I still haven’t grown out of the creepy, crawly, frightened feeling I got as a kid when I have to go to the neurologist. It doesn’t matter that I am (or that I am supposed to be) a grown-up, rational, well-adjusted person. It doesn’t even matter that my new doctor is a kind, pretty lady about my age. When it comes to going to the doctor, part of me becomes that scared 10-year-old who did not know what was wrong with her, a little girl who had lost control of her body and her brain and was falling out of bed a lot during the night.
When I was a kid my parents were referred to “the best neurologist in Houston,” or so we were told. Upon first meeting my childhood sixth sense told me that this esteemed title he’d received was untrue. Kids get stuff that adults miss because kids are still relatively untarnished and in tune. They’re still able to see horns growing out of heads and little flicks of unsavory tongues out of the sides of mouths. As adults, we acclimate. We become socialized and appropriate. The logical mind takes over so that we no longer rail against creepy doctors or freak out when the next appointment turns up. Kids, still in touch with what truly is don’t have the luxury of dissociation. So we went to see “Dr. P” who tapped on my knees and checked me into the hospital and prescribed little pink pills, telling me I was a-okay even though I knew I wasn’t. But I was ten and scared and didn’t know what else to do.
That was 27 years ago. We did not find the answers then and I still do not have the answers now. I just got back from a neurologist visit today and, as usual, I feel sad and frustrated. Even the best doctors can forget who you are between visits. Even really good ones can ask questions in a tone that make you feel like a kindergartner. Even the most caring ones are still limited, still rushed, still subject to insurance and pharmaceutical companies. In short, doctors are still humans and have crappy days just like their patients do. They still have to wake up every morning, fix breakfast in a hurry, and wipe their arses, after all.
Today I was reminded by my new doctor that, “nothing seems to be working,” to control my seizures. Well, no shit, doc! More tests and additional medications aren’t enticing, either. The best ideas I uncover during my own research is how to care for and tend to my own brain to minimize the long-term damage of having the condition and taking the medications I already take. She does not even go down this road and seems not to hear me when I do. Her philosophy is to stop the seizures or nothing. I like her aggressive style, but if we can’t stop the seizures, I still need to do something– not nothing. I only have this one brain.
When I leave the doctor’s office, I walk away feeling like a deflated balloon that was supposed to get a dose of helium but didn’t. It’s a hopeless sort of feeling to leave with no more answers than I had over 25 years ago. The circular track I’ve walked has worn down into a pretty deep rivulet and I sure would like to climb out and forge a new road. Though I’ve tried different approaches, I still don’t know how to make that climb. I still don’t know what that new road will look like in order to improve my condition. I guess what I do know is that, despite how I feel today, this issue isn’t everything– it doesn’t overwhelm me entirely– at least not yet and hopefully not ever.
Have doctor stories of your own that you’d like to share? Barring slander, I would like to hear them.
Each night at about 10:45 I regret to tell you that I start to get on my husband’s case. It’s not that he’s left the toilet seat up, or hot-boxed me, or left an empty milk jug in the fridge. In fact, he doesn’t offend me much at all, but as night creeps on towards midnight, the man just won’t get off his phone. A mesmerized being with bright yellow bulbs for eyes, his finger taps away at an e-mail or little colorful candies, and I wince, wondering if I’m about to crawl into bed with a zombie.
“Babe, did I tell you that the blue light is not good for your eyes at night?” I query.
“Yes, I know,” is the reply.
“And you know that it shuts of melatonin?”
“Yes, you told me that too.”
“Well, um…if you know, then why do you keep doing it?” I ask tentatively.
“I don’t know. It’s fun. Here! Check out this video!”
“No thanks,” I grunt as I pull on my eye mask and roll over.
Oh geez! This interaction makes me want to rip my hair out and go sleep in the basement in a sackcloth. He might as well smoke a cigarette, drink an RC Cola, and swing from the rafters like a monkey as far as I’m concerned. Maybe eat a row of Oreos too. The thing is, I know my husband is not special, at least not where phone usage is concerned.
