Monthly Archives: March 2020

Crisis Response (2)

The purpose of this post is to give a more general picture of how I live and deal with my mental health on a day-to-day basis. The hope is that through following practices and exhibiting behaviors that are good for my overall mental health, I will need to rely on acute crisis response behaviors less frequently.

Much like my previous post on the matter, this is about what I do and works for me.

Make schedules

Make a physical or digital schedule. Don’t just keep it in your head, but actually write it down in a way you can look at it. This helps you hold yourself accountable to getting these things done, because they’re on a schedule.

Explicitly add things like breaks, exercise, and meals to your schedules.

Build routines

Wake up at the same time each day, go to bed around the same time each day. Pick some times to have meals, or take breaks.

I work in two-hour chunks and then take 30-60 minutes off, depending on which break it is. I take these breaks away from my computer and read, exercise, stretch, nap, or have a beverage, snack, or meal. I’ve gotten back into taking care of my skin, as it gives me more ritual for the day.

Routines are not just on a daily basis. Come up with weekly routines as well: play games on Wednesday nights, have coffee wit a friend (via jitsi or whatever) on Tuesday afternoons. Call a family member Friday night. Watch a movie Sunday afternoon. I wash my hair twice a week – Sunday and Wednesday.

If you’re like me, it’s easy to have days and times blur together. Having things that happen on certain days help mark the passage of time, and having different times you do things also helps shape your day.

Have separate mental and physical spaces, and mark them however works for you

I do not wear leggings on a weekday, unless it’s under a dress or skirt. On the other hand, I don’t wear work clothes on weekends (unless there’s a particular reason to). I work from the kitchen, so I take breaks in other parts of the apartment (we are very lucky and have a large apartment). If possible, stay out of your bedroom (see more on that below) during the day. Work on associating different parts of your home with different activities.

Find things you can be in control of

Many, many people are struggling with the lack of control they have over the world around them right now. Find little, healthy things you can control. I make my bed every day, even if it’s just spreading the blanket and putting the pillows on top of it.

Keep your space clean, organize the fridge and cabinets, open the windows and get some fresh air in. Decorate. Rejoice in the fact that you have things you can control, no matter how small they are.

Exercise!

Exercising and being active is basically one of the best things you can do for your mental health. I exercise in 15-30 minute blocks, several times a day, so it doesn’t feel like a big commitment. I do body weight exercises, yoga, and go for runs. Sometimes I dance or do barre videos from YouTube.

When I take my work breaks, I walk around the apartment or stretch or both. Sometimes I just carry something up and down the stairs.

Sleep Hygiene

Maintaining good sleep hygiene is the second most important thing you can do. Here are somethings you can do:

  • go to bed at the same time every night
  • wake up at the same time every day
  • no devices in bed, unless you’re using something to provide sound/white noise
  • only use your bed/room for sleeping
  • do the same things every night the 30 minutes before bed
  • sleep without lights on, or get a nightlight designed to be gentle on your eyes, or automatically go off after some time
  • don’t eat too close to bedtime
  • wear socks if your feet get cold
  • if you wake up and can’t get back to sleep, leave your bed/room and read or whatever it is you do when you can’t sleep

Focus on your Second Thoughts

You’re going to have a lot of stressful, terrible, questionable, disturbing, and anxiety inducing thoughts. These will be your First Thoughts, that come in response to something. After you have your First Thought, intentionally create a Second Thought that challenges your First Thought.

For example: Your roommate finishes the eggs, so you cannot bake the cake you were planning on making. You think they’re mean and terrible and unreasonable and selfish. Then, you remind yourself that maybe they were just hungry, or forgot you were going to bake a cake, or were not feeling well themselves and really needed those eggs to feel better about their current situation.

Build a team

Find 3-6 people in your life you can reach out to when things get really bad. Ask them explicitly to be on your team, and lay out what the expectations are. In general, my expectations for my team are that, should I become overwhelmingly stressed or anxious, I will reach out to one of them to vent, distraction, or for help planning how to respond or overcome the situation that is causing me problems. Also, explicitly state to each of them that it’s okay if they don’t have time for you at a specific moment – that’s why you have a team. I’ve found that people on my team will frequently make time for me when I need it, even if I have other things going on.

