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26 January 2015

I'm (officially) looking for work

This time of year usually isn't much fun. It's cold out, it's usually gray, it's sometimes icky and even downright miserable some days. Desert Storm also happened this time of year, so there's a lot of "well, on this day in January 1991 I was...". I also didn't have HackTech in Santa Monica CA to attend this year, so there's no me-walking-barefoot-on-the-beach to talk about.

Right now I'm listening to Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and Stevie Ray V and trying to make some sense of things. I have to work tonight, at the same job I've been doing since 2009. It's a lengthy tenure for a student job, and while I feel good about work being stable through everything else that's gone on, it's time for me to think about doing something else. There's no technical or intellectual challenge any more; I work at an IT help desk, and the more I learn about programming and building software the less working at a help desk seems exciting. I have learned so many things, especially about how people use hardware and software and what happens when things don't work the way people expect them to work. I don't claim to know everything about how humans and computers interact, but the questions I see at work are questions I've seen over and over again. I don't look forward to going to work the same way I used to-- I'd rather be programming, it's what makes me happy, and so it's time to move the fuck on.

One glaring problem stands out, and that's how the hell do I make a programming job work with PTSD? Just like making college work with PTSD, a problem I'm still working on figuring out, there's no man page, no HOWTO. I'm not certain how to approach telling a(n) (potential) employer that I can only work a certain number of hours a week, that there are going to be days sometimes when I'm just not worth a shit, or that as much as I want to be a team player there are going to be days when I really would rather just work and be left alone. I don't know how an employer will react if I'm hired, and then I bring up that oh yeah, I have this disability and I need these accommodations for me to work here, and oh by the way you have to give them to me because of the ADA.

I realize that I may not be giving people enough credit-- that an employer who decides to hire me will already have decided that I'm worth it, be happy to have a veteran working for them, know that disability accommodations are a part of life and so is providing them when needed. This stuff is just new to me, because the last time I started a new job I didn't know I needed accommodations. I hadn't had all of the problems I've had the past two years, that have given me pretty good reason not to trust people who say they are on my side.

So yeah, I have some things I need to get over. I'm workin' on it.

15 January 2015

Phghdht.

I'm back from a week's vacation, visiting a friend from Desert Shield/Desert Storm days. Vacation time gives a person time to rest, to get away from the day-to-day stuff (which I think I have more than my share of), and hopefully some of the fog clears and things make more sense. Right? I don't know. If the fog cleared today I don't know if I'd recognize it, or even know what to do if I did. There is no plan, nothing to follow. I'm making this shit up as I go along. Still, it was nice to get away for a while.

Of course, on the way home I missed the boarding call for my flight to Chicago. Somehow. I was there hours early, I was sitting at the gate, and I was even paying attention. I thought I was, anyway. The flight was delayed by almost two hours, and I heard the periodic announcements about that. The plane left earlier than the delay time, so maybe that's how I missed it? I don't know. My phone buzzed with a text that the plane had left the gate, and there I was wondering WTF had just happened.

I got lucky, in that the flight leaving from the next gate was headed to Chicago in about an hour. I talked to the gate agent once I figured out what had happened, and she was able to get me onto the later flight. (The flight I was supposed to be on, according to the gate agent, would have paged me by name since I was already checked in but not boarded. Never heard that announcement either). Being on the later flight meant that I got into Chicago later, and that meant that I missed the last bus back to Madison, which in turn meant that I spent the night at the Bus/Transit Center (or whatever they call it) at O'Hare waiting for the first morning bus at 0630. Again. I'd planned ahead to not have that happen, but it did anyway. I did manage to buy a round trip bus ticket the week before, so I at least had a definite and paid for ride home, but I still spent the night in Chicago.

Okay, so spending another night at O'Hare wasn't the worst thing that could have happened, but it wasn't much fun, either. I'm far more concerned that I missed the boarding call. I've been flying around to different places since I was eight years old. I'm anal-retentive-with-a-hyphen about plane schedules. I might miss flights, but I never miss shit like boarding calls at the gate.

