Valuable Lessons I Learned from Growing Up in the Church

I grew up in a Catholic family.

From first grade until eighth grade (age 6-13), I was required to attend a Catholic night school every Monday night during the school year. Naturally, this made me hate God.

It wasn’t just Catholic school necessarily, it was the feel of Catholicism. It felt void of any emotion. I remember my teacher in third grade, Mrs. McNeal, told us that animals didn’t have souls and wouldn’t go to heaven. I think I decided that I didn’t believe in God then.

During my confirmation at age 13—which is when you “graduate” and decide to follow Christ for yourself, and also don’t have to attend that horrid night school anymore—I stood up and while the other kids were reciting their commitment to Christ, I inwardly vowed that I was an atheist.

I told my mom, who cried and asked what she did wrong.

Fortunately for her, I found my way back to Christ through a Methodist church not long after that and for the next decade, I considered myself to be a born-again Christian.

After graduating college, my mind was opened to appreciate a more universal definition of Christ than the more constricted one I had committed to as a Christian, and today, I don’t identify as any type of follower, although I do consider myself to be a spiritual person.

But, admittedly, I did learn a lot from growing up as a Catholic and then as a born-again Christian in the Methodist church. Here’s what I learned.

Helping People vs. Genuinely Supporting People

During my time being a born-again Christian, I learned about the difference between helping people and genuinely supporting people. I learned genuine compassion and acts of kindness.

This is difference between patting someone on the back and telling them “I’m sorry” when a loved one passes and instead calling them to ask how they’re doing or showing up at their home with a cooked meal for their family, or including them in your thoughts and prayers and sending positive, healing energy their way.

I’m grateful that I learned this in the church because it helped me to recognize and understand people who truly need help—because, hey, don’t we all?

We All Are Connected

There was a huge feeling of community in the Methodist church I went to. I was there several times a week with my cousin and felt connected to everyone there.

These people helped shape me. I felt like they truly saw me and nourished my spirit. They showed me that I mattered. Coming from Catholicism where I felt like everyone was dead inside, I saw a brighter side of religion that was rich with color.

Today, I recognize that the Catholics I knew weren’t dead inside. The stale energy I felt emanating from them and from the church wasn’t necessarily their fault—they were people too, just not the people who were meant to nourish my spirit and help me grow. And that was ok.

And, to be fair, I have known some Catholics who have been some of the most genuine people I have met. But the people at my Methodist church and the people I knew as a born-again Christian really helped my spirit fly, and for that I am grateful.

I’m also grateful to have experienced and enjoyed a sense of community that was severely lacking in my life before that. Today, I enjoy a different sense of community and spirit, but I’m grateful to all of these people for being part of my journey.

Appreciating Something Bigger Than Myself 

I felt like I never appreciated God as a Catholic. Through coming to Christ on my own terms, I saw a world of color that helped me to appreciate something bigger than myself.

Today, I see this more as Presence than I do Christ, although I more or less consider them to be the same thing. I am in awe of the world, and even though my life as an empath isn’t easy, I love being able to appreciate my smallness—as well as my wholeness—in the world to behold the wonder of life.

Appreciating something bigger than myself helps my problems feel smaller and helps myself feel more whole in this moment and more connected with all life-forms—which is something I feel like everyone can appreciate. 

Knowing What to Do at Funerals 

Although I’m not part of a church community anymore, it’s hard to forget how to conduct yourself in a Catholic church. This has provided me with ease when it comes to conducting myself at funerals that also happen to be Catholic masses, which helps to ease my social anxiety about being in such situations.

Whether it’s a Catholic mass or another type of service, I feel pretty solid in knowing when to kneel, knowing what genuflecting is and when to do it, knowing what to do when the priest says, “Let us offer each other the sign of peace”, and knowing that those goddamned pieces of bread at communion have gluten in them.

Thank you, Catholic school…

Who I Truly Am

Ultimately, my journey growing up in a Catholic family and my post-Catholic life as a born-again Christian spurred my journey to enlightenment and away from “Christ” in the conventional sense, but towards a Christ in the universal sense.

I’m not claiming to be enlightened in any sense of the word and I’m not claiming that my definition of Christ or God will be the same as yours. And please save your comments about my personal experiences and preferences when it comes to spirituality—I don’t comment on yours.

I’m grateful to have learned these lessons from growing up in two different churches in my young life and to appreciate the world in a way I wasn’t able to before. Thank you!

How to Get Rid of Butt Acne—7 Simple Habits

If you think acne is frustrating, thinking about how to get rid of butt acne (also called buttne or even assne) is even more frustrating.

Fortunately, butt acne is relatively easy to get rid of, although it does take a little bit of time and effort. With the adoption of healthier habits including eating habits, you can have a clean, smooth-looking bum in no time.

I know no one wants to talk about how to get rid of butt acne, but there are people out there who have lived with it and people out there Googling it, and so here we are.

The following list isn’t necessarily in order of most importance, and what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another when it comes to how to get rid of butt acne. So while loose clothing might majorly help you out, dry brushing might not, and vice versa.

Here are seven simple habits that will help you if you’re considering how to get rid of butt acne! 

1. Wear Loose Clothing

If you’re into wearing tight yoga clothes that don’t let your skin breathe, you might be doing your bum a disservice.

Often, yoga clothes and other tight clothes such as leggings are made from synthetic materials like polyester. These toxic clothing materials often suffocate our skin in addition to introducing it to toxins, making it a poor garment choice.

Wearing loose clothing in addition to organic clothing can help you when it comes to how to get rid of butt acne because it actually lets your skin breathe and detoxify itself.

I’m not saying you have to wear loose, flowy cotton skirts forever, but it’s a good idea to wear loose clothing most of the time while trying to get your butt acne to clear up and then you can enjoy wearing tight clothes on occasion.

2. Try Dry Brushing

After reading about some of the benefits of dry brushing, I decided to give it a try.

Basically, it’s just getting a dry brush (which are relatively inexpensive, I think I got mine for $15 on Amazon) and then brushing your skin towards the heart, so starting with your legs and then working up.

I’ve really liked dry brushing although as someone with dry skin, it does tend to be a little harsh on the skin. It’s just another way to exfoliate basically but I have really enjoyed doing it and it’s pretty refreshing and makes your skin feel amazing!

Dry brushing can help your skin recover from bouts of butt acne, just be sure to do it gently and once a day for the best benefits when you’re considering how to get rid of butt acne. 

3. Take Omega-3 Fatty Acids (EPA and DHA)

I’ve been doing a lot of research about omega-3 fatty acids lately, especially since the majority of mine had always been mostly plant-based (I’m not a big fish person).

In addition to being excellent for inflammation and menstrual cramps, omega-3 fatty acids are also great for the brain and body, including your skin.

Plant-based sources of essential fatty acids include chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, and avocados. These are great, but they provide the body with ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) when the body primarily needs EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

The body can convert ALA into EPA and DHA, but research shows the conversion rate is rather poor. Getting the necessary amounts of EPA and DHA can pretty much only come from fish.

Taking a quality supplement such as cod liver oil (I take fermented cod liver oil) or an omega-3 capsule is your best bet (after my research, here’s one of the best ones I’ve found). I take an omega-3 capsule in addition to raw fermented cod liver oil in a liquid form every day. This can help clear your skin right up when you’re thinking about how to get rid of butt acne!

4. Consider Probiotics

I’ve talked about probiotics in a previous blog post and how finding the right one is really important, as many of them contain milk proteins (which I can’t have, being intolerant to dairy).

However, probiotics provide many benefits to the human body. They help digestion, can clear your skin up, boost energy, and overall provide you with a great foundation for a healthy body.

