Hopepunk

I thought about naming this post after former President Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope, but I figured that would be a bit presumptuous of me. So instead,I went with hopepunk. What is hopepunk? Well, as the person who seems to have originated the term, I’ll go with what author Alexandra Rowland says: hopepunk is the opposite of grimdark.

Grimdark is, according to the website TVTropes, a tone shift in how a work, whether in film, books, or some other media, is presented – rather than go for a lighter, more hopeful tone, instead it moves in the other direction, darker, edgier, more dystopian, more amoral… more hopeless. Nowhere in geek culture is this more obvious than in the setting of popular miniatures wargame Warhammer 40,000 – where there are no good guys to play, nobody is clean or pure; even the nominal ‘good’ guys think nothing of exterminating whole planets of their own people to halt the spread of infectious ideas, or to deny ground to their enemies. In a grimdark setting, hope is a thing of the past; all that can be hoped for anymore is survival, and perhaps revenge.

I bring this up today because of the events in Las Vegas on Sunday night, of a shooting rampage that left, as of this writing, 59 people dead and 527 injured. I spent much of yesterday after hearing about this in a daze. That someone could inflict such terror and bloodshed on his fellow man, and for (thus far) no discernable reason… I just couldn’t wrap my brain around it. The thing that came to my mind most readily was a quote from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by Theoden, king of Rohan: “So much death. What can men do against such reckless hate?” I was sickened, saddened, depressed, horrified, angry. I despaired over what could have caused this, and raged over those who decided to take the opportunity to say that it happened because of disrespect for the president, or who decried any possible attempt at conversation about gun control. I was trying desperately to find something to help me make sense of things when I remembered reading about the concept of hopepunk a couple weeks ago.

I’ve written about hope before here; in the process of recovery from mental illness, and learning to manage what will be a lifelong condition, sometimes hope is all that you have. And I am, by nature, a cynic; I tend to think that things will likely get worse, not better, which is odd coming from someone who has adopted (and should probably get tattooed somewhere) the credo dum spiro, spero – while I breathe, I hope. But I was having a hard time finding anything to be hopeful about in this situation until I remembered the idea of hopepunk. It’s not the deepest philosophy, but I felt that it somehow touched something in me, something that helped me to come back out of the dark hole I was descending into. Like the concept’s author says:

“Jesus and Gandhi and Martin Luther King and Robin Hood and John Lennon were hopepunk. (Remember: Hopepunk isn’t about moral perfection. It’s not about being as pure and innocent as the new-fallen snow. You get grubby when you fight. You make mistakes. You’re sometimes a little bit of an asshole. Maybe you’re as much as 50% an asshole. But the glass is half full, not half empty. You get up, and you keep fighting, and caring, and trying to make the world a little better for the people around you. You get to make mistakes. It’s a process. You get to ask for and earn forgiveness. And you love, and love, and love.) ”

Things are dark now. They will be dark again. For some of us, there hasn’t been a time in recent memory where it hasn’t been dark. But they won’t always be that way. Despite whatever is happening now, things are slowly getting better. Sometimes they aren’t perceptibly better; sometimes they might not get better for us, but rather for our children or grandchildren. but things are getting better, though it can be hard to see. 60 year ago, I probably would have been put in a sanitarium – and that’s assuming I survived my suicide attempts. Even 5 years ago, I was unable to get health insurance, because I had a pre-existing condition and that meant insurance companies avoided me like the plague. Now I have insurance, I just finished my MSW (even got the degree int he mail today), and I’m looking to get into the field and get to work because I want to help.

The world is dark at times. Grim, painful, and ugly. What happened in Las Vegas Sunday night was a gruesome, terrible example of that. But there is hope. Sometimes we can see it in the events in the news, and sometimes in the lives of the people around us. And sometimes we can see it in the media we choose to immerse ourselves in. For me, a website I read a fair bit, RPG.net, has created a fair list of media they feel qualifies as hopepunk storytelling, and I agree with many of them. And, because I’m a geek, I think I’ll point out a few of my favorite examples.

Game of Thrones, a show famed for its brutality and character death count, has moments of this – fans of the show will see it in ‘dancing master’ Syrio Forel, when he says “And what do we say to the God of Death? Not today.”

Fans of DC Comics will see it in the oath of the Blue Lantern Corps: “In fearful day, in raging night, With strong hearts full, our souls ignite. When all seems lost in the War of Light, Look to the stars, for hope burns bright!”

