Elective Procedure

Featured Image: “Cosmos” by Daniela Lan

Published in Hoax Zine (2017)

* * *

Until you choose to share (if you do),

Certain things are only for you,

Like the matter in your head,

And the space between your legs. 

My knee, facing the ceiling, is propped up by my foot in a stirrup and lit by a small but powerful lamp. I wince to blur my peripheral vision so it looks like the moon. I can picture the Little Prince standing on it. For a moment my body seems as a celestial body, far away and untouchable, and the world is calm and innocent and bearable.

I study it for a few seconds before squeezing my eyes shut, breathing methodically, and slowly counting in fours. As open a book as I am, my pink flower is printed on a page not many have read; though at this point, the number of doctors who have is comparable to the number of sexual partners. I wonder if that’s the case for most women as a large familiar-yet-foreign object resembling a cartoon alligator slides into me and muddles my mindscape.

Many times, what I would consider a “gross violation of personal space” could be better described by a more level-headed person as a “necessary medical procedure.” That, however, doesn’t much change the hard-to-shake feeling of discomfort from a situation where I am completely out of control. Even though I know I’m supposed to be in a safe space, I feel like a frog strapped to a metal tray in an 8th grade biology classroom. Sometimes it’s difficult to translate that knowing into feeling, especially when your legs are spread wide open and someone you’ve just met is peering in between.

Right as she walked in I told the doctor I was nervous. She brushed that off just as the nurse did. They say it’s not a big deal but I have sweaty palms and a squirrel heartbeat and one of my best friends prepared me with a comforting text: “It’s gonna be the worst cramps you’ve ever had. I mean, it’s a foreign object being shoved into your uterus.”

Bailing isn’t an option—I traveled to the Upper East Side of Manhattan from Brooklyn and waited two months for the appointment. I lace my fingers, rest them on my stomach slowly and steadily, and breathe.


Doing my best to relax, I recall the recent presidential election and how glad I am that my intrauterine device (IUD) insertion appointment is already underway, especially since reading an article earlier about how women are rushing out to get them for fear of losing reproductive rights and access to affordable healthcare.

My focus is broken when it feels like my doctor slid a tiny pincushion into my body with a tampon applicator. I feel like I need to either shit or throw up. By learning the hard way that I’m sensitive to a lot of foods, I associate the sensation of intense cramping with having to shit ASAP. These cramps were confusing because (a) I was pretty sure I didn’t have to shit but (b) my body is unpredictable and (c) imagine I shit on this doctor?

The doctor tells me my body probably won’t reject the IUD and I probably won’t experience uncontrollable bleeding but call her if it does or I do. Though nice, she’s clearly preoccupied and busy and leaves in a hurry. I think about my inability to handle any kind of rejection and suddenly become very aware of my pulse.

After an hour of sitting on the subway praying to every god I can name that I don’t get up and see a blood stain on the baby blue bench of the F train and then running into the two kids I nanny for and their mother/my boss on the G, I make it home to my new apartment where my first-ever male roommate is working from home and my other roommate’s dog, Shadow, is barking at a plastic bag that just American Beauty’d onto our balcony.

The pain is really not so bad; I’m just pissed.

I’m pissed because as women we often have to hurt ourselves in order to enjoy our bodies and our lives.

I’m pissed because I’m afraid that the hormones in the IUD are going to change my personality and mind like birth control pills did and all the work I’ve done to get a better grasp on my depression and eradicate thoughts of suicide will be undone and I’ll fall into a dark hole too deep to climb out of without antidepressants and therapy.

I’m pissed because politics have instilled a fear in a lot of women—myself included—that has suddenly become a big motivator for us to get this procedure done and go to other lengths to protect our bodies regardless of whether or not we’re ready.

I’m pissed because my body is the only thing that is completely and undoubtedly mine, yet I still have to let people (strangers in the form of doctors) into my personal space even though I’m screaming on the inside. Half of my mind is shy and afraid and wants to call my mom and Uber home, and the other, more rational half is telling the first half to stop being dramatic, you’re just at the gyno, what the hell is wrong with you?

I’m pissed because I’m not sure if I did this for myself to protect my sexual health and feel secure that there won’t be an abortion in my future or so that my boyfriend and I don’t have to use condoms anymore. (Probably both.)

I’m pissed because as intelligent and kind and a good listener as he is, he (and all cis men) will never know what it feels like to have someone put procedural instruments inside of you with the intention of leaving something in your body for years so you can enjoy sex without worrying.

I’m pissed because maybe the government snuck homing devices or brain control mechanisms inside IUDs and chemicals into birth control pills that make women more submissive and we’re all just dummies dishing out co-pays for shit that’s going to kill us.

I’m pissed because today is my only day off this week and I can’t float around the Met listening to classical pieces I can’t name or eat falafel in a park because I’m cramped up and vaguely dizzy and am only capable of lying in bed with Shadow and reading Harry Potter to him in a British accent (which the downstairs neighbors overheard).

I’m pissed because tomorrow I’m going to pee and won’t recognize my own smell and when I wipe I’ll see a tiny, horrifying, tissuey mass that in my mind looks like a discarded embryo and I’m going to text my friend who this time will say, “Yeah, a few months post-IUD you’ll have some weird shit come out. But after, like, eight months there will be nothing.”

