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[liberationtech] Tragic News: Aaron Swartz commits suicide

Griffin Boyce griffinboyce at
Sun Jan 13 03:49:47 PST 2013

Hey all,

  It's hard to write about one's own experience with depression and suicide
in the wake of someone's passing.  Not just for the intense feelings
involved, but also no one wants to direct attention away from the person
who has died.

  As some of you mention, the fear of losing respect or "becoming a
liability" is very real.  It leads people to close off entirely, to hide
away, to conceal their feelings behind smiles.[3]  This is the case within
tech and in other communities as well.  It's a very tricky problem.  Much
harder to spot when someone's having trouble if they live five hundred
miles away and only communicate with you online.

  In the past two-and-a-half years, I've lost three friends to suicide. Two
were academics. Two were transgender. One was a member of the tech
community. In light of everything that has happened, I feel the need to
emphasize that people are not alone by talking about my experiences.

  I've struggled with depression for most of my life. After having a fairly
stable level of depression for a long time, I had a sudden downturn in late
2011. In December 2011, I planned to kill myself by jumping off a local
bridge.[1] In the days leading up to the 8th, I cleaned and tried to get
things into some semblance of order. A steely calm overcame me, and I
closed years-old accounts without emotion.

  I'd just moved to Philadelphia and my close friends were all far away. My
spot on a waiting list for a trans-friendly therapist had just disappeared
-- meaning another 3-6 months of waiting without help.  Suicide was not
something that I wanted to do, but rather something that seemed like an
inevitability. In my grief, I could not see that there would be a
resolution that didn't include my death.

  When I think back to my beginnings in coding and the internet, what led
me to the interest was depression and a sharp sense of alienation.  After
serious trauma and suicide attempts, I started to find a community of
similar interests online in 1999.  At this point, I have very close friends
in the tech community, but I did not feel very comfortable talking about
the intense feelings that I was having.

  In the end, I did not kill myself (spoiler alert). So what changed? Well,
not a lot. But also, a lot. As a parting shot, I had agreed to give an
interview to a journalist.[2] The interview went *incredibly* badly,
causing the epiphany that I deserved to be treated better. It wasn't that
simple, and it wasn't easy, but that was the catalyst that probably saved
my life.

  Getting help was not easy. The first medication I tried sent my cognition
to zero and it took until March 2012 to finally see a therapist. It was
still difficult. There are specific issues that impact the tech community.
Busy is not the new happy.  At times it felt like a death march, but for me
it felt like the alternative was death -- and we all deserve better than

All the best,
Griffin Boyce

[1] It's this one, for the morbidly curious:
[2] People who know me well will find that amusing, as I'd pretty much
rather be covered in honey and set upon an anthill than talk about myself
in print.
[3] The day after, I went to a museum with a friend. She had no idea. In
fact, I had to send her an email tonight because she *still* has no idea
but subscribes to libtech.

"What do you think Indians are supposed to look like?
What's the real difference between an eagle feather fan
and a pink necktie? Not much."
~Sherman Alexie

PGP Key etc:
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