October is Selective Mutism Awareness Month

First of all, if you’re new to my site, or you’re just learning about this condition for the first time, welcome! I’m a software developer with a variety of interests, who fights a number of personal battles every day. One of these battles that, well, I don’t fight every day but I do fight on a regular basis, is an anxiety disorder called selective mutism. My anxiety manifests in several ways, but SM is the single most noticeable and predominant since I stopped experiencing panic attacks a few years ago.

Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder characterized by a consistent failure to speak in either specific situations or to specific people, in an individual who is otherwise physically able to speak (and can often be quite chatty in safe spaces such as home!). It affects people of all ages, but more children are diagnosed than adults as the childhood onset is better-researched and more widely understood. The Wikipedia article on selective mutism used to be incredibly barebones but it seems to be much more comprehensive now.

Although (and perhaps because) selective mutism is more commonly understood and treated in children, my article will not be focusing on children; instead, the focus of this article is on adults and teens with selective mutism. One big reason for this is that I never had selective mutism as a child; I grew up quiet and introverted, but not silent. I’m 26 years old now, and I’ve lived with selective mutism full-time for 9 years and 11 months, accurate to the day of the month. Thus, I believe that my experiences and tips will be more relevant to grown-ups than to parents of selectively mute children. (If you’re one such parent, I strongly encourage you to see a pediatrician and/or a speech pathologist.)

I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome

What a flippant-sounding name for a debilitating functional disorder that in reality significantly impacts a person’s daily life, and is neither fun nor funny to deal with one bit.

You may have read about my health issues in my post about missing the Insider Dev Tour. If you haven’t, here’s an excerpt that summarizes the symptoms:

One of these health issues actually began manifesting relatively recently — early last year. Long story short, no matter how well I eat and sleep the night before, if I leave or even just have an intention of leaving the house before 11 am and too soon after waking up, I run a very high risk of experiencing (stress-induced) stomach cramps, nausea, and generalized weakness. These have usually ended in me abandoning my journey or, if I was already where I was supposed to be, being rushed home by a friend or family member.

Well, I’ve had a couple more incidents since then, as recently as this month. And, last weekend, while spending 7 hours in the A&E on a wheelchair with my parents because I was too weak and sick to get around on my own, I was finally diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). (The X-ray also found something in my gut but I’m told it should go away on its own with no medical intervention required.)

So, what exactly is IBS? It’s a functional disorder characterized by stomach cramps and intestinal spasms with varying degrees of pain, along with related symptoms like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Sometimes it gets so bad it can send you reeling, sweating, whimpering, and even collapsing (this is what put me in the A&E last weekend). But unlike most gastrointestinal (GI) diseases (i.e. diseases pertaining to the digestive system), IBS isn’t caused by injury or food poisoning or bad bacteria or acid reflux; it has no known cause nor cure, and the symptoms come and go seemingly as they please, mostly influenced or exacerbated (but not necessarily caused) by a number of other factors including

I’d bet that my episodes of generalized weakness have a part in it as well, or at least that the two seem to interact.

And yes, IBS does make the first three more difficult. So it’s a vicious cycle. One that’s going to be incredibly hard for me to get out of.

So what does this mean for me, and possibly my web work (or work in general, really)? Well, in terms of building things, writing articles and helping others on the Internet, not much. While IBS does affect me at home, it’s not nearly as disabling as it is when I’m out of the house. Here’s another quote from my Insider Dev Tour post:

However, it was an all-day event that began at 9 am and ended at 5 pm, and Microsoft Singapore is a little over an hour away from home, which meant I had to be out of the house by 7:30. These are typical hours for most full-time working adults, but I have a number of health issues that make getting a nine-to-five basically not an option for me. In fact, I had given January’s Microsoft Tech Summit a miss for the exact same reason.

That means working remotely isn’t just a luxury or convenience but practically a requirement for me now (unless the on-premises hours are so flexible I can come and go pretty much any time I can manage). And I’m sure there is no shortage of remote opportunities out there, but it does bum me out knowing it’d be silly at best and perceptibly dishonest at worst for me to apply for roles whose on-premises demands I know I’ll be unable to meet.

