I know when I’m feeling down because this little part of my brain starts questioning why I’m doing anything. Why go out and visit friends when I don’t really feel like it? Why do any exercise when I feel tired? Why get all dressed up to go to work? Why get up at all? Why…
Once I recognise this symptom it’s often difficult to fight. I have a somewhat philosophical nature and I like asking those big questions of “what is the right thing to do” and “where should we be going”. It’s easy to get a kind of choice paralysis when asking these questions, and if one is definitely staring down the barrel of a big question – should I disagree with someone I love, should I say something against a person that everyone else agrees with, should I complain about someone else’s misplaced generosity – then it can be really difficult to feel like you can move on. And that’s when you start questioning why you should get out of bed.
It took me a while to feel like I could just ignore some of those questions and move on. But I finally realised that I couldn’t let everything stall just because I can’t answer a question for which, almost by definition, there is no ‘right’ answer. By getting on with the things we do every day – eating, doing the chores, getting out, exercising – we actually give our brains space to process some of those hard questions. And in the process we almost invariably get some more input that adds valuable information.
By getting up and getting on with things, we are not stalling or putting off the question. We are adding to our perception and improving our ability to choose. Stalling is lying in bed doing nothing. And sometimes things will solve themselves naturally without our intervention. Most importantly, we keep to our comfortable routines, we keep on the move for new opportunities, and we don’t lose the energy and momentum to tackle life’s problems.
We sometimes need to walk around the problem and look at it from another angle, and we can only do that if we keep moving.
One of the attributes of intelligence we ascribe to ourselves is the ability to work out what other people might do. The next stage in that process, one might say, is to anticipate their needs and desires. If you know that someone gets very angry when you poke them with a sharp stick, then you tend to avoid that.
In modern life we anticipate other people’s thoughts and emotional reactions in many situations, but this is a guessing game. It also hurts when our well-meant actions are seen as having some malicious meaning we never intended them to have, and this can happen when the’re’s an ‘impedance’ failure between what we mean and how we’re interpreted.
The other part of the problem is that people rarely explain what they most want. Most of the reasons boil down to the fact we feel uncomfortable telling someone else how they should act. We most commonly communicate how we want to be treated by treating someone else that way. A simple example: some people make light of mistakes because they wish to pass off the mistake as not worth worrying about, but to others this laughter can be interpreted as laughing at the person who made the mistake. Unfortunately, hilarity and anger ensue.
The key here is that mismatch between what we expect and what the other person gives, and it can be very subtle. We might completely overlook someone holding back on a comment (because they feel a comment is too critical at that time) and comment ourselves, thus annoying the other person. There’s no sure-fire way to fix this problem instantly, but the most important thing we can do is to recognise those situations. Taking a step back and apologising for treating the other person the wrong way is a good way to start things back on track.
In this sense, the Golden Rule can be reworded as “do unto others as they want to be done by, as expressed in how they do unto you”. Doesn’t sound as attractive but it’s probably closer to the mark.
We’re intelligent people. We like to be logical, precise, controlled and just. But when the black dog is behind us, or someone’s just said something that really makes us feel bad, it can be very peculiar to see all that fly out the window and find these strange emotions churning in their place. When I’m badly hurt by something, I’m often very silent, as my mind races to find the correct answer, the precise justification for my feelings or the truly encompassing start to my exposition.
In those situations, you might have someone wanting to help you. They might even be the person that said whatever it was that put you down. They might even not sound like they’re helping at all with their questions or explanations. But often it is this very person who does care the most for you. And here you can apply that intelligent, logical brain for a minute to help you.
The first thing I try to do is to at least apologise for being upset. Sure, it may be a small thing, but sometimes the other person doesn’t even know that anything might be wrong. Apologise if you’ve snapped at them, or done something ill-mannered. We can agree that even if you feel like they’re the one who has hurt you and you dearly want an apology, that you shouldn’t be lashing out or being nasty.
Which leads me to the second thing I try to do: precisely differentiate between how they’re trying to help (even if it’s not actually helping you) and whatever has hurt you. You may realise that, even though they’re being a klutz – and I know I’ve been really stupid when it’s come to trying to comfort someone else when they’re feeling down – they at least care for you. It’s not much, but we can all work on that.
Most importantly, we have to try to not be sarcastic, rude, difficult, or antagonistic while we’re dealing with our problems. It might feel that the effort will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, but believe me it’s nothing compared to what gets broken if you deliberately set out to hurt the person who’s trying to help you. 🙂
Getting a bit of physical activity is often hard for hackers. We don’t want to sit around sweating in gyms, we often work late and hack later, and we may even be afraid of that old Rugby Jock image that has tyrannised some of us. But as mentioned in the HowTo, doing some physical work often makes it much easier to sleep and run our bodies normally. Here are a bunch of ideas that you can use to get a bit more exercise without making it a chore.
