Dear Anti-Vaxxers: Stop Harassing (And Bombarding) Grieving Mothers

Unless you follow Bachelor Nation pretty closely, you may not know who Ashley Spivey is. She was a contestant on the show nearly 10 years ago now, eliminated by the 5th episode (meaning she was never a big player on her season). In recent years, however, Spivey has made a name for herself as an outspoken commentator on the show, even joining up with Reality Steve to host a weekly podcast.

Just this last week, Spivey’s followers cried alongside her when she announced that her baby CJ, whom she had been carrying for 30 weeks, had been stillborn, his cord wrapped around his neck.

It was the kind of news that deserved only compassion and love. But instead, Spivey later revealed on Twitter that she had been bombarded with messages from anti-vaxxers telling her the flu vaccine she had gotten a week before had been to blame for the death of her baby.

We “tried to warn you,” one said, referencing the attacks Spivey had received when she spoke out about getting the vaccine in the first place.

Forget that the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) advocates for pregnant people to get the flu vaccine in order to protect their unborn babies. Or that there is a wealth of data supporting the safety of receiving the flu vaccine during pregnancy. Let’s pretend we don’t know that contracting the flu poses unnecessary risks to both the pregnant person and their unborn baby (we do, and it does), or that it would even be possible for a vaccine to cause the cord to wrap around a baby’s neck (it absolutely wouldn’t be—the logistics of that don’t even make sense.)

What’s really disgusting here is that anyone would think targeting a grieving mother with “told you so” messages might be an appropriate response to an announcement of loss.

It’s disgusting, but not totally surprising. In fact, I’ve dealt with something similar myself.

Nearly four years ago now, my then 4-year-old daughter began experiencing a host of scary symptoms that landed us in and out of the hospital for months, eventually resulting in a diagnosis of Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA).

JIA is an autoimmune condition that causes my daughter’s immune system to attack her joints. Left untreated, it can result in paralysis and extreme, ongoing pain. By the time my daughter was diagnosed, she couldn’t use her right hand at all, and she frequently had trouble with simple tasks such as walking up and down stairs.

Thankfully, with treatment (a weekly shot of a chemo medication meant to suppress her immune system), my daughter was back to herself within just a few months of diagnosis; running, jumping, playing and behaving like the 4-year-old child she was.

Of course, I struggled initially. It’s never easy to learn your child is going to face a lifetime of illness and health battles. I don’t know a single JIA parent who wouldn’t happily take on all the pain, trauma and tears that accompany this disease for their child if they could. I had to go through a grieving process of my own, reconciling my former hopes for my daughter’s future with this new reality.

Reminding myself, over and over again, that yes, this disease would make her life harder—but it wouldn’t keep her from living the life she deserves.

So you can imagine my frustration (hell, let’s go ahead and call it what it was: rage) when anti-vaxxers started reaching out to me to blame vaccinations for my daughter’s condition. They did it under the same guise as some of those who reached out to Spivey, pretending to simply care and wanting me to join their cause in warning other families not to vaccinate their children.

They were preying on my grief, hoping it would convince me of the evil nature of vaccines.

Unfortunately, they underestimated my ability to discern facts from fiction. Or my willingness to dig deep into science and research for the answers I was looking for.

What they didn’t know was that it had been almost a year since my daughter had received a vaccination when she first began exhibiting symptoms. What they couldn’t have known, but also never bothered to considered, was that it turned out my daughter (who is adopted) had a long family history of what seemed likely, upon further inspection, to be autoimmune joint issues.

And what they always seem to want to forget is that autoimmune diseases can be triggered by many of the illnesses vaccinations actually protect against. In fact, any bout of illness can trigger an autoimmune condition to someone who already has the genetic makeup for developing one. In my daughter’s case, she had a strange (unidentified) viral infection shortly before her symptoms developed. And every time she has gotten any illness since, she’s experienced a flare in her condition.

There is no doubt in my mind that even if my daughter had never been vaccinated, she would have eventually been diagnosed with JIA.

Of course, facts don’t matter to this crowd. They are so convinced of their own stance that any science, data, or logical explanation of the truth goes ignored by this group of vultures so eager to leap on the stories of tragedy shared by strangers on the internet, claiming those stories as proof of their own beliefs.

There are so many problems with this, it shouldn’t even have to be explained. These people don’t have medical degrees. They’ve exhibited a blatant lack of understanding of the science at hand. And they have no insight into the medical backgrounds of those they are diagnosing themselves as being vaccine injured.

For the record, this is one reason to look critically at any and all claims of vaccine injury. Because anyone can make those claims without proof or science to back them up.

In fact, that’s exactly what happened when I refused to join their cause, knowing my daughter’s history for myself and fully understanding vaccines had nothing to do with her condition.

These people then started flooding comments sections and sharing my daughter’s story themselves, using her as the example of vaccine injury she absolutely is not. To this day, that still happens. Just a few weeks ago, someone called my daughter vaccine-injured online, simultaneously shaming me for encouraging people to get the flu vaccine this year (as though my goal were somehow to harm as many children as I could, an evil villain wanting others to suffer as we have.)

“Read the inserts!” they scream, not bothering (or lacking the critical thinking skills) to understand the context of those inserts, instead just latching onto the scary words and holding them up to drive fear in anyone who will listen.

This is how these people work—pushing false narratives and unjustified panic to get others to join their cause.

And the thing is, to an extent I understand how they get there. Many anti-vaxxers have faced loss or the illness of a child themselves, and they’ve grasped desperately at straws for something to blame.

