Researchers found something relevant to people with depression while working on something else (original article at Independent.co.uk, tnx Andrew for the link).
In a nutshell, what they found was that people with severe depression had their body clock out of whack: they were essentially living in a different timezone. I don’t think it’s actually news to us, I wrote about this and it being the equivalent of jetlag in the BlueHackers HowTo. But, I do think it’s interesting in the sense that at least in the cases the researchers encountered, for people with severe depression there was a genetic cause. We like to know why things are the way they are, so this new info can help in that respect.
Modern life, in particular with the type of work many of us do, makes it really easy to stuff up your day and night rhythm, and also your eating pattern which is actually related to this as well. Getting your day/night, daylight and food intake patterns right is generally a very important base. Not for everybody, but I think definitely for most of us. And while some of these things might still be hard for some, they’re relatively easy steps compared to others. It’s worth a try and they’re also specifically things you can get external help with – you can get a friend to come by for a walk at a specific time of day, or go get a meal.
Once the new pattern is trained (can take up to three months but often it’s much sooner) you’ll find it much easier to stick to, and also that other tasks become easier.
Mind you, I’m very aware that this is still easier said than done – I have my own company arranged in such a way that it doesn’t create nasty work hours, but I also have a family and thus in the mayhem (or even just because of the weather) I sometimes lose (some of) the pattern for a while. But, I’m now aware of it and that does make a difference already – it’s easier to fix. Typically my food pattern stays ok, but the morning walk loses out (by the way, it may be an afternoon walk that works best for you).
Do you know what’s messed with my morning walk lately? The city council has closed off a footbridge crossing a creek (storm damage), and that was the only way through in that particular direction. I can create other walking loops but they’re less convenient for several reasons – I’ve walked some but it feels less comfortable. I’m generally ok with change but it’s funny how this is just very disruptive!
How do day/night, exercise and food patterns work for you, and how have you tweaked them to work better for you? Please tell, it will help others.
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tothisdayproject.com – addressing violence and bullying in schools, through a poem by Shane Koyczan.
Here’s one of the visualisations, with Shane’s spoken word:
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Guest post by John Dalton.
One of the many events I attended during the week of Linux.conf.au this year was a BoF session (“Birds of a Feather” – an informal discussion group) for BlueHackers, an organisation dedicated to raising awareness of depression within the geek community.
I think the event was very successful, with around 50 geeks in attendance. I spoke to the group, along with many others – here’s (roughly) what I had to say:
I think of myself as being a pretty bubbly, happy guy.
I have “been depressed” – I’ve had bouts of depression – but I don’t consider myself to be someone who “has depression”. This is a distinction which people who haven’t experienced clinical depression may have difficulty understanding.
I didn’t recognise the difference until I met a girl with clinical depression. This was something I knew, something she’d told me and which we’d discussed – but it took some time for me to realise I didn’t really understand.
My impulse when someone tells me about a problem is to try to solve it. We would talk about how she felt – I’d listen, and I’d try to suggest things she could do to feel better, actions she could take to improve various circumstances. I’d try to explain to her that things weren’t as bad as she thought, and that things would improve.
Her behaviour was erratic. Sometimes it would seem that after talking things over we’d solved all the problems, that things were on the way up. Then we’d talk again shortly after and I’d find out that things were just as bad as they’d always been.
Sometimes I would tell her that things would get better, and she would agree – she could explain how everything was going to improve, but I could see in her eyes that she just couldn’t bring herself to believe it.
The point at which I really knew for the first time that I didn’t understand what was going on was when she called me one night in tears, and told me she’d tried to kill herself.
To cut a long story slightly shorter, this event resulted in her being committed for a short stay in the psych ward at the hospital.
The girl I’m talking about later became my wife, and a couple of weeks ago we had our 11th wedding anniversary.
This episode early in our relationship taught us both a lot. For my part, I finally learned just what it means to be clinically depressed. I learned that this wasn’t something that was ever going to go away – that things could get better, but that it would take hard work and vigilance on both our parts – and that there’d be more bad times ahead to go with the good.