I take a vegan probiotic supplement a few times a week, but natural sources of probiotics are your best bet (and they’re a lot cheaper). These include anything fermented, such as:

  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Miso
  • Kefir (do not eat this if you can’t have dairy, although I have yet to explore water kefir)
  • Yogurt (I eat cashew and coconut milk yogurt, no milk)
  • Apple cider vinegar

You don’t need to overdo it on the probiotics—an herbalist once told me they should be considered as medicine, so there’s no need to overdose. A daily serving can be enough to help you when it comes to how to get rid of butt acne and clear up your skin!

5. Exfoliate Regularly

If you don’t exfoliate, you’re missing out on a body pampering routine that will change how you shower (or bathe if you’re a bath person—hello fellow bath lovers!).

Exfoliating helps remove dead skin cells, stimulate circulation, and refresh your skin. I always feel pretty boss after I exfoliate. If you have sensitive skin, you probably shouldn’t exfoliate any more than once a week, but if you have oily or normal skin, two times per week is fine.

I’m really into making homemade exfoliating scrub (this is my all-time favorite recipe here), they are super easy and fun to make. Certain scrubs tend to be harsher on the skin than others. In my experience, I’ve found that salt-based rubs are too harsh on my skin while sugar-based ones are perfect for me.

Exfoliating at least once a week can help improve your skin and help you when it comes to how to get rid of butt acne!

6. Eat Clean

Eating clean sounds easy, but I want to mention food intolerances here since acne is a symptom of an unhappy gut.

Since everyone’s body is different, everyone will react differently to different foods. For instance, I can’t have gluten or dairy, but I’m fine with most other foods. Some people respond fine to gluten and dairy.

A food intolerance is not the same thing as an allergy. Though they both can have dramatic and life-threatening symptoms (yes, my gluten intolerance was actually life-threatening), an intolerance tends to take a day or two to show symptoms while an allergy will have more immediate symptoms.

If a certain food makes you feel a certain way, you might consider removing it from your diet. Food intolerances can cause acne, even butt acne. Other symptoms that you’re reacting to a certain food may include:

  • Muscle pain or weakness
  • Rash or eczema
  • Fatigue
  • Arthritis
  • Gastrointestinal problems (gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, etc.)
  • Brain fog
  • Headaches

This list is by no means complete; even psychiatric symptoms have been shown to be associated with gluten intolerance.

If you suspect you have any food intolerances or need supplementation of any kind, I would really recommend working with a natural health doctor or an herbalist instead of just self-diagnosing and taking random vitamins. I have a vitamin and herbal regimen in addition to my diet that helps me a lot but it took years to develop with professional help!

7. Move!

Our bodies were made to be in motion. Similarly to wearing tight clothing, if you’re not moving throughout the day and are just sitting at a desk, you’re suffocating the skin on your bum. If you want to be successful when you’re considering how to get rid of butt acne, you need to get up and move!

Whether you choose to exercise a few times a week (your best option) or just take numerous breaks throughout the day to take a spin around the office, do it. I promise, your bum will thank you!

Conclusion

So as you can see, working on how to get rid of butt acne will take some time and effort. Switching to loose, organic cotton clothing, exfoliating and dry brushing, and eating clean and supplementing can help you achieve that baby bum skin you’ve missed!

My Experience with Dermatomyositis: How Gluten Was Behind It All

I’ve previously written about my misdiagnosis of dermatomyositis (which was 11 years ago now!) on HuffPost and Natural News. Today, I want to share more about what happened to me all those years ago here on my personal site.

In an effort to not to let what happened define me, I’ve mostly shied away from talking about my diagnosis of dermatomyositis at the age of 16, although I did write about it briefly when I first started my business on The Green Writing Desk.

But here we are, and I realize that part of my work is helping others and sharing something that I used to consider monumental about myself—that I was diagnosed with dermatomyositis and almost five years later, discovered all my symptoms were being caused by a gluten intolerance.

Yes, it’s that simple.

Here’s what happened and how I came to realize a devastating, life-changing illness called dermatomyositis was being caused by one of the world’s most common foods.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. This article is not meant to diagnose or treat any illness or provide medical advice. Please view the following story from my personal experience only. If you have any more questions about my personal experience with dermatomyositis, please feel free to contact me.

The Beginning: Muscle Weakness and Rash

I graduated high school one year early at the age of 16. As many people can testify, I was a punk-ass teenager who had dreadlocks from not brushing her hair and wore men’s clothes to school. I didn’t care about much, and I certainly didn’t care about going to college, which was why I was starting a job as a nanny for a four-year-old boy with autism a week after graduating.

A week after I started my job, about two weeks post-graduation, I was at work one Monday morning when I found I had trouble getting off the toilet. There was a vague muscle ache in my thighs. It was odd, but it wasn’t painful, and I didn’t pay it any attention.

Just days later at the end of that week, a Friday, I was in so much pain and my muscles so affected I couldn’t walk up a set of stairs. I remember going to Starbucks with my friend Kat that night to get passion iced tea, and my legs were in so much pain that I had trouble getting out of the car. I remember crying while trying to walk up the set of curved stairs to my room—I was literally pulling myself up the stairs on the railing. My muscles were giving up.

My disease quickly escalated to the point that I couldn’t work, couldn’t sleep, and couldn’t really do much at all. I first went to an urgent care doctor with my mom and was misdiagnosed with Lyme’s disease, then placed on antibiotics, which made me even sicker.

When the antibiotics didn’t help, we saw another doctor, who admitted he had no clue what was going on, even after I started developing a mild red rash all over my body. This was our family doctor who we’d trusted to care for us for years. I tried to explain to the doctors what it felt like: “It feels like I worked out A LOT, but I haven’t worked out,” and “Everything hurts.”

I had pain medication from my Lyme’s diagnosis and still couldn’t sleep. I was in pain all the time. I felt like I was going to die. This went on for three weeks before I woke up one morning and my legs—my thighs, the initial part of my body that hurt—were extremely swollen. We saw the family doctor once more, who sent us straight over to the hospital, where a bed was waiting for me.

After taking vials of blood and examining my rash, which had come on my face, back, arms, and legs, I was allowed to rest there for a few hours before being woken up in the middle of the night. Turns out I had an irregular heartbeat, and the hospital couldn’t treat me. I was being transferred, to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, at about 4 a.m. The doctors said all my muscles had become involved and were essentially breaking down.

The Middle: Diagnosis and Treatment

I really hated being at Johns Hopkins. It was a crowded, noisy, inner-city hospital in Baltimore, about an hour away from our house, somewhere a farm girl like me had no business being. My roommate was a girl who couldn’t speak and had swollen lips; I got a glimpse of her once through the curtain.

After being at Hopkins for a day or so and running more tests, I was finally diagnosed. A team of doctors stood in front of me and told me that I would be sick for the rest of my life with a disease called dermatomyositis. It did not have a cause, it just happened. It had a treatment, but was incurable. I would need to be on medication. I might not ever feel better.

This was devastating news. I remember sobbing while they told me, and my mom standing next to my hospital bed, telling me to get it together. I couldn’t. It felt like someone telling me that I wasn’t actually going to get better. How was I supposed to feel about that, at 16 years old?

The main doctor on my team, one who was standing there that day, a rheumatologist whose name I will not disclose here, treated me for the next three years. I was treated with high doses of prednisone intravenously, Methotrexate (a chemotherapy drug) via injection, among other anti-inflammatory meds such as Naproxen. After four days, my parents and I finally convinced the hospital to let me go home with all my medicine.

At home, things were different. I couldn’t walk by myself, couldn’t shower by myself, couldn’t really do anything by myself. My family had to help me do all these things. I felt different. It felt like I had been branded with something, and what I felt now had a name I could identify it by: dermatomyositis.

