Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Response, to a Response, to a Response, to a Response to JT

Now that finals have finished kicking my ass, I can finally get around to responding to the most recent post by Gina Calaianni.

I am going to try and keep this somewhat short, as I fear writing myself into circles on this one. The first thing in Gina's response that put me off from the get-go, was the second paragraph in, where she restates her struggles and experience with mental illness:
To those people who said to just ignore my previous post, I ask: Would you say the same thing to someone who is struggling?

Uhm... what? What does finding your first post ridiculous and off-base have to do with helping someone suffering from a mental illness? Non sequitur, much?
I was writing as someone who knows what it’s like to live with a mental disorder coming both from my perspective and the perspective of other women who struggle with these issues on a daily basis. [...] It makes no sense to me why a blog reader would dismiss offhand the perspective of someone who has lived with the diagnosis of a mental disorder for 15 years and has come out on the other side for the better.

She reiterates her 'expertise' with mental illness
, as someone who has interacted with and has suffered from mental illness. I dismissed her post (being "insolent" and "condescending" along the way) because the whole thing seemed to be her projections of her opinions on how mental illness should be discussed onto JT's talk, and not an actual response to his speech. She also failed to say exactly why the skeptical community should specifically not take on mental disorders (which she does in her reply post, but I'll get to that later).

If the possession of a mental illness somehow makes her more qualified than someone such as myself or JT to suggest possible issues for the skeptical community, then I'm not quite sure what to think. I have stated in previous posts about my own mental illnesses (Depression, PTSD, Anxiety), and the periods of time I was symptomatic and diagnosed. I too have spoke to countless others with mental illnesses, particularly other women who have survived sexual violence. If I were to go by Gina's apparent measure of 'expertise' and apparent right to speak on a topic, I am just as qualified as she. Her experiences with illness is no more or less valid than anyone else, and for her to pretend it is is downright insulting.

The next thing Gina responds to is JTs lack of saying we should abandon battling religious thought. She shoots herself in the foot by quoting him directly here:
Our movement is evolving. The way we approach things is changing. And to come in here and do a talk about how to beat a bunch of religious arguments isn’t something we really need anymore.

What JT is saying here is simple: We don't really need another talk about how to dismantle religious arguments. That's it. And it makes sense. That is not to say we should stop fighting religion. It just means that there is already a plethora of resources available to those looking to dismantle religious arguments. That horse has run it's race. Until the religious come up with a new argument for their beliefs, everything has already been addressed... a lot, in fact. The resources are out there. To add to them is just beating a dead horse. It's time to start adding to the genres of skeptical thought where the resources aren't quite so plentiful.
They were told that “[discussion of religious arguments] isn’t something we really need anymore.” Note the lack of context in that statement.

She blatantly changes what he said. He didn't say discussion of religious arguments isn't needed. He said that discussion on how to beat religious arguments isn't needed anymore (something I agree with). Like I said before, until there is a new argument that crops up that needs to be examined, "how-to"s on tearing apart religious arguments don't need to be popping up at every conference.

I'm going to skip the whole "Therapy vs. Pills" thing, just because it annoys me and I'm going to discuss that in another post entirely.

Moving on to JT discussing mental illness at all... *licks chops*
Jen McCreight can talk authoritatively about genetics because she studies genetics. Hemant has a degree in math education; he has been trained to teach math. Jamila Bey does not pretend to be a sociologist when she speaks. She talks about her experiences and draws conclusions which follow from them. PZ Myers has a degree in biology; he has been trained to teach biology and has the credibility and knowledge needed in order to debate creationists from a position of standing. JT doesn’t have a degree in psychology. He isn’t trained as a clinical psychologist. If he wants to give a talk on what it’s like living with a mental illness, I don’t have a problem with that.

To quote myself from my last post... "Really? Are you fucking serious?" He doesn't claim to have a degree or be an expert. He only claims to be crazy. She continues with:
But his talk specifically addressed the fact that the skeptic community must take on the issue of mental illness, and he didn’t mention any names regarding who is or should be leading this discussion. So in my mind, that leaves one person leading this discussion: JT. Why? Because he didn’t mention anything about this issue that’s already being discussed in the skeptic community, and he didn’t mention anyone else he had in mind regarding who could lead the discussion regarding mental illness.

I can't help but laugh. So I guess Jen McCreight shouldn't talk about diversity in the skeptical movement. And Hemant shouldn't talk about godless dating. They are by no means "certified experts." Seriously, he was invited to give a speech. He can give a talk about horse training for all I care. It's his talk, he can talk about whatever he damn well pleases.

What baffles me is the cognitive leaps Gina makes. It doesn't seem to occur to her that JT solely discussed his own experiences and his experiences in sharing his illness publicly (which is...what she recommends he do? But he already did? Huh?), and at no point claimed to be an expert. He just... talked. Also, it doesn't seem to occur that JT not mentioning anything already being discussed or who should be leading the discussion is the very reason why he is calling out for the skeptical community to take on mental illness. Finding reliable sources on mental illness (particularly the nuances of certain conditions) can often take much more digging than it really should. The information coffers within the skeptical community on mental illness are nowhere near as full as the ones on debunking religious, ghost, psychic, and medium claims. This lack of readily accessible and common-place knowledge is the exact reason why JT wants this to be a cause supported.

This leads to the end, where Gina at last says why the skeptical community should not take this cause on:
The reason I believe that the skeptic community should not take on the issue of mental illness is that the subject matter is not one to be taken lightly—it can include life-threatening conditions.  Misinformation or basing opinions only on one person’s experience could result in giving potentially fatal advice to someone, and it is easy to think that we are stating facts when we recite something that we have heard as a truth but do not have the medical knowledge to evaluate.

Little does Gina know that the reason she lists as to why the skeptical community should not take mental illness on is the exact reason JT gives for why it should. Seriously, this is what he says:

There is this tremendous ignorance of the way the brain works in society at large, and this stigma on mental illness, that not only keeps people like me from coming out of the closet, from getting the help we need to try and live something closer to normalcy, that’s something that kills us, it’s like homeopathy on steroids. And it’s something that skepticism would cure.

By the skeptical community taking this on, it would help spread more reliable information. It could lead to a call for more evidence-based response to mental health treatments. The public (yes, including skeptics like JT!) could become more aware of the myths surrounding mental illness and it's various treatments. Doesn't she understand all these issues she has with the inaccuracies in JTs talk could be remedied in the future by skeptics promoting facts?

She also seems to think JT wants ALL OF SKEPTICISM to take this on, and that is just ridiculous. But by throwing your net wide, you are sure to catch some fish, no? By making a very public call to all of the skeptical community, by sharing his personal struggles publicly, JT may have inspired those who may be interested in mental health, or health in general, within the community, to pick up this cause and support it, giving it momentum.

There is no good reason for skeptics to not pursue this topic. Now, I say that knowing that only the people that are interested will do so. Duh. I don't expect every single person that comes across my blog to take up every single cause that I do. But if they are interested in at least one or two of the causes I support, then that's perfectly fine. Or if I am able to enlighten them on something, then I have accomplished something. Knowing JT, I know his goal is not all that dissimilar to mine. And Gina should be able to understand that.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

An Exercise in Missing the Point

So I just wrote a post in support of JT in his awareness raising efforts in regards to mental illness. Well, today CFI on Campus posted a rebuttal by Gina Colaianni. I wouldn't really call it a rebuttal, as the term implies that her piece was a response to JT's talk and the points he made in that talk. Rather, the piece is more akin to an odd amalgamation of opinions this woman has that are only vaguely related to the talk JT gave. Another blogger already beat me to responding to this, but I just had to sink my teeth into this one.

