Everything is Relative

In the majority of roleplaying games, character statistics fill a vital role. They support the translation from traits and aspects a character has in-world to how these traits are represented in the real world. There are many facets to this idea, but for this post I am focusing on flexibility in monster and NPC statistics.

4th edition D&D introduced the concept of “minions,” creatures in an encounter who automatically die when they are hit, and often have simplified statistics to aid the DM in running encounters with large numbers of them. It is extremely useful, and something I had been beginning develop myself during my last few 3.5 D&D games. Minions can be used in almost any game system with combat, and fit any time there should be a cinematic battle with PCs fighting their ways through hordes of weak enemies (such as Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli in the Lord of the Rings movies, Jedi fighting battle droids in the Star Wars prequels, but distinctly not in more gritty, realistic settings such as A Game of Thrones).

The existence of minions as creatures with particular a type of statistics reveals a useful point about character statistics in roleplaying games in general: Particularly for a GM, statistics definitely do not have to actually represent everything that is true about the particular creature.

This thought can be counter-intuitive to GMs, particularly ones who, like me, come from rules-heavy backgrounds in RPGs. When I was designing encounters in 3rd edition D&D, it seemed vitally important for me to write out all of the statistics for the merchant they were going to meet on the road, because if a fight broke out, such as because of a summoning spell gone awry, I would need to know what the merchant’s skills and feats were, what kinds of attacks he could attempt, and even if he was just going to flee, how many hit points he had. If I left too many details out, I would run the risk of making the world feel inconsistent, breaking verisimilitude and my players’ immersion and trust in the game.

When analyzed, though, it can be seen that in the kinds of stories many RPGs are trying to emulate, reactions to situations actually can be inconsistent. The same merchant might fall down, bleeding out, if hit by a stray blow in a fight which broke out on the road, but if he enlists with the town’s militia to hold off a goblin invasion, he might be entirely capable of heroics on his own scale.

The 4th edition D&D Monster Manual has minions for a variety of monsters at many different levels. It seems to me that it is entirely reasonable to take, say, a level 9 minion which represents one of the weakest beings of its race, and stat it out as a lower-level full creature, if there is a reason for weaker PCs to encounter a lone member of that monstrous race. Conversely, a well-known NPC who normally lives in a town the PCs frequent, and has been known to sustain a bit of damage (say, a barfight, which would technically do at least 1 point of damage in all likelyhood), could easily be re-written as a minion if he later acts as a guide for the PCs into nearby wilderness.

It all goes back to the role the creature is supposed to hold. If, from the perspective of the story at the moment, the creature should be able to sustain some damage before dropping, it’s not a minion. If any written story would have the same creature later falling to a single sword blow, even though we all know that only does 1d8+Str modifier damage, then for that scene, it should be a minion.

Understanding that statistics should serve their purpose for the moment also allows for more story which is unencumbered by rules after the fact. It could be completely reasonable to declare that the PCs’ guide should feel extremely fragile, but then after the battle is completed they should have a chance to save him. A minion who is not declared “dead,” merely wounded, after a single successful hit models this situation well, leaving the area open for the PCs to attempt to direct the story with Heal checks, restorative magic, or putting the guide out of their misery, at their option.

“The Spiel,” Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Everything

*NOTE: This is the final chapter of “The Spiel” and I am very grateful to everyone who has read this far and been so patient as I try to get it out. Your support makes me happy because it means people are actively seeking answers to help their health and happiness.
Just as a reminder, this is a long narrative told from my personal point of view. I will be using language in here that might suggest that I’m telling you the only correct viewpoint or path to go down, but I’m not. Every sentence that sounds like that should be prefaced by “In my personal experience…” or “In my case…” or “I think but may not be correct that…” I am not writing this story as a method of forcing anyone to believe what I believe or do what I did. This is all an opinion piece that I hope some people may identify with.
Potential triggers in this chapter are limited, but there is some talk of doctors and therapists, as well as discussions of how to handle PAD attacks that might become too vivid for some. Also, there is discussion of ableist behavior and derogatory names.
And as always, I am not a trained medical or psychological professional. If you are experiencing a true emergency, please dial 911 or your local suicide prevention/mental health hotline.*
Chapter 9: Tips and Tricks, Or, Why Baby Steps Are a Good Thing

Thank you again to everyone who has waited this long for the final installment. I really do appreciate it.

I wanted to start with a Q&A. I did receive a few questions, so I’m going to answer those first. If you have any questions, still feel free to send them to me and I will update this post or make a new one if there are enough.

1) Do you consider PAD or other mental health stuff to be disabilities? If so, do you identify yourself as a person with a disability (pwd)? If not, are there some kinds of mental health problems or some degrees of severity that make one a pwd?

That’s actually a question that I really like, because I had to spend quite a bit of time thinking about it. I think that the answer is, that it depends. Like most things, PAD forms a gradient. There are many varying degrees of it, and the effects can wildly differ from person to person. My definition of disability is something that impedes your life to the point that you become restricted from your normal routine and have to change your life to fit the circumstance. Disabilities can be temporary, like breaking a leg, or permanent, like losing a leg, and the toll they take on your life will depend on the disability, the severity, and the person dealing with it.

That being said, I would definitely say that for a few months, PAD became a disability for me. When I was no longer able to go outside, or do my work, or enjoy any of the people around me, I definitely felt like a PWD. It seemed as if I was trapped inside my own mind, and I was unable to live my life the way I wanted to. I wouldn’t consider myself disabled anymore, though I still have the mental condition that caused the disability.

I think when it gets to the point that it becomes a disability, it becomes obvious. Perhaps not always to the people around you, though that is when it is much more likely to be outwardly noticeable, but the person suffering at least understands that something is very wrong. Of course, there are other mental and learning disabilities where the person is blissfully unaware that they aren’t functioning quite right, but for the case of PAD specifically, I think that there is somewhat of a threshold between just feeling a little off and actually having your life interrupted. Again, though, that threshold will change based on the person and the kind of symptoms they deal with.

2) Intersectionality is when one has multiple traits that are marginalized in our culture – for example, poor people with disabilities have class issues that may affect their ability to get appropriate care, and stereotyped beliefs about sexuality and gender may inhibit a queer[1] person’s ability to get respectful, legitimate therapy. Has intersectionality played a role in your mental health experience and access to care? Do you think it plays such a role for other people?
[1] I, personally, prefer “queer” as a catch-all over BLTQGQIAAPP*, in part because I really, really dislike leaving letters I know about off the acronym.

