Dispelling Myth about Dictation / Speech Recognition

When I first started writing this I had just finished listening to episode 156 of The Bestseller Experiment; as a patron supporter I get early access to episodes, as well as being a member of the wonderful BXP Team. The marvellous episode focused on interviewing the author Julian Barr about his new book The Way Home. Julian is also a long time listener and member of the BXP Team. I highly recommend Julian’s book, a gripping tale that was well paced, characters with connections and motivations. His book has also now earned an Amazon bestseller tag! I’m very much looking forward to the next book in the series.

Important paranoid associated thought: like many writers I feel like a fraud that just needs to write more and thus I feel awkward about asking for advice, after all I’ve already answered my own request for advice “Write more!” Anyway, later in the episode the two Marks discuss writing using Speech Recognition (SR) and gave a call-to-action regarding listeners experiences with writing via dictation. I was surprised to find that I felt empowered and not a fraud, since this is a topic I know quite well.

As someone with long-term chronic Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) in both of my wrists I have a lot of experience with speech recognition, going back nearly twenty years to the horrendous days of massively inaccurate software; the frustration and stress of trying to use the software often made me feel even worse! Fortunately the various programs have improved so dramatically in the last ten years that I find dictating to be dramatically faster, easier and shockingly more efficient. The vast improvements have come about because of the following factors:

  1. Understanding of what is involved in analysing language (technical).
  2. Improved code efficiency (technical).
  3. Substantially increased computer processing power (brute force).

This also means that modern speech recognition is better are recognising accent and voice differences. With training, software should adapt to work near perfect for most users; I appreciate that is quite a bold claim.

As someone that used to be able to maintain a decent enough typing speed of between 70 to 80 words per minute (WPM), having that ability taken away from me was devastating; I was unable to work or partake of most of my hobbies. Having struggled through the horrid early years of dictation I can appreciate why people are loathe to give speech recognition a try, however just about every problem has gone away these days.

In general many people are not up to date with the latest information when it comes to cutting-edge technology; after all there is so much to do/learn. This is in part because the various non-specialist media outlets are often years behind when reporting non sensational things, there is so much to talk about and typically they repeat the same core points. In this ever-accelerating technologically era I suspect anyone that has not used modern speech recognition has heard opinions that are about software from 10+ years ago. My title was not an attempt at clickbait, when I discuss or read things about speech recognition there is an understandable fixation on accuracy, but with modern software claiming accuracy of 90%+ for most people with little to no training, and 95%+ with some training, I wonder why accuracy is still considered a barrier to entry. It seems like my system is 99% accurate, but I appreciate it has been used a lot over many years. My point is that typically most people will type errors anyway, even with grammar and spell checkers mistakes slip through. Even for those that manage a rare 100% accuracy the first time they type something the result should still be double-checked. Mistakes are still made, accuracy is a concern whether typing or spoken, so why not do the vast majority of the work via speech?

When I was working in adult social services I had severe RSI flare-up, in fact my worst ever that caused a domino of problems. When I returned to work for a while I was able to cope due to using speech recognition, despite being in a large busy office. I was surprised at how accurate it was even with all the background conversations. Additionally instead of using a mouse to navigate the screen I found using commands to finally be efficient. How things had changed!

During long bouts of sleep deprivation I can somewhat rest my eyes whilst dictating. Thankfully I rarely get headaches, but dictation has also proved helpful when I have; I find it’s better to do something than nothing, since I’ll be suffering either way.

I’d like to highlight that a hybrid approach can be used. Especially if you can still type and you want to, then do so. Can be quite easy with today’s smartphones maybe you can use speech recognition whilst away from your normal work area. For the following reasons I’d recommend at least experimenting.

Speech Recognition Pros & Cons

Pro 1: Health

When dictating we don’t need to be sat down or stood still, we are not tied to a keyboard. Since we can move about I often do so. Over the years I have done all manner of things whilst dictating: physiotherapy, light exercise/stretching, to things like cleaning or ironing, etc. When I am having a particularly painful wrist episode my arms, shoulder and back all become problematic, resulting in difficulties sitting or standing for any length of time, so on a particularly bad days I’ve even dictated whilst resting in bed.

Con 1: Training Time Investment

Like any new skill there can be a learning curve, which can vary dramatically from person to person. Although these days even without any training on a modern device and software, dictation can start out at 90%+ accuracy.

