Torino 2011-2013

August 4, 2017

View of the Po River

View towards the west from the bridge connecting Gran Madre to Piazza Vittorio. 6am, 13 September 2013.


It’s been a while since my last post. Time for an update so I can get on with the rest of the story. I’ve been immersed in my master’s program, so all good, just busy here.

This part is especially hard to write about. I love Torino as I’ve learned this year, where my school is based. I prefer the native term, Torino, to the English ‘Turin’ just because it sounds so much better to the ear. To my ear anyway.

I shall try to recall the previous years as best as I can here since I’ve experienced Torino in an entirely different way this time around (2017).

Now, it’s easy to see that my collapse really began in the spring of 2011 in Torino. I certainly felt the extent of what happened in London that spring pushing through these years nearly killing myself with over-exhaustion and chronic stress which finally culminated at my resignation in 2013. Then the collapse.

During the spring of 2011, before my departure from the BBC, at my suggestion, I met with a director of a tech firm I had hired. Maybe a week after I submitted my final documentation to the BBC, I left to meet in the firms’ Torino HQ for introductory meetings and never left.

My heart and intentions were 100%. I had strong feelings that I could contribute and help this organisation with regards to UX and design. No doubts. And, with pleasure.

I carried on consulting and working with this firm for 2.5 years. Everyone was very respectful, no nasty bullshit like before. Lots of polemics for sure (lol) but par for the course in Italy. My colleagues would argue loudly in each others faces, full of emotion, and moments later act as if nothing happened. Just a cultural difference, nothing more. As I quickly learned, ignore and carry on.

More importantly, my colleagues felt like family. Clearly, we all had each others backs, no matter what. The design group was immensely talented and the firm was developing cutting edge, real time, video technologies. I’m very grateful to have worked with such a team. This made it so much the harder to leave when I had to.

During these years we lived a block from Gran Madre and only a 5 minute stroll to Piazza Vittorio in Torino. The Po River was half a block from our flat for walks with our boyz. It was more than idyllic. I was too far gone in burnout land to appreciate it.

Joel worked at getting Souciant off the ground and went for long walks with the boyz along the river and in the centre. On weekends I’d go for short walks with them but had long lost any stamina. I couldn’t walk far, not even a ‘normal’ distance for people whatever that is. I was so exhausted, I spent most of my non-work time in the flat or walking the boyz a couple blocks along the river. I could do nothing more though I wished to hang out with some colleagues. Even occasionally. A horrible struggle and as much as I wanted to, the anticipation of any planning was torturous.

So I worked. I came home. I enjoyed the company of my partner and our furry children. As time passed, I couldn’t even stand having dinner out with Joel. My body was in pain from sitting for work for so many hours, for so many years the thought of going out for dinner in some horrible upright chair was untenable.

The boyz, our dogs, enjoying the environmentMore and more time at home. No social contact out of work. Unable to do anything, physically, outside of the office. Completely unsustainable and heading for a breakdown, obviously, in retrospect.

There are many reasons I’ve worked hard, even harder than most, in my career.

My work role model was my stepfather, a child of the Great Depression. His own work ethic was ingrained in me from the start. Don’t take your job for granted. Prove yourself early on and you won’t have to worry later, etc. I’m not entirely convinced this ethic is not useful in today’s environment. But self esteem, for me, plays a role too.

After a tumultuous early childhood and shitty educational experience, I had little self esteem. The educational experience, I should say, was not the schools I attended. The public ones I was educated at were among the best in the country at the time. My high school was academically rigorous (for many) and a high percentage went on to the ivy leagues and their equivalents. So, it wasn’t the schools themselves.

Instead, it was the whole educational approach, at a systemic level, that I couldn’t seem to jive with. Thus, I was never engaged, disinterested, and got horrible marks. The bad grades led to low self esteem and so the cycle in high school went on.

Later, I understood the way I learn and am engaged, intellectually, is in a much more interactive and visual way. I wouldn’t get this until my experience at art school in Chicago and also, learning different languages in my 40s.

Education in the US is a whole other thing and I didn’t mean to go on a tangent. Maybe another post some other time. Point being between the Great Depression survivor instinct + low self-esteem = perfectionist-style, relentless hard work. These work attributes I had in spades.

A large contributing factor in my mental health, stress and burnout came later in my career. A bit in the US, but mostly in Europe. That is gender harassment and discrimination. The harassment by men worsened, the more experienced, and thus vocal, I was. From 2008-2010+ I’ve been on a European adventure I could have never imagined in my worst nightmares.

The burnout I already felt in SF as far back as 2004. Though, only shortly after mononucleosis (glandular fever) and during the first extreme experience of harassment at Yahoo. I recovered, for the most part, carried on and then experienced it again only in much more stressful life circumstances. (work visas, moving house across multiple countries, breadwinner, etc).

So it all came home to roost while I was in Torino. Perhaps because my colleagues were so nice and accommodating it gave me some room to think, subconsciously, on a personal level. And see how my life had collapsed all around.

