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A Geek's Eye

26th June, 2015. 11:14 pm. Marriage

Whew...

What a day.

I, as an American, now have equal access to marriage no matter where I go or who I love. I've had this right in Minnesota for a few years, now, and I'm honestly not sure if marriage is right for me. But it is now, universally, an option.

I got the news when Twitter blew up. I got some stuff done at work but, after a half day, I got permission to take half a day off with some PTO. I had lunch at my favorite restaurant, came home, and prepared tacos for friends in celebration of this weekend's Pride festival.

Tomorrow I don't know what will happen other than meeting friends for lunch by Loring Park. I can only say I hope that the happiness I feel continues and, further, is experienced by everyone else who is in need of equality: no matter who or where they are.

Yours,
Sylvan (Dave)

Current mood: happy.

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5th June, 2015. 12:28 pm. Disney World, Day 1

This entry will, no doubt, be updated later today.

As I sit at home, finishing my lunch break, I'm trying to keep in mind what my psychiatrist said last night: "Try to just live in the moment; don't over-complicate things." He suggested I have fun like a kid, not worry about my diet all that much, and walk as much as I could to get exercise. Good advice: each piece of it. This will be, after all, an eight-day holiday with my family.

Back in December, Mom surprised the family with an incredibly generous offer: she wanted to pay for all of us (my siblings, their families, myself, and Mom) to go on vacation, together. With an eye towards my nieces and nephews, Disney World Resorts would be our destination. And while Siena and Kyra were told on Christmas, the younger nephews Robert and George weren't told until this past Saturday evening that, come Friday, they would be in Florida for Star Wars Weekend at Walt Disney World.

I over-think things and have worried about the trip. I shouldn't, I know, but that's what I do. So, stress mounting, I'm trying to put myself in the state of mind where I can just be.

One thing that makes me smile is the fact that this weekend is the tail-end of Gay Days at Disney. Who knows? Maybe I'll meet some cute guy!

Heh. Right.

But, still, time with the family amongst geeks there for Star Wars fun as well as queer couples should be nice. I plan on making ample use of the hotel room, now and then, to just relax with books and maybe some writing.

I just hope I'm not going to flame-out and freak out.

I depart home as my roommate, foeclan, suffers Bronchitis. I really hope he gets better, soon. I had it, a few weeks ago and know how unpleasant it can be. My other roommates are doing well, though, so I think the garden will be watered and the DVR will pick up the shows I may otherwise miss while gone. (Mostly, I want to make sure I get the season-finale of "iZombie" and the next-to-last episode of "Game of Thrones".)

The flight leaves around 7:30pm and gets me to Florida around 11:30pm EDT. I'll get a little sleep before we rise around 6 for breakfast. I believe the plan is to get the kids to the theme park so they can sign up for Jedi Training and, eventually, take on Darth Vader.

This is particularly adorable since my nephew, George (three years old), upon hearing that the Dark Lord of the Sith would be there, asked his mother, "Is Darth Vader going to kill me?" My brother and I, terrible uncles that we are, had to refrain from saying, "Only if you're bad."

Anyway, I'll leave home at 4 to catch a bus down to the airport and hope that all my boarding passes and paperwork is in order.

Hopefully.

Again: trying not to get all worked up about every little thing.

Talk later,
Sylvan (Dave)

Current mood: apprehensive.

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15th May, 2015. 2:59 pm. Happy Graduation, Future Dead People

This is the graduation speech we both need and deserve: really fun and insightful!

Wish I'd had this at my graduation...


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13th May, 2015. 2:50 pm. Fandom is a Banquet...

...And most poor Puppies are starving to death!

Or something...

I couldn't, honestly, warp that quote into something exactly on-point. But I do want to share this excellent essay on fandom and how our conventions/communities are run. It also deals, perfectly, with the Puppies affair and the Hugos: read all about it!

Yours,
Sylvan

Current mood: Pleased.

