Mark Grealish

Cats and wizardry.


in me

In Switzerland I faced a constant struggled with poor mental health. Covid, isolation, lockdown combined with work and family stresses combined to form some rough moments. There were tears a few times as the worst of it got the best of me, but by and by I made my way. And Switzerland was so wonderful, every day, lest I forget! :) There was so much to do in an outdoors that was so easy to reach, whatever the part of the country it was that caught my attention.

Coming back to Ireland has been rough. Sarah is my only tie to the country. She’s the brightest of stars in the darkest of times. There isn’t anything for me in Ireland beyond Sarah, and beyond (almost literally) the walls of our house. There is no public transport. There is nowhere to run except on roads shared with drivers. The ditches and lanes around are full of illegally-dumped trash. I feel so little in common with the other Irish people. My earning potential relative to the cost and quality of living are are lower than on the continent. I have no ties in Ireland beyond Sarah. Even the local running club orients itself toward short-distance track-and-race work, whereas I run endurance distances.

Put simply: Ireland isn’t home. I don’t know where it will be found, but this isn’t it.

Look – I’m not saying these things to bitch and whinge, but to get across that they sit heavy on me. Sarah and I work through things little by little. With winter and lockdown on us anyways, there isn’t anywhere for me to run off to right now.

Every day I remind myself that I’m with someone I love dearly, and blessed with the freedom of a sabbatical that allows me to fully enjoy every one of them. This is great.

Other things are good. I have the time to reset my running training with the most amazing Training for the Uphill Athlete. The book has shown me that the cycle of training up for a race has stunted my ability to comfortably run long distances. What I should do – and am, now – is to train evenly to raise my base. If you want to run a marathon, read Training for the Uphill Athlete.

Once a week I have a German lesson with a tutor, and I do my best to practice the language every day. (Sinds eine Monat habe ich in Irland wohnen. Jeden Tag studiere ich Deutch. Ich renne auch. Obwohl vermisse ich der Schweiz, ich bin gluecklich mit Sarah. Heute wir zusammen gekochen.)

The Grindelwald Valley

in switzerland

Dude, Schnee. Mettenberg (links) und Der Eiger (rechts), beim Grindelwald im Berner Oberland. Fotografieret auf 26 September.

The Grindelwald Valley, Bern

Meta: Excuses for Not Blogging

in random

There aren’t any. You should blog when you want to. There.

I wanted to say this, because the time between posts starts to act as a deterrent of itself. “Oh but there’s so much to catch up on since X!”

That’s all. Less than three.

But Yes, I’m Burned Out

in me

Hi from my happy sabbatical. File this under “I should not have to say it, but here we are.” About six weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview with an Irish tech company ahead of my move back to Ireland. Although I’m not hugely looking for work on this side of Christmas, a job is a job, right? And sure, what could go wrong, right?

Spoiler: It all went wrong. The interview process of this Irish employer was unprofessional enough that I feel the need to call out my experience. My call was with the CEO and owner of the startup, after a preliminary call from a HR staffer. The immediate topic of the call wasn’t my professional experience. Instead, the CEO grilled me over Six Months in the Hidden Kingdom, an August post where I talked about personal exhaustion and professional burnout. This particular CEO wanted me to reassure them that my sense of burnout wouldn’t affect me in any hypothetical future work. Never mind that I said in as many words “I’m burned out,” they wanted to hear that I wasn’t.

That was it. That was the entire call. We segued a little into more general mental health, but the CEO wanted to know that I could handle stress, that I could handle burnout, and that I wouldn’t buckle. Our call led to a (for some reason) a job offer, even though I knew nothing about the workplace, and they knew nothing about my professional work.

I should not have to say it, but here we are. If you’re a recruitment professional or employer, be that professional. As I made sure to note in my rejection, if my blog talked about (e.g.) LGBT community matters, you made it the primary topic, and then declined to offer me a role, I’d have good grounds for a discrimination case. Don’t make my personal life your professional hiring decision. Just don’t.

For me personally, my blog is almost fifteen years old. If you go back far enough, the topics range from

  • running and races;
  • the rise and fall of a marriage and relationships;
  • awful dark mental health stuff that includes two suicide attempts;
  • candidly dealing with the aftermath of domestic and relational abuse;
  • and cats.

So yeah. If you read this and decided whatever, then whatever. If you read this and want to cite a post in a job interview, please pass on it.

Running at the Madrisa T24

in me

Me running in Klosters at the Madrisa T24 trail race

This is probably the single photograph that best epitomizes the high points of the past six months in Switzerland.

