So I went to my GP to get a blood test. Turns out I’m vitamin D deficient and borderline low in iron. That would explain some of the low mood.
Some people get SAD
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression linked to seasonal changes. I find I tend to get bluer around Winter/Spring time and I think it’s connected to not enough sun light.
lethargic in the morning
Problems getting to sleep some nights
Struggling to get up and going
Easy to tear up
Sense of worthlessness
Difficulty concentrating on work tasks
Lack of motivation
I become a master procrastinator
Try to be easy on yourself
While I’m recovering from this bout of winter blues, I’ve put most of my extra goals on hold. I’m not bothered with my weight-loss goals, my book writing or app building. I’m giving myself time to recover. I’m trying to meditate in the sun in the mornings but that’s slow going. I’m open with my team at work for taking mental health days when I just don’t have the capacity for work. You can also use spoon theory to talk about your capacity.
If you are feeling something similar, try to set yourself small achievable goals and talk to someone about it. Reach out, you aren’t alone. Have you experienced SAD lately? What is part of your self care therapy?
Let me tell you a story of how I got my role at one of Australia’s big four banks. Back when I was last job hunting, I had a few different leads come about from networking at meetup events and this bank wasn’t my first choice.
I had another Job Offer
My trip up to Newcastle to present at the Newcastle coders group had lead to job offer from a startup. The job offer was a mobile app team lead to a potential head of engineering upgrade career path. It was a super exciting offer and after chatting to my partner about it (they weren’t super happy) I signed the job offer.
Moving to Newcastle
I gave notice to my house mate, my previous contract and my community. I had arranged a few inspections and had put down a rental deposit on a new apartment up that way and had my heart set on living a 20 minute walk from walk, a 15 minute walk from the beach and a 5 minute walk from a brewery. All for less than $350 per week rent for a 2 bedroom apartment right in the centre of Newcastle. I had my priorities straight 😆 .
Then it all fell through
2 weeks before moving, the startup calls me up and cancels my employment contract. The level of transperancy I practice personally was a culture fit concern. Apparently someone on the board spoke to a previous colleague while doing “extra background checks” and my history of depression and performance came up. It’s not like I publicly speak and blog about these struggles. But they didn’t want to hire someone with this history. However the formal reason for cancelling the contract was for “culture fit” reasons.
This was over a phone conversation with one of the founders of the startup so the termination reason was never written down formally. I’m on good terms with the founder, they were annoyed with this decision but there wasn’t anything either of us could really do.
I think someone had spoken to a colleague who didn’t have the full context of why I left a previous role. The role didn’t suit my skills and expertise.
Where as from the outside, it looked like my broken leg blues was impacting my performance. Now it did impact my engagement but it wasn’t the reason for the departure. you can read more about that story here.
Mental Health Discrimination
If you feel like you’ve been unfairly dismissed or discriminated against, you have a few options. I had a chat to a fair work lawyer, they believed I had a valid case but because I hadn’t started employment there wasn’t a lot of financial reimbursement I could claim and their fee was $7000.
Claiming Unfair Dismissal
You can claim on your own with no lawyers fees but it’s harder if you chose to self represent. Also you have to let the fair work ombudsman know within 21 days of being dismissed. I let that time window pass. You can claim a few other ways too, one way has a 6 month time frame and another is within 12 months with the human rights commission. *
*Disclaimer; I might have some of these facts mixed up and this is not legal advice. Please reach out to a lawyer for further clarification
Opting out of unfair dismissal
I opted to not go down the unfair dismissal route. The startup had reimbursed me the direct expenses I had already paid with the move (my rental deposit and inspection fees), so there wasn’t much else I could claim except for the lapse in work/stress from moving because I now had to find a new job and move (my house mate had already found a new room mate and I couldn’t undo that). I didn’t feel all that hard done by and felt like they had already made fair reimbursements.
The only other reason I’d want to pursue the case is because I’d want people to acknowledge that mental health is important and it’s illegal to discriminate on this basis.
Rekindled previous leads
After the Newcastle job fell through, I rekindled all of the previous job leads I had. The original job at this bank I had interviewed with had been filled but there was another mobile QA engineer related role with another team that had just opened up. My details were passed along to someone else on the Talent Acquisition team. I did have to redo the 2 stage interview process again but it was a successful process this time round.
Moving and the new job
In the end, it all worked out for the better. I moved into my own 2 bedroom apartment in Crows Nest which had even cheaper rent than my last place (it wasn’t as cheap as Newcastle) and ended up with a job with this bank with a higher salary package compared to what the start up was offering. I’m still on a mobile team and I’m working on an interesting product. I have a financial update here if you are interested in reading more about my current state of affairs.
