Kind of a Mess

That about describes me right now, because for whatever reason, today I just feel like a big old collection of sadness, anger, frustration, and fear. It’s really due to a number of things – any one of which would probably be relatively easy to handle on its own, but when they all seen to hit me at about the same time, it makes for a somewhat unpleasant evening.

First, I have a relationship with a friend not only not going in the direction I hoped it would go, but apparently actively going the opposite direction. Then I find out that the CEO of the company I worked for got more as a bonus to his salary this year than I would in 150 years of working 32-hour weeks, every week – and this is for a company that is, on the whole, losing money. Then I make the mistake of reading a discussion where people I would normally respect seem to keep taking up the position of defending a man who essentially lured two teens into breaking into his home, and then, while they were unarmed, drew them into his basement where he gloated and then shot them, multiple times, killing both, before hiding the whole thing. And now it also seems that the one job I was really interested in getting not only has strings they don’t mention in the application for training, but that the possibility of even getting the training is far more competitive than I had been led to believe, and I’m at a disadvantage.

The confluence of those events, which seems to have all kind of hit me today, has me feeling a number of unpleasant things all at once, and I’m still trying to work out how to deal with them. I know that even writing this out will probably have some people very worried that I will be headed for a relapse, regardless of what I say. I’m not depressed, and I don’t believe it will get to that point, but I am feeling a number of unpleasant things all at once, and I am trying to figure out how to best deal with what I am feeling. Since this is a blog about mental health, and my own mental status, I figured it was probably important to write something about it here, even if it did cause trouble – just the fact that I am willing to do that, even knowing it will probably be messy, is a good sign, I think.

I’m not really sure what to do with all of this, but I imagine that I will find a way, or several ways, to try to work through some or all of it in the next day or so. It’s just a bunch of things to deal with, each of which I would have preferred to deal with separately.

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Massive Effect

I don’t often write posts here about my gaming, either tabletop or video. Largely, it’s because this isn’t a gaming blog, so it only comes up in whatever way it might affect my mental health. But gaming has been a large part of my life, and one thing in particular has been on my mind a lot lately – a trilogy of video games by a company called Bioware – the Mass Effect series. 

It first started in 2007, with the first Mass Effect game. It was originally published by Microsoft, but EA Games picked up the second and third. It was a third-person shooter /role-playing game, combined in what is called an action RPG. I mention it here because I was drawn into the game immediately, even though I tend to be terrible at shooter-type games. The characters really brought me into the story, which was of a human soldier called Commander Shepard trying to save the galaxy from a special galactic agent acting on behalf of a terrible inorganic intelligence called a Reaper. The characters – the naive archaeologist, the curious young engineer, the jaded alien mercenary, the rogue cop, the biased soldier, the unstable psychic – were all interesting, and they made me care about them – enough to try to keep as many of them alive as I could. I cheered when, at the end, we took out the renegade operative, killed the Reaper, and saved the galaxy.

The second game came out in 2010, and it changed a lot of things. Shepard was nearly killed, and recruited by a secret organization to ostensibly help save the galaxy. Many of the characters from the first game were in the second, as well, though only two remained as members of your crew. Instead, you gathered a new crew of characters for, eventually, what was termed a suicide mission to prevent a servitor race of the Reapers – revealed to be a lurking threat, one that cleared the galaxy of all sentient life every 50,000 years or so – from preparing a way for the Reapers to return. The young engineer was more experienced this time, and the rogue cop was now a Batman-like vigilante, and was joined by a somewhat psychotic psychic, an alien super-soldier, a genetically perfect secret agent, a conflicted former soldier, a feared assassin, a robotic infiltrator, the haunted scientist who had unleashed a plague, and an alien Justicar. You travel the galaxy finding ways to fight the bad guys – the Collectors – despite old allies being wary of your new affiliations. Eventually, you stage a suicide mission against their base – a mission in which it is possible for your entire crew to die, or for you to save them all. I put dozens of extra hours of play time in so that I could keep them all alive, because even the scary characters grew to mean something to me. My dog was startled when I jumped up and whooped in victory when I finally won, with no casualties.

Finally, the third game came. The Reapers assaulted the galaxy in force – hitting Earth first, and unsuspecting. Shepard had to flee to gather reinforcements as humanity was assaulted by terrors from beyond known space, terrors who were almost impossible to kill. Once again, you collected your crew – the morally unstable AI, the formerly naive archaeologist turned information broker, the engineer who was now a leader of her people, the vigilante-turned-general, the awakened last survivor of the Reaper’s last attack, and the idealistic soldier. Along the way, you meet former crew members – the mercenary who now rules his people, the scientist trying to correct his mistakes, the crazed psychic now rehabilitated and training others, the dying assassin, and the robot infiltrator turned martyr for his own people. You can play things a few ways, but the way I played, I had to watch three of my former crew sacrifice themselves to help me – and each time it was a gut punch. I actually cried as I watched each of them die – the assassin to save Shepard’s life, the scientist to correct his greatest mistake, and the robot to grant his people true individuality. Their sacrifice helped me to unite the galaxy against the Reapers, and make a final attack on Earth to save everyone.

