Depression, Burn Out and Writing Code

When your livelihood depends on what you can do with your brain, fighting depression and the fatigued fog that swirls around it is a frightening battle.

I read a post written by Noah Kagan of appSumo.com tonight in which he honestly and plainly described what that fight is like from the inside. He also shares some of the tools he uses like pursuing small wins, developing relationships with people you can talk to and taking a break from the stresses that are hounding you.

That post really spoke to me because I’ve been living through that reality for a long time. Most recently I went through a claustrophobic and dark winter where it took all of my strength to just keep plodding through day by day. A cold and gloomy winter, frustration about my job, stalled projects, constant lack of sleep and adjusting to living without 20 doses of nicotine a day all wore on my soul and sapped my energy.

The insidious thing about depression is that it takes determination and energy to beat it, but like an emotional infection it targets all the energy and determination you have. In a twist of dark irony, depression seems to specifically weaken the tools you need to stand up  to it – your relationships, your ambition, your sense of humor.

So what do you when you’re at work sitting in front of a computer trying and failing to concentrate on the code in front of you? What if even the most straightforward requirements seem like impenetrable nests of complications and edge cases to your tired mind?

Well, if you have babies to feed, you just do the best you can. You muddle through. You pass up opportunities because you can’t muster the confidence or enthusiasm to succeed. You get quiet. You feel simultaneously lonely and harassed.

If you’re lucky, you have the support and resources to get through the darkest bit. If you’re lucky and smart, you fight back as soon as you can.

How Do You Fight Depression?

There are lots of books, blog posts and other resources written by people a lot more qualified than me. I don’t really have any special insights about mental health. I have been there though and these are the things that are helping me:

1. Connect With People

A typical day for me involves sitting in front of a wall of monitors with my headphones on, occasionally responding to instant messages and emails, but mostly alone. Some of my work time isolation is structural. I work on a very small team populated by other quiet people. I don’t get phone calls and I never have meetings. I know that sounds like a dream job for a lot of geeks out there, but it’s not healthy.

Our brains need interaction with other people. The human brain has evolved specifically to navigate complicated social groups just like dogs evolved to chase rabbits. Have you ever seen the nervous frustration of a dog that doesn’t get to run outside? That’s your brain when it’s not doing what it was made to do. If you don’t talk to other people a very old and deep trigger is pulled. As far as your brain knows, you’ve either gotten away from the tribe and are likely to starve or you’re of such low status that the tribe has exiled you. In either case, survival depends on getting back into the tribe and your brain will prod you with anxiety, fear and anger until you do something about it.

Connecting with other people also expands your access to ideas and tools that you use to get better. Your friends and family will give you the gift of perspective if you let them.

This is the hardest part for me. I’ve always struggled with a reflexive insecurity that keeps me from easily making friends. Some of that is rooted in my childhood rootlessness. I moved around a lot when I was a kid. I was always the new kid trying to wedge my way into the social circles that had been revolving since kindergarten in every new town we moved to.

When you’re that new kid you develop some emotional resilience and the ability to parse social structures from the outside. I’ve found that tremendously helpful when I’m analyzing how people communicate and interact on the web.

On the flip side, the perpetual new kid always feels like he’s on the outside. I’ve always found it hard, if not impossible, to “join” groups. It feels like everyone already has the friends they need. I don’t know how to fix that. As I said earlier, this is the hardest part for me. I’m still learning how to reach out to people and how to get over my fear of rejection.

2. Get Enough Sleep

One of the symptoms of depression is over-sleeping. That’s not one I’ve experienced. In another self-defeating feedback loop, my mental sluggishness slows my productivity. Faced with deadlines and frustrated with how little I’m producing, I stay up later to compensate. What ends up happening, however, is I get very little done for longer and longer periods of time.

Sleep is medicine for your brain. Without the chance to clean up and experiment, my brain gets increasingly disorganized and rigid. I end up less creative, less insightful and generally less able to solve problems. As a coder, that’s a serious liability. Not getting enough sleep as a programmer is like a chef dulling his taste buds with cigarettes. You can do the job, but you’re seriously handicapping yourself for no reason.

3. Chop Your Tasks Into Smaller Pieces

The frustration and panic I feel when I’m getting farther and farther behind just makes things worse. One of the key skills of a software developer is the ability to hold and navigate complicated models in your head. Abstract thinking is often one of the first casualties of a depressed brain.

As my projects would drag on, I would get more and more lost in them. It can be hard to keep all the details straight. When I’m in that situation I scribble lists. I try to get everything in my brain that’s related to the project on paper where I can see it. It doesn’t matter if it’s well organized or even legible. Once it’s on paper I can focus on one bit or another and get more detailed with my notes. Finally, with enough detail I can translate each chunk into committed code. Without that concrete plan I will run into a vague requirement and in trying to define it get distracted or so frustrated I just shut down.

Every time I get an item on the list checked off it feels like a weight lifted from my shoulders. You can only go for so long without a win. Small wins are always better than being stuck at 80% of a big win. They will encourage you, make your boss happy and keep you moving forward.

4. Just Say Yes To Drugs

I always hear people beg off trying medication for mental health because they “don’t want to rely on a drug for the rest of their life.” I never hear that statement when someone is talking about blood pressure medication or cholesterol pills.

You know what I hear most when someone does get evaluated and prescribed something? “Oh, so this what everyone else’s brain is like!”

There are good and bad prescription drugs and every one of them will act differently in each person. Some will make you sluggish, some will make you manic, others will make you cranky or tired, but some will make you healthy. Keep trying until you find that one.

Of course, there are other therapies available like counseling, CBT and others. I emphasize medication because drugs have definite, measurable results. If you’re in a state where you’re so frustrated and scared that you’re going to lose your job or your family, you don’t have time to be choosy. You need to get better. Once you’re doing better, talk to your doctor about trying alternatives if you like. Drugs don’t have to be the only tool you use, but they can get you to a place where you’re healthy enough to think clearly about alternatives.

5. Commit To Getting Better

Finally, despite feeling alone and worthless, even when you’re overwhelmed with frustration and confusing, you have to decide that you want to get better.

For me, I go back to this idea: you only get to live once and it’s a waste to do it while miserable.

I want to be happy. I want my kids to have a dad that smiles. I want to feel proud of what I accomplish in a day. The only way those things are going to happen is if I use all of the tools available and all the energy I can muster to beat it.

I’m going to beat it.

Lance Cameron Kidwell

27 May 2011

Posted in Coding

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131 Responses

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  1. Wow. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one. Every paragraph hit very close to home. I think you’ve got some solid advice there. Well-written. I hope you win the battle. 

    Anon

    28 May 2011 at 3:46 pm

    • Good post. Good comments.

      Sad point: 1 company (in this case: Disqus, elswhere: Facebook) is linking every comment you make to your profile. They end up knowing everything about you.

      Your insurance company will be glad to have it, eventually.

      Monopolies on the Internet kill free speech. Stop using the big companies’ services.

      Whatever00000

      29 May 2011 at 2:51 am

    • Don’t they make medication for conspiracy theorists, too?

      TheDude

      29 May 2011 at 8:57 pm

  2. Your going to beat it?  Good for you!!!  Excellent analysis of the situation.  Remember things change, every few months take a look back and make adjustments as necessary.

    Repost in a few months and let us know how you are doing.

    Thanks.

    Guest

    28 May 2011 at 3:49 pm

  3. I have the exact same problem, a friend has been suggesting CBT and therapy. Any idea if it helps at all? Maybe it’s the depression talking, but I find the idea of paying someone to help me do the things I should be able to figure out myself kind of backwards and unsustainable.

    Guest

    28 May 2011 at 4:01 pm

  4. I really like your post. I would add one thing: exercise. 

    Kwww

    28 May 2011 at 4:06 pm

  5. I was in the same spot a few years ago — when my wife told me that the family would be better off if I was gone, I finally got over the resistance to ask for help. For me, a few years on Paxil made all the difference. It’s like it reset something internal, and that low-level shit-hum of brain noise was gone. Much luck to you.

    Guest131

    28 May 2011 at 4:15 pm

  6. It seems like depression manages to hit me every year, but each year I’m more prepared for it. I immediately let my boyfriend know what I’m going through (he’s great support), and then I start making small changes. I exercise more (even if it’s just walking) and start cutting processed foods and sugar out of my diet. It helps to have your body on your side when your brain is against you! Also, I often turn to The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, which is a great book about calming the mind and finding inner peace.

