On Dealing with Anxiety and Depression as a Developer
Michael Scott Hertzberg Sep 1
I've suffered from depression and social anxiety disorder since I was a teenager. I've gone through several phases in my life on many different medications to help it. Despite all of the challenges, I've grown to become a professional working software developer making competitive income.
It took me a very long time to find a combination of medication that worked for me. To be honest, I'm still trying to find the right combination. It had always been a struggle trying to balance my professional and personal life. I recall many moments where I've had to provide an excuse to my boss as to why I wasn't coming to the office today. Not because I was sick, but because my anxiety was so strong, that the idea of leaving my apartment was impossible. Despite being in and out of psychiatrist offices and therapy sessions, trying to find the right fit was the hardest part.
The first step that really did something for me was to seek help. I knew it wasn't something that I could handle by myself. Being in the U.S., health insurance is not free. I'm fortunate enough to receive health benefits through my company, but not everyone has this luxury, especially freelancers. I would say the biggest hurdle in finding help, was covering the cost. What turned me off the most during the search were some of the quotes I received. Don't let that discern you. Despite one phone call quoting you $600 for an initial consultation, the next one might be free.
If you have insurance, check to see if you have out-of-network benefits for mental health. If you don't have insurance, search for local community health centers that provide sliding scale payment options. Group therapy is also a cost-effective option that I've done and still do.
In 1999, Devon Sawa and Jessica Alba starred in a favorite movie of mine, called Idle Hands. It's about a slacker teenager who's right hand gets possessed by a demonic force. A literal interpretation of the saying "Idle hands are the devil's workshop." which the movie makes mention of.
Having a clearer head while on medication, for me, allowed for dealing with the depression in a more positive way, by staying busy. The more I stayed busy, the less I was overwhelmed by the depressive symptoms. I did what I enjoyed doing the most: programming.
Something that I realized that I didn't do properly was breathe. When anxiety sets in, I start to hyperventilate. My breathing becomes very erratic and It feels as though not enough, or too much air is passing through my nostrils. It took many years before I came across a simple little book called "the art of breathing: the secret to living mindfully," by Danny Penman, PhD. It begins with:
Six Paragliders are
circling like eagles on
powerful currents of
rising air. Far below,
a cluster of children
gaze with open
mouths as the giant
parachutes dive and
swoosh silently above
. . .
something starts to go
My heart dropped. I was already captivated by a relatively short 100-page book about breathing. After reading it, I started to realize how much calmer I felt when I breathed properly. As I finally started to breathe, I started to feel that I had more control. Having more control started to make the anxiety lessen its grip on me.
Create Positive Habits
While I sought help, stay busy and breathe, none of this did any good unless I practiced it regularly. I have to ensure that I go to my psychiatrist weekly and ensure that I go to my therapy sessions. I try to make sure that I'm breathing properly and I try to make sure that I do push-ups everyday. I try to form positive habits that I only could have formed once my mind was in a better place. Habits can be created out of nothing. Start one today and consistently try to do it everyday at the same time.
As I start to breathe better, be less anxious, really combat my depression and stay busy, I start to realize that I'm in control. Not the anxiety or depression.
Although these tips cannot diagnose or cure any illness, I hope they act as a gateway in helping you in whatever situation you may be in. Know that you aren't alone and that there are understanding ears out there.
If you feel that you are at risk of harming yourself or know someone that is at risk of harming themselves, do not delay in seeking help.
U.S. - Call 1-800-273-8255 or https://twitter.com/800273TALK
Outside-U.S. - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_suicide_crisis_lines