A good friend of ours was staying with us this past week. He was here to discuss our plans for collaboration on a writing project which I am very much looking forward to. So in a way, it was more than just a vacation stop -we were "working"- but even so we got the typical tourist looks while we were showing him around town, well, the backpack and fair skin with blue eyes are usually a dead ringer.
One of the things I enjoy most about having friends visit is the inspiration it gives me to fire up all burners in the kitchen. I mean, we eat well when it's just the three of us, but somehow we get into a predictable routine of certain staples, I guess they are our comfort foods. But when we have company, I feel more compelled to go the extra mile and show off what some of the most delicious local dishes are, such as those I compiled in my cookbook.
This time around, I was especially lucky that I knew several corn-based recipes, because our guest has a gluten intolerance that precluded him from joining in chowing down on any foods that had wheat or wheat derivatives as ingredients. When he first told me this, I nodded and made a mental note, but I must not have registered the gravity of this requirement, because I kept slipping up and offering him things with wheat, especially beer. Once we finally got the hang of it, eating mostly corn tortillas, gorditas, and anything of the fruit, vegetable, or dairy variety, I felt like we had it down pat. Then we were preparing a meal of arrachera (skirt steak) and potatoes, when my husband threw in some worcestershire and soy sauces. My friend happened to notice (thank goodness), and told us he wouldn't be able to eat it. We were shocked but he was right. Sadly, the brands of sauces we had both contained gluten, and so we guiltily ate our meal while he ate some quickly made quesadillas.
After that incident, I said I'd have to write this down. He claimed I'd refer to him as the annoying friend, but quite the contrary, I appreciate his stay because I never realized quite how many foods had wheat in them. I mean, breads, pastas, cookies, sure- but beer and soy sauce? The ingredient really runs deep in our culture, much like corn syrup, sugar, or salt- as that last two are something another friend is trying to avoid in the preparation of her baby's food.
There are so many things that we ought to avoid in our diets, you'd think that food is the biggest problem in terms of health. Anything we put into our bodies- the water we drink, the air we breathe, are all suspect these days. GMOs are the latest consumer item that we could really stand to suffer from- hopefully the government will step in to protect us from the pressures of industry to water down consumer safety standards.
Although I have a mild allergy to soy, and have seasonal hayfever, these are things that can be controlled. I avoid or limit my intake of soy, and I take an antihistamine in the late spring and early summer. But what about other, more intangible forces to which we can be allergic to? How do they affect our health and mental well-being?
I got the undesireable answer to this question the day my friend left. The topic we had been discussing has to do with my husband's undocumented immigrant status in the U.S. It's a subject that brings me great distress, since it's affected our lives so harshly and in every aspect. For that reason, I don't talk about it regularly, and pretend to have mostly resolved in my mind. When in fact much pain still lingers below the surface. I happened to mention something about how I felt it was unfair that most of our ancestors in the U.S. had such an unfettered access to immigrating to the States, before harsh law controlling immigration were passed, and how now it's so much harder for people to move back and forth. I said how I didn't feel as bad for myself in having to live in Mexico as a result of my husband being unable to get papers as I feel sorrow for him not being able to realize his own dreams. Tears sprang to my eyes, but I pushed them away as quickly as they came. The discussion ended, and I forgot I was feeling so bad.
The next morning, the feelings resurfaced but I tucked them away again so as to not appear overemotional. Even my husband feels bad when he sees I am so bummed about certain things. But my attempt to hide my true feelings had its consequences. My back began to throb in pain and by the time I tried to walk down the stairs, my posture was contorted to the side with spasming muscles. Unfortunately, this is a condition I know all too well, since 2001 when I first moved in with my husband. After visiting many modalities of physical therapists I finally read a book lent to me by a friend called Healing Back Pain, and realized my pain was due to repressed anger. The author describes the causes much differently than I do here, but a way to see it is almost as if swallowing my distress causes an allergic reaction in my body.
The thing I'm reacting to is a perceived injustice, something that upsets me, but that I feel I have no control over. At first it's a conscious effort to not think or talk about it, but over time it becomes second nature. A buildup of suppressed feelings for me can lead to disabling back pain. Luckily I knew this is how my mind and body interact, and I reminded myself it was important to not fear the pain, and focus on clearing my mind. At first, I was lying on the living room floor. But later, after a good cry, I was back on my feet. In the past, I'd had bouts of pain that lasted for 2 weeks. I missed work because of it. One time it got so bad that my husband had to carry me. But today, after making the connection, I was almost back to normal by the evening.
It's a little scary to think that our minds have so much power over our bodies, to the extent that we feel we may lose control. It's instructive that we need to be sensitive to the influences we subject ourselves to, or at least be open-minded about what can affect us, and not lose sight of the connections between things. I do not just get sad about my own personal problems, but feel a real indignation when rights are infringed worldwide. They can plague me just the same. My allergy to injustice is real and not just perceived. But rather than stick my head in the sand and ignore issues, or take some pill to help relieve my "symptoms," I must address the root causes and work toward healing ourselves of these ills.