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24 March 2016

Disclosing PTSD

An update on my last post, about software, the ADA and PTSD: there's both not much to say, and a lot to say. I sent the email Thursday night, and didn't get a response until Monday afternoon. The response was that it was forwarded to someone in Human Resources to review, and that's all I know. The person who dealt with the issue of me being set up for flip-flopping tasks the last time it happened isn't here this week (it's spring break here). So I don't expect a resolution this week.

I don't know exactly how much time it should take for someone to say "okay" to an accommodations request. A week? Two weeks? What's a reasonable duration of time to wait? What's there to talk about? I understand the need for documentation of my disability if they ask for it, but I can't even start the process of obtaining it until I know what they want-- a letter from the VA? Something more substantial? The longer it takes to give me an answer, the longer it takes to resolve the situation.

Most people don't know a thing about the Americans with Disabilities Act, and what accommodations are, and why someone might even need them. If you don't have a disability, and aren't around someone who does, you just don't ever get the chance to learn.

That was once me-- when I was a college freshman, living in the dorms and thinking I was hot shit, the guy in the room next door to mine was blind. It turned out that he was something of a hacker, was into amateur radio, and was a pretty cool person. (I wouldn't have ever actually met him, but he was talking to some faraway place via HF radio and interfering the modem tones on my phone line.) He was working on finishing a master's degree, even though he'd never actually "seen" a word of any of it. I got to see some of the things he had to deal with; getting around campus, having to rely on readers (other students who would read the material from textbooks and notes to him), things like that. It took a fair number of people, and a fair amount of resources, to help him get through college-- but he did the homework, wrote the papers, and took the exams.

That was also me, a few years later, when my Dad lost his sight after having had it for about 80 years. He could see a little bit of light, but that's all. After retiring, he had to learn how to navigate the world all over again-- simple things, like crossing a street, became extremely complicated. People are supposed to stop for a person crossing a street with a red and white cane, no matter what-- but it was rare that anyone actually did. One guy in particular honked and started yelling at my Dad and I crossing a street, in a crosswalk. Turned out the guy was a doctor from the hospital we were going into-- probably the last thing you'd expect.

I also know more than one veteran who lives life from a wheelchair. One guy in particular is a biker-- a drunk driver tried to take him and his Harley out. The Harley didn't make it, but my friend did. Since then he's been in a wheelchair. We met while we were both homeless. Just walking around campus and the city with him, I've seen all of the hazards and impossibilities that the world puts in front of him. I could list a ton of examples, but one of the best is "accessible bathrooms". Putting a couple of bars on the side of the stall doesn't make a bathroom accessible-- it's accessible only if you can wheel yourself and your chair in, do your thing, and wheel your chair and yourself out.

What all of this means is that I have some first hand experience being around people with what most people think of as disabilities. I am not a caregiver, or a provider, and I don't claim to be an expert on any of this. I am also not a lawyer, or a manager, or a human resources specialist. What I actually am though, is a hacker with a disability that most people who know me don't know I have-- and of those few people, none of them really have any idea what it's like or what to do about it.

It's for that reason that I'm trying to be patient and tolerant, waiting to hear something back from work. People are generally ignorant of most disabilities and what people go through to deal with them. PTSD is a whole different ball of string-- my friend in the wheelchair and I both have a disability, but the way each of us copes with it is quite different. I'm hoping it's a simple "okay, request granted", which is what it should be. I don't at all like that I've had to make it complicated by rather forcefully stating that I'm invoking the ADA.

However, if I hadn't said anything-- if I'd just let it slide when my schedule got jacked up not once but twice-- nothing would change for the better. I'd get less and less productive because I'd be more and more unable to concentrate on my work. I'd get frustrated, I'd get pissed off, and I'd eventually either find myself fired or I'd just leave. I've been down that road before, and it ultimately doesn't end well.

Before I knew what PTSD was, and knew it was something I have, and that it's a disability-- and before I really came to terms with any of it-- I blamed myself. I told myself I wasn't working hard enough or smart enough or enough hours. I tried to compensate other ways, which just made things worse.

PTSD is something you have to stare in the face, day in and day out, and just overcome. It's a disability. It's not temporary. You can't "get over it". Pills might help, therapy might help, but what wins is facing it and being honest with yourself. There are a ton of places that are perfectly safe, that I feel unsafe in. I sit or stand where I feel safest, or in some extreme cases I avoid those places. I can't concentrate in large classes and lecture halls, or even some large libraries, so I'm looking for and will transfer to a different school. I have no sense of time other than what my iPhone tells me. I work nights because the world is quieter at night. These are ways that I do to survive and do useful things even if I have PTSD.

The only way to fix having my shifts at work flip flopped is to stand up for myself and speak up about it to the people that are in charge. The first time they didn't listen. The second time, they seem to be listening although I'm not yet convinced since no action has been taken. If I hadn't raised some hell and wrote (and actually sent) an email to all of the student team leads and the full time team lead, nothing would change-- nothing could change, because no one would know that there was something wrong.

If you're a hacker-- or a software engineer, or programmer, or web developer, or system administrator, or whatever your title-- and you have PTSD or another disability, raise some hell to get what you need to be successful. Disclosure--- telling someone else that you have a disability, and what it is and what you need to deal with it-- isn't easy. I'm going through it, and not by choice. Experience is convincing me that it's necessary.

The ADA is there if and when you need it-- actually, the ADA is here.

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