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Suspended in Anxiety

8 min read

acrylic painting of a dark figure laying down in a fetal position while bright colors blur past

 

With anxiety, an opportunity is not good fortune. An opening or chance at something is blood to the shark that is anxiety. Imagine the famous Jaws theme had the words, "What if..what if..what if..what if.what if.what if..."

Challenging The Narrative

I continue to nurture self-love. Finding joy in who I am verses what I have accomplished is an hourly challenge. Art has helped me cultivate these new and foreign feelings toward myself. The pieces I create come from the enjoyment of the process. The final artwork is a manifestation of the emotions I felt during the creative process. I was essentially in the moment. Me. The person I am was there.

I struggle constantly to keep that performative part of me obsessed with accomplishments at bay. What if I could sell my art? How can I make art that will sell? The people pleaser inside of me wants to go out there and sell hand painted, watercolor cards and worry stones that I have carved and polished. What if nobody is interested? Fear is triggered in these curious thoughts.

On one hand, selling art could be one of those mythical "do what you love" things. On the other hand, will I enjoy the process of being in the moment if I am trying to fill orders or making the same thing over and over again because it sells? See, I don't believe people will buy things that I create for me because I have spent 40+ years not loving me and the things I 'accomplish.'

Some of the people I absolutely respect, like Daniel J. Hogan, Adriean Koleric, or even Jessica Abel somehow manage to create amazing works of art and keep a day job. They pursue their passions and pay the bills. However, I am terrified of this idea. I had big ideas before my breakdown. While I was working I was going to make a number of video projects. I never did. I focused on my career and accomplishments. I worked plenty of nights. When I wasn't working, I was too exhausted to do much of anything.

I suppose that was a different me. That version of Chris was unaware of the all the pain I have suffered since. Yet, there is a pattern in my past equating my self-worth to what I am doing, not who I am. The fear that nobody would be interested in buying my artwork is rooted in this sense of accomplishment. I personally benefited from the process of creating the pieces already. Why should I care that they are piled up here in the corner and not selling? Unless, I am afraid that they will be rejected.

I've written it before, but people at parties and social gatherings never ask you what your passions are. We always start new interactions with "What do you do for a living?" Even when I had a career, I was intimidated by that question. Call it imposter syndrome, insecurity or whatever. In fact, I think those closest to me would say I still have a career as a writer now. My "even when I had a career" comment was another jab at myself.

My self-worth has always been tied to my accomplishments. The personal bar, or goal for myself was always unattainable. Somehow in my recovery, I have found art as a small thing that I can do and not mentally abuse myself. Sometimes I try to explain it away, "Maybe I like watercolor painting because I cannot fully control the water and have to accept it for what it is." Of course, I have learned a lot in the last few years and that theory doesn't hold a lot of water, pun intended. I've gotten better at my craft. Moreover, many people can do excellent photorealistic work in watercolor. My friend Heather L Gilbraith's Bouguereau Women or the work of a new acquaintance Larry Kapitzke are fantastic examples. Creating art from within myself is not an accomplishment. It just is.

Reality

"Money makes the world go 'round." Could I work a job, slinging packages on a delivery truck, being a cashier, or making license plates and pursue my passion? Not a full-on career, but a means for living as I create art on my time? I've asked the question of myself before. I want to say 'yes.' I feel like I should say 'yes,' because what kind of pretentious ass am I if I say, 'no.' What would people think of me. What would my family think of me.

Could I combine my passion and making money? Perhaps commissions, gallery shows, teaching what I do? Well, I feel like I wrestled with this thought above. I don't know that I can enjoy the process if the goal is a product at the end. Again, it sounds pretentious, privileged. I would guess it is fear talking. I am afraid of failing. Could the venture ruin art as a potential recovery tool?

Reality is that money pays the bills, not my mental health. This is where the past Chris would bottle all this horse shit of emotion and thought up and tuck it deep within. I would use all these words as exhibits of what a loser I am in the court of Chris. Your honor, each and every person around us goes to work, pays their bills and lives in this system. Some, even find time to pursue things outside of work. Clearly, the problem is within us.

While that critical voice has caused me so much suffering, the truth is that its role is to protect me. the criticism is a very overprotective agent trying to save me from myself. In this case, is the voice is attempting to save me from harming a my relationship with art as a recovery tool? Or is the voice trying to stop me from taking on too much too fast? Is the voice completely misguided or only somewhat overprotective?

Opportunity Mocks

I am privileged to even debate these things. That is a factual thought that promotes that familiar guilt and shame within me. I suppose that may have contributed to me stepping away from writing this for a day or two. I wanted to collect and process my thoughts because there is a job opportunity on the horizon. I was moments away from physically shuddering after writing about reality above. I felt tears nestled behind my eyes, ready to leap forward.

I am terrified. I fear letting down those around me. the ones who continue to support me and those that say they see my improvement. I am scared of potential co-workers and employers being disappointed in me. I dread the day that I have to tell my partner that I couldn't do it. I quit. I failed. It's all there, in my head, that part of me who knows I am not enough. These thoughts are the manifestation of that core belief. Most of my days are spent in anxiety waiting for others to realize what I know.

Here I sit with these thoughts because I applied for a full time job and have an interview scheduled. In my recovery journey I have learned the importance of mindfulness and being in the moment. Ruminating about the past is a way to trap ourselves into wishing things were different. Wishes and time travel are not possible and thus the exercise fuels pain. All the Jawstheme 'what-ifs' are related to the endless number of futures that are possible. Being in the present is a super power.

Right now, I am frightened. That fear is based in my history of perceived failure. It is fueled by the potential ways I will screw up in the future. Anxiety assumes every decision is world ending. Starvation, divorce, homelessness and catastrophe are one decision away. Are you sure you want to go to sleep now? There's more you can do.

