I have the song, “I saw the sign”, by Ace of Base, going through my head (and it’s probably going through yours now too, sorry about that!). If I was being honest with this post, it should be titled “I missed the sign” because I did. I missed a sign that was staring me in the face for over a week because I was focused on the day-to-day detritus of daily life, not the broader world. Let me explain.
I posted earlier this year that I was facing depression and had to choose amongst three options (My seven ways to respond to depression // Choosing between three depressions // Deciding on my way forward). I ended up opting for a very aggressive “F*** the Universe” approach, which was not about saying “screw everyone”, although at least one person thought that’s what it meant. No, I meant that the universe seemed to be sending me signals about certain things, and rather than listening to them, I chose to give the universe the middle finger and pretend everything was a raging success. Literally telling the universe itself to go screw itself, not the people in the universe. Astronomy was one of the areas where the universe was messing with me, but there were others (FtU Update – 30 days in). But regardless of what method I use, the depression still sits there. Maybe mitigated, maybe not, but it’s there until it’s not. The only way out is through.
I’ve been on holidays the last two weeks, which has been good for my mental and physical health, and I have detached so much that I’ve actually forgotten my password for my work phone. Either that or it’s just futzed on me and won’t accept my password. I’ve got one more day and then I’ll be back at it on Wednesday, so the IT people there can figure it out for me.
But just over a week ago, I was back at home after a busy couple of nights doing star gazing, I was doing some planning for a few things in the next six weeks, and I was feeling overhwhelmed. Stressed even. And I missed the sign.
Oh, sure, I saw that I was stressed. That was easy. I could even articulate some of it. But I missed the sign.
I was stressed. STRESSED. Something I can’t feel when I’m depressed because it dampens everything down. I’d broken through the depression (some areas of progress that will likely be part of future posts, perhaps) and I hadn’t even noticed my emergence, partly because I was ignoring any signals from the universe. I was feeling better, more upbeat, more optimistic about my ability to do certain things, and I was slowly starting to ratchet back up my planning for various events and habits. Of course, I’m still physically depleted energy-wise, and so I was feeling overwhelmed quicker than usual, but I missed the sign that feeling ANYTHING, even STRESS, was a sign.
♫ Life is demanding, without understanding. I missed the sign, and it opened up my eyes, I missed the sign. ♫
A weird form of progress, to be sure, but progress never the less.
I’ve been working my way through what I call Functional Depression for a couple of weeks now. Some high days, some low days, nothing new. And mostly it was a delaying tactic from moving into my standard “hide and heal” approach. But there was also a small niggling part of me that was wondering about trying something new. What I was calling “F*** the universe”. Ratcheting up my energy, pedal to the metal, no retreat, no surrender, get ‘er done, just do it, no quit, whatever other metaphor/slogan a sports team can come up with, blah blah blah.
Except the first part of that is the challenge. Finding the energy to do it. Most likely by tapping into my inner core of reserve plus some anger at the universe. Getting “mad” to augment my fire. Yet also worried that I would tap out at some point and have nothing left.
One question in different forms was if my standards were too high. I understand the concern, but it’s a bit misleading. I was noting that I feel like I not only have to do the right thing, it has to be for the right reasons. And if I’m not sure it is the right reason, I don’t do it. The reason for that is that often it is easy to think something is the “right thing”, because of some hidden urge within me. But if I’m not clear on the reasons, it usually means I’m lying to myself about what the right thing is (rationalizing my choice). I can remember two incidents in particular from my past, but they aren’t entirely my story to tell, so I’ll be a bit vague. In both instances, I thought the right thing to do was “X”. And I could, at the time, wrap both of the things in a noble flag as to why I was doing them. In one case, I tried and it blew up; in the other, I was suspicious of my reasoning, and held off, and it could have been really bad. In both cases, I realized afterwards, I was telling myself it was the right thing to do, but I couldn’t see the reasoning as clearly. Because I was hiding it from myself; it was more selfish than noble.
So while it seems like a high standard, it isn’t so much about the standard as it is clarity of my thinking. If I can’t see how the right means are leading to the right end, and that both are justified, I’m likely better off standing down. It usually means that I know one of the two isn’t right, but I just can’t see what my psyche is hiding from myself. Which is not to say I don’t have high standards, I do, but they are not impossibly high. I’m just more aware of how the “why I do things” relates to the “outcomes I’m achieving”.
In terms of my anger management, I was also a bit misleading. I don’t “deny” it in the sense of it not being felt or expressed, I just mean that I try very hard (if I can help it) to not direct it at someone else. For me, it is quite simple. Whatever someone else does around me may push a button. Maybe intentionally. Maybe maliciously. Maybe uncaringly.
But what happens afterwards is up to me. They didn’t install the buttons, they didn’t install the software that responds when the hardware button is pushed. I am responsible for both my reaction and the strength of my reaction.
If it is mild irritation, sure, I’ll go with the flow, express it, no big deal.
If is more moderate irritation, bordering on true anger, as long as it is just about me, I can probably redirect it into less negative forms of expression than just tearing a strip off someone. Not the reaction I want to be doing, nor the strength I want to express. I find it easier with Jacob to control, harder with Andrea — partly as I figure she’s an adult, she can handle if I’m being a bit jerky. But I do think about how I respond, and particularly with Jacob, I’ll talk with him about how I responded and why I was feeling that way, plus whether it was appropriate or not, how I could have handled it better. And apologize so he knows it wasn’t about him nor did he deserve it. I’m big on taking responsibility and saying the words; Andrea prefers to just have the tiff and move on, no blood, no foul.
What I am calling true anger is more like a temper bordering on rage. A response that is out of proportion to the underlying actions. Three things will cause that to flare faster than normal.
First, if we are out somewhere, and I see someone basically being a bully in a traditional sense or trying to push someone around with their personality by being a jerk or really aggressive, I start to get irritated. Maybe because of experiences as a kid, maybe I’m just sensitive to power imbalances, but I find it really hard not to react when someone is either being outright aggressive or more passively condescending and insulting to suggest someone else is the problem, particularly when it is clear they are counting on the other person to back down. Making it uncomfortable for them, being awkward, because they’re expecting the other person will try to smooth things over and avoid a scene. To me, that is flat out abusive. And I am perfectly happy to go the opposite way and be completely blunt about how they’re the ones actually causing the problem instead of back-pedaling to make nice. That isn’t a problem that happens within the family, although it was a problem with previous family members that I have cut out of my life. They hoped that they could be assholes and I wouldn’t call them on it. For the first 30 years of my life, that was the case; after that, no dice. I won’t eat a shit sandwich no matter who is trying to feed it to me. But still, in external circumstances, I try to walk away unless it is directly tied to me or my family, or I feel the person is in actual danger.
The second is frustration or fatigue. And that is no one’s fault but my own. For example, I suck at home repairs/maintenance. And if I’ve pushed past my limitations and reservations anyway, and something goes wrong, my frustration can redirect very quickly. But that isn’t about anyone, it’s just me fighting me. And no one else really needs to be part of that. So I will TRY to walk away if I can. Sometimes I’ll grunt at the universe first (Argghhhh!).
