Sixty Days and Counting

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It’s been a long while since I’ve written a post explaining who I am and my situation, so I’m going to do that before getting into the meat of my post today which, admittedly, is not going to be that long.

My name is Steven and I’m a happily married 47-year-old. Currently I’m on disability due to PTSD and bipolar disorder, but also suffer from borderline personality disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, as well as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. These ailments pop up frequently in this blog as I describe my life in sometimes intimate detail.

A very regularly mentioned aspect of my life is my checklist. I keep this in two Moleskine notebooks, one squared and one lined. In the squared one, I track my daily accomplishments on 21 separate line items. These include taking my medications and my vitals throughout the day, my meals, hygiene, exercise, a daily to-do item (my daily to-do list is comprised of things that aren’t daily occurrences like calling to make doctor’s appointments, cleaning house, etc., and that list is kept in the lined notebook), as well as a few other habitual items that I feel round out my day pretty well. Writing in this blog is one of those items. I also keep track of my vitals – my blood glucose and pressure throughout the day – in the second half of the squared notebook.

This checklist is meant to challenge me, and for the first 27 months of me doing this checklist I was only able to complete full marks on a day’s checklist some 30-odd times. There were long periods that I didn’t feel up to doing everything, and just let some things habitually slide for months at a time. (It is important to note that I take my medication almost religiously, only missing two doses in the past year. The important stuff I’ve been doing.) It’s also showed me that starting in early February, I tend to take time off from the checklist completely, sometimes going into May before picking it back up again. This was a situation that I wanted to avoid this year if I could.

Back on January 17th I completed full marks on my checklist for the first time in four months. I completed full marks again on the 18th and 19th and started wondering just how long I could keep that up, knowing that my longest ever streak of full marks days in a row was twelve.

Yesterday I also completed full marks on my checklist. That represented a milestone for me – sixty straight days of full marks. Two months.

I’m very proud of being able to say that I’ve kept that streak going for that long, and I credit my desire to keep the streak alive with keeping me engaged in my checklist during what’s traditionally a time of a very hard downswing in my mood and energy level. But I also realize that there’s not much challenge left in completing full marks anymore, so as of today I’ve altered the conditions that two of my checklist items are considered complete. The goal is to get me more prepared to get back into the job market, and that checklist is a tool that’s helping me do just that.

I’m not at the point of adding anything to the checklist just yet. I know that historically new items added to the checklist tend to fall by the wayside within days of being added, and the list of items that I include in my checklist hasn’t changed for close to a year now. But making the changes that define completion, to make things more challenging for me, is a step in the right direction.

One of the things that I’m supposed to be dealing with is how I handle embarrassing situations. Generally situations like that automatically trigger a fight/flight/freeze response rather than a more socially acceptable “whoops, guess I’ll know better next time.” So I’m going to stick my neck out and tell you what those two changes are, knowing that doing so will be extremely embarrassing for me.

The first isn’t embarrassing at all. I tend to keep my to-do list in my head, just keeping that to things that I see that need doing around the house and doing them, rather than recording them in my lined notebook. As of today, for it to count as a to-do item, everything has to be written down in my second, lined book. This serves two purposes. One, I can better remember to look in the book for things I have to do if I’m writing in it every day. Two, I can see a list of just what I have accomplished around the house in a given day and can feel good about that rather than minimizing what I do here, something I almost always do.

The second isn’t so easy to talk about. I’ve had a lifelong issue with remembering to brush my teeth and shower. If I’m heading out to do something social, I do both, but during the long stretches of days that I sit here in the apartment alone for most of the day, without ever walking out my front door, those things tend to get forgotten about. My new hygiene requirements are that I brush twice a day (I’ve been gargling with mouthwash twice daily during this streak, but even that’s better than I usually do) and regularly shower and shave, regardless of whether I’m leaving the house or not. The shaving will be the hardest part for me to do, since standing in the shower for too long tends to hurt my back, and it takes me a while to shave. (I shave my head, for those that don’t know.) 

I’m still formulating what I want my new challenges to be after the next sixty days of full marks. Perhaps I might even bump that down to thirty days instead of sixty and only redefine one item at that time, who knows.

The end result is that I’m making strides in the right direction, and I’m very pleased with the results of the past sixty days. Here’s hoping that the next sixty days will be more of the same.

Streaks IV: A New Hope

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It seems I measure my life in streaks these days, so I thought I’d give regular readers an update on how I’m doing.

