Developer's Note

A Personal Story for Mental Health Awareness

Since iOS apps auto-update, and not everyone is design nerd-y enough to notice a slightly tweaked icon design, I decided to throw a ‘What’s New’ screen into the launch of Distilled 2.

Mentioning a bunch of free new features was the easy decision – the difficult one was including a personal note to explain where me, the developer, was all this time. It had been a while since I released anything new…

Truth be told, my capability to work on personal apps has always waned at times. I’ve been fearful to admit until recently –– often any extra effort I possessed was otherwise redirected to fight a battle with mental health. I'm apt to write this story because over the past two years I finally decided to journey away from a traumatic personal situation which was intertwined with it all.

What surely was not evident when I released Distilled 1.0 in November 2017 is that it was the lowest point of my life. Not long before I had brushed up against suicide for, let’s just say, not the first time. I suppose there isn’t much more which needs to be said to describe what life felt like when I voluntarily wished it would end.

As fall rolled around that year, I had not worked a software project for many months, spending the time instead just trying to function as a human. As for playing the cards you’re dealt — my entire life I've seemingly held a full house of mental health: depression, anxiety, OCD, just about everything in the DSM-5 could apply. This bottommost level was after a steady decline over more than 5 years.

The one blessing I relied on, the only talent I felt capable of and passionate about, was taking care of the many horses, sheep, and chickens on my farm. Most of which I rescued from horrible lives or death sentences and raised from days old on bottles.

Anyway, a new version of iOS just hit devices then; it was the first to allow developers to create what Apple termed ‘Content Blockers’ for Safari. I happened to work for many proud years at Mozilla on web browsers, the Mac-based Camino and Firefox. The poor state of the web today (realizing what browsers had to tolerate) sparked that old motivation. I’m not sure how I did so, but in a span of two weeks I designed the UI, wrote the code, crafted a website, and came up with a name and marketing scheme for Distilled.

Looking back years later, I realize this little app was the first step I took towards finding a better life, and the “old me.” Even as I submitted it to Apple, I truly thought nothing of myself. It took many, many more footsteps, each one at a time, before my black and white world showed color again.

One activity I remember doing most at the time, when I should have been writing software, was seeking out stories of people who struggled. I was desperate to see if anyone successful was at one time a mess like me and came out of it. Be it celebrity memoirs such as Eat Pray Love, or viral blog posts like The Crossroads of Should and Must. It’s with that in mind that I write this story (and have drafted many more)…

If I can emerge and heal from where I was, you can too. Believe this, even though at the time I never would have. There aren’t enough letters, emojis, characters of any kind I can type here to explain how terrible I really was, from agoraphobia, constant panic, to unable-to-feel-anything depression, not to mention a complete lack of confidence.

Launching this tiny app made me feel just a small bit better about myself, and not long after it winded up landing me a day-job at a company called Element 84 where I still work today. In fact, without the support of this company who treats me like family and allows me to be different, I wouldn’t have anything I do now and I will include being alive among that.

With the stability of this job, I uprooted everything else I knew and travelled, eventually finding myself in Nova Scotia, Canada where for the first time I felt like I belonged. I still can't believe I journeyed so far, where the old me would have panic anywhere except with the animals at my farm — even going to the grocery store.

It’s not making for the easy path, but I’m working on an immigration application right now to hopefully have the opportunity to stay in Canada permanently. And, I still take a combination of medications and probably will forever.

The Internet is a frightful place to be vulnerable these days. What I believe to be worse though is the wasteful emotion of shame, it robs our world of authenticity and connection. I wrote this not to promote myself, but just to tell anyone like the old me you not alone. And it can get better.

I hope you find your ocean. Don’t forget what’s possible these days with creativity, the amazing tools we possess, the opportunity to self teach as I did, and most of all that the technology at our disposal means we don’t need permission from anyone.

If you need anyone to talk to in the darkest of moments, send me an email. In the words of the Great Hockey Announcer Mike Lange, when it comes to mental health, you’d have to be there to believe it (or know what it feels like).

~ Murph


I've been holding onto a collection of journal entries and stories drafted over these two years. Much like Distilled was the step I needed to get back on my feet in the tech world, this piece itself provides the strength to finally hit the publish button on →.