One of my favorite things to do in the world is to meander on paths. Where will they take me? Where will they go? Which path to take? Photos of paths serve as portals of possibilities, an invitation of sorts, a prompt. Where will you go? Can you trust that whatever path you take will be the right one? If you’re using this photo as a writing prompt, what might you write?
After living in an adventure RV full-time for over a year, now temporarily stopping our RV Life so our kid can attend high school, the thing I miss most is opening up my front door to a different landscape and having easy access to nature. The world was our front yard. Sometimes we’d open the door and there was the Pacific Ocean. Other times it’d be a desert dotted with cholla cactus. And other times, a babbling brook, a river, a creek, a dam. One of my favorite memories is of waking up to the Sea of Cortez in Baja Sur, Mx — its white sand beaches intermittently filled with puffer fish corpses I had to leap over during my morning runs, and the water: depending on the time of day, a deep sapphire blue or seafoam green like mottled glass. Of course, there were times our front yard was none other than a WalMart or casino parking lot. But the novelty of being someplace different added to the fun of this life. And it was easy to explore new hikes or cook outside.
I had a chat with my almost 15-year-old son about drugs the other day while his dad was away. It began with a VSauce video he wanted to share with me about ayahuasca. He had watched a lot of VSauce with his big sister when he was younger. I have never done ayahuasca before, and watched enthusiastically as Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris measured the effect the biomedicine had on VSauce’s brain. But over the past few years, I have become more excited about the possibility of psychedelics as a tool for healing depression, PTSD and emotional trauma.
After watching the VSauce YouTube video, I found it was an opportunity to show him this website I had learned about at the MAPS’ Psychedelic Science Summit this past November: SSDP (Students for Sensible Drug Policy; their tagline is ‘Just Say Know’, a play on Nancy Reagan’s 80’s ‘Just Say No’ campaign, something I still remember quite vividly as a kid growing up then). We actually scrolled through all kinds of drugs, such as LSD, cannabis, cocaine — this included caffeine, alcohol, and Adderall — and stepped through each one. I told him about being diagnosed with ADHD shortly after having him while enrolled in a MFA program and how, while it temporarily seemed to increase my focus to cram for papers and stories I’d procrastinate to write until the last minute, it made me a terrible person to be around. I was irritable and angry much of the time, and eventually, I decided to stop taking it. I told him my take on prescription drugs like Adderall or Ritalin, which is that I truly believe they’re unnecessary for most people. That actually using food as medicine, cutting out most sugar and flour out of my life, then progressing to eating a more low-carb, keto and later carnivore way of eating helped my focus, mental clarity and moods. I told him that even though alcohol is considered legal, it can make someone who is already depressed even more so. He’s witnessed firsthand some of the arguments his dad and I can get into after too many glasses of wine. We talked about the potential of psychedelics for treating people with depression, PTSD or other emotional trauma. We talked about the book I had read by Michael Pollan and how it had changed my mind about these different possibilities of healing when it comes to mental health. We talked about the panel I listened to while at the summit, where a former Navy Seal and veteran who is also a young father came back from the war in Afghanistan unable to cope, falling into a deep depression. His wife who was a Christian did research and found a study that was using ibogaine as a treatment for PTSD. He’s now in much better mental shape and she has hope that her children will have their father there, intact in every way. He talked about how healing it was as someone who faced multiple traumas: childhood trauma related to bullying + head trauma playing football + wartime trauma + trauma associated with transitioning back home.
Of course, I told him that as his mom, I’d much prefer that he wait until he’s older, more mature, when his brain has developed more. But if he ever found himself in a rough spot or a bad trip, he should always feel comfortable knowing he can call his parents. We talked much into the night. He had so many questions. I did my best to answer them. It was, I have to say, quite awkward at times, but I’m glad we both felt comfortable enough to open the dialogue together about this subject he’s bound to be exposed to more and more, now in high school and this world of constant social media. It’s hard to believe only a decade before, we were lying side by side, reading books like Goodnight Moon together.
I’m still learning and relearning myself, reconfiguring all that I’ve ever known as a kid growing up as a daughter of a strict Jehovah’s Witness mother and atheist dad, both of them immigrants from Taiwan. And also unlearning the rhetoric from the War on Drugs days, unpacking my old attitudes and examining them. Now in my late 40s, I’m beginning to shift my perspective on conventional psychiatry models when it comes to mental health. I’ve seen firsthand how pharmaceutical drugs for my own depression, anxiety, ADHD, and mood disorder didn’t help nearly as much as when I simply changed the way I ate, slept, and moved. And later, when I added meditation to the mix, life just felt much more manageable.
Right now, I’m on a quest to learn as much as I can, thirsty to learn more about different models of treating mental health.
