Working with my broken brain (literally!)
September 17, 2023 2:33 PM   Subscribe

Due to medical issues, chronic migraine, brain fatigue and brain fog, I'm really struggling at work. Although my current job, by any outside observer, looks pretty darn sweet and cushy, it's no longer working for me and my broken brain. Help me brainstorm what to do next?

My entire career has been spent in tech, from a degree in Computer Science, 15 or so years as a software developer, and the last 10 in software managerial / leadership roles. But because of how my brain operates these days, keeping going in a traditional 9-5 job is just not working. And now I'm trying to figure out what to do next to support myself...

Basically, I'm looking something that:
* allows me to WFH 100%
* gives me complete control over my hours, which due to migraines and headaches, are completely unpredictable and impossible to plan
* has very few, ideally zero, planned meetings, because there's a decent chance I'm going to need to cancel because of a migraine
* limits having to talk to people in person. My brain fatigue and brain fog has made conversations involving thinking on the spot almost impossible, and I end up sounding like an idiot, making excuses for constantly losing my train of thought, and really just having very unproductive, frustrating conversations. Wanna talk about the weather, I'm fine. Need me to retain a bunch of info, problem solve or come up with good ideas on the spot? Not gonna happen. This used to be what I was pretty good at, so this one is hard for me to accept. But it is what it is.
* has a clear goal / set of outputs required of me. I need more structure unfortunately than vague goals like "make and execute on a plan to improve XYZ". I'm pretty sure I'm undiagnosed ADHD on top of everything else.

So what can I do?
* when my brain is behaving, happily spend all day on a laptop -- especially if I'm sufficiently motivated and engaged enough
* problem solve like crazy, especially if the code skills in my toolbox can play a big part. However, devops / infrastructure are not really my jam.
* write docs, content, etc
* bend google sheets / excel to my will. Python and pandas and all that too. I love futzing with data. Some sort of data analyst role would be awesome.
* communicate well asynchronously, ie slack, comments in docs, etc
* tech in general. I'm pretty confident that even if i don't know how to do something, as long if i can do it from my laptop and an internet connection, I can figure it out.
* Insert a whole bunch of tech/software/application/web acronyms here

And now I come to you ask.mefi for help brainstorming. I have some ideas, but they're mostly vague like "freelance" and pretty much always involve talking to people at a set time, so thats no good. Or involve those low paying sites where I'm competing against folks in LCOL countries. "Build and sell digital products" is way too vague still, but those are the types of angles I've been looking at. I've also thought about trying to go back to an individual contributor software development role, but in my experience there the code is the easy part - it's the people and the meetings and requirement gathering and getting details from other people thats the hard part, and I'm just not cut out for that anymore unless I can do it over slack.

So given all this, how do I support myself now? I feel like this is the classic search for those elusive unicorn WFH jobs with no set hours, but I have a lifetime of tech skills I've acquired that makes me extremely capable in a lot of ways - as long as I can stay hidden behind a keyboard. And it probably goes without saying, but a decent salary is a requirement. I'm willing to accept what would likely be a significant paycut, but I'm not willing to devalue my worth.

Ideas? Thanks in advance, as always!

and yay, I finally found a use for this sockpuppet account i've had kicking around for forever!
posted by geek_with_socks to Work & Money (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have the kinds of skills set where people hire independent consulants to go off and do a job and then deliver? If so, maybe you could find a partner who would serve as the client facing half of the team. Bonus if they are already doing consultant gigs and know how to find clients, define projects etc and would be thrilled to be able to expand their reach by having an associate to do a chunk of the hand-on work. Since you would only interface with your partner, you would just have to find someone that was compatible both in terms skills, work ethics etc and also in terms of being able to work around your scheduling and communication needs.

