The Tummy Troubles Tribe

You’re about to learn way more about my internal organs than you’d probably care to, and I apologize in advance for that, but I’ll try to “de-gross” it as much as possible. For the past few months I’ve been dealing with digestive trouble that has deeply affected my day-to-day life. I am no stranger to stomach issues. I was your typical problem-picky-eater child, which likely contributed to the constant stomachaches I had throughout grade school. I also found myself exceptionally prone to food poisoning, and motion sickness in cars, but not amusement park rides. Go figure. Once, in middle school, my stomach pains were so excruciating that I was sent to the nurse’s office. She correctly identified my lack of fiber and dehydration; I gulped down a few bananas and chugged water and felt welcome relief as I emptied myself in the school bathroom after.

Some time later, my tummy troubles evolved with enough severity to grant me my first trip to the ER. I couldn’t have been older than 14. A doctor probed my young, previously un-invaded anus with a gloved finger, to which I could not properly respond to his questions and prompts on whether the pain was exacerbated because there was a finger up my butt and I was 14, dammit. So he sent me to radiology for an ultrasound which showed…a whirlwind of gas? They explained that too much air was in my stomach; a combination of carbonated beverages, fried foods, and swallowing air while eating, most likely from talking at the same time. As a result, my bowels had become inflamed. Lesson learned. Even today, I find I still hold my breath sometimes while eating, in a subconscious act to ward off accidental air gulps.

HomerSimpsonStomach

For awhile after, it seemed to do better, and was well-behaved throughout high school and college. It seemed I was finally outgrowing my membership with the Tummy Troubles Tribe. I tried to reward its good behavior in turn. The more I ascended into adulthood, the more I realized I should take more accountability for my picky eating if I wanted to be somewhat MILF-like and still be a ninja at age 60 (shout-out to Aunt Sandra). I had started incorporating gym sessions into my lifestyle, and learned that fitness and eating better were two-fold, so I’d have to step up my nutrition game as well. At the ripe age of 27, I cautiously waded into the world of vegetables, beginning with sweet potatoes and asparagus (shout-out to NerdFitness for the gateway veggie suggestion), eventually added kale, spinach, brussel sprouts (shout-out to Jo-Jo for that introduction) and got reacquainted with beans and lentils. I severely diminished the amount of processed fast foods I ate, bade farewell to quick meals from McDonalds, Burger King, Wendys, etc… (although Sonic and Dairy Queen still get a pass once in awhile) cooked more basic meals at home, stopped buying 2L soda bottles for the house just because they were cheaper, and drank more water. Candy bars in the front of bodegas and drug stores became invisible to me. Junk cravings decreased. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my cookies and cakes and I still indulge when the craving hits, but cleaner eating pulls me now.

Imagine my surprise when, after over a decade of smooth sailing and self-implemented gut improvements, my tummy troubles returned with a vengeance and landed me in the ER for the second time in my life. A debilitating cramp seized the lower right hand portion of my stomach after returning from a trip to Antigua. When it didn’t subside for 3 days, my ex-boyfriend pushed me to go to Urgent Care. After some gentle prodding and mounting concern that it might be appendicitis, Urgent Care referred me to the ER, a place I swear to never return to unless my limbs are dismembered or my intestines are spilling out. After 9 hours of unsympathetic nurses who hooked an IV to my hand because they couldn’t find the veins in my arms, inept doctors who couldn’t make a proper diagnosis, an ultrasound, CT scan, and physical examination by a surgeon later, I was told I had fibroids. While one of the earlier moron doctors had said that wouldn’t be the source of my pain, the surgeon confirmed that, yes, fibroids can absolutely hurt. And a quick Google search confirmed this, especially when they undergo degeneration. Millions of women suffer from fibroids and just as many of them experience symptoms as the ones who don’t even realize they’re there.

At that point, the ER felt like prison: they had not allowed me to eat all day, the hospital-grade pain meds through the IV hadn’t done shit so I had long since ordered them to disconnect it, and I wanted my real clothes again. I was relieved when they released me to go home with the diagnosis: fibroids + take ibuprofen. I was ready to suffer in the comfort of my own apartment. I medicated with Motrin and marijuana for the rest of the week until the symptoms drifted away. And all was well until a year later.

I first felt the crampy twinges in the same spot the brutal pains had occurred a year before, but on a much lesser scale. Instead, it was now accompanied by discomforting bloating and fullness. Eventually, I realized I wasn’t going to the bathroom as much anymore. Maybe once every 4-5 days and when I did, it was tiny pieces. My body wanted to release, but my booty wouldn’t. Google told me this was a constipation indicator. I tried all the recommended remedies. More apples, bananas and pears. More veggies. A spoonful of olive oil in the morning on an empty stomach along with jumping jacks. Coconut oil. Apple cider vinegar ingestion daily. I already log numerous Pokemon Go hours of walking and 2.5 gym sessions a week, so it couldn’t have been a lack of exercise.

A month later, with no improvement, I shakily told my current boyfriend, who proved to be incredibly supportive of my situation. It was time to up the ante. First, I pulled out the big guns and tried a laxative just to make sure, you know, it worked. It worked all right. Then we began a regimen of fruit and veggie smoothies blended each day with chia seeds. I began adding things I never ate. Strawberries, blueberries, grapes, peaches, carrots. I started drinking kombucha. Tried bone broth. Upped my probiotic count. Abdominal massages. Eight glasses of bottled water a day and I abandoned tap. I kept a food journal for a month and referred to the Bristol Stool Chart more than I’d ever had in life. Someone with a normal digestive system would have been glued to the toilet. I tried removing certain foods for testing purposes. One week I did away with dairy. Another week, seafood. Tried removing gluten for a week before realizing if you want to have a gluten test done to see if you have Celiac’s, you have to actually be ingesting it. Lame. But now it had been two months and I was still not consistently improving, so I scheduled an appointment with a gastroentologist to have my butthole probed again for the second time in my life. They did a bevy of bloodwork testing for food allergies, thyroid issues, diseases and imbalances. All negative. We scheduled an ultrasound to take a look at what was happening in there and make sure the fibroids discovered the previous year hadn’t become an issue. Unlike the last time I’d gotten an ultrasound in my childhood, this one didn’t produce much, except a growth on my liver that needed to be checked out via MRI. One MRI later, they said it was Focal Nodular Hyperplasia, a fancy term for a small, benign mass that doesn’t affect the function of its host. Along with the fibroids and the non-threatening lump discovered in my breast years ago, I’m accumulating quite the collection of benevolent tumors inside my body.

