7 Tips From a Reticent Spymaster

When it comes to fantasy storytelling, Charles Yallowitz is your man. From why only some vampires can (and should) reproduce to the proper way of knowing the best mapper shop in town, he’s the expert.

He recently dragged one of the best spies from his Legends of Windemere series out to ask him for 7 Tips to Being an Effective Spymaster. The post is as follows:

(From a Yahoo image search)

So, I’ve asked Kai Stavros from War of Nytefall: Rivalry to give some tips on being a spymaster.  He doesn’t really want to share his secrets or be out in public, so he gave me a list.  It was written into my car with a warning that I should never ask him to do anything like this again.  Here we go:

  1. Never do public appearances unless they are on your terms . . . Just going to voice a complaint right away, huh?  You know, I could have asked another of my spy characters to do this.  Well, I don’t have any, but I know a few who would willing to make stuff up.
  2. Always double-check your information.  (That makes sense.)  Torture is a good way to confirm . . . Really!?  This is what I get for asking a vampire how this goes.  In his defense, vampires regeneration, so what would be a fatal wound for a mortal isn’t a big deal for them.  Still, there could be kids reading this, Stavros.
  3. Maintains some friendships with your coworkers, but remain distant.  You don’t want to get attached to those you might have to sacrifice for the sake of a mission.  The exceptions are your masters or employers depending on your personal employment position.  (That was bizarrely bureaucratic.)
  4. Never fall in love because that will inevitably be used against you.  If not your lover then children, so celibacy is a good idea as well.  (I know of one famous spy who would really disagree on that last one.  Why doesn’t that guy have kids on every continent?)
  5. When sending messages, you must write in code to protect your secrets.  It is best to have multiple code systems and randomly cycle through them.  Only one person should know the locations of the scrolls needed to decipher them.  It helps to put two spells on the messages as well.  One is to share the information with your employer if you and the translator are dead.  The other is to curse or kill anyone who manages to get even one word correct.  (Wow.  That’s actually a good one.)
  6. Never agree to appear on a blog to share secrets.  It doesn’t matter how much the author pathetically begs.  (And we’re back to the sass.)
  7. Uh . . . This one is in code and I don’t want to risk anything.  I mean, he did give me a warning in #5.  Oh, it’s just messy penmanship since I guess he was in a rush to get out of here.  The tip is: Don’t bring attention to yourself, but don’t try to hide from society.  You need to find something in the middle because blending in and understanding human nature are essential tools of the trade.  (I think that was cursed . . . No, just the Taco Bell I ate, which is basically the same thing.)

—–

See? Spies can be handy -you know, when they’re not stabbing you in the back or whatnot.

Be sure to check out Charles’ books for more adventures. He writes unique stories where vampires are the main characters, and not because they sparkle.

The Cure for Depression: Don’t Skip What Works

We are very close to the end of our list of cures for depression. We’ve covered everything from connecting with a person to talking to a professional to medicating to exercising to last week’s post on mindfulness.

So… that pretty much makes you an expert now, right?

I’m going to take a really wild guess that you haven’t implemented any of these suggestions. Yes, I’m psychic. Or… I know this because I also haven’t moved from my lazy habits one titch. In fact, I’ve actually worsened in …um…. about half the areas.

My negative self-talkers are in process of lighting torches and hefting pitchforks. “You’re a failure!” They chant, preparing to run my motivation out of the forest forever.

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“Hold up there!” I reply. I’m actually not a failure. I even wrote about a new title for those with mental illness! We’re not failures. We’re HUMAN!

Instead of giving up, I’m going to brush forest moss from my coat and pick the leaves out of my hair. I’m fine. You’re fine. We’re all fine with -nevermind.

But no more slacking, fellow human. Sit up. Pick an item from the list. Close your eyes and point if you need to. Let’s see: you got “exercise.” That’s easy! Read the blog post I wrote and follow along with my simple step-by-step directions. I even kept it short just in case your attention span wanders like mine….

