When I meet fellow health explorers – the people who don’t think it’s weird that I make my own skin care products, or brew kombucha, or abhor lawn chemicals – I often ask them, “So what made you this way? Were your parents hippies? Did you have some kind of transformative experience that led you down this veritable rabbit hole of health and wellness?”
(It’s not actually a hole – it’s a magical tunnel, a passageway to an alternate, technicolored reality.)
The answers I get vary. One friend was, in fact, raised by hippies, homeschooled in the middle of nowhere, denied all the usual perks of childhood – he enjoyed no soda, no candy, no tv, little or no technology. (He turned out great.) Another friend said that it was a game of adult hide-and-seek and his inability to run as fast as he thought he should be able to. Yet another, a conservative rancher in the midwest, said it had a lot to do with his quest to have sex with hippie chicks.
I appreciate honesty. Also, the wish to bed hippie chicks seems like a laudable goal for a rancher.
For me, my health journey began in starts and fits. I wasn’t raised by hippies. Nay, I was raised by parents who’d never heard of the idea that sugar might not be the best thing to eat. (In their defense, it was a time when all the health gurus were busy excoriating fat, not sugar.) I was not what you’d call a healthy child. I had strange food tastes, including a sugar addiction, an obsession with butter (which remains to this day) and a peculiar interest in eating dessicated instant coffee granules. I was sick many times a year, catching every cold that went around, suffering through weeks-long sinus infections, and enduring all kinds of stomach upset.
So what happened, then?
First, as I was embarking on my legal career, working too many hours, drinking too much, not sleeping enough, and generally living a non-virtuous life, I had a wake-up call. My boyfriend at the time was 26, three years younger than me, and he was battling stomach cancer. And I thought: Life is short. Sometimes, it’s REALLY short. Why am I living my life in such a way that I hate waking up in the morning?
The next morning, I woke up, went to work, and wrote my letter of resignation. I gave it to my secretary, who hugged me and cried – tears of joy, delight that I was going to get out while I was still alive, still (relatively) healthy and happy.
I got a second wake-up call a year or so later, when I found myself beset with terrible pain – in my vagina, of all places. I went to the doctor, and she ran a slew of tests, all of which came back negative. I was fine – other than the awful pain. So she examined me again, and then announced gravely that she had to go do some research. She left for a very long time, and I sat in the examination room, worrying. When she finally returned, she held a large stack of paper, computer printouts. She announced in a serious tone: “You have lichen sclerosis.”
I thought lichen was a type of moss. Surely, there was no moss growing in my vagina. So I asked her what that was, and she explained that it’s a flesh eating disorder and that if I didn’t treat it, I would end up with no labia whatsoever.
FLESH EATING WHAT???????
The doctor gave me the stack of printouts, so I could take them home and read all about my new friend, the vulva-eater, and she also prescribed a steroid cream that was supposedly going to save my labia from extinction. I left, feeling not at all at ease.
I tried the cream, and the pain it caused was worse than the original pain.
So I quit the cream. And I made another appointment with a different doctor who examined me, and, quickly dropping the sheet, gave me a sympathetic look.
“You don’t have lichen sclerosis.”
He went on. “This is going to sound weird…” (Trust me, doc, after someone tells you that your vulva is being eaten to extinction, nothing sounds that weird.) “…but your vagina is just really irritated. It’s angry. Stop shaving, stop using any bubble baths or scented soaps, and change your laundry detergent.” He explained that recent regulatory changes had banned a particular chemical from laundry soaps, and that the new formulations were causing a lot of similar irritation in other women.
That all made great sense. It also didn’t seem weird, in the least.
So, I went home and followed his prescription, started reading labels, started seeking out non-toxic care products with only gentle, safe ingredients. Within a day or two, all the pain was gone. It never returned. I shredded the lichen sclerosis literature and used it as bedding in the chicken coop.
The memory of that experience, though, has stayed with me, and just the thought of the pain I experienced has made me never, ever want to have scented or chemical-laden personal care or cleaning products around me. I cringe at the acrid floral stench of Tide laundry detergent. I unplug any “air fresheners” I encounter. I buy goat milk soap from a hippie homeschooling family. I make my own laundry soap. I make herb-infused oils and from them craft decadent lotions and balms. I use vinegar, baking soda, castile soap, and essential oils to clean my home. I even make my own toothpaste.
My skin is happy, my house is clean, and perhaps most importantly, my vagina exists in a state of perpetual bliss.
Moreover, living this way hasn’t been a hardship in any way – it has only made my life richer and better. And so I wonder – why do so many people use so many toxic products? And perhaps more importantly, why do so many people consume things that contain artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives, and all that crap? For many people, I think it’s that they haven’t made the connection between eating those crap-filled foods (or using those crap-filled products) and feeling like crap. So I guess, here I am, encouraging you to recognize this, if you haven’t already done so.
Just try it for a month: cut out the crap, and replace it with healthier options. Shop at the farmers’ market. Eat fresh, local food, and see how you feel. You don’t have to go out and buy a bunch of new products. But as you run out of things, be mindful, read labels, and seek out healthier versions. Lots of small, gradual changes add up to big transformation.
So, cheers, friends! To health and wellness and happy vaginas.
Have you had a health transformation? If so, do share!