Marching Through the Wilderness

(How could I not title this post after one of my favorite David Byrne songs?)

Gus has a terrific post on his blog about what he calls “the wilderness” – a period of time between major software releases “where I’m pretty lost, and I don’t know what to do.” His working theory on the matter is that it’s basically a forced period of rest put upon you by an overworked brain. How do you get past it? The same way you walk out of any wilderness – “One foot in front of the other…You can walk for miles and maybe months in the wilderness. Just keep on going.”

I take comfort in knowing that I’m not the only one who experiences periods of low energy slogging through work like this. Unlike Gus, however, I don’t blame it on a stressed or over tired mind. For me, as someone who suffers from depression, I know that these periods aren’t just a symptom of working too hard, but that they’re actually just one part of a cycle between times of depression and times of whatever the opposite of depression happens to be.

I’ve been tracking my mental health through copious notes and journaling for three years as a way to better understand what triggers my depression, how long it lasts, and what I can do to work my way out of it. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that these periods always have an end. They’ll pass. If you have faith that that’s true, then it becomes easier to listen to your mind and not try and force things when the timing and mood isn’t right. In the same way that I take advantage of my mentally high states and code like a crazy person, I know to divert my focus to other more doable tasks when I’m at a low point. Rather than coding, I’ll update my FAQ articles, record screencasts, or do a deep dive into my marketing analytics safe with the knowledge that I’ll come through to the other side and return to coding in a better state of mind.

Gus equates escaping these periods with putting one foot in front of the other and continuing to walk until you find your way out. For me, I see it more as riding waves on a boat. There’s going to be low points just as there are high ones. The key is to keep sailing.