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4th May, 2015. 8:53 pm. Pain

The last time I wrenched my back was about two years ago. Maybe longer. I've had some back pains for the past week or two but it was largely forgettable. This morning, however, as I got out of bed, I wrenched it so hard I fell on the floor in pain. I shouted loudly enough that I was afraid I'd have woken my friend, Lou, in the next room over.

It took me a while to get to my feet since I had to be careful about how I moved. The wrong move equalled pain:  hellish, really bad pain.

Rather than go in to work, I waited until seven when my doctor's office was open. I phoned them and got some advice. I took two very potent Advil and then drove to the office. The reason for this was because I really would rather not go back on Vicodin if avoidable. It's dangerously addictive and each of the previous three times I've had this back pain, I've been on Vicodin.

Halfway through the day, I started feeling better but (simultaneously) exhausted. I took a half day, drove to CVS to buy more Advil (and some sleeping meds), and came home. I napped.

I woke up, reheated some leftovers for dinner, and discovered I'd forgotten I was supposed to join my brother and his family for dinner, tonight. We talked on the phone; he recommended I look into a chiropracter. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I've heard substantial reports from skeptics I trust that chiropractors are snake-oil salesmen. Other sources (from people I trust) say the opposite. Hard to know what to do.

My plan, for now, is to take one Advil before bed (along with the Zzz-Quil) and see if I feel better in the morning. Then, I'll call my doctor and figure out my next steps.

For now, my goal is (hopefully) a pain-free night.

Yours,
Sylvan (Dave)

Current mood: tired.

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3rd May, 2015. 9:31 am. You're A Wizard, Sylvan!

For the past two nights, I've had these really intricate, logically-progressing dreams that might make a good story. Similar to Harry Potter, there's this school in which young people are recruited because of their latent skills at being a user of magic. However, unlike Harry Potter, it is run by a religious order (very strict) who oversees everyone in every stage of their development:  social, mystical, religious, etc.

If you fail, they can mark you with an amulet; this counts as a "demerit" of sorts. Skill with magic counters these demerits. If you wash out (too many demerits beyond any hope of recovery) you are "sent away".

"Sent away", behind the scenes, means that you are sacrificed to some otherworldly entity and your latent power is fed back into the school and/or its masters.

In essence, the whole place is a scam for this extra-dimensional entity to gain followers and power by sacrificing those that don't meet its standards and raising up the most powerful to become teachers in the institution or society. It's a "conquest from within" sort of thing.

Very creepy.

What made it creepier was that the dream was set in my old, childhood church.

I had quite a few demerits:  mostly for calling the high priest in charge "sir" instead of "father".

Yours,
Sylvan

Current mood: curious.

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27th April, 2015. 3:12 pm. What is Depression?

It's very interesting:  talking to people about depression. It took me talking to several trained psychologists before I truly began to wrap my brain around the concept. Like many others, I equated it with sadness:  only something deeper and more dramatic than "merely feeling bad". Even when I was diagnosed with depression, I wasn't able to shake this idea that "depression" and "sadness" were synonyms for one another. I'm very grateful that I was finally given a solid differentiation from professional authorities.

Almost a decade ago, I was diagnosed. In addition to a general diagnosis of "mild depression" the psychologist determined I also suffered from anhedonia. At the time, I thought of the latter as something separate from the depression. I soon learned, however, that anhedonia is a form of depression. In fact, it is one of the most common forms of the mental disorder.

Depression, I also learned, does not mean "sadness".

Being sad often comes with being depressed, but sadness is a symptom and not a motivating factor.

Depression is the mental condition of being immobilized from within. You lack emotional and intellectual ability to take action. Evolutionary psychologists hypothesize that it was a necessary part of our development. Tens of thousands of years ago, or even more, our ancestors were always struggling in a hostile environment. The men and women of those times were on constant alert. They were fueled with adrenaline and sleeping with one metaphorical eye open. The thing is, no organism on this planet can live like that, perpetually. It just puts too much stress on our biological systems. The theory goes that, after a certain amount of continuous stress, our brains start to shut down the triggers for being continually alert and active. In short, our brains "depress" the parts of our neurology responsible for being constantly aware, alert, and ready to take defensive or offensive action.