Back on January 24, I gave a progress report on my streaks and explained the logic behind why these streaks are so important to me. So in lieu of a better, more thought out blog post, given that it’s 10:30 pm and I have an hour and a half to hit publish or break the streak that I’m proudest of, here are the updated stats, current as of today except where noted.

Consecutive days recording at least my morning vitals: 536.

Consecutive days recording my caloric intake to the best of my ability: 320.

Consecutive days tracking my mood and activities in my mood tracking app: 280, current as of yesterday. (As I explained back on January 24, this is one of the last things I do before turning out the lights at night, so I haven’t recorded today’s entry yet.)

Consecutive days completing my exercises in my Elevate and Duolingo learning apps: 200.

Consecutive days achieving full marks on my daily checklist: 51, current as of yesterday.

I’m especially proud of these streaks because they’re all continuing a month into my usual annual downswing, where I stop everything except the bare minimum that I need to survive – recording vitals and taking medications. I think keeping these streaks alive is part of how I’m combating that this year, so I’m clinging to the streaks. I’ve still got a month and a half to go before I’m out of that period in my annual mood cycle, so I’m almost halfway there at this point.

Another Big Milestone (And Another!)

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Yesterday I wrote about hitting thirty days of full marks on my daily checklist. Today I have another, even bigger milestone to write about.

Today – just now, in fact – I completed my 180th straight day on my learning apps, Elevate and Duolingo. That’s six months straight!

When you combine this streak with the one that I broke six months ago, that means that over the past ten months I’ve only missed one day of doing my learning. That’s really kind of cool.

The learning is helping me to certain degrees. The things that I’m learning in the Elevate app are helping me to become a better listener and writer, and I’m able to do more complicated math problems in my head these days. The Duolingo is where I’m noticing more progress, since there’s more and more Spanish that I see out in the wild that I can read at least part of and understand. More often than not, I can see something written in Spanish and go “I can read some of that!” and that’s a good feeling.

I’m looking forward to seeing how long I can stretch this streak. I know that by the time I finish another six months I’ll have completed my Spanish lessons on Duolingo and will either need to move to a new language or continue brushing up on my Spanish as my memory naturally forgets things over time (or both).

EDIT: I just logged breakfast in my calorie counter and was informed that I’d logged in for 300 days in a row. So double bonus!

A Big Milestone

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Regular readers of this blog will know about my daily checklist. It’s a way to structure my day and to challenge myself while I work my way through the issues that have me on disability at this point in time. There are twenty-one items on the checklist each day. Some of them are essential for my health – taking my vitals four times a day to monitor my blood pressure, taking my meds at the appropriate times, eating three meals a day, exercising, getting to bed with enough time to get a decent night’s sleep before starting the following day. Some of them are activities designed to give me some structure to my day – reading in a self-help book, doing my learning activities in the Elevate and Duolingo apps on my phone, writing in this blog, ensuring that I don’t focus entirely on productivity (which I am prone to do) by setting aside time each day for leisure activities and socialization, even if that socialization only takes place via messengers online, plus a generalized “to-do” category that adds things like household chores and occasional tasks that need my attention, like putting together a playlist for my radio show. And historically it’s been very difficult for me to keep my head about me long enough to do all the items on the list. Sometimes it’s a simple matter of forgetting to do something; sometimes it’s just not having the energy to get something done.

Yesterday I completed a huge milestone with regard to this checklist. Yesterday represented thirty straight days of completing full marks on my checklist.

I started this checklist on October 24, 2014, and the number of items on it has fluctuated from the start, but I’ve been on the current list of twenty-one items for the better part of nine months now. Before I started the streak I’m currently on, I’ve managed to complete my checklist a total of 33 times in the nearly 28 months that I’ve been doing this checklist. That means that this streak represents almost half the times I’ve completed my checklist since I started keeping it.

I’m very proud of myself for sticking to it through this streak. There are times it’s been hard – getting out and exercising when you feel like hell because of strep throat isn’t easy or fun, and I admit that I walked a shorter route during that time, but the point is that I went out and did it. I’m especially proud of the fact that this streak is crossing over into a time on the calendar that’s historically rough for me, and I’m showing no signs of letting up on the streak anytime soon.

So that’s my big news for the day. Tomorrow I have something that’s just as big, but you’ll have to wait until then to see what it is.

Whoops, But Mostly Yay!

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Today has been a great day, and I can’t really put my finger on why that is. I woke up in a fantastic mood, and I’ve been chipper and upbeat ever since. Not even breaking one of my streaks yesterday was enough to bring me down.