Six Months in the Mountain Kingdom

in me

Today I ran the Madrisa T24 in Klosters, Switzerland, finishing 75/430 in 02:43:18. If past races have taught me anything, it’s that I get down. After Reykjavik I hit a deep low that lasted for weeks afterward.

So, yeah, this is the wrong day to write about the last six months. I talked about the context of how and why I came to Switzerland back in March, and I’ll try to pick up pieces from there.

Work has been soul-destroying. Every single person I’ve worked with at The Job has been anyhing less than professional, while my boss and my team support me (and me them) to the best of their ability. But as someone who comes from startups and itty-bitty companies, the restrictions and rules of the environment have turned every single day of work into a thing of frustration. X tool isn’t available because software restrictions. Y tool is available, but the latest version in the software repo is from 2016. Ideas wither on the vine as successive stakeholders find it easier to say no. For all the money that The Job pours into talent and consultants, it has proven remarkably difficult to get approval for any spend on software or services. Whatever tools you find to use, that’s what you’re stuck with forever more.

Despite that, I’m proud of what I’ve delivered in terms of reining in technical debt and improving processes. When I jumped in at the deep end by moving to Switzerland for a job at $big_name_enterprise, I didn’t expect to swim as well as I have.

I guess I’m deeply burned out though, at the end of things. This is the child of the burnout I felt at The Last Job. Then, the work environment was pretty great all around. Relaxed, progressive and with all the freedom I wanted over tools. At the same time though… At the same time, I worked on two every projects that ran on to take twelve and nine months respectively. Scope seemed to creep ever forward as we added this or that necessary feature, or I discovered that some other features had unexpected complexities.

And I was pigeonholed. Our stack of Ionic/Angular/NgRx was our stack. By the end of year two I had plumbed all the depths of Angular and learned all there was to know about building an Angular application. That pigeonhole is as much a problem in the new job, where the limits on tooling and knowledge lead to a necessary limit on the use of rich features.

And then and now I’ve been in a deep silo of isolation, in both cases effectively a sole developer in areas where my peers don’t have much overlap in domain knowledge with me. Like, every employer asks “What do you do to keep up with technology?” as though it’s my personal mandate to grind leetcode or courses online out of hours. What I say to that is that my workplace is where I have the greatest opportunity to be exposed to new ideas and interact with programming peers. Not having someone at work I can talk code to, bounce ideas off, or turn to for help… These have been difficult things to deal with.

I’m burned out. I do my job, log out and feel awful and depressed. Just the mere notion of looking for a new job after I go home fills me with such terrible anxiety. All I want to do is take a few months off on savings, pick up some new skills and otherwise do fuck-all else with my days.

Outside of work: foreign country, small town, global pandemic and little shared language. Friends and Instagram have gotten that sweet Swiss eye candy, the sweeping vistas of the Bernese Oberland, or lake views from Schwyz. My actual living schedule, though, has been twenty hours a day in the one room where I live and work and sleep. This is not a cell: my housemate and her cat are delightful and Affoltern am Albis is a gorgeous town at the crossroads of many trails.

Pandemic restrictions have kept me home and away from Z├╝rich. Although I have worked to pick up German (wie gehts?), language gets in the way of things, and if you know me, you know I have the social desires of a mossy rock. I miss Sarah something fierce. By itself, coming to Switzerland for six months just to sit in a room most of the time hasn’t been worth it. I haven’t set foot inside the door of the work office since February, or have met any of my team members in person. It’s lonely. I’m not at all a social person, and I’ll still call it lonely.

But look: Switzerland is gorgeous. The quality of living here is so high. Public transport can get me to almost any trail head, and I feel enabled in ways I never experienced in Ireland. If I could find a better balance of work and live, I would come back here in a heartbeat.

All this has put strain on Sarah and I. You build a relationship on those shared experiences which we haven’t had since I moved. The Sarah-shaped hole in my life gets a little larger every day, and honestly, I’m counting the days (18) until I see her again. While we talk every day, but if my kids have taught me anything at all, it’s that it’s difficult to build rapport with a face on a screen.

And while I’m on the topic of kids, that’s a whole other dumpster entirely. The ex-wife lurches from one drama to the next, hurting the kids as she goes. The very hard truth that’s come out of talking to solicitors is that there’s almost nothing I can do until they reach majority and decide (or not) that they want to come here. It’s a situation that’s crushed me, because everyone else in their lives have their own agenda, while people were happy to dump everything on me, they were less happy when I finally did something about it. Fuck it. Really, fuck it.

Meh. This has been a down post. I’m tired. I came into Switzerland stressed. I’ll be leaving with even more.