May 30, 2005

On Being Crazy.

In movies, craziness is usually handled in a cute way. How many crazy-but-lovable characters have we seen? Remember that movie with Dudley Moore and all the crazy people who end up running an ad agency? They were all so quirky and cute, but they could see things the rest of us overlooked. Like the myth of blind people developing super-heroic hearing, these crazy people compensated for their illness by developing points-of-view that enlightened us all, and taught us what it really means to be human. Awwww.


My grandfather was a charismatic man, and probably a genius. The family story is, growing up on a farm, he invented a new type of tractor and naively mailed plans for it to John Deere, who came out with his idea a year later and never paid him a cent. Who knows if that's true; for me the underlying truth is that everyone in our family felt him a man capable of inventing a tractor even though he was a farmboy. And certainly his children have been successful and/or enormously talented, and his grandchildren are, by visible and traditional measures, big successes.

He also, from what I can tell, suffered from severe obsessive/compulsive disorder and depression -- the same thing that I've struggled with since I was about 12, and that most males in our family appear to struggle with as well. He had disadvantages that I don't: in his day there really wasn't such a thing as "depression" as a disease -- you sucked it up and you got on with your life, soldier. There weren't drug therapies for his malady, so he couldn't just pop an Effexsor and suddenly have his compulsions dialed down to a dull roar.

He spent the last ten years of his life mostly in bed. His craziness progressed to a point where he was afraid of every aspect of life, so he chose to just remove himself from it. I spent a few months with him during his decline -- he would venture out of bed just to wander around the house asking people if they had checked and rechecked every little thing for any activity that was being planned. Going to the airport? Well, is the gas tank full? Air in the tires? Did you recheck the arrival time? What about the gas tank? You're sure you checked it? I don't want you running out of gas. It'll kill your grandma.

He was a huge bear of a man when I'd known him as a kid -- not exactly fat, grandpas don't get "fat" -- he was just a great big grandpa. When he died he was a wisp of a man, having wasted away in bed for years, so tortured by thoughts of what might go wrong that he'd rather be dead than have to keep worrying.


I've written about him before. But I've been thinking about him a lot recently, because I have his problem, too. I'm always fighting depression. It's there, waiting for me. Some months I'm great and I function like a normal person, and I think, "Yay, I'm done! Thank goodness that's over!" Then I'll have a week so dark that simply taking mail out of the mailbox seems like an epic struggle. And I remember, oh yes, right, you aren't going away. Because you're my brain. You're my chemistry. You're me.

I've been very successful in my career, and I honestly feel incredibly blessed in this. But here's my thesis, and possibly "the rub," in all this: I think the same things that make me crazy also make me successful. I have the ability to sit down and write code for 12 hours straight. Because I cannot get up until it's finished. I have to have every line of code be absolutely perfect; I will continue tweaking things long after they work, because for me, it's not finished until it's beautiful, as well. I can tell you what method to use out of the thousands available on the system, because they're all up in my head, ordered and stacked and sorted so neatly. This is clearly obsessive/compulsive behavior. This is the work of a crazy man.

So, is genius linked with craziness? Is this why we aren't all geniuses? Is mankind only so smart because if we get any smarter, we cease to function correctly? Maybe it's just not evolutionarily advantageous to be smarter than we are; it makes us mopey, and we end up cutting our ears off when we're trying to woo girls, which rarely results in offspring.


Depression is not glamorous. It's not like a movie. You don't get to get cured of it. You don't wake up one day and realize that life's tough, but there it is, so slap a smile on your face and keep on trucking. Some people have never dealt with depression, and they can't figure out how it's different from "being sad." "I've been sad! I don't whine about it! I just get over it." Yes, that's nice. Also, not the same.

Depression completely robs you of hope. You don't believe things can get better, and you don't believe anything is OK. You look around you and realize that everyone and everything you love is going to go away, sooner or later, and you don't believe anything good will replace them. Sometimes you just want to self-destruct: you get so tired of waiting for the things you love to abandon you, waiting for that shoe to drop, that you push them away pre-emptorily . Take that, you thing I love, now you can't hurt me, now I don't have to live in fear.

If I just stay in bed, and pull the covers around me; if I just unplug the phone, if I don't answer the mail, then whatever bad news is waiting for me can't get to me. If I can just sleep, and then just sleep some more, then I won't have to deal with it. Not now. I can't deal with it now. Maybe it'll go away on its own. Maybe I'll die and I won't ever have to deal with it.



Anonymous marco said...

I don't know you and I don't suffer from terrible depressions, but your story touched me. I feel for you.

May 31, 2005 12:11 PM

Blogger Grabberslasher said...

Deep, man. And it's spot-on, too.

June 01, 2005 6:10 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The ones who think that they are crazy enough to change the world are the ones who do"

June 04, 2005 1:58 PM

Anonymous John said...

Been there, done that, but my story is a little different. I am less OC and more severe ADD. But OC definetly runs in the family.

I do believe though, maybe I had to convince myself of this though, is that you have to be different to see the world differently. I am blessed by all the great ideas I get as a result of having ADD but at the same time there are days I would trade in all my good ideas to get rid of the problems in my life that have been caused by ADD.

Thems the bricks.

June 05, 2005 12:13 PM

Anonymous stephen o'grady said...

on the genius = madness front, i'm reminded of the psychology case study of a Russian man who had a literally perfect memory. beyond eidetic, the guy never forgot anything ever. ultimately i believe he couldn't handle it and committed suicide.

either way, while i can't empathize, i wish you the best.

June 08, 2005 12:19 PM

Anonymous viral said...

> ... I will continue tweaking things long after they work, because for me, it's not finished until it's beautiful ...

This reminds me of a great quote I came across:

"Intelligence and capability are not enough. There must be the joy of doing something beautiful." - Dr. V

More on Dr. V:

http://www.fastcompany. com/online/43/drv.html

And thank you for sharing your experiences!

June 16, 2005 9:21 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're not alone. That's me, too. Professionally and financially successful, considered intelligent and well-rounded, and with a great family life; I'm the envy of all who know me... but OC and manic-depressive. I'm currently working alone on a project that is either insanely brilliant or insanely goofy. Time will tell.

"There's a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line." - Oscar Levant

June 24, 2005 2:46 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

No OCD here, but really nasty depressions...

If you've ever read the Harry Potter series, it's like making out with a dementor... for weeks on end. All the juce gets sucked out of you... I would gladly trade it for physical torture...

Creativity is physically impossible; and action difficult. Sensations are dulled; and situational awareness fades; and I become acutely aware of my internal state.

For me, at least, sleep does offer a bit of a repreave (I think it's because there is more seratonin being generated in my brain during sleep). But, my dreams can get downright wierd...

They say that you're not supposed to feel it when you take a SSRI - it's just supposed to gradually get better. Not so for me; I can feel the effect immediatally - not a reversal of the siutation, but a reversal of it's direction.


On a lighter subject -- nice software!! (both omni and delicious products)

June 25, 2005 2:03 AM

Anonymous Chad said...

