Relaxation: There’s an App for That

I’ve been taking some steps toward taking better care of myself, largely relying on the apps that are available to me now that I have an Android tablet.

Icon for the app "Stop Panic and Anxiety" by Excel at Life

Icon for the app “Stop Panic and Anxiety” by Excel at Life

The app I’ve found most useful so far is called “Stop Panic and Anxiety” and is available for free. It plays “audios” (streamed from the internet, which admittedly is not always ideal) for panic assistance, emotion training, and relaxation. I’ve been listening to one of the relaxation audios – essentially, guided meditation with music – to help myself fall asleep at night. My muscles seem to melt as I listen to it and I start to feel better. It should help even more if I listen to the other audios (not the one I use to fall asleep) at different points during the day.

Icon for the app "Depression Inventory" by Handcarved Software

Icon for the app “Depression Inventory” by Handcarved Software

I’ve also been using 2 other free apps, “Depression Inventory” and “eMoods”, to track my symptoms. My score on the Depression Inventory has been remaining steady in the mid-40s, securely in the “moderate depression” range.

Icon for the app "eMoods" by Yottaram LLC

Icon for the app “eMoods” by Yottaram LLC

eMoods is nice because I can track some contributing factors (medication, hours slept, verbal therapy, etc.) as well as my depression, irritability, and anxiety. I’m not entirely sure how useful tracking is right now as I’m not really seeing any change, and it can be very easy to keep giving the same responses. I think eMoods would be more useful if I had a way to measure my anxiety and irritability, as I’ve been using the Depression Inventory to measure depression. Back to the app store!
(eMoods is intended for people with bipolar and also measures elevated mood.)

Icon for the app "Assistant" by Speaktoit

Icon for the app “Assistant” by Speaktoit

Another app I’ve been using is “Assistant”, which I found by searching for Android equivalents of Siri. It’s the only one I’ve found that lets you set reminders that repeat every day (but not weekly, e.g. every Thursday). In theory it’s very useful, except that I find it way too easy to just ignore the reminders. If I pay $3/month or $20/once I’ll be able to teach it my own commands, customize its appearance and voice, etc. I’m still debating whether I think the upgrade is worth the cost. It might be if I can teach it what “every Thursday” means – and decide to stop ignoring the reminders!

Finally, I’ve renewed my commitment to actually using all the prepaid massages I’ve accumulated at Massage Envy. The way their membership works, you pay about $60 per month and can get a 1-hour massage at no extra cost (other than tip/gratuity). Any additional massages you get that month are at a reduced cost. If you don’t use your prepaid massage one month, it carries over to the next. And so on.

I let so much time pass between massages that I estimate I have about 13 prepaid massages available to me after using 2 of them on hot stone therapy on Sunday. I can’t afford to keep paying the membership fee while I’m not working, but if I cancel my membership I’ll lose the prepaid massages and have wasted hundreds of dollars! Ideally, if I use the massages they will help me feel well enough to find and keep a job; then I might be able to afford to continue my membership. Otherwise, I’m hoping to gain some benefit while using up my existing massages so I can cancel my membership guilt-free.

The massage on Sunday was good, but I left feeling a bit disappointed. I think the biggest factor was that the muscles in my scalp and face were very tense, but my therapist didn’t massage them because doing so was not part of the hot stone therapy (nor, I learned later, one of his areas of expertise). It was very hard for me to feel relaxed and rejuvenated when my jaw was sore from clenching, even though I’d enjoyed most of the massage and felt the muscles that were massaged relax. I also think (and realized then) that I was wearing depression goggles: it’s really hard to feel good about something when you feel completely drained and sad.

The most useful part of Sunday’s appointment actually happened afterward. I politely told the receptionist that my face and scalp were very tense, but the therapist had not massaged them, and asked why. She suggested a different type of massage and went out of her way to schedule me an appointment with the best therapist available on my preferred day who specializes in the technique. We made it a 90 minute massage (using 1.5 prepaid massages), with 30 minutes of cranial sacral massage and an hour of full body. Based on the recommendation of the hot stone therapist, I might request that the hour be spent on just my upper body.

Ironically enough, Massage Envy also has an app. It’s not compatible with my device, though, and several of the reviews advise against using it because it’s not for making appointments. That’s okay, though, in this case I think I’d much rather talk to a human being.

