That food craving… Yeah, I guess it’s a migraine…

How my head feels, about now.
How my head feels, about now.

So, all last week, I was starving. All the time. I could not seem to eat enough, and I chronically over-ate at dinners. I was thinking it’s just the winter blues, and a way to keep my energy up. But it was most unusual, and unlike other times when I have been able to fight cravings (or just ignore them), I could not seem to resist that gnawing hunger.

Fortunately, I did not give in to the junk food cravings. I just ate more than usual, with extra trail mix, dark chocolate, non-dairy yogurt, and fruit. I really wanted to go to town on the chips and other snacks, but I managed to keep that at bay.

A few days ago, a headache started. It was “just” a throbbing on the top and front of my head, but I also had some tingling on the left side of my face, and my left eye was weeping a fair amount. I thought maybe it was a sinus infection, but my sinuses have been clear, so…

Now I’ve got a throbbing headache. Accompanied by nausea. And shakiness. Weakness. And sensitivity to light and noise. I lay down and took a nap, earlier today, and when I woke up, I was worse.

That’s how these things often go — I’m actually worse after I take a nap, which truly sucks.

Anyway, my weekend is pretty much clear of any obligatory running around, so I can take a load off and just relax for a few days. A dark room is my friend. But that’s hard, because all I really want to do is read up on some papers I downloaded, and do a bit of thinking and writing about them.

Knowing me, I’ll probably do it, anyway. I’ve been living productively with nauseating and half-crippling headaches for years. I had a nice respite for a few months, there, but now they’re back — and it feels worse now, because I know what it’s like to not have them.

Funny how that goes… So, whatever.

Drink my water. Take a little Advil just to make a statement — sometimes if I take two doses of a couple of them a couple hours apart, they have some effect. But usually, they don’t.

Oh, well.

Onward.

Sleep, work, eat, live… rinse and repeat

Get the right stuff — to your health!

I was flying solo last evening, moving at my own pace and enjoying having the house to myself. I watched a bit of t.v., then realized what a huge waste of time it was. I hate watching t.v. alone. So, I got online and started doing some research. One thing led to another, and eventually I looked at the clock and it was nearly 1 a.m.

And here I’d planned on getting to be early…

Well, it’s no biggie, because I took care of most of my chores yesterday, so I would have today free. I have a full day ahead of me, pretty much wide open without a lot of stuff I have to do. I’m thinking of taking a long walk. I exercised this morning on the stationary bike. Worked up a good sweat and got my blood pumping. That was helpful.

Yesterday was a pretty good day. I got some work done around the house, I went for a short bike ride, and I had a nice nap in the afternoon. I could have slept longer, but I didn’t want to wreck my sleeping schedule by sleeping too long.

We see how that worked out.

In any case, my goal today is to stay active enough this morning to tire myself out early this afternoon and have another nap to make up for the lost hours — and not sleep so late in the day that I wake up at 7:30 like I did last night.

That clearly does not work.

I’m also looking forward to lying in bed and reading. I’ve really gotten into a lot of reading, these days, now that I can. I’ve missed it. And I’ve also missed being able to read narratives — fiction and real-life. For years, the only thing that held my attention was scientific papers. That’s fine, if you’re a scientist and understand everything in them, but I’m not — and I didn’t. At least it was something to read. And I was under the impression that I “got it” in some way.

Whatever. It did me a lot of good. It got me reading in small chunks that seemed to make sense to me, and that were informative and very motivating.

Now I’m reading fiction. I read while I’m on the exercise bike — it gets my mind off how incredibly BORING riding an exercise bike is, plus it gets my brain engaged, along with my body. I’ve been able to ride longer and also read more, thanks to this combination. It’s really a brilliant solution to what can be prohibitive. Plus, I’m reading real-life stories (or fiction that’s based on real life), so there’s a reason for me to pay attention to what I’m reading.

I’m learning a lot in the process — mainly about how people go about their everyday lives in foreign countries. It’s like a vacation from my current life, which is really a nice break from that crazy old global deal I used to be in. I don’t have to be on European AND Asian time zones all the time, but I actually miss the variety… So, I read about those places, watch Anthony Bourdain, and think about cooking food.

I’m seriously considering taking up more active cooking. I do most of the cooking at home, because my spouse isn’t up to it. And over the past years, it’s been pretty much maintenance cooking — just getting the basics on the stove, with reliable, predictable, dependable recipes that don’t have a whole lot of excitement to them.

