[Editor’s note: We mistakenly ran an earlier, unfinished version of this piece. We regret the error.]
(Note: This is the intersection of some of my life experiences and Penny Arcade’s The Sixth Slave. It’s not meant to represent anyone else’s experiences/conclusions, just mine.)
It’s really very simple; I already have a long list of things for which I am entirely culpable. I’ve made a fragile peace with that.
It’s not something I generally talk about, these days, but I’ll provide you with a few examples.
Firstly, many years ago, my several, male flatmates sent me on a date with their friend. I went to see a show with the guy. Unfortunately, he was wearing the wrong sweater of the wrong color and the wrong texture. How can a sweater be so wrong? You’ll have to trust me. It was just wrong, very wrong.
After sitting down, and his sweater brushing my arm, I told him I was going to the bathroom. I wasn’t. Instead, I left the venue and sprinted several miles back to my flat.
The guy turned up on the doorstep shortly afterwards and my flatmates asked him to leave. (Even though he was their friend and even though they didn’t know what had happened. They were good like that. But, nothing had happened. He just wore the wrong sweater.)
Do I feel bad for running out on that guy? (Even though it happened many years ago?) Yes. Should I have offered my flatmates an explanation? Yes. Did I do something mean to a guy who just wanted to go on a nice date? Yes.
Here is an even worse example. I went through a promiscuous period around the same time of my life. There was a guy I got together with. It was consensual. I told one of his female friends that it wasn’t. Why? I wanted to know what it felt like to accuse someone of that. Neither of those two people ever spoke to me again.
Again, yes. I feel bad. Very bad. Still. (It’s partly how I know never to do it again.)
Then there’s drinking. I drank way too much for way too long. I did some stupid stuff when I was drunk. Once more, my fault, my problem to solve.
Also, I used guys who I knew liked me, while knowing I didn’t like them the same way. I got into an abusive relationship. I cheated on a partner.
I accept responsibility for all of these things. I did them. In some cases, I tried to make amends. Most of these things happened a long time ago, though.
Recently, I took the grand step of explicitly apologizing for something much more quickly. It’s not that I wasn’t sorry for all of the prior things, just that it’s really hard to admit fault when you’re so ashamed of your behavior. This incident involved a male friend, who I absolutely berated (that’s an understatement, but I really can’t find the right word) for making an innocent, but unfortunately-innuendo-laden joke. It was several months and a weird, lucky coincidence before he forgave me, though. I’m incredibly grateful that he did because he’s a really good person. Have I forgiven myself for that one? Nope. Will I? Can’t picture it.
No, I don’t have a great track record for behavior. What I can assure you is that I’ve spent many tens of thousands of dollars of my own, hard-earned money in therapy, trying to find other ways to express myself, trying to find peace, rather than hurt people.
There’s an elephant in my room. Maybe you’ve already figured that out, especially if you’re a bit like me yourself.
Do I feel responsible for the things that happened to me as a young teenager? That’s very difficult to answer. I wanted it, or some of it, at least to start with. I’ve also talked, at great length with therapists, about how this wasn’t my fault and how it’s very common to feel as if it was. It’s still hard to shake. What happened to me? None of your damn business.
But, when I found myself in a moment similar to the one depicted in The Sixth Slave, in real life, still young, asking a trusted friend to liberate me, my hero also refused. (I’ve since reconciled with said, real-life hero. He was out of his depth and I can forgive that. I can even forgive the, years later, investigating officers who so sensitively explained they couldn’t proceed due to a lack of corroborating evidence.)
It’s not the comic that worries me, particularly. I’m a gamer. I get it. Quest objectives are silly.
It’s my original point; I already have a long list of things for which I am culpable.
Penny Arcade received feedback about The Sixth Slave. I didn’t provide any, but my thanks go to those who did. (Did people abuse Penny Arcade in the process of providing feedback? I really have no idea. I’d be a pretty big hypocrite if I told anyone to behave better, or differently, though.)
I couldn’t care less about eliciting sympathy. I’m not saying I think I’m somehow better than the people at Penny Arcade because I endeavor to be responsible for my actions, either. I do my best. I have no idea if they’re doing their best. But, surely, if you have the guts to make the joke, have the guts to understand its impact.
I haven’t shared, in this piece, the damage (and subsequent healing) this current rehash of the situation caused me. Why? I don’t want them to know, not them, not now. And, I will handle it myself, like I handle everything myself. They can ask, if they want to know.
The whole sequence of events following The Sixth Slave suggests to me that, instead of this being an opportunity to gain a richer understanding into the lives of those affected by these kinds of things, it’s been easier for them to simply deflect blame mostly back towards people like me, or people who are concerned about people like me. Or, bizarrely, even back towards the people who want to “open the wound (they created) back up”, through demanding the right to buy shirts they made.
Quietly not enjoying any of this is not something that I’ve done wrong. They’re not things I, or people like me, or people who care about people like me, should need to add to a potentially already long, and very heavy, list of culpability. (And, I’ve done much worse things than not finding a comic funny, remember?)
I’ve been to PAX. I enjoyed it immensely. I also love games more than anyone I know. (And I know a lot of people who love games.) There are some things in life, however, that are more important than games and comics. This is one of them.