Where were we? Oh. Attention stuff. Yeah, so, if you could go ahead and pick one that would be great, mmmkay?

Just one. Do it and stop making excuses.

If you are more motivated than I and have already completed one or more of the suggestions, bravo! Pat yourself on the back and eat a bit of chocolate unless you’re reading this after 8 p.m. Get to bed at a reasonable time, and pick another idea to try tomorrow.

Pick another idea after that one.

And again.

The main idea is to try. I don’t even care if you stop after a bit; it’s the trying that matters. After simply trying a few, you are going to notice something important: what helps, and what’s not-so-helpful.

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Let’s say that aerobic exercise stressed you out more, yoga in the morning helped you want to keep working your crummy job, eating organic got really expensive, and your psychiatrist moved to another state. Which of these items needs to stay, class?

Don’t red marker them out of existence; this is more of an “edit the sentence to make it correct” exercise.

Cross out aerobic exercise stressed you out more, and write I will walk outside for half an hour at lunch. Change the yoga bit to a simple I love doing yoga before work. Organic got really expensive can now read Healthy foods don’t have to be organic; I’ll pick up some produce on sale and eat it with my meals. As to your psychiatrist? I’m going to ask around for a new psychiatrist, including asking mine for a good referral.

See how that works? Great! Homework time! Your assignment, due soon, is the following:

  1. Try! That’s all: try one of the cures for depression.
  2. Try another.
  3. Ditto, for about 12 more items.
  4. Look at what worked. Edit your observations in a positive manner.

Now for the most difficult part: DO what works.

Which, of course, is NOT difficult. We just make it that way. Change really isn’t the mountain we see it to be. Change is actually a few small steps to a shortcut we can’t see from the trailhead. That shortcut may require climbing gear and a sherpa, but it’s there and it’s possible.

You’re stronger than you think -but not invincible. Don’t get lazy by dropping the practices and routines that made your life more tolerable. That make your life happy.

Keep at it. You are worth it.

 

Photo Credits:
Vinicius Amano
Esther Tuttle

 

*Chelsea Owens is not a licensed anything, except a Class D driver in her home state, and shares all information and advice from personal experience and research.

The Cure for Depression: Follow a Daily Routine

Aw, crap. It’s morning.

Let’s roll out of bed after not sleeping well, glare at our alarm, blame everyone in the world for how terrible we feel, and stalk off to the bathroom to read our phone get ready.

With a winning morning routine like that nearly every day, why are we confused when the days continue to suck?

Did anyone ever watch The Lego Movie? D’ya remember that Emmett had an instruction book literally subtitled: “The instructions to fit in, have everybody like you, and always be happy!”? We, the viewing audience, laughed as Emmett breathed deeply, greeted the day, ate, exercised, showered, and even said, “Hello,” to all the cat lady’s pets.

Lego

In true exciting story form, the film suggested that Emmett’s real, interesting life began once those stupid instructions blew away. Sorry; but this is not how life works.

Life is really long, and we need to want to live it.

Following a routine like Emmett does is not bad. Routine is not a swear word. It’s actually a magic formula, far more magical than Expecto Patronum or even Avada Kedavra. A routine gives us a little, workable guide for getting through our foggy cloud of negativity and hopelessness.

And, you’re following a routine as we speak. It just may not be a good one.

So! *rubs hands together eagerly* Let’s get started on following one that is good. Here’s a sample morning that I threw together:

