Thursday, April 20, 2017

Depression: The Magic of Shrubbery

Does living next to greenery offer benefits to your mental health, or is something else at work?

Last month, the headline “Access to nature reduces depression and obesity, finds European study” caught my eye. All I had to do to feel happier and fit in my pants better was surround myself with trees? I felt silly. Here I was using cognitive behavior therapy techniques, exercising, and working on my sleep schedule. Instead, I should have been sitting in a bush all day.

After all, that’s what it implied in the news. Look at what they were claiming:

Middle-aged Scottish men with homes in deprived but verdant areas were found to have a death rate 16% lower than their more urban counterparts. Pregnant women also received a health boost from a greener environment, recording lower blood pressures and giving birth to larger babies, research in Bradford found.

See? The babies know all that verdant abundance matters. Just being near the plants made a difference! There couldn’t be any other reason pregnant women gestating babies in the suburbs have healthier, larger children. The same with the men in kilts. Elements like economics or culture couldn’t be at work here. It had to be the trees that were keeping them alive longer. And who cares if the word “obesity” only shows up in the headline‽ We’re talking magical benefits here. Of course being around greenery causes you to lose weight. Why wouldn’t it?

Look at this claim:

Overall, nature is an under-recognised healer, the paper says, offering multiple health benefits from allergy reductions to increases in self-esteem and mental wellbeing.

So living in areas with more greenery reduces allergies from plants and trees. Clearly, I don’t understand how things work, because I was under the impression that pollinating plants caused allergies, but being surrounded by nature is the cure to being colonized by nature. Who knew? Surely the evidence for the benefits of magical chlorophyll helping depression were rooted in firmer facts, right? Nope. Just like the word “obesity”, “depression” wasn’t backed up in the article and existed only in the headline. Talk about fake news.

So who was making all these claims? Was there any truth to them? In the middle of the article was the first clue that things were not quite as the headline claimed:

The project first appeared as an unpublicised 280-page European commission literature review last autumn, before being augmented for Friends of the Earth Europe with analysis of the links between nature-related health outcomes and deprivation. (Emphasis added.)

We don’t need to travel too far down the rabbit hole to see that this hodgepodge of claims was put together by a group advocating for governments to spend more money on gardens. (“New-borns in areas with abundant green spaces have a higher birth weight and head circumference” Go plants!) The reference to obesity was in a list of ailments facing European societies. Nowhere in the report did it claim that plants fought obesity. The reference to depression was a side-note in a side box. This article was shoddy journalism; the report bordered on wishful thinking.

Anybody looking for a quick fix for their depression by hitting Home Depot’s garden department may be disappointed in the results. It’s not that greenery is a bad idea. If you find aromatic plants stress-relieving and uplifting, you may experience benefits to having those plants around you. If you can get out to the forests and mountains for a hike, the fresh air and abundant nature will do you good. Do it often enough, and you might be able to manage mild depression that way. However, a tree in and of itself isn’t going to lift your mood simply by being there. You can achieve the same boosts to self-esteem and mood by visiting an art gallery, spending a day with family, or working on a hobby. Go out and do something to lift your spirits! I favor less passive methods of relieving depression. You need to pick up the sword and swing it to fight depression, not leave it in your belt.

Speaking of belts, mine is a bit tight, so I’m going out for a walk. If I find a bush that will make me thin again, I’ll be sure to let you know where it is.

If you like using nature to combat depression, you should read my book. It advocates medicinal sunsets.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Check Out These Great Depression Blogs for 2017

depression best blogs badge

Every once in a while, out of the veritable blue, an announcement arrives in my inbox that stands out from the noise. Usually, I receive spam from desperate, out of work infographic makers or eager guest bloggers who pretend to read my site, then think I want their guest post about their experience herding yaks. The other week, a guy asked me if I still posted on my blog these days, offered to guest blog for me to promote his book on depression, then told me that I could really use it. Yeah, not a great pitch. DELETE

Then today I discovered that Healthline had featured me in their yearly list of top depression bloggers again. There I was listed with sixteen other fantastic bloggers. I am humbly grateful, and also excited to learn about new bloggers. I hope you will be excited to learn about them, too. There isn’t just one way to write about overcoming depression. We need more voices to fight stigma and reach people who still struggle. Inside this new list of The Best Depression Blogs of the Year for 2017 I hope you find kindred spirits and uplifting material to help you in your struggle.

If you’re looking for practical examples of fighting suicidism, you should read my book.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

ADHD: Who Are You Again…and Again?