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It hasn't helped, in general, that the anti-diabetes medication I'm on makes me nauseous. I spent part of my vacation standing outside throwing up off the back porch, until I finally gave in and stopped taking the pills.They might help lower my high blood sugar, but if I can't keep any food down that's not especially healthy either. I know the answer to diabetes, it's proper diet and exercise. I haven't had an excess of either since returning to school, so that's a problem that remains unsolved.

I missed my last set of doctor's appointments, where Doc is supposed to review my meds and do blood work and all of that. I need to reschedule them, but I feel almost as equally as sick when it comes to calling to set up appointments as when I take the pills. I'm afraid they're going to say "Suck it, the pills are your only option, take them or die". My Doc is also at the satellite clinic, which isn't all that easy to reach by bus (and more so when it's zero or below outside). I need to try to get moved back to the main hospital, again, where it's easy to get bus transport there and back.

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I was supposed to be going to a hackathon in Michigan this weekend, and I assumed wrongly that the hackathon would send a bus to Wisconsin to pick me (and everyone else who is going) up. We're not back in classes yet, so I might have been the only one (or one of a very few) and so they didn't send a bus this way. I'm disappointed, because I wanted to go. I always learn a ton of new stuff at hackathons, and I really enjoy going. Not this time, though. I suppose that a weekend of no sleep, coding, and chugging Red Bull might not have been the healthiest thing, but it would have been fun.

I am also one of a group of people organizing a hackathon for later this spring, in April. I'm far more a hacker than an organizer-- it's much easier to work with a chunk of code than to organize people and logistics. Code either works, and you are happy, or it doesn't work, and you are not happy and so you must debug (which is not an altogether bad kind of not happy). Right now I'm just tired, because I was up all last night hacking. Code never blames. It's you and the computer. You typed in the code that doesn't work, but the computer doesn't do anything terrible if your code fails. The computer doesn't care that you didn't do whatever you didn't do, or that you made a logic error. You (I) can wrestle with the code until it works the way I want it to work.

This always comes back to what my Vet Center person thought about my life, that I can (and possibly should) consider myself "retired". Do hackathons for fun, hack personal projects, do school for the sake of learning, and maybe scale things back to where I can manage on my current means. It's not that easy though. I don't know quite what it feels like to just have things "set". Since forever, I've been striving, trying to get to a better place.I don't know what it's like not to be striving, thinking internship and future job, etc. It's hard to relax after you've been homeless and seen and felt what it's like to have the entire world pulled out from under you. It's hard to trust and believe that you have enough of anything, much less that you have enough of everything you need.

That there wasn't a bus coming for me to get to the hackathon in Michigan illustrates my point that hackathons aren't forever. I can sort of make something of starting projects at hackathons, and then spending the time between hackathons finishing those projects and mashing them up into code that actually does something useful. Priorities change, hackathons change, the money that was there to send a bus last semester might not be there this semester. I get accepted to hackathons, but if there's no bus or transportation cost reimbursement, I can't actually attend. I worry that the funding that's enabled me to get to so many cool hackathons will someday (soon) dry up and with it, the part of my life that is attending hackathons.

Yeah, I worry a lot, probably too much.



04 January 2015

More in being an advocate

No, I really don't want to be an advocate for homeless veterans. It would be noble, perhaps, but it would be a waste of time. How can you say that, when you've been a homeless veteran yourself? When you've been a homeless veteran with no one to advocate for you? Who better to be that person than someone that's been there?

I'm not a crusader, going off to battle the forces of evil. I'm just a vet with PTSD trying to figure shit out.