Interesting and enlightening read. I can't relate directly, but my fiancee's son supposedly has depression, which struck me as kind of odd since he never really seemed sad...angry and violent, but not sad. But after reading this piece, it did shine some light about his attitudes. When he hasn't had his medicine, his attitude is plain negative and foul, trying to find the negative to anything. Somebody could give him a million dollars, and he'd probably mope about the taxes (if he realized that he'd get taxed, that is...).

I read something that Einstein was actually missing part of his brain, so the rest of his brain had to compensate for the missing part, which supposedly made him very gifted in some areas, but he had a slow time learning. Or so I've read.

I would say that my own worst prison is having a mind that just won't shut up. This is normally a good thing, but it sucks when I'm trying to go to sleep, and it means I get bored pretty easily if something doesn't keep me excited (which at work lately, has been happening a lot...I'm pretty damn bored at work). Joggers run to get that runner's high, I enjoy programming (Mac programs, of course) to get that programmer's high of creating something interesting, useful, or just to be able to learn something and challenge myself.

June 27, 2005 7:21 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wil, your story really rings true for me. I've endured and "toughed out" depressive bouts for years, and yet am similarly creative and successful when things are working.

My 1-man company hasn't borne fruit yet, we're close, and I don't have health insurance. (Yeah, dumb.) Your essay makes me think I ought to see someone for a diagnosis and maybe a bit of pharmaceutical help...

Well written.

June 30, 2005 10:14 AM

Blogger Peter Nixey said...

Will, your writing is brilliant. It's funny and in this piece it's moving too.

I only subscribed to your blog recently and read your other pieces first. I thought the story about the shirt was hilarous (and a very pretty girlfriend of mine thought you sounded adorable when she read it :).

Depression is a terrible thing to have to deal with. I couldn't really say anything to help except that your writing is superb and though I haven't tried it yet, it sounds like your programming is too. Don't let your chemistry deprive the rest of us of your talents.


July 01, 2005 1:06 AM

Blogger Schoschie said...

Same here, spot-on indeed. There are days where I work like crazy and I forget even to eat, not moving an inch away from my workplace (usually the computer). New and more or less great ideas come to my mind at a rate of about one every twenty minutes. I have the feeling I can do anything, I could conquer the world.

Other days, I get up and everything is just dark. I don't feel anything, I'm not interested in anything, I don't want anything; everything appears dull; nothing is enjoyable, food tastes like cardboard, I have to force myself for hours to do even the simplest of tasks. I cannot communicate with people because I just sit there and I find it hard to even understand what they are saying. I cannot get a word out. People turn away quickly, which is understandable as there is not much pleasure in trying to talk to a corpse which just appears to be alive on the outside. I don't know what it's like being a zombie, but it's probably something like that, the difference being that I'm just quietly wasting away like a vegetable and not going around trying to eat people.

I think both extremes are bad. The crazy-workaholic mode is as harmful and unhealthy as the lethargic, depressed zombie mode. Of course I can do great things when I'm in »crazy« mode, but I'd much rather be balanced, somewhere in the middle -- maybe not as capable of doing great stuff, but not having to waste away for months when I'm depressed, either.

However, it seems I don't have the choice, so I'm compelled to be a creator and a half-dead zombie, alternately. So, why not make the most of it :)

July 02, 2005 8:12 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, so I'm not the only one who feels exactly like that? wow. Neat. --jorn

July 05, 2005 12:40 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

solidarity always. on my many trips through my brain chemistry i have decided smartness doesn't exist. we all have millions of circuits up top with incredibly complex chemistry. only in the extremes does the number of circuits or even chemistry matter. labels of intelligence only place one somewhere on a multidimensional bell curve. genius is being off on one or many of the slopes but still being able to be appreciated by others. crazy is also being on one or many of the slopes but unable to relate to the predominant cultures. this means a) i've smoked too much and b) when you pass the homeless guy on the street, be sure not to walk into their friend. just because the homeless guy is outside of one standard deviation of the rest of us doesn't mean that his friend doesn't exist.

July 06, 2005 10:05 PM

Anonymous yDNA said...

Thanks, Wil. You've helped illuminate parts of my depression I was having trouble understanding.

July 09, 2005 4:54 PM

Anonymous Leechman said...

Hi, I'm Leechman, I live in the back of this guy's brain (you don't know him) and post all the crazy stuff he's kind of embarassed by. Plus plot to take over the world using leech-enhanced technology. Anyway, I thought my front end personality (the one the rest of the world sees) was pretty much suffering from ADD, and otherwise, well, he was pretty much OK, given that he's got all these stupid habits built up out of coping with ADD for too many years. But, heck, he's got all this stuff he needs to do and he just won't bloody do it. I'd prescribe leeches or something, but since my leech-enhanced technology doesn't actually exist in his world I can't do that.

Ah, heck, maybe I can get him to actually talk about this to the doc next time he sees him.

Talking about this stuff is one of those things he's got a problem with. That's why I'm here.

July 21, 2005 3:36 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a friend undergoing depression and I tried my best to help as much as I could ... Never really could understnad it in its entirety ... at times, I get so very worried and lost as to how I can help my friend ... but your piece of writing has helped enlightened me further ... Thank you for sharing

July 22, 2005 12:18 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wil, I'm sorry to hear you suffer from depression.

Perhaps you should leave Seattle - I've heard it's terribly gloomy there, which has been known to contribute to some forms of depression.

Just a (crazy) idea.

July 22, 2005 12:14 PM

Anonymous super_structure said...

I got more in tune with my OCD and depression back in college, when my mother and younger brother were also having (much more severe) problems with the same. They required professional help and medications for treatment, which is nothing to be ashamed of. They live happy and fulfilled lives because of it.

I, on the other hand, decided that my OCD was like a gun, and simply had to be pointed in the right direction. The wrong way, and it would kill me, but the right way and it was an advantage. I'm an engineer, so being able to obsessive over calculations has become a virtue. I get described as "thorough" and "organized." I was really glad to read that you seem to also have found virtue in your problem, and also that you have turned into success. I believe that is where the genius is.

July 22, 2005 12:56 PM

Blogger David said...

I have depression, dysthemia or "mild depression" as it's called-- or it has me. I've long held the belief that creative people are all crazy. I'm an artist and web designer and all my creative friends seem to have some variation of mental malady.

My depression comes in cycles and is broken for stretches by new experiences and relationships. It robs me of my energy to cope with everyday problems, to interact with people and even to get out of bed. In college it kept me from getting up and going to classes, kept me from making relationships, and made me give up on anything requiring even the smallest amount of energy. When it is 'on' everything is such a terrible effort. However when it breaks, like the sun through an overcast sky, I can work nonstop for hours on art or scripting, or design, etc. and then I am a perfectionist wanting everything just right. I think it's because I never feel as perfect as anyone around me. I'm not quite a whole person and everyone else seems to have it together. I can't accept something out there that I've made to be less than perfect.

It took me years to get to a place where I can accept my art, my own drawings and designs, as ok. They never seem perfect but acceptable. Funny that as soon as I gained a certain tolerance for imperfection, my skills began to grow much faster and it was easier to get close to perfection. Maybe the tolerance came out of some support I've found for my art. It changes things when you are recognized and validated.

I wonder about your idea that the things that make us crazy also make us successful. I think I have just found my life's direction, just realized how much of an artist I am. I have to create. But whether or not I find success or not only time will tell. Until then I'm a starving artist.

