A quick and dirty post about my first year-ish with ADHD

A year and a bit ago I got diagnosed with ADHD, moderate severity, inattentive type. I’ve been meaning to write a bit about what I’ve learned since then but I keep, you know, getting distracted. It came up in a Slack conversation today which resulted in me barfing 500 words into a relative stranger’s DMs and then I was hyper and couldn’t sleep so now you get a blog post. Squirrel!

Experts

I have accepted at this point that I need to work with experts to be an effective/productive/sustainable human. I’m fortunate to have the resources to do so, and I recognize that that’s a privilege. Working with experts is a power-up that lets me be more effective in doing good in the world. Currently, this is my roster of experts, with a rough cadence of how often we work together:

  • trauma-focused psychotherapist (weekly. I’ve been through Some Shit in the past couple years and I keep wanting to go less than weekly but then reality kicks my ass and I keep going weekly)
  • ADHD coach (monthlyish)
  • psychiatrist (~2-3 months for med management)
  • personal trainer (twice weekly-ish)
  • professional organizer (couple times per year + more around moving)

I wanted to expand on the professional organizer bit and share a resource that’s helped me an absolute TON: “Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD“.* There’s an existing Twitter thread so I won’t summarize it much much except: your inventory must not exceed your space. Less inventory = easier organizing.

The pro organizer I’ve been working with in person specializes in working with folks with ADHD. If you’re in San Francisco and want to see if working with a pro can help make your space more sane, functional, and sustainable, give Debra a ping. I’ve also previously worked with Denise up in Seattle, if you’re looking for an organizer up there.

Tactics

Pairing is the biggest one. I get sooooo much done when I’m working with someone else. This is a known thing with ADHD – it’s called “body doubling“. One of my poor colleagues sometimes just sits with me while I whine about emails I’m writing (as I’m writing them). I’m grateful for every minute of her time even though I know it’s kinda a boring thing to do.

Rigorous calendaring – I do a lot of magical thinking about time and how much I can get done in it, so blocking things off on my calendar a LOT, like to a point it feels silly, has helped. I block off travel time, email time, recovery time after social things, etc. Also – I put a clock on my desk. “Clocks are like glasses for the time-blind” is a thing that stuck with me from this year! Also also: I know I’m best in the mornings, so I block of time for creative/thinky things then and take calls in the afternoons. Or early mornings, FML.

Getting enough sleep (which I’m failing at right now!!) helps me with executive function (which means: which tasks to do and also starting them; it’s the main thing people with ADHD don’t have enough of), working memory, general emotional evenkeeledness.

Exercise – days when I have lifted heavy things and put them back down repeatedly in the morning are so much more productive than days I haven’t, unless I fuck up the sleep thing and then sometimes I fall asleep at my desk. That’s why sleep is before exercise on this list.

Self-compassion – my productivity isn’t smooth and that’s ok. It’s not a moral flaw that my brain doesn’t really have much of a “chill getting shit done” mode in between “fucking around” and “SUPERHUMAN INCIDENT RESPONDER ADRENAL CRISIS MODE”. It’s just how my brain works. I’m working hard on building that middle mode – it’s like a muscle! But after a couple decades of white knuckling it through the other modes, it’s gonna take some time to shed maladaptive habits and build more sustainable ones.

There’s no point being cruel to myself when I get a bit stuck in “fucking around” mode and get dribs and drabs of work done as I alternate between work email reddit twitter a cute dog video someone sent me personal email DMs work Slack personal Slack phone messages work email etc etc. Harshness doesn’t get me any closer to chill getting shit done mode.

Kristin Neff’s work and book is a good place to start if that last bit resonated with you.

