Election Day, Primary Edition

Multnomah county primary nominating ballot with blue "Birdie" Bernie Sanders campaign sticker

It’s Oregon primary time, and today or maybe Monday I’m casting my ballot.

Multnomah county primary nominating ballot with blue "Birdie" Bernie Sanders campaign sticker

What? Isn’t the whole point of an Election Day that it’s one day, so it all happens at once and what happens earlier can’t influence what happens later?  To that I say, “Ha.” The primary in general is ridiculous — a traveling circus of states that lasts half a year!

From Iowa in February to California in June, it’s one long drawn out “what happened yesterday decides what needs to happen tomorrow” roadshow based on an era before we had such things as airplanes, cell phones (hell, phones at all!), and the internet. It doesn’t take 6 months to address the whole country these days, and there is no good reason for primary season to last this long. All the money that we spend on contributing to political campaigns, if put instead toward the programs the candidates promote, could fund a lot of  programs. About $350 million has been reported* in spending so far in 2016 (view by candidate). And primary season isn’t even over yet — then we start on the spending for a general election in November. In 2012, about $2.4 billion was spent on the race between Obama and Romney. Mark Jaquith wrote a post back then pitching how we could improve elections that I liked, though it wouldn’t solve it all. Anyway, we really need election reform. Which brings me to voting and to this tweet that I saw this morning:

Making Election Day a national holiday wouldn’t work. The people who don’t have enough schedule flexibility to vote on a single day currently are working class people — the same people who always have to work on Labor Day and other national holidays because they work in non-unionized service-based jobs and don’t actually get the day off. In fact, based on sales and tourism, many of these jobs get extra staff added on Labor Day (a cruel irony given the intent of a “workingmen’s holiday”).

And even if they shut down the whole country except for election booths (which would obviously be impossible, but let’s pretend just for the length of these couple of sentences), it still wouldn’t work. No one would run even a 5-question survey on the internet for just one day — across the board with surveys it’s a couple of weeks to ensure people have time to learn about it, to be reminded to do it, and to actually do it. Sure, you get the bulk of responses when you first open the voting, but the trail over the next couple of weeks, including the surge at the end before the deadline, makes up a significant chunk of responses. Now why is that okay? Because the results aren’t made public until the voting period closes. Ongoing publicized “returns” aren’t the norm, so as not to influence later votes. We can do this with voting.

With a vote by mail system like Oregon has, you get a ballot in the mail (this has some issues when it comes to the homeless population and to peripatetic wanderers, but those are solvable) and you have a couple of weeks to turn it back in, either by mail or in person. In this case, if I wanted to mail in the ballot, I would have needed to get it into the mail by yesterday, May 12, and since I didn’t, I’ll need to drop it off at any dropbox between now and election day. On election day, the dropbox location turns into a voting center for the day. Mine is the neighborhood branch library, located on a major street on a major busline, making it an easy stop for someone on their way to work at Fred Meyer (for example) if they didn’t get around to mailing it. I will say that I think the ballots should be no postage required… getting stamps is a hurdle for a lot of people.

But this system works. Sort of. For someone who wants to vote, it’s easy. You have enough time to research candidates if you’re into that sort of thing. There’s no long line or anxiety-causing crowd. You have a couple of weekends to do it. It’s about the least effort per vote there could be, short of making it an online survey someone could do on their phone. For people who don’t really care about voting, or who don’t open the mail because of anxiety, it’s less effective, but realistically those people probably wouldn’t be chomping at the bit to go to a voting booth — and in any case, they still have that option on election day. And they simply don’t reveal the votes until the end, just like with a survey. So you can vote at the beginning or you can vote at the end, and it makes no difference, since no one knows how each precinct is skewing along the way. You can even register online to track the mailed ballot to ensure they receive it. We should adopt this system nationally. Oregon has plenty of problems, not to mention a horrendously racist history, but it’s got the best voting system as far as I’m concerned. (Coincidentally, it was also the first state to adopt Labor Day as a holiday.)

So I’m voting for Bernie Sanders. I think Hillary Clinton is entirely capable — before Bernie entered the race I was planning to support her, and if she wins the nomination I will — but Bernie Sanders is just a lot closer to my values. He also doesn’t really have that politician flip-flop thing, which Clinton does. I loved him as my VT representative, and then as my VT senator, and he’s just the best. Pretty old, and a white guy, which gives me some Feelings that are less comfortable, but my gosh, of all the old white guys in the world that we could put in the white house, he is The One. You know, because Stephen Fry isn’t even American. :)

*Speaking of reporting money, if you haven’t heard of dark money, it’s worth a quick primer.

End of an Era (for me)

On Friday I’ll be leaving my job at Automattic, and my position in the WordPress community. I’ve poured my life into WordPress for 8 years, longer than I’ve ever stuck around at anything else, and it will be super weird to lose a job, a social circle, and an all-encompassing everything all at once. But while this wasn’t a change I had planned on (well, only planned for 3 weeks, anyway) I know that it will be better for me.

