I’ve Reached a Plateau

Photo by Edoardo Frezet on Unsplash

For those who don’t know, back in April, I had a major depressive episode. I was miserable. For a few weeks, my best days consisted of getting out of bed before noon and eating something before curling up on the couch for the rest of the day. I often struggled getting myself back upstairs to go to sleep. I worked with my therapist and doctor to get out of it, but now I have another problem.

This summer, when people asked me how I was doing, I started saying stable. I have a mood tracker app called Daylio. Each day, I put in how that day went on a scale from awful, to bad, to meh, to good, to rad. It also lets me track what I did each day: what I ate, whether I exercised, what chores I did and things like that. That way, I have some idea what contributes to my moods. In April and most of May, my moods were consistently awful or bad. By June they were consistently just bad with an occasional meh. Since July, my moods have been pretty consistently meh with occasional bads. That felt like progress until we got to September. Two and a half months of meh and it feels like I’ve stalled. I’m still stable, and mostly functional, but it’s frustrating to be stuck at meh. I’ve been talking to my therapist and doctor about it, and we’ve tried some things, but nothing we’ve tried has worked so far.

Psyche just ran an article about thriving after mental illness. It starts by talking about how many patients with mental illness plateau. The authors blame this on the focus on symptom reduction. Instead, they say, we should be looking at overall wellbeing. They came up with a psychological wellbeing scale and gave a questionnaire to a large group of people. Those who scored in the top 25% were considered thriving. They then gave the same questionnaire to people who had been diagnosed with a mental illness. They found that around 10% of people who had had a mental illness fit the criteria for thriving. Now they are moving on to try to figure out the difference between those 10% and the other 90%.

I think the article was supposed to be hopeful, letting us know that thriving is possible. I found that it just compounded my frustrations. It’s hard to stop asking, why have I plateaued? And why did I have to plateau at meh? There are also a bunch of open questions. For instance, if I didn’t have depression, would I be thriving or would I be in the 75% of regular people who fall below that threshold? How happy is it reasonable for me to believe I could be? And how much of it is within my control? Depression or no, money would still be tight; I’d still be busy and stressed.

At this point, though, I’m not even worried about thriving. I just want to be happy. Even if I still have meh days, I’d like to mix in some good days with them. That would feel like progress. I’ve almost forgotten what a good day feels like. I don’t think I’m being greedy. I just can’t figure out how to get where I want to be.

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Whose Responsibility?

The above meme was shared with a mental health group I’m part of on LinkedIn. This turned out to be rather controversial. Some people commented along the lines of “100% agree!” while others said the meme itself is triggering and has no place in a mental health forum. I see both sides clearly and don’t know what to think of it.

My natural inclination is to be in complete agreement. I’m consistently mortified by anyone having to change their behavior because of me. I don’t want to be a bother to anyone, ever. One trivial example is going out to eat. I’m a very picky eater. But I am willing to go with people to virtually any restaurant. What it comes down to is I’m the unusual one. Why should I disrupt everyone else. I don’t care about food that much anyway. I’ll go and enjoy the company even if I have to eat something when I get home.

My therapist is always pushing back on that, telling me that it’s not bothering anyone. In fact, people are often happy to be able to help. She’s right, of course. I can make my preferences known without putting anyone out. The same is true with my mental health. Despite my therapist’s best efforts, though, it’s a very sticky feeling/belief.

On the other side, I see clearly that mental illness is not just, maybe not even primarily, an internal/individual issue. Contrary to what stoicism and some other things teach, we are all part of a community, and we need to be part of that community to be healthy. Part of being a part of a community is letting others know our wants and needs. Another part is relying on those others to respect and accept those wants and needs. On this view, the meme is clearly wrong.

So, my instincts are to do what the meme says, but my considered opinion is that the meme is too harsh. That probably means I should try to find a happy medium somewhere. What do you think? Yay or nay on the meme?

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Fiction Friday: “The Saiyans Arrive, Part 1”


Welcome to a new feature of Nutmegger Daily, Fiction Friday! Each week we’re going to try and post a work of fiction to compliment our typical nonfiction writing. We hope you enjoy the stories that we post here!


I started my writing career with Dragon Ball fanfiction, and it’s always been something I wanted to return to. This story is part one of a fanfiction rewrite of the battle between the Z Fighters and Nappa when the Saiyans arrive on Earth. I think this is where the human cast of the manga started to become irrelevant, so my goal was to give them a little more shine in my version. I’d really appreciate any feedback on this to incorporate in my writing going forward.

