Category Archives: mental health

Playing Games

I didn’t go on a swim the other morning. I had a device problem and was up until around 11. Not going to get up at 5 in the morning and work out, then work all day on six hours of sleep if I can help it. I’m protective of my sleep.

I really did intend to give working out a miss that day. After all, one day more or less really isn’t a big deal.

But I got to thinking.

I’m party of a party fighting a boss monster on Habit RPG. Habit RPG turns the habits you want to build and tasks you want to perform into a role playing game. You have a character that earns points from completed tasks and habits that you program in. In certain categories, non-performance will cause you to take hit points, rather like rolling low in combat in a role-playing game.

Yes, the monster is goofy as all get out, but you know what? I knew if I did not perform the daily things I’d set myself to do, such as exercise, not only would I take a hit, the whole party facing the monster would.

Is it childish that I’m using this game as motivation to get things done?

I don’t really think so.

I used to. Even used to feel embarrassed with myself that I didn’t just want to do what I was supposed to and had to make a damn game out of everything. I got over it when I realized that a consistently clean house doesn’t trip my reward circuits like a dramatically messy house becoming clean. I will do what trips my reward circuits as easily as a rat in a maze, and the paradigm of feeling good at dramatic change sets up a cycle of requiring a stage where the house is messy. From a purely logical point of view, I certainly don’t want that. But a house that’s consistently clean because I’m earning points in a game does give the reward jolt. I don’t do stuff that doesn’t trip the reward circuits. (No-one does, by the way, but how they’re activated can vary from individual to individual.)

I like Habit RPG because it engages on several levels. It put you in a group of people who choose to be productive (peer pressure can be used for good!), it gives quick and immediate rewards for good behavior and it’s silly.

Don’t discount the quick and immediate rewards. It may take weeks or months to get in shape, but getting those points for avoiding junk food or working out are rewards that happen right away. This system makes it easy to get some artificial immediate jolt to the reward part of the brain while working on goals that might have long-term or abstract rewards.

If you were ever into RPGs, I gotta recommend Habit RPG as a system to check out.

Clean All the Things

I am not particularly neat by nature or general habit.

I am neat by taste. I like order. You can see the conflict, yes?

I do have some habits to take care of this adapted from Flylady. We do have a slightly different approach, but the goals are similar. We’re messy packrats who really would prefer to live in a neat home, and frankly made a pig’s ear out of the attempt for most of our lives.

Part of what I do is daily routine. (Make my bed the minute I get up, make sure the kitchen is cleaned up once a day, etc.)

Part of what the household does is weekly routine. Clean All the Things. (Declutter, dust, vacuum, change bedsheets, give hard floors a quick damp mop). Depending on how bad things are, this can take from 20 minutes to an hour. It’s not enough for white glove inspections, but it keeps the house from degenerating into chaos, and getting used to piles of clutter in corners to the point where we don’t even “see” them as we climb over them. I’ve lived like that and I didn’t feel good with it. Hence the change.

This week was definitely a 20 minute week, especially as my son and I did a very thorough Clean All the Things last week.

In fact, so much so that when I commented it was time to Clean All the Things, my son objected, saying the house wasn’t very messy. (It wasn’t). I said that he was right. The house wasn’t all that messy, so if we did Clean All the Things, it wouldn’t take very long. Neither would it next week. Stuff wouldn’t pile up. He still disagreed.

We took a vote1, and his father and I carried by a 2/3 majority, so All the Things got Cleaned.

I talk a lot about the mundane keeping up of stuff, I know. It’s something I never learned as a child. Not that no-one tried to teach me, mind. It’s just that it was really difficult for me to learn, and I didn’t even really see the value of it. I was into epics, for pity’s sake! Heroic effort, I could value, and get into. Moderate, patient, long-term effort? Not so much. It’s why being able to keep my house clean on a regular basis was such a victory for me and one I still reflect on a great deal.

