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:

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Top Ten Ways I've Survived Social Distancing

Sequestered away and worried about COVID–19? It’s good to take this crisis seriously, but social distancing doesn’t have to be as dire as people online make it seem. Here are the top ten ways I’ve kept my attitude upbeat while isolated from others.

Steezy Coot

As I’ve written before, I’ve been sick and social distancing since September 2019. I have asthmatic bronchitis, rhinitis, and chronic respiratory inflammation. Consequently, my body has been so busy struggling to breathe, it hasn’t had much oomph left to fight off every cold & virus in Utah. At first, I just thought I was getting a lot of colds for some reason. As soon as I got better, I’d go out again, but by the end of September, I was staying clear away from everybody as much as possible. By Christmas the isolation became difficult to bear. I’d do things with family, wearing a dust mask to filter out the smog, but it would only work for a short time. I was too sickly, and I ended up sicker and sicker. I had to stop socializing entirely.

Which brings me to today. COVID–19 has brought our societies to a standstill. We’re told to self-quarantine if we suspect we’re ill and practice social distancing if we’re healthy. I’ve started seeing articles popping up on how lonely social distancing is going to make us. From experience, I can tell you that social distancing may not be party, but it doesn’t have to be an experience of extreme isolation and loneliness, either.

Social distancing is different than self-quarantine. It’s easy to avoid others when you’re sick because you’re often too sick to mix and mingle, but social distancing when you’re healthy feels wrong—like you’re a paranoid nutcase who’s overreacting. I’ve been there. Unlike self-quarantine, you’re not locking yourself away with social distancing. You’re only minimizing contact and exposure to others. Taking precautions for yourself and others, you can still go out.

I have Major Depressive Disorder and Persistent Depressive Disorder, and I’ve managed to keep my spirits up these past six months. I’m all set for COVID–19. With some preparation and planning, you, too, can avoid the doldrums and make your isolation less lonely. I’d like to share with you my ten most successful activities. I hope they give you ideas to adapt in your own lives:

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

A Sneak-Peek of Spring

Yesterday I saw my immunologist. We discussed quite a few things, and she wants to see me continue social distancing, as I have been for six months, but also to try and get out more. That’ll be hard to do with this coronavirus pandemic we’re dealing with, but yesterday was just too good to not take her advice. 

I just went around the neighborhood. I was so weak—so little stamina after a long, hard winter of sickness. I had to take several breaks. Even with the two ventilator valves on my mask, carbon monoxide builds up when I’m breathing hard. I lasted about 30 minutes total. It was a good effort.

Today, I strapped on my asthma mask and headed out to the Jordan River Parkway. The weather was gorgeous and it felt good to get out without a jacket on. I loved feeling the sun on my face again. 

The cracks along the parkway had widened during the cold, dry winter. I couldn’t take them straight on but had to run across them obliquely. At first I was very rusty, catching the wheels in the cracks here and there, but eventually muscle memory kicked in, and I cruised along while carving across the cracks without difficulty. My stamina had improved, and I didn’t need to stop to catch my breath. Instead, I had to stop to stretch out my feet from cramping. The muscles moving my metatarsals weren’t used to carving and counterbalancing, especially while bearing my winter-blessed weight.

After 20 minutes I came to a stop at my destination, a cement bench underneath an overpass. I pulled out my ocarina and played through my repertoire, musing over how well my lungs were holding up. It’s all thanks to that mask. I’ve been using it since December, and it’s made a massive difference in my ability to stay outside without having an asthma attack. 

I, also, was struck by how unafriad I was by people hearing me play.  Various cyclists and joggers would pass me as I played. They would acknowledge me, thank me for playing, or complement me. I usually experience quite a bit of social anxiety when performing in front of other people. I’ll have to try to analyze this later to see why I experienced none of that today. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been practicing so much that I felt confident in my skills. Or perhaps I was simply so exhilarated to be outside and enjoying the day that I forgot to be worried. Perhaps it was a little bit of both.

After running through all my songs, I geared up and headed back the way I had come. This time I rode goofy. I like to practice riding regular and goofy. One, it gives my abs an equal work out, but two, I need to strengthen both my legs,  quicken my reflexes, and improve my balance if I ever hope to make progress longboard dancing. I guesstimate that I have 10 years before I’m too old to do it, so I’m anxious to accelerate my learning. 