Reality and anxiety are not friends. Does the planet get vaporized by a black hole if I screw up my interview? Will a deity rain destruction on humankind if I am offered the job and refuse? Could a plague decimate all life on Earth if I accept the job and decide a few months later that I do not want it? I would be disappointed in myself by any of those personal outcomes, but I think the galaxy would be fine. Perhaps those outlandish results are wishful thoughts. The idea of the world ending coincidentally with a personal failure means I do not have to sit with my pain and disappointment. Hmm.

I do not know how to handle the pain of failure, disappointment and self-criticism. Unfortunately, I will never learn if I do not try. If I stay suspended in fear, frozen in indecision I remain unable to cope and tortured by 'what ifs.'

Issues Funding Mental Health

6 min read

Watercolor comic- First panel male holding phone taking selfie with old rotary telephone titled

In 2021 I spent a decent amount of time with the regional Canadian Mental Health Association in a couple roles. First, I tried volunteering on the distress line and then I got involved with a committee and fundraising. There's no doubt the not-for-profit organizations have struggled during the pandemic, but what struck me was society's attitude toward mental wellness. The stigma of depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc. is slowly eroding away. Yet, I am still trying to help raise funds for assistance. In particular, how is that money spent?

I can look at the annual report and give you specific numbers, but like so many things in our world the answer is always "more money is needed." I promise I am not going to go off on one of my capitalism rants. I also do not need to tell you about how badly mental health is underfunded. Certainly the pandemic has drawn more attention to the issue as we all isolate and no longer have those connections humans desire. There has been some increase into funding mental health because governments recognize that should we find "normal" again, after the pandemic, mental wellness services will be needed.

There, we have more money. Well, that's that. Thanks for reading.

Wait...

The programs in place were already underfunded. Any boost allows organizations to pay their bills. Or perhaps, they can expand counseling resources from two therapists to three. Group homes can get the maintenance they needed 4 years ago. A help line may now have the funds to be 24 hours or start a texting service as well. There is a large need in our communities going unfilled. Naturally, any money going to not-for-profits should expand their services to help more people.

I mentioned that I volunteered at the distress line. It was a very challenging situation for me personally. I entered the training believing that this role would help me keep many of the strategies I have learned in my mental wellness journey. Use it or lose it, practice makes pattern (not perfect!) and all that. I received a great deal of training at no cost to me and the professionals were there during every call I took. Afterwards, I would be debriefed and offered any assistance I may need. If those on site couldn't help me with a troubling call, I could speak to a therapist through a health plan that the organization has. Volunteers getting health benefits? That's cool.

I lasted a few months before I decided that wasn't the position I was ready for at this moment in my life. I may share more of that story in the future, but in the end I do not fit into the crisis model. Again, because we have ignored mental health for so long as a society, these distress lines are incredibly busy. Thus, the need for volunteers. Financially it isn't possible to have psychologists and therapists on the line for 24 hours. The crisis model is used by volunteers to help callers get through the immediate emotions. Moving callers from panic to concern, for example. Then, volunteers and callers come up with strategies should a similar situation happen again. Finally, volunteers offer the contact information for more long-term services. In this model, volunteers can help more callers. Referring people to long-term services means I am not on the phone for 3 hours with someone. It is also important because it doesn't create a dependency. If you are calling me 4 times a day, I cannot help others.

A Thought Experiment

Imagine if we really funded mental health as we did COVID-19? What if those of us volunteering at the crisis line were actually paid for our experience? We value programs to help community wellness, but do we recognize the roles of those within it?

As I said, that fast moving crisis model wasn't for me. Still, others thrived. Many of the volunteers eventually do more training and become paid staff. It's a tough field, though. In my search for someone to talk to I briefly saw a counselor connected to an addictions clinic. The individual took some time off and I was reassigned. When they returned, I saw them for a couple months and then they left permanently. Most of us have encountered issues at work where there just are not enough people on hand to finish projects on time and efficiently. It is very stressful. Now, imagine that in a mental health setting where people come in 8+ hours a day and tell you such intimate and difficult stories. Burnout must be inevitable.

In a similar story, my first attempt at getting help was at a teaching hospital. One day a week they do intakes for a program. They interview everyone that shows up in a 3 hour period. From there, they only admit those with the greatest need. I was turned away. Setting aside my emotions, imagine that as your job. "It sounds like a difficult situation, dealing with suicidal thoughts twice a day. However, at this time we cannot admit you to the program (because I just met someone thinking about killing themselves 4 times a day)." You work at a place so underfunded that you are weekly turning away people who may die. Burnout is inevitable in this situation.

Personally, I believe I could better serve in a group situation where I could share my experience and have those long-term connections with group members. Sometimes this is called peer support. Many organizations have a professional and someone with lived experience lead a mental health group. I have been looking for a space to do this kind of work instead of the distress line work. I feel it is a calling of sort. Of course, I cannot live on volunteer work alone. I must make money. Thus, this blog is somewhat self-serving. It would be amazing if I could find a position like facilitating a group and to receive pay for it. Unfortunately, that's not a reality at this time.

Kudos to all the work we've done as a society to combat the stigma surrounding mental health. There is progress to be proud of, but no amount Silcon Valley startups offering apps for video therapy or phone counseling at a small subscription price are going to move us forward. We need to fund mental health like we fund a military. The private sector is all about profit for shareholders and they cannot be in charge of health, mental health, or education for that matter. We'll get more prescriptions from big pharma, instead of funding people with lived experience and history to help others. Nobody wants to live in a world where we have to subscribe to pay for our life giving organs. Mental health care needs to be taken seriously not only by society, but by government and budgets. The people doing the work do not need achievement awards or LinkedIn reviews. They need to be fairly compensated and respected.

Finding Strength Within

5 min read

Multiple images of the same face glitching together

I had an interesting session of EMDR today and I thought it would be best to document it. I am currently fighting the voice in my head that says, "It will do no good to document this because you rarely read your own writings." However, I do not celebrate my victories. Successes? It is difficult to label those things that work for me because I fear it was a fluke. A one-time bit of luck is not success or a victory. It is a fortunate accident. Thus, I want to sit down and write this out to build that neural pathway of recognizing success.

