2018 has come and gone. You know what, overall it’s been a pretty shit year for me but the goal of this blog post is to take a moment to practice gratefulness and to reflect.
The crappy bits
I started 2018 not being able to walk because I broke my ankle in December 2017 and couldn’t walk for 12 weeks. I was also starting a new job. 2018 saw me go through a relapse of depression because of broken leg blues and I went through 2 jobs. The first one wasn’t the right fit and the second one had cash flow problems. But still, these were unplanned events that made me feel like failure.
However that is enough moping about. What else did I achieve in 2018?
I spoke at the Selenium Conf in India in July. This was pretty cool. It doesn’t matter how much people tell you about cultural differences, it’s really worth experiencing some of these things yourself. I had never been to India before so that was exciting.
I spoke at a few more in Aus (Agile Australia, and Australian Testing days), you can see all of my recorded presentations here. I also attended a few offering my sketch noting services. I enjoyed being able to attend these conferences and add some value back.
Getting around on wheels made me appreciate public transport here in Sydney. Sure it’s not 100% perfect, but it’s definitely better than New York. Watch Zach Anner on his quest for the rainbow bagel using the New York public transport:
I’m binge watching youtube video’s, as I do when I’m doing nothing on the weekend and I stumble on this TED talk on co-housing:
This got me thinking of all of the different types of houses I’ve lived in over the years and I’d thought I share my stories and experiences with them.
My personal values are (I can actually use the mnemonic CASE to remember them);
Experiences over things
Living in sharehousing/cohousing actually aligns with my all of my core values in some way.
Student Housing in Sweden
I lived in Sweden as an exchange student for a year between 2009-2010. I lived in a corridor in a student housing complex. Each corridor had 13 separate bedroom & bathroom units and a central kitchen/lounge room that was shared amongst the 13 corridor tenants. Each floor had 2 corridors and most buildings 4 levels.
This student complex had a building for every letter of the alphabet. There was a communial laundry for every few buildings in the basement. The gym was in building A:
I lived in a Swedish corridor that only had 2 international student rooms. I’m really grateful for this mix because another corridor in our building was all international students. In my mind this was close to pretty much ideal living situations for a student. I had never felt this socially connected before. If there wasn’t a party happening somewhere in Delphi there was another student complex up the road that someone else knew where a party was happening.
Rent for this accommodation equated to about $125 AUD a week and included nearly everything. It was very reasonable and within my means being on government payments even though I didn’t receive rent assistance. I was getting around $375 AUD every two weeks from study allowance. My only extra bill was internet which was crazy cheap and fast (roughly $10 AUD per month for a basic 200GB package that had fast fibre speeds)
The only drawback I experienced in this situation was because I was only there for a year, I couldn’t personalise my space as much as my local Swedish neighbours could.
Variety of share houses
I’ve lived in a variety of share houses since then. While finishing uni I lived in around 5 different situations. Rents were between $60 AUD to $130 per week. I lived with a lady from Bangladesh and her two kids in a tiny apartment in Sandy Bay, in a old 3 story brick house in Glebe, an out the back granny flat in Glenorchy and a huge old house in Taroona.
Taroona was my cheapest share house but they came with some big problems. The house it self was huge. It was a two storey 3 bedroom house with a second loungeroom downstairs. We converted the downstairs loungeroom into a 4th bedroom. The total rent for the house was $270 per week. We had split the rent to between $60 to $80 per week per room. Only thing is the house came with a troll.
The troll of Taroona
There was a granny flat underneath half the house and it was occupied by a single guy. He was the troll in our house. He would bang on our floor when when we were being “too loud”, fill our house with the stink of weed, have random burnoffs in the back yard, have loud aggressive arguments with his ex misses about shared custody of their kid. He made living in this house very hard.
Another drawback to this place was one of my house mates was struggling with rent. Another housemate would vouch for him but he kept getting further and further behind. I ended up leaving that house with this person owing me over $1000 in food, rent and shared bills. I’ve never seen any of this money and I have never spoken to this person since then.
