The Drugs Don’t Work

October 27, 2016

patientinfoIn an earlier post, “The Accident”, I spoke of my earlier medication trials, also with intolerable side effects.

The usual disclaimers: not all medicine and therapies work similarly for everyone. Mileage varies a great deal, unfortunately.


I hadn’t been on any antidepressants for at least 6 months or longer when we returned to Berlin in December, 2013. They did nothing, I was so over-exhausted at the time I couldn’t bother with the psychiatrist I had seen once or twice before in Torino, so I stopped on my own.

My first medical cocktail, in late January 2014, consisted of Lithium, Elontril (Wellbutrin), Amitriptyline and Thyroxin. I’d stay on this until early 2015, about a year. Apart from a brief interlude with regards to Lithium.

I had side effects from the Lithium straight away. Perhaps these would dissipate in time, we had to see.

Initially and for a long while my vision was impaired. I had no depth perception and had a horrible time going up and down stairs. I held onto the railing at every staircase I faced, whether at home or the U-Bahn. I moved at the pace of someone debilitated in their 80s. I just couldn’t see and gauge the distance, always thinking I’d trip amongst the stairs at any time.

Our apartment is on the 3rd floor of our building (no lift) and at the time I’d need to carry my dog, Raster, who was very arthritic. I was extra careful going up and down with him and it would seem like forever moving between the ground and our flat. Several times a day.

A common side effect which I experienced was shakiness. My hands shook and it made it increasingly difficult to draw, one of the only things in which I could express myself during this time. However, I kept drawing when I was able.

Also, I stammered for the first time. Friends from San Francisco visited. Joel handled all the logistics and I just was there to be present because that’s all I could do. It was really a matter of respect more than anything else.

Of course, I rarely spoke. When I could force myself I stuttered and stammered through my sentences. Not something I’d ever experienced before. It didn’t go unnoticed as I witnessed in facial expressions of those to whom I was trying to speak.

Another problem occurred for which I had no explanation. Disorientation. I had taken an U-Bahn line one day that I’d taken a million times before. Though during this particular journey I was utterly confused and could not recognize the stations. I traveled in circles on the line, moving from various known stops to ‘unknown’ stops in either direction, for at least an hour. It was baffling and I could not handle crowds at the time, which made it all the more painful.

I was not functional at this time, as mentioned in an earlier post. It was a Herculean effort to do one thing every day. Chronic exhaustion prevented me from any activity, even if there was any desire to do anything, which there wasn’t.

The disorientation could have been a dissociative state, memory loss or situational confusion. It could have as easily been from the severity of my depression as Lithium.  Same goes for all that I was experiencing.  At some point you can’t tell the side effects from the disease.  It simply didn’t matter. None of this should have been happening.

Due to these experiences, I stopped taking Lithium, to see if it made any difference. As it turned out, after I stopped, my mood worsened. So it was a matter of deciding whether to go back on it or stay off.

I chose what seemed to be the lesser of evils and went back on Lithium.  My doctor noted that my suicidal thoughts went down since I had starting taking it again.

During this period I was unable to speak to my family in Los Angeles. I had clear intentions of disconnecting from my family altogether, forever. At the time, it seemed like an obvious decision to cut off all ties with everyone outside my rapidly shrinking little world.

My dog, Raster, died in November 2014. It pushed me further into this hell. Raster was super-sensitive to loud noises and would panic during the fireworks of New Years Eve. Especially in Neukölln, it is a legendary evening here. Previously we’d leave the neighborhood to spare Raster and Pixel of the noise and their fear.

However on New Year’s Eve 2014-2015, Raster had already passed. Pixel could deal more easily with the mayhem so we stayed home. Joel went to a friend’s party. Of course, there was no way I’d join.

At the stroke of midnight I stood at our living room window with my iPhone and continually shot the images unfolding before me. That’s what you see here. Yes, it’s like a war zone.

Just before and after the holidays, early 2015, I couldn’t even speak in therapy. Clearly the cocktail was not working and I was getting worse.

My doctor asked if I’d try something else, uncommon today, but had worked for others. MAOI’s were the first antidepressants available, ever; first available in the 1950s. They’re still used for some people who don’t respond to modern antidepressants.

I realised these were desperate measures. My doctor was doing everything in her power she could. I knew it was not enough and longed for more. She had mentioned, fairly early on that I might want to go to hospital. Being from the US, I could only imagine state psych hospitals ala One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Thus I said “No fucking way” but in kinder words. My doctor’s instinct was spot on but I could not understand it at the time.

At the MAOI stage, I’d try anything. Suicide had been a daily thought and desire for many months. A gun would be my preferred method since there is little chance for error. Unlike the US, guns are not easy to come by in Germany. The dark web was a potential solution to that hurdle but I resigned myself to holding off and trying another medication.

