Tuesday, April 09, 2013

A public service announcement from vexorian

Note: I just finished typing this. I notice that it is very long. So I am finding it difficult not to be embarrassed by this post.

This post is very personal, but I have this urge to share. It also has a (very small) relationship with coding contests performance.

There are two things that I think would be instantly evident to those who have met me in person and are not so evident to those who have only read me: 1) I am overweight. 2) I am as socially awkward as heck. The social awkwardness and my discomfort in social settings are something I shall worry about another day. This post is mostly about weight.

I think I have been overweight for most if not all my conscious life. There anecdotes of me having quite the appetite when I was 3 years old asking to eat 3 or 4 boiled eggs in a morning if given the chance. My appetite has been like this for various reasons. For example, the best way my family has to do things together and communicate and enjoy each other is to have a good breakfast, meal, lunch or dinner. It helps that both my parents are great cooks.

For most of my life I also never cared that much about it. Thinking that the pursue of a better body shape was a banal goal. This was a mistake. Like most (I imagine) people that read this blog, the being relatively good at programming and math stuffs has led me to believe that I am a smart and intelligent person, but what I've been doing all this time was pretty stupid and self-destructive. The link between being overweight and being at risk to have health issues was never a secret to me. But I took it lightly. Fooling myself to think that, I was doing fine overall. I have never had a loss of energy, I almost always go to the university and back home on foot (totaling about an hour of walking).

Indeed, It seems that my body is currently "healthy" but full of risk factors that would make this stop.

What happened

More than a month ago, my brother (an adult) got Chicken Pox (He was vaccinated, but it is possible). Chicken Pox is said to be much more dangerous on adults than children. I had made the mistake to learn too much about this disease through google and wikipedia walks. I have learned of all the risks, including the ultra rare ones. During that period I was very worried, worried that my parents could get infected, worried that I could get infected; and that anyone of us would get the worst complications. My brother ended up just fine, with nothing severe but having to stay in bed for more than a week was probably not that great for his university responsibilities.

I was enjoying the relief. Until March the 13-th, a Wednesday. I had an editorial whose completion that was very delayed. I also had homework for Thursday. I stayed until late at night doing the homework. I would then use the post-class morning and afternoon to finish the editorial. All was going fine, except for a feeling of tiredness during Thursday... I also tried to sleep during the day when the editorial was finished. I couldn't do it, It seemed that the climate was too hot and couldn't sleep... So I decided to wait till the night and went to sleep. Then we had an SRM late in Thursday night.

I remember I slept that night, but it was a sort of partial sleep, because I woke up even more tired, but with the most terrible headache. I usually have headaches once per 1.5 weeks but they are mild and just go away. This one was like the mother of all headaches. It never occurred to me that I had Chicken Pox, but I went to the doctor because the ache was impossible to stand. At the hospital, my blood pressure and weight were measured (routinely). I was told that I had very high blood pressure. That was the diagnosis that day: High blood pressure is usually a source of headaches. I was told to have analgesics, avoid salt food and pay the Cardiologist a visit on Monday.

Once again, I went to google university and learned all about blood pressure. The potential risks are quite scary. But the analgesics kind of calmed me down. That afternoon , I had to go to a class. I am on a Compilers class, to win my last credit... This class is a huge waste of time. I wrote compilers for two languages. They were very ad hoc compilers, and very lame ones with tons of workarounds. So I thought an actual compiler course would be a good idea - It wasn't - The final objective of the curse is to write a compiler that is even more precarious and ad hoc than those I already wrote. But since I should do this thing or wait 6 more months, I am doing my best to pretend like the course is difficult. Coincidentally, the last two scheduled classes were suspended. When I arrived to Friday's class, I noticed that I had forgotten that it was the day to show the lexer (No, we are not even using grammars to decompose tokens, all has to be ad hoc). I didn't have the lexer with myself because I forgot. So I had no choice than to use the hour or so to write the lexer again from my head. Note that I was with the headache, and that the computers barely have code::blocks in windows as an option for c++ code.

The next day, the headache was gone and I felt good or so until the afternoon when I decided it was a good time to make the editorial for SRM 573. For some reason I felt some urge to finish it fast. I was lucky that the hard problem was not too difficult, so I could finish it. But I kept feeling weaker and more flu-like throughout the process. I really did my best efforts to complete the editorial that day.

