How an offhand comment can trigger a depressive episode

I had a low day on Friday. I’ve had a persistent headache and fatigue for a few months now and a head cold on Friday brought out the worse of it. I’ve lived with depression for eight years now so I know when to have a day off to take it easy. Friday started with a 2 hour struggle to get out of bed. It was one of those days.

When I’m in these low moods my obsessive nature and harsh internal self critic can get completely hooked on little comments that people make. This blog is a reflection on this internal thought process to help you understand what might be going through a depressed person’s head.

The comment

In conversation someone mentioned something about, “… being a big girl”, it was related to me being able to look after myself. I responded with “I use to be a lot bigger” and someone else in the conversation added, “keep away from the pork and you’ll stay that way”. In the moment I didn’t think anything of it. But my obsessive nature got hooked and over the afternoon I couldn’t let it go.

The obsession

I became completely obsessed over everything I had eaten recently infront of said company. I replayed the dinner we had recently over and over and over in my head. I counted every calorie, it came out to about 2000KJ and 10gm of protein. Then my internal harsh critic got on board. It starting saying to me, “you are fat, lazy good for nothing, completely worthless, you should just curl up and die”. So now there was a battle going on in my head, the obsessor just going over and over and the critic telling me I’m worthless. Normally these thoughts aren’t that loud but they get overwhelming on low days.

My obsessor wanted to figure out how to write a response to those comments. This blog post is an attempt at pleasing the obsessor because I am still thinking about it after 4 days.

Good intentions

I know those comments come from good intentions, people say these things because they care. The only nutritional goals I stick too (under the advice of my weight loss clinics nutritionist) is to get 60gm of protein a day and to take my daily multivitamin. I’ve had a lifetime of people commenting on my weight. I thought I had developed a thick skin for it, obviously I hadn’t. Or maybe it just hurts more the closer to home it is?

Self Compassion

I’m at a stage now where I can try to practice self compassion (I try but it’s hard). I would catch these thoughts and tell myself, “that’s not a very nice thing to say Sam, you are one of most proactive people I know. You are so far from lazy and worthless it isn’t funny. Look, you even had lunch with someone who thanked you for your help with their CV recently and they are starting a new job soon because of you. Remember that Buddhist monk on youtube? Try and practice letting go.” Here is the youtube video I was thinking of:

How to be supportive

If someone has opened up about their mental health and they raise something like this with you, please don’t feel like you need to censor yourself. That is stressful and not healthy. Often when these things come up for me, I never raise them with the person who caused the trigger because I know deep down it’s just my mind overreacting. So being open and empathetic if someone does raise this is all I ask for.

Please be mindful of how your words can hurt. It reminds me of the common rhyme about sticks and stones I was told about as a kid. Here’s my new version:

Sticks and stones may break my bones 

But harsh words from a loved one

Can make me wish I was dead

I’m grateful I’ve never been suicidal but I still live with this kind of depression on a fairly regular basis. My partner has probably seen me go through about 4 or 5 episodes now over a 2 year period.

I’m grateful I can be this open about this huge cause of internal stress. A lot of people who struggle with similar things aren’t as blunt as I am and keep the struggle to themselves.

Goal setting for 2019

I’m starting my goal setting early. I wrote this blog for goal setting for 2018. On reflection; I haven’t slipped back into obesity at least, which I was super concerned about as I spent the first six months of 2018 recovering from a broken ankle. Here’s my thinking behind my goal setting for 2019 and why I’m starting early.

Brainstorm everything I want to do

As an exercise, I listed everything I want to do and then asked myself, What do I have time to do? What is more important? What aligns the most with my personal values? I’ve had to eliminate a lot of extra curricular ideas and I still feel like I have a lot on my plate 🙁 .

