Where did Viper go? What happened?
An Honest Story About What I Went Through for Over a Decade
How To Contact Me
You can send me an e-mail by putting "viper" in front of an at sign (you know which one I mean) and have that followed by the domain name of this site.
Basically write viper twice, put an "@" in between them and end it with a ".dk".
I am writing this because some people might be wondering what happened to me and where I have been for the past decade or so.
It is a story of what I have been through (and still going through), and an insight to what has happened and how it has affected me.
I am not one to normally show weakness, let alone to the whole world, so writing this and putting it online is a big step for me, but nevertheless the story you are about to read is a part of me now, a rather big part at that, so I might as well share it.
I cannot completely vouch for everything being correct in terms of when it happened exactly and for how long something had been going on. In all honesty much of that time is a blur time-wise.
It is also hard to really describe how bad it was with words, but I will try my best.
A lot of things really, but there was one key thing that kind of triggered it all like a landslide.
I was working as a web developer about 12-13 years ago and we were working on a website for a Danish mobile phone service provider. My job was mostly client-side stuff, but it was a huge website and there was plenty to do for me, so my workload was pretty substantial. During this time I had a stint where I worked 18-21 hour days, including weekends (although fewer hours there) for nearly 3 months. I slept an average of 3-4 hours a night for those 3 months, with an hour or two more in the weekends. Every other waking minute was spent working.
Now to no surprise this is not something you can keep up, and when the project ended I just kept on working (more normal hours though) while slowly getting more and more affected by what had happened.
What had happened was I got struck by stress, in a major way. I had trouble falling asleep (lower back pain) and I could not shut my brain off, so when I lied down to sleep it would just go into overdrive about all the things that had to be done, solving code issues and what have you.
I did not listen to the warning signs from my body and I was young (21 or 22 at the time) so I just powered on. To make matters worse stress was only something 50 year old CEOs got back then - at least so was the perception, but that has since changed as I am sure you are aware.
So slowly I worked myself into more of a hole and my work performance got more and more affected. I more easily got sick and I had trouble getting up in time and make it to work in time because I could not sleep properly. This in itself of course did not help either as I wanted to be there for my work and do my job - people counted on me.
Let me inject a small story related to that:
During the project previously mentioned I actually got fired. I cannot remember why now but it was something silly to do with my boss and I, and it just kind of happened. But I knew they would be screwed on the project without me (there was nobody to take over my tasks (and as you can gather I did quite a lot)) and the other people working on the project counted on me. So the next day I showed up anyway. I did not care if I would get paid or not, but despite my boss and I having a falling out or whatever it was, I would not let the other people at the company down and I would finish this project. It all worked out fine though - I got paid and kept working there.
Now talking about getting paid you might think I got rich with all the hours I worked. Sadly, I did not. There was no overtime pay nor did I get some sort of bonus when the project completed.
To be truthful I was expecting a bonus due to the work I had put in, but I never got any recognition for my massive effort - an effort that ended up ruining part of my life. I do not believe my co-workers and boss really knew the amount of hours I had put into this project. This of course did not help the situation either and in my downward spiral as I kept working and being stressed out of my mind I also got a depression (stress is excellent for bringing in all kinds of other stuff for you to deal with).
I should have taken a vacation after the project ended, but again I was not aware of how bad it was and with my co-workers and boss also unaware of how much I actually had worn myself down on the project, they were not there either to say I should take some time off.
To no surprise this all ended up with me getting fired as I was unable to keep working in the state I was in. I could not sleep properly, was tired all the time and I was lacking energy. I had trouble concentrating and focusing and my overall production speed suffered greatly.
Obviously losing your job is never fun and nor was it for me. It was both a good and a bad thing: Good because I obviously would not be working which is a good course of action when you are stressed. Bad because I now had an additional financial stress factor as my income was gone.
Likewise I also took it hard because a lot of my identity was based on what I did for a job. This in itself is not an ideal way to look at yourself, but that was nevertheless the case - a lot of my identity was carried by my work and being a "success" in that regard (I was very good at my job, I should add).
This also stems from not having anything in terms of school accolades to help build my identity and prove what I am capable of doing.
