I’m a shower-before-bed person. I’ve never been able to understand how a person can get between the sheets all dusty and sticky from the day, and actually sleep. Even if I haven’t done much to raise a sweat and I feel cleanish and I’m tired so I don’t bother, as I lie there I can feel the gross stickiness of skin ooze and air crud. Ugh! Gotta get up, shower it off, rub dry, and then I can sleep.
Well, sometimes. Insomnia is a thing. But that’s a topic for another post.
Returning to the topic of this post, there’s this blogger that I sort of follow, by which I mean that I receive her posts in one of my many extra email accounts – the one dedicated to efforts at self-improvement. I believe in having lots of separate accounts because I wear different mindsets when I’m trying to be a better person, or farming and gardening, or dealing with our finances, or writing, or blogging. If all my emails go into a single account the result is a mess worse than the top of my desk, and I can’t find anything and nothing gets done.
On the other hand, I don’t check all those accounts every day, and as for the self-improvement one … well, I read the email topics as they come up as notifications on my phone, but usually that’s about it. Self-improvement is something I aspire to wanting to do, but most of the time it’s hard enough just to be as good as I already am.
Anyway, this blogger – she calls herself “Dr. Stephanie” and she writes mainly about keto and fasting, and she offers various courses, none of which I’ve actually done – wrote a post about how effective humans kick-start their day. It happened to land in my inbox on a day when I was lying in bed, hating myself for lacking the energy to get the hell up and do something with whatever was left of my pathetic life … and I read it.
Most of her suggestions I’ve forgotten. They were things like “feel gratitude” and “journal”, which are lovely feel-good ideas, but in the moment didn’t feel sufficiently like the kick in the butt I was craving. The cold shower, however … Now thatsounded like a punishment worthy of the name! ThatI deserved.
So I dragged my bloated, sweaty (this was back when nights were hot) almost-corpse from between the sheets and into the shower. And I turned the faucet on to cold. And wailed.
It was so horrible!
Oh. My. Word. It was so horrible.
But then a strange thing happened. First, my eyes – clenched shut against the bright light of the bathroom – popped open. Then my skin stopped cringing from the rush of icy water, and I found myself intentionally exposing places like my armpits and the back of my neck and the crack of my butt – not exactly enjoying the rush of cold, but welcoming it anyway.
She recommended five minutes. I didn’t time myself but I doubt I lasted that long. I simply rinsed all over, rotating and bending to let the water get at all my less accessible spots. I didn’t use soap or a cloth, just cold water. Then I stepped out, found a fresh towel, and scrubbed myself dry.
I felt … Amazing. Invigorated. Energized.
Fun fact: this insanity is actually good for you. This morning when I went poking through Google in search of funny free images of cold showers, I found any number of articles touting cold showers as a solution to obesity, depression, low sex drive, bad skin, low energy – in short, pretty much all the ills that might beset your fleshly self.
Plus it was kinda magical, actually, how it made me feel.
So I did it again the next day. And the day after that. And again a few more times. Then came a day when I had to rush for an early appointment and didn’t have time, and I felt icky all day, so the next day I made sure to shower again. Every now and then I skip for a day or two … but I keep going back to it.
It is alwayshorrible. The only way to do it is to drag myself out of bed and get under the shower before I do anything else, because giving myself time to think about it – for instance while I put in contact lenses or brush teeth – just makes it worse. And now, as the nights get cold and the early mornings are chilly and I’m waking up before dawn as often as not, it’s really, really hard. Frankly, given my record for doing really hard things, I’m not that optimistic that I’ll keep going when winter really sinks its teeth into us. But … I hope I will. I intend to try.
Because that moment when my eyes pop open? When suddenly and with no effort of will going back to sleep is not only impossible, but also not remotely desirable? Holy cow, it’s a rush like no other!
Hey there – talk to me! What’s your favorite way to mortify your flesh? Does it make you feel as good as a cold shower?
I lost a friend today because I was late. Well, maybe not a friend … but someone I liked, who I’d thought liked me, blew up in my face to lasting effect because I kept her waiting fifteen minutes.
