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.

Black Mirror: Nosedive, Authenticity, and Lost Connections

I just finished watching Black Mirror’s episode called Nosedive, which is an interesting episode about the impact of continually rating people for every social interaction. It explores what happens when someone who was previously a very high rated person has a very bad day. It was, implied that it would happen throughout episode, that everyone was just a series of misfortunate events away from dropping from their current social hierarchy to a lower strata where they’d be unable to function in current society. Ratings indicate which jobs a person can have or not. Dropping too low indicates you’re not worthy of that job and in many cases, network effects and game theory type logic comes into play. Where you have to judge if a low ranking person or a person that’s currently out of favor would negatively impact your image.If that would drop you from a person of respect to a person of disrepute.

This episode made me uncomfortable to watch, because in a lot of ways it feels like it hits close to home as it deals with a major reason why I don’t like social media. I don’t like the constant need for validation through pictures, likes, and comments. I’ve tried to, in general avoid, Facebook lately, because it feels inauthentic, and creepy. Between Facebook, itself, tracking what you do online and partners with companies to track your shopping habits offline. Combing that with the desire to display the best of your life on platforms like Instagram, this can lead to depression.

In many articles it’s because of the fact that you’re comparing your messy every day life to what people are willing to post, which typically represents the best parts of their life. Their happy dogs, walking in a vineyard, going surfing, or some new thing that they bought. Even if you know that you are doing this, doesn’t really help. However, I think there’s a few reasons beyond that. For one, it forces you to live an inauthentic life, which is one of the major themes in the show Nosedive. The character knows she’s putting on a show and clearly has some serious anxiety around behaving that way. Her brother, who lives a more authentic life, doesn’t care as much about his social media score and directly asks for Lacie (the main character) to return to her authentic self (“remember when we had real conversations?”)

Being an inauthentic version of yourself is a type of acting as well pushing down the values you actually believe in. This is something referenced in Lost Connections as a root cause of depression. Where our intrinsic values do not align with society’s values and we must adopt society’s values over our own we become depressed. In the episode it Lacie only became aware that it was a possible to reject those norms when she was picked up by a trucker with a rate of 1.4/5. This woman allowed her to reflect on her experience as her rating declined and bottomed out.

However, it wasn’t until she’d been rejected by the society and put into a prison of sorts that she was able to find a truly authentic interaction. It was rage filled, but eventually became filled with joy as the two people in prison were able to be an authentic version of themselves.

In our society, while we don’t have the intensity portrayed in the episode with social media, it is possible we could move into that direction over time. For us to really have authentic interactions, we need to find people that support us being our authentic selves even when there are people in our lives that might not fully support our decisions. Or people in our lives that make it more difficult to be authentic.

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.

Review: Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari

Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected SolutionsLost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First of all you need to go into this book with an open mind. Skepticism on what he has to say is perfectly acceptable, but if you do not go into this with an open mind, you’re not willing to listen to what he’s saying. I read some of the 1 star reviews on Amazon and I believe that a lot of them really missed what he was trying to say with this book.

One thing you must be open to, is that our current pill happy society may actually be incorrect in using pills to address depression. That we may need to change how we live to address our depression and work with other people to get rid of it. It seems pretty ground breaking but this is supported with a lot of research. A full 30% of this book is foot notes (according to my Kindle). There are some foot notes that reference a full dozen different papers to support a given statement. This, for a layman’s pop-sci book, is pretty unheard of. I’ve read books by both scientists and science communicators and I’ve never been overwhelmed with evidence like I have in this book.

This book forces us to look at some very different causes for depression. One of the is trauma that we may or may not have dealt with in our childhoods. Just because it is A cause of depression, doesn’t mean it applies to everyone. There are certainly people that have dealt with childhood pain as well as some of the other causes like a soul crushing job with continual instability in keeping that job. Each of those are different causes of depression. In all, he lists 9 factors. I believe that there’s some of them that have actually impacted me in some way. From continual stress at home growing up to instability in jobs and a different set of values at work through my Lean Continuous Improvement training which just completely beat me down. I felt rather helpless in a lot of ways and I had no idea how to get out of it.

While reading this book, I’ve felt better than I’ve felt in a long time because he offers solutions to cases he describes. He explains people that were in bad situations and some of the solutions that helped them. Then he goes into great details to explain a large number of medically researched solutions that do not involve anti-depressants. This includes things like meditation, getting out in nature more, reconnecting with people through either support groups or something like a community garden. They are a lot more detailed than that. However, the important thing is that he describes cases with interviews, of where this has worked. In many cases with psychoanalysis but in some cases without.

The one thing that really helped was that you aren’t intended to do this alone. That you should seek out help and that one thing that is driving our depression is loneliness so the solution cannot be more of the same alone-ness. I’ve asked my wife to help me deal with my depression. Some of the things that we’ve committed to doing because of this book is to get to the coast at least monthly. To join an art class together, where we can meet new friends. She’s going to support me with playing hockey, as well as other things that we come up with from there.

I strongly recommend this book to people with any form of depression and I hope that you use this as a point to get help. Reach out and get a therapist, then, after you start to feel better, ask for help from friends to go with you when you start a new class or new organization. People generally know that you are depressed and being open about it and asking them for help will excite them. They want to help you (you know that I’m sure), but don’t know how to help you. This book can provide a language for you and your friends to discuss ways that you can get better.

You may always be depressed in some way, but you’ll be better overall.

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Review of Sam Sykes’ the City Stained Red

The City Stained Red (Bring Down Heaven, #1)The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. This definitely isn’t the high fantasy of Martin with big words, the biggest. This is the way that your DM talks to you while you’re playing a DnD campaign. Short, brutal, and with enough description to know how deep you are in the shit and let’s your imagination to fill in the rest. I mention a DM, because this books feels like someone took an incredibly chaotic DnD campaign and decided to turn it into a book. Where characters went off and did everything that you wouldn’t want them to do if you were running the campaign. It’s great. It’s funny, you love the characters, you care about what they are going through. Furthermore, this is generally a very tightly focused book on a single place without the massive world ending implications driving everyone to save everything. The characters are scared, in a horrible place, with crazy things going on that you don’t generally understand.

Sykes creates some really cool twists on existing fantasy character races, while makings new ones that blend seemlessly in his world. I would highly recommend this book to anyone that has had a hilariously absurd DnD session or that just wants a fun book that isn’t as weighty as a Rothfuss or Martin (weighty in terms of plot not size of book).

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Review of Oathbringer by Brand Sanderson

Oathbringer (The Stormlight Archive, #3)Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was definitely ok. It was a good way to pass time, but I don’t think this book is nearly as good as some of Sanderson’s other writing. I find these books to be bloated, take an overly long time for events to happen, and for there to be a general lack of emotional depth for many of the characters. The story progresses along a somewhat predictable path with a few minor twists and turns that feel like they come out of no where, but it doesn’t really matter. The twists don’t really feel like they materially change the general direction of the story.

The author tried to add a great deal of tension throughout the story, but I never felt that the important characters were really ever at a real threat to being killed. I also didn’t feel like there was a threat to them being removed from the real important battle in a meaningful way. This was basically accurate throughout the story.

I also felt that many of the characters still seemed two dimensional even though we’ve now been with them for three books. This was simply confounded by the fact that no one truly grieved when an important (but not a main) character was killed. I couldn’t help but compare the death of this character to my reactions to characters that were significanly more minor or insignificant generally to the story, but we learned more about them in series like Malazan Book of the Fallen.

This was a good entertaining book, it’s not the best fantasy out there. It’s good enough to get you through to a better series though.

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