Forever All The Time Always

This guest post comes from Will Hindmarch (@wordwill), a writer, designer, and occasional guest blogger at WWdN.

Twitter is kind of a big deal to me. I (over)use it to stay connected with people that I am not near geographically. I use it to eke out little clarifying thoughts about my day and the way I work. I use it for jokes, for serious contemplative bits of text, for exchanges with people both known and unknown to me so I don’t feel quite so lonely at my desk all day. It helps me refine ideas down to morsels that can be terse, poetic, witty. I’ve been using it like a short-form diary for years. I love Twitter.

So when I finally got my Twitter archive feature activated, I was delighted. I wanted to go back in time and see how I’d changed, see what I’d forgotten, see if I could detect a difference in my writing from 2007 to now. I opened up my archive and dove in, expecting to see myself. In those tens of thousands of tweets, I discovered two things.

First, despite the migration of various comedic bits through my timeline, I haven’t changed that much as a writer.

Second, I needed help.

That’s not sass. I’m not being flip. I got a look at myself in a weird mirror and found lots of my tweeted messages came with tiny memories. Aspects of myself came into alarming focus. Much to my surprise, part of the secret was hidden in my hashtags.

I’m proud of my hashtags. Silly, maybe, but they’ve brought some amusement and some benefit to people I like, so I like my hashtags.

You might’ve seen #icmf, an acronym involving adult language, which serves as a space-saving intensifier. That’s probably the most popular model of hashtag to come out of this factory:

“Be safe and joyous where you are. See you in the future. #icmf” —Tweet from Dec 31, 2012

We also have #honkahonka, which is meant to represent the sad honking of a sad clown’s sad horn, indicating that a tweet which seems maybe sad is also funny, also a joke (except… maybe not a joke at all):

“Tomorrow’s an experiment in traveling light. (Except something something emotional baggage.) #honkahonka Tweet from Oct 5, 2012

“There are no dues. There’s just the popularity of your current project. That’s all you are. #honkahonka —Tweet from Oct 19, 2012

And then there’s #hyperb, my hashtag for hyperbole, whether it’s blatant or insidious or serious or jokey. It’s good for those grandiose conclusions you draw from everyday little cues:

“It’s been a while since we used #hyperb. It’s been forever. All the days have passed since we used it last. We’ve never used it. Not ever.” —Tweet from July 2, 2012

“No one has ever understood how you feel. Not really. #hyperb —Tweet from Mar 13, 2012

When you want to post about how everything is the worst, that’s when you use #hyperb. When Twitter’s character count forces you to generalize comically, and you regret it, that’s when you use #hyperb. When you’re reminded, in the middle of the day, that you’ve ruined everything you’ve ever tried to improve because your touch is poison, that’s when you use #hyperb. When the dog starts barking and you realize that you’ll never get 10 solid minutes of writing time ever again or when you break a glass and panic because you’ll never be able to handle glass again without breaking it or when you realize that you have never and will never accomplish what you wanted to do to be the person you wanted to be or or or… that’s when I use #hyperb.

Except… not a lot of people use #hyperb. Why is that? Maybe your brain doesn’t make the leap so quickly from “I made a bad play” to “I lose every game” to “I am a total loser all that time at all things.”

Mine does, sometimes.

When I can’t sleep, I say to my wife, “I have never slept. I have never been asleep and may never sleep again.” It really irks her, I think. It irks me, too. For all that I like a good mantra or pithy quote, I’m not a big fan of generalizations. I love nuance and variety and plurality — I disappoint myself the most when I fail to embrace or uphold those ideals. My brain feeds me disappointments, though, with some frequency. One way it does it is through overgeneralization.

I’m not a doctor. As I understand it this kind of overgeneralization, this explosion of little ideas into big, desperate conclusions is symptomatic of the kind of depressive episodes I experience. If you experience depression, see an expert. I am not a doctor.

The awful certainty of things in the mind is what gets me. My brain’s got negativity down to something like muscle memory, intuitive and instinctive. I don’t always get worked up about these ideas; why would I? They’re simple as facts: water’s wet and I am a failure. Sky’s blue; I am not entitled to pride. Coffee’s great; I suck. I know better most of the time but there they are, frank as can be.

