Message from the bottom.

You’ve probably noticed, but ever since going into my latest downturn mental illness-wise, I’ve been unable to write anything of substance.  Even the post about separation of church and state was cobbled together from where I’d written about it elsewhere.  I can’t seem to conjure up any eloquence.  It feels like I’m trying to communicate as a caveman.  And what’s the point of writing if you can’t make people think?

So, instead of trying to put any salient thoughts together, I’m just going to keep track of some thoughts today that might help to show what life is like in the state I’m in.

Right now I’m taking increased dosages of my meds, which makes me very fuzzy.  I have to read a paragraph 3-4 times to retain it, and even then it’s mostly gone by the end of the page.  I’m thinking in vague generalities, not specifics, and can’t seem to make my brain do otherwise.  I’m also sleeping at least 12 hours/day, probably due to my body adjusting to new med levels.  I’m combating that by drinking energy drinks like mad, which gives me an enormous headache from all the caffeine, but it keeps me awake and helps me focus a bit.

I thought I was doing better in my “clean room,” but I had to leave it today and…honestly, I’m not ready.  Didn’t really realize that until I left.

Then I spent the day trying to focus at work.  The day was an absolute wreck.  It feels like trying to run a race on crutches, but with everybody in the stands expecting me to somehow run.  I don’t want to drag others down, which means trying to smile and just try harder.  That even feels like trying to hide in the open, though.

Here are some of the thoughts as they came today…

I’ve had to pee for the last hour, but I dread the thought of walking past anybody.  It’s getting to the point where it hurts.


After an energy drink, my mind begins actively playing tricks on me.  I feel like everybody’s watching me and judging me for being distracted.  I keep imagining all kind of bad things happening.  And then I realize that I’ve only read or typed a sentence.  So I refocus, and literally seconds later it’s the same thing.

Without an energy drink, I feel like I’ve been driving for hours.  I don’t catch myself falling asleep, but I catch myself waking up.  It’s like thinking through cotton when I am awake.  I have to re-read everything multiple times while trying not to let my mind drift away thinking of nothing.

I feel like things might improve, like I’d be able to walk past people to the bathroom if I could just accomplish something: write something good or come up with a good idea, but I just can’t do it.  Everything is laborious and the end results deeply inadequate.  It’s exhausting with little return.


I’m constantly on the verge of tears (except for the times when I do cry briefly).  The only thing worse than trying to deal with all of this is the constant worry that it’s about to get worse somehow.

This increases my near-psychotic desire to not want to be around other people.


Re: running a race on crutches.

I can’t tell if it’s me expecting myself to run as fast as when healthy or everybody else.

I’m just not sure about anything right now, which makes me worry.  Not knowing is terrible, but I can’t bring myself to go be around anyone because I’m afraid it’s going to be as bad as I think.


I keep screaming in silence at my brain to focus.  It gets to nearly a panic, and a part of me keeps hoping my brain will have pity on me, even though I know such pleading is like appealing to the compassion of cancer.

It doesn’t get better.  I just feel more helpless.


One of my co-workers just stuck their head into my office to say hi.  I managed to say hi, converse for about thirty seconds, and then ask them to close my door with a straight face before breaking down into tears.  I’m not sure why.

It feels like torture.  I don’t want it to stop, I need it to stop and I don’t know what to do.  It’s becoming increasingly apparent that there is nothing to be done.

And bear in mind, this is with increased meds and speaking to a counselor every day.  This would be much, much worse otherwise.  The sad thing is that most people who suffer from a similar condition haven’t admitted it to themselves and gotten help.

You want to know what hell is like?  That’s it.

Additionally, I’m informed enough to deal with any ignorance about my condition from others.  Most aren’t.  This is why this subject is fucking important.  You think the ignorance that elevates homeopathy creates suffering?  Compare it to the ignorance of mental illness and it’s not even a blip on the radar.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • fronkey

    JT, it can’t be easy to write what you’re writing, but thank you so much for helping me and so many others like me to understand just a little bit of what you and others like you are going through. Huge respect!

