There’s Time Enough Yet Today

Some days last an eternity. Seconds pass with the agnozing slowness of sunlight creeping across the floor, a change that only seems to happen when you find a momentary reprieve with some distraction or another. Hours pass with the glacial pace of trees growing once they’re past the point where you can use your own height as a point of reference. No matter what you do with a day like that, it always feels like a waste.

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Reasonable Expectations For Life Management

As a single person living alone in a moderately sized two-bedroom apartment, I frequently feel like I don’t have enough time for everything I need and want to do. Back when I was working from home, I could do a lot of small household chores and personal management labor in the breaks I now fill with walking around my office, browsing the internet, writing, and various minor entertainments. I think that was the only time in my life I managed to keep up with laundry, apartment cleaning, work, and hobbies. I had fewer demands on my time, sure, since I wasn’t blogging, writing, and trying to maintain three dungeons and dragons campaigns, but I felt like I was actually on top of things for once.

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Managing Mental Health Over The Holidays

I need a t-shirt that says “I went outdoors to treat my depression and all I got was this mild tan.” One of the efforts I started last year to combat my feelings of isolation and worsening depression was to make sure that I take daily walks. I didn’t really expect it to solve all my problems, but I did hope that it would have a more marked improvement on my mood and general mental health. The daily walks sure help me make sure I can get my average of six hours of sleep per night, but the emotional benefits of getting daily sunlight or daily fresh air have largely vanished at this point.

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Mental Health Time Management

There’s a lot of logistics that goes into managing my time. There’s the general amount that has to do with filling the hours of my days, working on my goals, getting work done, and keeping up with the tasks required to manage my home. Then there’s a whole additional layer that is the work I have to do to prepare myself for stressful moments or making decisions when I’m out of spoons.

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Tabletop Highlight: How Many Players is too Many?

The first campaign I ever ran started with six players, made its way down to four, and eventually settled at five with one more who’d play once every couple months. The second one had eight. The third one had almost a dozen, but only about six-to-eight ever made it to a session at any given time (it was specifically built for this). My main Dungeons and Dragons group in Madison was six players for a while, but then it shot up to eight and now sits nine after a couple years of jumping around. The campaign I currently run the most frequently, “Broken Worlds,” has three players. I’ve run a campaign for two people, and even ran a one-day campaign for a single player while introducing them to D&D. While a specific idea of a “basic party” exists for D&D, which is what the D&D rules expect when it comes to assessing difficult or setting up appropriate encounters, I have rarely had four players in my group and the party has almost never been “balanced.”

As I’ve said before, a good GM can find a way for any party composition to work, but what could bear saying is that even a good GM can’t always make any size party work. I know a lot of GMs who thrive in that four-to-ten player range, but who absolutely struggle to make the game work for fewer than four. I know a couple GMs who can’t handle more than four or five, but almost prefer the super small groups of one-to-three players. Personally, I struggle with anything over seven players, but can easily handle anything up to that point. What usually gets me is trying to manage combat and player engagement for eight of more people. There’s just so much to keep track of that I often can’t keep the turns going so my players can stay focused or I keep needing to pull people aside so they do their little solo mission because they feel like they’re getting lost in the crowd and thus start doing things alone to force their character to stand out. The latter is a slippery slope if people start doing it for unnecessary stuff, since it usually means more people start to feel like they’re not getting enough of a chance to act so they start doing solo stuff as well and then you might as well be running several small D&D sessions instead of one larger one.

To be entirely fair, that can be a way to manage a large group. If you know there’s a stealth section coming up that the Ranger, Rogue, and Bard want to do without the noisy Fighter, Cleric, Wizard, and Paladin following then around, call a separate session just for the sneaky people. Even if the non-sneaky people are waiting outside to start busting down the gate in the case of an alarm, you can always run the sneaky-people along until they either set off the alarm or finish with whatever mission they’re on. If they set off the alarm, mark down where they are and say you’ll pick it up when everyone is around.

