Category Archives: Health

Happiness Versus Fear of Uncertainty and the Depersonalization Effect

Taking off next to another plane this morning, I gazed out the window watching our planes part in opposite directions across a perfectly clear sky. The view was spectacular. I fly a lot, but there was something extra magical about the colors today, the light pouring over San Francisco, tinting the Golden Gate Bridge extra golden, the Pacific Ocean twinkling so bright it seemed as though despite the gain in altitude I could still reach out and touch it until our flight made its final turn to the east.

I love to wake up in the morning wrapped in the arms of my boyfriend, his gentle smile, and pull around me in a warm hug drifting in and out of consciousness. I’m very excited about moving in with him and starting our – adult – life together. As terrified as I am about the future, I finally feel ready for the next steps, whatever they may be. Living with my boyfriend, getting married, trying to have kids, maybe having one or two — being two months into 30 I definitely feel a change in my perception of the world and what I want.

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“Unlimited” Laser Hair Removal No Longer

Throughout my life, I’ve been a naturally hairy person. Shaving was useless as it just left ingrown hairs and dark stubble. I honestly could never feel beautiful or desirable with the dark hair all over my body. Even my boyfriend, who is the least superficial person on earth, would not want to touch me a day after I had shaved because of the hair on my legs. My bathroom, shared with a roommate, would always be covered in hair from my various attempts to rid myself of human fur. Enough was enough.

So a few years ago I started looking for a permanent solution. Lucky for me, I was an ideal candidate for laser hair removal – pale skin, dark hair. It wasn’t cheap and it sounded frightening, so I spent a lot of time researching different treatments, lasers and pricing options. I went to probably about six different consultations. For starters, I paid $1800 for a package of six treatments for my face, because due to PCOS I had thick disgusting chin hairs and sideburns that I would spend every second of my life tweezing. Then, when my face didn’t explode from the first few treatments, I decided to get serious. I wanted as much of my body hair gone as possible.

At one consultation, where I paid for a single bikini treatment, the nurse started to upsell me on multiple treatments packages, which that one treatment could be applied to. I gave her the run down of everything I wanted lasered. Which was pretty much, everything:

  • Face
  • Behind the Neck
  • Armpits
  • Arms
  • Lower Back
  • Stomach
  • Bikini Area (Let’s leave a landing strip, thank you)
  • Legs
  • Toes 

Yes, I think that is just about everywhere person can possibly have hair, with the exception of her head. She added up the cost for six treatments per area, and filled me in on a little secret — another spa, where she worked part time, had an amazing deal for laser hair removal. Unlimited treatments in 90 minute sessions for $4500. While $4500 isn’t cheap, my total for six sessions in each of my planned areas was going to be something like $7000. Unlimited. Sounded. Unlimitedly awesome. I knew that laser hair removal was designed to reduce, not fully get rid of body hair, but from what I’ve read six treatments really wouldn’t be enough to make a serious dent. I liked the idea of being able to keep getting hair removed until it was gone for good.

So I splurged. It was my biggest purchase yet outside of my then $8k car. I bought “Unlimited Hair Removal” in March of 2011. I always knew that I was risking the spa going out of business in this purchase, but I hoped I could get the value out of the $4.5k before that time came. I had to stick to a very strict visit plan. I couldn’t hit all the areas each visit, and the treatments had to be 6-8 weeks apart, so that resulted in 1-2 visits per month to a spa about an hour away from my house, across a toll bridge. It was kind of a pain to get there, but the deal was worth it. I couldn’t find anything else remotely close to it, and the spa seemed actually reputable. I was so excited about the journey to becoming hair free as I made my way in for my first appointment.

Getting your body zapped with a laser is not fun. They say it is going to feel like a rubber band snapping against your skin but that is a lie. Basically every hair follicle shot by the laser gets so hot that it explodes under your skin and feels like tiny shards of hot glass. Early on in treatments, at least for the first six treatments, there are a lot of hairs each zap gets at a time. This is good because it goes faster, but when doing areas like the legs that are large, or the bikini that are extremely sensitive, the pain can be intense. I would use numbing creme for my bikini and face but that just helped minimize the shock. Trust me, it hurt. And each time they increased the strength of the laser, so it hurt more. 90 minutes straight of this is torture. But worth it.

