Wearable technology: where have you been all of my life?

I was lucky enough for Christmas to receive a Garmin Vivosmart wristband.  I do love a gadget and was intrigued to receive this one.

Out of the box this wearable band has been just brilliant.  That said I do not propose to write a review of it here.

Instead I wanted to comment on this fact: wearing this band and having my phone notifications, selectively, connected to it via Bluetooth has made me more productive than I could ever have imagined. Additionally, it has helped me better manage my anxiety.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am addicted to checking my phone.  If there was a notification there that I had not checked, before my Vivosmart, it would irritate me and make me anxious until I checked it so I oft found myself during the day checking my phone constantly.  Of course, in a job that is reading, analysis and writing intensive that is a productivity killer.

This wearable device receives notifications as they appear on my phone and flash on my wrist accompanied by a gentle vibration.  Rather than stopping what I am doing and checking my phone now all i need do is glance at my wrist and see if I need to stop what I am doing and read what has been sent to me.

Whilst this presents, still, a break in my concentration that break is fleeting rather than minutes and I find myself avoiding those emails and messages that aren’t urgent until I have a break from the task I have been working on.  The fact is that I get about 150 emails a day on top of multiple social media notifications and text messages.  Those that need to be answered immediately probably number in the single digits so by not checking my phone anywhere near as much as I used to I am finding myself with more time coupled with getting things done swifter.

I know some of you will think this is crazy and the fact that I can not stop myself from checking my phone is a fairly appalling character trait I have.  You are right: it is BUT it is part of my make up and personality.  Not knowing what I have received, particularly in my emails, is an ongoing cause of anxiety for me which is also being mitigated against, along with the improvement in my productivity, because now, frankly, it is easy to know what I have received.  This is a massive positive for me and my mental health.

This Vivosmart wristband was a wonderful Christmas gift.  It may well be a life changing one too!

Living with Depression and Anxiety: some lessons learned

I have had the privilege of mentoring a group of students at Corinda State High School this year as part of the High Resolves Leadership program.  The group of students I have been working chose Mental Health Awareness as their project focus, specifically community awareness of depression and anxiety.  Yesterday I was honoured to be the guest speaker for their school wide awareness session.  I was asked to speak about my journey dealing with depression and anxiety.  I thought I would share my speech here as well:

Thank you for that introduction and I would like to thank the Grade 10 High Resolves group for inviting me to speak to you all today.   I am honored to speak to you on what is a very important topic and one that I am particularly passionate about.

The ideology of Project SMILE is to enhance your awareness of one of the most significant issues in society today: mental health and, particularly, dealing with stress, anxiety and depression. The reason that this issue is so important is obvious from the statistics that surround the suffering of these conditions.

Here are some of those statistics:

  • One in seven Australians will experience depression in their lifetime.
  • Depression has the third highest burden of all diseases in Australia. Burden of disease refers to the total impact of a disease measured by financial costs, mortality, morbidity and other indicators.
  • Depression is the number one cause of non-fatal disability in Australia.
  • The World Health Organization estimates that depression will be the number one health concern in both the developed and developing nations by 2030.

So I think it would be fair to say that depression, and its related disorder, anxiety are shockingly prevalent in society.

I did not come to speak to you today though to bombard you with statistics. There is a plenty of literature available where you can find out more about the numbers.  What I did come to talk to you about today are the lessons I have learned from my own journey as a man living and working with depression and anxiety.

You see I am one of those one in seven Australians who suffers from depression and anxiety.

 I cannot really remember when my depression and anxiety started.  I guess if I had to nail down a date I would say that my symptoms started in my last year of high school or first year of university.  At around this time I started to display these types of behaviors:

  • Not going out anymore.
  • Withdrawing from close friends.
  • Not doing activities I would ordinarily do.

At the time I was feeling:

  • Irritable
  • Frustrated; and
  • Lacking in confidence.

And I started having sleeping problems as well as started to gain significant weight.

All of these factors, I now know, are indicators or symptoms of depression.

Whilst it is great that I can identify these symptoms now and I know that at the time I knew I was feeling that way I did not know that what I was feeling was either anything unusual nor different to that which everyone was feeling.

Because of that fact, being that I was unaware that was I was feeling might have been indicative of something going on with my health, it was well into my 30s and only some 3 and half years ago that my depression and anxiety disorders were diagnosed and I got treatment. By that point I was displaying, in addition to the behaviors noted earlier, the following behaviors:

  • Not getting things done at work.
  • Withdrawing from my close family as well as my friends.
  • Inability to concentrate.
  • Reliance on alcohol.

By the time I was diagnosed there was not a day go by that I did not have thoughts like these running through my head:

  • “I’m a failure”
  • “Nothing good ever happens to me”
  • “People would be better off without me.”.

I mention all of these this symptoms, feelings and thoughts not because I wish to self-aggrandize. Nor do I wish for or seek sympathy.  My intention in revealing what my symptoms and thoughts during the 15 or so years I was living with my depression and anxiety without being treated is to give some context to the key messages I wanted to get across today.

