Managing Self-Isolation

Since October, I have been in a form of self-isolation because of my allergies. Now, many of you don’t know me, but my allergies became very serious in October and I went to the ER for anaphylactic shock related to eating Ginger. Subsequently, I became so allergic to my dogs, that my throat would feel like it was closing up if I was around them for more than a few minutes. I became unable to walk them, as I’d accidentally put their dander on my tongue whenever I’d be trying to open a plastic poop bag. Which lead to an immediate allergic reaction and needing to use an inhaler.

Furthermore, because of all my food allergies, I couldn’t eat out. I’d have a reaction to almost every food except for breakfast food. I’m allergic to Citric Acid, which is in just about every food known to man. I also had to avoid touching my wife because she often kisses the dogs and eats foods I’m allergic too. This creates an additional barrier that you may have to deal with if you actually get sick. I was, however, able to go to work and the grocery store (in fact the latter had cleaner air than either work or home) so I wasn’t entirely self isolated, but basically was isolated.

Here are some of the things I experienced that you should expect the longer you’re in self-isolation:

  1. Loneliness
  2. Depression
  3. Stir craziness
  4. Frustration
  5. Anxiety

Here are some tips on how to manage these:

  1. To combat loneliness I would play video games with friends. I’d talk with them using Discord. I strongly recommend getting on the phone with people on a regular basis. It will help. You can’t get them sick over the phone and they can’t make you sick. Plus, you’ll be helping other people deal with their loneliness in a way that they may not realize they need.
  2. Meditate – I use an App called Headspace, there’s a 30 day trial. I recommend using this to help deal with some of the anxiety, frustration, and depression that comes from being self-isolated. I’ve talked about how I’ve been using it for close to 2 years in other blog posts to fight depression. Ironically, it can also help you feel less lonely (there’s a program on dealing with loneliness in it), because you aren’t mediating alone. You can literally meditate with others remotely in the app.
  3. Make a comfortable space. You’re going to be stuck in your home for a while. make sure that you are going to be comfortable. I had a comfortable chair and my computer in my office. I had an ottoman and side table as well. This allowed me to read, listen to music, and drink coffee/tea/alcohol in my place of self-isolation. Make sure you’re able to distract yourself and/or keep yourself busy.
  4. Find a hobby to spend your time on. I had two hobbies that have helped keep me sane. The aforementioned video games and writing. In the immediate aftermath of my ginger reaction, I wrote about 200 pages in a book I’ve been working on for about 2 years. I was able to finish it. I was focused alone and dealing with some shit. Putting that down on paper can help you process what’s going on around you. If you want to write a book, I suggest Scrivener. If you want to blog, setting up a free WordPress account could be perfect. Otherwise, pen and a notebook work just find. My wife has jumped into doing more art stuff. Most of these things are fairly cheap and can keep you busy for a long time.
  5. Change up your routine. This one is tough, but making slight changes to your routine can help keep you busy and reduce anxiety from being isolated. I suggest watching videos for a while, then switching to something else, like a book or articles, then moving on to one of your hobbies. This way you keep your mind occupied and from getting stuck in a rut of the routineness of whatever you were doing before.

I hope these ideas help you with your self-isolation. I still combat my own depression over my self-isolation with my allergies. So this list is far from perfect. I know some people are going to be hit really hard by the self-isolation and will have serious financial concerns on top of the above symptoms. It’s important in those cases to find inexpensive types of entertainment. Regardless, you must do self-care and meditation is a cheap easy way to do that.

Be safe out there. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Wash your hands.

Depression, Trust, and Therapy

When you have depression, it’s hard to talk about. It’s hard to open up to people and explain to them what depression is, what it’s like to live with, and what the causes of your depression are. So, when you find someone that you can trust and feel like you can open up to, it’s a revelation. You feel like there’s someone in the world that you can truly be yourself around. Often this is a friend. Of course, you have to be careful not to over due the depressive talk, because you could bring them down and eventually push them away.

