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Frozen

Today as I was perusing my Instagram feed, an ad popped up for a local fertility center.  The ad had a picture of a woman sitting by herself, smiling, holding what looks to be an alcoholic beverage, enjoying her life.  The caption promises “Egg freezing allows women to create options for the future.”  I know I was sent this ad because I am a woman in my 30s.  But since I have Type I BPES, I stopped getting my period years ago and don’t have any eggs left to freeze.

As I have discussed before, I am okay with this.  An ad like this does not upset me, but it does remind me that I am not “normal.”  I usually forget that I have BPES, until something like this comes up, and it forces me to think, “oh yeah, for most women my age, it would be no big deal to see this ad.”  But I can’t help thinking, “well this doesn’t apply to me.”

I usually just don’t think about the fact that it is a societal norm that woman are assumed to want children and to be capable of having them.  I have encountered this at work.  When coworkers say, “when you have kids someday” I kind of freeze and it can be awkward.  I usually just try to smile and nod, because that is a lot easier and less personal than having to explain my situation.  I am really torn about whether I should open up and let them know the real me.  I do with most other aspects of my life.  I see myself as a genuine person.

But I have always been a private person, and don’t think everyone needs to know everything about me.  When I hear someone assume that I’m going to have kids, and I don’t say anything, I can’t help but feel torn.  On the one hand, I don’t want to get into my private life, but on the other hand, I don’t want to lie and be fake.  So far I have only discussed my condition with close friends and family, and I have never told coworkers at any job that I have had.

I find it a lot easier to write about it than to talk about it face to face.  But sometimes I wonder if the next time someone assumes, I should just be like, “actually…” and educate them about my condition.

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Eyebrow Taming

My eyebrows have a story to tell. It’s been a journey to figure out what to do with them. Now that I’ve gotten to a better place in how I maintain my brows, I love looking at past pictures of me to see what eyebrow phase I was in at certain stages in my life. First, there was the pre-plucking stage, where I had very thick natural eyebrows that looked a bit like Oscar the Grouch. Until high school, it never occurred to me to do anything with my eyebrows. When girls in high school would exclaim their eyebrows looked a mess and they needed tweezers, I never really understood what they were talking about. Maybe it was in part due to my poor vision, but when I looked at my friends, their eyebrows looked perfectly normal to me. High school was the first time in my life when it occurred to me that maybe I should be doing something to take care of my eyebrows.

My theater coach and director in high school had an interesting approach to managing high schoolers – he would often times insult people. Not optimal, but his insult comic style approach to classroom management worked for some. I liked theater and wanted to act so I kind of weathered the storm of his verbal cruelty in order to get do what I liked. I remember so distinctly when one day he jokingly told one of the boys in my grade that he had a unibrow and he would help him to pluck it. I immediately became very self conscious and was terrified that the director would call me out for having a unibrow as well. It wasn’t until that day that I thought my eyebrows were so thick they could be a unibrow. It pains me to write this, but we try to keep it real up in here so I’ll admit it. I was so scared he would insult me, I ran home and plucked the nearly invisible hairs in between my eyebrows that very day. He never did comment on my eyebrows, but that episode was the first time I took tweezers to my brows.

Other than managing the unibrow that was mostly visible only to a self-conscious teenager with no beauty knowledge whatsoever, I didn’t do anything else to my eyebrows in high school. Eyebrow maintenance was still a mystery to me. I still laugh when I look at my high school senior pictures and see how thick my eyebrows were. In retrospect, if someone had just taught me how to clean up my brows a bit, I think I would have beautiful thick eyebrows today.  Growing up with a mom who never wore make up, all my beauty knowledge for better or worse was self taught. I am somewhat low maintenance in my hygiene routine. My friends are probably rolling over thinking that is an understatement. I would read beauty magazines where they would have all these rules about shaping brows and I just didn’t get it. They said not to pluck from the top, line up a pencil with your nose to figure out where your arch should be, etc etc. I could not figure out how the heck this was supposed to work and why my eyebrows looked nothing like the models on the pages of the magazines. I’m a little wiser now.

