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 hate the reality of personal domino theory. I do, even though I know most of you have no idea what I’m talking about. Psychologists have much more complicated words to describe the universe “overwhelming someone”, feeling you don’t know where to start, etc., and at first blush, someone could mistake that experience / emotion for the same as mine. But it’s not. No, my problem is not a feeling of helplessness, it’s a lack of motivation or lack of connection between goal and the means to achieve something. Confused yet? Let me explain.
I want to set up my new home gym, a Bowflex unit I bought back in December. My original intent was to have it up and running by the new year, and then February, March, May, June. And yet it is still in a box. I’ve achieved other goals, but not this one, so since I’m one to delve into motivations, why not this one? Is it fear of the project? Nope, although the explanations and reviews online suggest it is not 100% straightforward. Is it lack of desire? Nope, I want to use it. If it was set up, I’d use it today. So not the project and not the use, what then? The steps to get there.
Here’s my personal domino world:
In order to use the gym system, I have to have it fully set up and usable;
To set it up, I’m going to need some help (likely from Andrea, maybe someone like a friend Paul who is good with tools and things, including instructions, and potentially bribe-able with good Thai food, conversation and board games);
I also need space cleared to put it when it’s together, and therein lies the start of the rub, as I’ve got my eye on the corner of the basement;
To get that space cleared, I need to move two coffee tables over and decide what to do with Jacob’s toy train stuff and whether we’re going to convert it to a Lego table or get rid of the tables;
I need to move a regular table to the centre of the room;
I need to move a couch and a chair, to new arrangements in the room;
I need to move the TV from one wall to another, including adjusting all the electronics in the unit to potentially ditch a Wii that might be malfunctioning, decide if I’m keeping a Playstation 1 and/or a N64, decide if I’m keeping the console stereo system in the unit or giving it away to my brother or father-in-law, and move a setup for an VCR so that my laptop can still reach it and allow me to rip a diving video that sits in VHS-land;
I need to reorganize three small shelving units which have a lot of “extra” stuff on it in front of DVDs, and potentially sort through some DVDs we no longer need;
I need to make enough room in front of the new TV setup to do yoga, and set up my laptop to play videos for working out;
I need to reposition a really heavy recumbent bicycle, and assemble the pieces that I disassembled six years ago when we moved, get it up and running, and within view of the TV so Andrea can watch TV while using it too;
And before all of that happens, take about 30 boxes of stuff that were moved out of my back storage area and now sort them into 2 or 3 piles so I know what I’m keeping, what I’m throwing out, and what we’re selling to clean that area up too, and then put it where it needs to go so I have some space to move.
There’s about another 8 small steps in there too, but you get the picture. I’m even leaving out the fact that there is a giant hole in my drop ceiling that they did to get the AC line clear. Regardless of how I sub-divide it, it’s a project and a half, at least.
But the only part I really care about is #1, which requires #2 and #3, they kind of go together. Maybe #4 too. So they’re connected to the main goal which is to get the gym going.
So, as I said, with depression hitting, I could go for the simple psych explanation that it is depression causing me to feel “overwhelmed”, but that’s not it. I don’t feel overwhelmed by the steps. I feel completely unmotivated because most of them I don’t care about. A bunch of the furniture moving is ONLY to make space, it doesn’t change anything on its own, I like the current config. It’s why it is IN the current config. It works for me. The extra stuff? Some of it is fine to have in boxes, and I sporadically use some of it, but not enough to retain it. I want to purge, but it’s not urgent. Steps 6-11 have no real motivation behind them, they’re transitory domino issues. I need them to fall to make room for the domino I really care about.
The domino problem happens regularly for me, and it is a great source of frustration. I frequently feel like I want to do X, but I can’t until I do A-W first. To do things “right” rather than “good enough” for today. I don’t want to push a bunch of stuff out of the way to get to a box at the back of a closet, I want to solve the first problems that are in the way. Yet none of them are urgent, and they sit there.
Classic “to do” list management would say, “No problem, write it down into digestible chunks and do one a day until you’re done.” Or set aside a time to do a big PUSH and see how far you get, knowing of course that what seems insurmountable often seems manageable once you get into it, it is the “starting” that needs to be overcome. Yet neither technique is really a problem nor the solution to the problem.
The main problem is committing to the first domino. I don’t care about it. I don’t want to care about it. There are 100 things I would rather be doing on my to do list than play with that domino. In terms of priority, alone that domino would be somewhere near the bottom of a long list right after alphabetizing my sock drawer. But if the first domino doesn’t fall, I can’t get to the 12th or 15th or 100th in that chain.
So July’s first FTU burst of “energy” allocation is to the domino problem in my basement. I’m going to do 30 minutes worth of work on it. When I’m done, I’m stopping for the day. Even if I’m in the groove or making progress, as in that vein likes the seeds of future disconnection when it wears off, I’m going to stop after 30 minutes. I’m not committing to a domino I don’t care about, I am committing to a 30-minute time investment in my final domino. Or as my kinesiologist suggested in a different sense, I can count setting up my home gym as my first “work-out” and exercise in and of itself.
