Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Eat your heart out

My personal essay on Judaism and overeating is live at Jew-ish.com, complete with a luscious picture of pie. Allow me to wipe the drool off my screen...

Monday, April 26, 2010

Best one-line music review ever?

Rolling Stone, on Florence and the Machine's 2009 album Lungs:
The best bits feel like being chased through a moonless night by a sexy moor witch.
So true!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bleeding heart

I'm working on an essay for Jew-ish.com that promises to be the most personal thing I've ever published anyplace other than here. It's about Jewishness and compulsive overeating, which seem correlated, though mostly through semi-anecdotal evidence and studies from quite a few years ago. I mentioned in therapy today that talking about my struggle with food addiction is a way of cutting through the shame of that insidious, widely misunderstood problem, and I think that's true.

It's possible that opening my heart in a piece of writing that the whole world can theoretically see isn't the wisest move. But I think there are some advantages to our tell-all Internet culture; one is that if the majority of people give TMI, it's no longer such a faux pas. I doubt anybody will decide not to hire me because they Googled my name and found me waxing philosophic about my Lexapro use or disordered eating.

It's certainly possible, but I think the positive aspects of putting it out there outweigh the negative ones. It's not like there's anything online that truly impugns my character. Talking about struggle, making it public, means it's no longer a secret. It also suggests a readiness to deal with things directly, to come out of isolation and embarrassment and work with myself as I am, not as I wish I was. That's why I chose my friend Michelle's recent picture of me as a Facebook profile photo:

My decision to take off my glasses makes this a slightly strange portrait, but what I focused on when I first saw it was its unsparing nature. It's easy to see my weight here: It's in my face, my cheeks, my chin. This is how I actually look, and while I'm not doing cartwheels about it, I'm trying to view this image with clear eyes and a peaceful mind. This is what I'm working with, and it's hardly perfect, but it's not a disaster, either. It's a pretty decent place to start.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

I Love the '90s

Did anything capture the decade's zeitgeist better than this beautiful, intelligent show? Doubtful. It still feels as fresh, funny, and insightful as it did in 1994, when I was around Angela's age and everything seemed new and scary and exciting. Thank heavens for Hulu.

Friday, April 9, 2010

When bad = awesome

This looks sweet. I'm a sucker for certain bad movies (e.g., Howard the Duck), and one of the reasons I love film in general is that it brings people together. Sometimes, deeply awful movies are better at that than extremely good ones, and this documentary is proof (as is David Schmader's long-running, unfailingly hilarious Showgirls shtick.)

Comment of the week

Julia responded to my recent post about antidepressants and weight gain:
You might want to try fish oil or flaxseed oil supplements instead of (or in addition to) meds. A Harvard study found that omega-3 fatty acids help with bipolar disorder and depression. I have used it for about ten years with no need for antidepressants or other meds to regulate my moods. And, whether or not it helps with moods, it's good for your heart and HDL. Good luck.
Good advice. Someone recommended St. John's wort before I started on Lexapro, but I've heard mixed things about it. Re: fish oil, I'm vegetarian, but flaxseed would work. I could even eat it on popcorn. Thanks, Julia!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

R.I.P., Hans

Hans Petersen was a ball of energy, a genuinely happy person, and a doer of good. That he died while installing solar panels on a roof reflects his commitment to improving the world.

I last saw Hans in 2006, when I was having a yard sale prior to my move to New York. He came by, chatted for a while, and advised me on a dilemma I was facing: whether or not to try antidepressants. Even when discussing such a potentially sensitive topic, Hans was upbeat, and his words stayed with me. He was one of a small group of people who actively encouraged me to take steps to improve my mental health, and for that I'll always be grateful.

I knew him in college as a dedicated communitarian, a lover of fun, and someone who cherished his friends and appreciated people in general. I'll miss his sunny outlook and his great sense of humor. You left us too early, Hans, and it's clear that you're already widely missed.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Lexapro vs. everything else

Someone responded to my most recent post about antidepressants by asking whether I'd tried non-Lexapro meds. The short answer: Yes, I gave Celexa a whirl, and it seemed to diminish my verbal abilities. This was upsetting but not entirely unexpected, as I'd been warned many years before that some SSRIs have that effect.

