Saturday, December 28, 2013

Are you exploring?

The following is a write up of a talk I gave at the Christmas Wellington Test Professionals Network ...

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably have noticed I have a deep passion in history, which comes across in the sheer volume of history related facts that I retweet.  I'm not alone in this passion, as indeed my son shares the same interest.  He loves to read about it, to visit exhibits, but most of all to “experience” it.

He’s sometimes a bit disappointed with moving to New Zealand – England after all has history going back thousands of years, there are battlefields galore, and sites dating back to Roman or Norman times.  New Zealand in contrast was only colonised a few hundred years ago by Maori pioneers, with colonial Britain arriving in the 19th Century.

But when he heard that there was a World War II bunker at Baring Hill, near where we live in Wainuiomata, he knew he wanted to visit it.  We knew it was there, there’s a basic website warning us it’s a moderately difficult walk.  However there's no real information on the bunker itself, and Google doesn’t really provide us with much more to go on.

England itself is filled with remnants of fortifications thrown together to defend the country in a war that (thankfully) never came.  Likewise the Baring Hill bunker doesn't exist in history books because no documented history ever happened there, and yet it still existed in some form never the less.

This meant we just simply didn't know what to expect.  We still had images in our mind from our educated guesses.  We knew there was a lot of fear during World War II of invasion from Japan, and looking at a map, the position would overlook Wellington's harbour.  Thus we expected,
•    it to be the site of a giant fortification like those used by Germany to make “Fortress Europe”.
•    it was probably the site of a gun station – we didn't expect to see a cannon still there, but maybe some fixtures / turntable to show it was once there.
•    soldiers (maybe some form of home guard) would drive to the bunker to “do a shift” and then return home at the end of it

In other words, something a bit like this,

Our expectations

All the information we had to go on ...

Thursday, December 19, 2013

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas ...

Last year I published on LeanPub the short story The Elf Who Learned How To Test.

Not only did it get a great reception, but it was a lot of fun to write.  So much fun in fact that after Christmas, I realised there were a lot more tales I wanted to tell at the North Pole.

If you've only read the one story (the first version), I do encourage you to download again in time for Christmas.

Of course as ever, this book was a free resource for the testing community, but it's Christmas, and a time to typically to be thankful for what we have, and try and help others.  Another important thing behind The Elf Who Learned How To Test was as a fundraiser for Starship Kids Hospital.  It's a worthy cause that helps families dealing with caring for sick children - I encourage you to donate - even just a dollar or two.  Every bit helps.  You can donate here.

And of course, I wish you all the best for this upcoming Christmas, and for a great start to 2014!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Mental Health 107 - Finding support ...

Whether you suffer from depression, anxiety, bipolar, stress, or any of the many other conditions that impinge mental happiness, it’s not the end.  I can assure you, there will be good times again.

As I've said, an important trait to getting through is knowing when you've been through a similar phase, and that you can “get through it again”.  It’s a maturity which comes with experience and perspective of your condition.  I myself have always found A Beautiful Mind inspirational for the part where Russell Crow as John Nash notices something about his mental condition (his hallucinations don't age), and uses it to realise and battle his difficulties.

This week I was at a Whirlwind Men event and talking to other members of our Kapiti group who are at different stages on their road to mental wellness.  For myself, like John Nash I’d learned over the years to apply a scientific method to my mental state – trying to log down moods and feelings, and question why I felt them, cross checking it with what I'd done that day.

“Mentally checking in” or discussing how you feel about your current state of mind – is where events like Whirlwind Men can be useful, and I've used the Wellington Balance Group for people with bipolar, depression or anxiety to do much the same when I've felt myself under stress.

A system recommended by a lot of people at the groups I've been a part of is the WRAP Wellness Recovery Action Plan.  This is similar to the approach I take – recording how you feel, and also saying “on days when I feel down, I need to make sure I'm getting out and exercising and eating healthily, not junk comfort food” or “on weeks when I feel stressed, I need to be able to clear at least one whole day just for myself, with no to-do lists”.

In the end, a lot of coping comes down to marshalling your resources,

Close Support

Close support from friends and family is just such an incredibly important lifeline, I can’t understate it.  You don’t have to have the support from your entire family – some people who “get it” better than others, and can be mature about it.  But having just one person you can talk to and say “I’m just feeling a bit down today because of …” helps.  And it’s okay to say you’re down – it doesn't mean you need meds or to be carted to a care institute for feeling down, only if the frequency and intensity are too severe.