I need to call my landlord to have my drains checked, because the toilet and a couple of my drains are draining slower they should be. Taking to him triggers my PTSD-- I just know it won't be a simple "okay, I'll have someone there tomorrow to look at it" and then a maintenance guy shows up tomorrow and the problem is solved. Add this to the list of very simple things that PTSD makes very difficult. I'm avoiding the probl because I'm afraid of what might happen-- I'm afraid that I'll end up talking to my landlord. How can I be the guy who takes on the system if I can't even call my landlord to get something fixed?

And what if my landlord looks at the rest of my apartment? It's, um, a little disorganized. I'm moving stuff in from my storage unit little by little, and one recent trip involved clothes that were packed by cramming them into suitcases dirty or not. So I've got a lot of dirty clothes scattered around. It's not like I can just shove everything in the bedroom and close the door, because it's a studio apartment. I really really don't want to get a call from my landlord about my place "being messy". My life is messy, get over it. Fix the toilet and leave me alone.

Anything that involves me talking to my landlord is something I want to avoid. Considering my last landlord (Porchlight) who made it a corporate mission to make me homeless again, and my landlord before that who would bang on my door and scream for me to get the fuck out of the building-- plus the current one-- dealing with the landlord isn't easy for me.

So yeah, considering landlords are a big part of the problem of veterans (me especially) being homeless, maybe I'm not the best choice to be the advocate?

I am working on a new letter to my U.S. Senator about my whole experience dealing with Porchlight. I'm also going to pay visits to the Patient Advocate and the Social Work offices at the VA hospital to turn in formal, written complaints about how I was treated by Porchlight and by the VA's own homeless program staff. 

Actually I need to add "how I am still being treated by the VA's homeless program staff", which is "not at all". I'm still at risk for homelessness. One more "time" and I'll meet the HUD definition for "chronically homeless". I'm not on anyone's radar since I found a place to live on my own. I already know that the VA homeless program people here don't have my back. Seems to make send to me though, they they should be doing something to help support those of us who are back in normal housing so we don't backslide. (Help dealing with landlords would be a good start, hint hint).

I'm going to start talking to someone again at the Vet Center, to try to keep working some of these things out. The thing about PTSD is that it never really goes away. Some days are better than others, but it's still always there. I needed a break from "the system" these past few months. I had some things to prove on my own, but mostly I needed to step back from having appointments all the time. Now, yeah, it's time again to pickup and work on things that are giving me trouble. Hopefully I can find a sense of closure with all of this stuff about being homeless, yes make sure it's all documented, and then step back and acknowledge that I did what I could to make things better.

Oh yeah, and call the landlord about the drains. Gotta do that too.




02 January 2015

Why I'm about to be a thorn in some people's sides

If you're new to my blog and wondering what I'm going on about, it's all documented here: 2014 2013 2012

Picture yourself being in school half time, working part time, living in a homeless shelter. You have PTSD and you're fighting anxiety and depression. You can't sleep without sleeping pills. You end up shaking every time you hear a noise outside your door. Your landlord, Porchlight Inc, the non-profit charity that runs the shelter has decided that you have to go because you stand up for yourself and demand to be treated as a human being. Porchlight will tell you that it's all my fault. The VA, who was supposed to have my back, will tell you that there's something wrong with me that caused me to collapse at the end of the semester in spring 2014; that I failed in the face of being back out on the street. That it was my fault.

No, it wasn't my fault. I've had some time to think about things, to line things up. 

Given my disability-- PTSD, anxiety, depression-- and given the situation I was in while I lived in VA transitional housing plus being on the street again right before final exams, anyone going through that hell would have had trouble getting passing grades in classes. It's hard enough being in school and dealing with PTSD, but when your entire support system turns its back on you-- what else can you be but royally fucked?

After I'd been evicted from transitional housing, not one person called or checked to see if I was OK.
That's what really hits me in the gut-- that I could have walked a block down the street, pulled out my pocket knife and slit my wrists, and that would have been that. No one from Porchlight or the VA would have ever known, and no one from Porchlight or the VA would have cared.

