Category: true story

True Story: I Overcame An Eating Disorder

Can you cure an eating disorder? It is better to consider it something that's overcome rather than cured? Which eating disorder treatment is most effective? Click through for one woman's story.
Can you cure an eating disorder? It is better to consider it something that’s overcome rather than cured? Which eating disorder treatment is most effective? Today, Holly shares her story of overcoming her eating disorder.

Tell us about your relationship with your body when you were growing up.
Body image was really no struggle for me for a long time, because I was naturally skinny up through my late teens. On the other hand, that meant I had invested some of my identity in having that thin, leggy child’s figure, so it was like having the rug pulled out from under me when I started getting fat on me and could no longer eat like I had a hollow leg.
When did you first start to have issues with eating? Was there one certain thing that triggered it?
My eating issues started when I was dancing in high school. I went through a phase of very restrictive constant dieting, and as I got more and more fed up with ballet and the ballet school environment, I became something of an emotional overeater, as kind of an “eff you” gesture and also as a way of dealing with stress.
My metabolism was able to handle that for quite a while without dealing me much weight gain, so I didn’t get the negative feedback to keep that habit from getting ingrained.
Then in my freshman year of college, depression hit me pretty hard. Just on its own, it made me feel terrible about myself, but it also wreaked havoc on my sleep schedule, my eating habits, and my metabolism…all of which resulted in me gaining twenty-five pounds in the space of two months.
How did your eating disorder manifest itself?
Purging was and is the behavior I struggled the most with. My diagnosis was EDNOS, or eating disorder not otherwise specified. Aside from being really vague — check out the second definition offered here and add consistent purging to get my ED — it’s actually the most common eating disorder diagnosis. So take note: the “anorexia or bulimia” picture of eating disorders is really popular, but kind of useless.
Did those who were close to you know about this?
I told a couple of my very closest friends when the eating disorder was just starting to pick up speed. I was frightened for myself sometimes, and that was my way of trying to set up something that could be a safety net for me if things “got scary.”
Eventually, one of them told my sister, who told my parents. It didn’t really make much of a difference that these people knew, though. Most of them were thousands of miles away from me while I was at college, and I was isolating myself from the ones who weren’t. My parents didn’t try to take me out of school because I swore I’d be miserable if they did.Not that I wasn’t miserable anyways, but sickness aside, I really wanted the distance and greater independence I had at college.

When did you realize that you had a problem?

I think I knew I had a problem from the beginning. I was almost looking for a way to punish and diminish myself, and it helped me say I AM NOT OKAY, so it’s not like I was thinking that everything was fine and what I was doing was healthy and great.

Strangely, it was only when I was at my sickest that I questioned whether I had a problem, because having a serious problem would have meant I warranted attention and concern, and I didn’t think I was worth that.

The turning point was not realizing I had a problem, but realizing that it might be worth it to overcome it. That happened over Thanksgiving break, when something strange but good took hold of me and I blew my savings on a last-minute solo trip to Iceland. I fell in love with the country, and miraculously, my symptoms left me mostly alone for the first half of the trip.

I had an incredible time, and in that space, I found out that I could be a strong, amazing, independent person, that I could take charge of my life and make wonderful things happen for myself. That was what I needed. (I spent the second half of the trip in my hostel room shivering and not eating. Suck you, ED; thanks for stealing four days of Iceland from me.)

Anyways, I saw that there was something to me and my life that would be worth saving. I wanted to be that crazy, strong, joyful person that Iceland initially brought out in me. And I was willing to see whether that would be worth giving up the ED.

How did you get over this?

Recovery isn’t a finished process, but it’s not a full-time thing anymore. A turning point was when I could see that there really couldn’t be any going back — back to what? Doctors and therapists and months in front of the mirror without being able to work or study, without any movement towards my dreams? Nope.

It’s not something that just ends; for me it got a lot better pretty quickly once I got on antidepressants, though I’ve had my share of relapses since then. But each relapse has been a little easier to bounce back from. Most of the time now I am really happy with myself and my life, and I actually have a healthier attitude toward food, exercise, body image, etc. than I did in pre-ED days.

Any advice for others dealing with this? Or how we can help a friend who’s dealing with this?

For those dealing with disordered eating: You will never reach a point where you might as well keep getting sicker. Recovery is hard and sometimes scary, but a million times better than being sick. Also, relapse does NOT mean you are back where you started. You are still moving forward. Just pick yourself up as soon as you can.