I appreciate that getting out of comfort zones and allocating time to learn something, can be challenging. Saying embrace the challenge is all well and good, but people and their situations can vary wildly. It is sensible to decide during an epically busy time that doing something new is too much of a risk, but because life is strange maybe the change will quickly be beneficial, even in regards to time, which links to Pro 2 …

Pro 2: Speed

Personally, I think the health reason is reason enough but just in case here is another reason. Just because a person is good at typing does not mean they should stick with that method, since dictating can allow them to be faster. I often find it easy to dictate over a 100WPM, sometimes as high as 150WPM; granted a few typists with specialist keyboards can beat that, but for the vast majority of people dictation is twice as fast typing.

Following on from Con 1, it is worth learning the extra functions like how to navigate via dictation, as well as the various advanced commands. Going from quick dictation to struggling to carry out navigation commands can make you feel like a writing session was ruined; writers typically have enough reasons to procrastinate without imagining new ones 😉

Speed is a major factor for writing events like #NaNoWriMo, thus the speed advantage of dictation can really pay off.

Con 2: Initial Costs

Not everyone has a computer (desktop/laptop/tablet) or smartphone (I’m only differentiating because so many people typically do, as it is really just a computer with a phone function). Free speech recognition exists but I do find Dragon NaturallySpeaking to be better overall, but it isn’t cheap.

Then there is the topic of what microphone to use. Whilst you can use a laptop’s built in microphone it is better to have a decent microphone, although I’ve found that a £25 microphone works just as well as my more expensive Yeti, so you don’t have to buy crazy equipment.

Other extras: I’ve also invested in a microphone stand, pop-filter, USB cable extension and a high quality wireless headset. The extension and wireless the reason I can exercise or tidy my room whilst dictating.

One of the problems I found using my fantastic quality Yeti microphone was there were a few delays/problems with the software, but this was because I had leaned back in my chair and thus wasn’t close enough to the microphone. So before you rush off to buy an expensive microphone consider how your setup can be altered to get improvements.

Pro 3: Speaking is Natural + Rhythm of Speaking

Based off this subtitle you can see why Nuance called their software NaturallySpeaking 😉 Particularly when dictating dialogue I find I can write a better scene; I think this down to being able to somewhat act the scene out, I feel more in character as I switch back and forth between character perspectives. I’ve even experimented with literally acting a scene out, although that led to some comedy moments of frantically changing my position to be the correct character, like a stand-up performance.

Sometimes we can spend a lot of time thinking about a subject only to find that when we speak we change what we had intended to say. There is something about speaking out loud; maybe it is because we engage more of a body, thus more of our brain. I also think this is probably a knock-on effect of evolution in regards to us being such a social species, we need to be careful of what we say to others.

One of the best tips for writers is: “Read your writing out loud.” Dictating can be a big help, you get used to speaking out loud, thus when it comes time to edit your work you are more likely to give it a try. This also links to one of the key tips from Bestseller Experiment, “Make a public declaration.”

There is another advantage to dictating. If you think of a sentence and then struggle to dictate it, then that is a sign there is a problem. Typically you’ll easily find a rhythm, indicating were commas and full stops best fit; granted you have to say “comma”, but I think that is no different to having to press the comma key. Maybe somebody who struggles with grammar could benefit from dictation?

Con 3: Editing

As I mentioned above I think this is a con that gets too much attention, since work should be double-checked anyway. Still it can be particularly irksome during the training period, when correcting (editing) as you go is highly recommended. I think a valid point about the accuracy aspect is that they are typically errors that we are aware of, unlike when most people type and things slip through.

Crucially this is a problem that fades over time, I rarely need to correct things. Since I write fantasy fiction and role-playing games I also have lots of additions for my fantasy proper nouns, my system mostly recognises these new words after the initial correction or two. Just like with typing it is more important to get something written first, then you have something to edit.

Pro 4 Flow:

Due to the pain from my disability, I lost my ability to enter a flow state whilst writing/typing. It was 2009 when this this feeling briefly appeared during dictation. My comfort level with dictating slowly grow over the years, by 2009 I found talking to my computer to be more than only comfortable but also empowering.

Con 4 Habits:

Initially when first learning to use speech recognition a user can feel they are wasting their time. Why bother stressing yourself out, fighting your habits? I’ve separated this point from Con 1: Training, because I think habits/traditions are such a powerful part of our psychology.