Now, my pleasure centers still light up at the intensity of effort stuff, and I think that’s okay. I can pour everything into the few hours I’m in front of a class. That’s not hurting anything. In fact, it’s good. But then I need to go home and be patiently moderate about studying for the next class, writing the handouts, and dealing with the other aspects of my life.

I think the theme of this year is going to be learning to be moderately immoderate.

Though I swear, I thought you were supposed to have everything sorted out by the time you were in your forties?2 Goodness knows, my grandparents seemed to in their own minds. I wish I could ask them what they were working on personally (if anything) when they were my age. My parents had my brother and I to deal with. NO-ONE could possibly feel like everything was sorted with us as children. We were kinda challenging to rear.

 

1 Unlike many homes, that vote was not fake. If 2 out of the three of us voted not to Clean All the Things, None of the Things would have been Cleaned.

2 At least, it’s what I used to think at sixteen. Yes, I know, in many ways I’m mentally still a teenager. Stop laughing at me. It’s not nice to laugh at people who can’t help it.

Moderation: Harder than Dramatic Effort

I’ve mentioned before that my fitness goal is to show up every weekday for half an hour. Ideally this means a swim first thing in the morning. There is a class schedule coming up that means that either I swim after I teach, or I do something else before I open the gym. It may mean something else, because I tend not to want to work out after being around people a whole bunch. We’ll see.

So, the goal? Show up, get blood pumping for half an hour. That’s it. This is not to make myself work out, per se. It’s to contain my enthusiasm for days like today and prevent burnout.

After a couple of weeks, I’ve gotten to the point where I hit that endorphin high in a swim.1 I’m swimming about 1,000 yards in half an hour on more days than not, 2 and I got to thinking:

Me: Hey, if we could do 1,000 in half an hour, why not do another 20 minutes and swim a mile? We’ve got time this morning, because our meetings don’t start till later!

Myself: No. Half hour’s up. Out of the pool.

Me: Aw come on. Let’s prove to ourselves we can swim a mile.

Myself: You already know you can swim a mile. That’s not a great athletic feat for you; it just requires patience. Stop it. Out of the pool.

Me: But it’s cool and intense and stuff! And we feel good.

Myself: Yes it is, and yes, we feel good. You’re not here for cool and intense. You’re here to learn consistency. Get out of the damn pool, right now. You’ll feel good from a workout again, I promise.

Me: But lots of people here are working out for a whole hour and do every day.

Myself: OUT. OF. THE. POOL.

Me: Fine! (Gets out of the pool).

Myself: (Softening a bit) Your problem isn’t whether or not you can swim a mile or work out for an hour, or reach an athletic goal or any of that. You’re pretty good at dramatic, short-term effort. Your problem is consistency of moderate effort. You have not yet proven you will be consistent over the long term with exercise. That’s your goal. Giving in to swimming that mile would interfere with that. After you’ve solved the consistency problem, and that’s going to take at least a year, we can revisit athletic goals. (Muttering) As if you won’t be swimming a mile in half an hour after a year of this, anyway…

 

I’m not by nature a moderate person, nor do I really have any middle gears. I’m intense. I have a bad temper, and I throw myself into joy with absolute abandon. While there are advantages to this in many ways, in terms of the dailyness of life, it can interfere.

I also got to thinking about this for people with a lot of the “invisible” illnesses people can have (CFS and its derivatives, and so on). I have one – arthritis, and swimming is a fine work-around for me on that one. But I got to thinking about small consistencies. And I mean really small, like 5-15 minutes of a workout routine each weekday. (Strength, stretching, whatever).

I know for a fact that there are healthy people who do this and have seen fairly dramatically positive results over a period of several years. Of course, I don’t live in other people’s bodies, but I wonder if it’s anything anyone who has one of these invisible illnesses has tried it over a period of a year or more and liked the results.

 

1 Swimming is the most reliable way for this to happen, because it doesn’t hurt like many land-based exercises do.

2 I’m not permitting myself specific distance goals. The goal is to swim half an hour.

For the last time, introversion is not shyness!