Our little phones have become extensions of our appendages and our beings helping define who we are and what we are worth to ourselves and to others. The only way one could possibly know what I’m talking about is to remove media for some period of time– maybe a day, a few days, or even a month. Because our devices have hooked into the essence of who we are as humans, they have begun to shape us as individuals and as a culture. Because of how attached we are to them, they have become a constant live-feed into our brains, and thus into our psyches. They are becoming who we are, and we are becoming what they are, for we can hardly think or be without them.
The short test is when you forget your phone for the day. How do you feel? Maybe you feel naked, exposed, disconnected, or empty-handed. Maybe you feel like you don’t have the answers you need or can’t find anyone you need to find. Or maybe you feel like you’re missing out on all kinds of action and interactions, like the world is happening without you. Well, it is– and it isn’t. It all depends on how you define the world: is it in cyberspace and cybertime or in real space and time?
The longer test is to make the intentional choice to unplug yourself for a determined period of time, whether a day, a week, three months, or more. A strange kind of silence occurs when you are not plugged in. There is nothing to look at, no update to inform you, no constant feed, no images to stimulate your eyes and your brain. You feel a little lost, then have to start looking at, reading, and interacting in other ways, mostly with the world and the people around you, and that is a foreign, yet fulfilling, prospect.
When the constant drone of all the little machines fades away, the brain changes itself. It has to adapt to a slower, realer way of interface. The brain becomes acquainted with a quieter existence. Without a constant buzz of information, data, and media, it– at first– doesn’t know what to do. It demands more, almost freaking out for something exciting to super-charge its neurotransmitters. The brain longs for the little red notification flag that triggers the happy release of dopamine. What do we do without it? What do we do instead of tapping the G-mail icon on our phone every hour or every 10 minutes or every 10 seconds? It’s astounding to think that you might miss what your high school bestie had for dinner, or how many diapers your sister-in-law changed that morning. You’ll have to fill that time somehow. You might even have to sit still and commune with yourself, something a phone would never, ever allow.
I suggest that when you remove the noise of the device, that when the smart phone ceases to be your brain for you, then your brain will once again take over and begin to partake in and enjoy both the quiet and the stimulation of the real world. It will re-discover itself, become excited by the challenges of memory and computation, and thoroughly enjoy the silence and the harmony of the real self.
Not many people can live life off the grid, totally divorced from all the machines that are taking over the world. I’m not so sure that would be healthy or helpful. But most people could– and I suggest should– become more aware of their relationships to their devices, making more conscious choices about who is in charge. Those decisions stand to improve our health, our brains, our interactions, our enjoyment of nature, our sleep, and yes, even our marital relations.
Lately I’ve been feeling empty and stuck, like a little deflated balloon…tied in an impossible knot. This phenomenon is something I experience roughly every 2-5 years and, I reckon, is pretty unavoidable. It’s part of my restless nature as a spiritual creature on this planet. Maybe it has something to do with being an Aries. Maybe it’s because I have epilepsy and a busted-up brain. Maybe it’s because I’m pretty lazy and change my mind and desires too much. Whatever. It’s just how I am. I can never really sort out why, so the why of it probably doesn’t matter too much.
When I get stuck, it’s frustrating, but it’s also highly motivating. I don’t like to stay here– like Eeyore or sad-faced Charlie Brown. A fire blazed up under my arse and the dynamic passion grows to get things moving, however frightening that is. I want to make changes, move life’s furniture around the proverbial room. My husband asked, “Would it help to buy some new pants?” with his tongue slightly in cheek.
