Category: Current Events (page 1 of 89)

A Pawn No Longer

“There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.” — Denis Waitley

I know this is a long post. Thank you for reading it in its entirety.

Let’s begin at the beginning.

I was diagnosed with Type II Bipolar Disorder 14 years ago at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC. This was probably a diagnosis that should have been discovered long before the point of the nervous breakdown that put me in there. There have been inciting incidents, before and since, that have caused emotional reactions within me, and it has taken me years to develop the tools to properly manage my behavior in light of those reactions. The intensity of the emotions has not changed, but as I continue to work on myself for myself, these tools become more refined, more precise, and I handle these things better.

One of the ways in which these tools can be forged is through Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). A DBT instructor’s manual on emotions defines them in the following ways:

“Emotions are complex; they consist of several parts of different reactions happening at the same time.

“Emotions are automatic: they are involuntary, automatic responses to internal and external events.

“Emotions can not be changed directly; we can change the events that cause emotional experiences; but not the emotional experiences directly. We can’t make ourself ‘feel’ a particular emotion and then feel it. Willpower won’t stop an emotional experience no matter how desperately we might want it to.”

The sequence in which synapses fire within our brains is not within our direct control. We cannot choose to not feel something. The emotions are not something we can stop or merely turn off. We have to handle them. We can avoid them with distractions, which is not advisable. We can cope with them through various mechanisms, some of which are healthier than others. Hardest of all is to try and reason with them. It is an entirely internal process. We must apply facts and evidence to a situation in comparison to the emotions being felt by that situation in an attempt to choose the best and healthiest way to handle and express those emotions.

For a person with a mental illness, going through the process of reasoning with emotions is far more difficult than it is for someone who is neurotypical. And this is not a temporary condition. It’s not like breaking one’s leg, then needing to learn how to walk on it again. This is more along the lines of a physical chronic illness, where walking in and of itself can be challenging due to the nature of one’s body.

It is unreasonable to say to a person with such an illness, “Just get up and walk! It’s so easy, why can’t you just do it! Your inability to consistently walk is holding me back/making me feel bad, and that’s your fault.

It is just as unreasonable to say to a person with mental illness, “Just stop feeling these things! I don’t, so why do you? Your inability to handle your emotions the way I do is making me feel bad, and that’s your fault.

These are things I have been forced to learn, wrestle with, and draw conclusions from since that breakdown 14 years ago. The steps have been incremental, sometimes frustratingly small, and some have fallen on unstable ground. There have been times when it has been difficult to take these steps and use these tools entirely on my own. Others can help, be they therapists or family or friends. But, in the end, no other individual can or should be expected to do it for me.

Within the last few months I have found myself gainfully employed after a long period of searching for work that falls within a marketable and well-documented skillset I possess. My list of published and referencable writing is rather small, while my experience with web development operations and programming is better at filling out a résumé. It is with the latter that I secured employment. After over a year of not having something with this rate of pay, this sort of work environment, and this sort of support and direction, the stress caused by not being an “earner” in a post-capitalist society was removed. My significant lack of an inability to recognize self-worth, however, remained, and in the space of that removed stress, that neural pathway found new room in which to exist. It amplified, causing emotions and reactions that proved very difficult to handle.

As I said, distracting ourselves from our emotions is inadvisable. I distracted myself by spending a great deal of time not engaged with my personal space or my partner, instead choosing to be elsewhere. This was pointed out to me by them and, at first, I denied the cause. Subsequent discussions, sometimes highly emotional ones, helped me realize what I was doing. As a result, I chose to take a step back from major in-person social interactions to focus on handling this underlying problem in a more healthy and comprehensive way.

Part of that process was writing a post about that sense of self-worth, and how much I want to believe in myself, now more than ever. Writing is, and has been, my primary way of expressing myself and exploring these spaces. Rather than do so in a story, I chose to write about my real emotions and experiences, and I chose to post it publicly. I made that choice for posterity, and to provide insight into my emotions and behavior. I thought it might be useful to and for those who are in my life, and who have watched me go through these moments of emotionality that have a negative impact upon them. Others can see or even feel the effects of what my emotions do to me; they cannot always see the cause.