A calculable amount of my time is spent forcing myself to get used to stuff: not spiraling into a vortex of self-doubt when my boyfriend doesn’t text me all day, abstaining from Oreos when I’m at work and hungry and they’re right there, and going to the gynecologist because I know it’s what’s best for my body despite my fear of letting people get too close to me and the fact that this time politics indirectly brought me there. Translating future peace of mind into a safe feeling in the present is challenging, but what isn’t? Life is hard and confusing and complicated and painful and unfair and we need to do whatever we can to speak up and get ours and be kind to one another (EVERYONE) and hope that our society and our government and our own selves continue to progress and put love above all because when it comes down to it we’re all on the same rock hurtling through space controlled by weird smells and people with good eyebrows and no one wants it to blow up.

What We Can Learn from America’s Mishandling of the Coronavirus Pandemic

This essay was originally published on Medium.com. View it here.

The other day, my best friend and I were discussing the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. I rhetorically asked why this is all happing right now, which is to say during the pandemic, and she made a great point: Because most Americans are spending a lot of time at home, reflecting.

By calling it a hoax (before calling it terrorism and encouraging xenophobia), neglecting pandemic instructions left by the previous administration, ignoring warnings from and silencing experts, demonstrating against mask-wearing, and failing to invoke the Defense Production Act to acquire ventilators and PPE among other myriad issues, the current presidential administration has failed to control Covid-19. As a result, over one hundred thousand Americans have died — a steadily rising number — and millions more are spending the majority of their time in their homes.

Reflection, especially self-reflection, isn’t often regarded as a major social skill, but understanding yourself is a crucial aspect of understanding others, and understanding others is a crucial way of understanding the world and how it works. The continued threat of the novel coronavirus has given many Americans time to reflect, myself included. I’ve learned that:

a. Working remotely truly has some notable upsides. Aside from not being able to be in the same room as animators, designers, and other creatives with whom I’m working alongside on projects, my remote-work journey has been relatively smooth. As a freelance writer, producer, and resident millennial (aka, social media manager), I’ve been lucky enough to continue to work part-time since the climb of Covid-19 began. Because most of what I do is digital, I’ve been able to communicate with my clients and coworkers and create the same quality of work I would have created had I been in an office. If anything, I work more efficiently (and more frequently) in my apartment because it’s easier to focus without the burden of office politics and a depressing commute to midtown Manhattan. Also, my dog lives here, which is important, because my lifestyle preference is to be next to him at all times.

b. There are no innate differences between weekdays and weekends. Every day is the same, and this is a good thing; The sun rises and sets, the tides rush in and flow back out, and the flowers bloom and die. Spending so much time at home has offered me the freeing perspective that our jobs, deadlines, and everyday problems don’t need to rule our lives. This realization comes from a place of privilege, another thing I’ve been able to reflect on. While many people are complaining about having to stay at home (I am not excluded from this demographic), I’ve learned that it’s a blessing to be able to do so while many others are working essential jobs like taking care of sick and injured people, carting away our trash and recycling, stocking shelves in our grocery stores, and so many more that us non-essentials don’t even realize.

c. I haven’t been appreciating my loved ones enough. My boyfriend and I moved in together in early March of this year. Before that, we primarily saw each other on weekends because of our schedules. Quarantine switched our relationship to hyperdrive, forcing us to iron out every minuscule aspect of our relationship from how to build the Ikea couch to where to put the Ikea couch to Should we allow ourselves to eat on the Ikea couch? Just kidding, here’s your Indian food. We joke now that we have nothing left to argue about because we’ve had the time to smooth everything out. I realize that not all couples have had this experience, and I feel lucky to have been stuck with him all this time. I’ve also learned that, despite my social anxieties, I can call my maternal grandmother any time I want to be in a good mood. A New Yorker who grew up in poverty in the Lower East Side of Manhattan with her seven brothers and sisters, she is now in her eighties and living in Delray Beach, Florida with her beloved, freakishly intelligent cat, Gia. She spends a lot of her time on her own, reading novels, cooking delicious depression-era recipes, and watching everything on television from Impractical Jokers to CNN. She is one of the most politically-engaged people I know, always calling Trump a “lying son-of-a-bitch” and a “schmuck,” and she doesn’t mind when I use the F-word. I mailed her a copy of my not-yet-published novel and two days later she called me to discuss it and review the grammar. I will admit that I didn’t realize how special this woman was until this year, and for that, I am grateful.

Most people didn’t foresee Covid-19, and even fewer foresaw it wreaking havoc on our country as much as it has and currently is in the Sun Belt. However, through our outrage and frustration over the deaths of loved ones, the blatant misinformation spread by the President of the United States on live television, and the permanent socioeconomic damage to our country and its people, we as individuals still have power. We have the power to call our family members and friends, especially those who live alone, and ask them if they need anything, even if that thing is nothing more than another conversation. We have the power to donate to causes we feel passionate about, whether that means donating money to Get Us PPE.org, donating time by volunteering to deliver groceries to elderly folks, or taking action in another way that incites positivity. We may not feel like we have much control right now, but we do have the power — and the opportunity — to take a step back from our own lives, observe the bigger picture, and create change. And you don’t need to go outside to do that.

Oh, and by the way, kids are still in cages.

Featured image by Tyler Gardon

Me and My Body, Together in Quarantine

The state we’re in doesn’t define our state.

This essay was originally published on Medium.com. View it here.

It’s April, two-thousand and twenty, and we have been in quarantine for about two months, we being me and my body.

At the beginning, we were doing okay.

We were healthy: no sign of the global emergency burning up our forehead or being shot dryly out of our mouth. We were eating well — most of the time, going on walks with the dog, and sporadically jogging through the spacious, grassy graveyard near our new apartment in a less-congested part of the city, Brooklyn to Queens. We had just moved in with our boyfriend, and we are so glad. We feel safer.

Our head, overall, was good. Stimulated from professional work — thriving on the work-from-home schedule — and creative projects; our mind could be happy as our brain was confident where and how we would get antidepressants; we were anxious, but just the normal amount.

