Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Why I find associating dates with memory tags important

It being the 6 August, my morning review involved a quick run through the images pinned to my mental calendar for every day of the past month.

On Sunday 6 July I ran my first half marathon. Only a month ago. This surprised me. It seems a lot longer. I was unsure how it would go as I was recovering from an injury, but since then I have gone from strength to strength, embarked on a training programme for my next half marathon in September, and have run a 10 km race. The half marathon landmark feels like it should be further away given the progress along that road.

By contrast, when I came to Saturday 12 July, I found it hard to believe the memory captured was not more recent. I took my parents on an outing to old haunts. They are less mobile now and don't travel far on their own. We had a very enjoyable time and I suppose that is why it still seems fresh.

That same day Brazil was beaten by Holland in the 3rd place play-off in the soccer world cup. The following day, Germany beat Argentina to raise the trophy. Both events and the tournament as a whole already feel consigned to history. So 12 July left me perplexed, containing memories both recent and far away.

The following weekend, 19 and 20 July, I had a great time cycling with friends. I am glad I will not forgot those days and will revisit them forevermore in reviews. Again, it seems a shock they have already receded so far.

It was Sunday 27 July when I ran the 10 km race. Just over a week ago, but already done and dusted as my focus is on the training runs scheduled for this week.

Last week, I was preparing and travelling to a conference that took place at the weekend. The images for the week come as a package, linked together. But that package now has the lid closed and is tied up with string. I would probably think little more of it, except my review process stops it fading to nothing.

If these images were not pinned to my mental calendar, but simply drifted into my recollection, no doubt I would be hard-pressed to place them.

My sense of the time passed since an event is unreliable.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Run through

I have mentioned in past posts how sometimes I am surprised when I review the imaged pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags to find events were so recent, or so long, ago.

As an experiment, here is a quick review for the images for the 22nd of each month from when I began this process of remembering every day that passes. I want to explore whether they feel as long ago as they should be, amongst other things.

So here goes.

22 December 2011 (Thursday): Christmas shopping with my wife and niece - without this tag, I would be hard pressed to remember this specific outing or that it took place in 2011.

22 January 2012 (Sunday): Watched the film, The Artist, with aching legs after a run. Would not have a clue the year it came out without this tag.

22 February 2012 (Wednesday): Conversation with a work guest. Planning for a significant event in December 2012. Seems like it was over two years ago.

22 March 2012 (Thursday): Collecting my wife from her language clash – the road was blocked. Captures that whole time of 9 months living in a particular flat in my country. A happy and more settled time. Glad I can remember it. Similar periods in earlier years are very indistinct and shapeless, just odd memories.

22 April 2012 (Sunday): Lunch at a favourite restaurant. Our first visit on moving back to my country after living in my wife's till the end of November 2011. I remember where we sat and what we had to eat. The same is true of subsequent visits. Previously they would likely have merged into one.

22 May 2012 (Tuesday): Trip to a nearby town as time of lieu after a working weekend. Probably would have forgotten all about this otherwise. But it was the first time we visited a particular café.

22 June 2012 (Friday): Wrote a report on a work success. This is a matter of history. Seems a long time ago - but then nearly two years is a long time, brought home to me by being able to remember every single day between then and now.

22 July 2012 (Sunday): Relatives of my wife's who were visiting returned home. Yup. Two years ago. That's a long time. Almost possible to see I have aged a little – certainly there have been some experiences along the way since then.

22 August 2012 (Wednesday): Sheltered in the rain with my wife before heading home to watch the Olympics closing ceremony on television. Of course, we would remember it was 2012.

22 September 2012 (Saturday): Final Saturday in our flat as we plan to move to return to my wife's country. A period that had seemed settled, was just a short chapter in our lives.

22 October 2012 (Monday): We returned to my wife's country to find my niece seriously ill – we didn't know when we went with her on this day for her first chemotherapy session at an out-patient clinic that she would not be with us 13 months later. These memories are precious as she is now frozen in the past.

22 November 2012 (Thursday): I had to sort out my visa for travelling for the conference discussed back in February. This process gives me landmarks to track the progress of stories like this.