Communal Housing in Bland Street, Ashfield
Since moving to Sydney at the start of 2014 I’ve lived in about 9 different places. I haven’t had a lot of stability in my living arrangements. One of the more interesting places has become a old Victorian era town house converted into a communal community house in Ashfield, also known as Bland St. This house had around 11 bedrooms and 20-ish residents.
Sense of Community
I love the sense of community in this situation. I would often cook communal meals and had gardening and home brewing projects with a lot of the residents. I baked so many brownies. The average demographic was between 18-25 so I was a bit on the older side and most people were working holiday visa types. The house is always changing it’s personality.
Share rooms in Sydney
In Bland St most rooms were shared 2 person (usually strangers) per room. Sydney is ripe with this type of arrangement because rent is so dam expensive. I was paying between $150-$225 (ish) per week depending on the room arrangements and location. I’ve lived in this type of situation in Darlinghurst, China Town, Pyrmont and Ashfield.
The main drawback to co-sharing a room is the disrupted sleep. My depression gets when I don’t get enough sleep. The young vibe of Bland Street meant I felt like I drank too much alcohol, I still feel that now but at least I’ve reduced the social drinking urge.
Co Housing in the future?
It seems that co-housing in Sydney is starting to open up. For example apparently we opened our first co-housing in September this year. Only thing is, the rent for this is incredible expensive ($525 per week). I currently pay $300 per week for a my own room in a 2 bedroom apartment in Wollstonecraft. It’s a stone throws away from the train station. $350 is my maximum budget that I’m willing to spend on renting in Sydney.
I have an obsession with tiny houses. I have a loft bed in my bedroom. it’s pretty cool. I love the idea of tiny housing and being efficient with space. Small housing also has less environmental impacts, requires less resources to maintain and all that stuff. It’s been really nice to furnish my own room with second hand furniture and to experiment with space saving ideas.
My ideal living arrangements
Is probably a share house communal living arrangement. I would love to live in something like I did in Sweden where I can furnish my own space but partake in communal cooking. I’d love to live in a place with an easy to access community garden. It’ll probably be apartment based if I was in a city like Sydney or maybe wooden cabins based if I had my own land in Tasmania. I want something that’s nicely designed as opposed the regular cheap as possible option often seen here in Sydney.
I had a low day on Friday. I’ve had a persistent headache and fatigue for a few months now and a head cold on Friday brought out the worse of it. I’ve lived with depression for eight years now so I know when to have a day off to take it easy. Friday started with a 2 hour struggle to get out of bed. It was one of those days.
When I’m in these low moods my obsessive nature and harsh internal self critic can get completely hooked on little comments that people make. This blog is a reflection on this internal thought process to help you understand what might be going through a depressed person’s head.
In conversation someone mentioned something about, “… being a big girl”, it was related to me being able to look after myself. I responded with “I use to be a lot bigger” and someone else in the conversation added, “keep away from the pork and you’ll stay that way”. In the moment I didn’t think anything of it. But my obsessive nature got hooked and over the afternoon I couldn’t let it go.
I became completely obsessed over everything I had eaten recently infront of said company. I replayed the dinner we had recently over and over and over in my head. I counted every calorie, it came out to about 2000KJ and 10gm of protein. Then my internal harsh critic got on board. It starting saying to me, “you are fat, lazy good for nothing, completely worthless, you should just curl up and die”. So now there was a battle going on in my head, the obsessor just going over and over and the critic telling me I’m worthless. Normally these thoughts aren’t that loud but they get overwhelming on low days.
My obsessor wanted to figure out how to write a response to those comments. This blog post is an attempt at pleasing the obsessor because I am still thinking about it after 4 days.
I know those comments come from good intentions, people say these things because they care. The only nutritional goals I stick too (under the advice of my weight loss clinics nutritionist) is to get 60gm of protein a day and to take my daily multivitamin. I’ve had a lifetime of people commenting on my weight. I thought I had developed a thick skin for it, obviously I hadn’t. Or maybe it just hurts more the closer to home it is?
