Friday, August 12, 2016

Think Twice Before Buying Thinx "Period Proof" Panties

Warning: Contains frank menstruation discussion, a.k.a. this one's for the ladies!  (And of course any guys who have an interest in such things via wives, daughters, professional concerns, etc.)  

Let me start by saying that I don't do tampons, unless I get my period on vacation and have a snorkeling trip planned.  And as a pad wearer for nearly thirty years, I have my system down to a science.  There are four different kinds of pads under my bathroom sink at any given time.  There are the super thin liners for light spotting; the liners that are a little thicker, wider and longer for heavier spotting; what I call my "medium pads", which are similar to that second type of liner, but with wings added for leakage protection; and then there are the super heavy duty overnight pads with wings, you know, the ones that make you feel like you're wearing a diaper.

I first saw a Thinx ad on Facebook and clicked to learn more because I'd never heard of anything like them.  I proceeded to read a rave review about how Thinx offered a panty that made pads and tampons virtually obsolete.  I got more and more excited about the prospect of these miracle panties as the reviewer told her story of nervously wearing them for the first time, checking them throughout her heaviest period day, and lo and behold!  No leaks!

Not being one to trust company sponsored reviews, I looked a bit deeper and found a couple of other shining reviews that claimed the same success with Thinx.  All of the reviews said the same things: relatively cute lacy panties, no leaks even on your heaviest day, and all you do when you're done is rinse them in the sink and throw them in the wash. 

Not only would these miracle panties eliminate the aggravation of bulky pads and invasive tampons, but they would also keep all of that extra trash out of our landfills!  The reviews also seemed to agree that there was an amazing lack of blood when the panties were rinsed in the sink.  "Where did all the blood go?" these reviews asked in awe.

Snort.  They totally had me.  In an uncharacteristic act of rash consumerism, I immediately went to the website and ordered not one, not two, but seven pairs of the Thinx style that was supposed to hold two tampons worth of blood without leaking.  I fully intended to start with just one or two pairs, but you get a discount if you order more, and I figured I could always try one and return the rest if they didn't work.  The truth is, I was so convinced they were going to be the best invention since pads with "wings", that I thought my only issue would be if I got the size wrong and had to exchange them.

I wanted them to work so badly.  Really, really badly.  Oh, to never have to wear one of those bulky overnight pads again!  But alas, it wasn't to be.

So my personal cycle generally consists of a tiny bit of spotting up to two weeks before my period, then when it hits I bleed pretty heavily for two days, medium on the third day, and it tapers off for the last two days.  The Thinx arrived a few days before my period hit, and I washed one pair to try on for size.  They fit, though I did wish they came up a little higher, a minor complaint I'd already read about in the reviews.  It wasn't enough to put a damper on my newfound miracle, so in yet another rash decision, I washed the other six pairs.  I figured as long as I didn't wear them, I could put them back in their packaging and return them. 

Though I was still convinced I wouldn't have to.

I hung the six pairs to dry in my laundry area, as per the instructions not to put them in the dryer, and had my dry pair for my first heavy day.  I was ecstatic when I checked them after an hour and found no leakage.  And that's where my excitement ended.  I checked them again after two more hours and found blood seeping through into the crotch of my light grey pants.  So a total of three hours, and they were leaking.  On the one hand, it was my heaviest day.  But on the other hand, I'm fairly certain I didn't bleed two tampons worth in three hours.

Fortunately I work from home, so I was able to change and get the stain out of my pants before it set in.  I dejectedly put on my regular Hanes "period panties" with one of my jumbo pads.  And when I rinsed the Thinx in the sink before throwing them in the wash, there was no awe-filled question of where the blood had gone.  It was definitely all there, soaking through the bottom of the panties and turning the water red.

I was fully prepared to return the other six pairs.  But my ever helpful husband, having dutifully listened to me about my expensive new miracle panties not going in the dryer, got to the washer before I did and hung the used panties up with the others.  I now had no idea which were used and which weren't.  I could have tried to return them all anyway, but the thought of returning used period panties made me too squeamish. 

I even tried smelling them to see if I could tell which ones were used.  Gross, I know.  But I think it's worth mentioning that they all had a weird odor to them, even after being washed.  I don't know if it's some kind of antimicrobial stuff they use on the fabric, or what, but there's a mildly unpleasant odor to all of them.  Nothing strong enough that you'd smell it while wearing them, but a definite faint sort of funk when you put them up to your nose.

In any case, now that I permanently owned seven pairs of Thinx, I decided I might as well experiment with them.  I tried them again on night two with one of my thicker liners, whereas I usually would have worn one of my jumbo overnight pads.  I thought maybe I could get away with the Thinx and smaller pads, thereby permanently getting rid of my bulky "diapers".  But there was a good-sized blood spot on the seat of my pajamas in the morning. 

I rinsed everything in the sink and threw it all in the washer, then determinedly put on a third pair of Thinx.  This was day three, my medium bleeding day, and I was wearing very dark grey pants.  Even though they were dark, I could tell some blood wiped off into them by the end of the day, but not enough that it soaked through the pants onto anything else.  I'd say it was the equivalent of what would have happened if I'd tried to wear a light liner with regular panties on that day.

I wore the Thinx on days four and five as my bleeding tapered off, and they worked great even with light colored pants.  Those were days that I could have gotten away with just a thin liner, and the Thinx did the trick by themselves.  So in the end, I saved a few liners from the landfill and made it through two days and nights without that little bit of extra bulk in my undies.

