What depression takes from you 2.

Mild trigger warning here; I talk about depression and what it’s like to experience it (at least for me). 

A few weeks ago, I wrote this post about what depression takes from you in terms of learning.

I decided to write an addendum to that post after learning about @SomberScribbler, who beautifully illustrates what it’s like to be depressed, sort of like Allie Brosh did on Hyperbole-and-a-half, but distinct from it too.

I’m sure there’s a drug commercial for an SSRI that’s done this, but here’s my version of trying to illustrate what it’s like walking around when you’re really depressed:

depressed vs non-depressed


That’s a picture of my desk. On the left is how the camera (and my eye perceives it when normal. I’ve darkened it on the right to demonstrate the depressive view of the world. Though it’s not literally that dark, everything really is muted. The coffee cup stands out in both pictures; I could focus on coffee when I was at my most depressed, it’s something I drink nearly every day. Things around me were dulled. I wasn’t sharp. Note, there are no people; connection is something depression really robs you of; it makes you think no one will understand or get it. There was a great twitter stream regarding mentors and their role and finding them, etc. depression can stop you at the first stage; asking someone a question, reaching out for help with something; it’s a lot harder when you’re depressed and your world is muted. And if you’re going to have a career in science, having your brain cut off from the world, from wanting to take the effort to explore, makes it difficult.

The reason you hear that people suffering from depression are extremely strong/tough is this:

Despite that dark world, despite disconnection, despite a flattened world, we persist and many days manage to get things done despite it all.

It’s like light able to escape a black hole; it happens, but it’s not always obvious. And we’re far from being the most effective. Even simple decisions can be impossible at times.

Now, I’ve been doing better for quite awhile now, but am still struggling in some ways. If I don’t get my human connection or exercise, or do other self-care/nurturing things, I can still really suffer. I’d say my world looks a bit like this:

2014-05-25 16.15.22

Some obvious blue sky visible, but clouds can still obscure my view/light from the world. I have to keep moving forward. I have to keep trying new things and continuing to build momentum from being as depressed as I was. And I’ve made very real progress the last few years. In a way, I’m more compassionate, empathetic and stronger for it. I take no one’s mental state for granted or lightly. So I guess that that is an upside of having gone through the hell that it was. Still, life is hard enough without it, so I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else, either. It wouldn’t be my chosen method of building mental toughness (an important trait to develop, to be sure).

So if you’re depressed and it’s interfering with your life, get help; talk to someone, friend, family, mental-health professional. Type depression into Google; many places have the signs/symptoms listed and it is very treatable in most cases; and I think that catching it early is probably very beneficial).








I recently re-listened to the ‘On Being’ interview with Jennifer Michael Hecht author of the book ‘Stay’ that I read about on Brain Picker. It’s all about making a non-religious based argument against suicide. And there really are reasons to stay. Be assured, your absence will be noticed. I won’t go into all the arguments why here, but it’s true.

Watching the latest episode of ‘Cosmos:ASO’ last night, Neal Tyson walks through the fact that we’re the legacy of all those organisms that struggled for survival on Earth before us. That’s one reason to stay. There are many, many others.

Last week, I casually wrote a Gchat away message talking about an important experiment I had to set up the following day. And it led to this idea for a reason to stay:

Blog Post Line.


It’s something I’ve told myself the last week or so and it’s good to remind myself that life, in part, is about keeping on trying. I am doing things now that I couldn’t have possibly done a few years ago and it’s because I stayed; there was a time I didn’t want to.

The future isn’t really written in stone, as much as scientists try to do predictive work; it only applies to rather narrowly defined experiments, nothing like life. So it’s not only saying ‘Stay’, but also to crib one idea from science: to try new things and find those that work; discard those that don’t, and to keep creating, tinkering, interacting, acting, thinking, insert favorite present participle here– we’re only here once.

There is problem within academia surrounding poor mental health of too many people in it– particularly amongst young Ph.D. career path people. The reasons vary, but the added pressures of the highest career uncertainty for Ph.D.s and postdocs now surely is  a contributing factor.

Tomorrow is an important experiment to do, find something new that might work for you and even if things don’t work out, you’ve at least fought in the arena,







The man box.

The depression box.

The academic box (aka The Ivory Tower)

And the related postdoc box  (feel particularly stuck in this one).

The perfectionist box.

The impostor box.

The introvert box.

The anxiety box.

The shy box.

The ‘I’m not and never have been good enough’ box.


That’s the list of boxes I can think that I’ve put myself into. Somehow, the human brain is capable of occupying several boxes at one time; each containing their own universe. Like the episode of “Futurama”, ‘The Farnsworth Parabox’, where the professor creates a series of boxes each containing different versions of the universe trying to replicate ‘Universe A’ (not to be confused with ‘Universe 1/Universe B’/‘The Mongooses’).

One of Walt Whitman’s lines is “I am large, I contain multitudes”.

