Saturday, August 24, 2013

Fighting the demon, staying motivated

A few years ago I did the unthinkable: I asked the Internet to diagnose my ills. Specifically, I had somehow, though not specifically, landed on a list of symptoms of depression. Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism? Check. Persistent sad or "empty" feelings? Check. Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex? Check. (Sex, LOL.) It seemed pretty clear to me that I had been depressed for years at that point - and that I had probably caught it (it's contagious, did you know?) from someone I interacted with on a daily basis.

I didn't like this diagnosis. I don't want to be depressed. I didn't want to face a future of a hollowed-out personality like the person I'm sure I caught it from. So somehow I managed to "snap out of it" through what felt like a conscious decision. Almost overnight my affect improved, and I started recognizing the seductive depression-thoughts: "You aren't pretty/accomplished/popular/etc. like those other people - in other words, worthless!" Or the most insidious one of all for me: "I'm smarter than all these other people, and I'm nicer than them too, therefore the tragedies of the world hurt me more. Being depressed as a result of how horrible the world is means I'm smart and nice."

Yuck, no more. I'm ashamed of having thought those ways for so long. So much time wasted. During the same period of my self-diagnosis, I was very much into psychology stuff in general. Every day during the long hours I spent at work in those days, I'd be poring over Wikipedia articles and other web pages. Cognitive distortions. MBTIs (I'm quite solidly an ISTP, apparently). Active listening. Models of communication. The meaning of a message is the response it elicits Understanding that, and coping with the ways that others' goals may not be aligned with mine. And always a background of more mathy/techy concepts to mine and repurpose. Game theory. Feedback.

So I have the intellectual tools now to fight the demon. I'm now aware that it's (like) a parasitic personality with "who I really am" as the host. (I don't really like "who I really am" as a concept - it makes a value judgement and mandates a static identity, neither of which I like.) But I still have to fight it - almost every day. I was just an emotionally vulnerable teenager when it started (and was probably a good host from the start), so it had its claws deep in my self-concept. Consciously, I reject that now - I don't want that to be part of "who I really am".

When I notice my mood darkening, I have a few options. Just feeling like I have options helps me to feel like I have some control over my life. Sometimes I go for small victories: I'll go to the garden and clear a little patch of weeds. Sometimes I just bail out and go to sleep, hoping to reboot overnight. And other times a walk with the dog does the trick to clear my mind. I suspect that going freelance has made it harder to find distraction from depressing thought: other people have their own needs, and the fact that they make demands on one's attention serves as an anchor - a sort of social regression towards the mean. I haven't figured out yet if IRC serves as a substitute to provide the grounding effect of having real-life people around. I think it might be channel-dependent: I'm happy when I'm in #Chatania, and less so in an unnamed channel I've finally given up on. Reddit seems to be affectively neutral, but it does tend to suck me in a bit as a displacement for boredom. I like /r/changemyview best so far.

I wish I could more regularly find the muse to do more productive things than reading Internet news, politics, and psychology porn (admit it - that's what these media categories are). There are so many things I could be doing - I could be working on my gEDA fork, or working on that damn MPH website that's been a steady irritant for two years now, or completing some of my woodworking projects. Even just blogging a little more regularly would feel more productive than getting my next hit of Internet. (Thanks A. for taking Essay Saturday seriously and prodding me into action with your entry.)

I'm off to go after a few small victories now. Making muesli and steak 2-course breakfast, then checking on my garden, and maybe sawing some firewood from pruned branches.

P.S. Diet must have an influence too. I seem to have more psychic energy since I've started having steak for breakfast. (Remind me to blog my microwave recipe.) And copious amounts of raisins too.