I get that. I get wanting to know what caused the tragedy in your life. Wanting something to blame.

But the data simply doesn’t support that desire in this case. And it definitely doesn’t support trying to push those beliefs on grieving parents, counting on them being at such a low that they just might join you and allow you to use their children as proof that you’ve been right all along.

Nothing about that is okay. And if you need the reasons why explained to you, you may be too far gone to be helped.

But for the record: It’s harassment. And it’s gross. And if harassing grieving parents is the only way you know to prove your point, it’s clear to everyone but you that you really don’t have a point at all.

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What I’m Teaching My Sons About Vaginas

We are really open in my house. There are times that makes my kids uncomfortable because, ew, their mom is talking about sex, periods, vagina, and butt stuff.

Thing is, I’d rather have them be uncomfortable around me because I’m open about all our bodies have to offer than have them learn things from their friends (don’t get me started) or from porn.

The stigma around people with vaginas is strong. You see it everywhere — commercials for douches, pads that won’t leak, moodiness when they are menstruating, and one billion things on the market to tighten, brighten, and make the vag smell like a Bath & Body Works.

Oh, and don’t forget to get waxed, sugared, or shave that pussy because no one likes a hairball between the legs. 

I grew up with all sisters in a pretty open household. I still remember feeling ashamed when I got my period and my vagina smelled different. I would load up with the baby powder until I couldn’t breathe and take two showers a day because I thought I was disgusting and had no idea every woman or person with a vagina had a different scent down there.

Hello, we are bleeding between our legs. Go elsewhere if you want to smell blueberry muffins or lavender.

Now I know better: That shit is normal and everyone needs to know it. I’m going to make damn sure my sons learn that at home because no child of mine is going to think there’s something wrong with someone because they smell different after a workout, or bleed through their jeans during a heavy flow.

If we aren’t talking to our sons about it, the only other dialogue they get about the vagina in all its glory is from their buddies … and I can tell you first hand, they aren’t educated in this area. Like, at all.

The other day after a ten-mile run when I was a bit overdressed I came in feeling glorious and ready for my breakfast. My son bent down to get a dish from the dishwasher and said, “Oh my god! It smells like a mildewed vagina!”

I said, “That’s right! Because I just got back from a long-ass run and vaginas sweat and smell when we exercise. I bet your balls don’t smell great after you lift weights either, Killer, so you don’t need to comment.”

I could have been embarrassed or apologized, but that’s don’t going to do him — or anyone who has a vagina — any good. All it does is make him think it’s gross, abnormal, and like we should go take care of it right away so he doesn’t have to feel uncomfortable when he bends down to get something and smells a ripe vag.

It wasn’t long ago my daughter got her period and she was reaching for the Advil as I was heating up the heating pad for her. My poor girl gets cramps so bad she throws up, so I feel like it’s extra important that my sons are respectful and realize how painful and horrible menstruating can be, so they can treat their partners accordingly.

He asked her if she had “FUPA cramps” and once again, I had to set him straight. “Yes she does and it’s not fun, and there’s no way you’d be able to take the pain, so why don’t you see what you can do to help her instead?”

He brought her up some dark chocolate to her room a few hours later, and has never said a word again. 

My boys aren’t perfect and this will always be a work in progress — vaginas are complicated, and there’s a lot to learn about them, especially when you don’t have one. 

But, they never say anything when the trash is overflowing with pads. They leave me and my daughter alone when we are writhing in pain each month. They know not to comment on our moods or rock the boat because I’ve taught them better. You don’t kick someone when they are down. You don’t comment on it. And if you see someone has leaked through their clothes, you tell them in a discrete way and keep it to yourself.

I know not everyone will agree with my tactics and that’s fine — you do you. But my sons will understand vaginas if it kills me. I refuse to send them off in the world thinking their mother never bled, or that vaginas don’t have different odors, and leave their partner to educate them.

In this house, we talk about vaginas and we always will. And at least I’ll have peace of mind knowing I taught them vagina-owners don’t need to go out of their way to hide the fact that they might have lots of different smells, but dammit they can go through some tough shit and still work great.

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23-Year-Old Female Inventor Creates In-Home Breast Cancer Test

Judit Giró Benet has invented the world’s first at-home breast cancer detection kit

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 250,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women each year and about 2,300 in men in the United States alone. It is responsible for the annual deaths of 42,000 women and 510 men. As with most cancers, early detection is key in treating the disease and preventing fatalities, which makes regular testing incredibly important. However, due to the fact that many people don’t have insurance and testing is expensive, in addition to a mammogram being uncomfortable, some women opt to skip the annual exam.

Fortunately, a brilliant 23-year-old woman has come up with a groundbreaking solution to the problem, and could save thousands of lives in the process. Meet Judit Giró Benet from Tarragona, Spain, the International winner of this year’s James Dyson Award, who created the world’s first at-home breast cancer testing kit dubbed The Blue Box.

Inspired by her own mother’s battle with cancer, Benet invented the The Blue Box; an easy-to-use at-home, biomedical breast cancer testing device that uses a urine sample and an AI algorithm to detect early signs of breast cancer. Here’s the kicker: the device will retail for just $60. “An entire household of women can use The Blue Box at their desired frequency and convenience,” Benet tells Scary Mommy about her invention.

