Thoughts from the chemo room


Just thought I’d share part of a recent journal entry . . .

I’m in the chemo room, having rust-red iron drip into my veins, feeling woozy from the medicine injected beforehand, and looking around at those having chemo. I try to be furtive about it; it feels intrusive, like I’m gawking at their treatment or touring a third world slum, consoled by the thought that I can escape to my luxurious lifestyle by a bus trip or a plane ride across an ocean.

There’s an elderly woman, sleeping in a chair, her arm bruised at multiple places where the nurses have struggled to insert an IV. Another patient nods at my bag of fluids. “Iron?” When I say yeah, he says he’d had to have an iron infusion too; the chemo has depleted his iron levels.

My mom (who is with me) asks if his course of treatment is almost over. He replies matter-of-factly that it’s indefinite. (Translation: I’m dying, but they’re doing chemo in a last ditch effort to save me.) Then he asks if I have cancer, and I feel guilty as I answer no, just low iron. My body doesn’t absorb iron well, my hematologist says I need an infusion of iron, this doctor is also an oncologist, thus I am here.

The woman beside me wears a colorful knit cap and slippers. She has her own quilt with her and tucks it in as she settles back in the chair to sleep, as if she’s been through this routine many, many times before.

The man with her, obviously her husband, is young. As he watches her sleep, he hunkers over in his chair, chin propped in his palms. He looks like a guy who’s used to fighting hard and working hard and lifting weights and running faster than others. Yet here’s a fight he can’t fight. Cancer can’t be outrun or punched in the face; no amount of sheer muscle strength can lift this weight from their path.

His face shows the strain, the agony of watching the woman he loves fight a battle that he can’t fight for her. He’s helpless. She’s dying—it’s obvious enough to me, sitting one chair away, with my hair attached to my scalp and my health exuding from my body. His face twists. I look away, feeling like an intruder.

Yet I can’t forget.

I pray she beats it. I hope they both live to be a hundred, or travel to Paris, or play with their kids at Disney World, or just sit on the front porch and and hold hands and watch the sunset, if that’s what they want. I want this for them so badly, but I have no way of knowing if it will happen or making it happen. I’m as powerless to stop the cancer as he is.

A year has passed. My iron levels went up, I felt better, and then they drifted down again, just as the doctor predicted. I’m headed back to the chemo room for another infusion, and I wonder about the people I saw there.

I wonder: did she defy the odds and make it? What about the woman with the bruised arms? The man? The Indian lady, with her gentle smile and poised manner and regal bearing that held her balding head high?

Did they die? Have their funerals been performed? Did I read their obituary in the paper and not realize our lives had intersected for a few hours?

And what were their deaths like? Did he kick and fight and bite and scream at death, clawing and clinging to life right until the last second? Was she scared, panicked? Or did they give up and accept defeat in this battle against disease? Which is preferable? Is there a right or wrong way to die?

Death is a part of life, but it’s not a natural part. It shouldn’t be here (and wouldn’t be here, except for Adam’s sin). One day, it won’t be here. It’ll be gone forever.

No more cancer.

No more chemo.

No more IVs or needles or pain or death.

But in the here and not yet, we still deal with the reality of death’s presence, always hovering at the edges of our lives. I ignore it most of the time. But sitting in the chemo treatment room, it’s impossible to ignore.

It’s only when I see just how horrible death is—all the separation and grief and destruction—that I see the stark contrast between it and life. It’s like painting a swatch of black beside a white one: the black looks blacker, the white looks whiter and more necessary. (It doesn’t make it more necessary; it just appears that way.) It’s like remembering Good Friday before celebrating Easter Sunday. It’s like realizing my need for a savior before realizing Christ fills that need perfectly.

It’s only then that we can fully embrace the hope the resurrection offers to us.

Happy Easter, my friends. He is risen . . . He is risen indeed!


Categories: Christianity, death, hope, sickness | Tags: , , , | 10 Comments

Some thoughts on double standards, sexuality, and male sexual abuse victims


This morning, I read an article on Huffington Post, and it’s been bothering me ever since. It reports of a female teacher’s arrest for allegedly performing oral sex on a male eighth grader. She’s out on bail.

Here’s what’s bothering me. If reader comments are any indication, there is a double standard regarding male and female sexuality in our society. (Thankfully, these type of comments were in the minority, but they were still there.)

