Sunday, March 29, 2015

Just use more willpower! (I know it's in there somewhere!)

Something I was reading today got me off on a tangent of mental health stigmata, specifically ADHD stigmata. Sometimes with issues that can be talked about in polarized way, it's fun to google a statement about it that is very plainly on one side of the polarity...I usually do this with the side I don't agree with.

Today I googled "ADHD is bullshit" which got me all sorts of interesting stuff. Some of it was totally ignorant and offensive. Some of it was well-intentioned but still contained some ignorance. Some of it was insensed people who have been diagnosed saying "I have this and it's frustrating and debilitating daily!" This is a sentiment I agree with. That being is not (because nothing is) a binary issue. It is not that either ADHD is an immense disability affecting anyone who struggles to be attentive and is not a made up condition to explain problem children or get a hold of

What I really wanted to talk about in this post is my own experience with learning how this condition differs from a very general/normal difficulty to accomplish tasks associated with my education, career and interests.

One complaint about this and many other psychological diagnoses is that the diagnostic criteria from the DSM can often sound like personality traits that anyone/everyone could have.

Easy to see how most of the population would quickly identify anecdotal situations where they felt some of these behaviors at play. 

However, the diagnostic criteria are tighter than just observing these things. They require a persistent pattern, they require negative effects to be consistently interfering with functioning or development, and they require that other developmental or environmental factors can be ruled out. The commonly quoted anecdote of a girl being diagnosed when it actually turned out she needed glasses and couldn't discern her lessons from the blackboard is an example of a diagnosis that failed to rule out environmental factors. A child going through a growth spurt or hormonal change is another temporary developmental situation that might bring out these behaviors. I try too hard to be eloquent and organized when I explain here is a great response from one of the forum topics I browsed from my "adhd is bullshit" google search. 

So that puts it concisely. Getting finally around to my post title...I find that many things that are a struggle or nuisance to me are things that I cannot apply willpower to changing. Depression and anxiety are very similar. It's easy to look at someone struggling with depression and suggest they just lighten up, have a more positive outlook...but when you are in the grips of your brain chemistry taking you down an unhelpful road, whether that unhelpfulness is negativity, distraction, confusion, anxiety, paranoia, cannot apply willpower very effectively. If you were physically hurt, the best you could hope to do with willpower is ignore the pain, you would not change the physiological truths of the injury. 

It's not a perfect corollary, processes like Cognitive Behavior Therapy can help you learn to manage your mental processes in a way that avoids some of the traps and pitfalls that lead to acute negative psychological symptoms. But like healing from a physical takes time and consistent treatment. Medication can often regulate the brain chemicals that create conditions for the negative symptoms. The best approach is both...with a more regulated brain chemistry, it's easier to apply the mental training consistently, and thus have more control over a mentally healthy lifestyle. 

Back to ADHD specifically, and me specifically...willpower is extremely hard to apply in the first place. There are a lot of negative feedbacks of being distracted and confused much of the time, self-esteem and optimism are the top of that list. With self-loathing and self-pessimism on full's really hard to push myself to do that thing I know will help me be organized...or work on that project with whose completion I've associated self-worth. On top of that crap pile, (or maybe at its foundation?) a meandering mind and inconsistent memory skills make it really hard to put strategies I come up with into practice. Making a to-do list or keeping a detailed calendar might help me get more done and be less overwhelmed by all of the things that life requires me to keep track of (in fact it does!)...but that is all for naught if I can't remember to do it or can't do it consistently enough to make a difference. 

I'm getting pretty rambly and feel like I'll soon wander into topics that deserve their own posts, so I'll wrap up. 

When your brain chemistry, for whatever reason (environment, genetics, evolution...all) takes away from your ability to DO or FEEL the way most people do, or the way that's required to accomplish things, mere willpower is not by itself effective, and is not the whole solution. It is here that mental health is a very real thing. 

Personally I believe that in that situation willpower IS necessary to force yourself to admit you have a problem, seek out the solutions (medication, therapy, or whatever is right for you), and to keep self-judgement at bay. Willpower needs to be the one thing that will always lead you back to whatever tools you've found consistently manage your condition and lead to personal success. 

