Category Archives: OT

#Blaugust2016: Food

I am back to a work place where there’s no company canteen, shops or restaurants nearby which means most of my co-workers bring lunch with them for their 30 minute lunch break every day. I worked at a clinic before with diet cooks provisioning clients and staff alike but now it’s back to tupperware and simple lunch solutions and therefore one item above all has re-appeared on all my co-workers menus:

cheese

Cottage cheese. That easy to pack, cheap and filling white stuff that’s not only low on calories but low on anything really, including good fat to fuel your body. I made a cottage cheese check last Thursday during lunch break and all of my female co-workers were eating exactly the same type of lunch: salad with cottage cheese. And a few crackers (because the other stuff is fucking depressing).

This isn’t the first time I noticed the omnipresence of cottage cheese in the corporate world, either. Some years ago I had a gig at a consultancy in Zurich’s rich industrial center and every damn lunch break both the over-dressed men and women were listlessly nibbling at cottage cheese and rice crackers. They didn’t even add vegetables or fruit or the like, they only had processed items. My fitness heroes.

According to one research referenced in the “Food Matters” movie documentary of 2008, processed salad dressings make up a significant amount of executive women’s necessary daily caloric intake in industrialized countries. Everyone was taught to fear and avoid real food and worship unfulfilling greens, lowfat products and sugary smoothies from their teenage years latest and of course they’re all familiar with the rules: If you mean to make it big in the corporate world and earn your share, you have to look healthy. And looking healthy equals being slim, no further questions asked. If you’re a woman of average height that means you shall not cross the universally accepted UK size 10 limit. Men face similar issues and smaller paychecks for being too short.

Your answers are already there (but they ain’t great for business)

While there’s a conversation to be had over health and obesity, instilling the fear of food in children from an early age is one of the most harmful forces within modern society today. Having grown up a girl, my first encounter with dieting was through my mother as it so often is. Already in third grade she put me on a diet (she was dieting herself at the time) because I was the tallest girl in my class and also turned out to be the heaviest (duh?), after my teacher decided to put everybody on the scale one fine math morning. I look at old pictures of me in elementary school and can only marvel how anyone could put me on a crash diet. I wasn’t overweight according to our physicist either but my mother was afraid for me and fear is rarely rational.

I am far from the only woman with such an early dieting story and I hate that I was made self-conscious about my weight and started fearing certain foods from such a young age. I grew up with contradictory, confusing food messages from school, from home as well as the media and to this day, I am surrounded by food lies about fat and carbs and calories every time I go grocery shopping. Our modern society started gaining a lot of weight when the food industry decided to really get rolling with low-fat and fitness foods in the 80ies and today some big industries only exist because people have become so out of touch with what is supposed to nourish them. Fat money.

complicated

This kind of stuff can drive you to the brink of madness. There have been periods in my life as a student and also later when I completely lost touch with myself and my body. The voice within was drowned out by all the conflicting messages and the constant fear of gaining weight or not being thin enough, even when I was sporting a smooth size 5-6 which is slim for my body type and height. Talking about BDD…

The thing is, I don’t actually need a size chart to know my body’s needs; I don’t need posters and magazines to tell me when somebody is too slim or overweight or how to exercise more. I need neither look at absurdly skinny models nor fat ones in order to identify the right balance for myself and a healthy life. Nobody does.

If I can drown out the noise and go back to listening and being honest with myself, I know fully well what’s good for me: I know when I’m stuffed or when I overdid it, I feel better and more sated after a freshly cooked meal than a convenient one. I have more energy during the work day when I made time for breakfast and when I add a bit of fresh fruit during those morning and late afternoon work hours. I don’t sleep well after late-night snacks. If I can’t pronounce it, it’s likely better in small amounts. I know I should probably do something about my fitness if I sound like a dying rhino running up a flight of stairs. And I know it’s time to lose a few pounds when my favorite jeans won’t fit anymore or my thighs cause painful friction. Who can tell me any of that but me?

Our body is telling us everything we need to know, the rest is Vanity Fair bullshit and ka-ching!

My new relationship with food: no stressing!

I love food, heck I don’t even dislike cottage cheese as long as it isn’t my go-to lunch option. I grew up around some amazing grandma cooking and I cook most of my meals from scratch when possible. I travel a lot and exploring foreign food traditions and delicacies is big part of the enjoyment. Food is awesome – and eating is supposed to be enjoyable, fulfilling not just filling!