* * *

A wave of nausea swept over Gohan as he felt a presence over the horizon. He’d learned to sense energies from anticipating Piccolo’s dark yet airy aura long before he could see him during their year-long preparations. Yet this time Piccolo was standing next to him. His arms were folded, and he was staring off towards the horizon.

Which meant what he was sensing now was the Saiyans. 

“Get ready Gohan.”

“Yes, Mr. Piccolo.”

He could feel the heaviness of the Saiyan’s power in the direction Piccolo was looking. There were two different sources. One was physically large, and felt like a foot was pressing down on Gohan’s chest, squeezing the air out. The other, while smaller, was far more intense. It jabbed into Gohan like knives. 

“Mr. Piccolo…”

“Yeah, I know kid. We’ll wait for them to come to us. Hopefully the others will have arrived by then.”

“What about arriving now?” came a familiar voice from above. Gohan looked up to see the sun shine off of Krillin’s freshly shaved head. He’d been so focused on the Saiyans that he didn’t feel Krillin approaching. His aura was warm and fuzzy, like a cotton ball. 

“Krillin!” Gohan cried, running over and hugging the man who was barely taller than him.

“Wow Gohan, you’ve grown so much in just a year. And your power! We might actually have a chance to win this thing!” he said, rubbing Gohan’s overgrown hair. He turned towards Piccolo. The last time they’d spoken was during the last tenkaichi, when Piccolo had nearly killed him. Their eyes met for a moment before a wry smile crossed Krillin’s face. He extended his hand towards him.

“Glad we’re fighting together this time,” he said. “I don’t think I can take another one of those stretchy punches of yours.”

Piccolo grunted, but shook his hand. “You survived it, which is more than most people can say. You’re not completely worthless.”

Krillin laughed. “High praise coming from the resurrected Demon King.” He turned to face the horizon as well. His smile quickly faded. “We need Goku. Tien and Yamcha will help, but all of us together can’t take these guys without Goku.”

Piccolo grunted again. He’d plotted Goku’s death for years, and here he was now hoping that he would arrive from the afterlife in time to save him. “We’ll try to goad them into fighting us one at a time. That should buy us some time at least.”

“Are you out of your mind? You’re the only one here who even has a chance against one of those guys.”

“Nice to know you think so highly of me.” 

“So we’re just supposed to stall and die until Goku arrives?”

“Yes!” Piccolo snapped. “You’re in reserves since you’ve already died once. The others can be brought back when the Saiyans kill them.”


“Our best bet is to try and drag this out, making them tired. Yamcha and Tien are weak, but they’re experts so they might be able to last a bit. The kid might be able to make them sweat too, we’ll see. When Goku arrives, we can combine forces and take them down.”

Krillin looked over at Gohan. His eyes were watering. He must have heard Piccolo talking about their deaths. But behind the fear, Krillin could see a glimmer of determination. He took a moment to size up the child. His spiky, jet black hair hung over his eyes and down past his shoulders, held barely in check with a makeshift hair tie. He wore the same purple gi as Piccolo, but with a red belt across his waist. 

Krillin was most surprised by Gohan’s aura. The kid was strong. Very strong. His aura was almost like Goku’s, but there was a softness to it that Krillin assumed came from Chi Chi, a powerful woman in her own right. There was something else too, an unfocused, frenetic energy that bounced around inside of him. A potential that might be enough to save them. He chuckled to himself. I’m hoping that a six year old can save the planet. We’re really screwed.

“How are you feeling Gohan?” he asked softly.

“I’m ready to fight!” he said, fists clenched.

“Good, because we’re in for a doozy.”

“Quiet! They’re on the move!” Piccolo said. Gohan could feel it too. The two auras were blazing across the sky now. They were headed right towards them. Gohan’s heart was pounding in his ears. He looked up at Piccolo. His eyes were set and his jaw clenched. Next he looked over to Krillin. The monk looked down at him and smiled, giving him a thumbs up. The two were totally different, but Gohan felt that there was no one better to rely on in the upcoming battle.

He opened his mouth to speak but a shiver across his body stopped him. He turned and looked up to the sky. Two figures floated directly above. They wore armor like Raditz, the Saiyan warrior who had kidnapped him a year ago. One of the Saiyans was gigantic. He was even taller than Piccolo, with muscles rippling across his massive arms and legs. A cruel grin crossed his face under a thin mustache. The smaller Saiyan was only a little taller than Krillin, save for his hair, which pointed straight up and stood nearly a meter tall on its own. He glared at them from behind a red scouter, his expression blank. 

“Be ready Gohan,” Piccolo whispered between gritted teeth. 

“Is that them Vegeta?” the large Saiyan asked.

“Must be, Nappa,” he replied. “Let’s go say hello.”