If there is one attribute of ADHD that embarrasses me the most, it is my inability to remember names. Like many adults with ADHD, I have problems with short-term, or working, memory. I forget what I’ve heard all the time, unless I make an extreme effort to force the information into long-term memory. When it comes to social events and names, I’m simply horrible at it.

I still remember an incident in college where I saw somebody I recognized from a quarter mile away. I made way across the quad, rushed up to them making waving motions, and promptly forgot their name mid-sentence as I said, “Hey…(insert awkward silence here)”. He even called me on it rather unkindly. Yeah, that was embarrassing. To be honest, I’d probably still be embarrassed about it, except I’ve forgotten his name again. Oh, well.

I thought days were far behind me because I’ve become more adept at redirecting the conversation until my memory caught up. There used to be days where I’d have a friendly conversation, then walk away none the wiser who I had been speaking with, so these days I’m more honest about the problem. After all, everybody forgets names! I found it smooths things over. That is, until I met Juliette.[1]

In January, I started physical therapy again because my surgeries were done. It was time to get my strength back up. As I sat in the waiting area filling out paperwork, a pretty, young woman came out to call me back. I made small talk with her and wondered if she was new, but she wasn’t new. Oh, well then, we must not have worked together much before. No, she cheerily corrected me. We had worked together before. Oh…then…crud! I had done it again. I had forgotten somebody.

I stared hard at her, probably harder than was comfortable, almost willing myself to remember her. Long, brown hair, a healthy glow, striking eyes, a friendly disposition… How on earth had I forgotten this person? Then there it was. The tickle deep in the back of my mind. Yes, there she was in my memory, but by this time, Juliette was on a roll. She had begun to list the times we worked together, including the fact that she was the person who had always called to remind me about my upcoming appointments. I was gobsmacked.

I made my apologies, and she seemed to have a bemused look upon her face, so perhaps I had not offended her as deeply as I feared, but still, forgetting somebody I work with is troubling to me. I feel it is disrespectful, regardless of my excuse. Later that night I listened to old voicemails from last Summer, many of them unlistened to. Yes, indeed. There was Juliette over and over again on my iPhone. Embarrassing.

Working memory is poor for adults with ADHD because of its ephemeral nature. These are the memories that don’t stick deeply. Think of it this way: There is only so much room in your hands to carry things. Eventually, you have to put something down to make room for something else. We prioritize what gets carried first and what has to wait until our hands are free. Since adults with ADHD have issues with inhibition, new information always receives top priority. Old information is discarded simply because there is no room for it. That’s why, for example, I don’t memorize shopping lists when I head out to the store. I write everything down. Even if I limit my list to three or four things, there will always be something new and distracting on my way to the checkout aisle. Milk, OJ, and eggs turns into Milk, that guy cut me off, and wow! That’s a great sale! Do I have enough room in my cart for this case? Hold on, let me move the cookies behind the candle, paper towels, and milk. Wait. Did I forget something?

Even worse is if somebody relays commands and information to me by voice. Unlike other ADHD adults, I process information visually, not audibly, which seems to be opposite what other studies have shown. That means I have problems retaining information told to me. Tell me something important, and it literally travels in one ear and out the other. This is why ToDo lists are so key to my coping strategies. The iPhone becomes my working memory. As long as you are willing to train yourself, using a smart device to record your tasks can help bypass this ADHD shortcoming.

Over the last two months, I’ve made sure to use Juliette’s name whenever I see her. I do the same any time that I talk to her on the phone. I am certain that I have smoothed things over. I hoped that through repetition, I could commit her name to my long-term memory. That’s why I was so relaxed when I called the clinic this morning.

“Hello, I need to cancel my physical therapy appointment today. Something’s come up. Is Jane or Elle available?”
“Jane’s eating lunch right now.”
“I see… Well, I don’t want to go into details because I don’t know you. Maybe I’ll…”
“Oh, you know me!”
“I do‽”
“Yes, I’m Juliette.”

  1. I’ve changed the names. Here’s hoping I don’t call her “Juliette” the next time I see her.  ↩

If you have problems with ADHD short-term memory, I haven't written a book about that, but here's my list of books anyway.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Upsides to ADHD: Overcoming Your Sense of Underachievement

One of the distinctive aspects of ADHD in adults is an overwhelming sense of underachievement. Sometimes this is due to them never getting out of the gate while their peers race ahead, and sometimes they have actually accomplished a great deal, but from the wrong ToDo lists. Both examples can leave ADHD adults with a pervasive feeling of underachievement, even if they accomplish a great deal more than their peers.

