I tell this story, not to gain your sympathy, but more to be a cautionary tale.
As we head into Apple’s OS release cycle, I don’t have a lot to show for it this year. Not nothing, but not anything I would consider actually substantial. I know a lot of people who are in the same boat, and there are a variety of reasons. For me, one is there aren’t a lot of obvious hooks in this year’s OS releases that developers can build big new features around. SharePlay was going to be that for many, and even that’s been delayed now. But the other thing is, we’re still in the middle of a global pandemic, and I’m just really tired of everything.
Last year, around this point, I’d had a very frustrating summer – lots of Apple’s beta stuff didn’t work well, my motivation was at rock bottom, and I was even fed up with playing Animal Crossing, a game that got me through more of the early stages of lockdown than I’d care to admit. I had a long list of features I wanted to get done, but most of it hadn’t come together at all. But I kept pushing myself, and worked really long days and evenings to get everything ready for day one, as I usually do. In a normal year, by around the end of November, I’d go on vacation somewhere sunny to recharge my batteries. That year, I wasn’t even happy to leave my house.
Instead of that needed break, my chronic neuropathic pain – a condition I’ve dealt with ok using medication for twenty years – decided it would turn things up to eleven. As a result, I couldn’t actually sit at my desk for more than an hour without discomfort, which would quickly turn to stabbing pain if I kept going. That’s ok, I had a standing desk. I’ll just adjust the way I work. Of course, my back didn’t like me standing for more than a couple of hours either, so I had to cycle between a variety of positions.
I kept working as I could, while I tested a variety of new drugs with increasingly awful side effects and no actual benefits. The side effects were mostly around my vision – losing my vision being one of my biggest fears, he foreshadowed. I was determined to show the pain who was boss, and released a big Mac update to PCalc in January.
“Have you tried mindfulness?”, the pain doctors asked, as I started to exhaust the limited number of medical options available. I got poked and prodded and scanned, and everybody could agree that there was no actual identifiable cause to the pain – just as there wasn’t 20 years ago when it started. It’s just my nervous system misfiring in variety of new ways. You might think there’s lots of medical research around this stuff, but there really isn’t. “We don’t know” was a common refrain when I asked questions.
I did a lot of updates to Dice by PCalc after that. After the PCalc About screen, Dice had become my new happy place, where I could explore new technology, and do something fun to take my mind off the fact that I was going to live with this increased pain going forward, and realistically, it would probably continue to get worse for the rest of my life. So, I might not have been making much progress on the code that actually paid the bills, but at least I could keep myself mostly sane and distracted. I did lots of experiments in AR and networking – some of which worked, and some of which very much did not. But I could still be a productive worker, which was the important thing.
The morning after a first particularly unsuccessful real-world test of the multiplayer code, I woke up to find that I could not focus my left eye – my one actually good eye. This wasn’t great. I’d had some problems like this before – I will spare you the details, but it involves tears. No, not like the stuff that comes out of your eyes when you are sad. Tears. Like, in the fabric of reality. Or your cornea. I lied about sparing you the details. Usually, they healed up in a couple of days, and all was good. But this time, it improved a little bit, and then stopped.
The ophthalmologist was not particularly sympathetic, saying my eyesight was actually still very good for somebody my age, and there wasn’t anything obviously wrong with my eye. As an aside, I really hate that phrase somebody your age, and it is not as reassuring as you think it is, medical practitioners. Anyway, I expected my eyesight to decline slowly as I got older, but not overnight… So, I couldn’t actually look at any screens without my reading glasses, but even then I got massive headaches. It took another three weeks to end up with a new prescription which only now gives me mild headaches and nausea. Hopefully that will be improve over the next few weeks. Progress? Perhaps. But progress is also the thing I’ve not really been able to make for the last month either.
I think in both cases, it’s my body trying to tell me something, in the only language it thinks I will understand – by breaking. And that something is just stop. We’ve all been in fight-or-flight mode for around 18 months. I’ve not been able to (safely) see my friends in person or travel or even just truly relax.
The world is still not in a great place. Even aside from the various political, economic, and environmental disasters that are slowly unfolding around us, the pandemic is still nowhere near over. Using the phrase “post-pandemic” right now seems unusually cruel when most of the world is still decidedly mid-pandemic. They just wish they weren’t, and some have convinced themselves we just need to get back to the business of doing capitalism and everything will be ok. And, it should be said, I’m in a great place of privilege compared to many. Financially, my business has been doing ok, given the circumstances, and I have way more control over my life than many. I can afford to take a month off work, or prioritise my and my family’s safety. I am absolutely extremely lucky for what I have.
But here we are. The day before the keynote, and I don’t think I have ever cared less about what will be announced. I feel like a really bad developer for that. Actually, it seems I don’t care much about anything these days, and I feel like a really bad human for that too. My natural inclination is to try to help people, and provide emotional support for others where possible, and I realised recently that I had just run out of emotional energy reserves. I don’t feel depressed or anything – I actually think I’m handling most of this stuff pretty well, all things considered. But the creative side and the emotional support side seem pretty intertwined, and both are pretty much running on empty for me right now.
Recently, the thought occurred to me that this sounds a bit like burnout, and I think that is exactly what it is. This thread by Dr Shreena Unadkat really resonated with me, about how we all pushed ourselves into trying new things to try and deal with the pandemic, and how that’s not exactly sustainable.
Anyway, I don’t really have a conclusion here, other than to say if you are feeling like me, you are definitely not alone. Oh, and to apologise that my app updates are a bit shit this year. But I’m trying to do my best to be ok with that, and you should too – life is not normal, we’re all a bit broken right now, and pretending to each other that everything is just fine is not actually helping anybody!