I have been told “it hurts me to watch you put yourself through this, to beat yourself up.” I believe that. I’ve experienced that, as well. My partner, who has chronic illnesses, cannot always do the things they wish to do. To watch them struggle against the constraints of their bodily pain, to hear them express disappointment in themselves for not being able to do what they want, is painful to me.

At no point do I hold my partner’s illness against them. They can’t simply not be sick. It’s not their fault. It’s unfair, unreasonable, even cruel and abusive, to make them feel responsible for my feelings regarding their disability.

By the same token, it is unfair, unreasonable, even cruel and abusive, to make someone with mental illness feel responsible for another person’s feelings regarding that illness.

If something said or done directly to another person causes harm, the person who said or did the thing is responsible for that. And it does not have to be direct physical or even emotional harm, either. A manipulative turn of phrase — “if you love me, you’ll do X” — is the responsibility of the person who says it, because it is delivering an ultimatum to the person in question. Words have meanings; it is through language that we communicate what we feel, what we intend, who we are.

So when I write at length about an internal process regarding handling my self-worth, or as above regarding the nature of my mental illness, and no language is employed that makes these things the responsibility of others, to have others claim that I am making them responsible for these things or that this language is somehow problematic or abusive is absolutely baffling to me. As a person with a mental illness, I am using that terminology and language to expand upon and explore my condition. Again, I am making the choice to write this for posterity and to allow insight into my internal thoughts, emotions, and processes. That is the purpose of this writing. Nothing more.

These emotions of mine — complex, automatic, immutable — are simply that: mine. They are entirely internal. Disregarding their influence on my life, it does not impact other people when I feel something. When I feel a question or lack of self-worth, for example, that is an entirely internal process. No person outside of myself is responsible for it, nor is it my desire to somehow make it another person’s fault. That would be unfair. That would be manipulative. That would be bullshit.

When someone else, on the other hand, questions my self-worth, or validity, or integrity, that is another matter entirely.

I’ve read over my posts, this one and the previous one in this vein, several times. Others have as well. At no point in either do I directly say that a person or group of people outside of myself is somehow responsible for my feelings or my actions. These things come from a place within my self, and from no other source. These things are amorphous, difficult, and even painful. The last thing on this planet I would ever want to do is put them onto someone else. I would rather not deal with them; why make someone else do it? That is, as above, unfair, unreasonable, and even cruel and abusive.

We cannot choose when and how we feel things. We can, however, choose how to handle those feelings. And when we take action to handle a feeling, we can choose to take responsibility for those actions, or we can choose to make someone else responsible for it. We can own, or we can project. We can accept, or we can blame.

We get to choose that.

I do not agree with all of the choices I have made in the past, but I accept those are the choices I made. Some of my choices have caused me pain or loss; that, too, is my responsibility. Others have made, and will make, choices to make me responsible for things that are not mine. Those choices will attempt to manipulate me into taking responsibility for those things. In the past, my lack of self-worth and my desire to do good for and please the people around me put me in a position to simply accept what I was given, despite its absurdity or toxicity. It is a weakness of mine that has been exploited time and time again.

I cannot accept this. I will accept this no longer.

Just as how I get to choose how I handle my feelings, I get to choose who I am and who I want to be.

I am a person with bipolar disorder. And I choose to not be a pawn of my emotions, nor of anyone else’s.

500 Words on Job Hunting

One thing I didn’t anticipate when I moved to Seattle was how competitive the job market would be outside of the gaming industry. I knew I’d be in for a fight if I went straight for video gaming’s jugular. It was something I wanted to get into, for sure, but first had to come gainful employment for which I was already suited and trained. So I started looking for positions as a web developer. That, too, has turned out to be a highly competitive field.

I probably should have anticipated it’d be this difficult. After all, some major companies with healthy profit margins exist out here. It’s natural for people, especially younger professionals, to scramble and fight for the positions that would be available. I wasn’t adequately prepared for that. Years later, I’m paying the price.

It’s taken me a rather long time, but I’m finally coming to grips with the fact that if I’m going to be employable to a degree that will support my partner and my distant family, I need to catch myself up on what I’ve been missing in terms of development and programming. As much as I want to get paid for writing novels and making games, my imagination doesn’t need the refreshers that my knowledge of languages like JavaScript and PHP do. Plus, there’s quite a few new languages I’d benefit from picking up — Python, TypeScript, C#, and so on.

