Spinal Deformation in The Witcher

A couple of years ago my husband got very into The Witcher video game, books, and the card game Gwent. Eventually, he convinced me to play The Witcher video game with him, which I enjoyed very much even if all of the different monsters and provinces started to blur. So when Netflix spent millions on a TV series starring Henry Cavill, of course my husband was incredibly excited, and we watched it all in one weekend during our winter vacation.

The show is an adaptation of the first book, which predates the action in the game by quite a bit. It’s an origin story of sorts for several of the main characters and describes how they are connected with each other, including the Socercess Yennefer (pictured below). If you haven’t watched it and want to avoid all spoilers, save this until you watch it and stop reading now.

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My Virtual Support for the Protests Against Systemic Racism

I had not meant to delay my response this long but family and other stress provoked a migraine that has persisted for over a week. However, I do not want to be silent about racial injustice and discrimination in the U.S. now or ever. As a disabled, white American woman, I still have an immense amount of privilege and always have because of being white in America. However, sometimes I feel absolutely useless (I don’t say powerless because as a white person I do know that I have a lot of power) in the face of such inequality and discrimination that is so entrenched, especially as a disabled person. I am so in awe of the protestors and their bravery in the face of such danger and hate. I wish that I could join them but I cannot. I am physically unable to use my body to protest.

Instead, I am donating to organizations that support the protestors, like the various bail projects. These groups provide bail for those who cannot pay, often black people and people of color, who, as a result, are jailed for something they have not yet been tried for or convicted of.

I also believe that everyone deserves health care—mental and physical—and should not get care based on their ability to pay or whether they have health insurance. I will continue to support those organizations that provide health care to black people and people of color, who in particular need providers who understand their lives and experiences. I am lucky to have a therapist who herself has a chronic illness and can understand what it means to be a chronically ill/disabled woman. I want that so much for everyone. The feeling of sharing your struggles with someone who actually gets it is something I want everyone who needs or wants it to have. I am so grateful there are organizations out there making this possible. We need to support them to do this work!

The health care system, and access to it, in this country is also a systemically racist institutional system. Unlike many, I have health insurance. I am not discriminated against based on my skin color when I seek medical care. I do not have to defer routine care because of income or lack of access to credit and loans. When I have painful procedures or see a practitioner, I am offered narcotics for the acute pain from the procedure or to manage my chronic pain. I don’t need to worry that I won’t be prescribed pain medication because the medical system stereotypes me as a drug addict. I don’t have to suffer the physical and mental pain of racism day in and day out. I don’t have to worry that when I have children racism will have stressed my system so much that I am more likely to have premature children or health complications from childbearing and childbirth.

The list goes on and on.

I teach about racism, sexism, homophobia, religious-based discrimination, and other types of discrimination and how they permeate various institutions and structures in the U.S. and the world. There are so many amazing people studying and writing on this topic. There are also some great lists being spread online. Please private message me if you want to learn more about the academic world’s contributions to fighting racism and other types of discrimination. I don’t pretend to speak from or understand the black experience in America, but having had the privilege to study these topics and teach them, I want to do as much as I can to help people learn more about systemic racism and inequality in a way that I can, which is to share information.

Authors, books, and articles:

  • Crenshaw, Kimberle. (1991). “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color”. Stanford Law Review 43(6), 1241-1299.
    • This is the original work that describes intersectionality and how important it is to recognize the different ways that different facets of one’s identity put you at risk for different types of discrimination, which is especially true for black women.
  • Mario Barnes of the University of Washington’s work on Stand Your Ground laws.
  • Song Richardson of the University of California at Irvine’s work on discrimination in the American justice system.
  • Craig Futterman, et al., ‘They Have All the Power’: Youth/Police Encounters on Chicago’s South Side, Univ. of Chicago Public Law & Legal Theory Working Paper No. 573 (2016), pp. 1-27
    • This article details the oppressive effects of police brutality and racism on the lives of young black Americans in Chicago.
  • Paul Butler, Chokehold: Policing Black Men (2017)
    • He addresses the dangers of police brutality and legal injustice that all black men face, even the wealthy or privileged, which he experienced firsthand.
  • White Fragility and other works by Robin DiAngelo
    • Her work does an amazing job of explaining why it’s so hard for white people to talk about race.
  • Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild
    • This extremely well-researched sociology text explains why so many white voters vote for and support far right-wing groups, even when, or especially when, those groups are racist. It doesn’t ask us to condone them but to understand them and their fears so we can better understand why they continue to support these far-right groups, and often Trump, and the challenges to change in so much of the country as a result.

Some of these are difficult texts to read, emotionally and literally. Message me if you have any questions about them or want to talk about them! I’m hopeful that these protests are ushering in a more open period in which we discuss these hard topics and by talking and learning about them start to act more to change things. I’m trying to continue to learn more and more about these topics too. It’s an expression of historical privilege to live a life that is ignorant of or oblivious to these issues, and white people like myself should work to challenge that privilege.

My Experiences with Telehealth

When all the cancellations started, at first I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my appointments. Some of them were just canceled outright and for others, I had the option to meet via phone or zoom. Luckily, I have health insurance that covered them like a normal appointment so it was an option for me.

