2021 Annual Update

I’d planned to post this much earlier in the month, but I guess it’s become a tradition to give an update on myself and my plans on or about the 25th of January. I’m trying to get accustomed to talking about myself on this blog (in addition to VB). After all, I am the eponymous topic of the domain name, but I’ve usually avoided in favor of posting one-offs in gists and stuff. There are reasons for that I’ll explain one day but I’ve rethought it and decided to open up a little bit more. While I know most people follow me to read about VB (and I still have oodles to say on that topic), I think it helps to have an outlet for my personal thoughts as well.

So, let’s talk about me in review and me looking ahead and what I’m working on with regard to my beloved language 😀

The Bonus Year

I debated whether to share this but in a lot of ways the current phase and perspective of my life traces back to an inflection point on October 8th, 2019. Don’t worry, there’s a happy ending (obviously). I don’t know that I’d call it “rock bottom” but it was definitely a local minimum.

While earlier that month I’d already suspected that I wasn’t as well as I thought I was and resolved to re-engage the mental health system (an epic tale for another day), while idling thinking about something else in the car I remembered that my upcoming birthday on the 12th wasn’t just any birthday; it was my 35th birthday. 35 being a really nice number I got to thinking that that Saturday (said birthday) was something of a natural stopping point. For me. It wasn’t in response to anything. In some ways it was in response to nothing. I just felt like I did some great stuff and didn’t have other imminent plans and it was a solid run. Even now over a year after the fact my hands tremble just thinking about it.

And while my tone now is a bit matter of fact, but at the time I was broken down crying in my car on the side of some street dreading the prospect that the next 3 days of my life would be the runaway part of my brain fixating on that train of “logic” and that the controllable part of my brain which very much terrified about the whole thing would be able to mount no compelling counter argument in that time.

Now, obviously I’m here writing you all, so you know how it worked out. The details aren’t important, but I got two very unlikely(ish) phone calls from my dad and my grandmother (birthday Oct. 9th). They weren’t about what was going on in my head at that moment, in fact neither of them had any idea that half an hour earlier I was—well I told you what I was—they had no idea. My dad just surprised me. I’d asked him for a longshot favor and didn’t at all expect him to say yes but he did, and I was just kind of shocked. And my grandma just gave me a completely different problem to fixate on and an idea on a neat short-term future that got me visualizing myself in a future beyond Saturday.

The point of this dark trip down memory lane is that I was on a kind of high after that for most of 2020. Despite it being a pretty yucky year globally and locally for me it was a sort of “bonus year” in that for a bit there I didn’t expect to have a 2020 so whatever was happening was gravy for me. I’m in a drastically different and better spot now than then though the year was absolutely full of stressors and struggles. It was just a matter of perspective.

Having said that, I think I’ve hit a plateau at least with my meds and occasional therapy sessions (damn you, COVID). I’ve been coasting and I need to take more steps to get further gains.

Quieting the voices

First let me say that for the most part you all in the community have been great this last year. Words of encouragement and comradery on an internet that’s all too often anything but encouraging or … comrader…ly?

ASIDE: Literally just purchased that domain name. Don’t know what I’ll use it for but the first step to building a great app is picking a trendy name! I can’t wait to see whatever that app turns out to be.

I digressed.  With very few exceptions most of the feedback I get is positive. And just know that there are individuals who still care and are working to move the VB community forward is also encouraging. Without any instigation from me I’ve seen a bunch of you all rolling up your sleeves building skills and saying this still matters to you and it really does inspire me.

The problem isn’t exactly the reality but my anxiety. In addition to depression, I have an anxiety disorder. So, I spend a lot of time thinking about potential futures. Many of them unpleasant. I’m also a perfectionist. There are a few reasons I didn’t blog more often in 2020. One is that every time I thought it might be a good time something absolutely horrible happened in the world and I didn’t really feel like it was appropriate or respectful to talk about my normal topic, which while near and dear to me, isn’t terribly important in the grand scheme of things. Another is that I’m super pre-emptively critical of my writing. I spend a lot of time thinking not just about what I want to say on any given day but how it fits together in a larger picture. Whether people will be confused if I don’t say enough or say things out of order, whether they’ll be bored if I say too much, whether they’ll be derisive, whether it’s thematically coherent, disappointing, underwhelming, do I have enough supporting evidence, will anyone believe in anything I’m saying, etc.

I’ve got a content outline/backlog that’s two pages long at least. But I do think a lot about the best way to present it. And while, as I said, the vast majority of feedback has been positive, I’ve occasionally gotten feedback that was just downright infuriating. In 2019 I wrote a series of posts about top-level code in VB across 5 different scenarios. I knew when I started that all 5 scenarios were going to be, and that the payoff was going to be relevant to the top-of-mind issues of web and mobile development. But I didn’t set it up right, I guess, because after my very first post on it some community member sent me a message that was infuriating. I can’t remember who because I deleted the message and all evidence of the message but the gist of it was that it was a terrible idea and a waste of time and that no one anywhere should spend anytime working on or thinking about it and it wasn’t going to help the community and that I was “brainwashed” by my time at Microsoft to focus on unimportant things, or whatever. I think maybe he unsubscribed? Now, obviously I think he’s wrong, but it was still very stressful and maybe I could have forecasted better to keep him from reacting that way.

I think of myself as a very empathetic person, and having a mood disorder, I’m affected by strong negative emotions and panic and chaos from folks, so I usually try to calm the room down when people are yelling “fire” as much for the sake of proceeding orderly as for my own wellbeing. (In hindsight I think I regret trying to pacify fires as often as I did honestly).