That Saturday afternoon was the worst. I had heart palpitations, which were very noticeable. I was also feeling like everything was too hot. I wondered if something bad was happening to my heart. I couldn't sleep even though I was tired. The Sunday morning, we finally noticed : I had Chicken Pox. I went to the doctor, but failed to mention the palpitations... I was a bit afraid. The Chicken Pox standard treatment: Bed time until it dries plus some medications to treat fever and lower the reproduction rate of the virus.

My Chicken Pox turned out to be very mild (Probably because I am vaccinated?). Except for the awful headache on Friday and the Palpitations on Saturday. I postponed the date with Cardiologist for a week because I had to stay in bed. Staying in bed is not that hard when you have a laptop. I was also very lucky that there were no SRMs (And no editorials to write) that week. I think that I subconsciously saw that coming and thus the reason I rushed the editorial for SRM 573.

What was not mild

The Chicken Pox was mild, what wasn't mild was the stress I started getting. I was not even aware of it. But I was very worried about my parents. The palpitations episode from Saturday was also scaring me. During the nights during that week, I didn't have palpitations, but I was paing more attention to my heart and it is possible to hear it beat when you press your ear to the pillow. The heart beat made me nervous. But what really scared me off was the ... shaking. I started to shake my right arm and it appeared that it was because my heart was beating too strongly. (All of this was my brain fooling myself)

Date with Cardiologist, everyone in the world was worried about my high blood pressure (Not normal at 28 years old). But I was more worried about the heart issues and finally explained what was happening. It turns out that right arm shaking is a clear sign of stress issues. And that my heart was very healthy but was beating strangely because of..stress. After that day I noticed that my arm shakes were unrelated to beat rhythm. I was being the victim of an imaginative brain.

So then they focused on the high blood pressure. It seems that Chicken Pox did raise it to crazy levels on Friday, but my normal (no fever, no disease) pressure was still higher than what you should expect on a 28 years old. Very risky because it would mean that when I go older I would have really high blood pressure. I started a treatment. My weight was the first to blame. Then they measured my cholesterol levels - very high. Now I have three very relevant risk factors for heart disease. I was put on medicines to lower the pressure and a very strong thing to reduce cholesterol levels.

The stress and the arm shaking didn't go away. In fact, at times it got worse. When I saw how high the cholesterol and lipid levels were and when I researched the side effects for the cholesterol-lowering drug... Since last Thursday I've been experiencing discomforts in the chest. But they turned out to be muscular-related and most likely caused by ... stress. My heart is still healthy, but unfortunately, my mind is not so much. It is difficult to relax about your heart risks if at the same time your stress causes you to shake and have chest aches. I mean really, stress is a Jerk. All this anxiety and paranoia about my heart is what has been causing delays in editorials lately. Round 2A was difficult to me, but the admin explanations I received were good. But I have had difficulty to focus. Do you remember I forgot to register for SRM 575? In part was because I have to focus very strongly on an editorial if I want to ignore the stress and anxiety. Thanks to all this I did something I never thought I would do - reject making an editorial. What's worse is that this time, the div1 hard in SRM 575 is not so hard :(

I currently think that Dr. google is a terrible doctor. Regardless of good intentions and that there is accurate information out there, there is also inaccurate information, and overall, even accurate information may not be understood by people with no medicine knowledge. It gives you reasons and excuses to panic. Also, be a critical thinker. Reports from internet users about drug side effects are most likely to be negative. When a person takes a pill and has no side effect, she has no reason to say anything about it.

Weight loss

I am feeling better. As part of a weight loss initiative, I have begun to eat half of what I used to eat at lunch, breakfast and diner. And will not eat outside of schedule. I am also waking up at 6:00 to go take a walk and attempt to run. I am already losing weight, but I know that this will be a long-term project.

What I had was mostly hysteria. But I think that feeling proximity to heart disease, even though it is imagined (although the risk factors are not). Was what I really needed to make changes to my life style. For a small time, the risk really felt real to me.

For the public service announcement part. Don't neglect your health. I also think that my prospects would have been much better if I made these life style changed far earlier than 28 years old. Have routine checks, eat healthier and avoid a sedentary life. Because one night, your health neglects might hit you like a brick. If you take a proactive role instead of waiting to get hit, you will most likely have less stress issues when dealing with it. Also, it is not that bad. I really didn't expect that I could just halve my portions and I don't feel hungry or anything.

Update: I intended to write this paragraph since I started this post, but it seems I forgot: Not only will your neglected health hit you like a brick, when it happens, it will cause discomfort to your life and make you unable to do the things you like (at best for a while). So just focusing in the things you like to do and not leaving time for your health (because you feel you don't have enough time) will eventually be counter-productive.