There are limits: I decided not to get blood work done yet because I didn’t want to go to a medical facility and risk exposure. That meant that my provider and I could only discuss and plan so much. Others worked better, in particular my psychiatrist and therapist appointments. I was able to make the hard decision to increase my medication after a steady ramp down over about a year.

With everything going on my anxiety has been on an upswing. I’ve struggled to sleep and focus. I’ve been obsessing about the little things again. I check the news too often. As a result, by talking with my psychiatrist and therapist I was able to decide to temporarily increase my medication.

This is a reminder that health, including mental health, has its ups and downs. Just because I was doing better a year ago or six months ago, doesn’t mean that I will be fine right now. If you’re worried about asking for extra help or help for the first time right now, don’t feel bad. You’re not the only one. This is incredibly stressful in so many ways and there are only so many things we can do or have control over. And that’s hard. Feeling helpless during a time when so many are hurting is hard.

I find that it is especially difficult to do nothing when I am anxious, even if that is the best thing I can do. I have trouble letting things go. I want to act even when I know it’s better not to do anything at all or to wait to do something. I want to send that difficult email immediately, I want to call that friend, I want to do something to relieve the anxiety I feel but sometimes it’s better for everyone else if I wait, think about it, and make a measured response that is best for everyone. And of course, right now, the best thing most of us can do is nothing, is to wait, is to stay home.

I need therapy now more than ever. A lot of us do because we don’t know when this will be “over.” No one does. And we need help dealing with that kind of uncertainty. Anxiety is all about uncertainty. Working through anxiety means sitting with it sometimes. We need help working through anxiety when things are hardest, like now.

I just finished reading Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb. I learned a lot by reading it but I was thrown when she describes teletherapy as “therapy with a condom.” The implication is that condoms block connection and sensation, so sex, and in this case, therapy is not as good with them. However, I think many people would agree that that is not a reason to not use them, especially if they are your only option!

I personally believe that this is not a reason not to use telehealth, especially now. It’s also not a reason not to use telehealth ever if you’re disabled or don’t have access to mental health treatment in your area. In fact, it’s a reason to encourage full access to online mental health treatment and prevent barriers to such access like variations in state licensing or insurance rules. Hopefully, some of the easing of restrictions happening right now will persist after the worst of the pandemic is over. It would be a silver lining to the pandemic. Hope like that helps me manage my anxiety just a little bit better.

Identifying as “Disabled”

I didn’t really start using the term “disabled” until this past fall even though I have had severe scoliosis and post-surgery pain and limitations since I hit puberty. The first time I used it was when I needed to be excused from Grand Jury duty. Up until then, I had organized my life as a college and then graduate student (with a rough year working in between) to accommodate my disabilities without having to ever formally register as disabled or ask for accommodations.

But the summons came near the end of my graduate student career when I knew that I couldn’t keep ignoring my body and pushing myself past my endurance. I was starting to have to call in sick more and more and cutting out all nonessentials from my daily routine, which included cooking, exercising, and seeing my therapist and chiropractor. Everything that was not teaching or going to class.

I wrote to my primary care provider at the university and explained my predicament. There was no way I could fulfill the requirements of jury duty, not without frequently calling in sick to recover from the full days sitting in a chair that the summons described. I felt at once lazy and weak and also like a pretender: calling myself disabled when I look fine and people probably wouldn’t guess that I struggle with chronic pain and fatigue stemming from my two scoliosis corrective surgeries in my teens.

This is an internal struggle that I’m still working through today. My back isn’t the only chronic condition I have—I also have migraines, OCD, anxiety, and currently am dealing with an inability to retain iron, the cause of which the doctors have not yet been able to identify. All of this means that I need a lot more downtime to recover and rest than most people.

It’s not unusual to have multiple chronic conditions, especially mental illnesses and physical illnesses. Additionally, it’s not a coincidence that I began to display OCD symptoms as a child when I was wearing a brace to correct my S-curve (to no avail). The obsessive hand washing and knocking on wood helped me feel like I had control over something, even if eventually these and other rituals were things that I hid for years until I couldn’t anymore.

Asking for a formal letter to be disqualified from jury duty for life was the first step I took admitting that I am not like others and have different needs. Eventually, I was able to leave my graduate program because my physical and mental health was suffering too much. Now I work from home, often in the evenings and nights so I can use my days to go to doctors’ appointments, see therapists, and exercise to strengthen my body to prevent as much decline as I can as I age.

As a result, using the term “disabled” feels right now. It means that I am part of a community of people who have similar struggles and experiences, even if we do not always meet in person (thank goodness for the internet without which my life would be much more difficult). It doesn’t mean that I am only someone with disabilities (no one is) but that I recognize that this is a big part of my life and identity.

At thirty, I have been managing my conditions for most of my life. I grew up disabled and I have become an adult disabled. I have no idea what it is like to not be disabled, nor will I ever. It is time that I embraced this term. Maybe telling my story will mean someone else will have less of a difficulty identifying as “disabled.”

How I Balance Advocating For Myself as a Patient with Avoiding Hypochondria

(Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and none of this is meant to provide medical advice. This is just my personal experience.)

I struggle with being my own patient advocate and not being a hypochondriac. I know that having OCD means that I have a tendency to catastrophize and this includes imagining worst-case possible illnesses or medical situations. I know when I’m at my most mentally ill that I can see an aneurysm instead of a migraine or some other catastrophic illness in a simple flu or cold.

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