Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Year In Review - 2015

I haven't posted here in a very long time... almost a year since my last entry, and though I have opened up a window to post several times since then (five saved drafts, several more that didn't even get words or titles in), I just haven't been able to bring myself to write here.

Actually, for most of this year, I haven't been able to write much of anything at all.  I've worked on Lord Foxbridge a bit, shoved Lord Foxbridge Goes to Ground into a beginning-middle-end shape so I could ask for beta readers and chipped away at The Verevale Hunt (which was originally intended to be part of LFGtG but grew too complex to fit), and even started a whole new story universe for NaNoWriMo based on characters that populated a very weird and elaborate dream.  But in general, I try to write and end up staring at a blank screen for most of a day, and nothing happens.  If I added up all the words I've written, including those I deleted, I couldn't make more than a short-short story from them.

But I've let up on myself and forgiven myself for my dry spell.  Forgiving myself and being kind to myself has been something of a theme for me this year, and I am pleased to say that I've gotten pretty good at it... perhaps too good, sometimes unable to tell when I'm being kind to myself and when I'm being self-indulgent.  But it comes to the same thing, a relief of pain and self-loathing, so I'll pat myself on the back nonetheless.

In fact, a complete shift in motivation has occurred: I've always relied on sudden inspirations and unexpected reservoirs of energy to get things done and progress made, and when I couldn't access those two things I used the whipping-the-horses-from-behind model of self-motivation, putting enormous pressure on myself and straining to accomplish things; but now I've adopted the carrot-on-a-stick method, thinking about what it would be like to have the consequences of an action or activity, reaching out for the thing I want.  I still don't get anything done, but I'm being hopeful about future successes instead of angry about present (and past) failures.

Another major theme this year has been dealing with anxiety.  My social anxiety has been increasing in slow increments for the last several years, making it impossible for me to keep up with friends and eventually preventing me from attending AA meetings.  Then in the last year, I went from social anxiety to general anxiety, and was having really nasty anxiety attacks now and then.  I would have attacks during family gatherings, after (or while) making phone calls, fussing with Grandmother, listening to Caroline tell a story about an angry encounter, or even seeing something upsetting on TV.  My blood pressure would shoot up, I'd become short of breath, and my brain went into a white noise of worried, fearful, and angry thoughts swirling around at terrifying speed.

My therapist was extremely helpful with these, giving me all sorts of centering exercises to use when I started panicking, like staring at a spot on the wall and concentrating on my breathing until the noise in my head settles down.  And a change in medication helped, too... I'm still taking Wellbutrin, but a larger dose and a different delivery system (extended release instead of standard), and the results have been satisfactory though not spectacular.  My mood seems more stable, even though I still get depressed sometimes, and my brain feels a little less fuzzy, and as I said the anxiety has definitely dialed way down.

And speaking of medication, one of the offshoots of this anxiety is that I've developed asthma.  That shortness of breath that came with the panic attacks wasn't just me not breathing, it was my airways getting inflamed.  In November I caught a chest cold, and it persisted for over a month, so I went to the doctor to see about it; turned out I didn't have a cold, I just had allergies exacerbating the asthma and that's why I couldn't breathe.  So he gave me an emergency inhaler (Ventolin HFA by name) for those moments when I start gasping, and started me on a steroid therapy (also in inhaler form, brandname QVar) twice a day.

That has had an unexpected benefit... breathing deeper, I get more oxygen, and I not only sleep better but I have more energy.  Not enough energy to, say, get up and do laps around the block... not even enough to get up and fold the sheets in the laundry... but I feel better.  Still, asthma... first my brain turns on me with the bipolar, then my kidneys give me stones, then my liver goes flooey, then I have a heart attack, and now my lungs... I daren't ask what organ is going to crap out next!

But perhaps the biggest thing this year has been my reentry to Second Life, the virtual-reality world that I pretty much lived in for six months, four (almost five) years ago, before suddenly and completely losing interest in it (you can read about that here, here, and here if your memory needs refreshing).

My reentry was just as sudden and inexplicable as my previous exit, I'm not sure what inspired me to log in again and see what was going on.  But once I did, I was hooked immediately.  A lot of things had changed, the world was more populous and the culture more developed, there was this thing called "mesh" that was taking over everything, and I was fascinated to learn more about it and excited to start wearing the new clothes.  And I ran into a few friends I hadn't seen in years, so nice to find people still there after so much time had passed.  And it was just somehow funner than I remembered, even funner (and yes, of course I know that's not a proper word) than it had been when I was completely immersed in it in 2011.

With all the new materials available, and new styles evolving, my old avatar felt pretty stale (and looked pretty dated compared to the really lovely avatars I was seeing in the clubs), so my first order of business was to reinvent Robbie.  Here I was rather more influenced by Lord Foxbridge than anything else... I wanted to be extremely pretty, boyish but not little-boy-ish, neither big nor small, and red-haired.  I found a new shape I liked, and a hairstyle, but the skin wasn't quite right, so I bought a new skin, and then another new skin, first trying on dozens of demos before committing; then the eyes seemed too hard so I went searching for something softer, and then found an even better hairstyle... and suddenly it all came together with a bang and was just perfect!

