EIGHTEEN

Happy new year! At least, for the most part. Still alive, still making progress towards most major goals. But there’s been a few complications, new challenges to overcome, and many reminders that youth is fleeting and we all have to face the eventual decay of things.

The Bad Back

When I was a wee lad we discovered that I had a minor defect in my spine. It wasn’t even a big deal: with a little chiropractic help and regular core-strengthening exercises I’d grow up to be a (physically) normal boy. Saw the chiro, did the extensions and crunches, and never had an issue. At least, until a few years ago.

I was cleaning up after a good afternoon of Hearthstone (the original trading card game, not the digital money-vacuum that Blizzard runs these days) and I’d reached over sideways to lift a chair. The next thing I knew I was writhing on the floor in the most intense agony I’d ever felt in my entire life, and I’m someone who’s had their ribs tattooed. Seems that I’d managed to pinch a nerve in my back, and it was lighting up my nervous system with pure, raw pain response.

Not fun.

Went to the hospital, got some morphine and muscle relaxers, and it went away. After that I was doubly careful with any lifting, both regular and weight-training, and nothing like that has happened since. But roughly seven weeks ago I was hit by something kinda worse.

I’m still not certain if it had anything to do with my weight lifting, though it does seem like deadlifting near my limit might have agitated the situation. After an intense leg day at the gym I started feeling a pressure and pain in my lower back, not unlike typical delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). DOMS is normal, and usually goes away after a couple of days. The sensation I was feeling didn’t, and got progressively worse. It went from a dull ache in the back to a radiating, spiking pain that spread out into my hips and down the left leg. It got so bad that I couldn’t walk more than 20 paces without curling up into a pain-filled ball.

The doctor told me that it was probably a common issue that I’d just have to live with. Further scans revealed that it was in fact related to that congenital defect I thought I’d conquered as a kid. There’s a minor imperfection in the vertebrae of my lower back, a kind of spur. The cartilage between the vertebrae adapted to the spur, becoming malformed. Fast forward 40 years, and half a lifetime of running, weight training, and slouching at computers takes its toll, resulting in a pinched nerve.

You know when your leg goes to sleep, because you’ve been sitting or lying on it funny, then it’s all pins and needles as it “wakes up”? That’s what I’m feeling right now, only it never wakes up. I’m constantly surfing that pins and needles feeling, and it’s grossly painful. Sitting down relieves it a little, which turns out to be rare and lucky for me, but lying down and walking are a special kind of nightmare right now. It’s one I’m getting used to, though. Never underestimate the adaptive power of the human spirit!

The doctor told me to monitor the pain over the next few weeks. There’s a possibility that the nerve will burn out, and stop responding. There’s also the possibility that will never happen and I’ll have to live with this condition for the rest of my life. We’re in a bit of a holding pattern for the moment, but I’m not as concerned about it now as I was when I first didn’t know what was happening to me. The days prior to diagnosis were terrible, where I was wondering if I was on the road to paralysis or worse.

The Bad Architecture

I live in a small, 1-bedroom apartment. It’s been good to us: very low cost, close to all amenities, and decent maintenance. Then a gutter exploded and flooded the bedroom, and since then it’s been not so great.

Whoever designed the apartment thought it would be a brilliant idea to conceal the gutters inside the frame of the building. They probably did it for the looks; I mean who’d want ugly gutters and downspouts hanging where they’d be easily accessible for cleaning and maintenance?

Part of this lovely system in the attic above were I was sleeping got clogged with pine needles, burst, and filled the attic with water. It then poured into the bedroom window frame where it built up pressure until exploding outward, sending a literal waterfall showering into my bed.

It was a cold, blowy, rainy mid-November night, but they still managed to get some restoration folks to help out. Kudos to them, walking around on the slick metal roof and crawling through the slimy attic to figure out what had gone wrong. Unfortunately they couldn’t do much more than set some drying equipment up and take pictures, as they needed approval from the owner to proceed with any repairs.

So we waited.

And waited.

