Happy Birthday, Calla!

So, as the title may give away, today is Calla’s birthday. It’s been a rough couple weeks for her, and I thought she could probably use some birthday fun. She’s been working at a local Girl Scout camp this summer, and so I had planned to bring her cake, flowers, and some other odds and ends while she was working, but she ended up leaving the camp (not ominous, but not my story to tell), and so she ended up having a bit more freedom on her birthday than I had anticipated – which turned out great, as far as I know, for everyone. When I saw her, and surprised her with the flowers I brought, the way her face lit up – you can’t buy that kind of joy. We then went to go tour the Johnson Space Center here in Houston, before meeting up with her family for dinner, cake, and presents. . She seemed to really enjoy spending her birthday with people she cared about, and who cared about her, and even though I might not know exactly where we are relationship-wise, seeing how happy she was made everything worth it.

I care for Calla a lot, and like I’m sure I have mentioned before, our first (and thus far, only) date back in March made me feel higher than an astronaut on cocaine. I was disappointed when she wanted to back off from that, though I understood why she would want to do that; that mess of feelings that you experience right after getting out of treatment is hard to unravel, and a relationship on top of that would be hard to work with. I’m still not sure where we are, though I keep hoping for the best; I’d like to at least try some kind of dating relationship, just to find out if friends is all that can work for us or if there is something more there. It’s the not knowing that really gets to me; not knowing whether you’re in or out, up or down, hired or fired, can be one of the most nerve-wracking and terrifying situations I know, because that uncertainty means there is almost constant worrying and stress – will my next decision/word/gesture be the one that finally puts me in one camp or the other? But hey, that’s worrying for another day -right now, I’m just happy that Calla enjoyed her birthday.

In other news, I started the My Fit Foods 21 Day Challenge on Friday, and man, is it rough. I had to stop my caffeine intake (which, for those of you who know me, is like masochism), and I can only drink water (except for a kind of gross cocktail I have to drink every morning – unsweetened cranberry juice, apple cider vinegar, liquid B12, and lemon juice mixed with water). I eat three small meals and two snack every day, and so far they have involved rather a lot of celery. I’ve managed to choke it down, but I wouldn’t say I like it. I get one ‘cheat meal’ a week, which I had tonight. But much of the food I’ve had for the diet, which is all pre-made and sold at the My Fit Foods stores, is actually quite good. Spinach and chicken enchiladas for lunch yesterday – and the chicken nuggets with cauliflower hominy for dinner – were really good. So while it’s tough going, I think I can keep this up. If nothing else, the amount of water weight I lose through this will probably be big, because last night at work I was sweating like crazy.

So, I’d say it’s been a good week, and I hope that there is more to come. But right now, I’m just going to put my feet up, relax, and maybe do some reading. That’s all for now.

Authenticity

Again, I’m sorry for the delay between entries; this time I have a much better excuse. I’ve actually been visiting my family in St. Louis for the past couple days, and while I meant to write a post while I was there, I kept getting distracted by things like food and sleep. But the trip went well; it was good to see my parents, and it gave me a chance to do some things I’ve been putting off for a while. I read two books between leaving Houston and coming back; one was a book on Captain America (because, let’s face it, he’s my favorite superhero and he’s awesome) called The Virtues of Captain America, which talks about Cap’s virtues in philosophical terms, and explains why he’s a good role model, even though he’s a fictional character. If you’re a fan of Captain America, I recommend reading it.

The other book was one I’ve read before – Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection. I though it had some good stuff the first time I read through it, and my second read-through definitely confirmed that – and it helped me to work out some things I’ve been going over in my head recently. Recently, my work has been asking employees if they would voluntarily self-identify as having disabilities – which includes things like mental illness. There doesn’t seem to be a benefit to me self-identifying, but there’s a part of me that wants to – and a part that is scared to, as well. 

That’s where authenticity, as the title implies, comes in. I don’t tell anybody at work about my depression, mostly because I am afraid of how they will react to hearing it – will they reject me? Will they tell the managers? But at the same time, keeping that from people – when it is an important part of my identity – means that I constantly feel like I’m hiding something, that I am lying to people. I am showing them a face that isn’t really me – I’m not being authentic. And not feeling like I can act like myself is not a cool feeling. It’s good when there are times I feel I can joke around and discuss things with my co-workers; those are times when I feel like I’m being myself. It’s becoming clear to me that feeling like I can be myself – not just parts of myself, but all of myself – is important to feeling happy and comfortable. While keeping my mental illness secret might help to keep my job safe, it doesn’t help my own sense of well-being.