School has never been my way of learning - it is simply too slow and too structured for me. I did start business school despite not having any real interest in it, which also resulted in me spending way too much time playing Quake and teaching myself web development (those two things are what ended up landing me the job though) and ultimately made me leave to start working instead.
However I was still not aware of what was going on with me (the stress, depression etc.) so I started looking for a new job as I had to get some income again, but did not have any great success at the time.
While the job hunting was going on I kept spiralling down and things became worse. Feeling I had no identity made it harder and harder for me to interact with other people and drained my energy as I had to put up a mask. The mask was also used because I was basically trying to hide what was going on inside me, something I was starting to grow aware of - things were just not right anymore (well at this point they had not been right for about 9-12 months I would say).
Now luckily here in Denmark we have pretty good support from the government when things go bad, but up until now I had been using my savings and accumulated a bit of debt to my bank as I was not one to ask for help. This was, to me, just something I had to power through and once I got a job again it would all be alright. But as things kept getting worse and seeking jobs was pretty much impossible at this point (especially since it was becoming harder for me to actually leave the house) I had no other choice than to seek help.
I first went to my doctor to talk to him about what was going on and he was very supportive and immediately got me connected to a psychiatrist to start trying to figure out what was going on.
With that setup I could start getting benefits from the government and pay my bills and such again.
So I started seeing this psychiatrist which was fine in the beginning, but the problem was that she seemed to not properly listen to me. She just focused on the fact that I had trouble interacting with people and getting out of the house, while I was trying to explain that there was more going on than just that.
So I just got some medication, which did nothing, and was told to just get out more. So through these sessions I gained next to nothing and did not have any success getting her to understand that the social phobia (I guess) was not all of it - there was something behind all of this.
Do note that at this point I had no idea about it being stress based; I was just trying to get answers so I could figure out what was wrong and how I could fix it, and I knew there was more to it than just this social phobia.
As I felt the sessions were pretty useless at this point I decided to stop going. I had gotten some tools to help me with the getting out and about, so I wanted to work on those, and so I did for a month or so and was actually starting to make a bit of progress and felt overall a bit better.
But of course this all had to come to an end and so it did at the hand of the person who were supposed to help me. The psychiatrist sent a status update (as they do) to the government with some completely messed up comments about me. I got to read it and I was shocked that someone who was supposed to know what she was doing, seeing as she was working as a psychiatrist, came to some of the conclusions she did. They were so completely off and wrong it was not even funny. For instance she decided that I suffered from delusions of grandeur... I have no idea how she ever reached that conclusion considering that I am a grounded and down to earth guy, who do not see himself for more than he is (often for less - I am very critical of myself).
She also concluded that I was trying to hide from the world based on the fact that I wore sunglasses when I came to the sessions... Uh, yeah... Or perhaps it was because the sun was shining? There was more completely lunatic stuff like that in it, but you get the idea.
What she wrote angered me to no end. I expect people who do a job to actually have the skills to do it and then I am met with something like that... Not to mention that this was deciding my fate, because based on what she wrote I would no longer receive any more money from the government because she made it sound like I was not interested in getting better - nothing could be further from the truth.
I even called her to try and talk to her about what she wrote and such, but she did not want to talk to me or anything... I have never experienced anything like that in my life and to this day it still shocks me how someone can work like that, in the profession she was in... It baffles my mind.
I then wrote the government a 12 pages long "appeal" about the decision to take away my benefits and point out the errors and how incredible poor her report was. But as you might expect nobody listens to the patient over the one treating them, no matter how much sense you make...
So there I was, at a stage where I was finally getting a bit better and feeling I was making progress, when I got backstabbed (for lack of a better word) by the person I trusted to help me, resulting in me losing my income again and facing the (added) stress once more about how to pay my bills and such.
As you can probably imagine this was not exactly a good thing for me. All my progress got erased and I was now feeling even worse than before I started at this psychiatrist.
The thing about being in such a situation is that if you get a setback it is not just back to where you were, but deeper into the hole, meaning you are even further from where the setback happened, which in turn results in you needing even more energy to get back, while you are worse off than before. That is a rough thing to deal with when things are already bad enough.
I was then back to putting myself in debt as I was not getting any money, I was more depressed and I still did not know what was actually causing all of this.
