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.

Allergies are Terrifying

As some of you may know, I’ve had issues with gluten for a while. About 8 years ago, I had to cut it out of my diet. I had expected that to be the end of things that I’d have to cut from my diet. I’m still not entirely over that loss. It’s hard to constantly fear what should be a nurturing substance. At restaurants, I’d always second guess what I was put into my body. I’d generally adapted to it, but there would be times when it’d get the best of me. Like when I’d be at a conference and all the food, including the salad, would have wheat in it. I’d get frustrated and in some cases my blood sugar would drop, because I’m also hypoglycemic.

Sadly, that wasn’t even the first thing I had to cut. I figured out I was lactose intolerant 14 years ago. I’d have horrible reactions to it. I also figured out that cheese wasn’t the best for me, but I still kept eating it because of how good it tastes and how it’s on just about everything.

More recently, I’ve found out why I should be avoiding cheese. I’m allergic to basically the entire world. I’m allergic to beef, dairy (no butter for cooking either!), lamb, flowers (like chamomile, hibiscus, elderflower), all environmental allergens, almonds, hazelnuts, ginger, juniper (no gin, boo), kiwis, citric acid, and probably more. I learned all this in the past two-three months. Now, going out to eat is even riskier.

To address this, I’ve started immunotherapy. This is the process of introducing you, gradually, to an increasing amount of the allergens. The goal is to desensitize you to the allergens. The process is a series of increasing dosage and/or molarity of the allergen in a shot. I started that about 2 weeks ago. However, since the third round of these shots I’ve been on the edge of serious allergic reactions. The slightest thing has made my throat tighten, sent my heart racing, and increased my blood pressure.

On Friday, I reacted badly to ginger. I ended up in the ER because of it. I was treated an released after a couple hours with additional care instructions. Since then, I’ve been dealing with reactions whenever I’m outside walking the dogs.

If you know anyone with food allergies, please make sure you take them seriously. If you see them taking something while eating, check on them. If they look flushed while eating check on them. If they seem slow to respond while eating and seem loopy, check on them. Then take them to the hospital.

To help with my reactions, I’m making business cards to give to servers at restaurants. This will help ensure that I tell them all the allergies I have and they don’t have to remember them. They can give the list to the chef and hopefully, will be able to find me food that I can eat.

I don’t really think all the loss of the foods has sunk in on me yet either. I think that’s mostly because I’ve been just responding to my body. Not really dwelling on this. Given the seriousness of my reactions, I suspect this will be easy at first to deal with. Hopefully, it won’t be permanent and I can resume immunotherapy.

Start with Something

In The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*ck the author makes a compelling case for improving your life, starting with something simple. Something small. This is not easy. As the author says, “It’s simple, but not easy.” If you have depression you know this is very true. So true in fact, that starting something, where that something is getting out of bed, can be a huge challenge.

In Lost Connections the author talks about how different treatments positively impact depression. One of the scales he references, Hamilton Depression rating, notes that many patients that use anti-depressions only see a 0.25 increase in their overall mood, while a good night sleep gets you that much or more.

I’ve always had problems getting to sleep. It can take me up to an hour to fall asleep after I’ve gone to bed. This is a combination of anxiety, too much screen time – which can mess up your ability to fall asleep, and just being a super light sleeper. So, I’ve decided to start with something where I have a decent amount of control. Where it’s easy to make a change.

For Christmas my brother got me a start set of the Philips Hue lights. I didn’t know much about them, but i wanted to try using them to see how it impacted our house. So, I put a bulb in the nightstand by the bed. I found out there’s a setting that allows you to wind down the lighting before bed. So I’ve started to use that setting. It gives you about 30 minutes to wind down as the light dims. I’ve made it my routine to go to bed about 15 minutes before it starts that process. I use this time to get ready for bed and do some night time writing or reading. I’m also going to start adding in some nighttime meditation to help me unwind.

This really helps me get away from the screens. It pulls me out of the hellscape that is social media. It allows me to write creatively without typing on a screen or read an interesting story. Writing has really helped get ahead of my anxiety because, whatever I write just kind of comes out.

The meditation is also a great addition, because it’s another way to address the spinning that your mind goes through at night. You are intentional about your mind spinning. You intentionally walk through the past day. You then put that aside and tell your body that it is OK to relax. This short circuits the spinning and anxiety. You control your night.

This is something small. I’ve made sure that it’s been relatively easy to make the change. I started with the light and time away from my computer. Then I added the writing and reading. Last night I added the meditation. These changes have positively impacted my mood. I’ve gotten better sleep and that, has helped with my depression.

