Officially starting the New Year

Time to get back to building things

This has been a weird New Year’s period. The holidays seemed all “out of whack” with some happening sooner than usual, and others happening later, and Christmas and New Years happening in the middle of the week.

Strange.

I have been taking advantage of this time by stepping outside my normal routine and doing things that I usually don’t have time for — sleeping and reading and spending a lot of time outside in the woods. I had a list of things I planned to get done, while I had time off from work, but as it turns out, I’m not really interested in doing them, when I have a choice. I have been doing a lot of soul-searching for the past several weeks, and it’s been good to just give myself time to decompress and see what else is going on in my head, that I don’t normally get to “indulge”.

So now it’s Back to Work. I have a list of things I need to accomplish, and I’m back in everyday mode. Things seem to have slowed down somewhat, compared to last year — at least, that’s how it feels with me. It feels less frantic. And although my list is long, I have a more measured attitude about it, and I’m feeling pretty good about being able to get everything done, that I need to do.

In the past, I have pushed myself intensely to get where I felt I needed to go – like a machine… a robot… I had my list and I stuck to it, and there wasn’t really much reward that went along with having gotten things done. Because no sooner did I get one thing done, than another thing would come up. That’s a pretty draining way to life, actually. There’s not much reward in it, so I need to modify my approach so I can get the dopamine and other neurotransmitters I need from my life experience. I’ve had my egg for breakfast, and now I’ll have a banana with my cup of coffee.

Recipe for happiness. 🙂

It’s all learning. It’s all building.

Now, it’s time to go learn and build something. Onward.

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Intermittent Fasting for Emotional Discipline

Running the gamut – emotional style

Now that the New Year is here, a lot of people are focusing on resolutions for how to change their lives. I think this is a good intention, and this is the perfect time to think about these things, after the last six weeks of holiday upheaval. The holidays give us time to step away from our usual routine, and when we do, it can be easier to see the shape of our lives more clearly, than when we are in our regular routines and regimens.

One thing that has been really evident to me, is my persistent need for emotional discipline… maybe even control. That is, I need to be able to manage my own emotions and feel what I feel without going off the rails over it. My recent close encounters with a police officer and my meltdowns at home over the past few months have made it pretty clear that I need to “get a grip” and quit being so volatile.

Emotional volatility (or “lability” as they call it) goes hand in hand with TBI. You know how it goes — those temper flares, the anger, the rage, the ups and downs that can really turn into a roller coaster… It can be hell, not only on you, but on everyone around you. Fatigue makes things worse. Sensory overload can really do a number on you. And there are the many, many emotional challenges that come with having to reconstruct your life after a traumatic brain injury.

So, what can you do? Are you just stuck — at the mercy of your mysterious brain, which may or may not agree to mend itself the way you want? Or is there something more that can be done, to address emotional lability?

I have been “on the bandwagon” with the idea of hormesis for some time — stressing your system slightly, so that it develops strengths to offset the stresses. Exercise is a form of hormesis, where you stress your body a bit, in order to develop strength or endurance. Vaccinations are also a type of hormesis, where a tiny bit of a disease is introduced to your system so it develops resistance to it. Also, there is the concept of “stress inoculation”, where you subject yourself to certain types of stress to teach your system to respond to it and overcome it. The book Stress for Success talks about that.

I think that fasting can be used as a way to foster greater emotional discipline (even control) in my life. I know that fasting has long been recommended (and mandated) by many religious faiths, to foster greater spiritual growth. Fasting and prayer are often combined, to bring a person closer to the God they worship. It is a challenging thing to do — go without food for a certain period of time — and it brings up a lot of emotions and insecurities and frustrations… the underbelly of your emotional life. So, combining it with a spiritual practice can be a powerful formula for personal growth.

I didn’t combine my fasting yesterday with any spiritual practice, other than lifting weights while I did slow, measured breathing. Basically, I really paid close attention to my state of mind and heart, and I was pretty vigilant about my reactions to things. I had a few minor flare-ups, but they were like little lessons that prompted me to adjust my mindset and activities, so I could be more balanced.

