Blogging Burnout

I’m feeling a little burned out this week.

When I scaled back my posting to these weekly link posts or reposts, I thought it would be easier than making original content. And, at first, it was. I just had to comment on whatever link I was resharing and set up how I saw it or what I thought of it. It was relatively easy. But, after a couple of years of that, it got a little boring for me. And, the general rule is, if it’s boring to write, then it’s even more boring to read. A bored writer does not inspire people to read their work.
The other thing is, I haven’t written a single sentence of fiction in more than five years. I don’t think I can really call myself a writer if that’s the case. Over the past year, I have filled pages of Morning Pages, which has definitely helped my writing and creativity in general, but it hasn’t gotten me a single word closer to writing fiction. I can probably come up with a lot of reasons for that, but, ultimately, they’re all excuses. Some time ago, I threatened to change the format of what I posted, which I did to some extent, but I quickly fell back into the old posting format. Now, here I am. I’m fairly burned out on all this blogging that I’ve been doing for years. I don’t know who comes to either of my active, or semi-active, blogs anymore, so I’m not even sure who I’m writing for at this point.

So, what does that all mean? Well, I’ll probably step away from the blog for a bit. Maybe a couple of weeks. Maybe a couple of months. And, in that time, I’ll try to break through whatever is going on that’s blocking me from writing fiction. I suspect that it’s just fear of looking stupid or like a bad writer after all this time. You know, the usual things that hold a person back.
Blogging has become more of a chore than a joy, which means it’s time to make some changes. I don’t know what those are exactly yet, but either way, I just need to do something different for a bit.

Depression At Work

I’m no stranger to getting things done in spite of being depressed.

Look, even before the pandemic, life could get pretty hard sometimes. I mean, with brutal schedules and lack of staffing that’s been frankly endemic to corporate IT, which is what I do for a living, anyone can get beaten down and get depressed. Add to that the endless list of economic factors that have added weight to everyone’s state of mind and all the politics and social media and the usual family “stuff”, and, well, it’s surprising to me that we don’t just put antidepressants in the water like fluoride. But, we don’t. And, losing it at work is only going to make things like bills and health care, and family issues even harder. So, what to do? Well, there’s a lot, actually, but a good place to start is the list of suggestions in this article on Monster about dealing with depression at work. They suggest, of course, talking to a professional and investigating if your company has an employee assistance program, which usually includes some kind of access to counseling services. And, if you’re worried about being judged harshly by the boss, keep in mind that those services are all strictly confidential.
One thing that I’ve done, when I was going through my divorce, for instance, was to journal about what’s bothering me. And, I tried to schedule the worst of the breakdowns for when I was home, alone, with the dog. It helped. Also, my ex-wife once told me that no one can see you cry in the shower. In retrospect, it’s a little sad that she not only knew that but thought that I could use the information, but she’s also right about it. The most important thing is, though, do your best, but don’t do it alone. Get help before you can’t do your job because that just makes all the other stuff that much worse.

So, as I wrote at the start of the month if you’re struggling with depression or any other mental health issue, don’t wait. Go get help. You can find some good resources at MentalHealth.gov – How To Get Mental Health Help And, most importantly, if you feel like you’re going to hurt yourself or others, please, do reach out to someone.

Suicide & Mental Health Hotlines in The United States
Crisis Text Line Text HOME to 741741
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline 1-877-726-4727
Trans Lifeline 1-877-565-8860 (for the transgender community)
TrevorLifeline 1-866-488-7386 (for LGBTQ youth)
Veterans Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255, Press 1

Antidepressants or Tolkien Character?

posted in: Fun, Fun and Games | 2

Mental health is serious, but we can still have fun with it.

