bodies for years, so you might be surprised that I don't find this kind of comment as bad as people made it out to be. I agree 100 percent that the wording could have been better to make the comment less controversial, but it clearly wasn't meant to be critical or hurtful. In the moment, it's not always easy to find the absolute best way to say something. He probably should have focused on their power, speed, and strength instead of hinting at anything close to the runners’ size, but it's not like he called them bigger runners, which some feel is just fine depending on who's making the comment, or said anything derogatory, far from it. The way people reacted was extreme, and this is coming from someone who struggled for years with an eating disorder. I fully understand how sensitive anyone can be when it comes to comments about body in general, no matter what the sentiment, but this kind of outrage puts sports announcers in a difficult position, trying to make the commentary interesting and even entertaining while also trying to avoid offending anyone by merely making an observation.

This blog post addresses much of what I was thinking about the issue, so I won't go into great detail here or repeat what has already been said. 

My additional thoughts on the matter are that it's understandable why people are on edge and ready to jump at any perceived error when it comes to commentary on female runners. We've been torn apart and objectified for a long time, and there are lingering effects of the systemic abuse of women and young girls in sports. It's all too easy to jump on the minor missteps of others when the mental health of many in the sport is potentially at stake, but I caution anyone reading to choose your battles wisely. It's unproductive to call for the firing of a guy who very, very clearly meant no harm, especially when there's more than one double standard at play. THAT is dangerous and damaging and shows a complete lack of tolerance and sensitivity. 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

"Experts" Don't Always Have The Answers

Recently, I listened to a podcast about eating disorders that was a few years old and realized how common it must be for audiences to consider the content of podcasts as well-researched fact, simply because ideas are presented with authority and conviction. The same happens with documentaries, as I have already pointed out here and here. I'm not going to link to the podcast I listened to because I think some of my readers might find it triggering. There's a lot of talk about weight, body composition, and running times, and some misinformation about eating disorders, recovery, and how to help those struggling is presented as well. It's the perfect example of probably well-meaning individuals covering a topic they're familiar with more on the surface than in depth. Unfortunately, those who get labeled as "experts" don't always have the answers. That said, some helpful advice was offered, especially toward the end of the podcast, even though it contradicted what was said earlier. 

I got the sense that the one of three individuals who did the least amount of talking in that particular episode was more qualified and knew more about eating disorders than those who monopolized the mics. At least she brought up some important points, like how men also struggle with eating disorders, how eating disorders are complex, and how there's often shame around coming forward. Is it any wonder there's so much shame associated with eating disorders when the myth still exists that they're a choice? 

One thing I want to point out before I jump into the main topic is that criticism of the content is not the same thing as tearing down the creator of that content. People often assume that disagreements are charged in feelings of animosity, but that's not necessarily the case. My main concern is that misinformation and certain topics presented the wrong way can potentially cause harm, so I will often address what I stumble upon, even if it's a few years late. Quite often, people present ideas that support a certain narrative as fact, even though they are simply opinions.  

I'll add that it's completely false that someone who's self-critical is incapable of supporting, appreciating, and finding beauty in someone else. To be frank, fuck that. People who are not fully healed are absolutely capable of love. Everyone, except maybe psychopaths, at some time will experience self-doubt and will be self-critical. If you're human, you are not and never will be perfect. That doesn't mean you can't contribute, love, share, and deeply appreciate others. There might be some truth in the idea that there's a potential to project dissatisfaction with the self onto others, but it doesn't mean a person can't move beyond that while in the process of healing. To say otherwise is to discount the very real experiences of others. 

When it comes to numbers, by or even before 2011, it had become widely known that discussing weight and size can be triggering to those in the eating disorder recovery community, and specific measurements are often seen as an invitation to criticize and compare. Because of this, I started putting trigger warnings (TW) on my blog posts and content that contained potential triggers. We don't always know what will upset someone, but it's generally a good idea to warn audiences if weight is mentioned when discussing eating disorders. It's a simple fix, really, and can be done on any platform when editing out the content entirely doesn't make sense. It's also a helpful label when conflicting advise or information is presented. For example, when podcasters spend time talking about how unhelpful and unhealthy it is to comment on looks and body but then announce specific racing weights and sizes, and then say after the fact that it's potentially triggering, it's too late. Anyone who might be affected has already heard it. Sometimes light scolding in one moment doesn't prevent an individual from continuing to post triggering content down the road. Either she doesn't get it or doesn't care, so the audience ends up having to be prepared at every turn. Pretty much any time you see an article, podcast, or blog post about eating disorders, it's just sound advice to assume that there might be triggering content, even if there are no warnings. 

I've said it before that posting images with captions that focus on weight or perceived "flaws" like cellulite, is extremely unhelpful because it's just another invitation for you and others to compare and contrast or even criticize. The focus is still on the body. Can we please, at some point, just move away from this altogether? I really don't know what it will take, but a lateral shift isn't moving forward. 

