When “hyperandrogenic anovulatory state” becomes a common phrase in your non-scholastic reading list, you may have PCOS: Part I

Turns out that trying to research a thesis with a hormonal imbalance-induced foggy brain while simultaneously researching the hormonal imbalance giving you a foggy brain to find treatments to make your brain NOT foggy and then testing those treatments while STILL TRYING TO WRITE A THESIS is basically the worst idea. Ever. My thesis, thus far, has felt something like trying to spontaneously speak Latin.  And paying a small group of people to tell you how terrible your non-existent Latin skills are.  All with a mouth full of Novocaine.  Yeah, something like that. Badluckovaries

And then, all of a sudden, you find some magical combinations of yoga and whole foods and supplements and the words begin to make sense!  Even if the whole thesis-thing still feels like I am auribus teneo lupum.

But now that I am able to think clearly and have only TWO WEEKS left to try and complete my thesis, I find myself raging fucking pissed to be in this position.  I am also completely baffled because now that I feel better, I realize just how utterly shitty I felt for so long.  I should have been diagnosed years ago, instead of being treated like a pathetic hypochondriac.  So taking a quick sanity break from citations, I found myself writing.  And writing.  And writing.  It has been so long since I felt well enough and had enough mental acuity to write.  Reframing a lot of negative assumptions about my body and my mind through what I know about PCOS has not only benefitted me, but it has greatly improved my relationship with Spousal Unit.  I have done so much research, and putting it all down just feels… good. Okay, to be honest, I really just needed another break from citations.

Writing about PCOS is hard. It is a complicated, misunderstood thing.  There is a lot of research into PCOS, but by nature it each study is limited in scope.  Much of what I have found does not appear to have made it into the pool of general knowledge within the medical community.  And, as with any endocrine issue, it takes a big picture view to really make sense of it all.  For example, one issue with PCOS is that many doctors only look for women who are overweight, but current medical wisdom says only half of women with PCOS are also overweight.  And studies are now suggesting that women with PCOS are no more likely to be obese at all.  But there are many, many other indicators that are being discovered,and often get ignored. And so that is where I want to start, looking at the times in my life where a diagnosis could have been made but wasn’t.

I experienced early secondary sex characteristics- I remember being 8 years old and getting training bras because I had pretty obvious “breast buds.”  I got pubic hair before a lot of my friends.  Now, this could have been a sign of early puberty (and that is a different discussion altogether), but it wasn’t because I did not start menstruating until I was nearly 13.  If a girl develops premature adrenarche and thelarche that far in advance of actually entering puberty, it is a sign of hormonal imbalance- specifically PCOS.  At the time I was mostly mad that I got all the shitty parts of puberty without the perks- I didn’t actually develop breasts until I was 14.  That is 6 years of giant nipples with no boobs.  Thanks, body.  But since PCOS is hereditary, and my mom and other women in my family experienced the same developmental issues, no one thought twice about it.  AND since the United States lumps all education about reproductive development into sex education, then basically fails at sex education, there was no reason for me to know this was abnormal.

There were other signs that in and of themselves might not have meant much, but should have served as red flags.  As a young child, I started showing a lot of allergy issues.  I have dietary issues (more about those later), react strongly to many medications, am made horridly ill by mold, mildew, pollen and algae…  the list goes on.  I also have asthma, which recently has been found to have a correlation with PCOS as well.  It is well known that inflammation is a marker of endocrine disorders, including PCOS. This one is a more recent link, so it wouldn’t have been a sign of anything in particular when I was younger.  By my teens thought this was more well known.

But what went completely ignored by my doctors, despite my parents’ concerns, were the signs that I had issues with insulin.  I have always had strong reactions to sugar, getting serious highs and having serious crashes.  To this day I have to make sure to eat on a regular basis because I will being irritable, incapable of making decisions and develop a tremble if I go too long without food.  Classic case of hypoglycemia, and for children who experience non-diabetic hypoglycemia are really likely to have insulin issues and/or adrenal issues.  Hm, PCOS anyone?  And, this one is easier to miss, I spent most of my life being THIRSTY.  I was jokingly given a restaurant style plastic pitcher by some friends once because when we went out to eat, I routinely drank an entire pitcher of water by myself.  Cheers!  Except that it is actually, like, a medically diagnosable sign of hyperglycemia.  Yet more evidence that my insulin was super out of whack.

The red flags increased as I hit puberty.  Despite having a fairly healthy diet and an active lifestyle (yeah, okay, I didn’t exactly “work out” but I loved hiking and swimming) when I hit puberty my thin frame suddenly developed this gut I could not get rid of.  Which is mortifying to a teenager.  While as I pointed out obesity and PCOS are not as correlated as most people think, mid-section weight gain is still associated with insulin resistance as well as increased cortisol, which are both signs of PCOS.  In case a gut wasn’t enough, I got a whole bunch of skin issues too.  Acne. Oh the acne.  But I also developed a rash, an uncomfortable, unattractive and totally embarrassing rash.  During the worst breakouts, it covered the entire area from my armpits, under and between my breasts.  I couldn’t shave when it was really bad, and for years my sleeveless shirts and dresses were seen only once in a blue moon.    While there isn’t a direct correlation between tinea versicolor and PCOS, skin issues such as this are due to endocrine issues.

And of course, the joys of PMS.  Except that I don’t have your garden variety PMS, no, I have premenstrual dysphoric disorder or PMDD.  From day one, my menstrual cycles were AWFUL.  We are talking nausea and vomiting.  Migraines.  Breast tenderness.  Horrible cramps and lower back pain that left me unable to function.  It was so bad, and to top it off my friends thought I was making it up for attention and gave me no end of shit about it.  But what was terrible was the MOOD SWINGS.  However, the issue of societal stereotypes of female moods is a huge, large issue that deserves its own blog, let alone a separate post.  Suffice to say my long term issues with my emotional response to stress shouldn’t have been treated as a character flaw.  We will come back to that next post.