My partner is happier with this option and I can continue to do all of the awesome event based stuff I’ve been doing for Sydney Testers and YOW! Conference. I really dodged a bullet, I wouldn’t have wanted to work for a company where people didn’t like my transparency.
I’ve also written about fatness and bias before. This doesn’t constitute illegal discrimination under Australian law but it’s another story of how society can feel like it treats us unfairly.
I was having a chat to colleague recently about mental health. I actively blog about my struggles with depression and we got talking about spoon theory and self care. I thought I would share some of my practices that help me keep on top of this part of my health.
Spoon theory is a metaphor for dealing with chronic illness/mental health issues or disability. When we are healthy and functioning we have plenty of spoons to deal with life and we hardly notice when they are used. Sometimes we might be in situations where our spoon supply is diminished and mundane tasks we took for granted now become very hard to do. I find not sleeping well is a quick way to reduce the number of spoons I have to work with the next day. Sometimes starting a new project or being in a new situation can deplete more spoons than expected.
Sometimes you might hear people say, “I’m out of spoons” as a safe way to signal to the people around them that they are overwhelmed and need help getting out of their current situation.
I have a harsh internal self critique that is always trying to get me down. When I’m tired it’s harder to ignore that voice in my head. One way to combat this is to practice gratefulness. Some people like to keep a daily journal and at the end of the day write down 5 things they are grateful for. This why a nightly prayer (if you are Christian) is great practice for improving your mood. You spend some time in your day reflecting on the good things. I keep a blog post that is a, “letter to self, when you are feeling low this is all the awesome stuff you are doing”. Some people practice mindfulness or meditation.
Meditation can help you to recognise your triggers from an internal thought process and can help you to not get emotionally caught up with the thoughts. Your mileage with meditation can vary and I don’t recommend trying to introduce a new habit without some support in place first. I try to meditate for 20 minutes a day but don’t beat myself up if I miss a day.
2018 has come and gone. You know what, overall it’s been a pretty shit year for me but the goal of this blog post is to take a moment to practice gratefulness and to reflect.
The crappy bits
I started 2018 not being able to walk because I broke my ankle in December 2017 and couldn’t walk for 12 weeks. I was also starting a new job. 2018 saw me go through a relapse of depression because of broken leg blues and I went through 2 jobs. The first one wasn’t the right fit and the second one had cash flow problems. But still, these were unplanned events that made me feel like failure.
However that is enough moping about. What else did I achieve in 2018?
I spoke at the Selenium Conf in India in July. This was pretty cool. It doesn’t matter how much people tell you about cultural differences, it’s really worth experiencing some of these things yourself. I had never been to India before so that was exciting.
I spoke at a few more in Aus (Agile Australia, and Australian Testing days), you can see all of my recorded presentations here. I also attended a few offering my sketch noting services. I enjoyed being able to attend these conferences and add some value back.
Getting around on wheels made me appreciate public transport here in Sydney. Sure it’s not 100% perfect, but it’s definitely better than New York. Watch Zach Anner on his quest for the rainbow bagel using the New York public transport:
I’m binge watching youtube video’s, as I do when I’m doing nothing on the weekend and I stumble on this TED talk on co-housing:
This got me thinking of all of the different types of houses I’ve lived in over the years and I’d thought I share my stories and experiences with them.
My personal values are (I can actually use the mnemonic CASE to remember them);
Experiences over things
Living in sharehousing/cohousing actually aligns with my all of my core values in some way.
Student Housing in Sweden
I lived in Sweden as an exchange student for a year between 2009-2010. I lived in a corridor in a student housing complex. Each corridor had 13 separate bedroom & bathroom units and a central kitchen/lounge room that was shared amongst the 13 corridor tenants. Each floor had 2 corridors and most buildings 4 levels.
This student complex had a building for every letter of the alphabet. There was a communial laundry for every few buildings in the basement. The gym was in building A:
I lived in a Swedish corridor that only had 2 international student rooms. I’m really grateful for this mix because another corridor in our building was all international students. In my mind this was close to pretty much ideal living situations for a student. I had never felt this socially connected before. If there wasn’t a party happening somewhere in Delphi there was another student complex up the road that someone else knew where a party was happening.
