Pokemon Go and Mental Health

[Content Note: discussion of mental illness]

Pokemon Go is the only reason I left the house today.

That’s not an exaggeration or an excuse. Even though I had planned to go to the library to do some translation work, because I can’t focus at home, I didn’t want to. This is part of what I’ve been struggling with for the past few months, the constant need to get work done and the overwhelming apathy and dislike of leaving my comfort zone battling each other, and usually apathy and comfort win. Even though it stresses me out more in the long run to not get my work done, I’d still rather not leave my house and deal with the outside world on any given day, unless I have to. I will go to work or class, usually with a minimum of grumbling, and do my work diligently (if not excitedly), but on days when I have no set schedule, I prefer to become an unresponsive lump lying on my couch, playing on my Nintendo DS or watching Netflix.

So where does Pokemon Go figure into this equation? Well, it’s pretty simple, really. I love Pokemon. I’ve played the Pokemon games for years, only excepting a couple years during and after college when I couldn’t afford to get a new handheld game system and thus had to make do without. I still have my Blue, Red, and Yellow Gameboy cartridges, the original Pokemon games that were first released way back when. I’ve only beaten the various games a couple times, and I’ve never filled out the Pokedex, but that doesn’t really bother me. I enjoy them, I enjoy the battles and the stories and the cute little creatures I can catch and nurture. So, like all the other avid Pokemon fans, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the Augmented Reality app game that would make it possible for me to catch Pokemon in the real world (so to speak). And, like other avid fans, I’ve been frustrated as hell since the release on Wednesday, since getting logged into the server is often futile. And since I hate the heat and it’s summer, I haven’t spent much time outside since it came out. And I’ve also had other things on my mind (I attended a vigil on Friday for Alton Sterling and Philando Castile), so although I’ve caught a few Pokemon in and around my apartment (Friday after the vigil I went out with friends, but my phone’s battery died so I just had to watch them run around and catch stuff), today was the first day I’ve actually been outside and working to catch Pokemon. It’s a bit cooler today, and overcast, so I’m not too hot and not too worried about sunburn. I parked further from the library than necessary so I could walk across campus and catch Pokemon, but I stuck to my path and didn’t wander around, so I missed out on a couple. And when I got to the library, which is a PokeStop (place where you get free items like PokeBalls and healing items), I caught a bunch of things and then settled in to work. Every fifteen minutes or so I check my phone, catch anything that’s come around, get my free items (the PokeStops refresh after a certain amount of time, so if you sit at one for a while you can basically get unlimited items), and then get back to work. And it’s great.

When I got out of the shower this morning and contemplated going out, I made all the usual excuses. “Well, it’s already 2 pm and the library is only open until 5 on Sundays, so it really wouldn’t be worth it.” “I could easily get my work done here and not leave.” “I just don’t feel like going anywhere.” And while I’d opened the app, my phone was having trouble connecting to the server, so I sat there with my excuses rolling around in my head. But then, it connected. There was my little avatar, and a couple common Pokemon (Rattatas and Pidgeys, mostly) that I quickly caught and traded for items, and I was ready to go. I swiftly gathered my laptop and wallet into my messenger bag and went out to my car, carefully keeping an eye on my phone in case anything else popped up. I drove to the parking lot at the student union, not too far from the library but a nice walk, and held my phone out to see what I could see. I quickly caught an Eevee and a Nidoran male, then went on my merry way to the library, catching several other Pokemon (although nothing exciting) along the way.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve caught multiple Weedles, which I traded in so I almost have enough to evolve my Kakuna into a Beedrill. I also caught a Shellder and a Growlithe. I’ve used the PokeStop multiple times and now have 8 eggs (I only had one this morning) as well as plenty of PokeBalls and several Potions and Revives. I’ve leveled up twice. And, although slightly less exciting, I’ve translated over a page of text. I’m not translating any slower than normal, since I usually take multiple breaks to check social media or rest my brain (every few paragraphs, basically), and the most important thing is that I’m getting it done.