The incident hurt surprisingly much.
In the greater context of this year’s overall shittitude it was a small thing. This wasn’t a key relationship, and while it’s possible that she’s been pretending to like me while nursing a growing grudge, it’s more likely that she was just having a bad day and I made a convenient target.
It hurts that she had a valid complaint that I seem powerless to address. I am alwayslate, and no matter how carefully I plan, how early I set my alarm, how fast I drive from here to there, after a lifetime of trying the best I can do is damage control. When I know punctuality is especially important to someone I can usually, with considerable effort and anxiety, keep my lateness within a ten minute margin, which most seem to accept provided I call when on my way to tell them how late I’m going to be, and am sufficiently apologetic when I arrive. Everyone else is best advised to bring a book – or, if waiting annoys you, start without me – I won’t care. I wouldn’t have cared today when my formerly-friendly acquaintance canceled our arrangement. What hurt wasn’t that she got on with her day; it was the ugly and unexpected intensity of her anger, and my powerlessness to answer it.
I won’t defend a bad habit. Instead, here’s some perspective for the benefit of the model clock-watchers out there, and in particular those whose sanity is challenged by us tardies. (I know I’m not alone.)
First, we know our perpetual lateness is annoying – but as annoying as it is to you, it’s embarrassing and frustrating uto us. You see it as rudeness and lack of consideration; we see it as weakness, a defect, a failure to do something everyone else finds easy. We read books and make lists and watch TED Talks, but it’s like dancing: some people have rhythm; others, no matter how religiously they chant the “one-two-three one-two-three one-two-three” of daily life, cannot keep in step with the minute hand. For you it’s easy – you plan your day, you look at your planner, you know how time and distance and traffic fit together, and everything glides so smoothly into place you simply can’t understand how we manage to trip and stumble every damn time.
Well, allow me to enlighten you. Basically, this happens.
I’ve been thinking about it, and I’ve concluded that I and people like me have hooked a heel on a loose thread in the fabric of the space-time continuum. We, too, plan our days and check our planners. We can figure out how long it will take to get from here to there, and what the time should be when we leave. We understand the different kinds of “leaving” – the kind that involves stopping what we’re doing, and the kind that involves actually driving through the gate. We know to add five or ten minutes for bumps in the road, and what we have to do before we go, and how long it will take to get our shit together. We figure all that out and then we start our day, and that old minute hand goes ambling around in its lazy circles, and some of the things on our to-do list get done and some don’t. And then our electronic planner twitters a warning … and at that exact moment a quantum cowboy blips into being, lassos our deadline, and vanishes with a resounding fart and a clatter of hooves through the black hole inside the clock on our smart phone – which at that moment typically shows five minutes to our scheduled time of arrival.
Arriving presents its own challenges. Quite often, this happens…
I’d like to say my new year’s resolution for 2019 is to be on time, but I already have a full tureen of bubbling resolutions to toil and trouble over before the Hubbit comes home. And while it turns out that I have two months longer than I thought I did – because he’ll likely be in rehab until well into March – that doesn’t necessarily mean anything in terms of getting from where I am now to … anywhere at all. Time and space are tricksy devils, whether you count with a clock or a calendar.
Doesn’t mean I won’t try, mind you.
Yeah, well … seriously, Yoda, you need to shut the fuck up. Go read a book or something. And if you don’t know by now that there’s more to me than one bad habit, and that I’m worth waiting for, then … yeah. Better you leave without me.
Let’s talk. How do you relate to time, schedules and to-do lists? Whether you are a Tardy or a Timekeeper, how do you feel about the other kind of human? Do you ever secretly think Yoda is a self-righteous pain in the ass?
Well, I did it again, and this time I won! I have 95% successfully completed my second water fast. I didn’t journal the first one but this time around I thought it would be interesting to track how my body responded.
As before, I jumped into this after several weeks of thinking about getting prepared to think seriously about doing it. Tuesday night I was dinking around on Facebook and I popped in to see what was happening on Aussa’s new group page, and she’d just posted her weekly challenge to set a goal and grab it by the … pearl necklace and make it behave.
