Thursday, October 01, 2020

ADHD: ToDo Tabs Done Right

ToDo Tabs Mania

Sometimes I wonder if there’s a support group out there for adults with ADHD who have an open tabs addiction.¹

Hello, my name is Douglas Cootey, and I’m a hard core tabs junkie.

Maybe this seems like a first world problem. Maybe you’re asking yourself, “What’s the big deal with several hundred open tabs?” If that’s how you think, you might need to join me at that meeting.

In theory there’s nothing wrong with lots of open browser tabs. I did things that way for years. If I found a web page with a great project or article I wanted to refer to later, I’d keep the tab open and leave it with the other saved ToDo tabs. The problem I ran into, however, was although ToDo tabs helped me not forget important data, I had so many tabs open in my browser I couldn’t find what I needed.

Just as ToDo lists can get long and unmanageable, ToDo tabs multiply until they become noise—no longer useful as resources or reminders. Yes, you’ve got web pages open for that funny self-surgery with tweezers, fifty things to do with a used toilet paper roll, and The Astounding Link Between Lizard People and the Founding Fathers, but where are they?

Productivity takes a hit when our ADHD tendencies aren’t reined in for a simple reason: chaos means extra work. I once had so many tabs up, I kept researching the same material over and over again. I had forgotten the very same research was already available in two identical tabs. Other times, when I do manage to remember I saved something as a ToDo tab, I have to dig through dozens upon dozens of tabs to find where the web pages I want are hiding. Worst still, I might be distracted by an old tab while making my search. Open tabs can weigh on the mind. Many of them represent unfinished projects waiting to snare my attention. This is what happens when you keep “31 Pumpkin Spice Recipes that Will Win Her Back” lurking in the background. Instead of writing, I’m suddenly in the kitchen making pumpkin spice sushi rice.

What turned me around was when my learning disabled daughter hopped onto my open Mac and somehow reset all my tabs. I had three windows open with 20–30 tabs in each window. Yes, some of the tabs were a kind of wishlist on how I wanted to spend my time or money, but the majority were important research for my first book. I literally sounded like Luke Skywalker when he met a certain long-lost relative. All my research! Gone!

Fortunately, my hourly data backup allowed me to restore what was removed, but since that time I’ve changed how I utilize ToDo tabs. If you’re as prone to distraction or wasting time on the internet as I am, you might find the following tips helpful:

  1. Wipe the slate clean – I’m not going to lie. Deleting all your ToDo tabs and starting smart from scratch is the easiest solution. One time, after a long bout of illness, I discovered that I had 197 tabs open on my iPhone alone, never mind what I had on my iPad and Mac. There were multiple hundreds of ToDo tabs! Why did I have so many open tabs anyway? I simply didn’t have the time or energy to prune them all. I opted to wipe them all. It was amazing how liberating that felt.
  2. Use a “read later” app – Instead of loading dozens of news stories into tabs, I like to send articles I want to read later to Pocket, a read later service. Then the articles appear on my Kobo ereader for later perusal, but they can appear just as easily in the Pocket app on my iPhone or iPad. Kindle users can use Instapaper for that purpose, too. Read all your news later, leaving no open tabs in your browser to distract you or clutter up your work environment. The downside is that you will still have to eventually prune them afterwards in Pocket or Instapaper.
  3. Browse in Privacy Mode – One way to reduce open tabs is to separate your productivity web browsing from your break time browsing. I developed the habit to browse in privacy mode when reading news. I realize that privacy mode is usually used for hinky sites you don’t want anybody but your ISP to know about, but you can use this feature for other purposes. I prefer to use the Brave browser for this purpose. It never saves privacy tabs. Once I shut off privacy, the tabs all go bye-bye. This is perfect for cruising around the web on a whim, but leaves nothing to clean up later no matter how many tabs I opened up. You can do the same thing in a new window just for breaktime. Then when you’re done, just close the window.
  4. Segregate your ToDo tabs by window – To keep ToDo tabs from becoming cluttered, designate different browser windows for different purposes. News, work, research, fun… Each window can have its own ToDo tabs. Personally, I found this method a bit too prone to abuse. I’d mix themes all the time and end up with five or more browser windows with dozens if not hundreds of tabs all in a jumble. However, if you’re disciplined, this method may work best for you.
  5. Segregate your ToDo tabs by device – I need more austere ToDo tabs separation to fend off chaos. For this reason, I do my blog research on my iPhone. Writing research is left for my iPad. On my Mac’s browser, I keep only tabs that relate to my current project. Since I use iCloud, all bookmarks and pages are shared, so the segregation isn’t as hard core as it sounds because what I have open on one device is available on the other. Keeping a theme for each device helps me be more organized. In this way, ToDo tabs become very useful.
  6. Segregate your ToDo tabs by browser – If using different devices to organize tabs seems too much work, you could use different browsers for your different ToDo tabs instead. This can help you manage the clutter and keep important pages from being buried in a wasteland of open tabs. When I was researching my Pokémon book a few years back, I did all my work in Chrome browser while keeping blog work in Safari. This made finding my research painless and productive. Segregating by browser or device is extra work at first, but once you get used to it, you will find the productivity benefits worth the effort.

