Dire Elephant, Meet Room
Let’s start off by being frank, it’s been a ghost town around this blog for years now. Sure, I’ve published an article or two here and there as the months drift by but not much. There’s been a ton of reasons as to why, some of them related to the gaming scene or being busy with everyday hurdles, but the truth of the matter is that for at least a solid 3 years now I thought I’d been falling out of love with my passions and not just falling deeper into depression. It was hard to say which was the truth until recently.
I’ve struggled with depression to some degree for most of my adult life, but it’s always been manageable. Self esteem has never been my forte either, but I manage to keep my chin up and press on a majority of the time. In the past 3 years though, everything has been harder than ever before. April 26th marks the anniversary of losing my dad to cancer. His passing was swift and unexpected, it left me with a bevy of emotions that I’m still sorting through, and negatively affected every facet of my life and my family’s lives. Also, of these past 36 months I was unemployed for about 8 of them, which also took a toll on me. In that time, I’ve also dealt with the emotional and legal hurdles of adopting my son, and most recently lost my grandmother – the woman whom I spent the first decade or so of my life with while my (then) single mom went out and busted her ass to make a life for us. Pile on being a living in Trump-era America in a red state and let’s just say that reigning in the venom and wrestling with my own self-loathing has made life a lot harder than ever before.
Which is why it might come as no surprise that a little under 2 months ago I was forced into emergency mental care for suicidal intentions. I’ve joked about suicide as a way of dark comic relief for longer than I can recall, but this wasn’t a joke. I was ready. I was ready and I had a plan and it seemed like the best idea and greatest solution I’d ever come up with. The weight of the world was lifted from my shoulders. That’s the thing about depression, its silver tongue can convince you of all the negatives in your life and tuck away all the positives in a single deceptive utterance. It will glibly convince you that the people you love won’t miss you for that long, or that their lives would be better without you around anymore. Luckily, I have the right people in my life, one of which being my wife, and without their aid I likely wouldn’t be here to write you this long-winded soliloquy.
For those of you who know me, at least via my Internet persona (which is about 60-80% the real me on any given day) you know that I’ve always been a bit more cynical, sarcastic, and hyperbolic than most. Which is fine, I’m not ashamed of who I am, but one thing I’ve noticed changing over the past few years though has been a sense of bitterness that’s crept in. I’ve been a lot of things in my life, but bitter was never one of them that’s ever lingered for more than a moment.
Apathy and bitterness are things that have slowly seeped into me in recent years, and sometimes I feel like the only way to keep them at bay is to vent it out into the world. Usually via Twitter in a less-than-subtle way. Usually on my unsuspecting followers who just want to read tweets about elf games and not my dissent for the human race. I’ve struggled with trying to find better ways to deal with this shit rather than to blindside Internet strangers with my raw emotions. I just can’t ever seem to actually accomplish it for more than a few days before I’m back to shouting into the void again. A subtweet here, a cynical trickle of something from my day there, before you know it I’m full on grognard. Granted II almost always attempt to keep humor at the forefront of a majority of those moments, both because I grew up listening to comedians like Carlin, Pryor, Cross, and Oswalt and so dark humor feels cathartic to me, but also to emphasize that I’m always at least partially joking.
It’s still no excuse though, there’s enough depressing shit out in the world that my Twitter followers don’t need an extra serving – especially when they follow me for gaming instead of my biting commentary on the state of society. Although of all my qualities, hyperbole is one I see the least likely going away any time soon, I’m not a miracle worker. For better or worse though all of these things are my coping mechanisms, it’s second nature, although now I’m starting to see their drawbacks more than ever before. The mood that social media has invoked sometimes stains my home life, my productivity at work, my overall demeanor, and my outlook on life itself.
I’ve wanted to blog about my life in addition to games for quite some time now. This blog has always been about gaming though, and I’ve always avoided a post like this for fear of it devolving into some LiveJournal navel-gazing. The thing is though, games intersect with so much of my life that it’s hard to separate the two at times. They always have. Everyone in my family is a gamer, we all play tabletop rpgs, board games, wargames, video games, and card games together as a family. We have family LAN parties and go to gaming conventions to celebrate birthdays. Our living room holds a framed poster of a dungeon generator map from 1st edition D&D, for the love of Asmodeus. So, when I say that these things intersect I’m not talking about the inability to separate the fiction from reality or to prioritize my real life obligations, but rather that the microcosm of the gaming world and that of my personal life are overlapping. Here I am though, talking to you about all of this instead of Frostgrave or Demon Lord or something cool. I guess I finally broke my own code because here we are, you’re reading a blog post about my innermost feelings.