Habits are typically difficult to break; various people can react differently to the same thing. Decades ago I had the regular association of being denied the use of my wrists to type a decent work session, the threat of pain from typing as well as sitting too long, plus stress and sleep deprivation. Since back then speech recognition was lacking, I quickly developed justifications about putting things off. In the light of pain-paranoia and frustration it became easy to justify thoughts like “I need to minimise computer usage even using dictation, so I need to work out as much as possible upfront.” Once I developed this habit I found it hard to break it, even as the ability of speech recognition improved.

Pro 5 Focus:

I find I do not get distracted as much when I am dictating. Maybe because I am typically away from my desk, so I cannot easily check emails or browse. It can seem like our hands have a mind of their own when within a split second of thinking about a website we’ve switched to that. This is why so many writers use blocking software that restricts their access to the Internet. Following on from Pro 3, I find that if I do start giving my computer commands to browse non-important things I quickly stop myself.

Con 5 Stream of Consciousness:

Dictating does not dictate quality. The fact we can dictate more WPM means we can also have more to edit. This is a minor Con, yes I’m being nit-picky, but over the years I have dictated a lot of garbage. I think I have solved this by writing more, showing others my work, learning more about writing; not just practice, but learning to carry out skilled practice. If you feel that when you start dictating you are writing garbage, don’t worry I think you’ll quickly adapt.

Bonus Pro Moving is Thinking:

Linking back to Pro 3 Speaking is Natural, there is something about moving and thinking, dictation means you don’t have to be sat still at a keyboard. When we move we are activating different brain regions, plus getting the blood flowing, etc. Physical intelligence is one of the many types of intelligence being researched, plus whilst kinaesthetic leaners are typically separated from other learning types, the majority of people can learn in all manners of ways including kinaesthetic. Quick interesting point, animals have a more developed brain that plants because they need to navigate; the sea squirt is a fascinating creature that once it finds a permanent spot for its next stage of life eats its own brain. It is also worth looking into the tools of memory specialists and how they utilise virtual spaces to associate memories for better recall.

I’ll be making a video version of the blog in the new year, but before I finish here are so extra points. Dictating role-playing mechanics is not a big deal, I’ve even used speech recognition to dictate computer code years ago; I am contemplating giving it another go with the vastly improved software of today. When out or when in bed trying to sleep (chronic pain is hell), I’ve dictated notes via my smartphone’s built in software, granted it is not as powerful as Dragon, but it is easy to do and I don’t have to get out of bed. I’ve also made use of a Dictaphone with a headset whilst walking, that I’ve later dictated at home, this counted as a first draft; Dragon Anywhere allows for dictating on the go, but I cannot afford it and I am rarely out and I have Dragon 15.

In conclusion if you are still not sure if speech recognition is for you, I highly recommend giving it a go, at least go hybrid, mix things up. The future is already happening!

Links

I’ve written about The Bestseller Experiment before.

The Bestseller Experiment Podcast

Julian Barr

NaNoWriMo

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Health Before Word Count

Recently I’ve managed to make a blog post weekly, but this week I’m a few days behind. I have done some RPG design work, but as I wrote about an idea I realised I needed to be explain something else first. The next part of my series Role-Playing Game Types is a summary of things that I wrote years ago for my role-playing guide, but those ideas were about 200 pages in, which is why writing a synopsis has proven so time consuming for me.

On Monday I had the urge to rush something out; the thought kept stressing me out. Even though I had written things, I wasn’t going to complete anything in time, and I was trying to stick to a deadline about posting at least once a week. Sadly the stress caused a severe pain spike to my normal pain levels, meaning more breaks were needed. As I mentioned in Healthy Pacing for Deadlines, personal goal setting can only work if the person is realistic about the pace they can set for their work, which also has to take into account health considerations. Estimating how much that is, is a daily struggle, as my health can still fluctuate a lot each day.

Whilst my improved workload is not a return to the vast amount of work I used to do, like a lot of 80 to 90 hour weeks I did whilst at KJC Games, at least things are a bit better than they were a few months ago. I think I am getting better at the daily appraisal in regards to determining how much work I can do before further aggravating my body. The Spoon Theory is a good way of explaining energy management, it mostly applies to my situation, but explaining what my thoughts on this is a blog post all to itself; yep another one for my TODO list.

BatIdeaLoop
A dangerous loop to avoid, finish things, iterate, iterate, iterate.

