Workaholic Behavior and Depression

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-excess/201612/workaholism-and-psychiatric-disorders

I came across the above article and it was interesting read, especially given my own perspective that I have been at many varying points a workaholic. Several of the patterns discussed were interesting to me as I’ve often wondered what correlations may existing between people who are driven to push at work or have a tendency to bulldog problems.

The uptick in symptoms in various areas including ADHD, OCD, anxiety and depression were eye opening. I typically split my time working remotely and working onsite with clients and one of the main aspects for me has been an ability to focus without being distracted. My background was initially as a programmer and later as a systems admin/analyst. As a result I’m used to having my head down to solve a problem. It’s possible the same characteristics that make me good at deep dive analysis unfortunately make me susceptible to other conditions such as anxiety and depression.

The mind works in so many different ways that I’d hardly call these findings conclusive but the pattern and potential implications may lead to better ways to head-off dangerous mental illness before it becomes too severe. I know my chosen profession is full of stress, turn over and requires a very distinct mindset to survive. Hopefully as HR and psychological processes improve resources will be available to help folks who may be on the bubble as I was in getting help.

Depression — Weathering the Storm

I live in a hurricane zone and that got me thinking about the parallels between depressive episodes and storms. In the case of hurricanes you can see the storm forming sometimes thousands of miles away. It’s a gradual thing that inches closer to you. You can’t stop the hurricane from happening, you can’t get out of the way, you can only brace, prepare and weather the storm.

The one major thing I’ve gradually gained through therapy has been an awareness of my mental and emotional state so that I can feel the onset of an episode. In past blogs I’ve talked about sort of side-stepping, though really it’s more about fortifying and minimize how long the episode keeps you pinned under.

The tools vary by person but my own typical approach has been to blend these main behaviors and elements.

  • Optimize my diet
    • When an episode is brewing I try to cut way down on sugars and carbs and focus on vegetables and light, easy to process proteins
    • Yogurt, overnight oats and ready to go meals so that I don’t start skipping meals and binge eating later
  • Try to keep even a low-level exercise routine
    • I’m terrible at this to be honest but I try to keep a little under-desk peddle unit so I have some exercise
  • Switch off from the news and negative media
    • Unplugging has often been one of the hardest things to do given my job in IT but less information is sometimes better.
  • Brace my friends and support structure
    • This one is weird and hard. I often struggle with telling friends that I feel an episode coming on so my mood, mannerisms and conversation may become more difficult. Most people expect it when something tragic happens, but for clinical depression it doesn’t have to be one specific major event that triggers your episode, getting that across isn’t always easy.
  • Mind my medications and supplements
    • This will vary greatly by person, especially if you’re on prescriptions medications for depression or anxiety but falling out of sync with meds or supplements to keep your health up is always rough so better to try to remain consistent.

I wish there were an easy answer out there.  I wish that living with depression wasn’t simply about surviving and managing it like some terminal condition. The fact there’s no cookie cutter solution to depression is a constant reminder to me that people are unique and we each have to chart a course through the problems our life has. I don’t have answers for everyone I just know what’s been working for me and hope that in writing it down may help someone else who may have overlooked something or could add to their box of coping tools.

 

 

A Flip Side to “Fake it till you make it” — Berkeley Study

Feeling bad about feeling bad can make you feel worse

I happened upon this and thought it was pretty timely. One of the difficult aspects of depression is trying to maintain a positive mental attitude and a lot of times there a view of sort of ‘faking it’ until you get better.

I’ve often wondered what kinds of negative implications this may have and one of my views has been that as I started to understand my depression more I stopped trying to put on a smile and accepted my darker emotions and tried to focus on processing through them rather than burying them away. I stopped telling folks “I’m good” when I knew I was having a hard go of things.

The idea really isn’t new, the concept that bottling up your emotions usually only leads to more explosive outbursts later. My father had a temper, and growing up I always worked to keep mine under wraps. Often wonder if that was a disservice to myself. We all manifest emotional stress differently and I think in my case it was a downward spiral into depression which caused me to hurt those close to me.

The important take away I had from the article was the idea that I need to make sure I am finding safe, constructive outlets for the stress and negative emotions I feel. Some of my choices, admittedly, are a bit less safe than others but for myself I’ve always found a degree of danger and adrenaline has seemed to be the only way around my depressive episodes. Be it racing cars, hunting or just shooting at a gun range. Whatever your particular outlet try to make sure it’s a something positive and work your way through the down times. You don’t have to necessarily smile, but you do have to move forward.