Lexapro is ridiculously expensive at roughly $100 per monthly supply, but I'm reluctant to mess with other meds when this one has worked, on the whole, so well. I also know that my weight gain is almost certainly due to a variety of factors -- Kibbutz food, waves of mild depression that elude the drug, etc. -- so I'd be more likely to drop meds in general than to go searching for a "better" one. It probably doesn't get a whole lot better than this.

Is nothing sacred?

Scrabble is, in this writer's opinion, one of the world's perfect games, yet Mattel insists on tinkering. I feel myself moving into cranky-old-man territory on issues like these, but I can't help it: When I was a boy, this kind of tomfoolery would be unthinkable. Capitulating to whiners who think the game is too hard, or too boring, isn't very classy, Mattel. Shame on you.

Update, 5:47 p.m.: Reliable sources have informed me that the British version of Scrabble that permits proper nouns is, in fact, a gimmicky one-off rather than some kind of new world order. The American version, owned by Hasbro, still bans proper nouns, as well it should. I feel better.

The contrarian

It's easy to rag on Detroit, but my good friend Rachel Lutz refuses to do so, as a great Q&A in the city's LGBT newspaper, Between the Lines (which I used to write for), reports. I should add that Rachel's knowledge of Detroit history is formidable, and she gives a fantastic tour that would make anyone see the place in a very different light.

The song that's stuck in my head this week

Your home for the LOLcat Passover story

I've been getting an unusual number of page views lately, and I owe it all to the feline version of Exodus. When you Google LOLcat Passover, my post from last Pesach is the top hit. Thanks, Talmudic LOLcats, for bringing this humble blog an unexpected wave of attention.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Antidepressants and weight gain

The other night at the Kibbutz's second-night seder, someone I know asked me if I'm on an antidepressant.

"Yep," I said. "Lexapro."

"I figured," he said. "That's no normal weight gain."

In the past I might have been upset, but he's right: I've gained a lot of weight since I went on Lexapro in October of 2008. Then again, my weight has gone up and down pretty dramatically throughout my life, and living at the Kibbutz exposes me to a lot of good food, and a lot of communal meals, where the social aspect of eating often gets the better of my willpower. Yet I do think that the antidepressant has something to do with my ascent to 225 pounds, possibly my highest weight to date.

While some Lexapro users attribute their weight gain to the drug's biochemical effects, I believe that, at least in my case, its psychological impact is just as significant. In the past, when I put on weight, I felt bad about it. I would eventually reach a point where I started feeling fat and unattractive, but I'd continue eating too much and not getting enough exercise until I finally snapped. Then I'd begin combating my overweight with a combination of exercise and self-deprivation, a tactic I learned as a teenager with anorexia. My weight would drop, and I'd feel better about my body on a superficial level, but I'd remain extremely afraid of relapse -- i.e., gaining the weight back. Since depriving oneself isn't a sustainable long-term strategy, I'd suffer the sad fate of many a yo-yo dieter: I'd end up even heavier than I started.

Even though unemployment is hard and I have a lot of work ahead of me if I want to attend Bastyr (for nutrition and health psychology, of all things!) in 2011, I'm thinking about going off Lexapro on a trial basis, to see how I feel without it. I'm unlikely to start losing weight simply because I drop the drug, yet I can't help but be curious about what would happen. Not freaking out about being overweight is a double-edged sword. It opens up the possibility of more fully accepting my body, flaws and all, which is something I'm eager and determined to do. On the other hand, overweight isn't healthy in the long run, and being too okay with it -- indifference isn't the same as acceptance, after all -- might not be such a good thing. I'll consult my therapist about it and do some soul-searching, but I imagine that if I go without the meds for a while and I feel the weight of the world return, I can go back on them.

I'm pretty pleased, all in all, that I've been able to use an antidepressant without taking an absolutist view of a complicated issue: the question of whether the positive effects of SSRIs outweigh their downsides. In my 18 months of use, I've decided that they help, but they alone are obviously not enough. And no, they don't steal your soul or make you an unwitting slave to the Man. If anything, people who aren't completely demoralized are more likely to stand up for what's right and fight against what's wrong. There are few simple choices in this world, and to inhibit serotonin reuptake or not to isn't one of them.