There IS Depression In New Zealand - More Of Me

The following are raw answers to "feature" questions asked of me by a mate as she completes a journalism course - I hope I can share the final result with you. In the meantime, here's me from the inside.

1) About you - who you are, what you do, background and what led you to NZ and to become what you are now in the tech industry?

My name is Mike Riversdale, although some may know me by my online nickname/handle/alter ego of Miramar Mike, and you knew me way back when as Mike Boyle … oh the fun we have with names eh.

I do an eclectic bunch of stuff, mostly these days I focus on connecting people, explaining stuff and getting things done. I generally do this with and on the boundaries of the “tech” world by producing events and co-hosting and publishing a weekly podcast called Access Granted NZ.

In the past I worked more traditionally inside the tech world for large companies, government agencies and towards the end of that phase of my life with start-ups and stay-ups. I have always been an “information guy”, love facts, my favourite types of programmes are BBC produced QI-type comedy programmes - fun with facts thrown in. ANd whilst I have worked with tech, databases, website production and the like I moved quite quickly from the machines and towards people focussing on being a business analyst (“the people’s poet” as I was once called), information and towards the end knowledge management.

I discovered the web back in London in the early 1990s, at Etam PLC actually, when we were called into the CIO’s office and show the Volvo website on his computer screen. We were all blown away and I knew then that was the way of the future … and still to this day, when I need to check I have a working Internet connection, I type in :)

That percolated and as my wife and I decided to move to Christchurch mid-2000’s I made the call that we weren’t gonna drag our PCs and hard drives around with us … and so we moved the just release Google Apps for Business (kicking and screaming I can tell you). And so we lived the Web 2.0 (now called “cloud”) dream.

Doing it I knew it was only a matter of time before this could change businesses and so, with a mate, we started Wave Adept, helping business and agencies move to Google Apps (now called GSuite, ugh). Our time was awesome, we hit the GFC and IT managers were being told, “No, you can’t have more money to update Exchange servers, thing differently”. We were acquired by Cloud Sherpas and subsequently it was acquired by Accenture … timing, good luck and knowing our stuff (it’s about people, not computers) all played a part.

2) When did you realise you were suffering from depression? Was there something that triggered this?

I’ve always been told I was a “moody” person. I could swing from over the top happiness where I was bullet proof and able to make the world on my own whim (seemingly). During these yim I would be able to juggle so many balls it made people dizzy but I believed it was just normal. Of course the other side is the down. During my mid-20’s I would have large bouts of self-doubt, question everything and everyone, be wracked by imposter syndrome (a phrases I wish I had learnt about back then).

So, it’s always been there - depression and anger in equal parts that would surface for the world to see at random times and inappropriate moments … I’m sure you can list them for me ;)

What triggered it .. great question. Back then I would have answered with something like, “Because people don’t get it … FUCK, maybe it’s me. It’s me isn’t it!” Inner feelings of being abandoned would need the smallest of triggers, my anger would rush up to protect the fragile, lonely, damaged boy inside and off we’d go. Typically after yet another successful defence I would have energy to burn and up we went into the stratosphere yet again.

Recently though this view has matured, and whilst the behaviours are correct I would suggest that it was mostly inner feelings of feeling worthless. It would be all too easy to ‘blame’ my parents and their separation (and subsequent getting back together) but there’s certainly parts of it. I also felt, as many children did back in the day, that I was to be seen and not heard - wasn’t really included in much, never consulted.

I now also recognise that there is a chemical / brain makeup involved - I am more susceptible to these feelings / behaviours growing within me just because of the way it all works inside the skull. It’s a weird thing to acknowledge and I’m still coming to peace with this.

3) How do you feel when you are depressed?

That’s a great question.

Whilst the triggers are many and varied the outcomes of the depression I experience are almost always the same. I feel alone in the world, I feel inadequate and I feel I can’t cope.

There’s also no talking me out of it, there’s nothing logical anyone can do to “make it better”.

