Category Archives: life

we built this city on inside jokes

I was chatting on Google Hangouts a few  weeks ago with my two best friends and revisiting last month’s BBQ birthday party.  It’s not often I have people in the same space from all my  social worlds.  I have my “non-parent” friends, the friends that I made a decade and a half ago when I moved to L.A., and then I have my “parent friends”, the friends I’ve made since moving to Brooklyn.  Of those two sources, the latter are overwhelmingly “Scout people”: the community built through what was original “5th Brooklyn Scouts” and is now the “718 Rovers”.  My two besties, who pre-date all my parent status, therefore find some amusement in watching me interact with the other Rovers, because they knew me before this round of Scout nerdiness entered my life.

It was in recanting this Hangouts anecdote that I quoted the use of inside jokes as part of this new village we’ve built in Brooklyn.  There are a lot of inside jokes with the rest of the Rovers; you don’t work together for five years without building up a lot of shared references.  At my birthday event, I was describing my experience volunteering at the Bed-Stuy YMCA and how the most popular skit I taught was Invisible Bench, and everyone yelled “INVISIBLE BENCH!” and immediately attempted to call their kids over to demonstrate it even though we were laughing too hard to call effectively.  “Invisible Bench” is a running gag in our group, along with a couple other popular skits, just for being the skit that our kids irrationally love to perform every single camp.  It’s one of many inside jokes, but it was one of the strongest moments of nerdy hilarity I remember from the party.

Realizing that we have these kind of shared references, inside jokes and a common language of anecdote though made me suddenly see my Scout people community in a way I hadn’t before.  In college, I was part of the Arts Undergrad Society, the council of students that volunteered to run the Faculty of Arts.  It was where I made my friends.  It was where I spent my time.  It was how I identified myself, I am part of the AUS.  We ran not only the Faculty but also spent the year building up to Arts County Fair, the end of year charity one-day music festival, which, by the time I graduated, was a 16,000 attendee event with two stages, rock and dance.  Because we spent so much time working together on ACF, we all shared a set of inside jokes and references in addition to our common working goals and status as students at UBC.  (In fact, as I recall, we documented those inside jokes in a running list of quotes throughout the school year.)

It was the phrase “inside jokes” that made me suddenly see the parallels between my college community and my Brooklyn one.  In both cases, it is a community of overachievers who have wholeheartedly committed to a goal in a way that is very pure of heart.  In both cases, these are communities of people who simply wish to do good, while also prioritizing the building of friendships and a social experience in the process.  In both cases, there are a lot of liberal arts nerds involved.

Basically, I identify strongly with anything where a montage set to “We Built This City (On Rock And Roll)” can be created, whether that’s an ACF setup or the 2018 Moot.  If there’s several hours of literally building something with actual labour to be done, then it needs a montage like the Muppets:

I feel it’s important for me to realize this.  I gravitate to communities of nerdy overachievers!  These are my people!  This is also who I am!  I am an over-committed do-gooder at heart, but I am happiest to do so if I can throw in a certain amount of goofiness with my earnestness.  It is a very Muppet approach, but it also means I approach my work and my effort in Scouting with a certain amount of open-heartedness that keeps it joyful.

a meditation on meditation

A few years ago, I somehow “picked up” (read: “it was $0.99 on Kindle Store) 10% Happier, Dan Harris’ tale of “How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works.”  That is a lengthy title, but obviously one I can relate to.  (His follow up, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics is an even better title.  This man can sell).  I did not take 10% particularly seriously on the first read, as it comes across at the beginning of his story as another dudebro memoir.  I realized later on this was intentional to convey the sense of arrogance the author had at the beginning of his journey, and I’ve attended meditation sessions led by Harris twice now at MoMA Quiet Mornings, so I know he’s not actually coming from a place of arrogance now, it just took a while for me to take the book seriously.

While I struggled initially with 10%, I did, however, like the idea of being 10% happier.  10% is a needle mover, as we say in pitches.  It’s a significant bump in results.  If any client got a 10% lift in conversion rates, they’d be thrilled.  So I read the memoir all the way through, and realized Harris had some  valuable experience to share, on how he conquered his own doubts and engaged on his own path to gain value from his practice.  I downloaded the Headspace app, and started trying to follow my own version of that path.  After all, what did I have to lose?

