The Lesser Known Physical Symptoms of Complex PTSD

“You’ve got past trauma stored up in your body, and even your mind may not be completely aware of it all.” 

I looked back at the behavioral health technician with a mixture of shock and grief. These were the words she was communicating to me to help explain why I was back at the emergency room again. This was apparently the reason I had been frozen stuck to my couch a dozen times that weekend, with no clue as to why my limbs had randomly decided to stop moving properly. 

As my husband and I drove home from the hospital, tears filled my eyes and I placed my tired head in my hands. Yet again, the complex PTSD I had been diagnosed with back in 2018 was invading my life in the messiest and most confusing of ways. I had basically gotten used to the sporadic panic attacks that wreaked havoc on my nervous system. I’d made peace with the years of trauma-induced self-harm I’d been unconsciously engaging in. I was even becoming quite fond of the weekly therapy sessions I’m privileged to have access to, as uncomfortable and emotionally taxing as they are to show up for. 

But nothing, not a damn thing, could have prepared me for the surprising physical symptoms of my disorder that revealed themselves to me last year. And more importantly, no one even thought to try. 

Back in early 2019, my body started shaking uncontrollably whenever I was in severe distress. No matter what I did, I couldn’t stop the movement from taking up my entire personal space and running its natural course. My arms would spastically flail about in the air, my mouth would forcibly shape into a frown, my eyelids would blink at warp speed, and my legs would not stop shaking. As you can imagine, this was absolutely terrifying to experience.

When one particularly volatile series of muscle tremors flooded my body last fall and then remained active for two painful hours, I went to the emergency room and followed up with my first ever visit to a psychiatrist. Through counseling, I was diagnosed with suicidal ideation, which I had been quietly struggling with ever since discovering that I’d been unknowingly living with a trauma-based mental health disorder for much of my life. A plan was made to help me get on the track of recovery, and it included antidepressants and more ongoing therapy. To my great relief, the panic attacks largely subsided and my muscle spasms became less frequent as the medication made its way through my system. My treatment was working, and I felt like I could finally breathe again. 

When I had that initial visit with my doctor, he explained that the involuntary shaking I’d been experiencing was called somatization, which is essentially what happens when a mental state transmutes into a physical one. Basically, my C-PTSD was manifesting in physical responses, and it was a lesser known but completely expected side effect of trauma recovery and healing. This realization floored me, as I was left wondering why the hell I’d never learned about every potential aspect of my condition before. I was also curious to know if anyone around me would ever be able to relate to what I was going through. 

Things were becoming progressively easier to manage after my ER visit, and I started feeling hope that maybe I was just moving through a passing phase in my disorder. That is, until COVID-19 spread across our country and my family was placed on lockdown at home. Every possible trauma trigger was showing back up in my life because my nervous system was totally shot to shit. I was home 24/7 with my kids, couldn’t manage the time or energy for my job, felt increasingly afraid to go outside, and ended up diving right back down into a well of complex emotions, thought patterns, and harmful coping behaviors. 

And that’s when the temporary paralysis began taking over my life. 

I was lying down on my couch one evening and zoning out on my phone when I suddenly noticed that I couldn’t lift myself back to standing. I couldn’t even wriggle out of the position I was in. My body was frozen, my mind was overcome with panic, and the only thing that seemed to get me out of it all was my husband Matt. He was the one who lifted up my legs and moved them mechanically around while he cracked way too many fucking jokes that had my paralyzed face managing a tiny grin. Once he helped me up to standing, I had to go through another round of physical reminders and cues that I can only liken to a car being given a jump start. It felt as if I had completely forgotten how to walk on a few occasions, with Matt gently explaining step by step how to place one foot in front of the other and gain momentum. 

After a second trip to the ER to figure out what the hell was going on, my psychiatrist prescribed me anti-seizure medication that relaxed my body into movement again. A couple months passed without a single bout of temporary paralysis. And then it hit again like a ton of bricks. For ten straight days, every single part of me would freeze up, and I’d need a lot of support to spring back into action. On a few occasions, I lost the ability to produce words and could only manage to slowly stutter my way back into speaking. In traditionally anxious mom fashion, I googled the shit out of my symptoms to find out if something worse was going on with me. Three hours later, all I had were a few links to articles that explained trauma-based somatization in dense medical jargon. I couldn’t find a single resource that spoke to what I was experiencing in an easily digestible way.  

I called my doctor to arrange a last-minute session. Once I rattled off everything I could think of to give him the full picture of what was happening to me, my psychiatrist shared a few things that completely blew my mind. He told me that the market for trauma-based mental health disorder solutions is very small, mostly because a lot of people don’t realize they have one or they feel too stigmatized to reveal the past events of abuse, assault, or neglect that could lead to a proper diagnosis. Because of this, many of us just don’t know that you can live with regular physical symptoms that are somatic manifestations of a disorder that primarily impacts the brain and nervous system. Because my paralysis and spasms weren’t components of a more traditionally diagnosable illness or disease, getting clarity through medical scans most likely wouldn’t be possible.

Bottom line, my body was finally releasing years of painful trauma and was doing so without an ounce of concern about appearances. 

Everything makes sense now that I know what I know. But at the time, I was majorly ticked off and confused. How could I be the only one I knew who uncontrollably shook or froze up because childhood trauma had been laying dormant in my body? And why did it take so damn long to have someone reveal the full scope of my disorder? If I had gained some understanding of how irregular, but totally natural, my symptoms could potentially be, it may have helped ease my mind as I encountered each one. And it almost certainly would have helped me feel more aware of my condition, rather than grasping around in the dark for reasons why I was struggling.

I don’t fault my therapists or doctors for waiting to acknowledge the physical symptoms of my mental health disorder until I was actually experiencing them. They’ve simply been responding to the individual demands of those in their care, and the majority of people with conditions like mine seem not to feel safe or conscious enough to visit a doctor.

I honestly think that the bulk of the responsibility falls on a culture that treats our mental health as somehow less important and valid than our physical well being. In an ideal world, these issues would be prioritized, with more funding and efforts going towards the necessary resources and solutions to recognizing and treating trauma-based disorders. This is especially critical in areas where behavioral health access is all but nonexistent. 

We need to do better, so that we can know better. And it starts with the public and widespread acknowledgement of the long-term, detrimental impact that abuse and trauma can have on a human being.

We don’t yet live in this world that I envision, but I hope that sharing my personal story can be a part of the change I wish to see around me

The post The Lesser Known Physical Symptoms of Complex PTSD appeared first on Scary Mommy.

The Simple Trick That Helps Me When Things Feel Out Of Control

When I was younger, I battled anorexia and binge eating. My therapist told me it was a result of trauma from being sexually abused as a child and my family’s reaction to what happened. The situation made me feel helpless and like I had no control. But my eating, counting calories, and excessive exercise was something I could control, so I threw myself into it.

