The Strength of a Tree

If you’ve clicked on the link looking for a technical article, you’re going to be disappointed. This post is more about something that I’ve been thinking about for a while.

Last month Texas suffered another ice storm. Before moving to this state, I’d never heard of “freezing rain” and just assumed it was Texan for hail. Boy, was I wrong on both counts? Hail here is the size of golf balls (and occasionally softballs) and freezing rain is… well, it’s just weird. It’s rain that freezes on contact with a surface. It looks beautiful but causes problems in a state that isn’t used to cold weather. One of the main issues is that it adds extraordinary weight to everything it touches.

In February we got his with freezing rain. It knocked out the power in our home. With temperatures reaching down into the teens, this was bad. We resorted to thick clothing and thicker blankets. One night, we were woken by several crashing sounds coming from outside. Usually this would prompt me to jump out of bed to investigate but I was cold, and my immediate thought was, “whatever damage just occurred, it won’t have changed much by the morning.” So, I put it out of my mind until the morning when one of our children burst into the room and shouted, “there’s a tree on your truck!” Yes, my new truck that I’d bought just a few weeks prior.

As it turned out, there was no damage to the truck. The fallen tree was resting on our fence and the ground. No significant damage to anything but the tree itself, which had completely buckled under the weight of the freezing rain.

The fallen tree with roots exposed

After the initial adrenaline had receded, I went out to take a closer look. We have large trees on the west side of our home. One is old and haggard looking while the other looks young and vibrant. If I were to bet on which of the two trees was likely to come crashing down under the pressure, I’d put my money on the older, less healthy looking of the two. This, however, was not the case. The old tree had lost a small limb, but it was the younger, stronger looking tree that had fallen.

Why am I waxing lyrical about a couple of trees? Because I’ve now worked in this field for sixteen years. I’ve given presentations, done ground-breaking research, worked on amazing cases, mentored amazing people and became an instructor for SANS. I’ve had a great career so far (and long may it continue). But here’s the thing, I have issues. I’m insecure, anxious, I have problems with focus and attention, I have serious social anxiety and have frequent panic attacks. I’ve had these issues my whole life and had convinced myself that I could handle everything on my own. It wasn’t until my children starting to exhibit the same tendencies that I realized that the help I wanted for them, could also apply to me. So, I saw a doctor friend of mine and we’re taking steps to improve my mental and emotional issues and, in turn, my quality of life.

Perhaps you know who I am, maybe you’ve watched me present or listened to one of my (old) podcasts. Maybe we’ve been friends for several years and never saw any of this in me. There’s only a handful of people that ever knew the truth. I was very close to being that young, strong tree. The one that people would say, “yeah, he’s great, no problems there.” The scary thing is that I could have been. A little more weight on my branches and maybe I would have come crashing down.

Not all issues, scars, injuries and disabilities are readily apparent to those looking in from the outside, which is why I’m going to say two things; the first is to be aware that anyone you meet could be feeling this way. They may have problems that aren’t manifest in the short amount of time you see them at a conference for a few hours each year. Be compassionate and understanding. The second thing I want to say is to anyone suffering. You’re not alone. If you need to talk to someone about this, there are others in the field (a surprising number from what I’ve seen thus far) who are the same as you and can lend support. Don’t suffer alone.

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