All posts by robindebates

Quantified Self

There is an interesting phenomena I learned about in my first quarter of social work school.

When we start keeping track of behaviors, without any other intervention aside from keeping track, we start to experience change in the direction we desire.

This is one of the ideas behind “quantified self,” a movement to keep track of everything from sleep/wake patterns to heart rate to mood to spending habits. If you keep track of your exercise, food intake, and body measurements, or if you’ve ever assigned a number to your “sense of satisfaction” every day for days in a row, you’re doing “quantified self.” Keep a journal of medications and your mood? Quantified self. Even something like a daily check list of activities can be quantified self if you retain the data.

Quantified self also comes out of a rational scientific mindset of inductive reasoning. We collect data and see what patterns we observe.  When patterns start to emerge, we then have the option of testing them through more or less rigid adherence to the scientific method. I say “more or less rigid” because it is incredibly difficult to maintain constants and make only one change at a time in the course of our individual, day-to-day lives.

However, quantified self can be incredibly useful to track changes when starting or stopping a medication. It can also be helpful to notice the more subtle effects of exercise over time. Bringing in data to your health care provider can be incredibly useful. If your provider is worth their salt, they will appreciate the attempts to narrow down variables and notice any patterns. (Side note: I once had a provider who, upon seeing my months of sleep charting in the attempt to find patterns related to wicked insomnia, decided I should be diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. We didn’t work together very long.)

Want to start getting at whether that 2pm cup of coffee really helps you wake up in the afternoon or if it makes it harder to fall asleep at night? Here’s an extensive (and I mean really, really extensive) list of tools, many of which you could use right on your phone or laptop.

Some tips and tricks?

  • Keep it simple. The more elaborate your recording system, the more likely you will feel you don’t have the energy to “write it all down.”
  • Keep it accessible. On your mobile device right there in front. On your bedside table so you remember to do it last thing at night or first thing in the morning.
  • Set an alert or alarm. Or use a recurring task to remind you to record your data. Unless you are recording “triggered event” data (logging every cup of coffee every time you drink it), it can be really easy to forget to make your entry.
  • Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good. If you are anything like me, you might want to spend a lot of time setting up a system that’s going to be “just right.” Pick something simple and start with it. Same goes for days of missing data. There are going to be holes in your data set. That’s just the way it goes. This doesn’t make your data worthless.
  • Get inspired by others. Check out the community over at Quantified Self or attend a local meetup to see how others are using the concept of quantified self to get solid results improving their quality of life.

Blue Hackers Seattle Meet Up, Sunday 5/13

Blue Hackers MeetUp
Sunday, May 13th

TIME CHANGE–2 to 3pm
Jigsaw Renaissance
(at the Inscape Building, 815 Seattle Blvd S, 98134)Frank and open discussion about mental health in hacker/maker communities. Join us to get or give support, or just to know you are not alone with your challenges (mood and anxiety disorders, ADHD, Asperger’s/PDD, suicide, self harm, and more).

Homeostasis Check: HALT

The OS works best when the hardware has stability within certain environmental parameters… not to hot, not too cold, not too many yaks yodeling in the alleyway outside.

This is as true for our bodies as it is for computers.

HALT is a handy mnemonic I learned when I was working with kids in a residential treatment program to check parameters of their operating environment. It works by noticing that you feel dysregulated, down, or otherwise kind of out of sorts or off kilter. Then asking yourself:

  • Am I HUNGRY?
  • Am I ANGRY?
  • Am I LONELY?
  • Am I TIRED?

Trouble shooting these four items can solve a significant amount of distress.

A mentor of mine also added some other basic functions like

  • Do I need to pee or poop?
  • Should I drink some water?
  • Do I need to take a break from what I’m doing right now?
  • When was the last time I moved my body?

Those questions still get at the same basic principles as HALT. They just don’t fit as nicely into the mnemonic.

But I think you get the idea.

Humans don’t come with indicator panels, or alarms that go “bing” when we get low on fuel or full of information. But with a bit of practice, we can learn to recognize the early indicators of dysregulation to prevent a full-scale meltdown.

Especially when at hack-a-thons, all night coding parties, or other projects where you are working intensely for long periods of time, having an easy way to remind yourself about basic needs can be a lifesaver.

So make time to check in with yourself. Scan the environmental parameters of your operating system. It will function a lot more smoothly when you pay attention to it.

Hello, Computer

Hi there.

My name is Robin.

I hang out at a Seattle, WA, US maker space called Jigsaw Renaissance. I’m a geek-girl, hobby scientist who likes to put pointless LEDs in clothes, make stars in the microwave, and grow bioluminescent algae in her free time. I’m a social worker by training.

But I’m writing here at Blue Hacker because I don’t want anyone to die.

Yep. That’s it.

That’s the sum total of my investment in Blue Hackers.

When any of us decides to end our lives, we do so because we believe it is the most effective means to end pain and suffering. I don’t fault anyone for that. And I also know that its incredibly difficult to openly discuss depression, suicide, self harm, addiction, and other things that make us feel crappy in the context of hacker and maker culture.

Hackers see things differently than many people. This is a dark gift. On one hand, we have the opportunity, sometimes with blinding brilliance, to make great leaps in our chosen areas. Yet on the other hand, its challenging to find others who share our interests and abilities and connect with those others in meaningful ways.

The world needs all the creativity, skill, and perspective hackers can bring to bear on the problems and challenges we currently face.

I want to be part of the solution. Part of what works. Part of people feeling accepted, seen, acknowledged, validated, cared about in my community.

Once or twice a month I’ll be posting some things here. If you have ideas or questions about mental health, please leave a reply to this post or shoot me an email. I’ll do my best to give you a response that reflects the current best knowledge and practices from a professional mental health perspective as it applies to hackers.

I hope you are kicking ass, and not getting your ass kicked.


February Blue Hackers Meetup in Seattle

Seven humans and one dog attended the first Seattle area BlueHackers Meetup.

Through a “guided conversation” attendees discussed their own struggles and successes with ADHD, Asperger’s, depression, self harm, and trauma.

During our 2 hours together, we:

We ran out of time to talk about surviving someone else’s crisis without making one of your own.  And we decided another meetup would be grand.

To that end, the next Seattle Blue Hackers meet up will be Sunday, March 11th, from 4 to 6pm (come and go as you need to). Location: Jigsaw Renaissace, 815 S Seattle Blvd, Seattle WA 98134.  For more info on this meetup, email robin (at) jigsawrenaissance dot org.