Friendship is Dragons Is Ending, Here’s Why

I still remember when FireEsper improved my incredibly crappy initial logo. Thanks, FireEsper.

The short version:

  • Friendship is Dragons will be ending sometime mid-2024, or in roughly 6-7 months. That’s a rough estimate since the rest of the comic isn’t written yet at this time, and the ending could arrive sooner or later than that.
  • I know that I could have chosen to continue the story into Epic tier and the source material would have made that more or less feasible, but I’ve chosen not to.
  • Mental health, waning interest in both webcomics and tabletop gaming, and desires to explore new projects are the main reasons why I’ve chosen to plan the ending.
  • When FiD ends, I will probably temporarily suspend the Patreon for a month or two, either restructuring and coming back after or finding a crowdsourcing alternative that suits me better.

The long version:

Friendship is Dragons has been going on for over 12 years now, and it’s been a wonderful experience. I couldn’t ask for a better project to keep my writing instincts sharp and prove to myself that I have a semi-decent work ethic. It’s been balanced right on that perfect edge between simple and challenging, taking a small amount of time three days a week each week while still pushing me to handle some narrative curveballs. It’s been a crutch of stability during some of the worst parts of my life so far, giving me something to do and focus on while other parts of my life collapse around my ears.

If you’ve followed Friendship is Dragons for a very long time – or just me, Newbiespud, in particular – you’ve probably been around for a good chunk of my mental health journey. But just to recap: I’ve got crippling social anxiety and self-care issues stemming from lifelong repressed PTSD, and my current living situation is more keeping me in stasis than actually giving me space and time to heal.

As part of what little I’ve been able to do during my healing process, I’ve tried to commit to the path of a recovering workaholic. And that’s meant cutting down on the overload of projects I’ve subjected myself to – podcasting, streaming, video editing, writing for webcomics, writing for novels, building a social media brand, game design and development, all that jazz. For a huge chunk of my life, work has been a form of martyrdom, sacrificing myself for the sake of trying to build works that will eclipse me and stand worthy on their own, separate from me. Part of my healing process has turned out to be cutting down the amount of work I do and reestablishing boundaries with myself, trying to put the human being here first.

If I WASN’T honest with myself, I could keep the comic going. I could come up with a half-baked idea for an arc to take the characters into Epic tier and arrive at a major climax at Level 30. I had a few such ideas kicking around. This would allow me to keep using Friendship is Dragons as my creative, professional, and financial crutch for many more years.

But if I AM honest with myself, the spark’s not just there anymore. I haven’t played tabletop roleplaying games like D&D since I put Spudventures on hiatus nearly two years ago. I don’t have a lot more to say authentically about TTRPGs, whether as jokes or as dramatic themes. I’m still not in a safe place emotionally where I can responsibly and reliably share the spotlight with my fellow players and DMs, so I haven’t gained any new tabletop experiences lately. And just on a practical level, the thought of spending another 8-10 years clipping screencaps three times a week fills me with the kind of dread that makes you feel like your body is turning into dust.

And thanks to modding projects like Arint’s Last Day and Grift the Spire, I’ve rediscovered my love for other kinds of projects and have learned how to establish the kind of work-life balance that allows larger solo projects to get done. My capabilities have changed, and I want to keep exploring and adapting further. Heck, there’s a self-insert Kingdom Hearts fanfiction series that could use some real love after all this time…

All of that together means that, for me, the time has come. Friendship is Dragons has been a great project, but it’s time to end it on its own terms and reclaim my three days a week.

My current estimates put the ending sometime mid-2024, but the truth is that, as ever, “it’ll be done when it’s done.” The ending will arrive at the pace I write it at, and it’s not written yet, so I can’t know with total confidence. It could arrive sooner… though given the languid pace of the comic so far, it seems far more likely the ending is actually further away than I realize.

When Friendship is Dragons finally does officially end, I’ll also probably be suspending my Patreon for a month or two, since FiD is the main source of content-per-month that really justifies it. I want to give everyone an off-ramp if that’s the main reason they’ve been supporting me. I will be continuing to work on other narrative projects (gaming and storytelling are my lifeblood, y’all), and I’d love it if people still want to support me through those processes, but considering that I tend to keep to myself when I’m working and I find it socially difficult to share things that aren’t finished, I’m not sure what kind of crowdfunding will really work for me going forward.

I know it kind of feels a bit sudden. It was a bit of a sudden realization for me, too, to realize that I’d rather reach an ending than keep going forever. Heck, when it comes to webcomics, you either fizzle out in three months or keep going until the end of time, and very few webcomics seem to reach an ending on their own terms.

Well, I’ve come this far but I don’t want to keep doing it forever, so I guess Actual Ending it is. I feel like I’ve more than completed my bucket-list desire to make a webcomic like my dad did back in the day.

Thank you all for supporting Friendship is Dragons and me, Newbiespud, for so many years, and I hope you’ll continue to stick around for these last few months.