In the short term, I’ve had to miss Talk.CSS #32 today, not because I’ve been in pain again but because I didn’t want to take any chances. But, you know, meetups aren’t significant commitments unless I’m speaking (which I can’t) or organizing (which I don’t). Going to work, whether physically or remotely, is a commitment and a responsibility. And there are far more reasons than just IBS that I have a long way to go before I’m ready to enter the working world.

But, at least over the last 18 months, IBS has had a significant impact on my daily life, and will probably continue for a while yet (hopefully not for the rest of my life). I’m fortunate that it’s no cancer (not yet, knock on wood), but IBS and generalized weakness are not just in my head. My body doesn’t pretend to experience weakness or pain.

Having said that, I will continue doing my best to take ownership of my health, and you would not be remiss to take care of yourself too.

Microsoft MVP Award Kit for renewing MVPs

Nearly a full month after I was renewed as a Microsoft MVP, my award kit for 2018-2019 is finally here!

Because the Visual Studio and Development Technologies award category has been renamed to simply Developer Technologies this year, along with their award disk, MVPs in that award category have received a new certificate and name badge reflecting the new name.

I’ve noticed that my original MVP Award gift package post has been an incredibly popular search destination since it was first published, having received nearly 200 views since last September.1 I don’t know if this post will end up the same way, but now that I have my own room as well as an area on my new work table with a dedicated product photography setup, hopefully the photos of this kit will be much better than last year’s!

The exterior of the box is the same as last year's.
The exterior of the box is the same as last year’s.
It is much thinner by virtue of not containing a physical award.
It is much thinner by virtue of not containing a physical award.
Opening the lid reveals a much more readable "Thank you." than last year's.
Opening the lid reveals a much more readable “Thank you.” than last year’s.
My award certificate, containing the date of my renewal and the new name of my award category, Developer Technologies.
My award certificate, containing the date of my renewal and the new name of my award category, Developer Technologies.
Close-up of the 2018-2019 award disk.
Close-up of the 2018-2019 award disk.
The lapel pin, now with instructions for removal.
The lapel pin, now with instructions for removal.
The packing material used to make the box feel more like a box.
The packing material used to make the box feel more like a box.
My updated Microsoft MVP Award.
My updated Microsoft MVP Award.
Close-up of my two award disks so far.
Close-up of my two award disks so far.

  1. 200 doesn’t sound like a lot until you realize that the new blog.NOVALISTIC is still in its infancy in the grand scheme of things. 

New Stuff: LEGO® Room

60150 Pizza Van, 10703 Creative Builder Box, 10404 Ocean's Bottom, 40235 Year of the Dog, 10677 Beach Trip, 60131 Crooks Island, 40154 Pencil Pot, two copies of 31062 Robo Explorer, 40311 Traffic Lights, 40312 Streetlamps, large and small Pick A Brick cups and a mystery set hidden in a LEGO Store shopping bag.
All the LEGO sets I’ve acquired this year so far, neatly arranged on my new LEGO work table in my new room

For some reason, every Friday the 13th is either a neutral day or a really good day for me. For one, Friday the 13th of May, 2005, was the day I started blogging (back when Blogger was one of the big players). Now, I don’t usually blog about it here unless it’s relevant to my site, which is why you haven’t seen any Friday the 13th posts since the launch of NOVALISTIC 5.0 “Veldin” (which, incidentally, was launched in a month with a Friday the 13th, albeit not on the day itself). But today is different.

Today I’m very excited to introduce — no, reintroduce — the LEGO® Room! First made back in NOVALISTIC 1.5 when I was 11, I’m stoked to be bringing back something that was a significant part of the site in its early days. As I noted previously, it was slated for a July 1st launch (because LEGO usually releases new products on the 1st of each month), but then I got renewed as a Microsoft MVP, and I didn’t want both events clashing on the same day so I decided to postpone the launch and I picked today as the next best day instead. And yes, this was exactly what I was alluding to when I name-dropped Betsy Weber at the end of March — she loves LEGO too!