Another thing you can do for player engagement is handle down-time adventures via some text format. There are plenty of forums that are set up for this kind of thing or you can just do it all via email. Heck, you could even do it via text message between sessions. Or set up a session day as half-hour increments of time people can come to you to do whatever they want when they’re in town. That way, they can include other members of the party in decisions or little role-playing moments just by going into the next room and asking for an answer or whatever. Anything works, so long as it’s happening outside of the actual session. This way, the time you’re all together to play is when your party is all together and everything that’d slow your group down is handle at another time.

For combat, managing large groups is trickier. You can tell everyone to have their actions figured out and establish a turn timer, but the longest turns are usually the GM’s turns (well, the turns taken by whatever it is the players are fighting). Because everything in D&D is set up for an optimal four-person group, doubling that number of players can mean that some encounters that should be challenging just aren’t. With a large group, few GMs have their players fight against a single tough monster. Instead, they’ll have them fight more, but slightly smaller, things. Or, as is more common, a huge number of much smaller things instead of the large number of medium things. Here, it gets tricky. If your players are all fighting the same thing, that makes it a little bit easier, but that’s rarely the case. Usually they’re fighting a variety of smaller hings so it’s not all spear-chuckers or sword-swingers or spellcasters. Sure, you can save time by making everything that’s the same move or act at the same time, but that’s still a lot of moving, acting, and rolling you need to do.  All of which needs to happen in addition to managing the players are they react to what is going on and need questions answered. The only real solution I’ve come up to this–aside from having super patient and understand players–is to have a second GM step in.

While that might seem difficult, it usually isn’t. All you really need is a knowledgeable player or someone who you can trust to avoid meta-gaming. If they’re knowledgeable, instruct them to handle player questions about the situation and you likely won’t even need to show them your notes. If you can trust them to avoid meta-gaming, have them play the parts of some (or all) of the enemies. If you get another GM to sit in on your session, then you don’t even need to worry about everything else. Just give them the enemies for the party to fight and make sure you set a reasonable expectation for the other GM on how you’d like the fight handled. If you trust them to mesh well with your game, you might even be able to get them to not only run the enemies, but also create them in the first place. They’ll probably want a little more autonomy then, but that’s not a problem if you trust them to carry your intentions into their monster/enemy creation.

After that, the only real problem you have for large groups is how to keep everyone playing in a friendly manner and where you can get enough seating. I suggest folding chairs and regular potlucks. Can’t hate someone if they feed you regularly. Though, to be fair, this is less likely to be a problem than anything else since GMs should be good at monitoring groups and understanding which people will play together. You’re unlikely to need to deal with inter-player conflict for long, though, since people tend to just leave. Good luck with your big groups and let me know if you’ve encounter similar problems before!

Video Games and Me: I Can Quit Any Time

I have a complicated relationship with video games. They’re an excellent source of interactive stories, they can take me away from my problems when I need some breathing space, they can make me feel powerful, and they can help bring me together with people I’d otherwise have nothing in common with. At the same time, they take up a lot of time because they’re easy indulge in, they make it harder for me to write because escaping via gaming is easy than escaping via writing, and they can make it difficult for me to do the self-care things I need to do but do not want to do (like paying bills or eating properly or getting daily exercise). Managing my time investments when it comes to video games is always tricky and I probably fail more often than I succeed.

When it comes to video games, I tend toward extremes. Most weeks, I don’t play at all because there are things I need to do every evening like write blog posts, try to work on a book, pay bills and do chores, or take some time to let my mind calm down without anything else stirring it up. The weeks I do play tend to be in the middle of the month when bills aren’t due and usually involve me doing nothing but playing video games in my free time. When I manage to play on only same days in a week, I still stick to extremes. I’ll either not play at all during a day or I’ll do nothing but play video games during a day. I’m not very good at only playing for an hour or less before moving on.