And we’re still waiting. More than a month and a half later, we’re still crashing on a futon in the living room and paying full rent. You might be saying “that’s ridiculous Jack, I’d have sued their asses off by now”, and while that does sound like righteous vengeance we’re also trying to avoid stress and confrontation. We’re reaching the end of our patience though, so time will tell whether or not we need to escalate this. You may also be asking “why not just move out, Jack?” and that’s also a great idea, if only we didn’t live literally 5 minutes from where my partner works, and the rent was less than half of every other similarly-sized apartment in the entire city. So there’s that.

The Bad PC

I’ve had my current personal computer since October of 2010, right around the time production started ramping up on the then nascent Dark Acre Digital game development company. The machine’s been a great workhorse, and over the last 7 years I’ve only ever had to replace the graphics card. The PC helped me build over 40 videogames, render hundreds of hours of video, write thousands of words, do a bunch of school work, broadcast and record livestreams, and of course play the latest and greatest games at ultra or near-ultra settings.

That is, until a few nights ago. I’m the kind of person who never turns their computer off unless it’s to clear the dust out. After 45 nights sleeping in the living room (see above) where the PC fans constantly drone, I decided I wanted one night in silence. So I turned the rig off. The next morning, I couldn’t turn it back on again.

It seems that components that had been threatening to fail over the past few years (motherboard, CPU) took the opportunity of me wanting some peace and quiet to die.

It’s a bit of a shame, since I need the PC most to do the livestreaming, and that was just starting to grow. I can’t do any high-powered PC gaming either, but that might not be such a bad thing with yet another semester of computing science looming. I can afford to repair/replace it, but I’m thinking of just leaving it for now, unplugging, and focusing on other stuff for a while.

It’s not like I’m at a lack for overall computing resources, either. I have a decent Chromebook and, thanks to a good friend, 3 new Raspberry Pi. As for gaming there’s a plethora of X360, PS3, PS2, DreamCast, iOS, Android, Vita, Wii/WiiU and Gameboy stuff just lying around. There’s also a good number of Linux games playable through the laptop. I’ll miss playing regular matches of Heroes of the Storm, and I was just starting to get into Escape from Tarkov, but the latter game is still in beta development and both will just be that much better when I’m ready to play again.

It’s just so weird not having access to a proper PC gaming rig. I’d had one constantly running in whatever place I’ve lived since 1987.


I guess this can be summed up by looking at all of these challenges as new opportunities for growth. I know that sounds really cheesy, but it’s true. The siren call of the videogame can be overpowering sometimes, and as outlandish as having obsessive gaming being classified as a mental disorder there is at least some truth to how much it can deprioritize other important things in life.

And I figure when we share a hobby that literally uses “addicting” as an adjective to describe the core features of games there might be some call for temperence…

If you’ve gotten this far, thanks. I really appreciate your concern and I want you to know that there’s really nothing to worry about. The Dark Acre Church will re-open at some point, and hardcore PC gaming will resume, but for the immediate future we’re going to be walking (or, in my case, limping) down a slightly different path.

I sincerely hope that the new year rewards you for what you work for. Until next time: keep calm and game on.

SADNESS, COLD TURKEY

Alden Chadwick's "Depression"
Alden Chadwick’s “Depression”

Note: Your mileage may vary. The following paragraphs may, at times, seem like I’m either downplaying or dismissing the seriousness of mental illness and depression. This is not my intent. I’m only chronicling this tiny slice of my own personal experience, and in no way am I trying to cast an all-encompassing blanket over what is a very personal and variegated condition. I shouldn’t have to make this disclaimer, and I hope it doesn’t insult your intelligence, but in this day and age of public backlash to “words on the Internet”, it’s better to be safe than sorry.


It’s been more than 3 months since I took my last dose of antidepressant. I was on Fluoxetine, which is a generic Prozac, swallowing two hefty green and white pills every night an hour before bed. I’d found that the drugs made me dopey and lethargic (even more so than my natural dazed and lazy state), so munching the capsules prior to sleeping seemed to lessen the haze they threw over the day.

I’m not writing this to talk about taking the pills so much as to explain what’s happened by not taking them, but a little context is required, so please bear with me.

