2020 in Review: Health

Each of our lives has been impacted by this pandemic. It would be a disservice to downplay how terrible the pandemic actually is. New strains of COVID-19 are currently being detected, as the virus mutates.

As last year came to a close, I promised myself I would take my health more seriously. I had witnessed how my mental health had gone for a spiral, and sought the right kind of help there, and then seen how my mental health was inextorably linked to my physical health. I also noticed that a lot about my physical appearance and physical health was not something I enjoyed. I had aspirations that were different to the way I was living, and so I sought out to correct that. For the first three months of the year, I ran nearly every day at University. Some days I’d do one kilometre, some days five. But I ran, and pushed myself to run, building up to a ten kilometre run I did sometime in the first week of March early in the morning. That felt fantastic, and I was going to use that as a launchpad for more gains as the year went on. The pandemic halted my running progress because I was not willing to go out for runs while living at home.

However, I think in deciding I wanted to be healthier in 2020 (at the end of 2019), I severely underestimated the range of changes I would be making in my life. I also took a very myopic view to health, tying it exclusively to exercising a little more than I had in the past year. As the year unfolded however, and I read more, and I began to ask myself what I was feeling, and what was causing me to feel the way I did, I found that there were several things that definitely needed to change for me to be happier. Coincidentally, these were decisions that would leave me healthier as well, and that was fantastic. It’s not like I needed tons of introspection to understand this. A few of my friends have told me about this in the past, my parents have as well. I just chose to ignore them, till this year.

Staying at home alone meant I woke up every morning knowing that most (if not all) of my day was going to be guided by decisions I took with my faculties about the resources I had available to me.

The first big thing I changed this year is how much I prioritize sleep.

At University, as is well documented on this blog, and pretty much everywhere in my life, I did everything at the cost of sleep. If I had a choice between anything and sleep, I would pick anything apart from sleep. I can’t think of how much nights I stayed awake. That meant I woke up late every morning (for class), napped throughout class, and then came back to my room and caught naps while working through the day. It was hardly anything to write home about. I hadn’t always been like this. Till I was in Grade 9 I slept at 9PM, and then in Grade 10, that became 10PM. It was a steady increase of one hour till I was in Grade 12, I was allowed, if needed, to stay awake till midnight. I slept in on weekends if I could, and my parents really set the example for me. They had a strict sleeping regimen that was only deviated from as an exception. That’s why it surprised them so much that I had changed. What occured to me as my final year rolled around and went away was that it was very unsustainable. Outside of University, sleeping as little as I did would have fatigued me way too much, and sleeping during the day because I hadn’t slept at night would take away any scope for human interaction.

My problem, however, was that I am a night owl. My productivity is a lot higher at night than it is in the mornings. As a result, I’d have to change my entire outlook to sleep. Reading Why We Sleep was pivotal to this. In essence, after a lot of trial, and a lot of mistakes and deviation, I got to a point where I sleep around midnight, and wake up early in the morning. I’m happier as a result of it, truly, I am – because I suddenly feel like I have more hours in my day, and I get to see the sun rise on several days. Sleeping around seven hours a day, on average, is far more than I’ve averaged in the last five years. Eventually I hope to move to eight. If works picks up, I’ll pull down to four or five for a while, but compensate at some point: the weekends if need be, or anything. Sleep is important. I need it to function. It makes me happy. I enjoy sleeping.

The second thing that’s changed for me is my diet.

I could east fast food every day of my life, I love it so much. I’m also in love with processed food. I think it’s delicious. However, the weight it causes me to put on, I’m not so much a fan of. I also find that I’m less happy with a meal that’s tasty, than a meal that’s hearty and filling (but maybe comparatively, less tasty). Around April I found it tougher and tougher to reconcile all of the stuff I was interested in studying in life, and working on, with some of the choices I made in my daily life. So it was that I began to transition toward veganism, and now, I’m there. The United Kingdom makes it affordable and easy to be vegan. Having vegan friends and vegan options to choose from at every place you eat at and buy things at makes it easy as well. I’ve found myself shedding a little weight, which for me has led to happiness, but also found that the diet-switch I’ve made is sustainable for me, and for the planet, which resolved the reconciliation problem I was having at the start of the year. There are still several things with cheese I’m trying to understand how to replace within my diet (as I still crave them), but I’m finding that it’s just a matter of placing my mind and my life’s broader ambitions ahead of certain short-term satisfactions. Every single day. It’s a lot of work, but the happiness I’m experiencing makes me feel it is worth it. The consequence of doing all this is that I’ve become more interested in the science of food and micronutrients and why we eat what we do, and how our body processes it. I think it’s bloody cool, and supremely facinating that our bodies possess so much power.

The third thing that’s changed is my outlook toward exercise.

I’m still very stop-start with it, and lockdowns don’t really help too much, but I’m pushing myself to be more active each morning I wake up. Developing that consistency has been easier because in Cambridge, I’m forced to ride my cycle or walk wherever I have to go, and it’s very easy to walk around here – which means you can cover a large distance without feeling the strain on your body. That holds true for running around as well. The fact that there’s no lazy option is something I’m thoroughly grateful for, because it’s forcing me to make the choice that will make me be more active. I’ve learned that exercise can be incorporated very easily into your daily life just as a result of that choice, and that’s been a revelation. I’ll do the work because my body has the strength and the capacity to do it, and because I want to push myself each day. When my dad can do it, and he started quite late, that gives me enough inspiration to do it each day too.

The fourth thing that’s recalibrated for me is just a continuation from last year, but I’m more cognizant of how my brain is doing now than I ever was.

The pandemic has assisted us in having conversations aroud mental health because suddenly everyone’s been put in a position where they feel like something is off, but they can’t point to a physical manifestation of what it is. That has forced us each to ask ourselves if we are okay, and has led to more awareness, I think, of how mental health operates. When I ran the daily blog, for how much ever I wrote, I found that it helped me keep a track of what my brain was thinking, and where it was at. I’ve spoken about this before, but when I don’t blog, I do feel slightly fuzzy. Stopping the daily blog has meant finding a sustainable alternative that assists me in a similar way. My answer has been daily journaling, and constant reflection. I’ve been forcing my brain into asking itself: are you okay?

Where my answer is no, and sometimes, it is, having gone through therapy has helped me to understand what steps to take, and when to seek out assistance to help make things better for me. Where my answer is no, that means asking myself what the causative factor is, or the causative factors are. Being aware about this just means I’m more careful about my brain’s health. I find that the most concise way of presenting this is that I am aware my brain has a brain of it’s own.

Finally, I’ve learned how important it is, in matters of health, to trust the science. And be a little more sanitary than I’ve lived in the past five years. The Boys Hostel at my University was not the most sanitary place, nor was it the best place to try to keep clean. I’m supremely grateful that our University administration allowed us to leave campus when we did, although I was displeased about how it was communicated to us. It has forced me to confront how much more sanitary, and therefore safe, our hostel could have been.

I’m essentially now on a journey that demands I put in work to living healthier – and happier, each day. Starting that journey was a good first step I did this year. The work is difficult. For me, however, it demands to be done.


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