I think I need to change things up a bit — especially because it now feels like I’m/we’re just eating to get food in our stomachs, rather than really enjoy what we’re eating. I need some different tastes, and some different textures. I also need us to eat a wider variety of fresh vegetables. It’s summer, for heaven’s sake. Now is the time to get fresh fruits and veggies. The more organic, the better — the less chemical taste to them, the better, that is.

Food is becoming my favorite vice… or rather my salvation. Cooking does wonders for my sense of timing and pacing — my sequencing — as well as my frustration tolerance. On top of it, when done properly, a well-cooked meal feeds all the senses, which is incredibly good for the brain.

It’s the kind of activity I can really get behind. It does the body, brain, and spirit a whole lot of good.

Time to make a shopping list…

Tired, but still feeling good

A vastly better cup of coffee

Something has really turned around for me. I have been noticing it recently – I have not felt that same bone-crushing fatigue that used to just Wipe. Me. Out. I used to feel so awful, if I had not had enough sleep — even if I did get enough sleep, I still felt awful. It was like I was constantly running on fumes.

But ever since I started drinking coffee with grass-fed butter and MCT oil in it, it hasn’t felt that way. I can feel tired, sure, but not like I’ve been flattened by a steamroller. And when I do feel tired, I’m able to take myself to bed more easily.

Each morning, I start my day with this special mix of coffee — I call it rocket fuel. It’s pretty phenomenal. And it seems to really be affecting me for the better. I’ve also been taking some capsules that have butter oil and cod liver oil in them — more oils the body needs. In fact, there have been documented cases of people literally coming back from their deathbeds, thanks to that combination of butter oil and cod liver oil.

That’s kind of how I feel. Like I’m back from the dead. I feel like I’m actually capable of participating in my everyday life, even though I’m behind on my sleep. In fact, I don’t feel like I’m behind on my sleep at all.  I mean, I know I have not gotten a full 8 hours of sleep, and I know that I should, and I’m dragging a bit (sometimes.a lot) now and then, but it’s not that old killer exhaustion that just fried me like nobody’s business.

Plus, even when I’m tired, I’m still thinking more clearly than I have in a long time.

And it makes me think that when it comes to brain injury recovery, good nutrition — especially getting the nutrients your brain and body need for energy — is key. Without the proper nutrition and sources of energy for your brain and body, how the hell are you going to heal and improve? Brain training is all very well and good — I love doing it. But if my brain doesn’t have the proper support to make those changes and physically alter itself for the better, building up different synapses and connections, then WTH?

Why even bother?

And that’s the thing that has really eluded me, all these years — the proper nutrition that zeroed in on the specific needs I had that were not being met — certain kinds of oils and fats that my body and brain needs for energy. For so long, I relied on carbs to keep me going. Carbs and sugar and unhealthy fats.  That, in my opinion, is the biggest culprit that prevents TBI recovery — poor nutrition that puts you on a physical and emotional roller-coaster, and keeps your mind and body stressed for the sake of cheap energy.

That energy always goes away. It always disappears. We have trained ourselves — individually and as a group — to revel in eating and drinking that cheap energy that weakens us, instead of making us stronger. It literally is killing us, in so many, many ways. And it’s keeping a lot of us from getting better from the things that are doing us in.

It’s funny — I’m sure that I’ve heard a lot of people say this, over the years. But not until I had the personal experience myself, did it sink in. Having other people tell me things just isn’t the same as me experiencing things for myself. I have a kind of “expert filter” that’s hyper-active, because in our marketing-driven world, where everyone is selling something, and everyone is billed as an expert in one thing or other, I tend to actively discount their input. It’s all very well and good for someone to present themself as very knowledgeable in certain areas, and hearing what they say can be compelling. But unless I can have the experience myself and find something that works for me, all their expertise doesn’t impress me terribly much.

Or maybe it’s because I’ve been knocking around on the planet long enough to know lots of things for myself.

Anyway, whatever the reason, I rely on my own experience. And I’ve got plenty.

My most recent experience has to do with simply feeling better.

Getting a new bed. Drinking my rocket-fuel coffee in the morning. Juggling. Doing my brain training exercises. Cutting out sugar and carbs. Eating right. Eating less. Intermittent fasting. Doing all these things to support my physical health has really improved the state of my brain and mind. It’s all good.