I read a piece on introversion lately that was mostly kind of cool, but one line made me want to explode.  It dealt with karaoke and why an introvert doesn’t want to get up and perform karaoke.  Something to do with being terrified of getting up in front of the public and performing, if I recall correctly.

Friends, this is no more a hallmark of introversion than is blue eyes.

Being an introvert is not about being scared of being in the public eye.  In fact, being afraid of public speaking is an incredibly common fear that runs across the introvert/extrovert lines and has more to do with being a human being than it does with one’s mental orientation.

What’s actually a pretty common pattern is for an introvert to be a pretty accomplished public speaker, but find that she detests noisy parties.  Being an introvert isn’t about being scared.  It’s about being drained by too much interpersonal contact.

The introversion=shyness thing tends to get to rub me the wrong way.  I think partially because there is an underlying implication that the introversion needs to be cured, but also because if someone doesn’t know me well, they’ll deny I’m an introvert and interpret my behavior from an extroverted frame of reference.

Ferinstance, if someone sees that because I am not shy that I am an extrovert, but only want to socialize with them on a limited or irregular basis, they’ll interpret that as me not liking them very much, but don’t want to say so.  If they were to see me as the introvert that I am, they recognize that I just need to be alone a whole bunch and it has nothing at all to do with my fondness or not for them as people.

I remember once teaching a class and mentioning being an introvert.  I forget why it was brought up, but since I was teaching, I was probably looking for an illustrative example of something.  One of the class members immediately said, “But you’re not shy![1][2]

No, I’m not.  I even enjoy public speaking.

For the last time, fear of being in the spotlight is not an introversion/extroversion thing.  It’s a not-too-unusual people thing.  ‘Kay?


[1] Nancybuttons sells a button I really should buy.  “I’m not shy.  I’m studying my prey.”

[2] I am a very animated public speaker.

Swimmin' and Body Image

I’ve been slow getting off the mark with my 50 mile challenge.  But I swam a mile today, gosh darn it!  It took 50 minutes, which surprised me, as I was sure it’d be a least an hour[1].

Last year when I was talking to a friend about the 50 mile challenge and asking her if she was going to do it, she commented, “I couldn’t do that.  I’d lose count.”

I didn’t try to convince her, as I think the real reason she wasn’t doing it was a much more valid one.  She didn’t want to.  But I got to thinking about keeping count.

My pool counts a mile as 1800 yards[2].  That’s 72 lengths of a 25 yard pool, my friends, and is going to take between 40 minutes and an hour for the average lap swimmer to complete.  If you’re counting down by lap, not only are you going to lose count, you’ll probably get bored.

I don’t just hop in the pool and start counting down from 72 doing freestyle.  Forget losing count.  That would be daunting[3].

What I do is sets of laps[4].

1 X 50 Freestyle, backstroke and breastroke                        150 yards

1 X 100 Freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke                  300 yards

1 X 50 Freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke                    150 yards

1 X 200 Freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke                  600 yards

1 X 50 Freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke                    150 yards

1 X 100 Freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke                  300 yards

1 X 50 Freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke                    150 yards

Total Swim:                                                                                         1800 yards

What this really means is that I never count higher than eight, what with 200 yards being 8 lengths.  But it is also a lot easier to face.  By the time I’ve warmed up with the shorter sets, 200 yards of a stroke isn’t particularly intimidating.

I also had a funny thing happen in the locker room today.  Like many women in the gym, especially ones with really long hair who need to dry it, I walk from the showers to the lockers with my hair twisted in a towel, but otherwise am not wearing anything.

It really quiet, only another woman and I.  She was swathed in a towel and dressing under it.  She commented that she admired my confidence about walking naked to the lockers.  She sounded really kind of sad and wistful.

I turn around as I’m putting on my underwear.  She’s about 5’7”, and maybe a size 8.  Had I seen her first, I would have suspected condescension.  But the vocal tone combined with the careful draping of the towel made it clear enough.

I made a joke of it and asked if she had kids.  When she said no, I commented, “Eh, well, giving birth will blow away any body modesty.”

