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I have withdrawn socially, keeping a lot of stuff to myself.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…

All in your head

Distraction.

It’s the thing that could destroy your productivity and send you down the rabbit hole of wasting time and achieving nothing. You will find yourself doing everything else but the one thing you need to be doing.

And you know what? The biggest problem isn’t with distraction. It’s not that video game. Not that Netflix show. Not that book. Rather, it’s you. You are the problem. You choose to play that video game, watch that show or read that book.

So why did you make that choice?

Is it because you lack the discipline?

Or maybe be that the thing you should be doing doesn’t have a strong enough draw to pull you away? Maybe it’s not as important as you think it is? And don’t kid yourself and be all defensive. After all, if it’s important, then why aren’t you doing those things? Why are you allowing yourself to be distracted?

It’s also a conversation that I’m having with myself every now and then.

As much as I like to think I have the discipline to work from home, it’s a lie perpetrated by me on me. The truth is being distracted is a recurring theme. There were so many projects that I want to do but ended up not doing them. I went with playing video games, stopped thinking like a writer and stopped thinking like a designer.

I even told my friends that I couldn’t find the time or concentrate on my stuff at home and needed to work outside. There’s just too many distracting stuff.

One of them said, “it’s all in your head”.

I won’t say I’m surprised. From what I have learned so far, it’s the truth. And the only truth when it comes to productivity.

And that’s a great reminder on who’s really in control.

No one else can make you concentrate or focus. You are the one who decide whether you can concentrate and do the work. Everything else that you say or fight against is just you finding an excuse.

What if you really think that your home has a ton of distractions and you can’t prevent yourself from utilising those distractions? Then go out there and find an environment to work in that allow you to focus. Otherwise, remove all those items in your house that distracts you. Move those distracting things, be it television, your internet router/access points, etc. to a storage unit. Smash them to pieces if you need to. You can always buy a new one later. It’s all about creating that environment you need to work.

And watch what you say to yourself. A lot of times, many of the comments or complains you make are just you being fancy and refuse to do the work. So shut up, and make a plan and execute.

Dont wait

We spend a lot of our time waiting for shit to happen. It could be we are waiting for the bus to arrive at the bus stop, waiting for that cup of coffee or waiting for that friend to arrive for a lunch appointment.

In hindsight, it’s a such a tremendous waste of time. But here’s the thing. There’s nothing we can do about it. The things I mentioned are out of our control. It’s something that we have to learn to accept and let it happen.

Easier said than done, right?

I know. It’s difficult because I’m still struggling with that. As far as I remember, I like to control aspects of my environment so that I get what I want. However, age has this effect of showing you it’s just stupid. Attempting to control anything else but yourself will only make you miserable.

So… let’s give up our control and mindlessly wait!

Right.

It’s one of the stupidest choices you can make because you are giving up opportunities to grow.

For those who know me knows that I work as a software engineer. In this line of work, you can’t afford to stop. The moment you stop or get comfortable, you will be replaced by something new or fresh. Technology is progressing at an exponential rate. And this fact is what deter some people that I know from this line of work because it’s hard to have a decent life. At least based on what I’ve been told and personally experienced.

Even then, it didn’t stop me from falling into the trap of getting comfortable and doing what I already know. You see, I started out as a Java programmer, switched to C# and now wants to go back because I love that language more than any other languages I’ve used. Furthermore, I saw that it’s time for me to specialise.

But there was no action because I went with waiting. Didn’t go for courses any more or bothering to read up on the latest stuff. And I’m waited, stupidly might I add, for the opportunity to switch the programming language that I use. No more pet projects too.

And look at where it got me.

I couldn’t secure any job interviews with the companies I really want to join.

You might think this situation only applies to developers or engineering fields. Have to be very careful with that. Because, as far as I know, no business, field or industry remain stagnant for a long time. Everything is a fair game when it comes to disruption. Look at how Uber disrupted the transportation industry. Or AirBnb disrupted the accommodation business within the tourism industry.

So the question is, are you going to wait until the day you are disrupted and find yourself out of job?

I for one don’t want that to happen.

So, it’s time to start from scratch again to build up my experience with the programming language I began with.

And no more waiting!

This is why I’m spending time to read up on Java again and using it to build pet projects. It doesn’t matter if the project idea has been done to death by other programmers. The key thing here is that you learn how to code in that language again to solve problems. You have to demonstrate to your future employers that you can write in that language without issue. And the good thing is I’ve got my own startup idea that I want to work on with my friends. It will be a great opportunity for me to practice.

Maybe for your case, you are working in a highly-specialised field and it’s not practical for you to be having a side business or side projects to learn or relearn skills that you don’t really use in your day-to-day job anymore. But it doesn’t mean you can’t learn other stuff. There are many other things that you could learn to make yourself a more well-rounded person.

For example, in this day and age, emotional intelligence is the most important skill anyone should have. Unlike technical skills, no amount of courses or seminar is going to teach you emotional intelligence if you don’t actively practice it in real life with your friends, family or peers. I for one know that I’m no good with that and it’s one of those things I’m constantly learning during my day to day work and interactions. Because I know that if I don’t work on this, I will alienate a lot of people and make it hard for people to work with me to achieve some goals. I can’t wait for something really bad to happen before I start practising.

Or, here is another example. Maybe you find that you are a very creative and chaotic person. You don’t really plan anything out because it doesn’t seem to affect your work. Yay, you are a pantser of sort. high five Therefore, you don’t really bother yourself with it. But does it mean you wait for something bad to happen before you learn how to be organise?

Because you see, having the ability, or some resemblance of ability to plan, is very important to achieve goals or targets. I’m a pantser and acknowledge the importance of basic planning. I do that from time to time if not my work process will be very chaotic. And the ability to plan or be organise could be the difference between you and some other creatives who are trying to show secure some sort of contract, sales or opportunities.

So what you could do is to go for courses on planning or even do it in your daily life. Like your groceries. Or getting the tools you need to do your work. Or plan out your finances. Whatever it is you can find to practice planning, just do it.

Don’t wait for things to happen. It might already be too late. Do it now.