Health Care Science Advice Wellness Now + Beyond

Here’s why your gyno wishes you’d leave your pubic hair alone

A recent study in JAMA Dermatology surveyed 3372 women in the U.S. on their pubic hair grooming practices. 83% reported some measure of “grooming” (defined as anywhere from trimming the hair to taking all of it off). 63% said they opted for complete removal at least once. “Grooming” was highest in both the 18-34 group and in white women.

The most common reason women reported for pubic hair removal? 59% cited “hygiene” as the leading factor in this decision.

But the perception that having pubic hair is somehow “dirty” is wrong.

Pubic hair is thought to have an evolutionary purpose.

According to Dr. Jennifer Gunter, a gynecologist, it functions as a protective cushion for a sensitive-skinned area and, like eyebrows, traps microbes and foreign invaders from getting into that sensitive area.

The vagina also has a self-cleaning mechanism, which is why vaginal douching is no longer recommended: it can destroy the natural balance of healthy bacteria and normal acidity of the vagina, leading to irritation and yeast infections.

Some cite that shaving and waxing can increase the risk of infection because these practices essentially make little cuts on the skin.

This allows a direct passageway to blood for vulvar bacteria, outside of the defense system of vaginal mucus. Group A streptococcus, Staphylococcus aureus, and Staph’s resistant form MRSA all are common causes of skin infections.

Dr. Tami Rowen, an assistant professor at UCSF School of Medicine, has reported seeing grooming-related cases of folliculitis (inflammation of the hair follicle), abscesses, lacerations, and allergic reactions to waxing burns.

And a study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that 60% of women who removed their hair experienced some of these complications.

Complications were twice as likely for overweight and obese women, and three times more if they removed all their pubic hair.

[Image description: Private grooming habits between men and women.] via
[Image description: Private grooming habits between men and women.] via
Now, is this to say women shouldn’t remove their hair if they choose? No.

Human eyebrows also had an evolutionary purpose, but we can totally shave them off if we damn well please. And just because something may carry minor health risks does not mean we lack the right to do it.

We do all kinds of things to our bodies by choice that may involve some minor health risks, like waxing/shaving elsewhere, piercings, or tattoos.

But a YouGov poll showed that while only 56% of women ages 18-29 feel that they should remove their pubic hair, 72% do it anyway. We must get rid of false narratives perpetuated by society that dictate the choices we make.

“Hygiene” is only one of the reasons women give for removing pubic hair, but it is a harmful reason. It perpetuates a false stereotype that women who do not remove pubic hair are unclean. The argument that pubic hair is unhygienic is the patriarchy acting under the guise of science.

Your vagina is not dirty for existing in its natural form.

Do what you please with your body because you like it, and for no other reason.

Health Wellness

What you don’t know about living with high myopia

I was only six when I got glasses. I remember it well, some memories just stick to you, waiting to spread the glue every time they cross your mind. We were doing routine eye tests at school and I had to go into the nurse’s office. I can still clearly visualize her calling out my name, the first M in my class. I walked in, my tiny legs hanging off the high stool. I sat there while she flipped on the dreaded screen that peaks my anxiety, even today. I couldn’t read all the letters. As much as I twisted and turned, and squint my eyes, I just couldn’t read them. And so, she called in my mom. There was a lot of crying, a lot of eye doctor visits, a lot of not being able to understand until finally, I got glasses.

I hated them. There was an older girl who talked me through it, saying it wasn’t that bad, and when I wore them, I’d finally be able to see everything clearly, bright as day. I don’t remember putting them on. But I do remember the trauma that came after. The bullying. The taunts. The name calling. I hear it in my head even as a grown ass 26-year-old woman – the voices telling me that my weak eyesight was a cause of insult. And because of that, I’ve always been insecure when I wear them. I didn’t want to be all those names those kids called me. 

I eventually got contacts. While I felt better on the outside, my eyes continued to weaken. Over the years, I soared through the first few numbers. Dancing into higher numbers on each visit to the eye doctor. And damn, I hate that bloody test. Every time I sit in that chair and recite the letters and numbers up on that small screen, something within me stirs. I will myself to read them, knowing my eyes can only do so much. When I was younger, my mother would come with me, and when I’d hesitate across a letter, she’d urge me on, saying you can see it right? How can you not, it’s right there? But I never could. It was too hard. It was the one test I always failed. And I always continue to fail.

Sometimes I’d learn the screens by heart. My memory comforting me. I’d recite the letters off like I rote learnt them for a school exam. Breathing in as I went through them, growing smaller and smaller. But I’d always get caught. I’d leave the eye doctor feeling worse. I never had any excitement in getting new glasses. I’m getting better now, I wear them out more often and yet, every time someone looks at me for a moment longer, my mind lingers – what would they think? 

It was the one test I always failed. And I always continue to fail.

And I know it’s silly. They’re JUST glasses. Everyone wears them. It’s normal. But for me, it never has been. My number has always been higher than everyone around me. The reality is, I have high myopia, and that means my number may never stop increasing. I’m terrified of going to the eye doctor because I don’t want to know how much worse my eyes have become.

I’ve been to so many doctors, been told so many different things. One doctor told me not to lift heavy objects because it could damage my eyesight. One doctor told me to stay away from football matches and cricket games because the movement of the ball could damage my eyesight. But I can’t live in fear of things that are so simple, so mundane, so quintessentially everyday life.

The reality is, I have high myopia, and that means my number may never stop increasing.

The first two months of lockdown, I was nervous. What if something happened to my eyes? What if I needed new contacts? What if my glasses broke? And I know it was just my anxiety leading me into believing the worst. 

Two years ago, my eye number was stationary for one entire year. I go to the doctor every four months, get my eyes dilated, spend the entire day just lost in blurred vision and headaches. I usually have to take the day off work. But at my last check up that year, for the first time in my life, I finally had hope that maybe I could be applicable for lasik.

But I can’t live in fear of things that are so simple, so mundane, so quintessentially everyday life.