There’s also the whole stress component: all this added stress around our food choices and eating habits is doubly harmful. Stress causes our body to process and store food differently, we’re hungrier and we gobble it down rather than taking the appropriate time to eat. It really all dawned on me one day how often I ate fast meals or snacks without noticing, either because I was absent-minded, hated what I ate or felt guilty for not eating what I hate. Stress stress stress everywhere seeping into my system!

stress

But no more: Screw temporary diets, screw media messages about fitness and exercise, screw size charts. Screw the what-the-hell-effect and the shame it brings, screw destructive fat-shaming. Your body holds a natural wisdom, so listen to it and above all: be patient with yourself. If you’re over-weight right now or feel over-weight, either way the solution can never be to hate food or stress yourself out (for whom are you stressing anyway?). Give yourself time to learn anew, find out which foods literally make you feel happy and energized – start there! Don’t deny but allow variety and allow yourself to indulge or fail without that what-the-hell-effect taking over full force. It may well be the only thing standing between you and your success.

Taking time and not giving up after “missteps” is generally how people successfully change eating habits and disorders. Banning perfectionism has become an important exercise for me personally. My relationship with food has changed for the better when I discovered that I can actually “eat anything” if I eat without stress (or guilt), including things I used to deny myself. Rather than gorging down a huge bowl of socially accepted green unsatisfying stuff with lots of sauce, I’ll order whatever I crave; more often than not it’s a wholesome choice too because my body actually wants red, yellow, green and brown on my plate. Unsurprisingly this has led to eating less overall, as in snacking less, because I don’t feel I’m wanting. My natural diet is varied and I’ve stopped over-eating when I stopped denial, as well as mindless eating which is probably the biggest culprit of all.

fearIt’s a good place to be at, if not a safe place. Old habits die hard as do internalized fears but I am more aware of them now; I know perseverance is key to starving them out and I refuse to re-enter that unhappy relationship with food. Food is our body’s fuel and the body is not divorced from the mind. Food is also part of countless social interactions and situations in our daily life. I want to enjoy this part of my life and I want to “be present” when I eat, be it by myself or with others. Life is too short to keep missing and fearing such a big and delicious part of it, surely!

#Blaugust2016: Bullied

Welcome to my Blaugust 2016! As announced, there will be a month of rather personal and non-gaming related writing happening on this blog – if that’s not your thing, see you in September! To everyone else: /wave and happy blaugusting!

This post is dedicated to my Burns – for always seeing with the heart and not turning away from a smelly bundle of white fur.

finneymouse01

Finney Mouse

We adopted our third cat Finn, also called Finney Longshanks for his curiously flexible front legs, in June 2015. Like our other two cats whom we found via online shelters and cat networks, Finney was a rescue cat but his story was a little different: Finney was put up for adoption by his breeder, rather than some agency or cat rescue. He is half Maine Coon and half Norwegian Forest cat and by now, he is our other Norwegian’s (who is all black) best pal which was our plan all along.

Finney’s white coat is the result of a natural mutation as is the case with many white cats. He is not an albino but he was born into a litter of brown, grey and black colored coon mixes, all of them slightly bigger and hunkier than him. In the online ad the breeder lady noted that Finney was “hearing” which was the time I learned that a great majority of white and blue-eyed cats are actually deaf. The same gene that causes their blue eyes is often causing deafness too. Finney however has light green eyes, the color of fresh grass and so he can hear just fine.

He is the perfect cat; friendly and talkative to strangers, a happy over-active rascal at times (he loves dog games like retrieving), goofy and so very very affectionate. He was also bullied by his siblings and the other cats, which is why his breeder decided to put him up for adoption.

finneytired

2015: Finney’s first night at the new home, so tired!

When we got Finney, he didn’t have the long and glamorous coon coat and collar he has today. His fur was shorter and shaggy. There were bald spots all across his back where he was either hurt by others or had scratched himself. He smelled horribly when we got him, so badly in fact our bedroom, which became his first refuge, smelled of unhealthy fur for weeks. We washed him twice, just to take the edge off. Whenever cats stop taking care of their personal hygiene, you know something is very very wrong.