The two warriors descended quickly, landing only a few meters away from earth’s heroes. They stared at each other for a moment, sizing up the other side’s power and resolve.

“Leave this planet now,” Piccolo yelled across the divide. “Or face the same fate as your comrade who dared to challenge us a year ago.”

Vegeta laughed mockingly. “You’re the Namekian, I see. You think that because you managed to beat Raditz that you have any hope against Nappa or myself?” 

“That’s right. I’ve learned the truth about my origins, and I know that Namekians are a proud race that can go toe to toe with you Saiyan scum!”

“That one hurt,” Nappa said. He stepped from behind Vegeta, slamming his fist into his open palm. “He called us scum, Vegeta. I think I should teach this slug some respect.” 

Vegeta opened his mouth to speak, but the crimson scouter over his left eye beeped suddenly. “Hold it Nappa, we have more guests coming. Two- no, three power levels from the southwest. We shouldn’t be rude and start the party before they arrive.” 

Krillin eased out of his fighting stance a bit. He too could sense their friends approaching. Chiaotzu’s aura felt like a bubble, while his best friend’s Tien was solid and uncompromising, like a boulder. To their right was Yamcha. His ki was wild and unpredictable, like a pack of wolves tearing through the forest. 

“I don’t know how much of a difference they’re going to make, Piccolo.” He muttered under his breath. He knew his superior hearing would pick up what the Saiyans couldn’t. “They’re stronger than before, but these guys are nightmares.”

Piccolo grunted in agreement. He’d already thrown out his “war of attrition” strategy. It was clear that these Saiyans would destroy them one at a time. He walked slowly over to Krillin, never taking his eyes off of Vegeta. Gohan followed closely behind him. His gaze was fixed on Nappa. He’d never seen someone so big before. 

“The new plan is to go all out at the beginning. All of us attack. Maybe we’ll land some lucky hits in the fray, and keep them on their toes long enough for Goku to show up. Are you ready?”

“Yeah,” Krillin said, then laughed. “To think there’s a whole planet of Gokus. The universe has a sick sense of humor.” 

“You ready Gohan?”


He looked up and saw their allies approaching. Yamcha was wearing an orange gi identical to what his father and Krillin wore. His hair was wild, cascading down across his shoulders. He landed and smiled, and Gohan could see the battle scars that adorned his face. 

“Hey Krillin, long time no see. Wish it was under better circumstances.”

“You and me both.”

“You must be Gohan! Pleasure to meet you little bud. I’m Yamcha,” he said, shaking hands with him. “And I guess we’re working together Piccolo?”

“For now.”

“How’d I know you were going to say that?”

Next to him landed a tall man. He was bald, with no shirt and bright green pants. His most dominant feature was the third eye in the center of his forehead. It looked at him, and Gohan turned suddenly, embarrassed he’d been caught staring.

“Is that Goku’s boy?” he asked.

“Yeah, can you believe it? Barely six and already stronger than all of us.” 

“Just like Goku. We’ll have to get properly introduced after all this kid, but for now call me Tien. And this is my partner, Chiaotzu.” Gohan hadn’t even seen the mime-like boy floating directly behind Tien. He waved and smiled, and Gohan waved back. 

“Is that it or are we waiting for more losers?” Vegeta asked.

For a moment Piccolo thought about asking them to wait for Goku to show up, but no. He didn’t want to show them how desperate he was already feeling. “Ignore that clown,” he said, turning to the gathered warriors. “The plan is to-”

“It doesn’t matter what your stupid plan is!” Nappa shouted. He charged a small ball of energy in his hand and tossed it lazily towards the group. Everyone easily avoided it as the small explosion threw dirt and debris up. “I’ll take you all on, right now!”

“Looks like he’s doing your job for you,” Krillin said to Piccolo.

Vegeta laughed. “The six of them versus you? That might almost be worth watching.” He turned to his opponents. “What do you say? Or do you still want to use your little strategy?”

Piccolo hesitated. He’d hoped that by ganging up on them he’d have the element of surprise on his side and score a mortal blow in the fray. But now they were expecting it. Still, they gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse: fighting Nappa alone instead of both of them. 

“We’ll fight on your terms, Saiyan. Don’t blame us for your fate though.” The warriors assumed their fighting stances. Gohan copied his mentor’s style, crouching and raising his hands in attack position.

Nappa laughed as he approached, “Usually maggots like you beg for your lives when we show up. I’m going to enjoy beating you until you beg for death instead!” He brought his hands up, ready to fight. They stared down the Saiyan, waiting for someone to make a move.

