The StarPhoenix January 26, 2012
by Les MacPherson
I always knew I was neurotic – who isn’t? – but it still comes as something of a surprise to learn that I am suffering from an actual mental illness. Others, perhaps, will not be surprised in the least.
The particular mental illness that afflicts me was added only recently to the so-called Bible of psychiatry, otherwise known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This is the big reference book that officially catalogues all the mental illnesses recognized by modern psychiatry. The latest edition is nearly 1,000 pages. You would have to be almost pathologically normal to find nothing in there that applies to you.
Qualifying as entirely sane does not get any easier when new disorders are regularly added to the already voluminous manual. The goalposts of sanity now have been moved so close together that I can no longer squeeze through.
What afflicts me is one of the latest additions proposed for the diagnostic manual, something called avoidant/ restrictive food intake disorder, or ARFID. Until recently, people suffering from this disorder were dismissed as picky eaters. Now, we suddenly are sick and need help.
ARFID is defined as an “eating or feeding disturbance” that includes avoiding foods of a particular taste, colour or texture. That’s exactly what I do. I avoid foods if the taste is bad, if the texture is lumpy or slimy and if the colour is grey, green or mottled beige. If this makes me mentally ill, I plead not hungry by reason of insanity.
Consider oatmeal, for example, a slimy, lumpy, grey food I have always found unspeakably horrible. I always thought it was the people who liked oatmeal who were mentally ill. And yet it clearly is not them but me whose symptoms are to be described in psychiatry’s foremost diagnostic textbook. Well, I don’t care what the doctors say, I still hate oatmeal.
I hate liver, too. If there was a religion that forbade eating liver, I would sign on as a missionary: Eat not of the liver, for it is an unclean thing, and also slimy, with a putrid taste and disgusting appearance. Whosoever filleth his mouth with liver, whether cooked with bacon or not, shall be cast into the fiery pit, along with some fried onions.
This is somewhat by the way, but notice how easily mental illness is repurposed as theology. It goes the other way, too, when the mentally ill are afflicted with religious delusions. I have never heard of a mentally ill person yet who thought he was a newspaper columnist, incidentally, except, of course, for those who really are newspaper columnists.
If it was just liver and oatmeal that provoked my involuntary gag reflex, I probably would not need professional help. There are many other foods, however, that I would rather wrap in a napkin and secretly slip into my pocket than eat. Among them are broccoli, spinach and all organ meats except the baloney. Heart, lungs or tongue will be scraped off my plate untouched, but I do like a thin slice of baloney, in a sandwich with lettuce and a little mustard.
I also cannot eat anything smothered in cream sauce. Any food that could possibly be improved by immersion in cream sauce I would dispose of as hazardous waste.
Asparagus likewise disgusts me. Fish, too, I mostly find off-putting. It doesn’t help when I am told that this particular fish dish has no fishy taste. Why would anyone want to eat something that is not supposed to taste like what it is? I wouldn’t eat beef, either, if the best that could be said of it was that it had no beefy taste. And I’m supposed to be the crazy one?
Now that picky eating is to be regarded as a mental illness, we can perhaps look forward to a cure. The big pharmaceutical companies probably are working even now on new drugs to treat the disorder. Imagine a pill that could make me like liver.
I’d spit it out when no one was looking.