Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I'm A Believer

Walking up two flights of stairs, above a Korean grocery store.  On the left, a Korean travel agency that never seems to shut.  On the right - a long, brightly lit room full of tables, people everywhere.
Tonight it's busier than usual.  There's a cute blonde girl in a polka-dot rockabilly outfit sending a text on her smartphone.  A guy sporting a purple beanie and black dreadlocks hoists a large green case onto a table.  There's a half-dozen or so Asian international kids in hipster clothing and sticker-covered laptops taking up another two tables.  The room is a mess of Bright and Loud, floppy haircuts, chipped nailpolish, laughter, yelling.

No, it's not a cafeteria scene from Glee.

It's a bloody games store.  Like, a Dungeons & Dragons-type game store.  The walls are lined with Warhammer figurine boxes, various RPG rulebooks and posters advertising 'Magic: The Gathering' card... stuff.  Cute Rockabilly Girl has Magic cards.  Purple Beanie Guy sets up his Warhammer figurines.  The Asian kids are playing old-school D&D.

This ain't the geeks I remember.

Why is the ratio of male-to-female roughly equal?  Why is there a small, friendly, gay Asian guy behind the counter instead of a fat grumpy white dude?  Why does everyone seem socialised and showered?  Where's the characteristic lack of personal hygiene and self-confidence?

My little gaming group finds table and we set up.  Yes folks, I game - in the 'make stuff up, throw dice' kind of way.  The last time I did this properly was well over 10 years ago, at university (holy crap that makes me feel old).  Back then I was often the only female in the Really Geeky Section of a games store and it was weird, stinky, fun for the socially awkward.

Now, it appears that Geek really is the new Frickin' Awesome.  Yes, Wired magazine has been telling us this for years and the popularity of shows such as Big Bang Theory and the unnatural cultural fascination with teenage vampires were clear indicators.  However, I didn't really believe it until now.
It's one thing to see Bigfoot's footprints.  It's another to have him gawking right at you, breathing on your face (and about to tear it off).

So should I be embarrassed about my return to gaming?  Or is this a part of life smacking the big 'Reboot' button and showing me an unfamiliar-yet-strangely-pleasant alternate universe?  The people I game with are bloody terrific - all are employed and/or studying (the youngest is in his first year of university, the oldest are the GM and myself) all have an absurd sense of humour and are notably intelligent - but not intimidatingly so.
I mean, the GM wears gold Doc Martens and The Other Lady Gamer crochets monsters.

The game itself is very different from what I'd been used to, and loads of fun.  Between the strategic moves and 'pew-pew' fighting, there's been drunken intergalactic karaoke and spontaneous use of dwarf bread pancakes as protective headgear.

You could say I'm regressing.  You could say, 'it's all made up, there's no winner, what's the point'?    

But... maybe the point is just to have fun, for now.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

'May You Live In Interesting Times' For The Podcast Generation

"Thanks to all of you for listening, and we hope you have a story-worthy week...",  Dan Kennedy's voice continues, giving credit to the producers, PRX and the like.

I'm in the kitchen, listening to The Moth's non-fiction storytelling podcast as I do the dishes. 
Dan's words, "... and we hope you have a story-worthy week...", has an odd effect on me.

I want to smash the Royal Albert teacup I'm holding and just SCREAM. 

I want to yell, "Dan, I ran away from home this week because of invading lesbians!  Dan, when I see French-polished fake fingernails I remember shooting porn in an apartment on Collins Street; the flashguns attracting the attention of office workers across the road!  Dan, did you know when a body is released from the Coroner, sometimes they still need to keep the brain?  It's not firm enough to slice into for an autopsy in the usual state so they need to pickle it, which takes a few weeks."

Story-worthy week?  Story-worthy, and possibly somewhat accursed life.

This week:
It's around 5am, Tuesday morning.  My buddy Oliver is sitting on my bed, helping me do a breathing exercise.  Words coming out of my mouth like a busted record, "Can't...can't...can't...can't...can't... help...help...help...please...please..." I'd woken up screaming several times that night.

For the last week I'd been trying to get a new GP - the old one was fine for vaccinations, pap smears and colds.  Terrible for mental health issues.  Very anxiety causing, so I'd been taking Valium every day whilst I searched for a new one.  Taking Valium every day not only very 60's-70's-80's, it's also very bad for you.