This is a handwritten note of me brainstorming everything I want to do. I have things like learning Australian sign language, Japanese, podcasting, a masters in statistics and live testing as things I'd love to do but don't have the time for.
I don’t have enough time to do all the things I’d like to do

I then came up with the following list of things that are really important to me. They are themed around personal, career, family and financial goals:

  • Beat the overweight label (personal)
  • Maintain a daily meditation practice
  • Write a book (career)
  • Teach my Nan digital marketing (career and family)
  • Launch an app
  • Pay off half of my credit card debt (financial)
  • Speak at one international conference and take my Mum
  • Brew two whole grain beers
  • Keep Sydney Testers going
  • Create enough content to run a 3 day workshop

Why start the goal setting early?

I’m going to focus on developing my morning habit for the rest of this year. I’m going to get up early, meditate and write before heading off to work. If I can do this for the rest of the year, I’ll be in a good place to expand it come 2019. The green in the following table is this minimum commitment:

My ideal morning starts at 5:30, followed by exercise from 6 for up to hour. Next will be a twenty minute meditation from 7 flowwed by half an hour of writing from 7:30. I'll have breakfast at some point and be ready for work from 8:30 AM

I’ve put together an idea of what my ideal morning and ideal week looks like. If I do not put aside time to do things that are important to me, it’ll never get done. I reflected on what I could squeeze in. Unfortunately things like studying Japanese just don’t fit in financially and time wise. So here’s my ideal week to work towards in 2019:

My ideal week taken from a screenshot of a spreadsheet, please excuse the lack of transcribing here as I think the main information here is also covered in my external accountability section

There are some goals that I haven’t put aside any weekly or morning time for but they can’t easily be chipped away with a daily/weekly habit.

Keep goals measurable but hard to achieve

Everyone seems to be talking about Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) for goal setting these days. One of the important things with OKRs is that they are hard to achieve. When you reflect back on your goals you should be able to say you hit up to 80% of your objective. If you hit 100% you actually set your goals to easy. For example, I’m going to work towards beating the overweight label but I’m not going to consider myself a failure if I only get halfway there. By listing up my ideal morning/week it gives me an ideal to work towards but by highlighting my minimum commitments I won’t beat myself up if I have a bad week or two.

External Accountability

There’s no point in setting vague goals that you don’t tell anyone about. To ensure external accountability with my goals I’m going to;

  • Pay for a personal trainer for a twice a week weight lifting session
  • Go climbing with my partner every Wednesday and Saturday
  • Pay for a publisher’s time to help keep me focused on writing

How will you go about goal setting for next year? What measures will you take to ensure accountability? Please let me know.

8 years of depression

I was first diagnosed with chronic depression back in 2010. I had just spent a year on exchange in Sweden and coming back just broke me. My boyfriend at the time kicked me out of home and I felt disconnected from all of my uni friends because my studies were no longer on par with them. So I fell into despair and couldn’t function with life anymore. I went to a psychologist; we did cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness training. I’m grateful for not having a major relapse since then but I can’t remember experiencing a large amount of time since where I didn’t feel some mild symptoms of depression. So this blog post is a reflection of living with depression for 8 years.

There have been ups

Don’t get me wrong. It hasn’t been 8 years of constant depression. Generally I’ll have something new or a change happen that will fill me with hope and energy for up to 3 months. Things like; starting a new relationship, moving houses, getting a new job, speaking overseas and having weight loss surgery. These are all amazing things. However I find myself coming back to a mildly depressed state. It feels like depression is my default rather than the exception. I can’t keep looking for external changes to increase my mood. It’s just not sustainable.

I have tried lots of things

Antidepressants, loosing weight, exercise, meditation, improving sleep and reducing commute to work. Anything that’s had a mild correlation in improving mood I’ve tried. Sometimes it helps in the short term but I’ve never been able to make any long lasting improvements. If it was as simple as “think happy thoughts” then I’d have been cured a long time ago. I’m going to have a chat to my gp next week to see if there’s anything in my diet that’s impacting me this time.

Impacts on day to day

Being depressed impacts my performance and engagement at work, my finances (I can’t easily control my impulsive nature when I feel like crap and just want any comfort), my health and my satisfaction with life. It’s a real downer. I withdraw from friends and family more.

