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Ask HN: Coming out of a long bout of depression, need some life advice.
25 points by c250d07 on April 2, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 20 comments
I’ve always had an interest in computers, but studied Sociology in university. I finished my degree during the summer of 08--right before the recession hit my area very hard. Then I took up a lot of random writing and entry level programming freelance gigs to make the rent (kind of a digital blue-collar worker).

Since then, I’ve been going through a very long period of anxiety and depression (long family history), sometimes very severe. After a lot of counseling, some medication, and getting my shit together (exercise, diet, etc), I feel like I’ve finally gotten better.

I feel like I’m transitioning into a new period of life. Work feels so much easier to do. But, I can’t help but feel guilty. A lot of years feel like they’ve been wasted and some pretty bad mistakes were made when I first started freelancing.

Needless to say, I’m going to continue to pursue programming and eventually entrepreneurship.

Any words of advice would be greatly appreciated.

I recommend meditation. You can either find a group in your area (which is also great for making friends) or read books by Pema Chodron or others.

Meditation is, in my experience, a great way to deal with guilt. (And I say this having dealt with guilt a lot.) You don't try to fight the guilt, or deny anything. You just experience it briefly if it comes, and then return your focus to your breathing.

I'm in the early stages of starting mindfulness meditation. Would you recommend one form of meditation over another for dealing with guilt?

You may want to choose according to the groups in your area. For example, here in the bay area I'm familiar with San Francisco Zen Center, and Spirit Rock which is up in Marin county but has teachers all over the bay area.

It helped me a lot to have a group to sit with weekly. How you feel about the group is a pretty good way to choose.

The individual schools are really pretty similar. Tricycle is a magazine that publishes articles from teachers from the three major schools of Buddhism. When you read it you realize the fundamentals are very much the same in each school.

Once you have studied for a while you will view guilt very differently. Through equanimity you can learn to see things as they really are without judging them. It's hard to explain through this iPhone keyboard, but I can assure you that it's about the best thing you can do to shift your perspective to become more compassionate towards yourself and others.

I do mindfulness meditation, because I like it. "Insight meditation" is another name for a same/similar kind of meditation.

It helps me be in touch with my emotions/body/appetite etc. Even when they're unwell. I would otherwise shy away from acknowledging/considering/contemplating things I don't like. Sometimes this helps me when I feel overcome with guilt (for me I usually feel guilty about minor things that I only feel guilty about because I'm a perfectionist who is appalled by hurting a metaphorical flea. Or, regrets.).

If other people know other kinds of meditation better, I'd love to hear about them too.

I'm rather a beginner. Please ask someone with more experience than me!

Find a style that suits you and a teacher you trust and work with them. Even though meditation is all on you, it helps to have a good teacher to advise you when things get difficult.

It gets better. I know that may sound trite, but having been there and done that my life is much, much better than it was. In fact, I love my life.

Some things to know:

First, it's not your fault. Learn from the past and move on.

Know a good psychiatrist, someone who listens to you and can help you find the right drugs. There's no magic bullet and and you may have to try a few things to find what works best for you. I made a point of researching depression and brain chemistry, at least enough to get a sense of what was working for me and (possibly) why, and was able to bring suggestions for newer drugs for treatment to my doctor.

If you're on meds, the drugs that work may not always work, so be mindful that you may need to switch meds.

You may not have to take meds forever. But even if you do it's no worse than a diabetic needing insulin shots.

Some people like to stigmatize the mentally ill. They can go fuck themselves.

I pissed away a lot of time (long story) and would love to get it back, but that's not going to happen, so the next best thing is to make the most of what time is left.

While it sucks to have depression, we're the lucky ones; not everyone makes it. Be grateful, and make the most of what you have.

If you, or any other HN'er, wants to contact me about depression, my info is in my profile. It can help to talk to people, but it's hard for people to understand if they've not been through it themselves.

> If you're on meds, the drugs that work may not always work, so be mindful that you may need to switch meds.

Much like you did, I researched the hell out of this. And after a lot of reading I determined it would be best to take meds in combination with talk therapy (CBT in my case). Happily, this worked, and I'm no longer on anything other than the occasional Xanax.

> so the next best thing is to make the most of what time is left.

That is very true, and I forget about this fact when thinking about all that time that's been, as you say, pissed away.

Thank you very much for your thoughtful reply.

