Monday, February 12, 2018

What Does Self-Esteem, Arranged Marriage, and Ramen Have in Common

mmm, serious ramen

This will be a phenomenally busy week with doctor visits, writing, and preparations for a symposium. Then punctuated by a presentation at BYU just when things get really crazy in the middle of the week. I’ve been asked to talk about publishing e-books, and I’ll be joined with my editor. I did this class two years ago, but unlike last time, I’ve been preparing. We have some ideas we think will be fun, including putting together a very quick & dirty ePub. I also spent the weekend finishing projects like the paperback edition of my Pokémon book, and writing articles that I plan to submit here and there. But I don’t want to talk about any of that. I can’t stop thinking about a recent arranged marriage proposal I received.

I dropped by a local Vietnamese grocery store on Saturday. My family and I have shopped at this store for over 10 years. When I want to get import ramen and all the fixings, this is where I go. The shop carries a wide variety of products from all over Asia. There is ramen from Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, and manga-flavored ramen from Malaysia. Most of the ramen is flavored, of course, but brave souls can purchase blank ramen for homemade broth. There is a Japanese grocery store in downtown Salt Lake I could visit, but the Vietnamese store is much closer and gets all my business. Consequently, we are on a friendly basis with the owner (although it just occurred to me that I have never learned her name). Over the years since my divorce, she has been asking me if I was dating yet. Each time, the answer is “No”. The store owner is usually incredulous that I haven’t begun yet, but I’ve been taking my time.

Saturday, I thought I would be clever. As I was stuffing import Japanese mochi into my shopping cart, I answered her question before she asked, telling her that no, I haven’t started dating yet, but I’m thinking that I’ll be starting soon. Not missing a beat, she replied that she had a friend who has a daughter who’s looking for a husband. Would I like her to introduce me?

I stood frozen. At first, I thought she was kidding. After all, I was kidding. I smiled and waited for the punchline, but then my smile froze on my face as I saw she was waiting for my response. She was very, very serious. Suddenly, I had no idea what to do. All coherent thought took flight out my ears and left me empty as a birdbath in winter. She assured me that the girl, who is Vietnamese, was very pretty. When I didn’t jumpstart my mouth into motion, she then began to let me know that I was a very nice guy—as if I deserved this meeting.

It was the most singularly peculiar event I’ve ever had happen to me. It was so far outside my cultural experience. Soon, the birds of my mind returned to roost, and I began to think many things at once. How old was this girl? Does she speak English well? I need somebody who can keep pace with my conversations. Is she LDS? Having religion in common is important to me. But I had no idea how or even IF I could ask such questions in that circumstance. Instead, I began to blush, then managed to say I wasn’t ready for that yet, but I thanked her for her kindness.

Over the weekend I spent a lot of time thinking about this event. What I decided was that, although the things I initially worried about were legitimate, the truth is that I couldn’t believe somebody thought I was worthy to be offered as a potential mate. I didn’t feel impressive enough yet. I had more more books to write, more money to make, more possessions to acquire!

It’s true that I’m so used to ADHD and being subpar compared to peers that I’m used to failure and other people’s disappointment. Yet this moment was the complete opposite. This dear lady thought I was good enough for formal courtship, and the experience terrified me.

This past weekend showed me that I have forgotten some of the lessons I taught myself over the years to love myself and not get down on myself. I was looking through the glass darkly, seeing only the negative. In fact, I was so convinced that I was unworthy for marriage, I couldn’t believe what was happening was truly happening.

This has both bemused and disappointed me. How many people get an actual arranged marriage proposal? Yet there I was worried only about how many unfinished projects I had! As I move through this week representing myself, I will make special effort to quiet the negative critic who resides within my head. Success is built upon realistic assessments of our skills and a positive belief in our potential, not on negative opinions based on fear.


Monday, January 29, 2018

Beating Off Depression with Distractions

Burdened by comorbidity

Comorbid is an icky word. Say it with me. “Ko-’Mor-Bid”. It means people with mental health issues usually have to carry more than one condition on their backs. I lug around ADHD, Major Depressive Disorder, and Adult Tourette’s. It’s a lot of fun, and you should see the muscles on my legs. Atlas would be jealous.

