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Desk Lunch Issue 38
She’s Back At It: On Taking It Slow

Before it happened – it, that terrible thing – I was working ten hours a day, attending a coding bootcamp that required us to crank out as much code as possible, subsisting on caffeine and beer and little else. It was bad, really, but I was invigorated, loved coming home to Carroll Gardens after a long day of work and collapsing into bed, taking the 4 train into Manhattan every morning and getting ready to work and work and work. I was happy, but unhealthy, I guess. I knew things would taper down eventually; I’d get a job and segue into a nice little 9-to-5, lose the tummy pudge and pull in a decent salary. It was going to be okay.

Then I was in an accident that altered my body in a drastic way and everything changed. It was distinctly not okay.

It has been ten months since then – and what a ten months – moving back home, weeks and weeks of bed rest, relearning to walk. For much of this time I was in no headspace to work; I needed to give myself time to grieve and adjust, to settle into my new life. In my spare time (it was all spare time) I read things, books about city building, modern-day technology, people navigating life in college. When I couldn’t focus, I watched Terrace House, or listened to repetitive house music playlists on YouTube. There wasn’t much else I could do for a while – I didn’t have the energy.

In a weird way, though, my accident and its subsequent time of calm was something I dearly needed – my former hectic life was not one I could have sustained, even if I’d finished my bootcamp and gotten a job. I loved New York and was sad to have left it, but I was getting sick, my brain turning into a mush of bad code and late nights and little else. I’m not thankful for what happened, of course, but I found myself beginning to appreciate the chunk of time I had – still have – to re-orient post-accident, to figure out what I wanted to do as a job and to learn as much as I could.

As time has passed, I’ve been able to ease myself back into work, tentatively taking on a small internship and learning more about things like Redux and Typescript. I’m still a baby coder – my bootcamp did a wonderful job of teaching me the basics, but even a junior software developer position feels beyond me right now. That’s good, though, I think; it means I can pick and choose what to learn, what direction I want to go in.

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How do you step back into a working life after what might be involuntary time off? How does your perspective change? Certainly it’s not the same for everyone – different things happen to different people, and everyone deals with life in their own way. But time moves strangely, in circles and bursts, and sometimes there’s a flat slate of it in front of you that you’re not sure what to do with.

I think there tends to be an excessive focus on using extra time “productively” and, subsequently, pressure to fill empty stretches of time with constant making, learning, doing, and so forth. Certainly none of these things are bad. But too much of them, the intense grinding mindset of “I always have to be achieving something”, can get unhealthy, and I’ve found that it’s important to strike a balance, however tenuous, of work and rest. (I am very much pro-rest, even pro-laziness.) For every action, a reaction – for every day of work, an hour in the bath, or 4 episodes of my favorite show.

Days pass. I untangle code for my internship, work on an article, vector out a logo for a client. But I sleep in, too, sometimes, and take 15 minutes every now and then just to listen to music and stare out the window. That’s fine. This strange little gap of time will pass, and I really might ease into a little 9-to-5 and lose the tummy pudge. But I have patience now, and an understanding that a slower life can still be one well-lived. As odd as it’s been, this time has been worth it.

Sophie Helf is a freelance designer and developer in the Bay Area. She is on Instagram and Twitter and her website is sophiehelf.com.


Painting used in this issue: "In a Villa at the Seaside" by Berthe Morisot

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