Trust Yourself and Listen
by: Dennis Scimeca
One of the scariest parts of being mentally ill based on my experience and from the stories of people I’ve talked to who also suffer from mental illness, is getting into therapy. It’s a choice that’s loaded with stigmatic judgments, and that makes it so easy to think something is wrong with us. It can be terrifying to think about completely opening up about all the stuff going on in our heads which, if we’ve shared it with other people, might have frightened or horrified them. The possibility of taking meds inspires fear that we may become someone entirely different than who we are.
I’ve never met someone currently in therapy, or who was in therapy in the past, who said that the decision to seek help was easy. When I ask people why they finally went for help the answer has been just as consistent. They got tired of feeling the way they were feeling, they say, whether it was depression or anxiety or mood instability. They listened to the part of themselves that said, “We don’t have to put up with this anymore.”
Going into therapy or any other kind of treatment ultimately has to be our choice. Therapy is hard work, and unless we’re engaging with it of our own free will, in my experience, its effectiveness is always limited. If I can encourage you to do anything it’s to listen to any voice within yourself that says it’s time to seek help, because I wish I’d listened to it so much earlier than I did.
My parents realized something was wrong much earlier than I was willing to admit it to myself. The first time they sent me to a therapist was when I was 15. I wasn’t just a typically surly, moody teenager. There was something else on top of that, an instability that led to violent bouts of anger and dark depressions, and it scared them. They didn’t ask if I wanted to talk with anybody about what was going on. They just sent me off to the therapist’s office because they thought it would help, and they didn’t know what else to do.
I remember sitting in a high-backed, cushiony chair next to a table filled with knick-knacks, like animals made of colored glass. I spent most of my time fidgeting with the glass animals instead of paying close attention to what the therapist was asking me. When she gave me a paper test evaluation I breezed through it without taking time to really think about the answers.
I didn’t want to be there. When I’d told a classmate earlier that day that I was going to therapy, a classmate I thought was a friend, he threw me a disgusted look and said “Get away from me!”
A girl in our junior high school was emotionally disturbed. She used to lose her temper in the morning before classes began, throwing chairs at the kids in the lunchroom crunching out the homework they should have done the night before. Everyone teased her to her face and called her a freak behind her back. Sitting in that therapist’s chair, I felt like a freak as well, and didn’t want any part of it.
I only remember having the one session. I don’t know whether it was because the therapist reported back that I was uncooperative, or because by being uncooperative I was giving no sign that I was having problems beyond what any 15 year old boy might be having at that age. Even though I would spend high school swinging between bouts of suicidal depression and manic ranting about hating the world, that single session was the closest I ever came to getting the treatment that, looking back on it now, I clearly needed.
It wasn’t until I was 26 that I voluntarily went to see a therapist, after a counselor in my grad school’s health care center offered a recommendation if I wanted it. I’d been a drug addict for seven years, self medicating my mania and depression away. I’d been the abused in an abusive relationship and ruined another relationship of my own accord, but had finally met someone I genuinely loved and wanted to be with. I’d wasted an entire year of graduate school getting high and had to work full time at an office job before transferring to another program at a different school so that I could start all over again. I hated that job so much that I started using drugs more than ever before.
So when I started the new graduate school program and was by then living with my girlfriend, I decided that I’d had enough. My mother had been in therapy for years and I’d seen it work for her first hand. She helped me get past the shame of feeling like going to therapy was an admission that I was intrinsically broken, or the fear that therapy would somehow change me into someone I didn’t recognize.
I began an intense three-year program of four days a week psychoanalysis, psycho pharmaceutical treatment, and then maintenance therapy which continues to this day.
I’m healthy. I don’t use drugs. I practice self awareness and gratitude, and I’m not perfect at either, but I’ve felt them improve my life so I keep at both practices. I’ve managed a modicum of success as a freelance writer, which offers me types of stress I never could have dealt with before I was in treatment. I’ve even had a daily exercise regimen for the past month, which is something I thought would happen around the time Hell froze over.
Mental illness doesn’t go away. Those of us who suffer from it have to be mindful of our depression or anxiety or mood swings well after treatment allows us to live a “normal” life, whatever that means for different people, if we’re fortunate enough for treatment to be successful. We may have to keep working hard in treatment to claim that relative normalcy or to keep it in our possession, but it’s possible to reach a point where mental illness doesn’t have to dominate our lives. We don’t have to be mastered by whatever ailment we suffer from. We can fight back.
That means listening to the voice that tells us we can. Hopefully, as you realize that you’re not alone, you’ll also realize that there is no shame in seeking help. That we’re not responsible for any stigmas around our conditions, and that really the problem isn’t with us, it’s with anyone who lacks the compassion to care. The voice that said you don’t have to put up with feeling the way you’re feeling may get louder as you realize all of this.
I try not to regret, as part of my practice of living in the moment. I’m not very good at either, but I keep trying. I can’t help but wonder, all the time, how my life would have been different had I been open to listening to that voice when I was 15 years old. If you can hear that voice, listen closely. It’s not a voice that reproves for not getting into treatment up until then. It’s a voice that cares about you and offers hope.
