High Risk

A friend shared their experience with something similar on twitter so I had to dump my brain thoughts. At the time this was a really awful thing to experience, because I can’t change what happened in my past, and it is massively affecting mine and my family’s future. Like with all things, it gets easier with time but it’ll never be something I have much control over.


I was denied life insurance due to mental health issues. It makes sense I guess, more than 3 suicide attempts and they won’t cover you because they think you’re “high risk”. Fair enough, since they could potentially be paying hundreds of thousands, they need to make sure they’re making a good investment. I was not a good investment.

But I was <=19 during that part of my life and I'm actively looking after my well-being (mostly, haha) and proving everyday to myself and everyone else that I'm perfectly capable of achieving awesome things regardless of my past. These companies refused to look at me as an individual, they just saw me as a high risk and said no. If I were to get a terminal illness, or die in an accident, my daughters future would be pretty dim. My family will be left with my debt, and the unfair reality is that money does matter.

All I can do is work hard and make sure I can support my daughter as best I can. Money is difficult though – saving is hard to do at the best of times.

I probably won't be able to get good life insurance, if I ever qualify. It's hard to look past being labelled as a "high risk" but it doesn't mean I'm worthless. I hope.

The point of this ramble is that something really needs to change. Given the circumstances, should the insurance providers have looked at me as more than a number? I can’t control my lack of serotonin but I can control how I manage it, and I’m doing really fucking well considering. But that counts for nothing if all I ever am is a “high risk” to these companies.

Mission: Breastfeeding

This is a blog post following my part in the Generations panel at Breastival 2018. I was called in to join the panel at the last minute so I didn’t get a chance to get my thoughts out properly, and a lot of the positive feedback I got has inspired me to share my journey properly.

My journey hasn’t been conventional by any means. I never questioned the feeding method I would use when my child was born, it was always going to be boobs (mostly because it’s free and convenient). We had a difficult labour though, with lots of pain and medication. The night after she was born is when we first hit trouble. I was so determined that I would breastfeed, but also so unprepared. Midwives, nurses, family were all giving conflicting advice. I was recommended nipple shields, different feeding positions, pumping, hand expressing. I was even told to talk to my baby, which baffled me. What did I talk to her about? I just met her, it was weird. It’s a ridiculous amount of advice for a scared women who’s just been through a tremendous amount of pain, so it’s no wonder I gave up on day 3.

On that day (the infamous day 3), the first day at home with my partner and womb fruit, I had a visit from a lovely community midwife. And by lovely I mean ‘ill-informed travelling bitch tornado of destructive advice”. She first of all made sure I knew that my cats would suffocate my baby, then she told me to stop breastfeeding. Apparently to dry up the milk I had to express every single drop, which I thought sounded weird at the time. Now I know she was completely and totally wrong. It hurts my head to think how much bad advice she has spread through Belfast Trust.

I could rant for days about that women so I’ll go back to my main point. I made the decision that it was better for family, my baby, and my own mental health if I gave bottles. I did express as much as I could for a few weeks, but as most women know it’s very hard to keep up with the demand. We gave more and more formula because the pumping wasn’t consistent. People kept asking why I didn’t just feed her myself, and I just said “I don’t want to”. It’s like when people ask if my tattoos have meaning – it’s not something I can just talk about, because it’s personal. I wasn’t willing to accept support because I was so down about failing. It actually spiralled into pretty severe postpartum depression. If my body wouldn’t function, what was the point in me being around?

Fast forward through the next 5 weeks and 3 days, through lots of sleepless nights, lots of crying, ignoring my baby to hide under the duvet, fights with my partner over how depressed I was, then starting to pump once a day to dry up the milk…

One day when I was pretty sick with the flu and getting things ready to bring my sprog up to my in-laws, a health visitor knocked the door. She had just called by on the off-chance I was in (I can’t even remember the specific reason for her visit – I think it was to make sure I was okay, since I had been very open with health care professionals about my low mood so I had regular check-ins). I explained my trouble with breastfeeding and how I was trying to pump more on that particular day to make sure I passed on the antibodies so Ronnie didn’t get as sick as me. She suggested trying to feed again, and I said no. I didn’t, in any way, want to go through that disappointment again. Then she negotiated and said this would be the last attempt.

