Chronic Disease Emotional Work

Day 191 and Logistical Leverage

I hate logistics. It’s not that I am incapable of operational tasks, but I do not find them enjoyable or energizing. I’m happiest working from the 30,000 foot vantage point and most stressed when keeping tabs on the 1,000 foot details. Thankfully I discovered this about myself early in life and had the good sense to choose a life partner that feels the opposite.

My husband is a genius operator and loves logistics. He can find efficient ways to manage nearly everything. He is a COO both professionally and personally. He manages everything about our household. I used to feel a bit guilty about the fact but I’m objectively terrible at home economics as frankly I just get in the way when I try to pitch in. All those sit-com jokes about husbands who can’t fold laundry right? In our house it is reversed. Which is a bit embarrassing as I worked in fashion but bygones. I just get in Alex’s way and he would prefer not to be slowed down by my bumbling efforts.

Recently I had to take on life & home workload in addition to my own. He had to take his first trip since the pandemic began. I haven’t been without him since February of 2020 so it has been a while since I’ve had to manage without him. And wow did it show!

I maintained the same of basics into my system, the same routine, supplements, diet and treatments with the only addition of Alex’s workload. I only added an additional 2 to 3 hours to my time obligations, so roughly an extra 9% my day, but it had close to a 30% impact across all my core metrics.

Because I track so many biometrics on a daily and even persistent basis I know my physical and emotional baselines. Without Alex managing life, my physical capacity dropped across the board over two days. The additional household logistics, errands, cleaning & cooking & overhead dramatically impacted my capacity.

Within 48 hours all my body’s baselines worsened. My HRV went down an astonishing 22%. Whoop gave me recoveries at 33%. My RHR went up by a full 10%. My qualitative pain scores went from consistent 3s and 4s to a 7. My energy scoring went from a perceived 6 to a 2. Gyroscope dropped my health grade from 85 to 78. It was a mess.

It turns out that Alex has added significant capacity to my life. Work that takes him just a few hours a week enables me to thrive. It takes very little from him but it means the difference between barely getting by and having the capacity to work for me.

Maybe it wouldn’t be as easy for another person. Alex is a very high leverage person in general but particularly for me. 10% of my day for a 30% improvement is significant. If your spouse is the operator in your partnership it may be quite fun to quantify their impact. Nothing says I love you quite like proof of how much their efforts impact your biometric data.


Day 190 and Neutrality

One of the more influential pieces of art on my worldview is the science fiction comedy Men in Black. Yes you read that right. My philosophy is underpinned by a speech by Tommy Lee Jones.

1500 years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the Universe. 500 years ago everybody knew the Earth was flat and 15 minutes ago you knew people were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow

I don’t really know shit. I know enough to know I don’t know shit. My mother had a favorite bumper sticker “ask your teenager while they still know everything” which at the time as a teen I found a bit insulting and now as an adult think was quite astute. The more I know the less I know for sure.

Because I’ve slowly come to realize that knowing can be a crap shoot I keep odd company. Arguably bad company. I follow some truly outrageous people on Twitter. I follow hard right partisans and tankie left wing socialists. I follow folks with deep convictions on the irredeemable evils of technology and the most ebullient techno-optimists. It’s hard to talk me into not keeping an eye on all view points. Sure I think some folks are dead wrong but how do I know I’m not one of them?

Not knowing things for certain as saved my life. Medicine has a tendency to interpret data as absolute. Biometric markers and test results can for some doctors have as much authority as a papal decree. Anyone who has been told “well your test results are normal” while still feeling like absolute shit will know how frustrating this can be. Plenty of data points look absolutely normal before a system cascades into failure.

We don’t know as much as we need to believe we know. Our craving for certainty as humans is a significant weakness. The venture capitalist who insists that some metric will determine a crucial outcome is a favorite trope of mine. As if favorable CAC/LTV ratio functions as a warding spell or an attractive margin structure offers protection against a changing consumer preferences. Knowledge isn’t magic. Superstition can just as easily apply to P&Ls as poltergeists.

I find it best to remind myself to take a neutral when approaching entrepreneurs. Maybe I don’t know. Maybe everything I’ve ever known was particular to my circumstances, bias, education quirks or just plain randomness. Maybe one small insight will shift the grounds underneath me and reveal entirely new frameworks for interpreting reality. The unknown unknowns have a habit of springing themselves when you least expect.

It’s often tempting to throw opposing viewpoints into buckets that are easy to dismiss. Venture investors are notorious for this. We dismiss folks for any error we spot. We deride their data. We applaud ourselves for spotting cracks in their plans. Resist this tendency. We must always retain the neutrality of perspective that allows us to change our mental models. What we know to be true might be a lie. We may lack a key piece of context that would unlock a cascade of understanding that changes our entire perspective.

This is why the adage “strong beliefs weakly held” can be so key to success. Changing our minds is a strength. It’s hard to admit to ourselves we’ve gotten something wrong especially if we sunk a lot of time, money and reputation into it. But would you rather be right or successful? Feeling superior can be a delight but not if it gets in the way of what we want in life.

Preparedness Startups

Day 189 and Cascades

One of the reasons we named the fund we invest out of Chaotic Capital is because I’m obsessed with cascade failures. In complex systems one small change can ripple out in unexpected ways. As players scramble to accommodate these shifts, opportunities for power realignments emerge. This is particularly exciting in systems that are man made as we can only create so much complexity in mechanical systems (unlike biological ones). Most startups are built on technology or engineering that are simple complex systems.

The absolute best description of the risks of a cascade comes from the science fiction television program The Expanse and a botanist named Prax. He is describing a failure in the hydroponics system (which both feeds the people and produces oxygen) on a space station on the moon Ganymede.

Because it’s simple it’s prone to cascades. And because it’s complex you can’t predict what is going to breakdown next or how.

While I’m a doomer and a prepper so it was bound to happen, it was this insight from Prax got me into hydroponics. Cascades and chaos and lettuce fuck yes!

But jokes aside, we’ve got a number of complex systems under strain right now. Supply chains, the financial system, our power grids coping with climate change, and even unemployment benefits are all examples of simple complex systems that are experiencing cascade failures.

I’m not in the mindset to lay a Grand Unified Theory of Simple Complex Systems tonight, because I did experienced one today. Colorado just set another heat record today and my air conditioner crapped out. As I set about closing blinds and checking electrical breakers I worried about how my own survival and comfort depends on cascades not occurring.

What if it had been electrical and my refrigerator went out and not just the air conditioner. Then my $5000 a dose immunosuppressant would go bad. If I can’t have that my spine will swell. Then I’ll be in too much pain to walk. Sure this isn’t a simple complex system exactly but I think it beneficial to go up and down the systems that keep our lives intact. If one system goes down do you survive?

This used to be a topic which we all shied away from. Then the pandemic happened and preppers like myself didn’t look quite so whacky. We told stories about the systems thinking that went into basic preparedness. We got a Nellie Bowles Styles piece. It was a lot of fun. But it belies the seriousness with which the topic of preparedness should be approached.

You probably aren’t prepared for some of the cascades that come as the works gets more chaotic. And no we cannot predict it. Shit is way too complex. It’s fucking chaotic as hell. So get some bottled water. I’ve made it easier. Here is what I keep in my go bags. Do it before the next cascade hits. You won’t regret it. I think Prax would agree.

Emotional Work

Day 188 and Space

I over scheduled my day today. I figured it was fine as I left some half hour blocks between calls, pitches, errands, workouts and chores. That’s what most lives are like right? You get up, shower, exercise, get the family fed, go to work, have a short lunch break to eat at your desk, go back to work, then you’ve got errands and then it’s back to family obligations.

If that’s what most people’s lives are like it’s no wonder we are in the midst of a rebellion. I’m exhausted. I haven’t had a moment to think or self reflect at all. I feel so far away from myself after the parade of obligations. And I actually meditated and did thirty minutes of “brain training” on my at home EEG. And I went for an hour long walk! So why do I feel like I haven’t had any space today? Those things are restorative right?

It sounds incredibly luxurious when I put it down on paper. I’m doing shit to improve my brain function and I got 10,000 steps (I like to take calls while walking) so why do I feel frazzled? As it turns out I’ve actually faced this problem before. And thanks to my daily exercise of writing I put it down on paper. I can learn from myself.

I benefit from unstructured unencumbered time at rest. It’s not that I need it to be alone time or quiet time as much I need full on rest. I thrive when I have no reason to get out of bed. I do my best reading and synthesizing when my mind is free to wander without any obligation to anything but that space.

When I wrote that I meant it in the context of devoting enough time to active rest. But as it turns out I don’t just need rest on weekends. I need to give myself time in between tasks. I need to let my mind wander off instead of forcing it on to the next activity. I need to take some space to myself between each activity, even if it’s a nice one like a walk, to absorb and synthesize.

I’d encourage you to consider if you are giving yourself enough space to let your experiences integrate back into your mind and body. Sure we all have our obligations but maybe you’d be more efficient at them if you have yourself the space to breathe in between them. On that note I’m going to put on some television and go shit post on Twitter. I need to integrate my learnings from the day.

Emotional Work

Day 187 and Reactivity

I do not back down from a fight. I think quickly on my feet and enjoy pugilist types who are always looking to land a point or a punch. I think it is fun to scrap and throw a hook. But I increasingly find reactivity to be unappealing. The difference between enjoying a fight and being reactive is simple: fighters are in control and reactives are not.

Reactivity comes from emotions. When someone says “I feel triggered” in popular culture it’s viewed as a funny jokey way of indicating that something set you off. But being triggered has a real meaning in psychology. It’s a reaction to a memory, consciousness or unconscious, that is emotional in nature. Generally it’s in reference to something traumatic.

Traumas exist for most of us in our past. When you go back to childhood what we perceived as a trauma when young may not rationally be worthy of the emotional response we have as an adult self, but it is crucial to remember is actually real to the inner child. It’s hard to remember that feelings are not facts. So when you are triggered it’s because you have gone back to a traumatic time where those feelings were absolutely real. But they are not real now.

I used to be intensely emotionally reactive in my twenties and early thirties. I am still physically reactive and likely always will be. That’s a different issue. I’m talking about emotions. When I was younger I was sensitive to being hurt and abandoned. I nurtured codependency and recoiled from those who I perceived as disliking me. Thankfully my godfather noticed this pattern and how it was making me both miserable and unproductive, and introduced me to an old school Swedish family systems psychiatrist.

Now five years into my practice I am finding that I am able to take a beat and assess “why” I am having an emotional reaction. I can track back it’s source to my childhood. I can parent my “inner child” through the reactivity and get back on track. You will often hear me use lots of feeling words. I feel hurt. I feel sad. These help me stop the emotional reactivity. It’s ok to have feelings. It’s ok to express them. But you must be like the fighter. You must as an adult be in control. Your inner child who experiences the trauma as real will never be in control. That’s ok. It is your job to parent your inner child through it.

Obviously this is incredibly hard work. I slip up every day. But I try to work on my self awareness. I try to control my reactivity so my inner child isn’t puking all over the floor. It’s not that I don’t have reactions or emotions. I do. Big time! But I no longer wish to be emotionally reactive. Nor do I wish to be around those who are. We must work on compassion and empathy so that when someone triggers an emotion in you instead of snapping back you work to understand where they are coming from.

Chronic Disease Emotional Work

Day 186 and Broken

I’m coming up on my two year diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis. I’ve had two years of feeling broken as I waded though the long haul from being bedridden to now being reasonably healthy. But I’ve yet to let go of the feeling that I’m broken.

Being a productive worker has been a part of my identity for my entire work life. To experience two years of not contributing financially to anything nearly broke me. What value did I have? How could I ever recover?

But I’m not broken. I’ve got more limits on my time as I just focus on health and wellness to avoid a repeat of my medical leave. But I doubt most people would know or care. I’ve been doing some of the best work of my life recently. So why does this feeling of brokenness persist?

Some of it is tied to me making some mistakes as I transition back to workout full time. I feel I owe people my time and work as I let them down. I feel I have a debt to pay off (not a literal one but more emotional for having stuck with me when I wasn’t useful). So I’ve been tolerating some people and work that I should probably let go. It takes as much energy to work on small potatoes and worry oneself about as it, as it does to aim for the big projects and goals.

Emotional Work

Day 185 and Small Potatoes

I’ve been stewing on something for the whole day so I’ve not felt I had the mental focus to write. Plus it’s 4th of July and I was busy eating BBQ and watching Roland Emmerich movies. I’ve watched Independence Day every single year since it came out and that’s as traditional as Die Hard on Christmas.

The reason I was stewing this morning is I feel like I’ve been wasting my energy on something. It didn’t start as a waste but it’s dawning on me that I’m not the best at protecting and preserving my limited reserves. I say yes to say too much.

I’ve got to stop fucking around with small problems. If I’ve got the capacity to manifest shit into reality 20% of the time why am I using that up on small potatoes when it’s just as much work to do it at scale?

Why put my energy into solving smaller problems when I can swing for the fences? Why do I think small potato problems are worth an iota of my energy. I am the type of woman who refuses to cook because it’s an inefficient use of time when industrial society has packaged foods. So why the fuck do I keep saying yes to people and problems that I don’t think are worth my time when I won’t even boil water? What the actual fuck is wrong with me.

I just feel too much social pressure to say yes to asks. If someone gets me excited to help I’m terrible at stepping back. I got convinced I was a mean bad person when I said “no” as a younger woman. I was told I wasn’t being accommodating. I was told I wouldn’t be well liked if I wasn’t nicer. Now I’m beginning to realize this was potentially poor advice. Might even be a function of gender (got to be a good girl). Either way I’ve got to stop saying yes to shit.

I’ve got limited energy and time. We all do. But it’s especially true for me as I deal with a disability in my ankylosing spondylitis. A chronic disability means saying yes like an abled person is terrible strategy. I’ve got to play the game smarter, budget my energy and time like the limited resource that it is and get over any past perceptions I cling to about “being nice.”

You know what isn’t nice? Saying yes to something you don’t want to do because you don’t want to hurt someone. Then you hurt two people. And one of them is yourself.

Aesthetics Background

Day 184 and Enthusiasm

Nothing great was ever done without enthusiasm!

Some Waldorf classroom recitation

I went to a type of school called a “Waldorf” school for primary education. It’s a pedagogy that believes education should balance intellectual pursuits with artistic and physical ones to develop a well rounded human. A popular coinage is “head, heart and hands” but that’s honestly way too hippie dippie for what is a very practical and grounded approach to learning to be a human that has need for physical, spiritual and cerebral training.

Instead of staring at books all day you spend quite a bit of time on more classical pursuits to balance out traditional subjects like math and histories with music, drama, and a wide variety of physical education. Now you may think ok that’s just gym or music class right? Well, sort of, in the same way learning the alphabet is useful for reading. You need building blocks first. Small children aren’t particular good with javelins, Greek tragedy or the flute so they start you out small. Think “Sound of Music” Do-Re-Mi but for every subject.

One of the techniques Waldorf uses to help children learn to manage their bodies (likely also emotions & mind) is regular recitations. You memorize poems, chants and pieces of drama. You then physically practice run in a group or individually. Often a sequence of rhythmic clapping, chanting, stomping or other ways of integrating your body to the mental act of memorization is part of the process. It can be as complex as a portion of the Bhagavad-Gita (yes I’ve done this) or as simple as a sports chant.

Nothing great was ever done without enthusiasm!

I’ve got a fond memory of a classroom teacher insisting we start the day with energy and enthusiasm by using what is basically an arena chant that would be suitable for cheering on a sports team.

She’d have us get on our feet and in unison recite back “nothing great was ever done…..without….EN-THUS-IAAAASMMMMM!

We’d repeat it over and over again with a 1-2-1-2 beat upfront and then a pause between done and without, and then a great push to pull out the word enthusiasm, with well, as much enthusiasm as we could muster.

By the end the entire class would be all smiles taking huge breathes to push out all the air they could through their diaphragms to put as much emphasis on “enthusiasm” as they could deliver. We’d be standing tall with our shoulders pulled back to give us the maximum advantage for our breath work. I swear these kids had a better grasp on Wim Hoff breathing than an Olympian. For a 5th grader it made use of multiple lessons we’d been taught over the years on diction, posture, physical presence, poise, timing, control and energy. Lessons that then served us well as we went on to sing Handel’s Messiah or learn Greek wrestling.

Plus it was a terrific reminder that all great things require our full selves. Enthusiasm is the path to greatness. Sure hard work and intelligence matters but if you love something with enthusiasm that puts you in the right path. So I try to remember that if I want a big outcome for something I need to feel real enthusiasm for it. And I’ll recite that chant in my head. Because that’s one of the building blocks I use to create success.

Chronic Disease

Day 183 and Pain

I forget the contours of pain when I’m not in its grip. Such is it’s overwhelming power that pain is the only thing you can focus on when you are in it, but it melts away from your consciousness like snow on a sunny day the moment it dissipates. Pain is both all encompassing and a ghost on whom it is impossible to keep a grasp.

It’s not an original thought I have here that pain is challenging to articulate. Virginia Woolf wrote On Being Ill

but let a sufferer try to describe a pain in his head to his doctor and language at once runs dry

I have an intellectual grasp on what is happening in my body. I can tell you what is happening in great detail. I take an immunosuppressant twice a month to keep the swelling in my upper thoracic spine down. These drugs makes me a bit more prone to infections as we need my immune system to be suppressed to prevent spinal swelling.

