Starving today

bone with gristle on itI’m hungry today. As in, ravenous. I had my usual breakfast egg with some coffee, but that wasn’t nearly enough. So, I finished off a sandwich I’d made yesterday. I’m still hungry. This feels like the start of a migraine coming on, when everything feels weird and trippy, and I’m hungrier than usual.

It wouldn’t surprise me, if that were the case. It would make perfect sense, in fact.

Yesterday was a long day. I had to work, starting at 6 a.m., then I had to run some overdue errands. I had to prep for a trip to the next state, where my spouse and I were attending an art show by our friend who is literally on their deathbed. We were all hoping they’d be there, but they couldn’t make it.

Dying takes precedence. Especially doing it well.

I’ve had a lot of people pass in and out of my life. Death was a regular visitor to my family, when I was growing up. That’s what you get when you have a large family and you stay in touch with a wide array of second and third cousins (many of them once or twice removed). Grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends of the family… every year or so, somebody who meant something to me died, while I was growing up.

So, yeah, I have some familiarity with loss.

Plus, a lot of people have come in and out of my life through job changes, relocations, and just the usual migrations of people in these times. Whenever someone moved away, never to be seen or heard from again (this was pre-internet times), it was just as if they’d died. And that happened to me a lot.

It’s happened so much, that when people die, I don’t have the same level of devastation that others do. To me, dying is a mystery — which I’m not qualified to understand completely. I leave it up to The Great Almighty to work out. I don’t believe in hell, anymore, so I’m not really torn up when people die, thinking they might burn in fire and brimstone for all eternity. I tend to think of death more as a transition to a different state of being. The body dissolves, but it continues on. We’re breathing air that contains tiny bits of Beethoven, from what I’ve heard.

Anyway, yesterday was a marathon of sorts. I didn’t realize how tired I was, until I’d done my mid-day errands and had my shower… then started to crash. But there was no time to crash. I had to keep going. The 90-minute drive to where we were going took 2 hours (because my spouse forgot some stuff and we had to improvise & make stops at stores along the way). And when we got there, I couldn’t find parking. I couldn’t even find the venue where the art show was… it was really disorienting, and I was tired, so that was exciting.

I did find the place, though, and the evening commenced with way more social activity than I’ve seen in quite some time. I saw a number of people I used to hang out with a lot, and I did a lot more talking to like-minded people than I do on a daily basis. It was a very artsy crowd, which was a very different “feel” than the mainstream suburbanites I’m usually around. It wasn’t better, it wasn’t worse, it was just different. And doing “different” takes effort for me.

The ride home was trippy, too. I was even more out-of-it than I was driving there, and I nearly ran a red light. But we got home safe and sound, and I got in bed at a fairly decent hour. Slept like a rock. Strange dreams, though. To be expected.

Anyway, I have another full day ahead of me — a bunch of stuff to do this morning, then I crash this afternoon. All afternoon. The plan is to have a hot-hot shower at 1 p.m., then go back to bed and not set an alarm. Just sleep.

And that’s what it takes: a good balance between doing and not-doing, between going and resting. I’m at my best, when I’m hyper-engaged and keeping really busy doing things that matter to me. I haven’t done as much of that in the past couple of years, as I would have liked to. For some reason, everything felt like it was stacked against me, and no matter what I tried, nothing really worked out. But now this sense has unaccountably changed, and I’m feeling more optimistic and practically directed, than I have been in a while. It feels pretty good. I just need to remember to take good care of myself. When I’m starting to get signs of a migraine, take some time off to recover… and then get back into the flow with a good balance of what-is and what-will-be.

It’s always a balance, and now that feels even more important.

I’ve got stuff to do. I’ve got a life to live. There’s nothing like having someone close to you die, to remind you of how short life can be, and how important it is to bring your best to each and every day.

Duly noted.

Now, it’s time for another glass of water.

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What went right today

Today was a pretty good day.

I woke up early – around 4 a.m., which is never good. But things got better after that. I listened to my relaxation MP3s and I managed to get 2 more hours of sleep, which was great. I was having weird dreams, though — something about walking around someone else’s house, and having my car stolen… and not being able to find my way back to where I was supposed to be.

I had some early meetings, then I had another meeting around noon. Then I had the afternoon to focus on getting some work done, and it was pretty productive.

I even had 20 minutes to step away and do my breathing/relaxation, which was good.

All in all, it was a good day. And I even got my weekly acupuncture in, as well.

One of the things that made today especially good, was that I fasted today. I did about a 22 hour fast — from 9:30 last night till 7:30 tonight. I felt good all day. I didn’t suffer terribly with hunger, the way I have in my previous two fasts (it was pretty rough at times). And even when I felt hungry, it wasn’t that panicked kind of voraciousness that made me feel like I was going to die, if I didn’t get something to eat.

This is good. I just realized I was hungry, and I got my mind off it. Did other things.

One of the nice things about fasting, is that it saves me time in the day. If I have a lot to do, it saves me at least 2-3 hours in the day, that I’d normally spend planning on eating, getting something to eat, and then eating. It also kept me more awake all day.

