Voicing Out on Mental Illness: The loneliest illness of our times

Photo by Montecruz Foto.

Photo by Montecruz Foto.

Having a mental illness is very lonely. It is an illness of silence. Those who suffer from it often hide it very well. And few will forwardly admit that they have it. The greatest fear of many who suffer from a mental illness is not necessarily our internal struggles, but our outward fear of being found out. There are very few illnesses that we are so afraid to talk about than mental illness. And yet, so much of the healing process for mental health is to talk about it, to outwardly deal with it, and to share it with our friends and family who form the backbone to our recovery.

Mental illness is not just an issue when a famous person dies because of it. For those with mental illness, it is an everyday struggle, a mode of management that we learn to live and deal with. And every death from mental illness is a tragedy just as every death from cancer is a tragedy. The death of Robin Williams is a tragedy.

It is a tragedy because our silence as a society has exacerbated the shame and humiliation of having a mental illness. And it is this shame that festers an internal attack on ourselves for being weak, flawed, and abnormal. Those with mental illness try their hardest to live their lives as that “normal” person you know of them, even when it is a fight to do it, every single day of their lives.

When you have a mental illness, it is not unlike a virus that attacks the body’s defenses. In fact, it is the brain that through whatever change or maladjusted pathway begins to attack normal modes of thought and perception.

Mental illness is therefore not logical. Having depression or an anxiety disorder (or any other mental health condition) isn’t about being sad when things go wrong, but when things go right. Having an anxiety disorder, for example, makes you fear things that aren’t going to hurt you. That’s what mental illness is like. It is not logical. It breaks how we see the world. And it forces us to see it instead through a fragmented lens. And after long enough through this lens, you forget what it felt like before it.

After long, you start to believe that the depression, the fear, the incessant self deprecation is simply you. And although you may wish to tell someone that it hurts too much to wake up sometimes, you never do. Because you know to many, this just simply won’t make sense. That is why many have asked, “How could someone so bright and successful as Robin Williams take his own life?” Incredulous.

Just as cancer ravages your body so that it can no longer sustain itself, so too can the brain be so sick that it ceases to sustain itself. When you suffer from a mental illness, you do not choose your state of mind, your illness does.

There have been comments in social media that suicide due to mental illness is selfish. That the person ending their own life is ending their own suffering without any heed to those they leave behind. And it is weakness and selfishness that would lead one to take their own life. With this, I ask, who wakes up each morning wishing to end their own life? The will to live is the single driving force in life. Every motive, every desire, every earnest plot and plan in human existence has been to prolong life. It has never been to end it.

So until we can openly embrace mental illness as a condition of human nature, not any different from a broken bone, a heart disease, a cancer, or a virus, we will continue to mourn the tragedy of so many who struggle every day with the loneliest illness of our times.

A fantastic TEDx talk by a young Vancouverite and his life with depression.

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Latest Cosplay: Steampunk Little Red Riding Hood

This year, I decided that I wanted to do a steampunk version of my favourite fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood.

I’m very proud to say that I made this cosplay all by myself with very little sewing knowledge (what I learned from highschool basically!). And here is the dry run of it at Fan Expo Vancouver this weekend!

Steampunk Little Red Riding Hood

I have more to add to it including a belt pouch, a hip belt, and a (faux) wolf’s tail which I sadly lost (and will be replaced) at the Expo. The completed cosplay should be done for when I head out to San Diego Comic Con this year again! Woohoo! :)

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Competitive gaming void of women

I recently came across a statistic that stated that 90% of League of Legends’ player base is male. This stat shocked me. Unlike MMO’s where the spread between men and women is fairly equal, and gaming in general is shared fairly equally between the sexes (with huge contingent of women playing social and mobile games), the world’s most popular competitive game, League of Legends with its’ 32 million active player base appears to be dominated by men.

Though, I really shouldn’t be surprised, given that competitive gaming or more specifically e-sports in general is commanded by males. I cannot recall seeing a single female competitor in any Starcraft, Warcraft arenas, or League of Legend tournaments. I would wager that e-sports is 99% male.

So what is it about competitive gaming that attracts men, or more appropriately repels women?

Let me state first that I fit into the 10%, alongside a few of my female friends who play MOBA’s. So in my circle, I see quite a few women who play (however religiously/or not) competitive games. I assumed that more women played League as well. Turns out, that number is small. But why is that?

Do women dislike competition? I hardly believe this could be true.  I would beg to think that many women enjoy competition just as much as men. Women like to win in games (in general) just as much as men. Women enjoy challenging others in various forms of competition, be it games, business, sports. There are plenty of social games that duke players against each other, and women love them!