I imagine the skeptics out there are sitting up and asking, “But doesn’t everybody miss goals? Don’t even overachievers miss goals? Everybody misses goals!” I’ve heard similar comments like that for years from people who believe ADHD is a myth. It makes me wonder if they are the type of people to dismiss the sickness of a loved one with “What are you complaining about? Everybody sneezes. Everybody coughs.” As you can guess from the example, it’s not the symptom itself that marks a problem, it’s the intensity and quantity of the symptom. Yes, everybody does indeed miss goals here and there. It’s a part of life. What makes this unique for people with ADHD, is that the sense of underachievement is overwhelming, sometimes to the point of becoming debilitating. Many adults with ADHD are so used to falling short of the mark that they come to expect it of themselves.

Therapists will focus on this sense of underachievement, giving the patient advice on how to think better about themselves, how to be better focused, and how to give themselves credit for what they have successfully accomplished. This is good and necessary advice. A lifetime of under par performances, mistakes, and reprimands creates very low self-esteem.

The Exceptions to the Rule

It’s interesting to note, however, that not all adults with ADHD have this problem. If you’ve studied ADHD online, you’ve come across the lists of successful people who have ADHD. Actress Emma Watson, singers Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, JetBlue founder David Neeleman, Glenn Beck, and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson have publicly stated that they have ADHD. The message of the lists is clear. “Don’t give up! You can succeed with ADHD!” The questions I always had after seeing those lists, though, was how do they do it? What’s their trick? What are they doing differently that I am not? How do their thoughts about ADHD shortcomings diverge from mine? In the past, when I was floundering, these lists didn’t help me. You might as well have told me to be perfect. I was too deep in the flaw. What I learned over time, however, was that the answer to all those questions was simple: Stop thinking of ADHD as having only shortcomings.

I believe that every character flaw is a talent gone awry. Strong self-confidence can become arrogance. Laser focus can become tunnel vision. It’s the excess that turns a talent into a flaw. If we come at ADHD’s sense of underachievement from the opposite direction—as a talent gone awry or as an advantage instead of a shortcoming—what could the upside of such a damaged sense of self be?

A Compelling Awareness of What Needs to Be Achieved

Celebrities and business execs with ADHD experience failure just like everybody else, but they prioritize their focus on what needs to be done in the future instead of focusing on what hasn’t been done in the past. They take our lovely ADHD hyperfocus and apply it to progress instead of rumination. It’s a matter of perception: positive vs. negative. Obviously, I have no crystal ball into the minds of others. However, I have read their interviews. New projects and lists of things to do are treated by them as opportunities to display their abilities, not future evidence of their failure.

David Neeleman of JetBlue understands this quite well. “I knew I had strengths that other people didn’t have, and my parents reminded me of them when my teachers didn’t see them.” A positive perspective makes a monumental difference in how they approach a project as opposed to those who are shackled with an overwhelming sense of underachievement. Successful people in general give themselves credit where credit is due. They are satisfied with their efforts and feel good about themselves. The ADHD twist on this is intensity, frequency, and hyperfocus. They are not only aware of what needs to be done, they feel compelled to go do it.

Turning a Sense of Underachievement into an Awareness of What Needs to Be Achieved

Before we can flip the switch on this ADHD trait from detriment to asset, we should understand that knowing what needs to be done is not the same as never being satisfied with our efforts. In my experience, people confuse the two concepts whether they have ADHD or not. I have been cautioned in my past on many occasions because people assumed I was never satisfied with my efforts when in reality, I was fully focused on what needed to come next. The problem was that I had low self-esteem and allowed their words to deflate me. And who knows? Maybe I was a lot more negative than I should have been, giving others fuel to criticize and caution. I was certainly not as self-confident then as I am now. I hadn’t learned what Paul Orfalea of Kinko’s had learned: "With ADD, you’re curious. Your eyes believe what they see. Your ears believe what others say. I learned to trust my eyes.”³

To learn to trust ourselves after a lifetime of being swatted on the nose, we need to change our perspective. We already have the awareness of what needs to be achieved. The problem is that it’s focused backwards. Because of this, we’ve developed negative cognitive habits. Try these exercises to help train your ADHD mind to think forward.