The realization of stuck-ness is like an asleep foot coming back awake, all prickly and numb. It’s evidence that I’ve lost touch with myself and that I haven’t been listening to that still, small voice inside. Something deep within whispers, “Hey, wake up, Crazy!” It tells me that I’ve been on autopilot way too long, coasting through life, not engaging with it enough, and not asking enough questions. When I feel stuck it probably means I have forgotten part of who I am, and that I need to take a moment (or two) in order to remember.
The last time this happened I had forgotten that I was a passionate person, capable of great physical and emotional love. I could have gone through life like a small metal robot, but I remembered that part of myself and went back to collect it, at great cost.
This time around it seems like I’ve been forgetting that I am a living, spiritual individual, capable of great depth, insight, and foresight. In short, I have forgotten that, as a human, I am gifted with the capacity to relate to and even communicate with God. Did I truly and completely forget? No. But I have been living in a state of forgetfulness, as though my life needed no remembrance in order to survive.
Two weekends ago, however, on a trip to Colorado’s Western Slope, I got into my blue Subaru all alone. The bike was on top of the car, the windows were down, and there was no sound other than the wind. No radio to fill my head, no sound of others talking, not even a dog to talk to. Just me, alone with the silence. I found a trail down a dirt road (many others found it too), put my bike together, and wore myself out on the best ride of my life thus far. The only thing to do was to ride hard and listen to the quiet solitude, both of which were scary and exhilarating.
Lately that is the real soul food. There is nothing to eat or avoid eating that helps my health very much right now. There is no recipe I have to share with you, no elimination experiment, and no favorite supplement or company. I don’t even have solutions for how to get un-stuck in life or make great and powerful changes in order to love your life more and feel sublimely fulfilled. But…whatever. What I can tell you is that you are perfectly, imperfectly human, and that somehow counts for a very lot. To listen to the still, small voice that resides inside your soul– and to find a place on this earth where you can facilitate that listening– might be food enough for today.
When I chat with people who come to me for help with nutrition and health, I make mental lists of things that are most difficult for them. The things I think will end up at the top typically have not. Giving up cheese danishes for breakfast, re-routing the pathway to frutarianism, understanding that a serving of steak is the size of a deck of cards– you know, the usual. All of this sifts to the bottom of the difficulty list compared to when I say, “I don’t see anything green on your food diary. I’d like to see you eat some greens.”
Listen, I don’t throw people into the deep end of greenery with sharks and nasty water snakes where they’ll surely get chewed to bits or drowned. I like the deep end, with every meal full of piles and piles of greens that take up half the plate. This helps fill the belly, calm the mind, and increase the nutrient stores. No one can eat that much green stuff and not think, “Wow, that was really good for me.” It’s totally impossible. But I don’t do the deep end. I hold a person’s shaking hand and we step onto the first shallow step where the water just covers the feet. I find this way a little frustrating, but it is a start, and I do like that.
I love the reports, along the lines of, “That wasn’t so bad after all!” or “I couldn’t even taste the kale in my smoothie!” or “I used to hate spinach when I was a kid, but I actually liked it!” or “I never heard of chard before but now it’s my favorite!” Wow, hooray! Discovery.
Sometimes, however, a person comes with shame, like I’m some mean dog owner ready to scold over a big poo on the rug. Well, I don’t do that, even if maybe I should. I hear things like, “I’ve been really bad this week. I haven’t been eating my greens.” The look is downcast. Or, “Well, I did eat carrot sticks every day…is that good?” The look is hopeful. Carrots are good, yes, but they are different than greens.
At the end of a session or a day, I don’t hand out points, cookies, or gold stars, so mostly people just have to manage their own decisions and move on. I always have to return to a principle that my husband taught me, long before we got together. It goes like this: “I can’t make you do anything.” I might be able to teach you something, influence you, or recommend something I find to be true or beneficial– but I can’t make you do anything. I’m not going to fix you a pot of collards or buy you a box of super greens or open your mouth with a screwdriver and shove it all down. You get to decide. Then you get to do it– or not do it– yourself. That’s that.