The ride back was wonderful. Riding goofy isn’t wonderful, however. I am not good at it yet. My leg muscles were screaming, and my ankles had reduced strength to minimize board wobble. I probably should have headed out riding goofy when my body was at its freshest. Although, it was a rough and wobbly ride, I persevered all the way back to my car, stopping only once to take in the spectacular Maxfield Parrish sunset. 

Here’s hoping the Spring will boost my health and allow me to roam freely outside again, even if I have to wear a mask. With luck, I am seeing a return to my stamina. 


Update 3/21/2020: I was bedridden by the end of the week. Between longboarding and running errands, I overtasked myself. It is hard to know what my limits are since I blow by them cluelessly all the time. 

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Sickness, then Celebration – Putting Suicide Behind Me

Even despite the worst sickness in years, I’ve maintained an even keel. Come celebrate with me.

Family carrot. My daughter, Cathryn Today is the 650th day since I was last suicidal. Keeping track of this stat is only something I began six hundred and fifty days ago. Before that was a hard spell in 2013, and before that was the two year rollercoaster at the end of my marriage. I thought about ending things quite a bit back then. I’m grateful that I was able to ignore those urges, but as I marvel at the number of days free from suicidal ideation, I am more grateful that I have retained my positivity through almost five months of being housebound with a chronic respiratory illness.

I’ve written here before about the dark clarity that suicidal ideation can bring¹. When our minds are awash in sadness and overwhelmed by the undertow of confusion that suicidal depression brings, we tend to grasp at any bit of flotsam that crosses our path. Some of that flotsam, like suicidal ideation, ironically seems like a lifeline. It gives us focus, clarity, and purpose when before there was only chaos.

One false clarity that suicidal ideation brings is the idea the world would be better off without us. Once we’re gone, we reason, our pain will end and with it will come peace to those we burdened. No more disappointing others. No more failing to meet their expectations. We’ll be doing them a kindness.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Easy Goals Even Old Coots Can Achieve

Sometimes the best goals are soft and squishy like an eggnog filled belly.

It’s either very late or very early, depending on your point of view. Either way, I’m sitting here thinking deep, New Year’s-like thoughts. In the other room sleeps a friend who almost wasn’t my friend anymore until we patched things last week. Upstairs sleeps my third daughter whose heart is in need of mending as her marriage comes to an end. Hanging out with dad and his friend on New Year’s Eve was either a low point for her or just exactly what she needed.

My thoughts are a warm blend of nostalgia and regret with a subnote of bitterness and peace. I am, as they say, conflicted, but I’m happy. My health didn’t interfere with the night’s festivities. We all had fun and enjoyed each other’s company. We were supposed to play video games together, but ended up introducing my daughter to the wonderful My Hero Academia. Finally, we pulled ourselves away from bright conversation and Crunchyroll to kill each other mercilessly in Sega Saturn Bomberman. We fight for the trophy, a glorious knickknack that was put together by another friend who is spending New Years with my good friend and their two children while her newest, third child hangs onto life in the NICU.

I could lie that my thoughts are filled with a deep concern for mankind and the state of my nation, but honestly, I am only thinking that I had too much eggnog. That, and I am wondering what my goals will be for my fifty-third year. This blog is now fifteen years old. The fourteenth year was a rough one on it, filled with months of neglect and shifted priorities. What writing goals do I have to look forward to? What will motivate me to make time for this blog and my writing projects?

Friday, December 13, 2019

One Step Forward…

Santa's Beard

I picked up particulate respirator masks so that I can go outdoors again. I’ve apparently developed asthma due to the pollution in Salt Lake Valley and the California forest fires. It’s why I’ve been so horribly sick since September. I’ve been a near complete shut-in. 

Alas, I overdid things yesterday. I looked like a dork in my mask, but I happily ran errands all over town. I also worked out on my treadmill, exercise bike, and did twenty minutes of aerobic activity. Unfortunately, I forgot to use both my inhaler & nebulizer. My lungs are burning again, and the cough has returned. 🙄 I feel so feeble. I kinda hate this. 

I don’t regret my busy day, especially going to the library for a writing session. That felt great. I’ll just have to make sure I use my inhaler and nebulizer faithfully. No skipping days!

My coping strategy for today is to:

Monday, December 02, 2019

Keeping Upbeat During Illness Is a Challenge

Totally sick dude - September 24th

Do I still have a blog? You wouldn’t know it by how infrequently I’ve updated it lately. Sometimes life can overwhelm. When that happens, I like to believe that I will always be plucky enough to fend off the doldrums and shake my fist defiantly at the obstacles that beset me. However, when illness weakens your knees and keeps you motionless in bed, is there enough pluck to lift your fist, never mind keep your spirits up?