    Anonymous

    28 May 2011 at 4:16 pm

  7. Excellent post. The unnatural isolation of computer work really hit home.

    Jeff

    28 May 2011 at 4:17 pm

  8. Great post. Thanks.

    Rob Lund

    28 May 2011 at 4:26 pm

  9. Great post on an important topic. I’m blogging about it tomorrow. New research shows that intense thinking uses the same area of the brain that’s active in a depressive episode, so simply working your brain too long can get it stuck in depression mode. I think the trick is to give yourself some real time off. Even a short break–if it’s also a break from beating yourself up–can do wonders. The trick is to turn off the brain for a while.

    Anne R. Allen

    28 May 2011 at 4:28 pm

  10. You’ve got it bro. Hang tight :)

    Sam Liu

    28 May 2011 at 4:32 pm

  11. Skip the drugs. Like someone else said, exercise. Every day for 1/2 hour does wonders for clearing the head and raising the mood.

    If your stuck on something, try taking a walk. 10 minutes can do the trick. Find one or two other people to walk around the block with or just go by yourself.

    And finally, have something great to look forward to outside of work. Whether that’s something exciting planned for the family, board game night with your buddies or a night at the pub with your co-workers. Little things to help you get through the week.

    Hope it helps!

    Ian Silber

    28 May 2011 at 4:48 pm

  12. Skip the drugs. Like someone else said, exercise. Every day for 1/2 hour does wonders for clearing the head and raising the mood.

    If your stuck on something, try taking a walk. 10 minutes can do the trick. Find one or two other people to walk around the block with or just go by yourself.

    And finally, have something great to look forward to outside of work. Whether that’s something exciting planned for the family, board game night with your buddies or a night at the pub with your co-workers. Little things to help you get through the week.

    Hope it helps!

    Ian Silber

    28 May 2011 at 4:48 pm

    • It does not work.  The body gets used to endorphins and after a while (it may take months or one year if you exercise mostly in Spring and Summer) it does not feel that little sense of euphoria anymore. That said, exercising is good anyway; if you sit down whole days your body will get weaker and weaker (I truly mean in the sense that muscles become weaker and weaker) and you feel worse.

      Marco Maggi

      28 May 2011 at 7:21 pm

      • Endorphin is only one of the many benefits to exercise as it relates to brain chemistry and depression. The brain is very sensitive to blood sugar levels, insulin tolerance, and many other hormones that are all hugely effected by exercise. In fact there is a lot of new evidence to demonstrate that even if you do 1/2 hour of cardio a day, you’re still fucked if you spend the rest of the day in front of a computer. Exercise/activity is required throughout the day.

        If you exercise so hard and so often as to develop an endorphin addiction, that would probably be a high quality problem. 

        James Briant

        29 May 2011 at 2:55 am

    • If exercise is working for you, you probably don’t have Major Depressive Disorder. Medications are tricky, though, and finding the right one is tricky. A good shrink is essential, and therapy. 

      And sometimes a career change is the best therapy.

      Archer Sully

      28 May 2011 at 11:37 pm

      • I’d wager that the majority of americans on prozac, effexor, lexapro, cymbalta, etc dont have a Major Depressive Disorder. And I don’t think we know enough about the author’s situation to state that a good shrink is essential. 

        James Briant

        29 May 2011 at 2:58 am

      • I find this whole “try a bunch of drugs until you find the one that works for you” disturbing.  I’ve known people who went that route and years later they’re still searching.  In some cases they get prescribed drugs that make their life much worse instead of better. 

        I still think that depression is like pain: it’s telling you that there’s something wrong in your life; something’s out of balance.  Drugs aren’t going to fix that.  We’d like to think they will because we want a quick fix.  But I haven’t seen it work longterm.

        Ben There

        29 May 2011 at 4:58 pm

        • Drugs may be a substitute for something that’s chemically imbalanced from the start. I’m not saying it’s the fix for everyone, but for some people it’s necessary.

          Gerrit

          29 May 2011 at 6:11 pm

          • Problem is that we still have a very primitive understanding of how the these drugs effect the brain.  The problem is that we bathe the whole brain in these drugs, when in reality there are many different types of neurons that are effected differently.  If we could more effectively target these drugs to certain neuron types then we’d have more possibility for success.  That will come eventually, but it’s a ways off.

            But with our current understanding/technology psychotropics are a crapshoot.  Yeah, they may help some people for a while, but often the effect wears off and a new drug is needed… and the patient is put on an endless cycle of experiments. 

            Ben There

            31 May 2011 at 4:03 pm

        •  I agree Ben.  I firmly believe drugs MASK the problem.  The problem could be problems from your past, your environment (the people around you, emotionally abusive parents, your work environment), or perhaps drinking too much soda.  Check out the Art of Manliness website where it talks about how running is the best therapy.  If you are MOVING every time for long periods you will be much healthier.

          Chris

          30 May 2011 at 8:05 pm

        • So if you had chronic migraines, you wouldn’t want a drug that would help with that pain?

          Torvaun

          31 May 2011 at 3:34 pm

        • Drugs dont’ work for everyone, but they work for lots of people. The same is true for exercise. 

          I went through a major depression during a period in which I had the healthiest lifestyle I had ever had up to that point (including boot camp style exercise 5 days per week). It was only after I started taking Zoloft that the depression lifted. I stayed on it for about a year.You would never tell a diabetic to avoid insulin.

          Deeee

          3 June 2011 at 3:47 pm

          • Yes but a diabetic is not subjected to experimentation of which drug in what dose, the insulin does the trick immediately and it’s results can be empirically measured. There are not years of experimentation by docs who just regurgitate whatever the drug companies put in their glossy brochures and last time I checked insulin does not make you impotent. There are real things to test like blood glucose level and if you you manage your diabetes through diet you can stop taking the drugs. Anti-depressant withdrawal can be similar to being addicted to narcotics and then trying to wean yourself off. Your brain becomes dependent on them for life – you are the perfect customer for big pharma. Personally I’d rather be doing pretty much anything that sitting in front of a computer all day every day. My depression lifts in a few days of not coding. Career shifts are easier said than done.

            Jonthan

            12 February 2013 at 4:32 pm

  13. Reading inspiring blog post like this one also relieves depression.

    Thomas Davis

    28 May 2011 at 5:02 pm

  14. Lance, thank you for posing such an open and honest look at a problem that I don’t think most people recognize exists. 

    I’ve been coding for the better part of 20 years and spend almost all of my time working alone in a dark room, thinking about problems that often feel more like advanced math than creative design. Over the years I’ve often struggled with a love/hate relationship with a wonderful occupation but one that leaves me socially isolated and often pushing stressful deadlines that interfere with home and family.

    My solution (if you are to believe that I’ve fully dealt with it) has been to have a wonderfully understanding family and to force myself into hourly breaks that help me relax and get out of the house. Joining local clubs to replace workplace social experiences, taking courses at the local college and even the simple act of dealing with bank tellers instead of cash machines helps me to stay focussed on people rather than a small screen which would otherwise consume all my time.

    Above all else? Find excuses to get out from behind the computer and do something else. I spend more time cooking and gardening than I think most men my age would ever do but it saves me from arguing with tele-marketers for sport.

    Thanks again for a great post!

    Christopher Ross

    28 May 2011 at 5:20 pm

  15. Like many are saying: exercise. Also a change in diet that cuts out the processed sugars & carbs. Exercise will alao boost dopamine levels which would have been huge when trying to quit your addiction Even if your brain chemistry isn’t pushing you into depression it is incredibly beneficial. Why do you think the big shops like Google have on-site gyms?

    Dc

    28 May 2011 at 5:40 pm

    • I also advocate a low-carb, high protein diet for depression. I’ve had a pretty down time recently and have found what I describe as calmness after a diet change.

      Adam

      28 May 2011 at 5:42 pm

  16. Clean the place up, toss some of that stuff you don’t really need anymore (and adds stress cause it just sits here not being used).  I find this helps, it get you away from some of your stressors for a bit,  I get a quick noticeable accomplishment and things feel better after you’ve finished.

    Also treat yourself better – after job cuts I bought myself a great chair and desk for my home office, bought some better equipment, some good books, etc.  I’m not saying max out your cards, but don’t treat yourself to “I can suffer with it” bargain basement all the time, you earn your own respect.My home environment now puts works’ to shame.  With the tidier atmosphere and more professional environment I feel more comfortable trying stuff and getting things done.