We were using the computer more than usual, but our eyes were doing fine, unstrained by regular breaks outdoors.

Our lungs were doing well, too, occasionally partaking in recreational marijuana use, but not going overboard.

Lastly, our heart was full. The mornings began at the dog park holding hands, then making oatmeal and having coffee at the Ikea table we built ourselves. Then, we would all work and work, finally lazing on the couch or in bed in the evenings watching British television or reading.

But now.

Now, we’ve learned that vomiting randomly, even just once (not pregnant), and having nausea for a month and full-body aches the day we arrived at our boyfriend’s aunt’s house in suburban Ohio that hasn’t been lived in for three months (they’re staying at their summer home) actually are symptoms. We couldn’t exercise at all, let alone do the work for our only job (part-time) efficiently or converse or cook or do really anything for longer than a few hours to a few minutes, depending on its level of rigor. When our aches, fatigue, and general indifference to life peaked, we wished we had known that, yes, we can still have that same thing people all over the world are dying from even if we don’t have a fever and a cough.

After recovering from what we are sure was COVID-19 despite the impossibility of actually getting tested anywhere in the United States (even in the midwest where refrigerated trucks aren’t being used to store piles of dead bodies that have overflowed out of hospitals), we are able to exercise again in the form of short runs, which has proved a nice break from the strong bouts of depression that shut us down several times a week. But, hey, we downloaded a calorie counter app on our phone and are maintaining our weight, so that’s something to mention over Zoom when my parents ask if I’m okay.

Our head, overall, is not great. We’ve begun attending a weekly webinar for body-focused repetitive behaviors for fear of reigniting this flame that has been carefully, systematically, agonizingly extinguished: if not knitting, we will pull out our hair, pick at our skin, bite the insides of our cheeks, or just tightly hold the insides of our lips between clenched teeth until it starts to hurt and we notice we’ve been doing it. Now, we sit in adi mudra when we feel revved up, prone to pulling/picking/biting/etc.

Our mind, after recovering from the thing we can’t even complain about legitimately without a test we can’t get, is finally able to focus and maintain clear thoughts during conference calls, and we’ve regained our sense of humor. Living without laughing is very strange.

Our brain, though, is incredibly nervous, as it’s unclear how to get prescription medication since we’re out-of-state and our psychiatrist is wholly unhelpful. Even before the pandemic, it was nearly impossible to find one who was accepting new patients, even in NYC.

Our eyes, too, are permanently strained from reading thrillers in low light and watching too much telly. Sitcoms, reality and game shows, and crime dramas are burning holes in our retinas from desperately needing a distraction from the crumbling, bubbling, frothing mess of America, with Pence traipsing around a fucking hospital without a mask as the radioactive cherry on top.

Nearly destroyed are our lungs, which are being continuously brutalized by multi-nightly joint breaks after our realization that we had likely survived Miss Rona, phlegm aggressively stalking up to our throats and making us cough while our boyfriend looks frustratedly on.

And then, our heart, slick and chewy and beating too hard. We desperately long to be in our own space, frequently reminded of our homesickness by small inconveniences like not bringing enough socks, even though we’re currently living in a gorgeous Tudor with more rooms than we need and a lush yard and a fireplace of marble and wood that is constantly flickering and warming and comforting. We are getting annoyed with people whom we cherish most, including ourselves, and trying not to spend too much time on Instagram, which we are failing at.

Now, it’s May.

Still no chance in sight of getting tested for COVID-19, and homesick to the point where we’ve noticed we’re talking less.

We haven’t been able to taste or smell anything for about three weeks, maybe a month. When it started, it was less frustrating and more weird. We just stopped eating things we liked and only ate garden salads (lettuce, carrot, tomato, sometimes avocado) because they were healthy and spicy ramen because we could taste it (feel it). Now, as smell and taste both slowly creep back to our repertoire of senses, it’s less remarkable and more irritating. We’ll be reminded of the losses multiple times a day when we start to make a meal before remembering that we can’t smell it and won’t be able to taste it. It’s odd to have to still eat food without being able to enjoy it, which also completely negates food’s romantic comfort. Unfortunately, it doesn’t negate hunger.

We skipped the last mental health webinar, the third out of four, and we’ve been picking at our skin more than ever. Usually pulling out our hair strand by strand is our go-to, but there’s something about peeling the same regrown scabs off of our legs that serves as an irresistible reminder of a semblance of consistency that was once present in our life.

We figured out a way to get antidepressants, so at least we have the relief of gained access to the thing we need to ingest daily in order to be able to function at the absolute bare minimum level, without an iota of assistance from our psychiatrist, the one near Union Square, who is an unbelievable dickhead.

What our eyes prefer now is scanning the suburbs for the biggest leaves, tallest trees, and brightest flowers. The joy of television has almost fully disintegrated, most programs losing meaning or at least significance, except for The Midnight Gospel, a show viscerally reminiscent of an acid trip, which has become the only thing that can keep our attention.

Throat clearing and coughing have increased, but it’s our own fault. We purchased a one-hitter box handmade from spalted cherry wood and were miraculously able to procure more weed to smoke nightly, and, now more often than not, daily. At this point, we need to get high in order to get out of our head and remain sane. Alcohol has lost its charm; it only makes us sadder.

We are attributing a lot of our pain and confusion to the new place in which we are living. Suddenly, we’ve left our cozy apartment in the most bustling––and infected––city in the world and entered a quiet, suburban home in the midwest. This house isn’t mine, we say. We can’t stay here. We want to go home.

