Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Featured Client Heather Perry - Pinned, Pickled and Twisted!

Pinned, Pickled and Twisted.

So where to begin with this title, well lets start with the first two.  I am a Biology PhD candidate at the University of North Texas.  My research focus is aquatic entomology and stream ecology, so in other words I spend a lot of my work life outside hiking creeks and collecting insects, and currently those insects are caddisflies. I have had an inordinate fondness for insects and other critters since I could walk.  I grew up in southwest Louisiana between a river and a swamp, so collecting things with 6 legs was pretty easy.  Not surprising I grew up as a tom boy, if an insect wasn’t in my hand you can bet it was a frog, snake, turtle or some other unfortunate animal that I was able to run down or trap.  I spent A LOT of time fishing with my Dad, he had retired from the Navy before my brother or I were born and worked off shore in Africa or South America for most of my life. When he was home (he did 28-day rotations) we attended “church” down at the river.  It was just like church, sit down, shut up and pray you caught something. If it was a slow day at church I was allowed to run around and that is where the fascination with insects started.  I was a pretty scrawny kid, often mistaken for a boy.  My Mom insisted that I have a short, sensible hair cut because I always came home covered in tree parts, dirt, mud or animal slime (don’t rub slug slime in your hair ever!!).  Even into early adult hood I never exercised, ate whatever I wanted and it never mattered. In order to make sense of how I ended up at Twisted Bodies I need to explain some things about my job and how I got into this weird, strange career path.
After I graduated high school, I knew a few things 1) I LOVED insects, 2) I liked animals with fur, 3) my other obsession was sharks – so I had a decision to make, what was going to be my major.  I started volunteering at a local vet clinic in order to get an idea if vet school was for me.  I really enjoyed being a vet tech and did it for 7 years as an undergrad and post graduation.  I found out I am a better nurse than I would have ever been as a doctor.  Marine Biology was out because I am claustrophobic and lets face it sharks can eat you.
During my undergrad I met one of the two men who would forever change the direction of my life.  I have never been accused of being very tactful or patient and I pissed off the Biology secretary trying to find an advisor so I could drop a class.  In her effort to strap me with a very crude professor she did me the biggest favor of my undergrad career.  I was introduced to James D. Lane, PhD. – he was the epitome of a dirty, old man – physically and mentally.  He was a mammologist and required me to take his Evolution, Vertebrate Zoology and Mammology courses.  Now up until this I was a pretty good student, made A’s & B’s, school never really required that much of my time.  Boy, did this man show me what big girl pants look like.  His Vertebrate Zoology course was a humbling experience, one that still stings to this day.  The first exam was on fish; we were allowed to have all the notes, books, teddy bears etc. that we could carry during the exam.  Not that any of that would have ever mattered, this test separated your soul from your body.  When we got back our exams he announced that if you made a 65 or lower you needed to drop, he walked over to me put his hands on my shoulders and said Perry come to my office.  I looked at my paper and I had 68%, I was devastated – remember church earlier? Yeah, I know fish, but I hadn’t learned juvenile fish and that was what the test was primarily.  I went into his office, the first of many Lane-Perry pep talks.  This is where this man told me a few things that have followed me my entire life: 1) you are smarter than everyone in that class, you know this stuff, 2) I can’t teach you to “see” characteristics, that is for you to figure out, 3) Field Biology isn’t for pussies, and most men think it is a career that only males can do. So if you go down this path, you will have to be twice as smart, carry double the weight and only get half the credit.  You up for that? Challenge accepted.  The following semester he taught Mammology, which is the last class he ever taught.  Dr. Lane retired in 1996 and I moved to Texas where I came across UNT and a class listed in the catalogue as Insect Biology.