Taking Responsibility for the Fallout is Dragons Breakup

What a crew, huh?

Fallout is Dragons was an actual-play RPG podcast / livestream show I ran from January 2014 to June 2016. It used my friend’s homebrew Pony Tales RPG system and was set in the Fallout: Equestria fanfiction setting. Looking back over my body of RPG work, it’s still probably the best campaign I’ve ever run overall.

Towards the end, though, there was a schism in the group, one person was forced out, and the show continued.

I’m not going to make this about naming names or pointing fingers or creating a thorough account of what happened. I don’t have the Skype chat logs (and have little desire to hunt them down even if they did still exist). I can hardly recall anything that was said; all I can vaguely recall is that some unforgivable things were said as things blew up.

Only now, after my emotional and mental breakdown back in 2019 and months of struggle and therapy, do I begin to have a grasp of my own role in what happened, how I let it happen through neglect. Because I wasn’t even conscious of what I was doing at the time.

Some background, though.

I was emotionally traumatized by my (very stressed-out due to other factors) parents at a young age. I was yelled at a lot as a baby and as a prepubescent child – the worst times being totally at random, going from 0 to 100% in-trouble with no ability to comprehend anything other than that I dun fucked up somehow. I developed hypervigilant personality traits and avoided conflict at all costs, and whenever conflict broke out around me, I always assumed it was my fault somehow, fled to my room to hide, and spent the next few hours blaming myself and trying to figure out what I did wrong.

That probably spells out most of the story right there, but I have a little more to add.

Between 2014 and 2016, I was on my prolonged, steady decline at my dream college. The hypervigilance I’d developed both as a child – and as a teenager having to take care of my newborn baby half-brother – made homework and teamwork impossible for me to complete with any rigor. Furthermore, I was struggling with undiagnosed sleep apnea, stealing away all my deep REM sleep and slowly driving me insane.

And yet, pretty much between the middle of my teenage years and 2019, I was in the mindset of pretending nothing was wrong with me. At all times. Putting everyone else ahead of myself and my needs. Except that my needs and traumas and fears still controlled me, unconsciously. I just pretended that I wasn’t feeling it so that the delusion of success could continue.

Knowing all that now, what happened during the complete breakdown of the Dragon Mawlers’ group cohesion – and specifically, what I did to enable it, let it fester, and let it blow up out of control – becomes so painfully, obviously clear to me. Every time people yelled during a call, I froze up like a deer in the headlights. When the yelling turned into prolonged arguments, I avoided them and stayed out of it as much as I could, maybe throwing in a judgment call or two here and there because I was the leader and I was expected to do something. When it finally blew up, I took the path of least resistance that made the conflict stop so that we could all pretend that things were fine and move on again.

It was neglect born out of fear. Deep, traumatic, unresolved fear. The fear of a 3-year-old, 6-year-old, 11-year-old, 14-year-old, all simultaneously flashing back and wanting nothing else than for Mom and Dad to stop yelling.

It’s not an excuse. A group’s behavior trickles down from the top, and I was the leader, both as the DM and the showrunner. Not only did I neglect and avoid problems, that became hard unspoken policy for everyone else too, until it couldn’t be avoided anymore. And when the worst of it broke out into flames, I basically didn’t support anybody. I hid, I dodged, I muttered indecisively, I attacked whoever seemed to have the weakest position and the most to answer for when easy opportunities arrived. I was the worst kind of boss.

And knowing what I know now… if we turned back the clock, I would not be able to act any differently. Is it theoretically possible that the conflict could have been avoided, that some adult, mature compromise could have been reached if we had tackled the problems sooner? That’s a big maybe, but this isn’t a maybe: I wasn’t capable of doing any of that. I wasn’t able to be a mature adult about anything, because I was a teen in arrested development treading water to pretend otherwise, neglecting everything – including myself – that needed attention.

My players deserved better. Fallout is Dragons deserved better. I was a bad leader and a bad DM in the long run, and its shortcomings rest at my feet.

I’m still paying for that neglect. It all came to a head in the summer of 2019, where I couldn’t deny the pain I was ignoring anymore and everything broke down. I’m now in a purgatory where I can’t even go outside and be around strangers without having a panic attack within an hour, which means I can’t find gainful employment. Patreon and the patient kindness of the handful of friends and family members who believe that what I’m going through is real are the only things that have kept me alive and afloat the last few years. And even then, that arrangement still means I’m stuck with someone who regularly and uncontrollably triggers my post-traumatic stress buttons.

I don’t bring that up – any of this up – to gain pity points in the context of Fallout is Dragons. I’m mainly pointing it out 1) for the possibility of slight schadenfreude for those I’ve wronged with my neglect, and 2) to demonstrate that what I’d done was a pattern of behavior that I later paid (and am still paying) inevitable consequences for.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my counseling and therapy, it’s that we are all, as individuals, the sum of one unbroken and interconnected chain of events. Pretending that parts of that chain didn’t happen or don’t exist is just taking an emotional loan out from the future. Eventually you have to reckon with it somehow or go mad.