The first message is this: there is no more important a lesson to learn in the area of dealing with depression and anxiety than to realize how important communication is to the treatment of these disorders.

From the perspective of a sufferer, there is not a day that goes by that I do not wish that I had have communicated what was going on with me much earlier than I did only some three and half years ago. The fact is that I did not have the courage to talk to people about what I was going through.  Not my family, not my friends and not my doctor.

It would also be fair to say that, particularly in the last couple of years before my diagnosis, when I was displaying obvious symptoms of some form of mental illness that I became an expert in deflecting the concerns of others and, indeed, got angry when some of those people closest to me asked me whether I was ok. So much so that those closest to me stopped asking me how I was feeling.  

If you are suffering from the symptoms of the depression and anxiety, I implore you to find a way to communicate how you are feeling. Talk to your family, talk to your friends, talk to your teachers … in fact talk to anyone you feel comfortable talking to and be open and honest about how you are feeling.

Just as importantly, if someone who is close to you is exhibiting the signs of depression and anxiety you have to ask them whether they are ok. And when they rebuff you, which they will inevitably do, you have to keep asking until you are satisfied that you have received an honest answer.  That is your challenge, everyone one of you, to engage with those around you who you suspect might have a problem and help them if you can.  You will be astonished at how thankful that person will be for your help.

Depression and anxiety are significant issues in society. They affect one in seven Australians at some point in their life.  Look around you, consider that statistic and then consider the number of people in this room.  Being aware of and able to communicate with each other about these disorders could very help a number of people in this room at some point.

I am pleased to say that, eventually, I was able to seek help for my conditions and 3 and a half years later I am in a better place than I have been in a very long time. Therein lies my second message that I wanted to impart on you today: depression and anxiety disorders are treatable conditions.  Sufferers of these disorders can and are treated for them whilst leading successful, fulfilling and happy lives.  Of course, in order to get that treatment communication, as I have already discussed, must occur.

I thank you again for the opportunity to speak to you today.


Living with anxiety: finding a way to get through the day

I suffer from anxiety: I do not hide from it and I am honest about it.  That does not make it any easier to live with! Of late, I will concede, I have on occasion let my anxiety get the better of me.  I forgot the very simple strategy to dealing with anxiety that I have been using for the last 3 and a half years and was letting my anxiety, for want of a better term, win.

I did not even realise it was happening.  That is a the scariest thing.  After a couple of weeks feeling off I sat back and reflected on what I was doing differently and then discovered that I had not been going through my anxiety minimisation ritual / strategy.  Now that I am back using this ritual I thought I would share it.

So, here is my strategy for dealing with anxiety or an anxious moment:

  1. When you are feeling anxious, assuming you can recognise it, stop what ever it is that you are doing and shut your eyes.
  2. Ask yourself: What is it that is making me anxious?
  3.  Answer that question honestly and fulsomely.
  4. Then, ask yourself this question: Is there anything I can do about whatever is making anxious?
  5. If the answer to that question is yes then, if you can do what you need to do immediately, do it!
  6. If the answer to that question is yes but you can not do something about it immediately you have to allow yourself to let the thing making you anxious “go” until you can do something about it.
  7. If the answer to the question is no you can not do anything about that which is making you anxious then you have to allow yourself to let the thing making you anxious “go” permanently.

This is a simplistic approach I concede but mentally it is a ritual that helps calm me and help force me to think about whatever is making anxious rationally and clearly.

I find this ritual helps me immeasurably.  It may not work for you but it certainly won’t hurt you to try.  Just as importantly for me is making sure that where I have rituals that help calm my anxiety that I use them.  Don’t forget your rituals people: they could be the difference between a good day and a bad one.

Burning the candle at both ends … The need to take a day off

I am tired, irritated and sense another dark period looming. It is pretty obvious as to why: I have been burning the candle at both ends.

I am not just talking about work here: yes I have been working hard, but when I get home I have still been spending far too much time thinking.

One of my worst traits is that I am a projector. What I mean is: when I have an approaching “moment” in my life, as that “moment” approaches in my mind I project the likely outcome. The problem with this is, of course, I always project the worst outcome which, in turn, leaves me anxious.

By extension: when I am anxious I expend a significant amount of energy worrying about what might be because I have projected the worst possible outcome.

All of this, as I have been going through a significant period of projection, has lead to the realisation in the first sentence of this post: I am tired, I am irritated and next comes the black dog.

I need to give myself a break: it is that simple. By break here I mean a break from thinking about the future and spending time focusing in the now. That is, of course, simple to say and more difficult to do so I am going to try and give myself this break by doing things that make me happy today. Spending time: reading, watching the Simpsons, hitting golf balls and going for a run are all on the agenda. NOT working and trying to not think is also on said agenda.

Here’s hoping tonight I sleep easily and tomorrow I wake up felling fresher and ready to attack the week!

