The Unlikeliest Gamer, aka me

This is a long overdue tribute to the Legend of Zelda series for helping to bring unexpected healing, hope, and joy to my soul over the past two years.

I was taught – by the lovely combination of my moralistic singaporean education and conservative church upbringing – that video games were dangerous. Addictive. A waste of time, an idol of the heart. Gaming will make you red-eyed and sleep-deprived and relationally-stunted and, of course, violent and cruel. You will get into trouble with strangers online. You will lose control and not be able to stop. I was wary of boys who gamed (which was many of them, especially in my field of study)…lucky for my husband, he never talked much about how formative video games had been for him when we were dating, or I might have tragically judged him 😛

In 2019, I started getting serious about weeding out beliefs & values that no longer made sense for me to hold on to as an adult. Some of these core beliefs had to do with heavy-type stuff, like my theology, sexuality, politics, cultural identity, and body image. And some of these beliefs were a little more frivolous, but no less important. For example, I gave myself permission to have really, really, really long hair. I’d been raised to believe that short hair was, I don’t know, more sensible and chaste and somehow good, but my hair is now down to my belly button, and I love it. Another example – I started using the dishwasher for the first time in my life, which is antithetical to the industriously-wash-everything-by-hand complex I’d somehow internalized. Stuff like that.

Skyward Sword & Twilight Princess

So when my husband brought home the family Wii, along with two Legend of Zelda games (Skyward Sword & Twilight Princess), I was curious.

https://www.taminggaming.com/game/The+Legend+of+Zelda+Skyward+Sword

I started out by watching him play Skyward Sword. He would encourage me to play, but I was too nervous. I remember trying to walk Link up a plank and being terrified of falling off. I didn’t have any controller muscle memory from my childhood to fall back on, and so everything felt awkward and clumsy. Monsters scared the crap out of me, and I would actually scream whenever a Bokoblin or a Deku Baba showed up on the screen.

But I rapidly – really rapidly – fell in love with the puzzles, the logic, the art, the terrible dialog, the music, and the act of doing something for FUN. I wanted my own file, and ended up playing through the whole game twice. I remained terrified of combat, though, and would beg and beg for K to fight bosses for me and just let me do the puzzles, side quests, and dungeons. And of course collecting and hoarding crap. He always refused, and I gradually had to overcome my terror – and my illogical fear of failure. I woke up with a sore right arm many times during those months. The feeling of triumph when I beat a boss for the first time…priceless.

So I was done with Skyward Sword and ready to move on to my next Zelda game. To be honest, Twilight Princess was too scary for me. Midna is so freaking creepy. So I just enjoyed watching K play and had to look away whenever he transformed into Wolf Link. To my delight, being able to share Zelda together as a couple felt like a way for us to level up in our relationship. I would look up guides for him and we would play through the game as a team. It felt so refreshing to be able to share a world with him that was outside of meal-planning, chores, organizing our social calendar, and hashing out our feelings/differences. Luckily for us, it wasn’t long before we got our hands on not one, but TWO Nintendo Switches, along with the hottest new Zelda game…aka Breath of the Wild, thanks to our very generous friends. So K and I could both play at the same time lol.

Breath of the Wild

What can I say? This game was a pretty big shock after SS & TP – just look at the art. It occupied me for nearly a year. Sometimes a scene would make me cry. I’m not going to attempt to explain the game, but playing BotW was without a doubt the most spiritually engaging experience I’d had in years. I felt real grief that I’d waited so long to discover this world. The musical score became one of my primary calming mechanisms – to the extent that I talked about it frequently in therapy. The shrines, logic puzzles, and the very complicated physics problems were like candy for the nerd in me who wasn’t getting much of a kick out of helping kids with elementary school math at my job. Some of the puzzles were pretty tough – especially the Divine Beasts.

We eventually gave in and bought the expansion pack, hehe.

