Don’t Believe The Lies — You Are Not Broken

When I was in my early 20s, I stood in front of a friend’s mirror and saw myself looking in on myself like I was my own Droste effect of being a picture within a picture. I watched myself cry, and I heard someone tell me I was never wanted. The voice in my head was making its way out of mouth and I continued to repeat phrases that made sense to me but no one else. I could feel the emotions of the objects around me. I was being overwhelmed by pain and beauty. I was seeing words and knew I could touch sound. I was having a psychotic break but didn’t know it.

When my ex-partner took me to the emergency room, I remember being asked if I was Wiccan. A doctor asked me this while I was in the middle of talking too fast and with little logic. What? What is Wiccan? I didn’t think I was that. Instead of being treated like someone who was suffering from mental illness, I was assumed to be someone with an obscure religion, practicing witchcraft. Instead of taking me seriously and treating me with compassion, the first reaction this doctor had was to make a snide remark that implied I had created this mess for myself because of a pagan belief system. Somehow that seemed more plausible than that I might be suffering from a PTSD episode.

After replying no to the Wiccan question and others about drug use, they finally asked about my mental health history. They contacted my psychiatrist and psychologist, and I was released to go home after promising I wasn’t going to harm myself. By that point I had started to calm down, and I would have said anything to get the hell out of there. I was embarrassed and confused. I felt like a loser and a freak. I had only been in therapy for a few years, but it seemed like nothing was working. When was I going to be fixed? When was I going to be normal?

I have since learned that I was never broken, and normal is a bullshit construct that no one can live up to. If you are struggling to feel mentally well, you are not alone. And you need love and support, not stigma.

Before the pandemic started, nearly 1 in every 5 Americans had experienced a mental illness; however, more than half of those people did not seek help because they were afraid of judgement, loss of employment, or loss of friends and family. Irina Gonzalez, a writer and editor based in Florida, says growing up as a Latina added an extra layer of stigma when talking about mental health. “I remember early on hearing about some distant aunt who was only described as ‘la loca’ (the crazy one). She didn’t even have a name, just an identity as the crazy member of the family. This is really common in my culture.” She also said that it wasn’t okay to “air dirty laundry” and talk about problems that needed attention. Instead Gonzalez struggled with anxiety and alcohol abuse and wished her family and culture embraced mental health instead of seeing it as something to avoid.

I and so many others use drugs and alcohol to cope with what we can’t explain or what we try to hide. There is an element of cognitive dissonance that happens between feeling that something is wrong and not being taken seriously. We are hurting but are told to suck it up and not talk about it.

Ashley, a mother of three from Vermont, has been dealing with anxiety and panic attacks since she was a child. As an adult she still struggles to find the healthiest ways to take care of herself. “I learned at a young age that it wasn’t normal to be overwhelmed and anxious,” she told Scary Mommy. “The overwhelming message was to toughen up and learn to deal with it. The social stigma of depression is that people who suffer with it are downers. They make people in society uncomfortable. Teenage girls, in particular, are supposed to be pretty, bubbly, happy and lighthearted. I was not fulfilling my duty as the sweet, happy-go-lucky, all-American girl.” She spent years trying to get better or “fixed” before insurance coverage ran out for therapy sessions.

Our insurance systems in this country are disgusting at best. Before having gender affirming surgery, which was also life-saving surgery, I had to prove to my insurance and surgeon that I was suffering and that the surgery would help with dysphoria, a common occurrence for transgender folks. To cover the expense of my surgery, I cashed out an expensive life insurance policy to which I could no longer afford to pay monthly premiums after a divorce. I paid $12,000 out of pocket for my medical bills and planned on insurance covering a significant portion of that bill. Despite having been approved for the procedure, I wasn’t reimbursed any money because my plan only covered up to $2,500 after my deductible was met.

Moreover, when I applied for a cheaper life insurance plan to replace the one I’d given up, I was denied a policy because of my mental health history and addiction — despite having been sober for 2 years at the time, and despite being as emotionally stable as I had ever been. I was getting the necessary medical care to support my mental health. My physical health was excellent. My medications and therapists had been consistent for years. I was clean. I was doing everything “right.” None of it matters.

I was considered too high risk and wasn’t allowed to pay more for the “death by suicide” clause. My history of suicide ideation, my mental break, and my alcohol abuse left stains that society deems unwashable. One system after another makes it hard for those of us who struggle with mental illness to feel worth the time and “risk” to be taken care of.

Lonnie, based in New York, explained that her husband refused to seek mental health services for his debilitating anxiety and irrational rage because he didn’t want to lose his job. “This caused irreparable harm to not only him, but to our family unit as well,” she told Scary Mommy. “Only after he completely separated from the Army did he feel free to seek the therapy and medication he needed.”

Every gender, profession, age group, race, and socioeconomic background is susceptible to mental illness. And despite the millions of people who suffer, mental illness is often kept hidden, not taken seriously, or manifests in ways that others simply shove aside as laziness, weakness, or incompetence. Instead of finding compassion, patience, and support, those of us who struggle with mental illness often find ourselves inflicted by stigma — both from society and ourselves. The negative attitudes and treatment toward people who struggle with mental illness create a cycle of silence, shame, and unhelpful self-judgment. We need to stop normalizing these patterns.

I have been receiving mental health services since I was 18. I have a team of therapists, a compact but effective toolbox of coping skills and medications, and years of painful and enlightening lessons that have torn me apart and stitched me back together. I have several diagnoses and those have been helpful to get the medication and education I need to feel better if not good. But what helps me the most is to acknowledge what I have endured. I was a victim of childhood abuse. I have had to manage my way out of toxic relationships. My brain re-wired itself to the point of self-protection and self-harm. I have learned not to blame myself for my abuse, which means I can’t blame myself for my mental illness that grew out of that trauma.