By February 2015, I had discontinued my previous cocktail and started solely on the MAOI Jatrosom/Parnate (Tranylcypromine). This medication has strict dietary limits based on the intake of ‘tyramine’. The restrictions include everything with yeast extracts, aged cheese, cured meats, tofu, soy and on and on.

For me, it didn’t matter if something was an “old” medication and had strict requirements of diet. It was all I had left, I thought at the time.

Regarding the diet, It didn’t really matter to me as I ate the same thing every day just because, efficiency. I only had to tweak it a bit. I carried on of a diet consisting of steamed carrots and broccoli for dinner, tuna and a sliced apple for lunch. For a few months.

By this time I had immersed myself in as much depression literature and research I could find. I combed the Internet for anything and everything possible. A lot of what I read is listed on the Resources page. As time passed, I increasingly focused my inquiries on experimental treatments since I was having no luck with traditional meds. This meant digging through medical periodicals, mainstream publications and DIY online forums.

In everything I read, I learned there were some possibilities out there for people who have not responded to “traditional medicine”. These possibilities included:

Of all the potential therapies, Ketamine was of most interest to me. It was a popular club drug in the 90s. I never tried it, I’ve never been a club kid anyway. Though it’s not classified a ‘psychedelic’ it has dissociative and hallucinatory effects.

Since I had positive experiences, as a teenager, using psychedelics a few times, I could easily see how this might work for me. I had responded positively to similar drugs, even if used recreationally.

The other therapeutic possibilities were of interest as well. Whatever worked, but the Ketamine was my first wish for a trial and I found a hospital in Berlin providing it as potential therapy.

Electromagnetic and Deep Brain Stimulations were less available, at least in Germany, when I was researching. Electroconvulsive Therapy has been modernised and in its current form it is not what many people imagine. It is safe, painless and is no longer the horrific experience many imagine from the mid 20th century. I was open to ECT but had a strong, intuitive feeling about Ketamine.

I bought and forwarded a copy of the research paper out of Yale’s Psychiatric Department, Yale University School of Medicine, “Ketamine and Rapid-Acting Antidepressants: A Window into a New Neurobiology for Mood Disorder Therapeutics”, published January 2015 to my doctor.


During this period I experienced the worst side effects from Jatrosom/Parnate (the MAOI) since my earlier dabble in antidepressants 2001-2002. I was intensely cold all the time, having to wrap myself in layers and blankets even though the heat was set at maximum volume. I had high blood pressure, a common side effect, and would get dizzy and nauseous whenever I stood up from when I had been sitting. I had to check my blood pressure constantly and keep records to ensure it never reached dangerous levels.

I was so cold, so miserable and unable to interact with the outside world even more than before. I’d bury myself in blankets and hide out underneath them. Literally in a fetal position, tucked away. I did this everyday for several weeks. My beautiful, wonderful dog, Pixel, beside me. He gave me enormous love throughout his life but really stuck by me at this time as if knowingly. No matter our walks were ever shorter, he patiently stood, rather laid, by me the whole time.

Somehow I was able to continue drawing during this time during various hours in between the chills. The drawings below are some from that time.

Finally just before Easter, 2015 I could take no more. In Germany, religious or not, many people use Easter to take a week, sometimes more, off from work. Much like Americans do during Thanksgiving.

My doctor was going on a long break. So it seemed, to me, at the time. I guess, now, it was maybe two weeks, I don’t remember. Since she was my only bridge to the outside world 2-3 weeks of no contact, even if I couldn’t speak much during sessions, was unimaginable. It was all I could do to walk Pixel to the end of the block and back, and somehow, feed myself. The thought of no human contact, however small, was unbearable.

During our last therapy session, before my doctor’s break, we were both at our own ends on my situation. My doctor was upset she could do no more for me, within her own power, at the time.

I was just at my end, period. I asked about the possibility of Ketamine treatment. It’s still an approach in Germany only used by select university research hospitals, or it was at the time.

My doctor was unable to prescribe Ketamine as it’s simply unavailable on the regular market. Still, I needed something, some indication of moving forward. Especially before the long Easter break.

I vividly recall her saying “I can’t prescribe it!” (meaning Ketamine) in exasperation.

To which I replied, loudly, “I CAN’T WAIT ANYMORE! I CAN’T FEEL ANYTHING!”

The only option was hospital at this stage. There was nothing more to be done except with daily care, therapy and medical help beyond standard therapies.

As it goes in Germany, via health insurance, I was given a form by my doctor informing the ER about my condition and her recommendation. I was instructed, in my doctor’s absence, to go to the ER. Not just any ER, but the one I had found to offer the Ketamine treatment. The only one in Berlin, and northern Germany.

