I started the summer semester in a general funk. (For my academic year, “summer” starts mid May. My kids are finishing school this week, but I’m already a quarter of the way in.) I had blamed a couple of things. For one, I’m back on a totally online teaching schedule. Also, there are no meetings or committee work going on. So I’m not around bodies. When I’m around other people in a professional context, it energizes me. Going to the coffee bar to do some work has a similar effect, but I was back to my old self who couldn’t get energized to do anything, not to do the steps that would allow me to do the work. I also was blaming it on allergies, and the weather, and whatnot.
But the real culprit was that I ran out of some of my supplements, and thought, well, I wasn’t taking it all that often anyway, so I guess I don’t need it.
I’m of two minds about supplements. First, I’m a skeptic. There are so many charlatans and snake oil salesmen out there. Plus there’s the placebo effect, such as when Hank Azaria’s character in The Birdcage gives Nathan Lane’s character “pirin” tablets to calm his nerves, which turn out to be aspirin with the A and S scraped off. I think one of the strongest forces of human nature is self deception. In that way, I’m even the anti-placebo. I don’t want the supplements to work. They’re expensive, and the ones we need are mail order, so if we screw up and run out, there’s no running to the drug store to get more. Plus they are pretty much not taken seriously by our doctors.
But they work. I finally admitted I needed to order my B-12 and after a day I started feeling normal again, meaning only mediocrity instead of raving incompetence. I use a spray, and have tried other drugstore varieties of B-12 and they don’t work, even though I want them to because they are cheaper. I also take Megared krill oil. My wife, having done hours of research about our youngest to try to avoid giving him prescription meds, ordered me a new supplement for me, monolaurin. A whose whatsit? I asked my wife. “It’s a fatty acid that helps your brain.” I can never remember the names of things (I had to go get the bottle to write this) so I just call it the fat ass pill.
Now, I’m hesitant to write this, because I strongly believe that we all respond to substances differently and I don’t want to be giving medical advice or anything but this new fat ass pill IS F-ING AWESOME! Again, this is the skeptic saying what is this piece of hogwash you’re giving me about coconuts? But I was wrong. Very very wrong.
I’ve taken it for two days now, and I’ve had two of the most calmly productive days I can remember. Way different from too-much-Ritalin mania. I’ve worked steady and focused for two solid days now, despite having my sleep interrupted by allergy attacks (mine and my family’s) and sinus headaches. In fact, I went to the office this afternoon and worked steadily on my real work the entire afternoon, without drifting to Facebook or SecondLife or People Of WalMart. I did the magic productivity trick: I asked what is the most important thing to do now? Then I did it.
So, here’s my regimen right now (again this works for me, for now):
In the morning: coffee, Concerta 54mg, B-12, krill oil, monolaurin.
Another dose of caffeine in the afternoon: coffee if I’m being good, soda if I’m not.
At dinner, B-12 and monolaurin again.
I eat regular meals and try not to hit the vending machine too much.
I’ve also been going to yoga class twice a week for ninety minutes, and usually do a few minutes each day, just to stretch out my back. I’m also an amateur Buddhist, and have been reading texts on mindfulness again and meditating. Those practices are usually the groundwork for good mind/body stuff.
(As an aside, my favorite Buddhist writer is Pema Chodron. In the recent book I’m reading, she recommends having some sort of reminder to pause and be aware of breath. I use Google Calendar for everything, and I do hundreds of appointments with students each semester. For every appointment, Google pops up a reminder for me, which lately has been annoying, until I took her advice. Every time I get a Google reminder, I pause and stare at the word OK and count three full breaths. It’s a silly little practice, but it has the effect of centering my mind, a mini-meditation before I talk to a student.)
It’s hard to know what’s essential, what affects mood exactly. My short list is meds, exercise, food, sunlight, caffeine, alcohol, meditation, allergens, atmospheric pressure, working environment, positive feedback, finances, bodily pain, digestion, writing, reading, relationships, holidays, phone calls, and le Tour de France. I love July, for example, because it has sunlight, good pay, my birthday, and that bike race with the fancy name.
I tend to think that therapies or interventions work on three different areas: physiology, environment, and psychology. For example, drugs work on brain chemistry, accommodations work on the environment, and talk therapy or mindfulness works on the thinking. All these things intertwine to make a person, and none by itself makes a whole person. I spent many years in talk therapy and put many things to rest, but never addressed the core issues, never understood why I kept doing things counter to my logical self interest. I spent many more years trying to force myself into roles that I thought I should occupy, given the way I read the environment. The real need was to fit in, instead of making my own way.
These last two days I’ve been productive, resilient, positive, and not so worrisome. I’m also not having those deep existential night fears about dying; that’s my litmus test for good mind. If I think about mortality and its inevitability, and I get that sort of down-to-my-toes terror, then I’m in a bad way. If I think about it and convince myself it’s not going to happen, then I’m in denial. If I think about it and feel equanimity, then I am in a sane way.