Stretch Marks and Striations


I started off the year as most people do – with grand goals of fitness for the months ahead. Predictably, this lead to the purchase of a shiny new gym membership and a stretchy set of workout clothes. And, in order to use these things, I discovered the need to set my alarm clock extra early each morning. No biggie, I thought, since mornings have always been my most productive time of day.

For the first week or two of this fit renaissance, I made the rounds on gym equipment that I hadn’t used in years. Machines so moldy and old in my past recollections, I had almost overlooked their nuances of form. But, eventually, it all caught up with me like the proverbial bike-riding that one never forgets. And so I was back on track. Working out religiously. Emphatically. Daily.

Then, after a few weeks passed and my schedule became more routine, I saw her and was totally taken aback. You know the one. Every gym has someone like her. The fanatic. No – the hopeless, beyond-help, driven-by-demons workhorse who comes in like a ghost and imprints her bony structure on your memory. Forever. There is a word better suited to frame her frailty. Anorexic. And that may not be all she is as a person, nor the entire sum of her life; but, for the moment, that’s all that exists in the obvious line of sight.

When I first laid eyes on her, I had to really work hard not to stare. But I could see from a mile away just who she was and what she was battling. Plodding along on the elliptical machine, she moved nowhere, traveling in a circular motion of angst. Slowly. Weakly. Almost begrudgingly. But she toddled along with a dire sort of need only evident to someone who had been in her place before. And all I could think was “I used to be her. This used to be me.”

During my years in high school, I was a girl who thought erroneously that numbers were all that mattered. Obsession over grades, SAT scores or allowance money quickly morphed into a compulsion with weight, inches, and meal portions. I deemed certain dress sizes taboo and set very specific standards for my new-found quest of self.

As all things do, it started off small enough, innocently enough. I felt a little flabby and wanted to lose the slight jelly belly I had gained from eating ice cream all summer. In truth, my little roll of fat was nothing more than an average teenage ripple, something that would most likely even out over the course of puberty. However, in my head, this bulge seemed immense. And I felt like a cow. So, I figured if I just workout out and stopped eating sweets, I would get toned in no time. Then my life would be perfect! What I didn’t count on was the fact that losing weight would become addictive.

Upon shedding a couple of pounds, the difference was seen right away. First came the compliments. People started to notice. Then came the smaller clothing sizes. The feeling of accomplishment. Soon, it took a turn into constant monitoring and using the almighty scale to gauge happiness or despair. Gain a pound – cry and deprive. Lose a pound – rejoice and deprive some more. The spiral had formed and the framework for my misery was unfolding.

Soon enough, it was all-consuming. Each day, like clockwork, I would wake at 4 a.m. in order to get in two hours of working out before school. Once I returned home, I would manage to do another three hours of exercise after that, followed by two more hours after I pretended to go to bed at night. Often, days like these were fueled by nothing more than a cube of cheese, a handful of grapes and a children’s multivitamin, some of the rare morsels of food I would allow myself.

At my very lowest, I was 79 pounds of flesh and bones. I measured a 19 inch waist. I could count every rib. I bruised at the slightest touch. I gripped handfuls of falling hair in each bath. And I could never, ever get warm. I was fading fast. And I was almost beyond help.

How I got out of that mess, how I came back from those depths, was ironically through the help of my local gym. I turned it all around by getting into bodybuilding. Working out in public, rather than in the secrecy of my room, was the very check and balance that I needed. I became accountable for my choices and had stepped out from the shadows into the spotlight of humanity. Soon enough, the people at the gym knew me. Watched me. Kept tabs on my increasing size and applauded my new-found strength. And that was the empowerment that I needed to pull myself out of such a terrible place.

Though I never became a Miss Olympia, lifting weights taught me the importance of finding balance in training, gaining weight healthfully and understanding my body’s need for rest – all things I had lacked in my anorectic days. Yes, the gym was my salvation and I had always regarded it as such. So, seeing a fellow comrade-in-arms fall into this trap right under the nose of everyone seemed so frightening. So scary. Like being robbed in the middle of the day, right on a bustling street. How could this happen?! And as questions piled up in my mind, I wondered, could happen to me again?! Was this happening to me again?

The next day, I woke up at 4:30 a.m., my chosen alarm time, with the intention of getting in a morning workout before the day began. However, stopping dead in my tracks, I decided it would be more useful to stare at my naked flesh in the mirror instead. Oddities like these moments are the very things we keep so guarded from others, but I am discussing it now only because it lead to an important realization.

