I imagine “normal people,” whatever they might be, do a lot of things differently from the way I do them. This imagining may or may not be accurate, but I do it. I imagine them getting into the shower without a great deal of internal debate, simply because it’s the thing they do every morning. I imagine them opening the mail before the stack gets so tall that it topples onto the floor. I imagine them answering the phone with an air of curiosity rather than dread: I wonder who that is? instead of Oh, God, can I handle a conversation right now?
I imagine them taking their vitamins without conducting a negotiation.
I have a simple regimen containing just a few high priorities: a basic multivitamin, Omega fatty acids, and extra vitamin D. Three items, once a day, in addition to my psych meds. So why do they get ignored so often? I have managed to be consistent about taking my psych meds for a long time now. Those don’t get negotiated. So I’m standing right there, at the counter, taking those, and the three other bottles are inches from my hands. What keeps me from taking them?
There’s something inside of me that gets in the way. I think of it as the part that wants me to be sick, or maybe the part that wants me bound, stuck and ashamed. Most of us have one. My vitamins are my symbol of it today because they’re an example of how illogical and power-hungry this aspect of me is. I got up, took my psych meds, made breakfast for my daughter, worked on a poem and haven’t done anything markedly stupid today…and the vitamin negotiation goes on. It goes on as a way of showing me that I can’t get away with taking care of myself too much. It wants me to know that it hasn’t lost the power to sabotage me, even if it’s only in a small way at the moment.
There was a time when my blood sugars were under very poor control because of my weight, food choices and inconsistent compliance with my meds. I would walk by my diabetes meds on the counter, pause, look at them and walk on. I was prescribed a cholesterol lowering drug: the bottle sat in its unopened pharmacy bag for months. An earthquake–not as severe as the recent 6, but a good 5–failed even to get me out of my chair. During this period of my life, the self-destruction was winning. Aided by drugs and severe depression, it had conditioned me into helpless apathy.
Things are different now, but it clings to life and occasionally roars recollections of its past glory. Like a hostage negotiator, I have to try to get concessions from it, and I often don’t succeed in resolving the situation completely. As I said above, the psych meds are high priority and tend to get “released” first. Vitamins, while important, don’t have severe consequences for missing one or two days, so I am more likely to let them slide. They mock me from the counter, sitting in plain sight and silently asking why I’m staying away. I don’t like it because it reminds me so strongly of the times I was ignoring more vital things.
Sometimes I push through the resistance and take the bloody vitamins. Down they go–the oblong multi, the round white Vitamin D, and the aesthetically pleasing golden Omegas. But what is the price? The price is danger; the danger inherent in feeling virtuous. Because they’ve become such a symbol of doing well, succeeding with them kind of invites the other shoe to drop…
See? This is how I think. This cannot be normal.
And if you think my attitude about vitamins is bizarre, you might not want to ask about exercise. Same weirdness, with added complexity because it requires much more effort. Something I desperately, vitally need for my health is held hostage. I belong to the Y near my home. I own a freaking treadmill, which is apparently guarded by an invisible giant spider that wraps my psyche in a strangling web if I venture too near.
Should I go with the metaphor and try actual negotiation? I could say, “Please, let me exercise today and I promise to skip the vitamins all week.” “I promise to bite my nails until they bleed if you let me stay away from binge eating for the day.” I could bargain for the things I want most that day, and pay with other ways of harming or neglecting myself. Let’s face it, I already do a lot of that, consciously or unconsciously.
My drug addiction uses this dynamic to try to woo me back. It whispers: just start using me again, and this frustrating negotiation will be over. The fact that it goes on is proof that you’ll never be able to handle life without me. The vitamins join the chorus, singing their little song from the counter. We are for people who love their bodies, they sing. We are for people who walk firmly on the side of life, they sing. We are for people who don’t harm and neglect themselves.
We are for people who are not you.