So, I know I tend to be super serious about things like mental health and medication because it can be a huge deal in someone’s life, especially if things aren’t going well. But, that doesn’t mean that we still can’t have a little fun, too.
I thought I’d share this before, but I can’t seem to find it anywhere on my blog, so I’m going to risk it and share an amusing game I first saw via my fellow geeks at Boing Boing called Antidepressants or Tolkien. It’s a fun little quiz that throws a strange name at you and asks the simple question: is it an antidepressant or a name from Tolkien’s work? I have to admit, I only got 15 of 24 questions right. It’s more challenging than you might think! I mean, yes, some are obvious, but some really are NOT! Either way, it’s a fun little game and has at least a tenuous connection to mental health, so I felt it was good to share. Who knows? It may even end up being accidentally educational!
Either way, have fun and come back next week for more!

Mental Illness In Movies

If it’s done well, there’s an opportunity to help people.

Of course, Hollywood likes to exaggerate things a bit, but even when that’s the case, there are opportunities for learning and increased awareness of mental illness and dealing with it. As I mentioned last week, this is Mental Health Awareness Month, so I’m trying to share topics related to mental health and psychology. I’m especially trying to share things that I think might be helpful to anyone who is either having mental health issues or may have a loved one with mental health issues. So, even though the examples in this video from GQ shared via BoingBoing of a psychiatrist rating mental health scenes in movies can be a bit extreme, knowing what they’re trying to depict and how it might present in the real world can be helpful. Also, the doctor gives some advice about actually getting help for some of these disorders and what actual treatment may look like.
I think what was particularly helpful was that he reminded people that an actual diagnosis may take multiple visits over some significant time and that it’s not really a “disorder” unless a person’s life is being significantly impacted in a negative way. Take my own example of depression, for instance. It’s only in retrospect, after getting on medication, that I realized how much it was affecting me, and I had what most people would think of as a mild case. I mean, I was basically functional, but I was having more and more difficultly doing regular, daily, work-related tasks that a few years ago, were no problem. Now, though, that I’ve been on the antidepressants for about six weeks, I’m doing much better. I never had the severe symptoms that are usually depicted in the movies or on TV, but it definitely was having a negative impact on my life. I’m glad I finally listened to my wife and got help.

Just remember, there IS help if you’re having a problem with your mental health, whatever it is. Most importantly, it’s okay to ask for help and take it when it’s offered.

Mental Health Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

I’ve talked about mental health on my blogs before, especially in relation to stress and the pandemic. COVID-19 and the attempts to deal with it have added extra stress to all of our lives and stretched our mental health to the limits. And, this past year has been particularly hard for me with the death of my father. I never realized just how close we were until I couldn’t turn to him for advice or just to talk things through. Grief is its own kind of mental health issue, for sure, but layered on top of everything else, it’s just made things harder.
I was surprised to find out after my father’s passing that we have a bit of a family history of depression. Dad’s generation didn’t talk about that sort of thing much. They still, in general, see things like depression as a kind of moral failing or weakness. For years, I’ve known that I have a bit of depression. I’ve fought it since at least high school. It wasn’t crippling by any means, but it absolutely made life more difficult. After getting divorced, I saw a therapist and that helped for a bit, but, if I’m being honest, I’ve had bouts of depression since long before meeting my ex-wife and continued to have them well after I felt the freedom of being released from that tragedy of a marriage. My wife has been on medication for depression for longer than I’ve known her. It keeps her sane and functional and for years she’s tried to convince me to try antidepressants. I’ve always resisted. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely understand the mechanism of neurotransmitters and how they can affect mental states. And, I completely believe that medication can help. But, for years, I also believed that it could help everyone ELSE and that I didn’t really need it.
About six weeks ago, I relented and talked with my doctor about taking a light antidepressant to see if it helped me with my current struggles. I’ve been taking them for about six weeks and I absolutely can tell the difference. So far, it looks like the doctor has picked a winner and I’m not having any side effects, but I can positively see the difference in my mood and my productivity. I had no idea how much what I thought of as mild or reasonable depression was affecting my productivity, but it very clearly was. Things that I would put off indefinitely because they just seemed overwhelming get done in a much more timely fashion because they’ve become “right-sized” in my no longer depressed brain. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like antidepressants have solved all my problems. They haven’t, I’m sorry to say. However, they do let me be more fully present and capable of dealing with my problems. Most importantly, they haven’t negatively impacted my thinking at all as I have been afraid of them doing. Nor have they reduced my creativity in the slightest. If anything, they’ve freed me a bit more to think MORE clearly and act MORE creatively. I wish I’d tried them sooner.