I had a “home” in Berlin for 3 years at that stage but had never lived in it. I lived in temporary apartments for 5 years until then, in 3 different countries. I understand the localisation efforts of Ikea in the cuisine differentiation of their restaurants between England, Italy and Germany all too well.

Home for me is critical. I am a homebody. Sick or not, I’d prefer staying home rather than going out most of the time. Losing the feeling of a solid home is devastating. It also harkens back to my early childhood tumult.

All said, I couldn’t keep on keeping on. Full stop. At least in Torino with a major leadership role and client work ahead, I knew I just couldn’t. So we returned to Germany.



April 15, 2017

After two or so weeks tapering off the last of my debilitating medications, I was finally scheduled for my first Ketamine infusion. For those following, you already know the backstory. For those new here, it was an extremely painful, long fucking time coming.

In the weeks leading up to the infusion, I’d seen patients being wheeled, on their beds, out of and back to their rooms for EKT/ECT (electroshock) or Ketamine treatments. Including my-then roommate, a young twentysomething German woman who went for regular EKT treatments. So, I was prepared for that part. Or so I thought.

I was told the night before my first treatment not to have breakfast or anything to drink the following morning. I abided, of course. What I didn’t know was that I had to wait for a series of my co-patients before me the next morning. Ketamine infusions were given in the same place as EKT – thus, several patients were scheduled before me.

By the time I was finally called in, it was late morning. Without anything to drink or eat, I was hungry and cranky when the nurse arrived. With low-blood sugar, as my family and close friends know, I turn into an asshole. Alas, the nurse arrived and I was headed toward something I very much held hope in.

I was completely ready. Except, I wondered, should I wear socks? My feet are always cold. Would that bother me, would I be uncomfortable? I left them on as the nurse wheeled me away on my bed. I felt weird. Why did I have to be wheeled away on the bed to the procedure when I could have easily walked? Even just alongside the bed.

We took the elevator. I was pushed on my bed, along a long corridor. We went into the EKT/Ketamine room. I was wheeled into a small room and waited for a bit on my bed. Of course, just the notion of not knowing how I’d feel or be in the coming hour(s), I had to pee, just in case. I asked and was told to go down the hall. I went into a bathroom reminiscent of my elementary school and relieved myself. Just in case.

I returned to my bed in the waiting room. The head doctor of EKT and Ketamine came to me and introduced himself. He was very kind and gentle straight away. Though I already knew and felt no fear, he reiterated the possible things I might experience during the infusion.

“You might feel separated from your body, you may have out of the ordinary visual or aural experiences. If, at any time, you feel uncomfortable, please let us know. We will be with you throughout the treatment and, also, monitor you, physically.”

I was wheeled into a room with various electronic health equipment. Nothing out of the ordinary. But what do I know.

Laying on my bed, I was introduced to the woman who’d oversee my infusion. Electrodes were placed on my chest and a heart rate monitor on my index finger. An IV was placed next to me, my vein opened and we began.

One, two, three… a few more minutes and I began feeling comfortable and warm. I looked down at my body on the bed. Indeed, it felt separate from me. Didn’t bother me at all. It felt good to separate from it (I had fantasized about killing myself for a long time, after all.) I drifted off a bit. Maybe I was awake. Probably. It didn’t matter one way or another.

I looked around me, at my body, and the room. Then I closed my eyes. All I could feel was a massive rush of movement in my head, my brain. It was as if I could feel every neuron moving around for the first time, ever. It was a burst of energy in my brain, full of activity, motion. That was all I could feel. Energy.

It sounds (and looks) psychedelic but it wasn’t that at all. I used recreational, psychedelic, drugs years ago. It wasn’t like that. Not at all.

I was floored from this motion in my head. The drawing here is something I did a few days after. It is not of what I saw. Let me repeat, as it appears ‘psychedelic’ to some this is not what I saw. This rendition of the initial experience is of how it felt.

The color and motion you see in this drawing is an expression of the movement in my head. For the first time in months, if not years. An explosion of energy at the neurological-cellular level. I could feel it.

Forty minutes on and the infusion was over. As the doctors knew, I was still experiencing remnants. I was brought, on my bed, to my room and told to rest. Ten-fifteen minutes later, a nurse came in to take my blood pressure. At their request, I continued to rest for another 30 or so minutes.

This was the first of six Ketamine infusions of the coming two-three weeks. After I rested, I left my room and headed to the dining room to chill. I came across a nurse and some friends, just nodded and did my own thing.

Apart from the actual time during the first infusion, the sensation of being here and now was immediate. It was like a veil was lifted and I could see things, as they are, for the first time. Like a child, experiencing and taking in everything visually. The wonder. As a person who’s been entrenched in art, design and all things visual nearly my whole life, it was absolutely immersive, striking.

This ability to focus and comprehend beauty, at least visually, lasted several weeks. Intensely so.