That’s an interesting question because while I do think I was affected by intersectionality, it was self-inflicted, though that feeling of needing to self-inflict it may have been cause by an overall intersectionalist sentiment in the medical community. Let me see if I can explain that.

I resisted getting help for a very long time because I was young and in my mind, young people were supposed to be happy and vibrant. I was convinced that only older people got therapy or sought help, and because of that, I waited longer than I should have. However, the reason for me thinking this was because of the pervasive dismissal of youth in society. Often I would hear, “Don’t worry about it, you’re young. Enjoy life while you can!” It was very disheartening to me to hear things like this, which come across to me as, I suppose, ageist or generationist. To think that the “younger crowd” is incapable of feeling lost, hurt, or scared is something that has always bugged me.

On a tangential note, I got really mad at my OB/GYN one day because I expressed concerns to her about potential issues with fertility. Her response, instead of telling me about my options and giving me some comfort, was to say “Don’t worry about it, you’re young. When I was your age, I was only worried about my next party!” I thought to myself, well that’s nice for you, but that’s not who I am, and I would appreciate a little more seriousness when I spill my heart out to you.

Apart from things like that, though, I can’t really say that I have personally dealt with any profound intersectionalism. I definitely have not faced anything I would consider active discrimination, and I really do get upset when I hear that those things occur. As the daughter of a gay man, the thought that my dad or stepdad might be denied healthcare on merit of who they love really gets to me, and I’m just glad that they haven’t faced those issues (as least that I know of). But yes, it definitely happens to people, and it’s one of the reasons that I try to make sure that whoever needs help can find a way to get it, so that they don’t have to feel like they’re alone and rejected in the world.

3) Where do you stand on what some people consider to be ableist language? I have mixed feelings on such terms myself, especially the very common ones like “crazy” and “moron” as they’re mostly divorced from their problematic origins. “Insane” and “retard” I’m more firmly opposed to, as I think the way they are casually used reifies negative structures for people with disabilities (pwd) equivalent to such structures for queers where terms like “dyke” are used disrespectfully. Then again, I used to be much more intensely in the anti-reclamation camp on slurs in general, especially gendered ones, and seem to be softening a little.

I agree on the mixed feelings part. I think words like “crazy” have become so effused into popular language that it’s just something that people say without any ill intent. And, honestly, sometimes it’s the best word to use to describe what you feel at the moment. I’ve definitely had moments where I felt like I was going crazy, and I don’t really get offended by hearing those terms used. However, if someone tries to label someone else as “insane” or “mental,” I generally try to ask if the subject is legitimately/clinically insane, or if the person talking to me is just exaggerating.

I do take issue with words that are only used as a means of severe degradation, however. Retarded is a big one, as is gay, if only because whenever I ask a kid what “gay” means after hearing them say it at someone else, they respond with something like “It means stupid.” I have more issue with someone calling a person retarded, than I do with someone saying a situation is retarded. I know that I am guilty of saying things similar to the latter, and I suppose maybe the illogical disconnect of using the term to describe a non-living entity somewhat softens the blow. However, I feel in the cases where there is actual name calling being thrown around, it’s important to let the kid (or even adult) know what the words really do mean, and that I’m not comfortable with them being bandied about. Usually, that does stop it from being said, at least around me, and I can only hope that they think before calling someone that name later on.

There is also one specific type of ableist epithet that really gets to me. This is when someone gets very specific with their insults, to the point that you know there is no way they aren’t aware of what they’re saying. I was moderating game chat logs once, and a guy got reported for verbal abuse. I looked through his logs and saw that there was an entire game where he spouted out things like “Oh, looks like we have a Downs (sic) Syndrome kid here,” “Playing with a Downie,” and things to that effect. That guy definitely got the ban hammer from me, and I was honestly disgusted by the fact that 1) he decided to pick a specific condition (that he probably knew nothing about) as his insult of choice and 2) he didn’t even know the person he was insulting. This sort of behavior is obviously mindful, since the guy had to actively decide on a disability to insult someone with instead of just yelling out words that are drilled into his head by society (though that doesn’t necessarily make it any better). I find that beyond reprehensible, and I only hope that he comes to see just how cruel and insensitive he’s being.

Good questions, hopefully some good answers, now on to some tips and tricks for keeping your mind happy and healthy in a number of situations. Again, remember that these are just tips that work for me. I can’t promise they will work for you, and if you are pretty sure it would just make things worse, don’t do it.

Meditation is a great way to regain control of your mind when you feel like you’re going every which way. Some people are hesitant to try meditating, sometimes because they are under the impression that you have to be sitting like a Buddhist monk with incense and bells, saying “Ommmm” and doing super twisty yoga poses for it to work. While those things don’t hurt, they aren’t requirements for getting your mind back to a calm plane of focus.

Here’s my quick-and-easy meditation that can be done anywhere. Mind you, this may stretch the definition of meditation somewhat, but I consider it meditating because it is something meant to establish a sense of calm control and focus.

1. Determine whether meditation will help, or if there is a better solution. Sometimes you may need protein for unstable blood sugar, or sleep because you’re exhausted, or a break from your work that is overwhelming you.

2. Once you’re sure, say to yourself “Calm down, because freaking out isn’t helping. I will meditate now.” It may seem like a frivolous step to some people, but verbally committing to the idea of meditation (even if you just say it in your head) helps focus your mind on what you’re about to do.

3. Close your eyes if possible. If it would look bizarre to do so (i.e. you’re walking down the sidewalk), you don’t have to, but you should try to block out any external stimuli that won’t cause you to get hit by a car or something.

4. Begin breathing in a rhythmic pattern. The way that I found that works best for me is to do a cycle of 5 seconds. Breathe in through your nose for 5 seconds, then hold for 5 seconds. Breathe out through your mouth for 5 seconds, and hold again for 5 seconds. If 5 seconds is too long, start with 3 and work your way up. Focusing on the counting can help you forget about the panic and become calmer.

5. Begin a mental mantra. Mine is, of course, “You can’t control your thoughts and feelings, but you CAN control what you do about them.” Yours can be whatever works well for you. The mantra can even be the counting, if that helps you.

6. Rinse and repeat until you begin to feel better. You may have to do this a few times until the situation is entirely under control. Don’t feel discouraged if it doesn’t work and don’t try to fight and force the meditation to work. If it isn’t working, try a different technique.