Some may even see it in the 90s Kevin Costner vehicle The Postman, where a grifter in a post-apocalyptic USA takes up the guise of a US Postal Service mailcarrier, initially as a way to con others – and starts a movement he ends up believing in (plus, as a bonus, it has a cameo with Tom Petty, who passed away yesterday, playing himself as leader of a settlement).

I think the two that might do the most for me, though, are these two: the first is from the first season of the HBO series True Detective (and, as a warning, it does include some NSFW language):

The second comes from the TV series Angel, a spinoff of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was  a show that was all about a group of monsters, misfits, screwups, and criminals trying to find some kind of redemption in fighting against evil the best they could, and this idea became one of the central points of the show:

So, rather than rant about people like Pat Robertson, or how desperately the country needs gun control or something like it to keep these terrible things from happening over and over, rather than add to the deluge of negativity and despair, I write to you about hope. Find it where you can; ask others for help if you can’t find it on your own. Hope for a better world is how the world gets to be better. I leave you with some of the final words of Canadian politician Jack Layton: “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

I would love it if those reading could contribute their own examples of things they think might fall under the classification of hopepunk; please do so in the comments section below.

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Identity

Who are you?

This is a question I ask myself all too often, because there are times when I feel it’s not too apparent. I mean, yes, on a literal level, I know who I am – I know my name, and when I was born, and where I live. But on a deeper level, I often have difficulty knowing exactly who I am.

Some of this is because of my experience with mental illness. I know I have made a lot of changes in the four and a half years since coming to Menninger (and Texas), but sometimes it’s hard to tell exactly how much. I can’t clearly remember what I used to be like before depression became a looming figure in my life; I’m aware of events, and I know some generalities – I have always been on the quiet, bookish side – but I can’t clearly recall what my personality was like before. Who was I when the crushing bulk of depression wasn’t weighing on my mind all the time?

This isn’t a particularly new phenomenon; many people have reported that their mental illness seemed to take over a large portion of their life and even co-opt parts of their identity. There have even been studies done about it, and articles written; you can find one here entitled Stealing Me From Myself about how people with mental illness, and the loved ones in their lives, have noticed significant changes in personality and identity when the illness sets in. Living with a mental illness, especially a severe one, can majorly redefine what we see as our ‘self’, our identity; it becomes a part of who we are, and it tends to be quite forceful about it, crowding out other portions of our identity. The things we used to enjoy may not appeal to us anymore, either because we just find ourselves incapable of feeling joy that way, or because we lack energy to participate anymore.

When we learn to deal with or manage our mental illness – however long that takes – we often find that old parts of our personality return. Someone whose crushing depression made them unable to enjoy hiking might have the energy to take it up again, for example. Someone whose delusions made it impossible to read without discovering hidden messages and conspiracies, when medicated, might find that they can pick up an old favorite book and enjoy it for what it is once more. But not everything comes back. As another article – Mental Illness, The Identity Thief – talks about, sometimes there’s just no way to get back to where, or who, we were before. I can’t watch some of the movies and listen to some of the music I used to enjoy because of the rush of negative emotions they bring on. There are people whose presence I used to enjoy, but whom I just can’t be around because some of the things they do are dangerous to my own self-care.

And then there is how others see us. This can be one of the worst parts of the change in our identity, because the people who have known us as mentally ill often have difficulty seeing us as anything else. There aren’t many people in my life who actually remember me for who I was before – mostly just my family and a couple old friends. And there are a lot of people who I have met since who have had to deal with me when I was at my worst, and often haven’t had the chance to interact with me since I’ve begun to successfully manage my illness. Do they see me differently? Will they always see me as the guy who couldn’t smile, who was all too easily tired out, who was relentlessly negative and cynical? If I were to meet them again and speak to them as who I am now, would they be able to reconcile the person I am with the person I was? Or, like Melissa Kirk writes in Psychology Today, will that image of me as a mentally ill person be the only way they’ll be able to view me? Will my identity in their eyes always be shaped by that?

Going forward, I’m not sure who I’ll be. I’m not really all that sure who I have been; many of my memories are cloaked in the fog of depression. There are parts of my identity that I am sure of now – I’m a geek; I’m an academic; I’m a liberal’ I’m a Christian. But how much will my identity change as my life continues to move forward? Will moving into employment in the social work field shape my identity at all? And if so, how? Depression will continue to leave some lasting impression – I can’t imagine how it wouldn’t since it’s a permanent passenger – but how much of an impression will that be?