We need to stop blaming each other too. Fewer stigmas around mental illness would encourage folks to reach out and get the help they need and deserve. People need more grace, not more reasons to believe they are failing or unworthy.

Don’t believe the lies. You are not broken. You are not a failure. You are worthy and loved.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers 24/7, 365 days of the year confidential and free services in Spanish and English. 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

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I’m 39 Years Old, And I Can’t Stop Posting My Breasts On Social Media

I’m 39 years old, an age I felt was ancient when I was a child. I remember learning my mom was turning 40, and I thought she was practically in the elderly category. Now I’m that age, a wife, mom of four, and writer. Despite all of my life responsibilities and the stage I’m in, I will not stop posting my boobs on the internet.

I was only 35 years old when I found my third breast lump during my monthly self exam. I immediately called my gynecologist and made an appointment. She sent me for an ultrasound and my first mammogram. Because I have extremely dense breast tissue, a mammogram is a challenge. I was told that finding a lump in my breast via mammography was like looking for a snowflake in a snowstorm. The ultrasound located the lump, which appeared non-suspicious. I was told to have a repeat ultrasound in six months.

This didn’t sit well with me. I was initially relieved, but in the coming days, I had a growing, nagging feeling that I couldn’t shake. I decided to find a breast surgeon and get a second opinion. She did her own ultrasound and agreed that a biopsy was a good idea. I had the fine core needle biopsy, and then headed on vacation with my family. When we returned, I headed to the surgeon’s office to get my results. I was blown away when she told me I had DCIS, or stage 0 breast cancer.

My first thought was, why me? Why, of all the women, did cancer choose me? I was a busy mom of four, including an infant. I ate healthy and exercised daily. I had no family history of breast cancer, my genetic tests for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes were negative, and I didn’t have any of the typical risk factors. I later learned that breast cancer is, unfortunately, a fairly common diagnosis. In fact, one in every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. About 11% of women diagnosed will be like me, under age forty-five.

My second thought was, I’m going to die. Since I have generalized anxiety disorder, my cancer diagnosis only amplified my worries. Even though I researched DCIS and knew that it was easily treatable, I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the C-word. In fact, I didn’t say “cancer” for weeks and cringed every time another doctor or nurse said the word. I was given the option between a bilateral mastectomy or a lumpectomy and radiation. Despite the standard choice to have a lumpectomy and radiation, I chose mastectomy after a lot of contemplation and prayer.

 

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I didn’t tell many people, and certainly not my readers and social media followers, that I was having a mastectomy. I was terrified that I would die during surgery, that they wouldn’t get all of the cancer, or that someone would tell me I was making the wrong choice. I needed to be as clear-headed and confident as I could muster, pouring all of my energy into recovery and not managing other people’s opinions. It’s a good thing I chose the mastectomy, because in my pathology report, I read that I had previously undetected invasive breast cancer.

Shortly after my surgery, I posted that I had a mastectomy. From that point forward, I gained a sense of obligation to remind women to do their self breast exams, every month, and to make sure they got their mammograms. I did this, in part, by the power of pictures. The more I posted my chest, the more attention the photos got, and the more women received the reminder messages to check themselves.


Unfortunately, in 2020, we saw a rise in censorship of women’s bodies. Many women, including breast cancer previvors, fighters, and survivors, were posting pictures of their chests on social media, especially in October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Photos of flat-chested women, with scars across their skin, flooded my feeds — temporarily. Almost immediately, they were censored, their posts removed. They received warnings to stop posting naked photos of themselves, which violated guidelines. Just like women in the breastfeeding community, the breast cancer community clapped back, reminding the social media entities that our photos are not sexual. The photos were meant to bring awareness, and in the case of breast cancer, promote early detection and saving lives.

 

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Despite the risk of being reported for posting a chest-pic that a Karen (or a fragile white man) deems inappropriate, myself and many others are committed to keep posting our boobs (or lack thereof) online. Our bare chests, our one-breasted chests, our scars — these are all begging for attention that will hopefully, in turn, encourage women to do their monthly self-exams and report any concerns to their doctor.

Some of our posts are funny, some are shocking, and some are serious. By any means necessary will we make sure that other women know they matter and have a responsibility to take care of their bodies. After all, we are our own best advocates and know our bodies best. A self-breast exam only takes a few minutes a month, but that simple act can make a huge difference.

 

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Breast cancer doesn’t care about your age, race, religion, or how busy you are. It will show up when it pleases. It’s a jerk, a liar, and a manipulator. Our best defense is to check ourselves and get mammograms when the time is right. We need to know our family health histories, when possible, and get tested for the breast cancer genes, if necessary.

It’s easy to forget to do exams and to schedule our annual appointments. I get it. I’m just as busy as the next mom. However, breast cancer doesn’t wait until your life is less hectic to appear. Which is why my chest pics are going to keep showing up, even if they make people uncomfortable. You know what’s more uncomfortable than seeing someone’s scarred-skin on social media? Breast cancer.


I’m thankful for the opportunity to use my platform to encourage women to check themselves. I’ve received countless messages from women telling me that because of one of my posts, they scheduled a mammogram and reminded a friend to do the same. Some have told me they’ve been diagnosed, while others had a (thankfully) near-miss. Every single message I get tells me that I’m doing something right and my journey with breast cancer is not in vain.

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I Think My Breast Implants Are Making Me Sick, And They’re Coming Out ASAP

A few weeks before my mastectomy, a friend asked me if I’d considered going flat instead of having breast reconstruction. She’d read several women’s accounts of getting sick from their breast implants. I told her that I had no desire to research breast implant illness. I had made up my mind that, because it was possible, I was having my direct-to-implant mastectomy. This one-and-done surgery would help me get off the cancer train, come out with new-and-improved boobs, and get my life back on track.

