A few weeks back I shared my most recent dance with anxiety and depression. (Jump here for the back story.) While the decision to share some pretty darn intimate details of my self isn’t easy, I’ve always found the support I receive back amazing. Thanks to all of you who have reached out as well as those whom I’ve burdened with my tales as of late.
Since my last update the brain vitamins have kicked in and leveled off many of the initial physical symptoms related to anxiety. I’m able to sleep and eat again. I’m eating much healthier than I have in a long time. (Let me take a moment and thank my wife.) I’m mixing in a bit more exercise and feeling my overall energy levels to be much improved over what I’d consider my “previous normal” self.
This brings me around to mindfulness. I’ve heard this term thrown around over the past few years. Interestingly, my friend Julia and I did a 90 minute conference session a few years back where I tackled productivity and she balanced it with the concept of mindfulness. (In retrospect, I was so focused on my part that I didn’t fully take in her message.)
Mindfulness 101: Are you living in the present moment? Check yourself. Now really check yourself. How about now? Now? Our minds have a sneaky amazing way of carrying us out way far ahead of ourselves or dragging us way far behind the present moment.
…and all of that has brought me to the practice of mindfulness meditation. I’m taking anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes each morning to meditate. If you are curious about a place to start, I recommend grabbing the app Calm [iOS, Android]. There’s a 7 day starter course (10 minutes a day) that teach the basics and allow for a bit of practice.
That sums up where I’m at today. (Actually, it’s much, much more complicated.) I’m sharing little bits and pieces via this blog. Thank you for not unsubscribing. More as things unfold.
The web also enabled the development of social forms that seemed to me to be essential to us as humans: the collaborative, iterative generation of a linked infrastructure of ideas and meaning; permission-free contributions and access; lowered economic barriers to participation; manifestations of bottom-up power; self-creation of a personal presence within a social network formed free of some of the usual irrational hindrances; connections across cultures and differences. The Internet enabled those values. I like those values. So I hoped that we would seize upon the opportunity to throw off the old limitations on connection and creativity, and would flourish in peculiarly human ways.
I’ve read this article 5 times. I still only really understand 60% of it. What I do understand is important.
Nobody likes feeling like a noob, especially when you’re getting constant pressure on all sides to never stick out in an unflattering way. And, in this godforsaken just-add-Wikipedia era of make-believe insight and instant expertise, it’s natural to start believing you must never suck at anything or admit to knowing less than everything — even when you’re just starting out. Clarinets should never squawk, sketch lines should never be visible, and dictionaries are just big, dumb books of words for cheaters and fancy people. Right?
I think finding your own comfort with the process (whatever that process ends up being) might just be the whole game here — being willing to put in your time, learn the craft, and never lose the courageousness to be caught in the middle of making something you care about, even when it might be shit and you might look like an idiot fumbling to make it. What’s the worst thing that could happen?
Well, you could quit, because it’s too hard to make stuff you aren’t already great at. You could convert all that pointless effort and practice back into MySpace updates and the production of funny cat pictures. No, it’s not technically the worst thing that could happen, but it’s a damned common pathway for fear to molder back into an emotional impulse to put on jammies and watch Judge Judy.
I’ve been spending time listening to Tim Ferriss talk to artists about mindfulness. This description of meditation practice from Amanda Palmer is a great description for me, a beginner. (some NSFW language).
Ryan Holiday, via Tim Ferriss, on Thomas Edison’s reaction to his lab and his life work going up in flames.
According to a 1961 Reader’s Digest article by Edison’s son Charles, Edison calmly walked over to him as he watched the fire destroy his dad’s work. In a childlike voice, Edison told his 24-year-old son, “Go get your mother and all her friends. They’ll never see a fire like this again.” When Charles objected, Edison said, “It’s all right. We’ve just got rid of a lot of rubbish.”
You know those disclaimers about consulting with your physician before doing seemingly normal things? I ignore them too. Back in April I stumbled across Tim Ferriss and the “4 hour body,” a twist on a high protein, low carbohydrate diet sort of thing. Why not? I can stand to lose a bit of weight. This seems like an interesting little challenge. More on this weight loss challenge in a little bit.
