Write of Passage

Willett's Baltimore Transitions / Expressions

Willett .

Willett .
Baltimore, Maryland,
June 15
Write of Passage, Inc.
Willett Thomas is the President of Write of Passage, Inc., a 501(C)(3) communications, training, and publishing organization formed in 2010 to assist underserved artists and writers. She is also a freelance writer, writing in and about Baltimore. She recently relocated to the neighborhood of Greenmount, where the exterior shots of the HBO series, The Wire were filmed. She's pleased to report any rumored resemblances to the television series are greatly exaggerated. *** Like us at Facebook ;-) http://www.facebook.com/WriteofPassage

Editor’s Pick
JANUARY 24, 2012 6:37AM

Paula Deen, I Understand Denial

Rate: 19 Flag

I called my mother and asked her if she had heard about the thing with Paula Deen.  She said she had. I asked her what she thought of the whole stink. She said, “Not much.”

I understand Paula Deen.  And because I do, it’s a little hard to understand why some people want to attack her about continuing to hawk the gustatory virtues of the donut hamburger even after having been diagnosed three years earlier with Type 2 Diabetes.

I remember ten years ago when my mother learned she had diabetes.  I wasn’t worried.  Not much. I understood that if she ate “right,” exercised and took her medication then she should be fine.  Millions of people live with diabetes and knowing this I didn’t give too much thought to her diagnosis until weeks later as I watched her inhale handful after food stained colored handfuls of M&Ms.

“What’s with the candy?”

“What, you want some?  These are the plain ones, you like the peanuts.”

“No, I don’t want any.  Are you supposed to be eating candy?”

Supposed is not a word to use with one’s elders because many, like my mother, tend to get riled up, becoming wired, little teeth gnashing five year olds, especially after having ingested unreasonable amounts of sugar. 

In my mother’s case this meant a slew of “Girl, please,” retorts, followed closely by the ever so wise and profound, “We’re all gonna die of something.”

True enough. Of course she will, we all will, but usually not at our own hand, and usually not while chomping M&Ms washed down with Pepsi chasers.

My mother was clearly in denial.  And so, I decided to leave it alone.  I refused to get wrapped up in the personal health choices of others, especially others like my mother, who choose to deal with their health issues in ways many people would find hard to understand. 

Example:  Years and years ago, when I was young and didn’t know any better, I’d call my mother on her job every so often just to check in, to assure her I was alive and thriving in the big city.  This particular time instead of patching me through, the receptionist responded, “Oh, don’t you know, hon? She’s having her brain surgery today.”  Well, to say I lost what little 20-year-old clarity I had would be an understatement. I went from, “Huh? What?” to “Okay, then…thank you, Cathy,” with enough time in between for both our lives to flash before my eyes.  Then I hung up. I took a breath and remembered who I was about to become undone over. My mother, warrior woman – and quickly got back to whatever I was required to do that day at work.  If my mother had wanted me to know about her “brain surgery” then she would have told me.  I did call Cathy back and asked her to relay a message to my mother: When you’re back from your brain surgery, please call me.  It’s important.  Thanks. 

That day as I watched my mother pop M&Ms, I remembered this exchange, and it provided me with a sense of relief which continues today.  A person’s health is a private matter, even when it’s your mother, even when it’s a celebrity like Paula Deen, even when Paula Deen cuts a deal to shill for the manufacturer of a diabetes medication.  None of it is my business, along with her motivations and timing for doing this.

I’ve watched Paula Deen's show. She's very entertaining.  And just as I don’t go in for the Baltimore lore that I haven’t lived unless I’ve had all of the following Baltimore culinary delights: A tall Half and Half (sweet tea mixed equally with even sweeter lemonade), a deep fried lake fish platter soaked in hot sauce, and Berger chocolate coated cookies, nor have I ever remotely thought of Paula Deen as a role model for healthy living, and I doubt anyone else has either.   

As for my mother, her health as far as I know is fine.  Her diabetes is under control.  Of course, Cathy had things wrong. It wasn’t brain surgery; it was a test. When my mother finally got around to returning my call, her response provided little in the way of clarification: “Slight headache...test…nothing found.” 



©2012Willett Thomas


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Willett, I have missed your writing! I secretly want Paula Deen to cook for me on a daily basis. We're all in a little denial about some things...~r
I get Paula too. Some people can eat whatever they want. I think I am one of them but as I get older I realize I am not. I have to stop the insanity and I'm afraid I can't. So I go into the "So what we are all going to die." mode. I get it.
It is hard, my dad had diabetes for years, when he was young enough to control it he choose to just take the medicine instead. I had to let it go, knowing that was his choice. But to think it doesn't effect those closest to you, yes that's the denial. Good post, and glad to see you.
Great to see you here, and another outstanding post!!!! My husband has diabetes and both of us have lived in sort of a state of denial about it.
@all -- Thanks for reading. I've learned from dealing with my mom that while she often feels free to tell me how to look out for myself, I shouldn't feel free to do the same with her. So, I ask how she's doing and try not to chastise too much those times she goes off the wagon.
I agree with you 100% about diet and health being a personal issue. Ultimately, you cannot stop your mom from eating the foods she likes. She is a grown woman and a free agent. I think denial is something we all guilty of, in some aspect of our lives or other. Rated.
I have come to terms with the "land of denial" with loved ones, and now I find I like to visit there from time to time. You are a fine writer.
What we eat may be the only free choice we make in our lives - and even then. . .

Excellent piece.