I probably do too much

I’ve always had a tendency to look for external stimulation to make me feel good. Volunteering and getting involved with the community are really important to me. These things have a tendency to create burn out though. I really don’t know how to reduce this because everything I do is important to me. I can’t really attend hackathons anymore because I’m just so tired by the end of the week and when I don’t have that rest and recoup, by Monday I just want to curl up into a ball and have the earth swallow me up so I don’t have to deal with life anymore. I have an all or nothing approach, I don’t know what “sustainable pace” looks like.

So, what to do? I’m a little sick of feeling shit for no real reason. I know sleep is one the most important things for me to keep on top of but even that isn’t working. What works for you?

Creating your own password algorithm

It’s pretty common to hear stories of passwords being hacked and it’s still surprisingly common for people to use the one password for everything. A lot of people use a password manager but if you are away from your regular device it can be a multi step process to log in.

I’ve been using my own password algorithm for a few years now. It means I generally have a unique password for each website and a way to remember what each password is. An algorithm is a set of rules applied to solve a problem.

Say I was creating a new account on Facebook. I would use the name of the website as a seed for the password. My rule might be; split the word Facebook up, swap the words, capitalise and then add a string that I remember. So a password for facebook becomes

BOOKFACEwordpass2018!!??

A password for LinkedIn might be

INLINKEDwordpass2018!!??

I might have to have an added rule, if I can’t easily swap the name of the website, just split it in half. So Twitter might be

TERTWITwordpass2018!!??

Now this algorithm isn’t perfect, one person could find one of my many compromised passwords on any number of services and figure it out. But this prevents your password being compromised everywhere and a internet bot cracking your accounts using a list of known passwords. It does mean if I create test accounts for the same service they tend to have the same password.

What do you use to manage your passwords?

Mental Heath Update

I haven’t blogged about mental health for a while. Here’s an update on where I’m at. Overall; this week I’m feeling good. I’ve been experiencing a reasonable amount of fatigue/change recently which has made the last two weeks a little low.

Breakdown at the bus stop

reference

I had a mental breakdown at a bus stop a week ago because I was tired, cold, wet and was stuck waiting in the rain for bus for 15 minutes. I just cracked it, I’d had enough. I needed a good cry. Getting overwhelmed with emotions is fine, for me I just need to watch out when that sensation sticks around all day. This feeling didn’t stick around all day. So that’s some progress atleast.

Mindful Eating Practice

reference

I visited my psychologist yesterday morning to talk about developing a mindful eating practice. I will be using an app called Recovery Record to track my food and mood over the next two weeks and this will be shared with them, I will also be putting aside one meal a day to practice mindful eating. Mindful eating is where you practice dedicating all of your senses to the act of eating; what do you smell, feel, hear, see, think and taste while you eat? Can you take as much time as you need to really enjoy your meal? Can you practice dedicating all of your focus to eating rather than being distracted by everything else?

Meditation Practice

reference

Two weeks ago I started doing a meditation course with Nicho Plowman, one of the owners of Insight Timer (the company I’m working for). It’s a Vedic Meditation practice that is suitable for a busy lifestyle. It’s a silent mantra based and we are meant to keep up a 20 minutes twice a day routine. I’m currently meditating on the bus to work, in the evening in the office and wherever else I can get the time. I attempted meditation at the hair dressers when my partner was getting their hair cut. I didn’t exactly get a deep meditation but that’s the point of practicing in these loud and distracting environments. I had some negative emotions come up when I started, I would be overwhelmed with thoughts that would bring tears to my eyes but it’s not happening as much now. I’m generally keeping up the practice (I forgot completely to meditate on Sunday). I’m enjoying putting aside the time for it. I had been meaning to establish a meditation routine for ages.

Do you have a meditation or mindfulness routine? What works for you?

Hop Nation & Two Birds breweries

I was in Melbourne for a conference yesterday. I arrived during the weekend and I spent my Sunday evening exploring two local breweries and tasting craft beer. It was an awesome way to spend a Sunday in my mind. The first one on my list was Hop Nation. Second was Two Birds. This blog will go through the atmosphere and beer tasting of these two breweries.