Lordshanks

2016: Lord Whitemane, “don’t hate me because I’m beautiful”

Fast forward one year later, after a patient adjustment phase with our other two darling cats and with lots of play, joy and love Finney has become the star of every party. He prances about the house like the king he is and all our guests fall in love with him in a heartbeat. For whatever reason, he decided my side of the bed and my PC chair are the best places to sleep. I love him too.

Finney is purrfect in every way and I am not even sorry about the bad pun.

When we were little

Watching Finney make himself at home and bloom into the character he is today has made me reflect a lot on my own story of bullying and the stories of countless others. He was born a healthy and social animal but his peer group rejected, nagged and chased him off because of the color of his coat and maybe his slightly more delicate physique. He was isolated and depressed which fortunately, led his breeder to adoption.

But there is no mercy in the animal kingdom any more than there is among humans at times. When I grew up and went through six years of elementary school nightmare in the late 80ies, bullying wasn’t a topic that was frequently discussed, not even by teachers. I felt so isolated and alone not knowing how many people out there shared my predicament. Many of my friends today and folk I met online have similar stories of social ostracization to tell. I don’t know if that’s a coincidence; do we gravitate towards one another or is bullying just so pervasive in our society? I wonder too if much has changed at schools since, but I doubt it. In this age of cyber bullying, there’s still silence and stigma around the topic and not enough raising awareness along the lines of To This Day.

The reasons for bullying seem different but at heart are always the same. I don’t think it matters really why you were bullied: your looks, your clothes, the way you talk, your family, your grades – these are all just pretexts and shallow explanations. I was bullied for a variety of such reasons, sometimes total opposites, yet at the heart of it was difference– being somehow different combined with being in a minority, in a weaker position relative to a larger peer group.

You’ll find people who experienced bullying in all walks of life and on every side of the spectrum: too smart – not smart enough, too pretty – not pretty, rich – poor, short – tall, dark – fair, foreign – local, introvert – extrovert. There’s no rule to it other than one person finding themselves in the unfortunate situation of standing apart and without an exit route in sight. Bullies fear and envy as often as they hate and despise, they come in all flavors.

59f69e73a28282ef982335e5b92e3589

My mother who has a very different personality from me and who is the rolemodel teacher I always thought I’d become, got bullied all the way up to adulthood. She once told me that it’s not just the bullied who never forget but bullies too; that they remember their acts always and often regret them. I somehow doubt that’s true as a rule but when she attended her highschool reunion only a few months ago after much deliberation, she came back from an evening of late closure. A whole bunch of her old male colleagues, now grey-haired and retired, came up to tell her “I’m sorry I was such a dick”. I was happy for her. None of her female colleagues apologized.

Bullying affects us in life, sometimes for as long as it affected my mother. The old saying of “sticks and stones” was coined by a person who never suffered any bullying or other verbal and mental abuse in their life. Some are lucky to overcome the after-effects of bullying or escape relatively unscathed; for others it remains a deeply unsettling and destructive experience which alters their behavior and expectations in social contexts. I consider myself fortunate that after six years of tummy aches before school in the morning, I escaped my social environment by leaving for the Gymnasium. From that moment in time, my entire social life took a 180° degree turn – just like that. Suddenly I belonged, when I had done absolutely nothing different. I still talked the same, dressed the same, looked the same but everything else had changed. Like Finney, I had been adopted by the right environment, for me.

From there, my self-confidence was allowed to recover and prosper. I’ve had nothing but good to great times at college and university and I am thankful they overwrote much of what I had gone through before and put things into perspective: I didn’t cause the bullying. It wasn’t a fault within me and I did not deserve it. None of us do.

Thank god for growing up and becoming more independent and free to save yourself and find your own people.

No Retrospective Rationalization

These days I carry scars from bullying but no aching wounds. I frankly don’t care to attend school reunions but neither do I feel personally encumbered anymore by the cruelty I experienced as a ground schooler. I could talk about how bullying may have added to my personal independence and self-confidence later in life, or how it’s made me protective of others – but that conclusion would be fatal and is one I chose not to make. All of us who are here are survivors; we’ve been through dark times, some of us more than others, and our pain has forced us to grow. Yet as much as it is in my nature to look at upsides, I would always choose not to be bullied at all. Ever.

And not everyone who was bullied at a point in their life gets a chance to rewrite that history. Bullying is hard to prevent and even harder to stop when in full motion, even for someone in close proximity. However in the age of the internet, that fickle beast, we’re given an amazing chance to connect with others, discover similar stories and hear about people overcoming adversity. You can reach out, you can make yourself known and be there to listen. Or you can tell your own story so somebody out there may know they are not alone, that it’s not their fault and that they won’t be stuck in that wrong place for all time.

