Mental Illness in Programming

Here I am, finishing my third day on DevBootcamp’s Chicago campus. The main reason I’m still here is it’s pouring outside and I don’t have an umbrella.

Yesterday my group met the in-house counselor. She was leading a special session we apparently have every Tuesday morning. This one was about feedback and empathy. Anyway, she seems pretty cool.

So one of the main reasons we have a counselor paid to be here is this place breaks you. I’ve been coding for 12 hours and I have so many challenges not finished, some not even started. It’s expected students will have to come in over the weekend to finish assignments from the week before. That, along with our weekend prep work for the coming week. Coding can be extremely frustrating.

The other reason surprised me. During my tour of the campus/office, I was told many people who go into programming suffer from mental illnesses. I was pretty surprised though I could understand anxiety perhaps. While I’ve been here I’ve learned a few others here who suffer from mental illnesses, including an instructor.

I suppose this influx of mental illness sufferers may explain all the required down time, forced pairing, community feel, no pressure atmosphere tech companies seem to be going for. I’m sitting next to a hammock. I would be in it right now if I were still able to type. And if I didn’t think I would fall asleep.

Ugh. And you’re not allowed to sleep here too! Slumber party opportunity denied!!

Therapists: The Good, The Bad, And The WTF

Hello, ladies and gentlemen and androgynous folks. I’m currently in the process of finding a new therapist so I thought this might be a good time to talk about them. For me, therapists are guides to surviving life. I go in and talk about my week and we go over all the major points (or all we can fit in 50 min). Sometimes nothing bad happened or my depression/anxiety didn’t show its ugly face so we talk about what’s been on my mind lately. However, when I first started seeing someone, everyday felt like, well, a journey through my life and mind. (I really tried to avoid using ‘journey,’ I swear.) Learning about each experience and how it affected me or how it’s still affecting me. The journey wouldn’t end when I left either. My mind just kept going, following one path which led to another, which led to another. I would go to my next session having made discoveries on my own which we would then add to everything else we had learned. In order to help myself, I needed to understand myself- my values, triggers, fears, priorities, etc.

Now, I started going every week and that’s been my usual schedule. It’s a bit harder now with a nine to five job because everyone is scheduling their appointment after work. I usually schedule early on a Saturday or late on Friday if they offer those times since those are usually available. Seeing my therapist the same day each week is less stressful and, because I had the spot this week, it’s likely that spot will be open next week. When I moved three hours away to college, I immediately set up to meet the counselor on campus. Turns out you can’t have two therapists. Yeah I was kinda bummed because I loved my one back home but she was three hours away. I decided to drive home for a monthly appointment. Once my car died, my sessions died as well. I think there was a period of eight months I didn’t have therapy. This was really bad because I wasn’t on medication yet so therapy was all that was helping me. A crumbling relationship didn’t help either. Eventually I spiraled so far down I called her and she was instructing me to eat dinner, and go to bed, and other really obvious, simple things my mind had decided didn’t matter anymore. I started getting picked up halfway by my mom seeing my therapist once a week again. Once I transferred to a college in Chicago, I knew I had to find another therapist.

Now, I’ve been told by a couple therapists that most people stick with the same one for years and years, and that’s a good thing. I, however, due to moving and other things have seen six therapists for more than one session in ten years. The last therapist I kept was the best. By the best I mean we connected within the first five minutes of the session. She saw my experiences the same way I did which meant she could really put herself in my position and understand me. Because of this, I got a lot out of each session. Honestly, it almost felt like having a friend I met each week for a catch-up. Unfortunately her husband’s job transferred them to Oklahoma (?! What’s happening in Oklahoma?!) so that ended. She actually told me at the end of our first session she was leaving. She told me later she didn’t want to because, as I said, we hit it off fast. I was so used to switching therapists though that I said I wanted to stick with her anyway. And we hit it off really well.

As you might have guessed by how many times I reiterated that my therapist was fantastic, finding a therapist who can relate to you and thus help you can be really difficult. It’s usually obvious by the end of the first session whether you’re a match or not but I had one that took four sessions. The only thing I can compare that first session to is a blind date. Sometimes they start off with a question like “why are you here?” or “why do you feel you need therapy?” Other times they just tell you to start talking. As you’re talking, little tidbits of information start to pop up like you didn’t have a great relationship with your dad, or you mention your sisters in passing. Usually then the questions come “Why didn’t you have a great relationship with your dad?”, “How many sisters do you have?”, “Do you have any other siblings?”, “And you moved here when?”, “How old were you when your parents divorced?” etc., just like you would if hearing a story and not knowing all the details. Sometimes once you mention a family member they start going down the line. I’ve always preferred the former because it feels more like a conversation with someone not a professional.

Some therapists don’t fit… I was about to say “are not good” but perhaps they are good for someone else though I can’t really see how. I had one that diagnosed me with ADD within thirty minutes of meeting me even after I told her my mom had me tested at a teacher’s persistence and it came back negative. She would not let it go, no matter how many times she said “Oh, that’s odd” whenever I didn’t fit with the attributes of someone with ADD. Nothing would sway her. It’s not that I would’ve been really upset to have ADD (I would love it if my lack of focus could be blamed on something), it was that she couldn’t consider anything else. I uncover new things about myself with every other session so I believe nothing should be considered definite because you never know what might come up later! The last therapist I had didn’t work out either. She was very nice and started with the “Tell me why you’re here” beginning. It was fine, until she consistently went off on a tangent about something I said, knowing exactly what I needed. She would go on so long when she stopped she had to look back at her clipboard for a question. Eventually I started countering her because by that point I knew I wasn’t coming back and just wanted to see what would happen. She took it well and I did walk away with something to think about but it would have been months before we got anywhere.

Then there are therapists who have no business being therapists. When I walked in to see my first therapist ever I still in denial. I was going “just to see” what a therapist thought. The room was completely bare. I wasn’t sure if it was even her room or if she shared it with someone and thus found no reason to decorate. There was just a table, like from your school cafeteria, and two chairs. For the first thirty minutes she was telling me I was fine, completely dismissing me. Ironically this is what I needed because I finally broke and admitted no, I’m not fine, I need your help. I saw her for a couple months at night, like 7:30 or 8pm because I worked after school. I remember we would be the last people leaving the building and she would tear out of that parking lot like in an action movie. I left work early on the days I needed to see her, but sometimes I couldn’t and had to cancel at the last minute. I don’t think she charged me but most therapists do so maybe. Anyway, Christmas came and she told me she was driving to D.C. to visit her daughter. Two weeks went by, then three… I called to schedule an appointment and got nothing. After a couple days, I left another message. Now me and my anxious self was freaking out because I’m wondering if she was in a wreck or something. I ended up going to the building to ask someone there for news. I found a doctor and asked him if he’d seen Ms… I actually don’t remember her name. Anyway, he said yeah, she’d been in the office, and “I think she left at about 3pm.” Can you imagine a professional dealing with a minor who has major depression just cutting them off like that? I was a mess, tearing up, seriously considering skipping school. I ended up falling apart that night at home and confessed to my mom what I learned. She was naturally pissed as hell and told our insurance company so while finding another therapist. When I had my first session with Sherry, she stuck around for the whole session. Sherry turned out to be wonderful which I didn’t surprise me because I couldn’t believe anyone could be as awful as what’s-her-name.

Basically, finding a great therapist is a bitch.