I have created an entire Dungeons and Dragons campaign setting (multiple major and minor plots included) from nothing but a pile of unrelated notes that aren’t even from the same genre in about a week. It was an exhausting, draining, and incredibly focused week of non-stop effort, but I managed to get it all done. It helped that it was similar to some other ideas I’d been wanting to explore, so I managed to swing the perfect trifecta of “interested,” “excited,” and “well-rested” required for a feat like that. Most of the time, it takes me a bit longer than that to get a campaign off the ground, from concept to ready for the first session (Session 0), but it rarely takes more than a few weeks. That said, the settings are never done. There’s always more work to do, more research and development to continue to chip away at, and so many basic ideas that need to be fleshed out.Continue reading
I bit my cheek the other day. It was a rather ordinary moment, by any measure. I was eating my afternoon apple and, in my genuine enthusiasm for the fine fruit, accidentally bit the inside of my cheek. It hurt, of course. It always does, no matter how frequently you bite yourself. But it didn’t bleed very much. After doing my best to examine the injury, I was able to determine it was quite deep, given the way I’d bitten it, even if there wasn’t much blood. Since there was nothing I could do about it, I rinsed my mouth out and returned to my apple. It was painful, but I was able to avoid worsening the injury by chewing carefully and finished my apple. Eventually, I also ate dinner and managed to avoid worsening the injury through another great deal of careful chewing. It required ignoring a decent amount of pain, of course, but I’m fairly used to ignoring pain so I was able to cope well enough. I couldn’t just avoid eating, after all. That would only make things worse in the end.Continue reading
For the first time in what might actually be years, I logged into Pokémon Go. Once I updated the app, remembered my password, and waited several minutes for it finish loading up on a phone that wasn’t new four years ago when I got it to play Pokémon Go (my previous phone overheated and died within an hour of starting the app which made it intolerable for the special events), I was in. Before I could do more than register that the app had forgotten my preferences for zero volume and no vibration, I was inundated in notifications, pop-ups, and notifications that there were activities to explore that didn’t exist the last time I opened the app. It was a truly harrowing five minutes as I felt like my phone was going to melt through its case because the game was demanding so much from my poor “old” phone, but eventually I cleared everything and the app settled down enough for me to look through the many Pokémon I had collected in a surprisingly bittersweet stroll down memory lane.Continue reading
Sometimes, when you’re having a rough week and trying to deal with something really upsetting, you write really emotional poetry that exaggerates the reality of the situation because you just feel so wretched. That’s what this poem is. A mixture of metaphor, over-exaggeration, and the desperately awful way I feel sometimes. It is also rather old. I wrote this a while ago. It is not about anything going on in my life today, though I do feel a certain attraction to the dramatic pain this poem displays.
Daydreams of what I wish could be
Shatter in the thunderous sea
Of impinging reality
While all my hopes so quickly flee
My every desperate plea
To stay a bit longer with me.
Now all that there is left to see,
In all of its banality,
Is the somber painful decree
That what I want can never be.
~ ~ ~
Every lesion in my head–
So sharp and sweet in welling red–
Suppurates as hope is bled
In the face of rising dread
Now my dearest dream is dead.
Is every single blood-stained shred
Of the wishes I have shed
Crushed beneath my drudging tread
As I pursue the truth instead
Of allowing myself to be misled?
~ ~ ~
Self-flagellation at its best
As I put all I am to the test
And face the truth that I detest.
I laugh and say that I’m just stressed,
To worry not and get your rest,
As I clutch the truth to my chest
Hoping that you never guessed–
Those few words we never addressed,
Memories you’ve all but repressed–
Are a big part of why I’m depressed.
I like to describe my depression as an endless sea. I describe living with my depression as floating in said endless sea. I also describe my depression spikes–the times where it gets all-consuming and I have to put all of my effort into not letting it swamp me–as storms on that sea. I feel the metaphor works well because I do not feel like my depression is an emotion or something that comes and goes. It is always there. It changes the way I interact with the world and how I evaluate every decision I make. When it spikes, it turns a relatively simple and routine task into an all-out fight.
A lot of my metaphors for dealing with my depression center around this image. It comes out mostly in my poetry, but also in the way I talk about it to the people close to me. Just like describing my anxiety as wind (which can be anything from a gentle breeze or even still air to raging tornadoes and hurricanes) or my OCD as a spiral (thanks to the lovely imagery from John Green’s Turtles all the Way Down), I try to find a good image based on something that other people can relate to. It usually works really well because mental illness and our experience of it are subjective. There’s no way for someone else to describe someone else’s experiences with an illness that exists in the realm of their mind. There are biological descriptors and terms we can use that deal with diagnosing and treating the illness, but our experiences are our own. The same is true of physical illness. Sure, you can diagnose and treat a broken arm based on certain tangible facts and descriptors, but you can’t describe someone else’s experience of having a broken arm.
