FtBConscience 2: Mental Illness in Society

FtBCon

It’s that time of year where you don’t know what I’m referencing, but if I keep sounding more excited, suspense will build!

…Which is to say, FtBConscience, our online conference extraordinaire, will be happening this weekend. I’ve been a little behind on announcing anything at all, in part because, see that date range up there? January 31st to February 2nd? Guess when my applications start coming due. Yeah, right in there. So as I dash madly into midterms and What an MSW Would Mean To Me, my fellow bloggers have been organizing and planning and prepping.*

This is the full schedule. 

Each talk (solo or panel) will be held using G+ (I know I’ll be brushing dust off my account), and you can access the link to the live video via the session page. Since videos are live streaming on youtube, they will all be immediately available post-talk.

It’s impossible to attend all of them. Really, don’t even try. Pick your favorites, and save the rest for post-conference. You’ll be able to watch talks for weeks that way. That being said, I was like a child in a candy shop, looking at all the options. Here’s what I’m particularly excited about:

Jewish Atheism: the Hows and Whys: Chana and Miri have been planning to do a version of this discussion for a while, and I’m overjoyed to see it happening. From the description:

“Jewish atheism: what it means, what challenges we face within both our atheist and our Jewish communities, how we deal with cognitive dissonance, how our views of both Judaism and atheism differ from those of others, and so on”

Sexual Harassment Law and You: Ken from Popehat will be giving this talk. I adore his writing: measured and thoughtful and, given his legal background and the topic, likely to be grounded in helpful advice.

Racism and the Zombie Apocalypse: Ian is funny. He is funny and smart and delightful to listen to, and hell, high water, and zombies cannot prevent me from attending this talk. (Bad wifi can, but let’s not talk about that.)

Effective Use of Social Media with Conferences: Some of you…many of you?…know that I work for the Secular Student Alliance, doing their social media. [Shameless plug: Twitter and Facebook] This panel is professional development for me–I’ve only attended a few conferences since taking the position.

Philosophy for Everyone: Julia Galef (of the Center for Applied Rationality), Jess Whittingstone (80,000 Hours and High Impact Ethical Careers), Dr. Richard Carrier, and Dan Fincke talk philosophy.

“This discussion will be aimed at anyone who doesn’t have a Ph.D. in philosophy, and will focus on the real-world benefits and applications of philosophy, not its arcane bits. Learn how you can study philosophy in your spare time and use it in your everyday life, your personal development and life goals, your voting and activism, and more.”

And since I’m making suggestions (and I’m not sure how much my readership knows about the first two participants and their respective organizations) I’ll suggest this piece on social interventions from 80,000 Hours and this experiment from CFAR. Bonus: I got lost in the research recommendation rabbit hole–it is real and it is dangerous–while tracking down the CFAR post, so here’s this bit on giving psychology away from one of my favorite psychologists.

Oh, right.

I’m going to be participating in a panel: Mental Illness and Society, with Stephanie and Miri.

“Last year, a new version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was released. Disorders were added and removed for several reasons, but one of those reasons receives very little attention. Too little attention. Join us as we talk about what it means for a person to be able to function in society and what implications that has for what is and what is not classed as a mental disorder.”

Sunday, 11 AM Central!

*Particular thanks to Miri and Jason, who have been endlessly patient and dedicated, setting everything up and badgering the rest of our lazy butts. 

 

 

Using Self-Help Anxiety (SAM) App: Initial Thoughts

I downloaded the Self-Help Anxiety Management (henceforth, SAM) app to my phone several weeks back with the intention of giving it a trial run. Today I got quite anxious and after knitting part of a scarf, walking three miles, trying to meditate, and taking a nap, all with zero success in stress-reduction, I remembered it. This is Day 1 of the test–I’ll write more well-rounded analysis in 7-10 days, when I’ve used it over time.  If you’re interested in testing alongside, this is the iOS link and here’s one for Android. 

Before: Yes, hi, this is anxious.

Before: Welp, even more anxious than I realized.

Thought 1: Wow, Kate, you are anxious a lot.

Thought 2: Wait, this seems to actually be helping quite a bit.

Cursory Look at the Best SAM Stuff:

-An anxiety tracker (data entry part pictured on left). I paired this with Annoyster (Apple/Android alternative), to pester me to chart anxiety at random intervals throughout the day. Goal: Getting a better picture than either charting when I’m calm enough to remember or charting when I’m anxious enough to open the app.

-The relaxation techniques appear to be gamified: though I haven’t levelled up yet, it appears that after using a relaxation techinque over time, you can “level up” to unlock tougher tools (Perhaps meditating or doing breathing exercises for longer periods of time? Will check back in next writeup.)

-Anxiety Toolbox: when you find activities in the app that are particularly helpful, you move them in here. I’m excited about this part for two reasons
-It indicates that the designers recognize that coping techniques vary widely. What works for me may leave you bored and still anxious.
-When the toolbox fills up, I won’t have to sift through all the activities on the main page to find what I want. Also, if I can make going from anxious to trying coping mechanisms quickly, it increases the likelihood that I’ll do that instead of getting wrapped up in a loop of self-defeating thoughts.

After: Anxious, but manageably so.

After: Anxious, but manageably so. Time invested to get to this point: 10 minutes.

-A little thing that just made me happy: in one of the calming techniques, guided breathing, you can adjust the inhale/exhale times. Attention to detail like this matters. I breathe quite shallowly, and likely wouldn’t have found the exercise practical without customization. Of course, if the app didn’t allow for this, I could have just done focused breathing exercises on my own….and been much less likely to make it a habit.

