The work of feeling groovy
Four months ago, I thought coffee was The Problem dragging me down.
Three months ago, I realized The Problem ran much deeper than coffee. I was running myself ragged and using coffee to conceal the degree of that raggedness from myself. Coffee worked to keep me going short term, but relying on it was a terrible approach to sustaining myself longer term.
I began investing in myself daily: first by rubbing my ears and temples for a couple of minutes twice daily, and then by adding in a few minutes of meditation. I created a bedtime routine to improve my chances of getting a good night’s sleep. I started listening to musicals, which I found were far more conducive to feeling human connection than was social media. Best of all, I practiced addressing myself kindly and with compassion, soon determining this was the single most powerful change I’d made.
This isn’t hippie, New Age stuff, but grounded in human biology. As I wrote in mid-April:
Long story short, we are supposed to spend most of our lives with our parasympathetic–calming–nervous systems engaged, with stressors only briefly activating our sympathetic–panic–nervous systems. Life these days involves constant activation of the sympathetic nervous system, at great cost to short and long term well being. The more you can do to consciously, repeatedly activate your parasympathetic nervous system, the healthier and happier you will be over the long haul. This is more than just a moment’s distraction; it’s a cumulative investment in you.
By quitting coffee and being kinder to myself, I’d solved The Problem! Yes!
Okay … no. Not quite.
There was more to it. Of course there was.
I’ve eaten my own variation of Paleo since a big health situation a few years ago. This dramatically improved my health in ways beyond the scope of this post.
With a keen eye to fixing things not working, I wondered if my diet was also impacting me. I found at least three different ways it was:
- Sodium. In a world where many people are cautioned to eat less salt, I was eating far too little. I put a little salt in my weekly meatballs and soup. Otherwise, I had no added salt in my diet. The morning I wondered if this might be contributing, I calculated my daily salt intake as somewhere around 10-15% of the U.S. daily recommendation. I started adding salt to my food and noticed a positive difference almost immediately.
- Carbs. I’d been avoiding fruit and eating only a little bit of sweet potato daily. I wasn’t doing this for weight reasons, but because most the Paleo resources I read indicated we’re healthier the more we run on fat instead of carbs. I recently happened to read an article by a Paleo dietitian that mentioned the body can interpret lack of carbs as a kind of stress; based on her address, I realized she was talking about me. I started eating a sweet potato or two daily and felt much less anxious. I found a little fruit and a little honey were also okay for me, though too much left me prone to hangriness I don’t otherwise experience.
- Histamine. More on this below!
When I first started having health problems in response to toxic exposure a few years ago, I had allergy-like symptoms without having clear allergies to any particular thing. The allergist I worked with said I was clearly sensitive to a great many things, but that he wasn’t trained to address sensitivities. Searching the internet for information on “sensitivities” after our meetings was part of what began me on the road to Paleo through elimination.
It was only last February, though, that I had a terrible reaction to sauerkraut and learned about “histamine intolerance,” a condition much likelier to be diagnosed in Europe than in the United States. Before that reaction, I’d noticed certain foods caused my face to swell after the onset of my health situation. These included–but were far from limited to–cinnamon, pineapple, citrus fruits, nuts, bacon, and even coffee.
It all seemed so random until I read about histamine intolerance, in which failure to break down histamine leads to histamine overload. I was so thrilled to learn about this last year that I adjusted my diet … for about a week. I then forgot about it. Completely.
A couple months ago, I started noticing my face swelling and anxiety growing while eating certain foods. Eating sauerkraut one day, my whole body felt heavy in addition to the usual symptoms. I dragged myself to the bathroom to discover I was white as a sheet. Back at my desk, I consulted with Google to find myself once again at … histamine intolerance. I was flabbergasted how totally I’d forgotten about it.
I again started avoiding foods likely to prompt a histamine reaction. Since histamine grows faster in the fridge than freezer, I also began freezing cooked meat–such as my weekly batch of meatballs–in individual portions I removed from the freezer right before eating. I felt much better, but again slipped back down toward high histamine consumption to the point that the two cups of coffee I had Friday morning jacked me up. My reaction wasn’t the coffee alone, but the total histamine accumulation of a couple weeks of eating stuff I should’ve been avoiding topped off by coffee.
After three painful hours attempting to work, I finally threw in the towel and napped in my car until I was okay (enough) to drive home. That evening, I feasted upon antihistamine foods my husband picked up from the market … and actually kept those foods down.
Now to focus on not only starting but staying low histamine!
In the scope of all these changes, I revisited a post I’d written a few months ago. “Holy crap!” I exclaimed to my husband. “I feel so much better!” That better is in mind, body, and spirit, so that what I’d written three months ago might as well have been written by a stranger.
And yet, it will be important for me to remember that post was not written by a stranger. It’s easy to fall out of new habits, but these new habits of self kindness and food care are ones I cannot afford to lose. I’ll better keep them by remembering that was me.
Beyond “not affording”? Man, it feels grand to just, finally, feel good.