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.

Talking About Depression: On Being Defined by Trauma

I saw a tweet last night that went something along the lines of “People with trauma are afraid to get help because they’re afraid of who they would be if they weren’t defined by their trauma.” At first, I thought that this was an interesting thing to say. Yea, people need to get help and people are afraid of who they’ll be without their trauma. However, I think, for most people, they are terrified for their trauma and don’t want to be controlled by it. They have no real way of effectively dealing with their trauma. I’m going to use Shawshank Redemption as a way to talk about Trauma, it’s probably going to offend some people, but I think it will help people that don’t understand trauma how much it controls your life. I’m not even someone that has PTSD, but I understand how small trauma adds up through growing up in an unhealthy environment.

When you have trauma, you’re like Andy from the Shawshank Redemption. You were wronged in someway that takes your freedom away. You are basically imprisoned by that event. You aren’t able to mature or grow as a whole person. Like Andy, you do change. You learn new skills, you progress in your job and craft. In his case he learns how to break the law for the Warden, while you or I, might get a bachelor’s degree or become successful in our chosen profession. However, like Andy, you relive your traumatic event on a regular basis. In the movie, this can be represented by his rapes in the laundry room or his hopes being dashed when the Warden kills a man that could have vindicated Andy.

For a person, you’re stopped in physiologically, in such a way that when you are triggered, your mind and body returns to that point of trauma. There’s no light switch to get past it. You don’t want to be reminded of your trauma, but you have to deal with the fact that the trauma existed. In cases where people have defined their life by their trauma, it’s not a badge of pride it’s a coping mechanism. You’re trying to find a set of people that allows you to talk about your trauma and actually listen. For people with depression and trauma, you don’t want to feel like a burden on your friends and family. In cases of extreme trauma, people don’t want to hear about how nasty and horrific the events were.

Confronting these events in an attempt to heal from them and put the trauma behind you is terrifying. Therapy may look very clean and clinical, but that’s because that’s the physical location. It’s designed to provide a very safe space for you to work through your trauma and root cause of your depression. Psychologically it’s closer to “crawling through 500 yards of shit and stank” to get to freedom. But those 500 yards could take years to move through. You could get stuck in there. You have no idea where the end of the pipe is, if you’ll make it the whole way through, if what’s on the other end is really worth it.

Being able to make the plans to escape is terrifying. I haven’t had the trauma that a lot of people have had out there. I know how difficult it was for me to start therapy. For someone with a history of rape, molestation, child abuse, or survived a war it must surely seem insurmountable. You have to find someone you can trust. You have to feel safe. You have to be helped through a flashback when the trauma is too much to handle. You have to be able to afford it.

Defining your life by trauma is a coping mechanism. It’s driven by fear in a lot of ways, but saying that the person is afraid of not being defined by that trauma shows that they don’t truly understand trauma and the amount of effort that a person goes through to survive the trauma, let alone to address the trauma.

I definitely recommend, when you are experiencing an overwhelming flashback, to pull out an app like Headspace and do the one minute SOS meditation. Then, two minutes, and finally three minutes. By the time you finish with those 6 minutes, you’ll have centered yourself on your breathing and helped yourself to comeback to the present and out of the past. Physiologically, it’ll help get your blood pressure and hearth rate under control. As well as giving you a sense of control of your mind and body.

This advice is going to be nearly impossible to follow if you’re not already building the practice into your life already. So, start with doing daily meditation before you beat yourself up when you don’t do it. It’ll take time to get to the point where you even think about something like that. Don’t feel embarrassed about needing to that take minute for yourself (or longer), you’re going to take it anyway. This will help that minute be much more meaningful in dealing with your trauma and anxiety.

Talking about Depression: Your Depression

As I stated in my last blog post, one of the most difficult things to do is understand your depression. This is because you have to actually sit and try to understand why you’re feeling the way you are. Which means you must be still in a manner of speaking. To sit with your emotions, means you cannot turn on a show, be it TV, Twitch, YouTube, Netflix or whatever else. It means  you cannot just idly scroll through a social media account. This is a double no, because when you look at a site like Facebook or Instagram, you’re likely increasing your feelings of depression even though you’re probably, even if you’re not aware of it, trying to run away from your emotions.

I’d do this by looking, first, at articles on Reddit, then pictures, and then anything else that I could look at to avoid how I was feeling. What I’ve been doing instead is stopping. When I notice that I’m feeling down, I’ll stop. I’ll take a moment to look at how I’m feeling. This isn’t easy. I’ll look at the moments leading up how I’m feeling and try to understand what happened. I acknowledge that I’m feeling however I’m feeling. This means that I try to describe how I’m feeling.