Tell me, social worker who thinks they're helping eliminate homelessness among veterans, where in school do they teach you how to be that fucking cold? What class do you take that allows you to simply stop caring about a person that easily? 

I found a permanent apartment on my own. I enrolled in community college classes, and put up a 3.0 GPA for fall semester 2014.  Also in 2014, I had interviews with Google and Apple, attended a bunch of hackathons, and self taught myself a shit ton of new things about programming. It's a little late to try to get an internship for summer 2015, but I will get one for summer 2016-- maybe even at a startup in Silicon Valley. Hopefully UW will understand my situation and I'll be able to get back to finishing my bachelor's degree this fall, and even graduate next year.

Now that I have a stable living situation, and I'm not surrounded by people telling me how every bad thing in my life is my fault, things have improved. Imagine.  

I never intended to become an advocate for homeless veterans. I have my own issues to address, and maybe I'll suck as an advocate, but I can't just stand by and watch people who are getting paid to provide for my brothers and sisters pull the kind of shit that happened to me. How many veterans die on the street because some housing manager got pissed off and evicted them? How many veterans die on the street because the homeless program manager just figured they'd get a hotel room?

Some of you in the world of caring for homeless veterans are about to have a persistent thorn in your side. 


















24 December 2014

Christmas, phooey

So yeah, Christmas. Phooey. I'm sitting in  a local Panera Bread, since the academic building I'd normally be camped out in is locked. No, I don't have a rewards card. No, I don't want one. Hell no I don't want anything to eat-- when I lived in the homeless shelter, Panera brought the week's leftovers every Saturday morning. Bagels, cookies, doughnuts, Danishes, you name it. There were far too many days and nights where that's all I had to eat was leftover sweets. Now I'm diabetic, so no, thank you, I'll just stick to the coffee. 

I sound like I'm in a bad mood-- I'm really not. I'm bored. It's quiet around here, since everyone's gone home for Christmas. I do like the quiet, but I need someplace to be. My apartment isn't yet a place to be-- other than a bed I don't have any of my furniture out of storage.  Yeah, I know, quit bitchin', right?  It's still hard to have a concept of "being home". Having a place to live still seems so fragile.

Most things seem fragile, and that's because things are in a state where they're soon going to change. Fall semester turned out all right-- best semester in a long time, 3.0. (Woot!)  I only missed class once, and everything got done and turned in. Both my therapist at the VA hospital and at the Vet Center wanted to pin my failures in spring semester on me shutting down-- well, shit, you'd shut down too if you were dealing with being put out on the street by people who had promised to help you get back on your feet. I'm still pissed at Porchlight, yes. Broken record, I know. Look, this semester I put up a 3.0 and I didn't have all of Porchlight's bullshit to deal with. Compare and contrast. You tell me what conclusion you come up with.

Every month I still worry when it's time to pay the rent. It's expensive. My landlord is an asshole, or at least he acts like one, so I'm afraid that if a rent payment shows up late he's going to evict me without a second thought. Actually, there would have to be a mediation hearing first and I'd get the chance to settle my account but still-- not something I want to go through again.

I need 18 credits to graduate. Within that 18 credits I need to get my GPA the rest of the way up to meeting academic standards. Within all of that I want to do an internship somewhere in California, which is where I'm headed after graduation. There are too few opportunities, and too many bad memories, to stay here once school is done. 

Today is a good example-- it's winter break, and it's Christmas Eve, so the university is for the most part shut down. That means I need to amuse myself off campus. To be honest, I don't have a lot going on outside of school and definitely nothing around Madison. It's cold, grey, and bleak outside.

In LA it's sunny and warm. In San Francisco it's cloudy. I don't have to ask Siri-- I feel pretty safe making those assumptions. I don't have anything in particular to do in California at the moment, but I imagine I'd have better odds finding something there than here. 

It's just time. I've honestly been here long enough, I've been in school long enough, and it's just time to finish this college thing up and move on to whatever's next. I'm frustrated because it's still going to take a while to make it happen.