Now Let’s Actually Play Skyrim…

My computer problems seem to be resolved. I did a clean install of my operating system, let it update itself, and I’ve been slowly replacing programs. Fox asked me to back up his level 50-something character, so we have all our save files from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Today I played with my level 39 character – who has more gold than she’ll ever need, owns multiple houses, and makes the best gear in the game. (Better gear will become available as her smithing skill improves.) It provided a nice break from all the reality I’ve been dealing with lately.

I played for a while, decided to take a break, and was pleased to discover that my computer did not crash when I closed the game. Since I’ve been so obsessed with the idea of doing a Let’s Play, I decided to give it a try. Like anything else, videos that combine gameplay footage and audio commentary don’t happen because a gamer wants them to. They happen because the LPer gathers the necessary software and equipment, presses “record,” and does their best to make whatever happens entertaining. It takes a lot of courage and self-acceptance.

I started a new game just so I could practice recording. There are some things I need to work out in the introduction, but it goes smoothly enough. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the comments I made during character creation bore little resemblance to the lines I’ve been compulsively practicing.

I want to share my thought process while choosing my character’s race, but actually making the selection in character creation takes me about 2 seconds because I’ve already made my decision. Do I let the video become static while I talk, or do I make my selection quickly? If I do the latter, should I try to talk about the race I chose while tweaking the character’s appearance? It seems like character creation is set up so it can happen quite quickly, without breaking up the action that is going on at the beginning of the game. I’m torn between going along with that and taking some time to share my strategy.

Perhaps I should record post-commentary: instead of talking while I’m creating my character, I can record my comments while watching the video later. That will leave me free to focus on character creation while recording the gameplay footage, then focus on sharing my strategy while recording my commentary. Yay not multitasking!

The point is, I’m finally trying things and learning what does or doesn’t work, instead of just obsessing over them. I even made a short trial episode! Perhaps as I practice taking a more “hands on” approach to the Let’s Play, I’ll feel more confident about working to improve my skills, complete quests, and level up in reality.

Let’s Play Skyrim

Welcome to a repeat of my post from April 2014! I like to think I’ve come a long way since then: I’m hopeful regarding my future. I feel a strong positive connection with Fox (my husband) and other loved ones, especially when we express our mutual affection. I have been playing video games, but for reasonable periods of time and without allowing them to interfere with living my real life. (It’s been several months since the last time I played Skyrim.)

On Tuesday my prescriber told me that I’m doing great, switched my prescription to one dose per day, and said to come back in 3 months. I’ve started addressing my social anxiety with help from my music therapist, Wakana. The last couple days have been a fun reunion with dear college friends. Honestly, the only not-so-awesome thing going on for me right now is the problem with my computer… and even that seems close to being resolved.

I’m doing this re-post because I’ve started obsessively practicing lines for the first couple episodes if I ever do a Let’s Play of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It’s kind of annoying because I’ve already said the same things many times, and yet I still feel compelled to repeat them over and over. It’s better than having a panic attack because a bee bounced off my windshield while I was driving, imagining wasps attacking me, or being afraid to look in the mirror at night because I was traumatized by a movie I watched as a pre-teen, though.

My anxieties – social anxiety, general feelings that something horrible will happen, and my bee/wasp/hornet phobia – have been flaring up like crazy lately. It kind of makes sense that my defense would be to concentrate on a fantasy world, where I can load from a recent save if I don’t like what happens. The lines I’ve been practicing focus almost exclusively on character creation, the one part of the game over which the player has nearly total control.

There are a lot of parallels between my current situation and the context for the original version of this post (below). I was feeling good about my life, being active and social, trying new things, and acting like a responsible adult then, too. My anxiety was flaring up then, too – driving my mind to grab onto whatever it could as a security blanket:

I had an epic day of being awesome on Thursday, so I was exhausted on Friday. I spent what part of the day I wasn’t sleeping practicing Zentangles and hanging out with friends. Saturday was similarly low-key. After drawing my Zentangle for the day, I was itching to play a video game: something beautiful and epic and new…

So I started a game of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on PC. Next thing I knew, the sun was rising. I took a nap and basically spent all of Sunday playing thoroughly immersed in that fictional world. I’m enjoying the game and want to experience the story, but to be honest there are aspects of it I find rather stressful. Melee combat, for one – especially since the default difficulty was too high for me and I kept dying. I’ve been doing much better since I dialed it down a notch, but I still prefer to avoid melee combat when possible.

The other thing I find stressful is that, whether a character is attacking me physically or not, they’re talking at me. The physical attackers hurl insults that can hurt more than their blades (except that they’re obviously wrong, because I end up killing them.) Other characters I pass might say something mean, ask me for something, or randomly tell me their life story.