Here’s how it works: After creating a profile at The Blue App, the user will collect a urine sample in a plastic container and place it inside The Blue Box. Then, they press the “start” button in the app. During the following 30 seconds, the six chemical sensors inside The Blue Box (in direct contact with the urine) will start reacting to certain targeted breast cancer biomarkers – if any. “The captured signal will then be sent from The Blue Box to the cloud, where our artificial intelligence algorithm is run. Once our algorithm has reached a diagnosis, it will be sent back to the user’s phone and displayed in the app,” she continues.

“The Blue Box is a change in the way society fights breast cancer,” she says. “As opposed to the current painful and inconvenient routine procedure that often times leads to anxiety, The Blue Box enables women to get self-tested at home.”

Another cool aspect of it, is that the contraption gets smarter with time, “because The Blue Box is powered by artificial intelligence, the more it gets trained, the better it performs. Namely, every time YOU use it, you are causing the woman coming after to the get an even more accurate result. Ultimately, The Blue Box seeks to create a change in the way we, as a society, fight breast cancer.”

Currently Benet and her team are working on patenting The Blue Box and receiving FDA approval. “Once these steps are complete, the hope is that it will be simple to purchase The Blue Box online and receive it at home,” she tells us.  And, she hopes that this will happen sooner rather than later.

Benet has big dreams for her device, hoping that it can one day replace traditional mammograms altogether. “I envision physicians using The Blue Box as the primary step in diagnosing a case of breast cancer. But I will not be the one saying that. Our clinical data will prove that.”

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I’m In My 30s, And My Mom Is In A Nursing Home

“I guess I’m lucky. If I had to put her in a nursing home … I am lucky that it happened before the global pandemic.” Lucky.

This is an actual sentence that I uttered to a friend back in March of 2020 just after I had learned that my mom’s nursing home would stop accepting visitors due to COVID. As the phrase rolled out of my mouth and settled between us, I realized I didn’t feel very lucky. I am pissed.

I am pissed that my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at 67 years old. I am pissed that I navigated the long-term care system and had to place my mom in a nursing home in my 30s. I am pissed that there is a global pandemic (really, what the hell?) which swept across the country and only days after I left her there, I can’t go see her? But, at least my dad isn’t taking care of her alone in quarantine, so I’m lucky? I guess.

My family’s story is similar to many other families that are facing this impossible disease. It started with my mom being “forgetful.” It went to my mom not making sense sometimes. It led to a winding and confusing path of tests and referrals which finally led to a diagnosis. The disease I thought only happened to grandparents infiltrated my mom in her early 60s, halting her kindergarten teaching career, reshaping my family, and unwillingly enrolling me on an elder care crash course.

Eventually, as the disease took away my mom in tiny increments, my dad needed help. Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s means making a meal for them, only to turn your back while they throw the meal in the trash, and then ask, “When are we having lunch?” It means having to call the police when you didn’t notice the front door was unlocked and your wife went for a winter walk with no coat. It means your loved one suddenly becomes aggressive when you ask them to change their clothes. It means you don’t sleep at night because they wander and fuss.

With my urging, my dad finally accepted the help in the form of a local “Adult Day Care.” He was able to drop my mom off with qualified caregivers so that he could grocery shop. While my brother and I tried to help as much as we could, our own young children and full time jobs demanded our time as well. I could never have imagined that infant day care and adult day care would be part of my life at the same time.

While it was difficult for my dad to accept how quickly my mom was declining, I knew that a nursing home was in our future. I began the difficult task of research and tours and eventually got my mom on a waiting list for a local home with memory care. In February of 2020, two years after my mom had been put on a list, I got the call. They had a bed. We had to make a decision. Was it time? If we didn’t take the bed, would we eventually learn what time was too late? We took the bed.

I moved my mom into a nursing home on March 3rd 2020. Before we arrived, I wrote a manifesto of my mom’s life — who she was and what she meant to all of us — to distribute to her caregivers that never knew her before the disease. I don’t know if other families do that, but she is my mom, so I did.

I packed her favorite clothes, some family pictures, and some of my kids art. That day, we set up her room, met the staff, and ate lunch together.

I would be back soon, I promised. Next week I would bring the kids and some more outfits. I will be back really soon.

Then came COVID.

No visits.

I could call and ask to speak to her but it usually went the same way. Alzheimer’s patients don’t do well on the phone or facetime. Finally, we could arrange a window visit but I couldn’t manage to get there — I also had two kids at home without school and a full time job. I think I was also worried that the sight of her only feet away but behind glass would break me. I might throw a rock at the window and crawl through broken glass just to get to her.

Finally, in person visits.

274 days after I left my mom at a nursing home, I sat in a room with her again. Temperature checks, masks, 6 feet distance, no touching, but together in a conference room.

Between the masks, the progression of the disease, and the time apart … I don’t know that she knew who I was, but it didn’t matter. I could feel her energy in the space and for a moment, I wasn’t a working parent during COVID, I wasn’t a patient advocate, I wasn’t alone in crippling anxiety. I was a daughter. A daughter in a room with my mom — the first person I ever loved. There in a nursing home, I was sitting with my embodiment of home, my home. Riddled with Alzheimer’s, wearing a mask… the most beautiful person I have ever seen.

When the visit was over, I stepped out into the New Hampshire rain and wept. I guess I might have wept because I don’t know when I will see her again. I probably wept because cases are rising and she is at risk. But I was overcome with one prevailing emotion, gratitude.

