The phoneless retreat for the broken hearted

At breakup bootcamp, the first house rule is to digitally detox. No phones are allowed.

The intimate gatherings, which average about 14 people per event, are set up to help newly single women “rewire their hearts.” Retreats are held several times a year in upstate New York and Malibu, California.

Launched in 2017, Renew founder Amy Chan’s mission is to help women mend their hearts through a mix of spirituality and science. A team of all female experts, from psychologists and behavioral scientists to energy healers, conduct group and one-on-one sessions.

Also on site: a chef to cook nutritious meals, and zen activities such as alpaca petting, yoga and meditation.

It may sound like a tall order to help people move on from former relationships in one weekend, but Chan said the goal is to teach attendees how behavior may assist or detract from that process.

“After a breakup, some people go into inspector gadget mode trying to find clues and information to fill an insatiable void,” said Chan, a relationship writer and researcher turned entrepreneur. ” But it’s a mental trap. When constantly checking an ex’s Instagram, instead of neural pathways weakening, you’re just strengthening the old bonds.”

“No digital devices are seen,” she said.

On average, adults are spending two hours and 51 minutes on their smartphone every day. Digital connections, like a partner returning a text message or sending an emoji, result in dopamine boosts, and it makes for complications when it comes to severing ties.

“We’re in withdrawal from that dopamine shot,” said Dr. Naomi Arbit, who specializes in positive psychology.

Renew works with experts like Arbit to help women on the retreats heal. She is focused on teaching the women self-compassion.

According to Arbit, the best way to stop the cycle of seeking dopamine boosts from an ex is to “not continually revisit those pathways.”

Chan came up with the concept for Renew after working through her own breakup about five years ago. Since launching the retreats, it has attracted attendees ranging from women in their mid 20s to their 60s.

The retreat costs between $1,500 and $3,000 (pricing varies based on single or shared rooms). Chan plans to launch a scholarship application program for future retreats to make one slot available each time.

SelfHackathon founder Patrycja Slawuta, another expert at Renew, said that eliminating phone usage during the retreat is important to become present with feelings.

“Lack of technology allows attendees to process their emotions and form meaning,” said Slawuta. “[During my session], deeply-held sadness, fear, and aggression started popping up for women.”

Slawuta said Facebook and Instagram are such addictive platforms because “they speak to the primal need of belonging.” Renew can provide an alternative form of connection and a sense of belonging away from the phone, Slawuta added.

“People can have epiphany moments when they go through a profound experience and find the inspiration and commitment to change their lives going forward,” said Arbit. “That’s the hope.”

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‘I looked at it, and it was moving’: Worm in woman’s eye leads to unique discovery

Imagine looking into your irritated eye for a pesky eyelash, only to pull out a translucent, wiggling worm nearly a half inch long.

“I looked at it, and it was moving,” recalled 28-year-old Abby Beckley of Grants Pass, Oregon. “And then it died within about five seconds.”

Now, imagine doing that not once but 14 times.

That’s what Beckley endured over a three-week period in August 2016. Her story, published Monday as a case report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a historic one:

“This is only the 11th time a person has been infected by eye worms in North America, ” explained lead author Richard Bradbury, who is the team lead for the CDC’s Parasite Diagnostics and Biology Laboratory. “But what was really exciting it that it is a new species that has never infected people before. It’s a cattle worm that somehow jumped into a human.”

A summer adventure

Growing up on a ranch in Brookings, Oregon, surrounded by cattle and horses, Beckley loved the outdoors. She also had a burning desire to travel. So, in July 2016, she jumped at a chance to combine the two by working on a commercial salmon fishing boat in Craig, Alaska. It was only a couple of weeks into the job that the symptoms started.

“My left eye just got really irritated and red, and my eyelid was droopy,” Beckley remembered. “I was getting migraines too, and I was like, ‘What is going on?’ “

She’d been suffering for five days when the ship finally returned to port. Beckley found a good mirror and looked closely into her eye, never expecting what she would find.

“I pulled down the bottom of my eye and noticed that my skin looked weird there,” Beckley said. “So I put my fingers in with a sort of a plucking motion, and a worm came out!

“I was just in shock,” she said. “I ran into my crewmate Allison’s room, and I said, ‘I need you to see this! I just pulled a worm out of my eye!’ “

Believing it to be a salmon worm, the women feverishly searched for similar cases on the internet but could find nothing. Visits to a local doctor and ophthalmologist also proved fruitless.

“They said they had never seen anything like this,” Beckley said, adding that during that time, she pulled another four worms from her eye. “And then I could see them moving across my eye at that point, too. There were so many.”

