The Curse of the Dragonborn

“Let’s play Skyrim” – by which I mean: “Let’s repeat the same sequence 7 times before we’re satisfied with the footage we recorded, then discover that the video and audio have become unsynchronized, so we have to do it again!” (I’m actually not exaggerating.) Then let’s do a great job editing the footage together and record some kick-ass post-commentary (which tends to also require several takes, and editing).

I’ve been working on this Let’s Play for a little over a week now; I’ve felt just about everything one could possibly feel about it:

I’m frustrated with how time-consuming and repetitive the process is. I’m angry at myself for how much time I’m putting into it, and feeling guilty about the things I’m not doing as a result. I’m thoroughly obsessed with it and gain a lot of satisfaction from thinking about it – but I would also like to occasionally not think about it. I’m devastated when I turn my back on it to spend time with Fox, but we’re both too exhausted to do anything. I feel better when we talk about Skyrim.

I’m proud of the work I’ve done so far and I want to share it. I’m concerned no one will watch it. I’m unsure whether I’ll be able to keep it up – and whether doing so is healthy. I feel very powerful when I play well. I feel very anxious when I’m unsure about a decision while recording. I want to show off my fantastic skills and wow viewers with my insightful commentary. I even like the way my voice sounds. I want to know what others think of it – mostly.

I think I should delete everything and start over. I think I should delete everything and stop playing Skyrim. I think I would be very sad if I deleted or otherwise lost my completed episodes, which are quite good – especially after putting so much time and energy into them.

I think it’s a fun hobby and good long-term project, assuming I can take breaks from it without abandoning it entirely. I want to join the Let’s Play community. I’m happy that so far I’ve prioritized opportunities to socialize in person and going to my therapy session over playing Skyrim. I’d much rather play Skyrim than do chores, apply for jobs and internships, run errands, exercise, do other leisure activities, etc. I really need to move forward with my life. I’m being creative, really!

My pet rats are adorable, make everything better, and are completely dependent on me. They are a million times more important than Skyrim.

… they also sleep a lot.

A Step Toward Oblivion

I’m playing Skyrim to numb the pain. It comes when I’m not distracted by socializing, when I’m alone with my own thoughts. I feel like it’s always here, waiting for my loved ones to leave, for the electronics to go off, for me to get tired. I’m always tired. The voices – well, one very mean voice – told me I should drown myself because I dropped one of my favorite bowls (now considered “vintage” because it’s from the 70s) and it shattered. One of the other voices stood up for me: “It’s a bowl. Ze had to clean it up. I think that’s punishment enough.”

I helped Fox get out the door this morning, so he could be on time for an early shift. That felt good. I saw the sun rise. I got to hug him. I got to feel like I was doing something meaningful.

Now he’s gone and I’m surrounded by clutter. I’m tired. I look at my music instruments and feel sad, like my best friend has gone away. Oh, wait, she has. Banji was visiting for the holidays – but she had to go back to where she’s been living, a 5-hour drive away. It hit me much harder than I’d expected. She’ll be back soon. And I can visit her. Weather permitting, of course. But I still miss her. My heart’s been torn out and driven 5 hours away.

Courses. I need to get an extension so I can finish my degree. I’m afraid the dean will say “no,” or that it won’t be enough. I don’t think I’ll be accepted again if I have to re-apply to my program, and I can’t afford to re-take courses. My student debt is crushing enough.

I’m supposed to re-take the courses I had to drop 2 years ago because they were provoking suicidal thoughts. I was hurting myself – not doing any real damage, just causing lots of physical pain – on a regular basis because it was the only way I could get home from classes in one piece. So much was supposed to change between then and now: I was supposed to get better, to improve my music skills so I’d feel more confident using them in class, to become a normal functioning adult. Now I can’t carry a bowl from one room to another without it shattering at my feet.

I was doing better for a while – or so I thought. I learned a lot. I think that stuff is still with me, it’s hard to say. These depression and anxiety goggles are so thick and heavy I can barely lift my head.

But none of that matters. What matters is that something as simple as the holidays being over can still throw me into a deep depression like this. How can I live? How can I accomplish any of my goals and dreams?

