When I had decided to teach myself to code, I suffered two great losses in my life. I lost a dear close person to suicide and my family split and broke up. These two events were not related, but they happened in the same year. I felt such a loss and grief as I have never experienced before. I did not have emotional capacity to deal with them. My career was going nowhere. I felt like I had no future, I had to collect bottles from family members to earn my pocket money. I was forced to stay and endure a stressful environment (police officers were walking by my room as I was trying to focus).
I was also struggling for my life… due to depression. Suicidal ideation was not a stranger to me. I was not getting any professional help. Professionals working in the public health system seemed to me like they did not care and I could have not afforded a private therapist (fun fact, I actually purchased first therapy session with my first coding paycheck). I was not even aware that this kind of thinking and feelings were not healthy. Lucid nightmares and sleep paralysis were regular, I often got a rash over my whole body, my kidneys would hurt, my heart would race, insomnia kept me awake and gave me a lot of time to study.
I think the moment when you have the most strength is when you are pushed against the wall, when you have to fight for the air, when there is no other option other than fight. You run the fastest if you are being chased, right? I was literally fighting for the air due to my regular panic attacks. While commuting, I often had to leave the bus in the middle of nowhere because I did not have enough air. I felt like, I had so little air to breathe, that I had to struggle more fiercely.
While I was teaching myself to code, I remember feeling like an impostor. You know that feeling of insecurity and questioning your abilities? That feeling was a usual thing to me. For a person with depression and anxiety it is just a regular Tuesday. I heard how badly I was, every day, all the time. When you are depressed, you might find yourself questioning your ability to fit in the world and life, not only in coding. Like all these people around you have such a bright future and key to never ending happiness. Only you are a loser with low capabilities who should just give up and surrender to nothingness.
Impostor syndrome could have not stopped me from my quest because I was so used to it. This kind of error in thinking helped me deal with other people in the dev community as well, who tried to discourage me from coding. There was nothing that they could have said to me that I already did not hear from my inner voice:
What are YOU doing here? Didn’t you study humanities?
Obviously, none of this has stopped me. I kind of got used to not listening to that inner voice or to other people who were standing in my way.
But, even when I got a first coding job, I still felt inadequate. I was surrounded by “real” developers. They all had college degrees, years of experience and most of all, confidence. I, on the other side, knew a lot about literary theory: Roland Barthes, Julia Kristeva, T.S.Eliot, I could talk about their philosophy for hours. But in this new environment all that knowledge meant a little, or at least that is how I felt at first.
Maybe if I did not have a mental illness, the impostor syndrome would have a higher impact on me. Maybe I would feel discouraged or maybe I would have given up. Maybe depression pushed me even harder to fight for air and freedom. Maybe these feelings would have been new and overwhelming to me and I would have not known how to deal with them. Maybe snarky comments from other devs would have discouraged me. Maybe…
As time passed I kept learning, watching tutorials or playing with code. Then I realised several things:
- These other professional devs have only time advantage, nothing more.
- They were once here in a similar situation as me. If they could do it, I can do it!
- My inner voice is lying to me. There is no way I could not handle this. I have mastered such complex theories and coding did not seem any more difficult than that.
- It is just a matter of time when I will land a job. Since I have been learning constantly, my skills can only go up and therefore it will increase my chances of landing a job.
- Giving up was not an option. There is no other way than to succeed.
- Learning to code can not harm me. My life can only gain value. Only good things can immerse from coding.
- Coding was a light at the end of a tunnel for me. A hope for a better future. It was a breath of fresh air.
- Optimism is a survival skill. Whatever happens, it is going to be a ton of easier if you can find something positive.
I remember promising myself:
I am going to look for a job until I get it. Even if it takes me my whole life.
Luckily, it took me “only” a year or so.
My message to anyone who is trying to get a first job in coding is (whether you have mental health issues or not):
- Keep knocking on the doors. Send them your CV and portfolio even though you might feel incompetent for the job. At least you will practice writing proposals!
- Keep learning. Look at the job posts and see which skills you are missing!
- Build your own projects. Impress your potential clients!
- Study other people’s code. Find your coding hero and mimic them.
- Just keep going forward. Keep pushing, studying, sending CVs
Once I landed the first job, the nightmares almost completely stopped. As years passed, I kept increasing my skills and income. My network of supporting developers grew a lot and is still growing. Panic attacks became a thing of the past. I managed to move out from a stressful environment and to start building my own life. I invested a lot in therapy, public and private.
I have built many apps and websites, my pens were often shared and featured on various blogs, I gave talks on meetups, started my own meetup group, encouraged others to code, mentored a lot of students, mentored refugees, I gave lectures in Ireland and Netherlands, I founded my own company, I have worked with clients from all over the world! I received so much positive feedback about my skills from many different people: students, clients and colleagues. I felt less and less as an impostor.
Even though many years have passed since I first started learning, I am still learning today. And I love it! ❤️ I don’t feel impostor syndrome as strong as before, not even close! But still, there can be a moment when I feel it again. It happens less often, it is not as loud as it was before. I learned to accept it as part of myself and my career.