In my last article, I talked about the work I have been doing in the background on the PyMarkdown project. In this article, I talk about the effect that work had on me personally.


Yes, this is a personal article. In addition, any longtime readers may notice that this article was posted a week later than I usually post. Basically, what happened is that while working on my side projects last weekend, I crashed and crashed hard.

Being my usual self, I thought it would be cool to try and help others avoid the negativity of crashing and to help show the positives of taking care of one’s self after such a crash. Basically, how to avoid the pitfalls and help get on your feet faster afterwards.

The Crash Itself

That weekend started like many other weekends I have spent working on my open source projects. I talked with my spouse and made sure that I had a clear idea of what our schedule was like for the weekend, planning my project work around those scheduled items. Experience has taught me to include buffer time and extra “spouse” time, so added that as well. After that was all taken care of, I had a good idea of the time I could spend on the PyMarkdown project and looked forward to clearing up some of the remaining issues.

To be honest, there are not that many issues left that I consider blocking issues, but there are at least three issues that I believe meet that criteria. Those issues are all issues that were recorded during the addition of my latest round of container combinations. And as I am being honest, I will say this very bluntly: I was upset with myself that I still had three issues left.

I was not upset with myself for finding those issues. Those issues were all good finds due to the combinations. What I was upset with is that it had been a good couple of months since I found them, and they were still on the active issues list. I temporarily forgot that I had a series of interview loops followed by on-boarding at my new job. And as I started locating those issues and dealing with them, I slowly turned that weekend from a fun weekend improving the quality of the project into a compulsive need to get those issues dealt with.

How Did It Happen?

Even after a good eight days since it happened, most of what happened that weekend is still clouded in my mind. I know that initially I wanted to get those issues dealt with, but I was forgiving with myself because of what had been going on in my life. But I also know that I had been trying to make headway with those issues during the week, and I had not made any progress on any of those three issues.

And that is where I think I started to descend into madness, so to speak. While I am usually forgiving with myself for life’s circumstances, I can be equally unforgiving when I do not feel that I am making reasonable progress. Put another way, I wonder if I thought that I should have made more progress on those three issues. If so, then my lack of progress might have kicked off my anxiety and then everything would have snowballed.

What Did It Feel Like?

The honest answer to the earlier question is: I can only guess. I am not trying to hide the truth, I honestly do not remember much of my work on that weekend. I remember some stuff from Friday when I started working on debugging. Project-wise, I do not remember much until around 6PM on Sunday when I locked my computer and buried my head in my hands. The little bits that I do remember between those two points are filled with anger and frustration, and me trying to push past those to try and get something done… and failing. Not good memories.

I remember stopping at 6PM on Sunday with the intense feeling that I had pushed myself too far. The thought of unlocking my computer to start writing my weekly article caused me to be nauseous. The thought of double checking my research from the past two days to see if I missed something made me sick to my stomach. I left my computer locked, exited my office, and closed the door. If the door had a lock on it, I would have locked it as well. I was done.

I just vegged out for the rest of the night, hoping to get a few of my brain cells back. As long as I did not think about my project, I was fine. I had some conversations with my spouse, watched a couple of recorded Champion’s League matches, and did work on one of my LEGO models. My brain cells were all working in those areas. As long as I mentally stayed away from the project, I was fine.

When I went to work the next day, everything was fine there too. It was a good Monday workwise, and I got a healthy amount of stuff done. But the second I stopped working and I went to my home computer, that sense of dread came back. Reading e-mail was fine, but anything more than that and that intense negative feeling just crept back into my head. I took until Wednesday before I was able to logon to that computer to do something other than read e-mail.

Responding To My Crash With Honesty

I wish I could say that I was smart enough to avoid the crash in the first place, but obviously I was not. Because of the cloud around that entire weekend, I cannot even take an honest look back at that time and figure out how to approach that work differently. I can guess, but that is all that it is, a guess.

Having been through situations like this over the years, the important part for me was understanding that I had crashed and being honest with myself that I had crashed. This was not just a bad day or something that I would just “get over”, it was a crash. This was a negative situation that I knew I had to manage properly if I wanted to recover quickly and with as few remnants hanging around as possible. In lay terms, if I did not take care of myself properly, one or more of the bad parts of this situation could say around.

Being honest with the little bit that I could remember, I was pretty sure that I had pushed myself too far, too many times over that weekend. Based on how I was feeling on Sunday night, which was my best guess. As such, I knew that I needed to avoid pushing myself for at least a week or so until I started feeling better. For me, that is a hard thing to do. The only thing driving my open source projects forward is me making the time and effort to work on them. As such, taking a break from any work like that is like nails on a chalkboard for me.

The thing that stopped me from doing that was my honesty with myself and my experience with crashes in the past. Based on that experience, even if I wanted to rush forward to work on the projects, I knew that it was the wrong thing to do in this case. Forget about a little voice telling myself that it was the wrong thing, it was a huge, booming, echoing voice. That voice was telling me that it was okay to evaluate myself for five or less minutes a day to see how I was doing, but any more effort was going to be hurtful.

So, I waited. I tried each day to see how I was doing, but I waited.

And Then, The Recovery

And it was the following Saturday morning before I evaluated myself for five minutes without feeling decreased negative pressure. Assuming that I am usually able to exert 100% effort, if I had to gauge where my energy or effort was at, then this effort felt like it was in the 20-30% range. It was not much, but it was a good start.

Using that level of effort, I started to work, taking decent breaks through the rest of the day. At any point, if I felt any pushback from myself, I simply said “that is enough”, and walked away from the computer for at least an hour. And through the course of the day, I must have done that around six times. From a pure time point of view, it was not a good day for me working on the PyMarkdown project.

But from an effort point of view, it was encouraging. By the end of that Saturday, I would have to guess that I was more in the 45-55% range as far as my effort was concerned. More importantly, I had solved one of the issues that had caused me to get into the negative situation in the first place. It was humbling. What I had tried to do with each of the three remaining issues over that nasty weekend, I had accomplished with less than half my usual effort while I was recovering.

The news gets better. Doing some more work yesterday, I was able to raise my effort level to around 60-70%. And while I did not solve either one of the two remaining issues, I have been able to make substantial progress to get one of them solved. While I do not want to jinx anything, I am confident that with more of the save level of work, I should be able to get that issue resolved by the end of the week. And if I do not get it done, I know I have to be easy on myself.

Issues For Thought

As a father and friend, I have tried to impart many small pieces of wisdom that I have gained only though a lot of sacrifice. One of those bits of wisdom is:

It does not matter how many times you get knocked down to your knees. What matters is how many times you decide to get up, dust yourself off, and try not to get knocked down again.

We are all human beings, each of us in our own way. And one of the unenviable truths of being human is that we learn best from failure instead of success. My big failure was in not recognizing that I was in some form of a downward spiral until I hit the bottom of that spiral. But my success was in being truthful with myself and acknowledging that I was at the bottom. That success continued when I concluded that I needed to take care of myself to get out of there. It needed to be my choice to dust myself off after getting knocked down, and no one else’s. And while it was not any easy choice, I believe it was the right choice to make.

In summary, in a typical “me” move, instead of focusing on the fact that I crashed, I decided to share my experience and try and to figure out how to grow from it. It took me over twenty years to learn this particular pattern… I hope I can help shortcut some of that time for others.

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So what do you think? Did I miss something? Is any part unclear? Leave your comments below.

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