Let There Be Full Spectrum Light

wpid-img_20141106_142621.jpgI’ve written a lot lately about depression (especially of the seasonal variety), and I finally decided to buy a Happy Light (by Verilux) after my doctor and a few friends had suggested it to me for literally years. Other friends have asked for feedback on the lamps because apparently I’m not the only one who gets down during these shorter days, so here’s a little roundup of how it’s going.

So! I got a lamp to go on my desk as well as some light bulbs to go in the lamps in our living room. The lamp is called the “Happy Light,” and we found it on Amazon. I chose the Verilux brand because my doctor suggested it and I know a few people who’ve used their lamps before.

Here’s the important info. The lamp’s instruction booklet suggests a minimum daily use of 30-60 minutes. I typically turn it on while I’m writing and probably get significantly more exposure than that. I looked up side effects from exposure to the lamp, but they’re all really minor, so I’m not worried about that. The instructions also say to place the lamp 6-24 inches from your face, so you’re sitting pretty close to it while you work. Some people might find this distracting, but I find it nice because the lamp is warm and there’s always a bit of a cool draft at this time of year. The kitten also likes it, and everyone loves working with a sleeping kitten near by.

As for the light bulbs, they’re more for ambient lighting, so it’s hard to say if they’re particularly effective for seasonal depression. However, my husband (who works from home) often sets up his “office” in the living room near one of these lamps, and I’ve noticed him seeming a little more upbeat and lighthearted lately as well. Don’t tell him I said that because he kinda likes his gruff guy image, but frankly he’s been adorably chipper lately. Granted, that could be the light boosting his mood or it could be me projecting. Le Husband would like to point out that the light is very white and very bright, so if you’re used to warm lighting, this will take a bit of adjustment.

After the first day or two of using the lamp and bulbs, I felt a little bit lighter and brighter but also still a little down. Now that it’s been over a week, I can say definitively that I feel better, and I’m pretty darn sure it has to do with the lamp. However, I’ve also made one other change worth noting: I *finally* joined a gym. As a result, I’ve worked out 4 of the past 6 days (derby practice Monday, basic cardio Wednesday, strength class Thursday and back to cardio Friday). For comparison’s sake, I normally get between 6 and 12 hours of physical activity per week between skating and teaching yoga, but working out on my own time is a little different. Still, we all know exercise has a positive influence when you’re feeling down, and I think the combination of the light and exercise has been really great for me. And let’s not forget that I also take a pretty big dose of vitamin D every day, so if you’re not prepared to invest in the lights, start with taking a multivitamin and a D supplement. I’m told that the body is better at processing the vitamin D it produces (i.e. when stimulated by full spectrum light) than a supplement, so if the supplement doesn’t seem to do enough for you, definitely look into the lights.

I really hope some folks find this helpful, and I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences with full spectrum lamps.

And that’s all I have to say about that. Peace.

What’s With the Post-It Notes (and what I’m doing with the makeup you gave me)

I’ve been doing this weird writing/art experiment lately. I was in a bit of a writing slump, so this was just my attempt to try something new. When I start to explain it, I trip over my thoughts and ruin it, so I’ll just share a bit here without too much yammering.

It started with Post-It Notes. And a Sharpie.
wpid-20141029_200624.jpg

The process involves hanging out with cats a lot. wpid-img_20141007_222140.jpg

 

Sometimes it gets political. And sometimes it gets sparkly. I don’t see any reason you can’t have both. wpid-20140930_140742.jpg

Sometimes I draw a little bit, or scribble. And I have some strong feelings.
wpid-img_20140928_133458.jpg

Sometimes I outline a whole essay on Post-Its. They don’t always translate well to regular text. I think that’s because the colors, sizes and placement have become part of the text. That or I’m not a very good writer. Totally possible. wpid-20141104_101934.jpgSometimes it evolves in interesting ways. Here we have moisturizer, makeup brushes, donated makeup, and a gridded Post-It pad. Several of my friends have donated makeup they had just lying around, and I’ve been pulling from my own stash as well. The truth is, I hate wearing most makeup, so this seemed like as good a use as any for it. I got a lot more offers for makeup than I needed, considering that I don’t actually know what I’m doing with the stuff, but I’m starting to get some ideas. If you’re thinking about giving me makeup, please do not purchase any on my behalf. I intend to waste it, and I’d feel like an asshole if you spent money on that. wpid-20141027_201506.jpgTurns out makeup is not the greatest to draw with (that is, it doesn’t make my mediocre drawing skills look any better), but it can make for interesting paper textures. A bit of moisturizer helps eyeshadow cling to the paper. wpid-20141027_200638.jpg

This was my only semi-successful attempt to draw with makeup. I’m sure someone who understand make up and drawing could do something really fancy with it, but I’m not that person. My sister could probably do it. Me? I require words.

wpid-img_20141010_154706.jpg I honestly don’t know what the end goal is with all of this. It’s just fun. Ellie suggested publishing it, and I do have some ideas about that, but I’m not ready to share them because I will scare myself out of it if I speak too soon.

 

How to Know You’re Depressed and What to Do About It

wpid-20141029_2047422.jpg.jpegThe subtitle for this post should be: “That is, at least if your depression is anything like mine, and maybe it’s not.” I’ve written before about what my depression and anxiety can be like, but this fall has been harder than previous years. Maybe it’s because of all this dreary weather we’ve been having, or maybe it’s the drastic changes in my schedule since taking up roller derby, or maybe I’m just getting older. Whatever the case, this year has really taken it out of me, and I’ve had to re-evaluate a few things. Last night, I came up with a handy-dandy list to help me notice my own symptoms of depression and made a second list to go with it. In the course of writing the list for my own benefit, it occurred to me that a few of you might also find this helpful, so here you go.

Part 1: How to Know You are Depressed

  1. You hate everyone. Like, literally? You think of yourself as a generally kind person, you don’t have ill will toward anyone, yet you pretty much wish everyone in the world would shut the fuck up. You’re kindof overwhelmed with life, and as much as you want to care about the world and be a good person, you’re straight up out of fucks to give. This realization makes you feel even more sad.
  2. You’re mean to the people you love. You can’t figure out what’s really bothering you, so you just act like an asshole to everyone figuring if you could just get everyone to leave you alone you could get maybe pinpoint the one person or thing to be blamed for your inexplicable state of constant irritation.
  3. You don’t know why you’re sad. There’s no immediate rational cause for you to feel this way, a fact which confuses you and seems to make it feel worse. Sometimes you just wish someone would tell you what’s wrong with you so you could fix it.
  4. Nothing is very fun. Everything is annoying. Life tastes like cardboard.
  5. All you want to eat is junk. It is both a cause and a symptom. You get the rush, then you get the crash. The temporary fix sends you deeper in the hole every time you come down. Hello, addiction. Be it food, booze, TV, sex, or even your work out routine. Everyone’s got crutches, but no one wants to be on those sonsabitches forever. Moderate your use of these things to avoid dependence. If you think you’ve become dependent on any substance or habit, seek professional guidance in breaking the habit.
  6. You always want to sigh or cry. You persistently feel a lump in your throat, a weight on your chest, tightness around the eyes and jaw, shallow breath and/or a constant need to rub your eyes. In fact, if this is true for you, stop right this second and drink a big glass of water because just imagining how you feel right now is stressing me out. Then just take a few deep breaths and maybe go for a walk outside.
  7. You feel “tired” even when you’re not sleepy. You are suffering from a general sense of overwhelm, and you’re probably looking for ways to disconnect from the world. You may actually sleep more or find yourself complaining a lot. Sometimes this also feels like a general sense of sickness or malaise, like something is just off-kilter and it’s not clear what.
  8. You are hyper critical of yourself. All you can see are your flaws. You replay conversations in your head and pick apart everything you said. Your decision-making ability has been brought to a halt by the belief that whatever you do will be the wrong thing.