When I got to college, I was surrounded by experts in beauty with lots of dorm mates who were far more well versed in all things – from ironing your hair on the floor in lieu of a straightening iron to using a lash curler to perfecting cat eye with eye liner. All of this was completely foreign to me. I was caught up in the thrill of redefining myself in a collegiate atmosphere and I had so much to learn. Friday nights were often spent primping in front of the mirror with all the ladies who lived on my floor. It was so much fun. Here’s the stage in my life where I picked up the tweezers and quickly transitioned into my “surprised” phase. I still had no idea what I was doing, but at the suggestion of my friends and my own curiosity in self exploration, I decided to expand my eyebrow plucking beyond my “fear of unibrow” minimalist approach.

I had NO idea what I was doing. In retrospect, none of my new found friends really gave me great advice, but at the time I thought they were so helpful. I just carried that knowledge from beauty magazines and my fellow 19 year old dorm mates. Always pluck from underneath. Thinner eyebrows were in fashion when I was in college. I also kept channeling one of my friends from high school who always had very thinned, arched brows. I ended up over-plucking my eyebrows into high half circle type arches. No matter how many pencils I held up to my nose, I never really grasped the concept of how to shape to your natural arch. I can tell right away from any picture I see of me taken during this time period because my eyebrows are thin, highly arched, and I look chronically surprised. I thought at the time that I was so hot, gorgeous, and chic with those brows. Ahh – to be young and ignorant!

After college I toned down my plucking a little bit, but I still felt like things just weren’t quite right. What I kept reading about and seeing on TV just didn’t seem to match what my eyebrows looked like. After starting a fairly stressful teaching job, I decided to focus on self care and treat myself. Looking back, I think I was also paranoid the kids would make fun of me. One of my students told me I had a mustache (kids can be so cruel when they are actually looking to be loved and noticed) and that rapidly prompted my journey into the world of waxing. I booked an appointment for a lip and brow wax at a spa in the city. I was terrified, but also felt like such a grown up. I had never been to a spa in my life and certainly never waxed anything in my life. I thought, finally paying a professional to do this, somehow I will get my whole eyebrow shaping thing right. I might solve the mystery of eyebrow shaping that I was always reading about in those beauty magazines that were so captivating to me as a teenager.

DID. I. EVER.

I had an amazing experience at the salon and left thinking I looked incredible. There is something to be said for the power of brow shaping. It can really change your entire look. I felt amazing! After I got my eyebrows waxed, this was a game changer. I finally realized how shaping your brows can truly change your entire face. I entered into the waxing stage of my life where I looked like a grown up. My eyebrows were thinner than they’d been in high school, but they were now shaped appropriately to match my face. I officially left my half moon surprised face college eyebrows in the dust and never looked back.

I mostly stuck with waxing and a little bit of plucking to maintain between waxes. I don’t think I went too often because waxing was an expensive indulgence for me at the time. I now knew what was possible with my brows. My eyebrows and time marched on. Eventually I moved into a phase in my life where I was trying to reduce my plastic footprint.  There was a brief period where I tried to make sugar wax and use strips of cloth to wax my brows at home. That was a very short-lived plastic free failed experiment. This then led me to eyebrow threading as I was trying to be more natural, plastic free, and realistic about what I am capable of doing. There was a tiny hole in the wall threading studio near my house that only took walk ins. It was amazing. I could stop by whenever I felt I needed a clean up. I loved how threading didn’t yank on my brows, it was less painful, cheaper, better for the environment, and I was supporting a local female owned business. The owner was a genius at shaping my brows in a beautiful way to compliment my face. Life was great.

Around this time, I decided to have my eye surgery that I talk about in detail on other pages on our site. I was really nervous about what was going to happen with my eyebrows. I went and got threaded close to my surgery in the hopes that my eyebrows would at least be tamed and take some time to grow out in case I could never shape again. My surgeon during my consult lectured me on the evils of threading and how it can lead to infections. While I respected her opinions and expertise, I decided I felt comfortable with continuing to thread post surgery.  Post-op after surgery, they run through a litany of things you can’t do – don’t wear make up and a bunch of other things I now forget. My favorite part about this was that you’ve just gotten out of surgery and they run down this long list of things you can’t do, but nowhere do they give this to you in writing. I remember thinking, when the anesthesia fully wears off, how the hell do you expect me to remember this? And I remember being super entertained that they gave me this laundry list of items that I couldn’t do for the next two weeks and then they dropped this bomb at the end – stay out of the sun for A YEAR. I burst out laughing. It was meant to ensure I didn’t have scarring around my eyes, but every time the sun came out the year after my surgery I would laugh and half jokingly think “Oh god, get OUT of the sun!”