Some of the other characters in Skyrim say very mean things to the player character, especially if you’re playing one of the less popular races. […] I’m still concerned that hearing negative talk consistently for hours at a time can be harmful… at least for me.

[…]

Anyways, as much as I want to just play the game and have fun with it – learning things as I come across them and making decisions spontaneously – my mind wants to plan out a Let’s Play. The most basic definition of a Let’s Play is a video that combines actual gameplay footage with simultaneous audio commentary by the player; it can be a walkthrough, a challenge run, friends goofing off (whether playing competitively or collaboratively), even a talk about a topic that has nothing to do with video games. Fox’s favorite Let’s Player (LPer) is HCBailley.

I love the idea of Let’s Plays and have wanted to do one for a few years now. I had a couple false starts, but on some level I’m convinced it’s only a matter of time before I get one going that I can be consistent with (and get all the YouTube followers!). It’s an opportunity to do some video editing – which I enjoy for the process at least as much as the product – and share my thoughts about the game. I want to share the story, be witty and entertaining, and give a feminist critique.

I’m trying to convince my mind to put the Let’s Play idea on the back burner for now. Let me learn to be consistent with things that are important to my real life before I start a project that requires me to play a long and involved video game on a regular schedule (and in manageable doses). […]

The thing is, if I think about the game when I’m not actively playing it, there isn’t much to say. I have my character. I’d like to improve my smithing and melee combat abilities. I’m really glad I can mute the voices and determine when subtitles appear. I’m not entirely sure it was wise to drop all of my gold on a house this early in the game, but it’s a place to keep the dragon bones and scales I’ve been collecting. It also enabled me to adopt a child; interacting with her causes me to feel warm and fuzzy inside. I could think about which quest to start next, but they’re all in a nice convenient log for me so I can just decide next time I play.

The above don’t give my mind much to grab onto, and it doesn’t like that. Moving forward with my real-life career goals, dealing with real-life people (especially strangers in positions of authority), and even just being fully present in the moment are all things that provoke my anxiety. My mind needs something to grab onto, something to think about so incessantly there isn’t room for thoughts about the real world in general and my own life in particular.

It was hoping the Let’s Play would provide such a security blanket; it wants to lure me into thinking about my ideal character build instead of actually developing skills I need in real life. It wants me to direct my creative energy into witty commentary about the game instead of into composing original music, creating original art, or writing anything worth reading. It wants me to feel good about earning virtual money to make a virtual home pleasant and cozy… instead of finding a real job, earning real money, decluttering my real home, and raising a real family.

Oh, Mara, I thought I’d gotten past this. I should have known! How could reading a few chapters of a book once truly change the way I think about and perceive myself? How could it counteract a lifetime of internalized messages reinforced by my perception of my experiences?

[…]

I thought I was doing better but then… I don’t know! Did I push myself too hard and need some downtime to recover? Did I relapse? Am I making any progress, or am I just walking in circles completely lost? I hate being unable to trust my own perception of reality.

Let’s Play Skyrim

I had an epic day of being awesome on Thursday, so I was exhausted on Friday. I spent what part of the day I wasn’t sleeping practicing Zentangles and hanging out with friends. Saturday was similarly low-key. After drawing my Zentangle for the day, I was itching to play a video game: something beautiful and epic and new…

So I started a game of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on PC. Next thing I knew, the sun was rising. I took a nap and basically spent all of Sunday playing thoroughly immersed in that fictional world. I’m enjoying the game and want to experience the story, but to be honest there are aspects of it I find rather stressful. Melee combat, for one – especially since the default difficulty was too high for me and I kept dying. I’ve been doing much better since I dialed it down a notch, but I still prefer to avoid melee combat when possible.

The other thing I find stressful is that, whether a character is attacking me physically or not, they’re talking at me. The physical attackers hurl insults that can hurt more than their blades (except that they’re obviously wrong, because I end up killing them.) Other characters I pass might say something mean, ask me for something, or randomly tell me their life story.

Some of the other characters in Skyrim say very mean things to the player character, especially if you’re playing one of the less popular races. The same is true of Oblivion; I haven’t played the other Elder Scrolls games yet, but I imagine they are probably similar. It’s quite unpleasant, and worse I’m concerned that it could have similar psychological effects to being bullied. I know it’s a game and gamers are well aware that it’s fiction and they can turn it off and walk away from it. Most people have a strong healthy boundary between themselves and the character they’ve created. The bullies can’t actually keep them from achieving their real-life goals – or the ones in the game, for that matter. (In other words, it’s quite different from being bullied in real life.) But I’m still concerned that hearing negative talk consistently for hours at a time can be harmful… at least for me.