I know of the families that have said goodbye over FaceTime. I know of the families that didn’t say goodbye at all. I know of the families who have hosted zoom funerals and will bear the pain of an impossible rage filled grief. I know that our leadership has botched this response and the future is uncertain. So, I wept with gratitude. Today, I sat with her. I looked in her eyes and I told her I loved her over and over again.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but today, I am so damn lucky.

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How To Know If You’re ‘Trauma-Bonded’ In Your Relationship

You’ve probably never heard of trauma bonding, which usually occurs in the context of domestic violence. One partner, usually a narcissist, puts the other through a cycle of high highs and low lows, resulting in an ugly, abusive relationship that keeps the other person bonded to them. Trauma bonding usually starts with a bang: with total infatuation, with a whirlwind relationship. The narcissist showers the other person with love and affection.

And then it slams to a halt.

Suddenly the same person who showered you with love and attention is distant, cold, and abusive. You’re baffled, confused, and hurt. But then that same love and infatuation returns! It’s a brutal cycle, “a bond that forms due to intense, emotional experiences,” says Thought Catalog. Because of that intermittent reinforcement, the traumatized person keeps returning, hoping for a return to that first phase of love and attention. The narcissist doles it out intermittently, explains Psychology Today.

The Complex PTSD Foundation says that this intermittent reinforcement creates “a strong hormonal and chemical bond.” As Blessing Manifesting says on Instagram, “Healthy relationships give you a steady supply of dopamine. Trauma bonding withholds it, then gives it a sharp increase.” These chemical reinforcements make trauma-bonded relationships so hard to leave, even when the abused is staring their own abuse in the face.

Signs Of Trauma Bonding

Here are some signs that your relationship is based on trauma bonding, rather than a healthy give-and-take:

This person reminds you of some toxic relationship you’ve had in the past. The Complex PTSD Foundation points out that people involved in trauma bonding often have traumatic relationships in their pasts. If you had “attachment trauma” as a child, you’ll tend to act out the same pattern as an adult, seeking subconsciously to heal your own childhood wound: if I can only make it work with them, then I will be worthy of mom/dad’s love. 

You know the person is manipulating you, but you can’t let go. Thought Catalog says that intellectually, you may know you’re being mistreated; you may know this person is manipulative and even narcissistic; you may even be able to label their behavior as abusive. However, when you get it together to leave, they reel you back in with more affection and love. It’s this intermittent cycle again that makes trauma bonding so hard to break. It doesn’t make you weak. It means you’re bonded on a chemical and hormonal level, and that bond is reinforced through childhood wounds.

You justify behavior you know is wrong—and often blame yourself for it. You’ll find yourself saying things like, If I had done the dishes, he wouldn’t have to rage at me like this. Anyway, he had a bad childhood. The Complex PTSD Foundation says this is a major sign of trauma bonding: because you want that affection again, you’re willing to excuse behavior that would send you begging a friend, sibling, or child to leave a relationship. Because of your own trauma wound from your childhood, you may have learned to associate being loved with being compliant, and if you weren’t compliant, you were “bad,” says Psych Central. Therefore, you stuff down your anger and resentment at your partner’s abuse, the way you did with your parents’ abuse, in order to continue to get love and affection.

How To Let Go And Get Help

It’s very, very hard to sever trauma-bonded relationships, because of the nature of trauma bonding. When you start to leave, you’re immediately drawn back. The system of rewards and punishments, doled out without rhyme or reason, keeps you hoping for the reward. No matter how debased you are, there’s always a hope for the return to that infatuation phase when the abuser will shower you with love.

But you are being abused. 

The first step: therapy, therapy, therapy. Can’t afford therapy? 7Cups, an online therapy service, offers free volunteer “listeners” 24/7. They aren’t certified, but they’re an outside ear that may give you some perspective on your relationship. But you need more than a listener—that’s a stopgap. You need a real therapist who can look you in the eye and help you make a plan to get out.

Everything from the Complex PTSD Association to TalkSpace to Psychology Today recommends going no-contact. If kids are involved and you can’t go no-contact, keep it minimal. You need time to recover and heal and break the cycle. If you go back, you are not weak. You are not a failure. You can pick up and try again. Trauma bonding is very, very difficult to break, and while that’s not an excuse for returning, it doesn’t make you a bad person if you do cave to those hormones and chemicals and have to repeat the cycle of leaving again. Just take what you learned and do it again. 

Psychology Today recommends developing a support network of people (you know, all those people who were telling you to leave the abusive relationship in the first place). They need to help you stay away from your abuser and support you as you make new goals and move forward in your life. Remember how your abuser was your whole world? You need new people to fill it.

You also need to “challenge yourself to do new things,” says the Complex PTSD Association. You need not only new people, but new things to fill the void your abuser has left. Take a class, start a new hobby… this will help you begin a new identity away from that person, and help to distract you from the loss of that relationship.

Letting Go Is Hard.

It’s difficult to extricate yourself from a trauma bond, and it’s important that you don’t blame yourself for falling into the trap of trauma bonding. It comes from a complex interplay between past abuse and the need for validation, between hormones and chemicals of all kinds.

With the help of friends and a good therapist, you don’t need to be involved in this abuse anymore. It will be hard. It will take a long time. But you can break free.

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If You’re ‘Too Serious,’ Guess What? You’re Perfect Just As You Are

In the economics class I took my junior year of high school, I sat near the front of class. I pretty much always sat near the front in every class because I was very serious about school. The only reason I didn’t sit directly in front was because I was also very serious about not getting called a nerd.