As a small peek behind the blogging curtain, I thought I would start with my thoughts going into this post. Partly I do so as a stalling technique. I have no idea what I’m going to write. Which is highly unusual for me.
Normally when I have a post in mind, my brain starts composing it far ahead of my fingers hitting the keyboard. I think about how I’m going to structure it, how I’m going to explain my take on something, how I’m going to convey my thoughts. And in so doing, I let my thoughts coalesce into something I hope is worth sharing about the topic, even if the topic is me, myself and I.
A month ago, I chose a different path to healing from depression than I normally would choose. Normally, and I use that term loosely, I would choose to either weather the storm and try to push through (often unsuccessfully) or I would shut down, drop some balls that I was juggling, and take time to “heal my busy mind”. Instead of my tried and true methods, I choose to say Fuck the Universe and ignore whatever signals I seemed to be getting and just plow ahead. Not pushing through the storm, not shutting down, more just ignoring it.
I realize in hindsight that it was kind of like “fake it til you make it”. I chose to behave as if I wasn’t depressed to see if I could fake my body out of the depression. I dressed it up a bit more than that, drew on a different form of internal energy (anger) than I normally do, and started blasting as if I was at the top of my game, not the bottom of a valley.
And it sort of worked. I knew it wasn’t sustainable in the long-run, I knew I was going to pay at least a small price for my energy burst, but for the first couple of weeks, it worked.
I re-started doing memes, and deliberately chose not to try and get a formal format that was uniform, coherent, formal. Instead, I went almost willy-nilly in choosing images I like, marrying them to old memes that I had done before, and sharing them. How did I do? Well, it is 30 days later, and I have produced 37 new memes and shared 28 of them. Almost every day I did one. Let’s see – 2 book quotes, 8 humour, 4 lunch notes, 2 music quotes, 12 quotes so far.
I also started working my way through a backlog of “comics of the day” that I have saved, and shared those too. About the same number of memes for the month, over 25. Almost one every day. Plus I sorted literally hundreds of other ones and filed them away…ones that I liked, but not enough to share at this point. [FtU #01 – The universe can go meme itself]
I also started pushing ahead on finishing a MOOC about metaliteracy, although I only did another week or two. I’ll finish the assignments, but I don’t care about clicking the boxes to get the note that it’s complete in the system. I can take what I want from it, write a few blogs, move on. [FtU #02 – MOOC this, universe] In the meantime, Jacob has been taking a coding course, and it got me a bit more interested in Unity. I found an online MOOC for programming in Unity and C#, downloaded and installed Unity and Microsoft Visual Studio, and completed the first couple of exercises (much like my high-school coding course, it starts with output commands to a raw screen to say something like “Hello World!”). It’s pretty basic, but that’s okay, I need to ease back into it. I also downloaded a whole whack of other learning materials too for coding, we’ll see how those go.
Finally, I broke down and reconstituted my astronomy hobby, chose hope as my passion and mantra, and tried imaging some astro targets. And I had some success. I rebuilt my astro log book in a Word doc I can use on my tablet, took a whack of images, tried stacking, reviewed some software. I threw myself into it. And it worked. Just in time for the weather to thumb its nose at astronomers here in Ottawa, but still, I’m back in the thick of it. [FtU #03 – My astronomy hobby – Here’s looking at you, universe!]
I had more activities planned, even though the astronomy took over more of my time than I expected (setting up a portapotty for the star parties, buying my son a scope, ordering some extra accessories, etc.). I had my birthday in mid-June, turning 51. I was even doing better at work, so much so that my boss even commented on it. I was producing more, volunteering more, being more “positive”. An online friend noticed too.
Except I also know that it was feeling a bit false, which is really hard to explain. I was doing better, but that isn’t the whole story. My energy lasted until just past mid-month, and then slowly started to fade. I knew it was coming, I fully expected it, but still, it’s a bit annoying. My wife was traveling for a week, so I was doing single parent duty, and that part was fine, although a bit more tiring. But even when that was over and she was back, I noticed my energy levels were down still. I was still faking my positive energy glow, or rather I knew it wasn’t completely the whole story. The foundations weren’t quite as strong as they were earlier in the month. I can’t keep up the same energy boost the whole month. I can kick in afterburners for a short while, but then they shut off and I have to rely on the boost to coast me through the rest of the month.
And as some form of gravitational depression started to drag on my trajectory, I let myself slide a bit the last few days. Which also gave me time to take stock. Blasting through a few barriers was fun, quick wins to give me more confidence, but I also know that I dropped a LOT of other balls to be able to focus on those quick win areas. Like my weight, eating healthy, etc. My weight has slowly crept back up in recent months, as I knew it would, and my A1C number rose slightly in there too. Not enough for me to panic or anything, but a reminder that the rocket boost was nice, but it was in areas that are not my core goals right now. Just nice ones to raise my quality of life for a bit.
But if I want to also improve my quantity of life, i.e. living longer, I need to get back to some of those other goals. I’ve got some ideas for my next “blast” for July. But I also need to get back into making my lunches for work, taking my snacks, etc. And working on a long-term health project in the basement.
I don’t know what the FtU campaign will look like specifically for July, but it starts tomorrow. Let’s see how I do. And maybe next time I write, I’ll know what I’m going to type before my fingers hit the keyboard.
I completed a previous MOOC on video game analysis (#50by50 #32 – Complete a MOOC – Understanding Video Games) from the University of Alberta and I started one on Metaliteracy some time ago from the State University of New York (SUNY). But I’ve found the Metaliteracy course a bit challenging for its design.
There are ten weeks, with each week having a mix of videos and readings to consume, and then a couple of online assignments to fill out about what you learned. The previous one had an option for just auditing with little interaction, this one needs that interaction to really work. Which is generally fine, no problem.
Except each week’s “submission” then has to be graded by your peers. Which would work fine if you had any other peers doing the course at the same time, but it has continual intake. People can start and stop anytime, the deadlines can be reset with a click of a button, etc. Which means I finished weeks 1-4 and sat waiting for “grades” on the submitted postings/assignments until someone started the course, reached the same point, and reviewed them. As part of the community, you also have to review three other people’s materials. Which also doesn’t work if I go to review them, and there are no other people doing it at the same time — once or twice, I had NOTHING to review.
Which means while I’m doing my part, there’s no cohort moving through the course with me. So I got to week 4 and stalled. Eventually, someone else will come along and review my stuff and I can review theirs, but until then, my submissions go into the temporary abyss of the internet waiting for “review”.
I also confess that the course, while okay, is not as interesting as I had hoped. It has some interesting readings related to curation of info, fact checking in a social media age, licensing, etc., and I’m getting what I wanted out of it, but it is definitely not at the top of my list of interesting presentations and presenters.
The “challenges”, however small, are not an unusual occurrence, nor any grand universe conspiracy, it’s just a really frustrating form of group work that holds back my somewhat boring learning while I’m waiting for others to engage and do their part.
Except it isn’t really holding me back, that is / has been my perception. MY part is just to do the assignments each week and mark other people. I can still do my part, and complete the majority of my learning. If I don’t get the checkmark for any given week because nobody marked my submission, who cares?
MOOC this, universe. I’m proceeding anyway. I’m designating Mondays as my MOOC day, either at lunch or at night. I’ve even downloaded the app for Coursera so I can view it on my tablet rather than at night on my laptop. Week 5 on formats as a consumer and producer is done, moving on to week 6.
As I outlined previously (Deciding on my way forward), I need a short-term 30-day solution where I ignore any messages coming from the universe that’s stopping me from doing stuff I want to do. Astronomy is on the list, and I’ll come back to that in subsequent posts, but for now, I need something small and symbolic for myself.
I have done some memes several times over the last few years in concentrated bursts. I share comics on FB, sure, but I’m talking more about my “own” creations — quotes, jokes, lunch notes for kids. I loved the idea of having my own little brand that gets shared around. So when I did them, I focused a lot on the design, aka branding, but never really got anywhere:
For quotes, I tried out a few designs on people and ended up with a vertical design that looked like a coil bound notepad, used a italicized font like it was handwritten/printed (not cursive), added a picture of a pencil with someone hugging it, and of course, included my frog logo;
The jokes/humour design was simple enough…vertical design, a solid background, a picture of a jester, and my frog logo;
For lunch notes, I put a banner across the top that said Lunch Notes, kept the background white and horizontal, added a pic of a kid talking to a frog standing on a lunchbox, and again, included my frog logo;
I did about 50 of each type and while I got a few likes, they were rarely shared, i.e. little take up, insufficient resonance or critical mass, and so I felt like I was shouting into the abyss. It happens. And with little response, I did my 50 and kind of stalled. I have thousands of quotes I want to use; hundreds of jokes saved; and ideas for a few hundred lunch notes. But, as I said, I stalled.
Yet I like MAKING them, and while there is no “productive reason” to keep doing them, I’ve rebooted my memes with a non-branded brand. I decided I don’t much care about the consistency of the look and feel, I’ll put something together that I like, and BAM!, out the door it goes. I did a quick bit of research to see what was the best recommended size slide in Powerpoint for sharing with FB (11.25 x 6.25 inches) and Twitter (14.2 x 7.1 inches), found the recommended FB size will work with both without resizing or overlap, and so I started doing the memes again. Mostly so far I’m just redoing the previous ones with simpler non-branding/branding.
For the quotes, I kept my frog logo, added in my website address (just the default polywogg.ca part), and the rest is whatever strikes my fancy:
For humour, the court jester is present with my website address, the rest is freeform:
And for lunch notes, I’m doing solid backgrounds or borders, centred text with graphics, and I kept the lunchbox image with my website address:
I’ve done 10 so far, 9 do-overs and 1 new, and I’ll keep going. I’m also switching over the images and quotes on my website — previously I kept the text so that it would index itself, now I’m just going with the image.
Maybe the universe will like them, maybe it won’t. But I don’t care.