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?

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.

The future of work

There was a question at last nights Sydney Testers meetup event with James Bach, “What is the future of software testing with AI and automation?” Have a read of “Weapons on Math destruction“, it’s about how big data is driving inequality. I think testers are in a good position to raise questions around the ethics of Big Data. I’m not too concerned about our current state of AI drastically changing how I work. The tools I use might change but I’m going to remain being a tester for the foreseeable near future.

If I was to look into my broken crystal ball on future proof work this is what I’d be telling anyone who listens:

Become a nurse

Hear me out, if you are a high school student contemplating what to do and you don’t really have an idea but you know you want to go to uni and study something. Pick a nursing degree, especially if you are male. Men just aren’t taking up this robotic proof work.

With an ageing population more and more people will need care in the future and you have an almost guaranteed job for the rest of your life. You can do an accelerated nursing degree within 2 years and if you decide nursing isn’t for you, at least you didn’t waste that much time at uni and you learnt something practical.

Try it out first

If you are looking into trying this field out, approach your local nursing home or disability support group for a few weeks of work experience. If you can deal with other people’s shit (sometimes quite literally) consider going into health care.

Suicide impacts older generations more, this demographic are often stuck in nursing homes and are disconnected from their families. Robots aren’t exactly going to able to replace that need for human connection for these people. An aged care nurse will be providing services to growing market demands.

Other health care services are prime for automation and disruption. A machine learning algorithm based on probability and linking your symptoms to likely causes could replace 90% of General Practitioners work. Drug dispensing machines that access your prescriptions through the internet could replace pharmacists. Health care will be a growing market but could be changing.

Any existing work that has a strong focus on people is going to be hard to automate; parenting, teaching, recruitment are a few I could list off the top of my head. Maybe people thought the same thing about bank tellers 30 years ago?

Many new roles will exist

in 10 years time there will be new roles on the market. 10 years ago who knew that “Social Media Guru” would be a thing? If you have some basic web skills (HTML and CSS) and a passion for marketing I think you’ve got yourself a fairly guaranteed position for the foreseeable future. Email marketing is still a big thing and how long have we had emails for?

Most new jobs that are created tomorrow will not have a clear path from uni today into them. People will need to be adaptable and will experience career changes. What you study probably won’t be related to your work all that closely. Why consider doing an expensive 4-5 year degree at uni when there’s many shorter ways to get to work out there. If I knew someone who wanted to work in tech tomorrow, I’d suggest doing a 12 week coding bootcamp program over going to university. I didn’t really learn much hands on technical skills at uni through my computer science degree and I’ve learnt more stuff on the job.

Having a learning mentality is more important.

Once you have a degree in anything, studying a masters for a career change becomes an option too. Why not do an accelerated 2 year degree just to get a piece of paper?

If I had a spare 15-30K I’d be studying Data Science or a masters in teaching, but I don’t because I’ve been bad with my finances. I really enjoy teaching people and I don’t need a masters degree to practice that.

Don’t follow you passions

You know that sentiment, “follow your passion and you will never work a day in your life”? That’s a load of baloney, throw that shit in the bin before it infects you further. It’s harmful wishful thinking. If you do know what you want to do and how to get there, good for you. Most people aren’t in that situation, me included. acknowledge what type of work engages you and what interests you but don’t conflate passion and work.

I find testing engaging work and I’ve made it my passion but I didn’t go through high school telling myself, “when I grow up I want to be a tester”. Often the work you do will not be what you expected. I never thought I’d be doing mobile testing for a meditation app but here I am.

I want to teach people; there’s a market for learning technical skills. It’s something to work towards that combines my skills and interests but I didn’t know I wanted to do this 6+ months ago. It’s been a recent evolution. Heck, if paying off my credit card debt wasn’t one of my main focuses I’d probably be working in a brewery. 

A lot of work is prime for automation

Automation is coming for all of our jobs. Even people who work in technology aren’t safe. However if nursing doesn’t appeal to you, consider doing engineering. Even if automation changes how we work, we will still need bridges, buildings and infrastructure to support everyone. Unless we figure out how to upload our consciences to the internet, then I have no friggin’ idea  what work would look like. 

Feeling low today

Dear Diary, I woke up feeling tired and low this morning. My alarm went off at 6:30 but rolled over and snoozed until 7:30. I’m meant to be attending the DDD Sydney conference today but the trains were delayed. By the time I got to central station I needed to have a teary in the toilet. It was the first time I’ve had an unprompted crying breakdown in a while. I’m not that concerned about it though, I just needed an outlet. If depression was trying to settle back in that sensation of being on the verge of tears would be sticking around all day. That’s the debilitating side of depression and I’m not experiencing that today. It’s passed now which I’m grateful for. Now I just want to sit in a cafe and write to you about it. Sitting in a warm cafe with nice music and a coffee is like a warm hug for me. It’s how I recharge.

Mmm, coffee. It’s not quite like a warm hug but it’s close enough for me.

Contributing Factors

I’ve had a constant headache for a few weeks, I thought I might not be drinking enough liquids. I haven’t been sleeping all that well. I have a fair amount of stuff on my plate. My uterus was trying to kill me this week. Maybe I’m not exercising enough? Maybe there’s something missing from my diet? I don’t know what’s causing my low mood, all that I know is feeling constantly tired is my main trigger and it tipped me over today. When I was fat it was easy to think, “I’ll have more energy when I lose the weight”. I do feel more resilient about my mental health now that I’ve lost weight but I still have some niggling issues that pop up every now and again.