I don’t really know who I’m supposed to be, but I’m interested to find out.

Loss

I’ve spent the last week mulling over the death by suicide of Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington. was one of those 90s kids who picked up their first album, Hybrid Theory, and I really loved their first few albums, though I started to drift away as time went on. There was something about the music, the lyrics, the power behind what was being sung that really spoke to me – probably because, whether I knew it or not, that was a relatively dark period in my life. For my last two years of high school – 1996-98 – I was dealing with the fallout of having a thyroid condition that was mostly unmedicated, and a lot of the symptoms mimicked depression pretty well. This continued into college, where I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder when I was 20. I was not in a good place mentally, so many of the songs of Linkin Park spoke to me – Numb, Crawling, In The End, Somewhere I Belong… I didn’t know much about Chester Bennington or his background, then, but the things he was singing about really felt close to my heart.

Hearing about his suicide was kind of a blow because of that impact his music had on me. I’ve learned more about who he was and what he had dealt with in his own life over the last week, and I can see now why his songs touched me – because it seems like he had many of the same kinds of feelings I did. And I’ve attempted suicide myself, as well as lost a close friend to it, so I know what it can feel like to be on both sides of that divide. I even managed to have an acquaintance-ending argument with someone on social media because of the way they reacted to Mr. Bennington’s death; they asserted that his choice was weak, selfish, and a ticket straight to hell, and I strenuously disagreed.

I can’t speak to what Mr. Bennington felt; I never met him, and I only really know him through his music. But the idea that suicide is somehow weak or selfish is one that just burns me up. For me, and for some other people who have contemplated (or attempted) suicide that I have spoken with, suicide is a solution of last resort, when the pain – usually emotional and mental – just becomes too hard to deal with. It’s not a spur-of-the-moment decision, but usually comes with prolonged suffering. Only it is suffering that others can’t see, and it is suffering that often those who suffer can’t (or don’t feel they are able to) show, because of how that suffering is perceived. There’s a sort of societal assumption that ‘real’ suffering has to have a visible component; a broken limb, a huge gash, even a tumor. If it can’t be seen, then, some assume, it must not be real, it’s just imaginary.

While yes, it is all in the heads of those who are suffering, that doesn’t make it any less real. Being in one’s head does not somehow make suffering imaginary. But when people feel like their pain won’t be taken seriously, they keep it inside, and that just lets it grow and fester, like an infected wound – only there is no iodine or antibiotic for emotional trauma. People living with that pain fight a daily battle just to be even marginally functional, and when you’re fighting a part of your own brain, there’s really only so long you can keep fighting without help. For some that means medication, others therapy, still others can find some activity to help, and a combination works for many. But it’s not weakness to give in after fighting a losing battle – if that were true, we’d view the Spartans as weak for losing at Thermopylae.

As for selfishness, that’s trickier. Suicide can appear selfish to someone who has never thought of it, and again, I can only go on my own experience and what has been told to me by others. But depression can get your mind so twisted up that you feel like a burden to others – your family, friends, the people you work with, even casual acquaintances. It feels like every time mention is made of how terrible one feels, that it is somehow a burden to those around us. So we pull back, and stop sharing, because we don’t want to be a burden. but that puts more metaphorical weight on us, and we pull back more, until we become certain that removing ourselves from the lives of those we care for will be the best thing we can do for them. I know in my darkest times, I believed that my friends and family were so burdened by my presence and by the things in my head that my loss would actually be a comfort to them, that it would be a relief to not have to deal with my issues anymore. It seems nonsensical – how could someone we love and care for be such a burden that their death would be good for us? – but that’s the insidious nature of depression. It twists our thoughts around to such a degree that up seems like down, black seems like white.

Don’t even bring up suicide being a trip straight to hell with me. I am a Christian, and I know that one can read one of the commandments – ‘thous shalt not kill’ – to be a condemnation of not just murder, but suicide as well. I’m familiar with the medieval treatment of suicide, seeing it as a crime against God and man alike, so much so that suicides were buried, not in graveyards, but at crossroads (discussed here). My response to any of that is this – that God, who is infinitely loving and compassionate, must see the pain that someone who died from suicide was in, and that they may not have been thinking clearly. Such a loving and compassionate deity would see that soul’s pain and, instead of banishing them to hell, accept them into heaven, because surely they had already suffered enough. And a God who would condemn someone who died from suicide to an eternity in hell because they finally gave in to the pain they were suffering from is not a God I would feel is worthy of worship. There may be a theological argument for hell being self-imposed, that perhaps a person who died from suicide felt themselves unworthy of God’s love and intentionally separate themselves from their deity, but I would think that in such a case, the door would still be left open to them. If you really want to have this argument with me – and I don’t suggest it – it will start off hostile, and will probably involve a whole host of profanity. So let’s move on, shall we?

