Superbetter Quests

As I’ve noted before, I’m playing the game Superbetter, as well as reading the new book that came out a couple weeks ago. Since I’ve been reading that, I thought it would be helpful to try to share some of the quests, to show people what I’ve been talking and writing about. Thankfully for my lazy typing fingers, someone else beat me to it. Three of the quests from the book are listed in an article by CBS News, and since I’d rather not tangle with a major TV network, I think I’ll just post the link to the quests here:

Become more resilient with these “SuperBetter” quests

I’ve tried the first quest – Plus-One Better – and it’s been an interesting experience, trying to reconnect or forge stronger connections with people through something using the bare bones social mechanics of a Facebook game. But it intrigues me. As for the other two quests, I thought I’d try to post at least a bit of my own results here.

For “Collect Your First Five”, my list is this:

What song makes you feel powerful?

  1. Protectors of the Earth

What food makes you feel energized?

2. If it counts, energy drinks; they can help keep me up even when I’m feeling absolutely listless, and kick me into next gear on a good day.

Is there a mantra that makes you feel more motivated?

3. Dum spiro, spero (While I breathe, I hope); also, “Hige° sceal þe heardra, heorte þe cenre, mod sceal þe mare, þe ure mægen° lytlað.” (Mind shall be harder, heart the keener, spirit shall be the greater, as our strength grows less).

What reliably inspires you when you read it or watch it?

4. Either Captain America movie, especially this speech by Captain America in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Is there something small you like to do to help others?

5. Just ask my friends if there is something I can do to help, because my good friends know that I’d do anything to help them.

As for the list from the third quest, “Assemble Your Hero Dream Team”, I’ll put the heroes – and the top thing that I admire about them – here. This is only the three that are noted for this quest; my real list would be much longer, and geekier, and would likely be disturbingly hard to identify in toto for most people. So, here goes:

1: Captain America (duh); Captain America’s greatest virtue, to me, is that he has a very strong moral compass, and he’s willing to follow it; he sees the right thing to do, and he does it, even if it’s difficult, painful, or dangerous for him.

2. Commander Shepard (hero of the Mass Effect video games); while there were many ways you could play Commander Shepard, the way I played him, he was an inspirational leader; he could unite people from all walks of life, from alien cultures and bizarre mindsets, who were almost total polar opposites, and bring them together as a cohesive force for good.

3.Miranda Zero (of the sadly short-lived Global Frequency comic); she took initiative when nobody else would and created an independent organization made up of unusual experts in order to help save the world; she pro-actively went out looking to do good, without trying to take over – she saw something that needed to be done, and she went out and did it.

Psychosocial, Qu’est-ce que c’est

Yes, a reference to a Talking Heads song. I’m just that good.

I figured that rather than blather on about the state of my life, I’d try to give more of an update on the kinds of things I’m reading about and learning, both in and out of my academic setting. In my human behavior class, we’ve been in a psychoanalytical set of topics for the past few weeks. We started out with the basics of Freud’s theory, talking about things like the id, ego, and superego, and their effects of the conscious and subconscious mind, and then moved on to ego psychology – a more in-depth theory studying the id/ego/superego division with Freud’s successors, including his daughter. And this past week we were talking about something called object relations theory – how we learn to distinguish other people from ourselves and create our own distinct identities separate from others.

I found the object relations theory interesting – well, I find them all interesting – but this one was basically new to me; I’ve had some minimal learning in the Freudian and ego psychology theories before, so I was familiar with the basics, but this one was new to me. One of the ideas I found most fascinating was the concept of the “good-enough mother”, an idea put forth by Donald Winnicott. Essentially, it is the concept of a mother who is attentive to her child’s needs, but has the occasional lapse – perhaps she doesn’t respond to her baby’s cries, or forgets to feed the child one or twice. The idea here is that these occasional lapses are not just good, but almost necessary for healthy mental development – it teaches, on a very basic level, that the child can trust a mother (or father), but that absolute, total reliance isn’t something they should be working towards – it essentially is a very basic way of teaching a child that however godlike a parents might seem to a baby, they are fallible, and can’t always be there. It’s the very beginning of teaching a child that the child and the parent(s) are distinct entities, that the parents aren’t just extensions of the child.