You may also have seen this tweet from last month and wondered why I randomly decided to acknowledge Denmark’s Constitution Day with a brick-built Danish flag this year. That’s right, it was a hint at what I’d been working on!

As you enter the new LEGO Room for the first time, you’ll be greeted with a vastly different look and feel compared to the rest of the site. As LEGO has been an integral part of my life growing up and coming of age, I’ve always wanted it to feature prominently in my own bedroom when I did finally get one. And now that, at the age of 26, I’ve had the chance to make it happen at last (better late than never, right?), I wanted the new LEGO Room to reflect that personal aspect of myself by adopting its lime green walls and a black-on-white color scheme. Note that I intend for most visitors coming from LEGO-related searches and fansites to land directly within the LEGO Room as opposed to coming from elsewhere within my site (other than my blog anyway), so this different look and feel will likely be their first experience of my site — and what you see right now will be different to them! I hope folks will not mind either way.

It just so happens that this year also marks the 60th anniversary of the LEGO Brick patent. So, I figured, no time better than now to make a proper return to my LEGO hobby to coincide with my move into my own room — with my first ever LEGO Certified Store haul! This haul was actually purchased way back in late February and consists of just a fraction of the sets I purchased this year shown above. The rest of the sets were purchased in separate hauls over the last few months, and I’ve kept everything sealed as I worked on moving into my new room as well as putting the new LEGO Room together.

60150 Pizza Van, 10703 Creative Builder Box, 10404 Ocean's Bottom, 40235 Year of the Dog, large and small Pick A Brick cups and a mystery set hidden in a LEGO Store shopping bag.
My first ever LEGO Certified Store haul!

(Technically the small Pick A Brick cup was purchased separately but it didn’t feel right leaving it out so I left it in instead. You’ll also notice the LEGO Store shopping bag that seems all but strategically and deliberately placed alongside the visible sets… that’s because it contains a mystery exclusive set that I’ll reveal much later!)

So, what will be featured in the new LEGO Room? You’ll be able to see my LEGO collection, which pulls data from the Brickset API (a SOAP web service, in case you were wondering). If you live in Singapore, you’ll also be able to browse the Pick A Brick walls of most local LEGO Certified Stores.

Starting next week, I’ll also be publishing reviews of these new sets there, with photos that will look right at home shot on my new LEGO work table. Pretty excited about that one! Since my set reviews will be residing in the LEGO Room, I won’t be mirroring their content on blog.NOVALISTIC, but I will make an announcement post each time a new review goes up.

You can also find me on Brickset and Bricks Stack Exchange as LegoSonicBoy — that’s my original LEGO Club username from 2001!

I’ve been renewed as a Microsoft MVP!

I’ve been hard at work on a major new addition to my site over the last few months, and as I spent this weekend finalizing and preparing it for a soft launch I’ve been super excited to share it with you (yes, you… visitor!). However, I was interrupted by something even more exciting.

Microsoft® Most Valuable Professional

That’s right: as part of the annual renewal cycle that happens on July 1st each year, I have been renewed for the next full year as a 2018–2019 Microsoft MVP! This is my first renewal, of course, seeing as I was first awarded last September (you may recall that I first discussed this on the deadline before the renewal cycle). I was unsure if I’d sustained my activities enough to be considered for renewal as I’d heard that, as part of the relatively new July cycle, the bar had been raised significantly. But here I am, and I’m honored to have made the cut!

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting the news to come today. When I was first awarded, I’d only received my notification on September 2nd, my 10th anniversary on Twitter, so I figured I probably wouldn’t be worrying about it just yet. In fact, I didn’t want to “depend” on there being news so to speak. So that’s why I was getting the new addition ready for a soft launch today. But with the news having just dropped, I’m afraid that’ll have to wait till next weekend (to, you know, give this all some time to simmer). On the plus side, this does mean that I’ll get to launch it with a little more fanfare!1

As always, check out my contributions on my MVP profile! I’ll be keeping it up to date on a monthly basis, and if you’re a fellow MVP I encourage you to do the same!

  1. Assuming there won’t be any surprises next weekend.