I’m writing today from the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, a quick stop en route to my niece’s wedding this weekend. Mark and Jacob are watching a 3D big screen movie, the kind that makes me throw up, so I’m staying put in front of my laptop screen.
Today, with my sister Sue’s permission, I’m sharing what is sort of a funny story, sort of a sad story, but definitely an inspirational story.
Sue suffers from bipolar disorder. Her journey has been a long and rocky one, with lots of messiness and screw-ups along the way. Lots. She takes full ownership. (And yes, she will have cleared on this post before I send it into the world.)
I could have been dealt the same lot, but Sue was the lucky recipient of our father’s bipolar genetics (not the scientific term, so I hope the science museum employees here aren’t looking over my shoulder). My father’s battle ended when he took his own life at the age of 42. Brilliant, talented, handsome man with a few astoundingly crappy genes thrown into the mix. Sue drew the short straw.
Sue has always struggled with her weight, a common side effect of mental health pharmaceuticals. And although I frequently tout the benefits of exercise and meditation to improve mental health, people like my sister have chemical imbalances so severe that some level of medication will always be needed.
But here’s the thing about Sue. She’s lost more than a hundred pounds over the past year or so. Whereas before she was diabetic and had hypertension, forced to rest in the middle of a regular trip to the grocery store, she’s now walking, taking stairs, and choosing parking spots that force her to walk farther to her destination. She’s making healthy eating choices on top of all of that. As a result, she’s no longer diabetic and the hypertension is gone.
But here’s the kicker. A side effect of one of her bipolar medications is something called “blind night eating.” It’s eating while you’re sleep-walking. She wakes up with food on her nightgown with no recollection of having eaten. She finds food in her clothes drawers and doesn’t know how it got there. And this is a THING, a recognized medical side effect of a certain family of drugs that her doctor warned her about.
Rather than throwing in the towel, Sue took action.
A few weeks ago she asked me, “Can you help me search for a refrigerator alarm? I need something to make a sound to wake me up if I open the refrigerator in the middle of the night.”
What a fun research project!
We found a potential gadget on a British Web site that didn’t seem to have any options for international buyers. Other than that, the closest thing we could find was the “Talking Refrigerator” gag by Forum Novelties.
For about twelve bucks, this motion sensor contraption will live in your refrigerator. When you open the door, it wails at you, “What? Eating again? No wonder you’re getting fat!”
Most people would find this a bit off-putting, but Sue thinks it’s hilarious. Not only that, it works! The bullying voice does wake her up before she eats unconciously. The problem is, she’s started to move from the refrigerator to the pantry during her night walks. Now she’s just being more careful about what she keeps in the pantry.
What I love about this story is Sue’s ability to keep her sense of humor. If this isn’t an example of outside-of-the-box thinking, I don’t know what is.
The Talking Refrigerator could be viewed as a customized mindfulness tool. If a medication you need makes you act unconsciously, here’s a way to force yourself to wake up.
Most of us act unconsciously with no good reason at all. We go through our entire lives asleep and don’t even realize it.
Sue could have given up a long time ago. Instead, she’s made an intentional decision to treat her body with the respect it deserves for the first time in many decades. She’s taking action where she can. She’s had to let go of a lot to move forward with her life. A lot.
It would be nice if there were a range of Talking Refrigerator responses. Maybe something a bit gentler, like, “Look at all the progress you’ve made! Perhaps it would be better to close the door before you eat something you regret.”
Or maybe, “Now, it’s your decision whether to eat that, dear, but do you really think that’s a good idea?”
But Sue seems to like her insulting refrigerator policeman just the way he is. (Sorry guys, the recorded voice is male.)
I wonder what other products could be developed to snap us out of our often zombie-like existences and take us off of auto pilot. If you have any any ideas, I’d love to hear them!
Oh — and if you’re wondering what the photo I chose has to do with today’s topic, pansies are Sue’s favorite flower. And the little bug clinging to the edge of the petal could have several symbolic meanings.
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