Gohan saw Yamcha’s eyes flick towards Tien. The three-eyed warrior returned the glance, and instantly they dashed forward. Yamcha shot out to the left, while Tien approached from the right. Chiaotzu floated up, closing his eyes to concentrate. Blue energy began to surround him, growing in intensity. 

Nappa watched as the humans launched themselves at him. They were painfully slow compared to his reflexes. He could sense that the three-eyed human was stronger than the other, and turned his attention towards him. He drew his arm back to deliver a crushing blow to his skull.

Chiaotzu’s eyes snapped open. He thrust his palms forward. Instantly the same blue energy appeared around Nappa’s raised hand. He motioned to bring his arm down, but found it frozen by the strange energy.

“What the-” he grunted as he yanked at his own arm. It was the opening Tien needed. He slammed his fist into Nappa’s unguarded jaw, knocking the massive fighter into the air. Yamcha jumped up to meet him.

“Rogafufuken!” he shouted, channeling his ki into his fists and striking Nappa with the force of a wolf’s bite. Nappa was staggered, but he recovered quickly and landed on his feet. 

“You bastards are going to pay for that!” he growled through gritted teeth. He went to charge at them, but found the blue energy was now anchoring his feet in place. 

“Krillin!” Piccolo shouted.


The two moved so quickly that Gohan lost track of their movements as their bodies turned into blurs. Seconds later he heard the air wheeze out of Nappa’s lungs as Krillin struck him in the sternum. He doubled over, and Piccolo reappeared behind him. He struck Nappa at the base of his skull with a vicious slicing hand. Nappa crashed face first into the ground. Piccolo and the others backed off for a moment to size up the situation. He knew they hadn’t defeated the Saiyan, not by a long shot. But had they even truly hurt him?

Gohan stared in awe. This was the first fight he’d ever seen; for most of the battle with Raditz he was trapped in his spaceship. Not only were his allies fast and strong, but they coordinated their attacks with barely a word. Although he could clearly still feel Nappa’s energy, he began to think they had a chance at victory. 

Vegeta’s cackle broke Gohan’s reverie. “What’s the matter, Nappa? Bit off more than you can chew?” He turned towards Earth’s fighters. “Not bad. I can almost see how you managed to kill a fool like Raditz. But Nappa is in a different league.” On cue, Nappa stirred. He pushed himself up and stood before his opponents. To their dismay, he was smiling. 

“This is going to be fun,” he said, wiping the dirt off the black chest plates of his armor. “I thought I might kill you all too fast, but I’m going to enjoy making you suffer.” Nappa took a deep breath as he gathered his power. Gohan braced himself against the surge. It felt like a black hole had suddenly appeared before him, drawing him in with its overwhelming power. The stronger he became, the harder Gohan found it to resist. He thought he would fall in to the Saiyan’s vortex.

“Brace yourself Gohan!” Piccolo shouted. “The next time we attack, you need to be ready!”

“Yes Mr. Piccolo!” he said, planting his feet and standing firm. Above them, Chiatotzu was gathering his own energy to immobilize the Saiyan again. 

“I see you!” Nappa snapped, looking up at Chiaotzu. He fired a concussion wave at him. It hit him like a truck, and sent the tiny warrior spiraling back towards the ground. 

“We gotta attack before he finishes powering up!” Krillin yelled. Tien and Yamcha approached again, criss-crossing their paths to confuse Nappa. Piccolo charged straight ahead with Krillin close behind. 

“You’re all dead!” Nappa vanished, and reappeared in front of Tien. He was caught off guard by the speed of the giant Saiyan, and did nothing to defend against the left fist that hit him in the ribs. Tien gasped as he heard the sound of cracking bone. Nappa kicked him in the chest, sending him flying across the battlefield. He turned to Yamcha, attacking with a backhand blow that caused him to spin as he was knocked into a nearby outcropping of rocks. Piccolo and Krillin were on him by then, and the three exchanged a flurry of blows too fast for Gohan to follow. Nappa knocked Krillin away, leaving Piccolo to face him alone.

“Don’t be too eager to die, Namekian. We still need you to tell us about the Dragon Balls!” Nappa taunted him as he easily deflected Piccolo’s attacks.

“Like scum like you could ever hope to kill me!” he said, pressing his attack.

Tien finally sat up, wincing at the tearing pain radiating from his ribs. He touched them lightly, relieved that they were only cracked, not broken. He scanned the battlefield for a moment. Krillin and Yamcha were gathering themselves and preparing to attack again while Gohan looked on. Where was Chiaotzu? He searched frantically for his friend, casting out his senses to detect his life force. He felt him back a few meters. His life force was weakened, but steady. 

“Hey, are you okay?” he asked, picking Chiaotzu up off the ground. 