In the modern world we lost the sabretooth tigers and monstrous predators but kept the stressors. Our brains don't know the differences between the causes, though. We continue to shut down if we are "always on" for extended periods. If this persists, over and over and over without relief, our brains learn to stay stuck in a "don't act" mode. In short, what can start by external influence can become enshrined within our brain chemistry. We shut down and no longer possess the ability to "turn on" our motivators.

It's like someone outside ourselves has the hand on the switch. We get shut down and can't turn it back on ... not easily, at any rate. And the longer you have been depressed, the sadder and more frustrated you become:  creating more stress and reinforcing the depressive state.

Anhedonia is the condition where your pleasure and reward system stops working in an effort to (in theory) keep you away from being "always on". In short:  the things that you used to love stop feeling good. You don't feel positive reinforcement any more. You start to spiral down into a dull ache of nothingness arising from what once offered pleasure and happiness. Mind you, this does nothing to address your negative emotions. It simply shuts down postive reinforcement.

For brief periods (depending on the type and acuity of the anhedonia) a person may break free of it.

But, if you've been stuck in that mindset for too long, that has become the new normal. It requires considerable work, often external influences, to push back into a state where you enjoy life again. This is what drug therapy is supposed to do (in most cases). Drugs are intended to force your brain into working normally, again. Then, while in that "normal" state, again, talk therapy is supposed to help the patient learn the psychological and social tools that will help them return to a normal state once more, without medication. It is hoped that most people suffering from this sort of depression will, on top of returning to normal, learn how to avoid sinking into anhedonic thinking, afterwards.

This is where I stand.

For brief periods, I feel happiness when doing things. Or, rather, since "happiness" (like "sadness") is just a symptom, is should say that I am capable of feeling "rewarded and postiviely reinforced" for brief periods. These periods don't last. Typically, it takes bigger and bigger events to trigger the reward cycle. In my case, this is because I've not really gotten out of the stressors that have plunged my brain into this chemical soup of anhedonia and depression. I don't know how to get out.

Keep in mind "don't know how" isn't solved by someone telling the patient, "Oh, you should do 'x'". Rather, through talk therapy, repetition and emotional/social support are used to instill a functional understanding of how to avoid or address stressors. It isn't about repeating a mantra (although I'm told that can help) and it isn't about people telling you, "all you need to do is this". It's about actually learning what to do, when, and have external forces help the patient act properly. Over time, this becomes a psychological tool that the patient (in theory) learns how to use on their own.

I have yet to reach that point.

I'm honestly not sure how I can get there.

But in my current state of mind, at least I can articulate the problem. When I'm at my worst, I can't even do that. This is how I can best describe it to others and ask for their help. If I could take a drug that took away frustration, that might help. I am, after all, on a medication to fight anxiety. That's got good potential. But I've been on it for nearly a year, now, and am not making headway. Maybe I need a higher dose. Maybe I need more frequent talk therapy. Maybe I need more support in my day-to-day life from outsiders.

I would like to avoid a higher dose.

I would like to avoid more frequent talk therapy sessions.

So I'm sharing this with friends, colleagues, and family so they know what it is that I need.

I need to be boosted, be helped to feel good with my accomplishments. Not to say "don't be down; you've done well" and not to lie to me and say things are better than they are. But if I'm spiraling down, I need people to lift me up. I need people to act as momentary happiness buoys. I don't need lectures, I need examples. I need a hand up so that I can find the next hand-hold.

This could take years. I know that. But hopefully I can make it with the help of others who are observant and supportive. I'm not a fragile eggshell, but I do need assistance.

I thank you, in advance, for that.

Yours,
Sylvan

Current mood: discontent.

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22nd April, 2015. 5:28 pm. PuppyGate and Small Steps

I have not been able to really talk to anyone, today; not yet. My problems are pretty unfortunate for me, though, and to anyone but close friends would probably smack of "whining". That's the last thing I want.

