I’ve got this old, slightly torn and patched 100 dollar bill up on a desk shelf where I can see it. A few months back we found it between some papers and I didn’t have the slightest recollection of how I got it.

But now it’s coming back to me. I think a friend and business partner gave it to me to acknowledge the work I was putting into our project. I hope that externally I was suitably grateful, appreciative, and said “that’s not necessary”, all of which would have been true.

The project, and the acknowledgement, came at a time when my extended period of “mild to moderate” depression was well into “moderate”, but likely before I truly realized what was going on. I might have put all I had into that project, but what I had wasn’t much. My effort yielded a bunch of prototypes and some ambitious code that never saw completion. I might have been doing my best at the time, but I was all too aware that my best was a fraction of what I had been capable of in the past.

My internal dialogue compounded my funk. Was I now just too old to write good code? Was the passion I’d had since I was a kid just done with me? If so what next? I certainly didn’t think my efforts were worth much, certainly not $100. After launch and the first sales, now that’s worth a pat on the back and a nice dinner! Thrashing at a solution with nothing of production quality… not so much. No matter how sincere the effort, effort without results is difficult to distinguish from no effort at all.

No, this was an undeserved reward. Another testament to my failure to perform, something else to highlight the pervasive feeling that I had: I was afloat on a large body of still water in a deep fog, with a pair of good oars but no idea of where I was, where I was going, how far it might be, or in which direction I might proceed to find anything. There I sat, adrift. I might row from time to time, but it was never clear if the effort was pointless or not, if my limited transit was changing anything or just Brownian exploration. I am sure I stuffed that $100 someplace where I knew the chances I’d run across it again were slim, where it couldn’t remind me how adrift I was.

That was almost 20 years ago now. I had no way of knowing that I’d be in that ugly fog for more than 15 years, although with thankfully few bouts of moderate during its course.

Now I sit here, three or so years clear of the battle. [There is no way for me to say “there, that’s when I beat depression!” I just gain increasing confidence that it’s not coming back anytime soon.] I look at this old bill, not even knowing if it’s still a negotiable instrument, wondering if I should try to deposit it, frame it as a reminder that sooner or later if I simply persist it is possible to be free, or just slip it between a few papers and see if I rediscover it on a much later purge.

Whatever I do, there is no way to describe how I feel knowing that I am looking at this ugly beast in the proverbial rear view mirror.