It took me about a week to start feeling some effects of meditation.  The way it felt when I started, I compare to applying a soothing substance to my inflamed brain.  You know how it feels when you eat too hot a pepper and then drink milk or eat yogurt to try and reduce inflammation caused by the capsaicin?  That’s what it feels like in my brain: like aloe on a sunburn.  Meditation seems to soothe the constant irritation of thoughts on my brain.

WHEN YOU'RE TRYING TO BE ZEN BUT YOU'RE METAL AF | image tagged in death meditation | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

There is also a certain amount of self-image to get past in starting a meditation practice.

This was enough to motivate me to look into other meditation practice channels.  I started going to M N D F L, NYC’s super-bougie meditation studio.  I bought my own meditation cushions so I could practice at home using the Insight Timer app (which is $2.99 a month vs. the $15/class at M N D F L or the $10/month for Headspace).  I have kept this non-academic and agnostic and have not sought to go down the meditation study path into Buddhism, as some practitioners do.  I have kept this simply to the minimal level where I get benefits from the practice.

20180823_084324

Meditation cushions on our new matching living room rug.

For a while, I actually had a fairly good habit going.  Then problem is, like all habits, a habit has to be maintained.  It’s too easy to fall off the bandwagon and then allow the “days off” to pile up.    I have a bad mindset around broken habits as well, and I will tell myself those habits don’t matter, that they do not make a difference. The problem is that those habits do matter, they do help my poor brain, and a positive habit like meditation is what helps break that cycle of lassitude and apathy in which I find myself unable to take action on the right priorities.

However, today, I sat myself right back down and meditated for ten minutes.  That was it.  I got out my cushions, sat cross-legged for the first time since I tore my ATFL, and put on the Insight Timer with the chirpy birds in the background.  Done.  And, as expected, I feel so much better now.

This doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a struggle to return to the habit today.  My brain was ping ponging all over the place.  My internal monologue does not cease just because I have applied the triggers (sound effects, seated pose) to cue up a positive habit.  And regaining a state of quiet in my mind will be a muscle I have to rebuild, just like how I have to re-build all my physical muscles after not going to the gym for months.  I do have a mental trick for this: I visualize an icon for the thought inside a red balloon and let that drift up to the ceiling of my brain.  However, that only works for thoughts that are small and containable.  When I am really out of practice, my mind focuses on thoughts and goes off on tangents, without the discipline to push those thoughts up and out of the way for ten minutes.  So I emerged with a small sense of calm, but also fully thought out plans for multiple Things I Need To Do.

The bright side of all this, is that I came up with this entire blog post, which my brain wrote when it was supposed to be silent and drifting in a state of rest.  I also planned out a picnic for Saturday when my brother and sister in law are here, and remembered to schedule time for piano practice into my daily calendar again.  Unfortunately, none of the development of these thoughts belonged in my meditation practice.  I realize it is fine to have thoughts, that even the most experienced of practitioners will not be able to keep their minds still for meditation sessions.  The challenge and the discipline of the practice is being able to resist following those thoughts and instead putting them up into those imaginary balloons to be collected later.

It is very likely time to revisit some of my original materials: Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness series (including Real Happiness at Work, which I have on loan from BPL right now), the guided meditations in Insight Timer, maybe go back to a class or two at M N D F L just to get back in the habit (I have a free birthday class!  It just requires me to actually go to the studio).  There is no reason to not take 20 minutes a day to soothe my poor beleaguered brain, after all.  It is just a matter of, well, mind over matter sometimes, which is hard.

40 snuck up on me

Well, that went fast.

20180814_180916

Life moves pretty fast: on the Q train last Tuesday evening looking out at New York Harbow

When I recant the story of my thirties, the sheer amount of memories made, of events that took place, makes it feel like I had more than a decade’s worth of experiences.  I started my fourth decade with a new baby and new husband, in Los Angeles.  I ended the decade with a tween in Brooklyn.  In between, I made new friends, built a new community, said goodbye to my homeland, changed jobs a couple times, and tried to figure out who I am, how my brain works, and what really matters to me.

20180807_114744

Obviously, the answer to the last question is THIS GUY.

In all the fast movement of my thirties though, I didn’t adjust what 40 would mean to me.  In my mind, it meant that I would have to look like a Respectable Adult.  I think, in my subconscious, I expected some switch would click over yesterday, and I would no longer want to wear such things as my gold metallic 80s sneakers or my morning rave style gold fanny pack

Never gonna give you up, gold sneakers!

