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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Curing Depression with Pokemon Go

Just like almost everybody else on Earth, I have been enjoying the augmented reality game, Pokémon Go. I'm sure you've heard about it. There has been a lot of bad press for this game. It seems each week there is a new scolding article letting people know that they're having fun wrong. Most of it is clickbait fluff with no merit. When you have millions of people playing a game, there are bound to be negative incidents, but they are the exception, not the norm. I can assure you that I have not come across any dead bodies, I haven't been assailed in the dark by roving gangs hellbent on stealing my stuff, and I haven't driven into a tree while I was trying to capture a Pokémon. What I have had is a lot of fun while playing the game with my daughters, as well as by myself.

Pokémon Go is a variation of a popular game available only on Nintendo handhelds. Having a Pokémon game on a non-Nintendo device is a big deal. The original games for the past twenty years have been role playing adventures where you play as a young trainer trying to catch all the Pokémon in your world while completing the story and raising your Pokémon for battle. There is no story mode in Pokémon Go, but the role playing has leaped off the screen and put the players in the role of trainer. Now we do all the capturing with our phones.

Pidgeotto protects his frozen cousins

As you walk around, the game will alert you to the presence of Pokémon that randomly appear on a simplified version of Google Maps. Once you tap on the Pokémon, the camera displays the world in front of you, but this time with a Pokémon character superimposed on the video. This is called augmented reality. Using your finger, you toss a pokeball at the Pokémon and cross your fingers.

There's a lot more to the game than that, including leveling up Pokémon if you wish, and gym battles, but most players are content with the scavenger hunt aspect of the game trying to collect all 151 Pokémon. The game is a free download, and although it has available purchases, a thrifty player can find Pokéstops all over town (usually at parks, churches & landmarks) to stock up on free pokeballs without spending a cent.

Now that you understand the game a bit better, here's why it has been helpful to my depression:

  1. Exercise — It's not uncommon for me now to walk three or more miles every day while hunting down critters for my Pokédex. When I do it in the sun, that's a bonus. I've been cooped up for months because of a knee injury. This game came along at a good time during my recovery. I force myself to get outside, even with forearm braces if I'm ticking, to work that knee and get some much needed exercise. Exercise boosts the happy chemicals in your head that you need to beat depression's grip.
  2. Change of scenery — One thing very beneficial for depression is a change of scenery, especially if we have been house-bound for a while. Surrounding ourselves with new sights and experiences boosts our mood. New experiences are healthy for your brain.
  3. Socializing — Get out there now while you can. There is a wonderful camaraderie among players. It is not uncommon for players of all ages and colors to pass tips to each other and share locations of hard to find Pokémon. People are good. Go out and meet some of them. Even if all you manage is a knowing nod, it is still beneficial for depression to have positive experiences with other people.
  4. Fun is good — Despite the naysayers in the press, playing the game is fun. If it makes you smile, who cares if some grumpy journalist somewhere in New York City doesn't approve?

There are some things to keep in mind while you are out hunting:

  1. Fight the urge to explore where you shouldn't. The game once put a Gastly in the middle of a train yard near my home. My ADHD mind wanted to hop the fence, but the adult in me didn't fancy explaining to the cops why I was trespassing. I opted to not hop the fence.
  2. For goodness sake, don't play the game while driving. It's tempting when your phone lights up and it's a Pokémon you haven't caught before, or you are within range of a Pokéstop to grab some goodies, so make the mental decision to NOT play the game before getting behind the wheel.
  3. This game gobbles battery life like a ravenous Snorlax. You can turn off AR mode when you're in a battle to conserve power.
  4. The servers often can't meet the demand of millions of players, so expect some lagging. However, if you've turned on battery saving mode, you can expect more hangs than usual. The game doesn't like dimming and undimming the screen too frequently and will become non-responsive. I turn that feature off.

I am so glad I've been out there playing. Pokémon Go has turned into a defining cultural event that people will remember fondly in years to come. Even if you can't manage to shamble about too far, do what you can to participate in the excitement for yourself. At the very least, you might find some relief for your clinical depression.