Rent for this accommodation equated to about $125 AUD a week and included nearly everything. It was very reasonable and within my means being on government payments even though I didn’t receive rent assistance. I was getting around $375 AUD every two weeks from study allowance. My only extra bill was internet which was crazy cheap and fast (roughly $10 AUD per month for a basic 200GB package that had fast fibre speeds)
The only drawback I experienced in this situation was because I was only there for a year, I couldn’t personalise my space as much as my local Swedish neighbours could.
Variety of share houses
I’ve lived in a variety of share houses since then. While finishing uni I lived in around 5 different situations. Rents were between $60 AUD to $130 per week. I lived with a lady from Bangladesh and her two kids in a tiny apartment in Sandy Bay, in a old 3 story brick house in Glebe, an out the back granny flat in Glenorchy and a huge old house in Taroona.
Taroona was my cheapest share house but they came with some big problems. The house it self was huge. It was a two storey 3 bedroom house with a second loungeroom downstairs. We converted the downstairs loungeroom into a 4th bedroom. The total rent for the house was $270 per week. We had split the rent to between $60 to $80 per week per room. Only thing is the house came with a troll.
The troll of Taroona
There was a granny flat underneath half the house and it was occupied by a single guy. He was the troll in our house. He would bang on our floor when when we were being “too loud”, fill our house with the stink of weed, have random burnoffs in the back yard, have loud aggressive arguments with his ex misses about shared custody of their kid. He made living in this house very hard.
Another drawback to this place was one of my house mates was struggling with rent. Another housemate would vouch for him but he kept getting further and further behind. I ended up leaving that house with this person owing me over $1000 in food, rent and shared bills. I’ve never seen any of this money and I have never spoken to this person since then.
Communal Housing in Bland Street, Ashfield
Since moving to Sydney at the start of 2014 I’ve lived in about 9 different places. I haven’t had a lot of stability in my living arrangements. One of the more interesting places has become a old Victorian era town house converted into a communal community house in Ashfield, also known as Bland St. This house had around 11 bedrooms and 20-ish residents.
Sense of Community
I love the sense of community in this situation. I would often cook communal meals and had gardening and home brewing projects with a lot of the residents. I baked so many brownies. The average demographic was between 18-25 so I was a bit on the older side and most people were working holiday visa types. The house is always changing it’s personality.
Share rooms in Sydney
In Bland St most rooms were shared 2 person (usually strangers) per room. Sydney is ripe with this type of arrangement because rent is so dam expensive. I was paying between $150-$225 (ish) per week depending on the room arrangements and location. I’ve lived in this type of situation in Darlinghurst, China Town, Pyrmont and Ashfield.
The main drawback to co-sharing a room is the disrupted sleep. My depression gets when I don’t get enough sleep. The young vibe of Bland Street meant I felt like I drank too much alcohol, I still feel that now but at least I’ve reduced the social drinking urge.
Co Housing in the future?
It seems that co-housing in Sydney is starting to open up. For example apparently we opened our first co-housing in September this year. Only thing is, the rent for this is incredible expensive ($525 per week). I currently pay $300 per week for a my own room in a 2 bedroom apartment in Wollstonecraft. It’s a stone throws away from the train station. $350 is my maximum budget that I’m willing to spend on renting in Sydney.
I have an obsession with tiny houses. I have a loft bed in my bedroom. it’s pretty cool. I love the idea of tiny housing and being efficient with space. Small housing also has less environmental impacts, requires less resources to maintain and all that stuff. It’s been really nice to furnish my own room with second hand furniture and to experiment with space saving ideas.
My ideal living arrangements
Is probably a share house communal living arrangement. I would love to live in something like I did in Sweden where I can furnish my own space but partake in communal cooking. I’d love to live in a place with an easy to access community garden. It’ll probably be apartment based if I was in a city like Sydney or maybe wooden cabins based if I had my own land in Tasmania. I want something that’s nicely designed as opposed the regular cheap as possible option often seen here in Sydney.
I had a low day on Friday. I’ve had a persistent headache and fatigue for a few months now and a head cold on Friday brought out the worse of it. I’ve lived with depression for eight years now so I know when to have a day off to take it easy. Friday started with a 2 hour struggle to get out of bed. It was one of those days.
When I’m in these low moods my obsessive nature and harsh internal self critic can get completely hooked on little comments that people make. This blog is a reflection on this internal thought process to help you understand what might be going through a depressed person’s head.
In conversation someone mentioned something about, “… being a big girl”, it was related to me being able to look after myself. I responded with “I use to be a lot bigger” and someone else in the conversation added, “keep away from the pork and you’ll stay that way”. In the moment I didn’t think anything of it. But my obsessive nature got hooked and over the afternoon I couldn’t let it go.