Drugs

I take 2mg Intunive XR (guanfacine) every night at bedtime, and 5mg Adderall XR on workdays. Intunive – originally a blood pressure drug that some genius figured out helps folks with ADHD – stops my brain from yelling “YOU’RE A FAILURE AND A DISAPPOINTMENT TO EVERYONE YOU LOVE” constantly. This is known as “rejection-sensitive dysphoria” or RSD, and it is the trauma response many people get from a lifetime of ADHD getting in the way of being able to consistently get stuff done (and then getting yelled at for being a failure, losing jobs, etc.) Adderall does what everyone knows Adderall does: lets me focus on stupid mundane shit. I find that it doesn’t help me as much with bigger creative things – it doesn’t harm, but it really shines on stuff like getting expenses filed. I take a low dose of it – too much makes me anxious.

Where I’m at

I still feel like I’m at maybe 60% of where my self-image says I should be productivity-wise, but it was like 30% before so it’s a huge improvement. ~Not living up to my potential~ is the millstone around the necks of just about everyone with ADHD (see earlier explanation of RSD), though, so I try to be gentle with myself when I stare at a wall for 4 hours in an evening because I can’t focus, and then have to stay up til 3AM to get that deliverable out. And then I’m super wired, so I write most of a blog post.

Other resources

* Disclosure: book links give me a kickback 😇

Startup: The Musical

Starting in December 2015, a colleague and I at my former employer, Slack, wrote most of a musical about startup life. The Google Doc is 44 pages long. Much of it is WAY too inside baseball about our time there to be fit to print, but with the recent public offering I wanted to at least acknowledge its existence publicly and share with you my own lyrical magnum opus: Cryin’ in the Nap Room (to the tune of the 1973 Brownsville Station classic, “Smokin’ in the Boys Room“).

Cryin’ in the Nap Room
To the tune of “Smokin’ in the Boys Room”

Did you ever seem to have one of those days
When everyone seemed to be on your case
From your CTO all the way down to your best girlfriend
Well that used to happen to me all the time
But I found a way to get out of it

Sittin’ in the open plan thinkin’ it’s a drag
Listening to the agile coach rap just ain’t my bag
When two bells ring you know it’s my cue
Gonna curl up with a blanket and do what i gotta do

[Chorus]
Cryin’ in the nap room
Cryin’ in the nap room
Bossman don’t you fill me up with your rules
Everybody knows that cryin’ ain’t allowed in

Checkin’ out the halls makin’ sure the coast is clear
Lookin’ in the gcal, nah, there ain’t nobody here
My buddies Mike, Matt and Mark
To get caught would surely be the death of us all

[Chorus]

Put me to work in the support queue
Tweetin’ on the corp account, and I got bored
Boss was lookin’ for me all around
Two hours later you know where I was found

[Chorus]

Cryin’ in the nap room
Cryin’ in the nap room

[Chorus]

One more time

[Chorus]


There were other songs – oh boy were there others. Here’s a selection:

Learning Objective-C
To the tune of “Defying Gravity”

The Interview
Setting: Whiteboard Interview
To the tune of “Greased Lightning”

Asking for a raise
Setting: Coffeeshop, with friends trying to recruit eachother to eachothers startups, by explaining perks
To the tune of “Pure Imagination”

Hooking up the AV
About hooking up AV for a meeting
To the tune of “You give love a Bad Name”

Go your own way
I Have an Idea / Leaving the Startup
To the tune of “Go your own way”

Acquire You
To the tune of Coldplay’s “Fix You”

The smoke cleared

shipping container cranes are hidden by smoke in the distance beyond the bridge's railing
The port of Oakland, seen from the Bay Bridge (cropped, original on instagram)

It’s been two weeks since the smoke from the fire finally cleared and San Francisco was drenched in rain. I’d never experienced air pollution like it – the 2017 fires were bad, but this year’s smoke settled over the city like an unwelcome houseguest.

What I didn’t expect was that even all this time later, I’m just starting to come out of the fog of the smoke myself. It hit me harder than I expected – the combination of being unable to go outside during the day right as the clocks changed left me feeling like “oh, it’s bedtime” right as soon as the sun set… at 5PM.

