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I’m starting to write more regularly these days. For a long time, I’ve hardly written anything, or only written when external circumstances required me to write something. For example, when I give a talk, I always create a page to “support” the talk, that I can link to in slides, like and

I don’t apologize (usually) when replying to email “slowly”, and when others apologize to me for their own “slow response”, I send them this article: Let’s All Stop Apologizing for the Delayed Response in Our Emails.

I’ve always written primarily for myself (current and future versions of me) and this post is no exception. It’s about depression, and my experience with it.

A year ago, I began noticing unavoidable signs of depression in myself, and noticed that those things had been going on for about a year.

There were a range of trying circumstances I found myself dealing with. The standard kit of “downsides of the human experience”: Death, injury, sickness, strife, despair. Obviously these unwanted influences were affecting the entire world in very public and well-discussed ways, but in specific ways (and in ways unrelated to Covid), these ill winds made intrusions into my own life.

I also found that it felt like my depression was choosing for me certain pathways that made it harder for me to do the kinds of self-care things I usually do. As this happened, my capacity to absorb difficulty diminished, and my ability to provide care for others also diminished. These phenomena were working together in ways that caused a negative feedback cycle.

A few months ago, this thought started passing through my head:

Hey, I should take a stab at writing about this depression thing.

Then, immediately after that, I’d think:

Ew, I don’t want to do that. That’s uncomfortable.

And of course, as is true in many situations, it’s healthy to do that which is uncomfortable.

My depression is/was, in many ways, a reasonable response to certain circumstances (death in family, acute and chronic health problems). But my depression also has explanatory power for other visible phenomena. It is a response to some things, and it has caused other things.

I’ve always found difficult problems to be made more manageable by writing them down. Many other people, much wiser than I am, underscore the same phenomena.

Why I am writing about depression: Current and future me will benefit (and maybe others will too) #

I’ve not written very much in the last four years, and I’ve written almost nothing at all for the last year and a half. I’ve written 23 posts since 2020, and most of them were things that I “had” to write, to support conference talks I gave, presentations, or “explainers” for papers, tutorials, etc. Nothing where I wrote for the sake of making sense of my own life or the world around me.

For contrast, I wrote over 50 posts in the prior two-year period; many of those posts were contributing to me making sense of the world around me.1

There’s other trends and concepts I want to write about, but the “story” doesn’t make sense until I can explain “Oh, yeah, I was super depressed for a long time, and that’s why I did these things, and didn’t do these other things.”

I write these words primarily for myself, right now, while knowing that because of how the internet works, a future version of me might benefit when I re-read these words, or others will benefit.

I’ve read a few posts on the topic, where people have expressed some degree of surprise, or they’ll have an “ahah” moment, when they realize they’ve been depressed (or exhibiting signs of depression) for an extended period of time.

I’ve felt a sense of kinship to how others have talked about their own experiences with depression. For example:,, and many others. Most of the articles, talks, conversations I’ve read on the topic of experiencing depression, I don’t even remember many specific details. Just a sense of “Hm, this resonates”.

Their words have been of benefit to me. In recent conversations with dear friends about depression, I’ve been finding the benefit and power of establishing a clear narrative, or a correlatory/causal chain.

For example:

{circumstances} primed the pump for me experiencing depression. That depression was a reasonable response to those circumstances. It also has caused other changes in my life. Some of those changes are benign, some changes are self-sabotaging.

Also, there is a “right time” to capture certain thoughts:

write it now

Anyway, all this said, I’m spending some time writing this all out. I’ve now started/edited this post a half-dozen or dozen times, and am finding my own thoughts around this topic to be getting clarified and improved as I try to make them legible and coherent. I’m already reaping benefit!

Causal Arrows #

It’s hard for me to offer enough qualifying statements about everything I’m writing here. Certain circumstances contributed to my depression. My depression, in turn, contributed to other circumstances. What follows is a bit of me free-associating through a narrative response to:

  • what led to my depression
  • how did it manifest in my life?
  • how did I come to eventually observe it
  • now what?

January 2020 #

A few days after we got back to Colorado from spending Christmas working in the family bakery in NJ, Kristi’s dad died suddenly and unexpectedly.

It was a tremendous loss, both in obvious ways, and in ways that are difficult to enumerate. Kristi was 30. We’d expected and hoped for many more years with her dad. He and his wife were a few months away from retiring. It’s a painful loss, and will always be painful.

Her dad (who was a 3rd-generation baker, and had run a bakery in the town his entire life) was a fixture of his town; there was well over 500 people at his funeral. He (and by extension the bakery, and his entire family) positively impacted thousands of people.

I spent a lot of time reflecting on my own life and my eventual death.

