The Double Edged Sword of Work

The first month after my ex-wife made it clear things were done I fell into a major depressive episode. My knee jerk reaction included wanting to change so many things including my job which is by its nature stressful.

Spend enough time on forums or social media groups dedicated to depression and you’ll find some painful patterns. For a lot of folks suffering from depression there’s socioeconomic factors that combine for a one-two punch in the gut. Therapy isn’t always cheap depending on your health care options and people who suffer from severe depression and anxiety often have the hardest time with employment. For me a high stress job compounded by my anxiety and depression made it difficult to insure that I could do my job and still keep my mental health and work/life balance.

Things I found that worked for me included changing my coffee intake to just the mornings and reducing the amount I consumed.  Taking short 5-minute meditation breaks where able and hydrating a lot more than I had in the past.  Not every job affords the same options but as much as possible you need to look at changes to help you find a release during the work day so that you aren’t burning the candle at both ends.

 

Projects and Distractions

Being able to focus on positive things during severe depressive episodes is a critical thing.  For me besides my artistic projects which were more therapeutic focused I also tried to spend time working on various technology oriented projects (this blog and a revamp of my neglected for years website).

One of the last projects I worked on was very much off the wall. Building VMware ESXi systems and a Hyper-V testbed system out of Intel NUCs.  In my youth I probably would have tinkered with a car, or lesser scale an RC car but these days it’s things that can overlap with my work. Perhaps owing to the same mindset that causes my depression to get me into a negative loop, I’ll typically bulldog problems in projects until I can find solutions.

VMware Homeserver – ESXi on 6th Gen Intel NUC

There’s several great resources.  While my generation of NUCs are all 5th Generation, it sounds like the newer devices can be made to work with ESXi as well and there’s an interesting community that use them for the same purpose as I was, test labs and home servers.

Routine and The Pros and Cons

Fighting your way out of depression is multilayered and one of the habits I had to form revolved around a few basic things.  Among the more ugly side effects of depression is a loss of self worth and often the loss of desire to keep ones self clean. In my case shaving became the last thing I wanted to do. Showering became a chore in itself.  I knew I had to shake this and as a result I worked on two specific routines for my morning.

(Photo by Vraxx)

In the past I had been a chronic Keurig user.  The routine was the same every morning, wake up, plonk a K-Cup, start my day and log into my PC. Following my divorce I no longer had a Keurig machine and no desire to buy anything that bulky.  I turned instead to my old, oft forgotten AeroPress. I switched from an ‘instant’ coffee to going retro, hand grinding my beans and forcing myself to make a proper cup of java.

This started me down reviving another habit, this time centered around grooming. In the past, especially as depression began to take over I’d resort to using my electric razor.  While fast and mostly effective much like the Keurig it shortened my ‘active’ time and made me very complacent. Now, I reverted back to the old days of a double edged safety razor and a shaving soap and brush. It didn’t happen overnight, a good month or so and I had gotten used to it. Luckily for me an Art of Shaving had opened up at the nearby mall.

Activity kept me from sinking too far and forced me out of bed. While it may not seem like much even a short 15 minutes of routine that can you make into a positive habit helps a lot more than one might think.

News and Triggering

There was a time that I used to be a veritable information processing fiend.  I always wanted to know everything about the world around me. Anecdotes, blogs, news articles you name it, I’d want to read it.  As depression began to settle in however I found myself getting sad any time I brought up a news site.

For me a lot of my anxiety and depression often takes the form of obsessing over details or things I can’t change. That sort of behavior loops and triggers other worse things in my case like insomnia. There are other side effects though of the constant bombardment with negative news that’s made headlines the last few years.

Huffington Post article on the matter. The aspect that we are naturally negative biased is a frightening one. It makes me concerned as mainstream media plays upon that response in how they present. One of the harsh realities of the US news in particular has been how quickly news about shootings and other gun violence propagates. For me as a gun owner it’s been particularly painful seeing the significant uptick in mass shootings.

It’s a difficult transition but I limit my news intake, I started to filter my sources more. Critically I try to balance whatever I read online that’s negative with things that are uplifting.  Be it animals, positive themed messages or stories of people helping the world rather than hurting it. The human mind does have a bias, but you can take steps to insure that your propensity towards it is kept as low as possible.

