Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Epidermal Healing

I promised this a while ago and as usual, life (depression) got in the way. I was feeling a LOT better for a while and was busy living my best life while on that high. Then a series of seemingly small if troubling events and a certain book I've been reading sent me into a minor existential crisis so that I alternatively didn't feel up to posting. It's a bizarre story for another time. I'm trying not to wallow.

So let's talk about some skin care! I have previously mentioned my quest - a word I'm using frequently lately - to take better care of my skin. I've been complimented regularly on my skin most of my life for how soft and smooth it is naturally. Not trying to brag, just setting expectations: I started with pretty good conditions and I don't want other people to expect that my routine will grant the same results to others who are starting in a different place. My basic idea was that I was too lazy/untalented to figure out a decent makeup routine that I'd be willing and able to use regularly, so I best take decent care of my canvas. I'm not the woman who's going to get up an extra 30 minutes or more to "put on my face" but a series of goops I can slap on in under 5? I'm game. Plus as I'm getting older, if I expect my body in general and skin specifically to hold up I'd better start taking care of it.

Before we dive into the specifics of what I use and how, I do want to take a moment to talk about the so-called natural beauty movement. There seems to be the air of competition around natural beauty versus makeup beauty. The idea being that natural beauty is somehow more desirable or even according to some, more moral. Let's not kid ourselves. Achieving flawless skin purely through the use of toners/serums/moisturizers/etc. is NOT accessible to many people and is also NOT any less vain than putting on a full face of makeup. That is to say, neither are vanity in-and-of-themselves. People are allowed to do whatever they want to feel confident and self-possessed, whether that means makeup, "natural" beauty, or something else. Specifically, let's acknowledge right now that "natural" beauty is far from natural. Steam facials, expensive serums, eyebrow microblading, and more are not things that occur naturally. Nor are they inexpensive or widely available to all people. If that is how you choose to achieve your look and spend your money, that's your business. But don't pretend you have moral superiority to people who choose makeup which is often more accessible and more successful for a lot of people - such as those who have scarring or a variety of skin conditions that can't be remedied with double cleansing. It's also worth pointing out that about 5 months into my skin care journey, I did become interested in makeup and have started using both. And I love it. So move along if you want to preach the gospel of moisturizer over foundation. One isn't better than the other and they aren't mutually exclusive. 

I started in January of this year, using various gift giving events around that time to accumulate some of my supplies. I subscribe to the Korean skin care regimen, which is a set of steps and not products. To be precise, 10 steps, though you don't use all 10 every time or even every day.


More gifts!

Got a kitty headband, some masks, acne patches

Moisturizers, cleansers, eye treatment.

The only makeup I bought early on was the under eye concealer from Maybelline.

Those hairbands are specifically for curly hair.
My hair is still too short for me to know if I like them.

My stash! I keep it in two separate bathrooms because one sink doesn't work right now.
This house, people, it's a problem.

The washables in the bathroom with a working sink. Wooo!

1. Oil-based cleanser. 
I use my oil-based cleansers typically at night only, but this really depends on the person. Their purpose is to remove the dirt of the day. Sweat, makeup, and your morning goops! I don't use my oil-cleanser every day as I can be prone to acne, but usually only on days when I wore makeup or did a lot of sweating. If you have acne prone skin, there are oil-based cleansers and alternatives (such as micellar water) so you don't exacerbate the issue.

The Face Shop Natural Rice Water Light Cleansing Oil
This in particular requires a cotton pad to assist with makeup removal or similar. I recently switched to a Konjac sponge so I wouldn't be throwing so much away. Technically it can be used with just fingers but I don't find that terribly effective for makeup removal specifically. If you're just looking to wash of the day, fingers work fine. 

2. Water-based/foaming cleanser
This removes the oil cleanser! It sounds a little silly, but that is part of it's purpose. It also helps to remove the last vestiges of makeup, sweat, and your other skin care products. They have to be washed off and reapplied so your skin has a chance to breathe. 