Kristi and I were able to spend two months back east, in NJ, to help her mom and family pick up the pieces. An advantage of working in the tech industry: we’ve both worked remotely for many years, we have near infinite location flexibility.

February-March 2020 #

Shortly after spending those two months in NJ, which was a rather trying time, and after getting my annual performance bonus for 2019, I gave my notice at Proofpoint.

There are always many reasons people change jobs, or in this case, quit jobs with no explicit plans to go back to full-time, W2 work, and this was no exception. I loved the team I was on, but it was the right time to move on to something else.

Shortly after I gave my notice, but before my last day, Covid started being a thing, and the lockdowns started. (I was given many opportunities to not quit, and instead ride out Covid with a well-paying engineering job. Proofpoint was in a strong spot, and was one of the companies that grew because of the pandemic)

April-June, 2020 #

My last day of work was the last day of March; I’d had a climbing trip to Cuba with good friends planned, returning to Viñales, and that didn’t happen.

I did some contract work for Turing, the software development program I went to in 2017. I have been mentoring students in the backend program for years, and I reached out to see if they were open to more of help, since I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands, and I always really enjoy helping others be successful in the industry. Turing was eager for help.

I also did some engineering work on internal Turing school applications, like their enrollment and payments applications.

I always take detailed notes, like when I added Rubocop to two of their applications. These notes will help anyone else who needs to do something similar.

There were huge ups and downs doing this work. I had a material impact on both the short-term and long-term success of quite a few students. (Their words, not mine.)

This kind of work has always been the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done. Despite extensive conversations with the leadership at Turing, I wasn’t able to make the small, meaningful, systematic improvements I’d wanted to make to some spots of the curriculum that I had strong visibility into, but no one else did.

In the course of providing free, scalable help to Turing students, I’d made many video walk-throughs (example, example, example), received dozens of thankful messages from students, who said things like

These videos are why I made it through mod 1 and Turing. Thank you!

And I was consistently rebuffed by Turing leadership in attempts to formalize and upgrade these resources. This was discouraging, and has led to me stopping providing any aid to Turing students. All my work has been deleted from Turing repositories, and it continues to suffer from an extremely high dropout rate of enrolled students. I wish them the best, I think they were very close to being a reliably excellent software development training program.

July 2020 #

I remember training on a Tension block in Ocean City, NJ, early July 2020, using a very specific right hand grip, working on rehearsing one of the last hard moves on Apocalypse in Rifle, CO.

I’d casually done hard-for-me boulder problems that spring2, and was excited/hopeful to see some of the bouldering power I’d obtained get me up some harder routes.

And then in July, I got home, and just… stopped. I’ve been climbing for over 15 years now, and never have I ever taken and unforced break from climbing, other than a few weeks here and there, with some “active rest” to keep the tendons from thinking they’re not needed anymore, usually worked in between some training/performance cycles.

My depression was particularly bad then, but I didn’t even realize I was depressed; I just felt extremely anxious and sad most of my waking hours.

August-October 2020 #

When the pandemic started, Kristi and I had hoped for a small (or large) correction to the price of property in Golden.

This did not happen. Golden continues to remain extremely unaffordable, for clear, obvious reasons, mostly related to continuing to have laws on the books that were written by actual racists, with the intent of keeping black people out of neighborhoods populated by white people.

In 1922, politically powerful racists introduced ‘The Atlanta Zone Plan’.

This “Atlanta Zone Plan” is the template for all modern zoning regulations, and zoning regulations are one of the most powerful forces shaping cities (and all that happens within cities) today.

The folks that created the Atlanta Zone Plan had been trying for a while to create some means of segregation that wouldn’t get struck down by the supreme court. Slavery was made illegal, a lot of Jim Crowe laws were eventually made illegal, redlining was made illegal, and this zoning thing was the first attempt by white supremacists to preserve their cultural and economic dominance that wasn’t struck down by the supreme court.

And this zoning paradigm exists today, perfectly preserved, across the entire country. (And the US has exported this paradigm to the rest of the world. Yaaaaayyyyy).

Why do I talk about all this in a post about depression?

Because Denver is hideously unaffordable, has zero good public transit, and most of the urban infrastructure is extremely hostile to individuals. All of this is a result of following racist laws.

It’s demoralizing to have ones life and wellbeing so affected by such immoral and evil laws. Kristi and I eventually ended up paying almost $600k for a house in terrible condition in downtown Golden. I’ll be spending much time and money getting it to a tolerable condition.

November 2020 #

I injured my back in a significant way. I was unable to stand up straight for at least two months. My normal means of self-care and mood repair were taken from me, replaced with a painful reminder of the frailty of the human experience.

Everyone kept saying “oh, back injuries suck, but you’ll be better soon.”. Almost no one had an encouraging word about simply being injured. It was an extremely alienating and isolating time.