One day in this class, I was wearing a pair of baggy overalls characteristic of 1995 trends, with a form-fitting T underneath. Unbeknownst to me, these overalls stuck out a bit on the sides, creating a gap between the denim fabric and my skin, allowing whomever sat behind me a shadowy glimpse under the denim if they cared to examine closely enough.

One boy, a class-clown type, decided to try his hand at tossing various small objects into this gap. I didn’t realize it at first. The first time he hit his target it was with a small paper ball that didn’t even register, because I didn’t feel its impact through the fabric of my T-shirt. But he kept throwing bits of paper in, like shooting hoops, still without my awareness, until finally he landed a pencil in the hole. A few people snickered, and some, other girls, rolled their eyes at him. I pulled the pencil and bits of paper out from under my clothes, turned in my seat, and instantly identified the culprit by the smirk on his face.

I got really mad. Actually, I made a scene. I stood up and threw the items back at the boy and yelled at him for daring to throw things into my clothes. I expected the teacher to reprimand the boy, but instead, he stuck up for him and asked me to calm down. I was furious. I asked why he didn’t have a problem with this kid disrupting class in the first place, and obviously not paying attention. The teacher sighed and begrudgingly told the kid not to throw things, but he also added a sentence that I had heard many times and would continue to hear over and over and over throughout my life: Don’t take everything so seriously. That same teacher even wrote that in my senior yearbook. He literally wrote in my yearbook, “Try not to take life so seriously.”

For my whole life, I have been told that I take things too seriously or “can’t take a joke.” I’ve been accused of faking interest in “boring” subjects or using obscure vocabulary just to sound smart. I’ve been laughed at for “trying so hard” or “overanalyzing everything all the time.”

For years, I felt horrible about this, like something was terribly wrong with me. That teacher’s words in my yearbook really made me feel like a loser. His words impacted me so much that I really honestly tried to start taking things less seriously. Imagine taking very seriously the endeavor of not taking things so seriously. That was me. I wanted so badly to be the happy-go-lucky, water-off-a-duck’s-back kind of girl. I didn’t want to be the one who annoyed everyone with her overanalysis of “insignificant” details.

But you know what? Fuck that. Nothing is wrong with me. I am allowed to have my own damn personality. I am allowed to overanalyze and overthink and not pretend things are funny when I really don’t find them funny. I am now, and I always was. I was allowed to get angry at that boy for throwing things into my clothes. He violated my personal space, and yes, I did (and still do) take that seriously.

I hate that I wasted so much time attempting to stifle what really was just me being me. My name is Kristen, and I take shit seriously. Fuck you if you don’t like it. I laugh when I think something is funny, and yes, I prefer cerebral humor, the kind that is layered and takes a minute to “get” but is extra funny when it hits you. I will not fake-laugh at a lazy, easy grab of a joke that bores or offends me just to fit in. Sometimes I sound like the PC police, and don’t give a fuck if that bothers anybody; your racist and sexist and homophobic jokes are stupid and not funny. Get new material.

It took having a serious and thoughtful daughter to finally accept my own seriousness. I see her exhibiting many of the same traits as I had when I was her age. I would attribute her serious side to being merely a result of my serious parenting, but my son, who was born four years before her, doesn’t have this piece. He is much more likely to let things roll off his back and not obsess over things that bother him. Also, we are a silly, joke-telling family. I really made an effort not to be overly serious as a parent. That teacher’s words, as well as the many times others told me I was too serious, really had a profound impact on how I have conducted myself as a person and as a parent. I have tried hard not to be too serious.

But the thought of anyone shaming my daughter for being “too serious” really pisses me off. This is her personality. She likes to think about things. She even likes to overthink about things. And I will defend her right to be exactly who she is and not have to change herself just to fit someone else’s idea of how a girl is supposed to act. And if I would defend that right for her, then I should model self-love and defend that same right for myself.

Therefore, I am officially owning my serious side, defending my daughter’s, and defending yours too, if you’ve ever been told not to take everything so seriously. And anyone who doesn’t like us “too serious” people can seriously go ahead and fuck off.

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If You Experience Odd Symptoms After Eating, You May Have A Histamine Intolerance

It was another taco bar night at our house, the kitchen countertop cluttered with taco shells, chips, and various toppings including a popular favorite: guacamole. As soon as the kids filled their plates and settled in their seats at the bar, I piled some guac on top of my nachos and dug in. Within a matter of minutes, my stomach was full and heavy, and I was nauseous. I figured it was a fluke, until it happened again the very next week. (Yes, we have a lot of taco nights.)

Maybe you’ve noticed symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, dizziness, heartburn, or an itchy mouth or throat after eating. Does your nose run or grow stuffy while you sip a glass of wine? Have you ever had nausea after eating a salad or a bowl of tomato sauce laden pasta? What about increased anxiety after enjoying a steak or a slice of chocolate cake? I know, I thought comfort foods were supposed to make us feel better, not terrible. There are a myriad of symptoms a person can experience as a result of a histamine intolerance.

What Is A Histamine Intolerance?

A histamine intolerance occurs when “accumulated histamine and the capacity for histamine degradation” becomes imbalanced. According to ENT and Allergy,  histamine “is ingested via food and stored in nearly all tissues of the body.” It plays an important role, to “keep your organs functioning and body working healthily.”

How common is a histamine intolerance? No one knows, exactly, but we do know that “almost 20% of the Westernized world’s population suffers from some type of food intolerance.” The current estimate is that 1-3% of people have a histamine intolerance, but this number may increase as the condition becomes better understood and diagnostic tools become available to medical professionals.