If you like tips on beating depression, you may like my book on fighting suicidal ideation. It's more fun than a barrel of Mankeys.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Writing in a Fishbowl — Week Five

Nifty logo of words in a fishbowl

Week Three and Four were total busts. So embarrassing. I became sick AND had a ticking bout that lasted days. When that happens, I default to just the bare minimum: taking care of my daughters. That's my primary responsibility. Learning to squeeze blogging and writing into my life around my responsibilities is secondary.
That doesn't mean I'm pleased with the results. It just means that I chose to succeed at being a dad and fail at being a writer. And by fail, I mean not meet my unrealistic expectations.
Later in week three, I used Pokémon Go as an excuse to go outside even when sick or ticking. That was a fun distraction. Being shut inside during the summer is so depressing, but the game had definite mental health benefits. I wrote all about it for my next article.
Nevertheless, all was not lost:
  • I finished the first chapter of my new book on fighting depression. I'll be posting it later this week. I've decided to post the first draft of each chapter as an experiment. I'm hoping it will pressure me to finish the book quicker instead of dying on it. My goal was the end of this summer, but with me moving at the same time, I'm not sure that is a realistic goal anymore. I'll shoot for it anyway, then revise if necessary. I'd like to post one chapter a week at a minimum.
  • Scrivener released their iOS app. I remember in 2010 how the dev felt the iPad was not a creation device, so he publicly disavowed the iPad as a software platform. Glad he thought better of it years later. I spent a few hours streamlining my writing process, and now I'm all excited to get started.
  • My editor delivered the edits for that book I wrote last spring. I was very excited to get started on it, but too sick to do anything. I had hoped to finish it by the end of July, but that isn't likely to happen now. Now that Nintendo has announced new Pokémon games for release in the fall, however, I have to get this out the door. Then I can update it when the new games are released.
  • An interview that I did last month was recently published over at Depression Getaway, written by Wendy Love. After you check out my interview, please browse her site. There are many interesting people interviewed there as well. Inspiring stories.

Monday: Today I wrote two blogs, tweaked my blog layout, struggled with computer issues, started packing for the move, practiced my clarinet on a whim, and wasted far too much time on Facebook arguing about politics. I convinced exactly no one that they were wrong. When will I ever learn?

Monday, July 11, 2016

Writing in a Fishbowl – Week Three

The Brownies Miami Sun 20" Trike

Two things of note today:

On Thieves & Lowlifes

Last month I moved all the boxes in my rented garage space into my living room. I’m moving in two months, so I figured I’d save money while pruning the boxes down to fit into a smaller space. The detritus of my half of twenty-three years of marriage still awaits my sad, pruning heart. If there weren’t so many precious things mixed in, I’d dump the lot. Instead, it’s like I just got a messy new roommate. The only problem I had was what to do with my mountain bike and disabled daughter’s adult trike. I refer to her as the Brownie on social media since she’s a fourteen-year-old minor. You’ve probably heard me mention her here before. She has epilepsy and cerebral palsy, and she’s a lot of work. In fact, tomorrow we’re heading over to Shriner’s Hospital to have a gait lab done, and we just finished an MRI for her last week. Like I said, she’s a lot of work, but I love her a bunch.

Most people at this apartment complex put their bikes under the stairwells. They’re fairly safe there, especially if locked. I’ve lived here almost five years, and I’ve seen nice bikes lie dusty, forlorn, and forgotten until maintenance comes along and collects them a year later to find new life in the lost & found garage. So I tucked our bikes under the stairwell and locked them up with thick bike cables and key locks.

Three days later, a team of thieves went through the area, cut the cable, and stole my mountain bike. It was a loan from a friend, so one embarrassing phone call later and my friend knew the fate of his bike. At least the thieves left the Brownie’s trike behind. It had three flats, and the seat was broken, but we were awaiting a delayed social security payment to take it to the shop for a Summer tune-up.

Brownie, 2010 Last Saturday night, the same thieves, or an entirely different team, came through and finished the job. My daughter is so upset. She’s had the bike since she was nine. Who would steal a bike designed for the disabled and the elderly? It’s simply a cruddy thing to do for a buck or for kicks. My Christian training tells me to forgive and pray for them—that maybe they needed the tricycle more than my girl did—but I’m afraid anger is winning out for the time being.