 

Diet/Health and the Complexity of Depression

Full disclosure, one of the reasons I had a really hard time confronting my depression is that through college I studied psychology and neuroscience. As the saying goes, doctors make the worst patients.  I quipped about this during a session that I’m glad my therapist tolerates me. Arrogance and hubris on my part made it difficult for me to recognize the signs of depression I had over the past few years.

The thing is clinical depression is a multilayered problem. There are the psychological aspects but there’s physical manifestations too. I loathe pills and I can’t stand gyms.  A combination that really set me up for a pretty easily downward spiral.  Immediately following my diagnosis I began trying to revamp my diet.  Less fats, more yogurt and fruits.  I also began vitamin supplements that targeted getting my neuro chemical health back up to par.  As with any supplement be sure to engage your physician.

What’s worked for me thus far has been a combination of Omega-3 (Fish oil), vitamins B6, C, D3, K2 and a serotonin production aid (5-HTP). The overall effects were meant to help stabilize mood and improve serotonin production. 5-HTP is still a hot button item with critics and advocates from both sides. I can say that folks have experienced a slight uptick in heart rate so be mindful if you have extremely high blood pressure.

While I still struggle to really improve my exercise routine (mostly just walking) the supplements helped get me back to a point where I felt my brain could actually cope along with the mechanisms discussed in therapy. If there is one mindset item I hope folks take away from my blog it is this.  There’s no such thing as a one-size fits all answer.  While I’ve focused mainly on CBT, supplement/diet for folks with severe depression or deeper triggered anxiety a psychiatrist visit may be in order. No matter what no one can really ‘fix’ you it’s a team effort. Therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist can try to get you tools to use, but it still boils down to working through that path and seeing how it goes.  While it’s hard sometimes, especially for those of us who suffer from anxiety, when a treatment course isn’t working, you have to provide feedback there too.

Kissing Social Media Goodbye aka Fuck Facebook

One of the first things I realized as I went through my divorce was that the circle of friends my ex-wife and I had gathered over 7 years was going to have to change. For me it wasn’t necessarily because I hated the circle of friends but because I knew that dealing w/the fall out from divorce I couldn’t be around a lot of people.

I’m not particularly sociable to begin with which made things like Facebook almost alien to me. I never really cared that much about what everyone else was up to.  I always felt those were the things you asked when you were face to face, not because you felt the need to cyber stalk everyone you ever knew.

I want to say that within the first two months of our separation I formally began closing off my profiles and by January I was essentially gone from social media. The possibility of seeing anything associated with my ex-wife was terrifying. I knew she had moved on and as I had asked for discretion and privacy we didn’t make a huge production of it online. So there went Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in an instant.

To me it was empowering in a way. I had gotten rid of the major things that would remind me of my ex-wife. My world shrank and I had to take a hard look at the things I was doing. Escaping into the lives of others wasn’t an option.  Neither was getting caught up in the goings on of other people’s lives. Selfishly that also meant nobody could really peer into mine unless I wanted them to.

I didn’t completely remove contact with people, I just reframed the terms of that communication.  I found myself reaching out to specific communities designed around helping people battling with depression/anxiety and grief.

If you’ve found that social media has a whole makes you worse off, I do recommend taking a break and focusing on who you are. You can consider groups such as MyCounterPane created by the amazing Kate Milliken(Her story http://bit.ly/2aEKUfS). Or applications with group chat features like Pacifica.

The Road Ahead

I genuinely wish this blog were being created for more positive reasons than the failure of my marriage. What’s done is done however and I realize the only time I’m ever OK with things is when I can de-focus from my pain and be of help to someone or something. So that’s where I greet you today.

In the past I had been about sharing everything that made me a geek. My love of technology, photography, anime/cosplay, a lot of that has taken a back seat.  In Oct 2015 I found myself facing the distinct possibility reality my marriage was crumbling.  By Dec it was confirmed that my wife didn’t want to be together.  By April 2016 it was finalized.

The process was painful but along the way I began to reach out, began CBT therapy, began art therapy and started to reach out to various online communities. In trying to set my life back to some sense of focus and purpose I realized that maybe, just maybe if I could share my experiences with divorce and depression, maybe someone else out there would understand they aren’t alone and that there’s people struggling and living with depression/anxiety and other mental health issues.

So for better or worse, if you’re following this blog, welcome to my road.

–Vraxx