Category Archives: Mental Health

Quality over Quantity

Back in December I was approached about contributing to the Pragmatic Magazine. I was told the theme of the issue was Swift and I was asked if I had any good Swift posts that I would be willing to share.

I had a number of Swift posts that I was very proud of and I sent the links to the editor. Then I had a sinking realization that these posts were all from 2015.

Last year was a difficult year. I made a lot of mistakes and had a number of mental health issues. On paper my year seemed like it was incredibly successful, but I felt at the end of 2016 that I had not grown as I would have liked and I was not in a place I wanted to be.

One of my resolutions toward the end of last year was to have more technical content on my blog. I am in the process of writing a book. I intended to have companion blog posts where I share a number of things that I learned while I was writing the book. I have one post that has been partially written since November. It’s nowhere close to being done.

I keep wondering what’s the matter with me. I would like to produce more technical content. I keep meaning to, but things keep coming up. I know if I don’t make time to produce technical materials for blog posts or conference talks or to post on GitHub that I will be left behind. People always want examples of your work and you can’t keep pointing to work you did three years ago.

This morning I found a link to this article. The author talks about a lot of strategies about how to have a long and successful career in tech. This article helped to crystalize in my mind about why I am not producing more technical content.

Those blog posts that I submitted to the magazine were based on problems that took me months to solve. Each one of those posts and every project that I have written about that I am proud of all started the same way. I took something that was hopelessly unfamiliar and tried to force myself to learn it. These were all projects I did for Brad Larson when we were rewriting our code base in Swift.

One of these projects was wrapping libxml2 in Swift. The sample code was all written in Pascal. There was only one post written by anyone for this topic for the iPhone. That person was Jeff LaMarche. I was going to link to his blog post about it in this blog post, but it’s been taken down. So I had an incredibly undocumented technology that no one was using that it was my job to figure out.

I had about a week of complete and total panic and despair. I felt that I had been hired by mistake and that Brad would find out I was an inexperienced idiot and I would be fired in disgrace and I would never work again. I wondered about how hard it would be to find a nice easy call center job where I could cross stitch while talking on the phone all day answering the same questions over and over again. I thought this was hopeless, but it was my job to figure it out, so I had to try.

I spent a lot of time walking. I couldn’t look at my computer without getting a complete headache. I spent some time building robots. I would look at the docs periodically, but not for too long because doing so would cause a migraine.

After several weeks of doing this, suddenly things started to become clear. Instead of looking at a bunch of gibberish and having no idea about how to approach it, I finally had questions. I wondered what this one thing did. I wondered what the difference was between one object and another. I started to understand how to approach the problem.

I completed my task by learning all of this stuff over the course of about two months and I wrote my post. I was incredibly proud of the work that I did on that project and for finally figuring out how to solve it.

I never would have done that project if I wasn’t working for Brad.

First off, I never would have known what libxml2 even was. I would have just used the built in Cocoa framework and fought with it, but found plenty of sample code that I could copy and paste and go about my merry way. More importantly, if I had been doing this for myself, I would have taken one look at the lack of support, said fuck this, and done something else.

Forcing myself to confront something that seemed impossible and pushed me close to my breaking point mentally and emotionally. I have a faulty, tin-plated emotional system. If I get pushed too far I can’t function or learn. My brain shuts down. I had to confront my panic and my fear and force myself to approach this logically. At the beginning of Dune the main character has to take a Human Test. He is forced to put his hand in a box of pain and not remove it. Having mental health issues is like taking a Human Test. You have to think your way through your emotional issues and find some way of logically dealing with them so you don’t remove your hand and get scratched by the Gom Jabbar.

By being placed in a position where I could not simply give up, I was able to push through the initial phase of not knowing what the fuck I was doing to be able to see that there was an end to the Desert of Despair. I understand now that a lot of things I want to learn that seem difficult or impossible are not. I have been trying to teach myself Metal and 3D graphics math for the last two years. I know that even though the symbols seem incomprehensible and there are not a lot of approachable resources out there, I can bash my head against it enough to figure out a starting point. I can look at those symbols long enough over a long enough period of time that I can grasp some kernel of what I don’t understand that I can figure out.

