Keep On Keepin’ On

So it’s been a while since my last post, but I have good reason. The last week or so has been pretty busy for me; last Tuesday was my third session with my Dungeon World group, and last Monday was the character creation session session for a 4th Edition D&D game that should be starting up soon – I’m not running it, thankfully. Just yesterday was the fourth session of my Dungeon World game, and it went very well – much better than session 3. I think the group works together pretty well, and it’s fun to do, even if it is exercising new narrative muscles in my brain.

I met up with Calla on Sunday to see a movie, and again on Tuesday – we met with some friends at a place called The Mad Potter and painted some pottery, which was fun and a cool new experience. I’m still not entirely sure where things are with her; last year around this time she was essentially placing her life in my hands, and now it seems like – well, I don’t know what it seems like. I know there’s not a relationship in the cards, but it feels like she’s even distancing herself as my friend. It sounds like she’s trying to take on a lot by herself, and I wish she would ask for support if she needed it – but I know how hard it can be to ask other people for help. I spent a long time trying to handle everything in my life alone, because I didn’t feel like anyone else could understand what I was going through – and that didn’t work out so well for me. It took 2 suicide attempts and a trip to Menninger Clinic, as well as four months in a step-down program, to hammer that into my head. My head, as you might surmise, is pretty hard. So I hope my friends don’t do the same thing and try to take on everything alone, when those close to them are willing to help.

Today I was at a workshop with NAMI on learning how to effectively tell my story, to communicate it in ways that would be helpful for advocacy. It’s just another thing to do to work towards getting into the social work field, on the side of mental health. It is so frustrating to me that so many people don’t understand even the smallest things about mental illness, and so I want to do what I can to change that. This blog is a piece of that, certainly, but I want to do more; I want to try to help people the way Menninger and the step-down helped me. I don’t know exactly what I’ll be able to do, but I want to do something; it’s hard for me to see my friends in distress and not want to do more to help. I know I’m not their therapist, and I don’t want to be, but if I can help make any part of their lives easier – and then do the same for other people, while I’m at it.

In a couple weeks I’m going to head back to St. Louis to help my parents figure out what they’re going to keep and give away, sell, or leave behind, and soon after that, I should be an uncle. The next month or so is going to be pretty interesting – and that doesn’t even get inot holiday season in retail. So we’ll see how active I can be here.

Recent Reading

It’s been a few days since my last entry, but that seems to be becoming the norm – for the most part, my mental health status is relatively stable these days, and I haven’t really gotten anywhere with CPS training yet. I am still working with NAMI, though, and I am attending their SMARTS for Advocacy training in about ten days; it’s to help with advocacy for mental health treatment in the world in general, focusing on being able to tell your story clearly and coherently and get your message across to people in positions of power – like legislators – through meetings and letters or calls. It sounds like something worthwhile to do, so that’s where I’ll be spending a day.

Like I’ve said before, since I now work in an area of my job where I can listen to music, audiobooks, or podcasts while I work, I get the chance to do a lot of ‘reading’. Recently, one of the better books I’ve gone through is called Extra Lives: Why Video Game Matter, by Tom Bissell. Bissell is a writer who has written on a number of scholarly topics, but in his spare time is also, it seems, a video game fanatic. This book goes through nine games from recent years, from Grand Theft Auto to Far Cry 2 to Mass Effect, and makes a case that while they may not necessarily be art (though they are certainly getting there), they are amazing achievements, and fun ways to spend time. I think I’d recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t play video games, but knows someone who does, and wonders why; it can be a little academic at times, and Bissell is often dismissive of games as an art form even though he is an avid fan, but it goes a long way towards explaining the reasons why gamers find video games so entrancing – they are far, far from the Pong and Asteroids of the early days.

It’s not like Jane McGonigal, by any means – this book does not talk about the traits of games that mean gamers are often learning while they play – about social interaction, teamwork, puzzle-solving, math, and other things – and how they can be used to help make society, in many aspects, better. Mostly, it just talks about why video games are so attractive to gamers, and how they have evolved over the last couple decades into the enormous works – of art, or just design – that they are today. Bissell does use some rough language, and does occasionally talk about his own past addictions – mainly cocaine – in relation to video games, but they do serve the point he is trying to make, even if it can get a little ugly.