22 December 2012 (Saturday): A gathering of family and friends for my niece.

22 January 2013 (Tuesday): Staying along at my sister-in-law's holiday apartment to work while my wife stays with our niece. Today I was sorting out a problem with the electrical supply.

22 February 2013 (Friday): Riding my bike to the swimming pool in our home town in my wife's country. It is the sound of the chain running through my cycling helmet that reminds me of this day.

22 March 2013 (Friday): A session with a physiotherapist as part of a course on global postural re-education (described elsewhere on this blog). It began on 21 February 2013. This has now become part of my routine. Again, I would not know when I first began this regime without following this process.

22 April 2013 (Monday): After nearly a month away from our home town, we are back with my mother and sister-in-law. Seems more than a year ago. My mother-in-law was taken ill while she was with us, so a difficult time. She's better now. Perhaps that's why I want to feel it is behind us.

22 May 2013 (Wednesday): Back in my country - on this day we travelled from my parents where we first stayed, to a house rented near my office. Something I could easily have forgotten. But I have the details of where we stayed, going for a walk on this first afternoon then and stopping for a drink.

22 June 2013 (Saturday): A 5 km race. This was organised by a running club I would go on to join. My wife had returned to her country to care for her niece. A year later, I was a volunteer helping to organise this race. In that year, I progressed to run 10 km races and read a lot about training and theory. It is encouraging to see how far I have come in a year, with still a long way to go.

22 July 2013 (Monday): A year ago today. What was I doing on this day? Not running as I had sore knees from running my first 5 mile race two days before. Usually thinking back to the same date a year before brings home just how long a year is. In the first 18 months or so of this process, I would sometimes do a long run through of every day from when I began. On a long solo car journey was a good time. There are two many days now, but perhaps I should run through the past year once in a while. Every day I get up. Do it 365 times and a year has passed.

22 August 2013 (Thursday): My mother went to the memory clinic for an assessment as her short-term memory is failing her. She was 74 at the time. They did not prescribe anything at that time, though they would later. Her coping strategies had masked the actual changes to her brain. 'At least I'm in the system', she said when she came back. I took my parents out to lunch to get on with life.

22 September 2013 (Sunday): My wife was back in time for my father's 80th birthday. We gave him an iPod and took him on a surprise trip to meet up with my brother and his family. In some ways, this day seems longer ago than less than a year. Why might that be, I wonder?

22 October 2013 (Tuesday): I can't reach my wife on the phone, but see her walking home as I cycle back. Her phone has broken. A memory I would probably not keep were it not for following this process, but I am glad to have it.

22 November 2013 (Friday): My has returned to her country to care for her niece, in time to be there for her final three weeks of life. In the end she died suddenly and was buried quickly. I am tying up loose ends so I can join her and the family for an extended period.

22 December 2013 (Sunday): So in my wife's country once more. A sister-in-law has a 60th birthday, but it is a subdued affair, remembering our niece. It is only recently that the six-month window of my more in-depth review (two days per week) has moved beyond this period. Relinquishing 2013 was a wrench. Now it is surprising that 2014 is already over half done.

22 January 2014 (Wednesday): My wife an I are staying in the holiday flat again for a month. Today the family who lost a daughter are arriving.

22 February 2014 (Saturday): A haircut. One of the recurring events I choose to remember. My barber when we are home is now 82 and I am pleased to find him still cutting the hair of his old faithful clients on Saturdays. His hands shake now and though he is still competent, not going to instill confidence in new customers.

22 March 2014 (Saturday): Back to my country once more. We have always moved between the two, but I am hard pressed to know for sure where we were before I began this process. Once I had to work it out for bureaucratic reasons and went through my passport stamps. For the past three years, I know from my memory. I've written before how this process changes the nature of the transitions: I am not so dislocated from the two lives we lead in different countries.

22 April 2014 (Tuesday): It is surprising that so much of 2014 has already been consigned to my memory. For the first month or so, I still felt rooted in 2013. On this day I drove to the office to unload the car of resources I had been using. The following day, I pulled a tendon in my knee, opening a chapter of recovery and treatment that closed on 6 July when I ran my first half marathon.