We love this house that has been so graciously offered to us with big rooms and a dining table and appliances that work and the yard wherein our dog can run around and chew on the kind of grass he likes and a fancy couch with down pillows. But these worldly pleasures are equally rivaled by our extreme loss of independence and inescapable need to rely on our boyfriend and his family for things for which we haven’t relied on people since high school: the house isn’t ours to smoke in, so we are constantly stepping outside through the doors, each of which is rigged with a loud beeping notification when opened or closed to which the dog reacts noisily; delivery of mail to the Tudor has been rerouted, and we are guiltily relying on another relative to collect our packages and letters and notify us when they arrive; the loud, ticking clocks aren’t ours to temporarily take the batteries out of, so we write articles exclusively in noise-canceling headphones streaming white noise; the car isn’t ours to drive around in. Our boyfriend insists it’s fine, but it’s not our vehicle, and it just doesn’t feel right to use it.

Even if it did, where would we go?

But, when we leave our physical location behind and speak to those we love, they remind us that it’s not the where, but the when. That house sounds like a dream, even though it’s not yours, they say. I’m glad you’re not in Queens right now.

And we know they’re right.

My body and I are hurting. Our back hurts more than usual, we are having vivid, scary dreams, sometimes our eyes cry in the morning, and we eat almost exclusively at night. But, right now, it’s likely we would be this way no matter what.

Right now, everyone is experiencing the whole world as a new place, and it’s going to take some time to get used to it.

Featured image by Oscar Rodríguez Amado

Being an Asthmatic Stoner During a Respiratory Pandemic

Why I’m forcing myself to stop smoking weed during the Coronavirus outbreak

This essay was originally published on Medium.com. View it here.

As a kid, I was short, chubby, nervous, and asthmatic. (To anyone who knows me: yes, I am also these things as an adult.) From capture the flag to the Presidential Physical Fitness Test to running the dreaded mile, gym class felt like a bespoke hell. One time I even walked out of a kickball game. It was my turn. I left school property.

It wasn’t just that I didn’t want to let my competitive classmates down and was afraid to be humiliated while attempting athletics; it was hard to breathe. Even the slightest amount of participation used up all my breath and I had to sit out.

Even though I seldom show symptoms as an adult, my asthma is still apparent whenever I hit a bowl or puff on a joint. Now, in the face of the Coronavirus outbreak, I’ve realized that I am compromised. Since my adult asthma is mild, I don’t consider myself at high risk, but the realization that I am more at risk than, say, my live-in partner catalyzed a dialogue in my head with a most prominent concern: my breathing has worsened since I’ve started quarantining, and I have a good idea why.

I don’t think it’s because I’ve been infected, but rather because I’ve been smoking more weed than usual. And it’s not just that I’ve been at home more; the abrupt, strange, all-doorknobs-are-suddenly-the-enemy world we’re all living in is starting to freak me out. While I don’t smoke 24/7, I partake relatively daily as a steady part of my “nighttime routine,” which seems to be starting earlier and earlier each day. However, I do occasionally go through non-smoking periods for various reasons such as traveling, having a cold, or working twelve-hour days. During these breaks I notice my body reverting back to it’s smoke-free, slightly healthier version: the tightening in my chest subsides, my allergies are less intense, it’s slightly easier to breathe, and little random coughs sneak out less frequently.

Because of the potential dangers related to the pandemic, I’ve decided that, until it passes, I have to stop blazin’ every time the clock strikes four-twenty. As an asthmatic, even a mild one, if I do become infected with COVID-19, I am more at risk than people without preexisting respiratory conditions, says WebMD and the CDC. Even if I don’t end up on a ventilator, if my breathing worsens at all it will scare the living shit out of me (and my parents), so I want to be careful.

This said, I don’t want to stop getting stoned, and frankly flat-out refuse to — I’m one more celebrity “Imagine” video away from losing it and I need an avenue to sanity that doesn’t involve the liquor store. My advice to asthmatic stoners such as myself is this: use the flower you currently have to whip up treats that will get the job done but not impair your lung health. I’m lucky to have stocked up on edibles the last time I was in Colorado, but when those run out, I will be heavily perusing Bong Appetit while my loving, frightened boyfriend looks on.

When my stash runs out, though, I will be counting my blessings and meditating on the things in life that make me feel whole: my beautiful friends with whom I am constantly video chatting, noticing moments of kindness like when someone takes a bag of hot dog buns out of their basket and gives it to another person in the bread aisle who looks stressed out, the ability to read and stream unlimited content online, and the stunning, unmatched, iconic beauty of my terrier. I’ll also probably continue to drink a fair amount.

The point is: take care of yourself, look out for others, occupy your mind, nurture your friends and family from a distance with phone calls and texts, stay inside, and, most importantly, stay positive, though — as someone whose quarantine schedule comprises only “10 a.m. – take antidepressants” — I know that’s easier said than done. I’m not a scientist or a doctor, but I really do think that if everyone is mindful and courteous, we can overcome this thing together.

By the way, I wrote this on the toilet.

Featured image by Dima Kosh

Call for Donations on Behalf of the TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors

Facebook post written by Hannah Schauben and edited by me can be found here.

EDITED VERSION (by Lauren Ames):

Hi, everyone!

I hope you’re staying safe during this unprecedented time of uncertainty and heightened emotions. The coronavirus pandemic isn’t easy for anyone; remaining responsibly connected to others is of the utmost importance to our mental health these days. Personally, this has greatly assuaged my feelings of isolation, helplessness, and fear, especially during the times I didn’t feel like reaching out.

