Archive for the ‘Pathology’ Category

I’ll take it.

April 1, 2011

It was dark during most of my morning walk. As I returned across the parking lot beyond the courtyard, the light percolating up through the grey dawn had gathered enough strength to dispel the ambient anxieties of nighttime walking. I was no longer making my way warily through an indistinct landscape. It was day.

At about that moment when I relaxed into daytime walking mode, I realized that I was glad to be up. I use the word “realized” because the mental state of gladness was secondary to the physical sensation that had just crept over me. My satisfaction at having already finished a walk while most folks were still in bed was a construct that could not have stood except in the space cleared by my body’s mere rejoicing.

The feeling was familiar, but surprising. I used to get it all the time, but during the last few months I’ve been… what’s the word for “lost” that includes gladness? I was glad to be lost. I was glad not to be getting up. I was glad not to be exercising. I was glad to have an excuse.

I slashed my knee open, right down to the joint capsule. Had to have the damned thing in a brace, fully extended, for two weeks. What an excuse, eh? I moped, I started eating, and I didn’t do the upper-body exercises that I could have done. This is what always happens. No matter how much I prepare for it, the same thing always seems to happen. I guess it won’t stop happening until I stop wanting excuses for it to happen.

I saw that truth a few weeks ago, so I finally decided to give OA a try. I’ve gone to two meetings so far. It’s hard, but it’s a good hard. That doesn’t surprise me. What surprises me is that I’ve encountered a… person… there. Let’s call this person “X”. I have such a strong negative reaction to X that I don’t think I can keep going back to that particular group.

I won’t go into details, at least not here. Suffice it to say that, after two encounters with X, I don’t think there’s a fight-or-flight response system in my being left untriggered. Picture big red buttons, flashing fire truck lights, nails on chalkboard, cat fur being rubbed the wrong way, and grainy black-and-white films of World War II runways with klaxons moaning their way up to a yowl that makes you plug your ears.

To say that X has personality traits that I abhor is an understatement. I gauge my success as a human being by the degree to which I suppress the voices to which X seems to give full throat. X embodies everything I’ve spent a good fifteen years striving not to be.

But X is not the point right now, and I thank my lucky stars for Grace being around to help me see that. I talked through my feelings with her, and she said that I’m not responding to X, but rather to the memories that X triggers. At first I rejected this notion, because I felt that my emotions came from my anger at seeing X wallow in a behavior pattern that I’ve worked so hard never to indulge in. But then she pointed out that there’s a reason why I vowed never to indulge in those behaviors: at some point I felt trapped by someone who behaved in those same ways. Once she said that, I realized that I’d come to the emotional core of my reaction.

Oh, and then there’s the milk.

See, we ran out of milk yesterday. And it turned out that Grace was scheduled to go to work early today. So, since I intended to get milk for her morning coffee, I wanted see if I could get an early morning walk out of the deal. I set my alarm, and the secondary alarm in the kitchen, for 5:30, hoping against hope that I’d actually follow through. And what do you know? I did!

I don’t know why I got out on a walk this morning. Maybe I’ve simply been away long enough, and I’m ready to stop accepting excuses and come back. Maybe seeing X deepened my resolve to be the person I want to be. Maybe the emotional catharsis of winding my way through my feelings about X released some energy. Maybe it was the milk what done it.

I don’t know what caused it, but it felt good. I’ll take it.

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Thanks, Quest.

April 1, 2011

You were the first to check in on me, just as I asked. I’m sorry that I didn’t respond. I wasn’t ready to come back yet.

The Hershey’s Kisses I didn’t eat at the Jay House

January 12, 2011
One of the several inviting containers of Hershey's Kisses at the Jay House

One of the several inviting containers of Hershey's Kisses at the Jay House

Whew. That was a tough one.

About a month ago I went to the Jay Heritage Center in Rye for the first time. I met John, who does maintenance at the site, and we had a lovely conversation about history. He offered to give me a tour, and I’d arranged to take him up on that offer today.