22 May 2014 (Thursday): I bought a foam roller as part of the process of getting back into running after my injury.

22 June 2014 (Sunday): The day after I volunteered to help at the 5 km race I ran the year before. A whole year gone by since then. On this day, I went for lunch with my parents before heading back to where I work.

22 July 2014 (Tuesday): And so to today. Another day that will be captured in an image pinned to my mental calendar. I'm not sure what it will be yet. That will come as I lay down to sleep and run through each memory tag for the past month, ending with today.

Looking back, that's snapshots of 32 days, capturing some of the significant – and not so significant – events of the past three years.

Tomorrow I will run through the 23rd of each month, usually in short annual block because the small blocks of time it takes fit easily around other activities.

Some years, I run through in minutes. Other times a day will stop me short and make me reflect, perhaps reminding me of other times beyond this arbitrary window of remembering.

Other days of the month capture other events. For example, the above sequence totally misses out the recent soccer world cup that figures in recent memory tags.

I don't know where this is heading. In ten years time will I run through 120 images at some point during the day? Will I have given up? Will my review process have developed so I can still find the memories, but don't call them to mind so often?

This sequence will come round again in a month's time. Today will then be captured in a memory tag.

While the past cannot be re-written, I have a new perception of it with each review. Stories progress. Situations change.

Perhaps, imperceptibly, I become a different person to who I was in my memories.

In praise of physiotherapists - part two

A while ago (19 May 2014) I wrote in praise of physiotherapists after I pulled the ligament by my inner right knee. I visited a phsyio for guidance on how to recover and instead also gained a diagnosis on changing my running style through stretching different muscles to avoid problems in future.

As I go through the reviews of my memory tags, the story plays out as follows:

21 April 2014: I set out to try running at a half marathon pace of 6 mins/km to see how it felt – and ended up running a half marathon distance (21 km).

23 April 2014: Confident I had it in me to complete a half marathon, I started to think about training for one. But on my run this day, I felt a tear near my right knee and had to walk home with it burning.

25 April 2014: One thing this process of remembering every day that passes bring home, is that episodes pass. To show my believe in this fact, when I saw an early-bird discount for a full marathon next April, I signed up. In the afternoon, I visited the sports shop and looked for a new pair of running shoes. The age of my old ones may have contributed to my injury.

26 April 2014: Instead of running in the park as usual on a Saturday morning, my wife and I went for a walk.

27 April 2014: Today we cycled. My knee could cope with this.

2 May 2014: I bought the new running shoes. But had still not returned to running.

9 May 2014: I visited the physio for advice on whether to rest or to exercise etc. Came away with exercises to help me change my gait. Told not to run for a week.

19 May 2014: Checked out clips on running gait and wrote the post In praise of physiotherapists - part one. The title was in expectation that one day I would write this post.

21 May 2014: Tried a short run. Muscles ached, but knee okay.

22 May 2014: Bought a foam roller to massage muscles.

26 May 2014: Went on a 40 km cycle ride as cross training.

28 May 2014: Started running again. Now doing my exercises each day.

8 June 2014: Ran a 10 km race. Knee fine, but bad approach, going out too fast and struggling at the end.

15 June 2014: Ran another 10 km race. This time, purposely started out slowly and build up the pace for a strong finish, passing many of those who passed me at the beginning in the second half of the race. Feeling back on track and looked for a half marathon to enter.

20 June 2014: Went for a haircut prior to seeing the physio okay to evaluate progress. The barber sneers at the idea of visiting a physio saying he had never met one who knew anything useful. I beg to differ, saying mine had dealt with my injury and the root cause of the problem.

6 July 2014: Ran my first ever half marathon – in just under two hours.

That was 10 weeks from injury to achieving my goal of running a half marathon.

Some of the above milestones along the way come up in each of my reviews.

Life is lived forwards, but understood looking backwards. This story now has a beginning, middle and end.

Now I am in a new chapter: building toward my first marathon in April 2015.

Monday, 14 July 2014


I visited my parents at the weekend.

