Afraid to Eat? Me? Hah!

In some ways my fear knows no bounds. Take spiders. I’m paralyzed the moment I spot one scurrying across the carpet. It’s all I can do to regain muscle function and squash it with a rolled up magazine. If I let it live, the alternatives I can imagine are much worse. It might nestle inside one of my shoes. Or my bed cover. Lying in wait on the shower curtain. It must die and I’m the only one to do the deed.

Having such a fertile imagination that can conjure the worst of fates, you’d think I would put off eating breakfast until lunch or dinner. The worst thing that has happened after eating breakfast was explosive diarrhea that darkened my living room carpet for several days. But is the fear of repeating that nightmare enough to make me skip the most important meal of the day? How about imagining something much worse? Pooping myself in public, for example?

Does the fear of late night discomfort make me afraid to eat?

Less dramatic but just as bothersome is the pain that often follows eating. Or waking in the middle of the night with abdominal pain that is undoubtedly emanating from the large intestine. It’s not a cramp, that would actually be good news. Cramping holds the promise of a bowel movement or passing gas, both of which alleviate pain, bloating and distention, albeit temporarily. If I hadn’t eaten at 9 p.m. I might have spared myself that 3 a.m. painful awakening. But does the fear of late night discomfort make me afraid to eat?

Alas no. Denying myself instant gratification for the promise of less discomfort in the future is a rational act I indulged in much more often when I was a younger woman. Before I contracted IBS. Before I developed multiple sclerosis. Before degenerative spine disease started waking me at 5 a.m. with sciatica pain so intense that it knocked me out of bed and forced me to pace the pain away.

Never get used to pain

Discomfort awaits me at every turn of the sun dial. It’s not that I’m accustomed to pain having had so much of it and with no end in sight. You never really get used to it. Pain isn’t normal. We’re not supposed to feel our gut digest food. Excretion should be voluntary and controlled. It’s just that when we know what kinds of pain to expect from all the conditions we have, instant gratification gets turned on its head. It is no longer a childish inability to predict greater rewards down the road. It’s more like the understanding that grabbing some pleasure now is far more desirable than denying myself, only to get hit with some kind of discomfort later on from any of my three or four medical conditions. It’s part of living in the moment.

Being proactive has its limitations. Especially with IBS, the way I experience it anyway, unpredictability makes it impossible to anticipate how I will react to eating. So being proactive is often futile beyond a certain point.

In my article How Moderate Drinking is Saving My Life, I confess to letting go of some of those illusions we have about being in control of our lives, our sanity, if we would just discipline ourselves a little more. The mind is an organ that is capable of being rewired endlessly, making fathomless our ability to adapt to change. But these days I don’t want to rewire my brain so much as anesthetize it. Mercifully, drinking scotch at night doesn’t aggravate my IBS symptoms. So I struggle through the discomfort of my day knowing what relief is in store come five o’clock.

I’m still afraid of spiders. After five o’clock, though, not so much.

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