I got out of the hospital a few days before my seventeenth birthday, in the middle of July. For the rest of the summer and into early fall, my parents and I drove to Johns Hopkins twice a week so that I could get intravenous steroid treatments. At home, I did my injection of Methotrexate once a week. Very slowly, I started getting better from dermatomyositis, although I understood it was a chronic disease. Once my dermatomyositis was more or less under control through lots of medication, eventually, I went back to work and had a relatively “normal” life.

Not Quite the End: Relapsing

Three years after my diagnosis of dermatomyositis, I relapsed. I was weaned off most of my medication by this point, and for a couple years, I felt healthier and happier than I had in a long time.

I had lost the 30 pounds I gained from all the prednisone and then some, weighing in at about 125 pounds when I was about 140 when I’d graduated high school. I started college over a year after I was diagnosed, in the fall of 2008, just going part-time to better manage my stress. I even had a few flings with guys I’d met in college. I felt more like a person and less like a patient, until the fall of 2010, when the first relapse happened.

After experiencing an intense period of stress, my legs started hurting again and I felt fatigued. I was afraid. My bloodwork didn’t show any muscle inflammation; my CK levels were normal. My rheumatologist from Hopkins put me back on my medication—lower doses than before—but it helped me get better.

I didn’t want to be on the medication for any longer than I had to. I’d met a guy in my phlebotomy summer program in 2009 who had gotten me into eating healthy. For the first time, I was paying attention to what I ate, buying my own food, and trying to be better about taking care of myself and what I put into my body. The medication made me gain weight, feel gross, break out, and the Methotrexate made me feel sick

So, about eight months after relapsing, in 2011, after going off nearly all my medication, I relapsed again just a few months later. At this point, my Hopkins doctor suggested I find another doctor, given that I was well over the age to be treated by a pediatric rheumatologist.

After asking around, I went to see a doctor in Annapolis who was highly recommended by some women in my lupus group. Lupus was a close cousin of my disease, and they were the closest people I found find to relate to. I’d never met anyone else with dermatomyositis. The group was a helpful support to me during this time of believing I had dermatomyositis.

After seeing this doctor, she told me I would most likely be on chemotherapy for the rest of my life to manage my dermatomyositis. I walked out of the office that day and felt completely and utterly hopeless. The sky was gray and overcast, and as I walked to my car, I tried not to cry. I had just turned 21 a few months earlier. I felt like I was going to die.

The End: Discovering the Root Cause of my Dermatomyositis

It didn’t take me long to realize that I couldn’t accept this fate for my life. I needed someone else who could help me. This doctor was not it. I tentatively felt hope. Maybe this wasn’t the end.

I’m not sure where I got it in my head to find an herbalist, but within a week, I began researching online and placed countless phone calls, trying to find someone who could help me. I spoke to a woman who was moving, so she said she couldn’t help me, but to not give up. Eventually, I found Barbara. I began seeing Barbara in November 2011.

During my second meeting with Barbara, she looked at me and said, “I think gluten is causing your illness.” I was confused. I’d heard about gluten, but only in passing. “Doesn’t that cause stomach problems?” I asked. “It can cause many symptoms,” she told me. In my mind, there was no way it was causing my dermatomyositis.

I thought she was crazy. I even told her so. “I was diagnosed at one of the best hospitals in the country,” I told her. “If they couldn’t figure out what was causing my illness, you won’t be able to.” Barbara maintained that once we’d built my immune system back up a little bit, that she wanted me to go gluten-free.

Ideas are strange things. They grow in our minds. And as I left our meeting that day, her words stuck with me. I did more research and even talked to a friend about it. She had celiac disease, and when I told her what my herbalist said, she didn’t think the idea sounded that crazy. She even gave me a book to read, The Gluten Connection by Shari Lieberman.

By the time I got a couple of chapters into the book, I was convinced that gluten was causing my illness. This is what’s happening to me! I remember thinking. I felt a stirring in my soul that can only be described as a gut feeling that this was it.

Although Barbara didn’t want me to go gluten-free yet, I couldn’t stop myself. I immediately stopped eating gluten. Gluten is mostly in bread products, but it can also be in other weird food products such as soy sauce and beer. I didn’t care. I wasn’t eating any of it.

A few days into my gluten-free diet, my family remarked that I looked weak and pale. It was probably my body detoxing from the gluten; I didn’t know. They were worried about me and weren’t exactly supportive of my decision. Of course, I was still taking medication for my dermatomyositis.

A couple more days into my gluten-free diet, almost one week in, I had an extremely long day. I went to school, then work, then to a friend’s house to hang out. My legs, which were almost always in pain, especially after a long day, didn’t hurt. I remember telling my friend: “My legs don’t hurt. This is amazing!”

My dermatomyositis symptoms disappeared about a week after going gluten-free. A couple weeks later, I weaned myself off all my medication for dermatomyositis, dug my feet in for the long haul of being gluten-free, and I haven’t looked back since.

Now: I’ve Never Felt Better

It’s been almost seven years since I went gluten-free, and to this day, I have experienced no symptoms of dermatomyositis and have taken no medication for the illness.

After reviewing my medical history paperwork from both hospitals, I realized that I had never been tested for gluten intolerance. The doctors truly had no idea what was wrong with me. They made their best guess based on their training, treated me, and I got better. But my immune system couldn’t sustain itself without the medication, because the root cause of my disease went unchecked: gluten.

Once I removed gluten from my diet, my body got better. I got stronger, healthier, and gained a little bit of weight back from my skinny frame in my later teen years. Today, I work out several times a week (running, yoga, weights, walking) and come in right around 130. I feel healthier than I ever have.

I don’t necessarily blame the doctors. They are only required to take one nutrition class throughout their entire medical education. How could they have possibly known that food was making me sick? How could they have known that my illness wasn’t some cosmic mystery, that it had a cause, a name, and that name was gluten?

I don’t blame my parents either. Should they have taken me to the hospital earlier, rather than waiting three weeks to get me the help I needed? Of course. But, like any other parents, they did the best they could with what they had. I was a child, I didn’t know better, and I was out-of-my-mind sick; I couldn’t advocate for myself. I trusted them to get me help. Although that “help” came much too late, I don’t think it was entirely their fault. I saw the doctor three times during those three weeks I was sick in the beginning, yet only on the third and final time was I sent to the hospital.

I don’t blame myself either. There was a period of time when I did, but the truth is that I didn’t know. I grew up eating Oreos and Hot Pockets. I didn’t know that food could make me sick. I ate what my parents bought and that was it. I didn’t know what gluten was when I was sixteen, didn’t realize that I was making myself sick. So I’ve had to let that go. I know better now, and that’s what matters.

So What Really Happened?

What happened is that my body, for whatever reason, decided to start reacting to gluten and create such a severe immune response that I was diagnosed with dermatomyositis at the age of 16.

If I had caught my disease earlier, it’s likely that it wouldn’t have gotten so bad, although we still wouldn’t have figured out that gluten was the problem. I would have still been on those terrible drugs.

Gluten is a protein. When we eat food, our body is responsible for breaking that food down into digestible particles that the body can use for nutrients. My body decided to start treating gluten like an invader, and since my body was using gluten to nourish itself, my body was attacking pretty much every part of itself.

It sounds weird, yes, but the body can all the sudden decide it doesn’t like something and start reacting to it, quite literally overnight.

I have a couple of theories for why my body all the sudden decided to start reacting to gluten which landed me with a dermatomyositis diagnosis:

  1. I had just graduated high school a year early, had literally no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and was all the sudden expected to figure it out.
  2. My family and I had just finished adding an addition onto our house (of which we did much of the work ourselves), and I was exposed to untold numbers of chemicals through paint, insulation, polyurethane, new carpeting, etc. These materials have highly toxic chemicals in them and I was exposed to them every day for several months.

