Just because my last few posts have been about my goal to become more healthy this summer (specifically focusing on getting to a reasonable body-fat percentage) doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally write about some of my other interests and topics of importance. This post’s topic: bullying & the PB&J sandwich.
I’ve mentioned before that I was on the receiving end of some rather severe bullying growing up. The early stuff started around 5th grade and tapered off by 11th, the worst of which happened throughout the 7th & 8th grade years. While from an intellectual and professional standpoint I appreciate the research done on the lingering effects that bullying has on its victims into adulthood, the part of me that remembers the name-calling, social exclusion, and physical assaults in great detail cringes every time a new headline pops up that reads something along the lines of “New research shows that bully victims still have ___________ problems into adulthood.” Too often it hits close to home, being correct that I have had more challenges related to problem __________ than the typical non-bullied individual.
At the same time though, I am a pretty healthy and well adjusted adult now that I’ve hit my mid-30’s, so for me it comes down to acknowledging my history, but not letting it define who I am now or who I want to become. I know that I am in a slightly higher risk-group for certain things like depression and anxiety, and I respond accordingly when there are any signs that attention is needed. Sometimes I want to pretend that I’m not in those risk pools, but every so often something happens that reminds me. And that brings me to the PB&J sandwich… I believe that I ate PB&J nearly every day in my lunch from kindergarden through 8th grade (I was *kind of a picky eater and my mom knew I’d eat it). Well, during those very difficult 7th & 8th grade years the lunch room was one of the worst places for me to be. I was relentlessly mocked by some of my peers, a couple times I was thrust into fights, and rarely a lunch passed without something bad happening or being said. Those rare lunches where nothing happened weren’t much of a break because I was filled with anxiety that something bad could happen at any moment. It was a long two years.
When I got high school we had an open campus for lunch. Since my house was 1/4 mile from the school I went home every single day. It was great, I could make whatever I wanted, my mom or dad could check in on me (mostly my dad, he had a home office), and I’d watch Wishbone on PBS (we didn’t have cable, it was that or half a soap opera). Also, the ability to invite peers over who wanted to escape the school for 45 minutes allowed me to forge new friendships and helped me move past the previous challenging years. The freedom and flexibility to come home, with or without friends, and cook whatever I wanted meant that I rarely ever made myself a PB&J sandwich for lunch. As my high school years passed by I got to the point that I didn’t like PB&J anymore and would actively avoid them, and that habit continued into college and the years since.
I’d always explained this change to myself and the occasional questioner by saying that my tastes must have changed because my lunches had been so overrepresented by PB&Js in my early school years that I’d just grown tired of the flavor. It wasn’t really a big deal, rarely was I presented with PB&J as a lunch option, so I never really thought about it much. Last week though, on one of these crazy summer mornings as we were trying to get 4 kids ready for 4 different activities my wife packed me a lunch that included a PB&J sandwich. I didn’t notice it until I was at work and opened by lunchbox, and noticed when I opened the container and smelled it that I was hit by a strong taste aversion, similar to what happens when you eat a favorite dish right before getting a stomach bug and can’t ever eat it again (I still miss you dearly adobo calamari). I thought to myself, “this is ridiculous, I’ve never thrown-up after eating a PB&J, I just stopped eating them.” So, in that moment I finally explored this within my thoughts and emotions, and intentionally smelled the sandwich and let my mind connect that smell to the first thing that popped up, and immediately the first image in my mind was my middle school cafeteria. That physiological taste aversion wasn’t connected to a memory of being sick, but the memories and feelings of powerlessness and helplessness that accompanied me to every lunch, five days a week, for two long years.
As I pondered that, I realized that for the most part, I always prefer a warm lunch. I keep a microwave in my office for that, and if I do eat a cold lunch PB&J is never on the menu. The freedom from lunchtime anxiety that had formed during my high school years had also left me with a taste aversion towards the traditional brown-bag lunch items that for so long had been directly tied to anxiety and bullying. So, now that I know that my taste aversion towards PB&J has more to do with emotional memories and not related to becoming sick after eating one (again, oh how I miss you adobo calamari, one of my favorite meals from my two year mission in the Philippines) I could probably overcome it. I don’t like to hold myself as a victim of past events that were outside of my control. I guess I just need to force myself to eat it and see what becomes of these anti-PB&J tastes that I inadvertently fostered over 20 years ago.
*majorly a picky eater