Last Saturday, Tourette’s was the issue that ruled my day. I had so much work to be done, including posting an article on this blog, but instead I was in slow motion. Everything was harder to do than usual—as it usually is when my brain feels as if popcorn was leaping to life underneath it. Tourette’s triggers boredom and frustration, which my ADHD self has a low tolerance for, and I wasn’t accomplishing what I needed to accomplish, so depression was starting to press in.

By the beginning of the evening, I knew my day was doomed unless I did something about it. I had boosted my protein intake to help reduce the ticking, but my depression was still strong. Distraction was in order. In moderation, distraction can be a very effective coping strategy for fighting depression. Here’s what I did.

I posted a creative photo of Utah’s recent snowfall. (Creativity helps offset depression.) It was a small step, but it felt like an enormous wall. Then I added new commentary on an old Facebook memory. (I considered it a warmup exercise. It is also creative, which helps boosts endorphins.) This was another small step forward, but it came easier than the first step. Next, I wrote a critique of Facebook’s recent news filtering initiative by pointing out how ludicrous their friend algorithms are. (Now I was cooking and thoroughly distracted.) That post earned a negative comment from a reader for it’s randomness. Inspired by the rebuttal, I also posted a wacky Star Wars fangirl video by a local mayor taking office. Now that was random. And weird. Wow. What a strange video. Lastly, throwing caution to the wind, I opened a discussion on how Facebook would decide which political side of the government shutdown was fake news.

Then I got to work. The depression was abated. My ticking had faded. None of my friends showed up as planned that evening, so I suddenly had time for more productivity. We can leave discussions of how pathetic I must be to be happy to work on a Saturday night with no romantic prospects for another time.

The one regret I had for the evening was tearing apart on Twitter an article about gender dominance in picture books. The journalist of the article from England engaged me—which proved to be a very informative conversation—but because it takes so much effort to mentally function when ticking, diplomacy often falls by the wayside. I usually try to avoid polemic discussions, but didn’t that evening. I didn’t post anything that was irate or hateful, but I wonder if the journalist was as excited to read my glib insights as I was in typing them.

What I didn’t do that evening was clear out my brand new paper pile monstrosity, or write a book, or finish research for my Pokémon book. I didn’t even watch TV or read a book for entertainment. Social media and freelance work took up my time. If I were to do the evening again, assuming I can have precense of mind when ticking, I would set a timer for each event, and limit my social media to one platform. Facebook would have been enough. I, also, read far too much news, so that distraction needed to be reined in as well. However, I did successfully fight off depression, which would have robbed me of several days of productivity if I had let it take root. That was my focus.

Sometimes our solutions aren’t perfect, which is why I’m sharing this with you. I don’t have a solid grip on my mental health issues. I can’t snap my fingers and make them go away. It is a constant battle, and it consumes so much time. However, by experimenting and analyzing, we can hone in on the solutions that work best for us. Don’t let yourself get discouraged, and take the small victories where you can. Comorbidity can be very difficult to deal with. You need a positive attitude to keep up the fight.


If you need some ideas on coping strategies, you should read my book on fighting suicidal depression.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Another Pot Slaughtered in the Name of ADHD

Another Victim of ADHD

I may need to change my name to Douglas Cootey, Pot Assasin. I’m not sure who drew first blood years ago, or why we battle in the kitchens of my life, but for decades we have vied for dominance. I must admit it is not usually the fairest of fights. The pot is striving to fulfill its destiny, sitting on a burner, heating the contents inside. Then I come along and slay it.

The worst incidents usually involved ramen or eggs with smoke detectors going off, but the absolute worst was the time when I set water to boil, became distracted in my studio, and came out of my reverie when strange pinging sounds began to irritate me. The water had long boiled away and nothing was left but for the pan’s bottom to return to its molten state on my burner. In every case, Adult ADHD was totally at fault, I promise. I set out to cook, then became woefully distracted.

This stuff was ancient history, though—far back in the 90s. I’m not a clueless tweenager anymore. I am conscientious and careful when cooking. I cook and bake everyday with no disastrous incidents. Well, except that one time soon after the divorce where I boiled eggs so long the water evaporated and the shells popped off the toasted eggs, but that was six years ago. And who doesn’t overbook eggs after a divorce‽ If failure is the furnace in which we are made, then I am the world’s greatest chef!

