10+ Before & After Pics Of People Who Defeated Anorexia

Yesterday

Anorexia is a psychological eating disorder and, in some cases, even a life-threatening disease. There are people who die starving themselves because of anorexia, as the grip of the illness takes control – yes, it’s that serious. It’s no surprise that most of those who have been through it call such experience a living hell.

Fortunately, these people in the list below managed to beat the illness and regain the weight – along with regaining their life, their sanity, and happiness.

If you are someone who suffers from anorexia or you know anyone with an eating disorder, remember that you are not alone. Do not hesitate to ask for the help you need.

#95 Eating Disorder Recovery

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Jeremy Hunt doesn’t understand junior doctors. He co-wrote a book on how to dismantle the NHS | Frankie Boyle

5 days ago

Frankie Boyle: The health secretarys name is so redolent of upper-class brutality he belongs in a Martin Amis book where working-class people are called Dave Rubbish

One of the worst things for doctors must be that, after seven years of study and then another decade of continuing professional exams, patients come in telling them theyre wrong after spending 20 minutes on Google. So imagine how doctors must feel about Jeremy Hunt, who hasnt even had the decency to go on the internet.

Consider how desperate these doctors are: so desperate that they want to talk to Jeremy Hunt. Surely even Hunts wife would rather spend a sleepless 72 hours gazing into a cracked open ribcage than talk to him. Hunt wont speak to the doctors, even though doctors are the people who know how hospitals work. Hunts only other job was founding Hotcourses magazine: his areas of expertise are how to bulletpoint a list and make dog grooming look like a viable career change.

Of course, the strikers are saying this is about safety, not pay, as expecting to be paid a decent wage for a difficult and highly skilled job is now considered selfish. Surely expecting someone to work for free while people all around them are dying of cancer is only appropriate for the early stages of The X Factor. Sadly, Tories dont understand why someone would stay in a job for decency and love when their mother was never around long enough to find out what language the nanny spoke.

The fact that Hunt co-wrote a book about how to dismantle the NHS makes him feel like a broad stroke in a heavy-handed satire. Even the name Jeremy Hunt is so redolent of upper-class brutality that it feels like he belongs in one of those Martin Amis books where working-class people are called things like Dave Rubbish and Billy Darts (No shade, Martin Im just a joke writer: I envy real writers, their metaphors and similes taking off into the imagination sky like big birds or something). Indeed, Jeremy Hunt is so overtly ridiculous that he might be best thought of as a sort of rodeo clown, put there simply there to distract the enraged public.

I sympathise a little with Hunt he was born into military aristocracy, a cousin of the Queen, went to Charterhouse, then Oxford, then into PR: trying to get him to understand the life of an overworked student nurse is like trying to get an Amazonian tree frog to understand the plot of Blade Runner. Hunt doesnt understand the need to pay doctors hes part of a ruling class that doesnt understand that the desire to cut someone open and rearrange their internal organs can come from a desire to help others, and not just because of insanity caused by hereditary syphilis.

The government believes that death rates are going up because doctors are lazy, rather than because weve started making disabled people work on building sites. Indeed, death rates in the NHS are going up, albeit largely among doctors. From the steel mines where child slaves gather surgical steel, all the way up to senior doctors working 36 hours on no sleep, the most healthy people in the NHS are actually the patients. This is before we get to plans for bursaries to be withdrawn from student nurses, so that were now essentially asking them to pay to work. Student nurses are essential; not only are they a vital part of staffing hospitals, theyre usually the only people there able to smile at a dying patient without screaming: TAKE ME WITH YOU!

The real reason more people die at weekends is that British people have to be really sick to stay in hospital at the weekend, as hospitals tend not to have a bar. We have a fairly low proportion of people who are doctors, dont plan to invest in training any more, and are too racist to import them. So were shuffling around the doctors we do have to the weekend, when not a lot of people are admitted, from the week, when its busy. This is part of a conscious strategy to run the service down to a point where privatisation can be sold to the public as a way of improving things.

Naturally, things wont actually be improved; theyll be sold to something like Virgin Health. Virgin cant get the toilets to work on a train from Glasgow to London, so its time we encouraged it to branch out into something less challenging like transplant surgery. With the rate the NHS is being privatised, it wont be long before consultations will be done via Skype with a doctor in Bangalore. Thank God were raising a generation who are so comfortable getting naked online. Im afraid it looks like youve had a stroke. No, my mistake youre just buffering.

When I was little, I was in hospital for a few days. The boy in the next bed was an officious little guy who took me on a tour of the ward. Hed sort of appointed himself as an auxiliary nurse and would help out around the place, tidying up the toys in the playroom, and giving all the nurses a very formal Good Morning, which always made me laugh. I got jelly and ice-cream one evening (Id had my tonsils out) and they brought him some, too. Afterwards, he threw his spoon triumphantly into his plate and laughed till there were tears in his eyes. Then he tidied up and took our plates back to the trolley. What he meant by all this (wed sit up at night talking and waiting for trains to go by in the distance) is that this was the first place hed known any real kindness and he wished to return it. For most of us it will be the last place we know kindness. How sad that we have allowed it to fall into the hands of dreadful people who know no compassion at all, not even for themselves.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

It’s more than sex ed. For these young women, it’s a motion for equality.

One week ago

When writer Meera Subramanian traveled to India, she wasn’t sure exactly what she’d find.

In an excerpt from her book, “A River Runs Again,” she tells us what she discovered:

It was the girls who talked most passionately. Several spoke of becoming more comfortable with their bodies after having been taught what was happening to them, after resolving at least some of the mysteries of adolescence. They had lost their shyness by learning about the details of biology

Scene from rural Bihar. Photo courtesy of Allison Joyce/Redux.

In rural Bihar one of India’s most impoverished states Subramanian sat in a small brick one-room schoolhouse, listening to a group of local teenagers talk about their lives. One young woman in particular caught her attention…

Sobha was the most self-possessed. Her forehead was marked with a sparkly bindi that matched an S-shaped pendant hanging from her neck. She sat attentively as the others spoke, only once interjecting, We should say the truth.” But once she had the floor, she commanded the room. All distracted chatter stopped.

‘What sort of place is this?’ you’ll say if you come to my village. From Bodh Gaya, there’s a river and a hill, and behind them is the village, like a cave. People were afraid to go inside. Even my father didn’t want to stay in the village. It was claustrophobic.” There had been changes, she said. Some villagers now had phones, and one road was being paved. She learned about the Pathfinder training course from village elders, who said all girls between fifteen and eighteen should attend.

Subramanian writes that Sobha and the other teenagers had just finished a three-day training on the basics of sexual health through an organization called Pathfinder International, led by two bold advocates, Pinki and Binod.

But my situation was common in the village,” [Sobha] said, where each household might have six sisters, five sisters. So we made a group with at least one girl from each house. We took the training and then we went back home to teach others.” She had to periodically gulp to catch her breath, as though she had been waiting a very long time to speak and felt the importance of each word.

Pathfinder mural in Bihar. Photo courtesy of Allison Joyce/Redux.

Sobha said she was able to get a Pathfinder poster of the life cycle of a human being passing from birth through adolescence, followed by marriage and a young couple weighing birth-control options, and later holding a child as it is being immunized. She used the poster to begin talking with others in the village. Pinki and Binod exchanged looks; they had no idea that one of their students had gone rogue and appointed herself as trainer.

When Sobha finished, Pinki asked if she would continue to work with Pathfinder to organize more training courses. Sobha eagerly agreed.

Subramanian was deeply moved by what she saw. These teenagers weren’t just learning about reproductive health; they were learning to find their true voices:

We emerged from the small schoolhouse into an afternoon damp with mist. Though their hair was neatly pulled back and their clothes were modest, I saw the girls as powerful goddesses, devis eager for justice, who stepped in where the male gods were failing, determined to quietly, or not so quietly, dismantle a world that treats them as second-rate citizens.

