quantify this thursday: quantified asthma.

Today my friend Sara asked me about my favourite asthma tracker app. If you’ve read my post, Technology, Self-Tracking and Asthma on Asthma.Net you’ll know that answer. (Disclosure: they pay me money but don’t influence my views, which is a sweet gig).

Pretend spoiler alert: I don’t like any asthma apps out there. (If you’re looking for one, though, read the article. I tried to look at a variety of aspects from price to what data was collected to design/user friendliness.)

So, with no coding skills what-so-ever, I set out to build my own solution. (I seem to do that.) I’m still working on it, and it’s far from perfect, but here’s what I’ve got so far. Keep in mind, I’ve got dozens of hours of trial and error behind this, and once I got it down, I used it (in the fragments created to that point) for maybe about six weeks before I hit a lapse, or burned out on it. I think, also, it will be easier (maybe not as effective, but easier) when I’m not at the cabin every weekend.

Element One: Google Forms/Google Sheets.
I started this whole thing off with a simple form for myself to fill out regarding my asthma symptoms (1-5 scale) and meds, trigger exposure, as well as my peak flow, FEV1, and oxygen saturation (cause why not?). I tried to tie symptom logging to taking my meds, as well as when I felt an increase in symptoms, so that it wasn’t biased by only reporting increased symptoms (which it still is, of course) and attaining a “baseline”. Unfortunately, I started this project when I was having a bit of a struggle with my asthma control (thanks a lot, rain and humidity).

I also used DO Button from IFTTT for a time to log my Ventolin use. Then I realized this was complicating things as I had to log each puff separately. This is where I began using QR codes.

Element Two: QR Codes.
I usually do not like QR Codes for whatever reason. I really would have preferred to use NFC tags, but, the iPhone 6 doesn’t feature a NFC tag reader like Android does (and whatever future iteration does, it’s ApplePay specific). So, QR Codes have to suffice.

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I created individual, colour coded (note the border) QR codes for each of my inhalers (and my Concerta bottle. And the nasal spray I realize I haven’t taken in forever). I made them small enough and simply attached these to my inhalers with tape (I had to scratch the shininess of the tape away but it worked okay after that, and after I learned not to put the codes on curves in the inhalers, which is difficult with Qvar). The QR codes link to individual Google Forms for each medication. I hit the corresponding button for the number of puffs taken (or, in the case of Concerta, one pill), and then hit submit.

My Ventolin (the blue inhaler above) you’ll notice has two QR codes attached. the one on the cap is for the Ventolin itself, the one on the side is for the symptom logging sheet. The peak flow meter has the link to the sheet to log PEF and FEV1. I also have the symptom barcode by my bed (where my peak flow meter usually lives and where I usually stand to take peak flows).

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It’s not perfect, but it’s kind of fun. And fun, in a twisted, nerdy sort of way is the motivator here. If it’s not nerdy fun, on my terms, it’s not happening. I log for myself, and my doctors don’t really pay much attention to my PEF/FEV1 results, nor do they ask I take them. Which I am okay with, since it lets me not get burned out on numbers.

I got Launch Center Pro for iOS for this reason, so I can swipe down from the Today(/Notifications) Panel and hit one button to launch NeoReader (my favourite of the free QR code scanner apps I’ve found), which I outfitted with a cute pink rocket ship icon thanks to Launch Center Pro. Because I have to make it fun, of course. What’s not fun about a pink rocket ship?

NeoReader also has a history option, so if I’m somewhere the code isn’t reading well (like the cabin), or the light is dim (sometimes with the tape the bright iPhone light doesn’t help) I can pop it open from history. Usually the code works and is faster, though. But, like all QR codes, sometimes it just doesn’t scan. I also had to cover the pharmacy provided barcodes with tape because often NeoReader tried to pick up the pharmacy barcodes instead of my QR code.

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I now have all of these QR codes importing data into different pages on the same Google Sheet.

Element Three: IFTTT.
For like, years now, I’ve had weather pushing itself to Google Drive for this reason. I also, I think, have humidity reports going there so I can correlate my asthma symptoms with humidity percentages and temperature.  

