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 during some drawing for this post, since I couldn’t find what I envisioned. 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:

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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

Writing Curious/Crazy Experiment

As mentioned in my last blog about CampNaNoWriMo I’ve been listening to The Bestseller Experiment podcast. I first came across them via the author Gavin G Smith tweeting about them in October 2016, but I was busy, so I didn’t allocate any time to check them out. I was reminded of the podcasts existence in February by Gavin, who had once again tweeted about them; a shoutout to Gavin for his recommendation. I also owe Gavin an article in response to his recent interesting Cyberpunk article: The C Word.

For those that are not familiar, read this intriguing and crazy premise:

“Could you write, publish & market a Bestseller in one year?”

I wrote crazy because, well, it seems like it is. The thing is, it’s not entirely crazy, incredible things can happen with any work, and this premise has a clever marketing aspect to it. As I finished the first episode I was quite optimistic that this could work. Just take a look at the guests that they’ve had, it’s an extremely impressive line-up, and they give such brilliant advice.

It’s not just the guests that matter though. The show is hosted by the two Marks: Mark Stay and Mark Desvaux; check out their information at http://bestsellerexperiment.com/about/. At the start they discuss ideas from quite different perspectives, and they don’t always go easy with each other’s opinion. Since they are collaborating, they have a lot to figure out, I don’t want to spoil anything, but I think it is okay to say that a listener can imagine that writing with someone else could result in a big impasse. It quickly became evident to me that these interactions would also be a big draw for me, and likely other listeners. For most of us writers it’s a solo affair, so hearing two people discuss their approaches is quite useful.

At this point I think the Vault of Gold needs to be mentioned. This is a currently free ebook containing lots of information from their episodes. It might not be free for long, so this is another reason to at least give the show a listen.

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As I listened to more episodes, I was pleased to find that the two Marks have discussed so many writers concerns. I think they have done a brilliant job of building up their project, carefully not revealing too much early on, just snippets, adding to the mystery of the show.

By the middle of March I had listened to all the episodes currently available, and I eagerly awaited their next release. I don’t have a particular favourite, I think each is noteworthy; I noted in my previous blog that the Ben Aaronovitch episode is a popular one. Personally I think all the interviews were interesting, useful and enjoyable, and I don’t want to post spoilers. Since people like favourite lists so much, here is mine:

  1. Sarah Pinborough‘s wonderful energy, humour, some different takes on classic advice, and strong language. I plan on listening to this again soon, something I rarely do, so that’s very high praise from me.
  2. The Ben Aaronovitch bollocking, plus how they’ve responded since. Besides the outline issue, Ben gives heaps of good advice, it’s also an overall outstanding chat, don’t let the bollocking overwhelm the rest of the gems. This also deserves a second listen, there was just much in this episode.
  3. Having recently read seven books by Joe Abercrombie, I was really intrigued to hear what he had to say. Joe’s professional approach in particular was inspiring to me, again Joe gives a lot of good advice. Overall it’s brilliant, for example:

Be persistent. The longer you dance naked in the rain, the sooner you’ll be struck by lightning. Joe Abercrombie

I have a special mention in regards to Joe Hill. He gave a great interview, good advice, and it felt like friends chatting. I do have a confession, despite owning and reading several of Joe’s books, and loving them, I had no idea who his dad was. Even for someone like me who rarely looks in to the life of any artists whose work they love, I probably should have known that piece of information; if you’ve no idea what I am on about, like I didn’t previously, check out Joe’s picture. I think Joe would be amused, but also glad that his approach of making a name for himself has certainly worked with regards to me. I also now follow him on Twitter.

My rule when i get to a second draft is, ‘What’s awesome about this scene?’ I’m absolutely ruthless. Joe Hill

You can check out more guest quotes here:

We are now at the halfway mark for The Bestseller Experiment, I’m sure we can look forward to more superb guests, giving excellent advice. As for the two Marks, I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I will say that things are happening, and who knows what drama awaits?

I should probably update my iTunes review of them, I gave a good review before, but I am sure I can write something grander now. I’m convinced they’re not crazy, that this could actually work, even if for one of their audience, which they have said they’d be okay with, but still they are going for it. If you don’t try, you definitely cannot succeed.

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Be sure to check them out. What do you think of this experiment?

I should get back to #CampNaNoWriMo

CampNaNoWriMo Preparation

CampNaNoWriMo starts on the 1st April, an appropriate date for all the self-deprecating writers who think their work is a joke. Thankfully over the last few months my chronic pain has reduced enough that I have started having some good sleep, generally not at night, it is more a case of being at random times; I have tried to establish a regular sleep cycle, but since I still have pain filled days this has proved unreliable. With the sleep improvements, energy levels are improving, and crucially the mental fog diminishes. I am confident that I will reach the CampNaNoWriMo 50,000 word count by the end of April, and I even optimistically envision smashing this target.

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I bought Dragon Naturally Speaking 15 this month. Although I found Dragon 13 was good, since I have so much writing to do in a short time span I want any extra dictation accuracy gains I can get. I have noticed some big differences. I also found that Apple’s Siri is based upon Dragon, one of these irrelevant but interesting facts. Even after all these years the temptation to manually edit is still there, as it is still quicker, the habit just hasn’t faded. Whilst my arms are always in pain, having my RSI pain levels skyrocket due to writing frustration would be silly, never mind my current chronic pain in left shoulder.