Worried family and friends encouraged her to return home and set up an appointment at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. She went directly there from the airport.

“There were several doctors examining my eye, and at first, they were a bit skeptical, because who comes in and claims they have a worm in their eye?” Beckley remembered. “I am thinking to myself, ‘Worms, please show up,’ because sometimes they would go behind my eye and under the eyelid, and you couldn’t see or feel them anymore.”

Luckily, she says, after a half-hour, the worms made an appearance.

“I felt one squiggle across my eye, and I told the doctors, ‘You need to look right now!’ ” Beckley said. “I’ll never forget the expression on their faces as they saw it move across my eye.”

‘I tried not to go to the darkest place’

While some of the worms Beckley removed were sent off to the CDC for identification, she frequently visited the university for vision tests and eye washes designed to flush out additional worms. Although her vision remained fine, the flushes were unsuccessful.

“I just kept pulling the worms out of my eye at home, but when I went to the office, they would flush, and nothing would come out,” Beckley said. “They were trying to figure out what to do because there was no road map, no protocol for this.”

The worst part, she says, was wondering what the worms might do to her body, “so close to my brain and eyes.”

“I tried not go to the darkest place, like, are these worms going to paralyze my face or infect my brain or impact my vision?” she said. When a doctor explained that the worms would remain on the surface of her eye, she calmed down.

“I was definitely in distress, for sure, but I also started making jokes, because I had to, to deal with it,” Beckley said. “It’s so gross to think about, but it was happening to me.”

‘Fascinating ecological niche’

Parasitic eye worms are common among dogs, cats, pigs, sheep, goats, cattle and wild carnivores like foxes and wolves. The larvae are transmitted by female “face flies” that feed on the animal’s eye secretions.

“Tears are full of proteins of various kinds, so the flies get a lot of nourishment from those tears,” explained Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University’s Division of Infectious Diseases, who was not involved in Beckley’s case. “For a scientist, it’s a fascinating ecological niche.”

The worm larvae grow into adulthood and reproduce between the eye and the eyelid. Their offspring leave the host’s body via more secretions from the inflamed eye, which the flies ingest, completing the life cycle.

“The early-stage larvae need to go through the fly’s digestive system to be able to develop to a more advanced stage to infect another host,” Bradbury explained. “It’s a complicated life cycle.”

Veterinarians treat the infection in pets and livestock with the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin. But in untreated animals, Bradbury says, the worms can live and reproduce up to 30 months, leading to vision loss or even blindness.

People infected by the parasite typically don’t suffer that fate, because, like Beckley, they can remove the worms from their eyes.

Unraveling a medical mystery

When the worms from Beckley’s eye arrived at the CDC’s diagnostic lab, scientists were expecting to find a species of the Thelazia parasite called californiensis. That’s what infected the eyes of the 10 cases found in the US: nine from California and one from Utah.

“It’s an eye worm that often infects dogs and very occasionally affects humans,” the CDC’s Bradbury explained. “Another type of eye worm called callipaeda, found in Asia and Europe, has also infected people, but it’s also rare, with only about 163 reported cases in the world.”

Most cases of human infection around the world occur in poor, rural communities among the very young and elderly, who may be less able to keep flies from their face. But not always. In 2015, a 21-year-old South Korean soldier developed eye worms from the Asian strain, callipaeda, after multiple brief contacts with a dog in his father’s factory.

“He recalled nothing abnormal about the dog,” said Kyungmin Huh, a South Korean doctor who wrote about the case in the New England Journal of Medicine. “But I should note that previous reports show that patients cannot remember how it was transmitted in the majority of cases.”

Beckley has no memory of any fly landing close to or in her eye.

“It makes me curious if there was someone else who had this happen but wasn’t seen by a doctor,” she mused. “The only reason that I knew the cause is that I physically pulled one out of my eye.”

Schaffner agreed: “Dollars to doughnuts, there were people in the past that had these infections but were never specifically diagnosed. Here, we have someone who developed this unusual infection, and the physicians were interested enough to send the materials to the CDC, where they have extraordinary diagnostic abilities.”

Without that expertise, says Schaffner, investigators may have never noticed the small differences in the anatomy of the worms from Beckley’s eye.

“Something was strange about it,” Bradbury said, “and we had to go digging to find out what it was. I finally found the microscopic pictures I needed to find the exact species in a paper written in German in 1928.”

Bradbury says the species, Thelazia gulosa, is unique to cattle and has never before been seen in a human eye. That means Beckley was infected by cattle near her home, before she left for Alaska.

“It’s possible that there are cases that were misdiagnosed as another species of the worm, californiensis, because people just assume that it will be,” Bradbury said. “But through our work, we were able to understand that a brand-new species can now infect people who are around cattle.”