Just needed to get all of that off my chest at 3:30 AM, I guess.

Spudventures Hiatus/Post-Mortem

Logo by Space Jawa, who I have frustrated time and again by canceling at the last minute

Sucks that this blog has ended up the place where I announce and explain all the sad news, but heck, it might as well go somewhere.

Short version:

  • The Spudventures podcast is going on indefinite hiatus, though some of its games will go on privately.
  • I’m reevaluating my relationship with tabletop RPGs as a whole.
  • Friendship is Dragons is still continuing.

Long version:

I haven’t been playing much D&D or other tabletop RPG systems in the past year, let alone podcasting and streaming in general. A lot of that’s understandable – we’re all adults with less time on our hands, the pandemic’s hit everyone hard in so many ways, and health always comes first.

With me personally, though, there’s been this growing sense that my desire to play tabletop RPGs has gone down over the past year. And with the show having cancelled at the last minute for nearly two months straight – and, more importantly, me not feeling all too excited to eventually get back on the horse, as it were – I’ve had to kind of face facts this week.

Because it hasn’t been fair to my fellow players and GMs who do still want to play.

Over the past year, counseling has been helpful and I’ve made a lot of great strides in my understanding of my own emotions. But it’s also opened a lot of emotional baggage that I repressed for over 15 years, punctuated by many points of pain in my life that I couldn’t afford to process until I had even begun to start healing. I am still firmly in the “it gets worse before it gets better” phase of my journey, and overcoming or even learning to cope with my symptoms as my new “normal” is still very far off in the future.

What does that have to do with D&D and other TTRPGs? Basically, I’ve been grappling with the idea lately that my primary motivation for getting into RPGs in the first place was escapism. All the stress I was dealing with at home, I wanted an excuse to get out and away from it. Turning those games into a show was an extension of that, creating a regular obligation and harvesting positive feedback. And as I’ve started to confront the actual sources of my stress (and still live with some of them currently), I’ve found that my escapist distractions have become less effective. The desire to escape was the original spark of joy that drew me into the fantastical world of TTRPGs, and that flame has been withering to embers.

I don’t hate TTRPGs, to be clear, not one bit. They’re still a fantastic cooperative medium with endless complexity. But I have become slightly disillusioned with them. The space has limits, and those limits don’t satisfy my desperate emotional needs – and it’s not fair to demand that from the players and GMs I interact with while I’m going through this.

Over the past year, I’ve noticed my level of mental and emotional need go from “Hang out with me for a bit” to “Please take care of me and tell me I’m doing a great job”… That’s just not a good state to bring to a table.

So I think I need to take a break from tabletop RPGs, reevaluate my relationship with them. The current system of “I play these games to escape and feel better” isn’t working because I’m trying to escape less and playing them doesn’t make me feel much better.

The podcasting and streaming aspect of the show became sort of a trap like that. As I have become more and more acutely aware of my own social anxiety, the stress of pulling myself together and “putting on a show” has caused me to cancel on more than one occasion because I’m dry-heaving at the thought of it. Which makes me feel bad because I shouldn’t be feeling bad at all – this is supposed to be fun and games with my friends! I should be happy to make the time! But no, I’ve actually been somewhat relieved to be on an unofficial hiatus for months at a time. And that’s just not fair to my fellow players.

It’s not as though I’ve made it big as a podcaster and streamer anyway.

(Not that making it big should be a requirement for doing something. If you like doing it, you should do it. But if you find over time that you like doing it less and less…)

Spudventures in general has also kind of strayed from the initial goals I had for it, kind of in an inevitable way:

  1. I wanted it to be a podcasting show where the cast would rotate every week, so that people who’d been following me via Friendship is Dragons and Fallout is Dragons for years could get a chance to play, especially first-timers. In practice, over time it became the vehicle for a small tight-knit friend group of the same players over and over, self-selecting because they were the ones most able and comfortable to play in random games on a weekly or biweekly basis.
  2. I wanted it to be a vehicle for exploring a bunch of weird and strange systems and concepts in the TTRPG space, indie games and personal passion projects and the like. In practice, we’ve spent about half the runtime playing D&D 5th Edition, playing a funky remix/mashup of established modules. (Not a bad campaign, that, but not what I had loftily envisioned.)
  3. I wanted it to be essentially playaround filler between the last “big” campaign, Tales of New Dunhaven, and whatever the “next” “big” campaign would be, and I thought playing around with different systems would revitalize my drive just in time for the next big burst of inspiration to drive me to put another epic-length campaign together. That burst of inspiration never came in the three years or so this has been runnning.

I don’t regret Spudventures. I don’t regret the path it took, and I don’t regret the games we played, the things we tried, and the lessons we learned. And on its own, “not living up to the unrealistic and grandiose vision at the start” would not be reason enough to end a venture like this.

