Exhaustion, depression, and directionlessness

Burnt-out Rachel on a laptop, saying

Burnt-out Rachel on a laptop, saying “I don’t have the inspiration to write lecturesssss.”

Maybe if I hadn’t been so over-worked the last two years, I would be willing to stick with it longer. But, working up to 12-hour-days on days I have class, and then spending so much of my time off-campus also at a computer working – prepping, grading, answering questions, etc. – has thoroughly burnt me out.

I mean, I’ve been burnt out for well over a year, but at this point I just don’t want to continue. And it’s only the 3rd week of this semester. I know I’ll have to tough my way through this semester, just like many semesters before it, but I cannot return to this in 2019. I need something else.

But what?


Interviewer:

Interviewer: “So why do you want to work for Boring Co.?”
Rachel: “Because you exist, and you hire C++ developers.”

From software to teaching

I was miserable as a traditional, corporate software developer with traditional, 8-to-5, salaried employment. I hated feeling baby-sat since I had to be at a specific location at a specific time to do my work on a specific machine with specific tools. Hated it hated it hated it!

I hated how pointless it felt, building software that didn’t affect me, or didn’t improve things I really cared about, or were even remotely related to a topic I was even tangentially interested in.

I hated always being underpaid and underappreciated, always feeling different from everybody else, and feeling like a zombie throughout the workday.

When I began teaching (part time), I loved the freedom – I built my own curriculum, on my own machine, using tools I liked. I had to be in the classroom at a certain time, but beyond that, I was simply trusted to get my work done whenever and wherever. My best work is done from home, at my desk with my computer with my music, and not being disturbed by listening to smalltalk from coworkers on the other side of a flimsy wall in an open-office floorplan.

I loved teaching my students, and creating classes that they liked being in, that empowered them. I liked building accessible and welcoming classes, classes that understood that I’m teaching adults and they have their own lives going on, so I’m not going to assign grade based on attendance. Classes where they know that I know that they’re adults, and I treat them as such.


Rachel stands on a cliff and yells out to the world,

Rachel stands on a cliff and yells out to the world, “I’M NOT READY FOR SCHOOL TO BEGIN!!”

Teacher workload

But, over time I got more and more work. First a standard full-time load – four classes. But as the need arose, some semesters I ended up with 5 or 6 classes.

A majority of my work is done outside of the classroom, so it may seem invisible to most people. Again, it’s grading (very time consuming for programs), prepping for the next week’s classes, correcting errors/typos in slides and exercises, answering questions via email and phone, and so on.

If you reuse everything from previous semesters, students may cheat. Some things I can reuse, but I’m also always striving to make things better, so that does require work every semester to improve my slides and exercises and projects and so on.

In an effort to cut down on my grading time, I have been adding unit tests to all the projects and labs in my Data Structures class. Writing a programming assignment can take 2 – 3 days: Building the full program, building a sufficient amount of unit tests, writing the documentation, and bundling it all together.

I try my best to write clearly and give illustrations and diagrams where appropriate, I try to make sure my work is accessible and doesn’t leave students feeling completely lost. I’ve had so many teachers who were disorganized and 90% of the challenge was figuring out wtf they even wanted.


Rachel's in bed and the alarm goes off. Rachel looks disheveled;

Rachel’s in bed and the alarm goes off. Rachel looks disheveled; “Ugh can I not do today, plz??”

Student workload

Additionally, my employment as a teacher at a community college – adjunct or full-time – depends on me actively working towards a Masters degree in Computer Science.

I completed one semester at KU, taking an undergrad class and the orientation class.

The second semester, I dropped the grad-level Machine Learning class within the first month because I didn’t have enough time to complete the time-consuming hand-based computations (things that we should be programming a machine to do, but okay…).

The third semester, I dropped the grad-level Visualizations class within the first month because I bombed the first homework assignment because I also did not have enough time to figure out and work through all the computations and the programming assignment, and the drive to KU is 40 minutes at best, and I had to pay hourly for parking, and with my full-time employment it just was not doable for me.