One trap many bloggers, podcasters, and people in general fall into is assuming personal observation is fact or close enough. On the surface, it might seem like the majority of runners who struggle with an eating disorder have anorexia, but that's not actually the case. Remember, eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes. Does it really make sense that there would be more runners diagnosed with anorexia when nearly every study and survey show a higher incidence of other disorders in athletes and in general? Think about the percentage of individuals who struggle with binge eating, bulimia, ARFID, atypical anorexia, orthorexia, OSFED, or are in a state of RED-S. The breakdown of percentages of athletes with eating disorders is along the lines of 11% anorexic, 36% bulimic, and close to 70% EDNOS. Suggesting runners who struggle are mostly anorexic is misleading, and when myths like that are spread, you discount huge groups of individuals. By tossing out incorrect information, you're actually reinforcing stereotypes and potentially making it more difficult for those in the throes of an eating disorder to feel comfortable coming forward. 

One of the worst myths relating to eating disorders is that they are a choice. A person can say they're not but still reinforce the falsehood by suggesting a person "gets" a disorder in order to run faster or look prettier. When you focus on one symptom or imply a contributing factor is the cause, you're not giving people an accurate portrayal of what it's like to struggle with an eating disorder, and you fully discount individualistic experience. To suggest eating disorders are about looks and/or performance is missing the point entirely, and anyone who believes this should not be in a position of authority when it comes to speaking publicly about these kinds of illnesses. As stated above, eating disorders are complex and almost never come down to one simple cause. There are many contributing factors that can include peer and other types of external and internal pressures, media influence and set beauty standards, genetics, environment, brain chemistry, nutrition, nurture, self-esteem, coping skills, etc. In general, there's far more internal conflict than most people realize when it comes to the development of an eating disorder. 

I can not stress this enough that developing an eating disorder is not about a lack of willpower. I've addressed this previously, but avoiding an eating disorder has little to do with mental toughness. When you have a better understanding of the causes and contributing factors of an eating disorder, methods of recovery also become more clear, and those usually entail addressing the underlying issues like depression, anxiety, unhealthy coping strategies, and poor self-esteem, to name just a few.

I've also explained that an eating disorder is NOT a separate entity here. It is not something to fight against. It's not about self-control. It is quite often a coping mechanism. The illness can occur long before someone starts running, and, as a friend pointed out, running can be part of recovery. I suppose "Ed" can be used to compartmentalize certain thoughts, but it's important not to treat an illness as anything separate from the self. Doing so won't lead to a deeper understanding of the core issues. 

If you are addressing eating disorders and say, "eating disorders, disordered eating, whatever," you clearly don't see that there is a distinction. It's like saying, alcoholism, problem drinker, whatever." Labeling an illness or disorder correctly is important because the proper diagnosis helps with finding the appropriate treatment. Someone who's engaging in disordered eating might do well with counseling or journaling, whereas someone with an actual eating disorder might need more intensive treatment. I'm not suggesting disordered eating patterns aren't as dangerous; they can be, and they can evolve into a full-blown eating disorder depending on the individual and the root issues.  What I'm saying is that they are two very different problems and shouldn't be nonchalantly lumped together as one.  

Speaking of recovery, perhaps the most damaging bit in the podcast was the suggestion that those who want to help someone they suspect of having an eating disorder confront the individual by saying, "I noticed you..." To my horror, the blank at the end of that sentence was filled with suggestions such as "have marks on your hands from throwing up," or "go to the bathroom for long periods of time after meals," or "don't eat very much." I will absolutely put my foot down here and say that this is NEVER a good way to address someone you suspect might have an eating disorder, ever, unless you really want to push her over the edge, humiliate her, and cause undue stress in her life. My God. 

I'm all for removing the shame around eating disorders, but you never know where someone else is in that process. Denial is often a form of self-protection. If you hastily burst someone's coping bubble and humiliate her in the process, you will potentially cause tremendous stress and possibly make the situation worse. What if that person is suicidal, and she wasn't ready to be confronted? How do you think that scenario would go? Besides, you don't even know for sure if the behaviors are related to an eating disorder, and it's not your business to force someone to share what she's going through if she isn't ready. This is just a bad idea on all levels. 

What I would suggest, instead, if you believe someone is suffering from an eating disorder is ask if she is OK and then offer in general terms to be there for her. Let her know that you are there if she ever wants to talk about anything. Above all, listen. Don't take a finger-wagging stance and accusatory tone, and then expose her behaviors. That is not supportive and could be dangerous. If the situation is so severe that she needs medical attention, then the best approach is to get professionals involved. This is a must. 

As I already addressed here, spreading fears around going through puberty or menopause is not helpful. The best way for athletes to address either situation is to learn how to adapt and try a different way of training. Telling people they will gain weight or they will slow down is not productive. Jeez. Why do people do this? You don't know what someone else will experience through transitions in her life, so don't speculate, period. 