As I looked in the mirror, I saw some fat around my belly, the kind that is hard to work away after you’ve had children. I noticed the lines of stretch marks around my waist and hips, remnants of two successful pregnancies, an ordinary run of puberty, and, perhaps even a summer where ice cream ruled supreme. I saw ribs, or rather, an absence of their obvious shape. Instead, there was only skin, smooth and even, with no indentations or sharp angles. Just flesh without the presumption of bones.

There were also muscles in my arms and shoulders, things I had effortlessly kept toned through the years by carrying my children. There was a faint scar on my finger where I had burned myself when baking cookies with my daughter. And there were infinite freckles caused from the countless outings we had taken to the park or the beach.

It struck me that our bodies carry way more than weight. They carry memories. Each scar, each imperfection, and every ripple of cellulite is just a contribution to our fondest (and sometimes, most horrible) of recollections. But, by themselves, that is all they are. Just memories. Just the past somehow surfaced on the present. Like a shell washed up on the beach.

After I took a cleansing shower and cleared my head, I got dressed and firmly knew the answer to a question I had earlier feared. Could I be morphing back into the anorexic girl of my past? Quite clearly and with a resounding tone, I looked in the mirror at myself and said “No!” I knew, because of my children, husband, household and duties, I had way too much to live for to do that. And, also, way too much to do!

No longer afraid of seeing myself in someone else’s pain, I returned to the gym the next day with a new outlook on my goal. I would not return to my former self, I would only resume in the quest to be my better self. Not hating the flab. Not running from the struggle. Just basking in the moments of my awakened youth. Rejoicing in the ability to move, flex, run, and feel like the living, breathing, imperfect person that I am.

As expected, when I walked in, she was there. In typical form. On the same elliptical machine. With the same wan face, looking ambivalently at the day before us. I would like to say that there was a poignant moment where our eyes met and the world became a little brighter, but there wasn’t. It was just more of the same. Peddling to nowhere.

Wishing thoughts were like water flowing from one stream to another, I would have liked to let her know that there is more to life than counting calories, steps and the ticking hands of time. That there is so much beauty from letting go and allowing life to be messy and full of surprises. But, of course, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t partially still admire her striations and overt bones. There will always be a part of me that remembers those things in myself, missing them, holding a fondness for such bitter memories. However, for today and hopefully all others, I prefer my stretch marks. They remind me of my present state and the greatest gift of all – my kids. I work-out for them. Because of them. And to keep up with them.

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I Am The Infected: Breaking The Silence Behind Pinworms


biohazard

That’s right. I have it – that thing no one ever talks about. I am infected with a plague that is growing inside of my body, an ailment so damning and taboo that I am unable to confess it to anyone. But I walk around in shame, hanging my head low, worried about the prospect of spreading it to others. I feel so alone. And dirty. And disgusting. But I know I can’t be the only one.

Statistically speaking, given the contagious nature of my malady, and with figures concluding that as many as 1 in 7 people in the world are infected at any given time, I know that there are others out there. People just like me. People looking to break the silence. And yet, there are no discussions. No ribbons. No awareness drawn to the issue. It is the biggest secret that most people will never tell.

As a result, there are a lot of things we don’t know about controlling the problem or reversing the spread. Questions remain unanswered. Resources are outdated or hard to come by. And, in our absence of education about the matter, many of us are doomed to failures that will result in becoming infected again. And if you are like most sane people in the world, once you have suffered with this you will never, EVER want to experience it again. So, despite my shy nature, my mother’s lessons in etiquette, and my hope to retain a shred of dignity, I am opening up about what I have learned in my fight against these invaders.

1. The First Pinworm Egg. Ever.

The first question most people with this upsetting problem will ask is “How did I get this?!” Truly, it could come from any number of places. But, most likely, as surely as you are reading this, you have a small child in your life (whom you love dearly) that is the sole culprit. And it’s not their fault, exactly.

They probably go to school. And the playground. And the library. And interact with other kids who go to other schools. And playgrounds. And libraries. And all of them, especially the youngest ones, do the things that grown-ups only do in private. They scratch their bottoms. And if their bottoms are coated in pinworm eggs, then chances are those grubby little fingers will also have at least 1,000 eggs just waiting to be smeared all over any surface they can grab. Hand rails. Door knobs. Books. Toys. Walls. Or, best of all, adult hands who love the feeling of their child’s warmth and innocent embrace.

Scientists have calculated that anywhere from 10-40% of children have pinworms. So, I’m not saying don’t hold your child’s hand – just be aware that you may be holding onto so much more life than you realize!

