2017 - Darkest timeline

personal 17 comments suggest edit

This year felt a lot like living in the darkest timeline and an episode of Black Mirror at the same time.

The darkest timeline

When I look back at the year, the most significant event for me is also the hardest to write about because it’s deeply personal. Not just for me, but for members of my family. And I often don’t see how the benefit of exposing our private lives overcomes the risks.

But in talking to them and others, they encouraged me to share in the hopes it helps others in similar situations. Trigger warnings, discussion of depression and suicidal thoughts ahead.

For years, my wife has struggled with crippling suicidal depression. It’s something she’s written about on Medium in beautiful yet haunting posts. We approach it like an illness, not a character failing. Over time, it’s improved, but it’s always there. We struggle together, but we manage.

This year, it became more difficult to manage because we started to see signs of this with my son. He went through a period where he had a downright negative physical reaction to going to school. On top of that, he would talk about how he was worthless and wanted to die. It’s easy to dismiss such talk from a child. It may have been an idle fascination, but there was something there and we wanted to address it before it became something more serious.

At the same time, work was extremely stressful for me. My work suffered, and my ability to support my family suffered. In the span of a month both my manager and my manager’s manager left the company leaving me reporting directly to our CEO according to the org chart, but pretty much left to my own devices.

My wife had been improving, but our son’s issues were triggering for her and it was difficult for her to support him while focusing on her own healing. With all that, we were still scraping by because the kids were in school during the day. With the summer approaching, we were worried about the toll that would take on my wife.

It was then I asked GitHub for a leave of absence. Fortunately, our HR folks told me about the Family Medical Leave Act or FMLA.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides certain employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. It also requires that their group health benefits be maintained during the leave.

When you take a leave, there’s always the concern that your job (or equivalent) won’t be there when you return. If approved, the FMLA protects your job during your leave. Our son’s doctor signed the necessary paper-work and I took eight weeks off for the summer. In general, FMLA leave is unpaid, but on a case-by-case basis, Github provides eight weeks of paid leave for serious situations like this. I am very grateful to my employer.


We decided to start the leave by getting out of town. A change of scenery would do us a lot of good, so we flew to Jamaica! This was our first time staying in an all-inclusive resort. We really didn’t want to have to think about anything, but decompress and spend time together.

the resort

We had a magical time there. We really didn’t want to leave, but resorts aren’t cheap.

During this time, I started reading Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life in the hopes it would provide guidance on how to help my son. When we got back from Jamaica, we also set up some counseling for him through our local Eastside Youth Services center.

For the rest of the summer, we spent a lot of time together. It was a gorgeous summer in Bellevue and we went on a ton of hikes and spent a lot of time swimming at the lake. And throughout all this, we really worked through our issues. I’ll always treasure this time.

Getting help

Perhaps in another post I’ll talk about some of the other things that happened in my life 2017 if you’re interested (say so in the comments).

But for this post, I leave you with this. Mental health issues are not a character flaw or a moral failing. It’s an illness. It can be treated. And if you’re one who supports people with mental illness, you need support too.

Here’s some useful resources to keep in mind:

The good news is all the time we spent this summer really paid off. We continue to have our challenges, but both my wife and son are in a much better place. I’m doing much better as well. I didn’t mention my daughter, but she’s made out of titanium. She’s well too.

Again, I write this not because I enjoy sharing such personal details. I’d rather keep it all quiet because it’s nobody else’s business. But I’ve heard many times from many people how hearing that someone else they know is going through a similar struggle was not only comforting, but spurred them to take action to address their own situation. If you’re in the same boat, I hope this post helps.

And if you are in such a boat and have nobody else to talk to, feel free to hit up my DMs on Twitter. I’ll be honest though, to maintain my own mental health, I’m protective of my time and may not respond in a timely fashion. After all, we’re on a holiday break right now and my kids are telling me to get off the computer. :)

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17 responses

  1. Avatar for TheOtherTimDuncan
    TheOtherTimDuncan December 27th, 2017

    You may find http://thebloggess.com/ helpful.

  2. Avatar for Dave Glick
    Dave Glick December 27th, 2017

    Thank you for writing this. Many years ago my wife struggled with her own stigmatized and poorly understood mental health issue (not depression, but I'll omit details for her privacy). It wasn't until we found an online community with other people going through the same thing that she was able to see it wasn't just her and start the process of recovery. I'm am positive this post and others like it help people.

  3. Avatar for Matt Davis
    Matt Davis December 27th, 2017

    Sounds like you put in some serious work this summer, good to hear its paying off.

  4. Avatar for ELawrence
    ELawrence December 27th, 2017

    This is a powerful story. I have been silently reading your technical and humorous commentary for years. Thank you for sharing yourself. Many best wishes to you and your family.

