It’s pouring outside. I know it rains a lot in Portland but for some reason the rain this month is killing me. I know, I know. This is what the Pacific Northwest is like. When my parents visited me for my birthday last year it rained every single day they were here. That was the stretch of December where it rained for 17 days in a row. There are now 18-day-old babies in Portland who have never experienced a dry day in their lives, my favorite news article of that month read. I think it was published in the Willamette Week (okay I checked, it was). My dad hated it. I don’t blame him – it’s not like I love it when it rains. But usually I find it to be fine, and I love enough about this city to not mind the flood-like conditions we live in 9 months of the year.
But this October in particular the weather is really bumming me out. I’m feeling more anxious in general than ever before, though I’m not sure if my anxiety is making my reaction to the weather worse or if the bad weather is worsening my anxiety. I had my first panic attack a few weeks ago, convinced myself I would die of boric acid poisoning because I’d tried to make a capsule of it while sitting in bed and had potentially accidentally ingested some of the powder left on my fingertips when biting my nails later in the evening. But also, a known sexual abuser racist dangerous man is running for president of the United States and many people are going to vote for him in less than a month. So maybe it’s normal to be really anxious and sort of sad right now. In any case, I can hear the wind whipping the rain drops around outside right now and I know in my heart that there is absolutely no way I’m going out to a party at a bar when I’m done babysitting tonight, no matter what I promised Alley and Mary and Autumn. My sweatpants and my (boric acid free) bed await.
When I used to blog regularly in 2008 (haha, remember when McCain/Palin were our biggest national concerns in an election? Oh, to be young and naive again!) I often used to write about stuff I was enjoying at any given moment. “Stuff” could mean anything, like an article I liked, or a brand of tank tops I particularly enjoyed, or even like a really fucking delicious stir-fry I whipped up on a random Tuesday. For some reason it seems excessively difficult to write about that kind of stuff right now. I don’t want it to be difficult. I want to write about mundane stuff in this blog along with “serious stuff” and I want to do it with very little fanfare, just do it, like a regular routine part of my day. I hate that I am self-critical of that impulse right now, that even as I type these words I’m letting the tiny voice in my head belittle me, that I’m actually thinking “no one gives a fuck about an article you found interesting or a stir fry you made for dinner, asshole.” (How dare I call myself an asshole for these simple desires?! Fuck off, belittling voice in my head! Begone, along with this goddamn rain storm, let the high winds they keep warning us about that are making me anxious about driving down to Southern Oregon tomorrow evening whisk you away, never to be seen or heard from again!)
Taylor and Alley and I discussed this phenomenon recently, and its one that truly deserves its own post/book/opus but in the meanwhile I’ll just give it a few sentences: the three of us all used to produce so much “content” before we ever wrote for “a living” on the internet. And I say “content” extremely derisively because ew, my brilliant 16 year old self would never have called her Livejournal entries content, and I say “a living” pretty loosely because have you seen the state of media, let alone queer media, recently? Right. But the larger point stands, which is that before we were pressured to produce words for an audience because of a job, we were fairly prolific, and not only did having media-related jobs stunt our creativity and ability to write freely at the time of said employment, but unfortunately the effects seem to be fairly long-lasting. Perhaps I shouldn’t talk for Taylor and Alley, especially as we joke that everything said at their kitchen table stays at their kitchen table (it’s not really a joke), but I will say for me, all of the above is true. “I’d give anything to write the way I did when I was 15,” Alley said the other night (sorry for breaking the “this all stays at the kitchen table” rule, babe) and damn, I can relate.
All of which is to say, I’m really pushing myself to exercise my writing muscles in this blog. I want to get both my ability and my desire to publish words often back, and I am fairly certain the only way to do that is to do it. (That’s true of so many things in life.) You’ll notice I’ve published three posts in the past three days. (Well, my loyal 4 readers may notice this.) I’m pleased with that. They are not posts designed to “go viral” (LOL). They are not particularly deep or long. I’m just putting my words and thoughts out into the world freely, without self-judgement and without fear and without too much editing or fixating or concern. That’s the current goal, and I’m proud of it. Anyway, the last few paragraphs were probably kind of “insider baseball”-y if you aren’t a writer or if you aren’t a lapsed blogger or if you aren’t me or Alley or Taylor, but they have a point, I swear! The point is that I used to enjoy sharing random stuff I was enjoying, and so I’m going to do that now and see if it’s still fun. I bet it will be.
This podcast is so good! I’ve only recently gotten into podcasts so I’m catching up on a lot of good ones, but I’ve bumped this one to the top of my queue because it’s really great! First of all, Gaby Dunn is a queer woman. Second of all, I really like the way her voice sounds (a very important component of enjoying a podcast!). Third of all, talking about money tends to be weird and loaded and horrible and taboo and I think it’s fucking rad to do as much as we all can to undo those truths because fuck that shit. Fourth of all, I like the interview/conversation structure of the show (I’ve noticed that I really don’t like some podcast structures and while I can’t discern exactly why just yet, I do know that this one is working for me). Fifth of all, the guests are so good! Particularly Roxane Gay and Carrie Wade. Like, they’re all good, but those two really blew me away. Anyway if you’re a regular in the same corner of the internet as I am you’ve probably already heard about this podcast but incase you haven’t or incase you’ve been waiting for me specifically to tell you to listen to it, that’s what I’m doing! Great good talk.