I feel like our community doesn’t reward people for solving hard problems.

It pisses me off every year when Tim Cook announces some amazing new thing at WWDC and some jack ass in the audience gets some version of “Hello World!” working on it because everyone wants to be first. Everyone tries to cherry pick some easy problem that they can solve and post about so that they can show they’re keeping up with the Lattners. I have seen so much pressure in this community to pretend like you know everything. Companies place a lot of emphasis on what do you “know” not “how do you learn.” I admit that it’s a lot easier to test knowledge as opposed to problem solving and learning. I know that we’ve generally used knowledge of data structures and sorting algorithms as a proxy for how we learn. But memorizing some tips and rules doesn’t prepare you for the complete and total helplessness you feel when you confront something you must figure out that you don’t know how to do. You either rise to the occasion or you flee and become a Scrum Master.

I am realizing that most of the things I find interesting are difficult. I am in the process of learning some things that are complicated and poorly explained. I am hoping that after I push through everything I will have a wealth of material to write about on this blog. But I have to accept that what I want to do is hard. There is going to be a lot of invisible work that I do that isn’t being seen. There will be a lot of time spent thinking and processing and waiting for things to click.

Dan Barber is a prominent farm-to-table chef focused on sustainable food production. He wrote an article a while ago that really stuck with me. The gist of his article is that farmers are stripping their soil by only growing the most high profit crops. The soil gets progressively poorer and the food grown on it grows more and more tasteless because it’s nutritionally vacant. He found a farmer who grew an heirloom variety of wheat for bread flour. He thought the reason the flour was so delicious was because it was some heirloom variety, but it was because the farmer rotated his crops. He grew some less lucrative crops on his land that enriched the soil and only grew this wheat on the soil every three years.

I think one reason we have such a high burnout rate in tech is that we’re approaching development like we do farming. We will keep stripping our mental soil because it’s more lucrative to do so than it is to have furlough periods where we push ourselves to achieve truly difficult things. Start ups want to churn and burn developers because they don’t care about a person’s long term viability as an asset. It’s our responsibility as developers to take control of our careers.

Right now I am taking some time off to write a book. Even if the book is wildly successful I won’t make nearly as much money off of it as I would if I had worked somewhere during that amount of time. But taking this time to learn these things that I have wanted to learn for so long has been an extraordinary experience. The process of taking something that seems impossible and being able to make some traction with it makes me feel like I can conquer the world and anything is possible. Compared to a year ago, where I felt like I had to pretend I knew everything and I worked myself into a nervous breakdown.

Last year was a furlough year. I needed it to recover from some bad professional decisions. This year is a soil enriching year. I have so many projects I want to do and write about, but they’re going to take some time to figure out.

I would like to write more about tech on this blog, but I have to accept that I want to learn some difficult things that take a lot of time to figure out. I am not going to have a new post here every week that I am proud of. But if I can get four difficult technical posts on here this year, that’s not so bad.

Rules for Engagement on Twitter

Hi.

Today I blocked several people for the first time ever on Twitter. These are people I have known for a long period of time and one of whom I have met in person and know to not be a sociopath. Here is why.

I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When I was in college a stranger held me hostage in my dorm room and raped and tortured me for two and a half hours. For those of you fortunate enough to not have PTSD, one of the delightful aspects of having it is dealing with flashbacks. Flashbacks happen when you are in a situation that is reminiscent in some way of the circumstances that caused your trauma. It’s your brain’s way of protecting you. It senses that you are in a similar situation to one where bad things happened to you, so it tries to force you to flee from that situation to protect yourself.