2. Pinworms Eat Shit And Then Die. But Before They Do, They Lay Lots Of Eggs.

It’s true. Their food supply is that endless trough of waste that comes through our bodies. Yesterday’s Chinese take-out. That piece of fried chicken we ate for dinner. Or perhaps this morning’s bagel. They thrive off of our “leftovers” and will scavenge until they get the nutrients they need.

And, just when it seems they will eat anything, apparently even pinworms have preferences. They tend to become empowered if we eat mass quantities of meat and sugar. But, fruits and vegetables, not so much. They will spit them out like any petulant child. Everyone is a critic, I suppose!

The best part of their “date night” ritual, though, is that after they have had a great, big meal, they do what any star-crossed pair would do. They copulate. Then, while doing their best Romeo and Juliet imitation, the male dies as the female makes her way down the colon to the anus, where she will then lay her best 10,000 eggs before dying. Oh, it would all be poetic if it weren’t so very gross.

3. Pinworms Eggs Are Microscopic.

This is probably the most terrifying fact of all. It means that they can be anywhere. Everywhere. And since they are too small to be seen by the naked eye, they are likely in places that you would least suspect. Kitchen counters. Door knobs. Toothbrushes. Toys. Computer keyboards. The possibilities are truly endless. And they aren’t just on these things for a little while. Nope. They can set up shop and remain as a potential hazard for up to three weeks. THREE WEEKS!

For those of you counting, that’s 21 days. Depending on your personality, it can either be 21 days of blissful naïveté in not knowing what is around you….or, if you’re like me, it can be 21 days of being ultra-paranoid that everything you touch could be contaminated. If you are the latter, Clorox wipes will become your new best friend. So will hand-washing. That is, until your hands start to crack, bleed and mourn the loss of your more sensible past-life.

4. Pinworm Eggs Can Be Airborne.

As if the whole microscopic thing weren’t bad enough, pinworm eggs are virtually weightless. That’s not a big deal, per se, unless you realize that this means that one slight gust of wind (say, from walking across a room, changing your clothes or sneezing) can cause them to breeze through the air, going along from one object to another, virtually catapulting along until they find their final resting place in your gut. All it takes is an innocuous activity. One time of rustling papers or sorting through a clothes hamper. You can breathe them in without knowing it, just like you can inadvertently eat them without seeing them. Again, the possibilities of transmission are seemingly endless.

So, not only can every surface be contaminated, but every motion can spread the bio-hazard. The best thing to do, for those of you unable to sit fearfully still in one spot for three weeks at a time, is to simply clean everything! If you can see it, you should clean it. Wipe down all surfaces with a bleach-laced wipe. Dunk plastic toys in a bleach/water solution. Anything that can be washed in the dishwasher or washing machine should be washed. The floors should be mopped or vacuumed. Pretend your mother-in-law is coming over and scrub, scrub, scrub. If it helps, even imagine that you are hosting a stately dinner party or inviting George Clooney over for the night. Just do whatever it takes to get that house clean(er).

5. UV Light and Heat Destroy Eggs.

Everyone is afraid of something. Pinworms are no exception. They fear two things: UV light and heat. These are the two things that can bring them down. Since we can’t just open up our roof and douse every inch of our homes in warm sunlight, the next best thing you can do is open your curtains. Let the light in. And then wash your clothes, pajamas, towels, bed sheets, blankets and washcloths in the warmest water possible. Dry them with an even hotter heat. And then do it all again…just to be sure. If you repeat this process constantly over the course of treatment, you will likely get rid of the bulk of the household problem.

6. Pinworms Hate Pineapple, Papaya, Pumpkin Seeds, and Garlic.

Some people like to think holistically. Personally, when I am faced with a challenge, I prefer to think in a more nuclear fashion. I don’t usually have the patience or the nerves to “wait out” the enemy. I prefer instead to “nuke” the problem and make it magically go away. Of course, with that said, it doesn’t hurt to add a little holistic warfare to the mix. As they say – “Can’t hurt, might help!”

So, in terms of natural remedies, it has been touted that the acidic nature of pineapple makes pinworms shrivel up and die. As for why they don’t like papaya, pumpkin seeds, or garlic, I am not exactly certain of the science behind them; but, these treatments have been around for centuries. And who am I to balk at them?! Anyway, whether or not they actually do any good, it may not be a bad idea to eat them like their going out of style during this critical time. After all, there’s nothing wrong with overdoing it…is there?

