Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Grand Slam

I picked up a copy of The Atlantic with picture of a morbidly obese Statue of Liberty as I left the office last night. We were headed to a brewery downtown. I was getting a ride home with Emily, our canvas director, and it was the first night for a few folks. Jessica had just joined our staff from Cleveland. She is on a cross train and will be with us for a few weeks. Thomas just returned from Africa and told me stories about poverty and political oppression that made my heart just weep. We shared some veggie nachos and everybody had a beer. I've been having a beer now and then as I get ready to go into the raw food community for three months starting Oct. 16. I have tons of support for this decision at Clean Water Action where I work. In fact Emily and another woman who works there each told me about blogs maintained by raw foodist friends they have. There are lots of vegetarians in Ann Arbor and lots of vegetarians in the environmentalist movement. So nobody who I work with thinks it's weird that I'm planning to become a raw foodist. They think it's pretty great. They're happy because I told them when I come back I'll make a raw food meal for everybody as a staff presentation. They thought that sounded swell and yummy.

My dad isn't happy at all, though. He's terrified. I could hear it in his voice when I spoke with him this morning. I didn't have much time to talk because I had to get the bus. I wasn't feeling well. I had to dry my jeans. I only have one pair that fits me at the moment. And I'll just be brutally honest with you hoping that this won't be too much information for anybody. I wet those jeans last night while I was fumbling for my keys in the dark. The keys were  not in my purse as I thought. They were in the first layer of my jackets. Layered jackets are normal for canvassers in fall and winter. Peeing your pants is normal for people who have Multiple Sclerosis. Seriously, I'd had only one beer. And I'd gone to the toilet just before I drank it. I don't just want a food plan that is going to help me get to a particular weight. I want a food plan that's going to reduce my Multiple Sclerosis symptoms. It's worked for other people who have this condition. I'm hopeful that it will work for me.

My dad is so upset and worried. It's really upsetting to me. This is a man who worked extremely hard to support my mother and his seven children his whole life. It wasn't always easy. A few times he had businesses fail. Once he lost a business when he had seven kids still at home. He drove two hours to work at a foundry every day to support us. He was laid off. He had to collect unemployment for awhile. He was often grumpy and difficult but he's always been there for us -- and, especially since I'm the baby, he loves to be involved in major life decisions. And the fact is, there have been many times in my life when I should have listened to him. Often my father really has known best. He didn't want me to marry my ex-husband because at 21 the man had absolutely no idea how he would support me and any children who we might have and  he seemed unconcerned about it. My father was appalled. He was correct, though. My former husband -- who is today happily married and a good partner to someone else -- was more-or-less a lazy slacker  when I married him. He wrote a nice folk song, though. So I married him -- maybe even just to spite my father. It's hard to say.

I digress. The point is, my father likes very much to be involved in major decisions and he is never happy when decisions are made without him. The first time I bought a car without taking him with me to test drive it, he was quite choked up. I kid you not. I hadn't even foreseen this as an issue. He just likes being on board with everything and being relied upon, I suppose. And the thing is, he does support decisions when I make them. He and mom came to the wedding, for instance, even though they had seriously suggested that I should consider eloping and not put my family through the whole ordeal. They were good to my ex and learned to love him. My family's pretty good that way. I shock them sometimes but they ultimately love what I love when they see me being happy.

When I was younger, it didn't bother me so much to upset my father. The fact is, I sort of thrived upon it. I suppose it was a way of getting attention or something. I don't know. I've often considered shocking people to be a vocation of sorts -- or at least a responsibility of birth order (being the caboose and all). My big sister and I have polar-opposite personalities. She keeps an immaculate home and  has the most perfect-looking children you can imagine. She's a nurse anesthetist. I'm still transitioning into something from newspaper journalism and all my life I've struggled to keep my surroundings from  looking like a bit of a war zone. My oldest sister hosts most holiday meals. I do the relish tray and sometimes they even let me mash the potatoes. I make really great gravy, too. But you know -- my big sisters do the important things. I've sometimes joked that my nurse anesthetist sister puts people to sleep and I wake them up. I have a sassy streak, I'll admit it. It's quite a bit of fun sometimes.

But I'm not trying to be sassy or rebellious with this raw food thing. And now that my father is an 80-year-old man with a host of health problems, the very last thing I want to do is shock him or upset him or worry him. He's not trying to be controlling. He sounded so sad this morning it made my heart break.