It’s easy to forget to feel love and compassion, especially for yourself. I went to a free wellness circle today in Austin where you sit in a circle of strangers with your eyes closed as paper-thin needles are inserted into your ears (it’s called NADA – a non-verbal way to deal with emotional trauma, stress and conflict, and often used for addiction). After meditating for about 45 minutes or so, I found myself drop into a deep space of love and compassion for myself. Earlier I had felt pulled in many directions, going into the familiar pattern of self-flagellation, or beating myself up for not doing or saying x, y, or z. The familiar tug of shame and guilt. As we went around the circle, a few others in the group remarked that they, too, had been too hard on themselves as of late, and when we left, when the circle was no longer intact, I felt immense gratitude. To know that you’re not alone, to know that others struggle with what you struggle with, is truly a gift.
I’m a huge lover of stories about dysfunctional families. Maybe because I grew up in one that was all at once nonsensical yet overwhelmingly loving. Maybe that’s why I’m in love with stories by George Saunders like “Sticks”, David Sedaris’ stories, as well as Augusten Burroughs’ Running with Scissors or Akhil Sharma‘s Family Life. I can’t get enough of stories like Silver Linings Playbook about a protagonist struggling with bipolar disorder or Ellen Forney’s graphic novel, Marbles. These stories make me feel less alone. George Saunders’ narrator in “Sticks” recounts in just two paragraphs, about 100 words or so, just how eccentric and controlling the father is, how he deals with grief and love for family and country and holidays with only a metal pole in the front lawn. Maybe that’s why I fell deeply in love with the movie, Knives Out, recently. A whodunnit movie that explores dynamics within dysfunctional families as well as class and race.
What are other dysfunctional family stories or films that you would recommend?
You are obsessed with longevity and health span and the title of your novel is called The Forever Life.
She writes you emails, and almost every call ends with advice on how you — and your family — can live forever. Just open: jw.org, she beckons. As if the portal to eternal life is really that simple.
You send her emails with advice on how to eat keto and low-carb, knowing she once went all the way to China to a beauty hospital to have surgery to reduce the roundness around her waist. You know that she’s the one that buys soda in bulk, because “it’s on sale at Costco,” for your dad, her husband, who had recently returned from a surgery related to neuropathy, linked to the type 2 diabetes he’s been diagnosed with, begging for soda even while in the hospital recovering.
She reads the Watchtower and Awake magazines to your son whenever she babysits; he has memories of watching DVDs about Noah’s Ark and she constantly reminds him that we are living in the “Last Days” — any day now, Armeggedon is slated to arrive.
You watch her buy box after box of a special juice. She wants you to buy it too. It helps you lose weight. Helps you live a long life. She can sell it to you at a special discount. Your friend, she tells you, who has just suffered from back pain should use it too.
You tell her juice might as well be soda, as it spikes your insulin (because you have prediabetes and are keeping tabs on your HbA1c).
She looks aghast. How can Jehovah create abundant fruit for us yet have it hurt our health?
You tell her it’s not the fruit that’s necessarily bad but too much juice, especially processed. Processed foods, refined carbs like pasta, noodles, cake, cookies, bread and all the hyper-palatable foods out there designed to keep us hangry and hankering for more is what’s wrong. Insulin spiking affects our moods. It makes you fat and depressed. I tell her about autophagy and fasting, about ketosis and blood sugar control.
She hands you the bible. Jehovah’s wisdom is the most important knowledge. The truth will set you free. It is her gift to you before your travels on the road, since you’ve sold your house to live in a RV with your family. Always pray to Jehovah. I want you to live forever in paradise with me. Your whole family. Her eyes brim with tears.
You nod and take the small Bible, its tissue-thin pages gilded with gold. She has a smaller one for your son. You realize she doesn’t care about this life on this earth right now. It’s about the next one. The one where she’ll be forever young and free from any problem or any disease. Your eyes water as you just want her to live as long as possible here and now. In this life. Maybe not forever but as long as humanly possible.
Tracking What I Care About
I’ve been successful, more or less, tracking other areas in my life, especially related around eating keto (i.e., tracking my fasting glucose, ketones, GKI), exercise and meditation. So recently it dawned on me, why don’t I track my writing? Especially around the blogging? It’s something I’ve been kicking myself for not being able to maintain, out of fear and forgetfulness. There’s always been a little voice in the back of my head to start a daily blogging practice. So I created a Blogging Tracker for myself in my bulletjournal. I bookmark the page so I know to return to it day after day. It really is true that the act of tracking and checking off what you’ve done is in itself a reward (as mentioned in the book I finished recently, Atomic Habits by James Clear, realizing after reading it that habit tracking as a system was what I’ve already been doing for quite some time now).
