An honest conversation about my mental health

Okay, time for another honest conversation about my mental health. For those of you new to my feed, this is something I do from time to time. Partly because it helps me, and partly because it helps de-stigmatise discussions about mental health.

This will be long, rambly, and personal. Imagine you’re on livejournal. There’ll probably be typos.

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It's time we spoke about loneliness

Okay folks, it’s time to talk about mental health again. Today we’re going to be discussing one of the most common and yet stigma-laden topics of all: loneliness.

Lots of people feel lonely. An estimated 20% of the United States population experiences loneliness, and amongst groups prone to social isolation that can be much, much higher. Loneliness isn’t just unpleasant, either; it’s associated with a mortality risk about equal to that of smoking.

But if there’s one thing we don’t like to admit, it’s that we’re lonely.

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Depression—An Update

In late 2012 I had a depressive episode. This is well documented; I wrote about it on-line, and I even gave a talk at OSCON. My thought processes during that time were broken and cyclical; cognitively I knew that people were great, but emotionally I found myself intensely disliking them. As someone who’s long derived joy and energy from those around me, I seemed to spend all my energy arguing with the emotional part of myself that people were great… and yet it wouldn’t listen. The situation was exhausting, and I didn’t get anywhere.

Eventually, I struck a deal. I would admit that perhaps people aren’t as great as I once thought, and that emotional monkey-brain would quieten down and let me think again. It worked, and I’d joke with my role-playing friends I recovered by taking a point in misanthropy.

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Remembering better times

One of the most frustrating thing about humans is that we’ll feel a particular way—happy, sad, angry, annoyed—and then we’ll find excuses as to why we’re feeling that way. If we’re feeling sad, it’s really hard to remember times when you were happy. If we’re feeling annoyed, then the most minor things can cause us to lose our cool, even if they’re things we’d hardly notice on better days.

It’s pretty clear that for whatever you’re feeling, that’s what you’ll be good at remembering. If you’re having a great time, you’ll be better at remembering similar happy memories. If you’re hitting a particular difficulty, it’s much too easy to remember all the other times you’ve hit the same difficulty.

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Impostor syndrome and depression

You might have encountered the term Impostor Syndrome, where people feel that they’re somehow “faking it”. This is common with programmers, artists, public speakers, and I suspect anyone who is able to see the faults in their own work, despite others judging that work on its merits.

If you’ve ever started a thought with “You may be impressed now, but if you only knew I was just making it up/not doing it the right way/not really that cool/lucky/had good timing/have no idea what I’m doing”, then you may know what impostor syndrome is like. If you’ve been feeling that way a lot—and I know people with years of experience who still don’t consider themselves “a real programmer/artist/performer/badass”—then you might actually have impostor syndrome.

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Depression: Bugs In Your Brain

Watch on YouTube

Earlier this year, I gave a presentation at OSCON on both my experiences with and the science of depression. The video of that presentation is above.

This isn’t a video of hope. It’s not a video of “everything is going to be okay”, because there’s no way I can say that. It’s a video discussing what it’s like, and some of the research as to what’s going on in your brain.

It’s a video that says that you are not alone.

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Today is a bad day

Today is a bad day. I won’t explain why in a public post, and really the reasons don’t matter for what I’m about to say. It’s sufficient for me to mention that my mood is the worst it’s been in a very long time. For those of you not familiar with my history, you might want to start with my open letter here.

I should be sorting accommodation in Seattle this weekend. I should be processing photos. I should be writing talk proposals, and hacking code, and catching up with friends. But right now nothing seems appealing. The least horrible thing feels like going home, laying down, and just trying not to exist for a while. I’m writing this through a fog of psychomotor retardation, and so I’m pretty sure if I wanted to, I could do exactly that.

But I won’t.

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I Have Depression—An Open Letter by Paul Fenwick

Dear Everyone,

I have depression.

This isn’t the sort of sadness that sticks around for a week and then goes away. It’s not the sort of thing that even has a good reason, although there might have been one originally. It’s the sort of thing that can stick with you for months or even years, is a recognised illness, and is one of the worst possible states a human can experience.

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