The number of people I’ve talked to in just the last few days has been staggeringly high for me, and it was almost all because of Pokemon Go. After the vigil on Friday, when I went out with my friends, we saw roaming groups of people, all with their phones out, excitedly tracking Pokemon and sharing their joy and camaraderie over successful catches or rare finds. People I didn’t know would come up and say “I just caught an Eevee over there!” or “Hey, did you know you can get Pikachu by that landmark?” Because any Pokemon that pops up on the map can be caught by everyone in the vicinity, it inspires cooperation with others, rather than competition. In fact, although there are battles and Gyms in the game, you don’t battle any other player directly, instead you battle against Pokemon that various players have assigned to the Gym, and so even though there’s a fun element of competition (you can choose one of three teams. and teams can take over unclaimed gyms to make their team stronger), it’s more against the game than any other player. The amount of joy and cooperation I felt whenever a big group would congregate (usually multiple small groups converging on a PokeStop or a Pokemon everyone wanted) cannot be overstated. I felt like part of a real, physical community, for the first time in a very long time. I’m not someone who usually feels welcome in most places. I shy away from a lot of communities I can choose to join simply because I fear rejection or dislike various aspects of that community. I don’t spend much time in fandom communities because there’s almost always an unpleasant aspect or subgroup that I find spoils the community as a whole. But so far, the only thing I’ve felt from other people playing Pokemon Go is joy, and friendship, and acceptance. It’s possible that could change, as the newness wears off. It’s possible that people will get tired of it and stop playing and it’ll become commonplace and not exciting anymore. But for right now, for me and all the other people I know who are playing, it’s joyful and new and friendly, and for a lot of people who struggle with mental illness, it’s a reason to go outside. It’s a reason to join our community, even if only briefly, to catch a Pikachu or Squirtle, to see the sunshine, to feel like we belong in this world.

Sometimes, it’s a beautiful world.

Conflict, Anxiety, and Emotional Violence in Teaching

[CN: discussion of violence, emotional violence, sexual assault, emotional manipulation, anxiety, fear]

So as the semester wraps up, this is the last week of teaching German 101 for me. And I am so ridiculously pleased about that, because I hate teaching.

I want to get one thing straight: I hold the vocation of teaching in very high esteem. I admire teachers. My mother has worked in education for most of her career, either teaching teachers or helping create and sell software for teachers to use. Now she’s working as a school librarian and actually teaching kids directly, and she’s very good at it. I’ve had some good teachers over the course of my life. I have friends from my undergrad who are now teachers. I respect teachers and teaching. When I say that I hate teaching, I don’t mean that I think it’s worthless or that it’s a waste of time or that it’s beneath me. What I mean is, it’s a job that’s the culmination of several of my anxiety triggers in one neat little bundle. I hate speaking to small groups of people. Put me in front of a huge auditorium and I shine, but in front of less than 20 people, I want to collapse and cry. I hate putting a numeric number on someone’s performance, especially when I get to know them and find out they have stuff going on outside my class (like a relative with cancer, or a really nasty break-up with their SO). I hate all the work of preparing and trying to figure out how much time each activity will take (which I always get wrong, it either takes way more or way less time than I think). I hate it when students ask a question and I have no idea what the answer is. I hate being put on the spot in all the many ways a teacher is every day. The bottom line is that almost nothing about teaching is enjoyable for me. And it isn’t worth it to me to do a job that’s not the slightest bit enjoyable. Even at my last office job, which had a lot of problems, I could take pride and pleasure in doing a task efficiently, making sure everything was error-free, and being one of the fastest in my unit at what we did. The stress and anxiety that I get from teaching far outweighs the very occasional pleasure of having a student improve, or seeing one of them reach an “aha!” moment.

So what does any of that have to do with conflict? Well, it has to do with a very specific experience I had yesterday afternoon. It started a couple weeks before the midterm. One of my colleagues who teaches a German 102 section had a student who wasn’t doing well. She had tried to help them, but they were still struggling, so she told me they had decided to transfer to my 101 class, because they felt it would be easier, and they needed it to graduate. When the student transferred to my class, they proceeded to show up for class only about half the time, didn’t buy the textbook (which is necessary to do the online homework for the class), and didn’t make up any of the tests or quizzes they’d missed, and missed a few more on top of that. So when they came to my office yesterday to make up one of the quizzes they missed, they brought up their grade, and asked me if I could do anything to help them. Even though I hadn’t counted any of the in-class assignments before they transferred to my class, the fact that they’d done none of the homework and hadn’t made up any of the tests or quizzes meant that there was no way they could pass the class. And they were very upset, and said a lot of things about how they couldn’t afford the textbook to do the online homework, they felt they had been lied to about what was expected, they thought they hadn’t been given a fair chance to succeed, and how this was going to mess up everything because they needed this class to graduate this semester. They asked if there was any way we could make a deal, if they could do book work, I tried to give them some other options (retake the class, take an incomplete, etc) and they refused all of them. And every time I said “I’m sorry, but this is the reality” they would launch into another line about how it was unfair, how they needed to graduate, wasn’t there something I could do… And it made me more and more uncomfortable, because I had given them the only answer, and they wouldn’t leave, and I was getting more and more anxious, but finally, after I said I’d think about letting them do some book work, they left. But I was so upset by then that I could hardly compose myself, and it was time for class to start, and I hadn’t finished all my prep because they’d taken so much of my time, and the class didn’t go very well because I was feeling so anxious I was almost manic.

