Notes on staying sane. For the high-functioning crazies among us.

Tiny Revolutions №9: Over the River and Through the Woods

+ a screen time out got me in my feelings

rainbowroad_11_skyreplacement_nograin.jpg

I heard from a friend that another friend forwarded her the last issue of Tiny Revolutions and asked her if she should be worried. I guess I sounded pretty down.

Oops. In my defense, this is a fucking newsletter about coping with depression! Hahaha. OK seriously though, I wrote a whole thing about how you shouldn’t worry about me, and the fact that I’m writing this is a good sign and blah blah blah. And that’s all true. But now, cut to my having skipped a newsletter in my usual bi-monthly cycle, I feel like I need to make something else clear: that my *not* writing this also doesn’t mean you *should* worry.

The whole reason I started writing this newsletter was that I wanted to help normalize being a crazy person. Because, honestly? Diagnoses notwithstanding, I don’t actually think I’m that crazy. Or at least not crazier than most people I know.

That said, one of the reasons I’ve been off schedule is because I’ve been taking my own advice and have severely limited my screen time with the help of the new Apple controls. I was in the habit of picking up Instagram 15 times a day and each one of those times could be a rabbit hole. And that can still happen, but it’s much rarer now.

The surprising thing is that I just find I’m not as interested. More and more I’m reminded that the only connections that matter are the ones you make one to one, either in person or digitally.

So yeah, it’s put me off writing a newsletter, I’ll admit. But hey, I’m still here. I love writing this because I know it helps me when other people share their struggles, so I’m trying to return the favor. And of course I love hearing back from you. So write to me and tell me something.

Onward.


Image result for insight timer app icon

Another reason I’ve been MIA is that I went back east for a couple of weeks last month to spend time with my dear aunt, who is very ill with cancer, and yes, that was as hard as it sounds. But a bright spot is that I got to introduce her to meditation, and she is crazy about it. Have I talked about the Insight Timer app here? It’s free and you should get it and friend me on there so we can thank each other for meditating together. It also has some cool social features so you can see all the meditations I do for building self-belief and awakening the heart and letting go of attachment and everything else. I know I just talked a lot of shit about social networks, but this is different, and seriously, I love it a lot.


Ever wonder if you’ll ever hit your peak, or that maybe you already had it or you missed it because you were binge drinking (or binge watching)?

A study published in Nature found that about 90 percent of people will experience a “hot streak” in their career, which is that span of a few years when a person’s greatest, most effective work is produced. And — here’s the good part — your hot streak can appear at any point in your working life, meaning that it’s never too late (or too early) to hit your peak.

It’s not too late!


Did the above passage resonate a bit too much? You should probably click here.


Those Silicon Valley wizards are working on an app that can tell if you’re depressed before you know it yourself. This cracks me up because if it gets any kind of adoption, I think a lot of people who would sooner die than admit they have problems might get some unpleasant news. Still and all, I’m for it. Let’s all stay healthy.


hungry holly hunter GIF by MGM Christmas

Do you need to prepare for the “emotional storm” of the holidays? I sure as hell do. Here are some tips.


Speaking of the holidays, here’s a timely reminder courtesy of the excellent Bojack Horseman.

♡ mew@mewlinglythis is like the most important thing from bojack horseman this season

Here’s a favorite poem from the recently departed Tony Hoagland. RIP, sir.

I Have News for You

Tony Hoagland, 1953 - 2018

There are people who do not see a broken playground swing as a symbol of ruined childhood  

and there are people who don’t interpret the behavior of a fly in a motel room as a mocking representation of their thought process.  

There are people who don’t walk past an empty swimming pool and think about past pleasures unrecoverable  

and then stand there blocking the sidewalk for other pedestrians. I have read about a town somewhere in California where human beings  

do not send their sinuous feeder roots deep into the potting soil of others’ emotional lives  

as if they were greedy six-year-olds sucking the last half-inch of milkshake up through a noisy straw;  

and other persons in the Midwest who can kiss without debating the imperialist baggage of heterosexuality.  

