Dear Ed (A response to Open Sourcing Mental Illness at php[tek] 2013)

Note: this post is personal, and may contain triggers for those suffering through grief. Due to it’s nature, I did pass it by Ed before posting it publicly, as every body is different when dealing with their mental illnesses, and this is such a complex topic that it’s difficult to talk about without drawing broad brush strokes that may offend some people. Please keep in mind that this is [some of] my thoughts on this very complicated subject, and you are free to disagree.

Dear Ed,

I felt that I needed to write this letter to you, and I wanted it to be open because I think it’s an appropriate way to participate in open sourcing mental illness. Consider this a pull request of sorts. The only way to remove the stigma around this topic is by talking frankly and openly about it.

I’m writing this (specifically) in response to the talk you gave at php[tek] last week. I remember first meeting you, at php|tek (as it was then known) in Chicago, sometime around 2003-4, one of my first conferences. You had some local friends meeting you there and we all hung out at the hotel bar. It was fun. But I remember the intimidation of meeting this hard core rock looking dude that I didn’t think I could possibly fit in with and relate to.

I was expecting to find a rough biker type dude, that would beat me up if I said the wrong thing… And I remember you were very intense (which I now know was passion) and I remember the change that came over your entire demeanor when you started talking about your son… The warmth and joy that I saw made me think “holy crap, this guy is just an awesome dad. I like this guy!”. Someone else has described this phenomenon as you turning into a pile of goo. As a fairly new father myself I now understand that so much better — thanks for being one of my first peer role models for being a father.

I don’t suffer from the kinds of mental illness you (we?) are trying to help, I have some very irrational (but “normal”) fears – needles and bugs, especially wasps and spiders – and travel stresses me out (TripIt Pro is so fantastic for helping me with that, ask me if you want details :).

I do however have experience with depression, and related things. I lost my father at age 11, and I lost my (first) wife at 22. These were traumatic, depressive, insane things to go through.

But I did get through them, and I feel stronger and happier at this end of that path. Thanks to folks like Ligaya Turmelle, Joey Smith, Matthew Turland and all three Elizabeths (Smith, Naramore and Tucker-Long), who have all at one time or another been a shoulder for me, I am now in a place where I can be laid back about most issues that many people simply can’t (the things that stress you out and cause anxiety on a daily basis). I live by “It is what it is”. But most folks can’t do that.

It is very difficult for me to relate to what people suffering from mental illness have been through in a lot of ways. The kinds of things I suffered from are considered “normal”, a part of the grieving process, and a temporary state; I personally don’t see it as the same thing as clinical depression — though they can lead to it — but “in the moment” they possibly are very similar.

I do however live with mental illness every day. My wife is bipolar (diagnosed and treated for about 6 years) and suffers from depression and anxieties. I see how it affects her, even with medication, and I really appreciate some more insight into a lot of things that she (like most people) has trouble verbalizing, so that I can help her handle it.

I don’t think I can help people suffering directly, I have no direct experience to draw from, other than my experiences with grief over a lost loved one… but I’m very open to any question about what I went through, and how I dealt with it from anyone (consider that an open invitation to anyone reading this.) But I wanted to let you know you have my support, admiration, and maybe even a little bit of love (OK a lot: internet hugs!) for opening yourself up to help this community we both hold so near and dear.

So, thank you!

  • Davey