There was a time when it was difficult to lift a fork and hard to swallow.
I was newly divorced with two small daughters, limited means, and a poor appetite. I was also lonely, living in a small town far from family, and afraid that I’d fade away like dust. The singer Madonna once said after a divorce, “I’m very grateful that I had work to do. I may have thrown myself off a building.”
Every week I got sick with one virus or another and worried that my daughters would always remember me as ill and cranky. My doctor did blood tests and said that the first thing to resolve was my anemia. All I had to do was take supplements, and eat meat twice a week, but I was vegetarian, so I tried to work around it. I took the supplements and an additional prescription for sleeping pills, but then, in addition to everything else, I was groggy all day.
People who didn’t know what I was going through would comment on how great I looked, and I’d wonder why society is so impressed with being thin that unhealthy weight loss is unrecognizable. I looked and felt thin, colorless, unsettled.
The Buddha said, “Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Make peace with that, and all will be well,” but I don’t follow the Buddha and wasn’t able to make peace with being divorced.
My youngest hadn’t yet turned two and didn’t seem aware that anything had changed, but my four-year-old knew and acted out by crying and bickering about toys, meals, or which shoes she had to wear. When she was in preschool a few mornings each week, I’d settle the little one in her stroller and walk all morning. I used the television as a babysitter after days spent at the playground or in the tiny yard of our complex nestled up next to the highway. The sound of traffic was the soundtrack of our days and nights.
I tried therapy, and it might have worked with time, but talking about my feelings didn’t help explain why my ex-husband had an affair or why he suddenly announced that he’d never loved me, never wanted children, and needed his freedom.
A friend suggested that I consult a naturopathic doctor who specialized in herbs and holistic medicine. “She’s helped a lot of people I know,” my friend insisted.
I was hesitant. “It doesn’t involve talking," she added, knowing how unimpressed I’d been with talking to a less-than-adequate therapist.
The naturopathic doctor studied the blood tests I’d shared with her, and asked to see the list she’d had me compile before my appointment, of what I ate and how much I’d exercised during the week. Sitting across from her in her office, she reiterated that I was extremely anemic and told me that I was slowly killing myself. I had to wipe away my tears.
“This chart will help turn things around,” she said, showing me a page with blank squares. “You won’t need it forever, but it’ll give you the guidance you need right now.”
There was a column for each thing I needed to do - a breakfast column with ideas for what to eat: oatmeal and seeds, toast with peanut butter, fried tofu with mushrooms. The 10:00am column listed snack ideas for each day - apple slices with cheddar cheese, a cup of yogurt, a handful of almonds and raisins. The lunch column included quinoa salad with pistachios, green salad with chopped mango, a bowl of soup with a roll. And the afternoon snack column included cut-up melon, celery with peanut butter, and crunchy chickpeas. All I had to do was follow the chart as if it were guiding me down a dangerous river, helping me stay afloat.
I remember yawning excessively that day, because her office was warm, and I was always tired back then. The naturopath added a slew of herbs to the list of supplements. And she didn’t like the look of my nails, so she recommended biotin.
The chart included more than food and supplements – there was a column for walking outside each day, breathing exercises, and meditation. The chart didn’t force me outside during a storm or require that I eat exactly what she’d suggested, but it gave me a template for getting through each day. I wondered what motivated someone without kids - did they just crumble after their husbands left them? At home that afternoon, I began following the doctor’s directions.
I took all the herbs and vitamins and ate each meal plus the snacks recommended on the chart. I also did the prescribed walking, breathing, and meditating. It was hard in the beginning, but I kept at it, and slowly began to feel physically better. My four-year-old stopped having tantrums and laughed more. A month later, I returned to the homeopathic doctor with plenty of toys to entertain my toddler.
The naturopath said I looked better. My hair was shiny, my eyes were clear, and my skin looked healthy. I could look the doctor in the eye (instead of slouching and speaking to the floor). Most importantly, I’d regained my strength.
I moved away, met, and married the love of my life, had another baby, and moved home to Chicago. My husband and I raised all three children to be kind, competent adults who’ve all chosen partners of their own. This year we’re celebrating thirty years of marriage. I’ve survived cancer, become a published author, and gained enough so that nobody ever praises me for being thin.
When I look back at that difficult time in my life following the divorce, it seems that I either healed with time, continued therapy with a skilled therapist worked, or the homeopathic doctor’s system of charting each day was successful.
Over the years, I’ve used charts of one kind or another to plan out work schedules, organize my kids’ activities and transportation, coordinate trips, and write three books. I’m beginning a fourth book soon and will chart it before I write a single word, because it’s a method that works for me. That first chart changed my life. No reason to do anything different all these years later.
G.P. Gottlieb is the author of Charred: A Whipped and Sipped Mystery (D.X. Varos Publishing 2023), the third in her culinary mystery series. She has interviewed over 175 authors as host for New Books in Literature, a podcast channel on the New Books Network. https://www.facebook.com/authorgottlieb