making progress

[I wrote most of this a little while ago, and then remembered/found it yesterday, so the timeline is a little weird.]

Several weeks ago, I stopped working because, put simply, I was not able to work. My depression had gone right through its usual winter intensification, and all the way to basically rendering me non-functional. I was unable to muster the energy, or usually even the motivation, to start to get better, and even once I was no longer able to work it took me several days to go through the process of finding a doctor to work with. Merely digging up my phone and telling people that I wasn’t going to work was such effort that I would literally collapse crying after.

For a couple of weeks, I didn’t enjoy. I didn’t enjoy playing with my daughter. I didn’t enjoy eating good food. I didn’t enjoy reading, playing old video games, playing new video games or chatting with my friends. (As my Steam friends will know, I really tried pretty hard with the new video games.) It was easy to give up alcohol as part of my treatment, because I didn’t really take much pleasure in it anyway. There was never a feeling of accomplishment or progress, even when I intellectually knew that I’d done something, or that I was taking the right steps.

I was ashamed: ashamed that I couldn’t function as well as those around me, that I had let my condition progress this far, that I was letting down the people I work with and the people I love. I was afraid that I would feel like that for the rest of my life, though I could make myself not think that if I got lucky on a given day, and I would cling to the remembrance of the thought of a feeling like the sickeningly cliched liferaft of all depression analogies. It hurt so much that I’m crying a bit as I sit on a plane and write this.

Kinda sucked; I can’t in good conscience recommend it.

Since then, I have been fortunate to learn more about myself and how to take care of myself, with the help of an incredible network of support. I’m the luckiest person ever to feel crushing despair, of that I am certain.

Getting better has been hard, it has hurt, and it I know that there are people reading this who are going through the same pain, or a pain like it only in degree. More still have a friend or loved one who suffers this way, or who they fear might. I know this because people I don’t know — and even people I do, for whom it’s even harder — have been brave and kind enough to share their empathetic encouragement. You have done me the most solid of solids, and I hope to never have the opportunity to repay it in kind. I’ll see being able to write proper thank yous as an important milestone in getting better.

I’m good at what I do: technologist, father, friend, husband, manager, competitor, entertainer. When I am at my best, I can be great. I’m going to be that again, and I can feel (feel, a major upgrade from “think”) it starting to happen. Sometimes when I cycle back a bit, or when I juxtapose how little energy I have against how hard it’s been to get back to this state, I get discouraged. But I have a lot to look forward to, and I don’t plan to squander the blind, stupid luck that has gifted me with such a helpful community.

Right now, I measure my improvement by how long I can sustain energy and “be normal”. It’s stupid and probably a bit self-destructive, but I have a lot of practice at it. (You can’t keep me from doing it, so make the most of the energy you get from me, and try not to judge me too harshly when I turn into an exhausted asshole without much notice.)

I have a mental illness that will be a part of me forever. We believe that it’s called bipolar disorder (type 2), and I still find it a bit scary. I’m still learning about it, but I also have a lifetime of experience with it that I’m mining for lessons and strategies and even hope. I have a lot more to say about BPD2, and I hope I’ll have the strength to say it, because it will help me a lot and maybe help some other people a little. I sure don’t have the energy for it right now.

I’m going to get better. I’m going to be fine. Thank you all for helping me do that, and thank you for your patience.

PSA: If you aren’t sure you’re going to get better, please tell someone. Practice saying “I’m depressed, I need help” in the mirror until you can blurt it out to a loved one or a co-worker. If you’re in the Bay Area, and you don’t know how to find a doctor, use mine, or go to a hospital or walk-in. (My doctor is fantastic, and I am going to miss how fantastic she is when I go back to Toronto.) You can heal; you can actually be better than ever.

3 comments to “making progress”

  1. entered 14 January 2011 @ 1:33 pm

    Thank you for the update and for continuing to be so frank and open; the world need more people like you doing this. In time I hope that mental illness is viewed with the same compassionate lens we use for physical illnesses, but until then the more people who tell their story, the better we all are.

    I’m sure you’ve read about this already, but if not, might I recommend mindfulness meditation as an “add-on” (ahem) to your medication? It’s not a panacea, but I’ve seen loved ones with depression (and myself) benefit greatly from it.

    Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “Full Catastrophe Living”, “Wherever You Go, There You Are”, or “The Mindful Way Through Depression” are great places to start. And don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions or need anything.

  2. jenzed
    entered 15 January 2011 @ 1:51 am

    Congratulations on your progress – I am so glad to hear that the darkness is lifting, however sporadically. I am very grateful for your posts about your mental situation. Reading about someone else’s darkness can shine a little light into one’s own cave. To have a senior Mozillian, a highly respected manager, display such courage in talking about their own mental health issues – to me, that embodies the core Mozilla value:

    Mozilla is about people. And about courage.

    Not tech, not process, not profit – people. And courage.

    I am very, very proud to be a member of the Mozilla community.

  3. Blast
    entered 15 January 2011 @ 5:09 pm

    Shaver, your doing all the right stuff and get help as often as you can. My middle kid has it bad and don’t be ashamed about a thing. There are good meds, and good help out there. Sometimes you have to look hard to find it. All the best –blast