Skyrim is my stasis chamber. It’s how I (am currently trying to) survive the long journey through the void of strong depression between planets of… mild depression.

Resolutions shMEHjzolutions

Trigger Warning: video game addiction, particularly RPGs (role-playing games) and The Sims 3

I hadn’t played The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim since August 15th. Four and a half (4.5) months!!! That’s not to say I was abstaining from video games; I have been playing The Sims 3 a lot, to the point where my first generation of sims born in-game are elders and the second will be young adults soon. But Skyrim had practically become a thing of the past…

Then a friend posted about it on Facebook, and I started wanting to play again. She was talking about a quest line I thoroughly enjoyed, but have already completed. Other people have talked about the game since, increasing my tendency to think about and want to play it. My desire to do a Let’s Play of Skyrim has resurrected itself; I’d like to say “against my will” but I’m not entirely convinced that’s true. To make matters even worse, the new expansion for World of Warcraft (WoW) has a close friend of mine playing and talking about that game again; I think to some extent the discussion of WoW by a handful of friends at our New Year’s Eve celebration pushed me over the edge.

I had a mixed Holiday Season: there were a number of good things that happened but it was also very stressful, perhaps more so than usual. I tried to acknowledge Yule but I’m not entirely happy with the extent to which I did so. Christmas sneaked up on me somehow and I failed to decorate for it. My godmother almost suffocated on Christmas Eve (while I was celebrating with Banji) and is still in the hospital. I had some very enjoyable gatherings with friends and family over the past two weeks, but it was a lot of socialization all at once, without much of a break in between. I became very irritable – possible manic symptoms? – leading up to New Year’s Eve. I haven’t been getting satisfactory sleep and I’ve been eating a ton of sugar, salt, and fat in lieu of the nutrients my body actually needs. Fox and I had been planning to enjoy today as a chance to sleep in and have a restful time to ourselves – but then he learned a that cousin he rarely sees is visiting with his parents, and decided to go see them instead.

So, the first thing I did when I got home yesterday was load my old game of Skyrim. I was extremely tempted to start a new game (again) but I really want to experience the stuff I haven’t gotten to do yet. I put in several hours of gameplay yesterday and have already played for an additional 4 hours today. It’s been surprisingly easy to just pick up my old game where I’d left off, thanks largely to the quest log. If only it were so easy to just dive back in to real life…

Part of me is upset because the whole point of New Year’s Resolutions is that you’re supposed to start working on them the first day of the new year… right? “A new year, a new you!”? I could have worked on at least one of the resolutions yesterday, but I didn’t. Well, I guess I was socializing in a group for a decent chunk of it, and I was interacting with people I care about. I guess I need to accept that I can’t do all of my resolutions every day, but I regret not at least trying to get in 10 minutes of physical activity.

The rest of me says: let’s be honest. Midnight on January 1st marks the beginning of a new year because we say it does (and ostensibly because the earth has begun a new revolution around the sun – but we could put the point at which revolutions begin and end anywhere along our orbit). It’s a cultural construction that has everything to do with what we want to do – have a clean slate on which to draw our ideal lives – and nothing to do with reality.

In reality the earth making a full revolution back to a particular point on its orbit associated with January 1st is no different from it making a full revolution back to a particular point on its orbit associated with any other month and day. In reality, time is continuous. It is cyclical, but each cycle is affected by events during the cycles preceding it. The cycles do not begin and end at preset points, but flow continuously from one into the next. The way we divide time is arbitrary.

I might have decided that midnight on January 1st, 2015 marked the beginning of a new year, and here are some things I want to focus on. To be honest, I think that’s healthy. It’s important to live life with intention. Saying it’s a new year helps with that: I can forgive myself and the universe for whatever I didn’t like about last year, and focus on what I want to do going forward.

But in reality, my life and my Self have continued on without the luxury of being wiped clean, over countless arbitrary culturally-determined divisions of time and at least thirty new years. I’m still the same person I was at 23:59:59 on December 31, 2014. I still have all the same habits, the same very cluttered apartment, the same mental health issues, the same worry and guilt about what’s going on with my godmother, the same need to have some time to rest before I move on with Life After the Holidays. I’m still clinging to floating debris trying to figure out where I should put my feet.