For those with a friend in this situation: Don’t keep the disorder a secret for them. Be patient. Give them love as constantly as you can. And remember that it’s not possible to fix them, only to support them while they work on themselves with professional help. And please feel free to email me if you have any more specific questions. wie.ein.lied at gmail dot com.

Have any of your struggled with food/body issues? Any questions for Holly?

P.S. True Story: I have panic attacks

photo credit issara willenskomer // cc

True Story: I’m 26 and I’m Raising My Teenaged Brothers

Tell us about your family.
Growing up, my family (as I will always remember it) was me, my mom, my sister, Monica, and my brothers, Jon and David. We were incredibly close growing up. Our agape love has to be attributed to my mom. My parents divorced when I was 8, and we had to rely on the child support from our alcoholic father for our living.
Mom wasn’t able to work because as a child she caught pneumonia which destroyed her heart. Therefore, she was able to stay home with us when we were growing up.We weren’t oblivious to that fact of our severely limited our household income and the stress that causes for a single mom raising 4 children. But mom made it okay, always ready to raise our spirits, always ready for a laugh, and when summer came, always ready for our next camping adventure.

Other people came and left our little family (namely, her second husband) but it will forever be the 5 of us that I think of as family. Mom died suddenly on July 1, 2004. She was riding a motorcycle with her husband. A blood clot traveled to her lung which killed her instantly.

How old were you when you took over the care of your brothers?

My husband, Nate, and I were married in July of 2005. We had 8 months as newlyweds and then we took over guardianship of my two brothers. We were 22. They had bounced around from house to house between the time mom died and when we took them.

When they finally came to us, my brothers were 15 and 14. This meant that we had to move from our tiny apartment, enroll them in new schools before the next school year, figure out transportation for our jobs and make sure they had something to eat everyday that wasn’t pizza.

Can you tell us what an average day in the life of a sister/mom?

The sister part is easy, especially now that they can walk and talk and hold intelligent, (frequently) funny conversations. I love sitting on the couch with them late at night, watching TV or playing Mario Kart and just talking.

The summer before my senior year of high school, my mom remarried and I was purposely shut out of my family. I felt like I had lost several years with my brothers and sister. Now, I feel like I have been able to regain some of that lost time.

The mom part is frequently the ‘ish’-factor. It’s hard to tell the difference between “reminding” and “nagging”. My brothers are consistently absent minded (or are all teenagers that way? Was I that way?) and my husband and I have to stay on top of them to get stuff done. This is true with everything – homework, school activities, and work.

Take college for example: I had forgotten how many deadlines there are for applications and payments and everything. We face a hard decision: do we allow them figure it out themselves and if they don’t make it, sorry Charlie?

Or do we help them to ensure that they make it into school but become the worst case of helicopter parent that I never wanted to be? I am discovering that it is a fine line. We want to make sure that they don’t feel abandoned or that we are controlling their lives.

My husband and I actually argue about this frequently – when he thinks I am being to manage-y, I think he is being indifferent and vice versa. Maybe that is a good indication that we are middle of the road?

What surprised you the most about raising your brothers?
How much I would care. Growing up they were just my brothers (yuck) but now I want so much more for them. I want them to be able to think and make responsible, equitable decisions.

I want them to be liked and esteemed by their peers. I want them to have friends. I want them to be independent. I want them to be able to fight their own battles. I want them to have what they need to accomplish their dreams. Is this what regular parents feel?

What have been the biggest challenges? And the biggest rewards?
After mom died, they lived with our step-father but that situation spiraled into physical abuse and they had to leave (duh). My aunt took them in, but then kicked them out which accumulated about 1 1/2 years being transported from house to house and school to school. They undoubtedly felt unwanted and insecure.

A few months ago, I yelled at Jon about something that is now stupid and trivial. But his angry reaction, which I found out later, stemmed from his feeling of homelessness and that for most of his formative years he has lived out of a suitcase. I cried when he told me this; after my mom remarried and I went to college, my stepfather threw out or sold all of my belongings that I didn’t take with me to college and made sure I knew I wasn’t welcome at home.

I want them to have the feeling of stability so they can take risks in their lives and know that we are here to support them and have a place for them to stay if they return from that overseas volunteer program (or job, or internship opportunity) and need a place to get back on their feet.

Another challenge: getting off the couch to get stuff done. I know that sounds lazy, but sometimes I just don’t want to drive you to work. Or pick up your homework that you forgot at your friends’ house. Or wake up at 5:30am to fish out $8 from my purse so you can go on your field trip. Okay, I am done whining now.

