Notes on Yesterday’s Experiment

I mentioned yesterday that I had gotten a reasonably high amount of exercise (for me) the day before, and was planning on doing the same again to test whether or not the sense of foreboding I got from it was legit or not.

I did, in fact, do things again, and felt slightly worse afterward, the sense of foreboding about doing further exercise increased.

Then after I’d done that exercise there was sex again, and this morning, while I am quite sore, it’s almost all the normal kind of sore, not the OHGODPAIN kind of sore.

I’m kind of bewildered now. I’ve gone roughly from exercise -> increase in foreboding sense -> more exercise -> further increase in foreboding -> even more exercise -> decrease in foreboding.

Oh brain, why must you be so fickle and context-dependent? It makes doing science to this problem significantly more difficult.

Though certainly this further bolsters the idea that it’s perceived physical danger, rather than actual, direct level of physical exertion that causes a lot of the pain.

Steady As She Goes

There hasn’t been a lot to report lately. Life continues, progress continues, but frustratingly slowly.

I’m still working on ramping up the exercise. Yesterday I walked for an hour, biked for 5-10 minutes, and hit the reflex bag a bunch. Seemed to come out of that okay. The walking was the last thing I did, and I was apprehensive about it. There’s a sense of foreboding I get with my back after it’s been worked out a certain amount. I’ve been trying to challenge that sense, which is why I decided to go fo the walk rather than avoid the potential risk, and it seems to have worked out okay. Not noticeably more pain today than yesterday. Which is good also considering that the past few days have involved a lot of sitting.

I think I may try and get a similar amount of exercise today. I’m again experiencing that sense of foreboding, but I’m thinking it’s probably better to test the limits than fear them, at least until I know for sure things will get much worse upon doing things.

It continues to seem like I significant factor in this whole process is spending time with people–that that matters as much as the movement does in some cases. Trying to keep this in mind as well.

Vigorousness of a Workout vs. Intensity of a Workout vs. Increased Pain Risk

As I mentioned before, two days ago, sex for the first time in a while. Fun, but a bit nervousmaking, since sex has historically aggravated my pain symptoms. Again, as I mentioned, I noticed only a minor uptick in pain afterward, which was reassuring.

Today I took a risk, and did my Big Five workout on schedule, even though I’m still somewhat sore from the sex. I was apprehensive about this, but I didn’t want to deviate from my workout schedule, because it’s really convenient for me to keep it at Tuesday, so I figured I’d do the workout like normal, and see afterward if I thought it was a terrible idea or not.

So far I feel pretty much the same as I always have after doing the workout, which is good news, and kind of interesting. The Big Five workout is designed, among other things, to minimize risk of injury, which it seems to have done very well for me. I think I experience a comparable level of soreness from the workout as from sex, but in a general way, sex tends to be the riskier of the two activities. To me, this seems to suggest that the vigorousness of a workout is more of a risk factor than the intensity of a workout. That is, vigorousness, as in lots of movement, versus intensity, as in the amount of work you’re doing. Sex is a good example of a vigorous workout, and the Big Five work out is an excellent example of what I would think of as intense but not vigorous–you’re doing a lot of work at close to your maximum capacity, but it is all very slow and very controlled. No quick/jerky/furious sorts of movements.

I’m not yet sure how to apply this to other things I do, but I suspect it will turn out to be a helpful observation to store in the back of my mind.

Link: The Personification of the Need to Fail

Stuck in the Middle with Bruce is one of those things that I read and thought, “Meh”, but then kept thinking and thinking about and finding places in my day-to-day where the message applied really well.

Sometimes the fear of being disappointed–of having the rug pulled from under you–and the desire to look or feel like you know what you’re doing, makes you more pessimistic. Which is a bad thing. Personifying that instinctive pessimistic response can be a nice way t combat it.

This Week

Haven’t done any posts this week. It’s been a week of gradually tweaking strategies. I’ve found and been working through some new Rails tutorials, and I think I’m coming close to being comfortable enough to try doing one of my own projects on it. We’ll see.

