Tracking Moods With a Mood Tracker

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I use a mood tracker called Daylio and have every night since June 2. The tracker allows you to record your mood on a scale of 1 to 5 (the mood categories are actually “awful,” “fugly,” “meh,” “good,” and “rad” instead of actually being called 1 through 5), lets you select the day’s activities with just a tap, and then allows you to write about your day. It also keeps stats about how many of each mood category you received through the month, compares your daily moods with each activity, so you can track what activities can help improve your mood, and shows you a chart of your moods throughout each month so you can see when there were trends in your mood. It also lets you backup your entries to Google Drive once a week so that you don’t lose data (or at least a lot of it at once). All in all it’s a pretty powerful little app and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s being asked to do something similar in their own lives. It’s available for Android and iPhones and it’s free, although the premium edition (which only costs a couple bucks, if I recall) allows you to download your diary data in CSV format, so you can share it with your healthcare professional.

It’s highly customizable. You can edit, delete, or add activities (and their icons) to your list, and you can change the mood category names if you want. You can write as little or as much as you want about the day, or you can skip it altogether.

When I first started with this app, I recorded any day that wasn’t bad as “good,” so there are a few months where a lot of my days aren’t very accurately recorded. In the early part of November, it looks like, I made the decision to be more honest with myself about days when I felt like I was just going through the motions, so to speak, being “meh” and not “good.” So of late I have a lot more “meh” days than anything else, partially because I’m being more honest with myself and partially because I feel like I’m stuck in a bit of a rut personally.

Overall, though, as of yesterday I’ve recorded five “rad” days, 132 “good” days, 92 “meh” days, and 14 “fugly” days. I’ve never truly felt “awful,” which is a good thing.

But the trend of “meh” days is concerning. In January, my stats are 0/2/24/4/0 (moving from “rad” to “awful”) meaning I’ve only had what I’d consider to be a “good” day twice this month – on the 7th because I did a lot of socializing with both friends and family, and on the 29th because I accomplished a lot of positive things with my day (this is also the day that I set a new full marks streak record on my checklist).

Am I being too hard on myself when judging how a day went, that if there’s not anything truly noteworthy about a day it’s not good enough to be “good?” Or am I being fair about days when I feel like I’m just existing being “meh” days? The app doesn’t really give you suggestions about what makes a day rate what it does, and for good reason – everyone’s experience is different, so it would be impossible to give a blanket definition to each category.

I think I need to work on defining these categories better so that I’m more honest with myself and with my therapist.

Made It, and Made It

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One more short blog post today, since I’m pressed for time suddenly. I had a doctor’s appointment this afternoon that lasted far longer than I thought it would (everything’s fine, was just a regular checkup and medication consolidation and flu shot and bloodwork for a ton of things and holy cow were we thorough today) and that’s kind of pushed everything else back.

Yesterday I completed full marks on my checklist for the 13th straight day. That’s a new longest streak for me and I celebrated it by creating an activity item in my Daylio mood tracker app that recognizes full marks, so I’ll be able to track that as its own activity item moving forward. (I did go back and fill in the item for the 12 previous days in this streak as well.) I’m trying to get back on track to make it a full two weeks today. In some ways I’m cutting corners – the shorter blog posts, the math homework only to the point that the streak remains alive for the day – but in others I’m not. My reading is still one section in my books per day, my Spanish is still all my refresher lessons plus one new one, exercise has to be dedicated walking and not “I was pretty busy around the house so that counts.”

It’s a good feeling to be back in the middle of a streak, although there’s occasionally panic that I’ve forgotten to do something. But I’m being fastidious with my checklists and not lazy (checking off days at a time based on what I remember doing and what I’ve recorded in other places) and that’s helping.

As far as my weekend project, I reached my goal: I met the requirements for an anniversary giveaway in one of my games that gave me a free account-wide item worth $25 cash. All in all over this anniversary season I received over $150 worth of in-game items and services for free, missing only two potential giveaways – one because I already had the item being given away, and one because I didn’t have a qualifying character of high enough level to unlock the item. I’d consider that a decent haul for the week – plus I have another year to get that qualifying character high enough to unlock similar items in next year’s anniversary giveaways. Piece of cake.