My mother's memory is starting to go and so she repeatedly shares the same news and asks the same questions.

We took a drive out to visit some old haunts. She kept commenting it seemed a long time since we had been to them.

I could tell her when and the circumstances of our last visits.

Before I began this process of remembering every day that passes, I would have been almost as uncertain as her. Was it just last year? At another place, was it really two years ago?

This is the payback for the effort of developing these skills.

It is becoming easier with time. I am more routinely using the full-date tagging approach I have blogged on previously. When I recall the image for today it will be associated with 14 January 14.

Knowing the year is becoming more important as they begin to mount up. For a while, I was losing my way between years, but this technique seems to have resolved that problem.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Blood glucose

So I gave up processed sugar on 16 June 2014. Going to find a book on the subject having decided it was a healthy option is in my memory tag for the day.

I've been reading up since then and following a low GI diet: eating natural foods, predominantly those with a low glycaemic index.

I have lost a bit of weight (now down to 80 kg – BMI below 25) and reduced my body fat (23.8% – classified as 'good').

I feel better in a way that is difficult to explain.

A bit more comfortable in my body, never feeling stuffed. And with clearer eyesight, it seems. Which is reassuring given in my hypochondria attack back in March when beset by tiggling fingers, I ran on a beach with my eyes closed, thinking how it would be if I lost my sight. That worry has receded, though I do still have the tingling fingers, and cracking spine.

I am eating well and enjoying food. I do sometimes feel a little hungry and so snack between meals, as advised, but on healthy things like carrots, oranges and apples. Or crackers with peanut butter.

The GI diet is supposed to maintain blood sugar at a more balanced level through the consumption of carbohydrates that take longer to break down.

I thought I would find out what was happening to my blood sugar and so bought a test meter and finger pricker on 27 June (yes, it's in my memory tag).

I've done various tests since then and found my blood sugar is very stable. To see how it might have varied in the past, I turned the clock back and with my evening meal yesterday of low-fat french fries, fish in butter sauce and vegetables (I did eat pretty healthly in any case) had a can of coke, followed by an icecream. Oh, and a chocolate bar while I was cooking.

According to the nutrition app on my smartphone, I have topped 100g of sugar today. Over three-quarters will have been processed sugar, rather than natural sugars in fruit and vegetables.

The World Health Organisation recently dropped its recommendation on sugar intake to 5% of calories, or about 25g for a adult male. Reports on this and other sugar warnings started me thinking about giving up sugar in the first place.

Note, that the can of coke had 35g of sugar in it alone. The chocolate bar and ice cream each had 22g. So that's 79g of processed sugar, over three times the recommendation, in just three processed foods.

The results of my experiment do suggest I have a lower blood glucose spike following the GI diet.

I've only run this experiment once and there is a margin of error in readings, but here are the figures.

A fasting blood test (after 8 hours with no food) using my new meter gave me a blood glucose reading of 4.7 mmol/l. (I have a clinic fasting blood test result from 2012, which records a value of 4.3 mmol/l, so a similar order).

My high-sugar meal and drink gave me a peak of 7.9 mmol/l. I measured from about 20 minutes after eating (6.3 mmol/l) then at 20 to 30 minute intervals. The high reading was at nearly 50 minutes. At 75 minutes, I was down to 6.0 mmol/l.

After 2 hours I was down to 5.4 mmol/l and at 3 hours at 5.3 mmol/l. This seems to be my steady-state level between eating.

I measured my blood glucose the day before the high-sugar test as a control. I ate a similar meal without the processed high-sugar food and drink. An hour after eating, my blood glucose was 4.9 mmol/l. Two hours after eating it was 5.5 mmol/l. Which suggests it takes longer for the glucose to arrive and when it does, it is less dramatic.

Having made various measurements on other days before and after eating, it seems my blood glucose on the GI diet fluctuates between 4.8 to 5.8 mmol/l. One day I went for a 20-minute run an hour after eating and it dropped to 4.6 mmol/l, but an hour later recovered to 5.3 mmol/l without eating anything else. In fact, this was on a low-calorie day in the fasting diet I follow (two low-calorie days per week – see 'fast living' blog posts).