I was not in my happy place. It was nearly midnight, which meant I had once again failed to get to bed early enough to bounce out of bed, all full of get-up-and-go, before sunrise. (Here in the gloomy north the sun doesn’t rise until nearly 7.30 at this time of the year, but I’m pretty pathetic when it comes to sleep. I fight it like a bitch, but I need a lotof zzzzzs.) I’d been in full binge mode (aka compulsive pleasure-free eating) for nearly a week, and I felt squeezed by my XXXL jeans despite having undone both button and zipper, and was also regretting the ice cream I’d engulfed earlier that evening in the hope that a sugar hit would keep me awake long enough to manage the half hour drive home from the vet. (It didn’t. I had to pull over for a snooze less than 10 miles from home.)
In other words, my life was once again out of control at its most fundamental level. So, of course, I sneered and hated myself and kept scrolling to read about the extraordinary successes racked up by my fellow Aussa bitches … and then my fingers took over my brain, and by the time they’d done dancing around on the keyboard I had scrolled back and announced my intention to do a full water fast, starting immediately. Then I logged off and went to bed, quickly, before I was compelled to eat something.
I started each day with two green tea capsules (for energy) and a splash of raw apple cider vinegar in water (for gut health). We’re blessed with delicious water – our well draws from an aquifer nearly 600 ft down below a thick layer of rock. During the day I drank tap water whenever I felt thirsty. I slept longer and more deeply than usual, and woke feeling refreshed. I didn’t do any extra exercise, and as the fast progressed I moved more slowly and rested more often, responding to the needs of my body.
Ask Google “What happens to my body when I fast?” if you want to invite a barrage of conflicting information, ranging from “Your muscles will shrivel up and you will diiiieeee!” to “You will directly experience Nirvana and your whole life will change forever!” The interweb is host to hordes of experts, both self-proclaimed and accredited, and it can get confusing, so choosing your guru is pretty much an act of faith. As with any faith, the smart way to go is to study what the guru says, check in with opposing views to maintain your balance, remember that if anything sounds too good to be true it probably (but not definitely) is, and over time evaluate what they say based on your personal experience.
My guru of choice is Dr. Jason Fung. He’s flavor of the month and also way too young and pretty – definite red flags – but on consideration, for now at any rate, I’m willing to hop on his wagon and see where it takes me.
Day 1 – Tuesday
I didn’t start to feel hungry until quite late in the day, and several hours before I felt hungry I was aware of other benefits – dramatically reduced inflammatory pain in my muscles and joints, no brain fog, and a happier, more relaxed mood. I was moderately active (by my low standards) and became tired shortly after dark.
According to Fung, during the first day of my fast my insulin levels dropped and my body accessed its glycogen stores to release glucose for energy. The human body keeps a 24-hour glycogen reserve mainly in the liver and skeletal muscles. That stored in the liver is available wherever energy is needed (and apparently most of it goes to the brain! For some reason I find that reassuring.) As I understand it, the glycogen stored in muscle tissue used by the muscles, not readily released to the rest of the body.
As the day progressed without any more carbs going in, my basal metabolic rate fell as my body sought to cut back on energy expenditure. Most of the pro-fasting literature I’ve read says your metabolic rate rises again after a few days of fasting, to above your normal level, but I didn’t get to experience that. Maybe next time, when I go for longer…
Day 2 – Wednesday
Woke early feeling clear-headed and energetic, but after I got up I quickly ran out of energy. No hunger pangs as such, but I was aware that my body wanted fuel. My head felt tight, as though it was thinking about having an ache, but in fact I didn’t experience any headache during this fast.
I spent the day being gentle with myself, resting often, but still writing and doing my regular chores. By the afternoon I was ravenous and stupid, and by evening I was still hungry, tired, irritable and floppy all over. I was also constantly thirsty, despite drinking lots of water.
For some reason I cooked dinner for the male members of the household – my signature spaghetti bolognese. I don’t ever cook without tasting (I learned that the hard way – but that’s a story for another day) so I had maybe a teaspoonful of bolognese sauce and one strand of spaghetti … and then, after gritting my teeth and noteating with the men I couldn’t resist the redolence. I ate four, I mean five, okay SIX teaspoons of bolognese sauce. It was almost unbearably delicious. My stomach had pretty much given up on me by then and was hiding in a corner grumbling sadly to itself, so it was a little startled when that lot came walloping down my gullet. But the discomfort passed quickly and the relief was great!
Mind you, I was pissed at myself. I felt I’d let myself down, and was tempted to call myself a loser and just quit. But it was only meat, not carbs, and totaled well under 100 calories, so I decided to declare the fast unbroken and keep going. (Full disclosure: I ate a few teaspoons of bolognese sauce again the next night – I was just so hungry, and it was there. But that’s the only food I consumed for the 84 hours I fasted, so I feel … not good, but okay about it. Next time I’ll do better.)
To know what was happening with my body, I turned again to Dr. Fung. After 24 hours my body had depleted its store of glycogen, which activated other processes to generate energy.
In a parallel process (and I’m not going to pretend I understand yet how they are connected) it launched into autophagy, which essentially involves cannibalizing junk proteins, also to generate energy. If you want scholarly literature on the subject, Google has plenty; for those who want a greatly simplified explanation in layman’s terms, go here.
Meanwhile, the hunger pangs kept coming and going because of a hormone called ghrelin – and the interesting thing about thatis that ghrelin will switch itself off after a couple hours if you ignore it, even if you don’t eat. Knowing that hunger won’t last makes it a lot easier to resist!
The most important of these processes, as far as I’m concerned, is autophagy. This is relatively easy to trigger – unlike ketosis, which takes longer and can be harder to sustain. All you have to do is not eat for 24-48 hours. Unfortunately I didn’t get the full benefit of it, because eating even a small amount of protein switches it off. I wish I’d known that … It might have made it possible to resist the bolognese…
Day 3 – Thursday
I’ve read about how, after fasting for a few days, your body kicks into higher energy mode. The theory is that its initial response to a lack of food is to reduce your rate of energy consumption (aka “starvation mode”), so your metabolism slows and you feel tired and sleepy. But if there’s still nothing on the menu after a couple days your body goes “Woah! Gotta fix this!” and you experience a surge in energy, as well as much greater clarity of thought – because you have to get out there and chase something down and kill it.”
I was kinda hoping to feel that way by Thursday, but … nope. I woke hungry and was tired and draggy all day. My brain was clear but I was so fumble-tongued I might as well have been catatonic, for all I could communicate. During the afternoon I went out into the garden with Peter Pan to discuss vegetable matters, and – being too floppy to pick up my feet properly – I tripped over a squash vine and went down like a dropped two-by-four. And once down … well, I lay there for a while on the cool dirt, thinking about how nice it would be simply to stay there. Getting vertical again took way more effort than seemed worthwhile!
Anyway, Dr. Fung says you go into ketosis after two to three days of fasting, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t happen for me this time. I’ve always struggled to achieve and maintain ketosis, even when eating super low-carb and high fat. I’m not diabetic but maybe I’m somewhat insulin-resistant; I need to learn more about it and figure out how to change.
Day 4 – Friday
I went into this fast not sure how long I’d stay with it, but determined to last longer than I did last time. About halfway in a friend called and invited me for tea, so I put her off until Friday afternoon and set my goal at noon Friday – giving me 84 hours of fasting, or 12 hours more than last time. And I made it! In fact, I think if I hadn’t had the tea date I could even have lasted longer. By Friday morning the hunger pangs were less and my head was clear and alert, although I was still physically quite weak.
This time, I broke my fast gradually. At noon I had a cup of hot, salty bone broth. About a half hour later I had a small fruit yogurt with heaped spoonful of crushed pecans, which kept me going an hour and a half. Then I had a cheddar and tomato sandwich – just one slice, not my usual two. Tea was more indulgent – I chowed down on crackers with whipped cream cheese and pepper jelly and found room for lemon cake, but after that I didn’t want dinner. In fact, I didn’t eat again until after noon on Saturday.
