Thursday, May 13, 2010

Progress report: diet, dogs and trying to meditate



I’ve been meaning to write something about the changes I’ve noticed since going on an incredibly strict food intolerance diet, and thought I'd combine a progress report with a couple of other ‘developments’.

I’m on a strict version of the Failsafe diet, which rules out all food additives as well as two groups of chemicals that occur naturally in foods: salicylates and amines. My diet is also gluten-free, dairy-free, yeast-free, fruit-free, and sugar-free (the first four of these additional restrictions are necessary for some Failsafers, but not all).

I’d been on a diet that had these four restrictions as their basis for many years (though with plenty of ‘lapses’) but never tried to avoid salicylates and amines (in no way am I suggesting that others should follow this diet, especially the extreme version I’m on!).

Researchers have found that not only does the Failsafe diet improve the symptoms of ADHD but it also improves behaviour and mood including depression. Food intolerance has also been linked with a number of other mental disorders.

So, even though an outbreak of hives drove me to this extreme rather than my mental ups and downs, I was curious as to what effect the diet would have on my overall mental and cognitive state now that I’ve been on it a couple of months.

So what changes have I noticed? My memory is definitely better. I’m retaining more of what I read. My thinking is sharper. My mood is also better, except on overcast days. I still get sad a lot, but it passes. I generally feel more positive.

I’m less angry. I noticed this when catching up with a friend recently. She’s a lovely person but a bit chaotic, and sometimes I’d get annoyed when she complained about her life. Last time I met up with her I was amazed at how calm I felt.

My concentration isn’t all that much better, though, mainly because my mind is less tired and quite ‘busy’. In fact, if anything I feel more concerned about particular activities that feel vitally important (for example, writing comments on political opinion sites!).

This feeling is quite compulsive – it’s been there for years in anything related to work or effort; but I think I’m just noticing it more because my thinking’s clearer, and it’s strengthened the sense that I may have a form of OCD, albeit not focused on things like germs and counting. The obsessiveness is also centred on what’s wrong with my body and mind – yet I’ve been less focused on my bodily imperfections lately, though winter could be the cause of this rather than the Failsafe diet.

I still have social phobia. However, there has been a small decrease in my physical anxiety.

The Failsafe diet dismisses sugar as a contributor to children’s behavioural and mood problems. Instead, it links hypoglycemic symptoms with salicylate intolerance. Failsafe also dismisses the scientifically controversial phenomenon of leaky gut, which some believe can cause and worsen food intolerances and an overgrowth of Candida, a type of yeast.

I still have low blood sugar, although I have to admit it seems to be less severe. I don’t know whether or not I have leaky gut but I still feel more tired, vaguer and quite depressed on overcast days, and I still get PMT during which my hypoglycemia is significantly worse. And, sad to say, I still have rosacea – being on an amazingly restricted diet hasn’t stopped me having red, rashy cheeks.

All the changes I’ve experienced are subtle – I don’t feel transformed, just a bit stronger, and I wouldn’t have the confidence to make a major change like applying for an in-house job.

My family and other animals

Sorry about the hackneyed heading, but it was just too relevant not to use! I have ongoing ‘difficulties’ with my family of origin, and these have deepened in recent years because two of my sisters acquired dogs and I wasn’t happy with the treatment of these unfortunate canines. I’m still not, but I wanted to report some progress on that front (I’ve changed everyone’s names).

There are two dogs in this saga. Jordan is a lively, mischievous, ginger-coloured, mostly-cocker-spaniel owned by my older sister, Andrea, and her husband Richard. There’s been ongoing disagreement between me and Andrea and Richard over the treatment of Jordan, who I used to walk regularly.

Sarah is a quiet, chocolate-brown, rather resigned retriever–wolfhound(?) cross who nevertheless transforms into superdog when someone throws a ball in her direction. She’s owned by one of my younger sisters, Therese, and her husband, Tony.

A particular incident around Easter sparked the latest dog fight. Sarah was left alone in Therese’s backyard for the four-day break, with my father visiting and feeding (and playing with her briefly) twice a day. On one of those days she came to my parents’ backyard for most of the day (they live down the road from Therese) and I walked her, and along with my parents gave her some attention.

Sarah is a challenging dog. Loving and calm around children, she hates most other dogs, and anyone who walks her must carry a bottle of water to spray into her face if she becomes aggressive towards a passing dog.

