The Importance of Environment

Think about the way your dentist’s office smells. When that smell is in the air, how does it affect you? Do you start to feel anxious or uncomfortable like you Would rather be anywhere else? Does it trigger memories of previous appointments, maybe that one time when the dentist poked the wrong spot and stabbed you in the gums?

Our environments have a much stronger influence on our feelings and behaviors than we often realize. Even when we’re consciously aware of some of a particular environment’s effects, there are others at play that we don’t realize. Personally, if I’m trying to accomplish something, the worst place I can be is the spot I wake up in every day: my bedroom.

I’m very comfortable in my bedroom. I have a large bed with plenty of room for both my 6’1″ 200lb body and my laptop. Distractions are few and far between living on a quiet street surrounded by trees which muffle most sounds emanating from the nearby highway. Inside the house is equally quiet, as I live with my quiet, predictable parents. To get even more comfortable with my surroundings, I recently covered my plain white walls with images that excite and inspire me:

I’ll write about my walls in this blog at some point, but for now you can read more in this Reddit post.

However, laying in bed in front of my laptop is the way I spent most of my time during my worst years. After spending so many years feeling like crap wasting time on my laptop while laying in bed, I’m now conditioned to do exactly that: feel like crap and waste time on my laptop whenever I’m laying in bed. I browse Reddit, check Facebook, and search YouTube. The only productive thing I regularly do while laying in bed is my daily moneymaking routine which usually consists of an hour’s worth of whichever marketing jobs are available for the day, earning me a few bucks.

It’s hard enough dragging my ass out of bed on days when I feel relatively fine, but if I’m behind on sleep or otherwise dealing with additional fatigue it can be a real challenge. I started becoming aware of the fact that I subconsciously look for any excuse to stay in bed a little longer, fooling myself into thinking I’m being productive. For example, I have a set of tools I developed to complete those aforementioned marketing jobs more quickly and efficiently – I’ve made buttons to copy-and-paste email addresses and social media links, take pictures of the screen, etc. If I think of a way to improve that program by adding a new feature or improving an existing one, I can stay in bed for another hour while I write some code.

My solution to the problem of my room is simple: get the hell out of it. Not only do I bring my laptop somewhere else, but I have a separate user account that I log into while using my laptop out in the world. This account looks like a fresh install so there are few desktop icons and no programs that start automatically to minimize distractions. I originally created this account to use when I do the Rick’s Music World open mic livestream each week. I wanted peace of mind knowing that I could leave my laptop unattended without my personal files being accessible. Over time, I realized that this account is also a great way to separate myself from my routine.

The library down the street has free WiFi and quiet rooms that can used for up to two hours per day. I’ve yet to explore any other options, but there are plenty: libraries in surrounding towns, restaurants like McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, local cafés, etc.

The only way I was able to write this blog entry was by getting myself out of my unproductive environment.

Adderall – The King of Prescription Stimulants

My life completely changed when I first started taking Adderall. For the first time in a while I had an abundance of energy and motivation. I thought I was cured.

Unfortunately, strong stimulants come with some side effects. The most obvious one is that it’s difficult to sleep. You don’t need as much sleep when you’re on drugs like Adderall – you can get 4-6 hours and wake up feeling ready to go, but after a few days of this it starts to creep up on you. Your muscles get more tense and a variety of ticks can develop which vary from person to person. Some rub their fingers together, some make facial twitches, and worst of all some grind their teeth together.

Tolerance develops very quickly with stimulants. I recall looking up a drugs experience site for people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and all the reviews for Adderall were either “I just started taking it last week! It’s great! I’m cured!” or “I started taking it a year ago… it’s not working as well anymore. I’m tired and my brain is getting foggy again.”

Doctors prescribe Adderall for daily use, but in my experience, using it daily just makes all the negative effects listed above much worse. I learned this the hard way. I took it daily for many years and it helped me live somewhat of a “normal” life for a while. At the end though, I was sleep-deprived, my muscles constantly felt like they were on fire, and my fatigue/brain fog levels were getting pretty high again. I realized there was nothing to do but stop it, so I did. After a year of withdrawal (sleeping up to 15 hours a day, only getting out of bed to use the bathroom, only being capable of watching TV) I began cycling it.

Cycling helps reduce side effects and prevents tolerance. Some people take “Adderall vacations” on the weekends. I take it 2-5 times a week depending on how much I need to get done.

Adderall is fairly easy to get prescribed from a psychiatrist. It’s cheap for insurance companies, it’s their go-to stimulant drug. In fact if you try to get a perscription for a wakefulness-promoting agent like Modafinil, they’ll refuse to cover it and say “Why not just take Adderall instead?”

I’ve seen some members of the CFS community say they don’t like stimulants due to the side-effects and crash. While it’s true that there are some uncomfortable side-effects like muscle stiffness, ticks, and insomnia, it’s done more for me than I ever could have imagined.