Coping Mechanisms In My Daily Life

As I move around my apartment, scrubbing the walls around my windows in preparation for my yearly tradition of covering them in a layer of insulating and draft-blocking plastic, I am struck by how much of my life is taken over by what are essentially coping mechanisms for things beyond my control. I’m also struck by how many bugs have died in the three weeks since I last pulled my carpet back to sweep the half-inch of space between said carpets and my patio door, but that doesn’t really make for an interesting blog post topic. The entire process I’m going through is one meant to mitigate the fact that my apartment complex has absolutely terrible windows that not only leak cold through them like a sieve (thanks largely to their terrible metal frames) but that are so poorly installed or maintained that they don’t even block the wind. It’s much more difficult to detect when the entire frame is uncovered, but putting the plastic over them makes it clear that there’s wind blowing through them almost constantly.

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Time’s Wasting, Let’s Get Pokemon Going

I have a complicated relationship withe Pokemon Go. If you look back in the recesses of my original posts (I’ll link it here so you don’t have to), you can find me writing about how cool the game was and how excited I was to play it. Since then, my excitement has cooled. Initially it was because it was nearly impossible to find Pokemon in the wild (which was the reason most of my friends stopped playing), but there was no way to directly interact with your friends until they added raid battles. Gyms were a nightmare because connectivity problems kept coming up and it was a pain in the ass to train up a gym so it would be strong enough to survive everyone trying to take it down. Even the eventual fix to gyms, which makes turning them around and maintaining them a lot easier, was less than ideal because it puts a big limit on the number of in-game currency you can get without buying it.

My current apartment not having close proximity to anything (there’s one stop within half a mile’s walking and everything else requires crossing the highway) and I don’t earn much money with the gym access I’ve got, so I’m constantly running out of items. I don’t really have the space in my weekly schedule to spend three hours to drive somewhere with a bunch of stops, walk around for an hour, drive home, and then have to charge my phone. There are so many things I’d rather be doing with that time than spending it trying to maintain the high level of participation the game requires when you don’t have easy access to the in-game resources.

Playing it now doesn’t take much time. I hit the local pokestop on my way to work or I hit the one at work while I’m getting lunch. I can sometimes get a gym each day (for my fifty coin daily maximum) if I spend fifteen minutes after work stopping at one of the ones near my workplace. I open the app a couple of times a day and whenever I take walks, spending the mental energy on Pokemon Go when I would otherwise be letting my mind idly wander. It doesn’t cost me any time aside from gyms, but it does cost me energy. There’s a certain amount of mental effort that goes into remember to do my daily tasks, remember which Pokemon I don’t need for evolving something (to avoid wasting my precious Pokeballs), and planning out the extra commute time I’d need to stop for a gym or pokestop.

For almost two years, I’ve unfailingly spent that energy every day. Even during the last few months when I’ve exhausted myself to the point of pretty much crashing as soon as I’m done with my responsibilities each day, I still spend energy on Pokemon Go. Now, as I’m taking a look at my life and trying to decide what is really worth energy as I try to find a healthier balance, I’m really questioning if it is worth it. And Pokemon Go isn’t the only thing on the chopping block. One of my favorite no-energy time-wasters is Imgur and that generally doesn’t do anything for me but help time pass quickly. There are games I play online with my friends that I don’t really enjoy but I play anyway because I’ve got people to play alongside. My life is full of things like this, things I once enjoyed but only continue to do because of habits and because they help me pass through the hours of my worst days.

The thing is, I have a lot of other stuff to help me do that. Ever since I ran out of that stuff in college and had to deal with a horrible night where I had nothing to do but think and stare out the window, I’ve made sure that I’ve got at least forty hours of mindless entertainment. I’ve got whole TV shows I bought on DVD that I’ve only watched long enough to know I’d enjoy. I’ve got a pile of emergency books and every Pokemon game ever created (I enjoy the “standard” version Pokemon games way more than the mobile game). Yet I still play Pokemon Go every day. I still have half a dozen boring games installed on my computer. I still have all the social media and time-wasting apps on my phone so I can disappear from the world for hours at a time.

