Thursday, February 28, 2019

Pinterest Creates a Deodorant Dilemma

I was in sixth grade when I started using deodorant and from the word go, I used way too much. My family had gone over the hill to feed stale bread to the fish in our pond on a summer day. I was hauling myself back up near my mom when she exclaimed, “you stink!” This prompted the rest of the family to have a sniff. My father, never one for subtlety, roared about my B.O. His laughter followed me as I beat a path to the shower.

In those days, I wore a Milwaukee brace to treat scoliosis. Hygiene was complicated by the leather, metal, and plastic casing around my torso. I relied heavily on the Ban roll-on that mom kept in the house. It turned out I was a profuse sweater though and I soon switched to powder fresh solid, applying it heavily three or four times a day.

I caked on so much antiperspirant that it would congeal into little white balls that looked like bunches of grapes growing in my pits. Layer after layer of product went on and did nothing to stymie the sweat.

My seventh-grade history teacher went on a riff one day about the dangers of aluminum. We’re all going to have Alzheimer’s from our deodorant he said. His warning stuck with me and as I swiped or sometimes sprayed, I’d think how an elderly me would pay for it someday. But I didn’t stop.

Fast forward nearly thirty years and it’s not Alzheimer’s but a more credible worry about breast cancer and a closet full of shirts with pits stained powdery white. The planet is dying and I’ve personally populated landfills with empty pomegranate Dove deodorant sticks. In early 2019, I swiped the last bits of a stick and decided not to buy any more.

But I'm still a stinky girl.

I took to Pinterest for a solution and quickly found a homemade recipe sure to curb any unwanted APO. I measured and mixed just four ingredients and congratulated myself on saving the earth.

My mixture cooled and it didn't look like the Pinterest picture. It wasn't the consistency described in the post. In fact, my homemade deo seemed to have separated. Undeterred, I smoothed the top layer into my pits and went on about life.

And I didn't stink for weeks. Even better, without the constant reapplication of powdery solids that transferred to my clothes, most of the white pit stains washed out. I was sporting a wardrobe that looked nearly new.

Eventually, I worked my way down through that top layer and found that I couldn't scrape out enough to paste my pits. I took my mini ball jar back to the kitchen and hacked out chunks with a butter knife.

Now I had these cakes of solid deodorant that I could apply much like a storebought product but without the plastic holder. 

I was super pleased with myself at this point. 

Right up until the burning. Oh, my underarms felt like they were on fire a few days into my solid cake phase. I began asking the Google about the ingredients in the DIY wonder deodorant. 

Can lavender irritate skin? I asked.


Oh, yes.

Is corn starch irritating to skin?


How about coconut oil?

No. Go ahead and put as much coconut oil and corn starch on your body as you want.

At this point, my armpits were bright red and puffy. The internet painted a dreary picture of thick brown skin created by repeated exposure to baking soda. It appeared that I was a few uses away from teenage Groot underarms. Not pretty.

After a few days of NO DEODORANT, the burning stopped and my skin returned to its usual pitty pallor. Fun fact about me: I don't sweat that much when my skin is inflamed and burning like the fires of Mordor. So the post-burn part of this wasn't even the worst of it.

Pinterest will gladly tell you that baking soda bad, if you ask. Suddenly, my feed was full of recipes without baking soda. I even found the corner of the internet where people use plain coconut oil and nothing else. Of course, I tried that.


Coconut oil is just fine until the sweating starts and though there isn't much sweating during a Pittsburgh winter, there's too much sweating for coconut oil.

And now I'm left with a deodorant dilemma. I don't want to go back to those over-packaged plastic tubes full of aluminum and whatever else. I don't want to ruin all of my shirts. I also don't want to stink. So I think I'm going to have to try my own recipe, figure out what was in that top layer of the first Pinterest fail. 

Perhaps coconut oil, corn starch, and less lavender will do the trick. I'm starting to sweat just thinking about it.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Postpartum Psychosis on NPR

Quite likely lost in your news feed last week was an NPR story about postpartum psychosis. It was heartening to see the article called She Wanted To Be The Perfect Mom, Then Landed In A Psychiatric Unit because the mania that is possible after childbirth so rarely breaks into the national news cycle. 
"Shots" Health News from NPR

NPR respectfully told the story of a California mother's 2014 psychosis. It went further and outlined improvements to mental healthcare that would improve outcomes for postpartum psychosis. "The gold standard is to admit the mother and the baby into the hospital together, on a specialized mother-baby unit, where they're treated as a pair," NPR reported based on research dating back to the 1940s.

This isn't the first I've read about mother-baby psychiatric units. They exist in Europe along with postpartum mental health seminars and support groups and what seems to be more abundant open dialogue about mental health. But rather than shame America, NPR pointed out several programs here in the states that are working within our mixed up health insurance system to provide that gold standard care to women.

When I was hospitalized in 2005, I was permitted daily 20-minute visits with my infant daughter. It's distressing that nine years later, the mom featured in NPR's article had to negotiate for hour-long staff supervised visits with her baby. Nothing makes you feel less like the "perfect mom" than spending weeks away from your newborn baby. So any psychiatric unit making progress toward keeping mother and child together for the duration of inpatient care is a good thing.