It’s understandable, when shits bad and all you talk about is your problems, it can eventually come across as whiney, especially if the other person is in a similar situation. If they have depression, they will get it, if they don’t have depression, they will be as support as they can for as long as they can, but eventually, they’ll say something like “get over it.”

So, if you’re lucky enough to have a good health plan (in the US) and a good salary, you might be one of the lucky people that can afford therapy from a licensed professional that will never say “get over it” to you. They will help you work through your problems and do so in a safe place. You can tell the right professional anything and they will help you deal with that. In the cases that they cannot help you, something’s outside their expertise (like gender dysphoria) they might refer you to a specialist in that field.

The important thing about all this, which helps to build trust with the therapist, is that everything about these visits is safe and secure. No one need know that you are visiting your therapist, but the people that you tell. However, if you cannot afford that sort of help, then there are apps that are supposed to help you. One such app is Better Help. However, if I was using it, I’d immediately stop. They share “anonymous” data with third parties, according to a Jezebel report.

One of the companies they share this data with is Facebook. Which is a huge red flag for me. Facebook, if you have an account (and to some extent even if you don’t) has a huge amount of data about you. It uses super cookies to continually track you even when you aren’t on the website, it buys data about people to build profiles, and it uses sophisticated tools to build shadow profiles for people that are not on their service.

I had Facebook for years, basically from the day it came to The University of Pittsburgh, up through 2016 election, so basically around 10-12 years worth of ever decreasing data. Even deleted, they probably kept something about my profile. Since they know that I don’t have a Facebook account, they are able to build a profile about me from data they acquire from other sources. It’s likely they scrape websites, like Good Reads (where I review most of my books) and loyalty rewards (I don’t have any at stores like Target) to build a profile of things that I’d want to buy. They sell ads, so they use this information to understand what someone my age might want to buy and to sell better targeted ads.

They have developed a profile about me, from anonymous data. This means, they have sophisticated tools to de-anonymize data. Given that, according to the article, they know when people are depressed and upset, they already have a set of users that they’ve flagged as candidates for mental health support. They have the tools to associate data from Better Help with an actual person. I don’t know about you, but I do not want Facebook to know anything about my mental healthcare.

This, to me, represents a vital break in trust between patient and mental health provider. I trust that the only people that know about my care are those I tell, my doctor, and my health insurer. I trust this, because it is the law. The law helps me feel safe and allows me to have better trust in both my insurer and my doctor. The law, HIPPA, requires YOU to consent to any data transfer and asks for it before it can even occur, every time. So, you might consent to share the minimum amount of data, but that data is more than sufficient to do harm, in the long term.

People seeking help are vulnerable. They can be preyed upon. Even a good therapist who doesn’t like dealing with a specific health insurer can make you feel preyed upon. A company as unscrupulous as Facebook will target you and take advantage of you. It’s dangerous and must stop. If you use Better Help, look for an alternative. If you use Facebook and you can stop, you should stop.

Book Review: Immortal Hulk Issues 1-25

Link to Book  Image result for immortal hulk5/5 Stars

Alright, this isn’t my normal book review, but these comics moved me in a way that not much media. From what I understand the Author, Al Ewing, originally planned the Immortal Hulk only to be 25 issues, it’s now gone beyond that by a handful and looks like it will continue to move forward. However, I think this initial arc will likely be the most impactful of the Immortal Hulk stories. Or at least of telling a story about the costs of abuse on individuals, their relationships, and society as a whole.

So, most of you are used to seeing Hulk and Incredible together. Well, that character was killed. Bruce essentially committed suicide by way of Hawkeye. After some Avengers tomfoolerly Hulk was brought back to life by the Grand Master during a chess match. This resulted in the Hulk becoming the Immortal Hulk.

*Spoilers ahead!*

Hulk is still on the run, as is normal in his comic books, but there’s a decided different tone about the chase and the fight. Mostly, because Hulk isn’t just chased by the military, but he’s chased by the ghosts of his past, literally, his father (who Bruce Banner killed) attacks him. There are also multiple Hulks in this. The ones I’m going to discuss are Devil Hulk (very intelligent, but well, evil), Savage/Child Hulk (The Hulk in the MCU, dumb and innocent), and Bruce Banner. There are a few others, but I’m not going to bring them up here.

