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Saturday, June 7, 2014

"As long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time being." --Fraz Kafka

I don't want to have PTSD for the rest of my life.


I said it.

There was a time, when I had not yet been beaten repeatedly by life, when I completely believed I could make it go away, or reduce the symptoms to the point where I rarely, if ever, noticed them.

I suppose I still believe that sometimes. What I have learned, however, is that in order for that to happen, the upkeep and maintenance will be very daunting. Through research and therapy, I have devised a process that works dramatically, but it takes a great deal of time and effort and sometimes I'm tired. However, I'm going to write the process here, in the hope that seeing it, understanding why I'm doing it, and remembering the consequences if I don't, will help me continue working. Today I'm talking about food.

It is crucial for me to eat healthily. Even without PTSD this would be a necessity. I've been blessed with a body that reacts to artificial sweeteners, flavorings, and colors. It sends me inordinate pain when I eat chemically treated meats like ham, salami, pepperoni, hotdogs, bacon--you know--all the fun things everyone loves. My body will tolerate a small amount of dairy. If my intake exceeds the tolerance point, I'm ill for a day or two. I can drink a carbonated beverage every three to four months now. Ten years ago, such a drink would send my bladder the message that it needed to grow tumors, as would any food item with more than 150 milligrams of sodium. Animal and dairy fats also affect me adversely. So what does that leave? Natural lean meats, fruits, vegetables, soy/coconut/almond milk, homemade breads and cookies, and chocolate. And lots of water. Who can whine about that?

But having these limitations makes eating out an olympic event. And no one understands when I don't eat at a picnic or cookout which, in general, does not offer much from my diet plan. They think I'm trying to lose weight as I nibble carrots and celery (sans dip) from a vegetable tray, or try to eat watermelon (good for me--but I dislike the way it tastes), and I opt for water over the Kool-aid, artificial lemonade, or soda pop. I've learned to treat such events as social only. I eat before I go. Sometimes I do the same when I meet friends at a restaurant. And sometimes I'm thought rude when I eat at someone's home but I bypass much of what is served.

I underwent three years of tumor removal and chemotherapy administered to my bladder through my urethra. When it's happening three times weekly, the illness from the medication and pain from repeated catheter insertions are huge motivators to stay healthy so the process never has to be repeated again. I think I'm okay if I'm judged a rude, compulsive dieter while I protect the vulnerable parts of my body.

I've also learned that when I don't eat correctly (or when I don't eat at all, which sometimes happens), I become tired, irritable, and exhausted. In that condition, there is no chance that I will do the other things necessary to manage PTSD. Panic attacks are normal occurrences. I avoid conversations and interactions with others as I find myself overreacting to words, imagining false motives, and picking arguments. I know why it's happening, I remind myself how stupid I've been to let it happen, which in turn, exacerbates all symptoms and makes me feel that I've failed all of mankind because I ate Chinese food.

I've learned strategies to soften the impact of understanding that I will never be able to comfortably eat like other family members and friends. I research menus for fast food and sit-down restaurants whenever possible before I go there. Usually I can find at least one menu item that will fit my needs. I ask waiters to please tell the cooks to limit use of fat and place all sauces on the side. I always drink water.

Not only do I eat a small meal before attending picnics/cookouts/barbeques, I bring a main dish salad (regardless of whether or not I'm asked) to share. That way I can participate without people asking lots of questions (which I don't really mind for short periods of time) or telling me I don't need to lose weight (actually, I do because my physical therapist says it will reduce impact when I start to run) or wondering if I have an eating disorder (I do--it's in remission, but still something about I have to be cautious).

When I visit in other peoples' homes, I ask for the privilege of making them dinner.  I ask many questions about the types of food they like/dislike, then I try to make something flavorful and beautiful--something new and original that they will enjoy as much as I will, but I won't have to explain about the reactions my body has to boxed or prepared foods, nor will I insult them by not eating a meal they've prepared for me. So far, no one has whined a great deal about having me prepare their food. This is a good thing.

It's okay that I need to work a little bit harder, I guess, to meet my nutritional needs. Diabetics do it. Actually, anyone with a food allergy or sensitivity will go out of their way to make sure the trigger foods are avoided. But I can't say I'm diabetic or allergic or I have celiac disease...I'm not and I don't. And how does one explain in a socially acceptable way that my bladder doesn't process certain substances and the result is painful and extensive--or that some foods trigger PTSD symptoms and make me depressed/angry/anxious and sometimes suicidal? That seems to be beyond the understanding of most people and I get that. It sounds ridiculous.

All that being said, I'm committed to eating in such a way that I can use my food intake as a management tool. And I think I'm good at it, right now, about 70% of the time. There's definite room for improvement. Summer is a good time to work on that. Now I just need to remind myself that this is not a new or temporary thing--this is my life. It's forever.

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