I gave my first conference talk in February of 2014. It was on sound design for mobile applications. I didn’t practice it enough and didn’t realize how scary it would be to speak in front of 200 people I didn’t know. I have about twelve minutes of material and completely bombed my talk.
The organizers were very kind people and understood this was my first talk. They said I didn’t do that bad and that I could come back from that and do better.
As painful as it was to completely bomb the way I did, it really lit a fire under me to do better. I attended conferences and saw Daniel Steinberg speak and come away inspired, but also devastated because I didn’t think I could ever be as good as he is. Which is true, but still.
I told myself that I just needed practice. If I did more talks, they would make me less nervous. I would have more professional experience and my talks would be better. Even if I couldn’t do as well as Daniel, I could develop my own style and be a better speaker.
For a few years, that seemed to work. I did a lot more conferences, got more comfortable with speaking, and did much better. I personally feel the best conference talk I have ever done was this talk at CocoaLove. This was the height at which both my speaking and professional lives have been at.
Shortly after this talk, I had a complete nervous breakdown.
I lost my ability to code due to burn out and PTSD. I would walk into my office and break down in tears at the thought of trying to work there. I had to redecorate my office in order to begin to work there again.
I developed a speech impediment and became very shaky. When I would attend or speak at conferences I would have to hide in my room for most of the conference in order to not completely bomb the talk I was giving. This was around the time I got Delia certified as a service animal. She helps me tremendously, but I still have a lot of difficulty going to conferences.
One major reason I decided to write my book on Metal was because I could no longer work and I needed a placeholder in my resume. During this time I basically became a shut in. I couldn’t leave my house. I started a meal subscription service so that I would not starve. The once a month or so that I did leave the house to buy alcohol would completely exhaust me for the rest of the day.
I stopped feeling human. I would wake up at the same time every day. I would work until about 3:00 in the afternoon, at which point I could no longer function. Then I would take a bath, drink gin, and watch Project Runway while cross stitching. On days where I was too burned out to work, I have no idea what to do. I couldn’t leave the house. I didn’t have friends to visit. I couldn’t focus on anything else. Do I just start drinking gin at 8:00 in the morning? I got a lot of stuff done, but I didn’t feel good.
I am disappointed the book didn’t turn out better and that so few people have read it. I know that had I been given a little more time, it could have been what I wanted it to be, but I am not ashamed of what I produced in the time I had to produce it. Writing the book helped me recover from the burnout and PTSD I suffered from, but I was still not back up to where I was a year earlier and this bothered me.
I decided at the beginning of 2018 that I would not submit to any calls for papers this year. If people invited me to speak, I would accept. I had several offers. I accepted all of them, but had to back out of one that was too overwhelming for me to deal with.
I have not been happy with most of the talks I have given this year.
I have gotten so anxious about traveling and putting together my talks that I have procrastinated working on them. I have so many things I want to say while I am doing my talks, but I get overwhelmed and lose my ability to speak. I get confused and upset and have to soldier on. I feel I am letting down the people who come to see me. I worry that they are wondering why I keep being invited to speak at places when I suck at my talks and they’re not very good.
I have reached the decision that I need to focus on regaining my mental health.
I have a few conferences I would like to attend next year, but right now it is my plan to do a hard reset on my brain to see if I can go back to how much better I was two years ago.
I got into speaking because I thought I could offer a unique perspective on various aspects of technology and give funny, interesting talks. I have been failing at this for a while now. I need more spoons to put together the kinds of talks that I would want to see. I need a break.
I have one single exception to this decision for 2019. I would be willing to speak about autism. If someone invited me to do a keynote about autism, I would happily accept that. I feel that there is a lot of misunderstanding about this in our community and I feel that this is a topic I could offer a unique perspective on. If no one is interested in hearing what I have to say about autism, that’s fine.
I have been afraid to take time off from speaking because I am afraid people will forget that I exist. I am afraid that if I leave and try to come back that everyone will have moved on and no one will care about what I have to say. I am hoping that when I am in a better mental state with better information to share that there will be people who want me back.
I have also been afraid that I have alienated people while I have been having mental health issues. There are several people who have blocked me on Twitter that have taken me by surprise. I had an incredibly negative reaction from someone I considered a friend that I knew for four years and I don’t understand what happened. I don’t know what I did to anger them to the point that they have cut me off. My overarching goal in my career has been to try to be a happy and positive influence in the community. If I am not achieving that goal, then I need to step back and recharge so that I can be the person I want to be.
Thanks for reading this post. I hope that when I find something I want to talk about that an audience will be there to listen. I also hope that my delivery of it will be worth listening to.