She explained that’s why I stopped going out to eat with my friends and became addicted to counting every calorie that went into my body. If I did venture out and went to a friend’s house, they might want to do something like order pizza and I couldn’t handle that. I could, however, control my life if I stayed at home all the time, so that’s what I did.

It was unhealthy for me, and took a big hit on my self esteem and mental health.

I’ve always struggled with control issues. I tend to spiral when there are things that are out of my hands. I get really stressed out and feel like I need something that will take that feeling away. This has been a big reason why I lived small for a really long time. 

I didn’t take risks or speak up or really go out of my comfort zone for a long time. I never wanted to feel that scary sensation like I did as a child when I felt helpless and alone. I kept my life in a tight little cocoon without even really realizing it.

Then, I got a divorce. 

It made me realize really quickly that life isn’t something you can control. I was scared shitless; everything was about to change, and I knew it.

I couldn’t keep myself, my feelings, or my kids in a neat little package any longer.

I wasn’t sure what to do, but I knew what I didn’t want to do: control it all. It was too big and heavy and I was exhausted.

A few weeks after my ex-husband moved out, I woke up one morning and felt so low, I wasn’t sure if I could get out of bed. Then I told myself I could have a bad day in bed thinking about everything falling apart around me, or I could get up and do what I’d been doing for a few years: go for a run before my kids got up, then take a shower.

I peeled myself out of bed and on that run I gave myself a talk about really trying to let the things I couldn’t control go, but taking advantage of the things I could control.

Like planning something fun to do with my kids later on that afternoon when I saw them (we went to get ice cream).

I also decided to order some curtains I’d been drooling over that my ex-husband hated.

Then I got home, and while showering I realized how much better I felt because I’d focused on some things I could do to make myself feel better, instead of honing in on all the things that could go wrong, which was my usual trick that kept me living in my cocoon.

I am not a therapist or a mental health expert by any means. I am, however, a woman who has had to practice telling myself I can only control certain things, and I have to let go of the rest every day since then. 

Fast forward almost four years later, and I’m so glad I started practicing that. Loosening my grip around the things I have no control over, and focusing on what I can do, actually feels freeing. It’s made me a happier person.

Every minute of every day I say things like: I can’t control the fact the world is a dumpster fire, but I can turn off the news and clean my kitchen –– something that instantly makes me feel better.

I take one look around me as we are in the midst of this pandemic and I have to be very conscious about my life and my choices, or I would be in a really bad place right now. 

It’s so easy to sit and manifest all the bad things that can happen with COVID-19, my kids growing up and leaving soon, the upcoming election, the fact that I’m a single mom trying to keep up with it all. I can get sucked down the tunnel of doom really fast, and have a tendency to think about all the bad and scary things that can happen. 

But it helps an incredible amount for me to stick to my routine, get the things done I need to in order to feel organized and prepared. Something as simple as making a grocery list and trying new meals is enough of a distraction to get me moving in the right direction.

Then, I look forward to cooking for my family and having a good meal.

I’m not saying there aren’t days when I can’t get out of my own way and I start thinking (okay, worrying) about all that could go wrong. I’m human, and it seems we are all in a state of low-key panic these days.

Nothing has helped me more than looking at the things I do have a hand in — the state of my home, spending time with my children, working really hard, doing my nails, reaching out to a friend.

Those are all little things I can do that will bring positivity into my day that I have a say in.

And we all know, it truly is the little things in life that make all the difference. I take my kids to lunch every Saturday, and I look forward to it all week. There have been bad days, and the thought of having this to do later in the week helps pull me out of the sadness.

If you are struggling right now (and let’s face it, we all are in some way), I’m begging you to give this a try. Think about a positive thing that you can do which will brighten your day, whether it’s donating to a good cause, learning a new hobby, or going for a walk. Then, make a habit out of being proactive over the things you have a hand in when you feel like you are out of control. 

My life has changed and I feel stronger, more resilient, and capable because of it.

I’m confident you will too. 

The post The Simple Trick That Helps Me When Things Feel Out Of Control appeared first on Scary Mommy.

September Is Suicide Awareness Month — Here’s How You Can Help

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Suicide was the 2nd leading cause of death in individuals 10-34 and 4th leading cause in individuals 34-54. There were more than twice as many suicides in the United States as there were homicides. And the issue is only getting worse, according to the CDC, with suicides increasing by 30 percent in the past 20 years. In order to bring awareness to the issue, the month of September is recognized as National Suicide Prevention Month. Its mission is to bring awareness to suicide and prevent it.

Yet, we are all too aware that suicide exists, aren’t we? We still need a month. An entire month. 1/12 of the year set aside to help prevent our loved ones from dying. Such a short time though — and that’s all the more reason we must focus on this issue. My father died when I was a little girl, a victim of suicide. One of my best friends from middle and high school attempted it.

I’ve attempted it. I’ll bet that I shock many by that statement. However, we cannot stay silent in the face of such an avoidable death. Allowing ourselves and our loved ones to have open, non-judgmental conversations and checking in during difficult times are just some of the few ways to raise awareness and save lives. It’s no secret 2020 is different. Unemployment and underemployment, student loan debt, issues obtaining housing, social media, and COVID-19 all contribute why this year adds layers of nuance not seen in years before. In essence, we are struggling to survive. Quarantine has isolated us all even further.

So, that begs the question: How can we help?

First we need to go over the signs again.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there are three types of risk factors: health, environmental, and historical.

Health risk factors:

– Depression
– Substance use problems (such as those of the opioid crisis)
– Bipolar disorder
– Schizophrenia
– Personality traits of aggression, mood changes and poor relationships
– Conduct disorder
– Anxiety disorders
– Serious physical health conditions including pain
– Traumatic brain injury

Environmental risk factors:

– Access to lethal means including firearms and drugs
– Prolonged stress, such as harassment, bullying, relationship problems or unemployment
– Stressful life events, like rejection, divorce, financial crisis, other life transitions or loss (a great deal of stressors in life events, such as those in 2020)
– Exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide

Historical risk factors:

– Previous suicide attempts (most suicide victims try more than once)
– Family history of suicide
– Childhood abuse, neglect or trauma

Not all signs are as obvious as depression or a job loss. Some behaviors are more subtle. Psychiatrist Cesar Figueroa, MD of Southern Hills Hospital and Medical Center states, “Any changes in someone’s personality, behavior, or how they express their emotions can be an indication.”

Not all risk factors for suicide will fall under a neat umbrella of clinical terms. Those with a background of military service or an individual who identifies as LGBTQIA+ can be at increased risk due to PTSD or bullying. A person such as myself, with a chronic illness, can be at increased risk, especially if it’s a chronic pain condition.

So, how can we help? Please understand, in some cases, the best way to help someone is to call their medical provider or 911, if the loss of life could be imminent. Instead of focusing on what we can’t do, focus on letting that loved one know that there are organizations and programs designed specifically to help and support those suffering from mental health issues and life crises, who may be having suicidal thoughts.

