Mary Russell

As I've said many times before, I have the best job in the world. I get up in the morning, and I get to play board games. On top of that, I get to spend pretty much every minute of every day hanging out with my best friend. There might not be enough hours in the day, but those hours are mine; I'm not spending eight to twelve hours of my day doing what someone else is paying me to do. 

So, I am living a very charmed life indeed, and I count my blessings on a regular basis. I know how lucky I am. I know there're guys and gals who'd give their left arm to have what I have (which, please keep your arm, I presently have a sufficient number of arms thank you). I am deeply grateful to everyone who made this happen - to our customers, to our collaborators, to my Mary, and to almighty providence. In the grand scheme of things, I know that I have very little to be unhappy about. 

Because of that, when I am unhappy, I feel deeply uncomfortable about it. Like I'm somehow squandering my good fortune. Like I'm being ungrateful. Like I shouldn't be allowed to be unhappy. There are other people who are far worse off, who have legitimate reasons to be unhappy, who have earned it. 

Now, I don't want to be unhappy, of course, and being an optimistic sort, I generally trend toward happiness. In fact I would say that I have a talent for finding happiness. It helps that I can throw myself into my work, which I find very fulfilling, and I'm generally able to do so without much outside prompting (I'm a "self-starter", to borrow a cliché from a resume). 

The problem is that I have, for most of my life, struggled with depression. On a chemical level, something clicks and suddenly all my energy is gone. Not only do I not really want to do anything, but I find that even if I force myself, I can't do anything - my brain becomes clumsy and numb. It's such a different experience than the way I am "normally", to the point where it doesn't feel like me

The thing that always strikes me about depression is how very sneaky it is; it has a way of convincing you that this feeling that you're feeling right this minute is the only way you've ever felt, and the only way you'll ever feel. Any evidence you have to the contrary feels far away and distant, and maybe feels like it doesn't matter anymore. When you're making your living as a creative person, it also capitalizes on those little self-doubts and anxieties that are always buzzing quietly about: sure, maybe that game was great, but you'll never do one that great again, and also it actually isn't as great as you'd like to think it is. 

Now, putting aside the chemical component, there's also the environmental side of things. When I was working at my last day job, my depression and anxiety were working overtime, especially in the last stretch. Before I found that job, when we were always this close to losing everything, that depression had twisted me into a very angry and unpleasant person. Now? Now most of that stress is gone. There are things that concern us, sure, and some months are better for us financially than others, but on the whole, with less things to worry about, I spend a lot less time being worried. 

But the depression remains. Some days it's hardly there at all, and I can go about my business, and some days it's very much in full force, and everything grinds to a halt. And, like I said, because of the newer and more agreeable circumstances in which we find ourselves, there's this new twist where I feel churlish and ashamed of the very fact that I'm depressed. If I am the happiest I've ever been - and I am - what business do I have getting down in the dumps? Don't I know there are people with real problems? Maybe I'm not really that happy; maybe I can't ever be happy; maybe the thing I'm feeling right now is all I'll ever be able to feel. 

I know this isn't true, because there are days where I feel like myself. But there is a discomforting permanence to the thing. For most of the last thirty years, it's been there off-and-on, and I'm pretty sure for the next thirty years, it's going to be there off-and-on. There will be days where it's going to crush me, distorting me into something that doesn't much resemble how I like to think of myself, and there will be days when it leaves me alone. Some days are better than others.


  • I first read this post well over 3 years ago. It still strikes me as being a brave and honest explanation that certainly resonates with how I think and feel at times. In those times, I often remember this post. Thank you

    C Curran

  • Thank you, everyone, for the kind and thoughtful comments, which are leaving me feeling quite overwhelmed.

    Tom Russell

  • Hi Tom,

    Thanks for sharing. I too have been followed around by the black dog for most of my life. Your words resonate with my experiences.

    Some things that have helped me. Comparing yourselves to others is unfair on yourself.

    “Comparison is the death of joy.”
    ― Mark Twain

    “How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbour says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.”
    ― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

    Furthermore, even if someone with Type 1 Diabetes managed to work really hard to create some exceptional output they were proud of and is bringing joy to so many people, you wouldn’t expect them to suddenly stop having to take insulin. You have a medical condition that makes you different than those other people and therefore makes comparison useless. You have depression and that comes with the bad but also with some good. When I’m able to peek my heads above it (even if for a little while) I have a true appreciation for life that I wouldn’t have had without it. It also acts as a major source of my drive and passion (even if at times it is debilitating and demotivating).

    I’d also like you to know that your work has tremendous value. When I’m playing your games I am above my depression and anxiety. My mind is clear and sharp. I am engaged, passionate, and happy for just that little while. Being able to have that kind of break is a total lifesaver. Thanks for providing me with that Tom.



  • That sucks man. I hope you are able to work through it. I know when I feel shitty lifting weights or going on walk seems to help me out. Not sure why but I just feel better and worry about shit less.

    Jon Weber

  • Tom, thank you for sharing such a personal aspect of your life. When my wife of 30 years passed away unexpectedly Sept. 2016, my whole world nearly collapsed. But the kindness and thoughts of friends and family made all the difference, plus my gaming hobby (and its associated community) proved to be very cathartic.

    Hollandspiele has suddenly become one of my favorite companies, and I know that there are many more great things to come, so keep up the excellent work!

    Steve Carey

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