I became completely obsessed over everything I had eaten recently infront of said company. I replayed the dinner we had recently over and over and over in my head. I counted every calorie, it came out to about 2000KJ and 10gm of protein. Then my internal harsh critic got on board. It starting saying to me, “you are fat, lazy good for nothing, completely worthless, you should just curl up and die”. So now there was a battle going on in my head, the obsessor just going over and over and the critic telling me I’m worthless. Normally these thoughts aren’t that loud but they get overwhelming on low days.
My obsessor wanted to figure out how to write a response to those comments. This blog post is an attempt at pleasing the obsessor because I am still thinking about it after 4 days.
I know those comments come from good intentions, people say these things because they care. The only nutritional goals I stick too (under the advice of my weight loss clinics nutritionist) is to get 60gm of protein a day and to take my daily multivitamin. I’ve had a lifetime of people commenting on my weight. I thought I had developed a thick skin for it, obviously I hadn’t. Or maybe it just hurts more the closer to home it is?
I’m at a stage now where I can try to practice self compassion (I try but it’s hard). I would catch these thoughts and tell myself, “that’s not a very nice thing to say Sam, you are one of most proactive people I know. You are so far from lazy and worthless it isn’t funny. Look, you even had lunch with someone who thanked you for your help with their CV recently and they are starting a new job soon because of you. Remember that Buddhist monk on youtube? Try and practice letting go.” Here is the youtube video I was thinking of:
How to be supportive
If someone has opened up about their mental health and they raise something like this with you, please don’t feel like you need to censor yourself. That is stressful and not healthy. Often when these things come up for me, I never raise them with the person who caused the trigger because I know deep down it’s just my mind overreacting. So being open and empathetic if someone does raise this is all I ask for.
Please be mindful of how your words can hurt. It reminds me of the common rhyme about sticks and stones I was told about as a kid. Here’s my new version:
Sticks and stones may break my bones
But harsh words from a loved one
Can make me wish I was dead
I’m grateful I’ve never been suicidal but I still live with this kind of depression on a fairly regular basis. My partner has probably seen me go through about 4 or 5 episodes now over a 2 year period.
I’m grateful I can be this open about this huge cause of internal stress. A lot of people who struggle with similar things aren’t as blunt as I am and keep the struggle to themselves.
I’m starting my goal setting early. I wrote this blog for goal setting for 2018. On reflection; I haven’t slipped back into obesity at least, which I was super concerned about as I spent the first six months of 2018 recovering from a broken ankle. Here’s my thinking behind my goal setting for 2019 and why I’m starting early.
Brainstorm everything I want to do
As an exercise, I listed everything I want to do and then asked myself, What do I have time to do? What is more important? What aligns the most with my personal values? I’ve had to eliminate a lot of extra curricular ideas and I still feel like I have a lot on my plate 🙁 .
I then came up with the following list of things that are really important to me. They are themed around personal, career, family and financial goals:
Beat the overweight label (personal)
Maintain a daily meditation practice
Write a book (career)
Teach my Nan digital marketing (career and family)
Launch an app
Pay off half of my credit card debt (financial)
Speak at one international conference and take my Mum
Brew two whole grain beers
Keep Sydney Testers going
Create enough content to run a 3 day workshop
Why start the goal setting early?
I’m going to focus on developing my morning habit for the rest of this year. I’m going to get up early, meditate and write before heading off to work. If I can do this for the rest of the year, I’ll be in a good place to expand it come 2019. The green in the following table is this minimum commitment:
I’ve put together an idea of what my ideal morning and ideal week looks like. If I do not put aside time to do things that are important to me, it’ll never get done. I reflected on what I could squeeze in. Unfortunately things like studying Japanese just don’t fit in financially and time wise. So here’s my ideal week to work towards in 2019:
There are some goals that I haven’t put aside any weekly or morning time for but they can’t easily be chipped away with a daily/weekly habit.
Keep goals measurable but hard to achieve
Everyone seems to be talking about Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) for goal setting these days. One of the important things with OKRs is that they are hard to achieve. When you reflect back on your goals you should be able to say you hit up to 80% of your objective. If you hit 100% you actually set your goals to easy. For example, I’m going to work towards beating the overweight label but I’m not going to consider myself a failure if I only get halfway there. By listing up my ideal morning/week it gives me an ideal to work towards but by highlighting my minimum commitments I won’t beat myself up if I have a bad week or two.