If you are a very visual person, mental visualization can be a more helpful method of coping than meditation. In this method, you create an image of a scene that you can associate with calm feelings and a sense of control.

In order to properly visualize, you will want to spend some time when you are in a good place mentally to create your scene. The following guidelines can help you build your personalized calming place.

1. Think of a landscape that you really enjoy. It can be one that you’re used to, like a happy vacation spot you went to as a child, or somewhere you would like to go. It can even be a fantasy type of setting. Mine is a river that divides a forest from a wild meadow, with little pixie lights that fly around. It feels calm and bright and magical, which helps me feel a better sense of control.

2. Pick an element of your scene (or add one) that can be used to transport or otherwise dissipate the negative feelings. I use leaves floating on the river to take away bad ideas. Other possibilities include a controlled fire, or perhaps even something like a balloon that you can tie the bad thoughts to.

3. Add anything else you can to the scene that will help you feel calmed and focused. I imagine that Rhiannon (a Welsh goddess and my indirect namesake) is sitting beside the river, making sure the bad thoughts are able to just drift away and exerting her divine power to help me relax.

4. Practice conjuring the image and focusing on the way that your scene removes the negativity (you don’t have to force yourself to have negative thoughts when you do this, just imagine your propulsion mechanism working). Do this when you aren’t having an attack, because it’s much harder to bring things up when you’re already floundering mentally. Practice over and over until you can conjure up the scene at will. Once it becomes second nature to you, it will be easier to make work when you really need it.

5. Whenever you do have an attack, bring up that scene. Place your bad thoughts on the leaves, or in the fire, or on the balloon, or whatever you would like, and allow it to just go away. Again, don’t fight too hard to force things away, because your mind will fight back. Just allow them to leave, and focus more on the calmness and control that you now associate with your place.

Clinical Study
One method that I used very early on to help counteract an attack was a clinical, detached study of my symptoms. This is one of the things that really should only be done if you don’t think it will make things worse. I have had some conversations with people who have told me that focusing on symptoms like that would cause them to spiral out of control. I don’t want that to happen to anybody, so do what you think is best for you.

There really isn’t a big set of steps to follow, you just have to call out every negative symptom you feel. If you are hyperventilating, note that. If you are sweating, note that. Focus on every mundane thing you can, even the feeling of your clothes on your body. the more you can take your mind off of your emotions and put them onto things that you can alter, the better control you’ll have. Once you are able to study and recognize when your body begins to have those symptoms, you can work on singling them out and fix them. Sometimes, making the symptoms go away can cause the emotional triggers to subside as well.

Outside support
One thing I cannot stress enough is that there is nothing wrong with asking others for help. You should never feel ashamed or worthless because you need to ask someone for their guidance and assistance. It is a sign of strength, not weakness, to realize that you are in over your head and that you need a shoulder to lean on and an ear to listen to you.

Friends and family are good options, but do make sure that you don’t turn them into a dumpster for your problems. Definitely accept help if it is offered, but if every day you tell the same person all the terrible things that happened to you, it will wear them down and make them feel helpless and like they can’t make you better. Additionally, it could make you feel worse because you might feel guilty or think that if they can’t help you, nobody can. And remember, if someone tells you that they aren’t able to help you at the moment, don’t take it personally. They may be too busy to feel that they can help you properly, or going through issues of their own.

On the flip side, if someone is willing to help you, please take them seriously. A lot of times, people will say that they want help and advice, when really they just want to rant at someone and not actually take any steps towards fixing the problem. If you ask for help, don’t fight your helper. You need to be actually committed to trying new things, things that may be hard for you to do, but it’s for your own benefit to at least try. Making up excuses for why every single possible solution will fail is worthless. You gain nothing by trying to convince yourself and others that you’re a hopeless case and absolutely nothing short of a miracle answer will help.

This would be a good time to reiterate that finding a good therapist could be a very important step. The keyword here is good, because a bad therapist is not going to help you and might just make you feel worse. Don’t seek someone out who coddles you but doesn’t give you any means for improvement. On the other extreme, avoid people who treat you like a worthless nutjob, who belittle your feelings and tell you that you’re just being difficult. Find someone who is willing to listen to you and give you suggestions. Sometimes you may not like what you hear, but give their advice a fair shot. Be patient as well. It took me over a year to get my footing, so don’t be upset if you aren’t feeling 100% better after a few days, weeks, or even months. If you really don’t think you’re making progress, however, perhaps it’s time to look somewhere else.

Mundane Physiological Changes
This fix is one that often slips under the radar. Normally, people figure that focusing on their mind only means getting a therapist, or taking anti-depressants, or going on vacation to get away from it all. However, as you can see from my story, your mind and body are very closely connected. That’s why it’s important to make sure you are healthy physically as well. You may often find that as one problem starts to clear up, others will also begin to improve. Here are some things that you may not have thought of to check for:

1. Diet and exercise. This one is the biggie. A lot of people will say “Why do I feel so bloated and tired and unhappy all the time?” while scarfing down their prepackaged, frozen foods and take-out fries. What you eat and how much exercise you get is a big part of how you feel. If you think you have some not so great eating or exercise habits that could be affecting you mentally, I suggest seeing a dietitian. This is especially important if your first reaction to this is “I don’t have the time/money/energy/resources/kitchen/shoes to eat and exercise properly.” A good dietitian will help you craft a diet and exercise plan that is sustainable (meaning you can keep it up forever instead of treating it like a crash diet you give up after you hit a goal weight) regardless of budget and situation. And remember, this goes for if you are overweight or underweight. Thin people can have psychological issues as well, and gaining some weight can actually sometimes help. The important thing is to be healthy, regardless of how you look, or think you may look.

2. Hormonal imbalances. I don’t mean the obvious ones that directly cause depression, anxiety, etc., but things that affect your whole body, like thyroid disease. Hypothyroidism/hyperthyroidism is very common, especially among women, so there may be a chance that it could be a factor. Hypoglycemia is another big one, as are any illnesses related to blood sugar and insulin. If you think an endocrine disorder may be involved, ask your doctor. If they agree, they may do some bloodwork and refer you to an endocrinologist.

3. External stresses. Sometimes you’re just feeling crappy because things around you are crappy. Evaluate where you are right now in your life. Are you feeling fulfilled? Are you dealing with substantial sources of financial, medical, or social stress? Are you having relationship problems? If you haven’t dealt with chronic PAD before and it’s just starting up now, or is intermittent, look into some of you behaviors and life choices, and see if maybe changing them around a bit could help you.