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve had trichotillomania (a compulsive hair-pulling disorder) since I was in middle school. Trichotillomania caused me to pull my hair out so frequently that I was nearly bald before I even entered high school. By then I was wearing hats and wigs to cover my scalp, but they couldn’t hide the shame. My pulling increased. I didn’t feel comfortable talking about my affliction with anyone––including myself––at the time, so I let the negative feelings and urges fester for years.

Before I was a compulsive hair-puller, I picked at my skin and bit my nails, cheeks, and lips. These are all examples of body-focused repetitive behaviors, or BFRBs. BFRBs affect about one in twenty individuals and are typically under-discussed as they are often associated with shame. These behaviors aren’t ones that individuals engage in to harm themselves, but rather ones in which the body engages because of an unmet chemical need that can be satisfied by pulling, picking, biting, etcetera.

The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors was brought to my attention at the end of my freshman year of high school when I attended their annual BFRB conference with my mother in San Francisco, California. The TLC Foundation’s mission is to end the suffering caused by hair-pulling, skin-picking, nail-biting, and other body-focused repetitive behaviors. It’s difficult to express how liberating it was to be surrounded by other kids, teenagers, and adults who all did the same thing I did that I viewed as abnormal. By the end of the conference, though I still wasn’t totally ready to talk about my BFRBs, I realized that at least I wasn’t alone, feeling more connected to this new group of people than those in my existing inner-circle. Fast forward to 2012 when I attended another TLC conference with my brother in Chicago, Illinois. After the second conference, I started to become more comfortable talking about my BFRBs.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I began to approach my BFRBs with complete transparency. After years of searching for a support group of like-minded individuals without complete success, I knew I needed a change. I use the word “complete” because I was able to attend support groups and meetings in the area with people who I could connect with and relate to, but it still felt like something was missing. That’s when I decided to start a peer-led support group in Atlanta, Georgia. With courage, help from new friends in the TLC community, and the TLC itself, I launched the Atlanta BFRB Peer Support Group in August of 2017. This group––with over 160 members on Facebook and an average attendance rate of ten people per monthly meeting––is ever-changing, having undergone several makeovers based on the needs of its crucial participants.

Last year, I celebrated my twenty-eighth birthday by attending my third TLC conference in Chantilly, Virginia, where I met support group leaders from across the country whom I had gotten to know over monthly phone and video calls. There I also formed connections with children, teens, adults, clinicians, and presenters with BFRBs, my awe of this powerful community reignited. I couldn’t have conceived a better way to celebrate my birthday.

Speaking freely about my BFRBs was never something I imagined I could do, let alone start and facilitate a group that serves that exact purpose. Getting to this place wasn’t comfortable or easy, but it was safely one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. In addition to growing stronger, more confident, and accepting of who I am, I have met some of my closest friends, confidants, and mentors through this community.

Today, I run the Atlanta BFRB Peer Support Group, co-host TLC’s Kids and Teens Online Support Group as well as their Adult Online Support Group, am a Support Group Leader Mentor, and have continued to be an active member of this unstoppable community.

My BFRBs do not define me; they are just something I do. For now. 

I am no longer ashamed.

I no longer feel alone.

To me, success doesn’t mean being pull- or pick-free. It means being kind and compassionate towards myself and others, which takes strength and practice. It means taking an active role in acknowledging and changing my negative inner-monologue and forgiving myself when my imperfections seep through to the surface. I am grateful for my BFRBs and wouldn’t be the person I am today without them, the same behaviors that used to overpower and define me––or so I thought. Every day is a new opportunity for growth, self-compassion, and advocacy.

Additionally, I have acquired daily practices of gratitude, empathy, self-confidence and -compassion, and outspokenness. I never expected the quality I used to hate most about myself to evolve into one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.

Believe it or not, this is the short version of my story! However, if you or someone you know would like to learn more about my journey, inquire about resources for those who may be suffering from BFRBs, or share your own story, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Learning about the experiences of others is just as important as vocalizing your own.

This year for my birthday I humbly ask that you share this abbreviated version of my life with BFRBs with someone who might benefit from reading it. Additionally, if you’re someone who is able to contribute, I am also asking for donations to the TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors. The mission of this nonprofit means the world to me and I hope you’ll consider participating as a way to spread some hope during this exceptionally challenging time. Even the smallest amount will help me reach my goal, and your donations will help expand and support the wealth of resources available on BFRB.org, as well as TLC’s support groups, webinars, and workshops. Your donations may even enable them to send a child to their annual conference, quite possibly changing their life as mine was changed all those years ago.

This nonprofit organization has changed my life and the lives of countless individuals through research, resources, connections, and love. I would like to say thank you, TLC, from the bottom of my heart, and thank you to all of you who have taken the time to read this.

ORIGINAL VERSION (by Hannah Schauben):

Hi Everyone! I hope you are staying as safe as possible during this transitional time of uncertainty, instability, and heightened emotions. This pandemic is not easy for anyone; that’s why (safely) staying connected to others is so essential to our mental health. I know that my feelings of isolation, fear, and helplessness have eased through remaining connected, especially when I have not wanted to.

For those of you that do not know, I have had Trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder) since I was in middle school. Surprise! Before I was a compulsive hair-puller, I picked at my skin, bit my nails, cheeks, and lips. These are examples of body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs). BFRBs affect about 1/20 individuals and are often under-discussed because of the shame associated with these behaviors. I want to emphasize that these behaviors are not behaviors that individuals engage in to harm themselves; my body experiences an unmet need, satisfied by pulling and picking. I pulled my hair out so rapidly that I was nearly bald before entering high school; I then wore hats and wigs to cover my head, but I couldn’t hide the shame, and my pulling increased. I did not feel comfortable talking about it with anyone (including myself) at the time, so I sat with the negative feelings and urges for years.  