So I went in, high spirits, got the test done. Saw purple for an entire afternoon. And then went in the next day to hear that my number had increased by three. I was devastated. I love controlling the things in my life and my eyesight is the one thing I’ve never been able to push into focus.

A lot of people ask me about my eye number as if it’s so fascinating. I get a lot of “Oh, I didn’t know your number could be that high!” or “Can I try on your glasses?” or “Can you see how many fingers I’m holding up?” And it’s normal, humans are inherently built to ask questions, we thrive on curiosity. I know I do. But it’s tough. It’s tough knowing that I can’t get lasik. Knowing that my retina is stretching. Knowing that my eyesight is terrifyingly weak and I hate not being able to see the world without it being reflected back at me from the corners of my thick glasses. 

I love controlling the things in my life and my eyesight is the one thing I’ve never been able to push into focus.

When something happens to my eyes, I’m immediately afraid. Last year, I had a scare where I couldn’t wear contacts for a month to allow my eye to heal. And I was lucky, because it did eventually heal. And I’m learning to live with it. 

But my high myopia isn’t going anywhere. The only possible procedure is too risky. So if you’re reading this, and you too have high myopia, I feel you. I understand. I know it isn’t easy. But we’re doing the best we can under the given circumstances. 

I’m still functioning.

My eye number may be increasing constantly, but so is my strength.

And for now, that’s good enough.

Science Now + Beyond

Here are 5 brilliant health benefits of being a multilingual

Half of the world’s current population can speak at least two languages. Are you one of them? Have you thought about becoming one? Sure, we all know that speaking a second language is good for traveling and job opportunities. However, many people ignore the effects that it has on brain chemistry. Research has shown that as exercising changes your body, helping you develop muscles and be healthier overall, speaking a second language activates your brain and changes its structure too.

Here are some of the health benefits of being multilingual:

1. A more active brain

Bilingualism is associated with better maintenance of white matter during aging as well as developing more gray matter. Together, they boost brain acitivity and lead to better elevated mental and physical abilities, particularly in relation to learning. Moreover, speaking a second language can also help you develop other skills, that can be very useful in the work environment. According to several studies, studying another language helps with attention control, cognitive inhibition, and memory. Moreover, multilingual people are, on average, better at analyzing their surroundings, multitasking, and problem-solving.

2. Lower risk of dementia

A study from the University of Edinburgh published in 2013 a study that proved that there is a connection between multilingualism and the progression of dementia, as well as other cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s. The study concluded that, on average, bilingual people develop dementia four years later than monolingual ones. Another study in Italy showed that multilingual Alzheimer’s patients are, on average, five years older.

3. More cognitive abilities

Essentially, a new wat of looking at the world; language directly affects how we understand and see the world. Therefore, speaking more than one language will open your mind to different ways of looking at your life and experiences.

For example, Russian speakers can distinguish shades of blue easier than English speakers, because they have different words for different tonalities. Moreover, Japanese speakers tend to classify objects based on the material that they’re made of rather than their shape. And the fact that German syntax is more based on the outcome than the action, as opposed to English sentence structure, has been proven to result in German speakers focusing more frequently on the consequences of people’s actions rather than on the actions themselves.

Being able to switch languages, therefore, allows you to ‘choose’ your vision of the world, as explained by the researchers behind this latter study.

4. Better chances of recovery after a stroke

Speaking a second language might help you recover from serious injuries like strokes much faster. A study into 600 stroke survivors in India found that while 40.5% of bilingual patients had normal cognition, only 19.6% of monolingual survivors had such a good outcome. If you are bilingual, you are therefore twice as likely to recover from a stroke without long-term damage.

5. And, overall, a better understanding of cultural differences

Okay, this is not strictly scientific but multilingual people are exposed to different cultures and therefore different ways of looking at the world. For example, Chinese has a lot more words for relatives than English, because of the importance that they place on family and genealogy. Moreover, Malcolm Gladwell has explained the cause of the high rate of airplane crashes of Korean airlines in the fact that the Korean language is very hierarchical, and therefore the crew could only suggest the pilot that there might be an issue instead of talking to him as an equal and expressing their true concerns.

So, watch that movie in a foreign language, speak to your children in your native tongue, join that language class with your friends, try to learn the language of the country that you are visiting on your next holiday. Ultimately, it will improve your health and help you discover a brand new culture at the same time.


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Health Care Skin Care Love Wellness

Getting clear skin wasn’t worth the drastic measures I took

After a day out in the city, my friends and I gathered lazily around our common room swiping through the photos we’d taken. “Look at this one! It’s cute, should I post it?” One of them exclaimed, stretching her arm out to show me her phone. “Stop moving, let me see,” I laughed, holding her hand steady. It was a really nice group photo, even though sunlight was beating on our faces, making us squint a little. But then I looked at myself.

We all do this when inspecting group shots, and for a moment I was stunned. “Oh my god, look at me,” I said, zooming in on my face. I was grinning, leaning on one of my roommates, but I was more focused on my skin. My skin looked rough along my cheeks, faint red bumps that peeked out from my foundation. “Do I always look like this?” I asked, in despair.

Skin problems and acne were not at all new to me, but I had just turned 20. Wasn’t that period of my life supposed to be over? I had a brief period of respite in the past two years where my skin cleared up. I had assumed that the days of imperfections and waking up with red splotches were over and that my skin finally decided to act right, but I was wrong. It came back with a vengeance, and I tried almost everything possible to return to ‘normal’. 

I cycled through different topical treatments, face-washes, and diet changes to little avail. I didn’t like to bring it up to anyone because I was afraid of drawing attention to something I already assumed was my most prominent feature. Plus, I dreaded the classic answer of “just drink water!”

I always heard of other people taking these pills called Accutane. Everybody I knew who spoke about it, made it sound like a miracle drug. I remember a friend enthusiastically telling me that she noticed her nose getting smaller as a result of taking the medicine. But I always stood against it, because I had also heard stories of liver failure and other scary side effects. I swore I would never put beauty over my health, would I really damage my organs just to look ‘better’? I was convinced it wasn’t my risk.