London 2012

March 27, 2017

View from our flat, Ladbroke Grove

As mentioned, a colleague approached me for the gig. I didn’t know the actual project I’d be working on, but went out of trust in my colleague, and the BBC opportunity, for the young studio in Stuttgart.

I’m not sure what to call this colleague who brought me in. I’ll call him ‘Reinhard’.

Between 1999 and 2011 Reinhard and I had worked concurrently at different firms, in different offices in different countries, with only a slight overlap in London, 2008. Until Reinhard hired me to work at the BBC.

The first firm we worked at concurrently was around the turn of the century. A firm at the height of the dotcom era. A special firm. I’ve worked at many and this particular one, is among my all time favorites. Simply because culture was first and foremost in hiring decisions. The firm placed collaboration over competition, multidisciplinary dialogue over silos and innovation before all this became a cliche.

It’s important to emphasise this early firm precisely because of its strong culture. So strong, sixteen years after its closure, the alumni community is as tight as ever. It’s unspoken, but acknowledged that the community is reliable and shares the same work values.

So, this experience with Reinhard was particularly surprising. Though it shouldn’t have been. As I wrote earlier, something similar happened with a different colleague but from that same firm. That was, San Francisco in 2006, but on a smaller scale.

I accepted the offer from Reinhard to consult and arrived in November, 2010, in London from Berlin/Stuttgart. I had the good fortune of crashing with close friends in Brixton, for as long as needed, before I found a flat.

Upon arrival in London I learned I’d be the creative director for the London 2012 digital program. The Olympics were roughly eighteen months away and things were just gearing up. The first few days I found out there were a couple, maybe even a few creative directors before me.

Various types of research had been done, ideas explored but nothing coherent nor integrative of all the BBC properties for such a momentous event. It was, of course, a special occasion for London but also an enormous opportunity for the BBC, as the host provider, to harness their talent and resources and shine in like no other.

On the first day Reinhard scheduled a meeting with myself, the creative director of BBC Sport and a newly hired art director working across Sport and London 2012. BBC Sport, News and Weather were currently undergoing or beginning full redesigns. Reinhard was the head of design for all these properties.

A design team was assembled to focus on 2012 for me to lead, along with the art director working on the BBC Sport redesign. It didn’t take long for us all to gel. The people were fantastic to work with and we all collaborated very well with one another.

Early days

Straight away we poured through previous docs and began designing concept models of how all the content, from video to olympic schedules to editorial content could fit together across BBC properties. Concept models, user journeys, visual explorations, etc. Quickly it became clear our work had dependencies on other BBC properties who were also in the process of redesign, even outside of Sport and News. This included, critically, the iPlayer, the BBC homepage, mobile, and the newly-formed TV applications.

I cannot emphasize enough, the complexity of stakeholders given the scale of the London 2012 project. It was not just a matter of working with designers across the org, but all the stakeholders within their groups, and of course, the many within London 2012, including the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG). Plus, additional external parties.

Across the six months of my work there, I brought the team to where they needed to be, including all the work across properties in conjunction with the other leads.  It was a colossal effort and it was all I could do. The pressure and lack of resources was too great, even early on.

By late November I found a flat in Ladbroke Grove, and Joel drove over from Germany with Pixel and Raster. The flat was a 10 minute walk for me to work. The walks to and from were little treasures of time to myself. I remember listening to The Roots’ How I Got Over and PJ Harvey’s, newly released, Let England Shake on my phone during these walks, on repeat. I joined a nearby gym in the hope of getting out, and moving my body. I went maybe four times in the six months.

The intensity of the work was nothing new. It’s pretty much how I’ve worked since my first job. So, I really didn’t think anything of it until the end. I was working with wonderful people on another cutting edge project. Especially with regards to the unprecedented design challenge of ongoing, multiple-channel live video browsing and consumption.

Presentations of concepts were made at high levels of stakeholders, including the-then Director General of the BBC. Things were approved and we rolled onwards.

There was no structure set in place for me, I created it. Certainly, creating the structure is part of my job, especially in this case, where none existed before. I did just that, specifically for the London 2012 project. However, I never knew until the last few weeks that other creative directors handed in weekly reports of status for the head of all design (Reinhard’s boss). I was never told to do so or that this practice even existed.

As the project grew in complexity and stakeholder numbers, across the org, there was no program manager or even project manager to oversee this. I acted these parts for several months, alongside my primary role as creative director. It was clearly untenable. Multiple groups, multiple redesign dates, stakeholders, horizontally, vertically and external. Still, our little team progressed.

Several months in, after my many requests for a project manager, we (London 2012) finally got one. She was a saint. Furthermore, it became clear that a project manager specifically for design was not enough. We needed an overall program manager to oversee and plan all the moving parts across the org. All of this should have been obvious from the beginning, even before my entry, but alas…

It was 4-5 months in. We already made progress across various aspects of the project. A lot was still up in the air regarding design. It was still early stages and we required a lot more involvement from other groups. The design leads of the other groups obliged and we met regularly to discuss integrative design, held workshops etc.