"Patty," he said. "I HAVE to talk to you about this raw food thing. You have to let me talk to you. This is an extremely dangerous road you are traveling down and have to hear me out."

I was trying to get to the bus and I had to dry my pants and I seriously didn't have time to talk then. I asked him what time he would be up in the morning and he told me he would be ready by 10 a.m. He sleeps in pretty late these days because he stays up watching television and he doesn't fall to sleep easily. I worry about him all alone in that house with his cigarettes and junk food. But he likes living alone. He's very stubborn. He doesn't like anybody messing with anything. But also there is a part of me that knows he would love to have me live there -- as long as I could fill the ice cube trays correctly and avoid using his dishwasher because he's afraid I don't pack it well and will break it.

I told him I would call him at 10 a.m. and then I felt so sad. My dad isn't on board with me on this raw food thing. He's frankly fairly terrified. I could hear it in his voice. When I went to work at a mission school in Southeastern Kentucky in my early twenties my parents were extremely upset -- but that experience and the paper I wrote about it received great praise from my professors and was instrumental in landing me my best jobs. It troubled my mother so much,though, that she asked me not to write her letters telling her what actually was going on down there (the National Guard was in the middle of a seven-county pot bust and guardsmen were rappelling out of helicopters into the Daniel Boone National Forrest just across the street from my house). My mother was just beside herself that I had gone to live with the hillbillies -- genuinely, I think she thought I might not come out alive. It was as if I had gone to war.

I felt especially upset about worrying my dad because when I had talked to him Monday morning (the first time I had talked to him since I smashed up my car and realized my insurance had lapsed) he told me he was sending me a check for $150 mail to cover the cost of towing my car -- and he told me he wanted me to call around and get some good people out to my house to give me estimates for my car. He doesn't want me to get some crazy guy from down the street who fixes cars on the side. He wants me to talk to people from legitimate garages and get them to tell me how much it is going to cost to fix my car. My father knows more about cars and money than I know. So I think I need to surrender control in this area and follow through with what my father asks of me. He certainly has my best interest in mind.

But when it comes to nutrition and health, my father probably really does not know best. Let's face it. My father is a chain-smoking-eighty-year-old man whose kitchen counters would rival the snack aisle at any small grocery store. I haven't been over there in awhile. He lives an hour and a half away and I've been pinching pennies -- and now I don't have a reliable car. But if I were to guess what I might find exposed this afternoon on my father's counter, I could pretty accurately say Lorna Doones, Cracker Jacks, Butterfingers, gum drops, Hersey bars, peanut brittle, potato strings, honey-roasted nuts, Junior Mints, orange slices, lemon drops and bakery bread. God love him, my father is the healthiest chain smoking, junk-food-eating eighty-year-old alive. I love that man but he is not someone from whom I can glean health suggestions. A few years ago my dad was still at the lake home he and my mom and lived at after he retired. Dad had chest pains and figured he might be having a heart attack so he ought to drive himself to the hospital which was more than an hour away. But God love my father, he didn't drive straight to the hospital like most people would if they were in the middle of a heart attack. My father stopped at Denny's for a Grand Slam. When my siblings and I visited him at the hospital later we asked him why he did such a thing. He told us he knew he wouldn't get anything good to eat in the hospital and he'd probably have to be there quite awhile. I think they kept him a few days. He's been in the hospital a few times for heart issues.

God love my father. I sure do. The thing is, Dad and I are in different situations. He is retired from General Motors and has good insurance. He won't go bankrupt if he goes to the hospital for a heart event. I suppose he can take it easy with that sort of stuff. He'd probably just as soon get to heaven and see my mother as he would stay behind and see us kids. It's not like he's trying to kill himself. It's just that he's not going to deny himself the little pleasures of this world. I get it. I respect it. But I don't have any insurance. And I don't want to file papers to become "certifiably disabled" so that I can qualify for things like public health insurance and social security. Doing something like that would be that would be the death of me. Seriously, I'm not ready to live a life like that and I don't expect I ever will be.  My path is different from my father's path. With extremely limited access to medical care, a chronic health condition and an eating disorder, I need to be painstaking and somewhat extreme about the decisions I make with regard to dieting.

