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).

Fire and Blood

Despite it being Suicide Awareness month, my story and experiences with suicide have been pretty well documented elsewhere on this blog. So instead I thought that today I would engage in some geekery.

For those of you who have been asleep for the past 6 years, Game of Thrones is A Thing. Based on the ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series of books by George Returns. R. Martin, the TV series on HBO is enormously popular. In fact, at the Emmy Awards this past Sunday, it became the new record-holder for number of awards for a fictional show. The acting is great, the action is brutal, and the story is pretty captivating. So it is no surprise that I’m hooked. What may be a surprise is the character who has become my favorite – Daenerys Targaryen.

Daenerys is played by British actress Emilia Clarke, and so some of the appeal to me is her attractiveness – Esquire did declare her the series that woman in the world in 2015, after all. But there’s more to it than that, a lot more, so bear with me as I geek out about my favorite character. Warning: there will be spoilers for those of you (heathens!) Who have not seen all 6 seasons.

Daenerys is introduced to the viewer as a beautiful girl (she starts the series at age 15), but one who is meek, afraid, and controlled by her older brother. She doesn’t seem like she will last long in the world of Game of Thrones. Sure enough, we find that she and her brother are the last heirs of the Targaryen family, former royalty of Westeros, and have been on the run from the forces of the usurper essentially their entire lives. Viserys, Daenerys’ older brother, is angry and wants to retake the crown he sees as his – and is going to sell his sister as a bride to a Dothraki  (think fantasy Mongol) warlord in exchange for an army. Despite her objections, the marriage happens, and she is raped on her wedding night by a husband she cannot communicate with. Not a good start.

But rather than be broken by her situation, Daenerys flourishes. She throws herself into learning the language and customs of her husband, and while learning to be the new khaleesi  (basically a queen), she grows to love her husband, as he grows to love her. She becomes loved by her new people, which angers her brother, who impatiently wants his promised army. He tries to abuse his sister like he used to, only she has grown, and is no longer willing to be abused. Viserys’ impatience leads to his death, and Daenerys acquires his advisor, an exiled Knight from Westeros, as her own. Sadly, mistakes are made, resulting in the loss of Daenerys’ husband. Unborn son, and most of her followers, but when she walks into her husband’s funeral pyre, already lit, and is found naked – but otherwise unharmed- the next day, with three newly hatched dragons, we begin to realize that Daenerys is special.

Daenerys goes on to make her fair share of mistakes – much of season 2, for her, is continually making mistakes, whether through lack of knowledge or arrogance. But given the chance, she learns from her mistakes – she doesn’t approach Astapor in season 3 with the same arrogance she came to Qarth with, for example, and her plan to get an army of Unsullied soldiers – while rather ruthless – is pretty smart. Season 3 is pretty successful, for her – she gains an army, conquers several cities, and is in pretty good shape to continue further. And when season 4 rolls around, and she is confronted with the fact that, despite her high-minded attempt to eliminate slavery around the eponymous Slavers’ Bay that the people she deposes will retake power once she moves on, she decides that rather than return to Westeros to try to take the Iron Throne, she will instead work to fix her mistakes and ensure that the cities she conquers remain slavery-free. This takes her until the end of season 6, because even with an army and dragons, beating entrenched oppression is hard, but she does it.

Part of her strength is that she realizes there’s still a lot for her to learn, and so she listens to the people she surrounds herself with – and many of them are very good at what they do, though some are more trustworthy than others. It’s when she departs from this – when she decides that she knows best, like in Qarth in season 2, or Meereen in season 5 (after ejecting Jorah Mormont) – that she has the most trouble. But by the end of season 6, she has surrounded herself with brilliant advisors – the former spymaster of Westeros, Varys; the commander of her Unsullied army, Gray Worm; her talented translator, Missandei; and my second-favorite character, and brilliant mind in his own right, Tyrion Lannister. Alongside the enormous army she has gathered, this dream team is pretty well poised to conquer Westeros, by fire and blood. Oh, and she has three very large dragons.

There are a fair amount of nude scenes for Daenerys, to be sure, but I actually find most of them to be either uncomfortable or rather non-sexual. Every nude scene in season 1, for example, makes me feel kind of sick to my stomach, especially since I know that Emilia Clarke had rather strong reactions to doing those scenes. There are one or two more in seasons 2 and 3, but there’s nothing spectacular about them, it just seems like HBO was using nudity because it could. And her only nude scene since season 3 occurs in episode 4 of season 6, and it is far from sexual – it’s all about power. She burns an entire building full of Dothraki khals alive, with herself inside it, but she’s fireproof – so when she walks out, standing tall, naked but otherwise unharmed, the only survivor, the other Dothraki all bend the knee to her. She conquers them without ever lifting a sword or raising an army. In that scene, her nudity isn’t about being attractive, it’s about being threatening, and it works.

