Tag Archives: mental health

Guest Post by Will Hindmarch: Funny Vs. Happy

Will Hindmarch is a writer and game designer. Find him online at Wordstudio or Gameplaywright.

On one of his spoken-word records, The Boxed Life, Henry Rollins talks a bit about being funny or happy all the time. If you could be funny or happy all the time, which would you pick?

I’ve been thinking about this since 1995. I first heard Boxed Life in 1995 and I’ve been thinking about this since then. I’ve been thinking about other things, too, but still. The question, it vexes me.

“I’m funny all the time, I’m not happy all the time,” Rollins said. “So, okay, but that’s all right, because I’d rather be funny than happy … all the time.”

Historically, I’ve found it easy to answer this question … but hard to shake it. If I had to choose, I’d choose to be funny.

“There’s not a lot to learn from being unfunny,” I used to tell people when I’d talk about this. That idea is plainly bullshit — there’s plenty to learn from bombing on stage or mucking up a joke — but it’s what I would say. People who are happy all the time irk me.

In part, I believe the lessons learned from being unhappy are valuable. I have to believe that. I have to believe that the time I spend feeling miserable will pay off somehow, maybe by informing my work, maybe in insights or wisdom. I want to believe that misery isn’t a waste of my time because I only have so much time and I don’t want to think that I’ve wasted so much of it.

The trouble is, I’ve cooked the question too long. I reduced out a lot of the nuance and the flavor and I’ve sometimes forgotten that the heart of the question is in that phrase “all the time.”

I think it’s easy to breeze through happy times without learning anything. Happiness feels easy even when it’s not easy. If you’re like me, good times can feel sustainable when you’re in them.

They’re not sustainable. Nothing lasts forever. And here’s the thing about misery: it doesn’t have to make sense.

This has been a great month for me, creatively. My new tabletop RPG, Dark, is doing well at Kickstarter. The new online storytelling game I’m working on, Storium, just entered a new phase of alpha testing. I’m designing a series of new Fiasco playsets I can’t tell you about yet. Lots of fun work happening at once.

Things are, measurably, good.

Last week, I couldn’t see that. Something grim settled over me like a glum fog, blocking out the light. I wanted to do good work but I couldn’t see straight — I hated everything I wrote not because it was bad, but because I wrote it. I put off work I wanted to do because I didn’t feel like I had earned the right to work on it yet. It was a dessert-and-vegetables thing, I told myself. But that’s bullshit, too. When I’m that miserable, I fear and resent happiness. I feel like I owe it nothing, like it’s betrayed me, like I have to learn how to function forever without it because I may never be happy again.

That’s the inherent, fascinating, dangerous fallacy inherent in the funny-or-happy equation. It’s in that phrase: all the time.

Happiness is impermanent. So is misery. What’s fleeting is often beautiful.

The trap I fell into was thinking that unhappiness, misery, and depression were somehow more revealing, more authentic than happiness. As if there’s less to learn from happiness than from misery. Look around and you’ll see people tripping on this idea all around us.

(It’s an easy mistake, I think, because misery ruminates, obsesses, and stares at itself. Depression warps time, pushing us to dwell on things that still exist when we’re happy — things that we just don’t fret about so much when things are good.)

We have a lot to learn from happiness and contentment and while it is sometimes harder to pause and glean the insights when you’re busy laughing and dancing and making merry, let’s do that more. We don’t have to be happy all the time (because, seriously, ugh) but we shouldn’t mix up happy with oblivious, either. I did that for too long.

Anyway, I still don’t want to be happy all the time because I think I’m ill-suited for that. I want to learn from happiness and misery, both. And if I could be funny all the time, I could bring  laughs and joy to others and that would rebound back to me. When other people laugh at my jokes? That makes me happy.

 

 

on a long run, on a long run

I went to my doctor yesterday, and told him how crummy I’ve been feeling. We talked about a lot of different things, and ultimately decided that it was probably a good idea to change up my brain pills. This morning, I started something new, and I really feel a lot better. I honestly don’t care if it’s a placebo effect at this point, but the end result is the same: I don’t feel despondent, depressed, and shitty about myself.

“You are very hard on yourself,” he told me yesterday.

“I know,” I said, “I just have really high expectations that I want to meet, and with all these incredibly successful friends …” I trailed off because I felt like I was starting to feel sorry for myself.