I really like using a bulletjournal to create a monthly tracker to track my habits. (I also use Heads Up to track my GKI, fasting glucose, ketones via Keto-Mojo, weight, HRV, HbA1c, thyroid, CRP, Deep Sleep via Oura, steps, extended fasts, cholesterol, and more, plus waist measurements–which I wrote about here, how I whittled down my waist size). Tracking keeps me accountable, and surprisingly, helps me with the practice of not being perfect. For someone with crippling perfectionism, the practice of not overreacting to the numbers is a practice in itself. And of course, there are times when I feel down, or get too busy, and don’t track at all. Those are times I get to practice self-compassion and forgiveness, and just remember not to let more than a few days go by before showing up for myself again. Thus, an act of remembering, resetting, and a re-commitment to my why.
Why I Track
Why am I doing all this? It may seem tedious and anal to track the way I do, and for some people, this doesn’t work for them, will never work. But for me, I’ve been slowly transforming my health, body, mind, and life toward a positive trajectory over the years, and when something works, you tend to want to return to it. And the main reason why I track is because I’m committed to being happy and healthy and doing the things I say I want to do, like writing. I want to be a better person to be around with my family and friends. I know how awful I once felt, looked and acted. And I don’t want to be residing in that space more often than not. In many ways, it’s a way of disease management. Eating a whole-foods version of keto (and sometimes carnivore) helps my physical and mental health (especially once diagnosed with prediabetes, ADHD, asthma, social anxiety and bipolar disorder type 2). And after watching how hard cancer hit my husband, I want to do my best to prevent it. Now without any prescription meds since 2011, including my once-daily asthma inhalers, I am light years away from how terrible I once felt, mentally and physically. In fact, at age 47, I feel and look better than I ever looked or felt in my 20s and 30s, a testament to epigenetics at work. Of course, I still have some lingering anxiety and depression from time to time, but it’s usually related to situational stuff or the lack of something related to these areas that I track around lifestyle: nutrition, sleep, exercise, meditation.
I’m also learning that the old me that showed up every once in a while — usually around New Year’s to set unachievable resolutions — often ended up flailing, wondering why things weren’t working, feeling like a failure, a loser. Ever since I started tracking back around 2015 or so, around the time my husband Darrell was battling cancer (and we religiously tracked his GKI/glucose: ketones index back then), I began tracking my own GKI, finding that I felt better when my GKI was under 9 (when you’re in ketosis). I feel even more amazing when it’s 3 or under, my mind buzzing with clarity and my moods completely even. Anyhow, I’ll write more in detail about this in another post one of these days. In the meantime, I did write a post for Heads Up a while back (where I work part-time) about how my husband used the GKI and the keto diet as an adjunct to conventional treatment for cancer. In 2020, he’ll have been in remission for five years, now feeling stronger and healthier than he’s ever been, mostly now these days eating nose-to-tail carnivore keto, Dr. Paul Saladino-style. Note: In 2015, he consulted briefly with Miriam Kalamian, who had an e-book out then on how to cook and eat keto for cancer. She now has an excellent updated book with more in-depth advice called Keto for Cancer, a book we still refer to at times.
Anyhow, back to the blogging tracker. My reason to use this new tracker I set up is to keep me accountable. And the act of actually creating the tracker by hand is immensely meditative and satisfying. It’s a wonder with all these so-called “disorders” I haven’t been diagnosed with OCD!
There’s a little hit of dopamine whenever I’m able to show up for myself, blog, and then return to ‘X’ out the day. Even if whatever I wrote felt like a hot mess of words, that feeling of finishing, of crossing yet another day off is rife with satisfaction. And as someone who is frightened of putting myself out there, of exposure, of worrying about what others think, dealing with imposter syndrome, the act of blogging helps me with just practicing how to show up and detach from the outcome, that my words are simply “good enough.”
I’ve been calling myself “a writer” and feeling like a liar because I really haven’t published much in my life, despite having gone to a MFA program in creative writing almost a decade ago. Well okay, it’s not a complete lie because the work that I often do for clients is heavily writing-related (copywriting, copyediting, ghostwriting, blogging, social media writing, etc). Also I’ve been showing up for my novel in bits and spurts for over a decade now. But I have been frightened for so long of sharing anything with anyone. There are half-written short stories, multiple versions of my novel, bits and pieces of a possible memoir, Medium article drafts, even a blog post I’d written back in January 2019 about my 7-Day extended fast for autophagy and cancer prevention — all languishing on my hard-drive. Quite frankly, I’m tired of it. I’m sick of being afraid. I have so much to say, and have already said a lot of it, and still have even more to add to the conversation out there in the world. The act of blogging, I’ve come to realize, is really a practice of being seen, of confidence. And hopefully, of sharing something that might be helpful to at least one person somewhere out in the world.
This quote by James Clear is another reason I track:
“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.”