All in all, Thinx do have some redeeming qualities, and are capable of replacing regular panties on a light liner day.  But for me, they are not nearly everything they claimed to be.  And that was cause for some serious disappointmentwhich I hope this post will save others from experiencing.  That's my story and my honest review.  

Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.  Please be sure to check out my Fantasy Romance novels of the Faerie Realm, beginning with "A Risky Proposition", and also my Etsy store at DawnsBoutique.Net, where I sell all the sparkly stuff I love to make!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Hives/Urticaria and Eczema/Atopic Dermatitis—A Lifetime of Causes and Cures

First of all, let me say that I am not a doctor, and I am not qualified to give medical advice.  I am simply someone who has suffered from both chronic eczema and hives at different periods throughout the last twenty-five years, and who has elicited the help of "professionals" practicing Eastern medicine, Western medicine, and a few off-the-compass therapies, as well as doing quite a bit of my own research along the way.

Second of all, my eczema and hives are not your eczema and hives, or anyone else's for that matter.  Out of five things that I find helpful, you may find that one is effective for you, while the other four have no effect, or worse, aggravate your condition.  Always tread with caution when experimenting with any new treatment. 

I am someone who distrusts most prescription medications and prefers to look for natural treatments.  But if I have learned anything from going that route, it is that natural treatments are not to be trifled with.  Don't believe that just because someone recommended it and you found it in the vitamin section at Whole Foods, it's fine for you to start popping it without another thought.  Some of those supplements are just as powerful as any prescription and can cause imbalances in your body that are just as bad as any side effect.

With all of that said, in my experience both eczema and hives (which is technically an autoimmune disorder) have three main causes: Stress, Hormones and Allergies.  That sounds rather simplistic, but if you start to research it and think about it, you will discover that it is almost infinitely complex and custom tailored to each individual's body.  Which is why I believe medical professionals have had so little success in treating these conditions—there is no one answer that works for everyone, or even for most people.

My purpose in writing this is to share my experiences and hopefully help others who suffer from similar conditions.  I don't promise to offer solutions, but I hope to give others food for thought about what may be triggering their skin issues, thereby giving them ideas for remedies that might work in their case.

My eczema began when I was seventeen years old and I started taking birth control pills.  I did not identify "the pill" as the trigger until later.  I was heading off to college, covered in that confounded itchy rash, and my mom took me to the dermatologist where I was given a cortisone shot.  If I remember correctly, it worked for about a week, and then I was back to full-on misery.

I went to FSU and suffered with my eczema for a year before I transferred to FAU and moved back home.  My mom watching me suffer up close that second year was what sparked the real treatment experimentation.  But I'll get back to that.

During the day, my eczema was uncomfortable but tolerable, though sweating definitely made it worse.  The body releases toxins through sweat, and your skin is your largest toxin-releasing organ.  But it was at night that it became utterly unbearable, leading to little if any sleep, missing class, and me being fired from a job for the first and only mortifying time in my life. 

I have read many other accounts of people saying their skin conditions are worse at night.  Why is this?  I have also read that cortisol (the "stress hormone") and blood sugar can both rise at night.  I believe the increased itchiness at night may be connected to one or both of these factors.  I haven't discovered the solution, but I believe if you can identify causes, it can at least take you in the right direction as you look for treatments.

I did many things while I was away at college that year that probably contributed to my worsening eczema.  Those things included drinking too much alcohol, which not only introduces a toxin that your body has to shed, but also increases insulin secretion, especially if you're drinking lots of sugary mixers.  And insulin is a type of hormone that is connected to other hormone levels in the body, such as estrogen and testosterone.

But drunk or sober, I was miserable.  I coated myself from head to toe in OTC cortisone cream at least once a day before bed, and often before leaving in the morning as well.  I covered my limbs in white pajama pants and long sleeves every night in an effort not to scratch myself bloody, and because I couldn't stand colored thread getting stuck in those weeping rashes and sores that I scratched open.  Sometimes I wore socks or cloth gloves to keep my fingernails and toenails from tearing at my skin, but I usually ended up pulling them off in the middle of the night, or rubbing myself raw even if they stayed on.

I always scratched myself bloody at some point during the night, despite my attempts at full body armor.  And there are two problems with this, other than the obvious unpleasantry of the image itself.  One is that I always bleached my white pajamas and my white sheets to get out the blood.  In my experience, bleach is not eczema's friend.  Neither are most chemical laundry detergents.  I recommend the mildest fragrance free detergent you can find, and personally I could never use Tide when my skin was acting up, "Free" or otherwise.

The second problem is the cortisone cream.  Not only is cortisone a steroid, which suppresses the immune system and mimics certain hormones, but it also spreads infection, perhaps due to its immune suppression qualities.  So here I am, scratching bloody furrows in my already weepy rashes, and then spreading massive quantities of cortisone cream on it twice a day.  I am fairly certain this resulted in me carrying a low grade infection around in my body for about two years, which must have played havoc with my immune system, amongst other things.

Like many of us, I had very little money in college.  Most of the time I lived off ramen noodles (with that packet of MSG flavoring) and whatever bag of fruit was on sale that week.  MSG is a neurotoxin/excitotoxin, a type of chemical that can cause damage or death to nerve cells.  The hypothalamus is our master hormone regulator and its nerve cells are some of the most susceptible to damage.  Incidentally, some sugar substitutes fall within the same chemical family, and over time the use of these chemicals can result in hormonal imbalances that cause all sorts of issues, skin and otherwise.