“Being judgmental about what you make or don’t make doesn’t help you at all,” he said, “you have to do your best every day, even if your best isn’t what you want it to be.”

I knew he was right, and I knew that it was my depression getting in between me knowing that was right, and accepting that it was right. That’s one of the incredibly frustrating things about depression: I can know that the way I feel is just my brain chemicals being messed up, but whether I accept it or not, the end result is the same: I feel awful. It’s a little unfair that it doesn’t work in both directions, but after living with it for my whole life, I can tell you that depression doesn’t care about being fair; it’s really a dick that way.

My doctor said that I was very clear-eyed about my mental illness (psychologists call people like me “the identified patient”), and because I could be rational even when I was feeling irrational, he wanted me to try some cognitive therapy. “When you feel bad, when you are thinking and feeling that you’re worthless or anything like that, I want you to recognize it, and then make an effort to replace those bad feelings with good ones.

“When you are feeling bad about a job you didn’t get, think about a job that you did get, that you feel good about. When you feel bad about not finishing a story, recognize that feeling, and remember how you felt when you published something you’re proud of.”

“That sounds like something I can do,” I said, “and it sounds like it may help me break out of the cycle of depression telling me a suck, then making me feel terrible because I believe that I suck, which makes me depressed, which lets depression tell me that I suck.” I imagined a particularly ugly ouroboros wrapping itself around me.

I don’t think this means that I don’t allow myself to feel disappointment, or frustration, or any of the other emotions that I think we all need to feel to be a fully-functional human. I think this means that I don’t let my mental illness take something like feeling unsure about where a story goes next and turning it into the Very Certain And Unshakable Belief That I Am A Worthless And Stupid And Idiotic Loser Who Everyone Knows Really Sucks. Not, um, that I’ve felt like that a whole lot lately, or anything like that. Um. Right.

So.

Let’s get started, shall we? This weekend, Anne and I went to the mall to pick up some fancy pants I had tailored. While we were there, we noticed that the big old men’s clothing sale was happening, yadda yadda yadda I got three awesome suits for less than the cost of one, if they weren’t on sale.

Guys: it turns out that your beautiful wife telling you, “WOW, you look great in that suit,” is a powerful motivator for buying that suit. And two others. Because reasons.

After we were finished getting them tailored, Anne had to get on the phone to handle a bunch of #VandalEyes business, so I went into the bookstore until she was done. On my way to the Science Fiction section, I stopped to take this picture of their Tabletop game section:

tabletopgames

While I was taking this picture, a young man cautiously approached me. “Mister … Mister Wheaton?” He said.

“That’s me!” I said.

“I love your show Tabletop! You are the reason my friends and I play games, and I’m actually here today to find something for one of them.”

I put my phone into my pocket. “That is really awesome,” I said. “The main reason I make Tabletop is to inspire other people to play games.”

He swallowed, nodded, and said, “um, would you, uh … would you help me pick out a game for my friend?”

My heart grew three sizes. “I would love to do that!”

I asked him a bunch of questions about the games they like to play together, his friend’s level of experience, and how much he wanted to spend. Ultimately, he settled on Ticket To Ride. He shook my hand, thanked me several times, and walked away, happily.

“I’m so sorry to bother you,” a voice said behind me. I turned and saw a young woman with a nametag that indicated she worked in the store.

“Yes?” I said.

“This is my section,” she said, pointing to the games, “and it’s here because of your show, Tabletop.”

My heart grew another three sizes.

“We order all the games you play on your show, and we usually sell out of whatever you’ve just played right away.”

“That’s really cool!” I said.

We talked about the games that she had in the section, and I recommended a few new ones for her, including Hive, Love Letter, and Coup.

“I’ll see if I can convince my manager to let me order those,” she said. “Anyway, I don’t want to take up any more of your time. I just wanted to thank you for your show, and for everything you do.”

“It’s my pleasure,” I said, “and it really means a lot to me that you took the time to tell me that.” I started to walk back to the Sci-Fi Books, and stopped. I turned back. “If your distributor doesn’t know what’s coming up on Tabletop — and they should, but if they don’t — please e-mail me and I’ll give you the release schedule, so you can know what to order.”

“That would be great,” she said.

“Awesome.” We shook hands, and I walked back to the Sci-Fi books. Before I could really figure out if I was going to get anything, my phone chirped in my pocket. It was Anne. She was off the phone, and didn’t want to go on a quest to find me in the store. “I’ll be right out,” I replied.