Putting into words some of these sensations isn’t easy at all. One way to help with this is to pull up an emotion sheet like this, below. It’s not going to be perfect, but it’s a way to stop and investigate how you’re feeling rather than just trying to move away from your emotions. It’s further complicated by the fact that you’re probably feeling a number of emotions at once. Or in my case, I often felt completely flat, or a feeling of emptiness. For me, this happened a lot. It didn’t matter how good of a day I was having, I’d eventually end up feeling flat or empty as the day wore on. It was crushing over time.

It’s something that’s difficult to explain to a loved one. If you can’t really explain why you feel that way to yourself, what hope do you have to explain it to someone that cares about you? For me, this was made even more difficult since my family didn’t really talk much about feelings, so I had a stunted vocabulary when it came to how I felt, but I could, through reading and other media, articulate how and why I thought other people were feeling. I “simply” had to start using that same sort of analysis to look internally.

As I reflected, I would certainly feel anxious. It was very uncomfortable for me to investigate my emotions. Furthermore, I knew that just being able to explain what was happening to me to myself wasn’t enough. I had to start explaining how the actions of people around me started to impact how I was feeling. This primarily revolved around my relationship with my wife, where I haven’t been able to explain why I react to things the way that I do. I still don’t always understand why I react the way that I do.

If you decide to give this a try, feel free to leave a comment or ask me how I’ve been doing it. I’d love to offer some tips.

Emotion sheet

 

Talking about Depression

Writing and talking about depression isn’t easy. It’s not easy because we have a stigma around depression. Add a general lack of understanding of what depression is, you have a mix that means people end up talking past each other. Depression is hard to talk about because it is the opposite side of the anxiety coin. Even if you don’t realize you have depression, if you have anxiety, you have depression. Conversely, if you have depression you have anxiety. Being anxious about things makes dealing with your depression even harder because you want to talk with people about it. You want to get help from friends and family, but because you’re anxious about it you are afraid of being a burden on that person. You aren’t going to be a burden. Most of your friends probably know that you have your moods or get defensive about things or whatever else. They don’t understand why you always behave the way that you do, but they are concerned about you and would want to help you.They may not know the best way to do so and may, in their ignorance, say unhelpful things like “Cheerup” or “this will pass you’ll feel better.”

The first step to helping the people around you understand depression is to get a better understanding of what it means to you. You’ll need to develop the right language so you are able to articulate exactly what’s going on. This isn’t easy. I’ve been going to therapy for over a year now and I now feel like I’m developing the correct language to discuss it. In many cases it’s actually been the joint therapy sessions with my wife where I’ve developed the interpersonal language to describe what’s going on between her and me.

So to develop the right language, I strongly recommend reading Lost Connections. Once you’ve made your way through that, you’ll have a better understanding of what is the major driver of your depression. That will really help you articulate what’s happening. If you get through it and feel that all of them are contributing to your depression, don’t feel overwhelmed. Focus on one of them that you think might be easiest to address through the help of your friends. Friends will be a key part in helping you recover from your depression. Being open with them about this will help them understand what you really need.

If trauma is the root cause of your depression or could be, then I recommend reading a much more emotionally difficult book called The Body Keeps The Score. This book will help you understand why you might be having the reactions you’re having when you have an event that triggers a memory of that trauma. Yes, being triggered is a real thing. It causes you have to a similar physiological response that you had during the actual trauma. However, keep in mind that lashing out at your loved ones will not really help you resolve the trauma.

Next you should begin meditating. This will be hard and scary. It’s terrifying and you’ll feel like you’re doing it wrong because you cannot sit with your emotions. You cannot be still with your self, because it means you’re still with your depression. No, it is not easy to do. It’s difficult to stick with it as well. You aren’t alone in feeling scared of being with your emotions alone.

It’s important to do because this is a way to cognitively digest some of your daily anxiety. It’s a way to allow you to look at those feelings. Turn them over and then pass them. The pause of meditation can help immensely when you’re having an anxiety attack. Even if you only do it for 3 minutes. This is because you begin to focus on your body, calming your body, which allows your reptilian/emotional mind to calm and to allow your mammalian/rational mind to hug and hold your emotions.