I had to wait a year to get residency here in Texas for in state tuition, but in the Fall of 1998 I met the other man who would alter the course of my life, Dr. James Kennedy.  First day of class this unassuming, salt-n-pepper haired man with a 70’s mustache comes in.  Then he starts talking about insects and zen – I barely remember that first lecture because I left on cloud nine realizing I had found my tribe.  Dr. Kennedy is a lot like Dr. Lane, he challenges me but he is a lot subtler about it.  He has mastered the Jedi Mind Trick and the Disappointed Father routine – both work equally well on me.  After finishing up my undergrad Kennedy tried to get me to go straight into a Master’s program but I opted to teach high school instead.  I quickly realized that was not for me.  So I started a Master’s degree with Kennedy in 2001. 
Let me digress a bit, I started my period when I was 13.  That river I fished out of every summer was downstream from 7 refineries where things like plasticizers are produced.  Things like phthalates and dioxins are byproducts and released into the local body of water, they are estrogen mimics.  The problem with these things is that they bio-accumulate and move up the food chain (i.e. me).  At the age of 15, I started having lots of pain and heavy bleeding associated with my periods.  I was drug to several doctors, all who said it was cramping and it would sort itself out with age – um – NO.  I never had a normal period, finally when I was starting my undergrad I went to a gynecologist who put me on birth control.  That helped out with the frequency and duration of my cycles but never addressed the pain associated with my periods.  After moving to Denton and having more issues I found a nurse practitioner who spent 2 hours with me going over my period history.  She tentatively diagnosed me with endometriosis, and at the age of 25 I had my first surgery of 6 to rid my body of this unwanted, rogue tissue.
So back to Kennedy, I am in grad school its 2002 and I am going in for my 3rd surgery, and my worst nightmare happened.  When you have laproscopic surgery they use landmarks to place large metal rods in your abdomen.  Well, my landmarks aren’t in the correct spot, well that is my aorta is not where it should be.  During the placement of one of these rods the artery to my lower colon was nicked.  My doctor was great, he called in a surgeon and neither could figure out where all the bleeding was coming from so they cut open my abdomen and ran my intestines to find this bleeder.  I spent 5 days in the hospital not eating, well my body was eating and the only thing I had were the muscles I had spent 28 years developing.  I lost over 20 pounds in the hospital and prior to this had been pretty actively rock climbing with Jeff (now the husband).  I should make a disclaimer here as well, Jeff is – well he’s Jeff.  I am divorced and when I started dating again I made a list of the right guy for me.  I wanted a mountain man, someone who could chop down a tree and build a house, and he had to like mustard.  There were a few other things but those were the top three.  Jeff lived in the mountains for three years with no electricity or running water when he worked for the New Mexico Game and Fish Dept, he has been rock climbing for over two decades and did custom wood working since he was in high school. He is the truly the nicest, most caring person I have ever met. He is like Buddah, and I possess none of those qualities, unless you are a small furry creature. If you have to spend a week in the hospital and then weeks recovering at home, you want someone like Jeff.  He has literally carried my water (catheter bag), shaved my legs, slept in a hospital room or ICU room more nights than he should have, cleaned up projectile vomit, and laughed at me while I was crying over mayonnaise. 

