[hackerspaces] Please reach out

Mitch Altman maltman23 at hotmail.com
Mon Nov 21 20:12:30 CET 2011

You are incredibly lucky if all you need to do to make depression go away is to do something awesome.  I'm really glad you have this ability! The question you ask is incredibly pertinent. Short answer:  The best thing to do to support someone who reaches out is listen.  Really listen, and empathize with the person.  When someone feels heard, that helps a lot!  At least for a bit.  And that bit can be a lot.  It is also totally OK, and often important, to ask if they are feeling suicidal.  And it is also OK to ask if they have a plan.  But listening is the greatest!  And, if appropriate, tell them you care, and that you want to be of support in whatever way you can.  And, if appropriate, let them know they can call you any time of day or night for any reason.  And, if appropriate, hug each other. Longer answer: I started to really get into this -- but email lists are not the forum.  We really need a book.  And to talk with each other in person, and in groups, and in our community at large. I haven't counted, but I've gotten, maybe, 100 comments from geeks thanking me for the post I wrote the other day.  Most telling me they are, or that they know someone, who is depressed, or suicidal, or has attempted suicide, or knows someone close who's killed themselves.  Depression and suicide are big problems for geeks.  Most of us were bullied when we were kids.  Most of us experienced some sort of indication that it was OK for others to bully us (such as my gym teacher standing and watching with his arms crossed when others beat me up).  Most of us feel isolated and alone in our feelings of depression and suicide. But it is possible to live long enough to overcome the deep dark hell of depression.  People struggling with this need support, though.  And it is *SO* incredibly scary for many people struggling with this to reach out.  Suicide may even seem easier than reaching out. To explain how I learned to become happy would also require more than a post to an email list.  Short version:  I started making choices for myself.  And I chose to learn from the consequences of my choices.  And I chose to make new choices based on what I learned from the consequences of my choices.  And, to the best of my abilities, with the support of friends, I made new choices based on what I thought would make my life a little more fulfilling.  At first, I had to explore and try things I didn't hate (I was too depressed to know of anything else).  I crashed and burned zillions of times along the way.  But I eventually found some things that I thought were OK, sort of.  My process also involved learning to accept to actually feel my pain, to not push it away, but to accept it, and to let myself know that it is part of me (even if it totally sucks!) -- and while feeling it, focus on other things that are also important to me.  Eventually, over many, many years, I eventually learned to do things that I loved.  Yes -- this shit takes time! -- and it takes a concerted effort over that time.  And lots and lots of trials and errors.  And it is *SO* worth that effort! But, this is not the thing to say to someone who is reaching out to you for support.  The thing to do is to listen.  Really listen.  And assure them that you are there for them.  And if you can feel OK saying so -- let them know that they can call you any time of day or night for any reason. Depression doesn't necessarily lead to suicide.  People kill themselves because they are in extreme pain -- and they want that pain to stop.  Not all depressed people are in that place.  If you are feeling depressed, please, please, reach out.  You don't need to wait till you are feeling suicidal.  Not all people you reach out to will be receptive.  But many will.  If you know someone who is depressed and you feel you can sincerely be of support, please let them know.   But, please know that some people, such as Ilya (and me, during the first half of my hellish life when I experienced nothing but depression) hide their depression very well.  So, please, talk to your friends.  Talk to your acquaintances.  When you ask someone how they are feeling, you can, if you want to, really ask, and you can, if you want to, reallly listen.  Or, if you like, you can let people know that you care -- just randomly, out of the blue.  You can remind them that you're there for them if they ever want it for whatever reason.  It may help. Mitch.  Date: Mon, 21 Nov 2011 05:25:31 -0700
From: will at heatsynclabs.org
To: discuss at lists.hackerspaces.org
Subject: Re: [hackerspaces] Please reach out

Thanks Mitch!

What advice do you have for someone who is being reached out to, and how did you learn to love your life? 
I frequently end up being asked to help, but so far my best advice is "when I feel sad, I stop feeling sad and be awesome instead." It's cheesy but to me it means that sadness is just an emotion that can be controlled. I can choose to be deliriously happy regardless of, and in spite of, my circumstances. Also, getting regular sleep/exercise/sun/food has a more profound impact than many realize. This advice doesn't seem to help others though, especially those with medication issues or who could benefit from medication. Being awesome has a nice side effect of helping you love your life (for your own personal definition of awesome.)

