Please reach out

For folks who don’t know, Ilya Zhitomirskiy, one of the founders of Diaspora, committed suicide recently.  He was 22 years old.

Ilya hung out at Noisebridge, and also led workshops and hackathons for Diaspora at our space.  Most people who met him were quickly taken in by his enthusiasm and do-ocratic charisma.  I became instant friends with him the first day he showed up at Noisebridge shortly after he moved to San Francisco last year.

Hardly anyone had even a clue that Ilya was depressed, let alone suicidal.  He was bubbly, cheerful, excited about all the way cool projects he was implementing, as well as the ones he had thought, and would think of.

Last night was his memorial in San Francisco, followed a party in his backyard in the Mission.  This party was typical of the epic parties Ilya threw in his backyard over the past many months, bringing together so many wonderful people — incredible opportunities to have fun meeting and connecting with each other.  The only thing atypical last night was that Ilya was not there.

Both the memorial and the party were full of people who knew and loved Ilya, and who Ilya knew and loved.  Ilya could have reached out to any one of us — any time of day or night.  He could have reached out.  But he didn’t.

For Ilya to have held in and hid his pain so well that all of these people, including myself, had no clue — Ilya must have felt *so* alone, *so* isolated, exacerbating his pain too greatly.  If he had reached out, maybe — maybe — he could have lived another day.  But he didn’t.

I lived the first half of my life in total and utter depression.  No joy, just shame, just self-loathing, dread and anxiety and fear of other people — total depression.  I know what it is like to be depressed.  I know what it is like to live for one’s whole life knowing and believing that the best life might have to offer is the ability for me to endure the pain till I eventually died.  That was the best possibility.  As with Ilya, I hid all of this from the world as best as I could.  And most people had no clue I was depressed.

Yet, I learned, through making choices for myself, and learning from the consequences of my choices, and with help and support of others, over a period of many years, making more choices, learning, growing, crashing, burning, making more choices, more support. . . — I eventually learned to live a life I love.  I love the life I live!  If I could learn to live a life I love, then, certainly, it is possible for anyone to do this!

It is more than possible — it is way worthwhile, way rewarding, way wonderful to go through the experiences of our life — through the ups and the downs, through the all-arounds, and all the pain and suffering and joy and love and excitement — and come to a place where you know that the pain, regardless of its intensity, is yet another (perhaps seemingly unendurable) experience, which gives way to more of what makes life even more worthwhile.

Depression is an important part of life.  Everyone experiences it to some extent.  But to those of us who know chronic depression, it is our own unique hell.

Unique as it is to each of us, we all share a lot.

And we all have a lot to share with each other. Through the ups, and the downs, the all-arounds.

For someone who has no experience reaching out, it can seem to be the scariest thing possible.  But it is possible.

It is very possible.  Ilya is dead.  But you — you are still alive.  If you are contemplating suicide, please know that you are not alone.  You are part of a community of others, many of whom know what it is like to be hopelessly depressed.  Many of whom are more than open for you to reach out to (if you only knew!).

You *can* choose to kill yourself.  But it will be your last choice.  If you are ready to kill yourself, why not try out one choice first?  What do you have to lose?  I know it is scary, and perhaps way shameful, and maybe too awful, and extremely difficult — but, really, what do you have to lose?  Please know that you *can* choose to reach out to someone.  Please, know that you can.  Please, pick someone and reach out.

Why wait till your pain is so unendurable?  You can reach out now.  (Really, you can.)

Thanks,
Mitch.

 

Categories: General

36 comments

  • Amanda

    Very beautifully written.

    As someone who has also dealt with chronic depression, anxiety and panic disorders for as long as I can remember, you couldn’t be more right. In some ways, I was fortunate in that I had a full blown panic attack in the middle of my high school AP English class. It came out of nowhere. It was embarrassing. That panic attack though, I believe, was my saving grace. It alerted my teachers, parents and friends to a problem and a pain that I was trying so hard to hide from the world.

    I don’t know where I would be today if I wasn’t given the support I needed. I don’t know if I would have ever asked for it. It scares me that I don’t think I would have ever asked. On the other side, with support, I have come to find that life truly is a beautiful place to be.

    I didn’t know Ilya personally, but still wish that there was something I could have done. It really breaks my heart to know that such a bright and beautiful flame was extinguished before it even got a chance get truly blazing. I wish I would have gotten a chance to meet him. I wish that I lived in San Francisco and could have slayed some dragons with him.