I’m at a stage now where I can try to practice self compassion (I try but it’s hard). I would catch these thoughts and tell myself, “that’s not a very nice thing to say Sam, you are one of most proactive people I know. You are so far from lazy and worthless it isn’t funny. Look, you even had lunch with someone who thanked you for your help with their CV recently and they are starting a new job soon because of you. Remember that Buddhist monk on youtube? Try and practice letting go.” Here is the youtube video I was thinking of:
How to be supportive
If someone has opened up about their mental health and they raise something like this with you, please don’t feel like you need to censor yourself. That is stressful and not healthy. Often when these things come up for me, I never raise them with the person who caused the trigger because I know deep down it’s just my mind overreacting. So being open and empathetic if someone does raise this is all I ask for.
Please be mindful of how your words can hurt. It reminds me of the common rhyme about sticks and stones I was told about as a kid. Here’s my new version:
Sticks and stones may break my bones
But harsh words from a loved one
Can make me wish I was dead
I’m grateful I’ve never been suicidal but I still live with this kind of depression on a fairly regular basis. My partner has probably seen me go through about 4 or 5 episodes now over a 2 year period.
I’m grateful I can be this open about this huge cause of internal stress. A lot of people who struggle with similar things aren’t as blunt as I am and keep the struggle to themselves.
I’m starting my goal setting early. I wrote this blog for goal setting for 2018. On reflection; I haven’t slipped back into obesity at least, which I was super concerned about as I spent the first six months of 2018 recovering from a broken ankle. Here’s my thinking behind my goal setting for 2019 and why I’m starting early.
Brainstorm everything I want to do
As an exercise, I listed everything I want to do and then asked myself, What do I have time to do? What is more important? What aligns the most with my personal values? I’ve had to eliminate a lot of extra curricular ideas and I still feel like I have a lot on my plate 🙁 .
I then came up with the following list of things that are really important to me. They are themed around personal, career, family and financial goals:
Beat the overweight label (personal)
Maintain a daily meditation practice
Write a book (career)
Teach my Nan digital marketing (career and family)
Launch an app
Pay off half of my credit card debt (financial)
Speak at one international conference and take my Mum
Brew two whole grain beers
Keep Sydney Testers going
Create enough content to run a 3 day workshop
Why start the goal setting early?
I’m going to focus on developing my morning habit for the rest of this year. I’m going to get up early, meditate and write before heading off to work. If I can do this for the rest of the year, I’ll be in a good place to expand it come 2019. The green in the following table is this minimum commitment:
I’ve put together an idea of what my ideal morning and ideal week looks like. If I do not put aside time to do things that are important to me, it’ll never get done. I reflected on what I could squeeze in. Unfortunately things like studying Japanese just don’t fit in financially and time wise. So here’s my ideal week to work towards in 2019:
There are some goals that I haven’t put aside any weekly or morning time for but they can’t easily be chipped away with a daily/weekly habit.
Keep goals measurable but hard to achieve
Everyone seems to be talking about Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) for goal setting these days. One of the important things with OKRs is that they are hard to achieve. When you reflect back on your goals you should be able to say you hit up to 80% of your objective. If you hit 100% you actually set your goals to easy. For example, I’m going to work towards beating the overweight label but I’m not going to consider myself a failure if I only get halfway there. By listing up my ideal morning/week it gives me an ideal to work towards but by highlighting my minimum commitments I won’t beat myself up if I have a bad week or two.
There’s no point in setting vague goals that you don’t tell anyone about. To ensure external accountability with my goals I’m going to;
Pay for a personal trainer for a twice a week weight lifting session
Go climbing with my partner every Wednesday and Saturday
Pay for a publisher’s time to help keep me focused on writing
How will you go about goal setting for next year? What measures will you take to ensure accountability? Please let me know.
