on hearing women

Required reading before continuing.

I had a remarkably similar experience to Rachel’s. Actually, maybe it isn’t that remarkable. I’d guess that hundreds of women read that article and thought, me too.

On a Thursday in the spring of 2011, I spent the day experiencing a pain that was constant but bearable. I thought it might be pre-menstrual cramps or a pulled muscle. By the evening, it was no longer bearable and I asked my roommate to take me to an urgent care. She looked at me, doubled over in pain, and said we needed to go to the ER, not urgent care.

I’d been to the ER once when I was 10, when I broke my arm in a soccer game. Actually, I had broken it the day before. Maybe I have an extremely high pain tolerance. Maybe by 10 I was already used to downplaying my pain.

We got to the ER, where I struggled to fill out paperwork and told them my pain was a 10. Like in Rachel’s story, they assumed it was kidney stones.

I vomited on the floor of the ER because the pain was so intense.

They put me in a separate small room because I kept crying out in pain, then was told by a male nurse that the noises I was making would not help the type of pain I was experiencing.

I thought I was dying. I asked friends to pray for me because that seemed the only path to being healed while I waited for a doctor.

Five hours later, I was finally admitted. I went through the same spiel I gave to ER nurses – how the pain had progressed, where it was focused, what it felt like (a knife stabbing my insides then being twisted through my organs).

They gave me morphine. It didn’t help. They gave me Dilaudid. The pain dulled slightly. Like Rachel, it mostly just made me sleepy. I drank something that tasted awful and they did a CT scan. They found that I had a cyst that had overtaken my ovary. Luckily for me, it wasn’t wrapped around the fallopian tube like Rachel’s. The doctor told me that a cyst pushing on an ovary can cause some pain, especially right before your period starts. I told him it wasn’t just “some pain.” My cyst measured 6-7 centimeters, nearly triple the size of my ovary.

An appointment was set up for me with an OB/GYN who promptly put me on a birth control pill, saying it would help. I didn’t know then that the pill can’t do anything for an existing cyst. The OB/GYN didn’t recommend any other course of treatment.

Thankfully, my primary care physician recommended a different OB/GYN to me. My new doctor went over my scans with me again. We met in her office, not in the cold setting of an exam room. She told me that I could go off the pill if I wanted, that it wasn’t going to help. She told me there was no reason to leave a cyst of this size in my uterus. She told me I might lose my ovary. She told me it was up to me if I wanted the surgery, but that she recommend it. She gave me time to process and ask questions.

About a year after my trip to the ER, I had laparoscopic surgery to remove the cyst. My doctor tried to separate the cyst from my ovary, but it was too entangled. Like Rachel, I lost my ovary.

Later, my doctor showed me the images they had taken of the inside of my uterus. She pointed out the cyst and compared its size to my other ovary. She showed me a second image with a void where my cyst-engulfed ovary had been.

I have three small scars, undetectable to anyone but me. But there is a sisterhood of women who share my scars.

breaking the cycle: thoughts on NYT “medicating women’s feelings” article

At the end of February, an op-ed came out in the New York Times called “Medicating Women’s Feelings.” You’ll probably want to read the article before continuing on. I’ll wait.

I’m so thankful for this article. Americans are scared to talk about mental health. I think many are also scared of women, especially “emotional” women, and I’m going to keep calling bullshit on that, as Julie Holland did.

“Women’s emotionality is a sign of health, not disease; it is a source of power. But we are under constant pressure to restrain our emotional lives.”

Women are told not to be so sensitive, then not to be so bubbly. At work, have original ideas but don’t be aggressive about them. It’s confusing. As for many women, learning to understand my emotions and the way the world thinks of them has been a journey. For a long time, I was terrible at thinking through the levels of my emotions and expressing them to the people around me. Honestly, I’m still not great at it sometimes *cue side-eye* but I’m learning that my emotions have value.

2011 was a difficult year for me. Through family moves, deaths, a breakup, and a job ending, I felt everything dear was being violently ripped away from me. I was left in a very dark place, where I was quick to snuff out any light, content to sit in the cage of sadness I had built for myself. Then, in 2012, after talking with my parents, friends, doctor, and counselor, I decided to begin a low-dose antidepressant in conjunction with counseling.

I didn’t tell too many people, even close friends, when I started taking an antidepressant. But, I’ve realized since then that it’s not something I want to keep in the dark. The dark is where shame lives and grows, and I am not ashamed of who I am or the steps I chose to take to become who I am.

In her article, Holland says that more women than men are prescribed “psychiatric medication” and “are nearly twice as likely to receive a diagnosis of depression or anxiety disorder than men are.” I hate that those statements are true, that too many women are being numbed by over-medication, labeled with a misdiagnosis, and separated from society in yet another way. And, at the same time, many women and men with mental health issues go un-diagnosed.

Medication isn’t always bad. I was happy with my decision to take an antidepressant; I believe it helped me function and made it easier to sort through all the emotions I had, instead of being weighed down by only feeling sadness. After a year, I began to wean off the antidepressant, and let me tell you, it’s hard to come off. But I wanted to be back in the world fully. I felt I had to re-train the parts of my brain that had been numbed for so long. I had to remember that extremes don’t have to be bad and that feeling deeply is one of the most human things about us.

“We need to stop labeling our sadness and anxiety as uncomfortable symptoms, and to appreciate them as a healthy, adaptive part of our biology.”

I believe Holland when she writes this. For me, medication was part of my journey to accepting my emotions, but it doesn’t have to be part of everyone’s experience. As women, we are emotional and sensitive beings, and it is a strength. Feeling is not weakness. Emotional responses are not weakness. They are human. They are vital.

breaking the cycle: post 2, working women

As you all (should) know, the tech world is incredibly dominated by men. (More specifically, by white men.) I work for a software company that employs around 13,000 people worldwide. There are about 100 people in my office; 11 are women. Of those 11, only one is actually a software developer.