Do I know for sure what caused my body to feel that gluten was the enemy? No. Do I care? Not really. This is my life now, and I’m so grateful that instead of being on chemo, steroids, and other anti-inflammatory drugs, that I just get to skip bread and feel better than I ever have in my entire life.

FAQs

  1. Do you have celiac disease?

I do not believe so, I believe I have a gluten intolerance. Gluten sensitivity, gluten intolerance, and celiac disease are all slightly different versions of each other. It’s also important to remember that an intolerance is different from an allergy. I am not allergic to gluten, my body simply doesn’t tolerate it.

  1. Do you have any lasting effects from your disease?

Yes, but they’re minor. When I get really stressed out, my face gets red and my legs hurt. These symptoms are always temporary and fade within a few hours (provided I deal with my stress!).

I also have to pee frequently thanks to all the prednisone I was on. My weight gain from the prednisone also gave me mad stretch marks. I’m also having minor symptoms of a benign tumor on my pituitary gland; whether this is the result of my illness and all those drugs, I don’t know.

  1. Do you still see a doctor?

I have a deep distrust of conventional doctors, of course. I do see an integrative doctor when I need to and I work with an herbalist to address any other health problems I have.

  1. Did you contact your doctors after you found out?

I did contact my Hopkins rheumatologist to let her know, about two years after going gluten-free. Her response was very nice:

It is great to hear from you. I am very glad to hear that you are doing so well now. You are right—there is still a lot to learn about autoimmune diseases and the interaction between diet and inflammation. I am so happy that a gluten-free diet is working for you. It sounds like you have a bright future planned—please keep in touch and let me know how you are doing. I am sure you will be very successful.

  1. So do you have dermatomyositis?

I do not believe I have dermatomyositis. Dermatomyositis isn’t like other illnesses such as HIV or Lyme’s disease: there is no definitive marker in your blood or tissues that proves that you have the disease. Doctors make their best guess based on your symptoms and bloodwork. I believe my immune system was simply responding to a threat, and when the threat wasn’t removed, my symptoms got so severe that they warranted a diagnosis of dermatomyositis. After seven years of not eating gluten and having no symptoms of dermatomyositis without taking medication, I can only assume gluten was the culprit the whole time. 

I’m looking forward to having a bright future without gluten in it, and feel so fortunate that all these years later, I’m still alive, disease-free, and loving life. A huge thank you to everyone who was part of this journey, even if it wasn’t in the way I wanted or imagined. Would I have preferred to not have been diagnosed with dermatomyositis? Of course. But this is my journey, and I can’t be sorry for any of it.

Also, I wrote a research essay on gluten and dermatomyositis while I was at Penn State. If you’re interested in reading more about dermatomyositis and proof that other people like me who have dermatomyositis have healed from a gluten-free diet, just email me and I’ll send it over!

Thanks for reading!

5 Things I Learned After Using the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) for a Year

When I was first looking for an herbal method of birth control, I found several different herbs that were reputed to work. It was in looking for this information that I stumbled across an herbalist who taught the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM).

We quickly connected and there began my journey to learn the method. It seemed safer and more reliable than using the herbs I’d found, and its benefits were numerous—tracking my cycle would give me more insight into my health and empower me to consciously not conceive instead of relying on an outside power.

After using the FAM for over a year, here are five different things I’ve learned.

1. every cycle is different

Before I began tracking my cycle for real, I’d estimate on what day my period would come based on what day it came last month. Turns out, predicting one cycle based on another is not how the FAM works.

Every cycle is different. On some months, I ovulate 12 days into my cycle, while other months, it’s not until 19 days in. I’ve learned that just because I ovulated late last month does not mean that I’ll ovulate late this month, so it’s not ok to rely on that information.

I’ve learned to honor the subtle differences that each cycle brings. Some months, it was obvious what day I had ovulated, while other months, I needed help from my herbalist to determine the exact day. Through honoring the differences, I’ve learned to listen to my cycle rather than trying to tell it what to do or predict its mysteries (which, of course, never works).

2. squatting helps

So yes, the FAM does require daily cervix checking. The method has received some negative attention for this, with some healthcare professionals saying that it’s not sanitary to touch your cervix that often.

I’m here to say that as long as you wash your hands before checking your fluid or your cervix, you’ll be just fine.

When I first began using the FAM, I couldn’t even find my cervix half the time. I’d locate it during my period for my menstrual cup, but now, I was having problems. My herbalist suggested I squat in order for my cervix to appear. As someone who’s cervix tends to be high (yes, it moves!), this was hugely helpful.

Checking the texture and opening of your cervix can be an indicator of ovulation, but the primary indicator is the texture of your fluid. If it’s stretchy, ovulation is not far away!

3. it brings peace of mind

At first, my partner and I were hesitant about the method. To be safe, I had the herb wild carrot as a backup plan for contraception.

Then, after having a pregnancy scare because we had intercourse on a day that I did not check my fluid, we decided to commit to the FAM one hundred percent. Since we’ve made that commitment (never having intercourse on fertile days—typically from day 10 to 20 of my cycle—and only having intercourse on days we know are safe), we feel much more secure using the method.

Practice has helped a lot too, as has working with a professional. My herbalist has answered all my questions, gently guided me, and also been firm and clear when my assumptions were wrong (it’s not ok to assume intercourse is safe if you have not checked your fluid just because you are only a few days into your new cycle).

4. it’s not that hard

The FAM seemed extremely complicated and daunting at first. There were charts. There was a thermometer. There was the finding of my cervix. How the heck was I supposed to keep up with all this?

I initially thought that taking my temperature and checking my fluid every single day would feel overwhelming; now, they’re just part of my routine. Of course, it was an adjustment at first, like anything else. However, my partner and I feel grateful to have found a method that we feel works for us with no side effects.

5. my body’s rhythm

This is perhaps the best thing I’ve learned from the FAM—my body’s natural rhythm.

After over a year of using the method, I know what’s normal and what’s not. I’m more familiar with my menstrual cycles, what my fluid looks like before ovulation, and how long my cycles typically last.

Being familiar with my body and all the amazing little things it does has afforded me insight and clarity into my health and femininity. My partner and I feel more enlightened using this method and we have concrete knowledge on when we can have intercourse and when my vagina is on lockdown due to ovulation.

IS IT WORTH IT?

Absolutely, although the FAM isn’t for everyone. I’m grateful that it works for me and that I’m able to engage in a form of birth control that I feel is not harmful to my body. Yes, I’m still learning, just as we all are. The FAM has taught me many things, just like life, and I’m grateful to have had this opportunity to be its student!

The 5 Stages of Grief and Your New Tattoo

So I just got my first “real” tattoo.

All of my other 8 tattoos have been script/roman numerals. I’m a writer, ok? I really like words. (There seems to be some type of stigma associated with getting font tattooed on your body in tattoo culture.)

One of my other tattoos.

Anyway! So for my 9th tattoo, I finally got some real art done by a fantastic artist based out of Virginia. It was my first big piece of work and I’m a little surprised by how I coped with it.

Getting a tattoo is a weird process—after the fact, I might add. It’s saying goodbye to the skin on that part of your body forever. You’ll never see it again. You now have to see—insert whatever it is you got tattooed on your body—every day.

What I went through was a little like the five stages of grief with my new tattoo.

Denial: It’s Not Really There!

If you’ve gotten a tattoo before, you have experienced this.

Immediately after you get your tattoo, you love it. You show everyone. It’s fresh. It looks amazing!

You wake up the next morning and you’re like, “WHAT. IS. THAT.”