Did the hundreds of hours I spent playing BotW make me a better person? I want to say that they did. I worked through my fear of failure and risk-taking. I was moved to tears by the art, humanity, and of course the engineering genius that went into the making of this game. My husband, sister-in-law and I routinely spent delicious evenings yelling at the tops of our voices at whomever happened to be playing. “USE STASIS YOU DUMMY” “YOU SHOULD EAT THE MIGHTY BANANAS” “YOU PRESSED TOO EARLY TO PARRY ATTACK” “GET OFF THE HORSE” “THAT’S NOT THE BEST PLACE TO FARM THE SHARD OF FAROSH’S FANG” “WHY DON’T YOU EVER HAVE ANY MONEY” etc. etc. It definitely helped to let off some steam during the tension and misery of lockdown 😉

The game, vast and sprawling as it is, did not last forever. The day came for me to beat Ganon (pretty anticlimactic imo) and eventually I got tired of hunting koroks and upgrading my gear. Thankfully, there were still plenty of games in the Zelda series to tap into (or get back into, for K).

Ocarina of Time

We purchased an N64 USB controller from Walmart (for less than $10!), downloaded an emulator and our next gaming adventure, The Ocarina of Time. OoT was released in 1998, and was an entirely different experience from BotW (2017) or SS (2011). Here is me as young Link, chilling in Kakariko Graveyard in my Firesuit.

Even though I was anticipating a less sophisticated experience, OoT was a true delight to play. I was determined to use as little of the online guides as possible, which made it extra rewarding. I inherited some vicarious nostalgia from K and all of his friends, for whom OoT triggered some serious ~feelings~ and memories of, you know, simpler times. OoT took me to the very start of 2021, and I officially beat Ganon on January 2nd of this year. All by myself and on my first try.

Majora’s Mask & Wind Waker

Which brings me to the present. K is playing (and recently beat) Majora’s Mask, and it was probably the most existential and profound game of the lot – really underrated. I am playing Wind Waker (and loving the Irish themes!!). I’m incredibly proud of myself for learning four different controllers (Wii, Switch, N64, GameCube) in spite of the initial clumsiness. I learned that it is okay and non-consequential to die – and die several times over – in a video game. My reflexes are much sharper, I’m able to calm myself down and focus during combat, and I want to say that I don’t scream as much when I am startled by something. I have bonded in an entirely new and wonderful way with my husband and my SIL. We even connected with two of our favorite elementary school kiddos over Zelda – whenever we see them, it’s all we talk about.

(Also…totally decorated our living room with these BotW travel posters)

The biggest gift that these Zelda games have given me is something to look forward to when it felt like everything just…sucked. Sounds small, but I believe that these games have worked a miracle in the midst of my depression and anxiety over the past couple of years. I remember one time my period was a few days late, and I thought I might finally be pregnant. When I started bleeding – aka not pregnant – I decided to lie in bed with a heating pad on my belly and play Zelda. Of course it didn’t take the sting away, but it was a relaxing and enjoyable activity that felt accessible to me. When you’re depressed and don’t have the energy to do anything, having something you look forward to is no small feat. In fact, it’s priceless, and you should keep doing it (within reason) until it’s no longer helpful or enjoyable.

Here’s to years & years of playing through Zelda games and prioritizing fun (and unlearning old biases). TBH one of the things that makes us most excited to be parents is looking forward to playing Zelda with our kids, heh. Here’s also to hoping that Nintendo gets its act together and finally decides to release BotW 2…

Wintry updates

We launched a podcast

The Misfortune Cookies podcast was born on Nov 1, 2020! It’s available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and more. We are only three episodes in, and have a relatively small following, but it has been a labor of love. Honestly, we are still figuring out how to angle it…but essentially, you can think of it as Asian Americans Talking About Shitty Life Experiences. Give us a listen/follow, and please reach out if you have any feedback or might like to share your story.

Finding my stride

I feel like I’ve been finding my stride a little more in the past few months. Between therapy (which is amazingly offered for free at my university…well, included in tuition), a local support group, Reddit, and the two wonderful human beings that I live with, I do feel loved, supported, and well-resourced…on most days. Trying to feel connected in 2020 has been an exercise in Just Saying Yes To Almost Everything And Clinging To What Sticks (sounds a little like online dating?). Within reason, of course, as always. Another major contributor to my general mental health has been…

90 days off social media

After watching The Social Dilemma at the end of August, I implemented a three-pronged strategy to preserve myself from the unwanted effects of being on social media. 1) I de-activated Instagram; 2) I de-activated Facebook; 3) I installed a Chrome extension called Remove YouTube recommendations. As a bonus, I disabled all notifications on my phone except for text messages (which, surprisingly, people don’t use that much…). It’s been a great decision and I plan to keep this up. Having been on “the other side”, I can attest to how intentional the psychological manipulation strategies are. I won’t deny that there is a time and place for social media, but in this season I think it’s abundantly clear that it isn’t good at all for my overall sanity.

