Content warning: suicide, depression, death.
What a fuckin’ shocker.
Before I get into this, I want to make it clear that I am not a medical professional in any way. This is just my (very) personal experience. Got it?
I was raised in an environment that was negative about modern medicine. I was made to skip school so I wouldn’t get vaccinated, my pleas for a diagnosis of asthma fell upon deaf ears, and I imagine discussion about medication for mental illness was so far off the table it might as well have been flying into the sun. As a pretty sick kid, I was always told that I should eat more spinach, or do yoga, or shine yellow light on myself, or follow what-fucking-ever the new-age health mags were saying.
And because I was young, I wanted to believe my parents when they said these things would help. Then I looked at my friends, who went to doctors and hospitals and had prescribed medication for their bad flus and infections and other ailments, and I got that strange sense you get as a kid, when you start to think, Why is my family so different?
2016 was a massive year of travel, writing, getting into game development professionally, and taking my health seriously. There were a lot of ups and downs, almost more than any other year of my young life, and I have way too much to say about way too many things.
So, instead of words, I’m going to let photos do the talking. From both my phone and my DSLR, here’s a year of photos that sums up a lot of my 2017.
Brief warning: this is a very deeply personal post.
There’s a certain sense of betrayal that comes of learning your brain and your body aren’t working as they should. You go on for a long time assuming that your issues aren’t any kind of disorder, they’re just you not trying hard enough. Why would you think otherwise? Why would anyone think otherwise, when there’s nothing visible to show that’s not the truth?
I spent my entire childhood and early adulthood floundering, struggling against an invisible mental block that held me back while my peers leapt ahead. I’ve always been ditzy, forgetful, and easily distracted, finding myself unable to handle what should be easy tasks. For a long time I fought against my own body, trying to reach a potential everyone told me I had, but I couldn’t actually see.
And then, early this year, I was given an answer in the form of a diagnosis. A clear, definable name for a disorder that has plagued me for over twenty years:
Turns out I have ADHD.
The first time I saw Robin as a work in progress, I was struck almost speechless. A cute little indie game is right up my alley, and a cute little indie game about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is basically everything I’ve ever wanted. Even better: it’s made by a group of kiwi students who are the sweetest.
Robin’s main mechanic is based off of the Spoon Theory, a common way for chronically ill people to explain their limited energy reserves: as you make Robin perform actions, her energy bar empties until the only option is sleep. It’s simple but effective, and evocative of daily life for someone with Chronic Fatigue. A rapidly depleting energy bar is a part of life for us, not just a game mechanic.
However, though chronically ill people may find their lives reflected in some form in Robin, I suppose we must ask the question: can a game ever actually help able people empathize with those who are chronically ill? Can a game really make someone understand in a way that positively changes their thought patterns?
I’m a nerd. I’ve been one since Pokemon first aired in little ol’ Aotearoa and I tried to make Pikachus out of modelling clay with my mum. The attempted Pikachus melted, I still loved them.
Much of my childhood was dominated by Pokemon, to the point that I would actually say my childhood was defined by it, as well as Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. These franchises helped me form strong friendships, find a love for the creative, and explore an interest in books and film. Most of all, these things helped me encounter joy in hard times. Being a nerd is as much a part of me as my love for food.
Recently, cynicism has been everywhere. Or, has it always been? It seems that whenever enough people love something, a vocally negative group pops up to disagree. So let’s talk positive:
There have been three defining moments for me recently that sparked something inside me. As if, for just a second, the clouds had parted and sunlight had shone down upon me. Weird, right? Who even remembers what happiness feels like these days? Not me, apparently.
Wait, didn’t I say I was going to talk positive?
April was the second birthday of this blog (April also happens to be the birthday month for both me and my Twitter, too) and at the time, I didn’t have much to say on the fact. Plus, last month ended up being impossibly busy—the coolest thing being volunteering at Play by Play (NZ’s first international games festival), running a Twine workshop and doing event photography.
So, where is Not Saf for Work headed now that it’s in its terrible twos? Well, for what feels like the first time since I first posted here, I’ve actually got a somewhat solid plan.
This week has been one of mental health awareness, and in typical Saf fashion I left this post to be written at the last day. In NZ it’s been Mental Health Awareness Week, while elsewhere it’s been Mental Illness Awareness Week. Exactly a year ago I wrote a post about why awareness is important, and a year later it’s still just as vital.
It was maybe a month or two ago that a friend on Twitter opened up about their own struggles with mental illness, which prompted an open discussion among our little community. A lot more of my friends were struggling with mental health than I realized, and I’m sure others felt the same about me.
Despite my personal vows to be open and honest with regards to mental health, I suddenly realized that I am essentially a freezer of feelings—I carefully tuck the bad ones away in a back shelf and leave them to freeze for a few months, until the power breaks down and they begin to thaw. I fully contribute to the lack of awareness, in part because I don’t like to show weakness, and that is a failure of mine.
When you have a chronic illness, it starts to become the core of your being. It becomes hard to not let your illness define you, to actually live a life. It also becomes hard to explain your experiences to your healthy friends and family and I’m somewhat glad that I have friends with similar experiences for support (though I am not thankful they also have to live with these struggles.)
I’m not sure when I first heard about the interactive narrative tool, Twine, but from the start I had a feeling that, as someone who wants to get into game narrative, it was the kind of thing I’d want to experiment with. My first idea was based around chronic illness, and trying to illustrate what life is when you have one.
And so, I created Bloom.
Over the past couple weeks I have consistently come up against walls put up by the biggest challenge of my young life: my illness. It comes and goes in waves, as many of life’s struggles do. One week I might wake up earlier than usual. I won’t get exhausted from showering and dressing and getting generally ready for my day. I’ll be productive, and best of all I’ll be optimistic.
The next week: sleep becomes a struggle, but waking up is like pulling myself from a tar pit. I’ll collapse onto my bed after getting ready and I won’t have the energy to move for another hour. I might have to stop making breakfast halfway through and lie down on the kitchen floor, the world dim and muffled. This, unfortunately, has been the entirety of March for me so far.
Chronic fatigue is balls.
Today is the last day of 2014 (at least for me in NZ) and really, I’m pretty excited for the new year. This year hasn’t been bad—it’s had its downs, all years do—but it’s been long. A lot has happened, but it also feels like nothing at all has.
In the end it was a year based on recovery and re-learning my own body after the nightmare of last year. That’s been mostly successful! I can run for far longer than before, I can walk back home after going into the bay, my brain fog has lessened, I don’t get anxious when I get phone calls anymore. I’m not good, but i’m okay—and that is something I very desperately needed.
As for my blog, I’m pretty happy I’m still here and writing (Even if there are sometimes big gaps between my posts!) One of my goals for next year is to kick my butt into gear when it comes to writing and blogging for all the blogs I write for, as well as for the novel I’m slowly working on.
Let’s look back at my year, because it’s far more interesting to write my own “year in review” than let Facebook generate it for me. Read More