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.

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.

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.

Book Review: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson – A guide for finding the right values to give a fuck about the right things

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good LifeThe Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I actually first heard of this book while I was reading an article about Millennial Burnout. The author of that article knocked this book, which now I realize that author clearly hadn’t read this book! I think this book is completely misnamed, because this book isn’t about ‘Not Giving a Fuck’ it’s really about ‘Giving a fuck about the right things.’ I think this is an important distinction and one that, if you judge the book by its cover, you’ll definitely miss.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on depression. I’ve read 1 book written by a layman that covers a great deal of different research on depression, Lost Connections. I’ve read another book that deals with Trauma and how that can cause depression, The Body Keeps the Score. Finally, I’ve read a book on the science of love and how unhealthy relationships while growing up and as adults can cause depression, General Theory of Love. I believe that I can add this as a fourth book to this list. In Lost Connections the author argues that a major cause of depression in our lives is a misalignment with our core values and the values of society. I believe that this book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, is an entire book about that.

The author’s premise is that we are valuing, and thus giving a fuck about, the wrong things. That could be chasing material items, women (the author himself is a self confessed womanizer), a bigger paycheck, a new job that will solve all their problems, and other things. We are chasing these things, because this is what we’ve been taught to value through our friends and families.

However, these things do not make you happy. Solving the right types of problems can make you happy. Those problems that you solve are what you value. Seeking them out can help make you happy. The pain and struggle of solving those problems lead to happiness.

This rings true to me. I’m struggling with work and finding balance and happiness with my life. I’ve had great success in my work and have made significantly more money since entering the job market. However, I am not less depressed. If anything my depression deepened. As a result, I feel like I’m flailing.

This book helped me put into context a lot of different ideas that I had read in the other three books. In a way it synthesized those ideas into something that was more actionable. In some ways, the action is to do something, anything. But start by putting one step forward. Try something small and take responsibility of that.

Responsibility is a key theme in this book. You take responsibility to how you respond to anything that happens to you. This isn’t to say it’s your fault this thing happened. For example, if you get sick, that is not your fault. How you deal with being sick is your responsibility. If someone treats you like shit at work, that’s not your fault, but how you respond to them is your responsibility. If you set boundaries and make it clear that behavior is unacceptable and act professional, you can start to change that relationship. If you retaliate and escalate things, you are responsible for that. Even if the person, really pissed you off.

I think this book is also important given the conversation around Toxic Masculinity. Toxic Masculinity is all about entitlement. This book argues that entitlement is one of the major reasons why people are unhappy. It leads to shitty values that make you a shitty person. If you are pissed off that people don’t like toxic masculinity, it’s because you’re concerned some of your behavior may be construed as toxic. You’re responsible for that response. You’re responsible for inspecting your values and your behavior to understand if you are a toxic person. If you find yourself wanting, then it is your responsibility to change and improve yourself. You can. This book helps provide a roadmap for it.

This book isn’t perfect, of course. The author definitely leans into the title during the beginning of the book, which can get old. There are other places where the author does this as well, because it seems to fit. However, if you are able to get past that bit of childish fun to get into the meat of the book, it’s well worth it.

I would strongly suggest that if you find this book interesting to read the other books about depression I suggested above. These together can help you work through your depression, if you are also depressed.

View all my reviews

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.

What Books Have Meant to Me

I have been a voracious reader most of my life. However, it didn’t come easy to me at first. In First Grade, where we really started to learn to read, I struggled a great deal. I always feared reading out loud because I would jumble words. They would swim in my vision and make it really difficult to read. I still switch words and I feel like when I’m reading out loud, I’m staring at the whole page rather than a specific line. It’s very difficult. However, I liked the stories that I was plunged into and it definitely made things feel worth it. In 3rd grade I really started to read ahead, but started to get major headaches while reading, so I had to get glasses just for reading. It eventually turned into requiring glasses all the time.

In 5th grade I really jumped into the world of Fantasy. When i’d get in trouble with the parents, we’d get sent to corners and one of the corners was next to my parent’s “nice” book shelf. In there was a really old version of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I was super interested by the book spines, as there was this crazy eye in the center of a ring. I decided to read this book when I got an assignment for doing a diorama about a specific book. Most of my classmates selected much shorter books, but I was super proud of selecting that book.

A few years later, my friends and I had a falling out. I ended up falling back into that series again. I read everything i could get my hands on. I was so depressed, but didn’t really understand what depression was. I was alone, but couldn’t really articulate to my parents and nor could my parents help me with my depression and loneliness because they didn’t have the emotional tools to help me with my depression. My dad specifically, because he was struggling with his own depression so he just wasn’t there.

As a result, I end up spending a great deal of time with Middle Earth. Since this was around when Metallica Load came out, I deeply associated that album with the Lord of the Rings. To the point where I was really disappointed with the video of “Hero of the Day” because I kept associating the narrator of that song with Frodo. It’s not the worst video, but it definitely didn’t fit with what I was expecting given how many times I heard that album while reading those books.

Over the years I’ve escaped into books to deal with the depression rooted in my parents fighting. Dealing with my girlfriend in HS. The divorce of my parents. Books were always my escape from these difficult times. Lately, I’ve been depressed to the point where it was a struggle to read.

I plan to start a small series on here for when the fancy strikes to write about a book that meant something to me and why it meant something to me. Something in more detail than what I wrote, here, about Lord of the Rings. This idea came from the Movies with Mikey episode about what Animation Taught Us. For me though, since I was limited in what I could watch on TV, including Movies, I think that Books are more appropriate. I’m not sure exactly how this will play out, so we’ll see.