  • otrame

    JT, you are ill. Please go home and let the meds work. You will sleep more while your body gets adjusted. Go with that. There is nothing wrong with that, given how much you have been sleep deprived.

    And for lack-of-God’s sake, stay the hell away from the caffeine and other stimulants right now. The last thing you need is that.

    I will say again what I said before. You will get better. You must remember that. You know it’s true. Please quit pushing yourself. You need rest and some time. We don’t need a blog post full of your usual eloquence right now. Just sort of keep us posted.

    I’m in tears myself. I remember too well what you are going through. Been there, done that. Got better. Been better for 30 years, with occasional backsliding (usually when the meds I was taking stopped working–it happens. Fortunately there are many available, each a little different. The only one that flat out did not work for me was Wellbutrin). I’ve accomplished a lot in those 30 years and have usually been pretty happy. But it took a couple of years of matching me to available meds before I was able to really start to function, and I have to do it again every so often. The reason I keep saying “You’ll get better very soon” is because that is what I tell myself when I have a brief bout of trouble.

    I wish there was anything I could do. Virtual hugs aren’t much, but you get them.

    Just try to let yourself spend a little down time. It will be brief and you will feel better sooner if you let yourself rest.

    We’ll be here when you are ready. Until then, we’ll be thinking of you.

    • magster2

      JT, I’m seconding otrame here on the energy drinks. They are potent substances that are adding to the chemical uproar in your brain right now, perhaps intensifying your most anxious moments or maybe interfering with the intended effects of your new medication. If you can’t stop drinking them outright (perhaps to avoid having to deal with caffeine withdrawal on top of everything else), you need to let the person prescribing your medication know exactly what you’re drinking and how much at the next opportunity.

      I’m in the middle of a major bout of my own mental business right now. I’m guessing I don’t have to tell you about the frustration of having to wait weeks for the effects of medication to kick in when the reason why you’re on medication in the first place is because you need to feel better RIGHT NOW. Try to hang in there. People care.

      • F

        I’ll have to hop onto this bandwagon as well. Only you and your doctor know, so dismiss me if this is just unsolicited crap. But I highly suggest you stop self-medicating with the energy drinks. I know too many people who self-medicate one way or another on top of their meds, and it just never makes anything better, only worse. And on a personal level, I think caffeine is crap as a stimulant which actually does anything positive. It will increase sleep latency when you need to sleep, but it will not wake you up.

        It may also be interfering with you actually adjusting to the meds.

        Again, just dismiss this if you think it isn’t relevant or full of crap. Take care.

    • IslandBrewer

      JT, I am caffeine’s biggest fan, but I have to echo the sentiment: Stay AWAY from energy drinks – they will give you Type II diabetes AND a heart attack at the same time! To put it into our native tongue, fellow caveman, “Big sugar drinks BAD!”

      And don’t get me started on gaurana and taurine.

      Lemme quote form that font of knowledge, Wikipedia, as they’ve done it more succinctly than I would:

      Adverse effects associated with caffeine consumption in amounts greater than 400 mg include nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness, increased urination, abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia), and dyspepsia. Consumption also has been known to cause pupil dilation when taken with certain antidepressants or SSRIs. Most mainstream energy drinks do not provide electrolytes, and have a higher likelihood of an energy “crash-and-burn” effect. Caffeine in energy drinks can excrete water from the body to dilute high concentrations of sugar entering the blood stream, leading to dehydration. If the body is dehydrated by 1%, performance is decreased by up to 10%.

      In the US, energy drinks have been linked with reports of nausea, abnormal heart rhythms and emergency room visits.

      (emphasis mine, citations omitted)

      If you must caffeinate, dissolve your bones with diet coke, or drink lots of fresh black tea. And make sure to drink lots of water on top of that, so you won’t dehydrate (caffeine is a diuretic).