Hada Labo Gentle Hydrating Cleanser
I used a brush for this one and use it both morning and night. It's also made with hyaloronic acid to assist your skin with retaining moisture. This stuff seriously feels amazing! There's a reason it's the top seller in Japan. You may not use an oil cleanser depending on your skin and needs, but I highly recommend one like this for everyone. I do sometimes skip mornings if I don't have much going on that I need to wash off. 

3. Exfoliate
This is a step that's very different from the way we have typically exfoliated in the western world. Asian beauty and increasingly western beauty call for chemical exfoliation rather than physical exfoliants (which often cause micro tears in the skin that can actually accelerate the aging process over time). AHAs and BHAs are the most common types and are BONUS! a good treatment for acne. BHA is good for more sensitive skin, AHA for more serious acne.

Cosrx Natural BHA Skin Returning A-Sol
I use this once a day ever second or third day with a cotton swap as you see. I focus on my T-zone and then lightly sweep over the rest of my face. Then I let it sit for about 5 minutes while I brush my teeth, lotion my body, or start dressing. My skin starts to feel a bit tight by the time I'm ready for the next step. 

4. Toner
This step is intended to balance your skin's pH and ready it to accept moisturizer. Often Asian toners are called hydrating lotions as something to keep in mind when shopping. This is a super important step. 
Hada Labo Gokujyun Hyaloronic Lotion Moist
This is my all time favorite of my new products. It looks like water but it feel MIRACULOUS going on. How can something so thin feel so rich on your skin? But it does. Literally magic. 

5. Essences
Sort of a halfway point between toner and serum, these help with hydration (sort of the ultimate goal of all of this is well hydrated skin since that's virtually synonymous with healthy, pretty skin) and skin repair. I don't technically use any but fermented essences are common. I use an ampoule though, which is similar but more targeted as discussed in the next step. 

Mizon Snail Repair Intensive Ampoule
Cosrx and Snail Bee also have other excellent option for snail essence. Snail mucin, as the name of this product implies, is good for repair for things like acne scars, redness, and hyperpigmentation. I have also considered adding a fermented essence which is supposed to give you "honey skin," or skin that looks super dewy and glowy. I use my ampoule twice a day every day. The neat thing about essences and treatments is that you can have several of each type and plug them in and out of your routine depending on the issues you want to address on any given day. 

6. Treaments
These are more targeted products and this category includes ampoules, serums, etc. They often contain single ingredients or near to it in order to address specific concerns. Vitamin C, nianicimide, and snail mucin are common. 

Cosrx Acne Pimple Master Patch 
This is what I consider my treatment step (though as discussed above technically my ampoule would also fall in this category). I actually put it on before my toner if I'm using one so there isn't product interfering with it's effectiveness. These things are magic, translucent, and easy to use. I usually stick them on at night and sleep in them. They suck out all the pimple goop and turn white once they are ready to peel off. You could use them during the day as well if you spend more time on your morning routine than I do or you aren't headed anywhere soon. They genuinely shorten the life of zits and also reduce PIH and PIE. Treatments are generally used as needed, which might be daily for some people if you have certain types of skin issues. 

7. Sheet masks
These are pretty widely known so I don't know that they require much explanation. I also use gel or mud masks sometimes instead of sheet masks. The effects of a sheet mask are short-lived. They are more for a specific occasion (might use a mask on your wedding day for example, or the day before) to achieve a specific effect. Like exfoliation, these are not an daily step but more like once or twice a week. Mud or clay mask are supposed to have more long term effects if used regularly, but honestly I consider this step a just-for-fun kind of thing to pamper myself. 

My Korean sheet masks

This is a Bentonite Clay powder. Mix with water or ACV to make a mask.
I have seen effects from the use of the above, but again, typically just for a couple of days post. The black mushroom masks gave me a great dewy look, the clay mask just makes my skin feel clear and my pores small, and the cucumber masks are cooling and calming for redness. There are tons of different types. I recommend starting with a variety pack to see which types and effects you like best. I order most of my supplies but sheet masks in particular are widely available. Even JC Penny carries some, and they are an inexpensive (like a couple of bucks) way to treat yourself. 

8. Eye cream
So... here's the thing about eye creams. Many of them are the same as moisturizers so several people I know skip this step. There are some products out there formulated differently that will have a better effect, depending on what you are trying to achieve. The basic idea behind an eye cream is that the skin around your eye is particularly delicate and therefore the moisturizer you use for it should be also.