Listen to it.
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Take This FAQ, September 2013
Take This FAQ 9/13
It’s now nearing the Take This Project’s one-year anniversary and I know a lot of you are curious to know where we’re at with various things.
We’ve also just come from a successful PAX Prime where we held a panel with such luminaries as Jeff Green, Mike Neumann and our own Janelle Bonanno and Ashly Burch. It was a great event and I think we touched a lot of people.
Unfortunately that event was not without controversy (or else it wouldn’t be PAX), and that, too is something we’ve been busy addressing.
So I wanted to provide the following FAQ for everyone so that you might have a clearer picture of where we are with the project, where we aim to be in the future and how you can help us get there.
Thanks again for your continued support of Take This.
What is the Take This Project mission?
Take This provides empathy, resources, and a safe fellowship for members of the video game community who are dealing with mental health issues.
That’s pretty short.
Yep. we’re keeping it simple so that we can maintain focus and not get distracted with too many projects. It’s also broad enough that, we think, everything we have planned fits well within it and leaves room for more.
What’s the video game community?
Well, if you play, make or sell video games, then you are.
That’s a lot of people.
Why does it have to be limited to just people who play, make or sell games?
Technically it doesn’t. There are a lot of people suffering from mental health issues who don’t fit into the description above, and who could probably benefit from the Take This mission.
We don’t want to exclude those people. Our hope is that most of what we do will be open to people who’ve never even heard of a video game, and if so, then that’s great. All are welcome.
Thing is, this is where we live. We know this community pretty well, and there are issues specific to this community that we believe are not very well addressed, that we think we can help address, because we are affected by them too.
How can I donate to Take This?
You can’t yet. But we hope to change that soon. More details to come.
How can I be a part of Take This?
This is the single most common question that we get, and the answer is … we don’t know yet.
In the months that Take This has existed we have received so many offers of help and support that simply responding to those offers has been an overwhelming task. Sorting through the list of volunteers, evaluating their capabilities and then organizing them to tackle the various projects that they might be well-suited for is simply something that we are not yet equipped to handle. It’s beyond us right now.
The long answer is that once we have incorporated, certified non-profit and built up our administrative capabilities, we will be able to employ a vast army of volunteers for all manner of projects. But right now we’re too small to accept help on all but a very few, small-scale projects.
Wait, you’re saying you’re small but you can’t accept my help? Isn’t that contradictory?
It would seem to be a contradiction, but it’s not. Even non-profit volunteers require management and direction and oversight. A lot of people take for granted how important effective management can be, but it’s critical, especially for non-profits.
We’ve managed teams, individually, for decades. Some professional, others volunteer. It’s a full time job, especially with volunteers, who also have full-time jobs and tend to need to be replaced more frequently or bolstered with additional volunteers. Every person involved in a project adds just a bit more time and attention required to manage that project.
Even a small team of smart, self-directing volunteers can require a lot of management. And right now, Take This doesn’t have the spare bandwidth to tackle that challenge. We know. We tried. :-(
I sent you an email or submitted a story or commented on this Tumblr or posted on your Facebook page or messaged you on Twitter and I haven’t heard from you in response. Why not?
The short answer is that we are human and all have full-time jobs that aren’t related to Take This, and that there are only so many hours in a day.
But the long answer is more complicated than that, so please bear with the following explosion of words.
There’s an old television commercial for a company called Hair Club for Men. It’s an embarrassing commercial for hairpieces and other “bald guy” products, and it shows a guy jumping into a swimming pool wearing his toupee and the toupee doesn’t come off and that’s supposed to be a selling point.
Anyway, the spokesman for the service is the company’s president. And his tagline is, “I’m not just the president, I’m also a member!” And in the end you’re supposed to be wowed by how natural his hair looks and how successful he can become in life in spite of the overwhelming social handicap of not having hair. Like I said, embarrassing, but that tagline sicks with me and I recall it every day working with Take This.
The board members of Take This are not just board members, we’re also members. Each one of us is affected by mental health issues in some ways, and some in very meaningful and powerful ways.
For those who are struggling with issues related to mental health every day, helping others reminds them of their own issues, and this can be crippling. Even for those of us who are relatively blessed with milder mental health issues can become overwhelmed by the thought of reading an email from someone who is suffering, or even thinking about Take This, because it reminds us of our own issues.
We’ve had many members of Take This drop out of the organization because dealing with the needs of our membership has made dealing with their own issues more difficult for them, and some board members, too.
The challenges faced by Take This are unique to charitable organizations in that, due to the nature of mental illness, stepping forward to help those who suffer can (and does) make our own suffering worse. It’s a dangerous cycle that we have had to seriously address and will have to continue to address as we move forward.
The solution, in the long term, is to slowly establish trust with more and more members of the organization and build out our core membership so that we can tackle more and more projects more rapidly. But again, see above, re: management.
The long term solution is to incorporate, certify as non-profit, establish a cash flow and hire a full- or part-time support staff who can make it their job to tackle aspects of our organization that are currently falling through the cracks or not being addressed because we’re unable.
