Spoon Theory

Have you heard people say, “I just don’t have the spoons for this?” and wondered what it means?  Well, let me explain.

Spoon Theory is a way of explaining the effort of living with a chronic illness.  Created by Christine Miserandino during a meal in a restaurant, it goes like this:

Imagine that you start a day with a bunch of spoons.  These represent your total energy for the day.  Now, if you are a healthy person, that bunch is probably quite large.  If you have a chronic illness, it’s not going to be as big.

Now, take yourself through your day.  If you are healthy, getting up, getting dressed and getting to work might just take one spoon away from you.  Let’s say you started with 24.  Now you have 23.  If you have a chronic illness, each of these tasks might take one or two spoons.  Let’s say four total, because getting ready requires a number of smaller tasks.  If you started with just 12, now you’re down to 8, and you haven’t even started work yet.

Now let’s go through what would be a typical day for me.  Let’s say I’m at the court in the morning giving duty advice.  I have a three hour shift there.  That shift by itself costs me one spoon.  Add in an exceptionally difficult customer and that’s another spoon gone.  Let’s say it’s a particularly mad week and I’ve got to go into court for someone – another spoon.

So if that three-hour shift took 2 or 3 spoons, I’m down to just 5 or 6 left for the rest of the day.

I have my lunch break.  A healthy person might gain a spoon from some food and a break.  I don’t.  I need it just to maintain my spoons at their current level.

In the afternoon I see a client (another spoon), do some follow-up work from the morning (another spoon), deal with the inevitable crisis, because there is always one (another spoon), and review my files (another spoon).  That’s four spoons.  I’ve just got one or two left, and I still need to get home, eat, shower, feed the cat and go to bed.  If my husband is away, I’ve also got to walk the dog and cook myself dinner (he is my wonderful chef most nights).  As you can see, there aren’t enough spoons in the drawer for that.  That’s how I can end a day without having done much at all and still be totally and utterly wiped out.  I certainly can’t do what other people can do after work – go to a class or the gym, or spend time with friends.  If I do that I won’t have enough spoons left to do what needs to be done.

Now, some days I might have more spoons than others, and sometimes I’ll gain a spoon during the day if my pain suddenly vanishes or my meds kick in and give me a burst of energy.  On the other hand, if I forget my vitamins or suffer a flare-up, or even just have a cold, I’ll have even fewer spoons.  Right now I have the flu, a sinus infection and gastro (thank you, depressed immune system), so my spoon count is pretty low.

Some spoon-raising factors include good self care, such as getting a good night’s sleep, eating three good meals, staying hydrated, sitting in the sun for a few minutes and just enjoying life, taking all my vitamins, and waking up pain free.

Spoon-reducing factors include flare-ups, sickness, waking up in pain even if it later goes away, failure to look after myself, a late night or early morning, a bad dream, difficult people or conversations, and stress.  The longer a flare-up goes on, the fewer spoons I will have each day as exhaustion, prolonged pain and depression eat away at them.

One consequence of this is that chronically ill people have to be super aware of our spoons.  I am not always very good at this and frequently overestimate my own abilities, leaving me without the physical resources to be useful in the latter part of the day.  Generally speaking, though, I am aware that I live life in a series of trade-offs – if I do X, I can’t do Y.

Up until this little flue debacle, things were going relatively well – last week I had sufficient spoons to do something after work every night of the week, whether it be walking the dog, writing a blog post or driving thirty minutes to see my parents.  Sure, some nights I was cutting it extremely close to the wire and had to massively overcompensate with caffeine on Friday which led to terrible pain on Saturday (see?  Trade-offs) but overall I was pretty well supplied with spoons compared to how I had been just two weeks earlier.  This week, not so much.

Have you heard of spoon theory before?  Do you ever use it when explaining your illness to others, or do you have other methods you prefer?  Share in the comments below.

App Review: Stylebook

I may be coming across as intensely shallow with my recent posts about hair and makeup and my previous post on fashion.  Well, I am shallow, so that’s fine.  I like pretty things and I have no shame in that.  Mock if you will.  Anyway, as part of maintaining a life of prettiness, I like to keep organised (my mother will scoff at that but there is a method to my madness, I swear).  I could do that through my bullet journal, which is how I organise most of my life, but for hair, makeup and clothes, I like to use the amazing Stylebook app.

I was first introduced to this app by my friend the Vintage Barbie.  If you like vintage-y style you will love her blog.  Go and follow it.  Anyway, she got me hooked on this app and there has been no going back.

Stylebook currently costs $5.99 of the Australian dollars on the App Store.  It’s not available on Android, alas.  Normally, I’m not a fan of paying for apps, but I make an exception for this one.

I won’t go into a breakdown of how to use the app, because Vintage Barbie covers it beautifully and I’d just be duplicating her excellent explanation.  What I want to talk about is why I love it.

Although Stylebook is an absolute pain to set up, particularly if you have a lot of clothes, it is incredibly easy to use once you have it completed.  It’s also really useful and totally customisable.  For example, although the app is intended to be used for clothes and accessories, I have added in my makeup, perfume and hairstyles.

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I do not agree with the concept “too many lipsticks”.  