To start off, she gives us a little background on herself and her own battles with eating disorders over the years, and her studies as a psychology undergrad to give her some form of status as an expert to us. Then, she goes right into la-la-land:

The overall theme I gathered from Eberhard’s speech was that the atheist/skeptic community needs to move on from disproving religious claims and instead needs to help teach to the world that mental illness is not something to dismiss or take lightly.

Now, I posted JT's video; which needs to be watched before reading the CFI piece. Nowhere did he ever say or imply that the skeptical/atheist movements should abandon arguing against supernatural claims. I have no idea where she pulled this assertion from, but it certainly wasn't from JT's Skepticon IV talk. That JT asserts this should be a topic the skeptical community adopts does not mean it is done so to replace the other various topics the community addresses. If anything, it falls perfectly under the "Medical" branch of interests that includes vaccines, faith healing, and homeopathy. There is an incredibly wide range of causes pursued by the skeptical community, and JT suggested that mental illness be included.

Additionally, and this may be nit-picking but I feel the need to address it, JT isn't trying to have the skeptical community make people take mental illness more seriously; he's trying to get us to dispel the myths around it, to normalize it and help remove the stigmas that surround it that so often prevent people from seeking the help they need. Those are two very different goals, and the difference between them needs to be recognized.

In making her next point, she seems to have blacked out during the talk at some point:

First, I’ll take on his claim that medication is THE treatment for people with mood disorders. I’m the first to admit that I take SSRI’s as part of my treatment for depression. However, I disagree with JT’s statements that seem to say that SSRI’s are all that are needed for treatment.

Ok, two things here. First, anorexia, in all of it's forms, is not a mood disorder. It is a behavioral disorder. Get your terminology right if you are going self-identify as some kind of authority on this. Second, JT mentioned his therapist and seeking therapy multiple times. He explicitly stated that it took multiple things; a therapist, a support network, and medication, to get him to the point that he could function. It is ridiculous to say that he said SSRIs are the only path to health, since he didn't.

Next up:

One issue I have with this whole thing is the fact that he specifically chose the issue of mental illness. I believe that he chose this because he himself suffers from a mood disorder; it’s what’s on his mind. Maybe he has been shunned in the past by people who didn’t understand that a mood disorder can’t be fixed by simply willing it to be so. I don’t think it’s okay just to pick a topic simply because you believe it should be focused on.

Really? Are you fucking serious? So why not jump on Hemant for talking about math education, since he's a math teacher? Or Jamila Bey for addressing the hurtles faced specifically by black communities? Or PZ for tackling creationism? He is a biologist after all. Or how about Amanda Marcott, the professional feminist? Speakers tend to talk about what they know. That's why they get invited to speak. JT has been very open about his struggles with anorexia, and he has a fairly public profile, so he has a bit of a unique perspective on the issue that he can share.
What about other issues? What about focusing on uncovering social issues in undeveloped countries? What about focusing on other medical illnesses? I don’t think it’s okay to take on the issue of mental illness simply because someone fairly well-known in the skeptic community believes that the issue should be taken on.

"But what about the genocide in Darfur?!" This is a red herring and unnecessary. Moving on.

I strongly disagree with JT telling the audience that they MUST be there for their family and friends who are suffering from mental illness. You can’t make anyone take on anything. What if they don’t want to take on this issue?

Him asking people to be willing to help their loved ones who desperately need it as a plea for compassion. Even if helping is just being educated about mental illness and being aware of the myths that surround it. He's basically asking people to not give in to prejudice and to be compassionate, loving human beings. Deal with it.
What about the fact that some people don’t want help? Sometimes no amount of intervention or pleading and begging can “fix” someone suffering from mental illness. I remember back in high school when some friends of mine chose to try to help me through my struggles with depression and bulimia. I didn’t want their help. An eating disorder is usually a VERY private thing

Those statements right there are why people die. Because they don't want help. Because they think they can do it on their own. Or because they are too ashamed. Or any number of other reasons to keep their problems hidden away. JT spoke at length about how his ritual of weighing himself became precious to him, even though it was killing him. If there is one thing my family and life in general has taught me over the years, it is this: What we want and what we need are often two different things. And what we need is often the more difficult or painful to do.

For years I hid my self-mutliation from my family. Admitting what I had done, for how long, why, and that I had seriously considered ending my life on more than occasion to my family was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. But it had to be done. They needed to know how close to the edge I was so that they could become a part of my support network.

JT regularly posts his workouts, his weight, the amount of calories he has to consume, etc. He claims that talking about this stuff helps him in his recovery; could it in fact be that receiving comments about these things actually helps to perpetuate his disorder?

Ok, here's a major bit of hypocrisy that drove me up the wall the first couple times I read this post. See, earlier in her post, she says:

I don’t think it’s okay for people who are not trained in the treatment of mood disorders to take on this issue just because 25% of the US population (according to JT) suffers from a mood disorder.

Actually, that is according to NIMH. And for someone who says that the addressing of disorders should be left to the experts, you seem to making quite a few speculations on how JT is sabotaging his own recovery.

Another issue I have is the fact that JT readily believes that it’s okay for people to suffer from mental illness, while it is not okay for people to believe in and follow a religion. He claims that people should be able to see the facts and the evidence (or lack thereof) and immediately accept the fact that there is probably no God. Why? Because religion does bad things to people.
Well, what about the fact that mental disorders are founded on un-provable beliefs and thoughts? Why not apply the same type of logic to this claim? Just present enough evidence to someone that their thoughts do not accurately represent actual reality, and they should immediately accept the fact that they are a good person and should be happy.

Not quite. Religious belief is voluntary, based on the acceptance of supernatural claims made by others. Mental disorders are not rooted in irrational beliefs; irrational beliefs are often the sign of a mental disorder. They are a symptom, not the cause. Mental disorders are rooted in physiological and chemical issues in the brain that can be measured.
Mental illnesses are extremely complex. They are not like other skeptic issues (such as UFO’s or ghosts) where someone can just go and learn about the claim and be able to accurately de-bunk it.

This is just downright wrong. As I showed in my last post, one can do a simple little bit of research and find all sorts of great information debunking myths about mental illness. Those studies I linked to about mental health and propensity for violence? I found those by typing "mental illness and violence" into google. There are myths and downright lies out in the public sphere about people with mental disorders. There are societal stigmas that make seeking treatment difficult, if not nearly impossible for many people. By having skeptics interested in health and medicine work to debunk those myths, the stigmas have a greater chance of fading and those who suffer from these disorders can openly seek the help they need.

I don't just take issue with this because JT is a personal friend. I take issue because this is a cause I greatly support and I think the points made in the piece are not valid. Also, the ad hominem attacks on JT, calling him a hypocrit and speculating on his health are simply unnecessary and come across as petty; particularly when you try to establish some kind of authority on mental health, then show through your arguments that you are not such an authority and have no place speculating on the efficacy of JT's blogging on his coping with his illness (especially when previously stating that such behavior should be left to the experts).

Dissent is fine and dandy, and it promotes growth and the fine-tuning of arguments. However, Gina's piece seems to be more of a projection of her own thoughts and opinions on mental health, and fairly removed from anything JT had to say on the matter.

Monday, November 28, 2011

He's nuts!: Society's Link Between Mental Illness and Violence

My dear friend JT Eberhard has unleashed a call to the secular bloggosphere: blog about mental illness. If you have one (or several), write about your experiences. If you don't, write about loved ones that do. Dispel myths about mental illness. Far too many go without the help they need because of society's stigmas against mental illness.

