adventures in making stuff with Daniel Higginbotham

The Why of this Site

01 December 2009

I’m a young software developer and caregiver. This web site is about my experimentations in creating and following a system for constant personal growth. This article gives some background on the circumstances that motivated me to start those experimentations and this site.

It was around summer of 2008 that I realized I had become mean — a small person, constantly irritable and ready to cut down others. I went through nearly every day in a sour mood, showing annoyance and contempt toward those I interacted with regularly and interpreting their behavior as putting me down. It was like I was an angry drunk without the benefit of actually being drunk. At the same time, I clung to trivial diversions like video games and TV, all the while feeling like I no longer had time for anything I liked. In the mean time, my fledgling consultancy had crumbled and I felt like a professional failure.

I was ashamed of myself. I knew I had to change something, but what? And how? For the previous year and a half I had been making chaotic attempts to change the way I felt and behaved. I would start to read a book and stop after the first couple chapters. I would start to create a new habit – for example, of exercising regularly – and quit after a week. Nothing stuck – or, more accurately, I couldn’t stick with anything.

Life hadn’t always been like this. I’ve always been a tinkerer, and as a teenager I fell in love with programming. Beyond its inherent joy, I saw programming as my ticket to freedom, allowing me to go where I wanted and do what I loved. I dreamed of being able to sit on a beach, working on a laptop with a tasty drink by my side. In November of 2005 that dream was realized when I arrived at the Honolulu airport with my laptop, my suitcase, and a little extra money to spend time settling in.

The next year was incredible. I made new friends and grew my business. It was awesome to finish projects quickly and successfully and have my clients tell me how happy they were with my work. At the same time, I was able to work on my own projects for fun and learn new programming languages and technologies (like javascript, ruby, and ruby on rails). And the food! Just minutes a way were handful of great restaurants that had delicious food for cheap prices. For five or six dollars I could buy enough to last me two days. Nearly every morning I woke up to sea breezes blowing my curtains, and I could see a bit of the ocean from my gigantic bedroom window.

Then in December of 2006 my long “vacation” came to an end. The last memory I have of Hawaii is of driving up a hillside in the early afternoon with the sun shining down. Below me the island stretched out to the ocean, and it was beautiful.

I left Hawaii for Massachusetts. When I got on my plane in Hawaii, it was seventy degrees (fahrenheit) and gorgeous outside. When I touched down in Boston, the temperature was below freezing. Better (and perhaps more honest) writers than I would resist symbolizing the weather like this; alas, I find the transition indicative of the upheavals I would deal with in the coming months.

What brought me to Massachusetts, anyway? After years of searching and suffering, my girlfriend had finally received a treatable diagnosis for the disease that had disabled her: Lyme Disease. In order for her to receive better medical care, we moved to Massachusetts, where we would be close to “Lyme-literate” doctors and friends as well.

Lyme Disease, if it goes untreated, can cause severe physical and neurological damage. Its victims are left without energy and in constant pain. Lyme sufferers also experience memory loss, rages, aphasia, and a host of other symptoms that leave them doubting whether they are, or ever will be, the person they were before getting Lyme.

My attempts to develop a system for constant personal growth and fulfillment are primarily the result of my taking on the role of caregiver for my girlfriend. At the time, I thought of it like I did my work projects. It would take a little extra effort for awhile, and then it’d be over and I moved on to something else. But work has never been so stressful, nor so heartbreaking.

Some issues which caregiving brought which I’d never dealt with include:

  • Being interrupted urgently, often, and without warning. Programming requires long stretches of concentration and can be like building a house of cards in your mind; interruptions, even slight ones, can knock the house right over. Being interrupted over and over makes it difficult to even start concentrating in the first place.
  • Living in a constant state of emergency. Will this new medication cause a negative reaction? How bad will it be? Ambulance bad, or “just” throwing up all night bad?
  • Watching the one you care for suffer, and knowing there’s nothing more you can do about it.
  • Feeling guilty about everything. Guilty about being healthy. Guilty about being sick, when sick. Guilty about not doing enough. Guilty about doing too much and being exhausted. Guilty about trying to relax. Guilty about feeling guilty.
  • Feeling angry about feeling guilty.
  • Feeling angry and discouraged over the perceived lack of caring in others, including friends and family.

Over a period of years, these experiences wore me down completely. Trying to balance my full-time job, caregiving, and my personal life continues to be a challenge, but I think I’m improving. This site is part of my effort to accomplish meaningful change – to continuously learn about myself and others, to grow as a human being, and to do the things I love. I’ll be focusing on the principles of change more than the techniques. I hope you find it useful, and I look forward to continuing this conversation with other like-minded people. Onward and upward!