Minds are like the TARDIS in “Doctor Who”: bigger on the inside. Plus, the TARDIS is not limited by much- it can travel in time and space. So can minds. “Reading Rainbow” taught several generations that idea.

These three cultural references evoke cosmoses, not isolated boxes that we often occupy; boxes are isolating and limiting (even when they might contain something as large as Universe A).

I’ve been thinking a lot about boxes, limits and other things that seem to have limited my life. Not least of which is my own brain putting the breaks on actually getting out and doing things.

A discussion on Twitter about the leaky pipeline metaphor being problematic and preventing women particularly from moving onto careers they want; in other words, keep the pipeline intact, we need women to stay in STEM! Leaving is betraying the cause. Of course there need to be more women in STEM fields, but if the ones who end up there don’t want to be there, that’s a problem for inspiring yet more women to enter a STEM discipline.

If a woman with a STEM background decides the traditional academic/research route isn’t for her & moves onto something she does want to do, I imagine she makes a much better case for it to someone else who’s considering the traditional academic STEM career track (that might be just right for that person). Not that there’s even a standard track anymore. Everyone in STEM has to hustle even more to just stay put it seems.

Smash the pipe and rip up the tracks. Pursue what you want because you want it, not because someone else is putting pressure on you to do it (pressure isn’t always a bad thing, just has to be applied in the right place/time/manner). I need to be reminded constantly to not feel like I’m constrained where I am. I’d like to be a good ambassador for science, but have had a hard time doing that from my current career vantage point.

I’ve mentioned Carol Dweck’s growth mindset idea before, that is a lot more flexible and allows people to learn things and grow into them rather than getting frustrated when something doesn’t just click and giving up because of it. I grew up and spent most of my adult life with that fixed mindset. Through a lot of hard work, I’m flipping my thinking to adopt a growth mindset to learn new things. It’s not just healthier in education, I think it’s healthier in life too; you are encouraging yourself to try new things more often. If you fall on your face, well, maybe that’s bad, but you tried and if you got some thrill out of it and you liked it, you’ll try again and do better the next time.

The education we get in the US too often rewards the fixed mindset it seems to me. As a result, people who tend to be perfectionist, high strung and otherwise obsessive (me!) don’t try too many new things, or give up easily when they do. Not a very resilient way being.

That can lead to boxes. So can outside cultural forces. If you were used to giving up when something is difficult, I would argue you’re more susceptible to cultural forces as opposed to standing up and being your own person more of the time. Some cultural identity is good, for sure, but if it’s put you into a restrictive box, that’s definitely a problem. After all, to be noticed is to be distinct in some way. There’s a reason we’re not all the same person.

It can be hard to let other people know that you’re unique and just how you’re unique- every geek/nerd (terms I use interchangeably) probably has experienced this first hand. We tend to be the ones who get teased for our interests, whatever those are (even from fellow geeks/nerds- it can be fine if it’s done lovingly, but often it’s not).

The last few years, I’ve been slowly unpacking the boxes I occupy and I suppose in a way, re-integrating myself into a whole person. At my most depressed- in that box- I felt like a shadow, invisible a lot of the time, barely there when I was visible and just a shift in the light away from disappearing into the dark. I felt like a lot of me was missing. It was probably there, but wasn’t visible to me because I was inside the very dark box.

Opening that box, as well as working on opening others I’ve felt myself trapped in has helped. The thing that needs to happen more now is opening the final big box of who I am and showing it to the world. I’ll do this in part by asking– still a hard thing for me to do. Talking more about those weird things I’m interested in. Letting people know that I exist and have needs, desires, ambitions, and wants, and just being fine with that.

In many ways, I’m just becoming aware of those things myself and identifying what they are.

Some boxes I’m OK being in; and they’re open ones- I’m a Whovian that still needs to try and watch the original run series episodes pre-2005, but I don’t have a strong desire to, for instance.

Have you put yourself into boxes? Have others? Has the broader culture?

Sunshine is required for life on Earth as we know it; that’s why open boxes are important- they’ll help you live more authentically and confidently.

Ever on and on.




“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”- Leonard Cohen

I haven’t done the best job about letting light in. Or showing my cracks. 

I continue to feel isolated in my own world.

Pushing my comfort zone with calculated risk doesn’t seem to be my thing. And it needs to become a habit of mine.


Where does the smile go? It doesn’t come out often enough. I don’t go out often enough. 

It’s an indicator that I might still be fairly depressed about things in my life. 

The easy distractions still get to me. 

I ruminate.

Don’t laugh.

I numb my emotions. 

I don’t always have a lot of energy. Or feel like being out in the world.

I want to feel more light more of the time. Laugh more. 


Maybe there is some light at the end of my tunnel, even if it appears millions of miles away.

Can you see venus through the rings of Saturn? 

That’s how far the light at the end of my tunnel feels a lot of the time. 

At least it’s visible now. I truly didn’t think it was before. 

I must keep writing. Doing. Asking. Talking. Deciding. Finishing. Learning. Lightening.