Driven to Distraction

Robot Brain

My daughter went to the Green Day concert Thursday night in Fenway Park with family and friends. Her mom texted me videos of her having a great time jumping up and down and singing along. It makes me so happy she is out having fun while she is young. I texted her the next day, She said she had a good time. I asked her if it was the best concert ever. She said, I don’t know. That is her way of telling me no.

I wanted to see her but she had to work. Instead I took another 3 hour bike ride. The exercise makes me feel so much better. The last 2 times I have gone I discovered it is a lot more fun when I take my time. I don’t know why but for the longest time I was trying to go full speed needlessly. I was always on the clock, trying to beat my best time. I could never remember what my best time was but I was still trying to beat it. Last week I had to force myself to slow down and enjoy the ride. I realized I had been missing interesting things all these years. I was still trying to keep myself in the highest gear without too much strain. Yesterday I got down to the beach and thought, WTF? I am still going too fast. I shifted down to 2nd gear and kept it there. I was like, Oh no, what’s wrong? I’m coasting down hills and it is much easier going up the other side. It was very relaxing and I got to spend more time in the sun and fresh air and smelling the ocean.

I know the main reason I was always going so fast was my last bicycle had a speedometer/odometer that also kept track of average speed. I was always trying to raise those numbers. Now I think, who cares? I’m still going to get where I want to go. I want to do it again today but it will be hotter and I usually don’t take long rides 2 days in a row. My body is not sore at all today and I am already restless so I think by 11am I will be running out the door!

In other news, I don’t think the tinnitus so much directly related to anxiety. For a couple days I had minimal anxiety and it was still as loud as ever. You would think that would cause more anxiety. I did have some worries it might last forever but yesterday and today it has been at about 50 percent. Only getting louder after I returned home from my ride and into my quiet apartment. It again lowered in about an hour. It didn’t interfere with my sleep. My next guess is it is from high blood pressure brought on by all the new stress I’ve had recently. I have no way of checking it. If it gets worse again my next step is to go to a doctor where they can check several things and still may not find the cause.

I have been jazzed to get outside today since I woke up and saw cloudless skies and checked the weather app showing only the slightest chance of rain. It is already August and I don’t want to waste anymore of these beautiful summer days. My daughter is stopping by to drop off the wireless earbuds I ordered. I get packages shipped to her house because there is a problem of items being stolen in my apartment building. Boxes are left on the floor in front of the community mailboxes at the front door. Last time I had something delivered here I got a text confirming the delivery and went down within 15 minutes and it was gone. Assholes!

I’m still positive today!

Damn, I need a good title

Robot Brain

Thursday, July 29, 2021: Okay, I got a little excited yesterday. The Green Day concert is not today, it is next Thursday. Still time for you to buy tickets. I’m not going but a lot of people I know are.

Yesterday I did a great job managing my anxiety. I woke up in the morning and was surprised the weather forecast had changed from rain all day to “the best day of the summer!” Clear blue skies and temps in the 70’s. I don’t know what that is in Celsius but it means you are styling in shorts and a t-shirt! I set two rather lofty goals for myself and said, no matter what happens I am going to accomplish them. That may have been a mistake if I failed but I was feeling rather determined. The first was a walk to Walmart. I didn’t really need anything. It is a two mile round trip which is a reasonable walk for me. I chose to walk rather than ride my bike because I wanted it to take longer. I was actually holding myself back from leaving my apartment which was unusual since I’ve had to force myself to go outside and would only do it for necessary reasons lately. I found I had to keep slowing down my walking pace and reminding myself I am not in a hurry. Also I was still ruminating about everything that was going on in my head from my previously intense anxiety. I would find myself thinking about people I was pissed at and stop it and say, don’t let these people live rent free in my head. Instead I was able to think about people who have been good to me.

When I got home from Walmart I was feeling pretty confident about my next goal which was to go on my semi regular 25 mile bicycle ride. Again, I had to restrain myself and remembered I had only eaten an apple. I cooked and ate a bowl of lentils which takes about an hour and had a great orange. Yum! Despite my anxiety I had still been able to complete maybe three bicycle rides but they never reduced it. I found myself pedaling as if I was being chased by the devil. This time I told myself to keep a leisurely pace. I was able to do it for the most part. I kept myself in the correct gear to pedal just enough to feel like I was at a cruising speed. It was much more relaxing than usual and added an extra half hour to my excursion. Again, part of my goal was to stay outside as long as possible. Mission accomplished! When I arrived home every muscle in my body was sore but it felt really good and it was my first Advil free day for quite a while.

I knew exercise, fresh air and being out in nature (Three quarters of my ride is very close to the ocean) were good for anxiety but my previous three trips made me feel worse because they had little effect and I was starting to get afraid it would last forever. Twinges of low anxiety kept creeping in during my ride making think it would get worse when I got back home. I actually felt great for the rest of the day and today is starting out even better!