Along with being a bit fat and very curious, I have underlying issues with generalized anxiety disorder and depression. I was “diagnosed” around 10 years ago. In retrospect, I felt depressed, asked my doctor for some meds, I took the meds. Seriously, this was a conversation that happened after my post-op vasectomy exam.
Biologically, my brain doesn’t do serotonin well. Serotonin is a chemical that contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness. It also helps regulate mood, appetite, and sleep. I take a medication (Sertraline) to help regulate this process going on inside my brain. I should say “took,” because about 6 months ago I made another mistake and stopped taking these medications. Starting to see a pattern here? 40 year old male, pretty smart overall, but a bit of a slacker when it comes to his overall health.
Back to the diet. A few years ago I took up running. I dropped 20 pounds and got really into it over a period of around 3 months. I ended up pushing things just a bit too far, messing up my shin and a knee. Over time, the weight came back on. Fast forward to May 2015 and I decide to take on this Tim Ferriss diet. The first two weeks of this high protein, low carbohydrate diet went really well. I dropped a few pounds. My energy level was improving. I was feeling really good.
Here’s where, “consult you physician” comes in. Turns out, is this high protein, low carbohydrate stunt is a really good way to completely screw with the biochemical processes necessary to produce serotonin. This is “above the fold” “first page Google results” “WebMD” sort of stuff that can be found on the Internet. Of course I’m not taking vitamin supplements. Of course this really isn’t healthy. Of course I really have no idea or no business messing with my health like this.
I crashed. Really hard.
Fortunately, I immediately identified the symptoms as “that depression thing” I experienced in the past.
Imagine walking into the kitchen and encountering a grizzly bear. That. The body goes into shock, unsure of whether to fight, flee, or freeze. It’s an antiquated alarm system leftover from our caveman ancestors. The heart beings racing and breathing becomes shallow.
It becomes more complicated with generalized anxiety disorder. Once the brain recognizes something is wrong, the body reacts. When the body reacts, the brain again recognizes something is wrong. This process continues to loop over and over. Most everybody can relate to the madness of having a strange tune loop incessantly in your head. My “song” is that of worry. It saps any ability to eat and sleep, further complicating the symptoms.
This time around, after making two bad choices (stopping my medication and this diet stunt), I’m committed to learning as much about what’s happening as possible. As a society, we’re really bad at talking about and understanding mental health. On the flip side, we know and are learning an incredible amount about how our brains work.
I’m also interested in sharing with others. I’ve developed a number of deep personal and professional relationships through social media over the past 15 years. While 99% of it is focused on resources, #napchat, travel woes, and what we’re eating, that 1% is incredibly meaningful. My hope is that by sharing, a few others begin to understand and can find help for themselves. I’m also sure that I still have much to learn from all of you on this topic. Feel free to share.
I’m now 4 weeks post-crash. I’m probably 85% – 90% back to what I would consider normal. It takes the medications 6-8 weeks to literally rebuild those biochemical processes inside my brain. This time, that’s only the beginning. A number of you have mentioned cognitive behavioral therapy…I’m going down that path as well. My goal isn’t to return to 100% or normal. Whatever 150% is, that’s my goal. Something beyond the “take your meds and feel better” strategy I’ve leaned on for the past 10 years. I’m slowly inching towards that in recent weeks and intend to share what I’ve learned.
Meanwhile, thanks. For listening. For sharing.
(More later on therapy, meditation, mindfulness, and all the other great things I’m learning on my journey.)
“Rhizomatic learning posits a learning experience where the curriculum of the course is the people that are in it.”
I’m diving into #rhizo15 yearning for the types of online people connections I experienced way back in the day. Before Twitter. Before Facebook. Back in the day when “social networking” meant commenting on others’ blogs and combing through others’ Bloglines subscriptions to explore who was connecting with who.
