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These Little Zolofts

March 29, 2010
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If you have to have a disease, run-of-the-mill underactive thyroid really can’t be beat. It is relatively painless, easily treated, and conveniently explains many personal failings. Gained 10 pounds? Thyroid disorder. Don’t understand healthcare reform? Thyroid disorder. Barely contained homicidal rage at the people who cut in front of you in line at Ikea? Thyroid disorder. You get the idea. The pass-the-buck possibilities are endless.

Last I heard, my wimpy thyroid was stable on medication. But for the past 6 months or so, I’ve felt a little bit “eh.” On the Back Burner of Desire, where I also keep things like my enduring hope that Heidi and Spencer will not procreate, I maintain that my thyroid is the culprit. Especially because fixing that is as easy as switching my daily pill from pink to yellow. Time for a blood test.

“Do you feel depressed?” my doctor asked, hinting that “eh” as a mood description isn’t all that helpful.
“Me? Depressed? A bit, maybe,” I said, glancing around the exam room as a little lump welled up in my throat. I recovered quickly. “I guess I have less energy. I really think it’s my thyroid, though. Either that, or I need more sleep and less Cheetos.”

She offered me Zoloft almost immediately. I really trust my doctor, so this came as a bit of a shock. Could she tell just by looking at me that Zoloft might be required?

Three days later, I ripped open the envelope that I had anticipated with college-acceptance-letter-esque fervor:

“Dear Cristin:

Your thyroid function is normal. However, your blood shows elevated levels of powdered artificial cheese.”

Dang it! Foiled again! What’s a girl to do now?

My initial gut reaction was strong: No Zoloft, no way. Pretty ridiculous, given my desire for a quick thyroid pill solution just moments earlier. (Fickle? Thyroid disorder!) Thyroxine and seratonin are both just hormones, after all. And I clearly have no qualms about using Cheetos as a drug.

Two out of three people I asked for advice said they had tried Zoloft and didn’t like it, but that when you are on the fence about whether medication will help you or not, sometimes the only way to find out is to give it a try.

I decided to try something else first. I made a list of things that make me happy. Grilled cheese, parties, and playing Beatles Rock Band and/or Dance Dance Revolution on my boyfriend’s XBox were near the top. A Grilled Cheese Party, complete with big-kid-friendly tomato soup and chocolate chip cookies, with guests playing Rock Band and Dance Dance Revolution, seemed like a sure-bet mood elevator.

Then the party planning began, and I started re-thinking the whole mental health treatment thing. Penelope Trunk, one of my favorite bloggers, recently wrote about research that shows people who are “maximizers” —  individuals who seek out the “best” options rather than making do with what is available — are not happy. I am pretty sure I am one. I am not proud of it. “Maximizer” seems like a euphemism for “uptight and self-congratulatory.”

Anyway, apparently the therapist-to-patient ratio is lowest in cities with high maximizer populations, like New York and San Francisco. Because maximizers want to find out about themselves, and want to find out whether they are normal. I am thinking that maybe you guys could save me a couple of hours of psychoanalysis. Would you review my Grilled Cheese Party planning list, and tell me if I am normal? Here it is:

(1) Clean porch before power washer guy comes to clean porch.

(2) Clean house before cleaning lady comes to clean house.

(3) Ask boyfriend, “Honey, which book do you want me to put on your nightstand so it looks like we read before bed?”

(4) Prepare dough for New York Times Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies. Mix together what appears to be all of the ingredients, including $15 worth of Valrhona extra bitter fèves. Realize that you forgot to add in one of the sugars. Scream “WHYYYYYY?!” until neighbor’s dogs begin to howl. Pick out the fèves one by one while muttering “dang it” under your breath and try to mix in the missing sugar, which you knew wasn’t really going to work in the first place. Eat half of the chocolate you picked out. Buy more fèves and re-make dough the next day.

(5) Test 5 different fancy grilled cheese sandwiches. Ruminate over what you will serve a guest who is allergic to gluten, lactose intolerant, and pregnant. Poll coworkers to determine whether people are going to think you are a Huge Vegetarian Jerk for not serving your guests meat because when you go to their houses, they fix you something meatless.

(6) Rehearse Dance Dance Revolution routine to Gloria Estefan’s “Conga” until breathless on floor.

(7) Make rosemary simple syrup for rosemary lemonade fizzes. Pour into tupperware to cool. Bristle when boyfriend opens the fridge and quips, “Wow! That is the biggest urine sample I’ve ever seen!”

Please also consider the following. After the guests arrived, I realized that I had completely underestimated the amount of time it would take to make grilled cheese to order for 20 people. Still, I maintained a white-knuckled spatula grip, determined to flip every sandwich personally. Visions of Ina Garten drifted in and out of my mind, her shiny black bob swinging in the East Hampton sea breeze as she mouthed her time-honored advice in slow motion: Prep everything the night before so you can relax and enjoy the party. Sweat dripped off of my brow, threatening to pollute a jar of Mama Lil’s Peppers.

I burned a piece of walnut bread beyond belief, scarring my precious Le Creuset cast iron skillet. The veins in my neck began to strain.

But then. My friend T., who until that night boasted that she uses her oven for storage, turned out to be a total hustler. Sensing that I was about to have a psychotic break in close proximity to several pointy kitchen implements, she gently took over at the stove, patiently turning out golden, crusty sandwiches slathered with a mixture of butter and dark German ale, with a spatula in one hand and a cocktail in the other. I began breathing normally. When most everyone had left, a handful of us lingered over America’s Test Kitcken garlicky pesto dip and push-button guitars, capping off the night with an en masse Rock Band rendition of Rammstein’s “Du Hast.” I laughed harder than I had in months.

These little Zolofts. They save me in increments. They will not be enough until I hand over the spatula, and decide that they are.

Grilled Cheese for Maximizers
Based on the winning recipe from the  2009 Seattle Cheese Festival Grilled Cheese Contest

1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion
1 pint German ale
8 1/2-inch slices of chewy white bread  (I used Grand Central Bakery pre-sliced Grand Como Bread)
4 oz. semi-firm goat cheese, shredded (I used Spanish Drunken Goat cheese, available at Whole Foods)
4 oz. Irish cheddar cheese, shredded (I used Heritage Irish Cheddar, available at Whole Foods)

Peel the onion, cut it in half, and then slice the halves into thin half-moons. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and stir. Pour all but two tablespoons of the beer over the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all the beer evaporates and the onions are soft and golden. This took me about 30 minutes, and I did it the night before the party.

When you’re ready to make the sandwiches, mix the remaining butter with the remaining beer by smooshing it with the back of a spoon. Butter two slices of bread with the beer butter. Sandwich one ounce of each cheese and a generous spoonful of the onions in between. Place the sandwich into a skillet over medium heat and cover, so the beer-butter doesn’t burn before the cheese melts. Cook for about 4 minutes. Uncover the sandwich, flip it, and cook uncovered on the second side for about 2 minutes, or until the bread is golden and crusty. Serves 4.

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