on technology and mental health
March 20, 2019 10:00 AM — Best Self Behavioral Health — Buffalo, NY
i sit down in a psychiatrists office, Best Self Behavioral Health (alliterative i know), across from me sits an italian nurse practitioner Stefania. after a ten minute recounting of the following story Stefania asks me a series of questions.
“do you have a history of binge drinking?”
“have you ever used cocaine?”
“um.. uh yes, how did you know?”
“it is very common for people with bipolar to self medicate with alcohol and drugs. you are very lucky that you are here today without any serious run-ins with the law or attempts of suicide. most people with your disorder aren’t so lucky.”
that is how i was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. i left Best Self Behavioral Health and got into my car where the local college radio station 91.3 picked up right where it left off. i wept.
partly they were tears of sadness. i was now officially broken. the supposition i had for years was confirmed. my roll safe tactic of remaining healthy by never seeing a doctor and ergo dodging a diagnosis had failed me. i was now bipolar.
partly they were tears of joy. come to think of it i had always been “broken”. my entire life i had struggled and failed to fit a mold. 5 years of college to no avail. 7 different internships and jobs at reputable establishments with no career. it doesn’t take a data scientist to see a pattern there. what i was trying to do wasn’t going to work, and now i knew why.
i had always been bipolar.
i was born in the beautiful and dirty city of buffalo, ny. i went to a private grade school, a private middle school, a private jesuit high school, and a private jesuit college. millions of dollars were pumped into my education and well being from loving and intelligent parents. it took me almost killing myself to get a diagnosis.
in the spring of 2018 i was working for the amazing chicago non-profit SocialWorks. at this point i hadn’t had a paycheck since august of 2017 when i worked for the american trading desk of a european power conglomerate not so successfully valuing wind farms and so forth. i was building a website for an amazing non-profit working with technology that i had wanted to play around with for a while. essentially doing what i loved. so what do i decide to do next.
i decided i needed to make money again. my solution to this problem wasn’t finding part time work at a coffee shoppe but instead taking on another full time job at a technology consulting firm, Maven Wave Partners.
it’s may 2018. i am working two full time roles. day time data science consulting at Maven Wave and nights and weekends solo developing a react app for SocialWorks (a site slated to be their shiny new webpage). oh and my other part time job of binge drinking 3 days a week to balance a hectic social schedule of parties, bars, and the like. at this juncture i am manic as a mother fucker. but i made a crucial mistake. i stopped drinking.
so for years, unbeknownst to myself, i had been self medicating by a herculean amount of binge drinking. i had synced up my manic episodes to the corporate work schedule due to working corporate jobs on and off since my 19th year. i could get some work done during the week while i was depressed. i was able to manage my weekend mania by consuming enough alcohol and drugs to choke a small horse. my weekday heroes were Steve Jobs and Alexis Ohanian. my weekend heroes were hunter s. thompson and charles bukowski. when i finally stopped classifying myself as a college student and i rrealized that all my compatriots weren’t drinking with the same verve they used to. my long time partner in crime / drinking buddy H and i just assumed we were better at drinking than everyone else. when i stopped drinking to work all weekend for my consulting job and sworks everything started getting noticeably worse.
i was off my medication.
i was draining the tank. it started with small things like panic attacks and serious anxiety. i remember a saturday in july 2018 when i was unable to work all morning and spent my afternoon curled up on my back porch in the fetal position. it slowly worked its way up to bigger things. not being able to stay in a large group of people for more than 5 minutes. not being able to hold a conversation on any topic. a serious mental fog had set in and their were no fog lights to guide the way.
i flaked out of things slowly. i passively quit all the things i had been doing. i told my roommate i would no longer be building the website i had promised. i stopped doing any real work at my day job. they handled it poorly but a business is not equipped to deal with crazy employees and that is more a problem with mental health stigma than Maven Wave (although i could have gone without all the back handed comments and the fuckery they partook at my personal peril). while still working there, but very much checked out, i used to fantasize about taking a running start through the floor to ceiling plate glass windows that walled our 32 floor offices on the corner of wacker and monroe in chicago. two problems with that. the first being the potential harm that could be done to some unsuspecting passerby below. the second being the off chance that i was unsuccessful in breaking through and the awkward situation that would ensue.
it took them until november 15th, 2018 to fire me. on that day they wouldn’t even send me an email that i was being fired so that i could forward it to my parents and return to buffalo. i was paranoid at this point. i wasn’t leaving my room for anything but going to the bathroom and getting my postmates. i watched netflix, in entirety. i watched almost every pydata talk ever put on youtube, Casey Neistat, cooking shows and mukbang. i would not eat for a week at a time. what i learned during this period is that counter to popular opinion life is actually a lot longer than we make it out to be. even when left untended the body can survive a lot longer than you would think. it is hard to passively commit suicide.