So, if you’re struggling with depression or any other mental health issue, don’t wait. Go get help. You can find some good resources at MentalHealth.gov – How To Get Mental Health Help And, most importantly, if you feel like you’re going to hurt yourself or others, please, do reach out to someone.

Suicide & Mental Health Hotlines in The United States
Crisis Text Line Text HOME to 741741
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline 1-877-726-4727
Trans Lifeline 1-877-565-8860 (for the transgender community)
TrevorLifeline 1-866-488-7386 (for LGBTQ youth)
Veterans Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255, Press 1

The Keto Diet

This has been more effective than anything else.

Like a lot of middle-aged men, I’ve put on a few pounds, and the pandemic lock-down, which had me working literally steps from my kitchen, hasn’t helped either. When I was younger, I actually worked out quite a bit and was able to mostly keep my weight in check. I did try to eat healthily and not overindulge in anything, but I really put my weight down to being very active. Unfortunately, as time has gone on, I find that I can’t keep the weight off as well with just exercise.

The Keto Diet Explained

I’ve been fairly successful simply counting calories, but, sooner or later, I get tired of doing that and the weight creeps back up. My wife and I tried the Sugar Busters Diet, but it seemed like there was sugar or corn syrup in EVERYTHING. I mean, why does sausage need corn syrup in it? It’s crazy. My wife has done the Atkins Diet and had good success. But, this time around, after reading a bit more, she wanted to try the Keto Diet. She said it sounded easier and less restrictive than Atkins. Mostly, it’s gone well. Of course, part of that is due to my wife making our meals for the most part and telling me what I can and cannot eat. But, I found an easy guide to help me keep track over at The Keto Diet Explained at Daily Info Graphic. It breaks it all down for you pretty well.

Now, my wife has hit her weight goal and looks fantastic, but I’ve hit a plateau. I still have another 20 pounds to lose, but I’ve lost about 20 pounds already. I’d gotten really, really heavy just sitting around the house worrying about getting COVID. Still, I’m halfway there and I plan to keep going!

A Sunny Future

Solar power has come to represent hope in science fiction, and climate change.

My wife and I got solar panels in 2018. It was not a decision we made lightly, but we’re quite glad we did. For one thing, solar power almost completely off-sets our electricity bill. For another thing, we feel that having solar power helps the long-term health of our planet. It’s just a good idea and the technology is finally catching up to the promise solar power first held in the ’70s. We don’t have batteries yet, since where we live there’s a requirement for solar systems to be tied to the power grid. And, too, four years ago, battery technology just wasn’t quite where we wanted it to be to invest in a battery backup solution. It pretty much is there now, or close enough, at least, that it’s worth doing.
When we got the solar panels, I told my wife that it felt like I was living in a science-fictional universe. When I was growing up, solar power was almost exclusively the province of the future or science-fiction. Today, we’re closer than ever to realizing the promise of that future. Sadly, it’s still more fiction than science, but at least there’s hope.
So, to encourage you in that hope for the future, I thought I’d share two free collections about the promise of a solar future from Arizona State University. First, there’s The Weight of Light, which came out in February of 2019. Then there’s Cities of Light, which came out this year in February. Both are described as “…[a] collection of science fiction stories, art, and essays…” that explore how our future may look fueled by solar energy “… with an upbeat, solarpunk twist…” And, of course, for the ebook versions, both are free as well.

Why not download them now for your first “summer read”?

Stress Relief Course

Training for how to deal with stress.