Exercise I’ve been experimenting with ramping up. I’ve tried to make walking 30-60 minutes a day a regular thing, and I’m also trying to do at least two and sometimes three ten-minute stints on the recumbent bike in addition to that.

As part of my ever-ongoing experiments to figure out how to make cardio easier, I got myself an Everlast Reflex Bag thing. It seems to be working well so far–it takes up little space, and is a quick, easy way to do some cardio without having to leave my room. I can’t do it for too long–it’s more intense than things like walking or biking–but it’s a nice addition because it works different muscles than walking or biking do, which means I can do it on top of those without too much worry about overdoing things.

Been processing a lot of my thoughts on the break-up, and I think I’ve gotten to the point of wanting to ease back into a friendship soon. Still dealing with a lot of feelings about that, but I think they’re getting easier to deal with, and it’s getting to the point where it’s better to bring them back around to a friendship. It’s nice to be able to say that I think I’ve generally avoided falling prey to the insecurities that tend to attack around break-ups. That is to say, I’vemostly been able to avoid taking them seriously when they surface.

Also, this week I had sex for the first time in a few months. There was, as is generally the case, some uptick in pain, but it wasn’t as bad as I’ve often come to expect. I’m hoping this is good news for both the effectiveness of the strength training and that of the mental aspect of the pain. I found a new video on chronic pain that has been surprisingly helpful to think about when the pain has been worse. It provides a good mental picture for the neural origin of the pain:

I do need to start timing my programming stints a little better. So far I’ve been able to get away with setting goals for how many lessons I want to complete, but it’s important for me to know how long I’m working since that’s the thing that often most directly affects pain, and that’s the thing I want to be working on improving.

I’ve also noticed that in a general sense, doing exercises, mobilizations, etc, tends to be easier to get myself to do when I’m doing something at the same time, e.g. watching a TV show. Good to remember.

So I Don’t Forget

This weekend was a difficult one for back pain. I’m not up to writing a full entry right now, but I wanted to take some notes down. Two days ago I was in pretty intense pain and  was able to lessen it somewhat with about an hour, hour-and-a-half of work. 45 minutes walking and another 30-40 of mobilizations. Not ideal, but better than feeling like nothing ever works.

I also spent a while yesterday hanging out with friends, and while there wasn’t a whole lot of moving around, if anything my back felt better after I got home. This should serve as an important reminder of how much stress contributes to pain and how much just spending time with good people can help, even when it doesn’t involve a lot of movement, in fact, even when it involves seemingly little enough movement that if I were on my own, the pain probably would’ve gotten worse.

The Next Day

One of the problems with having bad days is they make you want to wallow. I actually think a degree of wallowing is good. That is, a degree of letting yourself really experience how you’re feeling before trying to move on from it. I think doing that is very important. Figuring out where the line is is difficult, though. Too much sitting around is bad for depression and worse for chronic pain. Even not that much sitting around is bad for chronic pain. This makes things difficult because, well, how do you give yourself time to relax if physically relaxing actually makes things worse?

When I have an answer I’ll let you know.

JT Eberhard posted on his blog the other day about difficulties with meds fucking with mood.

But I really want to punch things.  This is so unlike me.  And I’m aware of the change, but I can’t reason away the emotions.  I can’t just tell myself that this is the meds and it’s not me and have it go away.

In his case, it’s meds making him abnormally angry. I feel like there’s a good analogy between that and shit days in general, though. You can know why it’s happening, you can know it’s irrational, and you can know if will probably pass. You can know specifically that the specific things your brain is telling you are categorically false, and it just doesn’t seem to matter. Sometimes trying to talk yourself down just ends up making the angry frustrated feelings that much more angry and frustrated. Sometimes, bad feelings will fight back like a cornered animal. In those cases, what do you do?

Shit Day

Today has been a shit day. I got some programming done this morning, and my brain has been feeling fuzzy and on the verge of headache pretty much all the rest of the day. I haven’t gotten much out of the house. There wasn’t a lot to do today, and it’s two days after my weekly workout, which is the worst day in terms of muscle soreness. While I was planning on going to see some people at a happy hour tonight, I’m just not sure I’m up for it right now. On account of not having moved around that much and being stressed out, my back is bothering me as well.

