Update update: I started a campaign to fund my travel expenses giving this talk at tech confs. The response has been amazing. Thank you!
Update: I talked more about this in Episode 28 of the Development Hell podcast
In June of 2012, we posted an episode of the Development Hell podcast that was a little out of the norm. Instead of focusing on technical issues or open source community stuff, we talked about mental illness: specifically, my ongoing struggles with depression and anxiety.
I had just come from the tek12 conference, which was one of my worst conference experiences ever. I had forgotten some of my daily medications, and also ended up getting (physically) ill. The whole experience was a big struggle for me physically and mentally. I ended up going home early because I was deeply uncomfortable and unhappy.
I felt really compelled to talk about it when I was home for a couple days. I wasn’t quite sure why, exactly, but I had been carrying this burden for a long, long time, and I was tired and frustrated dealing with it privately. I wanted to explain what it was like for me. I hoped I would feel a little less alone with it. Maybe other folks could learn from it.
I was blown away by the response. We received far more feedback to this episode than we ever had, or since.
I simply wanted to write and say that I have never been able to put into words how I feel as well as you all did.
For too long it’s even restricted my commitment to OS, not that I’m using it as an excuse for my lack of contribution. Sharing your thoughts like this and seeing the other side is really encouraging, despite what my brain wants me to think.
… I so sympathize with Ed. It really sucks to have a brain that wants to continually sabotage you and keeps you from reaching your potential. Just know there are millions, and I do mean millions of people, that understand what you go through.
The more we can get these stories out there, the better chance we have of influencing general public perception, and most importantly, helping others who suffer to try to get help.
… it’s times like these that make this feel like more of a community. … I used to think mental illness was something most people could just overcome through effort and attitude—mostly due to some bad experiences with people who basically blamed all their problems on some undiagnosed “problems.” Then I started living with some guys, one of which really struggled with a ton of different issues (bi-polar being the least of which).
Listening to the latest @dev_hell is really making me think about how I treat people. You never know what someone else is going through.
They told us that they finally felt like someone was talking about the issues they struggle with every day.
They said they valued the insight they’d gained into what it’s like to cope with depression and anxiety.
I was inspired, and energized, and I wanted to do more. But I didn’t really know what. I thought long and hard about it, but didn’t come up with anything that seemed feasible.
A couple months later, at another conference, a developer I admire greatly told me that when I opened up on /dev/hell about my own issues, they had been inspired to seek help for some of their own issues. I was blown away, of course, that someone I looked up to would have gotten some reassurance and strength from what I was saying about my own issues.
So I decided that maybe I just needed to keep talking.
I started working on a basic abstract, and targeted two conference I really love: Open Source Bridge and OSCON. I asked folks on Twitter what they’d want to get out of a talk on this topic, and i got lots of good feedback. But this one struck me the most:
Knowing I’m not alone.
Reading that is overwhelming and humbling. I’m just talking about myself and what I’ve been through. Part of me feels selfish for doing so; suspicious of myself, that maybe I’m just doing this for attention and sympathy. But I know it helps me to talk about it, and other people seem to get strength from it too.
I submitted to both, and pointed folks on Twitter to the proposal listing on the OSBridge web site. Since then I’ve submitted to a couple other technical conferences with open CFPs as well.
I’m not excited about the prospect of traveling a lot this year – it triggers my anxiety pretty badly. Just thinking about it makes me nervous.
But if I can help them know they’re not alone, it’s worth it.
If I can help people understand what it’s like for people who struggle with this, it’s worth it.
In my community, the Open Source community, I think I can help. So I’m going to try.
So if you know a conference, a user group, or another place where open source & techie types get together, I’d like to speak there. If it has to be on a google+ hangout, I can do that. If it can be in person, that would be great too (time and money permitting). And if you want to hear me talk at a conference you’re attending, tell me and I’ll submit – or tell the organizers if it’s not an open CFP.
And thank you for listening and understanding.