In my last article, I talked about how I was recovering from my recent crash while working on my PyMarkdown project. In this article, I talk about how things are going with that.


One of the most important things for me about working on a side project is balancing my project work with my home life and my professional life. It is especially important to order those three things in the correct order. For me, that order is home life, then professional life, then project work. And when I do not keep that in mind, I often get confused and place them in the wrong order. A couple of weeks ago, that is what happened, with bad results: a crash.

Where Am I Today

As I mentioned in my last article, I am recovering from a crash from pushing work on the PyMarkdown project. As of today, I feel that I am mostly back to where I was before the crash, but I am still feeling a bit of the aftereffects of the crash. For the most part, my mind and energy levels are back to where they need to be. But my anxiety is another issue.

Why is that? Because it was painful, and I have an anxiety disorder. That is the short answer. The long answer is more detailed.

I am not shy about talking about having Autism, and I am not going to start now. While my major diagnosis is Autism, I have minor diagnoses of Sensory Overload Disorder and Autism-related Anxiety Disorder.1 What the first means is that a lot of sensory input, such as being in a crowded restaurant, will overload me and cause me to get exhausted very quickly. This happens so often that my wife and I have our own special code that I can use if the noise gets too much. We have an agreement that allows me to use that code without any downside. After more than ten years with this code in place, I am finally starting to use it without feeling like I am letting my wife down. As this requires me to be in place that is noisy, I have a great deal of control about when this hits me, allowing me to mitigate it very effectively.

The Anxiety Disorder is another story. This is the fun one that I deal with on a near daily basis. Unlike a normal person’s anxiety disorder, my disorder is tied to my ability to analyze problems. The issue that I have is that it is incredibly difficult for me to not analyze things. Basically, it is very hard to turn it off. That is one of the reasons that music helps me concentrate when I do any mental work, be it coding, writing, or thinking. If I do not have something “predictable” for my brain to latch on to, it starts to analyze every bit of noise around me, distracting me very quickly. On the other hand, if I have music that I normally listen to playing, I can jam and rock out without losing my train of thought once.

But in the absence of something to allow my mind to analyze at a low level, my mind starts racing away from me. While I have medicine and breathing techniques to help with my anxiety, I still must do the work to find something to counteract my anxiety. And while certain techniques work most of the time, nothing works all the time.

Anxiety Hurts

I am not sure if everyone experiences anxiety in the same way that I do, but for me, anxiety hurts. Parts of my anxiety cloud my mind with analyses of what can possibly happen. Most of the time, I can feel the anxiety as the slight tightening of the muscles in my body, especially my chest. Nothing serious, but I can easily feel my body tensing up as if something terrible is coming. Of course, I know that it is mostly in my head. But in the moment, that knowledge tends not to help much.

From a purely mental point of view, feeling anxiety means that I miss things with my family, my friends, and my environment. Because my head is stuck in a rut on whatever it is that is stressing me out, it means I cannot always focus my time on what is around me. And to be blunt, those things that I keep around me are what really make my life worth living. I know that movies are fun to watch, and games are great to play, but it is the living things around me that help me find satisfaction in life. So not being able to focus on those things hurts.

From a more physical point of view, my anxiety tends to kick off my “fight-or-flight” reflexes more than I would like them to. Those extra hormones that are released with those reflexes have side effects as well. If my anxiety kicks off just before I go to bed, it means I will have issues falling asleep or staying asleep, both of which are not good. If they kick off during the day, it can cause me to not be able to focus on my tasks as well as I would like.

However, the main physical side effect of my anxiety is on my energy levels. Everything in life strives to find balance, and my energy levels are no exception. When my anxiety kicks off my reflexes, I get a burst of energy that is almost always inconvenient to deal with in the moment. After the situation goes away, I have the inverse problem: low energy. As the anxiety focused my energy to deal with “the crisis”, it is then followed by a lull while my body recharges. Even with doctor prescribed medication to help mitigate these symptoms, it still sucks.

Keeping Things Low-Key

Keeping that information in mind, I decided last week to take a low-key approach and work on low priority items that have been on my to-do list of a long time. From a code-clean point of view, I was never happy with the number of arguments that I am passing around from function to function. After thinking about it for a couple of hours last week, I decided that this would be a good task to take on while I am recovering. Not a lot of thinking and not a lot of pressure. Just clean refactoring.

I know that this work is not terribly important, that is why it is low-key. But it is helping me clean things up in the project and giving me time to recover. More importantly, it is helping me make progress with the project while not doing anything too taxing. And it is working. It is taking time, but my anxiety is slowly dissipating.

Pushing myself to the point of crashing had lasting effects, and this low key working is helping me fight the remaining side effect: my anxiety. In trying to analyze why my anxiety is acting up, the best answer I can give is this: my body does not want another crash. I feel that this is going to get better with more distance from that crash, but I just have to give my mind and body the time that they need to recover.

I Thought Long And Hard About This

So, with my anxiety still acting up from my crash, and the low key work helping to get me back on track, I have decided that the best thing for me to do for a couple of weeks is to take a break from my side projects and focus on non-mental projects around the house. I am not going to abandon my projects… I love working on them too much! But I know that if I want to be able to work on them with a clear mind, I need to take a break.

So, unless things change, back in a couple of weeks!

  1. I am not a psychologist or a medical doctor. I have been formally diagnosed with these by a fully licensed psychologist who specializes in Autism. The information presented here is from that diagnosis and is specific to me. Please keep that in mind. 

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