JT makes several very important points in his talk; ignorance of mental disorders breeds fear, there is an arbitrary distinction between physical ailments and mental ones, and a combination of these two overarching issues causes people with mental illnesses to be averse to treatment and the possibility of leading a close-to-normal life.

First, a little about myself. At 10, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I had been showing symptoms as early as 7. At 14, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (again, showed symptoms as young as 7 years old). At 17, post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of abuse received in my early teens. I have been in and out of therapy since my initial diagnosis. For years I chose to go without medication for my illnesses. The reasoning was at the time, there were not very many (read: none) medications available for young teens that did not come with heavy suicide risk. However, with the diagnosis of my fibromyalgia lead to my being treated with SNRIs, also a treatment for my myriad of mental illnesses. Now I am in the process of managing my illnesses with medication and habitual management.

Being the bearer of several mental disorders has made me an adamant supporter of mental health. I passionately advocate for people to get the treatment they need. It also means I fight to dispel myths about such disorders as often as possible.

Recently, I fell into an argument with one of my professors concerning violence and mental illness. He staunchly supported preventing people with a history of mental illness from owning any kind of weapon (namely firearms). His reasoning being that anyone who cannot accurately perceive reality should not be allowed to be armed.

His position is not an uncommon one. We see it all the time; we hear it in the vernacular. "That terrorist was crazy!" is not an uncommon phrase. When reporting violent crimes (especially high-profile ones), the news media often first looks for a history of mental illness to explain away an individual's (or group's) actions. They grasp at anything they can; depression, anxiety, autism, PTSD, schizophrenia, and so on. (See how my three disorders are on that list?)

At first glance, this is not an unreasonable conclusion for society to reach. After all, how could a normal person do something so heinous? That person simply must be crazy. It's an easy conclusion to come to. And it is very much wrong. Study after study shows that even severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia do not increase a person's propensity for violence toward others. The main predictors of violent behavior are a history of violence and drug/alcohol use. Those predictors remain true whether the individual is neurotypical or not.

There seems to be this idea that these violent people must somehow not understand the consequences of their actions; that if they truly understood that they were killing innocent people, they wouldn't do these awful things. Except they do. They know full-well the consequences of their actions. Seung Hui Cho (the Virginia Tech shooter) had practiced shooting his victims in a lockdown situation. He knew the school would go into lockdown. He knew where the students would be, and what their physical positions would be. He planned accordingly. His history of selective muteness had absolutely nothing to do with very calculated attack on the school. Anyone who says that anxiety over speaking around others leads to shooting sprees needs to seriously reexamine their critical thinking skills.

People with mental illness are much more prone to violence toward themselves, not others. Self-harm, mutilation, and suicide are the most common forms. For 6 years I mutilated my legs, stomach and arms as a way of trying to (unsuccessfully) deal with my mental anguish. But the fights I got into at school were ones where the other person struck first. I just happened to be fairly big and strong for my age ;). But in all seriousness, a person's ability to harm themselves does not translate to an ability to harm others.

But negativity to those with mental illness pervades our culture. We freely use "crazy," "nuts," "psycho" and other slang for the mentally ill to refer to violent individuals. They are inherently negative terms. JT and others are trying to reclaim them, using them as terms of endearment. I too am trying to lighten (and enlighten) the attitudes around such terms. I lovingly refer to when I take small pile of pills in the morning as "happy pill time" or "old people pill time." By normalizing mental illness, by dispelling the dangerous myths around it, we can give those suffering from them the opportunity to openly seek treatment before it's too late.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Link Dump

Currently swamped with work and school-work, so here's just some links for y'all to check out:

A video of a young woman with a form of palsy being severely and repeatedly beaten by her father is circulating the internet. MAJOR TRIGGER WARNING; THE VIDEO IS OVER 7 MINUTES AND VERY GRAPHIC.

Why establishing "rules" for women to follow in order to keep from being assaulted is ridiculous and asinine. It only serves to establish a feeling of guilt that can be damaging for a lifetime.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is at last being extradited to Sweden to face sexual assault charges. While I do believe the circus around his extradition is politically motivated, I do think that he should face his alleged crimes.

Victim of abuse? There's an app for that. No, really, there is. Vice President Joe Biden has a long history of supporting women, women's issues and domestic issues, so it is nice to see him backing this project.

As the daughter of two vets,
 this makes my heart ache. That we don't treat our vets with more respect bothers me greatly; that we forget women are vets too just pisses me off.

A high school in San Diego just crowned its first lesbian couple as King and Queen of homecoming court!

There's been quite a bit of kerfuffle on the internet about Mississippi's personhood amendment, but major news outlets still aren't covering it much. Which is a shame, because it is a big deal and a major chip into women's reproductive rights.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Full Disclosure?

During sensitivity training for my job, a psychologist that presented to us encouraged us to inform our employers any mental health issues we may have so that they can take those into account when assigning work or allotting time off.

I've been debating when to tell to my employer and professors my difficulties in managing my fibromyalgia.

A part time professor in the print program at my university recently took his own life.

What do all of these things have to do with each other?

With chronic health problems, the issue of disclosure can be a difficult one.  Where employment is concerned, there is a legitimate fear that the presence of a chronic health issue will negatively impact how an employer views you.  There is a fear that you will be seen as incapable of performing your assigned tasks, or may too much of  liability to the employer.

For me, I struggle with informing my professors of my health.  While I want them to understand I am not just skipping class, but physically can not function some days, I do not want them thinking me incapable of completing my work.  I also do not want them to lower their standards for me, thinking that somehow my quality of work will suffer due to my condition.

But what about third parties?  What role do they play, if any?  What role should they play?

My professor informed my class of Anthony's suicide.  However, he did so in graphic detail, describing precisely how he killed himself.  He also went so far as to speculate why Anthony did what he did.  A friend of mine in the class shared with me that our professor had crossed professional boundaries by disclosing Anthony's death the way he did.  I agreed with her.  While I enjoyed Anthony's presence in our shop, I did not feel it appropriate for the exact details of his personal life leading up to his suicide and the manner of his suicide to be shared with us; we are all relative strangers to him.  It was extremely uncomfortable being told things that I felt my classmates and I had no place knowing.

So what do we do?  When is disclosure appropriate?  How much do we disclose?  To whom?  I don't know the answers to these things.  But functioning in a society that values neurotypicality, it is undeniably a balancing act.  Luckily, some are openly discussing what it means to live with a not totally able body/mind at times.  I try to write about some of my own struggles with chronic pain and mental illness, as does JT Eberhard and Jen McCreight.  More and more people are working to normalize these things.

Disclosure is a question that will be placed before me the rest of my life.  My conclusion is that I can only judge on a case-by-case basis what information is pertinent to those around me.  It's the best I can do.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I know I've dropped off the face of the planet...

I really didn't mean to. My main computer died early in August, and my iPad does not like to play nice with the Blogger interface. So I'm writing this at a work computer. I'll try to be better about updating, really.

Tons has gone on that I've wanted to blog about. Katie Koestner came to speak at my university. The Troy Davis case. The Amanda Knox Case. The passing of the Heartbeat Bill in the Ohio House, and the prep for it to go before the Senate. Boehner wanting to allocate more funds to DOMA defense.
A sexist moron has been added to the school paper's opinion section, and boy, are they getting flack for it. I've stopped reading the paper due to his bullshit.

In my personal life, school is back in swing. My mystery illness was finally diagnosed as Fibromyalgia, and I am in the process of learning to manage it.