 

Quick and Dirty

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Hi gang. I hit twelve straight days of full marks on my checklist, which means today will set a new record if I can complete everything. I’m making slow but steady progress on my deadline item, and should achieve my goal before the deadline hits. (I hope.) Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Sorry that yesterday and today has been such a short posting, but I want to keep my streaks alive and yet need to devote a lot of my time to my pet project. I’ll get back to the longer posts tomorrow.

A Quick Potential Hurray

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I have a mostly arbitrary deadline that I’m trying to make before 11 am Monday morning and I have a long way to go before I hit it, so I’m going to keep this (and likely tomorrow’s post) short and sweet.

Today, if I complete full marks on my checklist, will be the twelfth day in a row that I’ve done that. That will tie my record. I’m on track to make it again today, so once I sign off here it’s out for a walk to get my exercise in. Then the rest of the day is pretty simple, just waiting for items that are linked to a specific time of day to arrive.

It’s funny, whenever I’m not completing my checklists I see full marks as a challenge, a hard thing to achieve, and yet when I’m in the middle of a streak like this, I wonder what the big deal is, and why I’m not doing this every day.

So potentially yay me for tying my record. I’ll report in tomorrow and let you know how I did.

An Interesting Read

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Over the past several months (there have been long periods of time that I’ve set it down and not read anything in it) I have been reading I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t) by Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW. It deals primarily with dealing with shame through a concept called shame resilience. The whole book lays out different techniques about dealing with shame resilience, but the basis for the vast majority of the book is a series of interviews with an extremely diverse group of women. I’ve read the book and found some gems in it, but in the back of my mind I kept asking myself “what about shame resilience in men?”

Over the last couple of days’ worth of reading, she’s gotten around to her work with men. It’s nowhere near as diverse or extensive as her work with women, but her findings are very interesting.

Early in the research for this book, around about the time that she had identified twelve shame categories for women, she began interviewing older teenagers to get a feel for this particular age group. Her intention was to interview solely girls, but the clinicians that ran the groups had scheduled both girls and boys.

When it came time for her to interview the boys, she did so in a group setting, with the shame categories on a whiteboard behind her. She referred to the first one, appearance, and asked if there were any expectations for them to meet in this category. One teenager replied “Yeah, miss. I gotta look like I can kick your ass.” Laughter and agreement from the other boys. She moved on to health. More laughter and “You can’t be too sick to kick someone’s ass.” Since many of these boys were fathers already she asked about fatherhood. A little less laughter this time. “You talk about my baby or my baby’s mother, I’m gonna kick your ass.” Dr. Brown saw the theme clearly. Once the interviews were over, she filed away her notes until she began interviewing older men later in the process of writing the book, and this is what she discovered.

Early on in the book Dr. Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.” (I wrote about this back in June, for those interested in my words and opinions of the book early on.) She goes on to say that men experience this just as women do, that the “how we experience shame” is the same, but the “why we experience shame” is very different. As Dr. Brown says so eloquently in the book:

The expectation, clear and simple: Do not let people see anything that can be perceived as weakness.

She goes on to share some of the definitions of shame that she heard from some of the fifty-one men that she interviewed for her research.

“Shame is failure. At work. On the football field. In your marriage. In bed. With money. With your children. It doesn’t matter – shame is failure.”

“Shame is being wrong. Not doing it wrong, but being wrong.”

“Shame is a sense of being defective.”

“Shame happens when people think you’re soft. It’s degrading and shaming to be seen as anything but tough.”

“Revealing any weakness is shaming. Basically, shame is weakness.”

“Showing fear is shameful. You can’t show fear. You can’t be afraid. No matter what.”

“Shame is being seen as ‘the guy you can shove up against the lockers.'”

“Our worst fear is being criticized or ridiculed – either one of these is extremely shaming.”