Beyond the occasional fashion item however, 40 seemed to be a cultural line in the sand, the difference between a decade that, in coastal cities, is treated as an extension of one’s early adulthood, and the entrance to a decade that means actual classic adulthood.  40 seems to be the age at which one wears classics and moves to the suburbs; it is an age at which one should be well on track with a career.  It always struck me as an age at which one should be established.  40 smacks of a sedate livelihood, of no longer being so much on a path as being at one’s destination in life.

The idea of being sedate, of being sedentary in my experiences and development, of being held within lines and within societal expectations, is horrifying to me.  Of course to do so would be a choice, but I don’t want to have to make such choices.  40 always seemed so far-off that it seemed respectable.  I appreciate being respected, but respectable sounds like the sort of thing that happens to other people.

It has taken a few months to re-frame the expectation of 40.  It was another Rover who said something to me back in April in Seattle that kicked it off.  She told me she had done so much in her 40s, and that it had been a meaningful decade to her.  That was when I realized that I had a false impression of my 40s as a static or even stagnant time of  one’s life.  One’s 40s can be a time of development, of change, of growth.  It is just another section of the journey.  Life has no destination point, so the idea that I had to be at that point by 40 is not logical.

So here I am at 40.  And I had a lovely birthday yesterday to celebrate it, with many of my dear friends and family spending their afternoons schlepping out to Governors Island with us for a BBQ.  My husband worked tirelessly all weekend to make it a special day with an organized party.  My best friend spent the first hour of the party making sure it looked festive with balloons and streamers and a sparkly crown for me.  I spent the first day of my fifth decade in a beautiful setting, in the heart of my adopted and ancestral hometown, with a mix of the people that I am lucky to have built a village with in Brooklyn, the friends I’ve been blessed to have had since L.A., and the family I am fortunate to have in the area.

It’s time to re-focus, as I always do at my birthday, on the journey I’m on, and the paths that matter, and where they lead.  40 does not mean slowing down because I’m reaching a mythical life goal.  It is just another number, and one I can choose to use as an impetus to re-evaluate, or one I can discard as meaningless.  That’s my choice, and that choice is still what matters at every age.

the complete lack of glamour in business travel

I’m in Cincinnati!  Again.  This is what it looked like last time I was here in April.

20180410_143252.jpg

I’m sure I’ve written about this before, but I used to think business travel would be glamorous.  This is probably because I grew up in the 80s and 90s when being a Business Woman was glamorous. The truth is, there isn’t much glamorous or sophisticated about actual work, which is what business travel is for.  It’s an extra long day, extended with flights or drives or trains, during which time I can’t work, yet still need to get the work actually done.  I do not get to swan around exotic locations wearing oversize sunglasses and a designer scarf, showing up only to deign meetings with my presence, like I thought I would get to when I was much, much younger.  Most business travel, in reality, requires days of prep beforehand, follow-up actions afterwards, and no end of sifting through all the emails that came in as soon as the wi-fi cut out on my flight.

And yet, aside from missing my men, I don’t mind business travel.  Like advertising and business in general, it isn’t a glamorous activity, but it does enable include the part of my job I like the most: talking.  Not just talking myself, but having everyone talk, brainstorming, discussing, planning, reviewing.  The kind of meetings I travel for, are when we take a step back and look at the forest, instead of being lost in trees.  Being in a room of people all working towards the same goal, even a corporate, commercial goal, is exciting, albeit in a nerdy way, and that is what I travel for.  Despite all those promises made in the 1990s about “virtual meetings”, there is still no substitute for just sitting around a conference table.  It’s likely a descendant of storytelling, sharing ideas and concepts, which is a very human element to keep in business.

Still, I’m trying to figure out where I got the idea that business travel would be exciting.  Perhaps it was because I assumed if I was important enough to travel, I would be an Important Businesswoman in general.  And even without watching mainstream movies my entire childhood, I still managed to pick up, by osmosis, the idea that being in business would be exciting and sophisticated.

0592042_14160_mc_tx304

Sigourney Weaver in “Working Girl”: an awful boss BUT a sophisticated terrible boss with an amazing harbour view from her office.  It should be noted that when “Younger” did a Working Girl riff this week, I died.

Where did the women of my generation get this idea?  Is it descended from the archetype Helen Gurley Brown created in 1962, the idea of the sophisticated girl about town?  Given that the woman used mineral oil as a salad dressing to discourage eating, I have my doubts about her mental stability in general.

