Not mine anymore.



Face-down on the operating table, I’m not yet numb. This part had escaped my meticulous mental preparation — not so meticulous after all — and when I realize that the numbing portion of the day’s festivities will involve injections of lidocaine, the familiar effervescence of panic travels across the backs of my arms and into my scalp.

I lose track after the twelfth injection. And you know how I love to count things. I have experienced lidocaine injections before, for dental work, and once for a cut on my finger that required stitches, but nothing compares to the precise, bee-sting pain of multiple injections. My breathing exercises work to a point, but it takes a lot more than breathing exercises for me to sit still while someone hurts me. I wish I had something as cool as Sherlock’s mind-palace. There isn’t even a tropical beach with swaying palm trees waiting for me in my mind. Visual imagination is not a strength of mine, so where I go in my head is a facsimile of a rundown, cramped office of the psychiatric resident I saw twice a week while I lived in Alabama.

I take a deep breath. The nurse says, “You’re doing so well!” and she sounds surprised. “Most people really hate this part.”

I really hate this part, I think as I exhale. But I am also my parents’ daughter, and I know how to put on a brave face when I think my discomfort might put someone else out.

When all of the numbing has taken effect, the part I still can’t fathom happens. It is a routine procedure and yet a piece of my skin is being removed, and my brain hamster-wheels as it tries to square these two things. I feel tugged at in a way that I did not expect; maybe I expected it to be more like opening a handbag, pulling out a glasses-case, and snapping me shut again. My eyes have been closed most of the time but they pop open as the surgeon calls softly to the nurse, and I see him pass a piece of my flesh over to her, settling it gently in a jar of clear liquid. Suddenly I picture a long line of glowing specimens in jars at the Museum of Science and Industry.

“O,” I say, louder than I mean to do.

“Everything okay?” the surgeon asks. He is at least ten years younger than I am.

“Yes,” I say, and it is, and it isn’t. The panic has receded, replaced by boring old nausea.

“We send this off to the lab for tests. To make sure,” the surgeon says. He does not need to finish the sentence.

Pain peels back my manners enough that I ask for more lidocaine during the sutures. It takes so much longer to sew me up that I feel like a sock that is too worn through to be darned, every stitch opening a bigger hole. Eventually the surgeon places a waterproof bandage over the site. My arms and legs are starting to shake when I slowly sit up.

“It’s the lidocaine,” the nurse explains. I’m wound up like a mechanical toy, limbs paddling air, waiting to be let go. She has a piece of me in a jar in a plastic bag. It seems rude to leave it behind but it’s not mine anymore.

Writing from: a quiet study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: “Cave” by Future Islands. The surgery described above happened two months ago; I’m already healed and everything was benign. Still processing it, apparently.

Beyond step counts with Exist

Beyond Step Counts with Exist

I’ve tracked data on my daily life since I was seven years old, fiddling with the tiny gold-tone lock on my first daily diary. Later, when I discovered the “quantified self” movement, some larger lock in my brain would release: I didn’t only want data, I wanted meaning.

I’ve been searching for this meaning by tracking fitness (daily step counts and workouts), as well as the following:

  • Sleep (hours and quality)
  • Vitals (weight and heart rate)
  • Food (calories and nutrients)
  • Mood
  • Productivity
  • Media (books read, music listened to, films watched, etc.)

But tracking alone is not meaningful. In fact, it can be the opposite. Those of us with fitness trackers often have a goal of taking 10,000 steps a day, and we are rewarded with brightly-colored graphics when we’ve met that goal. But what about getting 10,000 steps a day while sleeping fewer hours than we need each night? And how do sugar and caffeine consumption impact activity, sleep, productivity, mood, or all four?

Not long ago, I discovered an app called Exist which promised a way to pull all of the data I tracked together to find meaningful correlations. I was skeptical, but game. And Exist turned out to be a marvelous way for me to stop focusing on hitting a step count each day and start thinking about my physical and mental health in a more comprehensive way.

