a rickety bridge of impossible crossing

sucks to your aspar

Yesterday was rough. As I speculated in 202206241715, I got my medicine again yesterday, but my brain still wasn't working properly. It's my fault. I tried drinking aspartame again, and I should've trusted my body before.

Izzy drinks sugarfree soda, and she recently tried a new variety that she didn't like much. She replaced it with her usual brand, but there were still a few cans in the fridge. I tried one, and it tasted okay, so I figured I'd have the rest of it so as not to let it go to waste. She noticed I was drinking it and got me another pack of it the next time she went to the store, which was really sweet and none of this is her fault at all. She didn't know about my weird brain stuff.

I'm inclined not to trust my body when it tells me something's wrong if I don't think there's a logical basis for it, and I need to stop. Years and years ago I read as much about aspartame as I could and determined that it's perfectly fine, there's no proof that it's harmful for anyone but people with phenylketonuria, and I don't have that, so any perceived harm must be psychosomatic or some weird manifestation of my anxiety. I keep trying to drink it, and every time I get the same result: after I drink it for a couple days, I start getting constant low-level headaches, brain fog, and acute depression. Everything tastes bad. I'm still experiencing the diet soda aftertaste, and I haven't had any since yesterday morning. It'll probably be days before my taste buds are back to normal.

It seems impossible to me that something sold in such vast quantities could have such a profound negative effect with absolutely nothing but anecdotal evidence to back it up. I don't want to trust my own experiences. I want to keep trying and see if it's different next time. It never is.

At first, I attributed my bad feeling to withdrawal from my ADHD medicine. It was a bad idea to do my diet soda experiment at the same time I was unmedicated, because that muddies the waters even more.

When I'm at work, I only drink plain water or water with this stuff:

catbox

Which is sweetened with stevia and a little bit of sugar, and doesn't give me any of the symptoms I associate with artificial sweeteners. Stevia's the only non-sugar sweetener I've found that I can tolerate.

But when I get home, I want a change of pace. I want to drink something that doesn't remind me of work. Usually that's tea, but making tea requires executive function I don't have access to when I'm not medicated. Diet soda was available, so I figured I'd give it another shot. Well, now I know. Never again. I don't care what the science says, because science doesn't tell the whole story.

This is sort of becoming a recurring theme on this blog. I was raised without religion, and I grew up very upset at some of the things people did in the name of religion, so in the aughts, I thought of myself part of the atheist/skeptic community. I listened to skeptic podcasts, watched Penn & Teller's Bullshit, was a fan of James Randi. I would try to shut down anything I saw as woo or mysticism or magical thinking by presenting The Evidence. I was insufferable, but hey, it was the aughts, who wasn't?

But since then, I've realized that science can also be a dogma. Putting all your faith in the scientific evidence is, itself, unscientific. Even our most firmly held scientific beliefs should be questioned if evidence to the contrary appears, because we don't know what we don't know. That's hard for people to accept. It's hard for me to accept. People want something to believe in unquestioningly, because the idea that we really don't know anything for sure is scary. Since I wasn't raised with god, the obvious path for me was to put all my faith in science. But that's not how science works.

There haven't been any studies that prove a causal link between aspartame and the symptoms I experience, but absence of proof is not proof of absence. Refusing to believe that aspartame is the cause of my symptoms in spite of my lived experience is just magical thinking in a lab coat.

It's hard to describe just how much I struggled to think of anything to write yesterday. I couldn't find two brain cells to rub together. I tried to do whatever it is I normally do to make a blog post happen and it just wouldn't. It wouldn't come out. The two little shitposts I made were the closest I came to an original thought all day. I couldn't think of a third thing. I couldn't think of an intro to make it a #GarbageDigest post. It was almost like a Flowers For Algernon situation. I was aware that my cognition was failing, and it was terrifying.

But what's more terrifying is the idea that, if I wasn't dedicated to writing every day, I might not have even noticed. I might've just gone through my day, listening to podcasts, watching videos when I got home, not really thinking about anything. I might not have realized there was a problem.

When I tried to write and realized how hard it was, alarm bells went off. Yeah, I had just taken my meds for the first time in a couple days, there's usually a re-adjustment period, but it's never this bad. I've gone without my meds for a couple days more recently, I know how it feels; I haven't had aspartame for over a year, and this is exactly how I felt then. And the last time. And the time before that. The most tragic thing is, I think I wrote a post very similar to this one the last time I experimented with aspartame, and I think I swore off it forever then, too.

Well, no more. This isn't just a one-off blog post, I hereby transcribe it in my personal lore: artificial sweeteners are poisonous to appalachian typing raccoons.1 If you give the raccoon treats, please make sure the sweetener is something that comes from a plant. Is this unscientific? Yes, but I don't care. Science, like religion, is only useful to the extent that it helps people and makes their lives better. People in power have done, and continue to do, unthinkable atrocities in the name of science. Studies can be manipulated. Data can be massaged. Factors can be ignored. Even when everyone is acting in good faith and working to the best of their ability, we don't know what we don't know.

Maybe someday there will be an artificial sweetener study that proves that what I'm experiencing is real, and maybe even explain why it's happening, but I don't need it. I'm trusting the lore 🦝


  1. See the lore for more info about this unique sub-species. For other raccoons, here's a list of foods to avoid. It calls out xylitol and "complex sugars" as being very bad for them, so I don't think it's a stretch to add aspartame to the list. But as the only known member of P. montani, chocolate and onions are OK for me, so it's still an important distinction.↩

#lore #personal