The problem with the “don’t make events about food” advice

February 22, 2022

Maybe you have celiac disease or another food restriction like me, or maybe you have another limitation that causes issues for you at social gatherings. If so, you’ll relate to this. And if that’s not you, this may put things in a slightly different perspective for you.

I grew up in a family that made a big deal out of food. Holidays, were always about food. I get it, that’s how Jewish holidays are. Challah, hamentaschen, wine, matzo ball soup, latkes, and kugels were all staples. Thanksgiving had turkey, pies, potatoes, and kugels. When we visited family out of state or they visited us, it was all about the food. We thought about it, talked about it, spent lots of time preparing it, and of course, enjoyed eating it. As I grew up, I often felt sick after (or during) these events, but I often felt sick after (or during) a normal meal anyway, so it’s not like these were any better or worse. It wasn’t until my 30s that I stopped eating gluten.

Image credit Heartland Mom on Pixabay

I have often wondered how my grandmother would have handled things if she’d still been alive when I went gluten-free. She was the stereotypical Jewish grandmother, always cooking and baking, expressing her love through food. We would arrive at her house after a several hours long drive, having stopped for lunch on the way. She would ask if we wanted food when we arrived and we’d say no, we’d already eaten, so she would put out a “snack”. It was a large snack! Then a few hours later dinner would consist of chicken, brisket, at least 2 kugels, challah, salad, and more, along with multiple desserts – for only 6 people! I’d like to think she’d have found a way to adapt her meals for me, but I know she wouldn’t have stopped focusing on them.

The surprising (at first) thing with eliminating gluten is that it doesn’t only effect what we eat, it effects our social lives. Dates are tricky when I can only eat at certain restaurants. Going out with friends is tough when we can’t spontaneously grab food while we’re out. Attending weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other events is frustrating when I can’t eat the food provided. Multiple surveys have shown that the social aspects are the hardest part of living with celiac disease. So the advice that we hear over and over is logical: don’t make events about food, make them about people. And after all, shouldn’t we all be doing that anyway?

I get it. If the focus at Thanksgiving is the people instead of the table of food, then the people who can’t eat all of the food, and who might be nervous about the food, can still have a great time. If the Passover sedar is about the people and the prayers and we let the matzo ball soup and brisket be secondary (or even tertiary) incidentals, anyone with food restrictions will have a better time. It makes sense.

People > Food.

It took me many years to figure out why that advice felt off to me.

I remember a family vacation. We were in a big rented house, and I had been careful to cook food in advance. It was annoying to have to do this, and definitely took away from some of the fun, but it was fine. There was one night when everyone wanted to eat at a fancy restaurant. The family had been to this city many times over many years and loved this place. I’d only been once and, frankly, I hadn’t thought it was so wonderful, but whatever, I’d have been willing to go back. The thing is, they didn’t have anything gluten-free. My choices were to go there and not eat, or not go. I chose to not go. I found another restaurant in town that had gluten-free food and my mom chose to join me. My mom and I had a fantastic time, actually. We walked around town and had one of the best meals we’d ever had together. The food was amazing, the ambience gorgeous, the company perfect. My dad, aunt, uncle, cousins, and cousin’s wife all went to the other restaurant, and I won’t pretend I wasn’t hurt. I understand they liked this place and wanted to go, but it hurt me that they didn’t place my feelings and their desire to be with me above their desire to eat at a specific restaurant. They talked about it a lot in advance and a lot afterwards, too.

Holidays and family gatherings have been different since I went gluten-free. When my mother hosts, she makes sure the meal is either completely or mostly gluten-free, with any gluten foods kept separate and reminders to all to keep their serving spoons away from other foods. Accommodations vary when others host. But either way, it’s still about the food, and food is still stressful. Even when the meal is 100% gluten free, I no longer get any joy from focusing on food. It’s simply associated too much with negative things for me. Plus, the talk about the food isn’t limited to the food on the table, and that’s even more stressful. I am immensely grateful that my mother goes out of her way to make me feel comfortable eating the food at her events, but I still wish we could focus less on the food altogether.

As for me hosting a family event, that’s not likely to happen. For one thing, my apartment is small and I don’t have a lot of space. But for another, I have no desire to host. Some people love to cook, decorate, and have lots of people over for a party. That’s not me, and it never has been. Plus, even if I wanted to do that, I don’t have the energy for it. I can cook a meal OR attend a gathering, but I certainly can’t do both, never mind hosting duties. When I go to someone else’s home and bring food with me, it’s always something that can be prepared a day or two in advance because doing it the same day is too exhausting for me.