However, as my acne refused to fade away, with even the Ordinary failing to give me any results, I began to cave in. At first the dermatologist hesitated to prescribe me the strong treatment as she didn’t think my skin issues were as severe as they seemed to be in my head. After all, this is a drug that is only supposed to be a last resort given how potent it is and the way it completely dries out the skin. But I insisted. So I started taking Accutane.

From then on, I went about my day with perpetually cracked lips and dizziness that would come and go. But it was all worth it, because after two months, my skin started to clear. I was beyond elated. A typical timeline with Accutane was six months, on a gradually higher and higher dose, so I continued to take the pills even as my skin grew drier and drier and my hair started to fall. But my monthly blood tests were coming out fine, so I knew I wasn’t at risk of anything serious.

My wake-up call finally came when I woke up with swollen legs, my body speckled with red dots. I had suddenly gotten a severe allergic reaction to the medicine. That was when I knew it had to stop.

When did I get so carried away? When did perfect skin become so important to me that I put my health at risk? I really got lost in the ‘beauty is pain’ mantra and forgot that my ultimate priority should be my wellbeing. I’m just thankful that it was a lower-risk health scare that brought me back to my senses, as it could have been a lot worse. 

This experience showed me the drastic measures and sacrifices women make to achieve a perfect look. Most women’s skin acts up, and that’s normal. It’s natural. We weren’t all made to have porcelain skin, that’s just bullshit made to sell us dozens of pots of clay masks and acids over serums.

Skincare is important, but it doesn’t have to be so high-stakes.  All it can take is something simple like seeing your imperfections in the mirror or what you see as an unflattering photo to launch you into a possibly dangerous path.

I’ve been there, and I can tell you it’s not worth it at all. 

College 101 Life

I’m a night owl, but I’m not sure I want to be one

I’m a big fan of working late at night. This is based on my personal experience, but there is also an active discussion about the night owl vs morning lark phenomenon. On the one hand, because the world is better attuned to the habits of early risers, night owls are at higher risk of mental health issues and poor mental wellbeing. On the other hand, night owls supposedly come up with more creative solutions and have generally higher intelligence.

There are many factors that work synchronously to decide if you are a morning or a night person. Factors such as your genetics, your environment, the season, latitude, and where you live all play a part. So, is it up to you at all?

How it works is that your genetics play a role in your circadian rhythm or internal body clock. Research published in Nature Communications reveals that the number of a specific gene you carry places you somewhere along a ‘scale of morningness’. These genes are concentrated in the relationship between how your retina converts light and sends signals to your brain. The body clock of a night owl was found to be more delayed than that of the morning lark. Suggesting that the retina of a night owl detected and communicated light less effectively, resulting in poor body clock entrainment. 

Having said all of that, we also all gradually turn into larks the older we get. Or I suppose, the night owls turn into larks, and the larks just stay themselves. 

Once again, I’m a big fan of the night owl cycle. Getting productive past midnight, working through the dark until the first early rays of light start filtering through the window and the birds wake up. There are no distractions, the entire world is quiet, and it feels like you’re the only living thing in existence. Like right now, all I have to think about is my writing.

But then, there’s the aftermath. Sure the early morning rays are pretty and birdsong is nice while it lasts, but then you feel your energy take a plunge, and the need for sleep rolls in. Your eyes start to droop, your mind feels strangely detached from your body, and you fall asleep while the rest of the world powers up. You wake up and gone is the soft light of the morning, and in its place is its much harsher counterpart, beating down on the world.

The days when you have to wake up early are entirely unproductive, you miss out on breakfast which is arguably the best meal (or at least in the top two meals) of the day, you feel fuzzy before you go to sleep, and never feel entirely satisfied when you do wake up. Before you know it, it’s sunset and you’re back to the night.

If you’re a morning person you get to wake up and see the world all fresh and dewy. You can start your day at a regular meal time instead of waking up groggy and trying to figure out which meal to actually commit to. You can make appointments with more ease and won’t need to prep yourself in advance to make sure you don’t miss out on important events. The only thing you lose out on is the productivity magic that 3 a.m. brings. 

Many advocate for leaning into the times when you’re at your most alert, while others warn of the many dangers to the owl-impersonations.  

It’s close to 2 a.m. now and I feel further away from any real conclusions to the owl-lark dilemma. I guess I’ll just stay up till 3 a.m. reading about it. I’ll get back to you if I find anything.

Editor's Picks Love Life Stories Advice Career Advice

Here’s the graduation advice nobody will ever tell you

I never thought I’d be writing a letter to college graduates, but considering the world that we live in today, and the many terrifying fears I remember going through in the day of and weeks/months/year after graduation, I think it’s definitely more than time for me to plunge into this.

I’ll lead with a disclaimer: take these nuggets of advice and see whether they apply to your life. Not everything will.

I’m not a fan of writing blanket statements, and hell, it’s okay if you’re not in the place many are today. If so, kudos!

1. I know everyone and their mother is already asking what your next steps are, and it’s probably reached a fever pitch, now that you’ve got your diploma in hand.

Here’s the truth: if you don’t know yet, that’s okay. One of life’s biggest secrets is that even the people asking you don’t know what their next steps are. Hell, sometimes they’re just asking in a desperate attempt to get some sort of advice or validation about their lives.

Another secret: once you graduate college, life is fluid. You don’t have to do what others are telling you. Which leads me to my next point…

2. Everyone has a plan for your life post-graduation – but the only one that has the real power is you.

I get it – I’m the oldest child of parents who have big, big dreams for my siblings and myself. I faced a lot of heated discussions the weeks leading up to and following graduation, all of which had the same tone: why aren’t you doing anything with your life?

 Know what that means? It means that your value is inherently determined only if you’re doing what your parents/relatives/friends/strangers deem to be appropriate. And that’s a load of crap.

Know that there will be a different future out there.

It’s a known fact that I worked at Princeton University for two years after graduation, but the thing I didn’t tell those who knew me was that I worked in Staples, struggling to apply to jobs and keep my head up, for the summer following graduation. I had even put in an application for a second job at Chipotle when I received the job offer from Princeton.