Beyond that, I hope to keep this updated a little more regularly, at least until I get my home computer back up and running.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Temporary Hiatus

Hey all, this post is just to let you know that my home desktop is currently unavailable (power supply crapped out on me), so posting will be delayed until I can get a new power supply. But I will be back soon!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Link Dump

Some awesome women in Columbia are pulling a Lysistrata in order to get the road to their town paved.  The lack of access is severely affecting the quality of life in the town (including the death of a pregnant woman because an ambulance got stuck), and the women refuse to let this go on any longer.

Apparently, women with P.H.D.s make around the same as men with B.A.s.  Even though more women are graduating from college than men.  Awesome.

Don't you just love when obvious research is obvious?  Like when they found out that bras, even sports bras, don't actually do all that much in the way of supporting breasts.  Well, to add to the pile of obvious things women already know about women's bodies (but scientists are just figuring out), a new study discovered that vaginal orgasms and clitoral orgasms feel different!  Shocking!  Emily Yoffe over at Slate has a point, I think, when she says that maybe we should have more women studying female sexuality, and more male lab techs getting out of the lab more often...

Also, this:

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Brief Update On My Dysfunctional Body

Many friends I don't see often at the SSA conference asked me how I was, and how I'd been and so on. You know, just friendly "how's life?" type stuff. It was a difficult set of questions to answer, as things haven't been quite alright with me, health-wise.

First on the list is my depression, which began to cycle into a down-swing early in the summer. I could have avoided a full-on bottoming out, had ElevatorGate not occurred. Unfortunately, many of the comments across many website were incredibly triggering, and I, in my desperation to understand why people held such atrocious views and keep abreast of the latest happenings, I failed to manage my triggers appropriately. The result were night-terrors and a deep depression that I am finally beginning to lift out of. While my down-swing is still present, it is much more manageable now than it was a couple weeks ago. This affected my posting during that time.

Second on the list is the rounds of doctor's visits I have been occupied by.  My first battery of tests indicated the presence of autoimmune markers in my blood-work. I was referred to a rheumatologist for further testing.  After being poked, prodded, doing some minor yoga, and looking at my family history and blood work, the list of possibilities has short from near-infinite to a half-dozen or so.  The fun thing about the markers that came up is that they could indicate something fairly serious (because of my family history), or nothing at all.

As of right now, my doctor has an idea she wants to check out concerning a disorder that affects where my tendons attach to my bones.  It's a genetic disorder, so she is having my genes tested (the nerd in me was all "Can I have a printout?").  So a few x-rays, 10 tubes of blood, and some sore joints later, I now get to wait until the tests are run and the results are in.

I am eternally grateful to those that have been supporting me through this time, in particular Significant Other (patient as always). I appreciate the well-wishing and all the support I have received through all of this and I am very thankful to my friends and family for standing by me.  Hopefully this will all be sorted out soon.

I've Been Slacking

I'm very sorry that I haven't been keeping up like I should have with this thing. I promise it will change!  (Maybe...)

For now, I appease you with links:

In case you've been living under a rock, HHS has now mandated that insurers cover birth control and other preventative women's health (STI screening, HPV vaccines, breast exams, etc) without copays under the new Health Reform Act.  Yay!  Most companies will phase into the new requirements within a year, but all must have switched their policies by January 2013.  It's about time we started viewing well-woman exams and birth control as preventative medicine (like the rest of the Western World...).

Anna Lekas Miller has a great guest post over at Feministe about the disproportionate affect lack of sex education has on women.  I was straight up told, growing up, that I was and was not allowed to do certain things because "you can't get a boy pregnant."  Holding girls responsible to not getting pregnant until it is deemed "okay" to, and at the same time depriving them of the information and tools they need to do so, is sabotaging those girls' chances at having responsible sex lives.

And finally, L'Oreal has a really funny video up to promote their lines of men's beauty products featuring Hugh Laurie (who I may or may not have a total celeb crush on...):

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Religion, Guilt, and Learning to be Kinky

Disclaimer: This post contains references to my own sexuality. If you don't want to read that stuff, skip this post.

I have a laundry list of things I dislike about religion, and superstition in general (Greta Christina has a great post about why Atheists are Angry).  The perpetuation of an Us versus Them mentality, the treatment of women and minorities, the repression of scientific research, the discouragement of analytic thought, and so on.  One of the major issues is how religion and superstition can warp peoples' thoughts on sex and their perception of the human as a sexual animal.

If there has been one thing religion has done really well over the
millennia, it is the dictation of sexual behaviors.  Religion tells the populace who they can fuck, when, where, and even often going so far as to tell them how they can fuck.  It does this with the ever-lasting Carrot and Stick methodology of discipline: Orient your sex life and sexual thoughts with what is deemed 'appropriate,' and be rewarded with an eternity of bliss.  Fail to do so, and risk eternal pain and suffering.  This policing of sexual behavior includes the private sexual thoughts of individuals.  If deities are omniscient, then they know what you're thinking, and they know when you're thinking about things that are sinful.  Others within the community act as the social enforcers of these beliefs, shunning those that do no appear to adhere to the guidelines put forth.

It is unsurprising then that this sort of policing of such a fundamental set of animal (much less, human) behaviors can have lasting, damaging effects on a person's psyche.  The traumatizing effects of "Straight Camps" are well-known, and yet they continue to exist across the country, and even across the world.  Setting in a deep-felt belief that one's sexuality is inherently wrong causes cognitive dissonance and can leave a person severely psychologically damaged; sometimes for life.  Evidence has shown time and time again that such therapies do not change a person's sexual orientation or even their sexual behaviors, as decisions about such behaviors need a basis in a personal desire.

It is fortunate that historically marginalized sexualities, such as the LGBTQ community are finally working their way toward being accepted into popular society.  However, asexuality and alternative sexualities such as BDSM are still having problems being seen as lying on the vast spectrum of human sexual behaviors and desires.

I was perhaps fortunate that my own sense of sexuality began to develop as I was in the long and slow process of leaving the religion in which I was raised.  I was also lucky in that my parents (particularly my mother and step-mother) had progressive ideas on sexuality and how children should learn to view and experience the human body.  By the time I came to realize that my sexuality, my propensity for pain, my aesthetics, were not to the social norm, I had already reached a point in my life where I had decided I wasn't going to let others dictate to me who I could and could not be. 

But one thing I have experienced/noticed lately, is the sometimes extreme guilt that can be faced by people who identify as kinky, due to their religious upbringing.  Often, they do not realize that their sexual guilt is due to their upbringing.  But once you talk to them, it can become painfully obvious where the often very warped perceptions of what human sexuality should be come from. Being raised in an environment in which only a very narrow range of sexual behaviors and/or body types is seen as acceptable has left these individuals with cognitive dissonance concerning their sexual urges.  They enjoy their kink, it brings them pleasure and satisfaction; but everyone around them and the community authority are telling them that the things they enjoy will ensure them an eternal punishment.  This guilt over enjoying their bodies and the bodies of others is saddening and troubling.

That something attributed to bringing so much comfort and joy to so many (a piss-poor argument for religion, by the way) would bring so much inner conflict and turmoil to so many individuals for something they have little to no control over is appalling.  There has been some discussion going on for some time now over whether Kink should be considered an orientation, much like LGBT.  My personal view is that it should.  It should be brought into the conversation when discussing the vast gamut of sexual behaviors we humans partake in. In my mind, I can not alter my love of pain and being submissive any more than I can alter my attraction to men and women.

And religion, as a whole, would seek to deter such behavior.  The common misconceptions about kink often lead to a dangerous mis-characterization of it being abuse.  While abuse within the kink community does happen, it is by no means the norm.  As I said before, if religion was good at nothing else, it would be controlling peoples' behaviors.  That includes our sexual behaviors.  It does this based on the irrational position that some dude or dudes, or dudettes in some alternate parallel reality really really cares about what you or your partner(s) do in your private spare time.

