Not So Fabulous

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I mentioned something a few posts back about an app that I’d picked up called “Fabulous.” I’ve got a little more experience with it and can give you a bit more insight into how it works.

I found out that it’s actually called “The Fabulous,” despite everything on the Google Play Store calling it just “Fabulous.” So there’s that.

The first habit that they want you to establish is drinking a glass of water immediately upon waking. That was was easy. They gave me three days to establish that on its own.

On the third day, they added eating a healthy breakfast. My breakfasts tend to be either an egg, cereal, or oatmeal, along with a few strips of bacon, so I quasi-qualified there. (They prefer for you to eat an egg with fruit, and give you an action item to get to the store and buy eggs and fruit, something that we haven’t yet done.) They then give you three days of drinking water and eating breakfast as your morning ritual.

On day five, they fold in a new part of your routine, a seven-minute morning workout.

Now, keep in mind that I haven’t exercised but once since I started into my depressive cycle back in February. So I figured I’d give it a shot and see what happens. They even have a handy seven-minute program for you to follow. So I gave that a shot.

I have never been more wrong in my life.

The seven-minute workout gives you ten seconds to prepare for the workout, and then thirty seconds for the actual exercise, then ten seconds to rest before moving on to the next exercise. This seems easy enough, until you realize there are thirteen separate exercises that the program runs you through, and you don’t know what they are until the timer starts, so you spend the first few seconds of the exercise time getting into position for the exercise itself. It would be much easier if the ten seconds of breathing time gave you a preview of what was coming next.

Exercise one was jumping jacks. Easy enough, excepting that I’m on the second floor and I’m sure the downstairs neighbors weren’t appreciative of the round guy upstairs spending thirty seconds jumping up and down. The cat was also fairly terrified of this very strange thing that I was doing.

Next up was wall sitting. This is where you put yourself into a position like you’re sitting down, only you’re doing it against a wall with your arms crossed so your legs pushing against the wall are the only thing keeping you from falling down. Not so bad, I have strong legs. This was probably the easiest thing that I did.

The third exercise was push ups. Here was where I had to start making some compromises. I used my knees, not my legs as my anchor point and did the best I could. I was not happy with myself that I couldn’t do this simple exercise anymore.

Fourth is abdominal crunches – lying on the floor, arms outstretched, knees bent, crunch your upper body up as high as you can. Given the shape I’m in, this one was surprisingly easy, but then again, I’ve always had a fairly strong core underneath all this extra weight I’m carrying around.

The intervening ten seconds between exercises turned into a minute and a half. I needed water, I REALLY needed longer than ten seconds to breathe. I was starting to look and feel a mess.

The next exercise was stepping up onto a chair. One leg up, next leg up, first leg down, next leg down, repeat. Keeping my balance was the hard part on this one, but I managed to get it done. I also managed to traumatize the cat again, so this exercise routine has collateral damage, I discovered. Good to know.

After that came squats. Well, squat. I think they wanted me to hold it for thirty seconds. I kept standing and squatting. The pictures weren’t very clear and there’s no explanation other than two pictures that supposedly give you the gist of what you’re doing. I felt confused in addition to exhausted.

The next ten second break lasted two minutes. More water, then a quick dive into the next exercise long enough to figure out what the hell it meant.

That exercise was called “triceps dip on chair.” The goal here was to put my hands on the seat of the chair, use my arms to hold myself up with my legs outstretched, and then bend my arms to where my triceps were what were holding me up. Again, the picture wasn’t very clear. They may have wanted me to continue to bend and extend my arms through this exercise. They got me holding it for as long as I could, and by the time the thirty seconds were up my arms felt like Jello. The monotone female voice that accompanied this program wanted to helpfully let me know that I was “halfway there.” I felt “halfway dead.”

On to exercise eight. Planking. I managed to hold this for the whole thirty seconds. I felt proud of myself for being able to do this. My arms felt more like Jello than ever.

This ten second break between exercises lasted three minutes. I was quickly getting to the end of my very out-of-shape rope.

The next exercise was “high knees running in place.” Thankfully self explanatory – just run in place, lifting your knees high. I thought back to the jumping jacks and decided that I was going to have to modify this to protect my neighbors downstairs, so I would lift one leg high, lower it, then lift the other. I always had at least one foot on the ground. Not sure I could have done this one the way they wanted me to anyway.

Following this was lunges. I did the best I could but I was slow and didn’t actually get many lunges in my thirty second time period.