    Also I’d stay of the medications if possible, but you might have to start there, just don’t stick on em.  One of the best things that has helped me lately is cutting  processed sugars from my diet (ala Dr. Lestig’s Youtube Video: Sugar: the Bitter Truth) it rerally does calm your body/mind down.

    Larry

    28 May 2011 at 5:44 pm

  17. I’ve struggled through this since school, partly because of the kind of transient childhood you describe. While my interest in software engineering led me to drop out of college and start a well paid career, I was sublimating my depression and frustration with alcohol and drugs which no doubt hurt my professional progress. Thanks for articulating your perspective.

    Anon

    28 May 2011 at 5:51 pm

  18. Thank you.

    Paddy Foran

    28 May 2011 at 6:03 pm

  19. Great article and some great wisdom in the comments too.

    Steve

    28 May 2011 at 6:39 pm

  20. Thanks for writing that. You will beat it. I admire the guts it took to write that post. Some day I will have enough guts to write my own.

    Randy Troppmann

    28 May 2011 at 6:51 pm

  21. “a claustrophobic and dark winter”

    You should get yourself tested for vitamin D deficiency. 

    Guest

    28 May 2011 at 6:54 pm

    • This. Take d3 tablets and see if it helps. It helped me.

      Thomas

      29 May 2011 at 3:14 pm

    • Personally, years of depression, supposed chemical imbalances in my brain, all miraculously healed when I moved to Cayman Islands. Drugs never worked for me. Sex,  Sun, Ocean (magnesium chloride), dancing, more sex and a more humane pace did it for me. There’s probably nothing wrong with your brain. It’s the American lifestyle that makes us sick. Good luck.

      Marius

      30 May 2011 at 2:24 pm

    •  I have to agree with this – it’s a possibility that you might want to consider.  Cognitive therapy just wasn’t working for me for about a year.  Then I had a blood workup done during my yearly physical and discovered that I had a serious chronic vitamin D deficiency.  I was put on an emergency regimen  to get my levels up to normal (10k IU supplements, by prescription) and now I take 4500 IU per day as a maintenance dose and my depression has become much easier to manage with CT and exercise.

      Anonymous

      31 May 2011 at 1:13 pm

  22. Try yoga.

    Rs0132

    28 May 2011 at 6:58 pm

  23. Go Lance Go!

    Pp

    28 May 2011 at 7:41 pm

  24. Great post. I’m glad im not alone.

    Dan D

    28 May 2011 at 8:12 pm

  25. Giving advice on #4 is dangerous as well. I can say without a doubt that medication can have severe negative effects if it reacts badly to your body, so do this with care. I know :(

    Frank Denbow

    28 May 2011 at 8:36 pm

  26. Thanks for digging into this delicate subject. One “lifehack” that helps me out in this area is going to see live music, especially music with a lot of bass. It’s a social activity, gets me away from the computer for an evening, and I find the sensation of subwoofers extremely relaxing (a form of pressure therapy).

    dylan

    28 May 2011 at 8:41 pm

  27. For medication, you might want to try harmless methyl B-12 and folic acid  supplementation before embracing depression drugs.  For many people, taking those vitamins works better and without the side effects of anti-depression drugs.  Deficiencies of those vitamins can lead to lack of energy and symptoms of clinical depression.  Your doctor will be of little help since they don’t believe in vitamin deficiencies thanks to those awful RDA guidelines. He also won’t tell you about methyl-b-12 versus regular b-12. Just google: b-12 folic acid depression.

    da99

    28 May 2011 at 9:08 pm

  28. Wow!  Very nice article.  Thank you!
    Also add:  Excercise, Sun, Omega-3, and maybe Coffe and/or Chocolate.

    Sp

    28 May 2011 at 9:18 pm

  29. I wish I had the guts to come out and share my story but I don’t. Big ups to you for doing so. You are most definitely not alone.

    Sprezzatura

    28 May 2011 at 10:13 pm

  30. One thing that has really helped me is meditation. Every morning when you wake up, just sit straight and think only about relaxing. Try to feel the coolness in your brain. Think nothing, but just relaxing.

    Prateekbans74

    28 May 2011 at 10:17 pm

  31. “I’m going to beat it”. Yes!

    Have faith. Have faith in yourself and that statement you just made. If being clever works the same bit of the brain that causes depression, having faith works the part that causes elation and joy. How’s that for reason: being irrationally happy about the future is a rational approach to ensure that you are happy in the future.

    If you are in a deep hole, consider drugs, but don’t start them without a firm commitment from someone you trust with your life to make sure you are off them within three months. Or don’t take them at all. This is incredibly difficult for me to write about but I’ll try. I finally came off Cymbalta only because I could no longer afford it. I had been on it for four years. In that time I have spent every penny I made plus several hundred thousands dollars of inheritance (all of it), and nearly a hundred thousand dollars on credit cards. My actual situation is now a lot worse than when I went on them, but now I am able to deal with the problems effectively because I’m not “happy la la”. I feel like I just woke up. Broke. I’m sure (it is my fear anyway) that many will read this and think “what a loser”, or “how self-centered”, because of course many people over the last three years lost everything. Of course I don’t want to think of myself as just some twat who squandered his inheritance. The difference is that never in any period of my life have I produced nothing of value. My 8 yo daughter is in remedial math and literacy. Since coming off the drugs I have taken to teaching her math. Her math scores have gone from 50% to 80%. It is, in fact, soul destroying and depressing to think about. So I’m gonna  say this, and then stop: drugs will corrupt your strongest asset. Do not take them. Ok, done. 

    Secondly, exercise. Its not just about endorphin. Its about blood sugar levels, insulin response, and many other biological systems that your brain *responds* to.

    James Briant

    28 May 2011 at 11:07 pm

    • So, because you were unable to afford your drugs, and were broken by the messed up American medical system, no one should be on anti-depressants for a prolonged period of time?

      I suppose diabetics should be determined to get off insulin after three months?

      Maybe people with severe asthma should really focus on getting off their meds after three months?

      What about HIV sufferers on anti-virals?  People on cholesterol meds?  Blood pressure meds?

      Shall I continue?

      Look, you were able to get off your medication and find a method of treatment that works for you.  That’s *fantastic* news!  But guess what:  different people are different.  To advocate that all sufferers of clinical depression must take themselves off their drugs after three months (which, as an aside, must be done *very* carefully, as many of these medications of withdrawl symptoms) is highly irresponsible.

      Brett

      29 May 2011 at 4:02 pm

      • When psychiatrists are prescribing anti-virals and insulin, then we can have this conversation as it might be relevant. I make these assertions:

        1) psychiatrists over prescribe
        2) most people on anti depressants dont need them
        3) most people on anti depressants would be healthier in all respects by improved diet and exercise
        4) I believe the author of this article falls into this category
        5) psychiatrists will put you on meds for CD even went you dont have it (I didnt)
        6) those meds will have severely negative consequences that you wont notice because you are on them

        Advocating that all sufferers of clinical depression take themselves off their meds after three months would indeed by highly irresponsible. Are you making that remark as a courtesy to such people, or are you implying that I made such a statement, and if so can you please point out where I made such a statement. Since thats not what I said, I wonder if you might re-read my post and consider what I actually wrote instead of what this archetype-in-your-head said. As an exercise, you could write down what this negative person in your head said, and then argue against that. It might make you feel better.

        (Also, I can’t help but point out that of the five conditions you mention, three of them are 100% preventable in the majority of cases by diet and exercise. The majority of Americans suffering from diabetes (95%) have Type 2 diabetes for example. )

        James Briant

        7 June 2011 at 9:59 am

    • So, because you were unable to afford your drugs, and were broken by the messed up American medical system, no one should be on anti-depressants for a prolonged period of time?

      I suppose diabetics should be determined to get off insulin after three months?

      Maybe people with severe asthma should really focus on getting off their meds after three months?

      What about HIV sufferers on anti-virals?  People on cholesterol meds?  Blood pressure meds?

      Shall I continue?

      Look, you were able to get off your medication and find a method of treatment that works for you.  That’s *fantastic* news!  But guess what:  different people are different.  To advocate that all sufferers of clinical depression must take themselves off their drugs after three months (which, as an aside, must be done *very* carefully, as many of these medications of withdrawl symptoms) is highly irresponsible.