Regarding recovery, one of the biggest reasons long-term sufferers don't seek help after years of struggling is because they are told it's unlikely they will get well. To that I say bullshit. As long as you are breathing, you have the potential to recover. I find it horrifying that "experts" tell an audience that the longer you have an illness, the less likely it is that you will recover. See, the reason why people do this is to try to encourage those suffering to get treatment early, which seems like a great strategy on the surface. You know what they say about good intentions, though. What they fail to realize is that they are giving the finger to those who have struggled for years. If you spend any time at all in recovery forums, you will see how hopeless the many people who have been struggling for years feel. Don't make it worse for them. There is no rule about who gets to recover. It's all about finding the right kind or kinds of treatment at the right time. 

Rant over, for now. 

Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Art of Being Unproductive

In these times of surreality, I'm trying to remember how I somehow muscled my way through my generally unbalanced life. With plenty of naps and no structure, it seems like my productivity should have skyrocketed during the quarantine. Instead, I've barely dribbled out a few thousand words on various writing projects and have yet to reach any goals related to reading, running, or studying, not that I'm in school or anything, just glancing over some textbooks for the hell of it or "should" be.

*****

I wrote that first paragraph during the shutdown and wasn't sure where I was going with it. Now I'm back at work with different hours but the same amount of time away from home. I'm pretty sure I started the post with the intent of reminding people that it's OK to lower expectations and not be exceptionally productive, especially under stress, but since I lost my way with the original post, I decided to go ahead and completely switch paths. The title no longer fits, but I'll leave it.

Over the years, I haven't been as involved with the eating disorder recovery community as I once was. It feels saturated with a few loud voices at the top and many deserving but mostly unheard voices everywhere else. Despite the increase in available information about recovery and an increase in the number of people attempting to grab a platform, I still see a lot of bad advice presented. I've stopped looking at "health" and diet culture on Instagram altogether. I will never care about the macros someone else eats, and seeing images of high-protein or vegan glop served on a plate or in a bowl or blended with other ingredients and served in a glass will never inspire me. It's probably because there's little to no joy in that kind of food. I don't need to see your every unimpressive breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Great if that shit brings you and other people pleasure. It's just not for me. If I'm looking for some food inspiration, I'd much rather watch a video put out by Sarah Kosca and her daughter because why not bring some elegance, creativity, humor, and fun into food preparation?

Blatant unhealthy or triggering social media accounts aside, I have seen some of the worst content coming from people who probably think what they're doing is inspiring or helpful. Some missteps I have encountered recently are listed below:


1. Pinching your thigh or other body part and showing that even athletes or thin people have cellulite doesn't help anyone.

What the hell? I mean, why do this? If you're doing this publicly, either you have no clue how absolutely unhelpful this is, how potentially triggering it could be to someone struggling, or you yourself have body issues. I never, ever need to see anyone grab her thigh to point out cellulite. The only action this will inspire in me is repeatedly banging my head against a hard object.

Maybe instead of grabbing body parts to expose "flaws" as one person put it, you could try focusing on, oh, I don't know, a fucking book you read, the weather, the places your legs can take you, performance, health, or anything else, really. If you have a problem with your cellulite or want to show it off to everyone, that's your business, but don't think that doing so is going to be helpful to anyone. It's not. At best people don't give a shit. At worst, you're causing stress in someone's life who will compare her legs to yours and may start to assume the worst about her own body.

2. Stop calling yourself a "big" runner when you're not.

I'm not sure if it's a body dysmorphic thing or what, but I see a lot of lean runners calling themselves big. I even saw one runner who has continually placed herself in the "bigger" category show off countless images of herself indicating that she is no bigger and has almost always been the same size or smaller than her competitors. Claiming you're larger than you are is unhelpful. Imagine being an actual bigger runner or larger person while watching a thin, elite runner call herself big. It's worthless to focus on size anyway when racing is about performance, but many athletes draw unnecessary attention to the female body by talking about size. Your size is irrelevant to how someone else will perform. The same kinds of comparisons happen as with the situation above. It's just not helpful, at all. People have eyes and don't need to be told stories about what they're supposed to be seeing over what they actually see. Focus on you, and if you have a distorted view of yourself, ask for some guidance from a professional.

3. Don't offer advice when you're not qualified and know nothing about a person's history and health background.

I see this way too often. I'm not talking big generalizations like most bloggers tend to do; I'm talking direct answers to specific questions posed by a specific individual. If you don't know about a person's health and background, there is absolutely no way to know if that person is healthy, and, unless you have a medical degree, you are not qualified to answer questions pertaining to his or her health.

Years ago, a runner posted a Q & A on a blog that was rather horrifying. A fan asked about losing weight before a big competition. There was no mention of his or her current weight or if anyone suggested the weight-loss, only that there was this desire to lose weight. The one posing the question admitted being prone to stress fractures, too. Without knowing jack shit about this individual, the blogger started off sensibly and then quickly veered into what-the-fuck territory by musing that maybe this individual only needed to lose a few pounds... or maybe more than 10 in order to run well. Here's a thought, what if weight-loss wasn't the answer at all? I admit that the overall sentiment was probably not harmful or at least not meant to be, but it only takes a few lines of triggering content to possibly lead someone who's reading the exchange, including the one posing the question, in the wrong direction.