What I’d like to add.
A better summary of what I’d like to add next will be in an upcoming Asthma.Net post called “Quantified Asthma”. However, aside from NFC tags (which is kind of impossible unless I get my hands on an Android device—if anybody has one kicking around they want to send my way for Quantified Self purposes, let me know ;)), I’d like to be able to pull pollen counts automagically from somewhere but that looks impossible from Canada (I don’t have pollen/mold allergies per my testing, but it would be interesting to see if these have any impact on my breathing anyways, like particulate matter). 

Finding trends.
Like I said, I had a pretty crappy bout of breathing going on when I started this project. But, I’d like to grab a week or two a month where I log (since I can’t expect myself to do it all the time without burning out) so I can see differences between seasons. I used Datasense, Sheets and Excel to play with my data, but Datasense is hands down my favourite. I haven’t taken a single data analysis course, so, this aspect has got to be pretty user friendly for me, and, Datasense is a lifesaver for that. Thanks, Intel!

So, that’s it for now. 

quantify this thursday: automagic

I try to track a lot of stuff, but I like that stuff to be as effortless as possible (I’m human, right?). The more stuff I track, the less likely I am to track a thing after a few days or a week, which means I really can’t do anything with that data. There are not a lot of things that will track themselves, however, thinking about this the other day, I became curious to do a bit of an inventory to see what kinds of things I am tracking basically automagically. (Magic, yes.)

Sleep.
For over 2 years (actually, well over 2 years, but I think some of my data got trapped in an old iPod or something before The Cloud was such a big thing), I’ve tapped the screen on my iPhone a few times to track my sleep—I use SleepCycle, and this same app acts as my alarm clock (and lets me use my own music—I actually initially bought it years ago because of that), so I have some motivation to set it. This is, aside from wearing my Fitbit, probably the most automated self-tracking actiivty that I do. So it’s not quite automagic… but it just about could be. (The Charge HR does have automatic sleep tracking though, as well, and I did use the sleep feature regularly on the One and Ultra).

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Graphs from SleepCycle. Above, time I went to bed over the last two-plus years. Below, the odd waves of different activity levels on my sleep quality…

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Activity.
I’ve been wearing a Fitbit since January 2012—first the Ultra, then the One, and now the Charge HR. This means, aside from the times that I’ve lost it or forgotten to wear it, I’ve been counting steps, calories burned, activity level, distance covered. Since May, I’ve got a near-continuous record of my heart rate—which is kind of ridiculous and I’m looking forward to someone getting that export heart rate thing figured out. And, since the invention of MobileTrack from Fitbit, even if my device dies on my wrist, I still accumulate a bit of data—though not as accurate as the thing attached to my body.
I also have a couple apps in my phone that serve this purpose. I’m not really sure why I haven’t deleted them yet, however.

Here’s also a little app called fit|line. It gives you all kinds of stats extracted from your Fitbit. It also says things like “You spend an average of 14 hours a day sedentary.” (Don’t worry. My Pebble Time is trying to put an end to that nonsense. Actually, I thought it would be like “You spend an average of 23 hours a day sedentary” so…)


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All time Fitbit stats from Fit|Line.
http://i0.wp.com/farm2.staticflickr.com/1673/25832612924_0b66f6916b.jpg?resize=281%2C500&ssl=1Slightly different view…

Here you’ll see where I lost my Fitbit, or forgot to wear it, or it died or whatever.
You can also fairly easily pick out the spot in 2013 when I was super sick and when I was no longer in school and no longer working outside of the house.

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Things I Set Up on IFTTT at Some Point And Forgot About.
Okay, let’s take a look.

  • If it rains, this gets sent to a spreadsheet in Google Drive. I was at some point going to trend this with peak flows and asthma symptoms but, ha, those don’t get logged automagically.
  • If humidity rises above 75% this gets added to a spreadsheet.
  • If I enter or exit a tennis club, these times are to be logged (a backup for logging my summer work hours).
  • This one doesn’t quite count because I have to manually check-in on Foursquare… SWARM. I have to check in on Swarm. (Damn these name changes, really.) but that does get sent to my Google Calendar. So if I forget when I went somewhere and I happened to check in on F—Swarm, then I can find out.
Computer Time.
I’ve been using RescueTime for quite awhile. So now I have all this data about how much time I spend doing what, and I really don’t do anything with that.
 
