The basic problem is that I hit a problem. It was hard, and I couldn’t solve it after several days. So I thought I must not be a good enough programmer. And I succumbed to Fear. Also known as Resistance.
At times like this, I have to recognize the enemy. I have to recognize my mind has been infiltrated by enemy agents and has been turned against me. Resistance has won for the moment.
I’m not sure what it is about my personality, but I seem to do fear very profoundly. I suck it in really hard. I have no idea why. I couldn’t even tell you what it is I’m actually afraid of underneath it all. It’s probably something basic. But sometimes the fear is so overwhelming that I’m lucky if I can get out of bed in the morning.
Eventually the fear subsides. It ebbs or flows–it goes back to where it was before it came. And I can start to live again. I hope.
It would be great to have all of these insights about my Resistance so I could take the fangs out of it and it couldn’t touch me anymore. But I don’t have that much insight. All I have is this belief that I’m not good enough after all and I should take up child care or become a Walmart greeter instead of a programmer. That I should live a solitary life, because when anyone really gets to know me, it won’t end well anyway.
I’m working on a React.js app. It’s a glorified Quiz App that keeps track of your progress answering some questions as a full stack web developer. Once you register, log in and are authenticated, you have a profile page. The profile page has a chart of your progress in each of six categories: HTML, CSS, vanilla js, Node js, API’s, and MongoDB. I left out React. I’m not sure why. I’ll probably add it later. Anyway, after loading the historical data from a remote DB, the user’s profile page loads six pretty little charts at log in. One chart for each category of performance. It’s kinda nice. Except after I had a reducer (a central part of the React management of changing states during program execution) modify a local state prior to loading a user’s data, the chart no longer loads properly as it had prior to the change. I needed to make the change. And yet I cannot seem to undo the problem of not loading the charts right away. It seems like a problem of timing, because if I click an alternative view button of the data, the charts load great. But the default view doesn’t load at start up. That’s a problem.
And so far I have not been able to solve it.
Making the Problem Worse
If I were able to keep a normal perspective about this, I would probably tell myself something like: “Anyone could have a problem like this. It doesn’t really mean I’m a loser.” But this deep fear inside me distorts my perception, and my false belief over-rides a normal perspective. I believe the distortion. I cannot even look at the distortion. I have to run away and distract myself. I binge watch old television shows. Or I look at porn. Or I eat a bag of Snickers minis. Or I take a lot of naps. Anything to avoid looking my fear headlong in the face that I might just be too dumb to be a developer.
I’m sure there are indeed developers who are much smarter than I am. But it stands to reason that there are working developers who are not as smart as I am too. Any supporting evidence that “I might just be good enough, after all” disappears when I’m in the throes of this distortion. For me, this resistance is my devil. It’s my adversary. It might be the greatest of my inner deamons.
I am told that what I’m describing is Shame. I’m told that Shame triggers the fight or flight response and takes the Pre Frontal Cortex offline. Higher problem solving abilities become inaccessible at this point, and Fight or Flight or Freeze are the only options. This sounds exactly right to me.
I’m also told that once this Shame state of mind has been triggered, there is no immediate recovery. It’s like being shot or something: you have to get to the trauma ward. You need immediate trauma care.
In the case for treating a shame fit, you have to remove yourself from any conversations that had been a trigger for shame. You have to get away from whatever stimulus that triggered the shame fit. You have to apply large amounts of self-compassion and empathy. Self-Compassion and Empathy are the antidotes to Shame.
I guess turning to this blog might be a sort of trauma care for me.
I think another treatment would be being around other developers as human beings. This might be some of the best self-care available. Everyone can see him/herself in light of other human beings. We’re each not that great and not that awful. This becomes apparent when we get together with other people. Meet ups are a terrific idea.
There may never be any ultimate resolution of my Fear and Resistance. I’ve heard that Henry Fonda kept throwing up before stage performances right up until his final performances. For him, his greatness didn’t save him from his own Resistance. So if an actor as great as Henry Fonda could still struggle with his deamons at his stage in life, then I can let it be alright that I struggle too.
Perhaps that will be resolution enough. I can let it be okay that I continue to struggle.