First, there were comments that essentially gave the boy a high-five. He’s gaining “sexual experience” and being “serviced” by the teacher, they claim, not being victimized or taken advantage of by an adult.

If the genders were reversed, would these same readers feel that an eighth grade girl was gaining experience if she reported having oral sex with a male teacher? I doubt it. In these comments, there was the assumption that the underaged male was “consenting” in this inappropriate relationship. I bet that most people wouldn’t make that assumption if the underaged person was female.

Second, at least one reader said that it was “less traumatic” for a male to be sexually victimized or assaulted than it would be for a female. Excuse me?!

Okay, I’ve never been sexually abused or assaulted, so I’m not speaking from experience; I’ll try to be sensitive to that fact. But I’ve had people close to me, male and female, who have been. I’ve seen the devastating consequences. And sexual assault is devastating for both genders.

There are both women and men carrying the burden of past sexual abuse. Some may have worked through the pain and gotten to a place of freedom, peace, and healing; others may still feel raw inside, bound by the chains of silence and shame. Some may have gained a healthy view of human sexuality. Others may have a flawed view of it, one that carries over into their relationships with people of both genders, whether that’s a romantic partner or friends or children.

To say that it’s somehow “less traumatic” for men betrays a flawed misconception about human sexuality. It implies that, for males, sex is always something casual, something to be achieved or performed, in contrast to the emotionally weighty, not-to-be-taken-lightly sexual encounters females have.

If a guy decides to have sex (the thinking goes), then what’s the big deal? No emotions, no strings attached, it doesn’t mean diddly-squat to him beyond a few minutes of pleasure. Whereas if a girl has sex, it’s a much, much bigger deal; she’s “giving” herself to someone (or having someone “take” her virginity away), as if it was a valuable commodity. I don’t usually hear the give/take terms used when a male has sex for the first time; his virginity is something he “loses”, like his car keys or the remote control or an unwanted burden.

Bullcrap. Males have emotions, just like females. They may be expressed differently, true, but they are felt just as deeply. There’s no reason to think a male wouldn’t be as traumatized as a female by an unwanted sexual encounter.

My point is this: victims of sexual assault need support and understanding. The victim’s gender is irrelevant in this regard. The predator’s gender is also irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if it’s male on female, female on male, or some other combination: sexual abuse is wrong.

We shouldn’t ignore one gender to favor the other, nor should we downplay the consequences based upon a double standard that views female sexuality in higher regard than male sexuality. That’s wrong.

Any thoughts?



Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 11 Comments

An open letter to a macho male

Dear Macho Male Gym Rat,

Please forgive the sexist assumption that you are male. I don’t know you. I haven’t seen you. For all I know, you could be an extremely strong and exceedingly tall female. But I haven’t seen any of those bodybuilding females at my gym, this post applies equally to XX and XY chromosome folks, and I have never met a woman—not that they don’t exist—who can lift over 360 pounds. Which is the total weight of the eight 45-pound plates you loaded onto the Smith machine bar . . . and left there for someone else to unload. Like me.

I unloaded it, all right. Never mind that you’d left the bar suspended at my eye level, approximately five feet from the ground. I can handle the weight, one plate at a time, as long as I was careful not to yank the plates off or drop them on my toes or hurl them like a Frisbee across the gym and hit the retiree doing bicep curls. That’s not my gripe.

Here’s the thing: you loaded it, but you didn’t unload it.

  • If you have the strength to do something with 360 pounds, don’t you also have the strength to undo it?
  • What’s the good of having strength and power if you aren’t going to use it wisely?
  • What’s the point of building muscles if you won’t consider how to help others through your strength?

Forgive my assumption that you don’t. Maybe you do. Maybe you’re admirable. You help little old ladies across the street. You rescue cats from trees. You move your friends’ furniture up three flights of stairs to their new apartment without complaining or expecting cold beer and pizza in payment. Or help cats cross the street, rescue little old ladies from trees, whatever. If that’s the case, wonderful. I hope you’re around when I’m the little old lady stuck up in the tree with my cat.

But when you leave the next gym-goer to unload heavy weights, without considering whether that person can safely do it, I assume that you’re inconsiderate, lazy, and more concerned about impressing people with your physique than with impressing people with your character. I’m not impressed.