However, in a small way, it is all worth it when they solve a problem or exceed what they think they can accomplish. We are the first people they share it with. I would be lying if I said that that made it totally worth it.

But for a glimmer of a moment it is like a balloon of happiness inside me and I feel pride for them and affirmation that we are doing the right thing.

Has raising your brothers affected your thoughts on having children yourself?
Before raising my brothers, or even before marriage, I wanted to have lots of kids. I liked growing up with 3 siblings and I thought that if I was going to have any kids, I would want at least that number.

Now, I don’t want any kids. Not because my brothers ruined the experience for me. But do I really want to do another “Don’t Do Drugs” talk in 15 years? I don’t really want to visit any more colleges or drive someone all over the universe trying to find the perfect (and least expensive) pair of -30F graded boots for this year’s Winter Wonderland Boundary Waters excursion.

But most of all, I just want to be responsible for me. I know (really, I know) how selfish that sounds and it makes me kind of embarrassed to say it, but it is what it is. We are heading into our empty nest period and I’m ready to go on a 55+ cruise vacation.

Were any of you raised by people other than your parents? Any questions for Jess?

True Story: I’m a Marathon-er

This is part of our True Story interview series, in which we talk to interesting, amazing people about things that they’ve done. Today we talk to Chrissy, of the awesome blog The New Me about her experience running 26 miles in one day without dying!

What made you decide to run a marathon?
Two years ago, when crafting my New Years Resolutions (an activity I take very seriously) I decided that running a 5K would be on the list. I used the Couch to 5K plan and three months later, I was able to cross that goal off my list. I kept up with running on and off over the next few months, but it wasn’t as fun without something to aim for. I am a person who thrives on PLANS and GOALS and LISTS, so I considered training for a 10K or a half marathon. I thought a full marathon would be overdoing it – marathons were for crazy people, real athletes. I would never be able to run 26.2 miles!But the second I decided it was impossible, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Thousands of people train and run marathons every year. If they could it, so could I. And if I could run a marathon, well – I could do anything!

Prior to training for this, what was your approach to fitness?
In high school, my friends played volleyball while I helped edit the literary magazine. I didn’t like competitive sports – the pressure made me sick to my stomach. On the other hand, I’ve always been casually active – I ride my bicycle everywhere, I love to walk my dog, I enjoy hiking, rock climbing and I was (and still am) into yoga. I even played roller derby for two years (which is when I started to get comfortable with competition) but I had never before trained for anything as specific – or big! – as a marathon.

How long did you train for the marathon? What did you do?
I trained for 8 months. I found two free training plans online – one for a half marathon and one for a full – and completed them back to back. My boyfriend decided to run the marathon as well, but he’s a much faster runner than I am so while we started runs together, we usually split up after the first few miles. I did a lot of running by myself, which was sometimes awesome (time to think, meditate, brainstorm, keep my own pace) and sometimes a total drag (long, lonely, and no one to motivate me).

While in training mode, I ran about 20-30 miles a week. During the week, I woke up at 6am and ran anywhere from 3 to 10 miles before I had to be at work at 8. Sundays were my long run day, and I just kept adding miles – 15, 16, 18. 20 was the longest distance I had to run during my training, which made me nervous, but everything I read said that was normal so I went with it. I also logged all my runs and made friends on dailymile which is a social networking site for runners, cyclists and swimmers. I learned a lot from the folks who posted there and seeing my miles pile up each week was a huge motivator!

Tell us about the running the marathon. Did you really see guys with bloody nipples? Did you throw glasses of water over your head?
I LOVED the marathon. I ran the Austin Marathon this past February and it was just as huge and awesome as I’d hoped. I did not see anybody with bloody nipples, but I did see many volunteers handing out sticks of Vaseline for chafers. In addition to the official volunteers and aid stations, there were a lot of unofficial people passing out things – animal crackers, mimosas, beer. Very tempting! The best part was that my name was printed on my bib and as I ran by, everyone was saying, “You can do it Chrissy! Looking good!”

Was there ever a point in the race when you thought you couldn’t continue? How’d you push through it?
At about mile 16 I started to hit the wall. I got excited and ran the first half too fast – classic rookie mistake! – and all I could think about was lying in the grass, taking a nap, and never ever running again. Just then, a girl caught up to me. She asked me how I was doing and I grunted something unintelligible. “Can you believe it?” she said. “Only ten miles left! See you at the finish line.”

And then she pulled ahead and disappeared.

