Emma and the Leaky Gut

While this may sound like a new Judy Blume novel, it’s really just my latest batch of experiments.

In August, when I met with my Case Manager, I was a bit weepy about the verdict of my pulmonologist (Obesity is the root cause of everything), trying and getting sick on a ketogenic diet, and the increasing pain in my knee.  Depression had trundled out the “Hopeless” cart, and I had climbed in.

My Case Manager is a lovely, up-beat, supportive darling, so when she suggested I see a hospital dietitian I felt instant betrayal.  Visions of scales and tape measures goose-stepped through my brain.  But, she asked me to think of this dietitian as someone I might add to my small support system—someone I could talk to and have on my side.  Framed that way, I agreed to meet with her.

In the meantime, I had been visiting my chiropractor for my knee and recurring TMJ.  Over the summer, she heard all about Dr. Obesity, my binge eating disorder, and all my other mental and physical woes.  For good measure, I came down with bronchitis a few weeks ago.  Along with prescribing additional protein powder to my morning shake while I’m sick, she also wondered if I might not have a Leaky Gut.

Basically, this syndrome is caused by a loosey-goosey gut allowing too much junk to pass into the blood stream, setting off an immune response that never shuts down.  Chronic inflammation of the gut follows.  Treatment involves getting rid of foods that irritate the gut and adding foods that soothe and heal it.  Dr. Ash has a quick take on Leaky Gut here.

Being sick with bronchitis turned out to be the perfect time to implement these changes.  Since I’m already lactose intolerant and get a gut ache eating bread, going dairy and gluten free was a no-brainer.  I can add bone broth to my gluten-free chicken noodle soup, eat a little kefir as a snack, and alternate my Breathe Easy tea with a variety of kombucha teas.  And my gut has stopped aching all the time.

I started to wonder:  What if obesity isn’t just a cause, but also a symptom?  What if Binge Eating Disorder isn’t just a mental illness, but also has a physical component?

These are the questions I took with me to the dietitian.

Emma is a sweet, young, cheerful professional, but had no answers.  She had heard of Leaky Gut, but knew nothing about it.  She knew about Binge Eating Disorder, but knew nothing about that either.  However, she was absolutely willing to learn.  She took all the information I brought with me and made copies for herself.  Our weekly sessions focus on what I want and my goals, not weight loss.  She is, as my Case Manager predicted, a wonderful addition to my support team.

My bad knee and intermittent TMJ turned out to be arthritis, no big surprise since my dad was a Bionic Man of joint replacements and—you know—that obesity thing making everything worse.  Whenever I think of arthritis, Mammie from Gone With The Wind pops into my head.

Arthritis waits in its web, swooping in after an injury.  An opportunistic little shithead.

Oh, well I’ll think about that tomorrow.  I have sauerkraut and wild salmon to eat now.  And tomorrow is another day.

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Making A Home

This summer I spent some time considering a move to Des Moines, but after talking to a realtor (what was I thinking?) and finding out how impenetrable the subsidized housing process is there, I changed my mind.  Instead I opted to work at making Marshalltown my Home.

I grew up here and have been back for ten years, but I never really thought of it as home.  Growing up on a farm, “town” was a place to get groceries, a place the school bus dropped me off and picked me up.  After going through electroshock, losing my job, my home, and my husband coming back to Marshalltown mentally ill was a personal failure and a punishment.

I left Minneapolis with its liberal politics, diversity of culture and a townhouse I loved for a conservative rural backwater where I lived in my friends’ spare room with a curtain for a door.  I didn’t want to be here.

My life became richer over the last ten years.  I learned how to manage my illness better.  I moved into an apartment I loved.  Our eco-conscious public library and busy YMCA became part of my daily routine.  I embraced our Aquatic Center by water walking in the silky summer evenings.

But I still despised the town.  I hated the trains blasting at 5:00 AM along with the barking dogs and screeching kids next door.  I hated the yahoos who barreled along my street with their woofers blowing out my eardrums and their muffler-less pickups rattling my windows.  I hated the decrepit meth-lab houses and the soul-sucking poverty evident on most every street.  I still didn’t want to be here.

The work of Making a Home, I’ve discovered, is much like the work of Gratitude.  Instead of focusing on what I’m grateful for, I purposely seek out what I love about Marshalltown.  I quiz others about where they like to eat and hang-out, what they like to do here.  I’ve started reading the newspaper to look for events to attend and to get a better sense of the community.  I plan to take a class at the art center or with the continuing education program at our junior college.

Another part of making a home is practicing forgiveness, not just accepting people, places and circumstances for what they are.  The first target of forgiveness must be myself—for all the ways I let myself down, abandoned my dreams or my safety, and let the negative voices of my illness tell me how horrible I was.  Acceptance of my whole self took decades, but I feel like forgiveness can’t be that far away.  Whenever old resentments or regrets surface, I open to the possibility of forgiveness.  Whenever I turn my attention to the negative aspects of Marshalltown, I open to forgiveness and pull up my list of “Marshalltown Love” on my phone.  It’s startling how many times a day this happens.  It’s equally startling how long it’s taken me to be willing to forgive myself and others.