Someone once said,

“There are two ways of exerting one’s strength. One is to push down. The other is to pull up.”

It’s not just an observation about physical strength and push-pull forces. It’s true in other realms, too. If you have some strength, it’s there for a reason.



Quick wit.


We all have some strong point. And we all have a choice of how to use it.

Will I use it to help others and pull them up? Will I use it to push them down, hoping that this makes me look better?

Sometimes it’s a challenge to know how I can best use my strength for others’ good. Other times, it’s a challenge to deny myself the fleeting satisfaction of using my strengths to push others down. But these are challenges that can and must be faced.

Just something to ponder.


Another gym rat  

Categories: letters, relationships | 4 Comments

Me, the invisible woman in the church pew

Lately, I’ve run across a situation at church that baffles me. I don’t know if this is a problem in Christian churches overall, but here it goes.

People don’t want to be friends.

After our previous church split, we stuck around for several months until finally admitting that we were all miserable: we’d lost all our friends, the leaders made several decisions that didn’t work well for our family, and, worse, our children complained that they were bored and hated church. That is definitely not what a parent wants to hear.

So in January 2013, we started visiting churches. This is the Bible Belt, remember, so there are lots of churches to try. To date, we’ve visited six churches. Big churches, small churches, ones with lots of older people, ones with lots of younger people, ones that have multi-million dollar building facilities, ones that meet in elementary schools, even a house church.

We’re not church hoppers; we’re actively trying to find a home church. We’ve settled on a large church in our area, and our children have adjusted and even made friends. So far, so good. We’re okay with the music, the preaching, and most (but not all) of the theology. We don’t want to change churches again; our kids need consistency.

But the adults aren’t as welcoming to me and my husband. We’ve been in three Sunday school classes at this particular church, and no one’s displayed any interest in us. They ask three things:

What’s your name? (Laura.)

How long have you been in this area? (Twenty-five years.)

Can you fill out a visitor information card? (Yes.)

That’s it. Occasionally, they’ll ask where my husband works. (No one at any church we’ve tried has asked what I do. We went to one particular class for two-and-a-half months, including a couple of social events, and no one knew that I’m a writer.)

To a curious degree, they exhibit a curious lack of curiosity about us as people. I find this absolutely bizarre. I mean, if you meet someone new, aren’t you at all interested in knowing about that person?

This isn’t a “Very Large Church” issue. It happened to us at the small churches, too. Initially, they were extremely welcoming, did a little happy dance at getting visitors, all that sort of thing. We got more questions, usually directed at my husband about work and job-related things, and the marketing and sales pitch for the church. But as time passed and we continued to attend, the members went back to their familiar friends, and we sat alone and unnoticed on the church pews. People were friendly, but they didn’t want to be our friends.

I’ll note that it was typically the MEN talking. The women stayed quiet or stuck to their groups of female friends. The times when I tried to engage a particular woman in conversation, she answered in monosyllables and never bounced the conversational ball back into my court. Don’t tell me that she must be an introvert; as soon as her friends came along, she was a chatterbox.

I had women, including teacher’s wives, who never made eye contact with me—ever. We spent over two months in one class, and I don’t think there was a single woman in there who knew my first name, much less anything about my life.

Yesterday, I tried to talk to a lady near us in Sunday School Class #3. She was willing to talk about her kids, but never asked me anything about my daughters, even when I mentioned them. It’s as if the women are all “friended-up” and don’t want to meet anyone new.

Look, I realize that I’m an introvert and shy and socially anxious and bipolar. I’m not an easy person to befriend or be friends with. I get that. Still, I can carry on a conversation with reasonable proficiency when given the chance. But I can’t carry on a conversation alone. That’s a monologue, and I’d prefer to leave those up to the likes of Hamlet and Macbeth, thank you very much. It just baffles me that church people think it’s okay to ignore visitors or behave with only surface-level friendliness toward other attenders.

I feel like I’m the invisible woman. Believe me, invisibility isn’t a superpower I want to display at church. It emotionally drains me to go through this week after week. I’d rather curl up in the church library with a book than put myself out there yet another time.

Forget about fitting in at church: I know that’s not going to happen in a city as totally devoted to technology as mine is. There’s simply too many engineer-types for an artsy person to truly feel comfortable here. But it would be nice to have my fellow Christians show some interest in me, especially when I try very hard to take interest in them.