I do want to make this clear: in no way did my time at any of the three locations matter more or less than the other. Ultimately, it came down to keeping my head up, surviving incoming bills, and trying to still go after my dreams.

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I was okay with every moment, grateful for the opportunity – even if those who knew, weren’t – because I knew that there’d be a different future out there.

3. Your life in the year after graduation does not determine your worth or future or opportunities. 

Yeah, we all know about that wunderkind that’s got four incredible job offers, acceptance at five Ivy Leagues and a Truman Fellow. Want to know something? They’re just as unsure and insecure about what’s going to happen next, just as you are. And that’s okay. 

The reason “roadmaps” after college don’t really work is because – to be frank – you don’t know how your self and life will shift and morph and grow post-graduation.

You are incredible, no matter how you might feel right now.

What intrigued you during college won’t make you blink in the year after, or five years after. I graduated with a minor in education studies.

Newsflash: I haven’t really used it since then, but that’s okay.

I take it for what it was.

4. It’s okay to be afraid of what happens next.

I’m going to repeat it, just in case you haven’t really understood it: it is more than alright to be afraid of what life looks like ahead.

The biggest crime you could commit in this scenario is to let that fear hold you immobile, hold you back from trying. Don’t let that happen.

Throw yourself into things that just might pique your interest. Try out that internship, pick up a job, do what you can to remind yourself of your value – but don’t give up.

It is okay to be afraid of what life looks like ahead.

Don’t let the fear swallow you up – and if it does, confide in a friend you trust, a mentor – or a therapist.

5. The best part about being done with college is you now have the ability to make your life truly your own.

Regardless of whether you’re back living with your parents, crashing with friends, or living on your own, this is it.

This is life. You’re in full control.

No matter what people might tell you/advise you/berate you/try to drag you down – you’re the one in the driver’s seat. Never let someone strip you of that power. You are incredible, no matter how you might feel right now.

Buxom Cosmetics

You have your whole future ahead of you, to make of it what you will.

And that, that is truly empowering. I promise you.

But sometimes it’ll be lonely – which is okay. Hit me up on Instagram if you want to talk things through – even though I graduated years ago, I believe in helping those who need it.

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Skin Care Lookbook

5 skincare misconceptions, debunked

Today, having an extensively-researched, seasonal-product-switching, multi-step skincare routine is not uncommon. In fact, most people have jumped aboard the skincare train with sunscreen, sheet masks, and various acids as their guiding lights. But as with most things regarding humans, skin is specific to each individual – something that needs to be adapted to and gently experimented with through trial and error. With that being said, the skincare industry’s popularity has made it a magnet for trends that seem to stick no matter how bad they really are for you. Here are some skincare fads that seriously need to be re-evaluated.

1. Makeup wipes are overrated

A girl says, "Yeah, well, I've always thought 'easy' is completely overrated".
[Image description: A girl says, “Yeah, well, I’ve always thought ‘easy’ is completely overrated”.] Via Giphy.
In almost every nighttime skincare routine I watch, I see a pack of makeup wipes whipped out. After months of accumulating skincare knowledge, watching a makeup wipe move across someone’s skin makes me cringe. People of the skincare world: wipes are NOT enough to get all your makeup off. Have you never noticed how roughly you’re pulling at your skin? Constantly tugging on the über-sensitive skin around your eyes to try and remove your makeup without realising that you’re just smearing crusty concealer remnants all over your face? There is a time and a place for makeup wipes, but they are not the be-all end-all of makeup removal.

Instead: Try the double cleanse method! To really get a day’s worth of junk out of your pores, first use a cleansing oil or balm and work it into the face, allowing your makeup to melt and loosen off. Wash it off and follow with the second cleanse, your regular face wash. This will ensure that the following products you use, like serum or toner, are actually able to seep into your skin and amplify their effects.

2. Cleansing waters aren’t always great

A Simpson character yelling, 'Think again!'.
[Image description: A Simpson character yelling, ‘Think again!’.] Via Giphy.
Yet another product that is sometimes way over-hyped. A lot of us see makeup artists use this product and assume it’s enough to completely remove our makeup. What we don’t realize is that cleansing water is supposed to contain ‘micelles’, the technology that should essentially remove your makeup. You can’t just buy any kind of cleansing water because if it doesn’t contain the right technology, you’re basically rubbing soapy water on your face. Always look at the ingredients before buying – even if it is marketed as ‘micellar’ water.

Instead: Using micellar water as a first cleanse and following it up with a face wash is much more effective. However, micellar water’s best use seems to be in correcting your makeup as you apply it. A lot of people do swear by this product though, so maybe just make sure you’re using the right kind and quality for your skin.

3. Physical scrubs do more harm than good

A woman brings her hands to her face with a shocked expression.
[Image Description: A woman brings her hands to her face with a shocked expression.] Via Giphy.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned on my journey as a skincare junkie is that exfoliation is key. However, I’ve also learned which types of exfoliators are safe to use. Physical scrubs, the ones with large, coarse beads, are too abrasive for our faces. When you’re rubbing these beads all over your face, they’re essentially scratching your face over and over again.

Instead: If you’re someone who doesn’t want to give up on physical exfoliants, use one with a powdery or sandy base instead. Otherwise, chemical exfoliants are the way to go!

4. Eye-creams aren’t really necessary

A woman with a confused expression mimes a '50/50' action'.
[Image description : A woman with a confused expression mimes a ’50/50′ action’.] Via Giphy.
This is usually the final step in a nighttime routine. But has anyone ever noticed that eye-creams are just a thicker moisturizer? This one’s a bit tricky, but if you have a super thorough skincare routine, after a face moisturizer and all the other products you’re putting on, eye-creams won’t do much. What’s more, using a water-based eye-cream before you sleep has sometimes shown that your eyes appear puffier in the morning.

Instead: If you still want to use an eye-cream, try a gel-based one to avoid excess puffiness. Find what works for you.

