My struggles as a feeling-type, emotional and highly-sensitive programmer

Unlike many in the tech industry, I’m one of the few who see the world through the emotion lens and intuition. Gut feelings guide almost every decision I make. Whenever I set down to do something, it must feel right or I just don’t do it. Sometimes, I consciously know that it will be painful for me in the future if I don’t do anything right now.

But often times, gut feelings just doesn’t cut it in the tech industry. You have to convince people of why you think or see things certain ways. After all, it is an industry that is predominantly numbers, logical and pragmatic.

So I found myself struggling quite often to articulate why I feel so strongly against or for something or explain my decisions. It is also a struggle to explain why I know a certain thing will happen or not. And when I finally do find the right words to use to make my stand, the arguments in hindsight are weak most of the time. At the end, people will not take you seriously since you can’t convince them and will brush you off if not reject you.

Rejection hurts. A lot. Then there were times when I’m just outright angry with that. I’ll admit, I did take it personally because deep down, I am really trying to help to make sure you don’t go through the same pain by getting you to be more conscientious and put in place mechanisms now that you can use easily in the future. It also lead me to feel disappointed with myself for failing to convince anyone more than anything else.

That’s not the say I lost perspective. I do know projects are time-sensitive as the customer wants the product out fast and good. Nobody got the time to wait for you to lay down the foundational properly now. I know recognize that people at the management level are pulling their hair out trying to manage the whole project and deal with the customer. I also know that some of my colleagues are swarmed with work while some just didn’t want to expend so much effort.

Ability to multi-task is expected of you when you work as a programmer. I don’t know about the other roles in other industry because I have never worked in those before. But what I do know, from the perspective of a highly-sensitive person, multi-tasking is very expensive in terms of energy use. Then you have to juggle with a whole bunch of demands, go for meetings, eat, and mingle with other colleagues. So by the end of most of my work day, I always feel so drained.

Those are the things that make me feel like just giving up working as a programmer or engineer. I just don’t feel like I belong in this industry because of my highly-sensitive and emotional nature. I just no longer have the same conviction I had when I was younger. My colleagues, despite my efforts to explain my nature, don’t seem to get it. It means that I don’t get the kind of support I need to get through my day or do my work properly. Then, there is the self-doubt. It is also my biggest enemy and leads me to suffer from higher amount of anxiety.

Until the day I finally snap and quit software development, there are a few tips I can think of to help one go through his or her day better. I have to admit I tend forget about them when I’m overly stressed or anxious:

  1. Remind yourself that there is nothing personal at work unless it is obviously a personal attack by your colleagues. Everyone is there to do their work and fuck off at the end of the day.
  2. Be mindful of how you are feeling. Walk away if necessary, collect yourself and try again.
  3. Let it all out at the end of the day by going for a quick jog or run or exercise. Go for screaming therapy if need be. Punch a punching bag or do high-intensity workout.
  4. Avoid any form of chemical stimulants like caffeine. I know as programmers, caffeine is your best friend but if you are highly-sensitive or emotional, caffeine will send your nervous system into overdrive. That will put you at higher risk of anxiety attacks or feel more restless than usual. I have been there. If you really want something to drink that is not water, try mint, chamomile or ginger tea.

Discovering you are a highly-sensitive person and living with it

When I was growing up, I think I was like most kids. I was playful, hate studying, and make my parents mad. As I got older, I became more reserved, afraid of getting into trouble, and especially dislike rowdiness, but I didn’t think anything was wrong.

Then I reached my late teens and young adulthood. This is the time in your life when you start to take on more responsibilities and have more obligations. With that, it’s also when I realized that I don’t tolerate stress very well and have the tendency to snap at people once I’m over the edge.

When I reached my late-twenties, I started my first full-time job after graduating. Back then, I somewhat knew I don’t tolerate stress very well. So I told my supervisor and boss. He told me stress tolerance can be built up. One of the way was through exercise. I did that. There were periods of my life when I was going for runs and weight-lifting almost every other day until I actually hurt my joints.

However, I didn’t notice any major changes to how I react to stressors. I could barely function when the stress level is too high. I still snap at people when I get stressed up but not over the edge yet. Tiredness affects me pretty badly too. In those cases, I would throw tantrums when things don’t go my way. It became clear to me that hunger also affected me badly. I will feel very restless, irritable and get very impatient. Whining was one of my outlets. It was during this time, my friends told me to manage my emotion as I’m not a kid anymore.

I started to think something is seriously wrong with me but I didn’t do anything about it. I went on with my life as it is.

Life turned for the worse

My life turned for the worse when my boss at my new job kept commenting and scolding me about my inefficiency, my lack of stress tolerance, and generally messiness of how I do things.

