The Depressed Developer

3 minute read

I’ve moved the conclusion from the end to the top. If you only have one minute, read this bit and ignore the rest.

Whatever work you do, but particularly if you are self-employed, take time off. Running yourself into the ground is the worst thing you can do in terms of being able to function properly, mentally or physically. It is particularly important to do this if you currently or ever have suffered from depression because it is all too easy to let mistakes turn into self-doubt and that only leads to bigger issues. A relaxed, rested you is going to do far better work than a tired, stressed you. Even when deadlines are looming and you have mountains of things to do, take time off. It will help enormously. One of the most important things people can do is realise when they hit that wall where the quality of what they do diminishes and rather than giving in to having a lot on and ploughing on regardless do the reverse and take some time out.

Okay, now here’s what led to that…

Back in 2006 my marriage broke down and during the course of the fall-out I was diagnosed as being depressed, prescribed anti-depressants and saw a therapist. It wasn’t a particularly severe case and I probably only saw the therapist on a weekly basis for three or four months and I was on a fairly low dosage of anti-depressants for around six months. The most important thing however was that it made me much more self-aware about the signs of me being depressed.

This morning I decided that I’m going through such a period. Actually I’ve felt it creeping up over the last couple of days during which I had a really stupid, unprofessional and unnecessary spat with a client and I started making mistakes in my coding work which were not typical. Yesterday I even had odd passing thoughts about whether I really was cut out to be a developer or whether I should embark on a new career. This last one is particularly stupid. I love my work and I am good at it and I’ve been doing it for almost 20 years. My depression self-awareness alarm bells started clanging.

I know I’m physically run-down right now. I’m tired, I’ve had a cold since last weekend, I’ve got tennis elbow and I’m generally feeling bleurgh. The problem is that I’m also mentally run-down too. I’m not claiming to work 18 hour days (I learnt not to do that many years ago fortunately) but I’ve been working intensively recently and have had little or no me-time.

I have my daughter with me for 7 days and nights out of every 14 so every other weekend is spent with her. The weekends when she is not with me I pretty much spend working, catching up on the hours I’ve lost during the week courtesy of school hours and just doing something I love, creating software.

Usually I stay the right side of enjoying what I do versus doing too much but over the last few weeks I’ve crossed the line. I’m working on two complex applications at the moment (both for the same client) as well as doing bits of support, a couple of web sites for friends, trying to work on my own application and various other bits and pieces. I’m really busy and I’ve not managed my time well enough to give me the all-important me-time.

Today and tomorrow are going to be an early weekend for me. Although I am very busy and could do with spending two days working I know that taking some time off will actually help me write better code and be more productive. I need to clear my head, let my subconscious un-jumble thoughts and ideas that are churning around in my brain and just relax. I’m planning to have lots of sleep, shake off the cold and generally revitalise myself. If I end up taking Sunday off as well then so be it.

I’ll bet you one other thing too. I bet I have a few ideas about problems I’m fighting and come up with some great solutions when I’m not hunched over a keyboard.