Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Inaugural Mental Health & Wellness Workshop at Derbycon8

This year was the first ever (as far as I can tell) Mental Health & Wellness workshop at an information security conference. For those of you that haven't heard my Hackers, Hugs, & Drugs talk a little background is called for first. I've been struggling with anxiety and depression since my mid-teens in one way or another. Poor relationships did nothing but fuel the issues I was already having. When I started interacting with the infosec community about 6 years ago I started feeling a sense of belonging. Through my trials with different medications and coping mechanisms I've started to get a little more of a handle on (or at least a better awareness) of my own mental health. I consider this community my family, more so than most blood relation that I have. This has been the first group of people that understand me and you understand others around you. When I began tweeting, posting, and talking to people at cons about anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues I realized that there are a LOT of people here that not only are struggling with this type of stuff, but trying to tackle it alone like I did for a good 10 years or so. I've had amazing conversations with some super smart and personable people, that you'd never imagine would be struggling. The kind of people that look like they have it together. I want to continue this conversation and try to make it as public and without stigma as possible.

After a year and a half giving this talk at various conferences and meetups I continued to be awestruck at the overwhelmingly positive responses. Each time I would think "Ok, maybe I've given this speech enough", I would have another person come up to me to talk about how it lead them to go get some counseling, or to change their minds about self harm or suicide. After hearing story after story I thought it would be good to continue these efforts at a larger scale. While I love speaking, it only reaches a certain number of people. We needed more. That is when the idea of the workshop came about, and honestly it did turn out to be more of a village with smaller workshops inside of it. After pitching the idea to Derbycon and getting accepted the idea started to take shape. The gofundme campaign was created and earned around $7,000 for not only this particular instance, but to donate to charity what we had left over (more details at the end, so keep reading obviously).

This room turned into something more than I could have ever envisioned. I wanted to help others by providing a quiet space and some information but it sometimes morphed into a therapeutic sharing session and conversations that I even have a hard time explaining. Our four massage therapists were never not busy, so definitely expect to see them back again next year. We fidgeted, colored, created, napped, hugged, cried, ate, and meditated; all with friends and family surrounding us in a positive and calming environment.

None of this would have been possible without the amazing help of all of the volunteers that signed up, and some that didn't really even sign up but were roped in one way or another. I'd like to especially thank @click_wire for helping with almost every aspect at the conference, and keeping me from having a few ongoing breakdowns myself. @v33na for giving us her yoga and meditation expertise as well as leading a group discussion on self care and emotional intelligence. @andMYhacks for covering some time management skills as well as always checking in and being on top of things (not just the air loungers). @JaysonStreet for his deeply touching and heart wrenching talk, he sure knows how to command a room. The responses and interactions with him as our final speaker left the whole room in tears. @0rphik for all of the help setting up and continued interaction and compassion to others around you, for those that weren't crying after Jayson was done, they were when you spoke (oh, and thanks again for the book #squee). @RayRedacted for the immense amount of help and positive interactions you brought to the room as well as an awesome talk on bringing light to our lives. Both @Tr0phywifehacks and @S1r3nn for bringing your supplies and knowledge and helping so many people with it.

Our speakers and discussion group leaders @dakacki, @investigatorchi, @f0zziehakz, @brentwdesign, @ZanshinH4x, @Integgroll, @hoshin, @Blenster, @SteveGroark, @bsdbandit, @5urv1va7rix (and her amazing service dog Trevor) who not only shared personal stories, but listened to yours and taught us a lot of amazing information that wouldn't normally be covered at a conference like this.

Our volunteers that watched the room, checked up on things, and were just amazing overall @oncee, @mr_minion, @SirgurdWV, @landonchelf, @secbuff, @cillic, @EricGershman and his wife Tina, Cherie, Val & my favorite puppy Fava. We also couldn't have gotten this far without the help of @HackingDave, @Karl_Creepy, Dave DeSimone and the rest of the @DerbyCon crew. Not to mention the inspiration I've gotten from @mubix with #hackingtogether and @ihackedwhat.

Also, for those of you that poured your heart out, found help, connections, friends, family, support, and whatever else you may have needed or felt like you could give at the time. I love you all and can't wait to see you again!!!!

Some final numbers and information about the workshop:

GoFundMe Info

  • Total Views: 1571
  • Total Donors: 28
  • Total raised: $7,026
  • Donating to Charity (Brain & Behavior Research Foundation): $1,321


  • 22 volunteers
  • 8 presentations
  • 7 group discussions
  • 2 hours of yoga
  • apx 120 chair massages given
  • gallons of tears
  • 1 flattened Lintile

Up Next

  • Looking for corporate sponsors - If you're interested in donating or volunteering in any way we're looking to switch from a gofundme to corporate sponsors in some shape or form. Feel free to contact me through here or twitter.
  • Headed to @DachFest in Munich to run this again
  • Possibly doing this as a village for @BsidesLV and more


  1. I had a great time and a peaceful place to rest and reflect was very very welcome.

  2. Being a human, supposedly the most intelligent species there is in the entire universe comes with cons that we all tend to overlook; yet all these characteristics define who we are, one such being the aspect of ours to question everything. All of us act skeptically and are objectively always trying to find advantages in every other thing we do. | Mental Wellness