27 July 2015

One year down. Oh, and FU.

On Friday, I signed a new lease for my apartment-- it runs until August 15, 2016, and my rent increases by $10/month (which is less of an increase than I had expected). The entire process of signing the new least took under ten minutes, Landlord was professional and polite, and it was pretty painless.  Far less painless than I had expected.  It was, dare I say, pretty normal. Which is pretty scary.

This August, specifically the end of August, will mark a year since I was last homeless. It will mark the end of a year in which the goal was to stay stable for a year, keep doing what I was doing, have a stable place to live, etc.

I'm going to rant a little bit here, so fair warning. I'm going to repeat something that I've been saying for what feels like forever now. Since last year, when I was evicted from the VA Grant Per Diem (GPD) program, transitional housing for veterans, operated by Porchlight Inc of Madison WI, no one from Porchlight has ever called, or written, or emailed to see if I was all right. No one from the VA Hospital's social work office, or the VA Hospitals' patient advocate office, or from the VA's Madison homeless veterans program office has ever followed up to see how I'm doing.

My first reaction to that is fuck off, you VA and Porchlight bastards left me out on the street and didn't care if I lived or died. Guess what? I'm still here. Yes, I'm still angry about it. I'm trying to let the anger go and just move on, but it's difficult. When I do trust someone, and they violate that trust-- as both the VA and Porchlight did-- I don't easily forgive and forget. I hope that karma, for the people at the VA and at Porchlight that tossed me aside like a sack of shit, truly is a bitch.

If you knew me personally, you'd know that I don't say that kind of thing about many people. I'm probably one of the kindest, most gentle and down to earth veterans with PTSD you're likely to ever meet (although admittedly I do have my triggers).


I've been struggling on and off lately. Part of it is that the anniversary of the start of Desert Shield is coming up soon, part of it is the lingering anger I have over everything that has happened over the past couple of years, and part of it-- the part that I'm just now realizing is a part of it-- is what's been
happening in Madison WI lately.

tl;dr The city doesn't have a practical day shelter for homeless people, the city (especially the Mayor's office) has decided that Madison has been far too soft on homeless people for far too long, and so ordinances like "you can't sit on a bench for more than an hour" are being proposed. The city has been trying to find solutions derping over this for several years now.

Madison seems, like a lot of other places, to wish that all of its homeless people would just either find places to live or drift somewhere else. Out of sight, out of mind. You never hear about the quiet homeless people, the ones that do their best (as I always did) to fly under the radar. You hear about the ones that get drunk or high and yell at people, or the ones that panhandle too aggressively, or the guy that pissed against the wall downtown and got arrested.

You don't see the homeless people that fly under the radar-- or you might, but they just look a little out of place, a little transient. Some hide it better than others. I recognize them right away, but then again, I know what to look for.

There's talk of Housing First, an initiative that considers the cost of taking care of people living on the street vs putting people into places to live-- the idea being that it's far cheaper and far more effective to get people off the street first, and then address each person's problems once they have a stable place to live.  As I understand it, that's pretty closely aligned with the VA's idea of transitional housing. Get the veteran off the street, and into a managed environment where they have access to all of the resources they need to put life back together and not be homeless.

What a concept-- until you end up back on the street because the so-called charity that runs the program (and soaks up a metric shit ton of government money for doing so) decides they don't like you. Consider that for the transitional housing building I lived in, Porchlight gets market rent for every person that lives there. (True, as a program resident you only pay 30% of your income up to a certain amount, but the VA/HUD/etc fills in the rest up to market rate rent).

It still really bothers me that the system-- the VA, Porchlight, transitional housing-- chewed me up and spit me out the way it did. It's not something I can resolve. I'm trying to find something, closure maybe, that puts it all into perspective and I can't do it, at least not yet. I'm very cynical about it all, which takes a lot of energy that I'd rather use doing other, more productive, things.

Say what you want about ending homelessness. Say what you want about getting every veteran off the streets of America. It's just another "War on X", it's just more bullshit, until you actually do something about it, something more than just try to sweep the undesirables out of sight.  You can even give everyone on the streets a place to stay and claim you've eliminated homelessness, but you're lying. It's a hard thing, seeing so many people promising to get every veteran off the street when the system did everything it could to put me, a veteran, back on the street.

