Sunday, 13 January 2013

Introducing myself

Ian started this place, and has linked to my text on my own problems.

But there's no substitute for your own voice in introducing yourself, so here goes. An introduction, and call to action, of sorts.

I am Mikael Vejdemo-Johansson. I am a mathematician — started out in homological algebra, and now I am most active in applied algebraic topology. Currently I am at the tail-end of a sequence of post-docs, searching for a long-term academic job before my research funding runs out.

I, and those around me, have been struggling with my affective disorders for years. Within a few months of us first hooking up, my wife told me I had to do something about my outbursts. Some time later, I managed to get in touch with a psychiatric care unit, and two years of medication and therapy later my outbursts had gone from several times weekly to several times a year.

Mixed State Bipolar Disorder.

In the last year or two, things have gotten worse again. I have been moving around a lot — postdoc will do that to you, and I had several stints of a few months up to a year with stable living situation before everything changed again chained up after each other. Stress triggers. I tried late spring to get in touch with a psychiatric care unit in Edinburgh. By the time I was scheduled, I was already moving. Now, finally, I am in touch with a care unit in Stockholm.

Mild Depression.

I am ambitious, successful, full of ideas and energy, and produce research at what I think is a decent rate. I am engaged in my community, take care of my peers, and play an active role in shaping my field of research. My disorders hide when I am with people I do not know very well. As Ian says, if I do not tell you, you probably do not know.

Outside of academia, I am also an active member of the hackerspace community. Close friends of mine are avid presenters and organizers of hacker cons. During the last three years, there has been three widely publicized and high-profile suicides within the hacker community: Ilya Zhitomirskiy, then Len Sassaman — married to one of my best friends, and now Aaron Swartz — close friend to another of my best friends. At times it seems I keep seeing friends of my friends vanishing off the face of the earth, and leaving wrecks behind.

The hacker community has had enough of this. They have started organizing. They have started speaking up about it. They founded BlueHackers. Several of my close friends participated in a panel on depression in hacker culture at 28c3 — the Chaos Communication Congress of 2011.

And I find myself wondering…
Why not us?
Why is a depressed academic so much more on their own than a depressed hacker?

Help us make it not so.


  1. Thanks for your post Mikael. When thinking about the ways that academia can influence depression, the wandering postdoc problem escaped my notice. But it's important, just like the two body problem.

    1. And haven't I gotten the double whammy with that one. :-)
      I am now finally living with my wife, after 7.5 itinerant years living the 2-body problem.


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