  • San Ban

    JT, knowing what I know about this illness, I won’t moouth the banalities to you. Thanks for posting, no matter what it is.

  • neXus

    Major hugs, JT!

    Don’t hesitate to check yourself into a hospital if things stay like this – my offer of money to help you out still stands!

  • Marcus Ranum

    When encountering someone who is in a depression spiral like you are, what can we do? What do you even call where you are? Is it possible for an outsider to help?

    My ex-sweetheart is also severely depressive, and the things you are saying remind me so much of her. It makes me wonder if there are commonalities, ways an outsider can help, that will be generally benificial – or is each person’s depression response unique?

    I wish someone would produce a “10 things you should do, if you have a friend who is severely depressed” or something. “snap out of it” obviously a non-starter. “take your meds”, maybe not so good. The futility I used to feel when she was depressed made me understand why sometimes people pray: it doesn’t help but it lets you feel you’re maybe doing something.

    I wish I could help you but I don’t even know you, outside of your work and your public face. But I love you, and I wish I knew what more I could do than poke at my iPad and hit “submit comment.”

    • jaranath

      What Marcus said. You’re right, sharing this information IS fucking important and I’m very grateful that you do. I have learned a great deal from you. And as we’ve said, financial support’s there if you need it.

  • CC

    Ooh boy, you’re in that awful place where the meds aren’t helping yet, but the side effects are kicking you in the head. That stage is even worse than just being depressed. Hang in there, ok? It’s going to get better.

  • Smhll

    I wish I believed in woo, or vibes or prayer, because I’d like to be able to feel/think//type something that would help.

    I hope your treatment is effective as fast as possible. I’m really sorry that you are suffering.

    I think, in the end, you will emerge as an eloquent spokesperson for mental illness.

  • ottohunt

    I am not sure what demons you are fighting. If it is bipolar disorder, omega-3 fatty acids help. If it is depression (or even if depression is part of a larger demon), I have a file in Google docs where I list a large number of natural (and powerful!) anti-depressants at Just scroll down to depression.

  • Laurie

    Try to remember, depression lies. The thoughts and feelings that are keeping you from doing what you want? All lies. Rest, give the meds a chance to work, keep seeing your counselor, and please keep writing.

    I’ve been through similar episodes, and they will pass in time. Remind yourself as often as you need that it will pass.

  • Jennifer, Uppity Bitch and General Malcontent

    JT, please do whatever you need to do to get through this. If that means you take time off of work, then do it. If that means that you check yourself in to a safe place, then do it. Thank you so much for sharing this with us, and please take care of yourself before anything else right now.

  • Brianne Bilyeu

    Hang in there, JT. Hopefully you’ll be coming out on the other side of things in 3…2…

  • ishkodewaaboo

    I wish I knew what to say, but everything feels like empty platitudes, probably because they are. But even though I don’t actually know you, from everything you’ve shared here, you’re strong enough to pull through this. I wish there were something one of us could say to help, but if it were that easy you’d have beaten it by now.

    I have been meaning to say that I think it’s awesome that you’re sharing all of this with the world. I don’t think we share disorders, I just have run of the mill clinical depression (major depressive disorder sounds much scarier, even if it’s the more correct term), but reading everything you’ve written about what you’ve gone through has really meant a lot to me. No one talks about mental illness, and that makes it so much harder to deal with – just knowing that I’m not the only one thinking these things, feeling like there’s another me always coming up with all sorts of new counterproductive impulses, having these reactions that I know are irrational and completely based on my depression and if I can just fight them off I’ll be fine, and STILL giving in to them even as I’m kicking myself for doing it…it’s not something you can explain to someone who’s never been through it. My friends don’t get it, even though most of them know I’m diagnosed with depression, they still think of it as something you can shrug off, like I need to just suck it up and get over it, or take some meds and have it magically go away forever.