I had never seen this side of her and, thinking it couldn’t really be that bad, didn’t bother with the water on the Easter walk I took her on. But then we passed two dogs and a cat, luckily safely behind the neighbour’s front fence. Sarah suddenly lunged towards them, barking furiously while I pulled desperately at the leash to maintain control – she’s very strong and whimpered angrily when I finally managed to restrain her.

Clearly Sarah suffers from a lack of socialisation – this had soon become apparent after my sister found her through a rehousing service (she was already at least five years old). She had also become quite overweight since I’d seen her last, and was constantly panting even when lying down. All this, combined with my sister leaving her in the backyard over Easter, gave me a sense of despair about her situation that left me wanting to distance myself from Therese.

Since the arrangements to stop walking Jordan ended just after Christmas my relationship with Andrea and Richard hadn’t really improved much (this is beginning to sound like Days of our Lives crossed with Animal Rescue).

Anyway, last weekend I finally caught up with the family, after not seeing some of them for almost two months, at Therese’s place for a Mothers Day gathering. And there were some tiny but significant miracles.

The first one was that after delivering the family to Therese’s place, Richard went back to his place and brought Jordan back with him. Smelling Sarah even before he got to the front door, Jordan skidded frantically through the house to the backyard. He spent the afternoon there with Sarah and occasionally some of the children, trying to steal Sarah’s ball (by some quirk of fate, Sarah actually doesn’t mind Jordan, although she got a bit aggro at one point when he grabbed the ball).

The second miracle was that Sarah herself was looking much better than when I’d seen her last – leaner and healthier. This was because my oldest niece, who’s 16, had been taking her along with her on her runs, and Sarah apparently is too distracted when she’s running to bother about other dogs.

Jordan hadn’t forgotten me. As soon as I went outside he dashed towards me and, as I stroked his head and scratched his chin, stayed by me with a look of relief on his face. Our reunion, after almost five months, was much less gruelling than I’d rather melodramatically anticipated, but I still felt a level of guilt at having abandoned him.

It was good to see him as his same old self, and he was happy and active. Also, I knew that since I’d stopped walking him, Andrea had been taking more responsibility for him. I know he doesn’t get walked enough, and she doesn’t like the whole social scene at the park and so avoids taking him there, as she’s told me. But he seems better integrated into the family. He also spends a fair bit of time inside, I’m told.

Sure, I wasn’t happy as it began to get dark and the two canine pals forlornly stood sentry at the back door, soulful eyes watching the fun inside, cold and lonely and wanting to be part of their human packs, with me going outside to pat and soothe every now and then. But I’m happy about the progress that’s been made, and I just hope it can continue.

Good morning, meditation

I also wanted to report on my recent experience of trying to meditate. When I look back over my adult life, it could be viewed as one long failed attempt to meditate. It seems that when I do start meditating regularly, every time something out of the ordinary happens – I get a cold, or a really difficult job comes up, or a major event looms – I give up meditating. I’m talking about 5 or 10 minutes a day here, not anything heroic like half an hour.

But in all my attempts I’ve come to realise some important things.

There is absolutely no point in me waiting to meditate till 6 pm, which I’ve tried to do in the last year or so. It’s not that I can’t find the time then; my brain just isn’t in the right state for it.

The only thing that works for me is to meditate just after I get up in the morning and before I leave the bedroom. As I’m a morning person this is the best time for my brain; I’m definitely at my freshest, even if I haven’t slept that well. But the other reason is that, because I know if I don’t meditate immediately I won’t be doing it later in the day, it’s much harder to put it off and make excuses. I also know that it’s good for me to start the day that way before I compulsively go to my office and turn my computer on.

Another thing I’ve realised is I don’t have to wait for meditation benefits. I get them right away. Yes they’re subtle, but meditation is like daily medicine.

And the best thing? All the times I’ve stopped and started mean that when I start to meditate again, my brain already has some skill that it’s retained from the last time. So all the stopping and starting hasn’t been a total waste of time.

So far, I’ve managed to meditate first thing in my bedroom, for 10 minutes at a time, for five days in a row. I know that sooner or later there’ll be some crisis that may threaten this, but now at least I can’t fool myself and say ‘I’ll do it later in the day’. It’s first thing or not at all.

(BTW, the picture above isn’t of Sarah, but it was too appropriate to resist.)

3 comments:

  1. Great to see this blog!

    Despite your setbacks I applaud your efforts to alleviate your social phobia/ social anxiety!

    I have been helped with my Social Anxiety by meditating, here is a very helpful article.

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