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.

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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.

Wallowing in Positivity

During my bed-rest I contemplated whether to write a post about things, frustration and embarrassment were strong impediments. Since I have been in a long-term holding pattern with regards to work, training, and well, life in general, it felt like writing a blog post was not worthwhile, since it would be full of vagaries without any conclusion. My circumstances have changed and it seemed odd if I skipped the following.

Things get better, things get worse. Psychologically I kept telling myself that this was my situation. For the last year, and particularly since November, my pain levels have been appalling. When there was a brief respite from pain, my optimism would ramp-up, I was eager to get back to training and work and in those moments it seemed like I was almost healthy again. The problem was that the respite barely lasted long, and usually was due to mixing pain killers with a bit alcohol; I had consulted with several doctors about it being okay to have 1 or 2 units of alcohol a day with my pain meds.

Besides the chronic left shoulder, neck and sometimes back pain, along with lack of sleep, things have been made worse by a lack of exercise. The weaker I get, the worse everything becomes. There were times that I felt like I could get out of bed and do something simple, not too strenuous, like a short walk, but when I did so, I suffered. Even the action of walking, was something I had to carefully consider, pretty obvious when you consider how the arms swing, and the interconnectivity of the body. So, was going for a short walk to help reduce my body’s deterioration, and a chance to get out and about a sensible thing to do, when it also could aggravate damaged areas.

It’s strange having to learn how to tolerate switching between being in chronic pain, to that of having a few hours a day when the pain is tolerable. As the pain level lowers I enter a strange mental place: like being at the eye of a tropical cyclone, allowing me to come out of the fortified cellar, however, coming out is a mistake, the storm has not gone! There is also the weird feeling of being both overtired yet having energy and the need to do something. Since exercise correlates with health and quality of life, I am also concerned about long-term health effects. That even after healing I could be facing a year of rebuilding just to reach a basic level, never mind something more athletic.

So, as the shoulder swelling and pain started reducing, returning to work became the target. A previous phased return to work had failed, since I attempted it shortly after no longer being bedridden, but this time I’d had more rest time, as well as a cortisone injection. I saw several Doctors and they advised that if work/lifestyle changes were in place, that preventative measures at work like using speech recognition: Dragon (DNS), that a phased return to work could help. Having a routine should help with my sleep pattern. That moving about a bit would start to strengthen me weak body as well as my energy levels; simply being out of bed for the day was tiring.

The last phased return to work failed. The pain levels had reduced drastically, but even after the cortisone injection I was not healed enough. Also despite new medication I still had severe problems sleeping.

I didn’t want to leave this job, it wasn’t too demanding, I found it interesting, and they even provided assistance to help keep me in work. Working for social services was also rewarding, since I was part of what is effectively the fourth emergency service, which I agree with. A further bonus was talking with social workers, who I found to be overwhelmingly genuinely nice people. It is easy to imagine that it simply comes with the territory, somebody working in a job where they have to prioritise another person’s needs, as well as a client’s capacity, would be a good person. However, given how tough the job is, the layers of bureaucracy (mostly appropriate), and the complexity of figuring out what is best for somebody, it would be naive to think that all social workers must be wonderful positive perfect people. As somebody interested in psychology and writing I’ve certainly learnt a lot from working there, as well as several interesting ideas to follow up on.

Now I am left with more bed-rest, careful physiotherapy, but a positive attitude that things will improve if I keep things simple and sensible. Throughout my experience I have felt like I am a few days away from being fine, when things were really bad, maybe a few weeks; odd to think that I have been wallowing in positivity. At least I have plenty of time to think about life plans.

Update and NoobGrind GTX 1080 article

I am now fortunate to have occasional hours without any pain, but then excruciating pain in my left shoulder, neck and even arm, can return for seemingly no reason; likely my pathetic amount of activity was too much. Due to this the new role-playing article I have been tinkering with just feels like a low priority. I decided not to force myself to write something, but thankfully something came along and grabbed my attention.

I have been putting off upgrading my PC for about a year. Since my current system does what I need it to do, I have been able to get by. Amusingly I don’t want to upgrade for gaming reasons, but due to how resource demanding Dragon NaturallySpeaking is. Though the software works incredibly accurately the vast majority of the time, there are occasional moments when it struggles.

Last week I finalised a list of parts and sent an email to a company to price up for me. Thankfully they have been slow in responding, which is handy since NVIDIA have announced their new video card range. So at the weekend I watched the presentation and got quite excited due to how impressive the cards are. After a lot of research I ended up writing an article for NoobGrind about them: http://www.noobgrind.com/next-gen-graphics-cards/

The GTX 1080 is certainly more than I need currently. Buying one would be a bit like buying a sports car but then never driving it more than 30mph. However, in the future I do have plans; I will ponder more.

I hope to have a role-playing related article finished in the next few days. I’ve had a few really interesting ideas recently about my decade long unfinished guide, motivation to do something without that is growing.

Health: Cortisone, Writing Motivation

The cortisone injection last week went well, with the doctor successfully injecting the area on the first attempt. The pain of the needle going in was not that bad, I was reading SuperBetter on my Kindle during the process, to help distract me from the pain, it did help a bit. Then as the injection of the fluid occurred the pain skyrocketed, it felt like a large object landing on the area; the doctor said that this could be a good sign, as it indicates that the injection had hit the right area due to how sensitive it was.

