Something you can do in your 20’s-30’s to guarantee a not-horrible old age

People find getting old scary — because it is. Especially once you hit full adulthood, and the rollercoaster of youth — from whose dizzying speed and crazy twist-turns the reality of getting old is barely, if at all, comprehensible — begins to end, old age gets frightening to contemplate. Your beauty is going away soon; your sexual desirability and maybe even interest and capability are finite and running out; your health, strength, flexibility, and energy are all going to hit a long downslide from which they will never recover…terrifying. *TERRIFYING*.

What, if anything, can be done about this fear we all feel?

The terror of such huge changes, by the way, is a normal and probably necessary part of the human condition. When you're young, you don't understand what long-term change means, so you don't have time to fear your growth.  But as "long-term" begins to have meaning, and it starts to occur to you that you're going to spend probably 20 or 30 years being grey-haired and winkled and increasingly slow and weak, it's a slap.  But it's a good slap; a useful slap. It's a huge lesson, and one that you can benefit from now in ways that will also let you benefit from it later, and have a less-shitty old age.

Here's the magic: Your 20s and 30s, and even into your 40s, which is the range of time when the lesson starts to slap most of us, are the perfect time to age-proof your future self. Anything you start to learn or build during these years of your life has two important qualities:

  1. You're building it *as an adult*, with full use of your faculties, and without the inevitable shit-I-screwed-up-the-foundation mistakes that happen when you start something in early youth.
  2. You'll have between 20 and 40 years to get good at it before you hit "old age" — your sixties-ish. Past your sixties, you aren't likely to make huge gains in any area, as your body and mind wear out or at least probably plateau in their growth. But two to four decades is enough time to get killer expert in just about anything, no matter how advanced, given dedication and practice.

The trick to having a good old age is to pick one or two skills in your 30's-ish and dedicate yourself to developing them fully.  You can't control what old age will bring you in terms of looks, health, and external circumstances; it's all basically a dice-roll.  You could spend your sunset years alone on a beach, surrounded by family on a moon-base, or as part of a post-apocalyptic anarcho-collective — we're talking ~50 years from now, so it's stupid to try and plan out the details.  Whan you can plan is the canvas, the background, the you who you'll be as you experience whatever-it-is.  Here are some good things to keep in mind as you ponder what you might want to choose:

  • PICK ONE or two major things; no more.  Getting really good at major things takes a lot of work, even over a few decades, and you simply aren't going to be able to handle more than about two.  (And to be honest, I'd discourage more than one if you have to sleep more than about four hours a day!)
  • Identify smaller things that you feel will help with the major ones or complement them — i.e. if kungfu is your major thing, maybe you also want to embark on a general fitness program for a little while; or if you decide to be an incredible electrician by the time you're 60, maybe spending some time cultivating superb memory-skills, or knowledge of machining equipment, could be handy.  The little goals won't take as long to get good at, and they'll help round out your big ones, while also breaking up the monotony of learning a thing for a few decades straight.  
  • TAKE YOUR TIME DECIDING — this is a major life-thing, right?  Major major.  Be as darn sure of your choice in the depths of your soul as you can be, because second-guessing could cost you a ton of work.
  • Make a HELL of a plan.  Five years, each year, goals, options, decision-points.  Drown in details.  Scribble in margins.  Cover a wall.  You cannot overplan something on this scale, so go nuts.

    • Of course, be prepared to switch things up in the middle if it becomes apparent that you need to — life is life, and yours wouldn't be the weirdest if your plan to become a master electrician got derailed by the Universe granting you academic fame or something similarly orbit-deforming.  
    • The takeaway for this one is NEVER ABANDON YOUR PLAN:  Always be prepared to revise it, rework it; accept that it isn't stagnant; but never throw it away. 
  • Similarly, whatever happens, COME BACK to your plan and your life-goal(s).  It's easy to get knocked off-track, to have a bad month or year or five years; but this is definitionally stuff that's always better late than never.  Make a decision now that no matter what happens, you'll find and walk your path.

You know I like "guaranteed wins" — and this method of age-proofing your life is another one.  Here are some reasons why:

  • If you get hit by a bus in a year, you'll have spent some of that year working on centering your life around things you genuinely love.  Win.
  • If you get hit by a bus in ten years, you'll have spent lots of that time improving yourself and taking meaningful steps on a path that you chose.  Win.
  • If you live to be 100, you'll have had sixty years to get good at something you feel is valuable and important, which you can then teach and/or refine to a perfect shine.  Win.
  • If you try to do this and just fail for some reason, then all of the trying was effort you put into knowing and taking care of yourself, and being responsible for your future, which can't help but have done good things for at least your psychology.  Win.

