Like most of you, I’m super angry about politics these days and, yes, like you the last thing I would rather read is another hot take about freedom of speech, white supremacy, and how they intersect with…knitting, but here we are! If you’re choosing to continue reading this, then cool! I have so many thoughts and they’re probably not dissimilar from what runs through your brain on a daily basis either in support of or against what I am going to write about below.
Backstory: I’ve been a member of Ravelry, an online community for knitters, since it’s inception in 2007. Back in my day you had to wait for an invitation from someone already on the site to join. Over time I’ve seen Ravelry grow from a place hosting patterns to a full social media networking site including message boards and groups. Anyone can create either and they don’t need to be focused on knitting. For example, I’m a member of the very dormant Knitters Who Love WWE group.
Anyway, there was one now permanently banned designer on Ravelry who created patterns based on Trump slogans including a Build the Wall hat and a Love is Love Hat knit in rainbow colors. The latter was not an attempt to build a bridge, but to talk about how the rainbow has been co-opted by the LGBTQA+ community and that “lifestyle” (or whatever annoying and innacurate word she used) is wrong. Like, ugh, fine make your shitty pattern, but that person needed to understand that it was published on a free, private website and that anything posted (by anyone) is subject to review. This designer also outed the person that complained to Ravelry about the hate behind the patterns (and hateful comments on the pattern)and was subjected to doxing. Further proof this designer is problematic…well, read their account of the events.
Here are some arguments I’ve seen on the twitter that I’m just tired of….
Ravelry claims to be an inclusive website, but they’re not inclusive towards me!
Alright, take it easy. I see this argument pop up frequently and it is such bullshit. Ravelry, a private company, made the decision that they no longer were allowing Pro-Trump posts on the basis of his support for white supremacists and the policies he’s created affecting marginalized communities. If you’re reading this and thinking “he’s not a white supremacist” I’d like to turn your attention to here, here and here for starters (that last one is an opinion piece from a conservative leaning paper, lest you label my links as “fake news.”)
As a white person tired to death of the actions of other white people, this is infuriating to me. These people that feel as though Ravelry is not inclusive towards them feel that way because when they express their racist, homophobic, and xenophobic thoughts through words or knitting patterns, they are held accountable. What they’re failing to understand is that their behavior – their words and actions – are what has led to this policy being put in place. So, what you could say is that Ravelry is an inclusive community that doesn’t tolerate hate speech and protects it’s members from abuse and harrassment. The ones being “discriminated against” are the ones telling people they are less than because of where they came from, the race they were born into, or who they love. They’re also cheapening the terms of inclusivity and discrimination. So, if you create a rainbow hat pattern reading Love is Love and then write about how being LGBTQA+ is wrong, sit the fuck down, Wendy; you’re hurting those in your community.
Oh! Also, these people claiming discrimination think that it’s TOTALLY okay not to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple because that’s somehow not discrimination. Not hypocritical at all, Janet.
Narrator: They don’t…
But I’m not a white supremacist and they’re TELLING me I am!
Let me taste your tears. Boo-hoo! Ravelry did not ban conservative speech, they banned speech and patterns that alienate members of their community. Most of this speech does trickle down from the top a la the President of these United States and we need to recognize that. There was a huge correlation between Trump supporters and hate speech on the site. As part of Ravelry’s new agreement I am not allowed to antagonize a Trump supporter or call a group of Trump supporters white supremacists (I never did – at least on Ravelry, anyway). This is not the end of the world for me and I will continue to use Ravelry for it’s main purpose: saving patterns in my queue that I will never get around to knitting. I realize that not everyone who is a Trump supporter is, down at the core, a white supremacist, but it is hard to separate his supporters cheering for the policies he created affecting marginalized communities from your basic MAGA supporters. It just is. I don’t WANT to believe it, but the actions of his supporters en masse are rooted in white supremacy.
Back to the matter at hand. No one said you’re a white supremacist, Cheryl, but the lady, she doth protest a WEE BIT too much. For every conservative out there saying that Ravelry has banned conservatives and conservative discussion with this decision, you have drawn that line from conservatism directly to white supremacy YOURSELF. This definitely did not work in their favor.
If an individual chooses to terminate their free account with Ravelry over this, it’s their loss. I continue to be amazed at those that feel their right to free speech has been infringed upon here. Meeghan won’t go to jail for what she said, but she sure is acting that way.
In my experience the same people crying discrimination are the same people who say that both sides need to come together and work across the aisle. Again, it is near impossible to do this when one side refuses to acknowledge that there is a problem, because they are refusing to listen.
There is a part of me that wonders if all this defensiveness is rooted in the fact that they do not want to *believe* white supremacy exists in this country. For example, I knew people that came out in support of the man in Charlottesville who rammed his car into a group of protestors because “they were banging on his car – what was he supposed to do!?” Well, according to this dudes testimony and the testimony of people who knew him at various phases throughout his life: he intentionally drove his car into that group of protestors to hurt them and he’ll be going to jail forever for it. It’s amazing to me how people come out in defense of someone participating in a white supremacist rally by making the point that they might not actually be a white supremacist despite their history and behavior. Putting those facts aside, he still killed someone with his car. It’s my belief that this feeling comes out of fear of being labeled as such. Well, I have good news for you: it’s very easy to not be a white supremacist. Every single participant in the Unite the Right rally knew exactly what they were doing though (“The Jews will not replace us” much?). However, it’s far easier to believe that there was no malicious intention behind it. Why would this person want to hurt anyone? Why would anyone want to hurt anyone?