5.  Coconut oil is NOT good for your face

A boy in a Hawaiian shirt and fedora is crosses his arms and says, 'CANCELLED!' while seated in a hot tub at the beach.
[Image description: A boy in a Hawaiian shirt and fedora is crosses his arms and says, ‘CANCELLED!’ while seated in a hot tub at the beach.] Via Giphy
To people who like to slather raw coconut oil all over their faces: stop doing that! Coconut oil straight from the jar will in no way seep into your skin. Instead of being absorbed and hydrating the skin, it simply sits on top of it like a thin film, blocking the skin from breathing and from being able to absorb any other products. Raw coconut oil is not as hydrating as you were led to believe.

Instead: Use skincare products that have been formulated with coconut oil. These are products that have been specifically made for the skin and contain more ingredients besides raw coconut oil. A good example is Solved Skincare’s coconut oil cleansing pads. Or instead, use face oils that have been formulated to hydrate your skin, such as Naturopathica’s Carrot seed soothing facial oil!

Editor's Picks Health Care The Pandemic Love

Check your privilege: Immunocompromised people are not disposable

I won’t spend too much time detailing the situation we’re in because everyone with access to news and/or the internet already knows the (massive) puddle this is.

Here’s the catch, we collectively are in this puddle. And believe it or not, that fact sort of helps me cope.

Some background into me in case you’ve never read anything I’ve written prior to this and have no idea why this subject means so much to me. I’m a lupus patient who was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) in March 2017 so suffering, especially when it comes to health issues is kind of my thing already. It’s a norm for me to worry about my own health on the daily.

I weirdly feel like it’s for the first time that an impending health issue is upon me except I’m not the only one facing it.

Now with this public health crisis happening, I weirdly feel like it’s for the first time that an impending health issue is upon me except I’m not the only one facing it. Getting to the crux of why I decided to write this piece.

It was out of the need to acknowledge the fact that I’m not the only spoonie (someone who has a chronic illness) who is facing the “The virus only affects the elderly and those with an underlying disease! Nothing much to worry about!” messages going around. Messages that make me panic in my shoes because there are so many of us.

This is something that I don’t entirely expect someone who has never had an autoimmune disease to understand coherently, but not all of us are privileged enough to have a working immune system at a young age. To not have to worry about a deadly virus that’s spreading like wildfire because some of us might actually be its prime victim.

Not all of us are privileged enough to have a working immune system at a young age.

You see, with an autoimmune condition, even if you haven’t had a flare up in a while, your immunity is essentially still very much compromised. Your immune system does not work in the way it’s supposed to. And a lot of us are on immunosuppressant medicines which makes it 10x harder for us to fight viruses and bacteria that enter our body.

So essentially, in an effort to prevent our bodies from self-sabotaging, we make them susceptible to various and hoards of other illnesses in the process. But it’s not like we can do much about that either. It’s either the medication or being bed ridden and helpless, unable to lead a (near) normal lifestyle.

Which is why, it becomes quite privileged, insensitive and quite frankly, ableist for people to take anything related to their health in jest – especially a life-threatening virus that spreads so easily.

This messaging of trying to ease people’s anxiety about how the virus only affects a certain ‘small’ minority of the population then comes across as highly ignorant to us. It implies that someone with an immune-system issue is very susceptible to this deadly virus and you couldn’t give less of a shit about it as long as it’s not affecting you.

This also goes for everyone who actively ignores the social distancing instructions that have been passed across the world in an effort to contain the spread of this virus. If you think you’re healthy enough to escape it, you might give it to someone who isn’t healthy enough to even survive it, and you need to deeply consider those that are immunocompromised. You need to understand that your privilege and not acknowledging it is putting someone else’s life in danger.

I have every right to be angry and offended because this implies that you don’t care if I live or die

If I have an autoimmune condition and I repeatedly get told that the virus ‘isn’t so bad’ because of the mortality rate as compared to other viruses in the past, I have every right to be angry and offended because this implies that you don’t care if I live or die. You might be asymptomatic and immune to the virus, but not all of us are.

These messages and ideas reek of ableism because only an able-bodied person who has never suffered at the expense of a chronic illness would consider such a situation to be taken so lightly.

It makes us (those with immunity issues) feel extremely left out and lonely, which is anyway a feeling we experience regularly considering how debilitating it can be to battle against your own body every day. On top of that, we’re well aware of how badly this virus could complicate our conditions were it to affect us.

This is a kind request to everyone reading – check your privilege before you make loud statements about what anyone should or should not worry about – especially in times of crisis. 

Mind Love

Asking for help is the hardest thing for me to do

Trigger Warning: Mentions of depression and anxiety. 

I’m not a stranger to mental health, I had a bad time a few years ago and ended up on antidepressants. It was a shock for me at the time – mental health issues didn’t happen to young people like me. I mean, no one my age that I’d known had ever talked about it. It was one of those distant things I knew existed but didn’t really realize the depth of.

To be honest, I was extremely ignorant about the realities of mental health.

It turned out to be a learning curve for me and, in many ways, it has made me the person that I am. Initially, I was bitterboy was I bitter – angry at the world, victimizing myself, and just hopeless for quite some time. I have many angsty journal entries from my “dark days” pages about how much I hated myself and everything about me.

So I took steps to change the things I didn’t like and it wasn’t easy.

I think I’m pretty great now because I’ve pushed past the “darkness” to become someone who is able to see the good in every bad, anticipate what the next trial will teach me and, in general, like myself more.

I know am not cured but I’ve learned to live with it. I’ve learned to enjoy the good days and deal with the bad ones. Mostly, I’ve learned to be grateful for both types of days; the bad days always teach me something new and there is always a new perspective to gain.

 And now I am one of those people who talk about mental health – all the time.

I’m forever trying to start a sincere conversation about mental wellbeing and help others along the journey so they don’t feel as alone as I did. And I’m still learning, I’m learning that I can’t help everyone unless I’m looking after myself

Recently, I slipped a little by taking on more than I was prepared for, in many ways.

I ignored it to start with. The anxiety that worsened as each day went by, the numbness that came along, the loss of interest in everything I had once enjoyed. These are my signals for when things are getting worse and, in the past,  when one appeared, I  picked up on it and looked after myself.

