Pause Point

Today, I would like to conclude this short series on my mental health journey by saying thank you, again, for tracking along with me, your encouraging messages, your support, prayers, and your love. It means the world to me. Some of you have been in this with me for the long haul. Namely, my parents, my brothers, close friends of ours, and most of all my wife, Lindsay. I certainly wouldn’t be here without you and am so grateful for your love.

Of course, the journey still continues. I will post with more updates from time-to-time on this blog under this new “mental health” category which will add further to this series going forward. But for now, I want to conclude these initial background entries with a critically relevant TED talk I watched yesterday by Lori Prichard who:

“…walks us through her husband’s struggle with depression that ultimately led him to take his own life. It was a struggle in which he suffered entirely alone having hidden his depression from those he loved. Lori shares the lessons she learned and the journals she found after her husband’s death that gave her a window into how he was trying to fight off what he called ‘the bully in my brain.'”

YouTube Video Description

There are lessons in this video that are important for us all to take note of.

Lori Prichard’s TEDx Talk

If you are struggling with common signs of depression you are not alone and it isn’t too late to seek help from doctors, counselors, therapists, and other professionals whose job it is to get you to that very help you need. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Not getting help is the riskiest and worst thing you can do for yourself and for those around you. A good place to get help is to start by calling 1-800-273-8255, going to their website, or beginning a chat session there.

Take care of yourself and those around you,

💚 -Dave

The Davie’s Project

People called me ‘Davie’ in high school. I asked them to. Honestly, there were so many ‘Davids’ and ‘Daves’ everywhere I went that it was hard to know who was talking to who at any given moment. So, I chose the name ‘Davie’ so that I would know when someone was talking to me. It stuck. Now, whenever I hear someone call me Davie, I can predict fairly accurately that they are from my hometown.

Ok, so, what does this have to do with anything?

Stick with me…

I mentioned yesterday that I have taken a new approach to my New Year’s resolutions related to improving my mental health and overall wellbeing. Well, this new approach isn’t all that novel or innovative in any way, except that it is not anything I have ever tried before. It is composed of three main things: 1) tracking progress, 2) making it public, and 3) aiming for a clear target.

For example, as mentioned in the “Green Days” post, I began establishing a new morning routine each day and am tracking each routine item in a spreadsheet. I’ve never done that before. I also began this blog series as a way to make my progress (or lack thereof) public. This helps keep me even more accountable than I am to my accountability partners.

Lastly, I am aiming for a clear target this year in that I signed up for a 5k race in June. When I told Lindsay about it, she wanted to sign up too. Because the race has options for kids’ fun runs, we decided to make it a whole family affair. I’m so glad because I can use all the extra motivation I can get. Running has never been something that has come easy for me at all. It makes it easier to not go at it alone.

The race we chose to sign up for is called the Max’s Race for the Davie’s Project on MSU’s campus on Saturday, June 26th, 2021. Of course, I am not the actual ‘Davie’ in the name of the race, but it did make me smile. I have yet to learn the story behind the race name, but we do know that the proceeds from the event will support free round-trip rides to medical appointments for children facing serious health challenges.

As a family, our goal is to raise $1,000. With your help, I think that is totally doable, don’t you? If so, you can donate to this cause on our running as a family fundraising page. Thank you, in advance, for your support and generosity.

As always, thank you for tracking along with me on this journey.

Dead Leaves

and marked recoveries…

Last week, I took us on a journey of my experience with mental health over the past year or so. It wasn’t the easiest thing for me to write about. In fact, it was quite hard at times to revisit some of my darkest moments out in public. But, honestly, I am really glad I did. The number of people who have reached out to me personally who can relate in some way or who just wanted to connect and show their support was breathtaking to me. Thank you, to each of you for doing so and for joining me along this journey. I deeply appreciate it.