“So what’s wrong with me then?”

My gastro diagnosed me with chronic idiopathic constipation, which basically means, cause unknown. Over $1000 in doctor’s visit’s later (yeah, that’s WITH health coverage) and I get a diagnosis that says “We dunno why.” Her solution: go on Miralax long term. “It’s very gentle, you won’t get explosive diarrhea, and I even have babies on it.”

2888705_1342668465349.15res_500_281
True Life Feels

It will soon be 5 months since this new ailment has afflicted me and I am slowly learning to accept it. Something like chronic constipation may not seem like a big deal until it’s your body that’s not working the way it should, and until you need to rely on supplements and additives to be “normal,” you won’t know what it’s like to fear what will happen if their effectiveness fails. I am ridiculously thankful that I don’t have the pain or distention of severe sufferers; my liver is working fine, I don’t have the sort of fibroids that make me look 7 months pregnant, nor do they bleed when I work out. I’ve forgotten they’re there since my last ER trip. I’m blessed to be able to still live a relatively normal lifestyle, just one more centered around the bathroom. But at times I do feel like the universe has a very backwards way of rewarding me for attempting to pursue a healthier lifestyle.

Currently I’m operating well enough on a daily dose of Miralax, magnesium supplement at night (shout-out to Amazon for the Natural Calm), an almost-daily home-blended fruit/veggie shake and a double dose of probiotics. When I vacayed in Mexico, I saw TSA workers examining the powders in my vitamin containers, questioning my potential to be a drug runner. Some days are better than others. Staying active helps take my mind off the feeling of internal fullness that varies on a regular basis.

It’s slightly annoying when those close to me downplay the situation, even when I know they are trying to help. When my mom off-handedly comments “You and your bestie love to create problems with yourselves that aren’t there,” I answer back, “Yes, because I shelled out hundreds of dollars in doctor’s visits and endured multiple needles because something isn’t REALLY wrong with my body.”

Or if someone says, “Oh, just drink coffee! That always helps me go!” I would think if it would have been that easy, the doctors would have suggested it. But I doubt the COFFEE will solve what the fruit, berries, spinach, kale, chia seeds, flax seeds, oatmeal, olive oil, coconut oil, pumpkin seeds, and various fibrous additions cumulatively have not done, as well as hydration that makes my pee so clear, I could probably boil tea with it.

Google (as well as the doc) tells me CIC may vanish just as randomly as it crept in. But there is no way to know. Until then, I keep my stomach prepped for the day it might, by remaining active, increasingly choosing organic, maintaining increased fiber intake, continuing to drink probiotic drinks and include fresh garlic and ginger in my meals, as well as spices like turmeric and cayenne pepper. I practice stretches, abdominal massages, and even kegels, in the hopes that I can rebalance my body and guide my digestive motility back into submission at some point. Stressing about it multiplies the stress, so I try not to let it affect my day-to-day too much, pray over it and adapt to it, though it times it can get depressing.

I’m sharing my story because I’m not the only sufferer, and we need to talk about it. The docs don’t have a cure nor a reason for this condition, so it appears we are stuck in this tribe. If you know someone with similar symptoms, or if you have tips on how to manage CIC that have worked for you or another, please let me know, because the Internet is flooded with hopeless anecdotes on this condition. 😦 It is affecting more of us than you think.

~Tael

When The Towers Fell

How do I remember 9/11?

I was a freshman in high school. Sitting in history class. The teacher had left the room while we chatted amongst ourselves, taking advantage of her absence. When she returned, she mentioned that something had happened, maybe a bombing in the city, and that we were to sit tight. This was before the advent of smartphones; I didn’t even have my first Motorola flip handset yet. Laptops were barely a thing, and Facebook hadn’t been conceived so no one was rushing to check social media for news. Word of mouth was our link to the world.

More time passed and she returned and informed us that we were all being dismissed, released on our own pending parental permission. I found it a bit strange that our mommies had to call in to say it was okay for us to leave, after all, we were high schoolers now! But my mom was on the ball and had done so. Her job was only about 10 blocks away, so I made my way there to meet her with a group of downtown-bound students. All public transportation had been suspended, and the streets were teeming with pedestrians, even more so than normal New York standards, as if we were walking a marathon.

I met up with my mom at her job and we continued from 14th Street, down to Grand Street. I couldn’t see the smoke from where we walked. But at that point I’m not even sure I knew planes had crashed into the towers. The word currently going around was that the World Trade Center had been bombed. Again. I didn’t remember the first one, but that one hadn’t been SO crazy, right? The mood was cautious, yet spirited. With trains and buses halted, and an unknown looming threat to the city, New Yorkers stepped up in solidarity. As we walked through the streets I love, store owners offered bottled water to those journeying home. Apartment building doormen held their doors open, inviting folks to use their restroom facilities. Strangers exchanged friendly words of encouragement. I saw a long queue of bodies crossing each bridge in the distance. I felt for them, since I only had to walk to the bottom of Manhattan.