I have NOT YET found a completely effective solution to my own symptoms, or found a way to consistently apply solutions that I know work...but more on that later. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Expectation (it's all in your head)

Ok...I will write this post in the space of my lunch break and publish it, because I have now three draft posts that I've started when they were on my mind, intended on finishing, and have not yet come back to.

One failing in my earlier attempt at blogging was my posts page just filling up with drafts, and I'm determined not to repeat that pattern.

 My head is always filled with expectations on what's going to happen or what's going to be said. Like almost every mental habit I struggle with, this is not automatically a bad thing. Predictive thinking is one of humanity's greatest evolutionary milestones: it's allowed us to evade predators, build infrastructure, and ideally prepare for coming environmental threats (wow that's a charged statement, huh?)

Knowing I'm going to be hungry by 11am helps me decide to eat something at 8:30. Knowing that a coworker might make the same mistake for the same reason in the future helps me train them. But this predictive instinct can have a NASTY overdrive mode (again, like most of my bad mental habits).

I divide the ill effects into two categories: goals/plans and interpersonal relationships.


This is certainly the one I've been aware of longer. When we were a kid we all wanted to be something: we probably sat for hours daydreaming about doing that thing, all the shimmery cool things associated with it. In that kind of daydreaming, one often doesn't have the perspective of all the details associated with that situation actually being true. Being a Veterinarian (not one of my fantasy careers, but many people's) is not all cuddling dogs and giving their owners great advice. It's sitting learning about anatomy for years and retaining that knowledge, it's paying student loans, it's going over pages of lab data and interpreting it, and all sorts of other long term mundane processes. The daydreamy, detail-free version? THIS IS HOW I THINK ABOUT EVERYTHING! Whether it's cleaning the house when I get home, writing a piece of music (I haven't succeeded in that in 5 years, more on that later) or getting a graduate degree in any of several subjects I've considered...I get into a viscous cycle of imagining how it will be...and never think about what's involved in doing it, and never start doing any of those things (and if I started them...I likely wouldn't keep it up!) That's not to say I never accomplish anything...I do from time time, but I'm always contending with the obvious frustrations that arise when things don't actually match my imagined version. This gets even worse in collaborative projects...because when you've imagined a group-produced result as something different than it turns out to tend to turn this frustration on the people you're working with...and that leads wonderfully into category two...the far more damaging one.

Interpersonal Relationships

Have you ever imagined those perfect words you'd say to someone you're upset with? Of course, we all have. There's again some good here. For introverts, constructing words in one's head before speaking them is a common personality trait, and it can lead to great communication, verbal or written. What if you imagined what that other person said in response? Maybe you've done that too. What if you did it for the better part of the day? What if you did it more than you actually talked to that person? THIS IS MY LIFE! It's far more common to do this about disagreements or situations with others that I feel negatively about. My imagined version of their side of the conversation is often way false, not at all something they think or would say. But the more they say it in my head the more angry it makes me...and I get looped into an ongoing imaginary fight with them. Because distraction and errant thought processes frequently take on an almost addictive pattern for  me...I totally run away with it. And all that happens is negativity gets overlaid on myself and the other person. And the more I have this negative imagined version of them in mind, the harder it is to feel at ease around them and have real conversations.

Much of my mental time is spent forming expectations about the world...more than should be for sure. When the real world doesn't meet my expectations (it never does) I can go pretty nuts about it...none of these things help me achieve things I'm objectively capable of. The self-loathing that results from this constant missing of the mark tends to only make these problems worse.

There's hope.

A few thousand years ago Siddhartha Gautama constructed a way of living in the world that included this problem as one of its central tenants. Buddha's word for it is attachment. It doesn't really describe liking things too much and it doesn't really prescribe having less, it's more about realizing that anything we construct in our minds other than what we're doing, thinking and saying right now are inherently inaccurate and out of our control. Though my utter failure to stick to consistent practices and habits in my life prevents me from being a legit Buddhist (or a very effective Christian for that matter...more on that later), these views on human thought and action have been extremely helpful to me in stepping back, taking an objective look at situations and interactions and coming to peace with them, stopping the hamster wheel and letting go. Talking at length about the current influence and position of Buddhist teachings in my life is a whole other blog let me briefly describe them here as a helpful tool for some of these troublesome habits.