As I mentioned in the post on Friday, I would like to pivot this week to talk about the healing I am experiencing as I continue toward recovery this year. For a few months now I have been on medications that do seem to be helping. I’ve also been improving in my consistency to exercise as I mentioned in a post last week about “green days.” Exercise has always played a critical role in my mental health and it is always the times when I have let it slide that has been when I have had episodes of depression. This, in turn, always makes it so much harder to get back into a consistent habit of exercise. So, I am glad to be making progress on that front.

Back in November when I was raking leaves with the family, I couldn’t help but notice the huge differences I was experiencing inside compared to one year earlier. Of course, I wasn’t fully recovered yet, but it did give me a boost in confidence just to notice the changes I was experiencing in comparison. When I was raking leaves in November of 2019, I felt like I was as dead as the leaves themselves. All I could do was to continue to rake with the last amount of strength I could muster and then I would just start crying because everything felt so incredibly heavy. In 2020, I only experienced a regular amount of dread for the chore. And then I experienced the satisfaction of having completed the job which was wonderful to feel again in that way.

Fast forward through the Christmas and New Year season which had parallel sorts of marked progress. So, I decided to make some New Year’s resolutions. I’ve always really sucked at New Year’s resolutions. I mean, really. Tomorrow, I will explain a new approach I am taking this year which I think is helping to some degree. 

Thank you for joining along with me in this journey.

Diagnosis

EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES CLIP ART N2

When we arrived at the ER, I was quickly checked over by nurses while being admitted, given an IV, and began having multiple tests done by doctors. In my stay at the hospital, I learned that I was experiencing a major manic episode and was diagnosed with having bipolar type II. This was horrifying news to me as it is the same condition that had plagued my own grandfather and mother, but I knew to at least not be resistant to help from the medical professionals this time around.

Once we got the manic episode under control, I began spiraling quickly and deeply into a very dark and debilitating depression, the worst I had experienced to date. I think part of it had to do with my complete and utter fear of the diagnosis and the terrifying experiences I had just been through because of delusions. This resulted in more doctor visits and medication changes than I could ever keep track of. Everything we tried didn’t seem to be helping at all. It was incredibly frustrating.

I was unable to feel much of anything at all except for misery for months on end. Every waking moment was filled with dread and wanting to not even be alive at all. I had many suicidal thoughts that were growing stronger as the only thing I seemed to desire at all was for this all to just end. Thankfully, the loving relationships I have in my life were what served to keep me from taking action on these awful thoughts that are really difficult to even try to explain.

I feel extremely fortunate now as suicide is truly a pandemic of its own. I know now from personal experience why this is the case because these thoughts can be all consuming and feel entirely out of your ability to control at all. If you or anyone you know is experiencing thoughts like these, please talk to your doctor and never hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. I’ve called it before a few times and it was incredibly helpful and useful to do so.

Well, this has been an incredibly revealing week on the backstory of my 2020 experiences. I do hope it serves to help folks who are suffering like I have. Next week, I will begin to share the ways I am planning to continue with progress in recovery for 2021.

Thanks for following along with me in the journey.

White SUVs

Mental health has scared me for as long as I can remember. The history of it in my family is complicated and a source of painful memories. I never liked thinking about it. I certainly didn’t like talking about it. I wouldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams that I would someday be talking about my experiences with it publically on a blog. Yet, here we are. To be honest, it is rather liberating to be doing so. Ultimately, I have found that it is worth talking about it knowing that it is helping others suffering also.

When I first needed to be hospitalized ten years ago or so for major depression, I was in really bad shape. Coming to terms with my own mental health condition with my apparent need for medications and therapy was not easy. It was something I resisted and put off for a long time in denial which only served to perpetuate the problems even further.

Fast forward to the summer of 2019. I had made major progress in managing my mental health and it had been nearly 5 years since I had an episode. I had just finished my first year in a PhD program and had taken a summer course on quantitative research methods. I was co-teaching a 9 credit summer seminar that is compressed into an intensive 6 weeks.

Toward the end of this professionally busy summer, I began experiencing sleepless nights, delusional thinking, and panic attacks. These things were all new to me. It all grew more concerning quickly.