* * *
I think that our community is getting better at talking about depression, but that we might have a disadvantage when it comes to understanding it.
I think that people in our community are more likely than usual to take a hyper-rational, deconstructive approach to problem solving. This approach makes it more difficult for people to understand clinical depression without having experienced it themselves, and I suspect it makes people less likely to recognise it when it happens to them.
I’ve seen the pain in someone’s eyes, and heard the helplessness in their voice, when they’re confronted with situations and emotions they can’t think their way out of. When they look at the problem, figure out an approach to help deal with it, but then realise that they know – they just know with some part of themselves – that nothing they do will fix it.
I want to tell those people that they’re wrong, but the difficulty there is that if we leave it too late, that’s not a message that can get through.
The most important function of BlueHackers in my opinion, and in fact any organisation which deals with depression, is education. Learning is hardware hacking for your brain. I want everyone to do an include, to load a module, whichever metaphor you like – I want everyone to know now, when they can absorb the information, that you need to ask for help before you hit the bottom.
Recently I had a phone call from another friend of mine, from someone who had hit the bottom. My only wish is that they’d called me earlier, but luckily that person is still with us. I had told them to call me if they needed to – I’m so glad they did – and they said to me later that simply telling them to call me if they needed help was enough that, when they were convinced noone would care or help, they were pre-armed with that knowledge, those instructions – I care, and I will help.
I want you all to talk to your friends, your family, your colleagues, to strangers in this room – and let them know that you care. I want you to hack their brains, to perform a knowledge injection rather than an SQL injection – to try to innoculate them against the belief that noone cares, so that when it happens, they might remember that someone does.
I’m not a professional counsellor, I have no training in this area, and if you were to call me I would tell you that you need professional help – and I would try to help you get it. But I will also remind you that you are not alone, and that someone cares.
This is an open source conference, but we are an open source community. I think it’s important that we – as a community – talk about depression in its many forms, and that we’re there to help each other no matter what kind of depression someone might be going through.
I want to thank Arjen for his work on BlueHackers, for being brave enough to start something that needed to be done – and I hope that we can all reach the point where admitting that you’re depressed and that you need help is no longer an act of bravery.
I want you all to do two things:
– if you’re depressed, tell someone.
– if you know someone who’s depressed, talk to them and tell them you care.
It’s not enough, but it’s a start – and you could literally save a life.
Originally published on my blog as “One geek’s guide to clinical depression.“
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Mitch Altman and others spoke at a panel session on Geeks & Depression at 28c3 (the 28th congress of the Chaos Computer Club in Germany) in 2011 after the passing of Ilya Zhitomirskiy (co-founder of the Diaspora project). I think the video (40 minutes) is worth watching, the speakers touch on a lot of important points.
I have depression.
This isn’t the sort of sadness that sticks around for a week and then goes away. It’s not the sort of thing that even has a good reason, although there might have been one originally. It’s the sort of thing that can stick with you for months or even years, is a recognised illness, and is one of the worst possible states a human can experience.
I know this news will surprise some of you. To many people reading this letter, I’m the guy who’s always happy. I’m the guy who’s always having a good time, and getting out there and doing incredible things. However for the last few months, I haven’t been having a good time.
One of the defining symptoms of major depression is anhedonia— an inability to feel pleasure or enjoyment. You’ve probably experienced this yourself to some degree at various times; everything just seems a little more dull and plain and nothing really seems fun. With major depression, *nothing* can seem enjoyable. It can kill your motivation and your friendships, it can ruin your career, and it can cause you to give up on your megaprojects in Minecraft. It’s the anhedonia that removes one of the defining *good* features of the human condition: the ability to enjoy things.
I have a lot of dear friends who have struggled, and still struggle, with depression. Some of them have been dealing with it their entire lives. I can only say that I have a new appreciation of their situation, and renewed respect for their determination and bravery.
So why am I writing about this publicly? Why am I not I just keeping this to myself and my close friends? Firstly, it’s for my own mental health. I don’t want to hide that I’m depressed; I don’t want to pretend that I’m okay when I’m not. Pretending is *exhausting*, I’ve been doing it for too long, and right now I need all the energy I can get.