The peak of 7.9 mmol/l appears to show the impact of the high-sugar intake. It is within acceptable limits according to the literature I've read. My body produced insulin to instruct my cells to absorb glucose and the level dropped to the steady-state level in 2 hours.

But the swing is less marked with the GI diet. Apparently this translates into less risk of developing type-2 diabetes, which arises when cells become less responsive to the insulin signal and blood sugar can run out of control.

This has only been a snapshot test, but it does seem to support the theory.

The GI diet is no problem to follow, though it is making me averse to processed foods. There are whole aisles in the supermarket that I now ignore as they scream 'sugar' at me.

In fact, I am enjoying food more, even embarking on some of the recipes in the books I've been reading.

Goodness. I even baked my own wholemeal bread last week.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Goodbye to 2013

The current technique I use for refreshing the images pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags starts with me thinking of this date 6 months ago. From there I move to the same day of the week. My review involves recalling the images for the day before and the same day for every week until one month ago (from where I run through every day until yesterday).

This is usually my waking routine, sometimes extending into getting ready for the day.

So today being Wednesday 2 July, I first stepped to 2 January on my mental calendar and found it to be a Thursday. So my review began with Tuesday 31 December 2013. The each Tuesday and Wednesday of successive weeks.

In other words, this was the last time the 6-month window started in the year 2013.

I feel a sad sense of letting go with this realisation.

It was not a good year: a young niece passed away towards the end of it after an illness diagnosed a little over a year before that. So the memory tags for 2013 are punctuated by final days shared and moments of suffering.

I still revisit each day of the year, but now on a slower cycle.

At some point during the day, I recall the same date in each month. So a day per month, starting from 2 January 2011, through the 2nd of each month in 2012, 2013 and the 6 months of this year that have already passed.

As more distant days only come to mind once per month, they are sometimes a surprise. Today it was 2 December that struck me. My memory tag is standing on a street in the capital looking at the Christmas decorations.

Before I began this process, a memory like this might well have dwindled to nothing. Or if I recalled it, I might not remember to which year it related.

I bought a laptop on that trip – then went for a walk to look at the lights while they fitted a memory expansion board (ironically enough).

Without my memory tags I would be hard pressed to remember when or perhaps even where I bought the laptop I am using now.

So 2013 lives on.

 With the moments and the people that made up the days I lived through.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Pick a month

In recent days I have had difficulty locating some of the images pinned to my memory calendar as memory tags to remember each day that passes.

I was starting to wonder if this may be associated with my decision to give up sugar. As I mentioned recently a sugar rush from raisins (natural, but still with high on the glycaemic index) boosted my alertness on a long car journey (see 'no sugar' posts). Could the opposite be happening if my blood glucose is stabilising at a lower level, without the peaks and troughs brought on by processed sugar?

I don't think that was the cause. As is often the case, the days that presented problems were in the months that have most recently dropped out of my more comprehensive daily review of the past 6 months: September and October 2013 in particular.

I used the techniques I have developed to recover these lost images, though for some it was actually a day or two before they burst back into full vividness. I was starting to think maybe it was time to accept some days will be lost and that seemed to kick my brain into gear so I remembered the missing image was actually a particularly valuable memory I did not want to lose. That boosted my motivation.

Of particular benefit in locating them was running through each day of the specific month sequentially. The surrounding days provide context and triggers.

Starting my review today on 27 December 2013, it struck me that this month has been progressively dropping out of the 6-month review window. Instead of refreshing images every day, or at least twice each week, they are refreshed only once per month (see the link in the side panel to 'refresh technique' for more details of my current method).

So today I decided to do a run through of December. It was well worth it, as some of the memory tags really benefited from being dusted off. It can take time, however, as the images trigger other memories that are tempting to explore.

A year ago, when I had less days to remember since beginning this process, I would occasionally do a run through every day in sequence from when I started on 17 December 2011. I haven't done that for a long time and doubt I will have the time to do it again as the days continue to pile up. Perhaps if I have time to spare on my death bed.

But I think I will make a point of picking a month every now to run through each day.