Getting Off Coffee — Whom do you believe?

Would you trust this man with your love life?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how I want to live my life, lately. I want to be free. I want to be healthy. I don’t want to kill myself through neglect and laziness. I want to eat well, live well, recover well, and have the best life I can have under the circumstances.

I’ve been changing up my diet — adding a whole lot of fresh fruit and cooked (and raw) vegetables to the mix. I feel great. My spouse feels great. It makes a difference. I can’t say I’m that keen on getting really orthodox about what I eat and don’t eat.

For about the past year, I’ve been trying to eat more “Paleo” with lots of meat and vegetables, but not a lot of carbs. Lots of healthy fats and oils. The Paleo diet is big, just like all the other diets that have come along over the years. It makes logical sense to me, and it has emotional appeal.

But does my body like it?

Not so much. It sounded like a good idea at the time, but it’s not panning out over the long term. It feels foreign. Our ancestors may have eaten this way, but they weren’t living under current conditions. They didn’t have constant energy demands. They didn’t go-go-go from morning till night. They had a completely different lifestyle, which bears no resemblance at all to the lives we live now. I would think that would disqualify the Paleo diet from being even remotely considered, but there’s that emotional appeal of “getting back to basics” and ditching all the unhealthy modern habits that have gotten us into the messes we see around us. Countless religious movements have produced lots of different denominations precisely from this mindset. Now health and fitness seem to have taken the place of religion.

For me, if I were living on the savannah, hanging out around the fire, collecting berries whenever I felt like it, and going on occasional huts, yeah — I’d be total Paleo. But my energy demands are many hundreds of times greater than that lifestyle requires, so Paleo makes no sense at all, in my book. That’s not to keep folks from making plenty of money off the illusion that we can ever go back — or that we should, to the extent we can with things we can control… like our diet.

Now, I’m no doctor or nutritionist. I’m just an everyday person who thinks for themself. And I’m thinking that carb restriction and calorie restriction over the long term is just not healthy. If you do it for short periods, it can be very beneficial. But as a continued way of life? No way. Under-carbed people are unhappy people. They are aggressive and combative, in my experience, and arguments with people who are hypoglycemic generally don’t go well.

The other thing is, since I started supplementing my diet with healthy fats and oils, I’ve gained weight. And while I do get a lot of energy off the grass-fed butter and coconut oil, and it keeps me going through the morning, my metabolism doesn’t seem to want to let go of the fat. And it’s storing it up. Supposedly, you can reach a state of ketosis where you’re burning fat instead of sugar in your body, but you have to be so strict with it, and so completely cut out carbs as an energy source, it can take you years to get to that point. And you’ve got a lot of interim pain and suffering to get through.

Plus, if you know about physiology, you know that glucose is a critical energy source for every cell in your body, so if you avoid sugar and carbs like the plague some folks say they are, you’re literally starving your body. And when you starve your body, it turns around and produces more of the glucose it needs from inside — the liver. So you’re stressing your system. That sucks, all around.

And all sorts of interesting things happen to your insulin resistance, etc. You have folks like Dave Asprey (the “Bulletproof Exec”) on medication for Diabetes 2 — an acquired condition that’s often directly related to diet and exercise habits — or the lack thereof.

So, I’m going to take nutrition advice from a guy who’s given himself Diabetes 2 and who says that fruit is like candy — a shot of pure sugar — and should be avoided like the plague?

He’s not the only one out there coming up with all sorts of ideas about how we should eat. There are tons of experts who are infopreneurs making good money off their educational-slash-marketing efforts. And we just eat it up. Literally and figuratively.

Whom do you believe? Whom do you trust?

Personally, I am getting more and more impatient with people who study things in a lab and then turn around and insist they can be applied to real life.That, and folks who insist that correlation implies causation — because two things occur together, then one must be the cause of the other.