Is this something that other people have experienced?



Categories: Christianity, friendship | Tags: , , , | 30 Comments

What’s missing?

Sometimes I read blog posts and I want to comment on them, but I wonder if I can possibly say what is in my head, make sense, be gracious, and not leave a comment the length of a doctoral dissertation (or at least, the length of a decent blog post!) I had that happen today, and I just wanted to share my thoughts.

Today, a writer’s site posted about a writer who, from all accounts, has a superhuman energy level. She produces tons of books under her own name and a pen name, is a songwriter, has a degree in some impressive field, markets her work with incredible energy . . . and has kids. 

The columnist writes that most of the barriers we (would-be authors) face are self-imposed ones. In other words, we make excuses for ourselves. “Well, that’s all very well for that author, but I could never do what she does because (fill in the blank with your favorite excuse).” 

Most of the commenters seemed to take this column as a kick-in-butt challenge, where they felt that if this woman could do all that, then they have no excuses for not doing it, too. (Thankfully, one agent commented that this author adores marketing and isn’t the best role model for most authors, and there are plenty of ways to “do” a writing career.) But I had one question lingering in my mind.

What’s the quality of her relationships?

(I don’t want to knock this author; I’d never heard of her before today. She may be someone who thrives on four hours of sleep, produces massive amounts of quality work, and manages to spend quality time with each child, and the little ones don’t feel neglected at all by Mommy’s work.)

But every time I encounter people with this much energy, I feel exhausted. (Darn my chemical imbalances! Darn my depleted iron levels!) I also remember something an art history professor told me years ago: don’t just look at what evidence a critic uses, look at what types of evidence he doesn’t use. In other words, what is absent is just as significant as what is present.

So I also wonder, as I study their obsessed-with-one-thing lives, what is neglected. What’s missing? When the deadline looms and the publisher is pounding at the door and the marketing efforts call for more-more-more, what’s the first thing to go?

Too often, it’s relationships. The people around us are taken for granted: they’re here to stay (for better or worse), but the publisher might drop us or the book might tank or the deadline might pass and we’re not ready. All those things (urgent! necessary! critical!) are transient. They might disappear. But those people around us: oh, well, they live with me and they’re stuck with me and they’ll still love me no matter what, right?

But that’s not really true. My husband and children and family should matter more than my work because they are people. They are permanently in my life, and because of that, they should matter more than temporary things. That includes even (especially?) my God-given work of writing.

Years ago, when I wrote my master’s thesis on Moby-Dick, I read about Melville’s family. His relationships with his wife and children were difficult; at one point, his wife believed he was insane (as did the critics) and almost left him. One son died by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Another died in a bar fight. One daughter died young. Melville was a difficult man. Brilliant, but difficult.

He lingered in obscurity for decades after his death until someone discovered Billy Budd and critics started to sing the dead author’s praises. His remaining child, a daughter, couldn’t understand the new fascination with her father. To her, he was still the difficult, perhaps violent, man who had brought her up. The accolades for Moby-Dick didn’t matter; all that mattered were her memories of a strained, heart-breaking relationship.

Extreme? Yes.

Avoidable? Yes.

As a workaholic, this cuts too close to the heart. I may not be violent, but sometimes when I become deeply involved with my current writing project, I find myself dangerously close to obsession. It’s a short step from there to neglect of everything else, including my family.

I don’t want my children to look back and feel neglected because of my work. I’d hate to have a shelf-full of bestsellers, a couple of literary prizes, and a massive body of criticism about my work, and have my children remember their mother as The One Who Wasn’t There Because She Was Writing. It’s not worth it.

Categories: relationships, writing | Tags: , | 17 Comments

Searching for gluten . . . craving the real


It was one of the odder things that I’ve eaten, and I’ve eaten some pretty strange foods over the years. Yesterday I stumbled across this new food at the grocery store; it was touted as a “new kind of breakfast cereal” and “gluten free” and “sugar free”. Right now, those are buzz words for me, so I bought it.

It’s a mixture of seeds (hemp seeds among them) that you mix with milk or water. The weird part is how little a serving is: only two tablespoons. Then you stir in four to five tablespoons of milk and wait for five minutes for the seeds to absorb the liquid. The package claimed that the food would expand up to sixteen times its size to be really filling, like a regular bowl of cereal would be. I envisioned the mixture exploding or at least expanding, much like bread dough does when it rises, and began dreaming up all the spiritual analogies that could be derived from this. I was disappointed, as the seed mixture stayed fairly compact; maybe they meant that it expands in your stomach or something.

