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 I’m less withdrawn too.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.

The house by the sea

Just imagine this.

You live in a house, built out of bamboo and wood, out by the sea. It sat on top of wooden pillars that served as the house’s foundation. They were hammered into the sea bed with the top of the pillars jutting above the sea as though they are struggling for air. But all is good. You got a house to live in and you are out here by the sea, enjoying what nature’s got to offer you.

Then, environment effects attacked the house and its foundation, eating away pieces of wood and bamboo. Years went by. Decades went by. Holes began to appear along the house walls and sections started falling apart. Simultaneously, the house is wobbly and sinking centimetres every year due to weakened foundation. The sea bed in which the pillars stood had grown soft and unable to support the weight of the house.

But it’s your house and you can’t move. You refuse to let it fall apart. And so, you went to work to patch up the house. Every day without fail, you are fixing something. You knew it’s going to be a life long work.

Sadly, that’s not the only thing you have to deal with. You live with bad neighbours. Every time you patch up a section of your house, your neighbours come along and throw rocks at your house causing further damage. And you just keep patching.

And one day, you slipped and hurt yourself so badly that you almost couldn’t move. The pain was unbearable. Yet, you still keep going. You don’t really have a choice. Your house is falling apart, allowing the elements in. You are either wet, cold or too hot. The house can’t keep you in a goldilocks state.

So you work even though the world is against you.

Songs that communicate my feelings and thoughts

As I spent the day working on my personal projects, interacting with friends and applying for new jobs, I had to navigate through the emotional roller coaster due to certain triggers that led to flashbacks. Below are some songs that best communicate how I am feeling. Antidepressant made things a little easier for me to manage but low mood sometimes do popup.

Linkin Park – Heavy

Kodaline – Brother (Cover by Samuel Di Leo)

Linkin Park – One More Light

Smartphone doesn’t mean available 24/7

Since the release of the smartphone, we have all become more interconnected over the internet. It has definitely improve our lives in general by allowing us to access content from wherever we are and do the things previously we need a computer for. The side effect of that is it has also given rise to the expectation that all of us should be readily contactable even in the wee hours of the night.

There are stories I heard from my friends and read about online where some bosses would wake up as early as 4am to start sending work-related emails and messages to their subordinates and expect them to reply within minutes. Failure to do so would mean certain kind of penalty. Maybe you are pass over for promotion. Maybe you won’t get as much bonus as your colleagues who are more active.

As a software engineer, I’m not spared from that kind of expectation. There is this unspoken rule where I have to be available on weekends and late nights to respond to issues the customer faced. And I’m not saying all software engineers face this issue. Some get to work in a very chill culture where they can focus on just development work. So much so, I’m envious. Then there are those who work on projects or products that are available 24/7 will have to be ready to troubleshoot issues 24/7 too. Think engineers working at Netflix, Amazon Web Service, etc. So in a way, you are no different from doctors and nurses working in an ER.

Now, depending on your personality and tolerance, you may find yourself stressed out just by the very idea of anticipating receiving messages late in the night. I know I will. And for those who can handle such a culture will inevitably burn out when they have to be on edge or standby for long period of time. So you can see how, the requirement to be constantly online and available is just bad for your mental health.

Therefore, it’s very important to set boundaries if you don’t want to fall sick. Different people require different amount of rest time. Some people are also just better at compartmentalisation while some are not. Then there are highly-sensitive people to consider since they may not operate very well under high-stress, suffered from reduced rest and have tons of things to do, especially if they haven’t develop their own proven system for stress management and reduction.

For a start, you have to be assertive. You have to be ready to set expectations when it comes to your rest time, play time and work time. If you keep quiet, your bosses, family and friends would expect you to reply as soon as you receive their messages.

In the past, I would just keep quiet and be ready to respond to any messages received about work issues. But it always stress me out and tend to ruin my day. And bad mood spreads very fast especially when you are out with friends. These days, it’s different. I realised I could no longer keep quiet. So now, my team lead knows I need more rest and my body is ultra sensitive to certain allergens, and can fall sick easily. Thus, I don’t get that much work-related messages from him. Of course, it’s important that you are empathic here. Your colleagues are also humans and they need their rest too. And the company hire you to do a job and be professional. So they would expect business problems to be solved on time. So you have to compromise sometimes and do the work when required.

And it’s obvious that you can’t quit or leave work-related WhatsApp chat groups unless you have no intention of keeping your job. So what you can do for the sake of your mental health is to mute those groups. This way, you still can continue to use your phone for other purpose without seeing those work messages until the time you should.

But then, why should you stay on your phone for such a long time?

If muting chat groups ain’t enough and find that you are still susceptible to receiving calls from work, you can also activate your phone’s “Do Not Disturb” mode where calls, messages, notifications will all be silenced if not rejected. The latest iOS 12 release come with Screen Time feature that you can use it to limit your access to certain apps too. So in this case, you can block all the communication apps.

For me, I schedule “Do Not Disturb” to be active from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. Having an internet-connected smartphone doesn’t mean you have to be online 24/7. Your situation probably is different. So you have to schedule the “Do not disturb” mode according to your needs. But the idea is you get to switch off from work when you are not working. That way you can focus on doing the things that you should be doing at home.

If your bosses have boundary problems and make a big fuss about you blocking their calls late at night, then maybe you should evaluate whether your happiness and health is more important than the job.

Wednesday Science News Roundup #27

Below are 10 science news that I found interesting and are related to topics I care about.

Depression linked to reduced arginine levels – People suffering from major depressive disorder, MDD, have reduced arginine levels, a new study from the University of Eastern Finland shows. Arginine is an amino acid which the body uses to produce, e.g., nitric oxide. Nitric oxide, in turn, is a nervous system and immune defence mediator, and it also plays a role in vascular regulation. The global arginine bioavailability ratio, GABR, is an indicator of the body’s arginine levels, and the ratio has previously been used to measure the body’s capacity to produce nitric oxide. Reduced arginine bioavailability is also known to be an independent risk factor of cardiovascular diseases. Science Daily

New stem-cell based stroke treatment repairs damaged brain tissue – A team of researchers at the University of Georgia’s Regenerative Bioscience Center and ArunA Biomedical, a UGA startup company, have developed a new treatment for stroke that reduces brain damage and accelerates the brain’s natural healing tendencies in animal models. They published their findings in the journal Translational Stroke Research. Science Daily

First vaccine in the world developed against grass pollen allergy – Around 400 million people world-wide suffer in some form or other from a grass pollen allergy (rhinitis) — with the usual symptoms such as a runny nose, cough and severe breathing problems. In collaboration with the Viennese firm Biomay AG, MedUni Vienna researchers at the Institute of Pathophysiology and Allergy Research have now shown in a Phase II-b study with 180 patients in 11 European centres, that four injections of the synthetically manufactured vaccine BM32 in the first year and a top-up in the second year of treatment relieve the sufferers’ symptoms by at least 25%. Science Daily

We Might Finally Know Why The Blood of Young People Can Rejuvenate Old Brains – Scientists have been rejuvenating old mice with infusions of not just the blood of younger mice, but even blood from teenage human beings – and we finally have our first clues on why this strange technique works. Science Alert

Here’s Why Matching Your Diet to Your DNA Is a Waste of Time – Diets have always gone through fads. The grapefruit diet, Atkins, paleo, Whole30 – like a many-headed weight-loss hydra, just as soon as one falls out of favor, another rises in its place. Science Alert

Scientists Just Discovered a Never-Before-Seen Structure in Human Sperm – The sperm’s tail is perhaps one of the most iconic structures among all of the cells in the human body, so it’s odd to think there are still some things we don’t know about it. Science Alert

Household products make surprisingly large contributions to air pollution – In urban areas, emissions from consumer goods such as paint, cleaning supplies and personal care products now contribute as much to ozone and fine particulate matter in the atmosphere as do emissions from burning gasoline or diesel fuel. Science News

Babies can recover language skills after a left-side stroke – A stroke on the left side of the brain often damages important language-processing areas. But people who have this stroke just before or after birth recover their language abilities in the mirror image spot on the right side, a study of teens and young adults shows. Those patients all had normal language skills, even though as much as half of their brain had withered away, researchers reported February 17 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Science News

GM Crops Found To Increase Yields And Reduce Harmful Toxins In 21 Years Of Data – A study looking at 21 years of data on genetically modified crops (GMOs) in the US has found that not only can they increase crop yields, but they can also be good for you. IFLScience

Heavy Drinking Is The Biggest Avoidable Risk Factor In The Onset Of Dementia – An analysis of more than a million dementia patients has found that chronic heavy drinking puts you at serious risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, alcohol use disorders were found to be the biggest avoidable risk factor in the onset of dementia. IFLScience