I had an offhand thought this morning. For a long time, I've simply assumed that "the flu season" exists primarily because flu viruses peak at a certain time of year, much the same way that pollen peaks at certain times of year. I can't say why I thought so; I just sort of took it for granted.
This morning, however, it occurred to me that one reason people get the flu in the wintertime is because we tend to spend more time cooped-up indoors. This leaves us essentially locked up with people who carry the viruses. Of course you're more likely to fall ill if you're quarantined in the same airtight box as someone already infected with the virus!
Curious, I spent a few moments with an internet search engine before discovering an article that more or less confirmed my suspicions:
Here are the most popular theories about why the flu strikes in winter:
1) During the winter, people spend more time indoors with the windows sealed, so they are more likely to breathe the same air as someone who has the flu and thus contract the virus.
The article didn't stop there, however. Most of the latter half of the article actually confirms my prior belief, that the flu simply thrives in wintertime. The author of the article discusses research that confirms exactly that; the flu is more communicable in cold, dry weather.
This might be a matter of the-chicken-and-the-egg. After all, if the flu season is generally caused by people staying indoors, then we might expect flu viruses to evolve such that cold-and-dry-preferring viruses are naturally selected, while flu viruses that favor warmer and more humid weather would tend to die out, at least in regions that are further away from the equator.
* * *
I was thinking about flu viruses in the first place because I fell ill last week. I don't know if what I had was a flu or a cold, but it laid me out most of Christmas Day and the day after. I felt generally miserable for two days on either side of Christmas, too, and am only now starting to feel more like my old self again.
Colds and flus are very hard on diabetics. We have weaker immune systems to begin with, and then on top of that our blood glucose levels tend to skyrocket whenever we get sick, making our immune systems even weaker, and thus rendering it even more difficult to kick the bug. What for most people would be a three-day bug ends up being at least a week-long bug for diabetics. Sometimes non-diabetics have colds or flus that are so vicious that they last a week or two. Imagine how long it takes us diabetics to get over that kind of illness.
The sheer length of time we spend fighting off these illnesses, combined with the increase in blood glucose, tends to make us -- or at least tends to make me -- shed pounds like crazy. I'm about 155-160 pounds, depending on the day. I easily drop five to ten pounds whenever I get sick, and that's five to ten pounds of body mass, not five to ten pounds of unwanted fat. The flu doesn't care about what weight you want to keep or lose. It all goes.
What keeps my blood sugar down? What keeps my body healthy and able to easily fight off infections? Exercise. What keeps my body full of lean muscle mass and with minimal amounts of excess body fat? Exercise. What's the last thing anyone can or wants to do when they're laid up in bed with a bad cold or flu? Exercise.
Put it all together, and it adds up to this: When I get sick, I lose a lot of my physical fitness. It's a race to fight off the infection before my body wastes away to a 145-pound skeleton with no muscle to speak of.
* * *
Thus, in the middle of wintertime -- generally around New Year's Day -- and despite my best efforts, I am generally at the point where I feel weak and unfit, ready to get back into shape, put muscle back on my frame, take on a new challenge. For most people, "New year, new you" is the order of the day. Not for me, though. I just want the old me back, the fit guy who can run 15 miles without think about it and who can do a bunch of push-ups and pull-ups.
Nor am I getting any younger. I'll finish up my fortieth year on earth this year. Don't get me wrong, I look and feel great for my age. Still, I remember seeing the photos of my old classmates at the ten-year high school reunion. Even at age 28, many of them looked middle aged for failing to take care of their bodies. They were visibly carrying extra weight, both physically around their waists, and mentally. Take it from a goddamn diabetic, it feels just awful to be unhealthy. You can see it in a person's eyes.
That was twelve years ago. Ten years of unhealthy living had already caught up to people who should have been physiologically peaking. (The last estimates I've seen for average physiological peak were ~28 years for men and ~32 years for women.) And, I hasten to add, this is among a cohort of people who by and large eschew alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. Twelve additional years of unhealthy living has surely caught up to these folks even further. Meanwhile, I can generally pass for someone who is at least ten years younger than I really am.
So, I firmly believe that when it comes to being in shape and looking younger, it's use it or lose it. Be steadfast. Stop exercising even for a moment, and you may be leaving years on the table, withering like a bouquet of gas station roses.
That's the urgency I feel after having been ill: My body just lost a ton of muscle mass and I have to cut my weekly running mileage down in order to build back up again. I've lost some conditioning; I need to get it back. Use it, or lose it. I can rest when I'm dead. That's the idea.
And it always happens around New Year's Day. It always tends to be that I'm at my lowest point around the start of the new year, having been ransacked by some virus.
This year, however, I did a little extra. With all that P90X-ing I did, I managed to build a little more muscle mass, make my muscles a little more flexible, bring myself up to even greater levels of physical conditioning. I have still preserved a great deal of that, and I'm going into the new year with a new exercise regimen and a good, solid VO2 max in the upper fifties.
In 2019, by my fortieth birthday, I might well be as fit as ever.
* * *
Wisely (for once), I didn't spend my sick time idly staring at a computer or television screen. I didn't spend my time in bed, trying to sleep away my feelings. I spent my time reading.
I'm already three books deep in the Wheel of Time series, as readers know, and wrapping up the fourth book in the next two days or so. Consider the scope of that, though: each one of these books is over seven hundred pages long. The one I'm reading now is over a thousand. That's well over a thousand pages of reading per week, since I started on my vacation earlier this month. Prior to that, I was barely reading at all. I had the impression that I had no time to read at all, but I found time to read by stealing it from time wasted on social media. That's a good trade-off.