If you have trouble reaching out for help when you need it, suggest a code phrase that will communicate that you need your team. Some I like are:

  • What have you been reading lately?
  • Did you see the new Werner Herzog documentary?
  • Have you seen the new Homestuck?

So

As another reminder, these are things I do, and they work for me. Not all of them work all the time, and sometimes I don’t do them even when I should. Experiment and see what works in your life.

Computing Under Quarantine

Under the current climate of lock-ins, self-isolation, shelter-in-place policies, and quarantine, it is becoming evident to more people the integral role computers play in our lives. Students are learning entirely online, those who can are working from home, and our personal relationships are being carried largely by technology like video chats, online games, and group messages. When these things have become our only means of socializing with those outside our homes, we begin to realize how important they are and the inequity inherent to many technologies.

Someone was telling me how a neighbor doesn’t have a printer, so they are printing off school assignments for their neighbor. People I know are sharing internet connections with people in their buildings, when possible, to help save on costs with people losing jobs. I worry now even more about people who have limited access to home devices or poor internet connections.

As we are forced into our homes and are increasingly limited in the resources we have available, we find ourselves potentially unable to easily fill material needs and desires. In my neighborhood, it’s hard to find flour. A friend cannot find yeast. A coworker couldn’t find eggs. Someone else is without dish soap. Supply chains are not designed to meet with the demand currently being exerted on the system.

This problem is mimicked in technology. If your computer breaks, it is much harder to fix it, and you lose a lot more than just a machine – you lose your source of connection with the world. If you run out of toner cartridges for your printer – and only one particular brand works – the risk of losing your printer, and your access to school work, becomes a bigger deal. As an increasing number of things in our homes are wired, networked, and only able to function with a prescribed set of proprietary parts, gaps in supply chains become an even bigger issue. When you cannot use whatever is available, and instead need to wait for the particular thing, you find yourself either hoarding or going without. What happens when you can’t get the toothbrush heads for your smart toothbrush due to prioritization and scarcity with online ordering when it’s not so easy to just go to the pharmacy and get a regular toothbrush?

In response to COVID-19 Adobe is offering no-cost access to some of their services. If people allow themselves to rely on these free services, they end up in a bad situation when a cost is re-attached.

Lock-in is always a risk, but when people are desperate, unemployed, and lacking the resources they need to survive, the implications of being trapped in these proprietary systems are much more painful.

What worries me even more than this is the reliance on insecure communication apps. Zoom, which is becoming the default service in many fields right now, offers anti-features like attendee attention tracking and user reporting.

We are now being required to use technologies designed to maximize opportunities for surveillance to learn, work, and socialize. This is worrisome to me for two main reasons: the violation of privacy and the normalization of a surveillance state. It is a violation of privacy, to have our actions tracked. It also gets us used to being watched, which is dangerous as we look towards the future.

Crisis Response

I have bipolar disorder. Bipolar has a variety of symptoms that show up differently in different people. My symptoms began to show up around 20 years ago, which means I have 20 years of experience on dealing with moments of acute mental health crisis.

I’m probably going to do two blog posts: one that details general mitigation techniques on how I manage my mental health overall and this one, which will cover what I do in specific moments of crisis.

A “moment of crisis” refers to not a general life condition, but a specific moment of experience that is a crisis. This can be an internal or external crisis. While we might be in a moment of crisis as a society, you as an individual are in one when you are overwhelmed, experiencing trauma or the memory of trauma, or having a panic attack, for example.

Now that we have some background out of the way, here are some very specific things I do – tools in my tool belt – for managing moments of crisis.

Distraction

The best thing to do is, at a point when you’re calm, make a list of healthy things you can do to distract you. There are two types of distractions I want to cover here: actions and activities.