BTW- I moved to Seattle in February to pursue art. I am currently working to produce my art for a gallery show in Pioneer Square. Since I have lived here I have enjoyed the weather. As far as environmental gloom it's a much nicer place than Michigan. But let's keep that under our hats, we don't want too many people moving here.

July 28, 2005 2:34 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I consider myself lucky not to have to deal with depression or OCD, but manic depression/bipolarism runs in my family, and I've got all the symptoms. As a kid, they called it ADD, since that was the hip thing to label kids who got hyper sometimes and "out of it" other times.

Being bipolar is like a roller coaster. Some days, I can't keep still. I'm so excited about whatever new thing is going on that I can't stop thinking about it. It's all I want to do. Other days, I have to really work to get out of bed in the morning, and once I get to the office, it takes a huge effort to shake myself out of the fog. People sometimes talk about being bipolar as if, "the depressed periods are sad, and the manic periods are happy." But it's not about happy and sad - it's about too much energy and not enough, and different people deal with that differently. (For example, my grandfather didn't exhibit the happy/sad aspects, he was an angry/excited type.) Both sides of the pendulum can be really damaging to your productivity, relationships, and sense of well-being.

I'm also a pretty successful programmer, and I agree that the things that make me crazy also make me successful, but in a different way than yours. I've learned that the key is to acknowledge my craziness, but still force myself to compute the proper action, and take it anyway, even if it seems unpleasant or "wrong" or difficult. It's so much harder to do than anyone without the problem could ever possibly imagine.

You get a lot of power over yourself when you start to consciously analyze what you're thinking and why. On the highs, I have to force myself to listen to people, to calm down. I try to spend a few minutes each day just *stopping* and listening to the world around me. But, I can work on a project for hours on end if I can get the mental ball rolling in a productive direction.

In the low times, I find that just going through the motions of not being depressed really does help quite a bit. I force myself to go move around outdoors every few hours. My rule is: if you think you don't need a walk, then you need a walk. The more difficult it is to (get up, check the mail, do the dishes, cook dinner, go to work, whatever), the more you probably need to do it. I stay in and get a bit more sleep, but don't let myself waste the good hours of the day. It sort of sounds like repression or whatever, but after enough years of being on this ride, I know that it's liable to change direction at any time.

I also learned to self-medicate in college, as many do. Caffiene and THC, used in moderation and at the appropriate times, can be wonderful aids for anyone who is bipolar. And, the side effects from both are quite a bit more mild than their prescription equivalents.

November 30, 2005 11:21 AM

Anonymous Felipe said...

Man, I am 18 and I just realized that I have somewhat of a thought process that I cannot grasp most of the time. I just moved out to college and, being away from everything that I was used to and being on my own for the first time, it hit me real hard. Your post makes me feel like I'm not alone. I am just now learning to cope with these things and I guess there is hope ahead.

The first few months I freaked out and I tried to label myself with anything that I could. I was on a symptom-hunting rampage. I thought I was done for. I'm slowly beginning to realize that I am learning a lot more about who I am rather than losing touch with who I was.. If that makes sense.

At this point in time I'm not sure what I have. I guess they can label me with anything as long as I can get something to slow it down with.

Anyways, thanks a lot man. Just you posting something like this, it might just be your way of expressing it, but at the same time, you help people in similar situations know that they aren't dealing with it alone.

December 28, 2005 10:26 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This thread is probably dead, but in case anybody's reading -- I am very grateful for Wil's "outing" himself about his depression, because I'm also a Mac programmer and I've also suffered from depression throughout my life.

I was always an "emotional" child, but it was when puberty hit that the bouts of depression actually became crippling. I was considered a precocious boy, and sometimes I could coast on reserves of native intelligence, but eventually, in college, I collapsed academically. I staged a comeback of sorts from that, but my career has been up and down ever since -- trending down. And the "native intelligence" hasn't always served me so well; it seems I'm downright dumb about some things.

I've been on and off Prozac for the past 12 years, and I would say in the early days I was pretty much a poster boy for the drug. No lasting side effects, and it seemed for the first time in my life I could be myself and properly engage with the world -- quite the opposite of the artificial smiley-face some people think the drug gives you. Currently I'm off it, but after a year of doing fine, I had a bad bout of depression this fall, with consequences at my job, and I'm thinking I'd better see a doctor. I might try a different drug while I'm at it.

What I'm wondering is -- how do people even manage to keep their jobs with a problem like depression? Especially in the software engineering profession where it's hard to just go through the motions? When that cloud hits me, I can't get *anything* done. Words on a page swim before my eyes like random symbols. Short-term memory and problem-solving ability go out the door. And I start not being so nice personally; I get bitchy, or I withdraw, or both. I try to keep up appearances of competence and social adjustedness, but in reality I am almost useless at work and I say things I shouldn't have said. How can one recover from this kind of professional damage?

Wil, I don't know much about you personally except from your accomplishments as a developer and from what I've read here. You clearly have an abundance of competence and talent and past accomplishment that I'm guessing has helped you survive professionally when the cloud came over you. Me, I'm just a middle-aged bit-pusher, and I'm starting to worry about my future.

I've been wondering over the years whether my only hope is to be an independent developer. Based on my work history -- even when I was doing well on meds -- I'm not sure I can survive as part of a larger organization. I'm a little nervous now, though, because the app ideas I had don't excite me like they used to.

Anyway, I've rambled long enough. Thanks again, Wil.

December 29, 2005 5:04 AM

Anonymous thinice said...

Rats, I didn't notice the option to use an arbitrary nickname. "December 29, 2005 5:04 AM" is me, in case anyone wants to respond.

In response to some earlier comments:

"They say that you're not supposed to feel it when you take a SSRI - it's just supposed to gradually get better. Not so for me; I can feel the effect immediatally - not a reversal of the siutation, but a reversal of it's direction."

I too thought I felt the effects of my antidepressant within a day or two, even though I was told it would be more gradual. Placebo effect? Maybe, but I'll take it!

"There are days where I work like crazy and I forget even to eat, [...]

Other days, I get up and everything is just dark. I don't feel anything, I'm not interested in anything, I don't want anything; [...] I have to force myself for hours to do even the simplest of tasks."

I get those swings too. The part about taking hours to do trivial things especially hits home. It's draining and it doesn't exactly impress the boss either.

"I cannot communicate with people because I just sit there and I find it hard to even understand what they are saying. I cannot get a word out."

I am sure there have been times when someone was trying to explain something to me and I must have looked like a deer in the headlights, because that's how I felt.

December 29, 2005 5:33 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Only good people get depressed.

December 29, 2005 5:34 AM

Anonymous thinice said...

"Only good people get depressed."

Even if that were true it wouldn't be much consolation.

December 29, 2005 10:01 AM

Blogger Wil Shipley said...

Anonymous Bit Pusher:

I wish I had a good answer to "how to keep your job," but if you'll notice I got fired from the company I founded by the friends I invited to come work with me, so obviously I haven't figured it out.

December 29, 2005 3:03 PM

Anonymous Anonymouse Bit Pusher said...

Yikes! Fortunately, in the Mac world there is a fine tradition of company founders being fired, landing on their feet, and having kickass Second Comings. :)

December 29, 2005 4:36 PM

Blogger Slac said...