As for me, I was asked yesterday by a client what I eat on a “good day.” I think this person probably thought all this advice was nice, but what I ate as the consultant was where the rubber really met the road. I haven’t sent her the breakdown yet, but I was relieved to think back on my day and see that even though I ate some chips and salsa and some really nice dark Theo Chocolate I also had a mess of greens for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Here’s an awesome bok choy recipe from Steamy Kitchen. This lady knows what the heck she’s talking about! We use this recipe with wild salmon and brown rice with kelp flakes and Bragg’s liquid aminos.
Enjoy your greens…
My husband and I have been on a rugged road with the “Paleo Diet,” a diet which consists of (supposedly) foods that only our prehistoric ancestors could have hunted, gathered, pulled out of a hole, or off a tree. The reality of modern-day Paleo is much different, of course, than this. Shopping at grocery stores, farmer’s markets, hell, even Super Wal-Marts and cooking with Cuisinarts and stick blenders adds a different flavor to the prehistoric table.
It’s all good and well, in my estimation, because even without chasing gazelles and climbing fig trees, this Paleo thing is just plain hard and frankly, despite the plethora of websites, recipes, cookbooks, rare steak, and amazing brownies made with coconut flour and walnuts, it just doesn’t taste all that good anymore.
Here’s the rub. The sad, sad rub. This diet still works for my husband and when he deviates from it with nice frothy IPA, a hamburger bun, or some goat cheese (I contest this could be Paleo-friendly), he goes downhill. I can acknowledge the reality of the situation. I can even say that Paleo is good for him. I will also say that it just doesn’t seem quite right.
I realized it didn’t seem right when I heard my husband say, “Eating has lost all its joy.”
Ugh. This one small statement took the wind out of me and made me so sad. So, he can choose between enjoying food with compromised health or not enjoying food and being well? This is not the way it’s supposed to be. We are ideally supposed to be able to eat anything real, whole, and good that grows or roams under the sun. Whether you consider these to be gifts of God or gifts of Mother Earth or whatever, we all need to acknowledge that real, whole, good food is a gift. It is intended to be nourishing, beautiful, and enjoyable. In our day and age, it should be able to be good for us and taste good too.
So, what the heck happened? Why do good things hurt us? Why do they give us gas, migraines, congestion, swollen joints, rashes, and ADHD? The simple answer is probably that we damaged our bodies (or they got damaged passively) through toxins in food, drugs, stress, and the environment. With a gunked up system, we just can’t handle all the “good” things anymore. So, like with the Paleo diet– or gluten free/dairy free– or vegetarian– or vegan– or SCD– or any other number of diets out there on the market, we remove things hoping for better results. We often get better results. But then we’re minus good, real foods that roam and grow under the sun, whether it be elk or quinoa or yogurt or tomatoes.
*Side note: I’m all for taking out fake, processed foods such as fruit roll-ups, wheat thins, Pepsi, and Yoplait. Just for the record.*
I believe that we should be able to eat anything. I think our mouths should be able to enjoy anything and that our bellies and bodies should be able to handle anything. When you dread making dinner, find apathy in going out to breakfast, or lose interest in your afternoon snack, something isn’t right. I guess the key must be either in the acceptance of the broken system or in the commitment to healing it.
Simply taking entire foods groups out and removing joy from eating just isn’t good enough for us anymore. I’ll let you know when I figure it all out…
Humans are ridiculous beasts. I include myself in this assessment. We would rather (at least as I observe in our American culture) be instantly gratified by something tasty or something that stimulates our brain for a moment than be sustained and nourished long term.
Food used to take work. Whether you take a look at our prehistoric ancestors who had to hunt and gather or our agricultural era forefathers and mothers who labored and toiled over the growth and production of grains, milk, vegetables, and meat, you see that everyone had to work for what they put in their mouths. When they said their prayers, they were truly grateful because they’d worked their asses off and were exhausted by the time they sat down to a meal of real food. Even corn mash and collard greens fit the bill for real gratitude.