Chester Bennington, the lead singer for Linkin Park, died by suicide in 2018. Talinda Bennington told CNN there had been signs of hopelessness, a change of behavior, and isolation. In 2017, Linkin Park released “One More Light,” a song that’s saved my life. A power lyric plays:

“If they say
Who cares if one more light goes out?
In a sky of a million stars
It flickers, flickers
Who cares when someone’s time runs out?
If a moment is all we are
We’re quicker, quicker
Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well I do…”

One life can mean everything. Please don’t let your light flicker out, and if you wonder who cares… well, I do.

 

If you are having thoughts of suicide, please know that you are not alone. If you are in danger of acting on suicidal thoughts, call 911. For support and resources, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text 741-741 for the Crisis Text Line.

The post September Is Suicide Awareness Month — Here’s How You Can Help appeared first on Scary Mommy.

September Is PCOS Awareness Month – Here’s How It Can Affect Your Body And Mind

September is PCOS awareness month. PCOS stands for polycystic ovarian syndrome. It affects around 10 million people worldwide. Since it involves the hormones related to reproduction, it can cause many different frustrating and uncomfortable symptoms.

Fatigue, increased facial and body hair, thinning of the hair on your head, acne, painful periods and ovulation, mood changes, headaches, sleep problems and, of course, infertility are all possible symptoms of PCOS. It also changes the way your body uses insulin.

A lot of people experience weight gain and extreme difficulty losing weight, but you don’t have to experience unexplained weight gain to have PCOS. Many people experience multiple ovarian cysts, but some actually don’t. PCOS is complicated (and probably needs a new name.)

In honor of PCOS Awareness Month, five women with PCOS agreed to share a snippet of their stories with Scary Mommy. Here’s what they had to say.

Shani G. from Nashville, TN struggles to make peace with the way PCOS makes her body look.

“I have super painful periods and ovulation, including the crippling pain of cysts rupturing. I’ve noticed a total inability to lose weight with normal diet and exercise. I’ve experienced skin tags, cystic acne and ingrown hairs on my inner thighs, and dark skin under my arms. It’s a nuisance. Because of the effects of PCOS, I don’t love my body, and I feel a lot of shame over it. It adds to my depression and anxiety. I am very self-conscious. Working in the beauty industry makes me extra self-conscious because of how much bigger I am compared to others in my industry. I hate going to the doctor because all they want to do is talk about my weight. It sucks. I wish people knew how varied the symptoms of PCOS can be. It affects everyone very differently.”

Amanda E. from Napa, CA tried for fifteen years to have a baby without any success.

“PCOS can be such an emotionally devastating problem. I tried to have a baby for fifteen years with my ex-husband, and I never once got pregnant. I took so many pregnancy tests, and they were all negative. My struggle with infertility happened at the same time that I was attending a church that taught me that my infertility was my own fault. The idea was that God was “closing my womb” due to some kind of sin or moral shortcoming in my life. I wish I had known more about how PCOS affected my body so I would never have bought into that lie. As far as being plus size and PCOS, I have been blessed with some amazing doctors.  They understand how much harder it is to lose weight with PCOS, and they don’t push me about it as much as I think some doctors might who don’t understand PCOS.

PCOS is one of the reasons people need to stop asking why someone doesn’t have kids yet! It may seem harmless to say, ‘You’d make a great mom,’ but it’s not. For years, I’d smile and say quietly, ‘Well, we’re working on it.’ Inside, I was screaming. I spent so many hours crying because I know I’d be a great mom, but my body won’t cooperate.”

View this post on Instagram

I don’t think you’d tell someone in a smaller body to only eat at a certain time of day or only eat certain macros in order to be able to make an appointment for reproductive medicine, pain relief, or joint replacement. No of course not. Because that would be prescribing eating disorder behavior. News flash: it still is problematic telling someone in a higher weight body to torture themselves with diet and exercise. Yet that’s all the PCOS World has relied on—weight discrimination and disordered eating. Diet culture and fatphobia have been making people with PCOS sick, depressed, and ashamed. It’s time to make it right. There IS another way. Looking for non-diet community while living with PCOS? Check out ours at PCOSBodyLiberation.com or link in bio. #pcos #pcossupport #radicalbodylove #spoonie #pcosbodyliberation #pcosfood #pcosfoodpeace #pcosawareness #pcoscommunity #pcoschallenge #pcosfatpositive #pcosfighter #pcoswarrior #pcoslife #pcosjourney #pcoshaes #pcosawarenessmonth

A post shared by Laura Burns + Julie Dillon (@pcosbodyliberation) on

Staci S. from Esotero, FL suffers immense pain due to her cystic ovaries.

“After almost 10 years on birth control, I came off the pill. I ended up getting pregnant, but miscarried at 11 weeks. I got my PCOS diagnosis in the aftermath of that loss.

My symptoms aren’t the classic weight gain and hair loss. My first symptom was terrible pain with ovulation. When I have cysts, the pain gets to the point where I’m doubled over in pain, vomiting. I’ve even been admitted to the hospital.

I try to control my symptoms mostly with my diet, and I am successful now. While I was trying to figure out what would work for me, I became so afraid of the pain that I just didn’t eat anything. At my lowest point, I was medically underweight and people assumed I had an eating disorder.  It really hurt because they had no clue on what I was going through. I didn’t like how I looked either, but I was scared to eat. To me, it wasn’t worth the pain.

My symptoms now include thinning hair and acne. I was able to have two sons, but both times, I was terrified I’d miscarry again. I had trouble breastfeeding (another PCOS-related issue) so I used formula, too. PCOS looks different for everyone. We might not all have the same experience, but in the end, we are all in the same shitty boat.”

Kate K. of Knoxville, TN shares her experience of controlling PCOS while in eating disorder recovery.

“I was diagnosed with PCOS when I’d been trying for a year to get pregnant without success. I think it was just bloodwork and an assessment of my symptoms. With a combination of Metformin and diet changes, I’ve been able to have regular periods with PCOS. I wish my doctors had explained early on how Metformin works, because my body also responds pretty well to a lower sugar diet with fewer carbs, and I’ve been able to decrease my dose.

The most troubling thing for me was the hirsutism. I bleached my facial hair for years. Some people saw past it, some people clearly could see nothing but it. I did laser treatments after I had my last child, and it has been pretty under control since then.

I am in eating disorder recovery, and it’s been my experience that every doctor looks at the PCOS diagnosis, sees I am not overweight, and tells me I don’t fit the bill. It’s frustrating, and it does always kind of drive the ‘stay smaller’ mentality in me when they make such a big deal out of it.

I’d like people to that there are treatments to help, and that lots of other women struggle with it. Do NOT be ashamed because you are not alone.”