In March I started listening to the http://bestsellerexperiment.com/. I have really enjoyed these episodes, and I was partly using them to get me super-inspired for this April’s CampNaNoWriMo. There is too much to state about them here, so I’ll write a blog about them this weekend.

I’ve been working on my world setting for about two years. Due to health reasons I’ve done what I can, for the first year I was bedridden. Over time I have worked out the setting history and since it’s a fantasy setting the all-important metaphysics; this has been engrained in to me due to working in games design, I appreciate some authors don’t think this matters. Typically for me it is a complicated setting, which I think really matters due to the big focus on mental health, plus I do love my fantasy fate stories. I also have a lot of story outlines for important historical events, as well as a collection of scenes.

Basically, I’ve not just done a lot of outlining I’ve done a shocking amount. This is somewhat similar to Mark and Mark at The Bestseller Experiment; I’ll just hint that the Ben Aaronovitch episode alone makes the series for many listeners, plus how they’ve progressed since.

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I decided to write something new in my setting, not obsessing over old ideas and trying to connect scenes spread over centuries. By starting fresh I feel like I am going to be better focused. In theory I won’t get distracted by indulgent fantasy designs like working out how memory & magic in my setting will work; I’ve already worked that out. The world building is done, a lot of it, now is the time to write.

Besides having the CampNaNoWriMo deadline, I have the additional pressure of finishing a board game. I will be visiting some friends, so I need to get this game to a playable state; I’ve had a mini playtest and I feel this game is at least on the right track. The board game work was going well until I strained the muscles around my right ribs at physiotherapy on Tuesday, resulting in two days without sleep, which is accompanied by the usual increase in mental fog. Thankfully my passion for this project, plus the fact I’ve been playing around with ideas for this for years, has helped me dictate a lot of ideas, even if half of them are gibberish at least I can edit the half that are good.

Sadly I haven’t completed some of the blog posts I’ve been working on, mostly due to these new deadlines. Well, technically I wrote the third part of my Lessons from Watching Role-Playing Games two weeks ago, but I had a funny idea for some graphics for that post. I won’t ruin the surprise, but I will say that organising a Skaven photo shoot has proven to be a bit difficult.

I briefly pondered writing a blog every day, but I decided that I should focus on writing. With the board game deadline approaching I already have enough to do, and I do still have health issues to manage.

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#CampNaNoWriMo #AmWriting

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.

The Gamer Who Cried White Wolf

I have written an article for Noobgrind, but first an explanation about why this matters so much to me, as well setting the stage for forthcoming articles. “White Wolf is coming!” I have been thinking this for over a year, ever since the Paradox Interactive announcement, I’ve been desperate to know what is going to happen. Writing about the subject of White Wolf feels bizarre to me; my head is full of conflicting inner-voices, different narratives competing for the privilege to justify particular opinions. This is in part because I know how important this is to some people, like myself, as well as to defend against the many anti-White Wolf role-players. Back in the 90s I ran some unusual games that helped me get a gaming job; for example a yearlong 16 player play-by-mail style World of Darkness games, which I will write about soon.

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I often find talking about White Wolf games, in particular Vampire, is similar to discussing Dungeons & Dragons, the games mean different things to different people. It’s common to hear RPG generalisations further simplified in to meaningless soundbites like: “D&D is crap”, or “Vampire players are pretentious”. Years ago at conventions I’d meet players who hated White Wolf, but typically they struggled to explain why. I even came across claims that Vampire in particular had usurped D&D, which was a strange statement given the age and sheer size of D&D. Even quirkier since those conventions always had more D&D games being played than anything else, and this was before 3rd Ed came out. Also those people tended to conveniently forget what happened to TSR, it’s not that White Wolf beat D&D it’s more that they filled a void of sales at the local games shop. Maybe this type of chat was a big factor as to why so many players were offended by the idea of White Wolf, never mind the other big speculative factors I’ll not go in to here. Since White Wolf became a big deal in the RPG community, it was no surprise so many opinions were thrown around, since the games certainly sold.

Old World of Darkness, Trinity Universe, Exalted, Street Fighter

 

I have been accused of being a White Wolf fanboy, mainly by strangers; it’s a common enough insult some use when debating. Granted I have played the games a lot, yes for many years I was crazy and purchased all the books, as well as the spin-off games (CRPG, VTES, Rage, Changeling’s: Arcadia The Wyld Hunt, etc.), and even quite a few accessories. Once the old World of Darkness and Trinity Universe stopped I became a lot more selective about what I purchased. However, my regular players have played in a wide variety of role-playing games I’ve run (Cyberpunk, L5R, D&D, Champions, Warhammer, etc.), and as a group we have been critical of specific parts of all systems. I don’t think any rule system can be all things to all people, nor cover every possibility, thus I appreciate that my opinions of their products are very much subjective. I don’t see myself as blindly devoted, but I am definitely invested.

I don’t see myself as biased, just that I am invested.

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In the 90s playing Jyhad (VTES) at The Tache (my regular nightclub)

I have written an article on Noobgrind about the recent Werewolf announcement, which can be read here. This news has helped motivate me to write some more gaming articles, in particular about some of the more unusual games I have ran.

I have previously written about the old White Wolf mostly excellent Street Fighter setting.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.