John started giving me his tour, and then some other folks showed up. It turns out that they were from France, and were doing some historical sightseeing before they headed back. We all followed along as John told us about the sleuthing that had gone into the reconstruction of the building. Unfortunately I had two distractions.

My first problem was sleepiness. I was yawning and fidgeting nearly nonstop, and since the context brought the late eighteenth century to mind, I couldn’t help worrying that, at any given moment, I was probably violating at least one of George Washington’s Rules of Civility. I was able to mitigate the sleepiness by drinking some of the tea in the thermos I’d brought with me. But this probably just exacerbated the main problem.

On shelves throughout the house sat the second problem: Hershey’s Kisses. Hershey’s Kisses wrapped with festive colors, there for the taking.

See, free food sort of breaks my brain. I find it difficult to explain, but there it is: when there’s food just there for the taking, it triggers an obsessiveness in me that makes the eating of the food seem nearly imperative.

So I spent a lot of time distractedly glancing over at the Hershey’s Kisses and vacillating between thinking about taking a handful, and resolving not to. The outcome was very close; I probably would have caved if I hadn’t talked myself down: I kept telling myself that I was not missing out on some great cost-saving opportunity, because if I wanted some Hershey’s Kisses I could just go to CVS and spend a couple of bucks on a bag. Since I knew that I’d had no thought in my head of buying any Kisses at the moment before I saw the free ones, the compulsion that erupted within me was clearly irrational.

So I made it out of there without eating a single Hershey’s Kiss. I feel good about that. And when I consider how good those Hamantashen at Zaro’s in Grand Central looked last night, and that I didn’t buy any, I feel even better. I think I’m almost fully recovered from the holiday crazies.

Stop & Shop & Hyperventilate

January 3, 2011

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I went to Stop & Shop to get milk and carrots. I’m not particularly fond of carrots, but they’re handy for keeping my mouth and belly occupied. After grabbing a bag I walked around the produce section to see if there was anything else that caught my eye. There was.

I saw the sweet potatoes and realized that I hadn’t baked one in a while. That made me think of acorn squash, which I then found in the bin beyond. Please don’t make the mistake of treating either one as a get-out-of-jail-free card; there’s a reason why they’re so tasty, even unbuttered. Always look up the nutritional values of your food. If you do that for either of these, you’ll probably decide, as I did, to make your standard serving much smaller than you first envisioned.

I swung by the far corner of the store to pick up a gallon of 1% milk. Then I did the thing that, to most of you reading this, is no doubt indistinguishable from masochism: I hung out in the bakery.

The bakery at Stop & Shop defies all my expectations. Usually baked goods from grocery stores are tasteless, textureless, or so overloaded with sugar that the cloying sweetness blots out whatever other flavors may be present. But somehow, this store is different. Their bagels are very good, and that’s coming from a bagel snob. Their muffins are good. I honestly haven’t tried much else, because I’m utterly addicted to their magnificent oatmeal raisin cookies. For god’s sake, I don’t even particularly care for oatmeal raisin cookies!

So, on to the masochism. Or rather, allow me an attempt to show you the fine distinction between my method and masochism. Let me take you on a tour of the Stop & Shop bakery with my brain as a guide. Maybe once I’m done, you’ll see why, for me, the only way to leave behind my maniacal cravings is to wade right through them and come out the other side.

First, take a look at the plastic bins covering the shelves facing the bakery, at the end of the dairy aisle. Some of those bins are filled with sugar cookies, some with chocolate chip, some with peanut butter, and some with my favorite: oatmeal raisin.

I can look through the transparent plastic and judge the texture of those cookies. On some days they’re slightly more browned than at other times. The variation is part of the appeal. If they’re darker, I can imagine their crispness as my teeth crunch through them. I prefer them to be a bit lighter; in that case, I know how each one would sag slightly as I raised it to my mouth. I can feel my teeth shear through the relatively crisp outer layer and into the softer, not-quite-gooey insides. I can feel the pleasant, rasping texture as I chew. I can taste the brown sugar and raisins and oatmeal, and the contrast between each bite of cookie and each sip of the sweet black tea I’d drink along with the cookies.

