Trigger warning: suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety
In the spring of 2019 I was inches and seconds away from jumping off a bridge in New York City. In fact, were it not for Jason Isbell’s “Hope the High Road” playing in my earbuds at a very fortuitous moment, there is a very good chance you would not be reading this post. This is not where the story begins (or ends) but it sets important context for the rest of this post.
“But wherever you are I hope the high road leads you home again…”Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, “Hope the High Road”
There are many negative things about the blurring of the work/life boundary for people that work in technology. That blurring had been building for a while but COVID accelerated it (due to a massive shift towards working at home) and brought with it a mountain of additional stressors as well. If there is one semi-positive thing from all of this, it’s that so many in our industry have been much more open about the mental health struggles they are experiencing. It is in that spirit that I share my experiences in this post.
By most outside measures, I have nothing to be unhappy about. I’ve co-authored two books in the last two years, I’ve been awarded a Microsoft MVP designation five years running, my health is reasonably good, and I occasionally get to drive race cars and live out a childhood dream. I’ve been fortunate to have good jobs I liked with teams I liked and, when those became detrimental to my health due to their pace and hours, I’ve been fortunate to find new jobs (with no interruption) that were better suited to my career goals and personal health yet were still at great companies with people I liked. Despite that, my mental health has been a significant struggle for years. I never made time for understanding or treating it and, as a result, that struggle has grown more intense in the last three years since that night on that bridge.
I started taking meaningful steps to address those struggles in the middle of 2021 by looking for a therapist via my insurance company’s provider portal. This launched a frustrating series of phone calls to offices that didn’t exist, were no longer on that insurance plan, or no longer employed that provider. I eventually found one provider who would take my insurance and was reasonably close to my house but, in those few visits, I learned that not only did he not keep good notes on my situation and the things I was telling him but he was accidentally telling me things about other patients because he thought I was them. The office was dreadfully disorganized. I stopped seeing him but they certainly did not stop sending the bills for the visits. I was back at square one.
That time back at square one was marked by increased depression and continuing (and increasing) anxiety attacks that made it a struggle to even convince myself to get out of bed some days. During many of those I couldn’t summon the strength or calm needed to drive a car (and those with even a cursory knowledge of me publicly know how much I love driving cars) or do basic tasks around the house. I could often successfully suppress this to perform at work (turns out even my topsy-turvy brain thinks getting fired is a pretty bad idea) but had stretches of days where I accomplished nothing outside of my professional obligations because I simply couldn’t will myself to do anything else.
I restarted therapy in late 2021 with a local friend that I have known for years in other contexts. She takes a more holistic approach to identifying triggers, conditioning, and deep-seated beliefs that may manifest in things like depression, anxiety, and other issues. It is one of the best decisions I have ever made and I encourage all my readers to pursue the types of treatments that they feel best suit them, holistic or otherwise, if you are experiencing issues similar to mine. Don’t give up if your initial attempts prove fruitless and frustrating.
I also took to heart Eugene Meidinger’s (b | t) wonderful “How I Deal with Depression” presentation from SQLBits 2022. Among many helpful bits of advice was a discussion of how he uses the app Daylio as a bit of a daily mood tracker that provides data to analyze over the months and years. I haven’t missed a day since downloading it after SQLBits and it’s proved valuable and complementary to the work I’ve been doing with my therapist.
You may be reaching the end of this post and wondering what the title, “The Year That Was That Wasn’t”, means. When I look around parts of my house, it looks like I’m stuck in a time warp. There are projects and gadgets and things that haven’t moved all year because I’ve been struggling with my mental health and taking care of myself. Despite some wonderful professional and personal moments in the last year, in many ways it feels like I’ve done nothing and I’m surrounded by the casualties of my chaotic mind.
But, as my therapist says, I am “still showing up for myself”. I am still here. You’re still here too. That’s not nothing. If you’re reading this and experiencing nothing like what I’ve described, I’m grateful for that. Hopefully you can use this post as motivation to check in on your friends, even the ones who “seem fine”. If you’re reading this and it is resonating with you, feel free to reach out to me and connect. I wish you peace and strength and whatever you need to make each day a little better than the last.
With that, I’m closing the book on 2022 with a renewed commitment to help myself and help others in 2023. Thanks for reading – maybe this year will be better than the last.