Intermittent fasting also helps the body to clear out the “sludge” of everyday living. It prompts elevated activity of organisms called Macrophages, which engulf and destroy bacteria and viruses and other junk that builds up in the course of everyday living. They literally eat dead or abnormal cells (anything with “-phage” at the end of its name eats something else — glucophages like Metformin eat glucose), and that does a body good.

Aside: You know, when I think about it, if there is a whole boatload of messed-up junk that floods your system after a TBI/concussion, and there’s all this sludge floating around in your system, wouldn’t it make sense for people to fast intermittently after concussion/TBI? Just thinking aloud…. Oh, after Googling the topic, I found this: Fasting is neuroprotective following traumatic brain injury.

Anyway, from an emotional standpoint, I think that intermittent fasting can become one of my important tools to fostering more stability. Just going without food for 24 hours or so puts me in a slightly stressed state — which I know will end soon. It both stresses me and un-pressurizes me, and it introduces a temporary change in my routine which I can learn to handle with greater success and ability each time I do it.

The first time I did short-term fasting was about five months ago, and it was pretty stressful for me. I figured it was not for me, thinking that if it didn’t work that one time, it was never going to work. Then I took another shot at it yesterday, and it went much better. Worlds better, in fact. And I didn’t regret it at all. Because I knew that it was going to be challenging for me, and I figured out some ways to handle myself better than I had the last time. I also got it through my thick head that my hunger wasn’t going to last forever, I knew I would be eating later that night, and I actually made it through the day without completely panicking.

This is all good news. And I think I am onto something. Because not only does fasting prompt the body to clean out the junk that’s been accumulating there, but it also gives me an opportunity to learn to manage my emotions better — within a controlled and limited context. I’m not looking at an eternity of emotional challenge. I’m just testing my limits a bit, to learn how to better handle my ups and downs.

I’m feeling a lot better about fasting, now that I’ve had a fairly successful run. And since I made a specific goal out of keeping an even keel during my fasting, yesterday, it gave me something to work towards. And it’s giving me a huge sense of reward and accomplishment (and I hope some much-needed dopamine), to know that I was able to get through that day without too much drama… and that I’ll be able to do it again sometime.

I don’t want to go overboard with this all, and I need to keep in within reasonable limits. Part of me wants to dive head-first into fasting every other day, but that would be completely impractical and set me up for failure, I’m sure. It would be too much, and going overboard and melting down would set me so far back. I think fasting for 24 hours once a month would do it. Maybe every other month. We’ll see when another good time comes up for me to do it — preferably when things are chilled out and mellow and I’m not all stressed out about my life in general.

I need to be smart about this — measured and cautious and deliberate. Because if I can do this properly and with good balance, it could turn out to be one of my building blocks for a continued positive trend in my life.

Onward.

So much for the Tyrosine supplement experiment

Yeah, thanks but no thanks.

A few days back, I bought some L-Tyrosine capsules to help my body produce more dopamine. I didn’t get the heavy-duty dosage. I wanted to keep things simple, for starters. In theory, it was a good idea, because I have really been feeling the burn of low energy and distractability and memory issues and sleep problems and a lot of other issues that can be related to low dopamine levels.

On top of that, I also learned that the part of the brain that produces dopamine is very vulnerable to concussions, so there we go… more reasons to supplement my system with a little extra.

I’ve been eating more foods that are high in L-Tyrosine, the amino acid which the body converts to dopamine. Bananas, peppermint tea, eggs, avocados… it’s been good. But even though I felt great, I thought I needed to boost just a little bit more, so I picked up a supplement to take.

I’ve been taking it for the pas three days, and today I have just not been feeling well. I feel weird, if anything — woozy and off, with a headache and lots of vertigo. I feel a bit like I’ve been drugged, which tends to happen with me and supplements. I’ve tried to take L-Carnitine in the past, to help with recovery from workouts, but that just didn’t work. It made me feel worse.

