Experimentation is one of the keys to my mental health.
I’ve known this for eight or nine years now, in fact ever since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
One of the biggest problems with any illness is working out cause and effect. There is so much noise going in everyday life that it’s near impossible to separate these things out.
Take medications as an example. Bipolar is notoriously difficult to treat; it can take several years of trial and error to find a combination that offers a reasonable result. It requires experimentation. If this is formalized in some way there is a much better chance of success.
What used to happen? Once a month I’d visit my doctor and each time the conversation went like this:
“How have you been over the last month?”
“What in particular was pretty bad?”
“I can’t really remember.”
“How is the new medicine going?”
“I don’t know. It’s hard to tell.”
If you’ve had similar conversations then you’ll know how frustrating they are – for everyone. If only we had a checklist of what works and what doesn’t handed out to us on a silver platter, life would be so much easier*. But the realization that this was never going to be the case opened up the door for me to a way of dealing with my condition proactively: experimentation. Instead of merely telling myself, “Don’t do this or that,” I sought to answer the question, “What will this achieve?”
* Shameless plug: I developed the Optimism apps to help with this specific problem. :)
A couple of years ago I stumbled across Think Try Learn, a website that has been a big help in my goal of living a more fruitful and less stressful life. Dubbed as The Experimenter’s Journal, Edison is the perfect resource for people who adopt the simple idea that “all life is an experiment” and it’s up to us to think, try, learn.
With over 400 experiments and more than 600 users to date, Edison has evolved to become a community of experimenters who have given the TTL method a try and are willing to share the lessons they’ve gained over the course of exploring unchartered territory. Whether it’s learning a new sport, starting a weight loss plan, or growing a plant – all these experiences are documented at Edison.
In my case, there are many and varied things that I’ve found out about myself through experimenting – some of them related to mental health, others unrelated.
- I am intolerant of some foods beyond a threshold. If I binge on one of them I have a big mood swing a couple of days later.
- I am more productive when I select my work tasks randomly by rolling dice.
- I took photos of my food for a week to shame myself into losing weight. (I put on weight.)
- I experience better moods when I sit on an exercise ball for work, than when I sit in a normal office chair.
- My skin reacts to latex dish washing gloves, which isn’t immediately obvious for some time after washing up.
I documented the last 4 of these on Edison, with some feedback and encouragement from others.
As you can see from my own experience, an experiment need not be a grand one to be beneficial, especially when it comes to one’s health. Even the simple discovery that eating sweets makes you stay awake long into the night, or that a certain brand of detergent causes you to break into a rash, is something that you would appreciate knowing. However small a piece of information may seem, if it brings some ease to your day to day living then it‘s worth the effort that you put into finding it.