So I'm an engineering student. I'm doing my master thesis project for a tech company. It started years ago, but I took a leave of sickness for 2 years due to depression. It was a pretty nasty story and involved a lot of things, eventually also my doctors getting burned out, and too sick to work because too many people in my home area got sick an they didnt have enough resources to help them, poverty, because no doctor could write the certifications and a lot of other things, but I don't need to get into that here. I'm now working my way back, and even though I'm still declared too sick to work at the moment from my current doctor, I have a deal where I'm allowed to finish my studies as part of a rehabilitation program.

I've had a meeting with my new mentor where we drew up a plan of what I should do to finish the project. This was 4 weeks ago. Yesterday he mailed and asked if we could have another meeting where I presented what I've done so far since I restarted. Problem is I haven't done anything. I thought it was going to be hard to go back to school/work but I managed to go to school almost every day and sit until 9 PM in the evening. I have spent the time watching series, programming other stuff to try to get back into the way of thinking with programming again and watching videos about what's happened in the software industry since I've been gone. I've downloaded the package of the old project and loked around a bit, but I haven't produced anything at all. It used to be really hard for me just to be in school at the time where I took a sick leave, so I have been trying to do these things to easy my anxiety and associate the school environment with a good mood in my mind. It wasnt purely for slacking reasons. The negative feelings have kept me though from opening the folder of the project from the time I felt really bad. Every day I went to school thinking I could open it and start working, but I failed every day.

This fills me up with immense shame and I dont know how to handle it. I mean, I have produced a couple of symbolic changes in the code and documentation but nothing even close to what can be excepted from 5 weeks work. Or even 1 week.

I don't get paid by the company from doing this, so at least I don't have to worry about that. It's more of an internship situation where they can hire me if I'm good for them. They know I was sick for a long time, but not that it was depression. And I dont think they know how incredible severe it was and how much progress I've made just the last half year.

I was wondering if you had any ideas on how to handle it? Maybe there are people who had previous experiences that they didnt do as much as the boss excepted and how to handle a) the meeting and b) the shame. I'm weighing in my mind the options of postponing the meeting a bit, how honest I should be etc... I dont need to hear I'm a bad person or should have done it or something like that. I feel incredibly bad about this and I'm making progress, it's just incredible slow and much more slower than an employer would expect.

Any ideas?

  • I saw now that my post became pretty long. Sorry about that. I tried to keep it compact but also wanted to describe the sitation as good as I can. Jul 14, 2016 at 18:28
  • You need to take the meeting and at least have a plan for when you are going to do something.
    – paparazzo
    Jul 14, 2016 at 18:32
  • 1
    Go to the meeting and explain what is going on. It may be that you aren't ready to return yet.
    – JasonJ
    Jul 14, 2016 at 18:40
  • 1
    Related question: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/12291/…
    – MackM
    Jul 14, 2016 at 18:43
  • 1
    PSA: This question is being discussed on meta. Jul 15, 2016 at 11:32

3 Answers 3


I'm not a health care professional, but it sounds to me that you are still suffering from depression. I would see a mental health professional as soon as possible to discuss your options.

Attempting to return to work too early can worsen your situation, because as you describe, your inability to progress makes you feel guilty, which in turn weighs even more on your ability to work.

Postpone the meeting until you can meet with a professional. Get a recommendation from that person as to what your next steps should be, and then meet with your mentor and be honest, with the recommendation in hand.

I would be honest without getting into too many details. There is not the same stigma surrounding depression as there used to be, and many people can be understanding.

Perhaps you need some time to do work that is less problem-solving, and more in lines with physical activity, where you accomplish something each day and can leave your work at work. With that backdrop, you might feel more motivated to continue your programming work gradually.

  • Thank you for your tips. It is sound advice, I can understand why you give it. The problem is just that seeing a mental health professional Jul 14, 2016 at 19:03
  • understood -- if you can't, I would still have the meeting and explain your situation honestly. You may want to prepare your mentor ahead of time, so your mentor isn't completely surprised you haven't made progress.
    – mcknz
    Jul 14, 2016 at 19:09
  • Thank you for your tips. It is sound advice, I can understand why you give it and would probably give the same without my experinces. The problem is just that seeing a mental health professional is sort off the table for me. I have been seeing them for 2 years. I'm tired of seeing how stressed they are and see them decline into depression themselves and quit in protest. I had five doctors in a year. I know they are supposed to help me, but they really arent. Officially I have a therapeut now, and I saw her pretty regularly but not in the last 3 months. The only way for me is forward, not back. Jul 14, 2016 at 19:10
  • My therapist and another counseller I talked to also recommended "working my way back" as rehabilitation istead of resting, so I think I might be on the right track on this. At least finishing the master thesis project because I think it might be good to finish what I started 2 years ago. I also might get into economical and housing sitations eventually if I don't finish my studies some time. I know it will just make me feel worse. Thanks for the tip about physical work. Yeah, I did some manual work last summer and it really did wonders. I should look it up more to see if can do something. Jul 14, 2016 at 19:18
  • Nice answer but OP needs to take the meeting. Mentor needs to know what is gong on. The mentor needs to be able to communicate to the internship company. If the project is at risk the mentor needs to manage that.
    – paparazzo
    Jul 14, 2016 at 19:20

You have not been doing "Nothing" you have been doing reading to get caught up and getting yourself back into programming. That is not nothing. Make sure you review what you have done, and if you can figure out where you want to go. Prepare to communicate that to your new mentor. Then work together to figure out where to go from there.

  • Potentially, a written and detailed review of latest advances in the field is a tangible and nice result.
    – svavil
    Jul 18, 2016 at 9:31

I think it is very important that you start doing something, anything. It seems like you are looking at things but not "Doing" anything. You need to take just 1 step, do the very first thing they recommended in the first meeting. You do not need to do the whole project, just take the first step, just remember you never have to finish if you start but you can never finish if you don't.

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