My old ToDo tabs system was terribly inefficient, risky, and a drain on productivity, but now ToDo tabs have become a powerful tool at my fingertips. I have to admit that every once in a while I need a reminder lesson. About once a quarter I prune my ToDo tabs to make them easy to access, visually accessible, and useful again. My ToDo tabs and bookmarks are much more useful when I take time to prune and organize them. Since open tabs represent ToDo list items to me, each tab needs to be important and deserving of my time. Now that I manage them, I don’t need intervention or a support group anymore.

  1. This article was based on an older article originally published on May 20, 2017.  ↩

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Play It Again, Seratonin

So very, very, sad, la la la ♪

I might get myself in a bit of trouble with my daughters with this post, but I recently sat in on the Brownie’s session with her therapist (she’s learning disabled). We were discussing ways to regulate moods. She used to have anger issues, and although those days are behind us, she still doesn’t know what to do with strong, negative feelings like disappointment, irritation, and frustration. I can’t recall exactly how the topic came up, but I used my “Heartbroken” playlist as an example to make a point.

This playlist used to be a point of contention for my older daughters. After the divorce, I filled this playlist with all the most painfully sad love songs I had in my vast music collection. I labeled it “Heartbroken”. Not surprisingly, most of them were country. On bad days, I would hit play and dive deep into the music before I could come up for air again. It was cathartic.

But my girls hated it.

Because of our current living arrangements, the Brownie wasn’t familiar with this “controversial” playlist. I listen with headphones on. She’s the youngest, so using the playlist as a positive example was a novel experience. I tried for years to get my older girls to understand how the playlist was actually helpful, but all they could see was that I was hurting—or more specifically, hurting myself.

What I, and the therapist, pointed out to the Brownie was that letting myself feel sad helped me deal with those emotions. What I was unable to explain to my girls all those years ago was that my feelings were a flood I feared would never stop, so I dammed them up. I didn’t dare let them spill over into my new, single parent life where so much was relying on me to be strong.

One day, I noticed that I felt better after listening to a particularly sad song, which reminded me that I have playlists for other emotions like anger and joy, so I created my monster list of songs so heavy with crushing sadness and betrayal that my daughters grew to loathe it when I hit play. Letting myself feel in touch with emotions I normally shied away from helped me wash them away. When the playlist was over, I was back in control.

In the early days, the playlist was quite brutal on my heart. Maybe there was a little bit of punishment mixed in with the sadness. Maybe a little bit of self-pity sprinkled in with the minor chords. My girls had cause for their heartfelt opposition.

