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.

Rosemary for Remembrance

Thinking about alternative therapies lately for health issues. It’s not like I haven’t tried herbal remedies before. Ginkgo and zinc and I still use, um, what’s it called? Starts with an E? Echinacea! I swear by that stuff for colds. Ginkgo did not help my memory, alas. But now comes a new option: rosemary.

Actually, it’s pretty old. Shakespeare wrote it into Ophelia’s speech as she goes mad with love of Hamlet, strewing flowers and herbs hither and yon. “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance…” she says, tossing the flowers like scattering tears. Sometimes not remembering can be a blessing. Remembering better times with Hamlet, after all, is what brought about Ophelia’s suicide. Memories can be precious or poison.

But forgetting an easy word, or someone’s name, is simply annoying. When I get together with my friends, we say this forgetfulness is because we have so much more to remember now. Passwords, for example. I have a million of them. You, too, right? So maybe that somewhat wonky memory of mine is a product of life today. And maybe putting a drop of rosemary oil into my shampoo will make my hair healthier and improve my memory.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to pop fewer pills. Not because taking tons of pills is an old person cliché. I don’t mind being old; I quite enjoy it. For one thing, I have lots of time to peruse the dictionary or just putter patiently until the right word comes. It almost always does. Personally, I like pills just fine, it’s the side effects I despise. I’ve heard certain essential oils (herbs in concentrated liquid form) are cures for sleeplessness, migraine, acid reflux, even stress, which, come to think of it, probably caused all the other things.

I put a little drop of lavender into my palm last night, rubbed my hands together, and swiped the bottoms of my feet. My little instruction book said I could have put the lavender on my pillow, too. Slept like a baby. Another perk of being older, as in old enough to retire from the day job: I can stay in bed as long as I like. After slumbering a soothing eight hours (almost never happens) I lolled around in my warm cocoon for another hour, meditating. Not only had the lavender given me good rest, it had calmed me to the point of an early meditation, something I used to do regularly until anxiety to get my day started robbed me of that meditation time.

Meditation is the best way I know to cure ills, particularly mental ones like fear and panic. I regularly meditate in the afternoons (I’m happy to add a morning meditation in as well if the lavender keeps working!) and recently I added an element to a twenty year practice. I’m phobic and have been for most of my life. I’ve written about my struggles before. Until recently I thought that phobias were a permanent part of what it meant to be me. I accepted them and made peace with my less than easeful mind. Then I decided I’d try a few things, like facing my fears and learning to be braver with age.

Somehow just deciding helped. My plan was that I would, instead of immediately reaching for a pill or (worst case scenario) emergency vodka, I’d breathe and I let myself feel fear.  I’d face it with the in breath and do my best to let it go with the out breath. I practiced this letting go during afternoon meditation and on sleepless dark nights. And breathed it in, tried to let it go with the out breath. I worked at it. I didn’t just auto-pop a pill or six.

Photo on 10-20-14 at 5.39 AM

When you meditate, everything slows down, so it’s very easy to watch fear unfold, to feel the heartbeat slowly accelerate. I have even meditated my way through mild panic attacks. It’s interesting. Not pleasant, but the side effects of doing this inner work are remarkable. Some months back fear of public speaking abruptly departed, and a few months later I started flying without meds. That’s actual flying in a plane, not a metaphor for euphoria. But I do feel euphoric!

Because, amazingly, without warning, in real life, phobia number three vanished a month ago. It happened in Florida while Al was driving. I knew about the bridge. I knew we’d be driving across it. I knew soon it would come into view and that would start the panicky feeling in my head, in my heart. I had already decided to let the fear come and to white-knuckle it. After all, I’d done that for years before things got too unmanageable and I went on medication.

Then, as the bridge came into my line of sight (I believe it’s the tallest suspension bridge in the world. Or maybe just the country. Or perhaps only Florida.) I didn’t feel the fear. I expected it and had my little bottles of emergency vodka in the glove box, just in case. But emergency vodka can be very inconvenient at nine o’clock in the morning, and I was hoping not to have to resort to it. So no fear. No anxiety. No panic.