Image result for helen gurley brown sex and the single girl

Small steps forward, ladies!  SMALL STEPS IN YOUR HEELS.

It may be more likely to stem from the increase of women in white collar jobs in the late 70s and early 80s, the daughters of the first feminist revolution, who grew up with wider horizons than their mothers – including the idea of having their own careers

Line graph shows the percentages of men and women working from 1948 to 2013.

Source: “Women in Top Management“, Sage Business Research.  Actually, it is a really fascinating article in general about the under representation of women in top management

Wherever this idea came from, it is nicely encapsulated in this Hark! A Vagrant comic strip.  This is the perception of the business woman in the 80s: all goals all the time.

What is it about being goal oriented, about being tough, that says “sophisticated” though?  It may be the association of businesswomen as being urban creatures, who would have to have the sophistication required to live in an engaging way in a big city.  It may be the idea of the intelligence required to succeed in an environment in which the odds are stacked against women.  It may even be the perceived lack of typical female insecurities, which is a whole other post.  I am still unsure what it was about this image that appealed to me so much when I was younger, much less how this image permeated pop culture enough to trickle down to me.

Regardless, here I am in Cincinnati, on a business trip, waiting for the end of the reggae fest at Fountain Square across the street so I can go to sleep, poking at a deck I’m presenting tomorrow, missing my men and eating a decidedly unsophisticated take-out salad from Panera Bread.

20180815_210107.jpg

Corporate reggae brought to you by Proctor and Gamble!

No one actually said business travel would be glamorous, I just assumed it.  And I suppose we all know what they say about “assume”…

making work friends

This morning, I was skimming Facebook and saw that a group of women from my office had gone out for drinks last night to celebrate a former colleague’s.  My absence from this group is not particularly telling or indicative of anything to do with me or my value as a person, colleague or friend.  It is just a group of current co-workers who have been going out as a group for years, while I sit anti-socially at my desk.

In fact, my anti-social status at the office is so extreme that I am missing the company picnic today because I didn’t cross-reference my work and personal calendars before making plans for the school closure dates.  Therefore, I am hosting Ben’s friends for a day of “please entertain each other” activities instead of re-bonding with my own co-workers.   Part of this is because I’ve been offsite for the past year, and upon returning, instead of attempting to re-bond with colleagues, I decided to hide at my desk and pretend I don’t know anyone anymore.

My failure to prioritize this kind of in-office socializing is probably why I am rarely invited to events outside the office.  On a daily basis,  I make the choice not to get up from my desk and talk to people, which results in not being invited to events outside of the workday.  And for the past few years, I have prioritized my son’s birthday over the company picnic – and then this year, the one year I could have gone, I invited three of his buddies over to hang out instead of sending Ben to chess camp for the day, so I am now committed to staying home with a houseful of ten year olds.

It therefore should not be a surprise that I’m  not invited to office social gatherings, and yet, I’m still sad and disappointed when it happens and I see it posted about retroactively.  It’s just so hard to get over my fear of socializing at the office.  I worried for years that people didn’t like me, and only put up with me because they were obligated to engage with me, a fear everyone has but that I actually had reinforced in me twenty years ago by a co-worker who told me that was how she felt.  Now I not only worry people don’t like me, but also worry that the obligation to engage positively with me is higher since I am management and sometimes, I am someone’s direct or indirect boss.

This is not a surprising phenomenon to many people, I’m sure.  There’s mixed feelings on work friendships.  TV teaches us that it’s the norm to have a workplace social circle, but I  have never had that kind of extended work/social life.  I am friendly with co-workers, and often remain good friends with people after leaving a job, but it isn’t a regular occurrence to have that kind of interaction.  I do not believe this is abnormal, especially for people with children and/or other priorities outside the office, and the New York Times seems to emphasize that work friendships can be weird and inconsistent by running articles on a regular basis talking about issues that crops up in these strange hybrid relationships.

Is there a not-awkward, non-creepy way to make friends as a grown-up?