But let’s be realistic. Even if I could find a way to host, there would still be the issue that the gathering would be all about the food because I might be able to change the circumstances, but I can’t change the people. As soon as they walked in they would ask what we were eating, and the conversation would often turn back to food throughout the gathering. If I made all of the food then I wouldn’t be worried about that food in particular, but I still don’t like these conversations. Inevitably people talk about other foods and about restaurants, and at best none of this is enjoyable to me, at worst it upsets me, triggering all sorts of past trauma.

I don’t have a solution. This is something I’m continuing to work on for the sake of my own mental health. I can talk to my family about it and maybe they will occasionally make an effort, at least some of them would, but I know that most would not even try, or they would soon forget. This is ingrained and it’s something they enjoy. I just wish the thing they enjoy so much wasn’t the thing that brings me the most grief.


A little fur goes a long way

January 13, 2022

One day I was in so much pain, I was barely holding myself together. I went to my chronic pain support group. As I spoke, I teared up. My friend sitting next to me gently placed her hand on my arm, on a spot that’s usually fine, but I winced and pulled away in pain. It was a bad day. Everything hurt.

After the meeting, one group member let her service dog off duty, and he happily went around the room soliciting pets. When I pet him, the pain melted away and I felt so much better. It wasn’t until an hour after I got home that the pain came back to the level it had been before. That’s when I knew that it was time to get a dog.

Or so I thought. I did try to adopt a dog before realizing that it wasn’t going to work. I wasn’t ready. I was devastated.

Fast forward 5 years, and I was in a different place, both literally and figuratively. Now I lived in a first floor apartment, so taking a dog outside wouldn’t involve any stairs like it had before, or the walk down a long hallway and then navigating an old-fashioned elevator with manual doors. I was also in much better health, all things considered. I had been dog sitting for several years and loved it, and knew that I could manage to care for a dog for a few days or a week at a time. Then the pandemic hit and my dog sitting petered out. People weren’t travelling, so they didn’t need me to watch their dogs. I missed caring for dogs so much, and needed to do something about it.

I had thought about fostering for a while, and I finally decided to try. With so many people volunteering, though, they didn’t need more help. I waited. Several months later I tried again, and was accepted to a program!

I have my third foster dog sitting by my desk now. I still want my own pup, but this has been an amazing experience, and it has shown me that, yes, I am ready to get a dog of my own! My hope is that 2022 will be the year. It’s going to take a while to find the right dog for me. I’m feeling very insecure about the entire thing. What if I choose the wrong dog? What if I can’t handle it? But every time I pet a dog, I feel so much better. I feel happier. I feel more relaxed. Even though I want the dog to leave, I love having them here.

That’s right, I want the dog to leave. Sort of. When I have a dog with me, I look forward to the day they go back to their owners (if I’m dog sitting) or get adopted (if I’m fostering). I’m tired, and I want to sleep a little later, not have to take walks at night, and have more time to myself. But every time they leave, I miss having the push to exercise regularly, I’m more tired despite getting more rest, my pain is worse, and I feel more alone. Life is simpler, but I don’t feel better.

Then the next dog arrives, and the first days of fostering are tiring and stressful as I learn about the dog and they learn proper behaviors. Then we settle into a routine and I love them and I don’t want to let them go. Still, there’s the part of me that longs for them to leave so I can rest. But they leave, and once again, I’m more tired and in more pain, and I miss having a furry friend around. Plus, the apartment feels so empty. On balance, I’d rather have a dog here.

As I type this, I’m looking into the big brown eyes of the sweetest boy in the world. He’s staring back, and just started to wag his tail. A dog won’t solve all my problems, and life won’t be perfect, but I sure would love to have a furry friend of my own around all the time. Well, most of the time. And the rest of the time, I’ll just have to deal.

Do you have a furry friend at home? Please share nice stories about how they help you to feel better mentally, physically, and emotionally!

So 2022 is the year for me to get a dog. I haven’t found the right pup yet, but I’ll be looking. And in the meantime, I’m lucky to have sweet furballs around to make me feel better.


Why vaccinated folks should care about others not being vaccinated

December 8, 2021

In the days of COVID-19 (from now on I’ll just write this as “Covid”), this feels super-relevant, but let’s be honest, this was relevant before, too, as we’d been seeing recent measles outbreaks here in the U.S. The anti-vaccine movement has hurt a lot of people. Still, I’ve recently heard people ask, “if you’re vaccinated, why do you care what anyone else does?” This question never seems to come from people who can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons, but from those who choose not to. There are so many reasons! I wanted to mention just a few that came to mind.