I went to the ER at Charité in the Berlin borough of Steglitz. I met with the psychiatrist on call for ER who told me there were no beds available in the clinic at the time. They would call me as soon as there were. Maybe a couple weeks.

A week later, I received a call from the doctor who would be my psychiatrist at the clinic. Since openings are rare, there was no time for delay in my acceptance/decision. I’d go in the next morning, arriving at the dreadful hour of 8:30.






Politics of Gender in Design/Tech (Part I)

October 21, 2016

I thought I might be able tquickcam1o cover this subject regarding my experience from 2003-2013 but, no. It will have to be broken into parts, starting in 1993. The subject of gender in the tech field is horrible, complicated and fucking endless.

This post will be from my start of work after school, in 1992 and proceed to the end of my work in London, 2008. Part one of two parts.


I arrived in San Francisco in late May, 1992, after graduating art school in Chicago. There was a recession underway and I’d heard of Ivy league post-grads driving cabs in the city. Thus, fresh from art school, I had low expectations. Although, at the same time, it was very clear from my parents, I had to earn my own living straight away. I got a free road trip to SF from Chicago and a thousand dollars to get settled. The rest was up to me.

I went to SF to work in the design realm of technology, whatever that meant at the time. I looked around, got involved in some orgs, and finally in ’93 got my first gig and commuted from the city to downtown San Jose.

This was at a systems integration firm. A startup of 5, maybe 6 guys who were partners at KPMG’s consulting arm on the East Coast. I mention this because, it was not only a seminal job in my career, but also because I was the only woman on staff apart from the receptionist.

It didn’t matter. I was treated with immense respect and worked alongside some of the best, brightest technologists I ever have met. I learned so much in such a relatively short period of time. It couldn’t have given me a better foundation in tech. This job gave me the thorough understanding of software, UX, client/server apps and ultimately the potential of the Internet. I am forever grateful.

quickcam2It was in this context, along with my earlier visions of working in tech, that it didn’t matter where you came from, what you did, how much experience you had: ideas are ideas. The egalitarian aspect was paramount and I experienced that, firsthand in a nearly all male firm. Even in compensation, I was awarded equally through quarterly profit sharing.

Moreover, I came out to the firm, bringing my partner to the Christmas dinner, amongst otherwise conservative, albeit smart and open, men. Even though it was still the Bay Area, some of these folks were weekly churchgoers who had never encountered a bisexual woman. They treated me with the utmost respect. The respect was too good to last, but I wouldn’t know that for many years.

I worked at different firms after this from 1996-2001 and was entrenched in the commercialization of the Internet. I encountered assholes, for sure, but never along the gender lines I’d experience in the mid ‘00s and early teens of the new century.

From what I could see, once money was really involved, and poured into the mainstreaming of tech, so came the gold-digging assholes. Doing anything to get ahead, including for design, if only for ego’s sake, bringing more conventional politics with it.

This was true for the late 1990s, but luckily I was insulated by a couple great firms which shared my ethics. I wouldn’t experience bad gender politics until 2003 at Yahoo!, and at subsequent firms, in the Bay Area, and abroad.

quickcam3My first experience of gender discrimination was at Yahoo! It was astonishing. I had grown up in an environment which promoted both gender and ethnic equality. I was among the first, of four, girls who were allowed to play in the boys’ Little League in our community. I didn’t even know that it was a big deal until much later.

Gender differences did not apply, and my mother was proactive in making this known. I thought nothing of gender dynamics except with regards to sexuality. Everyday dynamics and opportunities never really entered my consciousness until, again, much later, as an adult. Simply because of the environment in which I was raised.

Also, in art school. Even in the boys’ club of painters in the art world, it was never a thing in school. I never once felt my gender had any influence on how I was treated or understood.

So, for me, any gender discrimination was entirely new. Not until the pattern was apparent in my own life, through my work, would I come to recognise it as such.

Fast forward to 2004-2008.

Sunnyvale, 2004

Yahoo! 2004, I referred to earlier, in the previous post, ‘The Accident’. It was really my first experience of a man, my boss, actively trying to sabotage my work, my relationships and my job.  It was crushing after having been leading a large project for several months prior. Worse, it was clear I needed a couple days off and was not allowed to take any. Just to tighten the thumb screws a little more.

I learned my boss’ intolerable behaviour was also experienced by another woman, another lead on our extended team. HR failed me at every level. I could only move on and leave the project I lead successfully for months over countless hours and weekends. And finally leave the firm out of anger, frustration, and exhaustion.

SF, 2006

After Yahoo! I consulted independently for a couple years. But I wanted to return to a collaborative environment. I hated being alone all the time, working from home. I joined a new startup consulting firm headquartered in NY with a brand new footprint in San Francisco. The main guys, 2 of the 3, were colleagues from a previous firm we worked at in the city.