For the next month I am going to focus on getting my health in shape under my doctor’s care — it went to hell during my a8c tenure for various reasons — and figuring out what I need to do to go back and finish up the degree I was a month from obtaining before I walked away from it to work on the prototype that would become WordPress 2.7. Also, I’ll finally rip up the invasive plants in my yard and put in a garden and some native plants. And I’ll keep doing acupuncture. I’ll probably start writing again. Practice Spanish. Maybe re-learn how to play the guitar enough for a backyard singalong or two.

After that, we’ll see. Maybe a new ux or product challenge. Maybe something different. Maybe leave tech altogether. I’m not really going to think about it much until a month has passed, because I don’t want to jump into something else right away and perpetuate the same overwork patterns I developed over the last 8 years. Habits take time to break. I might take some of that time to write up some of the thoughts I never got around to publishing while I was on the job or to answer any questions that I get asked more than once. Or I might just sit outside feeding stray cats. Who knows?

My wordpress.org email address will not work anymore. If you want to reach me and don’t have my personal email address, you can use the contact form on this site or @jenmylo on Twitter. If you’re a “But I want proof we are connected!” person, I’m on LinkedIn. If you’re a Facebook junkie, I really don’t use it — it gets my Twitter feed but I don’t monitor comments on Facebook or anything like that. I should really just turn off the Twitter feed, probably. So many things to think about when everything changes! Hey, and now I can update my gravatar when my hair changes color, since I won’t be going to WordCamps where I want people to recognize me from online. Maybe I’ll do that next week. Maybe I should pick a new color first. Or go back to purple. So many decisions!

Anyway, to everyone in the WordPress community who enriched my life in some way over the past 8 years, thank you, and maybe we’ll run into each other again sometime. If you’re ever in Portland (Oregon, not Maine) and want to get a chai or Ethiopian food or come feed a stray cat in the backyard, let me know!

Take Me to Church (Part I)

When the local radio station started playing Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” last year, I would hear it in the car, and I liked it. It seemed like a pretty simple song about the conflict between the spiritual experience of sex with someone you love and the rules against premarital sex by the singer’s religion. At some point around then I looked him up and saw an interview in which he described the meaning of the song as it pertained to conflict between religion and sexuality, and specifically related it to being gay and in the Catholic church. He seemed really genuine, and I liked both the song and the artist even more, even if I did think it was a little weird for a man to be singing about a “she” lover if he meant it be about being gay in the church. Then I watched the video — basically a short film about gay male lovers and what happens to them when they’re discovered in their religious town — and I saw how despite the lyrics sounding hetero, they could be applied to the gay couple depicted in the video.

The video is hard to watch because this kind of hateful violence isn’t a relic of a past — gay-bashing is still a real thing, despite the recent Supreme Court decision in the U.S. to uphold marriage as a right rather than a sexuality-based privilege — and for anyone who’s studied American history, the visual similarities to lynch mobs in the south will be stomach-turning, especially with all the racial violence going on in our country today. Still, it’s a powerful four minutes, and worth watching if you haven’t seen it.

Then came the Grammy Awards this year, where he performed the song live and was joined at the end by Annie Lennox (who many said gave a better bluesy rendition, but I like them both). Unfortunately the official Grammy video seems to have been removed but I found a copy. Annie Lennox comes in just after the 2 minute mark, cued up here (and then goes into “I Put a Spell on You”):

When they were singing it, even though though it was past the part of the song where “she” and “her” are in the lyrics, it made me think about how it would sound for a woman to sing this song about another woman (or a man, using he/him instead of she/her).

And then I saw a live cover of the song by Demi Lovato. I couldn’t name you a single one of her songs, but wow. Not only does she sing it beautifully (though I think I like Hozier’s version better overall), it makes so much more sense to interpret as being about gay relationships vs religion when the song about a woman lover is sung by a woman!

You might be wondering why I’ve just posted three “Take Me to Church” videos. Yes, I like the song, but also, church is on my mind, and I’ll tell you why in the Part II post. Stay tuned.

Since 9/11

On September 11, 2001, I was living in Vermont without a tv, and was splitting my morning between working on a website I was building as a freelancer and working on a shooting schedule for an independent film I was getting ready to produce. I got a call from Melissa, a costume designer that I had become friends with and who was working on the film planning with me, and she told me that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I was pretty sure she’d gotten it wrong — she had a tendency toward confusion — but a google search later I was heading to her house to watch.

19 hijackers killed 2,977 people. That number includes 343 fire fighters and 72 law enforcement officers.

