Posts tagged ‘hacking happy’

Have you ever been afraid to get out of bed?

In my past writings about mental health, I’ve mostly discussed depression and suicide. I’ve been meaning to add ‘anxiety’ to that list of topics, but have been waiting until I could write about it from the first person. One of the peculiar things about my personal struggles with mental illness is that when I’m feeling well, it’s really hard to remember what it’s like to be feeling poorly. The inverse is also true, which is why it’s possible to feel suicidal after just a few hours of depression; I can’t imagine what it felt like yesterday when I’d been feeling fine for months on end.

I’ve got a great handle on what I need to do in my life to deal with, prevent, and accommodate for my depressive, suicidal, and bipolar tendencies. I’ve also made great strides in reducing anxiety levels, but, for me, anxiety is a more difficult beast to tame. The following was written a few days ago when I was in the middle of a high-anxiety experience (not an anxiety attack). I’ve edited it a bit for grammar (typing on a phone is a horrible experience), but it’s mostly straight from the heart. I hope it illustrates what anxiety feels like to those who have not experienced it, so you can support those in your life who are suffering. I would also like it to demonstrate to those who may not be aware that they are dealing with anxiety that their symptoms are treatable, and perhaps you will seek further help. And, as always, I want those of you who deal with anxiety on a regular basis to remember that you are not alone.

From Inside Anxiety

Let me tell you what anxiety feels like. It feels like being on a small rock amidst a boiling vat of lava. I have to type this on a phone because the laptop in the other room is no less inaccessible than if I had to jump a giant ravine. Anxiety is fear, pure simple fear. But it’s not normal fear; anxiety is fear of the normal.

Have you ever experienced an adrenaline rush? Some threatening situation: the grill of an oncoming bus, falling down the stairs, being approached by a thug with knife in hand, slipping on ice, a shove from behind, a car accident?

Anxiety is that same feeling, but all the time. Every step is a slip, every car is going to hit you, all your friends and co-workers are thugs with knives. The worst part is that the brain can see that these sensations are not true. I’m not imagining real lava around the bed. I can see the perfectly safe carpet. But my legs feel like numb jello and I cannot step onto it. I’m not hallucinating that all the people outside my street want to kill me. I’m afraid of them even though I know they have no interest in me at all. I know in my mind that my office is full of people I can trust and rely on, yet my body is reacting as though I will be entering a war zone, every sense alert, every muscle tensed against the next attack.

Once upon a time, I lived the majority of my life’s moments in such a constant state of heightened awareness. Fear. It was exhausting. I am lucky that days like this are now rare. I am lucky that today, my anxiety is not accompanied by depression (it’s hard to feel worthy when you spend all your time hiding in bed.).
Some people look for adrenaline rushes outside their normal state of being. They sky dive, they become immersed in video games or movie thrillers, they join extreme sports. While they do this, I look for quiet rooms, I meditate, I practice yoga. Anything to calm the blood down. I will experience the same thrill climbing into the shower this morning that you feel jumping out of that plane. I will feel the same fear walking into my office today that you feel as you step onto a public stage.

And here’s the kicker: nobody thinks I’m brave. My walk to work today will mirror an Indian Jones escape sequence or Aladdin’s carpet ride out of the Cave Of Wonders. I’ll walk into my office and be surrounded by people who do that kind of thing every day. Anxiety is living your life inside a thriller movie. The music is always loud, rushing your heart beat. Something awful is always going to happen around the next corner. This movie doesn’t end and you can’t walk out of the theater.

The world is going to end if I don’t get out of bed and into the shower. How much is a world worth?

Dealing With Anxiety

I have had less success in defeating anxiety than I have had with depression. There are a few types of treatments to deal with it, and you should consult with a medical professional to work out what the best one is for you. The two things that have had the greatest success in taming (if not controlling, yet) my anxiety have been yoga/meditation, and exposure therapy. The latter isn’t as bad as it sounds, although like many cures, it’s not always pleasant. The heart of exposure therapy is, as you can expect from the name, placing yourself in situations that cause anxiety. However, there are a few caveats. You have to place yourself in such situations until you become comfortable with them. If you exit an anxiety-inducing situation while you still feel afraid, you will have reinforced that this is a fearful situation, and that “fight or flight” is an appropriate response.