Social Media & (My) Mental Health
For me the intake of media, my mental state, and my ability to create are all linked. If one of them falters, the others fall apart. Furthermore, my mental state has ebbed and flowed along similar lines as the gaming world for years now and sometimes the two tend to bleed into one another. I need more separation, I don’t think it’s healthy. This is mostly due to me coming to the realization that I have a semi-crippling social media addiction. I don’t use the word crippling lightly here, it effects every day of my life. Minute to minute. Tweet to tweet. Post to post. An impulsive glance at my browser tab seeking new information, points of view, humor, or most importantly – validation (or lack thereof). I’ve re-wired my brain to gaze into the abyss of Twitter for a majority of my workday. It’s not good. Then again, it’s not all bad.
I’ve made a lot of good friends on social media over the years. If it weren’t for things like Twitter I wouldn’t have some of my core friend group that currently helps keep me sane. These friends have helped me through a lot of tough times, a lot of personal shit, and listened to me complain more than most. These same friends keep me in check when my cynicism goes too far, when I’ve overstepped, or when I’ve not thought before I spoke. As you can see there’s a recurring theme here of me running my mouth. I’ve been vainly attempting to stay relevant in the D&D space by producing sharply worded hot-takes or glancing cynicism about one aspect of the hobby or another, and while that’s fine in measured doses, it can’t be the only thing I churn out anymore. My friends have helped me in realizing that. I’ve made it very clear before that I believe in the validity of online friendships and that anyone who attempts to de-humanize that value because you happen to be separated by physical proximity of one another, are people who don’t understand the basis of what friendship is to begin with.
Anyway, it’s hard to notice a downward spiral from the inside, especially when it’s a slow one. I’m sure it’s been a neon fucking sign for some of you on the outside looking in though. For those of you who have reached out, please know that it genuinely did help to know that others (sometimes, total strangers) seemed to care. I used to be cynical about vague tweets of “hey you, you matter” and I still kind of am, but damn it when someone hits your DMs just to ask you if you’re okay – it means something.
All of this said, the back and forth toll social media has taken on me is now coming to a head as I wrestle with self-worth, purpose (creative and personal), and how much exposure to it is actually good for me. I believe social Media needs to be more of a one-way street for me moving forward, posting a long-form entry on thoughts or things I’m working on and only checking in every so often instead of…constantly. It also needs to be and far less negative (both in output and intake). As much as I love interacting with people and getting feedback on things constantly, I really need to cut some of this from my life.
I believe I’m better at designing in a pseudo-vacuum where I only peek out now and then to check in, then when I’m hyper-aware of everything going on in the world and our community minute to minute. Constantly comparing yourself to others isn’t healthy, and it leads to a joyless existence. I thought I learned this lesson decades ago when cutting some toxic friends out of my life, but I suppose life has cycles and I managed to fall into the same trap once again. Luckily now, I think I’m out.
It’s hard to regularly create, blog, stream, podcast or anything in between when you’re constantly weighing yourself against a sea of others, especially with the influx of new media in the tabletop space and the flood of new players due to the popularity that things like Critical Role, Stranger Things, and other highly consumable things that have brought new life to our hobby. It’s a good thing, but it’s hard to keep up. It’s hard to keep up with the production values, consistency, and sheer volume of it all. Especially holding down a full time job, raising kids, and keepig your marriage off of autopilot. It was hard to hard to not feel like a spec in a giant sea before 5e had it’s day in the sun, but now that sea feels boundless.
Fortunately, and for lack of a less cliché term, I think I’ve found my voice. My particular style, design principles, and aesthetic are going to be what helps me through it all. When I look back on the work I’ve already done, I’m proud of it, I’m proud of the things I’ve created and receive extreme joy when I hear or see someone running Tomb of Tiberesh, finding a copy of Eldritch Lairs out in the wild, or talking about how they just got into Shadow of the Demon Lord via one of my adventures or blog posts.
Life is a Dungeon
I’ve always enjoyed drawing analogues between dungeon crawls and life’s hurdles, hence the title of this article. There’s only one way into an oubliette, and more importantly, only one way out. I was fully ready to just never come out. I feel like I was deep within one, my torch sputtering, nondescript whispers all around, rations low, and my veins running black beneath my skin – becoming consumed from the inside out by an unnamed sickness. I think though, through one of the most tempestuous trials I’ve ever had to endure, I’ve managed to loot a vorpal trident from the corpse of a lumbering demon after defeating it with my whatever fight I had left in me. I now have hope of reaching the surface again.