Pinki and Binod. Photo courtesy of Allison Joyce/Redux.

As she continued her travels, Subramanian found even more reason to hope for a future of real equality and sustainability throughout India.

India is undergoing a radical test. Girls from all over South Asia are leaning in, tipping the balance, and hairline fractures are appearing in the ancient system of chauvinism. Whether sexual violence is on the rise or decline is difficult to know. Whether the aggression is men’s bitter reaction to the power they perceive they are losing to women is likewise uncertain.

But what is known is that it is now news. The rise of both women and men who are unwilling to accept the status quo has been startling and encouraging. There are women who bring their daughters into the streets to protest, boys like Sanoj who fight for the rights of their sisters, men like Pinki’s father who struggle to educate their daughters.

In her new book, “A River Runs Again,” Subramanian writes about the real change happening not just in Bihar, but all across the country. From villagers reviving a dead river to an engineer-turned-farmer bringing organic food to the plates of everyday Indians. And, perhaps most heartening of all, women and girls are taking the lead.

Everyone is thirsty. Girls and women, after centuries of serving tea to the men in their lives, are reaching for their own cups. I don’t want to believe that power is finite. Let the teapot be topped off, let the servings be stretched. Because everyone is striving. In today’s India, men and women, boys and girls, share each other’s desires for what Pinki calls self-independence.”

Pathfinder training for local men in Bihar. Photo courtesy of Allison Joyce/Redux.

Maybe this is why Pathfinder has found that its trainings are substantially more effective when they teach young men and women simultaneously. It’s not just about giving knowledge to the girls or teaching the boys to be respectful. It’s about what arises in the ka, that ethereal space between the two sexes. It’s about what happens when their lives come together.

The stricter laws against rape that passed at record pace in 2013 might translate into less violence against women. And increasing government support for safety nets and social security could make aging parents less dependent on sons, helping to balance the economic scales that favor a boy child over a girl…

In a country that has historically discriminated harshly against women, both men and women are now coming together to fight for equality. Of course, there’s still work to be done…

Resistance remains. Some local government officials have responded to the rash of rapes by suggesting India lower the legal age of marriage to help curb such crimes. Boys and girls should be married by the time they turn sixteen,” they argue, so that they do not stray.” In the face of such logic, the problems can seem intractable. But traditions can be lost in just a single generation. So can the beliefs that it is necessary to marry off your daughter at the onset of puberty and that it is her fault if she does not deliver a son, and do so immediately.

Pathfinder materials. Photo courtesy of Allison Joyce/Redux.

…but Subramanian has seen firsthand what happens when people defy expectations and find their own voices:

I have seen the shift in my own family. My Indian grandmother was married at the age of ten. Her four daughters were married in their late teens and twenties. My father, one of her middle sons, completely broke rank, marrying an American when he was thirty. I wasn’t married until the tender age of forty-four and have chosen not to have children. Among my cousins’ grown children who remain in India, arranged marriage remains the norm, but some are holding out against matches they’re not willing to accept. Each generation has had fewer children than the one before it, and the levels of education for both males and females tick upward. Our population growth is stable.

But we are a family with relative means. For the vast majority of Indians still struggling to survive, larger structural changes are needed. They are within reach. Kerala once had the highest population growth in India, but since 1971 it has invested heavily in women’s education, accessible family planning, and comprehensive health care. With neither threat nor coercion, the fertility rate more than halved in a single generation, from over four to under two

Those teenagers in Bihar are part of a whole new generation. It starts with education…

To stabilize population growth is to rally for literacy, because reading and understanding words on a page develops the same skills needed to read and understand our own bodies. Through this knowledge comes power and autonomy. And speech. The girls I met in Bihar … spoke in feisty voices, their excitement coupled with impatience as they told the stories of their lives. What they found was that learning how to speak to a husband, a mother-in-law, a doctor, a police officer is a powerful tool. With this transformation of a private voice into a public voice a public identity is born, one prepared to dissent and stand up for oneself.

People ask us, ‘Why do you go to these meetings? Do they give you something?'” Reena Kumari, an eighteen-year-old Bihari girl told me. I say, ‘When you go to pray, do you get something?’ They say, ‘Well, that one girl who did the training met a boy and ran away.'” She laughed, and continued speaking quickly, in a strong voice. We argue back you had her for fifteen years and they had her for three days and you’re saying we influenced her?” she said.

There is a flaw in your nurturing, not in our friendship.”

You fight back with their parents?” I asked.

…and it ends with a new generation that can speak their minds and own their futures.

Hum bolti hain!” she said. We speak up! Before training, we didn’t know anything, but after, we do. We learned how to find the right words to negotiate. There are so many changes.”

Scene from rural Bihar. Photo courtesy of Allison Joyce/Redux.

To negotiate such changes is to ask for everything you want, knowing you might only get a fraction. It is to remain unflinching as you look forward into the future of India’s women and girls and the generations they will bear. The path ahead is difficult, littered with obstacles, still under construction. But I can imagine the youth I met in Bodh Gaya [in Bihar] growing up in this new India, their India, moving forward down this road They shape the way as they go. They link their fingers, they quicken their pace, and their voices, rising up into that space between spaces, are unafraid.

Read more: www.upworthy.com

4 savvy ways to learn about your body online

14 days ago

Image: Getty Images

Talking candidly about the human body isn’t often easy, especially when it comes to reproductive and sexual health.

No matter the setting, trying to avoid taboo subjects often leads to awkward silences and unasked questions. And that’s when we turn to the internet for help.

With relative anonymity, you can ask any question you were too embarrassed to pose in class or at the kitchen table. There’s just one problem: Not all Google search results serve up the resources you need.

For example, if you want to know what a menstrual period is like, a search engine will show you thousands of links, including information from a tampon company, crowd-sourced descriptions from an internet forum, a government-sponsored fact-sheet and a list of experiences specifically designed not for accuracy, but to make you chuckle.

Given the link overload, it can be hard to know where to start and who to trust.

“[The internet] can be a place free of stigma and shame.”

There are, however, simple strategies to make this process easier, says Sophia Kerby, manager of state policy and partnerships for the nonprofit organization Advocates for Youth, which focuses on sexual health education.

“I think first and foremost, the reality is that many young people are turning to the internet because theyre curious.” says Kerby. “Particularly for women, young people of color, LGBTQ youth, it can be a place free of stigma and shame.”

If that’s the kind of experience you want to have, try these four tips:

1. Know that your body and needs are unique.

While sex education is often seen as focused on the act of sex, Kerby’s definition is expansive and covers topics such as human development, abstinence, reproductive sexual health, disease prevention and consent.

What’s most important for young people to understand, Kerby says, is how their body works and what healthy relationships look like.

Kerby stresses that there aren’t two types of normal bodies. Instead, people’s physical traits and experiences vary as does their identity and how they choose to express it. Kerby also believes it’s vital to know your personal values and what you want from friendships and romantic partnerships.

These unique needs mean it’s important to look for comprehensive resources that reflect a range of identities and experiences. Among those Kerby recommends are: Advocates for Youth, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Sex, Etc. and Scareleteen.

2. Health and relationship information should not make you feel ashamed.

When you’re reviewing a website on sexual and reproductive health, do a quick gut check with your emotions. Do you suddenly feel bad about who you are or how your body works? Kerby says that’s a sign to seek answers and information elsewhere.

“Be aware of any resource that has language that is very narrow and thats shame-based or stigmatizing.”

“Be aware of any resource that has language that is very narrow and thats shame-based or stigmatizing,” she says.

This type of language can be hard for young people to avoid online and in real life. Several states, including Texas, Utah and Alabama, explicitly prohibit teachers from discussing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in a positive light, or at all, according to the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

While LGBTQ youth frequently encounter non-inclusive resources, Kerby says such information can also invoke strict gender roles or sexual mores that create feelings of shame.