“This guy is too strong Tien. I don’t think we can do this without Goku,” he said, wiping the blood from his scrapes. “Unless we do something drastic.” 

“Like what? What’s your plan?”

“A kamikaze attack. He won’t see it coming.”

“No Chiaotzu, you can’t. You’ve already been brought back by the dragon, we can’t bring you back twice!”

“If this keeps going, he’ll kill us all anyway. At least this way, it’s only me. I’ve been practicing this as a last resort for the last year. It’ll work Tien.” He began to gather his energy around him. 


“Tien, you’ve been my best friend for longer than I can remember. I’m going to miss you, but I know I’ll see you again someday, after you’ve lived a long, happy life.” His aura grew in intensity, sending tendrils of energy whipping out around him. It was more power than Tien had ever felt him gather. Too much power.

“Stop, there has to be another way!”

“Goodbye, Tien.” Chiaotzu smiled. His energy spiked, and he blasted towards Nappa with incredible speed, his aura propelling him like a rocket. Yamcha and Krillin had rejoined the fight, and they and Piccolo sensed the jet of power coming their way. They quickly jumped back to avoid the attack.

The scouter on Vegeta’s face beeped, detecting the surge of energy that was approaching. “Nappa! Look out!” The other Saiyan turned just in time to see Chiaotzu smash into his stomach, cracking his armor. Chiaotzu extended his aura, enveloping both of them in his energy which continued to grow. 

“You little runt! Let me go!” Nappa said, slamming his fists into Chiaotzu. 

“Prepare yourself, Saiyan. I’m taking you to hell with me!” he shot into the sky, carrying Nappa with him. His aura looked like a second sun, a ball of blazing blue energy that was still getting larger. 

“Chiaotzu!” Tien cried out. There was a flash, followed by a deafening explosion. The shockwave knocked Gohan off his feet, and sent dirt and debris flying in every direction. Tien dropped to his knees, fighting back tears. There would be time to properly mourn his friend later. For now, they still had the stronger Saiyan to deal with. 

“Nice try,” Vegeta said, as if reading Tien’s mind. “But a waste in the end.”

The earth’s warriors looked on in horror as the smoke cleared above them. Nappa’s armor was shattered and his skin was burnt and bleeding in several places. His scouter was destroyed and even the hair on his tail was singed. But he was still very much alive, with barely any drop in his life force.

“That little runt saved me the trouble of killing him myself,” he chuckled. “So which one of you is next?”

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Is ‘Mood Disorder’ a Good Name for What They Are? (In Progress)

A couple weeks ago, I posted an apology because I couldn’t get my Monday mental health piece written. I was talking to my therapist lately and she said that I should have posted what I did have written even though it wasn’t finished. It could provide insight both into the writing process and the depressed brain. Well, it’s happened again. I started this piece, but I just don’t have the energy to finish it. Here is what I have so far.

I have a mood disorder, depression. “Mood disorder” has always seemed to me like an odd way to describe it, though. The mood part of it has always seemed more like a symptom of the condition than the heart of the condition. I don’t have as much experience with other mood disorders like anxiety, bipolar, or seasonal affective disorder, but, from the outside,

According to the Mayo Clinic, a mood disorder is, “If you have a mood disorder, your general emotional state or mood is distorted or inconsistent with your circumstances and interferes with your ability to function.”

If the mood changes are a symptom, then it’s definitely weird to call them mood disorders. That would be like calling the flu a mucus disorder. I don’t know why, but calling them mood disorders feels wrong. It implies that there’s nothing deeper than the mood changes. If that’s right, it would mess with me.

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All Applicants Should Be Anonymous

Photo by Andrea Lightfoot on Unsplash

Applying for things sucks. And we have to apply for lots of things. We apply for jobs, schools, and clubs. We apply for loans, credit cards, and financial aid. We apply for scholarships, insurance, and governmental benefits. This isn’t a complete list, by any means, but it gives a good idea of the ubiquity of applications. All of these things that we’re applying for suffer from the same set of interrelated problems: favoritism, racism, sexism, ablism, nepotism, classism, anti-LGBTQIA+ discrimination, agism, and good old-fashioned bigotry. Luckily, there’s an easy fix for all these problems and more as well: anonymous applications.

The fact that there are problems with hiring, school selection, and all the other things we apply for should be obvious. All but the wealthy and well-connected have most likely experienced one or more of the problems. But there has been plenty of empirical research done on the topic as well. Perhaps the most famous example is the studies that show that job applicants with “black-sounding names” are less likely to be called for an interview than an identical applicant with a “white-sounding name”. It is well known that credit decisions often factor in zip codes rather than an applicant’s creditworthiness. And schools are so aware of admissions discrimination that they are seemingly always adjusting their criteria to “rebalance” admissions and getting sued by whichever group feels left out.