This lets me pick what lipstick I want to match with an outfit without having to rummage through my obscenely large collection to pick a colour.  It also inspires me to try different hairstyles by picking them ahead of time instead of just leaving it to its own devices (or throwing it into a hasty ponytail on court days).  I’ve just pulled screenshots from my favourite Youtube tutorials or Pinterest and wacked them into my Hairstyles section.

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You can see one of my favourite styles, the Candyfloss Bun, up there in the left column.  

The biggest pro of Stylebook, as far as I’m concerned, is that it shows me a) what I’m not wearing very much and b) what I’m not getting good cost-per-wear out of.  That’s super valuable in terms of curating my wardrobe, because it forces me to take a good look at the items in question.  If they are things that it makes sense not to wear often and to have a high cost-per-wear (for example, my wedding dress, which is the only floor-length gown I own and I’ve only worn twice) then I don’t mind it remaining in that category.

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Did I get married in Review?  Yes, yes I did.

However, if it is a more casual item, then there is no excuse for it to be hanging around if I’m not wearing it regularly, and that’s a sign to me that I should be selling it on or donating it.  I’m a really goal-orientated person, so if I set myself the goal of getting something out of my “only worn once” list, then by golly I will do it, whether by making myself wear it more often or getting rid of it and deleting it from the app.

It also helps me when I’m shopping, which is something I’ve been better at not doing this year but still really enjoy.  I have a rule that I’ll only buy something if it goes with at least three other things in my wardrobe (unless it is a dress or something for a special occasion).  With Stylebook, I can pull out my phone and check through my other clothes and go yes, it goes with these three things, so I can buy it.  I don’t have to waste valuable brain real estate on committing my current clothing stash to memory just to pick new items – my entire wardrobe is there in my hand.  For example, I just bought the Betty Bloom skirt from Review during their recent 30% of sale items promotion.

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Did I need another floral pencil skirt?  Probably not, but it is nice and long, which is hard to pass up for me.  Also, it was really, really on sale.  Never pay full price.  Words to live by.

Pulling out my app I can see that it will go with these four tops at least.

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Yes, they are all Review, and yes, I have a problem.  From left to right, the ivroy Royce, the Moore top, the Tasha top and the Isadora jumper.  None of them are the current season, but if you want to try and find them I recommend the Review Buy Swap Swell page on facebook.  It’s a goldmine.  

It’s not only going to go with a fair few things, but this means I know I can work it for both cold and hot weather.  I know I have others it will go with as well.

This app is also great for keeping track of my clothes.  Like everyone, I have pieces that I wear more often than others, and I tend to know where they are.  Pieces I love less sometimes go missing and I won’t immediately notice.  Stylebook reminds me of their existence so I go hunting for them and recover them from the back of drawers or the bottom of the laundry bin.

I also can’t get past the peace of mind it gives me to know what I am wearing in advance.  I check out my roster for the coming week, figure out what is happening on each day and select appropriate clothes.  For instance, on an office-only day in summer I would like to wear my lovely Veronika Maine culottes, but judges will look at me askance if I wear those to court, so I’ll pick a pencil skirt or dress trousers for those days instead.  If I’m having a flare-up, it also lets me plan soft, comfy clothes for the week so I know that I will be presentable with minimal effort and maximum comfort.  It also lets me challenge myself – for example, to celebrate spring I am wearing a floral every day through the month of September and aiming not repeat the floral item.  So far I have managed every day.  Last October, it was a dress every day for Frocktober.

Finally, this app is incredibly useful for packing.  I’m a massive overpacker for holidays despite being able to be totally frugal on bushwalks and hikes.   Using Stylebook I can create a little capsule wardrobe for wherever I’m headed and plan my outfits in advance based on my activities.  This helps me make sure that everything I pack goes with everything else and I don’t have any single-use items, except for special occasions.  I’m going to the UK next month, so I’ll post a packing list before I leave.

In conclusion, Stylebook is great and I have a lot of Review.  I do have a lot of Veronika Maine and Cue too, but because they don’t name their pieces the way Review does it’s really hard to find old stock photos so they don’t get added to Stylebook as much.   Anyway, for me this app has been totally worth the money as I use it on a daily basis and it helps me make more informed choices about what I buy and sell.

Do you have Stylebook?  Are you an Android user with an alternative you love?  Any other great fashion apps I should check out?  Let me know in the comments.

Cake Wars

Hello, dear readers.

I apologise for this interruption for your regularly scheduled endo posts.  There is a bake-off at work on Thursday for RUOK Day and I’ve been bitten by the Nailed It bug, so I’m using my after-work hours and new energy (thanks Zoladex!) to create like a mad thing.  I’m trying to create a Golden Gaytime vegan frozen cheesecake worthy of Rainbow Nourishments (whose BEAUTIFUL e-book is well worth the $20!).  Trouble is, her Golden Gaytime cake is a jealously guarded secret so I’m improvising based on several of her other recipes.  This could be a disaster.

To add to the pressure, my work bestie has decided to make this into a personal challenge about who is the better baker.  I love her but I must defeat her.