      Brett

      29 May 2011 at 4:02 pm

  32. Been there, done that… don’t underestimate the power of nicotine!   A couple of things that really helped – moving to Key West from Montreal, Canada seems to have taken care of the winter part of the depression – prior to that 3-6 extra-strength fish oil capsules were helping + a vitamin D pill… finally, I starting meditating, doing something called Zhineng Qigong daily (a moving meditation where you move *really* slowly) – and that did wonders.  Good luck with the battle!

    Sean

    28 May 2011 at 11:26 pm

  33. The sleep part is the whole struggle from 7 hours down to five isn’t healthy, Ive never though about it guess it must.

    Anonymous

    28 May 2011 at 11:31 pm

  34. Thank you for your honesty.

    Eugene

    29 May 2011 at 12:01 am

  35. Something which most of us could relate to. The best part is that you are not going to surrender at all!

    Sid Labs

    29 May 2011 at 1:47 am

  36. Great post. I’d only add that, having been through clinical depression, the *really* insidious thing is that you may not know it when you see it. In my case it kicked in gradually over the course of a year – slowly enough that I didn’t understand what was going on until something bad almost happened and shook me into a realization.

    It didn’t look like sadness; it looked like vague, earnest confusion and desperation. Flailing.

    In my wife’s case, it looked like anxiety and anger.  The outward manifestations can be deceptive – all the more reason to get help from a qualified professional.

    Erik Robson

    29 May 2011 at 2:31 am

  37. and Good Luck.

    Jasmine Choinski

    29 May 2011 at 2:32 am

  38. Look into the dietary recommendations of Dr Weston A Price, especially Fermented Cod Liver Oil and high-vitamin butter made from cows eating fast growing summer grass. It’s nutrient deficiency. Stress uses up lots of nutrients and our food choices aren’t loaded with enough vitamins and minerals. I started eating better a few years ago and I feel so much better now.

    Lightweb

    29 May 2011 at 4:13 am

  39. BINGO you are so right! It’s easier to become a programmer, problem is staying programmer.

    Aman

    29 May 2011 at 5:10 am

  40. Great post, I don’t agree so much with your point of jumping on to medication immediately however, as it treats the symptoms. To use your analogy of physical illness, would you jump on low blood pressure medication and have a think, or stop the thing that’s causing the high blood pressure (if possible of course).  In the case of mental health, it’s usually possible. 

    Also, while depression is a debilitating disease,  emotions closely related to it such as despair, sadness etc are often necessary to cause chance. How many times have you made a big, gutsy decision when you’re at your lowest? I think it’s no coincidence

     

    Richard Wilson

    29 May 2011 at 5:26 am

    • “Also, while depression is a debilitating disease,  emotions closely
      related to it such as despair, sadness etc are often necessary to cause
      chance.”

      Clearly *you’ve* never been depressed…

      Are short bouts of “despair, sadness, etc” normal?  Yes.  But the entire damn point of depression is that its *not* normal.

      Furthermore, your understanding of depression medications is sorely lacking.  Those medications *don’t* address “symptoms”.  The entire damn point is that they address a dysfunction in the brain that leads to depressive symptoms.

      Quite frankly, its attitudes like yours that cause people to hide their depression and fail to seek proper medical advice.  This ridiculous attitude that it’s just being sad, or that a little exercise will help, is *not* true for clinical depression.  I pray to god you or any of your loved ones ever experience clinical depression, but if you do, I hope you learn a bit from the experience…

      Brett

      29 May 2011 at 3:39 pm

    • “Also, while depression is a debilitating disease,  emotions closely
      related to it such as despair, sadness etc are often necessary to cause
      chance.”

      Clearly *you’ve* never been depressed…

      Are short bouts of “despair, sadness, etc” normal?  Yes.  But the entire damn point of depression is that its *not* normal.

      Furthermore, your understanding of depression medications is sorely lacking.  Those medications *don’t* address “symptoms”.  The entire damn point is that they address a dysfunction in the brain that leads to depressive symptoms.

      Quite frankly, its attitudes like yours that cause people to hide their depression and fail to seek proper medical advice.  This ridiculous attitude that it’s just being sad, or that a little exercise will help, is *not* true for clinical depression.  I pray to god you or any of your loved ones ever experience clinical depression, but if you do, I hope you learn a bit from the experience…

      Brett

      29 May 2011 at 3:39 pm

  41. Hello

    Coder myself, mostly agree with 1,2,3, but:

    “When you’re that new kid you develop some emotional resilience and the ability to parse social structures from the outside. ”

    You are rationalizing it. I know a lot of people that were always the new kid and made lasting connections(you can use the computer this days and not loose contact if you wish).

    You have made that as your excuse to tolerate yourself, your story, that is OK, everybody does it but if you want to improve first step is acceptance of yourself. Second is going out your comfort zone until it is natural for you your new “personality trait”. It is not easy, is going to take a long time(it took years of training to be what you are today).

    I bet you have your social fears rooted on your infancy, YOU ARE NOT THE FIRST TO FEEL THIS WAY EITHER THE LAST ONE. They are tools out there to get over it:
    Check it(eliminate your learned beliefs and so and so):
    http://lefkoeinstitute.com/

    “It feels like everyone already has the friends they need. I don’t know how to fix that”

    People in the developed world CRAVE for having new friends. First thing you have to do is to stop thinking in friends as “solving your problem with loneliness”. Odds are you look desperate because you are. Try this: invert it. Solve other people loneliness problem, and start genuinely caring about other people. Do not care about the result, just take it as an exercise.

    I bet again you had already read “How to win friends and influence people”, what it says work. So if you had read it, you did not APPLIED what it says. That is the key, not reading, but putting in practice. Do not read 20 books or watch 20 videos, read only one and TAKE ACTION.  Write down on a journal all your progress.

    Jose

    29 May 2011 at 8:22 am

  42. Hello

    Coder myself, mostly agree with 1,2,3, but:

    “When you’re that new kid you develop some emotional resilience and the ability to parse social structures from the outside. ”

    You are rationalizing it. I know a lot of people that were always the new kid and made lasting connections(you can use the computer this days and not loose contact if you wish).

    You have made that as your excuse to tolerate yourself, your story, that is OK, everybody does it but if you want to improve first step is acceptance of yourself. Second is going out your comfort zone until it is natural for you your new “personality trait”. It is not easy, is going to take a long time(it took years of training to be what you are today).

    I bet you have your social fears rooted on your infancy, YOU ARE NOT THE FIRST TO FEEL THIS WAY EITHER THE LAST ONE. They are tools out there to get over it:
    Check it(eliminate your learned beliefs and so and so):
    http://lefkoeinstitute.com/

    “It feels like everyone already has the friends they need. I don’t know how to fix that”

    People in the developed world CRAVE for having new friends. First thing you have to do is to stop thinking in friends as “solving your problem with loneliness”. Odds are you look desperate because you are. Try this: invert it. Solve other people loneliness problem, and start genuinely caring about other people. Do not care about the result, just take it as an exercise.

    I bet again you had already read “How to win friends and influence people”, what it says work. So if you had read it, you did not APPLIED what it says. That is the key, not reading, but putting in practice. Do not read 20 books or watch 20 videos, read only one and TAKE ACTION.  Write down on a journal all your progress.

    Jose

    29 May 2011 at 8:22 am

  43. Thanks a lot. Did you do any sporting during this time?

    Willem Spruijt

    29 May 2011 at 8:32 am

  44. Regular exercise is what keeps me sane. I find it as necessary and as effective as a proper prescription drug. I am the product of my inner chemistry.