I now know that I need to be kind to myself, take care of myself and even potentially let something go in order to have that space to allow this to happen. This used to cause angst for myself and those close to me as it has financial repercussions, however if I try to “keep going coz I hve to” I never get through it, dive deeper into the feelings of loneliness, worthlessness and inadequateness.

I need to be happy where I am. Enjoy my feelings of depression and let it naturally move on just as the clouds in Wellington always blow away eventually. It is my everlasting good fortune that I both see it AND, more importantly, have a partner and position where this can happen.

4) How did you seek help?

Back in early 2016 all of those “moody Mike” feelings had built up to an explosion of pain and anger that was so large it blew the top off everything I know. Despite me chucking things, such as alcohol, terrible behaviour and smart-alecness into the mouth of the volcano to get rid of them I couldn’t see that I was feeding the very beast deep inside.

I crashed.

My wife said stop, I stopped. For 4 days I lay in bed. Nothing. I was in nothingness.

I could not be that person ever again. The pain I felt, the pain I had caused the bridges I burned, the people that reacted to me were all things could never be a part of my life ever again.

We call that a mental breakdown … a phrase I loathe, one I am still embarrassed to say out loud. A sign of weakness, a sign of how faulty I was. But a phrase I am slowly, through talking to other men and my wife, that I recognise is totally appropriate.

I sought out, yet again, a counsellor. tbh, this wasn’t the first time I had counselling, heck I’d even been a trainee counsellor myself. And yet, this time I was truly ready, I connected. I went along with the driving focus of going deep, of being a better man, of sorting it out, of not being scared of counselling no matter what. Fuck, this time I am not gone run for the hills or hide inside as I had done all the other times.

And I finally relented, drugs were needed. I went to my local GP, took the quiz (yes, I was feeling suicidal, “Surely not after the people in my life that had committed suicide, and how I knew it was the ‘wrong’ choice’, how could I be??”). The GP was very matter of fact, prescribed fluoxetine and … my brain slowed, it gave me space, it managed the bouncing from bank to bank in the turbulent river of my life. I have recently changed to other drugs that have no drowsy making side effects but they are now a part of my life.

Counsellor, drugs and finally my loved ones. I reached out, I cried, I opened up (and still learning to do that). I hugged, I allowed myself to be faulty, I showed that I didn’t have the answers, I needed help. And the loved ones (tears as I write this) stood next to me, they were and are there and they never judged, they never tried to resolve it for me, they were just there.

5) NZ has a high rate or depression and suicide especially amongst men. You’ve asserted that the tech industry seems to suffer from depression perhaps more than other industries. Do you have an idea of any particular reason (from your blog you’ve said its competitive, failure isn’t an option, largely still male?) If women are in tech do they suffer to the same extent as men do you know?

I ask the question whether the tech industry (whatever that truly is) suffers more from depression. As I am really only a part of this industry it’s the only one I can comment upon, maybe the logging industry, or the hospo industry or the farming industry have equal amounts of depression. Actually, I suspect it’s one where males are prevalent (not to say women don’t suffer from depression). Tech is still, unfortunately, heavily male oriented and maybe that’s why it looms so large.

I think there’s a few major reasons - men. Men are shite at this . Kiwi men are particular bad at this. “This” being able to admit that they don’t know everything, they may need help and that they feel lonely. Not everyone, but a LOT of men live into the image of the typical Kiwi Man and push down, turn a blind ear to the inner pain.

Also, those that make computers do what the computers do - the developers, are good at what they do because of the way their brain works. The reason they don’t want to be salespeople, or extravagant show-y founders is precisely what makes them good at doing what they do. Not everyone, some can flow between the worlds at ease, they are amazing. So maybe depression is something we force un these young men and women, by expecting them to be different, to attend team development days, by expecting them to being fully engaged in meeting when that’s not how it is inside - they want to make the computers to what they have been asked to make the computers do.

Hands up - this is a revelation from a good friend that I am slowly coming to grips with, this isn’t my insight.

There is also Engineers Disease - but I would say go listen to auyrnn shaw’s discussion on this, she nails it far better than I:

And do women suffer from this?
YES! It is to be human to feel. Women, in my observation, mostly have the tools and the networks to manage it. Never everyone of course.