For that reason, I spent last night starting the process and will use tonight to do the bulk of the work, which will take hours.  I won’t be able to write an actual useful post as a result.  However, tomorrow night I will post the result of my labours (and the battle) as well as explain a bit more about RUOK Day.  On Friday we will return to something a little more on topic.

Adios til then!

Fashionably Bald: Hair Removal and Endometriosis

If you read the comments of any internet article that shows a woman with body hair, you’d be forgiven for thinking it is a crime equivalent to assault with a deadly weapon for a woman not to remove everything but lashes, brows and head hair.  Personally, I support any woman who wants to leave the rest of her body hair alone; it’s there for a reason, it isn’t hurting anyone, and removing it can be expensive, painful, and tedious.  However, I am not able to escape the societal pressures, the memory of being teased for having hairy legs in high school, or the annoying sensation of leg hair in a pair of stockings, and so every now and then I give in and remove it.

If you too remove your hair, for whatever reason, this post may be of assistance in considering the options for you and what is easiest with your endometriosis.  Obviously the cheapest, easiest and quickest way to deal with your leg hair is to leave it be and say a big “nobody cares” to the haters, but not everyone has the courage or the desire to do so, so these are the other options.

SHAVING

Probably the most common method, shaving involves dragging a blade along your legs or other parts of the body and chopping the hair off at skin level to give the appearance of smooth and shiny legs.

Pros: it is quite quick, as you can drag a razor over your legs pretty swiftly once you’re practised at it.  It is also pain free, unless you nick your skin, which hurts way more than it should for such a tiny cut.  It is easy to do in the bath or shower, and doesn’t require a great deal of effort so it is an easy option for those with endo.  It is cheap.

Cons: It isn’t that quick if you have super sensitive skin and need to exfoliate and lather up to avoid coming out in an itchy rash, like me.  Hair grows back quickly with shaving, so you need to do it relatively often, and the stubble stage is both itchy and unpleasant to feel when your legs brush against each other.  It’s not terribly environmentally friendly unless you purchase a good safety razor without plastic parts.  If you are as clumsy as me, blood is guaranteed to be shed.  Ingrowns are a problem if you don’t exfoliate well enough.  It can be painful during a flare-up to contort your swollen belly around to reach your legs.  I find doing the bikini line very fiddly.  I also find my underarms look stubbly very quickly.

All in all, probably the easiest, cheapest and most pain-free method for most peeps with endo, but requires regular doing.

CHEMICAL REMOVAL

Glorious Veet.  Chemical removals usually require you to spread an evil-smelling cream over the hair you wish to remove, then rub it off with a sponge.  Like shaving, this just brings it down to the level of the skin and leaves the root.

Pros: Like shaving, it is relatively easy.  It’s not as quick as shaving but still easy to do at home.  It is painless as long as you aren’t sensitive to the cream.  No chance of cutting your legs open.

Cons: Generally smells pretty ick.  Not great for sensitive skin.  I find it doesn’t give me as close a shave as actual shaving.  Hair grows back quickly so this requires regular applications.  Same issues re contortions as shaving during a flare-up.  Not environmentally friendly.  Cheapish but not as cheap as razors.  Requires different cream for bikini line than it does for legs, from memory.

This one is not a winner for me, although I did it for a long time as it irritated my legs less than shaving and it is safer for a klutz than handling a razor.

WAXING

Possibly the most common option after shaving, waxing involves applying one of two types of hot wax to the hairy area.  One type hardens and can then be ripped off; the other has a cloth strip pressed over it, which is ripped off, bringing the wax (and the attached hair) with it.

Pros: long term effect.  Waxing means you won’t have to worry about needing to engage in further hair removal for several weeks, unless you are particularly hirsuite.  It can be done at home by the brave.  Hair regrowth is soft rather than stubbly, and repeated waxing over a very long time can discourage hair from growing back at all.  I found I had fewer ingrowns with waxing.

Cons: It hurts.  I don’t find it too bad, except around the ankles and on the shin, but I would never describe it as fun.  Your hair is literally being ripped out by the roots.  The pain is extra-intense if you have your period.  You have to let the hair regrow long enough before it can be ripped out again.  Although you can do it at home, hot wax has always seemed to me like something best left to professionals, so it does tend to involve cost, travel time and actually going somewhere to get waxed, which can be hard to deal with during a flare-up.  It can be not vegan due to the wax.  Bikini waxes or Brazilians involve a stranger getting fairly familiar with your crotch (although we are kind of used to that on the medical side of things, so some people may feel right at home).

I waxed for a very long time and I do prefer it to shaving, but that are barriers that some endo-havers may find are not worth it.

SUGARING

A close cousin of waxing, sugaring is where a hot sticky combination of sugar, water and lemon juice is smeared on the leg, which hardens and is then ripped off, bringing the hair with it.

Pros: like waxing, hair is ripped out by the root so takes some time to regrow, regrowth tends to be soft, and long-term usage can reduce overall hairiness.  It is very environmentally friendly (apart from the disposable gloves used by the beauty therapists) as the mix simply dissolves when thrown away and contains nothing toxic or bad for the planet.

