I talk about a lot of technical things on this site, but today I want to touch
on some things that aren't technical in nature, but affects the quality of that
work. I suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) which I didn't realize I had
till a few years ago. I just thought being sad (well more like the lack
of any kind of emotion) was a normal thing in the winter. In fact I probably had
it at a younger age, but I was bullied (what a nerdy weird kid who would have guessed?!)
so I figured that's why I didn't feel "normal" at the time. It wasn't until
I came in to contact with more people and learned that my symptoms were indeed
those of depression. From there I realized I only suffered them in the winter time
making it quite clear I had SAD.
As an adult now this is, unfortunately, an aspect of my life I can't
escape. Around winter time it gets darker. I live in the Northeast part of the USA
so by the time I get up at for work the sun is only just rising, and by 4pm,
more than an hour before I even leave work, it's already pitch black
outside. While this may not be a problem for many this means two things for me,
I'm lacking Vitamin D from contact with the sun and not enough sunlight to
stimulate seratonin production. This might not seem like a big a deal to many.
Lots of people go through winter fine, maybe get some "winter blues", but nothing
terrible right? For me though that imbalance is greater. By a lot. Over the period
of a few months my brain just doesn't make enough seratonin to make me "happy", or
at least baseline level so that I can feel any kind of emotion. I hesitate to
use happy here since depression is more like you don't feel anything and feeling
anything like sad would be a welcome relief. Happy or at least joy over things
more so, but it's hard to describe that feeling to someone who hasn't been
depressed so it's easier to say either being sad or happy. If you want a more
comprehensive look at what it feels like I always point people to Hyperbole and
a Half's depression comic part 2
in order to get a feel of what I mean.
The point is that for me my body literally isn't producing what it
needs in order to act at a baseline level of functionality and being able to
accomplish tasks on a day to day basis. Honestly, it's an odd feeling trying to do something
you know you love (for me coding or playing video games or watching anime after work)
and feeling no joy in it and having this feeling like you're just doing it to waste time or
because it's your job.
This kind of adaptation might have been great during the winter months of our
ancestors of yore. Depression means you eat less, you move less, time kind of
drifts by, and you sleep a lot (at least for me, those symptoms can be the
opposite depending on the person). If anything it's a quasi hibernation allowing
you to stretch food sources out and care less that you're just sitting there
waiting for winter to pass.
Nowadays though? I still have to pay rent, I have friends to see, work to do,
obligations etc. You unfortunately can't just stop participating in life temporarily
because you want to sleep more and don't care. It's an insidious thing that
saps your will, makes you see the worst in yourself, isolate yourself, and just
overall makes the world a gray bleak and lifeless place where you trudge from
one destination to the next, not necessarily wanting to die, but you also just
don't want to be there either. Worst of all you start to normalize it, because
that's what your feelings feel so they must be right, right? You wouldn't feel
that way (or not at all) if it wasn't true. At least that's what it says.
I wish I could say here's ten neat tricks to avoid it permanently, because in the
end you can minimize it or treat it, but it's never fully gone. It's there waiting for
the day you mess up the routine and forget to take something or you have such a
terrible day that it knocks you into a depression spiral because the stress was
What I am saying is that this is something as a person, if you do suffer from
any kind of mental condition, should strive to minimize by getting the help or
things you need. It doesn't go away, but you can do many things to not let it
control your life. For a long time I didn't understand that. Being sad in winter
was just something that happened to me and that it was normal to feel that way so there's
nothing one can do about it.
I was dead wrong. It has ruined relationships for me, ruined my ability to pass
coursework, to do actual work, to enjoy parts of my life, and to just be me.
None of that is normal. It's a terrible state of being. I can't count how many
days I've drifted from bed, to obligations, to home wasting time avoiding
responsibilities, then going to bed, only to repeat the cycle.
I think there's this tendency to separate health from our work but they're
interconnected. You can't do anything if you're sick. You wouldn't go to work with
a 104F fever right? You stay home and treat it. Here though you'll just need to
treat it (I wish I could just stay home because reasons), but my point is that
it's a sickness just as bad as that fever should be treated as such.
I have a sun lamp at work and at home that helps and I supplement that with St.
John's Wort (doesn't help everyone but does for me) and Vitamin D supplements.
It helps stave off the worst feelings or lack thereof. Combined with minimizing
stress that comes from my environments (relationships with people, workload,
etc.) it has helped me maintain a level of productivity that's not terrible and
sometimes completely normal. Granted I still have bad weeks. Some days I just
don't want to be at work, and others I just can't be bothered to follow through
on plans or just take care of my basic needs but this winter has been the least
bad so far since I started doing this.
I wish I could say it gets easier, or that there's a clear solution, or that if
you try hard enough it'll all work out. It's just not like that. I'll be
fighting this battle till the day I die. It's an ingrained part of me that
I can't cast off and honestly it sucks. It's already hard enough in this
industry where our work is easily compared to others and suffering from imposter
syndrome is rampant, but add depression into the mix and it's hard to feel that
what you do is meaningful let alone worthy of praise even when people compliment
you for it.
It's tough and I have nothing but empathy for other developers and people
suffering the same. I wish I could feel "normal", that I could love myself the
way others love me, that I could look at my work in the ways others view it,
that I could accept the praise as something I'm worthy of, and that one day
I would feel worthy of someone loving me for me warts and all and that I can
accept that as just being true, regardless of the lies my brain tells me each
I think life is important because of those struggles though. I'm still here
almost 25 years later despite multiple times of never knowing if I'd make it
to the next day let alone the next year`. It's tough dealing with mental illness.
It's damn tough. I can't count the number of sleepless nights, the number of days
where I've only felt an empty void, the number of times I had dissociated feelings
where I just disconnected from my environment, and more. I continue to trudge through,
surviving it, then feeling okay for most of the year, then dreading the return
to winter knowing that only those feelings await year after year, like a specter
that won't stop haunting you. Yet again, here I am. I hope maybe ten to twenty
years from now I'll look at this post wondering how I could have thought these
things or that my life has improved so much since then. Looking at the facts my
life has been improving year by year. To think it'll only get worse is just
I wish I had the answers for everyone about what they need to do in order to
deal with this. I don't, but I do know one thing and that's to seek the help you
need in order to improve your life. Those insidious thoughts you might be having
right now aren't normal. They're not you, they don't need to rule your life, and
that you can get better with the right treatment. They'll never fully go away
and the struggle will likely be for your whole life, but I do know that you can
minimize their damage and lead a healthy productive life. Get the help you need
and start helping yourself. Trust me it feels a lot better than wallowing in
that nothingness that feels comfortable. It will destroy your life if you let it
consume you. It's done it multiple times to me and I'd rather someone else read
this and do something about it rather than letting their life also be messed up
because depression feels normal and comfortable. It's not.