By denying the existence of white supremacy, not only do you refuse to acknowledge there is a problem, but you refuse to listen to those affected saying that there is a problem. You know who are the least qualified people to speak on racial harassment and discrimination? Those that have never experienced it. If you’ve never experienced it, you don’t know what it looks like so, how can you deny there is a problem? Yes, I’m white, but I know there is a problem because I listen and read! I’m doing my best to be a better ally and really understand.
I will end with this. I’m sure there are plenty of you out there wondering why I think I’m right and writing this from atop my comfy tower, but I don’t think I’m right. I carry a love for everyone and it’s painful to me when people, who have done nothing wrong except for be who they are, are attacked for those very things. I’m not a religious person, by any means, and I believe that the bible is completely open to interpretation and that there are many who use it as a grounds for labeling themselves a better person than most, but it is your actions that make you who you are. If you believe that kneeling during the national anthem isn’t the right time to protest, then tell me, person unaffected, when is it a good time to protest/why do you care about how and why people protest? Did you know the anthem only started playing after 9/11 as a recruiting tactic for the military? I do. True knowledge is power.
I’m not saying that you can’t think or view it as disrespectful, but in doing so you’re dismissing the why. Why is this happening? If you say they’re a bunch of spoiled football players with nothing to complain about, where did you get that information from? What is informing your opinion? Why are you choosing to ignore a very real problem because of a gut reaction? Ask and listen. But, again, why are people so worked up about NFL players kneeling? Is it because they don’t want to acknowledge that there is a problem? Are people worried that by acknowledging discrimination in other communities it could upset the balance of “equality”? If they can’t protest, then I won’t know about these issues, and there is no problem to know about, right?
I don’t read memes. You know why? 99% of them, on any political spectrum, are wrong and I often find myself having to explain why a meme is sharing misinformation. Stop getting your news from memes. Stop believing memes. Sharing them spreads misinformation and creates fear mongering. Some people I know that get their news from Facebook have whipped themselves up into their own frenzy. I wish it were different.
However, I will close with this: Today’s GOP is abhorent. They are responsible for gerrymandering. They elected two people in 2018 that have been indicted. I see the most scandals within the GOP. They reject science. They don’t know how women’s bodies work nor do they care. They aim to suppress and target women and minorities with their harmful policies. I’m tired of being forced to sugarcoat what is actually happening in this country and assume that people’s intentions are not malicious when their behavior is 100% completely aimed at targeting marginalized populations. You don’t have to agree with me.
To the people who feel impacted by Ravelry’s new policy: The rise of white supremacy in this country is directly related to Donald Trump and no one will miss you. Bye, Felicia.
One of my goals for this year was to travel as much as possible and spend next to nothing. I’m very fortunate that I moonlight with a telehealth start-up that brings me to places I would not make the effort to travel to for any reason. My travel and accommodations are paid for and any miles and hotel points accrued as part of my travel or stay are for my own personal use. Added to that the fact I love telehealth, they also pay me, and I get to hang out with friends and it feels like I’ve stumbled into the most perfect side gig. Hashtag blessed.
Last week I traveled to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, a small factory town along the Mississippi River bordering Iowa. I’d only been to metropolitan areas of the Midwest, never Wisconsin or Iowa, so even though this was a sleepy area, I was looking forward to it.
Yes, I took my first trip to Culvers and had fried cheese curds, but I learned that the way to go is ordering a Kid’s Meal: burger, fries, drink, and ice cream all for $5! Remember that for your next trip to Culvers. Game changer.
One of the nights I was there, we ventured over to McGregor, Iowa, a town that looked like it was built for filming Westerns and then painted brightly colored so as to say “THIS WAS NOT USED TO FILM A WESTERN.” Thanks to heavy rains that flooded the Mississippi, some of the restaurants were closed and water pumps were set up all along the main road. For dinner we stopped into Old Man River Brewery, a brewery so new they had to obtain their own brewing license, but served local brews (I had the Pivo Brewery Elkader Apricot Wheat) and your usual crowd pleasers. Our bartender kept giving us shots because it was someone else’s birthday and took the opportunity to take the piss out of us on multiple occasions. I loved her.
While there we made friends with a mother and daughter out celebrating the daughters recent college graduation and foray into her first nursing job. They ventured across the street to Pocket City Pub with us, where we met Harvey, a 15 week old shih poo with bad knees who loves kisses. I loved him.
After chatting with the mother and daughter for a while the mother, Jane*, introduced themselves as “The Joneses!” with such enthusiasm and familiarity, but it was lost on us. We came to find out that there are two Jones families in the area. Jane’s family was known as the “Iowa Joneses” while another family in Prairie du Chien were known as the “Fighting Joneses” or “H Joneses” given every member of that family has a first name that starts with H. True to their name this family loves fighting and will often fight each other if there is no one else to fight.