At first I considered chasing her and strangling her, but then I realized that she was right. I was more than half way there. I’d run plenty of ten milers – often before work! Looking at it from a fresh angle helped and it was the push I needed to keep going. At another point I passed a man in his front yard who was blasting different songs as people ran by. When I approached, he played “Eye of the Tiger,” which is only the most awesome song, ever. I’ll admit it – I cried as I ran by him, my first pumping in the air. It was probably the best moment of my race. I didn’t have a finishing time in mind for the marathon – I just wanted to finish, period – but I did make it my goal to have fun, enjoy myself, and smile as much as possible. I finished the marathon in 4 hours and 43 minutes, and I can’t wait to do my next one. Mission accomplished!

Any recommendations for other people training for a marathon?
Pick a marathon that’s still a long ways off – 6 months to a year – and sign up as early as possible. Then train, train, train. Find a plan that works for you and take it slowly – especially if you’re a beginner. It’s really easy to get overzealous and injure yourself early on. Be flexible and forgiving. Life happens, even while you’re marathon training, and you have to be able to shift your priorities. Sometimes running will come first, and sometimes it will come last. Three weeks before the marathon I got bronchitis and I could barely breathe, let alone run. And as much as I wanted to run, I knew I had to scale back and let my body heal. Most of all, know that if I can run a marathon, anyone can. Nothing is impossible!

Have any of you run marathons? Any questions for Chrissy?

True Story: I Live With Hill Tribes in Thailand

true story about man who lives with hill tribes in thailandThis is just one of many interviews that make up the True Story series. We talk to interesting people who are doing amazing/challenging/inspiring things. This is the story of my fantastic friends Amanda and Daniel. They’re both working on their PhDs in Developmental Sociology – which means they get to live with hill tribes in Thailand! How jealous am I?!

Living with Hill Tribes in Thailand

Tell us about the Thai hill tribe group that you live with.

Our research is, we hope, relevant to the plight of the majority of highland people in Thailand, but the group we spend most of our time with is the Akha. The Akha are one of the many highland ethnic minority groups who live in the mountains of northern Thailand. There are Akha people in Thailand, Burma, Yunnan (China), Laos and Vietnam. There are about 70,000 Akha people in Thailand and I think around a million in all. If you have ever seen a tourist or trekking brochure for northern Thailand, you have probably seen a picture of an Akha woman. Their outfits, especially their hats, are unbelievable. With the exception of some older people, who wear their traditional outfits all the time, most Akha people today only wear their traditional outfits for special celebrations.We spend time primarily in two villages in the mountains of Chiang Rai Province, in the far north of Thailand. One has electricity (and cell phones and television), the other does not have electricity. The houses in the villages range from small bamboo houses on stilts, to wood and even some cement houses. Most people in the villages are farmers, growing primarily rice and corn on ridiculously steep mountain slopes. Historically, the Akha religion was based on ancestor (spirit) worship, but today most Akha in Thailand are Christian. One village where we do our work is Catholic and one is Protestant. Unlike the Protestant village, the Catholic village still observes many of the traditional practices, celebrations, etc.

hill tribes in thailand
How did you come to live with the hill tribes in Thailand?

To be honest, we only live with them part time. I’m actually sitting in a coffee shop in Chiang Mai as I write this email. We have an apartment in Chiang Mai and spend a week or two each month in the villages, although we plan to start spending more time in the villages in the coming months.

Anyway, we are here doing our dissertation research, which is how/why we encountered our Akha friends. We are both working on our PhDs in Development Sociology. My wife’s work is on citizenship, education and family livelihood decision-making in highland communities. Sadly, many highland people in Thailand have not been given citizenship, which amounts to an enormous barrier in attaining education, employment, health care, etc. – really, basic human rights. My work is on state forest conservation and upland agriculture, especially related to land tenure issues and how they affect land-use decision-making. Upland people in Thailand are forbidden from owning land or practicing their traditional farming methods. This has obviously caused a lot of problems for upland communities and, I’m starting to see, is actually undermining forest conservation, as well.

Have you celebrated any holidays in the Thai village?

We’ve experienced a couple of celebrations in the villages. I think the most fun was a traditional Akha celebration marking the start of the harvest season. There is a lot of music and dancing, and everyone is wearing their traditional outfits, which are beautiful. As always, they made sure we just joined right in.

The highlight of the festival is the swing ceremony. They built a huge swing out of four trees, which they arranged in a sort of tepee formation, with a long rope (made of natural fibers) hanging down in the middle. According to Akha custom, you are age one when you are born, and then each year, when you swing, you become one year older. So, everyone in the village becomes one year older on the same day!