Since it’s dangerous to have laser treatments when you are tan at all, I would take the summers off from going in for treatments, figuring that I had, well, “unlimited” treatments forever, I could wait. Then, this summer, I got a letter from the spa’s doctor saying “you are at the clinical endpoint of your treatments, you cannot come in anymore.” Wait a second. I was like, WTF? Unlimited doesn’t mean six months after I go in for a treatment you randomly decide that I’m done. Granted, some areas have seen serious improvement (my legs, while they still have a few strands of hair here and there, are a billion times better than they were when I started) but others are still a bit patchy (my armpits and bikini, which I figured would take just a lot more treatments, but again, I had an unlimited pass, so eventually all the hair would be gone.)

I wrote a nastygram to the company saying that it’s ridiculous they say I’m at the medical endpoint of my treatment because I’m treating multiple areas of my body and it’s impossible for them all to magically have the same medical endpoint. Also, my nurse, at my last session, said nothing about being close to a medical endpoint, which I kind of assumed would be told to me before the treatment was over (“oh, yea, this area only needs one more treatment and you’re done.”) But the nurses there constantly told me stories of women who would come in for years for treatments, if hair started to grow again, they would just zap it. That was the magic of this deal, which really was too good to be true.

In response to my nastygram, the assistant wrote me back saying, contrary to the note I received, that this package had been discontinued. Now, that really got me boiling, because you can’t discontinue something that I bought with a signed contract for unlimited treatments. A few more nastygrams later, which threatened bad online reviews and legal action, they offered two dates when I could come in and meet with their doctor (who also owns the business) so he could look over my history and current progress to determine if I needed more treatments. This was a pain in the ass because the doctor was only available in the middle of the work week, and I live an hour away from the clinic, but I figured once I showed the doctor my armpits and some other areas that clearly still need treatment he’d be reasonable.

Unfortunately, when I came in, the doctor told me the REAL story – they were selling the business. In three days. And they couldn’t tell anyone about it. So… I was pretty much SOL. I negotiated one more 90 minute treatment the next day in the late afternoon, which required traveling a 2 hour trip to the spa that normally takes 1 hour because of traffic. I really couldn’t do anything other than that. Funny enough, the nurse who first recommended me this deal that I met at the other spa in 2011, who had left this spa for a while, was randomly back working there one day a week, and she was the only nurse with an appointment to fit me in. So it was like coming full circle.

As she zapped me I thought about how glad I was that, despite not having a truly unlimited deal, that I was able to have about 10-12 treatments per area for $4500, which really would have cost something like $10k-$15k had I paid separately. It was still very much a worthwhile deal, I’m just bummed that my “unlimited” treatments only lasted for two years. Had I been smarter, I would have not taken the summers off, and made appointments more frequently, at the risk they would sell or go out of business.

 

 

The Price of Weight Loss

Two weeks ago, I walked into a local weightloss office and filled out paperwork on my health history. I gave my FSA card to the receptionist, who entered in the card numbers into the system, locking in my $400 per month payment for this program that guarantees to help you lose 5-10lbs per month. Then I spent an hour with the clinicians learning about the program and proper portions. I was given a shot of amino acids and sent on my way to a new, thinner me.

When people see me and I say I need to lose weight, they roll their eyes. I’m not morbidly obese, but I am medically overweight. I have a body fat percentage of 39%. Obese is 32%+(!) I’m at an age now where I can no longer ignore this. While some people can just exercise their weight off, I have a few larger problems to deal with first. One is that my insulin regulation is messed up. I know this because I have PCOS and also unless I remove most carbs from my diet I will not get my period naturally. I want to fix this because I’d like to have children in the next five years, and I want to at least set myself up for the best odds to procreate. Infertility treatments will be much more expensive and if I can avoid them by getting myself to a healthy weight, then all the better.

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$1000 a month on a psychologist?

