Depression and OSS
Balázs Orbán / 2023 May 03
5 min read
Disclaimer: This is not a giving advice post. I recently read through Troy Hunt's post and although I haven't spent years writing this, my thoughts have been gathered from memory about my life from the past 12 months. I felt slightly inspired to write down my own story. This is a reflection of my journey, where I am now, and where I want it to go from here.
I've wanted to write about the humane aspects of being an open-source maintainer for a while, but I never found the right tone. I hope that adding a bit of personal touch to my own story will make this a bit more relatable.
Imagine that you are in a stable place in your personal life, your career is satisfying, bringing mental and financial stability to your loved ones.
Can something top that? Well, to me that was a true moment, when Vercel decided to put their faith in me, and I got the opportunity to join an incredible team of talented people. An inspiring community that challenges me every day to deliver delightful experiences to our dev community. I feel like every day there is something new to learn, just by lurking around our Slack channels and reading through the conversations, full of empathy and the LFG-energy that Vercel is known for. I love it. It is my happy place.
I wasn't at Vercel for a long time yet, when cracks started to show up in my personal life when my then-girlfriend and I broke up. A bit more than a year ago, the person who has been on my side as long as I can remember my adult years was gone. I cannot describe the feelings I experienced back then, but it was the toughest period of my life.
I always liked to think about myself as an emotionally and mentally stable person, but that just broke me down to my core. Through a series of rapid changes, I moved back to my family, then into a friend's place, then another friend's, until I finally found my new "home" in Oslo, Norway.
While everything was turbulent around me, I had a job to do... I'm not talking about Vercel here. I'm forever grateful to Vercel for being nothing but supportive in this period of my life, special thanks to my past/current managers for their kind words and support along the way!
I am the Lead Maintainer of Auth.js (NextAuth.js), an increasingly popular open-source project, with a single and humble goal. Be the best auth solution for the web... I could go on and on about all the ideas I have about how to make that possible, and I am confident that one day - hopefully, sooner than later - I can share all of them with you. But this post is not a technical one.
Open-source projects have the reputation to be somewhat turbulent to work on. On the surface, it is "just pushing code", but there is so much that goes into it. You are serving an infinite list of people, listen to them, try to do better. Often, you succeed. Sometimes, you don't. And that is fine! I believe that OSS is a wonderful and powerful way of moving our whole industry forward and being part of it is what makes me tick every day.
Now let me tell you, this is not how I've always felt about open-source. It took me becoming the maintainer of a project with 2 million downloads a month(!) to understand and empathize with other maintainers on a whole different level. If you want to go away from this post with some wisdom, let me share a comment I read recently that just resonated so well with me:
A good reminder to always take the high road, you never know what someone is going through and why they're taking their anger out on you.
You have to understand that behind every project, every interaction, there is a face, a human being with their own personal story. Remember that, whenever you share your opinion. Negative feedback is fine, but it never has to be personal or insulting.
A constant reminder for me is this comment I wrote which is now burnt into the internet, due to the project being archived on GitHub. You can read the thread, and see the journey I went through. I'm so happy that I made the last comment before the thread got locked.
So back to connecting personal life and open-source. Right now, I am in a place where I can work, although I wish to be more productive. I'm thinking about Auth.js all my available hours, but while I really really want things to move along at the speed of light, I have to consider myself and my mental health first. The last thing I want is to burn out on the project. I am passionate and so hopeful for the project's future. Special thanks to Thang, Nico, and Lluis for being able to offload some of the work.
To achieve peak personal productivity and find a healthy work-life balance, I've made a hard decision to start visiting a therapist. I am thankful for the opportunity and hope to get every ounce of advice out of it.
Remember, when you comment on a project that you (as a company or individual) rely on, in good faith, try to see the person behind that project and their passion for what they are doing. Most often for free.