I'm angry, but I'm proud, too.

I'm proud that I managed to get the rent paid for an entire year, on time enough that my landlord (butthead though he may be) offered me a lease for another year.  This time next year, I'll have the Holy Grail of the Formerly Homeless-- two years at one address, with a good rent reference. Maybe, by then, I'll be far enough in time that the anger will have lessened, that I won't be so triggered every time I see a homeless person or read something in the news on how Madison is trying to get rid of the riff-raff.

By then, I'll be packing and getting ready to bug out though. See you in August 2016, California.

22 July 2015

Communicating with Veterans

As much as I don't like saying this, there are just some people in the world that I will never be able to effectively work with. I'm not happy about this. I'd honestly rather get along with everyone around me. Life is easier and more productive that way. For the record, PTSD is a whole lot easier to manage when people around me either just go on about their business or, if we need to interact, when people are professional (or at the very least, a little bit polite).

Enter my landlord, who I called early on Monday morning to set up an appointment. I need to sign a new apartment lease.  Most people I know that live near campus signed leases for the next academic year months ago. I've been immersed in a lot of my own issues (that PTSD thing again), so I haven't been as proactive as I could have been, so perhaps I can't bitch too much. Still, there are people in Silicon Valley that work in sales that contact me every other week to see if I want to buy one product as a service or another, proving that at least somewhere in the world, business people who want to make money actually try to do so. My landlord doesn't think those rules apply. 

Landlord knows I work nights-- I've told him as much several times.  Last night he called (reading from my phone's call log) at 17:37, 17:37, 18:52, 18:52, and 19:18 while I was at work. He finally left a message berating me for calling when his phone wasn't forwarded, when he was busy, and at the wrong for him time of day. I'm to either call him immediately (taking a break at work if I have to) or call within certain specific hours today so we can work out a time to meet.  

I should note that, when I called and left a message, I suggested an appointment between 13:00 and 15:00 on Friday because that's when I have empty space on my calendar. Between VA appointments, work meetings, help desk work, software development work, sleep, and getting back and forth between home and all of these things, that's what I've got open this week. It's not a coincidence that those hours are within the time that Landlord always says are his hours when he's available for meeting with tenants. 

This is what happened the last time I tried to set up an appointment with the guy. It wasn't pretty

I'm taking a deep breath here. You can't see it, but I am. I learned how to do that in PTSD therapy.

I'm going to call again later this morning. It's actually the middle of the night right now, so (at least in my book) it's a bad time to call anyone unless someone's either headed to the hospital or it's judgment day. My phone is on DND this time of night, with exceptions for a very few numbers. This is when my free, do whatever the fruck I want time is most days-- the middle of the night. So I'll wait until daylight, when it's more appropriate to call and leave a message. Once that's done, I'm going to get undressed and go to bed. (You can't see that either. Sorry.)

When I call, this is the message I'm going to leave:

Hi, ____. This is ____ from (where I live). This week I am available to meet between the hours of 1:00pm and 3:00pm this Friday afternoon to sign a new lease. If you would like me to suggest a specific time, I suggest 2:00pm. Other than Friday afternoon, this week is very busy for me and I am unlikely to be able to directly answer my phone. Please leave me a message and let me know if Friday at 2:00pm works for you. If not, please let me know what time between 1:00pm and 3:00pm does work for you. Thank you.

That's not the message I want to leave, but I still have some military bearing remaining. I really hope that I can just get the damn lease signed and not have to deal with the guy until this time next summer when I'm packing my stuff for Silicon Valley. 

One can hope.


Here are the other things I'd like to say (besides, "just give me the f*cking lease, let me sign it, and GTFO). 

I'm writing these down for two reasons: first, because I need to get all of this off my chest. Dealing with this landlord has triggered me to my medication's end and kept me awake all night, and I need to get some sleep so I can get to work in a few hours. Second, maybe someone else will come across these things and it will help them communicate with a veteran they're trying to talk to.