I’ve written before on my concerns on over-spending on healthcare, particularly mental healthcare, as my income has ranged from $50k to $100k. Even though today I make more money than I did years ago, it still seems a bit unreasonable to spend $1000 a month on a psychologist. However, that’s how much qualified mental health costs in my neck of the woods. I just spoke with a local psychologist who sounds like he may be able to help me reduce stress and be more functional, yet he costs $235 a 45 minute session. Does it make sense to spend $1000 a month on mental health therapy when my rent is only $600?

You could argue in the long run I’ll make more money if I get appropriate mental health help. I may be able to keep my job longer… be more successful in my tasks… prove to management that I’m capable of sustained success and therefore worthy of a raise… etc. But it certainly won’t help my bottom line in the short term. And wouldn’t something like yoga (even at the really expensive studios around here) or straight-up personal training be cheaper and actually make me healthier in the long run?

Perhaps I’m just resistant to allowing therapy to work because I don’t want to believe I can pay for someone to tell me how to fix something that isn’t physically broken. That said, these days I’ve been about at my wit’s end and need help. I need help enough that I’ve started to call local psychologists. Yet, then I remember that they charge $200 a session, and that means $800-$1000 a month, or $12,000 a year. Even though my take-home pay is $4200 a month after 401k and taxes, that’s still a lot. How much should I spend on mental health?

The Hard Realities of Aging and Falling to Pieces

A recent article on “life before death” dementia and late-life illness struck a cord with me and my family. While I’ve always been fearful of death, the reality is that death isn’t just a one-time end. Even if you’re “lucky” to reach 100, for everyone, that means many years of degraded mental and physical health. It must be terrible to go through, but it’s equally as terrible for everyone else around you trying to help you progress slowly towards death.

My Grandmother, 83, has a gambling problem. In the last 10, mostly 5 years, she has gambled away her entire life savings of more than $300,000. Everyone knew she had a problem, but no one legally could intervene to help. Now, she’s broke, and at age 83, approaching the age of severe medical problems, even after leading a relatively healthy life (more thanks to good genetics than being healthy.) My mother and her sister’s had already been in uncomfortable discussions around what to do with her — as her social security did not provide enough money to pay for her two bedroom apartment in her Las Vegas retirement community, but she refused to move into a smaller space.

A few days ago, my grandmother fell down. She broke a bone in her neck, which was operable. On the scene of the fall, the paramedic asked her how old she was — she said 64. The doctor’s brought her to a rehab facility after she stopped being combative and arguing with them, and after one day there she told my mother via phone she had been there for weeks. The doctor diagnosed her with mild dementia. Now the question is not how she can afford the 2 bedroom apartment and a $2000 tax bill, but how to afford many years ahead of assisted living.

Meanwhile, her daughters — my mother, and her two sisters — are not in strong enough financial places to step in and help. My parents are concerned about their retirement savings as the stock market has not recovered, and they continue to spend like it is magically going to. I tell my mom over and over to not make the same mistakes her mother did, but she cannot see spending money on clothes and cleaning help as the same as her mother’s gambling away all her savings. In the end, the money will be gone, I tell her, so it’s the same. She ignores me.

For now, they need to figure out what to do with their mother as she gets increasingly senile. She’s always been a bit crazy, so adding real dementia to that crazy could get very bad, very fast. My mother is considering trying to get her to move out to New Jersey to be closer and find a lower cost place to stay, but all is up in the air right now. I don’t think my mother can really handle her mother at the moment, as my dad is in the later stages of terminal cancer and his cancer will likely get worse in the next few years or even months.

Overall, this is a very depressing situation, but so goes life.

 

Health vs. Savings

I’ll admit that since joining Mint shortly after I graduated college, I’ve become addicted to watching my networth go up. While the stock market has made that not always the case, in general my uncontrollable spending habits have taken a backseat to my savings addiction. While my increase in salary over the years has helped, I’ve gone from being the type of person who would throw money away to someone who carefully ensures she maxes out her IRA and 401k each year, with extra cash to “play” on certain stocks in taxable accounts. Overall, that’s great.