Oh, crap.

You mean my crazy genius depression won't go away once I make a ton of money?

That was my last hope. :(

(the kind that runs in my family is more schizo-type than OC-type, so I'm looking to buy free time where I can just draw, sketch, and go BASE jumping.)

I hope I'm making you laugh. ;)

December 30, 2005 11:01 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. Very interesting post. I was diagnosed with OCD 7 years ago. Had anxiety problems during a divorce that led to severe panic attacks. Havent had one in years now. Depression, Anxiety, racing thoughts, 'scenarioizing' ( what if this happens, then what if this happens ) have diven me nuts for years. Ive been a coder/dba/stockbroker/real estate saleman,car salesman, blah blah. My docs that ive had have diagnosed me with almost everything....Bipolar ( turned out not to be but i swear i feel like im rapid-cycling sometimes - similar to the mood swings you and others mentioned ). About 2 years ago the mood swings really got bad. I was simply crashing and couldnt do anything. Its really hard to deal with when youve been an outstanding performer at work for many years and everything starts to 'sllllowww down'. Most recently I was diagnosed with ADD ( big surprise ). I fit the profile - especially as a kid ( always started but never finished things ). I started Adderall a year ago. Ditched it - made the mood swings worse. Now im on dexadrine and im beginning to tire of it also. These drugs make the OCD symptoms worse. All in all ive done some great things. I have a wonderful supporting family ( yes im remarried). But ive pretty much accepted the fact that IT is no longer the place for me. Its too hard to deal with now. Im not able to handle the stress that I use to thrive on so much. Ive tried and tried to figure it out but the brain has too many variables at play. Thanks for the great posts.


January 11, 2006 12:26 AM

Anonymous Amy said...

That's the most spot-on description of depression I've ever read. I've never really been able to explain it right; when I'm depressed, I'm sure everything I say is wrong, and when I'm not depressed, I can't capture that hopelessness. But now I can use your words when I need to. Thanks for the post.

January 25, 2006 12:37 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am very depressed on Prozac 60mg everyday. i have been on Prozac for years so many I can not count.
I do not want to get out of bed,I do not ant to interact with no one or anything. I get no enjoyment from anything. I feel so Blah! I do not know what to do I have a great life I am married and have a young daughter. We built a great new house just a year ago and I still am not happy even though I am on Prozac!! I work only one day a week but I do not even want to do that. I want to quit my job. It would only make matters worse I know. What is wrong with me i can not get my husband to understand he just hasn't ever experienced depression like this. What do I do is there any hope? Is ther something wrong with my brain for taking Prozac for so long at a high dose?
Please help!!!

February 15, 2006 7:28 AM

Blogger Wil Shipley said...

Anonymous Lady:

You really need to see a doctor. I'm not one, I can't really help. But it sounds like you need different medications, or more sunlight, or more vitamin b, or more exercise. Something. My general practitioner has been incredibly helpful in getting me out of bed and functioning; keep trying until you find one who will help you.

February 15, 2006 11:22 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


This is really beautiful. I suffer from depression and anxiety and know exactly what you're talking about. I can also relate to how being "driven" can be a blessing and a curse, professionally and personally.

Medication, exercise and therapy have helped. I resisted the meds route for a long time, but finally recognized that I needed pharmacological help when panic attacks set in. Fortunately, I have a great Doc. I try to talk publicly about depression/anxiety in my professional life because I've found it supports and encourages the many others who are dealing with it.

Thank you for this wonderful blog. And by the way Delicious Monster still rocks. ;-)

April 19, 2006 7:49 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know you at all but my brother sent me the link to your article because our father died less then three months ago. He had been depressed for many years and finally he gave up and committed suicide. Even though he was depressed he appeared happy and joyful most of the time so his death came as a shock to all of us.

I just wanted to leave this comment to thank you because your story really helped me see how he must have felt. It really touched me! I also wanted to tell you that in case you have ever thought that ending your own life is maybe the way out, it really is not! There are always more people then you can ever imagine that really care for you, would do anything to help you feel better and would be devastated if they lost you. There is always a way to make it all better but you might just need help to see that!

May 26, 2006 7:03 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I might have to show this to all of my friends and family, because for the first time I've found people who *really* know what depression is like and can actually articulate the experience in an understandable way. The drug company ads ("Do you feel hopeless, lethargic?") and Psych 101 illustrations of synapses just don't cut it.

I think the response to this post shows how much of a need there still is for open discussion about depression, even after all of these years and despite its prevalence. Will, thank you so much for getting at least some of us started.

While I can relate with the symptoms other posts have described (mood swings despite most definately not being bi-polar, a creative personality, loss of ability to interact with the outside world) I was suprised to see missing the symptoms that I have always thought most defined my depression.

I suppose you might say that I only have mild or moderate depression since its rare that I feel so awful I can't get out of bed, although I do sometimes walk around like I'm made of lead, completely out of touch with the world around me. (Don't ever drive when you feel like that. I ran through a red light on a four-lane road once because I had no idea what was going on in front of my face. It was pure luck I didn't get killed.) Also, the hopelessness doesn't come paired with a loss of pleasure.

In fact, when I'm at my worst, I'm hyperactive, needing to move, get out of the house, break something, anything. My senses are hightened- shadows darker, lights brighter, colors more intense. Everything takes on a hightened significance and a song on the radio can move me so much it leaves me sobbing, elated and destroyed at the same time. I can't tell if I am feeling great joy or unbearable pain, and that is the irony, or the paradox, or whatever you want to call it: The world around me is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful and I wish I was dead.

That is the other thing about everyone else's posts I found strange: how little suicide was mentioned. In therapy, my psychologist has tried to explain to me how thin a line it is between depression and an anxiety disorder. Where as some translate a mood disorder as fear of what may happen in the world around them, others, like me, translate it into paralyzing guilt. (That's why, before Zoloft, I wouldn't use paper towels and only took army showers. In my head, I was single-handedly killing Mother Earth.) The link between anxiety and depression explains why so many people have both. She has also told me that often, the repetative acts performed by those with OCD are used as a way to calm or distract from unwanted thoughts, which is strange, because no one ever talks about these unwanted thoughts. Can anyone else relate? Without becoming too graphic, I'll say that my unwanted thoughts revolved around suicide and self-mutilation, which is not to be confused with cutting. I wanted to *hurt myself*, not feel pain.

Is it unusual to not only wish your problems would go away but to actually *want* to die? As in mull over the idea and desire it in a way that is almost like a craving for a cigarette? These sypmtoms were what disturbed me the most and eventualy caused me to get help but even when talking to people who also have suffered from depression at some point, they seem a little shocked and suprised by what I describe.

Even if what I am describing is in fact less common than other symptoms, which I somehow suspect is not true, it feels good to be able to let it all out a little, so to speak.

P.S. Please excuse any really awful spelling or grammer errors. Not exactly my forte.

