Monthly Archives: May 2018

What’s the deal with microwave settings?

Ok first up, I don’t own a microwave. I know that makes me sound like one of those “oh I don’t own modern day appliances because I am free from the trappings of modern day consumerism” unbearable hipsters, but know this: I own a massive HD TV that I bought just so I could play video games at 4K resolution at 60 frames per second. So I’m like objectively the worst kind of consumer.

The reason I don’t own a microwave is mostly one of space. Counter-top real estate is precious, but it’s not always something you think about when picking where to live. Location, price, bedroom size, distance from the nearest hipster coffee shop – these demands all come first. So you can forget about your kitchen with a hand-wavey ‘ah, I’m sure that looks like enough.’

But it’s never enough. Several kitchen essentials instantly occupy some of the space the second you move in – specifically the toaster and kettle. These get used frequently enough to warrant their permanent tenancy on the worktop. Some other appliances can be relegated to a cupboard, or shelf, (or the rarer still ‘on-top-of-the-cupboard’) – things like blenders.

After this point you’ve got to start making compromises. Do we use the coffee machine enough for it to always be out? But packing it up and away is a massive faff; does that count extra to its justification as an ever-present fixture?

And it’s not just appliances. If you’re like me, you’ll probably end up with what’s best described as a ‘booze corner’. The spirits you like, bottles of wine people give you, little miniatures you’ve stolen from weddings. It seems like they should always be in grabbing distance, so out they come.

Don’t forget to leave a space to actually, erm, PREPARE FOOD. You’ll need at least a square foot of prep space. Plus room for the accoutrements of food prep – the tools, plates, utensils. Like, you might as well always have your electronic scales out, and chopping boards, and a timer. Kitchen roll obviously. And then the things that you’re going to use in every meal – oils, salt, etc.

If you still have any space left, then congratulations: your kitchen is bigger than my kitchen.

I’ve tried to figure out where I could put a microwave in my kitchen and the options are basically: a) the floor, or b) its own dedicated table. And as much as I find the idea of a floor microwave – or a microwave pedestal – funny,  I’m not going to do that. I’ll just go without.

Because what’s a microwave actually for? Other than the preparation of ready meals, it seems kind of… useless?

“oh, but it’s so good for defrosting!”

Mate, just put it in the fridge all day. Or use the DEFROST SETTING ON YOUR OVEN (if it has one). Or you know what else is great for defrosting? Literally everything that isn’t a freezer. You ever hear of THE SUN, mate? That giant ball of gas that produce constant heat and is extremely efficient at exciting molecules? Try it sometime, moron.

It doesn’t help that microwaves are like the most confusing things to use in the world themselves. Here’s what the average UI for a microwave looks like:

Ok yes, I’ve deliberately used a picture of a Brazilian microwave to make it look more confusing. But all microwaves might as well be in Portuguese as far as I care. For something that has one feature (“HEAT”), that’s sure a lot of buttons.

Like, who’s cooking BREAD in the microwave often enough for that to warrant it’s own button? Or for it to need a CHILDREN’S MENU on it.

No, let’s do this. What’s the MVP for a microwave? What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for a product to exist as a microwave? Here’s my account:

  1. Provides heat.
  2. Lets you specify for how long you want the heat to last.
  3. Has a door.
  4. Has a ‘start’ button. Maybe a stop button, but that can be the same button. Or you can just open the door.

Here’s my first draft of a design:

I’ve got away with three buttons: more time, less time, and a GO/STOP button. Job done.

What I haven’t included is an extra button specifically for soup. Funny that.

Sometimes you get lucky and find a microwave that has a DIAL. With these you can control the temperature quite smoothly. If you were able to also press down on the dial as a stop/start button, you could simplify my design even further:

One button! The epitome of UX design! I don’t know why this isn’t the industry standard.

Looking around, you sometimes do find microwaves that are marketed as ‘simple microwaves’. But they suck too!