Signs only increased as I became an adult.  In my early twenties, during a routine checkup, my family history triggered a cholesterol tests.  When the results came back, I had some seriously high triglycerides.  By this time I was living on my own, and I was eating  lots of plant based foods, no red meat, whole grains, and I had become an avid runner so my weight was healthy.  I shouldn’t have had any cholesterol issues based on conventional wisdom.  That coupled with my history of irregular periods should have been enough for someone to suspect PCOS, let alone with the laundry list of other red flags.  I had multiple exams, including x-rays, due to severe joint pain that no one could explain.  A few studies into estrogen have found a correlation with hormonal imbalance and joint paint in general, but pain in my shoulder (which had a sudden onset three years ago and has been a chronic problem since) is not only a sign of heart attack in women but also has been identified as a symptom of endometriosis.  While I obviously was NOT suffering a heart attack when I went in for shoulder pain the first time, I wasn’t even examined for one.  I should have been.  Immediately.  And, despite continuing pain and a history of endometriosis in my family, I have yet to be examined for that condition either.

Despite premature adrenarche and thelarche, allergies, non-diabetic hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia as a child; the onset of mid-section weight gain, acne, skin conditions and PMDD as a teen; and high triglycerides with joint pain as an adult, I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 26 years old.  This isn’t surprising.  Many women are not diagnosed with PCOS or other issues until they are struggling to get pregnant.  Despite the fact that often those with PCOS begin presenting symptoms which negatively affect them from an early age.  I think it probably says something significant about our social norms for women and their health.  Studies have shown that when women present health concerns to their doctors, they are less likely to be prescribed treatments then men.  In addition, there is far less funding for studies in women’s health than men’s.  So in general, the medical system knows less about women’s health and listens less to their concerns.

Ponder that.

I have a lot of citations.  I will need another break.  Lucky you.

A big shout out to Allie Brosh, who's awesome blog Hyperbole and a Half really gets me through my worst days...

A big shout out to Allie Brosh, who’s awesome blog Hyperbole and a Half really gets me through my worst days… Sorry I keep using your drawings for my own purposes. I promise it is flattery.

I swear I am not running an illegal pharmacy out of my bathroom, it is just PCOS

2014-07-24 12.52.55It has been months!  How are you?  Oh, great to hear.  What have I been up to?  Oh well, you know, been busy.  Haven’t had much time or energy for blogging lately.  Because as of today, it has been 1 year, 10 months and 18 days since I went off birth control.   1 year and 20 days since we began our adoption homestudy.  5 months since I was officially diagnosed with PCOS.  98 days since we started infertility treatments.  It has been no days since I was a parent.  Not that I am counting.  Or bitter.

Tell you more?  You asked for it.

Basically, when it comes to endocrine disorders, no one knows wtf is going on or how to fix it.  Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is no exception.  While PCOS is so named because of the classic multiple cysts which are found on the ovaries, and the infrequent or total lack of ovulation that accompanies that, there is a lot more to it.  PCOS is called a syndrome because there are so many possible symptoms, and no single diagnostic feature or method.  Depending on your phenotype, you may (or may not) have acne, excessive weight, hirsutism (excessive body hair), male pattern balding, insulin resistance or high cholesterol (particularly triglycerides).  A diagnosis of PCOS means that you are at a higher risk for heart disease, Type II diabetes, as well as cervical, ovarian and endometrial cancer.  It can also be extremely difficult to become pregnant- when you either don’t ovulate at all or ovulate infrequently, well, there you are.  For those women who do achieve pregnancy, there is an increased risk for gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced hypertension and preeclampsia.

However, women with PCOS tend to have lower rates of osteoporosis, so at least I have that going for me.

What is really frustrating is that my treatment plan from my OGBYN consisted of being put on medication- metformin, a diabetes drug which is supposed to help control insulin levels, and clomid to help stimulate ovulation.  There was no discussion of dietary or exercise changes, helpful supplements, and absolutely no discussion of mental and emotional tolls of infertility.

I wasn’t informed that taking cinnamon has huge benefits for PCOS-associated insulin and cholesterol issues.  Or that there is some evidence that a gluten free diet can help reduce PCOS symptoms.  Or that acupuncture may increase chance of conceiving in women with PCOS.  And while I was told that metformin can give you an upset stomach (read: you lose weight because you can’t keep anything down and have horrific diarrhea) no one thought to mention that metformin is linked to vitamin B12 deficiency.  B12 deficiencies can increase the risk of anemia, chronic fatigue, memory loss, confusion, INFERTILITY (great) and permanent nerve and neurological damage- read: dementia.  Oh yeah, no biggie, I can see why you failed to mention THAT.

And then there is clomid.  The only warning I got was that it can increase the chance of having twins or triplets (which when you are desperate to have kids SOUNDS like not a bad deal).  After the first round of clomid, I decided to do more research on the side effects and found that clomid exacerbates PMS symptoms, can mimic pregnancy, and specifically can cause:

Clomid

so for yours truly all of that plus exacerbated PMS symptoms means severe cramping, back spasming, bloating, nausea- and the acne, oh lord the acne- and is so bad, it like going through puberty all over again.  My body is partying like it is 1999.

The warning I didn’t get was that clomid can make you nuttier than a Snickers bar.  Seriously.  I thought the mood swings just going off birth control were bad.  Nope.  Not even close.  See, as a teenager, it was pretty much assumed the extreme moodiness was just par for the course.  When I got on birth control as an adult, it was like a miracle.  I was finally able to control my weight, I didn’t have awful horrible no good very bad periods, but best of all my mood swings became like those of normal women.  It was glorious.  But I after a few years you forget how bad things were before miracles happened.

While there is little clinical proof linking PCOS and premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence.  Since both deal with hormonal imbalances, it is logical to assume there might be a connection.  The problem is that some people in the scientific community like to say the premenstrual syndrome is all imagined anyway (and those people are asshats) so talking about sever PMS can be challenging.  Those of us who experience the extreme hopelessness, anxiety, moodiness and/or irritability each menstrual cycle, and our family and friends who have to watch us experience it, will tell you it is very real.