Next steps; track the low moments 

I won’t know what to improve on if I don’t have any data to back up my hunches about my low mood. Next week I’m going to keep a physical journal. I need to track a weeks worth of;

  • sleep
  • exercise
  • food
  • meditation practice
  • general mood

Do you mind if I share my journal with you? If I don’t tell anyone about it then I might never finish it. I need help with some external accountability. Maybe you’d like to keep your own health journal/tracker and share it with me? It doesn’t have to be public. You could send me an email sam@thebughunter.com.au or a Facebook message if we are connected there. After a week of data I plan on going to my doctor for some advice.

White people can’t experience racism

After seeing Sarah Jeong’s controversy explode over twitter, and reading the general response of white people can’t experience racism, I’m going to attempt to reflect on my own biases and thinking and attempt to use my white privilege to talk about hard things.

Australia is pretty racist

I have an almost impossible chance of experiencing the same levels of systemic racism as my neighbors of color do. Aboriginals are some of the most incarcerated people in the world, they live on average 10 years shorter and generally have a shittier time with life. The didn’t win the genetic lottery to be able to thrive in today’s society. Australia is an extremely racist country to live in. Osman Faruqi received a lot of racial hate for having an opinion about the plastic bag ban in NSW which motivated this tweet:

I am definitely speaking from my high white horse of privilege here. Reading up on this topic, I discovered that people tend to conflate experiencing prejudiced and racism. The main difference being that racism is systemic, race is also a human made idea made to benefit 1 group of people over another group. For further reading, here is an article from the Huffington Post on 4 reverse racism myths that need to stop.

Race is a human made construct

It doesn’t exist biologically. For me race means culture. But it can also be connected to location, language and shared experiences. Race has a disturbing history and it was constructed to help the colonizers of Europe to justify their superiority. White Racism is a course that’s received a bit of backlash, I guess some people’s ego’s are so delicate that they can’t allow the study of racism from a sociological, cultural and historical point of view.

Sexism and Foreigner Analogy

I mostly agree with the fact that most white people can’t experience racism but that doesn’t mean it always has to apply in every case. Being a tester, I’m drawn to the edge cases. Saying, “white people can’t experience racism”, to make an analogy, is like saying men can’t experience sexism. Now, in the general sense most men probably won’t experience the same levels of systemic disadvantage solely based on their gender as women do. But there are a few cases were men are at a disadvantage; going through the family court system, receiving support for mental health and seeking shorter prison sentences are the main two I can think of. These are systems that unfairly punish men based on something out of their control; their gender. (1)

Say I wanted to migrate to Japan for this example. I’m definitely a foreigner. It’s also a country where it is really hard for foreigners to integrate socially and to obtain Japanese citizenship. Say I wanted to buy a house there, it would be pretty hard without citizenship. You could say it’s almost a systemic disadvantage. Japan is slowly changing but I would likely experience just a little bit of racism trying to integrate there. It wouldn’t be anything like the experiences of some of you experience but having pale pasty skin doesn’t exclude me from experiencing systemic prejudice.

Every month is white history month

We don’t need a white history month because every month is white history month. Stop getting your knickers in a twist because someone wants to celebrate something that doesn’t include you at it’s centre. Let’s all just get behind the huge diverse cultures we come from. If you neighbours wants to do something to celebrate their culture, just be a decent human being and support them in their efforts.

Please call me racist

By pointing out how I contribute and benefit from our racialized society you will help me be a better person and help me in my attempt to change my biases to make our society just a little less sucky. We are all just a little bit racist but I am trying to use my white privilege to talk about hard topics.

(1) Note on references

In trying to find some evidence to support my views in (1). It was harder than I expected. There’s this HuffingtonPost article on dispelling the myth fathers face in the court and this The Telegraph article on how unfair the “success” metric is for Dad’s going through the family court system. I’m of the opinion that there is nothing legally that puts men at a disadvantage but I believe societal influences favor women. I know of anecdotes where the mother has lied, said the husband was abusive and it’s made their battles in being good Dad’s all the much harder. I am acknowledging that I’m considering anecdotal evidence above statistical evidence which is a fallacy/cognitive bias. Do you have better resources than I do? At the end of the day nothing is black and white, it’s all grey.

Bias and race

I’ve been following the online conversations about race (particularly in the US) via AJ+ on facebook. This morning I saw this video shared by AJ+ about a white guy opening up about his prejudice and asking for advice on how to get over it.

Now the other day I was going through the train station and saw this ad from Calvin Klein;

calvin klein ad, group of mostly black guys all in demin

It was placed slightly above my eye level it almost felt like they were looking down at me and I actually felt a little intimidated/scared by this group of people. I know Calvin is trying to make their products seem cool but this was the first time I was consciously aware of a group of black people making me feel intimidated.

This realization surprised me, I often have a curiosity for other people and love hearing their stories. Sometimes I make up my own stories about them in my head. When was the last time you became aware of your own prejudice? What did you do to counter it?