Cons: Basically the same as waxing.  Pain, cost, commitment to an appointment.  In Australia it isn’t very common so it can be hard to find a place that does this.  It can go wrong – during summer the sugar refused to harden on my leg and ripping it off once took some skin with it.

Overall, I prefer sugaring to waxing but I’ve had some bad experiences.

EPILATING

It’s hard to describe an epilator without making it sound like a medieval torture device.  Basically it is a little barrel covered in tweezers that spins at high speeds.  You pass it over the hair bit and it catches the hair and rips it out.

Pros: Only a one-off cost as these things last for years.  More environmentally friendly than shaving for the same reason.  It can remove very short hair so you don’t need to let it grow for as long as you do with waxing or sugaring, but you get the same ripping-out-at-the-roots benefits.  It only takes a little more time than shaving and can be done in the bath or shower, or on dry skin.

Cons: It’s not pain free, although I find it less painful than sugaring or waxing as it is just the hair being pulled and not the skin.   Sometimes my hair breaks rather than coming all the way out, so I have to do it more often than waxing to catch the little ones.  I also find I get more ingrowns epilating than waxing.

I love my epilator.  I have the Braun Silk-Epil 9.  If I hadn’t gone for a more permanent option, I’d carry right on epilating for the rest of my life.

LASER

The holy grail of hair removal, laser involves firing a laser pulse down the hair shaft and killing the follicle so it doesn’t grow back.

Pros: Relatively painless for me (others do report pain), eventually permanent, extremely quick, environmentally friendly.

Cons: Expensive, some people report pain, takes several sessions to be effective, not likely to be effective on dark skin or very fair hair, requires travel to a professional.

I am currently getting laser as I bought six sessions on a package deal.  I have noticed a massive reduction in regrowth and to be oft-waxed legs it is not painful at all.  However, my super pale skin does stay red and spotty for some time afterwards, and it can be a touch itchy.  Antihistamines help.  Shaving is required to kickstart the process.  For people like me with extremely pale skin and dark hair, it’s a bit of a miracle, though.  The advantages of not having to worry at all about hair removal during a flare up are fantastic – flareups are hard enough without fussing around with my legs.

Overall, for long-term gains, laser would be my favourite option as an endo gal.  If it is out of reach financially, the next best (easiest) thing has got to be shaving or epilating.  The ease of shaving makes the regrowth problem worth it for most of us.  Epilating gives the best of both worlds, so that I would choose it in preference to shaving, but some people find it too painful.

What do you find the best hair removal method?  When you are having a flareup do you bother keeping up with hair removal, or do you just let it run wild til you have the energy to deal with it again?  Let me know in the comments.

Ich bin ein Berliner

TW: Rape, murder

YES, I’m saying that ironically.  I know what it means.  My German is better than that, I swear.

That aside, Berlin is a beautiful place and if you are in Europe you should 100% go there.  It has something for everyone.  If you like fashion, there are stores there that seem to stretch for miles, like the KaDeWe (Kaufhaus Des Westens, or Shopping Centre of the West), which covers 60,000 square metres.

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The Reichstag.  You can just see the top of the dome poking over the roof.

If you like architecture, you have incredible buildings like the Reichstag, which mixes old and new.  The main building is this imposing, classic edifice, but it has a nifty glass dome at the top that you can go up inside (we didn’t because the queue was a bajillion miles long). You have beautiful churches and colleges.

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The beautiful Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral) with its weathered green roof.

It goes without saying that you have the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate).

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Obviously not my photo.  Whenever I was near it the sun was directly behind it so I only have clear photos of the horses’ bottoms.  It is huge, though.

You have statues and sculptures of cranky academics.

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Marx and Engels, looking unimpressed.  

At the more modern end up things, you have things like the Fernsehturm pictured at the top of this post, which towers above the rest of the city.

 

Architecture blends into history and culture.  Berlin is littered with monuments to WWII.  From Checkpoint Charlie…

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Newspapers celebrating the collapse of the Berlin Wall

…to the famous Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, there is no getting away from the fact that this was once the seat of Nazi power.

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Between the columns of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  The underground Holocaust museum is within the memorial itself.  

Even just walking through the park, there is this odd grey box that draws your attention.  It isn’t until you get close and peek through the little window that you realise this is a memorial to the gay folk killed or imprisoned during the war.

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If you look through this little window you’ll see a video of two men kissing and embracing.  There is no other signage or indication that this is a memorial, to reflect the fact that people sometimes forget that homosexual folk were actively persecuted by Nazis and that their suffering in WW2 is often not talked about.  

The city also reflects the suffering of the ordinary German people after it fell to Allied forces.

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This massive statue is of a Russian soldier.  Built by the Soviets from materials taken from the ruins of the Reich Chancellery, it is intended to be a memorial to Soviet soldiers who fell against the Nazi forces.  However, in the aftermath of the war, Berlin locals came to call it “The Tomb of the Unknown Rapist”, in reference to the vicious rapes, pillaging and killings conducted by the Soviet occupying forces against to citizens of Berlin in revenge for the damage done to Russia by the war.  In Berlin alone it is estimated that 100,000 women were raped, many repeatedly, with the majority of rapes conducted by Soviet troops.   Around 10,000 of these women died as a result.