This is a great example of someone meaning well but being completely unqualified to answer this type of question. Are you a doctor? Do you have a degree in nutrition science? No? Then shut the fuck up. There is zero need to go into how much better you might run if you lose weight, especially when you don't know what the person weighs or anything about this individual. The focus should have been entirely on running and performance goals, strength, and balance. It's uncomfortable for me to see anyone in the running community go into fantasy success stories about weight-loss and running better knowing that there may be young athletes reading the content. Weight-loss alone never leads to running success. You still have to do the training, and you can't do that if you're not fueling your body, period. That's all that needed to be said. Jesus Christ, so many people have a God complex, thinking they can play online doctor, coach, therapist, and general know-it-all in every situation.

4. Male coaches aren't the sole problem when it comes to the abuse of young athletes.

I know I'm not alone in thinking this. Other runners and athletes have already pointed out that female coaches can be just as much of a threat to the well-being of an athlete as their male counterparts. Additionally, there are deeper issues at play when it comes to the broken systems in the athletic community. Replacing male coaches or adding more female coaches won't solve issues of abuse if deeper issues and false narratives are ignored. I and others have already gone over some ideas around potential ways to address abuse, educate athletes about what abuse looks like, and provide a safe space for athletes to open up and share concerns, so I won't repeat myself here. I just see too many people trying to solve problems that have been going on for decades by focusing on a single issue, not the big picture. Doing this isn't likely to fix what's broken.

5. Girls are not women and visa versa.

It's not so much that I or most people get upset if someone slips and calls women girls. It's generally not a huge deal as long as calling a woman a girl isn't meant to be insulting or belittling, as in she, an adult, is immature or not as competent as a man, but if it's simply describing gender and the person speaking uses boys and girls as descriptors, one can hopefully see it's not meant to be offensive.

The bigger issue is when coaches or other adults treat young girls as if they are women who can handle more emotional and physical stress than youngsters may be ready for. This may be obvious when it comes to actual children, but athletes who are teens are also not mature adults.

Too often, people apply adult thinking to situations involving teens and children. If you're an adult addressing a situation that involves a child and start out by saying, "I would just..." stop yourself. Just don't go there. Consider the different types of stressors children face. When it comes to abuse, it's even more unbelievable that people on the outside expect a child to speak up or face her abuser in the moment. That's why it's important to provide outside checks for young athletes, a way for them to feel safe about opening up about general concerns and abuses.

Some helpful resources:
Safe Sport: https://safesport.org/
Rachael Steil: https://runninginsilence.org/resources/
Child Help: https://www.childhelp.org/subs/speak-safe-athletes/

A lot of this is nothing new. I and others have expressed similar sentiments before, but I keep coming back to the fact that too many individuals are throwing themselves in positions of authority without having the much-needed qualifications and could potentially end up directly or indirectly harming someone.








NCAR This Year

I haven't been timing myself in anything resembling a race or time trial since my last surgery. It has been a somewhat rocky road since then. After a while, I just got scared to see where I was. Like many athletes and former athletes, I still put way too much pressure on myself. I went back and forth on attempting a timed workout today. Usually,when I'm aiming for something harder, I go by arbitrary time, not a particular course or distance. When I didn't feel too terrible during my first few steps, I thought, "What the heck, why not do NCAR?" Things started out OK, but by the time I hit the base of the big road, I was already struggling with thoughts of quitting. Fatigue doesn't help a person dig deep, and I'm out of practice. That's for sure. Long hill story short, I got to the top in like 20:55, but then I remembered my start time was off by a little bit since I accidentally started my watch at the sidewalk instead of the parking lot of the little library on Table Mesa. It's amazing how much you can forget in a 20-minute grunt up a big hill. The reality is that I probably ran about what I did last year, closer to 20:50, which kind of sucks, but isn't the worst thing ever. I got it done, so I guess that's something.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Flat and Fabulous

 In the years since I first intended to write this, I’ve discovered how hard it is to chronicle the difficulties of someone I greatly admire and respect. I'll start with an apology to Ann (not her real name) for taking so long -- I just didn't know how to explain what she went through while properly acknowledging her and her experiences. Having not gone through what she has, I worried that I couldn’t convey her story in a way that honors her in the way she deserves.



More than artistic perfection, Ann deserves a story.



We met many years ago in Boulder. Ann has since moved, but we used to do some training together as part of a local running group. Anyone who’s met her would agree that she is one of the sweetest ladies in the world. She's smart, funny, adorable, and talented in all kinds of ways. This isn't excessive flattery; it's the truth.



Ann approached me after she had already gone through a bilateral mastectomy to remove cancer. Going through the diagnosis and facing the removal of both breasts was difficult enough, but what occurred afterward compounded Ann’s grave challenges in a way familiar to far too many women.