On more than one occasion in the last year I have met other Chrises during EMDR. I have relived childhood memories and recent events during the therapy. Sometimes the me that is writing this will appear in the memory to comfort a younger me. I have even seen the younger me pop into a recent memory to ask me questions and support me.

There is some fear and anxiety around sharing this. I do not want to sound like a kook or new age star child. Of course, this is a legitimate strategy used in some therapies. Doctors have scanned brains as people recall trauma and the parts of their brains that light up are the same that show when people are in actual distress. Effectively, people's bodies are experiencing the event as if it is happening. That can feel overwhelming to those of us who experience trauma. Therefore, some therapists suggest that we replay memories like a movie or a slideshow. We are instructed to observe the memory, but try not to relive it.

The first time I met myself in EMDR, I was there to console a confused 7 year old. That younger version of me felt alone and ashamed. Adults were mad and younger Chris had no one to turn to. So, he turned on himself. If the adults were disappointed in him, then he would also be angry and disappointed at himself. With nowhere to turn, I could not shake the real emotions of that little guy during the memory. Suddenly, this adult me was there parenting that 7 year old. Explaining the actions of the adults was little help. A promise to be there for him and a hug, even though imaginary in my therapy, relieved a lot of tension in my body.

Today, I was dealing with recent trauma. I was looking at my poor behavior and it was tied to the suicidal breakdown that brought me to the hospital. I've likely told the story of being turned away from overworked mental health programs here on my blog. After hitting a few walls, I called my therapist and got an answering machine. That was it. Proof that I was not important. My fears were not just in my head. It was all true. Then, I received a call from my general practitioner. (Likely my therapist listened to the message and alerted the GP.) That reality check brought hope. I made it through another couple days.

During EMDR, I kept latching onto that call from the GP. The tension in my body would go down, but not completely disappear. My psychiatrist asked me what the tension might be. After another set of eye movement, I realized I was ashamed. I had once again turned on myself. Why would anyone want to be with a broken person like me? I wouldn't want to be with me. I couldn't handle a previous relationship where the person was depressed. I ran. I could not handle my mother's depression. I sought escape. Now, the GP had shown me compassion and my wife was still by my side. I went from being confused by their behavior to using the past to shame myself.

Then, I found the others.

I kept coming back to the call from the GP because it relieved tension in my body. However, the shame was still there. I needed someone to be there for me that I could always count on. I wanted to ensure that I would never be alone. The only way I have done this in the past is by being a "yes person." Desperate for affection from others because I cannot provide it to myself. Suddenly during therapy, I was there. I was standing next that me on the phone. I was crying those sort of sad/happy tears. As I tried to hold onto that feeling younger Chrises entered the room. All of us were scared. We were not sure this would work. My default is shame. If my EMDR appointment ends and my partner and I have a miscommunication will I just go back to the default? We were afraid of the unknown. I was comfortable with the familiar pain of shame. So, I was holding onto that tension because what if?

They kept coming, the younger Chrises. My body got lighter as years of armor slowly unraveled. I feel lighter, but the work is not done. It's a cliche, but my time was up for that appointment.

I will work more on this next week's appointment. Things may process on their own, or things might get worse in the mean time. However, today that sad/happy bunch of Chrises brought me to a better place. I hope that this process of loving myself continues to grow.

The Season Between

2 min read

A road with lifeless trees along it and the muck and leaves left after Winter

 

There is a void between Winter and Spring. The trees remain lifeless and decaying leaves are pasted to the anemic grass like papier-mâché. The dust, dirt, and refuse collected by the snow throughout winter is molded into the landscape. The muted tones of the environment make it impossible to distinguish a blade of grass from a flower stem. This purgatory is depression.

The unnamed void between the seasons in an anxious time. A glimmer of sunshine can quickly morph into a snow storm. Thus, I have taught myself to distrust the sun. I will not believe its lies of a better tomorrow. The snowfall and the expectation of it numbs me. I know what hides beneath the fluffy blanket of snow, my colorless purgatory.

There is a temptation to hope for a rain to wash away the decay and have a fresh start. Unfortunately, the rain transforms the landscape into an inescapable pit. The soft ground swallows me whole. If I should break free, the mud and decay clings to me as a constant reminder that this is where I belong. The lifeless browns and grays are now part of me and fog my vision.

Eventually, Spring will come. Trees and plants will bloom and the grass will glow green. Through my brown and gray lenses the change in the environment only signals that this metamorphosis will not last. Winter is around the corner. A frozen retreat to hide from the pain, anxiety, and depression.

I will welcome the blinding white of snow that burns the brown and gray fog of my vision. I will be free of the unnamed season and numb. I cannot predict the weather or when the seasons will change. Therefore, the only emotion I will engage with is fear. I am afraid the depression will come back. Let me be frozen. I want to stay numb. I am so afraid of the unnamed season between. Eventually, the fear melts the snow and I return to the purgatory I was trying to avoid.

 

The Unsustainable Upward Trend

7 min read

neurons at a meeting on happiness, a watercolor paintinghelpless neurons

Sustainability often comes up in economics, but rarely comes up as a topic in general discussions of mental health. Some think talking about relapse will do harm. It is also triggering to caretakers, friends, and family to see someone in pain, so we avoid anything that is not progress. However, the goal for those of us who are neural diverse is finding balance not a cure.

When we talk about normalizing mental wellness these days people often compare things like anxiety and depression to broken limbs-- you would take some time off work and seek medical attention if you broke your leg, you should be able to do the same for mental health. Unfortunately, some injuries can be more serious than others. The leg may not return to its previous usability. This is always the case for mental wellness. Trauma alters our brains. While someone with an injured leg may have to rely on a cane after physical trauma, we may require continued therapy, medication, meditation, or other supports.

Pain is debilitating. A friend with a back pain has good days and bad days. On those bad days they have difficulty focusing and feel like they are better off resting than making things worse. Psychological pain is no different from this physical pain. There are good days and bad days. One difference between physical pain and psychological pain is that we can often notice when others are in physical pain. Those of us dealing with mental health issues have pain that is not visible to the naked eye.

It is common for people that are neural diverse to isolate when they are in pain. My depression relentlessly attacks me with thoughts and feelings that I am a burden to others. Therefore, I can hide my pain from you because I do not want to burden you. Or, I believe if I am so distraught that you can see my psychological pain it is likely to have an adverse affect on you. We don't want to see our loved ones in pain. The raw emotion is uncomfortable. We want to avoid pain. This is a natural, human reaction. Though, my depression sees your frustration as proof that I am a burden, you are not the cause of my pain. Likewise, I am not the cause of your discomfort. Yet, an uncomfortable past experience may convince you to avoid discussing my pain in the fear that you'll trigger me more.

When we avoid the reality of psychological pain it can reinforce stigmas around mental wellness, confirm my distorted view that I am a burden, and disrupt the process of finding equilibrium. Our mental wellness will not be graphed with a green line shooting upward like some sort of dream stock price. There are hills and valleys and recovery is a lifelong process. My hope is to find neutrality. I want to find something sustainable. I have no interest in trying to make each day better than the one before because that's unrealistic. Even for people who may not have depression, anxiety, or another neural diversity, mental wellness does not trend upward every moment of their lives.

Finding balance between the ups and downs of mental wellness sounds like a very difficult task. As such, standing by and supporting someone through it is equally complicated. You cannot expect us to keep 'getting better' in an upward trend, but you want to help us avoid the pain. Avoidance is a strategy that eventually implodes in my experience. I would classify avoidance as damaging and distraction as a better alternative. Personally, I struggle with that classification. Shame tells me that my distraction is an avoidance tactic. However focusing on grief, loss, anxiety, or whatever the psychological pain is for 24/7 is draining. Therefore, a book, a movie, a coloring book, cooking, or whatever you find some satisfaction in can be a healthy distraction despite what the shame says.

Speaking of draining, you can encounter fatigue trying to support someone dealing with mental wellness issues. That desire to stop our pain fuels the need to see a steady improvement like a stock. Not meeting that goal can be frustrating and draining as a support. Perhaps redefining what 'getting better' means is a strategy to help those of us that are neural diverse and those of you trying to support us. The definition will likely be different for everyone. In general, getting better may mean accepting where I am at and setting a goal of preventing myself from hitting rock bottom again. Maybe, understanding that good days and bad days are a reality, but being able to recognize when the bad days are trending in order to ask for more support? I certainly don't feel that I have communicated what 'getting better' means to me very well in this paragraph. That is likely a sign that I do need to sit down and better define it so that I am not trying to reach unrealistic goals subconsciously. sigh

Using those unrefined parameters, how will I know 'bad days' are trending? This is the benefit of the hills and valleys of mental health. We learn in those valleys. Failure and mistakes are how we learn. The way to find balance or neutrality is to experience the highs and lows. In economics, companies that constantly try to make 20% profit from the year before often make cuts to achieve those numbers. They fail to innovate and learn. It's a strategy that works well if you're hoping to get large numbers to increase your selling price and move on. However, it is not a sustainable strategy. And, I am unable to sell my collection of traumatized neurons. So living with them is a better idea than shooting for an unrealistic upward trend in mental wellness.

If I do not try, I cannot fail. Somewhere along the line, perhaps early in my childhood, I adapted this philosophy in a low. Shame or embarrassment may have triggered the thought and it became law. Much of my anxiety comes from the expectations I put on myself. I build them up into an impassable mountain until I have convinced myself not to try. As such, I see expectations from others and want to run the other direction. In the same way as a caretaker, friend, or partner of someone like me, you may have experienced a severe low in your neurally diverse friend. In that moment you constructed a law that you do not want to see that again. You want to protect your friend, just as my anxiety is trying to protect me.

Sometimes, I need someone to just listen. Sometimes, I need a gentle reminder. Many times, I am unable to communicate what I need. As a support, you cannot be expected to know what it is I need. Remember that connection is always needed. Validating and accepting where we are in the highs and lows goes a long way to help. Empowering people with neural diversity to make their own choices is part of that validation. Directly set boundaries for your own mental wellness and we will respect that. Communicating your concerns helps us reality check what anxiety or depression is telling us. Maybe you don't find me a burden and want to hear what I have to say, but today is not a good day. Perhaps, there's a family member in your past who had similar issues and I am triggering you. It is okay to be direct and set that boundary. "This triggers something from my own past that I would rather not revisit. However, ruminating on this stuff all the time is really draining. So if you want a distraction, please reach out. I can totally help in that way."

We are social creatures and isolation is part of many mental health concerns. I cannot say every exposure to others will be beneficial, though it can often help to be surrounded by strangers at a park or a mall. Connection, even those as thin as being surrounded by other humans that are strangers can be helpful. Please do not let anything I have written prevent you from connecting with myself and others who are living with neural diversity. Just try not to be like the helpless neurons above.

Video Is A Tool Not A Learning Platform Says This Human

8 min read

A duck video conferencing with a mallet

remember that early cartoon of the duck with a mallet about to break his computer?

The pandemic has forced many organizations pivot to online training. Facilitators have quickly adjusted their in-person sessions to the age of Zoom. Perhaps, too quickly.

Technology has a reputation for making things efficient. Should I want to message a friend, I pick up a phone and text. They will get the message instantly. Before phones of any kind, my only hope was to mail a letter. Of course, the efficiency isn't always for the better. Social networks have proved, time and time again, to be harmful to mental health. Yet, many of us find ourselves losing time doom scrolling. In my experience with online training and learning through the pandemic, I feel like efficiency is getting in the way.