    But hearing someone who has been through it talk about it is like having a weight lifted from my shoulders, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

    I didn’t mean to make this comment long and all about me, I just wanted to say that, even if right now you might feel like you’re not accomplishing anything, you really are accomplishing a lot. Having the courage to open up like this, to tell others like you that they’re not alone, and to show everyone else what it’s like to go through this sort of thing, to help them understand it’s not even remotely the same thing as how they feel after a rough day at work or even a really bad breakup.

    You have good friends and people who care about you that will help you get through this. And when you do, you’ll give a little more hope to the rest of us, and a little more understanding to those who’ve never gone through it, and the world will be better for it.

    Now I sound cheesy, but I mean it. We could use more people willing to be as open and courageous as you.

  • Miriam

    *hugs* Thanks for writing this. It may not seem like much to you, but it means so much to have people understand what it’s like.

  • Darkwater

    JT, I’ve been meaning to comment to thank you for your recent posts. I know what you mean about feeling fuzzy; it was a similar situation that caused me to finally admit that maybe I needed to talk to someone about what was eventually diagnosed as clinical depression. In addition to your tireless work for atheism, I appreciate you being so open about an aspect of life that I still find difficult to talk about, even pseudononymously.

    You’re a good person, you do good work, and you’re an inspiration to many people on multiple levels. Please accept my thanks and my wishes that you get well soon.

  • Dana Hunter

    *hugs* You are one strong, brave man, my friend. Love you!

  • Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven

    JT, I don’t know if this sort of thing helps, but let me just say that your posts on exercise were kind of the final kick in the ass to get me moving and actually doing something about it. I’ve been working out all summer and I feel a lot better and more capable, I’ve lost somewhere between 5 and 11 pounds (I haven’t been real attentive to recording my weight) and I’ve noticed a profound improvement in my ability to manage daily physical tasks. Thank you for that.

    Hang in there.

  • neatospiderplant

    I found more hugs! Have them!

  • angelina

    Hang in there. I know that right now your brain is pulling all sorts of shit on you, and it is annoying (but still a little impressive), how your brain manages to have those thoughts that are just enough to make you pay attention.

    When I was at my worst with depression, I thought I was alone in having the thoughts I had, then I went online to a support group for my meds, and was initially quite angry that all these other people had exactly the same thoughts (often word for word), and dreams that I did, then it dawned on me that my thought processes, and the thoughts I was having were exactly the same as when all people with chickenpox get a rash. Yes, there might be individual variation in the exact location of each spot, but the rash is distinctive and easily recognisable. I was also angry because up until that point, I had thought that “my thoughts are unique and personal”.

    You know yourself that increasing doseage leads to side effects before it leads to improvement, all the while your brain tells you “See, it is not working, you shouldn’t be taking these, you are better off without them”. You also know that problems writing or thinking coherently are also part of this illness, which is something many people with this do not recognise.

    Putting this out there for others to read is a powerful statement, firstly, it makes it clear you are not ashamed of your illness, that it does not diminish from your overall awesomeness, that your brain decides to misfire once in a while (and lets face it, with the amount of shit our brains do simultaneously all the time, it is not surprising they misfire sometimes, I am always surprised they dont do it more often), and secondly, writing down what is going on in your head helps to get the thoughts out there, so you can look at them and analyse them for what they are (especially if you are sciencey, which I know you are).

    Hang in there, this too will pass, as it has before, do not push yourself too hard. If you had any other physical illness you would be taking time to look after yourself and not push yourself, so do the same here. As I told people when I was in a very dark place, “You would not be expecting me to just carry on as normal if I was diabetic and having problems with my insulin doseage”

  • Orri

    Wow. I am extremely impressed by your ability to verbalize thought while in a clinically depressed state.
    You one smart mofo. Also, very courageous.

    Take care of yourself. This too shall pass.

  • Anonymous

    It’s okay to sleep. You need sleep. Let yourself sleep. It’s okay. From someone who has been where you are.

  • nicole introvert

    Might I recommend something that isn’t necessarily woo… but may not be completely science based either. (And you can smack me around for unsolicited advice too.)