Start with something. Start with making it easier for you to sleep well.

Meditation and Owning Your Response to Others

In The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck the author argues that we have responsibility for everything that happens to us. He stresses, accurately, that we are not at fault for everything. Which means that bad things happen and these bad things can happen to us in a way that there was nothing we could do to prevent them from happening to us. For example, emotional abuse or physical abuse that you suffered at the hands of your parents are not your fault. The resulting trauma is not your fault. You are not responsible for what that person did to you. You are responsible for how you respond to that abuse now. this is a subtle but important distinction. You are not responsible for the actions of another nor are you not at fault, instead you are responsible for your response as an adult and how you carry that trauma into other relationships.

This is something that’s taken me a long time to understand. I knew I wasn’t responding well to situations all the time. I’d get a lot angrier than I should over something small. I didn’t understand I was responding the way I would have to my mother when I should have been looking at the situation differently as it was my wife that I was talking with. I should not have been as angry, because my wife didn’t do anything to warrant that reaction. Furthermore, I thought it was my wife’s fault and responsibility to not upset me.

I needed to own how I responded to her. I needed to take that as my responsibility to understand why I was responding the way that I was. Especially if we were having a series of blow ups, it was even more important to understand what I was feeling and why. This was not something I had the skills to handle.

Through the course of my therapy and reading, I’ve found that meditation has really helped me with my responsibilities. Whenever I’m very stressed, I’ve used a few minutes to step aside and do a breathing exercise. According to The General Theory of Love, this is a way for your body and mind to reconnect. It is a way for your rational mind to give your emotional mind a hug. This is similar giving a dog a hug during a thunderstorm. The dog doesn’t understand why there is thunder. Just that there’s loud noises and bright lights. Things that can hurt the dog. We know that we’re safe in our house. That the thunder is noise and the lightening bright, but not something that will come and get us. So we comfort the dog through hugging and petting.

We need to do the same to our own mind. The emotional part of our brain isn’t much different from a dog’s and our rational part is the same part we use to comfort the dog. Meditation and focusing on breath allow us to calm ourselves. Over time meditation is a powerful tool for beginning introspection.

I use Headspace, but there are other apps like it, such as Calm and YouTube channels, etc… There’s no one perfect tool for helping you with meditation. Each one does have guided meditations to help you understand your behavior in relationships with friends, family, and colleagues. The technique asks you to imagine yourself happy, then other people. This approach makes you think about why you get angry. Why you respond the way that you do and think about how you have hurt other people. It’s a step in understanding yourself better. It’s a way to both hug yourself and take a look at who you are and what type of person you want to be.

Dealing With Depression at Work

I tweeted this earlier today

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Dealing with depression at work is a real struggle for most people. If you look at the link the first item is to talk with your boss. I do think it’s important to discuss your depression with your boss, however, I think beforehand, you really need a plan. Depending on your depression this may be an impossibility to come up with on your own. If you’re depressed the way I was depressed, you struggle to discuss it with loved ones or your friends. These friends may suspect you have depression or serious changes in moods. They may not understand it, but they’ve stuck by you. So, in my opinion, these are the people to start with.

Talk with what support network you have. If you don’t have a strong one, then build one in a community where you feel safe. Where I live, I really don’t have much in the way of a support network, my wife and a couple friends. Before going to therapy, most of my support network was from my gaming community. Recently, we’ve been much more open about our depression and how we’re working to deal with it individually. With them I’ve discussed how I plan to deal with depression at work. Gotten feedback and tried to implement it.

Changing is really hard with depression. It never seems worth it. So, the second step I would take, after starting to talk about depression you trust, is to start doing breathing exercises. It’s a small thing, but listening to a 3 minute headspace meditation is super helpful. It pulls you out of your current situation, which may have involved a trigger of some kind, and allows you to control something. Controlling your breathing gets you back in touch with your body, gets you away from your phone (which allows you to avoid rather than work through your feelings), and away from the immediate stressor (as the article recommends). Your smoking friends have known the power of this for a while. When things get stressful, many of them will take a smoke break. With the cigarette they control their breathing and pull themselves out of the situation. Now, smoking isn’t the answer, but definitely breathing and meditating can help and are much healthier.

The other problem with discussing depression with your boss, is that unless they have depression or have gotten help for depression, most of them are not equipped with the tools to help you. You’ll need to go to them with a plan and reasons why you need these things. On top of that, if your manager and job are a source of your depression, it’s unlikely you’ll get the relief you need from the manager and/or job itself.