I had become convinced that I was being followed by governmental authorities in white SUVs on the road and that I was being hunted down to be killed. I felt unsafe even walking by windows in my own home and began ducking down on hands and knees for fear of snipers taking aim at my head. I started having visions of technologically planted listening devices in the form of spiders. On one particularly terrifying evening I was hearing voices speaking directly to me through the speakers in my room.

It was at this point that I knew I needed help again. My wife asked a dear friend and neighbor to come to the house to be with our children and drove me in the middle of the night to the emergency room. I was crouched down and shaking in the passenger seat to not be seen through the car window.

What on earth was happening to me?

Thanktitude

Two green days in a row today.

Praying hands

This is a first.

Let’s keep it going, right?

Well, I do need to be honest that I did go back to bed for a half-hour or so after my “Alarmy” picture mission wake-up that I discussed yesterday. Still, usually, when I have done this in the past, I have viewed it as defeat and failure so that I don’t get back up and get to the other routine items either. But, today I remembered that I had fallen asleep much later than I usually do the night before, gave myself some slack, and was able to get back on the wagon.

It is the little victories. My friend Marcie says to celebrate them. I think she is smart.

Another word of ancient wisdom that is useful on this journey toward mental health recovery is the importance of practicing gratitude. I have so much to be grateful for. Somehow, depression has a way of really clouding my vision for seeing and recognizing the many astounding blessings I have in my life. Because of this, it takes effort and practice to remember the sunshine that is bright and that exists on the other side of the grey skies even when it feels like they will be there forever.

Today, I am grateful for my amazing community of support through all of this. This includes my family, friends, colleagues, and even strangers who have been there to lend a hand or a listening ear. This also includes you. If you are reading this and following along with this journey I am documenting here, it means a lot. For those who have commented, emailed, texted, reacted, and shared my journey with others on this new blog series; thank you. I hope it can help bring courage and solidarity to those who need it most at this time.

Tomorrow, I will begin to look back and share a bit of how I came to this point I am at today.

Thank you for joining me on this journey.

Green Days

For months now, I have been trying to establish a new morning routine.

Kermit the Frog
Kermit The Frog Graphics free image from Pixy.org

Today is a green day

Allow me to explain…

For months now, I have been trying to establish a new morning routine. I’ve always struggled with creating new routines and especially ones in the morning. I like to sleep. A lot.

Some people who struggle with depression and anxiety experience nights of insomnia. Others, like me, have a difficult time getting out of bed to face the day and just want to sleep all the time. As I mentioned yesterday, this has been my challenge now for over a year.

This new morning routine has been planned and designed to combat my obsession with sleep as an unhealthy coping mechanism to my mental health. The challenge has been in execution.

So, I resolved for 2021 that I would get more serious about it and begin tracking daily which of the morning routine items I had accomplished for that day. If I get all of the items checked off, I highlight the entire row in a tracking spreadsheet bright green. It is very satisfying.

And yet, it is January 18th and I have only 4 green days. Today was one of them. Green days are objectively better than non-green days. There is something about waking up early and exercising right away that sets a whole tone on the day ahead in ways that are unmatched by anything else. Still, getting up to my alarm at 6am on these cold January mornings is a bear.

A few days ago I bought an app on my iPhone called “Alarmy” which gives you certain missions to accomplish in order to keep the alarm from continuing to ring. There are things like math problems to do, quotes to type out, memory games to play, numbers of steps to take, shaking the phone hard for a certain amount of time, and others.

This morning, I tried a new one. It is a picture taking mission. So, to set it up I took a picture of the water spicket on my fridge so that when the alarm goes off, I have to walk to my kitchen in a certain amount of time and take that same picture or my alarm will continue to ring. I think it helped get me moving right away and put me right where I needed to be to begin the day with my first routine item which is to drink a large glass of water right when I wake up. Something about it put me right in motion to continue on with the rest of my routines for the morning. Hopefully, it will again tomorrow and the day after… and the day after that…

It may not be easy being green, but green days are the best days.

