joepie91's Ramblings

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07 Apr 2014

This post will be a little unusual. It's not about some other person or group, and it's not about a project of mine. It is about psychology, in a way, but not like my previous posts. I should warn ahead of time that there are some gaps in my memory of events, the reason for which will become obvious later on in this post. This post is based on what I can remember, and my personal interpretation of it. It has also taken me some time to write this, spanned over multiple days, so it might not have a completely coherent line of events in some places. If you don't know much about me, you might want to look over my intro page or at my repositories first, for a bit of context.

For the past two and a half years or so, I've been dealing with depression, anxiety attacks, sleep problems, focus issues, and a poor memory. This post will go into more depth about my personal history, and how I got to this state. Depression (and the consequences) are not an uncommon occurrence in activist and hacker circles, and my reason for writing this post is twofold: not only is this an attempt for myself to better cope with it by "writing it off", I also want to more clearly and publicly highlight these problems, and give an insight into how they occur. They are real, but usually more or less invisible to those not experiencing them.

The story starts with my childhood, as that is what eventually led me to becoming an activist. Most of my childhood time that I can remember, starting from 14 years old or so, I spent in various mental hospitals (I'll be refering to these as "institutions" in the rest of the post, to avoid confusion with 'regular' hospitals). While this may sound bad, there really wasn't much of a reason for my being there, other than that things didn't work out at home. None of the institutions I've lived at ever had a real diagnosis for me - it existed on paper, but in practice I just didn't really have another place to go.

There is probably not a single place on earth where your view on society changes as quickly as in these institutions. Suddenly, you see all the "corner cases", all the people who are ignored by the rest of society, all those who don't fit in anywhere else and, most importantly, those who just have no other place to go. In some institutions, such as the first one I lived in, these people are treated with respect and empathy, and 'staff' genuinely tries to help them cope. In other institutions, such as the second one I lived in, they are labeled as "broken, needs repair" and not treated as 'full' human beings. It doesn't take a genius to figure out which institution resulted in people coming out worse than they went in - I've seen people being virtually mentally destroyed in that second institution.

I should probably give a bit more context about how these institutions work - from the perspective of a minor that is, as I got out when I was about 17. You generally live and sleep there, and you go home on weekends - or, in the case of the latter institution, every other weekend. You live together with some 4-7 other people in roughly the same age bracket. These other people are basically your 'family' and friends - social contact outside the institution is virtually impossible. Schedules are generally strict, and if you wish to go anywhere, you'll need to notify staff in advance. In many of these places, there is one shared computer for everybody who lives in that 'group', on which everybody is allocated an hour a day at most. This may have changed by now, but back then there was basically no internet anywhere (with the exception of the last institution I lived at, but only on the shared computer). Some institutions allow you to have your own computer in your room, most do not.

In very simple terms, you're isolated from the rest of the world. You can't really have any contact with friends outside the institution, since the strict schedules make it pretty much impossible to be anywhere for more than an hour or so, and there are no real means of communication.

When you live in such a situation for years, you'll very quickly start questioning the "meaning of life". I've witnessed multiple suicide attempts by others in those years, and that only puts more focus on the question. To put it differently, I went through the "why am I living, why not just kill myself and get it over with" stage at 15 years old - I had already decided that my life had effectively no persistent value. But rather than simply ending it, I made a different decision. If my life is of no value anyway, why not try to use it to help out others? Once you've decided that your life is of no value, the world is your oyster - you have nothing to lose, and everything to 'win'.

And that is why I've become an activist.

Fast-forward to late 2011. The Occupy movement is in full swing, and a local Occupy camp - Occupy Dordrecht - is being set up near me. I'm asked to get involved, and decide to do so. I camp out from day one, and stay until some two days before the camp is evicted. In those few weeks, a car threatens to run over the camp several times, there are two almost-stabbings by people from outside the camp, a home-made smoke bomb is thrown into the camp at night, somebody tries to set a tent on fire, the donations are stolen, we endure a storm that has sandbags being handed out throughout the city, and we have to deal with understaffing nearly every single day, running in "shifts" to keep the camp guarded at all times due to those outside threats.

It should come as no surprise that all this was extremely hard to deal with. Halfway through the camp, people started dropping out due to stress levels, and I was left trying to organize the camp with effectively one other person, all the while the city was trying to get us removed. At that point I was the only person left who had camped out from day one, and most of the organizational burden therefore fell on me. I burned out and left the camp. Two days later, the camp was evicted with half a day's notice.

And this is where the real problems start. In the following year, I get to deal with depression and severe anxiety attacks - imagine feeling stressed 24/7, and ending up in a fit of panic every time a door slams, or a car races past, or even for no discernible reason at all. My state of hypervigilance that I picked up during the Occupy Dordrecht camp, continues being a thing. My sleep suffers. I lose interest in a lot of things I'm working on. I'm in a bad mood continuously for no obvious reason. I'm unable to focus on what I'm doing. My projects stall. Unexpectedly having to move out didn't exactly help my situation.

A year later, after adding a bit more stability to my life, I had mostly recovered. I'd lightened up, started being able to focus on things again, and my anxiety attacks were becoming rare.

And then I got raided.

The entire circus started all over again, except this time it was worse. Depression, anxiety, sleep problems, focus issues. This time I apparently hit the jackpot, and also started experiencing long-term memory loss, and inability to keep a short-term memory of complex models. And this time, I'm not recovering.

I currently have to work a 50-hour work week to be able to afford a roof above my head and other basic expenses, while doing ethically justifiable (open-source) work. It's very tough, and leaving me virtually no time for my own projects. In whatever time I do have left, I am unable to focus or become disinterested. I have random bouts of depression every so many days, and it's not showing any signs of going away. The sunny weather right now is somewhat alleviating it, but it's by no means a permanent solution.

I am quite sure I know what the permanent solution is, but it is not a realistic option: I simply need some time off. Time where I don't have any pressure on me, no expectations, time where my basic living expenses - and they are really quite low - are taken care of, time where I can just work on my projects and ideas freely. Judging from my last recovery period, I'd need something like a year of undisturbed worry-less time. And I'm not expecting that to be a possibility, for the simple reason that it's not compatible with having to pay bills without giving up my ethics, and society as a whole doesn't cope very well with corner cases.

You can contact me at (e-mail) or (XMPP).