I’m going to present a few key scenes that I think really convey a theme and discuss the themes below. The first scene that resonated with me is a scene where Bruce’s father comes home to find Bruce playing with a toy that’s significantly more advanced than what he should be playing with. This enrages his father, who lashes out at the boy. He throws a full glass of booze at Bruce. He slaps the boy, then demands Bruce’s Mother go with him leaving the boy. He then becomes the Breaker-Apart. The first signs of his rage.

The second scene that hit me is when Hulk goes to hell (it makes a lot of sense in the story, believe me). However, when he’s in Hell, he looks sickly and is wasting away, so he doesn’t look like the hugely strong being we’re used to seeing. While down in Hell, he and his reporter sidekick (McGee), begin to meet people they’ve lost. One of the people Devil Hulk comes across is Thunderbolt Ross, Bruce’s Father-In-Law. Devil Hulk flies into a rage while being the deadman and turns into Savage Hulk. Afterwards, McGee stops the Child Hulk and Hulk responds by saying “Why does Hulk hurt, why is Hulk always hurting.” Tears are streaming down his face. Rather than hugging or supporting the child Hulk, McGee demands to speak with Devil Hulk. Devil Hulk responds that Ross could have been a father to Bruce.

After going through Hell, Hulk finally finds Bruce. He’d been held captive by his father in Hell. Bruce wants to give up and stay in Hell, never going back to earth. Just ending it. The Devil Hulk offers a hand, Bruce asks why, Devil Hulk says “Cause I love you kid.” Bruce looks at him with tears in his eyes. Hulk continues, “Someone had to.”

The next scene is one where Bruce meets his ex-wife Betty Ross. She’s angry that he didn’t immediately reach out once he came back to life (it’s been about 8 months at this point). At first she’s really welcoming, but during their conversation she decides to end it. However at this time she’s murdered by someone chasing the Hulk. This of course enrages Bruce and he chases after the bad guy. An issue later we find Devil Hulk fighting the abomination, who eventually blinds Hulk and cuts off each limb – at this point Hulk is Child Hulk. We suddenly see Betty as the Red Harpy, her own Hulk manifestation. Child Hulk begs for help and love, instead Betty decides to literally rip Hulk’s heart out and eat it.

Eventually this all ends in the final chapter, where the Hulk becomes the last being in the Universe and is given immense powers as a guardian in the next. However, being Hulk, he consumes and disrupts everything. We see near the end that the Hulk is massive and is clothes lining planets, destroying them. The Great Breaker-Apart he is called. A being sees into the Hulk, inside there’s an infinite number of Bruce’s screaming in pain. There’s a great Hulk crying that out in torment. In the end, the Hulk is all that is left. Alone.

To me, this is a story about abuse. Emotional. Physical. Bruce was diagnosed with Dissociative Personality Disorder, which is clearly a result of the trauma he experienced as a child. The gamma bomb turned that trauma into a literal monster, the Hulk. The series indicates that without strong support of people around us to counter that trauma (specifically the McGee scene in Hell), that Trauma will turn us into monsters. That we then turn everyone around us into Monsters. That there’s parts of us, however monstrous, that need love and support to get through it. If we don’t get it, in those opportunities, someone else will provide it that might be malignant. Bruce created the Devil Hulk as his ultimate dissociation, where even the Hulk would turn to in his deepest pain. Bruce turned to that Monster, who wants to tear down society, because of Bruce’s pain.

There are things about the Devil Hulk’s plan to destroy society that make it the right target for his scorn. Society as a whole drove Bruce’s father to act the way he did in some regards. We often reject people in pain, in many cases they disgust us – in some cases because they remind us of our own weaknesses. Furthermore, the world itself inserts its demands on us, which in many ways are more important than our needs. Hulk NEEDS love while he’s in Hell. McGee isn’t able to give it because she’s afraid, but also because she’s in literal Hell and Devil Hulk is the only one to fix it. So Hulk dissociates so he can deal with the world. Trauma isn’t dealt with. Devil Hulk becomes dominant.