The thing is, that she felt badly about her body was hurting her.  I think it was a bit of a shock to her that the body modification you can achieve in a gym wasn’t necessarily going to cure it.  Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for working out and all that smack.   Obviously, what wit me being there and all.  But I’m not there to make myself acceptable to what I think outside perception is.  I wish I could have thought of something to say that would have helped her.  I wish I’d commented that her body is fine the way it is.  I wish I’d commented that you don’t have to fit a physical mold to earn the right to live.

I just hope my example said something to her, as the pain she clearly felt really bothered me.


[1] Note to competitive swimmers:  I know, I’m slow.  Go laugh at me somewhere else.
[2] Yes, a real mile is 1780 yards, but that’s not divisible by 25 yards – the length of the pool.
[3] And courting a rotator cuff injury
[4] This will look familiar to competitive swimmers, though a bit of a light workout.

The Big, Dumb Beast

I came pretty close to blowing off my lifting this morning.  Rather, I started telling myself that I would justs go home and lift with dumbbells “later”.  I had opened the gym, was feeling sick of being there, but I had my workout clothes with me.

Now, in Noël’s World, “later” generally doesn’t happen.  When I give myself an excuse like this, chances are very good I’m trying to wiggle out of whatever is going on.   When I realized what I was doing, I just told myself, “For pity’s sake!  Just go lift and shower.  You’ll still get home quite early in the morning in time to get your other work done.  If you blow it off,  you’ll be blowing things off all day in procrastination.”

I try very hard to optimize my life so that it’ll be easier and make more sense to do the productive thing.  You know, like packing one’s gym bag the night before, setting up the crock pot to cook dinner and having housework routines.  I don’t how much time it saves in the real world, but it does save mental effort and Stuff Gets Done.

The author of The No-S Diet, Reinhard Engels, likens habit to a large and powerful beast that you can domesticate and use the energy to suit your purposes.  I think this is true.  ‘Course bad habits are as powerful and dumb as the good ones!

How do you replace a bad habit with a good one, or get rid of a bad habit?

Steroids, Swimming and Solar Power

I have felt just chilled to the bone lately.  No, it’s not especially cold outside.  In fact, it’s a balmy 40F outside right now.  It’s the damp, and I know it.

Damp, raw chill is probably my least favorite weather.  Even the swimming pool felt really cold to me before I began my laps today, and they keep that pool pretty warm – usually around 75F.  I usually stay pretty warm for several hours after a good workout, but not today.

I’m working snuggled under my slanket today with a rice-filled warmer at my feet and drinking a hot cup of tea.   Tea is more warming to me than coffee.  I’m not sure why.

I saw an interesting question the other day about swimming.  “Will swimming make my shoulders  broad?”

Interesting question.  The real answer is that yes swimming will most certainly aid in shoulder development.  Whether or not you find that desirable is your call.  I will point out that you’re not going to look like a member of the East German 1970s women’s swim team without two things A) Steroids and B) Their training schedule.  Good luck with that.  Me? If I put in three miles of laps in a week, I’m all good.

Which, in this rambling post, brings up another point about steroid use.  While not in favor of chemical performance enhancers, meeself, I sometimes think people have a rather unclear idea of how these things work.  No-one takes steroids then sits on their butt playing video games and expects to win athletic contests.  It’s the drugs and incredibly grueling workouts that do it.  It’s not a magic pill (or shot).

And in the interests of even more rambling, I’m noticing I really do respond well to playing video games that feature bright, sunny weather with blue water and sand.  I have not wanted to hibernate nearly as badly as I often do on gray, wet days when I spend my coffee break on WuHu Island.  I think that surrounding myself with sunny, tropical images is probably a positive thing.   I sometimes wonder if Nanny constantly burning things on icky days was a similar thing.  I think I get my solar-powered tendencies from her.  We might love water, but it’s the combination of water and sun that’s the thing.  The only time I’d want to visit the far North or the far South would be sometime around the Summer solstice, I think.   I’m hoping for more sunshine than this spring.  Last year’s spring and summer were reminiscent of that Bradbury story “All Summer in a Day” and I think another one like it will send me buggy.