A Competition of Values

I’ve written about values in the past and it was something that I’ve felt was really important to me. However, it wasn’t until I had read Lost Connections (see my review here) that my values, education as a Lean practitioner, and my work environment was a major source of my depression. I think at some level I knew this, because I would get frustrated often and talk about it with the one or two people that really understood it. When I read two sections of Lost Connections, I put a couple pieces together.

In one section, Hari talks about how being unable to control things in your job, regardless of the type of work, completely destroys someone’s sense of worth and drives you into a state of hopelessness and depression. This can lead to anxiety and the inability to plan, because the depression and anxiety shrink your time horizon down to the immediacy of dealing with the person in control of your work life. This is something that his abhorrent to Lean, Agile, and Six Sigma methodologies. Where the goal is to push down decision making to the person closest to the actual work. In companies that really focus on driving down cost or having the single point of decision making, this can be anathema to the company culture.

The second section that hit home was the portion about our culture being at odds with our intrinsic values. Considering that I’ve been immersed so deeply with Lean, I have a strong sense of what i believe is fair for technology and social policies, it’s unsurprising that the current political environment was contributing to my depression. I had tried to fight this by writing, but I had just felt beaten down. I didn’t feel like I had anyone around me to talk with to support my values, this plunged me into farther depression.

This is where you need to find like people around you and I completely failed in that. I needed support for my values to be able to compete with the unhealthy cultural values i was thrown into at work. While I threw myself into an unhealthy amount of news and media about current politics. These two together over a series of months and years really started to take a toll on me. I suspect that I’m not alone in this. No matter what your principles are, you need to have a strong support network to keep those values healthy. You also have to be aware that your values are under attack by a society that values things very differently than you do. By a society that’s trying to exploit your anxiety to take your money to make you feel better. Because that item is the only thing that will make you feel better.

I had thought I was immune to that because I read a lot. I wasn’t out on Facebook or any places like that really trying to keep up with the Joneses. But I believe that I just dealt with that issue in other ways, including eating more than I should when I’m depressed, having a couple more drinks that I needed, or by shutting myself away from friends and family through gaming or reading or staring off into nothingness.

However, I now know that this is a thing that has happened to me and I can stop and listen to what I’m feeling. I’m going to with help of my friends locally and online to discuss my values and how I’m feeling about things. I’m going to sit with these feelings to understand them and figure out what it is that is in conflict causing me to feel this way and then make a plan to address it. As it is, i’m going to be working with my wife to figure how to get more connected with nature and how to get connected with more people in the area. As a way to get connected and be healthier.

I’m really glad I found this book, because it’s helped me feel a lot lighter about things. It’s helped me understand that I’m not broken, I have problems that cause depression, but they are solvable and I just need to ask for help and figure out to fix them with my partner.

Book review: Enchanted objects

In my last post I briefly mentioned the book Enchanted Objects which is an interesting book about how the future of technology might go. I’ll tell you this up front, the book is biased without a doubt. You can tell this from the beginning. That being said, I think the bias is a fair one and not subtle and really, if you’re reading a pop technology book and you don’t expect bias, then you’re kind of an idiot. This book is pretty full of technoptimism, which if that’s you’re thing you’re going to absolutely love this book. I mean, it really gives some great ideas about how to take an ordinary object add an app to it, connect it to the cloud and other devices and it will realyl solve a lot of problems.

I think this is a really great approach for a limited scope of objects. Not to say that the scope of objects is small, but more that it’s limited to the scope of objects. In some ways, it’s small thinking. I don’t think that’s a limitation on the potential. No, David Rose (the Author) actually does a good job making arguments that this could be a massively connected network that could be part of an even larger network. He envisions using enchanted objects to help manage diabetes care in such a way that it continually informs doctors, patients, hospitals, and insurers of the status and well being of the patient. Even so far as to tell the patient what foods to eat when in the event of a diabetic shock.

The big holistic vision is there, but I really can’t but think that a lot of these ideas he covers, Ambient Orb for example, are really first world problem solving tools. His idea around a garbage can that will automatically reorder a good when you throw it out seems to push consumerism rather than conservation (to be fair he does talk about trying to turn the garbage cans in a neighborhood into a game where the “greenest” or smallest waste house wins).