The third area that triggers in me is if I am feeling trapped. When I was growing up, we were a bit dysfunctional. And if emotions were brewing, I didn’t want to be part of it, I just wanted to leave. But I couldn’t because I was too young to drive. Walking would only get me so far. If I’m in an emotionally-charged situation now that I’m an adult, and I can’t leave for whatever reason, my reaction is not simple irritation, I am in a fight/flight/freeze mode with no option for flight, too hyper for freeze, and so I go hard for fight. Again, that isn’t about them, it’s a fear response. The simplest response is to always have an exit plan wherever I go or if I’m in a more sensitive mood, don’t go at all.
For the ones where I don’t feel it is appropriate, nor proportional, I do try to walk away quickly. To remove myself from the triggering situation before I say something I don’t mean. I have a brutal tongue. There’s a pop song, can’t think of the tune right now, but it has a line about what kind of words come out when you fight. I am WAY harsher than I intend to be. The problem is that my filter disappears. I don’t want to “discuss things” at that point, I just want to drop a bomb that will end the conversation immediately. Perhaps it’s easiest to understand with exes.
I know lots of people who rant and rave, hate their ex, blah blah blah. I don’t. Which isn’t to say some of my exes haven’t done some stuff I could be angry about, and while I might actually be angry about the activities, I’m not angry with them. I am not in contact with a couple of them, yet I don’t have any ill will towards them. I don’t want to slam them in person or indirectly. I don’t want to be that person, simply put, a hater.
The challenge in current relationships with anyone (romantic or otherwise) is that when I’m in “control”, so to speak, I can make that choice; even if I’m irritated or mildly angry, I can still make that choice. But if I go past that point, if I lose my temper, I lose control of what I choose to say. I say hurtful things. Yet as much as I don’t want to be a hater, I also don’t want to be the person who says hateful things to hurt someone, particularly not someone I care about. It’s not who I want or choose to be. That doesn’t make me Gandhi, more that I am aware of reasons and outcomes for my behaviour.
But I still have to let that energy out somehow. Sometimes I’ll go for a drive, put on some music, and sing REALLY loudly while I’m driving around. Letting out both the anger and the energy. I wish I was more prone to directing it to physically working out, some people find that great. I’m good at handling it when it is semi-caused/directed/about other people. I’m not as good when it is anger at myself / frustration / fatigue / feeling trapped. Other times I have to withdraw for a day or two mentally. Put up my defences a bit more so that further “irritation” doesn’t make it worse, just because I might be hyper-sensitive. (Yes, it can look like being grumpy or moping!).
For me, in the end, it is quite simple. It is okay to feel whatever I feel; it is not however okay for me to take it out on someone else just because I feel like being a jerk today. Doesn’t make me Gandhi or Mr. Freaking Sunshine though,nor am I denying the feelings. I just choose how I am going to express it.
Last but not least, a couple of people wondered about my astronomy. Their thinking was a bit varied…why stop doing something I loved? Why be so draconian about the duration vs. short-term? The short version is that at times, there are aspects of the hobby that has felt self-abusive.
First, I took it on when I was in the middle of grief, and it is not a low-threshold learning curve. It takes energy, which was in short supply. Second, I fought with it for four years trying to figure it out mostly myself, before finally saying “Okay, either someone helps me figure this out or I have to chuck it.” Third, since then, I can’t say I have been getting a lot of enjoyment out of it. And so, I’ve been wondering why I stick with it. If I accept, somewhat unproven, that continuing is the “right thing to do”, what are the reasons for doing so that I’m following?
I certainly haven’t been having a lot of “fun” with it, so enjoyment is low on the probable reasons.
Is it because I just want to prove that I can do it, to not give up? Not a compelling reason if I’m not enjoying it. There are lots of other things I could do instead.
Is it that I want to show off to other people in an area that few people do? A bit esoteric, and people ooh and aah with it, am I doing it to please others? I do enjoy, so to speak, the reactions of others at star parties when they see something for the first time. I like answering questions and pretending to be semi-knowledgeable. But I am far from lighting up the astro world with my stardom.
Is it just a learning goal? If it was only that, I could just read books, or watch videos, I don’t have to have a scope to do it.
Is it community involvement? I tend to skip the monthly meetings as I tend to dislike the social interaction, but by contrast, I am the Star Party Coordinator. A visible and controlled role. There is a component I find satisfying, surprisingly given my analytical introvert side. Hell, I wrote a 70-page report for the Council where a 2-page email was likely the standard. So there is an itch being scratched there, but I could find other scratching posts.
Is it somehow tied to my mother? I used inheritance money to buy the scope and some eyepieces (the ones that were just stolen). I could be refusing to give up because I feel like it is a last piece she gave me, even if she never knew. Maybe, but it’s a reach. We never did it “together”, so there is not much emotional resonance there.
Is it that the frustration feeds something darker in me? Perhaps the constant battle reinforces some self-flagellation tendency in myself. If that was the case though, there are other easier ways to fail at bigger things. Home repair, for instance.
Is it the “dark night” activity? No one knows you’re a dog on the internet, but no one knows what you look like at star parties either. There is a degree of anonymity in the experience. And I am a night owl. But it’s also a lot of work to set up, drive out to the dark areas, etc.
So, I can run through another 10 to 20 “reasons”, and none of them explain why I am continuing to flog a dead horse. One that the universe just told me in no uncertain terms, from one perspective, to stop doing by taking away my tools to do it. The final trigger that started the spiral in the first place.
So what do I decide?
Functional depression is short-term only, so that’s out.
Hide and heal is always there, but it’s insufficient.
Fuck the universe takes too much energy, at least in the long-term.
Which means I need a lower-intensity FtU solution, for the short-term to get me past a hump. So I’m doing a 30-day FtU push for the month of June. Not full-scale, not hide and heal. Somewhere in the middle.
A decision which has allowed me to see through the haze and figure out why I want to continue with astronomy, and it is the only reason that matters. While all of the other stuff can look a lot like a relationship with an addict, i.e., at some point you have to quit and move on, the truth can be found in something I did when I was “cutting out” the astronomical noise from my email, Twitter and Facebook. I left one person in my FB feed. His name is Loren, and he does a lot of images of asteroids with his iPhone and a simple setup. I considered snoozing him or deleting him, severing the connection, but I didn’t.
Because his images and posts inspire me. In a dark and dreary world, his posts look a lot like something that is in short supply at times, and the same reason that I bought a new eyepiece today so I could keep doing astronomy.
Even when the universe is screaming, I follow Loren and I do astronomy because it represents hope.
A weird idea, isn’t it? That there are different types of depression and that I could choose between them? It’s not exactly true, but it works for me as a metaphor for today, so I’m going with it.
A. Functional depression
Perhaps because I am talking about my current feelings of depression so openly, some friends are more worried than usual. I appreciate the concern, but I don’t feel like I’m in an unusually dangerous crisis. While some days I might get overwhelmed and need to shut down, generally speaking I’m in a holding pattern. It’s what I consider “functional depression”…yes, I am struggling to keep up my full daily routine, but generally speaking, most of the balls are still in the air. Work, family obligations, etc. I can drive my wife and child to events, I just can’t handle the social side of things. It’s easier to think about take-out right now then expend the mental energy to figure out home dinners. Six days out of seven, that will probably work. On the seventh day, I have to rest. 🙂 Last week, I had to take a mental health day. This week, all three of us were sick on the same day.