Endless reconstructive surgery cycle



Life doesn’t go back to normal after breast-cancer treatment ends. The most common treatments are partial or total mastectomy, radiation or chemotherapy, then hormonal treatment, followed by reconstructive surgery, a cosmetic procedure designed to bring back the shape of the breast. Technically, the procedure is not considered cosmetic since the surgery is reconstructive, but it serves no functional purpose. It's important to note that these operations don't bring back sensation to the area, though sometimes sensation eventually returns with or without the procedure. Despite this, most women aren’t encouraged to stay flat.



For Ann, the whole process seemed more like a financial benefit to cosmetic surgeons than a way to restore health and confidence, or to reconnect her to her sense of femininity. Whenever part of the body is surgically removed, a physical and emotional adjustment period always follows. Some in the medical field seem to prey on this vulnerability and rarely offer breast cancer patients emotional support in lieu of a mammoplasty.



Reconstructive surgery is on the rise, but is it because women truly want it or because they are being pushed into it after mastectomies? With cosmetic procedures now normalized and on the rise almost to the point of pathology, it’s hard to pinpoint all the sources of pressure women experience when it comes to their looks.



Ann's reconstruction failed, and the implants had to be removed. After two additional operations within a year of the mastectomy itself, bringing the total number of surgical procedures on that part of her body to five, others tried to encourage her to undergo yet more operations.



"Unfortunately,” Ann says now, “although it does give you something to cling to as a silver lining through the initial shock of it all, the reality should be better presented to women that the surgeons really cannot or choose not to have a favorable outcome with one or two surgeries.” Instead, it turns into a cycle of "just one more," with patients seduced into continually thinking that they are approaching, but have not yet gained, personal perfection. “I am adjusting to a life with no breasts and additional scarring and damage that could have been avoided entirely,” Ann says.



What's shocking is that women endure these things after they have already battled cancer. Some undergo an unreasonable number of surgeries in order to try to restore their breasts. Ann told me about one lady she encountered in a Facebook support group who had experienced 36 such operations. Ann had endured enough with four and decided to "stop the assault" on her body and her health so she could attempt to return to a better, healthier life. While grateful today to be cancer-free, she was left with cut pectoral muscles that scarred and took time to heal. Her recovery has been ongoing.



Another sexually predatory business



Like the multitude of other money-driven businesses that prey on women's self-image to stay in operation -- the beauty industry in general, for example -- cosmetic surgery and, specifically, breast cancer reconstruction facilities take advantage of women in vulnerable positions who are facing a life-threatening illness. At $10K plus per surgery, as of a few years ago, it really shouldn't take more than a few tries to get it right, and if it does, each one shouldn't cost as much as feeding a small family for a year. Understandably, most women want to feel more normal after going through such a harrowing ordeal and are pressured by society to look a certain way, so they are willing to endure multiple surgeries in an attempt to improve their self-image and feel more like they did before their mastectomies. And this is the carrot dangled in front of them, the "silver lining" as Ann put it, that they will feel better about themselves, more beautiful and womanly after they subject themselves to these expensive surgeries. Who wouldn't want to feel better after facing cancer?



"I am disgusted by the entire 'breast cancer industry,' which I am certain prays upon most women's self-image issues,” Ann says. “This in turn propels them to continue with reconstruction attempts to achieve what should be possible with fewer surgeries."



But the push for women to have breast augmentation surgery started before the procedure was used for reconstruction. Fans of the Swindled podcast or those who remember Dow Corning’s big legal battle in the 1990s, will recall how as early as the 1960s and 1970s, millions of women had already undergone breast augmentation surgery. There has been a long history of deception by companies promoting the use of breast implants, often with no adequate testing. Using implants for reconstruction gave breast implant companies a larger market.



One of the worst frauds related to breast implants was committed by the company PIP, Poly Implants Prosthetics, founded in 1991 by a French man, Jean-Claude Mas, who was really more of a salesman than anything. He aggressively pressured companies to purchase his inadequate breast implant products, which ruptured at double the rate of others on the market and contained his own recipe of silicone, not the medical-grade version he insisted it was. Even PIP’s saline implants were faulty. Cutting corners to make a profit was more important than women’s health, apparently. Imagine going through cancer, having reconstructive surgery, and later facing additional illness caused by ruptured implants and cheap, industrial-grade silicone leaking into your body. This happened to more than one woman. Other women developed autoimmune disorders, fatigue, painful lumps, and even cancer.



Mas is no longer producing implants, and PIP was shut down in 2010. But this doesn’t mean all breast implants are now safe. In 2017, the FDA gave a warning about certain types of implants being linked to a very low but increased risk of developing BIA-ALCL, a rare type of cancer. It should be noted that a French woman died after developing this type of cancer after her PIP implants leaked.The FDA’s warning is not to say implants cause this type of cancer, but there is an increased risk of developing it when certain types of implants are used.



The fundamental problem is that most doctors don’t go into detail about all the risks involved with reconstructive surgeries.