After a while of me putting myself into debt and just getting worse (I had hoped I could somehow turn it around on my own) I contacted my doctor again and got a new psychiatrist. Maybe I was just unlucky (well, I was) with the first one and this time it would go better.
But once again it was much the same. He did not really listen to me saying that there was more than just my inability to get out, so it was the same old: Here is a prescription for some pills, now try and get out more. While the "get out more" is solid advice - that is how you combat it - it does not exactly work when there is something deeper causing it all. So after a short time this also went down the drain and I was back to the old situation of getting in debt and not knowing what was going on with me and how I could fix it.
Quite a lot of time had passed during this period and I had not gotten any better - quite the opposite, it just kept getting worse because the stress kept building and nothing was done to combat it.
During this period and what leads up to the next part I had a lot of 1 step forward and 5 steps back situations, where it was like I was finally starting to get better and could see a sliver of hope, but then something happened and I got knocked even further down. I had no energy - none. I had no money. I was depressed. I was stressed (without knowing it). I was being kept prisoner by my own mind as I could not leave the house. It was a very unusual situation for me as I was used to just solving things on my own, but this I could not figure out even though I tried my best.
It is probably a good thing that I do not believe in suicide and that I am as stubborn as I am. Despite being in situations where you would think "it cannot possibly get any worse now" - and then it did, multiple times, I refused to give up. I would not let life get the better of me, not like this and not now. So whatever small amount of energy I could muster I used to continually try and climb out of the hole I was in - even when I kept falling further and further down.
This "not giving up" I of course owe in part to my family, friends and then girlfriend. They stuck around and while it was difficult for them to watch my decline, they tried their best to support me, even though they felt as helpless as me because there was really nothing they could do. For that I am ever grateful and I know it was not easy for them either.
By this time I had also lost quite a bit of weight (I am not a big guy to begin with) and was not exactly very healthy looking. Add to that my inability to get outside which limited my ability to get exercise. I did have an exercise bike, but I rarely had any energy to use it. All my energy was being used on just trying to get up in the morning and survive the day. I also slept a lot during this time - I even managed to sleep for 22 hours at one point - because I did not have any energy to do much else.
And when I say I did not have any energy you need to take it as I say it. There was nothing left. All reserves were depleted. I just did not have anything left to fight with, but somehow I managed to scavenge the few glimpses of energy whenever I could to try and get out of the hole, while everything was still spiralling down with no end in sight.
Of course I had times where I thought about just giving up and accepting my fate - that is kind of natural when you have no energy to fight with anymore and things just keep getting worse, but I simply refused to accept that this would be my life. I wanted my life back - I wanted to return to a normal life (whatever constitutes as normal these days) so I had no other choice than to keep fighting even when it seemed impossible that it would ever change.
More time had passed and the situation just could not go on, so once again I contacted my doctor and this time the big guns were set in motion. I was put into "the system" of psychiatric care, which does not mean I got admitted to a psychiatric facility, I might add. This is basically the last resort but they also offer much better ways of helping you compared to a normal psychiatrist.
At this point in time my condition had gotten so bad that I could not even talk to people on the phone. I did not have the energy and I would immediately start feeling sick, like nausea and the distinct need to "get away" to somewhere "safe" where it was just me and my thoughts so I could feel in control again. Basically I had panic/anxiety attacks in these situations and I no longer went outside the house because of it as well - basically I could not leave the house because these attacks would be more than I could handle. The thing is that I felt I needed to control everything. If I could not fit everything inside my head and know what was going on I started to panic and had to escape. Add to that my complete lack of energy and I was not in a good position to handle complex things in my head, let alone trying to "control" the outside world (which is obviously an impossible task).
I basically withdrew into myself and needed to be alone in my house where I was "in control" and I could recompose myself, gather my thoughts and prepare to put up the mask again.
So the beginning of my sessions with the head physician was all handled through e-mail - I simply could not manage anything else. I detailed my story and how important it was for me that someone would finally listen and not just focus on the social phobia and instead get to the bottom of what was going on.
Even this chance almost failed, but we did manage to get on the same page and start treatment, which the first few times were just over e-mail.
After that she started coming to my house to do sessions and start a proper treatment. She actually listened to me and could see that there was more going on that just a social phobia (it is interesting that I would get something like that, considering I have never had a problem socialising with people or talking to complete strangers).
