Tracking all the things
Building a monster spreadsheet to track symptoms and the factors that might affect them
I have been busily tracking and logging every symptom I have, and and every thing that could conceivably affect my symptoms — anything I can quantify. This is one of the things I’ve already been getting up to before I announced Project Everything, my 2-ish-year mission to try to recover from chronic pain and illness (see the intro post, “It’s like long COVID”).
Now that I have a lot of numbers, I can make a misery graph!
This graph is based on a huge spreadsheet, with a row for every date and dozens of columns. Symptoms like “tremors” or “ye olde stabby shoulder” can score up to 10 each, contributing to a total that can climb as high as fifty … so far.
I feel almost normal on days under ten, but they’re rare, as you can see…
Why a spreadsheet?
I hadn’t realized that there’s been such a clear “bad trend” lately, and that’s part of the point of this thing. You cannot remember this stuff well enough to spot trends and correlations.
I certainly remember June 4! The day that scored a nasty 50 suffering points, my worst since I started logging. That was hell.
What was going on that day? I don’t have a clue; I wouldn’t stand a chance if I hadn’t written it down. Even more importantly, and even harder to remember, what was happening on June 3? Did I really overdo it with exercise? Did I lose more sleep than usual? Did I overeat? And more importantly: Do other bad days have the same trigger(s)?
I need data to answer questions like that. I need a big ass spreadsheet, in other words.
Here’s a bird’s eye view of the whole thing so far:
Like a science experiment
Tracking and logging is the science-y heart of my self-rescue project. I wouldn’t call it “science,” exactly, but the idea is to approach the problem with something like scientific rigour.
I have many theories about what might be wrong with me and what might hurt or help my symptoms — even if it has nothing to do with the cause — and I cannot test those ideas if I don’t have data. Identifying correlations between symptoms and the many factors that affect them can be extremely difficult.
Rating my life in granular detail
Every day I need to do a rather lot of logging. I need to write down scores for how sore I am, how well I slept, how many calories I burned, what drugs I took… and, I shit you not, dozens more.
It’s complicated, and it is taking time to get that sucker up to ramming speed.
Three months in, and I am still adding columns — symptoms and factors — constantly rejiggering what I’m logging and how. You can't track everything, but you don’t want to miss something important either — and it is very easy to miss things that could turn out to be important later.
And the first three months of data may be too messy to be useful. Too many growing pains.
Example: Should I track chair time?
There's fresh science about the health hazards of excessive sitting. This is a topic I’ve written a lot about. I think “sitting is the new smoking” is ridiculous hyperbole (smoking is way worse), but I also do think that too much sitting undoubtedly is a health hazard. The evidence is getting quite clear.
And I sit a lot.
It had never occurred to me before that sedentariness might actually be a major factor in my story, which began in 2015… five years into full-time self-employment as a writer/publisher. For five years before my troubles started, I had never been so sedentary.
Coincidence? I think … I can’t tell without data.
Could chairs have wrecked me? Do my symptoms get worse following a day of excessive sitting? Or maybe only after particularly chair-bound week? I have never once paid any attention to this possibility at all, let alone tracked it carefully. It could have been happening all along, and I would have missed it.
And so “chair time” should be a new column on the spreadsheet.
Or should it? I already have activity tracking of other types — calories burned, step counts, workouts — but do they really capture chair time? Step count is not a half bad proxy … but one run can spike that number even when I spend the rest of the day chair bound.
So it’s complicated. These are the kinds of things I have been working out, and I don’t think I’m done yet.
Best case scenario
If I am lucky, a clear correlation emerges. Maybe I get worse every time I eat sauerkraut or all my good days come after spending a day or two away from the office. (I have wondered about an environmental factor at my office — another thing that correlates almost perfectly with the start of my illness. )
If I am extremely lucky, I identify a correlation I can actually do something about. I could live without sauerkraut…
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