May 30, 2006 4:05 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know what all you have been talking about. Its something you can overcome for soo long but without meds or therapy or the combination its soo stressful that it drags u back into the negative spiral that is depression. I have found that i've been on everything to help and always fall back into the pit and as i speak now i know theres no hope just easy measures to treat it to a point. and back you go

June 13, 2006 8:10 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know what all you have been talking about. Its something you can overcome for soo long but without meds or therapy or the combination its soo stressful that it drags u back into the negative spiral that is depression. I have found that i've been on everything to help and always fall back into the pit and as i speak now i know theres no hope just easy measures to treat it to a point. and back you go

June 13, 2006 8:10 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

soI know what all you have been talking about. Its something you can overcome for soo long but without meds or therapy or the combination its soo stressful that it drags u back into the negative spiral that is depression. I have found that i've been on everything to help and always fall back into the pit and as i speak now i know theres no hope just easy measures to treat it to a point. and back you go

June 13, 2006 9:01 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Roman statesman and philosopher Seneca wrote, “There is no genius without a touch of madness.”

July 08, 2006 2:44 AM

Anonymous Ross said...

Wil's terrific article and the perceptive comments beautifully describe an ailment I have suffered for thirty years. They're worthy of these couplets by Alexander Pope:

True wit is nature to advantage dressed;
What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed;
Something, whose truth convinced at sight we find
That gives us back the image of our mind.

In retirement, I have taken up Cocoa programming as a pastime, and have observed that in a small way it helps to remediate my depression. Feelings of inability to cope--which can render the simplest decisions, such as what to eat for supper, painfully difficult--do not crop up while I am coding. I might feel frustrated (as I am today, trying to get NSTextTable to work despite its flaws), but I don't feel helpless. I wonder if any other depressed programmers have noticed this.

My advice to those who are currently suffering: get on medication and therapy for two years. Then stay on medication the rest of your life.

Wil, I'm a fan and hope to run into you at WWDC.

July 08, 2006 10:54 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I still don't know what happened.

One year ago i fell on a very deep depression. It was quite fast, it took no more than two weeks since i felt the first symptoms until i woke up in a hospital after a pill overdose.

I spent more than a week without sleeping nothing. The psicotic behaviours and pannic attacks appeared right away.

I lost my job and i returned to my country. One year on prozac and i still have not recovered. Still have serious suicide thoughs.

I'm a programmer too.

July 13, 2006 12:17 PM

Blogger Wil Shipley said...


Please seek more help -- I'm not a doctor, but it sounds like you need to switch meds. There are a LOT of meds out there, and they act in different ways, and your chemical problem may simply be different from what Prozac is intended to solve.

I also saw a psychologist for a while, that was very helpful. Some, obviously, are going to suck, but some will genuinely help. I urge you to find one. I know it's hard when you're down to do anything -- ask your doctor to recommend someone, he'll have a list of people who have helped his patients.

Take care of yourself!


July 13, 2006 4:01 PM

Blogger philphil57 said...

I saw something on the "sapranos" that really changed my attitude towards deppression. I think it was a Russian lady who took care of TOny's mother. anyways... she said something about when Tony was talking about being happy, and the struggle in it I guess. The russian care taker said something like "Only Americans feel that they SHOULD be happy all the time, like life owes it to you, other people in the world are freezing...with NO BREAD to eat.They are HAPPY when they are able to start a fire, to keep themselves alive for another one" something like jsut made me think, that maybe we have too much time on are hands to think of what is wrong with are lives.....when are ancestors starved,froze,and fought to survive!!!! We should be grateful for what they did for us,we owe it to them... and should repay being grateful.

July 25, 2006 12:53 PM

Blogger philphil57 said...

I saw something on the "sapranos" that really changed my attitude towards deppression. I think it was a Russian lady who took care of TOny's mother. anyways... she said something about when Tony was talking about being happy, and the struggle in it I guess. The russian care taker said something like "Only Americans feel that they SHOULD be happy all the time, like life owes it to you, other people in the world are freezing...with NO BREAD to eat.They are HAPPY when they are able to start a fire, to keep themselves alive for another one" something like jsut made me think, that maybe we have too much time on are hands to think of what is wrong with are lives.....when are ancestors starved,froze,and fought to survive!!!! We should be grateful for what they did for us,we owe it to them... and should repay being grateful.

July 25, 2006 12:55 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will your writing really touched me. while reading, I felt like you were talking about me...what a trip. OC along with depression run in my family and i have both.Your story touched me,made me feel like im not alone (which i did for a very long time) and most importantly, it gave me hope to work on myself.

~best of wishes to you~

August 24, 2006 6:03 AM

Anonymous Glen C. said...

Doesn't sound so much like you or any other obsessive compulsive person is crazy so much as differently sane. It's how you do things, not really being crazy.

September 01, 2006 8:50 PM

Anonymous Stephen said...

Im really sorry but I really dont agree. For one I felt that the post was really a call to incite recognition as some kind of genus, a feeling after some kind of success that you didnt give it your best, could have done better if you had really put your full potential behind it, and now trying to give some reasoning why, to yourself and peers.

However i do agree with 50% of your article. That is the 50% which are natural feelings and results of living this way in this time in our society, the other 50% i dont agree with are the cases (blame) given.
I myself would say that I am susceptable to bouts of de-motivation and i would class 'depression' as a result of not being able to handle this de-motivation. To be honest the point where one discovers that every possible action or acheivement is ultimatly pointless in the expanse of infinity is the point where one can begin to release all the bullshit comparisson that brings you down and get on with it.

September 26, 2006 2:46 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read your article, and found some of it funny, and other parts quite sad. You definitely write well! In my life, I've experienced many kinds of people, and I have come to conclude that many depressed people seem to be self-absorbed. They are so into their own worlds, they fail to see outside of their little space in the universe. Perhaps if they stopped looking inside and started looking outward, they'd see how beautiful life can be if you live it. Not just for yourself, but for others. But hey, who am I to judge - this is me, someone who wears rose-colored glasses all the time. I think some people see life in brillant colors and other see it in dull gray, white or black. I try often to take off my rose-colored glasses to see if other's perspectives are better than mine, but for some reason, those rose-colored glasses just grow back on! I think I'm lucky! I'm happy - and thankful for all that I have. By the way, I lived with a man who had bi-polar depression -I was actually married to him for 7 years - and yes, he was a selfish SOB - some people are givers, others are takers! Giving is better - and I'm not very religious - but I find that it's true! It is better to give than to receive! So the next time you are feeling down and out - do something nice for someone and put a smile on their face - see how it is contagious - you'll be smiling too!

October 10, 2006 10:40 AM

Blogger Wil Shipley said...

Being depressed does cause you to be very self-centered. It's an unfortunate and self-defeating side-effect.

I have found that reaching out to people around me is often a good cure for depression. But sometimes the effort and risk in that seems completely overwhelming.

For me, depression seems to be caused by not being able to relax and stop thinking in circles constantly. Little things run through my head over and over, yelling at me.

Imagine having a gaggle of five-year-olds surrounding you, dancing in circles with their hands joined and chanting over and over at the top of their lungs. ALL THE TIME. DAY AND NIGHT.

Now, imagine trying to, like, have a normal life. Deal with people around you. Work you job. That kind of thing.

October 10, 2006 3:40 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're right on the spot. No hope, total darkness, self-absorbed... A mixture of self-loathing and self-pity. And I also get a lot of comments like above, variations on the theme "cheer up", and I know it's pointless to be depressed, but it just doesn't work that way, there is no cheering up...until the depression vanishes for a while, and I find great joy in silly things like autumn leaves, or wind....or people I love.

