In December, 2010, I was admitted to my local psychiatric ward to be treated for depression. I was hours away from suicide. Luckily, my parents took my symptoms seriously and drove two and a half hours to ensure I obtained treatment that I had desperately needed for about two decades.
I have carefully guarded my mental illness from online circles. My career and reputation are built entirely on what I have done on the web. From the essays published on this blog and my books to my github commits and mailing list postings, my internet presence is carefully crafted. I am not ashamed of my mental illness, but because of the stigma against mental health patients, I chose to keep it private from prospective clients, employers, and readers.
It is now time to fight that stigma. Encouraged by publicly mentally ill figures such as Jeph Jacques, and Mathew Good, I’ve decided to place myself as a counter-example to the stereotype, rather than allowing myself to be victimized by it.
For years, I have been successful as a software developer, and more recently as an author in spite of the depression. Now that I have been treated, the effects of my illness have been minimized, and I am even better at what I do. I say this, not to distance myself from the crazy people I met on the psych ward, but so that you will see them as people with a lot of potential, people like me.
I am offended when people claim or imply that depression such as I suffer from is not as “bad” as other forms of mental illness. This allows them to interact with me as a normal person, while marginalizing people who suffer from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, OCD, or other illnesses that they consider more serious. It’s like they’re saying, “Sure, Dusty, you’re sort of normal. We’ll let you play on our team, but we won’t have anything to do with those freaks.”
Those freaks are my friends. I stand by them. Their illnesses are also treatable and they are just as capable as I am. Further, the implication that depression is not as serious as other disorders is an insult to those other friends that have not yet managed to successfully treat it.
My life in the last two years has been incredible. The changes — partially therapeutically and partially chemically induced — in my psyche have been phenomenal. I am now able to enjoy the daily aspects of life. Every day is an adventure, positive and full of hope and meaning.
Sometimes I am terrified to think that in another quantum reality, I died, tragically, almost two years ago. I generally succeed at those things I attempt. If I had attempted suicide, I wouldn’t have survived.
However, I am even more horrified that in this reality, a million people a year turn a highly treatable illness into a terminal one. I was heartbroken last summer when four prominent hockey figures took their own lives. Ilya Zhitomirskiy’s suicide hit particularly close to home. I once had an argument with someone who insisted that these million people, “had a choice.” I know otherwise. When you are that sick, you have no choices. You’ve exhausted them. Death through suicide is no more a choice than death through brain cancer. Both are illnesses in the brain. Both can be treated with varying levels of success. Both are tragic.
Neither were decisions on the part of the deceased.
About one in four of my readers will be affected by mental illness at some point in their life. I am here to tell you that you are not alone. You need not suffer alone. You can be treated, and your life will be amazing in the future. I care about you. You are incredible, you are successful. Take the steps you need to honour yourself, and don’t be too proud to obtain treatment. Mental illness is almost completely treatable. Take the steps you need to before it is too late. Like me, you are capable of enjoying every day. You just need to find it within yourself. You are loved.