I’m just going through a really rough patch right now. The show isn’t really helping with that, and it’s actively hurting the games of the groups I’ve been playing with. So, as hard as it is to say, the best option for the indeterminate future is to put the show on hold. To free myself of a stressful obligation I legit can’t handle right now, and to free my friends from my own flakiness.

I plan to take this time as a break from playing RPGs in general, until I can come at them again from a healthier starting point than sheer, desperate escapism – that desire to write myself a story that I control and I can make supremely cathartic and gratifying for myself. I still plan on writing Friendship is Dragons; I haven’t lost my spark in that project yet, despite everything.

Thanks for reading, and hopefully thanks for your understanding.

10 Years of Friendship is Dragons

July 28, 2011—…

Looking back on the last 10 years has kind of depressed me, to be honest.

I started this silly little screencap webcomic where people play Dungeons & Dragons in the My Little Pony G4 setting in an alternate universe where no one’s heard of this setting when I was almost 19, on summer break between my first and second year of college.

I remember lamenting not being able to play with my D&D group from my hometown, the ones I’d first ever played D&D at all with. I wanted some way of maintaining and capturing that feeling of enjoying the fun of a D&D group while I went to college, because I knew I probably wouldn’t have the time to find a new group to play with there. (I was right.) Of course I am nothing if not a copycat of better ideas, and I had enjoyed both DM of the Rings and Darths and Droids. Plus my dad was working on a webcomic of his own that I found very amusing (because we share a dry, wry sense of humor), so making a webcomic had officially landed on my bucket list. Then, as I was beginning to realize what a surprisingly great show My Little Pony was, I came across a series of blog posts mapping the main ensemble cast each to a class from D&D. All the pieces fell into place.

I have never been much of an artist, but I had been writing fanfiction and editing/ripping video files for pretty much my entire adolescence. With the help of a program specifically designed to make the panel and word-bubble thing as simple as possible, I had just enough skill to make it happen.

Twice a week seemed reasonable at the start. I got a major boost from the fansite Equestria Daily on my second update, and I loved the rush of validation that came from updates and comments, so on the 10th page I made it double-length to celebrate and updated the schedule to thrice weekly.

And then I just kept going.

And going.

And going.

A lot of it, I don’t mind telling you now, has consistently been written, assembled, and uploaded the night before an update. Very rarely would I put in a buffer ahead of time; most of the time I’d procrastinate every page to the last minute. (I’ve gotten a little better now. A little.) But this has always been a relatively safe project to procrastinate on. Making one page can take an hour at most, and most of that comes down to writer’s block or scrolling through episodes looking for the right shot. It’s a very easy product to make, all things considered. At best, I can pat myself on the back for knowing my limits and having a streamlined production pipeline on the word go. At worst, I can’t really take much credit for the work because it’s a miniscule fraction compared to most other webcomic creators.

But hey, it’s been updating for 10 straight years now. I took a few hiatuses here and there, and I invited guests to submit pages to keep the update schedule consistent. Goodness knows I wouldn’t have survived this long without that. Gratitude isn’t really enough, but it’s all I have.

I wouldn’t have survived without the support via Patreon either. And every time generous people answered the call when I’ve had to beg for more help because it wasn’t really a living wage and I only had barebones support elsewhere.

…It’s been a rough 10 years.

I dropped out of college because I was going insane from undiagnosed sleep apnea, which also led to me walking out of my first job in a panic attack. I couldn’t afford rent, so I was eventually evicted and had to move back home with my mother, where I promptly sat in a self-pitying fugue state for about half a decade. Eventually I got another job at a thrift store, went on a grand jury, decided to take online classes to become a paralegal, crashed and burned out again, decided to start going to counseling, realized that I’d been ignoring years of old scars, and slowly processed that until it all came out in August 2019 and I had the biggest emotional breakdown of my life, whereupon I had to stop working entirely. I couldn’t cohabit with my little brother in that state, so we sought help from our extended family, who ultimately didn’t take our problems seriously and brokered secret deals to try and solve our issues ‘their’ way, which inevitably became a clusterfuck but by then we’d already moved so it was too late. Then I moved again, this time in a much quieter place, but there was a ticking clock of misunderstanding about how long I needed to recover. When I was pushed to return to work, even when I knew that I would just break down again, I couldn’t step up, and was promptly evicted. So I had to move back in with my mom again.

Only in the last year have things started looking back up. Counseling has been going really well. I’m on a medication that works well for me. My relationship with my immediate family has significantly improved. I’m working on a game modding project, when game dev is something I had wholly given up on because I dropped out of my dream college. I’m learning to value my work and my skills, little by little.

I still have a long way to go, too. I still have massive social anxiety. (In a darkly hilarious way, the pandemic has been a boon for me, removing the expectation of going outside for a nice long while.) I’m starting to think that a ‘normal’ path through life just isn’t going to happen for me. Whatever my new ‘normal’ is going to be, I’m going to have to stake it out for myself.

And through ALL of that…!

I’ve been updating Friendship is Dragons.