A post shared by Fowl Language Comics (@fowllanguagecomics) on

</script
 

It would be easy to be safe and just cocoon further into my loner, anti-social status, but that isn't what I want.  I know that my co-workers are people I would like spending time with if I wasn’t so anxious about it.  The problem is that added stress of thinking, “does this person like me or are they just putting up with me” kills most of the joy I would get from the encounter, and makes it difficult for me to reflect positively on the fact that this is a cool, smart, interesting person with their own perspective on the workplace we share and have in common.  It’s difficult to engage in a positive, meaningful conversation during a workday as it is – I’m always worried I’m  keeping someone from something more important – and then my fear of whether or not my presence is received the same way makes it even more difficult for me to engage in a verbal exchange that would add collateral to the friendship.

Therefore, I’ve  been hiding at my desk, nodding at people when I see them, smiling and saying hello, and praying I don’t have to actually engage because THAT IS HARD AND CAUSES FEAR.

Image result for making friends grown up funny

I empathize with this SO HARD.  It’s how I know Daria is really covering for insecurity!

I’m asking myself now, what can I actually do about this?  Do I have to come out and talk to people and put myself out there despite a crippling fear of rejection?  Do I have to make going to company events and happy hours more of a priority?  We’re moving to a new office soon, after all – can I make it a priority to talk to people there?  Can I engage more through the “Women in Leadership” initiative, making sure I show up for those events?  Would it help if i went into the office more days instead of working from home all the time?  What if I reached out more to co-workers, current and former, attempting to get to know them on a 1:1 basis and setting aside time to do so?

The answer to all of these things is yes, and the answer to everything is that I have to just work a little harder at engaging in meaningful social interactions, both in creating the opportunity to do so and in finding conversation to make that isn’t awkward when those opportunities come up.  That isn’t easy for me – I sometimes feel like I’m missing a critical part of the human personality, the part that puts people at ease and makes people feel comfortable with me, the part that makes me likeable.  That, however, is an insecurity for an entire other day.  For today, I need to go problem solve a way to get to that company picnic!

still benched

Last Tuesday, I got up, traveled ten stops on the Q train, and returned to the Weill Cornell Health complex on the Upper East Side for a scheduled MRI on my ankle.  The MRI itself was almost relaxing: I got to lie down and listen to Beethoven piano sonatas through headphones while practicing meditative breathing.  The results, however, were somewhat less relaxing:

<i>1. Complete tear of the anterior talofibular ligament. Small hematoma along the anterolateral aspect of the ankle contained by the extensor retinaculum. Subcutaneous ankle edema.
2. Partial tear of the deep posterior fibers of the deltoid ligament at their tibial attachment.
3. Focal osteochondral injury of the superolateral talar dome.
4. Medial talus and sustentaculum talus congruent bone contusions.
5. Posttraumatic tenosynovitis of the tibialis posterior and peroneal tendons.</I>

As my doctor explained to me the next day once he reviewed the results, this basically means that I completely tore my ATFL, the connective ligament between my tibia and my thalus, and have a slight bone bruise to boot.  No actual breakage, just a lot of ligament damage and bruising.  All I can do is continue to wear the compression sock and AirCast, ice the area a couple times a day, and go to physical therapy until I completely recover.

The problem with this kind of injury is that it’s entirely too easy to tell myself, I can’t.  Because I found out that it’s worse than initially diagnosed, my immediate response is to tell myself I have to stay off it, which is very different than the initial attitude of “it’s getting better I just need to be careful”.  So now instead of actively trying to work around it, I find myself using the injury as a crutch to mentally reinforce inertia.  It’s become the self-justification for staying inside watching TV on a nice day, this concept of I can’t because my ankle.

Pilates class?  I can’t, my ankle.  Too far to walk.

Bike ride? I can’t, my ankle.  Can’t ride.

Going outside?  I can’t, my ankle, too many stairs.

Swimming?  I can’t get to the pool.  (Although the pool is also in Manhattan, with my gym, so on this one I give myself a pass unless I’m working at the office)

Never mind that for the first month of this injury, I did actually do a lot of things, with minimal effect, or that I know I can wear the AirCast and walk literally thousands of steps with minimal ill effects.  The ankle is now the all-purpose cop-out, a reason to avoid everything.  And while there is definitely an element of self-care and of extreme caution here, since I do not want this to be a permanent issue, I’m afraid of going past the point of caution and into outright self-pity and excuses.  There are plenty of things I can do without ill effects, and lots of resources to do so: there are even entire workouts on YouTube geared to ankle injuries

And also, I did go to Pilates on Saturday.  I wore my compression sock and AirCast the whole time and found out the hard way that not focusing even on upper body work for the last month has cost me dearly.  It’s harder to do planks and push ups than it has been for years, even from my knees.  I’ve been so focused on my inability to do cardio that I willfully blanked out the concept of doing other work, mostly because it’s a lot easier to say, I can’t than it is to look for ways that can.

