I’m currently participating in GovHack 2017 at the Sydney location (add a 2017 year in review link like this 2016 one when available). It’s the first hackathon I’ve attended this year. When I first moved to Sydney 4 years ago I participated in 4-5 hackathons the first year and it’s slowly died down since then. Even though I love the atmosphere, the community and the collaboration during hackathons; I am suffering from hackathon fatigue.
Last year at GovHack 2016 I tried to participate. I turned up to the opening evening but was struggling mentally. I was going through a relapse of depression and I could not hold it together enough to participate. Reflecting on this, I’d always walk away from a hackathon mentally exhausted and last year I was overwhelmed with the thought of “I can’t handle this stimulation right now”. Going back to work on the Monday after a hackathon always felt hard and would trigger an existential crisis week that involved continuous thoughts of, “fuck I’m tired”. It’s the combination of socialising with all of these new people, trying to frantically work on an idea and eating food that I wouldn’t normally eat that really throws out my routine/mood. I often turn up to work on Monday after a hackathon not rested and with a complaining digestive system. This is my first hackathon since my weight loss surgery which has put a control on the amount of crap that I can eat but I’ve still turned up to last day of the hackathon feeling exhausted. I’m all hackathoned out and I do not have the motivation to submit a story.
Do you suffer from Hackathon fatigue? How do you overcome it?
Let me tell you a story about a stressful day that I had today. I think it’s the most stressed I’ve ever felt. This story actually started a few weeks ago. I was riding my motorbike from Sydney to Cairns. I get up there with no problems. On the way back on Friday the 30th of September I stop in the Gold Coast for a few days to catch up with my siblings for my brothers belated 18th birthday celebrations. I found a nice Airbnb in Miami, I got to my Airbnb half an hour early and I decide to go for a quick swim before checking in. By the time I get back to my bike, I can’t find my key and I discover I’ve got a flat tire.
Panic starts to set in. I backtrack my steps but I can’t find it. I think someone stole my key from my jeans while I went for a quick swim. I ask the local pub and surf club if anyone has turned in a key. No luck. I leave my contact details in case it turns up. I then report it to the police. I tried calling a few locksmiths but because it was a long weekend and they couldn’t help me until the Tuesday. I needed to be in Melbourne by Tuesday for a conference.
I end up deciding to tow my bike to the airport and park it there for a fortnight and come back later with my spare key. The tow truck guy was at least able to fill up the tire before dropping it off. I was hoping it was just a leaky valve because I couldn’t find a puncture. At least I got to spend an extra day on the Gold Coast.
Now this is where my stressful day starts. Before flying to the Gold Coast today I had a pretty tough conversation at work that left me in tears for quite sometime, so I was already emotionally worked up. I get to the Gold Coast airport and I start walking in the wrong direction for the parking. I call the parking guy and it turns out my tire is still flat and there’s a guy in a shuttle bus waiting to take me to the parking. Here starts my second wave of uncontrollable tears. I eventually get to my bike and the shuttle bus driver was really helpful, he was trying to offer suggestions and what not. I decide to wheel my bike out and have a shot at some roadside assistance. I give my insurance a call and it turns out, I’m not covered. I start crying on the phone. The insurance lady was lovely she offered to help me with Googling businesses and what not but it was something I was able to do with my phone and most of the local businesses would be shut anyway, this was around 5pm Queensland time and 6pm New South Wales time.
I’m feeling lost and stranded in the Gold Coast. I panic and I end up giving a random Tinder Gold Coast guy a call that I had gone on one date with 2 weeks ago when I was last in the Gold Coast. I then start googling some near by motorbike repair stores and trying any number I can get my hands on. No luck. Then I hear another motorbike startup, turns out the workshop next to the parking was still open and a guy was starting up his dirt bike. He gives me a bit of air and we discover a puncture. It’s leaking air. I had enough air to ride it to the nearest motorbike store, the store opens at 8:30 tomorrow morning and I hope they can help me. I’ve checked into a motel in Tweed Heads and at least I’ll try to sort something out tomorrow. I know I had family that I could have called but I was already a blubbering mess and I really don’t like crying in front of people, especially people I know.
