While I was on vacation, I ate bread that did not make my stomach upset. When I returned, I ate the same bread and felt sick. A rational person might just stop eating bread that made them ill, but I adore bread. My favorite food is sandwiches (like Joey from Friends) and no it is not a sandwich if you wrap it in lettuce, and tortillas also make me sick. Also, there is an ever-evolving list of foods I cannot eat for more serious reasons, so if I eliminate all things made with flour, I’m left with meat and boiled potatoes. I have tested negative for Celiac disease, so I keep trying to consume bread without adverse effects.
I mentioned to my husband that I was being attacked by the bread I had managed to eat on vacation without incident, and instead of a polite, “hmm,” (as in ‘hmm, am I supposed to be able to keep track of all the foods she can’t eat on any given day because that list is longer than War and Peace’), he said, “maybe the difference is your stress level.” Now, I am absolutely looking to place the blame anywhere but on the bread itself, but I loathe this answer. I mentioned it to my mother, and she said the same thing, like they’re chatting about my neuroses behind my back (are they? Are they texting right now? Is there going to be an intervention?).
In an effort to be transparent, I’ll share that I spent the day yelling at my children who refused to clean up their playroom. I don’t like being the parent who takes them for shots or tells them they can’t have candy, but more than anything else, I hate repeating myself and being ignored. I had no idea how much of parenting would involve these two things I hate so much. One kid said he’d clean, but got distracted repeatedly by the TV (a rainy summer day means endless screen time, which was previously forbidden during the week). I asked him to pause the show to help, and he did, but then forgot what he was supposed to be doing and went to unpause his show. The middle kid gave me the finger (with his eyes) and flat out refused, and the youngest had put herself down for a nap because she was feeling a tad cranky (I swear I don’t have a favorite but COME ON).
Sure, I have stress. I have three children and an incurable disease. I have had anxiety as long as I can remember. I often have anxiety for other people in addition to myself. Not just my family, but strangers. I often think about how lost my husband would be if I were hit by a bus tomorrow without bestowing upon him the passwords and account numbers he’d need to pay our utility bills. I worry that he wouldn’t know how to add money to our kids’ meal cards for school, and when I start thinking of all the things he doesn’t know, I feel like I must do all the work. I have to hold all this important information in my head and worry that I have completed all these tasks and paid all the bills and registered the kids for school, and I convince myself that I am carrying all of the mental load.
But then, my husband comes in from work and hands me the mail, which includes updated registration stickers for my car (oh shit I totally forgot to do that) and tells me our property value went up (I’m sorry what? Who has told you this) and he contested the value (you can do that?) but it was still increased (bastards) and he has notified the mortgage company (you’re supposed to?) so they can adjust our escrow payments. Naturally, I start to spin out, worrying on behalf of single people who have to hold all this information in their brain because they don’t have a partner to take over half the stuff you need to do/know in order to be a functioning member of society. And then, I think of single parents. You’ve got all the shit you have to know to be an adult, plus all the stuff you need to know about your kids, like whether their vaccines are up to date and also where is their shot record anyway?
It’s not that I couldn’t figure all this out on my own if I had to. It’s just that for each tidbit I must store in my brain, a cloud of anxiety surrounds the information, making each thing larger than it really is and taking up extra space. I know where the allergy action plan forms are for the nurse’s office at school, and that takes up a bit of space, but the fog of worry around that information takes up much more. Our school is no longer nut free, what if he’s served something he shouldn’t eat? There are so many kids in each class, how can the teacher keep everyone’s needs straight? How awful for the teacher if she accidentally fed a kid a peanut butter sandwich on the first day of school because she hadn’t yet memorized who can eat what? I wonder if the new teacher has a partner at home to help remind her about property taxes?
Of course it’s possible that stress is a factor in my overall condition. It’s a factor in everyone’s condition. People who don’t have anxiety probably have teeth that aren’t ground down to nubs from gritting them in their sleep, and they probably don’t wake up with tension headaches from all the nightmares they had during the night, or have deep frown lines on their happy little faces. But worry is how I get things done. I have appointment anxiety, so if I have anything at all to do before noon the next day, I can’t sleep because I’m worried my alarm won’t go off or I’ll sleep through it. But I don’t miss my appointment. If I forget to worry, I wake up to my alarm and think, “huh, that’s weird,” and then turn it off and go back to sleep.
There is room for improvement, of course. For example, I was so worried my kids would have allergic reactions on our vacation that I packed their EPI pens and inhalers a week in advance. Unfortunately, I forgot to worry about their less serious day-to-day allergies and neglected to pack the regular allergy medicine. Basically, I need to spread my worry out a little so it’s more even, but in my defense, we found out my son was seriously allergic to fish a few weeks before we traveled to Florida to eat a bunch of fish, so that was definitely top of mind.
Sometimes my worry pays off. I told my husband I was afraid we would get stranded somewhere on our journey and I wanted to put all our toothbrushes in my carryon plus any medications we might require if separated from our suitcases. He obliged, and nothing happened. Then, when we were flying from Florida to Wisconsin, we got stranded in Charlotte for a night. My husband did not elect to give me his toothbrush to carry on the plane this time, and I got to say things like, “you should always listen to me,” and “I told you so,” which is really the best possible scenario for a married person.
So, yes, some health issues I have could be related to stress. But also, how is that helpful to know? Am I suddenly going to stop worrying about my children? Am I going to forget all the precautions I must take daily so I don’t accidentally end up in the emergency room? Obviously not. And yes, I have been prescribed medication for when this simmering anxiety ratchets up to a boil, but it made me sleepy and I forgot things. At least with all the stress the bills will be paid on time and the kids will have their EPI pens and toothbrushes in an emergency.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to make myself a sandwich, because my high stress levels do not dictate my gluten tolerance. Hopefully.