Indecisive miscellany 

At the traffic lights a middle aged woman siddled up to me and positively beamed about the Rolls Royce that had just driven by. Wasn’t it glorious! Her brother had owned one back in the day because he was quite well off, don’t you know, but not she. Oh no, she was a humble lady, proud to have built up her organisation by talking to 750 people in 32 different countries, and not a smart phone in sight! Not like those immoral noxious drivers who won’t change their selfish habits until they kill someone. 

And then the lights changed and I bid her farewell.

I really need to stop making eye contact with strangers while my bike is static.

Pickledsparklymooseprincess et al. Is out at a reputable journal near you now. It comes with metrics too, some kind of mesmerising social experiment on manuscript popularity and self-indulgence….so exactly how many people have tweeted about my findings, how many news sites are relaying our message? More importantly, why do i care? The work speaks for itself, the scientific community will either accept, digest, cite and build, or disagree, overlook, or seek to prove us wrong. And yet I keep on checking of anyone has ‘liked’ that tweet by #healthypartidgesnutterideology*

I’m favouring the Oxford comma these days. For no real reason except a dry need to jazz up my punctuation parties.

(I’m wearing the parenthesis costume so don’t even think about it.)

This ongoing dietary adventure is somewhat of a sideshow. All “gluten-free” this and “dairy-free” that and all I want to do is lay in bed eating apple pie with icecream chased by an Irish coffee. When hunger strikes it’s not a lesson in exploration but in stock-taking and problem-solving. An academic exercise in keeping myself preoccupied with anything else but fixation on this shameless digestive oppression. 

A word of unsolicited advice if I may though: when at a wedding and rolling your eyes at everyone throwing themselves around to the likes of ‘five’ or ‘sclub7’ don’t be pulled into telling anyone what kind of music you like because to a wedding dj, rock/metal/electronica is a metaphor for Bryan Adams and bloody Bon Jovi. And having effectively ‘requested’ this shit, someone’s dad is gonna make damned sure you dance to it even though you’re dying inside. 

*fictional, or at least presumed fictional. 

Ps. It is probably clear that I  don’t know how twitter works…please don’t mock me, at least I didn’t draft a 400 character tweet (I’m looking at you boss lady) 

How do you turn off your inner superego-centric pessimist?

By the way, I’m actually asking the question,  not answering it.

I have a very stubborn inner pessimist. Negative thinking has taken me to very many places in my life and it’s been largely a cold and dark experience. Sometimes dark and dank are just what you need though, so what exactly am I missing out on?

I’m told by the media,  by my mother, by my therapist, by that labrador down the road that positive thinking is a good thing that you can learn, and that you don’t have to just (figuratively) shit all over everything including yourself. Though this is far more frowned upon as literal behaviour.

As it happens I am in the process of nominating someone for an award and so am having to overcome the cringe-inducing wince-fest that comes with open and borderline superfluous flattery. I recognise all these awesome qualities in people around me but I never tell them, and I’m unable to recognise them in myself. 

Fortune peeked over my shoulder and decided that my therapist should get me to focus on the good things as about myself cos I figure I’m pretty sucky in most capacities compared to everyone else. The single admirable property that I will openly admit to possessing is honesty. The rest of that box remains bare. Sorry doc that’s it, the thesaurus has been scoured and there are no more appropriate adjectives. But low and behold a far worse challenge lay ahead. Due to my utter failure to get with the positivity program, I was tasked with asking a few close people to tell me what they like about me. Apparently this is not just attention-seeking…

Have you ever asked someone what they like about you? It’s fucking weird. I mean in Britain, you don’t go gushing about why you love your friends or family, you just stick by them and they should know that if you hang around long enough then you probably like them some. It goes unsaid, like some mystery current underlying your relationships. You’re never quite sure if your pal secretly thinks you are a wanker but they bought you a pint at the weekend so you’re probably ok in their eyes. So why are we so repressed and inhibited that it feels plain creepy to go listing the things you like about someone? In theory it’s a perfectly pleasant thing to do.

 I’ve only got as far as asking two people, one of whom could only come up with one thing that they like about me and that is my nose, which makes me paranoid because I have kind of a big nose and is by far my least attractive facial feature. Sigh. I’m not going to list the things my therapist and other generous surveyee said because that would take this horrifying experiment to another level of unnecessary squirming to this most uncomfortable topic. 

