My thoughts are swirling, and I am tired

I share a lot of my life on the internet, and I feel like it would be incomplete if I didn’t talk about some of the stuff I’ve been dealing with recently. Mental illness too often goes untalked about and I think the discussion is important, so here goes…

I’ve worked really hard for a long time. A lot of people have told me how impressed they are by the things I’m doing and my ability to manage my time. I really am proud of myself, but I honestly don’t remember what it feels like to not be tired. I don’t remember what it feels like to not have an aching neck and back.

I took on a lot last year and was starting to crash — I paid less attention in class, I didn’t really enjoy choir anymore, I started slipping on my dedication and responsibilities. I was waiting for summer when I could just relax and write software and spend the evenings with my boyfriend in California.

But alas, starting a few days before I started my job, I started to get the familiar twinge of anxiety and exhaustion. I’m used to these feelings coming and going — it’s happened to me since middle school. But they usually go after a few weeks, and I’m back to my productive and happy self.

But this time it just slowly intensified. And then I was crying at work. And then more often. And I was tired, but so much more tired than usual. I’d stare at the monitor and my eyes would blur over the code I was trying to understand. I was on my phone a lot more but somehow interacting with people a lot less. Messages and emails took way longer to reply to, and some were just lost. My emotions cycled between “I’m so overwhelmed”, “I’m so fucking tired”, “I don’t care about anything”, and “All I want is to do something productive”. Most of the time I just wanted to lie down on the floor and fall asleep.

Feeling exhausted was frustrating for me because I felt weak. Feeling a bit better was scary because I had less of an excuse to not be able to do things. After years of accomplishing so much, I was having so much trouble getting stuff done and enjoying things in my life.

I think some of this has to do with the culture around being in a CS/eng degree, especially at Waterloo. When I’m not in school, I’m in an internship. When I’m not in class, I’m supposed to be working on side projects because they tell us that’s what companies expect. People spend hours practicing (and memorizing) coding questions for technical interviews. It’s really really tiring and time consuming. I was talking with one of my previous professors (Prabhakar) about how tired I was, and how I felt so much pressure to do tech things when I still wanted to spend time on choir and feminism and stuff. He said that tech has the tendency to suck people in and not to let that happen to me. He later tweeted “How do we give people the space to learn and grow without quotidian life and job pressures squeezing the life out of them?”

And so, with my little remaining energy this summer, I’ve been “working hard” (’cause that’s what I do, for better or for worse) to get better.

Some things that I think are kind of maybe helping:

1. Sleep

I tried 10 for a while, but a doctor told me that over 9 is oversleeping. So I’m fairly frequently getting 9 hours of sleep per night. I still feel exhausted, but when I get less sleep I feel noticeably worse.

2. Make habits out of self care

I downloaded the app Rewire (goo.gl/wzNOfv) which is pretty and gives me reminders and has streaks for how many days in a row I’ve done something. I get frustrated when I’m doing them and yet still feel like shit, but health gets better gradually. That’s why I want to form these habits.

3. One habit I’m working on is listing out all the nice stuff I did in a day

Work doesn’t go on that list. It’s for new things I did, fun conversations, friends I saw… stuff that made me feel good. There’s a lot of suckiness that can go into a day so it’s nice to just remember some of the good stuff at the end. It also gives me more incentive to do good stuff because then I’ll have more to write about later.

4. Another target habit is daily mindful meditation

One of the most tiring things I do is think a lot. I analyze, I over-analyze, I re-analyze. I think of what hurtful thing someone might say to me so I can practice responding well. I loop through things I need to do. Mindful meditation is the process of training of one’s mind to notice thoughts and feelings and not dwell on them as much. When you notice your mind is thinking excessively, you gently drift back to focus on what you’re doing. I’ve been using an app called Headspace (https://www.headspace.com) and would strongly recommend it!

5. Diet

Some of you (especially those of you who know I’m a picky vegetarian) might be wondering about this. I’ve been trying to drink less sugary drinks and 2+ bottles of water a day. I’ve also been trying to eat protein in all my meals. I visited a doctor to get blood drawn a few weeks ago, and apparently I tested fine for all the nutrients she was worried about. I also have been taking multivitamins since partway through high school when I was investigating how tired I was (I guess this has been a thing for a while).

6. Massage

Massage increases blood flow and encourages the rest and digest system (which stops fight or flight, which is triggered by anxiety). I’m trying to use yoga tuneup balls daily to massage myself, and a lot of the friends I’ve shown them to love them — so if you’re sore I’d definitely recommend them smile emoticon https://www.yogatuneup.com/

7. The MOST important thing I’ve done is spend time with people!

I have so many wonderful people in my life and I am so grateful for all of you. At Google, I talked about these issues with both of my mentor, intern hosts, intern partner, a free Google therapist (I know, right), HR, and someone from the intern team. I met with a really sweet doctor that drew blood for me but also asked me a bunch of questions from her computer and told me the results were ‘moderate to severe depression’. I’ve also talked to my family and countless friends. I also have continued to reach out to people I want to meet, and tried to make those meaningful connections that give me some energy.
I’ve been crowdsourcing people’s opinions and resources too, which is helpful when I feel so overwhelmed by what’s going on and what to work on. (related: If you know any good therapist type professionals to talk to in Waterloo please let me know!)

Some things I’m going to do when I’m back in Waterloo:

  • Take fewer courses: 2 CS courses, voice lessons, and a humanities class. I want to continue to do extra curriculars I care about, and I’m glad I’m in a major where reducing course load is an option (I am so sorry, Waterloo engineers)
  • Physio for my my soreness and daily exercise (preferably shoe tag classes). I need to get the blood pumping more
  • Going to a sleep lab to see if I’m sleeping poorly or something (my dad has sleep apnea, so you never know)
  • Talk to a bunch of therapists and find one that can really help

If you’ve read this far, I guess I’m pretty impressed (and also thankful). A lot of people struggle with issues like this, and I’m lucky that I have so much privilege (putting me in a better position to start out with) and that I’m still am able to meet up with people and get some things done.

Taking care of our mental health is something that really needs to be talked about.

Please take care of yourself

Hopefully I’ll be feeling better soon.


post script:

I wrote this at the end of August 2015 and am only posting it publicly two months later. I’m technically doing better now — I can get out of bed and do all my work. But I’m still tired. I’m still sore. I still have strong emotions about things. Therapy is really hard to set up properly and progress is slow all round.

I’m scared of what will happen when I next take a moment to rest. I’m scared of what will happen in my next internship. I didn’t want to post this because any potential employer could read this. Every interview I have, I feel like I’m lying about being able to go work for their company and accomplish things.

But I’m accomplishing things now. I am dedicated and passionate. I am getting better. All I can do is trust that slowly things will continue to improve and the pit in my stomach will eventually dissolve.

Thanks for listening. I hope you are taking care of yourself.