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.

9 thoughts on “State of the Spud 2019: And Knowing Is Half the Battle”

  1. Damn dude. I kind of relate to be honest, I didnt have to help out with my siblings nearly as much but my parents still conditioned me accidentally to feel responsible if they or my siblings were unhappy. And they were unhappy a lot. I was also conditioned to be perfect at everything I tried, and I honestly started burning out in middle school. It’s only been my friends that have helped me start to recover, that and joining the army naturally makes you tougher. But even if I too am just starting on the path to recovery, I know it’s possible. And it’s possible for you too.

  2. Hey man, I lived that way for a few years with an older mother needing home care – that sense of always being on call is exhausting. I can’t imagine spending my teenage years doing all that, no wonder it’s left you with problems to sort out. I’m glad you’re getting help out with all this. You’ll figure it out.

  3. Long time reader, first time commenter.

    I’m sorry to hear things haven’t been going well. I just wanted to say I sympathize. I’m in a similar spot, similar field of work even (Assistant Paralegal) and facing going back to therapy soon and also looking for a new job. Because it’s a lot to deal with. A LOT. And the legal field is a particularly demanding one, which makes it harder. I’m mentally unhealthy, which leads to a decrease in physical health, which becomes circular.

    I’m looking for the answers, too. I hope next year we’re both in better places.

  4. Huh. The good news is fantastic, the turmoil rough; though I can relate on some level, particularly getting daunted by tasks I think will take more than a 45-90 minute range. Job applications are The Worst. They nearly give me as much a headache as scissors do.

    I have to say, this comic stuns me–I’m, what, 3 years older than ye? And my roommate and I have discussions on how cleverly you’ve taken the DnD comic adaptation and truly made it your own thing, regardless of inspirational sources. I just barely became an approving audience of Friendship is Magic, and your comic (and linked sources) have got me readying my first Equestria campaign.
    Bravo, sir.

    That’s about it. Hang in there, man. I don’t know you, but I appreciate your artistry.

  5. Hey Spud,

    I don’t comment on these things, but wanted to encourage and send hugs to you and anyone else who identifies with this. For me, I had a dad whose health bounced around from deathly ill to finally getting back to working on the farm. I was “on call” all the time either keeping an ear out for him, or for the various farm animals. Through God’s grace, I managed to get a good education, but I just hit another low point from focusing too much on the best job I’ve ever had – and crashed so bad I’ve been house-bound. I finally realized I couldn’t physically do that job, so I’m going back to teaching – I normally can focus for almost a full semester (well, enough to get the ball rolling) so it works good for me as each semester is a new start. 🙂

    I wanted to say that I have really enjoyed your Friendship is Dragons, Fallout is Dragons, Spudventures, and other productions immensely. Thanks to you and your friends for being there (in the virtual world) while I’ve been recovering and giving me something to look forward to weekly/monthly. 🙂 I will keep you in my prayers. 🙂

    Thanks again Spud for all you have done! 🙂 Happy belated birthday! 🙂

  6. Hey, uh, this will probably sound weird, but, thank you so, so much for writing this post, because I think you just helped me find the source my apparently life-long anxiety?

    I wasn’t in your exact same situation (it was a different sort of dysfunctional family dynamic in my case), but most of the things you described were so unsettingly familiar, it’s like you were explaining me to me…

    I particularly felt in my bones the “does this take longer than 90 minutes?” measure. Uuuf.

    I feel like I finally have a real base to work with in getting some resolution. Thank you so much.

    (BTW I love your comic, it’s brought me so much joy.)

    1. Honestly, hearing that this resonates with someone else, that I’m not alone and that someone else understands implicitly, is a big comfort even a couple of years on. Thank you, and thanks for reading.

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