We (and at this point it becomes a very loose “we” as I did not support the decision or wave a flag at the vigil in the square) went to war again on the other side of the world (where honestly we’d been hovering around without license for some time), and vowed to kill Osama bin Laden, the Taliban leader we targeted as masterminding the attacks (he didn’t actually take credit for it until 2004). He was finally killed in 2011. I won’t get into all the other things that happened in the U.S. as a result of the attacks, like George Bush’s approval rating soaring to 90% and the declaration that the presidential ballot recount had to be abandoned, because in such a time of national trial, we couldn’t possibly handle a change in leadership, or like the Homeland Security Act that started the sneaky process of stripping us of freedoms.

By October we’d begun the (American) War in Afghanistan, with some troops working under the auspices of NATO and others acting under U.S. guidance only. We still have troops there, and 2,229 US military were killed in the conflict, with another 18,675 wounded. Numbers vary on how many Afghan civilians have been killed, with various non-profits putting the number anywhere from 21,000 to 107,000, with a significant portion killed by insurgents rather than invading military. Even assuming a 75% rate for kills by insurgents, that still puts us at anywhere from 5,250 – 42,500 Afghan civilians killed by invading forces.

Then we moved on to Iraq. I think most of us remember the rousing headlines as Bush declared it was necessary because they had Weapons of Mass Destruction including biological agents that fed our science fiction fears. And then the report saying that well, maybe not, and that they knew better, but the war was still righteous, right? I can’t even start listing the numbers of dead without getting stomach cramps. And it all stems back to that one morning, when 2,229 people were killed by a terrorist group — not a nation or a government, but a specific group of radicals.

This year alone, U.S. police have killed more than 800 people (not counting people killed after they’re in custody). In previous years, hundreds more (each year). We don’t have to go back more than  couple of years to see that U.S. police have killed more American citizens than the 9/11 attacks. But where is the war on the police status quo? Why is our government not responding to this clear sign of abuse of power, poor training, and racism (as an overwhelming number of the people being killed are African-American)? Why isn’t Obama getting up at his podium and instead of saying sad things about how awful this is and how it has to change, saying something like, “Y’all are DONE. Effective immediately, Homeland Security is amending its mission to focus on defending the rights and lives of citizens from unlawful acts including search and seizure, unlawful detainment, improper arrest, being beaten by police, and oh yeah — getting killed by the motherfucking cops. Until this change can be fully implemented and all police forces undergo a national review, specially trained National Guard members will be supplementing police forces and will have full authority to fire and arrest any officers or related officials such as medical examiners, sheriffs, DAs, etc. who’ve been abusing the trust and power granted them by the U.S. people. That goes for corrupt cops, too, y’all. Okay, now I have to go back to trying to figure out this Iran deal. Behave!” (In this little fantasy sequence, Obama says “y’all” a lot and admonishes everyone to behave, like a mother leaving her kids alone when she goes into the kitchen to make dinner.)

I don’t think that’s going to happen, though.

In the meantime, check out Campaign Zero. Follow some people on Twitter who are keeping up with this stuff and making it easy for you to be informed (and horrified) on a daily basis. When you hear someone responding to #BlackLivesMatter with racist rhetoric or an announcement that #AllLivesMatter, set those people straight about what is going on in our country, and let them know that although they are positive they aren’t racist because they have a black friend/girlfriend/spouse/etc, they’re wrong. Explain about privilege. Use yours to try and balance the scales where you see injustice, whether it’s race-related or not.

And yes, take a moment today to remember the people who died in the 9/11 attacks, and the soldiers who died fighting in the wars (they’re not the ones who decided we should go, after all). But take another moment to think about all the people we have killed in those wars since then (take a few moments, since the number is so much higher). And think about the people killed by the police right here at home, and their families, and the lost possibilities. Maybe today can just be a sad day, once you start adding up all those moments.

But tomorrow? Please start paying more attention (if you already do, great!), and speaking up, and doing what you can to effect change in your own way. When we don’t speak up when we see bad things happen or people saying something racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/all-the-bad-isms, it implies we approve, and encourages the continuation of that behavior. It’s uncomfortable to bring up, for both the person pointing it out and the person on the receiving end (I’ve been in both positions), but it makes things better in the long run.

Of course with climate change it may all be irrelevant, but we might as well give it a shot just in case we live, right? :)

Folk Music Hopscotch

You know how you go to look something up online and you wind up on Wikipedia, and by the time you have clicked links from one article to another, hours have gone by? (If not: that happens to me more often than I’d like.) Yesterday through today has been a similar kind of one-to-another hopscotch, but this time with music on youtube. I used to be pretty into folk music in my late teens/early 20s, and this was a revisit that reminded my why I enjoyed it so much.

I started with Buffy Sainte Marie, because I’m taking a class on Urban Natives and being a better ally and in some of my research I came across a great interview with her in Vanity Fair. It mentioned that her new record includes a remix of a song from her first, which made me want to hear that original version again.

“It’s My Way” came out in 1964, right around the time the Beatles landed in the U.S. She’s 74 now, and in addition to making music in a bunch of genres, she has been an amazing activist.

