[CW: mental illness, self-harm]
When my depression was at its worst, it felt almost like a constant, physical pain. Getting away from that crushing weight felt as urgent as pulling my hand away from a hot stove, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even imagine a respite or a pause in the misery, let alone conceive of a day when I wouldn’t have to think about it, when just lifting that weight off my chest wasn’t the singular concern of my every waking hour.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, to start: I’m an incredibly fortunate person, with a wonderful family, a thriving career, and a platform that lets me speak my mind to the world. I’m thankful every day for these blessings, and try to be worthy of the gifts I’ve been given. What’s more, I am privileged enough to have some stability and kindness in my life, granting me a resiliency I am deeply grateful for. I want to start by reciting how appreciative I am for my life now because it’s the thing I most wish I could tell my younger self as I was struggling.
For most of my teens and twenties, I wrestled with depression as either a specter that lingered over everything, threatening to yank away any joy or peace that I found, or worse as a predator that stalked me and actively fought me finding any happiness or comfort. In reading other people’s stories, I find that the details of my experience are maybe a little different, but the high level pain of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted seems very similar to what so many have endured.
I don't feel a stigma, but the world expects me to
The truth is, I’ve never kept my struggles with mental health a secret; I wrote about it all on this site back when blogging was still vibrant and booming before social networks took off. And my personal view was that I didn’t have any more stigma about mental illness than about, say, acid reflux. “Here’s a health challenge I had. It was serious. Because I was fortunate enough to have good medical care and a solid support network, I was able to treat it. A combination of the right medication, changes in diet and sleep and exercise, and being mindful about my wellness overall helped me manage it and make it something I live with but don’t have to worry about on a daily basis anymore.”
But I’ll be real: I’ve been quiet about it. When, after a decade and a half of people asking me, I finally started a podcast last year, I figured I’d just be talking about tech and software. I did not think I’d start a new season of the podcast by talking about the fact that I’d once wanted to kill myself.
I don’t mean to be glib about it, because it still terrifies me to say it out loud. I’m not ashamed, but I worry about my family or loved ones having to face the stigma over my own issues. I worry about my colleagues and coworkers feeling unsettled or uncomfortable with me talking about this, even though they’ve been nothing but sensitive and supportive. I worry about still having to do business in a tech industry that struggles with issues of inclusion on the best of days, and how it will react to me being fairly visible while sharing this kind of message. And I care deeply about being an advocate for universal, freely available access to vital mental health care when I also know that our American healthcare system is so screwed up its hard for me to get every detail right at the company that I lead.
They’re going to say I’m crazy. They’re going to say I’m a hypocrite. They’re going to say it’s not that bad and I’m pretentious for pretending I’ve struggled. They’re going to say nothing, and just uncomfortably back away, forever thinking less of me and embarrassed by what I said.
Building Something New
So today, I‘ve spoken about my experiences more directly and more publicly than I have in decades. I of course want everybody to reach out for help and support if needed, but I also want to tell the story of how it’s possible to make a new life where you’re thriving and joyous, not just enduring the pain. Not everybody gets there, and no two people follow the same path, but it absolutely can happen. I’m living proof.
I’ve also found something that brings me joy and inspiration today: seeing others take care of themselves. When I was at my lowest, my hardest struggle was to forgive myself for not fixing everything all at once. The most significant breakthrough I had was reframing my challenge as just trying to do one thing a little bit better, every day. A small, incremental change that felt manageable would be the thing that saved my life, not some monumental effort to transform everything at once.
Few things have brought me more joy than seeing my professional work at Glitch, where people can create anything they want on the web, become a place that people make tools that help them do a little better every day for themselves. Almost from the first day, we’ve seen people make little reminders or nudges or assurances that, while certainly not displacing the need for therapy or medication or proper treatment, become part of a larger effort to take care of themselves.
I’m really proud of the work our community and team have done to tell these stories, and I’m appreciative that I get to tell my own story as part of a larger effort to remove stigma and ensure that people get the care and support that they need and deserve. I do hope you’ll give this story a listen.
One final note: I’m far from a mental health professional. My experiences may well be completely non-standard and certainly don’t reflect what many other people go through. So while I’m happy to talk about my story and open to connecting with people around it, I’ll be setting boundaries around how much I can help people who may be struggling with similar challenges. Please know that doesn’t mean I don’t want to help, or that you can’t overcome your own challenges, but simply me trying to manage my ability to be supportive without being overwhelmed.
Here’s to getting a little better, every day.