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April 14, 2023

Even Hypochondriacs Can Get GAINZZZ

A couple of weeks ago, I expressed some doubt that "long covid" was a real thing.

A study in 2021 suggested that many of the people claiming the condition might just be imagining things.

Mind over matter? Long Covid study sparks controversy

A large-scale French study suggesting symptoms of so-called long COVID may be more due to psychological factors than to infection with the virus has sparked debate among patients and scientists.

The report that appeared earlier this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association focused on nearly 27,000 participants across France who took antibody tests to screen for COVID infection.

After the subjects had received the antibody test results, researchers asked them whether they believed they had been infected with COVID and to report on symptoms like fatigue, breathlessness or impaired attention.

The vast majority of respondents--over 25,000 people--tested negative for COVID antibodies and believed they had never been sick.

Of the some 1,000 who tested positive, about 450 believed they had contracted the virus.

Finally, about 460 people who received negative antibody tests said they nonetheless believed they had had COVID.

So they never had covid at all, but think they have "long covid."

The study does note that many people who really did contract covid continue complaining of a loss of smell, months after infection.

They concluded that persistent physical symptoms "may be associated more with the belief in having been infected with SARS-CoV-2 than with having laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection".

This is mostly women claiming to have long covid.

If I sound skeptical, well, it's because I keep seeing women claiming to have exotic diseases with vague symptoms. As "the spoonies" claim.

Hurts So Good

Why are so many young women suffering from invisible illnesses? Meet the girls in a world of pain.

In July 2019, Morgan Cooper was in a hospital bed when her gastroenterologist, psychiatrist, internist, a few nurses, and her mother marched into her room. She was 16, and for four years Morgan had been having stomach pains every time she ate. It had gotten worse in high school. The doctors had tested her for allergies and ulcerative colitis and gastroparesis. All negative.

She had recently been diagnosed with median arcuate ligament syndrome--MALS, a vascular condition--and she was set to be operated on by a surgeon in Atlanta. But first she needed to gain 25 pounds, which wasn't going well. She was five foot seven, 98 pounds, and she was being fed through a tube placed in her stomach.

Cooper had lobbied for the tube after seeing other spoonies with it.

The spoonies were Cooper's whole world. She had discovered them late in 2018, right after she set up a separate Instagram account dedicated to her medical struggles (@morgansfight, which is no longer active). She told me the account was for updating the family and friends who were always asking how she was doing. But a single tap on the MALS hashtag--or the one for any other illness--instantly revealed a world of chronic illness sufferers who track their many pains, tests, diagnoses, and doctors visits online.

These were the spoonies. They were mostly young women, and it seemed like there were thousands of them. (There aren't strong spoonie stats available, but there are a ton of Facebook groups and pages--one with over 130,000 followers; nearly three million tagged Instagram posts; and videos garnering nearly 700 million views on TikTok. According to the CDC, six out of every ten Americans suffer from a chronic disease, with four in ten having two or more.)

Cooper created a YouTube channel, too. "I had one video just called 'I'm Sick' and the thumbnail was me crying," she told me. "On Instagram, whenever I would post a picture of me looking sad, or with pills in my hand, or in a wheelchair, it would get like 2,000 likes." Pictures of Cooper smiling would get about 100.

The spoonies made Cooper feel less alone, but the more time she spent online with them, the skinnier she got. In her journal, she'd written: I don't know if I will live to see college. "It really felt true at the time," she told me.

On that summer day in 2019, the doctors had come for her phone. Cooper's medical team was having weekly meetings to discuss her care, and her mother had just sat in on one, so Cooper suspects that she brought it up. The only way to get better, they'd decided, was to cut Cooper off from the spoonies.