If you call, and you get my voicemail, leave one message. Tell me exactly what you need to tell me and then hang up. Don't hang up right away and call back, and especially don't call back several times in a short time span. Every time the phone rings it makes me jump. I've received too many phone calls in my life that brought bad news. I might also be in the middle of dealing with my own shit, and so I'm not at all ready to talk to anyone right this second. When I'm ready to talk, if I want to talk to you, I will call you back. 

It's honestly much better if you email or text me. Both will go straight to my phone. You still are not likely to get an immediate answer, again unless you're one of those people who I will always answer right away no-matter-what. Again, if you're one of those people, you'll know. Otherwise, email or text gives me a chance to see what you have to say and think about how I want (or need) to respond. If I'm having a really shitty PTSD day, you'll greatly prefer the delayed response.

My sense of time is all wibbly wobbly because of both the PTSD and the medication I take to treat the PTSD (and my sleep pattern, or lack thereof).  A sense of order-- a schedule-- is essential to my existence because Tuesday and Thursday feel the same to me sometimes. If you're not on my calendar, if a task isn't on my list, it doesn't happen. If you say you want to talk to me on Wednesday, it's meaningless to me. Give me a date and a time. Wednesday at 15:00 is something I can put on my calendar, and then my phone will buzz to tell me we're meeting a half hour ahead so I have time to get ready and travel to where we're meeting. I'll be in a frame of mind where I can talk to you because I'll have had time to tell the demons to shut up for a while, and I'll have enough strength built up that they might even listen. 

19 July 2015

This time of year again?

It's hard not to look at the calendar; each different day of a week, or a month, I might have a different schedule. It might be a day that I have to work, which is further divided into "am I working quality assurance at the help desk?" or "am I working project hours writing php and JavaScript for the software development team?" I have two main software projects of my own that I'm working on this summer, so I schedule time to work on those. Depending on the day, I might stay up until morning. Some days I head home (and to bed) before daylight. Other days, like today, I'll be up until and through dawn. I work nights, and I've worked nights for several years now, so I'm used to this schedule. It's still pretty wonky, but it works.

About that calendar, though. It's July 18th. That means it's almost August the second.

August 2, 1990. No, 2015. Shit.

In terms of Desert Shield and Desert Storm, July 18th doesn't really mean anything. It's just another day, and in 2015, it's 25 years later. Maybe the 18th does mean something? I don't know. In 1990, where was I? I'd been back stateside for just about a month from a remote 15-month tour to Turkey. I think my household goods had arrived, but I hadn't unpacked most of it. I'm pretty sure I had eaten at least a few cheeseburgers and enjoyed a few beers. I'm certain I hadn't finished in processing at my new base, although maybe I'd started. I already knew, basically, what my unit's AOR and mission was. My (now ex) wife had already been there for about a year, so I'd been briefed, more or less.

This day in July 1990 was therefore, just like any other day. Get up, shit shower shave, put BDUs on, lace up the boots, do the pocket dance and make sure everything is where it's supposed to be, and haul ass to work, a 45 minute drive away. A hurricane had blown through a few months ago so there were a ton of temporary contractors in town around the base. The closest available apartments were that far away. I can picture the place, sort of. I remember the inside of the apartment, where furniture was. Outside the apartment, where the cars were parked, where the tennis court was, the trees, almost everything.

It's easy to go back there. If things weren't perfect, at least I was back stateside with my (now ex) wife, finally, and life could begin going on instead of just a continuous progression of red X's marked on a short timer's calendar on the wall.


I wasn't Special Forces of any kind; no black ops, no secret squirrel shit, nothing that anyone would ever write a book or make a movie about. I was a something, though most people who weren't that something have probably never heard of what I was and probably don't care. I was Ground Radio. I was-- I am-- a Ground Rat. I worked on a bunch of different kinds of radios and all of the stuff that gets plugged into and attached to radios. Having spent most of the 80's until that point being a hacker and phone phreak, working on electronics at U. S. Air Force scale was fascinating, and I loved doing it. I was serving my country, doing something important. If my radios didn't work right when they needed to work right, a lot of things would go wrong. People might die. So I wasn't nearly as high speed as some parts of the military, but I still had an important job. I was a part of something bigger than myself.