One of the most poignant memorials, to my mind, is the series of tiny brass cobblestones scattered not just through Berlin, but through much of Europe.  Each one is inscribed with the name of a Jewish person killed by the Nazi regime, and are located outside their former homes.  Once you start noticing them, you can’t stop, and the sheer number of them is horrifying.

The pictures I’ve included above only include the tiniest part of Berlin, and are all within a relatively easy walk of each other.  I haven’t even covered the River Spree, the beautiful Jewish quarter, or the horrors of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.  Out of respect, I did not take any photos inside Sachsenhausen, but I highly recommend visiting.  Oddly, the most striking part for me was walking across the parade ground.  When we first arrived it was cold, wet and miserable, but the weather turned whilst we were in the museum and when we were next on the parade ground it was blisteringly hot.  It is a massive open space with no shelter and absolutely no escape from the elements, and miserable prisoners had to stand there for hours on end.  This was happening a mere 35km from Berlin.

In terms of seeing the city, there are so many options.  There are plenty of English-speaking guided tours as people from all over the world move to Berlin for its low cost of living and fall in love with its history.  We did a walking tour of the WW2 sites of Berlin with an extremely knowledgeable English guide, and the next day took a tour with another Brit to Sachsenhausen.  There are also cycling tours, driving tours, bus tours, and these really bizarre round three-wheel bike things that you pedal as a group.

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Sorry for the vagueness.  They are called Cabykes and they defy description.  Despite looking ridiculous they were really popular.  

Berlin is nice and flat, so it is relatively easy to get around in a wheelchair if you need, and there is a good underground rail system (although some stations don’t seem terribly wheelchair friendly).  Although I was not suffering terribly badly from endometriosis when I went there as it was prior to my first disastrous surgery, I think that I would have been able to travel most places either in a wheelchair or on a bus or rickshaw relatively easily.  It’s also one of the cheaper cities in Europe, so once you’ve worn the cost of getting there you’ll be able to make your remaining money stretch relatively far.

It’s super easy to eat vegan in Berlin, too.

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On a bench in the park.  I did not put it there.  

If you are worried about the language barrier as an English speaker, don’t be.  People in Berlin largely speak better English than most of us who speak nothing else, so hotels, restaurants and tours are likely to be very easy to navigate.  If you aren’t too sure, just say, “Entschuldigung (ent-shool-di-gung), ich spreche kein Deutsche.  Sprechen Sie Englisch?”  This is the polite way of saying “sorry, I don’t speak any German.  Do you speak English?” Other than that, as long as you know “Hilfe!” (help), you’ll be fine.  If you fancy taking a few German classes before you go, you’ll fine the very basics relatively easy to pick up as there are a lot of similarities to English.  German only really gets complicated when you start on grammar or the longer words that Germans love to make by smashing five or six other words together.  Pronouncing German words is easy enough too.  It’s not like French where you only pronounce three letters out of ten – in German, you say every letter.

All in all, I can’t recommend Berlin enough.  It has this fascinating blend of old and new and it is soaked in history.  There is this really wonderful sense of a city that is not shying away from the horrors of the past or trying to shift the blame of the holocaust elsewhere, but also learning from it and rising up into this great, inclusive, welcoming cultural centre and not being dominated or crushed by shame or blame.  Other nations with slaughter or oppression in their past could take lessons.  It’s a brilliant city and I can’t wait to go back one day.

Have you been to Berlin?  Any hotspots I’ve missed that you think are a must-see for tourists?  Any tips on navigating?  Let me know in the comments!

Endometriosis Education in Schools

I am one of those people who think that schools should be a place that you learn more than just the reading, riting and rithmatic.  I think schools should teach a few life skills as well.

I know it isn’t a popular view, and the counter-argument tends to be that parents should be teaching these skills.  I agree, parents should be.  But if there is one thing my work has taught me, it’s that they don’t.  Some lack the time, some lack the skills, and some simply lack the inclination or ability to have their life together.  Should the burden fall on the education system to make up the gap?  No, but where else will it fall?  If it doesn’t land on someone, our children are going to keep being failed, and it isn’t their fault.

I’m not suggesting that teachers should suddenly be interrupting maths to take their students through the basics of tax returns and changing flat tyres, of course, a la To Sir With Love (but look at what a difference he made!).  It is something that needs additional funding and additional teachers.

Where am I going with all of this?  Well, I want to talk about why and how I think endometriosis should be discussed in schools.

Most schools do some form of sex ed anyway.  In my years at school I experienced a number of different styles.  In Year 6 we watched a video of a woman giving birth, with a close-up of the baby crowning.  That was traumatising as a 10-year-old, let me tell you.  In Year 8 we got some vague talk about periods.  In Year 10 we got yelled at by a right-wing American lady whose catchphrase was “Keep your pants on!” In Year 12 we were treated to a run-down of all the common STIs you could get, with obscenely graphic photos.  All in all, sex ed was a mixed bag and left a lot of questions unanswered.  Certainly, none of them taught me much of use, such as the value of consent or the importance of peeing after intercourse.

All in all, sex ed in Australia is a bit of a shambles, particularly in religious schools.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved my Christian schools – great teachers, great friends, great courses – but the sex ed was, well….