Two dials! My dudes, no! That second dial is supposedly so you can control the power rating. As if I wouldn’t want my microwave to be as powerful as possible at all times. Why is this even up for debate? Artificially limiting my microwave’s own power level seems at best self-defeating to me, and at worst: some kind of moral crime against technology itself. (shut up with your cooking vegetables or whatever in the microwave).

And as a side note: how come microwave power settings never match up with cooking instructions? At least in my experience, the instructions are always like “800W: 1/2 minutes / 900W: 1 minute” – meanwhile I’m stuck with an 850W microwave suddenly faced with a problem of differential calculus I’m not quite in the best position to tackle. I just want to eat my microwave lasagne.

BUT ANYWAY, why the complexity? Meh, it’s probably a marketing thing. Manufacturers always need to find the new big thing to sell, which is hard when the product is just a box that makes heat. So adding more and more features gives marketers more ways to pitch things (“New” is the second most powerful word in marketing, after “Free”). Which is how we end up with things like CHAOS DEFROST.

In short: everything sucks and life is pain.

Join me next week where I’ll be ranting about the number of buttons on my television remote control and trying to solve the riddle of my washing machine settings.

Please enjoy my self care tips.

I just had a fantastic bath. A fantastic evening bath. Here’s how it went down:

  • Whacked those taps on circa nine thirty pm.
  • Full blast taps. Temperature range in the very-hot-to-too-hot.
  • TEN drops exactly of tea tree oil.
  • While the bath is running, I’m brewing a cup of tea. Twinings St Clements.
  • Slam down the bathroom blind. Screw shut the bathroom window.
  • Strip, obviously.
  • Phone by the bath. Got a podcast on. A comedy one.
  • I’m dunking down into the bath once it’s around half full.
  • My body…. screams? This is very hot, way too hot. I should probably get out.
  • A few seconds later that passes. No, this is the ideal temperature. My skin is a light pink already.
  • The water is almost at the taps. This is no time for cowards. I ramp the taps up to the hottest they’ll go.
  • Finally I kick the tap off as I begin to sous-vide.
  • I’m sipping on that tea. It’s also scalding.
  • There’s sweat running down my face. Steam from the bath is trying to escape the room, but it’s no good – it’s locked in here with me now.
  • Considering the tea sufficiently brewed I remove the tea bag. It plops down into the bath with me. The water is now a extremely weak broth of oranges, lemons, and like all my dirty skin and hair.
  • Laying here for a few minutes perfectly still is key. Sipping the tea just a bit. Taking in the podcast. Feeling the sweat.
  • Eventually the tea runs out. Out comes the plug and I get out the bath. If you don’t feel dizzy at this point, you’ve done it wrong.
  • Congratulations on the best bath of your entire life.

And that’s just one way I do so-called  ‘self care’. We spend a lot of our days rushing around to fix things or do things for other people, so it’s important to take time to do things that make you feel happy, or relaxed.

Self care is commonly prescribed in mental health treatment and coping strategies. My CBT therapist has even recommended it to me recently, and my reaction was basically “isn’t that just candles and hot chocolate and youtube vloggers with strings of fairy lights?”

Why do I think that? Well, because those are the things you hear most about it. It’s a term somewhat hijacked by both pseudo-scientific spiritualism and vacuous lifestyle vloggers. To quote this Buzzfeed article:

It might be overly cynical to suggest that vloggers have simply found in the mental health advocacy phenomenon another avenue through which to peddle products….But regardless of intent, the lines have become blurred over what, exactly, the audience is to assume they are watching”

And if you google “self care” you get a lot of stuff like this. Pictures of flowers, hearts, and words in the shape of a meditating alien. None of which is appealing to me at all.

Which is a shame, because I think self-care is really good and important. The main things it covers seem to be:

  • Healthy eating and meal planning
  • Seeing people
  • Taking care of your body (exercise)
  • Doing activities that are beneficial to your mental well-being.

Or to sum it up: be good to yourself. But what does that even mean?

Is it a treat yo’ self situation? Or a do what you feel one? Is it meant to be outright hedonism? Or is it more about self-discipline?