I’m vertical, for the most part, and functioning. I do notice my judgement and reasoning are slower than normal. I am less comfortable in social situations. I am stressed more easily by distractive noises at work. You know, the usual.
And having been here before, I could choose to just continue this way for an extended period of time. The problem is that faking full functionality is not particularly sustainable. Partial functionality is likely the result, and if I do it long enough, I’ll need more and more days to re-energize. Right now, I’m choosing this as the working option while I figure out which of the other two I want to try.
B. Hide and Heal
In my previous post (My seven ways to respond to depression), I mentioned a bunch of things I know how to do in order to respond to my bouts of depression. Some of them even work in pre-depression phases to ward off some parts, but they are mainly part of my toolkit when in depression, and I can mix and match as needed.
In the past, my main approach has been to “hide and heal”. There is much more positive wording to describe my technique, but the term “h&h” is not pejorative to me. It is just descriptive. It involves, for the most part, my withdrawing from some aspects of my life, reducing the simple daily burdens of living, focusing on the knitting so to speak. For me, this involves:
Accepting / embracing the depression…while this seems counter-intuitive, it is about accepting that all of life is a phase, and perhaps best characterized by the current Buddhist mantra, Right now, it’s like this. Sometimes, if I’m in a mental hurry, I’ll go with “It is what it is, for now”, but the Buddhists have a better set of nuances in there;
Dumping goals…mostly I am talking about dropping a huge swath of goals and only focusing on what truly needs to get done, focusing on maintenance rather than progress;
Self-care…while the whole act of hiding and healing is a form of self-care, I also focus on sleep, rest, stress management, stronger social boundaries, time alone, journaling, quiet hobbies, organizing physical spaces, splurging on some fun things or food, learning, and work boundaries. In effect, most of it looks like becoming uber-introvert with a set routine to do the activities that re-energize me;
Cognitive therapy…I often talk things through with a therapist, although it depends on the level of discomfort and the issue too. Right now, what I’m feeling is not unusual and I know the issues, so I`m not feeling the need to talk through it at the moment;
Behavioural therapy…in a sense, ALL of this is behavioural — I’ve set the problem as depression and my problem-solving is to hide and heal until my energy levels are back up.
The benefit of this approach is that it is “tried and true”, as the phrasing goes. I’ve used it before, it’s well-grounded in psychology, it will work.
The cost is that it also means shutting down almost everything else. I literally need to withdraw from things, mostly to make sure I’m not simply doing functional depression and pretending I’m healing. And it means if everything is shut down, there is zero progress on any front. So at the end, the best I can hope for is a mental and emotional reboot. I can’t move forward, and to be blunt, even some areas are going to backslide if less unattended.
Since my astronomy problems and the theft of my eyepieces was the final trigger for my latest spiral, I’ll use it as the example. If I shut down, I will block out astronomy as a hobby. I have to, it’s the only way that method works to heal. Kill the triggers. If I’m truly aggressive, as I was starting to be a week or so ago, it could literally mean never doing astronomy again. Accepting that this hobby is just not the right one for me, the level of frustration is just too high. It isn’t simply saying “stop for now”, it is shutting off the desire to do it at all; a bit of reaction-formation, in psych terms, to push it away. If I hadn’t had a really good night just before the trigger, I would have already decided this. I would just say, “I’m out” and move on. Too much investment, too little reward. In the last week, I’ve even debated whether I would just get rid of my telescope or save it for Jacob; would I keep doing my volunteer work for RASC or dump it for the year; would I even go to a party where other people were setting up, or would that be too much “keeping the hope alive” that some day I might get back into it. And it’s complicated by the fact that Jacob is interested, something we could theoretically do together in the future, and if I’m out, what does that mean for his interest? If I was fully out, I wouldn’t be actively encouraging him anymore or being willing to help much. He’d be pretty much on his own. A pedantic wall that I would not break.
That may seem harsh, maybe even unproductive, but it’s the way the Hide and Heal works. I need to shut down not just the activity but the desire / hope too. Managing expectations sounds good until it looks more like eliminating the expectation entirely because it takes too much energy even to keep hoping or to even leave on my mental to do list.
Which is why I haven’t just gone for this “hide and heal” solution. Given my current level of depression, I know that the hide portion will come with some costs that I’m not entirely sure I am willing to pay. In an extreme world, it could mean deleting my blog. Cutting off Facebook and Twitter. Focusing on reading, mainly. I don’t know in advance what I’ll need to do, but I know the price will be high. I’ve been here before.
Yet the alternative could be really risky.
C. Fuck the universe
Pardon my french, so to speak, but the other option is one I’m calling fuck the universe (FtU). Given that I’m saying the universe is shouting at me, the metaphor is that I could do something I don’t normally do. Shout back.
I can tell the universe to take a flying fuck on a rolling doughnut, a phrase I loved so much when I first read it at age 14 that I had a hat made that said, “Take a flyer”. It’s more in line with a previous persona, not PolyWogg but Shiva. The destroyer of worlds. I’ve relied on it before…I used part of it during my tadpole years when I needed to shove some stuff aside mentally and just push through. Occasionally I use the same language now. The only way out is through, although that applies equally to the other two options above too.
Just over a week ago, when I was thinking about my responses as I spiralled, this one occurred to me, as it has before. It’s always there as an option, but I never choose it. It’s risky, for four reasons.
First, it is REALLY hard to sustain. It requires a lot of energy to keep fighting harder and harder, an onslaught against literally the forces of ennui in the universe.
Second, that energy is hard to muster if part of the problem in the first place is low-energy, and there is only one source left for me to tap into. My anger. To literally get bad at the universe to tell it to take a flyer. While the metaphor is a bit slippery, it’s kind of like the classic Star Wars trope of giving into the dark side. It’s powerful, it provides energy, but it is dark energy, and it is hard to ensure you’re siphoning it off and converting it to light energy before it is used. I don’t mean that it will turn me into the constantly “angry man”, an asshole whose anger is directed at the world, but I do worry about it affecting my judgement to know what are the right things to do for the right reasons in the right way. My dark energy likes to take shortcuts and doesn’t care much about side costs.
Third, if I do this, and it fails, the fall will be huge. A hide-and-heal now could take me 3-6 months to recover. If I fail with the FtU approach, and then have to hide-and-heal, I suspect it would be more like 12-18 months with active professional help and meds. I don’t mean that to sound so dire. I just mean mostly that the core energy I have, part of which is light and a lot of which is dark, is what sustains me in harsh times. If I use that energy to blast through the current barriers, I’ll have little left when that energy wears off.
Fourth, and not the least, I have no idea if it will work. I’d like to think it will. I’m more interested in it now than I ever have been before. Some of that is just a reaction to my struggling with my weight, and my brain being interested for two reasons, like a little devil and angel whispering in my ear…”Do it,” says the angel, believing I flare into a star; “Do it,” says the devil, believing I will fail catastrophically and thus end my battle against my weight. Two voices, whispering encouragement in my ears, even though I know the approach is neither extensively tried nor excessively true.