I discovered the TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors at the end of my freshman year of high school and attended their annual BFRB conference with my mom. The TLC Foundation’s mission is to end the suffering caused by hair-pulling disorder, skin-picking disorder, and related body-focused repetitive behaviors. It is difficult to express how liberating it was to be surrounded by other kids, teenagers, and adults who all do this “thing” that I viewed as abnormal. I felt more connected to this group of strangers than people in my inner-circle at home. After this, I still was not ready to talk about it much, but I knew I was not alone. Fast forward to 2012 when I attended another TLC conference with my brother in Chicago. After this conference, I started to become more comfortable talking about it, as it was still a daily challenge I was faced with.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I began to approach my bfrbs with complete transparency. After searching without complete success for years for a support group of like-minded individuals, I knew I needed a change. I use the word “complete” because I was able to attend other support groups and meetings in the area with people who I could connect with and relate to, but it still felt like something was missing. I decided to start a peer-led support group in Atlanta. With some courage, help from a new friend in the TLC community, and TLC, I launched the Atlanta BFRB Peer Support Group in August of 2017. This group has undergone several makeovers based on the needs of the group, but today the Facebook group has over 160 members, with an average attendance rate of 10 people per monthly meeting.

Last year, I celebrated my birthday by attending my third TLC conference in Virginia. I met support group leaders across the country that I had gotten to know over our monthly calls. I formed connections with children, teens, adults, clinicians, and presenters who have bfrbs. I was re-enlightened and in awe of this powerful community. I cannot think of a better gift.

Let’s rewind a little bit. I never ever ever thought I would be capable of talking about my bfrbs openly, let alone starting and facilitating a group whose purpose is just that. It was not comfortable or easy, but it was safely one of the best decisions I have ever made. Some of my closest friends, confidants, and mentors today are individuals from this community. Today, I run the Atlanta BFRB Peer Support Group, co-host TLC’s Kids and Teens Online Support Group, co-host TLC’s Adult Online Support Group, am a Support Group Leader Mentor, and have become an active member of this unstoppable community. My bfrbs do not define me; this is just something I do, for now. I am not ashamed. I do not feel alone. I have come to a point of realization and acceptance that I am comfortable with. Success, to me, does not mean being pull or pick-free. It means being kind and compassionate towards myself and others. It means taking an active role in changing my inner-monologue and forgiving myself when the imperfections seep through. I am grateful for my bfrbs, and would not be the same person I am today without the same behaviors that I once believed negatively defined and overpowered me. Every day is a new opportunity for growth, self-compassion, and advocacy. Additionally, I have acquired daily practices of gratitude, empathy, self-confidence, self-compassion, drive, connection, courage, joy, and outspokenness. Who knew the thing that I used to hate the most about myself could evolve into the greatest gift I’ve ever received?

This is just a brief version of my story, believe it or not. If anyone would like to learn more, inquire about resources, or share your own story, I am excited to have a conversation with you. I love learning about other people’s experiences and being able to share meaningful connections.

For my birthday this year, during this exceptionally challenging time of uncertainty, I ask that you read this abbreviated version of my story and share it with someone you think could benefit from reading it. I am also asking for donations to TLC Foundation for BFRBs if you are able to contribute. I’ve chosen this nonprofit because their mission means a lot to me, and I hope you’ll consider contributing as a way to celebrate with me. Every little bit will help me reach my goal. Your donations will help expand and support the wealth of resources available on bfrb.org, support groups, webinars, and workshops. They could even send a child feeling as helpless and alone as I did, to the annual conference. This nonprofit organization has changed the lives of countless individuals through research, resources, connections, and love. Thank you, TLC, and thank all of you that have taken the time to read this lengthy post!! ❤ 

Featured image: “Girls Support” by Olga Semklo

Itching for Understanding

After eight hours of teaching, I returned to my studio apartment and made a quick dinner of canned tuna, kimchi, and rice. When I sat down at my desk chair, I noticed a small stinging sensation within my lower half which I envisioned as small stones clicking against walls of a cave as if they were knocked around by a scurrying animal. I had felt this before and knew what I had to do.

My 10 a.m. alarm was more startling than it should’ve been. I sleepily dressed and headed to the pink building I passed everyday on the way to my teaching job that I was pretty sure was a gynecology office. It was March 10th, 2015, and Seoul was finally starting to get warm. I crossed the street too soon and ended up standing in the middle the road while cars streamed past me, alarmingly close to my body. A song called Sex on the Regular swam into my ears through my headphones and poked at my conscience. I sighed.

I entered the building and approached the front desk, where I noticed a framed photo of the man who I assumed was the doctor. The portrait showed him smiling and holding up his pinky as if to demonstrate the number one but choosing an unconventional finger. In my opinion, this was an attempt to convey the notion that he had a gentle touch. It was scary.

It was scary because he was a man whom I had never met who was about to be putting not that particular finger but a finger nonetheless inside of my body, and attempting to convince me of the comfort and safety of his medical practice with a carelessly printed 4×6 photo in which he’s definitely wearing BB cream.

Two young, soft-featured Korean women in lilac-colored scrubs and pink cardigans greeted me. One looked happy; the other did not.

We all politely recited “Annyeonghaseyo (Hello).”

I forced a smile and surprised myself when I started to feel shy. I unlocked my phone and pulled up a note, written in English and Korean, with potential diagnoses to consider. I handed the device to the friendlier woman who took it with both hands and a bow of her head. Both of them peered at the small screen.

The nice one looked up, nodded, handed back my phone, and said, “Okay.”

