Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Off Topic: No Blu-U for You

This post brought to you by Beauty Schooled, a blog I occasionally read, and its article on chemical peels.

I was a teenager with acne. Not "ice-pick scar" acne, as they call those quarter-inch heavy lines you get after serious huge amounts of acne, the kind you imagine stereotypical unwashed nerd teens to have. No, I just had persistent small acne, that made my already easily-flushed skin splotch red, even when there were no particular pimples. Just red splots, all day, every day. It sucked.

My mom and I tried everything. Salicylic acid did nothing. Astringents removed oil for maybe 10 seconds -- I have such oily skin that the oil will get into my eyes and then they start burning, seriously, I could not make this up. I tried a bunch of prescription ointments that my dermatologist neighbor suggested.

And then there was Blu-U. I'd like to tell you now to stay the hell away from Blu-U, and while I ask you to pardon my language, I also mean that French right there with every ounce of my being. I don't care if most people who get Blu-U don't have the catastrophe that I did, but seriously, if you ever do, you will be so unhappy that you will be preaching this same sermon, like me, all over creation.

Blu-U seems innocuous enough. You go into the dermatologist's office, he wipes down your face with what feels like a big felt marker until it's covered in liquid, and then he shines a bluish-purple light on your face for 10-20 minutes. It looks like this:

Then he says to wear heavy sunscreen for the next couple days, a hat for a week, don't go out in the glaring Florida sun. Peachy keen, right? So I let him marker up my face, and it tingled. Not bad, though not comfortable. He shone the light at me. A little twitchy, still not horrible or anything. So I went home.

All was well. It looked like it had helped, after a while, but all the acne still wasn't gone, so my mom drove me back over, and we tried again. For the record, it was after enough time that I was fully recovered from whatever, and I didn't have to wear the hat. Like, a while later. The two incidents were not related.

The second time I got there, the guy markers up my face, and I know something is wrong. The marker fluid burns this time, the hot and itchy and dry feeling you get when you're sunburned. Ugh. But okay, I'll stick it out, it'll go away when he washes it off. He puts me in front of the light. It hurts more this time, but I deal with it, and I count the minutes until he turns the stupid blue light off that is seemingly boiling my skin. He washes off the fluid. My faces is red and ruddy like I've just been running a mile in the sweltering Florida heat.

Ugh. So I put my hat on, put a scarf over my face this time to keep the actual sun off it when we get in the car, and Mom fires up the car.

It only gets worse from there. On the car ride, something isn't okay. The pain never left once he washed off the marker only got worse. And then I realize -- my face is covered in second-degree burns. Everywhere that guy put the marker has been chemical-burned. And oh hell it hurts.

This is someone whose face is covered in second-degree blisters. It looked similar to this, only with much more reddening and a brighter yellow-white color to the blisters. It felt like my skin was floating on a layer of hot liquid, and when I touched it, I felt heat and squish, and the skin peeled away where it clung to my finger.

I swear, I could not make this crap up. The worst burn I had ever had before that, was a wimpy little thing where I touched a hot piece of metal with the edge of my thumb and then I stuck it in cold water and it felt better after a few hours. This was way beyond "oh no, grab a cup of cold water."

Wikipedia "burn." Here is a nice reference pic. I am not talking about the barely-second burn, where you have a couple of clear blisters and it heals up and you're okay in a couple of days. I'm talking about nasty red and white patchworks of blisters, and an entire layer of yellow-white skin that has up and died and is now thick and peeling off in big, thick, wet layers. Between fluid and pus, it looks and feels like raw chicken skin, stretchy and squishy and dimpled. The fluid underneath coats your skin and breeds bacteria, but it hurts too much to wipe it off, so you have to settle for wincing and dabbing softly, and even then it hurts. When the blisters break, sometimes they bleed. And then, when they're done bleeding, they get infected. I drained them out and cleaned them several times over with hydrogen peroxide -- which hurts like a bitch if you've never done it to a big open wound the size of a quarter -- and then I let them dry out until they were big scabs on my cheeks. And even then, once they heal, the spots that the skin has peeled away from is red and burning until it finally manages to transition into normal skin again.