Like many fans of Mass Effect, I was disappointed by the ending to 3, because it removed all narrative control, but up until then, I could not have been more drawn into the story and invested in the characters unless they had been real people. The video games, and my interest in the series, have inspired me to create conversions for a couple of tabletop RPG systems, because I thought the setting was just that compelling. I have the soundtracks for Mass Effect 2 and 3 cued up on my iPhone. It’s been on my mind a lot lately, though I don’t know why – maybe because there’s another Bioware game coming up soon, and their games always have compelling characters. Or maybe because their games were able to make me react emotionally in ways almost nothing else could. 

In any case, I just thought that today, I would write about that. I still have all three Mass Effect games here, just waiting to be replayed – maybe by me, maybe by someone else. The characters were almost like friends, and I kinda want to see them again.

 

Friends & Family

I know a lot of what I write in this blog is about me – largely because, well, I only spend time inside my own head, so I find it hard to speak for others. I do know, however, that it is not just people who have mental illness who suffer – their friends and families often do, as well. While our heads may be going haywire and things aren’t working correctly, our loved ones often have even less idea what is going on with us. We act erratically, we do stupid or dangerous things, and we stop making sense. 

I haven’t been in that place, really, but I have some idea what it can be like to be outside looking in, helpless to really do much besides provide support. A lot of my friends have their own mental issues, and as familiar with them as I might be, I can’t truly know what is going on in their heads. So when they start to act strange, or do things that scare me, often there isn’t much I can do besides offer my support and see if there is anything they think I can do for them. I have a slight advantage given that I suffer from a mental illness myself, so I have some idea of the wackiness that must be occurring, but that isn’t a lot of comfort.

I wonder if there isn’t more I can do. Not necessarily for the people who are stuck with their mental issues – though I also want to help them – but maybe to help the friends and family who are stuck on the outside. I know that feeling of fear when a friend is talking about committing suicide; I know how terrible it feels when someone you love feels that they are worthless and unlovable. So I wonder if there is some way – maybe something I could write, since that is one of my strengths – to help get family and friends into a headspace where they can, if not understand what is going through their loved one’s head, then at least accept it and work with them to try to help. I’m not really sure what I can do – my mother has suggested maybe writing a pamphlet, something short and relatively succinct. That might be a way to work. I don’t know that my often snarky tone will always be appropriate, but maybe I could do something to assuage some fears and help everyone on both sides. 

I’m not really sure, though. Does anyone have any suggestions? Any resources they feel might be helpful for something like this? I am open to suggestions, because I don’t really know where to go with this. But I’m willing to find out.

Brain Power

So I picked up a book on sale at Barnes & Noble, called The Female Brain. It’s written by Dr. Louann Brizendine, who is the founder of the Women’s and Teen Girl’s Mood and Hormone Clinic. I picked it up because it was on sale, and because, well, I know a lot of women, and there are certainly times when I don’t have any idea what is going through their heads or what is driving them. So it was an interesting read.

Now, being an English major, I don’t know a lot about the brain and its workings. And being a guy, I really only know things from my own gendered perspective. But the discussion of how differently our gender’s brains are wired was pretty shocking to me. I never would have figured that, basically from birth, women are several times more likely to notice tiny changes in facial expression or tone of voice. Men are pretty much in the dark here, and there are times when it seems like women are mind readers – when in fact they’re just reading things that most men can’t see and have never even realized they were missing.

Women are also wired for community in ways that men are not. While men tend to be focused more on independence and power games, women tend to be much more wired to work towards creating and maintaining social networks. Now, this is obviously a generalization, but, as the author notes when she asked a group of mixed-gender teens, when the boys asked the girls why they tended to go to the bathroom in groups, the girls replied it was because they felt it was the only private place in school they could get together to talk. Now, as a guy, the thought of asking other guys to join me in a school restroom to talk freaks me out – the only time groups of teen boys get together in high school bathrooms is to beat other guys up.

And the way oxytocin – which is a chemical in the brain that helps to create bonding in relationships – flows through a female brain is way different than in men. For women, general touching, long, lingering looks, and kissing cause releases of oxytocin – as does, as the author notes, a 20-second hug. She actually writes “So don’t let a guy hug you unless you plan to trust him.” A similar thing happens with babies, actually – babies give off a scent that causes oxytocin to release in a new mother’s brain, to help with bonding. Oddly, for other women who are not the mother, that same scent can cause something the author calls ‘baby lust’, a sort of obsession with babies that can last for a few months.