From there I went on to Buffy Saint Marie’s appearance on Pete Seeger’s TV show Rainbow Quest in 1965, singing “Cindy” as a duet.

This made me start thinking about Pete Seeger (look how young he was!) and his amazing career, which also blended music with social justice work. Then I started thinking about Americana, bluegrass, and country music. This is country music to me; despite taking guilty pleasure in watching Nashville, most of that music seems more like indie stuff or pop of one stripe or another.

I got a copy of Rise Up Singing back in 1988 when it came out, the first summer I worked at the ADK Loj. I was 16 and had never been to the mountains, had never been to camp, had never really been around people with liberal politics (I was a Reagan supporter like the rest of my family then), and had never, well, just about anything. The illicit Winds of the People was used at campfire singalongs after work, and when Rise Up Singing came out we all bought copies to support the cause (and to have more copies of the songbook).

The first recording I had of Pete Seeger was on a mix tape the following summer, back at ADK Loj again. A mix tape for the kitchen crew contained “Darling Corey,” sandwiched between songs by Michelle Shocked and Tracy Chapman, iirc.

Thinking of Pete Seeger, I was reminded of his death last year, about 6 months after his wife Toshi. That made me pull up and play the memorial concert that was put on after his death, outside at Lincoln Center.

If you’ve ever seen A Mighty Wind, it’s kind of like that, but real, and more diverse, and with all the musicians really committed to social justice. Some of the singers have amazing vocal talents, while others warble a bit. Many have grown old, but the younger generations are there as well, because Pete and Toshi Seeger were basically like the glue of the folk/music for social change community.

Pete Seeger wrote way more songs that you’d recognize than you would ever guess.

The final performer in the memorial concert is Holly Near, who I first listened to in 1990 (yet another summer at ADK Loj). By that point I was ordering feminist folk music and other CDs by women from a newsprint catalog called Ladyslipper. Ladyslipper is how I came across Holly Near, Mercedes Sosa, Sweet Honey in the Rock, k.d. lang, Clannad (and Enya), Alix Dobkin, Ferron, Ani DiFranco, Joan Armatrading, Buffy Sainte Marie (!), Alison Krauss, Melissa Etheridge, Lucinda Williams, Phranc, and Sarah McLachlan. Also the excellent compilation Will the Circle be Unbroken Vol. II, which in turn introduced me to even more singers that walked the line between folk and country and bluegrass.

It’s weird to think about how different music discovery was then, how getting an album from a catalog sight unseen was so normal… these days I rarely buy anything without listening to a sample or two online. It’s also weird to think that if someone linked me to the Ladyslipper site today, I would be really unlikely to buy anything because it looks kind of cheesy/not up to date and doesn’t have any descriptions. My memories of getting the new Ladyslipper catalog are so much warmer — hand-drawn illustrations and oovy-groovy woman-positive imagery graced the pages packed the CD listings (now that I think about it, just as inexpertly as on the website, just a lot cooler), and I would devote an entire afternoon to leafing through it and placing an order when it arrived.

By the time the memorial concert was over I had cried at least 4 times. That got me thinking about the power of songs and lyrics and other music that was equally powerful, and I started thinking about Crosby, Stills & Nash. Also, since Judy Collins had opened the tribute, I wanted to hear Suite Judy Blue Eyes. I wound up on a live version from 2012, 43 years after they first released it.

That led to the 1991 concert they did as a tribute to Bill Graham in San Francisco.

Their lyrics are just amazing.

Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now.

When I think about the lyrics in most of the indie pop/rock I have listened to the past 15 years or so, I have to wonder how much of it will hold up or be relevant in 40 years. Not so much, I think. I mean, I do give a fuck about an oxford comma,

but that sentiment isn’t exactly a timeless piece of universal truth, you know?

While on the amazing lyricist train, I had to play the concert in Central Park by Simon and Garfunkel from 1981.

Then I went back to the Pete Seeger memorial concert and listened to the part where  Peter Yarrow  led a singalong of Down by the Riverside and If I Had a Hammer.

Even if you never heard of Peter Yarrow, or Pete Seeger, or Kim & Reggie Harris, or Holly Near, or Judy Collins, or any of the rest of the performers, if that segment doesn’t touch you, you are made of ice. I think I’m going back to folk music.

Cell Phones, Engagement, & Disconnection

My cell phone runs out of juice all the time, and I don’t realize it until those moments when I need to call/text someone or when I need to hit up Google Authenticator for 2fa. When I’m out and about, I use it as a computer mostly for things like looking up something that came up in conversation that we can’t quite remember. I don’t have notifications set for all the sites and email accounts and slack channels and stuff that bombard me when I am on my laptop. I usually feel (because of the things people in the tech community say to me when they see me so blasé about mobile availability and my resistance to enabling all the push notifications) like a lone wolf luddite in a forest of cell-addicted people. When friends or colleagues constantly break eye contact to check their phones sitting on the tables in front of them I think it is super rude (though I also think it is an actual addiction and they don’t do it any more consciously than someone else might bite their nails). So I really loved this article today. I’m not a lone wolf luddite! :)

Go ahead and write off 20 percent of your day. You’re going to spend it gazing into your phone.

