Somebody commented that in 2013 I have done a lot more personal posts than usual.
I guess it’s been a heavy year. I’ll be back to business topics by the next post. But I hope you’ll indulge me one last personal post.
It’s now in the press that Jody committed suicide. I knew that but didn’t want to speak the unspeakable. How to say it? Mutter those words.
And it got me thinking a bit.
I started out this year writing about how much I hate December. That’s the mood I was in. I absolutely love January. I always have. So I wanted to start the year off talking about putting December behind me.
As an aside, I was blown away by just how many people told me they felt the exact same way about December but never wanted to say it publicly. Who knew?
In that post I started off on a tangent. Actually, it’s a bit eerie for me.
“You’d imagine your favorite founder, VC, blogger, political figure, billionaire, whatever has a stress free life pontificating about how to build the next really cool, society-altering product or changing a city, state or country. But of course life isn’t like this. We all face demons and stress.
Never was that more clear than in this short, but tear-inducing post from 2007 by Aaron Swartz, who you probably know took his life last week at the full-life-in-front-of-him-but-didn’t-feel-that-way age of 26. As a society it’s clear that we need to de-stigmatize depression, treat it and be aware of our colleagues & family who may be experiencing it.”
We need to de-stigmatize depression, treat it and be aware of our colleagues & family who may be experiencing it.
I wrote that on January 13th. I don’t know the details surrounding Jody’s death except that it was officially ruled as a suicide. I have some experience with people I have known in my life committing suicide and with others who have tried and failed. I can’t imagine suicide coming without some deep sense of depression and/or despondency. But I’m certainly no expert.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death globally. That seems too high.
Deep depression bordering on despondency. So bad that no alternative seems possible. I can’t process that. It doesn’t register in my brain. Probably doesn’t with almost all of you, as well.
But the thing is – it doesn’t process precisely because I believe that people with clinical depression that becomes too severe to handle have brains that are chemically wired differently than “healthy” brain chemistries. That it is an illness and one that needs to be treated both emotionally and chemically.
At a minimum we need to recognize the signs. As a society. Nobody that I’ve spoke with who had seen Jody recently has even an inkling of a idea. So I’m not even talking about that. But surely you know people in your circles that struggle with depression. What can we do about that?
What I hadn’t told anybody was that I had actually written a much more detailed post on January 13th. I was so moved by Aaron Swartz’s suicide that I couldn’t stop reading about it. Wondering why somebody with so much intelligence, with so much potential and with so many friends couldn’t see beyond his short-term fog.
I took the longer piece out because it seemed too focused on depression inspired by reading about Aaron Swartz and not enough on the positives of January that I was feeling.
I cut-and-paste the text and saved it to my Trello board where I store blog ideas. I thought I might some day dust it off and try to deal with it in a blog post.
And now it has struck so close to home that I haven’t well slept in 2 days. And it’s too soon to be dusting it off.
So here is what I wrote just 2 weeks ago thinking about Aaron. Not that it would have made even 1% of a difference. But in light of what happened I felt the need to push this post – unedited as I had written it – and move on.
“I am lucky that my brain isn’t chemically wired for depression but I’m all too aware that it is a disease and clinical condition that needs to be de-stigmatized. I have had friendships with too many people in my lifetime who had depression not to know this.
And if you are one of the lucky ones like me not prone to depression you need to have more compassion for people whose minds are wired differently. I remember living in the stiff-upper-lip environs of London where the common refrain to depressions was, “pull your socks up, mate! Life isn’t that bad. You have nothing to be depressed about!”
I used to think that about people who were depressed. I no longer do. I came to realize through reading about it that it’s a condition. It’s a wiring the brain. It’s not something that one can just “shake off.”
So I have come to explain it thus:
Imagine a spectrum of mental health
Now imagine the right hand side of the line as a perfect, normal, happy, cogent and functional brain.
Imagine the left side as schizophrenia. I know you’d all acknowledge that as a mental condition worthy of treatment and accept that this person is chemically wired differently than a healthy human brain. And this person is worthy of treatment, help, empathy and compassion.
Move over the spectrum to Alzheimer’s – a condition in which the brain loses its ability to remember people or circumstanced. It often comes later in life and certainly society understands that as disease worthy of treatment and compassion.
And slightly along the spectrum you run into bi-polar disorder. If you’ve ever experienced somebody with true bi-polar disorder you understand that some chemical condition takes over the brain and an other-wordly human being emerges for a painful period of time. I have been very close to 2 people with this condition and it is shocking to digest when you first experience an episode of mania. I can only say if you haven’t seen bi-polar disorder up close the nearest I can explain is the film Blue Sky, in which Jessica Lange won the Oscar for best actress in her portrayal of a military wife (husband Tommy Lee Jones) with bi-polar disorder. It was so accurate that it sent shivers down my spine watching it.
So we’ve acknowledged that mental conditions exist in which we can’t simply say, “come on, mate, pull up your socks and remember who your daughter is – you raised her! Stop being so difficult!” That would be mindless.
I believe depression is simply along the mental continuum. I have a close friend who takes medicine for depression. He spent his childhood depressed. He didn’t realize how much his life had changed on medication until he once spent a long weekend and forgot his medicine. He told me his entire drive home from his weekend was filled with thoughts of suicide.
Well. I didn’t start out this post thinking I would talk about depression but I was so moved this weekend by reading blog posts, eulogies, watching videos of Aaron Swartz and then the gut-wrenching post from 2007 where he acknowledges his demons that I thought it warranted a side-bar. And as somebody sent out on Twitter, the need for those of us who don’t suffer from this terrible disease to know the warning signs and engage others with whom we are concerned. And to never downplay or stigmatize those feeling depressed. It is a disease with treatments.”
I know it’s a strange topic to talk about. But maybe that’s just it. Maybe we as the tech community need to be more open about it. And watch out for our friends.
Now back to my regularly scheduled programming. Thank you for indulging me.