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06 March 2016

Privilege

I'm thinking out loud, or rather writing out loud. So much going on.

One of the things I've realized about PTSD that I suspect the VA will disagree with me on is that there's no "cure". Maybe you get "better" for a while, or even for a "long while", but there's no cure. There's no single answer, no magic pill, no one true therapy. Throw a pill at it, do this therapy, do both. Change and mix and match until things-- your life-- is better. There are some documentaries about PTSD that have been produced over the past few years, especially about Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who encountered PTSD, "got help", and then at the end of the film there's a segment about how life is better now. The goal of these documentaries is to convince veterans to "get help". Just "get help" and everything will be all right. Except that it's not that easy or simple.

I've been doing a lot of reading about interviewing, especially for tech positions-- I'm looking for a job writing code to make computers do useful things. There are books and articles and cheat sheets and all sorts of information on how to do well in tech interviews. Many of these resources focus on coding challenges that range from "you should have learned this in your first programming course" to "you have to be a coding god to figure this out". The other part of the interview seems to boil down to the people who are interviewing deciding if you "fit" into the company. You have the skills, you fit into the culture, you have a good (but not guaranteed) shot at getting the job.

How many people do you know that work for tech companies are combat veterans with PTSD that were once homeless? I'll take the liberty of answering for you: none. You might know someone who is a veteran, and you might even know that they've been in combat, but I'll bet money they haven't told you that they have PTSD if they have it. Chances are very slim that they've ever been homeless, and slimmer still that they'd dare tell you about if they were.

This presents a problem, because a large part of my existence over the past couple of years has been trying to avoid becoming homeless, being homeless, or trying to recover from being homeless and at the same time trying to figure out how to deal with PTSD enough to get meaningful work done on a regular basis. It's been trying to overcome the PTSD to make it to class, and then trying to overcome the PTSD to study and learn things, and then trying to overcome the PTSD... (see the pattern?) and that doesn't even touch friendships and romance and all of the other things that are supposed to be important. Who wants to hear in an interview that I survived being homeless? No one. It doesn't fucking matter.

I'm not even saying it should matter. It's perhaps unreasonable to expect that educated people who work for tech companies would even care-- the office inside and the street outside are two different worlds entirely. If you grew up, went to college, and then got a decent job without ever dealing with mental illness or homelessness or being in the military, you don't have any idea. I'm never going to fit into a position at a company based on the fact that I was once on the street-- if anything, that's a reason that I would not fit in. I hope that after everything, I've come out the other side as a better person. Still, while it's extremely important in my life, to me, that I'm resilient and self reliant and a survivor, those are things that I'll probably never get credit for, at least in career (or academic) terms. (Maybe I'm wrong. It certainly feels that way though.)

The trick about PTSD is that for all you do to come up with ways to cope, and to find that sense of balance or equilibrium or whatever it is, it's always only temporary. Even though you've found the magic recipe, the world around you will change. Maybe you're lucky, and the part of the world you're in doesn't change much or it doesn't change very quickly, but it still will change. After a certain amount of change, the magic recipe doesn't work as well as it used to. Eventually it stops working. That's the deleted scene from the documentaries and the pamphlets and everything else that says that all you need to do is go get help and in a few months or a year or two it'll all settle down and be fine again.

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