This entire process hurts like hell. Think of it like a nasty sunburn, hot and throbbing and painful, only a whole lot worse, and no amount of lidocaine is going to save you. I had a special very large canister of burn ointment, something involving a compound with silver in it, and while I'm sure it helped, it didn't cool anything off. The entire time it took me to heal to the "cleaning up wounds" state (where at that point, I was mostly fighting blister infection as opposed to why are you holding my face to a hot object), I was wrapping my face in ice-pack gel -- it comes in strips, don'tcha know, and you can wrap the strips around your face and it feels wonderful when your skin has been lit on fire by chemistry. But the strips warm up, and they don't cover everything, and I spend my time wishing that I could bury my face in ice water and breathe through straws stuck up my nose for the next N days. The worst part was the 5-hour car ride to Georgia, where I couldn't get access to any kind of refrigeration for the strips. It was a matter of shoving my face at the A/C vents and sucking it up.

Check this out. This kind of thing was all over my face. My mom says that if the blisters hadn't started to heal after (day whatever it was at the time), she was going to take pictures and press charges. Luckily, the human body is actually pretty awesome, and it did manage to show signs of healing before we all went nuclear. It stopped burning all the time after a while, and then most of the pain was from skin peeling off in layers. Then the infections. Then the redness. And face was back to normal.

It's amazing, really, that I have no scarring from this. You can't tell that my face was one big painful mass of blister, ever. I'm thrilled to bits that this is true. But in the end, I swear that the next time someone comes up to me and says they're thinking of getting this Blu-U thing, I hear it works, I am going to show them a picture of a nasty blistered burn and say, "This was all over my face. Do you really want this? I don't think you do. Go try something less likely to melt your face off."

I'm aware that this was probably a rare failure mode, some kind of screwup on part of the doctor, whatever. I do know that the marker fluid is some kind of acid, and as a result, he probably screwed up the formula or the quantity or the time or whatever, and it was medical error. Or maybe my face in particular just sucks at dealing (though it didn't happen the first time).

But really, if having your face scorched up this badly is the consequence for medical error here, does your acne really need this kind of treatment? Seriously, think about it. Things like salicylic acid have very few, if any, side effects. A little bit of sun sensitivity. Benzoyl peroxide makes your skin kind of dry.

Even if you have horrendous ice-pick acne, really think about whether you'd like to try other treatments before the Face Melting Acid Bath. Really think about this. And really, here's the kicker:

Blu-U, if you think about it, is going to be temporary in any positive effect it has. What it does, is kills bacteria in your pores and stuff. Theoretically, it really is supposed to melt your face off, just to a lesser extent, so the bacteria aren't shielded by all the nasty buildup and so you can get the light to your skin. But bacteria grow back, and epidermis toughens up again, and then all your acne comes right back.

If Blu-U were permanent, I'd tentatively recommend the risk if you're just that horrified by your massively scarring acne. If you really can't find anything that will touch your problem, at all, and you understand that your face could become this horrible monstrosity that hates you and your life for a nontrivial amount of time, then yes, do it. But really, this crap is not worth it.

"How long is a BLU-U light therapy session?

The doctor will prescribe the most appropriate time frame for your acne, but typical sessions last roughly 17 minutes. "

17 minutes to burn your face off.

So don't do it, kids. I swear, chances are that when you get 20, you'll just have some splotches on your chin when the humidity picks up, and some benzoyl peroxide will clear it right up. Oh yeah -- my solution, after all the face-melting, turned out to be exactly that. Maximum strength benzoyl peroxide. Fixes you right up, with a lot of patience.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Boogeymen

Let's talk about scary things.

Namely the scary things the Liberal Academic Bubble wants you to believe about evangelicals. I know I just made a post that essentially told you that everything you know about them is true. I'm now going to say that I was lying.

Yep, I was. Because one other thing you're going to hear is that they're essentially a conspiracy. They're Big, Bad, and Out To Get You. They want to kill women instead of abort the babies threatening them. They want to hurt you to keep you from practicing your religion. They want kids to grow up sheltered and screwed up. So on and so forth.

The key here is that lots of people are painting evangelicals as malevolent, as if somewhere in their moral code they are allowed to be sadistic sociopaths. As if they are foot soldiers solely focused on the war and never on the results of their actions.

This is patently false, at least for the greater community. I'm sure there are people like this around. Every group has its nutcase, its monster, its boogeyman in the closet who is going to come out and get you once you turn your back. Everyone has a Fred Phelps, whether you like the thought or not.