We know that depression lies. This is just one way that depression lies. I know these are lies, but there they are, in my head.

Depression tells me that everyone else knows things I don’t know about how to be happy. Depression tells me that I alone know the truth about my nature as an arrogant jerk. Depression tells me that everyone else is always able to detect what’s wrong with me and — individually and together — don’t tell me I’m not one of them because they don’t think I can handle it. Everyone, no one, always. #hyperb, #hyperb, #hyperb.

“No one has ever felt any of the things I have felt because I am uniquely and especially awful and you are not. #hyperb #honkahonka #icmf” —Tweet from Jul 12, 2012

I don’t know if these thoughts ever go away for good. I’m on medication, I’ve done therapy, they’re still around. It’s not resolve or practice that keeps depression from getting to me. It does get to me. It probably always will. This isn’t something I expect to get past, really. It’s something I manage. It’s something I work through. It’s something I expect to wrestle with for the whole trip. That’s just the way it is. This is me.

Some people have chronic back pain. Some people have arthritis. My brain hurts. That’s just the way it is. It is okay to seek help and talk about our pain. We shouldn’t be ashamed of it.

My first instinct, seeing my tweets, was to hide. “Everyone can see you,” I thought, “so you’d better do better at faking normalcy and quick.” What a shit notion that is — normalcy. I can get behind the idea of being healthy, though, and I’m unconvinced that hiding my pain is going to make me, or anyone else, healthier. This is me.

I’m not changing the way I write on Twitter. Sometimes — sometimes —  I find that writing helps soften the pain. Even if it doesn’t, I try. I used to do it because I wanted to talk about my pain more than I felt comfortable doing it. I do it from here on out because I want it to be okay to talk and write about this stuff, for me, for you, for anyone who’s in pain. I want you to know that you’re not alone.

So, yes, sometimes my tweeter feed is a glum bummer. We’ve known that for a long time. So it goes. This is me.

34 thoughts on “Forever All The Time Always”

  1. I used to worry that antidepressants would change who I am. They didn’t. I’m still the same person; it’s just now that fact doesn’t bother me anymore.

  2. Hi, Will:

    You may already know this, but if not (or if people reading your article don’t)…

    “Over generalization” is a specific type of what cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) calls cognitive distortions, and yes, they’re part of depression. There are specific methods that can help you overcome those. The big two are distraction or thought-stopping, and restructuring.

    With distraction and thought-stopping, you catch yourself going down the unhelpful route of saying “I’ll never sleep again,” and instead think of something else, or just say “STOP!” and try not to think of it. I find that’s a good time to pick up a casual game or do some resource farming in an MMO. Something engaging, but not super-stimulating. It’s enough to get your brain off that kick.

    In restructuring, you identify what you’re doing–catastrophizing, overgeneralizing–and basically argue with it. If your brain is saying “I’ll never sleep again,” you start to find evidence for and against this statement. Then try and come up with a more helpful version of that statement: “I’m having trouble sleeping. I’ve had this before; it might last a few days, but then it’ll go away. I’ll get up and enjoy a book for a while. When I feel really sleepy, I’ll try to fall asleep again.”

    It’s been found to be very effective. A trained therapist is very helpful with this stuff, as they can teach you how to do the restructuring.

    Thanks for a great article,
    Andrew

    1. Great advice. I too suffer from depression, but with help similar to what Andrew mentions, the episodes are now few and far between and don’t last very long. I tend to overgeneralize and I was at one point 20 years ago, bad with tunnel vision. I could no longer see possibilities in front of me other than the depression, which tended to make me more depressed, which lead me to see nothing but depression and so forth.

      Considering that I also have Asperger’s, which already sometimes causes weird thoughts about selfworth outside of my area of expertise, it was not a pleasant time of life for me.