Inconclusive limbo hell

In the first week of November, we experienced an emotionally draining election and another tenuous pregnancy, which unfortunately ended on election night. I started to wonder, at what point do we stop sharing this news with people? Five miscarriages in? Six? Seven? Am I going to be known as the girl who can’t carry a pregnancy to term? I will say that with each subsequent loss, I feel more numb and less crushed, mostly because I had almost no hope to begin with. Blessing or a curse? No idea.

Wrapping up another semester

This semester at school has been quite intensive – tons of skills practice, overanalyzing the darkest corners of my soul, and processing the nonstop barrage of difficult and chaotic news. I’m surprised by how effectively we’ve managed over Zoom, and am feeling a bit more anchored in my ~budding~ identity as a counselor. Also, I have at least one internship site lined up for next year, which is a big relief.

That’s all I have for now. Stay warm if applicable, and take care!

Attempt at light-hearted summer update

Gonna make this quick and leave it disorganized. I am having even more difficulty than usual answering the question “how are you?” (don’t get me started on “how was your weekend?”/”any plans for the weekend?”). It’s not that I don’t appreciate the nudges & check-ins, because I do! So much. I just don’t do pleasantries very well. My mind spins with thoughts like, how am I, how am I???? I’m reeling and I’m lamenting and I’m also angry, do you want to talk about the plastics industry or the patriarchy? No probably not, uh, is my bone broth done yet? And so I am sitting down right now to try and consolidate – defrag? lol – the past couple of months. And I am trying to keep it light-hearted. Just for now.

This summer, …

I made new Friends and reconnected with old Friends. This has been one of my favorite developments in the past couple of months. The most random people have walked (and re-walked) into my life and made me feel hopeful about Friendship.

I organized. I’m not big on organization and I’ve never watched Tidying Up on Netflix. I believe there’s no shame in mess and that dust & clutter are just symptoms of entropy and capitalism that I have long learned to accept. I don’t even make my bed (thanks hubby). But I do get into frenzies (it’s like being possessed by the cleaning spirit) and I went on a long organizing/cleaning frenzy sometime from June to July. It’s really more of an internal sense of chaos that I try to manage via deep-cleaning and decluttering. I purchased a hanging shoe organizer, a jewelry organizer, a make-up/bathroom sink organizer, a USB cable organizer, and went to town. I hung all my disappearing and randomly reappearing hair ties (millions of them!) on little command hooks. I donated an enormous bag of clothes to ThredUp. Threw out soap bars from hotel rooms from 2016 (ew). Found exactly 7 bottles of Walgreens Acme Treatment Gel, each with about 2ml of product left. You get the picture. This felt really good!

I started singing and playing music again. Last summer, a friend generously gifted us with a keyboard, and for the most part it remained untouched over the past year. If I had to dig deeper, I suppose this is because I stopped listening to & playing CCM (contemporary christian music) and didn’t actively try to evolve my jamming. But this summer I started playing all kinds of new music – from the Zelda soundtrack to musicals to Tay Tay (OH HEY QUARANTINE ALBUM).

I asked for help + followed my intuition about what I needed. TBH the first quarter or so of 2020 was horrible (and I don’t think it’s just me amirite?). My mental health was at an all-time low – imagine crawling around in a video game with a quarter of a heart for a few months. Therapy wasn’t helping and the amont of $$$ I was spending to cry for 50 minutes a week on Zoom was stressing me out. And I want to be a therapist! Ha. Well, after staying at rock bottom for a couple of weeks (and after making an abrupt exit from therapy), I started intuitively sensing what I needed to do. It was so eerie and cool. I would be lying in bed thinking about nothing and everything and then suddenly I would sit up and say to myself, that’s what I need to do. I need to reach out to her and be frighteningly honest about what I’m going through. I need to get help from this professional. I need to be brave and tackle this murky interpersonal conflict. I need to actually drink water. And so on. So I followed my intuition and .. it worked! I feel SO much healthier and happier physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. So I guess this summer I have learned something new about myself, that on some level I intuitively know what I need to do…and that acting on that intuition often takes GUTS.