I did all the right things – I got an air purifier, minimized time outside and consistently wore a mask when I did, and ultimately left town for a couple days when the smoke was at its worst. I was fortunate to be able to afford to do all the “right” things – and I was still a mess, and it still hit me harder than I even realized when I was in the thick of it, and took much longer to recover from.

This probably could have just been a couple of tweets but I wanted to write it out to remind myself of how I felt if the fires (and smoke) hit again next year – both for myself as a reminder of how bad it was, and for others, too. Bay Area friends, know that if you’ve been feeling like shit this fall, you’re not alone and you’re not weird. It’s been rough, even as a generally pretty physically healthy person (albeit with mild asthma – a visit I had to the pulmonologist today reminded me to write this post). I’ve been thinking, too, of this smart twitter thread about disability, denial, and the smoke:

I am deeply lucky to only have had to deal with the smoke’s effects on my lungs and my brain. Nearly 100 people lost their lives, more are still missing, and thousands of people are now homeless – climate refugees in California, a state in perpetual housing crisis. My post-election worry that the federal government would bungle aid to natural disasters in California proved somewhat true – enough to make me feel justified about having checked off some of the Wirecutter’s disaster preparedness list a while back. Raking the leaves isn’t going to save us from climate change. But at least for now, for those currently still dealing with the aftermath, you can make tax-deductible donations to fire relief efforts via the North Valley Community Foundation here.

The Al Capone theory of sexual harassment

This post was co-authored by Valerie Aurora and Leigh Honeywell and cross-posted on both of our blogs.

We’re thrilled with the recent trend towards sexual harassment in the tech industry having actual consequences – for the perpetrator, not the target, for a change. We decided it was time to write a post explaining what we’ve been calling “the Al Capone Theory of Sexual Harassment.” (We can’t remember which of us came up with the name, Leigh or Valerie, so we’re taking joint credit for it.) We developed the Al Capone Theory over several years of researching and recording racism and sexism in computer security, open source software, venture capital, and other parts of the tech industry. To explain, we’ll need a brief historical detour – stick with us.

As you may already know, Al Capone was a famous Prohibition-era bootlegger who, among other things, ordered murders to expand his massively successful alcohol smuggling business. The U.S. government was having difficulty prosecuting him for either the murdering or the smuggling, so they instead convicted Capone for failing to pay taxes on the income from his illegal business. This technique is standard today – hence the importance of money-laundering for modern successful criminal enterprises – but at the time it was a novel approach.

al_capone_mural_cropped_480
A mural depicting Al Capone smoking a cigar in front of a bridge and a subway, used under CC-SA from Wikipedia

The U.S. government recognized a pattern in the Al Capone case: smuggling goods was a crime often paired with failing to pay taxes on the proceeds of the smuggling. We noticed a similar pattern in reports of sexual harassment and assault: often people who engage in sexually predatory behavior also faked expense reports, plagiarized writing, or stole credit for other people’s work. Just three examples: Mark Hurd, the former CEO of HP, was accused of sexual harassment by a contractor, but resigned for falsifying expense reports to cover up the contractor’s unnecessary presence on his business trips. Jacob Appelbaum, the former Tor evangelist, left the Tor Foundation after he was accused of both sexual misconduct and plagiarism. And Randy Komisar, a general partner at venture capital firm KPCB, gave a book of erotic poetry to another partner at the firm, and accepted a board seat (and the credit for a successful IPO) at RPX that would ordinarily have gone to her.

Initially, the connection eluded us: why would the same person who made unwanted sexual advances also fake expense reports, plagiarize, or take credit for other people’s work? We remembered that people who will admit to attempting or committing sexual assault also disproportionately commit other types of violence and that “criminal versatility” is a hallmark of sexual predators. And we noted that taking credit for others’ work is a highly gendered behavior.

