Little projects and challenges keep me moving forward.
I love going on adventures and having unique experiences, but life with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has reined that in to a certain extent. Of course, the pandemic has a lot to answer for, too.
In addition to pain, inflammation and disability, RA imposes a surcharge on lifestyle. Expectations may need to be modified. Adventures and experiences curtailed.
Those of you who have been following my blog know that when the pool closed in 2020, I began OND (Operation North Delta). I enjoyed it so much that I went on to walk every residential street in White Rock (OWR), Tsawwassen (OT) and Ladner (OL).
In the fall, I began Operation New Westminster (ONW). By my estimation, I have ten more outings. Then I can take off my shoes for that particular adventure.
I had the pleasure to be interviewed by Donna White for Bayview Magazine: Marianna Paulson: The Auntie Stress of Anti-Stress.
However, sometimes the project is closer to home.
Then, I had an epiphany. I don't have to work on it for hours at a time; I can do a row or three, then set it aside. I can apply the same principle that I use when I go on my walking projects. Bit by bit, knit by purl, I can inch my way through the project. I have no deadline to meet, just the joy and satisfaction I get from doing something with my hands. Something creative and, in the end, something useful.
About Those Molecules
As is often the case, there is a link between what I'm reading and what I'm writing. The Molecule of More primarily discusses the role dopamine plays in our live.
"Creativity is an excellent way to mix together dopamine and H&N [Here and Now molecules]... But there are more ordinary forms of creativity that anyone can practice, acts of creation that promote balance, rather than dopaminergic dominance.
Woodworking, knitting, painting, decorating, and sewing are old-fashioned activities that don't get much attention in our modern world- which is exactly the point. These activities don't require smartphone apps or high-speed internet. They require brains and hands working together to create something new. Our imagination conceives the project. We develop a plan to carry it out. Then our hands make it real." - Daniel Z. Lieberman and Michael E. Long, p. 220
Here and Now Neurotransmitters
H&N neurotransmitters include serotonin (the calming chemical), oxytocin (the love hormone), endorphins (brain's version of morphine) and endocannabinoids (brain's version of marijuana). H&N neurotransmitters contribute to feelings of joy, bliss and delight.
Dopamine (the anticipation molecule or feel-good neurotransmitter) enjoys the thrill of the hunt, rather than successfully hunting. Dopamine wants "more" but can become dissatisfied once it has attained what it wants.
However, when dopamine runs amok, it's a driver of addictive behaviours. It can push people into having affairs. It can also explain why some people have difficulty appreciating what they have; there's always something better on the horizon.
In the Dopamine Nation, Anna Lemke, MD, provides visuals that explain the close relationship between pain and pleasure and what happens on the dopamine "teeter-totter."
"We've all experienced craving in the aftermath of pleasure. Whether it's reaching for a second potato chip or clicking the link for another round of video games, it's natural to want to re-create those good feelings or try not to let them fade away. The simple solution is to keep eating, or playing, or watching, or reading. But there's a problem with that.
With repeated exposure to the same or similar pleasure stimulus, the initial deviation to the side of pleasure gets shorter and the after-response to the side of pain gets stronger and longer, a process scientists call neuroadaptation. That is, with repetition, our gremlins get bigger, faster, and more numerous, and we need more of our drug of choice to get the same effect.
Needing more of a substance to feel pleasure, or experiencing less pleasure at a given dose, is called tolerance. Tolerance is an important factor in the development of addiction." - Anna Lembke, p. 53
Eric Weiner discusses pleasure in a chapter fittingly called "How to Enjoy," in The Socrates Express (a delightful book, by the way). In essence, I believe that this hints at a dopaminergic response.
"Beyond a certain point, Epicurus believed, pleasure cannot be increased - just as bright sky cannot get any brighter - but only varied.That new pair of shoes or smart watch represents pleasure varied, not increased. Yet our entire consumer culture is predicated on the assumption that pleasure varied equals pleasure increased. This faulty equation causes needless suffering...
...The Epicureans, ensconced behind their garden walls, lived a simple life but one punctuated by lavish feasts. They knew that luxury is best enjoyed intermittently, and welcomed whatever goodness came their way.Epicureanism is a philosophy of acceptance, and its close cousin, gratitude. When we accept something, truly accept it, we can't help but feel gratitude." - Eric Weiner, p. 110
By cultivating a healthy feeling of appreciation you are on your way to addressing and undressing your stress, as well.
What's Up and Down with Dopamine, Anyway?
Dr. Andrew Huberman explains how dopamine encouraged our forebears to leave the "comfort" of "home" in order to forage, gather and/or hunt. When you understand this, I believe that you have a better handle on how to make better use of it today.
Normal levels of dopamine help to drive creativity and activate the imagination. It increases energy, enthusiasm and hope. Add in some intermittent luxuries - that dopamine surge is followed by a drop below baseline. That explains why you may be left with a feeling of dissatisfaction, even depression, after the successful completion of a race or an event or skill that you worked hard to attain.
Back to My Little Projects and Challenges
Subsequently, as I work on my little projects and challenges, I'm provided with variety, novelty and an opportunity to do something different, .
Part of the fun of striving to complete those projects and challenges is to be able to say, “I did it!” That gives me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
Life with a chronic illness can often be about subtraction. This is about addition, even if it's measured in small numbers. And yes, that's something for which I'm grateful!