Traditionally, I am not good at taking care of myself.
In high school, I crashed at a friend’s house one night and he located some grapefruits for breakfast. We’d been having a conversation about how much I like sugar, so I started piling it on my grapefruit half — probably six or eight spoonfuls. My friend was aghast. “There’s no way you’re eating that. That’s disgusting.”
I ate it.
Now, I was trying to be funny that day, but it’s a pretty good summary of my attitude toward my overall health. It’s not that I never tried to exercise or eat healthy, I just didn’t try very hard.
I didn’t realize how my habits were affecting me until I started changing them. When I added the bare minimum amount of exercise — 10 minutes of walking on a treadmill every day — and added fresh vegetables to my sugar-and-starch diet, I started having more energy. Excited at this development, I started looking for other things I could do to improve my quality of life, things to either help my overall energy level or hack my brain to do better creative work.
Eventually, through trial and error, I developed a routine: Wake up, meditate, freewrite, go to work, come home and treadmill, write, chat with my wife, sleep. It was a good routine. I don’t mean to imply that it was super rigid (i.e. I was fine to skip writing in the evening to go see a movie), but every component contributed to my overall well-being.
Then I got sick.
After a few days of watching bad movies and drinking orange juice, I tried to get back to my routine. I overslept and had to run out the door to work. When I got home, I was exhausted and went to bed early. I overslept again. To make up for it, I tried to stay up late, but was too tired to think. As I fell further and further behind on my projects, the more futile it seemed to try to resume progress on them. Everything went on hold as I binge-watched teevee shows on Netflix and whined about never getting anything done.
It would take another few years to admit that there was a problem with my brain and seek help for depression and anxiety. I’ll talk more about that journey in the future (probably a lot more), but the short version is that medication has been a godsend. It turned the volume down on the extreme negative feelings and enabled me to resume running, work on more creative projects, and give myself permission to relax and enjoy books or bad movies. When a routine gets disrupted, instead of wallowing in self-hatred, I’m able to ask what needs to change to get back on the treadmill, or finish the book I’m reading, or release more music.
And it’s a positive feedback loop. I’ve read assorted things about how exercise does good things in your brain — I notice that the more I run, the more creative ideas I have. The more ideas I have, the more I want to maximize my energy to work on them, so I eat healthier to avoid sugar crashes. Eating healthier gives me better fuel to run. The meds prevent me from beating myself up when I don’t run for two weeks, or pick up McDonald’s on the way home from work, so it’s easier to shrug it off and get back on track.
I guess what I’m trying to get at is this: Everything is connected, so when I take care of one aspect of my life, every other aspect benefits.