12 Sep 2020
During quarantine and beyond, I have been incredibly busy. While working, I was also virtually attending class, then spending every spare minute finishing my capstone project, and also just generally studying and improving my coding skills.
It's a peculiar time right now to be staring down the barrel of unemployment, so I had to think carefully yet quickly about what I wanted. A couple of my colleagues had sadly already been made redundant, and assuming this was going to happen to me too at some point soon, my first instinct was to start looking for a job elsewhere.
But also, maybe starting my new career at a new place, one where I'd be primarily using Python, could be good: I'd be working on a new-to-me product in a language I had already committed to learning, surrounded by people who didn't have preconceived notions and biases about my character and skills. Once it was safe to do so, I'd potentially be spending my days in an office that's closer to where I live, or have no real office at all if it was a remote company and everyone was spread all over the place. So maybe this was just the chance I needed?
I took a month off work on sick leave. I am incredibly grateful to be in a position to have done this and not have to worry about my livelihood on top.
Turns out, distancing myself from it all was essential in order to make a plan for how I was going to nurture my health in the future without abandoning my professional growth. I had been doing an immense amount of work towards this in the past year, and needed to see results that would, in turn, give me a new lease of confidence and energy.
Starting at a new company has always been a very draining process for me (I suspect this is the case for others, too, but nobody seems to acknowledge it). There's the getting stuck into the new tasks and systems — that goes without saying — but what takes a toll on me most, to be frank, is the social aspect. Getting used to a new environment and forging new connections. I felt very strongly that whenever I felt ready to return to work, I would not put myself through the combination of this, the daunting nature of a first position of a brand-new career, and my ongoing health issues. Also, pandemic/recession, so, like... maybe a permanent contract at a place I've already worked at for a couple of years would not be the worst idea.
It took a lot of strength, but at this point I felt there was nothing to gain from holding back. I am glad I did it and grateful that the issue was treated in a sensitive manner — something that isn't a given with every employer.
There was a bit more back and forth... and then I was sent my Junior Software Developer contract! 🎉🎉🎉
I am lucky that it worked out well, but it's also been a wake-up call. In order to avoid getting to this point again, I need to actively practise recognising when the cracks are beginning to show. Working from home in this ~unprecedented situation~ has been a real struggle, exacerbated by not really being able to take a break. I'm a total homebody, but even I have to draw the line somewhere.
Some of these "appearances" I can immediately identify: Showing up in my relationship. Pretending everything was fine, even though I had no idea when I'd be able to see my family again. Doing my job perfectly.
I have struggled with mental illness and psychosomatic symptoms since my pre-teens. It is like... my hair, in that it is always there, and I have to "style" it. Sometimes it sits just fine, and I can get on with my day without giving it much of a second thought. Sometimes it even looks awesome despite minimal effort and I think, wow, I am a sexy genius. A lot of the time my hair is unruly and stubborn, but battling it will just make matters worse, so I leave it. And other times, my hair is lustreless, dead inside. You get the drift.
At some point, you think you've outwitted your hair; that you have found a style to tame it and allow you to get on with your life for once and for all, but it will always surprise you, especially in new climates.
Not to go all armchair psychologist on you, but did you know your brain is not inclined to make you happy — it's inclined to make you survive? It's worth remembering this when you find yourself in "survival mode", as I was this spring and summer. Yes, there are responsibilities we each have to meet to get through the day, but what are you doing to ensure you are moving towards "happy mode": that place where you are able to bring your best self to each area of your life?
Anyway, that's what I'm striving for right now.