I built the SF team and worked across coasts for several months, managing both design teams, without any problem. As soon we had a disagreement about approaching a client regarding strategy I was ushered out the door. I was strong and vocal with my opinions and felt their view on the subject was not well-informed.

These people, the founder and GM, I knew from a previous firm we all worked at and they courted me for the gig. Still, because of our disagreement they somehow found it necessary to watch me pack up my shit and, literally, be ushered out the door. Why? What the fuck would I do? Steal the ‘free’ drinks from the fridge? Would they have had such an extreme reaction to disagreement if I were a guy? I think not.

London, 2008

Stocks Kill ChristmasI’ve already alluded to the difficulties of the fall of 2008, because of the start of the global financial crisis. Undoubtedly I will return to this period again and again because it is the crux and iconic period which pushed us out of the UK at the time. And,therefore, on our unintended European odyssey.

In mid-September, we arrived in London about a week before the global financial crisis began. As it turns out, the firm I worked for was looking for and about to close on critical investment. The crisis killed that deal. Leadership and even ownership of the firm ruptured as a consequence.

During this time I was heads-down, focused on the final phase of our London-based client, the project which I had begun earlier in the year. Meanwhile I’d help the firm as best I could, providing information on the client and overall London scene during the period.

As it turns out a close friend had some feedback during this time. This friend had gone to university with a ‘previous’ owner of the firm. Someone of influence, based in NY and whom I had only met once in passing had said to a mutual friend that “Jennifer is difficult to work with.”

First, this person and I never worked together. In fact, he resides in NY, while I worked in SF and London for this firm, never NY. What’s that opinion based on? Hearsay?

I’ve worked with hundreds of people over the years and led many a team. I can feel confident most people would never say I’m difficult to work with. If anything it would be the opposite. She’ s too nice would more likely be the complaint.

Thus I can only imagine the ‘she’s difficult to work with’ is the equivalent of women speaking their minds, with their own opinions.

If that’s the case,Stocks Kill Christmas yes, I am very much that. I have decades of experience and a strong foundation in the arts and technology. Yes, I have an opinion and won’t be silenced because of politics. I’d never even considered that until now, as I pointed out earlier.

I’m in good company with Jennifer Lawrence (yes, Jlaw!). As she said last year in Lena Dunham’s Lenny:

“A few weeks ago at work, I spoke my mind and gave my opinion in a clear and no-bullshit way; no aggression, just blunt. The man I was working with (actually, he was working for me) said, “Whoa! We’re all on the same team here!” As if I was yelling at him. I was so shocked because nothing that I said was personal, offensive, or, to be honest, wrong. All I hear and see all day are men speaking their opinions, and I give mine in the same exact manner, and you would have thought I had said something offensive.”

I think it’s the same as “Jennifer is difficult to work with.” That was London in the fall of 2008. Ownership and leadership at the firm was changing hands at the beginning of the crisis. Just as our container of belongings was floating somewhere in the Atlantic.

Moreover, in this ambiguous period, the new owners directed the London studio on how to cost out a new project for the client I had been working with for 9 months. I knew and said, their demand of x GBP wouldn’t come close, and the new work would be lost. My words, ignored and the studio lost the gig.

It was further reason for me to seek something else. There were no clients on the horizon due to the financial crisis, and the new owners would not believe the key person with the existing long term client, which was me.

The inability to hear my voice, the naming of me as ‘difficult’, and rumours that the studio might close, sent me looking for a new gig very quickly. We had a household on a freighter coming our way, from the US, and our world was blasting apart, before our very eyes.

Black & White photos of me, playing around at work with the first commercial QuickCam, 1995.

“Stocks Kill Christmas” photos I took outside of a (vandalized) sock store, Spitalfields, London, fall 2008.



The Accident (2001-2003)

October 13, 2016

California natural wonders mapDisclaimer: In this post I discuss side effects I experienced from various medications. Everyone is different, some medications work, some don’t. What hasn’t worked for me does work for someone, actually millions, of other people.

Between 2001 and early 2002 I experienced a series of ‘major life events’ in a short period of time. In the US, when you first visit a doctor you fill out a questionnaire. The following question often appears:

Have you experienced any of the following in the past 6 months?

[ x ] Loss of job
[ x ] Moving house
[ x ] Divorce
[ x ] Death in the family
[   ] Other (please indicate)

Why yes, all of the above. In the space of ~9 months, I had lost my job as the firm I worked for closed their SF office (tech crash), split with my partner of 6 years, and we sold our house to move independently from one another. Worst of all, I had helplessly watched and held my stepfather as he died. And also 9/11 happened. Just in case I was feeling too stable throughout this.

A friend referred to this period of my life as “The Accident” because the combination of events I experienced could only be considered improbably timed and, thus, seismic in nature.