 

Of Mornings and Social Norms

For me the gradual build up of anxiety and depression was so subtle I hardly noticed it. I often chocked it up to getting older and being a bit of a curmudgeon. These days I realize that one of the things I always felt was odd were social norms and a great deal of expectation.  There’s an almost Pavlovian response that we expect when we say things like “Hope your day goes well” or “How’s things?” It’s a conditioned response to say just positives so when someone actually says how they feel it can be a case of mental discord.

These days I don’t really smile. I’m used to it, going about my day with minimal contact and little to no expectation. When I do interact it’s a weird blend of automatic responses and trying to be honest. I don’t tell people I’m fine anymore. That word has been out of my emotional vocabulary for a while. When you stop caring about the mask and just say what’s actually going on it’s off putting to most. Those who can still tolerate me in this state, with the overhang of depression are the friends I still try to keep close.

I’ve had to make a lot of difficult choices about my social circle post-divorce, some of them likely interpreted as me abandoning former friends. In my eyes however it’s been as sink/swim choice. Keeping friends who’s presence reminded me of my ex was too much of a trigger. Trying to feign happiness or normality among them was draining and I felt like I was just constantly lying.  I don’t lie anymore as I have no need and I don’t expect anything of the circles I have retained (even if their closeness is no longer what it once was). The paradoxical part of depression is that as much as you long for contact, it also makes you push away people. For me I know it’s been a self-awareness of that push/pull. I can see myself doing so, I understand it, there’s a rationale behind it but sometimes it does feel surreal. I’ve built up a tolerance for the pain of self-imposed isolation, of the emotional toll depression takes on a daily basis. I find ways to reach out to the resources I need to (therapist, friends, coworkers) as needed but sometimes it feels like it’s all I can do to maintain balance and prevent myself from sinking into a major depressive episode.

I’ll never sugar coat the difficulties of living with depression. It’s a daily juggling act between meeting social expectations while doing what you can to not send yourself over the edge. Every little bit helps in the fight and knowing when to pull the ripcord and reach out to friends is critical. If you find yourself having a rough time don’t be afraid to let folks know you’re in a bad place. Not everyone will understand that if you suffer from clinical depression that place isn’t something you just “get out of in a day or so” but the ones that do will be an anchor point.

Birthdays, Suicides and Navigating Difficult Times

The recent news of Chester Bennington’s suicide hit me pretty hard. I enjoyed his work with Linkin Park and even his turn as the lead vocal for Stone Temple Pilots.

http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/rock/7873783/linkin-park-chester-bennington-suicide

Like many in the music industry he had his share of demons. Abuse in his youth, substance issues later in life.  He hanged himself on the birthday of his friend Chris Cornell (Soundgarden, Audioslave) who also committed suicide in May. Their music spoke to me; even if only peripherally; when I felt down I could listen to their lyrics and feel like I wasn’t isolated. Pain comes in many forms and often it seems those who touch so many with their expressions of pain, challenges and sometimes redemption are the ones suffering the most inside.

The timing of it all is particularly painful for me.  Today is my own birthday and I am reminded of two greats who share the same day as myself,  Robin Williams and Ernest Hemingway. Giants in their fields, remember even today, but also struggling for much of their lives.

In my own life, I’ve often used humor as a defense mechanism. Preferring to see others laugh and be amused even when inside I felt isolated and empty. Slowly I’ve taken off my clown make up as it were and I try to present just the me that’s there. Sour attitude, sardonic to a fault and bare. Probably lost a few friends along the way but I feel like at least now I’m being more honest with myself and those around me.

A friend commented that I should reach out if I feel the pull of suicide ever creep back. I somewhat deflected, saying that I have a contingency plan in place for my firearms when that happens. I am far more mindful of my mental and emotional state when things like this happen though. I shift my diet to brace, I try to get a bit more exercise and movement into my daily routine. I avoid negative news where I can. It probably seems weird to someone who’s never dealt with a clinical diagnosis to see the myriad of small things needed to help cope. I often think that in itself is half the reason depressive disorders are so stigmatized. Do what you have to do however and do not let yourself sink. For me, it’s far easier to maintain a flat emotional state than to try to recover once I’ve sunken. If you’re going through a difficult time, or on the cusp of an episode, start the prepping now. Try to give your mind and body as much ammo as needed to deal with the downturn and the stressor responses you’re going through. It isn’t easy, depression never is, but we all have small things we can do to make it through.