4. Sleep. Oh God, sleep. An unrested body is one of the most dangerous things out there. Far too many people discount sleep, thinking that it’s a waste of their time and energy. I used to be one of those people. Then I realized that sleep is necessary for us to heal our bodies and be rested for the next day. It’s not just a wasted bunch of hours, but a vital time in our day that needs to be cared for. Try your best to allot enough time for a full night’s sleep. Since I know I have college kids reading this, I understand that there will be some nights where you have to stay up late and study, but whatever you do, don’t try those Uberman micro-sleep schedules. They mess you up and keep you from having a good rest because they essentially work by having you in a constant state of functional exhaustion. If you have issues with insomnia, talk with your doctor to see what a good treatment for you might be, whether it’s a cup of tea or melatonin.

Pushing Through It
Finally, the biggest and most important piece of advice I can give you is this: don’t give up. You are going to have setbacks; it’s a given. There will be days where you feel like you haven’t made any progress. You may being doing great and then suddenly, bam, you get an attack out of nowhere. That doesn’t mean all your work has been for naught. Don’t be hard on yourself and think that you’re obviously not good enough to be happy. You have every right to be happy, but as your mind heals, it may try to lash out and keep you in your pit of despair. Give up your pride that tells you that you have to always be happy, and don’t think that if you aren’t constantly getting validation from others, that you are worthless. These things will hold you back from actually being happy, and will become a crutch that will only serve to hinder you.
I apologize again for this all taking so long, but I wanted to make sure I actually wrote something useful. If you still have questions, please ask. I would be glad to share whatever insight I can.

Live well and prosper!

Mega Apologies, Spiel Fans!

Hey guys,

I’ve been riding the derp train really hard this week. I just got employed (yay!) which means I have been super busy prepping and stuff (not yay!). As such, I haven’t been able to dedicate the time to the last post that I’ve wanted to. I don’t want to publish a sub-par entry, especially since this one has actual tips and stuff on it, so I’ve been waiting for a time to sit down and get this done. Expect the post early next week, I promise!

Thanks for being so patient!

“The generation of random numbers is too important to be left to chance.”

This aspect of game flavor is worth considering for any roleplaying game which makes use of randomization. The idea is well-demonstrated by a case which recently came up in one of my games, a 4th edition D&D campaign, but the ideas should be valid for almost any type of roleplaying game.

A character, Torinn, used his Lucky Charm during an encounter. The Lucky Charm is a magic item that, once per day, allows 1d6 to be added to the result of a d20 roll. Crucially, the item may be activated after the d20 has been rolled, so using it is the player’s decision. It can turn an attack that just barely missed into a much-needed hit.

However, the use of the item brought up a question: What were the effects, in game, of its activation? I pulled the player aside to discuss the options with him.

First, the item could be activated “out of game.” That is, nothing apparent happened inside the game universe when the player decided it would be triggered. This choice would mean that the fact that Torinn was wearing a lucky charm made him generally more lucky, and the game mechanics simulated this by allowing the player to activate the item once per game day. It gives a subtle feel to the magic, not drawing attention to the fact that the charm is there, helping him, and in fact could be treated in-world as the same as carrying a four-leaf clover would: Sure, some people with one tend to seem more lucky (and this being a fantasy world, they probably actually are), but there is nothing really blatant about it.

Second, the item could be activated out of game, but have a clear in-game effect as well. Similarly to above, the player would be choosing when it should take effect. However, instead of remaining subtle and unnoticed, the item glows, spins, hums, or otherwise makes it quite clear that it has just intervened and the character had better luck as a result. There is a much more obviously magical and less mysterious bent to this choice, although the characters are still in the dark about what makes the item choose to activate. They might put it down to “the whims of Fate,” while the players know exactly why and when it takes effect.

The third option is to make the in-world actions almost the same as out-of-world. The character speaks a command word, grasps the item and asks for its help, or otherwise makes it clear that they are invoking its magic. When choosing this type of description, there is the added distinction of whether the character activates it before or after making their attempt. While in the real world we know that the player rolled the die, saw it was too low, and decided to use the item, the DM and player have the luxury of choosing how to describe the effects in the game. “Torinn grasps his Lucky Charm for a moment, says, ‘Lucky Rabbit’s Foot, I need you now!’ and swings!” as opposed to “Torinn swings, and as the blow drops calls ‘Lucky Rabbit’s Foot, I need you now!’ and miraculously connects!” Each gives a slightly different spin on how events in the game play out.

There is no need to standardize on any one of these for all such powers in the campaign, or even for the player or power specifically being looked at. The Lucky Charm could normally just act quietly (first option), but every now and then the character might ask for its help. Elven accuracy, the Lucky Charm magic item, the Warlock spell Dark One’s Own Luck, and all of the other game-randomization-altering powers can feel very different depending on which description is employed. In my campaigns, I intend to ask what the player wants for each power either when they take it or it first comes up, unless I have a specific campaign reason to make the description be one of the above.

(Title quote from Peterson, Ivars. The Jungles of Randomness: A Mathematical Safari. Wiley, NY, 1998. (pp. 178) ISBN 0-471-16449-6)

“The Spiel” wants you!

Hey guys, quick update.

I have not forgotten about my tasty promises of meditation tips and happiness boosters, but I am really looking for questions that I can answer. I know people often have questions about PAD, but often feel too awkward or worried to ask. Please, do ask me. I will keep all questions anonymous. You can ask me by leaving a comment on the blog. Comments are moderated, so what I will do is take your question, delete the actual comment (so nobody sees who made it), and then answer the question in the blog. You can ask about anything related to the blog posts; the only questions I will reject are personal attacks, poorly thought out “How dare you?!” comments, and obvious trolls/flame warmongers.

I’m going to wrap this up after the weekend, so you have a few days to get your questions in. If I don’t get any by Monday, I’ll still post, just without the Q&A.