It’s not that you didn’t remember that you got it done. It’s just that… well, it’s a part of you now. Like really a part of you. For the first couple hours after I got my tattoo, I was like, “Whoa. What is that thing?” By the next morning, I remembered that it was there.

But while it was healing, it didn’t seem like it was a part of my body. It almost looked like a shiny new sticker that I could just peel right off. Despite the fact that while I was washing it and could feel the lines inked into my skin, I thought, “It’s not really there! Nothing’s different!”

Anger: Why Did I Get That?

Not everyone has welcome reactions to your new ink.

Mom: “IT’S HUGE! How much did that cost? What?? Why?!!!”

Bestie: “DUDE IT’S FUCKING AMAZING YOU’RE AMAZING I LOVE IT AHHH!!!!!!!!!”

Fiancé: “Wow it looks sexy, you’re sexy, I love you.” *kiss*

Grandma: *insert slapping motion here* (Yes, she literally slapped my tattoo three days after I got it. I have not yet forgiven her.)

Regardless of people’s reactions (or on account of people’s reactions, whatever), you start to feel mad. Why did I get that? You think. You also see your credit card statement of how much it cost and, let’s face it, wake up the next morning feeling like shit because that part of your body is swollen and sore and red and you can’t wear clothes that cover it and you feel like you just hate everything.

Bargaining: If Only I Could Change This…

I saw a great YouTube video about tattoo regret and it really resonated with me, not necessarily because I have any tattoos I regret per se, but because she makes a great point.

You will always wonder:

  • What if I got it smaller/bigger?
  • What if I got it in color/black and grey?
  • What if I went to a different artist/shop?
  • What if I just had them change this little part of it?
  • What if I had gotten something different?
  • What if I didn’t get anything at all???

You bargain. You wonder what could have been changed. You think about changing it in the future. In my experience, the only reason I have wondered these things is because I am still grappling with my new tattoo.

I’m still processing it.

I don’t know what to think about it.

And, it’s not perfect.

Because nothing is ever perfect no matter how much we want it to be. Does my tattoo show imperfection? Of course. But, like me, it’s still beautiful.

Depression: I’ll Never Have Naked Skin Again

At some point, you start to feel depressed that you have this tattoo. You spent a bunch of money, spent hours in pain, and are now spending weeks taking care of it, resentfully avoiding the bathtub and wondering when you’ll ever feel normal again.

Me getting my tattoo done. That’s my leg ahhhh. I’m sure you guys will see the final result in some photos at some point.

And then you realize that you’ll never BE normal again. Because you have this tattoo and you don’t know how to handle it. You know you’ll never see the skin on the other side of that tattoo again. What are you going to do??

You’re going to deal with it and you’re going to be just fine. Your skin is ruined, yes. But now you look like a tattooed badass and there’s nothing you can fucking do about it.

Acceptance: I Actually Like It!

Finally, once your tattoo heals a little more and it stops looking like a giant sticker, once your mom has stopped commenting on it and you can stop sleeping in weird positions to avoid rubbing it, you begin to accept and love your tattoo.

It’ll take at least a week or two, but you’ll realize that this tattoo is what you wanted and that it looks beautiful. It’s not perfect, but it’s you.

Side note: if your tattoo is fucked up and you really hate it, you probably won’t ever get to this stage, and instead you should seek out a tattoo artist who is experienced with cover-ups and get that shit taken care of.

Do You Love Your Tattoo Yet?

It’s taken me a little while, but I love my new tattoo.

I’m grateful to the artist and his patience with my first big piece (thank you @tokatattoos), I’m grateful to have a beautifully designed tattoo, and I’m grateful it didn’t get infected while it was healing.

I’m also grateful that my rabbits didn’t scratch it, although Fiver did bite my leg ridiculously close to it, adorable little bastard. He’s literally never bitten me before and he chooses to bite my leg the day after I get a giant tattoo. I think it’s because the tattoo butter I used had lavender in it? Rabbits love herbs!

Don’t let this evil little thing fool you. I love him, though.

Give your tattoo some time, show it some love, and let your body heal. You’ll like your tattoo soon!

6 Cons of Having Rabbits

Let me begin this article by saying that I absolutely adore my rabbits. However, there are cons of having rabbits.

I have four fluffy bunnies—three boys and one girl—that I’ve pretty much devoted my life to.  I’ve had rabbits since 2010 when a flyer for free bunnies at a local grocery store essentially ruined my life.

Now, after becoming an experienced rabbit mama over the last eight years, I’ve discovered that while these four living creatures are one of the greatest joys of my life, they also really annoy me at times.

So without further ado, here are six cons of having rabbits.

1. They Eat a Lot

One of the cons of having rabbits is that they have high metabolisms, so they are pretty much constantly eating.

I feed my rabbits four meals a day (breakfast, snack, dinner, bedtime snack). This sounds ridiculous, but this is what works best for us since they eat so much and need regular feedings. So it goes without saying that they eat a lot of food.

The staple of their diet is fresh timothy hay, so they go through bunches of this. It helps wear down their teeth so they don’t have dental problems later. A rabbit’s teeth are constantly growing, so they need to be chewing a lot so their tooth roots don’t grow into their skull (this happened to Olivier last spring due to his being inbred; the surgery cost over $3,000, so yeah, don’t neglect to give them hay).

They also eat lots of fresh vegetables such as carrots, collard greens, kale, and red and green leaf lettuce. They occasionally get fruit for a treat (they are completely bananas about bananas).

Depending on if my garden is doing well, I do spend some money on rabbit food. If you have a garden, it’s a lot cheaper to own a rabbit! You can buy hay in bulk at your local farm store, just make sure it’s fresh.

2. They Poop Wherever They Want

While rabbits can control when and where they pee, they don’t have the same motivation to do this with their poop. All my rabbits are litter-trained when it comes to pee (most rabbits are instinctively so), but they poop everywhere.

Although this is one of the cons of having rabbits, fortunately, their poop is pretty cute, they are formed spheres that don’t make much of a mess. Regardless, I clean their living quarters numerous times a day to keep the area clean. When you have four of these critters, all that poo adds up.

3. They Are So Adorable You Just Want to Die

When I first saw Merthin and Olivier (in the below photo), just hours after their birth, the wonder and emotion I felt couldn’t be contained. Of course, I didn’t handle them until weeks later when this photo was taken, but they were so adorable I felt like I would throw myself in front of a truck to save their lives.

Having something this cute in your house means you bend the rules just a little to ensure that they are happy and comfortable, which is one of the cons of having rabbits.

My rabbits pretty much run my life. Is it because they are cute? Maybe. Is it because I love them? Yes. They are animals and do not respond to discipline the same way that children do, so instead of being angry that they accidentally bit you or ran away from you while playing outside, you just love them.

You love them so much that the cons of having rabbits don’t seem like a big deal.

4. They Shed

To me, this is one of the major cons of having rabbits.

Some rabbits seem to shed more than others. My two outside bunnies don’t shed much. My two albino rabbits, who are inside, shed terribly about two times a year. It’s honestly awful. I usually take them outside and gently pull all the loose hair off and let it float away into the breeze so it doesn’t float all around my house.

As one of the cons of having rabbits, there’s not much you can do about the shedding besides ride it out until the shedding process is over, which can take a couple weeks. If your rabbit is shedding often, for long periods of time, or losing lots of hair during non-shedding periods, this could be a sign of a nutritional deficiency and should be evaluated by your rabbit-savvy vet.

Otherwise, get the vacuum and lint rollers out.

5. Finding a Good Vet Is Difficult

Actually, finding a vet who will even see rabbits can be difficult. This is one of the most frustrating cons of having rabbits.