The most important thing IMO is that self care is about looking after your self (duh!), down to your basic needs of food and hygiene. Depression in particular can make things like just showering or changing into proper clothes a chore. So it’s vital to engage in these things.

Last year I read A Beginner’s Guide to Losing Your Mind by Emily Reynolds, which is a good book absolutely jam-packed with practical tips. Tips like:

Before you get depressed, or before you realise you’re overwhelmed and can’t cope, put small and manageable systems into place. Make tidying a habit, and be strict with yourself. Make your bed every day. Put bleach down the toilet every other day. Get a laundry basket and put dirty clothes in it at the end of every day, instead of on the floor.

And that’s what I think self-care is about. Not so much bath bombs and face masks, but remembering that you’re living your life, and taking care of that. Having that sympathetic, caring approach we find it easily to dole out to others, but almost never ourselves.

That all said, I think there’s still room for the ‘do things that make you feel good’ interpretation of self care. And I’d like to share some of the things I do:

1. Meditation and other exercises.

I’ve had mixed feelings about Headspace before. But I’m back on the “Headspace is good” train. If you don’t want to use it, there’s other perfectly good and free resources out there that do exactly the same things.

And if mindfulness / meditation isn’t your bag, there’s just plain breathing exercises that are really helpful. My CBT person recommended the Soothing Rhythm Breathing Practices here, and I do too! Real handy to calm you down in a stressful situation if nothing else.

2. Junk food.

Ok, this is probably a bit controversial. The official Mind guidance on self care specifically notes that you should watch your diet. And of course bad food has a negative influence on your mood. But sometimes eating rubbish just makes me feel better. And I’m ok with that.

3. Video games

Video games are very fun. There’s no denying that. I like to play them, often more than anything else, and especially more than having to deal with people in real life. Which is why I struggle with multiplayer games – if I’m trying to escape from other people, why would I actively go and seek them out?

But yeah, video games are fun. And I’ve learnt not to feel guilty about spending time on them if they cheer me up.

4. Ironing.

Ironing belongs in a special category of things including colouring and knitting. I call this it ‘secret mindfulness’. It’s a category of activities where you have one task to focus on that requires some amount of technique but not any particular amount of difficulty. It’s brain-on-autopilot territory.

Man, I love ironing. There’s something just really satisfying about pressing the creases out of clothes with hot steam. Turning a pile of laundry into a neatly-folded stack of shirts ready for the drawer is molto, molto bene.

Plus it’s also proper self care in that it means you have clothes to wear that aren’t all creased looking. Top self care, ironing.

5. Memes

Memes are very self care. I’ve fallen lately into the pit of Vine compilations – 10 or so minute youtube videos of collections of funny 6-second videos. As my housemates point out, these compilations invariably contain all of the same Vines each time, but that’s the point. Seeing the same things again and again, and laughing at them again and again, they soon become like close friends to you.

6. Getting real organised. Probably too organised.

I’ve written before about my stupidly overly-organised online life. But I stand by it. There’s something liberating about letting a complicated system of rows and columns rule my life. I don’t really have much control any more about what TV series I watch next, or the next book I read, and that’s fine. I’m sort of glad that these decisions are being made ‘for me’.

Is getting up at the same time every day to follow the same routine every day good or bad? I’d say it’s good. It lets me actually get things done, like regular exercise every day, which is what self-care is all about.

7. Loud music.

Today I had a stressful walk. I was walking between offices and had a lot to do, but knew the walk itself would take up about ten minutes of valuable time. So I put on my intensity playlist and power-walked the hell out of it. On the way, I listened to ‘Ize of the World‘ by The Strokes and ‘Big Unit‘ by Abedisi Shank – two of my favourite songs – super super loud. It felt amazing.

Music really does have that power to exorcise our emotions. And its use in self-care is enormous. Most importantly, it doesn’t have to be light, fluffy Katie Melua stuff; heavy metal, electronica, rap – it’s all good if it makes you feel better.

(‘What Went Down‘ by Foals is another very good song for banishing stress. For me at least. And you have to play it really bloody loud).