And for me, when that sale bag of fruit was oranges or grapefruits, my citrus allergy was exacerbated, which undoubtedly made my eczema worse.  I knew my fingers sometimes got rashy from touching citrus, and now it seems obvious that if I couldn't touch it, I shouldn't have eaten it.  But at the time I never made the connection.  I was probably drinking orange juice regularly too, which is way more concentrated than eating a single orange.  Those are the sort of "Face Palm" realizations that I look for now as I search out solutions, and that I hope reading this will make you think about too, as you look to solve your own skin issues.

I don't remember exactly when I stopped taking the birth control.  I do remember that it took another year after I quit for my body to balance itself out and my eczema to disappear.  And that was the year I moved home and my mom was hell bent on curing me.  We tried so many things, I couldn't honestly tell you what worked and what didn't.  I'll tell you a little bit about it, but my reigning opinion after twenty-five years of chronic skin issues is that the only true cure is taking care of yourself, avoiding the things that you come to realize make you worse, and giving your body time to balance itself out again.

In addition to the prescription ointments and antihistamines I got from the doctors, we tried Zinc (both topical cream and ingested capsule), Sulfur powder ingested because it is an old folk remedy for skin problems, your usual OTC remedies like calamine/Aveeno/aloe, acupuncture, chiropractic, energy balancing with light therapy and past life regression mixed in, and scream therapy.

All I can say about that last one is I used to drive forty-five minutes once a week to this woman who practiced out of her sixth floor condo by the beach.  And I have no idea how her neighbors didn't put a stop to it, because no matter how loud I screamed, it was never loud enough for her.

I am certain I am forgetting some things we tried, but you get the picture.  There have been some studies suggesting that people who've suffered sexual abuse are prone to skin conditions.  And that children who've suffered this trauma often draw pictures of themselves covered in dark clothing from head to toe, revealing very little skin.  I have had some personal experience with sexual abuse, though I cannot say if it had anything to do with my skin conditions.  But it's food for thought, and certainly a good reason to explore therapy.

When I still had the eczema after all of this, my mom scraped together enough money to take me to the Nevada Clinic.  She had almost died from pesticide poisoning years before, and swore they saved her life when nothing else worked.  What I remember of the trip is that I had never been to Las Vegas, and we had fun walking the strip and visiting the famous hotels.  And also that they said my autoimmune system was out of whack and it was like I was living in a constant state of "fight or flight" mode.  They gave me biofeedback cassette tapes to take home and listen to.  They probably gave me other things too, but it's those tapes I remember.

All I know is that about a year after I stopped the birth control pills, the eczema was gone.  I don't know if it was the estrogen, progesterone, or both, that triggered it to begin with.  And when I decided to try what my gyno assured me were "low dose" birth control pills again about two years later, the eczema came back immediately and took another frakking year to go away, even though I quit the pills tout suite.  Just thinking about it makes me want to revisit scream therapy.

Older, wiser, and determined to never try birth control pills again, my eczema came back in patches over the years, but was never as bad as it was during those two previous bouts.  Things that I recall triggering it were stress, citrus, dust (possibly dust mites) and cleaning chemicals.  If you haven't figured it out for yourself yet, eczema prone people have to be extremely careful with soaps, lotions and perfumes.  Even strong incense and scented candles could make me itchy if I was in eczema mode.

My mom was worried about my immune system being compromised, and that low grade infection I'd been carrying around for so long.  There were a couple of years in my twenties when I kept getting staph infections on my fingers, usually at the sites where I got those eczema rashes from touching citrus or cleaning supplies.  I would try to cure them myself by switching between antibiotic ointment and peroxide, but inevitably I'd end up on oral antibiotics. 

Mom reminded me that I'd had impetigo as a child, which is a form of staph.  She blamed herself for not breast feeding me and giving me all the natural immunities that come with breast milk.  And she worried about my overuse of antibiotics and antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria.  She started sending me a mix of Chinese herbs that was supposed to boost my immune system, and I dutifully took them for years whenever she sent me a new bottle.  It had several ingredients, but the only one I remember is Astragalus.

In my thirties I started to have digestive issues, which ended up leading to my first bout with hives.  I developed terrible heartburn and acid reflux, as well as a really unattractive belching problem, especially at night.  I had been drinking a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar a day for several years because I'd read about all of its health benefits.  Personally I believe I overdid it and this contributed to an imbalance in my body's stomach acid production.  People who swear by apple cider vinegar will undoubtedly disagree.  But here's where my belief comes in that natural supplements can be just as damaging as prescription drugs when you use them incorrectly.

I eliminated onions and peppers from my diet because I noticed that they aggravated the issue.  I avoided fried foods for the same reason.  Tums and chalky chews didn't work unless I popped them constantly.  Alka Selzter, Pepto and Zantac gave varying relief, but the heartburn usually came back later in the form of painful bubbles that seemed to migrate around my chest and back.  I understood why some people mistook heartburn for a heart attack.  Not to mention I started to get leg cramps at night, which led me to read about how certain acid reducers deplete minerals like calcium, potassium and magnesium in your body. 

I also read that drugs like Zantac are actually antihistamines, which I find super interesting, because it suggests that heartburn is really a type of allergic reaction.

The bottom line is that acid reducers create an imbalance in your body's natural ability to produce stomach acid, so they are never the long term answer.  I read about natural digestive enzymes and bought a bottle from the health food store.  I felt like it was helping, so I finished my month's supply and bought more.  Unfortunately it contained bromelain, which comes from pineapples.  I am allergic to pineapples—not fatally, but the more I eat, the more my mouth itches and burns.  I knew that, but just like with the bag of fruit of the week, I failed to make the connection until after the damage was done.