Sometimes the difference between hope and despair is touching a single other mind that knows.

Off-Topic: The Day Books went away

There used to be a time when all my free moments were filled with reading trilogies, quintets and even septets of books. Whatever great new fantasy series came in sight, I got them. Alternatively, classics and poetry in German and English. On weekends, a book a day wasn’t a rare occasion. I’d get one-volume editions for everything too, monstrous tomes I’d carry around with me to Uni every day while commuting. Two thirds of the space in my student flea bag were taken up by whatever novel I was reading at the time – and don’t even try talking to me in the train or bus compartment!

I needed books, studied books, books were all around me. While I was living off cornflakes and instant noodles, I spent whatever money I had left after rent and food on collector’s editions and illustrated novels. I was (and am) cheap about almost every other expense in my life but never literature. There is inherent value in words put down for eternity.

I have barely read 10 books this entire year of 2015, I can’t even remember. Half of them must’ve been short story collections, too. The year before was even worse than that. I blame game-related activities such as blogging, podcasting and twitter taking over the past decade, yet it’s not like I am not also keeping up with other media like TV shows. And so I marvel – what ever has happened to me and books? My evergreens and favourites are still neatly arranged on many a shelf on my walls, so why is it so hard for new series to pique my interest? Why do I feel so burnt out and more of the same?

It’s like books take too much effort now, starting with how to pick one. Have I become one of those instant gratification kids that don’t have the attention span for literature anymore and only consume visual or narrated media?? What a dreadful thought!

Lovely wonderful books, I miss you…. :(

Now not so never-ending...

Now not so never-ending…

P.S. Yes, two off-topic posts in a row! I must be outgrowing game blogging now too! *panic*

Off-Topic: I hate Platitudes

The other day I was witness to an all too familiar situation at work: a co-worker of mine just went through a personal loss that came with some added complications, the kind of crap that’s hard to listen to and therefore harder to experience. Sometimes life makes no sense. Quite often in fact, things are just one major parade of suck and as a bystander, all you can or should do is be there and lend and ear.

Of course that never stops someone piping up with old age wisdom; “it happens for a reason”, “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”, “time heals all wounds” and any misbegotten, infuriating variations thereof. There’s a word in my native German tongue for these kinds of worn-out platitudes: “worthülsen”, literally “word husks”. Empty shells of words that touch nothing.

Platitude

It’s not just that phrases like these are often ill-timed but they’re trivializing in a way that may deeply offend the person affected. They’re lies too: it’s evidently untrue that all psychological (or physical) wounds heal or that every experience ends up making you “stronger”. As for someone in the process of mourning, dealing with trauma or some other life-altering struggle, usually the last thing they need to hear is that shitty things make them stronger or have a reason – which suggests, intentionally or not, that this is somehow an experience worth having or being thankful for.

No, it fucking ain’t! If someone lost a limb in an accident or watched a loved one fade away slowly under excruciating pain, there’s is no deep meaning in that experience. “Oh I survived this shit, yay?” – Come on. There may be more indirect, less horrible side-effects way, way further down the road but that is a different matter entirely. People suffering are not “chosen” by anyone, there’s no benevolent masterplan – certainly none I would willingly subscribe to. Tangentially, I have no problem with belief in a higher power but spare me rationalizing other people’s tragedies because god’s will. Spare me also all these religiously motivated platitudes that even the most secular society can’t seem to shake completely in everyday language:

  • ora et labora (work ethics…work work peon)
  • turn the other cheek
  • be good in this life…erm

/side-rant: Only the most evil of masterminds could come up with this stuff in order to maintain power over the gullible. Work and pray all day – so there is no time or energy left to form independent thought or organize gatherings (beware idleness, sloth etc.). Turn the other cheek – don’t retaliate against anyone, including those who would fool, exploit and harm you and yours (don’t lie to them either…you’re not supposed to lie to anyone, no idea why not). Wait for no rewards in this life. Seriously? Tyrant for dummies 101. /close side-rant

The thing is – I get the rationalizing part, I do! I actually believe it’s one of our greater cognitive abilities as human beings, that we can look for a positive in anything, in retrospective. If you can get to that point for yourself after a long journey, more power to you! That doesn’t mean you couldn’t have done without that horrible event in the first place.