It goes on to other theorists who developed different parts of the theory, and the parts I found especially cool to think about were the stages of Separation-Individuation – 4 stages that occur between 5 months and 3 years. The first is Differentiation, which occurs from 5 months to around 1 year – during this time an infant learns to move around, first crawling, then walking, and this ability to move teaches the child, on a very instinctual level, that they can be separate from their parent, and go and do and explore things on their own. The parent should still supervise, ideally, but this stage is valuable in helping a child to develop their own identity. Next is Practicing, and this is the stage at which children start doing things beyond movement – and they start being able to acknowledge the praise they get from their parents, feeling like they are the best, the greatest, when every time they do something new they are told how amazing they are. This is apparently the stage at which something like narcissism can develop – the brain somehow doesn’t move past feeling like they are the best, the brightest, the center of the universe, and so continues to think this even after other children start entering their lives in school and other pursuits. The third stage is called Rapprochement (age 2-3), where the child’s mind struggles to deal with opposing needs – they want to be loved but given space, to cling to a parents but also move out and explore, and they fear both being totally engulfed but also being abandoned. This is the stage at which the first inklings of some personality disorders – like Borderline Personality Disorder, for example – can develop, with the brain having difficulty finding a middle ground between extremes, and thus defaulting towards wild swings of mood and thought. Finally, after age 3, we have object constancy, the stage which we hope to develop and constantly work towards in life – this is where we develop and stabilize our sense of self, distinct from others around us, and start to master the idea of self-soothing – being able to calm ourselves instead of relying on others, like parents, for responsibility of calming us.

Outside of class, I’ve been getting back into reading supplemental things, especially since the last month or so has seen not just a new book by Brene Brown, but also one by Jane McGonigal. That’s what I’m working through now, and it’s called Superbetter – not to be confused with the game and/or app of the same name. The book is about the research behind what makes the game an effective tool for assisting in recovery, and helping to form your own paths towards recovery. I’m only a couple chapters in – it’s dense material to digest, especially while also reading through a lot of material for class – but it’s really good stuff. The introduction is basically covered in one of Jane McGonigal’s TED Talks, which I’ll post here:

Not only can Superbetter, the game she developed for her own recovery, be helpful with the recovery from things like depression – I know, because I have found it helpful in my own work towards recovery – but it can also be helpful for just improving general quality of life. And the book goes into a lot of detail about research on other things games can help with – like the idea that games like Tetris or Candy Crush can help to prevent, or at least mitigate, some of the painful symptoms and flashback of PTSD. Apparently, research (covered in the book) proves that when painful or disturbing memories start to resurface, that playing a game like Tetris for as little as 3-5 minutes – something that is visually stimulating and requires near-total attention to the way the game works – can divert the mind from being stuck in a painful flashback or re-living. The study she notes covers only people dealing with the initial response to traumatic memories, so it’s not clear that something like playing Tetris or Candy Crush can be as useful to people who have been dealing with PTSD for years or decades, but just the idea that something as simple as playing a video game can help with something as serious as PTSD is encouraging. And that’s just one of a number of, frankly, amazing things I’ve learned from reading the part of the book I’ve gotten through  – like, did you know that holding your hands out, palms-up, for as little as 15 seconds can help you to be more open-minded, because of how we subconsciously interpret the gesture?

So there’s a lot going through my head that isn’t my own personal stuff, and I’m hopeful that it will be useful in both my personal life and in my academic endeavors.

So, what’s on your mind? Let me know if there’s some fun research (for certain values of fun) that you think I might find interesting to read through or discuss.I’m always looking to expand my knowledge base.

Social Contract(ion)

Lately, my social world has felt like it’s been contracting, and becoming much smaller than it used to be. I know there are reasons, and good ones, and they aren’t, for the most part, things that are my fault or over which I have any control. But it feels like my world has become much smaller and lonelier than it used to be, and I’m not really sure how to go about changing that. I should note now that I’m really just writing to get some things off my chest here, and out of my head; while I feel kinda low, I don’t think that it’s to such a degree that it should be concerning.

For those of you who don’t know me personally, I am not the most socially adventurous of people. I’m quiet, and shy, and it takes me a while (sometimes a long while) before I feel ready to have whole conversations with people. I’m also introverted, which means that I don’t really have any interest in the empty pleasantries that fill up a lot of conversational space, so talking with me can be kind of weird. I have areas where I feel comfortable and knowledgeable, but outside of those, I will typically just shut up and listen until I feel like I have something substantive to say – which, on some topics, can take quite a while. I’m also very aware of the generally liberal views I hold, and the polarization bringing those into a discussion can cause, so I feel very cautious advancing my views on anything that might start a fight.