I can’t afford to take classes, especially since my unemployment ran out months ago. So I’m on my own, using tutorials and code examples forked from GitHub and posted on blogs. But I’m making progress. I know that some people go into positions like the ones I’m applying for without knowing anything about frameworks like React and Angular. The more I can learn, the more employable I’ll be when I walk into an interview.

The barriers between me and those interviews, at times, seem insurmountable. I’ve sent out dozens, maybe hundreds, of resumes. I apply to jobs on LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and CraigsList every single day. I’m working with recruitment agencies. Yet, for all of that effort, since my last contract ended in January, I’ve had three in-person interviews that could have yielded paying work. That, I think, shows just how cutthroat it is out there.

I’m not about to give up. If I have to, I’ll take another office job while I stay on the hunt. But I’m not giving up this hunt. I’ve had a dearth of energy over these previous few months, and with it seemingly to be finally on the upswing, the last thing I want to do is settle for less than I can earn. If I can land the right sort of job, a lot of the problems I’m currently dealing with will be obviated. It’ll free up mental bandwidth to write more, create more, do more. I’ll have to manage my time differently, but there’ll be structure to work around.

My job’s out there. I’ll hunt it down.

500 Words on Going to Seed

This blog has, admittedly, gone to seed a bit.

So much of my energy and time has been consumed with two things: finding a job, and getting/keeping my shit together. That second part is a bigger task than I admit to myself sometimes. I’m not neurotypical, not by a long shot, and there are some days when I simply do not have the bandwidth for leaving the flat, let alone interacting with humans. It’s different when I have a dayjob, a structure; left to my own devices, I spend an inordinate amount of time just keeping myself upright and mobile.

I try not to berate myself or flagellate myself over this or that: not writing more, not cleaning more, not hunting more jobs, not hammering out my own structure. Self-improvement, especially at fundamental levels of thought patterns and behaviors, takes a lot out of a person. I go over things in my head, events from days or months or years past, and put them under a metaphorical microscope to pick out flaws and find things to learn. There’s always something to learn.

If you think you don’t have to learn anymore, then you’ve gone to seed just as much as this blog did.

I’ve seen it happen. People get stuck in their ways. They refuse to change. They begin making assumptions — a friend will always be there, a job is secure and one’s position is unshakable, “I’m one of the good ones.” They don’t consider asking questions: how can I change or improve how I’m doing what I’m doing? What steps can I take to learn more, get more perspective? Who do I want to be, and what has to be done to make me that person, who’s closer to the best version of myself possible?

One doesn’t always have the energy or wherewithal to ask these questions, and act on those answers. That’s okay. The very baseline thing is the intent, the desire to change oneself and one’s circumstances to yield growth and do away with toxicity. Have the conversations, with yourself or with others, that focus on solutions and how you can be a part of them, rather than the problems and who’s to blame for them. Take the time to consider the past, learn from it, and apply those lessons to the future. Pick yourself up and move — physically, if you have to — so you never stop growing.

That’s the way forward. That way lies change.

Not everybody can do it. Not everybody has the self-awareness to realize that change starts with the person we live with every day no matter what: ourselves. It lies within ourselves — not our family, not our friends, not the groups or organizations or bandwagons to which we think we belong — to be true vectors of change and growth. Only through thoughtfulness, concerted effort, and the determination and resilience to see these changes through to their conclusions can we avoid going to seed and truly grow as people.

Give it a try.

500 Words on Refocusing

You may notice that things look a little different here. A bit more fantastical. More dragons. Maybe the implication of a dungeon.

It’s not an illusion. I’m refocusing my endeavors outside of the job hunt on D&D.

I’m still carving out time for the novel, as head weasels and real-world obligations allow. I’m still on the hunt for a dayjob to cover my rent and the other expenses of living, and I still want to make a (hopefully) significant mark with my words. In terms of hobbies, however, it’s been a very long time since one has given me the sort of creative impetus and deep satisfaction that Dungeons & Dragons has proven to provide in the last few months.