But also, I don’t want anyone to have some sort of idea in their head that mental illness only affects certain types of people. I think the more of us who come out with our experiences, the more mental illness will be accepted.
I do want to be clear that I would like to raise the acceptance of mental illness in general. I have friends with bipolar, borderline personality, schizophrenia, anxiety, and a whole slew of other conditions. And you know what? They’re doing amazing things. I’m proud to have them as my friends.
For those of you that wish to know about the nuts and bolts of depression from a neurobiological standpoint, I highly recommend Robert Sapolsky’s lecture presented at Stanford University. Dr Sapolsky puts forward a convincing case that major depression has a strong biological basis, and that telling someone to “get over it” makes about as much sense as telling a diabetic they should get over that silly insulin business.
I also wish to draw attention to two initiatives in particular: Beyond Blue in Australia, who work tirelessly on providing resources and awareness of mental health, and BlueHackers.org, which specifically caters to people working in technology. Special mention also goes to LifeLine who provide crisis support services services, and are always in need of volunteers and support.
Finally, for all of you who have been helping to carry me through this: thank you. I know that I’m not always good at accepting it, but I appreciate your continuing support and patience more than I can say.
Commencing on August 18, riders from all around Australia are heading to the Red Centre to raise community awareness of depression and suicide prevention.
Black Dog Ride began as one man’s personal quest to complete a solo motorbike trip around Australia to raise community awareness of depression. In Australia, each year around 1,000,000 adults and 100,000 young people live with depression. More than 50% will not seek treatment. Join Steve as he continues his mission.
As I understand from motorbike riders who are going to do this trip (I don’t ride), there’s a fairly large overlap between riders and people working in IT, so they figured it’d be a good idea to give the Black Dog Ride a mention via BlueHackers. Hereby!
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This video is from the Open Source Developers’ Conference in Canberra, November 2011. The term patching is used in the hacker/programmer sense: you find a bug, figure out what’s going on, and fix (aka patch) it.
Apart from my lightning talks over the last three years, this is probably the first specific “bluehackers related talk”. For this reason I was actually a bit nervous beforehand, but it worked out very well. Those present found it fun and educational, with plenty of questions and chats triggered later – which is excellent. Feel free to talk more here in the comment thread!
- Prof Martin Seligman, numerous books and papers in the space of cognitive psychology (and connections to depression) incl. “Learned Optimism” and “The Optimistic Child”.
- The OpenOffice ODS and Excel XLS files referenced in the talk will remain online. Note that the talleys have to be adjusted from the explanations in the Learned Optimism book, in part because I use used fewer questions (42 rather than 48) and also most questions were mine rather than the originals. Still, they provide a rough indication, which was the intent.
Note: Yes, the video does show a prototype game board at the end. It was an unexpected spin-off during the talk preparation months ago, and I’ll post on that separately!
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(preamble: generally I think about posts here for a while and so it is with this one – however, it turned out more topical for me now and thus this post is pretty much “real time”. Just so you know…)
Good morning, and welcome to this tour of my head today. Feel free to ask any questions. It’s a bit of a mess right now, I am aware (I try not to fuss too much over that as it’d just be an added stress – just step over).
Jittery? Ehm yes that too – the body that’s attached to this head definitely is jittery this morning as it has been for some days; it’s had (give or take) about 0 hours of sleep last night and that takes its toll. Some nights are better than others.
Any medication that might help? Yep on it, since last week and for the first time in about four years. Went back to the doctor because I don’t regard crying in a corner as not a normal way of spending even part of a day. Cause? Dunno, there are triggers but other than that it just appears to be chemical imbalance (SSRI). Now it might take up to a few weeks (or even months if the dose needs to be tweaked) to hopefully settle things again.
Oops mind those thoughts whizzing past – you’re quite right most of them you’ve seen before recently and in a bit they’ll come around again. Persistent buggers they are, they’ve been thought about and/or dealt with, yet they keep popping back up, bloody useless really. It’ll be great when that just goes away – yep the meds should help with that. The thoughts themselves are of the harmless variety, no fear there. I just prefer to have new thoughts rather than recycling old used ones, you know?
So where were we… ahyes, sleeplessness. Of course those pesky thoughts don’t help but relaxation exercises assist; and in part it can be a temporary side effect of the meds, difficult to tell really with so many factors. I do get up every morning, have breakfast or go for morning walk with an apple to get daylight and exercise as well and try not to have naps during the day – yep all the right things, it’s really good to have those habits mostly in place while things are ok then it’s so much easier to keep them up.
So how do I feel, am I ok? Ehm, obviously not ok really, and how I feel differs per hour (pretty irregular waveform, for the geeks). Can I cope with life, daughter, the world outside and run my business? Luckily, yes. With running my own business, having others work for/with me and not doing emergency type stuff at all, that’s flexible enough to remain manageable. When I started the business four years ago some people were very concerned about the timing (and I’m not disagreeing) but it’s worked out well and reaping its benefits now.
I can joke and laugh and enjoy myself, as I realise it’s not me but just a malfunctioning part of me. I refuse to let that take over. I’m decent company (and that’s not just my own opinion). I do have some bad moments, say akin to a nasty stomach cramp (general feeling of dread), and those are more frequent right now than when things were going ok. It used to just be there every once in a while which was managable, it’s more annoying in its current state; hope that subsides soon. Last time I lost a lot of weight in a very short time, this time it seems stable and as I mentioned a light breakfast is generally doable and other meals are mostly fine.
Judgement? Ah, that’s a bit tricky. It’s not quite right and I’ve experienced examples of this over recent months before I figured out what was going on, so I need to be careful. Ability to observe yourself and often recognise cannot always prevent trouble, because clearly some of the logic applied is affected by the problem and thus currently borked. Self-awareness is good but not a complete solution here. Technical matters = usually ok, personal matters = potentially tricky, emotional matters = quagmire. Being tired I obviously need to take care to not grump or snap, not fair to take things out on other people and it doesn’t help anyone. The immediate nasty symptoms required action. Now that that’s happening… Overall, I’m functional. Of course, more sleep would be excellent!
I mentioned triggers earlier. The other day while on my morning walk I had quite a reaction to seeing a couple walk hand in hand, which is usually just regard as cute. Surprising, but there’s context. First of all and just to be clear, this is not the only type of trigger observed. Second, I know that close companionship has a very stabilising effect on my state and since I’m not currently in a relationship I can’t benefit from that. Bummer. I’m telling this because it may help others. If you have a partner (who understands), you’re likely to be in much better shape. Obviously, initiating a new relationship would be messy to say the least (not impossible though, if you’re both well aware of what’s going on), and even when already/just dating someone (which I am) tossing this stuff into the mix is a rather serious burden. That said, if you want to continue seeing the person you’re going to have to talk about it, as it’s not an optional part of who you are and they need to understand why you are and behave/react the way you do and might be a tad volatile. Oh and if you’re with someone who “doesn’t believe in it” (depression, that is) – seriously get out right now as they’re toxic to you and you’re better off without them.
When I did the little talk 3 years ago that ended up starting BlueHackers, I’d dealt with my own troubles – it was just good therapy for me and potentially useful for others to speak out, make things more open and ensure people didn’t feel alone. I didn’t think I’d find myself “back here” – still, I know I’m not alone!
It’s very annoying when part of your head doesn’t “behave” the way you want and is affecting your life for some period of time. I am able to just disregard the occasional “what am I doing this for” as I know those thoughts/doubts only pop up when that part misbehaves and it’ll disappear when things settle. That’s a relief (and probably comforting to you, the reader, too 😉 but still a nuisance in the mean time.
I’m now using these scribbles here as therapy. I don’t need pity (does anyone?) but empathy is good. I don’t want to have to pretend that everything is alright, because it bloody clearly isn’t and it costs a lot of energy which I need for getting better. I am open with the people around me too, for the same reasons: nice to still get invitations for dinner and doing stuff together with friends even when I’m somehow exuding this odd vibe that might otherwise scare people away.
Thanks for visiting – and now, out of my head. It’s mess enough without so many extra visitors 😉