But even without others to talk to, I've spent quite a bit of time resting and contemplating my problem. I believe it can be summarized like this:

  • I have a deeply-engrained urge to solve problems; when asked for an opinion or told about an issue that's causing trouble for someone or some group, my inclination is to assess-with-the-purpose-of-solving it.

  • When faced with a problem too big for me to impact in a meaningful way (ie:  not solving it completely or mostly), I get frustrated.

  • When frustrated, I tend to spiral into accusation, anger, and directed rage. This, combined with no clear way to solve the majority of the over-arching problem, means I tend to start fantasizing.

  • When angry against a group or person, I tend to let my anger out in my fantasies. This can go on for hours, engaging my creativity in some truly repugnant thoughts. I target those I see as responsible with ever-increasing rounds of fantasy punishments. This is not only peurile but self-destructive. It only makes my rage stay the same or get worse.

  • Exhaustion grows, but I find myself unable to let go of my anger. Again: not only are vengeance fantasies not productive, they undermine my mental health. But until I tire myself out or figure out an actual soution, the cycle continues.

This is a problem. Obviously. Not only is it destructive, it makes me really good troll-bait.

Last night's insomnia was due to some really big issues that have been turning over and over in my head for some time, now. Many issues, really, but mostly focused on the issue known as PuppyGate. If you don't know what this is, you can read summaries here, here, and here. (That last one is very, very long but is also the most complete.)

I have also read the excellent commentaries by George R.R. Martin whose personal relationship with WorldCon and the Hugos is amazingly similar to my own relationship with local fandom:  it is a community of like-minded geeks which has, for a long time, offered comfort and joy and (in some cases) refuge.

That all said (and all that, read) I have other issues in my life other than this one. PuppyGate, however, is just the most vocal of the voices in my head. And my frustrations took a nasty turn in keeping with the bullet-points, above. That burned me and kept me up, mingling with many other, unrelated items.

Please understand:  I'm in therapy and on medications. I'm getting help. But how to address this?

I have a thick skin; it's not a matter of not letting things in. It's a matter of not being able to let them out, again. I need something of a safety valve. So, how to handle this?

I've come to the conclusion (which I Tweeted, earlier) that:



By this, I meant that I need to take action in a way that allows me to feel I've made some contribution, no matter how small. Even though I get stymied by the size of a problem, the clearest (and probably most obvious) course is to take some definitive step that satisfies my own sense of what is right.

Really, isn't that what we all need to do?

Of course, a person with a mental handicap may not always find this as either obvious or easy to achieve.

It took me most of today to figure it out. In that, I'm happy.

I have purchased a Sponsor-level Membership in this year's WorldCon (called "Sasquan", being held in Spokane, WA) so I may vote. You may do the same, if you are so inclined: online registration only costs $40.00 USD.

Some, like Mr. Martin, advocate reading all nominees in all categories as much as possible (and until such a point as you feel the story either does or does not belong being nominated). Others feel that voting only for non-Puppy-nominated works and people (placing the "No Award" result higher than any Puppy-nominee) is a valid approach. As an outsider to the groups involved (never having really been able to afford going to a WorldCon, despite my desire to do so), all that remains for me is to figure out what I want to do.

I came to the conclusion that, for me, voting on the non-slate-driven works is the answer that best feels like fairness to me. Even though the Puppies (both Sad and Rabid) have put forth some works I actually think might be deserving, the process by which they have done so is not only haphazard but also childish. No evidence has been given in support of their thesis that there have been conspiracies in the nominating process:  only hyperbole and hearsay.

As such, I plan on reading every non-Puppy nominee and casting my vote from among them. Categories with no such possible nominees will recieve "No Award" from me (despite Vox Day's bellicose promise to make sure no one ever wins such an award, ever again, should "No Award" succeed in any Puppy category).

