Tag Archives: brain fog

At the tunnel mouth, waiting for the Black Dog

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Where do I begin? With the Tunnel I’ve avoided for half a century? Or with the Black Dog that bites my ankles and drives me toward it?

I begin today. I choose to walk into the dark with the dog at my heels.

Tunnel mouth

In February I turned sixty. In three days time I will be sixty-and-a-half. It’s time to figure out what to be when I grow up.

Hah – that’s a cute start to a blog post, right? A little zing, a perky finger to convention, a zap of wry, dry, slyly self-denigrating humor. But, unfortunately, not true.

I know what I want to be – I always have. I even know how to get there. What I don’t know – what I haven’t figured out in forty years, five months and twenty-eight days of trying (the first twenty years it didn’t occur to me “trying” was involved; I still believed in the magical inevitability of I Am) – is how the fuck to make myself keep walking all the way to the destination. (I even know there is no destination, only an unmarked trail through the dark, but I must take it or go nowhere.)

So. Sixty years old. Three-quarters of my life. (Yes, I know it might be only two-thirds, and it may also be sixty sixty-oneths – but three quarters of my grandparents and all my parents made it to their eighties, so that seems a reasonable number to shoot for. Assuming I don’t absent-mindedly shoot myself before I get there.) I spent the first quarter daughtering, the second quarter mothering, the third quarter wifing. Now what?

To be clear, while the daughtering has ended and the mothering is only occasional, the wifing continues. The Hubbit and I ignored our twentieth wedding anniversary a little over a week ago. Random factoid set: Traditionally – insofar as something started less than a century ago can be deemed traditional – in the UK and the US the twentieth is the “china” anniversary. For reasons I haven’t bothered to research, the Chicago Public Library designates it the platinum anniversary. Flowers and jewels are also mentioned.  (I love Wikipedia, don’t you?) So, if we’d been a traditional couple, even marginally romantically inclined, the Hubbit could have escorted me to the antique mall or the art show to buy a big china mixing bowl to replace the one he broke a few years ago and that I still miss every time I have to make do with the greasy-smooth plastic one, or he could have showered me with asters or bedecked me with emeralds. In return, I could have given him pretty much anything from this store, since one of the first things he ever told me about his personal life philosophy (and in twenty years I’ve never seen him stray from it) is that it’s impossible to own too many tools.

What I asked for – in our/my own style of non-traditional romanticity – was that he repair the motor on the boat so that we could once again float down the Columbia, I nude but for a book and he sternly watching our dangling fishing lines. (He used to threaten to pull my line out of the water if I didn’t learn to take the fish off the hook myself, until he realized I was there to be naked in the middle of the river and really didn’t care about the catching part of fishing). I wanted to remember what it was that made me want to live here, so far from Africa. You see, I fell in love with the man first … but it was the river that sealed the deal. We don’t have rivers like the Columbia in Africa.

In any case, I would have settled for a conclusive repair to the septic pump. In return, I promised to clean the house. Neither of us delivered, and in the end it was easier to pretend twenty wasn’t a big deal. Twenty-five years, now – that’s a quarter century. That’s silver. Surely he can get both the boat and the septic fixed, and I can get the house clean, within the next five years.

To get back to my original point: in the context of a lifetime, looking at one more (potential) twenty year stretch, I find myself thinking … this one’s for me.

I started pondering this post a few days ago. (I should have written it then, before brain fog descended, muddling my thoughts and tangling my fingers.) I started writing it early today. (I should have finished it right away, before the dark began to suck me into itself.) Now I’m finding it increasingly difficult to write coherently. Tears dam up behind my cheeks, and the pressure of holding them back makes my face ache. When I look back, trying to make sense of how I got to this place, I see word soup. Fragmented ideas, fractured phrases. They drift just out of reach.

When I read this post again, I will hate it. I will be compelled to edit it. But I will write it anyway, I will say what I have to say as simply and clearly as possible, and I will post it without delay even though I can’t remember why I must, or whom it’s for. It is my yawp.