I started at a new school program and finished my first semester (as of today. YAY!). This probably merits its own post, but I left seminary at the end of last year and transferred to a different Mental Health Counseling program in the area. There are so many thoughts and reasons behind this, but for now, I’ll just say that I am at peace with the journey I’m on.

That’s all!

A toolkit for surviving the deconstruction of my faith

*Deep breath*

I was raised in the evangelical Christian church. I don’t mean to brag, but I was pretty good at being Christian. In college, I was actively involved in multiple fellowships at the same time. Jesus was the king of my life. I thought I might become a cross-cultural missionary. And so when yours truly, having aspired and aimed her whole life to be a GCG (Good Christian Girl), married a Jesus-loving BCB (Basic Christian Boy) at the tender age of 24, I praised God, because now the rest of my life would unfold with blissful ease. I would basically live the American Dream (Christian Edition) without ever calling it that. Because isn’t that how the narrative goes?

(Answer: No. At least not for me. That is very much not how it has gone or is going or will foreseeably go.)

If you’ve spoken to me lately, you might know that I’ve spent the past two years or so completely deconstructing that narrative, and wrestling with some tough questions about the faith I grew up in and built my whole life upon. This post isn’t going to be about that journey (phew?), but I thought I would assemble a list of resources that have helped me out in this confusing, painful, and above all utterly lonesome season of my life. In the hopes that it might help someone, anyone. Because when I started questioning things, I realized that none of the “cultural artifacts” of my faith tradition had provided me with any space for mystery, uncertainty, or exploration. They all had resolute AMENS at the end of each chapter. I needed more space to move, more space to breathe.

As a disclaimer, I don’t endorse or agree with 100% of the content on this list. I’ve tried to consume stuff on different parts of the spectrum. So some of this might feature in a book study at a fairly conservative church. And some of it, err, might not.

(Side note – as grateful as I am for these heroes and artists, I am sad that not of single one of them is Asian 😢)

(Update 7/30 – I am actively adding to this list to include non-white voices. I’m still just getting starting in the work of decolonizing my theology/faith and disentangling God and the church from white supremacy, and would love any and all suggestions.)

But without further ado…

Books

Non-fiction – religion/spirituality

  • Rescuing Jesus, Deborah Jian Lee [link]
  • Falling Upward, Richard Rohr [link]
  • The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen, Lisa Gungor [link]
  • Inspired, Rachel Held Evans [link]
  • You Are Your Own: A Reckoning with the Religious Trauma of Evangelical Christianity, Jamie Lee Finch [link]
  • Every Moment Holy, Douglas McKelvey [link]
  • Stages of Faith, James Fowler [link, summary]
  • Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Pete Scazzero [link]
  • Boundaries, Henry Cloud & John Townsend [link]

Fiction/memoir

  • The Crosswicks Journal (series), Madeleine L’Engle [link]
  • Any fiction by Wendell Berry [link]
  • Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis [link]

Podcasts

  • Reclaiming My Theology, all of it [link]
  • Evolving Faith – this
  • Another Name for Every Thing – this, this, this
  • The Liturgists – particularly this
  • Unlocking Us (with Brene Brown) – second half of this especially

Music

  • Kings Kaleidoscope (Zeal, Beauty Between)
  • Gungor (Archives)
  • Andy Mineo (II: The Sword)
  • General permission to take a break from CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) and to wholeheartedly enjoy music that *gasp* isn’t directly praising Jesus

Miscellaneous

  • Wine
  • Zelda: Breath of the Wild + Expansion Pack
  • Enneagram
  • Centering Prayer

And while this journey has been very lonely, I have had some truly incredible people come alongside me – in little ways and big ways – to offer comfort, wisdom, and laughs. Some of them are pastors and seminary professors. Some of them don’t believe in God. One of them is my wonderful spouse. They are all priceless. They are the reason I am still showing up, still have hope, still love the light. To these wonderful human beings: thank you.