Still, it wasn’t bad—not as bad as black coffee, my standard for food “badness”—especially once I added a dash of chocolate protein powder to the milky-and-seedy mix. (Chocolate makes almost everything better.)

I got on this health food kick a few months ago. I read a book on celiac disease, wondered if I had the disease, and went off all gluten. (Not an advisable move without a doctor’s approval, by the way; you should never self-diagnose.)

One of the good things about going off gluten was that I started examining the nutrition labels on everything. And I mean everything. Suddenly, I was learning that so many of the supposedly healthy things I ate were anything but healthy, not after all the sugar and salt and fat had been added. I was learning to watch out for sneaky gluten—the kind that hides under different names—and the even sneakier sugar and salt and fat, the kind that ups the food’s yummy factor but robs it of nutrients and robs me of the benefits of eating real food.

Through blood tests, I found out that I wasn’t celiac, so I didn’t have to ditch gluten. But my gluten-free experiment taught me a lot. About nutrition. About clean eating. About being aware of what I put in my body. About awareness, period.

So many times, I live in a state of distraction. I eat without thinking about what I’m eating; I live without thinking about what I’m doing or noticing the things that I need to notice. Like needy people.

This point came home to me a few years ago.

It was a typical Saturday morning at super Wal-Mart. I pushed my shopping cart through the aisles, my emotions near the breaking point as my then-six-week-old baby screamed and my preschooler whined. We’d completely run out of formula and the baby was hungry (hence the incessant crying) and my older daughter was tired (hence the whining) and I was sleep deprived, emotional and hating every moment spent grocery shopping among the throngs of equally-grumpy Saturday shoppers.

We turned on to the soft drink aisle. A worker was loading soft drinks onto the shelves. A family pushed their shopping cart by us. The mother caught a glimpse of my baby and the entire family—father, mother and children—had to stop and ooh and aww over her. She immediately calmed down, basking in the attention that diverted her from her rumbling tummy.

“How old is she?”

“Six weeks.”

“Oh how precious. Look at those little toes. . . .”

The family moved on. The worker looked at my daughter as we passed him. “My wife and I had a two-week-old,” he said quietly. “She died a month ago.”

His last words were so low that I barely caught them. My stressed-out, tired mind didn’t comprehend at first; and while I saw the darkness on his face, it didn’t register with me. What did I do?

Silently, I walked on.

It didn’t sink into me what he had said until we were almost on the next aisle. He and his wife had a child that, had she lived, would’ve been the same age as my baby. I was so focused the immediate need of getting through the store, dealing with two children, making my way through crowded aisles, that I totally missed the important thing: here was a man in the throes of grief, needing comfort, a compassionate word, something. And I said nothing.

This is what happens when I allow myself to be chronically distracted by the immediate and, often, inconsequential. It’s a little like what happens when I eat highly processed foods; I forget what natural food tastes like, and I crave the fake over the real.

So, too, I can start to prefer this state of distraction. It’s more comfortable, because I don’t have to notice the discomforting realities of life. It’s more normal, because everyone else is distracted, too. But it’s not acceptable, because it’s not how I was meant to live.

Just like I’ve had to retrain my body not to crave artificially sweetened or overly sugared foods, so I need to retrain myself to pay attention to what matters, to not be so distracted by the immediate that I miss the important.


Categories: attitude | Tags: , , , , , , | 10 Comments

“We ate grass”

photo from BBC news website

This story and news video broke my heart.

I don’t have any personal connection with Syria, and to be honest, I haven’t paid as much attention as I should to the civil war there. But yesterday, I read about the civilians fleeing Moadamiya after months of siege by government forces.

They are starving. No food or medical supplies had been allowed inside this suburb of Damascus. One lady told the reporter,

“We didn’t see bread for nine months . . . We were eating grass and leaves.”

I can’t imagine. I remember the hunger pains from when I was anorexic, the gnawing, empty feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever I tried to fast for spiritual reasons. That was nothing, nothing, like the hunger these men, women and children have felt.