The only other man in the bar chimed in “I knew Jane Jones! She was crazy!” to which Iowa Jane Jones responded “No, not blonde Jane Jones, I’m IOWA Jane Jones.” The bartender was familiar with these families as well. Somehow I am following along with this discussion.
The next day at work one of the employees I’d been out with the night before started asking people at the factory if they knew the Joneses. The conversations pretty much mirrored the ones from the night before.
“You mean the H Joneses? Did you have a run in with them?”
“No, we met Jane Jones last night.”
“No, Iowa Jane Jones.”
“Oh, she’s really nice. The other family will fight anyone.”
This subject was broached again while we were checking out of the hotel.
“Do you know the Joneses? We hung out with Jane Jones last night.”
“Jane Jones is crazy.”
“No, not blonde Jane Jones,” I said. “IOWA Jane Jones.”
“Oh, she’s really nice. The H Joneses will fight anyone.”
I left feeling like I’m part of it now and slightly disappointed that I did not fight an H Jones. Then, I would’ve felt as though I’d had the full Prairie du Chien experience.
Back at the end of January I spent a little less than two weeks volunteering in St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands with All Hands and Hearts (AHAH), an organization dedicated to long term disaster relief recovery. AHAH currently operates sites in Mexico, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, USVI, Puerto Rico, Nepal, and, most recently, Mozambique. St. John is still operating, but the St. Thomas program ran out of funding at the end of April and is no longer operating, which is a shame because there is still so much work to be done there.
I feel very fortunate to have been able to participate in this program for a few reasons. When I signed up, they were offering free round trip flights if you were staying two weeks or more. (They are still offering this for Texas and North Carolina, so check out their website!). There was no cost to stay on base, meals were provided, transportation to and from work sites was also included. There was no reason for me not to spend my time down there helping; they made it as easy as possible. (Side note: I’m trying to travel this entire year without spending a dime on accommodations or airfare. So far, so good!)
Admittedly, I was nervous going into a new large group volunteer scenario. Unless I can handpick a group of people, I’m going to dislike at least 10% it. It’s just my nature and I completely own this. As I become more of an old crab, the list of characteristics I dislike in people seems to grow on a daily basis which is why it was so confusing to realize that in this ever revolving group of roughly 50 people, I really liked every single one of them. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m more accustomed to group travel and the various personalities that can be in conflict when forced to work together as a group or if they’re all just really great people with vast social awareness. I’m going to go with that last one and believe that I’m still a bit of a jerk.
The majority of volunteers on base with me were made up of two different types of people: post-college, mid 20s, unsure what they wanted to do next or young retirees who cannot sit still and love to travel. Most of those people had given up a month or more of their time. The rest of the people, like me, were there on vacation from their full time jobs wishing that they could also spend a month or more on a gorgeous Caribbean island working outside when it is the dead of winter back home.
Our base was a condemned old school in the Frenchtown area, an area I didn’t get to explore until one of my last nights there, but is super cute. There were wine bars, margarita shacks, and a cute little Eiffel Tower.
I’m not much of a nightlife person so most nights were spent on base reading one of three books I brought while laying in a hammock. I had intended to completely unplug while I was down there, but there was so much downtime and, with most people on little to no income, many people chose to spend their nights on base playing board games, trivia, and exercising.
Base was a well-oiled machine. Everyday there were volunteers responsible for cleaning base, running errands, and helping to cook dinner while others were working on their sites. The food was incredible. The first few days I was there I was volunteering at Youth Academy, a building that was in the process of being converted into an afterschool center for middle school aged youth. It boasted a karate studio, kitchen, music studio, and exercise area. During my time there I helped install and paint cabinet doors, hang doors, install doorknobs, and paint the walls, doorframes, and baseboards.
My last two days of volunteering were spent painting the exterior of Ms. Green’s house. She lost her roof in Hurricane Irma and her home became flooded and completely uninhabitable during Hurricane Maria. Thankfully, some of her neighbors took her in while AHAH gutted the inside of her home and got to work.
When I arrived, the new roof had been completed and the walls were framed, but it was bare bones. Ms. Green would come by around lunch time everyday and sit in a metal folding chair in her “kitchen.” She was a sweet lady of few words and hated the neighborhood cat, Chloe.
Now, I did not actually try to steal the cat, but I made my intentions known only to learn that I was fourth in line for adopting/stealing this cat. She was a gorgeous, tiny brown tabby that, unlike my cat, never meowed, and let me pick her up and carry her around like a baby. No one knew if she actually belonged to anyone, but we know she did not belong to Ms. Green.
Although I had dreams of hopping a boat over to the British Virgin Islands (because visiting Beef Island sounds awesome in name alone), having only one weekend there made day tripping and exploring the sites challenging. On Saturday, a group of us took off for Water Island. A beautiful little island located a ten minute ferry ride away from Crown Bay. We made it as far as gorgeous Honeymoon Beach and spent the day there.