That’s not going to stop because I’ve decided it’s a new year, as of midnight on January 1st, 2015. Just like I can’t arbitrarily decide that now I’ve recovered and I no longer have depression and anxiety, or bipolar, or episodic mood disorder NOS, or whatever the hell it is. I just live. I need to take care of myself always – not “starting” at x point in time. I can’t do it continuously without fail; I’m going to mess up and backtrack and have another episode and need another break. I’m going to have times when I become obsessed with something and use it as an escape from reality. It just is. I forgive myself preemptively.

What I can do is accept that and do my best to love myself. “Okay, we’ve played Skyrim for four hours, let’s take a break.” I was feeling hungry as I wrote about neglecting my nutritional needs, so I decided to go eat some leftover vegetables. I’ve been having trouble getting a restful night’s sleep, so last night I listened to a guided meditation – that worked perfectly. My resolutions reflect my needs, so it’s important that I do my best to stick to them. But I let go of the temptation to want to do them all perfectly every day. It’s just not realistic. I can celebrate what I do. If there’s something I consistently don’t do, I can try to figure out why and address that need.

That’s what this post comes down to. I made a bunch of resolutions, then proceeded to ignore them in favor of not just playing Skyrim, but becoming obsessed with starting a project that would eat up all my time. In other words, I chose was am severely tempted by a path that would make it impossible more difficult for me to do what I need to create the life I want for myself. Why? What is all this really pointing to? What am I trying to communicate to myself? What needs aren’t being met?

I’m not sure I’m ready to answer that directly, but I’m reminded of a post from last March: Whose Goals are These Anyway?

Escape to Dragon Valley Pt. 1

I feel like I should write about the rest of the time I spent with Banji at her aunt’s house, but the words just aren’t coming right now. There was a lot of crying and other emotional vulnerability. We also had a lot of fun connecting (especially through music) and watched the entire first season of Elementary. The single best day IMHO was the one we spent outside around a fire talking, cooking hot dogs, and making s’mores.

As the visit came to a close, I found myself thinking more and more about my game in The Sims 3. I packed too much into the day I returned home, so by the end of it I had little energy (especially emotional energy) for anything social – even just talking or cuddling with Fox. I dove back into the game and haven’t really left it since. I’ve been playing it even more since Wakana gave me a list of things I need to do to get myself living life and interacting with people more; she asked me to call her at the start and end of each play session. I swear I didn’t lie when I agreed to do those things, I just promptly decided not to do them.

One thing Wakana asked me to do that I am inclined to follow up on is to write about my active game and what I get out of it. This post is the first of … some number, I have no idea … that will address the issue. I suppose I should mention that I’ve also been feeling very pressured to move more quickly on preparations for my legal marriage ceremony in less than a month. I want people (especially Mom) to back off but that doesn’t seem to be happening, so I hide in The Sims 3 instead of dealing with any of it.

My The Sims 3 family consists of a stay-at-home dad who’s going to become an elder very soon, an orchestra conductor who is painfully close to achieving her lifetime goal, a high school senior in a promising relationship who also has an imaginary friend, and a child genius. I’m at the point where I have a habit of abandoning my current game in favor of a new set of young adults, but I’m hoping that maybe I’ll stick with this family for multiple generations. Yet at the same time part of me thinks the best thing I could do for myself is drop The Sims 3 cold turkey, uninstall it and everything. There I typed it but I don’t want to do it, okay? I’m still holding out for a solution that lets me keep playing, just without sacrificing my whole life.

Last night I took a break from actually playing to create a timeline that combines all four sims’ memories into a sort of rudimentary narrative. This was more important to me than sleeping last night / this morning or doing anything useful today. There’s no point to creating something like that just to keep it to myself, so, well, enjoy. Please don’t hesitate to tell me what you think.