As I emerge from these depths I’m just going to keep on making things that I would enjoy, and hope that others will too. I can’t chase the dragon of D&D any longer purely for the sake of ‘keeping up’ but it doesn’t mean I’m done. I’ve created Black Candle Games and am currently working on an entirely new game, tentatively titled Crucible, based on the Demon Lord engine and am very excited about what 2019-2020 holds for us creatively. I’m also writing a sequel to the Tiberesh that will debut at Gencon this year.
Lastly, I can’t promise I won’t falter now and then but I’m going to use my Twitter following for good, instead of incessantly bitching like an old man shouting at clouds. I may re-brand though, as I’m afraid The Dread Gazebo may have too much ‘negative Jerry‘ attached to it now that I can’t scrub off. Still ruminating on that one though.
As for life outside of the gaming sphere, well, I start my first day of therapy tomorrow, on the anniversary of losing my dad. It’s going to be a rough day, and I’m sure I still have many more ahead of me, but I’ve finally reached a point in my life where I can realize that there is always a way forward. It is rarely pristine, or easy, or kind, or clear – but there’s always a way forward.
Glad to hear you’ve dug your way upward at last. I had similar issues when I was too plugged in and it sounds like I was less so than you. I don’t mean to minimize online friendships in the least as they can be invaluable but I have personally decided to make an effort to make more local relationships. Neighbors, church, my kids school and sports. I’ve even started to participate in a local mens group that meets once a month, something I would normally avoid. I know nothing about smoking meat or brewing my own beer and that seems to be all they talk about but I am going to try to get involved, or at least share in their enthusiasm. So far, it has been incredibly healthy for me. I feel better, I smile more, and I have a much better outlook on life. Online friendships are great, but there is truly some special magic to walking your dog and knowing everyone on your route and having them step out of their garage to chat with you. I need more of that. Good luck and best wishes. Hopefully you’ll accept them from a conservative libertarian happy to be living in a red state. That is another thing that I’ve really had to make changes on. I used to be super into the political news cycle and it was terrible for my mental health. I mostly avoid political news now and my personal life satisfaction has increased greatly. They say all politics is local. Well that’s all I care about now. Keep on doing what you’re doing as it seems to be working, but don’t be afraid to unplug and go offline as much as you’re able. I have had no regrets.
Definitely too plugged in. I’ve found myself wanting to go camping recently, which in all honesty, would have sounded awful 3 months ago and anytime before that. Unfortunately online friendships are mostly what I have right now, my co-workers have turned into good friends and I still have a few other tangible ones, but nobody I hang out with outside of work on any sort of regular basis I’m afraid. I’ll accept your luck and well wishes without apprehension, I might be a progressive liberal but it doesn’t mean I’m an extremist or an asshole. Unfortunately I feel those words imply a bit of extremism these days. Hell, I think I’m voting for a republican mayor in an upcoming local election. Politics are divisive, but I think most of it is because people want to dehumanize each other and distill everyone down to (assumed) bullet points, instead of actually finding common ground and getting to know one another, and that’s bullshit. Anyway, thanks for sharing back with me, it’s appreciated.
Just to be clear, I don’t think online only friendships are “unfortunate”. Just that I found I did better if I expanded outside of that IN ADDITION. And it’s never too late. 🙂 Camping sounds like a great idea. We actually went as a family for the first time last year and the kids had a ball. I’ve also found a lot of satisfaction in living through them more. Being less concerned (which is difficult) about what I’m achieving or doing and more about what they’re learning and how they’re interacting with the world in some new way that I took for granted. And yes, this includes RPGs! I recently started a game of Harvesters and even my wife sat down with us and she’s a hard core “anti-nerd”. SO that was major progress. For her and me. As for the politics, I just stopped caring about it as a concept (this was easy with candidates like Hillary and Trump). I care about people. Even if they disagree with me. I’ve stopped viewing people as members of a demographic and try to view them purely as an individual. In doing so, it becomes clear that even if we disagree on 3 or 4 “core” ideological principles, we probably agree on 95% of the non-ideological ones and that is what I focus on. Or at least try to. And please don’t have apprehension for my words. As a man married to a woman who suffers from depression and has had a bit of personal experience with it at times myself (though nothing like what you’re dealing with I’m sure), I truly mean what I say and hope for the best for you. I’m not a hardcore reader of your site (or any really anymore), but whenever I’ve clicked through on one of your posts, I’ve enjoyed it, even if I disagreed. You have a great ability to write and share ideas in an approachable way and I appreciate (and perhaps envy) that. You’ve enhanced my enjoyment of the hobby and for that I am in your debt. Please keep up the good work and keep on keeping on.
Glad to see you around. Don’t sweat crossing the streams of your life and gaming on your writing. We see the world through that lens, having spent years in the head of people who are at the end of the day, not us.