A Coder's Journey

How Coding has been Therapeutic for my PTSD

23 Apr 2018

I’m at a red light, but my mind’s not there. It’s back in the hospital, remembering the doctor saying “that’s strange.” I’m in the grocery store, but my mind’s not there. It’s in the doctor’s office, hearing the doctor say “You’re not my problem.” I’m playing with my kids, but my mind’s not there. It’s seeing the seven or eight inch frankenstein scar for the first time. It’s feeling the first time standing after surgery. It’s crying in my bedroom. It’s me saying, I can’t do this. I can’t do this. It’s on repeat. Over and over and over. Everyday for months.

For a long time, I thought this was normal, but then my counselor told me I had PTSD. For months of my life, I was reliving a trauma constantly in my brain. No wonder I was exhausted. I was on Paxil to stop the panic attacks that started after the surgery to repair the vesicouterine fistula–a tunnel formed between the bladder and uterus–that occurred while delivering my fourth child. The Paxil worked for my panic attacks but not the PTSD. The counseling helped me to realize some subconscious feelings I had, but my life was a constant replay of the month long trauma, and the six month recovery. But then I started coding.

When I was coding, I was focused. My brain was immersed in learning a new skill. When I was coding, it was all I could think about. Surprisingly, errors were even a welcome distraction in the beginning. Not getting my code right the first time forced me to go line by line and try to figure out what was causing the error. There was no room for distraction, and nothing about coding reminded me about the trauma I had faced. Not only did coding take all my focus, but it also became something I really enjoyed.

Because there’s a visual aspect to coding, I was able to see what my work produced. I was creating something new, and I liked that. I found the wonderful community of Moms Can: Code, and a pretty supportive group of people on twitter. I enjoyed learning a new skill along with other people, and it was challenging. I enjoy taking on what seem to be impossible tasks, and at this point in my life–mother of four with major mental trauma–this seemed like a pretty impossible task. Knowing this wasn’t something I could accomplish in a day, and that in a year there would be something new for me to learn, drew me in. This would be a life-long learning process, and I was pretty pumped about that.

One of the things that surprised me the most about coding, was that I gained a confidence I hadn’t had in a really long time. I don’t make progress everyday, but as long as I’m committed and trying, I feel good about what I did that day. Coding has redefined who I am. People don’t ask me how I am with that sad look on their face anymore. They ask me how coding is going, and I’m happy to talk about it. Not only am I happy about what I’ve achieved so far–so happy, in fact, that I quit my adjuncting job so I can code instead–but I’m really happy to help others get involved as well. This is one of the reasons I’ve decided to become a Moms Can: Code coach; it’s why I encouraged my teenage cousin to apply for the Kode with Klossy camp; it’s why I answer DMs on twitter.

I still have days and weeks where my PTSD is triggered, and I have a hard time functioning, but I’ve realized that a little humility–asking for help isn’t one of my strengths–and focus on something I love can go a long way in helping me to redefine myself away from my trauma. This won’t be the same journey for everyone, and this is definitely not medical advice, but I’m thankful that I had people in my life who encouraged me to start and stick with this journey.