View this post on Instagram

Both get to be true. Life with PCOS can really suck and at the same time be full and beautiful. This is the reminder I have needed this week. In transparency I had a cycle go bonkers this month after several months of it being really "normal" and it really fucked up some of my plans and hopes. PCOS sucks. It's ok for it to suck. I got into the headspace tho of feeling guilty for being down about my cycle because I felt like I should just be happy because the rest of life is really good. You know what doesn't help your sadness? Feeling guilty over it! So let me encourage you (and myself) to make space for both. Things can be hard and beautiful simultaneously. Recognizing the goodness in life doesn't negate that the hard stuff is hard. Honoring your pain does not make you ungrateful for what is good. I would love to hear in comments or stories what seemingly opposite things you need to make space for. What can you hold simultaneously? When we make space for both it opens us up to so much peace in the midst of the bad and the good. . . . . You do not have to do this alone. I would love to talk with you about how 1:1 therapy can support your experience with PCOS and living the life you want. Head to link in bio to contact me and we will set up a free 15 minute discovery call!

A post shared by Elizabeth Armstrong (@pcostherapist) on

Andrea G. of St. Louis, MO had to advocate for herself hard to get the diagnosis she knew she needed.

“I started to suspect that I had PCOS based on my own symptoms. Because I am young and thin, it took me almost three years to get a diagnosis. During all that time, I had ovarian cysts, acne, body hair…all the usual suspects.  I finally ended up in the ER with a ruptured cyst, and my doctors started taking me seriously. It didn’t feel like a fertility ‘death sentence’ when I got the diagnosis. It was a sigh of relief. With a diagnosis, I could help my body in a way I couldn’t before. I’ve had some trouble conceiving, but I am grateful to have the diagnosis so we know where to start. I am optimistic that I will have a baby in my arms soon.

I want people to know that PCOS has many symptoms, and affects many body types. I’m just thankful I fought for myself and knew what I was experiencing wasn’t normal.”

Raising awareness about PCOS is important to me because I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome when I was a teenager.

From the moment I got my period, I had problems related to it. I’ve been dealing with it for a couple decades now, and I still struggle with how it affects my body, and how it makes me feel.

I have hair on my chin and very little left on my head. I live in a plus-size body, and changing my size is a colossal struggle. I’ve dealt with difficult periods and irregular cycles my entire life.

The hardest part of PCOS for me has been decreased fertility. I never had 12 chances a year to get pregnant. I ovulated 5 or 6 times during a good year. Sometimes, just once or twice. I didn’t always respond to medications, and I lost 2 out of our five pregnancies. I had to have two different surgeries on my reproductive organs. It took my husband and me almost 14 years to have our three kids. It’s been such a wild ride, and even though I’m done having kids, my struggle with PCOS is far from over. It affects so much more than my fertility.

It’s important for people to know PCOS exists. There are millions of us out here fighting the same fight, even if every single one of our bodies is just a little different.

If you think you might have PCOS, contact your doctor for help. It might take some trial and error, but there is hope for a well-managed body and a comfortable life.

The post September Is PCOS Awareness Month – Here’s How It Can Affect Your Body And Mind appeared first on Scary Mommy.

My Bullsh*t Meter Improved So Much When I Got Sober

It’s National Recovery Month, and the goal is to reduce stigma around addiction and educate folks on the services and benefits of substance abuse treatments and mental health services. These reminders are good for those who don’t experience a substance abuse disorder, who are life rafts for those struggling and ready to seek help, and who are necessary for those of us living a life of recovery.

Every day I don’t drink is another day of sobriety, but sobriety is not the only goal. I and other addicts want to find healthy ways to live rewarding and safe lives; we are recovering every day in our relationships, jobs, and passions. We are turning over past traumas, examining the trauma we have caused, and are actively trying to be kinder to ourselves while we move away from shame and toward healing. It’s a fucking lot, and I am proud of where I am in my journey. Everyone’s recovery looks different; however, the common thread I love most about my own journey, and the journeys of some of my favorite sober people, is the ability to cut through the bullshit.

I have always been able to see, hear, and feel deception. I am intuitive and feed off of others’ energy in a way that is exhausting and almost painful at times because I take on the feelings of people around me. This could be something I was born with, but it’s most likely a direct result of the shitty environment I grew up in. I lived in a physically, sexually, and emotionally abusive house. The people who were supposed to love and protect me hurt me. The people I turned to for help were the ones causing the damage. As I got older, I stopped looking to them as comfort and instead learned to understand their motives. I needed to be able to read my abusers so I knew what may be coming next. This helped me avoid certain situations or prepared me to go numb when I couldn’t get free.

This fine-tuned ability to read people has made me an excellent lie detector. I am already guarded and a bit skeptical of most people, but I can sniff out excuses and lies with accuracy too. It’s actually a fun game sometimes to listen to people yammer on about something or throw themselves a pity party to then ask a pointed question that they either can’t answer or get defensive to the point of not answering at all. I don’t do this with malice. I just don’t have the ability to sugarcoat a situation or allow someone to skirt accountability. I grew up in a born again Christian family full of child abusers; I’m all set with people not taking responsibility for their actions or circumstances.

I now take full responsibility for being a hypocrite. Until I started holding the mirror to the lies I was telling myself and the people around me when it came to my drinking, I was full of bullshit too. It wasn’t an easy process, but once I started to break through my excuses and really learned to understand some of my reactions to people and situations, I was able to let go of my ego. I soon realized that I was one of the people who got pissed off or hurt for being calling out. When I got defensive, scared, or angry early in my recovery, I had to learn that those feelings were so much more about me than the person I blamed. I did the work—I am still doing the work—and found a true sense of vulnerability that allows me to feel less like I have a chip on my shoulder and more like I can offer empathy to myself and others.

My empathy comes with a bit of an exception, however. I have very little tolerance for narcissism, excuses, or reluctance to do some self-reflection. Someone doesn’t have to admit they are using these walls to cope; I can see them from a mile away. I don’t have time to let folks convince themselves they can’t do something before being able to honestly say they are not the reason for not reaching their goal. I will support people who are struggling no matter what the topic, but if the struggle is coated in bullshit, don’t waste my time.

The longer I am sober, the quicker I am able to see what’s important and real. My bullshit meter is running on all cylinders and its efficiency gives me the confidence to say what I need to say but also to remove myself from unhealthy situations when necessary. I spent too long living a life that was not authentic. I have felt more than my share of pain and have worked too damn hard to waste my energy on people and situations that aren’t based in authenticity. Because of this, I have surrounded myself with people who share these same values, many of whom are also in recovery. Some of the best people I know have made some pretty bad choices—but then took responsibility and learned to do better. Our goodness was always there, but we needed some guidance, support, and honesty.

No one gets better at something by being told they are already perfect. And no one gets better at life by being told they are right all the time. After years of being gaslit by people I was supposed to trust and living a life that was full of secrets, shame, and broken promises, it is so refreshing to know I am safe and better off for my ability accept criticism and to call others out too. My journey to sobriety has made me self-aware enough to see my own bullshit, and it’s made it easier to see yours too.

The post My Bullsh*t Meter Improved So Much When I Got Sober appeared first on Scary Mommy.

Itchy Butthole? You Aren’t Alone

Okay, let’s dig in (see what I did there?) and talk about something you probably don’t want to talk about, but we need to address. The butthole.

