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  1. Harriet of War 2023 This challenge I turn 36. It’s a good moment for a new start. I am not satisfied with the direction I’ve taken over the last year. Pacing has not improved my fatigue, and has in fact simply reduced my activity levels and coincided with multiple long slug phases. I’m sick of the fearful, avoidant, pessimistic attitude promoted by CFS patient advocacy groups and online forums. I choose to believe in recovery and the possibility of a normal life, and that is what I am going to pursue this year. As Mr Harriet has pointed out, though, my focus cannot be exclusively on health, in case it doesn't come. So I will do. my. art. And I will develop the life I want with or without recovery. Having recently played and loved God of War 2018, I am taking Kratos, the incredibly tough Spartan warrior from said game, as a model for the next year. Erm, not because he kills things, but because he has the physical and character strength that I so badly need. Sometimes we choose idols because of similarities between us, and sometimes we choose them because they have precisely what we lack. I loved playing as Kratos because it made me feel powerful and capable of anything. I want to be Kratos when I grow up. Of course, life is both easier and harder than a game. But I hope to borrow some of Kratos’s attitudes and virtues. For each challenge over the next year, I want to make sure I am hitting each of four categories that I think will be important: Strength: I will work on my physical fitness, carefully increasing both strength and cardio fitness. Someone has already made an exercise programme specifically for POTS, so I’ll do that and just slow down the progression if needed. There is no bonus for going too hard; the only thing that matters is getting fitter over time, and that requires staying below my maximum recoverable volume, which is unfortunately very, very low. Wishing and heroically overdoing things won't change that, but consistent, appropriate workouts might. Stoicism: Okay so stoicism isn’t Spartan, exactly. But I think it’s the closest available approach to developing strength of character. I wish to cultivate a stoic practical philosophy as an antidote to the fragility and suffering that arise from focusing too much on my illness. I will develop my tolerance for effort and unpleasantness, reduce my fear and avoidance, and choose happiness wherever possible. The good thing about developing this mindset is that it will serve me well even if I don't achieve the desired recovery. If my fatigue doesn't change, then I will change to deal with the fatigue. This doesn't mean denying myself rest, where rest would increase my functionality or reduce suffering. It means not waiting for perfect health or energy before I do my work, my life. Spirit: perhaps this category seems too soft for a god of war, but attitude is an important part of strength, and every warrior needs a way of healing between fights. The effect of the mind on the body has been extensively documented, and everyone who reports recovering from CFS included some mind-body stress reduction practice. So, I will cultivate a belief in healing and bring about the parasympathetic state of repair through twice daily meditation or prayer to my own god of war (not Kratos, obviously; he's a video game character, not an actual deity. If someone happened to take one of my deities and put him in a video game, that would be completely different, if somewhat weird) and similar practices, as often as possible. Structure: presumably Kratos got his discipline from being raised in a Spartan society. Happily, I don’t have that, so I will need to support my efforts with various habit-helping structures, which might include designing routines, setting alarms and reminders, employing family to hold me accountable, journalling, programming, reflecting on identities and processes, and setting up my environment to lower or raise barriers to action. Oh, and internet blocks to limit the infinite doom scroll.
  2. Harriet's Organic Programming: Overview I want to combine programming with flexibility. I like how the JTS programming book explains the principles needed to make programming work (like identifying your priorities, determining what traits you want to cultivate and what modalities/exercises will support them, applying specificity, overreach and fatigue management, etc). It makes programming less mysterious. I want to take a structured approach to my programming this year. But at the same time I need to be flexible because I cannot know how bad my fatigue will be in advance. Hence, organic programming. It’s a sapling, testing where the stone might crumble a little to allow a tendril to anchor. It’s the seed of a planet coagulating speck by speck as each new mote joins and adds its own gravity to the growing core. The principles of my organic programming are within the spoiler. Process for Challenges Reflect on the goals, traits and modalities, and determine either the greatest current obstacle or an area that seems ripe for expansion. Choose what ‘exercises’ could help, decide on something to overreach in (difficulty that seems a little beyond me) but also pick a fatigue management fallback; lower-effort options that will help me maintain instead of giving up completely.