Garnier Skin Active Clearly Brighter

Baebody Eye Gel

The top, you push and the gel comes out of that spout in the middle.
I've tried a few different eye products with... limited results. The problems is that my dark circles are genetic (veins are shallowly placed) and allergy induced. Creams and gels can only do so much. The anti-puff roller does feel soothing though. And I've only used the eye for about a week so we'll see. These would be used twice daily.

9. Moisturizer
Finally! Another easy, familiar step. This is a cream/lotion/gel formulated specifically for the face to moisturize and seal in the other products. This is a must have for everyone in some form. Used every day, and I use it twice a day. 

CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion, AM and PM

CeraVe Moisturizing Cream
So obviously, as with a few of the other categories, I didn't go to Asian products for this one. CeraVe is widely and inexpensively available and AWESOME. The AM lotion has some SPF in it leaving a slight white cast - unnoticeable on my pale skin but a consideration if you are darker complected. The PM lotion has the look and feel of more like a gel and I am obsessed. I also use the more all-purpose CeraVe cream as my body lotion (which I save for after my facial routine so I don't get any residue on my face). 

10. Sun protection
An often overlooked step, this is probably the most important. It is so important for health (and less importantly beauty) that your skin in protected. I'm not quite so die-hard that you much glop it on for any trip out of doors or reapply throughout the day (unless you work outdoors). Vitamin D is good for you in reasonable doses. But some level of protection is definitely a good idea. 

The Face Shop Eco Natural Sun No Shine Hydrating Sun Cream
I love this product. It smells amazing and has very little white cast - again, it's nothing against my already pale skin but something to look into more if you are darker. I don't always apply this if I'm not headed out and frankly, I don't use it at all in winter, barring special circumstances. I work indoors and during the short days, I leave for work and come home while it's dark out. But in warmer weather, longer days, and outdoor activities I do put this on. Also, it's obviously only a morning application. 

First day of product use.

This week! The differences are subtle but I feel a lot better,
mentally and literally my skin feels better to the touch.
So that's it! That's my routine. I built it up over time, starting with a few basics and adding the more specialized products gradually. A good rule is to use a product for four to six weeks before adding another so you have a good idea of how each new thing is affecting your skin. If I can give you a starting point, I'd recommend the following 6 basics to everyone:
Cleanser, toner, moisturizer, sun protection (yes, even for dark complexions!), drinking lots of water, and brush your teeth! 
I know the last one sounds preachy but it's so so important. Studies are constantly showing how strongly oral health is tied to overall medical health. And a pretty smile helps with the whole glowy look ;)

Feel free to ask questions about any of my products. I'm also happy to share what I know if you want to develop your own routine but I am NOT an esthetician or dermatologist so take everything with a grain of salt. Mostly I'll just be pointing you toward more knowledgable people. Farewell for now my lovelies!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Quiet Ferocity

CW: I discuss mental health a lot on my blog so approach with caution. Talk of suicidal ideation and non-suicide death.

This is the first morning in months if not years with a quiet house.

Of course, there is often a toddler awake by this time. But even when I rise before her I have a tendency to fill my space with noise to distract myself from time with my own thoughts. I used to love self-reflection but it's been overwhelming the past two years.  It seems my life is just now settling down from the whirlwind of graduate school even though that was over 4 years ago. There's always been some next step I was racing toward, some new cliffside in the way I had to scale.

Don't misunderstand, we are still planning our next steps. I think that's a perpetual part of life. But I feel... content. I'm preparing but I'm not rushing because for the moment, I'm at peace in the moment. If you've kept up with my posts of the past, you know that's rare for me so I'm trying to soak up every second. So today, there will be no television shows or podcasts or chatter to pull my focus away from the simple pleasure of having time to write and sip a cup of warm coffee in my PJs.

Who could have a bad morning with this sweet mug?
If this seems like a sharp turn from my last post, that's because it is. It's remarkable how much has changed over the past month, in small ways and large, and all of it has made a dramatic impact on my health and the health of our home. I plan to continue the Self-Care series with updated information detailing the small changes but this lovely, bright summer morning I plan to dig into the large ones with you.