It is my hope that as people become more rational, and as religious belief becomes replaced with evidence based world-views, that we as a society can begin to view things like sexuality as simply another facet of human behavior in which we accept the "different strokes for different folks" mentality.  If people are partaking in consentual sexual behaviors that satisfy them, then who are we, as a society, to condemn them?  To make them feel guilty about what turns them on or gets them off?  To label them as potentially dangerous individuals?

With the removal of religious and cultural stigmas against taboo sexualities, we can replace religious sexual morality with a secular, on based on reason, critical thinking, and evidence.  Greta Christina has also expressed the need for reason based sexual morality.  It will be difficult, for as Elizabeth Pisani said, "If there are two things that make humans beings act irrational, they are erections and addiction."

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Returned: Alive and Well

I am back and finally recovered from the Secular Student Alliance's 2011 Conference. It was a whirlwind time, but a wonderful, informative, funny, and enlightening experience.  Even with this being my third consecutive year attending, I am still learning new things; the mark of a top notch conference.  I also came up with an idea for a possible presentation based on some absolutely terrible fliers I saw.  I need to contact JT and Liz about it.

Not all of the talks really stood out to me, or really made a significant impact other than "Oh, ok, that makes sense."  So I'll just be noting the significant ones to me.  There were TONS of presentations given this weekend, and there were also breakout sessions (as well as a mild personal crisis) that prevented me from attending all the talks.  These were the ones of note:

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

On the Road Again...

This summer has been surprisingly (and slightly thankfully) devoid of travel for me. I have, aside from one trip to visit family in mid June, stayed fairly well-put. I have been working, recharging my creative juices for the semester ahead. This is atypical for me, as I am accustomed to running about like a maniac during the summer months.

However, tomorrow I will be hitting the road, once again visiting family to the south, and then doubling back to attend the Secular Student Alliance's Annual Conference! This will be my third consecutive year attending, and I think I have been this nervous since my first year attending. I'm a fairly shy person around large groups of strangers. And the recent fallout of "ElevatorGate," as it has been dubbed, has left me slightly worried. Normally, the comments of strangers on the internet do not phase me all that much, as they are nameless, faceless strangers that I will more than likely never meet in person.

The problem is this: these people, the ones crying foul on Rebecca Watson for speaking up on unwanted approaches, the ones telling women (ironically) that they are "too dumb to recognize true sexism," and saying that all this hooplah is due to women being hysterical and irrational as usual.. they attend conferences. They attend gatherings. They go to groups and meet-ups and hang-outs and so on. I have interacted with these people in the past, under the assumption that my presence was respected as an equal at these gatherings, because I was surrounded by generally enlightened, well-educated, and rational people who knew better than to assume my only purpose to them was as a sexual receptacle.

Now, I am not so sure.

I was thrilled to attend the SSA's conference before the whole ElevatorGate debacle. Now, I am slightly nervous. How do I know that even if they do not approach me, my peers do not view me as an intellectual equal; rather, as simply a conquest to be made due to my mere presence and my being a member of the sex in which they are interested? In the past, I did not worry about such things at gatherings such as the SSA conference or Skepticon, because I was not approached in any unwanted manner. But now? Having seen people that I know attend conferences spout, through the courteous protection of the internet, truly worrisome and degrading opinions of women and how women out to be treated at such events? I think twice.

Recent comments made by an individual within my own student group also worried me. Prior to this, I had hoped that the majority of such outright sexism was more prevalent among the older generations. Now I find my views changing. And I worry. As a survivor of assault and abuse, having been subjected to unwanted grabbing and groping by complete strangers (including in, yes, elevators), I worry that my discomfort, my trauma triggers, are of no concern to (in particular) men who approach me in a sexual manner. This is not to say I dislike being hit on. Despite being off the market (I am very happy with Significant Other), I do find it flattering when a guy (or woman) shows interest in me... but only when done in a non-predatory manner. If nothing else, it makes for great stories later on.

Just the other night, while leaving work, I had an extremely uncomfortable encounter while leaving work. Two men, athletes judging by their attire, approached me in a slightly blocked off area. I do not presume they did this on purpose. However, one of them did make a pass at flirting with me in a very creepy manner (staring, unwavering off-putting smile). The encounter was brief, and nothing physical came of it. However, it was 2:30am, I was outside in a slightly blocked off area (building behind me, obstacles on either side of me), in a poorly lit area, alone, with two strange men approaching me fairly closely without introducing themselves. This encounter was enough to send me bolting back to my office and wait to walk out to my car with a coworker. It was enough to keep in a state of panic for several hours afterward.

I'm sure they meant me no harm, and the one that hit on me just found me attractive. However, their approach and complete disregard for the environment I was in was unsettling. I was gripping my self-defense tool for dear life should one of them get any closer. I know what happens when situations like that do turn sour, all too well.

I am hopeful that the conference will be as much fun as it normally is and will go off without any uncomfortable encounters or comments. And should something turn sour, I know the guys I am attending the conference with will have my back.

I am excited. I am nervous. I am pumped to show off a kick-ass dress I bought for the bar night (seriously, I could kill and get away with it in this thing). I get to see and hang out with people I only really get to see at these events. I get to hang out with the guys from the student group I attend. I'm hoping people learn from the mistakes of ElevatorGate and make the best of it all.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Doctors Need to Do Their Jobs

Hexy over at Feministe has an article about a survey that was done on British medical students regarding refusal of treatment. Of 700 students, the survey found that roughly half of them felt that they had a right, as doctors, to refuse to carry out certain procedures or provide certain care. These included abortions, intimate examinations of the opposite sex, prescribing birth control, and treating intoxicated patients (whether it be drugs or alcohol). One-fifth of them cited religious reasons.

As Hexy and many commentors point out, there are several problems with this. The first that comes to my mind being that, particularly with religious beliefs, if you have certain factors in your life that prevent you from doing your job, you probably should not be in that line of work. It isn't as though you are not aware that there are certain things that doctors do on a regular basis. If you have a problem with these things, being a doctor probably isn't the line of work for you. Maybe medical research would be better suited for you if you are going to be making judgements about peoples' worthiness of receiving medical care.

Secondly, this brings up the whole "drug seeking" issue, as well as M√ľnchausen's labels and how that can stigmatize patients in future medical treatments. People that visit doctors offices often or hop from physician to physician run the risk of being labeled with one or both of these detrimental labels. A patient can run this risk particularly when they become familiar with medical processes.

Using myself as an example, in my latest round of doctor's visits, I complimented the phlebotomist on her ability to draw blood, and that it was most painless and stress free blood draw I'd ever had done. I'm also able to inform my doctor of every pain medication I have ever been on, the precise amount, and what has and has not worked. Luckily, my current physician understands that because I have been seeing so many doctors for so many years, trying to figure my illness out, I have had to immerse myself in the lingo and I have refined my relaying of information. Precision in informing him what I'm on, what has worked, what hasn't (opiates have no effect on my pain), quantities, placement, type and severity of symptoms, all in a way that is concurrent with how doctors use that information, makes it easier on everyone.

I'm lucky. My current doctor gets it. However, I have encountered plenty of doctors that have suggested I was just looking for painkillers (which is partially true: the right painkillers would relieve my pain), or seeking attention, or had some sort of psychiatric condition. Because of these (false) conclusions, they shuffle me away and refuse to treat me. I have also had pharmacists refuse to dispense my birth control, whether it be for religious reasons or the hippy woman who told me I was going to upset my feminine energy by only having 4 periods a year (seriously, wtf?). Religious beliefs, spiritual beliefs, socio-economic beliefs, ableist beliefs, and so on that are strongly held to and over-rule professional judgement are a problem.