However, over time, the playlist grew to become something wonderful. Yes, there were sad songs in there of love lost and paradise destroyed, but there were also songs with irony and wit. There were songs with clever lyrics that inspired, and synths and strings that lifted my sadness away. When I listen to the playlist, I give myself permission to feel things that I normally hide.

Letting yourself feel sad through music for a limited time can conversely lift your mood—even heal you—by which I mean, it can soothe your soul. Good music can boost serotonin levels in the brain, dramatically alleviating depression or anxiety. Dr. Alice Cash who uses music for therapy says her “Healing has to do with decreasing symptoms [of anxiety or depression], physically, physiologically, psychologically, emotionally, or spiritually.”¹ One study took the premise that “Music interventions have been used to reduce anxiety and distress and improve physiological functioning in medical patients” and examined music’s healing effects on people with heart conditions.² There are other studies. They all focus on the healing power of music to make physiological changes in our brains. The concept isn’t so far out there, though perhaps it hasn’t been touted as an optimum coping strategy, perfect for mix tapes and playlists before.

I don’t often listen to the entire “Heartbroken” playlist anymore. I don’t need to. I’m in a healthier place than I was in the years first after the divorce when I would listen to the playlist on repeat. However, once the playlist was finished playing (or I was finished playing it), I was ready to face the world. If you experiment with your own depression playlist, make sure to set limits. Touching an emotion to be free of it is therapy. Drowning in an emotion is wallowing. There is a fine line there you need to watch out for. Assuming you’re careful, though, you may find a new coping strategy to help you up when your spirits are low.

If you are looking for ideas to help you overcome suicidal depression, you should read my book. I step you through various methods I’ve used over the years.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Reviewing TIME Mental Health: A New Understanding

TIME Mental Health - A New Understanding

I picked up TIME Mental Health: A New Understanding a year ago in the grocery store and slowly worked my way through it. I assumed I would race through the magazine and produce a shining review for my readers to enjoy. Then ADHD happened, which is like saying, “And then I breathed”. When I say “slowly”, I refer to the speed at which glaciers raced across the North American continent. Ultimately, I finished, which is the lesson I take away from my tortoise and hare situation. I wasn’t in competition with anybody, except, perhaps, Father Time, but I must admit that I had an assist from COVID–19, which gave me lots of time to break my news addiction. After all, there are only so many ways in which you can be told “WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!” before you tune out and suddenly decide that sorting that four year old bag of junk mail you’ve been kicking around seems like a better use of your time. Fortunately for me, this magazine was on top of that bag, so disaster averted.

There were many good articles in the magazine, but also many that weren’t exactly good, nor compelling, which might explain my glacier-like reading pace. Truthfully, I found the first half of the magazine often conflated pointing out a problem as solving it, but only the second half of the magazine offered concrete solutions. Yet there were excellent articles sprinkled throughout the magazine that caught my interest. One in particular was an article about loneliness. I found it extremely insightful, but more on that in a bit.

The magazine was laid out well and featured powerful illustrations and photography, often stunning and evocative. A true feast on the eyes. Assuming, however, you aren’t just going to leave the magazine around for guests to notice, you might be interested in which articles I found good.

Two articles were dedicated to the celebrity suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. The Bourdain piece was a kind and thoughtful retrospective of his career until the end, but didn’t delve into the mental health issues behind suicide, nor offer solutions, so I ultimately found it wanting. I suppose I shouldn’t fault the author for lacking a crystal ball to peer into Anthony Bourdain’s head.

"Hope from a Strange Source” was informative, helpful, and also honest about ketamine’s benefits & downsides. I dislike that folks take a ketamine “trip” at a doctor’s office. I find the language a bit hinky to be honest, especially if you’re hoping to gain mainstream acceptance. Never mind that the results don’t last, the process is expensive, and also potentially addictive. The derivative meds look far more promising. That article was followed by a brief but informative piece called “Drug-Free Treatments Backed by Science”. My favorite poison, cognitive behavioral therapy, made the list.