Funny thing. My boss, Reinhard, head of my particular group was rarely present. Of course, he had a lot on his plate with the redesign of Sport and News. Still, he was never up to date on the latest 2012 status and we meet together only randomly, at his request, when his time allowed. Thus, he had no clue what was going on with the project.

Apart from it being the Beeb, I took the gig because it was a reliable, ongoing source of income for the young firm in Stuttgart. As it turned out, though we invoiced monthly, our firm in Stuttgart was not being paid. I brought this up with Reinhard, the colleague and ‘friend’ who hired me.

By March, five months into the contract, we were still not paid. I brought Reinhard aside and said we need to get paid. “It’s not my problem” is what he replied. I told him he needs to figure this out in the org and make sure it happens. During this chat, Reinhard escalated and began yelling at me only a few meters from our colleagues. “It’s not my problem you’re not getting paid!” “What are you doing anyway? There is no work, what have you done?” And on and on.

This was the beginning of the end. There was no reason for this treatment of me. It was extremely disrespectful and discriminatory.

Given the scale, complexity and ongoing requests for project management resources and not getting paid. Well, it felt like David vs. Goliath whilst shouting in the wind.

Around this time, the BBC underwent massive layoffs and restructuring. Not by choice but need. The Tories in office, under PM David Cameron, began slashing the funding of the public broadcaster. Clearly an attempt to favor Rupert Murdoch’s Sky operations. The political relationships of Cameron and Murdoch’s organisations would only be even more apparent during the trials of Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson, et al. Cameron’s private emails to Brooks, revealed in the Leveson Inquiry and the seismic rocking of News Corp worldwide, later in Spring, 2011.

The BBC cuts were across the board. Nobody was spared. There was a mandate to especially layoff foreign workers requiring visas. A design colleague who held a leadership position for several years was laid off, clearly because he was an American and, thus, required a visa.

The layoffs, as large and loud as they took place, were still in the background for me. I was not a ‘contractor’ really but part of a startup design studio. Of course, the risks and fragility of my situation were clear. In the end, the layoffs would not impact my work, personally.

I left the BBC in April, 2011. I was forced out not by the organization’s turmoil going on all around me but directly by my boss, Reinhard. Due to his lack of participation in my project (I assume), he had no idea what we were up to, nor the traction we made, across groups. I don’t know but can surmise this ignorance of his was misunderstood by his own boss. I was then, “let go”, via SMS, by Reinhard.

During this late period, I orchestrated various meetings across stakeholders to discuss status and challenges. More senior level directors became involved. I had a good relationship with one and spoke of my situation with them, about not having been paid yet. About Reinhard letting me go. This person was astonished. Not only at not being paid all this time but of relieving me of the contract. The surprise was immediate: “We can’t lose you on this project.”

Solace. The boyz, some random morning in Ladbroke G.

This senior director then spoke directly to Reinhard’s boss to keep me on. Reinhard’s boss said no. I’d only ever said hello to Reinhard’s boss in the hall. He had no idea what I was doing. Still, he said no straight away. The business director who fought for me, wanted me to stay, could not impact his decision, unfortunately. Though, this director was the one who made sure our firm was paid, immediately and for the rest of my work.

I told my team about my imminent departure. They were shocked. “You can’t leave”. “What are we going to do?” “Do we have to deal with Reinhard all the time now?” etc. I stayed calm and laid out some possibilities for going forward, including referring them to people in the org who they could rely on, without a doubt.

Reinhard and I would never speak directly again. He requested I document all the work thus far and send it in. I did just that, and then some. I spent the last week of work, at my flat, documenting everything and sent the report to the entire team. The document was both extensive and deep across all the complexity. I’m certain this put to bed any notion of me “not doing anything”.

I did feel it was critical to facilitate this knowledge sharing across the organization. At that stage, I was in fact, the only person who could see all the moving parts, challenges, and so on. It was necessary to take a snapshot of everything in time, for the team, across the board, moving forward.

As it goes with large projects for me, I got a horrible flu as soon as I stopped going into the office. It was during this I documented everything. Sick as I was, I am really glad I spent the time to do so with such care and detail.

And so it goes, again. It was an incredible project for me and I’m grateful for the people I worked with and the opportunity overall. The results were spectacular, and the BBC won many awards for their whole digital program. Randomly, much later, maybe 2013, I learned the original team listed me on the design award with the rest of the team. Very sweet, very thoughtful. That was later.

At the time of my dismissal, after a long string of being fucked over by (white, straight, male) bosses and firms, I was entirely spent. Overspent. Emotionally and physically.

This experience, after so much of what I’d already been through was entirely crushing.

An article came up recently prompted by the gender discrimination at Uber and the upswing in press about this systemic problem in technology.