But when an infection takes hold my immune system fights back, the swelling in my spine comes back and the pain resurfaces. The pain will sneak up on me despite me being armed with all the knowledge about this cycle. It is still a surprise even knowing it is coming.

Yesterday I went to a doctor and got antibiotics. I came home and got into bed. And I got stuck. I couldn’t figure out what was happening to me. I’d been reduced to a consciousness unable to communicate with the outside word. I couldn’t even communicate to myself what steps needed to be taken next.

Whatever pain achieves, it achieves in part through its unsharability, and it ensures this unsharability through its resistance to language […] Physical pain does not simply resist language but actively destroys it, bringing about an immediate reversion to a state anterior to language, to the sounds and cries a human being makes before language is learned.

The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World, Elaine Scarry

I go from having full intellectual capacity to understand my situation and discuss it with others to being stripped of language within hours. I couldn’t even tell myself what needed to happen next. I was stuck in bed. I tried to watch television but couldn’t focus. I tried to play mobile games and couldn’t focus. I was slipping into pain’s grip. It was only a reminder from someone who loves me that I had been lost from this plane of consciousness. “You are in pain Julie.”

I am resistant to taking pain medications. But it’s less about fear of their addictive power or potency. I am resistant to needing their help. When I’m not in pain I have the capacity to “tough it out.” I am able to hold onto the idea that my mind has some agency over my body. But as pain takes over my senses, I lose my agency and willpower. Pain steals the broader parameters of your personhood. I resist taking pain medications because I do not belief it is possible for me to leave my personhood so completely that I need their help.

But I do need their help. My focus narrows to the pinpoint of pain as it’s intensity blooms. And I don’t even notice it happening. I go from independent human to small body gripped in suffering without any awareness of how it happened.

Any other locus of power or human capacity that I normally retain shrinks to fit around the intensity of the pain. I am not even able to seek relief. That would suggest I retain the critical thinking to recognize what my physicians have prescribed I take and the capacity to enact it. I need to be reminded to take a Tramadol. I need to be coaxed into an OxyContin.

And then relief slowly slips over my mind and body. We think of opioids as drugs that shrink your eyes to pinpricks but I experience their relief more like a dilation of the soul. As the constrictive point of all encompassing focus that is pain is relieved my entire world opens back up.

I regain my mind, my willpower, my focus, and feeling in my limbs. That’s something they don’t tell you about pain. When you are in it you won’t feel anything else. The pleasure of a stretch or the relief of a leisurely walk don’t exist in the same reality as pain. You go from having thousands of senses to just one. You only sense pain.

If this all sounds unfamiliar to you I pray that it stays that way. But if it comes to pass that you are gripped by this monster know that it is ok to relieve your pain. There is no morality to this ghost that takes over your entire world. The only moral good that comes from it will be created by you. Pain will overcome you. You become stuck in it. And sometimes it is within your power to break free.


Day 182 and Operating Capital

Popular culture portrays Silicon Valley and the startup space as one where capital is king. But it’s not the kind of capital you might be envisioning. Money (literal capital) is less of a driver of success than your social capital. And a specific type of social capital is overlooked.

The people with the most social capital aren’t necessarily founders or venture capitalists. It’s the career startup operator that has a good reputation that matters. They have a type of social capital I call operating capital.

There is a reason the team slide matters in a pitch. Who you know and how much they like, respect and trust you has a lot more to do with what deals get done. Part of this is related to luck and timing. The most talented people aren’t always the ones that have big hits. In fact, we correlate failure more strongly to overall credibility.

This makes spotting who has the most status in startups tricky. In industries like finance, money keeps the score. In consumer packaged goods, it’s what brand team you were on. In startups, the score is tricky to quantify value. We’ve developed an elaborate system of social capital signaling that determines who is considered valuable. But within that social capital status in-group you will find that the executive team layer has some of the most pull as founders and board members build working trust with them over years.

Because we value operators as high social status individuals we build our social status signifiers around your proven capacity to problem solve. How you solve problems can make or break a startup.

And we need all kinds of thinking. We need system thinking, (ops), a knack for keeping talent motivated HR), an ability to drive excitement and warp reality (marketing and PR) and obviously you have to be able to make shit (product and engineering). The people with these capabilities are the ones that accrue the most operating capital. Find those high status people and you will never be far from a startup that may have a shot at the big time.