I was first diagnosed with chronic depression back in 2010. I had just spent a year on exchange in Sweden and coming back just broke me. My boyfriend at the time kicked me out of home and I felt disconnected from all of my uni friends because my studies were no longer on par with them. So I fell into despair and couldn’t function with life anymore. I went to a psychologist; we did cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness training. I’m grateful for not having a major relapse since then but I can’t remember experiencing a large amount of time since where I didn’t feel some mild symptoms of depression. So this blog post is a reflection of living with depression for 8 years.
There have been ups
Don’t get me wrong. It hasn’t been 8 years of constant depression. Generally I’ll have something new or a change happen that will fill me with hope and energy for up to 3 months. Things like; starting a new relationship, moving houses, getting a new job, speaking overseas and having weight loss surgery. These are all amazing things. However I find myself coming back to a mildly depressed state. It feels like depression is my default rather than the exception. I can’t keep looking for external changes to increase my mood. It’s just not sustainable.
I have tried lots of things
Antidepressants, loosing weight, exercise, meditation, improving sleep and reducing commute to work. Anything that’s had a mild correlation in improving mood I’ve tried. Sometimes it helps in the short term but I’ve never been able to make any long lasting improvements. If it was as simple as “think happy thoughts” then I’d have been cured a long time ago. I’m going to have a chat to my gp next week to see if there’s anything in my diet that’s impacting me this time.
Impacts on day to day
Being depressed impacts my performance and engagement at work, my finances (I can’t easily control my impulsive nature when I feel like crap and just want any comfort), my health and my satisfaction with life. It’s a real downer. I withdraw from friends and family more.
I probably do too much
I’ve always had a tendency to look for external stimulation to make me feel good. Volunteering and getting involved with the community are really important to me. These things have a tendency to create burn out though. I really don’t know how to reduce this because everything I do is important to me. I can’t really attend hackathons anymore because I’m just so tired by the end of the week and when I don’t have that rest and recoup, by Monday I just want to curl up into a ball and have the earth swallow me up so I don’t have to deal with life anymore. I have an all or nothing approach, I don’t know what “sustainable pace” looks like.
So, what to do? I’m a little sick of feeling shit for no real reason. I know sleep is one the most important things for me to keep on top of but even that isn’t working. What works for you?
I haven’t blogged about mental health for a while. Here’s an update on where I’m at. Overall; this week I’m feeling good. I’ve been experiencing a reasonable amount of fatigue/change recently which has made the last two weeks a little low.
Breakdown at the bus stop
I had a mental breakdown at a bus stop a week ago because I was tired, cold, wet and was stuck waiting in the rain for bus for 15 minutes. I just cracked it, I’d had enough. I needed a good cry. Getting overwhelmed with emotions is fine, for me I just need to watch out when that sensation sticks around all day. This feeling didn’t stick around all day. So that’s some progress atleast.
Mindful Eating Practice
I visited my psychologist yesterday morning to talk about developing a mindful eating practice. I will be using an app called Recovery Record to track my food and mood over the next two weeks and this will be shared with them, I will also be putting aside one meal a day to practice mindful eating. Mindful eating is where you practice dedicating all of your senses to the act of eating; what do you smell, feel, hear, see, think and taste while you eat? Can you take as much time as you need to really enjoy your meal? Can you practice dedicating all of your focus to eating rather than being distracted by everything else?
Two weeks ago I started doing a meditation course with Nicho Plowman, one of the owners of Insight Timer (the company I’m working for). It’s a Vedic Meditation practice that is suitable for a busy lifestyle. It’s a silent mantra based and we are meant to keep up a 20 minutes twice a day routine. I’m currently meditating on the bus to work, in the evening in the office and wherever else I can get the time. I attempted meditation at the hair dressers when my partner was getting their hair cut. I didn’t exactly get a deep meditation but that’s the point of practicing in these loud and distracting environments. I had some negative emotions come up when I started, I would be overwhelmed with thoughts that would bring tears to my eyes but it’s not happening as much now. I’m generally keeping up the practice (I forgot completely to meditate on Sunday). I’m enjoying putting aside the time for it. I had been meaning to establish a meditation routine for ages.
Do you have a meditation or mindfulness routine? What works for you?