So it’s back to strength training, or at least, what I can do with one leg.  It’s time to continue the cardio, to put on a water brace and get back in the pool.  And most of all, it’s time to say, “I can” again, with a provisional clause, that I can will only extend to things that do not put weight on a tremulous ankle without a brace to support it.  The list of things I can do are limited; the list of things I can’t do should be as well.

optimizing my brain

It has become fashionable, the past few years, to attempt to “hack” one’s brain.  This is an attempt to get one’s brain to run better, faster, smarter.  It is also a great way to sell something called “nootropics“, a futuristic, Orphan Black-esque term for a new wave of vitamins (mostly amino acids and vitamin B derivatives) that are supposed to aid with such “hacking”.

Image result for brain hacking

This is your brain…ON THE FUTURE

I believe, to an extent, that there is some brain “hacking” that can be done, although I do not love the term.  To me, it smacks of Silicon Valley bro-ness, the kind of toxic masculinity that has made the tech industry deeply awful for women.  I prefer to think of it as brain optimization, rather than hacking, as optimizing my brain is really about understanding the 2+ pounds of electricity and protein that lives inside my skull, that contains everything I am.  If I can better understand the mechanisms that govern the electrical impulses that make up my thoughts, then can I get a better grip on the efficiency of those thoughts?

I recently read Stealing Fire, a book on the use of substances or other methods of altering one’s brain for extraordinary results.  While it does focus extensively on the use of mind-altering drugs, it counts everyday substances in that category, everything from coffee to prescription medications. We may not all be using ketamine for out of body experiences, but most of us are using some form of chemical to alter our brains.  It was an interesting perspective, much more on the metaphysical plane, putting the quest for brain control and mind altering more into the realm of philosophy (“I think, therefore I am” sort of meta-ness), telling a universal human story rather than limiting the results to th emore prosaic productivity boost that “brain hacking” promises.  “Stealing Fire” was a more grandiose picture of mankind’s ongoing quest to lift up our mental and spiritual energy through physical substance (see also: Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas), and it contextualized the “brain hacking” trend as really just being a small corner of that quest.

My own quest falls somewhere in between the metaphysical and the mundane, as it’s directly related to the mental and spiritual effects of having a chronic depressive condition.  For the decade plus that I took Wellbutrin, from 2005 until, well, six weeks ago, I grappled with its effects on my actual being.  Was being on this substance altering who I was, in any way?  My ultimate answer to that question was that not only did that particular non-SSRI antidepressant not change who I was, it actually allowed me to be the person I was meant to be.  It was a substance that unlocked my brain.  The Wellbutrin reduced the paralyzing depression that had previously impacted my ability to live my life on a consistent basis.   Problem solved, I thought, at the time, as I went on to build my life, meeting my husband, building my career, moving to Brooklyn, building the Scout organization, building my friend circle – my life is extensive, expansive, and has few limits on how much I can do in it.

Reducing the impact of the biological condition of depression actually brought forth who I am as a person, allowing me to explore my own mental and spiritual state without the intervening detriment of poor mental health.

The problem is that the substance I relied on to make me, well, me, wasn’t consistent.  My depression flare-ups became longer and increased in frequency over time.  When I changed my body’s response to food by switching to a Paleo food lifestyle in 2013 , the condition improved again.  And over time, rather than change my dosage, I began to try to identify more and more ways that weren’t the Wellbutrin that would net similar results to the antidepressant: cardio or HIIT exercise, being in sunlight, not drinking, avoiding grains and dairy, avoiding sugar, getting a good night’s sleep, meditation, journaling, etc.  Some of the tools made more difference than others, but overall, I began to understand what had an impact on my brain, and began to understand the links between the mental, the physical, and the spiritual.

All these physical, mental and spiritual factors are interconnected, and we cannot separate them if we wish to be whole and happy.

And then I finally faced reality.  The antidepressants I had been taking weren’t working.  They likely hadn’t worked for some time.  In fact, in November, my brain wouldn’t recognize the anti-depressants or the caffeine I added to them each day,   I thought I had Lyme disease, I was so exhausted, until I finally cut back on caffeine, added some nootropics, and felt better for a while.  I made it through the winter, and then as soon as we hit the March equinox, I went off the substance I had been using for thirteen years to alter my brain chemistry.