    To anyone out there who’s experiencing any type of pain, Reach out! It’s hard. Seemingly impossible. Just know that you’re not alone. You’d be surprised at how many people do, or have at some point felt the way that you feel. You’re not alone. I remember when my silence about my pain was finally broken, I was beyond shocked at how many people are/have experienced the same thing. If you had asked me before, I would have swore that I was the only one and if I had let anyone know about it, they would have put me in a padded room. In the understanding from others, I began to heal. And through that healing, I began to learn how to experience a beautiful life.

    As Mitch said, why not try the other choice first? What do you have to lose?

  • Dave

    Im glad i saw this linked from your twitter. Although i did not know Ilya nor do i even know you im glad to see someone actually adress this. Being someone my self that spent an entire life hiding depression from the public and for the most part beating it i always wonder why people and media brush suicide under the rug. It is vastly ignored although its a huge huge huge issue in our society. Sadly it seems the only people comftorable speaking of it are those that have walked the line with it. I for one do not know if i have actually beaten depression or the suicidal thoughts but i do know for at least the past decade i have led a much better life but had to fight an internal battle with my self almost every day. If more people would openly speak of their situations maybe more of us could become comftorable with who we are and what we are and live happier. I dont know the answers and wont offer any but at least you confronting this publicly in the way you did is a step in the right direction. Thanks Mitch.

  • Malcolm

    Thanks, Mitch. I can toss my name in there too, re. depression, suicidal thoughts and one attempt. My path was a little different. I was a quintessential “good Catholic girl” who’s very depressed, suicidal mother had a breakdown and kicked me out. That’s the short version of the story. Untangling generations of pain has not been easy, but it’s worth it.

    Here’s an organization that can be helpful: http://theicarusproject.net, “Navigating the Space Between Brilliance and Madness”. I went to a workshop they gave on co-habitation last year: super inspiring.

  • Meredith L. Patterson

    Most people didn’t notice that Len was depressed, either. That’s the most difficult thing about being close to a smart depressed person — they’re very, very good at hiding their actual emotions. Keeping up appearances becomes of paramount importance, because they fear that anyone who saw how they really feel would turn away in disgust. Eventually, the strain of holding up the illusion becomes too great to bear, and then things like this happen.

    I wish I didn’t have firsthand experience.

  • Rose White/yarnivore

    Mitch, thanks so much for writing this and also drawing attention to it. Like some of the other folks responding, I have my own long experience of depression and suicidality, as well as experience of recovering from it and being able to love *being alive* even if I don’t always love every minute of it. I wrote about depression in my now-abandoned blog; here’s a link in case it might help anyone else: http://www.yarnivore.com/mt/archives/001870.html

    This: “If you are contemplating suicide, please know that you are not alone. You are part of a community of others, many of whom know what it is like to be hopelessly depressed. Many of whom are more than open for you to reach out to (if you only knew!).”

    Combating suicide and depression in our community is both urgent and important. As Meredith points out, smart depressed people are good at hiding it. Ilya’s death, and Len’s, show that this is so. Reinforcing the message that it is OK TO ASK FOR HELP is just as important as being excellent to each other; in fact, it is one way for us to be excellent. Even though I didn’t know Ilya or Len personally, I would have talked to either of them about my experiences and the resources I know are available. I suggest that we gather links to resources (like the Icarus Project, thank you, Malcolm!) that are most likely to be helpful to hackers and makers and very smart people, and then promote this throughout our hackersphere (on mailing lists, at cons and camps, in hackerspaces themselves). I’m not sure how to start that project, but I will absolutely collaborate with anyone who wants to do it. Somebody? Anybody? It does no good for us to be “self-reliant” if we aren’t actually *reliable* (because of depression/anxiety or other factors).

  • Emily

    Thank you for these kind words. Ilya was lucky to have such good friends. I did not know him, although Sunday was a day of deep psychic pain… I tried to kill myself when I was young and I would have been successful had my sister not seen me and cut the rope. We never talked about it, until a few years ago. All I can say is that at the moment that someone decides to end their life, it is with only the thought of ending the pain. The pain is real, lke an animal in a trap and the only thing at that moment is the thought of being free of that trap. The sad thing is that the outcomes can be different. I grieve the loss of this young person.

  • Sabine Engelhardt

    The problem is, that in acute depression reaching out is almost impossible. In this state, a depressive person cannot reach out. I know what I’m talking about …

    The only way to get help as a depressive person is to inform other people before it gets acute. At minimum tell one person that you really trust to do the right thing. And explain what you need then. Often this means that you have to find out yourself, what you would need in such a state.