A decision to make
For the last ten days, I’ve danced on the head of the functional depression pin:
Hide and heal
Fuck the universe
Do I take the safe route or risk grabbing the universe by the throat? I am going to think about it this weekend and try to decide by Monday.
My previous post about my impending depression, and a possible spiral (Sometimes the universe shouts, I just don’t know what it’s saying), garnered a lot of positive supportive messages,and I’m grateful for them. Lots of people asked if there was anything they could do to help, and mostly the answer is “no” beyond the offers themselves. It’s an internal problem for me, not an external one, and I’ve been here before, so I already know most of my options.
The post itself probably identifies the strength of the depression, at least as it was that day. Feeling lost or hopeless against the universe’s fortunes. I have been losing interest in certain hobbies, although the astronomy one was not so much losing interest as losing hope I would overcome the setbacks. My sleeping is screwed up, and both before and afterwards, feeling exhausted. Restlessness. Difficulty making decisions. Even some physical manifestations. Check, check, double check, check check check. Lots of symptoms in there.
I also know that my focus on weightloss is making me especially susceptible to mood swings and depression since my energy levels have been depleted while I’ve been focusing on that, without much success at the moment. I also know that HOW I respond will determine a lot of HOW MUCH I am affected, a key tenet of trauma therapy (and heavily noted in Jeffrey Kottler’s book “Change” (Change: What Really Leads to Lasting Personal Transformation by Jeffrey A. Kottler (BR00118)).
The illusion and reality of choice
There’s a bit of a dangerous nuance in the idea that depression is a choice. Most of the time, it isn’t. The chemical effects of the brain, a limited set of economic and social situations, the lack of a suitable support network can all limit not only the likelihood of a healthy response but also drive the initial condition in the first place. I know that most people don’t “choose” to be depressed, although sometimes people need to or want to embrace it as a response. And it is one of the choices available to me now that I’ve entered the realm. But, fortunately, my thinking is still clear enough to know that I have other choices. A total of 7, in fact, that I’ve used and experienced before.
1. Embracing the depression
That sounds ridiculous, I know. But sometimes it feels like a great way to move through it faster. Almost like, “Okay, world, kick my ass, give me an excuse for a month, and then I’ll be all good.” A often-false belief in it being a simple on/off switch that allows you to wallow for a set duration of time. To me, grief is a good example of that, and the most common delusion. The idea that if you try to force yourself through the stages of grief, you can somehow manage your grief “better” or “faster”. It doesn’t work that way, but the illusion of control is appealing — that depression isn’t happening TO you, but rather something you control. Not an option.
2. Setting goals
This has been my most heavily-used technique over the years. It gives me momentum, and some illusion of control over my life. Not necessarily over depression itself, but rather preventing some of the triggers of possible depression. The idea that a well-planned life that is constantly moving forward on one front or several fronts will keep depression at bay.
And it works, most of the time anyway. The feeling of accomplishment is more a reality check against feeling that things are out of control, to maintain perspective. The feeling that “Okay, THAT area of my life is sucking right now” but not letting it define you or trick you into thinking all of your life is going that way. In a way, it’s not about the goals themselves so much as just conscious comprehensive mindfulness of all the different aspects of your life.
It’s also a seductive mistress of deception. “Oh, look, my life doesn’t suck because I am doing really well in area X”. Except you never stop to ask yourself about weighting of areas…If “X” is organizing your sock drawer, that may not matter much if your relationship with your parents sucks the big one.
And, as someone asked in response to my last post, does having multiple goals make me happy? The short answer is no, but it isn’t really meant to. That’s a bit hard to nuance, though I’ll try. I guess the simplest explanation is that overall, I feel like developing multiple areas of life gives me a better chance at a well-rounded life, that I’m not “missing” something I’ll regret later. I hate the term work/life balance, but it is a good example of people who have focused all their energies on work and later felt like they missed out on life. I responded, somewhat flippantly perhaps, that I’m not sure happy is in the cards for me, and that’s a pretty big #TruthBomb to drop that is reflective of my depression. The truth is that I feel more like my mental makeup takes me more towards “contentment” or “satisfaction” than towards saying “I’m happy”. There’s too much in my makeup of “what’s next” rather than taking victory laps or enjoying a moment. Yet, to the extent that I can say what makes me happy, I feel like there are moments in all of the areas where I am setting goals and moving ahead where I feel like I’m not just “content” or “satisfied” but have transcended that into a small feeling of euphoria. Maybe it’s what others simply call happiness, but for me it is more mindfulness — that in that moment, I am not thinking about anything else. I’m just “enjoying” what is in that moment.
About ten days ago, I had that experience with my astronomy. AstroLog 2019.002.1 Best. Viewing. Night. Ever. was my summary of that night, where for once, all of my challenges with astronomy virtually went away. And I was just “living” in the moment. Obviously, it’s not like the joy of holding a child or getting married, it’s more cerebral rather than pure emotion, but it’s still pretty powerful.
I feel it sometimes in writing too. The perfect phrase that sums up a feeling exactly as I am feeling it at that moment. Or trying to dance about architecture — you know the phrase? Talking about love is like dancing about architecture? Sometimes, I’m trying to use words to describe something I’ve seen or experienced and I know I’m going to fail. The moment in a show like Almost Famous where Kate Hudson turns to ask, “What kind of beer?” after hearing devastating news. Or a scene in a TV show like Republic of Doyle where he’s kissing his new love interest for the first time, her phone rings, and she says she should get it, it’s HER HUSBAND! A small twist, a small scene, but so beautifully done that it sparkles in my mind. A feeling like I’ve momentarily seen writing genius on display in the midst of otherwise ordinary fare. And yet describing it in words is like dancing about architecture.
In the end, setting goals is comforting to me. I feel like it keeps a wide array of activities open to me that I might otherwise ignore and risk missing out on such sparkles. Alternatively, I could say it is a way of ensuring that I have the broadest possible foundation upon which to find and build happiness, rather than the goals themselves or the process itself making me happy.
The approach resonates with me and helps me keep a broad perspective. As a tool to mitigate depression, it has worked pretty well for me over the years compared to earlier times when I didn’t do it.
3. Focusing on one single thing
By contrast, lots of people respond like they were watching City Slickers and have found their “one thing” that makes them happy (perhaps picture Jack Palance holding up his one finger to Billy Crystal and you might get the reference better).
I sort of did that when I dropped all my other goals to focus on weight loss, but that’s not really the same thing. The “one thing” approach is about finding your passion — writing, singing, playing music, painting, yoga, working out, cooking, whatever that “one thing” is that makes you happy.
Kind of an emotional Marie Kondo technique to eliminating everything else that doesn’t give you as much joy as that one true thing.
The short problem with that is you have to KNOW what that one thing is. Writing comes closest for me, but I’m not going to drop everything else in my life to do that 100% of the time. Part of that is financial, part of that is risk adversity, sure. But the main reason is that writing is NOT my one true thing. It is close. Maybe the closest. But photography, astronomy, web stuff, it all comes close too. As does reading, although most people don’t think of that as a viable option. Yet I could easily read for extended periods of days for weeks on end if given the chance. But that is more distraction from reality than reality to me.