Then we realized what the connection was: all of these behaviors are the actions of someone who feels entitled to other people’s property – regardless of whether it’s someone else’s ideas, work, money, or body. Another common factor was the desire to dominate and control other people. In venture capital, you see the same people accused of sexual harassment and assault also doing things like blacklisting founders for objecting to abuse and calling people nasty epithets on stage at conferences. This connection between dominance and sexual harassment also shows up as overt, personal racism (that’s one reason why we track both racism and sexism in venture capital).

So what is the Al Capone theory of sexual harassment? It’s simple: people who engage in sexual harassment or assault are also likely to steal, plagiarize, embezzle, engage in overt racism, or otherwise harm their business. (Of course, sexual harassment and assault harms a business – and even entire fields of endeavor – but in ways that are often discounted or ignored.) Ask around about the person who gets handsy with the receptionist, or makes sex jokes when they get drunk, and you’ll often find out that they also violated the company expense policy, or exaggerated on their résumé, or took credit for a colleague’s project. More than likely, they’ve engaged in sexual misconduct multiple times, and a little research (such as calling previous employers) will show this, as we saw in the case of former Uber and Google employee Amit Singhal.

Organizations that understand the Al Capone theory of sexual harassment have an advantage: they know that reports or rumors of sexual misconduct are a sign they need to investigate for other incidents of misconduct, sexual or otherwise. Sometimes sexual misconduct is hard to verify because a careful perpetrator will make sure there aren’t any additional witnesses or records beyond the target and the target’s memory (although with the increase in use of text messaging in the United States over the past decade, we are seeing more and more cases where victims have substantial written evidence). But one of the implications of the Al Capone theory is that even if an organization can’t prove allegations of sexual misconduct, the allegations themselves are sign to also urgently investigate a wide range of aspects of an employee’s conduct.

Some questions you might ask: Can you verify their previous employment and degrees listed on their résumé? Do their expense reports fall within normal guidelines and include original receipts? Does their previous employer refuse to comment on why they left? When they give references, are there odd patterns of omission? For example, a manager who doesn’t give a single reference from a person who reported to them can be a hint that they have mistreated people they had power over.

Another implication of the Al Capone theory is that organizations should put more energy into screening potential employees or business partners for allegations of sexual misconduct before entering into a business relationship with them, as recently advocated by LinkedIn cofounder and Greylock partner Reid Hoffman. This is where tapping into the existing whisper network of targets of sexual harassment is incredibly valuable. The more marginalized a person is, the more likely they are to be the target of this kind of behavior and to be connected with other people who have experienced this behavior. People of color, queer people, people with working class jobs, disabled people, people with less money, and women are all more likely to know who sends creepy text messages after a business meeting. Being a member of more than one of these groups makes people even more vulnerable to this kind of harassment – we don’t think it was a coincidence that many of the victims of sexual harassment who spoke out last month were women of color.

What about people whose well-intentioned actions are unfairly misinterpreted, or people who make a single mistake and immediately regret it? The Al Capone theory of sexual harassment protects these people, because when the organization investigates their overall behavior, they won’t find a pattern of sexual harassment, plagiarism, or theft. A broad-ranging investigation in this kind of case will find only minor mistakes in expense reports or an ambiguous job title in a resume, not a pervasive pattern of deliberate deception, theft, or abuse. To be perfectly clear, it is possible for someone to sexually harass someone without engaging in other types of misconduct. In the absence of clear evidence, we always recommend erring on the side of believing accusers who have less power or privilege than the people they are accusing, to counteract the common unconscious bias against believing those with less structural power and to take into account the enormous risk of retaliation against the accuser.

Some people ask whether the Al Capone theory of sexual harassment will subject men to unfair scrutiny. It’s true, the majority of sexual harassment is committed by men. However, people of all genders commit sexual harassment. We personally know of two women who have sexually touched other people without consent at tech-related events, and we personally took action to stop these women from abusing other people. At the same time, abuse more often occurs when the abuser has more power than the target – and that imbalance of power is often the result of systemic oppression such as racism, sexism, cissexism, or heterosexism. That’s at least one reason why a typical sexual harasser is more likely to be one or all of straight, white, cis, or male.