The days between ovulation and actually having a period, I feel like I am sitting at the bottom of a deep well alone.  There are about two days in there where bottom just falls out.  That well is filled with water and I am stuck treading for dear life lest I drown.  It is really terrible for both me and the Spousal Unit.  And infertility issues tend to cause depression anyway, so basically this is just a big ball of suck.  The problem is, the DSM recently decided to classify PMDD as a mental illness.  The military can be pretty judgey when it comes to mental health issues, and they don’t exactly offer a lot of services when you are stationed overseas, so at this time I don’t really have a lot of options other than just taking the suck as it is and attempting to play the part of a functional adult when in public.

To sum it up, I am foggy, forgetful, have trouble focusing or making decisions, am irritable, irrational, constantly exhausted and to top it all off all the meds and supplements I now take make me feel ill.  Some days I feel like getting showered and dressed is an accomplishment.  Sadly, the house will not clean itself, the dogs still need walked and my thesis deadline does not change.  The good news is that I finally got a new OGBYN, who appears to be more informed about PCOS than the last one.  I am a girl who does my research, so our first appointment I brought in all the information I had, and my supplements, my gluten-free/soy free/limited full fat dairy/no red meat/low caffeine diet plan, my ovulation and basal body temp charts, and a list of questions.  I am finally getting the thyroid, progesterone level and gluten tolerance testing I should have had months ago.

If I were capable of being thrilled right now, I would be, but today is a bottom-of-the-well day and the best I can muster is to not scream or cry in front of you.  Good enough?

Yeah, been fun!  Glad we could catch up like this.

The “Yes, you have moved to Italy” Reality Checklist, vol. 1

1. It is apparently totally kosher to pass a school bus while it is pulled over picking up students.

2. No 24 hour anything, both a blessing and a curse.

3. There is really very little differentiation between a café and a bar.  No matter what the sign says, they serve both coffee and wine.

4. Your crossover is a BEHEAMOUTH on Italian roads.

5. Hotdogs DO belong on pizza.

6. Everyone stares.  EVERYONE.  They really aren’t judging you or contemplating committing foul play, they just do that.  Don’t expect them to smile at you while they stare.

Subtle Sexism 101: Not Turtley Awesome, Dude

Spousal Unit love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Not like.

Not really like.

Loves.  With a capital L.

And so we talk about TMNT a lot.  Not that I actually know jack about the show, so don’t ask me.  I mean, I watched it growing up because EVERYONE watched it growing up.  I’m pretty sure I played April on the playground in epic TMNT battles in kindergarten.  But I don’t really know much about the show.  I wasn’t a Turtle girl.  Ask me about Inspector Gadget, and I can go on for hours, but that is a whole other sandbox of crazy.

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Point being, somewhere in between the Spousal Unit stealthily moving his Michelangelo action figure around the house and buying himself a Donatello outfit for running 5Ks in, the topic of Venus De Milo came up.  Look, if you really want to know all the geekery about which iteration she appeared in and how long she lasted and where her story arch went, go troll the forums.  Or breeze through the wiki page.   I really can’t invest much time in getting to know the character, but my dislike has nothing to do with a long standing grudge because she was the 5th turtle, she had poor dialogue, crappy jokes or anything else that fans of TMNT seem to hate about her.  Nope, I’m so totally turned off by her name, I don’t even care to know any more.

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Lookin’ good, fellas.

For those sad sad souls who grew up under a rock (or who are just the wrong age for the whole Turtle brewhaha to matter) the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are named Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael and Leonardo, all great Renaissance artists, all famous in their own day as well as being widely known now.  Not bad name sakes for mutated reptiles living in a sewer, sustained on pizza.

Boyz Rewl!

And then a girl shows up.  What is that you say?  She is a cool shinobi who has mad numchuck skills?  Oh, nifty neato, she can be an awesome empowering character for all the girls who got tired of being April and always having to get saved!

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Utter and total fail.

Wait, what?  They named her after a statue?  An ARMLESS statue?

How about Sofonisba Anguissola, an apprentice of Bernardino Gatti who corresponded with Michelangelo?  Or Lavinia Fontana, daughter of Prospero Fontana, or Fede Galizia, daughter of Nunzio Galizia, both of whom were lucky enough to have famous artist fathers who trained them?  Maybe Artemisia Gentileschi, who endured a seven month trial against her rapist, won and went on to marry and still have a successful career- which was no small feat in 17th century Europe.  Elisabetta SiraniPlautilla NelliBarbara LonghiMarietta Robusti…  and those are just a few of the Italian artists.  But no, instead we will name her after an inanimate object created by an unknown artist.  Because what better way to reinforce that men are active players in the world and women are passive pawns then to start early and subtle with that message?  She is, in the most literal sense possible here, objectified.

Spousal Unit hadn’t really thought about all this before.

Yeah, screw you Turtles.  This is why I will stick with Inspector Gadget and his kick ass niece Penny.  That show knew what was up.

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Seriously, Penny is a great female role model. She loves to read, is hella smart, and she has managed to bridge the human/canine communication barrier. And look at that sweet jacket!

Guess how many ultrasounds of my ovaries it took to make this post?

I am not in my normally hilariously snarky frame of mind lately.  Which probably explains my recent lack of communication.  Like I always say, if you don’t have something sarcastic to say, don’t say nothin’ at all.  But, well, I would hate to deny the internet a glimpse into all my inner most thoughts.  What century are we living in if I don’t share EVERYTHING about myself?  So in the spirit of full disclosure I should let it be known that we are going to become parents.  Someday.

I have received a variety of responses from friends when telling them about the Spousal Unit and I’s decision to start the adoption process.  Some have been kind.  Some have been confused.  Some, though unintentionally, have been insensitive.  One was cruel.  That person shall remain unnamed, except for the embroidered label on their voodoo doll.

Our decision shouldn’t surprise those who know us well.  For many years now it has been my personal goal to adopt a child.  This isn’t to say that I planned to only adopt.  I would love to experience being pregnant.  Yes, I actually want to be bloated and nauseous, despite all my good sense.  Evolution is a cruel mistress in her infliction of the desire to procreate.  BUT being a parent is far more important to me than being pregnant.  (See what I did there, Evolution?  I evolved.  Ha.)  Because of that, it is tempting to only tell half truths, to say we are adopting now because it was our plan all along.