Here's to old age…and to someday having had 30 years to get awesome at kungfu.  :D

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The Group Adaptation is almost over! What happens now? Will there be another one? (Yes!)

TL;DR:  The group adaptation was excellent, and it'd be a shame to let it die or not be there for future people who would benefit from it.  It will cost something (as little as possible) to participate in the future version, which I have a thousand ideas for improving, and I'll continue to build and run it with the goal of providing maximal benefit to everyone interested in learning about and succeeding at sleep-modification.

This iteration of the adaptation group was created in Fall of 2014, with these purposes:

  • Create a community in which people wanting to adapt to polyphasic sleep could work together to help each other through it
  • Develop resources that would be useful to future polyphasers, such as lists of useful stuff and discussions of typical problems and creative resolutions
  • Collect data from adapting (and ideally pre- and post-adapted) polyphasers, with the aim of making it useful-now, and working towards scientific validity later 
  • Advance my own understanding of polyphasic sleep by: trying a new schedule or two; adapting with / alongside some new / cool people; and lending my personal experience and help to people in a more involved setting than just by email

So…​What happened?

Once the first iteration of the group is formally finished (Oct. 1), I’ll pull real numbers so that we can see what’s up, but here’s what’s apparent already:

  • Our adaptation success percentage is higher than I’d expected, for sure! Everyone in the group that I’ve spoken to about it has agreed that adapting with group help is both more enjoyable and more likely to succeed.
  • We gathered a bunch of data! It’s not perfect, but it is exciting to have information on so many people in a relatively homogenous format. Plans are already underway to improve it, visualize it, and share it.
  • Some surprisingly good group resources were developed — the input of everyone involved was incredibly valuable! — and we have, I think, a super useful setup here that other people could definitely benefit from. As we improve it, too, it seems likely to teach us tons of lessons about sleep modification, and how to make this option better and more available to those who want it.

What’s next?

The community and group adaptation resources are, I think, too useful (and potentially-useful) to others to let die. However, I’m not using them for my own adaptation anymore. I’d like to continue to improve and maintain them, but in order to justify the several hours a week this costs me, it will have to provide some compensation. I’ve been working on a tiered structure that I hope will allow everybody to be included while compensating for my time in a sensible way. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

What will it cost to continue?

I envision four tiers of involvement:

  1. Information: FREE. Information about polyphasic sleep and sleep modification should be as available as possible to people who want it. Therefore, read-only access to as many of our records and resources as possible will be made available for free. Some of this will require setup on my part (like searchable, anonymized archives of the chat-channels), but much of it is already available (like our subreddit, which is publicly viewable and has lots of good information).
  2. Participation without obligation: $25 / month or a one-time unlimited fee of $50, for read/write/use access to all of our chat-areas, forums, voice-chat servers, etc. The cheaper unlimited fee is to make things easier for people who are interested in being part of the “adapter’s community” in a longer-term sense, since their presence, advice and help is useful to everyone. For those who just think they’ll need the group for one month, to help themselves adapt, there’s the
  3. Participation squared: A dirt-cheap option for people who really want to throw in and help improve the service for everyone. Costs $10 / month plus a promise that you will:
    1) Track your own data using our Data Form (to be filled out after every nap); and 2) Do something else, according to your skill, to improve the group for everyone. This could be writing a useful alarm-script or other program everyone can use, helping set up, improve, or administer a resource, etc.
  4. Personal help: For people who are really serious about success and want to guarantee high-quality assistance, there’s the option to hire me personally for a month. It costs $500, and includes daily emails, review of your schedule, some number of phone calls (I’ll figure out the details of this one in a separate document), and my personal attention to your specific issues and help implementing fixes. Obviously I can’t guarantee adaptation, but as the reigning long-term expert on polyphasic sleep, I’m confident that I can provide meaningful help; and having done it for quite a few people now, inside and outside this experiment, I can also say that’s it a hell of a lot of work to do so. :) The price is on the low end of what personal consultation with an expert costs in other fields, so I’m comfortable charging it and also with spending the time required to do a good job in exchange for it.
  5. I’m leaving the group resources open to the people who are using them, so there won’t be any service interruption for those who are still adapting or re-adapting after a false start. It may take a few weeks for me to get things organized on the payment side, but in the meantime, if anybody wants in, they can contact me and we’ll figure something out. I’ll make announcements when things are more set up, and in the meantime, I’d love to hear anyone’s comments on this idea and its implementation.