I recently certified Delia as an Emotional Support Animal because one thing that triggers flashbacks is being trapped in an enclosed metal tube with a bunch of men I don’t know. I can fly without her, but the efforts it takes for me to calm myself down for several hours drains every ounce of energy I have. I get to my destination exhausted and it can take me up to a month to recover.

Another thing that triggers flashbacks is dealing with aggressive males who do not listen to me and continue to engage me when I want to be left alone.

There have been multiple times this year on Twitter where I have made a comment or asked a question and have been bombarded with well meaning but obnoxious advice from men. It ranges from speaking to me like I am a toddler and couldn’t possibly have considered the most obvious solution that they are giving me or trying to force me to use their preferred mode of whatever in spite of my pleas saying that I already considered it and it won’t work for reasons I don’t want to articulate in 20 tweets.

When this happens, I start to feel overwhelmed. I feel personally attacked and unsafe. It causes me tremendous amounts of emotional distress. I start to have flashbacks and experience all the emotions I experienced when I was being raped. I have had at least a half dozen times this past year where I have gotten so distressed from these interactions that I have had to make emergency appointments with my therapist and spend money I don’t have trying to recover to the point that I am able to work. I have been in constant fear of not being able to work and earn money and destroying my career this year because these well meaning but clueless men have insisted upon trying to be “helpful.”

I have tried multiple times over the last year to explain to people that what they are doing is causing me real harm and damage. Every time I have attempted to engage in a dialog in explaining where I am coming from, I get a bunch of defensiveness and people telling me that they’re engineers. They want to solve the problem. They’re not intending to cause me psychological damage and therefore I don’t have the right to be upset by their behavior.

I don’t give a shit what you intend. It’s the result of your actions that matters.

If you are driving around and you get distracted by your phone and run someone over who is paralyzed for life, it doesn’t matter that you didn’t intend to run them over. They’re still damaged. You don’t get to hide behind your intensions when what you are doing is causing me actual harm.

I am tired of being responsible for having to do the emotional legwork that men are unwilling to do. I have told them many times how to avoid causing me harm and I am being told it’s my problem and they won’t change because their desire to avoid hearing that they’re doing something harmful is greater than my need to be able to earn a living.

I don’t want to be a massive bitch and make people feel like they can’t talk to me without getting bitched out, so I am establishing my rules so that I can protect myself psychologically while still being able to engage with people on Twitter:

First Strike: I Ask You to Back Off

I understand that on Twitter things can escalate very quickly and tempers can flare. At this point something will have happened and I will start to feel overwhelmed but I can still avoid a total shutdown, but only if you stop engaging with me.

I will tell you that I am feeling overwhelmed and ask you to back off.

At this point, if you back off, we’re good. You can feel good about being an engineer and know that you have made a situation better. If you still want to make this point to me later, please wait a day. Ask me for my email and send me an email or give me a chance to engage in a better forum of communication.

Second Strike: I Send You a Link to this Blog Post

It’s possible you’re reading this because I sent you a link to this blog post. I am trying to explain to you why I can’t continue to engage with you. I am not trying to blame you or tell you that you’re an asshole. I am assuming that you mean well and I am trying to find some way to let you know that was you are doing is causing me harm with the hope that you will respect my need to be left alone. Again, if you read this post and you back off and leave me alone, no harm, no foul.

Third Strike: I Will Block You

If you have gotten to this point and you are still continuing to engage with me, then I will block you. I am doing this out of emotional self defense. You have shown that you are not willing to respect my need to feel safe. You are leaving me no other option than to block you to protect myself.

If you’re someone that I know personally and have invested in a relationship with, I will try to remember to unblock you later. I will emphatically ask you to please stop doing things that cause me psychological trauma.

I do not want to block people, but I also do not want to spend a hundred dollars seeing a therapist to be able to keep working. My need to be able to work supersedes your desire to feel helpful. If you want to be helpful, please back off if I tell you that you are forcing me to shut down. If you respect that, we’re cool.

Thank you.