I have never understood why people would go into professions where they have religious or moral issues with some of the fundamental tasks performed by that profession. Doctors write scripts and perform examinations and surgeries on all types of people. Pharmacists dispense scripts. Bus drivers drive buses that have ads on them. If you have some major factor in your life (such as religious beliefs) that will more than likely affect your ability to perform your job, find another job. If you can not separate certain beliefs you have from your professional capabilities and responsibilities, that is on you; not the person you are denying your services.

Monday, July 11, 2011

It Never Ends

Trigger Warning: Many links here lead to comment threads full of triggering material. I've had a hard navigating it all, while trying to keep from being triggered.

Well, the saga of ElevatorGuyGate continues. I've only been keeping a vague thumb on the pulse of it. It seems that every post the movers and shakers put up to try and calm people down and clarify the situation, just end up riling people up all over again. Jen and PZ have both posted in hopes of settling things down, but people really aren't getting it.

Which is unfortunate. The original video and comments weren't that big of a deal. But the blowback came hard and fast, which caused a domino effect that we're still seeing. Luckily, there have been some calm, reasonable responses to this whole thing that clearly and plainly lay out the underlying issues at play here.

There has also been a letter, addressed to Richard Dawkins for his obtuseness, that is signed by women in the atheist/skeptical communities that have experienced sexual assault/rape. The comments are extremely triggering, but I think they are necessary for those who have been asking through this whole debacle, "Is rape really that common?" As I said in my last post on this, yes it is. The fact that there are terrible atrocities committed against women in the middle east does not mean that women here have it easy.

A woman stating a situation made her uncomfortable revealed a plethora of views that believe she doesn't have a right to be uncomfortable. Which is ridiculous. Normally, I am known for raging at things like this. But I'm not angry. I'm not rageful. I'm sad. It saddens me that the culture of "shut up and be nice" towards women is so pervasive that even the atheist and skeptic communities can not escape it. At least, they haven't yet.

Admittedly, this reaction to Rebecca's video has made me wary of attending larger conferences. As a survivor, knowing that people think it is okay to proposition me in enclosed spaces is a worrisome thought. Jen jokingly posted about the sticker code at a Mensa gathering, but I honestly think it isn't a bad idea. People have weird idiosyncrasies that can put undue stress on social interaction. Having some sort of visual code could be handy for easing things along (mine would be "no sexual advances" and "no touching unless I know you").

I hope all of this blows over soon, and that people actually learn something from this mess.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

It Is No Wonder Women Are Scarce Here

I've been watching the Atheist/ Skeptical corner of the internet blow up over the weekend, watching this whole little spectacle unfold. Now that it seems to have died down a bit, and some (truly shocking) opinions have brought themselves forward, I feel I can comment on it.

For those that hare unaware of the spat going on across several sites, here's the gist: Rebecca Watson of Skepchick made this video about a conference she had recently spoken at. At about 4:30 into the video, she discusses a situation she encountered at the conference. A man she did not know got into an elevator with her at 4am and asked her to come back to his room with him for coffee, after she had expressed her desire to go to bed. She explains in the video that this approach came across as exceedingly creepy and she discusses how such behavior can/should be avoided in order to not make women feel objectified and more welcome at conferences.

Several other tangential issues came up (including a naming of names at another conference about conflating opinions), but the result was an internet shit-storm. Said storm included Hemant of Friendly posting this, PZ Myers posting this (which brought Richard Dawkins out of the woodwork with some atrocious comments); this was followed by Jen McCreightPZAmanda Marcott, and Phil Plait (whose post lays out the situation spectacularly and calmly) all commenting on why this otherwise not-all-that-significant video became the catalyst for something I've found to be actually a pretty big deal. Even if you do not read any of the other posts, Phil's is a must-read.

The overwhelming negative response has made it quite clear exactly why we have a serious lacking of women in our communities. If a generally well-respected woman who calls out a guy for creepy behavior can expect this sort of negative blow-back, it should be of no surprise if other women feel they would not be welcome.

Whether right or wrong, we live in a society that loves to blame the victim, especially women and girls. Whether right or wrong, this society has taught women and girls to fear for their safety everywhere they go and to be on the look-out for possible predators at all times. Whether right or wrong, society has placed it as the responsibility of those women and girls to not become victims. As much as many women and men would love to change this and work tirelessly to do so, it is still the society in which we live.

That society, that conditioning, is the context in which this encounter took place. A comment on Skepchick asked if rape and sexual assault was really so prevalent that men should keep in mind whether or not they are behaving in potentially threatening ways towards women: The answer is yes, yes it is. Men approaching women can never known if she has been previously attacked. Conversely, women can never know whether the men approaching them mean to harm them. Add to this an enclosed space like an elevator, a sparsely populated hour such as 4am, and yes, such a proposition as coffee can seem creepy or potentially ill-willed.

And the guys (and many women) who act as though these things should not be factors when hitting on someone just don't get it. They don't get that the context of someone hitting on you can be incredibly disconcerting. Richard Dawkins himself equated such an approach to being no more than someone annoyingly chewing gum next to you, which is vastly out of touch. He also asked how one could possibly feel trapped in an elevator. That's like asking how someone can feel trapped in the backseat of a car. The door is right there, you can go ahead and grab the handle... unless there is someone that threatens you and prevents escape.

While the original situation and video really weren't all that significant aside from saying "hey, this behavior is creepy, and you should probably not do that," the fallout is very significant. It has brought many people out of the woodwork and shed light on some truly disturbing mindsets. The reaction to Rebecca's video shows that there is much progress to be made in helping people understand that how you approach someone and the context in which they are approached can make them feel threatened or uncomfortable, regardless of your intentions.

The idea of a woman calling a guy out on being creepy and suggesting men do otherwise should not cause this sort of reaction. It should not have the reaction of "So are we not supposed to hit on women?" and "How dare you get upset at me hitting on you! I should be able to do so, any time and place I please!" It's ridiculous. Her video said nothing of the sort. But keeping in mind the sensitivities of the person you are interested in has less to do with gender equality, and more to do with just being polite and considerate.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Goodbye Reproductive Freedom, It was Nice Knowing You

Some have been sending news and links my way regarding the Ohio House of Representatives passing three anti-abortion bills earlier this week, in hopes of igniting my rage. I've been busy, so I haven't been able to give this the appropriate attention it deserves. Jen McCreight over at Blag Hag also raged over this, and rightfully so. Thus, I give what the public demands...

Are you fucking shitting me? Seriously? Are you people (referring to both the Republicans AND Democrats in my state House that supported these) so completely out of touch with reality that this is fucking OKAY?
The three bills are as such:

-The first would ban insurance coverage of abortion under the health care reform act within the state, with no exceptions to rape, incest, or the mental health of the mother.

-The second would ban abortion after doctor determined viability, starting at 20 weeks. No exceptions for rape, incest, fetal abnormality, or the mental health of the mother.

-The third would ban abortion after a heartbeat could be heard via ultrasound. No except for rape, incest, or the mental health of the mother.