Thankfully one strategy that improves my odds of reducing problems is to lie down whilst dictating. Sadly this method only really works for my fiction writing, or when discussing a design idea out loud with myself, since I don’t need to keep looking at a screen. If I had the money, maybe I could setup a screen on a very adjustable stand. Or something outrageously expensive:

I am also doing a lot more around the home, as well as looking after my dad whose health recently has rapidly declined, all of which takes time and energy. Each activity is a chance for me to do a bit too much, and as per The Spoon Theory to run out of energy (spoons). I believe the fact I am doing what I’d previously consider to be pathetic levels of physical activity is the area that I have been badly estimating, but I am thankful that I am doing more in general.

I have blogged about The Bestseller Experiment before Writing Curious/Crazy Experiment; I am still thoroughly enjoying the show and will blog more about it soon. Word count is a subject that has been discussed a lot, and the many outstanding authors being interviewed have given great advice about this subject, which so many writers obsess over. So, even though I know about the arbitrary nature of tracking my word count, I still fall victim to it. I really appreciate Ben Aaronovitch’s advice, which is roughly that quality words are what matter.

Although it’s been a year since I wrote my mission statement for the blog, I haven’t changed my opinions for blogging, and what I am slowly building towards. Life still comes down to carefully allocating priorities. Although I’m not in a position to return to professional game design and writing yet, I am striving towards that goal even if my work rate is currently terrible. I was amused that the writer Max Landis, whose work I love, posted this video whilst I was contemplating this blog, and what to do about the days when I end up with a low word count.

Healthy Pacing For Deadlines

As I attempt to slowly escape from my pain tunnel, and return to a consist level of health, I have resumed working on projects that have lain dormant for years. This is in addition to my very slow writing. Whilst speech recognition really helps, it is also annoying since there are still errors and navigating is a pain, plus I used to be able to type so quickly, thus it just feels slow.

Over the last two years whilst I’ve had a lot of bedrest I contemplated how best to make use of my time once I was a bit better; sleep deprivation didn’t help with thinking, but at least I did have a lot of time to think. Making plans was difficult, since for a long-time I had no discernible improvement. When I did have a day where I felt a tiny bit better, there was an urge to instantly declare it a breakthrough. I eventually learnt that those days were not something to base plans upon. So ultimately I made plan making itself a goal, to make small goals, to make tiny notes.

Healthhourglass

I am now at the stage where I can work at a computer for a short while without instant agony. I came to realise that my problem about goal setting is not much different from a healthy person’s situation, that it’s all about pacing and being realistic. Clearly I need to be more careful, to take constant breaks, and keep to small tasks. If I am lucky I can manage what used to be a few hours of work, is now spread out over the whole day, maybe even a week. Doing work like this is also a form of physiotherapy, I need to get used to being more active, and since my level of activity is so low, this makes a big difference.

This means I am now able to implement realistic deadlines, albeit feeble ones. As I get a better understanding of my new pathetic work rate, I can alter my deadline projections to better reflect things. Then as my health hopefully keeps gradually improving, I can adjust further.

The urge to do more is ever present. I have already plenty of experience of slowly healing, then carefully going back to work, to find out that it was too much. It’s odd to think that whilst being careful, I was in fact rushing. There is a difference between a typical injury, even breaking a bone, and chronic problems, but understandably most people have not grown up with chronic problems so we haven’t learned about the differences, and how that affects recovery. When long-term bedrest, and thus atrophy, is a factor, things are further complicated.

health chart

I made the chart above to help remind myself to be careful. The vertical axis represents a hypothetical percentage of health. I didn’t think there was any point tracking my progress over time, since my healing has been so slow, and it’s only recently I can realistically do a variety of things. Even when I get to a theoretical average health level, I’ll be far from fit. I have broken the habit of exercising a lot, but my mind still wants to make comparisons, and of course reminisce about my old healthy days; as much as people say mind over matter, and focus on positive thinking, I am not in a position like I used to be of simply training hard to get stronger.

My recent story writing has been very slow, due to doing other things. It’s not that I feel burnt out, it’s that I have a deadline for the end of this month to make progress with my Elemental role-playing game I am started running in May. Although I started work on this project thirteen years ago, there is still way too much to do, my own fault for designing something astronomical in scale. I have also started work on a comic for a PBM style role-playing game. More on these two projects soon.