3. Look for evidence-based information.

Only 24 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education in school and just 13 states require that instruction to be medically accurate, according to the reproductive health and rights advocacy organization Guttmacher Institute.

But going to the web doesn’t always yield better information. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that of 177 sexual health websites used by teens, 46% had inaccurate information on contraception.

Similarly, while internet forums like Reddit, Yahoo Answers and Quora can provide crowd-sourced perspectives, Kerby says young people should rely on evidence-based information that’s shared by reputable organizations.

You don’t have to let such information dictate every choice you make, but it is important to know what’s medically accurate and sound. Ideally, Kerby adds, the language conveying these messages should be inclusive and supportive of many experiences.

4. Find material that makes you laugh and think.

The internet contains a lot of sexual health and relationship content designed to spotlight the funniest, most bizarre human experiences. Kerby says you should think of this material as a complement in your search for accurate, inclusive information.

Image: advocates for youth / facebook

If it’s inoffensive and makes you laugh at the absurdity of our cultural taboos, then think of it as a way to broach a difficult topic.

“Having funny and cheeky material out there, its a conversation starter,” says Kerby. “It’s pushing down that door of what [our] perceptions are and allowing for a much more expansive and inclusive sense of ourselves and our own sexualities.”

Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.

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How Facebook’s memory can affect your emotional wellbeing

16 days ago

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of logging into Facebook and getting a virtual punch to the gut when your ex’s face adorns Facebook’s On This Day window.

On This Day posts are nostalgia-inducing walks down your social media memory lane, and when they’re happy memories, scrolling through them can be a nice reminder of how great life was a year or two or three ago. But when they bring up a memory like losing a job, the death of a loved one, or self-harm, it can trigger negative emotions or behavior.

The On This Day feature is similar to TimeHop, the standalone app that shows you a daily post history from all your different social media accounts, which rose to popularity in 2012. Facebook only shows you posts from its own social archivesstatus updates, photos, and posts friends made on your timeline since the beginning of your account.

Facebook’s memories are different from TimeHop in that the company algorithmically decides what post to show you in your News Feed, and often those memories sit right at the top of your home feed without you deciding to click on the feature.

Facebook is a virtual scrapbook, albeit one overflowing with both trivial and important memories. Unlike a scrapbook that you pick up yourself when you want to reminisce, however, Facebook’s software is making the decisions on what it thinks you should see.

Facebook

According to Dr. Julia Shaw, associate professor and researcher in the department of law and social sciences at London South Bank University and author of the upcoming book The Memory Illusion: Why you may not be who you think you are, the intricacies and emotions in our real lives cannot be understood by a computer program making decisions based on Likes or comments. Including whether or not we want to relive memories stored on Facebook.

“An algorithm doesn’t know which memories you actually find important. It knows how often you shared something or how many Likes it received, but it doesn’t know what the complexity of your real-world life looks like,” Dr. Shaw said in an email to the Daily Dot. “This means that Facebook memory prompts are far more likely than scrapbooks to have negative effects, making us rehash unwanted memories at bad times.”

“Triggering” memories are ones that cause a negative emotional response. These can include memories we shared to Facebook that were, at one point, very positive experiences, such as a vacation with a person who is now your ex-partner.

The algorithm can’t understand that just because something is still on Facebook, it means we want to view it again. Value changes with time, and what Facebook’s technology interprets as meaningful could become an inappropriate reminder of past experiences that remain in our virtual history for any number of reasons.

Facebook knows its feature isnt always perfectthe company has a team working on improving the algorithms and figuring out what kinds of content people care most about. Currently, the understanding of memories is based on engagement; Facebook correlates a post with a lot of Likes or comments with a positive memory.

“If the person being presented with these unwanted memory prompts is currently in a bad state, these may even have the potential to push someone over the edge into more severe problems like depression or anxiety, or can lead to negative behaviors such as fights and excessive drinking,” Dr. Shaw said.

Considering most of the content we share on social media is highly-edited positive snapshots of our lives, it makes sense that Facebook would want to encourage you to relive it. Studies show that good news spreads faster and gets more engagement than bad news on Facebook, and editing yourself on Facebook can sometimes improve self-esteem. (Though the positive pruning also might come with a caveatthe pressure to live up to the perfect self-construction people present on social media can cause anxiety or stress in life offline.)

Jeff Hancock, professor in the department of communications at Stanford University, researches psychological processes in social media, and said we’re still in the very early stages of understanding how social media impacts our psyche.

“Were not very self-aware creatures yet about sharing. It goes back to our evolutionwe evolved to talk face-to-face and all of our words disappearing. Our memory is designed to live in that communication environment,” Hancock said in an interview with the Daily Dot. “Thats why I think people arent very conscious about sharing. But heres what I think ends up happening and why I think these reminders on the whole will be positive, though they will do some negative triggering … when people post on social media, they tend to, by the vast majority, post positive things.”

Facebook provides ways of tailoring On This Day reminders so you don’t relive negative posts. You can select certain people or dates in On This Day preferences, and the algorithm won’t include them in your daily roundups. And by clicking on the settings of an On This Day post, you can tell Facebook to show you less of this type of content.

Additionally, Facebook doesnt show On This Day posts from memorialized accounts (people who have passed away); people you once were in a relationship with on Facebook, but are no longer; and people you have blocked. A Facebook spokesperson told the Daily Dot there are no plans to implement an off-switch of sorts to avoid On This Day posts entirely.

Frequently though, we forget exact dates, and sometimes people we don’t want to be reminded of aren’t on Facebook; their memories just live in our own old photos. In my case, telling Facebook to show me fewer reminders didn’t entirely workthey still frequently pop up at the top of my News Feed.

By only sharing snippets of my life to Facebook and then telling Facebook who and what I don’t want to remember, I’m actively engineering my memory. Facebook’s algorithmically-selected memories are further manipulating my forgetfulness. Dr. Shaw calls this “memory double-distortion,” and said that when we use Facebook, we have the potential to engage in this behavior, which could impact our brain’s recall of life events.

“The first distortion happens when we upload and filter content, socially engineering our profiles in a way that often only records the kinds of memories we think are worthy of sharing, and make our lives look great,” she said. “When we then go through this engineered life and reminisce about these events, we are only reinforcing these kinds of memories. Our brains thus become better at remembering the details of things we put on Facebook, and worse for details that were originally not deemed ‘share-able’ enough. The memories in our brains are likely to mould with the memories on Facebook.

“We become who we pretend to be,” she said.

The potential for new technologies to threaten our memories is a concern that extends all the way back to 370 BC. Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher, worried that the written word, a new way of documenting human life, could destroy and distort memory. Socrates’ argument against the alphabet was captured, in text, by Plato.

For this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

Social media is in its infancy as a communication tool. Developers are still trying to create algorithms smart enough to provide positive experiences and omit terrible reminders without humans having to tailor their own memories.

Face-detection algorithms in developmentcan discern emotions in videos and photographs and are being used by advertisers for market research. Imagine if a Facebook algorithm was smart enough to recognize the microexpressions in a photo you shared of your grandmother’s funeralit would keep it out of the self-made scrapbook, a memory quietly shoved aside in favor of a smiling selfie two years earlier.

Technologists must strike a balance between reducing harm and providing thoughtful context around historical events. At one point, the information or photo posted to social media was deemed worthy of sharingbut has time altered its significance?

Hancock said that more research needs to be done in order to better understand how and why people share one thing, but don’t want to relive it.

“In this case, we have a new way of affecting our memory, and thats probably about a core of human thing as possible, and were at the very beginning of how these things can change us,” he said. “I think we should be doing lots of research on this to understand what kind of photos lead to positive memories. Are there indicators? Is there some set of features of a post or the context around the post that suggest that its something that shouldnt be brought up again?”