Afterward, when I was talking to my colleagues, I was so upset that I almost cried. Even just talking about it almost gave me a panic attack, and my colleagues didn’t understand why I was so upset. They asked me if the student had threatened me, which they hadn’t, and when I said no they said “then it’ll be fine, just be firm” and it made me feel like they hadn’t heard anything I said, because this wasn’t about being firm. This was about not feeling safe telling someone no.

What bothered me so much about this experience wasn’t that the student was being violent or combative. What bothered me was that the student wouldn’t accept my no. They kept pushing me, kept trying to get me to change my mind. They wouldn’t just accept what I had to say, and that made me feel anxious. Not just anxious, but unsafe.

As a woman, I’ve had to deal with men who won’t take no for an answer. I’ve had to deal with it my entire fucking life. I have the privilege of never having been assaulted, sexually or otherwise (threatened, yes, but not assaulted), so it’s not like I’ve ever actually experienced the worst, but I know, every woman knows, what the worst is. Every woman who lives in this world knows that she must always be vigilant, analyze every situation, because she is not safe. She is not safe out in public, she is not safe at home, she is not safe anywhere in between.

So when I’m dealing with a conflict like the one that happened yesterday, the fact of the conflict itself isn’t what makes me anxious, makes me panic, makes it hard for me to breathe. What made me feel unsafe was the fact that this student wouldn’t accept what I said. The fact that they kept pushing, kept trying to get me to change my mind, made me feel all the weight of the life I live as a woman. I felt like the entire world narrowed down to that one moment with them in my office and I felt trapped, I didn’t feel like I could stand up and ask them to leave, or stand up to get a colleague to help me, even. I didn’t feel safe.

It didn’t have anything to do with physical violence, or even the threat of physical violence. It had to do with the kind of emotional manipulation that I and other women have dealt with our entire lives. I sympathize with the student, I really do. I understand when they say they don’t have money, or time, or that they’ve had circumstances this semester that made it difficult for them to focus. But I can’t change the facts, and the fact that they want to manipulate me and try to do that makes me feel unsafe.

The student said they would come by to drop of a project today. I spent most of the afternoon in a state of heightened anxiety, hoping they wouldn’t. I knew that once they came in, I would feel trapped again, I would feel unsafe, and I don’t know how I would have dealt with that. The simple fact is that as a 6′ tall, 400 lb woman, I significantly outweigh and tower over almost all of my students (one of the other students is an inch or two taller than me, but I still outweigh them). But that doesn’t change the fact that I would have felt trapped and powerless. I probably wouldn’t have been able to call for my colleagues to help me, or ask the student to step outside.

Emotional violence is a reality, especially for people like me, who feel emotions deeply. When someone purposefully tries to manipulate my emotions, that’s a form of emotional violence. When someone won’t listen to what I tell them, tries to debate when I explain how I feel, that’s a form of emotional violence.

Emotional violence is experienced differently by everyone. Some people can shrug it off if it happens once or twice, and only start to feel the impact when it accumulates over time, like lead poisoning. Some people feel pain even if it only happens once or twice, like being stabbed with a short knife, not deep enough to put their life in danger, but enough to give them pain and leave a scar. That’s how it feels for me. Every time feels like a stab wound. I’ve learned over the years how to protect myself sometimes, but there are still times, like yesterday, when I’m totally unprepared, and the knife goes deep. There are certain situations where I have no choice, and I try to simply steel myself as best I can, preparing myself for the cuts. Sometimes I wonder how I’m not just a walking mass of scar tissue, and I wish I could just stop feeling emotions so deeply. Sometimes it doesn’t feel worth it, especially when I’m in pain.

I’m sure that the student didn’t intend to hurt me. They were likely doing something that has worked on other professors before, in hopes that it would work again. But this is what I mean when I talk about how teaching triggers my anxiety. This isn’t a situation that people in other professions usually have to deal with. I don’t remember ever having anything similar in any of the jobs I’ve worked. I’ve never been a manager or HR person, and don’t intend to be, which are the only other professions that come to mind that might have similar situations.

