At New Year, many people write a retrospective of the old year, and about their hopes and dreams for the new.
The roots for my own changes over the last year really lie earlier: 2017 was the year when a health scare saw me rattling around the PHPNW Conference spaced out on a cocktail of drugs as the doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with me. My memories of the Conference are very fragmented, and the medics never did figure out the problem: fortunately my body resolved the situation (whether assisted by the drugs or not); although I spent much of that last Christmas/New Year period in agony from the side effects of some of the medications that I’d been prescribed.
But mentally at the beginning of 2018 I was also in a really bad state.
The uncertainties of Brexit certainly didn’t help, nor did the toxicity and hatred directed toward those who had voted Remain… and a Government that seemed hell-bent on taking the UK over a cliff. But Brexit wasn’t the only issue that was filling me with despair.
I was in an unfulfilled marriage, that hadn’t really been working for several years, and which was leaving me emotionally drained, and growing more and more toxic.
And while my last year or so working at Innoved hadn’t been as stressful as the early years, I was still burned out. A change of job to start working at PayBreak should have rekindled my enthusiasm for work, but it didn’t work out that way. I wasn’t right for the role, and it wasn’t right for me; and while I can’t fault PayBreak, I was glad to escape again, although job hunting can be its own little hell.
The start of a period of not working found me attending several conferences in quick succession (PHPYorkshire, PHPKonf Istanbul, PHPSerbia, and the Dutch PHP Conference), and reflecting on my situation. It was in June that I was awakened to just how bad I had let my situation take me toward a point where there was no turning back; but also to how I was still capable of being truly happy, and that it wasn’t too late to change the self-destructive path that I was on.
Throughout my life, I’ve always tried to be upbeat about everything, always looking for the positives, always looking forward to anything new with excitement and anticipation. I awoke to the realisation that I had let my hopes and dreams wither and fade, that I had let complacency become the driving force in my life. Worse! I was living in a state of self-loathing at what I had become. There was nothing positive in my life; just a downward spiral toward despair… and yes, I had several times thought of putting an end to it all. I woke to the fact that if I didn’t change anything soon, then before long I wouldn’t be in a state to change anything. If I stayed on the same path, it would destroy me, either making me accepting of existing in that mind-numbing state, or self-destructive as the only escape.
And so I changed. I started looking to Europe for work, not simply as an escape from Brexit, but as a clean, fresh start. Though it was painful for us both, I separated from my wife: that toxicity was damaging to us both.
I looked to Amsterdam, a city that I love visiting, and found a new role there. It’s exciting and challenging and fulfilling, and working with a good group of diverse people who stretch me again. I’ve found a new apartment close to the city centre, and am slowly getting settled again; but I’m not going to let myself get too settled to a routine. I’m enjoying the thrill of living once more. I’ve pushed back at all those comfort zones that I’d grown into, whether that’s deploying direct to production, or learning new technologies, or doing new things with new people. It isn’t always easy to break through those self-imposed barriers, but it’s always worthwhile.
I don’t know what 2019 holds in store; yet now it’s no longer simply another year of life, but a new adventure. I have hopes and aspirations again, New Years Resolutions if you will: organising a hackathon, reviving Geeks and Games, more frequent blog posts, a major new release of PHPSpreadsheet, perhaps even organising a tech conference. Whether they’ll all come to fruition or not, I don’t know. And that doesn’t really matter. If they don’t happen, it will be because they’ve been replaced with something else equally exciting. When we have the opportunities, life should be lived as a magical and crazy adventure, not simply as a humdrum existence.
May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art – write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.
– Neil Gaiman
I know that I’m lucky. I was shown a mirror before it was too late for me, and I can afford to make the changes that I needed to make, and that not everybody is in the same fortunate position as myself. But for me, 2018 has been both the worst and the best year of my life. I’ve glossed over a lot of the details here, and tried not to impart any blame on anybody. The dark situation that I’d found myself in was one of my own making – through complacency, and fear of change and of the unknown. The future is uncertain, but I’m willing to embrace that uncertainty now as a challenge; and that too is a situation of my own making.