This time, I picked up on it too late.

And there I was – anxious beyond words, struggling to breathe and feeling low, so so low. A low that I had hoped to never spiral into again. I remember sitting down and feeling the worst I had in years. All the effort I’d put into learning how to avoid this kind of meltdown slowly seeped away, to the point where I couldn’t move, I couldn’t do anything but stay frozen, held captive by my mind.

Then the responsible part of me kicked in and I remember thinking, “Ok Mitta, you need help.” It took me a while, to push back the tears, control my breathing, and reach for my phone. 

And then came the hard bit. 

I’m blessed with a lot of great people in my life. Yet, as I sat and stared at my phone, I felt like I had no one to call. No one who I wouldn’t be a burden to. No one who I could easily just word vomit on. The loneliness set in.

I know it’s in my head because I’m sure my friends would have picked up and been there for me. But I’d been through such a shitty time before, I felt like I’d already been a burden once. It was hard to be that person again.

It also felt like admitting defeat.

It had taken me years but I’d gotten to a good place so how had a couple of bad weeks destroyed everything I’d created? I’d built this new Mitta who talked about mental health, who helped others, and I didn’t want to become the old version of myself again. The fear of becoming that anxiety-riddled mess who couldn’t see past that scared me more than I cared to admit. As much as I’d like to think I had grown, I was still scared of the stigma that came with mental health. Of being perceived as weak.

But I knew I needed help. I knew I couldn’t continue this way without falling down a rabbit hole of anxiety and depression. 

So, I did the only other thing I could think of. I reached out to a mental health professional. I did something and I’m hoping it pays off. And I get it, asking for help when you need it is tough, but it’s so damn important.

It’s going okay, I think. It helps to know that I have a safe space to vent out my issues. So when my days get unbearable – I at least know I have a chance to dissect it all. I also like having someone change the way I see things. I’ll explain a situation and say “yes, I know I’m being dramatic” and my therapist will explain to me that I am actually not being that irrational. That A + B will result in me acting out in C. It helps, now when I am in a certain situation, usually a social one, the anxiety won’t necessarily go away but I can better understand what is causing it and that, at least, makes me feel a little better.

Talking to friends is important and great but I cannot emphasize that talking to a professional is so much better. I, of course, acknowledge that not everyone has that privilege.

Talking to a stranger who I know won’t judge me for the things I say, who I won’t have to see around every day and be reminded of all they know about me. That helps and it also helps to get a different perspective on your life. The people around me know me, they have an image of me they have already cultivated in their minds so any advice they give – they give taking this image into consideration. And maybe sometimes that image is a lie. I’m great at looking like I’m doing well and dying inside. So it helps to have someone who doesn’t have any attachments to me listen.

The most important thing here is listening, I’m paying this person to listen to me so they have to essentially do that. With people I know, offloading often feels like I am burdening them and in turn, I can’t always be as open as I want.

None of us can do this alone. 

Take that scary step.

Ask for help.

You can run away from many things but you can’t escape your own mind.

If you, or someone you knew, is in need of mental health support, visit CheckPoint’s website.

Movie Reviews Bollywood Movies Pop Culture

Here’s why I finally lost my undying obsession for DDLJ

“Go, Simran, go. Live your life.”

These iconic words, spoken at the climax of the 1995 Bollywood classic Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ), never failed to make me tear up as a teenager.

DDLJ is the story of Raj Malhotra (Shah Rukh Khan/SRK) and Simran Singh (Kajol) who both reside in the UK and fall in love on a trip across Europe.

They cannot marry, however, because Simran’s father has already decided she will marry Kuljeet Singh (Parmeet Sethi), his friend’s son, whom she has never met. Rahul then pretends to be Kuljeet’s friend and crashes Simran’s wedding preparations to try and win her family over.

I fell in love with DDLJ as a child.

I adored Raj and Simran. I admired Kajol’s unibrow. I recited the dialogues alongside the characters. Most importantly, I treasured the romance. Nothing could be purer than Raj’s love for Simran and what he was willing to do to win her father over.

On the face of it, DDLJ is the perfect rom-com. It presents an unlikely pair – opposites who attract and fall deeply in love – only for a parent to tear them apart. It makes you root for them and cheer out loud when they finally do unite at the end. Like millions of other girls, I also wanted a Raj who would be willing to fight the world to be with me.

Nothing could be purer than Raj’s love for Simran and what he was willing to do to win her father over.

However, as I grew older, rewatching it made me uncomfortable, and it took me some time to realize why.

Raj, it turns out, is the flag-bearer of the creepy guys you see at a store whom you avoid eye contact with because you know they’ll start following you around. He dangled Simran’s bra in her face five seconds after meeting her, and then kept pestering her even when she clearly told him, multiple times, she was not interested in talking to him.

Raj also lied to her about them sleeping together. After all, what girl doesn’t find it hilarious when she wakes up, disoriented, next to a stranger who jokes about sleeping together when she was too inebriated to remember anything?

Worse, when Simran starts to cry upon hearing this, he goes on a rant about how he couldn’t even imagine doing that to her because he knows that honor (chastity) means everything to a Hindustani girl.

What I despise more than Raj’s behavior is that like most Bollywood movies, DDLJ places Simran entirely at the mercy of the men in her life. Her father decided she is to marry a stranger, and before this happens she has to beg him to let her travel across Europe for one last hurrah.

Then, when she returns from a trip equivalent to the last meal, she is punished for doing something deeply unforgivable in her culture – falling in love.

Simran’s own fight and refusal do not produce any results.

As punishment, her wedding is moved up and she is taken to a village in India where her future husband lives. This is a man neither she nor her father has ever met. This is also a man shown to be an alpha male with no intention of staying loyal to Simran. Yet, the preparations continue.

Her future became dependent on Raj and his decision on whether she’s worth fighting for. Simran’s own fight and refusal do not produce any results.