Seems like the teenage boys were dead on with their “kick your ass” mentality, although that is a significant oversimplification of the issue.

So at this point I want to stop and explain how I relate to these statements.

I perceive my life as currently being a failure. My inability to live what many would call a “normal” life – get up, go to work, come home, be with my family, go to bed, repeat ad nauseum – weighs heavily on me for several reasons. I sometimes – not always – feel like I’m being judged for being on disability, although I’ve never once heard anyone express that sentiment to me. I so very desperately want to be able to work, to hold down a job, to be a success in the workplace – something that I’ve rarely, if ever, been able to say I’ve done. I feel like I’m failing my mother for not being able to be more involved in her life – she’s in skilled nursing in North Carolina while I’m in Texas with precious little money to be able to travel to visit her with, let alone the spare money to relocate her here and cover some of her expenses. I feel like I’m failing my daughter because I’m likewise distant and not in touch more often. I feel like I’m failing my wife for not being able to contribute more financially to our household, putting intense amounts of pressure and strain on her to have to succeed no matter what (remember, she also suffers from mental illness, but doesn’t really have the luxury of letting her guard down because of me.) There are some things I’m successful at, but I don’t feel that I’m living a complete life right now, and that, in my eyes, is a failing to the people that mean the most to me.

When I’m at my most irrational, I’m told that I will argue that the sky is purple until the other person – almost always my wife, who has to also deal with the stress of these moments, few and far between though they are – concedes. I HAVE to be right. It’s just impossible for me to concede that I could be wrong about anything. I’m desperate to be right about something, anything, that I’ll tenaciously defend a position even though it has absolutely no basis in fact.

I acknowledge that I’m defective; however, this isn’t anything that can be blamed on anyone or is anyone’s fault, it’s just how I was built, for lack of a better term. I don’t feel much shame about this because this is something that’s out of my realm of control, and I’m perceptive enough to realize that being ashamed of my faults doesn’t allow me to help others that may be experiencing the same thing that I am.

I’m not really tough. Full stop. I don’t engage in conflict unless it’s unavoidable, I’m not physically imposing in any way, I can’t grit my teeth and drive through a lot of situations that other men would have no trouble doing. Am I ashamed for this? Yes and no. I wish I were able to deal with conflict better than I’m capable of doing, but it’s not that big of an issue to me that I be physically tough. Physical toughness comes from physical health, and I have very little of that these days, between my illnesses and my weight.

I don’t feel the next one applies to me. I reveal my weaknesses all the time; I’m doing so right now. I feel no shame in this, I think that it’s important for others to know they aren’t alone with their struggles.

Likewise, I don’t feel shame in my fears. My fears are a large part of why I’m on disability, and while there is shame that I’m unable to provide for my family better while I’m on disability, I don’t feel ashamed that I fear things. It’s part of who I am, and as I said before, I don’t perceived my fear as a weakness. It’s just me being honest with myself about my strengths and limitations.

The next one, about being the guy that gets pushed up against the lockers, doesn’t really concern me. Since I avoid conflict like the plague, the chances of me getting into a physical altercation are slim to none, although there was one verbal altercation that I got into a few years ago that threatened to get physical, simply because someone misunderstood something that was said to them in a lighthearted manner. I kept my cool and managed to talk the guy down from getting violent, but my insides were watery. This was a hypermasculine guy who I feel honestly personifies the concept of “any weakness whatsoever is a bad thing.” So in light of that situation, I’m somewhat confident in my ability to talk myself out of situations like that, plus that’s the only time in my life that such a situation has ever occurred to me.

