Pre-kiwiburn anxiety

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Friday 27th January, 1:30pm: I’m still in the office though I’m now off the clock. Going to write this as quickly as possible because if I’m going to make it to Kiwiburn before it gets dark, I really need to get moving. As an experiment I want to write and publish this post now, before I leave, and then compare it to how I feel when I get back.

I haven’t been to a festival in years. Like six years. I haven’t taken any psychedelics in the that time either. What’s commonly happened when I’ve been on psychedelics is that I’ve been all ‘This is really beautiful, but I’d be enjoying this so much more if I had my life sorted out’.

Since six years ago – its fair to say that I’ve gone through something of a positive transformation – albeit not without some major bumps on the road.

Where I was six years ago, was that I had just finished a year’s intensive supervision through the justice system, for my apparently incorrigible graffiti habits (I also received a second jail warning), and I was committed to not getting in trouble with the law again. New Zealand has clean slate legislation which means that your convictions will be wiped if you don’t offend for 7 years (providing you haven’t committed some serious offences, haven’t been to prison, and the clean slate applies in New Zealand only).

My convictions have been clean slated. I’m now employed in IT and am on a positive career trajectory. I have other projects I’m working on. My spending habits are for the most part under control. I have fairly healthy eating and exercise habits. I’ve since been diagnosed with ADHD and am generally better at impulse control.

I quit drinking six months ago – and the effects are mostly positive. I’m more energetic, my mood is better,  I save money (though I spend more on pinball now) and I’m losing weight. The downside, is that I’m easily agitated and quite impatient.

I’m starting to feel bored. 

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So, taking psychedelics kind of sounds like a good idea. I’m at the point where I feel like I’ve got my shit sorted (though of course I can always trim away my internet addiction, be a more pleasant person, and generally be more productive), so let’s have an inspiring psychedelic experience?

The context I like to take psychedelics in is at good music festivals. There’s good trippy music, other trippy people, and if that’s too much you can go hang out in nature.

I want to be clear – you don’t need to have drugs to enjoy a festival – but if you want to take drugs – I think a festival is a good place to take them.

Here’s the rub. I live in New Zealand and the police and customs are way too effective at their jobs. New Zealand, being a small country on the corner of the globe makes it easy to police contraband. In recent years there’s been growing discontent about the lack of cannabis at this time of year. Time magazine even wrote an article about it. 

Kiwiburn, the New Zealand equivalent of Burning Man had been on my radar since around November last year. But a combination of misreading the dates, not wanting to go if I didn’t have a big sack of weed to go with, and not having much leave accrued at work meant that I ultimately decided to pass this year.

Until last weekend – when I went to a small outdoor music gathering, enjoyed the music, and really wanting to have a holiday decided to go.

So my decision to go to Kiwiburn is decidedly last minute. I found a ticket, booked and my leave, and now (actually right now as I’m writing this, I feel ok) last night, I’m feeling quite anxious about going. Primarily, I’m concerned that I’m going to go to this festival, and be stuck there, not enjoying myself.

Specifically the concerns I have are:

  • I don’t have a tent. I thought I did, but apparently I’ve lost it. If it rains I’ll be screwed. I can hope/ask for shelter when I get there – but generally I don’t think it’s a good philosophy to rely on the kindness of strangers. I’m a capitalist like that.
  • No drugs. Am I going to be bored/uncomfortable being completely sober in a paddock somewhere?
  • FOMO – Relating to the drugs thing. Feeling like everyone around me is having a good time, and I’m not.
  • Fear of rejection – Because I’m in a situation where I need the help of strangers – I feel like if I’m refused that help that will be confirmation of my unlikableness.
  • I have to hitchhike. Fear of getting stuck in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.

A lot of this comes down to my unpreparedness. Given that I only made the decision to go this week, a lot of these concerns would have been alleviated if I’d made the decision to go months ago – I would have had time to find a crew to go with etc.