A few of the volunteers had brought their snorkels and spent the afternoon hunting sea turtles (and finding one!). I stayed on the beach and read my book. I love the ocean, but I respect the ocean so much that I usually don’t go in it. One of the volunteers had brought a decent snorkel that I used to check out some fishies. This was equally super cool and terrifying as fish have hilarious side eye and I thought I saw a shark and I’m not the best swimmer. The coolest part was as I came close to shore I swam through a large school of tiny fish. It tickled.
Pretty good for my first trip to the Caribbean!
People ask me why I do these volunteer trips and choose to work during my time off. It does not feel like work to me. I sit at a desk for 35 hours a week so the opportunity to work outside is a refreshing change of pace. I’ve been at my job for so long that I earn roughly seven weeks a year of earned leave, far more than most working people I know, so it feels like I should be doing something positive with that time for someone. I love volunteering. I am an incredible fortunate person. I know that if something were to happen to my home I have friends and family that would be rushing to help me in whatever way they could, just like I would for them. Selfishly, I love exploring a new place through people. When I first started making volunteer trips to New Orleans, I never imagined I would have felt such a strong connection to a city that parties and flashes boobies 24/7. If I had visited New Orleans as a tourist, I probably would have hated it, but knowing the rich history, interacting with locals that have lived there for generations, and drinking drive thru daiquiris was more than enough to establish a connection between myself and the city.
If you have ever wanted to take a volunteer trip, please talk to me. I’m happy to share what I have learned and talk to you about how you can get involved. It is rewarding and a wonderful way to visit a new place, but more importantly there are people that need you, your heart, and your skills, either seasoned or in development, to help them get back what they have lost.
Before having surgery, I was informed that I would lose weight at a steady pace for about ten months. With the end of the 2018 came the end of my ten month stint of rapid and consistent weight loss. What a ride! I’m down 105lbs, at a weight I never ever thought people actually weighed in real life, and buying size 10s and mediums.
I know all of those things to be true, but they don’t feel true. I still see myself at a size 20 and carry myself that way as well. My brain is still playing catch up to all the changes. I’m Sam Wheat in Ghost. Confused by own body and able to pass through spaces I was previously unable to, I walk around with an angelic glow around my head at all times. I’m also pretty good at couples pottery.
This hasn’t been without complications. Previously I wrote about spewing my way through Ghana in July thanks to gastritis. That has long subsided.
At the end of October I had to have my gallbladder removed. Gallstones are common following weight loss surgery due to the changes in diet. I pride myself on having a fairly high threshold for pain, but as I writhed around my bathroom floor I made sharp eye contact with my cat, “I want to die,” I whispered. “I want to die right now.” The pain was so bad I couldn’t talk on the phone and instead sent my boyfriend messages like “I THINK I AM DYING” and “GOING TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM BUT I’M FINE.” When he called I said “I AM DYING TOO MUCH TO TALK ON THE PHONE” and hung up.
I went to my primary care office and threw up through the appointment. A nurses aid gave me a shot of Zofran in my butt. “I’m sorry,” she said laughing. “It’ll work faster if I massage this in.” I threw up more. They sent me to have an ultrasound done and I threw up through that, too. “You’re, um, pretty acute and, I’m not supposed to tell you this, but you have gallstones. You should just go to the emergency room.”
So, I drove to the hospital, which I am still catching shit for, and, with my body at a 90 degree angle, hobbled into the emergency room. Some dude ran past me to get ahead of me in line. I couldn’t stand up to wait in line and just collapsed on the reception desk. Thankfully, the receptionist took my license and told me to go wait somewhere. Everyone waiting in the emergency room looked at me horrified. None of them looked even remotely sick. I still hate those people.
For the next three hours I played my own version of the improv game Stand, Sit, Lay Down, Throw Up. At some point one of my good friends showed up. Once I made it into the emergency room more people I love showed up. The pain started to subside, but then the surgeon did a little test I like to call PUSH REALLY HARD ON MY GALLBADDER, he laughed and said “Obviously we’re going to take this out. Tomorrow.”
So, with an injection of dilauded giving me the courage to ask the CNA to watch the rest of WWE Smackdown in my room with me, I drifted to sleep. Not before taking my bra off and, forgetting I was hooked up to an IV, letting it dangle there over night much to the amusement of the night nurses and incoming morning team.
I think I love surgery. Everyone is really nice to you, they take things out of your body that hurt, and there is one nurse whose sole job it is to continually cover you in warm blankets. Recovery was fine and I was back to work in a few days.
When I was admitted to the floor before surgery the night nurse asked me, “Having to go through all this, was the surgery worth it?”
“HELL YES!” I shouted, but probably murmured due to the dilauded. “This is the best thing I have ever done for myself.”
And it still is. If I had to relive that day every year for the rest of my life, I would. I’ve written about how I can do all kinds of things I couldn’t do before surgery. I can flow through poses in yoga I never could before like bringing my leg from downward dog to low lunge in one swoop bringing tears to my eyes. I didn’t expect to experience these types of changes.