Then ADHD struck again. I was making pudding for the next day. (See? I’m super organized!) The ingredients were lined in a chronological row, the measuring cups and cooking utensils were set neatly by the stove, I turned the burner on, placed the pot on the burner with the confidence of a surgeon lifting a scalpel, then became distracted talking to somebody in the other room. Just like that, another pan slaughtered.

Look, I know what you’re thinking. I am likely a candidate for eternal takeout, but that sounds like defeat. Besides, burning a pan once a decade means that there are 3649 days of brilliant success in between disasters! I also console myself that I removed the pan before the nonstick coating heated to ash. After a rigorous scrub, the uniform heat coating on the bottom was only burned away in a few places. Although it is true that I had to replace the pan since it wasn’t mine, and now I have a shiny new pan with a blackened bottom—all the rage this year—nothing caught on fire, no smoke detectors went off, the house wasn’t burned to the ground, and the next pan helped me make the most delicious batch of tapioca pudding. That every bite of the pudding had the smallest aftertaste of failure was only the merest of setbacks.

Generally speaking, I make light of these ADHD glitches because dwelling on them invites depression and low self-esteem. This time, however, my ego felt bruised afterwards. First of all, there were witnesses, which never helps, but also, it wasn’t my pan to ruin. So I made a new batch of pudding, added “Replace Pan” to my ToDo list, restored my good graces by following through on replacing the pan the following day, then wrote this blog. Consider this article my confession. My ADHD sins are now absolved.

With ADHD, mistakes are going to happen. We don’t need others chastising or mocking us. We put ourselves down enough when we screw up over and over again. Such stupid mistakes, baffling gaffes, and flamboyant stumbles! Sometimes it seems as if no amount of preparation and caution will prevent them. My best advice is to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, make restitution, and move forward. ADHD may be a life sentence, but it doesn’t have to be a punishment.

If you dislike Lemon Pledge, you should read my books. They’re odor free.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

You Can Choose to Not Be Depressed for the Holidays

Posing with the Brownie at Draper Park

I posted something on Facebook this past weekend that didn’t have the effect I wanted.

“My recent timeline is filled with baking cookies, reviewing children’s picture books, and now I’ve discovered I’m spending tonight & New Year’s Eve home alone reading a book. Something is terribly wrong with my life. 😜”

I had intended it to be snarky. That’s what the emoji was for. I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself. It’s nobody’s fault but my own that I don’t have a special somebody to spend New Year’s Eve together. I’m not logged into online dating sites desperately lining up a date—any date—to ring in the new year. I’m not writing angry screeds on Twitter or Tumblr about the tyranny of happy people. Yet several friends gave me a sad face in response to my post, as if what I wrote was terribly tragic.

The problem here is that we can’t control how people interpret what we write. I’ve written before about self-deprecating humor before, most recently in my book on fighting suicide. People tend to find self-deprecating jokes funny only if they think highly of you. If they pity you, then they’ll likely take your jokes seriously. (Side tip: Using self-deprecating humor can let you know in a flash who thinks highly of you and who doesn’t—a fun litmus test you can try out on your friends!) Although self-deprecating humor isn’t appreciated by everybody, it is also true that sometimes people don’t find certain topics funny. They care too deeply about them—or you—to jape and jest about subjects like loneliness during the holidays.

There is no more popular article to write at this time of year than one on the plight of lonely people during the holidays. It’s the time of year when depression is up. Suicide is up, too. Holidays centered around friends & family are hard on people who have neither. It’s simply not something people kid about, not that I let that stop me.

Since I use humor, even coffin humor, to poke fun of life in order to take the sting out of it, when 2017 careened to a stop with all the grace of a dump truck skidding through ice sculptures, I suddenly found myself with no plans for the weekend and a desperate need for some laughs. One friend’s kids were sick. Another friend took off for St. George to be with family (the nerve!). Even my kids wouldn’t be around. They are adults now and celebrate holidays with friends, and my youngest would be spending the night with her Mum. That left me with a TV and a sense of aching ennui. It doesn’t help that New Year’s Eve on a Sunday in Utah is a giddy thrill like a speeding ticket delivered with a kiss.