- Climb the stairs to work. If you work up fairly high in a building, see if you can get the lift from the third floor or get off two levels before your own.
- Walk around the block or the building at lunchtime.
- If you catch the train or bus, try getting off one stop before your work or home and walking the rest of the way.
- If you have one, take your music player and listen to some good podcasts while walking to make good use of the time.
- Some of us live close enough to work to cycle in – try to make one day a week when you cycle in. That way you can plan ahead for it.
- If you live too far out to ride all the way, see if you can take your bike part of the way, in a car or on a train.
- I used to take my rollerblades in to work in my bag and then change and blade home. This way I didn’t have to shower and change at work and still got some good exercise.
- See if there’s anyone else that you work with that wants to go for walks; it also gives you a good chance to talk about hacking and other fun stuff.
- Try standing up in the bus or train to work rather than sitting all the way.
- Try geocaching – it’s a great way to explore your area and places you visit, it gets you out and walking around, you get to traded neat small stuff with other people, and there’s the thrill of discovery and secret knowledge.
- Offer to do some gardening for a friend – you don’t have to have a green thumb if they do.
- If you do some kind of regular exercise, start tracking it. Set yourself regular goals – something you can achieve every week or so – and reward yourself when you get there.
- Grab a Chore Wars account for you and anyone you share with and see how many levels you can achieve.
I’d be really interested to hear other ideas on how to get a bit more activity in your day. The key lessons I’ve found are that it doesn’t have to be a lot of work or something that looks like ‘regular exercise’ to still stay active, that making small increments and keeping to them is more fun than trying for big goals, and that fitting things into your existing routine almost always works and changing your routine is much harder.
Sometimes, even a single sentence or thought can make us feel depressed. Suddenly we’re reminded of some black incident in our past, and it can seem like we’re going through the same awful process another time around. Even a totally inoccuous thing can set us off at times; sometimes even the realisation that we feel that way about something can get us back into the rut again.
I find one way to deal with that is to try and separate the trigger from the memories. There’s always some difference between this time and last time, even if it’s just that we’re older and wiser and remember the pain from before. I try to think about the difference between the two events and focus on why it might be different this time. That recently helped me realise that even though my partner said something that made me depressed, that she wasn’t doing it to depress me. I still felt depressed, but now it was my own feelings that I was dealing with rather than feeling like someone else was weighing me down. Then I could reflect that in fact she meant to try and encourage and support me, even though she might have approached it the wrong way just then.
By seeing the differences between what had gone before and what was happening now, I could reorient my thinking slightly so I didn’t have to go down the same path.
A friend taught me a very useful trick to use when you really want to get to sleep but your brain can’t stop bouncing around randomly. Start counting and visualise each number, tracing it out in your visual space. Replace each number with the word ‘sleep’ before going on to the next. Or imagine it like a count-down strip in an old film reel, with the number 1 being surrounded by a clock face sweeping out the time to the next number. Slow that time down between numbers. Or write the words out in your head. Or count in a foreign language, again tracing the words out in your head. Try binary or trinary.
The key detail here is to not just think of the number but to visually map it out in your visual space, so it involves more of your brain to trace each number. If you also involve a picture or a word that you have to put between each iteration, it forces your brain to concentrate on one thing. And that’s really the key to that ‘brain pinball’ feeling – stopping every bit of your brain firing randomly.
The other technique I’ve used is to count up in series. Powers of two or three, the Fibonacci series – there are plenty of other arithmetic (and a few simple geometric) progressions that you can use to focus your mind. Now that I can count up to 2^24 from memory it becomes more of a challenge, but it’s a good way of concentrating to stop your thoughts randomly running all over the place.
Depression takes many forms and comes at different times. One thing that I took a while to learn was that depression also has many reasons. I thought that ‘real depression’ would only apply to people that had lost everything, or had everything go wrong, or had no prospects. It took me a while to realise that everything could seem fine but I could still feel depressed – and that this was normal. Sometimes even the fact that you theoretically have so much going for you can exacerbate the feeling of depression, making you feel even more out of touch.
My first step to dealing with these bouts of depression was to realise that I’m not unusual or abnormal for feeling depressed when other people aren’t. It’s perfectly acceptable to feel differently from other people, and to feel sad, or scared, or uneasy, at something that other people seem to take as normal. Accepting my feelings as normal has been a good way for me to move on from them.