Part 2: How to Get Help for Depression (and how to help yourself)

  1. Tell a friend. Do not isolate yourself. If no one knows something is bugging you, you don’t have anyone on your side. If you feel like the world is your enemy, you need allies. So tell your friends, “Hey, I’m having a rough time.” No one is going to judge you for asking for help.
  2. Tell your doctor. And accept that medicine is an option. This is different from telling a friend. Your doctor’s job is to give you advice about how to take care of yourself, and she probably has some really good resources for you. If prescription medication is an option for you, educate yourself about it, and have frequent conversations with your doctor about how it’s going.
  3. Don’t wait till you’re suicidal. You deserve help now.
  4. Be patient with yourself. Life is not going to become perfect suddenly. There will be days when everything seems great followed by days that feel as long as winter. Recognize your own suffering, and treat it with compassion.
  5. Do not hide from feelings of sadness, but do your best not to wallow. Go ahead and feel your feelings because running away from them just adds to your unhappiness by creating an anxiety response. Acknowledge the fear, sadness, or whatever you’re feeling, but don’t cling to it. It is not your new identity.
  6. Meditate, don’t ruminate. Meditation is literally the practice of stilling the mind. So all those thoughts in your head telling you hateful things about yourself? In meditation, we look those demons in the eye and say, “I see you.” And it’s funny what they do when you see them. They stop for a second. With practice, you get better at staring them down so you can choose a nicer thought.
  7. Be kind to yourself. Seriously, you have to be your own best friend. No one knows you and understands you like you do. Your friends care a ton, but only you know what it’s really like on your battlefield. If you don’t have your own back, you’re gonna have a real hard time no matter how much others try to help.
  8. Practice gratitude. Practice seeing the good in your life because sometimes those things will be your lifeline. They can remind you that the world is a beautiful place and you’re lucky to be in it. They can give you a reason to try. They can make you feel happy just by remembering they exist.

Oh, and don’t forget to take PRACTICAL STEPS. Little things — take your vitamins, get some exercise, eat healthy foods, get on a regular sleep schedule, and consider investing in a happy light (I just ordered one myself). Any little thing you can do for yourself might just make the difference you’re looking for. As a bonus, I often find that my mood is boosted just by knowing that I’m doing something healthy for myself.

Finally, remember that depression is a condition you deal with, not the definition of who you are.

How One Gets Called “Dirt”

how-one-gets-called-dirt.jpg

Here is a silly thing I am anxious about. My name… Miss Dirt… the one I chose, not the one I was given. I’ve been called some variation of “dirt” for the past 12 years, it’s part of who I am, and I love it. I also use that name for my blog which is just a silly digital thing I’m very attached to. However, I also decided to use the same name for derby, and I worry that it’s weird and confusing to people who don’t know me from my gaming and early blogging days. Am I just thinking too hard? Very likely.

In the event that I’m not, let me tell you where the name Miss Dirt came from so you will understand. Even if it doesn’t make you think I’m any less crazy, maybe you’ll get my brand of crazy and just, you know … not judge too harshly.

Or not. Whatever.

Once upon a time, there was a thing called Quakecon. Actually, it still exists, but it’s really different now. Quakecon was a video game convention for fans of the game Quake and really, anything Id Software made. It was held in Mesquite, TX (later in Grapevine and Dallas, and probably some other towns since I last attended). It was held in August every year, and it was free to attend. I was part of the Quakecon family for five years while I lived in Texas. I started as a general attendee, quickly saw the value of volunteering, and eventually wound up as part of the media staff, although I never felt that I accomplished much in that role. Anyway, everyone at Quakecon went by their gamer handles, and everyone took a certain amount of pride in their handle. Some were funny, some were faux intimidating, and some were just weird. I chose the name dirt (always with a small “d” back then) because I thought it was funny. I liked that people couldn’t tell my gender by the name I chose, so I got treated better by the community than if I’d had a recognizably feminine name. That was 2002, and I’ve been known as “dirt” to my best friends ever since then. When I first started dating my husband, his family even called me dirt to avoid confusing me with another Mary he dated before.