This is the internet.  The internet doesn’t lie.  So I must confess, we had planned to get pregnant first, and adopt second.  It isn’t working out that way.

When we decided we were ready to start our family (as ready as anyone ever is) I checked off everything on the responsibility list- I went off birth control, started taking vitamins, got more conscious about my nutrition and exercise.  I recently cut back on caffeine- and coming from a girl who routinely drinks an entire pot of coffee solo any given day, that is serious dedication.  I went to the doctor and got a full medical exam, looking at everything from my weight to my glucose levels.  I bought all the books and read all the forums I could find online.  Because I’m a neurotic information hoarder like that.  But after a year with no consistent menstrual cycle, a host of other indicative symptoms and many visits to my friendly clinic (including three and counting transvaginal ultrasounds, which are just as much fun as they sound) one physician finally admitted the likelihood that I may be dealing with polycystic ovary syndrome.  To be short and sweet, it could mean extreme difficulty in conceiving a child.

I have yet to be diagnosed with PCOS.  Maybe they will find that isn’t the issue at all.  But even the possibility brings up a myriad of issues for me and the Spousal Unit to contend with.  The first issue is, how far are we willing to go to conceive?  There are many couples that will go to the ends of the earth- putting the would-be mother through years of treatment and sometimes bitter disappointment.  Some of these couples, after grueling attempts, have a happy ending.  I may be willing to take a few proactive medical measures and am not, read again NOT, willing to go through a pharmacy worth of meds and all the heartache.  Thankfully, my spouse agrees.

The thought of being infertile in and of itself isn’t emotionally crippling.  A disappointment, but one I can live with.  What is unbearable is the reaction of those around me- the unbearable pity, which I neither need nor want.  But worse is the assumption that adoption is some pity prize.  I worry about the way people will view and treat my child.  For some reason, when dealing with adoptive families, people feel free to say the most incredibly inane things, ranging from asking about how much your child cost (really, want to share your medical bills with us?) to insinuating that because I didn’t spend nine months having my entire body ransacked by a parasite that I can’t love my child.  It shouldn’t matter how our child comes into our family.  I know to us it won’t.  In some ways, it is very tempting to just go back on birth control now, but, well, I’ve gone this long with the shitty symptoms of being off my favorite hormonal supplement.  I might as well give it a go a bit longer, just for giggles.  And by giggles I mean horrific cramps and mood swings that sometimes make my husband look at me like I’m Lisa Left Eye Lopes holding a lighter.  (RIP Left Eye, you were pretty cool if a little crazy.)

This is only the beginning.  So far we have filled out preliminary paperwork.  We don’t even have our first home study until next month.  I know that whether we conceive at some point in the future or not, we are definitely making the decision that is right for us, and for our children.  I’m sure that no matter the end result it is going to be an interesting part of our journey together.

Kate’s Cycles of Deployment- for the not touchy-feely among us

They try and make this process sound so clean using pop-psychology vetted words to describe the “emotional rollar coaster” of deployments.  First of all, a lot of them were blatantly sexist in their wording, using “husband” and “wife.”  (More on my ire with military blogs and their use of the gender normative spouse names next time.)  Second is that they are really just to NICE about all this.  I couldn’t stand it.  All the niceness.  So fuck that, here is what deployments feel like.

PRE-DEPLOYMENT

Stage 1: Anticipation of Loss or FIGHT CLUB

-6-8 weeks prior to deployment
-Some feelings: denial, fear, anger, resentment, hurt, and kung fu like reflexes
-Activities: financial planning, car and home preventative maintenance, updating records of emergency data.  Sorting all the shit that your spouse pulled out of boxes saying  “I’ll organize my office” when they meant “I’ll put everything out of storage into huge cluster fuck piles then play with my rediscovered action figures and leave it all for you to deal with”

This stage occurs four to six weeks before deployment. During this time it is hard for a spouse to accept the fact that their service member is going to leave them  for the Homefront Spouse to accept that their “American Hero” can be so fucking organized at work and such a disaster at home.   They may find themselves crying screaming unexpectedly at songs, TV shows, and other such silly things that would not normally affect them that the Swashbuckling Spouse plays on repeat for no reason, such as Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” because they feel the need to get a full six months of annoying the crap out of you into a few weeks.  These incidents allow the Homefront Spouse to release some of their pent-up emotions. There is a lot of tension during this period as both spouses try to cram in a multitude of projects and activities: there are bikes and cars to fix, roofs to repair, deadbolts to install, garages to clean, family to visit, neighbors and friends to invite over, etc which means the Swashbuckling Spouse will start five billion projects and leave them all undone for you to clean up in their absence.

The Homefront Spouse will have some unexpressed loudly expressed anger, and the couple may bicker even if they usually do not.  Although unenjoyable, these arguments can be functional. They provide one way for the couple to put some emotional distance between themselves in their preparation for living apart. Other frequent symptoms of this stage include restlessness (productive), depression, and irritability. While the Homefront Spouse may feel angry or resentful (They are really going to leave me alone with all this), the Swashbuckling Spouse tends to feel guilty (There is no way I can get everything done that I should complete this level in my video game before I leave.)

Stage 2: Emotional withdrawal or I’M FUCKIN FINE, LEAVE ME ALONE

-1 week prior to deployment
-Some feelings: confusion, ambivalence, anger, pulling away
-Activities: talking, sharing, fighting, setting goals to achieve during deployment and trying not to kill the Swashbuckling Spouse because then the government will be mad, usually done while packing their shit for them

In many ways, this is the most difficult stage. It occurs sometime in the final days before departure. Although they feel they should be enjoying these last few days together, the marriage is out of the couple’s control the Swashbuckling Spouses attention span is GONE. Although they push ahead trying to complete the list that never gets any shorter, the Homefront Spouse often feels a lack of energy and is fatigued.  Making decisions becomes increasingly difficult as the Swashbuckling Spouse turns into some ADD squirrel that gets distracted by video games, youtube and anything unrelated to being helpful around the house.