  1. Wake up, preferably early.
    Yep, we’re starting there. You already blew the early-to-bed thing. Plus, if we start with bedtime, you’ll be like me and procrastinate starting a routine until you can finally get to sleep before midnight -so we’ll get started, like, NEVER.
  2. Tell yourself you love you.
    This is not vain, it’s Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It’s good for you; and you are worth it, you beautiful/handsome person.
  3. Do something active.
    If you are following my advice to exercise daily, this may be the time to grab those workout clothes you set right by the bed.
    OR, to not stress you out at all, just do a little stretching. L’internet has loads of simple yoga day-greeting moves that only take a few minutes.
  4. Eat food or get ready for the day.
    I am the only woman in a house of males (all family, don’t worry), so I have to get dressed pretty much right away. For you, though, maybe you can slouch over to the toaster in your skivvies. Whatever; just go. Keep moving.
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  5. Whatever you eat, make it healthy.
    Healthy also doesn’t need to be a bad word. Toast is healthy, at least compared to a breakfast of peanut M&Ms you found behind the couch cushion when you sat down to read your phone instead of stretching.
  6. Shower and/or get dressed.
    Just do it. Don’t give yourself time to think, What am I getting dressed for? Life is…. Ending that sentence is never a good idea for a depressive mindset. Like I said, keep going.
  7. Take your meds, if you do that.
    I don’t know your dosing schedule, but most are taken after a meal and in the first part of the day.
  8. Go somewhere.
    Yes, to your computer chair to check into a freelance job is “somewhere.” I know that some of us are recluses by choice and/or mental condition. If you can get outside to at least stand on the porch and watch the sun, please do.
    Otherwise, I highly recommend getting completely out of the house. Go on a walk, pick up groceries, visit a friend, see a museum, or go to work if you’re employed.

Obviously, this routine is not a hard-and-fast rule. If you decide to pack a lunch in between steps 7 and 8 I won’t leap through your screen and slap you. I mean, you gotta eat lunch, too. I understand.

Still, it’s a good format. Use it like a foundation, something to plagiarize completely for yourself and adjust according to your personal flair.

In terms of the rest of your day, I feel that people’s schedules vary too widely to tailor as much as I did above. If you work, the day’s pretty much planned out for you because you have to do that. If you’re at home, set up activities similar to the morning one.

The main idea is to have assigned tasks; to keep moving.

Depression loves to settle on us like a putrid cloud. We let it. Making life pointless and then dwelling on the pointlessness of life is a vicious circle, but a daily routine will help break you out of that.

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Now, if you’re still with me, you may be wondering about a nighttime routine. I mentioned this in a previous article on sleep, so I don’t want to bore anybody. That, and I’ve exceeded my morning routine writing time. If I wait much longer, I’ll finish the rest of the chocolate almonds and will somehow decide to not exercise due to post-sugar crash.

Don’t get caught up in writing the perfect routine. Use mine for now; I gave you permission. As you follow it, you can slowly change to what works better for you and your lifestyle and work schedule.

You can do it, you beautiful/handsome person you.

 

Photo Credits:
Wikia
Deryn Macey
gbarkz

 

*Chelsea Owens is not a licensed anything, except a Class D driver in her home state, and shares all information and advice from personal experience and research.

The Cure for Depression: Help Someone Else

Today on Curing Depression, I’d like to discuss service.

You may wonder why this is its own item. When I initially listed it with 10 other suggestions, I felt fairly confident in the decision. As I went to type this article tonight, however, I had my doubts. Topics like seeing a counselor or psychiatrist and taking medication are real shoe-ins for curing. Service, though? I mean, what the weird?!

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Odd as the topic may be, I actually have some beefy research that serving helps. Many church websites or volunteer organizations like to post evidence (’cause they want unpaid workers). BUT, the less-ulterior-motive types at Harvard Health, The American Psychosomatic Society, and even TIME magazine list benefits as well.

Turns out there’s something real about serving others, something that definitely helps combat a depressive mindset.

Still don’t believe me? Did you even read my links? The legitimate sources want you to pay a subscription to find out about helping people, but they’re referenced on other sites. The coolest thing I learned was that benefits of service are not merely observed. Service causes literal changes in brain activity, in positive areas.

When someone in need receives help, he or she benefits directly from the social support; simultaneously, the giver benefits in specific brain regions associated with stress, reward, and caregiving (Psychology Today).

The group that published for The American Psychosomatic Society used neuroimaging to measure differences in specific neurobiological areas. Translation: research dudes watched parts of the brain respond to giving or receiving. They measured change, and to which areas, and what the heck that actually meant in practice.

