I want to say something. Because maybe it will help someone else out there who is just holding on for dear life, wondering if things will ever get better. Or wondering if they are completely alone.
And because I am so furious right now, and I just don’t care anymore, I am going to share my story. Maybe someone will read it, and it will give them courage to speak up too.
Nobody in tech talks about mental health. Well, nobody talks about mental health, period. But I don’t know one person in tech who is out about their mental illness.
So I am coming out.
I have bipolar disorder. I have bipolar, type I.
I was in the middle of my EECS degree at Berkeley when I had a psychotic break. I had been hallucinating for 6 months when I finally dropped out of school.
All of my friends had deserted me at this point. I was too much for them to handle with school and everything else going on in their lives.
Recovery was slow. Recovery was really slow.
I took antipsychotics, they helped a lot. It only took about a year for all the psychotic stuff to die down.
But it took me at least 5 more years before I even started to recover from the trauma of what happened — from the trauma of realizing that my brain had been playing tricks on me the whole time, and that I was foolish enough to believe them. From the trauma of knowing that I voiced these fears, these things that I was so terrified of, out loud to the people that I trusted the most. And not only did my friends not believe me, but instead of telling me to my face, they talked about me behind my back. I felt like such a fool, like such an idiot looking back.
Software saved my life. It was the only thing in my life that was giving me any kind of positive feedback — the tests passed! the code compiled! And so I drowned myself in software.
I blocked out everything that happened to me and only thought about software, all day every day, for almost 3 years.
Then finally, I started to let thoughts of what happened to me surface. I was able to start coming to terms with how I had lost everything to tricks that my own brain had played on me. And so I started to recover.
I have tried to go back to school 2 times since I dropped out 7 years ago. Literally, I have enrolled at UC Berkeley 3 times in total. Each time I think I am strong enough, each time I think I have had enough space from what happened that I can focus just on the schoolwork.
But I cannot walk down Shattuck, I cannot walk into Doe Library, without having a panic attack. Without remembering in vivid detail all the pain and the trauma of what happened to me. It all comes flooding back. And I break down.
And so, I cannot finish my degree.
People have asked me what the bench tattoo is on my arm. This is where I was sitting when, for the first time in almost 5 years, I had hope. This is where I was sitting when I realized that I do still have a chance, that I am still a normal person, and that I still can make something of myself. This was November of 2014.
And now here I am, a software engineer at Google. Would you look at that.
Do you know what my therapist says to me sometimes? She reminds me that all the great thought leaders, people of passion and change, that history tells us that many of them had bipolar disorder too.
Leonardo Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln, Beethoven, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison, Van Gogh, Einstein, Disney, .. the list goes on and on.
So to all of you taking abilify and latuda and wellbutrin and zoloft and lithium, to all of you in therapy, to all of you with trauma in your past or present, I want you to know — if I can do it, if Einstein and Disney and Newton can do it, then you can too.
And I am always here if you need someone to talk to.