[CW: Racism, Homophobia, Language, #MAGA]
First, my original intention with my post in, oh I don’t know, December was to get back on track from the travesty of 2017. I was going to cut out gluten and get my thyroid fixed and exercise and catch up on blogs and get better at bookkeeping and basically DO ALL THE THINGS. Intentions, amirite? On new year’s, I was toasting with family saying “2018 will be better! No more freak spider bites, no more bronchitis! Just getting healthy! RAWR!” And in all fairness to 2018, I have not gotten bronchitis or any insect bites . . . yet. Instead, a persistent cold became a sinus infection the last couple weeks of December that I powered through at the store, which obviously only made it worse. I spent my entire vacation on my couch sipping cough syrup and alternately complaining my house was either too hot or too cold. By mid-January, I could once again breathe through my nose and began work on the numerous projects I hoped to complete in what is traditionally a slower retail month. Success was slow and stressful, but I was starting to feel like maybe, just maybe, I was back in control.
One of my commitments with the store is to help all people find the intimate apparel which suits their needs, preferences, and budgets, including men. Men wear bras for any number of personal and medical reasons, and I have been a strong advocate in not only helping men traverse their own unique fit problems but also in encouraging broader societal acceptance. Through these efforts, I came to meet Shay who has a medical condition known as gynecomastia which causes the benign growth of breasts in biological males. In some cases, the most comfortable way to live with the condition is to wear a bra for support, but while that may be the simplest solution, it’s hardly the easiest one. Our culture is exceptionally hung up on gender norms and body policing. Boys should dress like boys, and girls should dress like girls, right? It not only assigns certain clothing and even behaviors to one gender as being “acceptable,” but it also leaves no room for anyone to depart from those norms, to say nothing of the implications on trans people as well as those who are non-binary or genderqueer. And unfortunately, people can be exceptionally cruel and malicious when presented with someone who behaves outside of the way they expect. Shay and I have discussed this many times via email, and I told him I would really love for him to guest post occasionally on the blog, particularly because he brings a completely different perspective to the table. After some poor timing on both our parts, we finally came together for his introductory post focusing on a terrifying experience where being outside cultural gender norms can have embarrassing repercussions: a body search by the TSA.
Originally, I planned to update everyone on the outcome of my endocrinology appointment for PCOS several weeks ago, but then the spider bite from hell caused all manner of delays and problems for me. Blogging took a backseat to catching up on the copious amount of backlogged work—an ongoing issue I will address later in the post. Speaking of Fred, after a final draining Tuesday, he looks significantly better and has drastically reduced in size. I think my immune system has officially killed him, so . . . ‘Eff you Fred and the spider you rode in on! Ultimately and perhaps a little paradoxically, I am thankful Fred forced me to ruminate on the results of my appointment. Under pressure, I’m cool as the proverbial cucumber, and when an obstacle arises, my instincts are to dispassionately find the best and quickest solution. In many instances, those are great qualities to have, but being able to compartmentalize emotions is at odds with processing how you really feel. When I first heard I had an auto-immune disorder, I was my typical “Can Do!” self and switched to research mode, selecting the best books from Amazon and developing a plan of action. During the reign of Fred, I couldn’t do anything, and I started to unpack those unhelpful feelings I boxed up and realized I needed major changes if I hoped to get better.
I am writing to you sober (for the moment) because my pain levels are manageable without the aid of prescriptions, and since several people asked me to follow-up when I felt better, I thought I would not only update you on my current progress but also sketch out the last ten days of torment I endured. Before delving into the gruesome details, I want to reiterate my heartfelt thanks for all the prayer, thoughts, and well-wishes I received. My dad would read them to me when I was in too much pain to check, and it brightened my spirits. Many of you sent me the sweetest personal messages about how I had helped you or how much my store meant to you, and as a small business owner, I cannot ask for anything more. The love you showed me helped and continues to help me as I recover and move forward after what has been a rather tough couple years. In kind, I wish all of you nothing but the best and success in all you endeavor to accomplish.
[Trigger Warning: We’re chatting body image, public commentary on weight, and health problems with a sprinkle of NSFW pictures too.]
When I wrote the post outlining my crappy fall (before it got crappier with walking pneumonia), I mentioned how PCOS insidiously corrupted my body, leaving me with symptoms ranging from abdominal weight gain to low vitamin D to scary high triglycerides. Many of my readers sent messages of support or asked about the disorder as well as the book I recommended 8 Steps to Reverse Your PCOS by Fiona McCulloch. Since PCOS affects roughly 10% of all women and trans men of reproductive age, I thought it merited further discussion, particularly because many of us also suffer from depression, anxiety, and poor self image related to weight gain.
It’s been two years since my last bout of extended illness, and much to my chagrin, I still struggle to cope with the challenges it presents. As an active person who was privileged enough to grow up healthy, being physically limited by anything leaves me frustrated enough to push myself to heal faster rather than giving my body the time it needs. The first time I experienced this powerlessness over my own body was when I was hospitalized in September of 2014 because mono caused swelling of my spleen and trashed my immune system for six months. The store suffered immensely from my absence and frequent closures, and when I became sick this year, I kept reliving that impact—an impact felt more keenly as the shop was busier now than in 2014.
Last night, I had the distinct privilege of visiting some wonderful women at the New Jerusalem Women’s Emergency Shelter, a program designed to help homeless women stay warm and safe this winter while also providing resources for growth and success. Everyone from the volunteers to the staff to the women themselves were smiling, joyful, and lovely to meet, and I thoroughly enjoyed being able to give them a proper bra fitting, well, as proper as we could manage with only my eyes and a measuring tape. Still, it was a service many of them had never experienced, and we were able to chat briefly with each woman about sizing, fitting, and the many bra styles available. Our store is no stranger to accepting bra donations, and we work with both local domestic violence shelters as well as Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abuse (TROSA) to collect intimate apparel donations from around the state. In fact, my friend Kat who owns Luxury on the Outer Banks has also volunteered her time as a fitter to participate in a joint bra fitting event at TROSA in a few weeks.
[Trigger Warning & TL;DR: A long time brewing, my writing is rawer and edgier than in any other post, and I do broach topics like PTSD, assault, stalking, anxiety, depression, weight gain, and body image. Despite the negative sentiment in my warning, the post is optimistic, focusing on finding hope and purpose after adversity. I suffered silently, afraid to be open here, but I know others have gone through the same struggles. If my story encourages you to seek help or share yours, then we can heal together.]
My beloved blog has been rather silent this year, not for my lack of wanting to write new content, and today I want to briefly update here why posting has been irregular. Last year was not a good year. Between chronic illness and then my brother’s attack in September, the store truly suffered from closures, inconsistent hours, and order delays. We managed to keep our doors open and to even eek out a minuscule growth rate, but there were many times I questioned my decision to continue forward with A Sophisticated Pair. This year, however, has really seen an explosion for us. It feels like we are back on track with our customers and with our plans for expansion, and I cannot be happier. However, busy days, last minute appointments, and all the added responsibilities involved in strengthening our business have tested my time management skills to the limit. Blogging, despite being an outlet for my writing passion, was continually bumped to the bottom of my ever-expanding “To Do” list, along with posting updates on Facebook and Instagram, developing a new fit tool, dying my hair, and cleaning out my shed.