This works well for me, but hasn't for others, so please share so I can better help next time someone asks for help hacking their depression!
On Nov 20, 2011 12:35 PM, "Mitch Altman" <maltman23 at hotmail.com> wrote:

I wrote a blog post yesterday that sort of went viral.  The server crashed from so much traffic.  Depression is something that a lot of us geeks experience.  I thought I would share it on the Hackerspaces.org list, too.  If you are depressed or feeling suicidal, please know that you are not alone.


For folks who don't know, Ilya Zhitomirskiy, one of the founders of Diaspora, committed suicide recently. He was 22 years old.
Ilya hung out at Noisebridge, and also led workshops and hackathons for Diaspora at our space. Most people who met him were quickly taken in by his enthusiasm and do-ocratic charisma. I became instant friends with him the first day he showed up at Noisebridge shortly after he moved to San Francisco last year.

Hardly anyone had even a clue that Ilya was depressed, let alone suicidal. He was bubbly, cheerful, excited about all the way cool projects he was implementing, as well as the ones he had thought, and would think of.

Last night was his memorial in San Francisco, followed a party in his backyard in the Mission. This party was typical of the epic parties Ilya threw in his backyard over the past many months, bringing together so many wonderful people -- incredible opportunities to have fun meeting and connecting with each other. The only thing atypical last night was that Ilya was not there.

Both the memorial and the party were full of people who knew and loved Ilya, and who Ilya knew and loved. Ilya could have reached out to any one of us -- any time of day or night. He could have reached out. But he didn't.

For Ilya to have held in and hid his pain so well that all of these people, including myself, had no clue -- Ilya must have felt *so* alone, *so* isolated, exacerbating his pain too greatly. If he had reached out, maybe -- maybe -- he could have lived another day. But he didn't.

I lived the first half of my life in total and utter depression. No joy, just shame, just self-loathing, dread and anxiety and fear of other people -- total depression. I know what it is like to be depressed. I know what it is like to live for one's whole life knowing and believing that the best life might have to offer is the ability for me to endure the pain till I eventually died. That was the best possibility. As with Ilya, I hid all of this from the world as best as I could. And most people had no clue I was depressed.

Yet, I learned, through making choices for myself, and learning from the consequences of my choices, and with help and support of others, over a period of many years, making more choices, learning, growing, crashing, burning, making more choices, more support. . . -- I eventually learned to live a life I love. I love the life I live! If I could learn to live a life I love, then, certainly, it is possible for anyone to do this!

It is more than possible -- it is way worthwhile, way rewarding, way wonderful to go through the experiences of our life -- through the ups and the downs, through the all-arounds, and all the pain and suffering and joy and love and excitement -- and come to a place where you know that the pain, regardless of its intensity, is yet another (perhaps seemingly unendurable) experience, which gives way to more of what makes life even more worthwhile.

Depression is an important part of life. Everyone experiences it to some extent. But to those of us who know chronic depression, it is our own unique hell.
Unique as it is to each of us, we all share a lot.

And we all have a lot to share with each other. Through the ups, and the downs, the all-arounds.
For someone who has no experience reaching out, it can seem to be the scariest thing possible. But it is possible.

It is very possible. Ilya is dead. But you -- you are still alive. If you are contemplating suicide, please know that you are not alone. You are part of a community of others, many of whom know what it is like to be hopelessly depressed. Many of whom are more than open for you to reach out to (if you only knew!).

You *can* choose to kill yourself. But it will be your last choice. If you are ready to kill yourself, why not try out one choice first? What do you have to lose? I know it is scary, and perhaps way shameful, and maybe too awful, and extremely difficult -- but, really, what do you have to lose? Please know that you *can* choose to reach out to someone. Please, know that you can. Please, pick someone and reach out.

Why wait till your pain is so unendurable? You can reach out now. (Really, you can.)
[I also posted this to the Noisebridge blog: http://blog.noisebridge.net/2011/11/19/please-reach-out/]



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