Maybe I haven’t found my one true thing; maybe it doesn’t exist; maybe the concept is an illusion. But it’s not a viable solution for me. I think I just get bored too easily. For me, it is more about doing multiple things I enjoy, rather than one thing.
A friend posted an image on FB last week as a reminder for all of us of options for self-care. I found a copy of it over on http://www.blessingmanifesting.com and while I can’t speak to the aim or content of the site, the graphic is decent.
The benefit of the list is that many of the items are not only preventative, they can also be healing. Exercise, forgiveness, social supports, knowing yourself, organized space, money management, and work boundaries are frequently the ones that people turn to as almost cure-alls. Why? Because the reverse of them is often flagged as triggers — being unhealthy, self-criticisms, isolation, emotional dissonance, chaos, financial problems, or poor work/life balance. Treat the trigger, save the patient.
I’m not dismissing them, they are important techniques. But they are, to me at least, more preventative than cure-alls. They should be / need to be part of whatever treatment or coping plan you come up with, but there are two in there that are at a different level so I’m separating those out.
5. Time alone / social connection
While it is perhaps odd to put those together since they are polar opposites, I feel it is more the flip sides of the same coin. I also don’t have any empirical evidence to justify my conclusion towards them, but I feel intuitively that they are more suited to specific types of people — introverts and extroverts.
An introvert tends to be stressed and drained by social activities. A bit simplistic, or perhaps over-simplification, but time alone re-energizes them. It does me. And so taking time out to be by myself, to turn inward, to meditate, to journal, to think…it all helps me heal. And gives me the energy to carry on, even perhaps to pull myself out of the funk I’m in. Some of that is just stress reduction … the isolation removes demands on me, I’m not dealing with anxiety, or other people’s expectations, or reactions to what other people say or do. It’s a controlled environment. A way to hunker down, stick to the knitting, do what I need to do and nothing more, and just be me.
Often this also goes along with a focus on routine. Pundits and pop psych articles often describe routine as a coping mechanism to prevent slippage, the idea that if you make positive change part of your routine, it will make it part of your life. That’s true, but that isn’t the way routine works when dealing with depression. It isn’t to prevent slippage, it is to pre-decide certain decisions so your brain doesn’t have to think about them. If, for example, you have trouble making decisions when you first wake up, perhaps because you’re formally depressed or just because you’re exhausted all the time, ready-made breakfasts that you decide at the start of the week can take the planning and decision-making out of the equation. On Sunday night, for example, you decide what your breakfasts are for the week. You have everything organized, efficiently in one process, and it’s gone from your week. If you’ve never fully experienced depression, you don’t know how tiring it can be making decisions. Let alone group decision-making, if you have to do things with others. Routine and time alone simply takes the pressure off.
When I was at law school, and having a depression outbreak one summer, I was coming home late to a lonely apartment and I had zero interest in spending time deciding on or making dinner. So I would often stop at the same restaurant. Sit in the same section, preferably at the same table where there was low cross-traffic. Order the same dinner (chicken fingers and fries) that I knew they couldn’t screw up and was fuel more than flavour. And I would read. Occasionally I would chat with the waitresses, but even then, I gravitated towards sitting in the one waitress’ section who was the least interactive, the least burdensome to my experience. I didn’t have to do much other than say hello, tell her the usual order, eat my food, pay, and leave. Few social requirements, low stress, almost time alone, and predecision about all of it before I even got off the bus near the restaurant on the way home, one stop earlier than I would normally. Even now, if I’ve had a long day, don’t feel like dealing with anyone, I can stop at some place like Swiss Chalet, I don’t need a menu, I know what I’m ordering before I even walk in the door. Fuel, time alone. Not to the extent of becoming a hermit, you still need a social connection somewhere, of course.
An extrovert that I know is the complete opposite. For her, spending time with others pulls her out of herself and stops the potential for wallowing. It’s a distraction, of sorts, a break from her own thoughts, and the interactions literally act as battery surges to re-energize her. The comparative chaos of spontaneity and random decisions, new things to try give her a mental boost. Staying connected to friends, family, pets, helping others, all of them help immensely.
Both approaches can take you to your comfort zone, whichever that comfort zone is, and allow you to be you.
6. Cognitive behavioural therapy
I confess that I am going to diverge a bit from the classic CBT definitions, partly as I am not a psychologist and partly as I just think it is easier to understand them separately. For me, both are about finding ways to challenge negative thoughts or alter negative thinking that is causing your depression.
For the first part, i.e. the “cognitive”, generally most of the techniques fall into reframing the conversation. Some people describe it as having a more balanced perspective, giving it a reality check, blah blah blah. For me, it is more about simply changing the story you’re telling yourself. And for me, there are three ways to do that.
Education — learning about the way your self-diagnosis and self-conversation works, and how the way you speak to yourself determines some of the outcomes you experience. Equally, it could involve talk therapy, or simply just reading a lot about emotional intelligence, getting to know yourself, etc.;
Counting your blessings — sure, it’s a pedestrian phrase, but it ties in well with my goal-setting, by reinforcing that one area of your life might be sucking right now, but other areas are doing well. Some techniques involve keeping a gratitude journal, so that when you do have lows, you can read it and remember some of the highs too; or,
Expressing yourself — for many, this is about journaling (or talking to a therapist or friends) to “get it out”, to talk through it, to give voice to your feelings rather than hiding it inside.
Some view it as just combating pessimism, but obviously it is way more than that. For example, the real target is the myriad of different negative ways of thinking that frame conversations often into “rock and a hard place” dichotomies that guarantee whichever way you go, you’ll fail, because you set up the parameters wrong. For example, here are some common unrealistic ways of thinking:
Black and white categories— most of the world’s problems are spectrums of gray in between the polar extremes, but depression’s triggers and depression’s behaviour often frames things as the all or nothing outcomes (total success or complete failure), just as people hold themselves to impossible standards like “shoulds” vs. “should nots”, and therefore categorizing yourself as terrible if you do something that wasn’t the “should” choice…I do this for personal standards. I believe very strongly in not only doing the right things but for the right reasons, and sometimes I will avoid doing anything, even what I think is right, if I think I’m doing it for the wrong reason. I’ve even passed on good opportunities for myself if I thought it was badly motivated on my part, or even if I just couldn’t be sure it was properly motivated. Similarly for labeling — if you label everything as “winner” or “loser”, and you didn’t “win”, there’s only one other category to choose.
Hyper focus — if you ignore positive outcomes, and only focus on the negative ones, or pick one event as endemic of your whole life’s experiences, not surprisingly, you’re going to see things in an unrealistic light…my previous post feels a lot like it could be in that category, and I admit there is some element of that. Mostly because I didn’t include the things where I am making progress. Which isn’t to say I don’t know them, or really think that the universe is conspiring against me, just that I’m struggling to maintain momentum right now as I see a number of areas where I am hitting walls, and finding it hard to find ways to stay motivated or dodge the walls.