    THANK YOU to those involved in this first experiment — I met so many great people, interesting weirdos, and new personal friends doing this that I wouldn’t accept money for the 20+ hours per week I’ve put into it for the last few months if someone was forcibly shoving it into my waistband. Simply having it proven that we can help each other adapt, and that the fascinating and exciting field of individual sleep-modification has such a strong community component, was worth its weight in gold. Bless all of you sunrise-worshippers, and thank you for being part of this awesome exercise in socially-supported self-improvement!

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So how’s the Group Adaptation going?

Hey, world!  The group adaptation project is rolling along now — we're through August and most people have done their prep, and a good chunk of us — including me — have started our adaptations to new schedules (and our testing of Everyman Cake).  Here's how it's going!

  • By all accounts, having access to the group resources, to chat-channels and wake-up buddies and sources of in-the-moment information, is hugely helpful for everyone.  Obviously I'd banked on that, but even I've been surprised at times how useful it is to, say, have a group know to expect you to check back in on the chat-channel, and call you if you don't.  Once, my buddy didn't respond online after a nap, and I couldn't call her phone because mine wouldn't do an international call, and I was able to go to the group for help and get someone else to call her and wake her up — win!
  • Speaking of buddies, several of us have made new friends, and there've been some great conversations on a million topics already.  Even in just a few days, I've gotten on a first-name basis with several people I'm really glad I met, and I can't wait to get to know more of them and even better.  Serious win there.
  • There's a data form set up that everyone is trying to fill out after every nap, tracking how they feel, how they slept, what sleep-dep symptoms they had, and when they last ate and exercised, as well as daily reaction-time and memory tests.  It may not be perfect, but it's data, tracking the same things over multiple people trying different polyphasic schedules, so that's exciting!
  • A stellar amount of information and advice has been collected and shared in our chat and forum areas — not just tips for sleeping and waking, but lists of great movies and uplifting YouTube videos, upbeat music playlists, useful and interesting websites — you name it!  I'm starting to feel like I, um, won't ever have time to check out all the good stuff already.
  • Some of the group are doing really cool things!  Check out these graphics our member Leif (http://leifolsson.tumblr.com/) made to illustrate some of the different schedules!

    ubermanclock

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    puredoxykclock

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    Depending on several factors, I'm considering running another group(s) like this sometime . If you might be interested in knowing about future group adaptations, make sure you're on the ubersleep mailing list, as that's where announcements like that tend to go.  :)

For my part, I'm now on day 3/5 of my adaptation to Everyman Cake (I did a short gradual adaptation this time, so I "started" 5 days ago and have been on ECake for three), and it's going really well! Of course I'm a bit zonked — today saw my typing test score dive from 100WPM to 81, as an example — but I feel good overall, adaptation seems to be progressing very similarly to how my other ones have, and I'm starting to feel that crazyawesome sense of having soooo much time to work with–!  (That "time dilation" feeling takes a few days to start to kick in, and can take months to reach full effect, in my experience.)  Today I realized that although it's 9:30 on "Sunday night" and I'm not looking forward to a workday tomorrow, I actually have over eight awake hours before I have to get ready to leave for it!  \o/

I'll try to update you on our progress again soon!  

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I’m not a mutant

OK, I probably *am* a mutant in some ways.  I like spelling, for one thing?  And I can do that crazy-strong Internal energy/force thing sometimes; that's pretty rare I guess.

But I'm not a mutant because I sleep polyphasically.

I got an email today of a kind I get periodically, asking this question — where are all the other polyphasers?  Am I a freaky freakperson for replacing sleep with naps?

Pssh.  No.

First of all, yes, Virginia, there are other polyphasers.  Not many!  But definitely some, most notably (and provably) Buckminster Fuller (now deceased) and Steve Pavlina (no longer polyphasic); though I've spoken with more than a few other people who got through the adaptation period*, and a solid few who were polyphasic for months, though I'm not sure I know anyone who's been doing it for years other than myself.