And that’s probably enough self-care tips for now. I hope you found them useful.

I’m still not 100% clear on what SC is. But I think we’ve at least been feeling around the right kind of area. The main takeaway is that we should love ourselves, which I hope you do. Because I love you. You know that, right? x

checking in on my own mental health

So, 14-20 May is Mental Health Awareness Week. The theme this year is ‘Stress’ but it’s good to think and talk about MH in general, yeah? For us men especially, since suicide is the leading cause of death among young people aged 20-34 years in the UK and it is considerably higher in men.

A year ago, I wasn’t in the best place. Literally. I was living alone in a big house that I couldn’t afford. I was coming out of a two year relationship. And I was spending most of my time commuting for a job I wasn’t really into. Outside of work, I wasn’t doing much fun, and basically I was just not very happy.

A year on, how am I doing? Not a whole deal better, to be honest, but there’s been improvements in a few areas. So let’s break it down, in excruciating detail!

Health

Health-wise, I guess I’m ok. I always worry about my weight, which I know is stupid since folks frequently comment on me being thin/skinny. But I know I’ve definitely put weight on over the last few years, and I’d love to lose it. I know my diet of beer and sweets probably isn’t helping much, but I haven’t had much luck cutting them out.

In particular I know my diet worsens when I’m stressed/depressed. I eat a lot of sugar (hence my like 30 fillings) and I’ll use it to get through the day when I’ve got a low mood. I wouldn’t call it an addiction, but I’m literally eating a bag of Haribo Fangtastics right now if that gives you any indication.

Living situation

I’m not living alone anymore! And I’m not commuting 90 minutes each way for work!

I moved from Cambridge to London about six months ago, and it’s had a mixed effect on my mental well-being. Yes, the commute is better, but London is a busy, crowded place. It’s harder to get away from the hustle and bustle, people seem just a little bit meaner, and the buildings aren’t as pretty.

Having housemates again is great. And it’s especially good that it’s friends I’ve actively chosen to live with – not absolute randomers. Living with randoms is awful for your mental health since they can act unpredictably and it’s harder to have difficult conversations with them about things.

Living with friends is much better, but it still makes me anxious sometimes. Do my housemates hate me? Do they think I’m uncool? Why don’t they ask me to join in with things sometimes? How do I get them to take part in the things I want to do? These kind of dumb questions are still a cause of stress for me.

Work

I started a new job at the beginning of the year. And it’s great.

I wasn’t enjoying my job at the end of last year. It was stressful, made me feel inadequate, and frankly I’d probably been doing it too long. Leaving a company after six and a half years was really stressful to do, but I reckon it was the right move in the long-term. So I’m glad to be out of that environment.

My new role has come with its own stresses. I’ve got a lot more responsibility, which is satisfying, but also challenging. Sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming, but everyone is super supportive. I’ve had some rough weeks, but some great times too. Hopefully I’ll grow more secure and confident with time.

Love

A bit like a year ago, I’ve just gone through another breakup. This time it had just been a little under six months, so a bit less serious, but it still sucks. And it seems partly down to my inability to integrate in social situations properly with a partner’s friends and family.

This has come up a few times, which tells me that it’s something I need to change or improve about myself. Or I just die alone, I guess.

Family

I recently went on holiday to Iceland with my Mother and sister, which was great. I don’t hang out much with my family otherwise. So that was nice.

But this month I also met my half-brother and half-sisters for the first (proper) time. This was a bit of a surreal experience, and I’m still “processing” it. It’s really weird to have all this family you don’t know, and I don’t know how to feel about it. So that’s just something going on in the background, I guess. Does it make me sad? Sometimes, yeah.

Social Life

Being social is difficult for me. Parties, gatherings, meeting new people – these can all make me pretty anxious. It’s something I’m focussing on with CBT, but it’s one of the main blockers in my life right now.

I just find it difficult to talk to people sometimes. Especially if there’s lots of new people, or if we’re in a loud environment. I’ve never understood how people can chat in clubs, or even loud clubs. Often I’ll just sit there and nod along to other conversations, even though I can’t actually make out a word of what’s going on.