All the women rode the swing first. They sit in the loop at the bottom of the rope and someone uses another small rope attached to the big rope to pull them back and forth. They got really high – maybe 20 feet! Then Amanda rode and lost her shoes in the process, which got a lot of laughs. Then, I rode. The short version of the story is that I rode like a woman and nearly killed the village headman who was trying to pull me back and forth. People still laugh about it to this day!

living with hill tribes in thailandWhat do you eat on an average day with the Thai tribespeople?

The food has been out of this world good. Every day, we eat an amazing spread of food that they grew in their fields and gardens, or collected in the woods. We are vegetarian, which they respect. Their rice is so good – really earthy, with great texture and flavor. You can’t buy it in the stores – we are really going to miss it when we leave. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, we eat rice and vegetables (including many of our ‘usual’ vegetables, as well as ferns and other wild veg, fresh bamboo shoots, pumpkin, beans, etc.), with various homemade chili and/or peanut sauces. They usually cook us an egg for protein. And fruit for dessert.The hardest part is saying no when they try to keep feeding you more. It’s great, but we always get so stuffed! We’ve had only a few unpleasant food experiences, the worst being a dish I call ‘mashed grubs in gelatinous mystery sludge.’ It still haunts me to this day.The hardest part is the rice whiskey! Every day, usually every meal (yes, even breakfast). Amanda doesn’t get it as bad – probably because she is a woman and the women don’t drink as much. The men, though, love to drink. To develop the kind of relationships I need to develop for my work, I have to drink with the men. The stuff is really strong, and the minute you take a drink, they refill your cup! I’ve gotten better at drinking it, though. And I’ve had most of my best conversations over a few glasses of whiskey!

living with hill tribes in thailandHas integration into Thai hill tribe village life been difficult?

The only difficulty seems to be on our part, feeling like we are imposing and getting used to the way they do things. They’ve been wonderful, truly gracious and welcoming and generous in every sense of the word. It really is true that the most generous people in the world are those with the least (materially) to give. Now, it feels great being there. It is a special experience to arrive in the village and be greeted by so many smiling faces and warm embraces. We are so grateful to them for making us feel so welcome and at-home there.

They’ve even given us Akha names. Amanda’s name is Mi Chaw, which means ‘tall and beautiful woman.’ They are always commenting on how beautiful she is, on her white skin, her blonde hair, blue eyes, etc. (which, of course, makes her terribly uncomfortable!). They love to dress her up in their Akha outfits, which is fun and really funny, as she is a good seven or eight inches taller than them, so the outfits don’t exactly fit her perfectly.

My name is Li Ma, which means ‘big boy.’ They are constantly telling me how huge I am. The average Akha man is about 5’6” and 130 pounds. I’m about 6’2” and a hair under 200 pounds. So, yes, I am gigantic. A favorite activity when a group is gathered is to have me stand next to things (doorways, houses, buffalo, etc.) so they can laugh at how big I am (many of their doorways come up to about my neck). They still can’t figure out how a vegetarian became so huge! Sometimes, when I am walking around the village, old people will grab me by the arm to tell me that I am very large. It’s quite funny and all in good fun, and I’m actually relieved that there can be some laughs at my expense, given the circumstances.

life in hill tribe thailandHow difficult is communication with the Thai tribespeople?

Akha is one of the most difficult languages either of us has ever encountered. It’s very guttural with many sounds that are difficult for us to decipher. It is not at all related to Thai. Thankfully, most people in the villages under the age of about 50 speak at least some Thai or northern Thai. Pretty much everyone under 30 speaks fluent Thai. So, for the most part, communication with the young people isn’t too much of a challenge. Also, we have a research assistant who speaks Akha, Lahu, Hmong, Karen, Thai, northern Thai and southern Thai. Needless to say, he’s been invaluable in helping us communicate with older Akha people, as well as people from other groups (in both villages, there are several Lahu families). That said, he can’t be everywhere with both of us all the time, so we’ve definitely bumped into some communication challenges. I guess the key is to just smile and show that you are trying.Actually, most of my funniest miscommunications have been in Thai. I once tried to say that I was going to take some medicine, but I accidentally got the tone wrong and said that I was going to eat my grandmother. There are plenty more, but my worst and most embarrassing one was about 7 months ago at Chiang Mai University. I had to stand up in front of a room of professors, graduate students, and even the dean of the school and give a little speech in Thai. I tried to say “Thank you to all of the professors for their hard work in the classroom.” Well, I sort of forgot one important word. What I actually said was, “Thank you to all of the professors for taking a sh** in the classroom!” Needless to say, there were a few shocked expressions in the audience!

