You know what I’ve been thinking about a lot today? I’ve been thinking about the experimental nature of this journey I’m on. I know I talked about it in those terms quite a bit the first few posts I wrote. But after that, I haven’t really returned to that idea at all. But today, I was struck by just how much experimenting I have been doing. It hasn’t just been me either. Actually, both Richard and Kate (my aunt and uncle who are supporting me through this journey and with whom I am living – just in case you’re a new reader) have been making doing some experimenting of their own. This whole experience is, in fact, one big experiment. None of us knew how it would play out when my aunt and uncle came to me when I was in the hospital and proposed this plan to me.
By the time I had decided I wanted to try it and went ahead and moved in, I know that I had a little hope that things would work out. But I also had more than a little doubt; quite a lot of me was worried that this wellness quest would turn out to be a complete disaster.
But instead, I would honestly say that so far a majority of this experiment has been an unequivocal success. Whether you began reading along with me at the very beginning or you just started a few days ago, I’m sure it is evident how much I have taken to this new life I am living.
I was quite apprehensive at the beginning. I couldn’t imagine how I could stay healthy on a gluten-free, vegan diet. I thought I had to have animal protein. I thought lots of whole-wheat products were good for me. Ok, so I sort of knew that milk and dairy products were difficult for me to digest, but I loved them and didn’t want to give them up. That doesn’t sound like someone who would willingly “go vegan”. But I can tell you (and you’ve probably seen from my posts) that I am absolutely loving this new diet I am on. Besides the diet there is my exercise program, my meditation practice, my writing (as in this blog, and some other creative writing), my hygiene (yes, I had to include that), and my medications.
I thought I would make a quick list of all these aspects of my wellness quest and give you an update on how I’m doing and whether the changes I have made have seemed to have an effect or not, or if it is too soon to tell.
Here is my “experimental data” thus far:
Diet: switched from “eating-whatever-the-hell-I-wanted diet” to vegan/gluten-free diet March 27th, 2012
Effects: I have gone from having significant stomach discomfort almost every day to having almost none. I think I have had a couple of hours on perhaps three separate occasions when I have felt discomfort in my digestive system. But, fortunately, it has usual just been gas. (I know you might not like to talk about bodily functions, but let’s be honest, we all have them. If you don’t want to read about them, tough. I won’t get into a whole lot of detail, though, so don’t worry.) Besides the lack of stomach discomfort, I have noticed that my weight is stable, and I am not gaining fat (I did use to have some, even though I was thin). I have also felt like my energy level throughout the day is more stable – instead of having this “burst” of energy followed by a “crash”, I feel awake and alert through much of the day and I attribute some of this to the fact that I no longer load up my diet with refined sugars and other foods with a high glycemic-index level, which means my blood sugar no is no longer spiking really high after a meal then dropping really low. All in all, it is clear that this diet benefits my health. I also believe it is making a contribution, however small, to the health of the planet. And at this point in my life, that has become important to me.
Plans to Change or Modify: None. I like this diet. Although the gluten-free aspect makes life inconvenient at times, I would rather wait to eat or not eat out, and avoid eating gluten than eat it and have it trigger health issues. I no longer feel the need to consume animal flesh. I have seen through this experiment that it is not necessary for me to do so in order to remain healthy. In fact, I have found that it is healthier to not put animal protein into my system, because that puts stress on my body. For that reason, I have no plans to change this.
Exercise: went from hardly exercising at all and having no routine to walking/running a mile then doing 30-40min of Tai Chi in the morning then doing strength training (weights/bowflex/situps etc) in the afternoon for 30-45min
Effects: I have seen a marked improvement in my strength, balance, flexibility, stamina and breathing. One easily measured thing is the amount of weight I lift in my bicep curls. I began with five pounds in each hand. Then I moved to 7.5lbs. Then to 10lbs. And now I have had to move to the bowflex because we don’t have any handweights bigger than 10lbs! That may not seem like much, but it is a huge change for me. I also went from walking half a mile at a slow pace to running a mile in under 10 minutes. Again big change for me. And my Tai Chi routine was so difficult when I started it that I could hardly get through it a single time. Now I go through all 24 movements at least 4 times every morning, and sometimes more later in the day.
Plans to Change or Modify: My only plan to modify this is that I have noticed that my knees have been sore and stiff and that it seems to be related to the increased running. So I plan to slow down a bit and go back to walking one-third of a mile and running the rest of it, and working back up to running the entire thing, until I am able to increase it to multiple miles. I need to be careful of my joints, because they have had problems before and I don’t want to cause problems again, but I also am noticing such positive effects that I have no desire to cut out my cardio entirely. Moderation and progressive increase seems to be the key.
Meditation: from zero meditation to spending at least 20 minutes a day in meditation on my own and an hour on Monday mornings meditation with a group.