I said in the past that the comic’s been a point of stability for me, but that’s kind of understating it in retrospect. Friendship is Dragons has been the one consistently good thing going… despite it just being an easy screencap webcomic about ponies doing nerdy things. It’s been, at the very least, something to keep the days going by, two by two (three on the weekends).

It’s hard to look back on in the context of a decade. At the start of it, I had all my dreams and aspirations ahead of me. I’ve lost and given up so much along the way. And most of what I’ve gained is a better understanding, through the slow and painful autopsy of my life, of why I was doomed to crash and burn in the first place, and why that has to be okay.

I’m sorry if this is upsetting for a 10-year anniversary celebration post. This webcomic is so heavily entwined into my life that I haven’t really been able to separate it. And when I looked back over those 10 years, I couldn’t pretend I felt a lot of joy in the retrospective. So I decided to be honest instead.

The most positive thing I can say about Friendship is Dragons from my perspective is that it’s been undoubtedly a lifeline. And it’s hard to be ‘proud’ of a lifeline. It’s hard to be proud of the thing keeping you above water. Endlessly grateful, certainly, but proud?

At the very least – for the second most positive thing I can say about Friendship is Dragons – it’s helped me keep my writing skills sharp and in practice on a constant regular basis for 10 years, which is why I can say that writing is one of my best skills today.

So here’s to 10 years of the best project of my life, which both isn’t saying much and is saying a whole lot. I’m just continuously surprised and humbled that anyone is still reading it.

Notes on the September 2020 Eviction for Posterity

It just happened today and it’s still raw, so let’s just stick with the facts.

  • At the beginning of March 2020, my family moves out of our hometown to seek support from my mother’s extended family down south. One of our goals is to separate myself from my mother and my little brother because we’re exacerbating each other’s mental issues, and I need peace and quiet in order to begin my slow recovery and tackle post-traumatic mental health issues getting in the way of work and now causing massive social anxiety.
  • The move is a massive fustercluck, involving secretly changing plans behind people’s backs, not supplying important information, and people generally assuming they know what’s best and others don’t. Standard family drama stuff, I’m told. The place I move to initially stresses me out immensely and causes another series of nervous breakdowns due to the presence of many loud children, which turns out to be one of my triggers even if it isn’t my little brother specifically.
  • Two weeks later, one of my Uncles offers to let me move in with him and his family. They are a quiet household and it should be perfect. I promptly move in. They set very generous terms for rent and utilities with the idea that it will help me move out sooner once things stabilize.
  • For about four months, things are nice and calm. I’m not terribly proactive about finding help or work, but I keep to myself, stay in my room, and make an effort not to be a bother or cause trouble at the very least.
  • Towards mid-summer, pressure mounts to start making steps towards recovery, work, independence, and moving out. There are some terse conversations, which gives me the kick in the pants required to finally bite the bullet and sign up for primary medical care.
  • From mid-August to early September, I focus on trying and balancing new medication, which ranges from being pretty effective to too effective.
  • Saturday, September 19th, there is a conversation with my Uncle about how, no really, I need to find a job, because the terms they set were very generous and unfair to them, and me being a hermit in my room most days bugs the snot out of my Uncle.
  • Monday, September 21st, I finally go see a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, who, on top of being very helpful for my one visit talking with her, gives me a line on some counseling I can afford. Things are looking up.
  • The morning of Wednesday, September 23rd, my Uncle suggests job opportunities at a couple of his old workplaces. He strongly suggests going over to one of them later in the day to pick up a paper application. I agree. A few hours later, however, I start to have a severe nervous breakdown about it. I’m too scared to talk with my Uncle about it, so I start texting my mother for guidance and emotional support.
  • The trip to this employer to pick up an application does not happen, though I am not told that plans have changed. I am simply left alone for the rest of the night. I do not know why. I assume I was heard crying, despite my efforts to be quiet.
  • No communication – NO communication – takes place between me and my Uncle between that morning and the following afternoon, despite passing by each other for dinner and breakfast.
  • Today, Thursday, September 24th, in the afternoon, I write a Facebook post about my mental breakdown the previous day and some of the thoughts it caused me to reflect on, like the physical nature of anxiety, and the ironic comfort that my nurse practitioner had given me on Monday regarding my possible personality disorder and that I was lucky I at least had the solid coping skills to never let it progress into rage-bender territory.
  • (About 3:50 PM, my mother is called by my Uncle, in which I am reportedly described as “playing everybody for chumps,” “making passive-aggressive comments,” and that I need to leave.)
  • Around 4PM, my mother comes into my room and tells me that I have been asked to leave. This is the first I’ve heard of this. No warning or discussion or any communication at all. We pack up promptly and without incident. When I finally ask why, my Uncle and his wife cite the Facebook post I made and the rage-bender comment, and concerns for danger for their teenager they’re raising when they’re not at home with him.
  • My only immediate option is to move back in with my mother and little brother once again, who thankfully have found their own house to rent. But considering the goal of moving down here was to try and separate us siblings in the first place, it’s not ideal. But hope springs eternal that maybe he’s mellowed out and quieted down. We look to see if I can move in with someone else in a similar situation in about 2-3 months, but for now I’ll be here.
  • And I’m pretty sure I lost my PS4 controller in the move. Not sure if I’m gonna get it back.