My soundtrack for the occasion is this YouTube video of Green Day’s American Idiot Album as instrumental only which makes it easier for me to work to.

My Mental Health Journey

Some of you may know me and the journey I have been on in the past year or so. Others of you don’t. I wanted to begin a new blog series today as a way to share more openly about what I have been experiencing in an effort to connect with people who may be up against similar challenges.

There is no easy way for me to begin. In the latter part of 2019 and all of 2020, I have been on an uphill battle with largely debilitating depression. I have made a lot of progress, but I am not out of the woods yet.

This is not my first go-around with mental health. I’ve spoken publicly before about my history with the disease. But this latest encounter has been by far the most excruciating. I will go into more detail in later posts about the events that led up to this episode, but my hope is to make each of the posts in this series relatively short with a focus on tracking my current progress I am making day to day and week to week.

The one thing I have learned over time is that I definitely can’t recover well if I attempt to do it on my own.

Thank you for following along with me.

My wife is a giver.

Lindsay in front of a Christmas tree.
Lindsay in front of a Christmas tree.

She has been for as long as I’ve known her.

But 2020 made this more clear than ever.

Right now, in our garage, she has organized volunteers in our neighborhood to be an assembly line for creating Christmas luminaires that will be distributed throughout the block to be lit for Christmas Eve.

This is the kind of thing Lindsay likes to do.

And people come out of the woodwork and come alive to help her in it.

This morning, just like every Sunday morning for the past few weeks since we have been on another lockdown, she organized another game and Christmas activity for the boys and girls in our neighborhood who show up on our front lawn to participate.

For over a month, Lindsay has been having us sit down together as a family after dinner to work on Christmas carols together.

This was so that yesterday, we would be able to meet up with a long time family friend in her hometown to sing to him and to fellowship together over hot cocoa.

Every day, I am amazed by my wife and her love for our boys and for me.

She daily helps them get ready for school, prepares meals, helps them with their homework, has them do their chores, and gets them ready for bed all while being a dedicated mother, worker, and volunteer at their school, in our community and at our church.

These are just a few of the things she has done in recent weeks that have put a smile on people’s face in the midst of the ongoing pandemic.

And she does it out of the sheer joy and love that is in her heart.

I just wanted to take a moment and put a spotlight on Lindsay to say how much she means to me and to recognize her for the saint and the inspiration that she truly is to so many of us.

Thank you, Lindsay.

We love you!

A Rangerdavie Reflection on OLC Innovate 2019:

“Imposter Syndrome was the focus of one of the last sessions I attended and I have never been to a conference presentation anything like it in my life.”

Moving Mountains in Digital, Blended, and Online Learning

Picture of the Rocky Mountains from Dillan, Colorado.
Picture of the Rocky Mountains from Dillan, Colorado.

What a conference. This year, OLC Innovate was in the beautiful city of Denver, Colorado. My colleague (curriculum theorist extraordinaire, Dr. Michael Lockett) and I decided to fly down a couple of days before the conference began to get in some slopes at Arapahoe Basin.

During the flight down, I began to experience subtle symptoms of a strange sickness coming on. Things just kept getting worse and worse as we drove higher and higher to the elevated city of Dillan, Colorado. I think it was the combination of the bug I was coming down with added with the complications of elevation sickness. These both compounded with an inability to drink coffee (which is always my sure sign of illness) that left me bedridden all day Monday.

Thankfully, my aches and chills were beginning to slightly subside on Tuesday morning and I was able to join Michael at Loveland ski resort. The powder is where it is at, folks. We had amazing weather and incredible landscape scenery views of the beautiful Rocky Mountains.

After all the fun, it was then time to get down to business and get our conferencing on.

The rest of this post is a reflection on the conference experience for me this year.

The more you know, the sadder you are.

Solomon said something like that in the book of Ecclesiastes, right?