Tell us about an average day in the Thai tribal village?

An ‘average day’ really depends on the time of year, as much of their life revolves around agriculture. Lately, we’ve been preparing their fields for planting. The last couple of times we’ve been up there, we get up early (you can’t sleep in because of the dogs barking, the pigs squealing, the kids playing, people talking, etc.), eat breakfast, drink a little rice whiskey, and head out to the fields.

Some of the jobs we’ve done recently include: clearing fields (cutting bamboo and brush with machetes), burning fields, building a small dam, collecting firewood, cutting and hauling grass to build a roof, building a roof, looking after the water buffalo, bringing in a late rice harvest, harvesting ginger and bananas, chopping banana trees to feed to pigs, etc. It’s pretty great.

I actually really enjoy working with them in their fields. At the end of the day, after a very cold ‘shower’ (dumping cold water over your head), we sit down to great food and plenty of rice whiskey! The women work in the fields, too, but usually head home a little earlier to prepare dinner. The women in the villages work incredibly hard. Most men work hard, too, but the women are unbelievable. The older people usually look after the kids during the day. Amanda sometimes works in the fields, and sometimes stays in the village to interview people, help out with household duties, play with kids and even teach English.

What are the biggest challenges of living in the tribal Thai village?

The rice whiskey! Kidding (sort of). I think the biggest challenge is still feeling like we are imposing on people by being there. Not so much with our ‘families,’ but with other people in the village. We are at the point where we have made some good friends and gotten to know several people in the villages, but each village has over 300 people, so we are still strangers to many people. But it’s getting better as we spend more time there and get to know more people.

What have you learned from this experience of living with Thai hill tribes?

We’ve learned so much from this experience. Every day we feel like the more we learn, the more we don’t know! But mostly we’ve seen that, beyond superficial differences, we are all much more alike than we are different – we all love our families and friends and hope for peace and happiness. We’ve really been inspired by the warmth and generosity of the people, and can’t help but feel, with each encounter, a renewed faith in the human spirit. It really is a special experience for us. Just like everyone, our lives get crazy and we get bogged down with work and stress and worrying about the future, but we try to remember to be present in the moment, to not let a day pass without recognizing how fortunate we are to be having this experience and to be sharing it with each other.

Would you want to do something like this? Any questions for Daniel and Amanda?
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True Story: I Was Raised By Deaf Parents

This is just one of our many True Story interviews, in which we talk to people who have been through interesting/challenging/amazing things. My fantastic friend Lovel (who I visited during Mardi Gras) has been kind enough to tell us about life growing up with two deaf parents. Amazing, no?How did your parents meet?
They were both going to the deaf schools here in Louisiana. My dad was going to the black deaf school and my mom was going to the white one. Yes, there were two deaf schools and yes there was still segregation. Silly, I know. But the year they were in 11th grade, the two schools integrated and that’s how they met each other. My dad was the dope-dealing black football star and my mom was this nerdy pious white girl. They started dating shortly after the schools merged and somewhere late in their senior year they got pregnant with me.

Is there a particularly large deaf population in Lafayette? Why?
I don’t think it’s particularly large, but when both your parents are deaf you tend to know anyone and everyone who’s deaf in this town. Most deaf people here come from generations of deaf relatives intermarrying or marrying hearing cousins – my grandparents were 5th cousins. (Thankfully my mom broke with tradition and married well outside her family allowing me and my brother to be hearing.) Because of this, Lafayette has a strong deaf community with many deaf events and several deaf organizations. Of course, this leads to more people moving to this area and more families having kids who are deaf. It’s a cycle that’s true in a lot of small cities with sizable minority communities.

Did you learn to sign or speak first?Definitely sign, as my mother reminds me all the time. All babies would learn to sign first, as they don’t have the vocal structures conducive to speech. It’s easier for them to express themselves with their hands. They’re not going to be preforming Shakespeare, but they can say “food” or “drink” or “I pooped my pants come clean this!” (Okay that last one’s a stretch it’s mostly the word for “poop”, which is making the “B” sign in the air, and waving it back and forth)

How old were you when you realized that your parents were different?
Kindergarten. Up until I went to school, the only other kids I hung out with were the kids of my parents’ deaf friends. They, like me, were hearing but their parents were deaf so we were exactly alike. But when I got to Maurice Elementary I was the only one in that situation and was quickly besieged with questions about ‘what was wrong’ with my parents. It wasn’t until I got a bit older when I realized just how different my family was and just how hard it was living with deaf parents.