I’ve been incredibly sick this Fall. I started my journey on September 7th. I attended FanX in Salt Lake City, had a good time attending with my daughter, then came home and tried to fight off a case of con crud. After about a week, I thought I had licked it. The sky was clear for a change, and an open parking lot was calling to me. While my daughter was in therapy, I pulled out my longboard for some therapy of my own. I usually wear gear because of my Tourette’s, but I was certain I could be careful.

I lasted six minutes.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Don't Apologize for Feeling Suicidal

You shouldn’t feel ashamed for feeling suicidal. Here’s how you can take a stand for yourself.

I saw a news item a few months ago that troubled me.[1] At first, the item was in regard to a K-pop idol (Goo Hara) who my third oldest daughter and I enjoyed watching and listening to in the group, KARA. During KARA’s heyday, my daughter and I followed all their videos and song releases. It was fun—at least until she discovered a guy who had his own rock band. Then dad and K-pop were replaced with an electric guitar and a husband. Poor Daddy.

Reading about anybody’s suicide attempt is heartbreaking, but Goo’s suicide hit home because I remember her so fondly. However, what followed two days later deeply disturbed me. While recovering from her suicide attempt, a press conference was held and Goo apologized to her fans for worrying them—from the hospital. She looked pale and haunted.[2]

Imagine having to say the following while recovering from a suicide attempt:

“I am sorry for causing concerns and a commotion.”
“In terms of health, I am recovering … I had been in agony over a number of overlapping issues. But from now on, I will steel my heart and try to show up healthy.”
“So many things were happening in my life, all at the same time. I am truly sorry. I will show a brighter and healthier side of myself.”[3]

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Five Frank Tips that Helped Me Manage My Depression

Managing your depression doesn’t mean it goes away. Sometimes life will come at you just fast enough to throw you off your game. Here are five tips that helped me get my depression back in control.

As I write this, I am depressed. I shouldn’t be. There’s so much going right in my life right now, but the feeling of that bleak fist of hopelessness around my heart is fairly tight. I am finishing up what is arguably the most productive summer I’ve had in years, yet I feel like an abysmal failure. This summer I have mountains of paperwork and completed applications to prove my productivity. Logic stammers in awe at the long list of massive projects I have undertaken since May. So why do I feel like such a failure tonight?

The obvious answer is that it’s just my stupid depression talking. I’m not a failure! But I feel like one. For some reason, I am miserable, agitated, overwhelmed by feelings of grief, and crushed under the weight of a stifling sadness. I called a daughter, finding the love and support that I needed. Yet despite my daughter’s earnest cheers on my behalf, I still could not shake the oppressive weight of depression. It was time to change my way of thinking. So I decided as a coping strategy to go for a walk and think about my recent accomplishments.

One accomplishment in particular should have me tap dancing on the moon. I have lost 40 pounds since March 2018. I lost over 8 inches off of my waist. This is a phenomenal accomplishment, ending a twenty-seven year struggle. I no longer wear XXL shirts, and I can fit in size L pants now. No more refrigerator box-shaped pants for me. I haven’t been this trim since my early 30s. So of course I shrug my shoulders apathetically and dismiss that accomplishment as insignificant. However, my dietary health issues have never been so regulated and under control. Why shouldn’t that make me happy?

Thursday, August 01, 2019

You Can Do It! Defeating Mental Health Issues with Your Own Voice

You’ve heard that you are your best advocate, but are you giving yourself pep talks? Maybe you should be.

Clip from Yowamushi Pedal

For years, I have been an advocate for talking out loud to oneself as a way to organize one’s mind. I’ve casually blogged about it (as can be read here), and there was one time I gave a tutorial of sorts on the subject over on[1] However, I have also been known to give myself advice as well as a pep talk, both here and in person, as a coping strategy for dealing with my depression. I have found talking to myself to be an effective coping strategy for ADHD & depression, despite people around me thinking it’s kooky.

I can do this!

You can do this!

You can do it!

You can find variations of those expressions all over my blog, but the “you” is usually you, the reader. In real life, however, I’ve been known to talk to myself in the second person as well.

Crazy, huh? I’m a certifiable nutter. But the technique works so well, I can’t see myself giving it up anytime soon. To be discreet, I’ve taken to speaking into my earphones as if I’m on the phone so nobody is the wiser.

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