Just to be clear, I’m not going to debate the value or safety of vaccines. I’m pro-vaccine. If you have a problem with that, you’re welcome to skip this post. Or even better, to read it with an open mind and reconsider your stance.

I jotted down these notes a few months ago, but didn’t feel up to writing it all out until now. I wrote the notes before Omicron. Today, in December 2021, Omicron seems to be a huge threat, but we aren’t quite certain yet just how bad it will or won’t be. Anyway, without further ado, a few reasons why I care if others are vaccinated for Covid, and you should, too:

  • Young children are not eligible for the vaccine and are at risk of both getting and spreading Covid. Other people getting vaccinated will protect these kids.
  • There are people with medical issues that prevent them from being vaccinated. They need protection, too.
  • Ditto for folks who get vaccinated, but for whom it doesn’t work properly.
  • Emergency healthcare workers need a break. For some reason, a lot of people don’t “trust” medical science to prevent Covid, but still seek hospital treatment after they get Covid. These healthcare workers have been working a lot of hours this past year-and-a-half. Let’s have some compassion for them.
  • When ERs are overrun with unvaccinated people with Covid, a lot of other people aren’t getting the care they need from the usual issues (heart attacks, car accidents, assaults, etc.) Others’ getting vaccinated will free up beds for others.
  • I want this pandemic to end. Vaccines are currently the best way we have of ending this pandemic. I want to hug my family and my friends. I want to buy groceries without fear. I want to get medical treatments. I want to go on a date and be able to kiss the person without asking a million questions about their potential Covid risk. But we need a certain percentage of folks to be vaccinated for this to happen.
  • Even vaccinated folks can get long Covid, and that terrifies me. Long Covid can potentially lead to chronic illnesses and I really don’t want more of those.
  • Vaccinated folks can get very ill and even die from Covid. Yes, it’s less likely, but it can still happen. Combined with the potential for Long Covid, I don’t think anyone can say that vaccinated folks aren’t at risk.
  • We still don’t know the full long-term impacts of this disease. There’s been talk about impacts on the brain’s gray matter, among other things. I don’t particular want to risk that, do you?
  • I recently had a medical test cancelled because the office is short-staffed due to certain staff members choosing to quit rather than get vaccinated. As I told the person who called me, I’d rather have the appointment cancelled than be in that small room for half an hour with someone who isn’t vaccinated. But of course, let’s be honest, I’d rather more people get vaccinated so I could keep all of my medical appointments.
  • If more people get vaccinated, we should see fewer new variants. Yes, I wrote this note before Omicron. We all knew it was only a matter of time before we saw more variants. The only question was how dangerous they would be. And make no mistake, if people don’t get vaccinated and take precautions (wearing masks, distancing from others) then we will continue to see more.
  • You’re basically giving the middle finger to the thousands (millions?) of people who want to get vaccinated but don’t have access to it. You have the choice. They don’t. Do the right thing. Help others. Because for so many of the reasons above, and many more not mentioned, you getting vaccinated will benefit them and others.

Look, I’m no doctor. I’m not a scientist. I’m not a specialist of any sort. But I have common sense, I read, and I reason. And I can see very clearly that when someone says “if you’re vaccinated then why do you care if anyone else is vaccinated?” they are saying two things.

(1) They don’t care about others. They are saying that they believe I am as selfish as they are. Which I’m not. Even if the vaccine protected me 100%, I would want to know that those who don’t have the option to get vaccinated (young kids, people with certain medical conditions) would still be safe.

(2) They don’t understand science.

So there’s the little rant that I want to give every time I hear anyone ask this question. I’m guessing at least some of you reading this aren’t able to get vaccinated or have loved ones who aren’t able to, and are relying on others to do so. Let’s hope that somehow, some way, the tide turns and those who have the option to get vaccinated but have resisted will finally do it.


Sometimes the bare minimum is plenty

November 13, 2021

I’ve been wanting to write for weeks but it’s just been too much. I’ve been having a really hard time lately.

Thanks to medication changes, my adrenals aren’t being properly supported, so I have both less energy and lower tolerance for handling stress. And in a few days I have a colonoscopy and endoscopy.

