Personal: On learning to be healthy again.

It’s been a while, hackers.

Depression is a sneaky little bastard. At some point during the last two years–I’m not sure when–my antidepressant stopped working. Yes, that can happen. This spring, I had to sacrifice my classes to work on treating my mental health and finding a medication that works. Again.

Of course, I didn’t realize immediately that it had stopped working. After all, I’d been on the same one for three years. I just thought I needed a higher dose of what I was already on, because the winter weather was getting to me and seasonal affective disorder is like that grumpy aunt who always visits around Christmas and never has anything good to say about you.

I eventually had an epiphany: there wasn’t actually anything very stressful about the situation I was in, and there wasn’t anything wrong with me personally. I realized that the medication had actually stopped working somewhere along the line and I’d started running to keep up with what I assumed were more stressful external circumstances, and then berating myself for being unable to keep up with them. To be fair, I had been dealing with some nasty drama with the community college, then I was looking for a transfer university, then I was moving, then I was adjusting to having moved away from my family. It wasn’t an unreasonable assumption.

But the depression hung around, because somewhere in this mess I stopped getting the chemicals that I (and every human being on the planet, whether they buy store-bought like I do or their brain is capable of producing its own) rely on to have a functional brain.

It is not normal to get anxiety attacks when approaching assignments or going to class. It is not normal to lack the mental focus required to study. It is not normal to lack the physical energy required to leave your house more than once a week. It is not normal to struggle to eat a decent meal every day because you’re not at all hungry and forgot to eat. It is not normal to think, “I need to do this thing, I want to do this thing, I have the energy and ability to do this thing” and lack the executive function to actually get up and do it.

It is not normal for someone who normally has a programmer’s memory–you know, the kind of person who doesn’t use grocery lists–to forget most of what they did that day. Did I do this today or yesterday or the day before–or not at all? (Maybe I just thought really hard about it.) Have I taken my medication today? Have I eaten? When did I shower? What day of the week is it?

That’s not normal. See a doctor.

When I finally started trying new meds, I thought I knew the drill: you try one for 6-8 weeks, and it may work or it may not.

I was mistaken in a few different ways; the good news was that as long as I was trying new SSRIs, the trial period could be cut down to 4 weeks because when you go from one SSRI to another, the new one starts working faster. The bad news is that “working” and “not working” are not the only options. There’s also “backfiring.”

That was what happened with the first new medication I tried. I can’t remember if I actually got the flu during that month (depression memory is very foggy), but for several weeks I felt like I had it all the same. I barely had the energy–the physical energy–to stand, let alone go to class.

Fortunately, the next one actually worked. I was pleasantly surprised; I had been expecting to go through four or five duds. Not only did it work, I started feeling better in about a week. That’s what I’m taking now.

I’ve taken a retroactive medical withdrawal on all my classes (I’ll skip over the running around and bureaucracy and piles of paperwork I had to get through to get that done) and now I have actual energy and am making stuff and doing things again.

I had completely forgotten what being creative and energetic and functional was like. For a while, it was so different that I sort of didn’t trust my brain about it. I was expecting some kind of crash.

I’d been down for so long I’d forgotten what normal was, and coming back to normal confused me. Can I actually run on 8 hours of sleep instead of 12? Since when do I have the energy to do things all day instead of having to choose a maximum of three tasks to cross off my list? I was worried I was hypomanic.

 

It’s funny, because I do have a therapist through the school. I don’t really need her because I don’t have the kind of shame and unhealthy thought processes that plague a lot of people, mentally ill or not–and this is what a therapist works with patients on changing–and my depression happens to be purely chemical and genetic. (Though her services are free to me, and she was helpful in getting the mountain of paperwork to pass the office.) She’s off for the summer and I actually needed her more to help cope with being healthy than I needed her help to cope with being depressed.

You know, for a while I wondered if someone like me should not be trying to found a company. I’ve never really discussed that in previous blog posts, I know a few of you were probably thinking it, and I know some people on the Internet are like “I would never hire someone with mental illness in a startup.” But the thing about that is… founders end up with mental illness all the time. Depression, anxiety, bipolar, OCD, eating disorders… the stress of starting a company plays a big role in either developing or bringing to the surface all kinds of mental illnesses. You may not hear about it, but if you read enough books (not articles, books) in the industry, then you’ll run into this. (In particular I want to recommend this one. Not an affiliate link.) The difference is that I know what mine is, I’m aware of it, I know how to treat it, I even know what it looks like when treatment fails. This is not a defect. This is an edge.

Finally.

I’m doing stuff again, and I have several projects I’m working on now. I attended TechWeek in Chicago (I’ll be writing about it but spoiler alert: not worth it). I’ve also started learning React. And right now, I’m pretty stoked about the fact that I now have the funds to build my desktop computer. Yeah, you heard that right. I’m gonna tag the posts “box project”. Keep an eye out for it.

Let’s go make stuff.

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