I actually don’t remember anymore if they said I could wax or thread again post surgery. I was really nervous because I had slings put in place, so I was paranoid threading might irritate them. I waited a long time post op (like months and months) before I decided to start threading again. I am still a bit cautious with threading, but in general it is really gentle and it hasn’t caused any pain or seemed to affect my slings in anyway. I now use threading and a little bit of plucking in between trips to the salon to keep my eyebrows shaped. I worry a bit that threading isn’t good for my post-surgical brows. This seems like a good question I want to ask the next time I see my eye doctor.

I didn’t do this post op, but over the years I’ve returned to a really nasty habit of  compulsively rubbing my eyebrows. I really want to kick this. I vigorously rub my eyebrows (sometimes until they ache) more than I should and I am very nervous that I might damage my slings with my compulsive eyebrow rubbing. I am grateful that post surgery I can still get my eyebrows gently shaped via threading, even with all my worries and unexplainable compulsive rubbing (which I want to write more about another day). I kind of miss my bushy caterpillar eyebrows of my youth and maybe if my thick brows were still around, they’d better conceal my tiny surgery scars. I wonder if I’ve come full circle and I should just let Oscar the Grouch come back in all his glory.

J3

False Lashes

One of my guilty pleasures is watching a few Bravo reality TV shows.  And in watching these shows, I see a lot of high maintenance people.  And I’m not judging, it is just not me.  But it is fascinating to me how much beauty and up-keep are a part of people’s lives.  These shows make it seem like Botox is practically a requirement.  And false eyelashes seem to now be a part of everyday makeup application.

I am a low maintenance person when it comes to makeup.  But sometimes I will try out new techniques to use on special occasions.   With BPES, makeup can be tricky, as I discussed in my smoky eye story.  But I am curious about false eyelashes.  I like my eyelashes, but they are very thin.  Looking at my face, I am assuming that if I add bulk to my eyelashes, it will just make my eyes look smaller.  It also freaks me out that they stick on.  I feel like since my eye shape is unique, they probably would not fit on very well.  After watching a how-to video, it does appear that the length can be cut to adjust for size, but I also wonder about getting the proper curvature.

I decided to check on SnapChat to see if they happened to have a filter which would give me a clue as to whether false eyelashes are something I should explore.  Here is one filter that enhanced the lashes:

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To me, this picture does confirm that the taller thicker lashes make my eyes appear smaller.  Obviously this is not the same as the real thing, which I may still try, but this at least gives me an idea.

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See Yourself in Others

Over the holidays, we were very fortunate to have all of our immediate family in one place. That rarely happens nowadays. We typically spend December 24th at our grandmother’s house. We have cousins who live in our hometown that also have an open house on December 24th. In years past, we’ve done some ninja calendar management to make it to both houses in one night. This year, we weren’t really up for the challenge. Our younger brother took a slightly different approach to managing his family’s social holiday agenda. He came to see my grandmother a little earlier in the day, and then while the rest of us stayed at Nana’s house into the evening, he took his kids to visit our cousins at their holiday open house.

Something that I think is interesting about our family is that all four of us siblings have BPES. For my dad, only some of his siblings had BPES, while others did not. Likewise, for most of our cousins, not everyone had BPES. My sister and I were the first females in our family to have it. We thought that it was a sex linked genetic mutation, but my sister and I are proof that it is not! Our cousin, who lives in our hometown, has BPES along with his son and daughter.  His kids are slightly younger than my siblings and me so we were never in school together, but we aren’t too far apart in years. Oftentimes growing up, people in town would know that we were related because of our eyes. Complete strangers, like high school students working in the grocery store, would ask us at the check out, “Are you so and so’s cousin?” Until my brother’s daughter was born last year, I always felt a somewhat special bond with our female cousin because we three were the only females in our family with BPES. Now we are four! Still in the minority compared to all the male uncles and cousins that have BPES. The point being whenever someone on my dad’s side of the family has a child, we all wait in anticipation to see what their eyes will look like.

