2011 in review: The Personal Portion

by jesse in ,

Yup; it's that time - everyone and their brother is doing a post looking back at 2011 and taking stock of the good, the bad and the ugly. I'm no different - 2011 was a year that largely represented a massive shift in my life's tectonic plates.

I've decided to break this reflection into two related parts - the more personal stuff (this one) and the big-P Python stuff - both have seen shifts and changes worth noting, and both are inextricably tied for me. I've intentionally skipped all of the Python** stuff (including PyCon) that I've been working on - that's going to come next.

Personal Changes

In late 2010 I was playing paintball - something which everyone should try at least once - it truly is a blast. However, at the time I was grossly overweight (280/285 lbs heading to 300) and running around outdoors with 20+ lbs of equipment. It was a normal Sunday game when I pivoted in the perfectly wrong way - my foot had gotten stuck in some tree roots and when I pivoted, my right knee dislocated and I collapsed face-first into a pile of tree branches.

I did not realize that my knee has dislocated, just that my leg wasn't working. I slapped my knee, hard, bent it and got up and kept playing. The adrenaline kept me going for several more hours while I continued to play on a knee of questionable veracity. When I got to my car a few hours later, all I knew is that my knee felt funny, and my cargo pants where tight where my knee was.

When I got home and changed, the truth came out. My knee had swollen to the size of a cantaloupe and turned several ugly colors. I figured I has injured it, and largely ignored it. Then the pain set in the next day.

Fast forward through many doctor appointments, MRIs, and two more dislocations - once getting my daughter out of the bathtub which required my wife to come in and put my knee back into place because I was busy crying on the floor, and the second just getting out of bed. My knee, from that initial dislocation had become very weak. The doctor told me flat out that I needed physical therapy and rehab, otherwise surgery was going to be required.

He told me I needed to change things. Looking at myself in the mirror, I realized that something had to be done - I was stressed, overweight and my path was out of whack. I couldn't deal with surgery with three year old and a now pregnant wife. I got a cortisone shot and went up the street to the local Bikram Yoga studio - I had never done yoga before - I walked in, slapped down some money and went into a 120 degree studio.

This is a photo of my from June 2010:



I became a Bikram convert over night - the owner of the local studio Bob is an amazing man, friendly, kind - all of the instructors helped me through learning and growing and pushing through the pain, the heat and everything that comes with a grossly overweight ex-smoker who was drinking 2+ pots of coffee a day jumping in head first. I quickly ramped to doing classes 3 times a week.

Additionally, I completely altered my diet - I've long dabbled in low-carb/no-carb/ketogenic, but this time I jumped in no-holds barred. No sugar, I cut my coffee intake to one cup a day, no carbs/gluten, period. 2011 came quickly, and I kept it up. Yoga, diet - lather, rinse and repeat. I shed enough weight that people at PyCon 2011 didn't recognize me. Good. Not good enough. Throughout 2011 I kept this up - dropping from an easy 280 lbs to 165 at my lowest. Later in the year I added weight lifting with coworkers at lunch - even later I started the couch to 5k program to start running (even doing it the "barefoot" way).

Now, as the year turns, I weigh a healthy 175 lbs - I've put on muscle mass, kept my flexibility, kept on my diet which has shifted into a more Paleo form than what it had been (mainly adding fruit back in, but still skipping carbs/gluten/sugar - I still mostly only eat meat and vegetables). I can now run for 30 minutes without feeling like death and hit 4.2 miles. My knee still bothers me sometimes, but I've dodged surgery. I can now look at my daughters and wife and hope that I'll be around a lot longer than I would have been had I not done these things. I feel more alive than ever before.

Me, December 2011:



During 2011, I also switched to an all standing desk setup (yup, despite the knee):

I'm happy to say that this continues - thanks to an excellent gift from my wife, I even have a nice standing setup at home now. It's been over 7 months since I last sat down at work to work. Sure, I sit at lunch, and in the car - I'm not that weird, but I continue to reap the benefits I outlined in those posts.

I also started working on my mental health, and focus. Trying to learn how to meditate, working on minimizing distractions and building small improvements to my workflow. Focusing on being open to change and criticism. Focusing on things I had ignored for a long time.

You can't go and just fix your physical self - you have to take care of the mental aspects as well. I've had to learn this over and over the hard way, and it is still a daily fight between what I was, and what I want to me. I have to focus on small changes and improvements constantly - otherwise it's deadly simple to fall back on old ways.

I did a post some time ago - "On Family, Cranking and Changing" - I still read this once in awhile to remind myself where I need to go and what I need to accomplish. I can't lose sight.

Now for the hard part.


2011 also brought my family to the brink - and I mean that in the literal sense. There was a time where my wife and I would look at each other hopelessly, wondering what we would do and how we would pull through. In June, we had our second daughter Addison Joy. The pregnancy was really rough and my coworkers and boss supported me through the needed "disappearing". My wife spent a lot of time in the hospital, and there were many times where we were worried that things wouldn't work out.

Luckily, my wife - and Addison, pulled through. I don't know how they did it, and I suspect we've burnt a lifetime of karma and luck in just a few months, but they both came through. Addison was born, and I once again new the joys and pains of having a new born daughter. Throughout all of this, our oldest daughter Abigail trooped on through - it was a lot to ask for a 3/4 year old, but she continually amazed me. To look at her face and see how much she worships and loves her mother - to see how she loves Addison - that's to know something you'll never see anywhere else.

Not everything was well - and we didn't know it yet, but the worst storm was yet to come.

To quote my post - "Thank you - the impossibility of "It's going to be OK"":

But, so, AJ was born - and at first, everything seemed to be fine. 10 fingers, 10 toes and pooping - that's sort of what you hope for in a newborn. We took her home, she saw her pediatrician, and that was that.