The end of a nightmare

Beckley was not treated with anti-parasitic medicine because doctors were worried that a dead worm might remain in her eye, possibly causing scarring. Instead, she was told to continue to monitor her eyes and remove any worms she found. How did she handle the uncertainty?

“You can go into ‘Poor me, Oh, my God, I’m going to let this destroy me,’ or you can just think, ‘OK, these are worms, and now I know the life cycle, and I know that they will die, and they are just sharing space,’ ” she said. “Doesn’t mean I wasn’t grossed out! It doesn’t mean I wasn’t angry! But I would try to self-soothe and put it in perspective.”

Twenty days after pulling the first worm from her eye, Beckley discovered the final wiggling worm. Once that was out, her ordeal was over. She knows because she’s not found another since. Her vision remains good, with no other complications.

But why go public with her story?

“Part of the reason I’m speaking out is that I had wished I could find one article or source that would reassure me this happened to someone else and they are fine,” Beckley said. “If this does happen again, I’m hoping my story will be out there for the next person to find.”

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Teen possibly contracted HIV after being sexually assaulted at high school, family says

A 14-year-old girl from Miami Gardens is waiting to see whether she contracted HIV after she said she was sexually assaulted by several boys who attended the same school as her.

The incidents at Miami Carol City Senior High School happened last fall on separate occasions, according to the student.

The teen told Local 10 News that she had intercourse and oral sex in a school bathroom during school hours with three teenage boys. 

In two of the incidents, the girl said she felt pressured into the act and made it clear she was uncomfortable. 

“He was holding onto my sweater really tight and I was trying to leave to get back to class, and he kind of just pulled me into the restroom,” the teen said. 

The teen’s mother said the girl told a teacher about the incident and described how she was led into a bathroom stall and cried about what happened. 

“I was so shocked and I was kind of traumatized, and I was scared in that moment that when I was in the restroom with him, I was never going to leave,” the girl said. 

A few weeks after the last encounter, the mother said investigators told her that one of the boy’s relatives came forward and said he was HIV positive — a claim the boy’s family later took back. 

“She also told me that this kid was sexually active around 12, 13 years old, so there could more girls out there that don’t know they are infected,” the girl’s mother said. 

School police would not comment about the incident.

In statement, a representative from the Miami-Dade County Public Schools said, “School district administrators, in conjunction with Miami-Dade Schools Police, are thoroughly investigating. 

“Information regarding the case has been provided to the State Attorney’s Office, as well as the Department of Children and Families (DCF).  At this time, since this is still an ongoing investigation, we cannot provide further comment.”

The teen’s mother said she wants justice for her daughter.

“I hope this doesn’t happen to any other girl or guy. It’s bad. I hope they get arrested,” she said.  

The teen was put on medication to try and prevent the infection. 

Local 10 News was told that the three students were suspended, but the school district would not comment on the suspension. The teen has since withdrawn from the school. 

The State Attorney’s Office has the case and will decide whether charges will be filed.    

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Watching a baby octopus being born is mesmerizing

The miracle of life is a wondrous thing and this video of a baby octopus being born is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center welcomed the eight-armed baby to the world on Tuesday afternoon. The next day, adoring fans flocked to Twitter to see the grand birth of the Caribbean reef octopus in a 10-second video.

The baby octopus changes from a translucent white to a brownish color as it breaks from its egg sac. The explanation is a reasonable one — being born can be stressful.

Upon hatching, the stress of being born can cause the octopus’ chromatophores, or sacs that contain pigment, to fire.

“Our team believes it could have been either the stress of the hatch that caused them to fire or that it may have been related to the immediate instinct to camouflage for protection,” explained Matthew Klepeisz, the public relations manager for the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center.

The color change is a natural behavior for the octopus.

“The octopus has specialized muscles that use electrical pulses to open and close the sacs allowing the octopus to camouflage itself,” said Julie Levans, senior curator of fishes, invertebrates and herpetology.

While this birth went smoothly, there was a point in the process where things didn’t look so rosy.

The mother octopus was still in her exhibit when the egg bundle fell, possibly while massaging her eggs, Klepeisz said. The team was able to recover it safely.

The baby featured in the video is doing well. The aquarium has yet to name the octopus. It’s species is called octopus briareus, in case you were wondering.

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Saudi women join workforce as country reforms

Not many women in Saudi Arabia have day similar to that of Manal Ghazwan and her two colleagues.

Ghazwan, 30, who has a master’s degree in food safety management, is the manager of a Starbucks branch located in the Riyadh head office of Alshaya Company, which operates the franchise of the American brand in the Middle East.

