I Am Not Toast

November 22, 2013

There’s a scene that recurs pretty much every Saturday and Sunday morning at the Rosenberg household in Massachusetts. My father, toeing the line between anal retentive and obsessive compulsive, fiddles with a toaster that he hates. He has not liked a toaster since they dispensed with their ancient one he loved years ago. No toaster since has provided just the right brown. But at some point the machine pops, the bread springs into the air, its transformation complete, and it’s close enough to satisfactory that he can move on to his precision-based coffee preparations.

I was visiting my parents once, shortly after a therapy session where I had overcome one emotional hurdle only to discover another, larger one on the other side.  Watching my father’s ritual I had the sudden, amusing thought, “I am not toast.” I’m never going to be done.

Sometimes I feel like after 7 years of therapy I should be “finished.” Like there’s going to come a point at which I’ve soothed the little kid, dealt with the scars, come to peace with it all, yadda yadda yadda. But then every time I go through a great phase, another rough patch will emerge sooner or later, dredging up unhealed wounds and patterns in the process. There’s always another bottom to hit.

And I know something about bottoms (heh). The first Buddhist dharma talk I ever went to was the result of my depression and anxiety becoming so unmanageable I would try anything to gain some foothold on my mind, even attend some commie, whacked out “meditation” class my therapist suggested. And although I don’t self-identify as an alcoholic, I have always felt I hit a “bottom” – a fateful Last Drunk point of physical and emotional illness from which I would do anything to emerge.

I hit another one recently that was insidious and subtle, and I don’t know that I’d realized what rough shape I was in until I was on my way back up. Two weeks ago I was in bed, in the middle of the night, unable to stop crying. My days were spent feeling exhausted and constantly napping, my depression seemed to be rearing its nasty  head, I was plagued by eczema and vision trouble, and gaining weight no matter how much exercise I did. I felt broken.

If you know anything about nutrition and health, you may guess where I’m headed with this… Now, I’m one of those people who will expressly NOT do something if you tell me I have to. For example, I still refuse to read Harry Potter (even though I’d likely love it), solely because people told me I “had to.”  (I think it has something to do with a general distaste for and discomfort with  Received Ideas.) So when the whole Paleo, Gluten-Free, Whole30 cult started to infiltrate my Facebook feed, I was pretty hell bent against agreeing with it.

But looking at my symptoms, and talking to a few nutritionist pals, it was pretty clear what had to happen.  As painful as that night was, the bottom I hit was vital – I never could have given up dairy, gluten, sugar, grains, and legumes in one day (not to mention simultaneously going off hormonal birth control) if I hadn’t been desperate enough to do anything to feel better.

The result has been rapid and mind-blowing – not just the physical weight loss and inflammation reduction, but I feel like I have mentally and emotionally emerged from years of fog. I’m singing along to my iPod on the streets, I haven’t needed a nap, I feel strong and vital and happy and like I wish I had hit bottom sooner.

Only I couldn’t have. Bottoms come when you’re ready for them – not just in terms of your own desperation, but all the pieces and external factors have to align before you’re ready to witness your own situation.

This remarkable transformation leaves me wondering, though, what my next bottom will be, because with any luck and certainly with my new found health, hopefully I will not be “finished” for decades to come. Figuratively, and, if the “you are what you eat” adage is to be believed, literally…

I am not toast.


One comment

  1. This makes me wonder about the adaptive potential of depression. Is depression adaptive because it makes us hit rock bottom, thus making us willing to try anything new?
    The obvious counter to that idea is that depression saps us of motivation, the most critical resource required for change.
    At any rate, congrats on the change, it’s not easy to be gf, but it sounds like a self-reinforcing change.

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