"I was lying in the hospital bed and my mom plucked my phone right out of my hands," she told me. Cooper said she went "ballistic." She remembered screaming and crying. "I told them, 'You're taking away my only source of friendship and the only people who get what's going on with me.'"
(Ben Welsh via Getty Images)

The blogger Christine Miserandino, who has lupus, coined the term spoonie in a 2003 post called "The Spoon Theory." A spoon, Miserandino explained, equates to a certain amount of energy. The Healthy have unlimited spoons. The Sick--the spoonies--only have a few. They might use one spoon to shower, two to get groceries, and four to go to work. They have to be strategic about how they spend their spoons.

Since then, the theory has ballooned into an illness kingdom filled with micro-celebrities offering discounts on supplements and tinctures; podcasts on dating as a spoonie; spoonie clubs on college campuses; a weekly magazine; and online stores with spoonie merch. In the past few years, spoonie-ism has dovetailed with the #MeToo movement and the ascendance of identity politics. The result is a worldview that is highly skeptical of so-called male-dominated power structures, and that insists on trusting the lived experience of individuals--especially those from groups that have historically been disbelieved. So what do spoonies need from you? "To believe; Be understanding; Be patient; To educate yourself; Show compassion; Don't question."

Spoonie illnesses include, but are not limited to, serious diseases like multiple sclerosis and Crohn's disease, but also harder-to-diagnose ones that manifest differently in different people: polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), endometriosis, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, dysautonomia, Guillain-Barré Syndrome, gastroparesis, and fibromyalgia. Another spoonie illness is myalgic encephalomyelitis--or chronic fatigue syndrome--which has now been linked to long Covid.

These illnesses are often "invisible": To most people, spoonies may appear healthy and able-bodied, especially when they're young. Many of the conditions affect women more frequently, and most are chronic illnesses that can be managed, but not cured. A diagnosis often lasts for a lifetime, while symptoms come, go, morph, and multiply.

Spoonies find community in having complicated conditions that are often hard to identify and difficult to treat. That's why a lot of spoonies include a zebra emoji in their social media bios, borrowed from the old doctor's adage: "When you hear hoof beats, look for horses, not zebras." In other words: assume your patient has a more common illness, rather than a rare one.

The spoonie mantra might be: I am the zebra.

Although the term is relatively new, the spoonies fit into a long history of women having amorphous, hard-to-diagnose conditions. Since ancient times, women who were diagnosed under the general category of "hysteria" were prescribed treatments such as sex, hanging upside down, and the placement of leeches on the abdomen. Then, in the 19th century, the new field of psychoanalysis concluded that women with hysteria were not suffering from physical disorders, but mental ones. Whether the women's inexplicable pain was a function of their brains or of their bodies--or of each other (see mass hysteria), or of the devil (see Salem, 1692)--has always been a fraught subject.

I first heard of "spoonies" from Taylor Lorenz. She was, get this, hysterically condemning this article on Twitter, saying that Suzy Weiss was evil for suggesting this made-up condition might be made-up.

So I'm a bit biased here -- when your first exposure to a "disease" like spoonyism is known hypochondriac and madwoman Taylor Lorenz insisting it's real, you form the reflexive opinion that it's fake.

I do have sympathy for the complaints about feeling low-energy. I've complained about that to doctors for a while. I mean, during routine visits, when they ask if anything's wrong. I just say: I'm Low Energy Jeb. It feels like I should have more energy.

I probably will just always be Low Energy Jeb, especially now that I'm Almost 29. But a few things I've found increase energy: getting a good night's sleep, for one. And for another, losing weight and just going to bed hungry. You don't sleep well if your stomach has anything in it still in need of digestive work.

Sometimes, when I'm feeling tired, I fast for a few days. Fasting really improves sleep, and bizarrely, fills you with energy. People aren't aware of how much energy the process of digestion actually takes until they turn the digestive system off for a few days.

Scientists say that smelling other people's bodily odors can reduce social anxiety.

A group of European researchers have shown that exposure to human odors, extracted from other people's sweat, might be used to boost treatment for some mental health problems.