Back in 2001, I saw a therapist for basic stuff, nothing out of the ordinary and certainly not extreme. She recognised and was the first to diagnose depression, though it was not debilitating at the time. She recommended I discuss this with my general practitioner (GP) and start on an antidepressant. I received my first antidepressant from my GP: Prozac.

I experienced horrible side effects during my intake of Prozac, and my subsequent trials of Effexor (venlafaxine) and Paxil (paroxetine), as well for the remainder of 2001. The side effects, for me, included horrific OCD and paranoia, neither of which I’d ever experienced before or since.

I was unable to leave the house without checking that various things were in order. I’d leave, be several blocks away, and return to check again. Repeat, a couple times, each day.

I experienced such high levels of paranoia, I’d not only turn off my desktop computer before I left home, I’d unplug the ethernet (no wifi then) AND unplug the computer at its power source. As 9/11 unfolded on our television, I was certain I’d be found out for having been involved. Never mind that we had a close friend over and had a lovely BBQ in our backyard that afternoon. I was very scared people would be knocking on the door any minute.

I was out of my head, just from whatever antidepressant I happened to be on.

At the time, I didn’t know they were side effects, I assumed it was because of my terrible headspace and was terrified to tell anyone. I stopped taking the last antidepressant I tried in this period and, at last, the horrendous side effects ended.

In June 2002, I went to Europe for a week yoga holiday in Greece and a week in London, to co-present a paper I co-authored.

In August of 2002, I drove down to LA, from SF, for my brothers’ “Leo birthday party”. My brother and his longtime partner/husband (and their many friends) all have their birthdays in August.

At the party, I remember going to bed, actually having to crash around 7pm. I didn’t think anything of it, except that it was rude, until the next day when I drove back to San Francisco.

cowschwitzAround midway, maybe around Cowschwitz, I had the overwhelming desire to just pull to the side of the road to sleep. I didn’t even want to bother finding a motel along the freeway. My fears of crazy people with guns dissuaded me from just pulling over and sleeping in the car. I pushed myself hard to make it all the way home.

I was supposed to be back at work the next day (I was consulting by then) but I couldn’t get out of bed. I slept about 17 hours a day and had a fever of over 101 (F) for several nights.

I was diagnosed with Mononucleosis (glandular fever). It got so bad I was hospitalised for a week. My brother drove up from LA to take care of me. I’m forever grateful. On my return home, he surprised me with the catalog from the Willem de Kooning show at SF MoMA during that time. Knowing, of course, that de Kooning is one of my favorite painters.

dekooning_inscriptionI mention the Mono because my body has never been the same since. I mention my travel to Europe because it’s been posited that I somehow picked up Mono on the trip. Since then, I’ve been chronically fatigued, though I don’t have “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome”.

I pushed myself very hard whilst at Yahoo! in 2003. I also pushed myself, physically, at the time hoping I could move through this. I practised ashtanga yoga several times a week, before work. I cycled 30-50 miles every weekend. My body was never in better shape, for a while.

At Yahoo! I was successful but encountered enormous pressure and worked all hours, including most weekends. A new boss was hired 6 months or so into my leading the My Yahoo! redesign. I was harassed, bullied and undermined by this person continuously. After HR failed to mediate, I switched groups to work with the Messenger team to escape the harrassor. By then I was too exhausted and thus, after a few months, resigned. At this stage, it was clear I was very burned out.

It was difficult to get my energy together. I was fine for a while, but I couldn’t shake feeling exhausted all the time. It worsened in 2006 and my doctor put me on Provigil (modafinil) to augment the antidepressant I began the previous year. That did the trick.

I’d stopped my trial of antidepressants in late winter 2002 since I had such intolerable side effects. In 2005, my mother had told me about an antidepressant that worked well for her, Cymbalta (duloxetine). Since we have the same physiology, I thought it’d be worth giving it a shot. And, hey, it worked! For several years, until it didn’t.

I continued on the Provigil/Cymbalta cocktail until 2011, when I simply ran out of Provigil and never bothered to try and get it. I was worried that it pushed me further than I would have gone otherwise. Perhaps I would have (or should have) collapsed in 2009, 2010 instead of 2013? Maybe if I’d collapsed earlier, I would not have reached the depths of emptiness and despair I did.

By 2011, when I stopped taking Provigil, I lost the ability to do anything except attend work on a daily basis. In 2012, I ran out of Cymbalta and was forced to see a new psychiatrist in Torino, where I was consulting. He asked what I thought of it and I said, it’s not doing anything now. He switched me to Elontril/Wellbutrin (bupoprian).

