Taking a shot at relentless optimism.

By Arthur Waley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

I like positivity as much as the next person, and I try to stay positive on social media, because, well, it’s social media. If you have a Facebook account you’ve seen the virtual train wreck that happens when people go negative: grown-ups posting anonymous, passive aggressive messages as statuses, private grievances aired out before 500 of one’s closest friends, obscenity-laden messages to people you’ve never met who blast loud music or cut you off in traffic.

But you know what’s equally horrifying? The cult of relentless optimism. You know who I’m talking about: the people who profess to never say anything negative, for whom affirmations are a way of life and who repress their negative thoughts until, presumably, they go around grinning grotesquely, like victims of The Joker in the 1989 Batman movie.

Why bash positive thinking? Well, I’ve tried it. I self-helped for years. In that time, I self-affirmed and envisioned and made vision boards and sent good, warm, rose-colored energy out into the universe.  I’ve self-hypnotized. I’ve tried to banish the word “should” from my vocabulary. And, as someone who is despite my best efforts, still on Tony Robbins’ mailing list, I can tell you that not only does relentless positivity not work, it’s also annoying.

Enter a breath of fresh air.

NPR’s All Things Considered ran this interview on Tuesday, making my evening. The gist? Author Oliver Burkeman has written a book that states the opposite of what most self-help books tell us: that relentless optimism actually makes people more miserable.

The book is called The Antidote and the message is refreshing, even if it seems like common sense.

Here’s a quote from Burkeman’s interview with NPR’s  Audie Cornish:

I think that what is counterproductive about all these efforts that involve struggling very, very hard to achieve a specific emotional state is that by doing that, you often achieve the opposite.

I’m someone who is irritable a lot, and I kind of enjoy being irritable. Being ecstatic 24/7 is not my natural state. So I agree that denying ourselves the full range of our emotions by concentrating only on the positive would be like trying to exist by eating only carbohydrates.

You might love carbs, but your body can’t exist without fats or proteins, and still remain healthy. Speaking for myself, I cannot live on happiness alone. I need rage, nerves and a side of the blues to be mentally healthy, and I doubt I’m alone in this.

Check out the NPR link above for more info. Burkeman’s put the crosshairs on both self-help and the cult of optimism, and that, ironically, makes me happy.

Gluten is a cruel and scrumptious mistress.

At some point in the last several days, I ingested gluten.

Our collection of flours. We do a lot of baking.

I think I know when it happened, and I don’t regret eating that meal because it was delicious. Gluten (the sticky protein in wheat) is always delicious. Well, it’s always delicious to me. That’s because I haven’t eaten gluten on purpose in almost eight years. I was diagnosed with an allergy to gluten when I was 25.

I haven’t blogged about my gluten allergy because food allergies are boring. Whenever I talk about gluten, I can’t stand myself. It either sounds like:

a) I’m some crunchy anti-gluten zealot (“Allow me to educate you about the horrors of gluten, brothers and sisters! Join me in going against the grain!”)

or

b)  I’m feeling sorry for myself because I can’t order a pizza. Boo hoo. Someone, please, call the waaambulance.

Anyways, since I have to think about my dietary restrictions constantly in real life, I like to write about other things here.

But since my reaction to this particular glutenous meal has slowed me down so much, and since Elizabeth Hilts posted that today, on her fabulous Inner Bitch Calendar is “I love my body — no matter what day,” I thought I’d post about mine.

Allergic to being an adult

I haven’t always been allergic to gluten. I ate bread with abandon as a child. Actually, the only allergy I had as a kid was to pollen. Around Mother’s Day, every year, I’d be miserable with allergies for about a week. I dreaded that week. I have memories of sitting in church for the Mother’s Day mass, all dressed up, with my eyes swollen and itching and my nose all runny. But that was really it. I don’t remember being allergic to anything else.

Then I grew up. All of a sudden I was allergic to a variety of things: Gluten, lactose, wasabi, certain store-bought fruits and vegetables. Even non-food allergies surfaced; I am allergic now to both cats and dogs (which doesn’t keep me from having one of each.)

Actually, I like to think my body is just allergic to being an adult.

I would like to quit

There are days, like today, when I would like to quit my allergies, particularly the gluten allergy, because that one has caused me to rearrange my life. Lactose I can take pills for. Wasabi is easily avoided. Fruits and vegetables can be grown or bought organically. But wheat? It’s in everything, and the older I get, the worse my reaction to it becomes. And I hate being The Woman With The Food Allergy. You know the one. You have to organize group dinners out around what she can and can’t eat. She interrogates the waiter about what’s in each menu item. She comes to dinner at your house but has already eaten a meal, just to be safe. She carries her weight in gluten-free products when she goes anywhere. She turns down slices of your 90-year-old Aunt Betty’s delicious homemade cake. I don’t like being that person at all. I especially hate turning down cake. And also, poor Aunt Betty has no idea what gluten is, and just thinks that I’m vainly concerned with my figure. Aunt Betty, let me assure you that I am not. I am crying on the inside because I can’t have three pieces of your delicious, mouthwateringly glutenous cake.

Ahem. See the self pity? Call the waambulance, folks.

Gluten Freedom

And yet, being gluten-free has been a good thing for me. Right before I was diagnosed, I ate a lot of fast food. I was having Dunkin’ Donuts bagels for breakfast, McDonald’s for lunch and pizza for dinner. I worked all the time, and all of these foods were available en route to and from my various assignments. When I was diagnosed, I suddenly had to plan my meals. I had to bring food with me. I had to cook at home. And although there was a longish getting-used-to-being-gluten-free period, during which I spent too much money at health food stores and cut things out of my diet that didn’t actually contain gluten, I ultimately created a diet that worked well for me. And I dropped a lot of weight, which was nice.

And then there was another thing – one of my friends at work had been diagnosed with similar allergies about a year before. (Actually, her allergies were worse.) So all of a sudden I had a support system. We shared information, recipes, lunches. We learned – often the hard way – which foods to avoid. Sometimes  we were both ill because of an unfortunate snacking experience. Still, I think those food-related disasters were easier for me to handle because I had a gluten/lactose-free buddy. We were friends before my diagnosis, but I think our mutual allergies cemented our friendship.

Now that I think of it,  the best things to come out of my allergy have been the connections I’ve made with other people. I’ve been amazed at the generosity of people who invite us to a party, and put a special gluten-free item on the menu just because I’m coming over. Sometimes they’ve never intentionally made something gluten-free before. They don’t have to do that – I can almost always find something to eat – but they make the effort, and I’m always touched by that.

My cousin, who is an extraordinary baker (she made my wedding cupcakes), is especially thoughtful. For example, I haven’t had Christmas cookies in forever. But this past Christmas, she made me four types of gluten-free cookies. I still have some in the freezer, and I break them out whenever I need a little snack. She makes me something whenever she bakes for a family gathering. She doesn’t have to do that, and I’m always floored when she does.

And then there are the legions of people who email me gluten-free recipes, or links to articles about gluten-free foods or gluten-free restaurants in our area. I get at least one email like this every couple of months, and I love it! It’s touching to know that people are thinking of me, and I’ve got quite the collection of gluten-free recipes.

So maybe being allergic to life isn’t that bad. I mean, I’m still not happy about being laid up for a few days after each forbidden foray into the delicious realm of gluten, but hey — avoiding gluten is a really good way to stay beach-trim, and I’ve got a lot of awesome friends.