When we finally made it back home, we beelined for the television and the clarity it would bring. We didn’t even have to specifically turn to a news station. Every channel was broadcasting live and looping raw footage of the morning’s events. Two planes had flown into the Twin Towers, and our beloved buildings had crumbled.

We had just been there the weekend before. Stage Door Delicatessen had been across the street, with their confection-like pancakes. We’d discovered there was a little shopping center in one of the towers. In New York, you are always making new discoveries; you never truly know all the nooks and crannies of the entire city. I couldn’t believe those two towers, the icons of Manhattan that appeared in countless movies and that I’d always used as a directional compass, like the North Star, looking up in their direction to navigate, were gone.

Everything broadcasted was uncensored. The frustration, rife with profanity, the terror, the shock, the desperation, it was all there, unscripted. We watched as those trapped in the tower and resigned to their fate, soared from the windows to a guaranteed demise that was the lesser of two evils in their heads. The sticky web of stifling human emotion wrapped heavily around us, connecting the souls of all who watched. That day, we were all the same. We all felt the same things.

Back then, I was a chat room nerd, who went online every night at the same time to hang out with my Internet friends. That night, the mood was equal parts solemn and anger. There were no jokes and no discussing the latest episode of Gundam Wing.

“If they take the Empire State Building next, I swear to God…” someone typed.

It felt good to make empty threats against unknown (at the time) assailants as powerless teenagers. It felt good to simply expel the emotion we were feeling. Anyone who tried any troll-worthy comments that downplayed the massacre were punted out to the harshest degree. Methodus Toolz could do that.

The next day was a little less raw, but likely only for those like me who were less affected and less in the line of fire. I hadn’t lost a loved one or listened to a voicemail they left about how much they loved me and how they wouldn’t make it home tonight. I hadn’t thrown on my gear and dodged a barrage of concrete on foot to save anyone like the first responders did. My apartment building was far enough away from the debris and soot to affect me no more than some eye sensitivity for a few days after. But I still felt a deep bond with the people of my city, who had so often garnered a reputation for being rude, nasty and uncaring, who were embracing each other and offering helping hands or shoulders to cry on in the true spirit of support. For awhile after, we didn’t just pass each other in the streets. We checked on each other, gave smiles of encouragement and eye contacts of acknowledgement. We gave each other strength.

For months, even years after, I had the wildest dreams. Dreams of warmongers coming to assault our country on ships with motion-tracking explosive cannonballs. Dreams of terrorists hiding in plain view in bodegas launching rocket-launchers at my window. Dreams of an unknown threat eating away at our moon, threatening to plunge our world into eternal darkness because we didn’t have the resources to stop the source or save it. They prompted me to begin a dream journal to explore my subconscious. I hadn’t expected such an aftermath of rippling currents, expanding out to reach me with its tickling tremors.

When they first showed preview pictures of how they were going to turn the sites of the Twin Towers into deep waterfall reflection pools, I thought, “No way!” For some reason I didn’t think it was possible. But they did. They came through and I’ve visited the memorial multiple times and they are beautiful. When I go, I slowly meander through the site and never lose sight of the reason these pools are here in the first place. I touch a few names, gaze over the railings, and reflect. It’s important that I pay mental tribute when I visit, because I remember the collective trauma. Whatever the surrounding reasons behind it, so much human life was needlessly extinguished. I hope that fact remains respected, even over the passage of time.

My city is strong.

~Tael

The Silent Abuse Of A Narcissistic Partner

I used to think the term “narcissist” only applied to conceited, attractive (or those that think very highly of themselves) individuals who couldn’t stop looking in the mirror like the mythical Greek hunter who drowned in his own reflection. But during the healing phases of my last breakup, I researched how it has a highly toxic way of entering the relationship realm. And I realized, oh shit, it’s happened before. My family probably doesn’t even know about it, because I never really told them the story. Does physical or emotional abuse weigh more? For me, the physical abuse I experienced long ago was far more forgettable.

Back in college I dated your typical urban pretty-boy, obsessed with his image and having a girl on his arm who enhanced that. He was your textbook narcissist, so self-centered, his own sister once told me how much it bothered her. He spent more time in front of the mirror than I did, making sure his outfits were immaculate, the designer logos showing, the sneakers uncreased (I believe he even shoved MetroCards down the front of them to keep the wrinkles out) and that his du-rag was perfectly centered and aligned with his forehead.

He’d insist that I step up my swag, rock the latest sneakers, he’d take credit for sexy heels I’d wear, saying he bought them for me when he hadn’t, and constantly comment on how well-dressed and attractive he was. Lord only knows what his Instagram would look like now if he has one.

The stream of abuse trickled in slowly at first. He’d insinuate that I might be sleeping around on him, demand to check my phone (although he’d make sure to first delete anything off his in front of me before handing over his) and threaten to fuck both me and the mysterious man up if he ever found out. Then he’d use intimidation tactics, like invading my personal space, slowly getting face to face with me, and punching the wall next to my head. I have a certain sort of stupid fearlessness sometimes, so I never actually felt threatened. One night, after a party, one of my good friends observed him yanking me around in a parking lot during an argument and stepped in to intervene. He told him to get lost (my friend was a tank, so my ex couldn’t take him) and walked me home that night, saying he didn’t like the kid’s antics, and that I should rethink the relationship. Still, I thought it would all be fine.

The first night he put me in a headlock during a heated exchange, I forgave him. I knew he wouldn’t REALLY hurt me. But then it happened a second night, and this time the blows came with it. I don’t remember any pain. I just remember my spirit ascending from my body and looking down at my physical body, shaking its head that a smart girl like me had ended up there. When my spirt re-entered my body, I recovered my wits and grabbed an iron from under the bed, prepared to bash his face in. Before I could make impact, he released me and fled. I ended it the next morning.

