After my Kanye'ing of the closing ceremonies at Derbycon 4, I thought some explaination was needed. The general emotional blubbering through my speech at that moment made it hard to fully understand to those there ane even to myself. I felt I should gather my thoughts around what I said and explain the situation. Hopefully this can help others who are dealing with similar issues with mental health as I have (and continue to work through) and get the help they need from this wonderful community.
This is a series of thoughts that may seem separate but eventually pull together into a narrative. Bear with me. Writing about emotion is new to me
I've come to see the hacker community as family (Infosec is a job, hacking is a life). I've been around them for 15 years and seen them do the most amazing things. I'm not talking about the technical things we all do. I've seen them pull together and accomplish amazing things in human terms of putting together amazing cons on all volunteer budgets, amazing projects to support the community and in general supporting and helping each other, something I don't see commonly anywhere else in other 'professional' groups.
My frequent quote to newbies is often thus; "Hackers are my family in every sense of the word". This usually gets a strange look that requires more explaination.
"There is the family you are born into that you share blood with. At best you get along with and are there to support you as they should. Hopefully at worst, you just have to deal with at awkward thanksgiving dinners."
At this point most newbies understand the various "normal" type of family I reference. I go on to explain; "Then there is the family that you choose. Those that you adopt as your own and hold as close as blood relations. Many of us chose to be in the hacker family."
"Hackers are the strangest, most psychotic, insane, paranoid, perverted, horniest, foul mouthed, drunkest, most chemically altered group of people I have ever met; and I trust them implicitly. Despite all the perceived faults and disfunction, I know of know other group which will be there for one another in times of need like they are for one another. They may pants you while they help you, but they live to solve problems, especially ones that help each other, and will spare everything they can to help someone in that family because we've learned that no one else will."
The hacker condition was described to me once as a form of PTSD. We see the world differently. Often in striking clarity. Because of that, we are cursed with knowledge that would make any person a wreck. For every heartbleed or shell shock vulnerability, we know about a dam that is one binary digit away from flooding a town. We secretly know about an unpatched vulnerability that could kill millions. We are the few that choose to know these things and fight to fix them. Against whatever odds, we want to solve these problems and make the world better.
The Derbycon closing was a very emotional surprise for me. Seeing what the community/family did in terms of raising more than 3X what Johnny Long and Hackers For Charity needed to operate their amazing programs in Uganda (asked for $19K, got over $63K donated). I admit freely, I started crying. That Johnny had way more than he needed and could now go and help others was just an amazing thing to behold. I wanted the world to know that this, THIS, was the hackers I knew and nothing of the media perceptions.
Given all the love and everything going, I wanted everyone to know that supporting Johnny and HFC financially was not the most valuable thing the community has done for one of its own. They unknowingly had saved the life of one of their own. My life.
A year and a half ago, in a beer buzzed state, I realized my battle with depression was bigger than I could handle alone. I posted a rant to Twitter and the Defcon Forums that I was battling depression and that, even if I couldn't help myself, getting discussion going may help others.
I figured being public was the best plan for me. For one, it could not be used against me if its already known. Second was that others I knew and trusted would hold me accountable. The amount of support I received was amazing and something I will never forget. Since then I've had dozens of people who have told me that it made them realize their depression and they went public with it to varying degrees. I've also been there at odd hours and long distance for those that needed someone to talk too. It's a good feeling to at least have tried to help.
I may not be able to help myself, but I can certainly try to help others.
A year ago, I was in a bad place. I had support and did reach out, but those that know me know I'm somewhat isolated up here in Canada; Not a lot of hackers around me and skype, etc, only do so much for real contact. I was overworked in a job that paid too little and was not appreciated at. Lots of negativity in the world and media and all sorts of other personal turmoil that more than I could handle.
I did talk to some people but given our nature as hackers, opening up is a tough thing to do. We value privacy and I had already put alot out there and given various revelations about the world, part of me thought that might have been too much. Such is our curse as hackers it seems.
I started harming myself. Nothing serious or permanent, but enough that I felt something different from the depression. A point of focus of actual pain away from the nebulous kind of pain that depression brings. I'm not proud of it, nor am I dismissive of what I did. I am surely not the only one in the community that has dealt with it either and having been there, revealing this may help others seek help.
Around this time Dave Kennedy asked me to speak at Derbycon 3. My air traffic control talk was the only thing I had worth speaking about and he was all over it. My money was tight but he did what he does best and found a cheap way for me to get there and helped with the hotel costs. No reason to other than he wanted to see me there and was willing to help out a fellow member of the hacker family.