It’s patently untrue. Studies are done all the time with too small a selection of people, and the only things that they’re looking at are what’s on their radar. They pick out 5 overweight adults and 5 normal weight adults and give them food choices. They look at who chooses what, and then they say that certain foods will make you fat. Or that certain foods will keep you slim. There’s no gathering of data about the states of mind of the test subjects, there’s no information on who’s been overweight their entire life and who lost the weight or who gained it. The foods they put in front of the participants may or may not have been selected according to broad criteria, and they may or may not have good quality foods, or even foods that taste good and are appealing. There are a million different variables that come into play, including time of day, the current physical/mental health status of the participants, and what happened with them over the long term before they ever participated in the study.

And yet, we’re expected to trust those results, and we’re supposed to believe the folks who are quoting their interpretation of the results — usually for a price.

Yeah, I’m not really feeling that.

Anyway, I digress. I guess my point is, a lot of people get really alarmist about nutrition and fitness. For good reason — there’s an obesity and Diabetes 2 epidemic going on in the western world, and it’s spreading to other countries. Like Japan — check out the article. And when you’ve been unhealthy for a while, your reactions are going to be skewed to the extreme. Especially if you’ve had physical injury or mental health issues that either came from trauma or traumatized you (usually works in a vicious cycle – cause and effect feed the trauma imbalance), you’re going to react more precipitously — FREAK OUT — a lot more quickly.

Plus, you’ve got a lot of people haggling and arguing and jockeying for position in the health and fitness field, so you’ve got a higher pitch overall to the conversations — especially with folks who are fundamentally unhealthy (overweight, with terrible bloodwork numbers, and very de-conditioned) who are trying to keep up with the rigors of an active infopreneurial lifestyle.

So, the tone of the discussion is more like a heated argument.

All. The. Time.

Which just clouds the issue for those of us “on the ground” — or as the marketers say, those of us in the target audience.

So, what about this “fast” business (as in quick, not fasting). Make changes fast. See results fast. Expecting things to change for you right away is unrealistic and unsustainable. It takes years and years to see substantive health and fitness changes, and it takes ongoing commitment and discipline to make those changes stick to where you don’t have to deliberately think about it and focus on it.

It takes time and effort to get things to improve. It takes time and effort to heal injuries and get to a point where you are fully functional. Especially with mild traumatic brain injury (concussion, if you will), where the brain — which is constantly working for us — committing to a program of recovery and sticking with it, day in and day out, over the course of weeks, months, years… That’s something our fast-oriented culture just doesn’t know what to do with.

It really doesn’t.

But all the voices in the marketplace are screaming at the tops of their lungs about how damn’ URGENT everything is. Yeah, okay, it is. No doubt about that. But all too often, the ones pushing us to change our ways are only in it for the short-term. They’re with us long enough to make their case and collect our money, then they move on to the next target audience member who hasn’t yet signed up for their life-changing program.

I have friends who are devotees of some famous health gurus. The experts have them jumping through hoops to mix up specific types of smoothies and avoid sugar in all its forms.Their trusted leaders have them so freaked out about the dangers of certain foods, that they’re willing to completely rebuild their lives around this new program — which is expensive and is coming to them later in life, when they are heading into retirement and will not — I repeat NOT — have significant sources of income within a few years.

It kind of freaks me out. Their orthodoxy and strict adherence to this “life-changing program” is well nigh complete… except for when they “slip” and end up bingeing on crap that their bodies would have no interest in eating, were they adequately nourished, to begin with.

All this, because they feel the need to make change FAST, and stave off the demons of their impending demise.

On top of it, these folks look miserable. Every time they post a new picture to Facebook, they look more haggard and drawn… puffy and stressed. It’s just not good.

But they did get their 10 days at “the institute” in Florida, and now they have their special powders and potions to mix up and tell themselves they’re seeing transformational results more quickly than they’d realize them on their own.

As for me, I’ve been a devotee of plenty of independent researchers and health/fitness educators. I sign up for their newsletters. I read their blogs. I watch the videos, and I’m usually impressed by their passion and the way they communicate. But there’s a whole lot they don’t say, and if you look behind the scenes, you see that there’s even more that goes unsaid. Like the Diabetes 2 diagnosis. Like the lousy bloodwork. Like the failed relationships and the weight gain.