Do you see that creamy, lemon-yellow moon? There are some people, unlike me and you,   

who do not yearn after fame or love or quantities of money as 
            unattainable as that moon; 
thus, they do not later
            have to waste more time 
defaming the object of their former ardor.  

Or consequently run and crucify themselves in some solitary midnight Starbucks Golgotha.  

I have news for you— there are people who get up in the morning and cross a room  

and open a window to let the sweet breeze in and let it touch them all over their faces and bodies.

And finally, I’m still in LA but I’m also plotting some time away this winter. Easing out of my comfort zone with little forays here and there, just to see how it *feels* to exist in another locale. That’s neither here nor there, but I just kinda needed an excuse to post one of my favorite songs from The Glands.

What’s new with you? How you feeling?

😘

Sara

p.s. I’m back to writing again and I’d love it if you’d share this newsletter with someone who might appreciate it. They can subscribe here.

Tiny Revolutions №8: Living in the Grey

return of the queen

I’m back in Los Angeles after two months away. It’s not the first time I’ve spent time away — I left once for about six months — but it is the first time in a long while.

When I left I was ready for a break from the city and to spend time with my family. I didn’t have specific goals for this trip, because I rarely have specific goals for anything, which is probably an issue. But I did want to clear the palate and see how it felt being gone. I know now, I guess, and you know what? 

I feel about the same. Maybe a little stronger because of all the love my family showed me. And because I got to spend quality time with old friends. Many walks in the woods and a few glasses of wine on the porch. Stuff you do when you’re not trying to put yourself out too much. Lots of dinners out, but no *nights* out.

After a few weeks away, I started to feel like my life in LA was a million miles behind me. Some hazy impression of a city jam-packed with people and smog and traffic and a lot of nights alone on the couch watching Netflix or engrossed by my Kindle. 

I’ve had this ongoing battle with myself over whether to leave the city for years now. At least a decade. I imagine everyone who lives in a city like LA has either had it or is having it, but I can’t help but envy the people for whom the answer is clearer. You get anchored by a job, a house, a relationship, whatever, and you just make it work despite all the bullshit. My own anchor is my love for the place, and not much else. I love the way the air feels. I love the light in the late afternoon. I love the perfect blue of the sky.

It’s more than that, of course. I love the way Californians are swinging for the fences all the time. To live here, you must want it all. And you must also believe you can get it, because otherwise, it just wouldn’t be worth it. And that is true of me. Or at least 51% of me — more than half or surely I would leave for somewhere less, well, fucking insane. 

But of course you can’t have it all. No one can. At least not at the same time. It’s naive to think that you can. And yet I kinda still do? If I’m honest, I think I’m just exhausted from trying so hard for so long to get it.

Does this mean it’s time to pack it up and get out of this town for the hustlers or the independently wealthy or the poor? These days, I’m not sure there’s room for anyone else.

So I don’t know how I’m gonna feel after a few weeks of being back. I’ll just be hanging here in the grey area if you need me. 

Ok then. On to some stuff that inspired me recently.


Speaking of ambition…

“We all have joys, hopes, fears, and longings that never go away no matter how old we get.”

Here’s a first person essay by a 30-something minister about her observations about the inner lives of her older congregation. TLDR: Love is the only thing that matters.

What Do 90-Somethings Regret Most?


Do you ever think about how lucky you are to have been born in the place you were born in? (Assuming you were, in fact, lucky on this front.) I find that kind of perspective calms me down. Here’s a cool web site called My Life Elsewhere that allows you to compare and contrast life in the country you live in with other countries around the world. (🙏 I wasn’t born in Tajikistan.)


Please listen to this short episode of the Invisibilia podcast, I implore you. It’s ostensibly about why anyone would leave a message when they can just send a text, but it’s oh so much more than that. I had the pleasure of being in the audience when this monologue was performed, and I remember wishing so badly that I could share it. It’s that good.

Cord Jefferson@cordjeffersonMy Pop-Up Magazine piece is now a bonus episode of Invisibilia. It's about technology, death, the power of the human voice, and my mom, and it's very meaningful to me. I hope you'll listen to it and then call someone you love. https://t.co/U93BOkDW9e


Do you follow a dead guru type on Twitter? I highly recommend it. Here are some recent zingers from Alan Watts.