L-Tyrosine seems to have the same effect with me.

So, I’m stopping the extra supplementation and I’m focusing on the food. I hate feeling this crappy — especially when it’s my time off from work, and I have free rein to do what I please, however I please, whenever I please.

Well, whatever. I’m going to make myself some dinner and chill out. I’d rather focus on food, anyway, and not get into chemistry which may or may not work. I’ll take it easy tonight… read a bit and work on some finances stuff. Just chill out, while I can. The week is starting up tomorrow, and it’s time to ramp up for the new year. I have another day off work on Monday, then I work one day on Tuesday, then New Year’s Day comes on Wednesday. And then Thursday and Friday come down the pike, and it’s back into it the week after.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time figuring out new year’s resolutions and such. There’s no point to that. I know what I need to do, and I will just do it, regardless of the time of year. The things I want and need don’t have best-used-by expiration dates on them. And they don’t become more important just because of the calendar. I sometimes think of the new year as a fresh start, but it’s really no more of a fresh start than every day of my life. I have the ability to start fresh whenever, so that’s what I do.

But for now, it’s time to chill. And make some good food for dinner.

Onward.

Each year better than the last – I hope

Looking back… looking ahead

Now that Christmas and Hanukkah and Winter Solstice have all passed, it’s time to start looking ahead to the New Year. Kwanzaa is still underway till January 1, and the Seven Principles that mark this time give me good food for thought, even though I don’t actually celebrate it formally. Yuletide is also underway till January 1 (or the 13th, depending what part of the world you live in), allowing everything to just slow down for time to reflect and look ahead to the new year.

I’m celebrating the spirit of Yuletide more than any other holiday this season. It’s been a quiet time, without a lot of travel, and minimal racing around to take care of presents and what-not. If anything, I’ve been pretty neglectful of others, this holiday season. But you know what? They’ve been totally neglectful of me, too, so we’re even. If anything, the past years have been about me and my spouse doing a hell of a lot more for them than they did for us — doing more travel, making more of an effort, going out of our way to keep everyone aligned and on track with coordinating our holiday activities. This year, we haven’t done all that — and guess what… nobody picked up the slack. So there you go — they must not care that much, so… what-ever.

It’s time to us to take care of ourselves for once.

And we’ve done just that. I’ve been in a pretty low-key frame of mind since before Christmas — all the excitement of work notwithstanding — so, it’s been a very “Yule-like” time. Things have slowed down. I’ve allowed them to slow down. I’ve taken time OFF from all the sense of obligation and duty and required activities, to just rest and relax and not race around like a chicken with my head cut off, as I did in prior years. I’ve done energizing things that are good for me, and I’ve been eating lots of new foods that support me and my brain, as well. I’ve cooked up some pretty excellent dishes lately, if I say so myself, and my spouse says I’m becoming quite the chef 🙂

Looking back on the past year, it’s odd — I can remember bits and pieces of it, but I don’t get an overall sense of how the year was. I know it’s been challenging, and I’ve been actively looking for a new job for much of that time — especially in the past three months. At home, things have stabilized somewhat — with less undercurrents of stress and strain, but some extreme meltdowns that have taken a toll on my marriage. I’ve been through a lot of intense challenges with my spouse, including issues with money and infidelity and physically unhealthy choices. All in all, though, I think we’re on the up-swing, and taking time out from all the travel to see family, as well as me getting my own “house” in order, has benefited us a great deal.

I feel stronger and more stable than I have in a long time. Perhaps ever. And yet, there’s a constant sense of confusion and disorientation that is always in the background. I am more functional than I can remember being in a good long while, and the circumstances of my life are leveling out and becoming more “structurally sound”, but at the same time, I’m in a fair amount of general pain much of the time, I have tremors and shakes, and my brain is definitely not firing on all pistons. I feel like I’m maybe at 65% on a regular basis. 85% if I’m lucky.

