Posted by: Jack Hope | Wednesday March 6, 2013

Five Years On

An anniversary of very little note passed recently, passing so quietly that I didn’t even realize it until only a couple of days ago, well after it had passed.

It has been five years since Peter, my only significant significant other, left me.

Five years! I can’t believe it, in a way, it’s such a big chunk of time to have passed. And I can’t honestly say it went by in the blink of an eye, because it sure didn’t.

Too much has happened to me, I’ve experienced too much, changed too much.

These are the days that I look in the mirror and I don’t recognize myself anymore. And these are the days when I realize that’s a good thing.

While a major mental health crisis isn’t my recommended method of personal self-discovery it does have the significant advantage of forcing you to face the essential truths about your life. Often in spectacularly unpleasant detail.

And having gone through that process I now understand some essential truths about the relationship that I had with Peter.

That it was a colossal mismatch driven by our mutual need for self-worth.

Both of us, I have come to realize, had a terrible need to feel ‘valuable’ and ‘worthy’ that was somehow temporarily satisfied by our relationship.

It was why neither one of us broke things off when it was becoming apparent that we weren’t working out in other ways. We needed that sense of validation that the relationship was providing.

For me, my untreated Depression, even when not acute, made these feelings more pronounced, especially with the series of personal failures that marked my life.

In this context too, Peter’s decision to end things when he had the safety of someone else to go to makes a lot more sense. He was getting his ‘fix’ from someone else. I might have done the same thing if the opportunity had presented itself.

It was incredibly hard, those first few months, as I started slouching towards a renewed depressive episode. It would be a long time till things got better.

And then I changed. Changed more than I had ever expected to.

In the process I’ve gained a contentment with being single. Even in my renewed depressed moods, I rarely dwell on my single status or long for a guy in my life.

While there’s been some dates over the last few years, generally when the depression receded some, there hasn’t been anyone who really approached being as ‘significant’ as Peter was to me. And I’ve been somewhere between content and happy with that.

Coming back to Calgary I had thought I might run into him, perhaps get a chance to talk and clear the air between us. I never wanted him completely out of my life.

Through fourth hand reports I’ve learnt however, that he no longer lives in the city and has moved to somewhere in Saskatchewan.

It’s another unsatisfying ending but I’m getting accustomed to those.

I don’t really have any kind of broad statement to make about those who struggle with depression or other mental illness and their intimate relationships.

For me, I’ve often felt that a romantic relationship simply isn’t viable.

That’s a personal statement (and one that I’m also quite content with) about what I think I’m capable of and also what I want out of life.

Recently though I’ve had reason to maybe reconsider that opinion though. I’m still not looking for anyone, still not expecting anyone, but have been debating whether or not I should change from a position of ‘no’ to ‘maybe.’

I’m still absolutely determined though to take the lessons of my time with Peter to heart, to avoid falling back into the same trap.

In the end, I’d rather be on my own than with the wrong person. And I’m good with that.

Posted by: Jack Hope | Monday March 4, 2013

2013 Plan: This Place is a Zoo

Component: Community

From the very beginning of the process for my 2013 plan, the one component of it that I have been the most certain of as been the component of ‘community.’

It has seemed imperative that I start contributing in someway to the broader world.

And from the very beginning of this process it has also been the component that has given me the most consternation.

It has seemed obvious that the way to tackle this would be to volunteer.

But in what capacity? Where? What would be a good way to volunteer on a regular basis? These questions have been at the forefront of my mind.

Yet there has also been a deeper unease attached to this, one that has been harder for me to verbalize. Volunteering means interacting with new people, dealing with a schedule, expending time and effort for an organization or goal.

In short, its work.

Going Back to Work

Volunteering is one of the few experiences that I can have that closely resembles the daily experience of going to work.

It’s not an exact match of course, as obviously I don’t receive any remuneration and have a lot more flexibility to set my own schedule and contribution. Still, it’s as close an approximation as I can get without actually going back to work.

And with that has come a lot of the same anxiety too, about my ability to do this, to be able to manage my mental state and social phobias well enough.

Still, it’s important that I make the attempt. I won’t know unless I try.

A Test Run

I obviously don’t know if I’m ready to go back to work or not. Lots of recent struggles suggest that I’m not, yet at the same time, if I don’t start building towards that goal, well then there’s no road from here to there.

Volunteering offers the opportunity for a test run, to begin to rebuild the atrophied skills that are essential to today’s modern corporate drone.

Volunteering though also offers other health benefits.

A spat of recent reports have suggested that volunteering has benefits for a person’s heart and the social interaction that is often needed by those with mental illness.

