Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Food Irony

Tonight I was preparing one of our favorite, or at least most frequent, meals.  Essentially I take whatever leftovers we have that sound good together, add some veggies, heat them up and scramble in a few eggs.  If Penguin is not planning on eating with us, I melt in a bit of cheese as well.

It's fast, easy, and also serves as comfort food.  It turns leftovers into a second serving (and there have been days where I make pasta or rice simply because I want to turn it into second servings)  As providence would have it, we've nicknamed this meal "hash" since it's pretty much a hash up of all the still edible leftovers and we never really get the same meal twice.

Not long ago, I was talking to my mom when I mentioned using leftovers again like fried rice.  Before I could get too far, she made a disgusted sound and said it reminded her too much of what her mom used to do.  Which was throw leftovers into a frying pan and scramble in an egg or two and call it hash.

My mom hated that meal when she was growing up.  And to be fair, I've seen some of the recipe booklets from the 50's and I swear, people back then had some very questionable tastes (Like lemon jello with chicken salad in it as a delicacy)  And my given diet is drastically different than theirs, namely that mine tends towards veggies and theirs would have been more meat and potato-ey.  So, it's quite possible that her version of hash and mine vary in appeal.  It's also possible that her leftovers were less than appealing to a young child to begin with; making the leftovers even less so.

Then again, maybe my version of hash will go down in the history books as unappealing goop.

At any rate, I love that my experimenting led me to create a meal that my mom never once considered serving because she found it so unappetizing as a kid.  And that I nicknamed it the same thing my grandmother named hers.  I've racked my brain and can't recall having hash; unless it was hash browns.  I do recall that my grandfather occasionally got a different meal than my brother and I and it may have been hash. But I never got a good look at it, and accepted that it was for grown ups.

Is my meal palatable?  Well, Mr Violets hasn't complained.  He's even offered to make rice so we could turn it into hash...So it can't be too bad.  The kids, however, reserve judgement.

Like most kids, they'd rather have pizza.  Even if it is gluten free and dairy free from a box.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Invisible Disabilities

It's so easy to judge.  In fact, sometimes it's an important facet of survival.  Our instincts about people and situations have been honed over generations to help keep us alive.  Our guts tell us when to stay and when to run.  They aren't always *right* instincts, but they are there for a purpose.
Unfortunately, this innate ability to judge can come with a high cost.  We stop thinking, cease to remind ourselves that behind a facade is a human being.  Pain isn't always written on their face, the potential of pain and suffering never is.  But it's still there.
We've come a long ways since the days of witch hunts, where individuals with various physical limitations were cast out as damaged by the devil or "marked" by witches.  We understand genetics and at least some medical conditions and agree that there are currently limits to medical science.  We see the person inside the body impeded by a wheelchair, put up signs in braille to help blind people find their dr's office in a large building, add ramps to buildings and paint curbs blue to make the world more accessible to those with limitations.
And yet we continue to judge.
We go on social media and rant about special snowflakes, we question the need for service animals for diabetics and epileptics and PTSD survivors.  We critique slow movers, and slow learners, and motorized scooter users.  We fail to see the person inside the every day individuals who are struggling.
We look at smiles and automatically, we see healthy individuals.  We don't know what's going on inside, but we assume that they have resources.  Can walk to the corner, volunteer an hour at the PTA fundraiser, make a few phone calls.  We assume that their resistance to any of these things is purely personal.
And sometimes it is.
But sometimes, there are deeper set objections.
People with food allergies may be reluctant to participate in food related affairs.  Maybe that's reasonable and maybe it's not, but they are the ones managing their symptoms and living with the consequences.
People with digestive disorders have unique needs and may be unreliable.
People with chronic pain may not be able to stand for 20 minutes at a time, or drive the carpool at the last minute, or might need to cancel plans so they can take a stronger pain killer, or just can't participate because their personal limitations have adjusted.
Some people may need help lifting groceries or children, or struggle to push a cart but otherwise look perfectly healthy.
However, we miss these problems because when people with limitations take care of themselves, they often appear "normal".

That, I think, may be the problem.  In our society, we have no problem helping those who are suffering.  What we struggle with is understanding that many of our accommodations and support systems are in place to prevent as much suffering as possible.  So, no, the lady with a rod in her back doesn't look like she's in constant agony.  But if she were to lean over and pull the cans of soup out of the bottom of her cart, she would be.
The person with dietary restrictions isn't laid up in bed every day, but only because they are managing their diet.  They aren't trying to spoil donut day.

When someone needs accommodations to function normally and appear "normal"; they have invisible disabilities.  It doesn't mean that they are any less of a person, just that they need to be a stronger self advocate.  It might also mean that they don't know exactly what they need to be successful, they only know some of the potential pitfalls.

