Chapter 10: Embracing the bear (but not too often)

So, off the back of the findings from my previous post – not to try so hard to find a solution to my challenges – what do you think I have been doing over this last period? That’s right – pushing on, trying to find a better answer. Predictable, if nothing else.

Buoyed up by my performance as quiz master and determined to find a way to be able to join in more – without unduly diminishing the experience for others – I have made some further explorations into the realm of quizzing. A different environment presented me with the opportunity to try out the strategies that had worked so well in the aforementioned role. Specifically, quizzing online with a different group of friends – who I know better and so perhaps feel less concerned about making a fool of myself with – has enabled me to unleash my inappropriate / loud side more, which seems to keep the unreasonable side in check for longer.

Initially at least, this approach appeared to be a success – I was able to participate for longer whilst remaining just about on the right side of acceptable behaviour (depending on who you ask!). Like staying in the “happy / boisterous drunk” phase on a night out with friends, instead of progressing straight to “nuisance drunk” – albeit a night out where no one else is drinking.

Whilst this means that I (and those around me?) get more enjoyment from the experience, the flip side seems to be that I ping wide awake at around 3am and spend the next day feeling manic – needing to eat every hour because my brain is running so hot – whilst simultaneously trying to avoid doing anything so that I can get back into a normal sleeping pattern again. All in all, a pretty unpleasant experience and one that the last few weeks has taught me I do not want to repeat on a regular basis.

Still – nothing ventured, nothing gained. Perhaps the lesson to be learned is just to accept that this will happen and choose to indulge myself sparingly. Take the hit and embrace the bear, if you like – albeit not very often.

My last month of sleep deprivation has thrown up another useful finding though. Whilst kicking my heels in the early hours, I have found myself playing Upwords against the computer. Although counterintuitive, it seems to be a good way of winding my brain back down, helping to pass the time in a way that does not use up too much cognitive resource – certainly less than other things that the conductor would otherwise be finding for me.

In turn, this finding has led me to start using the activity during a “normal” day as a way of delaying the onset of cognitive fatigue – drawing myself back from the precipice, so that after a while I am ready to go again. It’s not something to use too often – a couple of times a day at most – otherwise the effects become detrimental, a bit like drinking too much coffee.

Having built up my stamina for word games in this way, I have now managed to successfully complete a full game of Upwords, face to face (with scoring and everything!) against my wife, with only a marginal loss of feeling in my legs. In between goes, I found it helpful to keep the conductor occupied (distract the bear) by concentrating on my breathing and capturing thoughts for my blog. Curiously, I found scoring marginally less fatiguing if I do it in my head, rather than out loud – perhaps because the conductor doesn’t try to interfere as much due to there being no consequence for getting it wrong – and by adding up along the way, rather than counting tiles – perhaps because each sum is breaking the task up into smaller pieces, giving me a staging post to fall back on if I lose my way.

Even so, playing Upwords against a human opponent – either online or face to face – is not something to do too often, or too close to bedtime. Doing so spins the brain up, just when you are asking it to be quiet – a bit like firing up a nuclear reactor, then leaving it unattended. If you did this, you shouldn’t then be surprised if it goes into meltdown. Hence why I am writing this at 3am, having played 2 games of Upwords against a human opponent in the same week!

In the 2 days of come down that I have endured since capturing my nocturnal musings above, it has been very tempting to say “never again”. But that would be breaking rule 9 (Don’t try to run away from the bear) – sometimes it is better to do something, even if you know it will be fatiguing, than to do nothing at all.

But what I am determined to learn – or more accurately, re-learn – from this experience is that whilst it can be enjoyable to embrace the bear once in a while, you don’t have to repeatedly run towards it!