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Anyway.

I’m not opposed to promoting abstinence.  It’s 100% the most effective way not to get an STD or fall pregnant.  It’s well documented, though, that abstinence-only education does not actually help students or reduce rates of teen pregnancy.  I would really love to see a sex ed course that discusses the value of abstinence but also acknowledges that not everyone will remain abstinent, and give them the information they will need if they don’t.  I’d like it to cover the sciencey side of things (anatomy, periods, puberty, fertilisation, pregnancy etc), the emotional side of things (hormones, temptation, relationships, consent, domestic violence, red flags), and the basics of common diseases.  By common diseases, I don’t just mean STDs.  I learned a lot about HIV during sex ed, and that’s important, but roughly 25,000 people in Australia were HIV+ at the end of 2015.  The numbers for endometriosis are more like 1 million, but we never heard a word on it.

If students were educated on endometriosis, I think we’d see a lot fewer teenagers labouring through horrific period pain thinking that they are just weaklings who can’t handle a few cramps.  I think we’d see teenagers who’d know that maybe something wasn’t quite right and seeking referrals to specialists much earlier, which would hopefully help end the current massive gap between the onset of symptoms and diagnosis.  Early treatment would hopefully help reduce the impact of the pain on young people’s schooling by reducing absences and increasing their ability to participate in school life.

Moreover, if school staff and administration knew more about endometriosis, there might be fewer deeply unsympathetic attitudes from teachers and school nurses.  Students with periods may be allowed easier access to controlled dosages of panadol and ibuprofen from the school nurse, more frequent bathroom breaks, or little things that would make their attendance as class easier, such as a heat pack or a cushion for their chair.  They might be less likely to be dismissed as drama queens, attention-seeking, weak, not trying hard enough, or deliberately trying to get out of school activities.  Even basic education on the fact that periods can be totally erratic and unpredictable in when they arrive or can have terrifyingly heavy flows may assist some educators in changing their attitudes towards students who are struggling.

It would also contribute to reducing the stigma around periods that sees teenagers sneaking to bathrooms with tampons tucked up their sleeves like the very sight will be toxic to young men.  High school can be a seriously messed-up place and one part of that is the bizarre attitudes of high-schoolers towards all things “feminine”.  If you aren’t girly enough, you aren’t desirable to the boys, and goodness knows that’s what’s important, but if you are too girly you aren’t cool and one-of-the-guys so you don’t get their approval that way either.  Either way, you don’t discuss periods because that’s girl stuff (ew) and boys shouldn’t have to hear about that.  There are some wonderful young men who are exceptions to this and will carry supplies in their bags in case friends start their period, but they are all too often shouted down by highschool groupthink (peer pressure is actually incredibly effective, by the way).  Normalisation of periods, let alone more education about the crippling pain that can accompany them, would go such a long way to making the whole high-school-whilst-bleeding experience easier.

One piece of good news is that Australia’s Endometriosis Action Plan does include more education at school level on endometriosis, particularly in rural, regional, remote and indigenous communities.  These are places that, even more so than everywhere else, really suffer from a lack of proper medical care and education.  I live in a city with two hospitals within a half-hour drive of my house and I sometimes struggle to get appropriate treatment.  Imagine if you live in a small community with one GP (particularly an older male one who is dismissive of endo and period pain) and the nearest hospital, specialist or second opinion is hundreds of kilometres away.  I had to drive all over town to try and get hold of my Zoladex.  People in remote regions may have to travel for hours and still need it to be shipped in from another location.  I’m really glad to see the government planning for change in the provision of healthcare and education.

Do you feel that endometriosis should be discussed in schools?  Should it be part of an expanded sex-ed curriculum, a discreet topic or presentation, or should it come in somewhere else, such as a biology lesson?  What do you think of the Action Plan?  Let me know in the comments.

 

The 3 Best and Worst Pets for Someone with Endometriosis

YES, that is a bucket of rats at the top of this post.  Why?  Because rats are amazing, charming, funny, loving little pets and they look cute in buckets.  Those rats are Lydia (sleek black girl at the top), Denny and Wickham (the two black and white boys below her), Baldrick (the naked one), Edmund (the huge black one), George (the fluffy white one) and Kitty (the little blonde head).

Sadly, rats have their downsides, just like any pet.  One of them is that I really struggled with their care during bad flare-ups.  That’s what I want to talk about today – which pets are good for people with endo, and which are a little harder?

This is not intended to be a round-up of every possible pet ever, and even within my list there is so much variation between breeds and between individual personalities that it may be completely inaccurate for some people.

I also note that there is always a financial burden and a responsibility to provide proper care, including vet care, when taking on any pet.  The benefits of pet ownership are many, but it doesn’t come free.

I say all of the below with the massive caveat of adopt, don’t shop.  There are so many animals out there in need of a good home.  Shelters and rescues are overflowing.  Support them to literally save lives.

Now, without further ado, I give you my three best and worst of common house pets for someone with endo.