This is what I have done: I have stopped the drugs. Prozac, Bupropion – it’s been nice to know I could put a leash on the Black Dog, but I want to see what happens if I let it run. Will it turn and devour me? Or will it go fetch – and if so, what will it bring me? And Adderall – it was such a relief to have a diagnosis, an official Label, to paste over a lifetime’s worth of fumbles and failures. Such a victory to think more clearly, to say I would do something and then actually do it.

We – my doctor and I – juggled the drugs until I got to a place where I could actually tell when I was fucking up. Sometimes that made it possible to not fuck up, but even when it didn’t, the experience of actually seeing what my brain was doing was revelatory.

Until it wasn’t. I still create to-do lists, which I edit and organize and reorganize compulsively, in between staring at the wall and playing sudoku – which is what I’d much rather be doing right now, by the way – mindlessly organizing numbers rather than trying to organize my own thoughts into a coherent … what the fuck is this? Explanation? Description? Record? Take a deep breath. What am I doing? I’m trying to write – no, I am writing about where the first six months of the next, maybe last, maybe twenty years of my life have brought me: to the mouth of the Tunnel, to the lair of the Black Dog.

Here, I think, are my options. I can go back to the doctor and have her increase the dose, or change the prescription, or … whatever occurs to her. If I do that, I’ll feel better. The Tunnel will disappear in a puff of fairy dust, and the Black Dog will curl up at my feet like any old Labrador.

And then?

How will I grow up if I never walk through the Tunnel? What can I be if I don’t learn to run with the Black Dog?

So. I have quit the drugs. The next step, which will take me in through the tunnel mouth, is to quit eating.

No, not permanently, for fuck’s sake – I’m not committing suicide. I’m fasting. I don’t know how long for … five days? Forty? As long as I can. I have to go through the hungry and find the burn and then get hungry again, and after that I will eat.

As for the reasons … I was going to write about those but you have Google – they have to do with energy, and ketosis, and autophagy, and cleansing my body of all the toxic crap that (I suspect, and who are you to say I’m wrong?) is off-gassing into my meat my bones my brain.

I remember now why I had to write this. It’s because this is going to suck, mainly for me but also for anyone near me. I may not be a lot of fun to have around. I may have to stop talking. I may not be able to listen. I may not be entirely reliable. I may have to hide under a blanket, or in the closet with the light off. Girl Child and Twiglet, Ngalitjeng, Wonder Woman, Kuja, Parri, and of course my own Hubbit: I have to make this journey, and I don’t know how long it will take, and you can’t come with me and I can’t talk to you about it – except, perhaps, here, where I talk to anyone in the world who happens by.

Don’t call me back. I have to find out who I can be. And if you see the Black Dog with my heart between its teeth, that’s okay. You know I’m good with dogs.

Black dog

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Kicking into ketosis

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Right … so … this ketogenic diet/lifestyle thing? It works, but it’s also complicated. It’s not the Magic Thin Pill. Woe and alackaday, it demands thought and effort and more thought and analysis and then some thinking. And every now and then, despite one’s best efforts, one hears the Siren Song of the Carbs, which goes: “Eat me … yumyumyum … ee-ee-eat meee … yumyumyum.”

xx

Sirens are hard to ignore – just ask Ulysses. Warned that the sound of their singing would cause him to jump overboard and drown himself in a vat of chocolate sauce, he instructed his minions to tie him to the mast of his ship so he could hear the sirens without being overwhelmed by an Undesirable Urge. (Nowadays we have pills for that.) He could do this because he wasn’t responsible for any actual rowing. So this is the first big difference between me and Ulysses: I don’t have minions. I  have to push my shopping cart unaided, so if I take it into my head to wander down the candy aisle or past the baked goods, not making an unattractive spectacle of myself is pretty much all up to me. (Sometimes Himself is along, but we live in a conservative community; I suspect the folk at Costco would look askance if he tied me to the shopping cart. Blame 50 Shades of Grey for their icky assumptions.) So anyway, to get back to my point, Ulysses chose bondage as his path to enlightenment. His minions blocked their ears so that they wouldn’t hear the sirens, while vigorous rowing gave them a helpful outlet for any other testosterone-fueled impulses. Ulysses, lacking both protective headgear and a distraction, went completely nuts. I can feel for him; while not greatly affected by the nubile deliciousness of naked girls – legless or otherwise – I would definitely have to roll my eyes heavenward if sung at by, say, a scoop or six of creamy vanilla ice cream topped with strawberries.

