Inside of Depression and Out, or: a Question I’ve Been Curious About for a Long Time

“What is it like to be sad when you’re not depressed?”

Have I ever known what it’s like to be just sad? There was a time before I even thought of myself as depressed where I looked back over my life and realized that I couldn’t ever remember a time when I’d been consistently happy. I don’t exactly think I’ve always been depressed, but I think I’ve always been too obsessed with doing exactly, perfectly right by everyone that I didn’t leave room to ever be satisfied with myself, which is a recipe, at the very least, for constant anxiety.

I know a little bit what it’s like, now. Because for a week or three after I started taking Wellbutrin, my brain changed. I had some days where I was anxious about stuff, but the anxiety was different. It was different and it wasn’t. It was exactly the same feeling that I’ve become rather intimately familiar with over the last quarter-century, give or take.

The feeling was just the same, but the difference, for me, was that suddenly it wasn’t attached to a narrative. It was still rather unpleasant, in the sense of, “Oh dear, this is quite unpleasant, I am not very much enjoying this at all!”

But that was it. It was just there, with me, and unpleasant.

On depression it’s different. It’s the same feeling, but is attached to this dark cloud of “This is the only way things have ever been or ever will be, and it will never get better, it’s all futile, and nothing will ever get better, but there is every possible chance it will get much worse.”. On depression, my brain forgets about the time between episodes. Thinking about the experience reminds me of the idea of state dependent memory, except that instead of being able to remember certain things when I’m depressed, I stop being able to remember anything but the other times I have been depressed. All the episodes and bad moments and hopelessness connect to each other and I can’t remember anything that happened in between. I can’t remember that anything has ever happened in between.

The difference between being sad or anxious or exhausted when I’m depressed and when I’m not is this. The feelings are just the same, but the narrative isn’t. Rather, outside of depression, there just isn’t a narrative. It’s just a feeling. Pleasant or unpleasant, it’s just it’s own thing. Inside of depression, it’s all connected in this tapestry of “This is how everything always has been and always will be.”.

So now I know.

As I get an opportunity to return ambient stress levels to within manageable parameters, I’m hoping I’ll get back to that place and have some time to get used to it. Fingers crossed.

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Honing HabitRPG and the Practice of Being Generous to Myself

I have been using the online task-management-as-and-RPG-game called HabitRPG for a few months, now. I think it is absolutely fantastic, and I want to talk a little bit about why it is and what I do to help make it that way.

The number one thing that, for me, makes HabitRPG incredibly effective, is remembering to always keep my focus on my objective. My objective is to get me to do the things I want myself to be doing. That’s it. HabitRPG is a tool for getting things done.

It is emphatically NOT my goal to make it as similar to actual RPG’s as possible. I know people who have given up on the game on account of feeling overwhelmed when their tasks pile up, and decided it won’t work for them, and in most cases I think it’s because they are thinking about it the wrong way.

The last couple of months have been incredibly stressful for me. Adding 7 to 10 daily task goals on top of that stress is a recipe for even more stress, so I reduced the number of daily tasks I have to five, two of which overlap with two of the others. They are:

  • Take meds
  • Start work
  • Start work by 10 AM
  • Finish 80% of daily work by 4 PM
  • Finish all daily work

All of my other goals right now are either one time goals or in the habits column for multiple-times-daily tasks that you aren’t necessarily penalized for not doing.

It is usually pretty easy to complete these main five tasks in a day. That said, without the RPG game-ifying aspect, I can virtually guarantee I wouldn’t be getting work done as effectively. Again, the goal isn’t to make this hard; it isn’t to make this as much like an RPG as possible, it’s to get stuff done. The RPG elements are useful only so long as they help me to get stuff done.

When I first started using HabitRPG, I did not have “start work” as a goal. But it turns out that getting work done is pretty easy once I’ve started it; getting started is actually the hardest part. So I added starting as a goal. Later, I realized that having time constraints makes me a lot more likely to not put off that goal until late in the day, so I added the 10 AM requirement. If I start work before 10am, I get credit for both.

When things are less hectic and stressful than they are right now, here are some of my other goals:

  • not getting on my computer until at least half an hour after waking up
  • 30 minutes straight meditation before 5 PM
  • getting off the computer for at least 30 minutes within 30 minutes of finishing work
  • taking vitamins
  • getting to the gym
  • going walking for at least 20 minutes

Even when all of those goals are active every day, I am not actually required to complete all of them to get credit for all of them. Some of them have alternate success cases. For example, if I don’t finish my usual amount of work on a Friday because of either mental exhaustion or repetitive stress concerns, I give myself credit for the work goals anyway, in this case thinking of them as a reward for responsible, healthy decision-making.

Sure, it makes it easier. It also makes me do exactly the things I want to be doing.

Decisions like the alternative success cases sometimes make me feel like I’m cheating, which is why it’s so important to remember the cardinal rule: the goal is to get me to do the things I want myself to be doing. Nothing that accomplishes that is “cheating”. I want myself to be getting work done, but just as much as that I want myself to be making responsible mental and physical health decisions.