People in my home country love to pretend that hard work is all it takes to be a success, and they generally define success as material and monetary wealth. The first half is demonstrably false, and I used to think the second was as well but these days I'm not so sure. It's not that I believe you are unsuccessful if you aren't rich; it's that our society is structured in such a way that we really can't do much without money and it is literally killing us. The suicide rate has increased dramatically in recent years and a significant portion of that is due to financial instability and struggle. I have a family member who killed themselves for just that reason and it is certainly something that has haunted me. Not to mention all the smaller ways lack of money ripples throughout your life:

  • Can't afford decent insurance or regular doctors visits, meaning health concerns often go unchecked contributing to worse health and earlier death
  • Can't afford mental healthcare contributing to declining mental state and increased rate of suicide for that reason at worst and poor physical health due to stress at best
  • Can't afford decent, safe housing
  • Can't afford healthier food options
  • Having to work long hours and/or multiple jobs which contributes to rapid physical decline and poor mental health
And the list could go on. For me personally, my husband changed jobs not too long ago and our insurance followed. The new place has, not kidding, PHENOMENAL COVERAGE. I'm sure it helps that the company is based in Europe and not the US. This meant that I could start attending therapy. This meant that when I got really sick a few weeks back, I could do something as basic as actually getting treated for that illness, which in turn meant I didn't have to miss work and therefore pay. This means I don't have to freak out about what we spend on food and household supplies because I'm worried about how we'll afford it if my daughter gets sick; she's well covered.

Some stuff I've been able to afford that makes me feel better.
In addition to the new fabulous insurance, we're both making more now which helps with those bullet points above. And we can also manage stress in smaller ways. Going out to eat to give ourselves a break sometimes. Having enough to put money into savings so we are prepared for emergencies. Repairing things as they break, or replacing them if they can't be fixed. Paying off debt (we just paid off a card balance). Purchasing some self-care items. Buying big ticket items that are on sale.

I can promise you that having money (though we still are by no stretch of the imagination rich) has had the single largest impact on my physical and mental health of any change in my life. And it was mostly out of my control that I have it now. I fought for some money I was owed at my job, but in general we just accepted what we were offered. Not everyone has those offers or opportunities, and it breaks my heart to think off all the people who will continue to suffer - often for the rest of their lives - because of something they can do nothing about.

I mean, we all knew this was coming, right? I work in the schools and am therefore off work for the summer. I broke it down for Hubs last night. There are 3 basic spheres in my life that pull my focus on any given day:

  1. Work
  2. Home (parenting falls into this category)
  3. Self-care/hobbies
Those first two are. not. optional. We need money to live (see above!) and work provides that. We need our daughter and home taken care of because basic life reasons - we've got to eat, clean home means healthier inhabitants, etc, etc. Generally, I don't have time in my day for all three of those spheres. So the obvious one to lose is self-care. While eventually not caring for myself will have some very detrimental effects, moment-to-moment I and my family have more basic needs that must be met. It doesn't help that work often spilled over into home, and I'm working on some strategies to combat that this coming year. I've already mentioned to my therapist that while I feel GREAT right now, I am terrified of the Fall. It is not a sustainable system long-term that I be miserable and borderline self-harming for 10 months of the year and super cheerful and happy the remaining two - but I digress.

A new hobby I finally have time for.
For the next couple of months, being off of work means I have the time to really focus on the self-care that I've been trying to incorporate all year. And who would have thought, when I actually have the money and time to spend on myself, it works! I feel much better! I'll talk about some of the specific things I'm doing in other posts to follow, but it has just been hugely helpful to have the time in my day to play around with some of this stuff I've been desperate to try. And with the toddler starting daycare a couple of days a week, I have some regular time with no distractions. This too is a result of a lot of privilege on my part. Many people don't have the ability to take this kind of time, either because their job isn't structured that way or because they have to pick up extra work even if it is. I'm trying to nail down some routines so I can keep them up when I go back to work and this all doesn't just fall by the wayside, but I also have to confess that I'm seriously considering a career change - see the next section.