Since then I’ve been ramping up my food consumption, which is annoying – whythis relentless compulsion to eat? Still … I do seem still to want smaller quantities, and I seem to be going longer between meals, and I don’t have quite the same desire for sugar … so I guess I’ve gained some ground.
I found, while fasting, that my mood improved greatly. Since going back onto sugar I’ve been more irritable and short-tempered. The burning, aching inflammatory pain in my joints and muscles stopped entirely and still hasn’t come back – although it will if I’m not careful. I slept very deeply while fasting, and when I started eating again I immediately fell back into my night owl habits, reinforced by insomnia. My jeans were looser, but they’re getting tight again.
The main takeaway seems to be that very fat people are more likely to survive the initial weeks of the Zombie Apocalypse because, provided we have access to water, we’ll be able to hide away and live off our fat stores for a good long while – and when the hunger pangs don’t bite we’ll even have a jolly old time of it, because our brains will be sharp enough to joke, sing and tell stories.
But over the longer term the outlook for VFPs isn’t so good, unless our hiding place also includes some weights and an exercise bicycle.
I’m convinced that the reason I didn’t experience the energy surge I expected is that I’m starting off at a frighteningly low level of fitness. It’s unrealistic to think you can go from being someone who can just about maybe almost chase down one chicken in a very small pen without having a heart attack (and actually the last time I tried to do that I eventually had to call in reinforcements in the form of Peter Pan), to being capable of chasing down a wildebeest, merely by not eating.
This is going to take some thought. And planning. And work. And a whole lot less ice cream.
I’ll think about it … tomorrow.
Let’s talk. Have you ever tried fasting? What kind of fast, and what was your goal? What was your main takeaway from the experience?
This evening I sat down to write an inspiring but wildly funny post about My Flab And New Strategies For Getting Rid Of It.
This was an important post, because it came at the end of a day of assiduous consumption of everything in the kitchen that didn’t up and run away. I’ve become quite good at the housewife thing just lately, so my kitchen is almost completely clear of things with legs. In other words, not a lot escaped my ravenous maw.
It made me feel miserable.
I pondered the words in my last post, about wanting to “honor” my friend’s memory, and be a better person as inspired by her, and I mocked myself. Words like fat frumpy failure of femininishness came to mind.
The post I wrote was all very funny, of course, ha ha ha, not at all miserable, and then I tried to access a site that I wanted to link to the post and my computer had a fit, and by the time it regained consciousness the entire post was gone. It was one of those rambling exercises in free association that is completely impossible to replicate.
There was only one thing to do, and I did it. I drove the four miles to our nearest convenience store and bought ice cream. In a few minutes, I will take my ice cream and my book and climb into bed and call this miserable day DONE.
But first … there’s something I need to do. I hope it doesn’t make you feel used.
I need to make a promise. The promise is being made to myself, no one else, but I feel a need to make it public. I will probably regret posting this tomorrow, but I hope I will have the courage to leave it up anyway.
My promise is this: from tomorrow, I will begin to introduce new discipline into the way I nurture my body. I will nourish it with food that helps it work well. I will take it for walks as often as I can – I hope daily. And I will put it to bed in time to let it have the rest it needs. Most importantly, I will learn to stop hating, despising and resenting it.
I will do this in honor of my friend, who started running to fight cancer and stood her ground for 26 years; who rose before dawn every morning until weeks before she died because time was too precious to waste; and who regarded each day as a gift.
But just to be clear, I’m not doing this for her. I’m doing it for me. She’s my inspiration, but I am my own and sufficient reason.
And I’ll be checking in with you on my progress as I go along, in particular sharing lessons that you might find useful. I hope you’ll stick with me and share your own stories. A change this radical isn’t going to be easy, and it would be good to know I’m not making it alone.
Two weeks ago I visited my friend for the last time.
Yesterday at the church her son gave me the woven shawl she would use when she rested on the couch in her living room. I used to love how soft it felt when I sat at the end of the couch with the shawl over my lap while I massaged her poor, swollen feet, back when her liver began to fail. Now she doesn’t need it any more, and I can wrap it around myself like a hug any time I want to.