Emotional Support Animals

I recently registered my pug Delia as a service animal. This blog post is about why I did this and what steps are necessary for someone considering doing this as well.

Why I Registered Delia

Since I stopped self medicating with alcohol, my emotional health has become quite fragile. A lot of things I was numbing with alcohol are no longer numb and it’s become increasingly difficult for me to function without my animals.

img_5178I made the decision to register her when I went on a business trip and had a complete shut down. I knew I was not feeling well before I left on the trip. Things got progressively worse as the trip went on. I did not want to disclose my disability because I did not want to have to deal with attempting to explain what was going on because I thought it would affect my ability to retain this contract.

I made it to the last day of my trip, but then I could not put it off any longer and I shut down.

I realized as I was having my shut down that I would not be able to hide what was going on. I realized that I would have been able to avoid this situation if I had my dog with me to pull me out of it before things degraded to that point.

Shut downs are unpleasant. When I have one, I lose my ability to move. I stop being able to think clearly and I talk more than I should about things. I start to feel intense feelings of shame and hopelessness. I feel worthless and feel like the world would be better off without me because I can’t do anything right.

It takes a long time for me to recover from these. The aftershocks of this shut down affected me for a month. No matter how difficult it is to explain the need for the support animal, it would be better to explain it up front rather than trying to hide it and deal with the aftermath.

I understand that this means that there are places who will not want to work with me because they don’t want to deal with “broken” people. I am writing this off as places I don’t want to work anyway because they are going to break me if I work for them anyway. I know this severely limits the number of places I can work, but I am hoping to figure out a way to continue to have independence on terms that make it possible.

How to Register a Support Animal

I went to the National Service Animal Registry to find out if it was possible to register Delia as a service animal.

There are three tiers of support animals:

Service animals require the most training. They also have the most “rights.” People who require a service animal are people with physical disabilities who require the animal to supplement their own physical abilities. They need the animal to help them see, to take care of them if they have a seizure, and do a lot of heavy lifting.

Therapy animals have really limited “rights.” They’re primarily meant for things like nursing homes and hospice care. They can’t really be taken anywhere else beyond that.

I registered Delia as the third option, an ESA. I don’t need her to be able to take care of me if I have a seizure because I don’t have seizures. I have panic attacks and PTSD flashbacks when I am in crowded areas like airplanes. I just need her to keep me calm so that dealing with these situations is less emotionally draining for me.

In order to have an animal qualify as an ESA, you must have them registered with the registry and you must have a note from your doctor that is dated that says they are treating you for an illness in the DSM-IV and you are currently under their care and that the animal is part of your therapy.

ESAs do not have unlimited rights. They are not allowed to be banned from airplanes or from hotels/housing. If I were to go crazy and decide to relocate to San Francisco, theoretically a landlord can’t force me to pay a pet fee to have her there or to decide not to rent to me because I have a “pet”.

Not a “Pet”

img_5171When I took Delia to Indie DevStock, a conference attendee posted a picture of us on Twitter and said that the conference was pet friendly.

Delia is more than a pet.

I require Delia to be able to function. I didn’t bring her along because I couldn’t find someone to watch her or was too cheap to place her in a kennel.

If I don’t have her I have panic attacks. I have complete shut-downs. I have issues that can be ameliorated by having her there for support.

Yes, You May Pet Her

I know that many people with working service dogs do not want them to be petted because they are working. That is not the case with Delia.

Delia is there to provide comfort and support. I am happy when she is able to do that with more people than just me. If you want to pet her and petting her makes you happy, then she is doing her job.

Requirements

The biggest requirement for a support animal is that they have to have a calm disposition. They can’t be aggressive toward other animals or children.

Since Delia basically spends all day asleep, she works as a support animal.

They have to be trained to be on a leash. They have to be potty trained. You are still responsible for their poop and so forth. This was a pain on the last day of my trip when Delia had to go outside three times between midnight and 3:00 am.