I think people with diabetes are more prone to denial than people who have other medical conditions. It must be because of the intimate way food is both necessary and potentially harmful to us, depending on what we eat and how much. It's sad that diabetes can be such a nasty disease, though, even if it is "managed." Blindness, amputation and neuropathy are some of the things that can happen to the sufferer way before death.
I completely get it - I stopped asking my dad two years ago if he had seen the doctor yet about his deep, 30 second-long, hacking, cough sessions, as he puffs on yet another cigarette. Now I just wait for them to pass, and we resume the conversation as if nothing ever happened.
@Barb Allee -- Exactly. The amount of misery it causes me by worrying doesn't do either of us any good. Thanks for reading.
I get Paula Deen and your mom. I think there is so much more in the world to get worried about and excited over and trust me, this is not it. Not by a long shot.
My issue with this whole thing is the pharma company developing a med that supposedly allows you to eat like Paula Deen while diabetic. WTF, isn't there something better that they can research? I get you on the parent thing; I accidentally found out about my dad's heart surgery this summer. Arg. I enjoyed this piece.
Ummm... I don't know that I agree with you. Paula Deen is no role model, but she is an excuse for millions of people who have been told that consuming vast quantities of sugar will hasten the time when they lose limbs, go blind, and lapse into renal failure.
I have a friend who spent six weeks in a weight loss center learning about eating healthy and came home talking about avoiding carbs. We popped in on her baking a second cake (she had single handedly consumed the first) and said what about the carbs? " What carbs?" "The sugar!" " Sugar isn't a carb."
Denial is a powerful thing.
Great post. When my mom was first diagnosed with diabetes a few years ago she changed her diet, lost weight, and got healthy. She slowly slipped back into old habits but she keeps a close eye on it and sees her doctor regularly, so I worry, but perhaps less than I should. After her diagnosis, I recognized that I was on the same path and lost 110 pounds. Unfortunately, I gained back most of it with pregnancy and still have it. So now I worry far more about my own health and have turned into a hypochondriac since I turned 40 last month. I don't think Paula Deen is eating sticks of butter and fried sugar all day, and I don't think she has a healthy diet either. Honestly, it's none of my business. I don't think she's peddling an unhealthy diet to anyone -- she's sharing recipes for things that any sane person knows he or she should eat sparingly. If we choose to eat them more often than we should, as perhaps she has done, then we live with the consequences.
Nicely said. I'm a bit overweight, don't really exercise anymore since my dog passed away and I bake like Paula with her sticks of butter. While I think a person's entitled to her privacy, her finally coming forward with her diagnosis was a wake-up call for me. Blood sugar issues run in my family and Paula made me realize my cupcake days are limited if I don't get myself in gear NOW. By the way - anyone else notice Paula's eyes on a magazine cover will follow you no matter which direction you move? Kind of creepy.
@Tank26 -- We all have those come to Jesus moments. No matter how many friends or family members we have, physical pain and discomfort are ours alone. Stick with it. Last night I fell off the wagon and ate a whole tub of hummus. This morning I got up, did my micro exercise rountine and later today I'll walk the 30 mins to my part-time job instead of taking the bus. No big thing, but it makes a difference. And, yes, Paula's got some big spooky headlights. Thanks for reading. Stay cool!
Good to read you again. The Paula Dean thing does bother me a bit because I think it's part of a larger denial problem in our society. People think it's a private matter, that they can go on eating donuts and french fries to their heart's desire, but the truth is we are getting collectively sicker and sicker. This might not matter so much if healthcare costs were not borne by everyone, but they are. She wrote a cookbook for kids with lots of calorie dense treats from what I understand. When are we going to stop exploiting each other, stop allowing corporations to make huge profits while smokers and junk food junkies slowly kill themselves?
I have a diabetic mother too, type 1, but she came to it later in life. It has been a roller coaster for us all these years, as she refuses to take it seriously and continues to eat what she wants. She has been in and out of the hospital so many times, after extended stays to clean it up, and so many problems from infections, to losing sight, to losing feeling in her feet, to all of it. I have to let go, but I do get angry because she doesn't acknowledge how hard it is for everyone who have to take care of her and fish her out of the water all the time. Yet, perhaps that denial is the fuel that keeps her alive anyhow.
I've seen the denial thing at work with my own mother, too. I don't think I'm willing to let Paula Deen off easy, though, because I think it may have been less about denial for her, and more about selling cookbooks and holding on to her television show for as long as possible.
@Jeanette-- I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Hopefully, her new show and way of cooking with benefit a lot of people who might listen to anyone else.
Check out an article in the NYTimes from 2006, 'Diabetes and Its Awful Toll Quietly Emerges as a Crisis', which speaks to the 800,000 in NYC with diabetes, a problem that NYC health officials call a "bonafide epidemic". Hospitals are overwhelmed dealing with the myriad, and horrifying, physical problems caused by diabetes. The article states that 1 in 3 children born after 2001 will develop diabetes in their lifetime. So, you see, it's everyone's business, we'll all pay the price whether we develop diabetes or not - emotionally, as we watch loved ones suffer, not to mention financially as the health costs mount for the uninsured (and, yes, also the insured) who refuse to do what they need to do to avoid adult onset diabetes...diabetes is an absolute scourge in this country. Paula Deen doesn't have to worry about paying for her health costs - others do and it's only going to get worse. "We're all in a little denial about some things"? God help us.
@AJ -- I will. I think everything has to start with our kids. There may not be too much that can be done with us adults, but perhaps with better education early on we can do better by them. Thanks!
People think diabetes is all about sugar, but the saturated fat in meat and dairy appears to be the main culprit: