Last week I felt like I was struggling to hold together level emotions and coherent thought. I had a lot of “feels” posts where I spent more time inspecting my interior world than I did analyzing exterior events.
When I feel energetic I can take in more information and engage in synthesis but when I’m feeling tired or otherwise am flaring from autoimmune condition I requires more mindfulness. This mindfulness lends itself to more of an inner focus. Often this brings me a sense of peace and emotional well being. Lately my case has been well controlled to the point of recovery, yet I haven’t felt as emotionally joyful about the development as I thought I would.
I struggle with wanting to lean into enthusiasm though. Too many days in a row of exertion or excitement and I fear I’ll set myself back. That’s a kind of self limiting behavior that I hope I can let go. I want to feel confident in my energy but I do not want to turn myself back into workaholic habits either. This is a fear so persistent I’ve tagged eight posts in the last five months with the topic. So great is the fear that I felt some relief that I felt physically unwell today as I could blame my body instead of making the choice for myself if I wanted to be driven by energy and not recovery.
I can’t put off the mixed emotions on wellness and how I feel about working in the world. My capacity is nearly there. I’m taking on more and more. I have even plotted some of my next moves. But I’m feeling Augustine about the whole affair. Oh make well God but not quite yet!
I’ve always been prone to energy dips in the afternoon. I wake up immediately ready for the day but after lunch and another of work or activity and I’m heading off an energy cliff. If I allow myself a burst of sleep I’ll be back and feeling as energetic as I was in the morning right as my body insists on an energy dip as it is dinner time. Two hours later and it’s basically bedtime just as my second energy burst is coming on. Not great timing if I’m honest.
This is a concern for me as I regularly get too worked up to fall asleep easily. I practice all the sleep hygiene best-of hits like blue light blocking, dark cool rooms aand magnesium and still I find myself longing to find my phone and doomscroll Twitter. My biohacking efforts on the most restful night of sleep are easily derailed by the need to dunk tweet or reply guy.
I long to find the ideal balance of nighttime rest and day time napping to make my ideal circadian rhythm shine. I wonder if I should be one of those types that breaks their sleep pattern into two blocks. Biophasic or segmented sleep always seemed like a cool hack for maximizing energy. I just don’t know if it would accidentally break me.
As much as I want to go on some sort of sleep optimizing spree my gut tells me I just need the sleep that I need. I probably need the eight hours at night along with an hour during the day. It’s just fine that I sleep more. It’s literally the best thing anyone can do for their health.
The tricky workaholic part of my brain fantasizes about having an even block of productive work that shifts my bedtime so I have a six hour evening block to match my six hour morning block. I get indignant that after my nap in the afternoon instead of rising into a second workday my energy is consumed with practicality like dinner and sleep hygiene routines. I should not push my body for my workaholic fantasies but the bio hacker in me really wants to try.
I didn’t have hobbies for a long time. People would ask me what I did in my free time and I’d give them a confused look and try to come up with a plausible activity like reading. I was embarrassed. Everyone else constantly doing shit. In reality, I didn’t have the energy for anything but work and taking care of life basics (and for a few years spare energy was dedicated to sex and dating but that’s different post).
I’ve been an on and off entrepreneur my whole working life. And if I’m totally candid I’ve had health issues that impacted my energy since I was a child. So while I have had things in my life other people would consider hobbies, they were slowly stripped from me. I stopped horseback riding somewhere between 16-17 when I dropped out of school. I told people it was allergies (which was true) but much of it was exhaustion. I was fighting just to keep up with obligations to education like taking tests for college and to prove I had learned enough to be considered a “graduate” by my school.
In college I was blessed to go to a school that wasn’t cool to have have parties. That made it easy to hide being too tired to socialize. Other students were in clubs. I didn’t join anything. I was thrilled to make it to my job (as a research assistant to a medical ethicist) and get home to my roommate and boyfriend to watch tv at night. I didn’t realize this wasn’t normal at the time.
Once I started my first company all I did was work. I had to socialize professionally so I spent a lot of time at fashion parties. While this is fun it wasn’t a hobby. I partied because it’s how I made my living. For a while I thought this meant I had a hip social life. Which was a nice lie. I had a glamorous job.
It started dawning on me around 24 or 25 after I sold my first company and had to relocate to San Francisco for the acquisition that other people didn’t live like I did. In San Francisco people hiked, did yoga, took classes, and all the other “bullshit” I looked down on. I looked down on hobbies not because I think work is better but as a defense mechanism. I was jealous.
All these people had energy at the end of the day. They wanted to do things! That was unfathomable to me. I could barely do work. How the fuck was I supposed to do stand up paddle boarding on the bay? I was not kind to people that had hobbies. I told myself (and they could tell) I thought they weren’t as good as me. Of course, now I realize this was the trauma of illness manifesting it. I couldn’t do what they did. Rather than feel sad or angry or some other productive feeling I decided I was better. All to avoid letting myself feel how angry I was that I couldn’t have that life.
I’ve come to accept that I still live more than most people even with limitations like illness. I don’t have to prove a good life with status markers like hobbies. Though I’m still fighting to get to complete functionality and control with my autoimmune disease. But even if I do get to a place where I can live normally I might still skip the hobbies. I’ll go straight for the pleasures like work. I’ve only got so much time so I may as well enjoy each moment with what I actually like.
When I first set out to write everyday I didn’t set a goal. I think in my mind I meant it as a month long exercise to create more. Now I’ve got no idea what will eventually break the streak. I’m sure when it happens (something is bound to occur) I’ll be frustrated and I will just keep going the next day I hope. I’m trying to remember that Banksy “when you get tired, learn to rest, not quit” graffiti with the little girl sitting staring at a bluebird. I know it’s the stuff of inspiration Instaporn but whatever works right?
I’ve managed to write through a fair amount of awful shit in the last hundred days so it’s not that I’m afraid I’ll quit. I’ve become accustomed to simply opening up the draft space and writing. I just start some days with no particular topic in mind. Its more the knowledge that I am going to need to take breaks. Maybe not from writing but from life.
Today is one of those break days. I can barely tell you what happened today. I’ve got a project with a deadline but as I pushed myself physically yesterday I found that I needed today off. Resting today gives me tomorrow. I know this sounds basic but as a workaholic I’ve not traditionally been good at resting when it’s not been forced on me.
Usually on rest days I’m prone in bed as I’m in too much pain and too exhausted to do anything else. I hid this for so much of my illness and now I’m almost comically transparent about it. You’d think I’d be considered a liability and no one would ever want to work with me (or be friends with me) and yet I’ve found that not to be the case.
The empathy I’ve found in almost everyone makes me wonder if we’ve got our reputation building advice all wrong. I was under the impression I needed to hide my illness and always excuse strength. But the more honest I am about my capacity and my limits the better my work and relationships get. I’m slowly leaving behind the persona of “always on” hustle “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” bullshit of my younger years.
I still have a lot of fear about being perceived as unreliable. There’s not much logic to it. I always meet my commitments head on and when I physically can’t people understand. I work with backups plans and teams so that its never a crisis if I simply need to rest. The work gets done with or without me because my reliability is a function of preparedness and collaboration now instead of will force and midnight marches. If anything I think this makes me a better partner to work with ss instead of relying on my “at any cost” personality you can rely on me simply slowly and with planning getting your further than we could have gone alone.
I’m feeling pretty good these days. I’ve written about my progress and my biohacking. But one area I’m not improving in is consistency. Despite meticulous record keeping and a routine I maintain assiduously, it’s almost impossible to predict when I’ll have a bad day. They appear at random!
Most days were bad days the past two or three years. The good days really stood out. I noticed them because they were rare. Now I’ve got a pretty consistent pattern of several days on and one day off. Sometimes I’ll even wrack up almost a week of good days. I used to have bad months and bad weeks. Now it’s rare for me to have more than three bad days in a row.
But I’m still regularly caught off guard by bad days. Out of the blue for no discernible reason I’m in pain, exhausted and struggling with basic function. The pain is the first symptom. Radiating out from my upper spine it pins me flat on my back in bed. About all I can manage in that state of pain is my phone over my face and the light gestures required to work a touch screen. But I don’t know why I have these bad days.
I can do everything “right” and be feeling terrific and then I’m fucked up all over again on a dime. Now I’ve got a small pharmacy I can toss at my symptoms now so I can often medicate myself back to a tolerable baseline.
The issue is what should I do once I’ve recovered? Do I rest? Build up my strength? I used to practice “active resting” where I would engage in restorative practices even when I felt well. The idea was I was building up a reserve of energy for the next crash. But was that the wrong approach?
I’m beginning to think I should take advantage of every last moment of health I have. If I feel well then screw the “active resting” I’m going to use every good minute I’ve got to pursue my goals. Active resting doesn’t seem to have any benefits I can reliably track. And it seems no more likely I’ll have a good day if I have rested then it is I will have a bad day. At best it’s marginally related to a poor night sleep but once I’ve woken up to face the day the day is cast there isn’t it?
I hate that I’m unreliable. I hate that I can’t track triggers. Doctors have seemed largely sanguine on the issue. Some days will just be bad. Sometimes your immune response will be off. But I’m feel lost and angry that I don’t know how I can live life without some degree of predictability. The only thing I can rely on is that on good days I feel good. So maybe I should just pack shit in on those days. No restorative crap. Just go hard at my goals. I’m not sure this is a good plan. It’s probably a bad one. It could just be my addiction to work talking now that my mind knows my body can handle my hard living again. At least for a few days. But if hard living doesn’t produce predictable crashes then what should my takeaway be? Fuck if I know.