Contrary to what you’d like to believe about your precious partner, or mother, or crush, we know that everyone has one, and they all get a little itchy sometimes.

I mean, every other part of our body sends us the urge to scratch and relieve the itch, why should our Hershey hole be any different?

Think about it — it’s kind of a tight space that doesn’t get a lot of breathing room. Not to mention we shit out of it every day (if we are lucky, I mean). 

I cannot be the only one who has had a shooting itch spike up my puckered starfish while in line at the grocery store. There is no amount of leg crossing or “accidentally” rubbing your cheeks against the candy aisle that can take that kind of ferocious feeling out of your crapsnatch.

There are times you need to get your fingernails involved and just be done with it. (Not in the grocery store line, though, thanks.)

I’ve told my kids over and over they need to wipe better when I see their hand disappear into their ass crack, but a dingy pooper may not be the only reason an anal itch can send you over the edge.

Bum crumbs are a culprit for sure, so WebMD suggests it’s always helpful to try and wipe your balloon knot with a “wet piece of dye-free, unscented toilet paper” then pat it down with a dry piece to get rid of the moisture.

Or you could opt for a butthole-blowout and use a hair dryer (set on low and at a safe distance away, naturally) to dry it more gently.

So, start there if you feel like there’s a fire in your hole. Literally. 

Dr. Giuseppe Aragona is a General Practitioner who told Scary Mommy that anal itching can be the result of certain foods or medications.

I can personally attest to this one because for some reason, whenever I eat quinoa, I get an ass-rash that feels like one thousand rays of sun and my entire crack and butthole need to be on ice in order to stop the flames. My doctor told me it was an allergic reaction and I needed to stop eating it. Who would have thought a power-grain would make me want to take sandpaper to my mud tunnel?

If you are having a case of the itchies in your tootsie pop, pay attention to anything new you are putting in your body, as that might be the problem.

Dr. Aragona also adds that continuing to scratch the anus can cause additional symptoms associated with the itching such as burning and pain, and your symptoms could get worse. If that is the case, consult your doctor.

And don’t underestimate how fast an anal speed bump (also known as hemorrhoids or anal fissures) can slow you down. 

Vikram Tarugu, M.D. told Scary Mommy via email that there are many skin conditions that can flare up and cause you uncomfortable itching and pain in the anus area, such as psoriasis or contact dermatitis.

“Medical conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disease, hemorrhoids, anal tumors can also be to blame,” says Dr. Tarugu.  “There are also infections to look out for like sexually transmitted infections, pinworms, and yeast infections.”

You can also get a case of the itchies if you have had a bout of diarrhea or are using a soap, wipe, or body wash that your skin just doesn’t like.

No matter how aggressive the itch, don’t forget to be gentle with your bumhole. Dr. Tarugu says that even “washing too aggressively can irritate that delicate skin.”

Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD is a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills, explains in an interview via email that anal sex may be the cause of some discomfort and itching as well.

“The stretching of the the naturally tight anal sphincter can be either pleasurable or uncomfortable. The nerve stimulation due to the stretching can be perceived as either pain or, actually itch,” says Dr. Shainhouse.

We know you can get strep throat, but strep is another reason why our bottoms could be itching. “Known as strep throat in the elementary school crowd, streptococcal bacteria can actually infect the anal area, causing an itchy or painful red rash inside the buttocks. If you or your kids have recently been diagnosed with strep throat and you develop this symptom, show your doctor,” advises Dr. Shainhouse. “You can test for the infection with the same type of swab used for your throat, and treatment is the same course of oral antibiotic.” 

If you are itching and not sure where to turn to relieve yourself, start with gently cleaning the area with wet fragrance-free toilet paper and make sure to carefully dry the area. If the itching persists, all the doctors we spoke with recommend making a call to your doctor, because it could indicate something more serious.

Your butthole should be treated like anything else on your body. If it’s itching more than normal, it’s not normal, and you should take a closer look — or have someone else do it — to find out what the problem is as soon as possible. 

The post Itchy Butthole? You Aren’t Alone appeared first on Scary Mommy.

What You Should Know About Colon Cancer

On August 28 of this year, Chadwick Boseman, the actor who starred in Black Panther and numerous other films, died after a four-year battle with colon cancer. He was just 43 years old. He kept his disease largely a secret as he filmed award-winning films and supported children undergoing their own cancer treatments.

View this post on Instagram

It is with immeasurable grief that we confirm the passing of Chadwick Boseman.⁣ ⁣ Chadwick was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016, and battled with it these last 4 years as it progressed to stage IV. ⁣ ⁣ A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all, and brought you many of the films you have come to love so much. From Marshall to Da 5 Bloods, August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and several more, all were filmed during and between countless surgeries and chemotherapy. ⁣ ⁣ It was the honor of his career to bring King T’Challa to life in Black Panther. ⁣ ⁣ He died in his home, with his wife and family by his side. ⁣ ⁣ The family thanks you for your love and prayers, and asks that you continue to respect their privacy during this difficult time. ⁣ ⁣ Photo Credit: @samjonespictures

A post shared by Chadwick Boseman (@chadwickboseman) on

He fought a battle against a cancer that is largely unknown and largely considered a disease that targets older people, though it is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States for men and women combined, and on the rise for adults younger than 50.

In the days since his death, more people than ever are asking questions about colon cancer. Here’s what we should know.

What Is Colon Cancer?

What You Should Know About Colon Cancer
American Cancer Society/Getty

According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer is cancer that starts in the colon. It is often grouped together with rectal cancer, which starts in the rectum, because they have a number of features in common. Both cancers originate in parts of the body that are involved in the digestive system, specifically the end of the digestive system where food is broken down. Both cancers also tend to grow slowly over a number of years, beginning with a growth called a polyp. Removing the polyp early may keep it from becoming cancerous.

Who Is At Risk of Developing Colon Cancer?

A risk factor is anything that may increase your risk of developing a certain type of cancer. Different risk factors are associated with different cancers. It’s important to remember that having a risk factor does not guarantee that you will develop a particular cancer. Not having a risk factor does not ensure that you will not develop the cancer.

Certain lifestyle factors are associated with increased risk. Being overweight, not being physically active, eating a diet high in red meat or processed food, smoking, and alcohol use are all known risk factors for colon cancer. Likewise, age, family background, and history of inflammatory bowel disease serve as risk factors.

When Is Screening Recommended?

The American Cancer Society recommends that everyone get regular colon cancer screenings beginning at 45 years old. Those with a family history of colon cancer should begin getting tested at the earlier of either age 40 or ten years younger than whatever age their family member was diagnosed.

Dr. Robin B. Mendelsohn, co-director of the Center for Young Onset Colorectal Cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, in an interview for the New York Times recommended “early screening also for people with a history of inflammatory bowel disease, like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, and for people who have previously received radiation in their abdomen or pelvis.”

A screening can be either testing on stool samples or an image-based test, such as a colonoscopy.