This holiday, it got me thinking, I wonder what it is like for our brother’s kids to see examples of people who look like them. Growing up, we were constantly exposed to family in our town and in nearby towns that looked like us. My brother lives many states away and his kids don’t interact with extended family as often as we did growing up. What is even more interesting is that not all of his kids have BPES. Of all our siblings our younger brother probably has the least pronounced BPES in his eyes. Growing up, we thought we were normal in part because we all looked alike. I never thought that it was anything special because all my siblings looked like me too and I spent most of my time with them as a kid. We just knew we had smaller eyes than most people, but we were like our dad. And lots of our uncles and cousins had it too. No big deal. We often had interactions with people who looked like us – completely affirming our identity and sense of self. We had a tribe.

I wonder if my brother’s kids even notice that two of them have small eyes and one of them does not. I’m curious if they even noticed when they were at my cousin’s house last month that my cousin and his kids look like them. I’ll have to ask my brother if this ever comes up in conversation. There’s a lot of discussion in various contexts about the importance of seeing someone like you in a given role or situation. It then helps you visualize yourself being able to be in that role. Did seeing my cousins help to normalize being small eyed for my brother’s kids? Or did they not even register it as they were chasing down cookies, hot cocoa, and candy canes and were too busy being kids? Hmmmm…

J3

There’s Something in Your Eye

Since my adult eye surgery (that I go into detail about on our surgery page), I’ve only noticed one negative side effect. I sometimes get something stuck in my eye and it is nearly impossible to blink, cry, or flush it out. Immediately after surgery, I found that blinking to flush something out of my eye was completely ineffective. If I got something in my eye, like fuzz or dirt from the air, I would experience a sharp pain in my eye that was blinding. I wouldn’t be able to keep my eye open and I’d twitch a bit in pain. I couldn’t figure out what was going on exactly. I only know that somehow after my surgery if something gets in my eye, it is really hard to flush it out. Thankfully as time passed after surgery, this didn’t happen very often and I was much more careful about rubbing my eyes to avoid the situation.

I still don’t really understand why this happens. Unfortunately I’ve found the most effective way to deal with it is to lay my head down and close my eyes, basically going back to sleep and letting my body fix itself. I don’t always have the luxury to essentially sleep it off if something gets stuck in my eye. In December, as I was waking up for work, I rubbed my eyes a little more vigorously than I should have. All of a sudden I had sharp waves of pain whenever I tried to blink. Putting my head down didn’t work. Neither did crying, eye drops, or flushing my eye with water. As the minutes ticked by and it was getting to the time that I had to leave for work, I was freaking out. I was uncomfortable, annoyed, and a little scared. What was I supposed to do?

After a ten minute panic and lots of eye drops later, I ended up arranging to take a partial sick day and take some calls from home. I could not get this thing out of my eye and depending on where it floated around on my eye, I would have waves of pain and be unable to open my eye out of discomfort. I normally bike to work and with my eye acting that way, I did not feel comfortable or safe trying to bike without reliable vision. I took work calls from my couch, usually alternating between looking like a pirate with one eye closed in pain as I squinted at my computer screen and with shutting my eyes altogether. In between calls, my nose kept running. Since everything is connected, the irritation in my eye was causing overall congestion in my sinuses. I thought blowing my nose would bring relief, but it did not. I felt so stupid taking a sick day because I had something in my eye.