“The Spiel,” Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Everything, Chapter 8

*NOTE: We’re almost done! This is the last chapter about me and the penultimate chapter of the series. Major love to everyone who has read this, and especially to the people who have been commenting on and off the blog, starting interesting conversations, and really making me think.
Just as a reminder, this is a long narrative told from my personal point of view. I will be using language in here that might suggest that I’m telling you the only correct viewpoint or path to go down, but I’m not. Every sentence that sounds like that should be prefaced by “In my personal experience…” or “In my case…” or “I think but may not be correct that…” I am not writing this story as a method of forcing anyone to believe what I believe or do what I did. This is all an opinion piece that I hope some people may identify with.
This is a very optimistic chapter, but there is the potential trigger for dealing with not-so-great doctors, as well as motivations for needing to get better.
And as always, I am not a trained medical or psychological professional. If you are experiencing a true emergency, please dial 911 or your local suicide prevention/mental health hotline.*
Chapter 8: And She Lived Happily Ever After, Or, Why I’m Able to Write This

The months immediately after my revelatory therapy sessions could only be described by that tired old phrase-challenging, but rewarding. It’s not that I didn’t get panic or anything during those months, quite the opposite actually. My mind began lashing out in that cornered animal way, searching for a way to keep me locked into the panic zone. But, for the first time, I felt like I finally had a reason and the willpower to finally break free for good.

Now I know that during some point in this, I am required by some unwritten law to say “And that’s when I realized I had to do it for myself.” But, you know what? I didn’t just do it for myself, and I think that it’s silly for people to say that it’s worthless to do something if you’re doing it because of other people or things or situations. At that point in my life, I very well could have just withdrawn and sunk down into a hermit pit of despair, and probably slept the next few years away because it was easier, but I didn’t, and it was entirely because of outside factors. I had a new boyfriend (now my fiance), a club that needed its secretary, a wide social circle, and student loans that would never get paid off I didn’t get my degree. It was then I realized that I was wrong a few months ago. I wasn’t too busy to get better; I was too busy to stay sick! I needed energy and motivation and the ability to socialize and smile and succeed. I soon realized that if I was going to fix this, I needed to fix all of my broken bits, inside and out.

Thanks to my messy thyroid issues, I was still overweight, unmedicated, and exhausted all the time. I was also terrified of finding another bad endocrinologist. So I attempted the roundabout approach to health and went to see a nutritionist. Unfortunately for me, this woman was a little woo-woo, and tried to tell me to completely overhaul my life. She informed me that she was disappointed when I told her I would not give up being a vegetarian, and she made me go cold turkey on cutting out gluten. She also overcharged me like nobody’s business and wanted me to get a bunch of expensive blood tests that would only serve to restrict my diet more. Additionally, she told me that my roommates and I would have to scrap all of the food and cleaning products we had and restock with full organic things (which, if you know a college budget, is pretty much like asking us to paint the house with gold).

Needless to say, I did not return to her, though I gave the gluten-free thing a shot. After 6 months, I still felt crappy, but with the added benefit of being deprived of my delicious seitan (a meat substitute made from wheat gluten). But I wasn’t going to give up that easily. I ended up at the nutritionist that is available at my school’s Health Services, who, in addition to being free, wasn’t a crackpot out to turn me into some sort of destitute, soap-banning, wheat-shunning meat addict. She gave me a lot of great tips on how to limit portions and told me that it was high time I began to up my intake of fruits and vegetables. As a vegetarian, I always ate vegetables, but I was much more focused on the breads and cheeses and nuts to try to get protein and those 6-11 servings of carbs I thought I was supposed to get. Turns out, most vegetarians get almost if not all of protein and stuff that they need anyway (apparently our high-meat society causes us to eat more than we technically need). Also, 11 servings of grain is ridiculously high, hence why they keep changing the food pyramid. So, with a few minor tweaks, I was at least on my way to a better eating plan. I even got motivated to start a food diary, which really helped me keep within my food goals and get a real sense of exactly how much I ate.

Over this past summer, I really stepped up my game, medically speaking. I finally got health insurance up here, and along with it came a great PCP/gynecologist, and the best endocrinologist and dietitian that I could ever ask for. My PCP, after doing all the routine blood work, also wanted to put me on thyroid meds because of my high antibodies. However, I demanded a second opinion, since now apparently I seem to actually care about myself.

When I went to the endocrinologist she referred me to, the first thing that struck me was how up to date he was. He has an entire medical portal online for patients to ask questions and get advice from him without having to make an appointment. And it’s free! The best thing about him, though, was that he understood I was a real person and that I don’t react the same to medication as everyone else does. In fact, he told me, and he was the first doctor to tell me this, that I could wean myself onto the medication. I hadn’t even considered that before, because I had been told that I had to start on daily regimens. Turns out, some people (like me) are very sensitive to medications that include hormones, so it’s important to ease into it. He told me to start on it once a week, and to only take more when I was ready. And, if I felt bad, I could lower or stop it again until I was ready to go back on. This was extremely helpful, and I noticed right away that after the first few weeks of taking it, I wasn’t feeling any of my old panic symptoms. I’m already up to taking it 5 times a week and still no ill side effects.

At the same time that I was finally getting this fixed, I was referred, again by my PCP, to an amazing dietitian. She is also a vegetarian, and shares my disdain for people who insist that we are all anemic, iron-deficient hippies who only eat rabbit food and try to convert every carnivore to our way of life. She really set my eating plan up for me, and gave me clear, decisive, and attainable goals for what to eat during the day. She inspired me to go out and get more fresh fruit and vegetables, and cleared up a few misconceptions I had about just how many (and what types of) carbs I was putting into my body vs. how many (and what types) I should be.

Taking their advice to heart, I really started shifting around how I treated myself. I began taking my medication, got a good multivitamin and vitamin D pill (since I’m still somewhat deficient because my body doesn’t like to absorb D for some reason), and overhauled my diet in a way that is sustainable and enjoyable.
And, well, I suppose that’s my story. I am now 15 lbs lighter than I was at the beginning of the year. I have more energy; I’m much happier and more outgoing. I feel better about myself, both internally and externally. I eat right, I move more, and I am able to cope with my emotions in reasonable and realistic ways.
Now I’m not saying I’m suddenly perfect, far from it. I have bad days where I’ll cry and be exhausted and feel like I’m a failure, but the important thing is that I’m able to pull myself out of them now. Panic doesn’t dominate my life anymore. I still have dark thoughts, heck, I have them every day, but they don’t get to me like they used to. I still get overloaded by work, but it doesn’t make me shut down for days at a time. And yes, sometimes I get depressed, but I know that it’s a very transitive depression, and that eventually it will go away.

I will be making one more post some time later this week, just to summarize and give some tips on things like visualization and meditation techniques. Also, I will be answering any questions people might have about PAD, how to cope with it, how it might be different for other people, etc., so if you are wondering about anything I talked about, please ask.