During this time, the spouse may experience some ambivalence about sexual relations. The brain says, “We’ve got to have sex; this is it for six months” while the heart may rebel, “But I dont want to be that close Not after all those dishes, asshole.” Intercourse represents the ultimate intimacy in marriage, yet it is hard to be intimate when spouses are separating from each other emotionally the Swashbuckling Spouse is acting more like a younger sibling than a lover. The couple may find, too, that they stop sharing their thoughts and feelings with each other because like mama said, you ain’t got nothin’ nice to say, don’t say nothin’ at all. Though both spouses are physically in the same house, emotionally they have separated.

DEPLOYMENT 

Stage 3: Emotional confusion/disorganization or MY KEYS ARE IN THE IGNITION AND THE CAR IS LOCKED

-1-6 weeks after departure
-Some feelings: sense of abandonment, need, loss, emptiness, pain, disorganization, burning rage
-Activities: crying, loss or abundance of sleep and appetite, busy, totally mind fucked

No matter how prepared the Homefront Spouse thinks they are, the actual deployment still comes as a shock. An initial sense of relief that the pain of saying good-bye of the Swashbuckling Spouse leaving Pop Tart wrappers and empty Coke cans strewn about like you live in a damn frat house is over may be followed by guilt. They may feel numb, aimless, and without purpose. Old routines have been disrupted and new ones not yet established. Many Homefront Spouses are depressed and withdraw from friends and neighbors who are trying to be supportive mostly because they say really fuckin’ insensitive stupid shit.  They often feel overwhelmed as they face total responsibility for family affairs. Many Homefront Spouses have difficulty sleeping, others sleep excessively.

Homefront Spouses often report feeling restless (though not productive), confused, disorganized, indecisive, and irritable. The unspoken question is, “What am I going to do with this hole in my life? Where the HELL did they leave the feather duster?” Whereas Homefront Spouses experience a sense of being overwhelmed, the Swashbuckling Spouses report feeling lonely and frustrated.  The lack of sex pretty much sucks too.

Stage 4: Adjustment/Recovery or I CLAIM THIS CLOSET

-Most of the deployment.
-Some feelings: hope, confidence, calm, less anger, loneliness,
-Activities: establishing routine, establishing communications, self-growth.

At some point, Homefront Spouses may realize, “Hey, ‘ doing OK this closet is mine, beotch!” They have established new family patterns and settled into a routine. They have begun to feel more comfortable with the reorganization of roles and responsibilities throwing all the Swashbuckling Spouse’s damn toys into boxes at the back of the closet, not to mention donating away that shirt they always wear that is hideous. Broken arms have been tended, mowers fixed, cars tuned up, and washing machines bought. Each successful experience adds to their self confidence annoyance that what the Swashbuckling Spouse couldn’t get done in two years they accomplished in three months. The Homefront Spouses have cultivated new sources of support through friends, church, work, wives groups, etc excessive workout routines, coffee, Netflix and wine, lots of wine.  Did we mention the lack of sex?

Stage 5: Expectation of reunion or DAMN IT I DON’T FEEL LIKE SHAVING AGAIN

-6-8 weeks prior to homecoming
-Some feelings: apprehension, excitement, high expectations, worry, fear, razor burn
-Activities: planning homecoming, cleaning, dieting finishing all the wine, loss of sleep, completion of individual projects battening down the hatches for the return of Carly Rae Jepsen, Pop Tart wrappers and video games

Approximately four to six weeks before the Swashbuckling Spouse is due back, Homefront Spouses often find themselves saying, “Ohmigosh, FUCK they coming home and I’m not ready I’m still enjoying my clean house!” That long list of things to do while they were gone is still unfinished nearly done, at least all the things that they will notice when they return, because you need to rub their face in your ability to prioritize and focus. The pace picks up. There is a feeling of joy and excitement in anticipation of living together again. Feelings of apprehension surface as well, although they are usually left unexpressed and they must be reminded that dirty clothing left on the floor will turn into a scene from Misery.  But sex sounds good.

This is a time to reevaluate the marriage. That hole that existed when the Swashbuckling Spouse left did get filled with tennis classes, church, a job, new friends, school wine.  Most experience an unconscious process of evaluation, “What am I going to have to give up? The Merlot or the Riesling?”  The Homefront Spouses are concerned “Will they understand and accept the changes that have occurred? Will they approve of the decisions I made bitch about shit?”  The Swashbuckling Spouses are anxious, too, wondering, “How have we changed? How will I be accepted? Does my family still need me?  Can I still get away with eating in the clean office?”

REUNION 

Stage 6: Honeymoon or THIS TOO SHALL PASS

-Day 1 until the first argument
-Some feelings: euphoria, blur of excitement, humping
-Activities: talking, re-establishing intimacy, readjusting

This stage, too, is one in which the spouses are together physically but not necessarily emotionally. They have to have some time together and share experiences and feelings sex, lots of sex before they feel like a couple again. During this stage, the task is to stop being single spouses and start being married again.
Most Homefront Spouses sense a loss of freedom and independence and clean homes. Routines established during the deployment are disrupted: “I have to cook a real dinner every night!? If you want something more complicated than cereal, you know where the pans are.  I’m having wine.”  Too much togetherness initially can cause friction after so many months of living apart.  Some resent their Swashbuckling Spouses making decisions that should be theirs that are obviously wrong.

This stage can be difficult as well as joyful. But it does provide an opportunity offered to few civilian couples- the chance to evaluate what changes have occurred within themselves, to determine what direction they want their growth to take, and to meld all this into a renewed and refreshed relationship. Or something like that.

Stage 7: Readjustment

-6-8 weeks following return
-Some feelings: uncomfortable, confusion, acceptance
-Activities: re-negotiating relationships, redefining roles, settling in

Spouses are back to annoying the hell out of each other, but it’s better than going without sex so deal with it.  Welcome to marriage.

There is no crying in deployments!

The base is a small world, after all.  All it took was one person from my Spousal Unit’s shop seeing my post on facebook asking for reputable house cleaners to get them ALL going.  I just wanted someone to come once a week and clean the floors.  That is it.  But you would think I had ordered a serving staff the size of Versailles   One of his coworkers told him “I don’t know why your wife needs to hire anyone to help at the house.  Half the mess maker is gone!”  Now, this statement sent me into a spitting rage, because it is based on some pretty stupid stereotypical assumptions.  First of all, that I should be able to keep up the house because, really, what else could I possibly have to do.  Second, that all my Spousal Unit is good for is making messes.

