Finding myself again in Woodworking after decades in front of a computer screen.
It’s been a rough few years. This is a heavy and hard thing to write. If that’s not for you, I understand.
I’m publishing this under my real name because I think that people need to understand that mental illness isn’t something to be ashamed of. If you are in trouble, get the help you need and don’t let societal taboos hold you back.
There is a way forward for you, if you want it. This story is about my way forward.
Something that isn’t talked about enough in high tech is the toll that it takes on its employees and their families.
We work long hours, nights, and even weekends. Big companies and startups alike have out of the ordinary expectations of their employees. We hear stories about Amazon, Tesla, and Apple, but the truth is that this is a trend across the industry. It has a real, long-lasting impact on those who walk this path.
Mental illness today is something that is much less taboo to talk about. I recently read about how some 1 in 5 Americans suffer from some sort of mental illness.
Computers were always a way for me to escape my problems. Social stigma turned into social anxiety at an early age. Computers were easy because they didn’t push back and did what you asked of them. I made websites in the 90s, messed around on IRC, and played games online. That interest in computers morphed into a job in QA, then systems administration, graphic design, and finally software development.
But along the way depression and suicidal tendencies turned into alcoholism and drug abuse in my twenties. Anything I could do to escape the doldrums of my working existence, I did. Generally those things were not the healthy go-tos of today like avocado sandwiches (I hear that’s a thing) and yoga. It was clubs and cocaine, bottles of vodka in parks, and it was wandering Asia for years. I got lost because I had no anchor and no one to right my sinking ship. Instinctually, I knew that the work I was doing wasn’t satisfying some deep need that I had. The pay was good so I kept doing it, year after long year.
The endless hours I was putting in at work left me with a hole the size of Jupiter where my interests and hobbies should be.
Tinkering in the shop
During the process of building the house, we had to cut a lot of corners to make ends meet. We couldn’t afford what we were building and I took it upon myself to try and close the gap. I’d been watching a lot of YouTube videos on carpentry and plumbing, and I thought to myself, “how hard can it be”?
Turns out it is really hard and the reason you pay a carpenter a lot of money is because he knows what he is doing.
But, somewhere along the way I fell in love with the process.
The feel of the wood, the smell of the shavings, and the satisfaction of finishing projects drew me in. It gave me something to focus on.
A breaking point
This past winter was a breaking point for me.
As in, something broke in my head. I had had almost four years of sobriety, and then slipped back into old habits. The stress of day to day life was just too much for me. I was working long hours, had two small kids, and a new house was being built with a new mortgage involved.
It all quickly snow-balled and this time I had a family which I was negatively impacting. My wife, bless her heart, stuck by me as I spiraled down out of control until I hit rock bottom.
I spent days in my office, on the couch in a state of total despair. I barely ate. I slept all the time. My ability to function disappeared. My kids were suffering because they missed their dad. I felt nothing inside. Nothing mattered anymore. I started having panic attacks three or four times a day. I wanted to die.
My wife convinced me to go see a doctor. I did. The doctor prescribed me drugs and I started taking them.
I pulled out of the darkness and started functioning at a basic level again.
All through this my boss knew something was going on, but I don’t think he really understood. It wasn’t the work. It wasn’t the kids. It wasn’t the house. It wasn’t even all of it together.
I felt like something in my life was missing. I wanted more than to just do my job and take care of my kids.
Playing with power tools as a form of therapy
A couple weeks went by and the drugs started to have an effect. The panic attacks subsided and I felt like going outside wasn’t the end of the world. I played with my kids. I started functioning at work again (probably less than my boss would like, but it’s a process and he is incredibly supportive). I started living again.
I also started to spend more and more time in the shop, and more and more time on Youtube. It occurred to me that it would be fun to film some of what I was making.
These videos started to become the focus of my day to day life. I took the girls to kindergarten. I worked my nine to five. I made dinner. Read books and put the girls to sleep. But really, what I was thinking about the whole time was: what is going to be the next thing that I make?
Today I will not drink, but I will putter in the shop
Having this focus and this obsession is keeping me on track and sober (62 days) in a way that nothing in my life has before.
I know that it is a long journey ahead, and I know that there will certainly be bumps along the way, but for my family’s sake I will do what is necessary to find a balanced and healthy lifestyle.
For me that means woodworking and making short movies.
Are you feeling like your life has lost all meaning? Maybe what you need is to find something that you love to do, and go do that thing.
Thanks for reading this. I needed to get it out.
About getting help
I do want to add that for anyone out there who is feeling desperate and like there is no light at the end of your tunnel: please go and get the help that you need. There is no shame in it.
If You Know Someone in Crisis: Call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) at 1–800–273–TALK (8255), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to everyone. The deaf and hard of hearing can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1–800–799–4889. All calls are confidential.