To say I was amazed is making light of the liberation I felt. I was so happy and uninhibited, I opened the sunroof and popped out of the top, snapping photos as we approached the bridge. Absolutely zero fear. Also, I arrived sober at our destination, which is always nice. I gradually realized that I didn’t have to face that fear in the moment because I’d already done the work, months before. Meditating. It works.

So those are some mental miracles, but the physical ones still stubbornly cling. I’m making progress, though. My neurologist of close to two decades told me on our last visit that my migraine symptoms had decreased so dramatically that he felt I was fine to just let my GP handle the occasional medication refills. That is huge. No more “my” neurologist. No more “my” migraines.

Yeah, sure, I still stress. I still have fears. Phobias. Probably I have not experienced my last panicky moment. But full blown out of control panic attacks? I can’t remember the last time one came upon me. I had a dream last night about one of my remaining phobias. I have two left to conquer before I shuffle off this mortal coil, claustrophobia and fear of heights. I know the bridge is high, so maybe that’s all gone, but I need to tackle a mountain before I’m sure. So I had the “buried alive” dream under lavender’s spell. And I didn’t wake up in a panic. I woke up calm and ready to face anything. And that is something worth remembering.

Confronting My Heart

Photo on 9-27-14 at 5.15 PMOpenness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Mix these five ingredients, psychology says, and you have the human personality. Add intersections of relationship and environment and the impact of each trait lessens or heightens. And none are all good or all bad, either, although the word “neurotic” has never been a favorite of mine. Much to my surprise, I recently learned that because I have, at times, suffered acute anxiety to the point of panic, that’s part of my personality. And the phobias that have been part of my life for so long are part of being neurotic, too.

Everyone suffers from anxiety. Neuroticism, like all the traits, is a spectrum, everyone falls somewhere on it. I just happen to be left of center. Way. Or I was. I’ve been getting better and that’s because without understanding why or even what I was doing, I was working on it, intuitively.

My wedding anniversary was this past weekend. There I am in a photo on “the day” happy not to be cooking but not really looking all wedding anniversary happy. That’s because my marriage has been going through some changes. It seems that as my anxiety lessens, and I confront each of my fears and face them down, my marriage takes another hit. Which is ironic because my husband is the one who first led me to seek help. We were driving and I couldn’t catch my breath. I was telling him I was scared and could he slow down as I held my hands in front of my face. “What, do you think we’re going to die?” He was really angry. “YES!” I said. “I think that. It feels like that.” A beat of silence. “Well you’re just crazy. You better go see somebody.”

Neither of us knew I was having a panic attack brought on by a phobia related to driving. He just knew crazy when he saw it. So I made an appointment with my doctor, who referred me to a psychiatrist. Lovely woman. She gave me the information, and the help, I needed for that particular phobia. I also learned that it’s really not crazy to be afraid for your life if someone is driving drunk or high, if there is black ice or a blizzard or a severe rainstorm. Those are pretty natural reactions to driving in dangerous conditions. Beyond the pale, I had those kind of reactions all the time, for no reason. But I kept at therapy, and I got better.

After psychotherapy, I started to crave calm. I’ve always been impatient and anxious, busy and social. Those things didn’t feel so right anymore, so I took up, and have kept up, yoga, meditation, prayer, visualization, nature walks, vegetarianism, periods of retreat, alcohol moderation, and yes, medication for when the panic gets severe. After 25 years, I have crossed several former phobias off my list. I am no longer afraid of speaking in public, flying, or heights. I drive with very little anxiety except for brief flashbacks due to a recent accident that totaled my car and bruised my body and mind.