I recognize myself in your words, even though I probably have a milder form of depression, and I haven't yet found a cure, except just grin and bear it. Also, unfortunately I miss the genius coder part, I know I could use a bit more of that (I lean towards mediocre).

Anyway, it's comforting to read about somehow.
I came here from a link to your piece about Carbon vs. Cocoa, which was excellent, and now I feel I have to read it all.

October 18, 2006 11:53 PM

Anonymous James said...

I just came across this thread linked to elsewhere and there are so many things here I relate to.

I've suffered from depression since my mid teens. My mood is hardly ever related to whats going on around me and my situation. Some days I have that "take over the world feeling" and other days I can't get out of bed. It just feels too bleak.

In a "low spot" its people I struggle with. I'm quite shy at the best of times and on a bad day I just want to be left alone.

I wander how much is genetic. My sister was treated for OCD as a teenager. And I know my mum struggles with people (i.e. she's shy beyond belief).

Anyway I sought help last year. I hit a patch so bad I couldn't last the 8 hours at work without bursting into tears the minute I got into my car.

The doc put me on the serotinin drugs (SSRIs is it? I forget...) which have helped enormously. The last year has been the most "even" I've ever felt.

He did suggest coming off them and I tried that but after about 3 weeks I could feel this enormous black chasm getting closer and have gone back on them.

Thanks for the post Wil. I really related to it.

December 15, 2006 2:11 PM

Anonymous shmarya said...

Hey Wil,

As a long-time sufferer of BiPolar Manic Depression, I know just where you're coming from.

I've often expressed a belief that genius and 'madness' are linked - perhaps it's just an ability to think 'differently'.

January 07, 2007 7:45 AM

Blogger TibbyChi said...

your post struck a chord with me. I have OCD and ive had it as long as i can remember. Ive also suffered from depression for a year. I just wanna say that things do get better..well easier..over time. They never go away, but theres ways of coping and hopefully by reading your post some one out there might finally realise what they have is ocd and get help for it. Thank u. Tibby

January 14, 2007 3:44 PM

Anonymous Toorbit said...

Nice post Will.

I find depression crazy thing (pun intended). It doesn't make sense to me when I'm in a funk.

I can't relate to the OCD thing but then again, I also can't relate the genius thing either.


January 18, 2007 9:11 AM

Anonymous Mademoiselle Kate said...


Thank you for being so open about your illness--you are also very brave. I've dealt with depression for 25 years, since I was 9 years old, and in the last year found out I have ADD. In a way, the ADD diagnosis was a relief: all the things I did that I thought were character flaws that I wasn't working hard enough to fix fell into a new category; that of "things my brain does that make me act a certain way and are not my fault". It certainly helped with my depression, although the Effexor (yippee!) helped a lot, too. I wasn't expecting one illness to affect the other, but happily, knowing I'm "overly distractable" has lessened the other pain.

Part of my depression has been strongly linked to my environment and what I believe about myself. Tomorrow I am quitting a well-paying job (including really good benefits and 4 weeks annual vacation) I've held for almost 13 years. I have no idea where I'm going after that. I am terrified and excited but I know I have to leave; my last bout of depression over the past year was treated with complete disdain if not outright disbelief by a new manager (she implied I was lying about my behaviour). I've also had enough from a supervisor who did nothing over the years but alternately appease or belittle me every time I offered an opinion.

I am hoping to God that the enormous change I will go through won't completely derail my mental processes, but I'm betting that the change will be positive rather than worse. In the past I've felt that to take this step would be like falling off a cliff and dying; tomorrow, I will know that I can fly.

Best wishes and peace to you in your journey. :)


P.S. There's definitely a correlation between mental illness and creativity. In my circle, this means that all the fun people are slightly nutty. ;)

March 06, 2007 9:48 PM

Blogger Warren said...

I was just checking the site to see if there was a Delicious Library update (this is what I do at 2am on a Sunday night when I'm avoiding going to bed and having to get up and go to work in the morning. After clicking around to see more about the people involved in your little success story, I was floored to read this post and so grateful for your candor and honesty. I think that the worst thing about depression is that no one talks about it. I came from a small town and have hard working, middle-class parents and feel like depression was always synonymous with 'lazy'. I was just evaluated and diagnosed with depression at 33 years old! I was having trouble with work and can't get up in the morning and be at work on time. I have periods of being the best IT pro you've ever met, followed by periods of not existing and such disappointment at what I'm doing.

I'd felt so much frustration with myself and knew that I wasn't living up to my potential and I think that was the hardest thing to deal with. Now, I wish someone would have recognized my depression when I was younger (rather than tell me I’m not applying myself) and maybe I could have done well in school and not wasted two, first-year attempts at college, dropping out each time 'cause I couldn't function and deliver consistently.

Now I'm beginning to realize that I've been really good at hiding my depression and it’s worked against me. I just told my manager and he was unbelievably supportive and accommodating. So, the point I'm trying to get to is -- it has to be talked about. And it's invaluable when someone like you Wil, is honest and sets a great example. You've done well for yourself and have proven that you just need a flexible work environment and supportive friends/coworkers to succeed. I'd love to be working at a great place like Zoka, with friends, where there isn't a clock to punch and corporate red-tape to get my blood boiling. A few months ago I came to the conclusion that I needed to focus and work towards being more self-sufficient, eventually work from home, and support myself, doing something I love. Reading a story like yours really helps me to think that it can work. Keep that awesome software coming!

April 09, 2007 7:36 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Wil,

Are you OCD or OCPD? I find your behaviour more OCPD than OCD, but I don't know. I'm dx as OCPD myself, and I can relate to so much of what you say, especially the March 21 2007 post in your blog.


April 26, 2007 1:02 AM

Anonymous tony said...

im sure all the preceding comments would summarise any number of possible perspectives or emotions on the issue.
so i dont know how, or what i could possibly say.
i know how you feel, but as opposed to asking about it, i never mnetioned it to my friends because i knew there was no point to it "so youre depressed, get better?"
whereas my family were in denial and professional help was more of a liability to my mental health then it was a benefit.
so here i am, an internet addict that rarely steps outside into the sun. once a sports lover and outdoors kid consumed by his fear that everything he loves, anybody with association to him will hurt him. so i sit alone, i dont ring people up to 'catch up', out of fear of rejection. i dont go on msn and i havent touched my myspace account. i avoid any place where i may run into somebody i know. and as you say, some days i just lay in my bed, it somehow makes everything better to just sob and cry everything out.. then youre just left with an empty apathetic feeling to deal with.. which i guess is what the net is for.
'twas a good story man, cheers.

July 09, 2007 2:27 AM

Blogger Wil Shipley said...

Tony: I know there are no simple solutions to what you're going through, but please do see a doctor, for me, ok?

I did, things got a LOT better. Not perfect. But a lot better.

July 09, 2007 2:49 AM

Blogger The Newcomer said...

A little know/understood fact. Van Gogh didn't cut off his ear for a girl. He cut it off for a lover. The lover was Gauguin. Gauguin is a man.

October 22, 2007 10:28 AM

Blogger Alex Le said...