The school model is based on a factory. Thus, we all get arbitrarily sorted by age, instead of ability. A physical classroom and interaction with a teacher allows for some clarification and one-on-one instruction when time permits. Whereas, online learning has an opportunity to meet us where we are at. Many LMS (Learning Management Systems) allow those of us looking for new skills to go at our own pace. We choose a lesson and work at our own time, not that of the others in the class or the system's expectations. Learning online in this way may work for many, but others may struggle without the valuable interactions of other students. Furthermore, deadlines are often motivators for people.

Mental Health Learning

My experience with online training has come in the form of wellness groups and education. In my case, the courses I did had live instruction and work in an LMS. Through Coursera and Thinkific I watched instructional videos and slideshows. I filled out assignments and quizzes. Live instruction was give by facilitators to a group of us on Zoom. I have been in classes of a dozen people and over twenty. There were breakout groups and class discussions. Every facilitator stuck to a 90 minute rule. The idea of a 90 minute max of online class time seems to be a recommendation to those in the field, but I am unaware of its source.

I did find 90 minutes to be suitable, but facilitators became slaves to the clock. For example, I had a course on crisis intervention that was about 12 individual lessons in the LMS. The live instruction was 10 sessions. The facilitator had 90 minutes to present important material from those 12 chapters, take questions, allow for group discussions, and give us feedback on our work. With only 10 sessions, the facilitator just didn't have time for meaningful discussion and feedback. We could barely accomplish the assignments in the group breakouts. As this took place during the pandemic, our class was the first to try this new online format. So, I do not begrudge the organization or the facilitator.

Efficiency

A simple letter was typed on a typewriter and that was messy. You've got ink to deal with, white-out for mistakes, maybe carbon for copies, envelopes, stamps, and multiple file draws to store copies. Today, we sit down, tap the computer keyboard and hit send. Computers have made things easier. In the early days of computers, I remember getting a call from aunt who had a question about spreadsheets. I had a reputation for liking computers. Thus, I must know how to do a spreadsheet, right? No. That is to say, computers are not a magical solution. A computer is a tool and we must figure out how to use it. Yet, we see the computer, and the internet, as this miraculous answer to our problems. You want to sell those antique roller skates? Put it online. Surely, you'll get an interested party to buy it. You need a logo? Make one on the computer.

In reality, to sell some antique roller skates, you may need to find collectors. Simply screaming into the void that is Facebook may result in absolutely no interest. There's too much out there. You need to spend some time finding the right web communities. Making a logo requires some knowledge of drawing and designing using an application made for that purpose. Likewise, taking a 10 day, 3 hour course and compressing it to a few Zoom meetings and an LMS is not going to be as easy as we think. On paper, it sounds cost-effective and doable. After all, video is just like being there, right?

Much of communication is non-verbal. As a presenter, or teacher, you can look into the audience and see if they are engaged. Did they understand the material? If you see confused faces, people scrambling to take notes, or people on their phones, you may need to spend more or less time on a subject. On Zoom, everyone is compressed into tiny, icon-sized squares. Plus, the presenter gets to see themselves on their screen. How distracting is it to get to critique yourself on the fly? When attending an in-person presentation, you can take cues from the presenter's body language. In the example of time constraints, I may reserve my question for after class since I can visibly see my teacher is eager to move on. Or, I may notice the others in the room are clear on the topic and I want to wait to ask my question in private. These forms of communication are missing online.

Learning is different for everyone. There is no magic pill we can swallow to know Kung-Fu, Neo. I feel if online courses were effective, we wouldn't need them. After all, why not just learn straight from the textbook? Youtube tutorials are a textbook of sorts. They have all the bias that a book does-- Here's how to do this. As a reader or viewer, you do not get to seek clarification, ask for the information to be presented again in a new way, or question the content. Thus, prerecorded slideshows and videos are only dictating information at us.

These hybrid courses created during the pandemic that are part studying in an LMS and part lecture and discussion need more flexibility. Our expectations and goals when using these methods need to change. The way we use the technology will likely need to change as well. For example, could my live instruction on Zoom simply have been discussion, questions, and interactions with other learners? The facilitator could perhaps have led discussions on the reading materials, rather than going over some of it again. Though, I have been attending another course where the facilitator does give time to answer questions and get input. In that course, the facilitator is also only doing 90 minutes and ends every Zoom saying we are behind. Furthermore, that course has no workbook or LMS. So, will I actually get all the content intended?

Of course, I am not a teacher. I do not believe many of the people leading this sort of learning online are. Teaching is an art form and a profession. Scanning a workbook into a slideshow and recording myself talking is not teaching online. Online learning is different than what is happening during the pandemic. The short explanation is that online learning is designed to be online. What is happening now is an ad-hoc transition from a face-to-face situation to online.

Presenting information in-person gives facilitators a chance to get to know us. Why is that different through a flat image on a screen? How many times have you seen someone's photo avatar on LinkedIn or in a program at a speaking engagement and the real person looks nothing like them? My clothes, hair style, accessories, and facial expressions say something about me. Compressed video the size of a business card doesn't allow for me to be seen on Zoom. If a facilitator has a better idea of who I am, they may understand how to teach me when I am having difficulty. Furthermore, we get to know our classmates. There's a shared sense of belonging in groups. In the movie theater we laugh more at a comedy because others are laughing. At home on the TV, the same comedy does not illicit laughter. Humans are social animals.

There is no doubt the future, pandemic or not, will mean more online learning. We love money more than anything on the planet and online learning looks like it would save us money. Even though we've been thrust into remote learning, why bother to specifically design online learning for schools or mental health organizations, like I am working with? It's good enough as it is, right? Whether you are part of a mental wellness organization, a teacher, an employer, or another group sharing information, we need to have a discussion about the future of learning with this technology. I am all for finding better ways, but let's not let tech companies bully us into terrible learning models. When we wanted better ways to get around with interactive maps the trade-off was giving tech companies our location 24/7. While I may disagree with that on a personal level, we should all be concerned about what we give up if we allow technology a larger role in education than that of a tool.

