How I Got My Brain Back
Using observation, investigation, and productivity methods to understand my depression
Hi! Dan here—a few weeks ago I wrote a post called What is underneath productivity? where I argued that if we truly want to understand productivity we have to understand the things that lie below it: psychology, neuroscience, literature, and philosophy. In essence, to look at productivity is to look at the human experience. How our brains and bodies work, and how they can move us closer or further away from what we value.
Once you're thinking about brains and bodies, the next and most important topic to explore is mental health. That's why I'm so proud to share this article with you from Brie Wolfson, a writer who's worked for Figma, Stripe Press, and elsewhere, and now runs the zine for organizational development, The Kool-Aid Factory. It's an honest, and brave account of her struggle with depression, and the tools and systems she built, with support, to help herself cope with it. I think you'll find ideas in it to help you manage your emotional life, and, hopefully a sense of connection with another human who is struggling, and learning, and developing just like the rest of us.
Just over a year ago, I was hit with my first and nasty—and I mean nasty—wave of depression. I made it thirty-two whole years without experiencing a crushing inability to get out of bed or a persistent lump in the back of the throat and it was terrifying to find myself facing some very big, and very scary feelings without any familiarity, experience, or tools to deal with them.
I was so accustomed to being on top of it all. Straight A’s. All American athlete. Two-time novelist. A decade-long career in tech working with many of the smartest, kindest, hardest-working people I’ve ever encountered. And now it could barely muster the motivation to brush my teeth?
I’m on the other side of it now. And, from this admittedly fortunate position, I can say with confidence that I’m grateful I went through it. Having my back against the wall forced me to understand more about what makes me tick, shuts me down, and picks me up. And it forced me to make some big changes in my life to get acquainted with and comfortable accommodating them. I wish I had done a lot of this work sooner.
Given what I now intimately understand about depression, it feels strange to write those words and even stranger to publish them where anyone might encounter them. Depression is awful. I don’t wish it on anyone. I know not everyone finds their way out and that those who do have walked many different paths to get there.
I’m going to share more about the path I walked, and what I learned about myself in the process. I know that I am only one person with one set of experiences and one body with one brain and one endocrine system governing it all. But maybe, just maybe, someone else will find what I tried and learned useful. And maybe, just maybe, someone somewhere will find greener grass, whether their current patch is experiencing rain or shine.