A Geek's Eye
I've gone through my journal entries for the past few years. There were times when I didn't log much of anything ... especially compared to my nearly-every-day blogging I did back at the beginning. But while there were some gaps that made it difficult to tell for sure, I did find a trend. I seem to have an emotional meltdown every three months.
By "meltdown" I mean a period of extreme depression lasting between one and seven days. Sometimes I go for as much as four months between these bouts while, at others, its only two. The median and average both seem to be about three months between episodes.
I'm not a believer in astrology and I doubt an awful lot about biorhythms. But there seems to be a fairly regular pattern here. To me this indicates either I have a biological problem that is cyclical or I have a very regular series of events in my life that tend to occur on a semi-regular basis. I don't know which is more likely nor do I know if this is even helpful to me.
What was helpful was this: after I posted my (friends-locked) journal post earlier, today, I finished my work-day and went to a meeting with my psychiatrist. I'd had this appointment set up for months. And in the past, while I've told him that it's unfortunate that he's never there on a day when I've had a really bad episode of depression, today was different. Today I was a wreck. Today, he got to see it.
And I'm better, now.
It's talk therapy. While he could prescribe medications, I'm trying to do this without them if possible. I'd like to address my psychological problems by re-training my brain. If I end up needing crazymeds to help, that's fine. But I've taken them before and I'm not really sure they worked. So, for now, it's talk therapy.
And my doctor knows how to talk well.
He really helped.
More than that, he gave me an exercise to try: something practical I can use to address my little, lingering doubts and negative feelings. It's a methodology he says is used by many people both inside and outside of psychiatry. It's a method by which you analyze the issues that are causing you trouble, break them down, and gain a new (different) perspective on them. In so doing, armed with that perspective and being willing to try what it reveals, you can sometimes get real results in cleaning up your mindset.
The standard steps of this process are four-fold. You ask yourself, with regards to the issue/question that's giving you so much trouble:
It's all about changing your perspective.
And that's the core of approaching psychological illness.
I'm going to start doing this on a regular basis.
Each question will take time (no doubt) but I think it will be worth it.
I'll start this weekend.
Current mood: relaxed.
Just got home from one of the best shows I've ever seen. Joseph Scrimshaw produced "Flaw Fest" with Kickstarter funding and knocked it out of the park! He even had Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett of RiffTrax/MST3K open for him. I've been watching Joseph's comedy for years and I'm so glad I backed this. I can't wait for the audio recordings of the show to come out.
If there are still tickets at the Bryant-Lake Bowl for any of the remaining taping, do yourself a favor and go!
Current mood: happy.
Boycotts don't really work, these days, since most big corporations spread out their product so much that individual regions and individuals can have little impact on their long-term strategies. But, that said, I still don't want to put money into the pockets of a dick.
As such, I will no longer be buying Barilla pasta.
(And, yes, this has been reported by the Advocate and two other news sources I could find.)
My thanks to murakozi who shared with me this shot-over-the-bow fired by Barilla's competitor, Bertolli: http://consumerist.com/2013/09/27/berto
That's really great stuff!
I guess I'll be buying Bertolli on the way home from work, tonight!
Current mood: annoyed.
Today was my first work day without lists.
Rather, today was my first day separating my work life from my home life by refusing to make anything in my "home life" into a list.
I failed almost without realizing it.
I made a grocery list.
Then, while driving to the grocery store after work, I realized that didn't flippin' matter. A list of items I need to buy (written so I don't forget anything) isn't the same as writing a schedule list. So, I bought my apples, bell peppers, coconut milk, chicken broth, fresh cilantro, dandruff shampoo, okra, and garbonzo beans and went home to cook stuff. It all took a little bit longer than I'd anticipated and my original plan to meditate when I got home got swallowed up in a puff of "I'm hungry ... you should finish cooking this week's dinner meals!"
Which I did.
But I found myself not minding.
The liberating decision to cut out "to-do" lists from my home life means that I spend my time as I wish and don't feel badly when my initial plans fall short. Maybe that's why I don't feel stressed right now.
I do feel headachy, but not stressed.