    I read a blog called Daisies & Brusies about a woman’s experience with depression and I really liked this one post she made about “safety objects.” These are small tokens that you can carry with you to help ground yourself when you find you feel out of control in your current situation.

    Perhaps if you had a matching safety object with someone you trust you could take that object out and focus on it to help bring you around when you are in tears.

    She posts about it here:

    No one needs to know what the toy ninja on your desk means, except you. And you know he is there to remind you that you will beat the shit out of this depression.

    The crap part about mental illness and wanting to stick with the science based approach is that sometimes there is that waiting game between when meds kick in… or if those particular meds even work. I think we also need to work on other techniques to get us through that time frame. And what do we do when we get there, but we still have certain symptoms that cannot be tamed.

  • Brisvegan

    JT, I hope things start getting better for you.

    Your honesty about mental illness was one of the reasons I finally got treatment recently for a long standing and serious depressive illness. Your day sounds so very familiar to me.

    Please know that you are amazing and make a positive difference to many people. Don’t feel that you owe us or aren’t blogging well. Take the time that you need and know we are all wishing you well.

    Hugs from an internet stranger, if you want them. Wish I could help more.

  • angelina

    As someone mentioned, sometimes distractions help (they used a ninja on a desk).

    For me, my headphones get stuck into my ears, or at least one of them, and this song goes on repeat.

    From Symphony of Science: Ode to the Brain.

  • markelamb

    Hi JT,

    I’ve been where you are, or very close to it. When I recall how far I let things go before I sought help it’s terrifying.
    You’re right to say it’s hugely important.
    IMO it’s the greatest concern facing a huge fraction of our species – mental illnesses are too prevalent to be ignored and hidden as they were in the past. Depression and related conditions are among the most lethal. Stigma is adding to the suffering and loss.

    A useful thought: “It will pass”.

    I have probably told this to myself approaching one hundred thousand times… I found embracing the transience of my state and my existence central to coping with the overwhelming stresses and despair.
    This is not to be confused with the unhelpful and risky mind game of ‘I won’t be around soon so why worry’ – which is akin to thinking about actually putting an end to it.
    Saying “It will pass” was my way of reassuring myself I didn’t have to take drastic action – inaction would do better than destructive action – and I was going to get through it no matter what.

    Keep at it. Easy on the caffeine, and know we wish you the best and hope it gets easier soon.
    It’s totally fine to feel confused and out of sorts… and thanks for keeping us in the loop.

    I’ve seen some vids, and the blog.

    You rock!

  • robb

    rest. heal. get better and keep on writing.

    oh, and dump the energy drinks:

  • IslandBrewer

    You sir, have one more internet hug.


  • Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc

    All the best, dude. I went downhill 2002 – 2005, then nervous breakdown, and was pretty much on another planet mentally for another 3 years or so. My significant other also suffers from depression, so we make a right useless couple sometimes.

    It sounds like people here have good advice, but going to throw my $0.02 if you don’t mind!

    > Do you have a psychiatrist? And if you do, do you have a good rapport with them? Having friends to talk to is good, but having a professional that you/someone pay/s is a different relationship to friendship. YMMV, but I found it useful.

    > The drugs. Check with above that you are on the correct ones. Massive choice available but ultimately personal preference.

    > Quit alcohol if you haven’t already as it really screws with the meds, at least temporarily. I… didn’t. I didn’t start getting much better until I let the drugs do their thing on their own. Go back on the beers later when things are better.

    > Do the work thing if you can. Don’t let it go. Try not to do 18 hour days, though. If there’s a few hours in the day where you’re not thinking about your situation then this is a good thing.

    > I remember the thoughts-like-a-channel-hopping-radio thing well. It’s a right pain in the arse, and it still happens to a degree. Maybe cut down on energy drinks and other stimulants.

    > Make sure that you eat and look after yourself, lackofgoddammit!

    > Remember that this shit won’t kill you, however bloody annoying it is sometimes. It also isn’t imaginary.