It took a bit more planning to make sure I brought enough food for her. I also had to bring puppy pads and bowls for water. There was a lot of stuff I had to make sure I did not forget when I brought her on a trip.

Why I am Doing This

I am not doing this because I think I am somehow special and should be able to take my dog with me places. I am doing this for a few reasons.

The first reason is that I care about my mental health. I know we as a community do not like to say we can’t do things. We push ourselves to work eighty hour weeks to show we’re passionate and we don’t like to be the first person to leave the office. We put pressure on ourselves and the people around us to live up to some imaginary ideal that does not benefit anyone but the people who pay us for forty hours of work when we give them eighty.

The other reason is that I want there to be more awareness of invisible disabilities in our community.

We talk a lot about wanting diversity. That usually involves getting more white women to speak at our conferences. There are lots of kinds of diversity. I would personally like to see more people of color at our conferences. I would also like to see more people with disabilities.

There is a lot of pressure to hide a disability. Human Resource people are constantly afraid you’re going to sue them for whatever reason, so they don’t want you there even though all you want is to earn a living and be treated like a human being worthy of respect.

The company I had my contract at told me that they had never seen a service animal at the company. This tells me that people who are disabled enough to need a service animal either don’t apply to these places because they know they won’t be hired, or they give up trying to make it somewhere like that because they run into too many road blocks along the way.

I think our community should help one another out to try and make sure more people make it to the top of this profession. Instead of trying to force people out for not being able to work 60+ hours a week, we should find solutions that allow people who are differently abled to have a career and support themselves.

I could hide my dog and my mental health problems and pretend to be normal, but that helps no one. I think we as a community need to focus on keeping everyone mentally healthy so we can have more people who have 15 years of experience who are still programming and helping the newbies learn new stuff rather than burning them out and forcing them into management or some other less stressful line of work.

Programming is a marathon and not a sprint. We should be trying to make sure as many people get to the finish line as possible rather than trying to knock out as many as we can so that we can get a better score at the end.
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Depression and Engagement

One of the major issues I have dealt with so far in my short career is lack of engagement on many of my projects. My managers, for whatever reason, are not around to see what I am doing. They are on business trips. They are swamped with entirely too many other responsibilities. The product owner is ambivalent about what they want to do so we’re waiting around for them to make a decision about something. Not poking at anyone in particular, this has been an issue I have seen a lot of places.

As programmers we’re supposed to be self motivated. We’re supposed to be given a problem and we’re supposed to run with it and get it done. We complain about micromanaging and how it’s hampering our ability to get anything done.

When you get left alone on a project, initially it can feel freeing. You can work without being disturbed. But then at a certain point you realize that you have been given no guidance on what is wanted. It’s like creating an app with no auto layout. You kind of know that there are some components that someone wants, but you don’t know how they want them arranged.

This is the point where things start to affect my mental health.

I start to encounter mental friction where I can’t make any decisions because I don’t know what people want. I know that there is one way they want something but they’re not around to tell me what that is or they don’t know to begin with.

This triggers feelings of depression and despair. I start to feel that success is impossible. I try for a while to do my best, but at a certain point I shut down. I am overwhelmed by choice because I don’t know which one is right. I can’t function. Nothing I do is going to result in success, so why bother?

I feel tremendous amounts of failure and self loathing. I think that I can’t hack it. I should give up on programming. I should go back to working at a call center where there is a script and no decisions to be made. There is no pressure from coworkers trying to sabotage you or pretending like they know more than you do because no one gives a shit and they’re just there to collect a paycheck. You don’t have to pretend like you care about anything other than not getting fired. It’s soothing and restful.

I have had this happen often enough that I can see it coming. I try to engage but so far that has never been successful.

What I need to pull me out of this state is to have something I can solve or get engaged in. I have noticed I will be on the verge of a complete shut down when something will catch my attention. A small light will appear in the darkness and my deprived attention will fixate on trying to solve it. Then my brain comes alive again and I wake up and everything is okay again if only for a little while.