Similarly, I once installed Checky on my iPhone to see how many times I looked at my phone in a day, but it has to run in the background obviously, which then gets swiped closed.
Because once the guy at the Apple Store had to close all my apps and he told me he’d never seen that many apps open on a phone. And he works at the Apple Store. That’s pretty bad.
 
There are probably all kinds of other things, but that’s my rundown for 11:40 pm. I’ll add more here when I discover them. 

quantify this thursday: oral-b bluetooth toothbrush

Okay so I deviated from the blogging schedule already. You couldn’t really expect I’d last more than 2 days right? Even though I’m quantifying all the words… 

Back in May 2015, I cashed in a good chunk of my Shoppers Optimum points for a Bluetooth toothbrush from Oral-B. (For some reason, I get points on prescriptions that I don’t personally spend money on. So, I cash them in for things like pulse oximeters, dust-proof mattress covers and Bluetooth toothbrushes. Yep.)

Toothbrush = $200. $170 = Shoppers Optimum points. $30 mail-in rebate. Toothbrush = free.

Which is good because $200 is outrageous. But Bluetooth is cool. And the toothbrush itself leaves my teeth feeling super smooth and clean for a good chunk of time longer than a regular electric toothbrush. [I switched from an oral-b electric, battery operated to this. I previously also owned, circa 2000, one of the first (I think) electric toothbrushes available in-your-home from Oral-B, sold by my dentist to my mother for my young-and-with-braces self. Sometime around then anyways. While that one had a two minute timer, there wasn’t anything custom about it–which, there probably is a lot less customizability in regular (non-Bluetooth) brushes all these years later compared to this one (how would you program it? Morse code?)

So, I’ve been using this thing for 47 weeks. I think that’s long enough to give it a pretty thorough review.

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#actuallyridiculous

Here’s the app.

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Welcome screen.

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One other drawback, is that if you don’t input mouthwash, tongue cleaning (I still WTF at that. I do not use this feature.), or flossing immediately, too bad. So if, for instance, I don’t have the app open, I do not have a chance to record these activities. Which seems really silly.

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By the way, I thought the Bluetooth brush would do more than it actually does. All that is, really, is put your toothbrushing stats in a graph so long as you actually sync every 10 sessions. Or else you have gaps, like I do when it deletes the data. It’s like a glorified stats app with a teeny bit of gamification.

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I showed this bit to my dental hygenist at the dentist on Monday and she was like “Oh that’s so cool, it’s for your hygenist!” I laughed. Except I forgot to sync it on Monday, unfortunately. It’s synced now—which is as easy as either opening the app and a) removing the toothbrush from its dock, or b) pressing the mode button (particularly useful when travelling sans dock, as the toothbrush can handle about a week of use between charges. One battery downside, however, is that it does take FOREVER to charge, and it has a bright blue light that reflects all over the bathroom from the mirror and regularly gets a cloth thrown on top of it.)

Now yes, I did say “teeny bit of gamification” up there. 

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THERE ARE BADGES, GUYS. I’ve got the “7 day brushing streak” “14 day brushing streak” (2 times per day. Let’s be honest, it is easy to brush in the morning when you are getting ready to go out. I am doing really well right now at getting the morning—or early day—brush in, but it’s sometimes a challenge when I don’t go anywhere. Because, you know, food is about.) I’m up for the 30 day brushing streak next week. Also to get “professionally approved” your dentist has to use this app to set up your profile. So, is anybody going to actually get that? There are also SECRET BADGES. [They’re called trophies, but do those look like trophies? No they look like Foursquare badges from when Foursquare was cooler than it is now.]

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This is my favourite badge, maybe. Not that the US is very foreign, but I forgot that this app had location services (to find you news and weather to check out while brushing. Nope, not joking.)

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There are also a set of Oral Care Journeys you can do. Except, look, I’m just getting twice-a-day down consistently, I can’t get in too deep yet.
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And for all of you “give me my data” fiends, there IS an export function… unfortunately, it’s practically useless, as you cannot export to .csv. COME ON, ORAL-B. I want to see if enhanced brushing is correlated with stuff. (…I don’t know really. Like what is more likely to make me lapse in the routine of brushing?)