Taking the First Steps

Fox and I have started taking a course about developing Android apps on Coursera. We started accessing the Week 1 materials yesterday, watching videos and downloading the software development tools we’ll need to participate in the course, and beyond! It felt really good to be focused on learning, get new software, and start playing around with what I’d just learned. I’m very glad I have a structured course in which to learn how to use the software development tools, so I can take advantage of all their features should I choose to use them to develop new apps.

I’m also eagerly waiting for my new tablet, which runs Android, to arrive on my doorstep. It will be the first time I’m able to fully and freely access “smartphone” technology, including all the apps that already exist. Even if I never develop new software of my own (or decide tablets and smartphones aren’t the right platform for it), I’m hoping that I can use my new tablet to help improve my own mental health (and not as yet another time-wasting device!).

As awesome as it felt to DO SOMETHING toward a goal I feel passionate about, I do foresee some areas of frustration and obstacles I’ll need to overcome:

1) Software development seems to require a different way of thinking from what I’m used to; none of the material covered in the videos we’ve watched so far seemed intuitive to me. I felt like some of it might’ve gone over my head. I’m not really used to that – if anything, I’m used to material being easy for me to understand.

But, I was able to learn algebra by copying everything the teacher put on the board until I started seeing the patterns in it. I decided to major in music because I was similarly challenged by the first semester of music theory, so I wanted to take the second semester. I can face this challenge! I just need to be aware of it and willing to accept some frustration while I navigate it.

2) I’m very codependent with Fox. He’s been very supportive of me since I first came up with the idea to develop software that might help me overcome some of the difficulties I’ve been facing. He suggested Android apps and offered to take the Coursera course with me.

But I don’t know how interested he really is in learning this stuff for himself, and that could make this process difficult. He seemed annoyed with the course creators for requiring students to interact on the forum, frustrated because if his laptop is able to run the required emulators at all they will be painfully slow, and less enthusiastic about the learning process than me. I don’t want him to feel like he has to do something he’s not really interested in or doesn’t find satisfying.

I was hoping that he would help me stick with the course and complete it – if nothing else so I could recall that experience when faced with uncertainty, instead of perpetuating this image I have of myself as someone who never completes anything. But now I foresee being faced with the difficult dilemma of wanting to watch the next video lecture, but also feeling like I should wait for him because we’re “taking the course together.” I need to stay firm and focused on what will be best for me – what I can do to learn and keep up with the course, whether we’re watching videos together or not. If he decides it’s not for him, I need to be able and willing to fly solo.

As much as I wish I could let go and trust him to take care of me, the truth of the matter is this: it will only lead to resentment when my needs aren’t met. We both need to figure out how to take care of ourselves, and each other. It’s not easy.

3) I’ve gotten some encouraging responses from people I’ve told about my idea, but for the most part I’m frustrated by lack of response. I’m especially frustrated by lack of comments on this blog.

I know I need to take at least some responsibility: I’ve been intentionally vague about the software I want to develop, how I want to develop it, and what I want it to do. I’m not sure how much is safe to disclose online; I don’t want someone to steal my idea (especially not some big wealthy company that will use it to make money and prevent others from making free or inexpensive versions, or worse use it for even more invasive advertising). But if I’m going to get feedback I need to give people something to respond to, something they can understand and connect with and want to respond to. How do I protect my idea AND get the feedback I need to create a program that others might also find useful? Well, I’m also taking a course about entrepreneurship on Coursera, maybe it will give me some ideas.

I Dream of Jarvis

I’ve been having a difficult time since my and Fox’s legal marriage ceremony. The worst was when I broke down in tears in the shower, plagued by thoughts such as “I’m a waste of resources.” It’s not the words themselves so much as really believing them, not having anything left in me to try and refute them. How does one refute one’s own brain, anyway?

I was lost.

Wakana said it was because I allowed myself to become too enmeshed with Fox, going along with what he wanted and making excuses to neglect my own wants and needs. “You’re acting like Mrs. Fox Tamesis!”

She encouraged me to keep asserting myself, to demand to be recognized as a separate person, to act like a separate person, to prioritize my own needs. She helped me to find a practical outlet for my emotions: writing and performing songs about the things that get me so angry, I finally feel alive and motivated to do something. This would enable me to express myself and practice the music skills I need to develop in order to feel confident applying for internships, while also possibly influencing how others think about the topic. (I have yet to actually act on this, by the way.)

‘Cause that’s the thing, I know how to recover from anxious depression. I’ve written about the different aspects that go into it for almost a year now. I have most of the tools at my fingertips; the only part that might be a bit difficult for me to access is medication because first I need health insurance, then I need a good in-network psychiatrist, then we need to work together to find something that works for me.