I want to take this space to apologize to everyone who feels as if Take This has let them down by not being responsive enough, but beg your continued patience as we work through that challenge. we have a plan and we are moving forward with it. It just takes time.
So what’s happening with the Take This Project now?
Take This is currently pursuing incorporation as a business and federal 501c3 non-profit certification. It is our hope to have this process completed before the end of the year, after which time you will see a new Take This website, our attendance at more conventions, podcasts, Google Hangouts to discuss specific mental health issues and direct outreach to video game development studios as a service to their employees who may be suffering.
And that’s just a short list of the plans we have in store. Those are actually the simplest things we have planned. Our goals are pretty ambitious for Take This, but the first step in all of them is incorporating, then certifying as a non-profit.
Why is incorporation and non-profit certification important?
This is America. Everything costs money. And everything that costs money is taxed in some way by the federal government.
For Take This to be able to accept financial donations, we have to be certified non-profit. Otherwise, every dollar we receive would be taxable by the government, and one of us would have to pay those taxes.
Likewise, every dollar we spend is also taxable, and right now those taxes are being paid by one or another of us, along with the cost of whatever is is we’re paying for.
Take This is currently running with very low expenses (things like the cost of the web address and printing), but every single thing we’d like to do that we are not currently doing requires money, and that money has to come from somewhere. Right now we can’t ask for it, and even though we all have full time jobs, none of us makes enough to support an entire organization like Take This.
But I use plenty of products and services that don’t cost money, like Tumblr and Google. Why can’t Take This do the same thing?
We already do, but even with those services we have had some expenses which Take This board members have paid for out-of-pocket. And there are limits to what we can do, even with the array of powerful free tools on the internet.
We also have needs that can’t be addressed with free software and services, such as travel expenses for Take This members attending our events at PAX, bills for services like card printing and compensation to our mental health care professionals for their time.
Many wonderful people have and are continuing to donate their time (and in some cases, their personal funds) to support Take This this far, but our goals are greater than what we can accomplish piecemeal, with, a full-volunteer staff and limited funding.
But I have friends who hold game marathons and other events to raise money for charity, and they don’t have to go through all that federal bullcrap you described.
Yep, and it’s a great thing they are doing. The money they raise through their efforts goes to needy and valuable organizations like Child’s Play and the Red Cross to help in those organizations’ charitable efforts. Perhaps some day they’ll be able to hold marathons to help Take This, which we’d much appreciate!
Take This could, today, ask for money to then give to another charitable organization. Organizations like Child’s Play make it very easy to do so. But Take This is not a fundraiser, it’s a charitable organization in its own right.
There is no other organization quite like it. So we’re creating one. And to do so, we’re having to jump through all of the same administrative and legal hoops as Child’s Play has.
This will establish Take This as an official charitable organization in the eyes of the US Government, allowing us to do things like accept financial donations, spend money, buy things and hire people.
Until Take This is certified non-profit, everything the organization does creates financial or legal risk for its founders. Any donations we accept would be taxable by the government, meaning one of us would owe taxes. Anything we buy would be purchased using our personal money (which we’re currently spending already for things like the website address, printing and so forth) which is also taxable and not deductible. Anyone we employ would be an employee of us personally, not the organization, which could open us to all kinds of additional expenses and potential legal issues which are overwhelming to even think about, much less deal with.
Will Take This be accepting new members?
When will Take This be accepting new members?
We don’t know yet, but soon, we hope.
What will membership in Take This get me?
We don’t know yet. Deciding what membership means, what it grants you and what it means we will expect of you in return are all questions were are trying to answer.
The first step is incorporating and certifying as non-profit. After that we will lay out a plan of action to address our immediate goals, determine what resources we need to accomplish those goals and then begin fundraising to build up those resources.
We’re pretty sure that the status of members and how the membership application process needs to work will come online after all of that.
I am already a member of Take This, but I haven’t heard from you in a while. What’s up with that?
When Take This was founded last year, we had no idea what it would or could become. At first our goals were pretty simple: get a lot of people involved and tell stories on a Tumblr page. That’s a pretty basic goal, and it was something a lot of people were able to get behind.
As a result, many, many people stepped forward and our initial “membership” swelled. Unfortunately, we hadn’t yet put a lot of thought or time into determining what membership really meant, and what our organization’s goals might really be.
There were, as a result, conflicting ideas of what the project should be attempting to accomplish and, as happens in organizations that grow rapidly, many people who’d signed on early decided they no longer wanted to be a part. And others simply got busy with other things or found they didn’t have as much time as they’d hoped to devote to the project.
None of this is bad, and we all remain friends, but it did necessitate a period of refocusing. We have since spent the majority of 2013 addressing the resulting challenges.
Early this year the Take This founders organized a small administrative team to tackle the immediate goals of creating a founding mission for the organization, deciding how Take This needed to be organized to complete that mission and doing the work of getting the organization to the point where it could make those things happen.
This has not been easy work, and all of us on the administrative committee (many of whom have since become the organization’s defacto founding Board) have full-time jobs elsewhere and increasingly limited time to tackle these challenges. But I believe what we have built will be stronger and better able to serve the community and survive in the face of the challenges ahead.