  1. Let the past go – For many of us, our past mistakes were used like a rolled up newspaper to punish us. With all the mistakes that people with ADHD tend to make, this turned attention in our lives to our failures. Now it’s time we stopped dwelling on the mistakes of the past. It’s not healthy or constructive. As soon as you realize you’re dwelling on your lack of achievements again, stop, then focus instead on something you’re looking forward to. If you must think about an unfinished project in your past, form a mental image of how you could have done things differently, then jot down on a piece of paper your devised action plan. Now crumple it up and throw it out. The trick is to commit to doing things differently next time, but turn your focus onto something you have control over. Learn to think forward. Apply yourself to things you can still change.
  2. Think of one positive personal accomplishment every day – Since appreciating our strengths, skills, and accomplishments doesn’t come naturally for many of us, we need to practice at it. Think of a positive thing that you’ve done. Write it down. When that gets easy, think of two. Do this every day for three weeks, and you’ll be on your way to a new habit. For some of you, it will be difficult at first. Being positive about your accomplishments may not come naturally. Your sense of self-worth, as mine once was many years ago, may be so wrapped up in a pervasive identity of failure that you cannot conceive you’ve done anything good or worthwhile, so start small. I’m not talking about making a list of grand achievements that shaped mankind. Think about the small things that you do despite your ADHD every day—the tiny victories that need to be knowledged. “I was on time to work today,” “I didn’t talk over anybody,” or even “Paperwork filed on time.” Climb higher and avoid the low hanging fruit after a few days. You are more accomplished than you realize.
  3. Pick two to three past projects, and fix them on paper – If you’re having a hard time letting go of the past, it might be a productive mental exercise to pick three projects that you feel were personal failures, then write down on a sheet of paper the things that you did right versus the things that you did wrong. If it helps, record it on audio or video. Whichever way works best for your thought process. Analyze the project’s ups and downs, but only address the elements that you had control over. There may be any number of reasons why a project failed, but it’s easy to blame other people. Focus only on your responsibilities. What could you have done differently? Then commit yourself to doing those things differently in the future. If you feel anchored in your past, this may be a way of helping you process the past in a more constructive fashion. However, if you cannot trust yourself to keep this as a mental exercise only, go on to the next step.
  4. Pick three projects and plan out how to fix them – Those famous people with ADHD who aren’t burdened by a sense of underachievement are doers. They are always busy working on the next thing. It’s time for you to work on the next thing. Pick a project, small in scope, that you can finish in perhaps a day or two. Organize your time so that you can tackle this project from start to finish, and then go do it! Afterwards, be prepared to feel good about it. Then start the next project. Build on the complexity of the previous projects. If these projects dovetail well with work, then all the better, but if that’s too big of a leap, start with something small. Tackle your email box. Tackle that pile in the den. If you have a taste for something more complex, tackle the garage, for example. Break the project down into smaller steps, and take on each step one at a time so that you don’t get sacked. The trick here is to do something small scale and simple that gives you a sense of accomplishment. There may be other ADHD traits that affect your ability to undertake this step, which is why I recommend that you start small. Persevere. It’s worth the effort.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to start small, then build up to greater complexity. You won’t be doing yourself any favors if you impatiently take on massive projects. You don’t want to have yet another project abandoned in your backyard or yet another unfinished task to weigh upon your mind. However, if you can train yourself to think forward for a change, can think positively about yourself, and can follow through on finishing small projects, you will be well on your way towards flipping the switch on this ADHD trait. When hyperfocus is coupled with healthy self-esteem and a game plan, the ADHD adult is grounded in a sense of self-accomplishment and armed with powerful tools for success.

Nifty logo of words in a fishbowl

Saturday – 6:58 PM: My original goal was to publish a draft of a chapter from my Twelve Ways to Fight Off Depression book every week, and do the same for Upsides to ADHD on the 10th, 20th, & 30th. Obviously, that has not happened. While it is true that I’ve been sick with a nasty virus for the past FIVE weeks, the amount of work involved in these two first chapters is making me rethink my game plan. I love pingponging between the two subjects, which works wonderfully with my ADHD, but I don’t want to sacrifice quality in order to make a self-imposed deadline. I will give myself March to see if I can pull this off, then reevaluate my plans accordingly. It’s only by pushing myself that I can discover my limitations, then devise workarounds.

In the meantime, research is mostly done for Pokémon Ultra Beasts in 5 Easy Steps. I’m still trying to discern a repeatable path from Ultra Beast to the older Legendaries. Since Pokémon Sun and Moon (SuMo) are Generation VII games, they have a brand new format for Pokémon making them incompatible with older games, similar to the break of Gen III from Gen II. Moving a Pokémon from Omega Ruby or Alpha Sapphire (ORAS), for example, requires a Pokébank account, then first transferring the beastie from ORAS to the bank, then transferring it into SuMo. Needless to say, not a lot of people bother doing that except collectors, so those old legendaries are hard to get. You have to be offering exactly what a rare few people are looking for. At any rate, I hope to wrap that research up over the weekend. Then I can add writing this sequel to my list of too many things to do.