Multiple times daily habits consist of things like gaining experience for completing Pomodoro shifts, taking damage for ignoring Pomodoro shift breaks, gaining experience for completing errands, taking damage for working more than my normal hours (it’s a repetitive stress risk), several generic reward categories (minor task, medium task, and major task), and a few categories for things that I will only ever do once in a while, but am interested in encouraging myself to do: asking for support during difficult times, for example.

That last one is what I call a “multiple”, meaning one that I think is important enough that it merits more than one click when I do it successfully. The minimum reward for asking for support is three times the usual reward for a “hard” task. Is it cheating? Again: the goal is to get me to do the things I want myself to be doing. Nothing counts as cheating if it accomplishes that goal.

One of the other decisions I’ve made over the course of honing my HabitRPG goals to be as effective as possible is that I can’t be thinking about them every hour of every day. The cognitive load of keeping track of them takes a certain amount of energy, and thus it’s important for me to be careful how often and how greatly I am spending that energy. As such, all of my goals are disabled on weekends, and I generally do not give myself rewards for completing any tasks of any kind on weekends. Weekends are cognitive-load-free zone.

In addition to the weekend’s role, I have specifically chosen my daily tasks such that all of them can be completed by 5 PM. I had to abandon brushing my teeth in the evening as a daily goal because it meant I was necessarily concentrating on my goal list for the entire day, where my current setup means I am usually only concentrating on it during work hours.

Sometimes I give myself experience without any reason whatsoever. Really. This is my favorite thing about HabitRPG: it gives me a chance to practice being generous with myself. If I’ve accomplished something awesome, or I am enduring something difficult, I try to remember to treat myself to things. The problem with that in everyday life is that treating myself to things usually costs money or time that I may or may not have. In HabitRPG, however, that problem doesn’t exist. I have an infinite resource for rewarding myself for accomplishments and treating myself during difficult times, and I use it.

Is it cheating? Again, I say it’s not, because it helps me. As absurd as the idea that those little points, completely disconnected from any real-world application or tangibleness, have any impact on my day-to-day life, acquiring them makes me feel good. And feeling good is nice, and nice feelings mean less stress, which means less exhaustion, more energy, and as such more ability to get things done. All the while, it’s giving me a chance to practice being generous with myself; it’s giving me a chance to practice being that awesome boss who cuts you some slack when you need it, and is understanding when you need it.

There is one more multiple-times-daily goal I haven’t mentioned, which is the generic “good brain gardening” goal. I get to click this one whenever I practice good mental habits. If I start to beat myself up over something and then remember not to, I get experience. Here’s the kicker for me: sometimes I do feel like I’m cheating in the game. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that I should treat this more like a game with rigid rules, be a stern taskmaster, etc. Then I remember that the goal is to be getting stuff done and that the strict way of doing things isn’t actually nearly as effective as the more lenient, generous, caring, encouraging way of doing things.

Whenever I remember that, I give myself points. Good brain gardening points. And if the sense of “maybe I should be harsher/don’t deserve these points/etc.” persists, I get even more points for giving myself points in the face of that persistent nagging voice.

If you want, you could say that I cheat constantly and furiously at HabitRPG. But it sure as hell gets the job done, and it’s the way I honed this particular getting-stuff-done tool to be one of the most effective weapons I have against not getting stuff done. For me, generosity works better than rigidity.

If you decide to give it a spin, remember to never lose sight of your goal: to get you to do the things you want yourself to be doing. And practice being generous with yourself. At least that’s what works for me. Not to mention I can really use the practice.

How Do You Unplug From Stressful Things Without Unplugging From Awesome People?

So I’ve been incommunicado for a while due to a sudden and immense unexpected increase in life stress which will hopefully be over soon, although that will be just in time for me to have another long time where it will be most likely impossible for me to blog.

I have a question that’s important for me right now, though, in the interest of engaging in continuing self-care.

When you’re an activist-type person who knows and follows huge bunches of activists-type people, what strategies do you use to unplug from all of the horrible things going on in the world for a while? In particular, are there strategies you use to do that without also ending up mostly out of touch with those same people?

I think it’s great that the circles I run and are so full of people who are so conscious and conscientious about everything going on in the world around us, but there are times where the best thing for me, my situation, my anxiety, my depression, and my offense stress-induced chronic pain issues is to just take a break for a while. Sometimes the continuous stream of “oh look, more bigotry in media”, “oh look, my country is killing civilians for no reason again”, “oh look, global warming is horrible and everywhere”, “oh look, another person I used to look up to is actually a horrible bigot” on top of general life stress becomes overwhelming.

The thing about that is that taking a break from the stream of All the Horrible Things That Are Going On in the World basically requires unplugging from all social media, because people tend to use pretty much all of those to spread messages about what’s going on. So is there a way to disconnect from all of that without also disconnecting from the social circles and support systems in which you see them?

I can’t be the only one who needs to do this from time to time; what strategies do you guys use?

By ResearchToBeDone Posted in other