Before getting to the how and why, it would be best to explain exactly what is meant by anonymous applicants. It isn’t just submitting an application without a name. All information that might be used to identify an applicant has to be stripped from the whole process. Name, address, and phone number are pretty obvious, but it goes deeper than that. Cover letters and interviews are non-starters. Dates of employment or graduation can be used to estimate how old a candidate is, so they’ve got to go. Hobbies, volunteer work, and charities supported can be clues as to how rich the applicant is, so they’re gone, too. Even email addresses can be used to guess ethnicity (because full or partial names are so often a part of the address), so none of those either. No identifying characteristics can be shared at all.

In order to do this, the onus must flip from the applicant describing themselves and saying why they would be a good fit to the organization describing the position/qualifications/etc. and asking if the applicant is a good fit. Each candidate could be assigned a random number and simple yes or no questions would do. That gives the organization all the information they need and doesn’t divulge anything else. There would have to be safeguards that the candidate is answering the questions truthfully. But that’s not much different than it is now. People lie on their applications as it is. There just needs to be a stipulation that a lie forfeits the acceptance.

To give an idea what an application may look like in the new system, consider these application questions:

  • Can you lift and carry fifty-pound bags: Yes or No?
  • Is your debt-to-income ratio below 40%: Yes or No?
  • Is your GPA over 3: Yes or No?
  • Have you been out of work for 30 consecutive days: Yes or No?

Why such a drastic change to the status quo? Well, it’s partly to fix the problems mentioned above. Ageism is impossible if no one knows the candidate’s age. Same for race, gender, and everything else. But there’s more to it than that. The application process does not, and has never, worked well. All the hoops candidates jump through don’t come close to ensuring the best applicant is picked. The application process rewards people who are good at the application process- people who write a good cover letter, give a good interview, and work their connections effectively. At no point does it look at who would be the best fit or who deserves the loan or anything else that matters.

There will be objections, of course, to such a big change. Some of the objections will come from the applicants themselves while others would come from the places they are applying to. Applicants are most likely to complain that they don’t have any way of standing out. The thing is, that’s kind of the whole point. In the current system, there is no fair way to stand out. It comes down to connections and resources. It might be disappointing for people who attended elite schools that they no longer help beyond the education they give, but we’d be better off that way. It’s kind of like setting up a Rawlsian Veil of Ignorance in the application process. The only thing that matters is whether a person is qualified, so we need to stop asking for anything else.

The places accepting and rejecting applications will have a different complaint. They will complain about not getting to know the candidates before making a decision. Again, that’s the whole point. As things stand, organizations don’t really get to know their applicants, at least not as people. They get to know some person acting like they are the best loan candidate/scholar/employee who ever lived. They get to know who’s better at applying than other people. The new system would give organizations all they need. Plus, it would save them time and money in processing, interviewing, and all that.

Anonymous applicants would be a big change, but it would be worth it. It would make sense to start in the financial sector and work out from there. And there would probably be a time where small organizations are exempt since they lack the resources to effectively anonymize their applicants. It might take five years for a full rollout. But think of all the people it will help. It will help all marginalized groups. It will help the poor and middle class. It will help the inexperienced and the over-experienced. The only people it might hurt are the wealthy and well connected. Except it wouldn’t really hurt them as much as put them in the same position as everyone else. That seems like a small price to pay to help everyone else in society.

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A Sincere Question about Contemporary Pop Music

Photo by Sašo Tušar on Unsplash

I just got home from a family vacation with two teens and two tweens. Throughout the trip, the young people controlled the music, so I heard a lot of contemporary pop music. I noticed something as I was listening. Many of the songs sounded as if they were incomplete. Not all of them, but a significant number felt like I was listening to a demo instead of a fully realized and mastered release. The songs often sounded like they were at the stage where the songwriter presents them to the rest of the band to get fleshed out. This raises the simple question of why. Why do so many of today’s finished songs sound unfinished?

Last week, I particularly noticed the unfinished sound in Post Malone and Khalid, but the first time I ever noticed it was way back in 2013. Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’ came out late in the year, and it was everywhere. It’s not unpleasant as it is, but I find it incredibly frustrating. It doesn’t even sound like it’s ready for the band. It sounds like an idea for a song, quickly recorded so Williams wouldn’t forget it.

There are only two reasons that I can think of for unfinished songs to get released. First, it could be an aesthetic choice and I’m just old and out of touch. Maybe these artists just like the sparse sound of computer-generated backing under their vocals. To my ears, it lacks soul, but, again, I’m old. Get off my lawn.