There’s no point in setting vague goals that you don’t tell anyone about. To ensure external accountability with my goals I’m going to;
Pay for a personal trainer for a twice a week weight lifting session
Go climbing with my partner every Wednesday and Saturday
Pay for a publisher’s time to help keep me focused on writing
How will you go about goal setting for next year? What measures will you take to ensure accountability? Please let me know.
I was first diagnosed with chronic depression back in 2010. I had just spent a year on exchange in Sweden and coming back just broke me. My boyfriend at the time kicked me out of home and I felt disconnected from all of my uni friends because my studies were no longer on par with them. So I fell into despair and couldn’t function with life anymore. I went to a psychologist; we did cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness training. I’m grateful for not having a major relapse since then but I can’t remember experiencing a large amount of time since where I didn’t feel some mild symptoms of depression. So this blog post is a reflection of living with depression for 8 years.
There have been ups
Don’t get me wrong. It hasn’t been 8 years of constant depression. Generally I’ll have something new or a change happen that will fill me with hope and energy for up to 3 months. Things like; starting a new relationship, moving houses, getting a new job, speaking overseas and having weight loss surgery. These are all amazing things. However I find myself coming back to a mildly depressed state. It feels like depression is my default rather than the exception. I can’t keep looking for external changes to increase my mood. It’s just not sustainable.
I have tried lots of things
Antidepressants, loosing weight, exercise, meditation, improving sleep and reducing commute to work. Anything that’s had a mild correlation in improving mood I’ve tried. Sometimes it helps in the short term but I’ve never been able to make any long lasting improvements. If it was as simple as “think happy thoughts” then I’d have been cured a long time ago. I’m going to have a chat to my gp next week to see if there’s anything in my diet that’s impacting me this time.
Impacts on day to day
Being depressed impacts my performance and engagement at work, my finances (I can’t easily control my impulsive nature when I feel like crap and just want any comfort), my health and my satisfaction with life. It’s a real downer. I withdraw from friends and family more.
I probably do too much
I’ve always had a tendency to look for external stimulation to make me feel good. Volunteering and getting involved with the community are really important to me. These things have a tendency to create burn out though. I really don’t know how to reduce this because everything I do is important to me. I can’t really attend hackathons anymore because I’m just so tired by the end of the week and when I don’t have that rest and recoup, by Monday I just want to curl up into a ball and have the earth swallow me up so I don’t have to deal with life anymore. I have an all or nothing approach, I don’t know what “sustainable pace” looks like.
So, what to do? I’m a little sick of feeling shit for no real reason. I know sleep is one the most important things for me to keep on top of but even that isn’t working. What works for you?
I haven’t blogged about mental health for a while. Here’s an update on where I’m at. Overall; this week I’m feeling good. I’ve been experiencing a reasonable amount of fatigue/change recently which has made the last two weeks a little low.
Breakdown at the bus stop
I had a mental breakdown at a bus stop a week ago because I was tired, cold, wet and was stuck waiting in the rain for bus for 15 minutes. I just cracked it, I’d had enough. I needed a good cry. Getting overwhelmed with emotions is fine, for me I just need to watch out when that sensation sticks around all day. This feeling didn’t stick around all day. So that’s some progress atleast.
Mindful Eating Practice
I visited my psychologist yesterday morning to talk about developing a mindful eating practice. I will be using an app called Recovery Record to track my food and mood over the next two weeks and this will be shared with them, I will also be putting aside one meal a day to practice mindful eating. Mindful eating is where you practice dedicating all of your senses to the act of eating; what do you smell, feel, hear, see, think and taste while you eat? Can you take as much time as you need to really enjoy your meal? Can you practice dedicating all of your focus to eating rather than being distracted by everything else?
Two weeks ago I started doing a meditation course with Nicho Plowman, one of the owners of Insight Timer (the company I’m working for). It’s a Vedic Meditation practice that is suitable for a busy lifestyle. It’s a silent mantra based and we are meant to keep up a 20 minutes twice a day routine. I’m currently meditating on the bus to work, in the evening in the office and wherever else I can get the time. I attempted meditation at the hair dressers when my partner was getting their hair cut. I didn’t exactly get a deep meditation but that’s the point of practicing in these loud and distracting environments. I had some negative emotions come up when I started, I would be overwhelmed with thoughts that would bring tears to my eyes but it’s not happening as much now. I’m generally keeping up the practice (I forgot completely to meditate on Sunday). I’m enjoying putting aside the time for it. I had been meaning to establish a meditation routine for ages.
Do you have a meditation or mindfulness routine? What works for you?