Over time, the name has come to mean something to me. I like the name dirt because it’s earthy and a weird mix of cocky and humble. It takes a joyful combination of nerve and stupidity to call yourself dirt and expect people to be cool with it. At the same time, dirt is as low as it gets without switching to less family friendly language. And yet, where would we be without dirt? Dirt, to me, is pretty much what life is made of. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust … in other words, we’re all made of dirt. I like the absurdity of the name because I think life is absurd and this helps me remember not to take anything too seriously.

As for adding the word Miss to it and using capital letters, I guess you could say I felt like growing up, but not enough to give up the name. My husband and I ran gaming events together for years and, as a result, found ourselves at the center of a pretty amazing little gaming community. However, when you hang out with gamers, who are mostly male and younger than me, sometimes it’s necessary to remind them who the grownup in the room is. However, MsDirt was taken on Twitter, and I loathe the abbreviation Mrs. as well as what it stands for (let’s save that explanation for another day). So, despite being married and as grown up as I’ll ever get, I became Miss Dirt.

When I started playing derby, I thought long and hard about what to call myself. Should I pick a new name? Should I invent some new variation on the old one? Would it be weird if I kept blogging as Miss Dirt? Would it confuse people? Is the name derby enough? In the end, I never reached a satisfactory answer for any of that, but I decided that I really don’t want to have a new name. Some skaters use their given names on the track, presumably because they like what they’re called and don’t really want to be anyone but themselves. Personally, I never really identified with my given name (Mary), but I feel like the name Dirt somehow describes the person I’ve chosen to be.

A Path and a Goal

Wildflowers by the B&A Trail, photo by Dion Hinchcliffe

I never expected to be the type of person who exercises on her own just because she wants to, but that has come to pass. I’ve been wanting to improve my endurance in general, and I always feel better when I get a good workout, so I’ve been taking advantage of this perfect fall weather to get outside and enjoy the sun before winter comes. Last week, I skated about 3 miles on the B&A Trail just to test it out, but I didn’t track my time. Yesterday, I skated 5.4 miles and averaged 9  minutes and 30 seconds per mile (total 49 minutes), and today I did 3.9 miles and averaged 8 minutes and 2 seconds per mile (total 31 minutes).

I’m not sure if my speed is good, bad, average, or what. I asked the league via Facebook what pace they would aim for, but Ela Trick said I should just figure out my own starting pace and focus on improving that. Of course, she’s right. I shouldn’t compare myself to anyone else or set any expectations to beat myself up about. However, I also really want to be able to keep up with the big kids at practice. So, my goal for now is to maintain an average of 8 minutes per mile for an hour of skating. Once I feel comfortable with that, then I’ll think about going faster.

The trail is beautiful, but some parts are pretty poorly maintained. Folks on bikes don’t seem to notice, but when your wheels are smaller than your fists, every crack in the pavement is a little bit terrifying. Oh, and crossing the street on skates? Not my idea of a good time. On the bright side, the trail goes right past several cool local businesses including a coffee shop with outdoor seating where you can watch people walk, run, skate and bike past while you take a break. Plus, everyone on the trail tends to be in a good mood, and why wouldn’t they be? We’re all outside, soaking up the sun, enjoying nature and doing something that makes us feel good. Most people at least say hi, and occasionally people actually cheer you on as you pass each other. It’s a day-brightener, for sure.

I wonder how long this trail skating business will last and how far I’ll get before the weather turns too cold for it to be fun. Nimby and I are talking about getting an elliptical machine for the basement because some form of indoor exercise is going to be necessary to get through this winter. But until that comes through, I’m looking into the smaller investment of a jump rope.