Manifesting Coffee Shops

I was struck by a fancy a few days ago. I would pretend that my living room was a deliciously cozy coffee shop. I would go on a date with my husband to said coffee shop and enjoy a novel but also nostalgic afternoon getting caught up with myself over a hot drink.

So that’s where I am now: I’m at a coffee shop…in my living room. I found a Spotify playlist called CAFE MUSIC ~STUDIO GHIBLI Jazz & Bossa~ and it is playing pleasantly over a mini speaker. The coffee machine just served me a rich mug of decaf coffee (no paper cups here!), and I feel pretty calm. It’s either brilliant or nutty.

That’s all I wanted to share 🙂

Musings on T. Swizzle

Our free month of netflix expires today. We’ve done a pretty lousy job of making the most of our trial, though we did finish whole season of Pandemic (which was great!). Last night, as I was trying to find something we could enjoy together, one of my suggestions was Taylor Swift’s documentary, Miss Americana. The other two members of the household swiftly (ha) yelled “NO”. “But it’s about her finding her political voice and stuff!” Still no. So I ended up watching it by myself last night.

Today, I’m not ashamed to call myself a Taylor fan — but sadly, this wasn’t always the case.

My first encounter with her music was in high school: a boy (!) had burned a CD copy (!!) of Fearless (2008!!!!) and surreptitiously passed it to me one morning before class. Listening to the album was a secret pleasure, especially since I didn’t feel that Taylor Swift’s music matched the weird Emo Indie Christian vibe I was trying to give off at the time.

The next album I listened to obsessively was 1989. This was when I was spending many hours a week driving an 11-year-old girl around the East Bay. I told myself I was playing Taylor’s music in the car for her sake, not mine, even though she definitely preferred Katy Perry. Again, I was ashamed and couldn’t really bring myself to admit that I enjoyed her music — plus, I was still trying to do the Emo Indie Christian thing.

It was somewhere between lifting weights to Reputation and running up and down Broad street to Lover that I started to feel okay owning my fandom. We also got to catch the Reputation tour in Toronto in 2018, surrounded by all of Canada’s 11-year-old girls and their parents. But I didn’t just like her music; I thought she was intelligent and honest and I respected that she was using her platform to speak out about sexual assault and to encourage young people to vote. I suspect that Taylor has two main fan clusters – those who were born when Fearless was released and those who were in high school 🙂 As someone who belongs to the latter camp, there is a strange and goosebumpy feeling around growing up in tandem with a celebrity and having them make music that continues to chronicle your evolving identity angst.

Miss Americana was thoroughly enjoyable – more than I had expected it to be. The main narrative focuses on how Taylor made the choice to become politically vocal after staying silent her whole career. And not just in tweets, but in her music, too: Only the Young is basically an anthem for disillusioned young people who’ve all but given up hope in our democracy. But there are many other aspects of Taylor’s life that we get to see as well: her songwriting process, her relationship with her parents (especially her mom), and her cat. For the first time, she talks explicitly about her struggles with body image and an eating disorder, which makes me want to give her a big hug – I think it’s incredibly brave. Obviously this is her documentary and so it’s going to paint her in a favorable light, but she does come off as an immensely likeable human in a way that would be very hard to fake.

Anyway, I thought she was likeable 🙂

I just wish I could get married again – I would’ve done our first dance to Lover and put a lot more TS in our dance music playlist. Though I’m not entirely sure the husband would agree 😍.

Helpful youtube videos

Did you know that YT had to stream videos exclusively in standard definition for a week because their servers were so overwhelmed by stay-at-homers? I can feel myself developing an unhealthy relationship with youtube during this time.

That said, there are some youtube videos / channels that have been immensely beneficial for my mental (+physical) health and overall sanity.

Relaxing Breath of the Wild Music With Rain

No exaggeration, I listen to this in the background every single day – from waking to sleeping. Unless I’m on a call or watching something else….or actually playing the game. It’s just SO GOOD.