Forgiveness, like gratitude, requires a change of perspective, a change of heart. Sometimes those changes are a long time coming, so I’ve adopted an “act as if” attitude until it makes a home in my bones.  But, I’m determined to forgive.  I’m determined to find all the hidden spots of beauty and compassion in Marshalltown.  I’m determined to be my authentic self and thrive here.

Because, I’m still on an Adventure.

Hypomania: The Eye of the Hurricane

After several weeks of mild to turbulent depression, my brain offered up one day of halcyon hypomania.  No slippage into rabbity anxiety or irritation, just a blue sky-mind with energy and focus.

Where the garbage used to be

New Spot for Garbage

I ran errands put off all summer, caught up on chores, oiled the squeaky lock in my door that’s bugged me for seven years, found the new space-saving solutions that had befuddled my depressed brain.

When this perfect combination of mood and drive pops into my life, I know to use it—partly to clean up any mess or stockpiling from the depression that came before, and partly to lay in supplies and prepare for the next storm.  There are the tasks that need to be completed—like grocery shopping, scrubbing the toilet, and scheduling health care appointments—and tasks that can be started so my depression has something to do with itself.

Spruced-up Studio Space

This time I started collaging new storage boxes and painting parts of my studio.  I put together a facilitator’s kit for my SoulMatters group (which meets for the first time this Sunday), and gathered all the materials for a piece of birthday art I’m making for my nurse practitioner.

It was a lovely day.  And as expected, I moved out of that calm center into more stormy weather.

It’s my nature, and I accept it.  Debris and water damage with a smattering of blue sky.

Learning

Learning how to write with watercolors

 

Learning how to use my Wanting

 

Learning how to stay when all I want to do is go.

 

The Unclenched Brain

Marking that moment of release in my art journal.

Another Train


So, nobody said I was particularly wise.

In my desperation to tame the Binge Eating Disorder beast, I regularly cycle around to doing stupid things—things I know in my adipose-caked heart won’t work.  Like diets.  But when an authority figure (aka my new doc) blamed all my physical woes on obesity, and my trusted nurse practitioner suggested a ketogenic diet, I jumped like water in a skillet of hot bacon grease.

I learned two things:

  1. A ketogenic diet made my gut unhappy in violent ways.
  2. I will binge on anything, so changing the type of food doesn’t change the behavior one iota.

So, now I’m back to mindfulness and paying attention to my triggers.

All this food-stress didn’t help my bipolarness.  I’ve been roiling, inside and out.  My thinking is still in desperation mode, so I need to be careful not to jump on every thought-train that pulls into my station.  Another train will come.  And another.  Sooner or later, this anxiety and agitation will shift.  The urge to hop a train out of town will ease.  Eventually, I’ll be able to leave the station and go home.

But, I’ve got this ticket in my hand…

At The Dig Site

I knew this wouldn’t be easy.

Lose Weight.  Such a simple sentence.  And it’s everywhere—magazines, TV, grocery stores, billboards, New Year’s Resolutions, the breath passing through many lips.  The sentence is simple, but the act is damn near impossible.  As my mental health team says, “If it was easy, anyone could do it.”

For me, it also means exhuming emotional skeletons, using tweezers and a soft brush to parse a knob of truth from harsh and debilitating bedrock.  I’ve worked this archeological site before.  Assembling all the artifacts never made much difference, just ripped a lot of fingernails and crushed me with failure.

But dig sites are layered and scattered.  Archeologists work a three-dimensional grid, moving out and down.  They know they have to dig deep.  They know they have to range far from the first find.  Their work is meticulous, choreographed, measured.  Patience, attention and delicacy are required.

I’m still not sure I can go through this again.  I don’t know if I can hold myself in compassion as the remnants of former lives resurface.  But I know I’m more equipped to do that now than I was even two years ago.

I believe life is a spiral, bringing us around again and again to the Work that needs to be done.  With each rotation, we come to the task with different tools.  That alone makes the experience different.

I thought I’d read every book on compulsive eating, but wondered if there wasn’t one I missed.  So I put it in my Plan—Check the Library.  There I found Better Is Not So Far Away: Decide to Recover From Bingeing, Starving, or Cutting by Melissa Groman.  Notice the title doesn’t promise recovery.  It only asks that you decide to recover.

The target audience is much younger than me—teens and young adult women—but the truths are so profound, they knock me flat.

In the pit of loneliness, you most likely feel the totally human ache to be understood, to be connected, to be soothed and loved.  But when you are in the pit, you do not believe these longings are normal, and getting them satisfied seems like a very remote possibility.

She [a client] is afraid of not having, not doing, not being, and just as afraid of having, doing and being.

This book helps, and it’s a trigger.  Anything that leads me further in triggers the compulsive eating.  It’s instinct now.

So, I’m uncomfortable, confused, angry and hateful.  I’m also resilient, patient, accepting and fine.

I always wanted to be an archeologist when I grew up.

What Fresh Madness Is This?

I wanted to post something today, a little bit of art that might reflect the bipolarness of my now.  Not words.  Words feel acidic and tiresome in my head.

But I couldn’t find anything that I haven’t posted before—heads popping open with weirdness, lonely figures wandering in the Disconnect, wild jumbles of frantic images.  So I had to make it.

It’s almost 4:00 now.  I’ve been working on this card since 10:30 this morning.  Bathroom breaks.  Cat-watering breaks.  Little else.  I can feel that I’m hungry.  I know I need to take a shower (it’s been a couple of days).  But I look into this young girl’s face and fall into it.  The original didn’t have sleep-deprived eyes.  Those are mine.

I look at this young girl and feel her looking back.  We know.  We know the green monsters, and bitey teeth, and staring eyes, and nightmares that stick to our backs like tar.  We hold ourselves very still, because the madness feels new even though we know it is not.  We hold ourselves very still, because part of us believes a shift will come, a swing.  We will travel to a different place on our spectrum that will also feel new, but is not.

She knows there really is no Fresh Madness, just forgetting the feel of the Old Madness.  There are so many kinds, so many permutations.  Our brains, so clever in their Cooking Arts, never use the same recipe twice.  Or do they?  We forget.

Words start to dissolve and puddle, the brain-acid bubbling.

Shower.

Food.

Now.

Saying Good-Bye Well

Yesterday, I said my last good-bye to Mark Stringer, the minister at First Unitarian Church of Des Moines.  He told us six months ago that he was leaving the ministry, and I’ve been grieving ever since.

It’s weird—we never had a private conversation, just exchanged a few words as I shook his hand on Sunday on my way out the door.  But in the three years that I’ve been going to First Unitarian, I’ve been able to share enough of my story with him to make a connection.

No, that’s not quite right.  I felt connected to him.

From the first service I attended, I knew this guy got it.  His sermons seemed like extensions of my therapy sessions, filled with the importance of mindfulness, compassion, acceptance, and awareness of our own realities.  He made me laugh and cry—usually at the same time.  Finally, after searching for years, I’d found a spiritual home and someone who spoke to the things that mattered to me.

PTSD makes me vulnerable to abandonment-thinking.  Bipolar disorder distorts any thinking into darker twists of hopelessness.  I knew I needed to work this through or I’d probably never go back to the church once he was gone.

So, I attended every Sunday service (once I recovered enough from my last bronchial bomb).  I cried (okay, sobbed) through each one of them, Kleenex box clutched tight.  I made myself look him in the eye after our hug at the door and thank him for the opportunity to do this work.  Some mornings I was too verklempt to say the words, but Mark would hold my watery gaze and say, “I understand.”

While I grieved, I also noted every friend at church who sought me out, every acquaintance who grinned when our eyes met.  I forced myself to see that FU (you gotta love a church with those initials) offered me real community and relationships beyond Mark.  I made a point of wandering around after services to find people I knew and admired in order to weave another thread into our connection.

Yesterday we held his celebratory Farewell Tour at the performing arts theater of one of the city’s high-end high schools (very lovely).  We needed room enough for the whole congregation to honor Mark’s sixteen years of service.  He came to us straight from theological school and is moving on to be the Executive Director of the Iowa ACLU.

I wept like everyone else, touched by his words and deeds (he performed the first same-sex marriage in Iowa), amazed at all he and the church had accomplished (doubled the membership and increased FU’s legislative presence on issues of justice).  But, my tears were of joy and gratitude, not grief.  I spent yesterday talking to my friends, making sure I told the speakers and the choir now much they moved me, and asking questions about the ministerial search process.  I did what I set out to do—I said good-bye well.

It might be good for me to get involved in the Search process, since who “ministers” to me is so very important.  But, I’m tucking that thought away until I learn more.  Will the various committees be able to use a bipolar member who lives an hour away and who may not be able to follow through?  Can I allow myself to be that vulnerable?  Can I get involved and accept my limitations?

It wouldn’t be an Adventure without some mystery and a little risk.

Here’s the first sermon I heard Mark deliver.  Seventeen minutes is an eternity in blogland, but it might be worth your while.

Warp Speed

This week my rapid cycling revved into full swings of deep depression and giddy mania.  Each day the arc would take me to the opposite end of the spectrum, which is a new experience for me.  I don’t remember having alternate days of depression and full mania before, but my memory is unreliable.

I wrote to a friend that it felt like I was traveling, and I like that descriptor better than “cycling.”

“I’m traveling this week.”

Across the Space/Time Continuum, apparently.

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