Now, look at the piles of boxed items on the table. Start with the muffins. There’s a box with one butter rum and one lemon poppy seed, among others. Another has two carrot cake and one cranberry. The butter rum is my favorite: I can see the way it tears apart in my hand, feel the crisp crust and slightly spongy interior, taste the melding of the sweet and buttery aspects. I gauge the texture and taste of the others by their appearance. Is the lemon poppy seed lemony enough, moist enough? The carrot cake looks perfect in texture, perfect in doneness; I salivate as I imagine the flavor. I imagine the light flakiness of the cake in the cranberry muffin, the tartness of the cranberries contrasting with the sweetness. My saliva ducts work even harder.

Walk around the side of the table. Look at all those ring cakes. There’s the coffee cake with the raisins and the white icing, that brings me straight back to the weekend mornings during my childhood when my parents would bring back one very much like it from Freihofer’s. There’s a… what is that, raspberry? Mmmmmmm… tempting. But right next to it… ahhhh, that’s the one I really want: the cheese. It looks utterly perfect: the cheese-to-cake and icing-to-cheese ratios seem spot-on, and the cheese looks moist. I must try one of these during an upcoming eat-whatever-I-want day.

Turn from the table and take a look at the racks and racks of pastries and muffins. There’s a pain au chocolat alongside its cheese equivalent; they look a little dry, but I’d love to try each of them. And there are the ranks of fresh muffins, tray after tray after tray. There are the butter rum muffins at the bottom right corner. And there go my saliva ducts again.

Turn around once more. Go back to the same set of shelves with the oatmeal raisin cookies. Above them and to the left there’s a rank of “gourmet cookies” in shallow plastic clamshell trays. God. They have white chocolate macadamia nuts cookies. I love white chocolate macadamia nut cookies. And the way they’re browned… they took them out of the oven at just the right moment. I want to see if they’re as crisp as they look on the outside, as soft on the inside as they should be. I want to know whether they’re as good as they look. Too few bakers bring their A game to the dough, so their white chocolate macadamia nut cookies amount to little more than chunks of white chocolate whose cloying sweetness drowns out any other flavors that might be present.

Oh look, they have companions worthy of their glory: triple chocolate chunk. Again with the saliva. I may need a hanky.

I took it all in. I swallowed buckets of saliva. And I walked away. Today, I walked away.

This is why I wallow in my desire for food. The compulsion ebbs and flows, but it’s too powerful to deny or avoid. All I can do is steer into the wave, let it wash over me, and hope to come out the other side intact. One day at a time.

Categorizing my pathology

January 2, 2011

I feel the need to categorize my month off the wagon. I seem to want to believe that putting the reasons for the behavior into buckets will help me see it coming next time, and do something about it. It’s a reasonable hypothesis, even if it is perhaps overly hopeful. In any event, it can’t hurt, right?

So. Why did I spend a month off my diet? Here are the possible reasons I’ve come up with.

1. Self-loathing

Of all the reasons for suddenly going off the wagon, I find this one to be both the most tempting and the most dubious. It’s satisfyingly new-agey, yes? Painful relations with my family and friends caused me to regret my part in the blowups. I didn’t particularly like myself, so I abused myself. Simple, yes?

Well… I don’t know. I don’t doubt that self-abuse could have played a part, but I feel like it must be a smaller part than the more theatrical bits of me would like. This feeling comes mainly from #2.

2. Comfort

As I said in the previous post, I love to eat. I think that this gets lost in my sober regrets and reflections on the damage I’m doing to myself. It would be a mistake for me to forget the joy I get from eating, because it lies very close to the core of me. It’s real. It’s simple. And it’s immensely powerful. So I think that Occam’s Razor tends to slice a bit of emphasis from #1 and apportion it to #2. In other words, there’s little reason to conjure a psychological construct of self-punishment when it’s quite clear that I get a direct and simple pleasure from the act of eating. I was hurting, so I took comfort in food — simple as that.