This is a really sad comic. It’s amazingly written. The art is fantastic. I strongly recommend checking it out.

It’s 2020

I have to say, i didn’t really think this would be where my life would take me. If you’d asked me 10 years ago where I’d be living, I would have said Europe somewhere. 10 years ago I was living in Austin and had been accepted into Eindhoven University of Technology. I was excited about a new adventure. I was dating my now wife at the time. We had grand plans for what we were going to be doing.

Now, I live in Portland. I’ve been struggling with a plethora of allergies that range from mostly benign to causing asthmatic attacks and anaphylactic shock. Last night was a case where I couldn’t even engage properly with my friends because of allergies to cats and pine trees. To say I’m struggling with this is an understatement. Some days goes by where I’m feeling great and that it’s easy. Other days I feel like I’m at the edge of going to the ER again.

I look at the decisions of how I’ve gotten to where I am and there’s probably not a lot I could have done to avoid these allergies. But in terms of the rest of my life. I do feel like I’ve been drifting for a few years. Just letting events happen around me and push me forward. I haven’t been driving towards anything. I don’t know what I should be driving towards.

Thinking back to ten years ago, I had goals. I had something to strive for. Get a degree to get into the policy game so i can do work to effect change. That didn’t happen. Instead I simply took the first job I could after graduating (when I moved back to the states). I was excited about the company, but not really the work. It felt like I just threw a way a lot of the education I had struggled for, just so I could work. I’ve continued to do this to some extent at the next two jobs. In my current job, I’m excited about the products, wireless speakers, but I’m disappointed in my leadership’s embrace of Agile ideals. So that’s a struggle at times.

Despite three years of therapy, I’m still depressed. I’m not sure where to go or what to do about it.

One small goal I have for this year is to get back on here and writing. I plan to write 1-4 posts a month. Something to keep me thinking. I haven’t really been thinking critically about things much this past year.

Creativity and Depression

I think that creativity and depression feed off of each other. Not in the way that you think. My opinion is that if we do not have an outlet for our creativity it increases our depression. However, in cases where that creativity is a solo act, it can feed our depression. Not because we’re doing something creative, but because we’re further cutting ourselves off from the people around us.

From my personal experience, using creative outlets like a blog or writing a short story, can be very rewarding. It allows you to work through what’s on your mind in a manner that other people can relate to or might be interested in what you’re saying. In many cases it allows you to be someone other than who you are at work. Personally, i do not talk about depression, much at all, with my work colleagues. For one, it makes them uncomfortable when I’m up front about going to therapy and couples therapy. For two, I write about topics, generally, that are completely unrelated to my work and the culture in my office does not really allow for that sort of conversation.

Creative outlets also enable you to take a step away from the constant braying of social media. For a person to be truly creative, you must focus on that task (assuming you want it to be any good), which gives you some space for breath. It gives you time to step back and process things that have been going on around you without constantly shoving more unprocessed information and emotions into your brain. We need down time. We need the ability to sit with ourselves and process who we are and who is around us. Without taking that time for ourselves, we just continue forward as if on auto-pilot. We don’t reflect on what values we have. We don’t reflect on how our actions may have run counter to the values we hold.

Creativity is scary because it forces us to confront the fact that we might produce something no one wants to look at. Something that may be judged. Something we’ll judge (and probably judge too harshly). Something that is uniquely and whole ourselves. Something that, even if imitated, is and always will be ours. On top of that, because we’re alone with ourselves, we have to be alone with ourselves. Which is terrifying.

If you are depressed, try something simple and just doodling for a few minutes. Get a notebook and write something. If you can’t think of something, go to https://old.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/ and grab a prompt that seems interesting. Hell if you want to, just write your idea there for other people to vote on. most of the stories I’ve read on there have positive comments on them.

Just do it for a little while. Then go and do something away from a screen for a little bit. I don’t know about you, but I sure as hell feel better when I do.