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Two of Fox’s friends came over Wednesday evening. I enjoyed spending time with them, particularly connecting with one whom I’ll call “T”. The thing is, “connecting with” ended up meaning “listening to,” largely in the supportive role I seem to enter automatically, regardless of whether that’s healthy for me at the time. I know some mutual support in conversations is good and expected, the problem is that I have trouble setting and enforcing the boundaries I need to keep the support mutual. Sometimes I feel like everyone just wants me to be their shrink … and I’ll admit that feeling came up several times Wed. & Thurs.

Fox’s other friend, “D”, was on call for work. D got calls after midnight. He got calls from people who didn’t leave a message or didn’t call back. He got calls from people who wanted him to wake a coworker up in the middle of the night for emergency service. He missed the fireworks on Thursday because he was dealing with a customer who blamed his company for serious damage to their house. He was understandably stressed out, and so was I. I find it very hard not to get caught up in someone else’s anger and feel like, somehow, it’s my responsibility. That’s the last thing I need right now.

Other friends (whom I know through Fox) came over Thursday and for the most part we had a very good time. Good food and good conversation; I even learned a few things.

But they made me act as navigator in search of an open supermarket at the last minute on a national holiday “because you’re the only one who knows this area.” And I had to hear their frustration with businesses closing at a sane-for-a-holiday time because where they’re from you can always find someplace that’s open, within walking distance, no matter what day and time it is. WE HAD FOOD COMING OUT OUR COLLECTIVE EARS. There was really no need to get additional stuff to put in the salad. I think the lettuce I’d picked up (at a sane time to be in the supermarket on a national holiday – Fox and D needed to pick up a few things and had let me know of their plans in advance) would have been enough for everyone to have a small, simple salad. The extra stuff they insisted on getting is now sitting in my refrigerator – along with other leftovers. I resent being dragged out against my will to get things other people claimed were important to them and then didn’t even eat.

The fireworks were spectacular. We were able to sit on my front lawn and see 3 different shows, for free. There were times when they were a bit too bright and/or too loud, but for the most part I had no problem enjoying them. No funky sensory stuff provoking anxiety reactions like when we went to see Into Darkness.

I was able to be completely in the moment, joy exploding with each burst of light and washing over me in a rain of changing colors. The booms and crackles and fuzzy visual texture of some of the fireworks practically tickled me, causing additional happiness as I laughed.

I knew it wouldn’t last. But for those precious moments I was free, and I cherished every one of them. Even through the negative commentary from the peanut gallery that made part of me want to fly into a murderous rage – or at least tell everyone to shut up or leave – I had my fireworks. My own internal demons were silent. No worries, no guilt, no second-guessing, just fireworks. Big bold loud gorgeous colorful fireworks. All I had to do was sit there and watch them.

And Fox got to see me happy.

By the time everyone left we were both completely exhausted. We dedicated Friday to being bums; I spent most of it playing Oblivion and you know what that’s okay.

Then yesterday happened. I’d made plans to go out with Banji, who’s in the area for the holiday weekend, and her parents. I couldn’t get ready to leave in time to get to her parents’ house by the time they wanted to head out, so I cancelled. She invited and encouraged me to join them later in the day, but I couldn’t deal with my own emotions. Thoughts about harming, maybe even killing myself. Crushing guilt because I cancelled on my best friend who’d said she really wanted to see me, and whom I’d really wanted to see. Guilt for staying in and repeating the same pattern I could any day instead of getting out, seizing the moment, doing the thing that’s special and new and different with someone I love. Fear that I’ll never get out of this mess. Hopelessness. Sorrow. Bone-melting grief.

And underneath it all, a simmering anger. If she wanted to see me so badly and knew I was having trouble, why couldn’t she come to me? Why should I have to go out?

More guilt for feeling that way, thinking those forbidden thoughts. Mom’s “advice” echos in my head: “You need to force yourself.” But what if I can’t? Am I so horrible? Incompetent?