Why so few?  Well, if you like to jump to conclusions, it's because it's NEW AND SCARY AND DOESN'T WORK, but how about considering these factors instead:

  1. It's hard!  These two major difficulties alone knock about 90% of the people who try to adapt out of the running inside of a week:

    1. It's physically and mentally demanding to grab the helm of involuntary processes and wrench them into a deliberate, hand-rolled schedule.  This is also a relatively unknown type of change to make to yourself — unlike, say, losing weight or going vegan — so those who do it are tackling some pretty tough stuff, and doing it mostly blind.  To the people who point out that I'm on the high end of intelligent, healthy, hardy, and gutsy, I say well yeah; in the beginning, that's what's required for any advancement:  A batshit vanguard that can take a beating and still pull through.  But those skills aren't as needed once things get ironed out more fully.
    2. It's ALSO hard because our civilization is monophasic.  Being vegetarian was hard as hell for the first people to do it in a meat-eating world, too.  So yeah, not many people are motivated to do that much work for it, and you can't blame them; or they do try, but things like "needing to have a job that your employer does not give a shit about your sleep-schedule at" stops them.
  2. It's boring!  I mean, not at first, and polyphasic sleep is exciting as an idea, but YOU try writing about your freaking sleep every day for a few months or a year and see how excited you are to continue.  Please remember that I wrote this website, and then the book, specifically because I'd hoped they'd give me something to point to so I could stop answering all those boring emails.  …This was a majorly flawed plan, obviously, and I've come to terms with that.  But that was still the idea originally, and for good reason.  Out of the few people who are willing and able to become polyphasic, very very few of them also want a serious side-hobby writing about their frakking naps.
  3. Signal to noise ratio!  Out of the people who want to be polyphasic, a good chunk of them will annouce it, start a blog or video feed, etc.  And the ones who are really into talking about themselves will continue that blog or feed, until they get bored or fail or both.  This is why about 90% of the blogs and vlogs and such that you see on polyphasic sleep are really just hymns to iconoclasm, and they range from bouncing off the walls at first, to giddy and heady when the adaptation gets hard, to some variation on disillusionment, when it gets really hard and they fail.  Meanwhile, the very small percentage of people who succeed are less likely to be heavily involved in their own documentation — because that's not the point for them, and also keeping up on those things is hard even when you aren't also juggling a somewhat superhuman selfhack.  So while it is possible to find material on or by successful polyphasers, it's really likely to be buried in piles of failwankery.  :P

My answer to the "mutant accusation" goes even further than "they're out there if you look," though, because many people I talk to are also forgetting a crucial fact:  human beings are born polyphasic.  In order to be a "mutant", I'd kind of have to be doing something new, instead of simply reverting to the type of sleep-schedule that defined humanity for the vast majority of its history!

This isn't a cute language-trick where we point to babies' weird little developing brains and go "see, it's natural!" — rather, it's a stone solid fact: we work very hard to train our infant children out of polyphasic sleep; and moreover, over 90% of other mammals, including the vast majority of primates, are also polyphasic — have been forever, and still are now.  Monophasic sleep is the outlier here, and it's something we did to ourselves.

Naps are the norm.  Remember that.  Mankind made a decision, not too many decades past, to trade in polyphasic sleep for a longer monophasic sleep that lets us stay awake for 14+ hours without a break, something very few other animals can do.  Then we built a civilization around it, making it so normal that many people find the mere idea of doing things differently intimidating or likely to be impossible.  

But I'm hardly a mutant, except perhaps in that I'm one of few (few, not zero) humans to decide that a deliberate schedule change was worth the effort for me.  But even when I did it, back when absolutely nothing about polyphasic sleep was online and I hadn't even heard the word before, I still knew that changing one's sleep schedule wasn't impossible, because I'd seen babies and adults go through it, and I knew people who chose to be vegan or vegetarian.  

The assumption that our sleep schedules can't be changed on an individual level is just that: an assumption.  And a hilariously poorly-supported one at that.

Love,

A Mutant For Other Reasons, Possibly

*you are not polyphasic, nor have ever been, if you didn't get through adaptation — one month minimum; more like two for core-nap schedules.  Adaptation is massively and qualitatively different than post-adaptation polyphasic sleep!

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The Sgt. Jackrum of Timers

This timer has been through Hell.

I can't remember if it was one of the ones I used in the first Uberman adaptation — I know the other of those, the white one, literally fell to pieces a few years ago — or if I bought it shortly thereafter, but man, this one's done some time.

I found it while moving house last weekend, and though it beeped as though sleepily happy to see me, I couldn't get it to work — the numbers were half-formed, and the buttons responded only sporadically.  