I can’t quite explain the emotional reaction I have to being given compliments, it’s something deeply awkward and dismissive, because I suspect there is some species-wide delusion  psychosis or pity going on behind those positive words and I don’t want to be the one to burst the bubble. If you’ve seen the series braindead where people are being controlled by brain munching bugs? I imagine it’s something like that. On some level of course I really appreciate the comments even if I don’t believe them because it shows people care enough to try and boost my self-esteem. I assume others feel the same so I avoid dishing out compliments but maybe I’m the only weirdo who finds all this pretty nauseating because sarcasm has to be replaced with earnestness (real word) and that’s a damned big leap. I’m tempted to try reciprocity on this subject with my therapist as an experiment to see if she feels uncomfortable, partly because I want to give something back and partly to look for signs of squirming. Humans are bizarre.

I understand from old Freud’s theory that this kind of self-denial phenomena is due to a strong superego and weak ego.  Superego being the morals that parents bestow in the early years and ego being the logical decision-making mediator between your mind’s chaotic self-gratifying impulses (Id) and reality.This seems fair because a weak ego is also considered the cause of anxiety. So this deflated balloon of a personal aspect needs a bit of air, even if I think it’s just hot air!

Ironically without a highly functioning logical sector, this challenge seems utterly abstract and unattainable. Maybe I’ll start reading Jung again, he seemed to have it all sorted. 

Restricting for the good of my gut?

It’s been a while since I’ve felt the need for a sprawling rant about how everything is pissing me off, but such a mood has descended yet again.

The issue is my damned digestive system. So you know about the drama with the failed endoscopy, for which I have to go chat to a specialist on Monday, but that’s not the issue right now, the big problem is that for ‘ibs’ symptoms I have to do a low FODMAP elimination diet for 4 weeks. You probably don’t know what this diet is and I hope you never have to find out in detail. You have to cut out certain types of food including wheat, dairy, some fruits and veggies, plus onion and garlic. This on top of the no coffee, alcohol or citrus that my stomach requires. It’s basically a torturously strict set of dietary rules with the result that you can basically only eat potato and rice for 4 weeks. Maybe I’m exaggerating but today is day one and I’m utterly fed up. Being vegetarian plus low FODMAP and lactose free is a big challenge, and one that I do not relish. We went to the supermarket especially to stock up of special foods for me, only for me to realise today that a few of them I’m not actually allowed to eat because they have a banned ingredient hidden in them (no fair!!) the strawberry jam was a particular disappointment and I nearly smashed the damned jar right there and then for containing fructose syrup. The wheat-free cake (contains milk) and dairyfree icecream (contains lupin) are currently at risk of violence because I  chose them specifically, I want to eat them, but I can’t. I’ll have some vegan cola sweets instead and give my teeth and blood glucose a nice surprise. I’ve discovered that rice noodles are no substitute for wheat noodles and that gluten free bread is a whole other food group that appears to only contain dry, slightly sweet non-doughy produce. If I’m required to dine out this month I’ll be restricted to a gluten free pizza or a baked potato with a glass of water….how very exciting indeed. I have to attend a wedding and didnt tell them I was going to be wheat-free and onion and garlic-free so I’m going to have to just suck it up and eat what I’m served unless it’s literally onion soup with bread because, no, that really doesn’t sound very clever….and cue rolling around on the hotel room floor waiting for the abdominal pains to pass….

My belly already feels a bit better and this pisses me off because I don’t want to have to cut out any of these things indefinately. That and I’m hiccupping like a motherfucker so I guess it’s just a choice between reflux or ibs these days. 

If anyone is reading then please send moral fortification because it’s not yet been 24 hours and I want out from this restrictive hell hole! 

On an unrelated topic, my latest manuscript got accepted and the next edition of pickledsparklymooseprincess et al will appear soon In a biology journal near you. I will celebrate this weekend with some strong rooibos tea and oat biscuits maybe followed up with a gaviscon chaser. Living the dream. 

Don’t even think about eating apple pie in front of me right now, I won’t be held accountable for my actions.

In which I forgive myself and don’t refer to myself as a pathetic idiot

If you get triggered by descriptions of medical procedures then probably don’t read this…

Today was hard for me. I mean really hard. I had to go for a hospital procedure that is basically my idea of hell. I’ve been losing sleep and taken up a whole therapy session fretting over it. Despite much reassurance my anxiety rather got the better or me. I was pretty much holding it together right until I went for some admission tests, y’know the boring blood pressure etc and then the eye faucet was opened. 
Oh dear. Well that wasn’t super helpful but I was unreasonably stressed and couldn’t understand the nurse very well (a combination of anxiety worsening my attention, and a nurse with hayfever and a heavy accent). 