Communication has evolved since the popularization of social mediathings like emoji, FOMO, and Likes creeping into our daily routinesbut the perception of social media has also changed. The fact that memory modification or triggering reminders is a point of contention at all shows that the lines between social media and our “real lives,” have blurred.

If our posts consisted only of what we ate for breakfast, or the book we finished reading recently, the potential for harm would not be a concern.

“This is a really wonderful example of the transformative nature and the potential it has to affect people in a real way,” Hancock said. “Its no longer real life and social media is some narcissistic and trivial thing. It matters to people.”

Illustration via Max Fleishman

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Under covering of goodness: How pillars of the community can prey on kids

22 days ago

( CNN) Doctors, coach-and-fours, clergy. Society knows these as noble professions, filled with good people. Doctor heal. Coaches encourage athletic excellence. Priests usher people closer to God.

Society knows them as ogres.

Abuse in one of these vocations came to the fore of public consciousness just last week, when a grand jury detailed decades of allegations of child sex abuse by Catholic priests in Pennsylvania.

New report details horrific abuse by priests

Welner: Sandusky ‘groomed the community’

Allergic to life: the Arizona residents ‘sensitive to the whole world’

1 month, 1 day ago

In Snowflake, people tell Kathleen Hale they have found refuge in the desert to escape fragrances, electricity, Wi-Fi and other facets of modern life

A lot of things caused Susie pain: scented products, pesticides, plastic, synthetic fabrics, smoke, electronic radiation the list went on. Back in the regular world, car exhaust made her feel sick for days. Perfume gave her seizures.

Then she uprooted to Snowflake, Arizona.

I got out of the car and didnt need my oxygen tank, she said, grinning at me in the rearview mirror. I could walk.

There are about 20 households where she now lives. Like Susie, most of the residents in Snowflake have what they call environmental illness, a controversial diagnosis that attributes otherwise unexplained symptoms to pollution.

My knees knocked together as she swerved on to another dirt road. Mae, a Guardian film-maker, was busy shooting scenery from the front seat. Wed come for four days to find out why dozens of people chose to make their homes here, and Susie had agreed to host us only if we did not seek outside opinion from psychiatrists regarding their condition.

Hes got it bad, she said, nodding at a neighbors driveway. The sign out front read: NO UNINVITEDS.

My eyes darted on barbed wire cattle fences and dead Juniper trees. White mountains swam in the distance. We stopped, and Susie motioned for Mae to open a gate decorated in yellow Christmas tinsel.

Deb
Deb Schmeltzer has been living out of her truck for the past five years. She says the aluminum in the truck is preferable to homes with Wi-Fi and electricity. Photograph: Mae Ryan for the Guardian

The idea that modern conveniences cause pain dates to the mid-19th century. In 1869, doctor George Beard published several papers blaming modern civilization and steam power for ailments such as drowsiness, cerebral irritation, pain, pressure and heaviness in the head.

According to him, other indications of chemical sensitivity included fear of society, fear of being alone, fear of contamination fear of fears fear of everything.

He called the illness neurasthenia. Susie called it being sensitive to the whole world.

Susie had warned us that Deb, a sort-of-roommate who lived in her driveway, was extremely sensitive to scents. In order to protect her, wed agreed to various terms: we would not a get rental car or stay at a motel, because those were places where chemical cleaners were used. We would wear Susies clothes, and sleep at Susies house. She also made us swear not to get any perms before we came, which made me think she had been in the desert for a long time.

For weeks, Mae and I avoided makeup, lotion, perfume, hair products, scented detergent, fabric softener, dryer sheets. We used fragrance-free soap and shampoo, as well as a natural deodorant, which, according to the description on the box, was basically a rock picked off the ground with a cap on it.

Despite our best efforts, Debs sensitive nose picked up our body odors. For her, we reeked like a Bath and Body Works store flooded with vodka or as she put it, floral, with chemical solvents. Youre fragrant.

Snowflake was not easy to get to. Id risen at dawn, vomited on a tiny six-passenger plane, and walked one mile down a busy highway in a town called Show Low (160 miles from Phoenix) to get to Susies car.

Well do our best to get you cleaned, Susie promised us. I got lots of hydrogen peroxide.

In
In order to wear sunscreen without fragrances, Kathleen Hale was given a mixture of zinc oxide and safflower oil by Susie Molloy to avoid the sun. Photograph: Mae Ryan for the Guardian

It was decided that the best way to get us straight from the car into the shower, where we could wash the outside worlds chemicals away, was to enter the house completely naked. So we took off our clothes and marched without dignity across the gravel driveway.

You can have first shower, Mae said, wrapping herself in a towel. We had only known each other for a few hours.

Susies bathroom, like the rest of her one-room, off-grid house, was wallpapered in heavy duty Reynolds wrap. Above the toilet, a small, sealed window looked out at the desert. I scrubbed off with a bar of olive oil soap and inhaled the metallic scent of hard water. It was the only thing I could smell.

Someone knocked. Mae reluctantly asked if I wore underwear. Were playing dress-up! Susie shouted from the other room.

I realized what Mae actually meant was, Did I wear Susies underwear? I hesitated for a moment, considering the alternative: going commando in a sandy environment.

Hey, Kathleen! Susie yelled. Do you?

I wear underwear, I called.

Later, we gathered in the kitchen. Deb is sensitive to grains, GMO foods, preservatives and all artificial flavoring and coloring, so we ate cabbage soup for dinner.

Afterward, Mae and I ducked behind a curtained-off partition to consider our sleeping arrangements: two metal cots, one broken, and zero blankets, (because blankets are absorbent and, according to local logic, our pores were still off-gassing dangerous chemicals). Nighttime in the desert is freezing, and Susies house did not have heating. I wanted to be unconscious and regretted my semi-recent decision to start weaning off sedatives.

Asked whether she might at least have some padding to cover the iron springs, Susie retreated outside, shouting over her shoulder, FYI, the rats here are aggressive. She returned with dirt-caked bathmats. There, she said, turning off the lights. Comfy.

That night Mae and I, who were complete strangers just the day before, had to hold each other for warmth. I reminded myself that whatever discomfort we felt paled in comparison to how Susie and Deb had suffered in the regular world.

Susie
Susie Molloy collects Native American pottery that fills the Arizona landscape near her home in Snowflake. Photograph: Mae Ryan for the Guardian

Susie grew up in forested northern California, and spent most of the 1970s in the Bay Area, working odd jobs and traveling with her boyfriend. As friends started dropping like flies from an illness nobody could understand, Susie endured respiratory, gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms. It hurt her feelings when doctors suggested she might just have anxiety.

While the Aids epidemic kicked into crisis mode, Susies symptoms got worse, intensifying whenever she smelled smoke or saw power lines. Unable to function, she moved back home, where, through an autodidactic game of trial and error, she identified what triggered her worst symptoms. She slept on her parents porch, or on the bathroom floor, because those were the only places she could breathe. Her mother collected rain for her to drink.

Now using a wheelchair, she returned to San Francisco to pursue a masters degree in disability policy. She launched the Reactor, an environmental illness advocacy newsletter, which circulated via an underground network of hypersensitive people throughout the country. An environmentally ill reader told Susie the air where he lived was clean enough for him to manage and in 1994, Susie followed him to Snowflake, where the tiny community (only a handful of people at the time) immediately rallied around her. Within a year, her father and neighbors pooled their resources to build her a house a little, safe place.

Meanwhile, across the country, Debs life had never felt more dangerous.

Like Susie, her initial thought was Aids. After ruling that out, she juggled endless skepticism. Even those who believed she felt ill wrote it off, saying shed bounce back.

Deb had always been strong. As a child living on Lake Michigan, she sailed and played sports. After attending Michigan Technological University, she worked for nine years as the only female metallurgical engineer at Bendix aircraft; her specialty was failure analysis.