It might take a bit of networking to find the right partner (which i know is a process that does NOT suit your situation very well) but ideally it would be one time upfront cost that would set up for a steady flow of workable gigs after that.
posted by metahawk at 4:18 PM on September 17

I think this might be a place where you are going to have to rely on your established relationships rather than looking for a particular type of job. Who do you already know who trusts your work and has control over a portfolio of task-based assignments that might be willing to work with you in this way?
posted by jacquilynne at 4:24 PM on September 17 [3 favorites]

Data analyst is probably not the job for you. The job is heavy on requirements gathering and storytelling. You sound like you belong further back in the data pipeline.

The accommodations that you require make it pretty hard to do almost any job. Consider staying on at the highest paying job as long as possible, then exit on disability. That will give you a good two years on a decent long term disability policy to focus on your health and figure out what’s next.
posted by shock muppet at 11:32 PM on September 17 [2 favorites]

My brainstorming for this:
I don't know if companies are still doing or trying this, but you might want to try search for "asynchronous jobs", if everyone is in different countries anyway and uses mostly online chat then you could be a fit. Or have you considered writing a book on your experiences in the tech field or something else you are passionate about? Could you create technical training videos or documentation for a company? Learn a couple of data analysis tools or pick one to specialize in and try advertise your consulting services for it? Make beautiful visualizations for execs/presentations/marketing/media/? Do you have any interest in doing taxes - typical flow for doing taxes is people dump all their docs in a folder, you exchange questions via email, not even a phone call needed, and they charge a ton now, plus often specialize in doing taxes for a specific set of people like tech people (so know a lot about stock options and RSUs etc), and you might be able to leverage your contacts. You would probably need to take some courses for it though. Contact job agencies and talk to recruiters, they might some pretty niche requests that could be a fit.

I really feel for you because I was also in the tech field, left due to very bad menopause symptoms (vertigo was the last straw). I felt like I was being held together by post-it notes (and they don't stick well!) towards the end. It has taken a while but HRT is getting me back on my feet, fog is lifting and I can even sleep most nights! I also need to plan what to do next now, I will likely try the book idea even though that is pretty risky.
posted by meepmeow at 11:39 PM on September 17

The job market isn’t great right now but I think you could be a good fit for contract tech writing jobs for a developer audience. You should check out the Write the Docs community.
posted by JuliaKM at 4:38 AM on September 18

Career S/W Consultant/Contractor (ret.) here (best boss I ever had! :-)

- Contracting, with whichever of your apparently many skills you feel best able to apply.

- Use your contacts. Getting and keeping in touch with former (and soon-to-be-former) managers & co-workers who know and liked your work is a great place to start. Managers can often tap into a different budget for contractors, than their personnel budget, especially to fill an urgent, but temporary, need. Be prepared to be asked for a fixed-price contract, in this case, though, so know your estimating abilities including being prepared for what-if scenarios.

- Let your network know you're looking! Remind them occasionally - this goes with keeping in touch.

- Have a quick review of the IRS' rules about contractors (US).

- Know your limits, if you can't count on putting in a full number of hours.

Best of luck, whatever route your choose!
posted by TruncatedTiller at 5:26 AM on September 18

Accommodations that helped me that might be relevant to job search, after Covid induced migraines in me (probably not as frequent as yours), was:
-an hour long lunch break, and I used half of it to preemptively lay in the dark with an eyemask listening to a relaxation track. Not just on days I thought it might come on, but most days.
- a sympathetic manager will help more than a particular industry, they happened to get migraines. Again, as soon as light started to get brighter etc, I told them and took a break or even went straight home, which headed some of them off. Especially if I had important meetings later, I would rest first
- 4 or 4.5 day work week, with flexibility. I had a half day on Wednesday regardless
- home environment, I had lights that switched to dim red, which helped a little.

Non work things:
There was also a 15 min neck massage across the road, it helped reduce muscle tension, which helped.
I had a sports watch and tracked heart rate - if it was elevated above 100 when doing normal activity, I got a migraine the following day. Microvreaks to stay below 100 prevented that.
posted by Elysum at 5:56 AM on September 18

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