And I feel a lot less tired. It’s amazing. I know I’m tired. I’m just not wiped out and really struggling like I have been for years. I have energy. I’m alert. And even when I know I am tired and feel it, it’s not killing me like it used to. It’s just there, and I can function anyway.

Oh, sure – there are those times when I am really struggling with fatigue. Yesterday I had to step away and sleep for 20 minutes. I was completely wiped out by mid-afternoon. But I was able to actually remove myself from my work space and chill, without getting all tangled up in a foggy brain and indecision.

I knew what I had to do, and I did it.

There it is.

The day is waiting. ON-ward.

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.

The magic of the right foods

You know, for years, I thought that my “mental health” issues were all about what went on in my head and my heart. I thought that the depressions I experienced, and the wild mood swings, and the general discontent with my life had to do with some sort of character defect or somesuch.

I got a lot of reinforcement from others for this, too. According to them, if I wasn’t feeling well in my head and my heart, it must be some psychospiritual malady. (I guess it comes with the territory of having lots of therapists for friends.)

Then I had a bad health scare, when someone close to me was hospitalized — out of the blue — with a pretty serious health issue. The crazy thing was, their health issue was totally preventable and it had developed largely as a result of plain old crappy lifestyle choices. Sitting up till 3 a.m. eating chips and cookies and drinking soda, and then sleeping in till 3 p.m., when they would starve themself all day and then eat a huge meal before sitting down in front of the t.v., seemed like a great thing to them… and to be honest, I didn’t think much of it — I just figured that’s how they were — until they ended up lying in a hospital bed in one of those gowns that doesn’t close in the back, with lots of tubes sticking out of them.

We both made some drastic changes. And I credit that crisis with having clued me in to my TBI issues.

How? Because I quit eating all that crap. Granted, I wasn’t up till 3 a.m. every night, chowing down on non-foods, but I took in more than my fair share of candy and cakes and cookies and chips and junk and soda and all those different sorts of “food products” that really gunk up your system. I also drank milk and had anywhere from 4-6 cups of coffee a day. I was constantly going, fueled by processed sugar and cheap carbs and caffeine, and when I crashed, I crashed hard — wiped out and still wired and not sleeping very well.

A lot of my craziest eating really took off after my most recent fall. I had trouble getting going in the morning, so I fell back on sugar and carbs and caffeine to pick me up. And I had trouble relaxing, so I just pushed myself till I dropped. I really depended on the sugar highs, the cheap carb highs, the jolt of coffee and coffee drinks (no Red Bull for me, thanks – I could never stand the taste). And it totally wreaked havoc with my system.

I just kept putting on pounds. Not a ton of weight, but a pound here, a pound there, till about 1/5 of my weight was nothing but fat. To some people that might not seem like a lot, and since I have a tall frame, it didn’t show on me that much, when I was fully clothed. But appearances aside, I just felt like crap.

And I couldn’t figure out why. I knew, in the back of my head, that I should be eating better, but I wasn’t sick all the time, so I must be okay, right?

Well, judging your health by whether or not you’re mortally ill is a lousy way to judge. It wasn’t until I stopped all the junk, started eating regular meals that made good nutritional sense, that I realized just how lousy I’d felt before. Lousy and foggy. What’s more, in the past, when my blood sugar was on a wild see-saw from all that junk food, and my adrenaline was really pumping with all that caffeine, I’d literally been blinded to how bad I actually felt and now much of a negative impact that bad eating had on my thinking and my behavior.

Once I quit chowing down on the junk, a couple of things started to happen:

I started to notice that something was not quite right in my life, and I was having trouble with things that I shouldn’t have been having trouble with (like money and reading and managing my day-to-day).

I realized that if I could notice something was wrong, I could do something about it. I started taking steps to identify and remedy the situations I was in — and in the process of noticing more and more of my issues, I put 2 and 2 together and realized that my fall in 2004 had totally screwed me up…. and that this wasn’t the first time I’d fallen or had my head injured in a way that messed me up for some time after.

While I was still pumped and primed with all that junk, I just raced through life, careening here and there, making a mess of things, but never stopping long enough to really examine what was going on.

Once I stopped the junk and started eating in ways that supported my body and my mind, I was able to commence the very difficult work of piecing my fractured life back together.

If I hadn’t stopped the crappy eating, I’m not sure where I’d be.

Good food was literally — in more ways than one — a lifesaver.