And that makes me sad.

But I think perhaps I am acclimating to the instability. I’ve decided I’m going to just get on with my life, even though I can’t seem to get rid of the memory problems, the sleep difficulties, the constant sense of fatigue, confusion, distractability, getting things turned around, and getting lost and not knowing where I am for a few minutes at a time… and more.

My solution is to just keep going and not get sidetracked and depressed by what’s going on inside my head. If I can just keep going, keep working at things, and do my best to learn from my lessons and try again, this all doesn’t need to hold me back permanently. It might slow me down, but it’s not going to stop me.

I’m also coming to terms with the idea of not being Alpha in every situation at work — and beyond. At work, I have been long accustomed to being Alpha and being in a leadership position of some kind. But now that things are shifting and changing at work, I’m not sure if this is going to last. There are so many people at work who are a hell of a lot more possessed by the demons of blind ambition and greed, and I just can’t see competing with them around the clock. There’s all sorts of politicking — and if it takes politicking to get ahead, then I’m going to step back and not engage with that, and allow myself to simply be happy in the position where I am.

Now, I don’t for a minute expect that I’ll stay in that subordinate position for long, if I get the attention of the right people who recognize what I’ve got to offer. I do want to get ahead. I need a raise. I need a promotion. I need to really put what I know and have learned into action. But I need to be smart about it and not just charge forward into the gap, without understanding what’s ahead of me. If a promotion means I’m going to have to travel all over the world and not be home more than two weeks out of every month, then I’ll pass. There is that possibility. But who can say? Who can say…

Anyway, I can’t invest too much time and effort in thinking about what may be… inventing all sorts of dramatic stories about what that will mean for me. Who knows what will happen? I need to conserve my energy, because I continue to have some limiting difficulties — the headaches and the joint pain which suck a lot of energy from me… the confusion and disorientation that keep me guessing and demand even more energy from me to keep up and do my part… the vertigo and tinnitus that are just so damned distracting… and the attentional and distraction issues that interrupt what I’m doing with a regular dose of screw-ups.

I need to keep going, and in order to do that, I need to take good care of myself and also practice things that will keep me sharp and make me sharper, while not using up a lot of time.

  • Ride the exercise bike or move and stretch, first thing in the morning to get my blood pumping and clear out some of the sludge that’s built up. (10 minutes a day)
  • Practicing juggling one thing at a time, tossing it into the air, and then catching it.  I do this with my toothbrush each morning, to improve my eye-hand coordination and also my focus and attention. (1-2 minutes a day)
  • Working on my balance and leg mobility with exercises on a daily basis. (5 minutes a day)
  • Doing my measured breathing that regulates my heart rate and keeps me calm. (5-10 minutes a day)
  • Allowing myself to really, truly relax on a regular basis — just letting myself collapse into bed or on the couch, and letting the fatigue just wash over me. (The first few minutes when I go to bed)
  • Increase my dopamine levels by eating more foods with L-Tyrosine and also taking the supplement… and also taking Oil of Oregano, to keep my body from breaking down the dopamine and seratonin in my system. (In the regular course of my day.)
  • Drinking plenty of water to flush out the sludge.
  • Studying anatomy and physiology, to help me better understand the inner workings of my physical life — and how to improve my health.

All these things are really good for me — and I can work them into my daily routine. The biggest challenge is figuring out how to do them as a regular part of my life, without up-ending my routine. That is totally do-able, because I can find time when my breakfast is cooking, and I’d just be sitting around anyway.  I just need to do it. And I need to not just take things for granted, because I’ve been doing them a while and it feels like I don’t need to do them anymore.

That’s probably the biggest threat to my well-being in the new year — getting complacent and just assuming that “I’m good” and I don’t need to keep up my routines and activities. That state of “good” can rapidly decline, as I’ve learned time and time again.