That’s my history of anxiety. What I didn’t know was that my problems took a toll on my husband. And my marriage. He is not a nurturing type. He’s not given to huge emotional gestures. He really doesn’t get it or me and even after all these years I cope alone, which is fine. He never asks me for help with his personality issues. Or anything else, for that matter. He actually likes being in charge of stuff. Which has led to some problems now that I’m sliding more toward normal on that neuroticism spectrum. Because now that I’m less focused on my own wellness, I want to help decide the wellness of our future.

Neuroticism never defined me. I have other, better, stronger traits that have led me to follow my dreams and do some things I never imagined. Persistence is part of “conscientiousness” which really just means you finish what you start. Like that novel. Or you do what you say you will, like send the finished novel to publishers. I have that persistent thing in vast quantities, which helped me publish my books way more than my writing skills.

Twelve years blogging? Again, that’s just me following through. Seeing something to the finish. I’m pretty open to new experiences, too. Yeah, funny for a fraidy cat. But I never jump in the water fearing sea serpents. And I’ve never met one yet. So, I’m not an extrovert. I do a great imitation of one. Even I didn’t know I was an introvert until Myers-Briggs told me so. And it’s a good thing I am, because writers need a lot of time alone. Those words take time to put on paper.

You might thing agreeableness is a wonderful trait. I have a lot of that and it’s caused me as much trouble as the phobic stuff. Because when you always say yes, some of those things you are yessing to are things you should be no-ing. And my Mr of 29 years now doesn’t much like the word no coming from the lips of his formerly compliant wife. He doesn’t much like some of my ideas for changing things up in this relationship of ours. And I can’t believe how long I lived with things the way they were. Bet he wishes he never called me crazy.

The Owen Effect

unnamedBack from blog vacation. Also actual vacation to see new grandson, Owen. Baby is beautiful. Lots of pictures on FB:) I miss him right now so I’m just going to move along and catch up on some other amazing things that have been happening, which I am calling “The Owen Effect” even though I can’t prove his being in the world is what is making my world change so much so fast so fabulous.

First, yes, I still fit into my jeans! I did everything I said I would during vacation as far as eating and exercising goes. Even did I a little yoga. So much walking. Was great. But for me this food control is huge. On vacation. After donating all big jeans and buying smaller sizes. That’s when I usually go up, up, up. Not this time.

Speaking of up, for some reason I just wanted to test out the Space Needle. I’ve been to Seattle before. I have family there. I have never wanted to even LOOK at the Space Needle, because I have a fear of heights. Panic attack level fear. So I just always say no to high places. Or take medication and sometimes emergency vodka.

But the kids, they needed bonding time with baby, so I would see them every day for several hours but I also got in a few tourist type things. I have no idea how the Space Needle thing entered my anxious brain. And why I decided to try it without Xanax. Not even a half. No emergency vodka, no wine, no nothing. Just me and my ticket to terror.

Funny, I didn’t feel terrified. I felt calm about it. A few months ago, I gave a speech, which before that day, public speaking always made me anxious. I did it when I had to, but I did not like it, and I turned down tons of opportunities to give talks. Then one day a friend asked, I couldn’t say no, so I did it. Fine. Fun, even. I figured my decades of teaching had cleared that fear.

But testing the theory, I zoomed to the top of the Space Needle. And had not a moment’s fear. I know! What is happening to me? How am I becoming fearless when I am used to being more riddled with nerves than Woody Allen?

It has to be Owen. No other explanation except maybe I want to not be afraid of stuff anymore. And use less medication. So, I decided to fly home without Xanax. Yeah, I worried a little about turbulence, but kind of shrugged it off. Even as I decided to do this, I was thinking ‘what is with you, girl?’ but I did it. And was fine.

Not saying I’m cured of my multiple phobias. Driving over bridges and on mountains. (I can walk over bridges and on mountains, just not be in cars. Weird.) Helicopters. Yikes! Hot air balloons. Whoa. Being buried alive or, more likely, crammed into an overfull elevator. Those things still sorta make me shake inside.