I spoke to jakebe today about my recent decisions and got some really good advice. We talked about meditation, simplification, and winnowing down my field of choices to just a few things. Some stuff worked, some stuff didn't, but most of it was excellent. This is one of those things I've been missing; one of those things I get with only a few of my closest friends ... a form of synergy between us enabling discussion of things both philosophical and practical. We talked about our mutual drives and goals. I ended up feeling re-energized, considerably.
And, when push came to shove, I made a week's worth of dinners, watched most of Jim Gaffigan's "Mr. Universe" stand-up show, and retired to my room to skim through the Intarwebs.
And I feel good about it.
Yes, I still have a headache (another one) so I'm about to step into the shower before bed. (Hot showers purge headache pain for me for some reason.)
I was even able to start going over my genetic testing results from 23AndMe.com. Very cool stuff!
So far, my plans are working.
Soon, very soon, I shall conquer the world!
Current mood: tired.
I just saw this really excellent documentary, "Happy".
I really learned a lot and feel ... hopeful. Just "hopeful".
I strongly recommend people taking a look at this. It's on Netflix and is about the science and sociology of happiness.
It's largely about the science, both chemically and psychologically, about happiness and where it comes from ... what promotes it ... what stymies it. At only just over an hour long, it's concise yet informative. It then goes into the types of people who are happy, social constructs that promote and perpetuate happiness, and the interesting observation that while religion (and religious community) may help foster happiness, universally it is the fundamentalists who are the least happy in life.
That's just a footnote; one part of a fascinating look inside the human mind.
I strongly recommend it.
And I strongly recommend acting on it.
I'm going to.
Current mood: calm.
My diet has been in a shambles since getting back from my birthday celebration in DesMoines; I'm screwing things up all the time and am always hungry. I eat when I'm bored or sad and I'm always bored or sad.
This was the first thing that came to mind yesterday when I stopped to try and think of all the good and bad things in my life of late. It was probably because I wrote it after a day in which I totally annihilated my diet during the afternoon. Breakfast and dinner were fine but lunch ... lunch was anything but. And there are reasons.
I don't have the best relationship with food and eating. From a cooking and buying aspect, I'm good. I prefer to make meals at home, I enjoy the challenge of preparing new things, I love cooking for others more than I do for myself, I prefer fresh ingredients, I love vegetables and fruits, I avoid prepackaged/pre-made consumables, and I love trying new things ... even if those things later turn out to be not-so-good.
On the downside, when I get emotional (depressed, bored, frustrated, overwhelmed, stymied, and other emotions) I immediately reach for food. When I am hungry, even a little bit, I eat. I don't stop feeling hungry until I'm over-full. When I put something in my mouth, I expect it to have a flavor and (in some fashion) be satisfying. Water, unless I'm parched and thirsty, is not something I reach for. It's easier to get water in restaurants mostly because prices for everything else strike me as unrealistically high. In some regards, I'm cheap. But I will drop $50 on a good meal ... I just draw the line at paying over $2.00 for a glass of pop. (That's "soda" for you non-Minnesotans.)
Additionally, when I'm sad or frustrated or just paralyzed with a baseless ennui, I have this deep need to have someone wait on me: to go out and buy my meal. My home, of late, has become more of a prison of responsibilities rather than a refuge. I don't know how or why this came to pass. While I look forward to heading there after work, I don't enjoy spending time there, alone. Much of the time I'm there, I'm by myself.
That's also by a degree of necessity. When I write short stories of prep tabletop RPGs for my players, I pretty much have to be alone so I can think, work things out, and get the writing done. I enjoy it but, lately, it's part of a huge cloud of responsibilities I've come to associate with my home. Those things, those recreations, while they give me joy also give me stress. Even right now, I feel as if I should be working on my stories and on my games but I'm writing this, instead.
I shouldn't feel as if I should be doing anything that's not actual work. And even then, I should feel a drive and joy from doing what I should be doing.
But I don't.
This, I fear, is my old friend Anhedonia. I was first diagnosed with this pychological disorder about five years ago. In short, it basically means that I don't happiness or joy from things. I simply don't feel those emotions as other people do or even as I used to. I can feel pleasure and happiness, now and then, but it's rare. And when it does happen, it's usually only on the surface. It doesn't run deep to my reptile brain; it doesn't send down roots into the heart of my soul. I know no one feels like that all the time but I do know that everyone feels satisfaction every now and then to a truly deep and sustaining level.