As I spring-clean my life, I think it’s time I got rid of that stuff. I took this week off of work, and even off of blog writing (this was written ahead of time), so I could rest and try to see my life through clear eyes. Part of that is going to be ridding myself of all the things I’ve collected to insulate myself from having to pay attention to my life when my life wasn’t something I wanted to pay attention to. Things are better now, even if I still struggle, and I don’t want to feel like I’m wasting my time anymore. I don’t know if I’ll uninstall Pokemon Go because my girlfriend still plays it frequently and it is good to have things you can do together, but I think I’m going to take it off my home screen.

We Try Things. Occasionally they even work.

So, I’ve once more been struggling with my depression. Big surprise there. Kinda snuck up on the back of some of the stuff I was writing last week and just overwhelmed me when I wasn’t paying attention. Luckily, with my renewed focus on watching for it and the help of my friends, I was able to notice it quickly and come up with a few plans to circumvent it.

Historically, working out every day has been a good way to deal with my depression for a few reasons. There’s the health reasons, studies that suggest that regular exercise can have a significant positive impact on one’s mental well-being. There’s the easy reasons, that I’m generally too tired after a heavy workout (and those are the only kind I do) to be anything. Then there’s the mental reasons, that I’m finally making progress on one of my big goals by losing weight. All of that together leaves me at least neutral for as long as I can keep it up (usually 3-5 weeks) though I get almost nothing else done.

Another, more mentally productive, way to deal with my depression is by creating something. Writing is often a good way for me to take a step away from everything and let my mind work out my problems through my stories. When I was in college, working on building a set for a show or helping put together some internal improvement project for the theater was always very relaxing, letting my focus and keep busy while leaving my mind free enough to work through things in the background. Unfortunately, I’m not very good with music or visual arts, but I’m certain those would be just as helpful. Anything that gets me focused on and engaged in the act of creation always helps.

Sometimes, even working a lot (at my job) can help, if I’ve got the right kind of projects. Put in some overtime, rake in that delicious OT pay, and start making even more progress toward being debt free. A good amount of rewarding work (people recognize what I’m doing as being useful and I can contribute to the good of my team/company) is just the right kind of mentally exhausting. I get so wrapped up in what I’m doing to let my problems in and then I’m too tired to make myself fret about anything.

All three have worked individually in the past. Unfortunately, none of them would last for long. I wear myself out to the point of not being capable of working out again, or I get finish a project and can’t figure out the next steps, or I finish whatever work project had me so focused and I’m unable to find a new one to fill that hole. Eventually, they all come to an end.

Which is why, this time, I’m trying all three at once. Work 10 hours days and try to get super invested in an interesting work project. Workout immediately after work. Come home, eat something, have a cup of tea to help me stay awake, and then write/try-to-write until 11 or 12. The idea being that, when one of the three fails, I should still have the other two continuing on to prop me up until I manage to get the third one going again. So far, it’s working out pretty well.*

First, I pushed myself too-hard in my workouts initially and had to really dial it down, but that means I’ve just got a little more time and energy for writing. Then I picked my workouts back up again, full-force, and was too tired to write for a couple of nights, but since I workout after work I was able to continue investing in my latest work project.

Unfortunately, there are still some flaws. After an entire week of this, I hit Friday and couldn’t do anything after 1:30. I had to run a meeting about my project which taught me a lot and forced me to herd cats for an hour and a half. Senior Coworker Cats. Some of whom had been at the company longer than I’ve been alive. I went home pretty much immediately afterward and decided to take all the pictures off my phone as my day’s project. 800 pictures later, I played a few rounds of video games with friends and went to bed.

All-in-All, it seems to be working aside from a few quiet moments here or there were I just kinda feel sad, but those are growing shorter and less frequent after only a week. Maybe, if I can keep this up long enough, they’ll disappear entirely.