I walked past that Tabletop game section, which was absolutely huge — even bigger than the entire Sci-Fi and Fantasy book section, combined, and a little voice in my head said, “it’s okay to feel a little proud about this.” I listened to it.

I’m still frustrated and disappointed when I see a character on a TV show or in a film that I clearly could have played, but didn’t even get to audition for (a casting director recently told my agent that they would not even see me for a role, because “Wil Wheaton can’t play someone in his late 30s,” even though I’m 41, with two children in their 20s, and just letting me spend thirty fucking seconds in their goddamn office to see how I look now and how I interpret the role may change their mind). I’m still frustrated and disappointed that I haven’t produced any original work of fiction of any consequence in a year, and that I haven’t finished Memories of the Future Volume 2.

BUT — and it’s a big but* — instead of focusing on those things, and feeling like I’m being crushed into a singularity by a black hole of depression, I can look at the show I created and brought to life with some very talented people, that is having a very real and lasting impact on a lot of people, in a very positive way.

When I look at the writing I haven’t finished, I can look at the calendar and see all the times I was working on a video game or an audiobook or an animated show, and was on the road to promote Tabletop, and honestly accept that there just wasn’t that much time to write the things I wanted to write, because I was busy working on other things.

I can stop being so hard on myself, and I can stop judging myself, and I can stop holding myself up to standards that are so high, even the people I’m comparing myself to every day would have a hard time reaching them.

Or, at least, I can try, and I can do my best, because that’s all I can do.

*hurr hurr hurr

ADHD, Anxiety, Depression, and Conventions

Reader R writes:

Dear Wil,

I wonder if you could give me some advice. My daughter Ella is 10 years old and is really getting into Star Trek, particularly Voyager and DS9. She’s even started drawing her own fan fic comic about Odo and Quark. So we thought we’d take her to a con.

The problem is, she has ADHD and mood disorder, and me and my husband both have depression/anxiety. So places that are crowded and have lots of long lines are hard for us, collectively.

I’m wondering if you can recommend a con that’s particularly well-run so that we can help our daughter enjoy the experience. We understand that we’ll have to manage waits ourselves, we won’t get help like we do at Disney World, but I can imagine that some cons are completely packed with people and it would be hard to find a quiet space to give Ella a break from the crowds or a food vendor that can serve us in a reasonable amount of time.

Any advice you have would be appreciated. I imagine you’ve developed mad skills for surviving a con while anxious.

Oh, and we live on the east coast (came to your NY show with Paul and Storm–awesome!) so a show on this side of the country would be great. And if there are games there, so much the better.

I have both  anxiety and depression, and a combination of medication and therapy helps me deal with the lovely* things they do to me. When I’m at a convention, if I start to feel that overwhelming feeling of being trapped in the trash compactor, I can duck out into a quiet place until I’m able to get C-3P0 to shut down the power on that level, but if someone has spent time and money to get to a con, that’s probably not something they want to do.

I don’t really have a good answer for R, but I thought that maybe some of you who read my blog may have personal experience that you could share about dealing with mental health issues when you’re at a con.

 

*and by ‘lovely’, I mean ‘not lovely at all’.

Forever All The Time Always

This guest post comes from Will Hindmarch (@wordwill), a writer, designer, and occasional guest blogger at WWdN.

Twitter is kind of a big deal to me. I (over)use it to stay connected with people that I am not near geographically. I use it to eke out little clarifying thoughts about my day and the way I work. I use it for jokes, for serious contemplative bits of text, for exchanges with people both known and unknown to me so I don’t feel quite so lonely at my desk all day. It helps me refine ideas down to morsels that can be terse, poetic, witty. I’ve been using it like a short-form diary for years. I love Twitter.

So when I finally got my Twitter archive feature activated, I was delighted. I wanted to go back in time and see how I’d changed, see what I’d forgotten, see if I could detect a difference in my writing from 2007 to now. I opened up my archive and dove in, expecting to see myself. In those tens of thousands of tweets, I discovered two things.

First, despite the migration of various comedic bits through my timeline, I haven’t changed that much as a writer.

Second, I needed help.

That’s not sass. I’m not being flip. I got a look at myself in a weird mirror and found lots of my tweeted messages came with tiny memories. Aspects of myself came into alarming focus. Much to my surprise, part of the secret was hidden in my hashtags.

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