There was an interesting article on float therapy. I’ve never looked into this therapy before. I mean, why would I? Isn’t this the therapy Ellie uses to get to the dark side? I have enough nightmares in my own head without inviting them to cross over into my daytime, thank you very much. However, although the process seems Hollywood-kooky, the results looked promising—assuming you aren’t claustrophobic.

There was an article on psilocybin. The discussion was grounded in sensible science, which apparently included feelings of forgiveness, love, magic, fairies, and mystical placebos riding on happy unicorns adorned with rainbows. And there I was thinking that the ketamine trips were bad.

I found solace in ‪“The Power of Exercise”, an article about the science behind the positive effects that exercise, from aerobic to resistance training, has on depression. One study even found that one to two hours a week of exercise can boost endorphins & well-being, as well as improve sleep. They didn’t mention how beneficial such a low amount of exercise was on your waistline, however. Regardless, these finding match my own anecdotal observations, as well as others who have shared their anti-depression regimens with me. Exercise is good for the brain.

There were interesting findings on the benefits of sunlight in combating depression, something I have implemented for years. There were also studies about the benefits of eating more fish vs taking supplements for increased Omega3s in your diet. All of these studies are interesting, but may or may not be beneficial to you since we are all different. I recommend trying the more harmless ones suggested in the magazine to see if you experience benefits. For example, the most harmless downside to increasing fish in your diet might only be bad breath, whereas ingesting magic mushrooms might get you in a bit of trouble. I mean, I assume it might be troublesome. You might find dancing unicorns and feeling interconnected on a cosmic level with inanimate objects such as mailboxes and 5G towers to be exactly what you were looking for. I don’t judge.

There were two article that I found were worth the cost of the magazine. “How to Help a Friend or Loved One” gave excellent, practical advice on how to broach the topic of depression with loved ones who are suffering. People find themselves paralyzed by fear when needing to discuss depression or suicide with loved ones. We don’t want to offend. We don’t want to intrude. We don’t want to hurt or accidentally push somebody away. However, indecision is ultimately the same as doing nothing.

I did disagree with one part of the article. It states “To suggest that depression is a choice is to woefully misunderstand the disorder.” As a guy with both persistent and major depression disorders, I understand that depression is not my fault. I don’t wake up in the morning and declare, “I think I’ll be miserable today!” But, and this is key, we can decide to not stay miserable. Deciding to fight depression is crucial for overcoming it. You can read more about my thoughts on this subject here.

Lastly, the article on loneliness (“The Loneliness Epidemic”) was both informative and filled with suggestions to combat the condition. It may not be a surprise to learn that researchers have identified how loneliness in young adults can lead to depression, anxiety, and self-harm, but some of the other findings were eye-opening, especially the physiological aspects.

Someone who is lonely might have higher levels of inflammation in the body, metabolic abnormalities, high blood pressure and an abnormal stress response,” explains Kimberly Smith.

At first I thought, “Delightful. I’m doomed,” but then I became amused by the idea of lowering my high blood pressure by dating. Still, there are cause-and-effect correlations to be drawn from loneliness. For example, a study found people aged 19 to 32 who spent over two hours a day on social media were twice as likely to feel isolated and lonely than those who treated social media like a toxic dumpster fire. There is a lesson for me in there, I am sure of it.

Although I may kid, I found the suggestions in the article for combating loneliness very practical and reasonable. It was my favorite article in the magazine.

You may not agree with every take on mental health that the various writers have, but TIME Mental Health: A New Understanding is a good starting point if you’re struggling with a particular issue. I wish more articles were as good at offering solutions as they were in identifying a problem, but there were enough articles that were balanced to make the magazine worth your time. I’d recommend picking this magazine up at your local library and thumbing through it for the topics that interest you. You won’t likely find it for sale anymore at your local grocery or book store, but you can purchase an ebook or print copy from Amazon.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Dealing with Suicidal Tendencies? Posting on Social Media Is Not Therapy

Ronnie McNutts last Facebook post

On this World Suicide Prevention Day, I wanted to write to people who hide behind the illusion of strength. They give the appearance of mental well-being by posting excellent advice, uplifting memes, and beautiful quotes, but privately they struggle with the overpowering tidal forces of suicidal depression. When that tide sweeps them away, their friends are left surprised and stunned.

