Posts tagged ‘mental health’

Bad Guy Discrimination

On my flight back from an absolutely amazing Python Canada 2013, I watched “42″ (Jackie Robinson’s story) and about half of “Skyfall”. The former warmed my heart because the racial discrimination was so disturbing. You’re probably reading that twice and scratching your head, so let me explain: It’s heartwarming that we have made progress in fighting racism, and that things that were considered normal 70 years are truly disgusting today. While nauseating racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of othering still exist today, in Canada, at least, it is no longer considered normal. For example, last year, the NHL media was in uproar because of an alleged racial slur against PK Subban. Yes that slur should not have happened, but 60 years ago, it would have been encouraged.

Skyfall naturally reminded me of past decades of James Bond movies. Traditionally, the bad guy in a Bond film is a dude with an accent reflecting whatever country the American media (while Bond is British, the films are Hollywood) was hyperventilating about at the time. This “bad guy with an accent” portrayal is a form of xenophobia that Hollywood has been projecting for decades.

In Skyfall, as well as a majority of the very few other action movies I’ve seen in the past few years, the bad guy is not black like in the 70s, Russian like in the 80s, or middle Eastern like in the 90s. In movies such as Skyfall, Iron Man 2 and 3, all three Batman movies, and a super hero movie that I can’t remember the name of (citation required) the bad guy as a deranged local white man. Some of those insane white dudes have been phenomenal villains. Heath Ledger’s incredible portrayal of The Joker was particularly poignant.

Deranged local white men. These movies are silently teaching us, in the same way that movies of the 60s and 70s taught us that blacks are gangsters and women simper, that mentally ill people are dangerous, different, frightening. And you know what? We are! Even with the empathy I have developed from group therapy sessions and being hospitalized alongside seriously mentally ill individuals, I still get nervous when “crazy people” approach me on the street. I personally identified with The Joker, and my girlfriend at the time even commented that he reminded her of me.

The bad guy in a film normally has to be a little demented. I don’t want to live in a society where the desire to blow up entire cities of peace loving citizens is considered sane. I’m just here to remind people to encourage, rather than suspend, disbelief when watching all movies. Disbelieve the gender roles typified in Disney films. Disbelieve that people with accents are bad guys. Disbelieve that Asians can kill you with their pinky. Disbelieve that crazy men, men like me, are necessarily evil.

Suicide is not a choice

There is a common misconception that those people who commit suicide have made a rational decision between two options and picked the one that they thought was most suitable for them. I’ve read this many times, often in the context of, “I really miss him, but I respect his choice.”

For those of you lucky enough to have never experienced suicidal thoughts, I want to make something clear:

Suicide is not a choice. It is a compulsion.

Obviously, I can’t really speak individually for the million people a year who take their own lives, nor for the order of magnitude more that failed in their attempt. There are, in fact, reasons for a mentally healthy person to choose (perhaps even rationally) to take their own lives. However, I believe that most of the people that killed themselves last year did not have a choice.

Consider a different illness for a moment. Consider cancer. It is a horrible disease. When a patient is diagnosed with cancer, they know they may recover, or that they may die. They don’t have a choice in the matter. Many patients find reserves within them to battle the illness with every tool available to them. Others don’t. Some survive, many die. Some beat the illness for a period, only to have the disease attack them again several years later.

In the case of cancer deaths, the cells in the human body turn on the victim to the point that it can no longer support that body’s vital systems.

Contrary to popular belief, mental illness works in much the same way. Instead of cells, it is the patient’s brain that turns on them. Their thoughts attack them repeatedly and incessantly until, eventually, they are compelled to destroy the body that houses them. Suicide is the result of an untreated psychological cancer.

Suicide ultimately arrives when the victim believes they do not have a choice. It becomes the only option. Suicidal thoughts begin as general thoughts about death. This leads to thoughts about the patient’s own death.They becomes obsessed, and begin to think about ways to actualize one or more of these scenarios. What options do they have, what tools can they use? Next, they are compelled to pick a time. If nothing changes, the time comes, and they die.

I speak from experience. Suicidal thoughts were my constant companion for twenty years, starting at the tender age of eight. At various times, I have reached the point where I believed I had no other options. I chose dates for my death. Luckily, phrases like, “I’d rather see you institutionalized than dead,” or “Do you need to be hospitalized” helped me realize there was something I hadn’t tried yet. I survived. At the moment, I am in remission, and I am optimistic that my “cancer” will not return.

So now, when I hear someone say, “It’s hard to deal with, but I respect her choice,” I hear the truth: “I am pretending she had a choice rather than admit that I didn’t give them the choice she needed.” Saying a suicide case had a choice is as insulting to their memory as suggesting that a cancer victim should have chosen to fight harder or a rape victim should have dressed differently.

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, 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.