 

 

*Side-effects of the pursuit of three major goals may include drowsiness, irritability, a zombie-like demeanor, and a severe allergic reaction to social interaction. But hey! At least you’re not a depressed sack of sad!

A Place of Peace and Quiet

Depression sucks. You get all geared up to post three times a week, work on writing every day (at least a little bit), and maybe sleep a little more if you can do all that before midnight before getting slapped back down into the emotional pits by the heavy hand of ever-present depression.

My depression always takes the form of exhaustion. Sure, there’s a certain degree of listlessness and negativity that goes with it, but the constant, ever-present face of my depression is a sense of exhaustion always hovering at the edge of my mind.

Any kind of exhaustion or tiredness I experience can trigger it to come tumbling down on top of me. A frustrating problem at work that is intellectually taxing; a long day of dealing with people and the requisite emotional output; a long hike or hitting the gym hard. All of these things can trigger it or compound it, leaving me unable to break free of it.

This exhaustion is always there, always beckoning me toward lethargy and, eventually, a complete lack of motion. It takes energy to throw that feeling off, to push out of the haze it pulls me towards. The whole thing can be frustrating because pushing it off often results in it coming back worse once I’m no longer actively pushing it away.

When it starts to take over, I sometimes have to give into it and let it slow me down, let myself drift toward the precarious edge hinted at in coy phrases like “a complete lack of motion” or “the deepest rest.” Its terrifying. Which is also exhausting.

You can probably see the issue there.

I spend a lot of time managing myself and administering self-care in order to avoid the feedback loop I just described. Thankfully, this sort of management and caution plays right into most of my obsessions and compulsions from my OCD, so it can often be counter-intuitively relaxing. The most relaxing thing I did in the past month was take an entire day, on which I was off of work for a holiday my employer observes, to rearrange my bookshelves, setup my video game console recording gear, and to reorder my entire bedroom to better reflect the direction I see my life and my mind going.

There is a lot of psychology and philosophy out there that suggests the environment one finds most relaxing is one that best reflects oneself. Most people who know me would say that’d be somewhere in nature, far away from the city, where a sense of peace and steadfast endurance exists. Mountains or great forests.

To me, though, the place that best reflects me is my abode.

I live on the edge of cities, caught between the quiet I need and the chaos I love to watch. I’m surrounded by a frenetic energy I don’t understand and a populace I struggle to connect to. Within that bubble of disorder and unknowable insanity, I have a place I live that is–aside from the portions effected by my current roommate–strictly ordered, neat, and calm. I decorate in more muted colors, favor ambient music and light that lends itself toward creating a calm environment, and tend to prefer the quiet of my own company over the obtrusive noise of other people.

My mind is like that. Longer ago than I can even remember, I create a small place of order, quiet, and calm in my mind, tucked away inside the chaos created by how I grew up and the chemical imbalances biology has bestowed upon me. A small room of peace amidst the constantly growing chaos of my mind. There is no place more relaxing to me than my room or home. When I meditate, I always seek out that place of peace within myself.

I do need to get away sometimes. There is a huge value to be found in the quiet tranquility of a cabin far away from any city or civilization. There is a huge value to be found in the experience of a new city and the new chaos that is both challenging and rewarding. Sometimes the strength you need is found by going outside yourself and sometimes its found by going deep inside yourself.

When I really need to relax, to let the exhaustion finally slide away on its own, I spend my time in the peace and quiet of my home. I sit and read for hours at a time. I reorder my space and let it represent the less tangible reordering of my mind. I cut off all communication to the outside world aside from one or two lines to particular individuals and just let myself sort of expand to fill the space. Stop trying to cram everything into that tiny little space in my head and let the order I’ve created do the work for a while.

I’m pretty sure its coping mechanism, but I’m not terribly concerned so long as it helps me push back against the ever creeping exhaustion. Pretty much everything in life is a coping mechanism to one degree or another.