Then a year ago, I started getting sicker and sicker. It started with joint pain and stiffness and progressed to temperature intolerance, food intolerances, sleep disturbance, dehydration, dry eyes, ear ringing, skin issues, waves of increased anxiety, and more. Then in late summer, I went to the ER with heart palpitations and left with a diagnosis: a pulmonary embolism. I am only 39 years old, exercise daily, and eat healthy — so why do I feel so sick all the time? Is it possible that I have breast implant illness?

My silicone breast implants look good, and despite not having much sensation in my chest, my implants have the feel of natural breasts. They fill out a swimsuit top or v-neck shirt nicely. However, the minute I emerged from surgery, I had shoulder pain that never went away — not with multiple rounds of physical therapy, massage, yoga, and chiropractic visits. An MRI revealed absolutely nothing.

I cannot say with certainty that every medical woe I’m experiencing is from my breast implants. The human body is complicated, and I have had my fair share of medical issues. I am a type 1 diabetic and a breast cancer survivor who was recently diagnosed with lupus. This journey has been a process of elimination, plus lots of trial and error. Trust me when I say, I didn’t want to be the person having her breast implants removed, and going flat-as-a-pancake, in her thirties. But here I am.

How can implants be the potential cause of so many problems if they are considered safe? There’s no test for breast implant illness, and — get this — breast implant illness is not even an official medical diagnosis. However, plenty of legitimate sources recognize that breast implants may cause serious problems in some patients, including MD Anderson Cancer Center, Harvard Health Publishing, and the National Center for Biotechnology Information. The reality is, BII hasn’t been studied much at all.

For answers, I reached out to Dr. Manish Shah, MD, FACS, and a board-certified plastic surgeon, as well as to Nicole Daruda. Nicole runs a large breast implant illness social media support group, as well as authors a BII information website.

One question many women with problematic implant symptoms struggle with is finding someone to believe them. I asked Dr. Shah, point-blank, if he thinks breast implant illness is real. He shared that “women are three times more likely to develop some type of autoimmune disease over their lifetimes than men. To me, this would indicate that women have more active or aggressive immune systems.” He added that breast implants are “housed in silicone rubber shells and filled with either silicone gel or saline. While silicone is considered to be the gold standard on which other implantable biomaterials are judged for biocompatibility, they are still inflammatory.”

BII, he notes, is “not an official diagnosis.” However, it’s entirely possible that “silicone or other chemicals” in implants may be “triggering an aggressive autoimmune response” and this shouldn’t “be considered far-fetched.” He notes that BII is “a constellation of reactive symptoms” and inflammatory reactions can be caused by many things. Therefore, it’s really important that women who suspect their implants are making them sick should absolutely see their general practitioner to look at the implants using imaging, as well as have labs done to see if there’s an underlying condition. If the patient wants their implants out, they should seek a board-certified plastic surgeon. If that doctor doesn’t believe the patient, “keep looking,” he said. He added that “a patient knows their own body best.”

His response is that, generally speaking, “breast implants are safe” and there are “millions of women” who have them and don’t have issues. However, he shared that if a patient with an autoimmune disease (think type 1 diabetes, lupus, etc.) seeks to get breast implants, he has a “frank conversation” with them about the “immune system risk.” Because breast implants are foreign objects, the woman’s immune system can “turn on” the implants and essentially reject them. He also says that anyone who gets implants should know that they can cause complications (rippling, flipping, infection, etc.), they can rupture, and they can have manufacturing defects. They are not lifetime devices, and choosing to get implants means choosing to have future surgeries — period. I appreciate Dr. Shah’s no-nonsense approach to my questions, and it was time to ask someone who had BII.

Nicole Daruda is the founder of Healing Breast Implant Illness and runs a 135,000 member BII Facebook group. She shares that most members aren’t medical professionals who give medical advice. Rather, the group is full of women, many of whom believe they’re experiencing or have experienced BII. Countless women come to Daruda’s group with an array of symptoms, curious if their implants are making them ill. Many come to realize that “they were perfectly healthy before breast implants,” and they “recognize breast implant illness in themselves” after reading other women’s accounts. The group members often refer to their implants as “toxic bags” and post pictures of themselves holding their removed breast implants.

You might be wondering what the symptoms of BII are. Daruda’s website offers a comprehensive list of more than fifty possible symptoms. Of course, the issue is that many of these can be symptoms of other diseases. Thus, it’s important to rule out other medical conditions, as Dr. Shah noted. However, a new diagnosis such as an autoimmune disease, after getting breast implants, could be indicative of the root cause being the implants. Symptoms of BII listed include fatigue, brain fog, muscle pain and weakness, insomnia, slow healing, headaches, bowel issues, infections, food intolerances, cold hands and feet, organ (liver, kidney, etc.) problems, mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, blood pressure issues, and many, many more.

Why are breast implants so problematic, in general? Daruda, who experienced BII herself, shares that silicone “is made of toxic chemicals and heavy metals, which chemicals are known endocrine disruptors, cytotoxic, neurotoxic, carcinogenic and inflammatory to tissues.” These silicone shells can bleed, leak, or rupture, and some women post photos of their implants, after removal, containing mold. She wants us to know that BII has nothing to do with “the brand or type” of implant, encouraging us to know that there’s no such thing as a safe breast implant. (Some women believe that only the FDA recalled breast implants, which have been related to a lymphoma risk, are potentially problematic.) The level of a person’s reaction to implants can depend on genetics, their immune system, and gut health, Daruda shares.