I ran into Oblivion to escape all these thoughts and feelings. There I could focus on completing a task; I organized my decisions around training certain skills and earning money so I could buy furnishings for my character’s house. I felt tense or even angry while fighting enemies, but there was an outlet for the emotion and I could be sure it would pass. I could even murder an entire room full of guards (one of whom had insulted me), somehow survive to tell the tale … and then load a recent save to escape the game-breaking consequences of my actions. That was the most fun I had all day. Fox seemed annoyed with me for doing it.

I’ll admit I felt guilty about playing Oblivion – instead of, say, spending time with Banji – but I thought it was the most adaptive thing I could handle at the time. While I was focused on the game I was not having self-harm and suicidal thoughts. I was making decisions, focusing my energy into something other than actively destroying myself. (Whether I’ve been passively destroying myself is up for debate.) I was even – though admittedly to a lesser extent than I would like – having fun. Imagine that! Is it allowed? For Ziya to have fun? Oh no, this is an offense that cannot be forgiven. Let the flogging commence.

And Fox. Poor Fox. I don’t know how he can tolerate living with me. I’ve been such a horrible fiancee. It really doesn’t help that the TV is so big and commands such a presence in the room and doesn’t have a headphone jack, so if he’s in the living room he kind of has no choice but to be at least minimally involved in me playing Oblivion – even if I could somehow manage not to make comments, whether directed at him or not, he’d still have to hear the inane “dialogue.” (Seriously, Bethesda, hire some writers – or anyone who’s ever witnessed a real-life conversation. Please!) I don’t envy him at all for having to put up with me, nor do I blame him for trying to have some control over what he’s forced to witness – whether on screen or sitting next to him. Never mind that he could go to another room or leave the house. This is where he’s comfortable, where his stuff is, and where there’s a chance that I’ll pause the game for a moment to make eye contact with him.

But he’s driving me nuts. I want to play the game – whether that means fixing up “my” house just so, running around jumping off rocks like an idiot, seeing how many guards I can kill before I run out of health potions, carefully choosing the ingredients for a potion based on their effects, sneaking everywhere, or going on a mission that seems interesting. He keeps giving me advice on how to “optimize” my character. Don’t do that quest yet because the reward for it gets better the higher level you are, so you’ll benefit more from it if you wait to do it later. You need to raise Endurance so you’ll gain more health points each level; the most efficient way to do that is to raise your Heavy Armor skill (which is ridiculously low in comparison to my other skills, so it will go up more quickly than the skills I’ve been using regularly). You have no interest whatsoever in doing anything with heavy armor, so why not get a set of it, put it on, go out to a cave, and let enemies beat on you? The Heavy Armor skill will rise quickly, and your Endurance will go up, and you’ll gain more health points each level. And be bored to tears while “playing” a game.

I’m playing that game because I want an escape from reality and I want to be in control. I want to try random crazy things knowing that the consequences 1) don’t have any effect on real life and 2) are avoidable if I have a recent save to load. I want to practice making decisions and exercising agency. I want to forget that I’m a generic human living in the 21st-century United States and become immersed in the fantasy world of the game, where I’m spell-casting combat-capable stealthy problem-solving money-earning humanoid lizard who can breathe underwater and isn’t afraid of anything doesn’t suffer from guilt, indecisiveness, and social anxiety is confident in her ability to make a positive difference in the world and motivated enough to get out of the house and do things.

I’ll admit that I do ask for advice – or at least information – about what to do next, particularly along the lines of “will I get a truly useful reward if I do this quest now, or should I wait on it?” Maybe it would be better if I stopped asking Fox for his input and just looked up the information I need to make the decision myself. Or maybe I should be clearer about what I want/need from him. Yes, please do answer this specific question as accurately and honestly as you are able (or decline and I’ll look up the info I need to make my decision myself). Yes, please do point out if you think I missed something important. No, please do not tell me the solution to this puzzle. I suppose it’s reasonable to remind me to save before acting on a decision you disagree with, but please don’t try to get me to change my mind. I’m the one playing my game.

That’s what it comes down to in real life. I’m not even sure what “my game” is, but I wish everyone would take a step back and let me decide how – or whether – I want to play it. And by “everyone” I largely mean the voices inside my own head, who amplify their interpretations of messages from loved ones and society, until there’s no room left for Ziya.