On the positive side, I just figured out that I can mute the voices and only have subtitles during dialogue (audio and display settings, respectively). It makes the game a bit less immersive, but perhaps that’s also better for my mental health. I guess I’ll see how it goes next time I play.

Now if only we could do that to real-life politicians…

Anyways, as much as I want to just play the game and have fun with it – learning things as I come across them and making decisions spontaneously – my mind wants to plan out a Let’s Play. The most basic definition of a Let’s Play is a video that combines actual gameplay footage with simultaneous audio commentary by the player; it can be a walkthrough, a challenge run, friends goofing off (whether playing competitively or collaboratively), even a talk about a topic that has nothing to do with video games. Fox’s favorite Let’s Player (LPer) is HCBailley.

I love the idea of Let’s Plays and have wanted to do one for a few years now. I had a couple false starts, but on some level I’m convinced it’s only a matter of time before I get one going that I can be consistent with (and get all the YouTube followers!). It’s an opportunity to do some video editing – which I enjoy for the process at least as much as the product – and share my thoughts about the game. I want to share the story, be witty and entertaining, and give a feminist critique.

I’m trying to convince my mind to put the Let’s Play idea on the back burner for now. Let me learn to be consistent with things that are important to my real life before I start a project that requires me to play a long and involved video game on a regular schedule (and in manageable doses). I need to play through the game at least once before I’ll know it well enough to do it justice. I’m still trying to figure out my priorities for my character; something I haven’t encountered yet could inspire me to change my entire focus. So there’s no need to determine exactly how I’m going to introduce myself, what I want to include in the first episode, or how to include the feminist critique without ranting too much. Those things can develop over the weeks, months, or even years I’ll need to prepare for such a monstrous undertaking… and to be honest, I doubt anyone will particularly care about Skyrim anymore by then. It already has a successor.

The thing is, if I think about the game when I’m not actively playing it, there isn’t much to say. I have my character. I’d like to improve my smithing and melee combat abilities. I’m really glad I can mute the voices and determine when subtitles appear. I’m not entirely sure it was wise to drop all of my gold on a house this early in the game, but it’s a place to keep the dragon bones and scales I’ve been collecting. It also enabled me to adopt a child; interacting with her causes me to feel warm and fuzzy inside. I could think about which quest to start next, but they’re all in a nice convenient log for me so I can just decide next time I play.

The above don’t give my mind much to grab onto, and it doesn’t like that. Moving forward with my real-life career goals, dealing with real-life people (especially strangers in positions of authority), and even just being fully present in the moment are all things that provoke my anxiety. My mind needs something to grab onto, something to think about so incessantly there isn’t room for thoughts about the real world in general and my own life in particular.

It was hoping the Let’s Play would provide such a security blanket; it wants to lure me into thinking about my ideal character build instead of actually developing skills I need in real life. It wants me to direct my creative energy into witty commentary about the game instead of into composing original music, creating original art, or writing anything worth reading. It wants me to feel good about earning virtual money to make a virtual home pleasant and cozy… instead of finding a real job, earning real money, decluttering my real home, and raising a real family.

Oh, Mara, I thought I’d gotten past this. I should have known! How could reading a few chapters of a book once truly change the way I think about and perceive myself? How could it counteract a lifetime of internalized messages reinforced by my perception of my experiences?

My mind is trying to annihilate me. Suicidal thoughts don’t work if nothing else because I don’t want to cause my loved ones pain. So it tricks me into thinking I don’t need therapy and clings to whatever fiction I have some interest in, becoming so wrapped up in that universe I can hardly even feel it when Fox expresses his very real love for me.

I thought I was doing better but then… I don’t know! Did I push myself too hard and need some downtime to recover? Did I relapse? Am I making any progress, or am I just walking in circles completely lost? I hate being unable to trust my own perception of reality.

Third 3-Month Review

I’m proud to say that I’ve stuck with this blog for 9 months. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster but I’m still hanging on, and so is Fox.

I’ve written 140 posts; you are welcome to read my First and Second 3-Month Reviews. This post will pick up where the second 3-month review left off – in late June.

Fox has written 3 posts (in chronological order):

  1. Masculinity, Tools of Violence, and Embracing Femininity (01/15/13)
  2. From a Supporter’s Point of View (05/22/13)
  3. When Supporting Starts to Hurt (06/29/13)

Most of my posts for the past 3 months have been focused on my efforts to take care of myself – or at least develop a plan for doing so.

