Mental illness

On Writing

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I love Stephen King so I stole one of the titles from one of his non-fiction books for this post. He’s my favourite author and The Dark Tower series of books are the best fantasy/sci-fi/western/mindfuck books you will ever read. Seriously if you have not read King’s opus then you really should. The first book in the series is called The Gunslinger, go get it now! The book I stole the title for this post from is a work discussing the craft of writing. It’s also the closest thing you’ll ever get to a Stephen King autobiography and is very interesting, so you should read it. Anyway moving on, this is a post about writing.

I am not a writer. I used to enjoy writing stories and making stupid comics when I was very young but as soon as I got access to computers any creative part of me died and I became a computer nerd instead. Also, whilst I have a decent command of the English language I am rather ignorant of the proper ‘rules’ you are supposed to follow when writing a novel. I’m not an idiot, I understand the rules of grammar mostly, but I’ve always felt like I didn’t know enough about the syntax of language to make a worthwhile story that would captivate readers. So it’s with some embarrassment that I sometimes tell people that I’ve been trying to write a novel for some time now.

I’ve had a story in my head for quite some time. It’s got the basic elements realised i.e. I know what the main plot line is and where it takes place, as well as the overall theme. However it’s languishing in a notepad file and I haven’t really thought about it for some time until recently.

It’s a semi-autobiographical horror story, set in a somewhat fictionalised version of the town in which I currently reside. I have had the idea for a while but only started actually putting pen to paper back in November when a friend and I both took part in National Novel Writing Month. For those who aren’t aware NaNoWriMo runs every year, and is supposed to encourage budding writers to produce a novel (well more like a novella, 50,000 words) inside of one month by setting daily targets. I started out pretty well but gave up around the 12,000 word mark.

See the thing is, I hate targets. Having a daily word target shoved in my face every time I logged in to my NaNoWriMo dashboard really pissed me off. I gave up partly because meeting targets when doing something for pleasure or because you want to is completely counter intuitive in my opinion and partly because depression sucks your ambition out your ass through a straw. But lately I’ve been thinking about my book and thinking that I want to get back to it. I keep having ideas that I think would work well with the story and my therapist has set me tasks as part of my cognitive behavioural therapy, tasks that involve thinking about the novel.

I might decide to put what I have so far up on here so other people can read it and pass judgement. Like I said I’m not a writer and my writing style is unconventional and probably leaves a lot to be desired (my wife HATES it) so nobody should expect anything great. My biggest gripe is that I just don’t think I am good enough to produce anything of worth. Being a non-creative person who doesn’t really understand ‘how to write’ is constantly playing on my mind.

Conversely though I sometimes think, “So fucking what?”. There are plenty of examples from history where unconventional writers have gained mainstream success. The Beat Generation in the 50’s spawned some fantastic authors who definitely wouldn’t have their books on sale at airport kiosks. Try reading The Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs to get an idea of what I mean, the non-chronological structure and obvious drug induced ramblings make it a difficult but worthwhile book to get through. I’m not comparing myself to Burroughs at all, but it gives me hope that there is a place in the world for those who don’t just write cookie cutter style stories that obey strict and rigid grammatical rules. That’s why I like King so much, because he plays with language (seemingly effortlessly) and breaks ‘rules’ all the time.

So tonight I’m going to try and write a few chapters. I’ll have to read through what I’ve got so far to refresh my memory, in the process I MAY upload it here, who knows.

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The healing power of videogames and animals

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This is a story about Loki the Cat and the mental health benefits of videogames and animals. This kind of ties in with my previous post about the Souls series of games and was directly inspired by this reddit post.

I have felt remarkably better the past couple weeks. Of course I’ve still had plenty to fret about and I am by no means ‘content’ (whatever the fuck that means these days) but I have definitely noticed a mellowing out.

It’s because of Dark Souls II but more specifically, it’s about videogame experiences that have the power to make you rethink your own life.

When I first started playing the Souls games it was December 2010 and it was just me and our cat, Loki. He was there with me the whole time I played Demon’s Souls.

Here he is hanging out in the fridge, for some reason.

LOKI FRIDGE“All of this is mine, K asshole?”

He sat with me every single night on the couch, spurring me on with his little cat nods and blinks whenever he saw I was getting stressed. Then when exhaustion took over and I stopped playing, he’d curl up next to me and sleep. Well either that or tear lamp shades to pieces and then wear them as some sort of defiant protest against lighting accessories:

loki lampHail to the king of Lamp

He was my travelling companion in this strange and troubling land. Whenever it got too real I would put down the controller and wrestle with him for a while. He always won.