Instead, you need to pick situations that only cause a small amount of anxiety. A good way to do this is to make a list of as many situations as you can think of that cause anxiety, and then rank them in order of how frightening they are. Over the course of a year or so, put yourself into the easiest situations and work your way up the chain. It’s slow progress, but it’s measurable, and the feedback you give yourself from one encounter can help you refine your technique in a later one.

I’ve been utilizing this technique for three years. As illustrated above, I still have days with a lot of anxiety. However, I lead a functional life, now. I used to work from home, I now work for a high-profile company and I’m doing well at it. I used to avoid all social situations, I now regularly go out with friends or even strangers and generally have a good time. I used to be especially afraid to interact with single women; I’m now in a stable, loving relationship. There are still a few things on my list, such as presenting at conferences and dealing better with conflict, but for the most part my coping skills are better than many people who are considered not to have psychological disorders. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.

Addressing mistakes I made in releasing Hacking Happy

When I released Hacking Happy two weeks ago, I made a rather serious mistake. It’s the first time I’ve self-published in eBook format. I put a lot of effort into thinking through the release and marketing of the book, but one problem slipped through.

I believe that when you purchase a digital product, you are purchasing the content, not the format. I released Hacking Happy as an eBook in four different formats, each available for download at a minimum purchase price of $5. This was the easiest way to make the book available on Gumroad, and I didn’t think about it much. I thought it would look good on the home page to have links to several different formats! However, I didn’t consider that someone may want copies of the book in two different formats. There are various reasons they may want to do this, and I do not believe they should have to pay full price for each of the different formats when they are essentially getting the same content.

Therefore, I have now made Hacking Happy available as a zip file of all four formats, in addition to the other download links. It is the same minimum price as the other links. However, this didn’t help anyone who had already supported me in buying the book in a single format. Luckily, Gumroad allows me to e-mail my buyers and I was able to supply them with a private link to the zipfile if they wish to access other formats.

Of course, since you own the content you purchased, you are welcome to convert it to other formats as you see fit!

The other issue people raised had more to do with marketing than the book itself. Part of the discussion on Hacker News pointed out that the excerpt didn’t really say much about what was in the book. I have alleviated this by adding a table of contents to the excerpt link on the home page and by choosing an excerpt from a chapter other than the introduction. I believe the chosen excerpt is representative of the contents of the book, and also highlights my writing style.

The response to this book has been very humbling. Other than complaints from people who chose not to purchase it, the feedback has been entirely positive. It has received one five star review on Amazon and I have received e-mails of support, congratulations, and gratitude. I knew when I wrote the book that it was necessary and would fill a niche, and I knew when I published it that I had done a good job. But the feedback reinforcing that knowledge has brought me as much happiness as the process of writing the book did!

Hacking Happy

I am extremely proud to announce the release of my new book, Hacking Happy. I believe every geek should read this book to help them find the joy and happiness in their lives that I have in mine.

The foundations of this book started with a hospital stay, as I outlined a couple of months ago. It was on the psychiatric ward that I started learning about the skills that ultimately led to my recovery. These techniques are as learnable as any programming language. My book helps you discover them for yourself.

Hacking Happy will motivate you to find techniques that work for you to optimize the happiness levels in your life. It is not a book of ready-made solutions. It is a true hacker’s manual. It provides processes. You find the solutions for the system you are hacking: yourself. The entire book is a series of analogies (some suitable, others simply amusing) to common software and systems development situations. However, the systems presented have been scientifically proven by psychologists and psychiatrists.

I have to admit that about halfway through writing Hacking Happy, I decided not to publish it. It seemed corny and the tools I was describing appeared so obvious to me. I couldn’t see how anyone would pay to read it. Then I asked myself, “If they are so obvious, why did it take me two decades and several mental breakdowns to find them?”

So I rewrote the book. It is now the best writing and most important work I have created, yet. It is hilarious. It is motivating, moving, and inspiring. It is educational and instructive. It is essential.

Marketing is a skill I’m still trying to learn. So I’m turning to you, “the crowd” to help market it! If you don’t buy the book, at least share it. Tell your friends about it. Retweet it. Like it. Plus One it. I think “Hacking Happy” is vital reading for every coder and systems professional out there. If you don’t love yourself completely and unconditionally, buy this book.

Hacking Happy is available in print and eBook formats. I’ll be adding more links to the home page as it propagates to more retailers. As of today, you can buy the book in print from CreateSpace or Amazon.com, or download eBooks in the following formats:

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.