So, yes, this is different from time. While I appreciate the freedom in my schedule that being off allows (and trust me, I am SO grateful), I also appreciate the freedom from stress. My job has been a source of incredible stress for me. Some of that is on me because there were other things going on that prevented me from focusing and being as productive during work hours as I should have been. But a lot of it is just the nature of the job. And while every job comes with some stress, there are obviously many that come with less. For goodness sake, a huge part of the reason I chose my field was because it is routinely listed as one of the most stable fields financially with good work-life balance. And yet that has not been anywhere close to my experience.

I'm hesitant to leave for a lot of reasons: I really like a lot of the people I work with, I do like having summers off, supposedly I'll get some loan forgiveness in a few years, I've spent years of my life preparing for this field, and I do genuinely find it interesting. At the same time, I'm afraid it will literally kill me. I have suffered from suicidal ideation for about 15 years now. Over the past year, it got dramatically worse. And almost the exact moment I walked out of the building for the last time on the last day of school those thoughts were truly gone. Now, that's temporary because ideation is a part of my mental illness and probably something I will deal with the rest of my life. But for a while there, it was almost constant. Yet that entire last week I was walking on air because I knew I was nearing the point when I wouldn't have to come back - for two months at least.

This fabulous new planner has been so helpful; there's a whole section on goals!
And that feeling-of-freedom euphoria has lasted. I feel lighter, more able to focus on what matters to me. I've set life goals and yearly goals and NONE of them have to do with my job except one that reads: better work-life balance. We'll see how this next year goes and if I'm able to keep up these good habits I've started once 8 hours-plus of my day are taken from me again. I would certainly be happy to stay where I am if I can find that balance. I'm also mentally preparing myself for the decision to move on and investigating other avenues that may make sense for me.

Listen, I think everyone on Earth could probably benefit from therapy and I'm a huge proponent for it. (This is why we need universal healthcare, people!) The past couple of sessions I discovered things about myself that I probably knew somewhere deep down but had never really realized or acknowledged before:
  1. One of my core values is time in nature. I hate being sweaty and gross outside so I had always sort of assumed I didn't like being outside period, but so many of my dreams, visions, goals, etc. have to do with getting into nature. I want to live near the ocean, I compost and recycle, I'm planning a vegetable garden, I love fresh flowers, I love to swim, I love natural light to the point that I feel nauseated with yellow fake lamp light at times. And because of my false assumptions about myself, I haven't been feeding this need. So I'm working on that by going for more walks to and around the park near our house - bonus points for also getting me exercise, entertaining Little, and having tons of Pokestops - and planning some trips to beautiful natural locations. I'm looking for other ways to incorporate more of this into my life so I'm open to suggestions!
  2. My walk in the park - bu-dum-tshh.
  3. I don't remember my childhood. This is a weird one. I believe I wrote about The Wreck here a few years back. If you don't recall, the TLDR version is that I and much of my family, both immediate and extended, were in a bad wreck when I was in high school that resulted in serious injuries for many including my own broken collarbone and concussion as well as the death of one of my aunts. I only recently came to realize how odd it was that other people seemed to have such vivid memories of their childhoods when I didn't. I made the connection in therapy that this was probably the result of my brain injury. There are three or four bright spots, moments colored with strong emotion that I recall but that's pretty much it before high school. I know my past, but I don't remember it. I didn't wake up after The Wreck with no idea who I was or who my family was or anything. I knew that, and I've heard enough stories that I could tell you a lot about how I grew up. But I remember almost none of it. No wonder I have struggled with my identity and finding myself - turns out half my life was missing! This information didn't suddenly solve all my problems but it explained a lot about myself to myself, like why I have so much trouble connecting to others. As I said, it doesn't fix the problem, but it's still reassuring to understand more about the cause. For all I know, that brain injury is at the root of my mental illness - though there is also some family history so it's likely not exclusively to blame. 
The point being that therapy has been hard but fantastically rewarding already. Understanding so much more about who I am and how I came to be this way is... I can't even put it into words. It's opened up my inner world so much and it gives me great information and ideas about how to move forward even though that will be more hard work. I also plan to start taking medication so I will hopefully stay fairly even-keeled with I go back to work.


