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The Monkey's Business

Tales from my efforts to improve my poker game.
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The Most Insidious Leak

By: CanuckMonkey @ 15:41 (EDT) / 978 / Comment ( 6 )

Anyone who has been paying attention will have noticed that after my last major blog entry (in which I specifically mentioned my goal of posting an entry every week, in the context of how hard it was to post that one), I have posted only one short entry.  If you've been watching my Time Vault thread, you'll also have noticed that I haven't been posting there.

Considering how well the Time Vault challenge has been going for me, you might find it very strange that I seem to have up and quit all of a sudden.  In this entry, I'm going to fill you in on why I've been so absent.

What's Up?

My lack of posting has been a direct result of the most insidious leak I have ever encountered in my poker game and my larger life outside of poker.  I call this leak "depression".

Now, before I go any further, I want to emphasize to you that I am not a medical professional.  There are numerous ways to describe the subjects I discuss below, and I probably haven't written things in the most accurate way (and may have some things completely wrong.)  If you suspect that you suffer from depression, even if you only suspect it because of something you read here, I strongly urge you to visit your doctor (or psychologist, psychiatrist, or counsellor, if you have access to one). I think the most important thing I have learned about depression is that the treatments that alleviate the symptoms of depression vary widely between individuals, and the things I describe working for me may not help you at all (or may even make things worse). It is definitely worthwhile paying a visit to your doctor if you have any concerns in this area.

My History

Let me start by sharing a bit of my own history with depression. Growing up, my family moved around a bit, and I never had the experience of having a single family doctor that I knew and visited over the course of many years. I moved to a new city (with my parents and siblings) when I started university, and then a year later I moved to another city (on my own) to continue my studies.  While in university, I visited the university's medical centre as needed to deal with physical health issues, but never discussed psychological issues with the doctors there. After university, it too me several years to get around to finding a doctor to serve as my general practitioner (GP)--before that I always went to walk-in clinics if I needed anything, and never saw the same doctor twice.

Sad GorillaMy GP definitely got me started on the right path. It didn't take long for him to diagnose me with endogenic Major Depressive Disorder, which is depression which originates (gen) from within (endo).  Basically, this means that various chemicals in my brain that control mood weren't working the way they should--either I didn't have enough being produced, or they were not spending enough time in the right places.  The result is that my mood has often been negative in spite of a positive environment.

This is in contrast to exogenic depression, which is caused by external events.  One common source of exogenic depression is stress. Most of us can handle stress up to certain levels, but we all have breaking points; for those of us with brain chemistry issues, those breaking points are reached earlier than you might expect. (Unfortunately, suffering from endogenic depression doesn't make you immune to exogenic depression, and the wrong experiences can make my depression MUCH worse. )

Even without brain chemistry issues, a common trigger for stress-induced exogenic depression is a convergence of multiple high stress events, such as a move to a new home, changes in employment, changes in relationships, births, and deaths.  For example, getting a new job, then getting married, then moving to a new house within a few months of each other can be a very stressful combination, even though each of these events is generally seen as positive. (I'm going to avoid the clichéd jokes about how getting married might not always be seen as a good thing. )

Consequences of Depression

For me, depression makes me tired and unmotivated. Even things that I normally enjoy become boring and tedious (a relevant example would be playing poker--and no, I don't grind nearly enough to be bored with poker because of the grind). This leads to other problems, of course; work and home life get harder and less productive, which often creates stress that prolongs the depression.

In this recent bout of depression (since mid-March), there have been some specific consequences.  Over at Full Tilt Poker, I had earned a $20 ring game ticket for pairing my Full Tilt account with my PokerStars account.  The ticket balance would be released into my cash balance after earning 500 FTPs, but would expire if not used for seven days.  This wasn't a hard thing to keep up with; I could go and play a single hand with the ticket in any ring game at any time to "reset" the expiry date.  However, during my depression, I played some 2NL on the afternoon of Friday, March 29 but then didn't play again the rest of that weekend.  I had been in the habit of playing every Saturday and Sunday to make sure I never missed the expiry, and so I assumed that I had played on March 31, but when I went to play in the morning on April 6, I discovered that I was 18 hours too late--and right there, my depression cost me $20 (or whatever was left on the ticket, around $17 I think).

Another consequence: I have probably disqualified myself from the wonderful Time Vault promotion here at  I did post two blog entries in March, but I only managed one (and not much of a blog entry at that) in April, and my Time Vault thread has gone without an update for more than five weeks.  Worst of all, even now, I freeze up when I think about updating that thread.  It's like there is a mental block that stops me from continuing any time I take action in the direction of updating (a very strange and frustrating feeling).

Fighting Depression

There are many ways to fight depression, but unfortunately not all of them work the same for every sufferer.  I'm not going to try to make an exhaustive list here; instead I'll highlight a few that I have experience with, or have considered and researched.

1) Exercise. This is probably the most universal treatment for depression that I know of.  I know that my depression gets worse when I don't exercise, and the painful irony of that is that being depressed makes it harder to start exercising.  Exercise is beneficial for several reasons; the two most obvious to me are that it releases some depression-fighting chemicals in the brain and it feels good emotionally to improve one's health.  It also increases your resting metabolism and energy levels, which are very helpful in dealing with stressors that could deepen the depression if unaddressed.

2) Social activities.  Humans are social creatures, and spending time with others is an effective treatment for depression.  Another danger of depression (one that I frequntly fall prone to) is the tendency to spend less time with friends and family when depressed, which cuts off one of the avenues for treatment.

3) Counselling.  There are a variety of counselling techniques designed to address depression; I have gone through some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy counselling, which is designed to give you tools to fight depression intellectually, by analyzing depressing thoughts and experiences and identifying alternative, no-depressing explanations for the problems that plague you.

4) Medication.  I put this last on my list for a reason; medication can be very effective, and should not be ignored, but different medications work for different people, and most (all?) have some side effects.  The body can also sometimes adjust to medications over time, requiring increased doses to maintain the benefits.  I use medications myself to treat my depression (and may need to for life, thanks to the endogenic nature of it), but the first medication I tried caused some serious problems, and the dose of the main medication I take now has doubled since I started taking it.

In some ways, I have been lucky with my medication; I have heard that it is not uncommon for people to take their medication, start feeling much better, and then decide they don't need it anymore--only to find that they were feeling better ONLY because of the medication, and the depression comes back along with withdrawal symptoms from suddenly ceasing to take the medication.  I've never fallen into that trap; even if I did think there was a reason to stop taking my medication, you can be sure that I would take to my doctor about it first and gradually step down the dose under his instructions and observation, rather than just quitting cold turkey.

Climbing Out of the Hole

At the beginning of April, I thought I was through the worst of this bout of depression, but I am pretty sure now that I wasn't anywhere close yet.  I do think that I am on the way up, though; being able to write and post this blog entry is a very good sign, and I have found myself accomplishing more both at work and at home over the last few weeks.

The Red vs. Blue Team Co-op Challenge came at a great time--it has been a great social activity as well as an engaging way to get me more involved again in a hobby I love.

I'm still struggling--it took me a couple of weeks to write and post this entry, but I'm hoping that now that it is done, it will open a bit of a floodgate and let me get on with things.  Fingers crossed...

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