Yet, when I tossed it in the trash (after getting this picture) and turned away, it immediately began beeping angrily.  When I picked it up and shut it off, it glared at me with sharp, crisp numbers and responsive buttons.  So I kept it after all.  :)

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Epic Food Hack: Picklekraut (for breakfast!)

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Alright folks, here's a weird one for you, but especially given the number of people who've expressed concerns about weight gain, I couldn't not mention it (though I probably would have anyway, just because OMG COOL).  

So, I make pickles.  Not all the time, but a friend taught me how, and they're pretty awesome and they keep forever, so I do it.  "My" (his) pickle recipe is a little weird, but ultra-healthy and also crazy easy.  Hence, there are three pints of them in my fridge right now, just staring at me.  Always happens.  :)

I'm also having a hilariously stupid / awful week, one of the consequences of which is that I've run out of food for me — I can't eat wheat flour, so it can be tough especially to keep things around that survive several busy weeks of limited shopping and cooking — but man, yesterday I was hungry in the morning; I needed *something* in the gap between waking up early and heading off to work, and I'd had my wheat-free hot cereal for dinner (I know.  Last night I had two spoonfuls of peanut butter. >,<  I'm hitting all the requirements calorie, protein, and vitamin-wise, but not in anything like an elegant fashion!)

So, left without other options, I grabbed a jar of pickles and a fork; I was hungry enough to not care much what they tasted like, but to my shock, the sharp scouring sour actually was nice on fuzzy-morning-mouth.  And as soon as they settled into my stomach, where I'd been half-expecting I'd get an upset from eating pickles for freaking breakfast, I instead got a HUGE burst of energy — not a buzz, but a spreading gut-cleanliness, and one of the strongest and most immediate feelings of "this is good for you!" that I've had in a long time.  I ate probably a half-cup of picklekraut and went to work, and felt abnormally great for the next few hours.  I also ate more later, since .5c of veggies, yeast and salt is not a full breakfast! It was probably like 50 calories, heh.  Yet, it was probably 2h before I ate anything again, and I felt full (they're bulky), energized, and clean.  My stomach, which can be iffy obviously (see: wheat thing) was also great yesterday, like, better than usual.

Anyway, yeah, highly recommended!  Pickles as snack but also, as a major component of breakfast!  (Update:  It's two days later and I've had picklekraut for breakfast both days.  I love it silly; it continues to feel absurdly healthy, and my stomach is quite possibly the happiest it's been in months.)

BUT, you may have noticed I said "picklekraut":  That's right; my pickles are special.  Here's the recipe!  — Oh yeah, they're dirt cheap, too.  :D

PICKLEKRAUT!

– 1 red cabbage (the red isn't necessary, but it gives it the cool color.  Also, half a cabbage plus other veggies makes a LOT of pickles, be warned!)
– Other veggies, cut into largish chunks.  I like onions, garlic cloves, radishes and carrots best; my friend puts cucumbers, fennel, and asparagus in his; they're all good.  If you like spicy, grab your hot-peppers and leave the seeds in.  Go light because pickling does not reduce the spiciness — on the contrary, I made some of this with, like, two habaneros to a huge batch, and it almost burned my face off!
– Herbs, if you know how to do the herb or spice thing.  Not necessary, but by all accounts yummy. 
– Shitload of salt.  If possible, you want pickling salt for this — it's chemical-free — but I've done it with regular salt.
– Brine from previous picklekraut.  This is the easiest way to do this; if you don't have any, see below.

Chop veggies into bowl.  Big whacko chunks are best.

Add lots of salt.  Start with about a cup for a big bowl, but be prepared to adjust (i.e. probably add more).

Add any leftover brine you have from a previous batch, and top off the rest with water so that all of the veggies are covered.  Stir to make sure all the air-bubbles are removed.

Now — this is important — flip a plate, or a lid smaller than the mouth of your bowl, over and lay them on top of the vegetables.  Add a small weight if necessary, to make sure every bit of the veggies is pushed under the fluid — none of it can be touching air.  You need to create an anaerobic environment for the veggies to pickle in:  You're going to leave them on the counter, not in the fridge (or properly canned) as you would with regular pickles, because we're going to let these ferment.  Given a good anaerobic environment, they'll naturally lacto-ferment (I think it's called?) with a healthy yeast and bacteria combination that's great for your guts.  Given any air, they'll turn greenbluebrown and you will have the gaggingest mess ever to dispose of.  (If you can't tell, I've made this mistake.  >,<)

Cover the whole thing with a real lid, but not an air-tight one; this stuff will bubble a bit and you need it to be able to off-gas (like brewing beer).  Now leave it alone, in a warm place out of direct sunlight, for a week.  Seriously, don't touch it.