I guess I have another travel story to share now, this one isn’t that pleasant though.
I need to improve my mental and physical health. I have gained over 20kg in the last 18 months. I feel like all of the hard work that I put in when I first moved to Sydney has been undone. I often feel fat, lazy and out of control with my behaviour. I feel like my home life reflects those bad thoughts back onto me. I know these are irrational feelings, I’m hardly lazy. Lazy people don’t involved with their communities but I still feel these feelings.
Back to the strategy, I think a core part of a strategy is a purpose (it has to achieve something), a distinct measurable goal (to know when we’ve achieved something), a plan of what to do which includes tactics/approaches in how we will achieve our purpose.
Improve my mental and physical well-being
Not feeling like I’m having a mental breakdown during an emotional time of the month
No more weight gain
Change my home environment to encourage incidental exercise (move closer to work)
Get back onto a soylent diet (this should help both diet and financial as I’ll reduce my impulse food spendings)
Here is a diagram that might help communicate part of what bothers me:
I’m starting my strategy off small, make it achievable. Then reassess and reiterate in a few weeks to see if I’m improving.
I had a depressive episode today, thankfully it only lasted an hour or so. When my depression has been at its worst, a depressive episode could last all day and sometimes not involve a trigger. My episodes usually involve me uncontrollably breaking down into tears and I will cycle back into tears when the bad thoughts roll back in.
What triggered my episode? I went to see a weight lost specialist for an initial consultant and there was a weigh in. I now weigh as much as I did before I moved to Sydney; 125 kg (much sadness).
I didn’t break down during the appointment, I started breaking down while trying to sort out payment with the receptionist. While standing in front of the receptionist the bad thoughts were starting to cycle through my mind. I managed to get to the bathroom before breaking down completely. I felt like all of the hard work that I put in is now all undone, I can’t believe I put all of the weight back on that quickly. I felt ashamed, worthless and fat. I can tell you that some of my thoughts were harsh; too harsh for me to write down.
I managed to pull myself together enough to send an email to work saying that I’d be taking the afternoon off work, exited the building and got on a bus home. I still experienced waves of tears while sitting on the bus but it was dying down. So instead of buying a tub of icecream and wallowing in self pity, I started thinking about this blog post and my cycle of misery.
There seems to be three major things that; when combined create a misery cycle that is hard for me to brake out of. They are; poor mental health, poor physical health and poor financial wellbeing. I feel like I don’t have enough control to keep one in check, let alone all three. If I try to tackle all three, I get overwhelmed and disappointed when I don’t meet the goals that I’ve set myself. I stopped seeing a personal trainer because I thought I was in a good exercise routine and I felt like I should next tackle my finances, then life happened and a mild relapse of depression occurred. Life has a tendency to ruin my well thought out plans ;).
I know how to fix these issues and I know they shouldn’t be that difficult. It’s just about making the right choices, right? However, I can tell you with first hand experience that while going through depression my capacity to make good choices is greatly diminished, instead the impulsive/short term rewards part of my brain gets a bit more freedom. This part of my brain loves to eat food, spend money and not exercise. It doesn’t help that our society is geared towards high availability of food and getting us to spend money.
I know weight loss surgery is extreme and I feel like it’s cheating. However I’m considering it because it is a control that I can put in place to help me curb my over eating and over spending. Maybe it can stop me from falling back into bad habits when life happens?
I gave a short 5 minute talk about my depression in front of my whole company 2 weeks ago. I’ll take this opportunity to share what helps me try to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy is part of my treatment. It might not necessarily work for you but I think seeking professional help is a good step.
I try to meditate for 10 minutes a day at least 3 times a week. It’s small achievable goal for me that doesn’t make me feel overwhelmed and I don’t beat myself up over it if I don’t achieve it. The beating myself over it is something that I’ve had to unlearn. During this mindfulness session I try to focus on my breathing, the sensations around my nose and lungs, I might focus on my senses or focus on other parts of body.
