Thursday, September 29, 2011

A dog named Ozzie Martin

My friends, I give you our new dog, Ozzie. Ozzie is a four-year-old pitbull terrier mix who lived with a family for three years before he went into Orphans of the Storm animal shelter in Deerfield, Illinois USA. The family had two teenagers, another dog and a cat, so Ozzie is good with children and dogs one-on-one. We'll work on his comfort with more dogs at the same time.

Ozzie is impressively well behaved. Bob and I took him for our first "family" walk last night, then pretended to eat dinner (just had a snack) so he'd learn that we are the alpha dogs. In the wild, the alpha dog eats first and it's important that we establish who's boss. Then we fed him dinner. Later he dozed on his bed while we had our real dinner and he didn't even watch us eat. This dog clearly does not have food issues because the whole place smelled like my homemade meatloaf, but he stayed in the other room so there was no begging at all.

He also hasn't barked hardly at all. He peacefully watches people walk by when he sits in the sunroom with Bob. And speaking of the sunroom, that's an enclosed but unheated porch at the front of our apartment where Bob does all his smoking. Ozzie doesn't mind the smoke! I'm amazed, but he and Bob seem to be the perfect match.

I like the name "Ozzie Martin." It makes him sound like the old man who runs the cigar store and likes to tell stories about his family who's originally from Ireland.

So far the plan is working: Ozzie adores Bob. I knew he would because Bob is a total dog lover. I'm hoping to become more of a dog person as time goes on. I know Ozzie will be sad to see Bob go to work later today, so I'm planning to pour on the affection and fun times. I'm looking forward to jogging with him.

(P.S. "Martin" is our last name. The dog only goes by one name.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

At 45, I'm finally an adult

Because I put on so much weight last spring that I couldn't fit into my professional clothes, I cut out wheat, grains, potatoes, pasta, sweets, processed foods, fruit and all beverages except for water (I'm lactose intolerant, so dairy was already out). Excitingly, I'm beginning to fit into my suits again, but also exciting is that, I'm beginning to like wine!

Few will understand what this means to me. When I was 15, I did not like beer, wine or alcohol, but everyone assured me that I would soon. It didn't happen. In college and graduate school, I gave it my best, sucking on bottles of Rolling Rock and sipping mixed drinks, but my taste buds simply rejected it. Alcohol tasted nasty to me.

In my late 30's I began a three-year career in the restaurant industry where alcohol knowledge was required. I had to endure wine training sessions, sipping and spitting while others swallowed. Unable to distinguish between "buttery" and "oaky" or "jammy" and "fruity," I memorized wine descriptions from books. My opinions on different wines were simply "yucky" and "yuckier."

For decades, I've been the non-drinker. With acquaintances and co-workers, I would turn down a drink, explaining that I don't like alcohol, only to have them make suggestions of kinds I might like. It got tedious to constantly face people who couldn't believe a grown woman could simply not like the taste of alcohol. Worse was when people assumed I was judging them for drinking. I felt bewildered and chagrined that they saw my behavior as moralistic.

A couple of new year's eves saw me resolving that this would be the year I'd start drinking. Marrying Mr. Restaurant-and-Alcohol (my husband has been in the restaurant industry for over 30 years), motivated me greatly, but my resolve never got me past my natural recoil from the sharp burn of fermented liquid. Each time I failed, I felt disappointed in myself.

Now I suspect that my hyper-mega-sweet tooth was a large part of my distaste for alcohol. As a sugar addict, sweets were my main coping mechanism. I used to eat cookies for breakfast, following up with other pastries and candy all day long. Red wine in particular tasted sour and bitter and I couldn't understand how anyone could finish an entire glass without making a face.

Although I've cut out carbohydrates in past attempts to lose weight or deal with a health problem, I think this time is different because this time I'm not white-knuckling it. This time letting go of the sweets and starches has really worked for me. Why? Because, at the age of 45, after decades of trying, I have finally emotionally let go of the carbs. I did this over the past year with intensive work on my food and emotional issues with an amazing EMDR therapist (if you're in the area, you can find her here).

Delightfully, eating only vegetables and protein for the past two months has cleared my palate for flavors that used to be intolerable. A couple of weeks ago I ordered a glass of red wine, not in an attempt to fit in socially, but because the smell of it actually appealed to me. This had never happened before. I spent the rest of the dinner taking tiny sips every once in a while, just enough to get the flavor of the wine in my mouth. I was amazed to actually like it. At the end of two hours, I'd finished only half the glass, but for once I didn't leave the rest because it was gross to me. I simply stopped because the meal was over.

Since then I have been bewildered to twice enjoy a small amount of red wine with dinner. Last Saturday night, I ate a piece of steak and sipped on Shiraz. I used to hate Shiraz.