Plus, when I’m hungry, I know I can get difficult. So, I paid an extra amount of attention to my mood and my behavior, and I kept it together extremely well.

Today was a very good day. After the past week or so, I’m due 🙂

 

 

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.

Timing matters

So, Monday evening I decided I was going to fast on Tuesday. I worked from home, and I had a busy day planned to catch up on some of my projects at the end of the day. The plan was to save the commute time and have that time for finishing up some things I’ve been working on, and also give my body a break from the food it’s been having. I’ve been having some stomach trouble and I haven’t been feeling very good, and I felt like I needed a break from it all.

Well, fasting during high-pressure times is definitely not the thing for me. Some folks I know fast during holy months like Lent and Ramadan, and I’m not sure how they do it. They are allowed to eat before sunrise and after sunset, but still… It’s pretty tough.

So, yesterday, after being in a fog all day and not getting nearly as much done as I intended, I ate something at 3:50, and I immediately started to feel better and revive. I finished off one of the tasks that had boggled my mind all day, and I had a very productive evening. All in all, it ended okay.

The most okay thing about it, was realizing what doesn’t work for me. I have to pick my fasting times carefully. I do like to fast intermittently for a day (no longer than that, as it doesn’t make sense in my case), and it does do me a world of good. But I have to plan these things and take care of myself in the process.

On the bright side, I did drink a lot of water, which was good for me. And I got some exercise, which was also good. On the whole, I felt pretty energized for the first half of the day. But I was still in a fog. Then after noon, I really started to drag.

So, while fasting is good for your health and it does me some good, I need to be smart about it and recognize my limits. This is one of those cases where “no limits” doesn’t apply. Smart and fed is better than foggy and proving a point to myself.

 

Spending time on the things that matter most

Time flies – Use it well

It’s turning out to be a beautiful day. I got to bed early last night — around 10 — and I was up at 5:30, after lying in bed resting (and observing my head getting going) for about half an hour. I’m working on getting myself out of bed whenever I am awake (or my head is awake) and not just lying there. I did try to focus on my breathing and just relax, which was fine, but my head was up and ready to go… so up I got, too.

Then I had some breakfast — not the kind of big breakfast I had been building up to over the past months… somehow my portions were getting a little bigger each week, and I was starting to drink 2 cups of coffee in the morning, instead of one. Yesterday, when I cut back and just had a small cuppa joe and an apple, I actually felt really great all morning — started to get a little antsy around lunchtime, and then was increasingly on edge by the end of the day (pro’lly as much due to running out of steam as being hungry). So, I went with the minimalist approach and kept to a strict 3/4 cup of granola, some rice milk, and a cup of coffee that was not splashing over the brim.

I’ve got two whole days ahead of me — praise be. And I got a whole lot done yesterday. I know, because I sat down with my list after I had my breakfast and looked over the whole slew of things I wrote down that I had to do. Sure enough, I accomplished everything that had to be done — and then some. I exercised… I picked up my package from the post office (alas, it was not the exact item I thought I had purchased, which is actually fine, because now I know what to look out for)… I went to the bank to deposit a check… I went online and moved some money around to cover bills I have had to pay which have not been drawn against my account just yet… I checked on the due date for a very important expense I have coming up in another month or so… I bought a new window fan to replace the one that died in the bathroom… I tended to my lawn and took in the barrel of weeds that I filled up last weekend, and then forgot about so it was standing beside the front porch for the past three days, getting all funky in the hot, wet weather… and then I took my nap. And in between all these things, I also did some research for one of my projects, pricing items at hardware stores and learning my way around towns that are near where I live, but I normally don’t spend much time in.

Not bad for a day’s work. By the end of the day, I was done. Baked at 9:30 p.m., which felt pretty great — except that my spouse was keen on me staying up with them till 2 a.m. watching movies, which is about the last thing I needed. After a testy conversation about how much I need sleep and how I’m not really interested in staying up till 2 a.m. because I really need to keep on a regular sleep schedule, I managed to extricate myself from the living room and crawl into bed for a good night’s rest. I was concerned that I might be too sore to fall asleep, but I had no trouble with that. I did wake up before 5 in a sweat with shooting pains in my lower back and legs (all that bending and standing work on the lawn does a number on me), but when I focused on breathing and relaxing, it subsided, so that was good.

Nothing like starting the day with shooting pains… as much as I wanted to just get up when I woke up, at least this way, I started the day without too much anguish.

And then I had my breakfast… a small-scale, nutritious start that tasted all the better because I went without, yesterday. My 22-hour fasting experience (I had my last food at 10 p.m. the night before, and I ate at 8 p.m. last night) was pretty enlightening, making me quite aware of how much agitation is lurking at the edges of my attention. People I was mad at, situations, circumstances, details that got under my skin… Any number of things were hanging out, waiting to jump into view to get me going. Surprisingly, there weren’t a lot of really great things that came to mind to get me going.