The major problem I see with these enchanted objects, isn’t that there’s a lot of potential to make them, it’s more what is the additional value gained to the consumer by having these enchanted objects? Rose argues that we need to move away from the swiss army type devices, like a tablet which is an attempt to do everything, towards more specialized devices. For example an umbrella that connects to the local weather to glow and recommend taking it with you when you head out the door. I could see some value in this, living in Portland, Oregon, but I hate umbrellas so I’d never use it (too many of them have hit me in the eye, so i think they should all be destroyed). Other people likely will find value in this product. However, is that enough to make you buy the special one, or do you think that you’d just still buy the $10 one that when you lose it, you won’t morn its demise? Maybe a connected umbrella stand would be more appropriate.

I think the biggest problem with this book, isn’t the general idea. I think connected objects will happen and I think there is something of an air of inevitability around them. My largest concern, however, is the lack of concern over safety and privacy within these applications. It’s likely that this umbrella will have to have a GPS radio in it. Which suddenly means, I’m carrying about multiple GPS radios. My phone, my tablet, my umbrella, my watch, and probably my running shoes (so I can share my results on mapmyrun and then Facebook, of course!). All of these devices will likely end up following under the purview of law that will require them to store that data for some amount of time. In many cases, App designers also tend to requet access to a larger portion of a phone or tablet than they strictly need. This opens end users up to greater risk than really neccessary. If I bought a product, shouldn’t that information be under my control? If it’s free how is that company using my data once they requested access for it?

These answers are lacking. I don’t really believe it’s because the author doesn’t think they are important questions. I think he just doesn’t know how to answer them. He actually mentions some of these topics in the book, but doesn’t have a statisfactory answer to them. I would like to see him work with Evgeny Morozov to answer many of these questions. I think then, I’d feel more comfortable purchasing these enchanted objects.

I’d recommend this book to anyone in design, aspiring to be an entrepreneur, or that really loves technology. It’s not as blind in its faith in technology the way that “What technology wants” but it has the right level of optimism to help keep someone that is trying to change the world keep trying and to hopefully make the design of that product just a little bit more magical. I do plan on using what I’ve learned in this book to help with my projects and any sensor based device my wife designs on her side projects.

Overall, I give this book a 4/5 

Work, Lean, and Health

I just visited a nutritionist today. I’ve had issues with Gluten for years and I’ve also been diagonosed with Hypoglycima which is a condition where my blood sugar levels aren’t well regulated by my body. The combination of the two has caused me no end of issues. At this point, it’s been difficult to tell the difference between a glutening and low blood sugar, at least a low level glutening anyway, a serious glutening it’s pretty obvious. I feel drunk within a few hours and then have the shits the next day or two. It’s pretty bad. Anyway, the combination has been pretty difficult to pull a part. When i have spikes in my blood sugar it makes me feel out of it as well. So, I’m going to really address both of these issues through better nutrition and probably more working out as well.

How does this connect to work and lean process improvement though? Well, at Cambia, we get a discount for eating salad’s and other healthy foods, so I’ve already been doing that, but that’s not the work connection I’m talking about. I just started reading a book called “Lean is Healthcare” which I picked up because I thought it was actually a book on Lean in Healthcare – pretty understandable confusion I think. I’ve only read a few pages, but as a lean practitioner it really ressonated with me. The premise is that Lean is a way of improving your employee’s health. Thinking about it now, it’s pretty obvious, but it definitely was an Ah HA moment when I read that.

Lean helps create flow in work. This is for both the product as well as the worker. Flow can be described as feeling you get when everything is just clicking. It’s like when a basketball player can’t miss a basic, they are in a state where they are relaxed and feeling good. It’s similar to a meditative state – think about any of the projects that you’ve gotten into and time just flew by. When you think about work, you never think about flow like that. I’m sure you’ve had bits and pieces of flow – but they don’t last very long. However, imagine if you were able to get into a job where everything you did flowed like that. Where you walked into the office and you walked out feeling accomplished, got things done, and excited to come back tomorrow.

I think there are a few companies that encourage that – companies that encourage creative coding and design are likely the best at this type of work. Why? Because they are all about thinking and connecting ideas and concepts to each other. It’s easy to get into a meditative state when you’re really jamming away at code. I feel a similar mode of thought when I’m blogging with a keyboard that works.

Work like this makes you feel better. It’s better for your health, better for your life balance, and better for your confidence. With that in mind, shouldn’t it be a moral imperative for a company to shift to enabling work like this? Work that makes you feel accomplished, healthy, and productive? Isn’t it also a financial imperative as well as all these things increase the value the company gets out of you as an employee?

I think the answer is yes to all these questions. I will be thinking about this as I work at Cambia continually driving towards for productive work and healthier stress balance for the employees.