Even when we’re not actually using our phones, they still distract. A recent study found that performance on basic tests of attention gets worse if a cellphone is merely visible nearby.

“Engagement” is a common business goal for the design of so many websites, apps, and services. We lure people in and try to figure out how to get them to stay. We tell ourselves that our goal is to “delight” users, but I think we’ve lost the thread of what the word actually means. We seem to think it means keeping people distracted and busy. When you say “engagement,” I now hear “theft of attention.”

Read the full article: Connected // Disconnected.

This is Depressing: A Tale of Mental Health (or Not)

I tried to kill myself when I was 7.

Being 7, my options were limited, so I went with something I’d overheard some adults discussing (related to an distant family member) and thought jumping out of a window was the best plan, since I had access to a window. My bedroom was on the second floor, with a casement window right next to the Barbie townhouse with the string-operated elevator.

Since it was the kind commonly called an awning window, with the hinge on the top edge and the crank arm at the bottom right in the middle of the window opening (which wasn’t very big to begin with), a dramatic leap wasn’t an option.

This is the kind of window I’m talking about:

awning window, opened

An awning window with the same style crank arm and about the same opening as the window in this story. Photo from Greatland Windows.

I squeezed my skinny little body through the opening while holding on to the crank arm. But then instead of a fast leap to a quick and easy death as I’d imagined it, I found myself dangling from the crank arm. That was kind of scary, and I reconsidered for a minute or so. I was a champion at the arm hang back then, which came in handy in this instance, but the crank arm was digging into my hands and I eventually let go and fell to the ground.

Nothing happened. The house wasn’t all that tall, the 2nd story was really just a finished attic, and the window in question was at floor level, so the drop was probably only about 10 feet. For a moment I thought that as a consolation prize maybe I’d broken my leg or ankle and would get a cast out of it (a classmate had a cast around that time and everyone was signing it, which I thought was cool), but no. I limped — my ankle did kind of hurt from how I fell on it — over to the restaurant bar where my mother was working (we lived in the house directly behind, as she was the manager) and told her I’d fallen out the window. I was informed that if I was walking I was fine. She handed me the soda gun and said I could make a suicide (the combine-all-the-sodas drink that was in vogue with me and my brothers and friends) to make myself feel better. Ah, the unintended irony. I drank my Pepsi + 7-up + Root Beer + Orange + Dr. Pepper + Tonic and decided that maybe things weren’t so bad and I could stick it out a while longer.*

A few weeks later at my grandmother’s house I decided to try again. I went into the bathroom and read the labels on all the cleaning products in the cabinet. I chose the aerosol can of Dow Scrubbing Bubbles, aimed it at the back of my throat, and pressed the button. A tiny bit of mist came out, but the can was empty. I was aggravated for two reasons:

  1. Suicide denied.
  2. Who puts an empty container away instead of throwing it out?

After that I got a steak knife from her kitchen and went back to the bathroom and tried cutting my wrists (I watched a lot of soap operas with my grandmother, so I was sure this method would be effective). It was as I was sawing back and forth (my grandmother’s steak knives were, I now realize, exceptionally dull), having just barely broken the skin and gotten a drop or two of blood — from abrasion rather than opening an artery — that my grandmother caught me. Oh, was I in trouble.

  1. How did I think it would make her feel to discover my dead body? It would kill her! I don’t get to kill myself! I have to live! It’s not my right to hurt other people just because my life is hard!**
  2. Had I learned nothing from General Hospital? To slit your wrists you cut lengthwise on the artery, not crosswise, or it will clot up too fast for you to die from it. Come on!

This interaction is the reason that despite later occurrences of depression in my life, including several straight years recently of lying in bed thinking about how much easier it would be to be dead (thanks, depression brain!), I have never seriously considered taking that exit route despite its attractiveness (to the aforementioned depressed brain, not to my logical mind). For me, guilt is stronger than depression.

What does that have to do with my life now?

I have suffered from depression on and off for most of my adult life. For the past 10 years or so, I have suffered from severe chronic depression with anxiety. About 4 of the past five years that depression included constant suicidal ideation. The early trauma that made a 7-year-old — think about that, 7 years old — believe that life was not worth living because it all hurt too much laid groundwork in my brain that would punish me the rest of my life. Thanks, neurology!

It’s Mental Health Awareness Month, and I’m sharing my story because knowing you are not alone helps.

In my late teens and 20s, I would have a major depressive episode every couple of years, each lasting 1-3 weeks. I’d hole up and hide from the world, and re-read all my favorite books until it passed, the same escape/coping mechanism I’d used as a child. It wasn’t enjoyable, but I was under the impression that it was normal, never having known anything different, and was just sort of used to it.