Many come to believe that they have BII, as evidenced in Daruda’s group, yet it’s not an official medical diagnosis. How do we combat this, when we find ourselves sick but not diagnoseable — and often not believed? Daruda’s response is simple. We don’t need a diagnosis. The symptoms experienced are very real. Therefore, the next step is to find a doctor who can properly explant (remove the implants and capsules) and then get on the surgical schedule.

I have read hundreds of stories from people who believe they have or had BII. It’s not their words, but their photos, that have moved me the most. Members in Daruda’s group often post before-and-after photos using the same clothing, same lighting, and no makeup or filters. The difference between their before-explant and after-explant shots are nothing short of astounding. The bags under their eyes are gone, their hair is more full, and their skin glows. Of course, this is anecdotal evidence, but I choose to believe that each woman knows her body best and is sharing her truth to help others.

Some friends have asked me if I regret getting breast implants, and my answer is, I don’t know. I was in a cancer haze when I made the choice to get implants, and I really didn’t want to be breast-less at age 35. I certainly will have a grieving process when my faux-breasts are gone, but I refuse to live in a constant state of regret and self-hatred. I made my decision then, and now I’m changing my mind and moving forward. A literal weight will be lifted off my chest once my breast implants are gone and I pray it’s the healing I’ve been hoping for.

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A Plant Based Diet May Be Exactly What Your Family Needs To Finally Eat Healthy

Every parent’s dream is for their kids to eat healthy and for there to be no more mealtime battles. We know that telling our kids to clean their plates or withholding dessert as a threat isn’t working, nor is it teaching our children intuitive eating. The big questions start with how. How do we get our kids to eat their veggies? How do we reduce their sugar intake without making them (and us) miserable?

In recent years, more and more people are turning to a plant-based diet, for a myriad of reasons. However, if you hear “plant-based,” you might also scoff. Is it really, truly realistic that our entire family go plant-based, and is it worth it? I have good news for you.

Scary Mommy checked in with two plant-based diet experts to get their take. Reshma Shah, MD MPH, board-certified pediatrician, and adjunct instructor at Stanford, along with her co-author, Brenda Davis, a registered dietitian wrote “Nourish: The Definitive Plant-Based Nutrition Guide for Families.” They’re here to teach us all we need to know about implementing a plant-based diet for our family, whether we do it 100% or partially.

A Plant-Based Diet, Defined

Brenda Davis, RD, defines a plant-based diet as one that is “either mostly or exclusively plant foods.” Adding, “Plant-based diets can be semi-vegetarian (meaning small amounts of animal products are consumed), pescovegetarian (vegetarian plus fish), lacto-ovo vegetarian (plants plus dairy and eggs) or vegan (no animal products).” Dr. Shah shares that a plant-based diet is one that includes “vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lentils, beans, seeds, and nuts.”

Is A Plant-Based Diet Safe And Healthy?

A big question many parents ask is if a plant-based diet is safe and, in fact, healthy. After all, many diets claim to be the plan for ultimate health, and we all know that many of those are gimmicks. They are also very protein (and sometimes fat) laden. Dr. Shah shared that “Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics unequivocally stated that appropriately planned plant-based diets (including vegetarian and vegan diets) are healthful and nutritionally adequate during ALL stages of the lifecycle including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, and for athletes.” I was also assured that those who eat gluten-free and those who are diabetic can safely eat a plant-based diet.

Supplementation Is Necessary

According to Dr. Shah, it’s imperative that any family committing to eat plant-based makes sure they get “adequate quantity and variety of foods including fortified foods and supplements when indicated.” Registered Dietitian Brenda Davis explains that those of us who choose a plant-based diet “may consider specific supplements such as vitamins B12, D, iodine, and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.” She notes that B12 isn’t generally available from plant foods.

What About Protein?

A common argument I hear against eating plant-based in lieu of lots of dairy and meat, is that plant-based diets lack the protein our bodies need. I was raised in the 1980s when parents were told that children must drink three glasses of milk a day in order to build strong bones and fill up on some protein. Dr. Shah reminds us that fortified soy milk contains the same amount of protein and calcium as “regular” (cow’s) milk, and plant-based proteins like tofu and veggie-meats contain just as much protein as animal meat. There’s a major perk to getting your protein from plant-based foods. Dr. Shah shared that “multiple studies have demonstrated increased longevity and reduced risk of disease” when you eat plant-based.

Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

When researching, I discovered that there are many potential benefits to adhering to a plant-based diet. Dr. Shah shares, “Working towards a more plant-based diet offers many health advantages including a lower risk of developing several chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.” Brenda Davis adds that there’s also the added perk of being leaner and reducing our risk for “diverticular disease, fatty liver disease, cataracts, and kidney disease.”

Plant-Based Foods Can Be Delicious

I admit, when I switched to a mostly plant-based diet, I was overwhelmed. Was I destined to nibble on seeds and snack on pears for the rest of my life? A kale smoothie wasn’t exactly appealing, yet I knew there were major benefits to this diet. Luckily, the authors offer multiple, delicious plant-based recipes in their book, including cranberry orange almond muffins, crispy tofu fingers, peanut butter brownies, and lemony chickpea pasta. The authors tell me that their recipes are family-friendly. Dr. Shah also notes that even one ingredient, like black beans, can be used in many different ways such as lentil soup, black beans and rice, and bean burritos. (On a personal note, there are some amazing black bean brownie recipes online.) Plant-based foods not only offer flavor, but variety.

