Michelle, thank your for this vulnerable & difficult essay.

It feels like you're boldly stepping into a no man's between two warring cultures: between a scientific culture that wants mechanized control on truth & healing, and a culture feeling completely betrayed & unbelieving of science & medicine. And, making it worse, public discourse wants to shove us to one side or the other, and say that's all there is.

You get at this when you say, "I loved science, and I had never wanted to leave the advice of the medical establishment. The problem was, science and medicine clearly didn’t love me back."

I think there's a liberal paradigm of "trust science" or "trust medical professionals". The sense being: this is their *job*, hush down & receive their Truth. Your misguided questioning is just making it hard for them to administer What Is Right.

As if all you need to administer healing, to understand the complexity of millions of distinct bodies, is training in the profession of medicine.

And think you point out what is missing (at the expense of being labeled some touchy-feely-hippie): love. When you love someone, you hold the gravity of doing what is best for them alongside the vulnerability that you -- and they -- may not even know what that is. To love them is to listen to the world coursing through their cells, together.

The medical establishment doesn't have the capacity, or systemic structure, to love in the way required for wholistic healing. We've sliced wellness into dozens of specialities, & exposed its interface in 15 minute chunks.

I think medicine on the surface says, "Your self reported experience isn't valid: it's biased, finds imaginary correlation, and doesn't know what it's talking about. Let me give you the truth." But I think if medicine were honest about their situation, they'd say: "We don't have time to actually listen to you, to lovingly merge our wildly imperfect & narrow understanding with the rich & complex data of your experience. We're just as messy as you, beloved patient, & we need each other to get this right. But we haven't the time, and thus we can't care."

It's painful to face, but all this gets turned up even higher when sexism get swirled in. If this isn't painfully obvious already, look at the shocking way male birth control has been approached (or not approached at all) completely differently than female birth control: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mimITJ0tLQ

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Thanks David. I really like your summary of this being about love, and the ways in which love allows us to suspend our own sense of certainty in order to consider many different forms of knowledge. You are totally right. This kind of capaciousness -- the ability to navigate science, pseudoscience, voodoo, citizen science, gut instinct, collective wisdom, traditional wisdom, crowdsourced solutions -- is difficult to uphold! So what's to stop us from defaulting back to our own frames of meaning, where we feel most comfortable/trained/"qualified"? Love is a really compelling answer.

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Oct 5, 2022Liked by Michelle Jia

Here are my favorite bits from this piece:

“When the IUD left me, the anger returned, like a part of myself I had disowned in order to believe the made-up stories of the world….

I felt rather like a woman whose life had been saved by an exorcism — grateful, but unable to speak the truth. Alive, but embarrassed by what had saved her. Indebted to forces mysterious and crude….

There is a shadowy stranger now, an outline on the rice paper door separating this life from all the other possible lives.”

I think what I like here is that each has a novel metaphor that makes me pay attention, and after reading them, I feel like I really get your point.

It’s so rare for me to read something and feel that way, so thanks :)

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Thank you for sharing the parts that particularly resonated with you! I'm so glad -- particularly because it can sometimes be difficult to relate to an experience that society tells us is *just* for women, and therefore hidden away or somehow made so specialized that it's difficult to empathize. Glad you were able to feel!

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Oct 15, 2022Liked by Michelle Jia

It gives me great pleasure to read your blog on a cloudy Saturday morning while holding a warm mug of tea :)

Thank you for sharing your experience with copper toxicity, and your analysis of the systems and stories in our society that enabled your sickness to happen. I never had a copper IUD myself—I remember getting the shpeel from the nurse about my options back in college. Somehow my own biases led me to a different intuition: "I'd never want to stick a foreign piece of metal in my body, but hormonal birth control is just 'turning the tuning knobs' on chemicals that already occur naturally inside me." So I picked the hormonal one, the one that gets inserted in your arm.

That summer, my first time spending a significant chunk of time alone with my future husband, then-boyfriend, David, the excitement of being together rapidly deteriorated into a state of exhausted tension as we started to grapple with issues that would form the backbone of our future relationship challenges. For the bulk of our relationship before and after that summer, we were able to talk about these issues rationally and optimistically, and even in the hardest moments there was a sense of progress being made. But that summer, I experienced (as you so aptly described) a "frailty" of mind that shocked me. Every little thing David said or did, even the most innocuous thing, was twisted by my own anxiety into the dark specter of some infinitely hurtful intent.

This line from your footnote really strikes me: "The stories we tell about people, then, determine the problems that it is possible for us to see." I told myself this story: That because I was a woman and women are hysterical; and because my mom used to scream hysterically during fights with my dad, and my dad had always told me I would grow up to be exactly like my mom; and because I was already "psychologically damaged" from a past traumatic friendship; because of all this, my extreme reactions of hurt were inevitable. But I didn't really believe this, not deep down. I was simply the nearest story I could latch onto, and some explanation is always better than none to the human mind.

When the fall term started again, David didn't even want to be around me. He escaped to a friend's place for a week. I started thinking, "This isn't me, this can't be me." And it occurred to me that it might be the birth control that was causing all this. In retrospect, this probably only occurred to me because my mom, having a countercultural perspective herself due growing up in a Traditional Chinese Medicine framework, had vehemently opposed me getting birth control on the grounds that changing something fundamental in your body's functioning would inevitably lead to issues. At the time, I found this extremely annoying, invalidating, and "unscientific." Which is funny, because now, as a psychology/neuroscience researcher with much better scientific reasoning skills than I had in college, I've come to realize that medical studies are actually, for the most part, shoddily thrown-together experiments run by med students with little experience or interest in research, with severely underpowered sample sizes and questionable statistics. There is, of course, good medical research that happens. But at least half the papers I've read (and I've read a lot) fall into the former category.

In any case, I got the thing taken out of my arm, with a good deal of grotesque slicing of the scalpel and comments like "It isn't usually this hard!" from the nurse. The very next day I felt a similar lifting of "anxious static" as you described. I still had anxieties, but they were MY anxieties. I no longer felt fragile. My period, which the birth control had turned into a constant daily bleeding, returned to normal.

It's sort of amusing to reflect back on, because at the time I thought to myself, "Maybe I should've gone with the copper IUD."

I think our experiences, and the experiences of many other women, highlight just how problematic all birth control can be. But not just birth control itself. Also the science that produced it. Also, as you pointed out, the entire lens society turns toward women, which frames "unwellness" and mental fragility as a norm, rather than an exception.

My favorite line from your essay: "How toxic is just toxic enough?"

As a society, we seem to answer that question differently for women than we do for men.

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Oct 11, 2022Liked by Michelle Jia

Invaluable as ever, Michelle. Feeling "canonical experience" lately.

I recognized a lot of myself in this piece, especially as someone who is chronically ill, I have always been weary of non-necessary medical intervention (save vaccines etc.) because it always thoroughly fucks my body. ( Though, I have been considering forms of birth control to better accommodate kinks lol.)

What strikes me about your newsletters is that every word seems necessary and distilled.


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This is beautiful; I was moved to tears. Your last paragraph associatively reminded me of an essay by Dodie Bellamy, "When the Sick Rule the World." She's wry and hyperbolic, but it may interest you as experimental writing that addresses a group of people abandoned by the medical establishment.

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Thank you for sharing that it moved you to tears. I often measure the rightness of my work by whether or not it touched a single person deeply, and in this case, your comment helped me feel like I was on the right track. I appreciate you sharing it with me!

I look forward to reading the Bellamy piece; it sounds utterly surreal and fascinating!

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Oct 17, 2022Liked by Michelle Jia

OOOOF. fuck.

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