I’ve stopped weighing myself daily. One of the major benefits of having weight loss surgery is that I don’t have to scrutinize every single calorie or work out for hours a day. Maintaining this weight loss isn’t necessarily easier, but it’s no longer all consuming and leaves room in my brain for other things. I don’t stress about going out to eat anymore or getting together with friends because I know that if I eat something that is not necessarily good for me, I will recover easier. I don’t punish myself for not working out anymore. I do not make plans around the class schedule at the gym and I no longer attend WW meetings. My quality of life is so much better and does not revolve strictly around weight loss leaving room for things I care about way more. It’s a wonderful feeling to no longer be hindered by my weight and to just be.
Part One of Three. I’ve divided my posts into Trip Preparation, Tourist Experiences, and Public Health Research.
In late June I traveled to Ghana to complete my practicum for graduate school. This research project was the last thing I needed to finish in order to earn my Masters in Public Health from UMass Amherst (online!). My project was on barriers to women’s reproductive health care in the Upper West District, a rural area with a recent rise in teenage pregnancy rates. I met amazing people and learned so much about Ghana, health care in resource poor areas, and shifting attitudes in cultural beliefs. I also saw millions of goats.
Preparing for my trip to Ghana was a little more challenging than I expected. It was almost impossible to find accurate information on what to bring, where to go, and what to see. The organizer of our trip passed along a list of suggestions and gave us a list of things we absolutely needed to do and be aware of before the start of the trip.
Yellow Fever Vaccine – In order to enter the country, you must have received the Yellow Fever Vaccine and carry proof of your vaccination. Go through your primary care physician and request a referral to a travel medicine provider. When I saw the travel medicine nurse she had printed out all of the potential risks in the areas I would be traveling to and gave me the meningitis, typhoid, and Hep A (first of two) in addition to the YF shot. The other benefit of going through primary care is that insurance will cover the cost. If you choose to go through a private company, like Passport Travel, the YF vaccine will cost you $300 out of pocket. There is a shortage of the vaccine in some areas and you may end up having to use a private company. Before you reach customs at the airport, an agent will ask to see your yellow vaccination card. If you don’t have one, you will be given one once you receive the YF vaccine.
Malaria Pills – Travel Medicine will also prescribe you medication to prevent Malaria and treat Traveler’s Diarrhea. There are two types of Malaria medications: one that will give you insane nightmares and one that won’t. I would push for the one that doesn’t make you wake up screaming. Think it’s not that bad? Read State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. It’s great; you should read it anyway.
Travelers Diarrhea – You will most likely get diarrhea at some point on your trip. Even though we were all vigilant about not eating uncooked vegetables and using bottled water to brush our teeth, nine out of ten of us experienced it on this trip. It’s not any worse than regular diarrhea, but may last for a few days. Make sure to take the medication prescribed to you as soon as you feel like you’re sitting in a Chevy and you feel something heavy or when you’re walking through the hall and you feel something fall. Hi, I’m 36.
Air Conditioner – If you are lucky enough to have one, leave your air conditioner on any time you are in your hotel room. The cold keeps the mosquitos away. You can bring a mosquito bed net with you just in case there are creepy crawlies when you enter your room. I brought one, but didn’t end up using it.
Deet – Make sure the bug spray you bring contains deet. These mosquitos are aggressive and can kill you. They want to kill you. Malaria is the numero uno cause of death in Ghana. It’s not even close. Avoid areas of standing water as an extra precaution.
Bottled Water – Thankfully there is no shortage of bottled water in Ghana. Only buy bottles that have a plastic seal around them as some will refill these bottles and sell them. You will know they’re not legit from the fact the water is brown. Use bottled water for drinking and brushing your teeth. Don’t even rinse your toothbrush with tap water. If you’re really concerned bring water purification tablets, but a one liter bottle of water in Ghana cost less than a dollar.
Hot Water – Do not expect to have hot water on your trip even if you’re staying in the best hotel in the area. When you check out the bathroom you will see a large bucket and a smaller bucket or bowl. Bucket showers are way more manageable than showering continuously under cold water. Do not drink this water.
Wifi – You will think “Oh, my hotel has WiFi! I’m set!” but you’re not. Hotel WiFi is very slow and unreliable. The hotel in Wa gave everyone a new login and password every single day and it would kick you out the minute your screen went dark. If you need to be connected to the outside world, add an international plan to your phone before going. For $60 AT&T gave me unlimited calling and text as well as 1GB of data.
Money – The official currency of Ghana is the cedi. The exchange rate when we arrived was $1USD = 4.6 cedis, but the cedi continues to depreciate and $1USD was worth 5 cedis when I left. There are not many places to exchange money. If you go to a bank it is a giant pain in the butt. I spent two hours in Accra exchanging $200, but there was air conditioning so it’s all good. Your best option is to retrieve money from an ATM, but note that only Visa cards can be used in ATMs. You can exchange money at the Accra airport as well. When we asked the receptionist at the hotel where to exchange money in the area, he walked us over to the market for a black market exchange. Literally, a room with no windows, one dude, a desk, and a calculator. He gave us a pretty good rate, but I don’t recommend this and certainly wouldn’t have gone without a local who knew the money man.
Airport and Transportation
Checked Luggage Tags – In order to leave the airport when you arrive in Ghana you will need to show your checked luggage receipt to an agent. I couldn’t find mine once and they looked at my passport instead.