Hop Nation brewery

https://goo.gl/maps/V8RWA7eHCdm

The Atmosphere

This is the first time I’ve been to a brewery that felt more like a barn than a big industrial shed. The exposed brick is a pleasant change from the big shed feel. The building was built in the 1880’s and was originally used as a whale fat candle and wax factory. There was extra seating upstairs and big “stained glass” paintings which gave the feel of a church. I believe the idol of worship here is the humble beer. Considering their slogan is, “in hops we trust” the theming feels on point.

The Beer

Having 15 tap options is an impressive amount to choose from. Hop Nation specialise in hoppy beers (Who da though it?) but they do experiment with other styles. There’s plenty here to tickle your fancy. I’m not a huge fan of Hoppy beers, I’ve been drinking craft beer for 7 odd years now and it’s taken me this long to start to aprreciate the IPA (which stands for Indian Pale Ale). Basically if you see IPA on a beer just assume it will be hoppy and bitter.

Malibu Stacey – milkshake IPA sounds interesting. I had one from a can a few weeks ago. The sweetness comes from adding lactose into the beer post fermentation. Lactose is a non fermentable sugar that adds sweetness without being fermented into alcohol. It’s weird at first but drinkable once tastes are adjusted. Other milkshake flavours can be added to bring out different flavour profiles. 

Beer Tasting

The Punch – Mango Gose

I like a good sour beer, this one was my favourite out of the tasting paddle. It wasn’t over fruity or over sour and it was nice to kick off a pretty heavy paddle with this one.

Jedi Juide – NEIPA

Hop Nation is probably best known for this beer. NEIPA stands for New England Indian Pale Ale. This beer doesn’t have much to do with England or India and is more of an American invention. These beers usually use fruitier hops, tend to be cloudier than other IPA’s and I feel like they can be a good introduction to the hoppier styles of beer. This one was a bit offensive to begin with (most IPA’s are). I probably wouldn’t use this beer as an introductionary NEIPA. Once accustomed to the hoppy taste it went down easy enough.

The Dawn – Double NEIPA

Another offensive IPA. Once you get past the initial shock of the bitterness it was easy enough to drink. Watch out for that 9 percent alcohol though, you wouldn’t want to drive after having a pint of this stuff.

2018 Kalash – Russian Imperial Stout

I like a dark beer. However getting a strong russian imperial stout that feels easy to drink can be challenging. It’s easy for these beers to feel over powering because of the high alcohol content. This one will kick you in the teeth on your first sip before you are able to settle in to enjoy it.

Blonde Melange – Golden Sour

I also had a sample of the sour beer on my way out. I probably shouldn’t have done this after a Russian Imperial Stout; but I’ll say, “Forgive me father because I have sinned”, and I believe this venue will forgive me. This was more of a sour lemon pucker up type of beer. Not for the faint of heart if this isn’t your style.

Two Birds brewery

https://goo.gl/maps/Wii6iS7jEBy

The Atmosphere

This feels more industrial compared to Hop Nation. The artwork on the wall adds a nice touch. There is this huge bridge you can see from the banks of where this brewery is. It was pretty quite on a Sunday evening, maybe daylight savings had an impact on this?

The Beer

There’s another impressive selection of 12 taps here with a variety of styles to choose from. I went to a Two Birds dinner and beer party at the Kirriblli Pub for the Sydney Beer week last year when they were first launching passion victim. You won’t find many IPA’s on their menu; their beers are more geared towards the easy drinking with family and friends on a weekend backyard BBQ with some experimental flavours thrown in.

Taco Beer

Their taco beer is always a good introductionary craft beer that sounds very gross but is pleasantly nice. They’ve changed the recipe recently so I thought it was worth trying again in this tasting paddle. It’s easy to drink, light and refreshing.

Sakura Sour

Look at the colour of this beer. It’s just amazing. This one is done with a sake yeast. I’d say it borders on the pucker up sour but it’s not going to make you screw your face up on first sip.

Hibiscus Saison

Again there’s an amazing colour for this beer and it smelt amazing. This one was my favourite that I sampled on this paddle. I enjoyed sipping this beer while I read my book in the brewery.

Irish Red IPA

This beer doesn’t look like a red IPA, it’s pretty dark in colour. It wasn’t offensive for an IPA which is always a pleasant surprise

Spring Saison

I finished my beer adventures with this farmhouse ale. Saison is my preferred style and this was a good beer to finish on. It was one of the least “pucker up sour” beers I’d had all night. It is a crisp and dry with wine-like characters.

Summing it all up

I really enjoyed checking out both Hop Nation and Two Birds breweries. I got very toasty sitting in breweries and ready a good book. I’m not going to go out of my way for a Hop Nation beer any time soon, hoppy beers aren’t my style but I’ll always grab a new two birds sour if I see one.

Setting up a homemade charging station

At Insight Timer we’ve just ordered a whole bunch of refurbished second hand android phones from Green Gadgets Australia for testing our Android app. We managed to get 9 devices for under $2K and it also gave as a pretty good manufacturer spread from Samsung to Google. This blog is how I went about building a home made charging station for these phones.

First, finding and ordering the phones

 

look – shiny, the makings of a mobile device farm

Keeping all of these phones charged

The two tablets came in large boxes. I decided I wanted to convert one of those boxes into a charging station. All of the phones had bits of foam that were used to hold the phones in place. I cut up these pieces of foam and hot glued them into the box. I used the left over phone boxes to store extra cables.

However, I forgot to counter for actually plugging the USB’s into something. Next on the order list was a bunch of USB charging stations, extra cables and cable ties. All ordered via MWave.

Charging Station 2nd iteration 

After the USB charging stations, cables and 2 more phones from a Chinese supplier turned up I got to work on organising cables. We now have an Xaomi and a Lenovo in our device list.

 

I even have all of the cable types segregated, so there’s spaces to charge some of the test iPhones we have floating around too.

Conclusion

I’m quite pleased with our spread of devices and the budget of this set up. These devices aren’t exactly the highest end phones today but it’s a good thing our developers love to have the latest and greatest tech toys so they already have the high end covered. I might add one or two more phones that represent tiny screens. Have you built your own device farm before? How’d you keep all of the phones charged?

Visual thinking with sketchnotes

I’m a visual learner. I like to draw things as I absorb information. I enjoy doing sketchnotes while I’m at a conference. See Australian Testing days and Agile Australia as examples of these sketch notes in practice. It helps keep me in the moment and focused on the talk material. It’s also a nice thing to hand to the speakers as they get off the stage.

Everyone can draw

You brain is a pattern recognition machine and will turn almost anything into something you recognise. Even your random squiggles can turn into birds. Try this squiggle birds exercise out as a warm up:

Mindmapping

Mind mapping is a good way to start with visual thinking. You have your central idea in the centre of the page and all of your ideas related to that idea radiating out if it:

Source: https://www.mindmeister.com/blog/mind-maps-essay-writing/

 

Sketchnotes

you can do sketch noting without drawing. You can start with lettering and things like bullets, frames and connectors:

 

I use banners everywhere

You can even find youtube videos for doing these banners

Build up a library of icons

There are many common icons you’ll use. I often draw light bulbs, locks, poop emoji’s and tools (what does that say about the state of technology?). 

Use colour to highlight ideas

It might feel like you are back in primary school colouring in borders but I love adding shadows and some colour highlights to my sketchnotes to really make them stand out/seem more 3D.

Practice your stick figures

people are often used to communicate abstract ideas. There’s lots of different styles out there and you will find your own.

Give it a go

The next time you are watching a lecture/presentation on youtube, try and take some sketch notes and let me know how you go.

Australian Testing Days – Sydney Conference Overview

I had a blast at Australian Testing Days Conference in Sydney on Friday. It’s always good to get reconnected with some colleagues and to make new connections. First up we had Jennie Naylor go over how to use OKR’s to drive the Quality Onwership:

Using OKR's to grow quality ownership - sketchnotes

The OKR (Objectives and Key Results) framework has been in use since the 70’s and is used by companies such as Google, Uber and Facebook to set their organisational goals. OKR is a framework that can be used at any level within your organisation. This presentation mention how to use OKRs to help improve quality and ownership in a team.