Snowflake

When she and her husband became pregnant, Deb kept working, inhaling zinc and cadmium nobody told her not to but all she could smell were her co-workers cologne and aftershave. Scented products sent her body into crisis. She vomited a lot.

After giving birth in 1992, Deb left work to parent full time. She lived in a moldy house with a smoky furnace. Infections blow-torched her sinuses, turning into migraines that hit her like an ax. Her weight plummeted to 75lbs. Doctors said she was anorexic.

Finally, Deb couldnt take it anymore. She left Michigan when her daughter was 16 and became itinerant, sleeping in her truck, because unlike plastic or drywall, metal emitted no chemical fumes and was safe.

The same word-of-mouth network eventually led Deb to Snowflake, where she performed chores for the environmentally sick in exchange for food. By the time Susie spotted her boiling out clothes for a neighbor, Deb had been living in her truck for five years and needed a place to park. The two women became a domestic duo. Deb cooked clean food for Susie on the hot plate. They made each other laugh, and protected one another. Susie remained compassionately straight-faced when Deb finally admitted she hadnt seen her daughter in seven years.

By the age of 67, Susie had finally put her masters degree to use, although not in the way she had originally intended. She had become Snowflakes unofficial welcome wagon, local therapist and advocate. She sat with men and women who were sick with something no one else believed in, and she believed them. She fielded at least five long phone calls a night from the bedridden and lonely, talking to them for as long as they needed company. She helped people with the arduous paperwork involved in collecting government aid. She reassured them that their illness wouldnt kill them it would only hurt, a lot.

Everyone we met loved her, and got tears in their eyes when they said so.

Historically speaking, settlers reasons for uprooting typically establish the hierarchy of wherever they resettle. Puritans relocated for religious reasons, so the devout became popular. Forty-niners rushed in search of gold, and those that struck it gained status.

But people came to Snowflake to nurture disease, and so, here, illness acts like a social currency. Being normies a mostly derogative term meaning that chemical fragrances and electricity didnt (yet) cause us debilitating pain not only dropped Mae and I into a category of people who had historically hurt, abandoned, and misdiagnosed everyone we were about to meet, it also ranked us as lepers.

Luckily, I was about to become very sick.

Mae
Mae Ryan with Kathleen Hale: They wanted to know how they could be sure that we werent just another pair of journalists here to play games. Photograph: Mae Ryan for the Guardian

On day two, I woke with a headache, and Maes hair in my mouth. My headache was snowballing into nausea. I was starting to feel familiar, flu-like symptoms which pave the way for emotional darkness.

I had begged to write about Snowflake because I identified with the idea of sick people retreating to the middle of nowhere to find peace. Almost two years earlier, I had a mental breakdown and retreated to a psychiatric hospital for two weeks. Medication and therapy brought me back to reality. I felt I recognized the urge to leave everything behind.

In the almost two years since my mental breakdown, sticking to the to-do list they gave us at the psychiatric hospital (sleep; eat; take medication) had, at the very least, made me feel in control.

Now, each item had been compromised thanks to our sleeping arrangements, the unsatisfying house staple (cabbage), and my personal desire to, at some point, become pregnant with a baby that did not resemble an octopus.

Im starting to think now might not have been the best time to start tapering off psychotropic drugs, I said to Mae, who barely heard me.

Theres a situation, she replied.

In the kitchen, Susie and Deb revealed that trust issues had developed between us. The night before, Mae and I decided to charge her camera battery, and apparently it had kept Susie awake.

But we could hear her snoring, I said.

You hurt her, Deb said.

They wanted to know how they could be sure that we werent just another pair of journalists here to play games to test their disease with shenanigans, and make fun of them?

Deb said we couldnt fool her.

As proof, she relayed a story about how, once, when her daughter was 10 or 12 theyd gone together to the grocery store.

I lost track of her and her friend, Deb said, smirking proudly, and then I found them, and I could smell it. They claimed, No, no, no, but I knew theyd gone and done perfume samples. So, were in the car, and theyre giggling to themselves, and I told them to get out.

That was the end of the story.

Did you make them get out of the car? I said

Well, yeah, she said, looking confused. We were only about three miles from home. She turned the car around eventually. But I couldnt help seeing it from the daughters point of view: a friend had come over, theyd been left on the highway.

I worried we were about to get kicked out, too.

Deb said, in order to trust us going forward, we had to promise we werent going to write anything but a positive piece that would clearly inform readers of the clinical validity of environmental illness.

We cant promise that, Mae said.

A general silence fell over the aluminum foil room. Deb, who had been pretty emotionless up until now, looked like she might cry. Our chance at writing a story seemed to be disintegrating. So I cleared my throat and prepared to overshare in order to hopefully diffuse things.

Ill tell you a secret, I said.

The
The walls in Susie Molloys home are covered in aluminum foil to mask any fragrances that may emit from the building materials. Photograph: Mae Ryan for the Guardian

I told Susie and Deb that I knew how it felt, at least a little bit, to be sick, and have nobody believe you, I explained how, four or five years earlier, my hair started falling out, and I had this awful, burning sensation on the back of my scalp that was so intense I used a bag of ice as a pillow, and how I felt nauseous all the time, and tired, and cried a lot. The word diarrhea had already been introduced a number of times by Susie and Deb to describe their own symptoms, so I plugged that in, too.

They softened. When I got to the part about how every other doctor I saw that year said I was fine, physically speaking, and had referred me to a psychiatrist, they scoffed knowingly and protectively. They asked what my environment had been like; I thought they meant emotionally so I told them how I moved to New York for this guy, James, and we signed a lease together, broke up after one month then I lost my job, and had no savings la-la-la.

Susie cut me short: No, your physical environment. I remembered, with a lurch, that our apartment had been downwind from a dry cleaners. I used to go stand next to its vents because the detergent smelled great compared to the chicken slaughter plant down the street.

Susie and Deb looked like they wanted to high-five. My depression had been a symptom of environmental illness.

They use all sorts of chemical agents to clean slaughterhouses, Deb said excitedly. When you left, did the symptoms go away?

No, but they started to, a little, when this doctor friend of mine said to try eliminating gluten.

The gluten, thats what happened with me! Susie said. Thats one of the things I found I was sensitive to. Its commoner than people think.

For me, personally, it was a placebo, I said carefully, clocking their disappointed looks. They cringed even more when I used the word psychosomatic.

The gluten-free thing helped for a long time, especially with the shitting my pants problem I think just controlling my environment probably helped. But the scalp burning didnt go away until a dermatologist prescribed me antidepressants.

Thats not me saying the symptoms werent real, I continued and in my nervousness that Id once again offended them, I then farted so shrilly that Mae laughed in shock.

Susie just shrugged and Deb remained completely impassive, as if maybe she hadnt heard, which was not possible. Chemicals bothered them, but bodily functions were fine.

Given the progress made by discussing my medical history, I publicized my current headache. Susie scrambled to get me Tylenol, and Deb graciously explained that this was yet another sign my body was dumping toxins from the regular world.

My illness had immediately elevated my status in the household. Here you go, Deb said, handing me a mug. Susie tapped pills into my palm.

After almost 24 hours of being told I stank and generally being treated like a contagious freak, I was so grateful for these ministrations that I went to hug them. Susie acquiesced, but Deb said I was still too fragrant for us to embrace.

But I changed my mind, she said to Mae. Ill let you film me, if you want.

Steen,
Steen, a neighbor, says he is allergic to computers, Wi-Fi, electricity and ink on paper so he must print off his emails, air them out to dry for 24 hours and then read them. He only responds to emails via handwritten letters. Photograph: Mae Ryan for the Guardian

Susie and Deb, like most of their neighbors, receive disability checks. But welfare has not made them complacent. It isnt easy to apply for disability when you suffer from an illness that most refuse to recognize. And even if you do receive some aid, the checks could stop at any moment. All it takes is one Arizona bureaucrat looking at your file and deciding that your sickness is made up.