I’m going into social work, as anyone who has read many of my previous entries will know, so therapy is what I want to be able to do. This is because I want to be able to reach out to people before they reach the point of no return; I’ve been there, and I know how hard it can be to reach out, but having someone to talk to, who isn’t going to judge you, make fun of you, or try to second-guess you, can be a godsend. I don’t know how Mr. Bennington handled his feelings, and I wish he hadn’t died the way he did, but I know the demons that can be crawling in our skin. I know there are wounds that won’t heal, that can’t be seen. I know what it can be like to feel so numb that pain is the only thing that makes an impact, and death seems like the only answer. These are real things, even if they aren’t visible, and there are millions of people in this country alone dealing with them every day.

I welcome discussion here. If you have questions about my own experiences, please ask them. If you want to talk to me about anything, feel free to message me, and I’ll answer. I know that here, I’m just an anonymous voice on the internet, but I know that talking to someone else can help, even if only a little. I’m not as eloquent in my handling of this topic as a former colleague of mine, one of the most intelligent and well-read people I have ever had the pleasure of learning alongside, who covered this in his own way with The Grendel Crawling In Our Skin: In Memory of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington. And I know that for people who are suffering from thoughts like this, it can often be nigh-impossible to reach out, even to someone who may have an idea what they are going through. I’m sorry; I wish the internet allowed me to just step through it and sit with you through your pain, and do what I can to help. But right her, right now, this is what I can do.

Goodbye, Mr. Bennington. Your music helped me through some very difficult periods in my life, and I know it helped many others. Your music helped inspire the work of another of my favorite artists, Icon for Hire (whose singer did her own cover of Numb several years ago); many of their songs are about dealing with emotional issues and mental well-being. It may not have helped you, but it did reach many who might otherwise have felt alone in their suffering. Wherever you are, I hope you have found some measure of peace.

Nostalgia

Well, I just flew in from my 15th undergraduate reunion, and boy, are my arms tired.

What? It’s not only a good line, but it happens to be mostly true – I haven’t actually boardedmy flight home, but I’m typing this in the airport, and my arms are tired. Mostly from lugging my weekend luggage up and down hills that I’m certain got steeper since the last time I was at my undergraduate alma mater, Kenyon College.

I haven’the been there since I graduated in 2002, and I was expecting…. well, I’m not really aure. While Kenyon was the place where some dark parts of my life happened, or started, it is also where I met some of my closest friends. I guess I was expecting to feel like I belonged, like I was coming home. Nostalgia, you know? Instead, I felt a profound sense of alienation.

I’ve never been the most social person, and this weekend made that especially clear; of the 50 or so members of my graduating class who attended, I recognized only a handful – with a few fingers left over. I was placed for the weekend in a student dorm, on a part of the campus that I had never spent much time when I was a atudent, largely because of the party/fraternity reputation of those dorms. And for many of my fellow ’02s, those were the times they were there to reenact.

Drunken singing, loud conversations until the wee hours of the morning in dorm halls, and at least one loud, angry meltdown… the things in college I tried to avoid. I spent two years living on the 4th floor (no elevators) of a dorm, on the Wellness (no drinking, smoking, loud parties) floor, avoiding that. And these were all people in my class, but I knew virtually none of them, and none of them (save a few) knew me. And when I spoke to the people I did know, reminiscing about our college years, it became clear to me that a great deal was missing.

Moatly, I’m speaking of my memories. Kenyon is where my depression first manifested, and even that is hazy to me. One friend spoke of a D&D game I ran involving puzzles, which he seemed to remember vividly, and which certainly sounds like something I would have done… but I found myself smiling and nodding, because I have no memory of that. I remembered playing D&D with him, among others, but my memories are all hazy and unclear; I have few details I can recall. That was just one incident among many that showed me how little of my time there remained in my mind.