Its a Zoo in Here

So as of today I have submitted my application to volunteer with the Calgary Zoo.

IMG_4394I was inspired by my recent trip (note the penguins) with a friend of mine which reinforced that this may be an interesting place to volunteer.

My goal is to start small, aiming for a modest time donation of 4 to 8 hours per week.

I’ll admit I’m feeling pretty nervous about putting myself into such a new situation but I also know it’s time to make the attempt.

The whole point of this 2013 plan has been to start making the small steps, to build me back up to being a fully functional person, to give me a direction to pursue.

I have been feeling very aimless of late and it’s time to change that. More to come on this.

Posted by: Jack Hope | Friday March 1, 2013

My Inner Ninja

If you haven’t heard this song (and really, if you haven’t, what planet are you living on?) this is a song that pretty much every person battling with mental illness should listen to and is my newest edition to fighting depression playlist.

Posted by: Jack Hope | Wednesday February 27, 2013

Plodding Towards the Finish Line

Starting this week, I’m beginning to make runs that go up to 4 miles in length, approximately 2/3 of the 6 miles or 10 kilometres that I will be running for the Sun Run. Slowly but surely I’m inching towards being able to run the full length of the course.

In the process of learned a lot more about running distance and about how much to push myself (or not push myself) in order to maximize my results.

It’s been a struggle and it’s going to be a lot tougher still.

With a little less than 2 months to go though, I’m starting to feel some confidence that I will be able to complete the Sun Run, although probably not in under an hour.

Going forward though, I’m going to be scaling back my running against depression posts though. I’m not really able to come up with a lot of new/interesting material every week, so from now on, updates will be every second Wednesday (give or take).

Not too much further go now.

Posted by: Jack Hope | Monday February 25, 2013

2013 Plan: Standing Against Depression

Component: Body

One ‘benefit’ of the experience of battling Clinical Depression and mental illness for me has been the development of a greater awareness of my overall health. Paired with a new strength to build good habits, I’ve been finding new ways to improve my health.

To date one of the biggest changes that I’ve made in this regard that has been more or less successful has been to take up running.

Now I’m going to tackle something new to increase my overall activity level.

One of the reasons I’ve decided to pursue this change has been the recent slew of articles grappling with this issue, particularly’s which pushed me over.

Sitting is destroying our health.

Before my most recent Depressive episode, like a lot of people, I had a desk job where I sat most of the time. Most of my adult jobs have been sitting in front of keyboards and screens.

And even now as I work towards recovery, a significant portion of my day is still me sitting in front of a keyboard and a screen.

Enter Lifehacker

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m getting some of my tips and ideas via the website Lifehacker and it didn’t take much googling before a result from them popped up.

Turns out a lot of people are improvising standing desks, given the obscene price of many professionally made varieties. I was able to set one up using my already existing desk and computer equipment for this experiment for about $30.o0.

I just had to be willing to brave Calgary’s Ikea.

That’s slightly easier said than done. I made a promise to myself that I wasn’t going to buy anymore Ikea furniture, instead trying to get things that last.

There’s also the question of all those social phobias that I’ve been dealing with. I considered asking either Andrew of Charlotte to accompany me but decided to tackle the  task myself. Turns out I was fussing about nothing, the place was all but deserted when I went.

So using a few simple components purchased from Ikea, random screws and a screwdriver from my Dad’s toolkit and the instructions I found at Lifehacker, I have constructed this:

My standing desk, built out of Ikea parts

My standing desk, built out of Ikea parts

Yup, this is how I spent my Friday evening.

A Time to Stand

Using the two monitors I have setup (one is actually a re-used television) I’m able to switch back and forth between standing and sitting. This is essential since I know myself well enough that I can’t just start standing for hours a day in one go.

So instead, I set myself the goal of standing for 15 minutes every hour for the first two weeks. I use the timer in my phone to keep track of both sitting and standing time.

I noticed right away that I was a lot more tempted to wander away during my standing periods. This might be a good thing for me in the long run, I’m probably spending too much time in front of my computer anyhow.

It also took some tweaking to get everything just right, especially since I’m quite a bit taller than the average person. Hence my monitor is propped on a stack of books.

I also tend to move my body when a song comes on that I like.

There’s an image for my readers: me standing at this contraption made up of Ikea parts typing out my posts and dancing to the music on the radio.

I might never be able to work in an ordinary office again. What a tragedy that would be.

Consider the Carpet

I live (and play on the computer) in the basement right now and it’s quite a nice basement but its still a basement. The room I am in started life as my Dad’s office and is carpeted with an industrial green carpet, with lousy padding.