Aside from that, I’ve also been listening to recordings (now podcasts) from the last several years on mental illness. The NAMI chapter of Athens, Ohio apparently does a monthly or bi-monthly radio show talking about mental illness topics, appropriately called Conversations about Mental Illness. Each show is only a half-hour long, but they interview a lot of people – either authors, or doctors, or people with mental illness who are living proof that you can overcome it and live a reasonably regular life. A lot of the information is old hat to me, having been through a lot of treatment over the years, but it is still nice to hear that people are trying to be so active in their advocacy for those suffering from mental illness, and the stigma of having it that exists even today.

I’m tempted to do something like a YouTube video talking about my own story, but I’m not sure how to go about it. I don’t really want to sound scripted, but I also don’t want to spend a lot of time just trying to fill air while I process my own thoughts. I’m also a little worried about what kind of reception it would get – would it get back to my employers? Would I have to severely restrict comments in order to avoid the torrent of comments about how terrible a person I am that inevitably comes with such things on the internet? I’m not sure, so if someone has any tips on how to make such a video, let me know.

Summer Daze

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacob Greyfang

The World of Dungeons

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

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

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

Epiphantastic

So, while this isn’t an entry about further reading into The Gifts of Imperfection – largely because I haven’t had a great deal of time to read or to dwell on the book any further – it is an entry on what I’ve been thinking about recently.

Some of it is about behavior. I’ve been reflecting on my past, thinking about ways in which I acted. For a number of years, I behaved in a manner many would call robotic. I thought about things logically, dispassionately, and I assumed that because I was that way that I was somehow different than the rest of the world. I had friends, but I didn’t feel the need for their assistance; I was…  I don’t really know how to put it. Self-sustaining, maybe? I thought that because of the ways I was, the way I thought, that I was able to handle everything that was a problem in my life alone, and that other people would just get in the way. 

This was, of course, wrong, because we all need help at times. Because of my lack of ability to process or really experience emotions fully, I ended up unable to really take part in my one failed relationship, and after that I didn’t know how, or who, to reach out to to try to help deal with what I was going through. In many ways, the way I saw and processed the world was, instead of a benefit, something fo a curse. Being cut off from my emotions cut me off from an integral part of myself, and only now, going on twenty years later, am I finally understanding what that means. A little chilling, but better late than never, right?

Also, it seems that Calla is doing quite well – something which I am overjoyed to hear. She’s called me twice this week, which is the first time this has happened since she left – in fact, it’s almost half the times she has called me at her new treatment center, period. She sounds positive and happy when I talk to her, looking towards the future, and it seems like she’s making a lot of progress. She has a pretty specific date of release, and it looks like she’s making plans for when she gets back. I wonder if now, or around now, is the time to talk to her about our relationship, such as it is, and whether it will be going anywhere or just stay as it is, but I’m never sure in this type of situation. I guess that’s part of the terror, and excitement, of a romantic relationship.

Finally, after talking things over with my therapist, I think I am leaning towards a job area. Surprisingly, I don’t want to be a bookseller at a bookstore forever – standing for 8 hours a day, several times a week, behind a cash register does not do fun things to my back. No, I think I am more interested in some kind of mental health counseling. I don’t have a degree in the area, but I do have extensive experience with mental illness – both with my own, and with talking to, and some might say counseling, friends and fellow patients who have other issues. I’ve taken a class with NAMI, I’m taking another class with NEABPD, and I’ve been to a support group with DBSA, as well as writing this blog; what I’ve come to realize is that I find talking to people about their problems, and talking about my own here and trying to explain them to people who might otherwise be unaware, is something I find fulfilling. Not always enjoyable, but often helpful and freeing. So I am looking for jobs in that area that I qualify for in Houston, as well as trying to find some new inroads into the community on Twitter via a new account set up to work with this blog. It’s @InnerLimitsBlog, if you’re interested.

So, that’s my update for now. We’ll see what the weekend brings us.