I also don’t go out a whole lot. While travel is nice, and can be fun, and I know that it can broaden your horizons and open up your mind to new things, I don’t generally feel the need to go out and do things alone. I feel awkward going to movies, or out to eat, by myself, and I feel travel – like a lot of activities, is best enjoyed (for me) when with other people whose company I enjoy. When I’m alone, most of the places I prefer to go can be easily reached in my own mind, whether just daydreaming, reading, watching TV, or playing video games. While I like playing games that can be social, like MMORPGs, after a while even that can be awkward for me, because unless I get to know people, or even feel that I can get to know people, I lose interest.

And over the last year or so, a lot of people have left my life. Last June, Alice died (if you want to know how that affected me, feel free to go into my older posts and check – around June 19 of last year). Over the next several month, my relationship with someone I had felt extremely close to, who I’ve noted before here as Calla, deteriorated to the point that this past April, she decided that being my friend was not in her best interests – a state of being that I certainly had a hand in, so please don’t assume I am claiming blamelessness. Around the same time, another close friend who had been here in Houston left the state for greener pastures, and while we still keep in touch, our friendship is far more long-distance than it was.

Also, while I had been a member of two separate gaming groups – one that I was running a game for, and one in which I was a player – both of those now seem to be, for most purposes, defunct. Neither has met for several months, and my efforts to try and cobble together a third from the people in both that still speak to me have not been very successful. I’m looking into finding another right now, but given my difficulties getting to know new people, that is likely a process that could take a while.

I still talk to several people from work, so there is hope there, but trying to arrange some way to interact outside of work is – for want of a better term – generally super awkward for me. Also, given our retail schedules, a lot of things that resemble plans for getting together have a high probability of falling through, which can leave whoever does show up sitting around just wondering what on earth is going on, which makes things awkward for everyone. Again, not a blaming situation – I know my schedule and situation has changed a number of times, leading me to have to cancel at the last minute, and I assume that’s happened with other people from work, as well. But given my general state of mind regarding social situations, when things like that happen my default assumption is that somehow I did something wrong to alienate others or cause them to not want to be around me. Yep, the shame monster rears its ugly head in those situations.

And some of this is undoubtedly just the kind of down-in-the-dumps feeling I get after another birthday (I turned 36 yesterday). Historically, birthdays have not been great times for me; some part of my head gets all hyped up and excited about any potential birthday activities, and no matter what I do or how much fun I have, somehow that part of my brain is always left feeling disappointed and let down the day after. There’s probably a specific term for that kind of feeling, but I haven’t gotten far enough in my MSW program to know what it is.

What this all means is that I need to figure out how to expand my social circle again, and I’m not really sure how to go about doing that. I did pretty well with the people I got to know at Menninger, and then again at the aftercare program I Was a part of; I made some good friends there. And somehow I managed to become a part of not one, but two separate gaming groups. For a minute or two there, I even thought I had real hope at a romantic relationship. So now that things have contracted, I need to figure out how to push that circle out again. If you live in the Houston area and have some ideas for how I might be able, as the uber-geek I am, to branch out somehow, then by all means let me know. Or if you just feel like chatting about how crappy feeling lonely can feel at times, drop me a line. But don’t freak out; things aren’t that bad. I just had some stuff in my head I wanted to get out.

It’s Been Awhile

Like the title implies, it’s been a bit since my last post here. Largely that has been because I’m pretty busy reading, doing class work, writing papers for class, cooking, going to my job at the bookstore, or relaxing watching The Walking Dead or playing some kind of video game (or planning an RPG campaign, which I’m still trying to drum up support for). It’s been a pretty busy time, but despite being busy, I don’t know that there’s really been a lot to keep folks up on.

If you were among the few people who found the stuff I was cooking interesting, then you should check out the primary source of my cooking inspiration, All Day I Dream About Food. It’s got a lot of recipes, for a lot of different meals, parts of meals, snacks, or otherwise, and they’re all relatively- to very-low carb. All the recipes I have tried have been very tasty, and with the exception of the cauliflower fritters, very successful. If you are like me and addicted (well, not literally, but figuratively) to pizza, here’s a recipe I’ve had some success with: Crustless Pizza, from the website MyFridgeFood. Very tasty, just make sure that, unlike me, you grease the pan before you cook.