The other reason I can think of is that record labels have become too cheap to spring for a backing band. People will basically listen to whatever they put out, so why bother making complete tracks when demos will do? It’s probably good for the labels’ bottom line.

I suppose it could be a combination of both reasons. Whatever the reason, I’ve decided I don’t like listening to incomplete songs. It’s great that the kids enjoy it, and I’m not the target audience anyway. I do feel a little bad if it’s the second reason, though. Who knows what we might be missing?

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The Seventh First Day of School

Photo by MChe Lee on Unsplash

Today is my kid’s first day of middle school. Sixth grade. Crazy. Every year, I mark the first day of school with some musings. (If you want, you can read about the other six first days of school here, here, here, here, here, and here.) Nothing big, just what’s going through my mind as my kid starts a new year. This year, though, I have no idea what to think.

My kid was more nervous than usual. It’s a new school with new kids and much bigger than their last school. Plus, they were the biggest in the school last year, but the smallest this year. I’m sure they’ll be fine, though. A few days or a week and everything will be old hat.

I’m not feeling much of anything. Well, that’s not exactly true. I guess it would be more accurate to say I’m not feeling anything very strongly. I’m concerned about Covid still, even though the CDC and the school system keep acting like there’s nothing there. And I’m concerned about monkeypox. But compared to the last two years, those are mild concerns. I’m also concerned about the teacher shortage and how it will impact the kids. But I compare it to the last two years again and ask myself if it can be any worse.

Maybe I’m just jaded by the past two years. I’m not excited or nervous or any of that. I feel like we’ve seen it all. How about some other parents? What are you feeling about the new school year?

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Burnout vs. Depression

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Last week, I wrote about a border case between physical and mental health, insomnia. That got me thinking about other border cases. Border cases can be hard to diagnose, which makes getting treatment difficult. As I’ve talked about before, I had trouble getting diagnosed with depression. That’s because, from where I was, I couldn’t see the whole picture. It took help from family and friends, as well as medical professionals, to get me in the right kind of treatment.

A particularly difficult border case is between burnout and depression. I know I thought my depression was burnout for quite a while before getting help. It made some amount of sense. I was working full time, raising a young kid, and getting divorced simultaneously. Nearly all of my symptoms could have been explained with burnout including my insomnia, my eating poorly, my low mood, and my lack of interest in things that I usually enjoy. I was overextended and very stressed.

How did I get past my burnout theory to arrive at depression? Well, at the time, I had no idea that the above symptoms were also symptoms of depression. My mind never looked in that direction. (That’s partly why I think this is an important conversation.) Instead, I just kept telling myself, “I just need some time off work.” But I took a vacation and had no improvement. I also kept telling myself, “I just need the divorce finalized. Then things will get better.” But the divorce was finalized with no changes in my mood.

To say that I was disappointed would be an understatement. I had removed two of my big stressors and didn’t feel any better. If anything, I felt even worse. Burnout couldn’t explain it anymore, certainly not the feelings of failure and worthlessness that followed the divorce. After a brief period of wondering if mourning (another border case) could explain it, I finally called my doctor. It was my GP who gave me my first depression questionnaire and got me on the path to treatment.

I think that’s why I’m writing this. The burnout theory was a dead end, but I couldn’t recognize it as such. If I had only known what to look for, I could have sought treatment earlier and maybe things wouldn’t have gotten so bad. We’ll never really know, but it’s plausible. Maybe someone is going through what I went through and will read this and get the help they need.

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Is Insomnia a Mental Illness?

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I want to start with a disclaimer, but I want to encourage you to keep reading anyway. I am not an expert, medical or otherwise, on insomnia. I’m just some dope who has suffered with insomnia most of my adult life. Plus, I have access to several internet search engines. Insomnia and search engines are a dangerous combination, to be sure, but I have tried to use them responsibly. As for why you should keep reading, sometimes non-experts, especially those with experience, have something worthwhile to say.

Is insomnia a mental illness? On some level, that’s an easy question. Yes, insomnia is a mental illness. It’s listed in the DSM and everything. On another level, though, it becomes a very tricky question. What, exactly, is insomnia? What causes it? What cures it? We need to at least answer these questions to answer our main question.

What Is Insomnia?

For our purposes, we can say that insomnia is difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, or sleep not being restorative. The DSM definition goes on to say that insomnia is not caused by any other mental or physical condition, but that’s question begging, so we’ll drop that part. In actual fact, insomnia is a condition on its own, but more often than not it is a symptom of other conditions. On the mental side, it’s a symptom of depression and anxiety and many other disorders. On the physical side, it’s a side effect of drug and alcohol use. It can be a symptom of poor diet or chronic pain or many other ailments.