Alan Watts@AlanWattsDailyThe secret to waking up from the drama—all these endless cycles—is to realize that only the present exists. It's the only time there is.
Alan Watts@AlanWattsDailyThe most releasing thing that anybody can possibly understand is that our inner feelings are never wrong.


Very excited today as I am going to see two of my favorite musicians tonight: Courtney Barnett and Stephen Malkmus, aka my imaginary asshole boyfriend (‘cuz you know he’s probably the worst person in the world to date and he totally gets away with it. He is married, btw, so let’s all send love to his wife.) Malkmus has reached the stage of his career where videos of his music are earnest, one-take type affairs (lol), but the songwriting is as sharp and resonant as ever. (BTW, If you’re headed to The Greek tonight, holla at me and let’s grab a sparkling water.)



OK, one more from my dead guru.

Alan Watts@AlanWattsDailyYou will cease to feel isolated when you recognize, for example, that you do not have a sensation of the sky—you are that sensation. For all purposes of feeling, your sensation of the sky is the sky, and there is no “you” apart from what you sense, feel, and know.


Thanks for reading. If you like this newsletter and want to support it, send it to a friend who might like it, and have them subscribe here.

😘 Sara

p.s.

Jillian Christine@JillEngel_I’m a school photographer and we got to take a service dog’s picture for the yearbook today 😭😭

Tiny Revolutions №7: Cheers to the Years

getting older is fine

It was my birthday last weekend. I say this with neither relish nor disdain. It was an unremarkable birthday at an age that is still early enough in my current decade (40s) that I didn’t feel the need to really freak out.

Not that one decides to freak out or anything. What I find with birthdays is that while I mostly look forward to them because of cake or a special restaurant meal or whatever, I usually have some kind of sudden meltdown in the days leading up to it. Just a total crash of angst that more or less amounts to “oh my god, what am I doing with my life and how have I wasted it and what will become of me” and on and on. It’s as devastating as it is predictable, but I usually recover in time to enjoy the day. It’s just a day, after all.

I didn’t have one this year though. Given that it’s been a rough year, I’m considering it a small gift from the universe and I’m not gonna overthink it, so I’ll keep this post light. But I will say that I’m sure that all the meditation, contemplation, gratitude, connection and work I’ve done to make things better had something to do with it.

Here’s a picture from a recent sunset on St. Simon’s Island, where I spent last week with my father, my sister, my nephew, and my dog. Definitely feeling hashtag blessed.

Onward.


Here’s a fascinating episode of the Hidden Brain podcast about a growing body of research that suggests that, much like zoo animals, we're wired for the habitat we evolved in, and that when we live outside of it, things go awry.

Key passage:

“We found social breakdown in buildings without trees and grass around them. That is to say, when we asked people did they know their neighbors, did they speak to their neighbors, do they know them on first-name basis, could they rely on their neighbors for, you know, for a favor, to take care of their kids if they had an emergency, then the people in the buildings with a bit of greenery were much more likely to say yes. We also found that the folks who are in the less green buildings are reporting more aggressive behaviors.”

The whole thing is worth a listen, but the gist is that natural settings help renew us, so when we spend too much time outside of them, we get mentally fatigued and our ability to handle conflict plummets. Who wants to start a commune in an urban forest somewhere??


Image result for circeI just finished the best book I’ve read all year, Madeline Miller’s excellent “Circe”. It’s a reimagining of the story of the goddess Circe, who you might remember if you ever read “The Odyssey” for turning Odysseus’s men into pigs. I loved “Circe” for many reasons, but one of them was just spending time in the world of ancient Greece in the head of a fascinating character. Here’s a great essay about how immersing yourself in a book enlarges and enriches your experience.

“What I know is that each of those characters experienced emotions that helped me understand the range of the often contradictory feelings each of us possesses; doing so leaves us feeling less alone with our particular complex mix of emotions, whatever our life’s circumstances. As expressed in the play Shadowlands, about the life of C. S. Lewis, “We read to know that we are not alone.””