      I learned to break the circular thinking and after years of practice, it has become almost automatic for me to do it. It can get better with practice, but like you have stated Will, it will always be a part of me. The trick is to recognize the times that I do not automatically break the circular thinking and do it deliberately.

  3. “On the slightly positive side of neutral is when we are most in our right minds.” I say this to myself so I can remember not to listen to my brain when I’m on the wrong side of neutral.

  4. Curiously, thinking about Twitter archives makes me glad about the decision I made early on not to put the date on anything I’ve written. A part of my brain likes being able to reconnect things out of context and make new meaning — it helps that it is a bunch of short poems that need to form new set lists.

    I other words, I don’t have to relive what is behind me and can reinvent the relics of my past to serve my present.

  5. Hi Wil,

    I had the good fortune of marshalling your autograph line at ECCC a couple of years ago and what struck me was the enthusiasm and warmth with which you greeted everybody who had queued and waited to meet you. You kept this up for the whole time you were there, despite how you may have been feeling internally, and everyone left with a huge smile on their face as a result.

    I appreciate that sometimes this unbridled positivity comes at a cost, and if some negativity on Twitter is a form of relief valve to balance out these situations, then I am more than happy to bear with you.

    Thanks for sharing.

  6. First off..thank you for sharing these with us. Depression is such a beast of burden, and just the fact that you throw yours out there for others to read about means it might help someone else.

    I will be 39 this year, and have been in some form of therapy and on some form of drug since I was 13. CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) has never worked for me, and neither did DBT( Dialectical Behavioral Therapy). It was only in this past year that I truly found something that worked for me. That would help my incessantly analytic brain merge with the emotional side and get some work done….the results have been truly amazing….and for the first time in my life I think, heavy emphasis on think, I know what it is like to feel happy at times. ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) has been my light at the end if the tunnel. It is in this therapy that I am learning the tools that actually allow me to not get bogged down when my brain tries to tell me it is time to be depressed or feel like a failure. I think you are very right, this doesn’t ever go away….the only thing that changes is our ability to deal with it. I have finally found mine after decades of searching, and it looks like you have found yours as well. We are winning the battle, so congratulations. I am proud of you for continuing to fight. I don’t think people who live with this illness hear that enough, and I guess that is the real reason for this meandering story of mine. Keep fighting, and when you feel too tired to fight, know that not just your family is behind you….others are here too.

  7. While I don’t actively struggle with long bouts of depression, I do, and have for much of my life, struggle with very low mood swings in short, intense bursts. And when I do, I nearly always over-generalize.

    Reading this article was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me, actually, because I don’t think I consciously realized that I did that. But I do. “I always say the wrong thing.” “I never get things done on time.” “I can’t do anything right.” I’ve learned, and am still learning, to tell myself that these are lies. I say many correct things. I rarely miss deadlines. I’m not even sure what I mean by the last one. But they aren’t just lies. They’re really really general lies that, in that moment, encompass the whole of my world. Maybe by recognizing that I’ll have new ammunition–specificity–in fighting them off. :)

    Thank you for this article, by the way. I think it needs to be ok for us all to talk openly about mental illnesses like depression, and people like you and Jenny go a long way to making that happen.

  8. Wil, I feel really choady for this because I am not trying to spam your site for attention. In fact, my blog can’t handle much attention since we’re just hosting this thing on a server in my basement. But I respect and admire you and I wanted to share something with you. I want you to know that I am fighting the fight too, and that I respect and admire you because of your humanity. Because of the humanity and visibility you bring to people like me. I feel at least a little less alone because of your willingness to talk about your pain. And that means so much to me.

    I am just going to leave this here. Maybe you don’t read this. Maybe you do and you’re all meh I should have stubbed all my toes instead. But it’s what I’ve got, so it’s what I’ll give.
    http://www.runningnekkid.com/death_of_suicide

    Thank you, so much. For everything.

    1. @runningnekkid Thank you for sharing your blog with us. You should know that your own words are just as powerful as the ones that inspired you to share above. There can never be enough people writing about their successes (and failures) in the lifelong fight against depression. They let others know that, even in the bad times, they are not alone. So, please don’t stub all of your toes! :)

    2. I wasn’t able to comment on your post (technical difficulties), but I wanted to thank you for sharing this with readers and with the world. Some of your experience is totally foreign to me… some of it is totally familiar. I know the exhaustion you’re talking about. Stay strong. I loved your post.