Where it hurts the most, though, is in my health. I’ve become so frugal that my brain tells me it makes more sense to put together a dinner of random snacks at the office versus coming home and cooking dinner (I’ll be too tired by the time I get home to do that anyway.) In one’s 20s, eating unhealthy and living unhealthy catches up to you. I’ve never been thin, but I definitely am noticing how as the years go on I put on weight much easier. Seeing the scale hit 180lbs was an eye opener. For years 155lbs was the number I’d hit if I were eating anything and not exercising. If i’m at 180 when I’m just 28, what will I be in my 30s?

Besides the number, the reality is that I’m already on my way to Type 2 Diabeties, I’m going to have tons of health problems later in life, I’m already so tired and lacking energy (I’ve been sleeping 9 hours per night and still feel exhausted each day), and what’s worse, it’s going to be incredibly difficult if not impossible to have children. There are so many reasons why getting healthy now is imperitive, yet each year goes by and I manage to come up with more excuses and find myself in a binge eating nightmare. It’s awful to admit, but I’m definitely a food and carb addict.

In 2 years or so, I’ll be getting married. There’s no ring on my finger yet, but we’ve already joked about the date, and we’ve been together six years(!) There’s a NY Times article about how brides will do anything to lose weight for their wedding day. I don’t want to lose weight just for my wedding day, but I do want to do it for my life. I’m even avoiding going home to see my family because I know they will make comments about how fat I am, one after another, with my dad, mom, grandparents, aunts and uncles all making some cruel comment about how I need to diet. Which is true. But nevertheless, it ruins an otherwise plesant conversation of how I’m doing well in my career and life otherwise (minus the depression and all that, but that’s easier to hide.) In the NY Times article, it calls out a bunch of popular fad diets that the brides were doing to lose weight. Most of them sounded absolutely ridiculous (a feeding tube through one’s noise and 800 calories per day? No thanks.) But one — the Dunkan Diet — sounded quite reasonable.

I’ve always been attracted to the idea of a low-carb diet because with PCOS and insulin resistance this actually is the healthy way for me to eat. My body is funny in that I don’t actually mensturate due to the PCOS, but the only times in life I’ve been able to actually have a natural period was by cutting out carbs and amping up on protein (mostly dairy.) I also briefly went gluten-free, which made my stomach flatten out quite a bit. I bet it had more to do with cutting out carbs versus the gluten, but it made a huge difference. So why is it so hard to just eat healthy and cut out carbs? It seems like if it’s clear this makes me feel better and healthier, I should just do it, right?

Part of it is the difficulties anyone has going on a diet. There’s fatty food EVERYWHERE. We have lunch at work and it always comes with a lot of high-carb sides. I tend to dislike the protein (how it’s cooked) and end up eating only bread, butter, and potatoes (plus junk food from our snack cabinet later in the day when I’m hungry again.) No wonder I’m fat.

Alcohol plays a huge role in my obesity. I don’t normally drink often, but lately my work culture is to go out to happy hour a few times per month, or to have beers at the office at the end of the day. While I can “not” drink (and I should not drink!) this is exceptionally difficult in my professional environment. For a few months after my DUI, I did stop drinking entirely, and it was awkward to order water when the team went out for beers. Yes, I could easily say I need to drive home, but so does everyone else and everyone else had at least one beer.

Finally, and this is a biggie, my lack of healthy eating goes back to not wanting to spend money. I’d love to have fresh produce and lean meats in my diet daily (especially fish!) but shopping for this brings my monthly grocery bill up by a few hundred dollars. I do end up spending a lot on dining out, but those costs are usually split between my boyfriend and myself. Worse, because we live separately, I often end up buying food and it going to waste because I’m always at his house and I’m never home. The worst is when you spend a lot on food and then it all spoils because you haven’t had time to eat it or prepare it.

Alright, enough with the excuses, right? I really want to commit to a diet for the next year and see how I can transform myself. I’d also like to start swimming in the mornings (there’s apparently a pool with practice in the ams before work near my office — it will be another relatively large monthly expense to join and hard to get myself there in the mornings for the workouts, but if I can do it than the cost will be worth it!).