  5. Avatar for Abhinaba Basu
    Abhinaba Basu December 27th, 2017

    Thanks for writing about this. When I went through some really trying times with my wife's health 6 years back, I deliberated a lot and finally wrote about it. I have come to learn that it had helped a few folks face similar issues. I am sure this will be no different. I was close to taking some time off as well and Microsoft HR told me about FMLA.

    I wish your family overcomes the illness and comes out stronger than before.

  6. Avatar for wesreisz
    wesreisz December 27th, 2017

    That's a courageous post Phil. Glad you're back, but I'm more glad you were able to take the time. Take care of what's important brother. There's a lesson there too.

  7. Avatar for dpitt
    dpitt December 28th, 2017

    Thanks for sharing your family's personal story. I hope you've all enjoyed Christmas!

  8. Avatar for Joakim
    Joakim December 28th, 2017

    Thanks for sharing! You are doing the right things, keep doing them! Best wishes to you and your family.

  9. Avatar for Sergey Litvinov
    Sergey Litvinov December 28th, 2017

    Thanks for sharing this Phil. you are a very good person and i'm reading your blog for ages. so i wish you and your family all the best!

  10. Avatar for Mark Freedman
    Mark Freedman December 28th, 2017

    Thanks for sharing, Phil. I can definitely relate. Best wishes for you and your family.

  11. Avatar for Matthew Morgan
    Matthew Morgan December 28th, 2017

    Thanks for sharing Phil. These kinds of things are tough and taboo to talk about. I have someone close in my family that suffers from mental illness. I’ll say the medical industry at large is not prepared for it either. The way this person was over medicated, marginalized and “red flagged” by her psychiatrist was unbelievable.

  12. Avatar for haacked
    haacked December 29th, 2017

    Thanks for all the kind comments! It helps to hear that many of you have been through similar situations. The more we talk about it, the more we remove the stigma that surrounds discussion of mental illness. That's a good step towards making progress and getting people the help they need.

  13. Avatar for Corey Coto
    Corey Coto January 5th, 2018


    As a longtime reader of your blog, I always finish one of your posts learning something new. It's usually about Software Engineering and Leadership but today it was something new and unexpected.

    Thank you for sharing with us something so deeply personal. I'm grateful and definitely learned something new about depression and mental illness that will help me if one of my loved ones finds themselves in a similar experience.

    Thank you!

  14. Avatar for Binary Worrier
    Binary Worrier January 8th, 2018

    It's never easy to share things like this, but it's so helpful.
    Thanks mate

  15. Avatar for Jim Holmes
    Jim Holmes January 16th, 2018

    Powerful stuff. Thank you for sharing. I spoke of my own mental health struggles, including a fight against suicide, in my KalamazooX talk earlier this year.

    This stuff's hard to talk about, and it's got all kinds of stigmas associated with it. Seeing stories, struggles, and successes from high-visibility, awesome folks like yourself is a blessing for others fighting this same fight.

    Thank you.

    And congrats on taking steps to get a path forward. I'm so happy to hear of your progress.

  16. Avatar for haacked
    haacked January 20th, 2018

    Hi Jim! I didn't realize you were struggling with mental health issues. I'm glad to hear you're able to talk about it and I hope you have a good support network! It's good to hear from you!

  17. Avatar for Glenn Block
    Glenn Block January 27th, 2018

    Thanks for sharing Phil. Something I rarely talk about, but earlier in life I suffered from extreme depression, suicidal thoughts, and attempts. This lasted from age 10 to my early twenties. Fortunately I was able to call out (several times) and my family was there to support me to get help before it was too late. Since climbing out of that dark place I have been fortunate to never going back to as low of a state, but every once in a while I have my moments.

    If I ever get back there, I am committed to reach out. One thing that helps me now is I just let myself have a really bad day and I tell myself before I go to bed, tomorrow it will be better. Many times I find that I wake up and it is! If not, I may keep saying this for days, or longer. I know one day things will return to normalcy because I have 46 years where that cycle has played over and over.

    I also make sure to always think about the people around me that will be affected and heartbroken, especially my daughter. Having witnessed my niece growing up without a father recently (my brother died unexpectedly a few years ago, which brought me to a dark place) has really helped with my perspective.

    Lastly my belief in my creator (personal choice) and that I was put here for a reason also has helped in my darkest moments.

    I have also had struggles with other family members suffering from depression including those very close to me, such as my own daughter a few years ago. We heard similar kind of talk. When that happened we just dropped everything to make sure we showered her with support and love, and we found her some professional help. I am also thankful that we all pulled through.

    Thanks for sharing your family’s story and your personal journey. I am glad you were able to step back and take the time to be there for them and that you all had a wonderful time disconcerting in Jamaica! I wish you all strength, love, and peace.