How I Escape the Dungeon

Everybody finds themselves in the dungeon from time to time. It’s that place where you feel like progress is impossible or meaningless, like you’ve gone too far in a wrong direction, or that there’s no such thing as the right direction. It’s so weird, because it feels like the same place no matter where you are. Sometimes, just being a person gets you down. The stresses of parenthood, the anxiety of being single, the Sisyphean task of making/spending money, the frustrations of work, feeling stuck at a job you hate, feeling like important tasks are undone, and dealing with other people. All of these together can make you feel like just getting out of bed is a chore. How do I escape? Here’s my get out of the dungeon plan, in the form of questions, when everything comes together to make me feel staying in bed all day:

  1. Have I been to the gym more than twice in the past seven days?
    For men, being strong helps you feel engaged in the world and gives you a sense of personal dominance over nature in a way that does not contradict nature. The weight room is a place where a man gains Marcus Aurelius’ mindset: “Our inward power, when it obeys nature, reacts to events by accommodating itself to what it faces…what is thrown atop the flame is absorbed, consumed by it – and makes it burn still higher. (M. Aurelius 4.1)” Being stronger is obviously useful for women, too. 
  2. Do I engage in daily exercise (push-ups, squats, calf-raises, stretches, etc) upon waking?
    There are a minimum of three exercises I try to do in the mornings, when I’m planning my life well, the list is longer and includes stretches and joint mobility exercises that vastly improve my arthritis pain. If I’m feeling down, I almost certainly stopped doing them days ago.
  3. What am I eating lately?
    If I base my diet around meat, eggs, cheeses, and vegetables I’ll feel better. If I’m eating sweets, breads, and even too much fruit, I start to feel worse. My family tree has some diabetes, so I suspect that my body just isn’t meant for sweets more than one or two days a week.
  4. How am I managing my sleep?
    If I’m sleeping 6-9 hours a night I’m feeling great. If I sleep 9 hours too many nights in a row, I start feeling more sleepy all day. But if I sleep less than 6, then I’m a wreck. Chances are, if I’m feeling down, I’m not managing my sleep well.
  5. Am I thinking about the past?
    Sometimes I think a lot about elements of my past that went poorly and I just replay them over and over. This strategy literally does nothing to improve my lot. But when focus on improving the quality of my work, of my relationships, of my knowledge, and of my skill-base now, then I start to feel better. It’s funny how whether it’s inside or out, complaining does nobody any good unless we voice it in prayer.
  6. Am I obsessing over something I cannot change?
    Many fantasize about a job they wish they had but don’t. If it’s changeable, change it. On the other hand, many have children for whom provision is necessary. Such parents cannot change their job, yet. So, they shouldn’t fantasize all day about where they aren’t (if they wish to feel good). In my case, because of the nature of my job, I’ll think myself into a funk by thinking about my job. As a teacher I want my students to choose well. It’s difficult to watch some of them choose poorly. But what I can change is the quality of my teaching, the content of my courses, and whether I teach in a manner that is pleasant for my students and myself. Others may do this to themselves with politics, economics, sports teams, and so-on.
  7. Am I taking my religious duties seriously?
    When I’m regularly participating in leisure time centered around Bible study, actively putting Jesus’ words into practice at work, in my family life, and in how I spend my money, and when I’m participating in the life of the church I feel better. There is less moral incongruity. I feel connected to the foundation of reality.
  8. Am I keeping track of my blessings?
    The old song says, “count your blessings…see what God has done.” People might think it’s cheesy or stupid, but they probably live their lives miserably. In the morning and before bed, when I think of specific blessings for which I am thankful, I feel better in between. Another step might be to declare the steadfast love of the Lord in the morning. Wake up and say, “Jesus loves me and gave himself up for me” or “God so loved the world that he have his only begotten son.” If you’re not a Christian or not religious, are you filling that psychological gap with something?
  9. What are my priorities?
    When I make my main goals in life virtue, the well-being of my family, and my health, then I tend to function more joyfully. If I make my goals financial, task based, or too far into the future, then I get down.

Self-Experimentation and Peer-Reviewed Evidence

I’ve mentioned before that I have a genetic bone disorder and have utilized my interpretation of scientific publications to self-experiment. At least once, this self-experimentation has had positive health results. Other times I have merely yielded knowledge about what does not help. For instance, I’ve had pretty bad acid reflux for the past few years. I recently discovered from my mother that I also had terrible reflux as a baby. I might even have a weak LES muscle. I don’t know, I haven’t been to the doctor for it for years because they just prescribe proton pump inhibitors or histamine blockers. I can buy those and as far as I can tell, they have long term deleterious effects on the human body. 

Any how, I recently came across this article by Seth Roberts about self-experimentation (h/t Bruce Charlton). Roberts essentially argues that self-experimentation based on a frame of reference in a field can allow one to test assumptions within the field or to move forward toward different conclusions prior to determining the mechanisms of those changes. He likens the process to foraging and or have a hobby. Back to GERD-like symptoms:

Gregory L Austin et al., “A Very Low-Carbohydrate Diet Improves Gastroesophageal Reflux and Its Symptoms,” Digestive Diseases and Sciences 51, no. 8 (August 2006): 1307–12, doi:10.1007/s10620-005-9027-7.
In this study, a very low carbohydrate diet (consuming less than 20 grams a day) led to improved symptoms in all eight participants. The metric was a probe utilized to determine acid exposure time in the esophagus. There was no blind in this particular study, but the objective measurement is interesting. The measurements were taken before the diet was initiated and then six days later.

WS Yancy Jr., D Provenzale, and Ec Westman, “Case Reports. Improvement of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease after Initiation of a Low-Carbohydrate Diet: Five Brief Case Reports,” Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine 7, no. 6 (November 2001): 120.

In this article records the case of five individuals who self-initiated a low-carb diet found themselves without frequent symptoms of heart-burn and indigestion. It is published in an alternative therapy journal, but it’s still peer reviewed.

The Pay Off

So, I started an extremely low carbohydrate diet about two weeks ago. The main purpose was precisely to decrease symptoms of heartburn that had become more frequent that non-heartburn. My existence had become somewhat miserable because if I happened to even eat a small snack, within minutes I would feel very full and bloated. I would have heartburn (even if I took medicine prior to eating) and the full feeling would last for several hours. If I ate lunch at work, I usually was not able to eat dinner or go to the gym at night. The only way to get food in prior to the gym was to eat around 10am, then just be full and miserable all day at work. This started around March, but the heart burn goes back to my early twenties.

Anyhow, I started the diet, eschewing the conventional wisdom that fatty foods lead to heartburn. I For the first two days I ate less than 20 grams of carbohydrates, continued drinking coffee, and obtained most of my carbohydrates from sauerkraut, spinach, and mushrooms. My protein and fat came from butter and meat. I expected my digestion to remain slow, but to at least experience less heartburn. Within two days, I had my first day with no heartburn and no medication. Upon increasing my carbs to about 50 grams per day, and allowing myself one “cheat day a week,” I have had only one serious experience of heartburn and 7 light flare-ups that went away as soon as I took an antacid or dissipated by the time I walked to the medicine cabinet. My digestion has sped up as well. Just Tuesday I ate a rather large lunch and was able to hit the gym by 3:45 without losing my food after dead lift.

So, despite conventional wisdom to the contrary, a high-fat, low-carb diet may assist with relief of symptoms related to GERD and indigestion.