The other women in the film also exist along the periphery. Simran’s mother supports her but is helpless because the only will that matters is that of her father. Simran’s sister teases her about Raj and helps facilitate their forbidden romance.

Simran’s aunt is there only for comic relief due to a potential romance with Raj’s single father. Worst of all, Kuljeet’s sister Preeti exists only as the punchline to a joke that is not funny. She falls in love with Raj who happily leads her along to hide his relationship with Simran.

Meanwhile, the decision to fight for Simran, our signature damsel in distress, is what makes Raj the hero. Thus, DDLJ takes a movie designed for female audiences, as rom coms are famous for, and makes it entirely about a man and his fight while the women are shown holding no agency over their lives. This only reinforces how marginalized brown women are in our real lives.

The movie is yet another reminder that the men in our life, be it our boyfriends or our fathers, are our priority.

The entire movie is a battle between the egos of two men. And like most Bollywood movies, the romance here would not be complete without the man literally fighting for love. Ironically, this aggression plays a role in convincing Simran’s father of Raj’s undying love.

What made me uncomfortable with DDLJ’s “romance” was, ultimately, that Simran had no choice. The grand gesture at the end of DDLJ is Simran’s father letting her hand go, telling her to live her life, only for her to immediately clasp onto the hand of another man.

DDLJ is not a bad movie. I would go to the extent of calling it a pretty good movie. It’s funny, emotional, and really panders to the Indian diaspora at the expense of the British (something the anti-colonialist in me appreciates).

The movie is yet another reminder that the men in our life, be it our boyfriends or our fathers, are our priority.

However, I don’t rewatch it for the romance because it reminds me of something deeply abhorrent in our culture; that we as women hold no agency over our lives, but especially over our love lives.

We are all Simran, begging our fathers to let us be free once before they marry us off to whoever they decide is suitable. We are all Simran as she pleads with her father to let her go; to let go of our hands and our lives. We are all Simran, now tied to another man, as our ambitions and dreams remain nameless and unimportant, all secondary to the concept of marriage and men.

I used to wish for a Raj. After rewatching the movie, I now only wish to be Raj, if only to have the agency of going wherever I want and marrying whoever I want (if I want), the way I know I could never do as Simran.

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Health Care Health Wellness

Here’s how to actually be supportive to your friend with bipolar disorder

Lately, most of my heartbreak has come from lost friendships, some of which I still haven’t gotten any closure from. In part, this is because I have bipolar disorder.

In the time that has passed, I’ve come to realize that I deserved better. I deserved to be surrounded by people who accepted me as I am and so do you.

There have been many situations where I have found myself among my friends, experiencing an episode — either depressive or manic — and felt completely alone in my suffering when a few acts of kindness could have made a huge difference.

1. Acceptance

: A girl sitting and looking out of a window.
[Image description: A girl sitting and looking out of a window.] Via Unsplash
Regardless of whether someone is a lover or a friend, don’t ever assume that they can be fixed. They are not a broken tailgate or a leaking engine.

The assumption that a person can or needs to be fixed can destroy your relationship with them.

This is because people cannot simply ‘snap out of it’. This is because they are not doing it to themselves: it is happening to them.

2. Compromise

Two girls talking
[Image description: Two girls talking.] Voa Unsplash
Someone’s mental illness is not about you unless you are abusing them.

So, expecting someone with a bipolar disorder to meet you at your physical, emotional and mental level is unrealistic. This is why you have to be the one who meets them halfway.

If a person cannot come to you, then you come to them, if a person during mania episode wants to jump off a bridge or out of a window, then suggest bungee jumping or skydiving.

At the end of the day, it is about finding a compromise.       

3. Improvise

Two women sitting on a rooftop while watching sunset
[Image description: Two women sitting on a rooftop while watching sunset.] Via Unsplash
Improvising is very important. There will be times when the notion of order and routine falls out the window and all you can do is wait it out. In those moments, it’s best to simply be there for someone.

Sometimes, you’ll need to take it one day at a time, and if one day is too much then take it one hour at a time.

And if that feels like too much for them, go moment by moment because sometimes, you simply need to hold them through the pain.

4. Don’t retaliate

A girl sitting down, looking sad.
[Image description: A girl sitting down, looking sad.] Via Unsplash
When someone is having a panic/anxiety attack, that is not the time to psychoanalyze them. That is not the time to pull out the receipts of all the times that you were unsatisfied with their behavior.

Simply telling someone to calm down is redundant because that person is already doing everything in their power to calm down.

So sometimes, if you can’t cope, the best thing you can do for them is to call someone they trust. Getting someone a bottle or a glass of water can be helpful regardless of the fact that it might not resolve the panic/anxiety attack.

5. Be patient

Two boys hugging in a bar.
[Image description: Two boys hugging in a bar.] Via Unsplash
People who have compulsive behaviors and various tics exhibit (tap toeing, pen clicking, thigh rubbing, pacing) ways to expel anxiety.

While these might be irritable and distracting to a normal person, rather than simply pointing out your annoyance, something you can do is provide the person with alternate forms of expression.

For example, if a person is pacing, you can both go for a walk; if a person is clicking a pen, you can give them paper to write on.

6. Be responsible

A man and woman playing at a foosball table.
[Image description: A man and woman playing at a foosball table.] VIa Unsplash
Social anxiety is real. It isn’t when someone is being rude, or when someone has poor manners. If you have a friend that does have social anxiety, you’ll have to compromise. If you’re inviting them to a party, you have two responsibilities that you must uphold; the first is to respect the people they choose to interact with and the people they choose not to interact with.

And the next is to respect and accept when they want to leave and ensure they get home safely. Allow your friend to gravitate towards people that they find interesting.

Another option is to bring along games or cards, that way if they don’t want to interact but are interested in the games they can play them.

All relationships are hard work. While the representation of mental illnesses like bipolar disorder still has a long way to go, accepting the people among us for who they are, and helping them out goes a long way.