the holidays roll around and i return to buffalo a sorry sight. people were visibly uncomfortable in my presence. i had almost accomplished shutting everyone out of my life. i spent nine hours a day on my phone but i talked to no one. i was on twitter 24/7 for months but i sent all of 9 tweets. my parents wrote it off as just some more of my garden variety “craziness”, coming to the conclusion that i would in fact be all right. my aunties, upon seeing me for the holidays, came to the correct conclusion that i was not in fact alright and forced my parents to get me some help. it took me three therapy sessions over the course of two months to talk about anything other than the weather and the mundane (shouts Alex). It took me 17 days of the advent of code challenge and watching Joel Grus late night live code solutions to prove to myself that i was not in fact useless but an incredibly average programmer.
it‘s not that i am broken, it’s that i don’t want to accept i can’t do the mundane as well as others.
i was recently back in chicago tying up loose ends and apologizing to the many people that had to experience me. i did an afternoon meeting with an amazing data scientist and internet funny man Drew Fustin. he pointed me in the direction of a talk given by Greg Baugues about developers who use software to mask their depression. watch it. it made me cry. it made me want to share my own story that has erey parallels to Greg’s. all of this makes me think how i may have gotten help sooner if i had known. it makes me want to make sure that others can get help long before they loose their jobs, self worth, or lives.
even as i write this it is 6:08 am est. i have been up since 3:45. i am probably manic as i write this. the only difference now is i have a word to communicate how i am feeling to others. it puts my actions in context for them and allows other people to watch out for me. like Greg said in the talk, you can’t do this alone.
i was recently in SF doing meetings and hanging out with my sister. it was our first trip together since my diagnosis. the day i flew in i had to be up for a 4:45 am flight to dallas then onto sf. there was drama on the flight and i was manic as a mother fucker again. i get into SF and proceeded to live stream and tweet @ Jack from the coffee shoppe in the fist floor of twitter hq. all i wanted was a quote about what twitter is doing to address mental health following lackluster responses from Jack in a mental health panel proctored by SocialWorks
Join SocialWorks and Twitter for an afternoon of conversation, meditation, and inspiration as SocialWorks celebrates their upcoming mental wellness initiative, #MyStateofMind [https://t.co/gO63ZBWLTu](https://t.co/gO63ZBWLTu)— SocialWorks ([@SocialWorks](http://twitter.com/SocialWorks "Twitter profile for @SocialWorks")) April 4, 2019
essentially i met an amazing dj Steve Fabus who pointed me in the direction of Phonobar. there i met many amazing people. i explained my diagnosis and my situation. at 12am the bartender respectfully declined to serve me and made sure that i got a hotel room for the night. i took an lyft to said hotel and slept 8 hrs, more than i had slept in a long time. the next morning i woke up and did a run across the golden gate bridge explaining on my live stream what had happened and where i was at.
recovery run [https://t.co/IKqxCRcc7A](https://t.co/IKqxCRcc7A)— r/galbo ([@RickGalbo](http://twitter.com/RickGalbo "Twitter profile for @RickGalbo")) April 10, 2019
i was able to get the help i needed from people i didn’t know because i was honest and forward about my condition. i pushed past the stigma to help myself and by being open i was rewarded by amazing people who were more than willing to help.
here is how i did college. i would start the semester off partying. get anxious that i was getting behind in my classes and stop doing work. sleep for two months. the last week of the semester i would go around to all of my professors and get all my assignments and quizzes. i would buy the text book for the first time. as i read the book i would fill out all of my missing assignments and then turn them all in at once. that last week was full of bartered adderall and a serious dirth of sleep. i would take my exams, usually pull out a c and then crash. only problem is when you get to the real world, there isn’t a month to sleep and recover. there is only the next.
i am now working on a project. i feel like i will be better if i’m the one holding myself accountable. i am well aware of the fact that if i don’t properly account for my disorder that i too will let myself down.
the project i am working on is using technology to help solve problems with mental health. hopefully it will bring levity to an industry that is clinical and cold. hopefully it will have a positive impact on peoples lives. hopefully i can stay sane enough to see it to fruition.
if you are interested in helping i will need everything i can get. feel free to reach out and help in any way you see fit.
on a more personal note if you or any of your loved ones are struggling with mental health feel free to reach out. more importantly make sure you reach out to them. it means more than you could ever know.
stay safe out there kids and remember it will always get better. thanks for listening. it means a lot.
resident internet crazy person