I believe that in fact, it’s not competition that is the turn off because women do enjoy competition. I think it’s the culture of competitive gaming that makes the space so unappealing for women. Competitive gaming in League of Legends, for example, is like a school yard fight between rabid 13 yr old boys. The culture is mean, toxic, and ever so immature. Women generally like the social elements of games, and although League is inherently social, its player base do not practice good social conduct, thus making the social experience one not of friendly competition, but one ripe with adolescent-like hostility.

In fact, there’s almost a frat-boy-esque aesthetic to competitive games that make games of this sort so divisive. Competitive games, whether FPS or MOBA’s all seem to have a macho-ism built into them. Take Team Fortress 2 for example, where are the female characters? Although TF2 is fairly popular with women, thanks to it’s lighter hearted aesthetic and premise, it still tailors itself to the masculine, with masculine characters, story lines, jokes, and aesthetics. And to survive and enjoy the interaction of a competitive game like League, one has to pretty much opt into the fraternity of male adolescence.

So to ask, why do women not play competitive games? The answer might just be that these games were never created to be inclusive to begin with. The idea of fighting against an opponent is viewed as an inherently masculine form of interaction, even when the assumption is misguided. This mixed with characterization which hyper-sexualizes women (if there are women characters at all!) to the point of perversion (League does this exceptionally well), or negating women characters altogether (ie: TF2) make these games specifically tailored to the male psyche.

Women would play competitive games if we were considered viable players in the genre. But we are not. Competition is not the deterrent. It’s the culture of competitive games that is so repulsive.

Until competitive games can tap into a more collective gaming experience, where name calling, sexual harassment, and verbal abuse are not the staple of the genre, women will find little place in it.

Conversely, I would like to say that girls and women, in general, are not taught to be competitive the same ways boys and men are. Competitiveness is often associated with aggressiveness, which is a trait lauded amongst boys but criticized in women. Yet competition does not have to come with it a malign aggressiveness. Promoting healthy competition in girls and women is positive, yet often women shy from such experiences because competition is not practiced “feminine” conduct.

I advocate for a more balanced approach to competitive games because I think competitive games can be incredibly rewarding and fun. League of Legends has impeccable game play, but its culture is horrid. FPS as a genre of game is exceptionally fun, but it’s aesthetic and culture of abuse is rampant. I wish the culture of competitive gaming was more inclusive, because as a woman who plays these games, I’d like to feel like my fellow players (women and men) can interact and enjoy awesome games together. At the moment, that’s just not true. And to me, that’s a failure of the games industry and community. We can do better.

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A precipitous year

Last sunset of 2012.

Last sunset of 2012.

This year has been a year of abruptness. Moments of predictability punctuated with poignant dips – most filled with loss and incredible sadness. And yet the year of the dragon closes without the fiery intensity that I had hoped for, but with a quiet glow that will easily warm the morning of 2013.

I honestly cannot recall much of what happened in the early parts of the year. It was the predictable cadence I speak of that probably filled my now forgotten days. Though I do so recall the incredible sun on that new spring day when my brother called, his voice that usual calmness tinged with urgency, to tell me that she had gone into the hospital – that she was very sick – that this time it was different.

I hesitated, I won’t lie, before I packed my bags and raced home because everybody thought there would be little time left – she was terribly sick.

The next 24 hours, I can hardly forget, I spent in a holding room with my entire family, all the uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers, sisters, and parents. None of that night made sense. And I think I said some things that, though I don’t fully recall, perhaps was the most honest thing I’ve ever said to my family in my life. And yet, that brilliantly honest moment were words not to advocate for my grandma’s death, but rather the remaining life she would so strongly hold on to. I told them they needed to let her live the most comfortable life she would of wanted. But I never wish I had to say any of those words at all.

So I lost a dear woman. I lost a close friend. But I also lost a bit of myself somewhere along the way, when you learn that you are flawed, or a little broken. And it’s taken me a while to see the broken and the flawed as not pieces that are lost, but pieces that merely need to be found and figured out.

The summer and fall of 2012 was rather difficult for me. I fell into a lull. The cadence of my daily life became a barely noticeable hum. But then we talked about getting a dog, and that gave me that lever I needed to push myself up again. And when I thought some things were going well, it was taken from me once more. And without the context to truly understand why this broke me (and I won’t go into it anyways), to be quite frank, at that moment, this felt like the clincher in my life. I felt truly and utterly resigned.

But if nothing at all, I am resilient. And so somewhere I picked myself up and told myself it was not a sign, and decided that if the plans I had ahead of me were curtailed, I’d stake out another one.

I turned 31 a few days ago. I thought I’d have different things in my life when I turned 31. I do have though the products of what I’ve been through this year and what I’ve lost. And that is, wherever I find myself in life, I’ve always found a way to live in it. This isn’t some greater strength that I possess over others, but rather seemingly a human truth that we all share.