    It helped me to be open about my chronic depression. Everywhere. In “real life”, on my web site, in my blog, on social media. Yes, I heard and read bad remarks about being “just lazy” or “just wants sympathy” and still hear and read them — and learned to ignore them including the people who utter(ed) them. A lot of “friends” left, and I learned who are my real friends, and I found new ones who accept me “depression inclusive”.

    Well, I’m almost double as old as Ilya was when he died, and perhaps I have just more experience, but I want to give that experience especially to the young people suffering from depression. The most important is: You are worth it to receive help. Ask for help, and, if necessary (doctors, authorities, etc.), demand it!

    To all others: Depression is a serious issue. Don’t tell depressive people they are “lazy” or “just want some sympathy”. Depression is nothing you would ever chose for yourself. It is an inner torture. You don’t have to understand all our problems, but you should accept them and take them seriously. We are not playing games.

  • fak3r

    This is a beautiful thing, it’s something I’ve wanted to write myself every time something like this happens, but I haven’t. You nailed the key element; knowing that you’re not along, no matter how dark it gets. Thank you Mitch.

  • MeeMa

    Thank you, Mitch. I didn’t know Ilya; I only heard about his death through the news reports. I’m so sad to hear that he killed himself. Your words summed up a lot of how I’ve felt throughout the years and even today. The pain just doesn’t go away and the confusion continues on. I do feel happy at times, but mostly I feel so alone. Your words have filled me with a sense of security; a sense of belonging. I’ve managed to live many years and will continue to seek answers to get rid of some of the pain. I find the whole practice of thinking positively absolutely alien, frustrating, and necessary. I’m hanging in there simply because I know how much is would devastate my children and grandchildren if I carried out any of my suicide fantasies. I have reached out and am getting professional help. There’s nothing to worry about as far as I’m concerned. Your words made me think that maybe someday I will love living simply because I love myself and what I have to offer the world. I’ll continue to “fake it ’til I make it” with my grandchildren and most of the people I know because I find that when I act “as if” wonderful things happen. I just consider it practice towards developing a new and better habit. It helps me get stuff done. Getting stuff done makes me happy. This is a cycle worth continuing. Thanks, Mitch. You really made a difference in my life.

  • Glenn_Roberson

    I joined the Diaspora network not too long back. I joined it, invited some of my friends to join (a few accepted and are there), then started to explore the network. I read some of the posts on the hashtags and posted comments on a few. Then I got an email notification that someone was following me – someone I didn’t know from Joe Blow. That someone was Ilya.

    I found it a bit strange, but I figured that something I had posted somewhere had struck a chord with him, so I followed him back. I sent him a nice PM, wondering why he would follow “little ole me” but sending my greetings and my happiness to meet him. It was a couple of weeks or so later that I found out EXACTLY who he was. To say that I felt flattered would be an understatement! Not being one to impose myself on someone of “celebrity,” I felt that since I had sent an initial greeting message to him, any further communication should be initiated by him. Further communication did not occur.

    When I learned of his death, it hit me like a ton of bricks! I very close to took it personally, even though I had virtually no communication with him. I didn’t even learn about it on Diaspora; one of the friends I invited told me about it on his Discussion Forum. Now this news has flattened me the rest of the way.

    I’m having a vague misgiving that somehow I should have known or seen something and reached out. Intellectually, I know there is no way that I could have known or seen any “signs.” Even his close friends who knew him well and were physically present didn’t know or see any signs – how could I? It doesn’t make any difference; I still can’t shake the feeling.

    All I can do is express my deep sorrow and my condolences to his family and friends who knew him. He is someone I met, but never really knew, yet I feel a deep sense of loss.

  • someone

    What if you reached out, and basically no one gave a fuck?
    What if you know why you are depressed, but you know that the reasons cannot be done away by force, only hope … and you somehow are fed up just hoping?
    Hope somehow gets weaker the longer you “use it”. Encouraging words, a pat on the back are really nice but don’t do away the reasons of your depression.

    I made this decision quite some time ago, the only thing preventing me is that I cannot do it while the single one person loved by me and loving me is still alive. My mother.
    So I live knowing that the most liberating day of my life will also be the saddest one. Which sometimes brings me in the most disturbing situation of waking up hoping the day has finally arrived. I deeply and sincerely hate myself for this alone.