Needless to say, it was unpleasant.  The first few weeks, I could only stay awake until 2pm.  Twenty-five years of caffeine reliance plus thirteen years of using a stimulant as a basic part of my brain chemistry did not allow me to remain at one 8oz cup of coffee per day.  Instead, I felt like a puppet whose strings had been cut, drooping and looking for the system that had pulled me through my life.  I started eating for energy, as working from home gives me endless access to snacks, many of them of the higher carbohydrate variety from Ben’s snack assortment.  I could barely drag myself to the gym or through workouts, I was so tired, yet I couldn’t sleep at night. It was a textbook withdrawal.

Two weeks of this and I was almost in tears at the lack of productivity and the lost time.  A month in, and I sprained my ankle and had to weigh in at the doctor on my visit and realize, it wasn’t just that I’d lost time, I’d gained almost ten pounds of weight that would have to come back off if I was to fit in my client visit suit or my tick-proof camp pants ever again.  This isn’t just about vanity or societal pressure, but about not having to replace my utilitarian clothing in a larger size.

So now I have to not only hack my brain to run without antidepressants, but also have to “hack” my own EXTREMELY STUBBORN biology to lose the weight.  Which is a whole other entry as well.

Image result for plump as a partridge lose weight

Yep, this about sums it up.  Thanks @lacomtessejamie

And I have to recognize that despite all this “hacking” or “optimization”, or whatever I wish to call it, there are going to be days when I just…can’t.  Last night, I had a rough day “at” work, in that I made a major misunderstanding on one of my new accounts in how I interpreted an agenda topic as related to the client’s business.  I also failed to move outside the house, choosing instead to rest my ankle.  I was also tired by 4pm as a result, and I just felt hopeless.  How am I supposed to live my life, I thought, if I can’t stay awake until 4pm even with a good night’s sleep, if I have an ankle that will seemingly NEVER HEAL, if I can’t even understand the job I am supposed to be good at

There are always going to be days in which I feel like I can’t.  And it’s going to be hard to change that and say, I can, without having a stimulant to get me all hyped up and enthusiastic.

So now, what I have to work on, is getting up every day and saying, “I can,” and pushing myself through the work that will optimize my brain to replace the load of stimulants that I cranked through it since I was a twentysomething junior digital media buyer living in Venice Beach.  I am a different person now: I acquired several additional layers of person along the way, including a husband and son.  I built a life in which many people rely on me: my friends, my colleagues, my community.  I built that life using a brain I used a commercial antidepressant to optimize.  Now I have to achieve the same results without that medication.

Most of the time, I feel like this is a story where the moral is that the Wellbutrin didn’t actually work, and therefore was really only a “magic rock” kind of thing: I did this all by myself and the antidepressant was believing in myself all along!  And then I’m tired at 4pm or can’t sleep CLOWN’LL EAT ME and think, why did I give up the stimulants that gave me the energy to push through this, even if they weren’t actually fixing the problem I took them to fix?

The answer is, because those antidepressants, while they worked great to correct my perception of my condition, weren’t fixing the actual problem that causes my depression.  I have a genetic biological condition that alters my brain chemistry enough to impact my mental state.  The NRI was just pushing me through that condition by effectively overriding it.  The most recent research on depression suggests it is more akin to a flare up of a biological condition than just a matter of “being sad”.  Taking a stimulant every single day may have forced my brain to remain in an upbeat state by altering my brain chemistry and increasing the amount of norepinephrine floating around in it, but it doesn’t fix the underlying physical flare-up that caused that mental state to occur in the first place.

And that physical aspect of the condition – that I can optimize.  For that, I can take physical, real-space actions to reduce the impact on my mental health.  That’s where all this brain “hacking”, optimization, whatever one wants to call it – that’s where it comes in.  It’s a quest for the “true self” on a higher level, but on a day to day basis, it’s “what actions can I take to keep my brain in a healthy state where it will crank out client presentations and not sink into a state of despair?

And that – that is another entry, for another day.  Probably tomorrow.  Because one of the bright sides to being benched with the ankle this week, is that I have extra commute time to re-invest in writing blog posts – one of the other many things I’ve identified that makes my brain a little happier.  A few days of writing, a return to a solid meditation practice, it’ll all help optimize my brain.