asterroc: (xkcd - Fuck the Cosine)
[personal profile] asterroc
This isn't going to be a riddle, it's going to be my real life experience. Because it includes potentially triggering discussion of sexism, and lengthy descriptions of asthma (which I guess could be a medical trigger), I'm going to put stuff behind a cut for people reading on their LJ/DW friends page - if you're came here directly, each section begins with "My discovery of" and it's asthma first and sexism next.

My discovery of / description of living with asthma…

I discovered I had asthma around age 26, not long after my first time in graduate school. (Coincidentally, this was also not long after I first discovered that yes, sexism and racism still exist, also during my first time in grad school.) I was at an ultimate frisbee pickup game where the game I was in had too few players, something like 5 per team, so I basically had to run non-stop the entire time, back and forth across this huge frisbee field. At the end I realized I wasn't really able to breathe in as much as my lungs needed, and this was distressing.

If you don't have asthma, just imagine it. You need to take a deep breath, but you cannot. Your lungs just aren't expanding as much as you need. I've heard it described like someone is sitting on your chest, though I now think it feels a bit more like wearing a corset. I suspect it also feels a lot like a panic attack, in that you can't breathe and you need to breathe and everything is falling apart. Thankfully with the asthma though, I wasn't falling apart. Somewhere between having read about asthma and trying things in the moment, I realized I was able to get in a bit more air if I laid on my back, so I did this for like 20 minutes.

Some time later I reported this to my GP, as well as the fact that whenever I tried to go for a run I found that when my heart rate got up high enough I also had trouble getting in a deep breath, and she gave me an inhaler prescription to try. Apparently my peak flow meter reading (they have you blow out hard and sharp into a thingit) wasn't all that bad, but I tried the inhaler and it did help, so that meant I had asthma. A while later I also got onto Singulair, a pill.

So here's the thing, when you get diagnosed with something like asthma and actually get treatment, all sorts of things start clicking into place. You remember how as a child in elementary school you couldn't run very fast, you always hated freeze tag and always lost, and you wonder if the reason why was that you couldn't take a deep enough breath. You remember you've never actually managed to run a mile in your life, when you tried in high school you had to keep stopping and walking for a bit and then running again, so that your attempt to run a mile took you 14 minutes, while your fast walk took you 13 - and you go "huh."

But now you've got treatment right, and everything's okay, right?

No. Because just a year ago, I got a horrible cold after the Hunt, which gave me the worst asthma issues I'd ever had for months, and in fact now, a full year later, I'm still more sensitive to smoke than I was before (eg., flocked post 1, 2). And the thing is, not only did it give me bigger sensitivities, it gave me an all new symptom too: coughing. It took me something like two months to even realize that the cough was due to asthma, and the first (urgent care) doctor I saw didn't even make that connection. And it's not just an issue of "oh, so you're coughing, big deal," no, the entire first week of classes in January 2015, every single night before I went to bed I coughed so hard that I puked. Until that second doctor told me to use my inhaler, then I just coughed until it hurt.

So I got that clarified diagnosis and everything's all right, right?

Well mostly, because now I know what asthma coughing feels like, and I know my asthma can get triggered by cigarette and pot smoke, and by exercise. And then I move back East again, and discover that living in a third floor walk-up where the neighbors chain smoke means that the first week of classes in September 2015 I twice cough until I puke just from going down the stairs in the morning. But at least I know that when I can take a solid breath again I should use my inhaler, and then I can drive an hour to work while vibrating because that's the side effect of using my inhaler, the jitters.

And then winter finally comes and I discover that damp air triggers my asthma.

And then I eat some pretzels at the 2016 Mystery Hunt and I've now not only discovered that I can actually have a food asthma trigger, but you remember that time when I was a kid and my Dad kept taking me to Wendy's on our night out once a week, and I really loved their Frosties, but they always made me cough, but they were so good I always wanted them anyways? Yeah. Pretty sure that was asthma.

The thing is, my asthma is always there. Sometimes I can forget it for a whole week. Sometimes I wake up and go to the bathroom and the bathroom is reeking of smoke from the downstairs neighbors and I have to go for my inhaler after peeing and before I can even brush my teeth, and the Sun isn't even up yet. Sometimes it's raining out and I decide to walk up the stairs to my second floor office, and I manage to not need the inhaler for that but I decide to take the elevator the rest of the day, and hope the three other people waiting with me using a cane, a crutch, and a motorized wheelchair don't all think I'm just freeloading. And other days I eat pretzels just fine, I walk six miles and get blisters on my feet and never feel short of breath, I stand in a hot shower for an hour just to get a crick out of my neck.

I never know which it's going to be, I just have to keep living my life, and taking my meds, and hoping it'll be a good day.