When we lived in North Carolina and Nadir and Fiver were experiencing gastric distress (also called GI stasis), I called about ten different animal clinics in the area only to be told none of them saw rabbits.

What’s even the point of being a vet if you can’t treat anything besides cats and dogs?

Fortunately, I was able to heal Nadir and Fiver by giving them water from oral syringes (as they refused to eat or drink) and abdominal massages. You can find out more about bunny distress here. I do not recommend treating your bunnies without professional vet care; I only did this because I had no other option.

Now, we live outside of DC where there are a few rabbit vets in the area. The one we go to in Fairfax is my favorite. It’s expensive, but after having had one of my rabbits misdiagnosed at another vet, I won’t go anywhere else. It’s not worth it.

If you’re considering getting a rabbit, ensure you can find a reputable vet who will see your bunny first. Otherwise, if a problem comes up with your rabbit, you won’t have anyone to turn to. The Internet is not a reliable source of information!

6. They Are Easily Stressed

This is, in my opinion, one of the biggest cons of having rabbits.

They are prey animals and easily scared. In the wild (like the wild rabbit above), their fear would keep them alive. In my house, it only serves to cause them and me additional stress.

What this means is that:

  • They should not be kept in homes with a lot of noise, such as barking dogs, loud televisions, or loud people. They really, really enjoy their quiet.
  • They absolutely hate the car. Some rabbits do better than others, but my two inside rabbits are petrified of the car, making vet visits and traveling very difficult and stressful for us both.
  • They do not like being handled by unfamiliar people. Again, some rabbits do better than others, but mine are wont to bite and scratch you if they don’t know you and you try to handle them.
  • They do not like things happening outside of their usual routine or being moved to different living quarters.

Many people don’t realize that rabbits can actually die from stress (see the gastric distress link above). This is a very real concern for rabbit owners.

If you’re going to commit to a bunny, it needs to be in a quiet home where the rabbit can have its own space and live in peace while you take care of it and it gets some fresh air, playtime, and plenty of good food.

Having rabbits has been one of the great joys of my life, but my life and the decisions I make in my life pretty much revolve around these little critters. I love them and can’t really see myself without rabbits at this point, although I probably wouldn’t have four again, maybe just two!

If you’re considering getting a rabbit, know that these cons of having rabbits are real concerns for potential pet owners. Know before you adopt!

Why We Need to Say No to Pharmaceutical Birth Control

I’m going to be honest here—I do not, nor have I ever, taken birth control pills.

I just haven’t had a need for them. I chose to abstain from sex during my teenage years. As I got older and realized the impact that pharmaceutical medications have on our bodies, I couldn’t help but wonder—why would people take these pills?

I guess having to take a pill every day isn’t nearly as bad as carrying an unwanted child for nine months. When you put it that way, it seems blissfully simple.

Let’s not forget the fact that many women go on birth control not to avoid pregnancy, but rather to control difficult or heavy periods. Some women even get prescribed birth control simply because they have premenstrual syndrome (PMS), which consists of symptoms women commonly experience before their menstrual cycle starts.

Regardless of why women choose to go on birth control—some at terribly young ages—a need has arisen to question why.

There are safer, more natural methods to birth control. I’m not against birth control. What I am against is the pharmaceutical companies profiting from the harm we women are doing to our bodies by taking these pills every day.

So let’s talk about why we need to say no to pharmaceutical birth control.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or nutritionist. The content contained in this blog post is for educational purposes only. 

A Brief History of Birth Control Pills

The need for birth control goes back centuries. Pulling out (also called the withdrawal method) is one of the oldest methods of birth control.

Pharmaceutical birth control can trace its roots back to Mexico. A chemist by the name of Carl Djerassi in Mexico created birth control by synthesizing compounds from Mexican Wild Yam (which is one of the herbal methods for natural birth control that we’ll discuss later).

The year was 1951 and chemists at pharmaceutical companies were looking for a way to provide birth control to women—but in a synthetic version that they could patent and profit off of. Since people cannot patent nature, no profit was to be made on the natural, Mexican Wild Yam version of birth control. Djerassi could have been credited with the invention of the birth control pill if he’d had the means to test and distribute this product.

In 1952, a pharmaceutical company with the means Djerassi lacked created synthetic progesterone, which hits the market as the pill Enovid in 1960. Despite the fact that women experienced side effects of depression, stroke, cancer, and blood clots, the pill was still deemed safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). By 1970, several more pharmaceutical companies had FDA-approved birth control drugs on the market to get their share of the profit.

It seemed like a miracle—but for whom? The pharmaceutical companies that profited from what’s now a $2.8 billion dollar industry, or the women who no longer had to worry about getting pregnant?

The Risks of Pharmaceutical Birth Control

The side effects of birth control continued to reveal themselves over the years.

Pharmaceutical birth control has been shown to increase the risk of breast, cervical, and liver cancer (it’s been shown to decrease the risk of ovarian cancer, so hey—increase your risk for three or more cancers while decreasing your risk for one, woo hoo!) It has also been linked to an increased risk of stroke and heart attack, which is the leading cause of death among women in America.

Hormonal oral contraception has also been linked to:

  • Migraines
  • Infertility
  • Decreased bone density
  • Yeast infections (candida overgrowth, which has a wide variety of unpleasant symptoms)
  • Blood clotting
  • High blood pressure
  • Weight gain
  • Mood disorders
  • And more!

In addition to this, birth control pills produce waste that affects the environment. What this means is that hormones are ending up in our ecosystems, therefore altering life as we know it.

Covering Up Symptoms Rather Than Addressing the Problem

Women’s bodies change when they’re on the pill. We no longer ovulate because our body is tricked into thinking that we’re already pregnant. When we stop taking the pills, we’re supposed to get our period and menstruate as normal.

Birth control pills often cover up symptoms that women commonly experience before and during their period—for instance, acne, mood swings, and painful menstrual cramps. These medicines do not address the root cause of these problems. Our bodies are trying to tell us something when we experience symptoms such as this. For instance, consider:

  • Acne is usually a result of a food intolerance or a lack of fresh foods and omega-3s in the diet. A poor diet can also lead to bad menstrual cramps!
  • Muscle cramping can be a symptom of magnesium deficiency. Simply by getting more magnesium along with calcium and vitamin D in your diet can help prevent painful periods.
  • Poor pelvic circulation was found to be the cause of my painful cramping, and some intensive periods of ginger tea and the right dose and type of magnesium cleared that right up.

What Can We Do?

Say no to pharmaceutical birth control. Say no to a billion-dollar industry that’s increasing our risk for certain types of cancer, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and hormonal problems. Say no to animal testing. Say yes to alternative methods!

If we’re taking the pill as a contraceptive

We have so many other choices! From the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) to Neem oil, Mexican Wild Yam, Queen Anne’s Lace, Slippery Elm Bark, and more, the herbal methods we can choose from are numerous.

My partner and I use the Fertility Awareness Method, which took some time and training from a professional herbalist to learn. It’s important to learn what method works best for you. Like any method of birth control, nothing is 100% effective at preventing pregnancy, so it’s important to be informed and diligent about what you choose.

If you choose to go with a natural method, working with an experienced herbalist can help ensure the best chances of pregnancy prevention success. I would absolutely not recommend Googling these things and trying them on your own, especially if you are not ready for a child.

If we’re taking the pill to reduce period symptoms

Diet can alleviate many of these symptoms, as can proper nutrient intake. Everyone should have the right to eat healthily and know their body. We have the ability to get tested and know if we’re deficient in any nutrients and take the proper steps to correct it. We have the right to a healthy body and healthy choices.

