Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Which One is Starck Again?


So let’s talk about mental illness. 
     
I locked my keys in my car today. Right in front of the supermarket. I needed to run back out to find three nickels in the ashtray. My keys, usually attached to my belt loop, were instead in the front pocket of my hooded sweatshirt. I was rushing, they fell out. I heard the lock beep when the door closed and instantly realized they weren’t in my pocket or swinging from my belt at that moment. 
     
That’s a wonderful feeling. I’m sure you’ve all had it. 
     
It hadn’t been a good week, I’m afraid. A temporary cash crunch left a temporary household budget shortfall, which meant that I hadn’t had any caffeine in multiple days. In addition to other very useful mood stabilizing devices that cost money as well. Even if it’s just a few dollars, some is usually still more than none. The fact that I was running out to the car to find three nickels should tell you just how tight I was running that day.
     
That’s life. It does happen. The problem with money is that even after you take steps to stabilize, climbing out of a hole can be a long and fraught process. I didn’t have any regular income for months. Now I do, from a couple sources. The state is paying me for taking care of my mom while she’s sick – something I’d obviously be doing anyway, and was doing well before the money arrived, but which is nonetheless extraordinarily welcome. I’m writing for the Journal every week again, although the last few weeks have been disrupted through a few factors both my fault and not. I’m trying to build my Patreon income. 
     
It’s the last source that offers the greatest possibility for growth, but for now the first two, while small, are stable. And it’s that stability more than anything I need right now. I knew when I moved back in with my parents that the worst thing I could possibly do would be to get my finances tangled with theirs. This is honestly more for their protection than mine, as my finances could best be described with the famous phrase “Don’t dead open inside.” My parents are both disabled and retired, living off social security income. They run a very tight ship as it is, and when my mom got sick everything got blown to kingdom come. We’ve all been crawling out of that hole together. 
     
With all this in mind, I am quite proud of the fact that I’ve been able to buckle down and start hustling to make a living doing what I’m actually good at. I’m making money from writing again – not much, but some. Hopefully more. As I finish my first batch of fantasy books I spend a lot of time thinking about how best to sell them – to an agent, publisher, or directly through Amazon, I’m still not sure. These are good problems to have, since I have a lot of confidence in the writing I’m producing now – including this very chapter you’re reading right now. 
     
I started off by saying that I was going to talk about mental illness but I’ve ended up talking a lot about personal finances – you may have noticed the discrepancy?
     
Mental health is a fragile thing. If you’ve never had to deal with mental illness in any capacity – I know there are some of you, as strange as it may seem to me, who didn’t grow up in families where dealing with mental illness was no different than dealing with any other kind of illness. Both my parents have it. They’re very open about it. They taught me that you can’t be ashamed of something that is out of your control, and that sometimes to the only way to tackle delicate subjects with stigma attached is to confront them head-on and with candor.     
     
That’s the attitude I adopted when I came out to myself as trans. The first week after the initial shock of 4/30/16 was the most traumatic week of my life but also, it is worth remembering, the longest and most harrowing manic episode I’ve ever had. One of the lies I used to tell myself in order to convince myself that I wasn’t mentally ill was that because I’d never had a severe manic episode I couldn’t actually be bipolar like my parents were – blithely and consciously avoiding the fact that mania looks different for Bipolar I and Bipolar II. I grew up around both types and know first hand that it’s very easy to overlook the signs and symptoms of the latter when the former are so much more emphatic. So because I knew I wasn’t Bipolar I – which I’m not – I figured I was probably safe. 
     
A calculated lie designed to protect my ego. And the lie had consequences: when I finally had the courage to look backwards without blinkers I realized my adult life had been regulated by cyclical patterns of long-term mood fluctuations that were unmistakable signs of the far more subtle but no less significant Bipolar II. 
     
And that’s important: it was much more difficult for me to admit that I have mental illness and live with the consequences of that than it was for me to come to terms with being trans. The latter was a bolt from the blue, buried so deep in my subconscious I literally had to hallucinate a voice from the ether speaking to me in a moment of destabilizing existential crisis. But when I heard the news it was so unexpected – I had done such a good job of burying the truth – that I had no defenses. I hadn’t spent any time worrying about something that wasn’t even a possibility, considering the depths of my denial, and therefore had no defenses prepared when the news finally broke. I had no counter argument. It was prima facie true in a way I could never have even tried to deny. I had to accept it. 
     
