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.
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:
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