The Symptoms Of A Histamine Intolerance

When the histamine imbalance occurs, a person might experience an array of symptoms that can range in severity. Some may experience “hives, itchy or flushed skin, red eyes, facial swelling, runny nose and congestion, or asthma attacks.” There could also be “a drop in blood pressure, heart palpitations, and anxiety or panic attacks.” A common symptom is gastrointestinal issues such as bloating, stomach pain, constipation, and diarrhea. I experience ringing in my ears, dizziness, anxiety, and heart-racing.

Why Some Develop A Histamine Intolerance

There are several possible reasons a person develops a histamine intolerance. Certain medications can block DAO (diamine oxidase, which breaks down histamine in the digestive tract) from properly working. The list is extensive and includes antidepressants, pain medications, and antibiotics. Gastrointestinal issues, like leaky gut syndrome or bacterial overgrowth, can inhibit DAO from working properly to break down histamine. The intake of histamine-laden foods, DAO-blocking foods, and histamine-triggering-release foods can contribute to the intolerance. My own dietitian suggested that genetics can play a role. Liver conditions, deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals (B-6, C, zinc, or copper), chronic stress, injuries or traumas, and alcohol consumption or liver issues may also be possible catalysts.

How A Histamine Intolerance Is Discovered

I wish I could tell you there was a blood test or classic symptoms, but the reality is that discovering a person has a histamine intolerance is very difficult. The symptoms aren’t always consistent and can mimic other conditions such as gastrointestinal diseases and food allergies. There’s no single, reliable test. Some have been diagnosed by an allergist, others by a functional medicine doctor or dietitian, and some figure it out on their own after keeping a detailed food-and-symptom journal and doing an elimination diet. I know several people who eventually found they had a histamine intolerance after spending thousands of dollars on medical appointments and tests to eliminate other possibilities.

How A Histamine Intolerance Is Treated

This is also complicated. A low-histamine diet is quite restrictive. Can any of us avoid wine, chocolate, grilled foods, strawberries, cheese, eggs, and many, many others indefinitely? This isn’t realistic, nor does it seem pleasant. In the histamine intolerance community, some of done their own research and opted to eat a lower-histamine diet, take DAO supplements and probiotics, and carefully monitor their “histamine bucket” (the among of histamine foods they consume in a day or week) to avoid overflow (reactions). Others have sought help from experienced allergists, dietitians, or functional medicine doctors. Because there’s still so much to research, discover, and try, unfortunately, there really isn’t a one-size-fits all plan.

My histamine intolerance was discovered on accident. I was working with a registered dietitian after being diagnosed with lupus. I was keeping a detailed food and symptom journal. When we looked over my journal, we saw that on the days I was having a myriad of disruptive symptoms were also the days I was consuming foods like nuts, grilled meals, strawberry smoothies, and other classic high-histamine foods. When I experimented, by eating low-histamine for days at a time, my symptoms subsided. After my dietitian realized what was going on, I started on a lower-histamine eating plan and began taking some supplements to help my body properly process histamines.

I’m very thankful to have discovered why I was feeling so terrible, to the point I could barely get out of bed and wasn’t sleeping. However, this journey has been difficult. Not everyone understands histamine intolerance or believes it’s a real thing. However, for me, the proof is in the (non-dairy) pudding. I’m glad I advocated for myself, listened to my body, and am figuring out how to feel better, stronger, and far less sick.

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Can We Talk About The Mood Swings During Perimenopause?

I have so much love for my friends who are my age. The other day, a few of us were having lunch and were talking about how one moment we are so emotional and sad, then the next we get a burst of energy, then the next we are so pissed off we have to be away from all the people.

I’ve never felt so understood in my life.

Since I’ve reached my mid-40s I’ve noticed something about myself: my mood swings happen more often, they are more severe, and they’re even starting to surprise me.

In my younger years, if I was upset, I could usually put a finger on it. My moods made more sense and felt more rational. I definitely didn’t feel this out of control. It’s been so refreshing to talk to my 45-year-old girlfriends about this because, damn, this is a time in your life when we need to know someone else is going through the same changes you are.

Hormones are no fucking joke, and there have been so many times these past three years I’ve wondered what was happening to me because I felt so, well, unlike me.

I remember when my own mother started going through perimenopause (I knew because she reminded me and my sisters every damn day). I just knew I’d never act like that because I wasn’t that extreme. Plus, I also thought she was using it as an excuse to be an ass.

Well, here I sit with veins popping out of my forehead feeling so distraught at the slightest thing more times than not. This isn’t acting, folks. This is perimenopausal life.

My friend told me she peeled out of her boyfriend’s driveway because he got her the wrong donut  (they’ve been together for five years) because, dammit all, he should know by now what she likes.

I have another friend who wakes up at 3 a.m. each morning soaked in sweat, with her mind racing, unable to go back to sleep. She feels short and snappy with everyone and some of her (younger) friends are telling her she’s acting differently.

When I’m with her I feel like she acts like me, which makes me feel better, so I’ll keep hanging with her so we can normalize our perimenopausal behavior.

Even up until my 30s, I’d hear about hormonal behavior and think, Oh that won’t be me. I’m a happy person! I hardly cry or overreact!

But let me tell you something, sister: you in your 30s doesn’t know what the fuck will be up with the you in your 40s.

So saddle up and hold on tight, because the mood swings that you encounter during this phase will make you understand the movie Thelma and Louise in a way you never have before.