I suspect that as a society, we’re so fearful of the darker sides of life, there’s almost an unconscious reflex to turn the light on. Yet pain, sadness and anger have their time and place and can’t be rushed. In fact, it would make so many things easier if we learned to share painful moments more naturally, in an environment that feels no need to rush difficult emotions or put a label on them.

If you’re looking to help someone, the first step is to respect pain. Respect it as part of everyone’s life and someone’s personal journey. Don’t feel awkward or embarrassed in the face of pain, don’t feel the urge to gloss it over with platitudes. Don’t think all pain needs to be cheered up (by you). Resist your inner fairy godmother.

Instead, just be there. May be the other person will find closure further down the line. May be that they don’t. Whatever happens, they are entitled to feel whatever it is they’re feeling, no matter how hopeless it may seem to you or how glum. Sometimes just being there and letting someone feel they are not alone in this world, is the greatest kindness you can do for them. And listening takes very few words at all.

Off-Topic: Ramblings on Careers, Self-Confidence and the Future

This is a personal post mostly about me. If you’ve no interest in me or what I do for a living, come back another time!

It’s been a wild week ever since resigning my current position as HR business partner last Friday. I took it on myself to tell all of my close clients personally, because the relationships I have established over my time here deserved no less. The feedback was overwhelming and both motivating and emotionally difficult. I’m not used to such an amount of sympathy or people in leadership positions becoming misty eyed at the prospect of my departure. Then again, I have also never before worked anywhere with the same degree of personal commitment; it’s true that you need to invest yourself in order to get something back. All that said life goes on of course, in business there’s no such thing as being irreplaceable. I like that about it, it’s honest about the facts of life.

That leaves me with returning to the open road and hunting my next prospect, as I always have. I am leaving a stable, safe environment and good relationships behind not because I am not content but I am no longer motivated (a difference that is best explained by Herzberg’s two-factor theory on motivation). What I do for a living has stopped being just a job, what I seek is challenge and fulfilment. I spend a great deal of time working and expect a high performance of myself – but not for free. And free is not just about salaries, it’s the whole package. It’s like the difference between a great MMORPG and a lacklustre one: you can have fun with the second for a time but in the end, you’re left wanting for the more well-rounded world. And as long as we have the means, why should we content ourselves with anything less?

I am incredibly grateful for the last few years. They have been fruitful in so many ways, not just because they advanced me but because I have learned such a great deal about myself. I’ve learned what I do not want anymore. And I’ve learned that there’s a place for someone like me, with my skillset and personality which is not as naturally accepted in women as it is in men. Time and time again I had to fight for my voice, especially a frank and dissenting one sometimes, one that challenges those your peers don’t dare challenge. Here’s a secret: they love it when you do, they find it so refreshing. It took a moment to gain people’s trust but once I had, they appreciated and respected me for how I am. I didn’t need to play a part and maybe for the first time ever, I feel completely confident in myself. Love it or leave it, this destroyer of worlds is embracing herself. And say what you want about other people’s judgement, it feels damn nice to have them in your corner!

bc

Unfortunately or luckily, I can’t stay anywhere when there are no new targets and old routine sets in. I’ve known this for a while, that I require a vision of my future, a next step or goal lest I become very unwell. After I finished my University degree, I fell into a deep hole. Before I decided to switch careers four years ago, I was in existential crisis. Where do I go from here – what am I hunting next? It doesn’t even matter what the dream is, just have one and work your ass off. I don’t always stick to the course but I need a sense of direction, forward forward always forward. Most of us need to earn their passage and just hang in there, climb up a little at a time and be bold when switching jobs. A new position shouldn’t be all about what you already know and can do, it should contain things you’ve yet to learn. I’ve recruited qualified staff for a while now for different branches, and one comment by our head of IT stuck with me when one day, he told me about his findings concerning female candidates (which are rare still in IT): “The difference is that men boldly apply for a job even if they can’t fully do it yet, whereas women wait a long time and think they have to be perfect before they apply for the job.” Such unexpected insight.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”