I have to admit, I have some trouble with the last one. I don’t like being ridiculed or made fun of, and I am downright terrorized by criticism these days – this is the main thing that I’m working on in therapy in order to return to work. Many guys have several friendships that they feel that they can trash talk one another freely because they know it’s just talk. I have exactly one friendship like that and I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but anyone else trash talking me would be a very awkward thing for me to go through. I wish I knew why, and I wish I understood why this one friendship is different, but I’m thankful for it, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

So the question remains – do I feel shame? Depends on the situation. I’m not like some guys who are hypersensitive to these things, but then again I don’t know of many of my male friends that are stereotypically this way. I think that shame affects each of us differently, and something that would shame me may not shame someone else, and vice versa. Shame is an individual experience and something we all deal with in our own unique way. Dr. Brown  has written that she intends to do more research into shame resilience and men, and I’m eager to read her results on that. In the meantime, however, a lot of what I’ve read about women and shame resilience I can use as-is or alter to where it’s appropriate for my own situation.

Thoughts from a Worried Mind

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As promised yesterday, I’m going to be a little more political, because I feel strongly about a lot of issues that are relevant to today’s world.

Now, keep in mind that because of my mental illnesses and my low threshold for stress these days, I’m not as up on the issues as I should be. I know they exist, and I know my position on them. I can’t engage in meaningful debate about the nuances of the different sides, I can only tell you in plain English why I believe what I believe.

Right now I have two main concerns. The first is healthcare. I’m currently on Medicare because of my disability, which means that if anything happens to Medicare I’m SOL. If pre-existing conditions become a disqualifying state, I’m SOL, my wife is SOL, and a LOT of my friends are SOL as well. I can’t tell you how important it is that healthcare remain affordable and accessible to me, without a lapse in coverage. (I’m on six blood pressure medications. If I’m out of even one of them my blood pressure becomes worryingly elevated. Being unable to afford my medications would be an immediately life-threatening situation for me, thanks to my high blood pressure and diabetes, not to mention the effect that it would have on me being mentally ill and unmedicated.)

The second concern is Social Security. As I mentioned before, I’m currently on disability because of my PTSD and bipolar disorder. We are completely dependent on my Social Security payment, and because I’ve been out of work for nearly five years, if that payment goes away, getting quickly hired on anywhere doing anything would be a significant challenge. We’d last perhaps four to six weeks before both of us were homeless.

These are the pressing concerns that I have for myself, but I have a lot of other concerns too. I worry about people being treated unequally because of their gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, race, religion, nationality, income level, education, age, or any other category that can be used for discrimination, and I have little tolerance for those who feel that any of these reasons are acceptable to discriminate against anyone. I think that critical thinking is a vital quality to have and I don’t understand people that deny scientific evidence or other known factual information. I also don’t believe that critical thinking is something that should be limited to those with higher education; I have a GED and I thrive on learning, especially if what I knew before was incorrect.

And lastly, I think that we are in very deep trouble given our current political climate. I think that policies are going to be enacted that will literally cost people their lives. Our government should be protecting us, not trying to kill us off. For the first time in my life, I can genuinely say that I don’t trust the government. I’ve been able to say that I don’t trust things the government has been telling me before, but this is the first time that I can say I don’t trust the government, full stop. I don’t like that feeling. It’s alien and uncomfortable and chilling, and I see things happening every day in our government right now that I seriously question. I’m not convinced I’m going to survive this administration, and that’s a devastating thought to have.

So there’s part details, part nutshell what I believe. I want to be more active in resisting the changes in our government, but I’m unsure where to start. I want to be the change that I want to see in the world, and I’m finally to the point that I feel like it’s imperative that I act on that rather than just dwelling on the idea of it.

Change of Plans

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I met with my therapist today.

We talked about a lot of things, including politics and my frustrations that have arisen because of same, and then I mentioned that I’ve been purposely going out of my way to avoid being political on my page for various reasons.

She wants me to be more authentic with myself (I mentioned that this is just one more step on my path to becoming a hipster) and my political viewpoints and to take the time to write about things that I’m passionate about.

In other words, she wants me to get political.

So in future posts, both here and on Facebook, I’ll be attempting to do just that. It’s not going to come easy, but I’m going to do my best. (I’m eloquent with the written word a lot of the time, but I’m complete pants at writing about anything political.)

Thought you might like to know.