Assuming the worst — often it feels “safe” and “protective” to just assume things won’t work out with something, partly as it excuses you from having to try and manages your expectations…why cling to hope, which takes energy, if you expect to fail…yep, it’s in there. My wife thinks it is pessimism; most pessimists view it as realism and that optimists are merely naive. I don’t feel I’m doing that, in part because I’ve seen it when my brother and mother used to do it. One thing wrong and assuming that someone is out to screw you. But, if you consistently have your hopes dashed, it is very hard to remain blindly optimistic. Hope hurts if it feels like it is never realized. For my big post, it may even read like I’m assuming the worst. That’s not entirely accurate. I would nuance it differently at least … that I’m not optimistic that my current approaches are going to work out for me. I need to do something different. And I’m not entirely optimistic that I know how to “fix” my approaches to get the outcomes I desire in the timelines I want. Yep, a lot of caveats in there. What it comes down to is a feeling that I am not invincible anymore, nor do I have infinite energy resources. I’m tired, which hurts the reasoning process.
Effect and cause reasoning— people often assume causes based on effects. For example, if you feel unworthy, you assume / reason that the reason you feel that way is because you ARE unworthy, simply because the logic works the other way i.e. if you were unworthy, you might feel unworthy. But if you assume the reverse, it’s the same faulty logical reasoning they teach you in practical philosophy…An apple is a fruit, but if you have a fruit, it doesn’t mean you can assume it’s an apple…there are lots of other types of fruit besides apples, just as there are lots of other reasons why you might feel unworthy (bad advice from dysfunctional or abusive people, faulty reasoning due to the depression, brain chemistry, etc.);
The second part, i.e. the “behavioural”, the goal is more around combating your current situation or inertia through some form of resolution or movement. In short, it’s the “let’s solve a problem” approach to fixing your depression. While it also includes talk therapy, some of it simply breaking down a problem into several component bits, and then developing a step-by-step process to resolve it.
If you are depressed because of your finances, what is a detailed step-by-step process to fix your finances?
If you are having trouble motivating yourself to do something, what sort of step-by-step process could you use, such as routines / goal monitoring / rewards, to help spur you to doing it in smaller chunks?
If you are having trouble with a relationship, including a past one or grieving a loss, what steps can you do or think about to help fix your triggers that are making you think the way you are? If, for example, you frequently get into fights with your family at Xmas with everyone in the same house for several days, can you stay at a hotel or only go for a short visit so that those triggers aren’t as likely to occur in shorter durations? If alcohol is involved, can you leave it out of that year’s equation or time your visit for the morning when they’re likely not to be drinking yet? If everyone fights at Xmas dinner, can you go for an afternoon visit and avoid the slugfest?
For me, this area isn’t that useful in a therapeutic sense. I don’t need help figuring out steps to reduce trigger occurence or even to find ways to solve problems. I can break large problems into small problems, small problems into action items, action items into activities, blah blah blah.
But I do have problems staying motivated on long lists of dominoes. If there are too many dominoes, it’s hard to overcome the first stage. Which is odd. Because the whole point of the behavioural is not really about the action plan or even the implementation, but simply to give you back an illusion of control. You often feel helpless to solve the problem, it’s too big, too out of your control, to solve. Yet, the behavioural part, helps you get there, feel like you are capable of some control, and thus reduce the symptoms.
Except the trick doesn’t work on me. I can’t “fake” belief in an action plan to give me control over a huge problem. It gives me a way to cope, it doesn’t give me a way to really solve it. Or rather, it doesn’t give me a NEW way, just ways I already knew. And when I see too many large dominoes, getting started on the first one seems like a waste of time if it isn’t related. Kind of like deciding that the problem is that you don’t have a house and living in an apt doesn’t work for you. So you decide you need to find a house. But first you need to have a better job to pay for a house. And fix your finances in other ways. And go to school to finish your degree. And stop wasting money on alcohol. Five GIANT things to do before you get to the house you want. Might not be the best domino example, but if you have a bunch like that, breaking all the big pieces into smaller chunks still feels overwhelming because the first four are really not about what you WANT to be fixing, and thus your true motivation is unrelated.
7. Aggressive medical intervention
Sure, I know that there are options out there like electro-convulsive therapy. Would I consider it? Well, let me see…hook some electrodes to my brain and see if lighting me up like a Xmas tree will help my mood. Hmm…that’s a tough one. I’m going to go with no. Maybe there is sound medical research on its efficacy for certain types of disorders. But it isn’t one I could ever see myself opting for. Pass.
Medications are often painted in extreme categories…extremely bad on one end leading to dependencies, psychotic breaks or feeling dead inside vs. extremely good on the other end to take you out of a haze, clear your thinking, stop the spirals before they get too bad, and keep you on an even keel.
Some meds help with extreme anxiety disorders for example. In pop culture, if anyone has watched The Big Bang Theory in the early days, you saw a relatively unhealthy version of this…Raj couldn’t talk to women, too nervous, unless he was drunk. So, he would have a drink before going on a date so he could talk to them. It was played for humour, of course, but it wasn’t that far off the mark from some therapeutic approaches. Usually they use prescription meds, but similar effect in some cases. There are even some therapists who experimented with alcohol, weed, and other relaxants.
Anyway, I’m digressing a bit. What I’m merely referencing is that all meds are neutral by themselves…the only real thing is how they work for you. A few years ago, a brother was on meds and it worked rather well for him. Normally a negative thinker, he was commenting on a situation and he said words that would seem common place for most people but unheard of for him…”…but there’s nothing I can really do about that right now, so I’m working on what I can control.” Wow. What a difference the meds made. Yet he had tried other meds and they just made him sleep all the time, dead inside. Finding the right dose and med was huge.
And I don’t feel any stigma towards them. I’m on other meds for lots of other health things, so that doesn’t stop me from taking them.
But for me, it gets a bit sticky. I have very high standards for myself (as noted above). I also have pretty good self-awareness (as evidenced by lots of my posts)…I can still delude myself, but I am well-versed in the lingo and decently talented at self-analysis for day-to-day problems (grief was a new area for me and needed more help). And I like to do things for the right reasons. Yet the single greatest challenge is my own arrogance.
I can certainly admit that I have a problem. I can even ask for help. That’s not the problem. It’s that when I self-assess my strengths and weaknesses, my single greatest strength, the part of me that makes me me, is my mind. Not my heart, not my soul, not my body, not my social network. I live in my mind. My mind is me.
And anything that messes with my mind artificially scares the fuck out of me. People think I don’t drink or do drugs because it is more moralistic. There’s probably an element of that for drugs, but for alcohol it is more levels and effect than a yes/no world. Happy go lucky drinkers (i.e. not my family experience) who drink in moderation and aren’t addicted don’t pose any problems for me, and generally I don’t care if someone drinks, so long as they don’t turn into assholes and want to hang out with me when they are drunk. Not my issue, not my problem.
I don’t generally drink though because I don’t trust myself to remain me. To do not only the right things but to keep doing them for the right reasons. When I drink, both of those standards get watered down. Not enough that I’m doing shocking disgusting things, just that I’m not entirely happy with myself afterwards. Drinking makes me less vigilant about my behaviour. And my fear of many meds is the same.
I haven’t tried many, and my pharmacist sister-in-law could help identify ones that are more benign than others if I was seeing a psychiatrist with a prescription pad. But my experience in the past has not been promising. One made me almost manic, another made me almost explosive.