 Complications and contradictions



While Ann has been able to look at her entire situation as a learning experience and has adapted phenomenally well as a member of the "flat and fabulous" club, some women aren't prepared to face outside pressure to have surgery so soon after battling cancer. Obviously, these kinds of decisions are difficult, personal, and depend on more than a simple desire to look a certain way. There is much to consider before undergoing any operation, but women battling breast cancer are pressured to make a decision right away.



"They want to do the surgeries quickly when you are diagnosed,” Ann says. “You are just in such a state of shock trying to process it all that you accept what one or two doctors tell you without probing more." In Ann's case, given her small, athletic stature, she was never a good candidate for reconstructive surgery, but she wasn't told this by her first surgeon.



The surgeries resulted in other complications, ones that eventually led Ann to do her own research and eventually demand the implants be removed. According to Ann, the first error was that, even though her first plastic surgeon knew she was an athlete and runner, he should not have cut her pectoral muscles to put the implants underneath. Plastic surgeons need to consider each patient individually. A good surgeon will look at the implant size, the implant type and shape, the patient's body type, and how much breast tissue is available to cover the implant. In Ann's case, being a petite, post-menopausal runner with a low BMI made her a poor candidate for breast reconstruction surgery, period.



Initially, she asked her surgeon to remove the implants, stitch her muscles back down, and put the implants on top due to severe animation deformity. Animation deformity is a complication of breast reconstruction associated with subpectoral implants. Contraction of the pectoral muscle can lead to disfigurement caused by implant displacement. What reconstruction surgeons don't often tell their patients is that women who have battled breast cancer are far more susceptible to this condition. Around 78% of them struggle with this issue.





Ann’s exit from “the system” and reflections



After everything she had already endured, Ann didn't expect her surgeon to do a "totally lopsided, shitty job" that would force her to have to come back for more corrective surgeries. At this point, she switched to a different surgeon whom she liked and respected more, however, he was the first one to tell her honestly that she was a poor candidate for reconstruction all along. Regarding her first surgeon, she said he made her cry every time she left an appointment, but she looked at the experience as a way to learn how to stand up for herself.



She allowed the second surgeon to try to fix what the first had done, but, unfortunately, she developed complications from the surgery due to the lack of fat and circulation in the area. This meant she had to have another operation. Her surgeon was going to try to go ahead with the repair, but shortly before the operation, she changed her mind and decided to just have the implants removed without the added steps of trying to fix anything.



Ann had to be very firm about it. "I was realistic that, and he agreed, one more surgery probably would not do it, and I said I was done and wanted to get on with my life,” she says. “Unfortunately, the damage had already been done."



After all of this, Ann has gradually been able to feel more comfortable in her skin and confident with her body image, and, over the years, the emotions around her experience have changed. "You can google what other ‘flat’ women look like,” Ann says, “and you will see that the biggest problem for me is that those visible folds are not fat or extra skin that can be removed -- they are my pectoral muscles that were cut from the sternal attachments and then stitched back down in a straight line.”



This was the only way the procedure could be once the lower attachments were removed. Also, she says, all of the extra surgeries dissolved any remaining fat she had. But she had made a positive decision for her health. Although she wishes she had done it sooner, she has adjusted. She states, "I do not wear prosthetics--do not even own a pocket bra and refuse. To me it seems to further support the entire industry. I want to be proud of my body the way it truly is!"



None of this touches on Ann’s financial consequences, which have been staggering.





Ann's message to others is to avoid rushing into any surgery. She suggests, "Do the research first or at least look for surgeons with a track record of less versus more surgeries. There is definitely a miscarriage going on here. In my opinion, too many women are being subjected to too many surgeries."





*** 

 Thank you to the individuals who helped me with this post including friends who read it and those who helped with editing. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Strange Days

I've seen a lot of posts lately about managing eating disorders during a crisis. I have to admit, it's a topic I've wanted to address but haven't really known how. See, there is no right or perfect way to respond to what's happening because there are so many unknowns. In any stressful situation, personal or global, a tendency to revert to past behaviors can occur. There's no doubt about that, so it helps to remember the tools we always have available to avoid an actual relapse.

What many of us are seeking now is comfort, distraction, and some kind of reassurance that things will be OK or at least better, eventually, but without any fantasy that what's going on is trivial. I mean, people are dying, for fuck's sake, so it's perfectly fine and natural to be scared, however, there's a way to address fear without letting it consume you. Self-regulation in times of chaos can be a challenge, but one way to address that is to work on being in the moment. Focus on the little things, small daily tasks that make you feel more at ease, more productive, or more connected to others.

The unfortunate reality is that I don't know what to suggest that hasn't already been suggested. I don't have any magic words of wisdom. I can tell you that it's important to reach out if you feel like you are struggling. It's important to ease off on being self-critical. Ignore ridiculous comments and memes on social media that poke fun at weight gain during this time. It's fine if your body changes or appears to change (remember how distorted perception can be under stress); it's not a given it will. It's fine to do a little more self-soothing, comfort eating, and napping through all of this. Stress is not easy to navigate, so do your best to be aware of your responses without being critical of them. Acknowledge the voices in your head without feeling like you have to act in any extreme way, just notice the tone of what's floating about in your mind.