    That said, 22 is not an age to be fed up with anything.

  • Sumana Harihareswara

    Dear someone (comment November 21st, 2011 at 12:20): I am not an expert and I’ve never been in your boat, but I think it’s pretty key to know that your brain is lying to you — it might fight you and come up with all sorts of reasons why dying is the best way, but that’s the disease talking.

    Noisebridge cares. See this thread: https://www.noisebridge.net/pipermail/noisebridge-discuss/2011-November/026278.html and https://www.noisebridge.net/wiki/Depression . If you reach out, you won’t be ignored.

  • Mitch

    @someone:

    I hear your pain. And maybe I understand it, too.

    As you have (sadly) experienced, there is no guarantee that reaching out to someone means that they will care. But I am very glad that you have found a way to live for a while longer. While you are alive, you can, if you think it might possibly be worthwhile, explore other options. Not much to lose in doing so.

    When I was super depressed during the first half of my life. I used the same reaspon to stay alive — not thinking that I had a right to make my parents so distraught by killing myself. That kept me alive to eventually explore other options. I pushed most people away from me, and surrounded myself with people who really didn’t care. But over time, having nothing to lose, I made some exprimental choices, was burned badly, but in new way (not the same old ways). That led me to try other new choices. I learned from the consequences of my choices, and had more experiences — good, bad, and indifferent, as well as horrible. But at least there was some good (which surprised me!). Over lots of time, and lots more trials and errors, I actually had friends who did care, and who I knew cared (I may have before, but I pushed them away, or was too depressed to know it).

    Eventually I got to a place where I actually had friends, actually had a life I didn’t hate all the time, and eventually learned to live a life I love.

    There’s no guarantee that you can find this in your life. And I really don’t want to talk you into or out of anything. You make your own choices. But while you are alive, why not explore the possibility? You really do have nothing to lose.

    As your the name you gave yourself shows: you *are* someone — a real, live, breathing human being. You deserve to be happy.

    Best,
    Mitch.

  • noone

    Great in theory. But how do you reach out when there is nobody to reach out to?

    @someone I almost feel as if I could have written your post myself, but, I’m not quite that far. Hang in there. I am trying to.

  • Marshall

    Depression, especially chronic depression, conspires to rob us of alternatives. We always have them, we just defeat ourselves before the attempt.
    …and sometimes reality kicks you in the face and jumps up and down on you. Really! That’s life!

    I’ve dealt a little with both problems, and I have *some* tools for dealing with them.
    I’ve been chronically depressed at interval (age 7-32) and it never ceases to surprise me how much little things matter. If you can win a thousand small battles with depression. You have… a thousand less battles. But they matter! Why?

    When you can’t control the thing that is killing you:
    The careless acts of others. The actions of world powers that suck and are dumb.
    Stupidity and pain and dead end lifestyles/jobs.

    You can control something.

    Clean your favorite spoon. Read. Make something. Have a chat about it. Share!
    Like all training of the brain and body a habit will take hold.
    One attempt, a hundred attempts, it might not cut it. So make a habit of having good habits.
    Assistance…from the right people… may also be iterable =]

    Anyway, habits count. They’re my best tool, though at this point I have many.
    @someone @noone Good luck in yer struggles!
    @mitch thanks for sharing! Hugs!

  • Mitch

    @noone I don’t want to argue against where you are in your life. But if you want to change your life to one that you like, it is possible. You can start, as I said, by making some new choice. It is so *not* easy. But, what do you have to lose? And you have so much to gain. It is not easy to meet people. It is not easy to change. It is not easy to live with one’s private hell of depression. It is not easy to do any of these things. This is life. And it can suck! But we all can still make choices. We can. And we do. Why not make some conscious ones that you think might help? It will take a long time to learn to meet people who care, and not mess things up (and you will mess up lots along the way!). You are obviously incredibly intelligent. And sensitive. And feeling. You are probably creative as hell. You can learn. I did. And if I could, anyone can. Seriously. I went from being totally terrified of humans, full of bone crushing despair and self-loathing — to someone who loves my life. It is possible! And it is *so* worthwhile attempting. You may even find that you can find your own way to love your life!

  • Amanda

    @noone, you said “Great in theory. But how do you reach out when there is nobody to reach out to?” and
    @someone, you said “What if you reached out, and basically no one gave a fuck?”