There were a lot of things I didn't like about the military-- being an airman means that you get tagged for details outside of your shop when you're supposed to be in your shop learning your job. You do things like sweep the floor, clean latrines, mow the grass/rocks, and all sorts of things that you'd really rather not be doing. But, you're an airman, and shit rolls downhill. On you. Me. Whatever. If I could tell me back then one thing, it would probably be a reminder how important all of that shit work was. (I know, now. Doesn't mean I all of a sudden have a thing for scrubbing down urinals though.)

There were also a lot of things I didn't understand about the military. In 1990, I'd been in for two years. Looking back on the whole thing, it takes your first four years to really get a handle on what's going on. It also takes time, and life, and experience, and thought, and reflection, and all of those kinds of things. I understand my role in the military, what I was doing and what it meant, far more deeply now than I did when I was actually on active duty. Maybe that's wisdom. I'm not always sure. As much as I think I understand, there's no technical order to check.


This time of year-- the weeks just before the anniversary of Iraq getting uppity and actually invading Kuwait-- is a time of relative calm around here. No classes. Work isn't that busy, because the majority of the students that are here during the academic year are not here. Summer in Madison WI is pretty chill, just as it was pretty chill in South Carolina in July 1990.

It is hard-- difficult-- for me this time of year. On any given day, I'm pretty hyper aware. I look at a sunny blue sky, and in one blink I see the sunny blue sky replaced by bad things that I know could happen. I don't know if I've seen the worst of things that could possibly happen-- Desert Storm was short, compared to so many other events in history. Things could have been a lot worse. It was fortunate, for everyone involved, that the Persian Gulf War was over so quickly (although time didn't seem to be passing very quickly at the time).

Except that it wasn't actually over, and every single one of the half million troops involved knew it. We all knew that the cease fire hadn't settled anything. We all knew we'd be going back someday, to fight again, and if it wasn't us it would be the next generation. That's exactly what happened. I make it a point to avoid politics when I write, so please don't take this as political commentary (it's the PTSD talking), but I fear that we're headed towards another war which will be worse. I have this fear, every year, every summer, because the relative calm of summer is a reminder that somewhere in the world, some crazy motherfucker is loading up tanks with shells and rifles with bullets and tomorrow or next week or next month, something is going to happen.

It's not an irrational fear. I know it can happen.
It's emotion. It's an emotional reaction. It's how I feel, not necessarily how things are.
I'm trying to convince myself that's true, but lately it's difficult.

It's times like these that I miss the military the most. On active duty it's your job to prepare for the worst possible thing that can happen. If a chemical attack happened today I'd know what to do. If nuclear fallout started raining down I'd know how to decontaminate. These crazy things made sense, in the scope of being in the military. 

Even the worst of the worst tasks I was ever assigned was still part of the mission. I'd gripe, bitch, and moan, as airmen have done about shit work as long as there have been airmen, but I'd still get the job done. At the end of the day, I was still an airman. Still a Ground Rat. Still doing something that meant something.

Now, what am I a part of?

15 July 2015

Missing the Desert

There's been something out of whack for a while now. It's along the lines of when you're driving a car, and either it's making a strange noise or there's a odd vibration coming off the tires, or maybe it's just the road, and you really can't tell. The car is moving, you're keeping up with traffic, but things don't feel like things are all good. You wonder when the car isn't going to start one morning, or one evening, stranding you wherever you are. You hope it doesn't, though, at least not for a while longer. It's a feeling of dread, or maybe it's just regular fear, because you know what can happen and you're afraid that it's about to happen (or happen again).

I occasionally run into a ROTC cadet-- Wisconsin has ROTC detachments for all of the services, so there are quite a few of them here. It's always interesting hearing what they're doing for training. They don't have war stories yet, so I get to hear about the two weeks in summer and the PT and all of those other fun things that I don't have to worry about. Honestly, during the time I was active duty it was highly unusual to hear "ROTC" in a sentence without the word "puke" attached (as in, those f'n ROTC pukes), but I do my best to behave and play nice. :) 

I'm jealous, though, because there are so many things I miss about being on active duty. It's grounding, in a way, to be able to talk to ROTC pu cadets because we talk about normal things. The day to day stuff, the funny things, what's different between now and then. Cadets mostly haven't been to places like Iraq and Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. Many of them, if they stay with ROTC, eventually will go to those places. At the very least, they'll train to be prepared to go to those places. Until then, though, they're much like I was before I shipped out for the Middle East-- motivated, dedicated, and overall pretty happy. That's not to say that I've never been happy since I went overseas. There have certainly been a lot of happy moments, both overseas and after coming home. My life isn't that bleak. It's an attitude, though-- a frame of mind. You're part of something important and it's a good feeling.