There was an extended break after this one to catch my breath and try to figure out just what the hell exercise eleven was all about. They called it “push-up and rotation.”

I got past my ten second timer and paused the workout just as the picture came up. The goal was to do a push up, but upon raising my body, I was to lift one arm and rotate my body to the point that I was raising my arm over my body. I thought about it for a couple minutes and then made my decision.

Not just no, but hell no. I didn’t even attempt this one.

The penultimate exercise was right side plank. This is where I propped myself up on my right forearm, and extended my body straight so that I was only touching the floor with my arm and my feet. I could barely get my hip off the floor, and even then not for the full thirty seconds.

Last break. I was pretty much Jello all over at this point.

The final exercise was repeating the side plank on the left arm. My shoulder made that one impossible after about ten seconds.

I finished their suggested workout and collapsed in a heap on the couch. The Jello feeling in my arms and legs eventually passed some twenty minutes later.

During this twenty minutes, I started evaluating how well this app would fit into my life. See, the morning ritual is timed. You have one minute to drink your water, then fifteen minutes to prepare and eat your breakfast, then seven minutes to exercise. Ideally, this routine runs nonstop, but you can pause it as you need to.

The habit that they’re trying to get me to form early in the morning was proving to take up the better part of my morning, between all the other stuff that I have to do already. It proved to be more disruptive to the things that I have to do otherwise. Besides, I have exercise at the end of my day, and that routine – my checklist – has been carefully curated over more than a year’s experimentation to progress in the most effective way it can for my life. This app is throwing a monkey wrench into my day, and I can already tell it’s going to get worse. Once I’ve finished establishing a morning routine, there’s an afternoon and evening routine to establish too.

So I’ve made the decision to delete the app from my phone. It might work with someone else, but I don’t think it’s for me.

But hey, at least I get to cross off exercise for the day.

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Days Off and Their Consequences

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If you’ve read this blog from the beginning, you know I’m on disability for my PTSD and bipolar disorder, so I don’t have a work schedule. Instead, I’ve turned the completion of my checklists into my job, and have approached it with the same vigor that I would in the workplace.

Once I finally figured out how to get everything done, then it became a duty, a requirement, to hit every box for the day. The more I told people about it, the more pressure I started feeling to complete everything, every day. And it started getting on me.

On Saturday, I didn’t complete everything because I was camping. I came close, and I recognized the achievement of staying very close to perfect on a day when my entire routine was disrupted by other activities. Sunday rolled around and I was back to perfect. Same with Monday. But by the time Monday rolled around, I was tired. I was cranky. My mood wasn’t as stable as it had been for the previous week and a half. I started noticing that little things that used to aggravate me but then stopped when I had done the streak of perfect days on my list had started to irritate me again. My fuse was shorter, and my temper was greater. I needed to rest. So today, I made the conscious decision to skip the list and relax.

With the exception of my medications, I haven’t really done much today on my list at all. And I haven’t marked them off, either. I slept until three in the afternoon, then started playing video games. I was enjoying my day off. Then my wife called and told me she was on her way home from work, and that’s when the doubt started creeping in.

I didn’t have anything to show for the day. I had accomplished nothing. How could I face her without being productive? I had to start doing all the things. I told her that I was getting panicky about it and she told me that we’d agreed that today was a day off. I started to not listen to her, to berate myself for being so lazy and so useless. I grabbed my checklist and took a look at the column where today’s achievements should have gone. It was empty. I started to write today’s date at the top and then a thought struck me.

If I’m really going to take a day off, it would do more mental damage to start entering the few things I would be doing today than just leaving it blank and actually treating it as a day off.

And then I realized that I would need to have days like today fairly regularly, for my sanity and health.

So, new rule going forward. Saturdays will be my day off. I’ll still take my meds as instructed; there can’t be a day off from that. But I’m not going to obsess about logging carbs and checking glucose through the day unless I feel off. I’m also going to be a little more lenient in my food choices on Saturday. (Note this doesn’t mean I’m going to dive into three pounds of spaghetti, wash it down with a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew Throwback, and chase it with a family size bag of M&Ms. This means that if I’m at an SCA event I don’t have to worry myself with what’s on the feast menu that night, and if I’m at home we can have a pizza for radio night.) I’m not going to log my checklist at all that day, and if I do accomplish things, like I am with this post, then it’s because I want to and not because I feel like it’s my job to do it. That’s going to start this Saturday. If I don’t physically feel like diving back into the checklist (remember, exhaustion and mood were my early warning signs that I needed to take a break) I’ll also take Sunday, but Monday I’ll be back at it with a renewed sense of purpose. (I don’t think I’ll need two days in a row but I’m giving myself the leeway to do so.)

