Reading My Body Language

Hustling as hard as I have so far in life, one reliable survival tactic was to ignore the pain my body felt and just push through. It's a good discipline for certain situations, but there's a literal breaking limit to how hard you can push your body and ignore its signals. There's the idea of "no pain, no gain," "work hard, play hard," "I'll sleep when I'm dead." I'm starting to come off my youthful invincibility. You can either choose to take care of your body proactively or it'll force you to take care of it reactively.

I'm trying to listen to my body now. It's one thing to listen, and another to act on those messages. When I shoved all my feelings down, my body would act out in different ways. I would binge eat. I would stay up late to indulge in distractions like Reddit, TV, games, Twitter, or hobbies. Nowadays, I'll take an extra long shower. I'll only eat until I'm not hungry anymore, not until I'm full. I'll lay on the couch to listen to music on my headphones. I'll jump in the car and drive to get some guilty pleasure food. Sometimes I won't do anything at all. I'll just sit and be fully present wherever I am. Mindfulness. I learned from my nephew this past month how to just sit still and not care about what's going on. Happy as a clam. Even though I usually ignored my body's complaints for so long, I still listened to it here and there, but now I have to practice figuring out when to listen and when to ignore.

I've been playing Overwatch this week, and at the end of each match, you can rate the quality of the game either negative, neutral or positive. It's now one of the lenses through which I view the quality of my daily work. Some days are negative, where I take on more stress than I'd like, eg. lots of errands, rescheduled appointments. Some days are neutral where I don't feel like working on anything, so I just avoid my problems and clean. Other days, I make great progress on my mental health, eg. seeing my counsellor, reading up on symptoms, feeling my feelings. Let's do a lengthy play by play of my week looking through this frame.

I scheduled an appointment with a podiatrist. Time to heal my body from the ground up. Flat feet suck. They lead to pain in the knees, hips, back, and neck. Coupled with the traumatic energy being frozen in my shoulders, did my shoulders ever stand a chance? The appointment isn't for another two weeks, so kind of a positive day getting that sorted.

I spent two hours at the pool Friday, switching between the steam room and floating in the pool. I put two mini surfborts under my knees and under my neck, and then I just floated. So good for my lower back. I was so relaxed that two lifeguards thought I had fallen asleep or died. That, or they were just looking for a reason to give me mouth-to-mouth.

At physio, I got a list of exercises and stretches I need to do every day. From my injury in January, my left arm isn't sitting securely in its shoulder socket, so I have to tighten the muscles around it, doing rotator cuff exercise with some red and green workout bands. It's a good thing I haven't committed to a gym routine yet because of this injury. Now that I know what I'm working with, this will be a good start to exercising again. This routine will simultaneously correct my posture problems, so I'll be even taller and handsomer. Positive day.

My dentist appointment got rescheduled this week, so I woke up early for nothing. I guess it wasn't so bad since I could help a friend pack up his condo, but I would have preferred to sleep until noon. I suppose it also gives me a week to floss so it looks like I've been doing it regularly all along. This was a neutral day because I didn't feel like working on myself. Live to fight another day.

I got a haircut for Chasing Summer Music Festival, so I'm looking funky fresh. Positive.

Sleeping with the blinds up has been interesting. We normally keep them all down because the street lights and the flood light for the parking lot can make it too bright to fall asleep, but the tradeoff of waking with the sun is worth it. I'm starting to get up with the rest of the world now. It's kind of nice, but I'm tired most days because according to my sleep tracking app, Pillow, my ideal bed time is 1:30 AM. I'm still super tired in general. Even though I have my daytime back and I get to sleep in, I think the anxiety and stress make sleep and energy a very different situation. My emotions are allowed to run free now, so my body is reacting in a way I'm not used to. I'm also doing this thing Carrie has called a "nightly routine." Yes, instead of just staying up doing mindless activities until I pass out on the couch, I instead start turning devices off based on what time it is, take a soothing shower, change into comfy clothes, and turn down the lights. I used to wonder "TURN DOWN FOR WHAT?" Now I know it's for a good night's sleep.

I saw my counsellor this week. I messed up the time in my calendar, so I only had half an hour to zip through my problems. I made appointments for every two weeks until the end of September, and this time I double checked the timing was correct. She supported me through the whole STD case manager dealio, who coincidentally called me in the middle of my session. She gave me a copy of the letter that described my symptoms, and we talked about that as well. She said it can be difficult to deal with these labels because she and I didn't have time to unpack it all, but I'm handling it okay. Knowing what I'm facing has made life a lot easier to handle. Positive aspect of a mostly negative day.

What threw the balance of my day into the negative was my Short Term Disability case manager trying to rush me back to work. I got an email after I missed her call, wherein she said I was going back to the office with a reduced workload after only two weeks off. I had to assemble a list of evidence on short notice from my doctor and counsellor to appeal the decision, inform my manager that I wasn't coming back yet, and write a strongly worded email, lit only by natural light, to the case manager and TELUS Health Services. It was hugely stressful, and they haven't contacted me since. I had a panic attack when I received the email. I had just started to unpack my emotional baggage, and then someone wanted to send me on a business trip. I was like "nah bruh" (except that I was freaking out inside). It was satisfying to shift that toxic energy elsewhere because it was really messing with my head. Definitely negative, but there was a positive outcome.

After talking with my case manager, I set up an emergency last minute appointment with my doctor. Luckily, the receptionist slipped me into a time slot just an hour after I called. The doctor shook his head at how much of a runaround I had experienced with this STD business, so he wrote a note that said I would not return to work until September 30 and that he would reassess me monthly and at the end of September. I'm lucky to live on the same block as my doctor's office and that, more importantly, he advocated for me. Positive.

The biggest urge I have to resist lately is finding too much satisfaction in accomplishing tasks. I love checking off items in my to-do list, but that extrinsic motivation is what wrecked me so badly in the first place. I have a thoroughly Type A personality, so I need to maximize all my time with efficient and effective problem solving. Sitting at home doing nothing is the most difficult thing I've ever done. No new headphone amplifier designs to brag about or sell. No workout routines to post on Facebook like I was doing daily with P90X. Haven't been 3D printing much lately. I will eventually, but I haven't had the urge recently. I guess it was entirely a response to the work stress. It's hard cutting off that extrinsic source of satisfaction in favour of deriving it intrinsically. It's counterintuitive for me to find value for who I am instead of what I do. That's one of the central messages of the Good News, that we don't have to work to achieve perfection on our own to enter heaven. If we acknowledge that we're incapable of doing enough good works and ask Jesus to pay for our bad works, we receive His perfection. My value comes from being a child of God, not from my ability to do good things. It's a message I've heard all my life, but it was drowned out by other reinforced messages. I'll get it some day.

This week, not a terribly deep post. Mostly, I'm just trying to listen to my body again and take care of it. I could have technically done these appointments while maintaining full time work, but it would have been way too stressful to juggle regular visits to the podiatrist, physiotherapist, dentist, counsellor, and doctor in my previous situation. I'm trying to be responsible with my time off because I can't just sit at home and play games all day. I'm committed to my own health and long term success, so I'm taking things seriously. It's hard work not working and giving my body what it wants.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le