During our Team Meetup in Hong Kong, we had several coworking sessions (we’re still assigned to work/do Support hours but for half-day/half of we’re usually scheduled on daily basis) and sharing sessions.
The topics for sharing sessions can be anything. For some folks, it’s an opportunity to practice for Flash Talk (this is another thing; Flash Talk is a 4-minute talk/presentation during Automattic’s General Meetup with topic about anything — and compulsory for Newmatticians) like what I did (I talked a bit about Hindu influences on Indonesia from history perspective) and one of my teammates talked about taking care of our mental health while working.
Working from home/distributed company, while proven beneficial on some aspects (no traffic jam while commuting! No pesky officemates looking over your shoulder and pulling your headphones! No people sneezing and bringing cold viruses on your general vicinity! No pants!), it gives certain risks too, just like many other job. Mostly, the risk is on one’s mental health on handling workload and socializing.
The company has been actively involved on mental health concern for as long as I can remember, and it’s even a part of the question list we got when we had our final assessment. Working from home, as enchanting as it sounds, can give you loneliness feeling and unable to separate your life and your work. Your work is inside your home.
My teammate talked about it during her sharing session, but it’s not until dinner-time, when we sat around a table in an Italian restaurant, waiting for our meals — while some of us threw some jokes and roared with laughter, I spoke to her.
“I’ve been neglecting some simple things in my life, and it makes me sad.
I’ve been neglecting my plants, I didn’t water them as much as I used to. I’ve been neglecting cooking. I’ve been neglecting bullet journal. I’ve been neglecting drawing and painting.
I feel like a failure. And I hate myself because I feel that way.”
She looked at me, leaned a bit, and told me.
“You are not a failure.
You should not let things that you love being taken away from you.”
My work as an Happiness Engineer makes me in a position to take care of other folks, our users. And me myself as a mother makes me in a position to take care of my family — especially my children. Most of times, it makes me feel overwhelmed and started to neglect things because I feel like I! Have! To! Do! This! First!
Everything feels like screaming for attention and being prioritized. But you know what?
Prioritize yourself first.
You can’t pour from an empty water jug, right? How are you going to do it? The jug is empty. No matter how hard you tried, no water will come out. You will end up more frustrated than ever and even smashed the jug.
It’s you — well, me, on this context — with your care and support. How am I going to support folks around me if I’m not supporting myself first?
Mind you, this is not selfishness. This is about taking care of yourself if you want to take care of others. This is not about martyrdom.
I’m lucky I’m in a workplace where AFK (Away From Keyboard) requests are encouraged when needed. When you feel like, “oh gosh, I can’t work today. My mental state is in a mess. I need a break from this,” it’s OK for you to apply for a break/AFK. When you are ready to work, you are ready to work.
How about people trying to abuse the system?
Contrary to popular myth, it’s really easy to see if one’s not performing in distributed work environment. There are tools to check our improvements and stats. And when our stats seem worrying, folks around us are ready to ask and discuss the issues we have.
I’m blabbing here. So back to prioritizing yourself first.
Take a break. You don’t have to go outside and/or spend money. Take a break. For once, leave the dirty dishes. It can wait 10 minutes longer and, yes, it won’t go anywhere. But you, you need that 10 minutes to sit, to drink, and to breathe. You will go everywhere. So take time to stop, even for 10 minutes.
Cry. Just… Go away with that silly idea of “a strong person doesn’t cry.” That’s rubbish. To be human is to cry. If a human supposed not to cry, we won’t have tearducts on our body. If things feel too overwhelming for you, please, feel free to cry. Cry tears of frustrations, anger, stress, and let it all go as you cry. Acknowledge your emotion, recognize that it’s there. To be mentally strong is not about shutting away your sadness or anger or disappointment. It’s about acknowledging they exist and manage them well; and crying is one of a good way to know that.
Smile. After crying, try to smile. You got this, awesome person, yes you. You have let it all go, now lets kick some ass. It’s double letting-it-all-go.
Try to re-check what you like/what makes you happy/what makes you smile. It’s about, borrowing from Marie Kondo, “sparks joy.” Team Meetup in Hong Kong gave me a good one week for me to revisit what I’ve been missing and what I can do to make myself better and actually improve. I realized I always loving cute stuffs, no matter how silly it looks. I realized I still love drawing and I still “got it” in drawing. I realized I love it when I know what to expect on my daily tasks. I went back home with that new understanding and I started to pick up drawing and bullet journaling again.
Understand that it’s always a process. There are times you will feel down even though you felt awesome yesterday. There are times you feel not-so-in-the-mood — and that’s normal. It’s a lifelong process, but I feel like we can always celebrate the yay-moments and acknowledge the sad moments, knowing it won’t last forever.
If it’s worth it, it’s worth doing it half-hearted. You can’t clean up your entire house filled with four kids but you tidy up your bedroom? Good job! You did something! You feel like a whack and a failure but you wake up, brush your teeth, and make a breakfast? That’s one good step forward!
Yes, sometimes we feel trapped. There are moments where you can’t think about the past or the future. It feels like you are trapped in your current situation forever. When it happens, please reach out. Talk to someone. Please don’t feel bad about talking with experts or medical support about your concerns.
In Automattic, one of our creeds is ‘Communication is Oxygen’. As a distributed company, communication is vital since we need to let other folks when we can assist them or not. When we need to take some time with ourselves, we need to communicate it so folks on the company will know when to reach us back. It’s even more when we need help.
And I hope it’s something all of us, whether you are in Automattic or not, will always believe. Communication is oxygen. Communicate. Talk to someone if you need somebody to talk to. I know it’s not always easy. Sometimes you feel like you are a burden, sometimes people just… Don’t want to talk to you, sometimes you have been trying but no-one listen. In that case, keep talking. If you can’t talk about it, write about it. Communicate it.
There are times when we unconsciously look for “cry for help”. When somebody on Twitter tweeted something, then some of us will go, “they are crying for help!” Yes, some people can be such assholes and encourage the person to “just end your life already!” Or “Jump! I want to see!” But please remember, there’s always always always one “DON’T JUMP!”-tweet, or “hey! You need a place to talk? DM me! I’m here!”, or “please stay alive. You are important.” Those kind words? They outweigh tons and tons and tons. Trust me. I’ve been there.