Tag Archives: problem awareness

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.

I know this news will surprise some of you. To many people reading this letter, I’m the guy who’s always happy. I’m the guy who’s always having a good time, and getting out there and doing incredible things. However for the last few months, I haven’t been having a good time.

One of the defining symptoms of major depression is anhedonia— an inability to feel pleasure or enjoyment. You’ve probably experienced this yourself to some degree at various times; everything just seems a little more dull and plain and nothing really seems fun. With major depression, *nothing* can seem enjoyable. It can kill your motivation and your friendships, it can ruin your career, and it can cause you to give up on your megaprojects in Minecraft. It’s the anhedonia that removes one of the defining *good* features of the human condition: the ability to enjoy things.

I have a lot of dear friends who have struggled, and still struggle, with depression. Some of them have been dealing with it their entire lives. I can only say that I have a new appreciation of their situation, and renewed respect for their determination and bravery.

So why am I writing about this publicly? Why am I not I just keeping this to myself and my close friends? Firstly, it’s for my own mental health. I don’t want to hide that I’m depressed; I don’t want to pretend that I’m okay when I’m not. Pretending is *exhausting*, I’ve been doing it for too long, and right now I need all the energy I can get.

But also, I don’t want anyone to have some sort of idea in their head that mental illness only affects certain types of people. I think the more of us who come out with our experiences, the more mental illness will be accepted.

I do want to be clear that I would like to raise the acceptance of mental illness in general. I have friends with bipolar, borderline personality, schizophrenia, anxiety, and a whole slew of other conditions. And you know what? They’re doing amazing things. I’m proud to have them as my friends.

For those of you that wish to know about the nuts and bolts of depression from a neurobiological standpoint, I highly recommend Robert Sapolsky’s lecture presented at Stanford University. Dr Sapolsky puts forward a convincing case that major depression has a strong biological basis, and that telling someone to “get over it” makes about as much sense as telling a diabetic they should get over that silly insulin business.

I also wish to draw attention to two initiatives in particular: Beyond Blue in Australia, who work tirelessly on providing resources and awareness of mental health, and BlueHackers.org, which specifically caters to people working in technology. Special mention also goes to LifeLine who provide crisis support services services, and are always in need of volunteers and support.

Finally, for all of you who have been helping to carry me through this: thank you. I know that I’m not always good at accepting it, but I appreciate your continuing support and patience more than I can say.


Do as I Do

One of the attributes of intelligence we ascribe to ourselves is the ability to work out what other people might do.  The next stage in that process, one might say, is to anticipate their needs and desires.  If you know that someone gets very angry when you poke them with a sharp stick, then you tend to avoid that.

In modern life we anticipate other people’s thoughts and emotional reactions in many situations, but this is a guessing game.  It also hurts when our well-meant actions are seen as having some malicious meaning we never intended them to have, and this can happen when the’re’s an ‘impedance’ failure between what we mean and how we’re interpreted.

The other part of the problem is that people rarely explain what they most want.  Most of the reasons boil down to the fact we feel uncomfortable telling someone else how they should act.  We most commonly communicate how we want to be treated by treating someone else that way.  A simple example: some people make light of mistakes because they wish to pass off the mistake as not worth worrying about, but to others this laughter can be interpreted as laughing at the person who made the mistake.  Unfortunately, hilarity and anger ensue.

The key here is that mismatch between what we expect and what the other person gives, and it can be very subtle.  We might completely overlook someone holding back on a comment (because they feel a comment is too critical at that time) and comment ourselves, thus annoying the other person.  There’s no sure-fire way to fix this problem instantly, but the most important thing we can do is to recognise those situations.  Taking a step back and apologising for treating the other person the wrong way is a good way to start things back on track.

In this sense, the Golden Rule can be reworded as “do unto others as they want to be done by, as expressed in how they do unto you”.  Doesn’t sound as attractive but it’s probably closer to the mark.