The doctor was also wearing lilac scrubs but forwent the pink cardigan. He sat behind a desk in a nicely furnished, naturally lit room. He said hello and I reciprocated as I sat down in the armchair opposite him. The rocks clicked around again when my bottom hit the brown leather.

“Do you like leggings?” he said in a thick accent.

I looked down at my leggings and then at the nurse who was giggling and covering her mouth.

“Yes,” I said apprehensively.

The doctor looked at me in a way that I was positive meant, “Leggings are a breeding ground for vaginal bacteria, you child.”

The nurse lead me into a room the size of a queen mattress adjacent to the doctor’s office and handed me a long, thin skirt to wear in place of my sinful leggings. As I hacked my way through a jungle of discomfort, the nurse peeped into my room every ten seconds to check on my status. I fumbled to get the skirt on as fast as possible.

Finally, she succeeded in her timing and had me sit in the examination chair. After pulling the skirt completely up (which felt ridiculous since I had finally just gotten it on) I was instructed to slide down the chair as far as I could while the nurse alternated her gaze between my eyes and my undercarriage.

The doctor then joined us. Before I could even look up, the nurse swung a small pink curtain on an L-shaped rod to the side of the chair between the doctor and me, preventing us from making eye contact.

Without warning, a wet finger slid up and down the diameter of my labia and then suddenly a cold metal apparatus followed, plundering through the arch of my flower door. It didn’t hurt, but I grimaced. It was more painful in my mind than in my body.

Then, what I assumed to be a long cotton swab entered through the metal tool and continued up as far as it could go. I felt it poke my cervix. As I winced in pain (this time actual, physical pain) I heard the nurse make a small, indistinguishable sound. I opened my eyes and the nurse pointed above my head. 

Cheogi! (There!)” she exclaimed.

I twisted my neck up and saw a small television screen with my cervix in the limelight. I yelled. The nurse and doctor laughed. 

I watched in horror at what looked like a toothbrush enter the frame and start moving upwards. At that point, I was sweating, beads forming at my hairline. The doctor moved it closer and closer until the bristles collided with the delicate tissue.

“Cancer site! Cancer site!” he shouted in English.

My sweat beads became basketballs and I started to panic. “I…eesseoyo!? (have!?)” I shouted back.

He chuckled. “No.”

My peripheral vision was blurred with fear and the doctor started laughing again. Now I was angry. I realized that he was just showing me where the cancer would be.

In my rage I forgot about the curious toothbrush. However, it quickly reentered my mind when it began repeatedly scraping my cervix until blood seeped out, past the borders of the screen. Helpless, I watched my own mutilation happen above my head.

“Take it easy,” he said as he so generously placed his palms on both my kneecaps. I was no longer sweating; now I was crying. This time it hurt, and again, not just physically, though it did also hurt physically.

The brush and camera were swiftly pulled out and a wet finger (felt like a thumb) returned to rub up and down my vagina again, this time for much longer than seemed necessary. I hoped there was a reason for him to be doing this and that it wasn’t just because he could.

There is definitely a medical reason, I lied to myself.*

All of a sudden, the procedure was over. The doctor got up and the nurse swung the curtain back against the wall. I forced another smile—one of umpteen during my time in South Korea—and the nurse handed me a scented panty liner.

“Pinishee,” she said. Finished.

The nurse left the room and I got dressed. She continued her trend of unnecessarily peeking in and out of the room. A lot of things that happened in that office seemed unnecessary.

As I left the room, I noticed several cotton balls strewn about, covered in my blood. For some reason this was surprising.

The nurse escorted me back into the doctor’s office twelve inches from where I was or wasn’t assaulted. On the desk was what looked like a butt-sized blowup pool that I predicted was to act as a ridiculous application apparatus for the bottle of gel that stood next to it.

I was right.

The visit ended with the doctor showing me how to use the items. The bottle contained vaginal cleansing jelly and the small kiddie pool. He explained how to blow it up.

He kept referring to the entire process as “douching,” which was confusing because what he was illustrating was not douching. What he was suggesting I do at home was soaking my sad vagina in a miniature blowup pool because he is an arcane maniac. He explained that three times a day I must “rub the genitalias with the jellies” and sit in a warm bath for three minutes. I finally allowed myself to laugh at the sick joke that was being played on me for the past hour and nodded my head in agreement.

The next day I begrudgingly returned for shorter visit, one that confirmed my belief that I didn’t have an STD but a minor and common infection called bacterial vaginosis which is easily treated with antibiotics and a medicinal cream.

However, he wasn’t the kind of guy to give his victims a straightforward answer. Instead of just telling me my diagnosis and letting me leave like literally any other doctor would have, he pulled out a laminated piece of paper with nine various diseases listed, each accompanied by a graphic picture, and performed the last scene of his tragedy.

With a serious face, he pointed to each illustration and hauntingly read the name of the disease and described the toll it takes on its host. He followed this action with a dramatic pause, and concluded with a fit of uncalled-for laughter when he told me I didn’t have it. 

“Syphilis…you don’t have! Ha ha ha.”

He repeated this fun bit nine times, once for each picture. I wondered if, if we were in the US, he would be prosecuted for this under the eight amendment.

When his recital was over, we shook hands and bowed to one another, and I returned to the front desk to retrieve my prescription. After taking a final look at his pinky fingered portrait, I left the office. I stopped at the pharmacy, picked up my antibiotics, and smiled, this time for real, because I knew that I would never have to go to that gynecologist ever again.

*Friends and family who have proofread this essay each brought up the part about the unnecessarily rubbing wet finger. After reading via email, my friend wrote back, “Clarify whether or not there was actually a reason for him rubbing your clitoris. The reader may be confused about whether or not you were molested.”