At the heart of those early days were a troop of folks doing some Worldbridges thing that included EdTechTalk and a bunch of other webcasts/shows/communities. Three people in particular – Dave Cormier, Jeff Lebow, Jennifer Maddrell – were the super nodes of the online educational technology community from my side of the screen back in the early – mid 2000’s. These online relationships resulted hundreds of “in real life” sorts of connections and thousands of other online connections that I truly cherish today. (Ironically, I have yet to meet Dave, Jeff, or Jennifer in this real world place. Someday.)
World of Warcraft
In 2006 I picked up a nasty World of Warcraft habit. It was all of those things about online community, learning, and connections that I was passionate about. 10x more powerful. To this day I hold that experience way above and beyond anything I’ve seen since. One of my biggest fears is that I’ll never experience that sense of online community again.
As I peeled myself out of WoW, I found elements of the online people connection piece in a little thing called Twitter. Somewhere on my resume it should say, “Patient Zero on Twitter in EdTech.” Not because of any value I provided. Quite the opposite. I reached back to those I knew in EdTech as a result of EdTechTalk and pushed Twitter on them. They pushed it on their friends, who then pushed it on their friends. Stupid algorithms always connected back to me, making me out to be somebody far more important than I ever should have been.
For me, “peak Twitter” happened in late 2010. A friend and I, interested mostly in how to game the attention of people and companies on Twitter, entered an online contest sponsored by Mercedes-Benz to win cars. Cars for our wives. It was an Amazing Race sort of contest that involved collecting the most Twitter hashtags mentions for our team as we drove across the United States doing stupid challenges. A few weeks prior to the contest, Twitter changed how retweets worked. Understanding “old-style” retweets, combined with a nice insta-community of edtech geeks, helped us stomp out the three other teams and win cars. Cars for our wives.
Few know what I actually do for a living, my wife – and somedays myself – are included in this list. Back in the early days of the Internet, big research universities had to find their own ways of building and operating big networks that would connect them to the world. These big networks interconnect and create what we know as the Internet.
Today, a handful of big telephone and cable monopolies control these interconnection points, reaping huge profits. Interestingly, there are still folks out there building and improving this “Internet” thing for the right reasons. Want to know more? Ask. It’s amazing.
All that leads me to today. I’m looking for community. People want to feel connected. I’ve played out all of the easy ways in which people connect. I’m looking for something different. Deeper. I hope folks like Cormier and you might help get me (us) closer to that.
The system we grew up with is a mess. It’s falling apart at the seams and a lot of people I care about are in pain because the things we thought would work, don’t. Every day I meet people who have so much to give but have been bullied enough or frightened enough to hold it back. They have become victims, pawns in a senseless system that uses them up and undervalues them. Scared.
It’s about a choice and it’s about our lives. This choice shouldn’t require us to quit our jobs, though it challenges us to rethink how we do our job.
It’s time to stop settling for what’s good enough and start creating something that matters. Stop asking what’s in it for us and start doing things that change people and organizations. Then, and only then, will we have achieved our potential.
For hundreds of years, we have been seduced, scammed and brainwashed into fitting in, following instructions and exchanging a day’s work for a day’s pay. That era has come to an end, and just in time.
We have brilliance in us, our contribution is valuable, and what we create is important. Only we can do it, and we must. I’m hoping we not only chose to stand up, but also choose to make a difference.
A powerful conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, organizations are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.
These organizations are conversations. Their people communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.
Most organizations, on the other hand, only know how to talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and set of talking points. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder people have little respect for organizations unable or unwilling to speak as they do.
But learning to speak in a human voice is not some trick, nor will organizations convince us they are human with lip service about “listening to users.” They will only sound human when they empower real human beings to speak on their behalf.
While many such people already work for organizations today, most organizations ignore their ability to deliver genuine knowledge, opting instead to crank out sterile happytalk that insults the intelligence of people literally too smart to buy it.
However, people are getting hyperlinked even as markets are. Organizations need to listen carefully to both. Mostly, they need to get out of the way so networked people can converse directly with networked organizations.
Corporate firewalls have kept smart people in and smart organizations out. It’s going to cause real pain to tear those walls down. But the result will be a new kind of conversation. And it will be the most exciting conversation our organization has ever engaged in.