Thursday, June 22, 2017

Life Is a River of Drama

This has been a tough year for me. I’ve kept my struggle mostly secret because the drama that ails me relates a story that I cannot share. The results of it are fairly obvious to those who observe me day to day, however. I’m less cheery; I’m more stressed; my sleep is horrible; I’m way behind in my writing; my finances have thrown up a white flag; I don’t find relief in social media anymore; and my real social life has evaporated like water in the hot, Utah sun. The most unfortunate aspect of the drama is that the more stress I encounter, the worse my Tourette’s becomes.


During all of this, I fulfill all my duties as a dad, and plug forward. There is always a dawn on the other side of the darkness. I believe that completely, but these days I don’t have extra energy or time for writing books or articles.

I thought I had a handle on things, albeit my life was full-time daddy work and no freelance, but then I woke up a few days ago and thought that life would be easier if I removed myself from it. I haven’t had a suicidal thought in years, so that thought shocked me upright. I immediately engaged my coping strategies.

  • Step One: I texted my daughters and let them know I had a suicidal thought.
  • Step Two: I couldn’t set an appointment checkup with a therapist because I can’t currently find one nearby that works with my insurance plan. So I did something proactive instead…
  • Step Three: I went out for a walk in the bright sunlight. I talked to myself along the way, analyzing my thoughts and identifying the elements that had brought me to suicidism again. I made an action plan. I made goals. I chased off that black dog with all the sticks that I could muster.

View from my Walk Therapy

And it worked.

Unfortunately, none of this sadness and worry has anything to do with my clinical depression. I say “unfortunately” because if it was just depression keeping me down, I’d have overcome all this by now. My tool belt doesn’t have anything to offset external forces that dump concrete on my chipper attitude. I can manage the feelings I get after emerging from the wreckage, but nothing I do can stop the unrelenting pressures of family drama delivered by the truckload.

“What on earth is happening to you, Douglas?!” you may fairly shout. “Stop teasing already!” Again, it’s not my story to tell, but I can say that it’s an ordeal I can’t walk away from. After over a year of this, with a crescendo in the past few months, I have to admit that it is time for a new set of coping strategies. I am not writing fiction as I had planned because I can’t justify the time spent on it. I am not writing in this blog except sporadically for the same reason. My New York editor over at ADDitude magazine probably thinks I’m blowing him off because I haven’t submitted work in weeks, but it’s hard to write a humor article when my smile is lost in the chaos. And lastly, I had suicidal thoughts—a clear indication that it is time for a change. Maybe I don’t need to toss out my old coping strategies, but I certainly need to replace them temporarily with something better tailored for the current stresses.

Life changes and we need to change with it. Sometimes, the forces of life that work against us aren’t always internal. We need to have coping strategies prepared for when things become hard to bear. I don’t feel like I’m swimming through turbulent waters as much as I am afloat with my mouth slightly above water as I get carried along in the current. I’m getting air, but I have no control over the direction that I’m taking. Unless I make changes, I’ll simply continue to take damage.

The truth is that life flows on regardless of our swimming skills. Either we adapt, or we get carried under. With that in mind, I’m writing this blog post as a way of casting anchor, but also to let you know that I haven’t forgotten about this space on the internet. I haven’t succumbed. I still win the fight against depression and suicide every day. I’m, also, overcoming my ADHD. I have plenty of attitude; I’m just very, very short on humor.

Ah. Drama calls… Here’s to smiles and peace in the future. Here’s to leaving drama in the past.

I write a lot about fighting suicide as well as depression. It is my hope that you find something here to help you in your battle. I also wrote a book on overcoming suicide that many people have found helpful.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Slay ADHD Tardiness with These 5 Tips