The student never showed up today, either to my office or to our last class meeting. Next week is the final exam, and I don’t know if they’ll be there for that, but even if they do, I’ll have support, as it’s a combined exam with my colleague who teaches the other German 101 class. I’m sorry for their situation, but I can’t do anything else for them, and I just don’t want to feel unsafe again. And once the final exam is over, I will be able to put teaching behind me, and that will be a great relief.

Edit, May 1, 2016: The student showed up unexpectedly at my office on Friday. I was completely unprepared, but I managed to send a message through Facebook to my colleague across the hall, and she came over and pretended to do some work on the computer while waiting for a break in the conversation to back me up. I had an appointment with another colleague to go somewhere, so when that colleague showed up we ended up leaving the first one to deal with the student, which we both felt rotten about. But after we left, one of the professors showed up and managed to help her and talked to the student briefly, then told them she’d talk to me about the situation and get back to them. So now the entire story is being laid out via email with the professor, and I feel a bit better because at least I now have some help, but at the same time I’m really anxious because I don’t want the student to show up at my office unannounced again (I didn’t even tell my students I was going to be there on Friday, I’m normally not) and I really just want this whole situation to be done with, because it’s causing me more anxiety the longer it draws out. I’ll post more updates if anything of note occurs.

What Depression Is & Isn’t

[Content Note: anxiety, depression, suicide]

So as I mentioned in my first post, I’m finishing up my M.A. in German. My final project is translating a set of travel essays from an Austrian author, who is also a guest lecturer at my university this semester. We’re reading a book of his that is set in post-WWII Vienna, an interesting glimpse into the society of the time. Last week in class, we were talking about one of the main characters of the book, a Jewish businessman who returned to Vienna after being in a concentration camp during the war. He’s unhappy, despite being very wealthy at this point in the story (a couple decades post-war), in part because the experiences he had during the war were so traumatic for him. So we were discussing this character, and one of my classmates stated that she really identified with a particular passage where he talks about this dark period and his feelings about it, because she suffers from depression and it reminds her of her own feelings. I agreed with her, saying that I think he might even have PTSD from the experience, but I also see the depression aspect because of my own depression.

At this point, the author made an analogy which really illustrated the misunderstanding that many people have of depression. He said that one’s emotions are like water, turning a water wheel. It doesn’t matter if the water is clear (positive emotions) or full of weeds and garbage and pollution (negative emotions), they will still spin the water wheel, so it’s important to make them work for you either way.

Now, I don’t know if he has ever dealt with depression himself, but I would hazard a guess that he hasn’t, based on that analogy. Because that’s not what depression is. So I want to expand on that point a bit in this blog post, and talk about what depression is and isn’t.

First of all, depression is not some gentle, poetic melancholy. It is not always a temporary affliction, and it does not manifest simply as feeling sad. It isn’t something that can be cured by one sunny day or the smile of a loved one or a cute puppy.

Depression is not something that can just be gotten over, or powered through. It is not something that just requires willpower, that can be ignored or made to work for you. It isn’t a tool to attract lovers, or enhance creativity.

Depression is a very real, very debilitating disease. It can manifest in a number of ways, but it is not something with a simple cure, or even a cure at all for some people. Depression requires a great deal of effort simply to live with. Depression saps your energy and sometimes makes it impossible to do anything.

The analogy above is flawed. The real analogy would be that a person without depression may have clear water or dirty water, but their water wheel keeps running either way. A person with depression is dealing with toxic waste that erodes their water wheel and sometimes stops it from running altogether, while they fight constantly to repair it or at least keep it running. And that doesn’t even take into account the many other things that can interact with depression, like anxiety, where the person may have a working wheel today but they live in constant fear of what could happen to the wheel tomorrow. Or a person who has a chronic illness, where sometimes their wheel stops working and they don’t have the ability to even try to fix it.

I have lived with depression my entire adult life. I have tried numerous things to help me deal with my depression. I have spent days in bed because I wasn’t emotionally capable of getting up to do more than pee. I have gone without food because making it or ordering it or going out to buy groceries was too hard. I have gone months without cleaning my house, or even taking out the trash, because I felt so awful I just wanted to die. I’ve contemplated suicide just to make the pain stop. I’ve cried and cried, I’ve felt absolutely numb, I’ve felt so awful I couldn’t even put the pain into words. I’ve tried using a sun lamp in the winter to help my Season Affective Disorder (SAD), I’ve tried taking Vitamin D, I’ve tried changing my diet. I’ve tried numerous combinations of prescription drugs.