Escaping the Tunnel

To maybe help speed up my slow healing, and in particular to help alleviate stress, two groups of friends invited me to stay with them. I got to once again visit the wonderful country of Sweden, and thankfully the trip didn’t spike my physical problems. I kept up my physiotherapy exercises, and even started doing a little bit more. The stress relief from being in holiday mode really helped, ignoring the stress of travelling. In addition to spending time with friends, some great walks I also got to spend time with a lovely dog, and then a pride of cats.

Sadly the last few days of my trip were undermined by some jaw pain, that escalated, and by the time I got home it had become quite horrific. I was prescribed two antibiotics, which heavily affected my ability to eat and sleep; this lead to some drastic weight loss. Thankfully my dentist gave me the all clear regarding no damage to my teeth, but it did leave me wondering how I had developed the problem. I don’t know whether the infection was so bad due to my lowered immune system, but that was surely a factor.

This life update highlights how escaping from long-term chronic pain and sleep deprivation, seems to be like crawling out of a very long tunnel. For the last few months it has felt like I was finally nearing freedom, to escape in to the light, and I could return to a more productive and healthy life. It even seems like my metaphorical pain/illness tunnel has minions dragging me further back in.

I did manage to get some speech recognition writing done, both on my fiction and game mechanics, but obviously I could have gotten more if I was healthier. This was partly why I didn’t blog for two months, but at least things are improving again. Also, after thirteen years I finally started playtesting a game I’ve been working on, but I’ll write about that in a later post.

I had contemplated making some drawings for this post, since I couldn’t find what I envisioned. So I made a simple stick figure drawing as an idea bouncing exercise, but my wrist RSI started to flare-up, so I didn’t get beyond:

batcrawl

I then decided to keep things simple and photograph something; this also meant I had an extra reason to walk, which is great physiotherapy. I took some pictures of the Blackpool North train station underpass. I thought it would make an interesting photography location given its local significance, and the painted walls give it some extra character. I appreciate I could have used some lovely free artwork, like on https://pixabay.com/

Bat station

Post DWP Appraisal Hell And What Next

I don’t feel depressed, which is nice, but having received the notification that my DWP appraisal found me fit for work back in December I have had to deal with quite a lot of anger. As I mentioned previously, the person that I saw dismissed sleep deprivation as a key component of health, and the importance it plays in both healing, altering perception of pain, as well as chronic pain causing sleep problems. In hindsight it seems I was tested for paralysis? I make this ridiculous claim since the person asked “can you move without pain?” and then when I yet again explained about constant pain changed to “can you move your arm a bit?” Even a question about wearing clothes, and I explained I had been spending the majority of time resting in bed not wearing any was seemingly dismissed.

Two weeks ago, I started getting some decent sleep, after a week of course that ended, but it was blissful, and really helped me in regards to getting a bit more done via speech recognition whilst doing some physiotherapy. Like most of my design work for the last few years, I have a growing collection of unfinished blog posts about things that interest me, and I hope a few others might like; particular role-playing related. I am reminded of the advice I read about decide what a blog is about, and stick to it, I decided the blog was about me, thus that covers discursive thoughts.

I’ve had a combination of extra health issues this last week, things like flu that normally are annoying, but given the slow overall health progress hit me like a ton weight.  I woke up quite dizzy today, and the feeling hasn’t gone away, and a fog has been added. Slightly lazy, but since I am not writing a science blog, this link will suffice:

I have been advised I can appeal the appraisal, and to consider making a claim for Jobseekers. Given that I still have day-to-day health issues, and doing even very little can cause problems, it’s a bit ridiculous that if I was allegedly fit for work over a month ago, and I’ve had more healing and physiotherapy then why I am still struggling so much still? It’s really hard to consider going to look for work when I cannot even manage basic sleep, and I still have physical limitation and pain. Add to this the fact I am in this mess due to trying to work through problems, getting some healing and then going back and making things worse, on multiple occasions. I know I am far from well, so it would be the definition of insanity: doing the same thing again and expecting a different outcome. Since I can live off my bank account a while longer, I guess I will use my time to research options.

Another depressing blog post, so the next one will be something more upbeat and hopefully interesting to some.

DWP Appraisal Hell

I’ve not written (speech recognition of course) a blog for a while, mainly because I feel like I’ve had nothing to say, despite having plenty of things I’d like to write about. I got hit by severe depression in mid-October. Things have become better recently, but first a negative event I experienced.

