Finding a path forward

It’s been 84 years (or so it feels like)…

I can’t tell you how much it’s pained me that I’ve let this blog wither for multiple years. The last time I posted was September of 2018, a little over two years to the day that I write this. The past two years were a rough time for me, and I feel like I finally have the right mental frame of mind to talk about it. September 2018 marks not just the last time I posted here, but the last time I felt truly healthy and creative in general. A great many things I wanted to pursue have fallen to the wayside in that time.

One of the catalysts for change came from There Is No Cure For Burnout by Ella Dawson. I cried while I read this… it was so close to my own experience that I couldn’t even feel anything other than a mixture of grief and relief. Relieved that my experience was not unique, but also terrified at what it meant for me.

For me, burnout looked exactly as Peterson described: while I received promotion after promotion at work, I struggled to respond to personal emails for weeks and even months at a time. I burst into tears at jury duty. I didn’t do my laundry for four months and I ordered Wendy’s delivery twice a week for most of winter because I was psychologically unable to pick up groceries.

I lost my sense of humor. I stopped doing the creative hobbies that defined me, instead playing hours and hours of Rollercoaster Tycoon. I couldn’t go to the professional events that my boyfriend needed me to attend with him. I canceled plans I’d looked forward to for months. My only relief came when it was time to fall asleep, and even then I was plagued with stress nightmares about tweets.

These feelings, these fears, these inadequecies mapped so well to my own experience over the last two years. It’s not like I can even point to one thing that pushed me over the edge. It’s just all been too much for too long.

Over time, I found myself interiewing for other jobs, not because I wanted a careeer change, but I just wanted away from what I was currently experiencing. That’s not a healthy place from which to make career decisions.

And then…

I’m afraid that there is no cure for burnout. After all, you can’t untoast toast.

Now I’m sick to my stomach, I’m crashing hard. Am I doomed to experience this crushing despair forever? Dawson is correct… on top of burnout, I’m now experiencing a form of PTSD from all the stress. There’s no going back from that, only treating it going forward.

This is what the inside of my head is like most days.

It would have been easy at that point to lose all hope. But if there’s anything that years of therapy taught me, it’s how to take a step back and assess my own emotional and mental situation and then figure out a plan. I like plans; there’s a certain comfort in knowing what to do, even if it seems difficult. Instead of throwing up my hands and yelling, “I quit!”, I decided to give myself some space. The next three months are mine to figure out what I need to do with myself and my career. While part of this time away is purely for relaxing and creating some distance between myself and the stressors so that I can recover, I also have some important questions on my mind that I need answers to.

For the first two decades of my career, I was a software engineer, and then I moved into program/product management. While the product management work is fulfilling, I feel like it lacks the technical depth I really crave. There’s a part of me that still loves writing code, and I haven’t gotten my fill of that in the hours outside work lately. It’s one of the few things I do that I still lose all track of time when I’m deep into it. I think I know the answer, but I want to confirm if going back down the route of engineering is what I really want.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. This first week was all about relaxation. I told myself I would do nothing productive this week, which is really hard for me to accept. I don’t like it when I sit around reading or watching TV or playing video games, because I feel like I should be doing something more “useful” with all this free time. I also still spend a non-zero amount of time thinking about work—in my mind, I’m still going back to work on Monday, and I need to be prepared for everything that I need to catch up on. It’s a hard cycle to break.

What’s actually happening next week, though, is CppCon! I’m excited. I’ve watched a lot of the past content on YouTube, but I’ve never attended a CppCon. Since it’s virtual this year, I figured that would be a low impact way to get involved. The last few months I’ve spent what little energy I had brushing up my modern C++ skills. I look forward to actaully attending a technical conference again.

And that’s where I’m at today. It looks like a steep climb, but as I said, I have a plan, even if it’s week-to-week right now. I don’t want to overburden myself with anything grand at this juncture. I need to take life one day at a time and take care of myself again.