I got some different medication to help me deal with everything and slowly things started to improve. It was also about this time she said that I was suffering from chronic stress, which is what can happen if you are exposed to stress for a long period of time and nothing is done about it. At this point I had basically been stressed for the better of 7 years so no wonder I now had chronic stress. Chronic stress is pretty much what it says on the tin: You are stressed all the time, even if there is nothing really to be stressed about.
When she said that I started looking into the symptoms and such related to stress and suddenly it all made sense. Finally there was some sort of red thread - something that could explain what was going on beneath the other problems. Things were finally starting to make a bit of sense and now the real work could begin - after all knowing is half the battle.
After a while I got turned over to what was technically a nurse (she was a bit more than that though) and I continued the sessions and such with her. Things kept progressing and I now started going to her office here in the town for the sessions.
At long last I had hit a turning point and things were finally starting to improve, I even started to gain some weight again. Granted everything went slowly, especially considering how careful I was not to get another relapse or "failure" that would put me further back in the hole again. When you have been through what I went through with the repeated knockdowns when I thought I was finally starting to see some improvement, then you get real careful with not pushing too fast and make sure you are firmly planted before you take the next step. This in itself is overall good advice for dealing with things of this nature. It is important to push, but it is equally important to not push too much or you are likely to end up over extending and ruining your progress. It is a balance act really, one that you careful have to manage.
As mentioned previously I did have a girlfriend during much of this time. She stuck with me for a very long time - longer than most people would have, and this even when she was very young (our relationship ended around the time she was 22, I believe, and at that point we had dated for almost 7 years). My hat goes off to her - she tried her best but in the end she just could not do it anymore, which I perfectly understand.
Because of my situation and how bad it had gotten I basically could not be with her. She could maybe be with me for 15-20 minutes (30 on a good day) and I was not very engaging during this time. I just simply did not have the energy to be a boyfriend to her, despite how much I wanted to. And that was all she could get at the point where it was at its worst, which was not a lot - if anything really. It had slowly declined to this and she had to sit and witness this decline. It was rough for both of us as I could not be what I wanted to be for someone I loved and her as she watched me fall deeper and deeper into the hole that was swallowing me.
It had to end and so it did. She broke it off which I cannot blame her for. She did the right thing as there was no reason to ruin both of our lives as she watched all of this go down. I did my best to tell her this when it was going on, that she should not stop her life while all of this was going on. It was important that she kept doing what she was doing (mainly studying) and focus on that and I would do my best to make room for her whenever I could. But of course that is next to impossible when someone you love is slowly withering away and all you want to do is help. The outcome was bound to happen with what was happening to me and it did not come as much surprise to me either.
What was the worst for me really was that it happened during a time where I was really improving and was working hard on trying to give her more of me: More time with me and more time where I was actually "there" and available to her. I loved her so this was of course important to me, but it was sadly too late.
I wish I could say that I maintained contact with her after the break-up, but I just could not do that. I still had a long way to go, still being deep in the hole, so watching her move on and me being stuck was not something I could handle at the time.
It took me a few years to fully recover from it. Both because I lost someone I loved and because whenever I needed someone that could be there for me like she had been it was naturally her I reverted to. This of course was a rough time as well, but luckily I managed to not allow it to stop my progress and I kept pressing forward.
I do think though that I would have gotten further faster had she stuck with me. Fighting for more than just myself and fighting to give her what she used to have in me I think would have made me push just that bit more so I could return our relationship to what it was and what it should have been the entire time.
I am not fully ready to reconnect with her (we share some friends, so it is bound to happen at some point), but I am at a point where I have made peace with it and I can cope with interacting with her in a limited way. I know she has moved on and I am happy for her - she deserves it and whoever has ended up with her is a lucky guy and I hope he knows and appreciates it. I will forever be grateful for the time we had and for how long she stuck with me, despite everyone else telling her she should just leave. I feel I should write more, but I will just end it with saying: Thank you, Stine.
Obviously something like this changes you and let us start with the more physical aspects.
I have gained some weight. Sitting all day in front of your computer while you grow older is not a good thing for your body, especially when you do not exercise for the better part of 10 years.