  3. Harriet's Year of Battle The objective: to gain the mountain and obtain the precious treasures of lifting, writing, painting, walking, cooking and spirit work. The enemies: fatigue, emotional resistance, distraction addiction, hopelessness The weapons: axe of strength, sword of courage, staff of clarity, reflective shield ---- Fifth Skirmish: Another Stab at Meditation All right. I am adjusting to the fact that I have limited forces and the best strategy is to take and hold small pieces of territory, not to declare war on entire continents, oceans, and outer space. Reflective Shield: Meditate fifteen minutes I want to build up a much longer and more consistent meditation practice, because there are evidence based reasons to think it can help with anxiety, fatigue, and brain fog. Fifteen minutes is long enough to see a nice effect, but not so long as to be intimidating. It should be done daily, first thing. Staff of Clarity: Adjust the internet block I promised myself I would free myself of internet addiction this year. I made a start last challenge with a two hour limit on my desktop, but that allows me too much leeway: I can check the internet, then turn it off, repeatedly and all day long. This keeps me in the distraction addiction state. So I will adjust the ban: internet after 7pm only, unless there is some administrative need. Axe of Strength: Rest fifteen minutes I am coming to terms with the fact that diet will likely not cure me. I am now turning my attention to pacing, which can be extremely and unpleasantly strict if done correctly. I can’t face that, so I am just going to create a tiny new habit: rest for fifteen minutes after walking, grocery shopping, or the gym instead of diving straight into computer, reading, etc. That’s it. For the gym, I will rest AT the gym after my workout, AND at home after walking back. Sword of Courage: Letters from Source I have begun a practice from The Artist’s Way that supposedly helps heal creative blocks and reduces resistance to creative practice. I will continue this. It just involves typing a page of whatever is on my mind, each morning. I call it letters from source. Maybe it will alert me to themes in my life that need attending to, or help me shed mental clutter, or put me in touch with deities or the miraculous source of nature. Who knows. ... I will also try to get to the gym, of course, but I think my idea of increasing frequency to four or five days a week was outrageously stupid and born of denial. I’ll go three times, keep the volume even lower than I think it needs to be, and maybe use the sauna. I need a consistent habit before I can even think about increasing. And to get a consistent habit I need to stabilise the push-crash cycle which means not doing the stupid push bit.
  4. Battle for the Shinies The objective of the battle is to gain the mountain and obtain the precious treasures of lifting, writing, painting, walking, cooking and spirit work. The enemies: fatigue, emotional resistance, distraction addiction, hopelessness The weapons: axe of strength, sword of courage, staff of clarity, reflective shield Skirmish Four: Marching and Net Evasion I have repeatedly overstretched my forces in order to broach new territory, which has resulted in me being unable to hold the ground I have taken. I must adapt my strategy to the fact that my army is quite small, and the ponies have rather short legs. What I need to do is move slowly, not attempting to capture new ground before establishing a firm defence of existing territory. I will add one habit at a time, and work on each for a long time, in order to gain the benefits of automaticity. Last challenge I abandoned my more complex goals and just made it my goal to walk first thing in the morning, after feeding the cats but before my first cup of tea. This challenge I will continue walking. Zero week will bring me up to a month of unbroken walks. For the rest of the challenge, I need to get away from aimless browsing. Some sort of internet ban is in order, and I will spend zero week reflecting on this before deciding on the details.
  5. Last month's theme was NO. Saying no more, noticing opportunities to say no, and removing distractions and input. The theme I set up for March was "f*ck yeah or no". I want to do stuff I only feel f*ck yeah about. But, I'm struggling a bit with this philosophy. a) I have to do boring stuff like go to work. b) I get tired of "f*ck yeah" all the time. Instead, I want to focus on mindfulness, processing, and being intentional about what comes into my life. The same as before, but an amped up version of "no". Combat the FOMO. I want to involve myself in experiences that are good enough I want to live them twice, I want to keep being aware of how much I take on, and I want to be a little bit bored. I want more downtime than I know what to do with...it's not my strong suit. Q1: Salad every day! Same as last challenge--a salad every work day (4 days a week). Last month was pretty easy but I want some more time to settle into this habit. Q2: Skill practice/flexibility work Last challenge I wanted to do one session of skill practice/flexibility work per week. This challenge I'd like to do two sessions per week. Q3: Daily Social Media Check-in Last challenge I set up some tracking and kept my social media use down during work hours. It was pretty effective, but it didn't touch any social stuff I did on my phone or my home laptop. I just want to track if I've accessed Twitter or Facebook on any device, each day. How many days can I go without checking in? I found last challenge that the longer I went without going to Twitter/FB, the less interesting it was to me. And I want to track why I went to social media each time. I've also tried to turn off my Google Now feed on my phone...but it isn't working. So I want to track how often I go there. Q4: Daily Writing Write every day for 15 minutes. Any kind of writing. The end. I haven't been getting enough sleep so FIRST AND FOREMOST that has to stop. But I'm pretty good at regulating that, so no official quest. -- A few obstacles: My partner's parents are coming to visit for a week I'm going to a HUGE HUGE conference the last week of the challenge. It's always crazy intense and exhausting, and as I've gotten more involved in the community, it gets more and more exhausting. I'm already overwhelmed trying to figure out where I'm going to be when. So, I'm going to do a special challenge week like I did last year, adjusted based on what I learned: Goal 1: Stay hydrated (3 nalgenes per day) Goal 2: Lie down on the floor for ten minutes every day. Goal 3: Bring sneakers so you can work out in the swanky hotel gym. Goal 4: Check-in with my conference buddies at least once a day.
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