Coming out on Mental Health

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.

8 Comments

  1. Yo'av Moshe says:

    Thank you, for one of the most authentic posts I ever read online.

  2. fellow formerly depressed says:

    Thank you for sharing this. It’s uplifting to see more stories like these, to know that people you admire have had the same experiences and have found a way to overcome them.

    I know a certain someone who refuses to even consider medication or professional help. His family and friends know about his problems, but cannot force him to get help as he does not seem to want any. Not even a success story from someone close to him will change his mind. The most horrible thing is he blames his condition not on chemistry but rather on himself, as if he were somehow responsible (while at the same time being such a great guy) for this condition. He isn’t very rational in this state. This has gone on for years now and various aspects of his life have suffered as a result.

    I cannot help but feel that if more people would share their experiences publicly, he would sooner hear and learn about them and at least attempt to overcome this problem.

  3. Topher says:

    Good on ya mate. There’s a lot of freedom in being able to talk about it.

  4. Allan says:

    Great post Dusty. It is good to hear that everything is under control now.

  5. fukawi2 says:

    Congratulations on your treatment and recovery Dusty. I went through the same process in 2009-2010.

    A relevant site that I hope you’ve come across before, but for anyone else out there: http://bluehackers.org/

  6. Most people (like me) dont understand how your life was or is now.
    Its incredible to open up like this. Much respect.

    Can you plz advice how to recognize symptoms of this mental illness ?
    Its important to understand and help our friends (or our friends help us) cause its really hard sometimes to figure this out with any external help.

  7. Celti says:

    Thank you for this post. As one of those marginalised mentally ill people (I’m severely bipolar), this post touches me deeply. I’m getting treatment, but it’s an uphill struggle daily — but I’m winning! I’m holding down a real, steady job for basically the first time ever, in an environment I love and that’s actually willing to cooperate with me, instead of viewing me as one of those “freaks”. I’ve been down the bad road, but thanks to a little bit of luck and a lot of help from people like you, I came back. So thank you, and the people like you, and good luck to you in the future!

  8. L says:

    One person who has schizophrenia talked to me for about 10 minutes about his life. It changed my world because then I knew that I was not alone with a mental health problem. My depression is correctly being treated by a medical doctor using a common treatment. While this will not work for everyone I want people to know that people with depression are not freaks. The doctors will not grab you and tie a white jacket around you and throw you into a jail. It is a common medical problem and the problem will be treated, and the doctor will interact with you with sympathy and dignity. If all you can think about is death, if the only solution to a problem seems to be death then please see a doctor right away because you have a medical problem and a doctor wants to help you get better. Treatment does not make the world perfect but does make the world liveable.