The Equation of Mental Health and Sleep

5 min read

A watercolor of a man in bed not sleeping

"There's not enough time in the day." Whether you live paycheck-to-paycheck or comfortably,the demand for your time is ceaseless. Certainly the phrase, "I'll sleep when I'm dead." must be famous last words. Sleep is important and deeply impacted by our mental wellness.

Show Your Work

Many people lucky enough to be working during the pandemic are working from home. While there are some "productivity gurus" who believe the gig economy is a step toward a future where people work when they want to, the reality seems to be that we are working all the time. My old mantra, "you're not enough," has driven me to burnout on many occasions. This "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" shame that has been passed down through generations eradicates sleep. My bed is in the same space as work. So, what's another 10 minutes, an hour or 3 hours of work? In addition to the self-shaming that many of us inflict, we now live in a world where corporate masters are monitoring our work from home with invasive technology. My anxiety loves this idea enough to disrupt my focus, day and night.

Story Problems

Personally, I have had as much work as I have had sleep, which is not a lot. That anxiety I spoke of fires up before I have even applied for work or pitched a story. It is so demoralizing that when I do successfully complete an application or a pitch I feel like Atlas and think Sisyphus is an amateur with his boulder. Mostly, I spend my evenings in bed looking back at the "time I have wasted" being a jobless loser and what a burden I am to myself and those around me. Self comparison pops in to tell me what my successful friends are doing and sadness follows behind to shove me deeper into the abyss. The next morning, devoid of sleep, I lack any self-confidence to find work. If I "pull myself up by my bootstraps," I have difficulty focusing and planning because of the lack of rest.

If I set aside the all or nothing thinking and admit that situation cannot happen every day, there is still a challenge with sleep. When I am working so very hard to prove myself to others and burning out, I experience Bedtime Procrastination. Am I too wound up to sleep or do I feel that I am owed more time in the day because I worked so hard? When that study about Bedtime Procrastination hit Chinese social networks, the word "revenge" was added to the beginning of the phrase. Revenge Bedtime Procrastination is staying up past your intended bedtime for some self-care. Me time is important, but so is sleep.

Negative Integers

Depression and anxiety are bedfellows. This is a chicken and egg situation as well-- being anxious could lead me to a depressive state or I could feel anxious about rebooting after a period of depression. One of the stigmas about depression is around sleeping all the time. Sometimes a lack of productivity is seen as a lack of motivation. And even if one isn't sleeping all day, stagnation is discredited by those who do not understand. We are not unmotivated, those of us in depression are frequently stuck. We are frozen from anxiety. The realization of our condition is essential to recovery, but also a hindrance. The weight of the time we lost during our crash is overwhelming. It feeds the depression. It keeps us up at night.

In the same way that the loss of someone close to us can be exhausting, ruminating on your mental health and comparing yourself to others is debilitating. Whether it disrupts sleep with obsessive thoughts, a need to make up for lost time, or revenge bedtime procrastination we despair. Without sleep, we lose even more of the resilience that aids us to live with depression and anxiety. I haven't even touched on medications, many of which affect sleep. You cannot seem to get enough sleep or no sleep at all with many of the SSRI and SNRI meds.

Solve for Why

Some neurologists theorize that our strange dreams are the brain's way of processing the memories of the day. It is possible that we may be moving short-term memories into long-term storage. Without sleep and the dreams do memories get stuck in the short-term space, a place where we are always thinking of them? Trauma has been shown to inhibit the hippocampus from converting memories. This is why flashbacks occur in many people with PTSD, the memory is still as fresh as the day it happened.

Imagine my frustration from lack of sleep being used to shame myself to going to bed early. You are a loser and everyone knows it. Why can't you sleep? What else are you going to do? You are a talentless burden to your family and friends. You should have found a job today. You should have cleaned the house. You should have got your Masters. You should have invested money. You should have died, not your father. You should... It is hard to sleep when a critic with a megaphone can take any of your thoughts and twist them into pain.

There are many ways to improve sleep. Changes in diet, medication, and activities can help. All of those are easier said than done. Meditation has worked in the past. Talk therapy is useful and EMDR therapy can aid in moving those memories to long-term storage. However, I am beginning to think acceptance is also needed. This is a moment of difficulty. Difficulty is part of every human life. May I be kind to myself in this moment and give myself the compassion I need.

Never Enough Pain

3 min read

a red footprint with a band aid in watercolor

The skin is tight around the wound. Blood has tried to clot the area to form a scab. I can feel the tension at every moment while seated. When I walk on the foot there is a small stabbing pain. It is as if I am stepping on the edge of a butter knife with each stride. My mind tunes the ache down to a mild inconvenience and focuses on the worries about my day.

Yet, I cannot ignore the pain of the wound and I reflect, again and again, on the cause. It was a failure. A better person would not have caused the harm. This pain was self-inflicted. It was loss of self control because I am weak. I let anxiety get the better of me. I gave in to the strange satisfaction of fidgeting. I picked at the dry skin on the sole of my foot until it was gone. Then, I kept going. It is gross. I am gross. I disappointed you by revealing this disgusting act.

I blame nervous energy and anxiety, but the wound is deeper. The disappointing, weak, gross person is my self-image. The narrative within my mind for over 40 years is that I am not enough. I have been a terrible friend to those around me. I have consistently disappointed my family and failed every employer I have ever had. This is the keystone of my personal architecture. Whether I am baking a cake or writing a blog post, I will never do the task good enough.

The stabbing pain in my foot is a physical reminder of my inadequacies. The bleeding is deliberate. As I work to create new neural pathways and change my narrative, subconsciously I have sabotaged the process. With each step of my foot I find the dull pain that I seek. My keystone, my default, is pain. Without it, I feel lost and afraid. Satisfactory and successful are not me. It feels wrong, as if I were to put my shoes on the opposite feet.