I also listen to this one that has music from all Zelda games.

Hip Hop Fit

I do regular workout videos when I feel like it, but honestly lunges get stale after a while. Karl and I danced along to this “beginner-friendly” hip hop choreo video yesterday and had a ton of fun.

On a side note, it is annoyingly hard to find workout vidoes that don’t play on a viewer’s body image insecurities to motivate them. You know what I’m talking about. Let’s get shredded! Sweat off the pounds! Remember the body you came here to get! etc. Even if you started out feeling just fine about your body, you might subconsciously receive the message that you should be unhappy with your body and that you should want to change it. I generally like self.com for workouts that are body neutral and low in diet culture BS.

Last Week Tonight

For COVID-19 coverage, tragicomedy style.

Bob & Brad

They claim to be the two most famous physical therapists on the internet, lol. Lots of PT exercises, tips, and self-massage techniques to relieve anything from headaches to shoulder pain.

That’s it for now!

Spring

IMG_0856.JPG

The tree outside our home has decided to bloom.

The mystery I have been pondering this week: social media, influencers, and the ethics of consumer awareness. This is really bugging me, but I haven’t found a good way to think about it.

The book I have been reading this week: Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang. So far, a little uneven. I preferred his first collection better. I did like the title of one of the stories, Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.

Something I have been cooking this week: Poached eggs on toast. I realized I hadn’t poached an egg in over five years. They’re so good and the clean-up is minimal.

It’s been a dark, tumbling year. I know this blog was originally supposed to chronicle my career transition, but I feel sheepish and as though I have nothing to show for the past few years. I am often at a loss for words, even with my closest friends. I don’t know how to explain the things that have happened, the things I’m feeling, and where I am now. And I also don’t know if it all needs to be said – explained, rehashed, justified – over and over again.

I think I am learning to be at peace with that.

The way to become a lifestyle influencer is to embody all sorts of ideals that live just slightly underneath the surface of the conscious mind. Then you can sell anything. People will forfeit the opportunity to do interesting things in real life in order to watch you do mundane things on the internet. We are secretly desperate to move closer to the arbitrary ideal of any given place and time.

The way to become the opposite of a lifestyle influencer is to think critically about those ideals. It will sound tone-deaf, off-beat, and overall plain bad. It will be unpopular and you will most likely not sell things. But… there is no but. There is no real upside.

Now, I don’t know if this is something to brag about, but if I had to summarize the past few years, it would be like this: The Shattering Of Almost All My Ideals. And with the shattering, an incredible loss of identity and community. I’m left with nostalgia and memories of the past, but no real way to connect with those values and those people.

I’m sorry for being vague. I know this is not tumblr in the 2010s (though u gotta love tumblr in the 2010s). And thus I present my musings on the threshold of Spring 2020.

On a totally unrelated note, here is an incredible conversation I had with Karl early this morning (aka when I am having insomnia and he is having the opposite of insomnia):

R: Baby, what’s your favorite color?
K: *grunt*
R: Is it yellow? Mustard yellow?
K: mm-mm (no)
R: Is it green?
K: mm-mm (no)
R: What is it?
K: Hotdog.*

*Except we don’t really know if he said Hotdog or Hoddeok. The latter is plausible because we watched a video on how to pronounce Hoddeok the previous night.

**If you know Karl and want an audio recording, I have it.

Self-care in the time of COVID-19

How are you holding up?

I want to reflect on (and try to remember!) a few things that I’m trying to do to keep myself grounded in this weird and unsettling time. Caveat – this is just me, your mileage may vary :p

Self-Care List

  • Check in via text/call on all the people that I’ve been meaning to reach out to in a long time. It is a safe and easy gesture that can help to combat loneliness/isolation.
  • Get my blood pumping at least once a day – preferably via funny dancing.
  • Find ways to laugh – for me this has been 90% youtube and 10% spouse.
  • Cleaning has been extremely therapeutic. It’s embodied and rhythmic, it feels productive, and it’s satisfying to see things shine. Also, hygiene!
  • Acknowledge my anxiety and stress, rather than try to shame it away.
  • Jaw and head/neck massages.