In other words, February has been a challenge. The thing about the ketogenic lifestyle is that when you’re in the groove, you really do feel good. You have more energy, deeper and more restful sleep, fewer aches and pains, improved mood, clearer mental processes, no cravings or attacks of the munchies. Chomp down on that brownie, however, and the desire for carbs will grab hold of you faster than you can say “Please sir, can I have some more” – and the process of getting back in the keto groove is a real bear: tiredness, brain fog, flu-like symptoms, physical weakness, headaches, depression. I have spent this whole miserable February learning and relearning that my body is not going to cut me any slack at all – but, if I grit my teeth through the change-over from carbs to fat as my source of energy, and if I don’t make stupid choices regarding brownies and their ilk, I do in fact feel pretty darn good. (I know I’ve mentioned this before. It’s important that you understand, dear reader, that deep down I can’t quite shake the belief that you’re actually a figment of my imagination, and so a lot of the time I’m writing these blatherings to myself. I need these reminders!)

I’ve been wandering the web for the past several months, reading up about ketosis, ketones and ketogenic eating, high fat, low fat, the sneakiness of carbs, and just how important is exercise. The volume of conflicting information and opinions, and the gazillion “experts” trying to scare you into buying their products and programs, threatened to overwhelm. I needed a guru, and eventually settled on Jimmy Moore – specifically his book Keto Clarity. I picked Moore because he’s connected with a huge and varied team of experts in his field, he writes from the perspective of personal experience, and he doesn’t push a one-size-fits-all approach. . Rather, he offers practical advice on how to figure out what will work for your unique body.Plus, he never once asked for my credit card information

As a person whose body has been damaged by years of poor nutrition, minimal movement, much stress and regular sugar overload, I know it will likely take me four or six weeks to shift fully into nutritional ketosis. Meanwhile I teeter between feeling fabulous and feeling ghastly, and those excess bloody pounds just won’t let go. My solution is to adopt as extreme an approach as I can, focusing primarily on ingestion – I’ll add exercise later, as I’m able. The one caveat is, I will not get tangled up in a whole lot of numbers. I know what I weigh, and I’ll hop on the scale at random intervals to see what that number is doing – but there will be no awkward fumbling about with tape measures, or keeping food diaries, or filling in charts. (Yep, that’s me – ever the rebel!)

So, now for some practical information. My immediate goal is to get into nutritional ketosis, in an effort to get my body to work more efficiently, generate more energy, and burn fat. I want to tell you what I’m doing to get there – starting, today, with the food.