That wasn’t a problem when I was sitting all day but now it’s proving to be somewhat problematic. Good shoes for standing becomes all important.

If I keep this up, long term, I will have to invest in proper standing equipment.

An Experiment in Progress

I’ve only been trying this now for the last week or so, but I’m already noticing many of the plusses and minuses of this arrangement for me.

Switching back and forth from sitting and standing is mildly annoying since it requires some moving about of some of my equipment (keyboard, mouse, etc) as well as shifting what I’m doing from one monitor to the next.

I also miss having the easy use of the two monitors, rather than using one at a time and find I’m still looking back and forth between both despite the height difference.

This is a make shift arrangement though, so difficulties like this are expected.

But I am enjoying the periods when I’m standing. I feel like I have more focus on what I’m working on and more energy. Some standing users have reported boosts in confidence, which I seem to also be having.

I also notice that when I sit down, I’m more likely to drift away from what I was doing. I’m more likely to go wander off to random web surfing and lose the focus I had.

Standing up again seems to send a signal to my brain to get back to work.

$30 Well Spent

This experiment has definitely been worth the money even if I don’t opt to carry on with standing. For a small investment I’ve been able to try out something which could have a positive effect on my health.

Personally, after about a week of trying this, I suspect that I will later on this year look at getting a desk that swings, allowing me to both stand and sit.

Too much standing can also be bad for a person’s health too.

So can spending too much time in front of the computer. I’m going to make an effort to go for more regular walks outdoors, even in this miserable winter. Adding more activity to my life is not a bad thing.

How do I know after only a short period of time though that I want to incorporate standing and use of a standing desk (or swing arm) into my work life?

Simple: I wrote this entire post during standing periods.

And it’s been one of the best writing experiences that I’ve had since I started this blog. Even though it was in short bursts (not my preferred method) I have felt really good about the entire process of writing this post. Better than I have about my writing in a very long time.

So I want the option to stand when working. I think that if I can stand 50% of the time and sit the other 50% of the time, I will feel a lot better about my personal health.

I have a suspicion that I may do some of my best work during my standing time.

Posted by: Jack Hope | Friday February 22, 2013

Since It’s Been A While

It’s time for another post with pictures of my cat, Samwise:

photo copy 2

Sam by the Window

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When Samwise Attacks!

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I wasn’t doing anything under the curtain

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Posted by: Jack Hope | Wednesday February 20, 2013

Back Up After A Brief Interuption

Just a quick post to say that I’m back up after a brief computer crisis here at Camp Jack. Thanks to my friend Andrew for getting me back up although it took a bit of time to get sorted out. Hope to resume my posting schedule here starting tomorrow.

Posted by: Jack Hope | Thursday February 7, 2013

2013 Plan: Sleep Hygiene

Component: Mind – Habit Building

This is something that I’ve struggled with over and over again: sleep hygiene. But getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most important habits that I can develop for my own mental and physical health.

High quality, consistent sleep is essential.

Now when I first started getting treatment for Depressive Disorder I was prescribed a sedative to help me sleep.

Like a lot of people who struggle with Depression, I was having a hard time getting to sleep consistently and my sleeping schedule was all over the proverbial map. The pills helped me normalize my sleeping patterns again.

I’ve also been fortunate that I’ve been able to ween myself away from that regular usage without major difficulty, now only taking one perhaps once a month.

Now, I’m going to step up my sleep habits with help from the University of Maryland:

These aren’t the entirety of the recommendations from University of Maryland’s Sleep Disorders Center, just the ones that I need to address the most. Clicking on the picture will take any one interested to the University’s very informative page on the subject.

Setting a consistent bed time and wake up time has been a challenge for me, even when I was working full-time. To help me with this, I’ve recently begun using an iPhone app to track my sleeping patterns.

This app (and several similar ones) purports to be able to monitor how much sleep its users are getting and then times the alarm to go off during a period of light sleep.

I’ll admit I was more than a little skeptical, it seemed liked digital snake oil.

However, since I’ve started using it I am finding that I am having an easier time waking up in the morning and that it’s monitoring seems to reflect my actual patterns.

The software uses the accelerometer in my iPhone  (the sensor that determines which way the iPhone is facing and whether the screen should be in landscape or portrait mode) to detect the motion in my bed. How much I’m moving gives a rough indication of whether I’m in a light or deep sleep.

Thus far, the app catches every time that I wake up during the night, when I’m having trouble getting to sleep and a fairly accurate record of how much I am sleeping and even displays it in a handy little chart.