Scary Mommy interviewed board-certified OB/GYN and Chief Wellness Advisor for Love Wellness, Jodie Horton, MD via email, who said we can blame it on the hormone shifts that are happening in our body during this time. She explained that as women approach menopause, estrogen and progesterone levels begin to drop. These lower estrogen levels have been linked to “irritability, stress, fatigue, stress, forgetfulness, and anxiety.”

This is why I ask my kids the same questions a few times over.

This is why I started crying when I saw hair on the floor in my bathroom and the thought of vacuuming again broke me.

This is why the sound of anyone swallowing makes me clench so tight I get pounding headaches.

This is why I have a really difficult time “going with the flow” when any kind of change arises in my day.

And what’s happening (with most women I know anyway) is that we are using up so much energy to beat ourselves up, try to figure out what’s wrong with us, and wonder why we feel so different, it makes everything worse. I mean, there isn’t a slogan that says, “I’m taking menopause gracefully.” Society teaches us to fight it every step of the way because it’s so inconvenient for everyone else.

Dr. Horton adds that the drop in estrogen is also thought to affect how “[t]he body manages serotonin and norepinephrine, two substances linked to depression. Low levels of serotonin can cause depression, anxiety, aggression, insomnia, and low self-esteem. Progesterone levels also drop, which is responsible for calming the brain and sleep.”

A lack of sleep can just intensify every feeling you have. I am not the same person if I don’t get at least seven hours of sleep, and now I’ve reached this time in my life those nights are really rare.

It can also cause people to be short-tempered, and vulnerable to stress, says Dr. Horton. I have three teenagers who will attest to that. And every time I lose it, or find myself sobbing for no reason, I have piles of guilt — just another thing to add the hot mess of starting menopause.

Oh and guess what? Not only do we feel like we want to slap something at every moment, our body starts to fight with us.

Dr. Horton explains, “Hormonal fluctuations that women experience during perimenopause also lead to hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, vaginal dryness, dry skin, decreased libido. Coping with all these physical changes can be overwhelming and impact how you feel and behave.”

So, great news! We feel like hurting people and our vaginas dry up like grapes that have rolled under the kitchen cabinets.

Hold onto your shorts though, because if you are wondering if you are going to feel like this forever, there’s hope. Dr. Horton says these symptoms can last for months or years, but we can do something about it.

A natural alternative to taking estrogen to relieve perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms, including mood swings, is black cohosh. “It has been well studied in its ability to decrease hot flashes, insomnia, and depression. According to several studies, combining black cohosh with Vitex (chaste berry) can also improve menopausal symptoms and moods,” says Dr. Horton.

 (I legit just ordered some.)

Another well studied supplement that can help with perimenopausal mood swings is ashwagandha. “Ashwagandha is an adaptogen with numerous benefits by decreasing cortisol levels and fighting anxiety and depression symptoms. A diet rich in vitamin B6 and omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce mood swings by boosting serotonin levels,” adds Dr. Horton.

You can also take a multivitamin, and Dr. Horton reports many women also find that yoga, deep breathing, and meditation can help them feel more relaxed and make it easier to manage stress, irritability, and other symptoms of menopause. 

However, if mood swings are extreme, you shouldn’t feel ashamed to reach out for help. Dr. Horton says, “If it affects your daily life, you may need medication like an antidepressant to feel more balanced. Medication is most effective when used in combination with therapy.”

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Intermittent Fasting Can Be Dangerous — Especially For Folks With A History Of Disordered Eating

I am someone who likes to make my own rules around food. After struggling with anorexia and then binge eating as a teen, I can not have restrictions when it comes to my diet. It’s too much of a trigger for me.

I go by how I feel and choose foods that make me feel good. Usually that means having no limits on nourishing foods. I eat a ton of fruit despite the fact that lots of so-called “diets” tell you how much sugar there is in fruit and that you should stay away from things like bananas and grapes. I also need to eat when I’m hungry, and for me, that varies every day.

I’ve tried to listen to advice that’s the opposite (like not eating at night, or limiting the kinds of foods I eat) and all it does is make me feel deprived and sad, and I can feel myself dipping into old habits. Like telling myself I am weak and a failure if I decide to have something that’s deemed as bad. Then, what follows is me stuffing my face with it hours after I’ve told myself I need to give it up.

After hearing about intermittent fasting a few years ago, a dieting fad that has you eating whatever you want during certain hours of the day (usually noon to eight p.m.), and fasting for the rest of time as a way to restrict your calories and potentially lose weight, I knew there was no way I could do it. 

I will not tell myself when I can and can’t eat because, again, that’s a trigger for me; then I go rogue and my behavior is followed by self loathing.

I have a few friends who were getting into this new way of eating and not putting anything digestible into their bodies until noon.

At first, many said it was working and they felt great. But it didn’t last. I noticed none of them stuck to it, and each ended up feeling like this was yet another thing they weren’t able to do and they were never going to lose the weight they wanted to.

I have a friend who did it and ended up gaining over ten pounds and said she never felt so sick and tired in her life. “I was starving when noon rolled around and I’d stuff myself until it was time to stop eating. Then, I [would] hate myself and tell myself I was going to do better tomorrow, but the cycle kept continuing.”

Basically, she was feeling so deprived that when her hours of eating came up, that’s all she did because she knew they would be taken away from her. She admitted the only “result” it had was making her feel out of control when it came to food.

