In 2016, I fell ill with a mystery ailment that, to this day, doctors have never been fully able to understand. The primary symptom was jamais vu, which is sort of yin to déjà vu‘s yang—instead of the foreign feeling strangely familiar, the familiar seems strangely foreign. Different doctors had their individual takes that ranged from a viral infection to a brain tumor, but none of the treatments had the desired outcomes. I eventually quit my job waiting tables after my jamais vu had progressed to the point where I had trouble with novel conversations and basic math.
I was slowly losing myself to this unnamed, unidentifiable ailment that had rapidly possessed me. After a neurologist concluded that my symptoms were epileptic in nature, what few freedoms I did have—like social drinking, driving, and playing guitar—were disrupted by to the slew of medications I had to force down each day. When my symptoms shifted or multiplied, my doctor switched gears to new anti-epileptics, and when the side effects became too much, she prescribed even more pills to my nightly routine. I felt like I had a cameo role in a medical drama like House, except my diagnosis wouldn’t be wrapped up in the 42 minutes between commercial breaks.
I was desperate to get any semblance of my life back, and it was while I found myself in this agony that I heard about studies where people diagnosed with terminal seizures were successfully treated with a ketogenic diet. Designed to starve the body of carbohydrates and force it to use fat as its primary energy source, the “keto” diet allowed these people to overcome their debilitations where all else failed. With nothing left to lose, I hesitantly omitted a lot of the foods that I love—like bread, pasta, and rice—from my kitchen. I began buying eggs and bacon in bulk, monitoring food labels for carbohydrate counts, and weighing everything that made its way onto a plate. What started out as a long shot quickly became a militant rite, and my entire life soon revolved around what I could—and couldn’t—eat in hopes that it could rid me of my suffering.
My new diet was such a minor change when compared to the poking and prodding I was subject to at the hands of the half-dozen medical specialists, but it was something that I could control. It was something that I could adjust on my own terms. At first, that freedom was liberating, and I was the envy of so many people around me—but these people were only seeing one side of the coin. The other side was full of desperation and exhaustion—of sacrifice and unanswered questions—that, when juxtaposed with the excitement of those around me, had me questioning my crisis. Was I as bad off as I thought? Was I as sick as I felt?
After several months, I started showing signs of improvement. I can’t say for certain if it was my diet, a change in my medicine, or maybe even a sort of placebo effect, but tactile, tangible changes started happening in my life. My speech got better. My focus started to return. People who had been by my side since the onset of my symptoms could visually mark my improvement, and the episodes of jamais vu started becoming less frequent. I chalked most of these successes up to the keto diet, but, to this day, I don’t know how much of that attribution was done out of fear—I was still limiting and counting and weighing my food long after my major milestones.
As I continued to improve, I became well enough to wean off of my anti-epileptic medication, but the bright glow of my achievements were marred by complications. My diet had metamorphosed into an uncontrollable infatuation with the forbidden. I would find myself secretly gorging on the carbohydrate-rich food I had been prohibiting myself from for so long. I fantasize about food at all hours. I had traded one problem for another.
My sickness, my jamais vu, had become a monomania. I was a horse with blinders, leading myself at a breakneck pace to a finish line that always seemed ever-farther away. I let my fear of regression—my wanton desire for normalcy—subvert my psychological health. As I find myself deeper and deeper in the fires of an eating disorder, I’ve looked for something—anything—to blame. My doctors. My sickness. Work, stress, myself. All of these and none of these are to blame. But if it wasn’t binge eating or jamais vu, it would be something else that I would be struggling with, and assigning a target to my ire wouldn’t allay my hardships.
Over the last 4 years, I’ve had to learn how to accept the trials before me. As a mere man, my energy and my time are limited, and using these resources to burn and rave against the realities of this world is a futile endeavor. Being able to torture myself by wishing and wanting a different existence is a luxury that I cannot afford, but that does not mean that I have to approve of the hardships before me. Instead, by acknowledging the pain, the suffering, and what is within my power to produce meaningful change, I can at least try to make the torment optional.