The Procrastination Parallax: don’t be too quick to judge

I am a procrastinator. In fact, if there was an Olympic event in procrastination I would be representing Australia at it. For those who are not procrastinators it is often difficult to understand what it means when one procrastinates and the effect that serial procrastination can have on one’s mental state.

For those seeking a definition of what procrastination is, here it the best I could find:

Procrastination is the practice of carrying out less urgent tasks in preference to more urgent ones, or doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones, and thus putting off impending tasks to a later time.

Put a little differently, Piers Steel (an academic in the field) who has reviewed all previous attempts to define procrastination has concluded that it is “to voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay.”

By its very nature procrastination is associated with a number of character traits or disorders including depression, low self-esteem, anxiety as well emotions like guilt and stress.

Given that the academics in the field do not agree on the causes of procrastination, I have no real answers for why I procrastinate. I do know that procrastination is, in effect, the very definition of the old “chicken and egg” maxim. By this I mean, simplistically, I wonder often which came first in my life: the procrastination or the anxiety. I know that some of the tasks that I used to procrastinate about, when left in a worse state as a result of my procrastination, deepened my anxiety and the literature tells me that anxiety is a cause for procrastination.

So why all of this talk about procrastination? The point I wanted to talk about, having set the outline of what is meant by procrastination, is the differing views of what procrastination is depending on whether you are a procrastinator or not. I know from friends and family that I have spoken to that many of them do not really understand what is meant by the term and, further, the effect that being a procrastinator can have on someone. Those friends and family members to whom I have talked have long thought that procrastination has its genesis in laziness and is, really, just a triviality.

In the workplace environment, a procrastinator can oft be seen, if there is no understanding of what is actually going on in the mind of the procrastinator, as being at the poor end of the talent pool or in a performance matrix. No doubt the procrastinator is not performing at an expected level, particularly if they are working in a heavily task orientated environment.

All of this leads me to the parallax of which I speak in the title to this post: there is an obvious difference, in my opinion, in the apparent perception of people of what it means to be a procrastinator depending on whether you are one or not. In this context I would implore those who have noticed a colleague, friend or family member that has a tendency to miss deadlines or to over promise and under deliver to not write off that person as simply unreliable or a bad worker. There may be a deeper reason for those issues that you can not see through the lens from which you are looking at the person and with some assistance the procrastination, and its outcomes, may, over time, have less of an effect on the sufferer.

Things that I know now that I wish I knew when I was eighteen

Off the back of a particularly positive meeting earlier this week and much reflection on life and dealing with mental illness over recent weeks, I have been pondering those things that I could have done differently over the last couple of decades. Let be clear: I am very happy with my life at the moment, almost content, but I have come to the conclusion that my life would have been much easier if had have known during my teens, 20s and early 30s what I know now.

I make no criticism here of my parents, other relatives, partners and friends during those years: all of my failings are down to me and me alone.

In no particular order, here are the things I wish I had have known in the past that I know now:

There is no shame in asking for help

This is an easy and obvious one: I spent so many years being afraid to ask for help that the hole that I had gotten myself into mentally just continued to deepen and deepen until there was no metaphorical way out. I thought there was a stigma that would attach to sticking my hand up and asking for help and the attachment of that stigma to me scared me.

It is who you are that defines you, not what you do

I only ever wanted to be a lawyer, right from the first year of University, and I spent many years so focused on being a lawyer that I began to believe that being a lawyer was what defined me. I could not see a future without me being a lawyer which was just stupid. It sounds obvious but obviously it is who you are, and your values, that define you. It does not matter what you do for a crust.

Showing emotion is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength

I always said to people that I was not the most emotional of people. I did not think that showing emotion was the done thing and that I would be considered weak if I did. That had the flow on effect of me having quite deep emotional lows that also could manifest themselves in violent (emotionally) anger. I have cried more in the last 3 years than I had in the previous twenty and frankly I couldn’t be prouder about that. The “red mist” that once engulfed me from time to time has not returned in a long time and I am sure that, in part is because I now have learned to express my emotions.

The answer does not lie in the bottom of a bottle

I have been honest and direct in this blog and in person with people about my struggles with alcohol. This one is simple: I wish I did not spend so much time drinking to make myself feel good about myself. For a start I have learned that I do not need to drink to have a good time and I do not need to get drunk in response to a bad week at work or a bad mood.

Be patient with yourself, you are going to be wrong more than you are right

I am my own harshest critic and spent a long time during my career and my life beating myself up over my failings however small. I never really appreciated what I appreciate now which is that sometimes mistakes happen and it is how you react to those mistakes and attempt to remediate them that is most important rather than replaying the mistake over and over in your mind.

Life is too short is the commonly trotted out maxim when one looks back at the life they have lead and the mistakes they have made. I have an amendments to that maxim: life is only as short as you make it by your own actions. I am not perfect and I am never going to be perfect but I do intend to live every day I have left hopefully as free as I can be of the depression and self doubt that have plagued me for so long knowing what I now know. And that is all anyone can ask of themselves isn’t it?