We didn’t get to talk the last time I visited her. She was uncomfortable but she couldn’t speak above a whisper, just a few slurred words at a time, so I didn’t know what to do for her. I retreated to the big easy chair she kept in her bedroom and let the Hospice aide tend to her. The aide was kind and competent, but my friend wanted pain medication and the aide wouldn’t (couldn’t?) give it to her.
“You have to wait until 4.30,” she said, again and again, in response to my friend’s broken, insistent whispers. (It was then two o’clock.) The aide went away and called Hospice then came back and said it again. While she was out of the room I sat beside my friend, stroking her hand, bereft of words – because what are words for if not to advise, encourage or inform? I could do nothing but sit beside her and stare at the drawer of her bedside table, inside which she had 15 or 20 bottles of pills. She knew which ones she wanted but I did not, and even if I’d had the courage to give them to her I could not understand her.
In movies, drugs for dying patients are kept on the far side of the room, out of their reach. I have always thought that was wickedly cruel. If I were dying and in pain, I have thought, I would want to have my medications right next to me, and if I wished to take an extra one or two – and so speed the process – that should be my right.
My friend’s pills were right within her reach, but she was too weak to get them out of the drawer, too tired and confused to read the labels, and much too feeble to open the cap on the pill bottle. I did not know it was possible to be that weak.
I do not know how it is possible to be that strong. I understand now that even then, when her need was great, if she had been able to take an extra pill and so end her struggle she would not have done so. Years ago, long before I met her, she entrusted her life into God’s hands, and she left it there. Something I have learned about God is, when you hand Him your life, He doesn’t lift it out of reach. You can take it back any time you choose – and choosing not to can be an act of extraordinary discipline. My friend was the most disciplined person I have ever known.
At last she wearied of arguing with the aide. I could see she needed to sleep, and I had errands to run and nothing to offer her anyway. “I have to go,” I told her, “but I’ll pray for you first.” It was just a little prayer – there was nothing to ask for but rest, freedom from pain, and for her to go home, home, home – “Please,” I whispered, “Let her come home!” And she sighed relief as the lines of tension in her face eased, and it seemed to me that she relaxed into her Father’s arms.
But it was a whole hard week before He finally took her home, and during that time she didn’t want visitors. It was painful to be shut out, reminded daily that I could do nothing for her. But thinking back now I’m grateful that memory is the last one I have of her. I’m thankful that in that little prayer I did after all have something, however fleeting, to give her.
We said goodbye to her yesterday, in a service she planned to the last detail just before Thanksgiving. The first hymn said pretty much everything important about who she was and how she lived, right up to her last breath.
More people came to the service than I expected. She was the kind of person one always pictured standing alone – not aloof or lonely, but serenely self-contained. I knew, of course, that she was active in volunteer work, and that she deeply loved her family and spent as much time as she could with them. But until a few weeks before she died, when I was with her it was always just the two of us, and during those times she was so completely present that it never occurred to me that anyone that calm could possess the time or energy to have so many other friendships that ran as deep. But my friend never wasted her energy or her time, and so she had precisely as much as she needed for what mattered to her.
It was beautiful but humbling, yesterday, to realize that she had also been completely present within the lives of many other people. As they spoke about her I learned things – ordinary facts about her and her history and thoughts she had shared in conversations with others – and I was amazed by the complex, rich beauty of her life and personality. I had thought I knew her well; I know she didn’t hold back in the conversations we shared – and yet there was so much more to know than I had ever imagined. In a way, she was like her shawl. I always thought it was purple, and it was only after I brought it home that I noticed all the other colors in the weave.
And now it is the day after her memorial, and she really and truly is gone from my life, and it is time to move on. Except…
Except I find myself still wanting to honor her. Knowing her and losing her has changed me, and I find myself wanting to live that change, to give it breath. A month ago, watching her quietly yield up the elements of her life, I thought she was showing me how to die, but I see now that she has taught me far more important things about how to live.