Am I a Binge Eater?

Things on the new house are in process. It seems like a really long project, changing your life. Meanwhile, anxiety is a frequent visitor, even with the medications I take for the clinical aspects of it: phobia, panic, insomnia, migraine, IBS. I have been to the doctor three times since we got here a few months ago and I’m feeling more or less balanced. Food has been a problem because it soothes anxiety. Especially fast food and junk food are a problem. So my last visit to the doctor was with their dietician. She was going to set me up with an individualized Mediterranean diet that does not, except in very moderate portions, include sugar, dairy, red meat, alcohol, or wheat. No citrus, caffeine, crucirferious or raw veggies. It’s difficult. I just want someone to tell me what to eat and how much and then that’s all I’ll eat.

Things I know I can eat are oats, eggs, nuts, almond milk, almond yogurt, rice, quinoa, chicken, roasted vegetable, peanut butter and jelly plus some fruits. I do eat just these things for a while until I break down and have a donut. Or several. So I decided to call in the troops. I wanted to know why I eat so much when I fall off the healthy eating train. Is this binging or normal? I’m not changing my diet to lose weight, but to settle my tummy issues. I’ve read several books and articles and have many cookbooks too. Am I spoiled to think I need more variety? Or am I a binge eater? Maybe both? I had a feeling part of my problem would require a different kind of doctor, like a therapist of some sort. But I started with the diet doctor.

She came in and said “You’re obese but you are not morbidly obese.” Then she tried to soften the blow “after menopause it’s almost impossible to lose five pounds.” So I’m five pounds from NOT being obese? Before I could ask her, we went through food groups together, the things I can’t eat. Everything she said, I already knew. I was already trying to do. She did say it was fine to have “just a little” of everything. She was talking so fast I was again unable to ask a deeper question: What is “just a little?” I know I do eat more than just a little. I can’t stop once I start on a bag of chips. I could easy eat ten cookies. I really love sweets. Candy bars. For sure plural.

My life was like that for a long time, the stereotypical yo-yo dieter. Then gradually over maybe ten years, the next day I started to feel ill in ways I am not going to describe as I did that before. I know now if I eat bad shit in copious amounts I feel bad. It’s just been getting worse as the years go by. Not my eating but my gut biome. Some days I’m so bloated I cannot zip my jeans. Other days they feel too loose. I didn’t get a chance to tell the doctor that I can gain or lose five pounds in a day or two. The other binge type thing is if I start, I continue for days. Or I used too. Symptoms have gotten so bad I don’t get off the couch the next day. On the positive side, I’ve got some new prescription medication that helps. I really don’t drink much wine these days because wine and Prevalite do not mix well. Also wine causes insomnia. If I do have a little wine and then I’m just a little tired the next day.

Prevalite does not help me to process unhealthy (for me) foods. I was hoping it would. Finally at the end of the long lecture from the diet doc, I asked no questions, like am I am binge eater. Yes, I think I binge. Or binged. I haven’t overeaten since I saw the doctor. I did order a book on Diet and CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy, which is really the best type of therapy for changing any ingrained character trait). I’ve practiced CBT with my favorite therapist in Michigan for other issues not related to food. Being human sure is messy. But the other part is at 66 I know how to find help and I never stop trying to heal myself.

These days, most everything is right. Hope to have exciting house news soon, but as Al keeps telling me, it’s not a done deal until the deal is done.

Anxiety is Annoying

I read that “anxiety is annoying” in dismay a few weeks ago in a book about anxiety. My dismay was real. I am often anxious and so, what, then, people often find me annoying? What a bummer.

Cotton Exchange in Savannah

This weekend we went on a long-planned trip to Savannah, Georgia. It was planned for three couples and one couple, very good friends, opted out due to Covid-19 anxiety. I did not find them annoying. Before we left Friday, I saw the weekend as a time out from all the bad news. Later that same day Trump declared a national emergency. The next day, the governor of Georgia did the same.

Our group did not know that on March 17, St Patty’s Day, Savannah has a huge party. It was a weekend that worked for all of us, that was it. We’d planned an off/on trolley tour to see the entire city in a day. Which we did. As the day wore on, more and more drunk young people in green tutus and t-shirts partied in the squares. One lady in a Porche yelled at a bystander “Where can I get a shitload of beads?”

I saw some beads in Walgreens, but no hand sanitizer. As an anxious person, I always have my own. Downtown Savannah wasn’t a mad crush as it usually would be on this special weekend. The city was busy, the bars and restaurants were packed, and even the trolley was full or almost full. OTOH, there were no lines. For restaurants, in stores or for seats on the trolley.

