26 September 2015


This week went by quickly. It's zero dark early on Saturday morning, and the time between now and getting home from Canada seems to have been only a few seconds. Now that I stop and think about it, there were some important things that happened this week.

The software development team I'm on at work (finally) had our start of semester meeting. Since the team was formed at the end of spring semester we've lost one developer to graduation, lost one developer to an extended internship, and gained one new developer. Although I've been doing development work all summer, I've also been the only one here all summer. The team hasn't had any opportunity to work as a team. It will be nice having other developers around to discuss ideas, and exchange feedback. As much as I need quiet and alone time to code, it's also really important for me to have people to work with.

I am, of course, the grey bearded UNIX guy who uses vim instead of when I'm coding. This sort of sets me apart from the other guys (yes, all guys) on the team, who cringe at the thought of coding exclusively in a text based editor. During the meeting I mentioned that I've done a bunch of work with automated code tests with Grunt (a command line task runner utility). The response is that PHPStorm (a graphical integrated development environment) can integrate all those things too. I'm fine with that. I give my usual explanation that I'm a grey beard and don't need all those buttons and gizmos and shi stuff, and no one really complains. 

I'm actually not opposed to graphical user interfaces-- I'm not a luddite, for cryin' out loud. It's just that when I'm working I'm trying to figure things out, and it's often hard to concentrate when the PTSD kicks in. If I can get something accomplished in one or two steps, it's easier to keep going. If it takes several steps (or clicks) it's easier to get lost in the middle. So while yes, I am a grey bearded UNIX guy, there's a method to my madness. Simple tools, and simple processes, help when I need to get shit done.

I mention all of this because in looking back at the past couple of semesters where I've been in computer science classes, at least some of the frustration I've had has happened because of the tools that were used. Coping with PTSD symptoms and still trying to get shit done means I've had to do a lot of internal process management. The tools I use (editors like vim being an example) can really have a large impact on how successful I am. It's one thing to try setting up a particular thing on my own time, when there's no pressure to get it done. If I don't make it work today, I can try again tomorrow. Classes have deadlines though, and with deadlines come stress and with stress comes triggers. If it takes too long getting the tools set up, and learning them, and getting to a place where I can actually get something accomplished, it's like pouring gasoline on a fire. It makes the PTSD worse.

Therefore, I stick with vim. It's predictable. It's easy. It does exactly what I need it to do, no more no less. (For the curious, I do a lot with JavaScript and PHP at work; Chrome's developer tools are in fact a graphical interface, and I use them quite a bit.)


School right now isn't easy, but it's manageable. I'm taking two classes, but one doesn't start until the end of October. This is good, because I'm at hackathons damn near every weekend until then. I'm really doing my best to open up, and talk to people, and be engaged at the hackathons I attend. It takes a certain amount of energy, and this week has gone by quickly in part because I've been flat out tired. I'm going to Huskie Hack at Northern Illinois University (which is in DeKalb, IL) this weekend, which is only (!) a 24 hour hackathon. I look forward to this one because it's someplace new, and because I know the person who has been the main organizer-- she came to the hackathon I helped organize to get ideas. I'm interested in seeing what ideas they borrowed, and in seeing what new ideas they've come up with. Hackathon participants are a community of a certain size, but hackathon organizers are an even smaller community. We all talk to each other and swap ideas and war stories.

I'm rambling, I know. My point here is that this weekend is a hackathon that's not quite as intense, since it's only a two hour bus ride away and I'm leaving on Saturday morning when the sun is up, instead of Friday morning before the sun is up. I'm assigned to a team, and I don't know my teammates, so it should be interesting. I don't know exactly what to expect. Hacking with strangers is another way to crack open the shell a little and interact with other people.


All of this is a part of the prolonged exposure therapy I'm working on. The idea is that the more you expose yourself to things that trigger you, the more the effects they have on you diminishes over time. There's an implication, I think, that at some point you'll be 'cured'-- that the PTSD symptoms will somehow go away or be gone at some point in the future. I'm not so sure about that. I still have nightmares, where I wake up and it takes me a while to figure out where the hell I am even though I know I'm in my own bed. I'm still very hyper vigilant, and I have a much shorter anger fuse than I've ever had. It's still hard for me to care about my family. I still see buildings, and people, and cars and trucks and planes, and I see what might happen to them in the form of intrusive images and flashbacks. It's all still there. Some things, simple things, are hard for me to manage. I still double and triple check to make sure the door is locked.

I'm pretty sure that the VA has either decided that I'm fine, or is just too busy to care. I'm not sure which.

Since I've been at hackathons the past couple of weeks, I haven't made it in to the weekly drop in Prolonged Exposure therapy group at the VA Hospital. It helps. It's in that group that I was able to set up some goals for hackathon season, and that's actually going pretty well. I'm holding myself accountable for keeping the PE work going.

I don't know, though, what the future holds with regard to PTSD therapy. To some extent, I'm a little scared because there are so many veterans that have checked out, even veterans who seemed like they were recovering. It's pretty clear that the VA doesn't do much tracking of vets once we're through a crisis like homelessness-- no one from the VA's homelessness program has ever followed up to see how I'm doing. I realize that in a hospital, triage rules and those who are bleeding get treated first. I worry, sometimes a lot, that for all the progress I'm making it still might not be enough. I try not to dwell on it, just as I'm trying right now not to dwell on it, but the thought is there.

That I'm moving to the opposite end of the country next year is a consideration as well-- new VA Hospital, new mental health clinic, new providers. Maybe they'll read my medical records, but probably they'll just skim the last couple of entries like the providers at the current VA Hospital do. Maybe they won't even do that, and I'll have to tell the whole story again, the abuse, the war, the divorce, college, homelessness. I'm looking forward to moving, but that part not so much.

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