Ten days ago, I posted a poem about one of my worst experiences with depression. The poem regards a road trip with friends to Vail at the end of 1999. There are a handful of fun memories stemming from that trip; like having to break into the condo through the garage attic since my friend had left the keys in Dallas (the poem’s photo depicts us post break-in), and a bonding experience with once younger and newer and now older and greater friends. Unfortunately, when I gaze upon the timeline of my lifetime that period also serves as a demarcation where happiness met with deep sadness.
They say memories change a little bit every time we access them. Therefore, it’s quite possible that I’ve since refashioned both my memory of the events of 1999 and those of my earlier youth, but present-day Josh’s memories say my 1999 bout of depression was the worst of its kind to that point of my life. Perhaps pre-1999 Josh was too green to understand certain feelings, or just too green to even have such deep feelings. Presently, all I can say is that 1999 was the first time in my life that I can recall simultaneously not wanting to live, and not wanting to die. Sleep serving as only a cruelly tenuous escape. It was a literal war of mental attrition, and I was losing.
“But you’re here now,” you posit. “What changed?” Immediately, nothing changed. In fact, 1999 was still years and additional spells of depression removed from my emergence above the proverbial mental clouds. Therapy, sleep, medication, more sleep, more therapy, different medication, even more sleep, holistic medication, different therapist, sleeeeep, no medication, back to the old therapist, sleeeeeeeeeeep…and forcing myself to get out of bed everyday. Telling what seemed like a lie to myself that each day would be a modicum better, even if it wasn’t readily apparent; that if I kept getting up I would get “there,” wherever there was, because I believed there was somewhere in the realm of the living where solace existed, because I’d visited it before. As I would come to discover, there is here: my current mental state.
It is impossible to point to one single event that makes us who we are, because there isn’t. I am who I am today because of all the experiences I’ve had to this point, and tomorrow I won’t be the exact same Josh I was today. Therefore, it’s equally implausible for me to look to just one thing which lead me to that state of mental anguish in 1999. However, it’s not improbable to single out a few notable reasons why I’d gotten to that point: a poor diet, an irregular sleep pattern, a lack of exercise, alcohol, and marijuana.
Which is where I’ll pick up in my next post. I hope you’ll read it. And thank you for reading this.
The sun settles behind the mountains
as we wind around another bend
of the valley road.
The SUV's dash flashes in dim neon
as it illuminates
Music is on high
as my two best friends are caught
amidst the throes of laughter
stemming from their cacophonous
attempt at singing
We have been driving for almost fourteen hours
and are mere minutes from our destination:
Our final home of a millennium
as the greased dial grinds to "20"
Where better to be when Y2K hails?
I am in the front passenger seat.
I am looking out its window into nothingness.
I am crying.
I follow a handful of minimalist bloggers on Medium. I’ve never read books by The Minimalists, but between friends, social media posts, and the aforementioned bloggers I’ve got a decent enough grasp. That said, if you’re looking for a CliffsNotes tutorial, you will not find that here (because my favorite minimalist blogger, Jennifer Chan, does a better job here). Instead, I intend to focus on something that plagues society, and myself along with it: technological distractions.
I love technology. And you probably do, too. Therefore, you don’t need me to opine on all the wonderful gadgets and utilities at (y)our disposal in 2019, or of the many still to come. I’m not a tech blogger, after all. I’m not even the most tech savvy member of my family–that title belongs to my elder brother, and it’s not even close. But one doesn’t need to be an expert in technology to appreciate it, or use it all the time. Smart watch? I had it. New cell phone–had it and it. Video-game console? Had it, and it, and it. You get the point. I was your prototypical consumer operating within a consumer society. And of course I’m not by any means “cured”–I still own some of these items. I mean, would you even call me on my house phone if I had one? Let’s get real.
But what I’ve tried to do over the past few years is take action to become more in the moment; to be aware of my surroundings; to actually try to remember every detail of what someone says by actively listening; to remember what I saw on my way to/from work. I am sitting at a dining table writing this. It is a cool, spring evening, and the windows are open letting in the slight breeze. The dogs are playing and getting their paws muddy from the weekend’s rain (ugh, wonderful). I am here now, taking in all the experiences around me. However, if I were to pick up my phone I would no longer be here, which is why it’s on the other side of the house, because if it were right here I would pick it up because that’s how I/we’ve become wired.
“Be with who you’re with, because that’s time you won’t get back, while you can always text people back later.”
I’m a somewhat-sober tech addict who still has more work to do–perhaps a lot, but a lot less than I did four or five years ago, or even last week. It’s progress nevertheless, which is why I want to share with you some of the steps I’ve taken during this journey that have worked for me, especially in the event you struggle with some of the same issues:
Get Rid Of The Smart Watch – What value is this adding to your life that reaching into your pocket, or retrieving your phone–or better yet doing NEITHER–can do? What value is it adding to your life that a simple analog or digital watch can do for a lot less of your valuable time and money? It’s an amazing piece of technology that we all want, but none truly need.
