By far, the biggest change for me in 2023 was finally getting professional help with my mental health.
I have been dealing with depression and anxiety for a long time, though it wasn’t until a few years ago that I could even name them as such. It’s much easier now to identify the traps in my thinking that I’d fallen into. My life was objectively great: I had supportive parents, have a stable and loving marriage, a successful and engaging career, so on and so on. And I had friends with objectively much worse mental health challenges than me. I wasn’t in danger of harming myself or running the external parts of my life off the rails, shouldn’t I just be able to deal with this stuff on my own?
Well, no. It turns out that none of that immunized me from mental health issues. “Just” having quite common and moderate severity issues does not mean that I should not seek treatment. I gained nothing by comparing my suffering to others’. And there was no reason for me to be white-knuckling my way through life, no matter what story I tried to tell myself.
It’s been six months of therapy and medication now. Getting started was scary and required me to really shift my perspective of myself. But I’m kind of amazed at how far I’ve come since. I don’t just stare at walls trying to get up the will to go do something. I don’t have to rigidly structure my days so that dread and fatigue don’t slow everything to a halt. I actually look forward to things again.
I only wish I’d started this earlier. I don’t get back the years I spent grimly trying to slog through on my own.
I’ve been trying to think of a concrete goal for next year beyond “keep doing all the stuff that’s been effective to date”. Finally came up with what sounds like a silly small challenge: work on getting better at taking selfies and try to practice regularly. I’ve never been comfortable with how I look in pictures, and that’s always made me a little sad. I haven’t really had the mental breathing room to think about addressing that before, but this feels like something I might have the bandwidth for this year. No promises on posting any publicly, though.
I’m on track this year to read the least number of books in a year since 2009: 23 books at the time of this writing. I’m not happy with that trend. Not because I think reading has intrinsic or moral value, but because I enjoy it, it helps my mental health, and reading a good story or learning something new is satisfying.
So to kick my habits directly in the ass, I’m taking on reading 52 books in 2024!
Notables from 2023:
- Artifact Space by Miles Cameron - This author is so good at detailed, lived in worlds. I can’t even tell why this book grabbed me so hard, but deep space voyaging merchant marine corp aboard a miles-long cityship is sure part of it.
- The Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone — Ha ha lawyer wizards but oh no it’s a deep critique of capitalism. Is necrolegalpunk a genre?
- The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky — I don’t even know where to begin describing this. Parallel earths! Cryptid-hunting lesbians! Immortal spacefaring trilobytes! All of existence at stake!
This was the year that Twitter finally and dramatically melted down, and though I’ve really been done with that specific platform for years at this point, it’s still got me thinking about social media in my own life.
It increasingly feels like the term “social media” isn’t quite right, but “people connecting with others using technology” isn’t quite snappy enough. Maybe it’s because I feel there’s a strongly-implied but silent “public” in front of “social media” for most. I think a lot about the essay The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet from a few years ago; I’ve never had anything resembling a large following on public social, but I still find myself increasingly self-censoring what I say. Not because I don’t want to stand behind my thoughts, not because I’m worried about my friends disagreeing with me, but because I find the idea of arguing with random strangers about it… exhausting.
While I’ve got accounts on most of the spaces scrambling to replace Twitter (Bluesky, Mastodon, etc), I’m finding myself not writing much of substance there. Shitposting into the void isn’t scratching an itch in anyone’s soul. And the bigger those places get, the more they start to resemble what drove me away in the first place: a place you go to see what your friends are up to and instead get a combat zone where all the world’s horrors are jammed into your eyes in between pictures of people’s kids and pets. Or you get the deeply unsettling algorithmic glurge: either naked engagement bait (Instagram) or reactionary faux-intellectual posts that make you question what’s pushing this into my feed (Threads).
Here’s my hot take for the year: the future of social media is already here, and it’s bifurcated. Public social media isn’t going away. But I think it will continue as an endless cycle of people trying to make money inside of a room holding entirely too much of the world, all screaming at each other.
I think the places many people are finding more meaningful human connection of late are the dramatically smaller, private or semi-private spaces. These aren’t in the form of any radical technological innovation. They’re just the group chat you’ve had on your phone for years. The small work-alumni Slack where you all landed after the layoffs. The 10-person Discord gaming group that knows how everyone’s kids are doing.
There’s something lost for the world in this transition. This year I watched all the regulars of the single subreddit I participated in move to a Discord server after Reddit’s boneheaded changes that priced out third-party apps. It’s been a wonderful boon for me personally, and I’ve genuinely developed some friendships in that new, closer space. But it’s a net loss for the world, because these folks’ presence and knowledge on that public subreddit were quietly helping out a few orders of magnitude more people.
Anyway, reminder that it’s an election year in the US, folks. Now is the time batten down the hatches on your internet-of-social circles, so you can come out ahead on the balance of human connection vs nightmare fuel.
Lifting progress was mostly positive in 2023. I spent until April cutting down to my leanest in years, and have been on a slow bulk since. I’ve managed to hit a good number of rep PRs for my main lower body lifts, but relatively few on my pressing lifts. I think part of that is just that pressing seems more sensitive to bodyweight than squats or deads; I was the lightest I’d been in my adult life at the end of that cut. My current overall programming is high variation and relatively low frequency on specific lifts—it’s ULULU with a single “main” lift a day and then as much accessory volume as I can pack in with super and giant sets. Big thanks to u/BenchPauper for the original Starscream, which I have cheerfully Frankensteined. This seems to be moving everything but my overhead press up slowly, so I’ll give it a few more months before I decide if I need to revisit my pressing programming.
Goals for next year remain the same: keep slowly gaining size overall. If I want my absolute numbers to go up, I need to fill out my frame and that means going up a weight class or two (so to speak, I have no interest in competing). I think using rep PRs on my main lifts is a good way to track this, alongside the scale.
I also finally started using my long-simmering homebrewed lift tracker! It’s been really nice to have a home-cooked meal and it’s taken the drudgery out of tracking rep PRs across years of lifting history. I wrote it as a tiny Rails app, and the project was a nice excuse to try out Turbo—I’m optimistic that kind of approach might eventually replace React—and wrote some fun surprisingly gnarly SQL to do atomic recalculations of PRs over time.
This year’s sleeper surprise tool was: a Garmin watch! I picked one up since I’d started doing a bit of running again this summer, just for the sake of easier clocking of mileage. After some experimenting, I found that using a nylon band let me wear it all the time without skin irritation. And letting it collect HR data the whole day had a side effect I didn’t anticipate: I got to see how I was squaring up to the AHA physical activity guidelines without fretting over whether an activity counted as “moderate” vs “vigorous”, or if walking the lazy Basset mix counted at all. It sounds silly, but since my goal for cardio is just maintaining health and the ability to go for a nice hike, I was worried at times that I was shifting too much of my training time to lifting. Turns out: nope! I was blowing by those recommendations 2.5x even while lifting 5x a week. Hooray for a bit of peace of mind.