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Tom Deneire
8 min readOct 29, 2020

Dealing with Mental Health Issues as a Software Engineer

A few weeks ago I went back to work after going through a mental health crisis. It might sound strange, but I’m actually really grateful for this experience. It has definitely taught me a lot about myself. This post is an attempt to write out what I have learned from hitting rock bottom…

Stop trying so hard!

One evening in June my wife gave me a proverbial smack in the face.

“I can’t deal with this anymore,” she said. “I’m thinking of leaving you”. My response was actually quite rational. We had argued before about the tension around the house, about having lost our connection, about me being stressed out a lot. So I suggested couples therapy, changing my habits, taking up dancing lessons together — anything. But I couldn’t get through. It seemed to me she had already given up.

Later that night I went for my weekly walk with my CTO, who lives nearby. I didn’t tell him about what happened, but by the end of our walk he hit me with a second smack in the face. “You’re having a rough time, aren’t you?” I tried to wave it off, but I couldn’t fool him.

When I came home, I turned to my wife again. By now, she was angry, growing more irate with every one of my supposedly helpful suggestions. “Stop trying to solve this!”, she yelled. “But I have to try. We have to work on it”, I protested. “Stop trying so hard!”, she retorted.

“But it’s all I know!”, I blurted out — and then I finally broke down. There and then, I finally realized that my only coping strategy in life was trying hard and working hard. I was never relaxed, never playful, never enjoying life. To sum it up: I wasn’t feeling anymore.

Rock bottom

When my wife saw me showing some emotion (by then, I was actually one big sobbing mess), she immediately became constructive again. She convinced me to go to the doctor’s and ask for some sick leave. Suddenly, I found myself at home, with no work to do, staring at an emotional wreck in the mirror.

Mind you, on the surface of things, I seemed fine. I had a wonderful wife with two wonderful children (age 2 and 4) and a steady job at the university library’s software…