It isn’t that it wasn’t important – as I said, I met some of my closest friends there, and was taught by some amazing professors. But whether the depression muted my memories, or they were lost in the many attempts at treating my depression (ECT, I’m looking at you), they just aren’t there anymore. I have bits and pieces, flashes of vivid memory, but most of the rest is just a dark, muddled mass of blurred shapes. And with those memories gone, so, too, was much of my connection to the college. Things still mostly looked the same, but I had to rely on the cues of others around me when it seemed something was new or changed. It didn’t help that the reunion was almost entirely on the ‘upper classmen/women’ side of campus, which I had few memories almost no little connection to in the first place.

Still, it was great to see the few people I did recognize, including my former roommate; we roomed together all four years, and so when he showed up, it felt like falling into familiar habits. The people I knew looked so similar to what I remember, with few exceptions, that it was both surprising and comforting at the same time. 15 years has made them wiser, and more adult, but not visually too different, at least to my eyes.

And yet, it felt like so much was missing. Both my memories, and the connection I expected to feel. I walked for miles around the campus, but while things were familiar, nothing pulled at me. My emotional connections were with the people I knew, and few of them were there. And the lack of memories is worrying, because, thinking about it, it reminds me of the gaps that a blackout drunk has (I’ve heard them described quite vividly). I don’t know what kind of person I was when I was there, really; I was a poor student, certainly, but was I also a poor friend? Are there people I wronged many years ago who feel they are owed an apology, and have never gotten it because I can’t remember? Similarly, are there friends whose lives I have missed because I forgot how to reach them? Much of what I can’t remember is likely pretty boring, routine, mundane life… but are there important things I can’t remember, and if so, what are they? Troubling thoughts.

But anyway, nostalgia. Even in a dorm I had never seen in my college years, surrounded by people I never knew, I felt a strange tugging at my heart as I packed to leave. I don’t know if, or when, I might be back, and what the college might look like. Or who I might see, or miss seeing. Strolling the aisless of the college bookstore – a place I did remember, and felt oddly comforted by – I ran into an old professor of mine, my advisor, who had been one of my favorite teachers; it was his classes, in large part, that guided me towards medieval literature years ago. He was older; he walked with a cane, and couldn’t remember me – and, given my own memory troubles, I can’t judge. But it was one more familiar face before I left, burdened with collegiate memorabilia. One more reminder of things past, that will never come again, no matter how deeply they are missed.

Like one of the songs of Kenyon goes, farewell, Old Kenyon, fare thee well.

Sleep Cycle

People without mental illnesses often have real difficulty understanding a lot of what goes on when you have one. It’s hard to describe, for example, what real, long-lasting depression feels like to somebody who has never experienced it. But depression is not the only major symptom of a depressive disorder, just the most prominent. One of the others is one I’m having difficulty dealing with right now, and as the title might suggest, it has to do with sleep.

With depression, a lot of those who have it are either suffering from hypersomnia (sleeping way too much) or insomnia (not nearly enough). Both cause problems. But another common issue for people suffering from depression is that a standard sleep cycle can be very difficult to maintain. For those of you who can go to bed at 9 or 10 PM, waking up between 5 and 7 AM for your day, I know (from questioning others, mostly) that people on a schedule like this wake up refreshed, and gradually start getting more tired, both physically and mentally, as the day goes on. So, when the day is over, their bodies and minds are ready to sleep, and then the cycle continues.

For me, and several other people with depression I know, sleep works very differently. I wake up tired – probably about like many people would feel if they skipped sleep altogether. A lot of that tired feeling is mental; it takes my brain a lot longer to get up to running at full capacity than people who have a more normal sleep cycle. And so over the course of the day my body gets tired, like a regular person, but my mind wakes up. So I feel the most awake and aware – at least, mentally – at the time most people tend to be going to bed. This is, not coincidentally, when I do most of my schoolwork – writing papers and the like – because it’s when I feel the most coherent. Of course, my body has been up all day, and it needs sleep, but my mind runs the show, and so keeps going. This, of course, leads to me staying up far later than I should, because it is when I get the most productive time out of my brain. So I go to sleep, and then sleep less than I should, which leads to my body being more tired… and this goes in a cycle.