Just another reminder to put the phone down and pick up a book instead.


Speaking of the phone, the new version of iOS has a setting called Screen Time that breaks down how much time you’re spending on your phone, and on what. It’s about as horrifying as you think, but the good news is that you can now set daily limits on apps (ahem, Instagram, I’m coming for you).


Behold! The age when your self esteem peaks is 60. (It stays there for a decade, declines slightly in your 70s and 80s, and then drops a little more sharply beginning at age 90.) This is not surprising, but it is heartening. Aging FTW!


And finally, here’s a catchy, raucous song by a random band about which very little info is available. But they’re out of Georgia and that’s where I celebrated my birthday so it seems apropos.

Have a great weekend.

😘

Sara

p.s. If you liked this issue of Tiny Revolutions, please share it with someone who might like it too! Have them subscribe here.

p.p.s. Happy 21st night of September.

Tiny Revolutions №6: The Ecstatic

and the new L word

I’ve been thinking a lot about loneliness lately.

It’s a topic I’ve been avoiding here because it’s scary. Loneliness. The new L word, I’d argue. A condition that most people are too ashamed to talk about, because who wants to attach that label to themselves?

And yet. According to a recent survey, we are in the midst of a loneliness epidemic. Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone, and only 53 percent of us report having meaningful in-person social interactions on a daily basis. In addition to a variety of negative health consequences, there is also growing body of evidence that loneliness can kill you.

I’ve felt lonely since I was a child. It’s a weird thing to say given that I grew up in a family with eight siblings, because I was pretty much surrounded by people at every waking moment. But I always felt different. I was bookish, for one thing, whereas the six siblings who were closest to me in age — all boys — were more drawn to sports and competitions of any kind. Being a girl who was into typically girly things amidst that macho rabble was difficult, not to mention deeply lame.

I carried that sense of being an outsider into my adulthood. Not really ever because I lacked companionship, but more because I didn’t feel like I fit in. That sentiment has waxed and waned over the years depending on what’s been going on in my life, but it has a way of creeping back in when things get rough.

This latest episode of depression has been a lot about my own loneliness crisis. Over the past few years I’ve had a run of bad luck with unsteady work, a couple of failed relationships, some financial disasters, and an increasing sense that I was getting too old to be so precariously situated. I could have weathered any one or two of those things at once, but all of those things at the same time weighed on me, particularly when I looked around and saw that most of my closest family and friends were having an opposite experience: settling in with new partners, having kids, flourishing in their careers, finally getting to a point where they could be comfortable financially.

Or at least that’s the story I was telling myself.

There’s truth in it, of course, but it’s not the whole truth. This is just the depressive mind at work — it retreats into the well-worn grooves of the stories you have about yourself. You know, the bad ones. The ones your therapist points out aren’t true.

At its heart, depression is about connection — or, more accurately — disconnection. The depressed mind feels deeply alone, deeply cut off from the world around it. Here’s a passage from Jonathan Franzen’s “How to Be Alone” that I think captures it:

“Depression presents itself as a realism regarding the rottenness of the world in general and the rottenness of your life in particular. But the realism is merely a mask for depression's actual essence, which is an overwhelming estrangement from humanity. The more persuaded you are of your unique access to the rottenness, the more afraid you become of engaging with the world; and the less you engage with the world, the more perfidiously happy-faced the rest of humanity seems for continuing to engage with it.” 

So yeah, the insidious thing about loneliness is that the longer it goes on, the more unworthy you feel, and the harder it is to pull out of it.

But I’m lucky. I have friends and family who help me keep things in perspective, and I have a job that allows me to work from anywhere, and I’ve been spending time with my sister and her family on their farm in rural Minnesota. It’s hard to feel disconnected from life when there are toddlers and animals and ripening plants to tend to. When I was thinking about going, my friend Chloe said it sounded like spending time on the farm would be a “deeply nourishing experience,” and she was right. It has been.