As many of you know, Ronnie McNutt¹ took his own life while live streaming on Facebook last month. It was traumatic and devastating to those who witnessed it. According to his friend, Ronnie was severely drunk, so it’s easy to assume that he might not have been thinking clearly when he posted such a strong, demanding, yet earnest post before ending his own life.

What can we learn from his example?

Ronnie didn’t reach out for help. He posted on Facebook, then, while inebriated, streamed his last moments. That is such an extreme and unusual situation, you may feel you have nothing to learn at all from his actions. Yet Ronnie hid his pain behind a social media post instead of seeking help. This is what I hope to encourage others to not do.

To those of you who hide your pain behind a social media mask, I have a message for you:

Posting upbeat, inspirational posts on social media is not the same thing as getting help.

Don’t treat your social media timeline as if it’s some magic ward against the demons that eat at you. You more than others know the importance of reaching out for help. Please don’t worry about keeping up appearances. If you feel overwhelmed by suicidal tendencies, reach out to those caring and wonderful people in your support network. Find people who listen. Find people who help.

It’s been two years and five months since I last had a suicidal thought. When a suicidal impulse springs to life in my mind, my first coping strategy is to tell somebody about it. I do the opposite of hiding it! Sometimes I tell my daughters. Sometimes I tell a religious leader. I always set up an appointment with a psychologist or psychiatrist. I immediately seek help. These coping strategies have helped me for over thirty years.

Set up good habits and practice them. Don’t disguise your pain with an illusion. Posting upbeat mental health content isn’t wrong, but it is your responsibility to yourself to ensure posting on social media is not all you do to keep yourself healthy.

If you will find it helpful, please read the articles I have written over the years regarding National Suicide Prevention Month. They are filled with personal anecdotes from my own struggles with depression and suicidal depression, but also tips and ideas to help you overcome your pain.

Please don’t keep it hidden.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

With ADHD, Who Needs Sleep Anyway?

I came across this old blog post that I never shared here. It’s from March 2013. I updated it a bit. I hope you enjoy it.

If I thought ADHD could throw monkey wrenches into my plans before, divorce was like dumping the entire plumber’s toolbox into the works instead. It’s taken a bit of time to heal, to sort out the mess, and to know what to do with all those monkey wrenches.

We have joint custody so we split parental duties as well as time spent with the kids right down the middle. She gets medical, and I get school. Since I am in charge of making sure my girls’ school paperwork is in order, I like to use my iPhone to keep things straight with the Calendar, Reminders, and Clear (todo list) apps. With those apps I keep track of everything that needs to be taken care of. My skills are awe inspiring—that is assuming I remember to write things down in the first place. Unfortunately, life gives me helpful reminders of how important it is to use my reminder system, like that weekend last month…

The girls were at their mothers (we switch every two weeks), but the teacher mailed me a packet of forms. It was time for my youngest daughter’s reassessment in the special needs cluster program. She has cerebral palsy and epilepsy, along with other issues that make school challenging for her. I used the “Put the packet out in the open. You can’t possibly forget about it if you trip over it” method that weekend instead of usual iPhone reminder system. Too bad I absentmindedly put another pile on top of that reminder pile. Sometime around 2am on Monday, early early on a schoolday morning, I suddenly remembered that I hadn’t filled out the paperwork.