On days off, I’ll often get a couple hours of sleep in the middle of the day, because my body needs it and my mind isn’t working on all cylinders yet. But once my mind starts being active, I can’t really go to sleep until it runs down – literally. I can try to go to sleep, but my mind tends to be working overtime, and when your brain is working that hard it’s hard to get to sleep. I can sit in bed for hours, but until my mind gives the OK, no sleep will be had. So jobs that require use of my mind early in the day tend to not go so well, because my mind is not up to speed yet, and won’t be for a while. I can work doing physical things – like lifting, sorting, and packing or unpacking boxes at my last job – just fine, but if someone wants me to talk about social work policy or attachment theory, or how I would handle a particular case, my response is going to be sub-par. For some jobs, this is obviously a problem – working someplace at a 9-5 job, where my brain needs to be constantly in motion, is going to be messy for me, because my brain just won’t work that well when I arrive. There’s not really a way around that; even arranging my schedule so that I sleep directly after such a job, my mind still tends to get going around 10 or 11 PM. And when that happens, my body gets up, too.

You can see how this might be a problem, because there aren’t a lot of jobs that start at times like that, and the ones that do are third-shift jobs which are often more physically than mentally demanding. And while my mind is plenty willing to work at that time, my body generally isn’t. So it’s an interesting and annoying tightrope to walk, finding the place where both my mind and body can operate efficiently and get enough rest while still maintaining a life that allows me to be something other than a pasty vampire. And this is an issue that persists even without my depressive episodes being active; even when I’m not suffering through an episode of depression, which could be weeks or months long, my mind and body still function like this. It’s difficult to retrain your body to a more normal way of working when the body is willing, but the mind is not.

So just imagine that your situation was this – that instead of being exhausted when you go to sleep, you are exhausted when you wake up. And when you should be going to sleep, you are instead wide awake, and your mind is working at peak efficiency. But you still have to deal with a job that works regular hours, and may require relatively regular use of your mental acuity. What do you do, hotshot? What do you do?

That is part of what depression does to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Overlap of Gaming and Mental Health

This weekend, two of my biggest passions – gaming and mental health – collided rather violently. I’m still not sure what to think of it, and my bias (or counter-transference, to use a fancy social work-y term) may be obvious. I’m trying to be detached, so I may come off sounding cold, but it’s not intentional; I just felt the need to write about this, since it deals with two big areas of interest in my life.

So, a little background: there’s a roleplaying game company called Palladium Games, run by a man named Kevin Siembieda. It’s often a very polarizing company in the RPG community, as they have a tendency to promise games they don’t always deliver on (one book, Mechanoids Space, has been available for pre-order since 1994, with no evidence of it ever being any closer to done), or have fundraising campaigns for the company to essentially replace things like personal collectibles, and melodramatically naming them (this was the Crisis of Treachery, which occurred in April, 2006; see this link). There are some very loyal fans, and many former fans who have been, or felt, burned very badly by supporting this company.

In 2013, Palladium acquired the rights fora Robotech miniatures wargame, in collaboration with a company called Ninja Division; they began to raise money for this on the Kickstarter platform, and the Ninja Division involvement allayed a lot of those worried about Palladium’s involvement – it raised over $1.4 million, and was slated for delivery by the end of 2013. Almost immediately, though, the production was plagued by mistakes and delays, and it became clear that Palladium had basically total control, and Ninja Division – whose involvement had made many backers feel safe – was barely involved at all. It was pushed back six months, then a year, and then Palladium proposed that, to allow them to raise a little extra cash, that they be allowed to sell advance copies of the game – which, by all rights, should go to those who had backed the project – at the nation’s largest gaming convention, Gen Con. A survey was put up, and Mr. Siembieda noted that any backers not responding to the survey would automatically be assumed to be in support. This did not go over well, but it turned out customs delayed shipment anyway. Some product – the first wave, of at least two and possibly more – was eventually delivered later in 2014, but as of today – over three years past the original predicted delivery date – wave two has still not been delivered, with no estimates as to when it might appear. So, backers, many of whom paid hundreds of dollars for this product, hold a substantial amount of bitterness.

Enter freelancer Carmen Bellaire, who has done work for Palladium in the past, some of which was on the Robotech Tactics Kickstarter. He has formed his own company, Rogue Heroes, which he was planning to have produce a boardgame based on Palladium’s RIFTS property. He had, presumably, seen some of the bitterness about the Robotech Kickstarter on that project’s Comments page, but decided that he should try and advertise his proposed product there nonetheless (you can see his original post on the topic here as well as the posts that followed his). His post was aggressive and confrontational, and this encouraged similar aggression and confrontation from a community that already felt betrayed and bitter. Arguments fired back and forth for about a day, before Mr. Bellaire said he was done, that he was leaving. That was that, as far as the Robotech Kickstarter supporters were concerned, but clearly Mr. Bellaire took it harder than it appeared.