And speaking of coffee breaks, mine is over and I need to get back to work.

Wild Times

Okay, taking a break before diving back in to work.

I didn’t make myself a bento for today and was regretting it, but disciplined myself to make a nice, veggie-stuffed wrap for lunch rather than grab something — not that I have much in the way of bags of easy-to-grab food in the house but fruit, anyway.  (Confession:  Bento are at least in part laziness.  I prefer to make it easy to eat properly).

It’s warmed up nicely outside, and it feels like summer.  But it does make me want to be lazy and take a nap.  Unfortunately, I have way the devil too much work to do and really shouldn’t even be writing this entry.  I’m doing it to reboot my brain.   All I can say is that I’m happy that my projects are on relatively interesting subjects.

My cat is trying to inform me that I’m deficient in my petting duties by sitting on the arm of my chair and looking pitiful.  I suppose I should not whine too much about work.  I’m not in a cube farm, fergossake, and I doubt many offices would permit me that most necessary of writing materials, a cat to paw at your hand when it wants love or curl up at your feet while working.

Ahh, the exciting times of the self-employed writer.

Being Down on Yourself

I’ve come to the conclusion that beating yourself up, being down on yourself, hating yourself and all that smack isn’t quite what it seems.

It’s not this hopeless condition from being treated badly when you were a child.

Nope. It’s being lazy. It’s procrastinating[1]. It’s spending time on something that is so non-productive, nay, damaging that it hardly bears thinking about.

And yes, I know that there are going to be people who read that and think, “Oh great, another reason why I suck. Gee, thanks.”

But think about it the time and energy you might be putting into it. Isn’t there something else you’d rather be doing? I’m not saying that you have to be super-productive here, but hell, going outside and drawing with chalk on the sidewalk would be a far, far better use of your time.

What if, every time you felt down on yourself, you thought, “Yep, thinking that again. I’d rather do something else. I’m gonna go finger paint[2].”

Notice that you acknowledge the thought without harsh judgment. Don’t look for yet another excuse to beat yourself up. The point is to STOPPIT. You look at it with dispassionate eyes and coolly choose to do something, anything[3] else.

It doesn’t have to fix whatever you’re down on yourself about. I mean, sure, if that’s what you want to do and it’s even something that’s fixable, cool. But chances are good that the habit of being negative to yourself is actually the more damaging issue.


[1] Think about it, how often do you feel down on yourself that you don’t feel like there’s something you “should” be doing, but aren’t. (Dieting, cleaning the house, earning more money, managing the money you have better, being more social…).

[2] Or read a book, or look up absurd trivia on Wikipedia, or whatever. Washing dishes is better than feeling down on yourself, you know? Okay, marginally. <grin> At least you get clean dishes out of it.

[3] Okay, don’t go around hurting people. If you deliberately choose to hurt people rather than being down on yourself you really do suck.

You Can Choose Not To

I don’t usually discuss something as personal as a dream publicly, but this one I really wanted to share.

I had a quasi-nightmare last night. There was this virus that turned you into this ugly, violent creature (probably inspired by zombie stories, NIght of the Comet, I Am Legend, and the reavers from Firefly). The people that had been turned were mostly big, powerfully built men at first. It was their job to spread this virus to other people.

I was in this large building with a huge meeting hall and several smaller rooms intended for other purposes. The one I was in was a basic meeting room with another refugee I’d never met before. She and I got caught by the creature and injected with the virus. We ran, thinking that at least we could get out before we were given instructions or turned into tools.

As we were running my companion was starting to turn. A greenish warty substance started snaking a line down her face, showing the change. She was really scared, and looked at me as we ran.

“You’re not turning!” she said, out of breath.

“Oh, that,” I said, as if I’d just remembered. “Well, you can choose not to.”

“Oh, yeah,” she said, and her face cleared up.

I woke up after that.

But I found it a pretty powerful dream.