I accidentally discovered I did two more things to help anxiety. Sunlight helps your body create vitamin D which was the first I heard as anxiety relief. The second was the fish oil gels capsules I bought at Walmart intending to get Omega 3 fats into my body. Previously I had been eating chia seeds but I kept forgetting to buy them after running out. I didn’t realize Omega 3 fats help with depression and anxiety until I Googled the recommended daily dose. I feel like I did a great job. I set reasonable goals and accomplished them and had two serendipitous discoveries. Incredible! I feel like a new man.

To Vegan or not to Vegan?

Good question. Once a month I sear up a nice, fat, juicy rib-eye steak. It is the only meat I cook at home now. The rest of the time I eat mostly vegetables. When I am outside the house I eat whatever I want. I first got interested in vegan/vegetarian diets late in life because I have always struggled with my weight since I got on medications. Other diets never worked for me. Also because when I first started watching Netflix I watched one documentary and after that all they suggested for me were documentaries. Most of the films were about the benefits of eating more veggies or the horrors of factory farms. That also helped bring about this post.

A few years ago I was doing most of my grocery shopping online for delivery. It made me realize that I was eating a shit-ton of meat. Each month I would order 6lbs of ground beef, 10lbs of chicken breasts and about 4lbs of boneless pork chops. On top of that I would go out and have my fill of greasy cheeseburgers. That was all for me. One person.

(Disclaimer: This only works because I can eat almost anything.) At first I started out with an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet because I couldn’t think of giving up eggs and cheese in the morning. I didn’t include seafood because that is disgusting. In the first month I lost 10lbs but for the next 2 months I leveled off and didn’t lose any more weight. So I decided to go strictly vegan. I could do this because although I live most of my life in excess, I was in a very disciplined state of mind. I can be quite stubborn when I want to be.

Going cold turkey worked immediately. I lost 20lbs in a month and kept it off. I had quit sugar and corn syrup in my 20’s but along with going vegan I also cut out refined carbs such as are found in bread, white pasta and white rice. It was easy for me to make the switch because I’ve always had an affinity for vegetables. Now I eat as many of them as I want. I stay away from corn mostly because I don’t trust it because of the “cornspiracy” in America.

I tended to take the anecdotal evidence in the documentaries I watched with a grain of salt. A lot of the same “experts” would pop up in different movies. Many of them had no scientific credentials. They were just there to promote their own book full of pseudo-science. The most convincing study I heard about the benefits of eating mostly vegetables was “The China Study” by T. Colin Campbell and his son, Thomas. You don’t have to read the book. I can give you a good idea in the next paragraph.

The China Study was the largest study of diet that found a direct correlation between the amount of animal products consumed and a person’s health. They chose 6500 people from all across China and followed their diet. They found that poor people who couldn’t afford to eat much meat had the lowest instance of “Western diseases.” (Heart disease, diabetes and cancer. etc…) and also had the longest life expectancy. I trust this study because it involved the largest cross section of people and got into extensive details on diet and disease.

What do I eat besides that delicious, perfectly seasoned, medium-rare Rib-eye? I’m lazy so I’ve settled on some easy recipes that I eat over and over and I also eat whatever I want when I go to a restaurant. My favorite dish I discovered by experiment is the easiest. I cook a box of whole wheat pasta and microwave a pound of frozen broccoli. I add oil, celery salt, garlic powder, dried oregano and dried basil. Then I dress it with soy sauce and a drizzle of Sriracha sauce (I put that shit on everything) and then I top it off with a healthy dose of Parmesan cheese. OMG! I end up scraping the bottom of my plate. This dish is great for my meager finances because it gives me 4 meals for less than 5 bucks per pot. (I finished writing this then cooked and ate 2 plates; It’s soooo fucking good!)

One common misconception is you need a huge amount of protein to make it through the day. That is a myth perpetuated by the huge meat industry in the U.S. I eat less than half the recommended daily intake of protein and I can walk or ride a bicycle all day if I have to, no problem. I’ve also seen many interviews with top professional athletes who suffered no loss of performance after switching to a plant based diet.

I’m not being preachy, I’m just bored and needed another topic to write about in my new blog. Although having people switch to a plant based diet could help save the planet. If you accept the science of climate change, you’ll be interested to know that despite all the fuss made of carbon dioxide, it is actually methane produced on livestock farms (yes, cow farts) that is a much more potent greenhouse gas.

Another dish I created to get my protein is pretty tasty too. I cook a pound of white beans, a pound of whole wheat spaghetti and a pound of Brussel sprouts or asparagus. I spice it up with salt and again with the celery salt and garlic powder. (My 2 favorites.) It is also very economical and lasts me a few days.