I could get side-tracked by all the weird correlations that Exist has uncovered — like how I get fewer steps when I listen to Blood Orange — but instead I will share the ones that are most important to me right now: how sleep impacts other important aspects of my life.

On the dashboard, I get an overview of my sleep over the past seven days. The white checkmarks indicate that I met my sleep goal for that day, a goal that Exist determines for me based on past averages and trends. Ah, sleeping in on Saturdays!

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Trends are all well and good, but the correlations are where Exist gets interesting. This one is an obvious one: my mood is higher when I get more sleep.

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Aha, and sugar intake … well, that’s also obvious.

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I get more work done when I sleep less. Yeah, well.

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The confidence on this correlation isn’t very high, but I’m still curious about an earlier bedtime impacting my step count.

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Exist’s new “Optimize” feature suggests that my mood might improve if I try to get more than seven and a half hours of sleep.

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These are just a few of the insights that Exist has provided me for the data I track. Here is where I blow your mind: look at the full list of services that Exist integrates with (see their FAQs for more info):

  • Jawbone UP: steps, sleep, weight, workouts, food, water
  • Fitbit: steps, sleep, weight, workouts, food, water
  • Misfit: steps, sleep, workouts
  • Moves: steps, location
  • Apple Health: steps, sleep, workouts, heart rate, food, water
  • Google Fit: steps, workouts, weight
  • Withings: steps, sleep, weight
  • Runkeeper: steps, weight, workouts
  • Strava: workouts
  • Mood: mood rating and note (this is built-in to Exist, not an external service—you can use our daily email service or our mobile apps to rate your mood each day)
  • RescueTime: time spent productively, neutral time, distracting time
  • Todoist: tasks completed
  • GitHub: commits
  • Google, iCloud, iCal Calendars: events, time spent in events
  • Dark Sky: weather conditions (requires Swarm, Moves, or Exist for Android to get location)
  • Swarm: check-ins, location
  • Instagram: posts, comments, likes
  • tracks played
  • Twitter: tweets, mentions
  • Spotify, Deezer, iTunes, and more: via

That’s enough of me blathering on about it. Sign up now for a free 30-day trial of Exist, plus another month free! If this isn’t your bag but you know someone with a fitness tracker who is motivated by more than step counts, share this post with them.

Day 239 of Project 365: Drink lots of fluids.


I accidentally ingested gluten today from a restaurant that FunkyPlaid and I really like that has items marked “gluten-free” on their menu. When this happens I am always torn between never eating at a restaurant again and wanting to be a normal human being.

Stupid disease.

When this happens the best thing I can do is drink lots of fluids. Normally I dislike ice in my water, but we’re experiencing another heatwave …

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Writing from: the future! Yep, catch-up time again. Listening to: the crackle of ice cubes melting.

Day 227 of Project 365: Step goals.


I’ll say one thing for a long transit commute and a mildly strenuous job: I hit my daily step goal about four or five days a week without even trying.

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A few months ago, my Misfit Shine fitness tracker stopped working for a while. I tried to go back to my old fitness tracker, and even flirted with the idea of giving up on fitness trackers entirely. But in the end I strapped my Misfit back on and kept counting steps. I’m still skeptical about this “quantified self” concept but the blinking lights do encourage me to move more.

My Misfit also tracks sleep, but I am not doing very well with that. I didn’t hit my sleep goal at all last week, and I won’t again tonight because I am up too late writing this post.

Writing from: my study. Listening to: FunkyPlaid watching NFL preseason.

Day 220 of Project 365: Gluten-free treats.


I’m feeling a bit ill tonight after a run of generally good health days. I sometimes forget how precarious that health can be, so tonight’s photo is of two gluten-free treats that make me happy. The guide was a gift from Courtney, and I’m looking forward to visiting all of the gluten-free restaurants and bakeries listed in it. The cookies are a fairly tasty find from Fred Meyer that are not only gluten-free but vegan too. It’s tough to do both well.

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Writing from: my study. Listening to: my stomach grumble.