The dried blood from my foot on the carpet is like the stain of failure on my mind. Here in this moment, I have realized my nervous habit of removing dried skin is far more sinister. Rather than using this information to update my healing process, I give into it. All the work up until now was for naught. Working towards a new narrative being enough for me has been subverted. I have been doing physical harm to my body through stress eating, nail biting, and the removal of dry skin.

Like the skin around my self-inflicted wound, I tighten up. I am frustrated. I am sad. I am ashamed that I am here feeling this way. Now, I have physical and mental pain. It feels familiar. I take a deep breath. I breathe in and out a few more times. The urge to find that rough edge on my pinky finger nail comes to mind. Instead of listening I take another breath. Success. It is a small victory, and the combination of those negative little things are used to beat myself up every day. So, it must work with positive as well, right? From heel to heal, one day at a time.

Chaotic Mindfulness

5 min read

A glitched image of text saying meditation mindfulness shame fear panic worth

 

How can mindfulness meditation practice help us with mental wellness? To answer the question we can look at how our minds function without it.

I recently listened to an interview with Dan Harris and he said something that kicked me in the ass. I had stumbled onto Harris when I started learning about healing my mental health. The news anchor found meditation at a time when he was dealing with PTSD and cocaine addiction. He made a Youtube video on the benefits of mindfulness that a few of my courses and doctors recommended. After seeing that video, I sort of forgot about him until this recent interview.

Harris tells Terry Gross that distracting thoughts during meditation are not a bad thing. "What do I have to do next?" "Am I doing this right?" "I'm frustrated," are a key part of the meditation process. He believes that by gently refocusing our attention on our breathing, or whatever you choose during meditation, we are training the brain to interrupt invasive thoughts outside of meditation as well. The hope is that later in the day, when you have a thought like, "I'm not good enough," you will be able to catch it and refocus rather than ruminate further on worthlessness.

My inner critic bristles at this idea. During meditation, I am focused on this task of, well focusing. In the middle of a busy workday or having an accomplishment being evaluated by someone close to me, I am too frantic to refocus. Fear and loathing dominate my thinking and mindfulness is some distant concept. Of course, as I pondered Harris' words further I wondered if my critical thoughts have proved his theory.

Here's a real world example. I am scared that you, the reader, think I am a moron. In fact, I know I am a moron because yesterday I measured wrong and cut a board for a flower box I was building incorrectly. Some time in the week, I was filling the humidifier and spilled water everywhere on the counter and the floor. In university, I did worked on a team project where I did most of the work and I think it was because my teammate hated my moronic idea for the video. In grade 10...I remember as a child my parents were frustrated...and so on, and so on.

My mind has trained for many years to find evidence of my worthlessness. When I feel shame, embarrassment or criticized, I focus on proving that to be true. I was worried you would think I was a moron and proceeded to dive into memories of shameful experiences from years ago. Could this be the same process of training Harris describes? If so, then it should be possible to change my thinking.

The Gotcha

I meditated daily between 2017-2018. Today, it rarely happens. It didn't work. I'm still broken. I still do not like who I am. This appears to be my inner critic at work again. In reality, I've had 40 years to train myself to loath who I am. A year of meditation is barely a dent into that pattern. Somewhere along the line, I let that old pattern back in and decided mindfulness meditation was a failure, like me. Instead of gently refocusing, I chose to continue beating myself up.

Personally, I wonder if there's some all or nothing thinking preventing me from moving forward. Perhaps, deep down I want to believe in a cure. I'm not completely rid of my depression and anxiety, therefore the meditation, the CBT, DBT, and psychiatrist sessions do not work. I've written before about the idea of accepting depression will always be a part of my life. Yet, there are those times, especially when I am wading through it, that I don't want to accept it. I want to be free of these intrusive thoughts, forever.

Even now, as I type this, I struggle. I want to end on a positive note and inspire myself and others. Yet I think, How many times have you said you would try harder and failed? Nobody is going to be inspired by what you say because you fail to follow through. It is exhausting to try and build new patterns. Am I a broken record, constantly saying the same thing over and over, but not following through? That's one way to look at it. However, it may show that I am working and trying to heal. If I have said I need to break this pattern of self-loathing before, than maybe I am training myself each time I repeat it. I suppose. Failure is how we learn. Is each time I sit here and feel bad for not following through with CBT or things I told my psychiatrist or partner a failure, or a lesson in improvement?

I am sad to say it doesn't feel like improvement. My mind is a forest fire of disbelief scorching any hope that was in the last paragraph. The only tree left unharmed is the one labeled, "maybe these thoughts will help someone else." I think this is a good time to stop writing and try a meditation to put out the flames. Be kind to yourselves. Much love.

Computer Printers: 50 Shades of No Way

9 min read

Printer Error Screen

In the last 15 years I have done my best to have a paperless work flow. It was easy for a video professional. Those times I did need something printed, I would send my files to a local copy shop. Without a home printer, I wasn't buying ink cartridges, fixing paper jams, or wondering why my computer couldn't see the printer. Recently, my partner has been working on her Masters and many of the courses provide articles as the teaching materials, rather than textbooks. Screens are not great for reading. We spend so much time in front of screens, I can understand why my spouse prefers paper. I love my e-ink reader, a very old Kindle, but it is a special kind of hell trying to read a PDF on one of those. So, we decided to get a printer. Now, I feel absolutely filthy.

1980s Hacker Mom

The dream of the future was alive in my youth thanks to my Commodore 64 computer. Buying joysticks, a tape drive, a floppy drive, and a printer for the home was the start of something exciting. We got an Okidata Okimate color printer that was surprisingly inexpensive! That is, compared to the typical black & white printers at the time, which were more focused on small businesses, not hobbyists. Like the printers of today, the Okimate had cyan, magenta, and yellow to print in color. However, all three colors were stitched together on one ribbon in a single cartridge. Perhaps 5 inches of cyan, followed by 5 of magenta, 5 of yellow and repeat. If the Okimate was sitting on magenta, but needed to make green, it would fast forward to yellow and then print cyan over that. Need more green? Skip magenta again. It was wasteful, there's whole parts of the ribbon that had never been used. Get to the end of the cartridge? Sorry, buy a new one.

