Coursera update

Yesterday I was sad and discouraged to realize I was taking the Coursera courses I’d signed up for because I wanted to be taking courses, not because I was interested in the material I’d be learning. Today I’m glad I realized that – because I found a course I am very interested in, that started yesterday and goes on for 14 weeks! I think I hadn’t initially signed up for it because it overlaps with the Spring 2015 semester, but today I’m thinking that shouldn’t be a problem. I can enjoy it prior to the semester starting, and one the semester starts I can determine how engaged I will remain in the course. The great thing about Coursera is that it’s risk-free: you can do anything from watching an occasional video to completing all the coursework multiple times and being a constant presence in the forums. My goal is to watch all the videos and complete the graded coursework once for each week until the Spring 2015 semester starts, then engage with the material as I’m able (prioritizing my other responsibilities, of course). It feels so good to be excited about and motivated to do something and OMG I’m even setting goals! Realistic, attainable goals. This is pretty significant. Go me!

Glue

Today I completed the tasks for Week 1 in both of the Coursera courses I’m currently taking. I got about 80% on the quizzes. I can go back and take them again to try to get a better score, but mostly I’m just happy that I’ve stuck with something this long.

Speaking of sticking with things, this blog turns 1 year old next week! I’m planning to do a fourth 3-month review and debating whether to review the whole year. I don’t want to repeat myself too much, but I think it will be helpful to review the major themes and how things have (and haven’t) changed over the past 12 months. It might also help new readers become acquainted with the blog.

A big Thank You! to everyone who’s chosen to follow, like, and/or comment on my blog. It really helps to know I’m not alone.

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.

Planning A Head

I have had enough. Enough feeling horrible. Enough choosing not to go out because I don’t want anyone to see me. Enough living in clutter because I feel completely unmotivated to do anything about it. On Monday I didn’t even want to eat, that never happens (if anything, I usually overeat).

Saturday night was a lot of fun; Fox and I went out with some friends to a game store, where we could play board and card games to our hearts’ content and socialize with other people. It got a bit loud and overwhelming, but I was able to enjoy the social interaction and have fun playing the games. I even won Ticket to Ride: Europe and a hand of Magic: The Gathering. That felt really good!

A map of Europe with colorful train tracks connecting major cities.

The outcome of a 5-player game of Ticket to Ride: Europe. I played as blue – and won!

Unfortunately, it went a bit on the late side, and when we got home we were too excited to go to bed. We ended up pulling an all-nighter (sorting through Magic cards) and were a mess for two days. Our sleep cycles have been completely thrown off, our diets far from balanced (meals? what are they?), with barely any energy or motivation to do anything useful. We both seem to have some kind of cold or something. Yuck.

(Potential) Psychiatrist C-1 called while I was in my session with Wakana on Friday and I didn’t have a chance to call him back until Monday. No answer. I left a message. No return call. Now it’s late in the day on Tuesday. Nada. It’s been two business days, he might not even be in. But I’m sick of this nonsense. I know it’s unreasonable to blame him and I really don’t but I need to do something. Psychiatrist C-2 hasn’t called at all.

It’s time – past time – to take the matter into my own hands. I’ve had enough – more than enough – of this nonsense. I’ve written about treatment plans before but did I act on them? No. Well, not this time.

I really really hope, not this time!

Wake Up on the Right Side of the Bed

On Monday I made a 25-minute playlist of 5 songs to help me feel energized – or at least less dead – in the morning. I listened to them soon after waking up today (Tuesday) and wow, what a difference they made!

MP3 player next to a quarter.

This tiny little mp3 player is awesome.

The first two songs are from Barefoot and Flying by the Ebony Hillbillies, who play Black string music. They’re fun and active without being overly energetic or hectic, and I’m madly in love with the bass. The vocals are quite enjoyable, too. One song has a violin part that outright tickles me, and I enjoy the unique rhythms and timbres from the washboard and other percussion in both.