The more writing has become a daily habit the more I can feel the ebbs and flows of my own voice. Some days I feel a passionate need to share some story or insight, and others, I feel like my voice can barely muster a sentence let alone a full fledged argument.
There are days where fully thought through essays seem to emerge with little effort. As if I wrote them in my subconscious throughout the day and it’s only the slight flick of focus that brings it fully formed to the page. Other days I need to scrape at the contours of my mind to see what fancies or novelties has passed through my attention through the day. Often in theses cases a bit of zeitgeist has stuck in a crevice and I can pull it out and expand on it. I can take a small nugget and chew on it till I find the juice.
I don’t mind the days where I need turn my eye within. The self reflection and additional effort is what I think may slowly be making me a better writer. While I don’t struggle with needing discipline to write everyday, I do need to exercise effort to find ideas that haven’t formed yet. The daily nature of the experiment is building out new thought muscles. It’s making my thinker clearer, faster and crisper. The regular exercise of thought and mind, whether I’m inspired or not, feels as if it’s making inspiration strike more often and my mind see clearly.
I’m getting the sense that a lot more people suffer from general poor health than we let on. When I discuss my own struggles my inbox blows up with fellow suffers of autoimmune conditions. People are fatigued, in pain, mentally sluggish and often struggle with adjacent symptoms like chronic inflammation or gastrointestinal ailments.
Please know you are not alone. As it’s rarely considered socially acceptable to be sick (it’s own issue) I’m going to use my position of privilege to discuss how I’ve hacked my way from completely disabled to about 90% healthy. I’m here to share what luck, power, and wealth have given to me so others with less may succeed like I have.
Step 1: Diagnostic Baseline
It’s really hard to do anything when you are sick and trust me I hate being told well nothing is wrong so maybe just lose weight, exercise and eat healthy. Like sure you fuckers I haven’t considered yoga. Fuck all the way off. But alas it’s true that in order to navigate modern medicine you need a baseline. Go to a GP and ask for a full blood work up. A blood test is typically composed of three main tests: a complete blood count, a metabolic panel and a lipid panel. Read up on what you might see on a typical blood panel. This article is a good place to start (I am not a patient of theirs and do not endorse them for care it’s just a reference).
Step 2: Pick Your Tools and Measurements
If it is possible (lots of folks suffering from chronic fatigue can’t) start on the basics. Order a tracker like a Fitbit, Oura Ring, Apple Watch or Whoop. Then pick an app that can help organize your data. I personally use Gyroscope. My tracking stack is a Whoop for strain & recovery and an Apple Watch for more generalized tracking like sleep, sleep and heart rate monitor. I use MyFitnessPal for food tracking. Strong for workout tracking. Calm for mindfulness, and Gyroscope syncs it for one dashboard. I also use an app called Welltory which uses HRV & blood pressure from monitoring it does in application as well as through syncing with Apple Watch.
I also track my symptoms in a journal app called Day One as it’s the lowest friction place I can do simple logging of metrics like pain, mood and energy levels. I also use Google Sheets to keep track of my medications and supplements as I take upwards of 25 different pills and remedies a day (trust me I wish it didn’t work). While there is a lot of variance on workouts I always get hour of low impact walking (3 miles a day), ten minutes of mindfulness, and all my supplements. Like I never miss a pill. I’m happy to discuss my supplement stack with folks but here is a basic guideline of what I take that is provably good.
Step 3: Steadily Improve
Most people overdo it. You try to change a bunch of stuff all at once. Or you dive right into a big change. This is too overwhelming. And it can make you feel sicker (some folks call it a healing crisis). Just pick one metric and improve it by 10% over a week. Pick one activity you will do for 30 straight days. I said I’d write every day and here it is day 91. (Edit, I updated my stack on this post to reflect current use on day 355). The point is you can’t improve everything all at once.
Part of my success is simply telling myself I was going to run the experiment even if it was a failure. Biohacking requires that you don’t change up your variables too often or too quickly. You need to establish trend lines. The biggest mistake you can make is being “noisy” as you will never isolate the meaningful variables. And you won’t stick to it. So it’s a double fuck up. Clean reliable data matters. Don’t change too much too fast.