If you were a part of that initial membership drive in 2012, and were invited onto the Take This Google Group and you would still like to be a part of Take This, please let us know. We will continue to consider you founding members in good standing. And as soon as we figure out exactly what that will mean, you will be among the first to know!
Who are the Take This Board?
- Russ Pitts, Founder and Chair
- Mark Kline, Vice-chair
- Janelle Bonanno, Treasurer
- Ashly Burch, Secretary
- Susan Arendt (co-founder)
- Ashley Esqueda
- Sarah LeBoeuf
- Shane Liesegang
How do I become a board member?
Once we complete our incorporation we will publish our governing rules, voting procedures and membership requirements. We will have to decide what kind of voting rights the project will grant to members and how elections will be held, but that’s still a ways off.
We want to ensure that Take This will be as democratic as is practical, going forward, but we also have to balance the ability of members to directly influence the board makeup and actions with what will be a most effective make-up and organization for a project of our size.
In short, it’s not a simple question but we’re committed to doing what’s best for the project to ensure that it can fulfill its mission.
So what happened at PAX Prime 2013?
For our part, the “It’s Dangerous To Go Alone” panel at PAX Prime was a roaring success. Mikey Neumann even broke down in tears on stage. It was moving and powerful and amazing.
Afterward we were swarmed with people wanting to thank us, offer help (see above) and generally express support for Take This. It was a great day and it recharged our batteries to continue to tackle the many challenges of organizing Take This.
And then the dickwolves controversy sparked up again.
The entire debacle (dating back to 2010) and what happened regarding the controversy at PAX Prime this year is explained in eloquent prose by Wired’s Rachel Edidin. There’s not much I can add, so please read it.
On the face of it, the events at that panel don’t have any direct effect on Take This. We are not employed by Penny Arcade, and its founders have no sway over what we do, what we say or, really, how we feel about ourselves.
But the vast intangible reality is that attending an event where things like this can happen to make people feel alienated and unwelcome has a direct impact on Take This. Our mission is to embrace empathy. Alienating people because of their beliefs, gender or expression is not very empathetic.
And so, we’re faced with somewhat of a conundrum. We have reached out to the PAX leadership in the hopes we can help them think through this issue, and, so far, their response has been positive and productive. We are committed to supporting members of our community who have suffered form abuse and trauma and hope that PAX will continue to be an event where our message will be effective.
As of right now, that’s all there is to say. We continue to discuss the issue within the board and are continuing to discuss the matter with PAX. We will at some point have to decide what next steps will be, but for now we are carefully evaluating and deliberating. When we reach a decision, we will absolutely share that.
How Depressed Cakes Can Make You Feel Better
by: Liz Stewart
I’m at my best in 140 characters or less, cracking jokes, making puns and throwing out Lord of the Rings references. Was your ass forged by Sauron? Because that thing is PRECIOUS! Yeah…
But, some stories can’t be captured in 140 characters. Stories like how my sister lost a friend to suicide. Or, how a close friend’s father committed suicide after years of struggling with mental illness.
Though both of them had many around them who loved them unconditionally they felt as though they had no other choice. The illness consumed them to a point where they felt they didn’t want to “be a burden” any longer; that the world would be a better place without them in it. This, of course, was not true.
If you read nothing else in the rest of the post, read this and know it to be true: YOU MATTER. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I know. You might scoff, and say, “Yes, I am.” But, pause for a moment. One in four people suffers from mental illness. Likely, you know someone else who feels like you do.
That’s a large part of why we’re putting on the Depressed Cake Shop – and why it’s become such a worldwide sensation, with shops popping up all over and coverage on CNN, Huffington Post, and other major news outlets. The goal of the shops – which sell only gray cakes – is to bring awareness to mental illness and help those who are afflicted, no longer continue to suffer in silence.
Like me. I’ve had major depression and anxiety since I was 15. There were times when I sat alone in my car and envisioned hundreds of different ways I would die. In my head they were freak accidents—I’ve never been so low as to attempt anything by any means—but I felt that the world was a cold, empty place and my brain haunted me with these terrible images. It took me a long time to realize that this isn’t me. It’s my disease. My depression.
I know what it’s like to sleep all day because you don’t feel like doing anything else. I remember when joy was a foreign concept. I remember wondering if I would ever feel affected by anything ever again or if I would always be numb. With depression, the numbness and emptiness is worse than the sadness. Then the guilt set in; I didn’t think I deserved to be sad when there was so much suffering in the world. My depression caused a vicious, seemingly-inescapable cycle of hopelessness. And there was no way I could just “snap” myself out of it. Trust me, I tried.
For years, I was stubborn about going to therapy because I didn’t want to be “that girl” at dinner who always piped up with, “My therapist says…” I didn’t want to become reliant on medication. I mean, it’s over-prescribed anyway, right? How could it possibly help? And I certainly didn’t want to pay loads of cash to a doctor just to have him hear me bitch about my completely mundane life that didn’t mean anything to anyone, not even myself. If I had diabetes, I wouldn’t have treated it like this. But, depression is a tricky illness. It tricks the mind into continuing to engage in unhealthy behaviors. And, in our culture, it’s often treated as something you can just “get over.” NAMI.org (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) puts it best. “Stigma erodes confidence that mental disorders are real, treatable health conditions. We have allowed stigma and a now unwarranted sense of hopelessness to erect attitudinal, structural and financial barriers to effective treatment and recovery. It is time to take these barriers down.”