Around this time, The Boyfriend lets a young nineteen-year-old colleague stay with us for a couple of days, because she was being stalked.  Plus, she also has an abusive forty-one-year-old girlfriend with whom she is extremely co-dependant.
Those couple of days turned into many days, every inch turning into a mile.  The colleague's abusive girlfriend then comes and stays without permission, for one night, then two.  More of their stuff was being moved into our house.  This was very bad.  And I was freaking the hell out.

So I ran away from home at stupid-o'clock in the morning with Oliver, whilst The Boyfriend had the nasty task of evicting the colleague/freeloader and her girlfriend from our house that night, after he came home from work.

I checked myself into a hotel room, hating myself for being broken, for not being strong enough to help with the whole, "Get out of our house you sociopathic bitches," thing which was The Boyfriend's task. 
The Boyfriend is gentle, kind, strong and sweet, not unlike the treasured Mr JLB Matekoni from Alexander McCall Smith's 'No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency' series.  I am a far, far nastier person than The Boyfriend.
I was also scared, because I had an appointment with a GP the next day and I was terrified that she would not be The One and the painful search would continue. 

Looking for a new doctor isn't great under any circumstance, but looking for a new doctor whilst being a mental wreck is really, really difficult.  I'd been to two already - the first guy gave me the creeps and the second guy just wasn't interested.  It was like a shite version of OKCupid and Craigslist combined, but with my mind at stake.

And then the crazy Sapphic duo invade our home? 

Seriously, you cannot make this stuff up.  Sometimes I look at the sky, and wonder what character I am in this f**ked up script.  What plot device comes next?  What challenge will the protagonist face to move the story along? 

So yeah Dan-from-The-Moth, I've had a 'story-worthy' week.

My whole life is a story no publisher would accept - they'd say it was too far-fetched, too unreal.
Death.  Pornography.  Honesty.  Integrity.  Madness.  Dysfunctionality.

I live in interesting timesI have story-worthy weeks

F**k you, fate, life and all the laughing deities.  I will prevail (in a somewhat bitter fashion).


The freeloaders have been successfully thrown out.  I have a new, better GP who will actually co-operate with my psychologist.  I live in hope, but am curious about what the next 'plot device' is going to be.

Werewolves maybe?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Rewiring the Noggin - An Ambitious Activity

Right.  I've started to read a bunch of books.  They've provided me with some of the knowledge so I can begin to make my way out of this maze.
Actually, if this horrid funk were an actual maze it would be built of cold, foggy glass bricks, and I'd come across just enough bland-tasting protein bars and occasional bit of limp salad and tepid water to keep me going.
Oh, and sometimes, a big landslide of poo would drop on my head and I'd have to start all over again.

So.  A strategy.  Umm... haven't got one yet, but it's being fervently worked on.
So let's try this for now:

  • Acknowledgement and Reframing

Event - The WorkSafe claim has been accepted by my employer's insurance company.
I got a large package in the mail full of brochures and forms telling me so.

Acknowledged Emotions Regarding Event 
Relief: I will have an income whilst recovering from my injury.

Fear: Receiving any correspondence or contact regarding the incident or my employer conjures up overwhelming amounts of anxiety and causes me to relive the experience in my head, resulting in stammering, incoherent speech and teeth-gnashing.  Unpleasant.  I just want to be left alone to get better thank-you-very-much.

Confusion: I'm not as organised as I once was.  There are forms to be filled in and the brochures are of the 'one size fits all variety', with the general message of 'stay positive and focus on returning to work'.
This would be more appropriately directed towards a someone who's had a physical injury, but it's unhelpful in terms of someone who has had a severe psychological blow.
The people I have been speaking to have not been putting any pressure on me to return to the workplace, and have acknowledged that the printed information can be confusing in terms of volume and language.
Whilst this is a positive, I find the disparity between the literature and the spoken interactions can be distressing.