After a month and a half of bombarding my system with concentrated bromelain, my body said F.U. and I broke out in itchy welts from head to toe.  This was a different beast entirely from the eczema I knew and hated.  I went to a dermatologist, who drew a circle around a red patch on my stomach with a pen, and told me if it "migrated" it was hives.  It did.  I was prescribed the requisite ointment and antihistamine, which were just as useless as they had been for the eczema.  The hives got worse.

I went to an allergist.  He did blood tests to find out what I was allergic to, but they came back showing I was allergic to everything.  He told me that my immune system was stronger than any he'd ever seen, and he'd be surprised if I ever got sick.  That part was great, because it allayed my long time fears about my immune system being compromised.  Was it those Chinese herbs my mom kept sending me—who knows?

Unfortunately he also said that my rock-hard immune system was in overdrive, and treating everything like a histamine that needed to be attacked.  (Sounds similar to the Nevada Clinic's pronouncement that my eczema was due to my autoimmune system being in a constant state of "fight or flight", no?)  He said I could experiment with OTC antihistamines, but that the only real cure was time and avoiding the things that set me off.  So even though he couldn't help my symptoms, he gave me a reasonable explanation.  And I found that far more helpful than the dermatologist's one-size-fits-none pills and ointment.

My hives reacted to weird things.  You'd think processed foods and the usual allergens like soy, eggs, dairy, etc. would have been the likely triggers.  But my triggers were fruits, vegetables and herbs.  Cucumbers made my lips blow up like a collagen injection gone horribly wrong.  I'd never had a reaction to cucumbers in my life.  Can you think of anything more mild than a cucumber?

If you're like me, you waste the odd hour here or there watching cat videos online.  Maybe you've seen the one that's just clips of different cats freaking out and jumping straight up in the air when they realize there's a cucumber behind them.  Google's pretty funny.  The point is, perhaps those cats know something we don't.

Seedy underbelly of cucumbers aside (I apologize, sometimes I can't resist a pun), I had to cut out half my vegetable repertoire, most fruits, and herbs.  White starches like potatoes and rice seemed to be good, though orange veggies like sweet potatoes and carrots were not.  Fortunately I seemed okay with dairy, since I'm not sure life is worth living without cheese, but bleu cheese was definitely out.  I have trolled many a message board populated by hive sufferers, and I remember more than one person commenting that their diet was reduced to solely rice when their hives were bad.

My husband and I began cooking with butter and salt as our only seasonings.  I think I even cut out olive oil for a while, though it never bothered me before or since.  There are things that we are willing to do, and things that we are not willing to do, and those lines can change depending on what we are going through at the time.  There are people who swear by this or that strict exclusionary diet to heal any bodily ill.  I was willing to cut the things I cut from my diet, and no more.

And of course I sought the relief of those OTC antihistamines.  Benadryl was marginally helpful.  If my face blew up like the Elephant Man's and my eyes were swelling shut, it made it go back down.  But it made me sleepy and was only intermittently effective against the itching.  Claritin didn't do much for me.  When I tried Zyrtec, however, I wanted to jump up and down and shout with joy.  It stopped the itching!  Oh, that god-awful itching, that makes you want to scream and cry and crawl out of your skin.

But the temporary relief of Zyrtec, for me and many others on those hives message boards, conceals an awful truth.  It can actually make your hives worse.  And I'm talking not only more welts, but if a portion of your welts only looked like a deadly contagion before and didn't constantly they ALL Itch, All The Time.  My skin became so sensitive that my hair started driving me crazy.  I wanted to chop it all off because every time it brushed against my shoulder or arm, it felt like bugs were crawling all over me.

Of course, this reaction happens when you try to stop taking it, so I suppose if you are willing to continue taking it forever maybe it would keep working for you.  I am not willing to do that.  Long term antihistamine use causes all sorts of health issues, and I don't need any new issues thank you very much...better the devil you know, and all that.  

Throughout the years I have experimented with various supplements that I read were good for skin conditions.  I can't remember them all.  And I can't tell you if any one of them really helped.  Since my bromelain pills triggered my hive outbreak in the first place, I have tried to be very careful about what supplements I choose.  Though I am still adamant about finding natural cures and only taking steroids or prescription meds as a last resort if your life is hanging in the balance.

The natural cure, if you can find it, will always be the best and longest lasting cure.  Finding it requires patience.  Many supplements require at least a month of committed use before you begin to see results.  A lot of people give up on them before they have a chance to work.  But the other side of the coin is that you may not realize a supplement is causing you harm until your system is thoroughly saturated with it. 

I believe supplements should be approached with respect and caution, especially during a hive outbreak when your system is rejecting so many things and your face could literally blow up at any moment.  I'm not discouraging their use by any means—I'm still experimenting with them myself.  I'm merely advising caution.

At the end of my first six month hive outbreak, after cutting all of the things from my diet that made my face blow up, I got pregnant.  My husband and I had stopped using birth control five years prior.  We weren't sure if we wanted kids and we weren't really trying, but since that's what normal people did, we decided to take an "if it happens, it happens" approach.  I had begun to believe we were safe without birth control, and that the kid thing just wasn't going to happen for us. 