When I hit Derbycon it was a complete shock to my system. It was like the Defcon's of old where the hallway track was built into the event and socializing was required and an encouraged part of it. No racing across a large venue to see talks or contests or anything else on an overpacked schedule. You really did not need to move beyond the lobbies couches to see everyone and do all the things.
While there I really discovered the ‘family' and how deep it goes. Friends who knew my financial crunch made sure I had food and drink the whole time and I was not out of pocket. It was to the point of threatening me to put my wallet away. Many of you can get downright scary over such matters and I think that had I continued to fight, I would have found myself duct taped to the chair or something else.
I spent the weekend just sitting around and talking with friends, old and new and realized that there was genuine care and concern. This was not a case of sitting around and talking over drinks like friends, but a genuine concern that only real family has. I opened up about my problems and self harm and they took it in and took it upon themselves to give me reason to keep going. Many saw the pain, only a few saw the cuts. All stepped up to help.
Much of the words they said are lost from my memory due to emotion, drunkenness and staying up till 8am on the Monday. But the connection to the larger family was there. It's odd to say but I have a slightly better understanding when people talk about being "part of something larger". People I had known of and barely spoken too for a decade of cons were like old friends. People I just met are family I just hadn't found yet.
It was amazing and was exactly the refresh and energization I needed to see me through this point in my life. I stopped hurting myself. I took a more active part in my medical treatments for depression and I took a more active role in tackling the things in my life that were keeping me down.
All of this and the feelings associated were too much for me at the end of the closing ceremonies and, I basically had an emotion buffer overflow. I had to get it out. I had to let the family, and especially Dave, who had yet to be thanked for all the work he did, know that they have done more than donate a huge amount to a charity that helps lives in some far away place; they saved one right there in the 2nd row.
I had to get it out, and since I have no dignity or impulse control, I did what I did; I ran up and pulled a Kanye on Dave and asked for the Mic.
Youtube Video of the closing ceremonies for context
I pulled off my glasses and hat because I wanted to pull the ego and character aside and show the person I am. I was also crying and couldn't see squat anyways.
I'm not sure what ended up on video or what it sounded like. I know the message came across, but here is what I actually wanted to say:
"You may notice that I'm crying right now. It's because of the beautiful thing you have done for Johnny and helping out a fellow hacker."
"I don't know if you know how much Dave has helped me"
"I've been out about my depression and problems and tried to help others, but a year ago, it was getting to be too much. Dave invited me out, I couldn't afford it, but he got me out here and, while he didn't know it, it was exactly what I needed to push through. To be around friends and the family. It was what I sorely needed in a bad spot in my life."
"If Dave had not gotten me out for Derbycon, I probably would be dead. I owe him my life. I owe all of you in the family my life"
The whole thing is a blur for obvious reasons, but the biggest man hug ever occurred between me and Dave and there was a standing ovation. I did what I wanted and let Dave know what he did for me. The amount of love in that room was something I wish more people could feel daily.
I capped off, so as not to leave people hanging, that I was in a much better place now and I was doing better. I am in a better place and I am doing better. I have a new job that is pretty much a dream job for me. Personal life issues have started being slowly resolved and medication has helped tame some of the depression.
By no means am I ‘cured' or a bouncing ball of happiness (question my alcohol and other chemical content if I am. Something's not right if I'm like that), but my outlook is not that the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train. The tunnel is long and dark, but I can see the journet ahead of me.
There is a mesh of family that I know will not let me fall and whom I am in much more contact with and who check up on me much more regularly for mental health and just to feel more connected. It's helped alot.
Anyone who saw me at Derbycon 4 this year saw a different man. The shenanigans, the silliness, the sheer audacity of the antics I was involved in (and, more often than not, planned and caused), was a person having fun with life. The other version of me would have been using it to mask the pain. This one was just blowing off steam.
I quite honestly left Derbycon 4 feeling like I was 'king of the con'. I had come out the other side of something dark and terrible having found new reason to fight through it. I also go forward knowing there was an army of drunken, rowdy, pissed off hackers to back me up in whatever fights lay before me. An army that's scarier and stronger than anything else I can imagine.
In conclusion, I owe the hacker family my life. If it were not for the right people in the right place at the right time, I'd likely be dead.
Thats what the hacker family means to me; life.
To all those who suffer as I do. Reach out. If not me, anyone else in this family will step up when needed. No one else understands us like we do. If we are to each get the help, it must come from within the family, because it sure as hell is'nt coming from outside.
Changing death into life. Now that's a hack.