Two years later and I’m in a new flat, playing Dark Souls and him and me him are there again, couch locked, just hanging like bros. He went missing about a month or so after moving in to the new place. We looked for him every night for a month and a half, in the process finding a pregnant stray cat that had been abandoned which we ended up adopting.

After fruitless searching and a huge poster campaign I get a call one day from the vicar that operated the church near our house. He had found Loki, who was at death’s door on the floor of the church after not eating or drinking for over a month. We got him to the vet and he fought all he could but died 3 days later. Dark Souls would be the last game he would ever witness me play and complete.

There’s a bit more to Loki’s story that I’m not going to go in to in this post as it isn’t relevant, but suffice to say his disappearance and subsequent re-emergence a month and a half later were very, very suspicious. This wasn’t just a simple case of a cat wandering off, there was something more nefarious going on and I still believe to this day that foul play was involved. It was after he died that I realised I was depressed. I know now that I’d been depressed long before that, but his death brought it to the surface and forced me to confront it. But I digress.

Now I’m playing DS2 and Loki is gone, and it feels like I need him there to get me through it. But now we have Shodan (the cat we found who is a carbon copy of Loki in both looks and temperament, only female) and a new puppy who loves it when I rage and hurl the controller across the room so I am not alone.

Every time I down a boss for the first time I think of Loki and those long nights years ago, it makes me sad. But then I look at the faces of our other animals and I’m spurred on again.

When I play these games I’m not myself any more. I’m a traveller in a  foreign land. I’m not a depressed thirty-something with an unsatisfying life, I am a lone warrior with a purpose and a reason to fight. The animals that accompany me on these journeys are not mere pets, they are my familiars, my totems, my friends.

The memories I have of Loki will never go away and even though I get sad when I think about him, I also smile when I remember how he was always by my side when I needed him the most. When I know I can escape to a world where my life can be whatever I want it to be, and that those trusty beasts are ready to come along for the ride, it reminds me that life can be good and that happiness is attainable.

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Trade your heroes for ghosts

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I didn’t really have any heroes growing up as a kid. Fictional or otherwise.

Even as a small child the concept seemed silly to me. What was a hero? what criteria needed to be met in order to become one? Does a hero have to be a real person? It confused me.

It wasn’t until I was much older that I started recognising certain people as personal ‘heroes’, although I still hate the term – ‘hero’ for some reason just reminds me of cereal (no idea why) and those little chocolates.

Heroes are good because they give you something to aspire to, even if you know you cannot possibly equal them in measure, you can at least try to follow their words and actions so you can emulate them in an effort to become a better person. I completely skipped the whole ‘better person’ part and started to use my heroes as a way of exerting my own false sense of superiority:

“Oh you mean you’ve never heard of Famous Person’s treatise on Derp? You really should look it up!”

whilst inside in my head I would be chastising them for being so stupid:

“Hah, only a moron doesn’t know of the existence of that. Idiot. SMUG MODE ACTIVATE”

I used the knowledge I acquired from my heroes to reinforce my view that I was smarter than everyone else and that in a dispute I was always right. I used my heroes for villainous purposes, now it feels like all I have are ghosts of those heroes. I butchered them and twisted their virtuous natures into my own mangled psyche and used their wisdom against other people to convince myself I was superior.

I’m going to stop doing that now.

I realise a lot more about human nature than I did a year ago, hell even six months ago. I keep having mini epiphanies that I am certain are course correcting me onto a path of mental well-being and compassion towards others, the problem however is following through on these epiphanies. For better or worse I am still plagued by the Procrastination Monster and I wish I could have an epiphany about that but it’s not happened yet.

It’s very, VERY difficult to describe procrastination when you are a depressed person versus regular old “Oh I’m such a procrastinator LOL I’ll do it this afternoon” type people. It is not the same beast. You are held prisoner by your own mind as it successfully convinces you that inaction is the safest course to take, as it cannot possibly result in more heartache. Now I KNOW that this is stupid. I know that getting up and about and doing things, taking initiative at work, and generally learning new things makes me feel good. I know this to be true and yet I continue to do it. Why? Because, that’s why. I have no better explanation than that. It’s an entirely fucked up situation to be in and I am yet to find a solution.

I want this to stop, but it seems it’s another aspect of my mental state that I’m just gonna have to wait on to catch up. I feel like I’m getting better in some ways and worse in others. I want to break out of this mental prison with the force of a hurricane, not bit by bit in incremental steps that could take years to fully come to fruition. I’d rather have a walk on part in the war, than a lead role in a cage.

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p.s I realise there are too many Pink Floyd references in this post but:

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