Two more songs are from Dance of the Celts: the first starts kind of mellow and picks up speed and energy as it goes along, while the second includes didgeridoo. The low drone and unique timber of the didgeridoo do amazing things for my mood; listening to it (for me) is like eating the most decadent chocolate while having absolutely fantastic sex. If that can’t perk me up in the morning, nothing will.

Finally, I ended the playlist with The Chieftains Reunion, an 11:22 monstrosity with a variety of changing instruments, very fun energetic rhythms, and a unique female solo vocal part around 8:30 that I can’t resist singing and sometimes even dancing to.

By the time I finished listening to the list, I felt calm, alert, ready to face the day, and even happy. I noticed that my mood started worsening pretty soon afterward, though, and the high energy to … well, nothing – because I wasn’t listening to music anymore – seemed to be the key contributing factor. I think adding a mellow, soothing song or two to bring my energy down more gradually would probably help quite a bit.

Break Your Fast

I’m usually pretty good about eating something very soon after I get up, even if it’s just a handful or two of raw nuts. Add some water, and I’m pretty much good to go – or at least less grouchy. My ideal would be to have eggs and whole wheat toast for breakfast every morning; it’s the most satisfying and energizing breakfast I’ve ever had.

A field of flax flowers, whose seeds will provide me with Omega-3. image from informedfarmers.com

A field of flax flowers, whose seeds will provide me with Omega-3.
image from informedfarmers.com

The harder thing for me to do is take pills. If I’m going to take them at all, around breakfast is the best time. I’ve decided to resume taking an Omega-3 supplement (1200mg flaxseed oil, which includes Omega-6 and Omega-9 as well but at lower doses) and a complex that has multiple forms of Vitamin B and includes Vitamin C for some reason. I’m thinking I should see if I can find a similar complex by a different manufacturer, though, because the one I currently have includes “inactive” ingredients I expressed concern about in my post, Ingredients.

I ran out of the Vitamin D supplement I’d once been taking, in part because I thought I’d be okay if I didn’t take it in the summer. Unfortunately, I just don’t seem to get enough sun for my body to produce what it needs. So maybe I need a lower dose of the supplement in the summer than I do in the winter, but I still need to supplement whatever my body is able to make naturally. I plan to resume doing so as soon as I’m able.

Finally, I’ve decided to go ahead and self-medicate with SAM-e. It’s a supplement that is supposed to help one’s brain produce the neurotransmitters it needs to run, well, considerably better than mine has been. Unlike Protazen (see previous post) – which explicitly has not been subjected to efficacy research “in order to avoid raising the cost to consumers” (according to their customer service representatives) – SAM-e has multiple empirical studies backing it up. It’s probably not any more – possibly less! – expensive than taking a brand-name drug, even with a prescription (insurance) plan. And I can get it in about 3 clicks, no phone tag required. I took my first dose today.

After shopping around a bit, I’ve decided to buy my SAM-e (and possibly other supplements) from Now Foods. They (say that they) use “natural” ingredients – things you could find in nature or synthetic chemicals that are essentially identical – and explicitly avoid the strange substances I expressed concerns about in my post on inactive ingredients (link). I’m hoping the stuff they use will be a bit nicer to my body and possibly even help (or at least not hinder) the active ingredient.

Spock Helps Those Who Help Themselves

So after I wake up to the sound of music, pop a bunch of pills “natural” supplements, and eat breakfast, I get to focus most of my energy on trying to feel good – or at least less like dying. (That’s not an exaggeration.)

a rat on a girl's shoulder

furry little companions make everything better!

The rats are wonderful. They’re cute and fuzzy and happy to see me – especially in the morning when they’re hungry. It’s really hard to interact with them without a smile breaking out across my face, whether I think I feel like smiling or not. The more I can spend quality time with them, the better.

Hey, you know, Fox is pretty wonderful, too. When he’s not being grumpy pants … and sometimes even when he is. 🙂

Our herb and vegetable garden is doing pretty well, all things considered. Sure, the parsley is a lost cause and the basil has seen better days (literally) and I’m not sure we’re ever going to get cucumbers from the strange prickly vine that’s waiting to ambush us from its pot. But the weed chocolate mint is thriving (seriously, looking for a delicious ground cover? get this stuff and hope your neighbors can appreciate it, too), our peppers are getting fat and starting to turn orange, and on Monday I harvested the first of our beautiful red Roma tomatoes! Just thinking about it makes me very happy. It would do me a lot of good to at least check on the garden every day, even if it doesn’t need weeding, pruning, or watering.

I’m enrolled in several free online courses on Coursera as well. To be honest I haven’t been paying much attention to the one that’s already started, but that’s okay because it won’t affect my GPA, I didn’t pay for it, and I’m taking it entirely out of interest. This gives me something to do and an opportunity to learn about diverse topics I’m interested in, for the fun of it, no need to stress. Win-win.

I’m still seeing Wakana twice a week, though we’ll have some breaks because she’s traveling in August. I stopped being consistent with massages but they’re still on the radar as something to help relieve stress. Aromatherapy can be added to the massage; maybe I’ll even get around to trying it at home, too. For starters, I can use the extra lotion I took home from past aromatherapy-enhanced massages. And I’ve been increasingly tempted to go see a chiropractor as my back, shoulders, and hips become increasingly painful.

Yes, I know, 30 minutes of exercise per day has been shown to help fight depression. It would probably do wonders for my chronic pain, too. I’m just not quite there yet. Nor am I ready to get out, join social groups, try new things, etc. – at least not without a lot of support, poking, and prodding by people I trust enough to share a bed with them. Let me practice on the foothills until I can climb halfway up one without struggling to breathe, before you ask me to climb Mt. Everest.

But speaking of climbing Mt. Everest, I have no idea where the Out of the Darkness Overnight is going to be in 2014. Wherever it is, I want to do it next year; whether I can attend the event or not, I want to start training for it ASAP. The more time I can give myself to get in shape, the better.

book cover: Codependent No More by Melody BeattieFinally, I’ve got some self-help books I’ve been meaning to read and do the exercises in. They have to do with time management, unlearning the lessons of an abusive childhood, and cognitive therapy for depression. One of them isn’t a self-help book per se, but might provide useful information for selecting music based on its potential therapeutic effects. (Just to clarify: that’s not music therapy, because I’m doing it for myself. However, it is one thing music therapists often do as part of their work with clients.)

I took another look at the chapter on Detachment in Codependent No More by Melody Beattie. I’m not entirely sure I’m done with it, nor whether I want to write another post about it, but I do plan to continue on through the rest of the book from there.

And How Will You Know If All This Stuff Is Working?

The Burns Depression Checklist is a very valuable tool for measuring severity of symptoms and tracking changes in said severity over time. It’s a self-report measure that’s been tested and found to be quite accurate and reliable. It’s used by many mental health professionals. The link above is only one of several that can be found via Google search; I selected it because it includes the scoring scale and will calculate your score for you.

I filled in the checklist Monday evening and my score was 60, indicating severe depression. It’s easier for me to focus in on one day at a time, but the severity of my symptoms can fluctuate pretty drastically from day to day or even over the course of a given day, depending on a multitude of factors. There were times Monday when I felt like I was perfectly fine, and yet also enough shitty moments that my responses earned me a 60. So, I think it’s probably best if I complete the checklist multiple times per week, focusing on a single day each time, and then take the average score for each week. Over time a pattern will emerge, and that pattern will help me see how my depression is doing.

It might also be helpful to make note of anything that might be having a particularly strong impact on my symptoms. “So-in-so visited for a few days and I was very happy to spend time with zir. It was great while ze was here, but a bit of a letdown when ze left.” “I had a very fun high-energy social evening, but didn’t get enough sleep afterward. Sleep deprivation made my symptoms a lot worse until I managed to fix my sleep cycle.” … I think you get the idea. Then instead of throwing up my hands when there are too many variables to have any clue which ones are having an effect, or whether the positive effects of my treatment are just being utterly thwarted by the shit life’s throwing at me, I can actually look at all (well, most?) of the variables and get a better feel for what’s going on.