I watched the accompanying video. At one point, humanitarian workers help an elderly lady sip on a bottle of water. Tears sprang to my eyes.

Such a simple act: giving someone a plastic bottle of water. I’ve done it dozens of times, given these bottles to my children or visitors or the termite inspection man. But it’s never had this significance.

 Such a simple act: sipping a bottle of water. I’m drinking water now, having called it quits on caffeine for the day. This morning at the gym, I gulped water between sets of squats and presses. All my fellow gym-goers had water bottles of some sort, from the guy on the elliptical who talks to himself, to the man stretching, to the worker behind the front desk. I packed water bottles in my children’s lunch boxes. Such a simple act. Yet this lady shook so much that she needed help holding the bottle to her lips.

It’s hard not to feel compassion for these victims of war.

It may be difficult to understand the conflict, or agree on how (or if) other governments should intervene, or even know how to pronounce the name of these suburbs of Damascus. But it shouldn’t be difficult for us to understand this:

People are starving.

People are dying.

People are people, even when they dress and speak differently than I do.

I need to care what happens to them.

Categories: humanity, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

The Lies We Tell Ourselves (My guest post for Tim Fall’s blog)

Hi, everyone! I’m so sorry that I haven’t been updating the blog regularly. A little thing called “Life” sometimes gets in the way of my best intentions. I’ll try to do better!

I’m guest posting (is that a verb?) today over at Tim Fall‘s blog. He’s a regular commenter here and if you haven’t read any of his work, you really should! Go poke around on his site and read and be prepared to laugh, think, and be challenged. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow him @tim_fall

Here’s my post:

Categories: Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Finding Supergarment

A few days ago, I went to my favorite clothing store. I’d seen a particular jacket in the Sunday ad and thought it might work for me. I started daydreaming about what outfits it might work with, how I would look in it (fabulous, of course!), how this one piece would be THE key piece of my summer wardrobe, the one that worked with every other item of clothing in my closet. It was Superman, disguised as a green jacket with a drawstring waist, god-like in its power to rescue my outfits from banality. Supergarment!  

I searched throughout the store. It wasn’t in the expected department, so I spent a while hunting it down. I was determined to find Supergarment. Finally, I spied it hanging on a rack. I drew closer, breath bated, eager to try it on. The tag in back read:

Made in Bangladesh.

I didn’t move. Suddenly, my mind filled with the images I’d seen on television about the garment factory disaster: the rubble, the searchers, the dead, the miraculous (and far too few) survivors. Over a thousand people died there. Died, while doing their jobs. Died, while making clothes like this jacket.

Was Supergarment made at that factory? I had no way of knowing. Did the woman who cut that fabric, pieced it together, sewed those seams–did her body now lie in a grave? Was she being mourned? What had her life been given for? So that I could have a cheap piece of clothing that, frankly, I didn’t need?

I didn’t try it on. I didn’t touch it. I couldn’t.

Because if I had, I would always wonder if my seamstress was dead.

I’d wonder if paying a low price for clothing was worth a human being’s life.

I”d wonder what part my obsession with the lowest price played in that disaster and other, ongoing, tragedies that I don’t see.

I’d wonder, and I’d grieve, and I’d touch that fabric and wonder how many tears were woven into these threads.

Categories: humanity | Tags: , | 17 Comments

Diet Coke, depression & why I’m ditching my favorite drink

 This morning, I walked into Bruegger’s bakery and surprised the girl behind the counter. “Diet Coke?” she asked, reaching for my mug.

 “Actually, I’m going to try some coffee,” I replied, trying to feel brave. I’m a regular at this place, and I always have my “bottomless mug” filled up with Diet Coke, no ice. So she must’ve been surprised that I ordered coffee, though she didn’t say so. She guided me through their different roasts: hazelnut, house, french roast, french toast. I settled for hazelnut.

It smelled good. I’ve always loved the smell of coffee.

But I’m leery of drinking it. I’ve never been a coffee drinker. It’s too bitter, it makes me jittery, it tastes horrible unless I dump in a cup of sugar and even more creamer. Then it’s unhealthy, and I don’t like drinking my calories. That’s been my excuse to stick with Diet Coke.

And here I am, trying to drink coffee for the first time in years.

Ironically, my first published short story was entitled “Coffee.” It’s about a girl who gives up coffee in favor of water after a close friend’s death. (It’s symbolic, okay?) Go figure that I’ve never cared for the substance.