So, as I look forward to the new year, I’m thinking about the basics. Focusing on that, and not making myself crazy with a whole lot of dramatic schemes and Big Plans, like I have in the past. I’m settling in, in a way, and it feels pretty good. I just can’t get complacent. Gotta keep working at it. Each day.

Well, speaking of working at things, I need to get a move on and get my ass in gear. I have some errands I need to run before everything closes for the day.

Onward.

Food fix for feeling better

This can help… the right food is never wrong.

So, I’ve been tweaking my daily diet somewhat, and I can already feel the difference. I’ve just been making some small changes — eating a banana each morning with my cup of coffee, eating nuts and other foods that are specifically for increasing the amino acid L-Tyrosine in my system, which can help improve my dopamine levels.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that’s connected with a “rush” of good feelings — the reward system in our brains and bodies. Having whacked-out dopamine levels (either very low, or when your system is desensitized to it) is tied to attentional issues, as well as drug addiction, pain, and Parkinsons. And since the part of the brain that produces a bunch of dopamine — the substantia nigra (Latin for “dark matter” because it’s darker than the surrounding tissue) — is particularly vulnerable to concussion, then it makes sense to me that that might apply to me.

I’ve had a bunch of those, after all.

And while I can’t confirm for sure that I’ve got low dopamine levels (you need a blood test from a doctor do do that), I know that having low dopamine levels is a problem I need to address proactively, whether I have specific confirmation or not. Hell, I have a bunch of symptoms that correlate with low dopamine levels.

Over at Livestrong, there’s an article about foods that increase dopamine and serotonin levels. It says this:

Low dopamine levels can cause depression, a loss of satisfaction, addictions, cravings, compulsions, low sex drive and an inability to focus.

Check, check, check, and more checks on each of those.

Also, another article describes how dopamine levels affect things like cognition, memory, attention, movement/coordination, social functioning, and pain. (read it here)

Now, what to do about it? Returning to Livestrong, It says this:

Tyrosine is another important amino acid (a building block of protein) found in dairy products, meats, poultry and nuts. It encourages your brain to release dopamine and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters act as stimulating substances to the brain and can help perk you up by making you feel more alert and sharpening your thinking. In addition to meats and dairy products, other specific tyrosine-rich foods that help increase dopamine levels are almonds, avocados, bananas, lima beans, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds.

And that interests me even more, because some of the meds they give folks with attentional issues increase both dopamine and norepinephrine levels in brain.

So, if I can increase the Tyrosine levels in my system, that might get my dopamine levels up — meats, poultry, nuts… specifically, almonds, avocados, bananas, lima beans, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds (and more that I’m finding listed online under “dopamine diets”), and my body is still doing what it’s supposed to do… then I should be able to improve my dopamine and norepinephrine levels, and create pretty much the same results that meds will.

Maybe even better — because my own body will be doing it at the rate that I need it to.

So, I’ve been giving myself regular food fixes for the past few days — having an egg, first thing in the morning, as well as a banana (eggs and bananas are both high in Tyrosine)… eating nuts and blueberries, apples, and prunes, as well as drinking peppermint tea instead of coffee. I’m also exercising more regularly, to get things moving.

I have to say, I’m feeling better already. And I don’t have as persistent a fog over me that keeps me from knowing when I’m tired. The last few days that I’ve been having a banana and eating nuts and fruit during the day, I’ve really felt good. Later I’m going to go out and see if I can get some supplements that are supposed to help me further — some straight Tyrosine, as well as oil of oregano (which is supposed to slow down the degradation and re-uptake of both dopamine and serotonin). I know there’s always the chance of me overdoing things, so I need to be careful. But if I keep things simple, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to make even more progress.

For the time being, I’m going to focus primarily on foods — cooking up nutritious alternatives that not only taste good, but ARE good. I’m going to keep on with the research and experimentation, and I’m going to pick up more varied foods which are supposed to help. I’m hoping this will also help my spouse, who has their own set of issues which appear to be directly related to dopamine levels, as well. In fact, in some ways, I’d say they have even more serious issues than I — and I might be able to really help them with the right foods in the right amounts.