And let’s be frank – people can be upset or sad without having mental issues.  If you miss out on a promotion, your car has been vandalised, or you’re going through a break up – you’re going to “feel down”.  To an extent that’s natural.  But for some people, this can be triggers to much bigger issues, and they don’t bounce back from them.  Richard who ended up off for 3 months after attending a funeral is an example of this.

One thing I would suggest though is that if you do open to friends and family about your feelings when you’re depressed, it’s important that you also show them the “other side of the coin”.  Like the news we can overtalk about the “bad stuff” in our life, and forget to say when we've come out of the woods a bit.

It’s also so essential to keep the relationship intact.  I've a friend in Wellington who has been going through an intense and emotional breakup, and we've been talking and meeting up a lot.  But then about 3 weeks ago, they seemed to “vanish”, not appearing at events and not answering texts.  I was concerned they were in the pits of depression, and wondering to just turn up uninvited – then found out that simply they’d met another person, starting dating and “life was good again”.  But didn't think to mention.

Although usually a patient person, I was somewhat annoyed at this - this individual is very good at telling me when something goes wrong, but less so about the good stuff.  But the lesson is key, if you are “sharing the rough” of your life with someone, make sure you’re also “sharing the smooth”.

Professional Help

Close support is wonderful for getting through the day-to-day, but my friend Ryan Edwards reminded me this week that every so often it “always helps to keep yourself on track by making visits to trusted experts” such as the doctor.  They can talk to you about what might be up with you – for myself I found getting a diagnosis such as “post-traumatic stress” helped me because it allowed me to investigate about the condition, read up, understand it, find out ways other people used to limit it and cope.

However many people worry about being treated as labels, where in truth each mental health sufferer although having some common traits will have some areas which are unique to them.  For example, I might have had post-traumatic stress, but the events that caused it were very unique to me.

It’s really important you build a relationship with your doctor, you need to trust them.  Try and find one you like, and then always use them – don’t talk about these kind of things which “whatever doctor’s available”.

I know many people who feel dread going to the doctors, that they’re just going to be lectured to.  Most doctors aren't like that.  If you do find your doctor feels like that, it’s worth trying another, or even saying “I don’t feel comfortable talking to you about my mental health, is there someone else I can talk to?”.  You are often well within your rights to.

Your doctor might suggest things like medication or counselling.  My advice would be to neither say “yes” or “no” right away, but to discuss it, what they would mean, how would it help.  A good doctor is making a suggestion, putting an option on the table, and you really need to explore it together.  Many people call this a “partnership” between yourself and your doctor to review and try out options to help you.

Peer Groups

This is where I believe a “diagnosis” or “label” can help.  Because you can seek out like-minded support groups.

I'm a part of Whirlwind, which has regular meetings (about 4 a year) of men who are going through various challenges.  It’s a forum for men to just be open about their feelings, to share stories, experience, pains.  It’s a great support group, and I have to drive over an hour to attend from where I live, but it’s always worth it.

Likewise I've used the Wellington Balance group which is a monthly circle where you can “check in” with a group of peers about how your month has gone, the challenges you've had, and how it’s left you feeling.  It’s a powerful thing to be able to be open with people who “just get it” because they’re in a similar boat to you, and to know you’re not alone.

Here is another example where Google can be your friend, there might be a group in your area, just try “depression support group”, and see where it takes you.  By the way, I should point out it's quite normal to feel very nervous going to any one of these events - I was close to bottling out of my first Whirlwind day, and often people on their first visit tell a similar story, but also of how glad they are that they didn't give in to the nerves.

Online Support

There is a lot of online support out there for people with depression or anxiety – often explaining about the condition that affects you, and suggesting thing you can do to help yourself.

  • The NZ Depression Helpline is particularly good (and yes, you can access this outside of New Zealand).
  • More youth orientated is the Lowdown, which I've explored and also found a really good resource I refer people to.
  • I obviously cannot recommend the Whirlwind site or Martin Sloman enough.

These are just a few sites I recommend, but once again here, Google is your friend.