Colonoscopies aren’t a big deal for most people. Not that anyone loves getting them, but you just deal, right? Well, thanks to a decades-long history of medical trauma, medical procedures can be triggering for me. And thanks to decades of undiagnosed gastrointestinal symptoms, GI stuff is also triggering for me. So knowing that in two days I’m going to have to drink a formula that will probably make me throw up, and that will induce the kinds of GI symptoms that I’ve struggled with for most of my life, followed by a medical procedure, where I’ll be up close with people during a pandemic…. yeah, my anxiety is at an all-time high.

Logically, I know it will be all be fine. But logic isn’t helping. My therapist gave me some breathing and thought exercises which help, and I’m just trying to make it through this period. It’s rough.

To make it a little easier, I’m doing a few things that I don’t usually do:

  • I cried. I spent a lot of my life learning not to cry because if I did, people thoughtI was just trying to get attention. (Yup, as a 12-year-old with chronic pain, that’s what I was told by several doctors and teachers. Thankfully, my parents never thought that.) Now, I don’t cry easily. For a week I really felt the need to cry, but I couldn’t let it out. Finally, though, I cried. And then I sobbed. And then I sobbed some more. I cried a lot that day, and it helped a lot. I cried a bit yesterday. I’m still having trouble crying as much as I need to, but I’m working on it. It helps to let it all out.
  • I asked for help. I don’t do this often enough. I posted on my Facebook page, asking friends to make phone calls to manufacturers for me. I was trying to find a gluten-free version of the easier colonoscopy prep. I had made a few calls, but it’s so stressful. For one thing, making any of calls for gluten-free stuff is stressful and exhausting and I’m tired of doing it. But then, doing it for this purpose…. it was just too much. A fabulous friend did the research. She called everyplace on my list, then did more research to find more to add to the list. She struck out, but if she hadn’t called for me, then I would have felt like I had to, and I would have been upset with myself for “failing”, thinking that maybe if I’d made the calls it could have been easier.
  • I asked for help again. Several friends had volunteered to help with the calls, so when that friend struck out, I asked for more calls. Since I couldn’t get the easier prep, I wanted to get an anti-nausea pill to help with the one I’ll be doing. Again, I needed something gluten-free. Three people called pharmacies all over my area to ask which manufacturers they used for this med (there are quite a few who make it), and then called those manufacturers to ask if the med was gluten-free. Again, they struck out. But again, if they hadn’t done it then I would have felt like I had to. It was so great of them to make those calls.
  • I asked to borrow a puppy. No, really! I have neighbors with two of the sweetest, most adorable puppies. Both are house-trained and don’t chew on stuff, so they’re not too hard to watch. I asked if I could borrow one, and the timing worked out that I took one for an hour. He cheered me up SO MUCH! Dogs are great medicine. Normally I would have felt silly asking, but I’m glad I did. And they were glad their dogs could help.
  • I’m giving myself a break. My to-do list is short right now. Really short. And even then I know it’s ok if I don’t get most of it done. In a typical week this amount would be easy to do (my list is usually twice as long), but not now. For example, today’s list is: laundry (already in the machine – win!), vacuum (if it doesn’t happen, that’s ok), prepare some work for my volunteer gig (they know I’m struggling and that I may have to cancel tomorrow’s meeting if I can’t get it done, but I think it will be doable), walk (fresh air is good for me), and watch YouTube videos while relaxing with my knitting. My hope is to get everything done before lunch except the last two. That way, I won’t have anything I need to do this afternoon except enjoy a walk and relax on the couch. And honestly, the vacuuming is unlikely. And that’s ok. The rest of my week is even easier than today.
  • I’m avoiding anything emotionally taxing. When a friend brings up a stressful topic that isn’t necessary to discuss, I ask to change the subject. Stressful movies and books are on hold. I’m keeping it as light and easy as possible. Last night I watched an animated Disney movie and that was perfect.

Is this all enough to make me feel great? No, of course not. But it’s enough to make me not feel worse, and that’s a win. I’ll keep spending time with dogs, watching easy movies, doing my crafts. I’ll keep my to-do list short. I’ll ask for help. I’ll spend time with dogs. (Oh, did I say that twice?)

In a few days, after the colonoscopy, I’ll feel better. Once my medication is back to working properly, I’ll feel even better. (I tried to time things so that it would be back before the colonoscopy, but my doctors were really slow to get back to me about how to proceed after we got the test results.) This isn’t the post I planned to write. That one has to wait. And again, that’s ok. But it’s one that felt right to write. We all have times where we’re struggling more than usual, and it’s ok to do the bare minimum for a while. That’s definitely my plan for now.


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