The next three months will be about vetting different positions not for other people but for myself. Being a major geek, I am hoping to land back in the IT world which is among the more progressive and dynamic environments. I’ve not given up hope to work with people someday that are at least a little nerdy and into tech. I also look forward to using my English skills again and maybe work more project-based, specializing further. Further further…..but first, I’ll take a month off to travel! I am after all, also an explorer at heart and it’s the open, undestined road that keeps me sane in MMOs too. Such a contradiction or maybe just a complementary necessity? I seem to exist best at extreme ends of a spectrum and already as a child, boredom was my nemesis. I grew up performing under constant stress that was none of my choosing, I learned how to escape but I still need the stress even today – pressure, challenge and overcoming fear are what I know. It’s a sobering analyzis that one, how I was made but each of us has their own genesis. Understanding mine has helped me accept what I need. Once you can do that, it frees up energy for other things and you’ll likely make better choices for yourself. What we need and what we want blah. Life is messy!

Fingers crossed.

Off-Topic: Musings on losing my Phone and Patience

Last Friday I „lost“ my cellphone somewhere between work and home and was unable to retrieve it until today. I spent a good part of my weekend frantically turning the apartment upside down to my partner’s chagrin, because the potential loss of my phone is the stuff of nightmares. Years of messages, personal notes and photographs from all over the world could’ve ended up in some ditch or worse, a stranger’s pocket. The fact that my car battery also decided to die on me yesterday morning on my way to work didn’t make things better – I have no other phone line beside my cellphone and so I ended up emailing people at work like some maniac (there is the assumption that everyone has a phone and therefore must also be able to use it, no pressure!) while rushing to the local car garage on foot at 8am. And I am not a morning person, mornings are for other people.

Am losing my shit

Losing my shit

When I was finally able to recover my phone at work today, where some fairy must’ve found it and put it in my personal locker, I cried proverbial tears of joy. Dear phone, I MISSED YOU SO MUCH! In this day and age we’ve come to rely on our mobile communication gadgets in a way that frightens me a little. What is all this doing to me?

On the erosion of patience being the erosion of skill

While I was still jubilating my phone’s recovery during coffee break, I came across an interview with Nicholas Carr, bestselling author of “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains”, in a weekly feuilleton I like to read and which is literally the last remnant of print media in my life. Carr critically discusses the omnipresence of digital media and our reliance on and obsession with connectivity. So far, not exactly a fresh angle on the internet age. However, the interview became more interesting when he started referencing studies on what the ever increasing speed of information and interaction does to our brains: how we expect faster reactions and feedback from webpages/email/people, how our frustration threshold for wait times is decreasing as we grow more demanding yet less focused, valuing instant gratification while losing our ability for patience.

And unlearning the ability for patience/focus or never exercising it in the first place, is a bigger issue than one might think. It’s not just about dealing with all the extra (peer) pressure created by new media. Carr goes on to explain the skilldrain accompanying this age of technology, where gadgets have stopped enabling or improving personal growth and skill development but rather replace them entirely. Instead of learning from an early age that acquiring and exercising certain skills takes time for practice and repetition, we are tempted to leave such effort to technology altogether, especially if it’s faster. This is the case when kids can’t do mental math anymore but require a calculator to add two-digit numbers together or when we’re incapable of navigating traffic without a GPS device. These are not positive examples of technology improving our lives but instead, examples of them taking over. It creates a dependability that is risky and potentially harmful. Which is not to say that technology doesn’t do an awful lot of wonderful things, too – it should however not make the education of a versatile and well-trained mind obsolete.

This is where I am personally grateful that I grew up before the complete takeover of mobile tech and uber-connectivity. I consider myself a digital native due to my upbringing around video games but I was in my late teens when the internet happened. I am also part of a now bygone generation of “classically trained” college students within the Swiss academic system. That means I was part of a crowd that primarily learned to question, interpret, analyze and debate with strong focus on language learning, literature, art, history and other humanistic disciplines such as philosophy or religion/theology. I spent 7 years studying latin along with three other language majors (plus all the natural sciences and art subjects) before moving on to specialize at university. I sat in archways in the beautiful city of Bern sketching old church towers and got to spend time in museums and dusty city archives. Thanks to all of this, I believe I am a pro at educating myself; I am very fortunate and privileged that my school was still the “we help you to help yourself”-kind and that there was diversity taught for the sake of diversity. Of course I didn’t quite see it that way at the time.

