This article was published 11 years ago

Tragedies should inspire people to talk about their struggles, not hide them

Aaron Swartz
Aaron Swartz at a Boston Wiki Meetup – Image credit: Flickr / Sage Ross

I must admit, for someone that writes about technology, I never met Aaron Swartz. I didn’t even know how much an important impact he left on the Internet: RSS, XML, Infogami/Reddit, his activism on Stop Online Piracy Act. I didn’t know his “liberation” of government (PACER) and academic (JSTOR) databases, which brought involvement from the federal government. I didn’t know that federal charges were filed against Swartz for “hacking” academic databases that many believe – including his family – was the sole reason behind his suicide. But both of us have one item in common: a constant, vicious battle with depression.

I bring this up because I’ve been battling depression for thirteen years. It’s something family members and relatives do not want me to address publicly but in the wake of tragic events, it needs the up-most attention. Those that met Aaron and wrote about their experiences have a common thread: a gentle kid that was killed by the federal government.  It’s a disgrace to Swartz and his memory that they’re ignoring a disease that wreak havoc and can control your life.

Which is why I want to talk about my depression: how I deal with and how it affects my daily life.

My depression was first diagnosed in 2000 when I was a junior in high school. I hated going to school, not because of bullies but because I didn’t want to go. My parents had me evaluated for depression, especially since my mother has a family history of depression – including herself – and they thought I was suicidal. The results showed that I suffered severe depression and suggested that I see a physiologist and start taking medication, which I resisted but gradually accepted. One month after taking Zoloft, I noticed a complete change in my behavior and felt more active in my lifestyle.

I stopped taking the medication in 2002 because I felt that I was cured and didn’t need it anymore. It turned out to be a mistake. The demons came back in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina made it worst in 2005. I went back on Zoloft but I felt no change in my behavior, only that I had shortness of breath, lots of sweating [summertime in Louisiana didn’t help] and weight gain.

The struggles continued and I found new ways to fight them. Exercising helped a lot and all I did was walk around the neighborhood. The hardest was forcing myself away from the computer. I’ve also rid myself of drinking carbonated soft drinks like Coke and Sprite.

Even with the lifestyle changes, I still have good and bad days. You can read an example of bad day when I nervous breakdown on my trip to SXSW in 2011, which I never had since then. But it doesn’t mean they disappear completely; there are some days when all I want to do is never leave my bed and the house, even for a meal or check the mail. There are days when I don’t fall asleep until 4 in the morning, pacing the living room with nervousness or excitement. You’ll notice when I have those days when nothing gets published.

While it may sound awful what have to struggle with on a daily basis, keep this in mind: A suicidal though never crossed my mind, this includes cutting myself! I never took up drugs or smoking and I found projects to keep myself busy. I feel that ending my life is a coward’s way out of trouble and it only adds misery to those that love and follow me. That is my opinion and not directed towards those that committed suicide because you don’t know what their mindset is at the moment. All we know – or at least we think we know – is that Aaron Swartz’s life must have been horrible if he felt that ending his beautiful life was the only out. We know he was in trouble because he wrote about it online.

Hours after his death was announced, people began to treat him as a martyr; a victim of a tyrannical government looking for a puppet to tame computer hackers. He should be treated as a injured soul that needed help, but afraid to ask.