A few days before Christmas I had a DWP appraisal, even though I’m not getting any money from benefits. The whole event was sickening, I don’t just mean metaphorically but also physically. I don’t think giving a detailed narrative is a worthwhile thing for me to do, and I imagine it would not be for anyone to read, but there are few things that stood out.

The first thing that struck me upon arriving at the site was how much like a prison the setup was, with a massive security fence and guards. The building entrance has a bizarre double door system, at least it had automated doors for those people that are really struggling physically, but the short corridor took up valuable room space, since the waiting area is split into two weird and quite small sections. Upon arrival people are informed that they are likely going to be waiting for over an hour, and given how they were already behind yet it was early morning, they could be waiting up to 2 hours. Given the uncomfortable claustrophobic waiting area that was quite unappealing.

bureaucracy

Upon arrival every person seems to be surprised by this information, and several people had to cancel their appointment due to time constraints. The receptionist repeated the same few statements to each person about how the system is not their fault, and that they appreciate that a person may have to leave and schedule a new appointment. A man in a wheelchair arrived and was even informed that his appointment had been cancelled, although no one had actually contacted him to explain this, and the reasons given were classic examples of bureaucratic mismanagement, along with repeated statements by the receptionist that it is not their fault. It is easy to accept/agree that it is not the receptionist’s fault, but the fact that they are acting like a dismissive robot is their fault. I guess this is a learned behaviour given their job, and I can appreciate they may be used to receiving nasty comments, but they should at least wait for some before being so defensive, and dismissive.

Since I had walked a mile to get there I was already feeling the physical impact, and added to this was the fact that I had not slept for over a day due to the usual severe pain. I suppose I could have asked to reschedule, but I didn’t see how the next time would be much different. Sitting for a length of time escalates my pain, and can result in an inability to even sit due to my nervous system demanding that I stop doing the thing that is causing my pain to spike, it’s a weird retracting pain, the urge to move away becomes overwhelming, but obviously I can’t move away from my own body. Standing up or lying down at least changes things for a while until they become deemed to be the enemy.

sleepdepr

Eventually I was seen by a physiotherapist, which was the first sign of trouble, since a key part of my problems, and long-term domino effects is sleep deprivation and thus the psychological impact of that should be considered, not just the physical. The interview proceeded to become a bizarre movie like style of being interrogated by stupid cop, who repeated the same questions, yet lacked any comprehension of what the answers meant. I was asked about my sleeping pattern, since I had written about it in my overview. I explained that I don’t have one due to the constant ongoing pain, which sometimes becomes unbearable and overrides even exhaustion, which over the last year and a half often resulted in missing huge chunks of sleep over the week so that I became so exhausted I could get a few hours sleep, and then probably not sleep for another day even though technically that means I’m down twelve hours. Then after a few weeks of this I would manage to get more sleep for a short-while, before the erratic sleep returned. I had to explain that I have had sleep deprivation problems continually, yet it still didn’t sink in, they then asked me what time I set my alarm for this day I explained I set it for nine but then highlighted that I hadn’t actually slept so they said “so you pattern is normally what nine then?” I genuinely had to resist the urge to scream at this person, instead I managed to yet again explain the situation using simple clear words. It was odd, instead of acknowledging this answer I was asked a bunch of weird questions about my how I use an alarm, and how I use a mobile phone. This then turned into further strange questions, which indicated the person didn’t believe what I was saying about not phoning people. This went on for quite some time, and towards the end I realised how much time jumping they had done in regards to trying to piece together a timeline, even though they had a detailed explanation written out in front of them from the four I had filled in previously.

sleepdep

The thing I take away from this interview is that it very much seemed like I was having to prove that I was innocent of committing fraud, that they were trying to trip me up by asking the same thing repeatedly, that they were desperate to find anything to latch onto to prove I was guilty of lying, such as the bizarre mobile phone questions. And then abruptly the interview ended and I was dismissed, at this stage the person had no interest in any further conversation, and was already trying to herd me out the door. Crucially there had been no questions about my psychological state, which given the symptoms should have been a key part of the interview. As I mentioned above, the gravitas of my situation finally hit me in October, the fact it been well over a year, and at this stage I had been suffering from depression for the last two months; it has been pointed out to me that my idea of depression and other people’s has a scale of difference, being fatalistically optimistic and the fact that I’ve had long-term pain of a different type for twenty years, I view depression as an inconvenience, and what I call depression others would categorise as major depression. Having a degree in psychology I am also academically aware of things, including the difficulty of self-diagnosis, and how our beliefs and biases influence our thoughts. I had been given medication to help with the sleep problem, and to help fight off depression, this was an area highlighted by my doctor; in hindsight I should have emphasised it.