I feel silly writing this because I can’t even clearly explain what exactly is going on when I get something in my eye. Today it happened again while I was with my client and thankfully it wasn’t as bad as my sick day a month ago. Several times throughout the day, I had waves of sharp pains in my eye from what I can only assume was some environmental irritant. I should ask my eye doctor at my next appointment if they’ve ever heard of anything like this. In the meantime, I am really cautious about rubbing my eyes and how I carefully remove anything from my eye area. Small price to pay for being able to actually SEE, but I wonder if other people who’ve had the same surgery as me experience this. I also wonder why the heck this happens at all. Ugh – I wouldn’t go back to my adult eyes pre-surgery because they were practically closing, but I do miss the ability to be able to effectively blink and naturally flush irritants out of my eyes.

J3

Squinting into the Sun

During the holidays I had the opportunity to visit my best friend in Los Angeles. I don’t venture to the West Coast often because it is a really long flight for me and usually there is enough to entertain and tempt me on the East Coast. At any rate, it was wonderful to escape the cold winter and have some sunshine in December.  It had been a long time since I’d visited, and I was just amazed how blue the skies are in LA. I couldn’t believe how warm it was in the dead of winter. It was glorious to eat lunch at sidewalk cafes and go hiking in a tank top and shorts. What a thrill to do something like that in December!

One thing I noticed on my first morning there was how sensitive my eyes were to all that sunshine. I felt like a mole! Where I live now, it is often cloudy and rainy. I acted like a vampire upon waking up on my first morning in LA, pulling the covers over my head and howling about all the brilliant light. I was so happy to see the sunshine and the bright blue skies, but they felt like they were killing me. Sunshine and blue skies are a game changer for my mental well being. I am immediately happier and more energetic when I see a blue sky. I of course always wear sunscreen and stay in the shade, but a sunny blue sky lifts my mood ten fold. I was conflicted with how happy I was to see blue skies and with how much my eyes hurt with all that sun. My body was telling me to hide in the darkness and my heart was telling me to get outdoors.

Many years ago as a kid, the eye doctor told my mother that I had very light pigmentation around my eyes and I am hypersensitive to bright light. With blue eyes, fair skin, and lighter hair, I was preconditioned to be sensitive to sunlight. Combine that with my already small eyes, if you put me under the sun my squint goes into overdrive. I have referenced on other pages on our site how I hate when people ask me why I am squinting. My sensitivity to light kind of blurs the lines – am I squinting because I have poor vision, because my eyes are really sensitive to light, or because I have BPES? People always used to assume I was squinting because I have such small eyes. So many eye issues! I believe that I was mostly squinting because my eyes are super sensitive to bright sunlight.

About ten years ago, I finally invested in a quality pair of prescription sunglasses. Thankfully my prescription hasn’t changed too much over the years that I can still use this same pair. I would be dead without them. I cannot function in bright natural outdoor light. It hurts my eyes to the point that I feel blinded and unable to focus my vision. I was reminded in LA that I really have to wear my sunglasses or I will be uncomfortable in all that sunlight. What a problem to have for a woman with BPES who LOVES the sunshine.

J3

Singapore Sling

I had the opportunity to travel to Singapore this past November. I haven’t spent that much time in Asia, so this trip was really impressionable for me. I was delighted by the mixing of so many Asian countries and cultures within Singapore. In addition to enjoying getting to explore a new place, eating amazing food, and soaking in the warm weather, I was very curious about how others perceived me. During my college years, as I’ve mentioned in other pages on our site, many people told me they thought I was Asian based on my eyes. It used to be insanely frustrating for me when people assumed I was of Asian descent. As I roamed through the indoor malls and outdoor parks in Singapore, I kept wondering – do people think I am part Asian?

When I travel, I like to fit in and not stand out. My goal is to be a respectful tourist and just blend in with the background to observe day to day life as seamlessly as possible. You’ll still find me at local tourist spots, but I won’t be standing on the corner with my map open, while in line waiting to jump on the open air city tour bus. As an aside, with the utility and subtlety of SmartPhones now, I suppose the classic tourist “two handed open map study on a street corner” is a thing of the past. I think I was self-conscious because I couldn’t blend in as a local as I usually try to do in my travels. It was very clear that I was not a native Singaporean based on my pale skin tone, light brown hair color, and oodles of freckles!