Today we rush. We want what feels and tastes good; we want what comforts us when we’ve had a crappy day or when our boss, brother, or spouse has been a real meanie. We’ve trained our brains to expect food as drugs rather than food as delicious god-and/or-earth-given nourishment for our minds, bodies, and souls. In the stimulation of ourselves we think we are providing for ourselves, but we’re really missing out.
We’ve become addicted to un-food in this process. We can’t taste spinach or pinto beans or almonds anymore. They don’t satisfy us very well. Water is bland. Tea and coffee are no good without all the “fixings.” We want dessert, a little something special in the afternoon, lots and lots of sugar for breakfast, or to get happy at that very special hour after work.
I spoke to a man yesterday who was looking for supplements in the digestive aisle. There are lots of options. It’s a long aisle. He informed me that he required some powerful digestive enzymes because he was really not able to digest anything he ate. He said he’d tried everything and nothing was working for him. I asked a couple questions, but he didn’t care to answer. He just wanted the best, cheapest pills we had for his digestive issue. I let him know that the best, cheapest thing he could do was to remove the foods he thought were the biggest problem from his diet and see how he did. Just for a while. You know, sir, not forever. He said that, nah, that was too hard and took too much effort. Just the pills, please.
I see this a lot. Everyday, in fact. People tell me that my suggestions are too hard, too time consuming, too frustrating, too restrictive. It’s probably true. They probably are. But the food suggestions I make toward real nourishment and real health are not the problem, as far as I can tell. The corner we’ve painted ourselves into with our choices and our addictions are the main problem. How much we demand for our taste buds and brains are impossible to keep up with once we decide we would like to be well. It’s the whole having-your-cake-and-eating-it-too predicament.
Becoming re-acquainted with real food, the time real food takes, and the nourishment and health real food provides is work. It does take time out of a person’s schedule. It is not fast food and it cannot be put into a microwave. Consider the time food would have taken to be hunted, gathered, grown, raised, and made. It may not be addictive in the same way un-food is, but it can fulfill desire.
Yesterday was Easter for most folks. For me it was the last ski day of the season, and a great one at that. Perfect bluebird skies, just a little wind, no traffic, no spring breakers, no lift lines, fresh beautiful mountain air, and shin deep powder up high on Loveland’s lift 9. Even the birds were singing. If only I’d have brought my fat skis!
Yesterday was also the day I was ready. After several meager seasons of telemark skiing, I finally got the guts to get off the big kid lift and ski a steep, powdery black run. This seems like small cookies, but you must understand that I learned to telemark (tele for short) in my 30’s, and it wasn’t easy. Tele skiing is backwards from “regular” or alpine style downhill skiing. It’s also better. It’s more graceful when done correctly; the turns are more deliberate and difficult and there’s more satisfaction at the end of a run. Even the snow you shoosh onto your buddy is richer. I’m not biased. Riding the lift up to the Continental Divide at almost 13,000 feet, I noticed a virtually untracked swath of snowy mountain and said I’m going to ski that– I’m scared, but I’m ready.
And I was. I hopped off, turned left, and found a spot beyond the cornices to pop off the ridge. Sure, I was far from aggressive my first time down, but after a couple long traversing alpine turns, I made amazing, satisfying tele turns all the way down, a far cry from my bunny hill days at Eldora. When I reached the bottom my two front teeth were frozen from the big fat smile on my face.
That’s a little story about being ready for something and it all working out. Pretty nice, huh? Well, I know it doesn’t always work out like that (sometimes we’re not ready, but succeed; sometimes we are ready, but fail; etc), but there is something to get out of it.
This idea came to my attention because I’ve been talking to people lately who want to accomplish things with lifestyle, health, and food, but don’t seem quite ready for what it will require of them. Humans (myself included, and especially Americans, I find) tend to want quick results without careful preparation, mind-shifting, or work in order to get results. We are a pill-popping culture that has not had to watch the proverbial grass grow.