And this comes back to impulsiveness – I feel like I may be making myself a victim of my own impulsiveness/second guessing myself. There’s comforting and respectable about being deliberate in your actions.

So that’s where I’m at now. Writing this has served to make me feel a bit more anxious, and I’m otherwise trying every mental trick I can to feel a bit better. At the moment I feel a mix of reasonable concern (‘is it going to rain?, where am I going to sleep?’), and nervous excitement. I guess that’s a good way to be.

See you in three days! 🙂

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Is ignoring politics a reasonable course of action?

I’m sure I’m not alone in being in a fairly perpetual state of anxiety about incoming Trump presidency.

Take a look at this Google trends chart:

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However, for balance – the search volume for anxiety doesn’t appear to have particularly spiked, it just has a continuing steady upward trend.

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I find myself spending a lot of time thinking, and watching news commentary about whether this means Russia is going to invade its neighbours, what’s going to happen to the economy in the light of Trump protectionism, etc.

Thing is – there have been plenty of political crises in my lifetime, and even before I was born. The Cuban Missile Crisis, the Thatcher government, the collapse of the Soviet Union, September 11.

While all of these events have clearly shaped the world we live in, it’s reasonable to say that my paying attention to them or not hasn’t had any effect on how they’ve played out.

If paying attention to and engaging with the current climate of politics is causing me anxiety and is disrupting my life, then perhaps the best individual course of action is for me to quit engaging.

But: Lack of voter engagement and uninformed voters seems to be precisely one of the things that got us into this mess in the first place.

While the Trump phenomena can’t be explained by any single dynamic – I think that out of touch politicians doing what they want to do without regard for their voter base, and disenfranchised voters is one of the key contributing factors that elected Trump.

It would seem that me dropping my engagement would indicate a further exasperation of this dynamic. That’s concerning.

One positive is that this does increase my empathy for low-engagement voters. When potential voters say ‘I don’t really pay attention to politics’ or vote along the lines of a single buzzword, or say ‘voting doesn’t change anything’ – I’m a lot more sympathetic – because it seems true – whatever happens is going to happen anyway – I might as well spend my effort worrying about something I can change.

 

 

 

The trick to New Year Resolutions.

People are often discouraged from making New Years Resolutions – having the thought that they’re doomed to fail.

And if their resolution is to lose weight, quit smoking, or go for a run everyday, then they’re probably right.

If, by the end of January you haven’t started that diet, or you’ve missed a few running days, or you’re still smoking, it’s easy to see how someone would give up at the point, and ‘try again next year’.

The trick to New Year Resolutions – is to not make them these large lifestyle decisions that involve ongoing maintenance.

Instead – make your New Year Resolutions things you can do once, tick them off, and then they’re done.

For example, last year I had resolutions like:

  • Watch The Revenant 
  • Watch Batman vs Superman (See my review here).
  • Watch Independence Day: Resurgence (I missed this one at the theatre, but watched it later at home. See my review here).
  • Cook a recipe from a recipe book 1.
  • Cook a recipe from a recipe book 2.
  • Make trifle.
  • Jump in a lake/sea naked. (See the video here).
  • Read a book written by a woman (The only book I read all year, see my review here).
  • Go to the Te Papa Gallipoli exhibit (I missed this one).

People laugh when I mention that I have seeing movies as a New Year Resolution. But the point is – these are movies that I want to see, and I get a sense of satisfaction from achieving things I set out to do. We shouldn’t sell ourselves short in deciding what we do and don’t want to do with our lives.

Cooking a recipe from a recipe book sounds easy enough – but I don’t usually use recipe books, so this forced me to get out of my comfort zone. I made meatballs once, they were nice and I’d make them again, and chilli con carne – but that didn’t really turn out.

This year – my resolutions are a little more ambitious.

I still have some easy ones, like:

  • Watch Wonder Woman
  • Watch Dunkirk

But overall they’re more ambitious. I have some sensible ones

  • Buy insurance
  • Go to the dentist (Make your yearly checkup a New Year Resolution)
  • Create an emergency kit.