When I use words like "happy", "joy", "satisfied", or "happy" to describe myself, you should understand that I don't really feel it very deeply. The negative emotions, the frustration and fear and anxiety and anger that I feel are always there and always much more powerful. Perhaps I do feel the positive emotions as fully as I always did; perhaps they're just overwhelmed by the negative. I'm not sure. To me, right now, they just feel dulled.
When I laugh, it's as if through cotton. It's muffled. I've learned to act like what others expect of me. And, lately, I've been finding it harder and harder to do the things I must do while simultaneously finding myself facing tons of things in the "must" category that used to be "just for fun".
Food addresses this.
I feel bad all the time, now. Or (to be more clear) I never feel truly "good".
Everything I do is a responsibility. Watching TV, seeing movies, going to the Fringe, cleaning the house, going to work, reading books, writing, working on games, gardening, studying some new technology, keeping up with the news: all of these are chores in my mind, now. This is why, I think, my home is no longer a refuge and why, when I get even more mired in dark emotions than I usually am, I seek to get out. My home is filled with responsibilities so my only real times of peace are when I'm out visiting friends, at a restaurant, or somewhere else that's not here.
But the problem is, while I'm in those places I find myself thinking about the things I should be doing, instead. I find myself thinking about the items, both fun and otherwise, that have become "shoulds" and responsibilities in my life. So even when I'm at those places, I start feeling guilty and of a worse emotional state.
And then I eat.
I don't know if the eating would be so bad if I didn't have this sense of everything being a responsibility. That, I think, is the underlying problem.
So, how do I take back my home? How do I re-categorize (in the true depths of my mind, where the categorization is automatic) these hobbies-become-duties into relaxing passtimes once more? How do I take my relaxation back?
I think I have a couple ideas. I'm going to write them down, in the order they come to me, and see if they make sense:
I have four line items with six actionable items between them.
I think I just made a list. <face-palm>
Okay, enough of that part of my brain trying to fight me.
Yes: it's a list. But it's not a list of joys and things which are supposed to be happy. It's a list of purely things I should be doing on an on-going basis. This is not a checklist but, rather, a succinct set of things I can do. I can pay attention to it as a list but I should probably see it as a group of character-building exercises that are always in-play and always worth considering.
Maybe, if I can get these happening on a constant basis in my life, my home will once again become a refuge, I'll stop getting all emotional, I'll find it easier to stick to my diet, and my job will become less stressful since I'll actually have a refuge from my "have to do" stuff.
I like this.
It feels positive; like I have a direction in which to go.
Strange. I'm liking this new way of approaching things. Why didn't I think of this sooner? Maybe I did and perhaps the trick will be in actually sticking to this new way of thinking and reminding myself to put myself in this mind-set more often (if not all the time.)
Anyway, that's enough for now. Today's Sunday. I'm going to relax.
Time to let go.
Current mood: hopeful.
It is no secret that I have been seeing a psychologist for some time, now. I used to be quite concerned about seeing them and loathed the idea for years. I stemmed from my experiences as a child when, after being taken to one with whom I formed a tight bond, I perceived my parents' taking me away to a different therapist as them moving me to someone who wouldn't tell them that they were the reason I was so emotionally scattered (as the first one had). All of the counselors I saw in middle school, high school, and even college were either clueless, couldn't (or wouldn't) see me as a bit of an eccentric ... and that was okay, or were downright cruel, falling back on the "tough love" school of therapy. When things got really bad about 10 years ago, I decided I'd try again. The therapist I saw at that time did help and I moved on with my life, bought a house about a year-and-a-half later, and started feeling much better than I had in a long time. Since then, my track record with therapists has been less than stellar. But the man I'm seeing these days has been encouraging me to write about my problems and writing is something I can do.
To be clear, he asked me to write about my problems, my daily affirmations of joy, and every little thing that could help me live in the moment. Essentially, the goal is for me to become a more consciously aware person in my own life. I've been trying, on and off, for a couple years, now. It's not ever really gotten off the ground. I'd like to explore "why". The best way I can think is, of course, to write it all down.