State of the Spud 2020: Global Reset

My troubles came into stark focus long before the COVID-19 pandemic, ironically enough. A little less than a year ago – shortly after the last State of the Spud post, even – I had a complete emotional breakdown, and since then I was already self-isolating because of severe social anxiety making it supremely difficult to go outside and be around people.

Thankfully, and in the spirit of starting out positive, a few important strides were made this year:

  • I am no longer living in the same home as the family member that was the biggest most toxic source of my anxiety and caretaker complex.
  • I got a lot of help with my Patreon-supported projects to help keep content churning during the worst of the breakdown (which I consider still ongoing), not the least of which being my friend GreatDinn producing a whole guest arc for Friendship is Dragons, and of course my Discord server community keeping the weekly Spudventures tabletop games a continuing event and generally being fun to play and hang out with.
  • Just this week at time of writing, I’ve started a new antidepressant that seems to be having a pretty strong positive effect, at least compared to the one I tried last year.
  • I’ve lost 50 pounds over the last year, started exercising a little bit regularly, and started eating more regularly rather than the starving and bingeing I usually ended up doing.

Still a long ways to go, and the question of “where to” is going to be the big one that will define the next year for me.

I’m staying with extended family at the moment, but there’s no uncertain terms between us that I’m going to need to move out into a place where I can support myself sooner rather than later. Which means finding a job that I can handle while I learn to control my anxiety, and finding an affordable living situation that will put me in range of how I want to develop myself without aggravating my hypersensitive introversion.

Not… exactly… easy.

It starts with making a goal, doesn’t it? What do I want to work towards? Both career-wise and short-term? What kind of rental opportunities are around, how much do they cost? What will put me on the path to getting there? What kind of jobs are available in the area that will eventually help support food, rent, and utilities, or at least help me build up a cushion of savings?

And my situation adds additional questions: If my social anxiety makes it hard to work a service job, and my physical weakness makes it hard to work a labor job, and my lack of a finished education makes it hard to work a technical job, and my unprofessional portfolio makes it hard to apply for a creative job…

Where is the way out of this dead-end? And quickly?

But that’s not unique. Everyone struggles with that stuff. On a deeper level, what I’ve discovered over the last few months of private introspection is that I’m suffering a severe crisis of confidence and identity.

I don’t know what I want. I don’t know what makes me happy. (And to the extent that I’m learning, I’m reminded at every turn that those things aren’t normal. Like wanting to be a hermit most of the time.)

I don’t trust my own judgment. I’ve been confident about these sorts of life decisions before, and I have a history of all of those initiatives ending in dumpster-fire fashion, so how can I trust myself?

I don’t know who I am.

I’ve spent most of my adult life escaping into different personas and personalities so I can work through my problems creatively and make/do something good, separate from me. And now I’m discovering that I don’t know what “me” really is. I’ve worked so hard to present myself the “right” way to so many people that it’s become a web of benign lies.

No, sometimes it’s felt more like programming, a robot that runs itself in my body. More than a couple times in the last year I’ve looked back on a conversation in real horror at myself, wondering why I agreed the ways I did and said all the “right” things. There are a few places where I should have put my foot down and said, “No. I’m sorry, but no.” I still struggle with that.

I’m struggling to find the “real” Alex and let him out, let him speak. I don’t think he’s very nice. He’s got reasons to resent a lot of people. Especially himself. But the part of me that was happy and content to be a yes-man robot broke down last year, and I don’t want to just get back inside it without addressing the underlying problems, or even acknowledging that those problems are really hurting me.

For that, I can’t just be a “strong young man” and plow through it. I tried plowing through it. The plow broke. I broke. I had to walk away. I’m building up the courage to ask (once again) for help building a new plow, a deeply humiliating thing to have to do. I have no patience for “well you should’ve just plowed through it the first time.”

I’m scared, I’m angry, all at myself. I’ve been teetering on the precipice for what feels like years now. The thing I’m most afraid of… I don’t want to take another bold step off a cliff and land in yet another dumpster-fire, after all this. I don’t know what kind of darkness that would put me in, or if I could take it.

So in a way, it’s been a medium-sized blessing for me personally that most of the world is staying home and distant while I grapple with all this. Because my real problems started well before the pandemic.

Sorry the post this year was even more sad than the last, but hey, it’s 2020. And I haven’t completely given up yet.

