Monday, 30 November 2015

My own worst critic — internalized self hate

Some people say that noone else can tell them anything as bad as they do themselves — and that therefore, they are more impervious to verbal attacks.

I recognize about half of that in myself: I tell myself a whole slew of nasty things on a regular basis.
It doesn't grant me any extra strength, though — instead, someone else telling me the same thing confirms the nastiness to my mind, and breaks me down even further.

And it really doesn't matter that much about external reality or indicators either. Clearly, my own self-estimation is faaaar better than anyone elses, so whenever I get positive indicators from outside, they can safely be disregarded as clearly delusional and irrelevant.

This way I end up thinking…
…that I am lazy.
…that I am stupid.
…that I am ugly.
…that I am fat (and that this is bad).
…that I take up too much space.
…that I offend strangers around me.

After decades of this, with over one decade spent concretely aware of my suffering from a disorder (and thus this not actually being a normal state of affairs) I am slowly getting to the point where I can recognize that this happens, and can describe it with a tiny bit of distance — even be sarcastic about my internalized script. It doesn't make the self-hate go away, but I start seeing how it is a script that plays itself, rather than a completely objective assessment of reality.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Reasons to be Grateful

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the USA. I'm British but my wife is American so we have always celebrated Thanksgiving, and there is thing for Thanksgiving where you say things you are thankful for.

So I am going to go to do that but as I'm not American and since there is also thing where one points out that the original Thanksgiving eventually led to genocide, that I think I will use the word "grateful" rather than thanks.  

Anyway here are some things that I am grateful for. Not all the things, there are many others, and you don't have to agree that you would be grateful for these things if you were in my shoes.
  • I'm grateful that I can run a 10K in less minutes than my age in years. I'm 51 and my best 10K time is just under 51 minutes.
  • I'm grateful for holding babies from time to time, especially if they fall asleep in my arms.
  • I'm grateful for naps. I love naps.
  • I'm grateful I get really interested in things.
  • I'm grateful that the way my brain works happens to be a way that gets me to be a university professor even though I don't really know why.
  • I'm grateful that my parents and family in general value education so much. Between my brother, sister, me and parents, we have an average of two degrees each.
  • I'm grateful that I work under the same roof as many of the very smartest people I know. 
  • I'm grateful that some of those smart people, and many other smart people not under this roof, have been prepared to work with me on interesting things.
  • I'm grateful that I live under the same roof as three of the four smartest people I know. Actually I write it that way - which is absolutely true - because you, dear reader, may be one of the smartest people I know and would be a bit offended if I had written - as I could have done with perfect honesty - that I'm grateful that I live under the same roof as the three smartest people I know.
  • I'm grateful for being given the 1975 Wisden Cricketer's Almanack on my 11th birthday by my parents.
  • I'm grateful for being given his Curta calculator by my father, especially because he gave it to me while he was alive, rather than me inheriting it.
  • I'm grateful for my "happy toy", which is a 20GB hard disk MP3 player my wife gave me which helped me have lots of naps. 
  • I'm grateful for the awesome memory foam topped mattress we got a few years ago.
  • I'm grateful for my travel chess set, which I don't use much now but which was wonderful when I used to do more chess problems, and which also I think came from my wife.
  • I'm grateful for long hot baths.
  • I'm grateful for in-jokes with my wife, though I wouldn't like to enlarge on her physical perfections in a smoking room.
  • I'm grateful my wife likes British things.
  • I'm grateful my wife is from Walla-Walla Washington, and that she is British.
  • I'm grateful to live at one of the times in human history which is wonderful in many many ways. It's awful in other ways too but no other time in history has been better. For example ... 
  • I'm grateful that at any moment I can choose to watch the greatest actors and musicians in the world perform for me, wherever I am, something that the richest person in the world couldn't do not many years ago.
  • I'm grateful to have been able to work half-time when my children were young. 
  • I'm grateful to have a New York Times bestselling book dedicated to me. 
  • I'm grateful my father could honestly say about himself "when you've discovered the furthest known object in the universe, the rest of your career is a bit of an anti-climax." 
  • I'm grateful that my mother could change seats in an open cockpit biplane in midair and not understand why anybody thought it was a big deal.
  • I'm grateful that when I was particularly acutely mentally ill, my employer was sympathetic (both my employer as an entity and my colleagues individually). 
  • I'm grateful for my h-index.
  • I'm grateful that some people will laugh about the fact that I managed to wait so long to mention my h-index. 
  • I'm grateful that yesterday I was described as "very very metatextual". If you don't know what "metatextual" means, the previous point is an example since it is text is about this text itself.
  • I'm grateful that I wrote about the Petrie multiplier, and that I named it the Petrie multiplier.
  • I'm grateful to have been a token man speaker at a Women in Science festival. 
  • I'm grateful to have co-founded Depressed Academics with Mikael.
  • I'm grateful that I can write a post like this during work time and not have anybody complain.
 I am writing this post on Depressed Academics rather than my personal blog because, although many of these things are personal and not related to depression, I wanted to think of things that I should think about because when I need cheering up. Because there is one thing that I am not grateful for:
  • I am not grateful that it is hard for me to think of things I am grateful for, even though there are so many, yet it's so incredibly easy for me to think of things that hurt. 

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Highlights Reel (redux)

Procrastination and Highlights Reel.