I’m one of the lucky ones, I haven’t had to pay for my own schooling. This has been a relief in going through all of the depression issues, because at the very least, I didn’t have to worry as much as a lot of people do about the impact that depression can have on your ability to earn a living to pay for things like school. I got a text today from a parent saying that we need to get together to talk about money for school, which I’m now terrified by.

I do feel like I’m making progress, but today was already a day of seeing how far I still have to go. The worst possible thing to add onto that is the possibility that I might not be able to financially maintain my life while I spend time working on all of the issues I’m working on. It opens up all of my deepest fears about recovery. I think I can work on this concentration stuff, but if it feels like a race against time, it becomes ten times more utterly terrifying than otherwise. Because if I can’t beat the clock that ticks down until I simply can’t afford the time and resources to keep working on these issues, where do I end up? Still depressed, in pain, possibly suicidal? As much as I’d love to believe that all those dark corners of my mind are places I can choose not go to, I know that all it takes to get shoved back into them is the right combination of circumstances.

The thing is, I feel whiny and pathetic even complaining about not having more time to work on things. After all, up to this point, my schooling has been paid for. Most of my other expenses have been paid for on top of that. That’s what’s made taking this term off to work on my mental issues possible in the first place. That’s a luxury not a lot of people have, and here I am being bitter that I can’t have even more of it.

I always tell people not to think about how other people have it worse. I tell them it’s useless and it doesn’t help and that figuring out who really has it worse is such a complex question that there’d be no point in trying to figure out who “deserves” to feel bad about life anyway. In any case, if “deserving” to be miserable is even a coherent concept in any sense, it doesn’t make it a useful one. All that doesn’t seem to silence the voice, though. The voice that’s constantly telling you you’re a whiny shit and should be able to just suck it up and deal. Or maybe you should’ve experimented with meds again. Maybe it was silly not to, in spite of the fact that you’ve tried all the major categories of them already to basically no result. Or maybe you should be trying harder to do particular things. Maybe this or maybe that.

The point is, of course, that I can’t know what the perfect, ideal way of tackling my issues woud have been, and I really am doing the best that I can. Sometimes that’s enough and sometimes it’s not. Today it isn’t. The best I can do is try and talk to friends and hope that maybe tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that, it is.

Making the Things You Need to Do Feel Engaging

Doing physical therapy exercises is, generally, let’s face it: a chore. It takes time, and it’s just plain boring.

A while back, I caught a snippet of an episode of Dog Whisperer, and there was a bit where they were working on something to do with getting the dog to go for walks. I remember that the solution employed was to give the dog a weight pack to carry on its back. The logic was that although what the dog was doing was essentially no different than before, having to carry the weight made it feel, to the dog, like it was getting a job done. Really doing something.

I feel like this logic applies to physical therapy exercises as well. I think it’s a lot of the reason why gamification works. I also think there are a lot of ways to go about it, both from the perspective of making the everyday things you do involve physical therapy and by making physical therapy exercises feel more like “real” things to do.

I would like to find more ways to do this, though at the moment I’m drawing somewhat of a blank. I think this thought was sitting in my brain this morning because I really didn’t feel like doing PT today, and I’m sure there must be ways to make it interesting enough that it’s something I want to do, but I don’t know what those ways are. Not yet, anyway.

It’s a frustrating feeling to know what you need to do each day to be out of pain and to know that you’re essentially physically capable of doing them, but to have your brain constantly getting in the way.

This also touches on what I think is a very important part of my philosophy of getting myself to do things: the point is not always to just push yourself to do all the shit you need to do. Sometimes, it’s much more effective to figure out how you can make the shit you need to do easier for you to do. This is why I have a stationary recumbent bike and some weight equipment instead of a gym membership. It removes the barrier of having to get the fuck to a gym. It’s also why I’m cleaner than I used to be. My instincts are the same–toss the things in your hand out of your hand when you get home. But now I have places I can toss things that happen to also be the places they are supposed to go. Sometimes changing your habits is an awesome goal. Other times, accommodating and working with them works better, though.