After a week, hold your nose and open it up — awww yeah, the smell of in-progress sauerkraut.  Once that clears a bit, taste a pickle.  (It tastes better than it smells, I promise.)  Add salt or adjust seasonings if desired.

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Now you can leave them some more, usually for another week — but if you didn't start with any brine, you'll need a lot longer.  Stir it up every day or two and check how it's doing.  You may see whitish film at the top and sides; we prefer to scrape that off, though it's harmless.  You should not see any green, blue, or brown stuff going on — if you see just a little, like where something was sticking up above the water, it's safe to just remove it; if it doesn't come back or spread, you're ok.  Generally once the yeast and good bacteria take hold, they'll keep other stuff from proliferating as long as their environment is maintained.  Once they're ready, transfer them to a jar (fill it all the way up and put a tight lid on) and into the fridge.  This will stop the yeast fermenting, and they'll stay in a nice stasis for a lonnnnnng time.  I have no idea how long, but I've eaten them after several months in the fridge and they're still perfect.

Picklekraut can be eaten in as little as 1 week, but get stronger and softer as you leave them.  You really don't need more than 2 weeks, but I've ahem accidentally left them "cooking" on the counter for 2 months and they only got stronger — creating the variant my family calls PICKLES!!! (you have to yell it).

Besides just being snacks, gifts, and a killer side-dish or appetizer, these are awesome for seasoning things like soup, congee and salad (chop up fine).  Save the brine from the jars (in the refrigerator, in a sealed jar) when you're finished and dump it in your next batch to get the colonies of good bacteria started more quickly.  (Some people say to do this, some say not to.  I do it because my friend does.)

Enjoy!

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Prevention for Depression?

A random thing I've been meaning to write down for a while, brought to you by the letter D:

I hate who I am when I'm depressed.  And I mean, who doesn't; depression doesn't bring out the best in anybody; that's kind of definitional — and it's a vicious cycle, too, because being in a state of hating yourself and/or your life makes it awfully hard to find positive thoughts and supportive actions to take when every second of every day, you're fighting off wanting to die.

Having ridden this train for the majority of the last quarter-century, I've learned a few things; and one of them is definitely "an ounce of prevention is worth a shit-tonne of cure" — you can crawl back up from the bottom, sure; months or years of concerted effort, forcing yourself to therapy over and over, carefully meting out whatever drugs or supplements you've found that work, and more than anything that daily slog of thinking about it, trying, failing, crying, writing and coming back to square one over and over again — it can work; I think I've proven that.  It can't work "for good" or forever, at least not that I've figured out yet; not if your condition is chronic, like mine is.  But Recovery can work, and it can get you back to a place where you can move back to Prevention:  and my point is, Prevention is much much easier.  

What is Prevention for Depression, though?  If you're a chronic diabetic, you know that you have to guard your dietary equilibrium, always keeping in mind that a night of drinking or a day of skipping food or bingeing on twinkies is going to cost you a long hard climb back to Healthy again.  But what if your body's tendency isn't to short out the glucose-metabolism system, but rather to short out the emotional-will-to-live system?  What can you do, once you've done the hard slog (or gotten ridiculously lucky) and found equilibrium again, to keep it?

It was about ten years ago, I guess, that I first got serious about figuring out how to do Prevention.  I had an infant then, and man, having a kid really slams home how vitally important it is that you be, not just functional in the basic sense, but also reasonably well-off emotionally; because even as tiny babies, kids are wildly affected by their parents' moods, their mumbled thoughts about life, their outlook on the day, the expressions their faces take on when they're not thinking about it.  I do sometimes wonder if the fact that I was raised by a woman who was depressed much of the time had anything to do with the fact that I grew up with this giant monkey-wrench in my emotional regulatory system; and of course the very last thing I want for my own kid is to deal with the same thing living in her own head.  (She's eleven now, which is when things got really bad for me; and so far, no signs.  Fingers crossed.)  So faced with a still-in-formation kid who saw me every day, 24/7, in my worst as well as my best moments, it became suddenly critical that I figure out, not just how to save myself when I was mired in that hole, but how to live my life for the best possible chance of not winding up in it to begin with.