I’d always worried about going off the meds, maybe more so than I worried about first going on them. There was a fair deal of nervous fear involved in deciding to medicate for depression, because it meant physically acknowledging that there was a mental illness present, and with so much societal stigma my ego naturally rebelled against tarnishing any outward appearance of normalcy. Fortunately, those fears proved to be unfounded. Following my diagnosis I didn’t suddenly become persecuted for admitting that I needed mental help, and in fact the result was quite the opposite: anyone who I happened to discuss my condition with responded with nothing but love and support. The people in my social circles (at that time mostly other sad indie game developers) just seemed to “get it”. So going on and being on the meds was fine, and for a time it actually felt fine. Then, as with all drugs, I needed higher and higher doses to replicate the effects. I wasn’t taking massive amounts by the time I got off of them, but there was a continuous upward trend that seemed to have no ceiling. Even my doctor told me, when I asked her how and when I should be weaning myself off, that most patients “took antidepressants for the rest of their lives” just to maintain their emotional balances. That got me worried, and rather angry. For my entire adult life I’d been aware of the oily dark side of the pharmaceutical industry, and its propensity toward managing affliction rather than curing it, but this was the first time that I’d felt like I was being directly victimized.

That visit with the doctor planted the seed for my eventual rebellion, and it would be a few months later when visiting an old friend that I simply stopped taking the pills. No gradual reduction in dose, no consultation with any so-called medical professionals, just cold turkey quit taking ’em.

Prior to the fateful day of that decision (December 22, 2016, forever marked in my mental calendar as THE DAY JACK STOPPED MEDICATING), I’d been sleeping late and long, slipping away for extended siestas at any and all times of the day, and performing as little physical activity as I could. Despite taking medication that was supposed to be helping me deal with reality, it seemed that I was only getting better at escaping from it. I hadn’t seen the inside of a gym in a year, and where I used to run 10Ks on the regular I now had difficulty walking up a flight of stairs without getting winded. I was in terrible shape.

Going off the medication did seem to make me a little manic. I started having sudden bursts of energy, followed by deep lows where I’d go lie down for a few hours, but that only lasted about a week. A couple of weeks of mood swings followed, where I’d spin on a dime from calm to almost weepy, but those passed too.

One morning a week after the most intense of the mood swings stopped, I woke up early. This hadn’t happened in forever, but there I was, eyes wide open at 5 AM with no alarm. I got up, put on some clothes, and went for a long walk, just breathing and thinking. This was a huge improvement, something the medication had never done for me. A little while after that eventful day I was back in the gym, and I’ve been back, 6 days a week, every week, ever since.

I’ve also been talking with people, not just the trusted ones but strangers. I’ve made more new contacts in the last 3 months than I had in the previous 3 years, and some of these have even blossomed into genuine friendships.

My overall motivation and enthusiasm is back to what I’d consider an “acceptable level”: I give a damn about the important things and let the trivial stuff slide, which is a far sight better than what it was when I was medicated, where I didn’t really give a damn about anything or anyone.

I’ve even thought about making games and writing books again.

tl;dr: I quit antidepressants cold turkey and survived the darkest season without them, and now I’m feeling immeasurably better, more excited about where life’s going, and more than a little concerned that maybe the supposedly helpful drugs I’d been taking had more to do with the death of my creative career than anything else.

Thanks for reading. I’m not trying to say that treatment for depression is worse than living with the blues, but that it’s possible. For more than 20 years I’ve held the belief that a person’s sadness is directly related to how aware they are, both of themselves and the world around them, and that since both places are extremely messed up it’s only natural to be at least a little depressed. I think it might be more important to embrace those blues, and make them a part of who we are, rather than trying to suffocate them with chemicals. Jury’s still out, though. It’s only been a season. Check back with me in a year and we’ll see how it’s going.

THE FIRST YEAR

“Learning to do things with patience, and without any expectations; to do things slowly, and just for the sake of doing them. That’s one of the hardest lessons to learn, and one that a person could spend their entire life trying to get their head around.”