Plant-Based On-The-Go

I asked the authors, can families who are always on the go, between work, school, and extracurriculars, eat a plant-based diet? Brenda Davis assured me, “Most convenient omnivorous foods have equally convenient plant-based counterparts. In addition, plant based meals do not need to be overly time-consuming to prepare. A sandwich and a bowl of soup is a perfectly acceptable meal.” In my family’s case, there are six of us, and we frequently grab a plant-based protein bar and a piece of whole fruit when rushing out the door. It’s just as easy to eat plant-based as it is not to.

Plant-Based Eating Is Affordable

I’ve read from many parents that “healthy eating is too expensive.” Brenda Davis replies, “The poorest people on the planet eat plant-based.” This is because animal products cost more. She gives the example of grains and beans being cheaper than meat or fish. She recognizes that processed plant-based foods tend to cost more than animal-processed plant based foods, such as a nut-based cheese versus a dairy cheese; these are extras in a plant-based diet and not necessities. She notes that beans, grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds are “fairly reasonably priced.” Buying in bulk and growing some of your food (if that’s your cup of tea) can also help cut costs. Dr. Shah also notes that we don’t have to make eating so overwhelming and complicated. An apple and peanut butter is a perfectly sufficient, easy snack.

Is Plant-Based Eating All Or Nothing?

I wanted to know, are we cheating if we only eat plant-based sometimes? Is something better than nothing? Brenda Davis reassured me that going partially plant-based is “a great step.” After all, “Every step a person takes towards a more healthful, ethically sound, and ecologically sustainable diet is worth celebrating.” Also, she shares that “there are no vegan police.” Certainly, making dietary changes is a big deal, especially if your whole family does it, so offer up some patience, room for mistakes, and trial-and-error with recipes.

Despite eating a mostly plant-based diet for several years now, I learned a lot from the authors. Eating plant-based is feasible, it can save us on our grocery bill, and with some creativity, we can whip up meals and snacks that please us all.

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Adult-Onset Food Allergies Are A Thing — I Know Because It Happened To Me

I’ve always been very lucky (although I didn’t realize it until recently) in that I’ve been able to eat just about anything without so much as a tinge of heartburn.

I mean, if I eat a shit-ton of chocolate after 7:00 p.m. I have funky dreams, but that’s something I can put up with in my life. A chocolate lava cake is worth having a few moments of my life where I think I’m pulling dried leaves and dirt out of my mouth, or my teeth won’t stop falling out.

However, my ability to eat whatever I wanted with little consequence came to a crashing end a few months ago when I discovered I was allergic to eggs. One week I ate eggs three times and went along my merry way. Then, a week later I got takeout with my boyfriend at our favorite breakfast place and ordered what I’d been eating there for over a year: a three-egg omelette with spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, and veggie sausage. 

I went from feeling off, to having my mouth filled with saliva and feeling like I couldn’t swallow, to having blurred vision and being in so much pain I couldn’t stand up in under forty-five minutes of eating.

I ended up retching so hard it felt like another person was coming out of me. I won’t go into detail about that part, but let’s just say I had no idea you could throw up in such a powerful way. I was sore for a week. It happened that suddenly — no exaggeration.

At first I assumed it was just food poisoning and went on to have an egg sandwich a week later, but the same thing happened. I felt the exact same way, but as soon as I got sick and the food was out of my body, I was fine. (Except for the feeling that I’d almost cracked a rib.)

A week later, I made some delicious cookies, and while at that point I had an inkling it might be the eggs that were making me sick, I thought, Just eating one cookie won’t hurt me. There are only two eggs in this recipe.

Well, my friends — it did hurt me. Very much. And it keeps on hurting, because I can no longer go rogue and buy whatever I want including my favorite baked goods, ice cream, salad dressing — you name it — at the grocery store. I have to check the ingredients on everything. The days of ordering breakfast with my boo at our favorite place are gone. Unless I just want to eat the limp veggies by themselves, which is a hard pass.

We are in the middle of a pandemic, and baked goods and comforting breakfasts (good-bye french toast, pancakes, and all the breads) are out the window. It was one of the things that was keeping me together. 

I was definitely in denial at first. How could I have a food allergy or intolerance at 45 years old after going my whole life without being allergic to a damn thing?

But the truth is, you aren’t always born with a food allergy. They can creep up on you as you age like fine lines, gray pubic hair, and mysterious shoulder pain. Not only do we get to navigate the uncharted map of perimenopause, our bodies will also fuck us up by power-puking out of the blue if we’ve eat something one Sunday that we’ve been eating our whole lives. It’s truly a joy!

According to Harvard Health, only 4% of adults have a food allergy. “Even those who begin life with the most common food allergies — to milk, eggs, wheat, and soy — are likely to outgrow them by the time they enter kindergarten.” Research published in JAMA found that almost half of all adults who had food allergies had at least one allergy develop in adulthood — i.e., adult-onset food allergies.

Some other bad news about late-onset food allergies is that you are likely to have them for the rest of your life.. “A food allergy that first rears its head in adulthood isn’t likely to go away,” Harvard Health explains.

If you eat something you’re allergic to, even if you’ve never had a problem before, your body will let you know, and it’s important to pay attention. As Harvard Health describes it, “You usually know you’re allergic to a food within minutes of eating it. The reaction may range from a mild response — such as itching or swelling around the mouth — to anaphylaxis. But it’s also unpredictable: a person who is allergic to a food may have a mild reaction one time and full-blown anaphylaxis the next.”

But why does this happen later in life? 

Carolina Hormone And Health reports that for women, an increase in allergy symptoms might be related to menopause: “Scientists have known for decades that allergic reactions caused by histamines can change depending on hormone fluctuations caused by a normal menstrual cycle. In other words, the level of histamine – a hormone that is triggered by allergens and binds to receptors that cause symptoms like itching and swelling – in your body is directly related to the amount of estrogen your body is creating.”

