README: depressive episode

Hello, and welcome. If you’ve been handed this README, then you’re likely interacting with me while I’m experiencing a depressive episode. I’ve written this README on some ways you can help (if you’re so inclined) and some best practices for interacting with me.

About (my) depression

I have been diagnosed with bipolar II with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) component. I’m under the care of doctors and counsellors who are aware of the diagnosis and prescribe appropriate medicines and therapies. Despite this, I still have regular depressive episodes. These episodes can have obvious triggers, but often they don’t. They generally occur about once every three months and last one to four weeks.

During an episode, I experience:

When I was younger and untreated these symptoms were worse and were sometimes coupled with suicidal ideation. Thanks to treatment, this is extremely rare today, and when I’m feeling this way, I will tell someone.

How you can help

Of course, my mental health is not your responsibility. This guide assumes you’re a friend, co-worker, manager, or family member who is likely to interact with me during this episode. These are suggestions and requests, not requirements. The most important thing I can ask, is be kind, gentle, and understanding.

if you’re a coworker or manager

I’m generally going to be less productive when I’m depressed. I may call off work (sometimes explicitly for mental health, other times as a general “not feeling well.") I’ll likely be less engaged in meetings and may have my camera off in video meetings. I may request to reschedule 1:1s. I’ll be less likely to volunteer to facilitate a meeting. I may appear less engaged or more distracted. I’ll likely be slower to respond in chat or email.

The best things you can do are:

on absenteeism

In very rare circumstances, I will be AWOL (away without leave) from work. If that’s the case, especially if you’re my manager: first, I sincerely apologize, second, you’re welcome to call me and confirm what’s going on. Calling is better than e-mail in this case, as I’m likely not checking my e-mail. When I return to work, I will talk to my manager and confirm what happened, back date any requests for sick/personal days, and accept any disciplinary action.

if you’re a friend or family member

When I’m depressed, I’m more likely to temporarily “ghost” people (i.e. not respond to their texts/e-mails). Please try not to take this personally, this is a fear response. I often will respond eventually, and regardless do want to hear from you. You’re welcome to resend your message. I won’t take this as being pushy or clingy, but rather as an act of compassion to try to reach out while I’m not feeling well.

I may miss scheduled appointments/dates/etc. I’ll do my best to cancel as far in advance as possible, and I likely do want to reschedule when I’m feeling better.

Some things I find helpful from friends during an episode:

Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to read this README. If you have any questions, you’re welcome to ask. Mental health disorders, their causes and symptoms, are an ongoing field of study. Items I’ve listed in this manual as helpful to me, may be harmful to other people with depression. If you have friends or family members who are struggling with depression, talk to them about how you can be most helpful.

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, there is hope, and you do not have to go through this alone. You can find a hotline to call in your country at https://blog.opencounseling.com/suicide-hotlines/.