Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Fear of Food

Last Thursday, I took my eldest to dinner at a Japanese restaurant to celebrate her 19th birthday. We're the only two members of the family who like Japanese food, so it was a real treat for both of us.

On Saturday, I had a huge toothache in my hip. I was entertaining that day, so I tried to focus on walking without limping. On Sunday, my face exploded. My nose turned bright red and was covered with rosacea spots, and I had a huge red raspberry on one cheek.

My food allergies had come home to roost. Something I ate, either at the Japanese restaurant or some other time that week, led to the swelling in my hip and the rash on my face.

For years, I lived like this. I dragged a useless right leg around with me, enduring substantial pain in my hip and back as cheerfully as I could. My face was a series of rash explosions -- bright red, dark purplish red, or pink and scaly. Headaches came and went. I felt exhausted most of the time, barely able to get through the things I must do.

In 2005, I went through a series of tests for food allergies. Within 2 weeks of learning the results, my skin cleared up and my hip pain lessened considerably. After years of being partially disabled, I had days and even weeks without pain.

It was like magic. When people asked me whether I minded giving up dairy, eggs, almonds, soy, corn, green beans, or most other legumes, I told them that I didn't care what I had to eat if I could live without pain.

And I don't. I'll quite happily give up pizza, lasagne, green beans almondine, macaroni and cheese, almond tarts, banana cream pie, butter, mayonnaise, salad dressing, cornbread, refried beans, baked beans, tofu, and much else in exchange for clear skin, a strong body, and a clear head.

Sometimes, however, I wish that it didn't make me so afraid of food. I have to check the contents on everything I eat. If someone offers me something, I have to question them closely. Does it contain eggs or milk? What about mayonnaise or butter? Is there any corn starch or corn syrup in it?

People almost always say, "No, I don't think so." Most of the time, when I check the label, the food contains something that I can't eat.

These people don't wish me pain. They simply don't know what it's like to live with food allergies. I can't ever cheat, not even a little bit. A single tortilla chip makes my face explode. The slightest bit of butter on vegetables sets my hip off. A hint of egg triggers a migraine.

Quite often, people don't tell me the truth about the contents of the food. They don't mention the butter on the vegetables or the mayonnaise in the sauce. They must think that it can't possibly matter, but my body adds up the bill and exacts its toll. For a week or two, depending on how much of the offending food I ate, I move back into food allergy hell.

All this fussiness about food makes me something of a social pariah. I tend to avoid potlucks, dinner parties, and events at restaurants. I pack my own food and eat before gatherings.

Occasionally, someone will say, "No, Heather, I really want you to be able to join us for this event. I'll be happy to prepare food you can eat. Give me your list and I'll plan the menu around that."

I am incredibly touched when people do this. It leaves me free to be part of the group, to eat as freely as other people.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Stuff of Dreams

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

In my life, sleep has often been the stuff of which dreams are made of. During the years of small children and sleepness nights, I dreamt of sleep even when my eyes were open. I fantasized ways I might score a nap, minutes I might steal from my days for a few blessed minutes of slumber.

Dreams, in those years, were hard to come by.

Before kids, I had an active dream life. I swapped stories of my dreams with friends. One friend was deeply envious of my frequent flying dreams, while I in turn envied her dream orgasms. We both practiced lucid dreaming, and each of us attempted to have the other's favorite dreams.

Lucid dreaming (the practice of knowing that you're dreaming and making conscious choices in the dream state) turned out to be fairly easy. Once I'd established the habit of knowing I was dreaming, my dreams were never the same. I didn't believe them the same way I had before. They no longer seemed mystical and special, but became another mundane part of my life. Although I could control the actions of my dream self in my lucid dreams, the dreamscape itself was beyond my control. As I went on with lucid dreaming, my dreamscapes got duller and duller.

My subconscious was clearly better at the business of designing and implementing dreams than I was. Eventually, I realized this and ceded control of my dreams back to the part of me who knew what I was doing.

In recent months, my dreams have been especially lively and interesting. The characters and settings have been pleasantly varied and the plots have left me smiling.

I've never completely shaken the lucid dreaming, though. I am almost always aware that I am dreaming, and I often catch my subconscious self arranging the scenes and characters. I can almost hear the gears grinding when my subconscious self reaches into the grab bag for a random plot element or character. I can identify the points where my subconscious self changes the dreamscape on the fly to improve some aspect of the dream experience.

Take last night for example. I was driving a small car home through Ben Lomond. I parked outside the video store. The car immediately decided to run off without me. (Cars in my dreams have always had free agency. The cars in my husband's dreams behave like real life cars, but mine tend to act more like naughty puppies.) It drove around the block and crashed into a tree. At that point, my subconscious mind said "Whoa! That's too intense, so let's turn this car into a bicycle."

The car became a bicycle. Then, because my subconscious obviously saw the problem with a bicycle driving around on its own, it pulled a random person out of the grab bag and put him on the back of the bicycle. Asleep, because the bicycle still had to act out the free agency element from the car version. Having achieved a logically consistent plot, my subconscious stopped tinkering and continued the dream.

Naturally, the bicycle had to go around the block and crash into the tree again. It did this without waking the sleeping passenger. The bicycle emerged from this sequence undamaged, so I climbed on again and continued north. The passenger, who had fulfilled his role, vanished.

Most of the people in my dreams are generic. They're not people I know in real life, although they sometimes explain themselves in relation to real people who don't appear in my dream. I find this especially convenient when the dream has sexual content; I am much more comfortable enacting a steamy scene with a generic stranger than with someone I might bump into at the grocery store.

When real people do appear in my dreams, the dream content tends to color my feelings for the person. I have sometimes gotten angry at my husband for the way he behaved in a dream. Once awake, the feeling is hard to shake. I know that he didn't actually do the thing that made me angry, but I still feel guarded and suspicious, just in case.