According to a project update from Mr. Siembieda on today (February 19th), Mr. Bellaire, not long after his leaving the Comments section, apologized to Mr. Siembieda, and then not long after that attempted to kill himself. We know this because the update (which can be found here) goes into this in some detail, and Mr. Siembieda, essentially, blames the backers for this project – not just the ones who argued, but all of them – for Mr. Bellaire’s crisis.And so we come to the collision of gaming and mental health. Many of those who commented on this update were – to put it politically – less than sympathetic to Mr.Bellaire’s plight, and some even appeared to take a sort of glee in it (you can see the comments if you scroll down past the update). Many are also contrite and wishing Mr. Bellaire the best and hoping for his recovery, and there is a lot of discussion here.

For me, I have little experience with Palladium; I played one of their games once, many years ago, didn’t really enjoy it, and have only known it since then by various online discussions. I have no stake in the Robotech Tactics Kickstarter, except in my knowledge of its poor handling. But I do have experience with suicide, having attempted it myself twice; and seeing it happen in such a public way, and in the gaming circle I spend a lot of time in, is new to me. I’ve spent much of the day today looking into this, because it’s something I don’t see happen in such a public forum – especially a gaming forum – and I’m torn on how to respond here.

For one, I read Mr. Bellaire’s original posts talking about his upcoming game on the Palladium message boards (you can see them here) and he’s significantly less confrontational. I don’t know what made him change his tone between the two areas, but in my experience reading the Comments sections of Kickstarters that are quite late or having large problems, the people there are often quite angry – justifiably – about having paid money for something that may never appear. Engaging with these angry customers seems to work best when you remain calm and non-confrontational; if Mr. Bellaire had gone to the Kickstarter Comments with the same degree of calmness he displayed on the Palladium messageboards… well, I don’t think he would have gotten a happy welcome, but it would have probably toned down the harsh reception he got.

But that seems like I’m blaming Mr. Bellaire for the inciting the commenters, and I’m not; I’m just curious as to why he decided to change the tone of his approach. As someone who has struggled with major depression for over 15 years, I know that the insults and aggression Mr. Bellaire received, while harsh and unpleasant, may have been weathered by a person not struggling with mental issues – but they would have likely been deep, biting, and felt intensely personally by Mr. Bellaire. Being confronted by people he assumed might be part of his main customer base verbally ripping him apart – which may have led him to assume that his business venture would be a horrible failure, affecting everyone in his life negatively – I can see how this would cause a depressed mind to turn to thoughts of suicide. And I feel for Mr. Bellaire, and I don’t wish any ill on him; I know that while it may seem selfish and terrible to outsiders, suicide makes perfect sense to the person contemplating it. A suicidal person would feel so terrible that they would likely assume their presence in the world is a net negative, and that their loss would actually be a gain.

I do question that Mr. Siembieda would make this so public, though. As someone who has attempted suicide, I know that it is an intensely personal problem, and while support from family and friends is always welcome, making it public often shines a spotlight on parts of our lives we don’t want others to see. Making this news public might indeed have the permanent effect on his work life that Mr. Bellaire feared, because now his mental issues are spread in a public forum, made available to thousands (at minimum). I say this knowing that mine are, as well, though I don’t get nearly that kind of traffic here, but my choosing to disclose my previous suicide attempts was just that – my choice. We have no knowledge if this disclosure was made at the behest of Mr. Bellaire, or if Mr. Siembieda simply felt the need to use it to excoriate his customers.

And this is why I think that many of the most vicious and harsh commenters are being so unpleasant in their comments on this topic – Mr. Siembieda, with his constant broken promises and questionable choices has exhausted all his credibility to most of his supporters. They have no way to know if this is real news, or if Mr. Siembieda has made it up simply to gain sympathy, and to be able to blame the Kickstarter backers. I don’t know, honestly; I am not inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, given what I have read over the years, but my knowledge is incomplete. So many people may feel comfortable in sounding terrible because they assume this is just a play for sympathy and not a real occurrence. Some, of course, probably feel comfortable being terrible because they feel anonymous. Some still feel angry because they have, essentially, been cheated, but realize that their anger should not be directed against Mr. Bellaire, especially now. And some have realized they are likely to never see the products they have paid for, but have come to peace with that, and feel sympathy and compassion for a person in need.

