Anxiety is a chameleon. On my best friend, it looks like agoraphobia. On my ex-girlfriend, it looked like depression. And in 2012, I looked in the mirror and realized that on me, it looked like hypochondria. I had Lyme disease on Tuesday, every single rare form of cancer in a matter of weeks, and of course in October of 2014 I had Ebola.
In April of this year, I went home to California to visit my family and that means visiting the entire town as well, because the population is just 2,400. Normally I leave with pictures, memories, food my grandma thinks I can reasonably fly cross-country with, and some small-town souvenirs to laugh about with my big city friends. Sadly, I left instead with the burned images of one of my closest friends and her declining state of progressive MS. My empathy and deep sadness for her situation manifested itself in a whirlwind of anxieties! I can recite every single symptom, precursor, statistic, outcome, treatment option, and trial program in place for MS. For a hypochondriac, MS is like the ‘boss’ at the end of a video game. The symptoms are vague, mimic countless other conditions, and anxiety is one of them. Suddenly my vision is lacking, I am feeling tingling in hands and feet, I’m exhausted, and I’m booking appointments at every doctor imaginable. I sat for weeks with ‘symptoms’ and finally booked an appointment at my primary care doctor to explain my situation. He’s known me for 6 years now and when he handed me a referral list I was completely terrified by what specialist he would suggest. Neurologist? Endocrinologist? Am I getting an MRI? A spinal tap? What could it be??
What was highlighted on the page was both laughable and serious.
I sat with that for a while.
I mean in New York, a while is like, the train ride home.
I sat on my couch staring at an off television and I just thought – this isn’t fair. Why do I have the fears of the world? Why do I create these problems for myself? I live my life as if I have a debilitating disease and I’m not even sick. And after asking myself an unreasonable amount of questions in a short period of time I felt a sense of comfort in being able to identify the unknown. Ambiguity is hard, but knowing what you don’t know is absolute bliss because you can build around it. I felt immediately empowered and the next three hours of my evening changed everything.
I decided that there was a way to answer these questions and I had all the tools to do it. I’m huge in to the Internet of Things. I will buy a connected device in beta over a well-known analog or ‘off the grid’ device. I love technology and my lifestyle supports building a personal ecosystem of data. I track all of my food, I track my fitness, I track my sleep, so why can’t I track my symptoms? I can. I used Symple to create a baseline on symptoms at time of day.
From there, I built a Google form that had the following fields:
This created a spreadsheet with timestamps that I was able to analyze at will. The first thing I learned? Something happens at noon on weekdays that spikes my anxiety. (Am I hungry? 🙂 )
Stand alone trends are for the narrow minded, let’s connect more data! Datameer’s mission is to make big data simple for everyone to use. Connecting the Google results was easy, but connecting my food and nutrition intake was magical. My plan isn’t to cure hypochondria with a change in diet- but I could be in control of the external factors that contribute to anxiety. I can anticipate, prevent, react, and understand by looking at my personal data. For the purposes of this post (and personal privacy), I’ll keep the granular symptoms out of the report but I did track and analyze:
The intention of this article is not to say that data is the answer for everything – but you can take ownership of your personal data, behaviors, and understand the impact of your small daily choices; you can empower yourself. Anxiety is a difficult problem to solve, but there’s so much information available and the more you know, the more you can self assess your rational versus irrational fears.
Do I have MS? According to the data, no. Do I have to live my life thinking that I have every single disease and just wonder if every sensation I get is a symptom? Definitely not. I can control, reduce, and moderate behaviors that result in anxiety and make a positive impact on the way that I feel by listening to the world around me. I can get a therapist, that’s a data point. I can change my diet, that’s a data point. I can go on vacation, change jobs, move to warmer weather, learn a language- all data points, and I’m listening with Datameer.
In November of 2015 I will run an Iron Man with some of my colleagues raising awareness and research funds for MS because today, I’m strong enough to help fight this disease and it’s my responsibility to those less fortunate to take advantage of my strengths- instead of focusing on what might be wrong. And hey, according to the data this much exercise should feel pretty good!
This is my example of making data personal.