Holy shit this essay was so good. My mom has gotten migraines my whole life and I started getting headaches when I was 20 because of the birth control pill I was on at the time. (Do not get me started about birth control and its hidden side effects and also do not get me started about when doctors casually switch you from a brand name drug to a generic and don’t mention that the generic has different ingredients that may fuck with your system…actually maybe do not get me started about the way women are treated by Western medicine in general…) My headaches were never of the same genre as my moms, or of the author of this piece, but I’ve been dealing with chronic stomach issues for a year and a half now and the way she describes bodies and how women are treated when we dare to complain about pain and was very interesting to me in a meaningful way. Reading this essay made me want to write an essay about my stomach issues and it also made me want to give the author a huge hug, if she wanted one, and it also made me want to text the link to my mom so we could discuss it because it seemed different than many other “headache essays” I’ve read and she’s read in the past. This is a very long way of saying READ THIS ESSAY! You will not regret it.
On a February morning, I wake up early for another MRI. I’ll go from the appointment straight to work, and I want to wear something elegant. I blow dry my hair and put on make-up. I want the technician to know I’m not a woman who sits at home in her pajamas all day.
As I pull on snow boots to walk to the subway, I realize very suddenly that I am not surprised to find myself in this situation: going from doctor to doctor, dragged down by the weight of my body. I have the uncanny feeling that I am reliving something I’ve already experienced, but really it’s only what I imagined my mother’s days were like. My mother knows the subtle humiliation of removing your clothes and waiting for a nurse to call your name.
Perhaps this is what happens to a woman when she grows up, I think. She might marry or have children, but then she gets sick. She struggles to keep up with work and chores and family and friends until she can’t manage; she gives up her career. She trades silk blouses for hospital gowns. She spends her mornings in doctors’ waiting rooms, her afternoons on the phone filling prescriptions and arguing with the insurance company.
This inheritance awaits many women. Almost 20 percent of women suffer migraines, and 75 percent of migraine sufferers are women. That same group of hard-to-diagnose and hard-to-treat diseases—lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis, but also chronic fatigue, chronic headache and fibromyalgia—primarily afflicts women. “Women are more likely than men to be disabled by chronic illnesses,” Susan Wendell writes, “and women (including women with other disabilities) suffer more ill health than men. Women live longer than men, but much of that extra living is done with a disabling chronic illness.”
Wendell points out that those chronic conditions bring with them the kind of invisible impairments that can cripple a patient without appearing notable. “Pain and/or fatigue are major sources of impairment in many chronic illnesses that are more common in women than in men,” she writes. It is exactly these impairments that are easiest to dismiss or misperceive as psychosomatic.
And doctors treat complaints about such conditions differently when they come from women. Kempner cites studies that show physicians prescribe less pain medicine to women than they do to men, even though women are more likely to suffer chronic pain. Other studies show that women are more likely than men to be prescribed antidepressants and tranquilizers—rather than pain medication—for their migraines. Add to this the fact that migraine is more likely to occur in people with mental health diagnoses like depression and anxiety, both of which are more common in women. All of this makes it hard to untangle migraine and other chronic pain conditions from stereotypes of female weakness and hysteria. The characterization perpetuates the notion of the migraineur-as-malingerer, the sensitive soul disabled by everyday disruptions.
Even Sacks isn’t immune. He writes eloquently about the anguish of his own migraines, and yet he sees women with migraines as submitting to a natural order of things. “I have the impression that many menstrual migraines,” he writes, “condens[e], as it were, the stresses of the month into a few days of concentrated illness, and I have observed, in a number of patients, that curing them (depriving them) of such menstrual syndromes may be followed by a release of diffuse anxiety and neurotic conflict into the remainder of the month.”
As a huge fan of kids (especially rad 10 year old girls), Cheryl Strayed, Chloe Caldwell, Portland, and first person narratives written by women (especially first person narratives written by women about female friendship!), this essay really hit the spot for me. It also made me really wish that I was Bobbi’s nanny because she sounds like the coolest and I would love to casually hang out in Cheryl Strayed’s library (in a not-creepy way).
The first time I met Bobbi was in 2011, when she was five and I was twenty-five. She was always animated, but polite and somewhat shy. (Now that we are pseudo-sisters, now that she is ten, she is not polite and shy with me. Sometimes I have to tell her to give me ten minutes. Sometimes I have to take her into the other room. Sometimes we yell and I swear.)
In 2013 I lived at Cheryl’s during the months of November and December while her family went to Australia. It was just me and her two cats in the house. The house was medium-sized but felt big for only one person. I was lonely. I knew I wasn’t a child anymore, but I didn’t know myself as an adult yet, either. Instead of sleeping in the main bedroom, I found myself over and over retiring to Bobbi’s small bed on the floor, with the red-and-blue Spider-Man fleece blanket. Last year I told Bobbi I slept in her bed instead of her mom’s so I could curl up next to the wall.
“That is the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard in my whole life,” she said.
I started writing this post on Thursday evening and now it’s Saturday afternoon. Alley and I were supposed to drive to Southern Oregon yesterday but there’s a big storm hanging around the Pacific Northwest and we decided it wasn’t safe to get on the road. I’m not sure if that was the right decision, but it’s the one we made. I texted Susie this morning to ask what was up. I wanted her to tell me I’d made the right choice. That was all I wanted yesterday, too – “a grown up” to make the decision for me. She told me it’s raining heavily at their place. “And windy, and we don’t have power!” I told her I was second guessing myself, thinking maybe it would’ve been okay to drive. I could’ve been sitting around their kitchen table with them today, trimming pot and drinking PBR. “Who knows darlin,” she texted back. “Life is like that!”