Ronnie actually latched. I remember crying because I was so happy, and I felt I’d actually gotten a chance to start over. If it weren’t for that woman I honestly wouldn’t have tried again. It makes me laugh to think how if she arrived 2 minutes later, I wouldn’t have been home and my life would have been completely different.

There’s a lot of arguments and discussions around bottle vs breast. It’s very personal to me because I did both. A lot of women try to breast feed and can’t, so how can we change it? It’s simple. We offer support when they ask for it. I am in no way implying that bottle fed babies aren’t as close to their mums, but for me it was the first time I felt a connection with my daughter during my debilitating postpartum depression. Looking back to the very beginning of my journey, I know now I didn’t fail, the system did. No-one knew how to support me. I was often told that bottles are just as good, but that was not the advice I needed. I needed to trust my body, and my instincts. So when spawn latched again, that’s what I did. I took support that I asked for and ignored everything else. From my experience with making formula, cleaning bottles, middle of the night feeds, I knew this was the easy option.

She is 2 and 3 months now and we’ve been breastfeeding since she latched at 5 1/2 weeks. In that time I’ve returned to work, started university, and had a very busy professional and personal life where I go long periods without seeing my child. Breastfeeding allows me to focus on my career and self development while maintaining that bond we’ve had for over 2 years. People ask, “She’s still feeding?” and I know a lot of women who feed beyond the “normal” time frame find it hard to not take offence to the question. I understand that, but when you go against the grain you are going to have opposition, questions, judgement. Take the criticism as a chance to either educate people or tell them to “f* off”.

Some Days Are More Crap Than Others

A short one because I’m emotionally exhausted.

When you’re on a few weeks of good days it’s easy to forget how bad the bad days are.

Apparently I only function when I’m stressed/busy, so now that school’s over for the summer and I only have 1 thing at a time to focus on, my brain is dying. I’m guessing I use objectives as distractions.

I don’t know how it’s possible to barely be doing anything yet feel like you’re failing at everything.

 

 

I Don’t Know What I’m Doing

Some people expressed an interest in what I talked about at this year’s NI Developer Conference, so I’m sharing my original writings which I based my talk on. It’s not great but I was focusing on getting my thoughts out so I could talk about it.

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This is not something brand new, or a concept anyone is unfamiliar with. It’s just a feeling I have a lot, and by “a lot” I mean every day. I wanted to focus on it and talk about it today because it’s something, I’m sure, literally every single person has thought at least once. At some point, whether it was 40, 20, or 2 years ago, you probably didn’t know what you were doing. I actually think most people who seem to know what they’re doing probably regularly think “I don’t know what I’m doing”. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with admitting it.

I’m going to share my journey, because I’m in the very early stages as a software engineering student, and I don’t know what I’m doing. But I submitted a talk and it was accepted. So since NIDC are letting me stand here and talk at you, I’m going to talk about how I don’t know what I’m doing while acting like I do know what I’m doing.

I’ll go back a few years and confide in everyone about a horrible part of my life – a part when I genuinely did not know what I was doing – academically, personally or professionally. I struggled a lot with my mental health during secondary school and by the time I got to A-Levels I had given up on any hope of a real ‘career’ that I would live for and love. This depression developed until I landed at rock bottom for the better part of 2 years.  I left myself in a position to do nothing, other than work in a call centre. Which is where I spent the next 3 years (except for a brief time when I worked in a door to door pyramid scheme but I won’t get into that painful part just now).

I fell pregnant with my daughter when I was 19. When you’re a young, unmarried woman people are very quick to assume that you’re going to drink cold tea, iron things and watch Jeremy Kyle all day. I felt how I was treated by doctors, hospital staff and even grocery store employees made me feel like I had already failed. I was under so much pressure from family to be a “mum” before I was anything else. When you are a parent there’s a preconception that that’s what you will do, for the rest of your life.