3. Balance of forces

This is a passive version of #1. It requires only a decrease in my self-respect, as opposed to an active self-loathing. Picture my level of dieting success as the resultant of opposing forces: on the one hand I have the drive to be healthy; on the other hand, I have the desire to eat the world. If the former is bigger than the latter, then I will stay on my diet. If it’s not, I won’t. Which means that, if my drive to be healthy is tied to my self-respect, I may have disliked myself into falling off the wagon.

That’s all I got. So. What can I do about these factors?

Where #1 is concerned, I see little I can do on my own aside from telling myself that I’m not a bad person, and that I don’t deserve to punish myself.

I’m not sure if I can or should do anything about #2. I was hurting, and I needed what I needed. Hmmm. I’m going to have to think about that one some more, because as a truism it’s obviously prone to being overdrawn.

Similarly to how I might tackle #1, I might be able to ameliorate #3 by giving myself a break. I need to understand that, even though I’ve made mistakes, I’m no less deserving of treating myself right. #3 also lends itself to the sort of clinical analysis I mentioned in the previous post. If I can keep in mind the deleterious effects on my body, it will help me tip the scales toward wanting to be healthy.

I don’t know if all this mental gamboling amounts to much. I hope that it helps me understand why I fall off the wagon, and that understanding the mechanics of one fall can help me forestall another.

I could use some help.

December 31, 2010

OK, so it’s been a month since I’ve posted. That’s because I went off the wagon around Thanksgiving. Everything was going OK, I was getting back on track, exercising, planning to limit my holiday eating and drinking to the holiday itself, and the next thing I knew I was lying in the mud and the wagon was trundling away into the distance.

I had a troubling conversation with my sister when I visited the family home for Thanksgiving. We had a blowup, and I said a lot of things that I’d been keeping inside for over a year. It felt like I’d just been operated on: like I’d had a deeply encysted mass removed. It could have been lanced with minimal pain a year before, but the delay necessitated a much more invasive procedure, and it was my fault. I’d repeated my family pattern of not talking to the person I was angry at. I’d kept my anger inside, and it hadn’t hurt anyone but me. It was a perfect example of what Mark Twain was talking about when he said

Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.

Then, nine days before Christmas, I had another unexpected blowup. This one was with a dear old friend. I’d had a falling out with him about a year before, and told myself I was done with him. But I’d been holding onto hope for a reconciliation, which led me to reestablish contact with him around Halloween. Things seemed OK, but then… well, the details don’t matter.

I no longer have any hope of a reconciliation. I’m in pain and I’m sad, but I also feel lighter. The weight of hope has been lifted. I’m mourning for a dead friendship.

Between my sister and my ex-friend, I’ve been in pain and I’ve needed comfort. So for the last few weeks I’ve been giving myself a break for falling off the wagon. Whenever I’ve had the knee-jerk reaction to beat myself up, I’ve been taking a deep breath and telling myself that it won’t help. If I need this right now, then it won’t do any good to despise myself for it. I have to just pick myself back up when I can, and start walking.

All this I knew. But something new occurred to me today — or rather a recurrence of an old thought. Remember when I wondered whether I was punishing myself? Well, what if my falling off the wagon isn’t just about my need for comfort? What if it happened because I no longer like myself enough to treat myself right?

For a long time I was troubled by the way my friend treated me, but I failed to set limits on his behavior. If I had done so, maybe I could have set us on another path; maybe our friendship wouldn’t be over now.

I got angry at my sister, and I used my perception of the way she was treating me to fall into the same dysfunctional family pattern I so loathe. Then, when I finally confronted her about the conversation that had troubled me a year before, I blew up instead of treating it as an opportunity.

It seems that, without a clear knowledge that I deserve to be treated well, I don’t have the willpower to treat my body well. Since around Thanksgiving I haven’t liked myself all that much. Maybe I’ve been treating my body badly because I’ve had no reason not to.