State of the Spud 2019: And Knowing Is Half the Battle

It’s my 27th birthday. Let’s start with a good news recap of the last year:

  • Created 144 comic pages for Friendship is Dragons (not counting the 13 guest pages received and published in the last year)
  • Posted 93 videos to the Newbiespud YouTube channel, both video gaming and tabletop gaming
  • Finished the Tales of New Dunhaven tabletop podcast, the Dusk City Outlaws campaign
  • Started the Spudventures variety tabletop podcast series (and its sibling the X Presents video series)
  • Started The Interference HD ReMIX, a ground-up rewriting of my inaugural fanfic – haven’t gotten far into it, but I still consider it an important step as a writer that I no longer consider my original work and its narrative sacrosanct
  • Made significant progress on a little RPG Maker fangame side-project for the first time, my first gamedev project since dropping out of DigiPen that’s gotten off the ground
  • Slight overall production quality improvements to streams and podcasts
  • Acquired a Playstation VR headset, which is just pretty cool

All of that – and my general survival – has been possible thanks to all y’all supporting me via the ol’ Patreon. Adequate thanks can never be given.

On to the bad news. Don’t worry, there’s a hopeful arc to it.

In last year’s State of the Spud, I said that I was pursuing an online certificate in paralegal studies, something I was very excited about at the time. Earlier this year, I dropped out due to unbearable anxiety and depression and generally falling behind on my work.

I saw it coming from a mile away, too. I seemed to be caught in a multi-year cycle of inspiration, intense work, burnout, procrastination, stress, giving up, laying low, then getting inspired by something else all over again. I can see this pattern in so many places in my past. It was only during this latest iteration that I finally noticed.

So I decided: No more. Instead of bouncing off this wall and going into a dark hole to blame myself, I’m going to stick around at the edge of this abyss and face it head-on. I’m going to start pursuing counseling and therapy and investment in my own health, if only because it’s clear that I can’t move forward until I address these mental blocks.

It took a while to wrangle the first few counseling sessions due to, well, money. But I’ve finally been to a few and I feel like I’ve already uncovered a lot.

Because I’ve discovered that these mental issues are even more all-encompassing than I suspected, and it affects how I work on, well, everything, including the Patreon, I think it’s only fair that I be a little public about it.

When I was just starting high school, my little half-brother was born. My mother got a job working night shift at a call center. So it fell to me and my sister to help raise the infant, watching over his sleep in the night and keeping him from bothering our sleeping mother in the day. Except that my sister was receding into her shell due to multiple terrible events all in a row, some of which I didn’t even fully understand at the time. So I ended up with what felt like the lion’s share of the responsibility.

Early on, an idea was put into my head: If I don’t step up and do my part, we would be evicted. Out of a home. My inaction would lead to joblessness, homelessness, starvation, and the ruin of our family.

I was 13.

I had no choice but to take these responsibilities very seriously, even though I didn’t want them. No matter what else I was doing at home, I kept an ear out for the baby, ready to jump in at a moment’s notice. Always “on-call.” Any activity I did for myself felt like sneaking it in between babysitting, or stealing time from the rest of the family.

This was how I lived for more than four years, as I grew from a teenager to a young adult. I was already working up to high expectations as a straight-A student, a “smart young man,” pursuing an advanced diploma at that. And now hypervigilant at home. The first cycle of burnout hit in junior year.

Then I went to my dream college to pursue my dream career of being a video game designer. Woohoo. Only now I look back and realize that I never lost those habits. I was still hypervigilant at home, even though the baby brother was three hours away, and explicitly no longer my responsibility. I didn’t realize it at the time, and on top of that I was starting to battle sleep apnea without realizing it either.

Naturally, I burned out and eventually came back home. Back to the family role I had put myself in debt to escape. Back to keeping an ear out for the outgoing, quick-tempered toddler who had been diagnosed with Asperger’s before I left.

For years from high school until now, this was my normal. I blamed myself for being lazy, low stamina, and incapable of getting anything done at home. When I’m out and about, I can think more clearly, pretend to be a man, make all the promises and commitments in the world, but when I walk back in through that door I become a 13-year-old again, sitting at his computer and keeping an ear out for the next bomb to drop, like I’m in a warzone.

It’s only now, through the help of just a few visits with multiple counselors from several different organizations, including my current place of work, that I’ve finally started to see that this isn’t normal, and that this way of living has severely impacted just about every single aspect of my life.

When I’m at home, I can’t focus on anything for more than about 90 minutes. Games, writing, studying, work, everything. I always feel a need to back out and “reset,” check on the living room, on a toddler who’s already a rather self-sufficient (if even shorter-tempered) teenager. If I hear a shout or a bang through the walls, any at all, I stop everything and focus my entire attention outward. This has just been my normal. Even on a good day, these are the habits half a life of hypervigilance has baked into me. And never realizing, I always blamed myself when these habits got in the way, calling myself lazy, lazy, lazy.

This is something still affecting me today, right now. During my latest visit, when the counselor asked “On a scale of 1-10, how big of an impact would you say this issue has had on your life,” I surprised myself when I couldn’t honestly bring it any lower than a 9, leaning higher. This is everything, this is who I am. This is how I live, this is how I work. And all the ways I blamed and punished myself over the years, cultivating an implicit belief that I was destined for failure in all things and that my only role was to survive and support the family, did. not. help.