Have you ever found yourself with a strong desire to eat almost anything and thought to yourself, “why do I want eat?”, “Am I really hungry?”? Often the drivers for eating are emotions; we could be bored, stressed or feeling low. We could be looking for that quick comfort and unfortunately a lot of what we eat is unconscious; we do it without even thinking. It’s habit that feeds our desire to eat, here is an article on 5 reasons why you can’t stop eating.
I get this desire nearly every afternoon around 3PM when I’m at work, I just want to stuff my face. Sometimes anything will do. There’s been the occasion where I’ve pigged out on plain salada biscuits before. I’ve now started bringing baby carrots and baby cucumbers to work and sitting them on my desk for when that desire hits. I call it the carrot test. If I’m not hungry enough to eat something bland like a carrot/cucumber then I’m not really hungry. Sometimes I’m just bored/tired and looking to take my mind off work. I might be thirsty and confusing it for hunger. So after eating a carrot and having a glass of water I recheck with that desire. If it still exists, I’ll reach for some fruit. Carrots are my choice because they are a low energy density food. If I binge on carrots, how much damage can I really do?
The Carrot Test fails when there’s chocolate
Carrots can’t help me in the face of chocolate. I will stuff my face when there are these tasty morsels floating around. Sometimes I can’t help myself. I’ve always struggled when I’ve been in situations where there was ample food around. At a social gathering I’d be tempted to try everything and go back for seconds or thirds. Having most of my stomach removed has helped quell this desire some. My stomach physically doesn’t have the space to try everything, it has helped me curb my behaviour a little. There’s still situations where I find myself loosing control of what I eat but now the damage I can do to myself is reduced. I no longer feel guilty when this occurs, I’m trying to practice self compassion with my thinking but it’s a slow journey.
How do you control those desires? What habits do you try to form around food?
I enjoy performing. Don’t ask me why. I can’t explain it. You could say it’s something to do with the rush, or the perception of adding value or entertainment for other people. I want to tell you a few stories about my adventures in performing. Do you want to improve your performances? I’m available for free consultations on improving technical presentations.
During High School
I was involved with nearly every extra curricular activity I could sign up for. I was in the school concert band; I played trombone. I can legitimately say, “this one time in band camp …”. I was the fat kid in school, there weren’t many other kids fatter than I. I once got up in front of my whole school dressed up in a Santa suit and played Jingle Bells on the trombone. Talk about a nerve racking, getting out of my comfort zone experience. I got a laugh at least. I was in an Auslan signing choir (Australian Sign Language) and a singing choir too. In the signing choir we would often perform to retirement homes in the area and our signature song was, “I believe I can fly” by R Kelly. I could still sign to that song. What does a signing choir performance look like? Check out this example on YouTube;
Watching that makes me want to sign up to an auslan class and pursue deaf poetry.
I was also in a musical. It was called Wolfstock, it was a 1950’s themed musical about a 16 year old boy called Jay, his parents had sold his soul to the devil and had to get to wolfstock (aka woodstock) before the next full moon or else he would remain a warewolf. I played Wolfman Jack in act 2; a character based on the DJ host by the same name, I even had my own song. I’m sure the musical was terrible. My mum has it on tape somewhere. I’m sorry mum for putting you through all of my horrible performances in school.
I ran my own radio show on a community radio station called, “chat with an engineer”. I would interview engineers in our community and chat about the work they did. It was to help raise the profile of Engineering. I didn’t have the budget for the training course so I asked Engineers Australia if they’d paid for me to do the course. They did and I’m forever grateful for that. My biggest success was interviewing 2012’s Young Australian of the Year; Marita Cheng. She was visiting a high school as part of a Robogals visit and we were able to organise an interview.
I also started the Robogals Chapter in Tasmania. Robogals is a student run group who promote engineering and technology to young kids through lego robotics workshops with the goal of increasing female engineers. I taught robotics to over 1000 kids in tasmania in the 1.5 years I was involved with Robogals with next to no funding and while going through my first bout of chronic depression. I can’t understand how I was functioning, I wasn’t passing uni so let’s just say I wasn’t functioning very well. Teaching is another type of performance that I enjoy.