That being said, evangelicals are not motivated by hatred or sadism. They're mostly motivated, actually, by fear and worry. Just about everything they do that offends you is done out of self-protection on their part. Protection from you, in fact. They are genuinely afraid of you and yours, and they would be thrilled if the world would just stop encroaching on them and punching holes in their standard for how their community should be run. (I'm sensing a pattern...could it be the same complaint you have about them? Yes, in fact.) They

If you look at things from their point of view, they were trundling around going about their daily lives, and someone came in and told them that what they were doing was terrible and offensive.

Taking prayer out of schools. Complaining about "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Convincing kids to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." Carping about the Ten Commandments being in courthouses. Disallowing religious symbolism in holiday media in the workplace or academia. Lamenting that non-Christians have a hard time getting elected President.

I'm not going to assign a moral value to any of those claims. These are simply a partial list of what is happening, that is genuinely terrifying to these people. Their way of life is falling apart. You -- yes, you -- are standing on a pedestal and declaring that how they live, and how they wish the world could live, is obsolete and backwards and barbaric. That they should shut up and mind their own business, and by that you mean don't talk about this Jesus dude to me, it makes me twitch.

But the problem here, is that their branch of Christianity -- and quite a few others that are varying degrees of similar -- are all based on the sort of "country-esque" ideal that everyone's business is their business.

Where I come from, everyone watches out for his neighbor. Right now, despite its megachurches, Pentecostalism in particular is the farmhand's religion. It wasn't born out of huge elegant cathedrals and rows after rows of stuffed pews. It was a family religion, and a neighbor's religion. You got up, and you went to the little church down the road after you milked your cows that morning, and the pastor there wasn't only a religious teacher, he was the moral cornerstone for the community. Pastors were really holy men then, not in the "corruption didn't exist" manner, but in the "people treated them that way" manner. They were Special. They were called by God Himself, and while they were imperfect, they were there to tell you how life was to be lived. You obeyed, because that way, everyone was on the same page and at peace with themselves and their neighbor. And every single person in that church was your friend, or your aunt, or that guy you go squirrel hunting with on the weekends, or your dad's fishing buddy.

In a small town, everyone knows everyone, and this is what contributes to the lack of privacy. It's not that people are nosy jerks. It's that once you get to know someone, you get comfortable prying a bit. You'll ask your friend invasive questions, knowing that there is trust between you, and you will tell you friend secrets too. When everyone is like this, when everyone trusts everyone and everyone is everyone's friend, this means an entire community essentially pools their personal information to form a greater entity. The Community is a living thing, the closest thing to a modern hivemind that exists. Everyone knows the state of the whole, in all its details, at all times.

And that means, yes, they are going to treat you the same way as their neighbors, as if your life is all of their business. They do want America to be part of The Community. Their vision of a country is a big Community where everyone is held to the same standards and is accountable. They really just want everyone to trust everyone, and everyone to be open. They want the entire nation to follow their standards, because that is what they know is good and what has kept them alive. Realize that you're working with moral absolutists who have every firm belief that "God should be on top of things in America" is something they hold to with the same passion you're holding to "I should be allowed to practice whatever religion I want." You both are putting your flags down, and you are no better than they; you just think your mission is better. Objectively, you're just two people who have drawn lines in the sand. Realize this when you're interacting with them. They and you are very, very similar. You are both trying to convince the other that your way is right, or at the very least to leave you the hell alone if they won't understand.

"Except I'm right." You've got to stop that, or you're screwed from the start, because you can't understand people if you're taking the high ground and turning up your nose. Keep reading. Understand.

Their entire mission is for your business to become their business, and their standards to become your standards. And the more you fight, they more scared they are that you won't accept this, and that their dream for a grand Community will never come true, and the harder they'll try. This ranges anywhere from "uncomfortable" to "earth-shattering and terrible" in various people's books. But in the end, if you don't want to be treated this way, you're better off not getting into their space. If you go to Rome, they'll treat you like a Roman. Know what you're getting into.

Yes, all this is detrimental to the person who is born with or acquires traits that distance them from the Community. Gays, non-Christians, people whose social behavior defies the norms, so on. They will inevitably be shafted just because the boat tends to fail if it gets rocked. There's a reason the people who deviate, move on to the wider world -- because there unfortunately isn't much place for something new and world-shaking in a place that is still convinced that it is living out on the plain where any neighbor who doesn't contribute and doesn't fit is shafting everyone, sometimes critically.

Still, now you start to see where this homely little denomination gets its fear. If you boil down lots of the complaints from non-Christians about evangelical practices, you get a basic one-liner. "It's none of your business." My uterus is not your business. My marriage is not your business. My sexuality is not your business. My religion, my clothes, my hair, my piercings, my spouse, my friends, none of that is your business. My life is not your business.