    3. Thanks so much for sharing! Talking about things has certainly helped for me, especially after my brother’s suicide. I was only 19 at the time, and I went from being the bad kid between the two of us, to being totally invisible as far as my parents were concerned. It seemed to me that nothing I said to them mattered. I just wanted to shake both of them and scream, “…but I’M still here!”. I beat myself up all the time about my words failing me. I should have said something different to my brother in our last conversation. Looking back, I see the clues he was dropping, although it was not depression that was eating him. I should have come up with the right words to help ease my parents suffering and make them see me. Over the past two decades, our relationship is much stronger, but I still feel like I have a huge foot-in-mouth disease with everyone I talk to. Words matter, though, and I keep talking, despite my brain. More than anything, I try to let those around me know how precious and wonderful they are to me, despite their self-perceived flaws. Maybe it’s cheesy to some, but maybe I do it because it’s what I yearned to hear for myself for so long. Maybe I’m still searching for the right words I should have said when I was 19. Again, thanks for sharing your blog. Your words have not failed you. Not with me. Keep up the good fight, and it’s good to see you’re getting help. Oh – and be nice to your toes. They’re there to help you stand up! :)

  9. I have lived with depression for a long time, perhaps 15 years or so. However it is not me but others who have had depression. My mother has been on some form of pills for years now and it is more anxiety/panic attacks coupled with a neck injury that is the cause of hers. She has problems sleeping and as a result her mood is affected.

    More recently, in the last 18m – 2 years my wife has had PTSD as a result of a scary child birth which I won’t go into the details of. An aspect of this is depression. Both are different. It was only after my wife started seeing a counselor about 8 months ago that actually started making progress.

    The key thing is support. Where we live we have no family close-by but our friends are fantastic. My wife is very much better and for me the main thing is to be there when she needs me. For my mother it took for me to move to another country as I was probably overly protective of her. She found her feet and got back to work and she is better for it.

    I’ve been following you now for a few years on twitter and via your blog and it seems to me that you have this support with your wife and family which is amazing. This actually has given me hope and for someone as well-known as yourself to talk about this gives me insight and a way to help.

    For this I cannot thank you enough.

  10. Hey Will,

    Regarding normalcy:

    The late, great storyteller, Utah Phillips told a story about being in a grocery store with his daughter. Utah advocated for adults to act out. He said we need to act out a lot, in order to keep people on their toes. Well, he was in line at the grocery store, acting out, and his young daughter got exasperated with his goofing around (why are kids so conservative?). His daughter, in great embarrassment, says to him, “why can’t you be normal?!” And an older lady in line, an acquaintance of Utah’s, rapped his daughter on the shin with her cane and said, “He *is* normal. What you mean to say is ‘average.'”

  11. Sometimes what you write is exactly how I am feeling at the moment. That is kind of scary, yet makes me feel less alone. I have been fighting with the “I suck” moments a lot more than usual lately, and it has been taking a toll. I wish I could write it out as you do, but I seem to have something stuck between my brain and my hands and what I am thinking in my head never truly makes it to the page. You get so much done despite what is going on in your head. I am jealous, when it is a down time for me, all I want to do is hide in my bed and watch Buffy re-runs. But you show that you need to keep going, that good things WILL happen. So thanks for that, it is more appreciated than you will ever know.

  12. Thank you for sharing this, Will. I’m what you’d call ‘naturally melancholy’. Some days the grey-colored glasses won’t come off, no matter how hard I try. It’s just me, and I’m learning to accept that. I do have moments, brief, intense moments, of overwhelming joy, and they actually feel strange. I think, ‘do some people feel like this ALL the time? How weird!’ So I savvy your experiences. You articulated what it’s like to try to live a ‘normal’ life while coping with, as it seems to others, a thing that should just eventually go away. When it doesn’t, this is what you’re left with – management, coping mechanisms. It’s tough, but it’s what we’ve got. And hearing it again and again from folks I admire, well, it helps. A lot. So thank you. Our tribe is messed up in the best way possible, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  13. Posted this on Twitter, but it’s worth posting again in response to this excellent column.