BEST PETS

1)  CATS

Now, people may say I’m biased because I have a cat, but I also have a dog, several fish and have had a literal bucket of rats.  I am biased towards all animals.  I am an animal nut.  That being said, cats are hands-down the winners for me in terms of the best pet for someone with endometriosis.

Cats are indisputably relaxed animals.  They don’t need walking (although you can walk some cats).  They don’t need their enclosure cleaning (just litter trays).  Basically, all you need to do is feed them and socialise with them.  They’ll do the rest.

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Max, out for a walk in his stunning Kmart Cat Harness.  He can escape from it if he tries hard enough, but mostly doesn’t.

Cleaning litter trays is relatively easy and something I can handle on even my worst days.  You can even get biodegradable litter tray liners to make things easier.

Keeping my boy entertained is supremely easy – ten minutes with his Cat Dancer, which I can operate lying down on the sofa, and he is exhausted.  Simplest toy ever, but he goes wild for it.

Now, as we know, not all cats are snugglebugs, but if you are fortunate enough to have one that is, you’ve just scored yourself a heatpack and TENS machine all in one.  Seriously, Max purring whilst lying on my pelvis was what convinced me a TENS machine could help.  Purring is also a very calming noise.

So, cats get a 10/10 for being about as low-maintenance as a pet can get whilst still providing furry warmth and extreme cuteness.  Who comes second?

 

2) BETTA SPLENDENS, AKA SIAMESE FIGHTING FISH

Why am I being so specific?  Why this fish and not any other?  Well, bettas are capable of living in much smaller tanks than most fish and aren’t terribly dirty.  They are also full of personality, relatively hardy and very attractive.

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One of my past male bettas, a handsome royal blue crowntail.  He lived in a heated 20 litre tank with live plants.

That being said, I just have to do a little myth-busting.  Too often bettas are often advertised as being able to live in tiny containers, a litre or less.  These gimmicky tanks rarely have any room for filtration or heating.  It’s all done on the basis that bettas live in tiny, stagnant pools in their native waterways of Thailand.

None of this is really true.  Yes, bettas can live in tiny, filthy pools due to their clever labyrinth organ, which allows them to breathe air from the surface.  However, they don’t like to live there and will only do so if they become trapped as the waters in larger water bodies recede.  You are more likely to find wild bettas in small, still pools, or carving out their own territory in larger water bodies like rice paddies.  Importantly, all of these water bodies are warm, because Thailand is a tropical country, and bettas are tropical fish.

Ideally, bettas should be kept alone in tanks of about 20 litres, with a heater set to around 27C, and a gentle filter.  They should have plants or decorations (nothing with rough surfaces) to hide in and interact with.  They can live happily in much bigger tanks (I’ve kept them in 90 litres with no problems), but those generally require a greater weight of water to be removed.  Smaller tanks (no smaller than 10 litres, I beg you) require far more frequent water changes.

Bettas in warm, well-sized, interesting tanks will be happier, more active, and live longer, healthier lives, making their time with you much more rewarding for both you and the fish.

If properly cared for, bettas are relatively low maintenance.  You only need to feed them twice daily and change around 5 litres out of their tank per week.  That’s five kilos.  If you can’t manage that weight all at once, you can break it down to 2.5 litres twice a week, or 2 litres three times as week.  You could even do a litre a day, but that’s not fun for you and more stressful for the fish.

I rate bettas an 8/10 for low maintenance, whilst still giving you a sassy attitude and a beautiful face.

 

3) MICE

Mice rank number three for me on low-maintenance pets.  Really, I’m only putting them below bettas because they smell worse and you tend to see more of your betta.  Mice spend a lot of time snoozing.

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My mouse Napoleon chilling on his sofa.

Male mice are best kept alone, unless two males are raised together, but females are generally fine in groups.  Obviously never mix the genders because you will end up with hundreds of mouselets in a very short time.

Now, why have I chosen mice over rats as better pets for someone with endo?  Rats are larger, so they are easier to hold, generally less zippy, far more cuddly and very friendly.  Mice are generally happy to sit on your hand, where they will immediately poop, but don’t really interact with humans in the same friendly way rats do.  It’s like we are too big for them to properly understand.

Well, size really is part of it.  Even two rats require a pretty large cage, because they love to climb and explore (sometimes).  Mice do too, but they are so tiny that they can do it in a fraction of the space without being bored.  My rat cage stands as tall as I do and twice as wide.  My mouse cage I could carry easily in my arms.

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My adult male rat Sherlock on top of Napoleon’s cage, for a size comparison.  Although this cage is often marketed for rats, you can see that is much more appropriate for a mouse.

Bigger cages require more cleaning.  They take more bedding, and although rats can be litter trained, mine only really figured it out in relation to Number Twos.  They’d still urinate on everything, then sleep in it.  In the end they really needed a light clean daily, and a thorough clean weekly.

My mouse, on the other hand, although he tended to poo everywhere (including his food bowl), required only a weekly cleaning, which involved dumping out his dirty bedding, giving everything a little wipe, and sticking clean stuff back in.  Nothing was heavy and I could put the cage on the floor and clean it sitting down.  Much easier than the rats.

Overall, I give mice a 7/10 for being very cute and low-maintenance, even if they aren’t hugely bothered about interacting with people unless there is food involved.