And so, hug your closest – life is precipitous. But, I assure you, you have the shoes for any path.

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The Demon Hunter Arrives at San Diego Comic Con 2012

So the Demon Hunter did arrive at SDCC 2012, albeit its taken me a bit longer than expected to post an update on here about it. Apologies!

I spent most of Thursday’s SDCC in my completed Demon Hunter cosplay. It was so much fun wearing it, though I did hear many exclaim that I was from Assassin’s Creed. I guess I can see that given my Assassin’s Creed like hood and red scarf. However, there were equally as many who knew where I was from! To make things even cooler than they were, I was interviewed by Forbes and CNET at the con for my cosplay, though I have no idea where those videos ended up (Boo!)

But without further ado, here’s some pics of the full cosplay in all its badass glory.

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Sexism in Games: The Unexceptional Case of Sexism

A few days ago, I read an article titled, “How female gamers and comic fans fight real-life sexism online“, an article detailing rampant sexism in gaming and comic culture, in both the content and the treatment of women in gaming, comic, or fantasy communities. As a female gamer, a friend asked how I felt about this issue. And although I am an avid online gamer and a regular attendee of gaming and comic conventions, I will only comment on my thoughts in the gaming and con communities that I am a part of. I do not have experiences in comic book stores, nor do I participate heavily in fantasy genre communities, so I will not be speaking from these spaces.

Let me preface this by saying that I do not believe that the gaming world is some isolated space where sexism is in some way unique or different from the general tropes and prejudices which we see in society as a whole. The gaming world is an object of, as much as it is, the subject of the social biases and misrepresentations of gender within the larger social sphere. It contributes as much as it reflects societal norms. Therefore, I do not want to single out the gaming world as if it is in some way unique or different from other mediums of representation (e.g. movies, books, comics, tv etc.)

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2 Encryptions | Posted in Games, Geekery, Personal, Politics | Tagged |

Count Down to San Diego Comic Con 2012!

It’s that time to start the count down to SD Comic Con 2012! In just 7 days I’ll be attending, for the second time around, North America’s biggest nerd fest down in sunny San Diego!

Last week, CC released its 5 day schedule, so I had the opportunity to take a good gander at the sessions. To my utter surprise and disappoint, The Amazing Spiderman is NOWHERE to be found in the lineup. If you may recall, Spiderman was the main title advertised at CC last year, with the cover of their annual magazine announcing the “Year of the Spider” and featuring the very cute Spidey couple many many months in advance.  Yet, it seems Spiderman has been pulled from the schedule with the movie’s early release date. What a bummer!

Although the con will feature movie sessions like Total Recall, Looper, Elysium, Iron Man 3, and a bunch of smaller flicks, this year does seem a little slim on big blockbuster releases. In fact, it’s so lean in the category that many of the tv show panels have moved from Ballroom 20 (conventionally TV series panel room) to Hall H (conventionally movie panels room).

Fear not though geeks and geekettes, to make up for the lack of big movie panels this year, CC is presenting an once in a blue moon occurrence at this year’s con. What is it you may ask? Well, what would you do if I said Captain Reynolds would be making a special appearance? Are you freaking out yet? Ok, how about if I said Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Sean Maher, Summer Glau would ALL be in a room together in a once in a decade FIREFLY REUNION! I bet you just wet yourself a little, didn’t you? Well, yes that’s happening. And you better be damned I’m going to be in line at 7am to get into that panel!

Other notable sessions that I have my eye on include JJ Abrams’ Revolution preview, Community panel, The Big Bang Theory panel, Game of Thrones panel, Blizzard panel (in place of BlizzCon this year I guess), a bunch of animation panels, Penny Arcade panel, Geek and Sundry panel, and Fringe, Supernatural panels.  Though there are tons of other cool stuff that I’m sure I’ll catch.

And finally, this year, not only will I be attending the con, but I’ll also be cosplaying my finished Diablo 3 Demon Hunter costume! I’m rather excited about it, as I’ve put a lot of energy into it and can’t wait to show it off! Here’s a sneak peak at the finished outfit, though you’ll have to wait to see pics of me in the full get up at the con. :)

In addition to hanging out at CC for 5 days with my fellow geeks, I’ll also be spending a few days checking out Southern California and getting my sun on.

So 7 days and counting… you can almost hear my geek gears quietly but surely revving up… soon… soon… 😀

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The Offense of the Child Art Prodigy?

Recently, a new prodigious child artist has “exploded” into the forefront of the art world. Aelita Andre, a 6 year old abstract painter from Australia has taken the art world by storm, having been coaxed by her artist father into painting at the age of 22 months. Impressive? Perhaps.

At 6, she’s already had two solo exhibits, the latest at Agora Gallery in New York city. Yet, much controversy surrounds her “genius”. