Just being there

My introductory post today is not necessarily directly for the Blue Hacker that finds themselves visiting today but rather to those who support a Blue Hacker as a mate, partner, or other support person.  Off the usual post trend, I simply bring an aspect of my story that I am prompted to share.  It comes with a message that in essence that just being there for someone who facing depression can make a difference.

Before I start this story though, I clearly state that I am not an expert of any kind when it comes to depression.  I, myself, have only dealt with depression on a reactive basis to what life has thrown at me, albeit at times on a cyclical basis as for many years I was held back by chronic illness that had me a hostage in my own house.  Beyond that, my experience with long-term depression, bi-polar disorder (manic depression) and also obsessive compulsive disorder are all from supporting family members each with their own conditions to be managed.

As a support person to members of my family I, at first, found the call overwhelming because I did not know what I could do, what I should do and moreso, what limits I should put on myself in terms of the support I offered so that I too did not start to drown.  So, today I write about that first real step of just being there.

My father was diagnosed with depression just before I turned fifteen.  With the events to follow, including the divorce of my parents, I was estranged from my father by both distance and his inability to sustain or rebuild relationship with me as he we went through years of being on and off medication for his condition.

Many years later, married with two children and in the midst of exams I got a phone call from an uncle.  My father had been admitted to hospital and they were concerned that he did not value his life sufficiently to want to make it out again.  After barely speaking to my father for over a decade my uncle simply stated, “It’s up to you what you do but I thought you should know.”

Life, to me, is worth far more than is exhibited in the way we treat our bodies these days so there was no question that I needed to do something.  I also would have been denying a strong burden on my heart to know my father as a person if I did not. So, between Monday and Thursday exams, I found my way to a photo processor and printed two digital photos each one featuring my boys at that time.  They are still today the only digital photos I have ever had processed.  I put them into a couple of frames, packed our bags and drove myself and my children over 600km to where my father was hospitalised.

During just one of those mid-exam days we saw my father.  He, for the first time, saw my second son and spent time playing with both of my children under two.  He marvelled to the nurses about the frames with his grandsons in them in a vocal tone I have only ever heard from a person who is enduring deep depression.  Along with the Soduku book and pencil I grabbed his entire perspective changed over the course of the days that followed not only as a result of our visit but also the assurance that we would continue to be in contact after we had returned safely home.

Now, I cannot say that being there for someone will change their ability to manage their depression because it most likely will not – especially in the long term which requires intrinsic motivation.  Managing depression is a step by step process that needs to be initiated and journeyed by the individual.  However, simply being a part of their lives can assist them to feel ‘connected’.  Connectedness allows a person to see a purpose outside of themselves for seeing through each day.

Connectedness is something that seems to be becoming something that is harder to find as we become so heavily network oriented as a global society.  John Taylor Gatto in his book ‘Dumbing us Down’ written over 10 years ago speaks quite clearly on how networks force us to segment ourselves to our interests or quests for information and it can bring us to a point where we do not know who we are as a whole and therefore cannot determine the purpose we hold in this life.

Networks, including social and interest-based clubs are great, but being a support person is more than that – it is taking an interest as the person as a whole.  No, it does not mean that you should take on their struggles, but it means that when you are there for them by your sheer physical presence you are saying that are there for them in each step of their journey to finding wholeness and purpose – no matter how long the journey may be – simply because that is what friends are for.

Being there to support a person through depresssion is sometimes a difficult task and I am not going to say ‘just be there and everything will be okay’ because often it is not.  However, just being there is a great first step as you learn for yourself about the nature of what depression is and how, as a support person, you too need to find personal strategies for managing it’s presence in your life.

MASH & Hawkeye

Yea, as in the classic TV show with Alan Alda. Of course there’s reruns (again) and I’ve let my MythTV box record some. My favourite characters have always been Hawkeye and Col.Potter. Smart, funny, cynical, way with words.

Col.Potter was in WWI and WWII before Korea where MASH is situated, he’s seen it all before… but Hawkeye, he’s really just like that as a coping mechanism, isn’t he. I used to think he was cool, but with a bit more maturity I see that his attitude has to be seen in the context of the situation and definitely not as a general example of how to be.

Obvious, perhaps, but at the time a lesson for me anyhow. I too have used cynicism (and sarcasm) as a copying mechanism, particularly when I’m tired, stressed, sick, or (even worse!) any combination thereof. I try to catch myself now and consciously work to not behave like an ass in those situations. Hawkeye gets away with it, but I live in the real world…

Book: The Optimistic Child

I’m currently working through a book (it’s more than just reading!) called The Optimistic Child by Martin Seligman. The subtitle is “Proven Program to Safeguard Children from Depression & Build Lifelong Resilience”.