Anyway, it’s worth a try. And I’ve got plenty of time to experiment, too. So, onward.

 

 

 

Free time ahead

Just imagine the possibilities…

Yesterday was the first day of my week-long vacation. I had a great Christmas – and I hope everyone else out there had a very merry time, too, whatever you may celebrate. It’s been a while, since I’ve had this much time free — with no added excitement, no outside obligations, no drama planned.

My last week-long vacation was a total bust, because of visitors and guests who overstayed their welcome and needed to be managed. Now I have a week at home with a whole lot of time to do the things I would like to do — as well as some things I need and have been wanting to do, but haven’t had the time to focus on, lately.

I also have some time to rest up and gather my strength for the New Year. There are big organizational changes happening at work, and I may be in an excellent position to actually do some real work, this coming year. After more than three years of not being recognized and not being well utilized in my job, I finally have gotten the attention of people who know where I come from and appreciate my experience and abilities.

And that’s a far cry from where I’ve been. It changes everything. It puts everything in a new light, and it really ups the ante for me getting my act together. I’ve really struggled in a lot of ways, over the past years, trying to get myself back on track and re-integrated into work that suits me. In the job I had before this, I overstepped my bounds a great deal, and I pushed too hard before I was ready to do the job I was given. I floundered and fumbled and stumbled a lot, and that took a toll on my self-esteem.

Over the past 3-1/2 years, I’ve led a sort of dumbed-down existence that I’ve really struggled with. I knew I was better, I knew I had done much better and much more complex work before. The thing was — and I can see that, looking back now — I wasn’t ready to get back to it. I just wasn’t. I had a lot of patching up to do, yet, with my brain and my attention issues and my ability to read and write, along with my moods and my behavior control.

Now things are actually very different with me. I have improved by leaps and bounds, and I have really made substantial progress in keeping my sh*t together… and now I’m ready to move forward again — to get back to where I was, professionally, before my last TBI. I have a much better grasp on my behavior and moods, and I have more supporting pieces of my life in place now, than I have in many years. I have friends I can talk to about things. I have a couple of “independent ear” types of folks I see regularly for counseling of one sort or another. And I have a much better understanding of my inner emotional landscape and how to manage it, than I have in many, many years — maybe ever.

Plus, the logistical hardships of my life have really worked themselves out — the past three years have been sheer hell, when it comes to just keeping my head above water. But now that I’ve sorted out a hell of a lot of debt, and I’ve corrected errors in my tax filings, things are loosening up, and I can see a light ahead — and it’s not an oncoming train ;).

So, things are freeing up. And for the next week, I’ve got a ton of free time. I can go for those long walks in the woods I’ve been wanting to take. I can sleep as much as I like, whenever I like. I can experiment with some new recipes. And I can take time to reflect on the past year, to see how far I’ve come, and where I hope to go next. I have time. Time to visit libraries. Time to research. Time to cook. Time to do things at a leisurely pace, and just let it all sink in. There’s no need to rush — unless I want to pick up the pace. There’s no hurry, there’s no strain. It feels like it’s all coming together, and this week is a precious, precious opportunity to spend some time just catching up with myself without the specter of constant fatigue dragging me down.

I think the food piece is what excites me the most. More and more, I’m really getting into cooking. It does wonders for my sequencing and time management skills, and it gives me a reward at the end of it all. It’s also doing wonders for my health, as I try new things with new foods, and tweak my diet a bit to include more dopamine-producing foods. I’ve been making small changes in my diet, in order to boost my dopamine levels, and already I’m feeling better.

After only a few days. Pretty amazing, actually.

Maybe it’s the excitement that comes from learning that I actually can improve my neurotransmitter levels with different types of foods (most of which I love and can eat). Maybe it’s the energy I get from learning new things and putting them into action in ways that show results very quickly. It’s probably all of the above. In any case, it feeds me on so many levels, and I’m sure that does wonders for my dopamine levels.