Yesterday I forgot to log in and do my Khan Academy lessons. I’m not terribly upset by this, since for the last few weeks I’ve been very much calling it in over there, sometimes doing the bare minimum to keep the streak alive. It’s been a while since I put any real effort into my work on Khan Academy. I plan on getting back to it, but I think I’m going to take a few days off from it before jumping back on the bandwagon.

I think a lot of the reason that I’m in such a good mood is that I’m feeling much better today than I have been of late. It seems the worst of the strep throat is over and I have a good amount of energy today, so I think I’ll be able to catch up on some of the housework that I’ve let slide because I haven’t felt up to it.

I like this feeling. I don’t get to experience it very often, so I hope it sticks around for at least the rest of the day, if not longer.

Streaks III: Live From the Trenches

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I don’t know why personal streaks are so important to me. I think that’s because I had a reputation when I was younger as someone that would start something and then walk away from it when it got too hard (to avoid failing) or I got bored with it (which was very often) or when it became clear that I couldn’t do it perfectly (I once crumpled a test into a ball and took the zero on it rather than use an eraser to correct a mistake that I’d caught myself making), and more than anything I thrive on long-term stability, something that admittedly eludes me to this day.

I’m also a stats junkie, and it always amazes me that an organization called the Elias Sports Bureau can very quickly recall statistics like “most MLB career postseason strikeouts by a left-handed pitcher during games four played at home,” a stat that I just made up but I can guarantee you they could tell me within about five minutes of analysis. Statistics have always fascinated me and I wish I had the math skills to attempt a career in the field. I think that’s got a lot to do with it as well, this is my way of quantifying my life in a concrete form that I can easily measure.

So here’s where my streaks lie on the various things that I keep streaks on. Everything is current as of today, except where noted.

Consecutive days recording at least my morning vitals: 492.

Consecutive days recording my caloric intake to the best of my ability: 276.

Consecutive days tracking my mood and activities in my mood tracking app: 236, current as of yesterday. (This is one of the last things I do before turning out the lights at night, so I haven’t recorded today’s entry yet.)

Consecutive days completing my exercises in my Elevate and Duolingo learning apps: 156.

Consecutive days completing at least some math study on Khan Academy: 55.

Consecutive days achieving full marks on my daily checklist: 7, current as of yesterday.

I’m most proud of that last one. Doing everything on my checklist is difficult and takes a considerable amount of effort, especially on days when I’m not well mentally or physically. This is the second longest such streak since I started my checklist in October 2014, and I’m hoping to surpass my record of 12 consecutive days with this current streak.

And as George Carlin once said at the end of one of his routines, “I don’t have an ending written for this, so I just take a small bow.”

Streaks II:The Streakening

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So, back on August 22 I wrote this post about my learning streak coming to an end after 119 days, and how devastated I was that I had let it lapse.

To fill you in, what I consider my learning is a daily round of exercises in Elevate, which is a brain-training app, and at least two exercises in Duolingo, which teaches foreign languages – Spanish in my case. I got a lot of support from my friends who reminded me that it just means that I get to start a new, longer streak.

This morning the streak that I started on August 22 reached 120 days. It is now that longer streak that you all said I could do.

I want to thank everyone who supported me through a brief, but rough time where I was kicking myself for making the mistake of missing a day. That one day is now the only day that I haven’t done my learning exercises in eight months.

But I have some other streaks that are going on, and I thought I’d tell you about them.

Recently I made the decision to go back to school for my associate’s degree, and in preparation for registration, I’ve been brushing up on my math on Khan Academy. I’ve been doing that since the first of the month, so that streak is 19 days long.

I started using my CPAP machine on August 17th, and except for a single night that I was camping in October, I’ve been completely compliant with it .So that’s a streak of 65 days, followed by a current 58-day streak.

I track my mood on an app called Daylio. It helps me track my activities throughout the day as well as my overall mood for the day, and gives me the ability to write notes so I can relay the rough spots to my therapist when the need arises. That particular streak is now 200 days long.

I also use another app called MyFitnessPal to help me track my caloric intake. My streak of using that app is 240 days long, which matches my two long streaks on Elevate and Duolingo plus the skipped day.

And finally, the last day I missed writing down at least my morning vitals was September 20, 2015, which makes that streak my longest at 456 days.

These streaks are simple things in the broad scheme of things. One day I’m going to break all of them and start on a new one. But together they help to provide some structure to my otherwise unstructured day, and I’m thankful for each and every streak that I have.