Talking about Depression: Otherness

Talking about Otherness is an odd topic when it comes to depression. At least for people that don’t really suffer from chronic form of depression. However, this is something that I think a lot of people can relate to that suffer on a regular basis. Otherness in this context means that there are time where you feel like you’re watching someone go through the motions of your life for you. Where you look at things you’ve written in the past and don’t even recognize who that person was. That when you read that, you can’t even imagine that person could possibly have the depression that you have. That personĀ is capable and competent. That they certainly couldn’t be the same person as you.

There are times where you feel like you’re watching someone put on your face and getting in front of a crowd of people doing something with such conviction and confidence that you’re floored. That person is supposed to be you, but you don’t feel like it. This has certainly happened to me. I look back at my blog posts from years ago or even within the same year and I hardly remember writing them. I’m impressed that I was able to put together that coherent of an argument. That I had that sort of passion for a topic, even if it was only while I was writing.

When I was a regular instructor for Lean Six Sigma in my various roles in my career I’ve often felt as someone riding and watching myself give those presentations. Where I would be able, without much or any preparation, to give a full week of training courses (granted there were some slide decks where this showed more than others). I would be asked questions and I’d feel like I was watching someone else answer. That I was just along for the ride while this other “Ryan” was giving the presentation. This person didn’t feel like me.

At the end of the day, I’d be completely exhausted and so worn out. In a lot of ways I was also energized, because I had a community. I was with a group of like minded people. I wasn’t alone, which felt great. But, I also often felt like a fraud and was depressed because I felt like I was selling something that my bosses didn’t really support. That enough though we offered to our students a great remedy for what was ailing these organizations, the leadership didn’t support it. This caused a great deal of internal turmoil because the values of the organization didn’t fully align with what I was teaching.

Recognizing this otherness is important to do though. We need to be able to sit and look at this otherness and try to identify the source of it. In the case of teaching Lean, the root of the otherness was a misalignment of values. This exasperated my existing depression, I had already felt alone. I then struggled to find new meaningful work, when I didn’t trust other companies to have a value that really aligned with what I wanted to teach.

It’s also important to recognize the otherness because we don’t like it in ourselves. This means we’re less tolerant of otherness in other people, because it reminds us of our own otherness. However, sitting with our otherness can allow us to see why we’re feeling that way. This otherness, hiding from ourselves, putting a mask on, or burying our true feelings, is a coping mechanism and is completely natural. Everyone does it. So, meditating after you feel like an Other will allow you, as you scan down your body, to experience a wholeness. It’ll make you aware of the anxiety or fear you’d been hiding from yourself. It removes the otherness and centers you back in your body. It makes you feel again.

I strongly recommend meditation when you feel like this. Your thoughts will drift, you’ll feel lighter, eventually, but you’ll feel. Which is important for your and my recovery.

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.

How you feel at work

We know that work sucks most of the time. The question is why? My wife and I have been pondering this question quite a bit lately because of her high levels of stress. She’s basically working all the time and has little expectation of being rewarded beyond a raise and the yearly bonus everyone gets based on the performance of her company. Being on call 24/7 with tools that consistently go down as a new employee immediately creates problems. No matter what you do you feel like you’re a failure. This is where the quality of your manager can really step in to make you feel better about the job you’ve been doing. According to a Danish study this is what causes work driven depression, not the amount of work you’ve left to do. I completely agree with this. I know that I’ve gotten depressed when I’ve had minimal work to do and had been successful with my work because I had a bad manager (he was giving raises to the women in the group he obviously had a crush on). When your managers have poker faces and basically treat you the way they expect to be treated, no awards, recognition, and more work with less time for a job well done are causes of serious workplace depression.

The article doesn’t really provide many ways to address these problems. However, from my experience I know that there are some definite ways to address this type of depression. First, look for co-workers that inspire you and can motivate you. Get peer recognition and make sure you recognize your peers that you feel are doing exemplary work. In many cases companies have spot awards – use them regardless if there’s money associated or not. The recognition really makes people feel good. Furthermore, as more of your peers begin to show recognition it will actually put pressure UP to your manager to do the same. The manager will be the aberration of the group and will likely want to conform, especially if manager sees improvement in the organization.

Work with cross-functional teams. You are more likely to get rewarded when you work on projects with larger scopes. This provides several benefits for you, first you learn more about the organization than just your silo. Second, you are able to see how other leaders treat their people and if you like how a leader in a different group treats their people, you should consider moving in that direction. This will enable you to develop new skills and potentially learn the skills you need to get into a job you find more interesting and full filling.

Finally, if you don’t find something that makes you happy at the company you’re with leave. Not without another job lined up, but start looking for the types of jobs that you want and try to find out what type of manager you’d rather work for. In many jobs you can move around enough to learn what you like and what you don’t like. I suggest moving around within a company, then looking elsewhere. Develop the skills you can while you’re at your current job and try to find something you’re excited about.

Many of the people I’m connected with on social media, such as the KBMOD crew have been able to do this, but not all of them have been able to. I hope they’re able to do this soon, I know that my wife will be doing the same over the next few months. Work takes up too much of your life for it to suck that badly. Move on, if you had a failing review a company would do the same with you, why shouldn’t you do the same if you’re company’s failing you?