And some big ones

  • Make a board game (Definition of Done: Prototype is created, rules written, not necessarily fully balanced, but is playable).
  • Save $2000 for a holiday.

But, you say,  what about those big things – losing weight, going to bed on time, quitting smoking – where are they being prioritised?

My answer to this, you don’t need New Year Resolutions to do these things. These are things that you should be doing anyway,  not just because it’s a New Year.

You can find ways to incorporate achievable New Year Resolutions into your wider lifestyle goals. For example, you could put ‘participate in a half marathon’ on your resolutions. You wouldn’t have to run the half marathon, in order to achieve the resolution; you could walk it if you wanted, but this might provide incentive to start running regularly in preparation.

Similarly if you were wanting to quit smoking, you could put ‘Ring the quitline’ on your New Year Resolutions. That’s easily achievable goal you could complete in the first week – and would be a step toward quitting. You could add several more achievable goals to the same effect –  for example ‘buy nicotine gum’.

So there you have – the trick to New Years Resolutions – they’re actually pretty easy.

 

 

I hope Wholesome Memes are the start of a new paradigm.

2016 has seen a new genre of internet memes gain prominence – ‘Wholesome Memes’.

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I first noticed them on the /r/wholesomememes subreddit, and have since taken to following the Best of Wholesome Memes Facebook page.

These image macros are intended to be genuinely positive and happy. Here’s a few good ones

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ghf5of2es6im2fldc1tumwgmrpuwqwukyhx5yuqivoi

hxztsuk2miblkc2crmxbmcq2mxfxpivigkxxw3ykpkm

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What can be considered a ‘wholesome meme’ isn’t just restricted to image macros. For example I disovered this song on my Spotify which follows the same theme.

There is also nice Facebook pages like Genuinely Stoked Goats.

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The internet and social media is a very new phenomena, and trends develop. From rick rolling, to crowdfunding, to parties that get a million attendees, to fake news and clickbait, and online shaming.

A notable example is the Justine Sacco case – where a woman made an arguably tasteless joke on Twitter before boarding a plane, and the internet relished in causing as much trouble for her as possible before she landed and was back in touch with the internet. (This Ted Talk here gives a very good rundown of the phenomena).

It’s apparent that the internet thrives on attention. The content that will be successful- whether for good for bad, is content that engages internet users.

This why negative content can be so prevalent. Clickbait and fake news work by packing something interesting into a single sentence. Outrage and online shaming works by inflaming the emotion of anger – giving users a rush of adrenaline.

A ‘users are addicted to the internet’ model helps explain the phenomena. Imagine internet users collectively as a group of brain dead zombies looking for their rush or adrenaline or endorphins. They’re going to be seeking out content that triggers that reaction, and sharing content that will get likes, likes also providing validation and simulation.

The result is – all of this negative content can make us cynical and frustrated about the state of the world. And that can lead to a ‘just want to watch the world’ burn kind of attitude, that gets Donald Trump elected, or gets someone to go on a mass shooting.

But – content that makes us smile also creates engagement and causes a flood of endorphins. The answer seems pretty simple; even if people are addicted to the internet – is it a problem if what they’re sharing is happy pictures and gifs that make them smile or laugh? Is that not a kind of utopia?

My Facebook feed has pretty good recently. It’s mostly pictures of goats, puns, trippy gifs, and wholesome memes. If you subscribe to a ‘you are what you consume’ philosophy, this is a pretty healthy diet.

My hope is that this a continuing trend – that people are going to be more deliberate about the content they share and create, with intention of flooding the internet with happy, positive content.

Dealing with Trump president related anxiety.

I’m generally optimistic about the future of the world – and I disagree with arguments that ‘the world is getting worse’. People are more literate than ever, health care is improving around the world, people are more free to choose there career and so on. The 2014 Annual Letter from Bill and Melinda Gates reflects this sentiment.

However, like many people I was surprised by the result of the US 2016 Presidential Election, and experienced a range of anxiety, cynicism and worry about both the future of the world and the current state of society.