Regardless of what symptoms you’re experiencing surrounding your menstrual cycle, work with a professional to discover and address the root cause of the problem. Attempting to find a solution on your own can work, but it typically takes a lot more time, effort, and money. Working with an herbalist or other natural doctors can help you stop your period pain, reduce your symptoms, and help you feel better during your cycles!

Do we need another reason to say no to harmful contraceptive pills that are man-made? Why not just use the natural substances and eliminate the harmful side effects? With a little more knowledge about our bodies as well as the plants that can help us, we can better understand our choices for pregnancy prevention. Let’s say no to pharmaceutical birth control and save our bodies and our environment!

Organic Clothing Review—Gaia Conceptions, PACT Organic, and Rawganique

Welcome to my organic clothing review of three companies I’ve found worthy of this post.

A little more than a year ago, I realized many of my clothes were made out of toxic fibers that were actually polluting the earth and potentially exposing me to carcinogens.

What’s a girl to do?

I began looking for alternatives, which wasn’t at all easy. Everything I found seemed to be blended with synthetic fibers. I was annoyed and disheartened—where were the pure clothing companies?

I found a few that I love and that I think meet the standards for ultra-pure stuff. If you’re cleaning out your closet and want to find alternatives to synthetic fibers, check out these brands. You won’t be disappointed!

So which ones have the best stuff and which one did I like the most? Here’s my organic clothing review of three organic clothing companies.

FYI: I did not work with any of these companies to construct this post. The information contained in this post is my honest opinion and these companies are largely unaware that I am even writing this. I do not engage in paid advertising or promotion on my site.

Rawganique

Rawganique was one of the first clothing companies I found for this organic clothing review. I wasn’t really feeling their stuff; it looked really raw and outdated for my taste. I did end up ordering some things from them, however. Here’s what I think.

Clothing: The only clothing I got from Rawganique was a pair of fleece sweatpants and some socks.

Now, the fleece sweatpants were attractively priced (you’ll soon find that organic clothing is expensive) and I love them. Warm and comfortable. The socks, I hate. The fabric is soft but extremely raw, contains no elastic, and shed everywhere. They were also expensive and I will not be ordering them again.

A picture of those strange socks from Rawganique. I mostly wear them to bed now or around the house.

Bedding: I ordered a couple pillows and an organic comforter from Rawganique, both of which I really like.

Conclusion: If you’re looking for the purest of the pure, Rawganique is your store. They are virtually the only company I could find online that makes socks and underwear without elastic in the fabric. I also plan on ordering another pair of sweatpants from them!

Their prices are on the high side although their shipping costs are reasonable. Their customer service was extremely prompt, which was great.

PACT Organic

I was also able to find PACT Organic online for this organic clothing review. Their selection is pretty minimalistic, but they have all the basics. Here’s the deal.

Clothing: I bought a couple long-sleeved shirts from PACT that I adore. They are simple, basic, and go with everything. I also bought a pair of sweatpants from them, which aren’t as thick and warm as the ones from Rawganique, but they are still 100% organic cotton and they’re really comfortable and less than half the price.

I usually wear PACT as a base layer, you can see a black t-shirt here under my Gaia shirt.

I’ve gotten some free socks from PACT as well, and although they’re blended with synthetic fibers, they fit way better and are much cuter than the ones from Rawganique. They’re cheaper, too! Bonus for PACT: some things you buy come with a slip so you can go online and get free socks. It’s really easy and their socks rock!

Conclusion: PACT Organic uses synthetic fibers in a lot of their clothing. Their socks, underwear, sports bras, and even some of their shirts and pants use polyester or elastane. I don’t like this about PACT. What I do like is that their stuff is very cheap compared to some organic clothing, and their basics are absolutely worth the price. Their shipping is fast and free, and their returns are super simple and also free.

Update: I recently ordered some more stuff from PACT and felt like their quality had diminished somewhat. I guess the old saying goes–you get what you pay for!

Gaia Conceptions

I stumbled upon Gaia Conceptions through Etsy, and I’m thrilled that I did. They are my favorite part of this organic clothing review 🙂

Their clothing was much more of my style than Rawganique was and their selection was way better than PACT Organic. It’s much more expensive, however.

Gaia Conceptions features handmade, eco-friendly clothing. Their pieces are truly works of art and their fabrics are to die for! The majority of their clothing is synthetic-fiber free, but you can choose to get stretchy fabrics from them if you like.

Clothing: Gaia Conceptions’ clothing is second to none. The eco-friendly dyes, the colors, the cuts, the design, it’s all stunning. From summer essentials to winter warmers, Gaia Conceptions has just about anything you can think of. I’ve gotten so many pieces from here and have a few favorites.

The Gypsy Petal Back Long Dress from Gaia Conceptions in 100% organic cotton knit. Color: squash.

The downside to Gaia Conceptions is that since they offer natural plant dyes in addition to their selection of low-impact dyes, the plant dyes come out all different colors. They show the colors on the models on their site, but that may not be at all the color you end up with. This is true for all of their plant dyes including brazilwood, sage, sunshine, poppy, and indigo. I think Gaia could do a better job of letting its customers know that these plant dyes vary hugely, however, they do disclose on their site that all dyes are subject to variation, even the low-impact ones that aren’t considered pure plant dyes.

The Priestess Sleeve Ballerina Wanderer Short Dress in 100% organic cotton knit. Color: raisin.

The other bad thing about this is that once you have a piece, you’re stuck with it. It doesn’t matter if the piece is damaged, incorrect, etc. It’s yours. Gaia makes you pay for return shipping for them to correct or replace the product, and they will absolutely not take a piece back just because you don’t like it. This is conscious consumerism right here.

Gaia’s customer service is prompt although again, their return policy should absolutely be noted before purchasing anything. These clothes take up to a month to make and ship and they’re expensive, so you want to be absolutely sure that you’re getting what you want and are willing to accept imperfection if you choose to go with a natural plant dye.

Conclusion: Although expensive, Gaia Conceptions’ handmade clothing is well-made, locally based in North Carolina, and truly unique. You will not find free shipping here and while they include free gifts with each order, you will rarely find discounts. Around the holidays and equinoxes they will typically have 10% off your order. I’m surprised to say that this clothing is somehow worth every penny.

Did you guess that Gaia Conceptions was my favorite organic clothing company for this organic clothing review? 😉

What to Know When Buying Organic Clothing

I had no idea what I was getting into when I was searching for organic clothing for this organic clothing review. Here’s what you should know if you’re considering making the switch.

It’s more expensive. You’ll pay much more for organic, natural fibers than you will for non-organic, synthetic ones.

Fabrics that are blended with synthetics are cheaper. Anything you find on an organic clothing website that’s been blended with elastane, spandex, or polyester is cheaper than the pure stuff. Many people like their leggings, underwear, and socks to have a bit of fit to them.

Some pieces are unique. If you get pieces that are handmade—which some organic pieces are—you should expect variations in the color and cut. You can contact the company if you have any questions before purchasing!

It’s a different buying experience. Don’t expect to buy organic clothing and get the same experience as you do at Forever 21. This is not that. These clothes are harder to find while you’re out. They don’t look or feel the same as synthetic fibers. The customer service is different. You will feel different wearing them. They are much more expensive. You will need to take better care of them.

Get some freaking plant-based detergent. I use Dr. Bronner’s for everything, but if you don’t, you should really invest in some plant-based detergent for your new organic clothing. Plus don’t you know all the big-name brands test on animals?

You can utilize thrift stores. If you can’t afford to pay for new organic clothing, why not check out some used stuff? Even if it’s not organic, 100% natural fibers such as hemp and cotton are the next best thing. Your local thrift store may have some options!

 

Have you ever tried to shop for organic clothing? Making the switch is an investment. It can feel painful to pay $90 for a t-shirt when you could buy one on clearance at a department store for $5.