Over and over again, residents emphasized to me that they wanted to work, they missed working they had no identity now, they said, no sense of self worth. Many, like Deb, were former chemical engineers. They were smart, easily bored, and embarrassed by what they worried some might misconstrue as laziness, or mooching. I believed them when they said they wanted jobs. I also believed that they were far too sick to work. Many spent entire days in bed, eyes cinched against the blinding pain caused by their illness.

People here suicide themselves, Susie said, as we trudged around the desert, collecting rocks. Our boots crunched on petrified rabbit shit. Susie told us about a friend with environmental illness who had killed himself a few months prior.

He wasnt depressed or anything, he just couldnt take it anymore, so he starved himself, she said. Apparently it was common, around Snowflake, for people to kill themselves. Susie estimated that it happened around twice a year, which, given the shifting population, I pointed out as an epidemic.

We bury our own dead, she said.

Im so sorry, I said.

Many of the people we met had finally found doctors who believed them. Before, in the regular world, after enduring years of humiliating check-ups and stints in the emergency room, they relegated the medical profession to enemy status. Now, they spoke adoringly of their physicians, most of whom practiced integrative health a blend of western science, holistic healing and one-on-one therapy. As long as I framed environmental illness as a physical phenomenon, Snowflakers were happy, even eager, to communicate. But they got angry if I broached their illness, even obliquely, as a psychological phenomenon. They had spent years feeling sick and battling skeptics. The last thing they wanted was to be told by an outsider, who had just met them, that they were crazy.

I didnt blame them. Later, breathing through another stomachache, I scanned my notes, rereading scrawled concerns based on various conversations about the potential that everyone we met had some form of extreme PTSD, either from being sick, witnessing a nationwide health crisis, or as had cropped up in one or two of the conversations from being sexually assaulted.

When I asked Susie whether she took any medications for her environmental illness, she cackled, at first, like a little girl, and said, None of your business!

I do, though, she continued after a pause. For seizures.

Certain psychiatric drugs double as anti-seizure medications, so I rattled off a few familiar brand names. Susie nodded at one I took. I wondered if we had the same thing, whatever that was.

Susie
Susie Molloy hangs up her clothes to dry after washing them in fragrance-free detergent. Molloy was one of the first people to move to Snowflake. Photograph: Mae Ryan for the Guardian

On our last morning in town, Deb intercepted me in the driveway to explain how fragile I was. She had been thinking about my symptoms the headache, my history of so-called depression and my menstrual cycle which started two weeks early on our second day there.

My therapist says its just stress, I said. I feel like maybe we recognize something in each other. We just want to call it different things.

She shook her head. You have environmental illness, I can sense it.

In a quiet, tentative voice, she explained to me that there was, in fact, an objective, scientific way to test me for environmental illness; she could do it right then and there.

The procedure would be relatively painless, but I couldnt mention the specifics in my piece.

I feel like this will sound more ominous than it is if I leave out the details, I said as we went through with it.

People will think were crazy, she said.

I am crazy, I said.

No, she said.

After we finished, I lingered in the doorway while Deb searched the dark house for her glasses. I was no longer permitted indoors because I had changed back into my own clothes, and the scents emanating from my regular world apparel had already caused Debs ears to swell, making it hard for her to hear. It was time to go, but Deb said the apparatus she used to diagnose environmental illness wasnt working, so she would have to be in touch. I wrote down my phone number and email address.

Can I give you a hug goodbye? I said.

Not in those clothes, she said.

As Susie ferried us back into society, beef cattle glared at us from the ditches, and calves stumbled in the road. Susie told us she didnt see any overlap between mental and environmental illness. Certain substances were physically poisonous, and that was the end of it.

If someone is reckless or careless about exposures that will cause issues for you, that is, to some measure, assaultive, Susie said.

Assault, thats a strong word, Mae said.

Yep, Susie said. Thats why I say it.

At the airport gate, I remembered the emergency Valium in my bag, and all of my stress went away. But it wore off on the flight, and by the time I got home, I felt the sadness in my blood. I almost hoped Debs test would work that she would find something scientific to substantiate how shitty I sometimes felt.

A few days later, Deb and Susie put me on speakerphone, because holding the receiver to their head triggered neurological problems. Once again, they wanted me to tell them exactly what I would write about them. They worried I might make fun of them. I told them that wasnt my intention, but that I tended to tell the truth, at which point Deb told me that my test results had shown her that I was sick.

But I can help you.

We can help you shave off a couple years of fruitless effort, Susie added.

Whats wrong with me? I said.

Deb promised she would tell me, eventually. But only after she read this piece.

Isnt that, like, blackmail? I said.

Susie and Deb started to laugh, softly and shrewdly.

Im still waiting for my results.

  • This article was amended on 12 July 2016 to reflect that the Arizona town of Show Low is formatted as two words, not one, and is pronounced phonetically.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

‘All of us in a way are climbing blind’

1 month, 6 days ago

(CNN)Erik Weihenmayer has scaled the seven summits and braved the violent rapids of the Colorado River — in the dark.

But his greatest challenge started at 4 years old when he was diagnosed with a rare eye disease called juvenile retinoschisis. For almost 10 years, Weihenmayer was faced with an inevitable truth: One day he wouldn’t be able to see the world around him.
    By his freshman year in high school, Weihenmayer was blind.
    “I wanted to be with my friends and going on dates,” he says. “I was afraid that I wasn’t going to be able to participate in life.”
    But his parents refused to let him sit on the sidelines.
    “My dad would sweep me out into the world and I’d get beat up a little bit and shattered,” he recalls. “And my mom would build me up and my dad would sweep me out again. And that’s a hard thing to do as a parent.”
    Before losing his sight, Weihenmayer couldn’t participate in physical sports because it would damage his retinas, making his sight get worse at a faster pace. In a way, going blind allowed him to start his life.

    Erik

    Weihenmayer not only made it down the mountain, he went on to climb the remaining seven summits in 2008.
    Always seeking new adventures, Weihenmayer spent the next six years training to kayak the 277 miles of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
    “Sitting above a rapid knowing that in the next two minutes you’re going through absolute insanity … it was a very different experience from climbing,” he says.
    Weihenmayer used waterproof Bluetooth radios to communicate with his guide. He and nine other paddlers made it through the Grand Canyon in 20 days.
    “I’m not just doing these things so I can prove that blind people can do this or that. That’s kind of shallow,” he says. “You do it because that’s living fully.”
    Weihenmayer is using that mantra to help others. He co-founded the nonprofit No Barriers in 2005 to help people overcome obstacles through educational programs, adaptive activities and transformative experiences.
    “No Barriers is about really figuring out how to tap into whatever we’ve got inside of us and then build the tools and the community around us to break through barriers, live with purpose and be the person you’re meant to be,” he says.
    Throughout his life, Weihenmayer has been featured in three documentaries and written three books: “Touch the Top of the World,” “The Adversity Advantage” and “No Barriers,” which will be available in February 2017.
    The now 47-year-old, who lives in Colorado with his wife and two kids, also uses his story to inspire others through motivational speeches.
    “It really takes this mindset of not being afraid to turn into the storm,” he says. “In our lives all of us in a way are climbing blind.”

    Read more: www.cnn.com

    The very real health dangers of virtual reality

    1 month, 11 days ago

    (CNN)Is the magical world of virtual reality arriving in your home this holiday season?

    You’re not alone. Statistics show that more than a million VR headsets were shipped during the third quarter of 2017. That number is expected to rise rapidly in 2018 as more manufacturers enter the market.
    But before you or your children try out your shiny new VR gadgets, be sure you’re fully aware of the potential health risks of this technology.