The app has an alarm that goes off during a set window of time and attempts to wake me when I’m in a ‘light sleep’ during that window. Since I started using it, waking up has been easier.

For a $3.00 investment, it seems to be doing what it says on the tin.

Of course my experience is strictly anecdotal and I’m looking forward to some professional study as to whether or not this is effective for most people.

Like a lot of people these days in our high stress world, I consume a lot of caffeine and I need to reduce my consumption.

Setting a caffeine-free period prior to bed is an important first step in gradually reducing my consumption, as well as improving the quality of my sleep.

Creating a comfortable environment for sleep is the most important and difficult component out of all of this. I have a lot of bad habits when it comes to the use of my bed and sleeping space and there is a lot I can do to improve the quality of this space.

In recent times I’ve added the use of a humidifier, to combat the uncomfortable dryness of the air. I run it especially in the evening before bed but turn it off before I go to sleep.

Using Light Signals

I’ve also started using a blue sunlight generator with a timer to help wake me up. I set the lamp to go off towards the end of the alarm window on my iPhone app. It produces bright sunlight-like light that helps me to get up.

I also use it during the morning to help combat the depressing effects of our current wintery conditions and lack of daylight here at the North Pol…. er… here at Calgary. Thanks Mom for a great Christmas gift!

I’m also using light in other ways to help prepare me for bed. About an hour before I go to bed, I’m turning off all the main lights and switching to the smaller side lamps. As I wind down further I will turn off the side lamps one by one.

Once the lights are off, unless absolutely necessary, they are staying off. I’ve set up some nightlights to ensure I can get around in the middle of the night if I wake up briefly. Keeping the main lights off should help me return to a sound sleep promptly.

As my rooms get darker, this sends another signal to my body that the day is ending.

My current room is divided into two sides, one a bedroom side with my bed and dressers and laundry basket and the other side with my treadmill and desk.

I’m now exiling all of my books and any other loose papers from the bedroom side.

It’s important that the half of my room that is my bedroom is just the bedroom, free of other uses, so as to let my body and unconscious mind know the bed is for sleep.

This also means a change in habit for me, since I read a lot in bed. But I’ve decided to change that by shifting all of my reading to the couch and strictly reserving the bed only for sleeping.

I’m also going to build the going to bed ritual around my reading habit. First, I’m going to change in to my pajamas about an hour to an hour and half before hand. This is to signal to myself that I’m going to start winding down.

Second, about 45 minutes before I go to bed, I’m going to shut down my computer and put away my cell phone. Work is done for the day, it’s time to rest.

I’m a writer by nature and as anyone who writes knows sometimes ideas can come to you at any time. However, I’m going to be very decisive about turning off the computers and other screens before bed. I’ve set up index cards and a pen on my desk to record any sudden late night inspriations.

Next, it will be time to brush my teeth and finish my preparations for bed.

After that, I am going to take a half an hour to read and also spend time with my cat, Sam. I’m making sure to do this on the couch, not on my bed.

The last thing to do in my ritual will be to go to bed. Set my iPhone and the MotionX app to track my sleep and wake me up in the morning. Hopefully, sleep will follow quickly thereafter.

In the next few weeks I’ll find out if this helps me to achieve my goals of consistent, high quality sleep, and with it a better mental state.

Posted by: Jack Hope | Wednesday February 6, 2013

Back on Track (Sort of….)

So after some struggles and pitfalls I’m back on track for my training for the 2013 Vancouver Sun Run. I’m modifying my strategy a bit in how I’m going to tackle this training program.

Up until now I’ve been pushing myself to try to complete each of the running sessions as fast as possible, hoping to be able to do the run in under an hour.

This was the wrong way to approach the training.

The first and most important thing that I need to do is build up my endurance first, my ability to actually run the entire distance before I work on speed.

When I prioritize my goal on this one, my first and main goal is to complete the entire run. While I would very much like to complete the run in under an hour that is a decidedly secondary goal and one that may not be achievable this time around.

So going forward my times are probably going to be longer (as can already be seen) as I try to keep my focus on the really important part of this: actually participating.

After all, there is always next year to try for under an hour.

Posted by: Jack Hope | Monday February 4, 2013

2013 Plan: A Theory of Bipolar

Component: Support – Medical

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, notably in this post The ‘B’ Word, there’s been a question of whether or not bipolar disorder is a part of the mental health issues that I’ve been struggling with.

At one my earliest meetings with my current psychiatrist, Doctor Z, it seemed that it wasn’t a part of what I was struggling with.

Now, that has changed.