I also have been feeling that my weight is a problem. I’m not particularly fond of what I see when I look in the mirror in the morning – I don’t think it makes me any less worthy as a person, but it does kind of bother me. So that is something else I am going to get back to working on. I’m going to a consultation at a place called My Fit Foods on Thursday, to see what kind of diet they recommend; they sell a number of ready-made meals intended for helping people to lose weight, and I’m looking into a fitness program – inspired by the one Chris Evans used to get ready for the Captain America movies – to get some exercise in. It’ll be rough – I haven’t felt like I’ve had a lot of energy lately – but it is something I want to do, and I think it will help to make me feel better.

Customer Service

Wow, it’s been 5 days since my last post. I thought it was less than that, but time does seem to fly by somehow. In any case, today isn’t about mental health, but rather something I have to deal with all the time, and which is on my mind because of a publicized Comcast service call – the idea of customer service. Now, I was a telemarketer for a summer back in high school, and it was a miserable job, even as an inbound representative (that is, I took calls, I didn’t make them). I had to follow a script, and make a quota, and the script was almost always mind-numbing – but even if I had a way to say things in a more convincing manner, doing so, even if I got a sale, would get me in trouble. So I was very limited in what I was able to do.

Now, I agree that the call in the link above is pretty crazy – but I would imagine it is because the customer service rep had similar guidelines and regulations he had to follow, and that he would get in trouble if he allowed someone to cancel their service on his watch. So he tried everything in the book – including some pretty bad stuff – to try and get the customer to just give up and thus keep their service. The only reason this is a big deal is because the call got recorded and went viral.

At my job, ‘providing excellent customer service’ is one of our highest priorities. No matter what else we are doing, if we are asked by a customer to help them find something, that becomes our top priority. Which, given that I work in retail, is probably as it should be – the store won’t survive without customers, after all. But this frequently means that the customer, who likely knows that we have to make them our top priority, sometimes also feels like they can treat us like servants. They treat us badly, berating us if we can’t find exactly what they want within seconds, or taking up large amounts of time getting us to look for something they aren’t planning on purchasing anyway, or just taking out their frustration with the store’s policies on us. And, for the most part, we just have to take it.

There is nothing that we can say to unpleasant customers – at least at my level – except to apologize for whatever I have (allegedly) done wrong, and ask if they would like to speak to a manager. And while it can be nice to have a manager to fall back on, they can also just as easily throw us under the bus. We have a return policy of 14 days with a receipt – any longer than that, and I can’t even start up the return process at my cash register. It’s supposed to be a strict policy, but much of the time, when I call a manager to handle it – which I am supposed to do – they almost always make an exception for the customer, making me look like a tool and making them look magnanimous. To be fair, there are definitely some cases where this is justified – 15 days is a pretty easy exception to make. But I’ve seen up to 2 months be given an exception, which is four times the policy. It may be a lousy policy, but Making me follow it if they don’t have to makes me look useless.

I don’t dislike customers in general, but I do dislike that we have become a culture that seems to view treating retail establishments and their employees as places where we can do what we want and suffer no repercussions. Children left screaming for an hour (and I mean constant, high-pitched, grating wails)? Nothing we can do. People pulling out stacks of products and leaving them all over the place? We clean up after them. Customer getting angry at me for not finding a member account, even though they give me the wrong information and I have to make astounding, awesome leaps in order to get the right info from the incorrect things they have given me? I have to apologize to them for, essentially, not being able to read their minds. I’ve seen customers yell at managers for coming in 2 minutes before the store closes (with clearly posted hours at all entrances) and being told they can’t browse for fifteen or twenty minutes.

We get paid minimum wage to deal with things like this, so it’s no wonder that so many retail people are burned out and bitter. Customer service has come to mean something very unpleasant for the people who have to provide it – which is never the people who makes the rules and guidelines for it, and the people making those rules have likely never actually had to provide customer service. And yet the customer service rep from Comcast, above, will probably get fired because he did his best in a terrible set of circumstances. Comcast probably won’t change how they do things, which will remain miserable for the people who have to provide service – they’ll probably just now make them say that they do not consent to being recorded or something like that. And, as poster KingDobbs on the RPG.net discussion of the above call notes, “The result of this is, like has been supposed by others in the thread, employees who are forced to meet standards ranging from “reachable, if you’re really really good at your job” to “borderline impossible”, and who aren’t particularly empowered to actually do anything to help the customer in a situation that is about to go wrong (meaning that it’s often inevitable that the situation will go wrong; people, generally, do not like to hear from a service employee “there’s nothing we can do”), and who *know* that management won’t back them up.”

Summer Daze

Well, it’s been a busy week. Thus the not-writing-in-my-blog-ness. This week, I finally managed to find myself a volunteer position at a local NAMI office; I’ll be working in their SEA – Support, Education, and Advocacy – Center, calling people who have been referred to NAMI and trying to give them any information they have asked for. I’m hoping that will lead to other work, but it should be interesting to see how I can do with that; I’ve never been the greatest person at talking to people I don’t know on the phone, so it will be good practice, if nothing else.