      Clear the playing field

      A quick glance at the safety warnings for the major manufacturers in this space makes it clear: Playing VR without supervision and in a crowded space is risky business.
      “While wearing the product’s headset you are blind to the world around you,” says the safety information page for HTC’s Vive. “Do not rely on the product’s chaperone system for protection.”
      “I see more falling than anything else,” said Marientina Gotsis, an associate professor of research at the Interactive Media and Games Division of the University of Southern California. “You can trip and hit your head or break a limb and get seriously hurt, so someone needs to watch over you when you are using VR. That’s mandatory.”
      That includes keeping pets, small children and other obstacles — like ceiling fans — out of the area. Facebook’s Oculus Rift includes an infographic with the product and has an online safety center with video explanations to illustrate the safety issues.

      Keep an eye on it

      One of the major health concerns about virtual reality involves the eye.
      “There are a variety of potential issues,” said University of California, Berkeley optometry Professor Martin Banks, who studies visual perception in virtual environments. “One is how we affect the growth of the eye, which can lead to myopia or nearsightedness.”
      Myopia is a growing problem around the world. In the United States, studies show, nearsightedness rose from only 25% of the population in the 1970s to over 40% by 2000. About 10 million American adults are considered “severely nearsighted.”
      “Looking at tablets, phones and the like, there’s pretty good evidence that doing near work can cause lengthening of the eye and increase risk for myopia,” Banks said. “We’re all worried that virtual reality might make things worse.”

      Add ‘motion sickness’

      A good many people who use virtual reality complain of eye strain, headaches and, in some cases, nausea. Experts say that’s due to the way VR affects the eye-brain connection.
      In real life, our eyes naturally converge and focus on a point in space, and our brain is so used to this that it’s coupled the two responses together. Virtual reality separates those, confusing the brain.
      “In a virtual environment, the way we look and interact is changed because we may be projecting onto the eyes something that looks far away, but in reality, it’s only a few centimeters from the eye,” said Walter Greenleaf, a behavioral neuroscientist who has studied VR in medical settings for over 30 years.
      Science calls that the “vergence-accommodation conflict” and isn’t quite sure how serious it might be. “We’re tricking the brain,” said Greenleaf, who works with Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, “and we don’t know the long-term effect of this.”
      Most of us look at cell phones and tablets for a short time before looking up, which minimizes their negative effect on the eye. But with VR, it’s all too easy to become immersed in that out-of-body experience.
      How long is too long to use virtual reality in one sitting? Manufacturers like Oculus suggest a “10 to 15 minute break every 30 minutes, even if you don’t think you need it.” But Gotsis says that’s not based on much science.
      “Most of what is on the market right now has little research behind it,” she says. “Cumulative exposure without us really knowing what is going on is an issue.”
      Gotsis says the quality of the virtual reality game also plays a role in how we react.
      “A lot of content is not well-made, with a lot of flickering things and objects that come at you too fast or too close, and that can produce eye strain,” she said She insists that any eyestrain be considered a signal to cease playing.
      “Damage from eye strain can sometimes be very sudden, so if something is uncomfortable, just stop, take it off and stop looking at it,” Gotsis warned. “Don’t feel trapped and mesmerized in the content. Just stop.”

      Pre-existing conditions

      It’s not just the eyes that might be harmed. “Listening to sound at high volumes can cause irreparable damage to your hearing,” states Oculus Rift.
      “Over time, increasingly loud audio may start to sound normal but can actually be damaging your hearing,” Sony’s PlayStation adds, suggesting that a user lower the volume if they can’t hear people speaking around them while they’re playing.
      Most devices also include a warning to see a doctor before use if you are “pregnant, elderly, or have pre-existing conditions that may affect your virtual reality experience such as vision abnormalities, psychiatric disorders, heart conditions, or other serious medical conditions.”
      That warning includes implanted medical devices, such as cardiac pacemakers, hearing aids and defibrillators, as well as anyone with epilepsy or a history of seizures and blackouts. But manufacturers say some people can seize even without a history of blackouts, especially those younger than 20, so manufacturers suggest keeping an eye out for involuntary muscle twitches and loss of balance as a signal of a potential problem.
      Daydream also suggests avoiding play entirely if you’re “intoxicated, overly tired, or are suffering from a cold, headache, upset stomach, or other sickness” because the experience of virtual reality might make you feel worse.
      And if that’s not enough, Daydream View warns that sharing the device could spread contagious diseases and infections and even cause skin irritation.

      Children at most risk

      Gotsis believes that families with younger children should be especially cautious with virtual reality, even if they purchased the game for teens or young adults.
      “It’s almost impossible to hold up something shiny in front of a young child and then say ‘no, you can’t have this,’ ” she said. “So parents have to tell the older child that part of your responsibility is to take care of their younger siblings, to help them understand they shouldn’t use it.”
      If they do try it, Gotsis adds, the younger the child, the shorter the exposure should be.
      “Children may not know how to communicate discomfort of any sort, such as visual discomfort or motion sickness, so you don’t want prolonged exposure on screen,” she said.
      Jeremy Bailenson, director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, uses VR himself and on subjects in his lab daily. Yet he has let his 6-year-old daughter use it only four times in her life, each time for a duration of only five minutes.
      “We read a lot of new studies in our work,” he said, “but what we are seeing is a ton of studies on medical applications and not many with young kids, and not really any with really young kids.”
      Berkeley’s Banks agrees. “The research has been done primarily in young adults … so we don’t really know what is going to happen to a young child.”
      Most major manufacturers have set a cutoff age: no use of the device for children under the age of 13. Playstation VR set the age limit at 12; HTC’s Vive doesn’t mention an age, only that it is not “designed to be used by children.”
      Google Cardboard has no age restriction but says it should not be used without adult supervision.
      Stanford’s Greenleaf believes that until research catches up, parents, “and in fact everyone, should be very judicious” about use.
      “I would be concerned for everyone who uses this,” he said. “You don’t have to have a young brain to have an impact.”

      Content is key

      Virtual reality content can also affect your perception of reality.
      “VR can be stored in the brain’s memory center in ways that are strikingly similar to real-world physical experiences,” said Stanford’s Bailenson, author of the forthcoming book “Experience on Demand,” about his two decades of research on the psychological effects of virtual reality. “When VR is done well, the brain believes it is real.”
      That’s great if the content is fun, educational or inspirational. For example, research shows that adults can be taught to recycle, increase their physical activity or become more empathetic to those of different races if they see themselves doing so virtually.
      But what if the content is scary or combative? Some of today’s popular VR games allow you to fight off bloody zombies, get a “virtual tour of hell,” battle “endless waves of combatants” and kill as many as you can in “survival horror.” In one game, you can even shoot yourself in the head.
      The health and safety page for Google’s Daydream View says it straight out:
      “If the content is frightening, violent, or anxiety provoking, it can cause your body to react physically, including increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. It can also, in some individuals, cause psychological reactions, including anxiety, fear, or even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
      “If you were to do this in the real world, how would it affect you? That’s the way to think about virtual reality,” Bailenson said, adding that research shows becoming someone else in VR produces greater changes in real-life attitudes and behavior than watching video or doing role playing.
      “So don’t think of VR as a ‘media experience,’ because the brain sees it as similar to an actual experience,” he said. “If it’s an activity that you’re ethically not comfortable with in real life, don’t do it. If you think of it that way, the guidelines on what you want to do in VR become very clear.”