“Both the girls in my team have bachelor’s degrees, but they were drawn to the challenge and opportunity that working for a multinational company like Starbucks offers,” Ghazwan says.

They are among the trendsetting Saudis moving away from lucrative government jobs to compete for posts in the private sector, and challenging gender roles along the way.

“Implicit” acceptance of gender mixing

For years labor laws in Saudi Arabia prevented gender mixing in the workplace. But Ghazwan and her team are unique, in that they serve a clientele of both men and women.

“Lately, there has been an implicit and unofficial acceptance of gender mixing in the work environment here,” says Bader Aljalajel, who opened his coffee shop, 12 Cups, in one of Riyadh’s new glitzy boulevards in 2016.

The shop is manned by five male Saudi baristas and some expats. Aljalajel now plans to open a second shop, this time staffed by female baristas.

“Women who sent us their applications know that they will deal with men at work,” says Aljalajel. “Those who have an issue with that will become the black sheep.”

The laws have been trending in this direction for years. In 2011, a law was passed that all shops selling women-related products, such as lingerie, should only have female sales representatives. In 2016, drug stores and optics shops could request permits to hire Saudi women, too, so long as the female staff remained separate from male workers and customers.

The Saudi Vision 2030 strategy, set by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, aims to increase female participation in the workforce from 22% now to 30% in all sectors in 2030.

“There are now 600,000 Saudi women working for the private sector, 30,000 of whom joined the market last September and October,” says Khaled Abalkhail, a spokesman for the Ministry of Labor and Social Development. “This figure stood at 90,000 Saudi women only back in 2011.”

Shifts in a young society

It is not just Saudi women who are joining the private sector workplace — men are, too.

With the unemployment rate in the kingdom at 12.8%, according to official government figures, the Crown Prince in 2016 unveiled an ambitious set of reforms that includes creating private sector jobs for thousands of Saudis with the goal of lowering the jobless rate to 7% by the year 2030.

“When I joined university around 10 years ago, I asked my father for permission to get a part-time job as a barista for $530 per month,” says Aljalajel. “He felt it was socially embarrassing to have his son serving coffee, and offered instead to pay me the same amount of money as a monthly allowance in return (for me) focusing on my studies.”

The resistance wasn’t just on the part of potential employees’ families. For a long time, Saudi nationals were not an attractive option to employers who could hire expats often willing to work six days a week for a fraction of the salary that a Saudi employee requests.

For example, a Saudi working as a full-time barista at 12 Cups makes about $1,600 per month, says Aljalajel. A full-time expat barista at the same shop takes home $533 per month.

The average monthly wage per Saudi stands at $2,670, according to Saudi’s General Authority for Statistics.

In 2017, in an attempt to deter companies from hiring expats, the government imposed a monthly tax on each non-Saudi employee. Companies now pay as much as $107 for each foreign employee, with that levy set to rise each year.  

Women no longer a burden

While more Saudi women are entering the private sector, the challenge is persuading them to stay there.

“From our experience, four out of 10 women leave the jobs that we secure for them a few months after joining because their families’ asked them to,” says Redwan Aljelwah, who in 2016 founded Riyadh-based recruitment consultancy, Mada, which operates in the retail, F&B, and IT sectors.

Furthermore, Aljelwah says that demand for female employees remains much lower than for males. The unemployment rate for Saudi women in the third quarter of 2016, the most recent figures available, was 34.5%

“All sectors are open to Saudi women, provided that they secure them a safe working environment,” says Abalkhail. He added that the Ministry of Labor and Social Development runs courses to teach Saudi women soft and hard professional skills to help them find jobs.

“When women work, they are no longer looked upon as burdens that their families have to bear until they get married.” adds Aljalajel, “They have the option to become independent.”

Ghazwan and her team of baristas agree.

“Many of the women and men that we serve coffee come to us and say: ‘We are proud of what you are doing.'”

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Macy’s to launch clothing line geared toward Muslim women

Macy’s is launching a women’s clothing line aimed at Muslim shoppers.

Representatives from the department store chain said the company teamed up with a boutique called Verona Collection and plans to sell the collection of modest dresses, tops, cardigans and hijabs online.

The clothing will launch on Macy’s website on Feb. 15.

The brand was developed by Lisa Vogl, a graduate of Macy’s minority- and women-owned business development program, which aims to offer more fashion diversity.

While Macy’s is the first major U.S. department store to sell hijabs, it joins other brands offering products aimed at Muslims. Nike, for example, launched a high-performance hijab last year made for athletics. And Mattel announced plans for a doll modeled after Ibtihaj Muhammad, an American fencer who competed in the Olympics while wearing a hijab.

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