There’s no way we’re going to make this deadline. I’ve been working on this codebase for the past 2 months but everything’s moving so quickly that it’s a complete mess. Too many cooks in the kitchen with different ideas and code styles. Really, really bad test coverage, and sporadic test failures where we actually do have tests. How am I supposed to make changes without breaking everything?
Oh boy, here he goes again. My boss, spouting off like he knows anything about what it’s like to actually be in this code. He thinks he’s a coder, probably because he installed WordPress once upon a time.
Wait, he wants me to what?! He’s got to be kidding… 😒
It’s about 1:30 am, early one Monday morning in November 2010. Every sane person I know has already gone to bed, but I’m still awake; my face lit up by the glow of an array of LEDs behind my laptop’s display. I moved my little family out to the bay area two months ago, unwittingly enlisting myself in the constant grind that is the Silicon Valley startup.
Another family in our new church congregation invited us over for dinner this evening, which is awesome because we could really use some new friends right now. They seem really nice, and I was looking forward to going, until my phone started buzzing. Work.
I told my wife that I’d need to stay home to “get a few things done,” but she wanted to go without me anyway. I can’t blame her. Being such a great hostess herself, she’s more than familiar with all the effort it takes to invite another family over for dinner. Plus, I think I already mentioned we need some new friends. So she went and I stayed home.
But that was more than 9 hours ago, and I’m still grinding. Most of the team is. We’re all online, slinging code with reckless abandon trying to hit an impossible deadline, building some feature our CEO thinks people will like. At least we hope so… 😑
Is it going to be like this every weekend? I realize we’ve all got stock in this company, so maybe it’s worth it? I mean, if this all works out we should all be able to walk away in 18-24 months with buckets of cash, the hard(ly)-earned fruits of our labors. Is it going to be enough though? House prices out here are pretty crazy … no, they’re insane. I mean, who pays $650k for a fixer-upper?!
Gah … come on! Focus!
I go grab another Mountain Dew from the fridge, my weapon of choice for keeping my brain somewhat functioning when it’s crying out for sleep.
OK, what was I doing? Let’s see, I need to make a change to this file. Commit. Push. Wait, conflicts? Hmm, pull. What is my co-worker thinking? 😕 Let’s see if he’s online…
Fast forward an hour, just enough time for the caffeine to wear off and for me to lose patience with my co-worker. I’m at my limit. There’s no way we’re going to finish this tonight, and as the hour gets later and later our work gets more and more sloppy. We’re just adding garbage to the pile now.
Despite the fact I’ve been sitting on the couch for the past 10 hours, my heart is beating like I just ran a mile. In fact, a lot faster than that. It feels like it’s going to explode, it’s pounding so hard. I’m actually having trouble breathing.
I’m trying to concentrate, to think of the next logical thing I need to do at this point, but my mind is jammed. It’s a pretty constant stream of curse words and negativity, with intermittent bursts of doubt. It feels like a standstill traffic jam and everyone is laying on the horn.
OK, just close the laptop. 😣
Mid-conversation with my team, I shut the lid and go outside to get some fresh air. I’m slowly walking down the street now, trying to just breathe and relax, but my mind keeps going back to all the work I need to do.
I lay down on the cool sidewalk and shut my eyes. My heart is pounding so quickly I’m wondering if I should call someone.
I’m 28. Can a 28 year old have a heart attack? Is that even possible?
My thoughts are interrupted by a deer skittering out of some bushes nearby. We get deer out here, away from SF. We wanted to live away from the city for the sake of the kids. But right now it all just reminds me of the hour-long commute I need to make later today to get in to work.
… everything gets quiet. And then, I decide. I need help.
Being a fairly proud and independent person, I don’t like asking for help. I didn’t ask for my family’s help to pay for school. I didn’t ask for the government’s help to pay for healthcare when we lived below the poverty line and decided to have a baby. I’m not saying that I haven’t been helped. Just that I don’t like to ask for it. I’m too proud and stubborn.
I used to believe that not recognizing weakness was actually a strength; that asking for help was a weakness. I was wrong. Real strength is recognizing your limitations instead of pretending they don’t exist, and working to find solutions to deal with and, eventually, overcome them.
So, whether you struggle with anxiety and depression like I do, or you struggle with something else, please don’t be proud and stupid like me. Get help if you need it. Both you and the people who love you deserve the best version of you.