14 December 2013

Living with histamine intolerance, part 2 – Cold showers and the road to stoicism and happiness

Some symptoms mentioned in this post come from other diagnosis than histamine intolerance. Read more in part 3.

My struggle with histamine intolerance continues but I feel great most of the time. There is not much information online and if there is, it's often contradictory and confusing. By sharing my experience I hope I'll help someone. As a bonus, you might learn about cold showers and ancient stoic philosophy.

Last year I wrote a very optimistic post after feeling great for 3 months. However, things got worse again soon after that. Thanks to Spotify's private insurance for employees, I was able to avoid long waiting times in the slightly dysfunctional Swedish public health care and talk to doctors more often.

It turned out that my diet was too restrictive with too much fiber and too little histamine, so I made some changes like eating more meat. I am now also taking medication, mostly histamine antagonists and also Daosin is essential if I want to travel or enjoy the occasional dinner in a restaurant. I am still trying to find the balance between different side effects. If my diet is too strict, I suffer from some side effects; if I take too much medication, it's other side effects.

Looking back, it was an awesome year since I wrote the previous post. The number of times I had excruciating pain in my stomach could be counted only on one hand (computer scientists: using unary encoding), which is a big iprovement. I did two research stays – two months in Switzerland and one month in California – I worried first about the unknown food but it went well in the end. I also had a lot of fun and I have been on many trips in 13 different countries. Travelling is easier than I thought, I just need to be prepared. And last but not least, after a very long time I had a date which I could fully enjoy without feeling any pain.

Cold showers and exercise

The best thing about Sweden is that in winter you can get ice-cold water in the shower. If I only get 4 hours of sleep for some reason, I take a cold shower, bike to work as fast as I can and I'm productive until late afternoon.

Cold showers are great and you are missing out if you are not taking them. One guy even said:
The world would be a better place if everyone took cold showers – Lukáš Poláček
Okay, okay, I'm quoting myself but this is my blog, so I can do whatever I want! I usually take a quick warm shower for 2 minutes, then turn the water to ice-cold, which in December is about 7 degrees Celsius, and continue for about 30 seconds. I also tried a 3-minute 15-degree shower, but I found it less effective for my purposes than the first variant with 30 ice-cold seconds.

The ice-cold water gets blood circulation going and your body starts to release endorphines. The feeling is very similar to the Runner's high you get after a run but without the tiredness caused by exercise. Cold shower has many more health benefits but I do it mostly for the ones I mentioned.

A couple of months ago I moved to central Stockholm, so everything is reachable within 15 minutes by bike. For the first time I don't have a public transport card and I love it, even though it's winter. Cycling in Swedish winter is more enjoyable than cycling in the rain and studded tires make it safer on ice than walking. Cycling is exercise, so it's also very good for waking up.

I recently read Fight Club and it became one of my favorite books. I can relate to some of the excellent quotes in it:
You aren't alive anywhere like you're alive at fight club. – Chuck Palahniuk: Fight Club
I wasn't alive anywhere like I was alive beyond the Arctic Circle while ski touring in the worst weather.

Kolo skinning up to Tarfala
The medication and strict diet can make me tired and lethargic. I discovered that the best cure for these side effects are cold showers and exercise. They both make me feel alive again.

A little bit of philosophy

My diagnosis has taught me a lot about life. This year I stumbled upon stoicism, which is a very interesting philosophy that I was slowly reinventing myself. According to Mr Money Mustache, the core of the philosphy is: "To have a good and meaningful life, you need to overcome your insatiability". Cold shower is an example of stoic activity but how can I further apply stoicism?
  • Instead of complaining that I only have one choice in a restaurant, I'm grateful for having that one choice.
  • Instead of complaining that I can only run twice a week, I'm grateful that I am able to run.
  • Instead of complaining that I get a migraine once a month, I'm grateful that it's not every day.
Complaining does not help with things I cannot control. My metabolism will not change by complaining. On the other hand, expressing gratitude will help me to be happier. I still want to find the best combination of diet, exercise and medication, but if it stays this way for the rest of my life, I'll be fine with that. It is interesting that stoicism has existed for thousands of years and scientific research now confirmed that it was (mostly) correct.
I have spent my whole life scared, frightened of things that could happen, might happen, might not happen, 50-years I spent like that. Finding myself awake at three in the morning. But you know what? Ever since my diagnosis [lung cancer], I sleep just fine. – Walter White in Breaking Bad
Walter got cancer, which is worse than what I have, but I can relate to his words. The amount of pain I had in the last 3 years is more than I would wish to my worst enemy. There is more pain to be had but I'm not afraid and I know I'll be alright.