Of course, it didn’t take long for me to slip into depression. I lost interest in almost everything else in my life and stopped sleeping properly. I gained weight. At the same time, I was blaming myself for being such a weakling. I even told myself that I was a worthless fuck.

It went on for a month when something in me clicked and I knew something had to be done. So I seek help from professionals. It was obvious that the company culture isn’t suitable for me and I didn’t want to be fired because of another screw up. I quit my job as I prefer to end things on my own terms.

Discovering the term, Highly-Sensitive Person

I took a long month break from full-time work. During that time, I spent quite a fair amount of my waking hours googling until I came across the term, Highly-Sensitive Person. I read the description and did the self-test here.

Lightbulbs started going off in my head. I finally understood who I am.

Now, the moment you discover you are a highly-sensitive person, you actually feel liberated. It was like you achieved nirvana. All the things you have experienced can finally be attributed to something. In a way, you actually feel empowered and now you can start taking charge of your life.

Living as a highly-sensitive Person

From where I am, being highly-sensitive is like a bullshit excuse, especially if you are a guy. People would think you are not mature enough and suggest that you didn’t face enough adversity. Well, at least that’s how I perceived those judgmental looks and comments I get. Some may just call you effeminate because of how bitchy you can get when your emotions overwhelms you. To be clear, that’s my extrapolated thinking as no one ever called me that. At least not straight to my face.

From time to time, I have to consciously make sure I’m aware of how I’m feeling about my environment so that I don’t snap at people without warning. I also make people aware of my sensitivities as most highly-sensitive person don’t tolerate certain smells, changes to their routines, being swarmed with work, and hearing certain noises. But in some cases, your situation remains unchanged because people just aren’t convinced that being highly-sensitive is a thing. You will have to figure out another way out as there are always alternative solutions.

Despite the cons of being highly-sensitive, it has its upsides and it’s up to you to turn your sensitivities to your advantage. You can now start designing your life so you can do your work better, live a happier life, and stop blaming yourself. You need to treat yourself better because it’s not your fault.

Helpful guides and articles

To help my fellow highly-sensitive people, I found a couple of articles online written by people for those who are highly-sensitive.

Angel Chernoff published 10 Life-changing Tips for Highly-Sensitive People that helps you to change your mindset and your lifestyle.

An article by Melissa on Why Highly-Sensitive People Need Minimalism is helpful. I fully agree with that because I discovered minimalism separately during my month long break from work. I stopped feeling so overwhelmed by my environment once I started getting rid of stuff and be more focused with where I direct my energy.

Journal #218 – Losing interest, Trying to recover

Being a highly sensitive person means that whatever that is going on inside of me is amplified.

My sleep debt is causing my energy levels to plummet drastically and now reached a low point. It affects my mood and emotional states. I get more frustrated easily. I get more annoyed easily. But these days, I practice holding back the actions that I tend to take when feeling emotion, take a deep breath, and I will verbalize how I feel if necessary.

Either way, I am catching myself losing interest in my work and quality is falling. It’s getting pretty obvious in terms of the codes I write. They are start to look more shabby.

No one is going to fix that situation. It’s my own body. I have to fix it myself. So I have to find a way to recover from this situation, working within the 24 hours period that everyone has.

Other than that, I also decided that I shall spend less time in front of a screen and more time in front of books.

So after I had my lunch, I went to the Kinokuniya store near my workplace to get some books. After walking around the store, I decided to get two books. One of which has been planned for quite some time. I suppose you can guess which is it.

One is called Megatech: Technology in 2050.

The other was Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.

There is something I like to note. I took the two pictures in the dark using my iPhone 7 Plus. I wanted to see how do I get ambient lighting from a piece of paper and the LED light from my iPhone. Somehow the images turned out to be pretty blurry. Maybe I didn’t focus right but I thought it’s a good try.

I know I still got one book that I hadn’t finish reading. It was the Jony Ive biography that I got previously. I didn’t get around to finish it because I only read it when I’m on the way home on the train. There are days when I’m just so tired and aching badly that I didn’t want to read. I simply didn’t have the mood or desire.

Anyway, last night I didn’t get to sleep early. I don’t think today I can either. Look at the time now. It’s already 11 pm and I have yet brush my teeth. It’s my fault for spending too much time watching tv shows instead of resting early. Maybe tomorrow I shall try going into office much later by sleeping in.

Ok, that’s all for now.

Journal #149 – Collections of Thought Snippets

Thought #1

There was a period of time in my life when I actually felt I shouldn’t be writing so much or posting so much on Facebook. I feared being judged. So I stopped for a while. But it turns out to be a mistake. I’m someone who needed a medium, a venue or something to just write on and share. It helps me de-stress and declutter my mind. When it’s not enough, I will find someone to talk to.

Thought #2

When you have interact with me long enough, you will find that my language usage sometimes come across as odd. It’s not intentional. It’s just that when we are discussing about something, my mind is in a certain context and my responses are based on whether they agree with certain rules in the context in my mind (which is not visible to another person). Not sure if you understand what I meant…

Thought #3

I know sometimes I do come across as whiny but I like my individuality too. Sometimes, I will randomly make some odd comments or ask odd questions. Some of my friends call me Random Brandon. All in all, I am grateful for that friendship and appreciate you, my dear friends, for letting me be myself.

Thought #4

I do get upset when people are dismissive of or disagreeing with certain topic or things, especially the ones that have actually helped me immensely in my personal life. It’s because I identified myself with certain things, and those things has somehow given me some kind of individuality. It’s like I finally found myself and then when you disagree with it, it felt like my identity is taken away from me again, inadvertently violating my foundational value of individuality . But I always try my best to catch myself from making any angry comments because at the end, it is just someone else’s opinion, and I don’t need to give a shit. What I can do also is to take it under advisement if it is really a good advice.

Thought #5

Instead of using our vast manufacturing capabilities to create something meaningful and useful, we now shift to production of useless trinkets, keychains, and decorative magnets while consuming more and more of our earth natural resources.

Thought #6

You know what’s hard? Living in a bustling world and you are a highly-sensitive person where your mind just absorb everything around you, the colors, the smell, the noises, etc. You become just dead tired at the end of the day.

Thought #7

I have a lot of anxiety because of my low self-esteem and lack of confidence. When I’m stressed, it is even more pronounced. The anxiety feeds into the stress which caused me to make mistakes. When I make mistakes, I suffer from anxiety attack. It just goes on and on.

Daily Journal – Aug 8, 2017

This is my 124th journal.

I woke up earlier today without alarm clock at around 0900hrs. Watched some YouTube video from my favorite youtubers , had a quick morning shower, and then joined my mom to go eat chicken porridge at Jurong West hawker centre.

While eating, I was sweating like mad because I have been eating in air-conditioned environment often. My mom was saying that I have pampered myself too much already. Yeah, I agree. That’s what happen when you feel like a millionaire (not an actual millionaire).

After eating, I had a craving for fried carrot cake and so my mom went to get it. It took more than 15 minutes before it was ready. During that time, the sky started pouring down and my mom forgot to bring in the laundry before we went out. So that’s that.

When my mom finally came back, it was in a packed form. Apparently, the person preparing the food didn’t hear what my mom said about eating in. It didn’t matter as I decided to eat it at home. Then we went to the wet market to get some fishball and egg noodles.

After that we went home. At first we wanted to board bus number 99 but there were a lot of people. So happened that bus number 502 also came and we took that instead. Well, I was under the assumption that the bus will stop at our apartment block but upon checking the details of the bus route, I realized our mistake.

But it’s all good. We alighted at the a mini-shopping mall near our house and went to the supermarket instead. Got more stuff before we made our way home.

Along the way, and running from the rain, I came across two really cute and beautiful cats. I love cats so much, especially when they are all fluffy.

So I went to pet the one of the cats on the head before joining my mom and making our way home.

Upon reaching home, I ate the fried carrot cake and I found it pretty tasty but can’t beat the one that I ate at Ang Mo Kio hawker centre.

After that, brushed my teeth again and I drank some Earl Grey. Then I went to play Cities Skylines for the remaining of the day until dinner time at around 2030hrs. Along the way, my mom went out with my sister to see the doctor as my sister was feeling sick. Then my mom did tried to call me but because I was wearing earphones, playing games, I didn’t know my phone rang. So I missed it. Apparently, my mom wanted to ask me what I wanted to eat for lunch. End up she got me two big meat buns. Ate that for lunch and continue playing.

Here are some night shots of my city:

In the game, I made some rather drastic changes to the roads to ensure optimal traffic flow. I changed the roundabouts and used highways-type roads to force traffic to move in a certain way, taking advantage of the in-game road properties.

For the night, I went to watch a YouTube video by Gary Vaynerchuk. In a way, he’s an inspiration to me and serve as a constant reminder to me that I should continue to be myself and do the things that I enjoy in my own way.

Why the need for reminder? Well, I am someone who has the tendency to emulate or be someone else, is an introvert, and score very high on neuroticism of the five factor model. Since I tend to get overwhelm very easily, I have to learn and practice to do things at my own pace, which I tend to forget or when I feel like I should meet someone else’s expectations.

I have also been watching videos and reading up on High Sensitivity and Elaine Aron’s research. Somehow, I feel like I have some traits of a highly sensitive person. I get hangry, is ticklish, never quite like physical contact with another person, and prefer to work in a dark room or in a cubicle. But then I am rarely in tune with emotions of other people. So I don’t know whether I’m a HSP or is just a neurotic introvert.

Here I conclude my journal for today.