It hit me extremely hard when Porchlight evicted me from the VA Transitional Housing program a year ago. There were some things I could have done to slow down the damage-- I could have withdrawn from school, I could have asked for incomplete grades for my classes, they would have understood, right? My situation would be better now had I done those things, right? Maybe. My two years in the program would have been up last November, and no one had done anything to help me find a new place to live. I'd have been out on the street at the start of a Wisconsin winter. (Apartments around here are leased on academic years, August to August. There are no open apartments in November.)

Of course, it would hit anyone hard being evicted from an apartment and finding themselves on the street, but I'd already been there. Transitional housing was supposed to be about recovery, getting back on my feet, and then getting moving forward again. The VA (and in fact the country) was supposed to have my back. A grateful nation, a VA sworn to eliminate homelessness among veterans. I'm sure some people have been helped, but in my case it turned out to be all bullshit. The VA patient advocate couldn't (or wouldn't) do anything to help. The VA homeless program director here was a large part of the reason I was evicted. Even letters to Senator Tammy Baldwin didn't help. 

When you've been homeless, and you find yourself a new place to live on your own, it makes you ineligible for any kind of assistance. Convicted felons who are released from prison on parole get parole officers whose job (in theory) is to make sure that the felon doesn't end up back in the joint. Homeless veterans who find homes again get nothing. No one checks to make sure you're doing all right. No one follows up to see if you're managing things all right, that you're getting your rent paid, that you're taking your PTSD medications and getting to your appointments. You still have the same PTSD that made you homeless in the first place, but that's someone else's (yours) issue to worry about.

Last summer, I was seeing a social work person at the Vet Center here until she transferred out to a different job in a different state. Her plan for me, her advice, was that I should continue where I was. She likened my situation to being 'retired' in that I only needed to work part time, that I was receiving disability payments, and that I could keep going to school and attending hackathons-- and that right now that's all there needed to be for me. 

After she moved on from the Vet Center, no one ever called me back to start working with someone else. I eventually just showed up one day and asked for demanded an appointment. I more or less randomly picked someone, a relatively new social work person that I had previously worked with at the county veterans service office. She was a combat vet, had had some of the same problems I'd had with school, etc, so figured it would be a good fit. She did help me get some things straightened out, but it wasn't long before she was indicating that I didn't need to be there-- that I sounded like I was doing fine, that I was on the right path, etc. When the Vet Center was packing up to move to a different location, she almost literally swept me out the door. I haven't heard from the Vet Center since, and I don't ever plan to go back. 

Right now I have a pharmacist-- not a psychiatrist, a pharmacist-- managing issuing prescriptions for my medications. I have an appointment with her coming up in about two weeks, at which I'll probably ask to have my venlafaxine dose raised slightly. Honestly, at this point I'm managing my own medications. She asks how I'm doing, fills out a form on a computer, and if I say I need more she ups my dosages. I see her every few months, with about the same regularity and same formality as taking the car to a mechanic's shop for an oil change.  

I also have a social work intern (excuse me, resident) working with me every other week helping me deal with managing taking other pills, the ones that earlier this year were causing me to yak all over the city as soon as I took the pills. I'm back to taking the psych drugs and keeping them and food down, so there's progress. Last week, she called in sick and so missed my appointment. Now it's up to me to make a new appointment (she did call yesterday, and say that if I called before noon I could get an appointment today; I work nights, so I was asleep by time business hours came around to call). 

Finally, there's a 'drop-in' group at the VA hospital for vets who have previously been through the Prolonged Exposure therapy program; it's meant to be a booster (the VA's word), to help with applying the PE therapy. I showed up yesterday, but no one else did-- including the group facilitator. I was running late, and called to say that I was running late but would still be there. The group was supposed to start at 1500, when it got to 1550 I got up and left. No one noticed, no one followed up.