As for classes, they are going pretty smoothly so far. I’m enrolled in two classes at the moment – Policy & Practice in Social Work Organizations (Social Work 534), and then Human Behavior and the Social Environment (Social Work 503). The former is focused on the big-picture, large-scale issues of social work – why is it needed, what communities need it the most, what big-picture, long-term changes can or should be made to try to improve the lives of those who need it, things like that. The latter is focused on figuring out what motivates people, how to look at a person’s entire situation – not just what they tell you, but also their family, their living arrangements, their social networks, etc. – and use that entire picture to try and determine how best to help them. These are both very introductory courses, so much of what we’re doing thus far is simply figuring out the basics of theories and history, but they’re both interesting courses thus far. I’ve had one paper due – called a Community Immersion paper, where we (the students) have to go into a nearby neighborhood, talk to people, do research, find out as much as we can, and then apply one of the theories we’ve learned about so far – and I did pretty well on that, so I’m feeling pretty good on that front.

I’m waiting to grab a couple books I’m interested in – Brene Brown, a social worker here at the University of Houston, just published another book, called Rising Strong, and I’ve liked all her previous books; one of them helped lead me towards social work, so I’m eager to see how the new one is. Another, in a few weeks, is called SuperBetter, by Jane McGonigal. I’ve written about her previous book, called Reality is Broken, before, way back in 2013 on July 26. It combines feeling better with video games, so what’s not to like?

Socially, things are a little weird – neither of the groups I have gamed with in the past around here have been able to meet recently, so I am trying to cobble together a new one, possible made up of people from each of the previous two, to sate my gaming urge. We’ll see how that goes. I don’t have a ridiculous amount of time to devote to it right now anyway, since I’m pretty busy with work, school, and generally keeping myself healthy.

That’s my update for now. We’ll see if there’s more to add later, and if so, I’ll do so. If not, then I’ll catch everyone with my next update, whenever that shall be!

The Beaches, They Are Stormed

So, week 1 of my MSW program is over, and boy, are my arms tired. Wait, no, that’s a different joke.

This week has been a pretty weird one for me, because it has involved a lot of activity, often in ways that I am (if you know me) not generally interested in doing. Part of my plan for going back to school, for example, was to make sure I got regular and increasing amounts of exercise. Now, anyone who has ever been around me while doing any kind of exercise knows that, in general, I hate it. It tends to be boring, painful, and generally feels like it isn’t actually accomplishing anything. So me starting up my own little exercise program – even if it is relatively low-scale so far, with the intent to ramp it up as I go – should be enough to give you pause. Especially since a key component of this has been cardiovascular activity – as I hate treadmills, I’d prefer to just walk around, which I can do easily enough in my apartment complex; it feels more like I am actually accomplishing something, even if I am just walking around in circles. This is especially impressive (for me) when you consider that every day this week has been over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (heat index often pushing it up to 110 or higher), because walking a couple miles in that kind of heat makes you wish for death. So I figure if I can do that, I can certainly do that and more when it starts to cool down.

I’ve also started on a more rigorous diet program, which is intended to be more low-carb, high-protein. To my chagrin, I found that such a diet is not easy to accomplish with pre-made foods, because preservatives often add more carbohydrates than I want to eat. So, I’ve had to venture into the cooking arena again. While my ventures so far have met with some limited success – my fake (or crustless) quiche was quite good, my cauliflower ham and cheese fritters not so much – it helps me out in two separate areas, because I do enjoy cooking, but I often feel that I am left with too many leftovers, so haven’t done much cooking lately, and it also helps me to make sure I know exactly what is going into my food. Coming up on my cooking schedule are a bacon and Brie frittata, low carb-pizza with cauliflower crust, and possibly low-carb Andes mint fudge. I’ll try to keep that updated somewhere.

Finally, school. It was weird getting back into classes, especially since my classes are, well, online. And there were some hiccups in the technology, as well as some timing issues. But overall, it seems like a pretty easy way of doing class, though I still find myself trying to look semi-professional for my webcam (yes, mom and dad, this means I shower, shave, and wear pants and a collared shirt). While the work load was not a surprise – I’m used to doing a lot of reading for class, having gotten one Masters (and most of a PhD) in English literature – the subject matter was a shock to my system. I’ve done a lot of reading by social workers or psychologists in the last year or so, but none of it rises to the nose-bleed-inducingly dry levels for social work textbooks. That’s the part that feels overwhelming to me; all these theories, models, and practices, dozens of them, thrown at students in their first week of class, and somehow we’re supposed to learn and internalize them so that we can use them as the basis for further classes. That’s going to take some work. As well, our first major assignment involves going out into a nearby community and asking a great deal of interrogative questions to find out information about demographics, community leaders, culture clashes, levels of social, economic, and health-related inequality, and how content people are within a community, as well as several strengths and challenges each particular community faces. As an introvert, this is hard for me, too, because asking strangers these kinds of questions makes me very uncomfortable, but I’ve already gotten my work started, and just have to make sure it gets finished, collated, and written in a coherent manner by this coming Saturday.