During my professional career the main performances I’ve been involved with are presentations. My most nerve wracking experience was getting up in front of the whole company during an all hands and talking about my struggles with depression. Getting that venerable in front of such a large crowd is another one of those big, “getting out of my comfort zone” experiences. It’s definitely made giving technical presentations easier. Interviews are another performance. A lot of people hate interviews, in a weird way I enjoy them. Having that opportunity to talk about my passions in software testing is what I enjoy. I am narcissistic. I remember doing a first year psychology 101 personality test during uni, I scored very highly on the narcissistic scale and I’m ok with that. It’s only an issue when it’s combined with a lack of empathy.
I’ve been involved with a few community bands since moving to Sydney. The Sydney homotones and Sunday Assembly being the main ones. I’m not actively involved with any now but I would love to join a community swing band. Or do some taiko drum classes. Or learn how to play the double bass. Garhhh, I can’t decide.
My favourite presentation has been my talk at YOW! Connected last year on using robots for mobile testing;
I was able to combine my passion for music, robots and mobile testing. #Winning at life.
I’ve collected a bunch of hints and tips on giving presentations. Reach out to me at sam[AT]thebughunter.com.au if you’d like a free consultation.
I find myself back on the job market after a break up with Campaign Monitor. I didn’t successfully pass probation. It was a mutual thing and both sides of the discussion were adult about it. These aren’t easy conversations to have and it doesn’t serve any purpose to get angry and rage quit. I am a little sad to leave because I enjoyed the company and people but I wasn’t able to advocate for quality in a way that added the business value they needed from the role.
Depression and Job Hunting
When I was job hunting around 8-9 months ago, it took me well over 2 months to find a job and interviews with over 13 companies (blog). However in that situation I wasn’t in a rush and was willing to wait for something that looked like it would fit me well. The constant rejections were hard to deal with; especially when I had been experiencing a spell of imposter phenomenon and feeling like I was not good enough for anything. I also broke my ankle during these job hunting efforts which had a huge impact on my mental well being (blog).
My broken ankle contributed to a relapse of depression at the start of the year. Because of this I wasn’t able to give my 100% to the new job at Campaign Monitor and this negatively impacted the engineering’s team view of the Quality Coach role. Once your perception of value is seen in a non favorable light, it is very challenging to recover. You only get one shot at leaving a first impression and your reputation is built up on that. I didn’t do a great job when I started, then I tried a new team and a new process and saw some improvements. However there were still some doubts if this role was what the company needed and if it was the right fit for my skills. I went to a third team for the last 3 weeks but I feel like the decision had already been made by that point.
Keeping Track of Job Hunting
I used a spreadsheet in my previous job hunting efforts to help me keep track of where I was up to with every company;
With this spreadsheet I noted the source of the lead; I was relying on mostly LinkedIn and a technical recruiter from Opus. I noted down where I was up to in the interview process, excitement for the role (out of 5) and any follow up notes. I also noted the few companies who contact me after I had received a successful job offer.
Will I do the same thing this time? I’m not too sure. I’ve got the luxury of around 2-3 weeks for job hunting before the personal budget starts getting a little tight but it would be worth experimenting with the spreadsheet again this time.
What am I looking for in a new job?
This time round I have more confidence in my skills as a tester. Last time I wanted to quit testing and try something different (either Android Development or Product Manager). However now I know I love growing my reputation for being known as a passionate tester. In a few years time I’d love to be running my own company focusing on running workshops for technical testing and mobile apps (e.g. TDD and kotlin, Continuous Integration and iOS). I’m not there yet so I’m looking for a mobile app testing role while I work on workshops in my spare time.
I’d love to have a role with support for speaking at conferences. I’m speaking at Agile Australia on how to get more people involved with testing in a few weeks, Selenium Conf in India at the end of June on using robots for mobile app testing, CAST in Florida in August on stories in becoming a quality coach. I now have an anecdote where that didn’t work out for me so that should be an interesting talk.