April 28, 2009

A Doctor's Visit

I mentioned back in early February that I was meeting a new doctor. A woman doctor. Our family GP is leaving his practice, and my confidence in him had been rattled after being given the impression on three different occasions that he should have tested for something that he didn't. It's hard to imagine how difficult a doctor's job is, so it's hardly fair for a layman to criticize. However, when your laser technician wonders why you haven't been tested for hormone abnormalities before being referred to a expensive cosmetic procedure that may or may not work, you've got to wonder too.

Last week I had my first physical with her, so I was furiously filling out the forms about my medical history before she came in. Then she reviewed them with me, and noticed the question marks beside some of the other diagnoses I've had over the years. I explained that because my last doctor would often say, "It's probably this," I wasn't sure if that counted as an actual diagnosis. Then I ventured, "There are some other things I wasn't sure if I should put on the list." I named hirsutism last. Despite having this blog where I talk about the condition once a week, it was still much harder than I expected to actually say, out loud, "I have hirsutism."

She looked down at me from the examining table where she put my forms. "Really? It's not prominent at all."

I felt my throat growing thick. My voice came out strained and much too loud. "Well, yeah, that's because I--" I had to swallow here. "I'm very--anal about--about shaving..."

"Shaving? Shaving usually makes it worse."

"It does?" I was agog. I'd always been convinced that the theory that shaving made hair grow in thicker and darker was an old wives' tale. To have a medical professional say it so matter-of-factly took me completely aback, and I didn't even have a chance to ask how on earth it could make things worse. I had never myself observed any worsening in my condition while I was shaving.

"I would say waxing."

I shook my head. "Then I'd have to wait until the hair grew back long enough before I could..."

She nodded, smiling. "I see. Is it just here?" She motioned to her jaw as I had been doing.

"Here, here, and here," I touched the areas of my face and neck, "my chest, and my stomach."

Of course she wanted to know if my cycle was regular, and of course, to add to the mystery, mine always is. She asked if I had considered laser hair removal and I explained in a nutshell what had happened there. (For those of you just joining me, I have two entires about it here and here.) I emphasized the lack of testing beforehand, and she asked what had become of the test I finally did have. I told her I never did find out. So she said she would have me tested for free androgens again, and optimistically mentioned options after we knew what was causing it.

As she was feeling my neck and jaw for the usual lumps and bumps she touched my chin and said, "Ah, I see what you mean." And as she felt along my abdomen for the same, she said again, "I see what you mean. I really think you should try waxing. Maybe not for the face, but for everything else."

I still didn't have it in me to ask her why. Talking about it out loud felt so awkward, and it seemed to me like I really had to restrain myself--or perhaps just my tears. But after I have my tests done (eeyuck), I'm to make another appointment to come in and discuss the results with her. I'll ask her about the evils of shaving then. Considering how long it's been since the last time I was tested for weird hormonal things, this is a big step forward for me.

I just hope I can remember that when I'm facing down the needle. I can't even get my ears pierced without nearly fainting. But then afterward, I'll regain my senses, suck on a candy, and I'll walk out of there none the worse for wear. And know that things have been set in motion that may get me some questions answered.

April 22, 2009

Oooh. Oily. Part 2.

Shaving Test 1: Oil Mediums
(Step Two, Face)

Mineral oil (baby oil if a scent is added) is a fairly safe substance. It's used around eyes, in ears, and can even be taken orally as a laxative. But years of reading women's magazines as a teenager enforced this, among many things, on me: oil on the face is a Big No-No. It felt absolutely mad to pick up a bottle of baby oil, squirt a bit on my fingers and squelch it onto my jaw and chin. I thought, "I am gonna regret this." But, in the name of experimentation, I sacrificed myself.

Things I liked:
  • It's a far more pleasant scent than any of the flowery women's shave gels.
  • Sometimes when I have a day off I stay in my room to work and let my face go for the day. It allows more of the stubble to clear the skin so I get less irritation the next day. Doing it with a fresh razor and mineral oil gave me one of the best shaves I ever remember.
  • It ever so slightly reduces the amount of dry skin, meaning an ever so slight increase in the ease of applying make-up.

Things I didn't like:
  • It's still mucky. Sticks in the sink and around the sink and in the razor.
  • I had some of the worst nicks in my chin. The razor glided differently, or sometimes not at all. I was bleeding for an hour. And my towels are white.
  • For some reason, I could not get a close shave on my chin. No matter how many times I went over it, I could still feel a prickle.

And it absolutely did not cause pimples. Perhaps it's not comedogens I'm susceptible to, after all. A lot of my skin troubles really do seem to stem from ingrown hairs, which wasn't notably reduced by the oil, but it helped the dry skin just a little bit. While that impressed me, I could do without having to bleach my towels every couple of days.