How did having deaf parents effect you and your brother?For one thing, it gave us a unique skill set that looks great on a resume! It’s also made us more tolerant. But for the most part, I’d have to say it forced us to grow up a lot quicker than our peers. Being dragged everywhere your parents went so that you could interpret for them (everything from doctor’s appointments to bankruptcy court) tends to have that effect. I was learning how to spell appendectomy long before I mastered the word house. We were part of very grownup things and witnessed all those painfully boring things adults do behind closed doors that most people never see until they’re in college. It’s definitely prepared me for the paperwork that is involved with adulthood. It’s a blessing and a curse.

How did people in the community react to your family?
They had no problem with the whole deaf thing, they had more of a problem with the whole interracial-relationship thing (small town in Louisiana.) Everyone knew my dad because he worked for the city doing maintenance and water treatment. Being the very congenial guy that he is, he quickly grew on everyone. Granted, most people thought he was dumb because he was deaf. When he quickly passed all the certification and finished all his work before everyone else they stopped being quite so friendly and were a bit more envious.

People also thought we were a lot poorer than we actually were. I remember that every year around Thanksgiving the local Catholic church (which we never went to because we went to the all-deaf Catholic church) would bring us a basket of “fixin’s” never knowing that we already had a full pantry because my mother had gone shopping that very same day to get ready for the feast. We always took the basket graciously and then laughed very hard after we had closed the door. Why should we correct them on their ignorance? As long as it made them feel good that they had done a kind thing!

What are the benefits of being raised by deaf parents?I got to experience another culture than most people never see. Deaf culture is a very vibrant and dynamic entity, mostly because their language is always changing and new words are always being invented. The culture is hugely varied and very complex. From the power of deaf poetry and performance art, to the little known cult of promiscuity that exists, and to the major deaf organizations in every town and every state – it’s a many and varied thing.

Also, like I said before, I was granted privy to many adult things long before I needed to know about them. I understood how to set up a bank account and why I needed to start saving early and planning for retirement and even how to buy a house. I knew all of this at age 14 and it’s stuck with me ever since.

Any advice for those of us interacting with deaf people for the first time?When a deaf person says “I’m deaf” (as opposed to “I can’t hear you”) please do not shout at the deaf person. If you shout, two thing will happen:
1) The deaf person will look at you like you’re a complete moron
2) You will feel like a complete ass because the deaf person still doesn’t understand what you’re saying and now you’ve just revealed your ignorance.

When a deaf person says “I’m deaf” just smile hold up your index finger, indicating that you want them to wait, and pull out a piece of paper and a pen. It will be a lot easier for both of you to communicate this way.

Also? When you see people communicating in sign language, please don’t stare. It’s okay to politely glance and be intrigued, but please do not continue to gawk at them. It’s really uncomfortable to talk to someone while another person is staring at you, and 9 times out of 10 the signers will start talking about you and you wouldn’t like what they’d have to say.

Do any of you have deaf friends or family members? Any questions for Lovell?

True Story: I’m a Female Wildfire Fighter

What would it be like to work as a hotshot, a wildfire fighter? It's an overwhelmingly male-dominated field; what would it be like to do it as a woman? Click through for one woman's story
What would it be like to work as a hotshot, a wildfire fighter? It’s an overwhelmingly male-dominated field; what would it be like to do it as a woman? This is Gina’s story.

How did you get into fire fighting?

I always wanted to be a firefighter, it seemed exciting to me. I like to be outside, lift heavy things and sleep on the ground!

In college, I got a job with the forest service working on trails. My first week on the job, they asked if I wanted to get my red card (training, and necessary qualifications for forest fires) I said absolutely!

The training is a week long. I learned about the different types of fire crews and I remember the instructor saying hotshots were the top dogs. He said they had the most difficult, demanding, scary job and that you had to really prove yourself in order to be a hotshot. I was sold I didn’t want to mess around with anything else!

However, hotshot crews don’t hire people without previous fire experience. I returned home from training to Logan where the Logan Hotshots are based. I walked in and told the supervisor I wanted to be a hotshot and they should keep me in mind if they needed anyone.

The VERY next day I was doing a 14-mile hike across the Wellsville mountains. When I returned to my car, I had a note saying the Hotshots were looking for me! They had another woman on the crew get injured and they needed a replacement….they were headed to a fire that day. They thought of me because I had just been in there the day before.