It's too bad, really. I was looking forward to the group-- the only other participant is a Vietnam vet, and we have a lot in common despite the differences between the Vietnam war and the Desert. I wish the group was a constant thing, every week, indefinitely. It isn't.

I'm not 'critical', or 'in crisis', at least as far as the VA is concerned. I'm not homeless, or suicidal. I'm not drunk, or high, or violent, or a threat to anyone. I'm actually pretty quiet. I don't make a lot of noise. I keep to myself a lot. I make it out of bed a large majority of the days in a month. I get cleaned up, I get dressed, I go to work (where I get paid to work with computers) and I go to the lab (where I don't get paid to do anything). I'm spending most of my waking hours this summer writing JavaScript, learning to write unit and behavioral tests for software I've written (and that I am writing). I've been learning a new programming language (php). I'm doing a ton of work some days, and a half ton on others, and the days where I don't get much done don't happen all that often.

Working hard is something I like to do, but there's a line between working hard to make progress and working hard to self medicate. I don't drink or use, I stay up all night and code. That's my passion, and it is also sometimes my therapy, but it's a finite resource. I can't work sixty hour weeks every week even if I am having fun.

I know that the stuff I'm learning, the practice I'm getting, will pay off in the near future. If I hadn't decided on my own to get into hackathons and start writing software again, and going to school again, I wouldn't have the job I have now where I'm being paid to write software. I try to stay on the good side of the line; try to eat actual meals, try to get somewhat regular sleep, etc. I walk to and from, averaging about 10,000 steps a day (or so says my Pebble watch).

It's for the most part, lately, a solo journey. The VA doesn't care what I'm doing, how hard I'm working, that I avoid using global variables, or that I'm moving to Silicon Valley (or maybe Silicon Beach, we'll see) next year. Maybe the VA doesn't have the resources, to keep a drop-in therapy group going indefinitely or to check on all of the veterans that probably need to at least be checked on occasionally.

I used to trust the VA, though. I used to believe that the VA had my back covered, that if things really and truly went to shit, they'd be able to be there and help. I no longer believe that. When I tell people at the VA what happened with transitional housing, they never have an answer. When I tell people at the VA that I'm still struggling, they tell me I'm fine even though when I walk down the street, I see the Desert. I'm not an angry person, but I sometimes have a short fuse for no reason at all and I know it's the PTSD. The person at the VA writes this down, maybe, and then it's forgotten.

I miss the Desert. I miss wearing BDU's, being part of a unit that was itself both unique and a part of something much bigger. I even miss the discipline, the shit work that fell to me as an airman, the things that happened that seemingly made no sense at the time (and even the things from the military that still don't make sense). 





28 June 2015


You might need a fresh cup of coffee for this post. I needed coffee to write it.

I'm reading Kent Beck's book, Extreme Programming Explained, this summer. It's a few years old, but it's been on the recommendation lists of several people I know and respect for quite a few of those years. I keep track of a lot of industry press and research literature, and people argue about software production methods constantly (and have done so since people first started programming computers). Not everyone agrees that extreme programming (XP) is a good thing, but even if not everything that it suggests is implemented out in reality, a large portion of it is really in use. Much of it has to do, unsurprisingly, with people and how they interact. I'm a computer science student fighting with PTSD, so I'll take help where I can find it. 

If there's one word I hear when being given advice about programming, or read about ways to program effectively, it's communication. You have to be able to communicate with the people you build software with, and the people who will use the software you write. Not communicating means that the software doesn't solve the problem for which it was built, and civilization comes crashing down. I've seen this in action, and it's true. Pair programming is one of the things that's presented as a solution to the problem of communicating while building software, and that's been a subject of tons of debate. The overall impression is that it's a good thing, and from my admittedly limited experience programming in pairs, I again agree completely.

Still I'm spending a lot of my time writing code by myself. There is a lot written about ways to build software faster and with fewer bugs, and there is also a lot written about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety. There's very little, at least as far as I've been able to find, written about pair programming when one or both of the programmers in the pair have PTSD to deal with. There's really no manual for being a student with PTSD, and there's similarly no manual for being a programmer with PTSD, so I've been working mostly alone since I started seriously hacking again a number of years ago.