And one thing that scares me is my temper. I have it, it’s there, I just never let it out of its box. It gives me strength, like leeching from a distant battery, but I’m always afraid that if my “control” is weakened by a medication, then my temper is more likely to be released. Yet if there is one thing that would destroy me, one thing that would push me over the edge for mental illness and into free fall, it is losing my temper. I get snippy, surly, irritable, sure. But my temper stays in its box. If I’m in a situation where my temper is likely to be triggered, I run away. It’s my safe space.
So I am terrified of playing with meds. I am afraid that I will “gain perspective”, get on an even keel, but without realizing it, also weaken the bonds that hold my temper in check.
I don’t disagree that it is the right REASONS to take it — I just am not sure it is the right THING too. For me, at least.
I simply don’t trust myself if I’m not me. Even depressive me holds my temper in check.
And if I have to choose depressed, untreated, unhappy, yet no-temper me vs. happy, medicated, possibly temper me, I will choose the first one everytime.
Yet to be clear, I am not doing this as some “martyr” complex that I’m afraid of being angry with someone and hurting them verbally or physically. For me, it is an act of self-creation — I don’t ever want to be that person, the one who says the really hurtful thing to someone. I choose not to be that person, whenever I can. At almost any cost.
Medications represent too high of a risk for me and my (possibly delusional) view of my mind and self. I just won’t risk it.
So where does that leave me now?
Most of the time, I am using a bunch of the above techniques as preventative. Now that I’m in more healing and recovery mode, the choices become more acute. And that would normally result in me choosing a “withdraw and heal” approach.
The approach is relatively risk-free, has a decent efficacy rate, and is moderately effective at getting me back to the starting point. Not too high, not too low, even-Stephen.
Yet I don’t want even-Stephen. I want to break through the walls and smash the crap out of them as I go. Which means I have another option. It is high-risk. Zero efficacy or effectiveness ratings since I’ve never fully tried it. And if I fail? I’ll take a REALLY long time to recover, if at all. But part of me wants to try it. To hope, to live, to sleep, perchance even to dream.
I know these crossroads, I have been here before. And each time, I have followed conventional psychological wisdom and chosen the safe path.
I just have to decide if I will make the same decision again.
Today is a shitty day for me, and I’m going to blog anyway. Because sometimes I hide the darkness and I just don’t care enough today to do that. The trigger that you’ll see for this is annoying. Maybe semi-significant, maybe not. But it has started a cascade and a spiral, one that I will not survive unscathed.
Ostensibly, this is only about my astronomy hobby, but it’s really not. I have struggled mightily with my hobby and the universe keeps kicking me in the teeth. I keep fighting my way through, hoping to break through to the other side of the veil that has been holding me back. But the universe keeps responding, telling me no.
When I was a kid, I was interested in the stars, and my parents got me a telescope. That was the mid-70s, and like most parents who don’t know about these things, they got me a simple one, handheld, from Sears or Canadian Tire. I’m sure they thought it was a good one. But anyone in astronomy knows that these things killed more interest than they sparked. They were telescopes designed for basic land use, almost impossible to steady for kids, and even if you did steady it, you wouldn’t see much other than the moon. If you were lucky. Tons of people got these things and tons of people lost interest. I did.
Fast-forward a number of years. Still interested, but not doing much about it. A friend took me out for a night to see a conjunction, but he has a complicated setup, and I just about gave up again. Too hard, too slow, too complicated.
Then when my mother died, and I got some inheritance money, I decided I would look into it a bit more, see if there were “easier” scopes. There were. A computerized GOTO scope that would allow me to set up, point at any three stars, and the computer would handle the rest. Great idea. I invested in the scope, the right scope for me, and thought I was making progress.
The universe pushed back. While 90% of the scopes in this model work great out of the box, I struggled with mine. One night, doing a sky tour, it went to zenith position (straight up) and the back of the scope hit the mount and ground the gears. I’d had it working for less than 3 months, and it was then gone for 2 months for repair.
Even after that, it took me five years of struggles, giving up here and there, trying again, giving up, trying again, and finally getting advanced help to figure out that it was an alignment issue. It wasn’t my eyes, it wasn’t my scope quality, it was the process I was doing combined with a computer problem. Fixed it, all excited leaving the guy’s house, pulled out on the road, and my tablet reminded me I had left it on the roof by flying off and tumbling along the road. $400 to fix. I destroyed it again 2 weeks later, paying $400 again. Again, the universe speaking to me, perhaps.
I thought maybe I could get a bit of momentum last year using my smartphone to take some basic astrophotography shots. I am not interested in the big long exposures with DSLRs, tons of processing time, high-end equipment, etc. Just some basics. Baby steps. Maybe someday I’ll do something more, I thought. But let me start with basic stuff.
I bought a simple adapter for my smartphone, gave it a go, no real luck. Upgraded the software, tried again. Struggled, again. Upgraded to a great adapter, practically foolproof. Found out that my phone was too old, too limited for what I was trying to do. Most people have iPhones that were outpacing everything, but I had an old Samsung. I borrowed Andrea’s iPhone 6 Plus and actually managed to get SOMETHING, although not awesome. But it was also her phone, and not a viable solution.
Took a break, figured at some point I would upgrade my phone and get the iPhone. Went back to visual observing only. And had a series of crappy nights for weather and struggled with maintaining my alignment. Not as bad as it had been, partly as I knew more about what I was doing, but still not inspiring. More like slogwork than an enjoyable hobby.
At New Year’s, I upgraded my phone and got a great iPhone XS Max. Should work great with the tools I have. Night Cap software, check. Best adapter on the market, check. Large light bucket telescope, check. There’s a guy out in Stittsville with the same setup doing amazing things; a guy on FB that I interact with who has basic setup doing amazing things. I gave it a go two weeks ago and couldn’t even get a single decent shot. This was my “momentum” builder idea. Get some shots, blog about stuff, learn as I write, stay interested. Hell, I volunteer with the local organization just so I have a reason not to flake out on the hobby.
So, yes, I’ve been struggling to keep interested. Keep working at it. Then, a seeming breakthrough. I went out on Sunday night and everything worked. I did a full star tour for the night sky, 100+ objects, alignment held well enough to see everything. I saw Mars. I saw Jupiter. I saw the Great Red Spot on Jupiter for the first time. Best night of viewing ever.
Then I screwed up. I forgot that the universe doesn’t seem to want me doing this hobby. I got happy and the universe apparently doesn’t like me happy. I got cocky and shared the news, partly to offset the less positive stories I have shared in the past about my astronomy hobby. Worse than that, I got hopeful, and that never ends well.
Last night, the sky was clear, and I was still feeling cocky, so I decided to set up in the back yard and see if I could image the moon or a couple of stars. Figure out the workflow. Went to the garage, got my scope and a portable grocery bin that I keep some basic stuff in (filters, etc.). Went back and got my full scope box. And I was there. Two trips, seemed like I finally had this “down” for my process for setting up even. Great work, Paul, I thought. Okay, let’s do a quick look at the moon, let Jacob see it too, and then he could have his bath, I’d go pick up Andrea, hopefully, the clouds would hold off, and I’d spend an hour on the imaging workflow. And the moon was a small crescent, an interesting target.