I filed a police report, and I’ve searched the local classifieds and craigslist, but so far, no luck. A friend of mine put together a GoFundMe page for her. I know this is not your problem, but the trike will cost a little over $400 to replace, and I just don’t have the money. If you can help out, that would be great. If not, at least share the link. Any help would be appreciated.

A New Bike for the Brownie


Nifty logo of words in a fishbowl

Ticking in a Fishbowl

I am determined to have a better week than last week. Ticking cost me a lot of writing time, and I refuse to let it beat me again. Obviously, I can’t command my body & mind to obey my will with the snap of my fingers, but I’m pretty certain that if I set my mind to having a better week, and make improvements where I can, then I can see some semblance of improvement. At least incrementally, right⸮

That sure sounds like I’m hedging my bets, doesn’t it? Well, last week was pretty bad. I have no idea how this week will turn out, chronic motor tic disorder-wise. I could spend the rest of my week immobile like I spent a lot of last week. Sometimes, living with disabilities is planning for failure while seeking for uptimes. I call it being cynically optimistic. Most normal folk see it only as planning for failure, but that’s usually because they don’t acknowledge mental health disability in the first place. (See my last blog for thoughts on that subject.)

And since I don’t want to spend my day only writing this blog, let’s begin:

Monday: My daughter’s bike theft has taken up a lot of time today, as has straightening out social security issues, but I remain positive that I will not spend all of my day on Twitter and may actually write something worthwhile. To wit, I’ll post this and get busy.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Insensitive Mental Health Advice People Give, Misquoted

I woke up this morning to discover I had been quoted! Finally! Somebody noticed my insightful commentary on the world and felt it noteworthy to share. I could expect to see a boost in page hits, maybe some social media traction, and dare I hope, more sales of my book, “Saying ‘NO!’ to Suicide”. Then I noticed a tiny problem. As much as I appreciated the signal boost from Healthy Minds on Facebook and Twitter, I wasn’t actually quoted. In fact, I hadn’t said any of the comments attributed to me. The cited quotes were the cheeky bullet points and summaries of the article author, Sabrina Rojas Weiss. Healthy Minds was just trying to bring attention to an important issue, and should be commended for their efforts, but I want to make sure that the right people get attributed.

Just in case you missed the article when I shared it last year, here’s a link: ‘Cancer Is Just An Excuse’ – Insensitive Things People Say About Mental Illness, Translated. It’s a sarcastic take on a problem many people dealing with mental illness face regularly.

Family & friends mean well when they offer advice, but their well-meant suggestions are often hurtful simply because they don’t take a moment to truly understand the nature of the mental health problem. I’ve said this for years. You need to understand the problem so that you can offer helpful solutions. For example, I’m told regularly, “You’re so smart! You should do X job or Y job!!” They mean it as a compliment, but underlying the “compliment” is the assumption that I can simply go out and do what they believe I can do. I say, “Sure, but do you know of a place that will let me call in sick weekly because of ticking and still keep me on?” They don’t. Neither do I. But the problem is that their help ends there until they think of another job I should be trying to do instead—again without consideration of my actual limitations. They don't analyze the situation long enough. In fact, if I don’t take their advice, many of them lose faith in me. It doesn’t mean their advice wasn’t helpful. No, no! I couldn’t mean that. It just means I’m too negative, or defined by my labels, or something. I’ve never been able to make sense of it. My limitation isn’t a lack of gumption. It isn’t a lack of confidence. It isn’t laziness. It’s an actual disability.

Here’s a recent example of my disability at work: The other day I was supposed to write and write and write. I had a month’s worth of blogs to write for here and for Family Guy. Instead, I ticked and vocal ticked the day away. Some of these were paid writing assignments I desperately needed to finish and invoice, but no writing was done that day at all. While ticking, I can’t think properly. My brain is a little busy. But you know, I’m just not trying hard enough, right⸮

Sabrina’s article took different statements from me and other bloggers, then compiled them together. Her point was that you don’t tell blind people to think positively so that they can see better, so why do you tell people with, for example, depression, to just be happier? I believe willpower plays a core part in coping with mental illness. Willpower makes the difference between moving forward while coping with depression versus sitting on the couch Netflix-binging while depressed. Willpower helps me keep trying to master ADHD with coping strategies versus giving into the mental chaos. However, willpower is just one of many coping strategies we need to employ for mental health and recovery. Willpower is a tool, not a cure.