So, going through menopause or perimenopause can most definitely have an effect since “your body contains frequently fluctuating levels of estrogen that then lead to spikes in the production of histamine,” explains CHH.

Even if you don’t develop food allergies as you age, you may develop certain intolerances. It’s not fun, and let’s face it, no one wants to have yet another thing taken away from them just because they are reaching middle life. 

However, it’s important to be aware and pay attention to what you’re putting into your body and how it makes you feel. No one wants to be in pain that can be avoided. And please, call your doctor if you are having trouble breathing, breaking out in hives, or violently vomiting on a regular basis. Adult-onset food allergies can be life-threatening if you don’t stay away from whatever it is you are allergic to.

I’m living proof that you can go your whole life eating something a few days a week and develop a violent allergic reaction to it literally overnight. 

While giving up certain food is definitely a pain in the butt, it’s worth it. The sooner you know, the sooner you can avoid the foods giving you problems and find alternatives. 

But damn, I’m going to miss those eggs.

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People Who Are Silent About Abuse Have To Be Held Accountable Too

Mind your own. Keep your opinion to yourself. Stay in your own lane. Keep your nose out of others’ business. These are just a few lessons children are taught growing up. My parents often told me not to be a tattle-tale or a snitch. And while there is something to be said for this advice — some people are, by nature, busybodies; they gossip and lie; they tell stories that hurt and harm — taking it at face value is tricky. It is precarious, and it is problematic (through and through) because we shouldn’t always be silent. We shouldn’t always “zip our lips” or “turn the other cheek,” and sometimes it’s imperative we stand up and speak up. Sometimes it’s imperative we speak out.

Case in point: People need to be vocal when they see wrongdoing. People need to be vocal if and when they see someone being physically, verbally, or emotionally abused

Full. 

Fucking. 

Stop.

Now I know how complicated this may be. I know speaking up can be scary and unnerving. Hell, I’m terrified of confrontation. It makes me anxious and uncomfortable. Raised voices put me on edge. I know there may be familial dynamics at play. Sometimes the abuser is our wife, our husband, our partner, our mother, our father, our friend, our colleague, our sibling, or a beloved peer. And fear can be a powerful force. Fear can keep us stuck — especially fear of change, because when you stand up to an abuser something has to change. But the victims of abuse deserve our time. They deserve our love, and they deserve our support.

They need our support.

Plus, when someone fails to speak up against abuse, they become complicit in the abuse. They (consciously or unconsciously) justify the behavior, acknowledging it is okay. When someone fails to speak up for and about abuse, they become an accessory. A willing (or unwilling) participant in hate and wrongdoing. They imply what is happening is normal. It is a-okay, and this further traumatizes the individual being abused. They feel unworthy and that no one cares.

How do I know? Because I was the victim of abuse. I’ve been verbally and emotionally assaulted. I’ve been battered, beaten, struck, slapped, pushed, and kicked. And no one stood up for me. Neighbors. Teachers. Family members. Everyone sat on the sidelines, watching it happen, and this made me feel unimportant. I felt unsafe, uncared for, worthless, and small.

But that’s not all. When people stay silent about abuse, the cycle is allowed to continue. The abuser feels untouchable; invincible. They are able to lurk in the shadows and out in the open, gaining power and control. When people stay silent about abuse, they validate the actions of the abuser — or, in some cases, defend it. They make excuses, often in the form of platitudes. “There are two sides to every story,” they say. “Let’s not jump to conclusions. Give them the benefit of the doubt.” And when people stay silent about abuse — particularly child abuse — they endanger another’s life. Children cannot get up and walk away. They are helpless. Powerless. Unable to defend themselves.

What’s more, abuse thrives in silence. Sometimes all it takes is one brave soul to stand up and say, “this is wrong,” to turn the tide. One person willing to stand up and speak out and say, “No. This is not okay.”

Make no mistake: Standing up to abuse is hard. It takes internal fortitude and strength and, yes, guts. It also takes a firm understanding of how abuse works, because no: Speaking up won’t make things worse. That is a myth. Things are already bad. But the more you protect the abuser — the more you cover up their behavior or excuse it — the more it intensifies. Things, I assure you, will get worse. So stand up. Speak up, and speak out. Your actions may change the course of someone’s life. Scratch that: Your actions may save their life.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911. If you aren’t in immediate danger and have an opportunity to reach out, do. Confide in a trusted friend, family member, teacher, therapist, and/or volunteer with an abuse shelter. Call a domestic violence hotline and/or call the Child Help hotline for immediate assistance at 1-800-4-A-CHILD.  

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Why I Quit Dieting When I Was Over 400 Pounds

Courtesy of Shannon Ashley
Courtesy of Shannon Ashley

And you probably wouldn’t know that I weighed more than 400 in this one:

Courtesy of Shannon Ashley

This post first appeared on Medium.

The post Why I Quit Dieting When I Was Over 400 Pounds appeared first on Scary Mommy.

I Developed A Literal Fear Of Food

I have spent most of my life battling food in one manner or another. As a teen, the battle consisted of avoiding foods for the purpose of punishing myself. They say withholding food is an eating disorder — that it’s about control. If that’s true, then I was trying to control my perception of myself. Filled with self hatred because … trauma.

I drew the conclusion that I was not worthy of, well, anything. And since my insides were broken and bleeding amidst the turmoil, I placed value on my outsides.

Flat stomachs, thin waistlines, sunken cheekbones, visible collar bones; all were worthy of happiness.

SPOILER ALERT: None of those things are synonymous with happiness.