      Content and kids

      It should come as no surprise that studies show children may be even more susceptible to confusing virtual reality with the real thing, with the youngest at most risk. In a 2009 study, young elementary children watched their virtual doppelgänger swimming with orcas. When these kids were questioned a week later, they said they believed their virtual experience to be real.
      In a recent study by Jakki Bailey of the University of Texas, funded by the nonprofit Sesame Workshop, 55 children between the ages of 4 and 6 played the game Simon Says with the furry blue monster Grover, a popular character. Half of the children played in virtual reality; the other half played with Grover’s character on a TV. The games lasted five minutes.
      The good news, says Bailenson, is that none of the children in the VR experience became dizzy or had unpleasant physical reactions to their short exposure.
      “But the children who saw Grover in VR saw him as more real,” he said. “Grover was more influential in immersive VR than on TV, and it was harder for the children to inhibit their actions and not do what Grover did.”
      It’s not just little ones that might internalize a VR scenario. Older adolescents were also found to be painfully sensitive to being socially excluded in a virtual environment.
      This means parents need to be careful about the type of VR content they allow their children to view, experts say.

      See the latest news and share your comments with CNN Health on Facebook and Twitter.

      “A spider can be a fun spider or a scary spider. I don’t know what it’s like until I actually try it,” Gotsis said. “So I find that nothing will replace the parent doing the experience themselves and saying ‘OK, this is fine for my child.’ And then do it with them. Walk them through it. There’s a huge difference between experiencing something alone or with others.”
      And as long as parents do their job, Bailenson believes, future research will show that virtual reality can be enjoyed by children without harm.
      “I’m not worried about kids using VR. I’m worried about kids using any media uncontrolled,” he said. “Parents need to be careful, active and participating, because the VR medium is more powerful than traditional media. But with proper adult supervision, using it infrequently, I think it’s going to turn out to be just fine.”

      Read more: www.cnn.com

      Mobile dating apps spur HIV epidemic among AsiaaEUR( tm) s adolescents, says UN

      1 month, 12 days ago

      Smartphone technology has increased the opportunities for casual sex and led to a spike in HIV infections among teens in Asia, researchers find

      United Nations research has observed the growing utilize of mobile dating apps by young gays men is a major factor in a new HIV epidemic among adolescents in Asia, the Guardian can reveal.

      The report uncovered a upsurge of HIV infections among 10 -1 9 years olds in the Asia-Pacific region, where more than half of the worlds 1.2 billion teens live.

      The two-year study found that smartphone dating apps have expanded possibilities for spontaneous casual sex as never before.

      The epidemic is fastest growing amongst men who have sex with humen. Other groups include those who are sexually exploited by or engaged in sexuality work, people who inject drugs, and young transgender people.

      Young lesbian men themselves has systematically told us that they are now utilizing mobile dating apps to meet up for sexuality, and are having more casual sex with more people as a result. We know that this kind of risky behaviour increases the spread of HIV, said Wing-Sie Cheng, HIV/ Aids consultant for Unicef in east Asia and the Pacific.

      We are hence convinced that there is a connection, and that we need to work better with mobile app providers to share information about HIV and safeguard the health of adolescents.

      The previously unreported epidemic threatens the UNs goal to end the global Aids crisis by 2030, which appeared achievable after a sharp drop in Africa during the past 15 years.

      Adolescents are also more likely to die of Aids-related demises, researchers from Unicef and UNAIDS detected, as they are less inclined to seek therapy, dreading they will be stigmatised or forcing them to expose their sexuality to their family or the authorities concerned. In many countries in the region, under-1 8s cannot get an HIV test without parental consent.

      Dating site visits

      While global HIV infections are dropping, the number of teens aged 10 -1 9 officially living with HIV in Asia and the Pacific has grown to more than 220,000, with the unofficial number expected to be much higher, Unicef says. Fewer than half of them are receiving treatment and demises have risen nearly every year for a decade.

      An HIV-positive Filipino man aged 30, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect himself from abuse, said it was hard to find sex for a gay teen, bullied at school and closed off from the adult-only lesbian bars.

      At university, the introduction of internet dating chat rooms and online forums allowed him to find more sex partners his age. He would chat with men and agree to rent a room for a few hours in the capital.

      If I write down all the people I had sexuality with in Manila, I can probably write one to five people for each stop of the metro, he said.

      Smartphones and mobile dating revolutionised his sex life. Whereas internet dating involved a laborious process of arranging a session up, dating apps are location-based, allowing users to scan their surroundings for others.

      Dating site visits

      Even if youre still in school and “youre feeling” the need to have sex, you just open Grindr, he said. You dont even have to talk to them. People simply send you naked photos or photos of their cocks. If youre fine with them, you just go and have sex.

      The immediacy of the sexuality, organised in minutes, attained condom utilize less likely, he said. I did use condoms. But it was not consistent. You dont want to lose the momentum.

      Despite his promiscuous mobile dating years, the Filipino mans HIV test returned negative and he entered into a long-term relationship. But two years later he contracted the virus from his boyfriend who was secretly cheating on him by employing mobile dating apps.

      In the Philippines, new HIV infections among teenagers have doubled in four years. In Bangkok, young gay humen now have a one in three opportunity of HIV infection.

      HIV rates in Bangkok

      And eighteen countries across the Asia-Pacific region criminalise against same-sex relationships which UNAIDS says causes lesbian humen to avoid life-saving HIV services.

      A separate study last year found that men who have sex with men utilizing dating apps are at greater hazard of contracting gonorrhoea and chlamydia than those who gratify in-person or on the internet.

      Wing-Sie, the Unicef adviser, said that dating apps create networks of men, in which infections rapidly spread among users. Mobile dating apps essentially hook you up to a central network.

      She said the study looked at observational trends around the region reported by United Nations policemen and local community workers who said their HIV strategy urgently needed to adapt to the explosion of mobile dating apps. HIV is a covert issue, it is very hidden. So data is not available.

      She said researchers found that with the rise of these apps, the probability and risk of infection will increase multifold because it stimulates it so much easier for them to date other guys and hook up for sex, she said.

      A spokesman from Grindr, used in 196 countries worldwide with 1 million active users every minute, said it has a minimum age requirement of 18. As the worlds largest homosexual platform, we take matters of sex health very seriously, the spokesman said, adding that Grindr runs in-app proclamations fostering testing at local clinics.

      David S Novak, senior health strategist at Online Buddies, the mother company of the dating app Jackd, directed the Guardian to its ManHunt Cares project, which provides health resources to its users. In 2009, the company also set up a research institute focusing on lesbian sex health.

      Other major dating app companies Tinder, Blued and Growlr did not respond to requests for comment.

      The UN report says these apps can become vital conduits promoting sexual health, including HIV messaging and testing, and references a 2014 World Aids Day project by the Chinese gays dating app Blued where a red ribbon was added next to every users profile scene, linking to details of nearby testing centres.

      Wing-Sie said Unicef will approach mobile dating app companies in the next month for a collaborative endeavor and so the world body might collect data to further investigate the impact of mobile dating.

      Based in Bangkok, Jesse Krisintu has been working with charities trying to persuade young people to get tested for HIV through tactics such as pop-up advertisements on dating apps. He said the project did not work.

      Dating site visitors by PC

      Its their business. If they advertise too much about HIV/ Aids services there, do you think people are going to go online? he said.

      He said that one project involving pop-ups offered discounts on HIV tests but that very few were claimed and that the analytics depicts most users instantly closed the pop-up advert.

      The application is where the key population is but no one is going to read the pop-up because the purpose of people going to those apps to find sex , not to find knowledge. The results are not that favourable, he said. People merely close it.

      The UN is now also advocating for comprehensive sex education beyond a simple explanation of the sex organ and for reducing the age at which adolescents can take an HIV test without parental consent.

      AIDS is already the leading cause of demise for adolescents in Africa and the second leading cause of death among teens globally, tripling over the past 15 years and largely as a result of mother-to-child transmission. However, this new breed of epidemic found in Asia-Pacific could be replicated elsewhere, public health officials warn.

      There is a risk of not being able to eliminate Aids at all, Wing-Sie said. This is the new frontier of Aids to tackle right now. The world can never end Aids if this matter is not controlled.

      Read more: www.theguardian.com

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