I’m trying to figure out now how to find players for a Dungeon World game; I’ve got one friend who is interested, so I’ll at least have somebody I know at the table; I just need to find a few more. I don’t know how often I’ll be able to get together with people to do that, but just knowing that it is a possibility makes me feel a little better.

My workplace is going to be having a ‘dress as your favorite character’ day coming up, and being the comic book nerd that I am, I’m planning on going as Captain America. This means I have to find a couple things – most notably a shield, and the one I’ll probably get is plastic, because man, the metal replicas are really expensive. I’m not exactly super-buff, either, but I’m not going to worry about that right now; it’ll just be fun to d something a little unusual and whimsical at work, because there are honestly days when I feel like exploding. Not violently, in case you’re worried, but just yelling at people who treat the store really poorly.

One thing I’m worried about is my relationship with Calla. She’s away at a camp for most of the summer, and her communication times are pretty limited, and it sounds like she’s really stressed. I get that; having to deal with a lot of really young counselors who don’t seem to know how to do their jobs – so you end up doing parts of theirs along with yours – has got to be exhausting and frustrating. I just feel that every time we seem to get to a good place in our relationship, a place where we’re actually talking to each other about things that matter, something happens to mess that up. I wonder if it is me, if I’m not being as emotionally expressive or supportive as I should be, so that she feels like I’m not there in the way I should be; or if the hours she’s working and her limited communication chances mean that she just doesn’t get the chance to blow off steam. But there’s not much I can do right now besides be  a good friend, so that’s what I’ll do. It’s all very confusing, but it is something I am learning to deal with.

In any case, that’s what my week has been like, with the addition of a 32-hour work week (which is about as much as I am ever allowed to work as a part-time employee). So it’s been a busy week, and it doesn’t show signs of stopping soon, but I will try to be more aware of how often I am posting here and try to keep things a bit more current.

P.S.: I also just received the character art I paid for as part of the Werewolf: the Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Kickstarter, and so, without further ado, I present to you the picture of my 90s-era character, Jacob Greyfang, courtesy of my favorite RPG artist, Ron Spencer:

Jacob Greyfang

The World of Dungeons

This isn’t really about my state of mind, but it is something that has been running around in my head for a while. Roleplaying games are one of the things I haven’t really had a lot of time for since I got to Texas, even though I really enjoy them. There are a number of different reasons for this. One, while I have friends in the area, most of them aren’t really that interested in RPGs, and that’s cool. It just means I need to find other people who are interested. Two, because of my irregular work schedule, it can be hard to have a specific day for gaming, even should I find a group. Three, it has been my experience that the easiest way to start a gaming group is to run the game yourself. The problem here is that it has been so long since I have really run a game that I just don’t have the confidence in my abilities that I used to; especially running a game with relative strangers, confidence is pretty key – I don’t want to look like an idiot. I tried to run a D&D game not long after I left Menninger, mostly for people in my step-down program, and the complexity of the system, my lack of practice, and being the only one who really knew the rules meant it failed badly – which is basically all on me, because I thought I would be more up to the challenge than I was. So I needed a game that is relatively simple, but that is also pretty cool, and easy to pick up – one that would be easy to jump into at irregular meetings.

I think I finally found a game that meets my criteria. It’s called Dungeon World, and it’s a very cool game. It’s very narrative, moreso that most games I’ve played, run, or even read before – this means that the players have to describe what they’re doing and who their characters are. Character creation is very simple, and the system itself is relatively easy to pick up and learn. It’s great as a DM (Dungeon Master, the guy who kind of controls the world around the players), because most of what I do is ask questions and describe what’s going on; there’s very little mechanical work for me to do. The system is very modular, so it is easy to create new classes and such; there are already quite a few that have been created by the greater gaming community that I like. It’s more freeform than I generally have used; instead of having the characters operate in an established setting, the players and I would essentially create the setting around the characters as we play – through things they mention or questions I ask. Oh, and the basic parts of the game are available for free

My worry is that, as a very narrative game, it will require a lot of creativity on the part of both myself and the players – and a lot of mine will have to come off the top of my head, as I create dangers, odd situations, and monsters to fight essentially on the fly. I’ve had periods of creativity in my past –  I used to think I would be a fantasy/science fiction writer, and I was in the middle of writing a fantasy novel when depression really set in. But lately, I haven’t had a lot of creative juices flowing. Maybe it’s because I haven’t had a constant need for it; gaming used to help a lot with that, and I’ve only had a couple of chances in over a year to work those metaphorical muscles. But I do like the system, and I have read a lot about it; I have a reasonable degree of confidence in my ability to at least get the ball rolling. Now I just need to find some players, and a time to play. So, after going down to NAMI on Monday to see if they have any volunteer opportunities open, that’s next on my list.