In between episodes, I was relatively shy/introverted, but generally happy and cheerful. I had left my hometown and the socio-economic tier of my childhood, and I felt pretty damn lucky and fortunate. I had tons of energy. Andrea (who’s known me for more than 20 years) and I sometimes compare the me of today to the me of when we met and struggle to understand how/why the brain does what it does. Back then, if our coworkers were sitting around looking bored I would just start jumping as high as I could, until everyone was jumping and laughing and having fun. These days, I need an external reason of some importance (an event, a meeting, an obligation that requires my presence) to get me to do much other than work from my bed. It basically sucks.

So, depression. To explain what it feels like, I tend to point to other people who’ve done a good job of explaining what I have felt. Reading/seeing/hearing their accounts has helped me tremendously in my own battle.

I identify with most of what they are all saying.

I’m not sad. I’m not bummed out. When I was 7? I was definitely sad, and definitely bummed out. Not to mention constantly in fear and pain with what felt like zero stability. Today? I have a life that objectively speaking is really pretty great. I don’t have a lot of things that deserve worry. I am, however, chock full of depression and anxiety. Because depression is a “mental illness,” there is a huge stigma around admitting to it, especially for  people who get a lot of their self-worth from being intelligent. The hazy lines between intelligence and emotions and matter-of-fact brain science make it difficult to discuss comfortably, especially once words with multiple meanings come into play. So, I’m depressed — severely, clinically, according to docs — but I’m not sad, or bummed out. My brain, in this specific way, doesn’t work the way it’s expected to work, not anymore. This post is scary to be writing and will be even scarier to publish, but being a little brave on my own behalf is probably good for me, and hopefully it might help someone else who is struggling.

What happened ten or so years ago that caused such an extended bout with depression? Who knows? There was the scooter accident that broke my face and gave me a concussion (concussion increases risk of depression). A couple of years later I moved back to the east coast, closer to my family. I went back to agency work, which required more hours and travel than my publishing job had. My metabolism changed and I started gaining weight despite going up and down the stairs to my fifth-floor walkup all the time. My stepfather got cancer and I helped to take care of him during his treatment even though he’d been an abusive drunk who destroyed my self-esteem during my adolescent and teen years, and then he died. My friend — oh wait. Yeah, that whole help-your-abuser-and-watch-him-die thing was probably the trigger. Damn brain.

Anyway, I stopped going out socially for the most part. I bought a tv for work (we had a lot of network clients and I had to be familiar with their shows during pitch meetings), and fell into the habit of lying in bed staring at the screen, watching DVD box sets I bought at the Virgin megastore on my way home from work. I put less energy into staying in touch with friends because I didn’t feel like I had anything valuable to contribute to my relationships (the friends I had were super cool and impressive, whereas I had devolved from similarly cool and impressive to worthless potato). When I had to go to a meeting or conference for work, I’d just remember how I used to be and feel and would try to act like that even though I didn’t feel that way.

Then I went to work for a distributed company, and lost the sole thing that forced me out of my apartment and to interact with people. I became a  hermit, mostly venturing out only for WordCamps, where I would again just try to remember what I used to be like in social situations and act like that. Sometimes I was successful, and sometimes I failed. Sometimes I had to bail because the depression and anxiety were unconquerable that day. 99% of my interactions were conducted in text online. Having stepped into a position that was contentious in some circles, I was abused by strangers online who had issues with my boss and saw me as an acceptable proxy. Every mean comment chopped away at my self-esteem, even when I knew logically that I was a symbol to them, not a real person. I was a woman in a mostly-male environment, with all that brings. I lost some of my niceness as I tried to protect myself more. The first few years I managed okay (or so I thought), with only an abrupt tone or  sometimes flarey temper to give me away. But.

Then I lost a relationship with one of my best friends. This person hadn’t told me along the way that I’d been changing or behaving unlike the me that was their friend, so when they said one day that they didn’t like me anymore and that I was unpleasant to be around, so we weren’t going to be good friends anymore because they’d been faking it for awhile (jeez, does this sound like an overdone breakup scene or what?) it more or less destroyed me.

The already severe chronic depression intensified, and I had a harder and harder time getting up in the morning. You know the lead aprons they put on you at the dentist when you get x-rays? I felt like I was wearing 3 or 4 full-body lead aprons all the time. It was physical, not just psychological or emotional anymore. It made it really hard to fight it with things that used to help — exercise, eating healthy food, etc. — because I didn’t have the energy to do those things. So I just stayed in bed most of the time working on my laptop, unless I was required to physically be somewhere.

