What I really seek is character. Not just reward.

character-may-be-manifested-in-the-great-moments-but-it-is-made-in-the-small-ones-quote-1Character is what you do, when no one is looking.

It’s why you do things, irrespective of reward.

I don’t want my life driven by asking “What will I get out of it?” but by answering “How will I contribute to others through this?”

Character is what gets you out of bed in the morning at a decent hour, so you get the exercise that you really don’t want to do, but must.

It’s what keeps you on schedule to you eat the breakfast and take the vitamins that your body needs to be healthy and productive throughout the day.

Character is what makes it possible for you to do all the things in the course of the day that need to be done, even though you don’t really want to do them

It’s what teaches you your place in the world, in society, in the grand scheme of things… and reminds you that your own personal comfort and convenience must sometimes often take a back seat to the Greater Good.

Rewards are great. They’re the fodder of some great marketing campaigns, and they do motivate people.

But Character… now, that’s something that lasts, even when there are no obvious rewards in sight.

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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.

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.