I have a part time job.  I’m also a full time graduate student.  And a Girl Scout leader and trainer, a Victims’ Advocate and board member, the Key Spouse for our Squadron, mom to three rambunctious fur babies and believe it or not sometimes I like to sleep.  It is not as if I have all this free time and I’m just lounging about the house ringing a bell for someone to bring me martinis.  As for my Spousal Unit, he is a contributing member to the household collective good, and one thing he takes care of is- you guessed it- cleaning the floors.

I am missing half of my team for an entire six months.  That is a pretty long time.  This isn’t about me not being able to take care of myself- I lived alone for a few years.  I’m pretty capable.  But at that time, I was in a small apartment, with two dogs.  I lived a 15 minute walk from campus, a 25 minute bike ride from work, and about 20 feet from a park.  A walking trail connected me to everything.  I got up and went to the gym every morning at 6:00 am, MW kickboxing, TTh running, and Friday I lifted weights then rode my bike to work.  I took lunch to go to class.  Came home in the evenings, walked the dogs for an hour, made dinner and did homework.  I could ride my bike downtown, to the movies, to my friend’s houses.  My life was very simple and contained.

Now, I have a life built around having a Second in Command.  It’s okay if I have to work late, he would go home and feed the dogs.  If I am busy with homework, he cooks dinner.  He gets up early to let the dogs out, always takes them out one more time before bed.  He picks up the mail, does the grocery shopping, and reminds me to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer.  Yes, he makes the house messier than I would alone, but Sundays are cleaning day and we do it together.  He is there to edit my papers, problem solve my work dilemmas and, importantly, coordinate our social calendar.  That’s right, my Spousal Unit is in charge of us making and maintaining friends.  I’m terrible at it, really.  So now I have three dogs, a house too big for one person and laundry that keeps going sour because I forget it.

And yet, THAT isn’t even the real issue here.  It doesn’t matter how busy I am or am not.  My best friend and lover is STILL gone.  There is more than the pragmatic issue of missing the floor cleaner/mailman/dog walker.  There is no one here to do all the little affectionate things.  To make my favorite oatmeal when I’ve had a bad week, or surprise me with the new Wii game I wanted.  All those little niceties are gone.  Getting someone to pick up even one chore for you, like cleaning floors, gives you a small sense of being cared for the way your partner cares for you.  It makes being alone a little less lonely.  I don’t know if I can explain how much better I feel coming home on Wednesday evenings to find my floors sparkling and my house smelling like vinegar and lemons (I love that smell).  I just feel a bit more supported.

The base is a small world.  I’m sure the “good natured” razzing isn’t over.  But you know what, it is okay to give yourself slack when your partner is deployed.

And just for that, I’m going to have a glass of wine and a good cry, then get back to homework.

Happy Deployment. Here is your to-do list.

I like check lists.  I make check lists about my various check lists.  I’m not kidding.  So, in preparation for the Spousal Unit’s deployment, I found myself making… a check list!  Now, this was full of boring (but none-the-less important) things, such as “exercise five days a week” and “get out of bed at least once a day.”  But then I remembered that I had made a really GREAT checklist back in the spring… one that I was supposed to start in recognition of my 26th year of existence on this planet.  In actually, I have already completed some of these items, but have not checked them off.  SLACKER.

I am going to start paying attention to this list.  Importantly, when I reach day three of the pity part (I am allowed a couple of days at a time, damn it!) I am going to pick an item off the list and complete it.  Period.  No excused for extra pounds gained from Cheetos and Reeses here.

The Challenge:
Complete 101 preset tasks in a period of 1001 days.

The Criteria:
Tasks must be specific (ie. no ambiguity in the wording) with a result that is either measurable or clearly defined. Tasks must also be realistic and stretching (ie. represent some amount of work on your part).

Why 1001 Days? 
Many people have created lists in the past – frequently simple challenges such as New Year’s resolutions or a ‘Bucket List’. The key to beating procrastination is to set a deadline that is realistic. 1001 Days (about 2.75 years) is a better period of time than a year, because it allows you several seasons to complete the tasks, which is better for organising and timing some tasks such as overseas trips, study semesters, or outdoor activities.

My Method:
As I complete a task, I will a) update the list and b) write about it (or at least post a picture!)