I got my shit together and read my kindle for a bit. An elderly lady with a stick was ushered in and asked to change into a gown. I wondered if she was agile enough to change herself but she managed it OK. As I was called to have the canula put in I got freaked out and the lovely nurse was very nice to me while I sobbed about stopping breathing and dying…so I was put back in the waiting room uncanulated. Being somewhat teary I got a concerned look from the old lady across from me. Despite the effort for her to get up and hobble over to me, she did so and gave me a hug, asking of I was OK. In her thick Scottish accent she told me she was 90 years old had stomach surgery for cancer 40 years ago and had been a regular attendee at the clinic ever since. She said I’d be fine and I almost believed her. People can be so lovely.

I went through to the theatre and the nurse in charge of the actual tube down throat manoeuvre tried to calm me and with some hesitation I agreed to them going ahead. I was shaking so much that no sedation was out of the question.  It took three nurses and three attempts to get the stupid canula in due to being dehydrated. So that was a bit painful and sore so I got dizzy and teary again. They sprayed some godawful demon banana flavoured anaesthetic down my throat, flushed out the canula with saline then gave me sedative, within a couple of seconds I was relaxed, they put in a mouth guard and then I came to in the recovery area a few mins later. 

Apparently it did not got to plan.
Sedated pickledsparklymooseprincess did not enjoy having a camera being pushed down her throat and so she started trying to pull it out with her hands. I don’t know how many times they tried or how much sedative they gave me, I asked why they didn’t just hold my arms down but during the chat the head nurse had with me afterwards. She rather suggested that I was uncontrollably uncomfortable and it was impossible for them to restrain me enough go continue.
Eek.
So basically I went though all the hunger, thirst, build up, the tears, the stress, fear, needles, sedation and presumably gagging, plus associated throat soreness that come free with the procedure without ACTUALLY managing to have it done. 

A large part of me is disappointed and not very sympathetic about this turn of events, however I am proud of myself for agreeing to the procedure, going to the hospital, having the canula put in, having sedation and trying to have the scope. Sadly it wasn’t my day and I might need a general anaesthetic if they decide I really need it done that badly.
So there we have it. Not what anyone wanted but I almost made it. On the plus side I’ll be less scared of canuli and sedation now (and hospital procedures in general). So for the next few days I’ll be stopping myself mid-thought when the words idiot, stupid or pathetic come to mind. Lets face it, this was not a pleasant morning but I got through it and even without the rose tinting of time, would try again (though the nurses may disagree!) 

Sad days and dizziness

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Those ghastly bouts of anxious dizziness returned last week. Is it any wonder with unintelligible data at work and unfathomable propaganda and bigotry spreading through the damned nation. This isn’t the first time that my colleagues and I have experienced the frustration of purdah. It sounds like something glamorous and clandestine but its just muzzling us from having an outward opinion about political goings on. So no liking my friends Facebook posts then. Curses.

I won’t bore you with how disappointed and aggrieved I am with the decision that the ‘good’ people of Britain have made…because you can read it from one of the other millions of others telling the same story up and down the Isles. My conclusion, however, is this: Democracy is not democratic when votes are obtained by deception. I would vote for free unicorns for all and a guaranteed government funded chocolate cake every day but I have the intelligence to realise how unlikely those things are to be real, and that slaughtering all of our cows to make way for those unicorns is almost certainly a terrible idea. I know cows aren’t the most exciting animals and they cost a lot more than unicorns to feed, but they are also less prone to disappearing in thin air. Ah. Has the Penny dropped yet? (because the pound certainly has).

It’s kind of fascinating that the most well educated and financially-orientated areas voted one way….it’s almost like we could see what might happen…but it isn’t black magic guys…it’s just common sense, something woefully lacking in a vast swathe of the commoners.

I can only hope that those vertiginous shaky spells of mine were in no way prophetic…the same goes for the biblical hailstorm we had today.

My therapist says I need to be more positive and worry less…these are testing times.

Malign obsessions: On health as a whole organism phenomena

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“she goes to the gym seven times a week, doesn’t drink and watches what she eats. She is so healthy!”

How many times am I going to hear this or its ilk and still manage to keep my volatile opinions to myself. The surface is fraying, I’m losing my composure over this.

The media would have us believe that to be healthy, you must subscribe to a set of rules: you must go to the gym multiple times a week, you must control your weight and diet, cutting out ‘bad’ foods and drinks, and you must drink enough water to detoxify the bad stuff out of yourself.

Exercise, water and a good diet are nothing new as far as ideas go, but what is new, anthropologically speaking, is the attitude that some have towards health.

It’s no secret that a lot of people suffer from mental health problems. It’s all over the news, raising awareness largely of depression, but what there is still a general lack of recognition for less well publicised phenomenon like orthorexia, obsessions, paranoia, dysmorphia and anxiety, and I really think they are creeping up on people without them or their loved ones knowing. What is worse is that others look up to those with such problems as role models.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to live a healthier life and keep your body strong, but there is a line at which the compromise to ones mental state no longer justifies such control over ones thoughts and actions.

Take sarah, she’s in her mid-twenties and to an unenlightened onlooker, she appears to live a healthy lifestyle. She has a normal BMI, goes to the gym seven times a week, she plays squash, she drinks only water eats a healthy diet and gets plenty of sleep. Physically she is in good shape, so all good right? A paragon on virtue. Don’t you wish you could be like Sarah?

Well let me tell you a little more. Sarah gets up at exactly your same time every day and weighs herself, she has each minute scheduled in her daily calendar so that she can eat, sleep and exercise at the times of day that she read are the most beneficial.¬† All her meals are weighed and measured out and every calorie and gram of fat tabulated. Sarah won’t go out in the sun and only drinks water from a glass bottle because she knows that plasticides in plastic cups are bad for you. Every label is scrutinised for nasty additives and preservatives. She eats alone because she thinks that a late lunch is better for the metabolism, and she eats the same thing every day because she read that they are the healthiest foods. Sarah spends a lot of time reading about new health news about what extra things to avoid, and refuses to take medication that she thinks is bad for her. She has never had caffeine, alcoholic drinks or smoked a cigarette in her life because she considers them too dangerous. Sarah is constantly checking her feelings and measuring her words so that she can stay in control of her mind as well as her body. Occasionally the control is lost and Sarah binges on treats and then compensates by making herself do a commensurate amount of additional gym work.

Do you still aspire to be like Sarah ? Or do you feel sorry for the way she needs to obsessively control her body to feel in control of her life?

Let’s take a step back.

Exercise:
Someone told me the other day that I didn’t exercise because I didn’t go to the gym. Where did this idea come from? Why the hell do I need to go to a small petri-dish of a box room with a bunch of sweaty people to be considered to be exercising. The 1 hour of medium impact cycling that I do each day counts for nothing? What about the fact that I have gym equipment at home should I feel the need, and a half a ton horse that I wrangle at the weekends? Well you can discuss your concerns with my body fat percentage because I’m not buying such a blinkered view, and yes, of course I can lift that 10 litre water butt for you because you aren’t strong enough…. Exercise can be walking, cycling, shopping, cleaning, gardening, dancing or having sex. You don’t need to be in that mirrored box with onlookers to make the exertion count, nor do the calories burnt need to be emblazoned on an lcd for them to be real. Personally I think that if you can get a decent quota of exercise without resorting to the gym, then you’ve proven self-sufficient in your ability to keep yourself active. Hurrah! If you happen to like going to the gym then good for you, but I don’t see the point. Bottom line, moving your body and using your muscles are good things, obsessing over reps, times, steps, times etc, not so much.

Diet:
There are huge debates over dietary recommendations. Each week there is another article telling you to eat this but not that, and scaremongering about how terrible some foods are for you, for the story to be reversed months or years later. Keeping up with those articles is not only exhausting but also damaging if you start cutting out food groups willy-nilly. The keys to a healthy relationship with food involve a balanced and varied diet that includes snacks and treats, and not ignoring the social aspects of meal times; cooking for a loved one, or sharing and enjoying food and drink together. I really feel like enjoyment and savouring what you nourish your body with is important, as is including a variety of foods, and including fruit, veg and fibre in with your fats carbs and protein. If you only imbibe things that you dislike and deny yourself the things you enjoy then you might get a certain ascetic kick out of being so controlled, but really, what are you doing? You are strictly denying things that you enjoy, to what end? So that the numbers add up right? so you get to feel virtuous? So you get other people’s approval? Think about what you are doing and why.