Thank you Wil (and the Anonymous person who posted on June 25, 2005 2:03 AM).

I've been trying to explain what actually is going on my life. What I am experiencing is similar to what you said in the post. I was trying to find an answer: was it depression? was it exhaustion, was it me getting burnt-out?

The feeling of restlessness, self-denial, seeing things you love drifting further away, abandoning you is so terrible sometimes that all I want to do is to sleep through it, hoping when I wake up I don't have to deal with it.

However, I'm still fortunate because even though there are thousand of things screaming inside my head, I am still able to ignore them, keep my self positive and keep on trucking.

- Alex

November 28, 2007 11:05 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kill yourself and be done with it.

February 08, 2008 8:31 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been down the same road you're on, and I'm happy to report that it doesn't have to be a trek of endless suffering. For some background, I cranked through life setting goals for myself, finished my PhD at 25 (including a 120,000 line application, plus working on a completely unrelated project the whole time and spending every weekend rock climbing), had all the career success I could want over the next 6 years, climbed El Capitan, built electric guitars in my free time, played in a band, blah blah blah. My point in all this isn't to brag--just to say that I can totally relate to where you're coming from, in both the positive and negative aspects. (And by the way--thanks for OmniGraffle. It kicks butt and is a favorite of the engineers at the aerospace organization I work for.)

Then, from nowhere (or so it seemed), violent and self-destructive thoughts starting popping into my head. I'd be afraid that I'd decide to cut myself while chopping vegetables, or jerk the steering wheel and drive off a cliff, or do pretty much the worst possible thing at any given point in time. Absolutely terrifying--these thoughts came from nowhere and threatened to destroy my life, both in the literal sense and in the sense that I didn't know how to live my life while dealing with this burden. Trying to function at work while dealing with all that craziness was unreal, and I was terrified of seeking help: would I get thrown in a looney bin? Or have to take drugs that would make me slow, stupid, and lazy? Or hole up in the mountains and live like a hermit?

The key for me was to discover, as Freud and Jung did 100 years ago, that the unconscious mind has its own independent existence, with its own desires and needs--and that by relating to it and getting to know it, you can shape its behavior just as it shapes your conscious behavior. Contrary to my fears, after 2 years of putting in the effort to understand my unconscious and to grow in all the ways I'd ignored for years, the symptoms are gone, I have more passion and creativity than ever, and life is filled with far more meaning than before. (No, I didn't have to join a cult, find Jesus, though a good Jungian therapist--which admittedly is expensive--was a huge part of it.)

The unconscious is the source of the OCD symtoms, the brilliant creativity and passion that drive you, and the caustic dread that makes you never want to stay curled up in a ball under the covers for a week. As one other comment said about sleep offering a reprieve, except for the weird dreams: dreams are your unconscious's most direct way of communicating to you, and can offer both further confrontation with the unconscious as well as healing experiences and symbols.

For me, getting through this started with reading a lot of Jung and Marie Louise Von Franz (one of his students) and seeing a Jungian shrink. That taught me that there are ways to deal directly with the problem instead of the symptoms, and that it's "nothing personal"--this is something as old as humankind, but it's more difficult to deal with in our society. Along the way, this process meant being willing to tackle head on whatever the unconscious is throwing at you, despite how depressing or terrifying as that may be. For someone who's very capable and high-functioning, the helplessness when confronted with thoughts or feelings that just won't go away is a huge, debilitating, and frightening contrast to the legitimate feelings of freedom, power, and creation that come from turning your ideas and will into reality.

But the more time you spend in the airy realm of creativity--especially in abstract areas like programming--the easier it is to be disconnected from the fact that we're all finite, biological beings, who have to eat and poop and eventually die, and who came into this world literally between feces and urine (gotta appreciate Freud sometimes!). We're part of a species that has had internal experiences that can only be described as spiritual, yet whose distinguishing feature is an unstoppable desire to understand and control the environment. In modern civilization, we don't have a framework to deal with the spiritual--irrational, unquantifiable, or even indescribable emotional experiences that we struggle to assign meaning to. Everything is supposed to be rational, organized, and by the rules. But it's not, and that's what makes our initial confrontations with the unconscious so terrifying: they go against everything we've been taught to expect. That's not your fault or mine, that's just the culture we find ourselves in. A thousand years ago, or today in another culture, you'd just think you were being visited by a spirit or god, and you'd either be a shaman or you'd go see one.

So what's one to do? Part of dealing with disruptive contents from the unconcsious is to objectify them instead of identifying with them. If a thought or feeling comes up and you don't know how to deal with it, it's easy to be consumed by it, especially if you haven't developed an understanding of where it's coming from or "what it wants", for lack of a better term. Instead of saying "I don't want to think this!", or "why am I feeling this?", treat the feeling or thought like an object separate from you. (After all, it is NOT a part of your conscious personality, the part you have direct control over, so it's appropriate to treat it as an external, separate object.) You didn't choose to have the thought or feeling, so don't beat yourself up over it. But you do have to deal with it. The act of treating it as something apart from yourself, literally asking it what it wants (not out loud, of course, if anyone else is around!), will over time diminish the intensity and frequency of your "symptoms". Why? Because the "symptoms" are your unconscious's way of getting your attention--it wants to tell you something, and in all probability it's something that will help you in the long run. That's not to say you should blindly obey whatever your unconscious says--absolutely not. But by trying to understand what it might be saying, and realizing that it has resorted to drastic measures to get your attention most likely because you've been ignoring it, you'll build a relationship with the unconscious. This is a good thing: it's ultimately where all our inspiration, creativity, and drive to understand comes from.

I often felt an overwhelming fear when encountering the unconscious, not only because of the contents themselves, but because of the fear that I didn't have choice in the outcome--what if my unconscious wanted something unacceptable? But as the process evolved over several years, I discovered that it wasn't about being unable to guide the outcome, or having to give up who I was or my way of life, or losing the obsessive drive that I thought was the source of my capacity to create and achive. Your personality has many potentials beyond what you're living at any moment--it's a process of growing and learning that will let you get through it, just like anything else in life.

