At the end of a day last week I caught myself feeling bad because I felt like I did nothing productive. It is interesting how after so many years on this journey I still tie my sense of self-worth to being “productive”. Upon deeper contemplation I realised it wasn’t that I did “nothing”, but rather I didn’t do anything I mentally labelled as “productive” or “creative”.
There are certain activities I assign high value to, and they are mostly centered around what I perceive as part of my “identity”. Writing, reading, learning something intellectual, working on my website etc. But lately because of my partner’s histamine issues I have begun to put a lot more effort into cooking our meals and also making sure whatever I cook is nutrient-dense and varied enough. I could cook carrots for my partner everyday because they are so easy to cook and they seem nutritious, but apparently our skin can turn orange (not joking) if we eat too much of them and there are severe health issues with too much vitamin A.
I am just at the very beginning of this journey because planning nutrition to make sure we get all the micro-nutrients we need is challenging, and it is also a thorny topic even among the experts. Something as simple as how much salt we should consume can be polarising. There is a lot of modern research debunking so much of what we’ve been taught traditionally, and yet medical/nutrition professionals are very much tightly holding on to what they have studied for. Sometimes even the research studies cannot agree with each other. Results can also be different for men and women. We also don’t account for genetic differences when we say something is “good” or “bad” for health.
I was already generally on this journey because of my chronic migraines, but it was a lot more generic like all I paid attention to was the amount of carbs I ingested since insulin dysfunction can cause migraines and hormonal issues. I started logging my food into Cronometer a while ago to monitor my carb and electrolyte intake, but lately I’ve been looking more at other micro-nutrients. It turns out it is almost impossible for me to get enough iron (18mg according to the RDA) without over-eating. I’ve tested for anaemia multiple times before and I am not anaemic on paper, but everytime I lose blood through my monthly cycle I get a sort of lightheadedness that develops into a migraine. (Interesting case study of a woman who was also not anaemic on paper but supplementing made her symptoms go away.)
So last week when I experienced the same lightheadedness I started supplementing iron at a small dose, small enough that it is still hardly enough to reach the RDA (too much iron can cause severe issues), but more than I can ever practically eat. My lightheadedness went away. I will need more time to experiment to see if this is really working.
I have so many questions. Am I only anaemic only certain times of my cycle? Or that what is considered a “normal” value on a blood test is not the healthful value for a perimenopausal woman? Maybe they never bothered finding out the optimal range or they only bothered with men? Or maybe having enough in our blood does not mean we can utilise it properly (like diabetics have a ton of blood sugar in their blood but they can’t use it for energy)?
So even though in my mind I wasn’t being “creative” or “productive” (though I wish I can stop judging myself for these things), I was spending a lot of time and energy researching these things and also learning how to cook better. Not just better in terms of traditional cooking skills, but also like how to maximise deliciousness using the lowest amount of heat available (to retain nutrients and minimise oxidative stress). I figured I could use the air-fryer at low temperatures to cook something well enough, and use the high heat setting only towards the last couple of minutes to brown it enough. I could also use the pressure cooker to cook something and broil it for a few minutes. They wouldn’t be as delicious as something cooked in high heat of course, but it is enough knowing the tradeoffs.
I realised I don’t give value to what I call foundational skills to life: like cooking, maintaining a house, or how to exercise properly. To nourish myself properly is probably one of the most important things to do and yet to me it still feels like I was doing “nothing”. Working on this website is cool and all, but it is not going to fundamentally make me a thriving person.
I think it is interesting how we assign value to things. Maybe monastics seem to be doing nothing but to them they are probably doing the most high value activity. In my ideal world there would be less snap judgments of what is valuable and more authentic discernment of what we truly relish doing versus what we’re conditioned to think we should be doing.
It is also amusing how at the age of 40 I feel like only now I am learning the basics of actually living, instead of always being so goal and results oriented. To learn to focus on the actual building blocks of my life rather than something that is always so distant and abstract. I was actually very much less goal and results oriented compared to many people, but the fact the society places so much value on these things have made a significant dent to my sense of self-worth. I still have issues calibrating how I should feel about myself, and it is very tied to what I do versus who I am.
I very much aspire to be a person who is capable of nourishing herself, whether through actual cooking or emotionally. It is just that my instinctive feelings I feel internally have not updated to my actual aspiration. My emotions are still ruled by the decades of societal conditioning that only certain activities are valuable. I hope it would not take too long for me to regenerate new filters on how I live my life. I would not want to spend time feeling bad about the wrong things.