NaBloPoMo Day 9: Chronically Brave

“What is the bravest thing you’ve ever done?”

I do not consider myself to be particularly brave. Among the shining examples of bravery enacted every day in this crazy world, I don’t even come close.

So let’s keep this simple. Bravery is defined by Google as “ready to face and endure danger or pain.” Stripping away the connotations of heroism and selflessness, maybe I can just share the bravest thing I did recently.

I ate a bag of nuts.

Seriously, if bravery is being ready to endure pain, then that’s it. I ate a bag of nuts.

When I was in my mid-20s, I developed food-triggered migraines. In a few years, they had become so severe that I was diagnosed with chronic migraines and asked to try a low-tyramine diet, which excludes nuts. So I’ve gone some 15 years without them. Not a sliver of almond, a piece of pecan pie, a chestnut roasting by an open fire, or a pistachio-encrusted anything.

And then I started this little site and took another look at the world of nuts. It turns out there is a great deal of confusion regarding this seemingly simple food. What we call “nuts” are actually a great assortment of edible items that are completely unrelated botanically but have been lumped together because we eat them the same way.

In fact, they’re sometime called “culinary nuts,” as though that excuses the confusion. But how similar are they really? Brazil nut, walnut, peanut, coconut. They could be seeds or drupes or legumes or true tree nuts. And the strangest thing is that no one seems to be able to say for certain.

So this idea started forming in my head: what if the linguistic cross-contamination of nuts was related to their actual cross-contamination in manufacturing. What then does “May contain traces of peanuts or tree nuts” even mean?

After some research, the strongest candidates for “not really nuts” seem to be almonds and pistachios. And it so happens that the folks at POM Wonderful have groves of California almonds and pistachios–just almonds and pistachios.

So here it is, my big, brave moment. I bought a bag of pistachios and ate them. All of them. It was a ridiculously huge amount of pistachios for one person, much less someone who had been medically advised not to eat them for over a decade.

It probably seems totally stupid, both in the sense of insignificant and possibly downright foolish. Why would I risk mind-splitting pain for a snack?

As I said, I’m not particularly brave, but I have spent many years learning to know my limits, which usually involves testing them. I will endure a few days or weeks of rehabilitation if, in the long run, I have more good days than bad, and if I can make the good ones even better. (For the record, I was fine. No ill effects other than what anyone might expect from eating an entire bag of pistachios.)

So if the definition of brave is facing or enduring pain, then for anyone who has a chronic illness, maybe the bravest thing you’ve ever done is get out of bed this morning, or not get out of bed if that’s what you needed, but you endured. For me, it was a bag of nuts. Maybe having a chronic disease means you’re chronically brave.

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