What I found was that the destructive thoughts and feelings diminished the more I gained a true capacity for feeling, empathizing and relating to other people, and feeling the pain that has been present throughout my life--but which I didn't want to dwell on, and constantly sidestepped through activity and achievement. There is a lot of suffering in the world and in our individual lives--having the ability to feel that for what it is, and properly grieving for whatever it is you've been through, is a necessary step in healing and for just plain becoming human. I would guess that you're grandfather's way of being caused some pain for your father as he grew up (how could it not?), and perhaps his wounds caused you pain as well. But that's the only history you know: maybe it seems normal to you, or you tell yourself it wasn't a big deal. I told myself that for years: it wasn't that bad. That was a temporary measure of dealing with the pain: just a way of burying it and minimizing it, but you can be sure that if you do that, you'll have to process it at some point in your life. For me that was when I was 31. My father was enormously productive while I was growing up, but also very demanding and controlling--my brother and I spent every weekend doing endless construction projects at home and in our communities, which on the one hand gave us both a great sense of being able to take on any task, but which on the other hand left us no space to simply be children, to be in the moment or take pleasure in hanging out with our father. Anything we did that fit his expectations was rewarded, but our own individuality and uniqueness weren't encouraged in the same way. Beyond that was his own rage and need for control, which I can only guess came from his father having abandoned his family, and the experiences he endured leading a platoon in Vietnam. The result was that rather than feeling like I had a father that protected me, loved me for who I was--not matter what I did, or didn't do--I hated and feared my father, and to this day still don't have a good relationship with him (though I want to fix that). I'm sure your family story is totally different, but I would guess that if you try to feel into the pain in your parents' lives, and your grandparents', you may start to see some wounds that haven't healed. And you'll start to feel your own pain as well, to grieve for your wounds, and thus to heal them. I'll probably never be a bubbling extravert who will always be able to say just the right thing to make someone else's day--but I have at least come to understand my psyche better, to understand my history and my family's--not just the conscious history, but the unconscious one--and to largely transmute the negative, caustic, dreadful, and destructive things my unconscious was constant throwing at me into a new ability to feel life and to have values that come from feeling, empathy, and understanding, instead of only from thinking and imagining. (If you've ever taken a Meyers-Briggs test: you don't have to be stuck pegged to one end of the spectrum--INTJ maybe?--and your life will probably be more rewarding and easier once you're able to move toward the center a little. That doesn't mean giving up anything you have now, but rather balancing your current formidable skills and abilities with their opposites.) It's still difficult for me to take my foot off the gas pedal in life, to simply be instead of do, to simply feel instead of think--but what I've found is that if I can stop doing and thinking, and just sit with whatever I'm feeling and try to understand what my unconscious is trying to tell me, I can return to balance and feel merely human again. Even though I'm far on the introverted end of the spectrum, when my mind is racing it's thinking about this project or that, it's all externally directed. Part of being "self-centered" or "self-absorbed" on the outside--not paying attention to other's feelings, or what's going on around me--is that I'm not being "self-centered" on the inside. That is, I'm not paying attention to my own feelings, to the part of me that needs to just sit and be and feel what it is to be human--exactly the part of me that didn't get respected or nurtured as a kid. When I can pay attention to that part, I don't need to make everything else in my world revolve around achieving something, doing something, or being recognized.

I'll shut up in a minute--I know this was long and rambling. But if there's one thing I hope you find useful, it's this: your unconscious is trying to tell you something--probably something healing, despite all appearances--and for me, that process was helped tremendously by seeing a therapist who I felt I could trust and relate to, who is experienced in helping people deal with what you're going through, and who can communicate with you on your level and help you understand what your unconscious is trying to say. For me, reading Jung and seeing a Jungian analyst was what allowed be to get through this, and more than that to grow and prosper because of it (check out the CG Jung Institute website for finding a therapist, if you're open to it--I know it's not the only way, but it worked for me). Jung dealt with just this sort of thing as a child and experienced first-hand what the unconscious is like, and how people have dealt with it over the centuries--that made his experiences relevant and practical for me, but that may not be true for you. You're obviously a very capable person and you can get over this--just recognize there's a set of knowledge and skills required, as well as effort, just like anything else in life worth doing. Take care.

February 10, 2008 2:51 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

After reading some others' comments, I realized I was too negative about trying to treat this stuff with drugs in my previous (anonymous) post. By all means, if meds are what let you hold your life together, use them. But based on my experience, I can't help but believe that the drugs will only cover up the symptoms, and then only imperfectly, and that an issue like OCD or depression will continue until one deals directly with psychological root, likely deep in the unconscious. I realize this goes against the current trend of treating OCD, ADD, and the like as purely chemical problems, but even OCD experts prescribe treatments like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to effect meaningful and measurable chemical changes in the brain.

February 10, 2008 3:28 PM

Blogger Wil Shipley said...

I'm also seeing a shrink; I think that's very valuable as well.


February 10, 2008 3:45 PM

Blogger RJ said...

I realize that your original post is some years old now, but I wanted to chime in with what I think might be a more "user friendly" way to explain depression to someone with no experience of it.

And when I say user friendly, I mean accessible in a meaningful way, to people with no experience (direct or indirect) with depression.

Imagine that some company in China is trying to make a better nut-bolt set, but for whatever reason it's hard for them. Now imagine that you have absolutely nothing personally invested -- at any level -- with nuts, bolts, or China. If you read about this situation in the paper, it would pass in and out of your mind without registering -- it would have no significance for you.

Now, imagine that everything in your life -- from the most objectively important to the least -- seems to be of that same level of significance. And, there's not a damn thing you can do about it.

For me, that's my experience of depressive episodes. And, so far, it's the only way I've found to explain it to folks w/out depression, that seems to engender some glimmer of understanding from them.

Anyway, love your blog and hope you keep it up.

April 17, 2008 9:08 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: OCD/ADD/anxiety/depression, I've been diagnosed with all three- these factors have changed my life to some extent. I've been reading some stuff by Dr. Daniel Amen, who is famous for promoting SPECT scans as a diagnostic tool- somewhat controversially. Regardless of Dr. Amen's claims (certainly not unimpeachable, as he should probably focus less on marketing himself and more on his responsibility as a scientist to submit his methods to peer review), the notion that structural irregularities in the brain can drive "disorders" that are commonly thought to be psychological in nature (with the sole treatment option: "constantly switch crappy meds, endure years of therapy to no avail" etc) has lead me to take better care of my brain (less alcohol, no drugs, better food, positive thinking, etc), to good effect. I think anyone who needs his/her brain to function optimally needs to make lifestyle sacrifices to protect the CNS. For years I wondered why people I met on the internet were so puritanical about drugs and alcohol, now I think that most of these folks just want to be able to think with relative clarity :) oh well, that's been my experience, YMMV. Some people need meds but I've never found them to be effective long-term.

Re: your grandfather's experience with John Deere, my significant other's grandfather had the same thing happen to him with Allis-Chalmers. They stole his idea, made a bundle, and never paid him a cent. This kind of event seems to "reverberate" in families down through the years.

September 29, 2008 8:40 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I constantly think about blowing my head off or hanging myself.

The only thing I've found that really helps is rigorous exercise.

There's something about bingeing oxygen and purging sweat that makes my problems seem silly.

September 29, 2008 12:38 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This can help you
o Remember- You are the awareness. You are not what is being experienced.

o You are not the depression. You are the one who is aware of the depression coming and going.

o You are not the fear, you are the one who is a aware of the fear.

o You are not your brain chemistry. You are the one who is aware of the chemistry playing out.

You are the canvas.


September 30, 2008 3:32 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous for obvious reasons.

Call me "Mr. Un-Diagnosed & Un-Medicated for 48 years". Cyclical depressions & ADHD.

I'm a programmer (go figure) & I've done OK, but, damn, I occasionally wonder what I could have done if I wasn't struggling every three months to keep myself alive, convincing myself that buying a shotgun and emulating hemingway is really not such a good idea.

It's exhausting.

My hat's off to you sir. Rock on, code on.

Oh, and your forearms are epic.

December 27, 2009 8:25 PM

Blogger Harris said...

I want you to know that I revisit this essay all the time. I don't suffer depression myself, but I have many friends who do, and I find this essay gives me meaningful perspective on it—thanks so much for writing it all those years ago.

July 26, 2010 12:59 PM


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