My first panic was that I couldn’t find them. Once that problem was taken care of, there I was filling out psych evals and questionnaires for hours. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep that night, but I got the paperwork filled out on time. I was able to preserve my reputation as an awe inspiring, responsible father — assuming my ex doesn’t read this blog. The silly thing is that I have systems in place to avoid these types of stressful situations. That’s why I designed them. Adults with ADHD benefit from having systems in place to help avoid careless errors. We resist the structure at times, but nobody needs it more than we do.

There are plenty of reasons why I didn’t use my iPhone system that weekend. I had the flu…I was busy establishing world peace…I was abducted by aliens. No one really cares. Whatever is due is due. Fortunately for me, I didn’t let anyone down, so I’m not beating myself up over it. If losing sleep was the price I paid to pull it all together, so be it. I’ve now recommitted to using my reminder system, and started training myself to use it more instinctively going forward. At least until the next time I forget about it.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

People Read What I Write? Who Knew‽

22K Pageviews? Not bad!

22K Pageviews? Not bad!

Have I mentioned I was sick for a long time at the beginning of the year? I may have mentioned it once or twice¹. Well, while I was down for the count, my editors over at ADDitude Magazine were counting pageviews for an article I wrote for them a while back. Apparently, I hit 22,213 pageviews for that article alone. They told me all about it last February while I was slightly inconvenienced. I just recently discovered their post when I had to use carefully placed demolition charges and a pick axe to catch up with my email.

I know my mother wasn’t reloading that page over and over again as she wardrived from free wifi network to free wifi network all around town. Not only would she not think of doing that, she wouldn’t understand what I just wrote! Instead, I can only assume that there was a sizable amount of people who were interested in The Reinvented Chore Chart That Actually Motivates My Child

It was a fun article I wrote about how I finally got my stubborn teen to work on her chores. There was a lot of psychology involved, some of it even on a comfy chair, but in the end I succeeded in transforming my daughter into a celestial chores-happy being! There wasn’t any hypnotism or coercion involved either. Yep, I’m wicked good at taking what other people tell me and making it my own. You should read the article.

  1. I make no apologies. I was sick for over half a year. It’s taken me four months to work off the weight I gained and build back the muscle tone & strength that I lost.  ↩

Friday, July 17, 2020

In Memory of Dr. Elena Díaz de Guereñu

Dr. Elena Díaz de Guereñu

I’ve been blogging about ADHD & Depression since 2005. In that time I have met many wonderful people. One of them was Elena Díaz de Guereñu. Elena would translate my blogs into Spanish for her TDAH (ADHD) readers. I was always grateful for her efforts.

I haven’t heard from her in a while, and now that I’ve visited her blog again (Dra ELENA DÍAZ DE GUEREÑU – Diagnóstico y tratamiento del TDAH), I know why. She stopped blogging due to health reasons over a year ago. And now she’s gone, which feels off to me. The magical aspect of online relationships is that people live forever in our minds. Sometimes, we have no idea who they are in real life or what impact they have had on others. Judging by the dozens of tearful comments left on her facebook page, Elena left behind a legacy of grateful patients who she taught to manage their ADHD. She touched so many lives.

Here are the six articles she translated of my work. Most of them were written for ADDitude Magazine (who altered my URLs during a website redesign. You can’t follow through the links on her site.). If you speak Spanish and are interested in TDAH, I hope you find these articles useful. Elena translated a lot of ADHD material for her patients and readers. She was friendly, kind, and selfless. We will all miss her.

If you are interested in reading more articles that I’ve written about ADHD, you can find them here and at ADDitude Magazine.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

I'm Not Dead Yet

First vacation in over thirty years

I’ve been rethinking the purpose of my blog lately. Haven’t I written enough on ADHD & Depression? I don’t write exclusively about either subject, which turns some readers off, so I’ve never had the meteoric rise of some bloggers who target one or the other subject (although with ADHD bloggers & YouTubers, they usually blaze through the sky then disappear after awhile). Writing about comorbid conditions isn’t sexy, though I think I look pretty good in my newest jeans. Seriously, though, it’s hard to compete with Facebook. Remember when RSS, not Facebook, made the blogosphere go round? Heck, who even uses “blogosphere” anymore? It makes me wonder where I should be putting my focus.