The Downsides:

-It’s not very intuitive. I had to read the directions and fiddle around with buttons for each screen. I strongly recommend playing with the app during a non-anxious time before putting it to use.

-There’s some sort of social network aspect where you can set up an account. I have no idea what the value of this is.

-All of the references, numbers to call, and resources are for the UK. (The app was developed by a university in Wales.

-I’m not sure how all the pieces of the menu fit together. Sure, it’s great that there’s a place for me to list things that make me anxious, and I like having coping techniques, but how can I use them most effectively? Not a lot of advice is offered. If this was the first app I’d tried or the first attempt I’d made to manage anxiety, I think I might be less enthused.

First thoughts: I like this! It’s the first app I’ve recommended to friends, and the first that I’ve seen immediate results from. It’s free, it’s made by people in the field, and worst case, I’ll have more data about my mood over time that I can use.

Links for downloading it yourself: Android, iOS

Disclaimer: I’m not a therapist. Definitely consult yours, and SAM and my advice aren’t alternatives to medical care. 

 

[Repost] On Running Out of Feelings, and What to Do Next

[This is a repost from when I was co-blogging with Ashley. It seemed appropriate, as I'm feeling a wee numb myself, and with school starting and winter coming, this seems to be a shared feeling.]

Hello, internet.
This is where I come to spill my secrets, right?

Sometime between last week and this one, I went numb–ran out of feelings. I think it was somewhere after the third friend in forty-eight hours contacted me with questions about leaving abusive relationships, between finals and Steubenville and painful anniversaries and suddenly having a living situation that went from Absolutely Planned to Horrifyingly Tenuous. Oh, and it’s my last day of therapy this week.*

And that’s the simple stuff.

Add in friends who need a Social Kate who smiles and has opinions and wit and does not resemble a posed block of wood. Sprinkle in academics, and taking a quarter off to work at a small agency that expects a lot from me.  Roll it all in the stress of attending a competitive university where everyone Accomplishes Things that can be itemized on a resume–things that don’t contain scary words like atheist…and feeling anything outside Ron Weasley’s teaspoon involved too much work.

So I just started feeling numb.

It’s awful. I hate it and I go round and round between being irritated at not feeling anything, and getting angry about it…and then giving up because even anger feels muted and exhausting. It’s not terribly unusual–when you run out of emotional energy, that’s how it goes. It sucks, and I know I’m not the only one who gets this. So here’s how I minimize suckage. (The technical term, ya know.)

Lists

An idea stolen from someone–either the indomitable Captain Awkward or Keely. Each day gets two lists. List One: everything I have to accomplish that day in order to prevent the week from crashing and burning, and nothing more. Anything else you accomplish goes on List Two.

List Two starts out empty, and you have no obligation to fill it. It can be empty at the end of the day, and you will still have survived and accomplished important things and can sleep easily. If there is anything on List Two, you get to feel proud of it. You have gone above and beyond. Congratulations! Well done, you.

Excuses ahead of time are your friend.

Because the socially appropriate answer to a concerned “How are you feeling?” is almost never “My brain is being awful and I can’t feel anything and also everything fell apart last week.”, stock phrases are your friend. Among my favorites:

I haven’t been sleeping quite right, thanks for asking!
Because this is true even if it means you’ve been sleeping constantly and your brain feels like fuzz.

Oh, you know, long week. [Tired smile.]
Where a “long week” is defined as any set of days where life was hard and not worth explaining.

I’m a little out of it right now. It’s probably [related thing that may or may not explain your actual problems.]
Poor finals. I’m constantly blaming them–this is my most used phrase. I actually rarely find exams overwhelming, but they’re a fabulous explanation for why I’ve developed the habits of your average hermit crab.

Sorry, I have a touch of a stomachache.
People with stomachaches tend to get all silent and huddle in the corner of any given gathering, trying to force their gastric juices to cooperate. I don’t particularly advocate lying, but if this gets you out of an nosy stranger’s headlights, I approve.

This terrible clip art is not the Feelings Police

This terrible clip art is not the Feelings Police

Numb is okay.
There are no Feelings Police. They will not come find you and lecture you into submission for not possessing the correct emotional range. Feeling numb is weird and uncomfortable and unpleasant, but it goes away and you can survive it. Give yourself permission to feel as bad as  you do, to nap as long as you need to, and to feel a little hollow.

Be greedy.

And along with that, be greedy. Will taking day off to paint your nails and consume only popcorn make you feel better? Do it. Will skipping that party to play videogames in your room feel better than pretending to feel social? You suddenly have new plans for the evening. Within the limits of your wallet and abilities, do whatever seems as though it could improve your day.

Hide in groups.
The thing about large groups of people is that you can get lost in them. Everyone else will jump about and make noise and try to figure out how to split the check when Susan ate half of the onion rings that Johnny ordered, David and Sarah split an entree, and Jacob only brought large bills.  And you can just sit there. Let everyone else have wild, sweeping feelings. There’s less pressure to say interesting things when everyone else is being exciting. You can tune out, drop in for the occasional murmur of agreement, and still be holding up your little corner of being social.

Update: Puzzles
Stephanie explains.

—-

So there it is. Ideally, these will work this time around, and I’ll kick the fuzzy-brain feels sometime before the end of my spring break.  What do you do?

* NU requires that I take the coming quarter off from classes to work Monday-Thursday, from 9-5. Therapy is only available Monday-Thursday, from 9-5. I’m sure there’s a witty name for the choice between skipping my lunch hour to get therapy and not having therapy for an eating disorder, but right now I can’t manage to find it.