 

Cutting Off the Past/Divorce and Property

I’ve been pretty quiet the last few days. Between work and wrapping up real estate matters for my divorce it hasn’t been the best few days. Selling off a timeshare that my ex-wife and I had purchased when we were engaged has been a painful trip down memory lane.

I still have a few scant happy memories relating to our stay-cations there, but I also have painful memories just prior to us filing for divorce. It’s always a little weird having memories creep up from the last eight years. They don’t feel real for me anymore to be honest. More like that hazy feeling you get right after waking up and trying to remember a dream. I can’t picture the face of my ex-wife anymore, it’s always just a silhouette that I see, and there’s no voice, just murmur. I remember the sounds of water and kids playing, the smell of grilled steaks. That’s about it.

I shouldn’t really complain, the sale of our timeshare thus far has been fairly pain free but knowing that at one time we viewed it as an investment and something we would want to take our kids to makes everything very bittersweet.

While it sounds harsh, I admit, I do understand the logic in having a prenuptial agreement these days. Divorce can become a tangle of contention and he-said/she-said. To me nobody really wins in a divorce you just sort of go into the middle of the ring, throw punches at each other and retire to your corners until someone calls time.

I’ll be happy when the process is over, it will be on less thing tying us together. There’s still one large piece of real estate to be addressed but I don’t know how long that will take. The depression has been particularly strong in the last three weeks. To try and cope I’ve taken to upping my supplements, increasing my exercise (which I’ll be honest I was doing terrible at to begin with). Knowing the feeling of a depressive episode starting has been the principle gain from my time in therapy. “Solving” the issue isn’t quite there, I feel more like I’m muddling through. In truth, coping with clinical depression for me feels like a matter of survival. The rational side of me understands there’s underlying chemical reactions, behavioral patterns and learned responses all at work, but none of that knowledge makes dealing w/the weight, the anhedonia or the sadness any easier.

If you’re going through a similar in challenge in life find the small things with quickly attainable results, even if that thing is simple like “I want to take out the trash” as a goal. Achieving any degree of movement sometimes feels like enough victory to get you going to the next thing. I hope that as this timeshare sale closes, that will be another goal I’ll have achieved and one more step forward.

Memories, Fear and Post-Divorce Depression

When my grandfather’s mental state diminished I remember seeing the pain my family felt as his advancing Alzheimer’s and dementia took away who he was. My greatest fears include the loss my sight, death in general, and death of self, particularly in the form of memory loss.

Following my divorce I had to come face to face with a side effect of depression that sometimes feels just as painful as the anhedonia. The seven years I spent with my ex-wife started to fade after the first six month I left what was our home. Little by little, consciously or subconsciously I started to push the memories down or forget them outright. It’s been over a year since that process started and now I find I can barely see her face.

http://www.healthline.com/health/depression/depression-and-memory-loss#overview1

Depression has an impact on memory and sometimes the unsettling randomized loss or gaps I experience scare me half to death. Feeling like seven years of your life are simply gone is painful. The suppression in my case is very specific, isolated to those things relating to my ex and the marriage. The residual emotional currents are still there, sometimes I feel them as I wake up, like waking from a walking nightmare or a dream I can’t visualize. It’s weird to think that for me, I want nothing more than those echos to be gone so that I have no connection to those seven years.

Depression takes a lot away from you, sometimes because you need to protect yourself, sometimes because part of you is running from something. Figuring out what I can still hold onto and what has to go has been one of the most difficult choices I’ve had to make.

Anxiety and Dealing with the Summer

I’ll admit, while I may not suffer from seasonal affective disorder, with my dysthymia and anxiety I feel like I’m almost the inverse of the norm on SAD.  I actually dread summer more than winter or fall.

This summer in particular has been a little rough. Legal and financial matters to tie up relating to the divorce have weighed on me, the weather here is humid and muggy making my usual days just that much more uncomfortable. I’ve tried to focus on short-goal projects as of late. A new VMware lab to tinker with, study material, the occasional game now and then.