    Heller

    29 May 2011 at 10:38 am

  45. The best advice I can give is: Start running.
    Works for me and lots of people too.

    Žiž

    29 May 2011 at 11:57 am

  46. ….or, try something different – try a stint in infrastructure/support/testing – yeah, it doesn’t immediately appeal to the ego of most programmers, but it will make you more rounded and valuable…

    Jason

    29 May 2011 at 12:21 pm

  47. Everything you said is so true. Well written seeing this with loved ones. Yes, add an exercise class like in the water, or biking or even a walk-small minutes at first. Get outside walks to see nature outside of head thinking. Stanford has studies with others that good quality Fish Oil works for mood stabilizing. Good multi-Vit, Co-enzyme Complex Vit. B., vs. reg. Complex Vit. B. Stay on meds. But the miracle is Accupuncture to add to it. Find an accupuncture school near by and treatments are about $25.00. Have blood work on Vit. D and thyroid check. Volunteer w/ kids. They’ll make you laugh.

    sunnyblueskies

    29 May 2011 at 1:18 pm

  48. Let’s not forget the best anti depressant of all.. EXERCISE.

    Flawaetz

    29 May 2011 at 1:39 pm

  49. Let’s not forget the best anti depressant of all.. EXERCISE.

    Flawaetz

    29 May 2011 at 1:39 pm

  50. I can’t really tell I agree with point 4. To start with, “Just Say Yes To Drugs” is not a fortunate wording of what you have to say, especially when there is a big chance that depressed people will read this. But the most important thing is that there is a fundamental difference between medication for blood pressure or cholesterol and depression pills. The former are designed to cure a well-described and deeply understood condition. The latter are not: causes and mechanisms of depression are still under debate and effectiveness of many antidepressants is debated by medical practitioners (see http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/o/cochrane/clsysrev/articles/CD003012/frame.html and http://www.bmj.com/content/335/7615/328.full). 

    IMO, until a consensus is reached by the specialists it is wise not to experiment on your own with  substances with strong side effects. As a side note, some scientists claim that common herb called hypericum (St John’s wort) can have superior effectiveness: http://www.bmj.com/content/330/7490/503.abstract. In general, I would be very careful when taking drugs which affect the brain as it is, after all, the most important and probably the least known organ of human body.

    k_kisiel

    29 May 2011 at 2:07 pm

    • First of all, he never suggested people “experiment on your own with  substances with strong side effects”.  Obviously anyone taking anti-depressants should be doing it cautiously under the supervision of a doctor.

      Second of all, how do you not see the irony in claiming that the “effectiveness of many antidepressants is debated by medical practitioners”, and that “I would be very careful when taking drugs which affect the brain”, while simultaneously advocating people take the “common herb called hypericum”?  FYI:  They’re both drugs that affects the brain.  Just because it comes from a plant, doesn’t make it safe.

      Brett

      29 May 2011 at 3:51 pm

      • I never endorsed taking drugs without doctor’s prescription. I wanted to point out the ongoing controversy about many antidepressants currently in use. I used hypericum just to point out that that research on the matter is ongoing and different approaches are proposed. I just want to emphasise how important it is to use these drugs under close supervision of a qualified doctor, preferably specialist in depression.

         

        k_kisiel

        29 May 2011 at 10:24 pm

  51. There is an important point missing here: physical exercise causes body to release endorphins and reduces the symptoms of depression (and does a lot of other good things). Add 2-3 hours of it to your weekly routine and it will do magic! It doesn’t have to be anything hard, just brisk walk or moderate jogging will do. Been there, done that. 

    k_kisiel

    29 May 2011 at 2:31 pm

  52. I believe you shouldn’t be recomending people taking drugs. Maybe suggesting to get medical advice would be enough.

    Rafael Imas

    29 May 2011 at 2:49 pm

  53. Agreed with everything except for the drugs.
    There are no “measurable” results with depression medication. Hell, we don’t even know why it works. When you take the drugs, they start affecting your brain immediately, but depression symptoms aren’t relieved for 2 weeks. You should NOT take depression medication.

    Instead, take cold showers and exercise. Guaranteed to do everything you need.

    Zaid Daghestani

    29 May 2011 at 5:37 pm

  54. Some people here are arguing against using drugs. I fought taking antidepressants for a long time; I figured if you need drugs to be happy then you are living wrongly. But eventually I saw that everything in my life was great and yet I still needed to fight each day just to feel okay. Family history revealed a strong probability of genetic etiology. Antidepressants have done wonders for me. Giving a blanket proscription against SSRIs is reckless. Some people actually have inborn errors in their neurochemistry and these drugs can make their lives worth living. Exercise is still important but I would ask exercise-only advocates to cite the literature if they want to try to make such claims.

    Craig

    29 May 2011 at 5:52 pm

    • I also relate to every word of this article. 

      Anonymous

      30 May 2011 at 3:39 pm

    • Thanks for your balanced comment Craig. I have also found help through antidepressants. There can be various causes for depression, including exercise, diet, weather, brain chemistry etc etc. These will vary from person to person. No one prescription will work for everyone. You need to look at the causes for the specific person and figure out what is best for that person. Saying exercise or any other solution will necessarily or automatically bring relief just shows a lack of understanding of the true nature of this problem.

      Bill Salloum

      31 May 2011 at 3:49 am

  55. Some people here are arguing against using drugs. I fought taking antidepressants for a long time; I figured if you need drugs to be happy then you are living wrongly. But eventually I saw that everything in my life was great and yet I still needed to fight each day just to feel okay. Family history revealed a strong probability of genetic etiology. Antidepressants have done wonders for me. Giving a blanket proscription against SSRIs is reckless. Some people actually have inborn errors in their neurochemistry and these drugs can make their lives worth living. Exercise is still important but I would ask exercise-only advocates to cite the literature if they want to try to make such claims.

    Craig

    29 May 2011 at 5:52 pm

  56. Glad to read this article. A lot of paragraphs made sense to me. I on the other hand have a huge group of friends, but over the last few years kind of neglected them in order to study more and become a better gamedeveloper. After getting half way through the first item (‘Connect with people’) I text messaged my friend to hook up again. 

    As for medicine, I always thought it was a bad thing too. I had antidepressants as well, which made me kind of a stoner. And I didn’t want that. Maybe I could try other ones. Thanks for this article.

    Gerrit

    29 May 2011 at 6:08 pm

  57. If you live in a country with good health insurance – don’t hesitate to take a break this way and go out walking as much as possible.

    Serotonin reuptake inhibitor, also, the current drugs against depression is a very good medicine, cleverly engineered and with way too much bad press around it.

    I’ve been fighting 6 years with myself taking this step. finally done it. no regret :-)

    philou

    29 May 2011 at 6:14 pm

  58. Thank you for the “just say yes to drugs” bit — it’s so frustrating to see medication dismissed, as if because a problem takes place in the brain it can be magically overcome. The brain is an organ too. I can’t will or exercise or outthink my pancreas into producing insulin anymore than I can my brain into properly secreting and processing serotonin or getting other info to my temporal lobe. That isn’t to say medicine is right for every situation or that every medicine works, but as you said, if you can’t function, you need help.

    As someone who has battled major depression since I was 9 years old (first treated at age 14), I appreciate your post. I work at a startup, not as a founder or coder, but I still can empathize with the struggles and stresses. Great post.

    Christina Warren

    29 May 2011 at 6:26 pm

  59. There’s a fine line on the “getting enough sleep” bit, in my opinion.  Some of the most depressed times in my life when I was younger were characterized by not being able to stop sleeping lots and then not being able to get anything done during the day.  In my experience, I do better when I’m not sleeping as much – as long as I use the time wisely on interesting things.  It all has to do with interest – if I have one or two interesting things going on, the mundane stuff doesn’t seem so bad.

  60. A couple of commenters have mentioned meditation.  There are a couple of
    therapies that combine mindfulness meditation with CBT – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MBCT and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectical_behavior_therapy.  Both of these have been clinically shown to be more effective than CBT alone in treating chronic depression and a range of other disorders.

    Disclaimer – I have not tried either therapy, but I do do mindfulness meditation daily find it a great help in a lot of ways.  There are also lots of books and CDs available on mindfulness meditation, so I recommend checking it out whether or not you want to go for one of the therapies.  A good place to start is the book+CD Mindfulness For Dummies.

    Dave Kirby

    29 May 2011 at 7:45 pm

  61. A huge thank you to Lance & Noah for their post’s. For all the comments a second thanks! I don’t remember a part of my life where depression did not play a role. I have come to know that what works for me is not going to be “the thing” that works for some one else.  Drugs, exercise, 8hr work days and interaction with others all play a part in my day.  I now have a great great routine where things balance out in the end. It is now easier to “fake it till I make it” and for that I am grateful. There are two things that absolutely help my depression: work at minimizing it & have people who understand what I am going through to talk to. Thanks for keeping the dialog open.