I have to admit. I haven’t been the most punctual of guys. I’ve tried, but I failed a lot. Last Tuesday, I had an appointment to meet a counselor at my daughter’s school. I left on time. I maneuvered through traffic like I was in the Indy 500 (without breaking the law!). I arrived early! Two minutes early! Then I reminded myself to put up the sunshade before getting out. I’ve written before about the effect sun-heated cars have on my noodle. So up went the sunshade. Is this the right way? No, it’s upside down. Wait, I should really put up the side window shades, too. There. Looks great! No overheating for me!
By the time I walked through the door, however, I was two minutes late.
Dang, foiled by ADHD again!
Some of you might be thinking that two minutes is hardly LATE. It’s certainly not the latest I’ve ever been. With my Tourette’s and my super awesome ADHD organization, I’ve been known to push a courtesy fifteen minute grace period into the sixteenth minute and beyond. I’ve broken time and space many a time to race across town just to arrive a hair too late, then be told I’d have to reschedule. It was a way of life. Did This year I’ve been renewing my efforts to be punctual, and lately I’ve been making strides. In fact, I was very early to my appointment the other day. I was one month early. I told a friend online that if somebody were to bet that I’d be late for the true appointment next month, I wouldn’t take that bet because I’d probably lose.
Sometimes being late is a matter of trying to fit four into three when there simply isn’t time for it. Sometimes I’m avoiding boredom by doing as much as I can before the appointed time. Sometimes I get distracted at the last minute. Most of the time, however, it’s just poor planning. Here’s how I’m getting around that these days:
  1. Decide to be on time – I can’t emphasize enough how important this step is. Determination alone cannot prevent ADHD glitches, but it can go a great distance in helping us overcome bad habits. I was a month early because I marked a July appointment for June. Hello, ADHD. But I was “on time” for my supposed appointment because I was determined to change my behavior. Let’s hope I can do that again in July. 🤞🏼
  2. Plan to be 10 minutes early – You’ve heard the tips: Schedule your appointments ten minutes early. Set your clocks forward 10 minutes. The trouble with those tips was that I’d calculate realtime on the fly and be late anyway. My twist on this trick—which was alien to me for so many years—is to want to be 10 minutes early. I’ve turned it into a game. This is how I enforce Tip #1. The reason I was two minutes late for the appointment at my daughter’s school was because I didn’t plan on being ten minutes early, and therefore, I wasn’t. Ten minutes may not be enough, so eventually I’ll push this back to allow for ADHD and traffic congestion.
  3. Verify the appointment – I never remember this step, but I always wish that I did. Many places will send out a reminder call before your appointment. If you haven’t received that reminder call, maybe there’s something wrong with your appointment’s entry on your calendar (app or otherwise). Entering something wrong is an ADHD hazard (Don’t you just love the “careless” mistake?), but sometimes appointments get canceled or changed. If you didn’t hear the call, or it’s sitting in your unlistened-to voice mail, it’s wise to check before you head over. I didn’t get a call for today’s appointment, but I was so hyped up to be on time, I headed over anyway. That was more than a little embarrassing.
  4. Set multiple alarms – I use a mobile app called Fantastical that let’s me set any number of default alarms for every appointment, as opposed to Apple’s default limit of two, to work in tandem with Apple’s Mobile Calendar strengths. I’ve decided I need three alarms for every event. When I schedule a 1pm appointment, I am automatically reminded 30 minutes before the event, one hour before the event, and one day before the event. If I need more alarms, I happily tack them on, but I am leery of alarm fatigue, so I try to keep things reasonable. That 30 minutes alarm cuts things fairly close. It’s intended to wake me up if I’m deep in a distraction. Apple’s Calendar app can calculate travel time, so be sure to add location data for appointments to get those extra reminders on the Notifications screen. Android users can find apps that add similar features like Google Calendar and Tiny Calendar.
  5. Bring plenty to do – One thought process that prevents me from being punctual is ADHD fear of boredom. All that time waiting! What will I do? Make your own Boredom Survival Kit™.
It may seem overly simple, but punctuality starts with the desire to be punctual. Then you build from there. You’ve got this.

If you like punctuality, you should download my book. It will arrive exactly when you expect it.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Suicide Catches Us All Unaware: Lessons from The Passive Voice

I've got a new blog going up soon, but I came across something tonight that I felt compelled to share with you.

Over on The Passive Voice, PG wrote about the turmoil his family has been going through due to the suicide of his son and the death of his brother — both within the same few weeks. Any death in the family can be devastating. I recently stood over the grave of my brother on Memorial Day, teary-eyed with a tight throat, even though its been nineteen years since the car accident. We don't forget those we loved. His son's suicide has pushed PG beyond the limits of his strength. Then he lost his brother to cancer. What a difficult time for his family. And yet, despite all of that, he put together a blog with such fabulous advice, I was in awe of his stamina.