Things got worse as my career in video games PR was taking off. I threw myself into work to get out of my own head. Great for my career, not so great for the soul. When I was at my worst, I was lucky enough to have a lot of caring people who supported me and finally pushed me to try therapy. I went, begrudgingly. I also skipped plenty of sessions because I didn’t see the point in going. At first, I thought my therapist was feeding me some kind of pre-written script but after a few months of weekly, sometimes bi-weekly sessions, it finally clicked. It felt like Gandalf swooped in and said, “Dawn take you all!” and little cracks of light appeared and turned the Depression Troll to stone. Finally. I still take medication, and, thanks to therapy, I no longer feel like I have to listen to those negative emotions when they do bubble up. I feel like I have a choice in how I react to them. I never would have felt this way on my own.
A little over a month ago, my friend Rebecca Swanner (former video game editor for Penthouse and author of two self-help books) told me she was inspired to create the Los Angeles outpost for the Depressed Cake Shop and donate all proceeds to a mental health charity. I finally felt like I could repay the kindness my friends and family showed me even when I had felt like I didn’t deserve it.
The concept of Depressed Cake Shop, which hails from the UK, is cool. It’s a pop-up bakery that sells gray-on-the-outside, colored-on-the-inside cakes and baked goods to raise awareness about brain disorders and mental illness. The color on the inside symbolizes how depression coats everything in gray, but there is still hope to be found. As the founder, Emma Cakehead explains, “By having grey cakes we’re challenging the expected, and getting people to challenge the labels they put on those who suffer with a mental illness.”
The Los Angeles shop will be open August 23rd and 24th and all proceeds will benefit NAMI Westide, the West LA chapter for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Want to get involved with a Cake Shop near you or start one of your own? Go for it! There are only two requirements: you sell only grey cakes and you donate the money to a charity that is tied to mental health. Here’s the updated list of cake shops. And, if you don’t see one near you, the site has information on how to start your own!
If you’re in the Los Angeles area, I hope I see you next weekend. Don’t be afraid to encourage a friend to come. You can always bring them a cupcake and say, “Take this; it’s tasty!” :)
Cheers, hugs, and corgi snuggles,
Video Games PR Consultant
About the future of Take This Project
We’re entering an exciting time for the Take This Project.
If you’ve suspected things haven’t been happening as quickly (or at all) with Take This for the past few months, you’re not wrong. The project experienced a dramatic slowdown around the first of 2013 and it’s been a challenge to build back up to the momentum we experienced when the project first launched.
There are many reasons for this; not the least of which is that the founders’ passion for helping sufferers of anxiety and depression is borne of experience. Most of us either suffer from our own mental health issues, or know others who suffer. This can make merely thinking about mental illness (much less writing about or helping others talk about it) a challenge. Many of us have also been unusually busy in our personal or professional lives this year. Long story short: We’ve not always been able to find the time or the will to take the next necessary steps to move this project forward, so, mea culpa.
The good news is that the long dark night of the Take This soul seems to have passed. Yet challenges still remain. The most pressing of which has been administrative, and this is what we have now turned our attention to addressing.
The Take This Project was founded, primarily, to promote awareness of mental health issues. While this sounds simple on the surface, in reality, a sustained campaign to create public awareness involves a lot of work that can’t be done without funding. Plain and simple: for Take This to achieve its goals, it needs cash flow.
Now, at first glance, this, too, would seem simple. In the age of Kickstarter, raising money can be as simple as asking for it. And with the groundswell of attention we’ve received for Take This, we have no doubt we could raise the kind of money we’d need, via one or another crowdfund effort, to fund our short-term (and maybe even long term) goals for some time to come. But this kind of crowdfunding is not yet an option for Take This.
The problem is that the Take This Project is not currently a non-profit company. Or, really, any kind of company. We cannot, legally, collect or spend money, as Take This, without exposing ourselves and our members to financial challenges or government scrutiny. It’s one thing to conduct a fundraiser to benefit another organization (which many have done), but it’s an entirely different thing to raise money to support your own organization. Accepting donations and spending money requires sophisticated accounting and involves the possibility of severe legal risk, which we simply cannot ask any of our members to shoulder on their own. This is why, until now, we have been careful to not take any action with Take This that requires the spending or accepting of money, and why in order to move forward with our future plans, we need to do some complicated paperwork.
For Take This to legally and responsibly be able accept donations, we need for it to be a recognized non-profit entity, registered with the federal government. This is not a surprise to us, and it is not an impossible task to accomplish, but it does require us to take a certain number of steps in a specific order. It requires time and organization — two things which have been in short supply among the founding members of Take This until very recently.
This brings us to now. I am proud to report that the Take This project has officially begun the process of becoming non-profit organization, starting with the formation of a Board of Directors and the election of officers. Over the next few weeks, we will file the paperwork required to formally create Take This as a business entity and then proceed to registering that entity with the IRS as a 501c3 non-profit.