My step-mom told me, “So, what, this doctor abused you?”

I said, “I don’t know, it’s just what happened.”

She asked me why I didn’t tell anyone, and again I told her I didn’t know. She made an ambiguous sound and walked into the other room. After much reflection, though, I realized why.

When you are [a woman in 2015] living in a foreign country where you don’t speak the native tongue and working a job where you’re treated like furniture, to accuse a male doctor of molesting you with a grin on his face is absurd. Even if I was in my home country there would have been huge risks involved. And what would be the outcome? Malpractice? Incarceration? A fine?

It likely would be none of the above. It would have been nothing.

This may seem pessimistic, but take this anecdote into account. The same friend who replied to my email was living abroad in Korea at the same time. One day when she was home sick from work, someone broke into her apartment and sexually assaulted her. He ran off and, after the police finally “caught” him, they texted her a photo of him in the precinct saying, “Is this him?” He was featured smiling. The photo was actually quite flattering. My friend’s trauma was treated as a joke. Her attacker was never charged.

However, let’s say I was going to report what happened to me at the gyno. Was what he did considered molestation or sexual abuse? How am I supposed to know that what I still consider traumatic wasn’t routine? I’m not a gynecological professional. There was a nurse in the room, too––wouldn’t she have stopped him if he were doing anything wrong? Though, would she have? What repercussions would that decision have for her? Would she lose her job if she spoke up? If she was kept on the staff, would she be left out of company dinners? Was she willing to risk it?

These are all questions that women—and men—ask themselves in these situations. From an outsider’s perspective, the right answer is always to report it; to fight the wrongdoing and welcome Justice with open arms, a cheese platter, and a bottle of rosé. Realistically, however, that isn’t always the smartest move.

The year I lived in South Korea I was in a bad place: physically, mentally, emotionally, and any other kind of –ly you can think of. I will admit that I could have read the situation incorrectly, and I sincerely hope I did. There is definitely a part of me that regrets keeping the incident to myself until so many months later, but overall, it was the safest choice. Not that I had many.

Dating Worksheet

Featured Image: “A Good Breakup” by Gianna Meola

Please complete in a timely manner and bring your paper up to the teacher’s desk when you’re finished. Thank you.


1. When you first met your now ex-boyfriend, you knew right away you would end up dating. How did you predict it would end? How is that different from how it actually ended? Compare and contrast.

2. Obvious red flags presented themselves at several points in the relationship. Why did you choose to ignore them?

3. Even though you had just broken up and told him you didn’t think you should speak for a while, was it wrong to be mad when he didn’t wish you a happy birthday?

4. Once the break-up was finalized, how many seconds did it take for your mind to drift to men you’ve wanted to sleep with for the past year but hadn’t pursued? Of those men, how many do you work with?

5. You’re out with coworkers for Jim’s birthday and have made it clear that you plan on going home with him, even though you don’t like him that much. Later in the evening, however, you connect on a sexual level with Rob, a friend and overall good person. Will you pursue Rob or go home with Jim anyway and then blame the patriarchy for your misguided behavior? Explain.

6. How long after you met that one guy at work did you know you would use his friendship as a tool to satisfy your subconscious craving for emotional validation and affection you were lacking in your relationship but not realize it until months later when you got drunk and made out at a party?

7. Andre comes back from out of town on the 18th, but Jake just told you he took off of work to visit you over Labor Day weekend. How many days will you get to spend with Andre until you start feeling guilty about secretly texting another guy and eventually ghost both of them because you can’t handle your perceived pressure of the situation for one more fucking second?

8. If you get blackout drunk at 8 p.m. and text your ex’s lesbian roommate at 10 p.m., how many unanswered messages later does it take for you to realize that you may have misread her energy in the kitchen that one time? 

9. When you receive your sister’s wedding invitation addressed to you and your ex, do you wait to cry until you get inside your apartment or do it right there at the mailbox? When you’re too emotionally fragile to even have time to make the choice, what do you say to your neighbor when they bring it up the next day? 

10. Will you call your ex tonight using the excuse that you just want to give him his sweater back and then get upset when it doesn’t sound like he’s having a hard time without you? Why or why not? 

Cocktails for a Newly Single Woman!

Image: “Still Life” by Noelle Campbell

Hosting after a breakup? These are the recipes you’ve been looking for.

The Break-Up

     4 parts vodka

     1 part orange juice

     Orange bitters


     1 more part vodka because fuck it, whatever 

Telling Mom

     2 parts gin

     1 part lemon juice 

     1 part “Would it kill you to put on a pair of heels once in a while? Jesus.”

Getting Back on the Horse

    2 parts off-brand corner store ginger ale

    1 part Tanqueray (Note: Continue to take big, intermittent swigs from the bottle while anxiously applying makeup in the kitchen.)

Finance Fuckboy

     1 shot bottom-shelf tequila

     1 can Tecate

     Light blue button-up carelessly mashed into the ill-fitting waistband of a pair of Brooks Brothers khakis

     Garnish with vagueness about intentions

Drunk Text

     5 shots of Fireball

     Water from the bar’s bathroom sink

     Water from the guy who held you hair back at the bar’s bathroom sink

Dark N’ Stormy

     2 parts rum

     3 parts ginger beer

     Wedge of lime

     Rainwater because you’re literally sitting outside in a storm. What are you doing? Go inside.

No Closure

    6 oz whiskey

    2 oz tonic

    Twist of lemon so your drink will look fancy and maybe he’ll think you’re doing okay

    Twist of knife optional