Since then, I’d never even thought about the other kind of abuse; the emotional kind. The kind that comes from a Nice Guy Narcissist. They put their best mask on up front. The same one they show to everyone else on the outside, saving the Mr. Hyde underneath exclusively for you. With my last ex, it started small. I asked to please not continuously ask to borrow money from me, as it’s a certain thing I’m uncomfortable with, especially in relationships. My requests went ignored. Every paycheck he asked to borrow money from me, and eventually got abrasive when I’d remind him how much I didn’t like it. Eventually I relented and gave in every time because I wanted to make him happy. Maybe that’s where I went wrong, setting aside my deeply uncomfortable feelings in the name of love.

Eventually, I began to give in on more and more things that made me uncomfortable, convinced by him that I was wrong for feeling uncomfortable about it in the first place. Not only that, my discomfort BOTHERED him. It was no longer something for him to acknowledge; it became something I had to hide. And just like that, it was all turned around and the downward spiral began. I could no longer guess what about my normal self would randomly set him off and suddenly become a problem I had to take it upon myself to change.

On a trip to an amusement park, two girls cut the line in front of us and he flipped.

On me.

I took a laid back approach, because I was just happy to be on vacation with him, saying it would be alright, it happens sometimes and let’s let it go.

Triggered.

He said I wasn’t taking his side enough and proceeded to publicly lash out at me for the next hour, as passers-by looked on with concern and I gave them the reassuring eye-contact that said “I’m fine, I can handle this. I’m okay.”

This was after the night after I’d found myself hunched on a bench wondering why he was emotionally pissed because I’d asked, “Can we go to one haunted house first to kill time since the alcohol stand isn’t open yet?” No. We had to sit and wait until the stand opened and apparently, I hadn’t asked with the right attitude, so now he was upset at me. No compromise.

I could never call what would trigger his explosive reactions. If his friend did something I considered disrespectful and I got upset, he got mad at me for feeling and reacting disrespected. If I was too curious about a girl he’d hooked up with but was still friends with, he was resentful. If I got upset because I wanted his attention during an hours-long video game binge (unless I whipped out a vibrator and started pleasuring myself in front of him, that was the only proper way not to trigger it), he became incensed, then made it clear the game would come first before any tears or serious matters that needed immediate attention. If I was cleaning in the evening because it hadn’t been done yet, he’d feel guilty because he hadn’t done it, and demand that I stop and wait until he was ready. If I ran away from a bumblebee in fear, he’d get furious and say I would make it sting him, even though everyone (and the Internet) has told me bumblebees (yes, those giant furry, bear-looking things) are harmless and don’t sting. If he blew all his money on frivolous things and I didn’t want to bail him out when he suddenly needed an expedited passport or to book a cabin for his friends, it was my fault.

20180413_213120I couldn’t be sad. I couldn’t be pissed. I couldn’t ask one too many questions. I couldn’t bring up something that bothered me if 24 hours had elapsed already (although he could); it meant I was thinking about it for too long, which angered him. I couldn’t do what genuinely came naturally. I was only allowed to express happy emotions and say things that equaled praise in regards to him. If he had made me sad, it meant he had failed in all aspects and couldn’t handle it, which resulted in him lashing out at me or saying he may as well leave then. If I read a menu improperly in his mind, he had to devote time to explaining why I was wrong about it, until the food came exactly as I had depicted it would, then there was nothing more to say. He could do no wrong. The rules didn’t apply to him. He could be jealous but I couldn’t. He could announce when it was time to leave an event or outing, even if I wanted to stay, but we could never leave if I was ready to go before he was. I wasn’t allowed to point out any faults of his.

If I tried to say, “Here’s something that really bothered me and I need to talk about it,” instead of listening, he said “Well here’s something that bothered me a few weeks ago and we need to talk about THIS now and i’m angry!” Always overshadowing my needs. Always tossing what I needed to the side. If I tried to say, “Please, how do we stop this argument from happening,” I was accused of wanting things to end on my terms and being “over it”. If I remembered something differently than he did, I was crucified for not adopting his version of the memory. At times, he’d violently punch himself in the face or bash his head into the walls. I suggested a therapist, but he refused. I thought of secretly contacting his father on multiple occasions because of the fearful level of destructiveness he showed to himself. This was not normal. Once he knew that I was cautious about what I said to him, because I was afraid of the outbursts he might have in response, he grew angry at my fear.

One night, on a company trip, he locked me in our room and said he was going to go kill himself and that I had caused these feelings because I wanted to stay in a hotel that night. I had to escape by climbing over the wall of the outdoor bathroom. I was terrified to tell my boss. My friends later said it was better I hadn’t.

He blamed it all on anxiety. That was always the excuse for the lengthy, bitter reactions. He viciously battered me with harsh words as retaliation for bringing up my issues to him. Only in hindsight did I realize how ridiculous it was to pander to these temper tantrums time and again (God forbid I ever argued back that I felt I was right, it would have made the conflict last 48 hours instead of 24). I don’t believe anxiety should make you lash out at people. I have it sometimes, and it never makes me angry at someone, just scared. It never makes me want to attack someone. His anxiety made him interrupt my aunt while she was speaking to me one night, when she said she didn’t want us sleeping in the same bed at my grandparent’s house. I may reside on the social outskirts of polite normalcy, but I know better than to try and pull someone away from their mom or an elder family member because I feel my need to immediately speak to them is more urgent. Even I know that’s rude.