To me, she’s kind of an inspirational character. She’s not a (fictional) role model, like Captain America, but she has had to overcome a lot to get to where she ends season 6 – an abusive older brother; a not-terribly-nice husband, part of a not-terribly-friendly culture; moss of both a husband and a child; near-starvation; imprisonment (multiple times); and frequently, people questioning whether or not she can do what she sets out to do because she’s a girl. Granted, she does start the series at age 15, but she has done far more in 5 years than I have, at least on a purely physical level – from being a scared, abused, meek beggar princess to a queen surrounded by some of the finest minds we’ve seen, backed by an army at least 50,000 strong. She is the conqueror of the Bay of Dragons, the Mother of Dragons, Mhysa, khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea. She can be impulsive, and there are hints that she might have inherited some of the hereditary Targaryen mental instability, but she’s a fine example of a character who rises from an enormous disadvantage to a great position of power, and doesn’t have to sell her soul to do it.

Daenerys is strong; she took a situation that would have broken many people, and used it as an opportunity to become a ruler. She’s smart, and she is willing to listen to those around her – mostly – if they have ideas she hasn’t thought of. She can be ruthless; witness her treatment of the Dothraki khals or her dragon-riding exploits in season 6. But she can also be compassionate and charismatic – Yunkai citizens name her ‘Mhysa’ for a reason, after all. Despite never having picked up a weapon, she is poised, at the end of season 6, to attain her goal since the beginning, retaking the Iron Throne, and her chief competition – Cersei Lannister – has no idea how outgunned she is. Alongside characters like Arya and Sansa Stark, Cersei Lannister, and Olenna Tyrell, Daenerys has helped to make most of the show controlled by women, and I can’t see that as a bad thing. I look forward to the epic awesomeness to come in season 7 – though waiting until June is going to be hard.

Me Before You

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. Much of that has been being busy with school, and my new internship, but sometimes I just don’t particularly feel like giving others a look inside my head is a particularly smart thing to do. But right now I can’t sleep, and it’s partially because of the title, so let’s get to it, shall we?

I read the book, Me Before You, months ago – largely because I knew it was being made into a movie with an actress I really like (Emilia Clarke, who plays Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones). And I’ll be honest, it kind of messed me up. The general story of the book (and movie) is this – a handsome, intelligent, wealthy young man, Will Traynor, is in a terrible accident that leaves him almost totally paralyzed, but for his head and a finger and thumb. Unsurprisingly, he spirals into a deep depression, since his life falls apart. Enter Louisa Clark – a down-on-her-luck young woman who has recently lost her job, and sees the pay of being Will’s caretaker as a godsend for her and her family. She is bubbly (and a little bumbling), and he is generally a terrible ass, and then it comes out – he has tried to kill himself once since his accident, and is planning to do so, medically, in six months. Unbeknownst to Louisa, she has been hired, essentially, to try to convince him not to kill himself, and she very nearly quits when she finds out. But she starts to warm to Will, and he to her, and their six months together culminate in a Hail Mary of a shot – a beautiful vacation where Louisa finally, passionately, declares that over their time together she has fallen in love with Will, and she knows about his plans, but she wants him to live and be with her.

Will, sadly, never had any intention of being talked out of his plans. He knew Louisa was falling for him, and he for her, but he just can’t stand living like he is – a shadow of the man he used to be – and tells her that it just isn’t enough. Then he asks her if she’ll come and be with him while he dies. Which goes over about as well as you’d expect. Eventually the two do come together, and he does go through with his plans, and the book ends with her following some post-mortem advice from Will on how to try to move on. The book is far more nuanced than the movie, including several sub-plots the movie jettisons for time constraints, but Emilia Clarke is a perfect casting choice, but both the movie and book hit me right where it hurts, because I can see both sides of their doomed relationship.

Like I’ve talked about many times, I’ve been suicidal before; like Will, I planed my last attempt for months, though mine wasn’t essentially euthanasia. If you watch the movie or read the book and you can’t understand why Will, even when a beautiful, lively, fun woman is practically throwing herself at him, still decides to die, then you’ve probably never been depressed enough to try to kill yourself. The hopelessness, the emptiness, is so profound that it’s difficult to explain; there’s really nothing else in life I can compare it to. It does strange things to your mind, like convincing you that the rest of the world, and especially your loved ones, will be better off when you’re gone. So I can understand why he’d want to die; I don’t think it’s necessarily to do with his disability (the book has an extensive subplot where Louisa talks to other people with similar quadriplegic issues, and many of them are leading long, productive lives), but rather the depression that has come from no longer being able to be the person he sees himself as. In fact, if I, during my last period of serious depression, right before I tried to kill myself a second time, had been in the same situation as Will – with a woman like Louisa telling me she loved me, and begging me to at least try to live for her – God help me, I think I still would have tried to kill myself. So I understand where it comes from.