I had multitude of signals that I needed to change; and I ignored them. For example, last year when I went to the TCO, it was clear that almost everyone (finalists, sponsor employess) was at least relatively fit. I am starting to suspect that better body health might play a factor in coding contest performance. I even remember reading more than one interview with high level coders suggesting physical exercise, but I can't find them.


0x1337 said...

Hello vexorian, I was quite shocked reading your post.

I do hope you get better soon, and don't give up on the initiatives!

farzee said...

Get well soon vexorian. I have greatly enjoyed reading your editorials and I am sure you are more than capable of improving your health once you put your mind to it. I have the curse of high blood pressure as well though it is not due to me being over weight, but its genetic. So it is really a curse, which I can't help avoid. However, that has made me more conscious of the dietary choices that I make and ensure that I put in a daily dose of cardio every day to ameliorate the damage caused by hypertension. I should mention that I've been mostly underweight throughout my life, except for the span of 3-4 years when I gained about 50 extra pounds. I did not like the way I appeared and finally decided to come back to how I have always been. It took about 2-3 years of committed weight loss effort (a lot of learning too) but it has been 4 years since and I have stabilized on a healthy life style, which helps me not worry about my weight any more since even though occasionally I do indulge in savory high caloric treats, but my day to day nutrition / exercise keeps me on track. The two most important things I have learned from my experience is that we must try to avoid as much as possible the processed foods. They don't satiate your appetite as much and are mostly junk calories. Replacing desserts with fruits is also part of it. Secondly, at your age, simply walking on flat roads albeit for an hour may not give you the optimum benefits. You might want to consider doing an exercise that actually 'stresses' your heart in a controlled manner by elevating it temporarily above a threshold that is still comfortable for you but not as comfortable as walking. Good luck with your weight loss plan and I am sure with a lower weight and even more endurance you'll be even better than you really are at programming and it will keep your brain intact too for a much longer duration. In summary two keys for a consistent weight loss 1. Healthy life style (not following some diet fad for a few months), 2. Cardio. Keep writing editorials. They are fun!

vexorian said...

Thank you guys.

For some reason the weight loss thing is not turning out to be so difficult. I can't believe it was so easy to just half my portions. I used to basically eat four dishes a day. Now I eat two. But I don't feel hungry. The hardest part is when I finish what in the past was the first dish of two, and I still want to taste the food and have to distract myself from wanting a bit more (force of habit), but it fades away in few minutes.

Then I am *trying* running. The first time was quite brutal for my body and my legs hurt for 3 days and I couldn't run. But today, now that my legs are feeling better I decided to do homework before running and actually learned some basics. http://running.about.com was very useful. Today I gave a try to the recommended thing for beginners. I ran more than on Sunday, but I don't feel tired and my legs don't hurt. I have to gradually improve so that I run more.

0x1337 said...

Yes I think maybe it's just a matter of habit and being motivated. Once you start seeing results like you just did, I think you will continue doing it. I just started doing some "anaerobic" exercices too at home and the results are quite impressive, you feel fit for long periods of time and can even think much more clearly =)

Petar Minchev said...

I also read regularly your blog. Get well soon!

Although I am not fat or whatever (actually I am pretty slim), I started going to fitness a week ago, so I can gain some muscles. Till now I stayed on the chair the whole day and coded:D The stress level reduced, my mind is far clearer and I feel so much better. So I think going to fitness and keeping fit should make your whole life better, not only the performance in programming contests.

steve said...

Hope you get well soon, vexorian.
http://www.fourmilab.ch/hackdiet/www/hackdiet.html is something that might be helpful to you.

tsenkov said...

Hi vexorian,

I just started boxing a month ago, and I would highly recommend it.
It has a lot of both types of training - aerobic and anaerobic. I am not doing any sparring (at least for now), so now violence is inflicted by others. (it stays strictly between me and the heavy bag :) )

I decided to share it, because I used to run for quite awhile and it didn't really worked out with my knees getting hurt. Then I started swimming, but once I got to a straight hour and a half of swimming, it started to be a pretty boring exercise (although quite safe for your joints and excellent as a way to exercise your entire body).

At the same time boxing is always different and interesting (when the coach is good), it is THE ultimate exercise (weight loss/power/strength), it is a self-defense technique and takes pretty much the same time as would a good jog.

Anyways, whatever method will you pick, just don't give up!