During this time the death thoughts moved in. Not in a “I want to kill myself!” way; my grandmother’s guilt trip about what suicide does to the family was as deeply ingrained in my psyche as the early trauma that kept getting re-triggered. My variation of suicidal ideation was more like lying there and just thinking about how much nicer/easier it would be to not exist anymore. If I wasn’t concerned abut my mother and niece having to deal with my death, I’d have done something about it. The belief that being dead would be better than being alive with depression was so strong that when people I knew and admired killed themselves (attributed to depression) my gut reaction was “Good for them! They made it! I wish I was as brave as them!” I knew logically that their deaths were tragedies, that the world was a lesser place without them, all those things, but I didn’t have normal feelings anymore. My fish were dead.

I have skipped over a lot in this narrative. How I did a lot of emotional work  in my twenties to get past my childhood trauma. Unsuccessful (and frankly, re-traumatizing) attempts at getting help from doctors of western medicine. How the sudden appearance of anxiety caused me to fuck up tons of things, throw money away, and generally not make smart decisions. How the OCD that sprang up in the suicidal/bedridden years meant I was typing and mousing on a laptop for 12-18 hours a day sometimes, causing nerve damage in my arms/wrists/hands. More relationships that died because I wasn’t me anymore.

But there’s also good stuff. The people and things that really did help some during my time “in the pit” — especially the people willing to be true friends and confront me about how I was acting as I fell further and further in, rather than just bailing on our friendship and leaving me to continue being a miserable wreck. Finally finding some help that worked in the form of a naturopath who put me on some stuff that got rid of the suicidal ideation in about 2 days. Not 4-6 weeks — 2 days. Acupuncture helping to keep me on a more even keel. Starting a bluehackers chat room at work for support among co-workers dealing with similar issues. And more stuff.

But there you have it, the very personal, mostly embarrassing/humiliating story of how my brain — which I once loved as my greatest asset — has betrayed me over the years, how I’ve experienced depression, and how you, if you are dealing with this, are not alone.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

If you are considering suicide, please don’t do it. If you don’t have friends and family that can guilt you into staying alive, think about my grandmother! If you don’t have someone you can talk to, call the national suicide prevention lifeline. (When they start calling it a lifeline instead of a hotline? I am so old.)

If you work in open source/technology and suffer from depression, you might check out bluehackers. It’s awesome. If you attend conferences like OS Bridge or OSCON, look for BOF sessions to connect with others in similar straits.

Consider posting your own experiences to help fight the stigma. I’ve had a draft of this post in WordPress for two years. It is scary to tell your secrets, knowing that there are a lot of crappy people out there who will approach you with judgment rather than empathy. To those who are feeling pretty judgy right about now, I can only say that I didn’t choose this. No one does. And quite frankly, I’ve accomplished a fuckload of stuff in the past 10 years that has been beneficial to others, even if on a personal level I was the equivalent of a bitchy vegetable. So if anyone is judging me and other people who deal with this crap, they can take a hike, and they suck.

If you just want to say to someone, “This is crap and I’m dealing with it, too,” without getting into details, drop a comment here or shoot me an email. Connecting with others who deal with this stuff has been huge in helping me dig myself out of the patterns; maybe it will help you, too.

* I’ve told this story before, leaving out the suicidal intent, claiming I was after the cast. That wasn’t why I jumped from the window, it was an afterthought after I landed. Guess what? People don’t like to talk about how they tried to commit suicide or how they’re dealing with mental illness because then people look at you funny and treat you weird and you feel ashamed and embarrassed and you regret saying anything. Welcome to stigma!

** My grandmother’s brother blew his brains out with a gun. Even though she loved me and I’m sure her demands that I stay alive came from a good place — and they did keep me alive — I wonder how much of that reaction was a more selfish thing. Did seeing me with the steak knife trigger her and remind her of losing her brother? She’s dead, so I can’t ask, but I do wonder. Trauma affects so many people.

“I Taught Her Everything I Knew”

I still follow the Savannah Morning News on Twitter. Since I’m not on Twitter that often and when I am there are always at least a couple of people in my timeline who are ranting or RTing a storm, I don’t tend to see Savannah News tweets all that often. I will say that I don’t like how often the tweet is someone’s mugshot, telling of another arrest, or how often it’s a young man with brown skin, because I know for a fact there are plenty of young caucasian men committing crimes in Savannah, but I don’t usually see those mugshots in my timeline. But maybe it’s just my timing, and if I were on Twitter all the time, I would see a balance of mugshots. I suppose it’s possible. Anyway, the reason I still follow the Savannah Morning News is that my mom is still in Savannah, and I still have a lot of affection for Savannah and Tybee, and sometimes they post something that I might want to read. A big storm washing out the Tybee road, a baby whale off Tybee, the death of a rescued turtle at the Tybee Marine Science Center, controversy over trying to get rid of Orange Crush from the Tybee Beach, that sort of thing. I don’t usually click on obituaries, but this time I did.

Teinique Gadson died at the age of 40 yesterday.

Tenique Gadson's facebook header

Tenique Gadson’s facebook header. Her feed is filled with positivity and thanks (and God), and her energy and spirit make you (or me, at least) want to be a better person.

