Naming the Demon
chronic condition | diet and weight loss
David Goldstein does research and consulting, for political research and market research. He was diagnosed with spinal cord cancer in 2001 and has had two surgeries, a month of radiation, paralysis, and tones of his back. In 2008, he had a heart attack and two stints put in. In this video, he talks about how working with Mymee reduced his pain, his weight, and help improved his life by restoring a sense of control over what has been chaos.
Naming the Demon
Hi guys, so my name is David Goldstein and I guess I follow more of the end user for the Quantified Self. I’m not a tech guy. I do research and consulting but it’s only political research, market research and that kind of thing. I met some guys randomly at a meetup and for something totally different and got talking and that’s how I got into into it.
So my talk is called Naming the Demon and it’ll become clear in a second why that is.
This is my health background; it’s pretty horrific. I got spinal cord cancer in 2001. I had two surgeries, a month of radiation, paralysis, tones of back pain. 2008 I had a heart attack. I had two stents, extensive rehab again, diet chains so there’s tons of fear. Every single time I feel something in my chest now I freak out or at least I did for a long time.
2010 I had a re-injury on my back. The implications were terrible. I had a nervous breakdown. I had to go on disability for a while and slipped into depression. And then even worse, my older brother who had also suffered from a long-term illness he died that year. so obviously it was not a good year for me.
2011 was a little bit different. My wife got pregnant, we had a boy and 2012, my weight like it had been before still fluctuating. The pain was still all over the place. But the problem was is that I had a kid sitting in front of me that I know had to take care of. And it hit me that year, I had no idea what I was doing and it killed me to realize this because first of all 2011 I got hit by a bus. All right now that’s horrible, but the thing about it really taught me was how absolutely unpredictable life is, how I could have gone through all that other life stuff, and yet Mr. Bus was still waiting for me at a certain point. There was no like “Oh you had cancer. You get out of being hit by a bus for the rest of your life.” That’s not how it works, so it really kind of reinforced that to me.
So I took a long look and it killed me. I work in research and consulting and I know data, but I didn’t know the data for me at all. I know from my clients how to fix their problems by looking at the data that we ask, but I couldn’t get it done for myself, and it was just absolutely breaking my heart.
So this is a picture of me and my son.
For me, I didn’t really care so much about my health. When you come as close to death as I have and as many times as I have you develop a unique relationship. My son though, when he came out dark eyes, dark hair you know very dark skin, this is probably a little too personal but medical guys don’t understand but his farts smell like mine, which is significant because obviously your intestinal flora has to do with your immune system so the fact is it really seemed like his immune system was. So I didn’t understand that even if I didn’t want to behave right I was modelling behaviors for him. And if I didn’t want to see his life cut short by you know, cancer, heart attack, bus attack I knew I really did have to change and change fast. So I took a long look and I got interested in Buddhism and this is something that came up between Jos and I my mymee coach very early on.
So this concept of naming the demon and basically what this meditation practice is you don’t sit there and try to get away from all the horrible like anger and hate and things like that. Instead, as they come up you start slapping a name on it. You say okay, I’m meditating and I’m feeling anger, that’s anger, that’s anger, that’s anger and use that and association on it, and over time you start to develop a certain sense of relationship with which you have been trying to avoid previously.
And this meant everything to me, because it was obvious that changes of behavior and my pain level, and things like that. Those are things that I desperately wanted to avoid but as I was working with mymee it became very clear like no, no, no, we had to like work with this. The first thing you do you have to put a name on it, no matter how horrible it is you put a name on it. This really was kind of working with the data help me with.
The other way to think about this is Adam in the garden, one of the initial ways he established his mankind and demeaning over the world is to name all of the beasts as God brings them before him, one by one. He puts a name over them, and establishes a sense of control. Say what you want about the environment, but for our internal mental process’s I think it’s the same kind of deal.
So this is a kind of display of the mymee app. I turned to Josh and I really wanted to understand this process, so this is what we kind of decided to go to work. I’ll say this at first, it was too much. When I first heard me with Josh we had this confessional session where I was going, oh my God I’m doing, I’m doing that, and I know this is horrible and I’m still doing that. And you know, we tried a bunch of different things to address all of these different things like sleep, and drinking and you know stress level, and pain level and diet and exercise. It was just you know I was like, I can’t do it all, so we basically broke it down and decided to focus specifically on what I could do about my weight and what I could do about my pain. Those seemed like things that maybe we you know there are possible solutions or a hypotheses.
