3 May 2003 tripp   » (Journeyer)

Chemical Epiphany:

For a great many years, I've banged my head against a wall within, wondering why I could always seem to see great things, but never to do them.

After too long vigorously rejecting any classification outright, and being fundamentally ambivalent toward any chemical solution, I gave up. I stopped fighting long enough to hear a therapist ask me "have you ever considered that you might be bipolar?"

It was a moment of perfect, obvious insight for me. She said those words, and all of a sudden, years of watching myself and my behaviour "made sense". I wasn't oblivious to how much my world resembled that of a manic depressive... I just didn't want to call myself that. I can't explain why. Maybe it was that Humanities course where we dissected the DSM (see links above).

So now, with the help of people I'm coming to trust, and people I've always loved, I'm finding a place from which I tap the years of ideas and make wonderful things happen. Sure, I don't wake up every day now and produce masterpieces, but I wake up every day and most of those days I produce something. Over time, that's going to add up.

I've found great comfort in reading some of Advogato's own Michael Crawford's writings on his personal journey with schizoaffective disorder, which apparently shares some common traits with manic depression. In particular, tonight while looking for links, I found these paragraphs:

The problem with manic creativity is that there is usually little substance to it. It is brilliant but it lacks a solid foundation. A great deal more work is required to implement an idea than to conceive of it, and it is hard to stay focused when I am manic. Projects are started and soon abandoned for new projects, or I start something very ambitious and then come crashing down into depression and abandon it. Very little of what I have accomplished was accomplished when I was manic.

It is also hard to work when I am depressed. I get bored with what I am doing, and find it difficult to overcome frustrating obstacles. Computer programming can be terribly frustrating work - bugs occur all the time in software, and they are usually not cooperative towards efforts to find and fix them. The single most important skill I had to learn to become a programmer was to overcome frustration, but this is very difficult when I am depressed. The slightest obstacle fills me with despair.

Yes, manic depressive people are creative, but the real creativity does not come when we are manic or depressed. It comes in the in-between times when we are feeling alright but not high.

Oh, yeah. I paid someone to finish the bathroom, and they did, and now everyone's happy.

Postscript: (added 2003-05-02 06:17 UTC)

MichaelCrawford: From my own experience, I can suggest that you delegate, or find some "tricks" to manage yourself through the blocks. If you choose delegation, you can either delegate the work of small stumbling blocks, like the progress bar, or you can delegate the work of managing you. Either can achieve the same goal.

If you delegate the work of managing you, then you need to make sure that you've actually empowered that person to keep you on track. In other words, they have to understand the work you're doing, and help you say "no" to the distractions that are going to try to seduce you.

As for tricks, there's the classic "divide and conquer" (break the blocking task up into sub-tasks), but sometimes all you need is a nudge to say "just sit down and work on this for like thirty real minutes, and if it's not going well, get up and take a break." Repeat that enough times in a day, or a week, or what have you, and you'll have chipped away the block.

I used the tricks above this week to wade my way through a server migration that was killing me through many small wounds. Instead of setting myself a "hard deadline" for the migration, I decided to focus only on the next small thing. "Install a JVM". Okay, done. "Install Apache 1.3". Okay, done. "Get SSI working on the Apache 1.3 install". For each of those tasks, though, I employed the "just sit down and do a little something on it." In each case, by forcing myself to switch to a terminal on that machine and do something, I built up enough momentum to finish the task, and most of the time, to go ahead and finish another one or two of the tasks that were next.

There's also a very good book called Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen that has a lot more concrete advice on attacking the things we put off.

Good luck!

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