I have read about diet affecting fertility.  Since allergies are an immune system response, and about 1/5 of infertility cases are thought to be related to immune issues, it makes sense to me.  Maybe all those things I cut from my diet that I had never reacted to before had actually been causing minute allergic reactions in my body all along.  By that token, maybe I'd be a healthier person if I never ate any of those things again, hives or not.  But like I said, there are things we are willing to do, and things we are not.

My doctor prescribed progesterone pills to strengthen my uterine lining and said I might lose the pregnancy if I didn't take them.  As you can imagine, I was torn.  I was terrified that the hormones would kick off a year long bout with eczema like the birth control pills had.  And now that hives were in the picture, what if I spent my pregnancy suffering not only the normal discomforts and sleeplessness, but also scratching myself bloody with some horrible eczema/hive hybrid, unable to allow myself even the intermittent relief of antihistamines?  I wasn't sure I was willing to do that for a pregnancy that I had my doubts about to begin with.

I had an appointment a couple of weeks later, and the decision had already been made for me.  I miscarried.  And it sucked, both physically and emotionally.  I had just started to talk myself into wanting the baby.  But although it was terrible, it helped me realize once and for all that I did not want children.  I'm still a little sad thinking about it now, but in the end, my relief outweighed my grief.

I have had three bouts of hives since then, all lasting four to six months.  My current bout began in December, when I was travelling for the holidays and super stressed out, and I am now about three months in.  I still had Zyrtec in my medicine cabinet from last time, and somehow I forgot about how awful its backlash was.  I only remembered that it stopped the itching, and I was desperate. 

I took it.  It worked (temporarily.)  And it was a mistake.  How did I forget?  I suppose that hives are so horrible, and I'm so relieved every time they go away, that I just put them out of my mind and try to act as if they never existed.  Maybe I believe if I do a good enough job of forgetting about them, they will forget about me and never come back.

I also believe that the stress of dealing with hives is a vicious circle in itself that just keeps perpetuating them.  If you can find a routine that works for you and keeps you comfortable most of the time, if you can just calm down and try to forget about them while doing whatever you can to take care of yourself, I think it helps them to eventually go away.

I allow myself the Benadryl, and taking it regularly makes me immune to the sleepiness.  A month ago I was taking up to six a day.  Now I'm down to two, one just before dinner and one around midnight.  There is still itching, and if I deviate from my schedule or diet, I have to take more to remain sane.  I also take more during my period because the hives are worse and the pain meds I take for cramps (usually Aleve) make my face blow up.  I have cut out my sugary afternoon coffee, which was one of the things I was unwilling to give up before, but I've come around to it with this bout of hives.  I have insomnia anyway, so I sleep better without the caffeine and extra sugar.

I have also cut out the three-quarters of a bottle of wine I was drinking almost every night.  I watched my mom pass away from lung cancer a year and a half ago, despite her lifetime of alternative therapies and organic eating, and it just absolutely wrecked me.  I'm much better now, but my eyes still tear up thinking about it.  I was unwilling to give up the wine at that point, although I knew it was making it harder to get up in the morning, on top of the depression that made it a struggle to get out of bed to begin with.  I was willing to make myself go to the gym, because I recognized that I had to do something to keep myself going, and I was so messed up mentally that a physical cure was all I could manage.  But you'd have had to pry the wine from my cold, dead fingers.

I believe that everything we do to take care of ourselves contributes to our systems rebalancing themselves and our skin conditions eventually receding.  I am trying probiotics this time around.  I have taken them before, but never drew any correlation with my skin issues.  I only started two weeks ago, so I couldn't tell you if it's helping.  I don't believe it's hurting.  I also read something about vitamin B6 being helpful, so I just started taking that again.

I read several comments from people about turmeric curing their hives.  I want to try it, but I am leery of my sensitivity to herbs, so I want to be very careful.  I think I should try the fresh root with no antihistamine in my system and see if I have any reaction, rather than roll the dice and jump right into the concentrated capsules.  Turmeric also has anti-inflammatory properties, and is considered both a weak phytoestrogen and an immunomodulator.  All of these things recommend it to me as a strong candidate for my hive treatment arsenal...assuming I am not allergic.

My friend gave me a medical marijuana edible to try, and my hives were so clear all day, I was certain it was a miracle and they were gone for good.  It also shot me so far into space, I'm convinced I had a conversation with my mother's spirit.  That's not a sustainable treatment.  I've tried a little of the vapor since, and it's super mellow and seemed to make my hives subside, but it doesn't last long.  THC has been found to regulate the immune system and is being researched in applications to treat auto-immune diseases like arthritis, diabetes and M.S.  I've read anecdotes about people taking different immune suppressing drugs for other issues, and seeing the side effect of their hives being cured from it.  But as with many treatments, THC has dangers to consider, such as the possible suppression of a gene that can help prevent breast cancer.

There are countless things we are exposed to, both intentionally and not, that affect our hormone levels—from the prescriptions we take, to the supplements we choose, to the food we eat, to the pesticides on that food and in our yards, to the plastics our food and drink are stored in.  Our hormones affect our immune system, and remember that hives is an autoimmune disorder.  I've read accounts of women getting hives during menopause, or after a hysterectomy.  It seems clear to me that the trigger in these cases is hormones, and for me they have been a huge trigger for skin issues throughout my life.

I mentioned the "stress hormone" cortisol, and how both it and blood sugar levels can increase during the night, possibly causing skin condition sufferers to itch more.  As the "stress hormone", it is also one of the major players in our "fight or flight" response, which results in biochemical and hormonal imbalances, including flooding the body with glucose and inhibiting insulin production.  Am I beginning to make sense when I say that stress and hormones are two of the major contributing factors to chronic skin conditions like eczema and hives?