Here's what I came up with, in case it can help anybody else:

1)  Be brutally picky about who you're around, especially when you're feeling tired, vulnerable, sad or suggestible.  One of the many sick ironies about depression* is that it can be worsened by isolation, and yet it makes getting and keeping company much harder.  Not only aren't you great company, but you often don't want to be around people, sometimes just because you feel bad for them and don't want to alienate them with your moods, and sometimes just because you feel like you can't handle the emotional effort of another person in your space.  That means that both staying alone all the time, and allowing "whoever will put up with you" to be the people in your space, are easy to fall into.  But you mustn't, and not just when you're feeling depressed, but always.  Almost nothing has the power to drag you down like bad relationships; abusers, manipulators and the like all feed off of that precious resource of self-esteem and emotional balance that you desperately need — having them around is like inviting in tapeworms when you're diabetic.  It can be hard as hell to enforce this, I know, especially when you have to cut people off and haven't replaced them with anyone better yet; but you absolutely must control and limit your exposure to negative influences.  We all have to deal with them sometimes, yes.  But if you have capital-D Depression, you can't afford to deal with them more than you absolutely have to; and when you have to, you need to take extra measures to counteract that influence (i.e. get more good people and/or alone time, and other things that support and strengthen you).  And people who cause or make worse your Depression must go, MUST be excised from your daily life, even if they're spouses or parents or BFFs.  It's hard on the heart, especially since when you're young and unable to control your Depression, you probably built relationships that make it worse; you will almost certainly have to let some go that you really value, and/or have had for years.  But eventually you can't ignore anymore that these people could literally kill you; that they're not just parasites, but parasites draining you of a rare and precious resource, and if you want to survive this ride, and to succeed at things like raising kids and being functional and succeeding at some goals in life, you can't stay with them.  

2)  Be brutally picky about your job(s).  Yes, we all do what we gotta do to eat; and work isn't required to be fun, by any means — most humans come home from work tired, eagerly await their days off, and gripe about their bosses and coworkers; such is life.  (And any Depressed person will tell you, just dealing with Life and how it is a blessing.  Someone in the D-hole would kill to be able to just get up and go to work and have a crappy day like everybody else.  A simple crappy day with no unexpected crying-fits, nightmares, anxiety attacks or whatever other lovely symptoms you get — and without worrying that such things are right around the corner — would be awesome.)  But we've also, most of us, had those jobs that really suck, that really do burn some life out of you every single day, either because they involve a bad relationship (see point 1) or they're morally repugnant or what have you; and if you have Depression (or even just if you're going through a really bad patch and depression-the-feeling is particularly bad and hard to avoid / escape right now), you can't allow those to continue.  Obviously the sooner you realize this and the luckier you get about changing to a new gig, the better; but "meh I'll just tough this out, other people do it" is stupid thinking.  This is your weak spot and you need to guard it.  A little emotional draining from your money-making gig is to be expected, but you don't have the same stores, the same stability, to count on as other people, and you need to accept that (not easy, I know) and do the responsible thing.  And let's define "responsible" here:  Money and things are necessary in life, but they're not as necessary as mental health and staying basically functional (i.e. getting out of bed, eating, speaking, staying out of the hospital, and not offing yourself).  If your choice is "court a huge and dangerous Depression, or make an existing one worse" or "have to move into a friend's basement or live in a car for a little while," guess which one is better?

I guess one of the biggest lessons of Prevention is that YOU HAVE TO TAKE YOUR CONDITION SERIOUSLY.  This is extra challenging in a world that can still barely get its head out of its ass long enough to refrain from telling you you're not really sick because it's "all in your head", but you absolutely must do it.  Like any chronically-ill person, nobody can make you take care of yourself in the long run:  You have to accept responsibility for it, and do your damndest to make good choices no matter what.  