The knock-on effect of accepting that, however, was that every other lie in my life crumbled forthwith. Some lies were more heavily fortified that others. I realized as soon as I began to poke around up there that I was infinitely more afraid of being mentally ill than of being trans. One was so fantastic as to barely even be real . . . the other was very real, very familiar, and the consequences were concrete in my mind. 
     
But it’s the truth. I have mental illness. I have various weird maladaptive coping mechanisms from various shades of PTSD. I even have a personality disorder, and oh boy is that fun (no, not that one, the other one). I lay all these things out not by means of offering some kind of exhaustive litany of trauma but instead to illustrate the degree to which I have tried to regard these insights as empowering. I used to be an intentional enigma to myself, which led to my being ignorant of even the most basic building blocks of my personality. I didn’t and don’t like the person I used to be. I like better the person I’m becoming. 
     
You can’t get better until you’re honest about the problem. Healing is not a destination but a process. Enlightenment is just the first step to healing. You know the drill.
     
That leads back, inevitably, to me standing in the parking lot of the grocery store this afternoon waiting for a tow truck. I don’t have roadside service – because I know how to change a tire I never saw the point, and hadn’t locked my keys in the car since high school. And just that fact should tell you how scattered I’ve been feeling lately. 
     
Any kind of chronic illness requires constant vigilance and care. Mental illness is no different. But I don’t want to admit that I have mental illness. I want to fight the diagnosis that I know full well is not only completely accurate but also infinitely helpful. That means I don’t want to listen to the obvious signs and signals warning me to be careful, to slow down, to spend time with self-care and give myself space to process a very difficult period of my life. I don’t want to do any of those things. 
     
The results are pretty obvious. The less attention I pay to taking care of my mood and mental stability, the more quickly I deteriorate. Managing and regulating stress is crucial to maintaining any kind of mental equilibrium. 
     
It is also worth pointing out that the greatest single stressor in my life – in many peoples’ lives – at any given moment is money. I think about money every single day. I think about little debts that I need to pay back immediately and big debts that I will probably never pay back. I think about scrounging for change in the car because I want to get a taco at Jack in the Box on my way home from grocery shopping – such a luxury that I never thought twice about when I had a regular job. (Inasmuch as teaching college writing can be considered a regular job!)
     
Mental illness is rough under the best of circumstances. Add in feelings of isolation and loneliness, money problems, worry over my parents’ health (tentative good news on the horizon for the latter two subjects but still just on the horizon), worry over my future. When things start to pile up they accumulate fast, faster than most people realize. And then when they do all it takes it something like, I dunno, locking your keys in the car and having to wait outside in the wet and the wind for over an hour waiting for your parents’ (extremely helpful!) home health aide to come to my aid. 
     
Life is a challenge. Sometimes life seems like a really difficult Raid battle against a boss whose countdown timers are hidden. You have to count off the attacks in your head and if you get it wrong – Nihilus’ ultimate pops off when you’re least expecting, and the next thing you know you’re in the parking lot of the supermarket screaming on the cellphone about how you feel trapped by an inevitable early death looming just around the corner. 
     
When I got home things were better. I had some caffeine. Took my hormones. Had a smoke. Suddenly things weren’t so bad. Self-care, coping mechanisms, chemical dependencies – whatever you want to call it. The kind of positive behaviors that you should really never shortchange unless you absolutely have no choice.      
     
It’s worth pointing out, however, that even in the moment of my most extreme despair I still never lost sight of true priorities. Today while waiting for the tow truck I achieved not one but two significant goals: I finished collected both Hera Syndulla and Colonel Starck. 
     
The former is, of course, the leader of the Phoenix Squad off TV’s Rebels. She’s the last of the six Phoenix squad characters I had to check off my list, so now all I need to do is build up the team’s stats sufficient to be able to snag Grand Admiral Thrawn the next time his event comes around. 
     
They’re not just important for the Thrawn event, though. Individually the Phoenix Squad characters are OK but together when all their abilities are fully maxed they have remarkable synergy. Each character gives the rest of the group a significant boost, usually in multiple ways. They are powerful and useful in many different parts of the game.
     