20180406_140443The amount of money he also borrowed from his father, in addition to me, showed me I might never get the the level of respect I craved. Because that’s someone who’s been there his entire life, and far nicer than myself, and I just popped up late in the game. The professions of marriage and kids seemed like the strangest thing coming from him, blurted in moments of drunkenness. He stormed away from me during every argument, even though he told me he hated when I did it (so I’d stopped, but he continued), multiple times, so the conflicts lasted even longer because a proper conversation couldn’t even be held. He’d admitted to me that whatever he didn’t like, he walked away from it. That was his M.O. in life. Which is exactly what he did to me. Straight into his ex’s arms the same night he left me. It was proof that whatever I had tried so desperately to protect, was flimsy and provisional. Why didn’t I see it before? Why don’t we ever see it? The abuse and manipulation runs so deep, you don’t even notice it hidden behind the emotion which equals passion which equals…meaning…? You don’t realize the bonds you thought were so strong were really transient cancers, and the longer cancer lasts the more it leaves you sick, ravaged and exhausted. After the breakup, I stumbled across posts asking “Were you dating a narcissist?” and the lightbulb flashed and grew in brightness. The selfishness, the need for instant gratification, the manipulative tactics when they don’t get their way, the sense of entitlement, the charming mask for outsiders, the table-turning.

Objects can hold energies, and with each one I threw out, I felt my heart cleansing. Only those who have been through an emotionally abusive relationship understand how tossing the articles that belonged to the abuser helps to purge the nightmares. So maybe that’s why my mom didn’t understand when I wanted to toss all the decorative pictures he’d put up, but she wanted me to save them “just in case” she might want them. I knew that she WOULDN’T, it was just a case of sticky-eyes at seeing something free, but if she wasn’t going to take it then and there, I couldn’t stand to have them in my house any longer emanating poison memories. “You’re a brat, you know that,” she said to me, in a cruel moment where I needed someone to think about me and my feelings the most.

I believe life wanted to remind me of my strength. I distinctly remember coming home from a night hanging out with friends towards the end of it all. He hadn’t wanted me to go. In fact, he had made plans with his father earlier in the week, so I had made plans after for the same night to avoid being depressed in the house alone. His father ended up canceling. Of course, my ex got pissed at me because I didn’t immediately cancel my plans. I told him this was unfair, as I really needed to talk to my girlfriends and I knew he would absolutely NEVER do the same thing in my position. Hell, he wouldn’t even drop the controller if I was distraught. He didn’t like me talking to my girlfriends about my relationship either. Well, he did in the beginning, when he still had the mask on.I came back that night with positive vibes, and he felt them, and said something very poignant. He said that he could tell after speaking with my friends that I had come back with a strong, black woman, no-nonsense mentality.

And I could tell it distressed him to say that.

Why wasn’t he proud of me? I had forgotten that’s exactly who I am, and I could never be ashamed of that or have someone, especially not a man, make me feel as if being a strong, black woman with a no-nonsense mentality is problematic. Do you want to know the hidden meaning behind my fifth tattoo? It’s not JUST my favorite Smash Bros. character on my leg. It’s a sign of strength. It is a reminder that I am strong, sexy, confident, regal, and a worthy soldier who holds her head high with a powerful stance for what she believes in. A narcissist will make you try and forget that. My head had been brought down so low, I almost didn’t recognize myself anymore. Now I have a permanent reminder when things get rough. Stand tall.

20180322_203935

The scars from the physical abuse over a decade ago were nothing compared to the mental wounds I was dealt as of late. But the beautiful thing about the mind is, while it can be cripplingly weak, it can be blazingly tenacious. We all may die a little sometimes, to be reborn from the ashes with renewed vigor, lessons learned and a vibrant healed wingspan, thirsty for flight.

~Tael

What’s Remote Life Like?

When my company announced at a meeting in the beginning of the year that we’d be going fully remote, I didn’t initially celebrate like I’d stumbled upon a winning lottery ticket. Instead I assessed the situation. Cautiously.

You see, I loved our office. We didn’t have the stuffy, corporate cubicle, drag-yourself-into-work-moaning atmosphere. We had a giant, airy, sunlit floor in a Tribeca loft. There was a shiny piano, an enormous comfy couch that made any homeowner envious (most New Yorkers probably couldn’t even fit it into their apartment), and dogs. Office dogs.

20161220_113025

Dogs in the office.

Working from home meant breaking a routine I was accustomed to (and I hate change) and forsaking the social interaction you may not realize you get on a regular basis by leaving your house every day. It meant I wouldn’t be able to indulge in Tate’s cookies or my normal lunch options as often (I’m fairly certain “lunch options” is an urban thing; I don’t know what the rest of ya’ll do, brown bag?), or run that quick errand on the way home from work because you’re already outside. I would most likely shower less and become a recluse. Would I be able to successfully transition without becoming THIS?

i-work-from-home-i-star13-working-unwashed-well-past-noon-12451975

Fast-forward. I am adaptable ninja. It didn’t take long for me to grow comfortable with my new setup. My desk at home is just as messy as it always was at work. A collection of napkins and paper towels, whatever the snack of the day is, scattered old cookie crumbs because cookies tend to be a frequent snack of the day, a birth control pack, and a light-up rubber alligator are currently the staples.

My CEO Ubered my work Mac to my house so yay, my laptop is actually used as a secondary computer for travel. It’s worth mentioning that since we went remote, he now has no real home base. He gave up his Tribeca loft and now travels at random, handling company affairs from overseas or whichever AirBnB he’s staying at in random time zones across the country. Likewise, my boss took the remote opportunity to leave Brooklyn (WAH!) and call an RV home base with her husband and cat, traveling the country and chronicling her journeys on her blog at https://readysetrv.wordpress.com/.

I’m more of a toddler than my work peers when it comes to travel. I thought I hated it. Until I actually traveled; like, did it for REAL. “Travel” and “vacations” in my life growing up generally consisted of long, cramped car rides (HELLO motion sickness!) to family members’ houses where you’d cram in a bed with 3 other relatives or stake out a spot on a lumpy couch or a blanket on the floor. Vacation indulgences were few and far between, expenses tight, and a rare motel stay was a paradise to us. This mentality certainly carried over when I entered self-sustainable employment on my own and couldn’t fathom parting with an entire paycheck for a trip that you wouldn’t tangibly own and keep for the future.

