Use this time as an opportunity to change

Reposting from Kottke:

Olga Khazan, writing for the NY Times in an essay adapted from her book Weird, tells us that if we’re not satisfied with our personalities, we can change them.

After all, the person who emerges from quarantine doesn’t have to be the same old you. Scientists say that people can change their personalities well into adulthood. And what better time for transformation than now, when no one has seen you for a year, and might have forgotten what you were like in the first place?

It was long thought that people just are a certain way, and they’ll remain that way forever. The Greek physician Hippocrates believed that people’s personalities were governed by the amounts of phlegm, blood, black bile and yellow bile that flowed through their bodies.

Modern science, of course, has long since discarded notions of bile and humors. And now, it appears the idea that our personalities are immutable is also not quite true. Researchers have found that adults can change the five traits that make up personality — extroversion, openness to experience, emotional stability, agreeableness and conscientiousness — within just a few months. Much as in Dr. Steffel’s case, the traits are connected, so changing one might lead to changes in another.

Put more succinctly: “Remember that your personality is more like a sand dune than a stone.”

Blame everything on cataclysmic events!

September 11, 2001 wreaked havoc on New York City, Washington, D.C. and my head. Lots of people have stories about where they were and how and when they saw the news. But rarely do people talk about how their lives were changed. Mine changed for the worse.

That date sent me into a tailspin. At the time, I was ending the second year in Chicago. I worked at the Merchandise Mart as a graphic and web designer. That morning on NPR, one of the journalists was explaining an accident in New York City that a plane had run into one of the twin towers. I tiredly shuffled into my living room from my kitchen slash bedroom in my studio apartment to turn on the TV. I turned it on to see smoke rising from one of the towers. As I stood there looking at it, another plane from seemingly nowhere hit the other tower, and I screamed.

I picked up the phone and called my mom. She was watching, too, and one of her first words was, “They are at it again.”

“Who?” I asked.

“The muslims.” As if I should just know that we had a culture war. But at the time, my little 25 year old brain wasn’t familiar with previous attacks by muslims on U.S. soil.

Like a good little robot, I showered, dressed and went to work. On the train standing with my hand above my head holding a bar, no one seemed to know about it. At one point, I bemoaned the planes hitting buildings under my breath. Someone heard me, and I said, “The planes that hit the twin towers in New York City. It’s scary weird.”

They responded, “What?”

“Didn’t you hear the news?”

Anyone within the sound of my voice looked my way. I said, “There were two planes that hit the twin towers in New York City this morning. No one knows why.”

People gasped, but we didn’t have little computers in our pockets back then so everyone had to wait to get to their computers at work to get more info.

The Merchandise Mart in Chicago is a HUGE building and on the front it says, “One World Trade Center.” As the news unfolded that it was a terrorist attack, we evacuated the building.

It rocked my world. I didn’t know how to cope with the idea that our country, where we are free and civilized, where we feel safe and not vulnerable, was now struck with agonizing dread and worry.

I went from an infrequent bar goer to a frequent one. The Shamrock, a little hole in the wall across from the north side of the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, became my after work destination almost every night of the week. I picked up pool. I smoked cigarettes. And even after leaving, I would have a couple more beers when I got home. It was, in a way, the worst months of my life.

This week, I had a realization about the pandemic. It wreaked havoc on my head, much like 9/11. I was doing okay at first. But then my best friend’s wife decided early on that she was going to leave him over a stupid argument they had.

It compounded the stress I already felt from the impending threat of dying from a disease we knew very little about. Then we sold our condo in Chicago. Stress upon stress sent me into a drinking binge that seemed to never end. I didn’t drink all day. But I drank every day.

And no matter how much I tried to talk myself out of it, I kept it up like a marathoner. What was I training for other than dying from complications with liver damage?

We bought a scale last October that measures body fat, metabolism, muscle mass, water weight, sperm count and brain activity. It turns out that I had gained weight over the year. I picked up more visceral fat (which is in your tummy and around your organs) and my brain was working at 1%. It was a wakeup call.

Belly fat is often seen as a beer belly. It gets ahold of your internal organs and is very difficult to get rid of.

I also noticed that my resting heart rate was getting higher and higher for longer periods of time. My Fitbit watch measures that.

I started working out with Tina. During the pandemic, we quit our gym membership and Tina subscribed to a body pump website. She bought weights and tried to keep up her routine the best she could. I did the class twice at the gym before the pandemic, so I decided I would try to keep it up. Since last October, I started doing it more frequently and over the course of time, my body fat number has gone down and my muscle mass number is going up.

I still have tons of work to do. I don’t want to quit drinking. But I need to get myself back to a level of moderation that looks more like pre-pandemic Jeremy.

Tina and I are not drinking from Monday to Thursday every week and we’ve started intermittent fasting thanks to a podcast we listened to with David Sinclair, a biologist who specializes in aging. His findings point to the idea that the longer you make your body hungry the more it has a chance to attack the cells that cause cancer, aging, and inflammation.

I discovered during the pandemic that my running injuries were not healing, and I think that I never let my body heal, because it was always trying to process the beer I was guzzling every day after five o’clock (somewhere).

Goodness I’m glad for technology that takes me into the parking lot and kicks my ass. If it weren’t for my watch and my scale, and a desire to perfect my inferiorities and weaknesses, I’d be a miserable fat mess.

I write this out, because it’s words like this that also encourage me. When someone posts that they are working out on social media, I always look at it and think, “I need to work out more.” And then I do.

Or someone posts, “I’m two years sober.” And I think, Shit, I need to slow the fuck down.

Or someone posts, “I’m an idiot.” And I think, “I am, too!”

Thanks to all the idiot drunks working out and sharing about it. You inspire me. I hope I inspire you.