Coding & Mental Health, a journey: Part 1 -Making a choice

The journey is ongoing. As it should be.
Like many, there’s wisdom in your thirties that makes all the difference.
What really changed things for me in particular was my journey with ‘acceptance’.

In contrast, my 20’s was a rampant denial of anything that did not fit in with the illusion of my ideal self. Even though it was often at pure detriment to my psyche; I was so busy playing the rejection game on blaring red flags, that I failed to see something very simple, but very powerful:

I’m flawed and there’s plenty of room for improvement

I’m what neurotypicals like to call high-functioning. Figures.
And yes, there was a time I took pride in that label. With all my accomplishments and constant pursuit of bigger, greater things, it didn’t seem like I would ever need to fall back on mental-health coping techniques. I was getting it done, getting it done well in fact; so why would it apply to me, I thought.

In fact I did everything in my power to prove that I didn’t need them.
And it worked for years. Until it didn’t work well enough. Oops.

The truth is, is that I’m honestly fatigued at fighting with myself. The proverbial “is any of this really necessary?” question pops into my head more times in a day then I can count. The unfortunate part is that it took me over a decade to figure out the usefulness of that question. I used to think (and still do on darker days) that my unpredictable ability to handle stress meant I was not suited for a career in software development, you know; considering its inherent stressful nature?

I see a lot of nodding heads right now. I’m definitely nodding while I write this.
However, let’s stop a second and challenge that.

What if I got better at stress and emotional management?
What would that mean for my skills as a developer?
Turns out – it’s everything. It would mean everything

My bachelor’s degree in Computer Science taught me many things:

  • It taught me to be resourceful.
  • It taught me that I am phenomenal at independent learning.
  • It taught me that I can walk into a subject knowing jack-all and leave with the ability to create things that mostly do cool things.

But here’s what Computer Science FAILED to teach me… How to:

  • Handle burnout
  • How to cope with Imposter Syndrome
  • Set boundaries personally and professionally
  • Practice and integrate life long learning approaches
    and most importantly …
  • Practice mindfulness and acceptance

‘Brain fog’ is more common than most coder’s would care to admit, even though keeping a clear mind is quite literally our most powerful weapon.

Why are we always so quick to focus on solely developing our coding abilities FIRST rather than our ability to thrive in it’s environment?
Why are WE, the creators of code; secondary, at all?

Today I aim to introduce you to the concept of taking care of yourself. I’m aware that it’s not new or ground breaking at all. It is actually one of the simplest things in the world, and in the same breath, it is one of hardest things to do if you’ve never tried or learnt how.

Despite that, I want to tell you it’s definitely possible to learn and absolutely necessary to practice every damn day. No if’s, ands, or but’s. While not an expert in any psychological regard: I do hope that my insights and experiences can lead you on a path of self discovery. An unofficial guide that will allow you to explore the unknown territory of developing YOU FIRST and you always, regardless of what kind of software developer you are.

So without further ado, I invite you to start with the first and most critical step – Commitment

You already know that any worthwhile change takes:

  1. Time
  2. Patience
  3. Effort and
  4. Kindness

“Awareness is the greatest agent for change” – Eckhart Tolle

If you’ve got this far, you’re definitely aware there’s a problem, even if you cannot pinpoint what it is yet. You’ve probably at the very least, observed developers who do not experience their journey as intensely as you do. And gosh, does that sting. How on earth do they do it?

Let’s take a quick peek(); into an important concept.

Whatever you see on the surface is indeed just that.
You do not and cannot KNOW what counts as a struggle for someone who appears to “have made it”.

You need to commit to change, rather than looking upon it from afar and sighing in frustration.
And yes, I do understand that commitment itself can be overwhelming.
It can feel like a wall rather than a staircase to somewhere better.

However you cannot deny, that those of us, who have climbed their proverbial walls, rarely look back.
We just find another new shiny wall we fancy climbing. So do me a favor and grab a pen and paper and write this down, in CLEAR, LARGE, BLOCK PRINT.

“I COMMIT TO LEARNING HOW TO TAKE CARE OF MYSELF”

The message on this paper should greet you everyday, in your visual space.
This paper is your commitment contract. So treat it with respect and take some time saying it out loud to yourself. And put it up in plain view with pride. Don’t hide it.

In fact if someone asks you about it, all the better. People talk about working out, going keto, quinoa salads and fruit smoothies all the time. You can be the person who talks about this.

Remember that long list of things Computer Science didn’t teach me?
Yeah well that’s exactly what I will be covering in this series and I hope my trial and error experience points you in a helpful direction. Part 2 specifically, will cover burn out and boundaries, so let me leave you with something to think about before I end off my spiel today:

I feel like the concept of boundaries get’s a severely bad rap.

  • Boundaries are cold.
  • Boundaries create distance.
  • Boundaries are aggressive.

However in my mind, boundaries are protection.

Let’s roleplay the decision to create a boundary for a second:
Imagine you’re in a dimly lit room, an ominous feeling chilling your spine and in front of you, seated in a red leather arm chair is Morpheus. His hands extended towards you, much like the image below.

The blue pill represents PREDICTABILITY
Doing what you always do.
It’s what is expected of you. It’s what you’ve been taught or what you learned along the way.
A comfortable illusion you create for yourself because it’s all you’ve ever known.

The red pill represents CHANGE

Creating a boundary that always puts you first.
Here lies judgement and uncertainty and stepping into the great unknown.
It involves hard work, confidence and unpredictable rewards.

I’m not going to be the person who tells you to: “Take the red pill”. But from a decade long diet of blue pills, I will indeed, be the person to share the tale of living a lie and the insane havoc it can wreck upon the inner-you. After that, the choice is yours.

Amina Khalique | Mindful Developer, Red Pill Devourer

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