20170624_125014But remote work gave me my first opportunity to leave the country this past June. Our tiny team of about 6 employees all headed to Antigua for a week to work from a breezy island villa where a chef prepared our meals daily and we chose a different beach to visit every day after work. And there were dogs. Island dogs that visited us every day.

I think once you start, and really experience it, then you see the magic. Then you start to feel it. Next month will be my 2nd time leaving the country, and the 5th trip I’m taking this year. The impact of the travel bug is quite exponential.

With a newfound respect for remote culture and it’s perks, I do want to debunk some of the wrong impressions I’ve come across in regards to “working from home.”

I hate when someone responds to my revelation, “Oh, I need to go find me a remote job.” As if you’d simply take any old job you hate just because you can do it from home (although I’m sure there are those who would). As someone who’s been through some hellish work situations, my priority in job hunting was an atmosphere I could vibe with and a job that could provide me adequate challenge. As someone who used to be a “Weekend-Watcher,” one who wasted the majority of their life away anxiously anticipating the 2 days of freedom at the end of the week, it’s amazingly refreshing to no longer be in that mindset. I liked my job BEFORE it went remote. I just happened to be lucky enough to be on the ship when it took that direction. My mom sometimes asks, “Is your company hiring?” As if I’d ever admit to her that it was, lol. But it’s like the industry doesn’t matter to her. The position doesn’t seem to matter to her either or fact that the current abundant benefits she already has would be cut. She’s simply dazzled by the remote aspect. But she can’t do my job.

Which brings me to a more enraging pet peeve; the impression that because I’m working from home, my job is suddenly “easy” or not as challenging than if I’d had to go into the office to do it. Which is bullshit. Software support is not an easy job. The fact that sometimes I can run out of the shower with 5 minutes left to moisturize down before clocking in so I have to sit down and begin the work day topless and if there’s some sort of spyware lurking through my Mac’s webcam then Lord knows they’ve gotten quite a show is irrelevant. It doesn’t make the angry customers calling to complain any less angry because I’m in my house. It doesn’t mean the computer-illiterate need less hand-holding because I didn’t take the A train to help them. And it doesn’t make a poor communicator’s unintelligible explanation of their problem more clear because I have my Hylian Shield slippers on. Remote life simply means “non-conventional office.”

20171116_171352
Yeah, they’re real.

It’s not WRONG to assume I could just have friends over and throw parties while I’m working, because I COULD, but I’d rather not. It takes a certain kind of discipline to work from home and not stay glued to Netflix because it’s right there or be distracted by your cat or the laundry or the latest viral videos circulating on Facebook. My job in particular requires a certain amount of engagement and focus that I know will suffer if my best friend is here chit-chatting away at me about a nonsense situation that only she and will find funny. I mean, if it’s really slow, fine. But my role can get busy and when it’s really busy, I need absolute focus to juggle multiple chats, check in on a glitch that needs to be fixed, and answer the email from the irate woman who THINKS she’s chatting but is only emailing so she’s pissed that our response is not immediate. Exercising that discipline is essential in making sure your productivity doesn’t suffer.

If you don’t have focus, you’re probably not cut out for remote life. But if you are, it’s a great feeling proving that you can be trusted to get shit done without the micro-management of an office. A reward for being dependable. No more bathroom lines. An extra hour of sleep. Easier to incorporate a gym session on my lunch break. Saving money on transportation expenses, and from what I’m seeing in Internet news, MTA’s delays are only growing worse anyway.

As the end of my first remote year draws to a close, I’ve come to thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the benefit. And I plan to toddle my way into remote maturity while the world slowly improves their maturity in remote beliefs.

There’s a book about this. It’s called Remote: Office Not Required. It was our homework before the transition. And it’s a pretty good read. 🙂

~Tael

The IMPerfect Guide (Or FAQ)

I remember the very first video game guide I ever set eyes on. It was the Perfect Guide for Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. And it was beautiful. I carried this book with me everywhere, delighted by the whimsical, high-quality images and the nerdy-yet-awesome writing style. It was riddled with jokes that even I could pick up on at that age, snarky at times, other times conveying an array of emotions from shock to disgust to adoration at the game’s moments. I felt like I was carrying around my friends in this glossy magazine.

oot-linkzelda

I wore it down to tattered pages, the spine dislocated, the creases permanent. Because I’d studied the guide so much, I could probably still do an Ocarina of Time run-through with 100% completion off-top.

But once you start, 100% completion haunts you.

While Zelda isn’t technically an RPG, it has mucho similar elements. RPGs have always been vast worlds that maybe started out with a 20-25 hour running time, and can now amass over a whopping 100-hours of gameplay when you factor in sidequests, unlockable bosses, highest weapon attained, etc… No complaints here. But somewhere along the way these clever additions became cruel tricks. Missable sidequests if you don’t talk to this specific person in this one town directly after an event happens. Ridiculous formulas that involve gathering/fighting/completing tasks in a maze-like way to open a secret path.zoot3d-link-and-fairy-bow Bosses that can’t be beaten unless you’ve mastered a certain skill paired with a specific type of armor with a 7% reflective rate, so you just hope you’re in the lucky 7% (which you wouldn’t have figured out without seeking help online). That Shuttle Crash site battle with the suicide android in Tales of Graces? THAT WAS MEAN. The Land of Canaan in Tales of Xillia 2? The most sadistic dungeon I have ever countered. So much so that it makes the infamous water temples in Zelda look like wading pools. And let’s face it, the raising and lowering of the water temples in Ocarina of Time was a difficulty beyond its time. Would anyone nowadays have the patience and focus to figure that out with no outside assistance? (I’m familiar with the younger generation and based on their social media trends, I HIGHLY doubt it).