There was an inconstant variable I didn't calculate initially. I had considered the eventual wearing down of the blades each week, the changing volatility of my skin at different times of the month. But not that I wouldn't be able to find my favorite razors after I ran out. I had to buy the version for men, which apparently feature a strip of pre-shave oil rather than shea butter. Wouldn't you know it makes no difference so far. Black razors are pretty kick-ass looking, though, compared to purple ones. But anyway.

Is mineral oil an overall improvement over shave gels? For me, not really.

Do note, my dears, that oil can sometimes cause folliculitis--oil can make infection in ingrown hair follicles worse. Be prepared for anything if you're going to try it.

Now, I was in a Rexall the other day and have never seen such a varied selection of shaving products. It was great. I knew I'd have to be testing something else, soon, so I picked up my first men's shaving foam. Put it next to the till, a little nervously, with my nylons. The girl didn't seem to look twice as she rang it through. So that was my adventure. In a couple of weeks, I'll have a new experiment for you.

April 15, 2009

Camping Fears

I'm delaying my conclusions about mineral oil as a shaving medium. I just want to see how it goes for another week. Some days I think it's better than shaving foam, some days I think it's worse. I can't make myself decide.

Here's a wonderful current struggle of this particular bearded lady. I spent Sunday with some extended family. I used to camp a lot with my uncle and cousins in my younger years, and now they've got a boat so they have been making the most of their summer. They want to include me in their plans. Sun, lake, forest... water sports, tents, campfires... highway fruit stands, coffee to stave off chilly mornings, unbelievably starry nights. I love camping.

So it feels so wrong to shy away from it because of a lack of facilities. It's just not me to be all, "Eww, no showers?" Were I not worried about body hair on the trip I'd be sleeping in at my leisure, then downing some coffee and running with the kids right down to the lake. But instead, even if we managed to book a campground with shower facilities, before doing anything else I'd have to run to a dark, rickety shack infested with spiders, enduring the mockery of family who thinks I'm just being prissy and fastidious, shave blindly and hurriedly without mirrors in a cold, piddling stream while others wait impatiently for their turn, and know that the next morning I'd have to do it all again. In addition, with the warm weather reducing clothing and lake water eroding any make-up, I'd be unable to hide how my skin loathes "roughing it."

But try finding a way to handle being asked if I would go camping this year. Repeatedly, every five minutes. In front of everyone. The first couple of times, I had a good joke to distract from the question--make it sound like I wasn't really turning it down, but discouraging the question from being asked again. After a while, though, it began to pain me to have all eyes turn to me and have no witty retorts to divert the tension. I mean, I couldn't just say "no" after others had said "yes," and have people think I'm a killjoy. Nor could I keep insisting I don't like the shower facilities--I'd never hear the end of that one. They were already picking up on the spiders and running with that one. By the way, arachnophobia is nothing to joke about--and I'm not nearly as bad as some.

It's frustrating to think such a harmless, physical thing prevents me from doing what I want, but I also have to realistic. It won't be a very enjoyable holiday if I worry so much about how well I'm hiding things, or know that people are waiting impatiently for me while I try to bring myself to some semblance of normalcy. I can resolve to adopt a different attitude about it, and pretend it doesn't bother me as much. But it's hard to control your feelings when you're holed up in a dingy shower stall, waiting for spiders to drop on you and feeling your way across your face with desperate sudsy fingers and a razor. Just like you can't rely on others to accept something that's important to you without judging you for it. I know if I wasn't given a hard time about wanting to shower every morning before breakfast--if people just shrugged it off and let it be--that type of holiday would be much more appealing.

But they couldn't even tell when to stop bugging me on Sunday, even when I gave them a long, pained look as I tried to think of something to say to divert the conversation. It sucks to be unable to trust your own relatives not to see the line between teasing and bullying. How could I trust them with the real issue?

April 8, 2009

Self Image and Solution Seeking

I recently heard it confirmed that someone I was once close to has an eating disorder, something I never imagined I'd have any sort of brush with in my life. Maybe I foolishly believed the people around me were smarter than that, more content and stable and thoughtful about their health. This, I suppose, is what happens when the way you feel about yourself (though it would be oversimplification to say it was just about the way you look) overcomes your desire to live healthy.

I can hardly compete with the support sites out there devoted to eating disorders, and it's a little out of my usual frame of reference. It's foreign, and frightening. I couldn't discuss eating disorders here and expect to be of any use. This is not going to be a post about what to do or what not to do. This blog is not for that--there are websites that do a much better job of it:

Among some of her things--the mountains of her recordings of her weight and the amount she's eaten and the things she feels about herself--there was a note about me. I only heard about this. I never saw it. She wrote that she was jealous of me because I'm skinny, even though I eat whatever I want. And I couldn't help but wonder, immediately upon hearing it--would it have helped her put her self image in perspective if I had told her my own secret?

Yeah. I can eat whatever I want and my weight is not affected. But I have shame about my body. And I think it's certainly easier for a curvy woman to be thought of as attractive, generally speaking, than a bearded one.

