6 Steps of Troubleshooting: Mental Health Edition

I have a knack for remembering really obscure random things. 

For the past month or so I’ve (tried to) take a break from Facebook. I do this every so often when I notice I’m feeling extra overwhelmed and anxious and can’t pinpoint why.

For me it’s like when I’m troubleshooting and have to isolate the problem. So I remove as many inputs as I can from my life and try to figure out what is causing the issue.

(DISCLAIMER: My explainations may be a little bit of a reach. I was never at all a good technician or  troubleshooter; that’s another reason I left the Navy)

All this time I’ve had this nagging thought in my head repeating “six steps of troubleshooting, six steps of troubleshooting”

WTF does that even mean? I really vaguely remember it from ATT  when I was in “A” school. It had something to do with the first step being “Is it plugged in?” and “Did you try turning it off and turning it back on?” but I didn’t know what the rest of the steps were.

I thought it was just a standard techie thing so I Googled it.

To my surprise, The Six Steps of Troubleshooting actually originated in the Navy and was adopted by the the IT industry.

So here’s my version of the Six Steps as it applies to mental health.

1) Symptom Recognition

This is the feeling of “something is not quite right”. It can be an inexplicable feeling of impending doom, irrational anxiety, crippling “haven’t-gotten-out-of-bed-or-eaten-all-day” depression. In more extreme cases it cam be the feeling of “something is terribly, terribly wrong and my world is ending”. i.e. “I think I may drive into that tree instead of into work today” or “I bet if I jump off the back of the ship tonight, no one will even miss me.”

2) Symptom Elaboration

I’m gonna lean heavily on my reference article for this one:

What aren’t you able to do?
Were you able to do it before?
Is it just you, or is this happening to others?
Has it ever worked?
Has anything changed recently?

That third and fifth one have been especially important lately. With the ongoing pandemic, the effect on mental health has been significant.

Recognize that you are not alone and that the world is not normal right now.

Being cooped up at home starts to feel like the Groundhog Day of a long underway. It’s easy to lose track of what day it is and if you’ve showered already.

Go back to the basics.

In the gas turbine world there are certain permissives that need to be met before our engines will run. We need to make sure we have fuel, lube oil, seawater cooling, all the support systems aligned.

Have you met your self-care permissives? Eat food. Drink water. Take your medication. Take a shower. Get enough sleep. Change your socks and pop a Motrin? My friends think I’m weird, but I use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a guide if I have no idea what I need. In my opinion, Abraham Maslow inadvertently created a pretty effective EOSS for human beings.

3) List Probable Faulty Functions

“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.” -Lao Tzu

Are you anxious or depressed? Is it both?  What’s keeping you from living in the present?

This is the point where I delete the Facebook app. With painful Facebook Memories, the constant barrage of depressing current events, the relentless REALLY TARGETED advertising, it’s a potent mix of the past, present, and future.

Depending on what I’m feeling, I usually delete the Messenger app too. You know the feeling you get when you hear the phrase “We need to talk.”? Every Messenger notification I get feels like that.

I don’t use other social media a whole lot but I would also consider deleting Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, etc. if it wasn’t for the fact that I don’t really have followers on any of those platforms. At this point Twitter has just become a weird stream of consciousness repository for me to have a starting point for my longer blog posts here.

What else is constantly causing my phone notifications to go off and pull my mind out of living in the present moment?

Emails? UNSUBSCRIBE. Especially recently (for me) that I decided I was going to be a “funnelhacker” and have opted into countless sales funnels just to see all of the steps in someone’s funnel. All of those newsletters I get just so I get coupons that I’ll never use because I always forget to check my emails for coupons and end up buying shit at full price anyway? UNSUBSCRIBE.

Amazon or Wish that alerts me about products I “may be interested in” but definitely had no intention of buying? DELETE.

You get the picture. If you’re like me, you’re constantly getting bombarded with notifications that don’t actually add any value to your life. Get rid of them.

In the pre-COVID world, this is where I would’ve started isolating myself more. I don’t mean that you should stop going out with your friends entirely. But if  you’re constantly going out and you’re not enjoying yourself, maybe what you actually need is more time by yourself to reflect and refocus on your goals.

4) Localize the Faulty Function

Now that you’ve identified all the things that could be making you miserable, figure out which one of those areas is the most probable cause.

Is Facebook Memories reminding you of the great times you had with your ex who subsequently broke your heart into a million pieces?

Or your is your news feed showing you other moms who are handling the quarantine homeschooling WAY more gracefully than you?

Is Amazon showing you that you want that sweet new graphics card that you can’t afford? Then in turn it reminds you that you’re not making the amount of money you’d ideally like to make and you ultimately feel like a failure?

Are you getting ads for Positive Parenting Solutions that actually remind you that you feel like you’re not a good enough parent? (Newsflash: bad parents don’t consider the possibility that they’re bad parents. You’re doing fine!)

Is Credit Karma telling you that you’re in debt up to your eyeballs? Or Zillow showing you houses you can’t afford?

Is Pinterest alerting you to ideas for Roarin’ 20’s Parties you won’t actually get to throw this year? (sorry, couldn’t help it)

Or is it a tangible real-world problem?

Maybe your dishes or laundry are piling up. Or your kid’s toys are strewn all over the living room. Or your “Check Engine” light has been on for three months now.

Is it some major life change that needs to occur? Do you hate your job? Did you realize that there’s no spark left in your relationship?

Maybe you’re on track for an associate’s degree for graphic design but what you actually want is a certificate in sustainable agriculture. (Wow, Beata, that’s a REALLY specific example…)

5) Localize the Faulty Component

Have you narrowed it down?

What is making you feel this way?

Do you need it in your life? If not, get rid of it. You don’t need that negativity.

Or is it some nagging item on your to-do list that you keep procrastinating on?

Depression sucks. Depression is hard. But it’s not a free pass to not do things. Take a deep breath, eat the frog.

Is it some large over-arching life goal that you feel like you’ll never reach?

Make a list of things you’ve done or things that you will do in support of your goal. Give yourself credit for the fact that you’re taking steps to make your dreams happen when you could easily sit back and not do anything about them.

Once you figure out your pain point(s) make a plan to deal with it.

I used to have a Chief Engineer who wanted me to outline the problem, impact, and proposed solution for each discrepancy reported to her. I’ve used this format for my life’s discrepancies as well and sometimes it helps me get a clearer picture of what’s going on.

6) Failure Analysis

After you figure out what the problem is… TAKE ACTION.

Execute your plan. Make the repair. How do you feel?

Clear tags. Plug yourself back in. Check for full system functionally. OPTEST sat?

If not, keep troubleshooting. Find all your pain points.

If so, document the solution for future reference.

By documenting it somehow – maybe through journaling, taking pictures, writing a blog, making a YouTube video… You effectively create a toolbox of solutions that you can try again in the future.

In fact, the whole purpose of this blog is for me to document my solutions, with the added bonus that they may help others as well.

In “You Are A Badass” Jen Sincero talks about recalling the last time you felt really good in your life; take notice of what your priorities and attitude were at that time and use them as a guide.

“Preventing a fault from happening again can be tricky.”

This is true for equipment as well as in life. The answer may not be the same every time you experience an depressive episode or panic attack.

After all, despite all of the metaphors in this post, you’re actually a person, not an alarm panel. In any case, building up your toolbox of proven solutions means you’re not re-inventing the wheel every time.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.