I dropped out.

This semester, I’ve begun at UMKC. I’m taking Advanced Software Engineering, which is doable. I can get through this semester and I can work with a small team to build an app. Piece of cake. Also, UMKC is 10 minutes away, I went here for my undergrad, I know the campus and some of the faculty, and I’ve even worked here previously as an adjunct.

While the instructor of the class still assumes that the grad students are only students and not working three part-time jobs (teaching, teaching, and running a startup), it’s doable. It’s more accessible. But it’s still frustrating.

And it’s not really what I want.


(In 2002...) College employee:

(In 2002…)
College employee: “You’ve been accepted to community college! What will you major in?”
Rachel: “Oh, uh…” (Didn’t think about it.)
Rachel: “I like computers? So, that?”

Where to go?

I don’t really want another degree in computer science. I’m not really that interested in pure Computer Science theory anymore. Heck, I’m not even that interested in the idea of teaching Computer Science anymore – actually, I’m feeling rather adverse to it at this point.

I’m interested in linguistics. I’m interested in entrepreneurship. I’m not interested in software development for other people/businesses, and I’m not interested in teaching anymore; at least, not until I’ve had a good and thorough break. Maybe again in the future.

Sometimes I think I should go back to doing software development for a bit – it’s good pay, and I’d be able to come home and just veg-the-fuck-out for once. I wouldn’t be able to continue going to school, though. And if I dropped out, I’d be denying myself the option of the “back up career” of teaching. Maybe I’ll want to teach again in another 10 years? Or in my retirement age? So I don’t quite want to deny Future-Rachel that option.

But the idea of going back to work full-time as a software developer feels like a step back. It’s not what I want, and it would continue to steal time away from things that are really important to me, although not very lucrative right now: My startup. Learning about linguistics and languages. Projects revolving around educational games, language preservation, and so on. Volunteering for good causes. Raging against capitalism.

I could do contract work, or part-time software development (if such a thing even exists; it’s super rare if it does.) For a contract job, I’d probably have to find some other people to work with, I wouldn’t want to do it alone, and I probably wouldn’t want to be the one in charge. I’d need a human buffer who can translate human requirements into programming features, because I don’t need that kind of stress in my life right now. I’d probably need a second programmer to help split the work so we’re not over-encumbered by what should be an alternative to the 8-to-5, 40+ hr/week development job.

Or, I can be a contractor at an established company for a short amount of time. Usually, companies dislike my history of working here-and-there for 6 months at a time, but maybe it’s fine for a contractor. At the end of this year, I’ll have been teaching at my community college for 3 years now, so I can stay somewhere as long as I’m happy.

I wouldn’t mind being the “all-tech” person at a small business that doesn’t revolve around software. Like fixing the business’ computers and updating their website and making little utilities to help make life easier. That sounds fun. Some Kansas City small business, hire me as your techie.

But going back full-time just … doesn’t seem right. I don’t think I could even begin to tolerate it. What I’ve wanted to do, since I was 12 years old, is just run my own company. But I also have to pay bills.

Rachel:

Rachel: “This is how I think a business should be run.”
Guy: “Yeah, we do the complete opposite of all of this.”


Rachel is looking at their calendar. Rachel:

Rachel is looking at their calendar.
Rachel: “It’s a miracle! I’m not 100% busy this week!”

Fragmented focus

Here’s what I actually want: Time to build some educational games, and focus on those games. Focus on making them and marketing them. Focus on getting the word out. Focus on maintaining them. Focus on making them a viable product to sell.

And keep working at it. And keep trying. And keep going until I succeed in making some amount of money.

 

But with the way my life is, with having to work full-time, or be going to school, or whatever else, I can’t. I literally cannot, because my focus is so fragmented. I am constantly switching between planning for this class, or that class, or the other, or switching into student-mode and focusing on lectures and doing homework. When I’m home and allow myself a bit of free time alone, I pursue projects I can complete within a day, within a few hours: Drawing, writing a comic, making the odd YouTube video, programming a small experiment or utility, and so on.