I try to be mindful when having my morning cup of coffee, I find short black coffees help encourage this. I can explore the flavours, move the coffee around my mouth and explore different sensations, what is the after taste like? what does the crema look like? how does it smell? What type of roast do I think the beans are? These are all things I can explore with my coffee.
I have also been wearing a spire for nearly 3 months. The spire is a piece of wearable tech that monitors my breathing and is connected via bluetooth with my phone. It tells me when I’m being calm, focused, stressed or active.
Here are some screen shots of the app and an image of the device:
Have you noticed the mindful colouring books that seem to be popping up every where? I thought I would buy one and see what my spire would record while I coloured. It measured a calm streak while I coloured. The colouring book that I bought was a game of thrones themed book at least, I didn’t really like all of the over promising of the mindfulness colouring books.
I enjoyed Ruby Wax’s talk on Mindfulness
So if something might help people be more calm and mindful in their day to day life, why not give it a shot? Is there anything you try to keep mindful?
mental heI have this perpetual list of incomplete stuff to do in my head and it constantly makes me feel like a failure. It makes it hard to acknowledge achievements when it feels like a never ending list. When I’m going through bouts of depression this list gets overwhelming. Here’s an example of stuff that’s been on my list today:
I’m feeling pretty well prepared for this, I’ve organised speakers, co partnership, catering, drinks, air conditioning, volunteers to help out on the day. This event sold out in less than 24 hours.
Stuff that I have left to do for this event; prepare introductions, email speakers a run sheet, call livelo to ensure they received the second payment from our co-partner and are still right for the order, make sure I have a clear idea of needs to happen tomorrow. I’m feeling really good about this, I haven’t phoned livelo yet and the critical part of mind is swearing in my mind about this.
Everything else on this list makes me go, “fuck, I haven’t done that yet”.
Testers parade article due about Tyro’s robotics challenge at the end of the month. Fuck, I’ve been procrastinating about this.
Tax return, need to call old workplace first to get group certificate
Add someone to my house lease, get a spare key
Call up GP to forward the mental health plan to my psychologist
Do health fund claims (psychology and dental)
Order a crash protectors and a travel bag for my motorbike, arrange time to get the parts put on it
Cancel gym membership
book push bike in for a service, back wheel is loose. Thinking about my bike, I need to pick it up from the supermarket
Need to get a vacuum cleaner
Finish reading user story mapping (I need to prepare a tech talk for work for it)
go to the GP and discuss lapband, get a referral to a specialist
On top of that there are a bunch of daily goals that I don’t always meet that has the potential to make me feel like a failure:
Brush my teeth (I have invisalign and I’m meant to brush after every meal before putting them back in, pfft)
Practice mindfulness (Start Journals/blogs/start externalizing my mental list)
Be disciplined in getting enough sleep
There are a list of goals that I would like to achieve but often don’t:
save money (my lack of financial wellbeing stresses me out, I hate it that money has such a large impact on my mood)
book physio/message therapy/osteo
Try not to overeat/eat junk food
Catch up on and reply to messages (facebook, twitter, linked in, email etc)
There is a list of many things I would love to do:
Start a garden
Go low tech (ditch my smart phone for a dumb phone)
Play more with electronics and robotics
Do work for allergy rader (an app idea I’ve been working on)
Join a band/practice my trombone
practice my Japanese
Learn how to sew
Get a full back tattoo
Learn how to brew beer
Learn how to brine and smoke food
Some things that I have done today that I should be proud of:
Had appointment with psychologist
Bought my dad a birthday and father’s day gift and posted it (this was 3 weeks overdue)
Did the laundry
Went to the supermarket
Cycled to and from the train station
researched balcony gardening
fantasized about building a self sustainable community
Wrote this blog post
I had a pang of feeling like a failure today, facebook moments reminded me that this time last year I had done a 40km cycle all around Sydney and I was training for the spring cycle. It reminded me of how much I’ve let my exercise routine slip. I’m tearing up just thinking about it now. Good thing it only lasted 5 minutes but that feeling did come and go for a little bit afterwards.
