Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Villanelle on Obesity; Depression and the Lizard Brain

21st Century Plague

Watch out: obesity is on the prowl
And like the Blob will subsume all your sume;
America, don’t just throw in the towel!

Designers love us skinny as a dowel.
It makes us easier for them to groom.
Watch out: obesity is on the prowl.

Somewhere I hear a supermodel’s howl
To find a single french fry in her room.
America, don’t just throw in the towel!

New laws against trans-fat evince a growl
From those who love fried chicken’s rich perfume.
Watch out: obesity is on the prowl.

We need to scrape our arteries with a trowel
And sweep our livers with a statin broom.
America, don’t just throw in the towel!

Is it our fault there’s more to feed the bowel?
We’re only victims of the calorie boom.
Watch out: obesity is on the prowl.
America, don’t just throw in the towel!

In depression minor issues become major ones and long-term problems become immediate crises. When I crossed the border from Mexico in February of this year I weighed 245, which made me technically overweight but not obese. In no time at all I blossomed into my present weight of 270, the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life. When I get the courage to look at myself in the mirror after a shower, my appearance gives me cognitive dissonance: I can’t believe I’m that fat. My belly protrudes, the definition in my arm muscles is barely discernible, and the new padding of the groin makes some items look smaller.

When I talked about this with my pain management doctor in April, while deeply depressed, she said, wisely: “That’s the last thing you need to worry about now.” Indeed. But that doesn’t make the depressive mindset let go of the issue. In depression we play with our defects like cats with dead mice. We pick at them like scabs. We revolve on a carousel from one defect to another. Here’s a list of some of my specific self-accusations in depression:

1) You’ve never done anything in your life.

2) You’re so fat how could anyone love you?

3) You’ve done nothing about retirement, do you want to be penniless?

4) You don’t deserve disability; you’re a mooching fraud.

5) Why don’t you go to the gym? Why don’t you swim?

6) You drink too much and it’s ruining your brain. You’ve permanently damaged your brain, especially with all the medications you take.

7) You’re a wimp to take so many medications. Why not just flush them and tough it out?

8) You’ve blasphemed against God and are beyond salvation.

9) Your children don’t care about you because they don’t call.

10) You call yourself a poet but you’re a fraud. You have three unpublished manuscripts that nobody wants. You’re afraid to get out there and do the real work of competition because secretly you know you’re not good enough. Poetry is a thin excuse to keep you occupied in your no-account life.

I could probably list a hundred of these and it would not be enough. When self turns against self it’s as if a stick were whittling itself-- whittling, belittling. All this is what I call “the chatter of the lizard brain.”

In depression the primary problem is mood. The depressive mood arises from primitive brain areas we share with reptiles. Thus our frontal cortex, the seat of thought, is directed by the lizard brain to spew all this self-denigrating chatter, because if only our accusations were true it would explain our depression and satisfy our need for causality.

In other words, in depression, the lizard brain is the horse and the frontal cortex is the cart. You can’t fight your lizard brain. It’s too primitive. Treatment requires medication, supportive therapy, and time, and if this does not suffice, possibly electroconvulsive therapy.

Some depressions are not just biochemically based, but mixed with psychology. In these cases cognitive-behavioral therapy can be helpful. But to a pure biochemical depressive, like a bipolar I, talk therapy can actually worsen the symptoms. After all, you have a new person to disappoint: your therapist. I’ve never had strict cognitive-behavioral therapy, but analytic therapy and ego-centered therapy have definitely made me worse. Anything beyond supportive therapy I find damaging. A biochemical depression is probably the worst time to try to make changes in your personality.

Back to obesity. I’m on medications (antipsychotics, lithium) that cause weight gain and fluid retention. The antipsychotic also takes all my stamina away, so I gasp going up stairs. I’ve found it terribly hard to exercise on my present medication regimen.

Like all fat people, I hope someday to be thin again, as I have been the majority of my life (until my early 40’s after failed back surgery). But as my doctor advised, it’s not something I should worry about now. For now I do two things: 1) try to accept that I’m sick; 2) try to stay busy. While writing this I’m doing the wash, for instance. Afterwards I have the kitchen to clean up. Then I want to start writing my book review, and later, perhaps, work more on my html course. That I can do these things shows that my depression is not as deep as it could be. Indeed, I could pass for normal.

At 2 kilorats,

Craig Erick


  1. Dear Sir,
    I very much like your site.
    I went on the web tonight to try to find people with whom I might relate to.I am happy to have stumbled across yours. You seem to have acquired great wisdom but also to have the courage to share your doubts and travails. Thank you.
    I have suffered from bi-polar most of my life and this weight fluctuation is always so discouraging. Its very, very hard to find effective support. People earnestly want to be helpful, throwing out unrequested dieting tricks, mentioning that one's beauty is untouched by the pounds, suggesting to not dwell so much on the subject, reminding one of the positives at the moment. This peppering of helfulness is fact unintentionally bolsters our overwhelming preoccupation with physical perfection. As well, their talks ironically erode further one's already fragile self-esteem. With my depression, even a very small change in my body or environment affects me...that awful feeling of carrying on that extra weight and the fear that I can't seem to cease the weight ascent simply also feed so eloquently into the depression's modus operandi.
    I am on medications, the deepest part of me realizes and accepts that it is beyond my control, that I do fight tooth and nail, that I do do the best I can. When I don't exrcise, its truly because I can't. If I binge, its truly because the urge is beyond my ability to fend off.

    I recently began a blog, fromlalaland.blogspot.com to help myself and any one else who might stumble across it. I am adding a link to your site. If you would ever like to add a link to my site, to add comments to it, or to just read some of the posts, I would be honored.
    May you find peace within, and comfort with, yourself.

  2. Dear Craig Erick,

    About the villanelle: If you are using 10 syllables per line, I read towel, dowel, trowel and bowel as two syllables. I’m not sure about “America”. This is a very sweeping statement about inanimate objects that comprise “America” (huge parcels of land, rather than model persons)

    Is it legal to employ 6 syllables per line? I have just written the first three lines of a 6-syllable villanelle. That’s how slow I go with formal poetry. Shorter lines are harder to write because every word must evince SOMEthing good and also make sense.

    God gave me a calorie-limiting device. I will never need statin or a stomach staple. I was born without a sense of smell, so I only ever eat when my stomach thinks it is famished. I don’t start salivating when walking past a bakery, a pizza place or a coffee shop. Once, I licked a bar of soap because I wanted to know how it smelled. I will never know the smell of newly mown grass.

    I sent you an email.

    Wishing you a better day.


  3. Remson--funny name for a gal. I was happy to add your newborn site to my links. In fact, I'm happy to add anybody, but people rarely ask. Are there any manic-depressive support groups in your area? That's where I used to be able to bitch about side effects without receiving stupid but well-meaning advice.

    Coral--There are few rules, really, in poetry, mainly guidelines. If you can write a six-syllable villanelle, more power to you. But there is one rule: the meter is determined by stressed beats, not syllables, so whether you say "tow-el" or "towel," it's still only one stressed beat in my example. If you want to see pentameter and rhyme explored in amazing fredom while holding to form, see Richard Wilbur's "Advice to a Prophet."

  4. The obesity is very danger, it could kill you, no matter if you are still very Young. You must to think about your health, and start exercising but just walk although be just 10 or 20 minute for day. The obesity could stunt even your sexual development. So is very important you think about the seriouness of the case. I suggest you to buy viagra but just if you start to take care yourself.


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