I realize that with growing economic pressures too, schools are less and less allowed that much room for “frivolous subjects”. There’s a plethora of studies and articles out there right now on how the school system is old-fashioned and not in tune with modern times and demands. Apparently productive adulthood can’t start soon enough, which is somewhat ironic given that we only just discovered the importance of childhood in the early 20th century. Where is this going? Without all this time and patience for learning in my curriculum, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I wonder if I’d play games differently too – after all, there’s a very strong parallel here to the more slowed-down and exploratory playstyle I prefer in MMOs, as opposed to bite-sized themeparks full of reward and achievements that require shorter attention spans. Maybe my gameplay preferences too are shaped by my upbringing? I don’t know, I am thinking out loud here.

As an ex-educator, it does concern me that schools offer less time for children to focus on developing their own skillsets from scratch, rather than being productive and job-ready as fast as possible. But maybe this is really the times we live in and there’s no point in fighting the takeover by technological optimization (it’s already happened to manual work). Maybe being impatient is the new green and I am sounding like my grandparents. Or maybe “go with the flow” is some defeatist thinking right there.

I retweeted this image. Yes, I realize the irony.

I retweeted this image. Yes, I realize the irony.

What I do know is that every time  I have willingly unplugged during holidays in the past, it was simply amazing. There are few times a year when I don’t read email and hardly use social media platforms, reducing all social stimuli to a minimum except for the ones of my immediate environment. Once the transition is done and I am sitting at a lake somewhere breathing the sun, it feels great – like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. It’s as if my outward senses are recovering. And yet these are connections I do treasure and maintain around the year, which is the conflicting part. How do these things fit together? What’s more real?

I think I need to get back to answering some emails.

Off-Topic: Questions I have no Answer to

This is an off-topic post written at work. Sorry it ain’t too happy.

There is a young guy at the clinic I work for that I come across ever so often on my way to the cafeteria or when meeting clients. He must be around 20 years old although I can’t exactly tell. Like many of the more longtime residents, he likes hanging in the park and talking to random people. Every time I see him, I don’t know quite what to expect. Some days he ignores me, on others he waves at me greeting me like an old acquaintance. On other days he’s raving loudly, so I pass by not saying anything. I know quite a few people who are afraid of him, taking a detour whenever he comes in sight. Some are nervous or just indifferent. That’s not a judgement of any of these reactions as not everyone employed at the clinic is equipped or meant to directly engage with patients. Naturally this is an environment dedicated to their care but that doesn’t mean everybody down to the frontdesk person knows exactly how. For most of the support staff, the patients remain firmly on the other side of daily business. The young man raving in the park is just another voice they’ll hear outside a window.

I guess what makes it different for me in his case, is that I know this young guy was once upon a time somebody’s son and someone’s brother. I know not his name but I know that he was sound of body and mind. He probably obsessed over brands and baggy pants (he still wears giant hiphop attire and bling), hated his teachers and dreamed of a sweetheart somewhere. Until one day a car accident killed his entire family and left him all alone and forlorn in this world. I wonder if he remembers the accident that left him a sole survivor. I wonder if he remembers that he once had parents and siblings. I wonder most, if it matters if he doesn’t.

Now the clinic is his home. The staff that look after him to the best of their ability. The park and the people in it who take a detour whenever he comes in sight. I don’t want to pity him because pity is a patronizing emotion and I have no idea how the world looks like through his two eyes. He may be as happy or unhappy as the next person, there’s no way I could know. Yet I’m still gutted by his story, I can’t help that. I am sad that he will probably never again be in full charge of his own life. But then, am I? Should we even look at different lives in this way, as if there was one preferable way of living?

I don’t know. These are difficult questions.

Life is a painful journey but we can walk together

This is an editorial post unrelated to gaming, MMOs and all the silly things that also make me happy.

Last Friday night I got together with my oldest friend for dinner after a long stretch of radio silence. Silence not just from my side – ever since worklife has caught up with us after leaving university, the periods of not seeing each other have grown longer. I’ve come to accept this about adulthood; that we all get caught up in our private and professional lives, people moving away or getting married, changing jobs and struggling with all the daily tasks and responsibilities. We all do our best to stay in control but there are times when it’s hard to muster any more energy after the day is done. Before we know it, we start existing and stop living. That is especially true for those who are used to shoulder much more than just their share.