Still, I have had these fears for 30, 40, and 50 years. I remember the incidents that led to each fear, the repetition that led to anxiety and finally panic and a psychiatrist. Because I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I thought I was having some sort of breakdown or something. And, kind of, I was. Waking up at night terrified of suffocating? In a huge room in a king-sized bed? What is that about?

I really didn’t do talk therapy with the psychiatrist. She gave me meds for one specific phobia (the driving, which let’s face it, agoraphobia would have been next had I not nipped that one). After a year or so she pronounced me “cured” and I was. Kind of. Except in certain high anxiety situations. Snow. Rain. The aforementioned mountains and bridges.

Cognitive therapy is not a way to cure panic. The most popular form of cure is desensitization. You just every day do the thing you fear. While on medication. And then on less medication. Then less. Then none. That’s what I did. But really I can’t fly in an airplane every day or ride up to the top of the Eiffel Tower. (Was there. Could not do it.) I can’t cram myself into a coffin. So, when those things come up, it’s the meds. Except now, not so much.

I read something that said courage is not the opposite of fear. Courage is facing fear. That made me think, huh, wonder what it would feel like to face some of these fuckers? So I did and baby was I ever surprised. I also read somewhere that phobias will follow you into your next life if you don’t handle them in this one. So, just in case …


new.house3A recent day found me at the top of the staircase and before I could even get used to the heady air up there, I came crashing right back down. Metaphorically speaking. (Because I’ve written about this literally happening once before.) I got great news in the  morning email. I’d been assigned a new editor! I was asked about signing a series contract! I’d always planned this series, but writing everything down made it real.

And then a strange person came into my house and set me off. I knew he was coming, so technically, I had already been wound up. Am I mixing metaphors? Sorry. I’m still flustered. I don’t like strangers in my house. Especially male strangers. Especially big hairy strangers who can’t fix what’s broken. Especially if they insist on engaging in long conversations that keep them in my house way too long and seem very friendly. I like the curt, competent type of repair guy. Okay, I don’t like him, but he’s incrementally better than the too-friendly sort.

I’m not sure why this is so, maybe I have a stranger phobia, but anyway, by the time he left, I was stressed. I disinfected every square inch of the space he might have touched. (His fingerprints were smuged big and ugly all over everything. It was creepy, I tell you!) I washed all the towels in the powder room, even though from my office I had not heard a toilet flush.

So he was gone and still I found it impossible to leave my house even though I had to grocery shop. I had planned to grocery shop. I couldn’t make dinner. I always make dinner. I had planned to make dinner. But I was frozen. I realize that it’s a high-class problem, this being frozen business. In a war zone, that would get me killed.

I gave myself a stern talking to. “You are not some neurotic mess. You have handled far worse than this, which by the way was nothing, what is wrong with you?” Then I called my husband Al to bring pizza and watched television for three hours. I took a pill to ward off the migraine that had begun the minute my stress spiked. But other than that, I didn’t move until the pizza got home.

Since this person who had invaded my home was a repairman, I had to go over events with Al. He is really the one who should handle these things, but it’s hard for him to arrange with work. So I am his poor substitute. I had to listen to a few “why didn’t you” and “what the hell” sort of things. My nerves started to shred again, so I tried to explain how I felt inside. I love Al but he’s not good with panic and nerves and so forth.

I know it’s irrational to not file a complaint because I think the repairman might get angry, become homicidal and come after me. I understand this is unlikely to happen. I understand repairmen are nice people and very few if any are murderers. And yet. I forced a promise from Al that he would not call and complain. Then Al lost it. Well, as far as he can lose it. Al is the king of cool. He simply looked at me with complete disdain, which, of course, made me feel worse.

Al insists on complaining about shoddy work and here I was tying his hands. He was not a happy man. We decided to table the entire discussion. I shoved two slices of pizza down my throat, not even tasting them, and opened a bottle of wine. As I savored a glass, I thought about how days can go like that, from good to bad, from bad to worse. And those days are the ones when what is needed is a good mattress at the foot of the staircase.