Continuous knotwork panel designed by Ziya.

Continuous knotwork panel designed by Ziya.

At first I needed to allow myself some room to breathe. I took a step back and allowed Fox to decide what to keep and what to dispose of when he moved in with me; this made the entire process much easier on both of us. I also gave myself permission to leave projects unfinished and to make my own decisions without feeling like they are unhealthy or morally wrong. This empowered me to take control of my own treatment and recovery.

The first thing I did with my new-found agency was decide to stop seeing my psychiatrist and taking my medications, both of which weren’t helping and were probably making my symptoms worse. (Prescription by Dr. Ziya and my reply to its first comment.) I also learned about how inactive ingredients in generic “equivalents” of brand-name medications can limit the effectiveness of the active ingredient and/or have other adverse effects. I became determined to find a psychiatrist who would take inactive ingredients into account and, most importantly, whose sole concern would be helping me to find the best medication(s) for me.

frustrated woman holding cell phone to ear

why me?

Unfortunately, trying to find help turned out to be more trouble than it was worth. All it really did was make my symptoms worse. I barely had the energy and motivation to take steps to try and make an appointment with a psychiatrist, which required me to overcome my distaste for talking to strangers on the phone. When I finally mustered up the energy to do it, 2 psychiatrists never got back to me and the 3rd played phone tag with me until I got so pissed off at him I doubted our ability to develop a functional therapeutic relationship. I wished someone else could make the appointment for me, but I’m pretty sure health care providers require competent adult patients to make their own appointments. I don’t think anyone involved was ready to have me declared incompetent, even if it would have gotten me the help I needed.
(Stop having Cancer so you can Find a Doctor; Holistic Treatments; Crossroads)

While I was trying to find a psychiatrist, I was also trying to find a way to continue having the health insurance I needed to afford said psychiatrist and the psychotropic medications ze would prescribe. I thought I could continue receiving coverage from my school, but then I learned they no longer offered insurance for part-time students. I was able to find two alternatives. I could switch to the first right away but it cost $400 per month and as far as I could tell did not include prescriptions. The other was $320 per month and included prescriptions but I was confused as to whether and when I’d be able to pick it up. Then I learned that in October I’ll be able to search for affordable health insurance on Healthcare.gov. I made the difficult decision to wait until October to explore my health insurance options, leaving myself without coverage until January. At that time I also decided against continuing my search for a good psychiatrist. (Healthcare Headache; The Healthcare Headache Continues…)

pill bottleFreed from the American headache “healthcare” system, I created my own plan for how to take care of myself: Planning A Head. To be honest, the only part of it I’ve been consistent with is taking 400mg of SAM-e, an Omega 3 supplement, a vitamin B complex, and vitamin D every day. The plan also includes listening to a playlist of songs that help me feel energized and ready to face the day – as well as a variety of activities that involve self-care, enrichment, and/or just having fun. Some of the activities are very easy to do every day, such as spending quality time with Fox and our pets. Others require a bit more organization and forethought; I just don’t have enough structure in my life right now to engage in them regularly.

My scores on the Burns Depression Inventory for the past 4 weeks. Daily scores are marked in blue, while weekly averages are marked in red. Although the severity of my depression symptoms can change drastically from day to day, there has been a steady decline in weekly averages from July 29, 2013 to August 34, 2013.

My scores on the Burns Depression Inventory for the past 4 weeks. Daily scores are marked in blue, while weekly averages are marked in red. Although the severity of my depression symptoms can change drastically from day to day, there has been a steady decline in weekly averages from July 29, 2013 to August 24, 2013.

I decided to use the Burns Depression Checklist to keep track of the severity of my depression symptoms from day to day and week to week. I took a look at overall daily scores and weekly averages in Measuring Recovery: Part 1, and analyzed my daily scores on the subcategories of the checklist in Part 2.

I’ve been less consistent in using the checklist in September, but from what I can tell the oscillations in daily scores have continued. The weekly average score actually went up in the first week; it’s hard to say anything useful about the second week because I only tracked on Friday and Saturday, which both had scores in the teens. I’ve been visiting with Banji and her parents, which has been a pleasant break from the norm.

I also joined SparkPeople in hopes that it will help motivate me to take better care of myself, including exercise and better nutrition. To be honest I lost interest in that pretty quickly; I’ll log in every so often and occasionally track, but I’m nowhere near as active with it as I’d intended. But it’s sitting there, waiting for me to sign in, ready to reward me with points for any efforts I do make toward living a healthier lifestyle.

