Today I missed an appointment and now I feel like a total mess.
I used to write about this stuff all the time. Back when this journal was a LiveJournal and that’s what you did with a LiveJournal. Of course, back then the only people reading it were friends I’d made at goth clubs and on (don’t laugh) OKCupid (OK, laugh).
Now I’m going to hit “submit” and gosh only knows how many people are going to see this. Yeah, I know. I don’t have to post this to Twitter and to Facebook. I don’t even have to make it public. I don’t even need to be writing this into WordPress. Hell, somewhere around here I probably still have a notebook.
But I’m probably going to post it. Because writing is therapy, and there’s a part of my mind that doesn’t believe something has really been said until it’s been heard.
Because I’m afraid of you believing I have my shit together.
Because every time I write publicly about things that are way too private, someone emails me and tells me how much it helped them.
Because I don’t know if I’m more ashamed of the oversharing sap I used to be, or of the two-dimensional figure I’m becoming.
(And yes, the privilege of spilling my guts without having to fear someone using it as proof that I’m “too emo for tech” is not lost on me.)
I missed an appointment because I was up until 4:30AM playing Halo 3. I was up playing Halo because after a day spent trying and failing to get through my email for the second day running, smacking Brute chieftans with a grav-hammer is about the only thing I want to do. And late at night is the only time I have to do it.
I still feel guilty for not using that time to deal with more email though.
I use “email” as a catch-all. It really means all the little and big tasks that make their way to me via my inbox: deal with customer support (the issues I haven’t yet figured out how to delegate). Give feedback on a cover design. Organize guest hosts. Make flight reservations. Research and then try to cancel a scammy service I got suckered into when I was 18 and clueless. Talk to my accountant. Email a friend about a random idea. Email my assistant about changes to invoicing. Set up a lunch with a friend. Sort out WordPress issues; get sidetracked by WordPress plugins I keep meaning to get working. Fix a broken video on a book website.
That’s just a small selection of highlights from yesterday.
And all of this interspersed with compulsive visits to social media. I know that I’m addicted. I can feel the dopamine drop as soon as I see that non-zero unread count. I can feel the relief when someone posts an interesting article that will take my mind away from my inbox for a little while.
I also know that it’s avoidant behavior; that it’s not as simple as saying “OK, no more social media!”. Procrastination is a stress handling mechanism. And this stuff stresses me out more than I like to admit; more than I can even understand.
It’s not so much all the little tasks, as the decisions. How do I reply to this email? What do I think of the cover design? When should we have lunch? What emails can I defer until later?
Every decision has a cost. I wonder if other people feel this as keenly as I do. It’s as real as the ache in my legs when I run up a steep hill on a trail run. Every choice takes something out of me.
And that’s just the direct cost. Every decision also adds stress. Deferring an email, I feel sympathetic stress for the me-of-tomorrow who will have to think about it again. I feel that email take up residence in the snarling queue of demons I can hear right outside a door in my mind labeled NOT YET HANDLED.
Scheduling an appointment, I wonder: will Friday-me be even more overloaded than today-me? Will he hate me for this?
The conference invitations are the hardest. The stress of knowing that someone—multiple someones—are waiting on my response in order to make plans. The stress of worrying that if I say “no”, I’ll never have this opportunity again. The bubble of techies-who-care-what-I-have-to-say will burst and I will be an old guy trying to impress people with tales of the places I almost visited.
Not to mention the knowledge that I’ll disappoint people if I say no.
On the other hand, the stress of knowing that if I say yes, I’ve put myself in for weeks of overwork before and after the conf. And on the hook to say something Really Very Clever Indeed. And overshadowing all of that, the looming knowledge that I will have to once again see my kids sadly waving goodbye in a few weeks or months. Which gets harder every year.
Yeah, I know, poor me, gets invited to conferences. Must be rough.
And then there’s the stuff that makes me feel like I never learned how to be a real adult. Filling out forms and making phone calls fills me with a level of apprehension that seems completely irrational. I keep thinking that if I keep doing these grown-up things long enough, they’ll just feel normal and mundane. But they never do. The fear of talking to someone on the phone never dissipates.
What’s that inbox? I need to call the auto mechanic? Hang on a sec, I think Twitter is calling me…
I feel like I’m getting something wrong and I don’t know what it is. There are people with way more responsibilities than I have, and they seem to cope just fine. They even answer my emails promptly.
I feel like a total mess. I feel like I’ll never get to the projects that are the most important.
I feel like an impostor, because I can ship videos about code but I hardly ever ship features.
I haven’t yet mentioned the stress and avoidance triggered by needing to come up with something novel and clever and useful twice a week.
And then there’s that book which I haven’t written any more of for weeks. Partly because I want to improve the book generation software first. Hello, Yak, you are looking very hairy this week. Also, it’s been so long since I shaved you that it’ll probably take me a couple of days to remember where to start.
Then there is the small matter of the new baby due in less than 8 weeks. No biggie. As usual, I feel guilty for being underprepared for this. And like I’m not doing enough to help my wife.
Maybe I should read Getting Things Done again.
Maybe I should do pomodoros.
I miss pairing with people.
I miss user groups.
I miss having a life outside of programming.
I feel like somehow, if I knew how to play the piano, I’d be able to deal with all this a lot better.
I tell myself that the running is going to pay off in the long run, in better health and energy and brain function and focus and stamina. Then I lose half a day to a deeply satisfying run, and the rest of the week is the more frantic for it.
I’m a mess and I don’t know how to fix it. But it sure as hell feels good to get this off my chest.