We’re all working on visual novels this year, and we’ve been getting them done with our once-a-week meetings. But, I still don’t have time to focus on the marketing, or much of anything. Artwork here and there for the games, getting them published and on a store, and not much else.

We stop working for weeks at a time because we’re all so busy. And even when I neglect the things I want to be doing, I’m still completely overwhelmed by work. Work work work work work. If I take a Sunday to spend time with friends, the regret hits me the next day as I’m even more overwhelmed and under pressure.

 

I’m tired. I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to build cool things, useful things, educational things, fun things. I want to have a chance to make it work. And I’m so depressed because I still have 14 weeks left of class – the semester has only just begun.

2017

When 2017 began, I was very depressed.

My boyfriend, Rai, was rolled off his project at work and had to return to India a few months prior – shortly after we had began living together. I now had to return home from work to nobody. I cried after getting home from work until I managed to numb myself.

My hopes for the first woman president were dashed and anger and fear and dread were my feelings as the new year came around. If Clinton were president, I would at least have had some optimism about the future. The double whammy of losing my love and no longer having faith in anything as basic as are we going to fight climate change and have a future was hard.

But, one has to keep living. I threw myself into my work and attended protests and sent postcards to the president and called my representatives.

A big stress in 2017 was trying to think of some way that I, as an independent programmer, could make something to improve the world in some small way. I committed to letting my students know that my classroom is a safe place, and that I am there for them if they need an advocate, but I also wanted to know what more I could do.

While I don’t think I achieved anything big, programming-wise, in 2017, I at least have been experimenting and trying. I’ve also achieved things not programming related – because I’m not a robot.

So here is a reflection on things I’ve done in 2017, because it’s so easy to forget what we’ve achieved. It’s really easy for me to slip into a feeling of uselessness and start beating myself up for not meeting my own standards, and part of that is learning to accept myself for being myself (not just doing stuff), it’s also good to put things into perspective; not the warped, exaggerated perspective that anxiety and depression-glasses make you see through.

What I did

I got married

Rai and Rachel at the marriage ceremony

Rai finally arrived back in the K.C. on November 15th, after having been gone since November 1st of the previous year. We made it!

We had a small ceremony at the Olathe courthouse, and poof! Married! We did it in our own way – low stress, simple, etc. Though we still need to plan our reception party for 2018!

I went to India

Rachel and Rai in front of the Taj Mahal

We submitted our fiancé paperwork in April, but a 6-to-9 month wait would have been too much time to go without seeing each other. During the semester break (a couple weeks between Spring and Summer semesters), I flew to India and spent time with Rai, where we became “officially” engaged.

We spent time in New Delhi, where Rai was living, in Agra, and in his parents’ village in Uttarakhand.

Rai and I worked on the fiancé-visa paperwork

Rai was sent back to India in November 2016, and at that time neither of us were sure if we (as individuals) were ready for marriage. But after the time apart, and after eventually getting his father’s approval, we started on the fiancé visa paperwork.

I’ve spent time with my sister

After a couple of years in Seattle, my sister moved back to Kansas City and I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with her multiple times per week.

I completed an easy-reader comic

Rachel’s Reader preview

I finished the first in a series of comics I’d like to make – an easy-reader meant for language learners. It is available on Itch.io here, and as of writing has versions in English, Esperanto, Finnish, French, and Hindi.

I began taking Hindi classes

Me in Hindi class

It was serendipity that I learned about the Hindi class at our local temple – I had taken my friend Aishwarya to the temple and there was a board there with the information. I signed up and, even though I’m the only adult in the class, I’ve been learning a lot and really enjoying having a Sunday tradition! I love language learning and taking the class has really helped me build a good foundation.

I’ve aggregated the Hindi learning resources I’ve made here on GitHub.