In a preliminary study, the researchers were able to show that social anxiety was reduced when patients underwent mindfulness therapy while exposed to human 'chemo-signals', or what we commonly refer to as body odor, obtained from underarm sweat from volunteers. Presenting the results of a pilot study at the European Congress of Psychiatry in Paris, lead researcher Ms Elisa Vigna, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm said, "Our state of mind causes us to produce molecules (or chemo-signals) in sweat which communicate our emotional state and produce corresponding responses in the receivers. The results of our preliminary study show that combining these chemo-signals with mindfulness therapy seem to produce better results in treating social anxiety than can be achieved by mindfulness therapy alone".

Social anxiety is a common mental health condition where people worry excessively about participating in social situations. This can affect interactions, for example within the workplace or relationships, but also in everyday situations such as shopping or holidays. This may make it difficult to lead a normal life without excessive worrying about contact with others.


Ms Vigna continued, "We found that individuals who undertook one treatment session of mindfulness therapy together with being exposed to human body odors showed about 39% reduction in anxiety scores). For comparison, in the group receiving only mindfulness (i.e., the control group) we saw a 17% reduction in anxiety scores after one treatment session.

If I ever stick my schnozz into your armpit, that's just me saying "I feel awkward, I think this will help."

So here's why I think, maybe, this is not necessarily just crazy:

I had social anxiety. Still do, but I would say it's now "subclinical." It's just a failing, not a mental issue. My social anxiety led to generalized panic disorder and then to agoraphobia.

I controlled the panic with klonopin, but when I really completely got over it, and stopped taking klonopin, was after I joined a martial arts class. There was an element of "confrontation therapy" in forcing my Almost 29 year old body into a class filled with actual twenty somethings, and wearing that stupid white belt.

And who knows? Maybe being around a lot of sweating people did something.

When people isolate, they grow to like isolation, and fear being out in the real world. We're seeing a lot of mental illness caused by the self-isolating nature of the internet. It stars as a minor preference not to go out and see people and ends up... well it ends up all sorts of pathological places.

I do not think it's necessarily crazy that the subliminal smell of other people's odors would be a kind of immunization against the bad effects of self-isolation. And I think anytime you collide with hard reality, and maybe even smell stinky biology, you undo some of the bad effects of routine self-isolation.

So go out into the world unshowered and reeking and farting with abandon. The life you save could be your own.

Games Workshop -- which publishes the massively-popular miniatures game Warhammer 40K -- now wants you pencil-necked geeks to get jacked by using the power of Warhammer.

Click that link, it's fun.

I don't know if this is real. I don't see any link on their site to actually order it.

Now before you say, "Chuy, you big dummy, of course it's fake!" -- hang on there, Pointdexter. It's not at all silly. Or, maybe it's silly, but that doesn't make it fake -- people are selling "fitness maces," like the medieval weapon, for working out.

There's a whole fitness fad called "functional fitness" where you're supposed to mimic actual body motions used in real life, rather than just pumping iron. Swinging a heavy mace is something humans do (or used to do) in real life.

Using a sledgehammer for a workout is pretty plausible. I don't know if it's a good idea, but it's definitely not beyond what people are actually trying.

Of course, they'd have to offer their Warhammer Workout Hammer in different weights for it to be an effective workout tool, and I don't see any mention of that, so I'm going to say "fake."

For the moment.

Oh, and, also, minor update: This was posted on April 1. That might be an indicator of its veracity or falsity, though I'm not sure in which direction the date of publication pushes.

Chonker raccoon goes on a diet.

GAINZZZ encouragement -- and then some discouragement.

Possibly staged, but looks real to me.

Long distance duck.

Always work out with a spotter.

I think I'm going to try this. Easy GAINZZZZ.

Duncanthrax, did you know that penguins are technically amphibious bats? It's true, I read it on the internet.

Finally: the usual questions: What are your GAINZZZ this week?


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posted by Ace at 06:15 PM

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