Thanks for everyone who took the time to read this. I hope I was able to help someone out there, or at least give people a little insight into how PAD works. Be well!

Levels of Abstraction

Much of programming consists of writing abstractions to allow the programmer to think about parts of a problem on the level they choose. The abstractions prevent the need to deal with either too many specifics of the computer’s implementation, or too many details concerning the problem in the real world. You might write a traffic intersection simulation in Python with a class representing cars so that you don’t have to worry about memory management in the computer, and can treat a car as a discrete element elsewhere in the program.

However, the strengths of abstractions can also be their weaknesses. Abstractions, by their nature, obscure information. The more abstractions are layered on top of each other in a program, the harder it is to understand what is happening. Debugging in particular can become incredibly difficult if the abstractions are too opaque.

One question of how best to implement abstractions which I have encountered is how much standard program flow forms should be abstracted away. Consider the case from above, where an intersection is being modeled. Assuming you use common encapsulation patterns, there is probably some kind of class or structure representing a car. Periodically, you will want to generate a new car for the simulation. And, in most cases, you will need to keep a list of all cars which currently exist available, so that you can loop through them and have each update itself.

There are two ways to ensure that this list stays up to date. You can either put “insert self into list” into the constructor itself, or write an “insert self into list” function and specify in the documentation that that should probably be called on every new instance which is created.

Both have advantages and disadvantages. Making the constructor insert itself encapsulates what is going on, but adds a side-effect to the constructor, and means that if an extra car needs to be generated which is special and not in the list, extra action will need to be taken to remove it. Making the insertion be its own function means that there is an extra line which will almost always follow the constructor, which is minor code duplication, and makes it more likely that someone new trying to use or modify the code will miss the insertion, even if it is written in the documentation, and then not understand why a new car is not being added to the simulation correctly.

This question can be generalized to a question of how much implementation should be hidden by functions overall. Is it better to write (in complete pseudocode)

function act_on_object (object) { ... }

function act_on_all_objects (object_list) {
    for (object in object_list) {
        act_on_object (object);

and then call act_on_all_objects(), or is it better to just write the function act_on_object(), have a documented variable object_list, and trust that another programmer will find the right way to iterate over the list, leaving the specifics in their hands? The more functions are used to abstract the specifics away, the easier it is to change the implementation without disrupting code which makes use of it. At the same time, more functions can make the program look increasingly complex, and analyzing the code can require “drilling down” through countless wrapper functions before the actual operations can finally be located.

The answer is undoubtedly somewhere in the middle, with different choices being better for different situations. It is likely that creating a new instance of a class should be kept to having no side-effects, and so “create and insert” functions should be written, for example. Still, thinking about how much the computation strategies themselves are abstracted can help with a program’s readability.

“The Spiel,” Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Everything, Chapter 7

*NOTE: Thank you again, everyone who has read this far. This week was hard for me because of sickness and being really busy. I decided to post this today instead of yesterday, because this chapter is very important and I wanted to give it the attention it deserved. If you came to this blog for answers, this is probably the chapter you want to read. I of course can’t promise that these are “THE ANSWERS!!” *cue angelic chorus* for everyone, but the three lessons I discuss here were the pieces of advice that have most directly helped me and made the past year the best one I’ve had in a very long time.

Just as a reminder, this is a long narrative told from my personal point of view. I will be using language in here that might suggest that I’m telling you the only correct viewpoint or path to go down, but I’m not. Every sentence that sounds like that should be prefaced by “In my personal experience…” or “In my case…” or “I think but may not be correct that…” I am not writing this story as a method of forcing anyone to believe what I believe or do what I did. This is all an opinion piece that I hope some people may identify with.

Potential triggers in this chapter have to do with talking to a therapist, struggling with your own thoughts, and having to let go of control. I wouldn’t classify any as too severe, but again, use your own discretion and proceed with caution if you feel these might present a problem.

And as always, I am not a trained medical or psychological professional. If you are experiencing a true emergency, please dial 911 or your local suicide prevention/mental health hotline.*

CHAPTER 7: Therapy is a Girl’s Best Friend, Or, Why You’re Probably Reading This At All

Where to go for therapy is a big decision. There are many factors involved in deciding what kind of treatment you need, how far away it should be, etc. For me, the main concerns were that I had no money to spend, no insurance that worked in MA, and no car. I needed a place that was free and right around the corner.

So I went to my school’s mental wellness center. My first meeting there, I was still pulling myself out of my last panic spell, so I was very tentative. Thinking back on it now, though, it may have been a good thing. Whenever I had tried to talk to someone about my problems before, I had always stopped. I was never able to completely tell them about my panic or the reasons behind it because I always got this feeling that I would end up scaring them and maybe causing other people to start having panic attacks too. It would make me feel really guilty to find out that I had done that to someone who had previously been happy, so I always bottled it up.

The first moment I sat down with Dr. C, however, I was in such a bad place that I just let everything spill out. And it’s a good thing I did. Turns out, people who are trained to handle these sorts of issues ARE TRAINED TO HANDLE THESE SORTS OF ISSUES. That was a bit of a “Duh” moment for me, when I asked him, “But aren’t you scared and panicked now?” and he simply replied “Not at all.” It took me a minute to realize that he probably had studied about these exact same issues, and probably had to come to terms with them himself years ago. Scanning the books on his shelf, I saw that he was clearly already well-versed in anything I could throw at him. I was relieved to hear that I hadn’t just ruined someone’s life by having a complete breakdown in front of him. Not only that, but he was able to take me from mid-attack and totally bring me back to the present. And it wasn’t that hard, either.

Normally, when I would have a panic attack, there was literally nothing that could be done to stop it apart from just waiting it out and curling up in a ball of sadness and fear. And so, when Dr. C asked me to explain why I was there, and I could start feeling the cold sweat creeping up my back, I figured this was going to be just another episode. And then, Dr. C did something that made me actually wonder for a second if he was a wizard. Despite my best efforts to hide the panic, he looked me in the eye point-blank and said “I can see you’re having a panic attack now, just talking about this.”

Unable to hide my symptoms under obvious scrutiny, I broke down and started going into shaky shaky mode, now feeling bad on top of everything else because I was probably going to end up wasting a good five minutes or so of the hour we had. But Dr. C had an answer for everything.

Lesson #1: Stay in the Present
Panic attacks are often full of morbid thoughts concerning the future, immediate or otherwise. The first step to pulling yourself out of it is to become very preoccupied with the mundane details of what is going on around you at exactly that moment. And I do mean mundane.