I can’t wait to ‘X’ off Day 365 and see just how my writing life, and identity as a writer, will have changed since beginning this new practice. I suspect that things will have shifted by then!
I’ll be honest. I really didn’t feel like showing up today. At all. I almost talked myself out of blogging just now. But I had made a promise to myself to show up, whether or not anyone reads this or not. Because I had vowed to myself to take on a challenge to blog every day for 365 days (today happens to be ‘Day 9’; that’s 356 more days to go). Even if I don’t have anything to say, I had told myself I’d lay down a paragraph. A sentence, even.
So here I am. It’s almost 10pm Central Time and I’m here wondering what I should write about. I decided to title this “Showing Up.” Because showing up really is half the battle; at least, that’s what they say. The mere act of showing up for others, but more importantly for yourself, is crucial. As someone who battles with depression from time to time, this is even more so. Repeatedly breaking vows to yourself about starting a new habit can wear your spirits down. You begin to lose trust with yourself. Showing up is trusting yourself not to be perfect. And as a perpetual procrastinator and perfectionist, this is why I’ve struggled for so long to finish my novel, other writing, and all the other tasks and projects I’ve told myself I’d do. Thus, the cycle of shame, inadequacy and guilt. So this new practice of showing up on the page is a good thing. Even if I really don’t have anything pithy to say.
There are some soothing videos on YouTube I really like to watch to relax, usually related to cooking, minimalist bulletjournal planning, or knitting.
Well, Darrell just turned me onto this guy’s channel: Primitive Technology. Watching his videos is strangely soothing, hypnotic, making you want to go out into the wild and get your hands in wet mud to build your own kilns or tiles to build the roof of your hut — no modern tools whatsoever! Even in that survivalist show, Naked and Afraid, participants can bring one tool, such as a knife or cooking pan from home. Not this guy from Australia. Whether he’s weaving a basket, building a furnace, making a hut, or making flour he’s grown from arrowroot tubers, he’s doing this all by hand. This makes me wish, during our time living full-time in a RV, boondocking, traveling and staying in BLM land or forest roads in parts of the U.S., and then later for about six months in Baja North, Baja Sur, and then mainland Mexico, that we had done something like this.
My stepdaughter who is visiting us commented that these videos, especially the one where the guy actually makes iron, is a lot like playing Minecraft, the video game she plays with her little brother and dad.
Watch these videos for yourself to get inspired. Or at the very least, to soothe your nerves and activate your parasympathetic nervous system to rest and relax!
Just a quick little post here about accountability and how grateful I feel to have it. I met a poet/novelist/playwright/meditation professor back in 2016 in a writing workshop in San Francisco. Ever since then, I’ve been meeting with her on and off for most weeks, meeting via Skype on mornings, despite me living in California then and her living in Pennsylvania. We focused mostly on making progress with our novels, but oftentimes, it became time focused on our own work. She on her academic writing and me with my client work, mostly focused on copywriting and editing and other freelance-writing-type work. And even when I moved into a RV full-time with my family and stayed in areas where wifi was scant, we made it work, texting or emailing each other so we knew we were writing.
We met, and still meet, via Skype or FaceTime, most mornings and work using Pomodoros (25 minutes of focused work, followed by a 5 minute break). Soon, we introduced meditation into the equation and began almost every session with 5 to 30 minute meditation sessions. Since she also taught meditation to her students in her university, this felt like a mini-meditation class. This calmed our spirits and nervous system down so we could settle into whatever work we were about to do, whether creative or not.
Today we met up after not meeting since the holidays and I was glad when she reminded me the importance of not giving up on my novel, which I had honestly put on hiatus for the moment, only working on it when I felt like it. Instead, I told her, I was working on my blogging practice. What about the five minutes you used to do every day? she reminded me. She recalled how happy I had felt even after just five minutes, how often five minutes would turn into ten, and sometimes 20, and times when it was longer. Being in the revision stage of my novel has been scary, and many times, made me feel lethargic. I’d rather wash dishes than have to risk figuring out what to do next. After a few minutes of resisting with her, what she said actually resonated. I could feel it in my heart space, my gut. I’m beginning to realize how much my body has to come on board for me to know it’s the right thing to do. And in this case, I’m glad I listened to my body. My friend and I both agreed to just five minutes, and no more, to just work on our respective and neglected novels. I opened up my Scrivener file where I had last left off, freewriting about a knot I had to unravel with a few of the characters in my novel, in a certain scene in particular. And in just five minutes, I felt a little less lethargic, a little less scared. And even, dare I say, a little more excited about what was to come next.
And that, my friends, is the power of accountability. Oftentimes in life, you need someone else to remind you to keep going. To remind you of the important things you’ve almost forgotten. I must say, I feel immense gratitude that I have found a friend who gives me that accountability!