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Sees His Shadow | 2012 | Between Time and Eternity


Your body is the ground and metaphor of your life, the expression of your existence. It is your Bible, your encyclopedia, your life story. Everything that happens to you is stored and reflected in your body. In the marriage of flesh and spirit divorce is impossible.  

-Gabrielle Roth


Finding Clarity

Since I moved, it seemed impossible to affordably find loratadine, the generic version of Claritin. Since it is technically winter and I am less frequently around my mother's pets, I decided to go without. As the days elapsed and the medication clears from my system, I noticed a curious ease of thought, an ability to remember more and longer, the words I wanted coming instantly to my lips and fingers without having to search for them. My dreams grow more vivid and frequent. Further, I seem to heal more quickly (not in any unusual sense, simply that the dozen careless cuts I seem to acquire every month erase in a reasonable amount of time now).

The signs of these side effects were there, but I did not attribute the right causation. How I would feel so inspired before I ate in the morning, what I credited to some intellectual languor inherent in corn flakes and soy milk and not because I took my pills with food. How negatively Melanie reacted the one time I gave her Claritin. How hazy I felt when exposed to two antihistamines in the same day. How severely an unrelated supplement impacted my mental health a year ago. My biochemistry, it seems, is delicate and I daily tipped it for the negligible gain of possibly being less sniffly.

I do not blame my parents or even their pets, though the latter were the impetus behind my discovering and using Claritin. The blame, as I see it, falls between the molecule that dampened my acuity (along with my reaction to allergens) and myself for failing to realize it sooner. I acknowledge that it seems to be effective for other people, apparently without the expense of a few IQ points and normal healing, but it is not worth it to me.

What adds insult to this all is that I am not sure that Claritin even worked to alleviate my allergies anymore. I took the pills almost as a habit, assuming that it was better to take it than not, a sort of pharmaceutical Pascal's Wager. I still sneezed and wheezed in the presence of cats and dust and merely assumed I was reacting less severely than I otherwise would.

As I consider the last entry (I hid in a closet? Really?), I think at least some of my uncharacteristic churlishness was in reality withdrawal from this supposedly harmless allergy pill. Each morning, I lessened myself prophylactically. My body was so acclimatized to loratadine that my emotions were reliant the chemicals for equilibrium.

My writing this is not about this pill in particular but rather a mindfulness of what I put into my body. It is said - and not exclusively by people who have eating disorders - that all food is a drug. Who, after all, doesn't feel better when given a bit of chocolate at the end of a miserable day? To your brain, real chocolate mimics love. (For all its miracle, the brain subsists on illusions as much as it does much of the fat you eat. Chocolate provides a bit of both.) It is difficult to reconcile the various ways food affects us, since any meal is likely to be composed of dozens of largely inert ingredients, but it is a certainty that it can in ways almost beyond our ken. The chemistry of the human body is infinitely complex, a series of interlocking fractals of consequence that can be wildly different for otherwise similar people.

In the last few years, I've limited sugar, dairy, and caffeine because I do not like how they make me feel in excess (which is not to suggest that I would not be averse to an ice cream soda, simply that I will weigh how badly I want the experience of eating it against with how I will likely feel an hour later). It is not overtly for health, since I am not skittish about enjoying salty snacks. I simply don't want what I just ingested dictating my reactions - which might explain why I am not a drinker.

In middle school and high school, I self-medicated my allergies with soda, since the caffeine in it would open my airways and alleviate some of the disparate symptoms of living in a house with four cats and two dogs - along with various other birds and rodents who might have contributed to my unease with their flapping and skittering. This was, incidentally, before I acquired a taste for diet soda, so I easily weight twenty to thirty pounds more than I do now. Of course, the caffeine saw to it that my hormonal insomnia was markedly worse. You know what makes sleep loss less painful? More caffeine, perpetuating the cycle. The caffeine and insomnia made me distractible and dull, pretty much until I moved out with no expectation of return.

I have long heard people decrying the modern urge toward psychopharmacology. "What if we gave Emily Dickenson an MAO inhibitor to get her out of the attic? We would have lost some beautiful poetry!" I don't think it is fair to armchair doctor historical figures, but what if all that was pestering her was that she had a bad reaction to wheat? I can speak from experience that these little, unnoticed things can have a massive effect. (This is not to invalidate the struggle of the late Dickenson - about whom I know little more than that I can sing most of her poetry to the tune of "Gilligan's Island" and that she lived in an attic out of emotional necessity - or anyone else, simply suggesting the annoyance of chemicals that contribute to issues.) What genius might we be overlooking because she is too allergic to corn - which is unfortunately in most everything thanks to subsidies - to write down the sonnets she composes while feeling miserable in bed? I have known many people who are simply not built for the way we tend to eat and whose lives clarified when properly diagnosed and treated. Years ago, I interviewed at a school for adjudicated minors who turned the children around with little more than a proper breakfast, lunch, and dinner eat day. How many people's lives would be improved with that same advice?

Have you had an experience like this? An epiphany that maybe you were half-crazy because you ate peanuts or as a side effect of your morning vitamins? A realization that all that dulled your scholastic performance was starting your day with coffee and chocolate chip waffles instead of cereal and fruit?

Soon in Xenology: NonCon. Death. Howe Caverns.

last watched: Forgetting Sarah Marshall
reading: The New Death
listening: Jill Sobule

Sees His Shadow | 2012 | Between Time and Eternity

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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