My meals would consist of four Triscuits and half a cup of orange juice. Until I could not take it anymore; the overwhelming nausea resulting from intense hunger pangs took control. Like a raccoon scavenging through the trash, I would cave and indulge in any and all foods I could find. Until my stomach felt swollen and my spirit defeated.

I was as worthless as I always knew I was.

Truthfully, I don’t know what flipped the switch in my mind. One day I thought that four crackers and juice did not a meal make. I decided that I was going to cure myself, and I began to eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.

My body had other plans.

My anxieties became greater and my stomach became weaker. It came to a point where I could not tolerate any foods other than pre-packaged Rice Krispie treats, saltine crackers, and water. The more kids I had, the more I would be complimented: “You don’t look like you’ve had kids.”

All I could think was, “You would look like this too if you couldn’t eat.”

But I’d smile and say, “Thanks, I don’t get much time to sit and eat these days.”

Although I was hurting, I would feel a slight sense of pride for being able to function without food and for the shape of my body to reflect that fact.

They would smile and nod in what appeared to be a silent understanding among strangers and reply, “You have your hands full.”

True, but my mind was fuller.

After multiple emergency room visits for excruciating abdominal pain, likely labeled a drug seeker, ruined and cancelled vacations with family, and an inpatient stay, I underwent all the testings determined appropriate by a gastroenterologist.

I was eventually diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). This is also known as a diagnosis of exclusion; meaning there is no other explanation for my symptoms. As a healthcare provider, I knew what IBS meant.

I was nuts. Insert your friendly sarcastic tone here.

I remember the physician assistant telling me, “We don’t know why, but for some reason those with IBS have a sensitive GI tract. They can feel everything moving through their intestines.” I don’t know if she was trying to reassure me that my diagnosis was legitimate, but I nodded and once again felt conquered.

They tried a medication to interrupt the signal between my stomach and brain, but all it did was make me sleep away my days, and with young children to care for, I needed to be awake.

I began to realize that there probably was nothing actually wrong with me, except my head. But, when food makes you sick — whether that is real or imagined — it becomes hard to eat.

I developed a fear of food. Since I never knew what food would lead to pain that would knock me to my knees, I never wanted to eat. I would consume enough to dull the hunger pangs and subdue the nausea. I was always wary of pain, and somehow this transitioned into a fear of making food that would poison my family.

Meal preparation became very difficult, as did eating out. I didn’t trust food. I marked certain foods as safe; no rhyme or reason other than the fact that I could tolerate them. We ate lots of fruits and vegetables, until all of those became contaminated with E.coli and at some point, recalled.

SIDE NOTE: Recalls render me incapacitated and desperately searching for another safe food to take its place.

Cooking raw meat from scratch was impossible. If something didn’t feel like it had been frozen correctly or defrosted properly, it would end up in the trash. I am not sure what right feels like; nevertheless, the monetary value of food that I threw away in the trash due to overwhelming fear was, I’m sure, astronomical.

Sorry, environment.

My husband was always there to reassure me that feeding my family was the right thing to do. That nutritious food was not the enemy. Yes, the man is an actual saint.

So I started having him smell all the foods before I cooked them, examine them with me to ensure he did not see some invisible plague that would ravage through our intestines and take our children from us.

I never admitted this fear in counseling. I didn’t know how to say it. In fact, this is the first time I am saying it out loud.

I just say prayers before preparing foods and beg God to keep my family healthy and safe. I ask Him to help me distinguish between reality and when my mind is being an evil liar. To help me believe what my husband has been telling me: that I am not poisoning my family.

Things have been better since I found a working antidepressant and an anti-anxiety medication that calm my brain and subsequently my actions. It makes it easier to cook food. To form new opinions and expand my options on what I deem safe. To tell my mind that food is nourishment and not poison.

Nourishment that I need to function.

As I have started eating more, I have started feeling better. I have also started gaining weight. A lot of it. I stopped weighing myself when the scales tipped over 30 pounds of weight gain. For someone who has always placed value on thinness, this has been hard to accept.

I have had to decide that numbers are liars and are not an accurate representation of my health.

Or worth.

If they were, then my non-eating, internally decomposing self was a “healthy” weight and all the therapy I have had since to redefine my worth has been wrong.

TO CLARIFY: That is also sarcasm.

Yes, the pounds pile on. My clothing sizes have gone up, my face has become fuller. Despite exercise and listening to hunger cues, my size increases. Truthfully, I don’t like that part.

However, I am thankful for counseling to remind me that I am worthy of being me, and that my hunger is not a weakness. I don’t need to punish myself for emotionally crippling wounds I experienced as a child. My worth is not reduced by stretch marks and cellulite.

I am not going to lie — I still have foods I refuse to eat. They led to such excruciating pain that I have no desire to experiment. I don’t know if they are an actual intolerance or were the result of a mind steeped in invisible pain.

But the victory is that now I eat. And I feed my family with less guilt and fear than I had before. And I realize that my larger size does not equate to smaller worth.

Yes, I give myself pep talks on the daily and implement the coping skills I have learned in therapy. They work. I’m healing.

But it’s hard.

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A Letter To All the Girls Who Don’t Think They’re ‘Thin Enough’

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Everyone Congratulated Me On Losing Weight … But I Had An Eating Disorder

Around Halloween, I weighed somewhere in the neighborhood of 220 lbs. I wore a 2x or so. No one had told me that Lithium, a drug that controlled my bipolar disorder, had weight gain as a side effect. I had become borderline diabetic; no matter what I ate, my skin broke out like a teenager’s. My doctor switched me to another drug. I began losing weight immediately. This wasn’t weight loss I worked for; it fell off me. For someone who had tried diet (didn’t work), exercise (nope), and orthorexia (an obsession with healthy food, and no, that didn’t work either), it was intoxicating.