The only reason why I'm writing at all is to say that those of us who have struggled are really in this together. It is hard enough for anyone facing this added stress to manage it well, but, for those in recovery, there are even more pressures and difficulties. What I've noticed in some support groups is that people are quick to respond with anger or judgment, most likely a sign that we are all being too hard on ourselves and others. What we all need to remember is that everyone reacts differently to this kind of situation. Whether you use humor, are more of a helper, like to isolate, or feel better leaning on social media, it's not wrong. Keep doing what you need in order to survive and maintain good mental health.

I want to add that if anyone is really feeling overwhelmed and can't cope there are resources for you listed below:

Suicide prevention hotline: 1-800-273-8255  USA
Eating disorder help: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline and hotline: (800) 931-2237

Though everyone seems to be saying it, stay safe. Just like any unpleasant, dark storm, this uncertain period will pass. All we can do is make an effort to follow the guidelines for safety and respect others in our community by taking appropriate precautions. And if anyone needs, I'm available. Leave a comment or drop a note at ggirl.kglr@gmail.com if you need some support. 

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Twelve's A Charm

Thursday marked my twelfth foot surgery, this one on my left foot. I've had more on that side than my right, but both feet are far from normal. I'm oddly optimistic about this one. I think I got used to a certain level of pain with both feet and sort of accepted discomfort would be a big part of my life. Maybe it doesn't have to be, though, or maybe it doesn't have to be so unyielding and intense.

On paper, this procedure looked far more complicated and invasive than others, but it's actually not. The joint repair I had years ago, when described to me, both sounded like and was a fairly elaborate surgery with a long recovery time, and that one I experienced twice. This one, despite shaving the bone down in multiple areas and removing more scar tissue (man, my body is GOOD at creating that shit!) will probably be my quickest recovery to date. The incisions were all through the top of my foot, and it was done in-office.

I'm through the worst of it already. Thursday night wouldn't have been as bad as it was had I been able to take the pain meds I was given as prescribed. The first one I took really didn't sit well, so I was too afraid to take another one. After a mostly miserable night with sharp, stabbing pangs in my foot, I took some Aleve, which took the edge off on Friday morning, and since then, I have been able to take 1/4 a pain pill at a time without issue, except for my ulcer acting up a little. I really haven't taken much in terms of pain medication, which is a good sign, and, after getting the OK from my doctor, I can already limp around the house without crutches or a scooter.

Leading into the surgery, things hadn't been going all that well. A lot of mid-life crisis type questions have been floating through my head the last couple of months. Like many others, I've faced a lot of loss in the past few years -- some loss I was OK with and others hit hard -- and I wonder why I'm here. I can't say I've been very happy. When I ran well, I felt like I had purpose, maybe not a great one, but it was something that made me feel like I was doing the right thing, even though I was often miserable. These days, I don't feel like I fit in well in any area of my life. Volunteering at the vet clinic comes close, but it also leaves me with the realization that I missed out on a lot throughout my life. And when it hurt to stand, volunteering and pretty much anything else seemed like a chore.

For now, I'm working on a novel without knowing why. Sometimes I look at it and think it's a disaster, just complete shit, and other times I dig out an old passage that intrigues me. I have the story in my head; I just haven't been good about getting it fully out. It's bogged down by a lot of mundane blah blah and makes me realize that I never had a natural ability to write well. Few dyslexics do, but, for whatever reason, I keep plugging away at it.

Regarding the surgery, it won't fix everything. I knew that going into it, but it should help with a good portion of the pain I was experiencing. There are other issues going on, but this will at least address something. It won't cure my overall unhappiness or fix my tendency to be compulsive, but it will reduce some of the pain.

In the meantime, I set a few reading and writing goals for the year. Considering what a slow reader I am, I'm off to a decent start with the number of books checked off my list. My goal is half that of an avid reader I admire. Of the four I read in January, the only book I would strongly recommend is NOS4A2, unless you're curious about brain function and illness, in which case "Brain on Fire" was interesting.

When I seem down like this, it's because I am. It's not that I don't have happy moments; I do. It's just that, for me, life isn't really about being constantly happy. For some of us who are prone to depression, sometimes even having goals or doing small things can be difficult, so setting a few goals is actually a step up from where I was a few months ago. I'm not completely out of the woods, but I'm closer to feeling some kind of hope than I was. And being depressed doesn't mean I don't laugh or have fun. I do, especially listening to podcasts like Small Town Murder and Crime in Sports. But, I'll say it again. Depression is something I've struggled with that's separate from recovery. The two can be connected, but they are not really the same issue.


Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Carrot Cake

I'm taking a short break from my daily activities. I don't want to say my daily grind because that would imply I'm productive with my nose to the grindstone, which is a painful sounding idiom if taken literally. If searching for and almost finding the perfect carrot cake in Boulder and its surroundings after January 19th but before January 21st were a job, however, I might be able to say that. Let's just say that nothing beats homemade, so far, but I have tried some good contenders over the years. And I put a lot of effort into my yearly search.

Yesterday, I was on a mission. I wanted to find a piece of carrot cake, a good one, not one made from some kind of boxed cake mix with limp carrot bits added to it and then topped with thin, overly sugary frosting. Homemade wasn't happening, so I wanted the next best thing. It took some doing, but I found a pretty good piece of carrot cake at Pizza Colore. After reading a Yelp review about the cake, I called to see if they were still baking the dessert in house. Sure enough, they were, so after a decent morning with an OK run and the rest of the day at work, I scooted over to the pizza place a few blocks away, purchased the cake slice (I think he gave me an extra large piece after I confessed it was my birthday), and headed back to my car.

As I strolled down the mall and then up a few blocks, I took note of my foot, which seemed oddly less painful than it had been in recent days. As is often the case, the minute I noted this, I felt a stabbing pain shoot across the top of my foot. On I limped, determined to keep my attention on the cake slice in the plastic container held tightly in my hands. The pain subsided and then came back and so on until I finally reached my car and sat behind the wheel.

Back home, I made a birthday wish and then ate the cake, which was delicious. My only complaints were that the frosting was a little too sweet to my taste and the cake lacked raisins. I'm not a huge raisin fan, but they are perfect in carrot cake.

What I'm really doing here is taking a break from writing by writing. I haven't been adding much to this project I'm working on, but I'm very, very slowly plodding forward. It's an absolute mess of 20,000 words or so at this point, but I'm starting to get some kind of outline going. It is such a weird process, and I wish I had a better idea of what I want this thing to be. It will need a lot of work before I can even get to the fun part of rewriting. Can you write a novel by adding just a few words a day? We'll find out.

Creating a novel or story is a lot like making a cake. In order to get to the fun and fancy decorating, you have to first get through all the grunt work: bake the cakes, even them out, put a base frosting on, stack them, and then add a thicker layer of frosting before you can start really decorating it. In writing, you have to create some kind of outline, get the story out, rework it to the point where it's not a complete mess, rewrite it, and then go through and get creative with it.

Next week I'm scheduled for surgery. It's going to be interesting because I'm still taking care of my mom and working. It sounds like it's a pretty simple procedure. I don't know the recovery time, but I'm hoping it's not long. I've been able to run and even ran a harder workout without too much pain. According to my doctor, running won't hurt anything. It's just nerve stuff. I'm conflicted about the best way to handle this, but my doctor seems to think the surgery will work.

It seems quite a few families on our street aren't doing very well lately. One neighbor recently passed away. Another is in the hospital. My mom is still recovering. My other neighbor's daughter just had foot surgery, and my other neighbor recently had hip surgery. That's a lot of unpleasantness in this small neck of the woods. We are all hoping for brighter days soon.

Oh, and you know that saying about kill your darlings? Sometimes you have to kill someone else's little darlings, and that's even harder when the writing is good. The last couple of months seem to be all about letting go, something I've struggled with all my life.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Looking Back (again)

Actually, I don't want to reflect too much on this past year. There were some pretty shitty and disappointing parts and some not so bad ones. After crawling out of one of my more serious depressions recently, I'm not in the mood to think too hard about anything right now. The one message I keep coming back to is to try to avoid getting caught up in other people's bullshit and lean on those who actually care, if you are able, of course, because for some of us, reaching out isn't easy.

Something I keep bumping up against lately is this idea that our minds create pain. On some level, this is true, as there's a huge psychological component to pain. But, man, every fucking time I run into something I know is real, physically real, all the talk floating around about how just using your mind to magically get rid of discomfort trips me the fuck up and I'm left trying to push through pain that I shouldn't.

As I head into 2020 possibly facing my 12th foot procedure (I don't want to call it surgery because it's not major surgery) I'm oddly optimistic, sort of. I mean, I ran some pretty embarrassing races this summer in terms of time, but most of them were improvements on what I've run in recent years, and I did so on an increasingly sore foot. See, I have a sharp bone that's poking up on the top of my left foot. The nerve that runs over it is crying out every time I press up onto my toes. Sometimes it hurts just sitting around, too. There are some other issues going on in the joints near my ankle, but, chances are, shaving that bone down will reduce the pain by a fuckload. The diagnostic cortisone shot I got this week seems to indicate this will be the case.

In other news, I got to watch a leg amputation at the vet clinic. It's a long surgery, so I only stayed about two hours into things, just to the point where the broken dog's leg was freed and everything looked good for a healthy recovery for the pup.

Best wishes to everyone for a happy, healthy 2020. I'm off to do some writing, something I gave up for far too long. Yeah, I suck at that, too, but at least it will occupy my melancholy mind for a while.