Rational vs. Emotional

Sometimes it feels like the rational and emotional parts of my mind are at war with each other.

I say this not because there are actual wars in my head (because that would be messy), but because there are a lot of things on which these two parts of my head don’t seem to agree. For one recent example, how I have been handling my friend Alice’s death. The rational part of my mind says to just hold everything inside, to keep from showing how I feel to others because that is only showing them weakness, and showing weakness is inviting attack. The emotional side of my mind, though, is telling me that I have to show my emotions, because by expressing them, I can process them and thus deal with them; holding them in will just lead to stunted emotional growth and an eventual explosion that will almost certainly do more harm than good.

My emotional mind isn’t always the good guy, though. In my relationship with Calla, my rational mind tens to be more, well, rational. Our communications recently have been somewhat distant; I can feel that there is more that she has to say when we talk to each other, but ti doesn’t get said. My emotional mind says that this is all my fault – that I have done or said something to cause her to pull away, that I am continually screwing up in front of her both in word and deed. It tells me to apologize frantically, and act melodramatically (yes, I can be melodramatic), because these things will clearly express to her the degree to which I am sorry for whatever my actions have wrought. My rational mind, though, tells me that I need to take a step back; that what I am seeing as my fault is probably more complicated – that she likely has reasons for not telling me what she is thinking, and that when she feels ready, she’ll tell me. In fact, it tells me that acting too emotionally will likely push her away rather than get her to talk to me.

Trying to find a balance between these two parts of my mind is something called wise mind in treatment – a balanced, or blended, use of both sides of the mind in order to come to the best decisions. Sometimes one part will be right, sometimes the other, and sometimes both will need to be taken into account to make a decision. Knowing when to pay attention to both is a very important treatment skill; it keeps emotions from becoming too dysregulated, and it also keeps someone (in this case, me) from losing touch with their emotions in a way that can be unhealthy and dangerous. It keeps me from descending back into the near-robotic days of my teenage years, or the horrible depressions of later years.

It can be a lot of work, though; only experience (and some good advice from others) can really keep me from making the same mistakes over and over. What seems like a good idea one minute may be totally idiotic when looked at from a different perspective.  It reminds me a bit of a theory (about relationships, but it’s close enough for government work) brought up in one of my favorite comedy shows, How I Met your Mother, the Dobler/Dahmer Theory:

When viewed from one side, an idea can seem great, but from the other, terrible. Learning to take a step back and try to figure out which one is currently right – if either – has helped to make my life a lot easier (though it is oddly a lot of work).

Canine Design

The last few days haven’t been terribly active, aside from a birthday dinner at Benihana last night. But there’s been something on my mind for a little while. I have a friend who has a Shih Tzu dog down here, and he’s fun to hang around with. It reminds me of when I had a dog. I know that I can’t have a big dog like a Newfoundland down here in Texas; not only do I live in an apartment that would be too small for a dog like that, but all that fur would make a dog like that terribly uncomfortable in the heat. But I really miss having a dog around; that constant companionship and affection is something that I always found really comforting.

So I’ve been thinking about getting a dog down here. I know it would have to be something relatively small, and probably pretty short-haired; one of the breeds that has come up most often has been a pug, because they’re relatively sedate, friendly, and just fun to be around. The thing that seems really big, though, is whether to try to get a dog from a breeder or getting a rescue dog. A rescue dog is appealing to me because I know there are so many dogs that need homes, but at the same time I don’t know what kind of dog I’d be getting; I want to get a dog I can train and that won’t have any crazed responses to random events. So a new puppy would be the best for those things. At the same time, a new puppy is also going to take a lot more time initially, to potty train and keep from barking at everything and just generally get used to living here – as well as being far more expensive.

But having a dog around is something I really miss; my last Newfoundland, Merlin, was my closest friend for a number of years, and even though I was almost inconsolable when he died, I think I’ve gotten over his loss, and I’d like to feel that kind of companionship again. While I don’t mind cats, they’ve just never struck me as the kind of affectionate and loyal companions as dogs. Having a dog to scratch, and sit beside me, has always been a comforting presence. And I know that dogs are one of the animals that have become useful for mental health therapy, like the dogs from Heeling Allies. I don’t know that I really need a dog for therapeutic purposes, but a dog like that would certainly be helpful, especially since I have friends who have issues and such a dog might also be helpful for them.

Sadly, though, I work at a minimum-wage job, and right now don’t have much in the way of funding for something like a dog, so I don’t know if the dog idea is something that will be happening anytime soon. But it is something that has been on my mind recently, and having a dog has been important to me in the past. So, that’s what’s going on in my head right now.