So yeah, I am not the slim version I used to be, but at the same it is not like I have grown huge. I just gained about 15 kilos (compared to my normal weight, not the weight I had when I had lost a lot of, well, weight).
I have already ditched 6 of those though in the past 2 months.
My brain... This is something I am not happy with. Stress affects the brain in a major way. Besides the obvious things like: Lack of focus, inability to properly concentrate, memory issues and what not, it actually also affects your brain physically according to recent studies.
I am a shadow of my former self in terms of my brain capabilities. To put it into perspective I used to do various IQ tests for the hell of it, and would always get results like genius, gifted, top 1 percentile, able to apply for Mensa and so on. Add to that, that these were actually mostly done during the period after I lost my job, where I was already stressed out.
My ability to learn was rather good - I would soak up things with ease. And I like to learn, but I like to learn on my own (as in not structured in a school), so I would just start doing things and figure them out as I went along. My entire professional life has been based on skills I taught myself this way and it is coming in handy now as well.
I worked fast. Like, really fast. I once worked freelance and got a pretty good hourly wage well in line with the normal rate (actually slightly higher). That was doubled by my boss out of the blue. I did not ask for it and was happy with the pay I was already getting, but at the speed of which I produced he felt it was only fair to pay me accordingly - I did not object.
I was sharp. I knew what was going on and what to do and I always had a clever remark or something to contribute with.
I had the capacity for dealing with huge and complex things inside my head. Like the project that was my downfall I had entirely in my head. This was a huge website with well over 100 unique pages. I knew where everything was, what each page contained and where I could find some specific code if I needed it. I even knew all the server-side code (which I did not work on at the time) and would tell my co-workers who were working on it where they could find the stuff they needed, what and where the page they were looking for was and so on.
I debugged huge chunks of code entirely in my head. If something I was working on was not working properly I would just close my eyes and start running through the code in my head (even if it was hundreds of lines) and find and solve the problem.
But that is enough glorification of what used to be, because now I am nowhere near that.
My ability to learn is far from what it was, but that is also slightly natural with me being stressed and all. It does not stop me from learning though, but it is at a reduced pace.
My speed has suffered as well. I just do not have the ability to blow through things with ease as I used to.
I am not as sharp as I used to be. I can still throw out a clever remark and such, but it is not with the frequency and speed that once was.
My mental capacity is also severely reduced. It is really hard for me to have too many balls in the air right now.
I miss my old brain... Luckily though this is something that will clear up as the stress subsides, it just takes time. The brain will actually rebuild and get back in shape which I am very much looking forward to.
But as you can see stress, especially when you have had it constantly for something like 12 years, really does a number on your head, in more ways than one.
Now that being said I am not in any way just a blubbering fool, I still do all the same things - it just goes a little slower currently.
I have obviously also changed as a person in a lot of ways. Despite being a hellish experience some good has come from it as well.
The little things... I appreciate them much more now. Having been without them for so long you get to understand just how important they are. Waking up next to someone you love? It might seem trivial, but it is something to cherish each and every day.
I held a small party for 4 of my old friends when I turned 33. I had not socialised with them for many years, let alone with all 4 of them together at the same time. It was the best evening I had had in many years. Everything was basically like nothing had changed - we just had a great time the 5 of us hanging out like before. It is a small thing that really means a whole lot.
People greeting and smiling at you - I do this myself. The world is crappy enough as it is, it does not need me to make it any worse, so I smile and greet people I meet. Seeing them do the same back to you is just a little thing, but it is great (this of course also stems from my lack of contact with other people during a long period of time when all of this was at its highest).
There are so many little things that are worth noticing and cherishing. A lot of them will pay you back as soon as you recognise they are there and use them accordingly.
I feel things a little more deeply now. Things just mean more to me because of all the time I have spent without so many things often otherwise taken for granted. This of course also means that I will try my very best not to take things for granted, because that is a sure way to lose the effect of what it can give you.
I will work harder to make things come true. I have spent some of the best years of my life fighting myself and being completely away from the world. It is essentially years I have wasted (not by choice though). I need to catch up and that will require some work - but so be it.
I think I am happier than I used to be. I have always, at least in my adult life, tried to focus on the positive things and feed off of them. I am at least done with feeling terrible and I am coming at the world with a smile.
