[Courses] [Careers] Jenn Vesperman

Carla Schroder carla at bratgrrl.com
Thu Feb 10 16:08:20 EST 2005

Jenn's story, posted by Carla

I grew up when computers in schools were a new idea and a really big
thing. We had a half-dozen computers in our high school, and the senior
math class had a half-year computer course as part of the most advanced
math program. It was the only part of the math course I got less than an
'A' for.

I had no concept that computers would become so important in time, nor
that I would find myself working with them. I did consider becoming a
mathematician, however. My first year in university, I did a course that
I was totally unsuited for - but it exposed me to computers as practical
math, and something I was actually capable of.
I wound up studying computing. I didn't understand most of it, and
finished my uni studies with a good academic understanding of computers,
but woefully ignorant of day-to-day working with them.

In my final year, I was exhausted all the time, and found it very
difficult to study. I failed two of my subjects, and didn't particularly
care - I was too tired to care. I assumed I was just unable to cope with
being an adult. Uni was supposed to be hard.

I worked for a year and a half at my first full-time job. I was a
programmer/sysadmin for a local private high school, one which had two
real mainframes! Wow!

My life at that time was basically: wake up. Eat something. Dress. Go to
work. Work. Go home. Have maybe two hours more awake, but tired. Fall
into bed. Sleep. Repeat.
I married, during this period. And I managed to pass one of the subjects
I'd failed.

By the end of the year and a half, my husband pretty much dragged me to
a doctor. HE was convinced I was sick. I still thought I was stupid,
unable to cope with adult life. It was a failing of character, really.

The doctor diagnosed depression, and gave me mood flatteners. Now I was
tired, and couldn't think either.

My husband and my mother conspired to get me to another doctor, and I
was eventually diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (also known by
the names Chronic Fatigue Immune Deficiency Syndrome, and Myalgic

I kept trying to work for another few months, but I wasn't capable of
it. I collapsed, and spent about six months where I was sleeping,
eating, trying to do minor bits of housework or other things, and
sleeping some more. My husband looked after me, and brought in our money
for that time. (He was an angel.)

The next few years are a bit of a blur in my memory. I was sick, and
spent my time trying to keep my mind working by studying what I could,
or doing minor bits of programming or sysadmin work for a local
community ISP. I also, of course, spent a lot of time trying to heal my
body, and ranting about the unfairness of it all.

Gradually, I came to realise that I had to learn to live within my
limitations, rather than railing against them. My body was sick. I had
to deal with it. Everyone's life sucks in some way, my particular
life-suckiness wasn't anything special.

Things got a lot better once I managed to convince my subconscious self
of that.

I kept trying to program, but it wasn't as easy as it used to be.
However, I had often wanted to become a writer, so I went to the local
library and gradually read almost every book about writing that they
had, as well as doing practical writing exercises.

As I got healthier, I took on first voluntary, then professional
part-time work. I did sysadmin work, minor bits of programming, web
design, and quality assurance. I got my work usually through friends, or
friends of friends, or my husband's contacts.

People seemed to like my work, but I was never quite healthy enough to
do full-time work, nor to do reliable part-time work. In addition, my
preference was (and is) programming, and with the mental component of
CFS, I found it difficult to concentrate on half a dozen variables, ten
functions, and my program structure all at once. I couldn't program well
enough to satisfy myself.

I continued to try. I took a job with a contracting agency, and while
waiting for a contract to come in, I threw together a quick set of
articles about basic computing, aimed at people for whom computers were
just tools.

An editor for a major publisher saw my articles, and contacted me. He
asked if I was interested in writing articles for them.
I sat and stared at my machine, then checked the headers of the email.
It couldn't be real. I think I even did host/nslookup checks of the IP
addresses to be sure they came from the publisher. They did.
Of course I accepted.

For a while I wrote them articles, and did occasional contracts for the

During this period, I became officially labelled 'as cured as possible'
of the CFS. I had two other illnesses which had been masked by the CFS,
but we started work on treating those, and on rehabilitating me from the
CFS. I went to the gym every day for a year, for example, even though I
was only allowed to do the lightest possible program - and even then, I
had to start with half of it.

My articles were drawing interest, and one series in particular drew
interest from an editor at a different publisher. He asked if I was
interested in writing a book, which was another jaw-dropping incident.

Discussions with that publisher fell through, but I submitted my outline
to a different publisher, and was accepted. It took me more than a year,
start to finish, to write the book, but only six months of concentrated

My grandmother died while I was writing the book, and I suffered the
grief from that. I finished the book, but the combination of the high of
the book, and the deep grief for my grandmother, and vulnerability from
my existing illnesses, pushed me into depression.

I'm back to what I can do - writing articles. I intend to write another
book, but in the meantime I'm writing articles and discussing treatments
and lifestyle modifications with my doctors.
(Unfortunately, I'm nearly out of lifestyle modifications they can
recommend - I'm doing them all! - so we're down to treatments.)

So what are the lessons here?

Health is precious. Value it if you have it.

Health comes and goes. When you don't have it, budget! Learn your energy
limitations, and your emotional limitations, and budget your energy and
Provide a portion of that for your body to heal on its own - that's your
down-time, your resting time. If you don't use this, you WILL get
Use another portion for you. In that time, do the things that make your
life worthwhile. If you don't have this, you won't care about life
Use another portion for trying-to-get-well. Doctor's visits, eating
properly, exercising if your doctor recommends it.
Whatever is left is the energy/cope you can devote to work. Find work
you are capable of doing, and preferably enjoying, without exceeding
this amount of energy/emotional-coping-ability.

Be forgiving of yourself. God (Allah, Jehovah, Buddha..) has chosen for
you to have the problems you do, or if you don't believe in that, you
got unlucky. The existence of these problems is beyond your capacity to
affect, so just accept that they exist.

Dealing with the problems, however, IS something you can do. They exist.
Fine. Figure out which ones can be solved, which ones can't, and which
ones can be solved but the solution is infeasible with the resources you
have, or is worse than the problem. Then act accordingly.

Find something worthwhile to do that is within your capabilities. It
doesn't matter if it's volunteer work, or paid work. Give to society and
the world in some way, no matter what your problems are. Cultures can
only hold together if everyone participates, and cultures are what makes
it possible for animals or humans to have an existence greater than
plankton. Chimpanzees, wolves, lions, and otters all do things for their
social structure as part of their daily lives. Humans seem to be
programmed to as well.
The most miserable part of my life was when I couldn't. I don't think
that was coincidence.

Hm. Now I'm getting all lecture-y. How about I finish with one final

Don't give up.

Jenn V.
Carla Schroder
check out my new book, the "Linux Cookbook", the ultimate Linux user's 
and sysadmin's guide! http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/linuxckbk/
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