I remember the last time I read as much as I'm currently reading. That was the year I got rid of my television. But that was 2008, ten and a half years ago, when social media was a strong presence, but not nearly as strong as it is now. I spent lots of time online back then, and used to joke that I had "read the entire internet. All of it." Back then, though, reading the internet was time not completely wasted. A person could read all kinds of ideologically neutral information about almost anything in 2008. Nowadays, advertising has undermined a person's ability to get unbiased and useful information from the internet. Gotta monetize, amirite?
So, the internet has become what television was ten years ago: A complete waste of time. Almost a complete waste, anyway. One can still study and learn with the internet, but one has to be deliberate about it now; just as with television.
And, anyway, books are cheap. Because everything is online now, or in "Kindle format," the relative price of an actual, physical book (or an actual, physical CD, or etc.) is so low that anyone with a thirst for knowledge or of entertainment that doesn't constantly scream advertisements at you all the time can get it on any budget. Best of all, it can be had used, i.e. for even cheaper.
Market forces, sociological forces, personal preferences, and finally a bad cold all conspired to drive me back into the world of books, the beautiful world of books, and I am reading again. And writing again.
There will be much more of this, too, in 2019.
* * *
A strange calm came over this past year. No, calm isn't quite the right word. Enlightenment is closer, but too grandiose…
It could have been as simple as leaving my former workplace, a vicious, ugly place full of vicious, ugly people; racists, back-stabbers, social climbers, sycophants… and a few really nice people that I truly enjoyed knowing. It's easy for such an environment to bring a person down into a bad headspace. I'm the kind of person who desperately wants to be friends with people, albeit in my quixotic and uncompromising way. Consequently, it's easy for such an environment to riddle me with self-doubt, even shame.
But it wasn't really as simple as getting out of a bad work environment. As I've grown my hair out, I've started to become a long-haired kind of a guy. It's difficult to explain why exactly, but I feel more like my own true self with longer hair, even if I'm not quite sure I look better. People certainly treat me more like myself. I even play the guitar differently, more self-assuredly, more expressively.
The world becomes a much clearer place when you feel self-confident.
That's another slightly inaccurate phrase, "self-confident." It's the right phrase, although I've never before understood what it really means. For years, I think I've believed self-confidence to be a feeling or an emotional state. I felt self-confident when I dressed in a nice suit. I felt self-confident when I stepped up to the starting line of a road race. I felt self-confident when solved a tough problem at work.
That is no longer how I experience "self-confidence." Now, to me, self-confidence is a plain acknowledgement of the reality of one's own being. (Hmm, I might have to add that definition to the lexicon.) Self-confidence means knowing that when I try to solve a statistical problem, I'll likely succeed. Self-confidence means that I'm a guitar-playing guy with long hair who likes to wear dress slacks and ties, not because I think people "should" dress that way, but because I like it for me. I like the way I look. My daughter likes the way I look. And my wife.
My gorgeous wife! I still get butterflies. People in the office see photographs of her and they're rightly impressed. They pat me on the back for being able to land myself a beautiful woman like that, and that's well before they learn about her career success and her brain. She has stop-the-world caliber beauty, truly, with rich, dark hair and eyes like liquid obsidian; her skin is like smooth, soft caramel and her voice like velvet. And on top of a beauty like that, she has the ability to do seemingly anything. She speaks three languages fluently, holds advanced degrees, she completed both Hyperfitness and P90X with relative ease. She once learned professional-level cake decorating just to prove a point. And in her career, she is seemingly unstoppable. (I could go on and on, here; I seldom do, on the blog anyway, because for some reason people get turned off when a guy spends too much time singing his own wife's praises. But it's worth elaborating a bit here, because it is directly relevant to my point.)
No fool could ever take a woman like that for granted, but at the same time, I have to admit that it fills me with self-confidence to know that she is mine. The plain acknowledgement of who she is is likewise a comment about me: That a woman like that took my last name means something about me, too. I am grateful for what I have. I am also deserving of it.
I am. I don't want to be arrogant, but my life is what it is. It's a good life, and I'm surrounded by good people, not the least of whom includes my beautiful wife and a daughter who is, I'm half-convinced, literally magic. My choices brought me to where I am today. Self-confidence means simply acknowledging and being comfortable with that fact.
I'm comfortable with all of it. The shirtless running in the rain. The P90X. The guitar-playing, the prog rock. The nerdy books. The libertarianism. The fact that I mostly want to be left alone on the weekend and not see anyone except my wife and my daughter. The coffee consumption, the love of beer. The electric bike. The large words that few understand, and the peculiar sense of humor that nobody understands. The oatmeal, by god! My favorite food is oatmeal!
I am what I am, and being what I am has resulted in a fine life indeed. I'm happy about that. I'm self-confident in it. I never expected to feel this way, and I never really did anything to try to cultivate that feeling. But in 2018, I somehow managed to achieve it. In 2019, I might just be able to channel it somehow.
* * *
Working out, reading, playing music, being self-confident. I guess 2019 will end up being a lot like 2018, but just marginally better. That's what I'm aiming for. That's my New Year's resolution, to live one more year of the good life, but to live it better than I did last year. And so I shall.
I wish the same for all of my readers, even if the only ones still "reading" are Russian spam-bots. May you be the best damn Russian spam-bots you can be; may you be better spam-bots than you were the previous year. May you find ever more comfort and self-actualization in your life as Russian spam-bots.
But seriously, to any and all still reading after all these years -- and those of you who just accidentally stumbled upon this post while you were searching Google to figure out how to sync up Google Fit with Strava -- may you have a healthy, happy, and deeply satisfying 2019. Happy New Year.