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.