Not to say that I haven’t had my moments. I traveled back to California last month for the wedding of my cousin, and while I was excited about it (party in wine country!), I also had no small measure of dread going into it. Weddings are tough for me, though that’s another story.

But I needn’t have worried. One of the great things about getting older is that once you get to mid-life, you realize that nobody escapes unscathed. There was a moment on the dance floor when the band was playing “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” and I looked around at all the people dancing — my siblings, my cousins, my aunts and uncles, my dad — and I thought to myself, “there isn’t a single person here who doesn’t have something going on in their lives that they desperately wish wasn’t happening, or wasn’t true.” And in the same moment I recognized that it is these struggles that unite us. That if we were all truly sailing along without problems we wouldn’t need each other, wouldn’t fling ourselves whole-heartedly into an occasional bacchanal with wine and feasts and dancing to make ourselves feel OK, like we weren’t alone, like we had each other to make it through another day, another week, another month, another year.

Keith knew it and Mick knew it too, and that’s why their song about the endless frustration of never really having it all is one that can still bring multiple generations to the dancefloor for a few minutes of jumbled, sweaty ecstasy.

And for that I am grateful.

On to some things I’ve been thinking about lately.


Tara Brach has a new two part talk on healing depression that is one of the most revelatory things I’ve ever encountered on the topic. It encompasses the clinical and the therapeutic and the personal, and I cried when I listened to it because I felt so seen. If you want to understand more about depression, this is a good place to start. And even if you’re like me and have both experienced it and read about it extensively, it still offers something to learn.


While I was doing some research on the loneliness epidemic, I came across The Loneliness Project, an interactive web archive where people submit their experiences with loneliness. Here’s the description:

At The Loneliness Project, we believe that stories have power—the power to heal both listener and teller, and to show us that we aren’t ever truly alone. Stories are powerful tools for building empathy and growing kindness. Those shared here are deeply personal yet profoundly universal. They reveal something about being human.

It’s a worthy mission and a fascinating, if heartbreaking, read.


It’s almost 10Q time! This is another cool web project. Inspired by the focus on reflection during the Jewish High Holidays, 10Q leads you through a series of daily questions that give you a chance to look back on what happened and what you learned over the course of the past year, and to chart a new path forward. I’ve been doing it for eight years now, and I always look forward to the day they email me my answers from last year so I can see how things shook out.


How about this poem by Sean Thomas Dougherty, “Why Bother?” I came across it the other while I was wondering why the fuck I committed to writing a regular newsletter about being nuts. 😝


And finally, Ram Dass, one of my favorite spiritual teachers, recently collaborated with Justin Boreta of the electronic group The Glitch Mob to produce this guided meditation with an ambient music accompaniment, and I HIGHLY RECOMMEND it. Do it alone or do it with a friend, but just do it.

How’s it going with you?

😘

Sara

p.s. If you liked this, please share it with someone who might like it too and have them subscribe here.

p.p.s. Happy September! This is my favorite month.

Tiny Revolutions №5: Interview with Ryan Williams

In which I talk to another person who has outed himself

Ryan WilliamsI was talking to a friend in the startup world recently about this newsletter, and she mentioned that I should meet Ryan Williams. As one of the few people in our industry who’s talking about mental health and how it impacts our work life, she thought we might have some things to talk about. 

And we did! We had a nice, long conversation about our experiences with depression and working in the generally crazy world of startups. So I’m trying something new in this issue and publishing some excerpts from that conversation.

Ryan is an author, podcaster, marketer and sometime standup comedian. He’s written a book called The Influencer Economy, and has given some talks at Google that he opens by detailing his experiences with depression. Here are some highlights from our talk.

On deciding to talk openly about dealing with depression:

I had to tell [my story] because I was ashamed that I was depressed. Which is very common. I did stand up comedy while I was depressed, and that would help me get out to connect with people. I later realized I was not as great on stage as I could be behind the scenes, so it helped me define my career path. But it was a very extreme measure to take at the time, and looking back now, I can’t believe I did it. It’s almost like it wasn’t me.