It’s funny to me that in the United States we really are a melting pot at times. I love how you can walk down the street in a major city in the US and you’ll have no idea based on someone’s appearance and dress whether they are a citizen, an immigrant, or a visitor. I was so conscious in Singapore that everyone knew I wasn’t from there. I am not sure why I thought this and why it bothered me so much. It was clearly all in my head. Never was I treated poorly during my trip and never did anyone call my background or appearance into question.

Earlier this year, I traveled to Thailand and I don’t remember being as self-conscious about my appearance for whatever reason. Maybe this was due to me being with my friend and Bangkok being a larger city or that we did more touristy things. While in Singapore I had more time by myself to wander the city and I was overthinking, as I tend to do. I fully recognize that these are all just thoughts invented in my mind, but…what a funny BPES problem that when Asia, I inwardly called my own identity into question. Probably more a product of my childhood and college years where so many people challenged who I was and practically argued with me that I must be Asian. Surreal. I know exactly who I am, but weird when other people try to tell you that you are something you are not. I appreciate the world is more globalized than it was 15 years ago in that no one said a thing to me about my eyes or heritage during my entire trip. What a thrill that I could walk down the street in Singapore and be accepted as a tourist exactly as I am, in all my BPES small eyed glory!

J3

Resting Indifferent Face

I have never really been a morning person, and to make matters worse, some days one or both of my eyes will just not open as wide as they can (which is already narrower than most people’s).  Since I can’t really control the muscles in my eyelids, there is nothing I can do about it.  So I just end up looking tired or indifferent.

I’ve had people tell me that I have looked tired before, and I don’t say anything, but in my head I’m thinking, “No, that’s just my eyes.” I can never predict how I am going to look.  It is funny, I feel normal, and I don’t notice unless I look in the mirror, or at a picture.

The other day I went for a long 4 mile walk and took some selfies.  When I looked at them later, I noticed it was just one of those days where my right eye would just not open all of the way:

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I have tried to be more aware of it over the years, because I know the importance of non-verbal communication.  And at work especially, I have found that I have to try harder to look alert and not indifferent, disinterested, or tired.

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Feel the Burn

With BPES, a unique issue I have is that since my eyelids don’t open all of the way, they are more exposed to the sun.  This is something that most other people don’t have to worry about as much.  I have learned the hard way several times that I need to always take the time to put sunscreen on my eyelids.

Those times I have forgotten or not put on sunscreen carefully enough, my eyelids have turned bright pink.  It almost appeared as though I had on pink eye shadow.  They became hot and swollen, which made it even harder for me to keep them open.

I tried to find a picture that would illustrate this, but I could only find one where you can kind of see.  Shockingly, I did not allow my picture to be taken when I was badly burned. 😉  This picture was taken 13 years ago at Daytona Beach, FL.  It is hard to see my eyelids, but it is clear that I have a sunburn (also see my earlier post about how awkwardly hats fit on my head).  If you look closely, you can see how my eyes are barely opened. This is a result of swelling from burned eyelids.

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But having this happen a couple of times was enough, and I am very careful now.  I have learned to apply sunscreen to the eyelids very meticulously, because trying to rush it has resulted in getting lotion in my eyes, causing them to sting.  I found another picture from a more recent trip to Sarasota, FL where you can see a slight sunburn on my face, but my eyelids are unscathed and my eyes are open to admire the gorgeous sunset!

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Shade

Now that summer is here, and I try to keep my sensitive skin from scorching in the sun, I am reminded of my constant struggle to properly shade my head.

It is really hard finding hats and sunglasses that look right on my face. Between my small eyes, the structure of my nose and the fact that I have one ear that sits up slightly higher than the other, it seems like nothing works. I can sometimes get a visor or a bucket hat to work, but I have yet to find something that I love.

Here is me with a visor, and a hat:

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Even Snapchat filters with sunglasses don’t look quite right:

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I’ve tried many different types of sunglasses, but I’ve been forced to accept that kids sunglasses are too small, and adult sunglasses are too big for my face.  I do have a pair that are too big for my face that I can use if I really need to shade my eyes.  I’m sure if I keep trying, maybe someday I will find ones that fit, but for now I have given up haha. I guess I’ll just file it under #bpesproblems.

 

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