I think it’s important to state that I’m doing this for my health, not to have an opportunity to sabotage all the work I’m doing to get healthy the rest of the week. But with my current mindset that my checklists are my job, and those who follow my progress are my supervisors, eventually I’m going to need a break before I decide to pitch the whole thing and just deteriorate back to where I was a few weeks ago – despondent, living without direction, feeling useless and hopeless, constantly pinging from one extreme to the next, not sleeping at all, and generally feeling like I want a way out. I’m in this for the long-term, to get better, to get healthier, to improve my life and my relationships in it.

But everyone needs a break from the routine sometime. Time I realized it and provided for that respite from my own thoughts and irrational fears. The goal is not to be perfect, but to be better.

My Little Black Books

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I’ve gotten a lot of requests for information about my little black books, those two indispensable resources that are helping me to start to reclaim my former self. I thought I’d share them with you here.

First off, I’ve started with the Moleskine Squared Soft Notebook (Pocket). This is basically a notebook full of graph paper. Inside it, I’ve sectioned off the book into roughly two halves. In the first one, I keep my checklists.

blackbook2

Across the top are the dates. (In this example, you’ll notice that there are a few missing. Usually that indicates a bad day. You’ll also see the trend of improvement at a glance.) Down the side are the things that I regularly have to do with my day, in more or less chronological order. When I complete an item it gets checked off. If it’s not relevant (for instance, “Commute” is only applicable on those days I have the car, and never on the weekends, unless I’m out of town and traveling – more on the “Commute” selection later).

If you click on the picture above, you’ll note that there’s a single entry for “To-Do.” That’s where the second book comes in, but I’m skipping ahead.

At several points in the day, I have to measure my vital signs to some degree – in the morning, my blood glucose, my blood pressure, my pulse, and my weight; and two hours after every meal, my blood glucose. That’s what the second half of the squared notebook is for, and it looks like this.

blackbook3

This time, across the side of the page, turned to be the top, I mark which vital I’m tracking. Along the bottom, turned to be the side, I have the dates. Again, as you can see, improvement is progressive. If there’s a spot where there’s a double digit number in a triple digit space, I usually trade the leading zero out for a slash (/) and in places where recording a specific vital is impossible, I put dashes (-) in each space. You can invent your own system for what works for you.

Now for the second notebook. It’s a Moleskine Ruled Soft Notebook (Pocket) and it’s just like a standard lined journal.

What goes in here is straightforward. It’s a list of things that I need to do, written in brief language to jog my memory about the things that need to happen. If details are needed, they’re included. When something is either done or the decision is made not to do it, it gets crossed off. It’s a progressive to-do list in that there aren’t dates or deadlines involved. You decide what order things happen, and by when. When you’ve done things that need to be done by the end of the day, plus whatever else you want to do to work ahead, consider the To-Do item in the other notebook checked off.

This to-do list looks something like this.

blackbook4

So that’s basically it. It takes some getting used to in order to make sure things get done and then recorded, but I soon found the reward of checking things off on the list was a motivational tool. If I miss checking something off, I acknowledge that at the end of the day and tell myself that tomorrow is a fresh column with fresh opportunities. Some days, I just don’t want to worry with much of anything. On those days, I make sure that, if nothing else, I take my meds as indicated. Those are critical to maintaining an even keel and I can’t afford even a day’s lapse.

Oh, one other thing about the checklist. They’re fluid from page to page, so when I turn the page in a few days, I’m going to have made some minor changes to my checklist of things to track. New habits come in, obsolete ones go out. (For instance, when I turn the page, “Dance” will be added, and “Commute” will be removed.) If a new habit needs to start before the page gets turned, it goes temporarily into each day’s To-Do list until I can make a space for it. I still make the time to check things off if I’m still doing them, even if they’re fully integrated habits. The checklist also serves as a progress meter for my day. I know what needs to happen next and how I need to proceed with the rest of the time I have before the next item that’s timely comes due.

(If you’re wondering about appointments, those I track through Google Calendar and slip reminders into each day’s To-Do list in the ruled notebook. As for them being little black books, if you want to interject some color into your life and don’t mind switching to a hardbound cover, you can get the same two notebooks in red, white, oxide green, orange yellow, brilliant violet, and magenta.)

Hopefully this answers some of your questions, but if you have others, feel free to leave them in the comments, and I’ll respond as soon as I can.