Pink Shirts – When you walk out of the doors at the airport you will be overwhelmed with the amount of people offering to help you. The ones that you should absolutely avoid, but are almost impossible to, are guys wearing pink shirts. They are the most aggressive. The hotel I was staying at was supposed to come get me, but I couldn’t find anyone from the hotel or see a sign with my name. I tried calling and it was busy. A kind, pink shirted man offered to help me and called the hotel as well. He offered to take me to the hotel and I explained that the hotel charged me $20USD for pickup. Long story short he asked me to be his girlfriend a few times because I am white, asked me if I “like black,” became upset when he learned my boyfriend isn’t black and then charged me $55USD when we arrived at the hotel. Other people on my trip were charged $15USD and $30USD for the exact same ride. After 20 hours of traveling I was too tired to fight, but he received an epic eye roll. Welcome to Ghana.
Extended Airline Layovers – When I was initially scouting for airfare the cheapest flights I found included 20hrs+ of layovers in Egypt and Turkey. I briefly considered it but had no idea where I would go or what to do with my luggage. Egypt Air and Air Morocco offer free hotel stays for layovers four hours or more. One girl on the trip flew Egypt Air, got a free hotel close to the airport, and a tour of the pyramids arranged by the airline when she arrived. My only comfort is knowing I now have enough miles with United to travel to Peru.
It’s been exactly five months since I had the vertical sleeve weight loss surgery. The first few months were easy peasy. The weight was coming off at the rate it should be, I had far more energy due to the amounts of protein I was consuming, and my slimming body made working out and attending boxing classes way more fun and productive.
The only issue I’ve been having since surgery is my inability to poop more than once a week at best. When I had traveler’s diarrhea in Ghana it was the best and I am currently researching “how to give yourself diarrhea” to increase my quality of life. Even combining stool softener, Miralax, Milk of Magnesia (which I immediately chase with a popsicle), etc doesn’t move things along. This is common and gets easier over time, supposedly, but this was my only real post-surgical problem and I could manage it.
Over the past month I’ve been vomiting fairly frequently. It comes on immediately, usually after I’ve eaten or in the middle of eating. I have thrown up fish, eggs, chicken, ice cream, protein shakes, and, after being put back on a liquid diet a few days ago, water. No specific food or beverage seems to trigger it. I assumed that this was part of the healing process or a sign I need to eat slower. I ate slowly and the vomiting became more frequent. My surgeon is concerned I’ve damaged my stomach, especially given how much I’ve thrown up. I foolishly thought that I’d be fine since I had been doing so well before. I ignored the advice of family, friends, and WebMD. I’m seeing my surgeon today and will hopefully get answers and not a hospital stay.
When I was put back on liquids this week I was upset and frustrated that I couldn’t eat anything and that I had to start from scratch. I just want the ease of eating a cheeseburger, which is now the hardest thing for me eat due to the carbs in bread and inability to digest red meat (usually takes three months after surgery). Going out with friends is already challenging enough given my eating and drinking restrictions. I’ll be in Chicago for a conference this weekend and wanted to eat actual food, but what do I do now? I can’t bring popsicles to a professional conference. They’ll melt.
Eating was difficult in Ghana. Most meals contain carbs and all chicken and fish are served with bones (which is gross) and I ended up losing 12lbs as a result. I figured that once I was home and eating my usual diet most of those pounds would come back, but I kept throwing up and kept losing weight. As of this morning I’ve now lost 16lbs this month and weigh 174lbs, a weight I have never seen, and the weight loss center’s projection for the amount I would lose over the next 10-12 months. This number is always much lower than the actual expectation, but I’m only five months in.
Even though I’ve lost 76lbs I’m dealing with body dysmorphia. I don’t think I look any different despite what photos, family, and friends tell me. When I put on clothes that are too big I think “Wow! My clothes got bigger!” When I couldn’t put my phone in my pants pocket at the airport because it made my pants fall down I thought “Wow! This phone is really heavy!” Getting dressed in the morning is a chore because I have no idea what fits me and I’ve been too tired to try anything on.
Boohoo, right? Well, I did this surgery to be healthier and I’m not feeling all that healthy right now. I’m losing weight way too fast now, have zero energy, can’t poop, but I can vomit!
I feel like this is some Disney movie where I swap my ability to digest foods for a size 14. I should be celebrating this accomplishment. I’m 12lbs away from having lost 100lbs at my highest weight, but I want to accomplish that as a healthy individual who has worked hard, changed her way of thinking, eating and approach to self-care.
Last week Universal Standard, a clothing company focused on making basic staples available to women sizes 10-30, launched an ingenious promotion offering their popular Tee Rex t-shirt free of charge. The shirt retails for $50 and, after receiving mine, I can see why. This shirt is cut in a flattering way and contains a bit of stretch while keeping it’s shape throughout the day. It is the softest piece of clothing I have ever owned and, this is big, it practically repels cat hair. It is the perfect black shirt.
For the past few years I have been obsessed with the idea of a capsule wardrobe. I tend to buy things I like with no real vision and end up pairing everything with jeans or black pants. Universal Standard offers kits containing some of their most popular pieces that would serve as the starting point for any capsule wardrobe. They offer a kit exclusively for active wear, a best seller kit and a few different options for work wear kits.