At any rate, I just wanted to correct the record, and here I am writing a blog post on the subject of bad advice and the nature of will instead. These are my verifiable statements from the article:

Quote #1: “I have been told some shocking things from people who were supposedly educated, but stigma always marred those conversations,” Douglas Cootey, who blogs about his depression and ADHD, told Yahoo Health. “I’ve been told that I wasn’t truly suicidal because I stopped myself without needing hospitalization.”

Quote #2: “The comment that took the cake was when my next-door neighbor, who was an elementary school teacher, told me that ADHD was an excuse that people used to get out of doing homework,” said Cootey, who began his blog 11 years ago in part to train himself how to respond to ignorant comments.

Quote #3: “I’ve been told that my depression is not real because I manage it without meds,” Cootey said.

I’m afraid the text quoted in that graphic was all written by Sabrina. Give her article a read. I thought she did a great job with the material. She should get all the credit.

If you want to read actual statements by me, you should read my book. It’s loaded with my words.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Suicide Prevention: The Sun Always Rises

Chin up! The Sun always rises!

My friend, Paul Tuck, died three years ago today. I’ve been thinking about him lately. I miss his zany and quick humor. I miss his smile and his laugh. To be honest, though, I didn’t like him much when I first met him. He delighted in playing devil’s advocate on any issue that was opposite of where you stood at that moment. My first introduction to Paul was when I was giving him and my friend, Nathan, a ride from some event in Salt Lake City, and he was arguing about the superior quality of 8-bit Nintendo music over the Sega Master System or something, and I couldn’t get him home fast enough. He was a masterful troll. Over the years I learned to understand his humor, and more importantly, recognize when he was having fun with me. I, also, learned to have fun back.

I remember impressing him when I got my Amiga 2500 to run a Mac emulator through a PC emulator. It was terribly slow, and Nathan thought I was insane, but Paul appreciated the mad genius of the moment. Another time I opened a VNC tunnel from my Amiga to my OS/2 PC, and opened a VNC tunnel from my PC back to my Amiga. The screens recursively drew themselves into an infinite loop, like mirrors reflecting eternity. Paul loved geeky stuff like that.

Paul’s suicide hit me hard that summer. I had just begun writing “Saying ‘No!’ to Suicide” the month before when I got the news that he had taken his own life. Sitting in his funeral service, and watching all the grieving family members around me, suddenly gave me the approach I needed for my book. I revised my introduction that night. The rest came easily after that.

The insight I gained was to address both the suicidal loved ones, and those who remained behind. It was a painful perspective that only life can give to you. I had never before had a loved one commit suicide before, and it changed me. It was also when I settled on dawn as a theme for my book. You see, what saved me years ago, and time and again, was that I always knew the sun would rise. Whatever terrible thing I was overwhelmed with at that moment, would evaporate with the morning dew. Paul didn’t have that perspective. I didn’t even know he was struggling. I wish I could have helped him. Maybe I could have made a difference, but time only moves forward. We can’t fix the past.

If you are struggling with suicidal ideation today, I encourage you to reach out to somebody you trust. Don’t carry your burden alone. Depression deceives us, and we don’t always think clearly under its influence. I have a support network I rely on when my depression takes a dark turn for the worse. I’ve, also, found four reasons to live that help me look past the darkness: my daughters. They help me see that dawn is just breaking on the horizon when I might otherwise think I’m drowning in the night.

I’m glad that I have learned to master these dark urges. I haven’t felt suicidal in a long while, and it’s quite a relief. My daughters are relieved as well. The struggle to fight suicidal tendencies can be exhausting, but we truly can train ourselves to change how we think. I can’t help Paul, but hopefully somebody out there is reading my book or my blog and learning that we don’t have to suffer. We can choose to live.

The sun always rises.

I share more thoughts on overcoming suicide in my book. Follow the link to read Chapter One for free right in your browser.

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