Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Unfussy Eaters

In describing the impact of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I’ve referred most often to trichotillomania, or compulsive hair pulling. It’s a useful placeholder – three years ago, trichotillomania was my most immediate clue something bad was happening; the symptoms are visible and recognizable; it’s a common response to trauma; and in my case, despite many other improvements to my health, the trichotillomania hasn’t gotten much better. It may never go away.

Other people with PTSD would probably focus on different aspects of the disorder, many of which are much more debilitating than compulsively rubbing your scalp. Although PTSD involves a smorgasborg of common symptoms, each person’s experience is unique. Ditto for anxiety and depression. 

So far I haven’t mentioned many of the other ways mental illness can interfere with your life. Like eating disorders.

For the last fifty years, uberinvestor Warren Buffett has picked up breakfast at McDonald’s on his way to the office. I’m a creature of habit myself, so I’m not suggesting his therapist look for signs of childhood trauma. But I’d like to think I’m an omnivore who’s more open to culinary adventures than Mr. Buffett. I enjoy a good meal with friends.

On the other hand, I’m also one of those people for whom stress is slimming. My inevitable response to any serious bout of anxiety or depression is to stop eating. (Dieting tip: you can lose at least three times more weight when you get dumped than when you break up with someone. Keep that in mind if your relationship is on the rocks.) 

Three years ago, I added PTSD to the mix. As usual, stress suppressed my appetite. But it happened in a whole new way – foods that I previously loved now repelled me. It was like being pregnant. Eventually I discovered I could tolerate only artisan breads, freshly-squeezed juice, and berries. It sounds like a lovely diet. But it gets monotonous. 

Fortunately, the weird food obsessions went away eventually. Unlike my trichotillomania. Nevertheless, the experience made me more attentive to the relationship between comfort food and mental health. It also made me a terrible snob about certain menu items.

For example, when I was growing up, “orange juice” was something my mother mixed from frozen concentrate. This may be my most vivid memory of child abuse.

Nowadays if you open my parents’ refrigerator you’ll find the good stuff – pasteurized premium not-from-concentrate Tropicana™ or Florida’s Natural™ (whichever brand was on sale this week at Fred Meyer). It’s the same orange juice I buy for my children.

I don’t drink it myself, of course. Currently I can tolerate only two kinds of orange juice: cold-pressed Evolution™ brand juice, which Starbucks helpfully carries; and Trader Joe’s fresh-squeezed tangerine juice ($4.49 for 32 ounces). 

This month I was in Vancouver for multiple chorus rehearsals and performances. The timing worked out to meet a friend for lunch on Saturday. He graciously invited me out for fine dining at Earls, where he ordered a beer. I prudently ordered orange juice.

When our beverages arrived, I hope he didn’t notice my grimace. Or read my mind:  

“I can’t believe Earls serves the kind of Minute Maid orange juice from concentrate you would get from the machine in a junior high cafeteria.”

What I didn’t realize during our lunch was that I had a serious sinus infection. I was too busy being distracted by an acute attack of tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. 

As I wrote last week in “Dr. Practical,” by the end of the concert that night the ringing was unbearable. Early Sunday morning I showed up at the walk-in clinic in Bellingham. Dr. Practical diagnosed the sinus infection, and prescribed antibiotics and Sudafed. 

The ringing quickly improved, but everything else did not. When I got home for lunch Sunday, my throat was on fire. It was time to self-medicate. So I cracked open my stash of Trader Joe’s Tangerine Juice, and poured myself a tall soothing glass.

It tasted exactly like Minute Maid concentrate. I guess that’s just another side effect of my sinus infection.

Ever frugal, my mom pointed out there’s a bottle of extra-pulpy orange juice in the fridge that no one else wants to drink, so I might as well finish it off before the antibiotics kick in. I said no. Regardless of the state of my taste buds, I would know the difference.

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