A History of Depression

by Jimmie on July 10, 2012

A picture of some koi I took in Japan.
My last post was a sort of coming back to the internet post. It took a ton of effort just to get past that artificial hurdle I had given myself. My goal is to hopefully finish up a series of posts to provide a bit more information about my experiences with depression. It’s my hope that it may inspire someone else out there to go get the help they need, or maybe to just reach out for help. The communities I’m a part of have been amazingly supportive, and some of us are working on getting some better resources online for people to find others to talk to about things. Privately, and anonymously if they wish.

I’ve had so many friends in the hacker/maker communities suffer from depression. People that you wouldn’t initially suspect. My blog posts are directly influenced by a number of them who have already spoken out about such things; Mitch Altman, Matthew Borgatti, and Schyler Towne have all posted things online. Matt did a great two part (part 1, part2) writeup for his blog, and Schyler is actually keeping a blog to record his own recovery. It was inspiring to me, so hopefully this can further that trend of sharing. Mitch has posted some great stuff to the Noisebridge wiki, but I had difficulty finding them, I’ll update this once I do.

The rest of this post is rather long, so I’ll post it after the break. Please click on to read more about my history with depression.

A picture I took in Hamburger BahnhofI’ve suffered from bouts of depression since I was a teenager. Mostly it was due to some extreme external things that happened to me. Needless to say, I was a miserable teen. I even had a suicide attempt, but was luckily caught by my mother. I spent a number of years in therapy and on various medications. All of that helped, and I eventually made my way off the meds.

Things got better in college, but once again a number of things happened and I just wasn’t able to deal. Ultimately it led to me failing out of college, getting back in, and then dropping out after 5 years (with no degree). I was broke, broken, and couldn’t handle those external pressures. I went back into therapy and back onto the meds. Ultimately I sold everything I owned, and moved to Brazil for six months to do volunteer work. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life, and it helped me get away from those external pressures and re-find myself. I eventually got off the meds again. That was 2005.

I’ve done fairly well at managing my depression for the past 7 years without meds. Once I understood my natural cycle and worked with it, I was able to be extremely productive. I paid off all of my student loans, had a well paying job, and a ton of hobbies. I got into the budding hackerspace explosion in 2007, and helped get a hackerspace started before most other cities. Willoughby and Baltic (now gone, but lives on through Artisan’s Asylum) was exactly what I needed. There I found my true passion, teaching others how to make things.

I also met Mitch Altman around this time, as well as a number of Make employees. I had been invited down to AS220 to visit their new hackerspace and meet Mitch while he was doing his artist residence. They basically talked me into something I was already trying to talk myself into, which was to quit my job and make things full time. I was already starting to make my hobby pay for itself with my first kit being successful and a number of classes I had started to teach. It was all just a matter of application after that.

After going to the 25th Chaos Communications Congress in Berlin, I made a decision to quit my job as soon as it was possible. I managed to do that in only nine months, and I saved up enough money to get some kits going and live on for a full six months after that. I wasn’t going to make much money, but I knew I could live on it. I’ve managed to do exactly that for nearly three years now.

Me at the Design Festa in Tokyo.When my third kit came out (the LoL Shield), I started to gain a bit of internet celebrity. It was a very complicated project, and I had a blast getting it done. However, it turns out I’m not very good with being even the small-level celebrity that I had become. For the most part I’m an introvert, but I love being around people when I’m not doing work. Most people don’t expect me to be an introvert, or depressed, but most people have met me at conferences and events. I’m honestly a bit dissociated from myself at such events, so you generally are meeting my louder personality.

Ultimately as things kept going better for me, I started getting more depressed. I was spending more and more time on things like email and support, but I was selling hundreds of kits per month, so it was understandable. I would have to be “on” during conferences for days at a time, and would put in 20+ hour days. So whenever I got home I would crash. Hard. I learned to deal with that, and would allow myself to spend a few days watching some TV show or anime in its entirety, or I would play through a very long game all in one sitting. Slowly that started to last for longer and longer periods. Then I started doing such things when I was waiting around for parts to arrive, instead of working on new projects. This led to me feeling more depressed ultimately, but in the short term I felt better.

The problem was also that every time I went away on these escapist sessions, I would have to work harder at getting back on top of things. I would fall behind by weeks, and then months, and spend 2-3 times that getting back to where I was. As long as I stayed on top of kits, it almost ran itself. I only really needed to do a couple hours of email per day to keep things running, but if I stopped, everything else would. Getting it all started again takes much more money and energy.

Around a year ago I made a decision to go ahead and give up my physical apartment. I barely spent half of my time there, and it was costing a fortune to keep it. So I let it go, and once again got rid of most of my stuff. I still think it was the correct decision, despite that being a significant cause of my long depression. Not having a solid place to land gets rather draining, and I wasn’t able to let myself crash anymore. That was one of my main points for doing it though, as I was trying to force myself to deal with the issues. Instead it created a huge ball of anxiety in me, because I couldn’t retreat into myself to recharge.