It doesn’t take long for a lot of these folks to fall out of favor.

Which brings me back, time and again, to myself. How does my body feel? How does my head feel? How does my life feel? When I use that as a guide and check in on a regular basis, that tells me everything I need.

Like I need to cut back on sweets.

Like I need to cut back on coffee.

Like I really need to eat some red meat.

Like I need to eat chicken or fish or not have any meat for one day.

Like I need more fruits and vegetables.

Like I need to not eat that cake and ice cream.

Basically, I’ve found that following the advice of gurus works best when I do it intermittently, but not constantly. Destabilizing myself with bad science and treating it like gospel is no way to go. I need balance, and I need exercise, and there is usually much behind the scenes of what gurus teach, that we’ll never learn and never know.

So, when I follow my own path and get more information and apply it sparingly, so much the better. Some things work for some people, based on their chemistry and a host of other factors. Some things don’t. Ultimately, it’s up to me, and the proof is in the pudding.

And now it’s time for a walk.

Onward.

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Who am I today?

Summary / Bottom Line

I don’t feel like myself, these days. I haven’t felt “like myself” in a long time. And all the hopes and dreams I once had as a kid, seem so far from me. But maybe, just maybe, I am truly living my hopes and dreams… I just don’t feel like I am. And that changed sense of myself is keeping me from realizing how much my life really does resemble my onetime hopes and dreams. Restoring a sense of self can be a huge challenge with traumatic brain injury, and adjusting to how things truly are, versus how they appear to be, or feel, is one of my biggest challenges.


I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about my identity… who I was when I was a kid, who I am now, and who I’ve been along the way. I recently had a birthday, and while I don’t feel like I’m having a mid-life crisis, I still have been thinking a whole lot about whether I am where I expected / hoped / planned to be, when I was younger.

I know that “life happens” and we can end up very far from where we wanted to be when we were younger. And to be honest, I’m not even sure if I had specific plans about the trajectory of my life, when I was younger.

I do know that what I wanted more than anything, was to become a scientific researcher. I wanted to go to school to get a bunch of degrees, and then focus on research. I’m not sure what kind of researcher I wanted to become — I just wanted to study, collect information, synthesize it, and publish it.

I also wanted to be a writer. Maybe more than being a researcher. Being a writer is what I always wanted to BE. Research is what I wanted to DO. In a way, being a writer is like being a researcher – it’s not the same type of science, but there’s a sort of science to it — observing, drawing conclusions, testing your hypotheses, etc.

Over the course of my life… well, life happened. I got hurt. A bunch of times. I fell and hit my head a bunch of times. I got in car accidents a bunch of times. I was attacked. I did stupid things. And I got hurt. I also had a lot of chronic pain that knocked me out of the running when I was in my early 20s. And I got in trouble with the law and some rough characters, and I had to go on the lam when I was in my late teens, which limited my future prospects.

Now, looking back, I see how so-so-so many opportunities have been out of reach for me, because of everything that happened back then. I have done my best to patch things up over the course of my life, and relatively speaking, I’ve done extremely well for myself.

But am I really where I want to be today?

I’m not sure. This life I’m leading doesn’t look and feel like I hoped it would. It feels strange and foreign to me. Hell, I feel strange and foreign to me. I feel like a stranger to myself, half the time. I don’t have that feeling of being “comfortable in my skin” that people talk about.

Now, I used to have that feeling. I used to have a clear sense of who I was and what I stood for. And I didn’t let anyone hold me back. Even when I was getting in trouble with the law and then went underground, living overseas till things quieted down here, I had a clear sense of who I was, and what I stood for. I had to change my life for a while, and I couldn’t do a lot of the things I had once enjoyed doing — like going anywhere I wanted, whenever I wanted. But it didn’t feel like I’d lost a part of myself. I’d screwed up for sure, but I was determined to fix things.

