How to get back into a project, after fighting a disease.

We’ve all been there. We’re hammering away at a project invigorated by not just mastery of resources, but raw passion for it. We have ideas for art, story, song, all of the core components of our planned piece; we have mathematical precision and the comprehension of how to use it to build the framework that will give it life.

Then, out of the blue, for perhaps the most innocent of reasons, something terrible happens to us. We become ill, we capture a pathogen from the earth and air and people around us; we become weak and oppressed by a force of nature.

In my case, it was a particularly notorious bat virus.

Not that I haven’t gotten the vaccines; my family has a long history of autoimmune diseases to begin with, and experience has shown me that I am not an exception to this. So, when everybody started dropping around me, I got that vaccine the moment it was available. I hid from public spaces for longer than I thought I could bear. I got the second shot of the vaccine. I’ve had three boosters now, one each year, for the new variants.

And let me tell you, thank God I did; because that still felt like a particularly ugly head cold. It took me about a week to get over it, during which I made only marginal progress on my swarm AI. It was a setback I would have preferred to avoid, but it’s the hand I was dealt, as they say; and now, I face the uphill battle of getting back into the zone.

It is a zone, of course; much as sports players, gamers, and any other form of skilled craftsman has a zone. It’s an ideal state of mind for the task, on the threshold of being too hard and too easy. “Too hard” has been offset for me, as I’m still recovering; it’s much less difficult to get overwhelmed now, and I am faced with a gradual recovery until I’m at my former strength and acuity.

So, in lieu of my usual update, I’m chronicling advice I have for anyone who faces the same problem.

Understand that it isn’t your fault.

Diseases happen, much as rain storms, droughts, black outs, blizzards, and taxes do. Last week, wishing I felt better would not make me feel any better. It would expend my mental resources, and time which would be better spent resting, staying hydrated, and recovering, would instead be wasted on a vain mental effort.

No one created this virus on their own. If it isn’t the coronavirus, no one gave you your genes on their own, or created the weather intentionally; certainly not you. Disease saps our strength and makes us lean into depression, particularly as we strain ourselves; but the disease is not your fault.

This is not to say that it would not have been convenient if I was at full strength over the last week; only that by realizing I was not, I was capable of addressing the pertinent problem of my illness, and could properly prepare for the moment when it passed and I was at full strength again.

Beating oneself up over a problem which could come about because of the most innocent of things never leads to anything productive. In truth, such incidents need to be planned for early in the project—they will happen—and time should be allotted to account for them. Not everyone always does this, particularly on personal endeavors, but this is an effort everyone should consider making.

Recognize that it will come to an end, and prepare your notes for your recovery.

For the coronavirus, given you are fully vaccinated, the CDC recommends about five to ten days of isolation. Once this period of isolation is over, your body will still be clearing out all of the debris from fighting the virus and attempting to stockpile strength and energy.

Once you know that you are ill, given that the disease has not hit you in force, I recommend taking notes for yourself about everything you’ve been doing. Technical notes, on the state of the project, where it needs to go, and all general strategies for getting there.

If you happen to have a change log and a UML diagram together already, great! Use them! However, it’s also good to give yourself a gentle note, no more than two or three paragraphs long, on what needs to be done next. Use simple sentences—simpler than you think that you will need—that focus on the core actions that need to be done. It’s likely that after the incident hits, you will have fewer mental resources and less patience, so write kindly and clearly.

Bring all of your work to a closing point, the closest semantically complete block you’re comfortable with; and leave comments on the purpose of anything new you write. You want to tie this up before the symptoms hit you in full.

Afterward, I recommend grabbing any supplies you will need—groceries, tissues, cold medicine, whatever it may be—and preparing to stay hydrated and comfortable for the duration of the disease. Again, go easy on yourself, and have faith that you’ll shake it and return to your former glory.

Ease yourself back into the Zone using simpler projects.

This is a big one. Time has passed, your head or stomach are clearing up, and you’re ready to get back to work; but your mind is like stone and concrete. You don’t remember what you were doing, you’re still a little weak, but you’re optimistic.

The last thing you want to do here is to pretend that you’re at the same strength you were before the sickness; you’re still gaining momentum again. I recommend easing yourself back into the project by taking on something parallel, like studying an API you’ve been curious about.

Grab something that relates to your project, but is simpler. For me, it was re-learning Qt 5. I’ve had a book on it for some time now, which is written and edited in a manner just-dodgy-enough to keep me on my toes. In the past three days, I’ve gone through four chapters, and may finish the book before the end of next week.

Meanwhile, I touch on something involving the swarm AI I was working on before every day. This way, the project becomes fresh in my mind again. By spending a couple of hours every morning simply reviewing, and experiencing, some of the latent bugs, I become familiar with the code again.

Think of it like returning to a gym after a two month break. You need to ease yourself back into the routine, with steady progression and confrontation of the tasks. It’s all too easy to simply quit and walk away forever; but then we would never see our projects bear fruit.

If there is a vaccine, get vaccinated. Prepare for infection.

There’s been a disappointing, and alarming, amount of dissent on this. I can tell you for a fact that the mRNA vaccines are the result of several centuries of research into combating disease, and they work. In most parts of the world, your government will give it to you for free. It will be all of fifteen to twenty minutes; less, if you lose patience and sneak out early after the shot.

It’s really no big deal. However, that shot can make the difference between something truly life threatening which may haunt you for months even if you survive it; and something that only takes a few days to get over. Familiarize your immune system with the infection, before you get infected.

Then, have some supplies on hand. If you can’t cook, have some canned soup around; soup helps keep you hydrated and nourished, and tends to taste pretty reasonable even in the midst of influenza. Have tissues, keep a water bottle around, and maybe some cough drops and cough suppressant.

Don’t lose faith, don’t lose vision.

That awesome idea you had, whether it’s for a game, or an animation, or anything else, will be a reality. If you’re committed, then you have nothing to worry about. The trick is to stay committed.

The truth is, we feel like hell after disease. We’re tired, lethargic, and injured. There’s a decent chance you won’t want to think about the math, or even the art, at all; and that’s OK, sometimes you’re just knowing yourself and you’re right. Maybe you do need time to recover.

However, you should never lose the dream that’s fueling this effort. It’s a question of persistence and gradual perturbation of the project, until your health is back and its familiarity has returned to you.

This week’s work has primarily been about getting in-game swarms to follow paths set by the scout bee. It’s going well. That said, I look back on it and feel like the past week could have been a couple of days.

Maybe. However, I was also sick over the past week, and that’s just a part of life. Over the coming handful of days, I intend to recover my momentum and get back into pounding this game out. I still intend to have a releasable preview available before the end of the year.

This is how I approach my return to that state of mind and body, and I hope it helps those among you who worry, perhaps rightly, that you too may come down with a malady. Keep on building!

Published by Michael Macha

I'm a game developer for both mobile and PC. My education is in physics, journalism, and neuroscience. Founder and CEO of Frontier Medicine Entertainment, located in the beautiful city of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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