This obviously isn’t an exhaustive review of the book, because that would take a long time, and if you’re interested in reading the book then you should have something to look forward to. It covers the development of the female brain from birth until old age, and does so relatively simply. I don’t know that I would say it is invaluable knowledge, but it certainly helps to explain some things, and I found it interesting enough to tear through it in a day. The author has apparently written another book on the male brain, and I’m kind of interested what that has to say – though, being a guy, I imagine that I’ve experienced most of it already.

The Guide to Me

Most of my readers probably won’t find any use in this, but this is something that has been bouncing around in my head for a while, and so it kind of needs to get out. Maybe someone I know will find it useful, or it will just be useful to have it out of my head where I can see it. Basically, it is what it says in the subject line – a guide to (what I see as) the important parts of my personality.

1. I’m a geek, and proud of it. I like Star Wars, and Star Trek; I can quote the Jedi and Sith Codes. I love to read comics (Marvel over DC any day of the week). I have been to see every Marvel movie thus far in theaters, and I hope to continue to do so. I grew up reading D&D novels, be they Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, or Dark Sun. Many of my favorite books are science fiction and fantasy, and if prompted I could spend the better part of the day talking about them. I own the Extended Editions of all three Lord of the Rings movies, and the first Hobbit – and several editions of the books, as well. I love tabletop roleplaying games, video games, and going to Renaissance Faires – I even have a sword hanging on my wall.

2. Consequently, I can be, well, a bit of a nerd. I don’t bust my geekery out a lot, because I know many of my friends don’t share it, and it can get kind of annoying to have (or be) the guy going on and on about his favorite comic book characters and who would win in a fight (hint: it’s always Squirrel Girl). I went to see the second Thor movie and the second Hobbit movie alone, because I didn’t want to drag other people who might not enjoy them. I was terribly grateful to Calla for not only going to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier with me last weekend, but coming over to watch the first one, as well.

3. I’m kind of an academic. I’ve had critical thinking kind of beaten into me over the last 8-10 years, and so it is the way my mind works. I like to read books on literary criticism, or articles on medieval literature (particularly works like Beowulf). Lately, I read a lot of mental health books, trying to wrap my head around the way that other people’s minds work so that I can see where they might be coming from.

4. I spend a lot of time stuck in my head. This might be related to the academic point, but I spend a great deal of time thinking about what I’m going to say. if I feel I don’t have anything worthwhile to add, or that anything I add will just be seen as offensive, I don’t say anything. Sometimes, I overthink things, and don’t talk about my thoughts or feelings when I should because of this. Its a habit I am trying to break.

5. I am extremely loyal to my friends. It tends to take me a while to warm up to people, and it can be hard to get to know me, but once I consider you to be a friend, there is very little I won’t do for you. It tends to apply even to friends I haven’t seen or heard from in a while – if a friend from Menninger who I haven’t heard from since leaving asked me for help, I’d do what I could to assist. I trust my friends implicitly, though I don’t ask for or require the same in return; I know a lot of people don’t tend to trust to the same degree that I do.

6. I’m hard to get to know. Because I tend to be rather terse, and I tend to hold a lot of my thoughts and feelings inside around people I haven’t yet gotten to know, I can seem aloof, arrogant, or out-of-touch. Generally, I’m not any of those things, but I have a tough time getting to know people in most situations. It was a big surprise to me that I ended up making so many friends in Menninger, and that I have managed to stay close to so many of them outside.

7. I’m an introvert – which you may have guess from the last few things. I tend to keep to myself in social settings when I don’t know everyone, and my conversations can be awkward, because I can run out of things to say easily. I would imagine most people who have met me can agree about this, at least initially; without knowing people, I have a tough time interacting. Also, being too social with people I don’ know well tends to tire me out pretty quickly, so I need some time to myself after things like that. Living alone is thus both a blessing and a curse, because it means I don’t see people as often as I would if I had a roommate, but I also get time to recharge.

8. I’m pretty liberal, politically speaking, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I will always hold a strong liberal stance on everything. I realize that a lot of far-left positions are pretty crazy, much like the far-right stuff, but I think there needs to be more thought and conversation (and even compromise) put into modern US politics, and less bloviating, invective, and general hate between the Democrats and Republicans.

9. I’m an atheist (though I’m leaning towards agnostic, or maybe something else). This doesn’t mean I am anti-religion, though. I grew up Catholic, and at some point during my undergrad years I didn’t feel like I had faith in a greater power anymore, and haven’t much since (though a bit recently). But I understand religion, and I don’t think other people should give theirs up because I lost my faith. I’m not going to rail against religion unless it is something I see as blatantly stupid or crazy, and even that tends to be more religion getting into politics – or you try to tell me that because I don’t believe in a deity, that I can’t have morals. them’s fightin’ words.