When I was in all that crippling pain, 25 years ago, I had to let go of a lot of activities that had once meant a lot to me. I had to stop exercising and spending time outside in the sun. The diagnosis that the doctors came up with was probably wrong (I never had tests that confirmed or denied it 100% — they didn’t have good tests, back then). But I had to take steps in any case. As it turned out, the things that I was told not to do — exercise a lot, move a lot, test myself physically — were exactly the kinds of things that I needed to do to alleviate my pain. Movement and staying active was NOT going to hurt me. Being sedentary was.

In those years when I was dealing with the pain, I lost of lot of things that meant a lot to me. I couldn’t eat and drink the same things anymore, and I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do. But I didn’t have a sense of having lost myself. I was still who I was, and I was clear about that.

Now things feel so strange and foreign to me. It’s hard for me to describe. Even though I know I’m doing better, and I have numbers and feedback from friends and family that indicate I’m improving, I still don’t feel like myself. It’s hard to describe — just that someone else seems to have taken up residence in my life.

I know my personality has changed a good deal, since my fall in 2004. And it kind of freaks me out, because that wasn’t the first mild TBI I’d ever had. I’ve had a bunch — probably about 9. I’ve been assaulted once, had at least 4-5 falls, got hurt a couple of times playing soccer, got majorly dinged while playing football, I’ve had a couple of car accidents, and so forth. But not until I fell in 2004, did it totally screw up my life.

Not until the past years, have I felt like a stranger to myself.

It’s kind of getting me down, too. At least, it has been. I try not to think about it, but it’s still always there… Who am I today? What am I going to do today that doesn’t seem “like me”? What am I going to feel and think and say and do that doesn’t seem consistent with the person I know myself to be?

That feeling of observing yourself going through life… it’s weird. Disorienting. I resolve over and over again, to hang in there and just keep plugging, until I see some glimmer of who I am. And sometimes it works. I’ve been feeling more like “myself” lately, which is nice. But at the same time, I don’t quite trust it. Like in Flowers For Algernon, when the main character stops taking the medicine that made him think and act like a normal person… and he drifts back into his old state. Whenever things are going well for me, I feel like I’m looking over my shoulder for signs that I’m slipping back into not recognizing myself.

I would like to stop this. It’s not fun, and it’s not productive. It serves no one, and being on high alert over it just kills my quality of life.

So, over the weekend, when I had time to think about it, I realized that maybe it would be better if I just acclimated to this feeling and let it be. It could be that I actually am getting back to my old self — I just don’t have the sense that I am. It could be that I’m even better than my old self. There’s a good chance of that, because my old self was majorly concussed and had all sorts of issues that I didn’t even realize. It could be that I’m in better shape than ever before… but I don’t have the sense of it being so, and therefore I don’t trust it.

I don’t feel like I’m myself, most of the time. Maybe all of the time. But maybe I actually am. Maybe the missing piece is NOT my personality and my identity, but the sense of my personality and identity. Just because the sense of being who I am isn’t there, doesn’t mean I can’t BE there myself.

Rather than getting all caught up in recreating that sense of myself, maybe I need to just get on with living, regardless of the sense of myself. Maybe I just need to trust it… not place such high demands on what qualifies me as me, or not-me.

And maybe — just maybe — the life I have now is exactly what I was hoping /expecting / planning / dreaming I’d have, back when I was a kid. Looking around at my study and thinking about how I live my life, I realize that I am doing exactly what I always wanted to do, when I was younger — reading and researching and writing and publishing. I write and publish this blog. I read and research TBI-related materials (especially concussion and mild TBI) and I spend a lot of time thinking about them.

I also read and research other subjects and write about them, though I haven’t published much of that … yet. I am getting to a place where I soon will, and then I will have that to my credit, as well. This is all done independently, according to my own standards. I’m not doing it professionally, but I have managed to help some people, here and there along the way. That much is clear from the comments on my blog.

So, even though it may feel like I’m one person, the objective facts reveal something quite different. And for me, it seems the challenge is to not let feelings of weirdness and alienation and failure stop me from just getting on with my life.

At some point, I just need to trust. I’m working on it.

Onward.