 

So, that’s my round-up of the best pets for endometriosis.  I’d probably rank small snakes and lizards next in line, as the physical demands of cleaning their enclosures aren’t too bad and they don’t mind terribly interacting with you.  Depending on the species, some birds may be even better, as their demands can be quite small, but they can be charming and highly interactive pets.  Larger and more destructive species may be harder to care for.  Guinea pigs and rabbits take a little more physical effort, in my experience, but may be more interested in a cuddle (just watch out for rabbit feet kicking at tender tummies).

But who are my three worst pet for someone struggling with chronic pain?  In reverse order, I give you…

WORST PETS

3) DOGS

Now, I don’t mean to imply dogs are bad pets.  They are amazing.  I love my little corgi very dearly, and I am literally incapable of passing a dog in the street without smiling at it.  However, for someone struggling with a flare-up, dogs aren’t the easiest pets to care for.

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Proof that dogs are beautiful and necessary

Dogs need walks.  Unless you have managed to find a dog with no legs, you are almost certainly going to need to exercise it at some point.  Some breeds, like greyhounds, will be pretty happy with a gentle 20-minute walk each day.  Others, like border collies, need a 20-mile run before breakfast and then a walk, some time chasing a ball, and preferably an afternoon of herding sheep, if you have any available.  Ultimately, if you have a flare-up that goes on for a week and is so bad you can barely sit up, your dog is going to miss out on exercise it badly needs.  Apart from being bad for your dog’s physical health, it may also lead to destructive behaviours brought on my sheer boredom.

If you are considering a dog, think about one that doesn’t need strenuous exercise.  Don’t be deceived by size – many smaller breeds actually have higher exercise requirements than some of their larger cousins.  I am a great advocate for greyhounds, because, as stated above, they are very lazy, they are generally gentle, they are funny and silly with hilarious long legs and snoots, and there are always greyhounds who need rescuing.  Also consider older dogs, who don’t need to gallop around like puppies any more and are happy to plod at a more sedate, endo-friendly pace.

 

2) GOLDFISH

“Goldfish?” I hear you think.  “But surely they’re like bettas and don’t take much looking after.”  Not so, friend.

I blame petshops for this.  They market goldfish as these incredibly low-maintenance, hardy fish, which leads to thousands of goldies being sold and then being killed very quickly by misinformation and inexperience.

Goldfish are generally hardy, and they don’t require heaters like tropical fish.  However, they create truckloads of waste and dirty their waters extremely quickly, even with a filter.  No doubt you’ve heard the story that goldfish only grow to the size of their tank?  That’s not true, and when it is it is because their growth is being stunted by dirty water.  (And I’m not talking visible dirt, I’m talking ammonia, which is the invisible but poisonous by-product of fish waste and decaying food).

Your average comet goldfish – the plain ones without the fancy tails – can grow over a foot in length and live thirty years, given proper care and the right environment.  Fancy goldfish, such as fantails, bubbleheads, ryukins and black moores, can grow to 15 or 20 cm and live as many years.  My sister’s foot-long goldfish recently died after something like thirteen years with us.  He started out in a tiny tank because we bought into the petshop nonsense, but ended his days in a large pond with friends.

In my view, not giving a fish the care it requires is animal abuse just as if you failed to provide adequate care for a dog or cat.  Therefore, I can’t possibly recommend goldfish to someone with endometriosis, because the tanks required to properly house these potentially massive fish are correspondingly large, particularly when you take into account that goldfish love company and thrive in groups.  For three comets, you’re looking at hundreds of litres, with frequent water changes toting around large amounts of water.

However, if you have a pond that is sufficiently large, hardy goldies like comets and shubunkins make their way off my worst-pet list, as ponds are far more low-maintenance than tanks.  Seasonal cleaning is generally enough, so it can be worked in between flares.

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Some of my little goldies enjoying the spring sunshine.

And that leaves our number one spot open for….

 

1) HORSES

I know most people are not considering horses as pets.  However, I also know that they are the dream pets of many, having shared that dream myself.  But horses are easily the most expensive critters on this list and require by far the most physical care.

Horses need exercise.  If they live in a stable rather than a paddock, that means exercising them yourself through riding or lunging.  If you ride, you need to care for the tack, which is heavy.  You also need to muck out the stable, which is very physical work.

Even if your horse is a free-spirited paddock dweller, you still have a lot of physical work to do.  You have to hike the food and water out there, groom your horse, clean their hooves, check their teeth, eyes and feet for injury or irritation, and spend time bonding with them.  Now, if you agist (board, for non-horsey people) your horse somewhere, you can pay staff there to do the hauling of feed and water, but a) that costs heaps of money, which too many people with endo do not have, and b) that doesn’t negate the need for you to physically spend time with your horse.

Don’t get me wrong, I love horses, but unless you are super rich, they are going to be a very hard pet for someone with endometriosis to cope with.

 

That summarises my list of the three pets I would consider first, and the three that I think come with a whole lot of warning labels for anyone dealing with endometriosis.  Do you agree?  Any you think are better or worse?  What have your personal experiences been with pets and your illness?  Let me know in the comments.