I was on a lot of other drugs, too. Some of those drugs suppressed my appetite. I began to realize that if I just… didn’t eat, my weight loss became more dramatic. At first, when my kids had lunch, I had a drink instead. Then when my kids had breakfast, I stuck to coffee. Soon I was often weaseling my way out of dinner, too. I could go 24 hours without food. Then I could go 48. Sometimes I could go 72. Carefully, I ate enough to keep from passing out. I knew my own blood sugar limits.

No One Asked Questions

My weight loss was rapid and dramatic, at a rate of more than 13 1/2 lbs a month. This doesn’t sound like much, until you think of it like this: from October 31st to June 1st, I halved myself. I went from 220 lbs to 110 lbs. I could not only wear pre-baby clothes, three kids, a decade, and gestational diabetes later. I could wear clothes from college again. I weighed roughly what I did as a senior in high school, and would have fit in my Catholic school skirt, but my baby belly wasn’t going anywhere.

My feet shrunk back to pre-baby sizes.

Sometime around March, when I began to hit a hundred and fifty, a hundred and sixty pounds, the comments began. “You look great!” friends would say. “You’ve really lost a lot of weight!” I’d smile through my teeth. If only you knew what it took to get here, I’d think. Even then I knew my eating patterns were severely disordered. I didn’t care that they were disordered, but I recognized it.

Guys would stumble. “I don’t know how to say this,” one said, smiling. “But you look, uh, really good.” I blinked and smiled like a Stepford Wife.

No One Made Connections

I tried to dye my hair. So brittle from lack of vitamins, it fell out. I was left with bald spots, so big I eventually started wearing wigs (thank God I live in the South where, if it’s on your head, it’s your own goddamn hair). Some of my mother’s friends visited, and they congratulated me effusively on my massive weight loss. Once, while we were driving, one tilted her head. “I wonder if your hair all fell out because you lost all that weight so quickly,” she said.

“Maybe,” I said blandly.

Hair loss is a common side effect of anorexia.

But other than my wig (which baffled them), they thought I looked fantastic, and told me so — constantly. Oh, you’re so skinny. Oh, you look so great. When I went out with them I had a salad. I didn’t eat anything else all day.

My husband called all this “intermittent fasting.” This, he claimed, was a thing. I was doing it for weight loss even if I didn’t know I was doing it, and it was all over the news, and as long as I ate dinner, whatever.

One Person Expressed Concern About My Weight Loss

Only my friend Nicole ever commented. She saw a picture of me taken around mid-May, still not at my lowest weight, and messaged me. “Are you okay?” she asked. “You’ve lost a lot of weight.” Nicole is that friend I love dearly and don’t see very often, but who has cleaned my kitchen.

“I’m fine,” I messaged back, and I cried, because someone had actually seen and done more than pat me on the head and told me what a good girl I was. Later that fall, my mother-in-law worried about me; when my bosses here at Scary Mommy saw a picture of me with a shaved head, my weight loss was so clear and dramatic that they asked if I needed time off. My mother-in-law danced around it and sort of confused me. My bosses made me cry with gratitude.

My psychiatrist mentioned my weight loss, but I had to tell her the truth about it. She didn’t float anything unhealthy as a possibility until I did. My male general practitioner was mid-congratulations when I cut him off.

My Weight Loss Was Called “Atypical Anorexia”

It’s a terrible name: anorexia is anorexia, no matter what your age or weight. Just as you can eat healthily as a size two — and now I do — you can starve yourself as a size 2x. Both pin-thin teens and overweight undereaters deserve the same treatment and the same sympathy. Unfortunately, myths about atypical anorexia abound. But unhealthy food intake — with or without weight loss — makes the diagnosis, not age or weight.

Molly Gwen was considered “morbidly obese” when she was diagnosed as having atypical anorexia. And yes, she had “real anorexia,” and the health consequences she suffered were just as dire. After all my psychiatric treatment, I really started on my recovery when my bosses assigned me an article about the health effects of anorexia. It terrified me into eating. From heart irregularities to a seriously shortened lifespan, I didn’t want them to happen to me.

Fatphobia Concealed My Weight Loss

America says fat is bad. Thin is good. We make this not only an aesthetic consideration, but a moral one. A fat person, our cultural narrative says, is a glutton: someone who overeats, who can’t control themselves. They’re too lazy to get off their couch and exercise. Their fat is their fault, no matter what their health (which may be fine). Thin people, however, earned their aesthetic appeal through self-control around food and motivation to exercise. Thin people deserve to be admired. 

So when my weight loss became runaway, I was a moral success in most people’s eyes. I was clearly showing self-control and self-motivation. Nevermind that meant not eating. People congratulated me on my appearance, and as a subtext, on my hard work. This is why you do not comment on other people’s bodies. “Are you okay?” is one thing. “You look great, you lost all that weight,” is fatphobic. And for me, it only masked a serious health risk.

Is someone losing weight? Don’t assume it’s intentional. If they say they’ve lost weight, rather than “Congratulations,” try, “I’m happy for you if you’re happy and you’ve done it in a healthy way.” And if you see a friend has dropped weight dramatically, your first question should be, like my friend Nicole’s: “Are you okay?”

“Are you okay?”: the only acceptable way to react to dramatic weight loss. Period. You do not have a right to comment on people’s bodies. You do not have a right to say they look better or worse. America’s fatphobia could have killed me. It almost certainly shortened my lifespan. Think about that: the way you view fat people could have deprived my children of a mother. 

I’m grateful to those who saw my weight loss and called it what it was. I love you for caring. I don’t blame the rest of you. You’ve been brainwashed. But I am asking: please deconstruct your fatphobia. And next time, with your next friend, please think.

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