The Cymbalta withdrawals were tough. I had the “brain shocks” for weeks every time I turned my head. This is a common withdrawal symptom where you feel a kind of electrical shock inside your head. The moment it happens, it feels like time has been broken down into milliseconds with odd stopgaps or intervals for lack of a better term. No fun, but they lessened over the weeks.

I took Wellbutrin/Elontril for a bit, but found it did nothing, so I stopped taking it. I didn’t bother seeing the psychiatrist again. It was too much effort.

By Spring 2013, I was on nothing. I didn’t pay it any mind, to be honest. I never had debilitating depression. Though I was incredibly unhappy, exhausted and could do little more than make it to the office and home, I just carried on. There was no fall back, no plan B. Especially after all we had been through in the UK and Europe.

That’s my early experience of cracks in the foundation, leading up to the collapse in Stuttgart and years off, in Berlin, with crippling depression.


The California Natural Wonders map courtesy of Noé Alfaro. Published under a Creative Commons license.


October 9, 2016

LeaveAmerica.orgIn late 2003, as the US presidential elections were in progress, Joel and I lamented the possibility of George W. possibly taking a second term.

It wasn’t a life-threatening thing, of course, but it gnawed at us. We hated giving our taxes to feed the slaughter and destruction in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not to mention the increasing lack of liberties at home, because of, you know, terrorists.

I thought we had created the site of* on November 5th, after Kerry lost and George W. won. The site was meant to highlight the fact that the US was feeling like it was no longer a place to immigrate to, but leave. Looking back on this quick sketch, clearly it was before. I do vividly remember the verdict on the 5th of November and being so upset that all I could do was go for a bike ride. From Bernal Heights, through Golden Gate Park to Ocean Beach, and up around, Lake Merced to do a regular loop.

The political climate in the US bothered me. But also what bothered me, perhaps more, were a number of things.

I traveled a lot whenever I could since art school. This always meant tw­­­o week vacations. It was never enough. Moreover, I often wanted to live in a place, culturally different than what I was used to. At the time I’d lived in LA, Chicago and San Francisco. As a lot of tourists experience, I wanted to stay longer. Not just longer, but I really wanted to feel what it was like living, working and experiencing the day to day of another culture.

Moreover, I was growing tired of San Francisco. By the time I left in 2008, I had lived and worked there 16 years. I began my career in technology as a designer in 1993, working on client/server apps, before the Internet commercialized. I then worked on internet-based applications across multiple industries, also within increasing scale and complexity.

I worked through the height of the dotcom era (sans wreckless partying), remaining at my desk throughout the tech crash, and into the 00s. Never became a millionaire, but unsurprisingly, I was never in it for the money, as most designers aren’t.

In any case, I was tired of the tech industry overshadowing so much of life in SF/Bay Area. San Francisco is a really small city, most people don’t realise it. It’s like a village compared to LA or NY, etc. I couldn’t leave the house without running into colleagues, clients, and various people from my work life. That only increased over time. It bothered me. Work was inescapable, never mind the 24/7 email leash.

Another factor in my desire to leave was quality of life. In most firms, I only had 2 weeks of vacation, a standard in the US. A lot of my employers didn’t even want me to take my time off altogether, rather split it up. Given how much I worked, it just wasn’t realistic, for my well being.

Also since the tech industry (or others just trying to make it) put such an emphasis on work, apart from the work hard – play hard bullshit, I rarely saw even the closest of friends. I could live a few blocks or a 10-minute drive and we wouldn’t see each other for several months. Everyone was too busy, working. I simply wanted to experience another place where the culture priortised quality of life and relationships, over making money.

My partner, Joel, is known to have lived all around the world. (lol). Even his first book is entitled, Jerusalem Calling, a Homeless Conscience in a Post-Everything World. He grew up in Israel, England, Italy, and the US, and went to grad school in Canada. He’s very adept at living abroad, whatever abroad means in this instance. His family is spread out between Israel, France, Argentina, and the US. His father’s side moved to Ottoman Palestine in the mid-19th century, from Italy and Lithuania. Moving internationally, apart from logistics, is in Joel’s DNA.

During this period, 2003-2004, I was leading the design of the first ‘mainstream RSS newsreader’. This was also the first major redesign of My Yahoo!, the personalisation of news for users of Yahoo, which initially launched in early 1995.

The publishing industry in the US, and especially the Bay Area, was in steep decline. Ironically, because of technology and the work I was doing. Joel and I closely tracked the industry and the upswing of citizen journalism, just as “Web 2.0” was gaining traction. It was clear there would be no way Joel could remain gainfully employed, as a traditional journalist, in the Bay Area.

Thus, given the entire context during this time, we spoke of moving out of the country. We had no specific plans but kept it in the back of our minds. And stayed alert and open to possibilities.

In 2007, I joined a design studio in SF. I was interested in the studio itself, the work it did and the people involved. As it turns out, the studio also had plans to expand, internationally.