Well, this has been a truth for me and especially in this past year beginning in a Ph.D. program. I knew going into it that I would be needing to confront some of my long-held assumptions and that I had some unlearning to do in order to open myself up to new learning. It is painful. I imagine it is like preparing to run a marathon, although, I’ve never done such a thing.

Thankfully, I’m not going it alone. I have an incredible network of support around me. Doing this venture is on behalf of a bigger cause than just my own growth and development, but hopefully more in-line with service to a public good. Or maybe I’m just a pitiful glutton for knowledge and disillusionment. Either way, I know good can come of this in ways I am unable to currently imagine.

One thing I didn’t anticipate being able to continue to participate in has been professional conferences I’ve been involved in during recent years. Somehow, here I am in Denver, Colorado at the OLC Innovate conference where I’ve been able to contribute nominally to three different ‘emerging ideas’ sessions which are my favorite now. Other than that, my involvement in the conference has been that of listening to ideas, connecting with new folks in the field, and continuing to challenge my own current understanding and assumptions I hold in this work.

I’ll be honest here that in recent years I’ve begun to question notions of ‘best practices’ and other lofty claims of the latest innovative trends on the rise in today’s market-driven economy. So much so that I nearly skipped out on yesterday’s keynote. I assumed it would be another voice in the crowd clamoring to carefully craft in as many buzz-words as possible in a talk. I’ve come to loathe attempts at getting more folks on an ‘innovation’ band-wagon without critically slowing down to ask harder questions lurking behind the latest silicon shine.

Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom speaking at OLC Innovate.
Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom speaking at OLC Innovate.

But thankfully I am attending this conference with a whole host of brilliant Spartans. With them, I decided to sit in on the “Digital Sociologies: How Inequality Shapes Our Technologies” keynote. I’m glad I did. Huge praise to the OLC Innovate conference chairs this year (Clark & Ben) who brought in the very voice we needed to hear in our community. I had known through passing word of Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom’s work and had one of her books on my long ‘to-read’ list, but I hadn’t realized she was going to be the keynote at the conference this year. I hadn’t yet known her by name. Her work is really important and I’m thrilled that I was able to be introduced to it through her talk before diving deeper into her books in the near future. She has compelling inquiries for us to grapple with in the world of educational technology in what she calls ‘lower-education’ which was the title of one of her earlier books that caught my attention. These inquiries are rooted in experience and built upon decades of research. They are interrogating some of the deeper societal ills and philosophical underpinnings of our postsecondary education cultures at large. The provocations are rightly holding us to account for our role in changing the world in which we live and in which future generations are entering into. I hope that keynote was a beginning to further conversations we can continue to revisit and grapple with in years ahead.

Speaking of conversations, I had the pleasure this year of getting involved in the Ranger program at the conference that began for the first time last year in Nashville. Here, we are able to connect first-time attendees of the conference to those who have attended before as a way to catalyze new connections and orient folks to the ins and outs of the overall mapped out experiences designed for participants. I enjoyed pretending to know what I was talking about and meeting new folks who would often express that they hadn’t attended a conference that was so personable like this in the past. I fondly remember my first time attending and experiencing these same OLC joys that I continue to love today.

For example, as I have reflected on previously, my foray into the beautifully networked connections that happen at OLC conferences is in large due to my luck of getting to know and work with the notoriously networked Dr. Jessica Knott. It was at ET4Online in Dallas that I first was able to meet folks like Dr. Michelle Pacansky-Brock who I had adored her educator development work from afar for years prior. Others I was able to meet in person like Dr. Chuck D. Dziuban who I had only known from his many years of research on blended learning and some random virtual encounters because of his notoriously prolific collaborative tendencies with folks all over the world.

Group of colleagues enjoying a night out on the town in Denver.
Group of colleagues enjoying a night out on the town in Denver.