    > There are strategies for dealing with all of it, but you have to work them out for yourself. This may sound trite/obvious, but any amount of being told “try thinking like x” is useless until you work out how to apply it.

    > Try not to lose all of your friends. Losing some is, erm, acceptable. I think.

    It’s a long process, and it sucks badly. The funny thing is – once you know what your situation is and processing it – how many other people have been affected by similar circumstances – and there will be some friends or colleagues, no doubt. Be prepared for “oh wow, deja vu” moments in conversations a bit further down the line, and then remember that said conversation could only happen if both of you were fighting through it.

    Good luck and e-hugs.

  • Dantalion

    Love you JT. Very sorry to hear things are so shitty right now.

    I won’t pretend to fully understand what you’re going through. I have very different problems. But I wanted to say I think there’s a very good chance that by expressing these thoughts, you may be helping others in a similar situation deal with things, and I hope that it is helping you as well.

    Do whatever you gotta do. Take a little time if you need. We appreciate what you do for the world, but need to take care of yourself too.

  • sarahm

    I look forward to seeing you speak at Skepticon5.

  • xenos

    The worse vice is advice so I’m not going to give you any.

    I will say this. I grew up in an impoverished country where food is scarce. However, believe it or not, people there do not have a word for “depression”. Despite my best efforts to explain the term, they still do not fully understand it. They’re too busy trying to survive. Their minds are too busy thinking about where their next meal is going to come from. They keep their family and friends close. They do not have access to the Internet or TV. They’ve never heard of McDonald’s. Despite all this, they are happy. They find joy in the sunshine and the rain. When I asked them if they ever get depressed (I had to explain the meaning in great detail), they just laughed at me. Perhaps I did not explain it very well.

    I now live in a country where all my needs are easily met. Everything is literally at my finger tips. In this world, the most popular word people often use to describe the way they feel is “depression”.

    Perhaps the simple people from my home country of unimaginable poverty may be able to teach you some things that may ease your woes where your medications have failed.

    Good luck.

  • maxdwolf

    I would like to turn this “A man falls into a hole” sort of thing like on “West Wing”. Unfortunately, I think we may be in different holes and I never found my way out of mine.

    I hope the drugs work for you. I haven’t been paying that close attention, but I was of the understanding that they have in the past and that this is just a readjustment. Hang in there.

    I’m glad you’re speaking with a professional. It might also help to speak w. friends, face time if at all possible. I know when I’m in that sort of state I never want people to see me, but I tend to feel better after if they do.

    I wish one could get prescriptions for the things that made me feel better: A long hard rain listened to all night from the screened in porch. Miles of curves on a sport bike. Salt marshes as far as the eye can see. A beach that’s not too crowded and with no boardwalk.

    Sometimes a song that sounds like I feel helps. This song helped me a little yesterday:

    Best of luck.

  • Victoriajoy


    Clearly your co-workers do not read your blog – otherwise they wouldn’t do the “pop-in” visit. I think you should be miffed just about that alone.

    Take it a day at a time. And when that’s too much – take it an hour at a time – and if that’s too much – take it a minute at a time. Do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself. Put yourself FIRST. You are the most important person in your life right now. You may not feel better tomorrow. You may not feel better the day after that. You may not even feel better next week. But one day – you will smile again.

  • Jessica Murphy

    FYI, caffeine also suppresses serotonin. Also FYI, I’ll cook for you anytime <3

  • Beh

    I read about a fairly new medicine that is being used off label to treat depression. It is called Provigil. The reviews I have read make it sound like a miracle drug.

    I want to be on it myself but my NP psychiatrist said he didn’t have enough time to look into it on Monday when I saw him. He said we were out of time but he would review it and consider it when I come back in a month. So for the next month I have to suffer through. Like you I have brain fog and reading is hard. And I am constantly sleeping.

    I have never found any med that helps. I am the same with or without them. Even saw a report on 60 min that the Placebo effect is almost just as strong as ssri. So I am really hoping for this one.

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