    Lee

    29 May 2011 at 7:45 pm

  62. Very interesting post, you had me at “feel simultaneously lonely and harassed.”

    Chris

    29 May 2011 at 8:02 pm

  63. i tried taking anti-depressants and it’s really hard trying to code when you’re too drowsey from taking seroquel. in my case, it made life worse and harder because i would be to drowsey to accomplish anything… then my psychiatrist tried lamictole, risperdole, i had good insurance and was a guinea pig… i worked at Emulex and ended up losing that job due to pyschiatists not really know what they’re doing.

    Adtstrange

    29 May 2011 at 9:46 pm

  64. Excellent post, thanks! As a developer I can identify with periodic struggles with isolation and depression. It takes bravery talk about this topic.

    Marty Matheny

    29 May 2011 at 11:07 pm

  65. This is one of the best articles I’ve ever read on depression. You really hit the nail on the head.

    ” In a twist of dark irony, depression seems to specifically weaken the tools you need to stand up  to it” I’ve tried to put this into words so many times, but… this is just perfect.

    Thank you for writing this!

    annonymous

    30 May 2011 at 4:48 am

  66. Excellent suggestions. I went through something similar this past winter, but instead of oversleeping, I too had insomnia and would code for literally days on end to avoid any introspective reflection, then wind up crashing for several days feel miserable. I finally gave up dealing with it on my own and talked to my doctor and I received medication (Adderall [dextroamphetamine]). Oddly enough, even though I was given a stimulant to treat the ailment, my sleeping patterns became “normal” again and I was able to stop myself from getting too involved with my work and focus on the things that were causing me stress rather than ignore them. I definitely do not advocate medication as a first response to feeling depressed, but if you’ve tried every other single healthy avenue (exercise, diet change, etc…) and given every non-medicinal option a honest chance, it’s worth looking into.

    Carl

    30 May 2011 at 5:06 am

  67. Totally agree with Craig.

    It’s easy to say “don’t take any drugs, only exercise” when you’re not the one who can’t even get out of bed in the morning to brush your teeth – let alone exercising, which is something even perfectly healthy people sometimes procrastinate.

    And even if the person manages a good exercising program, I doubt it will be sufficient in all cases – each of us has a different chemistry, which explains why each person with depression or another illness has to take different medicines. And exercising has one chemistry (endorphins), in other words, it may or may not work for someone.

    I had a hard time with depression during my math course. And I took a long time to get cured for several reasons:

    1) I did not recognize it as what it was, so I wasn’t trying to heal it, but only putting myself down for the things I couldn’t get done, and getting even worse because of this;

    2) when I realized I had depression, I didn’t want to take drugs because I thought my “feeling down” could be solved by me alone, and the problem was I wasn’t trying hard enough;

    3) when I was finally given two options (staying at a hospital for some time or taking drugs) and accepted taking medicine, improper counseling and medication (prescribed by a doctor who didn’t listen to my complaints about the side effects) made me give up from the treatment and gradually get even worse;

    4) luckily I ended up finding a really good psychologist and kept going regularly;

    5) then after a great trauma, I couldn’t stand it anymore and accepted the medicine; my psychologist indicated a very good psychiatrist which prescribed me a medicine to which I responded very well;]

    6) finally I took it for an year and kept going to the psychologist to solve the issues I needed.

    After all this, I can say I was healed, and the drugs were fundamental in the process. They made me wake up in the morning feeling not so bad and carry on with my life until I finally could get rid of them. They made it possible to talk about and solve issues that had before made me want to die. And now I can say I’m cured, because I’m passing through a moment of great stress, but I have no depression symptoms. I’m not even close to it.

    I’m sorry to write such a long comment, but I hope I help someone in finding their cure as well, and maybe give someone hope. It’s possible to get rid of depression withouth taking drugs your whole life. But maybe they’ll do a good job helping you get through the rough bits. But psychologic treatment is the key… Without it, drugs are just a crutch you’ll never be able to live without.

    Helena Günther

    30 May 2011 at 5:26 am

  68. I don’t have depression but I have my own upbeat battle against chronic illnesses.
    This is tiresome… yet you have no choice but fight it…
    I have nothing to offer save for a feeling of empathy and support!
    Keep on going mate!

    Anonymous

    30 May 2011 at 12:51 pm

  69. All good ideas –  some other things I do to avoid burnout, keep myself fresh and keep my head full of ideas – is to get out – away from computers and pixels, spend time outside in nature, look at greenery, look at wildlife, play with kids – go and help someone in need, get away from closed environments.

    Proper relaxation is key to avoid burnout and reduce efficiency and productivity.
    May be go an watch a film / IMAX movie on a larger screen watch something interesting like Films/Video on Discovery, National Geographic

    Also taking up a sport helps a lot – indoor/outdoor – depending on where you live

    Sumit Pal

    30 May 2011 at 1:12 pm

  70. This is a good post, and quite appropriately helpful for me at the moment… thanks Lance!

    Dax Frost

    30 May 2011 at 1:15 pm

  71. Great article (I wish there was more of this kind dedicated to the programmer community!!) I myself have suffered from depression since age 25 (I’m 45 now). Sometimes medication is just what is takes to snap out it. But I’d like to mention that counseling is really what made me overcome the disease because the roots of the problem is deep within. What you said about childhood is so relevant. I spent 5 years in psychotherapy and I do not regret it. It involved changing way of thinking, living, almost all aspect of my life. Keeping a good balance between work and personal life is and everyday struggle (at least for me). Keep up the good work!!

    Barchambault

    30 May 2011 at 2:12 pm

  72. IMHO drugs are not the good solution.. Anti-anxiolytics change your behavior.

    My advices:
    - sports (outside is better): running, mountainbiking..
    - healthy food: salade, ..
    - outside activities: we need sun and fresh air

    OptimusPrime

    30 May 2011 at 2:44 pm

  73. The swedish department of health made this huge meta study on chronic depression a couple of years which had an interesting result. Turns out the treatment with the by far best results, beyond CBT and meds(which as you say, both have measurable effects), was electroshock theraby. You’ll have to get over the mental image of someone screaming in a basement but apparently it is well worth it.

    http://www.sbu.se/sv/Publicerat/Gul/Behandling-av-depressionssjukdomar/ (in swedish)

    Björn

    30 May 2011 at 3:10 pm

  74. Acc to me u get depressed when u have to do(work) alot and relatively very less time.under the pressure of utilization of maximum time,people land up using only half of the time properply .Rest of the time is neither used properly to work nor to sleep or enjoy.I think it’s not that important a need of human brain to interact with people.But yes,our mind do needs change.10 minutes of breaks listening to music,walking in a park, meditation (best way is to reduce sleep and increase medittation as it will increases the overall energy level ) or doing something realaxing that is entirely different from regular work.It will induce new and fresh thoughts in your mind. even revives the interest to your regular work.Besides you utilize every second of ur time in a productive manner without overloading your brain or body.

    Ashima Bits

    30 May 2011 at 5:13 pm

  75. > a claustrophobic and dark winter

    Let me guess… Vancouver?

    Mike Ivanov

    30 May 2011 at 6:20 pm

  76. I came across this post via StumbleUpon.  I’m sharing it with a few friends and close family in the hopes that your words, that I’ve not had the courage to put to paper thus far myself, might help them understand what I’m going through.  I’m not a coder, but am a design engineer for enterprise reporting tools.  Solving complex, esoteric problems is part and parcel of the profession.  Small wins are hard to come by; C-suite folks aren’t looking for the small wins – they want the big ones that get the attention in the board room.  The problem is that to get those big wins, there is often a lot of ineffective, redundant work that’s gone before that needs to be discarded.  People in those positions don’t like getting the news that their brilliant ideas from 5 or 10 years ago no longer apply to the current business environment.  It’s like being the messenger and the general at the same time.  The stress is tremendous.

    Those who advocate exercise for exercise’s sake…  I’ll simply say that it doesn’t work for everyone.  There’s no goal in that.  A goal is seeing something when you’re done:  a repaired or new fence, new chairs for the picnic area under the trees, ribbons @ a horse show that validate the work you’ve put into your training.

    But when the income’s missing, all these goals get harder and harder to reach.  The cycle continues and can be difficult to break.

    Thank you for writing this.

    Anon

    30 May 2011 at 6:24 pm

  77. I suggest you study philosophy to begin to address the causes of your depression. The root cause is ultimately nihilism (read Nietzsche’s The Will to Power for remedy). As coders, there is emptiness in what we do. It is very abstract. You have to come to understand why you like to do what you like to do on your own terms and not for how it affects the rest of the world.