  • It’s all about quality – and that doesn’t have to be expensive. If you choose this as a lifestyle you’re not going to spend money on junk food, and once your body adjusts you’ll find you eat less by choice – so get the good stuff. We’re fortunate to raise our own eggs and beef, and I have the strongest of veggie garden aspirations for this summer. I’ve also identified local sources of pasture-raised pork and chickens. You can do this too! You may not be able to raise your own, but invest in a freezer, find local small farmers, and buy directly from them! It’s important to avoid meat that’s full of hormones, antibiotics and other volume-pumping chemicals because much of that garbage is stored in the fat, and this is a high-fat diet – you want those fatty cuts of meat, and it’s better for you if they’re clean.
  • NO CALORIE COUNTING! This is all about choosing the right kinds of food, eating as much as you need to be satisfied, and eating only when hungry. I have found that as I adapt to eating this way, I just don’t get hungry that often. Typically I’ll eat breakfast by mid-morning, and my next meal between mid-afternoon and evening. I may snack around lunchtime and bedtime. but more and more I’m just not hungry more than twice a day.
  • I’m keeping those carbohydrates as low as I can – as close as possible to zero, and definitely below 20 grams per day, calculated as total carbs, not net carbs. This means no sugar and no starch.  (Yes, hello, fruit contains sugar! An apple a day keeps the ketones at bay!) You’ll find detailed food lists all over the web; here’s one and here’s another. Usually I just google “how many carbs in food-type-whatever”. Gotta love technology! Mostly I eat dark leafy greens – I’m learning to love the texture and flavor of veggies like kale, collard greens and chard. The dark green indicates a high content of certain essential nutrients, and their carb content is minimal.
  • There are conflicting, often complicated theories out there regarding how much protein you should eat. If you consume more protein than your body needs, it will convert to sugar, and your body will use it before burning fat. On the other hand, protein contains essential amino acids, so you absolutely must eat enough for your needs. I try to eat around 30 grams at a time, usually twice a day. That’s a four-egg omelet for breakfast with a sprinkling of cheese, or 3 oz meat, or … again, detailed lists are all over the internet. Just google “Protein content of whatever”. An important factor defining how much protein you need is your activity level. Mine is slug-like, so I’ll be monitoring my progress, and I may cut back on my daily protein intake until I’m able to start exercising intensely if that seems the way to go.

This one-hour lecture will tell you pretty much everything you need to know about the role of protein in your diet.

  • I am continually bumping up my fat intake and monitoring how it affects me. Yes, this is counter-intuitive and a bit scary, but everything I read from serious keto writers reiterates that you have to eat dietary fat to burn body fat. A typical lunchtime snack, if I happen to be hungry or planning a later dinner, will be celery sticks or slices of salami, loaded with cream cheese. My breakfast omelet often contains a whole avocado. I dollop sour cream and butter onto anything that will carry it; I choose fatty cuts of meat, munch down on bacon, and save bacon fat to use for cooking. I also cook with coconut oil, and I sprinkle olive oil or mayonnaise generously onto salads. One of the many benefits of fat is feeling fuller for longer; I don’t often drink milk because it contains sugar, but a full-cream latte will stave off hunger pangs much more effectively than a cookie.
  • I try to drink lots of water. Initial weight loss on this diet is largely water, and you have to keep replacing it if you don’t want to become exhausted. When I forget to drink, I get tired and spacey. Some people find that caffeine triggers sugar cravings but it doesn’t have that effect on me – but mostly I choose water because I find it hydrates me more effectively than other liquids, and that makes me feel good. (It helps that the water from our well is just about the best I’ve ever tasted anywhere!)

Friends, I’m feeling pretty excited about this! Yes, it’s been tough to get even to this point, and I’m looking forward to continued improvements in my moods and energy levels – and weight loss, of course! Most people apparently see their poundage drop immediately, but that’s not been my experience. I’m hanging in, however, and continuing to tweak the way I eat as I figure out what works for me.

In future posts I’ll cover various other issues, including the short-term and long-term effects of nutritional ketosis, how to ensure that you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs, and exercise. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – your personal experience, concerns, questions, and – I hope – words of encouragement. So chip in! (Just not chocolate chips, okay? Okay!)

Day 21 – half way to 40

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My bathroom scale and I are friends again. In 20 days of the Daniel diet, I have lost at least 21 lbs. It’s actually probably more, because around 10 days before I started this my scale went on strike, causing me such despondency that I crawled into a hole and binged until I scared myself enough to go public with Phase 1 of a practical plan to change.

Maybe going public is what made the difference. I didn’t want to go on here – even with my pathetically few (albeit hugely valued!!!) followers – and admit that I’d failed. Again. Plus, your words of encouragement really helped – thank you! More than that, something inside my head has clicked. I just, quite simply, don’t want to live here any more.

I don't look like this. And actually, that's okay.

I don’t look like this. And actually, that’s okay.

