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01 October 2015

Six weeks -- all you get

This past weekend: bus ride to DeKalb IL (specifically, Northern Illinois University) for HuskieHack, a 24-hour hackathon. This time there was a bus sent to pick us up, so other than being the bus captain and making sure that the people getting on the bus belonged there transportation was easy. We made one stop in Rockford IL to pick several students up there-- only one made it, and we ended up being teammates for the hackathon (completely ignoring the assigned team we'd each been placed on).

Y'all, we took 1st place in the Health apps category. We each took home a shiny new Leap Motion. I couldn't have done it without my new teammate-- her input and ideas and hard work made a huge difference. I not only found a teammate, but I made a good friend as well. She's pretty awesome, she knows her shit, and hopefully we'll get to team up again at other hackathons.

This was certainly something I've been working on-- I've said since getting into this whole hackathon business that even winning something once at a hackathon would be amazing, and it really is. I've also been saying lately that I wanted to open up a bit and work more with other people, and I've been doing that these past two weekends (and hackathons).

Work more with others, win stuff. This is a good trend. Even we hadn't won a prize, it was still a very productive weekend. And, a fun weekend.

Speaking of other hackathons, next week I'm headed to UC-Berkeley for CalHacks. More on that shortly.

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I got a letter in the mail from the VA Hospital; the Prolonged Exposure therapy group I've been attending on Mondays is now on Fridays. I've missed the past three weeks, Fridays being travel days and Mondays being largely recovery days from being awake all weekend hacking, but this week I'll go again. There were two things that struck me about the letter. One, was that it was signed by the normal provider and a name I didn't recognize, so I'm guessing this is another intern that's been assigned. The other was that they are limiting participation to six sessions within a six month period.

Another intern, fine. I know this sounds somewhere between arrogant and ungrateful, but I've already forgotten the name of the last intern and I probably won't remember the name of this one. I've found that it's very difficult to put much trust (or energy) into a mental health professional that's going to disappear in a few months. I feel really grumpy saying that, but on the other hand I have a valid point. It takes time to really trust a mental health provider, and a residency isn't usually long enough for that to happen.

Even more concerning is the part about limiting participation to six sessions within six months. I've already been there four times, so if the limit is going to be enforced I can go this week and the next Friday I'm free later in October-- and then I'm done until March 2016.

Normal attendance at this group is 2-3 veterans. One week I think we had four (including one guy who telecommuted in). I don't know what the provider to vets in the group ratio is supposed to be, but I doubt that with current levels we're exceeding it. It annoys, and somewhat angers me that there's now a limit. What happens if I show up for my seventh week, is the person running the group going to tell me to go home?

Prolonged Exposure therapy isn't easy. For weeks, you talk about what happened in the Desert, or the Jungle, or Wherever you were that gave you the PTSD in the first place. You record yourself talking about the experience, and you listen to it every day. You learn from this experience how to acknowledge what happened and in doing so, reduce the effect it has on you. The group is meant to help apply what you learned to every day life, hopefully improving it in the process. It's done me a lot of good.

And now, I only have two more opportunities to sit down with other veterans who have been through similar situations as well as having been through the same therapy, because.... why exactly? I don't know. The letter didn't say. This week will be week six, and I'm going to ask about the limit and for an explanation. I'm not expecting a straight answer, really.

If I hear "that's just the VA", I'm not going to be a happy camper. I'll start at the Patient Advocate and go up the chain of command from there. Stay tuned for the next chapter on this.

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Back to happier thoughts.

This weekend I'm home (and working), not traveling to a hackathon. This is somewhat by design, as I've been on the road the past three weekends and I'm going to be on the road for the three weekends after this one. Next up is CalHacks at Cal-Berkeley, then BoilerMake at Purdue, then HackingEDU in San Mateo CA. After that will be WildHacks at Northwestern, and HackSC at the University of Southern California.

I'll be in California three times within a month, two of those in the general neighborhood of Silicon Valley. This isn't an accident, and it's also not an accident that my flight gets to SFO early on the Friday of CalHacks and my flight home leaves in the evening on the Monday after-- I want to go exploring. I actually have a couple of job leads and at least one invitation for lunch, so I'm going to do my best to be social and meet up with some people I've met at hackathons. Maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to secure an internship for 2016, which is part of the master plan. A week ago, I was hoping I'd someday win something at a hackathon. This is the next step. Proximity helps. People are a lot more willing to sit down and talk when you're going to be in the neighborhood anyway.

Making the jump from hacker at a midwestern state university to hacker at a Silicon Valley (or Silicon Beach-- LA is also an option) company is a somewhat daunting idea. As much as there are a lot of companies looking for people to hire, there are a lot of people who can write code who are looking for jobs. The past three weeks I've had the chance to talk to a lot of people from a lot of different companies. They've spoken honestly and told me that yes, I'll encounter age discrimination. I'm twice as old as the average hacker coming out of college, and it's likely that the person hiring me will be much younger than I am. (Age discrimination is, of course, illegal-- but it happens, just as other forms of discrimination happen.)

I also have a lot of memories, some of which are from the Desert and some of which are from events that happened after the Desert. There's no definition for "recovered from being homeless", and it's a self esteem hit to even mention that I was homeless-- I don't know if people will view that as "hey, he survived, he must be awesome" or if they'll think "damn, what a loser". It's easy for the PTSD to say the latter, and hard to put into a resume words like "survived the streets for two years".

Still, I'm going to try.







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