What Symptoms To Look Out For?

What You Should Know About Colon Cancer
Andrei Orlov/Getty

As with many cancers, colon cancer may grow for some time before it begins to show any symptoms. But if symptoms are present, the American Cancer Society suggests these are some to look out for: a change in bowel habits, like diarrhea or constipation that lasts for more than a few days, rectal bleeding or blood in the stool, cramping, abdominal pain, weakness, fatigue, and unintended weight loss.

The Growing Risk For Younger People

A study published in 2019 found that “[t]he proportion of persons diagnosed with CRC [colorectal cancer] at an age younger than 50 years in the United States has continued to increase over the past decade, and younger adults present with more advanced disease.” That means that not only are younger people being diagnosed with the disease, they are also presenting at a later, harder to treat and survive stage.

“The five-year survival rate for young people for early-stage disease is 94 percent,” said Rebecca L. Siegel, the scientific director of surveillance research at the American Cancer Society, told the New York Times.

That’s encouraging. But that number dips to 20 percent in late stage disease. The problem arises when young people ignore symptoms—maybe because discussing issues in and around the colon and rectum are embarrassing or carry some sort of stigma. Maybe because doctors don’t instantly suspect colon cancer in younger patients.

Researchers aren’t sure why the proportion of younger people being diagnosed with the disease is growing. Lifestyle factors are suspected, but experts aren’t convinced that’s the only reason. Until more is known, paying attention to symptoms, having an honest conversation with your doctor, and getting regular screenings are the best defenses against this disease.

Racial Disparities In Colon Cancer

The rate of new cases in non-Hispanic Black people was nearly 20 percent higher than the rate of new cases for non-Hispanic white people.

“African-Americans are 40 percent more likely to die from colorectal cancer. It’s because of later-stage diagnosis, it’s because of systemic racism and all that this population has been dealing with for hundreds of years,” Ms. Siegel told the New York Times.

Chadwick Boseman was an incredible actor, and by all accounts, an even more incredible soul. His death is a tragedy. I am loathe to say his death shines a light on a disease that’s only well known to those who’ve lived it, or who’ve lost someone to it, because death isn’t a teaching moment. His family and friends are in pain and grieving. Much of the world is grieving.

But awareness is important. Knowledge is power. And early detection may help make a lifetime of difference.

The post What You Should Know About Colon Cancer appeared first on Scary Mommy.

Girls Are Undergoing Labiaplasty, And We Need to Talk About It

For the vast majority of cisgender girls, the physical changes in puberty can feel downright uncomfortable. We get periods, grow breasts, sweat more, discover hair in spots we didn’t expect. Compounded with this is the gross lack of information presented to us about the awesome individuality of our bodies. Not only have we been cheated out of some kickass female empowerment lessons as kids and teens, but we’ve also been conditioned through the media and beauty industry to see skewed images of women that give us a ton of anxiety if our physical parts didn’t match up to them.

There are two really important topics in my high school health class that no one ever covered, and I really wish they had. They are the sexual pleasure we as females deserve to receive and experience, and that it’s normal AF to have your labia look unique to you. Can you imagine if our teachers had been given free rein to openly discuss the undeniable magic of the clitoris and how female orgasms have unexpected health benefits, or if they had shared with us this nifty photo gallery courtesy of The Labia Library? I know I personally would’ve been getting my big O on a little earlier had I known how to actually make it happen and felt totally cool to doodle underneath that poster of my teenage crush Angelina Jolie hanging in my bedroom. Instead, I was taught to see my reproductive parts as two main things — the source of my generationally stigmatized menstrual cycle, and that spot where the unprotected sex need never happen. 

Seriously though. Maybe, just maybe, if our educational institutions acknowledged the very real and very deserving perks of having a vagina, the right to choose what to do with it, and the confidence that comes with allowing ourselves the pleasure of enjoying it, we might not have a growing number of teenage girls feeling so ashamed of their vaginas that they’re going to extreme lengths to surgically alter them. 

I wish I was making this up, but I’m not. According to the BBC, over the past five years in particular, girls as young as nine have been seeking out cosmetic labiaplasty and going under the knife to voluntarily trim their labia in an effort to make it appear closer to what they think one is “supposed” to look like. And yes, our adolescents are most definitely being exposed to images of vaginas online and taking mental notes, I can assure you. They’re also looking at their own body parts in confusion and potential disgust, because they don’t have the necessary resources around them to understand that each labia is different in its size, shape, and composition. Hell, there’s even a surgery available to fuse the outer labia together like a clam shell called “The Barbie,” and it’s gaining popularity among teens. 

This is obviously a terrifying reality, considering that Barbie is completely made of plastic and doesn’t even have a vagina. 

“Labiaplasty, which is the trimming of the inner and outer labia, is the fastest-growing cosmetic surgery among teenage girls,” says “Girls and Sex” author Peggy Orenstein in her 2016 Ted Talk. “It rose 80 percent between 2014 and 2015, and whereas girls under 18 comprise two percent of all cosmetic surgeries, they are five percent of labiaplasty.”

Between 2013 and 2018, The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reported that labiaplasty surgeries have seen a 53% increase, with more than 35 million dollars spent in 2018 on the procedure and 12,756 total surgeries performed. Of those documented procedures, 491 had been performed on girls under the age of 17.

Between 2018 and 2019, The American Society of Plastic Surgeons noticed a 9% increase in cosmetic labiaplasty procedures, and I can only imagine that girls and teens may very well still be an active demographic for those seeking out the procedure. There are also few extensive guidelines for screening adolescents prior to surgical approval. This poses a huge risk to our girls in more ways than one. Since their outer labia doesn’t finish growing until they turn 18, there is the great potential for scarring and even asymmetrical genitals if an adolescent surgically alters her vulva before it’s had a chance to properly grow.

“The labiaplasty trend has become so worrisome that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has issued a statement on the procedure, which is rarely medically indicated, has not been proven safe and whose side effects include scarring, numbness, pain and diminished sexual sensation,” explains Orenstein. “Now, admittedly, and blessedly, the number of girls involved is still quite small, but you could see them as canaries in a coal mine, telling us something important about the way girls see their bodies.”

Just months before the author’s groundbreaking Ted Talk, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists published an article stating that the surgical alteration of the labia is not necessary to the health of an adolescent girl, and it can even be considered a violation of federal criminal law in many cases. And yet, girls under 18 have still been getting this procedure, with one of the only major screening guidelines suggested being the examination of whether a young patient has body dysmorphia

For these impressionable young girls, the desire to cosmetically alter their genitals can often stem from our society’s impossible beauty standards and the media imagery they compare their bodies to, along with the infuriating lack of positive sex education available to them in school. According to Orenstein, this assuredly results in female adolescents feeling shame and the fear of humiliation if their anatomy does match up with what they may see online, keeps them from prioritizing their own pleasure during sexual encounters, and leads a bunch of girls to even avoid self-exploration. 