Jesus, I am terrible at non-science writing. OK so back to 2002, that surgery knocked me on my ass.  My other surgeries I bounce back after about 7 days.  This one took its toll on my body and my mind.  All that never having to work at being in shape was changing; I wasn’t able to do any physical activity for 6 months while my abdominal muscles healed.  Six-months I got on the floor to do my first sit up and promptly ran into the bathroom and puked.  It was another three months before I could do one. Nearly a year had gone by and I had not been able to do anything.  That made me pretty complacent with working out.  But my career choice, working outside had kept me in walking/hiking shape somewhat.  I had never worked out before so I gave up on trying before I even got started.  I turned 30 during my Master’s program and I started to notice the body changes, no one tells you about this stuff.  I weighed the same, but 5-8 pounds had moved around on my body so things didn’t fit quite the same anymore.  We moved to Austin and I started working for the City of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department.  I was spending a lot of time outside, sweating and hiking around.  So if there was a little bit of pudge on my stomach I wasn’t all that worried about it.
We decided to quit our jobs and head back to grad school in 2010.  So now I am rapidly approaching 40, and the body and mind are not happy about it.  Well, let me re-phrase, I am fine with my age. I would rather be 40, now 42, than 21 again.  I might miss my 21-year-old body, but dear Lord that girl was stupid.  In February of 2010 my Dad had been diagnosed with a brain tumor that had metastasized from lung cancer and he had surgery to remove it.  During all of this I started to gain weight and looked like I was 4 months pregnant.  I thought it was stress of taking care of my Dad, quitting my job, moving, starting school etc.  Nope – endometriosis always has a way of rearing its ugly head. I ended up in the ER with extreme abdominal pain, and sent away with a diagnosis of cysts and “abdominal fluid” that I needed to have looked at.  Um, I thought that is why I was at the ER.  So I ended up coming up to Denton to see my gynecologist who did my 2002 surgery, good thing I did.  I had emergency surgery because that fluid was blood; I had internal bleeding from a hemorrhagic cyst that had apparently been going on for several months.  That surgery was 3 days before my birthday, and my Dad had taken a turn for the worse and had a feeding tube put in that same day.  My Dad passed away a week before we started school.  All of this took its toll on my physical and mental health, and eating comfort food was how I was dealing with all the stress. I don’t like chocolate, but cake, pie, scones – OMG I love scones – cookies, pile that stuff on. And pile it one my waist it did.  
If you are familiar with grad school, you know it is a lot sitting, being sessile.  And for me that also includes a lot of sitting at a microscope identifying pinned or pickled insects.  So I was getting that belly tire and I started to feel fat. That feeling of a sausage being squeezed into a latex suit, I was uncomfortable in my own skin.  My body and my mind were not where I wanted to be.  I tried swimming, even running (God I hate running) but nothing was motivating me.  Jeff was being great, telling me I wasn’t fat that I was beautiful all the things a good husband does.  But I saw my naked self in the mirror every time I took a shower, and I am good with my all my scars, and my boobs that are being destroyed by gravity. I can’t control all of that, but I decided that I control what the rest of me looks like.  After being so active with my other jobs (I use to pick up dogs that out weighed me from a dead lift with no problem), the fact that I was having a hard time lifting or moving things was the last straw. 
So I started looking into places to work out, and I had a friend who was going to Twisted Bodies and she loved it.  I decided to go check it out, and I showed up one day and met Khristen right as she was beginning a private lesson.  She was really great, showed me around and told me a little bit about the studio.  I figured I would give it a try; classes were small so I hoped that I would get over the being embarrassed or lost feeling I got at other gyms.  First week I took two classes, and I told myself get through the first month and decide if it is for you.  I was so sore after those essential reformer classes; I knew I had lost my damn mind.  Khristen was so nice and encouraging even when my inner white girl was rearing her ugly head with all that coordination stuff.  Then after a few months I noticed it, I had muscles, not just muscles but muscles in places I had never had them.  I would come home and tell Jeff, feel my leg, or look at my biceps.  This is the FIRST EVER workout routine I have ever stuck with.  I love the small classes, and that I work out with ladies (and the occasional gentleman) who are all at different levels from me and of all ages.  I look at the younger girls and think I wish I had access to this when I was their age, and I look at the older ladies and think they are kicking ass and I hope to be as gracious as them when I get there. Then it happened, Khristen told me I should move up to the intermediate reformer class – I got butterflies in my stomach and a little nauseous – Carissa taught those classes.  I had heard the stories, read other blogs where ladies had cried after her barre classes – Jesus was I ready for that? I eased my way into to Intermediate with Meredith; I love her OCD moments they make me focus on my technique and where my body is at in space.  I finally decided that I was going to take a Carissa class, whoa – I am usually sore after an intense class.  But holy, bejesus – two days and several Epsom salt soaks I can recover from one of her classes.  Each one of the instructors I have had at Twisted Bodies are fantastic, and this has truly been a journey of body and mind for me.  I may not ever have the body that I use to have but I am happy with the one I have now.  I mentally and physically stronger than I have ever been, and I have found a workout routine that I enjoy; in fact it is hard for me to call it working out.  I still have challenging days, and there are positions I have not mastered yet, but I will.

This last year has been a Twisted one and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Favorite indulgence- Baths or Swimming

Favorite movie- Boondock Saints & Jaws (I saw it when I was 3 in the theater).  I am a little nutty about Jurassic Park and Harry Potter as well.

