For as long as I can remember, I’ve been subject to occasional insomnia due to unsolved problems. My brain just doesn’t like to leave them that way. I’ve also been subject to stress dreams which tend to hit me… well… when I’m stressed. No earth-shattering revelations here! I’m pretty sure most programmers can relate… As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure this translates pretty well to all walks of life.
By this point in life, I’ve learned to mitigate these issues with some meditation techniques that I’ve picked up over the years. I have been very successful with these techniques, and I highly recommend them to aid with this sort of thing. Some nights, however, are just too intense. Try as I might, I just can not calm my mind enough to sleep. Last night was one of those nights. It was so bad, that I ended up out here, on my laptop, with full intent to write a blog post about it at 4:00 AM. Instead, I read the internet. But I’m here now!
Truth be told, last night was not a unique occurrence of late. Although, it was the most severe case, I’ve been struggling with it quite a bit over the last week or so… especially in the stress-dream area. What’s different lately, you may ask? Well, I’m between jobs right now… and I mean that quite literally… Yesterday was my last day at my previous job and tomorrow is my first day at the new one. I had been at my previous job for almost 10 years. I hear that such a tenure is somewhat unusual these days, but I had always been given the opportunity to grow there, so it just worked out that way. It also turns out that it is really hard to walk away from an environment in which you are consistently surrounded by talented developers. By the time I left, my title was “Software Architecture Manager”. It looks very fancy, but what it really means is that I was responsible for making sure the different software layers, crossing various languages, were all trending in the same direction. I spent a lot of time at the white-board and in meetings trying to guide the designs in a way which would allow us to remain flexible enough for the (often unpredictable) future customization request. I also got the pleasure (no sarcasm intended) of being the caretaker of a proprietary PHP application framework that I had heavily contributed to over the years.
So it turns out, that’s pretty stressful. Now, I’m not out for a shred of pity. I embraced that environment and I had mountains of help from some some very talented colleagues. The interesting part about it… and the part which has spurred this post… is that I don’t think I realized how stressful it was while I was in the midst of it all. That makes me wonder… how many of us live with these unrealized burdens every day?
Another interesting tidbit is that the dreams have been increasing over the last two weeks, yet my stress has been steadily decreasing since I started handing over my responsibilities. I had to force myself to let go of the design decisions; I had to convince myself to be less invested in the meetings. This, very necessary process, inherently lessened my burden.
This seemingly inversely proportionate response is a bit confusing to me. My burden was lessening, why were the stress-dreams increasing? Is it possible that as the stress decreased, my brain realized what has always been there and is trying to process them? The dreams themselves were stressful, so was my brain trying to manufacture a feeling of stress to fill in the increasing void?
At the end of the day, I may never really know what has been causing the dreams, and it doesn’t really matter; they’ll pass like stress-dreams always do… But what does matter is that I was obviously under much more stress than I had been aware of. This is something I definitely need to watch out for as I grow; I cannot possibly expect to manage stress effectively if I don’t even know it’s there!