When I first started on my year of experiment, a large part of it was health motivated. I was having painful dry eyes, chronic migraines and anxiety attacks. I would lie awake at night with my heart racing for no apparent reason. I was sick of being sick.
Two years later, I have to say I feel a lot better: my bouts of heart racing have drastically lessened, my eyes are still chronically dry but they are no longer sore and painful, and anxiety attacks are few and far in between.
At this stage however, I would expect myself to be full of vitality. But I still struggle with migraines, a chronic strain around my eyes and terrible body aches. I can’t look at the screen for more than half a day without risking a migraine. If two years of not having to work full-time is not enough, what would be enough?
I have worked as a designer for almost 16 years. 16 years of more than 8 hours of looking intensely at the screen (I consider clocking 8 hours to be lucky, I remember 20-hour days in ad agencies), bad posture and not actively moving my body. I remember endlessly refueling on caffeine to survive my 20-hour days. Sleeping at 2am was “early”.
I think about abusing my body for these 16 years — discounting the 5 years before as a sleep-deprived teenager — and it is not really surprising that I am plagued with health issues.
I am not alone. I know of many who have insomnia, immune disorders, high-functioning depression, you name it, we have it. But what scares me is that it seems to be accepted as the norm.
Two years ago, I decided that I didn’t want it to be my norm. I didn’t want to go through life feeling like I am devoid of life. So I made myself swim everyday, went on a low carb diet, tried to sleep before 11pm every night.
I would feel really alive, and then find something to burn myself out on. A part-time gig I couldn’t turn down, providing emotional labour, working on my own experiments, eating unhealthily, letting my sleep schedule slide, etc.
I take most of the responsibility. I am a new student in learning how to pace myself and setting healthy boundaries. I have failed several times. I spent the last month and so practically struggling with chronic pain, after 3 weeks of good momentum while working on my experimental learning network. I didn’t pace myself, I let the euphoria of making progress overtake me. This is a familiar story for me.
It is also a story of trying to extend patience on myself. That I can’t negate 16 years of abuse with a few scattered periods of trying to be healthy. I have learned the tricky part of being healthy is to keep on sustaining good practices of health even when I am feeling great. Feeling the most well is most dangerous for me, because that is when I decide I can skip that exercise, eat more dessert, work a little harder and longer.
It is too late when actual symptoms occur. The body is quite resilient so it’ll take a lot before revolting. By the time I experience a migraine it would take me weeks to get back to any reasonable health.
I need to live a monastic lifestyle in be moderately functional. I knew this for a long time, but I keep trying to push my luck. Time on screens has to be drastically reduced if I am serious about regaining my health permanently.
I read a book on burnout. The author wrote that she took 7–8 years to recover. That makes me feel a little better. I get scared sometimes, wondering what if this is my new normal, if this is just part of getting old, if I have pushed my body too far for it to ever make a full recovery.
There is solace in the fact that I am willing to keep on trying and experimenting to see what works. I just need to get back on track and sustain the momentum of daily good health practices.
A state of health may be achievable. Staying there is the really hard part — it requires a new way of life and a lot of reconditioning. I don’t wish to work so hard to regain my health, only to squander it because I keep going back to old patterns of thinking and living.
It takes a lot of inner-strength to be slow and present among all that societal busyness that surrounds us, when there is so much pressure to be a hustling do-er. I want to prioritise things that bring me aliveness instead of making me feel more dead inside. I can only attempt to develop that strength.