My feet behaved with my new shoes and CBD balm for about five hours. We walked a lot. Still at the end of the day, I was happy to get in the car for the motel and some well-earned cocktails. That’s when it happened. I was triggered. Three times. By my husband, who stared down at his phone on an upward curve of freeway.

Our friends were in the back seat, so it probably didn’t look like a panic attack to them when I said “Al! Please watch the road and not your phone!” He did look at the road, still curving, still going up, for about two seconds. Then he looked down at his phone again.

I tried to make a joke out of it. Opened the center console and pulled out my mini bottles of emergency vodka and offered them one. They laughed. I did too, while I cracked one and emptied it into my throat. I got calmer, but I could tell, with my new knowledge, that my anxiety annoyed my friends. Also, it always annoys Al, even though he knows more than anyone I can’t do a damn thing to stop anxiety’s roll.

Good weekend, though. You would have never known there was a pandemic going on.

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Everything All At Once

In my peaceful yoga class, a phone rang. Twice. I was happy I’d remembered to turn mine off, until class was over and my friend showed me the two calls she’d gotten…from people trying to reach me. My father had been calling all over town looking for me, as he needed a ride to the doctor. Right that minute.

I managed to rush home to shower and get him to his appointment on time. He was in a bit of a panic, so I didn’t understand what he meant after I asked him why he hadn’t told me he had a doctor appointment. I’d seen him just the other day. We’d talked for hours! He said something like “they call me last minute.”

I didn’t get it, he’d said the other day he had a doctor’s appointment Friday and he’d arranged to have an open MRI. He’d been so relieved. But this was Thursday and he was going into a closed MRI machine (Dad is claustrophobic). He needed a ride because he’d be taking a larger dose of anti-anxiety medication than he was used to and wouldn’t be able to drive.

I didn’t want to ask him anything else because he was panicky. It’s hard to talk sensibly when you’re having an anxiety attack. I just said soothing things and acted like everything was normal. He kept saying I was going the wrong way, but I had my GPS on it said we were five minutes away. I knew exactly how my dad was feeling because I’ve been there many times. We share the claustrophobia gene.

We got to the doctor and three hours later he was done. How did it go? I asked him. “It was horrible! They put something over my face. I slept almost the entire time.” That didn’t make a lot of sense, but I didn’t press him. I could tell his meds had kicked in big time.

I was not clear on what he was getting an MRI for…I thought it was for his knee? So why would a neurologist be doing that MRI? Shouldn’t an ortho guy do that? And then the prescription we stopped to have filled. He’d shown me six new prescriptions (!) the other day. I asked the pharmacist what this new one was for and he said restless leg syndrome. I didn’t know my dad had that.

I am worried about my dad’s doctor visits, his prescription use, his health. I want to do more to help him, like sit in with him on doctor visits and ask questions, take notes. Check his medication and make sure he takes the right pills every day. But I fear his reaction. What if he thinks I’m invading his privacy? Or treating him as if he is incompetent? Still, I’m going to talk to him about all this tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I also need to mail in my absentee ballot plus sign up for Medicare and Social Security. I need to do laundry and shop for groceries. Friends are coming over on Tuesday and staying the night, so I’ll be making another frittata. I just made one when we had overnight friends a few days ago. Then next weekend we are going out of town for a night and in two weeks we’re meeting up with friends in Savannah, Georgia for a long weekend. I’m looking forward to all of it, okay maybe not signing up for Medicare.

Retirement is not what I imagined. In my mind, I thought it would be relaxed and easy. It is not. It is hectic. Maybe someday things will slow down, but not yet. I am so happy to have Al to help and to lean on. I don’t know how I ever did this without him. He golfs with my dad twice a week, something I for sure could not do.

Oh, and my prescription coverage changed today. I’ve only had the new one for retirees two months. But the government put me on the Medicare one. Because it’s my birthday this month. Which is why I have to immediately sign up for Medicare. Yesterday the drugstore wanted $130 to refill a prescription that used to be $3.

If all this sounds a little scattered and confused, it’s because that’s how I feel right now. Like I need a list. Or maybe three or four lists. But I am also happy to be in Florida, to see a lot more of my friends, and to have early dinners with my dad in the warm sunshine. It really is good to be alive.


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Xanax & Chill

Al’s retirement, sweet as it has been thus far, often triggers anxiety. I woke up from a nightmare in complete panic mode last night. Al said this morning that he heard a prolonged squeak from me, which I remembered was me trying to scream when a hand grabbed me in a dark room. The usual sleep paralysis didn’t allow me to move or scream out loud, but luckily I woke up. Not so lucky, I found myself in a full blown panic attack. This is not unusual, and I was able to control the panic with deep breathing instead of jumping out of bed and popping a Xanax. I fell back asleep without nightmares within minutes.