PTSD likes being alone, suffering in silence. 

Part of it is that social interactions can be complicated-- the world is dangerous, and dealing with people can be even more so. Avoiding things is a huge part of how PTSD keeps itself going. PTSD makes it difficult to concentrate, which makes programming harder-- for me it means that I sometimes have to hammer longer on learning a new concept than people who don't have trouble concentrating. I don't have the greatest sense of time ("chronologically challenged" is a term I like), and I have a wacky sleep schedule, and there are all kinds of things I could list that make pair programming a difficult thing when PTSD is involved. 

They all boil down to fear, being afraid that I won't be productive because the PTSD symptoms will get in the way and then people won't want to work with me because they think I'm stupid or slow or an asshole or whatever reason. It's the paradox that you have to be able to communicate, while at the same time your brain wants to be back in the Desert. You can wear headphones and listen to Massive Attack to mitigate your brain wanting to play back flashback movies (headphones in fact help a lot) but you can't pair program with headphones on. The fear I feel is that the mechanisms I've come up with to cope right now (i. e., working alone in a lab in the middle of the night) don't apply to the real world where I write code and people give me money in return (and where people pair up to write programs).

Hold the thought on pair programming for a moment. 

In the early days o' the web (aka the 90's) I was a programmer at a company that built web sites for companies that sold houses. I wrote some good software there, but it was hard to do good work there because we didn't have things like extreme programming. We actually didn't have a lot of things, like source code control or testing or QA or in fact any of the really good tools and methods that I use daily on my own projects now. Programmers were never allowed to talk to customers; we were often discouraged from talking even to each other. Many of the practices that were normal at that company (and others like it) (and who no longer exist) were the reasons that someone sat down and came up with something like extreme programming. I mention this because my experience back in the day gives me a pretty good perspective on now not to do things, while also giving me a pretty good reason to do some of the things that XP suggests. 

There's also a lot about extreme programming that meshes well with the cognitive therapy I've worked on for PTSD, probably enough to write a new book, but here's one example-- testing. The (very simplified) idea of writing tests for software is that you end up with a set of tests that software has to pass before you consider the software "good". If you're using a program on your computer and your computer crashes, it's probably because the "something" happened that the program didn't expect-- since no one tested that "something" happening, the program doesn't know what to do with the problem and so it crashes. 

If the sound of a gun firing takes you back to the Desert, a truck backfiring (or in fact any loud, sudden noise) can take you back to the Desert too. PTSD is your brain being trained to hear the gunshot (or something that sounds like one) and processing it the same as you'd process it in the Desert. If the gunshot is associated with something bad happening, well, that's where the PTSD is from. Whatever you see or feel as a result of hearing a truck backfiring in Indiana is your brain running a program that it wrote when you were in the Desert that does things like make your heart beat faster and your senses to sharpen (it's the fight or flight response).

Cognitive based therapy (CBT) helps you learn that when you hear the truck backfire, you need to stop and think about the noise you just heard-- how likely is it that you just heard gunfire? You learn to evaluate the noise you just heard vs your response to the noise, and see if it matches up. The program runs-- the PTSD, your brain's response to the noise the truck made-- and CBT is the test program that runs that says hey, wait a minute, the output of the program PTSD is running doesn't make sense. What CBT does, eventually, is writes a series of tests that look at the programs PTSD is running and invalidates the programs (reactions) that aren't valid.

A big part of the fear that's generated by the idea of pair programming is that same fight or flight reaction--- it's emotional, not rational, but there it is anyway-- it probably has nothing at all to do with the person you're paired with, or even the problem at hand. It's extra stimulus, having another person at the same desk. The way I think, even when my brain does successfully navigate the PTSD, is probably going to be different than the way someone things that doesn't have PTSD to worry about. It takes time, usually, to even articulate what's going on. And so I've spent several hours writing all of this down, trying to make some sense of it.

The challenge-- my challenge-- this summer, is trying to put what I've learned in therapy at the VA together with the experience I've accumulated, and try to match that up with what industry (where I'll be at some near future point) is doing, plus computer science. 

Which, as it did today, keeps me up all night sometimes. :)