Struggling with severe postpartum depression, still coming to grips with being a “mum”, I tried to go back to work at my minimum wage call centre job. While I *absolutely love* being berated all day every day for crap money, I knew if I didn’t do something now, then I never would, and I would hate myself even more. I had to at least TRY, for my daughter and for myself. I applied to a foundation degree in software engineering, only because it was the only thing that could lead to a career that I also had the qualifications for (thank you, 18 year old depression!). Plus I had heard stories about how well paid the jobs are. It was definitely the right path.

When I started my first day of Java, I had no expectations. I hadn’t really seen a line of code before and I just barely had a basic understanding of how computers work. Anxiety hit, I panicked and cried (as I do with most things I struggle with). I regretted my decision to go down this path – I really should have stayed in my comfortable job. But, I’d already quit that, and I was here, and pretty sure I had to pay back the money for the first semester regardless – I may as well give it my best. And then I remembered a thing that had been drilled into my head during my time at the pyramid scheme – fake it ‘til you make it. It obviously didn’t work for me then or else I would have a lot more money, but it might work now. My teachers and peers were sick of my questions, and my lack of understanding was embarrassing. I dove head first into the tech community to try to learn as much as I could (and get free pizza). 90% of me was sure I wasn’t intelligent enough to fully understand anything, but all I had to do was pretend to know so I could get a good job when my degree was finished. If I could get that far then I would have done what I had set out to – I can provide for my daughter and have a job where I didn’t have to get shouted at by angry people on the phone all day.

As I met more people, went along to more meetups, I found people spoke to me for some reason. I felt, and I actually still feel this way every day, like I didn’t belong anywhere because I didn’t know what I was doing. It’s so easy to forget that everyone has started out at the same stage and that it doesn’t make new anyone any less valued by the tech community.

So I just went along with it, pretended to understand that I knew what I was doing and tried my best. For school I kept my head down, skipped lunches, worked late into the night making sure I could “pretend” to know enough to pass the modules. I continued with meetups and kept socialising, nodding along to what people said, enjoying being around people who I wanted to be like. It’s worked pretty well so far since I managed to get here.

What I’ve learnt in my short time here is that no-one is going to start anything new and understand everything that’s happening. No-one knows what they’re doing all the time, because that’s just ridiculous. Getting up, trying again, and learning from mistakes is what makes someone learn. Life is a learning curve, but everyone generally goes through the 4 stages of competence (referenced below).

competence

It’s normal to be self-conscious about not knowing something, but there’s a very good chance the person beside you doesn’t know either. And if they do know, it’s only because they were once at the exact same place you are.

Or else they’re just pretending they know.

 

 

And For My Next Trick, I Will Perfect The Human Cloning Process

Woman 1 is fearless and isn’t afraid to try new things, she’s okay with messing up as long as she learns. She is a wonderful social butterfly. She can manage a whole lot of stress very well and always exceeds the goals set. She doesn’t have a child because she’s independent and wants to work on her own personal and professional development.

Woman 2 is moody, she shouts a lot and is extremely self deprecating. She gets upset and anxious at small triggers and she has harmful thoughts. However, her daughter is the light of her life, her reason for living and the motivation in everything she does. She would give her life a thousand times over for this tiny person she created.

I’m these two women; but I can’t be them at the same time. Despite how hard I try I’m living 2 lives, and acknowledging this is the hardest part of trying to maintain it. I had my daughter young so I barely had a chance to become a real person.

I don’t want two separate lives. Any attempt to be a mum while I’m the networking butterfly trying to kick down doors to become an amazing developer and leader just ends in tears (my daughter’s and mine). This little human can’t understand that her mum isn’t her mum 100% of the time, and that isn’t something that a child ever needs to know. Her mum should be woman 1, but woman 1 doesn’t have a child.