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Isn’t that cool? Service was associated with reduced stress-related activity, greater reward-related activity, and greater caregiver-related activity.

Okay -science lesson done. I am now going to convince you that people are worth serving.

Ummmm.

Does anyone want to fence this one? I don’t always get along with people.

Anyone?

Zut.

All right, let’s try a different approach. What would you want a friend or relative to do for you? Do you wish someone would text you? Look at you? Help move a washer/dryer combo to your new apartment?

People are selfish. Their world and everything that is most important revolves around them. They aren’t smart enough to see that others might want help, so we’re going to take the first step.

Let’s hold off on the washer/dryer combo and start simple. Start small -remember? Pick someone on your contacts list and send them a nice message. Don’t just “wave” with the little emoticon or say you like their hair or smile. This isn’t junior high. Write that you were thinking about them and wondered how they’re doing. Keep it light, airy, and small-talkish.

Did you do it? How do you feel? Better? Try another person.

After messaging or texting or talking to a few peeps, you may find approaching humans to be less daunting. You may even find yourself looking forward to interactions. You may simply like the feeling you got when one of them texted back, and even wrote a smiley face. That was your seeing the mental benefit of service.

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Service Idea Two: Give a handmade present away. If you’re still firmly in the not liking people camp, think of this as a way to show off.

Actually, scratch that. You’ll fire up different brain areas with a prideful mindset.

So think of someone you want to do a nice thing for, and then try to figure out if they like anything you could make. Honestly, if making’s too tricky or embarrassing, go for buying him/her food. Make sure the recipient doesn’t have allergies to chocolate chip cookies, then proceed with the merrymaking and present-bestowing.

Service Idea Three: move that washer/dryer. Hopefully, the appliance only stands as an analogy. Real friends usually ask for rides, a last-minute babysitter, a spare power drill, a cup of flour, etc. Avoid moochers, of course, but be the one who’s willing to help a good friend out.

After this point, service tends to fall into more serious categories. I’m talking serving at a soup kitchen, flying out of country to vaccinate native children, offering pro-bono work to homeless fathers seeking custody, or volunteering to build houses for homeless people.

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If you are struggling with mental illness, such large ideas of helping will overwhelm you. You need to start with simple.

Thinking about others and actually doing things for them is a healthy brain-changing exercise. There’s sciency proof, “I feel better” proof, and civic improvement proof. Service also gets you out of yourself. And since the negative thoughts of depression fester when allowed private time in our minds, service redirects our focus to a cause greater than our own perceived limitations.

Service gets us out of our pit and connecting with others.

Our human connections are terribly important. I even listed connection as the first cure for depression. The best connections are forged when groups work together in service, especially in a giver/receiver setups.

In parting; don’t get discouraged. Don’t tell yourself you can’t possibly do one more thing with your busy life. You can, because there are small things (like sending the text) that you can slip in your schedule while eating breakfast, riding the train, or sitting in a bathroom. No matter how small a service you perform, you’ve made the world a better place to live and have helped your depression that much more.

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Photo Credits:
Mike Wilson
Pixabay
rawpixel
Greyson Joralemon
rawpixel

 

*Chelsea Owens is not a licensed anything, except a Class D driver in her home state, and shares all information and advice from personal experience and research.

The Cure for Depression: Simply, Joy

I am not looking forward to today’s topic.

Whoa –what?! Why wouldn’t I want to type about happy things? I’m the expert, dishing out advice. I should be ALL OVER this topic.

I’m not.

I am terrible at happiness. -Aaaannnddd that sentence just proved it.

Instead of the ol’ biblical casting of stones at me, however, I’d like to suggest that we all might struggle with the positive side of things. That’s kind of, sort of why we’re looking at solutions for depression; right?

So, with seeking counseling, improving our diet, getting outside, exercising a tad, and perhaps taking medication, let’s try to Do Something that Brings Us Real Joy.