    The Geek Uprising is not about faking normalcy. It’s about celebrating figuring out what we are. You don’t need anyone telling you how to think, especially those that tell you that you don’t need anyone telling you how to think.

    Mike

  14. You all, with your support and your information and your advice and your everything — I’m really moved. Thanks to all of you for sharing your thoughts here. I really appreciate you taking the time to do that.

  15. #hyperb is pretty much where I live. It helps to hear that smart, funny people hang out there too. The gloom isn’t so glum when you’re not in it alone. Thanks for sharing. Keep that up.

  16. We live in a world where physical health is given every type of support imaginable, but where mental health is pushed aside. We’d never tell the person with arthritis to “just get over it,” but we tell people with depression, bipolar, and other mental health problems that they should just “get over it.” It’s total BS.

    I’m in a “why not” sort of mood, so… here goes nothing. Ignore this if you want.

    I don’t usually tell people outside my immediate friend group that I have any health problems, unless I actively need to inform someone because I need assistance. I can tell people that I have lupus, RA, and dermatomyositis, and while they might say, “What’s that?” most of them won’t tell me to “get over it.” (It’s really annoying when someone tries to tell me that I can “cure” it with fish oil and vitamin B, but whatever.) When my Meniere’s is acting up and I’m unsteady on my feet and can’t hear as well, I just tell people, and they let me sit down and they speak a bit more loudly. And when I started having these sorts of physical problems, I didn’t feel embarrassed to go to my doctor and say, “My joints are swelling up, I’m running fevers I can’t explain, and I can’t hear out of my right ear today.” Why? Because it was “real.”

    In contrast, I couldn’t just admit to my doctor, “Hi, I’m having these horrible thoughts of intense self-loathing and worthlessness, and there are times when it completely overwhelms me and I really need help.”

    I’ve had problems with depression and feeling like a permanent loser since I was a teenager. It didn’t matter what I did right – I seriously believed I was a failure. Every potential mistake I made was magnified in my head until it was all I could see. Any success, no matter how stellar, was irrelevant. I believed that everyone actually hated me, even if they were being nice to me. I was so afraid of being disliked that I screwed myself over even more by being permanently nervous around everyone. I was intensely hypersensitive. I would actually break down and sob if I dropped a dish and it broke because I was a failure. If I did something remotely blame-worthy, I’d truly believe I was a horrible, nasty person. (A friend of mine with bipolar calls those sorts of thoughts “brain weasels.”)

    I learned to hide those issues while I was in the Army, and I created a confident front out of sheer survivalist needs, but the rest of it lurked beneath the surface and came out with a bucketload of PTSD. I could blow up a bridge, low-crawl under live bullets and through concertina wire, and command a unit, but I felt like I was a failure to the world. I can get onstage in front of a thousand people and capture the audience with a few words, but I couldn’t talk to my friends about it. Finally, at the age of 32, I’m talking to a therapist and I told my friends what was going on.

    I’ve learned a few things from this, if nothing else: Don’t judge anyone else. Build people up instead of ripping them down. Give other people the same basic courtesies and compassion that I’d hope they’d show me, because I know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless. I never had an inclination to be nasty to people anyway, but this just solidified my need to be kind to people. I never want another person to feel the way I felt.

    I don’t know if your way of treating everyone you meet with basic respect and kindness has grown out of your own emotional experiences, but based on my brief interaction with you, what I’ve read of your writing, my friends’ reports from their encounters with you, and your commendable and quote-worthy philosophy of “Don’t be a dick,” you do it quite well.

    The only reason I’m really writing all of this is just to add another voice to the chorus of “you’re not alone.” As geeks, we know that we all have our issues. We don’t fit into mainstream society, and when it comes down to it, we don’t want to. Geeks communicate in our own ways. We accept other people’s quirks because we know we have our own quirks.