    I do what I do because it makes me feel a little bit like a god and I get to solve puzzles. I don’t care if it won’t solve world hunger or some other ridiculous, worldly goal. I do what I do because I think it’s fun most of the time. The sun will explode in a few million years, so none of this crap will matter anyway even if you could live forever. At the same time, you really can’t do anything wrong either.

    Incidentally, drugs just mask the pain and don’t allow you to address things naturally. Drugs are so you appear happy for other people’s benefits. They turn you into a slave. At the end of the day, nobody is really keeping score that matters except for you. Do whatever you want and damn the consequences. If that means drugs, then fine but do it for your own pleasure and not so you fit in a nice, square box for everyone else.

    Will Southerland

    30 May 2011 at 7:24 pm

  78. The side effects of drugs are worse than depression itself.  Say you are having trouble finding a girlfriend.  Anti-depression medication is notorious for sapping your libido – not a way to boost your self-esteem.  I think drugs should only be used in extreme cases.  

    Chris

    30 May 2011 at 8:08 pm

  79. Getting out of a depression-slump, I always need to start up with a dose of self-compassion. Forgiving myself for being sick, and allowing myself to take baby steps with the measures i need to get myself going again. That means cutting down my work schedule if possible and not accepting new tasks, starting an exercise regime with short walks, first 10, then 15, 20, 30 minute walks. Not beating myself up if I can’t meat my goals, and not pushing myself too hard once I’ve started doing the things I need to do to get myself going again.

    Sveinbjörn Pálsson

    30 May 2011 at 9:18 pm

  80. It’s dead simple: If you have depression, see a fucking doctor.

    anon

    30 May 2011 at 10:07 pm

    • some of us *are* American…

      Pete Doherty

      5 June 2011 at 4:33 am

  81. >”I emphasize medication because drugs have definite, measurable results.”

    You obviously have never actually read any of the voluminous academic literature on psychiatric drugs and their side effects. Psych meds NEVER have definite, measurable results! The results are highly variable between people. Side effects are numerous, usually idiosyncratic, and often highly unpleasant or dangerous.

    Worst of all, nobody has the slightest clue how or why the vast majority of psych meds work. There is no scientific measurement for depression or bipolar disorder or anything else. There’s no objective, scientific blood test you can get that will prove, “Your depression is 15% better this month since you started the meds.”  It’s all guesswork, vague subjective evaluation, and experimentation, occasionally distilled via survey and statistical studies into a dataset.

    Being used to the rigidly logical and hyperstructured world of programming, and conceptualizing medicine and psychiatry as “hard sciences,” you assume (erroneously) that they also operate along logical and highly structured lines. They don’t.  Rather, doctors have a general idea that “Medication X is often reported to be useful for relieving symptom Y in many people while not producing too much of side effects A, B, and C to be tolerable, and if that doesn’t work, we can try Medication Z instead, combined with a dose of …” This is very, very far from “definite, measurable results.” 
    It’s quite common for a patient to have to try several different antidepressants (or whatever) before finding one that actually works, when those same drugs work fine in other people. Why? Nobody knows.(And all of this is ignoring the entire problem of profit-oriented pharmaceutical companies inventing entire new categories of disease and mental disorder, and actively broadening the diagnostic criteria for existing ones, to turn a quick profit for their shareholders before a drug patent expires. Many meta-studies have concluded that, while anti-depressant meds are effective at reducing depression symptoms, they’re only slightly more effective than placebos, which are also quite effective at reducing depression symptoms. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19246102 . Guess which one makes more money for the drug companies?)The dirty little secret of medicine is that it’s an inexact science, or rather more of an art than a science, and while the drugs do something, it’s not clear what.

    Paul

    30 May 2011 at 11:42 pm

  82. This is really nice! The first time i read this kind of article for coders =) Thanks!

    Wiseobject

    30 May 2011 at 11:58 pm

  83. Thanks for the information. I am currently going through
    this myself. At the moment I am struggling to do work that should have been
    finished 12 months ago. I sleep all the time and for no return of quality of
    life. I keep going for those little rewards but at the moment seam to be going
    through the darkest time but I feel hopeful when others let me know that there
    is a point of getting through this  

    kvic

    31 May 2011 at 12:20 am

  84. I suggest you study philosophy to begin to address the causes of your depression. The root cause is ultimately nihilism (read Nietzsche’s The Will to Power for remedy). As coders, there is emptiness in what we do. It is very abstract. You have to come to understand why you like to do what you like to do on your own terms and not for how it affects the rest of the world.

    I do what I do because it makes me feel a little bit like a god and I get to solve puzzles. I don’t care if it won’t solve world hunger or some other ridiculous, worldly goal. I do what I do because I think it’s fun most of the time. The sun will explode in a few million years, so none of this crap will matter anyway even if you could live forever. At the same time, you really can’t do anything wrong either.

    Incidentally, drugs just mask the pain and don’t allow you to address things naturally. Drugs often are so you appear happy for other people’s benefits. They turn you into a slave. At the end of the day, nobody is really keeping score that matters except for you. Do whatever you want and damn the consequences. If that means taking drugs, that is fine, but just do so for your own pleasure and not so you fit in a nice square box.

    Will Southerland

    30 May 2011 at 7:22 pm

  85. Change your job so you get more communication with people and don’t – repeat DON’T listen to music while in work! ;)
    0xDEAD BEEF

    Reinis

    31 May 2011 at 6:27 am

  86. I can relate to this; a few years ago the “development team”, also known as myself and my manager were given our own office with just the two of us, which was often just me as he was off out to meetings/had a lot of time off cos of children. So I sat alone tapping away all day, which didn’t bother me at first, I liked the idea of having my own office as it fed my ego, but I got depressed quite quickly which affected my home relationship quite drastically. In the end we had a move around and once I was back in the main office with the admin folk to talk to etc. things got a lost easier. State of mind is everything.

    Votd

    31 May 2011 at 8:14 am

  87. Good and brave writing, thanks Lance.

    It’s always interesting to read all the conflicting advice when you wee an article like this. Yes, exercise will almost always help, but that may be only one part of the overall solution. Anti-depressants may work well for you, or they may not. I wrote about about this a few months ago at http://dhubris.livejournal.com/14447.html

    There is no silver bullet. Pragmatism trumps opinion. Hang tough.

    Dic. H.

    Anonymous

    31 May 2011 at 12:15 pm

  88. I’ve been seeing a doctor for a couple of years for my depression. Its helped some (until my company got purchased by a health insurance company and switched to a policy that is almost punitive of so-called behavior health issues).
    Honestly, the best thing I’ve found to help combat depression is a nice bowl of weed at the end of the day. Natural and helps me keep up my depression defenses. Sorry if its not the answer that some people want to hear, but for me I’ve found it works.

    Agent StanSmith

    31 May 2011 at 2:19 pm

  89. I understand you so muuuuuuch :)))))))))

    Vahag

    Vahag

    31 May 2011 at 3:04 pm

  90. I know where you are at. I cycle through depressive periods and have for 10 years.
    I take drugs at times and at times they are ‘the solution’ to get out of hell. They are an artificial/fast way of changing your brain chemistry and in their place brillant.

    You might read the book “Spark – science of excerise and the brain” John j Ratey. as support for all those comments regarding using excerise.

    But combine it (as you say) with getting involved with people, getting sleep (sometimes more than difficult).

    And add humour, mindfullness (especially watching your mental state to know when to really take action to prevent the decline back).

    A short interesting video saw recently was http://fora.tv/2011/01/13/Oliver_Burkeman_How_to_Become_Slightly_Happier (royal society arts uk).

    good luck and thanks

    tony

    31 May 2011 at 3:12 pm

  91. I needed to use antidepressants after suffering from severe postpartum depression, and I found it made writing code very difficult. My brain just didn’t work as well on drugs. It was necessary, so I just worked slower until I recovered enough to be able to stop taking the drugs. Since then, I use a bio-feedback device called the StressEraser that has helped me as much as drugs without the foggy-head feeling. It takes a couple of weeks to start having an effect, so for an emergency situation, drugs are probably called for. For other people who suffer from anxiety and depression, the StressEraser is a drug-free solution. I use it for about 5-8 minutes three times a day, and it has really made a difference.