I’ve made mistakes. I have regrets. But I’m not a bad person. I don’t deserve to be treated badly by anyone, including myself. I understand all this, but I need to internalize it.

Tomorrow will be the first day of 2011. The holidays will be over. Holiday eating and drinking will be over. And I will be back on my diet.

So as of tomorrow, there will be no reason for me not to make daily entries in this blog. If you notice that I’m not doing so, could you please check in on me?

Not going into Zaro’s was a lot harder tonight

November 16, 2010
Zaro's near track 20 in Grand Central

Zaro's near track 20 in Grand Central

I’ve done Zaro’s a few times, but tonight is different. Tonight I had to do a fair amount of work to convince myself that I didn’t deserve a pastry from Zaro’s. That hasn’t happened in months. The difference is that tonight I’m sick.

I’ve talked to enough people to know that, in general, humans lose their appetites when they’re sick. Not me. Uh uh. Nothing short of nausea puts a dent in my wanting to eat the world. And what makes it worse is that self-pitying voice that comes out of nowhere and starts whispering words like “comfort food” and “deserve”.

Well. I’m not a horrible person. So I don’t deserve to stuff my face at the very time when I’m incapable of burning calories. I don’t deserve to feel good for a few minutes at the cost of feeling bad about myself for a lot longer than that, not to mention the time it’ll take to work it off.

I don’t deserve to do stupid things to my body while I’m sick. I don’t deserve to compound my sickness with further suffering. And my demons don’t deserve to cavort while I’m laid up in bed.

Hold steady

November 12, 2010
Antibiotic and chest decongestant

Antibiotic and chest decongestant

I’ve been very sick this week. Until Wednesday I was focusing on fighting off the sickness, and between Wednesday and today I was focusing on diagnosing and treating it. This morning I went to the Minute Clinic at CVS, where the Nurse Practitioner diagnosed me with an upper respiratory infection and a bilateral ear infection. Since then I’ve started taking amoxicillin, Mucinex and pain-relieving ear drops, in addition to the frequent doses of cold medicine I’ve already been taking.

I’m feeling a bit better but I’m also feeling apprehensive, and a wee bit sorry for myself. I remember well my usual reaction to a ten-day course of antibiotics.

Days 1-5 “Hey, this is barely affecting me at all. I’m awesome!”
Day 6: Ugh. Can’t. Move.
Days 7-10+: Moping about and feeling useless.

I’ve been thinking not only of my past reactions to antibiotics, but of my past reactions to being sick. Too often during the last several years, I’ve found myself feeling sad and frustrated about not being able to exercise, and reacting to this in the worst possible way: by spiraling down into a hole of depression and overeating.

I can’t let that happen again.

Today I got a strong urge to go out for “comfort food” to assuage my misery. I narrowly avoided this pitfall by reminding myself that my eat-whatever-I-want day is tomorrow. After tomorrow, and especially when the antibiotics start playing merry hob with my system, it’s going to be much more difficult. I have to stay focused. I can’t go off the rails again.

Bonfire!

September 11, 2010

Here’s me burning the pile of junk food that I accumulated during my last weeks at Goldman Sachs.

Camp breakfast. Yay!

September 11, 2010

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I looooooove camp breakfasts. Love ’em. Get that fire roaring, spear the ground with those delightfully low-tech zigzag posts, set up the grill, plunk down that enormous cast iron skillet, cook up some sausage, and toss a bunch of eggs and cheese into the grease. Turn it about with a big spatula, and pile it all on a plate. Meanwhile, of course, you’ll have had some English muffins toasting. Or maybe you prefer some other bread toasted in butter right on the skillet. Either way, what you get is heaven.

I felt like I cheated a bit by using the toaster for the English muffins, but they’re too full of those nooks and crannies that the advertising execs spent big bucks filming to toast well on a flat metal surface, and toasting them over the fire would have been more of a pain than I was ready for at the time.

Read that last paragraph again. It contains everything you ever need to know about my obsession with food. I ritualize things to the point of worrying about having used a toaster. Yeesh.