(Let’s all take a breather now.)

Coming to terms with all of this has been a huge step. Now I have an image of the massive tangle in my head of all these mental issues and problems stemming from way back when. Any desire, every initiative that I’ve ever had to improve has been and is currently blocked by this tangle of martyrdom and self-blame.

It’s hard to justify going back to school. It’s hard to want to diet and exercise. It’s hard to look for a better job. All of those things would take longer than 90 minutes.

Frankly, it’s amazing in retrospect that I’ve gotten anything done.

I don’t know what the next step is. This is just a few sessions in, a few months in on a process of untangling the last probably 14 years of my life, 14 years where there’s plenty of evidence of failure that I can berate myself with.

But hey. That G. I. Joe meme had a point.

State of the Spud June 2018: Picking Myself Up

There’s a lot I don’t like to share about my private non-internet life, both for some attempt at security and because there’s usually not a whole lot going on. But this month has seen some developments in the direction of my life that will affect how I spend my time.

I’m gonna try to be as succinct as possible.

  • I’ve been working as a thrift store sales floor associate since January. It’s been pretty hard on my legs.
  • Back in late March, I got a jury summons. I managed to land on a grand jury through the month of April. Grand juries don’t see just one trial, they see many per day and decide whether the state will indict and move forward towards a criminal trial. I actually enjoyed it a lot. It’s awakened an interest in working in the public sector, in a place where I get to see so many people’s stories.
  • After 10-odd years, I’m finally seeing doctors. I developed plantar fasciitis from all the new physical activity, and I’ve probably been dealing with moderate sleep apnea for most of my adult life, but I still need to undergo a sleep study to make sure. This ultimately means that medical bills are a new reason to beg for money.
  • Because of my newfound interest in the legal system, I’ve applied to take on an online paralegal studies certificate course. Being a paralegal or legal assistant is a potential way I can support my creative projects without so much of the crunch or dread of pursuing a volatile creative career, considering what I’ve heard and read of the game industry and whatnot.
  • Patreon-wise, I’m letting the players of the Dusk City Outlaws campaign openly plan their last ultra-long mega-heist across multiple sessions. Once that’s done, I’m probably gonna run another round of SpudShots to try out some more RPG systems before I start the next big project. I’m also floating an idea of making mini-campaigns a regular thing.

Those are the major points. This is all stuff that had been brewing for a few months now. Those of you who have been supporting me and rooting for me so far deserve to know what’s going on.

I still need a lot of help, to be honest, but I’m climbing out of the hole I’ve been wallowing in for more than three years. Slowly.

J’accuse Dreemurr Reborn

Yeah, just gonna update the blog outta nowhere like it ain’t no thing.

Go on this journey with me, will you? UNDERTALE. UNDERTALE spoilers (beware). UNDERTALE fan-comics and fanfiction. Tumblr character-driven ask-blogs. UNDERTALE Tumblr fan-ask-comic-blogs exploring a version of events after the ending. Congratulations, we have arrived at the headspace necessary to comprehend Dreemurr Reborn.

Dreemurr Reborn is a consistently high quality and high effort production, save for one thing that’s been nagging at me for a while now: There’s this weird undercurrent of author exceptionalism throughout the whole thing.

Again, UNDERTALE spoilers abound. Maybe at this point there’s been so much internet exposure it doesn’t matter anymore, but this random, aggressive blog post really ain’t worth reading if it’s gonna spoil you on the crucial details of an impactful RPG you might play someday. Continue reading J’accuse Dreemurr Reborn

Friendship is Dragons 596 – Extended Note

Yeah, just gonna update the long-dead blog like it ain’t no thing. Who knows? It might be happening more often…

This is the Author’s Note I had originally written for FiD #596 before I thought it might be too much, but here goes:

Jokes based on continuity are a weird thing. It’s different from jokes based on character, because the mental leap of a joke and the mental leap of character development tend to go hand in hand. With a continuity joke, I’m basically asking, “Hey, does anyone remember the joke from two and a half weeks ago, even though it was two and a half weeks ago? I hope so, because this critical line might be confusing otherwise!”

I’ve been burned before. In the last arc, even. Against all odds, #543 was the latest one to get passed around a bunch of forum threads (How do I know? Ego-surfing, son.), and everyone’s reaction was, “‘Welcome to the joke’? What the heck does that mean?” when the ghost of Nightmare Night past joke was something that had been brought up in passing and only Rarity and the DM had really understood… 43 pages and almost two months ago.

Alright, a few people in the comments section were confused too. I had really underestimated the time difference.

But then again, when you write a joke, you write it for the specific person who will get the joke and laugh at it. And today, that joke is for the person who loves to pay extra attention to the details and theorize their hearts out.

And also for the people who easily remember a joke from two and a half weeks ago.