Here are the primary issues I have with these three bills:

1- Not having exceptions in any of the bills for rape, incest, or the mental health of the mother, which is downright inhumane. Yes, lets force women to be incubators of the result of an assault against them, so that they get to have that assault perpetrated against them for another 9 months after the initial incident. That seems like a great idea. (Clarification: Yes I am saying that being forced to play host to a fetus that was created against your will is assault. Or at least it should be considered as such.) To not allow exceptions for rape or incest makes these laws more restrictive than many other laws in similarly restrictive states. To also lack exception for mental health makes the statement that a woman's mental well-being is not any of their concern, even though mental health can have a great influence on physical health. Women should just have to deal with the extra stress, in addition to whatever mental illnesses they may have or develop.

2- The banning of abortion coverage under the health care reform acts is hypocritical; especially for Republicans. It is also restricting abortion access to those that can afford it (leaving the poor high and dry). The GOP has had, as a party line for a long time now, a belief that government should have little to no say in the operations of private business. They have shown that they firmly believe that government should leave private enterprise the fuck alone. Which is why I have issues with this. To some degree, I agree that government should not be able to dictate what services a private business can/can not provide (within reason, but that is for another time). So for the Republicans, the "Get government out of business" party, to sit and tell private insurance providers that they can not cover abortion in any plans in the state of Ohio under health reform, is so blatantly hypocritical that it drives me insane.

Additionally, by preventing insurance providers from covering abortion in Ohio, it means that the poor are fucked. The poor, the low-income, single parent (typically mothers) homes, who utilize abortion services the most, would be fucked. Abortion is expensive. It is painful. It can have a recovery period that may involve missing work (aside from missing work for the informational and procedural appointments, which must be at least 24 hours apart in Ohio). By removing that little bit of financial cushioning insurance coverage provides, it make the difference between whether a woman is able to get an abortion, or have 9 months (at minimum) worth of additional expenses.

3- The "Heartbeat Bill," as it has been dubbed, would ban abortion after a heartbeat can be detected. Oh, the heartbeat bill... My friend Dan Sprockett has an excellent post on why heartbeat bill is bad science. In short, heart cells have this weird little habit: they beat on their own. You can take a bunch of live heart cells, put them a petri dish, and they will pulse together. While this little aspect is cool, it is bad news for women under this new bill. A fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as 5 weeks due to this phenomena (often before the heart is even fully developed). Many women do not even know they are pregnant at this point. This bill is bad science all over.

The bill is also arbitrary in its restrictions. Why is the heartbeat important? Why is it the existence of a clump a pulsing cells that somehow determines this fetus, barely the size of a peanut, is now more important that the already living woman it inhabits? Keep in mind, this bill also lacks exception for rape and incest. There was this lovely little gem during some of the proceedings:

Some women, he said, who are raped and become pregnant, view carrying the child to be a "triumph" over their rapists. A number of women in the hearing room gasped after he said this. Several wiped away tears. - Walter M. Weber 
The creators and backers of this bill give no real reason as to why the cutoff point should be when a heartbeat is detected. None. They make references to Romeo and Juliet, which is a work of fiction, not reality. There is no reasoning behind this, other than to try and essentially eliminate abortion in Ohio.

There is a slight silver lining to all of this. The heartbeat bill will not pass constitutional review, as it is in direct violation of Roe v Wade by setting the cutoff prior to a doctor's determined viability outside the womb. This leads to more hypocrisy on the Republicans' parts, as for all their talk of fiscal responsibility, they are going to waste tax-payer money on defending an unconstitutional law that restricts women's reproductive rights. The insurance bill might be challenged on oversight grounds. As for the exceptions to rape and incest, who knows. I have no idea why these bills have gotten this far without someone in the legislature standing up and saying "Hey, this is a little harsh and should be removed".The other bill, a ban on abortions after viability, is slightly redundant to a federal law saying the same thing (but starting at 24 weeks), but is different in that it does make exceptions for fetal abnormalities or the mental health of the mother. Because we all know health just refers to you body, and your brain is clearly not part of your body.

I didn't vote for these people. I didn't ask for my reproductive rights to be threatened to be all but stripped from me. But that is what these people are doing. I am honestly worried about these bills. They are an unprecedented attack on women's reproductive health in this state. Should these bills be passed into law, should they pass constitutional review, they would practically eliminate abortion access in this state. Which is a worrisome thing indeed.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Searching for Answers

My lack of posting as of late has been due to multiple issues, one of which being a flare up of a medical problem I have had my entire life that I hope to explain here, as well as address some patterns I've been noticing.

Imagine waking up feeling that all of your muscles are pulled tight like bungie cords. All of your joints are stiff, as though wrapped tight, preventing them from moving without great effort. You gather your strength and heave your body out of bed, every joint popping and cracking loudly, muscles stretching and aching in protest. As you dress yourself, the sensation of soft fabrics on your skin feels more like burlap. The constriction is uncomfortable.

Daily functioning is a daunting task. Shoes are distractingly tight no matter how loose-fitting. As you go through your day, simple acts like standing in line for an ATM induce a feeling of a vice around every joint in your legs. Sitting causes throbbing pain in your lower back and neck, as well as tingling and sharp pangs in your legs. Excessive writing causes pain and numbness through the arms, shoulders and upper back. By the evening, your entire body, every muscle, every joint, feels as though it has been beaten about.

Anti-inflammatories are of little help. Over time, a tolerance for the medication builds up. Pain is only relatively recently being viewed and researched not merely as a symptom of illness, but as an illness unto itself. We understand relatively little about pain and how our bodies feel pain and our brains process pain. It is fascinating how something so pervasive in the act of just living is so poorly understood.

My own battles with pain began when I was very young, beginning with a certain sensitivity to visual and aural stimulation. In the years since, it has expanded to the description above. I have good days, and I have bad days. Good days, I end the day with only mild aches in a couple joints. Bad days, I completely lose my composure and simply lay in bed weeping from the pain.

Chronic pain is little understood by those that neither have it themselves, nor witness a loved one experience it. When asking what is wrong, it can be baffling when someone says they're sore for no real reason. It is difficult to understand the frustration that comes with going to doctor after doctor after doctor, never receiving any real answers, or being told that it is all in your head. The pressure to keep one's composure through it all, to not let on the agony you are experiencing just from sitting in a chair at lunch; but you dare not stand, as that will cause even more pain.

For the last two to three months, my pain has increased to a barely tolerable level. I've altered my pain medications, in hopes of avoiding tolerance to certain anti-inflammatories. Significant Other has been a dream through all of this, laying with me as I wept through the pain at night, or applying pressure to my inflamed and swollen joints. His patience and understanding has made it possible for me to find the strength to keep getting up and going out the door in the morning.

I do not write this looking for sympathy. It is merely an explanation of my lack of posting, and an attempt to raise awareness of an issue I have with the medical community. I realize that the human body is a complex and often mysterious thing that is capable of some truly amazing feats while still retaining a certain fragility to it. However, in the numerous doctors I have seen since I was young (and believe me, it has been quite a few), there is a disturbing pattern of dismissiveness that I (and many people I know) have encountered. I understand doctors are merely human, subject to human faults and flaws. Even taking all of that into account, I find the level of condescension and sometimes bordering on belittling treatment of patients by doctors to be something to be ashamed of.

In the skeptical community, it is often asked why, even when presented with all the evidence, people still choose to go to alternative medical practitioners (no matter how much an individual may know it to be bunk). My personal explanation (based solely on personal anecdote) is the more personalized and intimate treatment people often receive at alternative practices. The practitioners tend to listen more to the patient, interrupt them less, and make the patient feel more relaxed and valued as a person. This more personalized attention and giving the patient a sense of being heard gives people confidence in alternative medical practices.