Universal Standard’s goal is to “making sizing irrelevant.” Next month they’ll be offering all their closing in sizes 6-30. Right now, the Tee Rex is already being offered in these extended sizes. Inclusivity is important and simplicity is underrated. My quest for a regular white button up shirt has ended.
Perhaps the best part of Universal Standard, and what ultimately justifies the price for me, is that they will replace your clothing free of charge if you change sizes (within a year of purchase). As someone currently rapidly losing weight, I don’t want to spend a lot of money on expensive clothes that won’t fit in a month’s time. I can’t stress how important this is for everyone woman. As we get older, become moms, live healthier lifestyles, our bodies change. Things that were once in one place have shifted to another and some parts might just vanish without warning. Universal Standard understands that. They support these changes in women without just trying to cater to women that have always been considered “the other” when it comes to fashion.
So, shut up and take my money.
Today marks one month since my weight loss surgery! Overall, I feel really good for someone that has not had any caffeine in over a month. My diet is 60% protein and I have developed a hatred for chili and a love of sugar free Popsicles. My hospital stay was incredibly uneventful and my recovery at home was filled with watching Frasier, reading and knitting. Three things I wish I was currently doing.
My family and friends have been wonderful and supportive. I’m grateful to my friends and boyfriend for being flexible around my eating needs and just meeting me at places that serve decaf tea. My boyfriend checks in with me during meals to make sure I’m doing okay and will split meals with me. I’m still figuring out what full and hungry feel like and how to not get food stuck in my chest. Watching people eat has become fascinating because I don’t understand normal bites or finishing a meal anymore. Sometimes I get sick to my stomach watching someone eat or while watching the intro to a Food Network program about big burgers and milkshakes. Cake decorating shows are fine because those are works of ART.
I haven’t really noticed a physical change in my appearance, but some of my clothes fit different. I can no longer tell if my pants are falling down because they are too small or I am too big. I feel like the 18lbs I have lost so far were all in my face. I haven’t been back to the gym yet because a full day of work is exhausting and I have four seasons left of Frasier. I’m building up my strength by walking to work and walking wherever I can.
Overall, I haven’t craved very many things. Sometimes I want a single breaded piece of chicken or a Cadbury Caramel Egg, but that feeling subsides once I eat something. I’ve been tested though. At times when I would normally turn to food for comfort, I have had to figure out some other way to cope and that mostly means me just owning my feelings and coping like a big kid. And I have been tested. Believe me.
One thing about this process that has aggravated me, and I will reiterate here that those close to me have been amazing, are people that give me their advice about what I need to be doing right now. Having 2/3 of your stomach removed is pretty traumatic on the body and I’ve been given very strict dietary instructions by professionals who counsel those that have had weight loss surgery and been successful. So, forgive me if someone should tell me that I shouldn’t be eating sugar free pudding because xyz and I lose my shit. The list of foods I can eat is still so small. Everyone’s journey is different and I shouldn’t have to defend my necessity to temporarily subsist on very specific food items. No, sugar free pudding is not ideal, but it’s a different consistency than chili and doesn’t require I chew it 96,000 times so it doesn’t get stuck.
I’m so happy that I did this and am glad that I did it when I did. I went into this knowing it was exactly what I wanted and felt prepared. My success is 100% based on changing my behaviors and following the set guidelines. The surgery is just a tool to support my success and ensure it’s long lasting. There will be tough days, and there have been some, but I’m confident in my ability to process and manage those emotions and thankful to have a fantastic support system.
Right now I am 2.5 weeks away from losing 2/3 of my stomach and I couldn’t be happier. The nurse called me to change my surgery date to two days earlier than originally scheduled and I said “You could change it to tomorrow and I’ll be there.” I’m ready for this change and this new chapter in my life. I’ll be healthier and while that is why I am doing, there’s a part of my that is screaming “HOLY CATS YOU COULD BE THIN FOR THE FIRST TIME IN YOUR ENTIRE LIFE” and fighting back tears. I don’t know how this is going to go or ultimately where I’ll end up, but the promise of things radically changing for my body, finally, feels like a reward for all the hard work I put in five years ago. I’m going to do the same hard work, but the weight will stay off this time.
I have goal clothing. Recently I bought a Candice LaRae shirt from Hot Topic. I’m 35. I bought the shirt in a medium (unisex) because I have been that size before so this isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. I want to get back into my sailboat dress. My goal stores are Patagonia and Banana Republic. If I can walk into Patagonia and try on a jacket and have it fit that will be enough. I don’t even need to buy it. Success.
I’m pretty sure the Dunkin Donuts I go to will have think I died. They’ll first realize this when they have a surplus of pumpkin syrup and don’t run out mid-September. The delivery guy from my favorite Chinese take-out place is listed in my phone as “Food is Here” because he sings that to me when I answer his call. I had to put him in my phone because I blocked him one time for trying to deliver food to me I didn’t order and thought I was being harassed. I doubt any of you have had to put that much energy and forethought into your take-out orders. I like him; sad to lose him as a friend.