The overlaps of history between my friend and me are remarkable. Not only has life insisted on continuously bringing us together time and again ever since we were both 9 and 10 years old, as if our own winding paths could never part for long, I have also never known anyone to share that much of my own biography, so many experiences and constellations that made us who we are now. It’s this kinship that wipes whatever time away that may have passed between meetings. As long as we keep having these regular brushes, even per SMS or email, our friendship endures. That said, longer stretches of silence are usually a bad sign. That is certainly true for the extrovert types that we both are, who insist on functioning no matter what and have never learned to share their own pain, only share in the pain of others.

The moment she stepped into my new home, I felt it. She looked pale, she talked differently. She was like a tired shadow of her other version. I showed her around, I poured a drink wondering how best to catch up. And as usual, it didn’t take long – over the course of dinner I got to tell her what a rotten year lies behind me, how my partner finally started therapy for a complex case of childhood PTSD and how things are slowly improving for the both of us, step by step. I don’t hold back on these topics anymore; I’ve come to know too many wonderful people struggling with anxiety disorders or depression, to maintain any sort of shyness or tolerance for stigma around these discussions. Fuck stigma. Fuck the whole masquerade. Life is raw and deep and painful whenever it stops being easy.

I’m done wasting my time with false pretenses. When my partner decided to tell the world (as in all relevant environment such as friends and the workplace) that he had been suffering for over thirty years and that he was dealing with things now, in a serious manner by whatever help necessary, my heart ached with pride because he decided to stop hiding. When I think of how medication-based therapy enabled my mother to build a second life from scratch after the age of 55, when the alternative would have been death or hospitalisation most likely, there is only thankfulness in me and empathy. It’s such a huge step to get yourself help and turn your life around, no matter a more introvert or extrovert type of personality. Only you can do it and the pain tends to get worse before it gets better.

Opening up about these issues broke whatever fabric my old friend had wrapped around her pale exterior. She’s been going through her first ever rough patch that is in fact about herself. She’s a nervous wreck, she can’t sleep at night for all the noise in her head, she’s experienced several anxiety attacks at the new work place. Her body is acting up. After a life of achieving and caring and carrying, she’s finally stretched so thin that her entire system starts revolting. She’s being forced to focus on her own needs and she has no idea yet how to do this. Her first instincts are probably to write a list of priorities and weigh the pros and cons, so yeah she needs help…I was very glad to hear she’s already reached out about this to her GP.

It’s all so familiar. The moment my partner finally and earnestly got into therapy (which took three attempts), my energy levels completely rock bottomed. I got sick with serious infection several times in a row and my nerves deserted me even on trivial tasks. I have never felt as spent. That is the aftermath of overcoming hardship more often than not – it’s not sunshine and cheerfulness, it’s a deep well of exhaustion. Before you can move on, you have to breathe out and recuperate.

We’ll learn. Today I believe in baby steps, in cherishing lighthearted moments when they occur. I still look forward to things but I don’t plan so much anymore. I let things happen rather than making them – I am learning to chill. My friend is currently at the stage of debating whether she should tell her superior or not and if she can get a grip with “just a few GP sessions”. She worries about coming across as unprofessional when sharing too much about her life and well-being and I don’t blame her. But I also know that there are things you cannot hide from others. You can try of course but it won’t do you any good. When you reached the point where a condition or illness temporary or otherwise, manages your life, it is an impossible task to maintain the act. More importantly however, you are missing out; you’re missing out on reactions that will surprise and humble you. From the moment we open up about what is essentially our human condition, people around us will come out and connect. I have co-experienced this twice now and it’s stunning. Truth liberates, there is magic in being truthful about yourself. It also means you’re taking back ownership of your life by switching on the light in those dark corners. What we keep in the dark makes us sick. When we further isolate ourselves from others, we cut away all opportunity.

No matter where you are, in this moment there are people around you with the same struggles, keeping quiet about the same things. The minute you come forth, there’s a high chance of experiencing togetherness, empathy and support from unexpected places rather than rejection. And inadvertently, you will become someone else’s spring of hope, too. It’s as if everyone was just waiting for a chance to chime in. This is life and it’s happening to everybody! If you think you’re immune to it, I say give it time.

I am glad I was able to support my friend in her time of need. She’s already tough but now she’ll also learn to be human – and that is an experience worth having. Last night my partner and I came across Wil Wheaton’s contribution to the “UR OK” project on youtube and we were both deeply moved by his words that describe much of what we’ve been through. It’s not over, every day is another step on the journey. There will be days of pain and more growth and there will be days of joy and not feeling bad, until we realize that this journey is really just life. And we can all walk together.