Resentment: Yes, it's a 'win', (success of claim = acknowledgement that work did royally f**k me up and it's not just me being stupid) but a very bitter one.  This 'win' is a confirmation that there was gross neglect, lying (by omission or otherwise) and abuse of trust.
Why was I put in that position at all?  The company I worked had a set of four values that I lived by.
Yet the decision-makers chose not to abide by the very values they (and their marketing team) created; the money they used in re-branding and selling those values to the staff and public totally wasted.
Is "put your money where your mouth is" no longer obvious?      

Now, this is where I attempt to put the above event under a different microscope and hope to 're-frame' it from an unhelpful perspective into a helpful one.  This is hard, but here goes:

Re-frame 1 - I am fortunate that I shall be receiving 95% of my pre-injury income for 13 weeks.
This will allow me to pay bills, keep up my financial obligations, pay rent and eat food.  Whilst my lifestyle been thrown down the rabbit hole (and yes, I'm still tumbling) at least the basics are accounted for.  I'll also have a chance to do some of the regular things one enjoys, like going to the movies, eating out (not expensively!) on occasion and maybe going on little day trips to the countryside.
Oh my goodness.  Revelation; I currently have the lifestyle of a penny-pinching, lavender-haired retiree.  Laugh? Cry?
Both, I think.

Re-frame 2 - Whilst communicating with my employer, their insurer or having any associations or task relating to 'the incident', all parties involved have tried to be as helpful and courteous as possible, and are accepting of my limitations.
When I say, "this is upsetting", or "I can't speak to you because it can set off an anxiety episode", they generally get it.
When I ask to be left alone, they try not to bother me much.

Re-frame 3  - Whilst I am easily confused and am a cognitive mess (sometimes teacups are misplaced in the bathroom and face cream ends up in the pantry) I have been assigned a case manager by the insurance company that I can call and generally 'dump on' (oh my word, I've never been a 'dumper' and find this mortifying) when confused or freaked out.  Poor chap...

Reframe 4 - I have won.  It's shitty that there was even a battle in the first place, but my position has been vindicated.

And lastly, whilst this is not a re-frame, it's a last-resort, back-against-the-wall thought that sits in the back of my mind - I can instigate legal action if need be.

Horrid, but comforting.

~ Useful ~
Acknowledging the Negative in Leading Lasting Positive Change

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Not Your Normal Programming

On January 19th 2011, I suffered an acute anxiety attack whilst at work.  I believe such incidents used to be referred to as a 'nervous breakdown', which sounds terribly 'One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest', but there you have it.

It had been a long time coming, and it wasn't my first one - although I love what I do, the conditions I'd been working under had been less than ideal for nearly a year.  It then worsened considerably from November 2010 - staff reshuffling/shortages, inadequate training of new staff, secondments from other areas instead of hiring external skilled professionals, lack of management expertise, etc.

After much deliberation and anguish, I have put in a worker's compensation claim.  It's been extraordinarily gruelling, and the claims review process is not conducive to one's mental health.  HR advisors, insurance claim managers, investigators, my GP, my clinical psychologist and the WorkSafe accredited psychiatrist are people whom I had to interact with on a regular/semi-regular basis whilst the claim is being examined.
As another client of my psychologist has said, "They make it a lot worse before you can get better".

All people involved seem well-meaning, but when your poor noggin has snapped all you want is a chance to get better (I have been diagnosed with 'panic disorder with major depression').  You don't want to be carrying around paperwork in thick grey file, scheduling and re-scheduling appointments, carefully collecting receipts and making copies of everything.

It is hopeful that once the claim review process is over, I can concentrate on getting better and being well again.  I have been as proactive as I can be, doing a lot of research in at my local library and dragging home books such as Norman Doidge's 'The Brain That Changes Itself', Mireille Guiliano's 'Women, Work and the Art of Savoire Faire: Business Sense and Sensibility' and anything by Malcolm Gladwell
Due to my training in journalism and sheer bull-headedness, I am convinced that research will be the saviour, as well as a damn hard re-examination of oneself. 
This quagmire is not going to rule me, and as my psychologist says, "This too shall pass".  Even if I have to build a Rube Goldberg machine to do it.

The most difficult part has been a shift in identity.  Like many of us, I had broken the promise I made to myself as a teenager - "Stay awesome and don't be defined by your job!" 
So, who am I when I'm not Death's PA?

I don't know.

~ Useful ~

Wow... I just looked at my RSS feed and there's a ton of relevant posts and articles.