The first blow to my blogging schedule was getting sick last Fall for SEVEN months (I cannot write enough about how disruptive that was to my life). Then COVID–19 arrived just as I was getting better, and my learning disabled daughter needed every ounce of my focus in order to graduate. Meanwhile, I decided to make the move to WordPress (in order to have comments again and to escape Google’s fickle ecosystem), but configuring WP templates was so needlessly complicated, my boredom resistant brain wandered off, leaving a half installed blog on my personal server with no new posts on my “old” blog. Plus, I was dealing with a major bout of depression which was defying my coping strategies. My answer to that was to leave social media entirely for over a month—not write more. When a friend offered to take me on vacation down to his parent’s home in Saint George, Utah, I leapt at the chance.

Then I rethought it, backed out, discussed with him how I could still do it, backed out again, then got him to delay HIS vacation by a day, and ultimately went. That is the kind of laser-focused, steely-eyed determination I am all about lately.

What I discovered on my time away from stressors was that:

  1. I miss writing about ADHD & Depression.
  2. I don’t schedule time for my blog book projects.
  3. I am taking too much time preparing/researching for my middle-grade novel.

So I made a list. What does a prolific Douglas Cootey look like? The concise list gives me eight thought provoking, evocative reasons to ponder my purpose in life while empowering me to do better. I am contemplating how to implement these sweeping changes into my life, and thinking, “Hey! This exercise would make a great blog post!” I’m finally feeling more like myself. Hello, Douglas. Long time no see.

Before charting my next move, I want to state something publicly: I do not regret taking time off from my writing to focus on life. Consider it my gap year. My blog has taken a beating in key search results terms, but I am still here. Sometimes life throws up unexpected detours. My family needed me; I was incredibly ill; and now I’m emerging from all that with greater insight. I am undergoing a chrysalis of sorts. Even the frustrating, overwhelming, often burdensome experiences have made me a better person. I look forward to showing you my personal growth here in these pages over the next few months.


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Give Yourself a Fighting Chance. Put Stable People in Your Support Network

If you struggle with suicide, depression or anxiety, the types of people you have in your support network can make the difference between them being a lifeline or a weight.

Sunken Boat by nasir khan

It’s been over two years since I was last suicidal. I wasn’t making dark and deadly plans at the time. I simply thought I would be better off dead. It was the matter-of-factness of the “epiphany” that startled me the most. It seemed perfectly logical. Fortunately, I’ve heard this logic before and immediately engaged my coping strategies. I let family members know, I prayed deeply, and since I didn’t have a current counselor, I reached out to a bishop for a recommendation. Quite quickly, I put the suicidal ideation behind me. That’s the benefit of coping strategies.

It also helps that I was able to analyze my feelings and separate my awareness from the emotional maelstrom. I could outthink the destructive thoughts. This is very difficult for many people, though. They get caught up in the emotional maelstrom. When the illogical becomes logical, they need help from a support network, but not everybody is so fortunate.

During my recent anniversary , I couldn’t stop thinking about K-pop star, Goo Hara. The last time I wrote about Hara’s struggle with suicide was last year. I don’t stan for K-pop cuties (okeh. Not much), but discovering her band was one of the happy moments I shared with one of my daughters after the divorce. When I heard about Hara’s struggles last May, I was shocked. I wrote about it last September during National Suicide Prevention Month, but when I found out she took her life two months later, I was devastated. I haven’t listened to her band in years, but I was connected to her story. I wanted her to pull through.

Unfortunately for Hara, one of the supports she leaned on was her friend, Sulli, a fellow K-pop star who took her own life in October 2019. Hara followed Sulli’s example a month later. This incident shows the importance of having stable people in our support networks who don’t struggle with what we struggle with. Social contagion is real. The actions of others can unduly influence our own thinking.