On his intentions:

It makes people pay attention, and it’s a good way to get people to listen to you, right? I used to be self-conscious about it. I would say, “Oh, I don’t want to tell my story and try to make a big deal about it.” And a friend gave me advice. He was like, “You lived through this. Why would you hide it? You’re not trying to like, cash in on this.” My bigger ambition is to actually give dedicated talks on mental wellness and burnout, and to develop more of a playbook for people, because that’s something I didn’t have. That’s something that no one talked about. My family didn’t get it. People from all over my life. I stopped being friends with people because of it. I had to fire my friends. There are people I don’t see anymore who I’ve spent a lot of time with, because they weren’t there for me. Some of them were intentionally not there, because their assumption was that if you’re depressed, you’re weak, right?

On the response he’s gotten:

I’ve had bad results and good results. The good results are from the people who reach out to me. I’ve done Skypes before with people. Like, “Oh that meant a lot to me when you did that episode about depression.” I interviewed this guy Brad Feld who’s a big investor at Techstars, and he talked about his mental health issues, and I got a lot of feedback from that. I wrote about it in my book. People will come up to me and say, “Hey, I was divorced two years ago, and I totally get it. It was awful.” And so that’s good. Conversation is good. It’s a start. And you know, really it’s listening. Like that’s the next phase and I think that’s harder.

But to your point, I think there’s a general awareness [of mental health issues], or lack thereof, and that’s where the conversation starters are. But really it’s listening. I think if you can’t listen and then have some sort of meaningful conversation about it, then just putting it on someone’s radar doesn’t matter. Because people just move on. We’re so inundated with news, or social media, or texting, or other distractions. Being present is so hard. So yeah, awareness is important and then listening and having some sort of meaningful conversation is the next step. And I think that’s where putting it out there matters to people.

**

We also talked some shit about comedians and wondered about whether Anthony Bourdain’s heavy drinking contributed to his decline — you can view the full transcript here. Thanks to Ryan for sharing his experiences. (If you’re in marketing, btw, I would highly recommend watching his Google talk about working with influencers. Really smart stuff.)

On to some stuff that’s intrigued and inspired me recently.


“I feel, therefore I am.”

This is a fascinating, short podcast episode of On Being with the playwright Eve Ensler, who’s most famous for The Vagina Monologues. Small snippet:

“I’m also thinking a lot lately that Descartes has so much to answer for — his idea, “I think therefore I am.” Western culture is so built around this overly cerebral, disembodied way we’ve created all of our institutions, and we’re impoverished by it. We’re so much smaller for it.”


We all suspected it, but it’s officialheavy use of social media has been linked to mental illness. Here’s a fascinating chart from the Economist on the impact broken down by platform.

How heavy use of social media is linked to mental illness - Daily chartIt’s interesting to also see proof of the positives here. Can we create a platform that maximizes the good while minimizing the bad? I doubt it, frankly. On the bright side? “The happiness rate is much higher for FaceTime (91%), a video-calling app, and phone calls (84%). When it comes to social networking, actual conversations are hard to beat.” Go on, call a friend. Or better yet, go see one.


One of my favorite Twitter feeds is @retsoor, the feed of one Jason Sebastian Russo, who, according to his website, does very, very many creative things. (Including touring and recording with the excellent band Mercury Rev, whose seminal album Deserter’s Songs just turned 20.) Here are a few of my favorites.

retsoor@retsoor

trebek: to comfort one another as time slowly murders our bodies

contestant: what is the point

May 21, 2017
retsoor@retsoor

them: listen to your body

your body: you can buy little debbie’s in bulk online

August 15, 2018
retsoor@retsoor

life hack: imagine what a braver version of yourself would do then do it

June 26, 2018


How about a poem?


And finally — I couldn’t end this without paying homage to the queen. Rest in power, Aretha.

😘

Sara

p.s. Reply to this email and let me know what you think of the interview. Should I make this an ongoing feature? Do you have questions you would like to ask, or someone I should talk to? I’d love to know.

p.p.s. Know someone who would like to join us in this Tiny Revolution? Have them subscribe here.

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