I’ve spent less time thinking about the actual surgery including, but not limited to, the procedure, the hospital stay, the recovery period and the rest of my life and more time thinking about what I can accomplish with those two weeks off from work. My list includes reading a bunch of books, rewatching Happy Endings and trying to trick people into painting my living room (“I thought I had more energy and I’m still too sore. The paint is over there thank you.”)
Only recently did I decide to put my non-profit financial management certificate program on hold because math is hard and financial statements are boring AF. I tried to take another graduate course that I don’t need so I can get my financial aid to pay for my remaining two classes and a three week practicum in Ghana, which is essential to the work I want to be doing, but I am two days late. I’m stressed, angry, sad and I’m forced to change my thinking when these upsets happen. With all the money I’ll save on not going out to eat or drink I will probably be able to go to Ghana three times. Positive thinking? (I will figure this out, I always do.)
What I’m saying is that I have taken on way too much, per usual, and I’m very tired, per usual, and my gym membership goes unused, per usual. This all falls under the category of not taking care of myself, which is so unbelievably important in general, but especially after surgery. I’m forced to develop an entirely new set of coping skills for when I’m feeling stressed. So much of my time, focus and energy will be spent on making sure that I am following the guidelines and doing what I need to do because I have one chance with this one year to lose what I can so I can live the life I want. Mom’s spaghetti.
There can be no more over doing things. I’m forced into being my #1 priority. Last year when I told my boyfriend I was going to sign up for roller derby intro classes he said “You can’t even find the time now to get to the rink and skate before it even starts.” Even a month ago when I received an email classes were starting again I had to stop myself from responding with “I think I’ll miss two weeks because I’m having weight loss surgery” and instead wrote “Please let me know when your next round of classes are happening.” I’m really proud of myself. When I love things I throw myself in and that sometimes means that things are done half-assed. That’s not fair to the other people whose passion is that thing I am constantly dropping the ball on.
Everything will be moving forward in the direction I have always wanted things to move in. Maybe I was too scared to be successful or I keep myself too busy to prevent myself from getting hurt and endless over thinking. This surgery is going to change the way I do almost everything and help me prioritize what is actually important.
A few weeks ago I had my first meeting with my psychiatrist regarding my weight loss surgery. I’m anxious over not having an official surgery date and every day that goes by feels incredibly long. January is just around the corner and I need to eat as many Qdoba burritos as possible before then*.
I’d like to reiterate that I 100% understand and respect the choice to keep this surgery private. It’s just like any medical procedure or diagnosis. For me, it helps to talk about this, process it through writing and hopefully share a positive experience that might take away some of the stigma surrounding this surgery.
During my first appointment we covered a lot of ground. He asked me if I would be okay if my relationship with my boyfriend ended. I replied a tentative ‘yes’ because I have no idea how things are going to change for him, but I know it requires him changing his lifestyle to accommodate mine. That’s a huge ask.
“Well, the reason I ask,” the doctor said, “is because some people like their partner bigger.”
I sat on this for a moment. “Why don’t you have a dating service side hustle to hook those dudes up with chicks like me? I could be married right now.”
It’s amazing they’ve given me the go ahead on this.
“Has anyone in your family struggled with their weight?” he asked.
“Yes, my mother and my father…” He opened his mouth to ask the next question. “My maternal grandmother…patnernal grandmother…pater-”
“…nal grandfather. My maternal great…”
He told me that in the first year I’d lose roughly 30% of my weight, putting me around 170lbs which is 15lbs lower than the lowest weight I reached on my own. My sleep apnea will go away! That’s great news because I am SICK of it. An integral part of my c-pap didn’t make it with me to New Orleans last week and I tortured my roommates with my snoring. Like, it became an open house discussion. I also had two sleep apnea attacks that week which was the most I have endured in that small of a time frame. Now there’s this super fun thing where the vacuum cleaner hose doesn’t fit tightly with the mask, it disconnects and sprays distilled water air in my face while making a loud WOOOOOOOOOOOSH noise. Please take 2/3 of my stomach now.
I’m grateful for all the support of my friends and family. So many have been eager to set up dinner dates with me and I look forward to that time with my friends. I am concerned about how I can socialize with some of my friends post-surgery. Telestrations or Mancala, anyone?
The more I think about it, the more positives there are to this. Of course there’s the health and being irresistible to all men (so they say) stuff, but random things specific to me and my quality of life. For example, the smaller I am, the less yarn I will need to buy to knit a sweater and the less time it will take to complete it. For a month after the surgery I don’t have to cook or food shop AT ALL. I have clothes from sizes 12-20 taking up valuable closet real estate which means that I won’t need to buy any clothes for a year. What will I do with all this freed up time? Well, grad school, but also Telestrations or Mancala, anyone?
Next on the schedule is Immersion Day. I’ll spend the whole day with the entire hospital team learning about their roles, the surgery process and what to expect after. The follow up is lifelong, and while that may seem like overkill to some I immediately breathed a sign of relief over having access to ongoing support. Once Immersion Day is done I need to complete three hour long workshops, see my psychiatrist again and meet with a nutritionist a few times. Then my real work begins.
*Obviously these comments are jokes, but Qdoba is really, really good, you guys.