On the other hand, things at the time couldn’t have been going any better. My kits were selling extremely well. I was selling through all the major open hardware resellers, and I even had a book deal with O’Reilly for a “Maker’s Guide to EagleCAD”. I was even on top of the book deal for a while, but after I spent a month in Japan, I fell behind, and just never picked it up again. I would feel bad about not doing things, but felt really bad about the book. I would then try to work on the book, but I couldn’t get past the anxiety, so I wouldn’t, and then I just stopped doing much of anything.

A trash can in Berlin.This all culminated in this latest bout of depression, which went on for at least a full six months. Nearly all of that was spent in Berlin. After this past Chaos Communications Congress, I crashed hard, falling deep into that spiral of depression and anxiety. I had found a cheap apartment with a fellow hacker, and stopped doing anything of use to just about anyone. He had a similar style of depression, and we had a repeating cycle of sitting around while watching shows, or playing games. It ended up working out really well in the end though, because I could be bluntly honest about how I was feeling. When I was up for leaving the house, I would go around taking photos. Some of which have been peppered through this blog post.

While depression has caused a number of issues in my life, I can’t say that everything has been bad about it. Sure I’ve wasted tons of time and money, but I learn extremely important things every time I come back up. That’s the thing with depression, you spend so much time thinking things over, that once you are done, you have a highly polished idea. Despite spending six months doing little more than lying in bed, reading, taking pictures, playing video games, and watching TV, I managed to learn a great deal about myself and how I work.

In the past three months I’ve started to pick up the pieces. The hacker/maker community is amazing, and has done so much for me. People had started to recognize my pattern, and I had started to open up about being so depressed. The community reached out to me and held out their hand, and I took it. I’m not sure where I would be without that.

I seriously love every fucking one of you.

I have had an incredible life. I’ve had so many beautiful moments, and met so many amazing people in such a short period of time. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, not even to get rid of the depression. What I can do is share my experience, hold out my own hand, and hope that I can help someone else.

I’ve largely been out of the depression for at least three months now, but I’ve still had a few smaller bouts during that time. It was a combination of having people there for me with so many offers of help, meeting an amazing girl in Berlin (whom I am still dating), and even having to leave Germany for overstaying my visa (which forced me into action). I also banned myself from playing video games or watching anything while alone, which helped significantly.

FYI, if you are an American and you overstay your 90-day visa, you can basically go to the government office before you try to leave, admit you were wrong, and they let you leave peacefully. You even get to come back 90 days later, but you can’t do it again.

One of my favorite pictures I took in BerlinWhen I got back to the states I came where I knew the most people, the Boston area. While here, I’ve stayed with some of the most amazing people I know, Aaron Waychoff and his husband Cameron Dixon. Aaron knew about my depression, and understood why I spent the first couple of weeks basically watching Star Trek TNG, and then DS9 (this is before I had banned it). He also let me work out of his space at Artisan’s Asylum on the days I felt like leaving the house. I basically ignored everything but making things, and I started to feel better.

Finally I made the final push, and quit watching anything by myself. With continuing support from my friends, I started to poke at more and more of the 8+ months of backlogs. I started with small, easy tasks, and would do one or two a day. Eventually I started working on larger tasks. Running out of money really kicked me into gear towards getting around to billing people as well. Nothing like not being able to buy food to convince you to do something about it.

For the past month I’ve spent most days at Artisan’s. I’ve managed to stick to a rigorous workout schedule, and even started doing things like flossing twice a day. It seems small, but actually managing to keep up with these tasks was far more than I had been willing to do for a long time. I still try to do a few tasks every day, and things aren’t giving me nearly as much anxiety as before. I’ve had amazingly supportive people helping me out, and I’ve seen a number of my friends also reaching out.

As of now, I have some kits in stock. I’m going to be getting all the outstanding orders fulfilled in the next week or so. I’ll be heading out to HOPE to talk about depression. It’s the first conference that I’ve not really had anything new for, but honestly I’ve been just dealing with my depression, so it fits that the panel is the only thing I have solid plans for. I plan on joining Hackers on a Train after that, so I’ll be travelling again. I really love to travel and meet new people and see new places, and I’m finally in a place to do that once again.

My next post will work on more specifics about what my depressions are like.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ben July 10, 2012 at 18:12

Thanks for writing this Jimmie, I’ve ended up reading through a chance retweet from you today. I can recognise my own cycles in what you’re describing, each day is a bit of a battle, but things like the flossing (for me it’s just making the bed and clearing my desk) make all the difference. Great to hear you’re on the mend. Thanks again for writing.

2 Bonnie July 10, 2012 at 19:02


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