But balancing hormones is a tricky business.  Many substances that mimic natural hormones in our bodies are not treated the same way by our bodies' hormone receptors and do not perform the same functions as natural hormones.  In some instances this is good, in others bad.  Furthermore, too much exposure to such substances can disrupt our bodies' ability to produce natural hormones.  It is much the same with some sugar substitutes that our bodies neither recognize nor react to in the same way that they react to sugar.  This can be good in the short term, but can cause all sorts of long term issues.

I believe our best chances for discovering both our triggers and treatments rely on us recognizing how things we don't normally think about are truly affecting us, both short and long term.

Chronic skin conditions are traumatic, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally.  The itching can drive you out of your mind.  But welts and rashes all over your body are also ugly to look at.  Seeing them makes other people wince and feel sorry for you, but it also makes them not want to touch you, because you look contagious.  Friends and family ask how your hives are doing, or suggest things for you to try.  And you know they mean well, but it just makes you want to scream because you're already trying everything you know to try, and your hives aren't any better than the last time they asked.

When I was in college, my best friend and I used to hang out with three guys who were roommates.  She went on to marry (and painfully divorce) one of them.  I remember they had a friend who used to come over and drink with us sometimes.  He had the worst case of psoriasis I've ever seen.  Just red, crusty rashes over every exposed inch of his body.  

I don't remember his name, but I clearly remember the last time we said goodbye.  He was moving away, or I was, and I hugged him.  He held onto me so tight, he was almost shaking.  And I remember getting the sense that he was profoundly grateful I'd reached out and hugged him, because he probably wasn't used to people ever touching him.  I empathized strongly with him, having battled eczema myself, and I knew very well that you couldn't catch psoriasis.  But his was so bad that even I had to suppress my instinct not to touch something that looked so horribly contagious.

I feel for every single one of you with these terrible chronic skin issues.  And if you've made it this far, I thank you for taking the time to read my story.  I hope it will help you to have one of those "Face Palm" moments that leads you to stop doing something that's inadvertently making your symptoms worse, thereby making your life a little more bearable.  I offer no magic bullet.  Only the belief that we CAN get better, we just have to approach our condition and our treatment from a thoughtful perspective.

And we must be patient and not give up, which might be the most difficult prescription of all.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Are You Embarrassed by That Romance Novel You’re Reading?

So my husband and I were at a party, and I was talking to a friend of a friend whom I’d never met before. Super cool guy, intelligent, did some kind of performance art. When I told him I wrote novels, his eyes lit up with interest and respect. Always gratifying, right?

Then he asked me what kind of novels I wrote.

I told him Fantasy Romance, and watched him just sort of…deflate. It wasn’t long before he turned away from me completely and started talking to our mutual friend whom, granted, he wanted to catch up with—but I got the distinct impression he was disappointed to discover that I didn’t write in a genre that he considered truly literary or meaningful.

I’m fairly certain he would have still given me the intellectual time of day if I wrote straight Fantasy, or even academic nonfiction about the role romance plays in our society. Romantic fiction, however, was unworthy of his respect and, I’m guessing, the classification of art or literature.

Of course, this isn’t news to anyone who writes or reads romance or erotic novels. From hiding book covers when reading in public, to tee-hee-ing over the naughtiness of the latest shades-of-whatever with co-workers, to defending it as a “guilty pleasure” when someone smirks at us about it. Romance and erotic novels have been called “bodice rippers”, “porn for women”, “mommy porn” (who can forget that little misogynistic gem), and—whether sexually explicit or not—have even been denounced as clinically addictive and at fault for women having affairs and ending their marriages.

First of all, let’s take a look at the “porn” label. “Porn” is a hot button word we use when accusing someone or something of portraying sensual or sexual content in an explicit or taboo manner. An amusing video recently appeared on titled “It’s Not Porn, It’s HBO”, referencing the overtly sexual content of many of HBO’s original series.

But something doesn’t have to be patently sexual to receive the “porn” label. When we see an alluringly framed photo of a scrumptiously fattening dessert, or watch an attractive cooking show host in a flattering outfit make a delicious-looking dish, we jokingly call it “food porn”.

Sensuality and sexiness are basic human draws. Advertisers have capitalized on this truth for decades. Artists have expressed sexuality through their work, using many different mediums, for centuries. Though sex might have once been hidden in the dark, that is no longer the case. It is, after all, how each of us arrived here (unless you were cloned in a secret lab.) It is not taboo in our country’s media. And it would take an event horizon the likes of a zombie apocalypse to shove it back into the closet.

By the way, that’s a positive thing. Societies where strict taboos are placed on sex and sexuality tend to have considerably higher incidences of sexual violence and little to no recourse for victims of that violence.

Sex is already out there being represented in a hundred different ways. Satisfying sex is healthy—mentally, physically and emotionally. Anything that portrays it (between consenting adults) as mutually enjoyable, loving and passionate is good for people and good for society. And though there are always exceptions to the rule, as a whole, that’s what the romance genre does. It characterizes strong intimate relationships between people who love each other, with varying levels of sexual explicitness.

Romance novels teach us to value intimate love. And as for the idea that they’re addictive and can lead to affairs and end marriages, love IS addictive. And if reading about intimacy and passion makes someone realize they’re missing something in their own relationship, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Healthy people who are capable of separating fantasy from reality can choose to try to bring those elements into a relationship that’s worth keeping. And if someone isn’t capable of separating fantasy from reality, they could be entertaining themselves with things much worse than romance novels.