The tools and networks are not some nature given gift that women are blessed with by being women. It’s something they are grateful to learn from others that model it, and they work hard at. There seems, from this side of the gender, to be a societal acceptance that this is ok, “the way of things” - of course this has downsides as with all stereotypes. I’d like men to learn from those in society that are more adept.

But yes, I know of many women in tech and it’s surrounds that manage their inner angst, their own ‘black dog’.

We are connected by that, and not by our genders.

AND, I would say, you should talk to them … I’m not one, so my role is to get out of the way and hear from women about it!

6) What needs to change in general do you think to help reverse the depression epidemic here in NZ (not just in tech but in general)?

Gosh, that is a biiiiig question. One I hope this new government is focussed upon, one that is being asked by those that can make changes and that people work together, no matter how different the viewpoints are, because it is a BIIIIG question.

Firstly, is there an ”epidemic” - it’s not something I would knowledgeably say is what New Zealand is experiencing.

But maybe it is.

All I can really talk to is men, white men, mostly white men that work in and around tech to some degree.

I think what needs to change is more JK’s … more in the tech industry. More people like me standing up and saying this is how was and is for me.

And more modelling that, in many many different ways, this is life and that if it’s getting in the way - as I say, sometimes I love being depressed, I welcome the black dog as a relief from the drudgery of experience, the spark of difference, the legitimate chance to stop and be kind to myself … maybe I don't welcome the black dog, but if I can sense it’s coming towards me and I can take the alert and do something about it. BUT, if it is getting in the way then men are not alone, boys see that it can be dealt with by their fathers, their uncles, their mates dads, their bosses, their peers … it can be ok to acknowledge, no-one will make fun of them, no-one will sack them, people want to help,

Also, get the drugs if you need it. Well, get yuaself down to your GP, that you trust and isn’t some doddery old fuck, and open up.

Allow yourself to be helped.

What what needs to change?

Men need to stand up and be kind to themselves.
Society needs to allow this to happen.
Modelling of it needs to teach society how this happens.
Men need to allow women to share and lead with their experience on how to model it.

All at the same time, because it’s recursive.

7) Specifically with you - how are you getting on now?

As a wonderful male friend says to me, “Life is a rich tapestry”.

I am a different person than I was in May 2016. I am always learning, I am always curious and I am always on the watch for Gollum as being Smeagol is was more peaceful.

On a scale of 1 - 10, with 1 being terrible, and 10 being amazing I am, as I write this, a good solid 8 … and I am comfortable with that.

Peace is my watchword,

8) Do you help others you know who may battle with black dog too?

One of my previous behaviours that could and sometimes did feed the volcano growing within me was to rescue.

I no longer have any desire for that, I steer clear of those that reach out to be rescued, it’s not who I am and certainly not what I do anymore.

Ok, my partner and kids, I’ll always be there to do that if needed … but even then, rescuing isn’t really that helpful.

Fish, rod, teaching, fishermen and all that.

However, I do one thing that I believe helps other (men, but anyone) and that’s share my story.

I share my ongoing battles, my growth, the times I slip up, what I think I’ve learnt. Mostly I share, publicly and as authentically as I can, what I am going through. I am not trying to give a voice to others, I am not a poster person (a la JK) and I certainly don’t see this as “my work”. I do want to be courageous, model it and those that take solace and comfort from the fact they’re not alone … that fills me up.

Never alone.

9) Has anything improved since the beginning of 2017?

Um, since May 2016 or specifically this year?

Yes, everything has improved. My relationship with my wife has improved beyond the boundaries of the universe. The understanding of my kids and their teenage angst has deepened. Who I want to be in the world, what I bring, how I am worthy has allowed me to focus and make a real difference to those around me. I am mostly though at peace with my past, with who I am and I am always trying to be kind to myself, and that improves me, the deep inside, sometimes still scared me.

So yeah, everything has improved.

And long may it continue, even when depression makes it's journey back to my part of the world.


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