The twelve step way isn't working for me. I've been going up and down, up and down for five years. Now I'm twenty pounds heavier than I've been in ten years. So I am going to try this Raw Food thing. I have to try it. I feel like God put it in my path. I've talked to others who have tried it and they've encouraged me. All of the people who I have spoken with who have tried it recommend it. Some of them switched into something else or modified their diets after a time -- but everybody who I spoke with said they benefited from delving into the raw food diet. One lady had a severe allergic reaction to wheatgrass juice. She broke out in hives and became extremely ill from it. Despite that she says she felt great when she was following a raw food diet.

My father's worries were a lot to handle today. But on top of that, I received a phone call from one of the most prominent eating-disorder gurus in the United States -- probably in the world. She follows a modified twelve-step approach, runs a treatment center and has published popular books about eating disorders. Wow! And she called me today! I feel very loved. I guess the director of the treatment center I had been at a few years ago recommended me to her. He probably personally called her to tell her about me. Wow. Can you imagine such love and support in your life? No kidding, I am not only well loved. I am well loved by some AMAZING people and I am so grateful. I swear to you, I am so, so grateful.

I didn't actually talk to the eating disorder guru today. Her call went to voicemail. I just couldn't believe it when I heard her voice right in there on my personal voicemail. She said, hello, this is XXX XXXX and I understand that you could use some help with your abstinence and I might be able to help you out. Amazing grace. Seriously, I am one lucky lady.

But here's the thing. I have tried her food plan in the past. It is a good food plan. It is more specific than other food plans I have tried. But at the end of the day, I still feel it on my heart to try this raw foods thing. It's hard to imagine turning down help from a nationally renown eating disorder specialist. But this Creative Health Institute gig that would provide me with a three-month-raw-food internship is pretty amazing, too.

When I began this post I was quite decided that the raw foods way would be best for me. But it disturbs me to think of turning down the help of a national expert -- even though I have tried and failed so many times following approaches very similar to hers and even following her specific approach.

So I contacted my friends who pray and asked them to pray that I receive a firm confirmation that the raw foods lifestyle is the direction God desires for me. I feel in my heart that is true -- but since I am not feeling especially well and since I am under stress, I don't want to act out in a reactionary way. I want to make a considerate decision, weighing all of my options. But really, really, really I WANT GOD TO SPEAK in this situation. I want crystal clarity.

A friend who is also the mother of one of my best friends and the mother of eight other children e-mailed me and said I should not concern myself too much with what my family feels about my decision because they are just afraid because it is something so new to them. She suggested I consider what I want to do. She told me to imagine myself sailing on the water on a perfect day with peacefulness surrounding the boat. I have taken her family sailing -- but not lately. This summer I was too overworked and overweight to enjoy sailing. I have not felt well. All I really want is to feel well again. I loved the idea of imagining myself in a boat. I imagined how wonderful it felt to sail when I was 145 pounds. I recalled capsizing and having the energy to recover from the spill and get right back in and keep sailing. I breathed. And I imagined myself doing the raw food diet.

I'm very attracted to the raw food life. But I am going to pray and meditate about this some more before I make a final decision.

So last night when we were splitting up the check at the microbrewery, the woman who is cross-training from Cleveland explained that her grocery needs would be few until Friday when she gets paid. She'll just get a jar of peanut butter and some bread. That will get her through the week. She's in her twenties, an avid bicyclist and a dancer. I regretted for a minute that I couldn't be so nonchalant about food. The truth is, though, I  have a very strong reaction to some foods -- bread and peanut butter among them. Once I start eating them my body reacts in such a crazy way. It's just exactly like an alcoholic who tries to drink one beer. Trying to live on a loaf of bread and jar of peanut butter really messes me up. I've tried it a number of times. But there's always free food all over the place -- opportunities to eat everywhere you turn in the United States.

So I am praying for clarity and I am not exactly sure where God is leading me. But this I do know for certain. I am not a twenty-something dancer who can just get buy with a loaf of bread and peanut butter. And that's not because I am a weak person or because I lack willpower. It's because there is something very different about the way my body reacts to many foods. Just like that woman who got hives from the wheatgrass -- my body responds very differently to many foods. And over the years this food sensitivity has become progressively worse.


  1. Excellent post, Patty! I especially liked the detail of how your dad stopped in the middle of his heart attack to order and eat a Grand Slam. What a kooky character! (Kooky people are always my favourite type.) I hope the raw foods will help you.

  2. Here are a couple of websites about MS and diet.

    All best wishes for your experiment!