My discovery of / description of living with sexism…

And that's the thing about discovering that sexism and sexual harassment exist. Suddenly you look back on your life and realize, "oh waitasec, it was here, and here, and here."

Remember when your first grade teacher said you were horrible at math and would never be able to learn how to do math? And sure you got a bachelor's in math and can do diff EQs, but you still can't do arithmetic, and you don't know if it's her fault or yours.

Remember when the other girl in your high school physics class asked you and your best friend if you also thought the teacher was sexist and you answered no? Maybe he wasn't, but how many of you reading this even blinked for a moment at the phrase "the other girl"? The class had 25 students. Three of us were girls. Maybe the teacher wasn't sexist, but something has to be going on somewhere for only 10% of the class to be female.

Remember when the other two physics majors in your year in college, both guys of course, came up to you and said they thought all of their/our physics, astronomy, and math professors were being reverse sexist and were helping you find summer jobs and hiring you as a TA more than them and you just shrugged it off? You knew then the profs weren't being reverse sexist since they were just giving you the attention you deserved, I mean, you were a better student than them after all. You know now that reverse sexism can't exist by definition (since sexism requires a power inequity that reinforces the current power structure). You know now that the mere act of acting like reverse sexism could exist is itself sexist. You know now that what the guys were noticing was probably just a lack of the privilege they'd taken for granted their whole lives. You know now that the profs were probably attempting to make up for the fact that not a single one of them was a woman, and yet every secretary was.

Remember when those same profs assigned you to TA E&M again, the most difficult class to TA, and gave the guys the fun class of astronomy? And you actually went and asked the department chair if you could swap out because you liked astro better? And the chair said that he trusted you more than them? And you took it as a compliment and gave in? And now you wonder if he would've given in instead if you were a guy. Or if he wouldn't've tried to rely on your nurturing nature so much if you were a guy. Or even if you wouldn't've given in so easily if you were a guy.

And it goes on and on. Those are just the things that happened to me before I became aware that sexism still exists. I don't have much archived from the whole discovery process, but I did manage to dig up this one tiny gem. Just look at poor baby me. "It's not that people are unfairly treating me like I'm worthless, it's just that I actually am worthless." ☹

But it's a continual process of discovery.

You read a link and suddenly realize that there was a whole 'nother dimension to the whispers about this one particular professor.

You're avidly listening to your quantum prof discuss group theory, because it seems just like modern or abstract algebra, and that's just a game to you, no different than Magic: the Gathering or Robert's Rules of Order, and he's struggling to describe the abstract concept of a group, so he compares it to the group of all men in the class and the group of all women in the class, and then he makes eye contact with you, and you suddenly realize, nine weeks into the class, that you're the only woman in the class, and from the tightening in his jaw you can tell that he just realized too, and realized that he shouldn't've pointed it out, and that he's waiting for you to defuse the tension for him since that's what women do, and you just decide to wait him out and let him squirm instead.

And you think "okay, I know everything about sexism now, I've been through hell and back again, there's nothing new to discover," and then the day after you post this even you read a tweet, this one:


and you remember when on the first day of college a junior engineering major comes up to you and says "What's a freshman doing in my Calc 3 class?" You, just a freshman, you a girl. Classic gatekeeping. And you just look him up and down and raise your eyebrows and reply "What's a junior doing in my Calc 3 class?" And now, today, the day after you originally posted this, you go back and edit it again.

So the thing is, most days I can forget about sexism. I can teach my class and talk about the beautiful science and math. I can drive to work and sing along to the radio. I can look up photos of funny birds on Twitter and of friends’ kids on Facebook. And then some days I look at my physics class and see that a quarter of the students are women (which is better than most years), all the women are majoring in healthcare related subjects, and not a single woman is majoring in engineering. Some days I start off belting my heart out to Alexander Hamilton as I pull out of my parking spot in the morning, and by the time I’m looking for a spot I'm bawling my eyes out to Eliza's "I put myself back in the narrative." Some days I have to log out of Facebook due to links from the NY Times and Inside Higher Ed and quit Twitter due to the #AstroSH hashtag. (And just now I had to very quickly back back out of that page so as to not want to vomit.) Some days I get asked outright by a student about Geoff Marcy and I have to very carefully steer my thoughts away from other particular names so that I don't trigger myself in front of my class, even as I try to tell my students that the good part of this clusterfuck is that at least astronomy's in the process of fixing it.

And I never know which type of day it's going to be, or even which type of hour it's going to be. There's no medicine for it, though finding a therapist is on my eternally-postponed-due-to-current-lack-of-emotional-energy to-do-list. I have to just go on living my life, coping how I can, and hoping today's a good day.



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