My body had an immediate reaction to the amount of pain, I started sweating a lot and nearly passed out. However, the experience sorting out my damaged right ear was far worse, so to anyone reading this due to worrying about their own cortisone injection I’d say yes it will be painful, but you will handle it. The pain experienced for the next two days was more like how the shoulder pain had been a few weeks ago, so not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

6-TR07 FIGURE 4
Example of shoulder injection

Writing & Motivation

Whilst things had improved a little bit I have still lacked motivation to do much, as well as still needing to prioritise doing nothing. So despite receiving positive feedback about the Kaizo Trap and Cyberpunk articles in particular, I have not finished any articles for a few weeks, and I had planned follow-ups on those previous articles. At least I have had time to think about them, but after making a few notes, I then don’t have the urge to continue. Considering I could ramble on using speech recognition whilst in bed it would seem easy enough, but I just didn’t want to, until today when I got so frustrated I decided to ramble a bit.

One of my coping mechanisms whilst resting up has been watching all sorts of videos, I have written a NoobGrind article about Gaming and Disability: Value of Video, which as per normal for me turned into a thousand word piece. I hope to be able to maintain motivation and get back to writing articles about role-playing games and my professional experiences.

What’s Next?

I have another doctor’s appointment today, and I will need a further sicknote extension for hopefully just a week or two, and then maybe the injection will prove to have been effective. As mobility has improved I have been at least able to do a tiny amount of yoga and tai chi, and I hope that this progress will help trigger further strengthening without interfering with the current healing by re-aggravating something. I am still having to hold off at attempting anything Brazilian Jiu Jitsu related.

As pain reduces and health improves, I expect (hope) motivation will return. I guess if things don’t improve then I will have to change mental gears anyway. SuperBetter is helping, but I will write about that another time.

superbetter-toolkit
SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal

Cortisone, Future Health & Physiotherapy

At the time of writing this I am a few hours away from having a cortisone injection in my left shoulder. The swelling from last year finally started to reduce a few weeks ago, and has nearly gone. The constant pain from the left shoulder, to back of the left shoulder blade, and then up my neck has only reduced a little bit. Although doing more than nothing still quickly increases this pain.

I received whiplash a few weeks ago during an emergency brake, even though it was not a particularly dramatic incident. It just shows how susceptible a person with a weakness is to injury.

My current sick-note is due to expire next Monday. It is hard to estimate whether the cortisone injection will give such a rapid improvement in 6 days, but hopefully it will.

I expect the injection to hurt, and whilst it may not help, I think it is worth trying at this stage. A few weeks ago I read a few articles and research papers on the subject, for example:  http://overhaultraining.com/cortisone-injections/

One of the things I kept reading was how key physiotherapy is, regardless of having cortisone or not. Since I desperately want to be able to exercise again, partly because I miss Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and partly because I have put quite a lot of weight on, the sooner I can start exercising a lot more the better. I have been doing some very simple exercises, small shoulder and neck movements, as well as short works of a mile or two. However, I was advised by three doctors that doing more than this currently is not advised.

The trouble is determining when can I start to do more? Sensibly a few more weeks of basic movement is what I should stick to, and at the moment I am considering re-joining a local gym to get access to the swimming pool, sauna and spa. I am aware it is better to be sensible then do too much and quickly aggravate the injured area again.

Blog Mission Statement & RP Guide

Two weeks ago I received some great feedback about my blogs, in particular two people saying my writing had humbled them. Given how small a blog is at the start, and how likely it is to remain small, I have wondered about whether the effort involved is worthwhile. Even posting once in a while can still take up a fair bit of time, especially since then I feel like I need to put more effort into the rare blogs that I do make; this is on top of the issue of using speech recognition, and how slow I am due to avoiding being in front of a computer for too long. However, the reasons why I started writing blog posts remain the same, and given my recent health it remains one of my constructive outlets, even if it is small and really only for my benefit.

As I have started writing (dictating) stories about my life, I have considered how this will impact any people who were involved. So far I have contacted several people about whether they are happy with me discussing incidents they are involved in, and currently everyone has said yes; I have more people to ask. I am focusing on good situations, but since negative incidents can lead to re-examining ideas and improving myself, I know I need to be respectful about them as well. Like just about everyone, surely everyone, I have been involved in several negative incidents, from role-playing session flare-ups as a teenager, to leaving a LARP I cared about for reasons I didn’t explain, to professional disputes at a games company, I have pondered whether it is lying via omission to avoid mentioning incidents, or to mention but not explain, especially since they often helped shape many of my ideas. My conclusion is that I would rather focus on the positive, plus I am also aware that incidents occur generally for more than one reason, and often all parties played a factor and thus share part of the blame; I want to avoid needing to make a pie chart based on my perspective of allocated blame.

After leaving KJC games I started writing a role-playing (RP) guide. I had many reasons for doing this. Although some of the customers had a great understanding of role-playing, others didn’t. Additionally, at the time no one had written a players guide to RP, and there were very few GM guides, most of which I did not rate. For my RP guide I pondered whether to include an anecdote section, it was already pushing over 300 pages so adding anecdotes seemed like overkill, as well potentially a negative thing. Eventually I decided to write a lot because then I could decide on a case-by-case basis, but for all of them I tried to be neutral and constructive with my conclusions. It was interesting writing them, mostly because the majority of them occurred when I was a teenager. Reflecting on them was funny, especially since I had learnt a lot more since then. This resulted in giving me better insights in to my youth, and helping to further clarify my decisions about gaming and the consequences of things, and in a few cases radically changing an opinion.

It occurred to me that my concern about blog posts is similar to my thoughts about my RP guide and anecdotes. I think trying to maintain a respectful attitude is best for all involved, particularly me; this is my mission statement for the blog. I reserve the right to write (dictate) a rant, but I think it would be a big mistake to do so. I contemplated writing something more dramatic, or poetic, than this, but the spirit of what I have written is what matters to me.

 Personal update: my injured left shoulder and neck were made worse at the start of this week due to an emergency stop in a vehicle. Due to the area’s weakened state I now have whiplash, resulting in the pain feeling as agonising as when the injury got really bad, and the knock-on sleep issues.