I have well over one hundred games I’ve never played, thanks to Steam. That’s not a sizable amount, compared to many, but I haven’t actually bought a game I didn’t intend to play and, when I go scroll through my Steam library, I still want to play all of the games I’ve bought. However, there’s never enough time. If I want to work a full day with a little bit of overtime, I’m out of my apartment for 10 hours. Mark off another two hours for meals and hygiene,  two for blogging and social media (trying to build a twitter following is no joke), two for working out or exercising (and related clean-up), six for sleeping, and I’m down to two hours. Only two hours for whatever fun thing I want to do, for working on a personal project (like a book), or for doing chores each day.

That’s all the time I get in a day unless I cut down on sleep (like I did during NaNoWriMo), work less (which is also a thing I did during NaNoWriMo), or forego all responsibility in favor of taking as much time for myself as I can (which I did last night). This is why video games tend to wind up being entirely ignored or done to excess. It feels so good to leave everything behind and just play until my eyes feel sticky with exhaustion and I’m blinking at my cell phone’s display as it tells me that I will be getting up for work in three hours. Even now, I have to struggle to focus on writing this and not turning on my TV so I can play some Breath of the Wild or Skyrim on my Switch. I have to exit all of my game applications when I write because the call of Overwatch or my recent Borderlands run-through is too strong to entirely ignore when all I have to do is right-click an icon to start up a game.

I’ve made a habit of making the tough decision to ignore my desire for immediate satisfaction or reward in favor of doing what is best for my life in the long run. Loan payments get made, extra money gets tucked away for paying off loans, and I make myself work an extra hour or two every day so I’ve got enough financial padding to make it from month to month without worrying about being short for all of my bills at the start of every month. All of this practice goes out the window as soon as I start playing a video game. There is no stopping at a set time, or playing for only an hour. The best I can do is play only one match of Overwatch, but that’s generally only possible when I’m feeling burned out on my favorite PvP game.

Extremes work pretty well for me. I’ve made 79 blog posts in a row because I’ve made a rule that I’m not allowed to miss a day for anything. My most-successful diet was done by removing most food from my potential menu and allowing myself only certain meal plans so I made sure I got a balanced meal along with basically my target number of calories. 100% committed to whatever I do with no wiggle room to make excuses or try to justify taking a break. “Taking a break” is how every period of working out eventually fell apart. Playing no video games or nothing but video games seems to fit right into that habit. New games are my “taking a break” moments that result in me doing nothing but playing the game for a while. I played Clustertruck for 5 hours the night I bought and downloaded it. All I had planned to do was open it up and fidget with the settings, to see if I could donate it to the Steam arcade we’ve got at work.

The only game that doesn’t really cause the same problems is Pokemon, but I feel like the only reason it doesn’t is because I’ve conditioned myself to quickly fall asleep while playing it in a reclined position. I don’t have to worry about staying up too late playing Pokemon when I literally play it so i can fall asleep right away most nights. Rumor says there’s going to be a new Pokemon game for the Switch, so my conditioning will think it is different enough to let me play it for more than ten minutes at a time once it has come out…

Saturday Morning Musing

One of the biggest problems I face from day-to-day is where to draw the line when it comes to investing my time. I like to keep myself busy or entertained, so I’ve constantly got a large number of projects I can work on, games I can play, and books I can read. I could also put in the effort to get my friends together for a movie or some kind of activity, there’s always the option of staying at work longer to get some more overtime, home improvement or cleaning projects, and almost my entire family lives three hours away, so visiting them is always a bigger investment as well. I also occasionally need time just for myself, I want to spend time with my girlfriend, and I am constantly on the verge of forgetting stuff like birthdays and Christmas present shopping. Lastly, (the fact that it is the last thing I’m listing definitely says something about my priorities), I need to make sure I get enough sleep and take care of myself.

Ideally, I’d find a way to do everything, perhaps by combining things like time for myself and my projects, games, and books, or those same things but as time with my girlfriend instead of just by myself. As long as I’m talking in terms of ideal situations, I would also clean in my sleep, take care of all birthday and Christmas stuff during drives to visit my family (along with audio books, of course), and my friends would take on the burden of planning stuff that fits my schedule. Also, I’d be a millionaire and never need to work another day in my life so I can do nothing but write or spend my time studying literature and language. Might as well dream big if I’m going to dream, right?

