The Impact of Learning to Code on Mental Health
I’m no longer ashamed of the fact that I first came to learn to code at the darkest point in my life.
For other people, perhaps going through similarly dark times, pandemic related or otherwise, I wanted to share how learning to code pulled me out of a difficult place.
Frequent Small Wins
The thing that lead me to Google “learn coding free online” was a few weeks of continuous gaming. Now I am absolutely not a gamer! I was playing Super Mario Brothers on the Wii. The thing that kept me playing was that wonderful feeling of “Level Complete!” However many times it took me to complete the level, I loved the buzz of ‘you did it!” fairly frequently. And even when I didn’t complete the level, I enjoyed the smaller wins of not dying quite so early on in the level. On days when you can’t even face brushing your hair, the assurance that there are still things you can do is definitely a boost! With code, I love facing a seemingly impossible problem, breaking it up into its smaller parts and solving them one by one. Even on days that are tough, managing the first problem is such an incentive to keep going with the next and the next. Particularly with front end development, seeing a page transform before your eyes is so motivating.
You. CAN. Do it!
‘Level complete’ led me to wonder what else I could complete if I tried. As I said, I am definitely not a gamer. My marriage is often threatened when my husband and I play co-play games together as he ‘just can’t understand how you can be so rubbish at a game aimed at 7 year olds!” I’m not a gamer but slowly I was completing levels. And I never thought I’d be anything in IT but now, just a few years later, I’m a Senior Engineer. Being able to do something that I never thought I’d be able to do really pushed me to reflect on my mental health, that maybe things weren’t as hard in real life as they were in my head. With the gentle encouragement of solving a big problem, one small problem at a time, it really made the seemingly impossible, possible.
The more I coded the more I was sucked in. It was such a relief to have something to do for an hour or two which would take me away from my own thoughts. I found code completely immersive as I’m sure many coders can relate to. And better than that, I had achieved something which began empowering me to achieve more things, small things first like making my bed, and then eventually bigger things, like signing up to do a coding bootcamp. With coding you need to be fully engaged, there’s no space to be thinking about other things. Slowly, having other things to focus on that didn’t completely drain me, gave me back the energy to knock my anxiety and depression on the head.
Code is what helped me, and I managed to turn around a really dark time into something that has honestly changed my life. It’s taken me a very long time to be able to write this but I wanted you to know that if you’re reading this during a dark period, I promise that dark times pass eventually, and they make the happy times so much more sparkling!
This is what worked for me and I’d encourage you to give code a try (our community is excited to have you!) but if code is not it then perhaps you will find solace somewhere else. (I attempted mindfulness and baking on other people’s suggestions, neither of which worked for me.) For me, ultimately what helped was diverting my attention somewhere else, and for me it needed to be something completely different that I had never considered before. This gave me back that feeling of achievement and pride that pulled me out of bed each morning and made me want to wash my hair again.
If this resonates with you in any way, my advice would be to try to find the bravery to push your boundaries in a way you had never considered before. It’s such a great way to prove to yourself that you’re not the failure that your brain is telling you you are. I read Cheryl Strayed’s, “Wild” (it’s also a great Reese Witherspoon film!) which shares a similar message.
And if that doesn’t work, you can always take a look at Mind for support. Your GP will almost certainly have ideas of what can help you locally too, as well as the Hub of Hope (UK) which can point you in the right direction. Taking these steps is also very brave.
I’ll leave you with this quote that my Uncle sent to me:
“One must still have chaos in oneself, to give birth to a dancing star.”