Which is where I’m really focusing, these days. Watching The Crash Reel and learning that Kevin Pearce is snowboarding again (after a snowboarding accident nearly killed him and gave him a pretty intense brain injury), has got me thinking a whole lot about what drives us to continue to do the kinds of dangerous things that get us into trouble in the first place. What’s our motivation? What’s that driving need all about?

And when I think about it, I come to a number of conclusions:

  • that doing the kinds of things that nearly get us killed can be an important part of our identity and self-image… and without them, who are we?
  • that we really really need  that rush, that push, that fix, in order to feel like ourselves again
  • that there’s a built-in mechanism for producing that rush, that’s a critical part of who we are
  • that it’s possible to recreate that rush, in one way, shape or form, so that we don’t have to put our lives in danger to feel like ourselves again

These conclusions didn’t come overnight — they’ve been years in the making. And I’ve never been able to fully get away from thinking about them. Because I know that my behavior tends to the risky side. I know that my life sometimes hangs in the balance, based on how I’m feeling on any given day. And I don’t want to die or end up in jail. I’m not arrogant or unseasoned enough to believe that “it can’t happen to me” — I know it can. I know it has. Almost. And I don’t want to go there again.

So, I need to find a better way to get back to feeling like my old self again. I need to find a new way to live.

And having the next week off is going to give me time to experiment with some approaches in a quiet, uninterrupted way, that lets me think clearly and not be constantly distracted by a lot of spurious stimuli.

It’s going to be interesting, of course, because the last few times I had time off to “just relax”, I cycled through a series of blow-ups and melt-downs that took a pretty intense toll on my spouse and me. But things are different this time. Because I’m being much more deliberate about managing my “inner state” — and I’m doing concrete things to improve my state, like eating foods to boost my dopamine, working on projects I really enjoy, and planning regular exercise and rest times, each day.

Speaking of exercise, it’s time for a long walk. I don’t have to be anywhere, I don’t have to go anywhere in particular. The point is just to go… come back… and relax into my day.

Onward.

Diving into my brain

Check out what’s in there…

Time to break out the old MRI again. About five years ago, I had a series of weird experiences that other people assured me were seizures. I honestly didn’t know what to think — my eyes would start jumping rhythmically back and forth, I couldn’t keep them focused on any one thing at a time, and I had these extreme and overwhelming floods of emotion that really leveled me. I even went blind for a few minutes, one afternoon while I was spending time with family.

After talking to a bunch of folks, including epilepsy doctors, I had an MRI and an EEG, and nothing came back definitive, other than a pineal cyst — which is common in the general population. About 40% of autopsies uncover a pineal cyst, but it doesn’t seem to make a ton of difference in quality of life, other than headaches and other issues in extreme cases. My pineal cyst was fairly small, so the doctor just told me to keep an eye on it and get re-scanned every couple of years to make sure it’s not getting worse.

I haven’t been back since, as I’m not having any symptoms or issues that seem worth the trouble. Also, the contrast agent they pump into you to make things light up made me sick, and there have been lots of reports of bad side-effects, so no thanks.

Anyway, reading about dopamine and how it’s produced in the body and the parts of the brain that are involved, I’ve dug up the old MRI files to look at, and it’s as fascinating as ever. The thing is, my brain doesn’t look like the textbook images — I must have lay on my back a lot as a baby, because the back of my head is flattened and the cerebellum is pushed forward and up. I have found other images on Google that look like me – and we certainly don’t look like what’s in the Netter’s anatomy book I have.

Fascinating. Not that this means there is anything wrong – it’s just different.

So, anyway, I’m looking at the physical structure of the brain, trying to see where all the action takes place. There’s a ton of stuff going on in there – it’s hard to distinguish between the different pieces, based on my limited knowledge, but I guess the most important thing is that everything is intact — and I have the capacity to explore and question and discover for myself.

That, in itself, gives me a rush, which is exactly what I need.