When you think about your impact on the world, it doesn’t feel like that much money, though. Plus, you’re much thriftier with your cash when you buy natural fibers because they’re so much more expensive.

I now have a semi-minimalistic closet with just a few essentials and all my favorite organic fabrics in there. It was difficult finding the right companies for this organic clothing review, but it felt so worth it to get rid of all my toxic clothing and invest in a few pieces that truly inspire me!

Do you know of any organic pure clothing companies that rock? I’d love to hear from you if so! Happy shopping 🙂 

How to Stop Panic Attacks: This One Thing Stopped Mine for Good

I’ve been having panic attacks since I was a child.

They got worse during my early teenage years and finally peaked while I was in high school. At the height of my panic attacks, I was having about two per week my senior year, which is a lot.

Panic attacks are scary, draining, and life-changing. I learned how to cope with the episodes—and sometimes I could bring myself back from one—but I couldn’t quite figure out how to stop panic attacks.

This one thing I was doing made me realize how to stop panic attacks.

How to Stop Panic Attacks: Stop Drinking Coffee

Yes, you read that right.

I love coffee. I come from a line of coffee lovers. I started drinking coffee when I was about 12 and continued to drink it throughout high school. I’d go to school with a big travel mug full of coffee and pretty much finish it by the time I got to school.

After experiencing a debilitating illness two weeks after I graduated at the age of 16, I was forced to stop drinking coffee for a while. Even after I recovered, I found that my body was too sensitive to the caffeine to tolerate much of it.

My illness cultivated an awareness in me of my body as well as the way certain foods and drinks made me feel. Thus, I became aware of coffee’s impact on my anxiety and learned how to stop panic attacks simply by not drinking coffee.

I haven’t had a panic attack since.

How I Coped Without Coffee

I had headaches in the beginning when I stopped drinking coffee, and I didn’t immediately replace it with an alternative.

However, I started drinking tea at some point after that, which not only replaced coffee as a warm snuggly beverage in the morning but also helped keep me full and eventually helped me lose the 50 pounds my illness made me gain.

Once the headaches subsided, I was free from coffee’s grasp.

I don’t crave coffee ever, but I do love the smell of coffee and will take tiny sips of my fiancé’s coffee when he has it. However, I never have any more than that and I certainly have never had my own cup of coffee since I was 16. I’ve learned that coffee is a powerful drug that can make crazy things happen.

And so I gave up coffee and learned how to stop panic attacks.

My Life Without Panic Attacks

If you’ve never had a panic attack, there’s no way for me to fully describe it. Every person will likely experience panic attacks differently, therefore everyone will have different coping mechanisms. This is just what worked for me.

Before I stopped drinking coffee, the only way for me to bring myself back from a panic attack was to stop whatever I was doing and get out. One morning at school I felt the onset of a panic attack. My arms and face started tingling. I lost vision for a few moments. I started sweating and hyperventilating.

I got up and walked out of class, across the parking lot, and walked two hours and twenty-one minutes home to my house. Panic attack avoided.

Other than that, there wasn’t much I could do when it came to how to stop panic attacks. I had someone suggest deep breathing to me, but that seemed to only make it worse (I’m sure I didn’t know how to breathe correctly). I know different people have different techniques that work for them. Mine is limiting my caffeine intake.

So What Else Has Caffeine in It?

Caffeine is sneaky and is present in different things besides coffee. It is also in:

  • Black, green, oolong, and white tea (herbal teas are fine, though)
  • Chocolate, cocoa, baker’s chocolate, hot chocolate, anything chocolate
  • Decaf coffee (has about half the caffeine of regular coffee)
  • Certain sodas such as Pepsi, Coke, and Diet Coke
  • Conventional energy drinks (make your own natural version here)
  • Certain medications such as headache medication (Excedrin) and even menstrual medication (Midol)

Limiting my caffeine intake has helped keep me panic-free for the last decade and I feel very fortunate to not have had another panic attack since my teenage years.

Caffeine’s Effect on the Body

After learning about caffeine’s effect on the body, it’s no surprise that it was triggering my panic attacks. Caffeine such as that contained in coffee has been shown to trigger a “fight or flight” response, increasing heart rate and blood pressure.

Coffee can also cause many other negative effects, including dizziness, trouble breathing, muscle tremors, anxiety, and irritability. Although people drinking “moderate” amounts might be ok, we know that everyone reacts differently to certain substances. It all depends on how you feel.

I’m not against coffee by any means. In fact, research has shown that coffee is beneficial for many people for a variety of reasons. The fact is that I just know it’s not beneficial for me.

As someone who had panic attacks for nearly a decade, learning how to stop panic attacks from happening was important to me. By adjusting my caffeine intake and listening to my body, I was able to isolate a pattern of drinking coffee and having panic attacks.

How to stop panic attacks, for me, was eliminating coffee from my diet. I miss coffee sometimes, but I definitely don’t miss panic attacks.

3 Reasons Why I Gave Up Hating My Body After 25

For years, I was self-conscious of my body.

It started with my breasts. Then my weight. Then it was my stomach. Next thing you know, I was cripplingly self-conscious.

After ditching wearing a bra after 15 years, I’m done feeling self-conscious of my body.

The last three years since graduating college, I have grown immensely. No, I haven’t necessarily advanced in my career but personally, I have triumphed. I was tired of feeling like I wasn’t good enough or that people were judging me.

The truth is that people are judging me. But I also realized another truth around the time I turned 25—I just didn’t fucking care.

Here are the three reasons why I gave up hating my body after I turned 25.

1. I’m Stuck With It

It seems really stupid to spend money on plastic surgery when I’ve been gifted this gorgeous, amazing body. Why would I shell out thousands of dollars for something that’s already perfect?

The truth is that I was born this way. It was time to embrace my body, not hate it.

Hiking near The Dish in Stanford, California. Look at all that armpit hair!

I furthered cultivated this practice by getting rid of all my toxic clothing and buying pieces that I felt inspired by. Getting rid of clothes that were full of toxins and promoted a negative body image felt so freeing to me.

I was also able to sell some clothes I didn’t use and get some of that money back.

I’m stuck with my body, and I’m starting to have trouble seeing why that’s a bad thing.

2. It Was Hurting My Relationships

Turns out, crippling self-confidence issues are not sexy.

I was not only hurting myself, but I was hurting the people close to me. I have an amazing fiancé who couldn’t understand why I was so self-conscious.

It was just my body. It was only this perfect thing that grounded me in this world. I was a goddess and I couldn’t see it.

jenn ryan

Being a mermaid in Nantahala National Park, North Carolina. Yes, those are my breasts and yes, I lack the ability to care what you think about them.

I was ready to stop hurting my relationship with my fiancé and with myself. I was ready to embrace every single part of myself—from the hair on my body to my scars to my stretch marks, they’re all part of my stunning self.

My relationship also improved once I let go of the notion that I was my body. The truth is that I’m not my body. I’m not the things I identify with. I am only life.

Letting go of my hatred towards my body image only helped me become more of my best self.

3. I’m Ready to Be My Best Self

Once I was freed from all the perceived imperfections and struggles that kept me chained, I was free to fly.

I became more confident in just about everything. I stopped caring what people thought. I realized that there are very few things that actually matter in life.

Taking some pics at my house in Maryland with one of my rabbits, Fiver.

What I was not prepared to do was spend the rest of my life hating my body, letting that hatred hinder my relationships, and most of all, hold me back from being my best self.

I’m proud to say that I love my body despite what other people might perceive as its flaws.

Thank you to everyone who teaches me patience. Thank you to everyone who thinks not wearing a bra is a public nuisance. Thank you to everyone who tells me body hair is disgusting. I love my body and giving up hating it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.