10. As you might have noticed from my post about Captain America, and some older posts about my moral sense, I have a pretty strong sense of what is right and wrong, and I get a lot of those from strange sources – D&D has been a big contributor in that regard, as well as chivalric medieval fiction. Now, I don’t always live up to my own standards, but I do try to, and I have trouble even playing bad guys – I can’t even play a Dark Side character in a Star Wars video game.

11. There are certain things which can evoke strong emotions from me. Some of them are obvious – losing a dear family member, friend, or pet; saying goodbye to someone I won’t see again for a long time; the end of a relationship. Others, however, can be kind of odd. There are certain portions of several books that cause me to tear up when I read them, and for whatever reason, musicals (Les Miserables, for example) can bring me to tears, as well. Pictures don’t really seem to do it, but I could be proven wrong. It’s hard for me to admit that, because I spent so long trying to avoid crying in front of other people that I just held it in until I could fall apart alone, but I’m getting more used to expressing that.

12. I am a happy omnivore. I like eating meat products. Hell, I like to eat a lot of things that are bad for me. I’ve never tried being vegetarian or vegan, and I don’t plan to – with the amount of vegetables and fruits I like,my diet would get boring really fast. I do like cooking, though, which is something I never thought I would say a year ago. It’s a fun exercise, and it is really good for helping to keep myself in the moment – plus it means I can cook all sorts of fun stuff. And I haven’t given myself food poisoning yet!

13. I communicate much more clearly through the written word than the spoken. Now, given that I write a blog, this is probably a good thing; if I did a podcast, it would be full of awkward silence and ‘um, uh…’. This can be a bit difficult when trying to communicate difficult or emotional (or both) topics. Telling people who are important to me how I feel is really, really hard for me in person, but I know that in text it seems impersonal, so it’s another thing I am working on. There’s at least one person who could judge how well that work is going, but it’s up to her to tell me that.

14. I tend to be pretty easygoing with most things. If a friend wants to do something I’ve never done before, I’m up for it. If I get asked to do something I’ve never done before at work,. all I need to know is what to do differently and I’ll do it. I’ll watch romance, action, comedy, or documentary,, and I am open to new things.

15. Connected to the loyalty to friends above, I also can get attached to other people, and that can become awkward. Like I blogged a few days ago, I can be really insecure with people I am close to, and the closer, the more insecure. This can make for some very awkward relationships, because I can get a bit clingy if I feel like I’m drifting away. I am trying to work on that, though. Man, I seem to be working on a lot of things.

16. I’m a smartass. I am constantly trying to avoid saying something too offensive, because I almost always have a smartass remark or response to things. It’s amusing, but can also be annoying. I’m not working on it, though, because I kind of enjoy it.

Well, that’s what I have right now. I may have more to add later. Or others might have things of their own to add, because as was pointed out to me at both Menninger and the stepdown, we don’t see ourselves the same way others do

Attached

I’ve noticed that some of my relationships can be a bit strange. I seem to get attached to certain people in my life – mostly friends, or possible romantic interests. And the closer I feel to them, the more I wish I was in contact with them. This doesn’t necessarily apply across the board, of course – friends who are far away, or who I know have busy schedules, I know I will hear from less frequently, and I accept that. It’s part of growing up; we can’t always stay in close contact with the people in our lives. But people who are closer, I want to hear from more often. And the longer we go without talking, in some fashion, the more nervous I feel.

By nervous, I mean that whole “What if they don’t like me anymore?” kind of high school vibe. Which, I grant you, can be a little clingy. But I have had to leave a lot of people behind in my life, and so I am very worried that I will lose other people – especially people I’m close to. This tends to be even more noticeable when I miss a day of medication – specifically my antidepressants, because thyroid medication doesn’t affect that one way or the other. The medication tones the nervousness down, but doesn’t make it go away – it’s just kind of like turning down an annoying noise to a tolerable level.

It’s kind of frustrating, because I know, logically, that my friends who aren’t in contact with me have their reasons; some of them are very busy right now, or at other times, and I know that this desire of mine to be in more constant contact is tough to deal with for them – and sometimes annoying. But I get scared when I don’t hear from the people I care about, especially when we have previously had a very close relationship and now things seem to have drifted apart. Trying to get the emotional and logical sides of my brain to agree on issues like this is weird. But it’s kind of attached to me, much like I feel attached to some people.

Apologies

I have to apologize for my lack of posting lately; work has been keeping me pretty busy, and while there has been a lot on my mind, much of it isn’t stuff that I would be comfortable posting here – mostly to protect the privacy of other people. I’ll try to come up with a more substantive post tonight after work, but I might not be able to. Definitely tomorrow, though.