What’s to worry about?

I’d divide this in to two categories:

Worry for the future.

  • Causing a global war.
  • Causing an economic recession.
  • Increasing risk of terrorism.

Cynicism about society now.

It’s a little disturbing that so many people weren’t put off by some of Trump’s more awful remarks (‘We should bomb the terrorists familys’, ‘I’d bring back waterboarding and worse’).

The election result demonstrates that there’s more deep rooted hate than we’d perhaps anticipated.

A case against optimism.

It’s tempting to say ‘She’ll be right, things always work out in the end, look at the world now’.

I think we should be a bit careful here. Life isn’t a movie that always has a happy ending. And while our society right now is pretty good, there have been periods of turmoil in the past.

For example,  let’s take the the election of Adolf Hitler to power in 1933. Although 80 years later things have turned out OK for us now, things were not OK for the people living in Europe at the time, and saying ‘she’ll be right’ in that context, seems misguided.

So that’s my first warning – it’s not a foregone conclusion that everything will be alright – though of course that wouldn’t be the case had Hillary been elected either.

With that said – it’s valuable to make the most of your life, regardless of what the election results are. Generally stress and anxiety are disruptive or distracting (though presumably someone could use them as a positive to launch their political career or similar), so it’s good to be in a frame of mind where one proceeds with their life.

Empathising with Trump voters.

Empathising is the act of imaging yourself in the shoes of someone else – understanding what their thought processes are and what they’re feeling.

Empathising humanises a person, makes them more familiar, and thus less scary. I think it’s often the not understanding why someone acts a certain way, that we find frightening.

Let’s try an empathising exercise now. All this involves is engaging our imagination. Ask yourself, what is it like First, let’s acknowledge that Trump voters aren’t a monolith – people have voted for Trump for a variety of reasons.

  • Disenfranchised and relatively less privileged whites. Working class whites who relatively speaking have fallen behind in society. For example less educated people in manufacturing jobs, who have been laid off or their wages haven’t kept up with more modern occupations like IT. Combine this with increasing ethnic diversity and the awareness that they’re not being paid much more than a social group (people of colour) they’ve typically seen themselves as significantly higher than, and you see how someone would want someone to take action to give them their social status back.
  • Children of hateful parents. Imagine if you’ve grown up surrounded with racist and sexist rhetoric, and then more recently there’s been more attention to people calling this out as hate speech. Your very way of life is under attack! When a candidate appears that opposes these now long present forces, you like the guy who is batting for you team!
  • Bored people. Your life is unsatisfying and a bit overwhelming. You expect Donald Trump to cause trouble, and that’s going to stir things up.
  • Protest voters. I imagine that lot of people who voted for Trump, never expected him to win. People who were frustrated at the lack of options in the election – not trusting that Hillary Clinton had their interests at heart, and voted for Trump more to make a point, rather than genuinely preferring him as president.

When you think about things this way – how Trump came about is a lot more understandable – and for me, the feeling changes more from anxiety to sadness. It’s sad that so many people have lives like this that voting for Trump seems like a good move.

Accepting that we live in a world of assholes.

One of the disheartening things about the election result, is that it appears that a lot of people are gleeful, bitter, hateful or ignorant.

This may feel depressing, as the world isn’t full of the happy, loving, intelligent people we’d like a utopia to be.

But – instead of feeling like you’ve lost something, just accept that that’s actually how it is. Imagine you are a buffalo on the African Savannah. There really are lions out there want to eat you. Being depressed about this isn’t going to help – what’s going to help is being aware of it, and being strong in the face of it.

Or similarly – imagine that it’s discovered that in the forest near your park resides real genuine monsters, who’ll pop out at night and eat people. Instead of being terrified, or despairing that the world is worse than you thought it was,  accept it and change your lifestyle to suit. Start carrying a weapon, and avoiding the forest at night.