It’s not hype stuff, this is serious and so far I think it’s a very good, insightful and practical book. When I’m finished I’ll write up a review of it, and perhaps add some pages to the site about it. Or just have a peek on Amazon and get it for yourself now!

From the same author there’s another title Learned Optimism, aimed at adults. Again, this is not quick self help blah, but serious stuff and definitely work a look.

Do as I Do

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.

Exercising with a Purpose

I usually just do my early morning walks with ipod/podcast, eating an apple (listen to an apple, eat an apple 😉

It’s state election time around here, and I’m helping a local candidate… that brings up the usual letterbox drops for local events and such (yes, I’m avoiding any letterbox with a “no junk mail” or similar sticker). Anyway, this makes for a nice variation on the exercising, as I’ve now walked up and down extra hilly side-streets that I normally wouldn’t visit.

If you want BlueHackers stickers…

We’re seeing a lot requests for the stickers, which is great – we’re happy to post some, but we do need to optimise things a bit otherwise the logistics (and cost) won’t be practical. So here’s the deal for the currently remaining roll of approx 500 stickers.

If you are active for a local user group, conference or company, and want a sticker for yourself as well as some to hand out at your next meeting or just among your colleagues, send us an email at l i f e (at) b l u e h a c k e r s (dot) o r g with a brief note on what group/company/conference it is, your address of course, and how many stickers you need.

I think numbers of up to a couple of dozen are practical at this stage. Remember, we’ll be printing more stickers anyway so this is just to get things going and spread the word further. We’ll gather the emails and do a mailout about once a week, and of course we’ll reply to let you know when they’ve been posted, and how many you get. Okidoki?

By the way, if you’re on Facebook you can also join the BlueHackers cause, again to help make the issue more visible.

Stickers at Linux.conf.au Tasmania

bluehackers-sticker-roll-lca2009Last week was linux.conf.au in Hobart, Tasmania. This seemed like an ideal opportunity to try the stickers idea. However, this being so soon after the summer holidays (yes xmas is in the summer when you live in the Southern hemisphere!) we weren’t particularly organised. Eek!

Luckily I got hold of a bright and helpful printers in Hobart who couldn’t do exactly what we needed but just arranged everything for us locally. We were pondering a few designs and sizes, but we decided on doing small stickers (of the “powered-by” shape and size) to mainly see put on laptops. Since they’re small, the chances of someone putting them on are increased. Yet the logo is so distinct that it will be spotted. Win! It’s just our logo with the url below, one colour print with gradient, and just paper (no vinyl nasties).

So what’s the objective? For as many people as possible to have these little stickers on their laptop; laptops travel around to conferences, user group meetings and work places. And thus other people get to see this quiet sign of understanding! So it’s not just a sticker to be used by people who have dealt with depression or related issues themselves, it’s for everybody wanting to show this form of support.

As we all know, the feeling of being alone with your problems is a very important aspect. The bluehackers stickers addresses this in a friendly non-intrusive way. Over 500 stickers were handed out during the last days of the conference, so they’re already travelling around the planet to be spotted elsewhere; various people also have strips of stickers with them to hand out to local user groups, colleagues, and others.

I did a lightning talk on the last day which got a fab response and triggered numerous interesting discussions afterwards. It’s clearly struck a chord, and so I guess another objective of BlueHackers is to make the topic more open or at least not taboo. Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier wrote up a  very nice blog entry about us also (“Even Hackers get the Blues“). I have another roll of 500 stickers here, which I’ll send out in chunks to various people around the planet. And more things to come.

So who’s funding all this? Well, some of the best gestures cost little or nothing. Getting the stickers made cost me a few hundred dollars, and while the stickers were handed out for free donations came in and recouped the cost plus the same again (and we still have half the stickers left as well). It’s a matter of running low-cost, and sheer numbers. We’re pondering whether to do a paypal account, but that brings up the question of whether to become a registered non-profit as we don’t want any individual to get stuck with financial or other liabilities. We’ll work it out. Naturally all donations given so far go directly towards BlueHackers activities anyway.

Through the various discussions we’ve gained additional insight in what activities might be useful, and how to go about them. More to come! And remember, the best gestures are free or cheap. Small things can make a huge difference to a person, or perhaps even many.

Happy New Year & Media Mentions

Happy New Year everybody! We hope you got some well-deserved time off over the xmas/holiday period, with (gasp) perhaps even some time away from your computer?

We now have a mutual link with Working Well, after a kind message from someone there. Very useful.
And we hadn’t spotted it before, but ITwire wrote a nice article on us: Geeks seek to hack depression (16 Dec 08)

Don’t hate the helper

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. 🙂

Doing a little more

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.

because we're not just geeks – we're humans.