I’ve always liked my depression metaphor because it does a great job of conveying the weight of it. I am treading water in an endless sea because I can manage my symptoms, but I’ll likely never be entirely free of them. My depression colors every thought I have, it weighs in on every decision I make, it is as much a part of my life as being a guy is. It is a part of me. If you can imagine being stuck in an ocean without land or a boat in sight, you can imagine the sort of helplessness and hopelessness that can strike me when I’m struggling to manage my depression.
The endless sea metaphor also lends itself well to the ways I try to manage or interact with my depression. It can pull me down, which is a lot like going under the water. I can’t breathe, but I know that I can hold my breath for a while and swimming in the right direction will bring me back to the surface. When I’m on the surface, I can work on assembling rafts from what I find around me as I float. It takes a lot of work to make one and they rarely survive a storm, but they let me take a break from needing to work at treading water constantly.
When my depression gets bad, because my anxieties start a storm or I get caught in a thought-whirlpool, it gets more difficult to tread water. Can you imagine how a raft might not survive a storm, dashed apart as the waves swell and crash? Or how it might get tossed aside after getting sucked down a watery vortex? Then I’m back to sinking or swimming under my own power. What if my anxieties and OCD start acting up at the same time? A raft would be useless in a hurricane. Which is why I prefer an anchor to a raft. It might not help me stay on the surface, but it keeps me from getting swept away in a storm or pulled into a whirlpool so long as the rope is strong enough. Even in a hurricane, the anchor will remain. I may not be able to breathe under the water, but I can hold my breath for a very long time at this point and the ocean is always calmer under the surface. Clinging to it often means going under a bit during a storm more frequently that I’m used to, but it also means I always know which way leads to the surface.
The metaphor isn’t perfect, as no metaphor is, but I’ve spent years and years thinking about this and it is so far the best one for me. If I ever come across a better one, I’ll immediately switch to that, like I did with my OCD and thought-spirals. I used to describe it like being unable to stop making a ticking noise with your tongue: it is annoying as shit to you and can get on the nerves of the people around you; it interferes with communication but can be worked around if you try hard enough and people are patient; it is something you know you should be able to avoid doing but can’t for reasons you’re unable to explain (which also frustrates you); and feels like an involuntary bodily reaction once you’re sort of accustomed to it. Spirals is so much simpler and so much more accurate because it gets at the core of what my OCD is and how it affects me rather than being focused on the symptoms.
For a long time, I was tempted to see the people around me as rafts. I could invest myself in their lives and problems, trying to help them and support them, so that I could use my effectiveness at helping them as a means of buoying myself. My past romantic relationships and closest friends were rafts because I could lean on them when I needed help. The problem with that is that I can’t rely on other people to get my through my depressions spikes. Not because other people won’t do it or that getting help from people is bad, but because I can’t expect them to fix me or be emotionally available all the time. They have their own problems to deal with. They can’t be there all the time and that’s fine. That’s a normal part of human relationships. We like to say that we’ll always be there for the people who mean a lot to us, but “always” is a tricky word. That’s a lot to expect from someone else, even if you’ve married them.
I don’t mind asking people for help and I do it when I need a little boost. If what I’m asking won’t cost them too much and will help me through the latest storm or whirlpool, then of course I’m going to ask for help. I just don’t expect it. I also need to be ready to handle all of them on my own because I’ve had times when no one was available to help me and they could have gone horrible wrong if I hadn’t been prepared for that.
There’s a fine line, there. I want to be willing to ask for and accept help from the people close to me, but never in a situation where I absolutely need it. There are resources for those moments, help lines and therapists, but those are people with training for those moments. Putting the need for that level of help on people close to me would be an incredible amount of pressure. I think they’d all be willing to do it if I said I needed it, but, having been in the situation of someone needing that from me, there is a cost that comes with it. I’m glad I have people who’d pay it, but I’d prefer they didn’t have to.
None of this, of course, is to say that I’m in a situation where I need anything. I had a depression spike yesterday that is carrying through today and was made worse by an unfortunate connection between some of my mental health issues and the movie I saw with my girlfriend, but I’m doing fine. I appreciated being able to ask for some comfort from my girlfriend while we watched Rise of the Guardians to clear the other movie from our minds, but it wasn’t something I expected to make me feel better. It helped in the moment and it gave me an hour’s reprieve from the storm I was fighting (we couldn’t find the movie anywhere but on 20th Century Fox’s website and they only let us watch an hour of it), but I eventually left and had to deal with it on my own again. If there was more she could have done to help, I’d have asked for it, but sometimes the only thing that helps me is time.