The good news is that my head continues to be clear. No more brain fog! This morning, just for the heck of it, I did a Mensa quiz – just a fun thing I found online – and I was able to do most of it in my head, while lying in bed, using my not-smart-enough-for-Mensa phone. Then I had to get up to work something out using algebra, and my phone took the opportunity to check out, so I have no idea how I did on the test … but the point is, I was thinking clearly enough to enjoy the challenge.

Also, various body parts – in particular, ankles – don’t hurt any more. The relief of being able to move without pain is huge! (Despite not being young and beautiful or having a handsome prince handy (sorry, Honey), I acquired a whole new insight into the suffering of The Little Mermaid, who felt as though she was walking on knives.)

Liam Neeson

Oooh-errr … gotta love me a prince with some stubble! (Yes, of course I believe what They say about men with big noses.) (No, this is not a picture of Himself.)

And I’m no longer hungry. When I started this, no matter how full I stuffed myself with veggies and fruit my body screamed relentlessly for MORE. Now I’m satisfied by a large bowl of oatmeal or fruit and almonds for breakfast, a generous serving of veggies with rice, couscous, sweet potato or potato for lunch, and fruit and almonds for supper. I try to remember to eat in between – just a few pieces of dried fruit or a few nuts – because my blood sugar tends to crash with little warning, but I’m seldom actually hungry.

The lack of variety – due mainly to my unwillingness to spend hours in preparation time – is boring, but the only real craving I’m experiencing is for latte. This is odd because I don’t really care for coffee, but I miss meeting friends in coffee shops – and my emerging body would like to celebrate these times with just a plain latte, not one of the cream-and-caramel-infested concoctions I used to choose, and no need for a cookie.

This is what I really crave...

This is what I really crave…

The big challenge continues to be low energy levels. I am eager to be up and doing and it doesn’t hurt like it used to, but I run out of steam in no time at all. This is partly because I’m taking in few calories (although I eat as much and as often as I want to), but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s also because I have absolutely no muscle tone.

Tell people you’re involved in dog rescue, and the picture that comes to their minds is of someone who spends a lot of time going walkies and throwing balls. This can be true for dog foster parents, but not if you’re running the rescue. For five years, my life narrowed down to my computer (lots and lots and LOTS of emails, plus endless paperwork), my phone (calls started at 6.00AM and were still coming in as late as 2.00AM – “I just picked up a dog and I think it’s hurt and I don’t know what to do!” “My dog is having puppies and one seems to be stuck and I don’t know what to do!” “My neighbor’s dog is chained up and it can’t get out of the rain and I don’t think they’re feeding it and I don’t know what to do!” “I’m moving to another state tomorrow and I can’t take my dog and I don’t know what to do!”), my car (picking up dogs, transporting dogs, taking dogs to the vet), and the vet’s office. Sitting and stressing and stressing and sitting.

How does one say no?

How does one say no?

By the time I burned out at the end of last year, I was no longer capable of doing much beyond reading, eating, sleeping and sobbing into my pillow, so that’s how I spent the first half of this year. Result: muscle tone as close to zero as it can be without my arms and legs falling off.

So today I pulled a battered little book out of my bookshelf. It’s called Physical Fitness, and my cousin passed it on to The Aged Crone when I was a teenager (this was before she was really a crone, of course) and I can remember chugging through those exercises with no trouble at all. They’re based on something developed by the Canadian Air Force and take only 12 minutes to do, so not an insurmountable challenge – or so I thought.

Hah!

Going to take a while to get to this level...

Going to take a while to get to this level…

This morning I started at the very simplest level and two of the exercises just aren’t possible. Stand on one leg while lifting the other knee to my chest? You have got to be kidding me! Run? I managed a fast march, and after the required count of 50 (that’s 100 paces) I was a wobbling wreck. Jump 10 times? I have no shadow of doubt I would break something if I were ambitious (silly!) enough to try.

But I worked through the exercises anyway. And I will do so again tomorrow. And the next day. And every day. Because this person who has to rest after every. Single. Chore … this person who couldn’t keep up with a terminally ill friend when they went shopping together (happened yesterday) … is not the person I want to be.