I never met her, but I’d seen her name many times in relation to non-profits in Savannah (17 miles from the city of Tybee, where I lived) that were devoted to helping low-income people/families. When I started acupuncture school and we had to talk about where we might open a community acupuncture clinic in the future to help provide affordable healthcare to low-income/oppressed communities, I immediately thought of Savannah, and Teinique Gadson was the kind of person that I expected to be emailing in a few years if I did decide to head back there. Anyway, she did a lot of work that helped a lot of people, and probably didn’t get paid anywhere near what she was worth, as is the case with most community non-profits. I’m sorry her life ended so soon, both for her and her family, and for the Savannah communities that benefited from her efforts. I hope that some of the people she helped were inspired by her and might choose to give back to the community in kind. Since in addition to the work she did herself helping individuals she also did a ton of volunteer wrangling, I’m pretty sure there will be people carry on in her tradition.

So I clicked through to read this obituary. It mentioned her involvement as a teen with Youth Futures, and how it led her into community-building as a career and into the Executive Director position at the Neighborhood Improvement Association. I hadn’t known much about her background, just her current activity, so I would have liked to read more than 2 sentences about how she got there. I mean, this was an impressive woman, and an inspiring one. I wanted the obituary to outline her accomplishments and challenges and paint a real picture of this person who was so important to so many people in the community. That’s what obits usually do for civic leaders. But it didn’t, really. Then it quoted the previous ED of the NIA, Edward Chisholm, and I was super bummed. He’s also an impressive person who does a lot for the community, but here’s the quote:

Chisolm said he identified Gadson early for her intelligence and as a “person who cared about the organization, the work.”

“I taught her everything I knew,” he said, adding that he “basically hand-picked her. She was very, very insightful, very smart with great ideas. She loved people.”

I like to think that Mr. Chisolm didn’t mean to turn a tribute to Ms. Gadson into self-congratulatory praise about his acumen as a mentor. I like to think that the reporter didn’t realize he just changed the focus of the story from the amazing woman who died to the man who is still living. I like to think these things, because if they’re true it means that these guys don’t subconsciously think that the male accomplishment of recognizing talent trumps the female accomplishment of having and using talent. But it’s Savannah. It’s the U.S. And we are continually socialized this way. So I doubt they thought they were saying or doing anything disrespectful, and I’d guess that Ms. Gadson herself would have been touched to hear Mr. Chisholm say how special she was.

The next time they’re talking about someone special, though, I hope they’ll stick to the part about how special that person was, and not how awesome someone else was for recognizing it. Probably there are some people reading this thinking that I’m too sensitive, that having a great man say in public that he recognized a woman (or anyone) as a worthy successor is high praise indeed. Erm, sure, but there are better ways to laud a mentee than to congratulate the mentor. It could have said something more like:

Chisolm said Gadson distinguished herself early with her intelligence and as a “person who cared about the organization, the work.”

“She absorbed everything that was available to learn, and when it was time to choose my successor as Executive Director of the NIA, she was the only pick,” he said, adding that, “She was very, very insightful, very smart with great ideas. She loved people.”

I know that this is a small thing. That it’s a couple of words. That compared to what’s going on in Baltimore and Nepal right now, this is nothing. But Teinique Gadson kicked serious ass, and those couple of words do make a difference. And for women to be recognized equally for the work they do, one of the things that needs to happen is for men to stop taking credit for discovering them.

An additional post went up on the Savannah Morning News site this morning so that former mayor Otis Johnson could add his praise of Ms. Godson. As Johnson was one of the leaders of the Youth Futures program that gave Ms. Godson her start, it made sense. He said:

“She was evidence of what we were trying to do with the  Youth Futures Authority,” Johnson said, adding she came to the  authority as a young person and worked her way up to director of NIA where she was a founding member.

“I have always been very proud of her  progress,” Johnson said. “She was a sterling example of what we were trying to do and did do, at the Youth Futures Authority.”

“It really distresses me greatly that she was taken away at such an early age.”

Rest in peace, Teinique Godson.

Tiny Desk Concert: Fantastic Negrito

A few weeks ago (months ago? I lose track) I spent several days listening to Tiny Desk Concerts from NPR. At the Press Publish conference in Phoenix recently, I gave a talk on how to publish more posts with less work, and one of the things I suggested was doing a series of embeds to show your readers things you like. In the presentation I used a Tiny Desk concert by a folksinger (and embedded it onto a cat’s blog), but I’ve been thinking about doing a series of Tiny Desk embed posts ever since I heard this show by Fantastic Negrito.

It says a lot that, with almost 7,000 entries to choose from, we selected Fantastic Negrito as the winner of our Tiny Desk Concert Contest. For his winning submission, he performed “Lost In A Crowd” in a freight elevator in Oakland. It was his passion, his voice and his backing band that landed him an invitation to perform behind my desk.
—Bob Boilen, NPR Tiny Desk Concerts