His blog post gives advice on words of comfort, discusses preparation for deaths in the family, and includes a stirring passage on mental illness. I was just thinking today about the need for a will now that I'm 50. PG's blog served as a wake up call while also touching my heart.

My deepest condolences go out to his family, and I thank him for his desire to help us avoid the mistakes and stress that he ran into.

The Passive Voice - Update

If you or a loved one is struggling with suicidism, my book, Saying "NO" to Suicide, may be of use. I share it here because it is my heart's desire that people overcome suicide.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

ADHD, Bookmarks, Tabs, and Me

Do you have a lot of bookmarks on your browser? What about open tabs? I just love them. I like to keep dozens of them up at any give moment, to go along with my hundreds upon hundreds of bookmarks. Don’t want to forget anything, right⸮ Just now I discovered that my daughter had been on my computer again and had closed yet another window filled with dozens of tabs. There was the usual moment of panic, followed by a loud, wailing sound very much like the sound Luke Skywalker made in that movie where he met a long lost relative. All my research! Gone! Doesn’t she realize I use open tabs like a ToDo list on my browser?! Then it hit me. I was finally free.

I try to keep my problem under control, but tabs and bookmarks are just so easy to make! There I am, watching a show about detectives in Shetland, when suddenly I’m looking up Shetland on Flickr, researching the LDS community in that area, reading a Shetland article from 2009 about a twenty-three year old girl going on an LDS mission, then looking for a more recent follow-up article and finding her Facebook page through Google instead, then researching the LDS temple in Switzerland. Each branch of research needed a new tab in my browser, and, of course, none of it had anything to do with what I was supposed to be working on at the moment. Isn’t this how Attention Deficit Disorder works?

I have many, many research sessions in my past, all tabs neatly archived as bookmarks to be gone through later. Later never comes, but I faithfully archive things over and over again just to free my browser from the burden of hundreds of tabs. I decided recently my years of bookmarks needed a severe pruning because I couldn’t find anything in them, but quailed at the thought of all the time I would waste organizing them. I even had dead Geocities pages bookmarked! The ADHD mind has a strong aversion to boredom, and I can't think of anything more boring than pruning web browser bookmarks!

The quickest solution would be to:
1. Close all my windows, eliminating all my tabs, then quit the browser.
2. Find the bookmarks file on my computer.

But no, I wanted to preserve my bookmarks just in case I ever needed them. I know. I know. That’ll never happen, but here’s a way to reset your bookmark & tabs nightmare while archiving the past. It took me about 30 minutes of dedicated work keeping one thing in mind, “If you don’t use it, lose it!” The following directions are for Safari, but most browsers share similar features:

  1. Close all browser windows except one, waving good-bye to all those tabs. If you must, archive them as bookmarks, but get them gone. We’re trying to tame chaos here.
  2. Now let’s archive your bookmarks for a rainy day. Select Safari>File>Export Bookmarks… and tuck your bookmark archive away in a safe folder.
    Figure 1
  3. Next, select Safari>Bookmarks>Edit Bookmarks.
    Figure 2
  4. From my picture, you can see that my bookmarks go on and on and on. They’re even fractally eternal within each folder. It’s frightening because if you compare the following photo to the previous picture, you'll see I've already been pruning. The trick to this process is to delete as much as you can while keeping in mind another favorite saying of mine, “When in doubt, throw it out.” There is no other trick. The goal is to simplify your browser environment—to reduce clutter & distractions. Set a timer. Keep yourself motivated. If you can’t be bothered to click on the bookmark to see what it is, delete it. Delete whatever is leftover when the timer goes off. REMEMBER! You archived these already. You aren’t losing anything.
    Figure 3
  5. Enjoy your cleaner, simplified bookmark list. I bet I can prune this even more!
    Figure 4
  6. Enjoy your cleaner, less chaotic browser. Only the most recent items are kept in my Favorites. Only two tabs are open. Ahhh, absolute peace and tranquility…until the next mad research binge.
    Figure 5

If you liked this article on organization, you should read my book. All of its pages are numbered in a row.

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.

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