I stare at the Bruegger’s mug with the vile substance swirling in it. People in movies and on television drink their coffee black, so I cautiously take a sip.

I grimace. My daughter’s watching; she wants to see the face I make, she says. “Go, Mommy!”

It needs sweetener. I look at the nutritional info on splenda and nectresse (the two non-sugar sweeteners I have available) and opt for nectresse. I’m not sure it’s a great choice and tomorrow I’ll try to do without artificial sweetener.

It’s still not fabulous. I’m still grimacing, and wondering, like I did the one time I had a wine cooler, do people really drink this for fun? I decide that creamer might help tone down the bitterness. Thankfully, a few teaspoons of skim milk helps the coffee go down.

I miss my Diet Coke.

I drank my last Diet Coke yesterday, after a lecture from my doctor about the dangers of diet sodas. I drank it slowly, wistfully staring at the liquid chemical cocktail that has been my constant companion since I was a tween. I’ve known the pleasures of diet drinks since before I met my husband, before I went to college, even before I went to high school, so this farewell drink feels sad. Parting is such sweet sorrow, Juliet claims, and I agree.

In my defense, I’ve cut back—way back—on how much soda I drink. I used to average around 100 ounces of Diet Coke a day (and wonder why I was so jittery and nervous all the time). Recently, I’ve been down to around 36 ounces a day, with water as my other beverage of choice. Now I was looking at zero ounces. The last drops of Diet Coke were gone.

I burned a candle after I finished the drink. It seemed appropriate enough, since it was in a little coffee mug and supposedly smelled like cafe latte. (It smelled like generic vanilla candle to me.) So the candle was supposed to be both in memory of my favorite drink, and in anticipation of tomorrow’s coffee drinking pleasure.

My doctor would be so pleased.

Even a quick internet search revealed that Diet Coke is unhealthy. Obesity, kidney issues, headaches—all linked with high doses of Diet Coke. It’s pretty much all chemicals, after all—nothing that remotely resembles anything in nature—so why wouldn’t it do wacky things to our bodies?

I’ve known all this before. Dr. H isn’t the first doctor to lecture me on the horrible effects of my addiction to artificial sweeteners and caffeine. But then he trotted out the results of a recent study. High doses of Diet Coke can increase the risk of depression thirty percent. Thirty percent!

Part of me was shocked, part of me was contemplating kicking the silver can to the metaphorical curb, and part of me was wondering how he always remembers study results and statistics. Last time I saw him, he recited the benefits of kale. Previously, he’s told me about studies relating to fish oil and postpartum depression, and a multitude of other data that are simultaneously interesting and head-scratching. (Who thinks of doing scientific studies on some of this stuff? Not me.) How on earth does he remember all this? Is that an inborn talent, or a skill they teach in med school?

The second half of what he said was interesting, too. Coffee—in moderation—can possibly lower your risk of depression by ten percent.

As my doctor kindly pointed out, I’m on several medications for my bipolar disorder. One has some potentially serious side effects, including a neuromotor disorder that is irreversible. It’s one that I’d like to stop taking. But my addiction to diet soda is possibly making my depression worse, which means I have to take the medication, which means I’m at a higher risk for this neuromotor issue with a name that I can’t pronounce. Is the Diet Coke worth it?

And again, what came to mind was the quote from Richard Foster: reject anything that is producing an addiction in you. They are the same words that prompted me to give up Facebook, and now they help me decide to ditch my beloved silver-canned drink.

My husband was leery. He probably remembered the last time I gave up Diet Coke. That time, it was for Lent and I gave up all caffeine. Miserable experience (for him and for me). I was exhausted and cranky and well, you can read the blog post. But I figure that if I can drink one small cup of coffee a day, without all the high sugar and full fat add-ons, then I’ll get some caffeine and should be fine. I only drink water for the rest of the day.

I can’t see how I’ll ever be a more than one cup of coffee a day type of person; the stuff just doesn’t produce that must-have-more craving in me. But if I ever do start drinking more than one, I’ll consider ditching caffeine entirely.

So. Here I am. Drinking coffee. And realizing that it isn’t half bad.

If you’re interesting in reading about the Diet Coke/depression study, here’s a link:

Categories: addiction, freedom, mental illness, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 31 Comments

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