We need to learn to accept these limitations that we don't see.  Even as someone struggling with "invisible disabilities" raising kids with the same issues, I'm struck by the ever present conundrum:  Everyone has issues.  We're no one special.  Except, we are still people.  We aren't trying to ask a lot to be included (maybe permission to bring our own food)  We still have a lot to contribute to society.  But only if we can figure out how to navigate our way despite our limitations.

Now, when I see someone roll their eyes about a "lazy" or "irresponsible" individual, I wonder if there is something else going on.  And I try to accept it.
Building a better world is the end goal for all of us, right?

Sunday, September 04, 2016


Food allergies are never easy.  Adults and children alike struggle with how to navigate daily life; along with how much to share, how much to hide, and how much risk to take.
It's hard at any age.  
Kids can blame their parents.  But adults are left to justify their reactions, their risk management plans, their ongoing learning curve.  And in that justification, we sometimes over explain, over justify, over share.  It's not meant to be self centered.  It's not a plea for attention.  But sometimes, outsiders think it is.  

I've noticed that I'm not the only one who does this, and I'm pretty sure that others are saying the same thing I am.  Having a condition that affects my ability to eat freely makes me feel like I'm less.  Less valuable, less interesting, less desirable.  Intellectually, I know that my thoughts and insight are just as valuable as someone else's, but I also know that it's easier to connect with someone you understand.  And it's hard to bond with someone who can't share your or a cup of coffee with you.  It's awkward to go out to eat with someone who doesn't eat.  And when you can't even commiserate over calorie consumption and temptation, it's easier to just walk away.  

There was an episode of Charles in Charge (Am I the only one who watched that show?) where Charles and his girlfriend come home from an outing, arguing because she ordered salad off the menu and everyone else was having ice cream.  It made others feel bad about their choice to splurge while she sat there virtuously eating diet food.  

I think it's sometimes the same way with food allergies.  I don't indulge in pizza because I don't find bloating and vomiting to be indulgent.  But I recognize that the consequences would be different for someone else.  And I know that pizza tastes good.  When I can afford it, I don't hesitate to treat my kids to box of gluten free, dairy free, pizzeria made pizza.  (Yes, there is such a thing!  And I'm told it tastes better than the frozen version.)  

I don't drink coffee because it causes pain and discomfort which makes me less productive, rather than giving me that caffeine rush that adds to someone else's productivity.  But I can appreciate the desire for a treat that makes one feel more energetic, and fortifies you for the day.  If I could, I'd drink it; and I'd experiment with additions until I found the perfect blend.  But I can't.  I don't even dwell on it (outside of this blog post, that is)

But when I'm offered some, the whole scenario sometimes starts playing through my head.  I'd love some.  I can't.  Maybe this time...no.  Brain reminds me of pain, discomfort, I'll spare you the details.  I hesitantly say, "I wish I could..." and then the justifying begins.  I'm not anorexic.  That's not why I'm saying no.  Really.  I have these food allergies.  And I'm not just being paranoid.  Or, if I am, it's just because I've been burned so many times before.  Really.

And the more I get that look...the look of disbelief, the "uh, huh, sure", the twist of the mouth, the chewing of the lips followed by a polite smile, the more I want to keep talking and say things like, "Let me explain what I'm dealing with..."

In other words, I overshare.  It's pathetic, really.  I *think/hope* that I'm getting better.  I recognize it coming on and bite my tongue.  I see it in others and try not to cringe outwardly; I try to listen and actively respond.  I see through the oversharing to that tender center, the "please don't hate me, don't just walk away, I really wish..."  But I know others don't know what's behind the oversharing.  I've even heard them discussing it later, that man or woman who went on and on...Well.  That's what inspired this blog post.

So here it is.  In my personal, non professional, layperson's opinion, here is what someone is saying when they start oversharing about a medical condition you don't really care about:

"Don't judge me.  I'm doing the best I can.  I don't know how exactly to deal with what's wrong, but I'm trying to understand it.  Sometimes talking it through helps me deal.  Sometimes talking makes me feel less crazy, even if it makes me look crazier.  I feel vulnerable.  I feel judged.  I feel isolated and incompetent" (though why having to turn down a piece of candy or a cup of coffee might make me feel incompetent is beyond me.  It's still true.  I've found myself turning food down and then thinking that I shouldn't be there, someone else who can share and bond over junk food is somehow more qualified to be involved than I am.  I mean, I can't even eat normally...It doesn't make sense but there you have it.  Then you add in wearing a mask if popcorn or cornstarch is involved and I really feel out of place.)

Oversharing is a way of saying "Like me anyways.  I'm not really weird."

Several years in, I recognize this and am striving to embrace the weird.  Food allergies and the struggle to identify them have made me much more conscious about so many things.  Unfortunately, I have not grown more eloquent, and my awareness of multiple viewpoints only worsen my communication skills.  But I do try to embrace the weird and recognize that others simply aren't here.

And I wanted to share.  In case you, too, are struggling with oversharing, or know someone who is.