Ultimately, a combination of a strong support network, self-care, and therapy are the best long term treatments for depression. If you are unable to afford therapy, I suggest reading about the topic (I’ve written a few book reviews about the topic Body Keeps the Score and Lost Connections) and practicing some of the recommendations until you’re able to get yourself into a position to afford therapy. Keep in mind, one of those solutions may require getting a new job. So, maybe talking to a career coach and updating your resume can be some of the therapy you need.

Finally, you aren’t alone. Build your support network one person at a time. If you feel like you might have depression talk about it when you’re feeling up with just one person. Then when you’re feeling down, it’ll be easier to talk with them about it. Starting the conversation when you aren’t at your lowest is best way to have a conversation. It’s not easy. It’s important though.

On Relationships and Death

A few weeks ago a friend of mine committed suicide. I say friend, but we definitely had a falling out and I hadn’t talked to him since he’d moved from Portland. He was my roommate here for a while and we had some disagreements on how his dog behaved that ultimately drove a wedge between the two of us. However, I really think that was just the cherry on top. Both of us were depressed while he was living here and I was in such a bad spot that I wasn’t able to be that empathetic about it. I simply was overwhelmed with my own depression. Which is why I’m getting help. I know that I’m in a position where I can and am able to get that help.

This past weekend, a rapper, Mac Miller, I’ve never heard of overdosed. Apparently, he’d been dealing with demons for quite some time. Many people are attributing it to Ariana Grande breaking up with him. They are putting this death on her. To me this is a complete in justice. Similar to the reasons what my former roommate moved out, there’s a point in your relationships that you must do what is right for you. It’s not always easy. You feel like, to some extent, responsible for their actions afterwards. Like you could have done more or something different to help with that person.

The other reason that I’m really upset by this ridiculous backlash against Ms. Grande, is that I almost was in the exact same situation. While in Highschool and in College, I had a girlfriend that was extremely depressed and suicidal. I dated her for three years. Those years were very difficult for me for a variety of reasons. My parents were going through a divorce where they were asking me for advice on what to do. I had to figure out where I was going to school, knowing I was effectively on my own to pay for it. I was dealing with her depression, and I was adjusting to the school of my choice with her paranoid and constant demands on my time.

While we were dating, I helped her decide she needed to get therapy. She went to a Psychiatrist and a Psychologist where the former prescribed anti-depressants. Nothing helped her. She decided to move down to Pitt to be closer to me. I was against it, but I was too passive because of her increasingly erratic behavior along with her continual lack of trust in me. So she transferred and it became too much for me to handle my friends, school, and no breaks from her. I eventually reached out to her parents and her best friend and let them know I was breaking up with her. After I broke up with her, she hounded me, until I talked with her Therapist. At which point I made it clear that we were truly over. It was hard. At the time it was absolutely the hardest thing I’d ever done. I was terrified she was going to kill herself.

I found out years later, by random happenstance when I delivered a pizza to her mom, that she had in fact attempted suicide. I then talked to her afterwards, since her mom asked me too. Apparently her mom found her in the bathroom having took a bottle of pills. She survived and subsequently got better. Talking with her was super difficult, because I never really was able to deal with the emotional toll of our relationship. I didn’t realize that I had worried and dreaded finding out she had committed suicide.

I had needed to get out of that relationship because it was destroying me. There was nothing else for me to do. I was a mess I didn’t really figure out how to deal with what I’d gone through until getting therapy myself. I had to end that relationship and the fact that I knew she might kill herself simply increased the time I was in an unhealthy relationship.

We cannot punish people for electing to leave a relationship because their partner is abusing them with threats or past suicidal threats. Ms. Grande was very brave in ending that relationship and likely knew the risks of breaking it off with Mac Miller. I knew the risks when I ended the relationship with my HS GF. Ending the relationship is what ultimately saved her life. She would not have gotten healthier while still being with me. I would have been miserable, depressed, and constantly on edge waiting for her to try to kill herself – which may have ultimately happened despite my efforts.

Ms. Grande does not deserve to be castigated for ending this relationship. I do not envy her, I can only imagine what I would have gone through if my GF had been successful. I know with my roommate I beat myself up that I didn’t help him enough. This decision was ultimately out of our hands despite our best efforts. Sometimes when you love someone you need to cut them out of your life in hopes that they hit rock bottom and get the help they need. Sadly, it doesn’t always happen.