As a nutritionist who does not believe in quick fixes, fad diets, or too much pill-popping, I have to consider for my clients the importance of being ready for whatever their desired goal is because it probably won’t come all too easily. Having the brain, body, and spirit on board is really, really important. If it’s not all packed up and ready for the journey, you’ll just freeze up, stay on the lift, and ride back down to the bottom. No frozen-tooth-smile included.
Here’s a few things you need.
You need to need the thing. Without needing whatever it is, what’s the point? If it’s just someone else saying You should really lose weight or Going paleo is the bomb or Everybody’s doing it (whatever the hell “it” is that particular week), then fuhgeddaboudit. You specifically need to need whatever the thing is. It needs to be right for your individualized you, not someone else, not the masses, not the airbrushed movie stars on the front of the stupid magazines. If getting a six pack for bathing suit season, taking dairy out of your diet, standing on your head for one minute every hour, or climbing El Capitan is right for you and you need it, then maybe it’s time to consider it. Just for you.
You need to want the thing. This is inextricably linked to point A (see above). Also, this might include liking whatever the thing is, and it might not. For me it did, as I happen to love snow and skiing and the views I get from the Divide. It’s good to at least want what you might get out of your thing. For instance, you might not want to remove gluten from your diet, but you might want to stop your acne, migraines, and diarrhea. Or you might not want to spend time with your idiot husband, but you might want to avoid running off to France with Pierre and ruining your kids lives. It’s nice when it works out that you want the thing and what it gives you as well. But you can’t always get what you want, as the saying goes…
You need to plan ahead and prepare for the thing. I can thank N.O.L.S. and Leave No Trace for this one. Nothing works…nothing works… when you fail to have the tools, supplies, support group, mental space, research, emergency phone numbers, or (in my case) backpack full of snacks and electrolyte enhanced water you need in order to accomplish the task at hand. If you don’t plan ahead and prepare, you will fail, and probably in short order. If you’re planning to do a Spring cleanse and must take bologna, Gruyere cheese, crusty loaves of French bread, Diet Coke, Haagen Dazs, mocha chip Frappuccinos, and Two Buck Chuck out of your daily routine, you need to be ready to fill it with something else. (A lot of nice lean steak, avocados, herbal tea, and greens if you work with me.) It might not be easy, but at least you’ll be ready.
You need your mind and body to come together to the thing. One is not much good without the other. It’s hard to start triathlon training if you have conditioned your muscles, but you think you suck and can’t do it. It’s also hard to start eating greens three times a day if you are psyched, but you hate the taste and your belly can’t digest them. Both sides need tending. When both are tended, they inch closer and begin to work together, as intended.
You need to be honest: it’s okay to be ready and still be scared. We can’t see the future, damn it. I try all the time and it’s never worked. We want to know ahead of time if it’s going to work out, if we’re going to fall, if all of our striving was worth the pain, and if we are going to get the results we want. We want to know if we’ll ski the black run without eating powder, if gluten was really the culprit, if we really can be thin and gorgeous. The fact is we can’t know ahead of time because the forest is dark and the path is sometimes obscured. Not knowing is scary and makes us feel insecure and tentative. We don’t like to fail, and if we don’t ever try, we won’t. We can just keep mucking along, settling for whatever mediocre or painful situation today holds. Or we can suck it up, be brave, and try, even though it’s scary. I think I know which route is better. I think you know, too.
At the end of the day, we all have stuff we want to change. We all have little goals we’d like to achieve whether it’s debt reduction, making amends with family members, or not eating so many damned chips every day. The fact is that humans– the human mind, body, and spirit– have the capacity and ability to change, even as we age and “become more set in our ways”. Guess what? You can change your health at 34. You can change your mind at 61. You can change your body at 75. You can start skiing blacks at almost-37. You might even like it.