Effects: the most pronounced effects I have seen from this have been my ability to deal with stress and to stay calm under pressure. I feel like my meditation practice is helping me to see the world and myself from a new perspective, and that it is providing me with spiritual connection to the universe that I haven’t had in over a decade. It is pretty amazing, because 20 minutes a day is really not much at all but it has made a big difference in my patience, my compassion for others, and my compassion for myself.
Plans to Change or Modify: no plans to change, although I may modify the method I use. That depends on how I feel once I have been doing it longer and once I “iron out the kinks” in my practice. Practice makes perfect, as they say.
Writing: I have gone from writing sporadically and often poorly to writing at least every night, usually for about an hour, and usually around 1500 words. Just like I am doing right now. In addition to that I am working on two creative projects, a novel and a collection of poems. The novel is in its early stages and the collection of poems is mostly done, just needs editing.
Effects: I have found that allowing myself to express what is on my mind in this blog every day and staying disciplined to write every single evening is giving me a whole new insight on myself and my ability to apply myself and my creative drive. And I think my writing is improving because of it.
Plans to Change or Modify: No specific plans, except that I think I am going to start making a list of possible topics for this blog, and that my topics will slowly begin to shift from being very focused on my personal life to having more relevance for my readers. I couldn’t entirely eliminate myself and my experience from the blog and I wouldn’t want to even if I could. Part of what I truly love about this blog is that I get to talk to you intimately, like it is just you and I sitting together and talking after a long day. The one thing I really want to do is to figure out how to prompt more responses from you, my readers. So if you have any ideas, please post them in my comments or email them.
Hygiene: Uh, yeah…before I moved in to my aunt and uncle’s place and began this quest, I was showering maybe once every two weeks, I brushed my teeth about as often, hardly washed my hands, did laundry maybe once a month…basically couldn’t care less about my appearance and taking care of the “outside” of my body. Now I shower every other day, I brush and floss my teeth every day (although at times only once), and I wash my hands all the time, and do laundry and clean my area of the house once a week at least.
Effects: I hardly think I have to tell you how much of a difference this makes in my self-esteem. When I was choosing not to care how I looked, I was also, in effect, choosing not to care how I felt about myself. Because at the point when I entered Legacy Emmanuel Hospital in an ambulance from Hooper Detox Center, I had not had a haircut in months, I had not shaved in at least as long, my hands and feet were filthy, I had acne all over my face, back, and chest…I was a mess. And I felt worthless and hopeless. Now I maintain positive hygiene habits and I feel good about myself, and, frankly, I am happy with my appearance for the first time in a couple years. Yes, I look good, and I know it J
Plans to Change or Modify: No plans to change these things, except to get contact lenses so I don’t need to wear my glasses all the time. Only slightly related to hygiene, but it didn’t fit anywhere else, haha!
Medication: I almost never doing my inhaled meds or taking my enzymes and anti-biotics while abusing prescription (and non-prescription) pain medications. (And yes, this means I was injecting heroin and other similar drugs.) Now, I take all my medications as prescribed every day, and I do all my breathing treatments diligently three times a day. I only have one medication with any abuse potential, and my aunt and uncle dispense it to me and keep it locked in a safe the rest of the time so that I don’t even have to worry about it.
Effects: First of all, I feel a lot better. My lungs are better, I’m not in constant pain, I sleep pretty well and usually go to bed around the same time each night and wake up around the same time each morning. I cough much less often. I am not abusing any drugs and I feel so much better being sober. I think clearer and I make better decisions. My lung function actually improved a few percentage points from one doctor’s appointment to the next (which I don’t think has happened in at least 5 years). All in all, this aspect of my experiment seems to be making the most difference, with diet coming in a close second.
Plans to Change or Modify: Well, at some point I am going to want to be off the one medication with “abuse potential”, called subutex. It is also difficult to find prescribers for it. Plus, I know that ultimately my health will be better served once I don’t have to take any medication that changes my brain chemistry directly. However, the subutex has been doing a great job at managing any physical pain I’ve been having, as well as eliminating cravings for opiates, which is its primary purpose. So although at some point I will need to wean myself off this drug, for now, it is doing its job without hindering my progress.
Wow. Ok. So thanks for reading through all that. I just felt led to do a detailed sort of cost-benefit analysis of this experimental process I have undertaken.
I would love to hear your thoughts on my process and to hear about your own process.
You may not have embarked on an intentional wellness quest like I have. But life, in and of itself, is an experiment. We choose things, experience the consequences of our choices, and then either make the same choice again or make a different choice depending on the previous outcome. It may not seem as methodical as that when we are living it, but on a fundamental level our lives are nothing more than a multitude of miniature experiments involving many small decisions within each minute of each hour of each day.
It comes down to intention. I am intentionally spending time and energy focusing on my own process. I don’t think it matters how you do it, but I challenge you to spend some time and energy focused on your own process this week, and to think about what it would mean to make optimal wellness one of your primary goals in life.
After all, what should be more important to us than the health and well being of our minds, bodies and spirits?
Peace to you, and goodnight,