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08 June 2016

Blogging as coping

I first started writing about my experience with PTSD and college all the way back in December of 2008. One reason for my starting to write was that there wasn't much to read about being a Desert Storm veteran, and having PTSD, and being back in college. I knew I couldn't be the only one, but then again I didn't know what I expected from writing. Perhaps there were others out there to connect with. Perhaps not. In any case, writing then-- as it does now-- gave me a voice in the same way as a tree falling in a forest has a voice. Does the tree make noise? Certainly. Is there anyone around to hear it? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. I've always figured, if there wasn't much to read about PTSD and college before I started writing, at least there's a little more now.

This blog has been as much a diary as anything else. I don't do much editing for content when I post, which means I sometimes ramble and sometimes don't make quite as much sense as I'd like. I've always been an avid reader, and I've taken a fair number of classes that involved writing. I'd like to think that my writing would pass muster in at least some of those classes. I really do want to write well. Still, it's often the case that I'm writing from emotion.  I let the PTSD talk, I let the depression talk, I let the social anxiety talk. If I'm adding anything to what's been said, at least it's honest and real. My writing has been cited by others doing their own research, which is something I never expected-- it's both humbling and empowering.

I don't know where this blog will go from here. I know where I'm going-- I'm going to California-- but in the same way I didn't know what I'd write (or if I'd still be writing) in the future in 2008 I don't know what I'll have to say about what now lies ahead. There are a lot of open questions, a lot more questions than there are answers. As usual, the closest thing I have to a manual for any of this is what I'm writing.

There's always this implied promise when you read about getting help with PTSD (or depression, or social anxiety) that once you "get help" and "recover", everything will be "okay again".  There's help, they say, you don't have to suffer. Looking back at some of my posts here over the past few years, I still have a lot of the same PTSD (and depression, and social anxiety) symptoms today that I've always had. I've learned better ways to manage some of them but they're still there.

One thing I don't have is any sense of time, for example, and between Google Calendar and my iPhone I've managed to keep myself on a schedule for quite a while now. I make it to work on time because I have alarms set to wake me up, and my work schedule is on my calendar, and I get reminders. Thirty minutes before it's time to leave, then when it's time to leave based on how long it will take to walk from my apartment to work. I go when and where my phone tells me to go (a side effect being that if it's not on my calendar it doesn't exist-- so I add everything to my calendar right away).

At work I keep a log (I use Evernote) of what I'm doing. What problems I'm encountering with the code I'm writing, what I need to do next, what I need to do tomorrow. When I'm having trouble concentrating. How I'm feeling.  What I just learned. I also use Trello (in a broader sense, kanban) to manage my projects (as does my entire team). Before I leave work, I leave myself notes in my work log on what to do next over and above keeping my project status up to date on Trello.

For personal hacks I use waffle.io and GitHub; kanban again, along with a lot of ideas cherry picked from Extreme Programming (the book) and agile (the methodology). I write and run tests. I use linters. Before my code gets committed to GitHub it runs through integration tests on Travis-CI. (My testing sequence on my own projects does, in fact, include a lot more than what happens at work.)

In order to get out of my apartment every day, it takes me about an hour of talking to myself and reasoning through things to get my brain to a place where I can get showered, dressed, and off to work. Some things I have to say out loud. I have to look out the window, see who's parked outside, see what's going on outside. I have to check the weather to make sure I'm dressed right, or that I put a sweatshirt in my backpack for later that night. There's a state that has to be reached by the time it's time to leave.


At work, and when I sit down to work on my own hacks, there's also a procedure. Look at what I wrote last time. Look at which card is in the 'In progress' column. Read the notes. Maybe there are web pages or PDFs that I need to have open, so open those. Look at Evernote, and see if I've flagged anything there that matches the issue I'm working. It's essentially reconstructing the same state I was in before I had to leave the last time.

I try new things, a lot. JavaScript is an endless trip of new things, and I use a lot of JavaScript (browser and Node.js) in my projects. I also use PHP at work, which can be a trip of new things on its own. I'm constantly finding functions that are built-in that I didn't know about, and/or that I've written code for on my own without realizing it was already built in. I read a lot of articles and blog posts and such written by programmers. I try to incorporate new things when I find them if they're a better way.

Even if it doesn't always feel like it-- PTSD often gets in the way-- I've really accomplished a lot over the past couple of (few) years. I'm writing code in exchange for money. I'm working on projects of my own that, for being things one guy works on in his spare time, aren't half bad.

When I look back at this blog's archives, I see myself staring back. So too when I look at code I wrote two years ago. There's a lot about me that's the same, but there's a lot that's improved too.

For a long time I believed that there was some point, where upon reaching those coordinates I'd be able to put PTSD behind me. Then for a while it was that I could just stay where I was, just leave the PTSD where it was, and there would be some sort of magical balance. That's the advice the VA gave: just do these things that seem to work and keep doing them. Then you'll be fine.

They (the VA) didn't, for the record, give me much advice about either college or work. I was able to get academic accommodations with help from the VA, but that didn't tell anything about how to pass classes. My professors would say go get a tutor, form a study group-- but PTSD makes it hard to concentrate in a group setting. Social anxiety makes it hard to even talk to people to set up a group.

Being at a university (Wisconsin) where these things aren't ever considered didn't help. It's just that the environment here is not one that really allows for people that fall outside certain parameters. Group learning and huge classes and even huge study spaces with lots of people didn't work for me. I'm someone who needs time (and repetition) and (quiet, safe) space to learn new things.
 
The VA never really had any answers about any of that. They never really had any answers about work either. The last time I asked about help for dealing with PTSD at work, long before I asked about accommodations on my own, the Vet Center told me I didn't qualify for job related help because I already had a job. (I learned about the ADA and accommodations at work entirely on my own.)

So it seems to be with career advice-- there's a ton of advice on success in college, and a ton of advice on how to search for a job and interview successfully and get that "dream job". Just the same as there's very little to read, still, about PTSD and college, there's very little to read about PTSD (or disabilities in general) and work.

It hasn't helped, the amount of hoops I've had to jump through where I currently work to get ADA accommodations. They are the same hoops that I'll have to go through anywhere I work, but I felt (perceived) a decent amount of resistance obtaining them. There's supposed to be followup on how the accommodations are helping, but I don't think it will ever happen unless I press the issue. I honestly don't know how my next employer will react if I ask for the same things I asked for from my current employer, especially if it's a startup. (Nothing at all against startups, but a new business might not have either the resources to provide accommodations or experience in dealing with the ADA and by extension, me.)


I knew as soon as I'd decided to move to California (a couple of years ago now) that it probably wouldn't be a soft landing-- that things wouldn't be perfect, that when I got there I'd probably struggle for a while to get my feet planted. This expectation hasn't changed. There are a lot of questions I still have yet to answer, really big questions-- where am I going to live, where am I going to work, am I going to need to buy a car? I see people write about taking 10, 11, 12 months to find a job and think "oh shit, what if that happens to me?"

I don't know.

When I figure it out I'll write something about it though.

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