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So have a bit of work to go to be like the Bluetooth brush that I heard about at MedX 2012 that tells you if you’re missing segments of your mouth using Wiimote-esque technology. But whatever. I knew that before I got it, obviously, but still. 

So, I mentioned my dentist appointment on Monday. Well, the good news is, the brush is doing quite a good job (as am I). I may need to set up a focused care routine for the backs of my bottom front teeth, and try to figure out how to get at my wisdom teeth better without gagging like I usually do (…I’m convinced that the dentist’s office has a “gagger” sticker on my file, because as soon as I walk in they address this issue. Although it did earn me a panoramic non-torturous x-ray SOMEHOW for the cheap price of $20 instead of the regular price the receptionist told me of $70. Which I was going to pay because it, like fluoride rinse, makes the whole thing SO MUCH LESS STRESSFUL. I told my hygenist “Good things come in small packages… except when it’s your mouth,” and she laughed. My dentist has previously told me to never let anyone tell me I have a big mouth. Ha.) The bad news? Well, those damn wisdom teeth. Apparently they are in straight and everything, but thanks, teeny mouth, back top righty has a cavity in it because I can’t get the toothbrush in there properly. So, it’s getting pulled, since that’ll be less work in the long run. (“I could pull it… Well, hmm… We could fill it… No, it’s going to be way too hard to get in there to fill it. I don’t think I even CAN get in there to fill it. Yep, I’m right, let’s do an extraction. Good job, I made the right call in the first place.” Bahaha. I was hoping he said to pull it, actually…)

So, post-insurance dentist total? $192, after not being there since August 2014. I thought it would be much worse. (Thanks, mom.) Getting a tooth pulled? $118. It’s not super major work, but underscores why I haven’t yet purchased private insurance, considering I can not die/not go super broke still regardless…

I don’t know how much the $200 toothbrush helped in the fact that I only had one cavity that, like my other cavities, they said I really couldn’t have done much to prevent, but hey… adherence encouraged by a little extrinsic motivation through an app can’t hurt, right?

Just give me some .csv or .xls export, post-brushing additional activities (mouthwash etc) logging, and a reminder to sync maybe (and that magic “you’re missing this part of your mouth” Wiimote tech) and I’ll be 110% happy. But, 95% is pretty okay too.

quantify this: march.

I started back on the quantified self track later in February. A few times a year (or more) I get data hungry, so I started using Optimized again as a starting point. It’s a great little app, and between that and my Life Priority List (hardest. task. ever.), I set a handful (more than a handful) of pretty straightforward goals. Pinpointing where I spent my time helped with both the goals and the priority list.

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Graph from Optimized on where I spend my time. Note that this is skewed because the app kept deleting my data. [Health 60.3%, creativity 2.3%, pleasure 10.8% (which includes things like Skype and reading), and routine 26.6%] From here, I get a brief overview that I’d like to spend more time on creativity.

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Optimized then offers correlations and shows how accurate they may or may not be.

The more time you log, the more accurate they become. My overall mood correlates positively with the time i spend on health. I can later further break this down and see how, for example, including more cycling in my routine affects my mood. Sometimes, however, it might be more useful for me to log cycling as both “cycling” and “exercise” to get a bigger picture of how exercise in general maps out onto mood, for example, so I could do the same for skating, walking, or dance.
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Both pictures also offer a disclaimer about correlation—that correlation ≠ causation. But, it’s a helpful starting point. In the above, the app has determined that time spent on routine activities correlate positively with time spent on health activities by 25.6%, but notes that this correlation is only based on 19 data points… so it’s likely not too accurate. Yet.

I did pretty okay getting rolling on the goals and the logging in the last week and a bit of February, and I’ll continue that process in March. I’ve got a badass spreadsheet even, very loosely based on the life goals spreadsheet tutorial from Ryan Dube.

sleep graph

Note that even though I have my goals defined, certain ones—like sleep—probably do better with context. For now, I’m just interested in the raw numbers and can map it out against other factors later. Cycling, however, based on my not-too-intensive 40 minute/week goal, isn’t too lofty of a goal to achieve (which means I should at least have 20 minutes this week considering it is Wednesday, no? :]) 

Here’s where I’m at in terms of goals for March. While I set goals within Optimized (which Ari, the happy little robot, will tell me about), the nice thing about this system via Excel is that I can map things out in terms of progress. With the chart above, you’ll see each bar shows how close I was to my goal of 7 hours 35 minutes (7.56 hours) of sleep, or the progress towards my weekly goal for cycling. Certain goals also are monthly, which means I have a weekly progress-towards-monthly-goal bar, and then a final bar. 