This is a huge breakthrough for me, a real accomplishment that I don't expect many to understand. I have long associated alcohol with adulthood and felt trapped in perpetual childhood because I just couldn't join the club. I'm so excited to finally be on the inside. I want to stay here, I want to keep liking the taste of wine and I want to keep feeling like a grown up. I want these things so much, I might never add sugars and starches back into my diet. Who needs cake, potatoes or pasta? I've got adulthood!

(photo by my husband, Bob Martin, who is very proud of me)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A fun new way to look at a 1992 thriller

I recently watched a film that I should have seen decades ago: Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh in Single White Female, which came out in 1992. It was one of those movies that featured a woman who becomes increasingly unstable and dangerous, in the tradition of Fatal Attraction, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and Misery.

Single White Female is suspenseful, sexy and wonderfully woman-centered for a film from the early 1990's. The movie is sort of a triumph for feminism that stars two women who end up facing off in a duel-to-the-death, similar to those that male characters engage in all the time. There are supporting male actors, but they fill good-guy and bad-guy roles without interfering too much with the main plotline: Ally (Fonda) takes a new roommate named Hedy (Jason Leigh), who tries to move into Ally's most intimate, personal life

It's a great ride and I'm sure I would have appreciated it as such if I'd seen it back in 1992. In fact, I don't know why I didn't. Both lead actresses are my contemporaries and the story of a single woman trying to live safely in the big city became my life within a year of the film's release.

Somehow I missed it, but I'm glad because last week I got to see it through the eyes of someone who has some knowledge of mental illness, from which Hedy certainly suffers. Hedy is described as crazy several times in the course of the movie, either by Ally or others, but it's never with any sympathy for someone suffering from an illness. Each time Hedy's behavior is referred to as crazy, it's with fear, in the context of what-are-we-going-to-do-to-protect-ourselves?

The scriptwriters could have substituted the word dangerous for crazy and the lines would read the same. Indeed, this is what society fears: not that mentally ill people have detached from reality, but that we are going to hurt other people. If the worst that mentally ill people did was rock ourselves and mutter in a corner, people wouldn't fear us as deeply they do. Sure, we all fear what's unfamiliar, but horror films aren't made about people who are different from the norm, unless they have also escaped from an asylum or clearly belong there.

Americans tend to vilify the mentally ill, and since we are a highly moralistic culture, we've turned mental illness into a sin, like excessive greed or an inability to be faithful to your spouse. Movies like Single White Female turn symptoms like mood instability, idealization/devaluation of others and paranoia into signs of an evil soul who must be punished (preferably killed).

Yes, mental illness can cause destructive behavior, but not because we are bad people who want to ruin the world. Our destructive behavior is an attempt to reduce the emotional pain we're in. It's irrational and unproductive and often makes things worse, but not because we want to drag you all down with us. Yes, we're acting crazy and that can be dangerous to others, but it's motivated by a desire to feel less alone, less afraid and less hopeless, not a desire to make your life miserable. Categorizing people as good or bad is an easier way to conceptualize your life, but it's irresponsible and cruel. People with mental illness don't have the devil inside of us, however you might think we do.

When we are healthy and responsible, those of us who manage a mental disorder tell our friends and family to take care of themselves when we slip, and to help us take care of ourselves by reminding us to take our meds or see our health professionals or go to the gym or walk the dog or whatever helps ground us in reality. I'm very grateful to everyone who knows I'm on an anti-depressant, but doesn't feel afraid of me or fear that I'll act unpredictably and make their life difficult.

There's a scene in Single White Female in which we hear Hedy's father begging her over the phone to come home. He says, "No doctors this time." We get a glimpse of Hedy as a lost little girl who needs professional help instead of a bullet through the head. But after Hedy hangs up on her father, the movie continues to show Hedy as an unstoppable force to be feared, not a human being to be treated. Tragically, this is how a lot of people still see the mentally ill and how the media still tends to portray us.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


My reasons to get a dog:
  1. Owning a pet has been shown to improve humans' health (physical and mental). My husband and I can definitely use that.
  2. Bob loves dogs, was raised with them and has been wanting a dog for a long time.
  3. I am finally mature enough, at the age of 45, to take care of a being who is dependent on me for food, safety and well-being.
  4. I'm not as afraid of being needed as I used to be.
  5. I've been studying the art of training and sharing one's life with a dog and I'm feeling confident about it.
  6. Owning a dog will make me a nicer person (more patient, more relaxed, less afraid)...eventually.
  7. Bob says they're fun to play with.
  8. For god's sake, we're a couple that doesn't want children. Isn't it required by society that we have at least one dog?
We're going to adopt a full-grown dog from a shelter. I imagine I'll become one of those people who forwards emails with photos of animals, spends hours watching pet videos and asks everyone, "Do you have a dog?" But I'll try not to become a doggy blogger, I promise.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

No, not the peanuts! NO!!

What food are you unable to live without?

