I wrote this post in German, over several months time, and eventually published it in June this year. The whole post sounds like it was easy to write and it was written in one go. Neither is true. It was actually the first blog post ever that made me uncomfortable after I hit „publish“. It was worth the effort and I would defintely do it again. I decided to post an English version in October 2014.
Today’s society and the working world – our world – is about being strong, about being perfect; the ability to “function properly” is what gets us rewards. Humanity, being human is mostly abscent. Sickness, depression or insecurity need to be hidden to not endanger your employment. This is wrong and it has to stop. This is why I’ll open up and talk about my depression and I hope to encourage people. Maybe I’m being naive, but I hope this post makes a teeny-tiny change for the better.
HERE WE GO
Some weeks ago, Nina (my partner for more than 7 years now) told me something that finally made me write and eventually publish this blog post. She told me this:
In 1998, Norways then prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik recieved international attention because he publicly admitted to suffer from depression and took a few weeks off (there’s a nice interview with him about it on the WHO’s website). If it’s possible for a country’s prime minister to talk about his medical condition in public, so why is it impossible for me? Why is it impossible for a lot of other human beings? And that’s why I want to talk about myself and “my depression”.
In 2008, I quit being a student in Tübingen after 4 years without any degree at all and applied for a dual education in “applied computer science” at University of Cooperative Education Baden-Württemberg. During my dual studies, I worked for a small software shop (about 20 people). In 2009, my interest in developing apps for mobile devices (started by the arrival of the first Android phone, the T-Mobile G1) lead to my first ever public talk in June 2010. I talked at Java Forum Stuttgart (annual local Java Conference with 1200 attendees total) in front of almost 400 people who were very interested in what I and my partner in crime Moritz Haarmann had to say about developing apps for Android. I finished my studies in 2011 with a Bachelor’s degree and continued to work for the small software shop. In 2012, I started to work for Codenauts/Bit Stadium, the company behing the now pretty well-known HockeyApp, where I craft apps for internationl customers. My salary is very decent, so I guess I somehow „made it“ – whatever that means.
After my first talk in 2010, several other speaking gigs followed, and now I have done over 20 public appearances on small and large conferences. I have published a few articles for heise and was invited/paid to write for t3n. I was one of the leaders of GTUG Stuttgart (now Google Developer Group Stuttgart) and responsible for 2 Android barcamps (2010 and 2011, 2011 saw over 300 perticipants making it the biggest non-commercial Android barcamp in Europe that year). I’m also one of the people behing the monthly “mobile maultaschen”-meetup.
This makes me and my life sound pretty cool. Successful.
The thing nobody knows about it that in the “background”, inside of me, it was a whole different story. I couldn’t let go of me failing at my first studies, issues old and new started to pile up and eventually, I couldn’t handle me and my life any more.
From 2009 until 2011, I received psychological counsel/treatment and at some point I tried to commit suicide.
It gives me goosebumps and I start to shake at least a little bit while I put this into actually words, but I think it’s part of who I am. I was lucky. I had great therapist and Nina has literally saved my life. Her advice during that time was to tell the truth to my boss as I had to leave at 4:30pm every Wednesday for my appointment with my therapist. I followed her advice and I’m very happy that I did. My employer at that time (aformatik Training & Consulting in Sindelfingen) has earned my eternal gratitude and respect for their sincerity and the trust they show towards me. They just accepted that I was away on Wednesdays for thw sessions with my therapist. They never opposed them or even asked my about it. Except for the collegues (some of them still friends) who cared about me and helped me in so many ways. They have my eternal gratitude.
What still remains from that time until today are the following 3 things:
1. I can’t get some kinds of insurance policies as the insurance companies refuse to accept people with a medical record like mine (basically insurance for disabiliy and critical health issues). I found alternate solutions for this and I know my way arround this certain kind of insurance policies pretty well.
2. I broke friendships along the way because I refused to have contact or at least did nothing to maintain the relationship. Some lasted but still suffer because of my personal issues from the days back then.
3. My kind of “normal” isn’t normal and it’s not your “normal”.
Life will never be the same again (And I’m so, so happy with it!!)
I will never be the same again and only few of the people who have lived and survived similar cloudy, stormy, dark times will be the same as before. Maybe there are people who just go on at some point and are not more emotional or sensitive or vulnerable than before. I’m not one of them.
Sometimes, I’m more prone to stress, I have a day, or two to three days, when I’m depressed (it happens every few weeks), when I need all energy to visualize and realize and believe that the world I live in is a nice world, a world with positive stuff going on. I have learned and found ways to deal with this kind of feeling, to deal with myself and to somehow “like” who I am. Nevertheless, there are days when I sit on my couch and I’m THAT small and tiny. Inside of me, there’s just darkness and the walls are coming tumbling down. When it happens, I light a candle, I cry, I talk, I meditate and eventually, it’s all over, the sun shines again, the clouds, the storms are gone.
Sometimes, my work, my relationship, my friends and family suffer.
It’s really, really hard to be the “successful” software developer who has a lot of friends, who’s to this day managed to have a long-term relationship with his partner, who’s in touch with his family and talks in fron of 20 to 200 people at a conference 2, 3 times year. But nobody can see that it’s really hard. How could they?
In the end, all things I do and am able to do, was made possible because I had a social safety net back in 2010. Because I had an employer who allowed me to leave the office during office time to receive professional help. Because I work with people who value everybody being human and that make it possible for me to say “guys, I’m done for today, I’ll go home because I’m not fine at all right now” – so, when the shit hit’s the fan, I just go home. They’re people who ask me how I’m doing and that expect to receive an honest answer and that “allow” me to be honest. They’re people who talk to me in case I’m not fine at all, who recognize that I’m not fine at all, and who just ask what’s wrong and that, sometimes, makes all the difference.
Also Nina, who’s been by me side all the time, who helped and still helps, who’s “just” there.
I’m so incredibly happy that I have all of this and I consider myself lucky.
Many people can’t even work because the clouds are too heavy and their inner demons are way too strong. Because ther’s nobody who offers them a hug, some nice words or sends some love. Because there’s nobody who lights a candle for them. They’re living in the dark. There is just darkness. Loneliness.
But the thing is: we are so, so many people. So many successful, perfect people are out there who do their job, live, work, love and who practice awareness techniques to be able to work the next day, to be able to leave the house, to be able to love themselves.
It’s a lonely life.
And I’m so fed up with people thinking of me being “perfect” and “happy” and “successful”. Well, I am perfect, happy and successful. But I’m also small, (overly) self-doubting, self-critical, insecure and sometimes even depressed. And I have to fight my own, personal demons and endure my inner thunderstorms. It’s normal, it’s who I am. And there’s a lot of people just like me. So let’s just stop this whole shit of wearing our porcelain faces, our masks and start being ourselves and make ourselves visible. It leads to us being able to actually SEE EACH OTHER. This is all it takes to make the world a warmer, more human place. Especially the working world lacks both attributes.