Key Takeaways

The key takeways I got from this talk was how to use OKRs to determine if experiments are successful or not and getting the whole team involved in quality and product ownership.

AI and the impact on QA

Given by Chhavi Raj Dosaj who proposed the question, can AI can the landscape of testing?  Chhavi had a big topic to fill. I think his main point was a little lost because he spent too much time going over the basics and he wasn’t able provide compelling examples of where AI could benefit the QA process.

One of his examples was using an unsupervised learning algorithm to select the top manual test cases to execute in the next testing cycle based on past performance of said test cases. Anyone who primarily uses test cases to manage their testing work and reporting is using a pretty dated testing practice that doesn’t scale or make sense in the Agile world. You can read more about my thoughts on the end of manual testing. I also wish he asked me for feedback on his slide design before he got up on stage. There were some presentation sins committed in his slide deck.

dev Ops Testing Strategy

DevOps Testing strategy by Amit Kulkarni fell victim to the old bait and switch presentation sin. The title didn’t match up to the content. My key take away from this talk was, “there are tons of tools out there you can use in a continuous testing way”. There wasn’t any DevOps in this talk at all. 

Performance Testing in CI

Andrey Pokhilko gave an engaging talk on Performance Testing in CI using opensource tools. I learnt the name of a new tool; Taurus. Which can be used on top of JMetre and is a little easier to use than the good old JMetre.

State of BDD

As I’ve already done Gojko Adzic’s spec by example workshop offered through YOW! a few years ago, I already had a decent idea where this talk would go. Bria Grangard was engaging and gave a good update on the state of this field.

Transforming Testing

Bruce McLeod gave an engaging talk in business strategy and how it will transform testing. This was one of my highlights of the conference. Bruce goes over how testing needs to change from a culture of “protection” to a culture of experimentation using the Netflix chaos monkey as an example. 

Ditch that intro slide

Australian Testing days is off to an awesome start. I always enjoy the community vibe at these events. However there’s tons of poorly designed slide decks out there. Here’s some advice. Ditch the intro slide with your picture on it. The audience doesn’t care and we know what you look like. You are standing right in front of us.

Chhavi Raj Dosaj gave a good introductory talk on “on practical AI for the tester”. I have the sketchnotes here:

However, I just wish I could have walked him through my workshop material on giving better technical presentations before he got up on stage. This type of mentoring is something I offer for free. I love helping people improve their technical presentations. It makes every conference experience better for everyone involved. His slide deck could have been better. For example;

This intro slide

We don’t need a slide with your picture on it. You are standing right in front of us. We know what you look like. Keep this for the offline version for sharing if you like but you should never have a slide with your picture on it when standing in front of a crowd. This is my personal opinion, but do you think this adds any value?

There are too many words on this slide

Can you read what’s on this slide from that photo? no? me neither. Only the people in the front row would have been able to read this. Anyone further back in the crowd can’t. Also when people read they stop listening to what you are talking about. Think of your slide deck as a good user interface, your goal is to teach us something new. Not cause us to be distracted from reading your words when you want us to focus on what you are saying. Wordy slides are good for offline sharing. They aren’t needed in a physical presentation. Slides are free. If this content is important use the slow reveal technique to build up. If not, dump it. You have already established you credibility. the audience doesn’t need your words to figure out you are competent on stage and that you know the material you are presenting. You are already standing in front of us and we are already seated. Waiting to hear your insights on the topic.

Don’t put anything important on the bottom third

Only the front row can read this content. Everyone else has to strain or just completely ignore any information you put here.

In summary, ditch that intro slide. The audience already knows your name; it’s on the schedule. We are already convinced of your value; we are sitting in the audience. The audience just wants you to get to the learning material. Want a challenge for slide design? Try the Takahashi minimalistic slide design or a presentation using only images, it will force you to focus on your story over your slides.