That’s not hugely helpful. Insomnia isn’t just one thing. There are different kinds of insomnia. Some seem more physical, and others seem more mental. So, I guess we’re on to the next question.

What Causes Insomnia?

I feel like I just answered this question, but not in a helpful way. For insomnia as its own thing, no one really knows what causes it. For all the other types of insomnia there’s depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol use, poor diet, chronic pain, and on and on. Stress is a major cause of insomnia. To be helpful, I might even say that stress is the major cause of insomnia. When you look at all the different causes, stress is the thing they all have in common. Anything that makes a person uncomfortable or disrupts routines is a cause of insomnia.

What Cures Insomnia?

This will seem pretty obvious but fixing whatever the underlying cause of insomnia is good start for curing it. But this is where it gets interesting. There are lots of ways to prevent insomnia. Many of them are mental and many others are physical. Mindfulness, meditation, and developing routines all help. But it also helps to have a comfortable bed and pillow and only trying to sleep when you’re tired. Eating right and at the right times helps. Not watching TV or other screens before bed helps. The temperature in the bedroom even makes a difference.

What does it all mean?

Here’s the thing. When looking at all of this, insomnia turns out to be the ultimate border case. It’s physical, but not wholly physical and it’s mental, but not wholly mental. It’s right on the line and can go either way. Anyone who has dealt with insomnia probably grasped that intuitively. I’ve had both my doctor and my therapist tell me to get exercise, which is clearly physical. But they’s also both told me to try meditative techniques which are clearly mental. Insomnia is a mix.

That’s why the titular question is so hard to answer. Is insomnia a mental illness? Yes. Unless it’s caused by something physical. Then, no. Or maybe yes anyway. It’s tricky. What do you think? Mental illness or not?

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Political and Social Creativity

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One of the biggest problems facing humanity is a general lack of imagination. People may object to this statement, but we are a very conservative species. People act like all of our problems are merely variations on a theme and they only consider a handful of solutions to deal with all of them. It doesn’t have to be this way. At least some people are creative. What would it take to make it more widespread?

Before getting into it, I want to mention what I don’t mean. I don’t mean innovation circles or any of that corporate/Silicon Valley crap. That’s fake creativity. The corporate world maybe the only place where conservative groupthink is worse than it is in government. So, none of that. We’re looking for genuine creativity here. I’m also not talking about artistic creativity. That kind of creativity is great, but we’re not a few murals or poems away from fixing anything.

What I do mean for political and social creativity is new ways of doing things, new ways of organizing, new goals, and new ways of measuring success. Don’t you think it’s a bit suspicious that the ancient Greeks came up with every possible form of government? How about the fact that Max Weber said everything that needs to be said about bureaucracy? And isn’t it weird that Adam Smith and Karl Marx are perfectly compatible with 21st century economies? We rely too much on the classics. We need to start looking forward.

This is where almost anyone else would start writing about incentivizing creativity. I’m not going to do that. Partly because I’m suspicious of words like incentivize, but mostly because there is already plenty of incentive for creativity. If someone could come up with a novel, truly creative, approach to cancer treatments or fixing climate change that worked, they would make billions. The problem isn’t lack of incentive.

I think the problem is what I call Flowers-Are-Red Syndrome. For those who don’t know, “Flowers Are Red” is a devastatingly sad song by Harry Chapin. It tells the story of a boy who starts school full of enthusiasm, joy, and creativity but has those things crushed out of him by his teacher who insists, “Flowers are red, young man, and green leaves are green. There’s no need to see flowers any other way than the way they always have been seen.”

Now I’m not blaming teachers. Virtually no teachers are as bad as the one in the song and it’s a lot bigger than teachers. Society, as a whole, imposes the lesson from birth that, “There’s a time for everything, young man, and a way it should be done.” “Everything” in that statement includes creativity. Everyone is taught, virtually from birth, that there is a way to be creative and a how to be creative. Instead of letting kids be creative and grow into creative adults, we try to teach them the right way to be creative. That’s why there are only a handful of fields where creativity is appreciated and why virtually all the creative types congregate there.

The only way I see to get real, genuine creativity in the political and social realms is to just let kids be creative in their own natural way. We should encourage it without trying to shape it. That way, everyone will grow up to be creative. Every politician, every bureaucrat. I know it’s a pipe dream, but it’s the only way I can think of. “There are so many colors in the rainbow, so many colors in the morning sun, so many colors in the flower,” and we should encourage everyone to see every one.

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