I want to talk about mental self defense here.

I have learned to find things I can do that will pull me out of this state. Usually it’s working on a tutorial. It’s a set of directions with an end goal. You feel like you’re getting something done. It will engage my tired and exhausted brain and lead it like a trail of breadcrumbs back home. It’s not open ended so I don’t get overwhelmed trying to get something working from scratch. I know other people can do that and I can too sometimes, but not when I am engulfed in mental darkness.

Managers don’t want you doing stuff like this. I have tried to talk to them about what I can do to pull me out of this state. I can’t work on the current project. It is causing me to shut down. Is there anything else I can work on so I can mentally recover?

They will purse their lips and say they really need me to keep working on the current project. It doesn’t matter that I am unable to make any real progress on it or that anything I write is going to be buggy as fuck, they want the illusion that I am working on their project.

If you’re working with a manager who isn’t giving you enough constraints to figure out what a successful end condition is, don’t mentally collapse. Try to recognize when you’re starting to shut down. Find things that can pull you out of it.

I know it’s hard to do. You feel yourself getting further and further behind. You’re in a mental terror that you’re going to be fired for not finishing your project. You need to calm down. You need to prevent yourself from going under at all costs. If you break yourself your project is not going to get done. You’re no good to anyone if you can’t function.

If you do break, it will take a while to recover. I see a Reiki therapist who helps me recover from my breaks, but she always tells me to take it easy after she helps me.

I have gotten better at going back to my “analog” hobbies to get away from a computer screen when I feel myself going under. Cooking and doing cross stitch are tactile and engaging and give me a project that I can see progress on so that I don’t go completely insane. It can feel like doing projects is a dodge or a waste of time, but it’s vital time that I need to help my brain recover so I can keep working.

I never think that I am going to feel better. I think that there is no point in trying to do a tutorial because I should just give up and accept that I am a failure. Sometimes I am too broken to work on it, but when I have had a chance to rest, I come back and I feel my brain slowly wake back up and I feel better.

The biggest reason I wrote this is to try and give hope to anyone who feels consumed by mental darkness. I have felt that a lot over the last few years. When you’re in the middle of it you feel there is no hope. You feel you can never do anything great ever again. You feel broken, like everything has been stripped from you and it can be hard to try and engage in something because you’re convinced you will fail.

Please know there is hope. Rest mentally and take baby steps. If you can’t engage in anything, then you’re burned out. Sleep, rest, hike, whatever. Then come back and pick up something structured and engaging.

Engagement is so important to what we do. We mentally need to feel a sense of accomplishment. We need to have tasks that we can complete and see progress in the work we are doing. Creating those meaningful milestones and discrete tasks takes time and mental energy, but it’s necessary to maintain mental health and stability.

A developer career is a marathon and not a sprint. If you injure yourself you need to rest and work your way back up to training again. You don’t want to force yourself over the finish line and wind up in a wheel chair.

Know that you’re not alone. There is a way out of the darkness. It’s not just you.

Hey, Just Wanted to Let You Know You’re Garage is on Fire. You Should Do Something About It.

I came back from a business trip a little under two weeks ago. The trip was incredibly difficult and draining for me. I missed my pugs. I missed my own bed. I wanted nothing more than to come home and have some awesome pug snuggles.

I got home and discovered my basement had leaked at some point while I was gone. There is a pool of standing water in one quadrant of the basement. I do not know where it originated. I believe, based on my forensic CSI skills that it came through a window in the corner of the basement, but I don’t know for sure.

My ex-husband helpfully boxed up most of my books in cardboard boxes that were helpfully soaking up a bunch of nasty contaminated water that was sitting in the basement.

I could not deal with it. I am still trying to deal with it.

I speak on here a bit about having depression. Having depression usually means that I either can’t deal with anything or I can deal with one thing at a time. I work from home. I need to keep my job. For the last few weeks, the only thing I have really been able to deal with is doing the things necessary to keep my job.