I've rambled on for a while now, so I'll wrap this up with a few final thoughts. My mantra lately has been, "The best revenge is a life well-lived." There have been people and circumstances in my life that have tried to destroy me. And I've hit a point where right now, I refuse to allow them to do so. At my lowest, I chant this to myself, I remember all that I've already survived, and I get pissed. I will not let this bullshit beat me. And I take one more step, one more breath, determined that if I achieve nothing else in life I will be happy because FUCK all the people and things that tried to stop it from happening. I'd love to get to the point that my motivation is less revenge and more genuine self-love, but for now I'll take what I can get if it helps me keep going.

Finally, I know that everything on this list of "ways I improved my mental health" is stuff that isn't available to everyone. As much as my life has sucked in some ways, I also have an incredible amount of privilege. And it's awful that I can't list out a bunch of self-care, mental health tips that anyone could access. I'm planning a post like that in the future and there are things out there, but the reality of our world is that not everyone gets what they need. Some people even actively try to prevent their fellows from getting what is needed. It's awful and I wish I could fix it. I think an important for step is for us to just acknowledge the truth of it. We can't start taking better care of each other until we admit that everyone deserves care.

My lovelies, I hope you all are well. What do you do to take care of yourself? Please find someway to love and care for yourself today, however small. 💙💚💛💜 And happy Pride from your favorite Bi blogger!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

What's The Problem?

We burned a letter to my ex in therapy this week. It was sort of a cathartic experience, but I've had similar before so I was interested to see if that feeling of a weight lifted stuck around. I was eager to discuss the experience with friends.

It's something I've known since the beginning. A big part of why I benefit from therapy is that I feel safe to talk honestly about myself knowing I won't be judged, disliked by my therapist, or have the information used against me. This is a totally novel experience and the visceral feeling of relaxation I get walking into that room is alone worth the experience. My whole body unclenches and that is the only time I've experienced that happening including during sleep or massage.

Because the truth is that people don't like me and use my weaknesses against me. So I don't trust them. No one I know (or don't) has asked me about my experience in therapy so far and I don't feel comfortable bringing it up myself. I want to debrief about what I've been learning and working through so far and I don't have a resource for that. It's just screaming into the void.

I check social meeting and see people I know making posts about nonsense like how wrong you are if you like those grocery store cookies and that gets more reaction that my pleas for help. I see people I know posting pleas for help themselves and those posts get more discussion than mine to an exponential degree, from mutual "friends." Supposedly you shouldn't compare, but I don't know how to avoid feeling bitter and resentful when I see the exact same setup play out completely differently just based on who's asking for support. My support system is crushingly small and family is great for tangibles like childcare and bringing over meals, but less gifted for things like a shoulder to cry on or talking through heavy emotions. Mostly I get Bible verses, prayer guides, and/or ignored.

I just don't feel I belong anywhere. My whole, minuscule friend group has started pulling away as they all now share a hobby that I don't. I have no hobbies anymore. We joined a church that I genuinely love for its liberal, accepting message. But it's been over a year and I haven't connected with anyone there. My worldview is so disparate with my family's that I'm not able to discuss anything of much substance there without disagreement. I just want to feel connected and I'm not sure what to do about it. My life is just the necessary chores to make it to the end of the day before starting over again the next. Cook, eat, work, pee, clean, cook, eat, bed. There is nothing I look forward to, no one I go see, no fun in my life. I enjoy spending time with my daughter (generally, toddlers have their bad moments, as everyone knows) and.... that's pretty much it. I was terrified of my identity being consumed by motherhood, and my worst fears have come to pass. What's so sad and infuriating about it is that it's not because I walked away from my life but because it walked away from me.

Seriously, what's the problem? What is it about me that is so repugnant? I realize people don't want to hear complaints all the time, but look through my post history and you'll realize that's not me until lately. I make a conscious effort online and in person not to be negative very much both for my personal health and because I know people find it off-putting. Also, as I mentioned, I know people who do complain all the time and our mutual relationships continually rush to their aid while steadfastly ignoring me.

Why doesn't anybody like me?