The other stuff:
As I have described above with respect to meal times, social interactions are important and isolation can be very damaging to someone in the throes of monomania; with noone to argue against their floored logic, it becomes cemented as truth and then paranoia slips in that others are trying to make them unhealthy or fat by sabotaging their strict regime. It’s a very delicate insular experience to be so absorbed in one aspect of your life that you obsess over it, and it has all manner of costs to you. It may feel like you are controlling your world from the calorie control room, but all you are doing is feeding the anxiety fire with more fuel so that everything outside of your safe boundaries becomes some kind of threat. Can you imagine pulling up the drawbridge like that?

I can. The reason why I have such a strong opinion and feel that I have a right to thrust this tirade internetwards is that I have had a serious eating disorder and a fixation with my health for most of my adult life. When I was sick I got so many compliments about how disciplined I was and how they wished they could be like me, how lucky I was to be thin etc. This kind of attitude was very unhelpful because it reinforced the idea that the way I was living my life was good and something to be admired. It fucking wasn’t, I was constantly exhausted, medicated up to my eyeballs, and every single thing in my life revolved around making sure I could eat ‘safe’ foods. I missed out on so many experiences in those years because I was too busy sat at home weighing and reweighing myself and my food and trying desperately to make the calories balance out. That is not a way to live, it’s barely an existence and if you genuinely admire those who live like that then maybe you aught to try some meds too. It has taken very many years but now I can exercise and eat without a thought for numbers of the energetic kind, and I can finally concentrate on the things that matter in life and every day is another day to try and maintain a healthy weight. I enjoy food and drink, and try new unknown dishes sometimes. For this gargantuan effort I receive the opinion that other people think I am not as fit or healthy any more. Health is not as superficial and the glossy magazines would have us believe. It encompasses the physical and the psychological, and people should not underestimate the physical impacts of a psychological problem. Unsatisfied as you may be with aspects of your physical form, if you had the opportunity to swap with Sarah to have a fitter, more muscular body and also take on her insecurities and necroticisms, would you do it? No, neither would I.

By the way “Sarah” in real life could just as easily be a man.

I didn’t think Poland was too bad until I got cream in my juice and anchovies instead of artichoke

As you might guess, I’m in Poland.

Right now I’m not ecstatic to be here.

Upon arrival everything seemed fine. Flight, train and taxi stuff was fine, hotel is nice, I met up with some people. Then I lost my cardigan somewhere and we went to a dinner with host lab members that I was expecting to be tomorrow, but nevermind. I thought it would be fine as I’d breezed through the whole traveling bit without any panic or even strong anxiety, I was a-ok.

At the restarant (feeling a bit chilly from my absentee cardigan) I decided to tell people that I don’t drink alcohol so I wouldn’t get pressured to drink, and picked a ‘fruit cocktail’ which from the name,I understood would be fruit blended together….but what arrived was about 50% cream. I can’t digest lactose, so after a couple of tastes I decided I’d have to get another drink but as I wasn’t paying I felt guilty, so just had water….

Time to order food then, so i picked a pizza and listed off my four chosen toppings: spinach, black olives, pines nuts and artichoke.

Fab.

Then the food arrives but this wasn’t any kind of artichoke ive ever seen…I mean, it looked fishy…so I enquired and yes it was anchovies…..so I politely said that I has asked for artichoke not anchovy (I’d even pointed to the word on the menu) ane the waitress just looked at me and and said ‘is that a problem?’ so I had to say, yes dear, yes it is…I am vegetarian, I don’t eat fish!

So grumpy faced off she went to fetch me a replacement…it turned up quite quickly and I had a quick scan and no, they hadn’t just taken off the fish and added artichoke because this one didn’t have pine nuts…OK close enough. It tasted fine even though it probably had someone’s spit in it. The problem was then that I’d got hungry waiting and was shivering, and making terrible conversation through my pained expressions of embarrassment and anxiety.

The afternoon started off so peacefully and degenerated into something monsterous thats going to give me a belly ache.

Wish me luck. I have to navigate breakfast without any surprise lactose or meat products and then give a presentation to an unknown sized crowd tomorrow (n>10) without meltdown. Maybe forgoing valium was a bad idea.

Sigh. Challenging anxieties isn’t always triumphant is it? :S