Why did we not think that I was experiencing any symptoms of bipolar back in August whereas now we’re exploring this possibility more thoroughly?

One Episode Does Not Make A Bipolar Diagnosis

A single episode of what might be considered ‘hypomanic behaviour’ doesn’t necessarily mean that an individual is bipolar.

One case of atypical behaviour isn’t enough to make a diagnosis and that’s true with many other disorders as well. Just like a person can experience depression once in their life and never have a recurrence again.

Two or more cases though? Well, then we have to take a closer look at this behaviour. And over the last month and a half there’s been instances of questionable mood swings.

Several of these mood swings have had mildly hypomanic behaviour.

A Second Atypical Reaction

This comes hard on the heals of the failure of the previous medication I was on, Effexor, to address the lingering symptoms of my depression. The Effexor had the opposite effect of what was intended, a possibility a small percentage of patients will experience.

I became withdrawn, passive, inactive and lethargic, both physically and mentally. It was a very difficult experience (as outlined in this post) and also a wakeup call.

But this wasn’t my first failure with an anti-depressant. It wasn’t even the first dramatic one failure. This was the second time that an anti-depressant failed to resolve my symptoms and produced rare atypical symptoms in the process.

The first time was the Ciprolex that I was proscribed after I first started seeking treatment in 2012, which had some very negative effects.

After a month on Ciprolex I went off it and didn’t seek treatment until half a year later.

When I did resume treatment, I was far deeper into my depressive episode and extremely withdrawn and morose. It’s hard to believe now how very bad it ultimately got for me.

One atypical reaction to a medication may just be bad luck, the unfortunate roll of the biochemical dice. For it to happen twice with two different medications (in different classes) seems to imply that there is something more going on.

An Impairment or A Relief?

One of the reasons up until now that bipolar hasn’t been considered a major factor has been that the upswings, the upside behaviour has not been particularly debilitating.

It’s often been a relief actually.

More over the upswings don’t result in any in significant impairment and that is a key factor in any kind of diagnosis: does this cause impairment to the patient.

And it’s only once or twice that I’ve gotten so carried away that it has come close to causing any significant impairment. Most of the times, any upswing that comes close only manifests itself as bursts of enthusiasm and confidence in myself.

None of these are particularly ‘unreasonable’ either. I refuse to accept a universe where having some occasional faith in myself to have career and quasi-normal life is unreasonable and pathological.  Even if it were true (which it’s not) I wouldn’t be able to accept it because what would be the point of anything then?

No, mostly these upswings manifest as the starting of projects and a some split focused and some occasional questionable shopping. These periods of time produce useful things quite often. They are also occasionally irritating.

They’re not significantly impairing though. And that’s why neither Doctor Z nor my previous psychiatrists have felt that this constituted bipolar disorder.

It just seems like my moods had a naturally ‘wider’ swing radius than most people.

Let’s imagine for a second that I didn’t have Major Depressive Disorder. That we could just subtract that out of my mental equation and otherwise leave my brain as is.

Doing that we might then see, this behavioural swing might be much more evident without the weight of depression dragging me down. It might even look like the past year or so, but with the downswings being much shallower than they actually were.

This was the idea that formed in my mind recently, as I reviewed 2013 in preparation for my next appointment. And from that a theory was born.

Let’s say that I am mildly bipolar and that when that interacts with the Depression, even when it’s well treated, that it skews everything downwards. Perhaps just out of habit, after all, the pathway of Depression is one that is well trodden in my brain.

So as a result, a bipolar disorder that might only be mildly problematic otherwise, now instead is making the Major Depressive Disorder all the worse.

Internal Fears

I resisted this idea for a long time, large out of two fears: the first being that I had enough to deal with and the thought of adding another issue was unbearable and the second being my own internalized stigma surrounding bipolar.

Especially in light of recent events which have thrust the media spotlight (and collective fear) onto the mentally ill and bipolar disorder.

Also, I don’t want to give up my bursts of energy and enthusiasm.

Yet given everything that has happened it makes sense to consider some kind of mood stabilization medication, such as lithium.

According to Doctor Z, something like lithium was unlikely to cause me any problems, a not insignificant factor given the past bad reactions I’ve had to some psychiatric medications. So lithium it will be.

How to Measure It?

This one’s a little tougher given that the time frames can be months and that it will probably be six to eight weeks before this makes any kind of difference.

Blood tests in the near future will help get the dose right.

But the only way to really know if it’s doing anything will be to start daily mood tracking using some of the options available online.

Hopefully over the next few months, I’ll have a nice steady, positive result.

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