If you want to know more about the books I have already written, you might find this stupendous link click worthy.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Life, the Universe, and Everything 2017 Was Just What I Needed

Nifty logo of words in a fishbowl Entry 18 – 11:46 PM: Just a quick update before I head off to bed. Finally, sickness left me so that I could attend Life, the Universe & Everything. It’s an academic symposium on science fiction & fantasy held every year in Provo, Utah. I used to help run it when I attended BYU. There isn’t anything else quite like it out there. I missed yesterday’s programming (economics of the undead and a discussion on folklore with Jessica Day George and Dene Lowe, to name a few), and I worried that I simply wouldn’t be able to shake off this virus. In a fit of unusual slumber, however, I retired to bed at 7:50pm and woke up refreshed early this morning. Well, refreshed sometime after 1:30am, then I was up all night, insomniac that I am, but refreshed I was, and off to the con I stumbled!

I was delighted to bump into old friends from college. Life takes us in so many varied directions, it’s hard to keep track of everybody. Sometimes we let friendships go. It was comforting that I could resume our friendships as if time had stood still.

Some highlights for me were “So You Want to Write Fantasy” with L.E. Modesitt, Jr., Larry Correia, and some authors that were new to me. Correia talked about the short attention span of the modern reader, and how an author used to have quite a bit of shelf-life before reader interest waned. Nowadays, awareness can be counted in weeks, not months. To fight this, authors need to be more prolific. Since he was addressing a room full of wannabe authors, Larry put it in his inimitable way and pantomimed a trip to a bookstore: “One book? Who is this guy?” followed by “Six? Oh, this guy must be good.” That’s one reason why my goal is to produce four more ebooks this year: better exposure. It is proving to be a daunting goal since I’ve had numerous setbacks, but I have a goal, so I plod forward. Just last week I completed all research for the update to my Pokémon Legendaries in 7 Easy Steps book for Pokémon Sun & Moon. It took a few months of experimentation, but I cracked the GTS and can trade from a Petilil to an Ultra Beast now in six steps. You may not care, but I’m very excited to write the updated edition. This time I’ll release the book when the game is new and not the day it becomes outdated.

I also learned about at the Crafting Realistic Fight Scenes panel. Need references for medieval martial arts? They’re your guys. I don’t often need to access ancient French sword techniques when writing articles on ADHD and depression, but I found the website interesting. Aside from honing our craft and learning about resources, symposiums can be a wonderful vacation for the ADHD mind. It’s like a marching band filled with squirrels blowing kazoos in brightly clad outfits keeping my attention all day long.

I also found the “So You Want To Write Science Fiction” panel fascinating. There was a moment where the conversation seemed hijacked as the panel and audience discussed the Singularity and how it was as crushing for hard SF as it was for the future of mankind. There seemed to be an assumption that all hard SF must address the Singularity—as if machine intelligence was a predetermined event in our future. Of course, the authors didn’t feel this way, but the hard SF audience seems to have purists who are fixated on this event. The end result seems to be that future science fiction is hampered by this theory, which explains why so many authors avoid it by working in near future SF.

And that’s all very geeky, but it is a pleasure to be in a room where such concepts are discussed in a serious tone.

What I gained most from that panel was the following tidbit: There are two ways to approach technology: How characters use technology to solve a problem, or how technology affects the characters. This can be extrapolated for the fantasy work that I’m doing. How does my main event affect my characters. It’s not enough to tell a dry tale about fantastical happenings. The reader relates with the bizarre through the characters.

The last panel that I found absolutely fascinating was “The Appeal of Science Fiction and Fantasy for Mormons”. I enjoyed listening to the panel and the audience discuss our religion in relation to this genre. Curiously, a lot of Mormons gravitate towards consuming and producing science fiction & fantasy literature. This panel discussed some of the reasons why.

Now, for my writing goals. Some steps forward, and some steps back. I can’t say that I am completely in control of my life lately. I am awaiting the return of spring with great anticipation this year. I need fresh air and sunlight to disinfect my depression and illness. I’ve been sick with viruses since New Year’s Eve. I’ve done very well this winter compared to other years, but even still, when I get sick, my tic disorder is exacerbated. I’m afraid I have yet to figure out how to be productive when my brain turns into quivering Jell-o. But don’t despair! I will get back on track. It’s only February.

Coping strategies used: Smiling practice to warm up my downward turned face. Forcing myself to mingle with people outside of my home to fight depression and anxiety. Allowing myself to be an adult with ADHD and letting my attention be pulled here and there, but taking notes during the panels to keep myself focused.

If you want to be as upbeat as I was today despite depression or suicidal tendencies, you should read my book

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