This is the second part of a double header post today. The first part was called 

I once wrote about the fact that I had some extraordinary highlights for a few days, yet had been miserable most of the time. The tagline of that post was: 
The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”  - Steve Furtick 
The last few days have had some notable highlights too. 
  • On Friday I took my daughters and a friend to work to run a bake sale for Children in Need, which was a great success, for which one of my daughters had done most of the baking
  • On Saturday I had a good parkrun, just 8 seconds outside my personal best (on a windy day which made it slower.)  I had been feeling a bit unfit and I didn't push myself super-hard, so this was a nice surprise.
  • On Saturday I also got invited to visit a beautiful six week old baby.
  • On Sunday I visited that six week old baby and she was incredibly beautiful. I got to hold her and at one point I took her when she was crying and held her until she went to sleep. Which is cute but you don't know that holding a baby that goes to sleep is one of my favourite things in the world. So that was a highlight of my year. 
  • On Monday I had root canal treatment at the dentist. Perhaps not a great highlight but I coped with it ok which is good. And also was there for my daughters who needed me when they were ill. One highlight was not being called for jury service, which I mentioned in my procrastination post.
  • On Tuesday I wasn't called for jury service, and I got myself out for another 5K which is good. But a bigger highlight was that the local paper asked to use photos from the aforementioned bake sale in the paper, which my daughter will be thrilled with. And of course makes me proud of her again. Also for the first time in years, I weighed myself and was just in the healthy weight region of BMI with a value of 24.9. This is artificial because it was after my run so I had lost some sweat, but still it's a good sign that my intended weight loss (about 7 pounds in the last few months) is ongoing. 
There has been a notable lowlight too, which is continuing to grieve for my friend who died last week.  I don't want you to think that I am the kind of person who doesn't want any emotion in their lives, and of course I am not sorry to be sad about losing a friend. 

And actually I haven't been that miserable compared to the last time I posted about highlights reel. But I do find that it's hard to remember all the good things that happen. I just naturally don't remember them. Whereas almost anything can make bad things pop into my head. Could be anxiety, could be negative self-thoughts, or memories of when I feel I let myself or other people down. 

When I went for my run this morning I did actually find myself thinking of that baby falling asleep in my arms. If I was better at thinking of positive things - of which there are many in my life - I suspect I would be a lot happier.


Procrastination and Highlights Reel

This post was going to be called "Procrastination and Highlights Reel" but now it's just called "Procrastination" 

I mentally compose quite a number of Depressed Academics posts and never get round to posting them.

It's not that I think you are upset about this, and it's not as if there are that many readers of Depressed Academics posts.

But then, I'd still rather have written a Depressed Academics post than go round again my fairly endless loop of BBC News, Facebook, Twitter, Cracked, Youtube, and my current game du jour ...

... ... ... ...

Sorry for the delay, I'm back after going after a bit of Youtube and then googling one of the contestants from the Great British Bake Off.

I read a thing about procrastination the other day, which quoted this:
"It turns out procrastination is not typically a function of laziness, apathy or work ethic as it is often regarded to be. It’s a neurotic self-defense behavior that develops to protect a person’s sense of self-worth. 
You see, procrastinators tend to be people who have, for whatever reason, developed to perceive an unusually strong association between their performance and their value as a person. This makes failure or criticism disproportionately painful, which leads naturally to hesitancy when it comes to the prospect of doing anything that reflects their ability — which is pretty much everything. 
But in real life, you can’t avoid doing things. We have to earn a living, do our taxes, have difficult conversations sometimes. Human life requires confronting uncertainty and risk, so pressure mounts. Procrastination gives a person a temporary hit of relief from this pressure of “having to do” things, which is a self-rewarding behavior. So it continues and becomes the normal way to respond to these pressures."
David Cain, Procrastination is not Laziness
I don't know how true this is, but it rang true. Especially because I'm on jury duty.

Because I'm on jury duty, what?

I was on jury duty from today, and last night I had to ring up a recorded message which told me I wasn't needed. This was great as it meant I got a free day today. By free day I mean a day with no scheduled meetings (I knew I couldn't schedule anything) but I could work and get lots done. So it meant  I could give myself the night off last night, by which I mean the night off from feeling bad about not getting things done during the day, which I feel almost every day.

I did enjoy that hit. But then today, I didn't really get a lot done ... well maybe some admin stuff which did indeed need doing, and some of which I had procrastinated.  But not really making progress on any particular thing.

I did get enough into work to get back on one of the horses I have not been riding recently (sorry, wrong metaphor, live with it).

And also I discovered that I'd missed a work deadline.  And annoyingly this was something that was on my to-do list, I just hadn't got round to actually doing it, and then discovered today when I checked the deadline was yesterday.

Which I guess is what got me thinking about procrastination, since this is something that not too many rounds of youtube game ... etc would have been enough time to do.

At some point before I lay me down to nap I mentally started composing this post for depressed academics. But then I thought I had been mentally composing a post today about my highlights reel, and I thought, gosh I could just do one post with both in it.

So here it is.

Except it isn't because I've decided this post has grown too long.

So this is a double header.  I am going to write the other post not tomorrow but later tonight.


Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Rest In Peace, Dear Patch

Yesterday I received some very sad news.

One of our contributors to Depressed Academics has died. Patch Reynolds died on Monday 9th November. She was only 21. I'd known her for 2 years since she started a degree in Computer Science, and I was her first year coordinator.

Please do read her beautiful post she wrote for us: On being the happiest person in the room.

Patch was a remarkable person. She had problems with mental health and with eating disorders, and while it is uncomfortable for me to say that in public since it is so usually private, she was incredibly open about it and sought so hard to help others. At the same time she was perhaps the most enthusiastic person I've ever met: enthusiastic about everything she was enthusiastic about.

You want to know the kind of person Patch was? Just a few days ago the eating disorders charity tweeted out her name as one of the young ambassadors who had helped them win an award for their work.
I will miss Patch terribly. Rest in peace, dear Patch.

Update, 17 November 2015

I'm just updating this to point to a couple of other tributes to Patch: