Depression In a Nutshell

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My original intention was to publish this on Tuesday, the start of Geek Mental Health week. Except it's Thursday and it's taking a lot of effort to put words on the screen and say what needs to be said. It's like trying to break down a concrete wall with my bare hands. I can't. I'm not Superman. For the life of me I don't know why this should be hard. But that's what depression is like for me and it's what I've dealt with for years. And it's why I need help everyday.

If what I just wrote sounds familiar, this post is for you.

Software development is a good place for people with depression and bipolar. It accepts the socially isolated. It accommodates irregular sleep patterns and inconsistent bursts of productivity.

Greg Baugues

Developer Evangelist at Twilio

On good days life is nothing short of amazing. I get up around 5am, exercise, meditate, journal, play with my kids, hug my wife, make coffee, and hit the day running. I'm still not Superman but hey, I make a decent Clark Kent. This is the person with whom most people who know me in some capacity interact. This is the person I legitimately am. It's also the person I pretend to be when I have a bad day.

On a bad day I wake up at 5am and do nothing. I sit there sort of angry, kind of numb. I think about the ways I failed people the day before. I think about the things I consider to be failures. I know I am a failure. I wonder why my wife is even still here. I know this isn't true about my life but it feels true. Eventually I shrug and get up. It’s probably about 6am. I've spent an hour fighting myself. I make a vow not to yell at my kids, occasionally it even works. I feel like an animal; hackles up, sending very clear signals: "Don't come near me."

I slink into the kitchen and do my best to stay out of the way, to not bring anybody down. I quickly make coffee and slip into my home office so I can...do nothing. I sit at my desk and try to focus on the real and good. It rarely works. I'm alone. I'm stuck. If it’s a really bad day I start comparing myself to others - a sure fire way to tank the rest of the day.

Eventually I am forced to interact with other people, and for me it’s the saving grace. I pretend to be the guy having a good day and ironically, that usually turns the day around and I become that guy and my mind and heart are right again. I've learned to leverage the momentum - a skill that took years.

The bad days used to be normal for me. Now, thank God, they are the exception. They still happen, but now I have a set of tools and more importantly, a peer group to see me through. Now it’s just a morning that goes bad, or an afternoon. It’s rare to lose an entire day. But at its worst - before I got help - depression could take me out for days, weeks even.

If you suffer from depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issue, I want you to know that while there usually isn't a magic cure, there is a way through. I also want you to know you're not alone. There are millions of us and we actually want to help each other.

You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.

Joseph Goldstein​

Founder, Insight Meditation Society

Of course, the problem is that you may not know you suffer from depression (or something else) so let me just give this advice: See a therapist regardless if you feel the need or not. We work in an industry that encourages a lot of behaviors that are really bad for mental health while demanding we look and act invincible. So it can’t hurt to check in with a professional, get a screening, be checked out. Of all the ways I know to help others, this is the important step: See a professional. There is no substitute for this.

I was speaking to Greg Baugues a couple years ago at the ExpressionEngine Conference that finally pushed me into seeing a therapist. It led me down the road to try various meds and approaches. That led me to a conversation with a close friend who recommended cognitive behavioral therapy, which led to a therapist that specializes in helping entrepreneurs and business owners through Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

ACT clicks with me. My brain understands it regardless of how I’m feeling. I’m not claiming it works for everyone (which is good because science says it doesn’t). Remember, there is no magic cure. We are just looking for a way through.

If you’ve found a way through, tell others about. That’s how I got help from Greg. It’s how I’ve helped others. Show up in public. Depression is a real thing, like having a broken leg. There is no shame in it. Or rather, there shouldn’t be. The more of us that speak openly about it, the better our chances of helping each other through in a positive way. You will find peers; you will find the people you need. They are probably already working with you. That’s certainly the case here at Zaengle Corp.

And finally, just this: Be Nice. Yes, it’s in the tagline for Zaengle Corp and that’s no accident. It’s also not pure sentiment or a mere marketing phrase. Being nice is an actionable way to fight against all the terrible mental health practices we encounter in our industry. The pressure; the deadlines; the need to perform; the overhead of the insanely complex; the drudgery of bug squashing. We are an industry riddled with ways to make our mental state worse, not better.

Being nice is a way through - a real way through. It’s a way to get the hackles down, to include others, to let the guard down, to let things truly be about the work while keeping the human side civil, friendly, and positive in the face of everything else. It’s a posture more than any specific action - one that by default invites community and sharing.

And finally, just this: Be Nice. Yes, it’s in the tagline for Zaengle Corp and that’s no accident. It’s also not pure sentiment or a mere marketing phrase. Being nice is an actionable way to fight against all the terrible mental health practices we encounter in our industry.

Leslie Camacho

Acting COO, Zaengle Corp.

When I’m depressed, I am not nice to myself. It’s hard to remember that I am a good and kind person; I can’t turn down the noise of the awful accusations I hear inside my head. I’ve found that by showing kindness and being nice to those around me - my kids, my wife, my team, my clients - I start remembering who I really am. Showing the kindness that I objectively value - regardless of how I feel - helps me then receive kindness from myself.

That’s my story, my way through. Here’s a real next step to find your way through.

I know how difficult it is to reach out, so I offer this as an easier first step. You can screen yourself using the tools from Mental Health America, “the nation's leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to helping Americans achieve wellness by living mentally healthier lives.” You can find their comprehensive self-tests here:

Mental Health America, Health Screening Tests.

If nothing else, please email me.