Digital Motion Sickness

At 1:30 this morning, I woke up to the worst migraine of my life. I sat up in bed, and though the room was pitch black, all I could see was a flashing light inside my head. I stumbled to the bathroom, so nauseous I could barely make it down the stairs. As I sat in the bathroom, riding out the waves that never culminated in vomit, I diagnosed myself with digital motion sickness.

I was half-awake and mid-panic attack; my vision filled with Excel spreadsheets. The rows scrolled past at lightening speed, and I kept filtering in a futile attempt to find the record I needed. Filepaths, URLs, e-mail addresses, and other data fields flew by. I was convinced that focusing on one particular record – the right record – would make the migraine stop.


I am a right-brained person with three weeks to go at a left-brained contract job. I knew getting into this that I would be out of my element. I once got sidetracked thinking about all the pretty Indian names of our new offshore associates while I was supposed to be entering requests for their e-mail accounts. The intersection of two types of data on a regular old Excel spreadsheet can drive me to distraction; throw in a pivot table or – heaven forbid – an entire Access database, and we might as well have traveled to a fourth dimension.

I have put up a valiant effort until now. It’s like my brain is shutting down, refusing to consider any more data, let alone metadata. I’m having the hardest time focusing at work. These spreadsheets are literally attacking me; last night was only the second suspected panic attack in my entire life.

I finally did pop some ibuprofen, lie back down, and find the record my brain wanted: it was a woman’s name and mailing address.

Several jobs ago, a (right-brained) co-worker made the very convincing argument that we should get paid for the time we spend dreaming about work. The funny thing is, I thought I would like left-brained work because I would be able to leave it at the office and free up the rest of my mind for more creative pursuits. For ten months, I managed to do just that. Unfortunately, the hidden recesses of my brain were using that creative playtime for a much more sinister purpose.