And, like Louisa, I’ve been on the receiving end of being told that my love was just not enough, and that’s a kind of pain they just don’t make a bandage for. It’s like having your heart ripped out and torn to pieces in front of your eyes, and there’s no salve for that, no magic pill or cure – just the slowly-fading ache of having been told that your love wasn’t enough for someone else, someone you trusted with one of the most vulnerable parts of you only to have them demolish it. I imagine the pain of this kind of rejection is something a lot more people, sadly, are familiar with, and the pain is no less real for being emotional – there’s just no blood to see, no wound to heal. I’ve lost a good friend to suicide, though not in a situation like Will’s, and the pain of that leaves scars on the heart that don’t heal easily or well. And I can only imagine the extra pain that comes when someone who has just rejected you then asks you to be with them when they die – not of some natural cause, but because they just can’t stand life anymore. I don’t know that I would have had the strength, the ability to forgive, or the willingness to help someone I loved die that Louisa shows, even knowing how badly it will likely mess her up.

I think both the book and the movie are worth seeing/reading, and the sequel to the book, cunningly titled After You, continues with Louisa’s efforts to recover from her time with Will. It’s also good, if hard to read, and I think that it’s largely because it’s marketed as romance (both the movie and book). While there is a romantic element to the story, I think it’s much more of a tragedy, because there are times when love can’t conquer all – when something like depression takes over and beats love bloody. It’s not a happy story, but it is one that I don’t think I’ll be able to forget anytime soon. And now that I’ve written this, maybe it will let me sleep.

Hero

If you really want to understand some of what drives me as a person, then this may be helpful – I really, desperately want to be a hero.

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The first time I can recall wanting to be a hero is when I was 8, or maybe 9 years old. I was writing an assignment for school – I forget what the assignment was, but I think it was something about our futures and where we saw ourselves. What I remember writing was an obituary, one that said I’d died protecting my wife and children from a criminal of some sort. That was what I wanted my legacy to be when I was 8 – that I’d given my life to protect the ones I love. I don’t know that I ever shared it with my parents, and I don’t know that they’d remember it even if I had – it was almost 30 years ago, after all. But that’s the first time I can recall wanting to be a hero.

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As time went on, my views of being a hero changed. When I was in my early teens, reading a lot of fantasy novels, and just beginning to play D&D, I wanted to be like the character I saw as my idol, a character in the original Dragonlance trilogy called Sturm Brightblade. Sturm was a knight – well, really, more like a squire, in an ancient knightly order, and also a part of a group of adventurers. Despite the Knights of Solamnia – the order he belonged to – being highly politicized and somewhat corrupt, he lived by the ancient principles of the order (a code by which, as a squire, he was not bound), and held himself to a high standard. In the second book ff the series, he gave his life to protect his friends, and to help them defeat a great enemy, and he is revered as a great hero by his order long afterwards. Sturm informed a lot of my early views of being a hero, including some of my interest in medieval history, literature, and, well, costuming.

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My views on heroes changed as I got older; I got to know characters like David Gemmell’s Druss, Beowulf, Elizabeth Moon’s Paksenarrion, and comic characters like Superman, Captain America, and Cyclops. I kept playing RPGs, because it was the closest I would ever get to being able to do something like fight a dragon, or make a heroic sacrifice to save my friends, and to this day I still play them – and, in fact, in games where I have a choice between playing a good character or an evil one, I’ll almost always choose good – I’ve tried being a Dark Side Jedi in the Knights of the Old Republic computer game, and I felt guilty using force lightning on even fictional people.

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In fact, if you ever look around my apartment, there are reminders of my heroic fantasies all over the place – from the Captain America shield hanging on the wall, to the artwork of a man being knighted, to the replica medieval helmet sitting next to my bed; the shelves full of RPGs and fantasy novels, and the collection of Captain America memorabilia scattered all over the place. I even incorporate it into my workout regimen, as I noted in my previous post – I use a sword I originally bought for a swordfighting class at St. Louis University for some of my exercises, and the exercise routine I’m currently going through is called the Hero’s Journey – and I push myself harder than I otherwise would when, instead of just giving me a number of exercise sets to do, it tells me that doing them, even in-fiction, means I fight off a dragon, or save people from a burning village. Part of the reason I push myself as hard as I do is because I’d rather look more like Captain America when in costume than the guy who ate Captain America.

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But at 36, as much as I’d really love to fight a dragon, or even just hold the door (and you Game of Thrones people know what I mean), I know that I’m never likely to do that. We don’t live in that kind of world. I’m going into social work because I want to be able to help people who have suffered from mental illness, and be an example to prove that even in the darkest moments, people aren’t alone. Even though I know I could not have stopped my friend Alice from dying, her death haunts me, and I know that I may have already done the most heroic thing I’ll ever do in helping another friend keep from committing suicide herself. My weapons won’t be a shield and sword, but knowledge and empathy (well, unless something really weird happens, in which case I’m prepared).

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But that childhood urge to want to be a hero is still a part of what drives me. I tear up (and yeah, sometimes even cry) when I see heroic sacrifices on-screen; I’m not ashamed to say that recently I’ve shed a tear or two for Hodor and John Reese, who went out protecting the people they cared the most about. I’ll keep collecting Captain America memorabilia – and probably dressing up as Cap for conventions and Halloween, too. I don’t think I’ll ever get to fight a dragon, but I think that the desire to be a hero helps to push me to be better, go further, do more. And maybe someday, there will be people who look back and think that I was a part of what saved their lives. I think that’s a legacy I can live with.