1.  Take a French class
2.  Read “Pride and Prejudice”
3.  Write and Illustrate 2 children’s books
4.  Build a crib
5.  Backpack somewhere for 5 days
6.  Take a 5 hour minimum trip with Babs
7.  Learn to play chess
8.  Read “Profits over People”
9.  Become LEED accredited
10.  Read “The Republic”
11.  Start my etsy site
12.  Create a work of Batik art
13.  Work on a graphic novel with a partner
14.  Host a masquerade ball for Marti Gras
15.  Learn to scuba dive
16.  Read “A Yellow Raft in Blue Water”
17.  Create my own green chili recipe
18.  Take a cruise
19.  Perform in a stage role
20.  Wear a suit to the Air Force Ball
21.  Read “As I Lay Dying”
22.  Create a vertical garden box for herbs
23.  Do yoga everyday for a month
24.  Make tiramisu
25.  Take a cake decorating class
26.  Work on a literary piece with my mom
27.  Write one blog a month
28.  Make a stained glass piece
29.  Make a traditional formal Scottish dress
30.  Read “The Metamorphasis”
31.  Take a metal smithing class
32.  Create a piece of installation art
33.  Drink hot cocoa on the beach
34.  Crochet a baby hat
35.  Read “The Bell Jar”
36.  Build a spice rack
37.  Sell a painting
38.  Take a wine tour
39.  Make sourdough bread
40.  Read “Slaughterhouse Five”
41.  Finish my Wadjet tattoo
42.  Have a veggie burger at Dakota Soda Company
43.  Visit 5 World Heritage Sites
44.  See New Years Eve in a big city
45.  Read “Wuthering Heights”
46.  Take Brad to a ballet
47.  Go star gazing
48.  Make my own sushi
49.  Go skiing/snowboarding
50.  Grow a pumpkin
51.  Host a fondue night
52.  Ride on a ferris wheel
53.  Read “House of Spirits”
54.  Make my own greeting card line
55.  Carve a Maid and Mother to go with my Crone
56.  Throw a surprise party
57.  Bake a real German Chocolate Cake
58.  Bake a real Black Forest Cake
59.  Read “100 Years of Solitude”
60.  Run a Cadette event with a group of girls
61.  Teach one of my crafting skills
62.  Write a letter of recommendation for someone
63.  Have a conversation in another language
64.  Read “Atlas Shrugged”
65.  Have a formal tea date
66.  Take a child trick or treating
67.  Sell a self-designed garment
68.  Read “Letters to a Young Poet”
69.  Attend a political rally
70.  Read “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”
71.  Pay off half my student loans
72.  Choreograph a dance to Rodrigo y Gabriella
73.  Make ornaments for each holiday
74.  Can my own chutney
75.  Read “Doctor Zhivago”
76.  Play all the way through an entire video game
77.  Host a Just Dance party
78.  Learn to paint with water colors
79.  Take Brad to an Autumn Burn concert
80.  Read “The Prince”
81.  Make a dish with Duck
82.  Teach the girls to swim
83.  Foster 2 puppies for their forever homes
84.  Read “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”
85.  Attend an unitarian congregation
86.  Jump in a pile of leaves
87.  Have a late night coffee with my brother
88.  Make salt water taffy
89.  Wear a faux hawk to a formal function
90.  Meet Brad for a “blind date”
91.  Watch every Star Trek episode, ever
92.  Read “The Picture of Dorian Gray”
93.  Create a series of painting based on poems
94.  Write three short stories
95.  Host a Murder Mystery party
96.  Stay in a bed and breakfast
97.  Create a scrapbook for someone
98.  Read “The Dharma Bums”
99.  Go to 3 art or food festivals
100. Bake a Key Lime pie

101.  Sing a lullaby to my child

What? I can’t hear you over all my “productivity”

Hi, my name is Kate and I am a work-a-holic.  I am addicted to “productivity.”  My day is broken down into hour long blocks, where I make colored coded entries on my personal calendar as to who/what/where gets that precious 60 minutes.  I even write in “do dishes” and “shower.”  I manage all these entries with appropriately witty alarms on my iPhone: getting up to “If Frodo could get the ring to Mordor, you can get out of bed,” leaving the house when it’s time to “Get to da choppah, NOW!” and getting ready for bed as “Pumpkin Hour Approaches.”  It was three years ago that I was planning to meet a friend for beer after work and I caught myself making notes on a Post-It about all the things to discuss that had happened since we last saw each other.

I think I know where this all started.  With those tests.  Placement tests, ACT tests, aptitude tests, SAT tests, career tests.  All of these tests were supposed to tell you something deep and meaningful about who you were.  Of course, it measured your interests and skills, but that was only so they could more accurately assign you a “career path.”  Forget those “extra-curricular” interests, focus on these that will get you a job.  Because your job was the single biggest definer of you personally.  It wasn’t your passions, your soul or your ability to love.  It definitely isn’t your love of sunset watching, amateur painting, poetry writing, experimental baking or motorcycle riding.  Your entire goal was to pick a profession, proudly proclaim it, and get down to being “productive.”

In high school, we all started mainlining coffee and staying up until 2 am doing mind numbing homework assignments in the quest for “productivity.”  And it never ended.  College was a blur of caffeine induced typing spasms stretching into the wee hours of the morning resulting in essays and portfolios.  And suddenly we all had jobs, and instead of homework we had work projects to stay up all night putting in overtime for.  We were all underpaid, over-scheduled, stress-addled work-a-holics.  But, we were all so darn “productive!”

Then the unspeakable happened.  I found myself (gasp) jobless.  For a year.  A whole YEAR.  With a partner who gallantly told me, “You work too hard.  Take some time off, and just relax.”  But… I didn’t know how to relax.  In fact, I hated relaxing.  Sunsets made me anxious, painting and poetry felt like a waste of time, and my failed cakes made me cry.  People asked what I did, and I had no idea what to tell them.  Who WAS I without a JOB?  I ended up wandering around the house, like a lost puppy.  Complete with the sad eyes.  I felt hollow and lonely and… and…

No.  Not that.  Not… “unproductive.”

I’m going to tell you a secret.  All those years weren’t spent being productive.  They were spent being a neurotic mess.  For fuck’s sake, my social skills have been overwritten on my hard drive my journaling techniques.    And you know what, I hate being up all night.  I hate feeling like I’m constantly late or always forgetting something.  Someone, please take away my planner, my highlights and my Post-Its.  Turn off my six alarms I have set for the day.  Stop me from being “productive.”  I still have to schedule in my down time (I know, I know, I’m working on it!) but at least I try and make sure I do so every day.

The noise of “productivity” keeps you from hearing more important things, like your partner calling you to dinner, your dog whining for a walk, and the sunrise asking you to just watch.  Take a break.  Take a walk.  Take a nap.  Watch that crappy tv show you love, read that terrible cheap novel if you want.  Do nothing every once in a while.  It is good for you, keeps your blood pressure down.  Importantly, unlearning “productivity” gives you perspective and helps you prioritize.  While this is true for everyone, it is a lesson you must learn if you are a military spouse.  Life is short.  My spousal unit will deploy, and we will lose six months of our precious time together.  Probably more than once.  If you are so busy being busy, you will lose even more great moments you could have had with your significant other.

Life is too short to waste being “productive” when you can spend it being fulfilled.

The Power of Words- this “slut” won’t lighten up

In the wake of the Rush-Limbaugh-calling-Sandra-Fluke-a-slut debacle, there have been a slew of rants, raves and opinions about health care, religion and many other related topics.  But overwhelmingly the debate circles the issue of slander versus free speech, and the resounding question seems to by why is the word “slut” such a big deal?