Dr. C had me shut me eyes as soon as I started breaking down, take in a deep breath, and put my hands on the arms of the chair I was sitting in. He then told me to concentrate on the feel of the arm chair, the carpet under my feet, even the physical symptoms I was currently feeling. The catch, he said, was to examine these all as clinically as possible. This means not focusing on the fears and thoughts, but on the physical feelings of the moment. After a few moments of chanting to myself things like “The armchair feels really rough under my fingers, but not itchy” and “My scalp is still prickly, but not as tight feeling,” I did notice that the bad thoughts seemed to have moved on for the time being. A few minutes later, when they creeped in again, Dr. C very patiently did the same exact thing with me. This time I focused on the pattern of the carpet, making geometric patterns and getting myself too absorbed in making a maze out of the rug’s lines that the panic had nowhere to go. I lapsed a few more times that day, but it took a significantly shorter amount of time to pull me out of it each time.

Of course, as useful as this method of detachment and present awareness was, it was only helpful once I had already started having an attack. I needed something to prevent attacks. I told Dr. C that I wanted the bad thoughts and feelings gone forever. And that’s when he told me the single most important thing I had ever heard.

Lesson #2: You can’t control your thoughts and feelings, but you CAN control what you do about them.

This was a verbal slap in the face for me. What do you mean I can’t control my feelings?! I don’t want these dark thoughts in my head! They cause panic!! I want them gone, and now! If I can’t control my thoughts and feelings, then I’m weak and can’t control myself at all.

After a few seconds of me obviously struggling with hearing something like this, Dr. C explained further. Very roughly paraphrased, he said, “Our brain can be our best asset, but it can also seem to work against us sometimes. If you try to fight your dark thoughts and your fears in a battle against your brain, your brain is going to win every time. Just by the fact that you’re fighting the thoughts, you’re letting them stay in the front of your mind and take over you. The truth of the matter is that you may never stop being afraid. You may be 40 and still have the same fears and worries that you do now. But that doesn’t mean they have to dictate your life.”

It took me a while to come to terms with this. I had never once considered this alternative way of thinking. But, when I really thought about it, it made a lot of sense. I never tried to make the bad thoughts creep in; they just did it on their own. And the more I focused on them, and the more I tried to tell them to go away, the stronger they got until I was in a full-blown attack. And it wasn’t just with panic, either. The more I tried to fight with the thought that I couldn’t juggle all the responsibilities of the day, the easier it was to go into anxiety mode. Whenever a thought of worthlessness crept into my head, I always tried to yell back at it, but then the depression bully just got stronger and stronger. (As a note, for the rest of this article, you can pretty much switch in anxiety or depression when I write panic, since these rules really have helped me in all three respects).

And the longer I sat there, the more I realized that no, he wasn’t telling me that I had no control of anything. He was telling me that I had been trying to control the wrong things. A fear response can come from the subconscious, and that, by definition, is something that we can’t actively control. However, as he went on to elaborate, we can actively decide what our physical reaction to the feelings will be if we focus in on it right away.

What I needed to do was ask myself, as soon as I felt the first symptoms of panic creep in, “How is having an attack going to help the situation? Will it really cause things to get better, or am I just doing this because I feel like I can’t control the situation?” The answer, of course, turns out to invariably go along the lines of “No…freaking out doesn’t actually solve anything. I would be much happier if I didn’t have an attack right now.” It’s a very odd and particular mind trick that I did have to practice before I could get the handle of it, but once I did, my God did it feel good to say “No, a panic attack is just really inconvenient, so I won’t have one” and then proceed to not have one.

His advice was so effective, that the first time I thought I was having a panic attack, a few hours later, I heard his voice in my head, saying that mantra over and over again. “You can’t control your thoughts and feelings, but you CAN control what you do about them.” Hearing that in my mind was enough to jolt me out of the spiral I was about to go down and I was able to stop the attack before it got off the ground.

Since that day, I haven’t had a single full-blown panic attack. And, while that may seem like a victory in and of itself, there was still one thing bugging me. Ok, sure, I wouldn’t have panic attacks anymore, but that didn’t make the bad thoughts go away. I could keep the physical response down, but I was still having mental struggles with the feelings that were know swirling around my head, trying to get some sort of rise out of me.

So I went back to Dr. C and begged him once more to teach me how to make bad thoughts go away. And, predictably, he reiterated the fact that I could never just force the thoughts to go away, because just the act of trying to make them go away meant that I was thinking about them. However, he did help me develop the last weapon that I needed in my arsenal.

Lesson #3: When the bad thoughts and feelings creep in, give them a tip of the hat and move on.

This seemed like a difficult concept for me, because despite trying to be Zen for the most part, it’s very difficult for me to just let things be, especially when I don’t like them. So, we worked on some very important visualization techniques.

(Warning: Mega Involved Metaphor incoming!)
Dr. C explained to me that negative thoughts were like “that guy” at the party that nobody really wants around, but who you can’t really force outside because you don’t want to touch him. We called him “Joe the Bum.” Normally, he said, your mind is like a party of thoughts, all hanging out and mingling and doing thought things. But sometimes, Joe the Bum sees the party and wants to join. He doesn’t really belong, so he shuffles in, smelling bad, and stands near the punch bowl.

Now, there are two ways to react. You can get really mad and try to kick him out, but then you cause a scene and everybody at the party starts to pay attention to it. Not to mention the fact that you will start to become overwhelmed by Joe the Bum’s stink, and just the fact that you’re giving him attention means that he’ll be unlikely to leave, because it gives him something to do.

The better way to deal with him is to just acknowledge that he’s there, because there really no way to ignore him when he’s standing right by the punch bowl, and get on with the party. Pay attention to your happier guests (thoughts) and get involved in some party games (other mind-occupying activities). If Joe the Bum tries to follow you around, don’t actively engage him, but just keep maintaining a distance. In this way, you make him bored and send a clear signal that you’re disinterested, causing him to eventually wander off.

Now, eventually I got the hang of this little visualization technique, and whenever I feel bad, I conjure up images of Joe the Bum hanging out in my house, just standing at the punch bowl, while I go off and do more pleasant things. However, this can be a very tricky visual to get the hang of, so Dr. C gave me a simpler one to start with.