That defeats their entire form of living. They rely on that mutual trust between every node and every other node in the web, and as a result, anyone who isolates himself and declares himself independent is breaking trust. He has something to hide. He is suspicious. He is disquieting. His life becomes even more of people's business, because he upset the apple cart and now he is screwing up everything by coming back and insisting that everyone should be this way, that no one should tell the Community anything, that the Community should have no sway over any one man's way of life.

The Community is bound together by trust, friendship, and moral standards. They live alike in their actions and ways, and while they are of course different people with different ways of doing things, they have many common threads that cement their bonds together. It's a very rural way of doing things, where people are sparse and the Monkeysphere (look it up) is actually not very strained and back in the day, every man depended on his neighbor just to live. The city, by contrast, is a place where so many people are crammed together that each individual lives in a sphere of His Own Business, where other people shouldn't intrude. Everyone is used to not asking questions, because there are so many other people that it's impossible to trust them and/or keep track of them. If rural towns are like webs, cities are like lumpy batter, with certain social groups clumping together and having the occasional stray tie to another social group. There is so much diversity that people just stop caring what other people are doing. It's a very "bubble" way to live. As such, communities evolve like animals, shedding traits that don't do them good and gaining ones that give them advantage against the hostile wild world.

The evangelical community, on a broader social scale, has shed certain evils for certain others. There is lower crime and more personal accountability, but there is much more social policing. There is much more unity and cohesion, but also more intolerance. There is more trust, but also more nosing around in people's lives. There is more peace, but less freedom. There are people for whom this tradeoff makes perfect sense.

What America is doing right now, is pissing and moaning about the fact that these rural hick folk won't suck it up and do things the right way. This is the utterly wrong way to think. Evangelicals have had years up on years of conditioning in how to do what they do, mostly because it served them very well. They have evolved to suit their environment. They are horses on the plain. And now you want them to swim like fish? No wonder they're furious and terrified.

Don't go into "privilege" and all this political and social mumbo-jumbo. It boils down to something much more primal than that. You're asking a creature to do something it is physically incapable of doing without growing over time to fit its new situation. You are asking the horse to swim a mile, when right now, it can barely cross the river. You have to take it to the riverside, let it see that there is no threat, and have it walk around in the water some. Swim it out for a few minutes, bring it back. Do this day after day. Once its endurance builds, now you can swim it longer. You have to get people used to this change.

You can't ask the Pentecostals to accept things like gay marriage and abortion and "my religion is not your business" straight off the cuff. It's no wonder they're howling and biting like wounded dogs. You have to present these things in a way that makes sense to them, that appeals to the Community, that encourages their way of life while changing some of its nuances. They will not give up the Community -- you have to meet them on their ground, not yours. Make your changes play as close to their rules as you can.

If you want to convince a Pentecostal of something ground-breaking, you have to do it through religious channels. Note that the main reason Pentecostals hate evolution, and parts of greater science, is because they feel it has been pitched as a way to prove to people that God does not exist. There are people out there who legitimately say this -- that because science, God has no place. And this is where science got the horrible rap for Pentecostals.

If you want to save science for them, you're going to have to convince them that the Bible and science do not contradict each other. Same goes for any other issue. Gay marriage will have to pass the Bible test. Abortion. Environmentalism. So on.

Want proof? Look at feminism. Never once in my entire life, from any visitors and any people in my town that I've seen preach from the Pentecostal way, have I heard them condemn or vilify women. They say nothing but good things. Look at Esther, the woman with steel nerves who made her way from ordinary woman to queen by having the balls to go get the position for herself, and oh by the way she saved scads of Jews while she was at it and got the villains taken down. Look at Mary, whose task it was to raise the Son of God. Ruth. Naomi. Hell, the woman who was brave enough to fight back when Jesus tested her with "dogs do not get children's food." (Look it up! She actually faced down Jesus, asked to be treated like everyone else, and Jesus was proud of her and did so. He was not afraid to treat women like the real people they are.) All these women are hailed as heroes, because the Bible shows them as such. And as a result, women are shown these stories instead of shoved in a corner. You can be a queen. You can save lives. You can change the world. Go get it, girl, God is with you.

If you want to change what these well-meaning country folk are doing, you're going to do it on their playing field. Until then, everyone thinks everyone else is just the boogeyman under their bed, and all they want is for it to go away and leave them alone.