I want to do everything, but I’ve only got so much time an energy. Additionally, because feeling tired or over-committed for long periods of time can cause my depression and anxiety to spike, I need to make sure that I’m not constantly using all of my energy. I need to balance recharging with video games, books, or spending time by myself against things that drain my energy like large social gatherings (including family), tracking and doing chores, and working more. Too much recharging can leave me feeling like I’m wasting my days, but not enough leaves me tired and barely capable of doing anything that’s going to be draining. If that drained feeling persists, then it causes a flare in my depression and the feeling of tiredness to advance to full exhaustion. This quickly snowballs unless I can catch it, which is always tricky because managing myself in order to catch it can be tiring and discouraging at well.

As a result, I tend toward habits and repeatable planning in order to take some of the burden off of myself. Monday night is a free night to play video games online with people or read, whatever I want. Tuesday is often date night. Wednesday is my weekly gaming night. Thursday is either a social activity or reading. Friday is usually chores and a social activity or chores and time with my roommates. Saturday is all of my obligations, like grocery shopping, non-weekly chores, pre-writing for my blog, and home improvement projects. It can sometimes be a date-day. Sundays are for laundry, reading, preparation for the week, time to myself, and usually D&D. Scattered throughout is work, writing when I’m not too tired, and family on major holidays. It’s a loose system that can change as needed, but my habits from weeks past usually give me enough of a nudge so that I’m never sitting around, bored and trying to figure out what I want to do. That feeling, being bored and entirely uninterested in everything I have to do, is responsible for more depression spikes than anything else I’ve ever felt. I avoid it at all costs.

My problems always come in when someone wants to change my habits. I have some degree of flexibility and usually enough energy to add it into my week, but not always. I’m not always good at saying no, either. Not in a “people make me do things I don’t want to” sort of way, but a “I’m not very good at advocating for my own needs” sort of way. I’ll almost always go along with what someone suggested and then spend a couple of days feeling extra tired. It isn’t always bad. If I’ve done an alright job of managing myself earlier in the week, I’ll be able to bounce back just fine. If I’ve been extra stressed or away from my habits for a longer period of time, it can take a while to get back to feeling well.

I’ve struggled for years with this feeling of constantly using my energy reserves to get through the day thanks to my depression, and I’ve only ever really gotten it to go away when I get invested in some big project like National Novel Writing Month. The problem is that, when it ends, I’m super exhausted and usually spend a week or so fighting against my depression. Feelings of low-energy and minor emotional exhaustion can persist for almost an entire month afterward. I can usually deal with it by taking extra time for myself and cutting out some of my social engagements, but that often presents problems of its own. Most of my friends get it, they know I might be a bit of a hermit for a while but I’m fine as long as they can actually communicate with me via the internet.

Most of the time, I alternate between wishing I could just become a hermit and never need to worry about it again or wishing I was never alone and was constantly surrounded by people who energize me. It isn’t a good feeling, since it is a part of the “I wish I wasn’t like this” feeling that makes it hard for me to accept myself and my mental illnesses. I try not to think about it too much, but every so often I need to take the time to look at how I spend my time and double-check that I’m spending it not only in a way that balances my energy but in a way that I feel is consistent with my long-term goals and values. If I’m lucky, I need to do that only at major life events, holidays, and every few months. If I’m not lucky, it is a lot more frequent. A high frequency is usually indicative that something else is wrong, so I get to spend a few days putting it off and then my weekend trying to figure out what’s causing me to constantly reconsider how I spend my time. I’ve got a lot of driving to do this weekend, thanks to the holidays, so hopefully I’ll have something figured out by the time I’m home.

It’s like an itch you can’t scratch or the quiet, nagging certainty that you left something important behind that you won’t miss until you absolutely need it. This is going to be all I can think about today. Hopefully your holidays are going better than mine are, so far.