Because nerd things, duh.

These are the goals I’ve got all mapped out in spreadsheet form for March, broken into the categories from from Optimized over there. Health, Routine, Pleasure and Creativity. Below, I’ve vaguely split the lists into physical, spiritual/emotional (/creative), social, occupational, and intellectual wellness.

  • Sleep, about 7.5 hours a night
  • Exercise [total: 21 minutes, 4 days per week—not a lot but more than I am doing]
    • Cycling – 40 minutes per week
    • Dance – 1 hour per month
    • Yoga – 30 minutes per week (I should get on that.
  • Meds, 5 minutes a day (this is approximate but should be enough to mean I am taking everything I should be taking… including the often-forgotten midday doses.)
  • Brush teeth, 4 minutes a day (2 minutes, twice a day)
  • Meditation, 20 minutes per week
  • Journaling, 5 minutes per day
  • Personal blog, 1 hour/week (so you’ll be seeing more of me)
  • Creating, 1 hour/week (this is called visual arts in Optimized)
  • Movie making – 1 hour/month
  • Spend more time with more people (I quantified this as “4 hours per month with people from the “friends” category in Optimized.
  • Look for [more] work, 1 hour per week
  • Work – blogging, 3 hours per week
  • Creative writing – 20 minutes/day (may overlap with personal blogging, etc.)
  • Log finances – 5 minutes/day (I’m using an app called DayCost for this. All manual because I am not into a 3rd party app connecting to my banks.)
  • Reading for fun – 30 minutes per week
  • Web surfing – maximum 6 hours per day (let’s be honest… this can suck a lot of time but also my work kind of overlaps with web surfing sometimes.)
It’s a pretty ambitious list so the rationale for the Excel spreadsheet is to see how close I get, and how to adjust these things later on.

I also have a to-do list of things I never accomplish. So, here’s what I’ve got on there because maybe that will make me accountable.

  • Smart Girls with ADHD Guest Post (184 days ago)
  • Another item for SGwADHD (66 days ago)
  • Buy new bed skirt (Why are these things so hard to find? 56 days ago)
  • Read and review book (I am the worst person to give an ARC to, clearly – 45 days ago)
  • Final eCare Smart blog post (21 days ago – waiting on an e-mail)
  • Buy spray paint for pegboard (12 days ago)
  • Buy hooks for pegboard (12 days ago)
  • E-mail organ donor/transplant interview (10 days ago)

So. March.
Here goes.

meditation + thermea (and the thermal experience with asthma and adhd)

Meditation is one of those sort of weird things that seems to be a recurring theme in my life. (It might be better if it were just a theme rather than a recurring one, because that clearly means I get out of the habit of it.) The thing is, meditation and ADHD really aren’t the best of friends. Ditto relaxation exercises (“What Meditation Isn’t”: a relaxation exercise. By the way.). Once in adapted physical activity (3+ years prior to my own ADHD diagnosis) the group presenting on ADHD added progressive muscle relaxation (the sometimes-guided cyclic tightening and releasing of muscle groups) as their cool-down, which I thought was brilliant, and I might be able to get behind. Sort of like meditation in which I could move slightly and focus on a thing instead of nothing. Except I fell off the train. Following that by a few years, in September after I listened to Ryan and Rachel discuss the Headspace app, I got into it again—I legitimately installed Headspace on my phone in the Sheraton lounge (ye-eah, ePatients discussing meditation instead of drinking!) and then when I finally limped up to my room (I had this weird pain in the left side of my abdomen for like three days, and it got really brutal that evening for whatever reason. Also I didn’t die so all good. So, thus the limping kind of lateral-left folded over!), I collapsed into bed with my earphones in after taking a shower. (Greatist reviews Headspace here, by the way.)