“…in the male-dominated technology industry, female staffers and workers of color say sexual misconduct, discrimination and retaliation are rampant – and that men in powerful positions are routinely protected while women are often pushed out of their jobs by harassment.”

Nothing truer. Not just for startups but established firms too. I can say these discriminatory experiences, for me, caused our inadvertent European odyssey to begin. But worse, they contributed a great deal to my complete mental and physical meltdown in the fall of 2013.

It is largely because of these factors I’ve chosen to leave technology, or at least the part I was involved in, successfully, for over twenty years. Design and technology will certainly have their part in my next work, but not in the same sector as before.

In April 2011, there was no option for me but to continue working as the only work visa holder at the time and still working on the Stuttgart studio startup. In retrospect, I should have forced at least a month’s break. Hindsight…

Before we left London, I visited Torino to meet with a 3rd party sports media firm we hired at the BBC. And a new relationship formed.





Hospital: Everything in Therapy; Therapy in Everything

January 12, 2017

As mentioned in my previous hospital post, I had to wait a few weeks to continue tapering off the Jatrosom/Parnate (MAOI) before starting the Ketamine treatment.

After I got situated in my room and had a tour of the facilities, a nurse brought me my schedule. A couple of my co-patients, who spoke English, sat with me to translate it. I jotted down, briefly, the gist of the activity directly on the schedule, as seen below.


First schedule.

At first glance it was shocking. A schedule so full. I couldn’t even comprehend this level of activity. The only thing to do was roll with it.

Apart from visits with my doctor and the Oberarztvisite (Chief head doctor), there were countless activities I was required to participate in. Some medical, most therapeutic – explicitly or implicitly so.

Mondays and Fridays were individual meetings with my psychiatrist (Einzelvisite). Wednesday and Saturday mornings were group visits (Gruppenvisite) – all patients, both psychiatrists and a nurse gathered around the dining table for quick check-ins. It was here I learned how to say how I felt and how my sleeping has been, in German. The first time I did so, entirely in German, everyone in the room erupted in applause and smiles.

Tuesday mornings we had the Oberarztvizite. Each patient would be appointed a time slot to meet with the head of the unit, along with the two psychiatrists, several nurses on staff, the therapists and occasionally an intern or two.

The staff were seated amongst tables in a circle, like a makeshift board meeting, albeit in our patient lounge. I’d only speak directly with the head of the unit, while others took notes. It was perfunctory at first and then became more individualized as time went on with my treatment.

Our (my co-patients and I) other activities were personally assigned. In the schedule above, the red items were required for me, while the others were not, or were voluntary.

The key group therapies for me were as follows:

  • Bewgungstherapie (movement): Various light physical exercises interacting with each other to get our bodies moving again. This also included swimming group exercises. Even if we never felt like doing them, the forced movement and interaction ended up being really nice. Swimming was especially great, for many.
  • Depressionsbewälltigung (coping with depression): Open group facilitated by a psychotherapist on understanding depression, how to cope, how to recognize symptoms, personally, before the illness progresses in severity. Each meeting, new topics to explore and discuss based on the latest research.
  • Ergotherapie (organizational therapy): I don’t know that there is a direct translation into English but that is my best guess. Here, several of us would meet in a studio with any number of creative activities and crafts to explore. People made sculptures, prints, patterned scarves, paintings, etc. I stayed to drawing in my sketchbook but felt more inhibited with everyone around and listening to music with headphones was frowned upon. I probably should have stuck with crafts I’d never otherwise have done. The therapist/instructor offered tea each time and was also the person behind the baking therapy.
  • Genußgruppe (enjoyment): I did not understand at the outset, of course. The purpose of the group was to inform, educate and enable the sensation of feeling joy. Many, if not all, of us were unable to feel joy or experience pleasure of any kind. There is a medical term for this: Anhedonia. Thus, the focus of this group was to learn the most basic of feelings again, via our senses – sight, hearing, taste, etc. I’d never know it til much later, but this would be one of my most favourite experiences in all the therapies.
  • Entspannungliegend (relaxation lying down): This consisted of visualisation exercises for relaxation. Everyone would lie down on yoga-type mats and the facilitator would talk through various visualisations. I hate this kind of thing. I’ve practiced Vipassana and Zen meditation before. Also, a longtime fan of Ashtanga Yoga. I’d have much preferred something like that. As luck would I have it, I wasn’t required to go due to the language challenge.
  • Patientplenum (patient planning): Here we go, the crux of implicit therapy. We all (or most) had chores to do which changed weekly. These included: setting the food, dishes, table for daily meals, cleaning out the refrigerator, providing a tour to new patients, purchasing/managing flowers in the common spaces (dining, lounge rooms), etc. This meeting was for assigning tasks. The thing here was that most tasks were assigned in either pairs or small groups. This meant coordination among people was required. This meant communication, planning was required – something all of us had become unaccustomed to at this stage. It was part of therapy – communicating and dealing with others. In real life.
  • Blitzlichtvisite (quick visit): Translated literally, “lightening visit”. Everyone gathers around the dining room table with the doctors and nurses. We go around and each person says quickly how they are, how their sleep is and if they need to speak with their doctor privately.
  • PMR Entspannung (Progressive Muscle Relaxation): More relaxation techniques, this type I could get into. Facilitated through the constriction and relaxation of bodily muscles with deep breath. Nice.
  • Kaffeetafel (Coffee & Cake): Every Friday afternoon we’d have a ‘Kaffetafel’. Just sit around the table in the dining room and have some cake and coffee or tea. The doctors and nurses joined. It was mandatory for all. The best thing about this was that a couple cakes were baked that day by the patients. Baking was part of the tasks/assignments we had as patients. Earlier in the week on Tuesdays, there was ‘Backplanung’ for the planning. The two people who volunteered would work with the facilitator to decide on what to bake. Thus, baking therapy. Weekly and with excellent results, always. The Germans have baking in their DNA.