The Dark Side
(trigger warning)

There has been a darker thread running through my posts in the last 3 months; I wouldn’t be upholding the purpose of this blog if I didn’t at least try to write about it in this review.

In More Celtic Design Knotwork I wrote about how I often lack the passion and energy to express my emotions, and use coping mechanisms to suppress them so I’ll come across as calm (often for the benefit of others). “I just want a day off” more often than I care to admit; you can almost say there are times when I don’t want to be bothered with my whole life! Then I retreat into video games, which give me a space where I feel in control and can vicariously experience the benefits of getting out of the house and doing things in a fantasy world with no real consequences. Most importantly, in those games I can accomplish my goals with minimal interference by other people; if the characters in the game get annoying enough I can kill them; if that causes the game to become very difficult to play I can go back to a recent save. (Invasion)

Fingers with strings tied to them, controlling a puppet.I simply cannot do that in real life and it’s very annoying. I have to compromise with somebody in order to accomplish anything. It’s driving me nuts! My mother especially has been making things very difficult by trying to control me. She undermines my confidence by criticizing my appearance (Mother-of-the-Bride Zilla) and causing me to question my decision to marry Fox, never mind all the decisions we’ve made regarding the wedding. When I wrote No Space for Me I felt like Mom, Fox, his mother, and his sister were all against me, completely disregarding my boundaries and right to have and state my own opinion. That was the first time I recognized the Warden (though I didn’t write about that persona in the post) – the voice in my head thought process that says I’m not allowed to do anything of my own will, to dissent, to assert my needs and rights. It’s positively devastating; it leads me to suicidal thoughts.

I mentioned that “the images of knives cutting into me are coming back again” on August 12th, when I wrote about my undergraduate mentor’s Death. That imagery has not been coming up with much frequency, but there have been a couple times (other than those I wrote about) when I’ve scratched myself as a kind of punishment / refocusing. Thanks to Fox, I was able to channel the immense energy of suicidal ideation into making music on August 14th (Spring Cleaning). I’m pretty sure my crisis on August 19th (No Space for Me, link above) was the most recent, but it’s still rather terrifying.

tomboy holding up prom dress and looking at self in mirror

Contrasting Views on Norman Rockwell’s America

Similarly terrifying is the difficulty I’m having thinking of myself as an employable person, someone capable of holding down any (preferably meaningful) job. It started in Career Person? when I realized that striving for a meaningful career outside the home was no longer a crucial part of my identity. Then I allowed anxiety to completely undermine my chances of being offered the job I’d applied for, using every doubt and insecurity hidden in my mind. It finally won by preying on my insecurities around weight and fashion, particularly in the context of being female in this society. I don’t have any confidence in my ability to make myself look attractive – and therefore employable – to the mainstream; I’d much rather wear sweat pants and avoid it. (Oh No! Interview?!)

If I can’t pull off a career … that thought is too devastating. I could be a stay-at-home parent but that feels just as if not even more empty than having a career but no kids. I need to feel like I’m having a meaningful impact on society; having some kind of income would be wonderful. (It will also be necessary if Fox and I ever want to move out of my mother’s house.) I’m trying to be hopeful but mostly I’m afraid. And sad. It’s not even that I can’t see any open doors, I don’t see any doors at all. Only windows.

And I don’t know how to talk about it. I spent a whole week not knowing how to talk about it, before I wrote Update. As much as I wish I could take care of myself the truth is I can’t; I need help, and I need that help to include some kind of vocational guidance, training, and employment.

The Flashlight

This weekend has given me some hope (even though I chose to end it by staying up too late writing about my most painful thoughts and experiences for the past 3 months). It started with Banji’s parents showing me respect on our way to visit with her (Creating a Space for Me). I’ve spent the weekend making a conscious effort to assert myself more, with satisfying results. It hasn’t exactly been my ideal weekend – I’ve been cold, awake when they’re sleeping and sleeping when they’re awake, and going online while Banji finishes unpacking. Dad kicked my ass at the same board game twice. But it has been a good weekend, what one could call a corrective family experience. As much as I might be tempted to isolate myself, I’m part of this group. My views are respected, my needs taken into consideration, my self valued. All I have to do is speak up – and more importantly, I know it’s safe to do so!

Fenix-RC15-Flashlight-Beam

I know I can assert myself around other loved ones, too. I’ve seen positive results from doing so in the past. I needed this opportunity to practice in a different setting, a group with a (generally) much calmer and slower dynamic. I needed to see and feel their respect for me; sometimes I have a lot of trouble doing that in other groups. Maybe now that I’ve had this experience, I’ll be able to request the help I really need – and deserve.