Additionally, drugs. ADHD medication is also a massive topic of it's own. In the context of keeping massive over-expectations at bay, they can help stop me from creating them. With the meds I'm currently on, things happen in a calmer, slower, more controlled way. I can start working on a task and build efficiency and efficacy as I go...rather than the obsessive thought about that task taking over before I even start it. Unfortunately this is a much more in the moment it doesn't apply well to achieving longer term goals...and it doesn't help me from imagining falsehoods about those I interact with.

Those I'm still struggling with...more on that later.

(and 5 minutes left on lunch!)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Become Your Own Expert! ('cause you have to)


That scary thing that if you "believe" in it, you must be a greeny, socialist Democrat who wants to tax and regulate us into the next Great Depression --- and if you don't "believe" in it, you must be an ultra-conservative, market-loving, trickle-down Republican oil company shill.

This kind of useless false dichotomy rules the way our society talks about issues...and I'm really irritated by it. Though I may have struggled to get most of my college homework turned in on time...the experience of a liberal arts education definitely had an impact on me; training me to be open minded, to listen to all sides of an think critically. I think critical thinking is frighteningly absent from today's political, social and media landscape. And here's a great example!

This argument is as flawed as it is stupid...and this guys makes WAY more than me to take part in our legislative process...scary...but not what I'm writing about today.

My interest (read: obsession) with climate science began with a paragon of Science Communication: Carl Sagan. Episode 4 of his seminal 1980 PBS Broadcast Cosmos: A Personal Journey is titled "Heaven and Hell" and examines the climates of Venus and Mars in the context of solar system and other planetary science...and ends with a critique of human industrial activity which is uncharacteristically piercing and forceful for Sagan. It got me thinking: climate change is this contentious thing that everyone argues about...but is it real? 

Now...if I were to ask myself the same question about the death of Jared Fogle, the internet would very quickly answer my question definitively. If I were to ask the same question about water molecules and cohesion, I would get a similarly quick and clear answer. Not so with climate science, which is what I found when I brought my climate questions to the internet. It's a mess...a huge mess. 

I have found a few websites who (mostly for their strict comments policies) keep things pretty plain and scientific. Their articles are very straightforward and honest about uncertainty, and the comment threads are open discussions (mostly) back and forth about the findings, their impacts, etc. These have been helpful. But there are two problems I've found with my "research" so far. 

1. The insane political nature of this issue causes extreme suspicion on both sides. I could feel the utmost confidence in something I had read extensively on...but there is still that nagging fear, "what if the scientists are making it all up?!" I really don't think that's true, I have pretty darn good faith in scientists (maybe more on that later). I'm wired by my social surroundings to think it's probably more true that the $$$ oil industry is working a disinformation campaign. That is not unprecedented for big industry. But really I don't want to spend much time on that rat's nest of politic either! I just want to know what's up with the climate, for real, at least as well as the scientists know. Maybe that's a lofty goal, which brings me to the second issue with my research thus far. 

2. While the more sciency sites are far less full of vitriol, they are far more full of science...equations, physics and statistics that are truly beyond me. How can I hope to validate a claim or feel secure in my repeating of it without a really solid understanding. I can certainly follow along with the broad concepts, and I'll definitely expound on them in posts specifically on climate topics, but a misuse of a scientific law, or a fudged statistic could easily slip by me.

I think I'm at a minor impasse where my next steps in exploring this field are to obtain raw data (pretty well available) and make some of my own analyses, as well as brush up on statistics and maybe physics...I think I need to start engaging closer to the science. I had the idea to write about this after seeing this blog post, where an amateur has plotted data on his own to draw some of his own conclusions, which is where I think I'm headed next.