Oddly, despite the stress all of this has caused – a new diet, new exercise program, new school, and going back to work this week – I think I’m doing pretty well, mentally speaking. I think a lot of that may be because these things are all things I am choosing to do, rather than things I feel pressured to do, which instinctively makes me push back passive-aggressively. Since I’m initiating them myself, that would be kind of weird – can you be passive-aggressive towards yourself? – so things are going pretty smoothly, all things considered.

Anyway, that’s about it for this particular entry. My stomach is unhappy with the lack of pizza or burgers in my diet, so anybody who has any good low-carb recipes, I’d love to hear (or read) them, and if you have any experience in social work, I’d love to find something that either simplifies the theories that come up in basic introductory stuff, or puts them in a manner that is more easy to digest mentally – some of these sentences and paragraphs in my textbooks, while I am certain they are very informative, feel like they are sucking the water out of my brain they are so dry. Have you ever seen a dehydrated brain? It’s not a pretty sight. So take pity on my brain, and drop me a line if you have any tips or tricks to get this stuff in my head more easily.

To Boldly Go

OK, well, maybe not boldly. I mean, with what I’m about to start, it’s really hard to do boldly.

Tomorrow, I start the USC online MSW program. I was accepted last month, and had to get up to speed pretty fast, with some speed bumps along the way. And it’s definitely been a time filled with anxiety and excitement; trying to make sure my computer was ready for online classes (which are all done live, through an integrated webcam/phone setup, so you can see and hear both the instructor and other students in real time), trying to make sure my work schedule was altered in order to be able to take my classes, and trying to arrange payment. Attending school online is a lot different than doing so in person, and so far the orientation process has given me a taste of what it will be like, but tomorrow will be the first test of how things really go.

It’s a big step for me, going from almost completing a PhD in English to joining a Masters program in an entirely different line of work. But somehow, I think it is a more fitting one for me. When I was starting out as a PhD candidate in English, my ultimate goal was to teach. I didn’t really spend a lot of time thinking about publishing papers or trying to add to the body of knowledge that already existed, and as I went through the program, I realized exactly how important to the PhD process publishing new work really is. And I found I just didn’t have anything new or revolutionary to add. I wanted to help new students learn and possibly find their own love of literature, and so I felt more and more incompatible with the program – especially when I ran into the dissertation process, and found myself coming up totally blank on topics.

With social work, I know that my goal is to become a therapist. I want to work with patients or clients one-on-one, and while I’m more than happy to keep up with advances in the field, I don’t know that I want to be the one making them – I just want to help people who come to me for help, and hopefully make them feel like they aren’t alone. I know that a crucial part of my own recovery was realizing that there were people in very similar situations, and that not only was I not alone in dealing with my mental health issues, but that I had a wealth of people who were going, or had gone, through similar problems and could, or did, come out the other side. And so I am working on this degree to help provide to others the same kind of help that I was given. And that starts, for me, tomorrow, August 3rd.

If anyone reading this has experience with social work – either in a practical or clinical manner, or just having made use of social work services, for good or ill, I’d love to hear about it.

Mental Illness Doesn’t Discriminate, but People Do


I’ve had similar thoughts myself; it gets frustrating at times when people I can otherwise spends a great deal of time with come out and start talking about mental illness in a way that makes me feel like I have to hide mine.

Originally posted on livinginmultipleworlds:

I just left a group I had recently joined, under the impression that people who were intent on erasing the stigma of mental illness would be, well, more open-minded. I am a somewhat naive person in some respects; I will admit that. Possibly because I’m hopeful. Possibly because I’m gullible, to an extent, and I want to believe the best of people. Especially ones trying to erase the shame associated with mental illness because, after all, it’s not something a person can help.

I was surprised, then, to find a posting after the shooting at the recruitment centers, describing the shooter as having an “extremist personality” and one of the women who’s daughter had bi-polar saying, “her daughter didn’t act that way.” I was furious. And very disappointed.

I responded that if the young man hadn’t been Muslim, this wouldn’t even be a topic of conversation, and apparently the idea…

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