I started gradschool

Although I only completed one semester and dropped out of the Fall semester due to work, I did effectively start gradschool. Even though I’m overall underwhelmed by my experience so far, at least the momentum is going. Even though being a teacher isn’t my be-all-end-all career goal, having a Master’s Degree will at least keep doors open to me no matter where I move to.

I also vlogged!

I taught a new class

After an emergency at work, one instructor’s classes were split up between the other teachers. I landed with Discrete Math II, which I had been wanting to teach for a while. Before, I had only taught Discrete Math I. While I got some really nasty (and some good) reviews on the end-of-semester anonymous surveys, I feel like I did an alright job… especially considering that I was teaching 6 classes… 20 credit hours. I survived.

I reclaimed my YouTube channel

My original, humble rise on YouTube (8000 subscribers) was due to my game programming and educational gamedev content. For the longest time I felt like I couldn’t post about other interests or parts of my life because of “my subscribers”. But the

controversy showed us that not all gamers are good people. So fuck ’em. I’ll post what I want, I don’t care about losing subscribers (and I did lose subscribers). It’s more important to visibly show your support for a cause than cater to assholes on the internet.

Some of the videos I posted that made people mad were:

I protested, called, and donated

I invested what I could of myself to trying to make political changes in the only way I know how. I protested, I contacted my representatives, and I donated to various causes and activists.

I did some coding

Random magical girl generator

Random comic generator

I did take time to explore code, even though it was small. Just little experiments here and there. I made the visualization of how many people could die if Obamacare is repealed, I worked on things to procedurally generate characters and dialog, I made a couple of Twitter bots, a painting app for toddlers, and so on.

I made some YouTube videos

I did manage to publish some YouTube videos this year. In addition to the ones posted above, I also did a Robot Let’s Play, a video about Cyrus the Dog, some of my lectures from my classes, vlogs about gradschool and going to India, and some videos for my Conlang-oriented channel.

I delegated

One of my goals in Moosader is to learn to delegate, and to offer opportunities for others to do some commission work that I pay them for. I did have a friend, Kuĉjo, work on conlang videos,

I freelanced

Did some freelancing, met a deadline, mentored Shawnee in working on the game as well.

I made a board game

The board game I worked on

As a joke Christmas gift, I made a board game for my cousin based around one of her biggest pet peeves – people not changing the toilet paper. It was a lot of fun to come up with pieces and the board, and test out the rules with my sister.

I explored business ideas

I like to make different types of things, and I’m trying to find a way to funnel my creativity into different business ideas. This has included making educational videos, language apps, punny Esperanto t-shirts, a web-portal for conlang games, and more.

I saw John Carmack give a talk at UMKC

John Carmack giving a talk

Ever since I read Masters of Doom as a tween, John Carmack had always been one of my biggest role models in the programming world. This year, he came to give a talk at UMKC – a university that he briefly attended, and where I got my B.S. from – and I went to see him. <3

I crafted

A purse I made for Rai’s mom prior to going to India

Cute nails that I painted

I’ve always been a crafty person but I made some cool crocheted things this year, as well as painted, drawing, and even doing nail art.

Other notes

I lost my dog

Rachel and Cyrus the dog

I’ve made a blog post about this already, but our childhood dog passed away this year, which was very hard. He’s been in my life for more than half of it, and now I still tear up to think about how I won’t get to hang out with him anymore.

Today, I woke up early. On Tuesdays, that means 8 am, since I teach my first class of the day at 12:30 pm. I woke up early in order to work on class materials for today and tomorrow, in the morning while I’m free to work from home with my coffee and bagel and music. Because once I’m in the office, my productivity takes a hit.

Over the weekend, I had prepared the topic lecture, made the video along side it. I built the homework and online quizzes. I still needed the actual in-class exercise for class today, which is how we spend the class periods for Discrete Math — I spend about 30 minutes lecturing, maybe more time if there’s some example problems to work out — then I have them work in their groups to learn the new material via these exercises. The exercises start them out simple and progressively get harder, with explanations before each section.

