So, my chronic depression is in remission. I'd like to claim to be cured, but I think it's a lot like alcoholism – I get through *today* without misery and self-loathing, and that's a victory. That's a big part of why I haven't posted much in the last while, and I feel like filling y'all in on what’s been going on.
I've been having increasing troubles for roughly the last two years. It peaked in January, as my father's death sunk in. And the ongoing physical health issues certainly aren't helping. But in hindsight, neither of those factors was at the root of my problem.
I have lots of people in my life who regularly reinforce the notion that, socially, I am a Cool Person. This is necessary to keep out of depression, but not sufficient. What I *didn't* have for most of the last two years, but have recently regained, is having people in my life who assure me that I am a Worthy Professional. (It turns out that friends who are not in the games industry are no good for this purpose, even if they are gamers, because I just don't trust their opinions in this matter.)
[Digression: It seems that depression (especially Imposter Syndrome) is endemic in the games industry. People at mainstream companies don't talk about it in public, for career reasons, but a lot of them suffer. And tons of indie game creators have "come out" about their issues. Hell, there are at least three games out there *about* the experience of depression.]
Irrational Games (my old company, who laid me off last September) was not the most sanely-run company. I don't want to dwell on the details too much, but for my last few years there, I was feeling increasingly unappreciated and unvalued. This led to what I now acknowledge to be depression, though I was largely in denial at the time. And, unsurprisingly, being depressed negatively impacted my productivity, which made me valued less, which made me more depressed...
This was made even worse in the final year, when there simply wasn't enough work to go around. I'd sit at my desk web-browsing for hours on end. I tried to start writing my own game project a few times, but I found that just don't have all the necessary mojo to do that on my own. When the layoffs came in September 2013, it wasn't much of a surprise.
In mid-February of 2014, Irrational Games shut down entirely, which had a number of interesting effects. For one, it made the stigma of having been laid off earlier sting a lot less. For another, it meant that suddenly there were tons of HR recruiters pinging me on LinkedIn, which lifted my mood a bit. But *most* importantly, it started a number of people deciding to start up new indie gaming companies in the Boston area.
One such 'group' contacted me. It turned out eventually that it was mostly one slightly crazy guy who was trying to put something together based on charisma and business contacts, rather than a concrete plan. But he *did* have at least that much going for him, I liked him personally, and I didn't have anything better to do, so what the hell. He asked me if I knew anyone else who might be interested, so I sent out a few feelers. Most didn't nibble, but...
Flashback to about five years ago. I'm working on a small sub-project with a single programmer, named Shane Mathews. We click really well together. We think similarly, but our skill sets only overlap a little, and we produce work we're really proud of when we work together. In reference to things that were going on a lot in the industry at the time, I said to Shane "If you ever decide to split off and form your own studio, I am *totally* in." But that never happened, though we worked together at Irrational on and off over the years.
Last September, just after I got laid off, I got a note from Shane expressing his regret, and mentioning that he had (unrelatedly) just served notice, as he was joining a small financial software company that had a lot of ex-Irrational people at it.
So in February, I contact Shane about this new group, and he apparently had been missing the creative life, *and* working with me specifically, so he came on board part-time, though keeping his day job.
By early March, it became clear that the 'group', as such, was disintegrating. But Shane, mirabile dictu, *really* wanted to work with me. I had tossed out a dozen or so game 'design sketches' as proposals for the group to discuss shortly before we fell apart, and Shane was excited about one of them, and thought that the two of us could probably pull it off by ourselves (with some contract Art down the line). So we're going for it! Shane's keeping his day job, putting in some time on nights and weekends (or while waiting for compiles at work :-) I'm living on credit, plus an annuity from my dad's estate, plus a small stipend from Shane, but I can do that for a year or two. With luck, within six to nine months we can get the project to a state where we can start getting some income via Kickstarter and Steam Early Access.
(I'll write more about the game itself in another post.)
As soon as I was fully committed to working on this project, and also believed that Shane was as well (which, given my depression, took a lot of repetition on his part), I started feeling *tons* better -- even though, from a financial, career-oriented perspective this is a pretty insanely risky move. But it's the only path I see that has a real (if, realistically, small) shot at giving me long-term sustainable Bliss. And that makes the risk seem totally worth it.