7. Hand-Washing Is Your New Job.

Seriously. If you want to bring these worms down, you have to wash hands at least a million times a day. No joke. Wash them after you go to the bathroom. Before you touch your baby. After you change his diaper. Before you get lunch ready. After you have touched the cereal boxes. Before you make lunch. After you have cleaned the dishes. Before you brush your teeth. After you pick up toys. Before you touch your iPad. It will start to feel like you live (and may even die) at the sink. But, despite how ashy, cracked and painful your hands will become, remember the old adage – cleanliness is godliness – and then pity those poor chafed deities from mythology! If you are not as stoic as they were, don’t be afraid to lotion up like a prepubescent boy! Trust me! It will be your only saving grace.

8. Buy Pinworm Medication Online. Avoid (Some) Embarrassment.

So, it’s not just bad enough that you have this problem. Or that your family may have it, too. Or even that you have had to endure 900 loads of laundry in a mere four days time. Nope. The cherry on top of this entire experience will come when you must make that painfully embarrassing trip to the store to buy the medication. I personally tried to accomplish this at a large chain store. More specifically, Target. And, you know, nobody shops at Target. Nobody!

As people were milling around, on the day that I was there, it seemed that everyone had some small stake in the pharmacy section. People were walking back and forth, up and down the aisles, as I had never seen before. I thought I had remembered those aisles previously being barren and desolate – but maybe I had been thinking of CVS instead. Either way, I tried to wait out the crowds. However, after thirty minutes of pretending to check out different brands of deodorant, I realized that I just had to suck it up and get what I came to get. And to do that I would need to talk to the pharmacist.

When I got the nerve up, I quietly and discreetly asked for the medication, only to have the (young bastard) pharmacist ask me to repeat it not once, not twice, but three times! Then, in his loudest voice, he proclaimed “Ah, yes, pinworm medicine. That should be on aisle 23. But, we have some right here, too!” He handed me the box with not a shred of remorse as an odd array of customers looked sideways at my secret. Oh, joy, I thought. How very helpful. And humiliating.

It was only after I got home that I realized Amazon and Drugstore.com also sold such things. And if I had just bought it from them, I wouldn’t have had to endure such a scene. So, lesson learned, I would strongly recommend that these things be purchased online and kept on hand for whenever the need will arise. And, as long as you have kids, the need will arise.

9. Take Two (Or Three…Or Four) Rounds Of The Medication.

The box of the pinworm medication says that one round of medication is all it takes to clear up your problem. WRONG! Since the medication only kills the adults and not the eggs, it would behoove you to take another round or two (or three) just to make sure any wayward eggs are destroyed. After all, who wants to do all of this housework and laundry only to turn around and have to do it again in a few weeks. I mean, except for the fact that you will have to do it anyway…but, who’s counting. Somehow it just seems worse when it’s forced upon you by tiny organisms crawling out of your backside.

10. For All Of Their Ickiness, Pinworms Don’t Really “Do” Anything To People.

Yeah, I know I have reacted to these creatures as though they were the worst invaders known to man. In my most horrified moments, I even have had nightmares that they were the size of earthworms and had sharp, pointed teeth like a young puppy. But, as we know, that is not the case at all. In earnest, my behavior, my frenzy, could be chalked up to the simple fact that this is my phobia. (Really, it’s #4 on the list of at least 20 thought-consuming fears – but that’s another topic in and of itself!)

As most are aware, a phobia is an extreme or irrational fear of something. Pinworms are gross, they are pesky, they are inconvenient, but they are NOT life-threatening. They are not the boogey men they may seem. They do not really harm people. They simply want to find a nice warm place to live where they can set up a metaphorical white-picket fence, raise a few (thousand) kids, and die after having a decent time on this planet. Just like us. The only difference is that their house is a colon and they like to raise their kids on an anus. So, maybe it could be said that they are no different than the residents of New Jersey. 

11. You Have To Pull Yourself Together. For The Kids.

I know that I most likely got these things from my daughter. I know she is often the Typhoid Mary of our household. And I know in years to come we will find ourselves facing many more battles with the things she brings home (viruses, pets, boyfriends). But, though this may be true, it is important not to fall apart and blame her for this nightmare.

As much as I wanted to unfurl the hazmat suit and spray toxic substances all over our entire quarantined home, my better judgment pulled back the reigns and made me realize what is important. My family. My husband. My son. My daughter. They may all be carriers of some sort of pestilence. They may have infected me. They may even infect me again. But, it is important not to fall apart over it. Or make them feel insecure, unloved and dirty.

Yes, it is hard to keep the heebee-jeebee’s from getting to me some days. There are moments when I sit on the toilet and cry, thinking of all of the prospective problems that we will face one day (a recurrence of this one problem included). But, the hippies do have it right about one thing – we should really just live in the moment, because it is the only thing we truly have. Well, and worms, too. But at least that will soon change, I hope.