So I decided to make the most of it anyway. I could choose to let loneliness trigger a depressive episode, or I could decide not to be lonely. No buddies coming over on Saturday? That’s alright. I had an early movie night with my sixteen-year-old daughter. We bought exotic snacks, and enjoyed ourselves. Later, I organized my towering reading piles and mended my satchel’s zipper with a needle and thread. I’ve been meaning to get those things done. ✔! Tonight, I bought my youngest daughter some ebooks that the library didn’t have, then we went to see some seasonal lights in the biting cold, then came home for hot cocoa. At nine, I stared at the clock in a moment of panic, then got busy reading & writing. It’s not quite the same as spending time with friends while kicking their butts in Sega Saturn Bomberman, but the point is I didn’t spend the night depressed.

Just because we can’t have all the fun things doesn’t mean we have to slip helplessly into despair. If events can trigger sadness, then we can make events that trigger happiness. I won’t pretend an evening sewing a zipper onto a satchel was the same as spending a joyous time with friends, but I made the decision to avoid depression, and that’s a victory. The choice wasn’t between a consolation prize and an evening of gaiety. The choice was between finding satisfaction in the moment versus sinking into darkness. Wallowing is boring. I much prefer what I did instead. In the future, I hope you choose to beat the holiday blues, too.

If you find the holidays trigger suicidal feelings, you should read my book!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Do Fidget Spinners Cure ADHD?

By now, Fidget Spinners are collecting dust in bargain bins across America, marked down to $1.99 or 3 for $5. My local Walmart is selling them for $1 each! The fad hit America like a whirling tornado. In April and May, they were selling out faster than you could say “pet rock”. By June, dealers had palettes of them stacked to the ceiling. It was easy to see there’d be a glut. Now that they’re so cheap to get, are they worth it? The tl;dr answer is “Yes”, but you can be forgiven for cocking an eyebrow of doubt.

After all, most online ads for Fidget Spinners on read like this:

Figit Spinner Hand Toy for Relieving ADHD Anxiety Boredom! Helps Focussing! Stress Reducer. Cure Toenail Fungus!

OK, I added the fungus bit, but dang! These sound like miracle toys! It seems China was on the verge of obsoleting the psychiatric industry with these things, but aren’t these just spinning plastic toys? How does a rotating gizmo relieve symptoms of anything, especially boredom?Round and round it goes, and so what?

That was my attitude when my daughter first started bugging me to get one for her last Spring. Then she claimed that kids were using them for therapy at her day treatment school with the teacher’s permission, so I took another look at them. However, I wasn’t going to buy just any old spinner for my girl. Oh, no! Now that I was committed, I had to make sure her spinner was unique. What I bought was glow-in-the-dark orange and so amazingly cool that somebody at school stole it two weeks later. I replaced it, then bought some for myself so I could test them out.

Are All Fidget Spinners Created Equal?

The question on my mind over the summer was whether these doohickeys were of any use to somebody with ADHD. Amazon was filled with dozens of models of various quality and claims, but I seriously wondered if a turd made of gold was any less of a turd.

Good grief!!

Let’s get the dumb ones out of the way first. The Light-Up Spinners, which seem cool, defeat the purpose of what Fidget Spinners are supposed to help with: Focus. The clear LED spinner I purchased strobed, so my epileptic daughter couldn’t use it. It was also so light that it took more effort to keep spinning than other models. $2.80 on Amazon. The Novelty Spinners may also catch your eye. They have designs inspired by many pop cultural icons from superheroes to dragons. I settled on a Golden Snitch. I liked how small and discreet it was. Despite the solid brass build, though, it had a lot of juddering with only two arms, one of which needed to be glued back on after a few spins. $4.51 on Amazon. I wouldn’t waste my time or money on either type of fidget spinner again.

Various spinners

The ߷ Standard Fidget Spinner has the most well known shape. They often work better than novelty spinners. Build quality differs from manufacturer to manufacturer, but generally, they spin for about a minute or two and have a nice heft. $4.80 on Amazon. However, I eventually settled on what I refer to as the Executive Fidget Spinner. I came across Spinetic at Salt Lake Comic Con. Spinetic makes the best fidget spinners on the market, in my opinion, hand tooled, made of metal, and priced around $30 and up. That seems like a lot of green if you bought your fidget spinner for a buck, but these spin like floating dreams. They feel good in the hand, have the best build quality, and give a strong gyroscope-like feel after you get them going. Spinetic’s plastic spinners are most affordable. I picked up a glow-in-the-dark four-armed spinner for $5 and fell in love with it. The four arms reduce juddering, providing a smooth, lengthy spin, and it’s small, so it can be spun discreetly.