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First, allow me to give you an analogy: Right now I am sitting at my computer typing advice. I can smell something, and it’s not a pleasant sort of something. I am fairly certain this unpleasant odor is coming from the garbage can.

I live in a fancy house with a fancy pull-out garbage drawer thingie with two entire garbage bins so that I can procrastinate taking the mess outside for a really long time (like a whole day, since I have four children). We’ve been playing an avoidance game of smashing the mess down instead of removing it, because we’re really good at procrastination.

The garbage needs to get taken out. Why the heck don’t I do it?

  1. I enjoy the stink of stinky things. They remind me that life is full of crap and I shouldn’t forget it.
  2. I’ve read about other people smelling garbage. I feel better knowing I’m not alone and find those people and leave comments about how I, too, can smell bad things all day.
  3. Thinking about refuse removal overwhelms me. What if the bags are too heavy? What if they tear when I pull them out? What if, what if, what if?
  4. It’s a really long couple hundred feet out my garage door to the outside cans/bins/etc. I just don’t think I can make it that far.

Didja get the point? Good! You get extra credit. Everyone else (myself included): just insert phrases like negative thoughtsdepressionhiding in the closetfeeling terrible every time I wrote about smelly waste.

For example: “I enjoy negative thoughts.” “I’ve read about other people feeling terrible.” “Thinking about depression overwhelms me.”

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My story sounded silly when I was talking about garbage. I mean, OF COURSE I SHOULD JUST TAKE IT OUTSIDE. But why do we hang onto personal garbage?

Feeling terrible is simply not worth it.

I wrote about why I numb awhile back. Not doing happy things is an activity I participate in because I’m trying to self-protect. I think that not feeling happy will make it so I also don’t feel sad. Instead, I am constantly in a haze of nothingness and still feel sad.

Feeling happy is okay. In fact, it feels good.

Let’s small step out of our stinky, dark corner: First, I want you to think a happy thought. Seriously, Tinkerbell, DO IT. I recommend thinking about a time that you felt happy, even just a little bit. Or, think about an activity you love to do.

Got it firmly in your mind? Now, wave your wand and… Expecto Patronum!

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In the real world, we’re going to take that happy thought and write another one below it. We’re making what’s called a LIST. Yes, I want you to actually put pen or pencil on paper and list them out. Even in today’s technological world, listing helps our primal brains make connections.

My list read:

  1. Snowball fight with friends
  2. Running in the rain
  3. Creating something useful
  4. Eating a really delicious mushroom Swiss burger
  5. Receiving a sincere compliment

Now it’s your turn. Your list may read: eating, reading, me time, skiing, friends, chocolate, gardening, walks, booze, sex, sunlight streaming softly through slatted blinds, and whiskers on kittens. Dude; it’s your list. Make it catered to you and stop worrying that someone will judge you for it.

Now, small step numero dos is to pick one thing on there that you think you can do soon. It is your list, but pick one that gives you REAL JOY (sex and drugs don’t count; sorry). Decide to do it. Today would be ideal, but maybe you’re reading this article at 3 a.m. and water skiing with your friends might be a little lethal in the dark.

I don’t want you to just say you will do it, either. Put it in your phone. Send a text to a responsible person like your mother. Carve out the time that you will do it and then actually do it.

It’s just one thing, I promise.

After completing that thing, recuperate. Then, do something else from your list. Recover. Pick another one and do it. Lather, rinse, repeat.

After you do that first thing, I want you to do me a favor. I want you to come back here and comment on this here blog post. Tell me what you did (unless it’s classified). You get extra internet credit if you tell the class how you felt afterwards.

Let’s find real joy, together.

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This has been part of our tips to help cure depression. Tune in next time, to read about service.

 

Photo Credits:
Blaise Vonlanthen
Pixabay
Pexels
Sharon McCutcheon

 

*Chelsea Owens is not a licensed anything, except a Class D driver in her home state, and shares all information and advice from personal experience and research.