Step 4: Try Common Experiments
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Coming up with unique experiments probably won’t be necessary till you are well along your biohacking journey. My elaborate tests didn’t really start till this year after two full years of tracking. Start with common experiments others have shown to work. Fasting is a great place to start for metabolic health and fat loss. Walking makes a big difference in your resting heart rate. Being active once an hour has proven metabolic benefits. Try intermittent fasts and then if you see a benefit you can progress to 72 hour water fasts. Adding more protein to your diet is popular for a reason. Start with 20 grams at a meal and work up to a gram per ounce of your goal body weight. Eating more protein tends to shift your diet away from lower quality calories as it’s hard to eat a whole chicken breast and then eat a bunch of fried potatoes. Though I have tried. Work in supplements for whatever your bloods showed you to be borderline on. Vitamin D deficiency is common. If want to sleep deeper try magnesium at night. If you are tired B vitamins are proven. If mental acuity is your goal CoQ10, green tea and ginseng work for many people. Metformin is the top metabolic drug for a reason. If your lipid panel said you needed to lose weight or you have metabolic syndrome Metformin is your first stop. Like I said, there are a lot of proven hacks you can test out and incorporate into your life right now. Don’t be intimidated just work an experiment that has a high probability of success.
Anyone can begin biohacking with a goal, basic tools, and some patience. I’ve taken myself pretty far in the past three years. I’ve had great doctors but some of my success comes down to being willing to experiment with my body.
I’m learning to live around my routines. Or maybe my routines are what I live and everything else that I perceive as life is just moments in between meals, meditation, supplements, treatments, workouts, walks, and pharmaceuticals. Who is to say what forms the contours of life?
When I first picked up the daily commitment to write I struggled to find a topic to write about each day and I would find myself stressed if the end of the day was nearing and I felt I had nothing of value to say. Now I am realizing that having something to say isn’t the point of this daily discipline. It is the persistence that matters. The content is secondary. The knowledge that every day I will write and so I do is what matters. I will exercise the willpower necessary to form my thoughts into words. I will place them in public to prove to myself that I have remained committed. This is like any other aspect of my routine. Breath in and breathe out. Lift the weight. Take the medicine. Write the words.
Daily disciplines bring about breakthroughs. The individual acts maybe don’t matter so much. Some days will be better than others. But persistent effort brings about quality inexorably. It forces a standard of quality that improves at each repetition in some meaningful way even if you cannot see it in that moment. I find the act of creation easier now. It doesn’t feel like a burden. It is nit a source of stress or anxiety. It’s just something I do.
Seasons seems to have fallen into the same category as “time” in that both have no meaning anymore. The pandemic has loosened our grip on linearity in our perception of time significantly. Which I view as an unabashedly positive thing. Why should we all be forced into living as if life moved in a straight line?
Nature has given the impression of being keen on rhythms like seasonal transitions but the more human life bangs on the planet the less it seems like seasons matter either. I’m less sure if that’s a net benefit like losing a linear sense of time (that was always bullshit) but losing nature’s rhythms is a bit weirder.
It’s the first official day of spring in the northern hemisphere and its snowing in Colorado right now. And we just dug ourselves out of over two feet of snow from a significant blizzard. The only indicator that seasonal change is upon us is day and night reaching equilibrium.
I’m having mixed feelings on the season of rebirth. A kind of shaken manic state has taken hold of our emotions with the possibility that the pandemic could be tamed. With vaccines rolling out quickly giddy conversations about summer reunions and family travel are cropping up. Friends are sounding optimistic about seeing each other again..All while we don’t really know if things will actually be better with a number of unknowns in the ether.
I’m not sure I want to change my lifestyle for a post pandemic world. Much as I’m praying vaccines remain effective and same. The pandemic has revealed many elements of our past lives to be unsustainable. I like being home. I like office life being considered less productive than the freedom to work from where you wish. . And I really like not having to socialize for professional reasons. I hope we keep the best elements. If I felt safe that all the accessibility was going to remain maybe I’d feel ready to celebrate spring. As it is I have some snowy winter worries on what life will look like as we step out of the cold into a new spring.
As a dedicated shitposter I have got to learn to keep the takes to myself after 9pm. It’s feels like I’ve been following gossip about the perennial “platform versus editorial” since I was a toddler (in reality maybe since I was in college) so every time a new chapter unfolds I lap it up. Mostly because I’m a sucker for media gossip and this is a personal favorite.
Last night after my bed time I starting reading more Substack hot takes (if you aren’t following people are worked up about a program called Substack Pro and what opinion writers are or are not being paid by the startup) and decided to be a dork and say shit even though I knew I’d regret it. Not the shitposting itself to be clear, I never regret a take, I just regret doing it when I should be asleep. Two hours later I’m way too worked up to sleep. Twitter is a lot of fun and I’m a high energy kind of person. Despite me being dedicated to my healthy routines I ended up not sleeping till midnight and then got woken up at 530am. So I’m a bit of walking nightmare today as I’m really too old for late night goofing off even if it’s just on the internet and not a nightclub (remember those?).
So if you see me goofing off on social media after 9pm please tell me to go to bed. Do not encourage me. Don’t feed the trolls. And by trolls I mean me