Thankfully, accessing a guide, or FAQ, when things get rough is only a Google click away from your fingertips. Stuck on a boss? FAQ it. Can’t find the next town? Look it up. That final mushroom needed to make that healing nectar for the sick boy in the forest town eluding you? Search it. The convenience in these answers is a gift, but the curse lies in the necessity to look it up anyway to progress.

After I fell in love with the perfect guide, before I’d start an RPG, I’d have the FAQ bookmarked and ready. I’d consult it before every move I made. I beat Tales of Symphonia easily enough on my own, but when I discovered the guide later I realized I missed out on SO MUCH SHIT. And I’m one who knows to explore every path, click every crevice and talk to every person in town. Somehow I’d still missed out on a good 30-40% of the game! Who could have known how to meet Abyssion on their own? I don’t believe you. And let’s face it; Majora’s Mask was in no way completable without the use of a guide. The Kafei sidequest? Yeah the fuck right. The game was an ingenious concept, but it was TOO SMART. The difficulty level certainly landed it on many’s Most Hated Zelda Games lists. And Skies of Arcadia…while the main story was achievable enough on your own, find me someone who actually discovered the Wanderbirds on their own (unless it was by pure, dumb-luck accident). These development choices almost had me entirely dependent on FAQs.

Almost.

One day I realized I wasn’t having as much fun consulting a guide for every move and double-checking every step I took to make sure I didn’t miss anything. If 100% completion was going to drive me to madness, then maybe it wasn’t worth it. I couldn’t let a goal like that ruin the lighthearted reason why I play in the first place.Link&Epona

Have I abandoned FAQs completely? Absolutely not. But they’re not the same friends I carried around in my backpack so long ago, reading and re-reading with joy. Most of them are clones of one another. The writing doesn’t pulse with a vibrant personality. Unless it’s a leader like IGN, it probably wasn’t done by someone with writing skill, meant to entertain and feel like you’re conversing with them.

I reverted to playing to the best of my ability, scrounging in every corner, busting into everybody’s house and talking to every single person. And if I get too stuck, like I’ve-struggled-for-hours-and-I’m-at-my-wit’s-end stuck, I look it up. But I try not to do it often because I love the sense of accomplishment I feel at finally figuring out what I was struggling with, using my own brain and not the Internet’s. I consulted an FAQ for Twilight Princess just once, and felt supremely proud of myself. Since Symphonia 2, I’ve traversed through subsequent Tales games without an online “map,” back to old-school roots. Like when there weren’t save points. And when you were stuck on something, you could only find out the solution by pouring in hours of puzzle-solving, or getting lucky by knowing a friend of a friend, (or cousin) who knew the answer. If they say there’s two kinds of players, there’s gotta be a happy medium between them. Where you can hunt and gather, but also have fun doing it.

TwoKindsOfPlayers

The latest thing is 100% IV in Pokemon GO. I don’t use an external IV app for the very same reason. Landing a 100% IV Pokemon is 100% luck. You have 0 control over it. I’d rather play a game I love and be happy with whatever I do accomplish, than stress myself out trying to attain something I have absolutely no control over. If it’s meant to come, then it will.

100% completion is to achieve perfection. I no longer beat myself up over not achieving perfection. And I think I’m better off for it.

~Tael

Waxing Experimental

Nope, I didn’t try a Brazilian. I’m not THAT fearless.

I did, however, attempt an ongoing wax-only regimen at the start of spring to those other places we ladies regularly shave: legs, underarms, bikini.

I’m not a stranger to leg-waxing. My best friend started me out way back in high school, on her kitchen floor, with my face jammed in a pillow to muffle the screams so no one would think I was being murdered behind closed doors. Since then, every summer I’ve returned to leg-waxing in my living room, convinced that I was reaping the benefits that come along with it, then gone back to shaving in the cooler months.

Only, if you do a quick Google search on Waxing vs Shaving and why one is better, you’ll find that you are cautioned not to mix methods and encouraged to leave it up to the professionals. The jillions of blog posts on the subject overwhelmingly agree that if you shave in between waxing, you’re erasing your waxing progress, and that the ONLY way to reap full benefits is to stick to a strict waxing schedule year-round, even in the winter when you’re not showing off your skin. Harsh, huh? Welp, I decided to drop the razor for awhile and try out some professionals while adhering to a schedule.

Fast forward to September. I’ve abandoned leg-waxing.

The benefits don’t outweigh the effort put in or the stress endured. A full-leg wax is the most expensive single body part order on any waxing menu, and it also takes the longest. It doesn’t seem like it’s possible to really get…ALL THE HAIR…Yes, I know about differing hair-growth cycles and how it takes a few sessions for them to catch up to one other in perfect alignment for a clean rip-off, but when you think about it, extracting every individual hair from one’s skin surface is a tall order, even for an experienced professional. Sure, I had one lady with an offer that if you discovered any missed hairs to come back within a week for a free touch-up, but who really wants to do that? No one ENJOYS this process. We just want it over with.

Another thing. You will find a general consensus that waxing lasts about a month. Yes, the wax does last longer than a shave, BUT, your hair also needs to be a certain length to be waxed again.

Week 1, you’re smooth.
Week 2, the hairs are growing back in, lighter and finer, yes, but they’re still there.
Week 3, oh they’re THERE and there’s nothing you can do about it because it’s too early for the next wax but it’s blazing hip-hop & RnB out there in the summertime so unless you’re covering up in pants or leggings and risking a heatstroke the regrowth remains exposed to the world. Lighter? Yes. But still there. I asked my bestie what do seasoned waxers do during this period. Her answer, “Pray no one notices, lol.”

Grrrrrr….