I joined the firm as a Director of UX and spent several months in the SF studio. We got a client in London and I became the design lead for that project. That was in February 2008. I worked onsite in London with the client for a number of months. It was a great experience and we designed a fantastic product together over the course of the year. After phase 1, I worked in SF during the summer, for phase 2, then switching back to London in the fall for the third and final phase.

I had requested to be transferred fully to the new London studio to continue the project and help get the studio off the ground. My request was accepted, and in August 2008, we packed up our house in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood, and shipped it to Southampton in a container.

In early, September Joel and I arrived, together, in London. We had a corporate flat rented for us near Queensway, two blocks from Hyde Park. A week or so later, Lehman Bros collapsed and the global financial crisis began.

As the protagonist continuously says in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five: “ And so it goes…”


* We still own the domain ‘’ but have yet to fill it in.




Fuck You Santa!

October 5, 2016

RasterBy the time we arrived back to our flat, in Berlin in December 2013, I had lived and worked in 5 cities across 3 countries. Since 2008. This was not by choice but necessity.

During the fall of 2013, I resigned from my role as acting head of UxD at a firm I consulted at in Torino. I had been consulting there 2.5 years, full time onsite. I had the pleasure of working with an amazing and talented group and they felt like family. Though, I was already exhausted and chronically stressed when I arrived in Torino in 2011. I pushed through those Torino years nearly destroying myself in the process.

My projects in Europe were increasingly large, complex, high pressure and high profile.  The last project I worked on was the digital strategy for FIFA, for the 2014 World Cup.  We got as far as initial approval on the concepts and I could see all too well what would be coming. I knew I could not withstand leading another project of that scale. Thus, I resigned with the plan to work again at the studio in Stuttgart instead of offsite with clients.  We rented a 2nd flat in Stuttgart with that in mind.

Once we arrived in Stuttgart, I worked maybe 2 weeks before simply collapsing. It was near Christmas, so we drove back to Berlin. We bought our flat here in 2010 and, if for no other reason, it is considered home.

The first couple months, I couldn’t leave the house except for therapy. Joel took care of food and basic necessities. I filled the void with all the fiction I never got around to reading from my library.  And Netflix around the clock.

I watched every possible serial TV program available on Netflix at the time.  From the brilliant to the mediocre, it didn’t matter. Before Joel started commuting  to Brussels for work, he’d watch some with me, then when he needed to sleep, I’d go into the bedroom and watch more. My sleep was not regulated yet, so I’d be up late and sleep at odd hours.

I was so completely and endlessly empty and blank. I found there was one old, unexpected TV show that was somehow comforting, oddly.  This was Angela Lansbury’s Murder, She Wrote.  At first, it was because it reminded me of my late stepfather. Though he was a comedy writer, he loved murder mysteries and would zone out to this show whenever it was on.

Then, it was the formulaic predictability of the narrative. The scenes and styles of early-mid eighties in a small fictional town in Maine. The grandmotherly feel of Angela Lansbury. The only thing that provided some solace. So I continued watching for several weeks, into the small hours.

From that Christmas 2013 to February 2015, I’d go through phases of voraciously reading (both fiction and non), or watching and re-watching serial TV.

I was able to do one thing a day, apart from very short walks with my dogs. These things were just to get groceries, go to the drugstore, etc. Though, miraculously, I was able to push myself to the gym a few times a week. That definitely counted as the one thing that day.

Of all the shows, my favorites were The Wire and The Sopranos. I hadn’t seen them in their entirety, not least in sequence.

I was deep in the Soprano’s run. I got hooked on some breakfast cereal and lived on that during this period.  The Fuck You Santa! scene resonated the most.  I could laugh at both the humour and irony.

During this time, November 2014, my beloved dog, Raster, died suddenly.

We had just returned home from a simple vet visit regarding a broken claw. We were in front of our apartment building, Raster lost balance and fell over onto his side. I brought him inside, tested his balance by staging him between my calves. He was going to fall again without any reflex to stop. And, we go!

Not unlike the story with Dolph in San Francisco, I found myself speeding through a city to an animal hospital with my dying dog, next to me on the front seat.

When we arrived, I carried him into the ER. The receptionist demanded I enter the form while I was holding Raster, who was clearly barely hanging on.

Luckily a doctor saw this, ran over, put a pad down on the floor of the waiting room and laid him down to exam him right there. Seconds later she rushed him into the main doctors visiting room. I followed.

Straight away she said that he wasn’t going to make it. “Look at the way his eyes are rolling up, moving from side to side. He’s having severe neurological problems. We can’t do anything.”

It was like being punched in the stomach, relentlessly. If there was any improvement of my own health before that, it was completely extinguished after this event.