Because of U.S. drought this summer, peanut prices could climb by 30% over the next several months. This puts in jeopardy my favorite lifelong snack: peanut butter. I'm talking about freshly ground, organic peanut butter, which contains just the peanuts, that I get at a natural foods store. How important is this oily protein source to me?

  • If asked to choose one food that I simply cannot do without, I choose peanut butter.
  • If I run out of it, what food most drives me to run out to the grocery store? Peanut butter.
  • It's my main comfort food.
  • It's what I'm almost always in the mood for, even when I don't feel like eating anything else.
  • I'll eat fresh, organic peanut butter with jelly, carrots, apples, raisins, tomatoes, mushrooms, bean sprouts, chicken, beef, tuna, bread, crackers or rice cakes, but it tastes best off my finger.
  • I consider it a diet food and will not sacrifice it even when I give up grains, sugar, processed food, beverages-besides-water, dairy products and anything made out of flour (as I've been doing since July).
  • Yes, I'm losing weight right now, on a protein-and-vegetables diet that includes peanut butter.
  • Given a choice of flavors for cookies, protein bars, candy, etc. I will always choose peanut butter.
  • Peanut butter!

If prices go too high, maybe I can stop getting haircuts.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Low carbs, high animal protein

On July 29th, with a doctor's guidance, I cut out all carbs, including fruit. Eating only vegetables and protein, I have watched the scale stubbornly show only the smallest changes from week to week. When I cut out carbs in the spring of 2010, the weight came off by about 1.25 pounds a week, but that's not happening this year. What's going on?

My doctor and I believe it's my anti-depressant. That's the only thing that's changed in the past year and many anti-depressants cause weight gain. I thought I was so lucky that it caused no change in my weight when I started taking it last winter, but it turns out that I didn't completely escape that effect. It seems to have affected my ability to lose weight.

So getting rid of those ten horrible pounds I put on in six lousy weeks (in May/June), is turning out to be much harder to lose than it should. After five weeks of vegetables, protein, exercise and sauna-sweats, my weight barely registers almost a four-pound loss. Mental illness sucks even worse than I thought.

But here's the good news: at any other point in my life I would GREATLY resent passing up all the buns and bread, the chips and crackers, the cookies and cakes, the summer fruit, the bowls of cereal and pasta, and my favorite: rice. But after seventeen years of slowly weeding out processed foods, dairy products and everything that now causes my middle-aged digestive system pain, I don't mind the way I'm eating now. After intensive work on my food issues with an EMDR therapist I have broken my emotional connection with sugar. Between the stomach aches I get from grains and dairy and no longer needing sugar as a crutch, eating only vegetables and protein feels good.

So if it takes six months to lose what I put on in six weeks, even on nothing but meat, eggs, fish, beans, nuts and produce, so be it. My stomach is at peace this way. I sleep well at night. I'm finally beginning to understand that all bodies have different needs and the high-carb vegetarian diet that someone else swears by, isn't a diet I should feel obligated to try. Every time I hear someone say that we shouldn't eat meat more than a couple of times a week, I know that might be true for them, but it's definitely not true for me. When nutritionists recommend dairy products, I know they're not talking to the lactose-intolerant.

From decades of experimenting on my own body, I know that all foods can cause me stomach aches except for these: vegetables and animal protein (even too many nuts or beans will upset me). Those are the only two categories that never hurt me, so I eat them happily and let the rest go.

Friday, September 02, 2011


For a few months now, my friends might hear me say "This is my favorite time of year." There are two reasons for this:

1. I love cold weather
2. I love Christmas

Anticipating Christmas adds a wash of happiness over my days that is completely irrational. Does Christmas Day bring me great joy? No. It's the weeks-long celebration that I enjoy. Others grumble about the commercialism of Christmas and feel offended when they see Christmas-themed ads in October. I love seeing Christmas-themed ads in October because they signal the beginning of weeks of special treats, extra parties and indulgences accompanied by the attitude, "Why not? It's Christmas." I know businesses are just trying to wring as much revenue out of us as possible, but I look at it differently. To me it's all just one big celebration and there's nothing I enjoy like a celebration.

My husband and I are people who happily put up our tree in November and take it down some time in February, but I even out-do him. In my opinion, it's never too early to start thinking about Christmas. One of the best things about being in a church or community choir is that you might start learning Christmas carols in August. I'll make holiday vacation plans that early, too.

Today we're having what I hope is the last beastly-hot day of the Chicago summer season. I don't have much patience with summer and by this time every year I want nothing more to do with it. This is a huge part of why I choose to live (and die) in Chicago: its protracted winters and truncated summers totally work for me.

And now it's September! The way others feel a little down at the end of summer, so do I dread the end of March when the really cold weather lets up for the year. So I'm doing great right now. I wait for this month all year long, just as I wait for October all year long and November, etc. Anybody else feeling happy?