(and compare to how I looked before)

It was one of those moments of utter satisfaction, of feeling that something was quite simply right, a really wonderful feeling of certainty and comfort with how something looks.  The new Robbie was someone I really wanted to be.  And so I settled in and started being him.

I met a lot of new people in the following weeks, not only attracting a great deal of attention with my avatar's looks and my own personality but also having the courage to talk to other people out of the blue, something I absolutely never did before.  I got comfortable in old clubs, found new clubs, explored sims that had been around in 2011 but found piles more sims that were quite new.  People began noticing me as a regular in certain places, and seemed glad to see me when I turned up, which is always a lovely feeling.  I made friends, people I could chat with and dance with and go exploring with, or even just to say hi to each other as we dance at a club, real and wonderful relationships.

And all that time I was exploring more character traits... not different personalities, really, but trying out creatures that I had never considered being, neko and fairy and faun and merman, mostly-human creatures with certain animal traits that were fun to emulate and play with. I got comfortable wearing a fox's tail and ears (kitsunemimi is the technical term), again thinking of Lord Foxbridge and his family crest, and wore them much of the time (but by no means all of the time), adopting a more playful and insinuating attitude when I did.  Wearing a cat's tail and ears I got to play with feline traits of affection and arbitrariness, sensuality and a different kind of playfulness.  Wearing a faun's hooves or a fairy's wings or a mer's tail didn't really come with personality traits, but they are different and lovely and fun to do.

I guess one of the differences here is that I didn't feel like I had to be one complete and consistent character, as I had been before when I created alts to try out different traits, I could play with things. Though I stuck to the same face and the same hair-colors, partly to be recognizable but mostly because I love them so, I tweaked absolutely everything else, every chance I got, every time I found a new creature I could slip into the parts of.

I also became more open to nudity and sexuality, which in turn opened me up to affection and flirtation and romance, which led to letting my hair down a whole lot in ways that I haven't been able to do since I quit drinking twenty years ago.  I met someone who pushed me a little, inspired me a little, and held out his hand to lead me gently into things that scared me or made me uncomfortable... but which were loads and loads of fun once I got past that initial barrier of fear.  He taught me how to have really great sex in SL (you're basically writing an erotic story to each other, taking turns and saying what you're doing and what the things they're doing feel like), and how to fully commit to sex but not take sex so seriously.

So I've done a lot of growing in Second Life (or SL as we refer to it), exploring myself and different relationships with others... and buying a lot of clothes, something I haven't been able to do in real life (or RL) since I stopped working.  I even got a job in SL...two jobs actually...pole-dancing in a nightclub and dancing chorus in a Madonna concert group (and I just now applied for another job, modeling in a large store).  I also picked up some hobbies, photography and hunting!

Photography is interesting, it gives you something to do with all the beautiful sims one discovers and all of the lovely clothes one finds, and I've progressed quite a bit in the months since I took it up in earnest.  So far I've only photographed myself, but I'd like to get into photographing others... just a matter of getting people to model.  I post most of it in a new Tumblr blog I created just for Robbie's photography, so you can go check it out at My Silly Second Life if you want to see what I've been up to.

And then hunting is another kind of thing... it's like an Easter-egg hunt rather than an animal hunt, you run around in stores or sims and look for small objects with prizes inside.  I've always liked Easter-egg hunts, and those "find fifteen objects hidden in this picture," and word-search puzzles, so this is an extremely satisfying pastime... plus you get lots of free stuff.  I've barely had to buy clothes the last few months, and I've redecorated my little house three times with hunt goodies.

I spend an inordinate amount of time in SL (inworld is the jargon), several hours every day, pretty much whenever I'm not up doing something else.  And in some ways it's intruding into other parts of my life... I seldom read anymore, watch few movies or TV shows, and as previously stated haven't written much; and I have very little desire to change any of that, to get outside and do things, to exercise or whatever.  On the other hand, it has given me an incredible social outlet, being able to interact with people from all over the world in a really positive and uplifting way without having to involve my shaky self-image and my various anxieties and my innumerable physical failings.  It makes the time that I was already spending in bed so much more satisfying than movies or books ever did.

So that's kind of what this year has been like.  Though I am still wallowing in the most abject and grinding poverty, waiting for Social Security to get its shit together and grant my SSDI claim (I've been in the waiting-for-a-hearing-date stage since this time last year), though my car is falling to pieces and my computer is faltering, though my health is continuing to deteriorate, I have to say this has been a pretty good year all tolled.  Many lovely things have happened that made me quite happy. and the bad things haven't been all that bad.

Here's hoping that 2016 improves even further on this vein.  In the meantime, I wish you the most joyous and prosperous New Year you can stand.