I need a rush that is for something meaningful and useful. For years, I devoted hours and hours of my time to activities that just took the pressure off and distracted me from what was really going on — writing for hours and hours in journals which never served any useful purpose, other than providing a rhythmic, solitary activity that would soothe my jangled nerves… studying history and obscure facts in order to better understand life around me (had limited success with that)… and drifting from one project to the next, each time convinced that I was going to hit the big time and make a fortune, then dropping each undertaking in due course because I got bored or it didn’t pan out the way I expected. I was really quite aimless — in large part because I only wanted to take the pressure off my head and my heart… not actually do anything with my life.

I suppose it was good for something. The interests and the discipline I developed over the years have stood me in good stead, with researching my TBI issues and figuring out how to address them. So, it wasn’t all for naught. But I spend a whole lot of time doing a whole lot of nothing — mainly because I just needed to take the edge off my anxiety and depression and low energy levels.

Now I’m able to focus that attention and activity in a productive direction. And getting the hang of tweaking my dopamine levels and increasing my general feelings of well-being, is just the ticket. It’s fascinating to me, and that can’t hurt.

So, the day is waiting. The brain is an enormous domain that’s full of all manner of fascinating areas and abilities. Looking at the anatomy can be overwhelming, but when I think about the dynamics of it — just how it works, and how I can better use it — a lot of it makes more sense.

Time to dive back in and get fascinated again.

Onward.

Hacking the dopamine drought

Food should feel good

So, I did some research on the medication my neuropsych has recommended, if I can’t get my irritability under control. It’s a dopaminergic substance that supposedly takes the edge off fatigue-based irritability and can keep me from freaking out over every little thing.

That’s fine, but I would rather manage this without pharmaceuticals, really.

Now, I have nothing against people using meds when necessary. I believe they can save lives.The thing with me is that I don’t think my irritability is so extreme or beyond my control that I have to have a medication to chill. And I am deeply concerned that relying on a medication will decrease my innate ability to cope, making things even worse, if I go off the med. I don’t want to be that dependent – especially if there is the chance that I may not have access to the meds for ever and all time. I could lose my job and lose my benefits, and end up without needed medications, and then what would I do?

Not good.

Also, if the core issue is fatigue as well as a problem with low dopamine levels in my brain, that’s something I believe I can fix on my own. I can “hack” into this system — as in, figure out how things work, understand the inner workings of it (like you’d figure out the inner workings of a computer program) — and then design a better solution, using tips and tricks picked up here and there to fine-tune the overall system to work better.

I did some research, and it seems pretty clear to me that one of my big issues is low dopamine levels. I haven’t been tested, so I can’t say for sure, but the way my neuropsych talks about it – and the way I am reading information – it sounds like that is a core issue with me. Too little dopamine in my system can lead to depression, irritability, weight gain, a feeling of blah-ness, etc. Not much fun at all.

So, to up my dopamine levels, I am focusing on diet and exercise and a supplement (an amino acid) called L-Tyrosine, which the body converts to dopamine. Ripe bananas and eggs are a good source of L-Tyrosine, and beets, almonds, avodados, meat, fish, and artichokes also help boost dopamine.

There’s a whole bunch of foods I can eat, to help my body produce more dopamine, so that’s what I’m going to focus on, rather than pharmaceuticals. I’m just going to have to be pretty deliberate about it, and also watch myself to see how it is working.

Also exercise. I’m not getting enough of it — so I ran stairs today at work — up and down four flights… twice. It actually felt really good to do it — wore me out a bit, but it’s a small price to pay. Plus, it took the edge off my antsy-ness, which was helpful.

I’m also working on my rewards system. Dopamine is connected with rewards and that sense of fulfillment and excitement that comes along with it. Frankly, my rewards system is for shit — I never really developed a good sense of rewards, so that’s something I need to work on, as well.

I don’t know how I’ll do it, but I’ll figure something out.

But for now, it’s all about the food, baby.

Onward.