It is exceedingly frustrating when trying to list out and explain medical history and symptoms, to be interrupted, corrected, or told that something isn't important. Last year I dislocated and micro fractured a rib on my left side. When explaining where the pain was (in my chest, directly below my breast), my physician interrupted me and asked if I was sure it was rib pain, and perhaps not abdominal/bowel pain. After this occurred in multiple visits, I inadvertently lashed out at the physician saying that I was damn sure it was rib pain, seeing as how I had both dislocated and micro fractured a rib quite recently, and I was intimately familiar with abdominal/bowel pain. I know of others who have gone through similar experiences.

A seeming distrust of patients to be familiar with their own bodies functioning, and when a person feels that something abnormal is occurring, appears to be the norm for general practitioners. Or alternatively, being listened to intently, comments being acknowledged, and then being asked if I have ever felt the need to see a psychologist (which is downright insulting to someone who has mental illness and is quite familiar with its symptoms being separate from those being presented).

Being a physician is demanding, and medicine is by no means an exact science, I recognize these things. But to be treated in such a negative fashion leaves little wonder as to why there has become such a widespread mistrust of the medical community. This is not say that there are not great doctors out there that do wonderful jobs and treat their patients spectacularly. This is not about them. This is about the doctors that make being a patient, being ill, even more trying and stressful than it need be.

I do not know what the source of my pain is. I do however know it to be separate from my depression and anxiety, as it cycles differently. I will continue to search for answers within the medical community, despite my frustrations. My hope is that with some new research I have come across, I will be able to find a physician that can give me the answer I seek. Even if it turns out there is nothing that can be done for my condition, just having an answer, a name, a reason for my body to feel the way it does would be wondrous. It is especially my hope that I find a doctor that is willing to listen to what I have to say, and work with me in solving this puzzle.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Discrimination with a Smile

When the economic bubble burst in 2007-08, the term "Too Big to Fail" became popular. Apparently, there are now companies that are "Too Big to Sue".

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled on Monday that the 1.5 million women that were attempting to file a class-action suit against Wal-Mart for sex discrimination can not file as a class and must file separately.

First, the disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. My knowledge of the law is limited. I am going off of what I know, what I have read, and what I can presume reasonable on this. Okay, moving on...

I have so many issues with this. First off, individual discrimination is exceedingly difficult to prove unless it is blatant and in your face (which is rare. People have gotten clever about discriminating in more subtle ways). Secondly, these women and their lawyers went to painful lengths to gather so much evidence, including hiring sociologists to organize the womens' anecdotes into hard data and uncontested stats that clearly show the widespread patterns the women seek to address. Third, the SCOTUS made this decision with only certain evidence brought forth (not all evidence was presented) and made a decision that blows my mind.

Scalia concludes that (even in advance of a lawsuit) the women could not show that Wal-Mart "operated under a general policy of discrimination." That's partly because "Wal-Mart's announced policy forbid sex discrimination" and partly because he rejects the plaintiffs' claim that Wal-Mart's "policy" of allowing discretion by local supervisors over employment matters constitutes a policy at all. As Scalia sees it, in giving local managers so much leeway in making personnel decisions, Wal-Mart actually established "a policyagainst having uniform employment practices." - Slate 
 Oh, Scalia. The same man that claimed crosses are not religious symbols, and merely mark graves. He infuriates me and lives in some alternate reality. His comments are classic examples in not "getting it." He doesn't get that every company in this country is required by law to have a non-discrimination statement that includes sex. He doesn't get that despite these statements, gender discrimination still happens, and that companies have gotten clever about it. He doesn't get that even if in an ideal world, "left to their own devices most managers in any corporation—and surely most managers in a corporation that forbids sex discrimination—would select sex-neutral, performance-based criteria for hiring and promotion," would be a perfectly reasonable statement; but in the reality in which we live it is not the case. People have prejudices, including unconscious ones. We act on those prejudices.

Scalia assumes that people don't act on their prejudices. He also assumes that because Wal-Mart has a written policy forbidding sex discrimination, that such a thing simply wouldn't occur! Which is odd, since he says two things that appear contradictory to me: The first being that since Wal-Mart gave near-autonomy to managers at the individual store level, that there was no store-wide pattern (despite the evidence) of discrimination. The other being that since Wal-Mart has a policy against sex discrimination, it must have the over-reaching capability to enforce that policy. So in one ruling, he has stated that Wal-Marts hands are tied in overseeing it's store managers' practices, but is capable of overseeing and admonishing them for policy violations in those practices? You can't have it both ways.

Elizabeth Wydra over at Huffington Post illustrates why Scalia and the conservative majority blocking this from being a class suit at all, forcing the women to file separately, has some major implications:

This is a big deal. Class actions are crucial for victims of discrimination or other corporate misconduct who may not have the means to bring their own individual lawsuits -- including many of the Wal-Mart employees who earn modest wages. Joining individual claims together also allows for a fuller picture of widespread patterns of discrimination or fraud, and provides a greater opportunity to fundamentally change a corporate culture of discrimination.
While the decision to not let the women file under a certain clause (and that lower courts should not have let the case progress under that clause) was unanimous, the liberal minority were willing to let the women refile under a different clause. The conservative majority blocked the class suit entirely. Steve Leser of Political Theater explains this from a law perspective, and why the current law is inadequate:
The reason is that the standard you need to meet is pretty high. You need to show a memo or email or some directive from corporate indicating that what is happening is the policy of the company. Here is where the catch 22 comes in. Unless you have a class action suit, it is very difficult to get the kind of discovery (the legal term for ability to compel a company to turn over emails, documents, etc), you need to prove a case like this. So you cannot get a class action suit certified without the evidence and you cannot get the evidence without a class action. The common man is stuck and once again the large corporation is holding all of the cards.
This is my main concern with what happened here. The law is inadequate. I have no doubt that the justices applied the law properly. The catch 22 I illustrated above is infuriating. Added to that is that the burdens of 23(a)(2) are obviously too high. If a company has a culture that has fostered the companywide discrimination that the women who brought suit were able to show without a dispute, it should be held responsible. If the law and legal system cannot do that then the law and legal system have failed. Adding insult to injury is the way Justice Scalia phrased the problem with the plaintiff's case in his opinion, “In a company of Wal-Mart's size and geographical scope, it is quite unbelievable that all managers would exercise their discretion in a common way without some common direction.” 
Scalia and the conservative majority of the court are setting unrealistic standards for what constitutes corporation-wide discrimination. As far as they are concerned, unless the entire executive management of Wal-Mart were to come forward saying "Yes! We are misogynists and  we refuse to give women equal standing or opportunities in our company!", then there would be no way they would let this case progress. It Scalia's world, women aren't being discriminated against; they just simply don't know their place.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Apparently People Like Sex

So pretty much any and all real posts I had lined up are now on hold due to a concussion I received earlier this week. My thinking has been fuzzy and my ability to type has slowed immensely due to all my spelling errors, so I have to reread everything several times to make any sense.

So instead I'll link to an interesting article at Feministing that discusses the Trojan US Sex Survey and what it does/does not tell us, as sex is super complicated. As is researching sex, because asking people about it can be kind of tricky and people in this country on a whole tend to be very closed off about their sexuality.

The article discusses the differences in views on sex between men and women, as well as how we've still not managed to define what exactly counts as sex in our society at large. The always lovely Greta Christina did a post some time ago that I adore, that questions what constitutes sex and our obsession in America with the numbering of our sexual exploits.

I find this stuff fascinating; looking at sex in not just a scientific manner, but a sociological one as well. We are creatures built to live to fuck. And the ways our society is built around that is terribly interesting. So check them out, and I should be back to lambasting or praising someone or another in some coherent sense in a week or two.