And as I mentioned above, this is particularly difficult when meeting the friends/family of a new partner. Which causes all kinds of problems down the line and isn’t much fun.

I also really value my free time, like weekends and stuff. Sometimes you just don’t want to see anyone at all, right? And I can feel like I’m sacrificing the precious time I have to myself to see people I don’t really want to see. But then other times I get desperately lonely. So either way it sucks.

Creativity

I like to be creative. I write things like this blog, and make videos and things. Being creative is a great coping mechanism for me when I’m feeling down. But I often feel like I’m at the bottom of the well of my creativity.

Or I’ll have a short burst of creativity where I want to do lots of things, and then suddenly lose all drive and momentum. It doesn’t help that I always hate the things I actually produce, and usually the things I’ve worked hardest on get the luke-warmest reception.

Without wanting to be petty or anything, but here’s a thing that annoyed me recently:

Last July I did this and it was great – I was a viral sensation and felt really good about myself. Earlier this year I tried to do it again in what I thought was actually a more technically impressive way, but it got a much smaller reaction. Meanwhile, someone else did something similar in the same week and not only got lots of Twitter praise, but actually did better numbers-wise than my original tweet.

Yes, I know it’s kind of pathetic to base your self worth on social media vanity metrics. And yet that’s exactly what I do. If I work hard on something and it doesn’t ‘do well’, what’s the point in me even trying? What’s the point in me even bothering to create anything? Sometimes it seems like I shouldn’t even start on a new creative project, when I know it won’t be appreciated anyway.

And yeah, that makes me feel bad.

Mental Health

Way back in like October, my GP referred me to a local NHS mental health unit for some anxiety I was having. A few phone calls later and they were like “yeah you need CBT”. So a mere five months later I started some CBT, which I’m doing weekly at the moment.

CBT is a weird one for me. It’s very curriculum-driven, in the sense that there’s a list of things you just have to learn and understand. But once you’ve read and understood the list of common cognitive errors and been through the behavioural strategies for dealing with them, what next? There’s only so much mindfulness I can practice before I just have to admit it’s not helping.

I’ve been on medication before, but I’ll always try to avoid it as much as possible because of the side effects. So I’d like to avoid that as much as possible.

Exercise is sometimes heralded as the ultimate cure for low mood / depression. But as we all know, when all you want to do is lie in bed and cry, going for a light jog is at the absolute bottom of your list of things you’d feel comfortable doing.

Mental health-wise I seem to be getting worse. My anxiety and depression scores are going up, despite the CBT, and I’m noticing warning signs in things like my diet and alcohol intake. Physically, I’m a bit drained. Some days I wake up with my chest pumping with cortisol, which isn’t a fun sensation.

I’m a bit more anxious than usual at the moment. And I’m living with constant moderate depression.

But it’s ok.

It’s good to talk about this stuff. I have a few friends I can confide in, and that’s good. And writing blogs like this, out in the public and shared with the internet, is super cathartic.

The worst thing you can do is bottle your feelings up. That’s the most important thing I’ve learned over the years. But sharing them is also the hardest.

So: talk! Talk to me, talk to a friend, talk to anonymous strangers on Twitter. It’ll help, and you’ll feel better. I know it helps me, at least.

Thanks for reading. Getting this all down makes me feel better, and if it at all helps you come to terms with anything you’re feeling too, that’d make me very happy.

<3


Further reading:

If you’d like to know what living with anxiety can be like, here’s a piece I wrote a few years ago about an attack I had during a comedy gig. I’m glad to say things are better now with this, and I frequently go to shows on my own now (only partially out of choice). But the negative thoughts patterns and things in that blog post still affect me day-to-day.

And the other week, as an exercise for myself, I wrote down a list of as many of my anxiety triggers as I could think of. Writing them out and seeing them in a list is kind of therapeutic. But reading over it, it makes me feel a bit silly. 28 year old men aren’t supposed to freak out when someone knocks on their door.