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Post by Peregrine »

This post is going to be roughly two parts catharsis, three parts apology to all Tavern members, one part looking for some sort of advice or sympathy, and a heavy dash of wanting to just get something done to completion that I've been thinking about.

I feel today like the last couple of weeks have been a miniature playing-out of my life at the moment. It's the school holidays, and as a teacher, I had hopes and intentions of getting a lot of stuff done, much of it because it needs to be done (Year 12 final marks are due in a week), some of it because I want to be better organised and better at my job.

It's the Saturday before term starts again and I have done basically none of it.

Every day this week I have had this creeping feeling of time running out. Far from motivating me to start, it saps me of my ability to focus and to do anything. I have kept telling myself that there's still time, that if I just take today to rest and reduce my stress I'll have a better shot at it tomorrow. Never especially compelling, the argument is particularly hollow today.

This is a miniature illustration of my life in that I have so much in my head that I want to do. I have stories I want to tell, things I want to make, ideas I want to share, problems I want to solve. And I rarely start any of it, and I never finish, and knowing this just saps my will to try again in future. I also have a growing sense of age, and while I know I'm not that old yet (34), I look at how the past few days have ticked past with no progress on the things I want to do, and I compare that to how the past few years have ticked past in the same way.

I have depression--have had for many years--and most days it's kicking my arse. Some things have gotten better, but most haven't. A lot of what I want to do is to be better at just doing things, and I can't even manage that. Take this site, for instance. I never expected the Tavern to be like it was way back in its heyday, a decade and more ago, but I thought when I took it over that I could keep it a lively little community for a few steady members and the occasional visitor. Nope! My designs for reasons to be here have either petered out (the D&D game) or never been started (ideas around regular book discussions). I really am sorry, to all of you.

Most days I'm not even sure why I want so badly to write a book, or make a game, or argue a point. I don't know whether I'm subconsciously buying into the "if only..." delusion--"if only I did/had/was this, then everything else would be perfect". I don't think so, but it's possible. Mostly it's the feeling that it'd be worthwhile. There is so much in my head, and it seems good to me. It seems to follow, then, that getting that out and sharing it with others would also be a good thing.

But it isn't happening.

For the record, the Tavern isn't going anywhere any time soon. Moreta has suggested just closing up shop, saving the domain registration fee if nothing else, but it's not a big expense and it's already paid up until some time next year, I think. So the Tavern will still be here for the time being, for the occasional book post or website recommendation that it still sporadically attracts.

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Re: Depression

Post by Lensman »

Hi Peregrine!

<sorry, this turned into a long post!>

First, and most important – you are not alone. A substantial percentage of people – perhaps as many as one in three – suffer from depression. I've seen strong arguments that it is something that particularly affects creative people. Both Starfish and I have suffered with depression for many years. But we get through it. There are ways to help and cope. So do not despair (easy to say, I know).

Coping strategies. The first thing I would recommend is that you make lists. A short list of things I need to do today. And the first item on that list is “Make a list of what I must do today”; then when you've finished the list, you can cross off the first item. Keep the list short, and keep it manageable. Break tasks down into small, 'do-able' units. Not “Mark all the papers.” Instead, do “Mark one set of papers”. When you do a task, cross it off – you've achieved something. That in itself gives a boost. The list is also a good way to focus on what you actually need to do – make the list clear and precise. Not “Do Class 2 prep”; instead “Prepare Class 2 geology tectonics presentation” - so that you know exactly what has to be done. Try to avoid the curse of the blank page (“What am I going to write here?”) and have a clear sense of a direction.

And when you cross something off, you have achieved something – so give yourself a reward. A biscuit, read a chapter of your book, do a browse of pinterest... just something small that you enjoy, to give positive feedback for having succeeded.

Secondly, get exercise. Not less than 20 minutes a day – jog, swim, tennis, boxing, rope climbing, whatever appeals and which you will enjoy. If you get bored jogging, get an mp3 player and listen to something as you jog, either music or an audio book. Something to keep you interested while you do the hard slog. We've got an ancient Wiifit system and I listen to music or audio stories while doing my wiifitting. Librivox is a good source of free audio stories if you haven't discovered it yet.