    I used to think the same thing. And really, in my group of family in friends, in my head, it was true. But personally, my best resource was a therapist. I would attribute my being alive today to the 4 or so therapists I’ve had in my life. It sounds so cliche, but it’s what got me through. When I thought no one gave a fuck, my therapist was there. When I thought there was no one to reach out to, my therapist was there. The therapists that I’ve had through my last 20 years or so of battling my demons have given me the the clarity to understand what I was going through, the strength to reach out to others who loved me so that they too could understand what I was going through and therefor build a network of people, support and love to hold me up in the moments where I thought no one gave a shit.

    All it takes is one phone call and a visit… an hour of your time… to maybe start a relationship that could give you the life that you thought never existed for you. And I get it. I understand at this point that you may not even want that life anymore… because it just doesn’t make sense that it could exist. But, being someone that’s been there before. To every single day, wake up, barely have gotten the sleep out of my eyes and immediately feel cornered and scared, alone and out of hope, options, desire and passion. I get it. But there is peace out there. There are people that care to listen, that “give a fuck” that are there to “reach out to”. For me it was a therapist. For others it may be support lines, or “Geeks & Depression” meetups. I just encourage you to make a phone call. Check out this website to find a therapist near you. http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/
    Or email me for my phone number at amandalynn at me dot com. I “give a fuck” and I’m here to “reach out to”.

  • Amanda

    I’m not sure how to say this without sounding a little confrontative in nature… but it seems to me that @noone and @someone ARE reaching out in their own way. Maybe I’m reading too much into their comments, but to me it seems that they are asking for help. They’re asking for someone to give a fuck. I just encourage that we try to be there for them to reach out to. @someone or @noone could very well been the next Ilya just asking for someone to care. I just guess that somehow an article stating “hey guys, if you’re feeling depressed, reach out” and then someone reaches out in the comments, more or less saying “I’m ready to make this decision”, (by saying that alone,to me at least, they’re asking for help), and the replies are simply “good luck in your struggles”. I hate to say it, but this breaks my heart. “Reaching out” is hard, and it very rarely comes in the form of “hey guys, I need help”. I just think some of the education that needs to happen is, “how to be receptive to people reaching out” and “the different ways that people can reach out”. I don’t know… “Good luck in your struggles” just doesn’t seem to cut it as a comment to an article asking those that are struggling to ask for help.

  • Marshall

    @amanda You’re right. You need luck (and a lot more). Most importantly you have to let chances happen. Therapy != solution for me, but I don’t disagree with you at all. Mea culpa, I am chided. I did say “I have been depressed”, I did not say “I’ve also been a troll” – we are *all* lucky I’m in recovery. Mostly. *twitch*

    To the point of silent suffering:
    I have seen outreach fail, but Mitch is absolutely right. A better life is worth it, and you always have choices.
    Like I said, in depression we close options off. Fight that. Try something. All the things – as a habit, if you can.
    Nobody has ‘the answers’ but seeking them with others is a lot more tolerable than presuming they don’t exist.

    If you are in Austin TX, come hack at our space. We’ve got geeks w/depression too. Else Go. Seek. Try.

  • Mitch

    If anyone is writing to this comment thread, then they are asking for help, or offering help (or both).

    @noone — you chose a name to express your shame, your depression, your feelings of worthlessness? That shame, that depression, those feelings — they prove you exist, that you are someone. And you deserve to exist. As you can read, there are others, including myself, who have shared at least some of your experience, some of your intense feelings of worthlessness, your sense that there is no one to reach out to. You found a place with people to reach out to.

    @Marshall and @Amanda — I think that you both are actually on the same page (just different ways of expressing emotional realms that are ever so difficult to express) (and we are certainly going to be somewhat sensitive to language that has worked and not worked for us in our past experiences).

    Holiday times are often the worst for depression. They always were for me. It is a time when we are *supposed* to have warm fuzzy loving feelings with family and loved ones. I never felt even a hint of that possibility with my family when I was super depressed. And seeing images of idilic families on billboards, magazines, TV (as well as families in the street seeming to emulate those images), while all the while it all seemed to be about buying and selling and marketing… — it drove me further inward to hide from my shame and frustrations and rage and feelings of total worthlessness and self-loathing.

    And from volunteering on an emotional support hotline for many years, it seems that my feelings of worse depression during holidays are not so unique to me — holiday times are the times when we got the most calls.

    Please feel free to express whatever you wish here — it is totally anonymous (if you like), and it is a place where I hope you will feel fine and safe to do so.

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