Happy Movember: Please grow your moustache for the right reason!

Today spells the start of November and for many men the start of their quest to grow a moustache. For those of you who have missed it, Movember is an annual event involving the growing of moustaches during the month of November to raise awareness of men’s health issues, such as prostate cancer and other male cancers, and associated charities.

This is a great cause and it is great to see all of the moustaches around during this month.

One thing that has bothered me over the last couple of years is an increasing occurrence though of men growing moustaches in this month for reasons other than charity. Whether it is because they feel it is more acceptable in this month or because they are wannabe hipsters, of late when I have asked fellows seemingly participating in the events of Movember I have oft been surprised to learn that they are not signed up as part of the charity efforts of the month.

Some may consider me to be irrational in this view but seeing this happen irritates me. The idealogy of Movember is to raise awareness of and funds for men health issues and to me growing a moustache but not participating in the actual charity element of Movember makes a mockery of it.

So gents I simply say please grow your mo’s for the right reasons: get involved in the charity and raise some money! If you are doing it for other reasons this month take a long hard look at yourself in the mirror and then shave that top lip!

PS: For the record I am not participating in Movember but will be donating as heavily as I can. If you are not participating as well I implore you to donate.

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!

Mental Health: The happiness project

I have written on this blog before about my struggles with mental illness and, principally, depression. Having worked my way through another particularly dark period I have spent some time over the last couple of days pondering both: how can I help myself out of the darkness when it descends and how can I forestall the darkness.

The problem with the latter of those two questions is, as I have written before, I never know when the darkness is going to hit me. So,that realisation firm in my mind I have focused on how can I help myself out of the darkness once it descends.

The short answer is that there is no easy answer. Rather there is a series of strategies that I think have helped me in the past return to equilibrium. They are:

1. Consider what I was doing when I was last happy and think about what has changed. If something has changed: change it back.

2. When I am going through a rough period I tend to over eat. If I am down I have to remember to eat healthily and not give in to the temptation of a large / rubbish meal that will make me feel grand for 30 minutes and then only make me feel worse.

3. I also tend to lock myself off from those who are closest to me when my black dog is barking. That is destructive and unhelpful. I have to force myself to continue to be around my family and friends because they, by their very nature, know me best and always find a way to help.

4. Get angry!!!! One of the things my dad has said to me a lot in the last 3 years (since my diagnosis) is that I have lost my “red mist”. What he means by this is I once was a very angry young man with a very short temper but now I have been so focused on not getting angry about things that I have lost the ability to get angry. Some “red mist” is ok according to the gospel of my father and he is right. I hate that I have this illness and I hate the way that it makes me feel: by extension I have every right to get angry at it! I must do that more!

These steps are, of course, intensely personal to me but if I can help just one person out there who is struggling then writing about them is worth it.

It would be remiss of me not to turn back to the question of how to avoid the darkness descending because I am at a point with my mental illness where anything is worth a try. Picking up on the themes noted above I have decided to try a strategy under the name of the “happiness project”. The “happiness project” will consist of the following:

1. Every day I am going to, when I wake, ask myself what positive steps I am going to take during the day and enter into a contract with myself to complete said steps.

2. Every day I am going to call (not text or other form of message) one of those close to me and talk to them about their day.

3. I am going to allow myself to be angry and I am focus my anger on my mental illness.

4. I am not going to look any further forward than 24 hours ahead of me and I am not going to look back at the past.

5. Every night I am going to read (for 30 minutes before bed) from the books of my adolescence and early adulthood which is the last period of my life when I can recall being consistently happy.

I hope this works: trying costs one nothing!

Mental Health: Give yourself the break you need!

I wrote last week about the importance of talking about one’s problems and having someone to listen. Whilst that sentiment is far from hyperbole, I confess that despite talking through what was bothering me I was still beset by negativity and doubt this week.

I do not deign to speak for all sufferers of depression / anxiety here but I know myself that I am my own harshest self critic and that the cycle of self assessment and self criticism that I oft put myself through under the aegis of “self improvement” is nothing other than counter to positive mental health.

Analysis of every bad or questionable decision, aged or recent, and feeling bad about said decisions has been the cornerstone of my dark periods for as long as I have been alive to my mental health issues.

Is it too simplistic to suggest that I ought simply seek to cease analysing every question decision? Or every decision for that matter?

This presents the archetype of a chicken and egg scenario doesn’t it: bad decisions begat over thinking and harsh self criticism yet at the same that very same over thinking and harsh self criticism begats more bad decision making.

I think the better solution is one of acceptance rather than analysis. By this I mean there has to come a point where one accepts the outcomes of decisions made or conduct and moves on. Put differently: there has to come a point where one has to give oneself a break from punishing oneself over things that can not be changed.

Do we not as human beings inherently know this? I know the default setting my brain does not allow me to this so I suspect that the answer to that conundrum is a resounding no. That means that i am going to have to make an effort to release myself from my own self assessment and focus on moving forward rather than looking back.

This is a hard thing to do: I hope any of you reading this that similarly struggle with releasing yourself from the negativity you relate to your own conduct can come up with a way of doing so. I know I have not found my way yet but I am working on it.

Mental Health: the importance of talking and having someone to talk to

It will surprise few that I have had a difficult week mentally. I have written in the past of my frustration at times when I have been unable to tell when a dark period of mental health was coming. Frankly though, one didn’t need to be Nostradamus to see my difficulties this week coming. A combination of a hectic work week, some physical frailty and some important and poignant personal milestones approach left me deep in a dark place.

I am feeling much better about things though as I write this today for a number of reasons. A principal reason among that number is the fact that I was able to speak freely about what has been troubling me. I spoke to my psychologist. I spoke to my best friend. I spoke to my father. I spoke to my sister.

Each of these amazing people in my life have accepted my mental illness for what it is and allow me to talk when I need to and. In fact, they probably do not realise just how much they help me when they listen to me variously rant, plot, procrastinate and self deprecate.

Talking through an issue is a major part of my therapy: I do not know where I would be without it. I have been left to reflect today though on the importance having someone at the other end of the phone / message service / side of the coffee table who is prepared to listen and do so with empathy. I have such people but there are many out there who do not.

I am a lucky one and I realise now more than ever that we as a society must to more to help those who aren’t as lucky as me. I know there are telephone services out there and in patient facilities that can assist but at a base level we all as humans have or should have an obligation to listen to and support our fellow humans when they need it.

I have made this call to arms before and I will make it again: if you have a friend, colleague or acquaintance you believe to be struggling then do something about it. Even if it just offering an ear to listen too taking that step could be the most important thing you ever do.

I will be forever thankful to those I have in my life who are prepared to listen to me. They have made a massive difference to the way I live and the way I deal with my mental impediments daily. I will never be able to thank them enough.

PostScript 1: If you are an advocate of the “tough love” approach and are tempted to tell your friend, colleague or acquaintance to just “toughen up” then I urge you against that approach. It just doesn’t work and will likely make the person you are talking to just feel weaker and more fragile then already do.

PostScript 2: Ian Thorpe admitting himself to a facility for treatment yesterday was big news. I salute him for having the courage to seek help. It is often, I know from bitter experience, the hardest step to take. I wish him well and hope the press will now leave alone to heal.

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.