Now I’m not saying that all romance novels are great works of literature. That would be ridiculous. Great works of literature are few and far between in any style of writing. But romance itself is not a subpar genre. Well written romance novels often contain lush poetic imagery and poignant metaphors which outshine those found in more accepted examples of literature. Not to mention, they illustrate a universal truth of the human condition. They tell us a love story. And we all want to be loved, men and women alike.

They aren’t a guilty pleasure any more than any other type of novel, film or work of art that strives to entertain us.

So the next time someone asks me what type of novels I write, and turns their nose up when I tell them, maybe I’ll figure out how to summarize all of this into one short, compelling argument.

Or not. I’ve never been particularly fond of verbal sparring. I prefer to spill my thoughts onto the page, and I choose to express many of them through romances that end in happily ever afters. And in a world that is too often sad, dark and lonely—I’d say that’s practically a service to humanity.

P.S. My newest fantasy romance, GREY’S MAGIC, just hit the e-book shelves. I’d love for you to check it out!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

I Need Your Input on BOOK COVERS!

I've had some input that my covers are too cliparty and not sexy enough.  I'm going to print soon, so I need your help to choose the right cover style!

Please take a look at the covers above and let me know which you prefer.  Which would you be more likely to pick up while browsing books?

The cartoony one is my original cover with the white area removed to make it look less cliparty.  I like this style because I think it reflects the lighter tone of my book, and that it may stand out more amongst the usual sexier covers.

I like the sexy one because the style is tried & true, and because I think the hot guy may trump my reasons for liking the cartoony cover.

Please help!

Thanks ~ Dawn

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Former Band Geek's Lament

The only (school related) extracurricular activity I was ever interested in, from elementary school through college, was Band.  From the moment they let me pick up a flute in the fourth grade, I wanted to play it.  Not only that, I wanted to play it well.  And I did.  I was first chair; I won awards; I made All-State Band–the whole shebang.  That is, until I got to ninth grade.

My high school offered Concert Band, and there was no question that I wanted in.  I loved the thrill of sitting down with my flute and a folder full of new concert pieces.  Thrived on mastering difficult passages and incorporating them into the music with lilting grace.  Felt pure, magical elation when the audition process went well and I was given a solo, or placed in first chair position. 

The joy of being a part of all those instruments coming together over weeks of practices, listening to and being able to recognize our improvement, as each individual sound evolved and melded into a beautiful whole–it makes me feel alive just thinking about it.  And when it was finally time to dress up in our formal black and take our places on stage, the collective energy in the silence, just before we played the first note of a concert, can only be described as breathtaking.

My high school, however, did not allow students to participate in Concert Band unless they were also in Marching Band.  And that was something in which I had zero interest. 

Even the name was offensive to me–marching band?  What did marching have to do with that incredible musical experience to which I had become so addicted?  No offense to Sousa.  I was perfectly happy to sit on a stage and play a rousing concert of the finest marches ever composed.  *Sit* being the operative word.  Forcing me to march while I did it was undignified.

I categorically resented this draft into starchy, polyester uniform-wearing, knee-lifting, football-field service.  I hated football.  I’d nursed my grudge against it since I was three years old and my dad would sit in his La-Z-Boy, pulling the tabs off Pabst Blue Ribbon cans, and scaring the shit out of me as his yelling at the television grew progressively more violent.  He was a Dolphins fan, and they were coming off their anomaly of a perfect season and winning two Super Bowl’s in a row, so I’m sure they gave him plenty to yell about.  But that’s a story for another blog post.

I did not want to be in the Marching Band.  And to add insult to injury, I would be forced to attend a mandatory “Band Camp” during the last two weeks of my summer vacation before the school year started.  I told my mother I wasn’t going. 

Mom sympathized with my horror at the entire prospect, but reminded me that I had loved Band since the fourth grade.  She reminded me that playing the flute was one of my favorite things in the world (second only to re-reading Tolkien and devouring romance novels), and that I had always been excited about it and successful at it.  I couldn’t give up on it without at least trying to make it work.  She said maybe, just like with raw oysters and Brussels sprouts, I would find that I actually enjoyed Marching Band.

And being the (relatively) obedient and dutiful child that I still was at that age, I agreed to give Band Camp a chance.  Even though I knew I was going to hate it.  Marching in formation at football games did not equate to developing a sophisticated palate for food.

I feel obliged to point out, at this juncture in the story, that things could go either way.  Those of you who had a blast playing in the Marching Band are undoubtedly smiling in fond remembrance.  Most likely you are anticipating my 360 degree attitude adjustment, and a happy ending, where I describe how I learned to let loose and fell in love with the fun and whimsy of the experience.        

I only mention this because I would hate for you to be disappointed.
On the first day of Band Camp, I found myself on an open field beneath the kind of uncompromising sun that can only be found in the dead of a Florida summer.  Unless you happen to live in the desert or on the equator.  I was one of a gangly group of freshman, sweating nervously beneath the martial eyes of three older band geeks. 

The leader of the trio took the wordplay between “Band Camp” and “Boot Camp” a tad too seriously.  He was our drill sergeant, barking orders at us and insisting we call him ‘Sir’, while the other two toned it down with smiles and occasional jokes.  This guy was an entirely new breed of band geek.  Drunk on authority and giving his credence to rank, form and file, rather than focusing on musical technique and nuance.  Which was fine for some people, but I wanted to play the flute in a concert hall, not join the ROTC.

All of this to say that my disenchantment with the idea of Band Camp had not lessened one jot by the time we started playing Simon Says.  Now that might not sound like a particularly hostile activity, but it was during the physical movement of said activity that I realized I had forgotten to wear a bra.  It wouldn’t have been that big of a deal, but I’d recently gone through something of a growth spurt, if you catch my drift.

And not only was I suddenly feeling uncomfortably jiggly, but I also realized that I’d made the lamentable wardrobe choice of a shirt with overly wide sleeves–the kind that would provide an excellent view of my jiggling if draped open at a certain angle.  These epiphanies were somewhat distracting to my mortified teenage girl brain and, between trying not to bounce too much or move my arms the wrong way, I slipped up and forgot what Simon said.

The penalty was twenty jumping jacks.  Up at the front of the line.  While the whole group watched.

I completed my punishment with cheeks flaming red beneath the sun, counting off aloud in a shaky voice, and no doubt looking horribly awkward as I attempted to throw my arms up at such an angle so as not to flash the entire field.

I don’t remember how I got through the rest of that excruciating day of similarly pointless, non-musical activity.  The only other thing I remember about it is that someone got sick from heat stroke.  The next day, I did not suck it up and return to Band Camp.  That year, I did not play in the Marching Band or the Concert Band. 

I completed high school without ever picking up my flute again.

I probably could have found a group of local musicians to play with if I’d really tried.  Though I’d never even seen the internet at that point, and locating them without it would have been much more difficult than it would be today.  My mom would have given me her wholehearted support.  But I was thoroughly discouraged and disgusted. 

My new extracurricular activity became partying, and I embraced it with vigor.  I had a lot of fun, but I also did some really dangerous and stupid things during the course of the next four years.  I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have done those things if I’d remained in Band, but who can say for sure?

I finally picked up my flute again in my second year of college, where after one undecided year at FSU, I majored in Music Education and graduated from FAU.  I played in the Band and the Orchestra, jockeyed with my colleagues for first and second chairs, earned solos, and played as a guest with the Boca Pops.  I even joined the Pep Band and played during basketball games (while seated, of course.)  Not because I had to, or even particularly wanted to, but because I loved my band director and he needed volunteers.

My degree pretty much serves as fodder for my resume now.  I have the highest respect for teachers, but I have neither the disposition nor the inclination to be one.  I am a temperamental artist at my core, and for me it’s either performance, or nothing.  That’s something I suspected, but didn’t know for sure, about myself back then.  I chose the education degree over performance because it was a statistically more practical choice.

I still pick up my flute from time to time.  But these days I happily channel my artistic obsessions into writing. 

Sometimes I wonder, though, what wildly different trajectory my life might have taken if my musical interest had been allowed to flourish with that Concert Band in high school.  If I’d stayed on the course of my earlier successes and held to my love of the art, would that have carried over into college?  Would I have been on track to apply for a school like Juilliard, where a degree in performance might have actually been worth pursuing?

An idle question, and there’s no guarantee I would have been successful even if the answer is ‘yes’. 

I realize that my high school needed students to fill the ranks of their Marching Band, and making it mandatory was how they chose to accomplish that.  But for me, not being allowed to play in the Concert Band just because I refused to take part in the Marching Band was a soul crushing blow.   

Marching and Concert are two vastly different pursuits.  In my mind, forcing a classical concert instrumentalist to play in the Marching Band is like forcing an opera singer to perform rap.  I’m sure there are opera singers (and vice versa) who can do both with aplomb, but it should be a choice. 

Forcing kids to choose both, or else not take part in the musical experience at all, is a failure on the part of adults who should know better.  And that, my friends, is the lament of a former band geek.

A Reluctant Blogger

I think I would be more gung-ho on the whole blogging thing if I were able to whip out a quick 500 word summary of my thoughts on a subject, and then go on about my day.

But, alas, I am not a fast writer. 

I am scattered.  Easily distracted.  I am a compulsive editor and re-reader, an obsessive over-thinker when it comes to word choice.  I tend to be long winded, and I can spend an entire day writing and distilling just a few pages down into what I really wanted to say. 

Not to mention, if the coveted mood to sit and write strikes me, I would much rather channel that energy into my fantasy romance novels.

Nonetheless, I keep hearing people sing the praises of blogging as a way for authors to connect with their readers.  Or for anyone, really, to connect with fellow professionals and potential customers no matter what their market is.  My brother-in-law swears it’s expanded his handcrafted bonsai container business, Taiko-Earth Pottery.  (You should totally check him out, by the way.  He’s a talented artist and there are some super cool pictures of his work!)

In any case, I have decided to embark upon this endeavor with reluctance and the self awareness that I probably won’t be consistent in keeping up with it.  If only because I rarely have much to say beyond the snippets of stories and faerie chatter and sex scenes that tumble around in my head, and I tend to reserve those for my books.

However if you stumble upon this blog by some happy chance, and you are at all interested in my musings, I hope you will give my novels a try.  And if you don’t like one, try a different one.  There are three out there at the time that I’m writing this, and a fourth one is on the way. 

Sometimes I lean more toward fantasy, and other times more toward romance.  Sometimes more toward darkness, and others more toward light.  It really just depends on how these scattered thoughts in my brain shake out onto the page.  My novels share an internal cadence, but external consistencies have never been my strong suit.  And by that, I mean my writing style.  I am always concerned with inconsistencies in the details of my world, just not necessarily with the way in which I present those details.

And if you have made it this far into my ramblings, I thank you kindly and bid you keep reading…

- Dawn Addonizio