3)  Also, apropos of living in friends' basements, another key part of Prevention is that you must accept help where you can get it.  Nobody wants to be a freeloader, and I'm not suggesting you should — we all have help to give, too, and we should give it wherever possible.  But the isolating and shaming parts of Depression make it easy to hide your problems and/or refuse or refuse to seek help from the people in your life who are good and/or lucky enough to be able to offer it right now.  Because you won't feel like asking for help when you should, get in the habit of asking yourself, whenever you're unhappy about a situation, is this something a friend or family-member could help me with?  Maybe a little money, a night off from the kids, or a place to crash would really make a difference right now:  buckle down and ask for it; don't just drop hints or act hopeful and pray that someone will notice.  A) that's obnoxious; B) you'll feel like shit when it doesn't work, and wrongly tell yourself that there's no help available; and C) studies have shown and wise people know that asking your network for help is a big thing you can do to strengthen your relationships.  It does not, in fact, "burn" goodwill or harm your status in someone's eyes when you need help; often, giving them the opportunity to help a friend (etc) in a meaningful way is a great gift to people, and makes them feel closer to you.  And of course, know thyself:  If you tend to never ever ask or lean on people (like I do), then make yourself do it twice as often as you think is actually necessary.  You'll benefit coming and going, from assistance where you need it to stronger relationships.

Also, don't overlook that when your pancreas is out of whack, often it makes you crave sugar when sugar would be the worst possible thing:  And when your emotions are out of whack, they're going to tell you that getting help (or in fact doing anything directly useful to fix the problem) is a bad idea.  When I'm depressed, even if I desperately want a night off, I don't feel like I want a night off, and my inclination is to refuse one.  A night off doesn't feel like a fix anymore; I want to burn the world down and jump in front of a train; that's the only thing that feels like a fix.  That's not so much of an issue when you're accepting help as part of Prevention, but I think anybody who's read this far knows how ridiculously easy Prevention can become Emergency Mitigation in these circumstances.  So watch for that.

4)  The last major component of Prevention is broad and tricky, but that's because every mind-body is unique in some ways, and the details of what helps and hinders you are going to be, at base, something that only you can figure out.  You need to learn what affects you most strongly emotionally, and control your exposure to those things as much as humanly possible.  And this is going to feel like it looks silly at first:  We don't laugh at diabetics who pore over the ingredients of things, or can't eat at a restaurant with us; but sure as hell many people won't understand that it's a medical necessity for you to avoid romantic comedies, wear loose clothes, never watch a movie in a theatre, and move out of Detroit.  You'll probably get a good deal of labeling as "eccentric", "picky", and variations on that theme.  I can't say I have the best solution for that part, because it is very isolating sometimes; but I can say that after a decade of ever-more-firmly implementing my Exposure Control Protocol (haha no, I don't really call it that, though you're forgiven if you thought I might) I've learned that people actually care a lot less about such things than you'd expect.  They're also extremely easy to lie to about them, and after some moral flailing about it years ago, I decided that lying to worm my way out of judgment for something I need to do in order to be healthy is perfectly acceptable.  Why don't I ever go to the movies?  Why, I'm an MPAA-boycotter.  Or have bladder control issues.  Or I always fall asleep so it's not worth the money.  Why did I have to leave D-town even though my family is there?  Job market.  (Not untrue, but not nearly all of the truth.)  Why don't I watch the news, or even own a TV, or now that we think of it even consent to sit near a TV in a restaurant or tolerate one in a waiting-room?  Oh, it's a political thing.  Viva las Adbusters.  Whatever.  The point is, people have neither a right to nor an interest in most of these details — but you do, because you are living on a subsistence budget of happiness, and you are doing it in the fucking deserts of Dune, where what might be a minor slip-up in other places, for other people, can kill you like *wham*.   TAKE IT SERIOUSLY.  Every little bit helps, both in the positive (doing a thing) and the negative (avoiding a thing) senses.  Absolutely have a list of things that bolster you emotionally, and things that drain or unbalance you; update it frequently and use it every day to add as much from Column A to, and excise as much of Column B from, your life as possible.  …And even though it should probably be a point of its own, I'll list here that your diet, getting regular exercise (probably more than you think you need! Exercise is a huge help with both recovering from and preventing depression) and keeping your physical environment positive (i.e. clean and comfortable) are all things that should be heavily represented on that list.

Prevention is hard.

But it's not as hard as Recovery.

Take it seriously.  Help the people you love take it seriously (for you or them or both).  Depression kills — and if you're lucky, you have to remind yourself of that.  If you're not so lucky, you've lost someone, or nearly lost yourself, and you know it firsthand.  But either way, don't let anything make you forget it.

-M/PD

*I capitalize Depression when I'm referring to the clinical variety, the monkeywrench disease that causes, prolongs, and strengthens emotional lows independently of events in your life.  When I'm talking about the lows themselves, the emotional state of "feeling depressed" that we all experience sometimes no matter how emotionally healthy we are, I drop the capital letter.

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