I also began new friendships and professional network connections that would turn out to be the most important for my growth and learning for my career to date. For instance, my Spartan colleagues and I have met and collaborated now with amazing people like Angela Gunder, Ben Scragg, Clark Shah-Nelson, Kate Miffitt, Dr. John Stewart, Keegan Long-Wheeler, Dr. Steven R. Crawford, Dr. Angela Gibson, Dr. Ann Musgrove, Adam Nemeroff, Frank Tomsic, Rick Franklin, Janet Smith, Michael Griffith, Venessa Ball, Dr. Patrice Torcivia Prusko, Shereen Twum-Barimah, Steve Merlo, Dr. Laura Pasquini, Phylise Banner, Dr. Rachael Neimer, Dr. Matt Crosslin, Jessie Stommel, Dr. Chris Gilliard, Taylor Kendal, Dr. Ryan Straight, Dr. A. Michael Berman, and so many others…

Each of these people listed here and many others who are not (but could easily add their name here through multiple connections that intersect) have all influenced my thinking and growth as a learner, educator, and professional (I try to be anyway). If I let imposter syndrome get out of hand, I can easily worship these folks and wonder how it is that I could even audaciously list them as networked influencers for me. But I know that the reality is that they are all honest, hard-working, passionate, dedicated, thoughtful, silly, curious, resilient, and compassionate educators in the world just like me. They probably also make mistakes, spill coffee, yell at their kids, get stuck in traffic, and wear mismatched clothing as I do. Although, I may have the upper-hand at these latter claims. Who’s keeping score, though?

Ben Scragg speaking during a campfire chat on the OLC Innovate big stage.
Ben Scragg speaking during a campfire chat on the OLC Innovate big stage.

When it comes down to it, we are all working together for the same common values, goals, aspirations, visions of the future that includes justice, equity, compassion, and more human-centered postures toward a better tomorrow. This year, I really appreciated Ben Scragg’s campfire talk on just beginning and sharing without things needing to be perfect. Also, Joshua Steele’s emphasizing a Slido question we weren’t answering the day prior on the topic of online learning being supposedly opportunistic for first-generation and low-income students and yet how we make sense of how the success rates are so dismal. What are we doing wrong?

Imposter Syndrome was the focus of one of the last sessions I attended and I have never been to a conference presentation anything like it in my life. My hands were sweating profusely during the whole session. This may be my new metric for conference session success because it indicated to me that there were courageous, honest, vulnerable, and difficult things being talked about out in the open. At times, it felt like an AA meeting. I truly believe that the most important work we do in education will look and feel much like this. True change always begins in supportive communities reaching for collective and individual salvation from the vices and lies we can fall prey to. This is similar in our professional lives as it is to our personal lives (if such a divide truly exists or is an illusion, I’m not entirely sure).

Some of the best developments at OLC in recent years have been the inclusion of slow flow yoga with spiritual guru Janet Smith in the mornings and meditation & mindfulness sessions with life coach Clark Shah-Nelson.

Sessions that were captivating and well worth my time (there are many more that I’m sure I would be listed if I had been able to be in multiple places at once) included:

  • Clusters & Hexes Creating Educator Pipelines with Online Modules: Reimagining Educator Prep from Community to Classroom: Hyperlink.
  • Thursday Evening Campfire Gathering: Night in Denver: Hyperlink.
  • Exploring Alternative Learning Design Approaches: Hyperlink.
  • Sisyphus & Squad Goals: Perpetual Becoming, With a Lot of Help From My Friends: Hyperlink.

Lastly, I’d like to thank my kind and talented colleagues who allowed me to contribute to the following emerging ideas sessions.

  • The Syllabus Matters (More than you Think): Reconceptualizing the Aesthetic and Educative Properties of a Core Curricular Text: Hyperlink.
  • The Journey Towards Culture Shift Through an Educator Learning Community (ELC): The #iteachmsu Commons: Hyperlink.
  • Social Media UnderFire: Questions of Cognition, Literacy, and Online Learning: Hyperlink.

What a week! Now, back to the good work in the great state of Michigan. So well, Denver. You’ve been lovely and delightful, yet again. Chicago, I am looking forward to seeing you next year around this time, I hope!