These days, I manage. I take anti-depressants daily, I have emergency anti-anxiety meds that can help stave off panic attacks, I go to therapy every two weeks. I have good days and bad days. But my depression is always with me. It isn’t something I can easily dismiss with a wave of my hand. It isn’t some poetic melancholy that enhances my creative senses. It is a disease that I expect to live with for the rest of my life. It is something I have to fight against every day. It is toxic waste trying to destroy my water wheel.

I know that the author didn’t mean anything by his comments. But I think it’s important to push back against the narrative that depression is just something to get through, or something to use as a tool. Maybe some people have found a way to do that. But most of the people I know with depression can’t use it as a tool. It’s a disease, and it can kill us just as easily as cancer, or HIV, or Ebola, or any other disease.

There isn’t a shiny happy ending to this post, because depression doesn’t always give us a shiny happy ending. I am not in any danger right now of hurting myself, but that could change in the future. The truth is that I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. I could try a new anti-depressant that will seem to cure all of my symptoms and make me happier and more functional than I’ve ever been before. Or I could continue limping along with my current cocktail, happy to be mostly functional rather than risk rocking the boat. Because that’s how my depression is for me.

This is what depression is.

Welcome to “Sehnsucht und Fernweh”

My name is Chelsea and this is my new blog. I’ve had a lot of blogs over the years, but I took some time off from blogging the last few years, I’m trying to ease back into it. To start I’ll probably be writing about whatever pops into my head, or daily life things, or so on. I have a wide variety of interests and I’m not very well organized, so I can’t promise this will turn into any specific kind of blog eventually, so while you’re welcome to come along for the ride, please don’t expect too much right away.

The title of the blog comes from German, which I am finishing up M.A. in right now, and thus obviously have some pretty strong connections to. “Sehnsucht” and “Fernweh” are two words that can be difficult to translate into English, because the concepts behind them aren’t easy to explain. “Sehnsucht” is a longing or yearning, usually for something you’ve never experienced, or even for something that you have no idea what it is. “Fernweh” is a little easier, it means the longing for a far-away place, the opposite of being homesick. We sometimes use the term “wanderlust” in English (which, funnily enough, also comes from German), and it’s usually meant as a strong desire to travel, but it has deeper connotations than that in German.

So why did I choose these two words? Well, for one thing, M.A. in German. For another, I often feel those things. I feel emotions very deeply, and I often feel a sense of longing, and I’m not always sure for what. I also often feel like I need to “get away”, go someplace I’ve never been, or revisit someplace I haven’t been in a while. My family moved around a lot when I was growing up and only one of them is in the town I usually think of as my hometown anymore (not in the same house), so I don’t have a particular place I call “home” from my childhood, which contributes to the feeling of wanting to move, I think. At 30, I’ve been moving between crappy apartments for the better part of a decade, first in college and then the period between my undergrad and grad school, and now in grad school as well, and while some of them were better than others, I don’t know that any of them really felt like home. Hopefully once I graduate I’ll find my place, at least that’s the plan.

A little more personal info about me. I’m 6′ tall (1.82 meters), Caucasian, fat, brown hair and eyes, pansexual, cisgender, able-bodied. I have two older brothers, they’re both married and one of them just recently welcomed a son, so I have a cute nephew. Both my parents are alive but no longer married to each other, one is remarried and the other is not. All of us are animal people, there are a grand total of 5 dogs and at least 7 cats between us (I forget exactly how many cats my oldest brother has). There’s more family on top of that, but I’m trying to keep it simple right now. I personally have two of the aforementioned cats, Sen (boy) and Delilah (girl). There was a third cat, Kočka, until yesterday, but that’s too raw to talk about yet. I enjoy writing and reading, although I’ve had little time for either outside of school work the last few years. I also like video games, knitting, singing and listening to music, baking, eating good food and sometimes drinking good alcohol. I’m a passionate intersectional feminist, and I will probably sometimes write about social justice things on this blog, because they are really important to me. I always welcome being called out if I say anything that’s offensive to a marginalized person, because I do have plenty of privilege and sometimes go off half-cocked. I have anxiety and depression and have had them for pretty much my entire adult life (plus parts of high school), so this blog may sometimes be an outlet for those thoughts and feelings as well. I will try to make sure I put Content Notes on any posts that need them, but if I miss something feel free to let me know. Comments are moderated by me, so even though you can feel free to post whatever you want, I will decide whether anyone else ever sees it.

Because I have some grieving to do and because I might not be able to think of anything to blog about this weekend otherwise, please feel free to ask me questions in the comments, and I will answer them to the best of my ability in another blog post.