Favorite Twisted Class- Reformer Classes & Jump Board

Hidden talent- I am a knitter.  I started about 7 years ago and I found out I am really good at this.  I was at a Mardi Gras party in 2006 where there was a Palm Reader.  This guy told you all kinds of stuff just looking at your hands, how flexible you were, patient etc.  He looked at my creative line and said I would find my creative outlet about mid-life. Well I was already in my early 30’s, and I thought oh crap this better hurry up.  Two ladies at my City of Austin job were knitters and I asked them to teach me to knit.  I started February 2008 and it made sense, I already use both my hands when I am doing microscope work so it wasn’t weird having to learn to use them at the same time.  I love matching colors together and repetitive work is really good for me especially if I am at home watching tv or a movie with Jeff.  I can’t sit still, so I usually watch part of a movie between laundry, cooking or cleaning. This solved two problems 1) gifts and 2) annoying him.  It has been hard to knit during grad school, I can’t write or work at the scope and knit at the same time.  But I do have a pretty hefty stash of really nice yarn that will be on the needles as soon as I graduate.

What she does when life gets stressful? Knit or walk Lily (my chiweenie)

Dream vacation- Scotland – I lived there as a kid and it is where I truly believe I belong.  When you are little you imprint where you are from and I was there at that age.  For sure I don’t belong in the south.  But after Scotland it would be Russia. I took a Russian History class in college and my professor had lived in Romania for several years.  It was the most fascinating class I have taken that was not in the sciences. 

Historical figure she most identifies with- Okay this one is weird, not because of your question but my answer.  I am not super into history, and I would be remiss in going with some female scientist and saying that she inspired me.  So here it goes, my Grandmother.  My Dad’s Mom was born in 1897, raised 7 kids and was one hell of a lady.  I was scared shitless of this woman.  She spoke French, as did my Dad, you always knew you were in trouble when she started yelling at your in another language.  My Grandfather died when I was 3, so I never knew him, I also never knew my mother’s parents – but Eugenie was a lady of few words and always had a stern look on her face.  She was not the cuddly grandmother most people have, and in fact I am sure she wasn’t that impressed with her grandkids, there were 27 of us and my brother and I were the youngest.  I remember meeting her for the first time when I was 7, right after we moved back from Scotland. I sounded funny and so did she.  She would cook large meals for the holidays and there was always a house and yard full of people.  I was the weird kid, collecting bugs, talking about Darwin and Jacques Cousteau – I am pretty sure she had no idea what to make of me.  But one day she taught me how to play solitaire, and that is where we bonded.  No words, just the two of us playing double solitaire.  My grandmother died when I was 14, it was the first person I knew that died. At her funeral my aunts came over and were talking to me and they told me that she talked about me all the time.  How I was her little scientist, and that she was really proud of me for being so independent.  As I got older my Dad often commented on how much I am like her and the older I get the more I understand her and why she was the way she was.  She was a no bullshit kind of lady; she was the kind of person who would have helped you hide a body.  A lot can be said without words over a game of solitaire. I hope to be half the lady she was one day.

If there were a soundtrack to her life- Running water, hanging by a stream listening to the hum of nature, nothing is better. If you want music, then my theme song is Gangsta’s Paradise. I am the whitest girl ever, but this song comes on and I think I am a member of NWA.

Beauty product she can’t live without- This is probably the hardest question on here.  I use soap. I am for sure a no frills kind of gal, I think I have had my toenails painted 3-4 times in my entire life.  But if I had to go with one thing that is with me on every camping trip that would be Balmex, this stuff has saved my ass, literally.  Hike for 10 miles with 60 pounds on your back, there are lots of sweaty, chaffed parts of your body. This stuff makes the bum feel so much better.  Oh and chapstick, I live with at least 10 at all times, my favorite currently is Portland Beeswax Chapstick at the Natural Grocer.

Twisted Client She is most inspired by, and why- Wow – I am a terrible person; I don’t do well with names.  If I am not in a class for several months with you then it escapes me. But I would have to go with Eric.  First time I saw Eric, he had on his RoboCop leg gear. I talked to him about them; I am fascinated with medical gear for injuries and these are pretty cool looking.  He told me he was a cyclist and had bad knees from racing.  Not just that he was there working out post injury but that he was there working out with women in a pink room.  Often times we would get done and he would comment how he was impressed that the ladies were doing things he was having difficulty doing.  I guess working in a male dominated field makes me notice when a man acknowledges that a woman is doing something they are struggling with and I appreciate it. He is also a fly fisherman and we talked caddisflies one day. But there is also Linda (I think I got her name right), petite dark haired lady. I love her, she is so pleasant and she makes me happy like a warm sun shiny day.

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