An accurate and up-to-date Web page listing all Puppy-Free Nominees has helped me in this.

This is purely for my own sanity:  a means by which I can get my head around some of my anxieties. Will my vote matter? In any large, democratic system, I doubt it. But stupid, childish revenge fantasies against those who seem intent on burning down the community I love aren't getting me anywhere.

So that's what I'm going to do:  I'm going to vote (in my first Hugo Awards, ever) based upon those nominees that were not pushed onto the ballot by the perfectly legal (but, in my mind, unethical) practice of ballot-box-stuffing. I'm going to buy copies of all the non-Puppy nominees, read them, and explore their merits and flaws. This allows me to actually do something (no matter how small) and get my head (somewhat) out of the dismal spiral it has been in.

If only all my problems were this easily addressed.

Still, that's a topic for another day. This Journal has remained silent and dusty for far, far too long. It's sad that my anxiety and mental problems have prompted me to return to it after so long. I would rather that happiness and announcements of a cure or breakthrough were the reason. But, for now, at least I have a method for my madness.

Small, personal steps. Small actions. Do what I can as long as it has at least a tiny impact.

That's good enough. It has to be.

Yours,
Sylvan (Dave)

Current mood: stressed.

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21st April, 2015. 7:26 am. Dreamscape and Identity

My therapist is of the opinion that my dreams mean something. He may be right and he may not be right. I have never seen any conclusive evidence of meaning in dreams. Despite my background, despite my belief and experience with things of a "mystic" label, I haven't ever had a dream I would consider "supernatural" ... at least in a way where I was convinced that it "meant" anything. But that's not the kind of meaning my therapist is trying to imply.

Rather, my therapist believes that I am going through a fundamental change in life. As a result, I have lost my interest in all the things that used to give me joy or pleasure. I don't feel (for any stretch of time) any joy in cooking, gaming, being in fandom, or doing anything in everyday life.

While this is a textbook description of the mental disorder anhedonia, he believes it arises not necessarily from my stress and anxiety but, rather, that things have changed of late in my life and I need to figure out who I am.

He believes that, on some level, my dreams are my brain's way of trying to figure this out.

Dreams in which I am losing friends, family, community, etc., are all my subconscious' way of trying to put together a puzzle in which I am the final picture. This has probably been going on for years, maybe over a decade. Hard to say. The last time I was seriously anhedonic was back before I bought the house. Doing so, perhaps, gave me perspective and a bit of a new identity:  that of "home owner".

Regardless, I find it difficult to sort what my dreams are telling me. I find it hard to figure out even if they are telling me something.

I slept fairly well last night although did have meloncholic dreams.

In them, I was in a house that I identified as "mine" and I was waking up in the morning with the realization that I was depressed. I didn't feel I could face the day at work, in this dream, and so I was trying to figure out how I could tell my boss that I needed to work from home in a way that didn't sound lame or like I was a basket-case. The house I was in, in the dream, resembled parts of my childhood home.

In the background, "Seasons in the Sun" was playing and I was humming and singing along.

I tried logging in to the corporate system, but could not at first. I remember my brother and mother coming in and trying to get me to help with something, but I wasn't interested. I just needed to get this message to my boss. I finalize realized I couldn't type it into the email system, so I started writing it with a large, black marker on a grey T-shirt with the intent of taking a picture of it and tweeting it to my workplace. My sister wasn't there but, somehow, the reason I had to stay home had morphed into something about why she wasn't present.

I awoke, still humming "Seasons in the Sun".

Checking the clock, I saw I had ten minutes until I had to be out the door. I seriously considered taking a day off, but there was work to be done.

I quickly got dressed, synced my iPod, turned off my computer, and left for work.

And here I am.

I don't know if that dream has any meaning or any insight into who I am. But, seriously, I'm not in a good space right now. As work goes on, today, I should be able to shake the sadness and sense of ennui. But this is part of what I mean when I say that despite getting a good night's sleep, I can wake up:  fried.

Yours,
Sylvan

Current mood: tired.

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