And having moms share their stories will eventually make an impact on the care that's available. Read the NPR article and share it to help new moms with mental health disorders.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The 1000 Words a Day Diet

I’m trying to finish another novel. This one is about a seventh-grade language arts teacher that is not good at her job. (Any resemblance to real persons living or dead is purely coincidental.) It’s really an exploration of the mechanics of being really bad at your job. I’ve always imagined it goes deeper than what goes on in the workplace. So, that’s the new book.

It’s really hard to write it. Or perhaps it’s very easy to procrastinate writing it. At any rate, I got a few thousand words in and then felt accomplished because I thought about the story every day. I’d forgive myself for skimping on the actual work because I was pre-planning.

Aware that my pace was going to result in another five-year effort, I put myself on a 1,000 word a day plan two weeks ago. Monday through Friday I write 1,000 words per day. I do not edit. I do not get credit for thinking. I make a little note each day of my word total so I know how far I have to go before stopping.

It’s been working most days. Yesterday I wrote 400 words, but today I went beyond my requirement. All in all, it’s producing a first draft that’s moving in the direction of being finished. During this decade.

Do you have any motivational strategies for keeping your work in progress going?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Wherein the HealthSherpa Was Less Than Helpful

I adore the Affordable Care Act. Years ago when my husband and I parted ways with employer-provided healthcare, the ACA was just glimmering on the horizon. We looked at pre-ACA plans and found premiums in excess of $1400 per month for two healthy non-smoking adults. Unable to fork over that amount, we opted for a "catastrophic policy" that cost $40 per month and allegedly offered protection in the event of major illness or injury.

We never made a claim, but I'm thinking that garbage insurance wasn't going to be a huge help if our health failed.

A few months later, the Affordable Care Act passed. Miraculously, we had coverage, good coverage, for under $500 per month. No subsidies, just straight up.

So every November we go through our annual renewal with The process starts with a letter from our insurance carrier indicating the next year's premium will be a significant amount higher than the previous year. We have to go onto the website and fill out a form which invariably hangs up at some point causing me to spend fifteen minutes on the phone with customer service. We pick through plans and somehow come away with lower premiums and lower copays.

It's a little annoying, but nothing like the sheer terror of insurance shopping in the pre-ACA days.

This year, the website was wonkier than ever. I couldn't make it past the first screen verifying our address and county of residence. I tried different browsers, used the Internet from my phone, did everything possible to make the infernal system-working-spinny-circle go away. I don't enjoy calling customer service.

There was nothing for it. Our application was stuck.

In a last-ditch effort to do it myself, online, without a phone call, I discovered HealthSherpa. HealthSherpa advertises itself as "the fastest and easiest way to enroll in ACA / Marketplace health insurance."

Fast and easy. Yay.

We decided on a plan within minutes and clicked "enroll." HealthSherpa kicked us back to Spinny circle. Again.

Now into the fourth session of attempting to renew this coverage with the looming countdown prominent at every turn (only 18 days left to sign up!), I had to call the 800 number anyway.

A very nice guy that sounded super far away was able to take all of my information and complete the application. He made sure I was able to get to the part where I could look at the plans before bidding me good day and sending me on my way. I was so close to success.

And then kicked me back to HealthSherpa to enroll in a plan.

Apparently, using HealthSherpa to look at available coverage caused some impermeable link between the application and their fast and easy service. 


I clicked "enroll" and HealthSherpa "encountered an unexpected error and is unable to enroll at this time."

My blood was kind of boiling at this point. But, since I was already in a phone calling sort of mode, I called HealthSherpa. HealthSherpas are supposed to be really wonderful to talk to. It's part of their insurance made fast, easy, and simple schtick.

The Sherpa lady says to me, "why didn't have you pick a new plan?"

I told her that I'm changing plans and that I needed to look at all the plans and most of all the guy didn't wanna.

The Sherpa lady needed to talk to my husband.

There is little on this earth that irritates me as much as a customer service representative needing to TALK TO MY HUSBAND. Sure, I understand that people get divorced and have all the reasons that they shouldn't be allowed to call in and cancel each other's credit cards. I get it. It's just that I've been married to this man for sixteen going on forever years. I want there to be a special blue check by my name that indicates to the world: just do what she says, he's going to ask her what she wants him to do anyway. 

My husband used his man voice to tell the Sherpa lady our address. Boom. Suddenly I was verified.

The HealthSherpa couldn't find, pick, and/or understand the coverage I was trying to obtain. Exasperated, I asked if she could disconnect her service from my ACA application. She said she'd call me back in ten minutes.

Eleven minutes later I found a link on It said something like, "continue to view plans with if you no longer wish to use a partner website."

Fifteen minutes later the HealthSherpa called and told me to look for that link.

In summary, just call the hotline. If by some small mercy the Health Insurance Marketplace still exists next fall, I'm giving the circle one spin before making the call.

Boom. Health insurance.