“Kids go into their puberty education classes and they learn that boys have erections and ejaculations, and girls have periods and unwanted pregnancy,” she says. “And they see that internal diagram of a woman’s reproductive system — you know, the one that looks kind of like a steer head — and it always grays out between the legs. So we never say ‘vulva,’ we certainly never say ‘clitoris.’ No surprise, fewer than half of teenage girls age 14 to 17 have ever masturbated. And then they go into their partnered experience and we expect that somehow they’ll think sex is about them, that they’ll be able to articulate their needs, their desires, their limits. It’s unrealistic.”

Obviously, a major fucking shift needs to happen here. It’s ridiculous enough that there is still an overwhelming amount of stigma around periods and postpartum bodies, not to mention living with racist and discriminatory industries that constantly pick apart our perceived physical “flaws” in order to profit off of the self-loathing they helped to create. We don’t need to add into this harmful mix the damaging reality of teens thinking that their vaginas are a problem to be fixed or an area devoid of pleasure. And we certainly don’t need them seeking out a cosmetic genital surgery named after Barbie.

The post Girls Are Undergoing Labiaplasty, And We Need to Talk About It appeared first on Scary Mommy.

We Don’t Talk About Perimenopause Enough, And I Resent It

Women talk about everything. Marital discord. Kids. Stupid people. Work stress. Our biggest fears and insecurities. The wildest things we’ve ever done in the bedroom. But no one—and I mean no one—talks about perimenopause, and I resent it.

One morning, you find yourself deep in conversation with an acquaintance at the middle school. Straight up, you never wanted to make small talk with another mother. You’d paid a visit to the administrative office to drop off the form you forgot to send in the mail. Now you’re cornered. Suddenly, mid-sentence, you experience the mother of all hot flashes. It feels as if you’re running a marathon in Death Valley. (FYI: Death Valley hit a record high of 130-degrees last week.) Little flames lick your cheeks. For a second, you think you may faint.

Concerned, the other mother asks, “Are you ok?”

Apparently, you look and smell like a dirty kitchen sponge. You say, “I’m having another hot flash.”

The other mother grimaces, blinks one too many times, and mumbles a weak apology. She scurries away faster than the hot flash comes and goes.

You stand there, confused. She asked. You answered. Why is it taboo to talk about the terrible symptoms of perimenopause when so many of us are dealing with insufferable hormonal imbalances and crazy ass cycles?

Last week, I experienced an emotional breakdown of epic proportions. My heavy, swollen breasts had grown two whole cup sizes larger than they’d been for the entirety of my adult life. A “bra fit expert” had helped me find my new size months ago. But those bras no longer fit, and I had no clue why. Cue my tantrum.

Determined not to waste any more money on new, expensive bras, I bought some ugly but affordable sports bras from Target. The sports bras promised to banish the uniboob look. My purchase said one thing to me: I was winning so hard at life. Unfortunately, the pressure of the fit caused my breasts to ache and throb. When I went bra-less, the bouncing caused pain. On top of this, I googled “the best solutions for dealing with underboob sweat” at least a dozen times. Big yikes!

My mother underwent a hysterectomy after she gave birth to my youngest sister. As the oldest of four female siblings, I’m often the first to go through many reproductive changes. Consequently, I have no point of reference to judge or understand the bodily changes I’m experiencing as I slog my way through my 40s. More than once, I’ve asked myself, “Why have I been kept in the dark on this?”

Public discussion on what happens to women’s bodies is still taboo. A shroud of secrecy surrounds “women’s stuff” like periods, pregnancy, giving birth, postpartum woes, perimenopause, menopause, etc. As adolescents, we internalize society’s message that periods are “gross,” which implies that our hormonal cycles are something to hide. And it doesn’t end with adolescence. Remember when Instagram censored Rupi Kaur’s menstruation-themed photo series for violating community standards? It’s a no-no to show our real lives on social media. Instead, we must keep serving up the carefully curated, color-corrected versions of them.

When you hit middle age, society sends you a flood of new messages. You’re old, unattractive, belligerent, out-of-control, and invisible. Where are the books and blogs written by women for women who are knee-deep in this stage of life? Women hide the messy, uncomfortable parts of their experiences because they’ve been told they’re “too icky,” “too personal,” or “too embarrassing.”

It’s unacceptable. We need to talk about what we aren’t talking about. We need to change the conversation.

Why? If we don’t talk about women’s issues, women’s expectations are that they’re easy. And when they aren’t easy, women feel isolated and alone. Something must be wrong with you and your body. Right?

Wrong.

The docuseries Expecting Amy premiered on July 9, 2020, on the new HBO Max. It follows comedian Amy Schumer through her pregnancy. I’ve been an Amy Schumer fan for some time. She never shies away from showing the messy side of womanhood. While hysterical, she has an emotional frankness I envy. No question, I went into my viewing experience hoping to laugh.

I didn’t expect to sit there nodding my head emphatically in agreement. And I certainly didn’t expect to cry. Schumer created a real gem with this docuseries because she pulls back the curtain and sheds light on women’s issues like infertility, work during pregnancy, hyperemesis gravidarum, C-sections, and post-partum issues. She says, “I resent the culture and how much women have to suck it the f—k up and act like everything’s fine.”

While Expecting Amy doesn’t deal with perimenopause, it’s raw, real, and honest, and I’m here for that. You should be, too.

The world needs more women like Schumer who aren’t afraid to talk about women’s issues. Talking about something recognized as taboo normalizes it. When trying to normalize the discussion of a taboo topic, you’re challenging someone’s belief that that specific topic shouldn’t be discussed, at all. There is no justification for our silence. Reject the messages society sends you.

These days, my uterus feels like a bowling ball. It’s not just the distended belly that irks me; it’s the feeling of fullness and pressure. My periods? Don’t get me started. Playtex has made a small fortune from me. Since I started synthetic progesterone to stop a stint of uterine bleeding that lasted nearly a month, my moods have become erratic. Who coined the term hot flash anyway? Because it’s not a flash. It’s a torrent.

My OBGYN tells me the pain must be in my head. She’s offered me birth control umpteen times to address my pelvic problems. I tried it. Twice! Yet here I am, no closer to solving the mysteries of my uterus. Not only am I fatigued from the rigors of my everyday life as a parent and writer, but also I’m fatigued from resenting the lack of information and resources available to me. The blank stares I’m offered when I mention menorrhagia or hormone replacement therapy make me want to throw my hands up in frustration. The silence alienates me.

While my symptoms are common, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to perimenopause. Your experience could be a snap. That’s what makes this transition so difficult. All the more reason we need to talk it out.

On a positive note, a rising presence in mainstream media shows change is taking place. Some taboos about women’s bodies are dying because women are opening up in public ways. Because why can’t we talk about this?

You can be part of that change by speaking up on issues affecting you. Share. Ask questions. Normalize our experiences as women. That means all parts of our experiences—the good, the bad, and the ugly. We need each other.

The post We Don’t Talk About Perimenopause Enough, And I Resent It appeared first on Scary Mommy.