My basement is unfinished, so I believe if I throw away all of the wet and damp books and cardboard in the basement that there will be no long term damage to the house.

I am aware of the fact that this is a health hazard. I filled my garage can last week and didn’t have room for all of the rest of the stuff that is contaminating my basement. I know there was probably someone or something I could do to get that taken care of without me having to do it myself, but I can’t deal with that right now because all I can deal with is keeping my job.

I went on Twitter to commiserate about how sucky it was to come home to find a problem I had to deal with and I got a lot of finger wagging from people who seem to be under the impression that I am an idiot.

“You know that’s a health hazard, right?”

“Why don’t you have a sump pump?”

“Why do you live in a house? You should relocate to San Fransisco.”

People telling me these things makes me feel like a helpful neighbor telling me my garage is on fire and I should really do something about it while I am also trying to deal with my house being on fire. I am not stupid. I am fully aware of the fact that this is a problem. I know that I need to get that water out of my basement and throw away all the ruined things down there. I just can’t deal with it right now.

Balancing Act

I spent this past week out in California. I spoke at Forward Swift, which was my first conference in San Francisco. This week was one of the first times I have ever actually spent time in San Francisco. I can see why so many tech companies require you to relocate to it.

I got pitched by my first venture capitalist, which was crazy to me coming from a rural town in the Midwest. I am going to spend some more time out there this weekend with a friend to try and make the most of the time that I am out here.

There is one thing that I just became aware of that I would like to talk about in this post. I was chatting with some friends about going to work for one of the big tech companies out here. I recently got one of my dogs registered as an emotional support animal and I was pondering if any of them would let me bring her to work with me.

ESAs do not have the same legal rights as full service animals. They can be taken on planes and kept in hotel rooms. Landlords cannot forbid ESAs from staying in apartments and condos, but beyond that they do not have any legal rights. I can’t bring an ESA into a restaurant or a workplace and have it be legally protected. A lot of places are willing to accommodate ESAs if you have proper certification and paperwork, but they’re not legally required to.

When I mentioned having an ESA and wanting to bring it to work, I heard many people say that they had never seen an ESA. In fact, most places they worked at didn’t have any service animals. At all.

This struct me as being kind of worrying. We, as a community, have been talking a lot about wanting to have better diversity. We primary talk about it in terms of having more women in the workplace, but there are lots of shades of diversity.

I am guilty of not seeing outside my own bubble. Earlier today on Twitter I made a generalized comment about how it’s socially okay for men to express anger and my good friend Basel reminded me that it’s only okay for white men to express anger. Black men are not socially allowed to be angry. So I totally get that if you are not personally disabled or do not spend a lot of time around people who are, then you would not really notice the lack of service animals and other accommodations for people with disabilities.

The only explanation that I can come up with is that these companies don’t hire people with disabilities.

It’s possible that people with disabilities don’t even bother applying for those companies. I know that is one thing preventing me from doing so.

In the interest of trying to raise awareness and trying to do advocacy, I would like to share some of the things that I do to try and cover up and cope with my personal limitations in regards to mental health issues.

I suffer from depression and PTSD. I was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was 16 because I was being stalked and harassed by a fellow student and it was easier to just say I was nuts and put me on medication than to tell him that his behavior was unacceptable.

I spent ten years being told that my version of reality was not accurate and that I couldn’t believe anything that I perceived. My freshman year of college another student handcuffed me to a bed and tried to rape me. A few years later a different one actually did and I now have PTSD as a result of that.

Ten years ago I finally figured out that I was not crazy. My perception of reality was not wrong. I decided to stop letting other people tell me what was real and what wasn’t and life has gone a lot better since then. However, there is still a lot of residual damage from that period of my life.

There was a period of time where I never thought I would be able to hold down a full time job. Being able to write books and travel to conferences and work the amount that I do is astonishing to me. But the only reason I am able to do that is because I have to follow a lot of strict rules based on trial and error about how I personally function.