Imagine, if you will, a stream. Just a very calm, peaceful, winding stream in the middle of the woods or a meadow, or anywhere that makes you feel good. On that stream, little leaves are floating downriver. Whenever you are troubled, instead of trying to force the thought away, just place it on a leaf and let it be carried away gently on the water. You don’t even need to stay and watch it. Just place the thought on the leaf and let the water wash it away naturally. If another thought comes, or if the same one comes back, you can just put it on another leaf and repeat until your mind gets the hint that you’re just not going to concern yourself with these transitive feelings. During this time, you again want to preoccupy yourself with other things. Acknowledge your bad thoughts going downstream and go off and do something else.

Now, visualization is not the easiest for everyone, and that’s ok. In my next post, I will go over other methods of mental management, but for now, focus on the three lessons that Dr. C taught me. Don’t worry if they don’t come to you right away; in fact, they probably won’t. It took me a long time to get the hang of them, and I certainly don’t expect you to be a master of your mind in just a few days. The important thing to remember is that you don’t have to lost control of yourself. Even if you feel like you’re losing your grip, remember the all important mantra:

You can’t control your thoughts and feelings, but you CAN control what you do about them.

Yes, you can.

“The Spiel” Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Everything, Chapter 6

*NOTE: Ah, it’s nice to not be sick in bed. Thanks to everyone for sticking with me while I spent the past few days recovering. I’m feeling much better now.Just as a reminder, this is a long narrative told from my personal point of view. I will be using language in here that might suggest that I’m telling you the only correct viewpoint or path to go down, but I’m not. Every sentence that sounds like that should be prefaced by “In my personal experience…” or “In my case…” or “I think but may not be correct that…” I am not writing this story as a method of forcing anyone to believe what I believe or do what I did. This is all an opinion piece that I hope some people may identify with.

These final chapters are significantly more upbeat than last week, but there are still some potential spots for triggers. This chapter talks mainly about dealing with doctors and therapists, so if you’re uncomfortable with that, then proceed with caution.And as always, I am not a trained medical or psychological professional. If you are experiencing a true emergency, please dial 911 or your local suicide prevention/mental health hotline.*

CHAPTER 6: The Bumpy Road, Or, Why It’s Important to Get Back on the HorseI really wish I could say that after my little excursion I was able to just get right into being healthy and fix all my problems. However, I am not one of those “formerly fat” women they interview for health magazines, who talk about their “moment of realization” and how afterwards, they immediately started eating right and going to the gym and losing all sorts of weight. No, I’m a real person, and it took me months to actually get on track.

The reason for my setbacks is that, quite simply, I do not live in a bubble. I couldn’t spend my entire day doing yoga and meeting the world’s best doctors and becoming healthy. I had school and work and a bunch of emotional drama to deal with. I did the best I could with what I was given, or at least I like to think I did, but it took a while. First, I had to get over this slump of drug-induced panic. Luckily enough for me, the trip to the ER shocked me enough that I snapped out of my haze. Not so luckily, that winter turned out to be a pretty tumultuous time for me in regards to certain relationships, and though I wanted to get better, I found that I just didn’t have the time.

That was my excuse for a while. I didn’t have the time. I was too busy. I had too much work and I was too stressed and always anxious or tired. I just couldn’t spare a single hour a week to go talk to someone. I made up every excuse in the book to not get help. However, in the back of my mind was a voice that had never been there before, saying “You don’t want to go back to the ER, do you?” and every time I heard it, I had to admit to myself that no, I didn’t. (I would later realize that this voice was my self-preservation instinct, which had been long since sat upon by my massive guilt complex.) Eventually, the nagging got so bad that I ended up going back to New Jersey to talk to yet another endocrinologist.

This time, however,  I didn’t just go to the first person I saw on an online listing. I was smart about it. If there’s one thing that the hospital visit did, it was make me realize that if I was going to get help, it needed to be legitimate. And so, I went and asked my pediatrician (yeah, I was 20 and still seeing a pediatrician). She was the only doctor I had ever regularly seen who actually seemed to give two damns about me, so I figured she would be a good starting point.

Luckily, I was right in my assumption. She directed me to a pediatric endocrinologist, and though she said I would only be able to see him for a few months before I was too old, I figured it was worth a shot. (P.S. If you are under 21 and in the northern New Jersey area and want this doctor’s name and contact info, send me a message).

Now, I wish I could say that all my problems suddenly cleared up as soon as I saw him. Sadly, they didn’t, though not for lack of trying. Dr. P, as I will call him, was younger than my other endocrinologists, and actually did full-on examinations apart from just straight bloodwork. He was great because instead of relying on medical textbooks form the 50’s, he was constantly going to conferences, reading the latest medical journals, and looking for new alternatives to old problems.

Through him, I found out that I had dangerously low vitamin D levels and a low-level insulin resistance (not to the point of diabetes, luckily). He put me on a high dose vitamin D for a few weeks, which actually did have some positive effects in terms of mood and energy. He also put me back on low-dose thyroid hormone, but with metformin (a Type II diabetes medication) as well. His hope was that the metformin would help spur weight loss and stabilize blood sugar as I was on the thyroid meds so that the panic issues wouldn’t arise.Sadly, that experiment was a bit of a flop. I was able to hold out longer without panic this time (and I have a sneaking suspicion that my attacks only came back because the pharmacy switched out my generics for brand-name Synthroid), but my symptoms didn’t really seem to improve. Luckily, when I called Dr. P to tell him I was edgy again, he told me to stop taking the medication and we would try something else. I worked with him for a few more weeks before I got too old to see him, but I didn’t make too much improvement. He referred me to an adult endocrinologist that he knew, but I only got to see her once before she went on maternity leave. He did, however, leave me with one important piece of advice.

Go see a therapist.

Not a psychiatrist, just a therapist. As a brief note, a psychiatrist is licensed to prescribe medications, whereas a therapist (or psychologist) is usually not. A therapist can refer to a psychiatrist if need be, but their main concern is healing through communication, behavioral adjustments, and positive life changes (the good ones, anyway). Now, as I mentioned before, I had a very strong aversion to therapists due to bad experiences in the past. This time, however, I realized that if I was going to get better, I needed to at least try whatever avenues I could. And thank goodness I did, because it was the best thing I had ever done for myself.

“The Spiel” will return tomorrow

Rhiannon apologizes profusely, but she has only been awake for about 10 minutes total today, and they have been terrible. She seems to have caught some kind of sinus infection. She has not been able to look at a screen long enough to write since yesterday, so she will have to get the next, much more positive, installment out tomorrow.