At some point in the future, hopefully this summer, we will have the green light to proceed to our Stage Two goals of fundraising and increased activities to promote awareness of mental health issues in the video game community. These goals include (but are not limited to) additional web-based awareness activities, more public appearances at events like PAX as well as outreach and counseling directed at the video game creation community. We hope to have this work completed in time for the always busy (and difficult) holiday season.
More details on the makeup of our board and our expanded mission statement should follow shortly, and we hope to provide frequent updates over the next few months as we plunge steadily into the new challenges ahead. Thank you for your continued patience and support of the project.
Founder and Chairperson, Take This Project
Take This Project at PAX East
“It’s Dangerous to Go Alone" is an hour of information and sharing about mental health issues, moderated by our own Dr. Mark with guest speakers from the Take This membership.
Join us at 2pm ET on Friday, March 22 in the Wyvern theater for a good talk, some fun and a little advice.
From the PAX panel description: “Our internet culture encourages participation but can discourage meaningful interaction. If you are suffering from depression or anxiety, the internet and gaming culture can make your frustrating symptoms of alienation feel worse. You may be surrounded by “friends” but yet unable to find one who will listen or understand. What you need is to know that you are not alone. Many others have gone through what you are experiencing, and we are here to share our stories with you. Join the members of the Take This Project for an hour of inspirational stories of depression and healing and advice for when it is time to seek help and how to do so. It’s dangerous to go alone.”
Anxiety Is An Illusion
by: Russ Pitts
You think you’re having a heart attack. That’s the first thing you notice. The second thing you notice is that you’re dying.
Anxiety attacks come in a variety of shapes in sizes, but that’s how mine usually work: I think I’m dying. And then it gets worse, because becoming aware of what’s happening to me makes what’s happening worse.
An anxiety attack is a physical response to a mental illusion. Your mind either conjures up something to be afraid of, or else perceives a relatively normal thing as something terrible and then your body responds the way a million years of evolution has trained it to respond to something terrible: the fight or flight response.
Adrenaline floods your system, your heart speeds up, you begin to sweat, blood flows to the center of your body, away from your limbs and brain and your perception and cognition narrow. You become one with your lizard brain.
If something truly dangerous were happening, you’d be in great shape to deal with it. You’d be stronger, faster and more alert to signs of danger than normal. You’d be able to fight harder or run faster than normal, and you’d be prepared for physical danger; the dilation of your blood vessels would cause any wounds to bleed less than normal, and the perspiration on your body would cause it to become slick, and difficult to grab on to. In a life or death situation, you would be “in the zone.”
When this happens to you in a normal, everyday situation like sitting on a plane, or standing in a hallway, you become the opposite of “in the zone.” You become way, way out of the zone. So far out of the zone that you are, in essence, a caveman among modern humans. A vibrating note of pure panic in the midst of a symphony of normalcy. You are the sweaty, trembling, nervous-looking one attempting to curl yourself into as small as possible a space, while your squinted eyes shift side to side. You breathe in rapid, shallow breaths. Your hands shake. You cannot think clearly and you feel as if you’re going to die. On a really bad day, you might also black out
If you’ve never experienced this, I’m glad for you. And I know it sounds silly. It feels silly, afterwards. But during, it feels like dying. Every. Single. Time.
My anxiety is mostly social anxiety. I’ve been characterized as “shy” in the past, and it’s possible I might be - about some things - but I genuinely like people and enjoy being open and social. I just have social anxiety. Being around people makes me nervous. Being around a lot of people makes me feel terrorized.
No reason. They could be nice, friendly, totally non-threatening people, but anxiety is not logical. It translates normalcy into terror and the body responds as if someone were coming at you with a knife.
The first time I had a panic attack that I knew was a panic attack, I was in a van with several other people. It was a warm night in Los Angeles. I’d just moved and changed jobs, had flown on an airplane across the entire North American Continent, was sharing a hotel room with someone I’d just met, working a public event in one of the largest, most crowded convention centers in America and had just come from a night club that was so crowded you could literally not move more than an inch without bumping into someone. Then I was in a small vehicle with several other people and I was not driving.
Any one of these factors alone could have triggered my anxiety, and I probably wouldn’t have noticed. I’d have just chalked it up to being stressed or shy. The combination of all of those stress factors, however, triggered an anxiety attack that could not be explained away by anything else. What I - and everyone around me - experienced, was nothing short of a panic eruption.
What I remember about being in the van is the feeling that something bad was going to happen. I’m used to this. I get this feeling a lot. It starts with a simple, reasonable concern (did I forget to lock the front door?) and swells into an uncontrollable obsession. (I’m going to get home and my house will have burned to the ground because someone broke in and accidentally turned on the oven and forgot to turn it off and the cat got out and now I have to find someone to call to check on these things or I won’t be able to think about anything else for three days.)
I had my head leaned against the window. I was watching the lines in the road scroll by in orange wash of the street lamps. I was in the very back row. Everything was perfectly normal except for the fact that I felt like something and was going to happen and couldn’t explain what if I’d tried.