Don’t Upgrade Your Phone – If you’re still using a rotary phone, you’re amazing and I also probably haven’t spoken to you in a while. It also means this doesn’t apply to you (though a cordless phone would be a mind-blowing upgrade). For the rest of us, we don’t need the newest phone. Apple iPhones, for example, are supported on new iOS systems for approximately five years. Additionally, the strides made between your iPhone X and iPhone XS/R are less significant than the ones that were made between your iPhone and iPhone 3GS (but more expensive). A new phone is a new toy. A toy that–unless you’re using that rotary phone–you’ll want to waste time playing with, but don’t need.
Keep Your Phone In Your Pocket/Purse – If you’re at home, put the phone far enough away from you that you feel hassled to go get it. If you’re out, don’t take it out unless required (e.g., someone is calling to find out your location). If it’s too big to fit in your pocket, get a smaller one. Be with who you’re with, because that’s time you won’t get back, while you can always text people back later.
Get Rid Of Your Phone Notifications – The only notifications I receive on my phone are transactions (i.e., credit/debit cards), texts, and calls. These notifications don’t buzz me unless I set them to do so (pretty much every smartphone has this capability–Here’s a good How-To write-up for iPhones). Get rid of your social media or news notifications, and anything else that will compel you to click and take away from the present moment. There will be time to read it later, and if not then chances are that time was better used.
Spend Less Time On Social Media – Chances are you’re checking social media from your phone, so should you follow the above step that will help in this endeavor. However, if you don’t trust yourself, delete the apps from your phone and only use them when you’re alone in front of a computer/tablet at home. And if a phone is all you have, download the apps when you get home and then delete them when finished. This is doable, but also enough of a hassle to deter you from getting on your favorite social media sites as much.
Unsubscribe From Offer/Sale Emails – You don’t need to know about that sale. Buying stuff on-sale is spending money on things you don’t need simply because it’s less than what it usually is. Additionally, all it does is clutter your inbox and take you more time to get to the emails that actually matter (such as from family/friends/loved ones). When you need to buy something, buy it. With a little looking you can always find a deal.
You Don’t Always Need To Snap A Photo – These days, if I’m planning to take photos I’m bringing my DSLR, and I’m usually going about it alone. Not only does my phone camera stink, but I don’t always want to be pulling out my phone to snap a photo and then see that notification. There’s been much writing about how photos affect your memory of the moment, and it’s very clear that you should take less photos with your camera, and more with your mind.
Drive/Exercise In Silence – I love NPR, music, podcasts, and audio books as much as you do, so by all means continue to listen. But complete silence on occasion allows us to be with our thoughts and more present in the moment because there’s less to distract us. Try it out and you’ll be surprised at how much better you’ll feel. I don’t always run without headphones, but there’s no denying that nothing makes me feel more fulfilled and refreshed than a run sans phone at the end of a long day (if only because it means I had some time without said phone).
Read From Paper – Read an actual book. And if you loathe books, try a hard copy of your favorite publication. Don’t read long form via your computer, or tablet, or phone. A book or magazine doesn’t beep at you with notifications–technology does. Oh, and use the library! You can get a monthly subscription for $0.00.
As alluded to above, I love technology, and am by no means arguing that we should all throw out everything and move-out into the wilderness (although that does sound pretty fun). But I do often feel that the world is moving too fast for my liking, and hearken back to the simpler days of my childhood where I knew your phone number by memory, played outside daily, and was forced to pay attention to you because there weren’t any handheld distractions. And odds are you sometimes feel this way, too. The above methods are still a work in progress for me, and maybe some are for you as well. But it’s meaningful progress toward mindfulness, and when we’re looking back on our lives and experiences, it’s progress that will count.
The other morning I heard thisvery interesting piece on NPR’s Morning Edition, and not only was I happy to hear such a thing addressed on a nationally syndicated radio show (which, granted, is par for the course for the greatness that is NPR), but I was also reminded of my own experiences with depression and how anger and irritability were related to them.
As I wrote here back in 2017, I’ve had my own issues with a temper, just like I’ve had my own bouts of irritability. Now, some of the latter is just life (i.e., I didn’t sleep well; my brothers were being brothers and annoying me; someone just wouldn’t stop talking in a movie; etc.), but in retrospect I can attest that much of that irritability was related to my overall mental state. That said, there’s no question that my temper was the greater signifier of said state. But when you’re dealing with a temper (or irritability), it’s quite easy to focus simply on that and not what could be the underlying problem: depression.
Now, I’m not cautioning you to go out and assume that anyone who flares up in anger or expresses irritability towards you is depressed–that would be a tad presumptuous. But if it seems out of character, or if it’s prolonged in nature, then when things settle down it might not hurt to ask them if they’re OK.