When most folks are enjoying the outdoors and celebrating, I recoil and look inward. Maybe it’s because my birthday falls in the middle of summer and this year in particular I have no desire to celebrating getting older. Slowly managing to drag myself outside more as needed, but rarely for ‘pleasure’. I take no joy in going out to see what’s out there. As a close friend described it, life is grey. Sometimes I feel like summer turns me into more of a vampire as I’d rather venture out at night or in the early hours of the morning both to avoid the summer crowds and to avoid the heat. I can barely look back upon my memories and imagine that I ever looked forward to the summers off.

Father’s Day and Introspection

Father’s day is coming up later in the month and given the events of the last two years, divorce, depression it’s made me a bit introspective. My own relationship with my father is non-existent and I realize a sizable chunk of that stems from my own childhood experiences with divorce.

Seeing my parents drift apart and eventually divorce was a painful experience in my pre-teens. Sometimes I wondered how much of it was my fault, I wondered how my father felt about the whole process. Having gone through it myself, I have an idea for the challenges he must have had. Mercifully my ex-wife and I didn’t have children. I doubt I’d be writing today if kids were a factor in my divorce. Looking back I realize just how often I questioned my own fitness at the prospect of becoming a parent. I honestly don’t know if that will ever really be the case for me or if maybe I’ll just serve as a cool uncle for the remainder of my days.

Never been one for holidays but this time around Father’s day has weird sting for me. Maybe I’m just over thinking something that may never be or dwelling on things I can’t change. The weight of it still sits with me but I try to focus on the things I can change for now and not the ones that have passed.

Depression, Nutrition and Shortcuts to Taking Care of Your Dietary Needs

The process of my last major depressive episode involved me dropping weight at a very unhealthy pace (then conversely gaining it all back at an equally unhealthy pace). The reality was I stopped taking care of myself and the biggest and fastest slide was in my diet. I rarely ate and when I did it was often food that wasn’t particularly good for me. In the end it made an already bad problem that much worse and harder to get out of.

I still battle with depression daily but I try to make a few shortcut choices in cooking to help with the days where motivation is a chore. While it sounds fancy, sous vide cooking is nothing more than a water-bath slow cooking method to keep your food at an exact temperature for as long as needed. This means that you can get very accurately cooked steak or very tender pork as an example. I personally use an Anova 800W sous vide to make steak, chicken and pork dishes. Quickly cooling and freezing some of the meals means you can warm up the item and it will have already been ‘pre cooked’. As an example, below is a basic use for chicken breasts.

Cook Once, Eat Five Times: Five Easy Sous Vide Chicken Breast Recipes

When I’m feeling like rewarding myself, I personally prefer steaks. The upshot to using a sous vide however is that while the steak can be cooked to just the right doneness there’s another benefit, being able to use cheaper cuts of meat. You don’t need to splurge for the full rib eye, a flank steak done right can be almost as tender. Buy a few thick steaks from your local Costcos or Sam Club and the price comes down even further.

Steak for one

Besides protein, I try to find vegetable dishes to cook that can last. One of the easiest dishes to pair with any kind of protein is ratatouille. Sure ok if you watched the Disney animated movie you might think “but that’s too fancy”. You don’t need to be as fancy. Ratatouille is fundamentally a ‘poor mans vegetable stew’.

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/ratatouille-12164

So why put all that effort up front? Ratatouille goes well with a lot of meats and keeps for several days in the fridge. Make a large batch and you don’t have to worry about thinking “what’s for veggies” at the end of the day.

The weekend’s are always hard but if you’re able to get yourself motivated to cook at least once in the week, it will help you for the remainder of the work week when things may be even harder. It sounds like a massive hurdle and I admit it isn’t easy, but eating fast food constantly or dosing up on canned, instant meals high in sodium and low in other essential vitamins doesn’t help you body. We often think of depression as being strictly ‘mental’ but part of that is still tied to our overall health.  Autoimmune system, vitamin and mineral levels all contribute to neuroplasticity. While they aren’t a total cure all, they can help you get out of the low-points a bit easier. It’s the same logic as engaging in exercise to improve your health. Personally I find getting out and working out harder than cooking a healthy meal. Depression takes many tools to deal with it, but finding efficient ways of going about it can help.