What does self-care look like for you? <3

Urinary Tract Infections: Mistakes & Tips

It’s a typical weeknight and I’m about to fall asleep. “What’s on your mind?” asks the husband. We have some of our deepest conversations in this precious space between waking and sleeping.

“My urethra,” I reply. And then I get up to go to the bathroom even though I went about two and half minutes ago.

I have been on a long and winding journey in the past year in my battle against UTIs. Just like with everything else, there is a ton of misinformation floating around the internet. Even healthcare professionals can, in their haste, prescribe antibiotics that will wreck your gut flora and still fail to address your infection appropriately. As a disclaimer, if you are experiencing UTI symptoms (burning, urgency, frequency, cloudy urine, etc), I think you should 100% consult a medical professional and follow their directives. This is not medical advice. This post is solely intended to help any sufferer navigate their care process with eyes WIDE OPEN. Plus, hopefully you’ll find some practical tips to save you time and money because isn’t that what we all want??

Despite being rather proficient in scouring the internet for evidence-based research and recommendations, I’ve made several mistakes in my attempts to cure my UTIs. Hopefully you can avoid these mistakes, enjoy these tips, and get on the fast track to a symptom-free, happy, and healthy bladder!

Mistake: Diagnosing and treating without a urine culture

A UTI is an infection of the urinary tract that is caused by bacteria. 80% of UTIs are caused by the bacteria known as E. coli, but there are several other kinds of bacteria that can give rise to an infection as well.

It is important to know what type of bacteria you have, because different bacteria are susceptible to (i.e. can be attacked by) different types of antibiotics. The only way to find out what strain of bacteria is affecting your urinary tract is to get a urine culture (different from a urinalysis) done at a lab.

Moreover, antibiotics aren’t really a neutral medication that you want to be taking willy-nilly. They disrupt your gut (hello diarrhea!) and cause resistance when they are taken without need.

AZO test strip fail

The first couple times I suspected a UTI, I decided to purchase these UTI test strips made by a brand called AZO. Who wants to go to the doctor when you don’t have to? Unluckily for me, they have always been negative — even when I have definitely had an infection. The strips aren’t always reliable, and in my mind they aren’t worth the $10 because if you do have an infection you’ll want to go to the doctor, and if you don’t, it could be a false reading and you should still go to the doctor. What the negative test result ended up doing for me is delaying my trip to the doctor because I wasn’t convinced I had an infection.

Lesson learned: Don’t bother with at-home test strips.

Christmas Eve Telehealth

It was Christmas Eve, I was in the airport, and I couldn’t get a hold of my doctor. Our flight was delayed, and I had maddening UTI symptoms. What did I do? I took advantage of a tele-health service provided by my insurance company. For $30, I talked to a doctor on my laptop for four minutes and ended up with a prescription for an antibiotic named Bactrim.

Unfortunately, Bactrim did nothing for me. A few weeks later, when I was able to get a urine culture done, I found out that I had Group B Strep bacteria – which Bactrim isn’t generally very effective against (source). My doctor then started me on a course of amoxicillin (penicillin), which cleared the infection right up.

Tip: How to get a urine culture

Hopefully your physician will be able to do this for you. You might have to ask for it. But if you’re in the US and you simply can’t get a hold of your doctor soon enough (been there), you can order your own culture via Walk In Lab. You can go to any LabCorp or Quest Diagnostics location near you. The results should take a couple of days to come back, and will include information about what type of antibiotics are likely to be effective against the bacteria found (if any).

Mistake: Buying a $10 bottle of organic pure cranberry juice

The cranberry juice is still sitting in the fridge.

There’s no solid evidence that drinking a few shots (or even ‘chugging’) cranberry juice can help either flush out or prevent a UTI.

However, there is some good science and anecdotal evidence to suggest that a compound found in cranberries called D-Mannose can be effective for both treating and preventing UTIs — wow! Even the New York Times ran a piece about UTIs and mentioned D-Mannose. Could it be true?

Side note: D-Mannose is not the same as Cranberry. If you go to your pharmacy, you might see bottles labeled ‘Cranberry’ or ‘Cranberry Extract’ — you can still try them, but they aren’t as potent.

