Update 04: I’m Still Here (Again)

I’m still alive. It’s surreal, to say the least, that I can no longer say that euphemistically. I really, truly almost did not make it out of 2020 alive. But since then I’ve had a full plate of contemplating life and piecing myself back together. I’m thankful to have had a not inconsiderable amount of help from my wife, my family and the good friends who stuck with me. Oh, and my therapist. Another area in which I’ve been working overtime, but I’ll admit getting on the right medication did most of the heavy lifting.

Suffice it to say, all of this has meant coming to terms with my diagnosis as well as a (fairly) recent attempt at self-annihilation. Perhaps it’s no surprise at all that this wasn’t the insurmountable horror I expect.

My sense of self returned, and with it a greater understanding of who I am without the burden of mental illness. For fellow sufferers, I don’t need to tell you how impossible it is to address your problems and behaviors when the solution ceases to mean anything (and so becomes no solution at all). If everything hurts, it’s hard to find the wound. But now that I’ve found it, it’s already begun to scar over. With new perspective, I’ve gained intentionality. That is, the ability finally to choose a path as opposed to hurtling down whichever presented itself.

All that said, it’s taken some getting used to. Gone are the lengths of time in which I had inexhaustible energy, forgoing sleep and food to work and work and work. The illusion that I am now less productive is hard to fight. After all, on the surface, my output during my hypomanic states was nothing short of insane. Thousands of words during the day, game design and world-building at night, not to mention the not inconsiderable times I was able to maintain some consistency with learning different disciplines. But of course this necessitated a depressive episode shortly thereafter, which even with antidepressants proved insurmountable by comparison to hypomania (itself incensed further by the antidepressants). Funny how happiness can become melancholy by states of comparison.

It’s easy enough to pierce that illusion now.

I’ve taken a step back from writing by choice for the first time in a (very) long time. A much needed break is in order, and other projects long put off beg for attention. Among them: finally knuckling down and learning 3D modeling and programming; designing the tabletop RPG system to accompany my books; and fleshing out the world in which both these last take place. It’s proved to be immensely rewarding in a way that it was not before.

These are things I’ve attempted to do, but ultimately gave up more than once. Writing always came naturally to me, otherwise I might’ve done the same with that. An element of the bright side to my brush with death and proper diagnosis is the fact that I’ve lost the freneticism that came with unmedicated Bipolar II. I can sit for longer and focus harder. The work comes at a slower pace (albeit the same output in the long run), but that’s only meant I have the patience now that I never did before. I was never exactly hyper, but restless constantly.

All in all, despite everything, I’m glad I can at least begin to plan and set realistic goals without getting down. As you can probably imagine, a heightened altered state gives you a very bizarre idea of success and a depressed altered state gives you the idea that success is impossible. I won’t say I’m excited about the days to come. Things are still pretty rough and will be for some time. Not just for myself, but for everyone. Covid, climate change, the total clusterfuck of our political landscape. It’ll be difficult. But I’m glad to be able to face that difficulty with a realistic perspective and an understanding that maybe (just maybe) this too shall pass–and not merely as a poetical musing of my tired, tired mind.

My goals for this year are only a little less lofty than last year: complete the sequel to my debut novel that I released last year (see the Books tab for details); assemble a function beta test of my TTRPG system (tentative title, Pale Age: Aberrant); and complete one back-to-front game, by which I mean program and model and write. Being that considerable work has gone into at least the first two and a decent among into the last, I think it’ll be less arduous than it sounds. I’m excited to see the results, and I hope you are too.

See you on the other side of tomorrow.

Digging

Imagine you are digging a hole. You’ve your shovel or your pick, your drill or your laser or your pet conqueror-worm. The earth disappears beneath you. Your progress is unfathomable and in another day’s time that progress will remain unfathomable. To have come so far, so fast.

Then the familiar crunch and rasp of soil fades. There is only the wet sucking sound of clay. This day is difficult, each heave dredging up less and costing more, and three days pass before you accomplish the depth you had on the first. But still you are proud, still you have dug. On to the next day.

And on the next day, the clay gives way. For all of a moment, your heart flutters. No more with that slog. It is the soil again. But amid the soil, soon there are cracks and tinks and thunks. Stone. You have reached the depth of stone. The blade of your shovel is next to useless. Your pick begins to blunt, your drill to foul. The laser is running out of juice and your worm needs fed something other than hard rocks.

What do you do? What can you do? Except keep digging. It has worked so far. You have come so far. Certainly it was going to get difficult at some point. And persistence is the modus, yes? It is the virtue. Yes, keep digging, that is the answer. Surely. Certainly.

The rocks wash away on the tides of your labor, as even the cliff face erodes under the eternal duress of the waves. This is the rule, the lesson. You are more confident in this than you are in the strength of your arms or the effectiveness of your tools. Days and days and days pass like the wind over the edges of the abyss you have tunneled into the earth. Finally, at last, the stone gives way…

Only to something more impenetrable: the bedrock. You cannot get through. The eternal question resounds: What is to be done?

In life and as Americans especially, we’re often battered with the phrase: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.” And yet as often as we are redressed with the words, we make the mistake. We make the mistake over and over again. Why? Simple: We do not believe a mistake is being made. Why should we? We’re following the rules. We’re digging. Why wouldn’t we get any farther? It’s worked up to this point. But no matter how hard you work, you won’t circumvent the bedrock that lies in your way.

Exchange the analogy for whatever you like: running, swimming or sailing. The quandary repeats. Whether you reach squall or mountain, the temptation is to determination. To the seductive first principle of persisting, especially when all seems lost. Sail through the storm rather than lengthen the trip, travail the mountain to its peak rather than take the long way around. Dig until you reach the bedrock and keep pecking away rather than dig further to the left or the right.

You might reach your intended juncture, but invite illimitable catastrophes easily avoided along another route. Better by far to simply adjust course or to stop and consider the approach or the tools at hand. The key is to recognize when one has come up against the bedrock, the mountain or the storm, the obstacle which may cost everything to traverse. As therein lies the deception of the maxim.

Of course, it’s insanity to perform the same action and expect a different result. When put simply, anything is obvious. When what worked before or is working now ceases to work, do not merely assume it is failure of persistence or talent or effort. Take that as a sign to fall back and reassess, both your progress and your means. When your legs have been pumping beneath you, launching you across the proverbial landscape, and you suddenly find yourself on uneven ground, it is critically important to not first redress and damn yourself.

In short, first consider that you are digging a hole.