And you can see with weight we definitely had a a lot of success. I wanted to switch over to a diet that was heavily on nut, beets, fruits, and veggies, so I merely started to track that throughout my day. Seeing the display at the end of the day I couldn’t sheet at all, because I had the app staring at me in the face. And you can see from my peak weight I quickly drop down – there was a time in there when I got in touch with Josh and it was is this kind of weight loss okay. I really think it’s freaking me out because I seem to be disappearing. And Josh fortunately assured me it was all right.
I hit 177, which is more or less very close to my target, so I decided to experiment with maybe I could have a chocolate muffin, maybe I can have a steak, maybe I can have a chicken Caesar wrap, and no I couldn’t. The data was fantastic because of how honest it was and how brutal it was in saying to like, if you do this, then this is going to be the outcome.
So the next thing we took a look at was pain. Pain was really hard for us to address. It’s an extremely subjective thing, and we knew it was going to be a qualitative measure, so we didn’t know how to do it. So what we decided to do is a scale of 0 to 10. Zero was no pain and 10 was the worst pain that I ever felt.
You know, I think, looking back on it now, it might be interesting in doing like maybe, like a zero, where zero is an average amount of pain. So for anybody with a chronic illness and we are all experts in how we feel about our chronic illness, so I’m trying to expert in my pain levels. So I know what an average pain level is for me, so I established zero and then looking at variants, positive or better days, negative or worst days that maybe would have enabled us to like remove the boundaries of 0 to 10. And more over if I was consistent -2, -3 and we could have moved the average down and gone from there. But you can see here too we had a lot of success.
I started tracking this February and this was a lot of exercise and a lot of stretching going on and I dropped down to a four. These are kinds of experiments that Josh and I did throughout, where we played with the amount of exercise and the amount of PT that was being done. You know I had some work things come up and kind of slacked off and immediately started to spike. And I got down to a four which was fantastic that is the crucial thing though. I re-injured my back as severely as when I went on disability at the midway point during this process.
I was absolutely terrified, you know I was beyond fear. I was convinced I was going to go on disability and all the rest of that, and fortunately Josh talked me down and pointed out we had a program in place. Let’s stick to the program and we’ll pay attention to the pain. If you go on disability that’s a future event, let’s focus on what we have now. And I’m still stunned by this; the pain stabilized. I’ve had re-injuries in the past. 2007 was one of the more sever. It never stabilized. It took me probably about a year and a half and additional back operations before that re-injury got under control.
This was kept under control simply by putting forth the stretching an putting forth the exercises and paying careful attention to what was happening with the pain on a daily basis.
So this is basically the I refer this to my shit cycle and this is what Josh pointed out and something with the tracking I came to really understand that all of these things are very closely tied to each other, that pain led to fear, led to anxiety, stress, worry, pain , fear. All of these made each other worse.
And the thing that we were able to identify with the mymee app tracking that this was a house of cards that you start to pull down on one, such as putting a name on, what’s afflicting you and pulling in, all of this starts to come down. This drops the intensity, this gets pulled back and it literally starts to fortunately and you know, thankfully fall apart.
So going back to our demon for a second, this is also another very quick concept, in Buddhism they talk about it’s a concept that when a demon comes into your house you don’t scream at it, you don’t try and get rid of it, you don’t try and kick them out. What you do is you try to give him a hug. The more he’s invited in, the more he’s accepted, the more he’s welcomed, the quicker he is to disappear.
So that I think was another very powerful reminder for me during this time, that my pain was my pain. That my disease was my disease, and it was a part of that everything else I love about me is a part of me, you know moving to a point of being able to work with it and not fighting it was a crucial part not only of my physical health but obviously my mental health as well.
So this kind of process kind of started it and you know it’s kind of interesting is that over these past two weeks I’ve really been struggling to come to terms with the fact that I started to put through all these changes in my diet, changes in my exercise and everything like I said I would not be doing it if I were a single guy which I do admit, but I do have to worry about this guy and he’s obviously very adorable reminder of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it on a daily basis.