I know eating disorders are often not just about appearances. There's a lot of self hate and desire for control in there, too. But I guess I just don't understand how people can get that down on themselves. I suppose some combination of chemical makeup and upbringing render me unable to imagine it.

The thing is, I know what it's like to be disappointed with life, and with myself. I was raised in a single parent home, with all the emotional and financial hardship that implies. I was made fun of at school for getting good grades (and good grades were another pressure to complicate things), or for being quiet (and therefore strange), or for not wearing the right clothing. Friends would suddenly and inexplicably become too "cool" to hang out with me anymore. No one ever asked me to school dances. I would watch helplessly as boys I liked went out with other people. I was heavy as a teenager, but hated exercise just as much, so I would drown my sorrows in cookie dough and freshly baked bread. I had family that picked on my personality. Other children in the family would outshine me. I got frustrated when my mother wouldn't let me do the (potentially dangerous) things I wanted to do.

I've felt under-appreciated and overlooked and judged unfairly. I've felt lonely and ugly and betrayed and stupid... and this was before I developed hirsutism in high school. Even though I had a few abilities that other people seemed to admire, I never felt good enough. I went through periods of depression and anxiety. But although I despaired and got angry at myself for being unable to overcome my problems, I never ever wanted to harm myself.

Maybe I'm just more interested in finding solutions. I have no idea how I could have got that way. Even if there are no solutions in sight and I feel like giving up, I guess I must still figure that someday I might find an answer--"answer" here meaning something unharmful and lasting.

For instance, I used to hate that I was shy. People thought I was stuck up, family members found it offensive, and I couldn't approach those I wanted to get to know. I was so nervous in public that my conversation was laughable. I read books on body language and articles on confidence. But what happened wasn't what I expected. Slowly but surely, I became comfortable with my timidity. I realized that people who were that judgmental on first impressions were not people worth coming out of my shell for. Combined with ending up in a customer service position at one of my jobs, my ability to speak to people has improved, and now I'm a great believer in the saying: "Speak not because you have to say something, but because you have something to say." In other words, I would rather be a quiet observer than an attention-grubbing loudmouth. If people misread that tendency, it doesn't bother me as much. So my answer wasn't necessarily to change who I was and become more outgoing. It was to become satisfied with myself, and through that, I became a little more confident.

Sometimes the answer to the problem is just accepting the problem. Maybe that's partly what this blog is for. I wonder if one day my chagrin at my bounteous body hair will be like that. That I'll just become so accustomed to it that the shame will fade. Whether I would cease trying to hide it is a discussion for another day.

I suppose I feel that sometime in the future, things will get better, whether I find a way to solve my "problems" or I realize they're not as important as I thought they were. Sometimes I hate waiting for that time to come, but I cry or sulk for a while and then just keep ploughing ahead. I have plenty of other things to occupy myself with in the meantime. Perhaps cultivating other interests is key to feeling optimistic about what's ahead. I can think of no other controllable reason why I can do it and others can't.

And if you're reading this and you or someone you love has an eating disorder, my heart goes out to you. I have a feeling that before too long, I'll know a thing or two about it myself.

More shaving medium results next week, everyone. Much love.

April 1, 2009

Oooh. Oily.

Shaving Test 1: Oil Mediums
(Step One, Legs)

I've now spent about two weeks shaving one leg with baby oil and the other with glycerin soap suds. Otherwise, I treated them exactly the same--same amount of exfoliation before and moisturizer after. I tell you, after growing up using suds, the idea felt very strange. But I immediately warmed to it.

Things I liked:
  • Not having to rely on a shower puff to work up foam. It felt like less work, and less messy too.
  • Being able to see exactly where I was shaving. (I wiped out last week on my roller skates and have a huge bruise and scab on one knee where the rink's hardwood removed some skin. Knowing precisely where to avoid that area would have been much appreciated... if I had been shaving that leg with oil. D'oh.)
  • The sensation of being moisturized stayed with me after I got out of the shower--though I did apply lotion anyway.
Things I didn't like:
  • It musses up the tub faster. And not only does the hair cling to that after the shower but it also hangs on for dear life to the razor and the blades. Rinsing, even with a high pressure shower head, only does so much.
  • For some reason, though my skin felt more moisturized, it also stung a little more after the shower. Very odd.
I can't say that the shave is noticeably closer with oil than soap, or the opposite. Would I switch? It feels nice, but I sure don't like how quickly the razor clogs up. I've found I like shaving with the baby oil, and I'd be interested to see how an actual shaving oil, or canola oil as some have promoted, would be different. But the observations aren't a shocking improvement.

Next step? Trying it on my face. Everybody grimace with me.

I've tried it a couple of times already, and my initial thoughts are that a.) the razor doesn't want to glide as smoothly, and b.) my face feels a little less ravaged afterward. Interesting. The latter could be because it's a fresh razor. We'll see. Stay tuned.