I’m sure it’s just bad habits of thought, because I’ve trained myself over years to generate energy by getting pissed off over bad things. I haven’t trained myself (yet) to generate energy by getting excited over good things. So my go-to default for getting my energy going is to find something to get pissed off at, and then think about that till I’m revved up and rarin’ to go.

Not so hot. Is that really how I want to spend my life and time and energy — being pissed off and upset about things? That’s the thought that came to mind yesterday as I was driving around, feeling miffed about this or that or the other thing. I have a three day weekend, and I’m going to spend it dwelling on sh*t? Silly.

So, I spent a fair amount of time yesterday adjusting my attitude and repeating “Hormesis” to myself — which is the principle of using large doses of stressors for short periods of time to build up immunity to them. Things like cold, hunger, fatigue — all these (among others) are things that you can use hormesis to overcome, and when I thought “Hormesis” at times when my patience was starting to wear thin, it calmed me down, because it reminded me why I was doing this — to train myself to just deal. It also reminded me that the stressors I was experiencing at that moment were fleeting and temporary. I would be eating within hours. I was in training. I could take a chill pill, already.

And that worked.

The other thing that worked, was sticking to my list. I’ve been reading about the usefulness of everyday rituals in making certain activities automatic, so you can focus your attention on other more important things. Rituals and automatic activities free up your mind to focus on the finer points of things, rather than the gross logistics of everyday life. I have found this to be very true for myself. Having a morning ritual of rising at a certain time, stretching, brushing my teeth, washing my face and hands in cold water, and making breakfast in a specific order, frees up my mind by not having to think through every single next step I need to take. I don’t have to figure out what’s next. I don’t have to figure anything out. I can let my mind wake up at its own pace, while my body goes about the work of getting started.

Lists do the same thing for me. When I was really struggling with my everyday life, several years ago, and I wasn’t able to start my days without some sort of meltdown or freak-out, I took to making step-by-step lists for myself each and every morning. I had everything planned right down to the amount of time I spent on each thing. Some people acted like I was crazy to be doing that, and they insisted that I didn’t need that “crutch”, but it helped me immensely. It helped me to regulate the details of my morning, and it freed up my brain to relax because I knew exactly what was going to come next.

All I had to do was follow instructions. Easy-peasy. And it helped.

Now I have rituals in the morning rather than lists, but those rituals came out of the list.

Either way, they allow me to focus my time and attention on things that are more complex — and more fulfilling — than the drudgery of “what’s next”.

And that’s a good thing.

Today, I have more items on my to-do list. I have emails I need to read and respond to. I have things I’ve been needing to do, and haven’t gotten to because I’ve been so busy this past week. Some of them are more fun than others, and I need to arrange them so that I have some good rewards after I take care of the less fun things. Some of them are downright nerve-wracking, because they involve some complex thinking and I’m concerned I will screw them up.

Then again, I do have 2 days left in the weekend, so I can take care of some of this tomorrow.

That takes the pressure off. It makes things easier to start, when I take the pressure off.

Speaking of getting started, I guess I’ll get on with my day. I’m up early, so I actually have time for a walk before I start all this. Excellent idea — off I go…

Onward.

Time to eat

About 10 years ago, I lost someone close to me under terrible circumstances. There’s nothing like to see a loved-one lying on a hospital bed with a plastic sheet over their cut-open innards, dangling between waking and not-waking, unable to go forward or backward, because the surgeon needs to go in again and try to re-do what they did wrong the first time.

I didn’t willingly eat for six months after they died. Food made me nauseous. I had no sense of taste, no sense of smell, no interest in food, no desire to consume anything. Not even coffee.

But I did.

Because I had a life to lead and rent and bills to pay, and eating regularly was the one part of my life that had a regular cadence.

So, I made myself eat. I can’t remember much about that time, other than that. Forcing myself to eat. Holding food up to my mouth and fighting back the nausea. Taking a bite and chewing. Doing lots of other things while I was eating — working, looking around, thinking about anything but food. Just to get my mind off it.

I’m at the airport, now, waiting to board my plane in another 45 minutes or so. I have time to get some food. I’m not hungry. I’ve been pushing and pushing for days, dog-tired and foggy and fuzzy, but valiantly pushing through. It felt dangerous a bunch of times, but I made it through, no less. Now I’m on my way back home, still tired, but still on alert, because I can’t afford to slack off now. Most car accidents happen within 5 miles of a person’s home. And I know myself — my brain locks up on me, when I’m nearly there. I get off at my turnpike exit, and I turn left instead of right. I find my way across town, then end up spending twice the time it took me to get there, to figure out how to finish the trip. I go shopping for Christmas presents at the mall — it takes me 15 minutes to shop, and 45 minutes to find my way out of the mall and back to my car.

I hope I can find my car when I get back to the airport. I parked in a rush and ran for my flight. Well, I have time. But I expect I’ll be tired after traveling for 12 hours.

Someone has left their sunglasses and GPS at the security checkpoint.

I’m not the only one who comes unglued when traveling. I am not alone. I am alert.

And now I must eat.