If I had ticked the box regarding depression then I am sure I would have been allocated a doctor and not a physiotherapist for the interview, and some of the questions would have been about the psychological impact of my condition. I can at least acknowledge that my involvement is part of the reason why things went the way they did, of course considering I had written about being massively sleep deprived you’d think an assessor would highlight that issue.

Due to how physically demanding the whole event was, and the fact it lasted several hours, my pain levels later that day were a staggering fucking nine for several hours, before dropping back to my normally horrific six or seven. This is on top of the fact that I had not slept for what was approaching two days. Painkillers and alcohol didn’t do anything to the nine rating. I guess my body was flooded with cortisol both from the psychological interrogation as well as the scale of physicality I am not used to.

Miraculously four days later, on Christmas Day, I experienced several hours of a pain level of only one or two! Unfortunately that did not last, and even in to early January I was still probably averaging a six rating.

The shoulder and neck physiotherapy session have ended, I am still carrying out the exercises, and it does seem to have helped a lot. Having started physiotherapy for my stomach, back and hips it seems like the intense pain in my right midsection is starting to reduce a bit.

So once again my thoughts are flooded with daily ponderings about returning to exercise of a more tangible level, and even going back to martial arts in a few weeks, primarily BJJ. Realistically that goal is way off, even if things start improving faster, but it’s nice to have hopeful thoughts and even an anticipation of setting a simple goal. Next time something less depressing.

My Curious Cthulhu Visits

Several weeks ago I was abruptly awoken, but not due to my normal constant pain interrupting my sleep, but due to an abnormal feeling. I was quite surprised to see upon the ceiling a multitude of writhing tentacles. As my brain struggled to comprehend what I was perceiving, and my heart-rate raced, the tentacles slowly retreated back to what I eventually determined to be a porthole. Whilst I motionlessly observed things, I became aware of a single bizarre eye that was staring back at me, comprehending me in an alien way. For a moment I was gripped with terror, surprised by the insanity of the vista before me. I knew I was most clearly awake, but for a split second I wondered if reality had changed, or I was somewhere else. Seconds later I saw a small tumbling gorilla hovering between myself and the now closing porthole. A calming thought reminded me of the psychology experiment of video of the basketball game and the person in the gorilla suit… Focus on the gorilla, not the eldritch horror! My feelings of dread subsided as the last tentacle finally closed the porthole, then the gorilla left.

Over the week I experienced more interrupted sleep. Nothing unusual there, but the regular eldritch visitations certainly were, as were the tumbling gorillas; I even had one night when I saw a 4by4 grid of them.

I attempted to try and write about my experiences, but my words felt inadequate, failing to capture the depth of the visitations. I was struck by how ludicrously clichéd the idea of a sleep deprived writer going crazy was, plus as I analysed my writings/ramblings my normal hypercritical opinion of my work screamed at me that I was writing poor fanfiction.

Although I have been suffering from sleep deprivation for a year, what had recently changed was I had been prescribed Amitriptyline due to its common side effect of causing drowsiness. My doctor thought that using Amitriptyline combined with the Remedeine (opiate) could help over-ride the pain interpreting my sleep. I did initially manage to get a few nights of basic uninterrupted sleep before returning to lacking sleep; this was slightly better than my last year’s pattern. Whilst I might have had a bit more sleep that week, I decided to stop taking the drug, since most of the sleep I was getting resulted in a horrifying moment of anxiety when I woke. With the drug out of my system the hallucinations no long occurred.

All in all a fascinating set of experiences, that one day might result in some interesting fiction, and most certainly aid me running role-playing sessions, but I’d rather not have had to go through the process. Sleep wise I have struggled on, I am currently attempting some new non-pill approaches to improving my sleep, and to continue to try do as little as possible so I can prioritise healing.

One possible positive take away is that it seems during the initial hallucination I was quickly able to appreciate my situation, and crucially calm my freaking out heart-rate and panicking thoughts. The later visions just felt like I had to wait for the visitations to wrap-up. A paranoid thought follows this, that my brain chemistry might have been badly affected by the drug, on top of the long-term sleep issues, somehow sowing the seeds for a future psychotic breakdown, because one never knows. Thankfully I’ve had no hallucinations since, which beats my paranoia back in to a sensible state.