This Winter Is Going To Be A Rough One

“It was the best of times… It was the worst of times…” is a famous Charles Dickens quote from A Tale of Two Cities. Some might say comparing 2020 to late 18th century London and Paris is absurd, but medical experts say unless we collectively get our shit together, this winter won’t be too far off from that description.

Dickens novels are known for their darkness and dreariness, and as a northerner, I can identify with “dreary.” As someone who lives in a place where it truly is winter for half the year—like snow really starts before Thanksgiving and doesn’t stop until April and where it really gets dark at 4:30 every day, I know dreary. Where I live, we try to embrace the snow and don our snow shoes and hit the sledding hills, but it’s also too damn cold to go outside many days, so we rely on indoor entertainment to pass the time. Our kids play sports like baseball inside an indoor facility in the cold months, and get togethers with family and friends are in living rooms or at local pubs with a roaring fire. And on the coldest of days, if you stand outside for more than five minutes, you’re pretty sure your nose will freeze straight off your face.

So no, I don’t know what it’s like to live through the French revolution, but I do know what it’s like to fight winter despair during a time that can be very isolating. And I fear that the ways to fight that despair—connecting to the world but staying indoors—will not be safe this winter due to COVID-19.

Because the truth is, our country is wasting its opportunity to get COVID under control. The window of opportunity to beat this pandemic, or at least get it contained, was and is during the warmer months when most of the nation can be outside. Not when half of us are indoors for months on end while blizzards rage outside our windows. By then, it will be far too late.

Winter is coming. That’s the truth, folks, and not just for Jon Snow fighting the White Walkers. It’s coming in real life, here, to all of us, and soon.

Because when we say “winter is coming,” we don’t just mean snow and shorter days. We also mean flu season, which already causes widespread illnesses and sometimes death for Americans across the country. Flu season, which already tends to fill hospital beds, cause wide-spread shortages of employees calling in sick, and lead to long waits at the pharmacy and health clinics.

And, since COVID hit the U.S. after our flu season had waned, we don’t know how the viruses will mix. But medical professionals and scientists are worried. What happens if someone gets COVID-19 and the flu at the same time? Or a baby is exposed to COVID-19 and RSV? No one is looking forward to finding out the answers to these questions, but find them out we will.

This Winter Is Going To Be Rough If We Don’t Get A Handle On Things
Imgorthand/Getty

Also, experts fear a new phase of testing shortages will arise as more sick people come in to the doctor, possibly with the flu. Ruling out COVID-19 will be the top priority, so everyone will need to be tested. “Now more than ever, flu vaccinations will be important to not only reduce the risk for disease, but also avoid hospitalizations and potential exposures,” Saskia v. Popescu, PhD, MPH, MA, CIC says. “More emphasis on isolation precaution, proper donning and doffing of PPE, hand hygiene, and staying home when sick, will be imperative,” Dr. Popescu adds.

Because if we don’t, it’s going to be a hell of a lot worse than it is now. “Unless Americans use the dwindling weeks between now and the onset of ‘indoor weather’ to tamp down transmission in the country, this winter could be Dickensianly bleak, public health experts warn,” warns boston.com.

I mean, have you read anything by Charles Dickens? “Bleak” is putting it mildly. Yet here we go, speeding at full force toward one of the darkest times in our nation’s history, all because we spent the summer crammed in a pool with 50 friends.

The article explains that Americans are growing increasingly pandemic-weary and are more concerned with resuming their pre-COVID lives than stamping this thing about before winter hits. And for that, we will pay dearly.

The Charles Dickens quote continues: “It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Maybe 2020 isn’t so far off from the age of Dickens after all. A spring of hope? Maybe. But then, lots of foolishness. A shit-ton of incredulity. And as a result, a season of darkness. A winter of despair.

“People have been throwing Covid cautions to the wind, flouting public health orders in the process,” says Kristen Ehresmann, director of infectious disease epidemiology, prevention, and control for the Minnesota Department of Health.

For example, a three-day rodeo in Minnesota that was supposed to be limited to 250 people, but to which thousands attended, is one example. Sturgis, an annual 10-day motorcyclist rally held in South Dakota that had a quarter of a million people join, is another.

Foolishness. 

These massive groups of people with the mentality that “we should all be allowed to do whatever we want because screw thinking of others and making choices for the greater good!” all returned to their home cities and home states, carrying Lord knows what germs back to their communities—COVID-19 included.

And, on a smaller, but still dangerous scale, families and friends all over the country are still gathering in groups, thinking it’s no big deal to have 10-20 people over. But experts say these gatherings are continuing the transmission of COVID at greater rate than many realize and are not, actually, a safe option right now.

The boston.com article also says that Ehresmann and others in public health are “flummoxed by the phenomenon of people refusing to acknowledge the risk the virus poses” and that this idea of “I just don’t want to believe it so therefore it’s not going to be true” is baffling.

Incredulity.

Michael Mina, also an epidemiologist, agrees. “We just continue to squander every bit of opportunity we get with this epidemic to get it under control,’’ said Mina, who is also an assistant professor in Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and associate medical director of clinical microbiology at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

This Winter Is Going To Be Rough If We Don’t Get A Handle On Things
SBDIGIT/Getty

“The best time to squash a pandemic is when the environmental characteristics slow transmission. It’s your one opportunity in the year, really, to leverage that extra assistance and get transmission under control,” he adds.

But we’re not. And, again, winter is coming. The season of sickness and flu and sneezing and runny noses. Combine that with COVID and picture the nightmarish scenario we are heading into as we all piss away the opportunities given us by the summer months.

Here’s what that scenario, experts warn, is going to include: shutdowns nationwide. Schools closed. Bars and restaurants and entertainment facilities closed. Gyms closed. Spikes in cases in all age groups—the elderly, young adults, older adults, and yes, children.

Laura Rosella, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, says summer is easy compared to what winter will bring. In summer, we can visit outside, on our patio, six feet apart. Or meet up at a park and catch up in the fresh air while maintaining a safe distance.

“It’s actually really nice that people are able to socialize and see family and see their friends outside in a safe way,” Rosella said. However, she adds, “I think it’s going to be very hard when people are going to have to make the decision about maybe not entering those social situations, because it is much higher risk in an indoor environment.”

And we know that many of us rely on these social situations for our mental health, especially in the dreary winter months. But due to our lack of preparation or overall regard for the severity of this pandemic, we may not have such opportunities come winter.

“If the country doesn’t alter the trajectory it is on, more shutdowns are inevitable,” warns communicable disease expert Caroline Buckee, who adds, “I can’t see a way that we’re going to have restaurants and bars open in the winter, frankly. We’ll have resurgence. Everything will get shut down again.”

And, when everything shuts down, and we are forced to return to isolation, we as a nation will be at the height of seasonal depression, flu season, and a pandemic. And it really might be the worst of times.

The post This Winter Is Going To Be A Rough One appeared first on Scary Mommy.