What does the Al Capone theory of sexual harassment mean if you are a venture capitalist or a limited partner in a venture fund? Your first priority should be to carefully vet potential business partners for a history of unethical behavior, whether it is sexual misconduct, lying about qualifications, plagiarism, or financial misdeeds. If you find any hint of sexual misconduct, take the allegations seriously and step up your investigation into related kinds of misconduct (plagiarism, lying on expense reports, embezzlement) as well as other incidents of sexual misconduct.

Because sexual harassers sometimes go to great lengths to hide their behavior, you almost certainly need to expand your professional network to include more people who are likely to be targets of sexual harassment by your colleagues – and gain their trust. If you aren’t already tapped into this crucial network, here are some things you can do to get more access:

These are all aspects of ally skills – concrete actions that people with more power and privilege can take to support people who have less.

Finally, we’ve seen a bunch of VCs pledging to donate the profits of their investments in funds run by accused sexual harassers to charities supporting women in tech. We will echo many other women entrepreneurs and say: don’t donate that money, invest it in women-led ventures – especially those led by women of color.

Joining the ACLU

In a couple of weeks, I will be joining the ACLU’s Project on Speech, Privacy and Technology as a Technology Fellow. I will be working on activist issues near and dear to my heart – encryption, surveillance, and privacy rights that are facing renewed threat under the new administration. I am so excited to get to apply my decade of work in the security industry to helping shape conversations and policies on these topics.

More so than ever before, cyber security issues are at the forefront of public conversations about freedom and democracy. In my time on the Patch Tuesday team at Microsoft, doing incident response at Salesforce, and most recently at Slack, I have learned a lot about the nuts and bolts of how security is practiced in the real world – and how to communicate about it with the public. I further honed those skills through my work as an advisor to the Ada Initiative, the creator of the neveragain.tech pledge, and in providing behind-the-scenes security assistance to activists and public figures. Building on this foundation, I am looking forward to being an outspoken and effective advocate for our digital rights during the year of my fellowship and beyond.

My role will include collaborating with the ACLU’s lawyers and other staff to identify, understand, and potentially litigate issues related to security, technology, and civil liberties. I am also looking forward to working with journalists as a source for commentary on security and privacy issues. Please feel free to reach out to me via email (leigh at hypatia dot ca) or Twitter DM for my Signal number. My PGP key is also available here.

I am deeply grateful for and proud of my two years at Slack and will miss everyone a bunch (though I’m not going far – I’ll be working out of the San Francisco ACLU office). I was the third security employee at Slack, and helped grow and evolve the team over the past two years, eventually becoming manager of our incident response team. Early in my time at Slack, I worked to streamline and improve our highly successful bug bounty program and update our security documentation. I got to interview my boss Geoff before we hired him as our first CSO. I worked with colleagues to build a next-generation secure development process, and most recently my work has focused on hiring and building our incident response practice. I’m happy to be able to help hire our next incident response leader in my last couple of weeks at the company – you can check out the job description and apply here, and I would be glad to talk about the role and my time at Slack with interested candidates.

Some of my best work

Comedy is tragedy mellowed by time.

–Carol Burnett

A few years ago I ended a particularly unhealthy relationship. With the distance of a few years, a very traumatizing time in my life just feels very funny, and I’ve told this story enough times that it felt time to write it down.

We had been seeing each other long distance for several years, and I’d eventually decided to move to his city. This required my going back to school for a year to finish my degree so that I could get a visa to work in his country and move across the continent. About the only part of this that I don’t regret is finally finishing my damn degree.

Things lasted 10 weeks after I got there. It was the relationship equivalent of constructive dismissal; my partner was at times absent, at others cruel. But he was mainly just extremely focused on someone he’d started seeing over the summer as I finished my final class in university. I hadn’t yet figured out that polyamory is just too damn complicated for my tastes, and I didn’t particularly get along with her – an arch libertarian whose explanation for why she wanted kids started with “have you seen the movie Idiocracy?”