When I’m triggered by Al in the light of day, it’s different. I cope with his darker moods by taking .5 mg of Xanax. Before Al retired, my doctor and I talked about a likely increase in triggers. I would be traveling, and that’s a trigger. As much as I love travel, being a passenger makes me anxious. Then there was the unknown factor of how Al would behave in retirement. My doc suspected I’d have some bumps, because I’ve been in a smooth routine for so long.

I love my routines. What has not been a part of my routine for a long time is Al showing even a glimpse of annoyance or anger or talking for too long about taxes or insurance or the budget. He’s only human, and he does love finance. I promised I’d talk more about money with him when he retired. And I have been. I just need to pop a tiny dose of Xanax first.

For a few years now, I’ve been very gradually decreasing my Xanax dose from 4 mg a day to a current .5 mg with the goal of using Xanax only when necessary for panic attacks. So, in a way, Al’s retirement has been a bit of a setback. My doctor doesn’t want me to worry about it. She wrote a stronger script, knowing I’d need more like 1 mg a day, at least for awhile.

Anxiety is so stupid. But it’s real and I have to deal with it, because for me, anxiety is a precursor to panic. Anxiety almost always leads to panic if I don’t medicate. Or, have a martini.

I’d feel better about increasing my meds if there wasn’t a nasty side effect. Cognitive decline. Since increasing my medication I have noticed that oh boy do I forget things. My friends say stuff like “you mentioned that yesterday” and I can’t remember ever bringing “it” up. Al will say “we already talked about this” and I can’t remember. So, naturally, now I’m anxious about the cognitive decline. Which has been brought about by a really effective anxiety medication.

And so it goes. I hope to get a better handle on my mental health in the near future, but today I need to take a pill. We’re driving over a bridge across Tampa Bay to see friends. And bridges, especially over water, are always trouble for me. I feel sorry for Al, I really do. Neither one of us knew what he was taking on when we married. Which may be what’s making me anxious about his retirement. He will see a lot more of me, panic and all.

What Might Have Been

I wake up by slow inches. My head pounds with a dull sickening weight. A relentless thirst makes it hard to swallow, impossible to sleep. My stomach roils and I pitch myself from the bed and to the toilet. I didn’t eat much yesterday, so I dry heave into the cool and clean porcelain bowl, once, twice, a third time. I rinse my mouth with water from the tap, then, exhausted, lie on the tile floor. Coolness kisses my cheek as I drift away. I like to be away. Away, all memory of last night is vast and blank. Away, I have nothing to regret, no secrets to hide. Away, I don’t wonder where I got the new bruise blooming on my inner thigh. 

“MOM!” I hear my older son yell. He’s outside the bedroom door, but it’s still too loud for this early in the morning. “MOM! Todd will not get up for school. I’m going to miss the bus if I don’t leave now.”

“Okay, honey,” my voice is rusty as I try to project it through the bedroom door. “I’m having a quick shower.” I stagger upright and turn on the water again. Will he know it’s just the sink and not the shower? Probably not. “Have a good day. I love you!”

“Love you,” he says. I know he will have his homework in his backpack and his lunch money in the pocket of his jeans. Mark is a good boy. He’s only ten, he shouldn’t be responsible for his little brother, who would sleep until afternoon if I let him. 

I lift the tank lid of the toilet bowl and pull out a fifth of vodka. Good. Half full. I take a long drink then another. Just enough to stop my hands shaking. Just enough to get everything into alignment. Eventually, I stash the vodka and brush my teeth. I drag a comb through my snarled hair, pull on sweat pants. They don’t match the t-shirt I slept in but I don’t change. I don’t care if the secretary in the main office judges me when I sign Todd in late again. I don’t care if she raises her eyebrows because I’m using the same thin excuse as yesterday. 

I think about the vodka still in the bottle in the bathroom. If I drank it, I’d care even less. But I don’t. Not yet. I need to get Todd to school and I am careful not to drink too much before I drive. I am a good mom. I love my kids. I’d never hurt them. 

I thrust my feet into sneakers. They’re bright pink and hurt my eyes. So don’t look down, I tell myself. Maybe today I won’t drink. Maybe today I’ll call my sponsor. Go to a meeting. I know I will be welcomed back without judgement. But then I think about how I have already had a drink today. My sponsor will know. She doesn’t take any shit off me. I might need a new sponsor. That’s fine. I can stop drinking tomorrow.

This piece of fiction came from the prompt “What Might Have Been.” There was a time in my 20s I felt sure I would become an alcoholic if I didn’t change my life. The first change led to other positive changes and a huge discovery–I’d been drinking to self-medicate in an effort to calm fear, anxiety and panic. I still don’t know how my subconscious knew I needed to make those changes, I’m just happy I listened.