Let’s see, where did I put my eye-pieces? Huh. I didn’t bring them out. No wonder it only took me two trips. I forgot a box. Wait. How did I forget them? I just took the last box out of my astronomy cupboard with my scope in it, and the EP case wasn’t there. That’s weird. Maybe it’s on the floor.
Raced back to the garage. Not in the cupboard. Not on the floor. Not on the shelves by the cupboard. Not in the secondary cupboard. Not anywhere in the garage. Not by the front door. Not in the car still. Not anywhere.
About $2K worth of eyepieces. Although it isn’t really about the cost. We have insurance, with a deductible of some sort, don’t remember right now.
And I don’t know if I somehow left them at the observing site (I checked, not there, and emailed a few people who could have seen them with no luck) or they were stolen from my garage (the door was open on the garage for a while on Monday or Tuesday night). It doesn’t really matter.
What matters is that the universe has spoken again. I keep struggling to get some momentum going, and it constantly feels like two steps forward and three steps back.
And if this was limited to just my astronomy hobby, I would find a way to roll with it. But it doesn’t feel like just astronomy.
Those who know me, know that I am huge on goal-setting, trying to make progress on lots of things. Like my 50by50 project for my 50th birthday. Not too many “bucket list” items on there, more small things. Baby steps. Things I can realistically achieve, to be honest.
One of my goal themes is health, fitness and cooking.
I cannot get momentum on my weight loss. I’m yoyoing on my weight, creeping slowly back to where I started, having gained 10 pounds back. The mental energy to keep focused is wearing me down like crazy. I took a break when I was overwhelmed, and I am struggling to muster any interest or energy to embrace anything else.
I bought a fitness gym, great idea, except it requires me to completely reorganize the basement. Dominoes that have to fall to get to the domino I want, and it’s just slogwork. And no guarantees of any success when I’m done. Maybe I’ll just flake out on it, maybe I’ll find it too hard. Or I’ll hurt myself and be unable to do it. The universe has many voices.
On the cooking front, I thought perhaps doing HelloFresh would help with stuff. Pre-organized meals. But mostly it has just meant a lot more work. Andrea is doing about the same, maybe more, and our prep time is way longer, even if we are doing more things together. Yet it still feels overwhelming, but without much in the way of “wow” improvements. Not sure it is worth it.
For the family / home / reading front, it’s a mixed bag of outcomes, partly because “outcome” doesn’t really apply to relationships. With Jacob, I keep trying to find things we can do together other than video games. Something that will spark a mutual interest. I was so excited for him to start the new school this year with the extra clubs — chess, math, coding. And none of those have worked out for him really. He did the math contests, throwaway days, nothing sustainable in his eyes. And one of his friends is being bullied, without much in the way of success to do anything about it. I’ve even spoken to the principal about it. J is hating school these days and about all we have to offer is that the summer is coming. Last year, we got him a remote control car, and I thought that would be awesome for him. A drone for me kind of fizzled, I need a much larger open space to find a way to control it easily, but I thought the car would be great. Got it going in Peterborough, worked well for about 20 minutes, and then it crashed and broke. I’ve got all the new parts but haven’t had the energy to hope it will work well for him after the first crushing failure. It was fun, and then just a disappointment for him. The universe is a sick fuck sometimes. I can deal when it kicks me, but when it kicks him, it is soul-crushing.
For the home side, there’s tons of stuff we should be doing, none of it ends well for me with home projects doing it myself. I’m good at writing cheques. That’s about it.
For the reading front, I started a Reading Challenge this year, and while there was initial interest from people, not many seem to be doing it, which is fine. I’m still doing it for myself, which was the original goal. And I wanted to use it as a prompt to purge some books too. Except after boxing up a bunch of boxes, I realized that there were two other dominoes that needed to fall before I could purge them, one of which has taken some time to figure out, and so they sit in the living room. Mocking me daily.
On the third theme, Finances / Organize / Activities, I was really hoping to do some retirement planning stuff. Except we need our benefits statements from the government, and all that stuff is screwed up by Phoenix. Hard to do planning without the data. Part of my interest is that I got excited last year about retirement, but then the universe nudged me on a couple of financial things, and I realized that my excitement is probably premature. There’s a small glimmer that I’ll be able to go in 7 years, but I suspect it is probably more like 12. On the organizational front, there are a ton of dominoes, and I have no interest in any of them. Just on my list. Too many other energy-sucking projects. Similarly for some of my activities, like trying to knit something, or going for axe-throwing. I just don’t have the energy to work on it.
Learning / Photography / Astronomy is my fourth theme, and we all know how well the astronomy stuff is going. On the Learning front, I forced myself to do some work on a course called Metaliteracy. Interesting, but in order to finish it, other people have to mark your assignments — it’s kind of like a group learning experience. Except if there aren’t enough people doing it, your assignment doesn’t get marked, and you kind of sit there stalled, waiting for someone to review your stuff. Which finally happened, but after I did weeks 1-4, out of ten in total, I kind of lost interest while waiting for the other inputs. It’s like the worst part of group assignments in regular school, added to a MOOC. I hate it, even if I want to finish the class.
On the photography front, I did a course at Henry’s, learned a lot, and a month after it was over, I’d forgotten just about all of it. I just can’t retain the process and workflow techniques. I understand the concepts, but the mechanics of applying the technique to a situation is lost to me as soon as the class is over. I’m doing an online video one now, and it’s the third time I’m trying to learn it. Maybe it will stick this time, but I’m not hopeful. Maybe this is just another hobby the universe doesn’t want me dabbling in. I’ve had similar experiences with origami. I love it, but I can’t remember the folds as soon as the diagram goes away.
I am not sure what to even say about my website. I write, I post, the abyss beckons. I wish I knew how to better engage people for comments. My hit count is up, but mostly it is dine-and-dash viewers. Whatever, it is still mainly for me. But the universe hasn’t fucked with me on it for a while, so I’m probably due.
I was hoping to finish my HR guide, and then found out that I’m going to have to have it reviewed by the Conflict of Interest people, with the likely outcome that I can maybe, possibly, give it away, but I likely, definitely can’t sell it as a book if I’m ever going to run a competition again. At least not while working for the government. Kind of kills any desire to keep writing.
On the work front, I had a great job, a good work-life balance, and I wanted a change after nine years. So I took one, ended up with a terrible management situation. Then I moved to what looked like an ideal outcome, everything I wanted, only for the project to accomplish almost nothing, and the subsequent work arrangement moved from working with three people I wanted to work with to instead one of them leaving, one of them retiring, and the job changing drastically to something I have done before and hoped not to do again. It’s not horrible, it’s just not great.
And yet I can’t help wondering if that is what the universe is trying to tell me. That “okay” should be the benchmark I aim for. I sure as hell can’t shoot for the stars, literally or figuratively.
The universe is trying to tell me something, shouting as loud as it can, and I am apparently too deaf or too stupid to know what it is telling me. And the frustration leads to anger, the anger to the dark side of the Force. Which right now feels about right. I want to grip the universe’s throat and choke the living shit out of it, just to see it squirm in fear. I just don’t have the energy to bother to think it would change anything.