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TV Shows Pop Culture

Netflix’s “Insatiable” proves to be more than just ‘crown hungry’ in season 2

Despite being barraged with an exceedingly overwhelming opposition for being ‘insensitive’, ‘crass’, ‘fat-shaming’, Netflix’s Insatiable managed to return with its second season in October 2019. Being an avid fan of dark comedies, I wasted no time in jumping on this bandwagon to catch up with this show’s diabolical antics from where I had left off.

Actress Debby Ryan as Patty Bladell in Netflix's Insatiable holding her hand to her chest and wearing a sash saying 'Sorry Not Sorry'.
[Image Description: Actress Debby Ryan as Patty Bladell in Netflix’s Insatiable holding her hand to her chest and wearing a sash saying ‘Sorry Not Sorry’] via IMDb
Insatiable addresses the life trajectory of Debby Ryan’s Patty Bladell, a former overweight teenager who manages to shed her extra weight. Upon being punched in the face and having her jaw wired shut- disabling her from resuming an unhealthy diet- the universe grants her much-coveted wish. Alas, she ‘attempts’ to discard her frumpy past behind as she enrolls in a beauty pageant under the mentorship of one Bob Armstrong played by Actor Dallas Roberts. She is fueled by self-loathing and livid with the desire to avenge being relentlessly tormented.

Actress Debby Ryan as Patty Bladell wearing pink gown and smashing shelves in a store.
[Image Description: Actress Debby Ryan as Patty Bladell wearing a pink gown and smashing shelves in a store.] via Giphy
This time Insatiable shifted the emphasis from Patty’s spiraling-out-of-control-life onto the array of choices readily available to help her ‘deal’. Not only this, but the dark-toned theme chooses to proactively address the crucial impediments savaging our aesthetic hungry society. Eating disorders, erratic behaviors, addictions, obsessive compulsions, body dysmorphia, homicide, etc. dominate the storyline to help sympathize, and thus engage in, thought-provoking dialogues.

Listed below are 5 praise-worthy solutions provided by season 2, redeeming any damage Insatiable may have inadvertently caused previously:

1. Acknowledging you have a problem

Actress Debby Ryan and actor Dallas Roberts look at eachother sideways in bewilderment in an episode of Insatiable
[Image Description: Actress Debby Ryan and actor Dallas Roberts look at each other sideways in bewilderment in an episode of Insatiable] via Giphy
“You want to eat something that you know you shouldn’t, so you don’t. Then all you can think about is that thing, and it’s so loud. So you break down and you eat it and then you just eat everything else until you hate yourself enough to finally stop.”

The first episode aptly titled ‘Pig’ launches into Patty’s overpowering impulses whenever she is confronted with an emotional dilemma. She has a knack for digressing from facing her vices by coercing herself into latching onto another one. In the present case, it prompts her to binge on anything, and literally everything. This is candidly exhibited by her eating ‘soap flavored’ sweets out of the trash; a brutal reality of those who suffer from eating disorders.

2. Broadening the definition of eating disorders

Actress Debby Ryan as Patty Bladell in Netflix's Insatiable stuffing her face with cake.
[Image Description: Actress Debby Ryan as Patty Bladell in Netflix’s Insatiable stuffing her face with cake.] via Gyfcat
Having identified Patty’s underlying problem, Insatiable takes the responsibility to provide an authentic solution. By the third episode, Patty thrusts herself into an ‘Overeaters Anonymous Support Group’ meeting. Much to her relief, she finds herself being embraced by her peers; emitting faith. She then gains further insight into her condition when a friend explains that ‘purging’ isn’t necessarily a definitive symptom for an ‘eating disorder.’ That you need to be able to distinguish between ‘physical’ and ‘emotional’ hunger. Or as Patty aptly puts it, “If there was a name for it, maybe there was a cure.”

3. Introduction to Capoeira

Actress Debby Ryan as Patty Bladell in Netflix's Insatiable kicking a man in his face.
[Image Description: Actress Debby Ryan as Patty Bladell in Netflix’s Insatiable kicking a man in his face.] via Giphy
The most exciting form of releasing one’s built-up rage is demonstrated via incorporating an ‘Afro-Brazilian Discipline’. In episode #6 titled ‘Eat and Run’, Patty finds her calling in this powerful blend of martial arts and dancing. By practicing this, she unravels a unique solution to her ‘binging problem’ as her body becomes overactive in releasing the surplus of negative emotions. This is directly attributable to the sense of well-being you experience as the surge of serotonin and endorphins hit you while exercising.

4. Taking responsibility for someone other than yourself

Actress Debby Ryan as Patty Bladell in Netflix's Insatiable talking to a young girl and saying, "Course I didn't."
[Image Descriptions: Actress Debby Ryan as Patty Bladell in Netflix’s Insatiable talking to a young girl and saying, “Course I didn’t.”] via Giphy
“There are things about me, things that I never dealt with that I could use some freedom from,” says Patty.

No matter how unhinged she becomes, Patty’s narrative has never been illustrated as one to serve as a role model. Rather, her episodes of hysteria and intermittent displays of perverted sense of self-worth are what make Insatiable ‘human’. Again she gets to engage in a thoughtful activity when she is assigned a little sister in episode #4. Not only does Patty strives to build her confidence by inculcating ‘learn to love myself just the way I am’, but she also admits to ‘quick fixes’ being far from ideal in actuality. By reverting Patty’s focus to helping others, the show simplistically elucidated just how rewarding this tactic is.

Actress Debby Ryan as Patty Bladell in Netflix's Insatiable wearing a big Crown.
[Image Description: Actress Debby Ryan as Patty Bladell in Netflix’s Insatiable wearing a big crown.] via IMDb
Insatiable concluding on ‘the most you can be managed to surpass the confines of its initial message of ‘skinny is magic’. By delving into these prickly discussions and refusing to paint the protagonist in sunny-side-up colors, Insatiable draws its viewers out.

Patty’s speech where she says, “What if you’re broken? What if you are so tired of faking it that you feel sick?” not only is familiar, but it constrained me to woefully acknowledge all those times where I too had to muster up all my courage just to appear ‘normal’.

I would applaud Insatiable for splattering the controlled rage of women for having their worth reduced to their appearances so credibly onto the screen.