What this attitude means practically, is in your day to day interactions, perhaps being a bit more emotionally standoffish with people you don’t know – after all – they could be bitter or selfish. It also means looking out for the people who are intelligent, loving and full of life and actively seeking them out and appreciating them!

Life does go on.

Even if something bad happens, it may have long term consequences, but we still deal with it, and still move on. For example 9/11 really did happen, and it end up causing chaos in the middle east, and there was a global economic recession – yet we’re still here, things are still alright.

Now of course – for people who did die as the result of a terrorist attack or in one of the wars – things weren’t alright – so we should quite rightly be concerned about personally becoming a victim. But that said – every time you drive in a car, you also risk dying in a car crash. Personally – I don’t like driving for this reason, but in the wider context of things – and depending where you live, on the balance of probability, you can probably keep doing what you’re doing.

But if, in your assessment, you do need to take action – then take action! Become a doomsday prepper, or move to a safer neighborhood or whatever.

Blame social media/the media.

I think a large part of Trump’s success was that he sold headlines with the outrageous things he said. The media would report those things, knowing that people would click the headline to indulge their desire to be outraged. Whether it’s the responsibility of the media for producing the headlines, or the consumers for reading them, is a discussion for another time.

I think it’s a philosophy that’s worth considering – the reason that someone so outrageous has risen to power, is partly because we’re addicted to outrage and we feed it. Perhaps it time we get more choosey about the media we consume.

Conclusion.

Ultimately, I think the right response is a mix of optimism and agitation. Keep feeling positive and enjoying your life (we do live in a pretty golden age, after all), but also use this as an opportunity to be more inspired and motivated, and do your part to improve our culture.

Computer games, productivity and ADHD.

Recently, I’ve been adopting a ‘it’s ok not be always doing something productive’ policy. The idea being – that’ll I’ll be productive and focused at work, and then outside of work, while it’s good to have some amount of extra-curricular productivity – the focus more being on enjoying one’s life, but more so, relaxing and being happy, so that I’m able to be relaxed and productive at work.

One basis for this attitude, in the list of common death regrets, one is ‘I wish I didn’t work so hard’.

We can break kinds of activities in to three groups. For example for me, they might be:

Necessary Life Maintainence Spare Time
Things that need to be done, or else drastic consequences Things that need to be done as part of a healthy lifestyle, but can be put off without drastic consequences Things that it’s up to you to decide what you do with that time.
  • Going to work
  • Tiding my room
  • Doing my washing
  • Doing exercise
  • Shopping for healthy food
Productive

  • Writing
  • Taking photos for Humans of Newtown
  • Programming

Non-productive

  • Playing computer games.
  • Playing board games
  • Playing pinball
  • Watching movies
  • Browsing the internet

The attitude I’ve generally found the most successful regarding producing creative work is to ‘do art when I’m enjoying it’. I typically find that creative work that is just bursting to getting out, particularly writing, 1) is easy to write. Five hundred to a thousand words in an hour is fairly common. 2) It tends to be my favorite work in retrospect.

On the other hand – while I really enjoy TV shows and movies – I like them better than books – I find often I’m not in a relaxed enough state to relax and be immersed in the film. In these states, I’m likely to only half watch the film, while I use my phone or browse the internet. I don’t want to ruin the experience of a good movie or TV show by only half watching, so I’d prefer to put off watching a TV show or movie until I’m sufficiently exhausted enough to be satisfied with just sitting back and being immersed.

Recently, due to better organisation, I’ve found myself having more free time – the chores done, it’s not a gym day, and I’m a bit bored and restless, but I really don’t feel like writing.

Doing something social is out, because that tends to be time consuming, and we’re really talking about killing a couple of hours in the evening.

This is where computer games can be good, but… the barrier for me for a lot of games, is that they seem to have a high upfront cost in the learning the game. You need to spend quite a lot of time learning the game.

The Civilization series is a game I’ve played since Civilization II. It has a great sweet spot of active engagement on my part, (ie. as opposed to a movie which doesn’t require my interaction), as well as being easy enough on the mind that if not really thinking, the game will still move ahead (unlike some writing or other productive work).