Well, I didn’t even have fire boots (logging style boots) yet, so I ended up wearing my bosses boots (I have a size 6 foot, he wears god knows what) but I wasn’t going to complain. I wanted this so bad.

We arrived at the incident near Provo, Utah at about 10 pm that night. We ended up working a 40-hour straight shift, digging fireline (similar to digging trenches, chain gang stuff….!) I think I fell asleep standing up leaning on my tool at one point.

My feet were covered in blisters and the helicopter that was suppose to pick us up at the top of the mountain broke down and we had to walk miles out. This was probably the single hardest I ever had to do but I felt like I could handle anything after that!

The crew liked me and hired me permanently after that. I also met my husband that night! How cool it that!?

How difficult is it to become a hot shot?

Hotshotting is hard, dirty work, you have to be prepared to drop EVERYTHING at a moment’s notice. You need to be comfortable knowing you might not return home for two weeks at a time.

We generally work 16 hours a day for 14 days straight, come home for two days and repeat! You sleep on the ground nearly every night and you eat shitty food from Sysco or Military rations. You just need energy to keep you going and sometimes that’s cookies, chips, or white bread sandwiches. You dig trenches or run chainsaws and hike over steep terrain (fires are never on flat ground, right!?) all day long.

Forget about eight hours of sleep, get used to 4-6. You have to be able to carry 45 pounds over rough terrain all day, do seven pull-ups, and run a mile and a half in 10:30 minutes. Most importantly you have to have a hell of a sense of humor.

By the end of the summer you are physically and mentally spent. You have to be extremely comfortable with being VERY uncomfortable. But there is a weird sense of peace there though – knowing what you are capable of enduring.

What are your co-workers like? How many women do this?

Your co-workers are what makes the job worthwhile. They are a bunch of (guys generally) that are so full of life, energy, and enthusiasm. Most hotshots are in their early 20’s and not married yet. They are very adventurous and everyone swaps stories about the different countries they visited over the winter months.

Many do ski patrol work or are students in the off season (Nov-April). There are not many woman. I was the only one at my station this past year, but some years there are a few. You have to get used to a lot of “man talk”: women, balls, and dirty movies.

Tell us about an average day when you’re fighting fires.

Wake up 5 am, take ten minutes to pack your stuff up, eat breakfast, dig/cut/hike until dark. We remove vegetation with hand tools and chain saws in order to stop the fire.

Sometimes we use drip torches or fusses to light back fires. This is very effective in light vegetation to stop a fire. When a fire runs out of oxygen or fuel it goes out. Usually we eat lunch sometime mid-day and then keep working. At dark, you return to wherever camp is, eat dinner and bed down.

What do you do in the off season?

In the off season I like to travel. I do a lot of biking, hiking, camping and exploring. My husband and I have been on several multi-day,self-supported bike trips. We like to find the sun, so we spend a lot of time in Arizona. We’ve been to Mexico, Italy, The Bahamas, the Florida Keys,and all over the US during out off seasons.

I also teach Yoga, personal train and work as a chef during the winter.

Have you ever been in any really dangerous situations?

Anytime you’re dealing with Mother Nature things can get dangerous. Some of the biggest killers during fires are actually car accidents, helicopter crashes, and falling trees.

We’ve been run out by fires, having to get to our “safety zone” (already burned areas or large mineral soil areas that can’t burn) seen trees fall right in front of us and have to fly in helicopters quite a bit. I’ve been on many fires where fatalities occurred.

Do you plan on doing this forever?

Absolutely not! I am 32 years old and I am getting tired! Last year I had to pee in a Big Gulp cup in the back of a truck with 10 dudes because they wouldn’t stop – that was a turning point for me! I am hoping to get a personal chef business going. I make vegan and raw food. and I’m very interested in yoga and nutrition.

What are the benefits of living this life style?

I have seen some many places I would have never ever seen otherwise. I spent two weeks on the Salmon River, I’ve been to Alaska and I’ve seen wilderness areas in all the western states.

If you like the outdoors, it is an amazing way to see the country! I also really enjoy having 6 months off a year. If you live simply you can stretch your money for the whole Winter.

What advice would you give to anybody looking to get into fire fighting?

Practice hiking with a big heavy pack! Check out www.usajobs.opm.gov. There are a million fire jobs just waiting to be filled every year. It’s good if you’re young and don’t have big family commitments, but not impossible if you do. You just need an understanding spouse.

Would any of you be interested in hotshotting? Any questions for Gina?

P.S. Other adventurous interviews: I fly planes upside down + I’m a celebrity bodyguard