I have suffered from bipolar disorder for more than 10 years. I have been hospitalized once for 2 weeks. I felt like a complete failure. But as time went on things got better. Here is some advice. Don't make any big decisions while you are are feeling like shit. Be patient, it will get better. As time goes on the guilt will disappear. Last but certainly not least, never ever go off your medication no matter how good you feel. Hang in there, you will be fine. :-)

Along the lines of 'never ever go off your medication'...pay attention to what you eat and how it affects you. It took me a long time to connect that some foods (like sugar) can trigger depressive states and even longer to undo the habits.

Don't dwell on what you might have done differently in the past. It's done; there's no changing it. In economic terms, it's a sunk cost[1].

What you can control is what you do today and in the future. That's where you should focus your energies.

[1] http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/sunk-cost.html

It's great to hear that you've gotten better and want to pursue programming. A vital piece of advice I'd like to share is to Live Curious. Never stop learning. Keep trying new things. Connect with as many people as you can. Learn to cook. Get a bike. Visit random places. But most importantly, don't forget to have fun and make friends.

> I've been going through a very long period of anxiety and depression... I can’t help but feel guilty.

Life is arduous. It can really get lonesome pretty quickly. But take my word for it, you have no reason to feel guilty. The time you think was "wasted" was actually spent morphing you into a better human being. Be proud of the fact that you were able to get over your depression. We are all here for you.

On a different note, I'd love to help you learn programming. Shoot me an email if you feel inclined to.


You could also look around for people looking for freelancers here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3783658

Everything you say is good, including the last line about freelancers. But I wonder if the alternative of a steady job might also be worth considering, just to remove the stress of finding the next gig for a couple of years.

A steady job is a very good idea (depending on who you ask). I just didn't want to make the assumption that he has a large enough skill set for a regular programming job.

The cool thing is, he could back into a programming job. Intern, QA, semi-technical gopher, job got through a friend, whatever. He seems to have some chops. If he's there for M months, and moves himself into a programming job for N months, he gets to say on his resume:

    M to N
    Role: Programmer, etc, etc
It's an option among options.

Indeed. That'd be incredible if he can manage that. Plus, he'll gain a lot experience.

I may very well have enough experience for a steady coding job, as I have had an entry level coding job before. But, there were never a lot of coding jobs in my area, and even less so since the recession came in.


The UK Office for National Statistics (a respected, trustworthy organisation) say that 1 in 4 people will suffer a mental health problem at some point during their lifetime. (This includes many very mild forms of illness.) They also say that 1 in 6 people will suffer a MH problem severe enough to need treatment.

Imagine for a moment that you had broken a limb. You'd wear a cast for a while. Maybe you'd need to use a crutch or a sling. And when the cast was removed you'd gently exercise to build up strength.

Would you feel guilty about that? Why?

You say that you feel like so many years have been wasted. Those years have not been wasted. You have learnt valuable things. You have learnt techniques to recognise and deal with stress. You have learnt the importance of good eating and sleeping. You are working. You now have a set of skills that other people don't have.

You say that you wasted some years. Well, so what? The only thing that affects is savings plans - compound interest is handy. But that's easy to fix. You just live frugally and pay more in now. Everything else is fine. People change their lives and do different things all the time.

Did you learn any Cognitive Behaviour Therapy techniques? Perhaps you could apply those to your feelings of guilt / anxiety?

But, importantly, congratulations on taking back control of your life. I very much hope that your recovery journey continues. Good Luck!!

Read and understand about "Cognitive Distortions" - the methods we use to lie to ourselves. It has helped me significantly. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_distortion

I also suggest you enroll in an MBA program, even one class at a time, if necessary. Optimism is alive and in abundance in MBA programs, and it will infect you in a positive way. Plus, the skills gained will support practically everything you want to do for the rest of your life.

If an MBA program sounds suspicious to you, pick any issue of Harvard Business Review and read it cover to cover. The articles are "how to" for business situations, but in reality are describing how to accomplish goals at the edges of one's capabilities. That's infectious too.

And, of course, exercise 3-6 times a week, eat all your meals, eat healthy meals, get good sleep, and completely ignore recreational drugs, including alcohol. There's always time for that crap after you have some professional and financial security beneath you.

A book I really got inspired by: "How to be a Billionaire". http://www.amazon.com/How-Billionaire-Proven-Strategies-Tita...

hey thanks for posting this, I'm about to start wellbutrin this month myself

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