But the rest? It’s just a matter of changing my entire lifestyle and staying consistent with it, especially when I want to do it the least. No single thing I can’t do.

Reading books and applying their wisdom about how to change my thought processes, check. Forcing myself to smile when I notice myself frowning (it really feels much better – physically first, then emotionally), check. Taking SAM-e, Omega 3, Vitamin D, and a B-complex first thing in the morning, easy peasy. Exercising until I start to sweat, piece of cake. Eating mostly healthy foods and having dessert foods as a treat … that’s a little bit harder, but I can do it. Going to bed and waking up at decent hours, sure! Thanking the universe for the good things in my life, fun and simple. Listening to music, fantastic. Heck, I can make my own!

Actually, I could probably do all these things in one day and still have time to watch Star Trek: Voyager
with Fox. The problem isn’t knowing what to do or even doing one or all of them.

The problem is doing it consistently. The problem is doing it when I wake up hating the world and myself. The problem is doing it when my brain gets stuck in its awful feedback loop that paralyzes me and leaves me feeling like crap. Whatever I feel the most guilty about (e.g. Schmoozer‘s suffering and death), it makes me relive the moment of my horrendous failure, the crushing guilt, the devastating grief, the simmering anger. It rips me to shreds and leaves me lying there bleeding.

“Exercise is great for treating depression.”

“Think of one positive thing.”

Don’t get me wrong. The people who say these things are trying to help. They care a great deal. And I appreciate that they’re trying to help me. I want to take their advice, not just complain about it.

But they’re not here to remind me of these things when I need them the most, such as before my brain gets stuck. When I just woke up. When I’m on Facebook instead of exercising.

I think I said it best in my reply to someone’s comment on my post, A Cure for Anxious Depression:

I’ve been increasingly feeling like I need someone to get me going in the morning, get me to exercise, make sure I’m eating healthy (including cooking for me when I don’t have the energy) and taking my supplements, remind me to think those positive thoughts. But I can’t ask my mom to do it and I think that would be a lot to ask of Fox, especially since he could use the encouragement, too. Hiring someone to do those things isn’t really an option; I’d practically need the person to live with me.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Even if it is possible to hire someone to live with me (that would get awkward, considering Fox & I have a one-bedroom apartment!) and dedicate all their time and energy to making sure I’m doing what I need to take care of myself, there is no way in hell I’d be able to afford their fee. No way! And besides, it seems a really cruel thing to ask of another human being.

Enter Jarvis, stage left. He’s an artificial intelligence who helps Tony Stark do absolutely amazing things in the Iron Man movies. He helps design Stark’s suits, is essentially their operating system, and is there interacting with Stark throughout his adventures. A constant companion who is calm, provides useful information, never gets angry, never berates Stark, and even reminds him of things like the importance of sleep. He’s always on, always paying attention; he always seems to notice and care when Stark is having a hard time.

Oh how I wish I had something like that! Something that would wake me up in the morning with a reminder of what’s good in my life and encouragement to have a nice healthy satisfying breakfast. Something that would tell me when it’s time to take my supplements and exercise and go to bed. Something that would be able to tell when I was feeling so sad and/or anxious it was interfering with my ability to function. Something that could say just the right thing to stop the feedback loop and bring me back to reality. Something that could come everywhere with me, a constant companion, who would exist solely to meet the needs that weren’t met when I was a child and can’t be met in my current, adult relationships. Something I could program on the days when my brain is working, to compensate for when it isn’t.

I’m pretty sure such a program doesn’t exist – yet. But the pieces are there, scattered about in existing technology, just waiting to be combined and used.

Going back to the metaphor in my last post: There are blocks of varying shapes and sizes; bins full of zebras, giraffes, and lionesses; straight and curved train track pieces that all fit perfectly together; and in the palm of my hand is the engine of the train. I even have some ideas about how to get started.

But this time I’m asking the other kids to build a zoo with me, so we’ll all get to play with it once it’s finished and no one will want to knock it down.

Dear readers, you are the other kids. If any of this sounds at all intriguing, please contact me! The best ways to do so (in this order) are to comment on this post, fill out this web form, or email ziyatam@hotmail.com. I could really use some help from one or more people experienced in computer programming and/or software engineering.

What do you think about using a computer program or app as support for improving mental health?

What would you want such a program or app to be able to do?

How can we make the program or app accessible to everyone?