Well, no. Around the time Addison was three weeks old (shortly before my first child's birthday) my wife Dusty started noticing that Addison was behaving erratically/oddly - and if you have any experience with infants, you'd know how hard it is to actually determine "odd" behavior. Almost everything they do is odd, down to timing exactly the worst moment when to spit up on you (point of fact - it is after you've showered, and are walking out the door).

In this case, the odd behavior my wife noticed was actually a pattern - and that's when you need to worry. You want consistency in certain areas, you want to see continual improvement, you want them to consistently eat, poop and sleep. However, a pattern of odd movements tipped my wife (who is a fantastic analyst) off that something was not quite right.

What my wife found was that Addison for periods of time anywhere from 1-2 minutes her eyes would slit and roll back and she would freeze up. The best way to describe it is it was almost as if she would just "check out" - as if someone hit a power switch.

It's still hard for me to read that post - it's difficult for me to communicate the emotions - the fear, the outright terror of not knowing what was wrong with our baby girl. More hospitals, more doctors. My new born daughter with a helmet of leads and electrodes coming off of her head. Sleeping in cots in hospital rooms. My wife eloquently wrote a series of posts:

Something I say in that thank you post is something that will stick in my mind forever. When my friends and people I barely knew in the Python community heard and saw what we were going through as a family, the support we got was flooring. It still makes me tear up thinking of all the cards, well wishes and other things - a little toy for Abigail, Doug Napoleone coming over to help me out with something, everything that the Python community did for our family. It is, and was amazing. I can never thank all of you enough for what you did for us, and how you helped us pull through.

The number of emails I got from other parents in the community who suffered through things like this, the well wishes - I, I can't even go into everything that happened. Words can not express it. All I can say is that many times, my wife and I found ourselves in tears, crying with one another because of some act or gift or email from someone in the community.

In October, I did a quick Google+ post, providing an update on how things had panned out - quoting that post:

Addison's diagnosis - if you want to call it that - is Cerebral Palsy - Hypertonia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypertonia). This means that she does have a disorder, but it's not one treated with drugs - just physical therapy and frequent checkups. We have a nurse and a physical therapist who come weekly and check on her thanks to early intervention. She's developing well - she's eating baby food, smiling and generally being a normal baby. All we have to do is keep up with the therapy and in theory her brain will "auto correct" as time goes on. She's 17lbs and counting at just about 5 months and just giving hints of crawling.

In addition to the hypertonia, she was diagnosed with non epileptic seizures - again, not something we can do much about other than to love her, keep up with checkups and wait.

So that's where we are - we have a happy, cooing, laughing, happy baby and just have to keep a close eye on her and work through things that come up. It's too early to tell if her problems will have long term consequences. The doctors all hope that she's "error correct" around these things and she'll be OK. But we won't know until we see her development at 6 months, 9 months and 1 year - we still have that "threat" that something could happen - her brain could stop developing, or conditions could get worse.

But its hard to think about that - because I don't see the problems - every day, I pick up and hold and play with a beautiful, cheerful baby who wants nothing more than to chew on my fingers (she's teething) and laugh. I don't think about the future much, because it's unknowable, and we'll cross that bridge when it comes. Sometimes it pops into my head - that worry, that doubt, and I push it to the side and think of what we've already gone through.

It's now December - almost January. Addison has continued to thrive - the fear and the worry aren't forgotten - we have regular visits from a physical therapist and nurse to continually check on her. She still has some issues we continue to work through, and we've got a series of appointments with neurology specialists, but its hard to think that anything is "wrong" with her at all.

She's almost 20lbs (huge baby!) - she's babbling, she's gotten her first tooth (on christmas eve to boot) - she loves her walker and worships her sister. She laughs more than any baby I've ever seen, and that laugh is angelic. I don't know what the future holds, and I don't know how long our luck will hold out, but what I do know is that I have two beautiful daughters who have changed my life forever.

I have found friends where I did not expect, compatriots and support. I have found that my coworkers, community and friends are more amazing than I could have ever expected. And Addison thanks you:

IMG 3672


Finally, Work

I love my job, what more is there to say? 2011 was a break out year for me personally - and a break out year for Nasuni - we've built something amazing, something that companies want. With any luck, we have begun to change how businesses will store their data and what they come to expect from an enterprise class product. I get to do what I love, with people that are awesome.

Of course, 2011 found me growing more into doing things I never really expected to be doing - I've continued a shift from the back end/glue and more into the front-end, spending most of my time working on user interfaces, beating my head against internet explorer. I've spent more time in JavaScript than I care to admit. Learning CSS, re-learning design, layout, thinking constantly about user experience, staring at color palettes for days.

And I - We - are far from done. I've mentally grown into a mindset that "UI" (user interface) doesn't just stand for the graphic design of a site - and that UX (user experience) isn't just about how things are laid out on a page. UI/UX has to be thought about from the part the user sees, feels and uses all the way down to the lowest level API of your system.

Good Design (notice the big D) means APIs matter. It means that everything from error messages, to documentation to customer support and care matter. You can't ignore any of it. You can't slap a CSS framework into place and think you're done with "Design". It means caring about the user completely, and without regard to your biases or skills.

Good Design also matters in communities - user experience, interfaces - thinking about others - of course, I'm getting ahead of myself and delving into the second post.

Wrapping this one up

On a personal level - 2011 was a year I doubt I'll forget any time soon. It's been a mixture of pain and pleasure and constant evolution and change. 2011 changed who I fundamentally am as a person, and I hope I'll never be the same.

Again, thank you all - you know who you are.

And to my family: Dusty, Addison, and Abigail (who is so smart it scares me) - I love you.