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14 September 2016

Unwritten endings

I'm in Florida now, helping my sister get packed up and moved to Georgia. Moving, especially after being in one place for long enough to accumulate a lot of memories (some good, some not) is something I have some experience with. Driving a 20' rental truck is also something I have experience with, as once you've driven things like military trucks and school buses commanding a U-Haul is reasonably easy. Helping someone else move also means that I have a place to stay and something useful to do for a while.

The initial plan was to leave Florida early this week, and be in Georgia at the very latest by Thursday. We're behind schedule. The new plan is that my sister will continue to pack up stuff over the weekend and then we'll leave Florida on Monday, after I'm back from Hack the North at the University of Waterloo, ON.

The other part of the initial plan was that I'd fly from Atlanta to Chicago to get on the flight I already had booked from Chicago to Toronto for Hack the North. Now the plan is that tomorrow I'll fly from Ft. Lauderdale FL to Atlanta, then resume from there. I'm going to be spending a lot of time on airplanes and a lot of time in airports over the next week. This is not a bad thing, because I actually like airports and because I'll have some quality time to read and think.

There's a lot I have/want to read, and a lot I need to think about.

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I sent a good-bye email to one of the non-production-related work mailing lists on my last day at work at Wisconsin. Doing so is an unwritten tradition, one where people say thank you and good bye and invite soon-to-be-former coworkers to connect on LinkedIn if they haven't already. Some people skip the email; I figured after seven years, I needed to say something about something, so I did.

While I'd been thinking for a long time about what I wanted to say, versus what I could and/or should say, I never really considered what would happen after sending it. I've also been relatively lazy about adding each semester's new student employees on Facebook. As a result I didn't know what to expect-- a bunch of new Facebook friends, a bunch of new Twitter followers, lots of people added to my LinkedIn network? Turns out a couple of people who I wasn't friends with on Facebook added me. One person sent a short note, a couple of weeks later, saying thanks.

Then I got an email in reply to my good-bye email late last week, nearly a month after I'd left and nearly six weeks after I'd given notice that I was leaving-- from my boss's boss. My team lead, the same person who had given no indication of caring or planning to do anything about the problems with my ADA accommodations, never said a word. His boss at least acknowledged that I'd given notice. That's the person who emailed last week to wish me well wherever I was headed next.

There has been nothing from the software development team I was a part of, no questions, no concerns, no "um, how did you want us to deploy this monster?", just robo-notifications from Trello that I'd been removed from the board that we used to track our projects.

It was honestly a little weird to receive a "good luck!" email nearly a month after my last day there. Maybe artificial is a better description.  It was pretty clear to me that no one was really concerned about me leaving, so why send such an email after that much time?

Honestly? I don't care.
 
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I envisioned that one day I'd post a picture of myself here, in a cardinal red cap and gown, smiling, holding the cardinal red diploma holder I'd just received after walking across the stage at the Kohl Center during a UW graduation ceremony. That post would be the last I'd make to this blog, and it would serve as notice that I'd made it. Maybe it would inspire others with PTSD, especially other veterans, to pursue advanced education knowing that someone had done so successfully.

There will be no such post, no such photo.

In the end, I learned a great deal about programming, and human-computer interaction, and computer science in general at the University of Wisconsin. I will note that the majority of that learning occurred because I did research on my own. I read page after page of blogs and tutorials and books and reference manuals. I participated in as many hackathons as I could, went to as many tech talks and lectures as I could, built and maintained as many of my own personal projects as I could. I helped create and build a hackathon, and helped two other schools start their own hackathons.

In the end, it is me-- my actions, my determination-- that got me through PTSD messing up my life, putting me out of school and being on and off of the street. I kept working and kept learning and kept going even when the music stopped and there was no reason left to dance. 

Hackers gonna hack.


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Epilogue

I'm in classes this semester again, Fall 2016, at the same community college where I finished an associate's degree before transferring to the University of Wisconsin. Both of my classes are online, so I'll be making arrangements to physically take the exams somewhere else. I don't know, actually, where I'm going to be living after next week when I've finished moving my sister to Georgia. I have a couple of options, so I won't be homeless. None of the options include a return to Wisconsin beyond going back to pick up my belongings from my storage unit in Madison and pointing the loaded U-Haul towards somewhere else. I don't even plan to stay overnight in Wisconsin.  

I've taken being in (and at) Wisconsin as far as I was able. 

When I first started writing, posting my thoughts about PTSD and college, it was because I couldn't find much to read on the subject. There's still not a lot out there, but now there's at least a little more. I still don't claim to be an expert on this stuff, just someone who's spent several years living through it. Writing has given me a voice that I didn't otherwise have. 

Although I've been admittedly terrible about replying to feedback from you, the people who read what I write, I have read every word you've written in comments and tweets and emails. I know that some of you have cited my writing, and used my answers to your questions, in scholarly research. I am humbled and honored that my words were worth being added to The Literature. 

It's been and will continue to be a source of strength for me that I am not alone, that there are others out there that experience the same frustrations that I experience. I hope that you who read this will know that you too are not alone.

I don't know if I will continue working towards a degree again at a different college after this semester. It's not easy being old in tech. I'm proud of the gray in my beard; after all, I've earned it. Even so, college in the traditional sense may not be the best next step for me. Work in the traditional sense-- getting an internship, getting hired at some hip startup in The Valley-- may not be the best next step either. My experiences at Wisconsin, both academically and professionally with regards to having a disability and the Americans with Disabilities Act (and accommodations) give me pause. Maybe I'm better as a consultant. Maybe I'm better starting up my own tech shop with my own rules.

I don't know what's next, and so I don't know what's next for this blog. There's not much to say about PTSD and college this semester that I haven't already said. If there's nothing past that, well...

I have considered both continuing to write, maybe changing the title to "PTSD and ...", and perhaps starting something new and different. I haven't decided either way.

For right now, then, I'll just leave the ending unwritten. 

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