When I (hopefully) get a girlfriend again I will make sure to make every day an adventure. Easier said than done, I recognise that, but with the right person I am sure it can be done. Sure, it takes some effort, but why would I not put in effort to make my life with someone I love something special day in and day out? The reward I am sure will benefit both of us and will be able to fuel the future of making things continually better, it just needs to get started.
I am a (hopeless?) romantic, I will admit that, and someone with a lot of love (more so now than before all this happened) and I want to use this with the person I end up with to make something truly special. I have wasted enough years as it is so I want the remaining ones to be awesome.
I aim to be an even better person. I have always been kind, helpful, accessible and one you could count on. This I want to be more so now.
I am sure there are things I have forgotten, but at the very least those things are the bigger, more important changes.
I just turned 34 but I do not really feel 34 as my life has basically stood still for a decade or so. I am a kid at heart as well - I like to have fun and I do not take things (including myself) too seriously (unless of course I have to). Life is too short to be serious all the time and when you have lost the amount of years I have, it becomes even more important to make the best of the time and try to have some fun whenever possible. Life is only worth as much as the moments you create and experience.
I have recently upped my exercising. I do a lot of walking already, for the exercise, to get out more and to help alleviate the stress, but I am now also combining it with running. It is quite the challenge as I have not done anything like that in 10 years or so, but it is something that needs to be done. I still have some extra kilos (10ish) I need to get rid of and they are certainly not going to go away by themselves, so more exercise is the way to go.
Likewise getting in better shape will also help on the stress and my brain in general, so all in all it is a step on the road to getting better.
I am moving around way more freely now and taking some big steps related to getting out and about in the world.
Slowly I am getting more energy, which in itself is proven by the fact that I am doing more. The exercise in itself should also help with providing more energy.
I am still majorly stressed and I am trying my best to combat it. It is not helped by the fact that I have so many things I want to do and basically I do not have time for it. It is silly and something I need to get sorted, but it is hard when it is all things I want to do, so what do I decide not to do? I do not really know yet, but I need to figure it out.
The stress is still a major part in my daily life. I feel it basically every second, although there are times where it is not that present. But in essence I have not been able to relax for the past 12 or so years - I can hardly remember what relaxing feels like. This again also plays a role when I need to sleep as it takes at least an hour for me to fall asleep. My body simply cannot enter a state of relaxation, but instead it is just on full alert and it feels like it just wants me to do something, which at the same time my brain agrees with so it is also running in overdrive as I lay there trying to fall asleep.
Basically I am currently making a lot of progress and have been doing so for the past 2-3 months, ramping it up even further the past 5-6 weeks. It feels really good and that only helps me to keep pushing further. After all I have only one goal and that is getting my life back - there is no option for failure and I will keep pushing until I reach that goal. It is what I have fought for, for so many years and I am certainly not going to stop now.
I only see a psychologist now and have been doing that for the past year. We are making good progress and he is being a great help in giving me tools for moving forward.
I am using the time I have now to learn different things and figure out what I would like to do (and are able to do well enough) once I am capable of returning to work.
For instance I am teaching myself how to make music, because why the hell not? I have no idea what I am doing, but it is fun and I am making progress at least.
I also do photography, which I am also a complete novice at, but it is relaxing and gives me more reason to get outside.
I make user interface add-ons for various computer games, something I am quite good at (if I do say so myself). This could possibly be something I would like to do professionally when the time comes, but I will cross that bridge when I get to it.
I also do video graphics, effects and such and making intros for various things.
It is definitely looking much brighter than it was just half a year ago and I am determined to reach my goal as soon as I can.
I am looking forward to getting back to work. It is actually a great thing to have something to do every day, hang out with co-workers on a daily basis and just overall be a productive member of society. While not having to do anything can be nice, it becomes less interesting once it has gone on for a decade or so. A sense of purpose in ones daily life is not a bad thing at all.
I want to travel. I have been away from the world for way too long and there is so much to see (and photograph) and experience, so travelling is definitely high on the list.
Basically in short I want to get back to life. Have the things that most other people take for granted. Live life as it should be lived. All of this is something I will have again, because anything less is unacceptable to me and I am not stopping until I reach my goal.
Thank you for reading all of this! And don't forget to also check out the updates. :)