I felt trapped. My fight or flight response triggered and my brain filled with one thought: Get out! But I couldn’t, because I was in the back row of a moving van. My heart sped up, my throat constricted, my vision blurred, I couldn’t breathe and then I blacked out. The next thing I remember is laying on the ground, in a hotel parking lot.
What I’ve been told is that I started screaming. Then I started banging and clawing at the window until the van stopped and I was let out. Then I paced around a gas station for a while, breathing hard and clenching my fists. Then I got back into the van and was let out again, at my hotel, where I immediately collapsed in the parking lot.
I have the memory of the above events, but I don’t recall being present for them. I suspect my memory is based on what I was told, but it’s possible I was perceiving things without being conscious of them. Either way, freaking out in a van and having a blackout are not normal things. These are not things that can be explained away by being “shy.” These are things that happen when something is wrong with you.
I wish I could say that’s when things started to get better, but they didn’t. Because it took me many more years to be able to actually acknowledge that I had a problem. Part of having anxiety is not knowing you have anxiety. You’re just shy or high strung or half a dozen other things. How the hell are you supposed to know you have anxiety when you don’t even understand that anxiety is a thing?
At first I tried to keep rationalizing my anxiety. Then I began “managing it” by avoiding triggers and self-medicating when I couldn’t avoid triggers.
Anxiety is not like an actual disease; you are not sneezing or bleeding or obviously, physically dying. You can hide it, and most of us do. We pass it off in our minds as stress or tiredness, and cope through relatively normal means. In the age of the internet, staying home and rarely seeing others isn’t as big of a deal as it used to be. And if you’re a writer who works alone, via the internet, you can get by for decades without anyone suspecting you have something more serious than a mildly crippling shyness. You can even convince yourself, if you try.
I also wish I could say that finally acknowledging I have anxiety immediately made life more livable, but it didn’t. Since anxiety is an illusion, being aware that an anxiety attack is just an anxiety attack doesn’t make it go away. Sometimes it makes it worse because, instead of panicking about whatever it was your mind conjured up for you, you begin panicking about panicking and the whole cycle spirals radically out of control.
What I can say is that it does get better.
What has helped me the most has been recognizing that I can turn the mechanism of anxiety against itself; if knowing I’m having an anxiety attack makes my anxiety more powerful, then not having anxiety can make not being anxious more powerful as well. When I feel my anxiety coming on, I try to remember that’s it’s just anxiety, and that I will feel better and then, more often than not, I do feel better. Just like that.
This doesn’t always work, but knowing I have a tool makes me feel a lot more powerful and capable of existing in the world. And that, accordingly, makes my anxiety less frequent. And my calm, whether or not it’s an illusion, feels real.
- Russ Pitts
The Box in the Garden
This is my experience of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, many, many years after the damage was done. It’s like living in a beautiful garden, green, diverse, cared for only by me. There’s soft grass, flowering plants, young trees, ornate, homemade furniture and creepers that have climbed high rock walls, over the years. There’s no door to the garden, no windows, just some metal pieces lying around, that I’m going to make into a staircase, when I get to it.
There’s also a box down one end, kind of by itself. It’s nebulous, hard to look at. It’s about a foot high, grey and utterly clean and smooth, like nothing else in this place, aesthetically. It’s the only thing here that I didn’t make, with my hands, or help to grow, with water and care.
Years can pass and the box is little more than something to step over, in passing. Occasionally, I might fantasize that something wonderful could be waiting inside, like a creation spirit or great serpent I could welcome into the garden. It could inspire me, perhaps, or just become a beautiful, kinetic sculpture.
Mostly, though, when I’m actually engaging the box, I’m incoherent and I’m yelling, “Get the fuck out of my garden,” or “I’m going to forget that staircase and smash you to bits with these pieces instead, fuck you.” The box does exactly nothing, in response, always. Those times can last long enough for the whole garden to fade, from lack of care. Then, it takes all the longer to get it looking nice again.
Sometimes I’m not sure why I bother to keep the garden looking nice at all. No-one else is here, not even animal life. When I think about building the staircase, it’s not so I can escape, it’s so I might invite people in for a visit, one day.
The problem is, visitors couldn’t fail to notice the box and how weird it is. They might ask after it, or touch it, or try to open it. They might try to politely pretend it’s not there and I’d hate them for that. I might lose myself and yell at it, while they are visiting. Or, they might try to take it away, which is the scariest of all possibilities, somehow. Still, my garden really should be a nice place to visit, in theory.
Recently, my hands were injured and I had to sit still for a while. I sat near to some seedlings, imagining how I could shape them, soon, not soon enough. I stayed my hands, because I knew I’d just ruin them. Time passed, and I gave in and did work a little on the seedlings, smothering them, clumsy, hurting my hands.
Then there was pacing. I stomped on some flowers, I yelled at the box. My hands are back to their tending, now, but I’m more aware of how tired I am. One day I’m going to have to rest, especially as I get older, but the presence of the box ensures this garden will never be a restful place. Beautiful, by my hand, maybe. Maybe even a place for visitors, if I ever get that staircase done, but never restful.