The last time I saw her, I observed her legs in the hair regrowth stage. After 10+ years of waxing, the hair growth is absolutely lighter and finer, but it’s still there. And going through a summer with halfway-hairy legs half of the time has not been an ideal experience for me, especially after sitting through an hour of rippage, coughing up a $125 bill each time, planning all your summer trips around your waxing schedule that you can’t break to shave, and hoping the guy across from you on the train can’t see your new growth under that florescent lighting.

I can’t live that life. Give me back my freedom of razor. I never had a problem with shaving. A Venus razor and shaving cream always gave me results that last a few days and no trouble with ingrowns. NO STRESS.

I WILL say that I IMMEDIATELY noticed a difference with underarm waxing and it changed my life. You barely notice the regrowth and even after 3 weeks you have to look closely to tell that it’s there. It also takes literally 5 minutes or less to wax and costs like $15. I will absolutely continue that, as well as bikini.

And I prefer this form of legwear anyway.

20170904_151827 - Copy

 

Wackawackawackawackawackawackawackawackawacka.

~Tael

 

 

Weird Things that Bug New Yorkers

New Yorkers get a bad rap for being unfriendly people. But it’s not that. It’s that because we have a higher population, the odds for more assholes-per-square-inch increase, because, math. And then the rest of us New Yorkers have to deal with the more-assholes-per-square-inch ourselves, so we become accustomed to encountering and dealing with them, and then we believe they’re everywhere here too, which creates a spiraling domino effect that results in the “New York State of Mind.” And if the following things bug you, then congratulations; you’ve officially evolved to an authentic New York State of Mind. 🙂

1. When someone sits directly next to you on a virtually empty train or bus.

New Yorkers are used to people always being around at any given moment, but when it’s not rush hour or a busy period, we grab that moment of solitude and hold on tight.

SidebySide

There is a rule: You do NOT sit next to someone if there’s an available seat NOT sitting next to someone. You do NOT enter the train and sit at the closest available seat next to someone, just because it’s close! You scan the aisle, take a leisurely stroll through the moving car, core engaged (because this will help your subway surfing skills) and pick a nice empty space keeping up the yin/yang of passenger-empty seat-passenger-empty seat. You ONLY break this balance if there is no other option. And if you DO break the balance, and there ARE other options, then yes, those strange waves of vengeful resentment you might be feeling are absolutely directed at you.

2. When someone walks parallel on the sidewalk at the same speed as you.

You’re not friends. You’re not acquainted. And yet, you may as well be holding hands with them. And then you try to speed up, and then they kind of speed up too, and then the awkward level rises…and then the anger level rises cause it’s awkward. And then you need to cross the street because the angry awkwardness is overwhelming you.

AwkwardWalkingPenguin

And then you need to hope they aren’t also crossing the street too. Which leads to…

3. Coincidentally walking the same route as another person.

I’m sure in small towns, you both would giggle and make a joke about how one’s stalking the other, or even strike up some small talk about where you both are going. But in New York, if you’re playing the “Pass That Person” game on the street, but then you both end up waiting at the curb side-by-side for the Walk signal to turn, cross the same street, both turn right, stop at the same bodega for only one thing so you both pay quickly and leave at the same time, and then turn LEFT together (this happened on my walk to the gym this morning, I kid you not) and cruise up the next block trying to act like you don’t realize the other person is still there, or suspecting that they were paid to keep tabs on you…

I don’t like it.

4. Speeding up to cut me off and then immediately walking slowly.

This is most agonizing on stairs. Like if you’re exiting the train and you want to ninja-rush up in double-time, but someone darts in front of you, then proceeds to lumber their way up at an excruciating pace. WHY DID YOU CUT ME OFF THEN? Why was it so important to cut me off so that you could walk slowly?

Your hurried MOVEMENTS do not mean you are progressing quickly.

And then when you try to scurry around them, a barrage of people come trailing down on the other side. Then you and the rest of the line are stuck matching the pace of the lumberer for the whole walk up. And I telepathically communicate to the people behind me, “I would have done better for you.”

5. Sidewalk-spreading.

I chalk this up to some sort of Narcissus complex. You, strolling down the street like you don’t have to get to work, or like it’s not raining really hard, with your arms outstretched (mentally). And maybe your right-hand man is right beside you, but only kind-of sort-of, because you both have to stretch out to make sure you’re taking up the entirety of the sidewalk, and yell your comments to one another across the space in “conversation” as you both saunter your way, making it highly difficult for anyone to zip around you from either side. It’s a declaration. A declaration that you are not aware of anything going on around you.

6. Those who stand on the left side of the escalator.

My very own boyfriend, who is not from New York, told me that outside of the city, the notion that there is a standing side on the escalator AND a walking side is unheard of.

I mean, I get it. Technically, I guess the entire concept of an escalator is so you DON’T have to walk up it at all. You stand and check your phone and have a chat, feet firmly planted as it delivers you to your final destination. But goddammit, this is a city of movers. And if i’m on an escalator, it’s because I have somewhere to be. And in New York, escalators are advanced stairs. And if someone forgets the rule of the standing side and the walking side…well, you could say “Excuse me,” I suppose, and hope they hear you (I have a low voice). BUT HOW DO THEY NOT KNOW THE CODE?? The I-don’t-feel-like-walking people are lining up on the right for a reason. If you’re not, then you’re an obstruction. And I might have to break out the nonchalant bravado and bypass the escalator for the stairs because you’re choosing to be an obstruction.

Ever tried to beat the escalator riders by showing them you can use your legs on the stairs and making it to the top before them?

Ever done it at the Exchange Place Light Rail station in Jersey City?

ExchangeStairs.jpg

My bravado really took a toll on my lungs that time.

Not everyone has a New York State of Mind. The OGs are now outnumbered.

~Tael (OG New Yorker)