Mistake: Buying D-Mannose

A few weeks ago, I went to see a urologist because my infections kept recurring. She recommended taking 1,000mg of D-Mannose a day. Eager to supplement my infections away, I purchased a ton of D-Mannose powder from vitacost and started dutifully dissolving suspicious-looking white powder in my morning glass of H2O.

I was reluctant to admit it, but it didn’t help.

Tip: D-Mannose is the miracle cure – but only for some

Back to the internet. My research told me that D-Mannose was only effective against E. coli bacteria (source), which I have never had in my urine. Thanks, urologist.

If you do find that you have E. coli bacteria in your culture, look into pure D-Mannose powder. Some people say that the powder is more effective than the pill form, though there aren’t studies to back this claim up.

Gram positive vs. gram negative

The Gram classification of bacteria (positive vs negative) tells you what kind of cell wall structure the bacteria have. E. coli is classified as a gram negative bacteria, whereas the type of bacteria I had – Group B Streptococcus – is classified as a gram positive bacteria. This distinction is part of the reason why some treatments are effective with some types of bacteria and ineffective with others.

Since, D-Mannose is ineffective in the treatment of gram-positive bacteria, what am I supposed to do???

Potential Tip: Lauricidin/monolaurin for other forms of bacteria?

I haven’t tried this yet (still on its way), but some studies have shown that Monolaurin, a compound found in coconut, has anti-fungal and antibacterial properties that can effectively work against gram-positive bacteria (source, source). Coconut oil has been touted as a home remedy for UTIs, but honestly, you’d have to consume nearly a whole jar to get the equivalent of one serving of monolaurin. The brand that was recommended is called Lauricidin.

Potential Tip: Invest in a good probiotic?

I have no idea if taking a probiotic has helped me with my UTIs, but I think it’s important, especially with all the antibiotics I’ve taken. Some people say to avoid taking the probiotic and the antibiotic within an hour of each other so they don’t ‘cancel each other out’. There’s some controversy about whether probiotics need to be refrigerated, so I just err on the side of caution and purchase Garden of Life Raw Probiotics – Vaginal Care which comes with an ice pack.

There’s evidence that two probiotic strains are particularly beneficial for UTIs: Lactobacillus rhamnosus and L. reuteri (source).

Tip: Don’t overthink hygiene

More than 50% of women will get a UTI at some point in their lives.

You can have excellent personal hygiene and get UTIs all the time. You can have terrible hygiene and never get UTIs. Of course, use your common sense and please wipe from front to back. However, both my urologist and the internets agree that showering too frequently and washing down there too often (especially with soap) can actually be counterproductive (source). This is because soap can get rid of your body’s natural micro-organisms that help your body to defend itself against bad bacteria.

Tip: Take a deep breath

Having recurrent episodes of urinary tract infections has been very stressful.

When I have an active infection, I’m anxious all the time about whether and when I’ll be able to use the restroom. This makes being out in public or being at work very difficult. Some nights I am so uncomfortable that I start crying out of frustration. When I don’t have an active infection, I am always on the lookout for any signs of a UTI.

My urologist has suggested (and I think she’s right) that anxiety and stress can contribute to UTI-like symptoms, especially a sense of urgency.

So if you have a UTI and are stressed out about it, hi five. Take a deep breath. Identify one small step you can take towards better health, and focus on that.

Tip: Maybe it’s your pelvic floor muscles

At some point a few months ago I noticed how tight my pelvic floor muscles were feeling. No surprises there — I was constantly clenching and guarding against having to pee. (I have my yoga training to thank for helping me with my pelvic floor awareness). As it turns out, UTIs can really wear your pelvic floor muscles out, which can in turn mimic symptoms of a UTI (source). I spent some time working with a pelvic floor physical therapist, who taught me some useful breathing and relaxation exercises.

The end…not

This isn’t one of those stories that ends with “…and I have been UTI free for five years now!”. I’m still in the thick of it, but I feel like I have learned a lot (and also spent a lot of money). I’m extremely grateful that I have access to healthcare and the internet and can get fancy supplements shipped to me.

Here’s hoping that I’ll be writing a post in 5 years that will declare me UTI-free.