Personally, I hope that Mr. Bellaire makes a full recovery, and gets all the help he needs. I have survived suicide attempts before, and they are not easy to come back from. Reading the way this progressed – how it went from a somewhat aggressive initial post to internet arguments that apparently escalated, in his mind, to a cause worthy of suicide – has made it all too clear to me how badly anonymous arguments over the internet can very easily move otherwise rational people to irrational ends. While I wonder at Mr. Siembieda’s motives in making this news public, I do agree with at least part of what he has to say – words can kill, and in this case they very nearly did. Reading the reactions of the gaming community I consider myself a part of has made me simultaneously both proud and ashamed of the reactions I have seen. I’m still processing this, as well as some other news I have gotten in my own life recently.

Sometimes, when interests in your life collide, they do so with disastrous consequences.

 

Overthinking

Ah, overthinking, the bane of those with depression and anxiety disorders alike. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, overthinking has a specific meaning in this context; according to this article on PSYweb.com, “Overthinking is examining and reexamining negative emotions, thoughts, and memories. Both men and women can fall into a pattern of overthinking, although women tend to do it more often.” Basically, it’s going over and over the same thought, or series of thoughts, in your head until it starts to be all you can think about, and it can be really difficult to break out of.

I can relate right now, because I have about five different things in my head currently vying for Chief Overthinking Topic. The current frontrunner is one that has repeated frequently over the years, and basically revolves around my inability to have a successful romantic relationship; the two times I’ve seriously tried, I failed, and only one of those women will still speak to me, and then there’s the woman I had a huge crush on in (English) grad school, and my completely-out-of-my-league celebrity crush… there’s a lot of wondering if I do this to myself because I don’t feel I’m worthy or deserving of a relationship, or I just don’t appeal to women, and left unchecked, it can very easily keep me up at night wondering where I went wrong.

Along with that beauty of a thought process, we have “What am I doing with my life”, “Why do I feel haunted by the memory of the friend I lost”, Am I tormenting myself with emotional videos I find, or are I just re-learning how to feel after nearly two decades of emotional repression”, and other such hits. Yeah, looking at these, any one of them could easily tie up my entire brain for hours, if not days, and would almost certainly leave me feeling miserable, depressed, alone, and useless. Since I can really do without feeling like that, I have to find ways to distract myself from those thoughts until the bouncer in the nightclub that is my brain (yes, it’s a weird analogy, sue me) decides they’re disturbing the other customers and kicks them out – at least, until the next time they come around. So, how do I do that?

Well, doing this helps. I find that being able to get my thoughts out of my head and onto some other medium, even if it does sometimes come across as nonsensical or stream-of-consciousness, can help to clear out some of the really annoying stuff going on in my head. Knowing that other people might read this, and may even feel like commenting on it (seriously, I don’t bite… well, not unless I’m drinking, but I haven’t had a drink in going on 4 years) helps to focus my mind, and keep the nagging perils of the thoughts I tend to overthink at bay. Finding a good TV show or video game helps, too, especially if it’s one that really draws me in. This is, in part, why I may often seem a little obsessed with things like Captain America, Game of Thrones, or RPGs – because they can get my attention and keep it, and I can much more easily talk about, say, movie Captain America versus comic Captain America, or the relative merits of a Daenerys/Tyrion ruling duo, or even what kind of RPG I would love to run (or play) in. Well, with other people, anyway. These topics are much more relatable than the screaming morass of lunacy that my mental illness can throw off. Most people (well, excepting my therapist, I suppose) don’t want to hear me whining about my nonexistent love life, but they are more than willing to go toe-to-toe with me on geek topics. So I get distracted, they get (hopefully) decent conversation, everyone wins.

For those of you unfortunate enough to be my friend on Facebook, this is often the reason behind a fair amount of the seemingly random stuff I can end up posting, whether it is a YouTube video, or a TV quote, or an article on TV/comics/RPGs; I’m just trying to distract my mind long enough to get the really unpleasant stuff, the stuff that can spin around in my head for days, trapping everything else like Odysseus between Scylla and Charybdis, out of my head for a while. It will probably come back later, but until then my mind will be a little less chaotic. I always enjoy engaging people, so if you want to respond to whatever I’m Facebooking, blogging, or Instagramming about, I will happily chat with you about whatever you’re responding to. It might even be helpful. But The responsibility of dealing with my overthinking is mine, so don’t ever feel like you have to take part in my own guerrilla war against my thoughts.

And with that, I’m out (for now).