I liken the suggestion to write about my problems and "daily silver" to my taking physics back in college. There were many instances where I would raise my hand and ask "why". I do not learn well from reading. One of the many therapists I saw said that between ten and twenty percent of adults have this problem. It's not dyslexia but I cannot remember what she told me it was called. Rather, I learn by back-and-forth interaction with my teachers. I ask questions, they give me answers, I try things out, I get help when things go wrong, I try again, lather, rinse, repeat. That's how I tend to learn. It's rare that a book can teach me anything. This is probably why, when I read, I tend to forget things that happen even in books I love. Unless I read them multiple times (like "the Lord of the Rings" or "Watership Down"), I forget huge sections.
In physics, my professor would frequently tell us, "now, you won't understand this now but just memorize it: it will make sense, later." I am terrible at rote memorization. I even took a class on improving my memory back in college. I got a "D". I really did try my best but some people aren't built for such things. I'm best at remembering events and things in which I become immersed. So, as physics class went on, the number of things I had to take on faith grew and grew. I couldn't remember them all and consequently, things never made sense. I got a "D". Calculus wasn't much better. Calc I (differential calculus) saw me earn a "C" while I failed Calc II, twice, and failed Calc III, once. At the time I was an astrophysics major. As you can guess, that changed very quickly to something I could wrap my brain around.
Trying to write daily analysis and "happy thoughts" is similar. I don't see the eventual benefit. When I have tried it in the past, I've not kept with it for very long. I can't see the outcome, I can't see where I'm going, and it doesn't make good, internal sense. I know that I'm supposed to be reinforcing my emotions and underscoring my experiences so that, later, I'll have a better perspective on them, but on a day-to-day basis it's just busy work. I can't see the outcome, can't look for milestones, can't count day days towards completion, can't check off successes as I make my way down the road. In short: it doesn't stick in my mind, I get quickly distracted, and stop doing it.
This, this journal entry right now, is an attempt to start this again. Dr. Parker, my psychologist, suggested it at our last meeting. I spoke to my roommate about it while driving home from dinner, tonight. And, so, here I am.
The thing is, I still don't know where I'm headed. All I can do is make lists and contemplate the things I'm seeing in my life. I guess that will have to do. My problem is that I'm already getting bored. Gods only know what people reading this think.
So, I'll start with the things on my plate: both negative and positive. I'll quickly list, in 60 seconds, as many negative things as are plaguing my mind right now. Then, in the next 60, I'll list positive things. I don't know which list will be longer or even if that matters. What will matter is, after I create these lists, to explore what they mean and see if I can make myself more aware of the problems (and their solutions) on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour, and minute-by-minute basis. This will be "living an aware life" as my therapist calls it.
Okay... Let's do this...
So, those are the issues. There are many more I could have listed in the former section and a couple more I could have listed in the latter. In fact, after I wrote them, I dashed back in and added a few I had thought about but had been unable to type-out, quickly enough. At least, for now, I have a view of where I stand. They make a decent amount of sense; I can see each one clearly as they are written down. I think the key will be to not try and fix them all ... certainly not at once. Rather, the task ahead is to understand them all and, in so doing, live an aware life.
I don't know if this is going anywhere. I can't see that far ahead. I don't know how long I can keep this up. But I'm going to try.
If you can, engage me; keep me talking ... keep me thinking about these (and other) issues. I have to see if I can force myself to keep going beyond the point where rote repetition and memorization have been forgotten and I can just ...I dunno... where I can just understand and come to grips with these issues and the world at large.
Yours in honesty,
Current mood: tired.
A new picture of myself.
I'm kicking the ass of this cold, I'm back on my diet, I've cancelled some online dating accounts that were frankly bad for me, I wrote 2,000 words in some new fiction, worked on my tabletop gaming world, did some gardening, put together the final parts of my computer desk, and did the dishes (most of 'em).
I need to stay honest. I slipped up, here and there, today. But like the slip-ups I've had in the past 6 months, they're only slip-ups. They can be fixed.
I just need to remember this, going forward, and keep honest.
Current mood: tired.
I'd gone for about 3 hours, perhaps 4, before remembering that today was September 11th and recalling all that that date entailed. My hope is that, one day, I'll be able to go an entire 24 in that state because we've moved to a place, culturally, where the pain can be let go and the dark memories no longer are needed to serve a purpose.
Today, I'm home: sick. My sneezes and coughing have come back.
Maybe, were I in the office, I'd hear more about September 11th stuff. Maybe not. I don't really know.
Current mood: pensive.