Wait. You fell in love with a fidget spinner?!

OK, so it’s not like I take it out on dates. Let’s forget I ever mentioned that.

What good are fidget spinners?

The basic fidget spinner has three to four weighted blades centered around a spinning hub with ball bearings. Hold the device between your thumb and index finger, then use another finger or hand to give it a flick.

My favorite spinner, by Spinetic

Oooooh, it spins. You can probably relate with my initial skepticism.

There is more to them than that, however. The spinning blades make a quiet, white noise while the weights keep the blades spinning continually, very much like a gyroscope. If you tilt the fidget spinner in your hand, you can feel the centrifugal force. Maybe you can see why the spinner depicted above won me over. It spins the fastest, with the most force, and for the longest of time, while fitting easily in my hand.

Poor spinners will have a lot of audible juttering and visual wobble as you turn your wrist while the blades spin. You can sometimes improve the spinning by popping out the middle plastic and dropping a bit of sewing machine oil into the bearings, but generally cheap spinners are cheap.

I tested my fidget spinners in the following areas:

Nervous Energy – On several occasions, I have found that spinning one of those gizmos helped me relax when I was feeling agitated. The most effective at night is the blinking LED monstrosity. Perhaps it has a hypnotic and calming effect. Regardless, the centrifugal force of fidget spinners has a calming effect because I allow it to. I've incorporated it into my coping strategies as a tool.

Focus – Sometimes when I am having a hard time formulating a blog, article, or chapter, I like to shut the lights off, turn off the music, and just think without distraction. Last summer at church, I was struggling with a Priesthood lesson that I was about to give to a class. I had all the lesson elements gathered, but the lesson itself lacked focus and unity. It’s a classic ADHD issue. I went into the empty gym, paced in the dark, and on a whim, spun the fidget spinner. That stupid, glowing piece of whirling plastic helped me focus where pacing alone hadn’t succeeded. After that, I was hooked. This is by far my favorite way to utilize fidget spinners.

Insomnia – I have tried using a fidget spinner as a relaxation device when trying to get to sleep. In the dark, as the only thing that I am focusing on, I find it too distracting. As a relaxation aid, Chinese baoding balls are more effective.

Anxiety – The soothing motion and weight of the spinning blades can have a calming effect for anxiety, but like any coping strategy, it will require training to become effective. I’ve used my fidget spinner a couple of times in bumper-to-bumper traffic when I needed to detach from the frustration, but I can’t say definitively that fidget spinners are superior to other coping strategies in that instance.

Final thoughts

Fidget spinners won’t help you walk on water. You can’t use them as an awesome spinning guitar pick, either, but they do have their humble uses. Whether you find them useful for your needs depends upon you. I rather like mine, and plan on picking more up to have on hand if I ever lose my current favorite. Curiously, my daughter, who started me on this journey, no longer has interest in them. As a fad, fidget spinners are so last Spring. However, if they’re selling for a buck at a store nearby, it’s easy to pick one up and try it out. If you like them, upgrade to a better built Spinetic spinner. In the meantime, here are a few parting points to keep in mind.

  1. Spinning one won’t cure your ADHD. They don’t have any medicinal effect. Anybody claiming otherwise is literally trying to sell you something.
  2. It’s only slightly more helpful than other busy motions that people with ADHD use to find focus, such as bouncing a ball, tapping a pencil, twirling a pen, pacing, talking to yourself, going for a walk, etc. However, a fidget spinner does have the benefit of fitting in one hand and not requiring much skill to get going.
  3. People won’t respect you very much if they catch you, an adult, using one in public. Oh, the looks I put up with for you!
  4. Most schools ban them now in the classroom because they are a distraction for other students.
  5. Like any coping strategy, you will need to train yourself to utilize a spinner properly. Don’t expect it to magically realign your chakra. Do expect it to work well in tandem with your current meditation and relaxation techniques. It’s a tool. If you find the hum and motion comforting, you’ll find them useful. If you don’t, they’re just colorful bits of spinning plastic.

If you like taking things out for a spin, you might want to read my book. There are tips in it to help you help your suicidal loved ones better.

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