Before I went to bed, as I meditated on my depression and my girlfriend’s wonderful offer to help me if she could, I couldn’t help but think of the ways I’ve dealt with and talked about my depression over time. I went from dealing with it on my own in an unhealthy manner to relying on other people to dealing with it in a constructive and nominally healthy manner on my own. Even if the metaphor hasn’t changed and I sometimes need to remind myself that it is okay to ask for help as long as I’m not putting too much pressure on people, it is nice to see how much better I’ve gotten at handling it.
Breathe, in deep then out,
Against the coming dark.
Breathe, in deep then out,
And watch the lightning arc.
The storm, the end, comes swift
And ebbs away your will.
So breathe, in deep then out,
And let your pulse grow still.
Hold your head up high
Against the wind’s onslaught.
Hold your head up high
So they will see you fought.
Out-matched, out-classed, out-run
But not ready to die.
So stare into the gale
And hold your head up high.
Scream into the storm
To prove you’re still alive.
Scream into the storm
And maybe you’ll survive.
Broken, beaten, bloody
Of body, of soul and mind.
So scream into the storm
And pray that fate is kind.
Breathe, a gasp for air
Against the rushing rain.
Breathe, a gasp for air
To flush away the pain.
The Storm, the start, is here
To wash your will away.
But breath, a gasp for air,
Your will is here to stay.
Hold your fist up high
And scream into the sky.
Hold your fist up high
To prove that you won’t die.
Unmatched, stand tall and see
The storm begin to die.
So stare into the sun
And hold your fist up high.
Scream with all your heart
To prove that you’re alive.
Scream with all your heart
To prove that you’ve survived.
Still whole, but bloody,
You won the fight today.
So scream with all your heart
As the storm fades away.
It started with a small crack. He had underestimated just how much small cracks mattered, but it made sense. A small crack was all it too to eventually break down any rock. One sentence, said once, and it changed everything.
It was always there, in the back of his mind. Other moments that would have meant nothing now had a way to worm their way into his mind. Fears that previously would have had nothing to latch onto now found a foothold. As time wore on and the crack grew bigger, he started to feel like he was looking at life through it. Everything came back to the crack.
If he’d done something about it when it was small, he might have been able to avoid the eventual breakdown. A small discussion or some work to try to patch things up. Anything would have been better than letting it go.
Eventually, it was ruining his life. The fear and doubt had wormed their way in so that there was almost nothing left to him but the rubble of his once unified sense of self. So he ended it. He broke it off.
It did not go well. She didn’t see what the problem was and she wasn’t willing to talk about how bad things had gotten. He wasn’t willing to try to make her see it. Eventually, after many tears on both their parts, they split up.
In the weeks that followed, as he swept away the rubble and tried to figure out what to do with what was left. Once he started picking up the pieces, it became clear he would never be the same. Eventually, he knew he’d be okay. Different, but okay.
These little drops of poison dew
Collect upon my heart.
These little drops are not from you
Nor did you make them start.
No, my dear, they have always been,
So do not shed a tear.
These poison drops feel lesser when
I can hold you near.
These drips have taken no small toll
But they are not a threat.
You need not worry for my soul,
Its strength is greater yet.
I will not lie or hide the pain
Poison drips can cause me
But worry not, they leave no stain
And are temporary.
They’re little remnants of my past
That will not go away.
They do not fall upon me fast
Nor do they overstay.
I’ve lived with them all of my life
And doubt they’ll ever cease
But they are to my wit a knife,
It’s sharpness to increase.
I’ve made my peace with poison drops,
Painful that they may be,
For I have pulled out all the stops
So they may work for me.
He twisted, trying to get his feet underneath him. The air felt thick as he struggled to control his decent. He knew was going to hit water soon, but he couldn’t see. Every time he opened his eyes, they filled with tears and might as well have been closed. If he wasn’t prepared soon, the shock would kill him.
Finally, he felt his hair whip up around him and away from his face. He turned a bit and stuck out his legs, feet angled so his heels would hit first. As he wrapped his arms around his head, he felt the impact on his legs and the pain nearly caused him to lose consciousness. The cold slap of the water on the his body was the only thing that kept him awake as he shot into the depths.
Once his movement slowed, he opened his eyes. He was lost in a murky blue-green world with nothing around him but the weight of the water about him. He exhaled and watched the bubbles rise. Using only his arms, he pulled himself back up to the surface and crawled onto dry land. He closed his eyes again and lay back, just grateful to have made it out.
“Did you hear me, Martin?”
Marten opened his eyes, his visualization gone. He was in the quiet corner of a coffee shop he and Alice liked. Alice was sitting across from him, expression neutral. “What?”
“Martin, I said I don’t want to be with you anymore. I’m moving out tomorrow and staying at my mother’s tonight.”
“Oh.” Martin looked down at his hands. “You don’t want to try to work this out?”
Alice shook her head and grabbed her purse and left, giving him last glance that Martin didn’t see. He was busy falling again.