Woman 2 wants to create an amazing life for her child, but she can’t do it. She has the motivation, but so many mental barriers. She has tried many times in her life to do something meaningful so she’s become cynical, cautious and scared. Giving up is easiest. She was once told by a manager that she would “never achieve anything or go anywhere in a job because she has such a bad attitude”. Woman 1 knows this, and wants the person who said that to fuck themselves. She’s trying to kick ass so men like that don’t get away with treating vulnerable young women like second class humans. It’s fair to say she’s taking vengeance for woman 2.

Woman 1 is currently winning at life, she’s happy and confident. She’s been really socially active and catching up on a few missed years of pubs and late nights. She nailed her first year of university and has big things planned. This pisses off woman 2; she’s jealous because she’s crushed under the pressure to be a “mum”. Children deserve parents who spend all their time with them, while managing to have a stable career. She’s jealous because she can’t do that.

The problem with being these 2 people is that they can’t exist at the same time, and that’s what my daughter needs. While woman 1 is off kicking ass, woman 2 is gone. The child misses her mum, and obviously the mum misses her child. Woman 1 does not miss her child, because she doesn’t have one. This is what the painful, soul crushing problem is.

When I think about which person I would rather be, my choice has already been made. I can’t decide if this makes me a bad person or not, but I’m leaning towards the side of not. Since I’m probably always going to be these 2 women, my daughter will always have a mum who loves her child more and more everyday. The mum’s alter ego is what keeps her mum going; without woman 1 fighting for her she couldn’t exist.

I just wish I could be both.

Panic is ov- Wait, nevermind.

Remembering to regularly attempt a blog post is not my strong point. Oh well.

I managed to survive exams relatively intact (physically at least), so I’m able to relax. Nope.

While I don’t need to overly stress since it’s just a lightening talk, my impending NI Developers Conference talk is making me feel all sorts of emotions. Something I didn’t expect was to be excited at this stage. Surprisingly the crippling anxiety hasn’t kicked in, but when I’m on an up week I constantly have a sense of impending doom.

An axe hanging over my head is how it feels right now, and I’m waiting for a small thing to fuck it all up and decapitate me(which might actually be a blessing, ha!). This talk isn’t a big event, it’s only 8 minutes of my time, but trying something that’s so incredibly far out of my comfort zone is a big event.

So to sum up my short rambling thoughts; excited about talking to a crowd. Fuck.

Stress Just Means You Care. I Think.

Some people are good at handling a lot of stress, which is great for them. I think I am one of those people 95% of the time, but the only reason for that is because my default setting is ‘oh shit everything is happening so soon I better get started’. With my assignments and revision I got started straight away. As soon as an assignment was released, I started, because that’s what you’re supposed to do at university. I look around at my class and I’m jealous of the vast majority of them because they are able to start at the last minute and probably still do as well as me.

I’m not smart. I’m not gifted. Code doesn’t just instantly make sense to me. The reason I’m doing well is because I work my ass off but right now it feels like all the work I’ve put in isn’t benefiting me at all. That’s stupid, I know, but I’m not in total control of what my brain is telling me to think. School has always been my unhappy place, where I’ve felt alone and vulnerable. If I go to my tutors and ask for support they will just tell me I’ve taken on too much (which they tried to tell me a few months ago), which might be true but the things I do outside of school do not impact my stress at all. They’re the things that are grounding me and reminding me what I’m working towards. Sitting in an office 9-5 and leaving my work at work is not something I want to do. That’s why I left my call centre job, the bare minimum is not who I want to be.

When my teacher tells me not to work ahead because the class will get left behind, it puts me back into that place where I’m alone and vulnerable. When I get shouted at for taking out my phone to make sure my daughter will be collected from daycare, despite the fact I work so fucking hard in class (and said teacher knows this), it makes me want to leave because what is the point in working so hard just to get treated like a child?

While I’m where I am I’m finding it harder and harder to see where I will end up. This round of chaos will be over in a month but it may as well be a year. I wish this post had a happy ending but it’s so far away from here that I can imagine writing about it.