Okidata Okimate 20 Printer

Not so fast! As you can imagine printing took a long time back then, so what else are you going to do, but watch? Mom noticed the color skipping behavior of the printer. When a cartridge reached its end, my mother grabbed a number two pencil and rewound the ribbon, much like us old people had to do if a cassette tape malfunctioned. She placed it back in the printer and we tried to print something new. It worked! Occasionally, the printer would attempt to use a color that was previously used the first time around and that would make some colorful glitches.(Maybe this is my first introduction to something I now enjoy, glitch art) Yet, this hack was worth it to a teenager who's most important prints were silly posters for the student council election. This is before the days of spell-check. I remember that poster on which I misspelled intelligent. Ugh.

Offset and Get the Fix

That brief trip down memory lane illustrates how printer manufacturers make money. In the early 2000s printers were dirt cheap. Buy an HP printer for $50! Better yet, buy an Apple computer and we'll throw in a printer for free. The companies do not make money on the hardware. They make money by selling you their proprietary ink cartridges. I remember those $50 printers having replacement ink starting at $30 apiece. Buy 12 of those in a year and you've just purchased 7 printers. Have a color printer? Now you're buying 4 different ink refills.

As consumers took notice of this pusher/drug user model, we started to fight back. Making a mess with syringes people began filling the previously used cartridge with ink. Whole businesses sprung from this and created a 3rd party market. We could get aftermarket ink on the cheap! As technology progressed those disruptive companies manufactured cartridges that looked exactly like the original equipment.

Of course, tech progressed at the printer manufacturers as well. Inexpensive chips could be added to print cartridges in much the same way car keys were chipped. Not an OEM cartridge? Sorry, you cannot print today. To further increase profit printers came with more bells and whistles. All-in-one printer scanners and 'wireless' printers were made to justify a higher price upfront. Ever have success with a wireless printer? Finding them on your network is harder than finding a giant squid in the ocean. No problem touch screens to the rescue. Easily configure your printer on the network, for an added cost of a touch screen.

Tanks for Nothing

In recent years, a few companies like Epson and Canon have taken a note from consumers and created eco or mega tank printers. They do not take cartridges, but have reservoirs for the ink. I was impressed by this innovation because I want to be less wasteful. This looked pretty interesting and excited me. However, I am very cynical. What's the catch? Well, the main benefit for the companies is getting your money upfront. Rather than giving you the typical smaller than normal ink cartridge in the box when you buy the printer, they give the tank printers a 2 year supply. Instead of paying $120 for that all-in-one printer, you pay $400 because you're getting 2 years of ink.

Okay, the working poor at Epson have to pay for their mandatory Disney+ subscription to forget about life. Plus, regular yacht maintenance is not cheap for the CEOs of the printer giants. Either pay for the ink with the purchase of the tank printer, or buy cartridges over the lifetime of another printer? The super tank printer seems slightly better for the environment, so how about I purchase...ERROR 5b00

The next best thing to selling you ink on a regular basis is planned obsolescence. While researching Epson EcoTank and Canon Megatank printers, I found lots of complaints about similar errors. Canons spit out the error above which means that the waste ink absorber pad is full. Inkjet printers can clog easily, so this pad is there to soak up things after a print or during a cleaning. So by maintaining the printer, you are killing it. You cannot replace the pad. You cannot print with the error. Epson has a similar design and gives you a less cryptic message, 'end of life.' Consumers who have called in for service have been told that the repair plus shipping is likely going to cost more than buying a new one. Epson's own site says the following.

Most consumers who are out of warranty elect to replace the printer because replacement of ink pads may not be a good investment for lower-cost printers. In most cases, when this message occurs, the printer's other components also may be near the end of usable life."

What about just making a serviceable ink pad? Again Epson, "Implementing this type of a design would result in more expensive printers. Most users would not benefit from such higher costs because their printers will never reach the Parts End of Life message.

Paper Jam

Today, after researching what printer to purchase, I feel exploited and weary. Epson is completely correct in its assumption people will buy new printers if they receive the planned obsolescence error. Bringing this issue to our governments would likely result in zero interest from politicians. We, the people, do not have the time and energy to fight lobbyists and lawyers. A lawmaker is more likely to send you a new $120 printer, then take your concerns and investigate.

We live in a disposable society. There are no vacuum or television repair businesses. Washers, dryers, and even bicycles make their way to landfills because the cost of repair is far more than replacement. Warranties are lip service more than anything else. When you complete the phone maze to finally get a human, they explain to you that buried in the fine print is a clause that says, "Not today, Sunshine." Instead of manufacturers backing a product with pride, retailers and other companies fill the warranty gap with "extended warranties." Much like the manufacturers, they have their own fine print. Thus, we are left with making another purchase to avoid the headache. The path of least resistance always wins.

There Is No Margin

One last note to add to my research. If we go back to the beginning, printer manufactures create these devices to make a profit. One of the ways companies have found to sustain profits is through subscription. So, HP has created a program where the printer tells HP it is running low and they automatically send you new ink in the mail. They have several monthly payment plans and you can quit to let the useless device collect dust at any time. Sound familiar? This is how Xerox works. The price of their copy machines is beyond affordable for even large businesses. Instead, most lease the machines and pay for the toner and maintenance. As an aside, movie theaters are now stuck in this model thanks to the rise of digital projectors. We live in the age of Subscribe or Die, I guess.

So what could I buy to solve the issue of printing many documents at home in an economical and environmentally friendly way? As I said above, I was weary from the research. I gave up on finding something that would be a useful and worthwhile investment for our future endeavors. Instead, I opted for something that could handle infrequent printing. No clogs in a laser printer. I will bow to my new master, Brother, and be thankful every time I am able to easily find the required toner cartridge. Perhaps I should take bets on how many prints it will be able to make before it reaches the manufactured "end of life" count coded into the machine?