Went to my first section of Discrete Math, lectured, and graded things while they worked on their exercises. Home for lunch, then back for office hours for two-and-a-half hours.

I work on my exam for Data Structures tomorrow, which I had started last week but had not finished. My brain isn’t working; I feel restless, cramped, unhappy, anxious. I do not enjoy being required to physically be in a location when I can do the exact same work in other locations. I know how to be productive, I know what environment I work best in, but so many organizations and companies equate “time spent” with “productivity”, that a lot of my time ends up wasted.

I spent a little time video chatting with Rai from my office. I cried for a little bit, because the exhaustion is always there. I miss Rai, and I’m constantly tired, and I’m constantly working.

And then I keep getting arbitrary little tasks that eat up more time – write a short report in response to the departments’ personality tests on how I’m planning on working more effectively with somebody, reformat ALL OF MY SYLLABI because they don’t exactly match the department template (this is my fourth semester, and suddenly?), have weekly meetings on professional development for myself. One faculty member stops by for absolutely no reason, but makes up bizarre excuses to come talk to me, and it makes me hella uncomfortable. I’ve been told that I need to be physically present to show that I’m working. None of these things make me more productive; they make me less productive because I can’t get in “the flow”, they make me unhappy, they make me unhealthy.

I spent most of my office hours reformatting one syllabus. Because that’s a good use of my time.

Went to my night class, taught that. Came home, time to finish up that Data Structures exam for tomorrow – the multiple choice questions are done, and I worked on part of the programming assignment during my class tonight while the students were working. I still have to write the unit tests tonight so that I don’t have to spend as much time afterward on the grading.

I still have to come up with a list of, I don’t know… additional prerequisites for one of my Fall 2017 classes, because arbitrary reasons. I have to update these syllabi now. I have to finish grading my exams from last Thursday’s class. I have a lot of grading to catch up on in general.

I ate cheese in tortillas with some green salsa for dinner. For breakfast I had bagels, for lunch I had chips and refried beans. I don’t go out and exercise, except for the time that I walk to my destinations on campus. I usually don’t get enough sleep. I wake up anxious and feeling like shit. I have nothing to look forward to, because even if there were some new video game or something, I wouldn’t have much of any time for it. I can squeeze in an audio book on my 40-minute commute to KU. I usually watch YouTube clips of late night shows while I’m eating breakfast in the morning.

I still have to find a graduate advisor and set up my committee and write up my degree plan. I still have to do my own homework and study for exams and go to thesis defenses and write reports on them. All the professors are interested in thesis students; I want to do a grad project. I’m a “non-traditional student” who knows what the fuck I want, and I don’t want to spend years on that kind of research. I have ideas for grad projects. I want to do my own thing, get a degree, and open up more career options for myself.

And, as always, my startup gets put on the back burner. I don’t have time, and I certainly don’t have the emotional energy. I’m miserable.

And when people tell me “Work smarter, not harder” or “You have to make time” I just want to scream at them. My partner is stuck on the opposite site of the world, and has been there for the past four full months. Tomorrow is our anniversary. He was given two weeks notice to pack up his life and go back to his home country. On top of everything else I’m doing, I’m also trying to get our fiance visa paperwork done.

I wake up every day with the radio turning on to NPR. The news is constantly about 45 and his shitshow. I worry about the future. I worry about the climate. I worry about my friends and family, especially after this shooting in Olathe of an engineer from India. One of my students was friends with that man. I have students from so many different countries. Everybody deserves to be safe.

I’m so exhausted, but I have so much work to do. I try to get ahead of the pile at night, but it doesn’t help. I work slow, I’m sad. Then I keep getting handed more bs to work on that has no value whatsoever. I started the semester burnt out – the break between winter and spring semesters was not relaxing, with the political climate.

There’s nothing I want to do. I don’t enjoy anything except maybe junk food and sleep. I’m angry that I’m once again stuck where I am. I keep trying to work toward more freedom, but things just get worse.