The problem with Civilization though – is that it’s a long running game. Completing a game requires more like ten hours, whereas I’m really looking for a game that I can complete in two.

ADHD diagnosis, three months (and one year) on.

Note: This post was initially titled ‘ADHD diagnosis, three months on. I wrote it a year ago, and then ‘left it to stew’… where it’s been sitting for the last year. Primarily I was mostly concerned about offending my parents if I’m honest.

When I wrote my first ADHD post, as a small aside I mentioned that the psychiatrist had mentioned that often people who are diagnosed later in life can feel frustrated or angry that they weren’t diagnosed earlier.

When I was first diagnosed, the primary emotion was relief and happiness. I felt happy that there was a good explanation as to why I often have had difficulty relating to other people, and that it could be given a name, and that there is medication to treat it.

More recently I have been feeling a bit more frustrated that I wasn’t diagnosed earlier, and thinking ‘what if’ – what if I had been diagnosed as a kid?

It’s not like the idea that I had ADHD as a kid was completely foreign. My mother had cut out an article about ADHD and stuck it to the fridge. While she didn’t say so, the commonly expressed opinion of my siblings was this was in reference to me. This coined a phrase – whenever I was acting out my siblings would say ‘David, get off the fridge!’.

Interestingly enough though – I can’t for the life of me remember what kinds of things I did as a kid that constituted hyperactivity.  You think of your typical hyperactive kid as very loud, always running around and getting into things. While I did do things that are otherwise typical of ADHD behaviour, mainly losing things, breaking things and forgetting things, the primary thing that I remember is being absorbed in reading. This obviously isn’t a complete picture, because I was also characterised as being an attention seeker – but again I can’t remember what things I did to seek attention. I do remember frequently and repeatedly complaining “I’mmmmmmmmmmmm boooooorrrrrreeeeeeeeddd’ in an obnoxious manner.   😀

I asked one of my sisters about what hyperactive things I did, and she couldn’t remember either.

So there were suggestions that I had ADHD as a kid, but my parents didn’t do anything about it.

A possible explanation for this is, my performance at school was still pretty good. My school reports consistently said ‘David has potential but needs to apply himself’ but I always marked reasonably well at my subjects, and was at the top of my classes in maths.

I have a hypothesis for this. Especially for a subject like maths, primary level math problems are short and discreet. These kinds of problems might actually suit someone with ADHD, providing that immediate short term sense of stimulation and satisfaction each time a problem is solved. The nature of the teaching also involves ongoing teacher engagement.  It’s not until a problem requires sustained concentration that ADHD might be disruptive.

It’s not like my parents were averse to getting additional help for their kids – they enrolled my older in some after school tuition because he couldn’t read. But here we have a very distinct problem – not reading, that the solution for is quite apparent. General hyperactive behaviour does not have an immediately obviously solution, unless you know what you’re looking for.

Also – the school did refer me to some kind of child psychologist when I was about nine.

The experience as I remember it was this: I was sitting at my desk reading a book. An adult was in the room and some of the girls appeared to be showing off to her showing her some of the work they’d done. She then came and talked to me and asked me what I was doing (I was reading book). She then invited me to talk to her in another room. In the room she asked me a series of math related (‘A train is travelling…’) and some English questions (one of them was asking the meaning of the word ‘transparent’ – I didn’t know).

The psychologist obviously didn’t make an ADHD diagnosis, but my mum told me that she’d said that I have the maths brain of a sixteen year old, whatever that means.

It’s fruitless to imagine how things might be different if I had be diagnosed as a kid. There’s no changing the past and so it’s a matter of dealing with my life as it is now.

However, at the same time acknowledging how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking is often the first step for moving forward.

It’s also interesting to reflect on how society has changed. The idea of therapy and psychological assessments are a lot more acceptable now. I’m not sure if that means that parents in New Zealand are sending their kids to therapy or psychologists more frequently now.