Tag Archives: fasting

The fast way to self-improvement

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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.

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Just like this. But with jeans. And my belly button is still an innie. (Source)

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 lot of 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.

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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 not eating 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.

  • My liver kicked into gluconeogenesis, creating glucose from amino acids.
  • 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 that is 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 – why this 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.

Now what?

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.

UnexpectedParty

We’ll find a cozy hole and party like Hobbits. (Original illustration by David Wenzel)

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.

Tomorrow is another day (2)

 

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?

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And the winner is…

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… a mug of hot, sweet, milky tea and a peanut butter sandwich. Not fancy, and it makes my stomach hurt, but it’s still the ultimate comfort food.

It was the tomatoes and apricots that did me in, mind you. Kuja stopped by and we wandered out into the veggie garden, and – because she’s not one for half measures – she got busy picking pretty much everything that was ready. I’ve been wanting to do this – no one benefits from food left sitting on the vine – and somehow that resulted in just having to taste a tomato … and then a different one … and another. So my mouth started singing the Halleluja Chorus, which woke up my stomach, and then a few other things happened that demanded action … and so, to end an interminable story, I ate the samn damwich. It was yummy!

Anyway, I still think I’m a winner. Three days of no food? That’s pretty darn good for me! I am going to try to make fasting a regular part of my life, and I need to have another go at keto … although it’s really hard to wrap my head around being completely carb-free when we have all sorts of trees and squashy things and tomatoes right out there.

Right now I’m feeling pretty good. I’m tired, but I feel energized. I’m also as happy as all get out because Peter Pan is back … I don’t think I’ve ever told you about Peter Pan, apart from a brief mention here … Hmm, where to begin?

I’ll begin with a picture and end with a promise to tell you more next time I write. Right now, I need to use this welcome energy burst to Get Shit Done in time for an early night, because tomorrow morning I am once again taking up my quill and reconnecting with Henrietta Gurdy. I’ve told you about Henrietta – I mentioned her by name here, but she’s changed a lot since then. I learned just recently that someone I met at the PNWA Writer’s Conference last year is gifting me her reservation for this year, which gives me just five weeks to make Henrietta presentable.

Anyway … this is Peter Pan…

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He’s a tad more hairy than when this was taken in December 2016, but still the eternal boy. I’ve missed having him around!

And now I must go unskunk a dog. Gotta love life on the farm!

Do you ever find that winning and losing are hard to tell apart? 

How I found out that my bell peppers weren’t stunted after all

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I’m into my third day of a total fast – water only, except morning and evening when I add a splash of raw apple cider vinegar in a glass of water. I’ve taken it on and off for years for general gut health; there’s no better cure for indigestion or heartburn. (Yes, I know it’s counter-intuitive to drink vinegar for heartburn. Try it. It works.)

That said, even with gut health one can have too much of a good thing. It turns out that the efficacy of apple cider vinegar as a Gut Repair & Activation Force is enhanced by an absence of food in said gut. What this means is, if you’re taking ACV twice daily while fasting and you find yourself wanting to sneak a tiny booty-toot … don’t. Chances are it’ll be more than hot air. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Moving on to other bodily functions: I’m hungry, of course, but it’s bearable, and I’m doing just fine without any mind-altering drugs. I get tired, both physically and mentally, but I’ve given myself permission to take life easy while I wait for the energy surge ketosis will bring. Even food cravings aren’t a real problem.

Last night I dreamed that something happened – I forget what it was, but I remember it upset me – and I declared, “Screw fasting – I’m going to eat chocolate!” and then in my dream my mouth went, “Meh. Nah, I don’t think so.” (Apparently fasting causes vivid dreams, but nobody said they had to be interesting.)

The toughest challenge I’ve faced so far has been while walking through my veggie garden. Apricots arrayed like my own private sunset, clusters of small sweet grapes peeping between the leaves, tomatoes detonating wherever I look, and I imagine the sensation of biting down, the pop as their skin yields to my teeth, the explosion of flavor. Even the sweet bell peppers, disappointingly small and stunted this year, tempt me to crunch.

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Somewhat relevant picture … The view from my veggie garden this evening. There was a fire some miles from our home – houses burned and humans were evicted, and caring friends called because it was heading our way. I’ve been brooding over the annual conflagrations in California and found it hard to take seriously. This may make me a bad neighbor.