So it wasn’t surprising when this drawing came up, like a reflex.

Fuck You SantaAs it turns out, things would get a lot worse for me.  And as it turns out, I’d later spend a lot of time in that very animal hospital.


Live Through This

October 1, 2016

livethroughthisThere’s so much, I don’t even know where to begin. In my work, I’ve really loved the non-linear aspects. Designing narratives and scenarios which, combined, create a greater understanding of the experience. I think I’ll go about the same here. Non-linear. Not based on chronology. Rather all posts, together, convey the whole.

For starters, I think there are multiple types of depression. I wouldn’t be surprised if what we understand today as the ‘sliding scale’ are actually different types of illnesses altogether.

To clarify, I have/ had the severe version and as it would turn out what’s called ‘treatment-resistant’ depression. That means after a number of medication treatments, there is still no relief. It is possible, if not likely, I have Bipolar type II but the jury is still out on that. Meanwhile, I am being treated as such.  Confirmed by doctor, the diagnosis is Bipolar II.  It was originally ‘severe depression’.

The difficult thing about medication is that it’s simply not an exact science at this time. What works for someone, doesn’t work for someone else. And so the trial and error continues, often with horrible, intolerable side effects, as I encountered.

So for the record, when I speak of my depression and of depression in general here, I mean in its most severe form because that’s what I know. The kind where you cannot function on a daily basis.

Moreover, when I speak of my ‘doctor’, this person is both my psychiatrist and therapist.

In these years, I’ve read that depression can feel like a black veil that overcomes one, distancing them from everything around. So, it wasn’t surprising when my doctor looked at my drawings and mentioned this.

But I chose to use black ink and some related shades because I knew it would be easier to get back to drawing. Color adds complexity and, of course, nearly endless options. Way too much to think about straight away.

I hadn’t drawn, freestyle, in maybe 10-12 years before this. Almost immediately, on my leave, I began drawing again. It was like a reflex and I went through several phases of  intense drawing. Just before I went into hospital, I could do nothing else.

The drawings started out in pure line form. As in school, often lots of abstraction. Sometimes figurative, sometimes organic, sometimes a mixture. All the drawings were automatic, derived from automatism, as it’s always been my preferred method of painting and drawing. Just start and see what to pull out or push back and carry on.

Back to the black. I never really considered the black veil thing. For me it felt like being behind a plexiglass wall, several inches thick. The kind you see in movies when the prisoner meets a visitor. I could see the outside world but could not partake. Everyone and everything was out of reach. Never mind reaching out. I couldn’t even speak to my closest family members in Los Angeles. Only barely and minimally so.

I stopped working on the 18th of December, 2013. For the next 18 months, I would speak only with my partner, Joel, via messaging and my therapist once a week. I simply couldn’t speak with others. Add the complexity of not speaking any German, not knowing anyone in Berlin even after “living here” for 3 years and being over exhausted, there was no way. More on this later.

The drawing above was very early on, probably around March or April 2014.


Concerning My Health

September 28, 2016

BionicFarmer started out as a dog blog in 2007. What began as a chronicle of the adoption of my then-senior dog, Dolph, and then a general blog, is being revisited and changing focus.

The revival will focus on my severe depression and bipolar disorder, the past few years in its grip, on sick leave from work, the entire time, and isolated in a foreign country. What led up to this, and how I experience things today.

As a longtime professional and stable adult to my early 40s, I never could have predicted what would come to pass, not least how long it could take to recover. I still have symptoms, but they are nothing like the past 2+ years.

In recent months, I have spent a great deal of time wondering how the fuck I, born and raised in Los Angeles, ended up spending seven weeks in a psych department in a Berlin university hospital, established in 1710, a full 66 years before the American Revolution. The answer, in short, is because I’m human.

I want you to experience my journey, with me, in photos and drawings I’ve compiled along the way, along with newly written texts to frame this. Please feel free to comment or send me email privately. I welcome and look forward to the dialogue.

I have no idea how often I will post. My hope is that I will post often, even little bits. If nothing more than to get it out of my system and inform others of what it’s like to experience this horrible disorder.

The stigma of depression/bipolar disorder, and of all mental health illnesses, is absolutely unacceptable. I hope, along with others, to help change this.

I’ve collected a number of resources, information, on depression, scientific views, potential new treatments, videos, communities, and others’ experiences.  Have a look if you’re interested in learning more.


on hiatus

January 9, 2012

I should have updated this sooner only to say, this blog is on hiatus.

While I’ve been busy with the usual design consulting work, I’ve also been working on Souciant and contributing a bit, editorially, as well.

Have a look:

little big brother

November 6, 2010

Miles, circa ~1971


master reductionist

September 10, 2010

The beauty of Carl Sagan explaining the 4th dimension. It doesn’t get any more pure than this.