I also noticed myself getting overwhelmed in the supermarket, there were just too many choices. I tried to be pretty quick but I swear it took me nearly 5 minutes to choose a peanut butter, comparing cost, ingredients, nutrient and source of manufacturing across 4 brands.
TL:DR There is a 5 minute video of me talking about this topic.
Depression. I have it. I don’t like to say I suffer from it because it is a core element of who I am. If I had never experienced depression, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. However, it’s not healthy for me to indulge it. I like to personify my depression, maybe I’ll call it Fred? For me it’s not really a person though, it’s more of a dark cloud that sits on the fringes of my conscience and my conscience is in a castle trying to defend against the dark cloud. The darkness is always there, waiting for the moment that I let my guard down so it can come in. It also has a tendancy to overstay it’s visit (not like it was welcome in the first place). Once it’s in, it sucks all of the joy out of life, makes me feel like a failure and constantly reminds me of stressful thoughts. This is all bull though, the only thing in my mind is me but this mental model helps me to try and make sense of it. Depression is not rational.
Right now I’m experience a relapse of depression. I had a bad episode around 2011-2012, I’m not as bad now as I was then. I’m now able to recgonise the warning signs and I’ve seeked help before it has become disabling. I don’t think it’s something I will be completely cured from. Maybe it’s like a cancer in that way?
Part of my treatment is mindfullness, this time around I’m also trying it with some self compassion. I’m trying to remind myself that some thoughts aren’t very helpful and I’m trying to be kinder to myself. It’s easier said than done.
I had a break down last weekend. I went into a swanky delictessant and asked for some sliced bacon. There was a bit of a mis communication with the order that left me confused and with more stuff than what I needed. I felt overwhelmed and the confusion had gotten to me. Maybe I had experienced choice fatique where I had already made so many other choices that day that I had just had enough. Any way after I leave the deli, I start to tear up. When I get out of the supermarket I can’t hold it back anymore and i’m bawling my eyes out. This episode lasts for about an hour on the way home, there are some moments where I feel like I’m over it only for the sense of failure to come back. Basically, I felt like I couldn’t even handle a poor experience. I was disappointed in myself and I just got stuck on those thoughts. It was exhausting and for the rest of the day I didn’t want to do anything. I was grateful that I was able to get out of that mindset after an hour. When my depression was really bad, that type of episode would last all day where the smallest things would return me to tears. My menstrual cycle had just started that day and I think this also had an impact.
Today I experienced a trigger, it only lasted 5 minutes. I’m in Melbourne for a Yow Connected conference and there was this talk about banks, wearable tech and customer engagement. They were using a user profile of a 31 year old blonde female investor who was looking to buy property. I think she had a net worth of over 2 million dollars. I felt overwhelmed, I know I can’t manage my own finances and this reminded me of how I feel like a failure. There’s only 5 years different between me and this character. My thought was, “F*ck, is it normal to have that much invested? Why am I not on track to achieve that?”. I started tearing up but I reminded myself that it wasn’t helpful to think about it, I tried to rationalize it with the thought, “they don’t come from your upbringing, they probably came from a privelaged background where their parents were probably able to provide a lot of financial literacy, support and help with a starting investment”. It could be that today I was a little tired after a full on day yesterday and that I’m experiencing conference bowels. TMI, I know but when my bowels don’t feel healthy, I’m usually not a happy camper. I experience the same thing at hackathons. I love the mental stimulation but it can also be exhausting. Today’s episode was a minor incident in the grand scheme of things.
I don’t know what I want to achieve with this post. Blogging about it is it’s own kind of therapy. I don’t need your sympathy but I would like to make conversations around mental health normal.
Note: Just because I have depression, doesn’t mean I experience it all of the time. Most of time I’m a normally functioning human (whatever that means). Sometimes the world can be overwhelming. I think most people are a little bit dysfunctional but that’s where our beauty is.