I’m finding hunger is easier to ignore than boredom. My gut, so far, is content to grumble to itself, but my mouth wants to be entertained!

Before I started this fast I had a long list of things I told myself I had to do before I could step outside of “normal life”. Clean the house, catch up on laundry, cook a whole lot of food to keep the Hubbit going while I’m not eating, make up a batch of bone broth for when I start eating again. Every time I looked at the list it got longer – tidy my desk, catch up on filing, weed the veggie garden and start the winter crop, treat the chickens for mites, get all my rescue work up to date, gradually phase out the drugs. I’d planned to start last Thursday, but that ever-growing list pushed the start date back and back as I continued to avoid the to-dos while playing sudoku… because that’s what I do. That’s why this fast is necessary. I need it to clear my head, revitalize my body, awaken my will, and power me up to take control of what’s left of my life.

So on Thursday night on my way home from a dog training class, I swung by Carl’s Jr. and bought a chocolate shake and a teriyaki burger, which I ate in the parking lot while ignoring the German Shepherd drooling down the back of my neck. Sitting there, feeling my gut start to twist the way it always does when I fill it up with garbage, I gloomily pondered all that I still had to do before I could start.

And then it dawned on me: the dirty house, the unfed husband, the tottering piles of paperwork, the erupting weeds – those are all symptoms, and you don’t postpone surgery to focus on the symptoms. So I deleted the list. It was that easy.

I gave the last of the burger and the dregs of the shake to the German Shepherd and came home, where the Hubbit offered me ice cream (Ben & Jerry cherry garcia, yet!) and I astonished both of us by saying, “No thanks!” and meaning it. (Yes, dear reader, I am entirely capable of consuming a tub of B&J cherry garcia on top of a burger and a chocolate shake, never mind the squirmy gut.)

Well, moving on. My evening dose of apple cider vinegar settled the gut, and the burger and shake kept me going most of Friday. Saturday morning I woke feeling … well, awake! So I started the bone broth, and its rich fragrance will fill the house for the next several days. It makes my mouth water, but I can wait.

I found the recipe online, here – and pretty much everything that went into my broth was raised right here on our farmlet. When I defrosted the soup bones they turned out to be more meat than bone, so I cut away most of the meat (I’ll make it into casserole; that will keep the Hubbit going) and weighed out 4 lb of meaty beef bones. I browned them in some olive oil that I poured over fresh rosemary a few days ago and left to steep. I tipped the bones and meat into the slow cooker, covered with water and a generous dollop of apple cider vinegar, and ambled out to the veggie garden to get the celery, onions and leeks.

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Habanero peppers … just like stunted bell peppers, right up until you touch them.

My veggie garden is full of interesting things this year. The leeks are next to a mass of tomatoes, and tucked between the tomatoes are a few bell pepper bushes. They’ve been a disappointment this year; I’ve been waiting and waiting for them to grow, but although there are lots of peppers there is no size to them. I grabbed a handful anyway – I figured they’d add a zing to the broth. Brought it all into the kitchen and happily got busy chopping and frying – oh so fragralicious!

Then it happened. A hank of hair fell into my face, so I pushed it back, and my finger brushed against my eye, and ohhhh shitte! The burn! The running of water over eyes! The frantic removal of contact lenses, and the ow! Ow! Owweee! as eye came in contact with finger – because washing doesn’t help, because capsaicin is oily, people! It doesn’t wash off in water! I put my lenses onto the end of my tongue for safe-keeping, and my mouth burst into flame!

I just barely remembered to switch off the stove before I scurried to the bedroom, where the Hubbit was sprawled behind a book, taking a lazy afternoon. He glanced with mild interest at my red and streaming eyes, and chuckled indulgently when I sputtered about deceitful, nasty, imitation stunted bell peppers.

I demanded that he ask Google what I should do to stop the burning, since the best suggestion he could come up with was water, which didn’t work. “Okay, Google,” he said – that man has no idea how close to death he came – he has to know by now that the “Okay Google” route is way slower than just tapping out your question on the keyboard! Google eventually recommended whole milk. Fortunately the low fat milk the Hubbit insists on buying worked too, possibly with less clouding of the vision .

Once I could see again I carefully fished the pepper pieces out of the pot, and dumped the rest of the veggies into the slow cooker with the meat and bones. I have set the peppers aside. I’m sure they’ll make a tasty surprise for Somebody, next time I have an attack of wifely dutifulness and fix him an omelet or a sandwich.

 

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