Even if you consider yourself a bit of a Star Wars buff, you can be forgiven for not knowing about Colonel Starck. I had just assumed he was one of the officers in Empire Strikes Back, owing to him being required for the Hoth-themed Territory Battle activity. I was curious and just now looked. Turns out he’s a bit of a deeper cut: he’s one of the commanders of the AT-AT assault on the surface of Hoth. Meaning he’s never named and does not actually appear in the film, but was instead mentioned (according to Wookieepedia) in a sourcebook or two. 
     
He’s also powerful, at least so far. He’s got the Imperial Trooper subtype which, like Hera and her Phoenix Squadron allies, is a character type that specializes in additive synergy. He’s good support. Actually really good, like a shot of high-octane additive in the gas tank. 
     
And it’s a week after I wrote those words and not much has changed. March is rough. It’s rough to constantly feel as if the end of the worst of things is always just around the corner, and then to have to keep feeling as if the worst is almost over, even after the worst lingers – it’s a hard thing for a normal person in those circumstances, I think. It’s extraordinarily difficult to keep your head above water when you’re fighting a brain that works against you at every turn.
     
I’m trying to keep my head above water. I’m writing every day, and I just finished the first book in my new endeavor as a fantasy writer – it’s called A Darkness in the Time of the First. It’s about elves (only not really elves), but based around the idea that a society of immortal warlike aesthetes might not actually be the best idea in the long run. It ended up being a really sad retelling of Orpheus with some queer rep, which wasn’t where I started from, but I ended up pretty happy about it. You can read the whole thing from beginning to end right now if you subscribe to my Patreon for as little as $2. 
     
The only thing is that if you like it you have to promise to tell everyone you know to read it, especially if you happen to know any literary agents or editors who happen to want Brokeback Lord of the Rings with sequel potential. I’m shooting for HBO but I’ll be thrilled with Starz. 
     
I’m almost done with the second book, but it’s still got a bit more plot to be wrestled back in the bag. It’s called The Book of the Loam and it’s a barbarian story that I have had a lot of fun writing. It’s a lot more fun than the other one. 
     
I am reciting these facts for my own benefit as much as any other reason . . . I’ve had a remarkably productive first few months. Almost finished writing two books, started this – whatever we’re calling this strange mood journal with a Star Wars theme that I’m going to try to fob off as a book when we’re done. A lot of the hardest work of the last few months is coming to an end. My mom will be getting the surgery soon, and we’re supposed to be getting some resolution to some long-standing financial problems – 
     
– and all these things are fucking awesome but stockpiling good news for the future does nothing for the here and now when I can’t buy food for a week. In the here and now I can’t shake the feelings of being a failure, and a burden, because I can’t summon the ability to make ends meat out of thin air. Because I don’t feel capable of accomplishing so much as a simple trip to the supermarket with our last twelve bucks without losing my shit completely and screaming about death in the parking lot. 
     
It really sucks to be such a tremendously unstable individual. Writing books is really the best thing for me to do because anything with more oversight is probably going to create serious problems. But it’s a profession where you have to do a lot of work on spec up front to break in. That’s why I’m trying to type as fast as I can. Build a backlog while I have the time on my hands. 
     
It’s hard to wait when you’re hungry. 
     
I hope that in your life you can find something to give you the same joy and sense of purpose for even just a fleeting few seconds as I got, finally leveling my Hera to seven stars in the parking lot of the Sav-Mor in Corning, California. I’ve put off trips to the mental hospital out of fear they’d take my game away from me. It’s been a rough winter on the heels of a terrible fall, and I fear the season will show more teeth before it is over. But I got my Phoenix Squad, finally, and in time that will mean something very good indeed. 
   

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Galaxy of Zeroes

Which One is Starck Again?

The next part would usually be already available behind the paywall on my Patreon for anyone who subscribes $5 or more, but we’re taking a week off to celebrate finishing A Darkness in the Time of the First, available in its entirety to anyone pledging as literalness $2.

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You’ll also receive access to tons of other goodies, my other ongoing fantasy projects - The Book of the Loam - and ePub files of “Delaware” and Tomorrow Is Always The Best Day Of My Life

Your support helps create new content for this blog while paying my bills, and I am incredibly grateful to everyone who subscribes. Every dollar counts and is appreciated. 

Seriously still need an agent, or a publisher for that matter. Please inquire at teganoneil5000 at outlook dot com. 

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1 comment :

Pupuk Dasar Tanaman Buncis said...

you seems having difficult times, hang in there or you can talk to someone about it