As I wrote last time, building a support network is very difficult to do, but it is vitally important for your well being. Even if your depression or anxiety never plunges into being suicidal, start building that network right away. Finding stable people who can comfort you with wisdom and care is a trial & error process.

I commented on this process in my book:

“…many people don’t know what to do with the confession—even church leaders. Are we just being melodramatic, they wonder? Are we just looking for sympathy? Are we trying to manipulate their feelings so that we can get something from them? Why don’t we just suck it up and deal with it like everybody else? They have problems, too. And on and on and on. Their lack of empathy can be summed up with one glib and unspoken question: “What is wrong with you?”

The problem, of course, is that not every ear is sympathetic or capable of understanding the answer to that question. Of course, not every teacher, counselor, church leader, family member, etc. is insensitive or incapable of helping you—in fact, I suspect they are in the minority—but when we are hurting, we aren’t very good judges of who is best to trust. “Wait a minute!” you may shout. Common advice for those experiencing suicidal ideation is for them to seek help—to reach out and let others know what they are feeling. I agree. That is an important first step. The trouble with this step is that not everybody is equipped to deal with suicidal ideation. They can handle a slew of human conditions, but perhaps not suicide.

Sometimes, they might be emotionally unable to process your pain, or perhaps they simply don’t understand what you are trying to tell them. You wouldn’t ask an ear doctor for a medical opinion on your foot, would you? Why assume that untrained friends & family will be able to help you with suicidal ideation? This seems logical now, but when we reach out for help due to the influence of depression and suicidal ideation, we are already not thinking clearly. What saved me when I reached out to that church leader was that I had something already in place to fall back on—a support network that I had relied on for years. This is why you should mentally prepare for a suicide emergency as you would prepare for a fire or earthquake emergency. Go over your plan before hand. Line up people before hand.”¹

It seems logical to reach out to people who are also going through what you are. If anybody is going to be sympathetic, it’ll be another person dealing with anxiety, depression, or being suicidal, right? However, consider for a moment how much energy you put into feeling “normal” each day—how exhausted you are by the end of the day. Your support friend is likely as exhausted as you are. They may not have the emotional strength necessary to carry your burden along with theirs.

My recommendation is to keep like-minded friends as friends, but build a support network with sympathetic and caring people who aren’t struggling with your same mental health issues. Camaraderie is important. However, when you’re floundering, you need people to pull your boat ashore when waters are choppy, not put holes in the bottom.

If you’d like to read the rest of the chapter featured in this article, you can find the book online at most major ebook retailers, or suggest it as a purchase for your local online library.

  1. Saying NO to Suicide by D.R. Cootey  ↩

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Four Tips to Build a Support Network While Sheltering in Place

If you’re feeling down from too much social distancing, how do you build a support network when you’re sheltering in place‽

Ocean's Treasure by FotoFloridian

Support networks are the sort of things you’re supposed to have already put into place for that time when you need them. You’re also supposed to file your taxes on time, separate your recyclables, and brush your teeth twice a day. There are a lot of things we’re supposed to do, but for one reason or another, we sometimes don’t get around to doing. Support networks take effort to build. Because of that, it is easy to avoid putting yourself out there when things are going well.

Then your government tells you to stay inside or else, and suddenly that support network seems a lot more important than it did before. Fortunately, communicating with each other over distances isn’t limited to letters via post. Now we can private message, video chat, audio chat, and text over phones lines and the internet. If you deal with depression, you know that you can’t always tell when you’re going to have a bad day, but you don’t have to be a psychologist to know that social distancing and sheltering in place can feel like isolation. Having access to supportive people is key to managing your depression.

As I blogged about before, I’ve been social distancing for many months now. Fortunately, I already did the work to set up my support network, but I’m always looking to grow that network. The more people you can rely on, the better your chances are to reach somebody when you need help.

When I want to expand my network, I follow these steps:

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