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Surviving 2020 (as a Depressed and Unemployed Developer)

By mbert86

on Sun Aug 23 2020

For those who were not around for Mental Geek last year, please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Matt. Some people call me Matt, Matthew, or Tormund. Yes, I am getting more and more Tormund comparisons being a ginger bearded man, and I am honestly quite happy about that. I mean, he was the best character in Game of Thrones, so that’s cool.

I am getting closer and closer to reaching “full Tormund”

I struggle with many things, but depression and anxiety are always at the forefront of it all. It has been a major part of my life, but I have never addressed it until a few years back. 

So it would seem logical that 2020 would have been a brutal year for me mentally, right? Well, to be honest, it hasn’t. Now, it certainly has not been an easy year for me. It has been full of many challenges, which I will address here, but as far as my mental health goes? It’s the same old song and dance for me.

I am always walking the tight-rope of panic and preparation. Just the very act of living feels very burdensome for me. I don’t mean that in a suicidal way (though I have struggled with those thoughts in my life), but I just always seem to focus on fight or flight, hussle or fail. This is such an exhausting way to live, especially if you also struggle with perfectionism and imposter syndrome in so many aspects of life. It’s why I always feel like I’m just spinning my wheels, constantly going nowhere as fast as possible until I burn out.

So with everything going on in our society right now, it all sort of feels “natural” to me. I know that probably sounds like a terrible thing to say, but in my outlook on life, that’s the reality of it. Not that a pandemic, racial riots, an exhausting political season, etc, are natural or normal. No, it all is terrible and depressing and everything in between. But for some reason, the chaos makes me feel like I’m not alone in the world. That’s not a good place to be, but it’s what I know.

How has my life been affected in 2020?

Things have not been nearly as tough for me and my wife as it has been for so many this year, and for that I am thankful, but we have definitely had our struggles.

For me, I have not had a steady job at all in 2020. I left my job at a coffee shop last year to pursue some opportunities, and things just did not work out for one reason or another. I had some great options as far as a career trajectory for myself, which was exciting. After wandering around aimlessly for my entire adult life, I was so happy to finally figure some things out.

My first option was to work in Web Development full time. I found a gig with an agency. I was pumped. I worked so hard to get to this point. Unfortunately, It ended up not being the role I was suited for. It crushed me, but I had to leave because I was in over my head. I was a mess. I did not handle the stress well, and it began to make me feel sick, constantly. So I decided in February to step down. However, there is no bad blood, and I actually am friends with the people from the agency. There was nothing but full support for me to step down to focus on my health.

So what was my next direction?

Well, on top of web development, I also love working in coffee. I was a barista at a local coffee shop for all of 2019, and I have worked as a barista in the past back in the day. Coffee is a major passion of mine.

So, I had begun to help my friend get his new coffee shop up and running. I had helped out with the construction, and even poured some time into ideas for the shop itself, in so many aspects. I began to devote all my waking hours consumed with it. As I often do, I began to put my entire existence into this project. My identity was nothing more than me just hoping this business would succeed, because I “needed a win” in my life, professionally. 

The problem with working in coffee is I also have major social anxiety as well. This is weird, because I am also an outgoing person. I do love to be around new people and chat with people. However, I really HATE having a spotlight on me, especially in a work setting. When you work in coffee, and in the food service industry in general, all eyes are on you all the time. That stresses me the hell out. At my previous coffee shop job, it would leave me so emotionally and physically drained, I would come home after work and just freeze up for the rest of the day.

So I was really starting to freak out about dealing with this again. I also started to have my own doubts about some things. For starters, I ALWAYS get wrapped up in other people’s businesses. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s great to want to give yourself a sense of ownership and be a hard worker, but for myself, I have never really put a focus on exactly what I want to be doing with my life as my career. If I just continue to bounce from one gig to the next, I will always put everything else in my life on the back burner. Hell, it’s the reason Mental Geek fell apart last year. 

Back in May, I was starting to struggle with some major anxiety over everything. I knew it was not healthy for me to keep moving forward in coffee, at least in the service side of things. But I also did not want to let my friend down, or appear as a failure to everyone else for backing out of it. I was overwhelming myself with so many thoughts, it was truly crushing me. 

There were some other situations that started to arise in May for me that really just gave me a sign that I needed to step down, and so I did. It was both a breath of fresh air and heartbreaking at the same time. I devoted a lot of time into the coffee shop. I poured a lot of blood, sweat, and even some tears, into helping get the place built out. And to have to part with that was crushing. 

Fortunately, things that came up between me and my friend have been resolved, and he has been nothing but supportive for me and my journey to try to get to a healthier place. I have even been in the new shop many times since it opened, and guess what? My sense of pride is still there. I did quite a bit to help out, and I’m still so pleased with how the place turned out, and how well the business is doing. I even built out the website for the shop. So I Still feel very much connected to it.

The problem is, where do I go now?

Ever since I decided to part ways with the coffee shop, I knew I needed to do something. My first goal was to find a part time job. The problem with that is, there are no good part time jobs that don’t involve the food industry. I poured through and applied to anything that was outside of that scope, but because the unemployment numbers are so high this year, it has been a battle to get anywhere with that.

Luckily, that has not crushed my spirit. In fact, I have devoted so much time to my professional passion, which truly is web development. I know it’s the trajectory I need to focus on, but on my terms. I need to take the time to figure out exactly what aspect of it I want to go into. I never finished college, because I never knew what I wanted to do. Now that I do know, I have been treating this time like it’s school, or job training.

I have built all sorts of little web applications, which has led me to rebuilding the most important thing I have ever worked on, Mental Geek. Yes, starting Mental Geek last year was such an important time in my life. I finally found something I connected with. I built something with purpose, and it was truly something other people had connected with as well.

I really allowed myself to become distracted in 2018. I took every idea for Mental Geek and tried to run with it, but I was also so deeply devoted to my job, that I just experienced a major burnout. Even just having it to work on myself helps me in my mental health, so it was just a matter of finding a healthy balance. This also gives me a sense of direction as a developer too. I am trying to build technology/applications that can benefit people in the mental health community, and even non profits as well. This is stuff that excites me.

I am also in contact with some potential clients. I don’t know if anything will pan out, but that’s the game with freelance. It’s also the game for 2020. There are so many others in my same exact situation. While I don’t celebrate that, the fact that I know I am not alone gives me a sense of comfort. I also have an extremely supportive wife who has been cheering me on as I spend my time on this. She would rather me build what I need for both the mental health community and my career, vs me just pouring my time into something that could steer me off in a bad direction again.

To wrap things up

I will admit I am nervous. I’m nervous about not having steady income right now. I’m nervous about “being a terrible developer”…but the reality is, I have become a better developer this summer, and though I have not made much money yet, it has been something to really be thankful for, and it’s a motivation to keep moving forward.

As for Mental Geek, I don’t have 1000 crazy ideas again. It’s a blog, and soon a social site for anyone who wants to connect with people. I will bring the podcast back as well. The podcast is mainly on hold till I figure out a good recording spot for myself. Those are the only plans for now, and for the remainder of 2020. 

Let’s be honest

This year has sucked for almost everyone in one aspect or another. So it’s ok to not feel ok about any of it. Your mental health matters. Do what you need to unwind from all the craziness in the world. If you need someone to chat with, please send an email to mentalgeekweb@gmail.com, or send a message on instagram of fb. I am always happy to chat with you, or send you some resources if you need some help. Take care of yourself. You are worth it. The world is going through some weird stuff. It can be scary, but you don’t have to go through it alone.

Thank you for reading, and if you are new to Mental Geek, welcome to the community! We are happy to have you hear.

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