Although it’s meant primarily for COVID-19 pandemic stress, which I think all of us have been feeling to some degree, this course from TalkSpace on managing stress can be pretty universally useful. I know personally, I’ve been loaded almost to the breaking point with stress this past year between everything related to the pandemic, stepping in a larger role at work, politics, and the loss of my father. Of course, a lot of that could be causing stress regardless of the pandemic, as could things like job loss and the break up of long-term relationships. It’s been a rough couple of years for most of us, I think. So, this really seems like a good thing to share.
I have to admit that I haven’t done the course myself so I can’t speak to its particular utility, and the creators make clear that they don’t want anyone to substitute it for one-on-one therapy, but for those of us who can’t afford the time and expense of anything else, at least it’s something. And, more so for those of us who maybe just need a little extra help, but not a full round of therapy, it can help.
While the course is free, they do ask for an email address. I’m assuming that they’ll use it for marketing opportunities, which seems a fair trade-off. I can always unsubscribe later.

Let me say, though, that if you’re feeling suicidal, please, do reach out to someone.

Suicide Hotlines in The United States
Crisis Text Line Text HOME to 741741
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
Trans Lifeline 1-877-565-8860 (for the transgender community)
TrevorLifeline 1-866-488-7386 (for LGBTQ youth)
Veterans Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255, Press 1

Life is a Simulation

At least, if you’re obsessed with scale modeling as a hobby.

A couple of years ago, I read an article about a man so obsessed with trains that he created a full-size commuter rail car in his basement. No joke. He’s a Canadian who absolutely loves trains, but especially the Canadian VIA Rail, and even works with a society dedicated to the restoration and preservation of these trains. So, he had the references to correctly recreate the experience in his basement after managing to buy an out-of-service passenger coach which he restored. But, with the pandemic lockdown, he finally found the time to create his favorite stretch of track between Toronto, Ontario, and Montreal, Quebec with his model railroad. Because, of course, he’s obsessed with trains of ALL sizes and apparently has the most patient wife in the entire world. (Well, it is also his “day job”, as he has a business building and selling model trains.)
Now, however, things have gone on long enough that he’s found a way to add even more to the experience. He’s used a GoPro to record video of the model train trip and edit it to look like the real thing. And, I have to say, it really is a good recreation. According to the article at Gizmodo, which includes the video, he plans to eventually add giant screens to the passenger coach in his basement that links to the camera on the model train to show a live feed, making the line between reality and simulation even blurrier than it already is.

I’m a little afraid of what he might get up to if the lockdown in Canada goes on much longer! Hopefully, everyone in North America is getting their vaccination so we can get up to herd immunity and do things in public again. Soon.

Password Rules

Do you know those horrible password rules about adding random characters and numbers and stuff?

IT professionals hate them, too. Honest. I can say that because I am, in fact, an IT professional and have been for just shy of thirty years. (You can read more about my qualifications to call myself an IT pro at my other website, which includes Jim Hoffman’s CNE Resume, because, yes, I’ve been doing this so long I’m certified in things that no one really uses anymore.) I remember when the standard for passwords changed, requiring normal people to do things like including special characters or numbers and a mix of upper case and lower case letters. We were told that it would make the resulting passwords exponentially harder to guess. At the time, that may have been true, though I doubt it. It turns out, those rules were written by a government bureaucrat who used an out-of-date white paper to make his recommendations. And, now, even that bureaucrat regrets making those rules that only make your password harder to remember. Also, all that advice about translating a famous quote into a password by changing out words for symbols or letters? Essentially useless. With the computing power of moderns machines, the randomness of a short password really doesn’t matter at all. Length is the real key. So, having a password like “P@SSw0rd” isn’t significantly more secure than “password”, except, of course, that hackers are likely to guess the simple words first and “password” is actually one of the ten most popular passwords. So don’t use that. What’s better is to use a longer password, like an entire sentence without punctuation. And, if you have to include numbers and special characters, just tack them at the end or beginning. In other words, something more like “MyPasswordIsVerySecure@9”, because the length of that password IS exponentially harder to guess than “password”. Don’t believe me? Then just look at this infographic that shows how the length of your password is really the determining factor in how hard it is for hackers to crack.

How Long Would Your Password Last Against An Expert?

Of course, some systems limit the length of a password, unfortunately, but, until everyone else catches up to us, you have to work with what you’re given.
Come back next week to see what uncomfortable truths I have to share with you!

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