Since I couldn’t do work around the house (for example, I struggled to move a frying pan around the cooktop), I figured I’d go back to work.

I really couldn’t get excited about most of the opportunities that I was encountering. Hiring is so damn broken.

Unfortunately, because we’d just moved, I didn’t have an office set up, or even a desk or monitor. So, I was doing interviews, sitting on a couch, propping the laptop on a pillow, in near-constant pain from an injured back, in a period of substantial emotional ill-health. I’m proud to stay I still got job offers, and turned down a very compelling full-time offer in favor of a high-risk, high-potential-reward role with Pashi, a manufacturing startup.3

Soham, the founder, splits his time between India and the US. A brilliant, hard-working, driven person. I very much enjoyed the work we did together, but the 12 hour timezone difference, coupled with most of the work being done in India/Europe in a synchronous way, made it difficult for me to keep context and quickly do good work, while still maintaining a wall between work and non-work time.

We agreed to a month-long trial period, with the goal of me going full-time, with equity, working hard to grow Pashi in a few manufacturing verticals in the USA.

I ended up pulling the plug half-way through the trial. External sources of stress, plus the removal of normal health-promoting activities, plus the time-zone difference and loose communication meant I was working until late in the evening, and then hopping on calls at 7a the next day with the team, and I wasn’t able to rest or recover. Soham was totally pleased with my work, and excited for what we were going to do, and sad when I told him I couldn’t continue.

This was a tumultuous time for me, and a tumultuous experience. Kristi and I were experiencing profound relationship difficulties, I was extremely depressed, and I feel like I was operating at like 20% of my normal capacity.

December 2020 #

This was the first Christmas in the 13 years I’ve known Kristi that we didn’t spend the week leading up to Christmas doing difficult and exhausting work to prepare for the busiest season in the bakery.

It was something that had been long-promised in the family.

By next year, the business will be sold and we can enjoy Christmas like normal people!

The bakery had sold. We could enjoy Christmas like normal people. Except Wayne passed away, and we spent the Christmas without him. It sucked.

Kristi and I had scheduled a week-long “counseling intensive”, which brought us a lot of relief4

There’s much more that could be said. I usually do end-of-year “review” posts, and I didn’t do one for 2019, because I got curb-stomped by 2020, and struggled to write anything public. Ditto 2020, and I’d like to get to much more important topics to write about than this sort of naval-gazing, but this feels like it helps unblock me, and here I am.

The stories we tell ourselves are important.

I heard someone say something recently:

Narrative is the only difference between pain and suffering.

This was a true statement in the context in which it was said, and while it likely cannot be generalized to every situation, it’s a broadly helpful sentiment.

I’m spending some time making sure I get my narrative right. Lots of the errors I make in this domain are to have errors that tend in the direction of despair and hopelessness.

What has helped #

This topic will eventually get more discussion. I’m doing things that are helping. I have friends that are enormously helpful, with and without awareness of what they’re helping with. In this section, asterisks and qualifications abound.

A thread through what seems to have helped has been things like:

Understand that when depressed, my reasoning exhibits different tendencies than when not depressed. Externalize my reasoning and emotions, let trusted friends weigh in on it. Trust them, and generally do what they suggest.

  • Being comfortable labelling myself as depressed, based on easy external metrics (DSM V, the many resources available to diagnose oneself)
  • Treating my depression as an illness instead of feeling shame (from myself or from others) for being depressed.
  • Talking about it with dear and trusted friends. (I’ll expand on this substantially soon.)
  • Making a concerted effort to trust my brain and emotions less when feeling sad, and let “feeling sad” trigger that intentional downgrading of trust in myself.
  • Imagine I had a friend who said:

Josh, I’m feeling rather depressed today. I’d like to spend an hour doing something that promotes wellness, because I know I should, but because I’m depressed, I’m struggling to identify or do that thing. What would you recommend?

How would that conversation unfold? What would I be trying to accomplish for that friend? What would I recommend? How would I follow up? OK, can I do that for myself?

If not, I should go ask a friend that question.

Footnotes #

  1. I did a few v8s in a single session, sometimes after just four or five attempts. Given that I’d never imagined myself a “strong climber”, I never thought V10 (or 5.13+) was attainable to me. Turns out it is. To most normal people, V10 is very, very hard. I also know some V13+ climbers that make V10 look easy and casual. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

  2. I got the job, and the opportunity, after Soham just clicked around this website a bit, and set up a coffee. We moved quick, he paid me for the first two weeks of work, and I quickly put together sales collateral and explainers to help some early critical sales opportunities land. 

  3. We went to Restoring The Soul, and indeed, our souls were restored. 

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