That's a lot of introduction to really say this: 

I don't know if it's right that the political landscape has gotten so out of hand that someone who cares about the environment and the state of the climate has to become a self-made expert. The misinformation, the anger, the partisan squabbling, and the conspiracy paranoia has convoluted this issue so much that I don't know who to trust. (I lean toward the science, but that irrational other side is loud in my ear). Not that self-educating is bad, it's great, it's what I hope to chronicle in this blog. But I feel a little backed into a corner by the noise surrounding climate science.

If even the medium predicted effects of anthropogenic climate warming come to pass, it will push us beyond the bounds of our reasonable habitability on this planet (and our adaptability is way better than many animal species). Aside from that, our ways of producing energy and transporting ourselves are not nearly the best they can be...they involve a complicated, wasteful use of resources and are full of negative externalities aside from enhancing the greenhouse effect. The point is...these are truly pivotal issues for the future of our species, and I would like to be able to hear expertise on the issue and push for change accordingly.

I'm wary of my ability to do that. There will always be the response of the other side of the partisan aisle. Can I really say "you're just plain wrong" if I can't actually show the data myself? While I love an academic challenge, I don't like the reasons for this one's necessity. 

I don't have any good answers, for now I'm going to keep learning and growing in my understanding of this topic.

 I'm also going to seek out more ways I can actually make a difference.

As usual...more on that later. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

About this Blog

I want to write down my thoughts with purpose and constraints.

My mind can be a recursive loop of dealing with issues I face and topics I'm interested in. It's often not helpful or healthy. By writing some of this down, I'd like to get it out of my mind and organize it.

To be clear, I do not intend for this blog to be a rant zone or a stream of consciousness.

It is intended to mainly be topical. But instead of those topics of interest rolling around in my head, I'd like to have a framework to research them, learn about them, and then voice my thoughts on them.

I tried to blog once before and failed miserably! Aside from being disorganized and inconsistent due to ADHD, I tended to either box the blog in and then not be able to find content to fill the box, or over-plan my ideas and never get to actually making them.

I'm really hoping to be freer this round and just write what's on my mind, with hopes of feeling obligated to present topics well, find research to back up my opinions and ideally have a better grasp on things than if I just thought about them non-stop.

Who is my audience? This is a question I'm not too concerned with, at least until I actually make some content.

What are the topics? I expect the grouping of topics to change over time, and I welcome that. Here are some things I'm into right now.

- Climate and environment
- Future of technology and humanity
- Psychology and mental health
- Religion
- Science/Knowledge Seeking/Psychology ("scientia" to be cool and fancy)

There is so much more I care about and want to think and learn about, and those will work their way in here. But those listed are the ones that have really been ringing in my brain lately. The brain-ringing hasn't brought me very far...and that is what this blog is about.

About This Blogger

Hi There,

This is a total experiment. I have no idea if it will work or be effective and helpful. But it's the kind of thing that's impossible to know without trying.

Who am I? I'm a young adult male. I'm caucasian and live in the United States. I am married. I have a Bachelor's degree from a liberal arts college. I have a full time job at a great company which relates in no way to my degree. I have a whole host of interests, but little traction on any of them.

Oh yeah...and I have an attention disorder.

ADHD in the DSM 5 is broken down into two types: inattentive type and hyperactive type. I have the inattentive type. I don't want to spend much time on that here, as I imagine I'll spend a whole post(s) on it at some point. Suffice it to say...the entire world around me is like static on a fuzzy radio station. It's mostly noise and little signal. I have trouble organizing my thoughts, and my things. I have trouble remembering little things. And those symptoms never take a consistent shape in my it's challenging to work around them.

Another thing about me that's related to that disorder and my personality in general is I tend to spend a ton of time in my head talking things out. How I would describe something, how I feel about it, what I think is true. Sometimes it's diatribes on opinions, sometimes it's future conversations I'm preparing for with others, but I fill in the other person's entire side of the conversation, often with falsehoods. Ultimately, most of this inner speak is really unhelpful, I rarely get or take the chance for those words to impact anyone or anything.

So I'm going to try to write them down. With purpose and constraints. More to come.