I’m very interested in this Dunkan diet. It isn’t that new, but it’s gotten a lot of attention lately. It’s very similar to Atkins or South Beach, except it focuses on a healthier way of doing low carb (ie one cannot eat a lot of fat.) There are 100 foods that are allowed at all times and you can eat as much of them as needed until you’re full. Oat Bran is apparently an extremely important element of the diet as it fills you up. The diet starts with an “attack phase” where for 10? days all you eat is protein and oat bran. I’d be amazed at myself if I could get through that phase. It’s supposed to kick start your metabolism. Ultimately, though, what I like abut the diet is that it’s designed to set you up for a life of eating healthy and maintaining your ideal weight. They have a quiz on their site about what your ideal weight is, and although I’d really like to be 120lbs, my big-boned self will have to settle for 130lbs as a healthy person. Seriously, though, that’s 50lbs to lose and that’s still a lot. That said, if I were able to follow this diet and swim for an hour three days a week I know I’d be able to lose the weight. It WILL cost a lot, and I won’t be able to save as much, but ultimately who cares how much money you have if you’re a big, fat lethargic blob who is diabetic, depressed and cannot have children? I guess when I put it that way, it makes a lot of sense to invest in my health. If I don’t max out my 401k, the world isn’t going to end.

HSA, FSA, and the Cost of Being Healthy

There are a lot of different versions of health benefits available these days. Even when you are fortunate enough to have insurance through a company plan, it seems basic healthcare costs have skyrocketed over the last decade. For instance, my co-pay to visit any sort of specialist is $50 a visit. Assuming I ever need to go to a specialist for more than one visit, which is often the case if you need to see a specialist, that adds up fast.

My last company offered an HSA plan, where instead of paying for a more expensive plan, they’d put $100 per month into your account. The deductible was high, like with all HSA plans, requiring a $3000 spend per year before additional fees would be covered at all. So it was basically a high-risk plan, with an HSA savings account that, theoretically, would be beneficial as a separate retirement account if you were healthy and didn’t need to touch the money. You could either leave the funds inside it to gain basic money market interest, or you could open an investment account where you could put the money in a handful of mutual funds available.

The good news is with HSAs, even when you no longer have the insurance plan open with them, you can still use any money put inside there for medical costs in the future. Plus, the money that goes in is tax free and as long as you use it for a qualified medical expense the money that gets spent is tax free too. But there’s a catch… Continue reading

Facing Reality of Cancer as Autumn Leaves Burn to Umber

As I’ve written about previously, my father has cancer. He was diagnosed three years ago with advanced stage prostate cancer. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know I have an interesting relationship with my dad. I wouldn’t say we’re the closet father-daughter pairing in the world, but regardless he’s still my father and I’ve always imagined watching him grow old and having him around as the grandfather to my future children — he was always good with really little kids. I wanted him to meet my kids, and for them to have him as a grandfather. I’ve always known he’d be a much better grandfather then father.

But everyday that goes by, I know this is more and more unlikely of how life will pan out. With cancer, you can be fine one day and the next your conditions can deteriorate rapidly. Living far away, I try to visit often, but in between there is little conversation. He doesn’t like talking about his emotions or what he is going through, though lately he’s admit to being depressed. He won’t admit to being depressed about dying, per say, more so that the drugs they have given him have removed his testosterone and have “feminized” him. Really, though, I know he’s equally, if not more depressed because he’s terminally ill. But I don’t know how to deal with that. He doesn’t want to talk about it. I want to be a support for him, but I don’t know if I can handle it, even if he was willing to talk.

The day today on the east coast is cool and crisp, with a heavy grey sky, and bright yellow leaves on the trees falling off in the wind to dry and die on the ground. Another year has come and gone — and things are slowly changing. Everything is aging, myself included. I don’t like change, but I’m not resistant to it. I’m more in denial about it. That will all change the day my father’s condition gets worse — which is any day now. That will all change when I need to decide how important it is for me to be out here with him through his final days, however long they may be, or to maintain my life across the country, far from his inevitable deathbed. I don’t like to think about it, but it’s getting to a point where I’m going to have to. I don’t know if he would want me here, he hates being seen as weak. But I’d want to be here. It’s strange knowing that in the next year or two, this is something I will have to face. It’s part of life, but he’s still young at 60, and I’m not ready for him to go. I keep hoping that someone will discover a cure for prostate cancer, and everyday there’s a new treatment available, but never a cure.