    Amber Brixwell

    31 May 2011 at 5:35 pm

  92. awesome

    Anon382

    31 May 2011 at 9:00 pm

  93. “You feel simultaneously lonely and harassed” – That’s a feeling that few people can understand and I felt it personally. It’s very weird as sometimes you just want to say the person next to you: “leave me alone” and yet you’re always caught thinking: “I’m so lonely, I don’t want that anymore”.
    The weird thing is that this feeling keep you from widening your social circle and then you feel like crap because of loneliness. It happened to me a lot that I would reject social invitations because I was comfy at home and didn’t want to go out, to just later regret wishing I could be having fun.

    “In a twist of dark irony, depression seems to specifically weaken the tools you need to stand up  to it” – That’s exactly it and I feel like being happy is just like having a lot of money. If you got a lot of money, you make a lot more money, if you have no money, you struggle just to get by the day. Happy people, keep happy, unless some emotionally catastrophic event occurs. And depressed people usually depend on very hard emotional work or a leap of luck to get out of it. I’ve felt both, and I can tell that it is much harder to get up than it is to go down. Sometimes a promotion, a new experience or a new love can take you back up, but sometimes it takes too long for any of these to happen, and even so they might not trigger the happy switch on the brain. The cool thing is that once you turn on the happy switch, good things start to happen that can be almost overwhelming, as you might not be used to. You start to wonder: “This is too good to be true”. The thing is that happy people attract people and good things to them, people like to be around happy people and with that comes a lot more benefits.

    As a recommendation, fellow depressed people, try to create opportunities to get out of that, fight your fear and laziness of trying something new and to be active, I know it’s hard, but you gotta fight through it.  My depression has always been triggered by women, so I thought the answer was on that, so I’ve always chased women (with some degree of success) looking for that passion that once made me alive and got even more frustrated when I got none. I’ve found my way out through work, got great experiences working like traveling and meeting new people, facing new challenges. That made me happy and confident, I started to shine and then, guess what? Women starting to pop all over the place, what I thought it was the answer was actually a consequence of my state of mind. So always keep your mind open, the solution might not be what you expect, but what you expect might come once you found the solution. Keep your eyes and mind open to opportunities and try to never give up if a challenge has proven difficult, be there, be seen, be heard.

    Depression might keep you from doing a lot of stuff, and that might just be the solution to depression. After I got out of my shut world, I always looked forward to perform the activities I earlier dismissed, it’s like money, if you’re happy, you earn more happiness each day.

    “don’t want to rely on a drug for the rest of their life.” – Been there, I took anti-depressant for two years until the day I felt I didn’t want to depend on that for the rest of my life and that I didn’t want to be cold as ice as I was, I wasn’t depressed, but I also wasn’t capable of crying or feeling anything that hits me, I didn’t like that person so I quit. I believe drugs for that are viable as a temporary solution to a deep crisis, but the real cure is to find the passion inside and live it. The anti-depressant might have saved my life, but it also kept me from living, so yes, it is good, but just to some extent and some time.

    Fábio

    1 June 2011 at 4:40 pm

  94. Good article about a subject many will not risk bringing up. I have experienced depression since I was about 15. Medications have helped me, but I also do everything else you are supposed to do: exercise, take vitamins, eat right, socialize as much as you can handle, keep busy – have interests outside of computers, meditate, etc… I try to go somewhere warm and sunny in the winter for a week or two. I also read up a lot on personal development and self help books. It is a great time to be depressed! There is a lot of info out there, and more being discovered everyday. Our negative thinking often affects us as well. I think life balance is the key. Lots and lots of famous and talented people all through history have been depressed. Don’t feel alone. And most of all, remember that it will pass, don’t do anything stupid when you are down! It will pass! 

    Buck Ofama

    1 June 2011 at 5:09 pm

  95. Exercise. Seriously. Physical activity — as little as 15 minutes a day, but try for 30+ — will help. I find that when I exercise and sleep regularly and avoid alcohol, I’m far happier. I sleep better. I handle stress better. It becomes a positive feedback loop. The happier I am, the better I handle stress, the more I want to connect with people, the happier I am. My doctor told me that exercise is almost as effective as medicine for some people, particularly when used with cognitive behavior therapy.

    Anonymous

    3 June 2011 at 7:34 pm

  96. [...] Depression, Burn Out and Writing Code By Lance Cameron Kidwell [...]

  97. Honestly, don’t forget the basics – find free time (no matter how little), and do what’s fun for you (outdoors) – anywhere from nature hiking to partying the night away with your friends to having a great meal at your favorite eating joint. Do not let online social life (e.g. failbook) replace those things.

    jim

    4 June 2011 at 10:06 pm

    • Do you actually think unabashed mockery of things they find enjoyable is going to be helpful to people with depression?  Regardless of your personal feelings on the site, do you really think this discussion is the best place to use the term “failbook”?

      Torvaun

      4 June 2011 at 10:16 pm

  98. [...] My mental illness does not define me. and Depression, burnout and writing code. [...]

  99. Thank you so much for this insight! I’m off today, but just had a lunch meeting with my two best girlfriends and my 1yr. old daughter and I felt so foggy-brained. I don’t enjoy our time together when I’m like this because I can’t keep my thoughts on track and its laborious just to update them on my life! I miss them all the time but its so hard for me to be a part of the group when my contributions are so choppy and stressful!

    Leahe1234

    11 September 2011 at 10:43 pm

  100. Thank you for posting this.  Your unflinching, honest portrayal helped me – it has been one of the tougher days, felt like I was struggling for some semblance of feeling ok and often failing.  It helps to know I’m not alone, and something about your honest portrayal helped alleviate some of the shame I feel about my experience.  Many, many thanks.

    Anonymous

    15 November 2011 at 7:36 pm

  101. I also want to add exercise and meditation.

    And yes, you hit on the importance of social interaction – something that is hard for many of us programmer/geek types but insanely important.

    Matthew

    11 March 2012 at 4:01 pm

  102. Wow, nicely said. I totally understood everything you said and how you described it. This is me right now. I also am a programmer and I am exactly were you were in 2011. Thank you

    Sonya

    20 June 2013 at 3:41 pm

  103. We moved out from the main point, this is being burnt-out. We are focusing into deppression while being burnt-out ain’t specifically being deppressed. So we should ask us a basic thing: Why are we burnt-out with coding in the first place? Well, computing didn’t evolve much to make programmer’s life easier, but only to please customers upon the cost of whom? Yes, you guessed it. We, the coders, those who ‘love staying whole day and night in front of the code’. That’s what everybody think of you, isnt’it ? The tiny, little lab rat who loves thinking and solving problems.

    And yes, when you are a 20 years old kid you want to defy yourself and show people how smart you are. When you are nearly 40 you want do other things. You *need* to, you have kids and a wife, and in any case, you simply have other interests as you are 20 years ahead. I found a solution, but will keep it for the end of my post. Think it of this way: Think of 1994, think of Clipper 5.1 and Pascal. Computing those days were text-column based and nobody was horrified. Nobody cared if the programs were more or less difficult to use or not, in fact, think of how many programs were a success without even supporting a mouse. Those were the days when the user had to learn from the program not the other way around. 20 years passed, now programs need to think for the user with the touch of a button as that’s what the media tells them: make 2 clicks and get things done fast and without using your brain! Think of tablets, ipads, think of how making a website was back in 2006, for example. Now you have to make the site responsive, for example, it’s not enough anymore making it 1000px wide, it will simply doesn’t look good in a tablet. Talk about not having specific standards to follow, so you make your site looking good in Chrome but voila, it doesn’t look 100% the same in other browsers no matter how clean your CSS is.

    This is why you get burned out. You get burned out when you see you get the same payment for twice your work, and frankly, when you see you are forced to re-learn your whole career if you want to simply stay on track. Programmers doesn’t measure it, but there’s a lot of inner layers to just make things look like your website or desktop application belongs to 2013. Think of skins, graphics, slicing, CSS, Ajax, jquery, JSON, CURL, SSL, etc. Think of responsiveness. What is the future, voice-managed sites? Of course, but make it compatible still with keyboard, mouse, touchpads and 800×600 screens for the granny that still uses Windows XP adding all possible exceptions to handle it all, the past, the present and the future making the code unreadable!!! Give me a break, there’s a multitude of stupidity added to make computing accessible to everyone. This is what creates the burnt out in us, don’t underestimate this.

    What about the solution: There’s none, stay out and move into something else. Not even management, move into something else. If you want a life stay out from this career as much as you can.

    Anonymous

    2 July 2013 at 2:44 pm


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