The days were packed. Dinner was very early. Exhaustion has been a core symptom for me so I’d simply retire to my room early. Maybe watch something on my laptop, or the TV thing above my bed or read if I could concentrate long enough. Though I read and researched voraciously before, by the time I got to the hospital I was unable to focus long enough to read anything beyond a sentence or two.

The language challenge was enormous. In such a psychological state, there are already layers of separation between oneself and other people. To add a language barrier in a therapeutic environment was very difficult.

Though I was in Berlin, an international city by all accounts, the department was not entirely ready for English speakers. We received paper materials related to depression information but there were no copies in English. In Turkish, yes. English, a surprising afterthought.

Given this, I feel fortunate my doctor spoke English, as did the Oberarzt (he even practised at San Francisco’s UCSF). However, the day to day was a Herculean effort with regards to language. It was also among the first things discussed in therapy regarding my integration into Berlin/Germany.

It may sound obvious to learn the language, to foreigners,  but it’s really not so easy to learn German in Berlin. When you can cobble together some words into something resembling a sentence Germans will reply in English. Interestingly, immigrants, whether Turkish, Arab, Vietnamese, etc., will respond in German. Nonetheless, everyone appreciates the effort.

At any rate, I was immersed in the language whether I liked it or not. The beginning was the most rough of all. My fellow patients knew I didn’t speak the language but the really tough part for me was all the group sessions – either therapy, meals, or just random conversations in the lounge or hallway. I simply could not participate. I felt this distance removed a layer of therapy that was intended.

I made the most of communicating with people I could, learning the language on the fly, and real-time translation via friends or staff. In group sessions, I’d take notes, verbatim, as the facilitator wrote on the whiteboard and later translate each word in my sketchbook.

About a third of the way through my stay it became clear the whole program was not accessible to me because of language. So, a psych intern from Frei Universität Berlin, who was already part of the department, sat in our group sessions next to me and translated, whispering into my ear, in real time. This made a world of difference. After some time passed we’d also collaborate on communicating my experience, comments and questions to the group.

Of course, if I haven’t already stated, I am eternally grateful for the English speakers who helped me along the way.

A really nice thing was that we were entering Spring. I arrived at the hospital just after Easter. Little by little the sun would make an appearance and we’d go out to sit on the lawn out front to take in the rays when we had time between various activities.

Also, we weren’t restricted to the hospital. At first, yes, until your doctor got to know you. Once this happened, we were allowed to leave the hospital campus, first for a few hours, then a full day, then overnight at home on a weekend. That made a big difference in the therapy, for me, in my opinion. The openness and responsiveness to everyone’s particular proclivities.

A few weeks in, after fully tapering off the MAOI, I’d begin the ketamine treatments.


Willkommen in Deutschland

December 4, 2016

willkommenMy work in Milan ended in early December 2009.

We considered moving back to San Francisco at this time. Joel went to scout out the real estate market. As we feared, nothing was affordable, so we planned the next possible thing in Europe.

Like in London, we had 30 days to pick up our temporary fort, the boyz, and go where? Back to the US while the interior of our 3-bedroom house sat in a warehouse in Southampton? While I was the breadwinner of my family, including a substantial monthly stipend to my disabled mother in Los Angeles? It was impossible to imagine another continental move at the time, or anytime thereafter.

The director of technology of the firm I’d worked for in Milan, a German, based in Stuttgart, was also newly free at the time. I’ll call him Peter.

We discussed working on some freelance projects together. I flew to Stuttgart from Milan and we began working together, almost immediately. We subscribed to the same work culture, ethics and practice. It was a no-brainer.

I looked into the German work visa options whilst discussing other employment opportunities with firms in London. The German option appeared to be the most favourable, even without a proper job to begin with.

Though I’d only spent a couple days with Peter in Stuttgart, he rented a van, drove down to Milan and helped us move north, to Germany. Though he and I got along fabulously the few days we worked together, we’d never really spent time together alone. So we spent nearly 7 hours in silence, from Milan to Stuttgart, listening to CDs he brought along for the drive. No problem. We’d both comfortably chat with each other for hours before long.

We arrived in Stuttgart and got a hotel while Peter went home. The next day we’d move the contents of the Transporter into the second room of the new office.

monalisa_stuttgartJoel and I drove on to Berlin the next day. We rented a vacation apartment rental, before any AirBnBs existed in the city. Through it, we got acquainted with Berlin, via Boxhagenerplatz, in Friedrichshain. Not horrible but not great either unless you’re in Berlin to party. Alas, it was home base for some months.

We arrived in Berlin the last week in March 2010. I spent the next 7 months commuting weekly to Stuttgart by train. Each way is roughly 6-7 hours depending on stops. Basically, like the driving distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Most of this period I’d rent hotel rooms. Stuttgart, a center of manufacturing, notably auto manufacturing, does not have enough supply to meet the demand for hotel rooms. I must have stayed at almost every possible hotel within the central Stuttgart area. Several times.

Because Stuttgart is such a significant industrial centre, apartments are difficult and costly to find. I eventually found one, with the help of both Peter and a couple of folks who would be among the first of staff at the new firm.

It was a very convenient studio apartment on the top floor of a post-war building. A top floor apartment, it had sweeping views of Stuttgart, but also four massive flights of stairs to contend with.


A Spanish student occupied the flat before me and was returning home. He offered to sell us all the furniture in the small flat. As a crash pad, the decision was obvious. I agreed and the place was efficiently furnished thanks to Ikea.

Finally, the crash pad was established. Less rush and hassle booking hotel rooms, not to mention the high cost.

I continued commuting, spending most of my time in Stuttgart. Though I was residentially registered in Berlin from this time, onwards, I’d only see the city and get to know it sporadically. No problem for me, I was focused on building a new studio with Peter.

I cannot adequately express the gratitude I have for Peter. He not only welcomed us with open arms to Germany, but also taught us enormous amounts about its culture.

It was very foreign to me. I’d never spent a moment in Germany before a weekend to meet with Peter, apart from passing through Munich airport en route to Greece in 2002. I was 100% comfortable and without any doubts about working with Peter.

Still, I was a little afraid of what Germany would be like. I am an atheist and very secular Jewish woman. I’m a cultural Jew. I never went to Hebrew school, never got a Bat Mitzvah and only observed Jewish holidays with my Yiddish-speaking grandparents, if at all.

I grew up in Beverly Hills, California in the 1970s and 1980s. At that time it was a largely Jewish, secular community. The percentage of Jewish families was so high that our school district included Jewish holidays as compulsory days off. It was really great for kids. We got lots of time off, especially for the High Holidays, in autumn.

I am thoroughly Jewish on both sides of my family, and both sets of grandparents. My grandfathers fled both Poland and Ukraine, due to anti-Semitism, in the early 20th Century.

antifa-_tonytigerWhile moving to modern Germany felt perfectly fine and great, it would be impossible to disregard the past, my family history, and history in general.

I focused on learning about present day Germany and eventually became fascinated with Germany’s history well before the 20th century, the lead up to WWI, the Weimar Republic, Third Reich, the Cold War, and finally, reunification.

These topics would surface randomly between 2010-13. But it all came to the fore in 2015 as I began learning the German language in earnest with a teacher I adore. As is often the case in learning a new language, culture is very much intertwined. And this continues today with my current graduate studies, not so ironically, in cultural heritage preservation.

In Stuttgart, we worked on the studio: naming, presentation decks, etc. There were a couple early clients that helped stabilise things even if they weren’t the best projects.

It was difficult for me to contribute in the realm of business development, at all. I had no contacts within Germany and didn’t know even the most basic elements of the language at the time. Still, I contributed with my strategy, design, branding, and even workshop facilitation skills at first. This soon changed.

By this time we had purchased our flat, but a fair amount of remodelling had to be done before we moved in. So we spent the summer in Stuttgart for the most part.  Joel would go back and check in on the work being done on the flat periodically.

img_8546After roughly two years, we had the container of our belongings moved from storage in Southampton to our new apartment. It was shocking to see after all this time. The movers promptly installed our furniture and ‘things’.  We’d forgotten how much we actually owned.

Moreover, we learned that the folks who packed up our belongings at the house in San Francisco packed everything. Literally. Including cat treats (we didn’t bring the cat), tin foil, etc. We’re still using spices and random things from San Francisco they were not supposed to pack. It’s weird.

In late September or early October I met with a former colleague in Berlin. He had recently begun working at the BBC. Over a glass of wine in Charlottenburg, he asked if I’d come work with him. Things were messy, he said, and required someone with the experience to get everything in order. I agreed to look into it, consulting from the firm in Stuttgart.

After negotiating prices and timelines, we all agreed to a contract. In mid-late October, I’d fly to London and begin working onsite, full-time. I didn’t even know the nature or subject or group I’d be working in. I just went. It was predictable, reliable income. Everything a new firm hopes for. And, of course, it was the BBC.


Hospital: First Few Days

November 19, 2016


eecI hung up the phone and had to get ready to go to hospital the next morning.

I didn’t know how to pack. I had arranged for someone to watch Pixel, just in case, so that was settled. But, what do you pack for entering a psychiatric hospital stay for a short yet unknown duration? I Googled and got myself sorted.

I arrived the next day at 8:30AM and waited outside the doctor’s door in the depression unit. I met with my doctor, along with a nurse present. They both took notes assiduously as I described how I was currently feeling (medicinal side effects; inability to feel; suicidal, etc.), my life history, family history and details of previous depressive episodes. Not to mention chronic stress and exhaustion, exacerbated by life events in Europe.

Then I was escorted to my room and began to unpack. A young woman came into the room, introduced herself and gave me a quick tour of how things worked across the whole depression unit, where things were, etc. There was a very clear system in place and later I’d understand why.

The hospital I entered, Charité, was for all illnesses, not just about psychiatric care. It is a first rate university hospital, with several campuses across Berlin. Its various departments were isolated from one another.

Charité had also recently created the first “Mother and Child” psychiatric unit. This allows mothers with newborns to stay in hospital with their babies. Revolutionary and rarely, if ever, seen worldwide.

That said, we depression patients, grouped with other depression sufferers, and the same went for mothers with newborns, schizophrenics, PTSD, etc. We’d very rarely cross paths, except in some random activities like walks along nearby canals or ‘movement therapy’ (PE in American words). Other mental illness groups, we’d never meet.

The depression unit was on one side of the floor, while the schizophrenics were on the other. The two remain separate, but we shared a kitchen and laundry room. We each had our own refrigerators, food, snacks, and laundry machines. I was warned early on that the schizophrenics would always steal our Nutella and honey packets. I could only laugh at this, thankfully.

The depression unit had recently relocated from another Charité campus in a different part of Berlin. In doing so, they refurnished this part of the hospital, so everything was still very new. We were also on the top floor and had great views of the area, including a wonderful view of sunset every day.

Thankfully, this young woman showing me around in the first hours spoke English. Not everyone did; far from it. At the time I spoke almost no German. Language was incredibly difficult, in its own right, at the hospital for me. I will come back to this.

Along the walls of our space, along our hall, there were photographs of New York City and further down, photos or drawings of nature. It was clear from this exhibition not many Americans came around here. The photos showed the World Trade Center in the skyline of one photo and then this, a woman, looking out directly at the World Trade Center Towers. Clearly nothing that would be displayed in the depression unit in the US. (lol)

twin_towersWhile I was getting the tour, a nurse handed me my schedule. We all had a tight schedule of activities, doctor visits, individual therapy, group therapy. “We all” included roughly sixteen patients in the depression unit. We ate meals together, and shared small chores, which changed every week, and, of course, were in various types of group therapy together.

The majority of patients were middle class, middle age women with a few outliers in younger and senior years. When I first arrived, there were only two men. Of the 16 or so, patients only 3-4 spoke English.

Straight away, I needed my schedule translated. Two younger, English-speaking patients helped me with this as I scribbled the translation directly on the paper. They also graciously explained each activity and what they all meant. (Schedule forthcoming in another post. Too much here.)

The first course of action was a full physical exam, blood work, MRI and neurological assessment. Nothing wrong, physically, by all scientific test measures. No surprise there, but that still needs to be ruled out, just in case.

My roommate was very young, in her early 20s. She was going through various rounds of ECT/EKT (electroshock treatment). I asked how long she’d been in hospital. By then it was roughly 5-6 weeks for her. I asked others and it was similar – 6-10 weeks on average. Shit. I didn’t plan for this. I thought I’d be there maybe a week. Nope.


In the second week, I learned the treatment for me would be Ketamine. Though I’d have tried anything, I was relieved if only because I thought, in advance, that this might work. 

I began tapering off Jatrosom before I went to the hospital, but this particular medicine takes a long time. I’d continue tapering off for three weeks, before I could start the Ketamine treatment.

This meant I was still on a restricted diet. The hospital version of my restrictions was more extreme than what I had done at home. Perhaps because I couldn’t bother with variations at home and, now, I could see what other people were eating.


I lost a lot of weight before the hospital because I wasn’t interested in eating and then was on the restricted diet. I lost even more weight at the hospital. Even though we were weighed every Monday morning before breakfast, I never paid attention. I had gained more weight than ever before in Torino, so any weight loss was a good thing. For a while.

I began attending my activities and stuck by my new friends, who hooked me up with English. I could get by in some activities where others, namely group therapy sessions, were nearly impossible. Until later.

I waited out the tapering of the MAOI until I could begin the Ketamine treatment.





November 14, 2016

Worked in Milan, Atlanta, Chicago, and Shanghai. More tired.


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 from the Lithium or any combination of things.  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 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.