Actions are things you can do immediately, at this moment, that will refocus or distract you. They are quick responses that require little to no preparation and minimal commitment. These are useful when I am actually starting to panic. My list of these includes:

  • counting down from 100
  • running my hands under hot water
  • splashing cold water on my face
  • putting ice on my face or neck
  • Peeling and smelling a citrus fruit
  • Tensing then releasing my muscles, starting from the toes and going up to the forehead
  • Stand on one foot and move my upper body (it’s surprisingly hard!)
  • do some basic physical activity repeatedly (like squats, picking up and putting down something heavy, etc)

Activities require more preparation and accouterments. They are for when I feel unreasonably stressed, or feel panic coming on. My list of these includes

  • bake
  • go for a run
  • dance
  • play music
  • hug the baby
  • cuddle the cat
  • pet the dog
  • do yoga
  • look at photos of monkeys riding dogs with little cowboy hats on (this always makes me laugh)

Find a sense of control

Many people I know feel out of control right now. Here are some healthy things I do when I feel out of control:

  • take a shower
  • change my clothes
  • brush my teeth
  • make the bed or change the sheets
  • clean or organize something small

So

Like I said, these are just things that work for me in the middle of moments of crisis. They may not work for you, but others things will!

Seven hundred words on Internet access

I wrote this a few months ago, and never published it. Here you go.

In the summer of 2017, I biked from Boston, MA to Montreal, QC. I rode across Massachusetts, then up the New York/Vermont border, weaving between the two states over two days. I spent the night in Washington County, NY at a bed and breakfast that generously fed me dinner even though they weren’t supposed to. One of the proprietors told me about his history as a physics teacher, and talked about volunteer work he was doing. He somewhat casually mentioned that in his town there isn’t really internet access.

At the time (at least) Washington County wasn’t served by broadband companies. Instead, for $80 a month you could purchase a limited data package from a mobile phone company, and use that. A limited data package means limited access. This could mean no or limited internet in schools or libraries.

This was not the first time I heard about failings of Internet penetration in the United States. When I first moved to Boston I was an intern at One Laptop Per Child. I spoke with someone interested in bringing internet access to their rural community in Maine. They had hope for mesh networks, linking computers together into a web of connectivity, bouncing signals from one machine to another in order to bring internet to everyone.

Access to the Internet is a necessity. As I write this, 2020 is only weeks away, which brings our decennial, nationwide census. There had been discussions of making the census entirely online, but it was settled that people could fill it out “online, by telephone, or via mail” and that households can “answer the questions on the internet or by phone in English and 12 Non-English languages.” [1][2]

This is important because a comprehensive census is important. A census provides, if nothing else, population and demographics information, which is used to assist in the disbursement of government funding and grants to geographic communities. Apportionment, or the redistribution of the 435 seats occupied by members of the House of Representatives, is done based on the population of a given state: more people, more seats.

Researchers, students, and curious people use census data to carry out their work. Non-profits and activist organizations can better understand the populations they serve.

As things like the Census increasingly move online, the availability of access becomes increasingly important.

Some things are only available online – including job applications, customer service assistance, and even education opportunities like courses, academic resources, and applications for grants, scholarships, and admissions.

The Internet is also a necessary point of connection between people, and necessary for building our identities. Being acknowledged with their correct names and pronouns decreases the risk of depression and suicide among trans youths – and one assumes adults as well. [3] Online spaces provide acknowledgment and recognition that is not being met in physical spaces and geographic communities.

Internet access has been important to me in my own mental health struggles and understanding. My bipolar exhibits itself through long, crushing periods of depression during which I can do little more than wait for it to be over. I fill these quiet spaces by listening to podcasts and talking with my friends using apps like Signal to manage our communications.

My story of continuous recovery includes a particularly gnarly episode of bulimia in 2015. I was only able to really acknowledge that I had a problems with food and purging, using both as opportunities to inflict violence onto myself, when reading Tumblr posts by people with eating disorders. This made it possible for me to talk about my purging with my therapist, my psychiatrist, and my doctor in order to modify my treatment plan in order to start getting help I need.

All of these things are made possible by having reliable, fast access to the Internet. We can respond to our needs immediately, regardless of where we are. We can find or build the communities we need, and serve the ones we already live in, whether they’re physical or exist purely as digital.

[1]: https://census.lacounty.gov/census/ Accessed 29.11.2019
[2]: https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2019/03/one-year-out-census-bureau-on-track-for-2020-census.html Accessed 29.11.2019
[3]: https://news.utexas.edu/2018/03/30/name-use-matters-for-transgender-youths-mental-health/ Accessed 29.11.2019