Occupy Doctor’s Office & Health Insurance Agencies

They say the occupy movement is unfocused — it’s about all these various things we’re upset about — but a lot of the movement is about the lack of transparency in between bureaucracy and us common folk.

When I got home yesterday, I went through my mail and discovered a “explanation of benefits” mail from a recent “surgery” I had on two pilar cysts on my head. The doctor’s office never knows about costs — they don’t really care about how much you end up getting charged, as long as you pay it. Even with medical insurance from work, the two cysts removed cost me $550. Last time I had two cysts removed it was $300, so I was a little surprised that the cost went up $250. But I haven’t found a way to identify how much any medical interaction will cost in advance of the treatment… it always has to be a big surprise after the fact.

Another example… I went to a regular yearly gynecological exam a while back, which is covered by my insurance. Or is it? The gynecologist decided to do an ultrasound to check out my polycystic ovaries which — big surprise — still had cysts on them. That procedure wasn’t covered by the free annual checkup description, as it was considered diagnostic, and ended up costing me a few hundred bucks. Continue reading

Health, Diet, Life: A New Road to Thin

Many of us have issues with our bodies. Either that keeps us fit or causes us to slip off the diet deep end. I’ve struggled with my weight and eating all my life, even more than my money issues. They seem to be heavily connected.

For starters, I was raised with the notion that it’s the worst thing in the world to not finish all the food on your plate. Leftovers are ok, but my family always overate so leaving any food on the plate just seemed odd. So I grew up somehow assuming that restaurant portion sizes (and parental portion sizes) were what I should be eating. Of course I know better now, but it’s hard to change that mindset.

After spending a week at home with my father calling me fat about 20 times, it continued to upset me when he’d also comment on how I should have “half” of his dessert when we went out to eat. My father, morbidly obese throughout his adult life and now dying of cancer among other things, surely had good intentions — he doesn’t want me to be fat like him. But the way it comes out of his mouth always feels like an awkward jab, not to mention his constant oohing and ahhing over how “good” my sister’s figure looks (girl isn’t exactly healthy but she eats one meal a day, so she’s much thinner than I am.)

What hurts me the most is growing up with no idea why I was gaining so much weight – especially around my mid-section. Whether the PCOS caused my fat or my fat caused the PCOS is a chicken or egg discussion that’s null. The fact of hte matter is my father took me out every week for McDonald’s where he’d let me get two cheeseburgers, supersized fries and a supersized coke, he wouldn’t push me to exercise (“we just aren’t an athletic family”) and then he’d constantly make comments about my weight. It’s sad to think that although I knew my candy and fast-food eating ways weren’t the healthiest, I had no idea HOW unhealthy they were, or that a certain number of calories would make you gain weight. I don’t want to think about how many calories I was eating when I was 6-11 years old, the years I ate those supersized meals.

Regardless of all that, my challenge is facing my eating issues (just as I’ve faced my money issues) without letting my parent’s voices get in my head. Even if it feels like I’ll be losing the weight for them, it’s really for myself — I’m the one who, long after their gone, will be struggling with tons of health problems from all this built up, artery clogging visceral fat. This is really a change in my lifestyle that I needed to make years ago, but I think as I approach 28 (and the curves on my body start looking like they belong on The Biggest Loser) the change is not an option.

Luckily, my boyfriend – also overweight – is committed to getting healthy as well. He’s not going to play any games about it. If I ask him to run with me, he runs (unless it’s in the morning!) I also met a new workout buddy through Craigslist who is getting married in a year, which is great motivation for us to stick to our workouts (I have less than 4 months to lose 40lbs for my high school reunion.)

My commitment for the next month is as follows:

  • Walk/Run *at least* 2 miles 6 days a week
  • Aim for 4-6 miles a day 3 days / week
  • Basic muscle toning workouts 2-3 days / week
  • at any given meal, eat half what i’d normally eat. leftovers are my friend.
  • minimize gluten intake and cut out all sugars except limited whole grains
  • try to eat 5-6 small meals per day (really small)
  • drink 3-6 glasses of water per day