Family · health · ME/ CFS · nonfiction · recovery

A Case for Moderation

“Before illness,”  I tell my therapist, “I had things I was working on – I was engaged with life.  Now I can’t do any of that.  I feel useless.”

She nods.  “Yes, that is what illness does.”

I’d had two days of feeling better.  Two days of being able to sit up and actually do a bit of housework.  “I felt so good that I actually started to allow myself to make plans,”  I tell her, choking up.

“That is the trouble with this disease,”  she explains.  “Patients have good days, and they do things, and it sets them back.  You need to learn to enjoy the days you are feeling better, without increasing your activity.  Your body needs rest; rest is what is going to get you well again.”

I look away.  How can I tell her about the messages that have been haunting me these past days?

“I feel stripped of all purpose,”  I manage to confess.

“Ah,” she says knowingly.  “One of the things that we are able to do when we are well is avoid the voices in our head; without all that busyness we are alone with our demons.”

“Exactly!”  I love this woman!  “It sounds crazy, but I keep hearing my father’s voice.”

“What is he saying?”  She leans forward.

You don’t have any problems!  You don’t even know what problems are! ”  There were more too:  Time is money.  Waste not, want not.    I tell her about how he never allowed us to sleep in, made us get up and do drills on Saturday morning before cleaning the house.

th-1.jpeg“Your father wanted you to be strong, able to face whatever life threw at you.  What is missing from that picture is the message that home is the soft place to land.”

Her words strike a chord.  “That concept was foreign to me for most of my life,” I tell her.  “I never even conceived of it until I met Ric.  Isn’t that awful?”

She gives me a sad smile.  “The trouble with growing up in a family where work ethic is everything is that you are always living up to someone else’s expectations.  Your father set the bar high and to get there, you had negate all natural instincts.  You weren’t allowed to feel tired, sad, angry, etc.  All that would be pushed aside in order not to disappoint him.”

Even as she speaks, I see myself going to my room, disheartened by my feelings, wanting to hide – out of sorts.  Emotions were not welcome in our house; weakness was abhorred.

“Then you found yourself alone as a single mom with three kids.  There was no time for your needs.  No time to be sick, or rest, so you carried on out of necessity.”

“And I had my own business,”  I add to the list in my head.  “No possibility of taking time off there.”   To my therapist, I add:  “I don’t know how to banish the guilt.”

“Journal the messages when they pop up,”  she suggests.  “That way you can get them out of your head and onto paper where you can see how useless they are.  Tell yourself that by resting you are doing exactly what you need to be doing.  Getting better is all about listening to your body.”

“And when others ask me what I’ve done with my day…….?”

“Their questions are triggering you childhood demons.  You are hearing your father’s voice behind them.  Tell them you are doing exactly what you need to be doing to get well.  Leave it at that.”

I sigh.  For months now, I have felt like I have to justify my existence to everyone.  I have felt like such a failure.

“I have done the same thing to my children,”  I blurt out.

“Likely,”  she smiles.  “It’s all you’ve known.”

“Oh God,”  I moan.

“There is nothing wrong with a good work ethic as long as it’s balanced with proper rest.  It’s all about moderation.”

I have missed the moderation piece of life’s puzzle.

Will I ever learn?



Day 170 “Elimination”

“I’ll have the summer berry salad without the candied pecans and dressing on the side please.”

Yes, I am one of those.

The candied pecans have gluten which I have eliminated from my diet.  The cheese is goat, so I can eat that, as opposed to cow’s milk, which I cannot.  I have also eliminated meat.

“I think your problem is that you don’t eat meat,”  my friend Petra says.  “You need the protein.”

Not eating meat is a choice that I made years ago, because I was finding it hard to digest.  “My naturopath says meat and dairy create inflammation in the body.  I quit because of my fibromyalgia.”

“But you still get sick after eating! You should see a proper doctor.”

“I’ve been going to doctors about my health problems for years.  All they do is prescribe medicine that my body rejects.  Doctors don’t appreciate the relationship between food and health. It’s not part of their education.”

“Well, something is wrong.”

I don’t disagree with her there, and I know others get frustrated by my choices, but I also know my own body and it is even more frustrating when I get sick after eating.

“You’re not celiac, are you?”

“No, I am not.  After my last colonoscopy, the doctor said I have an inflamed bowel, or IBS.  I took myself off gluten after reading about it.  It has made a huge difference, and when I do eat something with even a little bit in it, I know it.”

“Well, I think you should be talking to someone who knows.”

Petra and I can never agree on my diet.  I am also allergic to shellfish, coffee, melon and alcohol.  It makes dining out a challenge.

Today’s reflection, in The Joy of Tao Every Day, by Derek Lin, is about the dangers of elimination and black and white thinking.  Lin is referring more to ideals, and psycho-babble, but it got me thinking about my relationship to food, and wondering if this could be part of the riddle of my ongoing battle with weight.

When I was a kid, my stay-at-home mom spent her days in the kitchen, cooking and baking.  Everyday I would return home from school to find fresh baked cookies, muffins, and usually a pie or cake.  There was no limit to the sweets we consumed in that house.  Ice cream was another favourite in our home.  I loved ice cream so much, I remember thinking I would die if I couldn’t eat it.

At the same time, I suffered from severe allergies as a child.  A trail of balled up kleenexes trailed me everywhere, and a constant runny nose and puffy eyes earned me the nickname, Snickers.  Summer was the worst, and back to school always an embarrassment.  I asked my allergist once if he thought there was a connection between what I ate and my affliction, but he said not likely.

Then as a young mother, I stumbled upon alternative medicine and attended a conference at which my seat mate was an allergist.  A maverick, he called himself.  He believed that food had everything to do with allergies, and suggested I try an elimination diet.  I went one step further and found someone who could do alternative allergy testing.  Bingo!  I eliminated the foods that he pinpointed and immediately improved, which was wonderful, but I had to give up my beloved ice cream.

Elimination of foods has not been easy, nor has it been fun.  Food is at the center of most cultural and social experiences, so participating for me is not as simple.  It is yet another way in which I feel left out, or outcast.

I have been questioning, in my most recent posts, the role that food plays in my life, and why it is so difficult to not overindulge.

I suspect, for me, it has to do with all the limitations I feel.  Eating was the one area as a child that I didn’t experience constraint.  Eating was reward, comfort, indulgence, and satisfaction.  Do I overeat now to try to recreate those feelings?  Is it the little girl in me that needs that reassurance?  And if so, is there another way I can give it to her, because the adult me feels awful after indulging in junk.

Lin writes:  “absolutes are impossibilities, while moderation is the practical reality.”

Moderation.  I like that word.  I also like the concept.  Forced to eliminate so much from my diet already, maybe what’s needed is an agreement to practice moderation instead of what feels like further deprivation.