My name is Nancy Dougherty and I’m here to talk to you a little bit about my detox from all things quantified and how much healthier I got doing this and how deeply disturbing that was to me, so it didn’t seem to make any sense.
So I’ve been involved with Quantified Self for a while and used a lot of the tools out there for experiments. I really like building my own sensors so I can do experiments around emotions, mindfulness, exercise, stuff like that. and professionally I build Quantified Self tools as well because I really believe in the movement and the idea as self-knowledge, self-empowerment, personalized medicine. I think it’s all great and I was having a ton of fun with it until about a year ago something happened that interrupted all of my really fun QS experiments, and it’s the fact that I actually got sick.
So I had an ear infection that lead to a burst eardrum, which somehow went to about four month sinus infection. A lot of fainting and dizziness, constant nausea; a lot of things I couldn’t get rid of; I got a big buffet of nastiness, and the nastiness when you take it to the medical system they kind of say like auto immune something something and can’t really do anything about it. so there was this really low level chronic stuff that was awful, which sounds like the perfect testing ground for a real honest of good of Quantified Self health improvement.
But of course that’ not what I did at all. I went to the doctor; I got blood tests, scans and diagnosis. I got carpet bombed with antibiotics and steroids and then on top of that I decided to be really really healthy. Do all the things I should do anyway. Lots of yoga for stress, I slept really well. I cleaned up my diet, nasal rinses, allergy control and between the medical system and that I actually got a lot healthier. In fact I got a lot healthier than I had ever been while doing any of my quantifying experiments.
For someone who designs QS tools for a living and who really wants to advance all the things we can use to quantify this looked terrifying to me. like I had no idea where it was going on and I really had to step back and go okay, how do I need to think about Quantified Self to make sense to me? I had to reorient the way I thought about it.
And part of that was, the reason I quantify is I try and look into the feedback loop that a lot of us talk about. You look at your health inputs. You view your health outputs and monitor your behaviors and it all makes sense and it ticks everything. So ideally what I should have done when I was sick is just monitor all my health inputs, look at all my health outputs, and of course that would make it all very clear and I could fix the thing that was wrong and I would be healthy forever.
But there’s a huge problem with this and it’s something we’ve all encountered, there’s so many inputs and variables that we’re not quite sure what to care about. Like Ian said yesterday, a lot of the responses are time-delayed. They’re interdependent They’re nonlinear. It’s a really awful system to try and characterize.
And for me especially, the really tough part of this is monitoring our health afterwards, because I’m really really bad at understanding what’s going on with me physically or emotionally. I’m never quite sure if I’m tired, fatigued or just bored, maybe. Or if I’m feeling good because I modified my diet or maybe the weather changed or I’ve just seen that video where the panda sneezes. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m sad or if I’m just itchy. It’s a mess. I’m really awful at this.
So what I found was when I was actually confronted with a health problem and push came to shove, I just dropped all of the quantifying because it just seemed insurmountably difficult to find any sort of meaning and all of this idealism that I previously thought was the way to go.
On the flip side, I was very lucky and that all my problems were solvable with blanket lifestyle changes.
So my takeaway from this (there are a couple) and it’s really easy to say that I could have done it if I had more sensors and better data, and it’s just going to be a couple of years and just better statistics. And I am going to keep on looking at this because I think it’s a very important part of it. But even more than that, I found that Quantified Self isn’t really about quantifying to me anymore. Because all through this, all through my recovery, I wasn’t keeping track of anything, I wasn’t logging anything, but it still felt very much like a QS experiment to me. Not because of actually logging or taking data. but because I had the Quantified Self mindset, the flexibility, exploration even just the idea that I was in control of my health and it wasn’t just antibiotics that would fix me.
So I would love to talk to people more about this and thank you for listening and being a really awesome, cool community of great people.