    I know (all too well) that it doesn’t make the thoughts go away, but maybe (just maybe) it will help to remember that every time one of those brain weasels pops up with those awful, absolutist thoughts, that there are a thousand of us out here thinking that you’re pretty damned awesome, quirks and all. We’ll just have to cover for you until you can beat the brain weasel back into submission.

    Besides, “normal” is only a cycle on the washing machine. :)

  17. Thanks so much for posting this; I’m going to share the story from your wife’s perspective (maybe). I’ve never struggled with depression, but my husband has, and does. I’ve been with him for over a decade, married for half that time, and it took until two years ago for me to figure out why some of his gloom-and-doom statements seemed so gloomy and doomy.

    “Things are not good, and they never will be.” Never, always, forever–rarely is it just “I’m tired today,” or “This week has been crazy.” Instead, it’s general #hyperb statements that are declarations of a universal state: “We just can’t get any traction on the housework.” “The kids sleep terribly.” “Dinnertime is impossible.” “Going out of the house is such a big production.”

    It’s as though he–and maybe you–feel everything in dog-time: when I pet the dog, I’ll pet her forever, but when I stop, it means I’ll never pet her again.

    Fortunately, just me recognizing that habit of forever-all-the-time-always has gone a long way in reducing the statements. He may still feel that way, but I don’t let him get away with saying it. “For now,” I add to the end of the sentence. Or “today,” or “this week” or even “this year”–but I always try to add the time reference (when I’m not so irritated that I snap, which, of course, does happen). I’m hoping that, at some point, he’ll internalize it and know that whatever his current state of mind is, it WILL end.

  18. Hi guys,

    my mom suffered from depression for a really long time. In fact, she still suffers from it and I don’t know if it is at all treatable or just controlable… Now, I’m not a writer and I don’t have the words to put this into a beautiful blog post, but after reading all your responses and stories, I somehow felt compelled to reach out to all of those, who experience depression in their family or among their friends: PLEASE don’t ignore the impact it has on YOUR life. This may sound silly at first and when my mom’s doctor said: ‘Depression is best cured in a family therapy’ I couldn’t believe it myself. I mean, I wasn’t sick – my mom was. But when I finally did open up and talk about everything and my dad started to do the same, we discovered that the constant exposure to my mom’s depression and the constant work-arounds we would engage in to ‘keep her happy’ (as we foolishly thought possible) were really symptomps of my mom’s illness, that effected us.

    I don’t know how to put this other than the therapist, who told me this. Don’t ignore the impact on YOU, if a family member or close friend suffers from depression. Get him help, yes, but get yourself help, too. There are a lot of professionals, who can teach you how to correctly respond to depression and how to live your life with someone who suffers from it, helping him/her without feeling guilty in not succeeding (all the time).

    As I said, I’m not good with words and it gets even harder in english, because that is not my native language, but it is super important to me to get this point across: Never neglect the impact!

  19. I don’t like twitter for a myriad of reasons. First of all 140 characters? Really?! Are we back in the TEXT age? What happened to nuances, to the grey areas? If live was black and white it would be a hell of a lot easier. People on twitter somehow start to oversimplify live and turn a bit too binary.

    The twitter apps drain your battery like crazy! Your phone runs empty before the 18 hours have past since you last stilled it’s hunger. People (and it annoys the shit out of me) consume it’s content as if there’s no tomorrow. They can’t rest and recharge anymore they need to click the twitter icon and consume more drivel. They can’t seem to filter it anymore. They read any post at any occasion, they’ve become mentally conditioned to click the frigging Icon. When you are at lunch with all your colleagues one of the twitterers always needs to click the app.
    You can see their mental stability deteriorate as the minutes past since their last poll.

    Why does this happen with twitter and not with email or FB? I like the multi-media rich facebook but I don’t need to check in every 30 or 40 minutes. I love email! But I read it 3 or 4 times a day.

    I don’t need another compulsive disorder and therefore twitter can fly out the door.

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