Monday, 3 March 2014

Weight of the World

Anyone who's used to reading this blog, catching the infrequent post here and there, or simply know anything about my work may have noticed one indisputable fact: I ain't written a damn thing on here in over a month. Yeah, it's been a while and like all absences, there's a reason. Maybe even several but they're all lumped into one category. Regardless of those reasons, it's become manifested in a near inability to write. Anything. Regular readers may notice something missing from the start of this post, a signature catch phrase marking the beginning of every other post every made on this blog because it just doesn't seem appropriate right now. Or any more.

I've been having a very hard time lately. Stressed, weary, and depressed. It seems the weight of the world has finally bore down on these shoulders that have endured so much low these past three-and-a-half years, leaving me with only two choices. Carry on as I have been for some time and push these struggles aside until yet another date or accept reality and do something about it. In a bizarre way, I've gone with a lazy version of the second choice and dumped a few challenges from my list.

My readership is low, so expecting everyone to know what's going on is silly. Even then, I've never truly shared my burdens and those of my family, instead willing to tease snippets and move on before anyone can poke and prod. Big mistake. I've been keeping a lot to myself for a while now and it's taken a toll, such as...

  • The physical pain. Mild compared to what many others with chronic pain endure on a daily basis, yet still an issue nonetheless. Yes, there's medication but those come with side effects as well, from lack of appetite to riding the high and the following lows when you have to take a lot of pills. Winter has always been tricky with regards to pain as the fluctuating temperatures cause the nerves to fire up or slipping on a patch of ice tweaks my foot in just the right way to send me out of commission for the rest of the day. Mix that with bad knees and a propensity to lean heavily on my good (left) side too often and you have a glimpse of what's going on. 
  • The cognitive issues. This has recently become a serious concern as my full-time job ramped into high gear during the ski season. Working in a low-traffic, average office setting started out well and I was rather impressed with myself for being able to operate - even thrive - in an open environment. Now that people have been moved around and this place has become a phone-ringing, conference-calling, power-meeting place-to-be for everyone in Front Office, things have become complicated. I've suffered five episodes of what I call "fuzziness," including one incident where my co-workers called 911 when I was passed out at my desk and was non-responsive for several minutes. By the time I returned to functional, the paramedics had already arrived to do their thing and I was done for the day. 
  • The workload. Related to the cognitive issues, this is more about the number of things on my plate at one time and is also the area with the most control over my situation. In a given week, I had my full-time job at Calabogie, a part-time job delivering pizzas until midnight, freelance work writing for Xenopedia/Mercenary Breed, keeping up with house chores while my wife powered through her school work, taking online classes, rough designs for projects like Optional Core, walking the dogs, tutoring and finally trying to have some time to relax and re-power the engines. I'm a very task- and deadline-oriented person and failing to keep up on so many duties was doing serious damage. My schedule was so crowded, I had to bail on visiting my family for Christmas and I still haven't had a chance to see them for the holidays (they're only a two-hour drive away from us). 
  • The financial problems. I've never been good with money. Something I said last month stuck with me and has become my new motto: "I've never had money but I've always had my pride." The accident brought on serious consequences to our finances, especially when I wasn't able to work for three years and had to support my wife with her own problems. (We're getting there, don't worry.) Money was always tight and the only means we had available were through the insurance company (who bailed after two years) and the still-ongoing lawsuit. Now that I'm working from the bottom of a new ladder and still struggling to keep up with our payments - including rent - all while busting my ass to keep up with these waves, money problems have become a major sore spot. To the point that I literally shake and feel chest pains when I see a bill in the mail or try to sit down and update our personal budgets. 
  • The missus' medical issues. My wife has a serious form of epilepsy (she's also been unable to work for three years now) and depression. Before the accident, I was her rock and was able to keep the world immediately around her stable while she learned to cope with her recently diagnosed conditions. Since the accident, it all became too much for her and there have been problems I will not go into here. They aren't my problems to share but the stress of knowing I'm powerless to do anything about them is mine and I'm sharing that. 
Neither one of these takes precedence over another and they all intermingle with each other. For example, working two jobs to try and stay afloat increased the pain, which bumped up the amount of meds I was taking, leading to that shitty feeling and fogging up my cognitive functions, meaning I had to miss out on some work days and not get paid for those missing days. All of this has been reasonably kept to myself. No more. 

It all came to head when my wife received $4000 from OSAP (Ontario student loans) related to her school work. We didn't expect this money and our first thoughts were on someone screwing up. "Nah, can't be right. Someone will realize their mistake and it'll be gone in a couple of days." At that very moment, I freaked out and broke down. Like lying on the floor in the fetal position broke down. The straw that broke the camel's back. Or so I thought. There was another situation but, like I said, it's not my problem to share. 

There are a lot of people in the RPG community who battle depression and I think it's safe to say I'm one of them. It's not the first time hitting this brick wall and it seems to be a reoccurring challenge for creative types in general. They've been bold and made a point of sharing their issues to varying degrees of detail through blogs and tweets and I commend each and every one of them for taking the first step: admission. Perhaps it's time I did the same. 

In all honesty, part of me wanted to do the same years ago and be forward about my struggles but I listened to my lawyer and kept it to myself. Not that I'm a chatty person (I'm very quiet in the flesh unless we're talking gaming and game design, then you can't shut me up) but in my writing. I write because I can't express myself verbally the same way I can do with my fingers. But I was encouraged against such posts simply because it was all related to the lawsuit and I just don't give a shit about that anymore. I've allowed myself to become victim to a system that assumes more than assures and let the accident dominate my life, only to let me down and leave me out in the cold. I want to become my own man again and prove to myself what I'm capable of so fuck what I've been told. I've been a victim for far too long.

It's what I learned about depression long ago - you have to get yourself out of it. That's my take on such matters and not to be taken as gospel in any way, just what I've discovered about my depression. It's about perception and opinion with little to nothing related to fact. I have many reasons to be proud and happy - I won a fucking ENnie award for my first ever original RPG design and I'm married to someone whom I truly love and loves me just as much, if not more - but my opinion is that I've failed myself and those who count on me. Kind words, gentle reminders, and coaching from friends and family can only go so far. The solution is up to the individual. I can't be depressed while my wife suffers from clinical depression, that's what I tell myself. I need to fix myself so I can help her and be what she needs. It's not something I'm saying for her sake; it's for my own and it's what's prompted me to do what is necessary for both of us. A happy hubby makes a happy wife and vice versa. 

To that, I've made serious changes in my life. First, I took a break from all writing, including work on Xenopedia and Mercenary Breed (to which major thanks goes out to Aaron Huss from Mystical Throne, the publisher, for his incredible understanding and help with the situation), changed my part-time job to another one with less hours and better pay, started working from home once a week, dropped out of my online graphic design course, stopped tutoring (for now), and started enjoying time at home without chores, tasks, or duties. The missus has also dropped out of her course and that has taken a huge load off both our shoulders. We're starting to see the benefits of these choices already and there are more smiles in the house than there has been for a while. 

I am the Warden and I am depressed. I'm telling my story because it must be told, because silence only makes matters worse, and I want others to know they are never alone out there.

(To learn more about depression and its symptoms, I found this website to be helpful as a starting point.)