James Skripchuk
Playing in everyone's backyard since 1998

On Having Depression

Content Warning: Depression, Suicide

A note to concerned friends and family: I’m doing fine. Me posting this isn’t indicative of me planning on doing anything stupid in the near future. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: I’m on an upswing lately and I feel like writing this has given me a well-needed dose of meaning. As I’m writing this, I am currently making a giant bowl of candy to give out to trick-or-treaters this evening.

I love you all <3

See? Candy.

This semester, there have been three student deaths on campus. The first and the most recent of them have been publicly confirmed to be suicides. In the second case, the family withheld the cause of death, however it is suspected it was suicide as well.

This sucks.

Now, I cannot speak for the students. I don’t know what that they’ve been through, what they’ve been feeling, what stresses they were under. Hell, I don’t even know their names for the most part.

But I think the one thing that I know is that you don’t get to that point in your life unless you’re feeling some insurmountable emotional barrier. I have felt this before - and still feel it occasionally. I’ve been diagnosed with clinical depression since high school, and have been on and off medication and therapy ever since.

“So? Who cares?”, is what I ask myself while writing this. I dunno. I know I’m writing this because of the series of suicides that hit campus, but I don’t know I decided to write something, something that I’m planning to make public nonetheless. Those who know me know I’m not exactly the most talkative person, and probably the last to actually say something when something is bothering me or I’m hurting.

I’ve been told I’m too patient.

I like to think that writing publicly is a sort of way of fighting against the very essence of depression. I’ve had many nights where I would get into a recursive self-loathing spiral repeating to myself: “Come on Jimmy. Those around you have actual life problems, actual struggles they have to live with. Get over yourself.” I know friends, family, and internet acquaintances with OCD, bipolar disorder, mania, schizophrenia, dementia, dysphoria, the works.

Comparatively, people usually admit that they had depression, not that they have depression.

Which sucks for me. It’s always something that people talk about overcoming, not something they’re dealing with. The thinkpieces, the recovery stories, the suggestions. It makes me feel like I’m not trying hard enough, or I just haven’t found the right cocktail of exercise, diet, drugs, and therapy to make it all go away.

And I think that’s why I’m writing this, for me foremost, but hopefully for others who might be in my place as well. Yelling out to the void that “Yeah, it’s something that people are experiencing. This isn’t a retrospective, this is the present.” I’m not one for social media activist type stuff, and I usually feel lost and that I have nothing to say in those types of conversations. So many people always tout things like “#stopthestigma” or whatever have you. Again, always from people who’ve overcame it. I kept coming back to writing this because this might be one of the rare times where I can stand up and say “We out here.”

I’m at a point in my life and career where I feel safe about it and not face any sort of stigma. This is a luxury that others don’t have. No matter how hard I try and convince myself otherwise, I am objectively successful. I have a stable-ish job as a graduate student (even if the pay is abysmal), wonderful advisors and coworkers, and have one an award or fellowship or two. All of this while still having sleepless nights of running thoughts and spending most of my weekends in bed. I’m one of the “lucky” ones where my coping mechanism is throwing myself into my work to stave it off, and any spare time has the risk of letting those feelings seep back in. I know that some of my compatriots who are affected aren’t so “lucky”. Still, I hope that my writing serves as some sort of solidarity.

If you’re an employer, admin, mentor, or what have you, I… don’t really have anything to say to be honest. I’m not going to tell you what to do, or tell you to “reach out” more often (sometimes the “Is everything OK?” question almost has the opposite effect, as it alerts you that everyone around you has seen that your mask has fallen off). Everyone is different to be honest, maybe take some training seminars or talk to people. Idunno.

Well, actually, I do have one point of vitriol, but this one is for the admins specifically. Speaking as an educator in training, throwing in a surprise wellness day randomly in the week does more harm than good. So many professors have such rigid and packed schedules that throwing in a random day off just means doubling up assignments and surprise due-date changes compounded against four different classes. More work needs to be done on enforcing flexible curriculum design and cutting unnecessary content. As a school that prides itself on CS Education research, you can do better man, c’mon.

If you’re someone who has depression… hey. I’m not going to tell you to get a therapist, because you might feel like you’re not ready or simply can’t afford it. I’m not going to tell you to talk to your friends, because you might not have any or you feel they just won’t understand. I’m not going to tell you to take a walk or try and cook some healthy food, because I know how those can feel like insurmountable tasks when even taking your trash out is exhausting.

I’ll be here in the trenches, the unwashed dishes, the dirty pile of laundry. I’ll be here with you, and when you finally muster up enough strength to leave your bed, I’ll say:

“This sucks.”