Guided meditation is the first kind of anything I found that actually worked with my ADHD brain. The “clear your mind” kind of meditation does not work for me, because it’s all “nothing is still something and I should really check what time my bus is it possible to really think of nothing is still something” in there. And after a several-month hiatus from Headspace, I started using it again a couple weeks ago. Except then I realized that soon enough, my free Headspace sessions would be all not new to me anymore, and I was not okay with paying money (even though Headspace is really, really good, I don’t want to pay a monthly subscription just now). So I started exploring other apps, and came across Smiling Mind, which I’ve been using for most of the week. I like it so much that one day I actually did three meditation sessions. Maybe that’s because it’s made for young people (while there is an adult category, the age brackets actually start at 7-11 years old, which is awesome). Plus it tracks your time (or is supposed to) and other nerdy things that I like.

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(I’m not sure why I have 0 meditating minutes though. Because I totally have minutes! And I’ve done more than 3 meditations but I didn’t fill out the post-meditation quiz a time or two because I fell asleep and it doesn’t really want you to do that, I think.)

Plus it totally tells you if your brain is all over the place that is okay and just to try to bring your attention back to your breathing or your body or whatever (not actually whatever. That is what is being avoided). Because ADHD brain cannot really be reliably stopped from going all over the place! It makes it really easy to adhere to trying to become more mindful through meditation, though. So, I’ve been pretty adherent.

And then I went to Thermea.

I can honestly say that I probably enjoyed/benefitted more from Thermea because of practicing meditation (that sounds so weird) most days or everyday in the week or so prior to visiting, so that was a happy coincidence that my aunt decided we should go on her week between jobs—my grandma came as well. Thermea is this Nordic inspired spa involving “releasing toxins” via rapid/therapeutic changes in body temperature. (I still don’t really buy the whole “toxins” argument, but it WAS relaxing and I thoroughly enjoyed it (I can’t wait to go back, but at about $50/visit, I won’t be going more than once a season—but I do plan to visit every season!). I included meditation during some of the heat portions of the cycle in the saunas (one essential oils dry sauna, and two humid saunas, one with orange and the other with eucalyptus), focusing on awareness of different parts of my body rather than breathing, because while my asthma was totally okay at Thermea (who pre-medicates for the spa?! This girl.) the humid saunas were the one thing that might have become the exception to that—part of the need for meditation in here was actually so I could ignore the feeling of humidity on my lungs a bit more—by “my asthma was totally okay” this includes “my lungs were tolerable in the saunas”. Humidity can kind of be suffocating sometimes, but it was for the most part tolerable, at least for the first 10 minutes of the 15. Interestingly, the Thermea websites warns against the water parts for people with respiratory problems, but not the saunas—seems backwards to me.I liked the eucalyptus sauna way more than the orange. Also used an exfoliating scrub for the first time in my life, and I kind of understand why people use these things now.

On the first round after the eucalyptus sauna, we attempted the coldest pool (10*C, the Polarber), and couldn’t get past our ankles, and resigned to the 21*C pool for a quick (laborious) float. 21*C may be shorts weather, but it’s still 16* colder than body temperature. From there, we went to the 39*C Geser pool for the relax phase—much better! The cycle continued much like that, except we found two areas with lounging chairs set up that we hung out on in our robes (the robes at thermea have hoods, people. Best invention ever.) all silently (mostly). Did another sauna, finally braved the Polarber waterfall (which was actually awesome the second time, it just reminded me of the ice bucket challenge, and subsequent times even better). Then we were informed of an essential oils thing going on in the dry sauna (during which at one point the dude threw cold water at us. That was actually awesome, honestly). After a few cycles around, we did the exfoliant thing, and then found the room of seating made of heated tiles. The upper row had headphones, so I headed up there to crank up the soundtrack of the room a bit (I was apparently getting to the point I was not able to get back in the meditation mindset, so I spent the time trying to figure out if the song was an endless loop, or if it ended. I listened for probably about 8-10 minutes and did not hear any discernible end… At least my focus was somewhere rather than 400 places, no? I’ll take it as a win.)

After that, I dumped a bucket of cold water on myself and “completed the cycle” with a hot shower back in the change room. In total, we spent about three hours at Thermea, and even before I left I knew I’d be back.

Of course… The second I unlocked my locker with the cool wristband, I heard my Pebble vibrating away.

Return to reality. The retreat was amazing.