Body and Mind Hacking (An experience with physical therapy and conferences.)

ng-conf 2015 logoSo recently I went to the excellent ng-conf in Salt Lake City, Utah. Going to conferences has always been something that I have enjoyed to one degree or another, and ng-conf was no different. The people have a passion for what they do, and how they do it. Except for one person, which I will relate later.

Going to ng-conf opened my eyes, again, as to why I am a developer and why I love what I do. Sometimes what is needed to take a look at yourself and your condition is to do something different for a while, and the conference did that for me. It allowed me to think about the work I am doing and see the architecture I develop through the eyes of the presenters and the people I met at the conference. This fresh perspective is something I will take back with me to my team, and I sincerely hope that I can give them at least a fraction of the energy and insight I gained from going.

Meeting other developers and talking with them in a positive manner is a great way to learn new things, introspect the things you are doing, and to come up with better solutions for things that have been pain points in the past. Doing this is similar to my experiences with physical therapy that I have had recently. (See that segue there? As smooth and soft as a gravel driveway.)

I’ve had back pain for years, many people do. You wouldn’t see commercials about it, billboards, internet ads, and all manner of snake oil offering ways to cure it if it wasn’t a big problem today (at least in the United States). I’ve lived with it, done some exercises, gone to a gym and hired a physical trainer for a while to see if I could solve it. Inevitably, it comes back, and recently the pain has been one that has been more localized than what I was used to, at times preventing me from standing up out of a chair or picking up things from the floor. Sounds bad, right? You would think I was eighty, but I’m not, not for a while yet anyway.

The situation was intollerable, and I want it gone. (I’m not out of complete pain yet, but I am working on it.) So I did the sensible thing, I talked with my doctor. I had talked with my doctor before about the pain, so he knew it was a recurring issue, and he listened as I described the slightly newer kind of pain I was in. He gave me some possible areas the pain could be coming from, and some of the options I had in treatment. I love my doctor, because he’s both a person, and a knowledgeable medical practitioner, and has intelligent and reasonable discussions with me about my care.

So after talking it over with him, we both knew I didn’t want something more invasive like surgery, or even imaging, which I had done a few years back. Physical therapy sounded the best, and the main reason I chose it is the same reason I enjoy going to conferences. It gives me perspective on myself, shows me things that are part of me yet I am not aware of myself, the invisible things that you don’t see without someone else holding up a mirror and showing them to you.

I wanted physical therapy because I wanted to know what was wrong, but more importantly, have the knowledge to how I could continue to improve and prevent a relapse like had happened before. To get a set of exercises and life changes that could make my pain go away. (My daughter likes to jump up and hug me, which I love, but at the wrong time can murder my back.)

You remember that guy I mentioned earlier? The one that wasn’t passionate about being at ng-conf? I said I would talk about him later, now is later. During one of the first parts of the first day of the conference, I sat down in the audience to listen to the talks. I was enjoying them, listening to them with an open mind and thinking of how at least the concepts of the code being talked about could help my own work, even if the library or code couldn’t be used directly. Inevitably, the man would scoff, or shake his head, or utter a ‘yeah right’ as a point would come up or some new innovation was presented.

It was distracting, but it was even more concerning for me. After all, this man had come to this conference, I assume willingly, and was here to participate right? I have seen developers, people, like him before. I can only assume what his life was like up until I met him, but to me it seemed he was usually under pressure, dealt with timelines, unreasonable expectations, or broken promises. I felt sorry for him, and I also realized, that I have been like him at points in my past. Points I didn’t realize at the time that I had the power within me to change.

Coming back to my physical therapy. Up until I spoke with my doctor, I dealt with my pain. I said to myself that going to the doctor was too much trouble, hassle, he couldn’t do any thing for me, all manner of fleeting excuses that was me telling myself that I could just live with it and be lazy by not having to leave the house on an errand. I was like that man, complaining about the pain, but not actually doing anything about it.

Eventually, the incidents of pain became too much, and I realized that treating the problem now was going to be a lot easier than treating it when I was eighty. Not to mention that I would have many years of pain if I waited that long to treat it. I want my kids to be able to jump on me, and to be a superhero for them. It was that decision that changed me from the man complaining about things, into someone who was taking control over their own body.

I love hacking. I’m a programmer, woodworker, writer, electronics enthusiast, you name it. If it has a puzzle involved, I am all for diving in to solve it.

I decided, and this is important, I had the presence of mind to decide to look at my physical therapy as a puzzle. My back pain is something that I can solve. I need help, information, on how to hack my back, and so I looked for good resources, my doctor, and my physical therapist. That mindset has made a world of difference. I am hacking my back, and I’m getting results.

Where am I going with this rambling tale? I’m sure that I haven’t been entirely clear on my point, in fact, there are several points inside my narrative, so let me see if I can tease them out for you.

  • If something pains you, do something about it. Gather information you need, and solve that puzzle.
  • Be self-aware. If you don’t look at yourself, you won’t see places you can make change, only feel the pain of the things that are wrong.
  • Get a mirror to help you see. If something is paining you, code, your body, your relationships, anything, then find something or someone to help you get a perspective on it.
  • We only live the one life we have, so why suffer, in any way, to just get through it. Make it the best life you can live. Will you fail at things? Sure. There’s information there, learn from it, and then use that to go at it again.
  • Be critical, but not closed minded. Look at new things with a critical eye and you will always find some grain of knowledge that you can tease out of it that can help you on your journey.

This was written just after the closing of ng-conf 2015. I’m riding a pretty good high of energy and excitement from the things that I learned over the last two days. I’ve also got a head swimming with thoughts and ideas, which accounts for some of the excited ramble above. I hope to organize my thoughts more over the next few days, but I also hope not to lose any of the excitement, the passion, that I have absorbed.

If I do, then you can expect more articles from me here, and I will make the effort to have them be a more focused version of my enthusiasm.