A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine studied the results of adults who, for three months, practiced eating for eight hours a day and fasting for twelve (or more) hours a day, and showed little success.

On average, the fasting group (which was made up of men and women) lost an average of about three pounds (most of which was muscle mass) which was only slightly more than the control group who ate three structured meals per day.

Scary Mommy spoke with Colleen Christensen, a registered dietitian who warns that restrictive eating can lead to binge eating. In addition, she says that fads such as intermittent fasting “commonly lead to weight cycling (losing, regaining, losing, regaining, etc) which has been shown to increase risk for disease.

While I’ve never conducted a study, I can honestly say the handful of friends and family members who I know tried intermittent fasting said they struggled with binge eating when their fasting period was over.

Being super strict with when you can and can’t eat may lead to disordered eating, according to Christensen. “Any time you implement strict food rules, be it amounts of foods, types of foods, etc. our bodies will see this as a threat and want to ‘stock up’ on those foods when they can,” she says.  “Binge eating is a common phenomenon that happens. It may also lead to other disordered eating such as orthorexia or severe fear of eating foods outside of set rules. All of this leads to increased stress to the body, which is not beneficial for our health.”

This is the exact opposite of what we are trying to achieve when we take on a new eating plan and try to make healthy eating a new lifestyle choice. 

If it’s leading to binge eating, gaining weight when we are trying to lose it, strict rules around when we can and can’t eat, and feelings of failure, shame, depression, or anxiety, what’s the benefit? Even if we do drop a few pounds, is it even worth it?

I say absolutely not — and my friends who tried it would agree. 

Kristin Foust, a certified nutrition coach, told Scary Mommy via email that we should also be aware that many of the studies done on this kind of fasting are done on men, who have different bodies and hormone profiles than women. 

Foust warns that when done for long periods of time,”Intermittent fasting can cause hormonal imbalance and issues such as fatigue. Especially if done regularly and other issues such as poor sleep, poor diet, and chronic stress are not addressed first.”

Foust also cautions that anyone who has struggled with disordered eating in the past should not try any kind of diet like this, as it can be a trigger.

This kind of restrictive eating doesn’t have a huge success rate, and can also bring about a lot of other added problems you may not have signed up for when you decided to try it to drop a few pounds. 

It’s best to just nourish your body when it tells you it’s hungry — because depriving yourself will only backfire later, when all you want to do is eat donut holes dipped in peanut butter. 

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How The Pandemic Is Increasing The Risk Of Adolescent Eating Disorders

Since March, my children have gone through a number of different emotional states. There was excitement that school was closed, and then there was boredom once they discovered what that actually looked like. Then they went through these horrible spells of loneliness, and finally, they all seem to have kind of accepted their new normal. Or at least, I think they have.

It’s difficult to tell exactly how 2020 will impact my kids long term. It has been a year unlike any other, and every time I think it’s getting better, some other bonkers thing comes rolling along. But one thing I know for sure — all of this, the schools closed, the pandemic, racial and political tensions — have caused my 13-year-old son to eat more. Like a lot more. Like, it feels like he eats 800 meals a day, and it’s destroying our food budget, and has me worried about how much of this is hunger, and how much of it is just him trying to gain control of what feels like an out of control life.

As it turns out, I am not the only parent with this concern. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a study earlier this year showing the impacts of COVID-19 on people’s mental and behavioral health. Their study was focused on young children, but they saw a pattern among adolescents. Additional research showed that teenagers reported an increase in post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety, all associated with eating disorders.

Board-certified adolescent medicine specialist Hina J. Talib, M.D., told The Science Times that teenagers are experiencing a flare of previously known mental health issues, but also new ones. She described the phenomenon as the second-wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and said that the reasons include loneliness and isolation as a result of quarantine measures. Talib added that this back-to-school season created anticipatory anxiety among teenagers and families, which could lead to eating disorders, and frankly, parents should be on the lookout for signs.

With the case of my son, I’ve noticed that he’s eating a lot. Way more than he did pre-pandemic. It could be a simple growth spurt, or it could be his mental health, and figuring that out can be difficult. If your child is suddenly, eating way more, or way less than they used to during the pandemic, there are a few things to look out for.

Anna M. Lutz, MPH, RD, LDN, says that eating disorders are often triggered in an attempt to gain control of a situation. And right now everything seems out of control. According to Lutz, some behaviors to keep an eye on are eating in secret, eating separately from the rest of the family, becoming fixated on exercise and refusing to stop even after being injured, leaving large amounts of food uneaten, self-isolating, and dramatic weight loss or gain.

Dr. Talib mentioned that parents should take notice if their teens say things like, “I am so fat,” “If I gain weight, I will be disgusting,” or “My stomach is huge.” All of those statements should be red flags to parents, and that parents should talk to the child first, explaining that there have been noticing behavioral changes and it’s concerning.

I know, chatting with a teenager about really anything can be dangerous territory; there are times that I’m nervous to tell my son “good morning.” But the goal here is to be a support to your children. It’s important to listen, and observe, so that you can offer parental help, along with professional help if needed. One of the best things any parent can do when it comes to the mental health of their children is to find a way to help early, particularly now.

Most therapists are still meeting with clients online, and most insurance agencies are supportive of online meetings.  And I don’t want to state the obvious, but each month of 2020 something crazy has happened. It’s been difficult to predict, and it’s hard to know what’s going to happen next. Helping your teen find a way to handle that uncertainty in a healthy way might be one of the most important things you can do right now.

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