This diet only works for me because I can eat all the same foods over and over each month. If I get tired of it I go buy something with meat on it. But yeah, I’m weird. I can eat almost anything. A couple common snacks for me are steamed green beans or asparagus with just salt. A treat for me is a bag of tortilla chips with roasted red pepper hummus or spicy salsa. I can polish this off in a day. It may sound like deprivation but I actually enjoy it.

After my last few posts you might think I’m obsessed with my weight. I’m not, I just like to be able to tie my shoes without too much of a struggle. I had a doctor who was really into BMI. I personally think it is bullshit. He told me at 5’10” I should weigh 160lbs. I haven’t weighed that much since high school and I was a puny little punk back then. Besides he was my height and weight 160. He did not look healthy. I could clearly see all of his tendons and ligaments. It wasn’t normal.

Okay, I promise I will find something more interesting to talk about in my future posts besides my diet and weight. Disregarding the BMI I think my ideal weight was 175. I can’t get down there again but I hover between 180 and 190 which is fine with me and my dad bod. I’m comfortable and my clothes fit nicely and I have no problem getting around. These are important to me because my brain is all fucked up and I don’t want it to show on the outside.

Well, it’s a new month; almost time for a new Rib-eye. I’m not a very good vegetarian.

Meditation by Distraction

Rubic's cube

I stumbled upon this technique after my weight ballooned to over 260lbs. I ignored the warning on my medication that listed weight gain as the main side effect. Instead I went to the gym. I didn’t really know what to do at the gym since I had been naturally athletic my whole life before I started taking meds. I knew walking was a good form of exercise so I started with the treadmill. That is where I accidentally found my kind of mindfulness meditation. My therapist had been trying to get me into mindfulness but I couldn’t grasp the concept. My brain was too chaotic.

Here is how it happened. I set the treadmill at a faster than normal walking speed with a slight incline and doing that caused me to exert myself to the point of sweating my balls off. Even though the gym had air conditioning. I also had to concentrate on walking fast enough so I wouldn’t slide off the end of the treadmill. While I was doing that I listened to my favorite playlist with earphones in at a pretty good volume. In front of me were 10 televisions suspended from the ceiling in a row. They were all muted with subtitles and I would pick a channel to read. Along with all this were the other people working out. I didn’t like that there was only one other fat guy there in the pretty large gym. A lot of people seemed to go there to socialize. They didn’t need to work out, they were in perfect shape. But it was good eye candy for during the television commercials.

With all the above happening at the same time, I would get into a zone. There was so much external noise it took away the noise in my head. It seems unorthodox but with the treadmill in the back of the room and all the action going on inside my body and directly in front of me, I could really focus. I would do the treadmill for about 45 minutes then switch to the weight machines. I did light weights but concentrated on the muscle movements and the music. It usually took me about 45 minutes to do all the machines I liked. Then it was back to the treadmill and another 45 minutes of pure distraction. I forgot to mention that during this gym phase I was manic so I never got tired. Lucky me.

After the gym I would drive home and I could enjoy about 3 hours of peace. I was calm enough to eat lunch and sit still on the couch. I didn’t know I was practicing mindfulness at the time (I did associate it with a kind of Zen) but it was the only time in my life that any form of meditation worked for me.

I enjoyed all this for about 6 months until I had to move and could no longer get to a gym. At least not the cheap one at $10 a month. I was still manic and still felt the urge to keep moving. Luckily I had a bicycle to burn off some excess energy. It wasn’t until I started doing long 2 hour bike trips that I discovered it was happening again. I would get a respite from the voices and be calm enough to take care of myself for a few hours.

Biking is different than the treadmill but I have a lot of the same methods; just different distractions. I have to concentrate on my leg muscles propelling me forward, keeping the bike upright and avoiding cars. I live near the seacoast so there is a lot of wind to struggle against. Because of all the traffic in my area I don’t dare to wear earphones but I have a constant earworm repeating in my head. This is all enough to give me the distraction I need.

I could never do the traditional forms of meditation where you focus inward. It caused intense anxiety and made everything in my brain worse. Now that I am no longer manic and slightly on the depressed side, I only ride about once a week to my daughter’s house. But that is a 2 hour round trip and I get the extra external stimulus of talking to people and the happiness of being around my daughter. These days are markedly different than my usual routine of just sitting around the house. After a day of riding I find I need less of my anxiety medication as my mood is naturally lifted.

Writing this with music or television in the background is another form of mindfulness I practice while I am stuck at home. It only works in the moment and doesn’t give me a lasting effect. I need a lot of external distractions to get me into the zone. It seems like it doesn’t make any sense. Everything I’ve been taught about meditation has been about being quiet and focusing inward. I don’t know why but I never get a better natural calm than I do after these exercises.

If this wasn’t long enough for you, I found another blog post from Amy with The Bridge that explains it better than I do.