I was reading a post about misogynist language and whether we are being “too sensitive” about its use.  Someone had written to the author saying they thought that liberals were perhaps just too sensitive to misogynistic language.  Liberals should focus on the issue of denying women birth control, not on the epithet used to discount the importance of birth control.  We women needed to “lighten up.”   The blog author argued that Rush was just being a big meanie, and we needed to have better manners in our society.  One commentator, called Verbose Stoic, was hesitant to dictate appropriate language to anyone.  He even asked in his comment, “So if I wanted to make a derisive comment about the promiscuity of a woman, perhaps as a general statement of my distaste for what I might consider excessive emphasis on sex, what word should I use?… Again, putting aside any idea that insulting is itself wrong, what insulting term should he have used?”

Are. You. Kidding. Me.

In summation, what Mr. Verbose Stoic wanted to know is “If I am a misogynist for calling a woman a slut, then what insult can I call a woman and NOT be labeled a misogynist?”  Allow me to rephrase his question for you- “If using racial slurs makes me a racist, then what insults can I call those people and NOT be labeled a racist?”

The author’s call for civility, as well as his audiences call that freedom of speech trumps all, both missed the bigger picture of the transformative power of words on our social norms.  Language and action are direct reflections of one another.  They are not separate creatures.  They are the hydra’s heads of ideology.  If you condone constant, unending derision of a group of persons, the obvious and inevitable outcome is the derisive treatment of that same group of people.  It is that simple.  If you constantly demean women by giving them simple, insulting labels such as “slut” and “bitch” and “whore,” then they will be treated like, surprise, sluts, bitches and whores.  This isn’t an anecdotal assumption I’ve made, though as a woman I can provide plenty of personal examples of this casual dismissal of my own abilities, the validity of my opinion and my basic personhood.  But putting my emotional experience aside, let us look at the facts.

A study was conducted by psychologists from Middlesex University and the University of Surrey in merry ole England.  Psychologists took excerpts from popular men’s magazines, as well as quotes from interviews with convicted rapists as found in the book “The Rapist Files.”  Men between the ages of 18 and 46 were asked to determine whether the quotes were from magazines or the rapist interviews, and overwhelmingly they were unable to differentiate.  When given a source, men tended to agree with the statements labeled as magazine excerpts, and disagree with those labeled as rapist interview quotes.  What is chilling is that the statements were occasionally purposely mislabeled by the study.

Our society has completely normalized the hostile sexism directed at women. When a person commits an act of violence against another person, the first step is rationalizing and justifying their actions.  In cases of rape, perpetrators use a common justification- they blame the victim.   What is unique about rape as a crime is that society is more than happy to join in the blame game.  No one blames a driver hit by a vehicle that failed to yield at a stop sign by saying the sign didn’t look serious.  No one blames a person who’s house was burglarized because they invited the thief in with their welcome mat.  But when a woman is raped, the response seems to be, “Well, she shouldn’t have been out with him, and she was wearing THAT skirt.”  It takes a woman, a person with thoughts and feelings, and the ability to make choices about her own person, and turns her into an object.

Rape is not some phenomenon isolated from society at large.  It is a symptom of a larger disease, a result of a systematic, systemic dismissal of women as people.  We have begun to spare rapists the agony of having to justify their crime, by our own acceptance of hostile sexism in our everyday lexicon.   When we can’t tell the difference between a men’s magazine and a rapist, we have a serious problem.

So why should you care about Mr. Limbaugh calling Ms. Fluke a “slut?”  Because this isn’t about Ms. Fluke.  This isn’t about Mr. Limbaugh.  This isn’t about birth control and your feelings about it’s legitimacy or morality.  This is about a lack of respect for other human beings, a deliberate choice to move beyond debating their stance to demeaning them as a person.  What has made this entire debate so devastating to me is the unwillingness to take accountability for our words.  We can say “sticks and stones” but in reality words have very real power, and if spoken often enough and with enough conviction, they lead to action.  We all recognize the danger of hate speech when it is directed at people of a specific race or ethnicity.  The same goes for misogynistic speech.

The problem here is how we think and speak about women as a whole.   Women face an overwhelmingly persistent, pervasive and violent culture of slander.  What appears in one instance as a harmless stereotype, a casual jab, is but one instance in a long pattern of reducing women.  As long as we continue to accept the current cultural norms that are used to objectify and subjugate women, we will continue to see violence towards women.  Look past access to birth control, and instead consider a woman being raped every two minutes, and 1.3 million women annually becoming victims of domestic violence, in the U.S. alone.  That is ONE IN FOUR women in the U.S. who will be battered and/or raped in their lifetime.

Of course I can quote all the facts I want, and it doesn’t mean you will listen.  Hell, for years I didn’t even listen to myself.  I have been called a slut so many times over my life I am sorry to admit that for a long time I had become numb to it’s meaning and effect.  I had “lightened up,” resigned myself to its usage.  The last man who referred to me as a slut muttered it while holding me down against my will and he forced his hand up my skirt.  As his friends pulled him off me, they said if I hadn’t been wearing that little black dress he wouldn’t have done it.  As intelligent, educated and confident a woman as I am, for a moment I actually allowed myself to think they might have been right, that it was MY FAULT this man had attacked me.

We have to recognize the damaging effects of violent sexism and misogyny on women, their self esteem, their status and their safety in our society.  What will it take for other women and men to stand up to misogyny?  Do you need your own emotional experience to give the facts meaning?  How about that of your mother, sister, lover, daughter?  Does it take watching them be devalued and derided?  Or does it take them being assaulted?  Haven’t there been enough women subjected to the violent sexism already?

I believe in freedom of speech.  But I do not believe that freedom comes without responsibility.  We should demand accountability, from the media and each other, for the words we speak and the attitudes they promote.  I am not saying everyone should not have an opinion, I’m saying that we should think before we speak and act.  And if we cause harm, then as a society we should learn to apologize and make amends.  If anything, what we are lacking in our society is education in the field of sociology, psychology and philosophy.  We teach children how to add, but not how or why to be kind, compassionate and caring people.  I will be damned if I will tell my children to “lighten up.”