To a new chapter

It has been a while since I updated my personal blog. The last post was about my new blog on technology and technical content.

All my other blogs, including my Medium account, has seen nearly zero content. It is not because I have stopped writing. Rather, I have been focused on recovering from depression, reorientate myself and finding my passion for engineering again, specifically programming. Then I went about seeking new job opportunities, going for multiple interviews and trying to secure a job offer. It had been a challenging two months for me as I had to deal with one rejection after another.

All the interviews that I have been to and failed to secure a job offer have been blessings in disguise. I grew more confident with each one and was able to be myself even though I had some trouble answering some of the questions. But I did my best to demonstrate a good attitude and work ethic. I also did my best to show that I’m more than willing to share ideas and exchange insights.

The interviews gave me the chance to see what the market needs. As a result, I fully recognise that I do have a lot of gaps in my skillset and I’m more than willing to plug those gaps. I want to grow and be better.

And I am aware that I’m not growing in any meaningful way at my current employment. I also don’t want to deal with a toxic management that constantly make you feel worthless. I have my own psychological issues I need to work on, so I don’t need people to add salt to my pre-existing wounds. I also don’t want to be made obsolete so soon, especially in the tech industry.

Ultimately, I made it to a company that has an insane statistics in terms of how many people are selected for the final round and given an offer. You can count the number of people who are selected with your hands and maybe feet. And I passed it and secured an offer. I accepted it without second thought.

Right now, I’m really excited about starting my new role at this company next year. It was a love at first sight and I am fully aware there will be a hell lots of growing pain. I have to be ready to take them on since it is a place that I want to be at to grow and contribute.

The clearing that lead into the light

The last two weeks saw me dedicating my time to serving the nation. Those two weeks being away from my job, be with friends who served with me during the two years of national service and doing light duty had allowed me to clear my head and helped raise my mood. Of course I won’t say it was a perfect streak. There were days when I had low mood, but with my friends around, I still felt better as compared to what I have gone through for the past four months.

That’s where the title of this entry came from. My head felt lighter and clearer. I’m less withdrawn too. In hindsight, this whole episode can be seen as part of my growing pains. Yes, there are antidepressant and therapy sessions involved but at least I’m proud that I didn’t take the easy and irresponsible way out. I saw that I had a problem and needed professional help. So I went to get it.

And I’m not going to compare myself with others. Everyone has got their own strengths and weakness. I’m not a genius, the fastest thinker around or the best performing employee of the year and I’m not going to proclaim to be any of those. I’m just going to focus on what I do best, be humble, develop more skills and bring them to the table to contribute in whatever way I can. Comparing is just a waste of time and being sensitive to the result of comparison is one of the few contributing factors that let me down this dark path. Right now, all I ask is people giving me the space and opportunity to learn and grow at my own pace.

Another good thing that came out of those two weeks was that I started a new writing project, which to me is a major win considering how worthless and useless I felt just a few weeks ago. Every setback was really painful for me then. And this time, instead of jumping straight into writing, I went the route of outlining and planning out my approach. Some lessons had to be learnt from jumping straight into a project without some sort of a plan and then failing not just once but several times over the years.

At first, I did it with pen and paper. Then I typed out the outlines and plan onto Apple Note. I’m still in the process of digitising the rest of the content. And when I do have some additional ideas, I will pen it down on paper first. Overall, this project is kind of like a phoenix rising from ashes because it is based on the previous project that I scrapped two months ago because I felt the story was heading in the wrong direction. The theme remained the same while changes were made to the characters and settings.

I’m also trying produce more useful, technical contents based on my professional experience. This, I believe, is a good way for me to communicate what I’ve learnt and in turn help others. Previously, I mentioned that I volunteered some of my time to write technical articles for a company. The process was enjoyable and I’d like to continue that for other companies too. I’m on a look out for such opportunity and will get in touch if I find that I can contribute in a meaningful way.

Lastly, I was officially requested to help out in another project so that the official deployment/rollout end of November can be as smooth as possible. There were enhancement and modification to be made for a specific module before the rollout. And I am the best person to do it because I was the one who designed, developed and supported that module since that project’s inception. Now, it’s all about clearing that last mile and seeing it through.

Meeting depression 2.0

Depression is a really nasty illness despite it being known as the “common cold of mental illness”. It affects everyone differently. For some, it can be so crippling that they are unable to find the energy to do anything, so much so that their personal hygiene takes a hit. And for some, they are still able to function at a certain level that people would dismiss their claim of being depressed.

I have struggled with it for the last four months. In hindsight, it was the longest depressive episode I have been through.

It has robbed me of my ability to think critically, see things from different perspectives and made me lose interest in things that I once cared about. Motivation was gone for most part, causing me to stop working on any of my personal projects. I just couldn’t bring myself to do them.

The illness made every little setback in life or work felt like it was a failure on my part. There were so many times over the last four months when I felt like everything is hopeless and pointless. Whatever I do wasn’t going to change anything. Sensitivity to people’s comments was at its highest.

It also made me extremely tired. I just wanted to sleep most of the time. The only thing that kept me going was my daily caffeine intake.

And at its worst, I have even contemplated suicide in the most graphical manner possible.

Then I went on antidepressant nearly three weeks ago.

Honestly, I don’t know if it’s helping me. I still feel tired all the time. I do smile or laugh at certain triggers but then I will go back to feeling neutral or numb almost immediately. My body aches from time to time and now I couldn’t tell if it’s because of my daily runs and lack of quality sleep or the side effect of the medication. My work has fallen in terms of quality. There were times when I just couldn’t bring myself to do any work.

But there are also a few changes that I’ve noticed recently.

I have withdrawn socially, keeping a lot of stuff to myself. I don’t really talk to my friends or family anymore. I don’t share a lot of stuff with my colleagues too.

On the positive side of things, I have started playing video games again. I won’t say I feel particularly excited. There were times when I feel awed by what I’m seeing but at the end of it, I do feel like I’m just going through the motion.

I have also started the journey of learning a new programming language. I went with Swift because it is the one language that I want to pick up in addition to my pre-existing knowledge of Java, C#, Javascript and HTML. I do have plans to start documenting my learning journey here (or in another blog meant for software development stuff).

And it’s only today that I decided to write something. There were some ideas in my head several days ago but I still couldn’t bring myself to write. In fact, I started this piece of writing at least a week ago but I gave up on it after finding myself struggling with the content.

Going on antidepressant…

Last Thursday was my appointment with the psychiatrist. I shared with him the feelings and thoughts that I had over the past few weeks .

As it went on, the doctor first concluded that it was my job that’s making me depressed. And that I should quit first, develop the skills I need for the next phase of my career and move on.

Yes, my intuition is telling me that. But another part of my mind is demanding that I don’t be so stupid and focus on securing some kind of safety net before I do it. This back and forth between what I desire and what I fear is holding me in place and I couldn’t find a way out.

And as the session went on, it became clear that I’m also feeling anxious constantly especially when I have to do something new or when there’s something new in my life. And that anxiousness can get so overwhelming that it also hold me in place.

Towards the end, the doctor asked me what I think of my current depression. I told him that it was much more severe than before. I even had suicidal thoughts with detailed plans. He agreed after reviewing the notes he had written. This is when he asked if I want to go on medication to see if it helps with my mood. I said yes because I really didn’t want to struggle with this constant emotional pain. He gave me a choice between taking meds to help me sleep or taking another to help with the mood.

I chose to stabilise my mood.

So with that, the doctor shared that there are different kinds of antidepressants. I told him about the Fluoxetine prescription a GP gave me days prior to the appointment. I had taken that for a few days without any obvious side effect but I did stop it because I don’t feel like there’s much changes. He shared that it would take at least a month before it start to work and concluded that I should continue with that medication.

And it’s been four days since I started taking it. I will update once I feel like there’s some more changes to my life or mood.

A glimpse of what’s next in life

For most of us, we faced the question of what do we want to be at the age of around fifteen to sixteen. However, our teenage minds are still struggling with insane amount of pubertal hormones and making the right decisions. That means, it’s virtually impossible to know what one wants to do in the future. And in Singapore, we can delay that decision until we finished and passed the GCE ‘O’ levels examinations. Not that it’s a particularly long delay. Only then, we can choose to continue on with GCE ‘A’ level or go with tertiary education.

Students who decide to choose either the Institute of Technical Education or Polytechnics for their tertiary education face the dilemma of what to specialise in. And most of my friends that I know did not continue to develop a career based on their chosen course of study.

I was one of the few exceptions. I went with information technology, developed a whole set of skills related to software design and development. Then I continued on with a degree program in Computer Science. After graduating, I developed a career as a software engineer for the next five years. All in all, I have done ten years worth of software design and development.

During that period, I show a lot of enthusiasm for coding and software. I read up a lot, have my own pet projects, etc.

And as of late, I came to realise that software engineering is no longer what I want to do anymore. The sheer amount of changes in terms of programming languages, frameworks and development toolkits overwhelmed me so much that I gave up. There are also many other reasons that could have contributed to pushing me into this stage in life.

That feeling of being stuck at a crossroad was terrible. It caused me a great deal of angst, worry and confusion. My workload recently has also increased dramatically that I felt like I no longer have any control over my life anymore. Combine that with my decreasing interest in software development and a very demanding boss meant my workday is really miserable.

It went on for two months until something in me finally snapped. At least, I think that’s what it is. I slipped into severe depression, at least according to the doctor who saw me, and I know I’m not out of the woods yet. Still pending a consultation with a psychiatrist and counselling by a psychologist. On the surface I may look like I have it all under control. Deep down, the turmoil is real. Certain triggers can remind me of how trapped I am and caused my mood to swing dramatically. I found myself on the verge of tearing up and break down so many times. And at work, when the stress or amount of tasks get high enough, extreme anxiety sets in and I find myself feeling really scared. There were also countless suicidal thoughts that intrude when I’m by myself.

And the worse part now is that because of the US-China trade war caused by an unstable man-child sitting in the White House, the world’s economy slowed down dramatically and Singapore is particularly hard hit, causing the confidence of most businesses to dip dramatically. And I can see it affecting my ability to secure a new job or do a career change. I feel like it’s virtually impossible now and is worsening my depression.

In spite of all that, I caught a glimpse of what I could be doing next. Even though I’m reserved and quiet by nature, I found myself serving as the middle man, translating ideas and thoughts or simplifying questions presented by my colleague, who’s a highly technical person, into plain English that my boss could understand. I admit it caught me off guard initially but I knew how to seize subsequent opportunities to do the same thing again.

What’s more, during the times when I’m lucid and not so emotional, I spent the time to distill what kind of work am I really looking for. Took me a while to settle down on wanting to give digital design and marketing a try. On the surface, it looks like it’s a good direction for me and I think it’s a great starting point for me to develop a writing career…