Grateful Dead Poet’s Society

So I have decided to start doing the gratitude challenge’s second iteration with or without Calla, though I hope she is at least reading along, if not trying it herself. There’s also some other stuff that is on my mind, but I will mention that after I go through the gratitude challenge steps. Just in case the steps aren’t clear, I’ll repost them again here:

1.Write down three new things you are grateful for each day, in a journal or somewhere else easily accessed. Be specific.

2. Write for two minutes a day describing one positive experience you had over the past 24 hours.

3. Exercise for 10 minutes a day.

4. Meditate for two minutes, focusing on your breath going in and out.

5. Write one, quick email first thing in the morning thanking or praising a friend, family member, or other person you are grateful to.

So, I will start with the three things I am grateful for. First, I am grateful for Calla. She’s on my mind a lot lately, and I miss having her around; but regardless of where she is, I am grateful for how amazing she is and how she has made me feel; however things turn out, she has made me feel joy for the first time in a very long time. Second, I am grateful for my vanilla-scented candle here in my apartment; I find the vanilla scent very nice and soothing (even if it does occasionally make me really want cake with vanilla icing). I really like having the scent around my apartment, and so having such a convenient source is nice. Finally, I am grateful for my apartment. It’s nice to have a place of my own to come home to, to spend time in, to invite friends to; it’s nice that it is my choice who to share it with, and how to decorate it. It’s a type of freedom that is still pretty new to me, and I really enjoy having it.

A little earlier tonight, I got a chance to go out on a late-night candy run with a good friend just after she got off a long night at work. It’s kind of a ritual or habit between us, since both of us like to stay up late at night. She is a big fan of various kinds of candy, and it gives both of us a chance to clear our heads, talk about what has been on our minds all day, and just get a little time together to talk and hang out even if both of us have had busy days. Also, there’s candy, because there’s a 24-hour Walgreens not far from here, and they have a pretty good candy selection. Especially now, near Halloween. We talk about a lot on these trips; it was on one of these trips that I first told her about my feelings for Calla, and we cover a lot of our other issues, as well. I really enjoy these trips. They’re one of the best parts of my day on the days we go on them. 

As for exercise, I’ve been working on a series of exercises out of a book called Convict Conditioning, a book that focuses on using just exercises that can be done with a bare minimum of equipment (pushups, situps, pullups,, etc.) to tone and condition the body. There is one that is focused on eventually being able to do one-legged squats, which I am avoiding, but the others I try to work through on a regular basis; today is one of those days. I took some time out in between sets to meditate, because I find relaxing my muscles and clearing my mind between sets helps to make my exercises more effective. Doesn’t make the workouts hurt any less, though.

It’s not an e-mail, but I did get a chance earlier this evening to talk to someone I haven’t heard from in a while and express my gratitude to her for her friendship and advice. Yeah, I have a lot of female friends. We haven’t been in touch for a while, but even though she’s younger I think her experiences have given her a remarkable degree of wisdom.

Outside of my gratitude challenge, my father is sending me e-mail about possibly collecting, altering, or re-writing my blog posts to put them together as a book, maybe to try and help other people who have struggled (or will struggle) with mental illness. That is at least part of my I was writing my blog in the first place, though telling my story for my own gratification and therapeutic purposes was also a part of it, so I will have to put some thought into that; I don’t know if I would want to rewrite things from my blog, or rewrite them entirely to fit into a larger narrative, or try to describe my experience in chapters. There’s a lot to think about, but I would love to hear anything my readers have to say about the idea, especially if they have any experience in the area.

I’ve been doing something with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) called Peer-to-Peer Mentoring; it’s a ten-session class to try to teach volunteers about how to talk to others who aren’t doing as well with their mental illnesses as we are and try to mentor them, using our own experiences to try to help others see that while they may be in a very dark place, there is still hope on the other side. I have no formal training in mental health counseling, but I do want to help others who have trouble with mental illness; I’d like to believe that my experiences and thoughts might be able to help others. That’s why I’m taking this course, even though it is entirely a volunteer position.

Any thoughts from my readers, about anything mentioned above?