I hate medication. I was on medication for ten years. It made me gain weight. It had terrible side effects. It would completely destroy my energy levels. It messed with my head. I had far less mental and physical energy to use to actually put towards doing cool things. Not being medicated means I can be a programmer. Being on medication means I can work at Target. I would rather be a programmer.

To cope with my emotional issues, I have pugs. Delia sleeps on me all day and she helps even out any emotional issues I have before they reach a point that they interfere with my ability to work.

A lot of places won’t let you bring dogs to work, which makes sense because you’re there to work and dogs can be a distraction. So I work from home.

I have an office I set up in my home. It is a room that I use only to work. I get up in the morning, I get dressed, I make tea, and I sit down to work. When I reach a point where I feel I can no longer work, usually around 5:00, I close my computer and leave that room and don’t come back until I am going to work again.

Sometimes I have bad days. I have days where I go to sit at my computer and I feel a veil of despair fall over me. Sometimes I feel the urge to harm myself. I know that when I feel those things I need to step away from the computer and take a really long break. Sometimes an hour break works, other times I have to take the whole day.

Because I have gotten better at maintaining my mental health, these days are usually few and far between. They’re basically sick days. I only have a few of them a year when I am able to do all of the things I need to do to maintain my mental health.

I find cooking helps my mental health. I get depressed if I sit in front of a screen for too long. I keep trying to find analog hobbies that keep my brain engaged without having to deal with reading or writing words. I find cooking soothing because I can chop veggies and sauté things with TV on in the background and rest my brain so it doesn’t hurt anymore. One reason I am interested in electronics is because I want to work with something that has no words.

When I worked for Brad Larson on robotics stuff, we had things that we did besides just programming. If I had a day where I simply could not deal with sitting at my computer, I could build a robot. I was doing something to actively contribute to the company when I had days I couldn’t code. It was fantastic to have different kinds of work that could be done so I could take a less mentally demanding task on days where I could not deal with it.

One thing that drives me absolutely crazy about a few jobs I have had is this idea that there is only one task, and that is coding. It isn’t even that things are divided up into easy and hard coding tasks. Everything is hard. If I have days where I can’t deal with code, I either have to tell my boss that I am taking the day off, or they tell me to just try my best and I have to sit in front of my computer and cry. These are the things that lead to more frequent bad days. They wear down my mental and emotional reserves until they are gone and they cause long term damage.

I took several months off this year because I got pushed too far and stripped my reserves and nearly quit programming altogether. I have been going to therapy once or twice a week for the last few months. That is another thing I can do since I work from home. My therapy appointments are on Monday afternoons. As long as work gets done, no one needs to know that I take half a day to go and get therapy so that I can be productive the rest of the week.

Most of the things I do to keep myself productive are things I could not do in most offices at most companies.

Everyone is asked to conform to certain acceptable modes of behavior. Some people can deal with that. Others can’t.

We have accepted burn out as an inevitable thing. I feel a lot of start up want to hire young people who have not burned out yet so they can run them into the ground. Those people leave this community and don’t come back. We’re preventing ourselves from having a deep bench of experienced people for the short term gain of having people write bad code eighty hours a week. Huzzah for technical debt!

By not talking about this and by trying to force everyone to fit into a round hole, we are burning out a lot of really talented, intelligent people who damage themselves trying to fit the mold.

I think it’s incredibly frustrating to talk to people who want to change the world but then they want to exclude anyone who is different. What is the point in changing the world when so many people are excluded from the opportunities we have here?

If we don’t accept people with different backgrounds and abilities and ways of seeing things then we will stagnate. I don’t think being told to either go on medication that affects my ability to think or, god forbid, pretending to be normal, is the best long term strategy for resolving these issues. I think acceptance of how people work best and compassion and understanding are the way forward. They’re not easy, and apparently not visible, but they are important and we can do better.