06 November 2014

California Dreamin' Part 2 - Flying Solo

Travel by most means for me is pretty routine-- the first time I flew I was too young to remember, and the first time I flew across the country alone I think I was about eight years old. It was on Ozark Airlines and I had to wear a dorky button that identified that I was an unaccompanied minor, and there was Concern about my changing planes on my own in St. Louis, Ozark's hub. I knew even then that airport signs follow the same general rule as road signs, and I knew how to read those, so it was all good. I was far more worried about whether I'd get a plastic set of pilot's wings, a bag of peanuts, a full can of Coke, and what food was being served. Since then I've been across the Atlantic Ocean six times and I've honestly lost track of how many times I've been across the US by air. Flying isn't quite the same as it used to be-- Midwest Express and baked in-flight cookies are a thing of the past, sadly. It's still kinda cool though, and while I usually spend a large part of any flight asleep I always want a window seat so I can take pictures and look around.

There's enough of the eight year old me left that flying places is pretty freakin' cool.

This weekend (as previously mentioned) I'm headed back to LA, specifically to the University of Southern California for HackSC. I'm discussing this hackathon with myself, in the back of my head-- I've more or less hacked solo at the hackathons I've participated in so far. There's nothing technically wrong with working alone on projects at hackathons, but if I'm going to make a living writing software I'm going to be working on teams with other people-- an important statement, certainly, but there's a lot hidden under the surface in that statement.

One of PTSD's biggest symptoms is avoidance. Shit seems like it gets unreal, part of your brain runs into a problem in some algorithm or some API isn't working the way it seems like it should. Your brain looks at the situation and starts making decisions based on the danger that existed in the past-- whatever caused the PTSD in the first place. You can flee or you can fight. Better still, says the brain, you can avoid everything altogether and not have that problem. The brain wants you to avoid potentially bad situations, like being around other people because you can't trust anybody. Raise the shields. Close the gates.

Hack alone. That way, when you run across problems, no one's there to see that you're struggling. No one sees you struggling, you must be okay. You're okay, so you're safe. You're safe, so life is good.

It's time for me to call BULLSHIT. On myself, for doing so much at hackathons and yet doing it all solo.

My current situation is this: I have a disability (PTSD) that limits how much of anything I can handle at a time. Ramp my stress level up to a certain point, and past that point I'm toast. Over the past two years, my ambient stress level has been insanely high because I've been fighting for survival, not just in school but in life in general. People who end up homeless often end up homeless and dead, and no one knows and no one cares. That's a lot to deal with, and being homeless very nearly kicked my ass. It didn't, though, and because I am still here I can make some decisions.

First, stability. Getting my life to a stable point is, and will continue to be, priority one. Rent paid, bills paid, laundry done, food shopped for and cooked, reading and assignments in classes covered, projects and exams passed if not with flying colors, at least with passing grades. I have the option of my life being just that-- keep it simple, work on school slowly, keep going to hackathons, and not really worry about much else. Once things are stable, I have enough income to survive on-- if not like a king, as least in a livable castle. I could stay here in Madison, do my own thing, and let that be my life. Some people (including my most recent Vet Center person), have suggested that it wouldn't be the worst life ever.

This weekend at HackSC, and at every hackathon hereafter, I'm going to try to find someone to form a team, and I we are going to build something. I'm going to sweat, and probably pace, and probably be nervous about it for a while, and there will almost surely be a point where I will be anxious enough to want to scrap the whole fucking thing.

Eight year old me was probably pretty nervous about flying alone that first time. Breaking out of my shell and seeking people to hack with, I'm pretty nervous about that-- but if I'd never gone ahead with flying alone that first time, I might not be flying to LA to hack tomorrow.

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