On a cold Saturday in December, I finally had enough. The only time I was going to be able to see him was around a talk he was giving at a local geek group, so I figured I’d tag along for that and then have The Conversation afterwards. When I got to his place, he was the most affectionate he’d been in the weeks since my transcontinental move, and my resolve weakened…

But not for long, because a few minutes into the half hour drive to the geek event, he sprung on me that New Partner would also be there. Well, that explained things.

We arrived at the meetup and I let New Partner know through clenched teeth that I couldn’t handle talking to her today. She left me be. I listened through the mildly interesting presentations, then there was some awkward socializing that involved my trying not to talk to old nerdy men, then we departed.

The arrangement was that my soon-to-be ex would drive me to my next engagement for the day – volunteering at the SPCA. It was a 40+ minute drive, of which I remember nothing.

We got to the parking lot, and I initiated The Conversation, and was met by the kind of “wow, you’re actually breaking up with me” that only those who have dated the intensely self-absorbed are familiar with. I had been mainlining the first year of Captain Awkward posts – he was an archetypal Darth Vader Boyfriend, but I did my best to be clear that it was not a negotiation.

He was quiet for a bit, and it finally dawned on him:

“Did you get me to take you to the SPCA so that you could break up with me in their parking lot and then go pet cats?”

I sure had. It worked out great.

Part-time Power

Background: Y Combinator (YC) is an influential seed accelerator and VC firm founded by Paul Graham and run by Sam Altman. Sam may remember me from the time I counted how many women he follows on Twitter. One of YC’s part-time partners is Peter Thiel, who spoke at the Republican National Convention. He also donated $1.25 million to Trump’s presidential campaign in mid-October after more than a dozen women accused the candidate of sexual assault and Trump once again repeated his calls for imprisonment of five innocent black men. For more details, see Project Include’s post on the topic, or Erica Baker, Nicole Sanchez, and Maciej Cegłowski’s numerous and wise tweets around it.

One of the things I teach in the Ally Skills workshop is a concept in moral philosophy called the Paradox of Tolerance – in short, the one thing a tolerant society must be intolerant of is intolerance. It’s really helped me frame how I’ve been thinking about this situation – to consider whether or not Thiel’s support of Trump puts him into the “intolerable intolerance” camp or not. It wasn’t a particularly tough call for me – were I in Altman’s shoes, I’d ask for Thiel’s resignation. But there’s part of the situation that I haven’t seen addressed anywhere.

When you bring someone into your organization as an advisor/mentor/office-hour-holder (which is what Thiel’s role at YC seems to consist of), you are doing three things:

  • Giving them power over the people in your organization that they are tasked with advising
  • Endorsing their advice as being something that people in your organization should follow
  • Sharing your social capital with them

Now, obviously, Thiel has those first two powers in droves in his various other capacities, but in keeping him on as a “part-time partner”, YC is both saying that they value the advice he can give their founders as well as implicitly giving him a position of power over them – the power of making introductions or not, writing letters of recommendation or not, and so on – the power of a sanctioned mentoring role.

They are also saying that they trust him to not discriminate against the people they are giving him power over – the founders in their program – in ways that are not aligned with YC’s values. Thiel has made it clear through decades of public writing and actions what his values are. He wrote a book called “The Diversity Myth”, for starters. Thiel also considers women having the vote to have “rendered the notion of ‘capitalist democracy’ an oxymoron“. This hits me particularly hard as I can’t vote right now – I am in the US on a visa, not yet a citizen, and as a non-resident can no longer vote in Canada.

One last thing: I stressed for two days about writing this post, knowing that Thiel is willing to fund multi-million dollar lawsuits against his critics. I have no connection to him and he has no other power over me. Imagine how it would feel should any of his mentees need to criticize him.

We all get to make a choice as to what constitutes “intolerable intolerance”. YC has made it clear that Thiel’s actions and words are tolerable enough to them to continue to give him power over people in their organization, and I find this unconscionable.