The third weapon in the arsenal against depression is to write. Not a novel or anything for anyone else to read, but a few lines about why you are down, what is wrong – putting thoughts and feelings on paper (or on screen) helps you to put things in focus. Sometimes I find pouring out my anguish on screen leaves me feeling calmer and less down. Particularly because no one else will see or read it. You can either delete it, or save it as something you may want to look back at or work through. Either way, keep it for yourself. It's a good alternative to counselling. Sometimes it can help you get a sense of direction or pin down why something has hit you particularly hard, making it easier to cope moving onwards.

As to longer term projects – again, write down what you want to achieve. Pin it down – pick just one or at most two specific projects rather than vaguely thinking that you are going to do something. Instead of saying “I want to write something” put down “I am going to write the novel about a triplane pilot who gets shot down by a dragon.” Then pick a time each day which you can set aside to work on it. Do 500 words at a time. Small, 'do-able' tasks again. Put it on your daily tasks list and cross it off when you type the 501st word. If you feel like doing more, if the muse is with you and it's flowing, then write more. Do a little at a time, and don't let it overwhelm you. Do 500 words most days for six months and you have a substantial novel.

The final option, though, is to get professional help. I'm not a great fan of medication, but anti-depressants can be valuable to pull you up if you are so far down that other tools aren't working. A short (three month) session can help you get back up far enough that you can cope better, get onto a positive feedback cycle and work up. The alternative is professional counselling, which we have found very valuable in years gone by and which I heartily recommend.

What you also must remember is that depression is not a failing or something of which you should feel ashamed. It is an illness, like cancer or heart disease. It is not your fault or anything you have done wrong. And it is nothing to be ashamed of.

You can and you will come through it. I can't promise it won't come back, but you will get through this.


- oh, and I'm also glad to hear the Tavern's not vanishing. I, for one, would be glad to see people back in the taproom chatting, drinking and making jokes, talking about books and TV and playing games. Anyone else agree?

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Re: Depression

Post by steveh49 »

I'm sorry to hear about your depression. Are you seeing a doctor about it and doing what is prescribed? Whatever else you think you have to do or want to do, treatment for depression should be #1 priority.

You seem to achieve about how much I do, and most people I know, even with the handicap of depression. Don't try to judge yourself against people in the news, or high achievers like Lensman aka 'The Trilogy Plus One Man' ;) etc. It's just not the case for >80% of people and it's neither a failure nor a crime. Married, educated, good job - if you're missing anything it's only the icing.

Lensman mentioned exercise. I'll add diet (including water) and sleep. Don't forget about the basics of health.

A to-do list can help you get things done but there are some guiding principles to stop it consuming you:

- Don't add things you want to do (oh no, contradicting the earlier advice). If you want to do them, they'll just happen when you get other things under control and you feel like you have some free time. If you add them to the list, they become chores which adds to the weight on your shoulders, and become things you're not getting done. It sounds like you feel like you're in that situation now but I reckon you are actually working on some of the 'wants', but inside your head instead of on paper. So what if you don't write your book until next year or next decade? It means something else was more enjoyable at the time and you did that instead.

- When you write the list, it will get real long real quick. Take a brutal knife to it and get rid of things that don't *need* to be done. You have to do this every time you update the list to make sure worthless tasks don't creep back in.

- Have firm criteria for deciding what's *truly important*. You need to be able to know what is the *single* most important thing. Relying on gut-feel will definitely end with doing the least unpleasant tasks instead of important ones. For me, it's the task that will stop me going home from work on time and keep me away from my family.

- Once you've decided what's most important, do it (easy to say, I know) and only it until it's done. Deciding what to do is actually pretty hard and is sometimes the biggest hurdle.

- Not sure if you're a perfectionist, but that's the enemy of achievement. Perfection is only for your hobbies, otherwise good work (or even just good enough) is the target. Regardless, when you start something, decide beforehand how long it should take without being over-optimistic. You won't always keep to the time limit but a half-hour task that doesn't get finished by lunchtime tells you you're overdoing it and should help you to re-focus (long before lunchtime actually). But you need the mindset that taking longer than the half-hour isn't a failure; it's just a warning that you're going off track.

Re the tavern: I'm finding I'm not reading anything much at the moment and therefore don't have much to contribute here either. I wish it were otherwise but I also know it's not something to beat myself up over. I hope you can get to the same place in general.

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