I was recently a “groomsperson” in one of my best friend’s weddings. I was so happy to be a part of his wedding, even though it seemed unusual to plenty of people that I, a woman, would be standing on the groom’s side. A couple weeks before the wedding, I was out to lunch with a big group of coworkers. As people shared their weekend plans, I mentioned that I was going to a bachelor party. “No, not bachelorETTE, a bachelor party, I’m a groomsperson in my friend’s wedding.” My casual addition to the conversation was met with laughter and jokes from my male coworkers, insinuating that if I was going to a bachelor party, it could only be as a stripper.

In the moment, I laughed and didn’t think much of it, happy to just be joking around with coworkers. But looking back, I wasn’t being treated as “one of the guys” in that moment. I was being singled out for my woman-ness. To be very reductive, I was essentially called a stripper for having a male best friend. And that is not okay.

As the Washington Post article described, nine women from the tech world came together to create this manifesto of sorts. They were tired of the treatment they, and many other women, were receiving in the tech world. So they shed some light on it. My experience in the tech world has not been as extreme as the situations they describe. Overall, I like the people I work with and I feel safe there. But I’m also fairly removed from the more “technical” side of things, as a writer.

The technical world has a clear woman problem. But women in all kinds of other jobs face similar treatment everyday. I’ve listened to friends describe their misogynistic bosses, who stare at the chests of female employees and intimidate women simply because they can. Women make up about half of the professional level workforce in America. But if you check the statistics on women holding leadership positions, the disparity is shocking.

Not only are we not getting the jobs, we’re being paid less. Under the Equal Pay Act, employers are required to give men and women equal pay if their roles are substantially the same. But women are still making only “77% of their male counterparts’ earnings” according to the White House. It makes no fucking sense that I should get paid less than my male counterpart, simply because I am a woman. And yet.

I’m a fan of Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls and I think Sheryl Sandberg is a boss, even though I still haven’t read Lean In yet. I loved when this ad for GoldieBlox toys aired during the Super Bowl this year. It’s good to have these girl-specific things, but how long will this have to be the way we encourage girls to pursue and succeed at traditionally male-dominated jobs? Will we reach a point in history where girls will be encouraged enough at school, at home, by mentors and neighbors, without these extra girl-specific programs?

At the root of this conversation is a necessary paradigm shift. The tech world can work on recruitment and retention of female employees, but the bigger issue is a change in thinking, one that applies across the board to women in all types of jobs. One that says women are fully valuable human beings, with the same capabilities, passion, and possibilities as men.

breaking the cycle: post 1, the female body

Preface: As you will see, I started this post over a year ago, and didn’t know quite where to go with it. After the recent tragedy at UCSB and the rape and murder of two young Indian cousins, I felt the need to revisit it. My heart has been very heavy lately as I continue to hear stories of violence and injustice against women.

Initially, I just threw down a million unorganized thoughts, anxious to get words on the page. Lucky for you, I decided to pare down that mess into a few, more focused posts. Here’s the first.

——

Like most of the world, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about violence against women, women in media, and women’s roles generally. There has been so much in the news over the past year about these topics, it’s hard to avoid thinking about. And yet, no one seems to have found a “good” solution for changing the way the world treats women, or a “good” explanation for these violent acts. Here are some of the events I’m talking about:

Malala Yousafzai Shooting

Steubenville’s Jane Doe

Ford’s Unaired Commercials

Delhi Gang Rape

I think what makes these events and this conversation the scariest is that it’s not something that is limited to one part of the world. It’s not just a small football town in Ohio, or an Arabic country, it’s all over the world. And it’s a big question to ask, “How do we break this cycle on a global level?”

People say Think Globally, Act Locally. Seems like a pretty solid belief and practice, but the issues surrounding women just being women transcend location, religion, social status, economic status, and on and on. For a paradigm shift to take place on a large scale, people have to start making changes to how they treat women in each of those respects.

The world likes to focus on the female body and sex appeal, so I’ll start there too.

I wholly believe that women were created by God to be alluring, to have appealing shapes, and just generally be attractive. So how are we supposed to move about in a world full of sexists, masochists, rapists, and still fully embrace our natural state as attractive beings? I waffle constantly between dressing out of fear for unwanted responses I may elicit and dressing out of, “Fuck you, I’m 27 and I’m wearing this because it makes me feel good.”

Elliot Rodger believed women owed him sex, and in turn, that they deserved to die for rejecting him for so long. I absolutely believe there is a mental health conversation to have regarding his actions and beliefs, but his motivations can’t be chalked up to being a depressed pathological narcissist. Because there are plenty of men with similar beliefs who continue to comment on his YouTube videos in support of his actions. Because I still get cat-called when I haven’t showered for two days and am wearing a baggy t-shirt. Because we continue to value women for their sex appeal, instead of character, business savvy, or intellect.

Forever (it seems) it has been a woman’s job to regulate a man’s sexual desires. In religious environments, that means covering yourself up. In Cosmo, that means knowing how to please your man. I say, it’s time for men to start taking some of the responsibility.

If you’re a man reading this thinking, “but I’m not a misogynist”, great, you might be right. But you must still share in the responsibility. Talk to your friends about it. Don’t let them cat-call or intimidate women, even their girlfriends. Talk to your sons about appreciating a woman’s attractiveness without demeaning her. Ask your female friends what makes them feel respected and attractive. HAVE female friends.

This is only one part of the conversation, because it’s not just wrapped up in beauty. More to come.

Further reading: