Where I'm at right now

The last 6-12 months have been really hard for me. Not consistently, of course, but still hard. They have been so emotionally varied and extreme (in both directions) that I’ve felt like I’ve lost and found myself again and again. I feel more directionless than I ever have in my life and often feel like things keep trending in the wrong direction which has left me questioning everything.

Greg’s story today moved me in a way that felt religious. His story felt like I was getting to tap into a deep truth that I knew intimately but have never been able to articulate. The more his tale unfolded, waves of heavy-chested recognition and relief came and went as I felt both scared and not alone. It quite literally felt like Greg was describing my brain.

I don’t talk about these things often. Mostly this is because, at least until a few months ago, I had never thought that there were any “things” to talk about — just silly intangible and irrational emotions. But, also, I haven’t talked about this because I’ve historically talked to the wrong people. Too often, the response has been complete lack of understanding (or perhaps empathy) or reactions in the vein of “just do it,” “you just need discipline,” “you’re being lazy,” or “be more grateful.” I could never counter these reactions because, on the spot, I didn’t know why they were wrong.

All I could say to myself in moments of frustration is “what the hell is wrong with my brain?” whilst resisting the urge to hit my head to knock some sense into my disobedient brain.

It wasn’t until this article on procrastination that I felt a wave of relief wash over me. Others wrestled with some of the same things as me! Like today’s story, the undeniable personal truth in that article was powerful and moving — but mostly, it was relieving.

Some things Greg mentioned I had previously realized; many others were not things I had ever considered about myself. Regardless, hearing them come out of somebody else’s mouth made them more real and most were evidently true to me immediately (phrasing/interpretation my own):

  • Feeling stuck, trapped, or frustrated by my environment and needing a change (cities, companies, friends, apartments) every few years or less. The time between these feelings has been getting shorter for me. That really scares me.
  • Having too many thoughts/ideas/fears/pressures/TODOs to ever feel in control. To me, it feels like trying to transcribe from a dictation that is determined to always go just a bit faster than you can possibly write. It feels futile, unrelenting, and makes me feel completely helpless. Often, most of the things are at odds with each other — every task or idea takes time and focus away from the next. I have too many MUSTs that leaves me unable to do any of them.
  • Unable to focus or feel in control of thoughts and attention. This is a big one for me. Sometimes it feels like I am just an observer to somebody else’s brain; I can not direct my mind to think about any specific thing or to maintain (or even begin!) focus. Daily, I’ll be reading a page in a book, only to realize that I might have read half a page without any conscious participation and have to start again.
  • Loneliness. So many of these feelings have been trapped inside me. Without a way to communicate them, it’s easy to feel isolated and helpless. That isolation means the feelings remain invalidated, leaving me with hurtful feelings about my self-worth and believing that I am either lazy or broken in a way that nobody can help me with.
  • Mood swings. I’ve dealt with this my whole life but have only really become self-aware enough to realize the extent and impact to which it affects my life and the lives of those around me. My happiness, interest, and motivation can disappear at the drop of a coin, triggered by the tiniest of things (generally, some obstacle — possibly tiny— in life I don’t know how to remove/pass). My mood and attitude has a multiplicative (or often divisive) effect on every other aspect of my life.
  • Simple things seem overwhelming. The same problem can be faced effortlessly one day yet be insurmountable the next. Easy (but non-obvious) problems become unscalable mountains and hard problems seem like trying to climb the side of a polished glass building one-handed.

Some other things that I didn’t hear today (either because they weren’t said or because my brain went on an internal tangent) yet I personally struggle with are:

  • Social fatigue. Being around too many people (especially unfamiliar people) for too long always leaves me overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and feeling reclusive.
  • Perfectionism. It’s absolutely paralyzing when coupled with being self-critical and procrastination. I’m terrified of doing something “the wrong way” so much that I’ll avoid starting anything lest it finally prove that I’m not talented or don’t deserve what I have. Tasks that, when finally started, might take less than an hour can be avoided or extended for weeks.
  • I am very self-critical, often hurtfully so. I know that I have real value but it seems so intangible and indescribable. When faced with showing my value to others (e.g. job interviews), I end up feeling worthless and depressed. I don’t know how to communicate why I’m talented or valuable and end up convincing myself that in fact I am not talented nor valuable.
  • Anxiety and self-doubt. This is either a new problem or something I’ve only just realized about myself. I’ve lost a few really good opportunities in my life recently because of anxiety. Scarily, I’ve started having a small amount to drink before entering into some really stressful situations. It’s usually successful, but I question that it is ever worth it. This throws me into a guilt spiral that I need such a crutch in the first place, and that the potentially devastating trade-offs make it idiotic, at best.

I have written so much and yet I feel like I have only scratched the surface. There is still so much missing and so many unanswered questions. I’m at several turning points in my life, having reached one of those moments of feeling stuck and needing a radical change (of cities, jobs, etc). I don’t want to be at yet another a year or less from now…


I couldn’t have asked for a more honest, vulnerable, or articulate first post for this category. Thank you so much for sharing all of this. That’s not easy.

Wow. I would never have known as you always seemed to be hyper-confident and relaxed. I’d love to sit down and hear what you’re dealing with because I can relate to most of what you are describing.

Earlier on while we worked together you may have already known I was dealing with some personal issues but really I was basically on the verge of a nervous breakdown for a good year or so: leaving work and nearly being in tears due to stress, constant pain in my arms and other unpleasantness. It horribly impacted my work, as you may already know. :stuck_out_tongue: Seeing a therapist at first didn’t seem to help much. But it did give me some better insight into how I think and some tools to help cope. Recently I’ve gone through a diagnostic program to get confirmation on my ADHD and the probability that it’s a culprit for my ongoing anxiety. I’ll share further what that program entailed and how people in Chicago can learn more about the diagnostic.

In the meantime, Bo. If you’d be up for it let’s grab a coffee (or whatever) and chat.

I know those very well…

  • I just came to the conclusion my monkeysphere isn’t as big as most people’s. I can have fun watching (people in) large groups (interacting with one another) but I will probably only interact with a few I already know or one new person at a time. At some point more people is just more noise on the input devices so I start discarding everything from an unknown source/face. But hey, based on this theory I don’t have to force myself to meet new people because I know I won’t be able to keep in contact. I just gotta make sure I keep the few friends I have…
  • When I find some useful new concept (like configuration management for my sysadmin job) I’ll aggregate small pieces of knowledge and evaluate different implementations for months and months without even trying it once so I don’t invest time or knowlegde in something that’s not exactly what I’m looking for. Also when given a simple task with some aspect I don’t know (like paperwork for the first business trip) I have a very hard time getting anything done b/c maybe I’ll make a little mistake somewhere…
  • If I get something done it’s worth nothing because, hey, even I managed to get this done! If someone else does the same thing or less I have no problem appreciating their success. Took 5 years of a sysadmin job to accept the fact that I may have some skills someone would pay me money for…
  • Can’t say my strategy is healthier: When in doubt ensure failure. There’s small a chance I won’t be able to finish the project exactly the way I wanted? Better never start. I might fail some test when I do exceptionally bad? Better don’t even show up.
    • In his Open Sourcing Mental Illness-talk Ed Finkler mentions self medication with socially accepted stuff like food, tobacco, alcohol… There’s probably some kind of mood stabilizer with less potential for health degration and addiction than alcohol. Just keep this in mind when talking to your doc.