And the last reason is just that while I’m better than I have been at times in the last 5 years, I’m not “normal”. I’m not at 90% or 80%. And I prefer to write when I feel … clear headed. At peace. Positive. I want to write so much more than I do. I compose and revise and outline in my head constantly. And every day I think “I’ll write that down when I feel better. I just need to sleep this off. Tomorrow I’ll feel great”. Spoiler, I rarely feel great. Every day I tell myself I’ll be better and honestly most days I fail.

So yeah, I spend a lot of time beyond managing my own personal life thinking about how others will receive what I want to say. Too much time. And I’ve been getting a number of reach outs in the last several weeks to the tune of “So what is `Next`?”  And I realize that while I don’t actually think we’re in imminent danger even now, it’s not helping anybody for me to keep all of my thinking to myself as long as I have waiting until I have the perfect Tolkienesque narrative structure or until I have one of my rare moments of emotional clarity (incidentally I am writing this from such a place). I have to take more active steps to make it happen (in addition to professional behavioral therapy).

To that end, this month I’m testing a hypothesis with some promising results. You see, while I am not entirely in control of my depression/anxiety I have gleaned some insights from my experiences. Others I’ll share eventually but the relevant one today is about that anxiety I mentioned. I suppose there are others who genuinely hear literal “voices” in their head due to their mental health issues. I do not, in that literal sense. For me the “voices” are my own thoughts. My doubts, extrapolations, interpolations, simulations, etc. Irrational but ever present. And not just about this blog or code I write but about all manner of things, politics, economics, social issues, dating, etc. How the world will react to anything I do, anything I say. Friends, family, whatever the topic. It’s like a heavy weight I carry and have been carrying an exhaustingly long time. Very rarely do my fears play out as I imagine. I’m not sure they ever have, actually, but that’s just what my brain does. Foreseeing how things won’t work is actually a good skill for a language designer, but in other domains it can be problematic.

So, I figure if my problem is unrelenting anxiety about feedback from my online audience, if I simply remove all mechanisms to receive any feedback at all, logically I’ll have far fewer scenarios to be anxious about. You can fear what you know to be literally impossible. To that end, as of New Years day this year I’ve suspended virtually all of my online accounts. Facebook, Messenger, Snapchat, Instagram, dating apps, email notifications from GitHub, gitter, Discord. I’ve turned off all comments on my blog and removed the feedback page. I leave Twitter because it’s one way folks are notified when I post, and WordPress does that on its own. I’ve otherwise turned off Twitter notifications. In a sense I’ve cut myself completely off from the online world in one direction (inbound) and mostly in the opposite direction (outbound).

And get this. The very next morning the “voices” in my head were 80-90% quieter. There’s like a tiny little background thread of anxiety that knows I still have a Twitter account and that all hell could be breaking loose there. Anger, confusion, ridicule. But maybe I’ll just never log in again or something. Anyway, my mind isn’t thinking about “what ifs” nearly as much and that development was immediate.

So now, I’m going to try my best to just… dump content here not entirely haphazardly but maybe in what I might otherwise consider a first or second draft state. Maybe my spelling and grammar will be unprofessional and garbage-tier. If it bothers people or is unclear… ok. I’ll never know. It’s “not observable”. I’m sure once I put it all out there, I can look back over it and put together some kind of index page with a recommended reading order and make some retroactive edits or something. But every step of the journey won’t be overshadowed or threatened by how the world does or even might react to that one step in isolation. Sort it out later. There is some precedence for this. My very first blog post here only happened after sequestering myself in my apartment for 5 straight weeks. I should clean more this time though.

And I’m happy to say that a week or two into this experiment I woke up one morning with a new key insight about things that put several other topics I was trying to frame into a much better context. I freely wrote a 2-page outline of topics and points to go over in the coming months that had been bothering me for months. It always amazes me how much you don’t see or how much your creatively drops when you’re steeped in stress.

“Have you considered just… not worrying about any of this stuff anymore? Shouldn’t your health be your priority?”

I imagine this is a question. The short of it is this: I suspect part of my mental distress stems from an inability to self-actualize. That is to say, be exactly who I want to my utmost and do the things that I want to do. I think that the dissonance between where I am/the direction I’m headed, and where I want to be contributes to depression. Giving up things I love or want won’t make me better, it’ll make me worse. I have a vision that’s very different from what I’m seeing elsewhere and realizing that vision, however inefficiently, can only make me feel better about my life. Stripping away what you care about isn’t how you convince yourself to keep living.

OK, so enough about me, what am I working on (VB.NET-related)?

I feel very strongly that through the extensibility mechanisms already present in the various platforms we have all the tools we need to pursue continued innovation for the VB experience. I’m working on my particular vision of what that experience can be. I have to solve a few gnarly design problems before I have something compelling to show (no more prototypes for me!). At some point I’ll reach out to others with expertise in other areas to help out. If you’re feeling restless, seriously, go build your skills in doing anything. Extending anything. Making anything. Code, articles, whatever. Moreover, I think solving our current predicament in the VB.NET community is only 60% doing stuff and 40% psychological. This shift in mindset is long overdue and would have been necessary no matter what happened. My content for now will be about my own journey to discover both what I think the North star could be and my own personal North star as far as what I want for myself programming-wise for the next half of my professional life. I figure I should pull the curtain up sometime between the late-March and any time in May.

Happy 2021,

-Anthony D. Green