I think a big part of it is the collaborative storytelling. Everyone coming to the table is there to have fun, to work together to create that environment, and to cheer each other on as the epic story grows, changes, and builds. The DM does not exist above this experience, as some divine or diabolical overseer. They are a part of it, narrating the tissue that connects the players to the world and each other, as well as playing referee when conflict inevitably ensues. And I love filling that role. I do it just about every Friday night, for the Adventurer’s League.

I enjoy playing, too, and I’ll be doing that on Friday nights on occasions as well. And the characters I’ll be playing will be getting stories and profiles here. So, too, will go reviews of the materials I use both as player and DM. Advice for my fellow DMs, thoughts on what’s exhilarating or frustrating as a player, comparisons of the current edition to older ones — it makes for a lot of material, and I’m going tap that vein.

Not only does it make for fun and interesting content, it prompts me to write more. It’s like a warm-up before the big lifts when working out. My hope is that with a few hundred words every day, I’ll be ready to write at least a thousand in the novel. It’ll be the initial incision in carving out more time to write more. A positive feedback loop full of words.

Planning for, running, and playing games of Dungeons & Dragons provides me with a surprising amount of focus. Moreso than most of my other endeavors, from coding to video games. I think a lot about the stories I and my fellow players want to tell, or will tell. I understand the math involved. I dream up new characters, monsters, and dungeons. My mind works at a good clip with good ideas coming thick and fast.

I may never make a ground-breaking video game. I doubt I’ll develop the next killer app. But I’ll tell great stories, as I’ve always dreamed. From a table of a few friends, to readers all over the world, I will be a storyteller. And maybe that’s the way I can, and will, truly make a difference.

On Fridays I write 500 words.

Special thanks to Geek & Sundry, Critical Role, and Matt Mercer for helping to inspire these things.

500 Words on the Mirror

It can be difficult to recognize the face that looks back at me in the mirror. Especially since I’ve grown my hair out and started styling my facial hair in certain ways. But the eyes are still there, the eyes I’ve had since I was a child. They’ve seen a lot, perhaps more than they should have. I see them in the mirror, these mechanisms through which I see the world, and try to process who’s looking back at me.

Is this a person worth fighting for?

Movies with Mikey‘s “Creed” episode draws attention to a mirror moment, where the protagonist is told by his coach (Rocky Balboa, in this case) “that, right there, is your toughest opponent.” A somewhat unspoken agreement — a ‘creed’, if you will — between fighters is discussed. It’s simple: “I fight, you fight.” If you step into the ring, so will I, and we’ll each give our all to prove ourselves to ourselves and to one another.

(Seriously, if you’re not watching Movies with Mikey, do yourself a favor and check it out.)

I’ve started repeating that creed to myself when I see myself in the mirror.

“I fight. You fight.”

Who or what am I fighting, though? Is it that other person, the one in the mirror?

Yes and no.

In the past, that person in the mirror has resembled someone else. Someone I don’t recognize. Someone who had been influenced by other people.

First of all, some of those people are fucking monsters.

Not everybody has your best interest at heart. People will seek to take advantage of you, to exploit your weaknesses. Those sorts of abuses, which can hurt more deeply and thoroughly than any punch or cut, give fuel to the monsters that live in our heads, the voices that say we’re better off dead.

That’s what I’m fighting. Those voices, those monsters, those irritating head weasels.

You can’t see them, though. And it’s very, very hard to fight what you can’t see. Ask anybody who has a chronic pain disorder or a mental illness. Ask about their experiences with doctors, with society. You’ll see how hard it is to fight the unseen.

What we can see, though, is the person in the mirror.

“I fight. You fight.”

The final trap in this is the one in which we fight against ourselves, not with ourselves. The difference is that in the former case, we make ourselves an antagonist, a foe to be conquered. But what good do we do ourselves if we cast ourselves as our own villain?

We can be our greatest ally, instead. Whatever the threat might be is one that both entities fight together. You can see what was, or you can see what could be. When you see the image of yourself in the mirror, it’s yours. The you in the mirror is a you that needs you.

You can fight it, or you can fight for it.

“I fight. You fight.”

On Fridays I write 500 words.

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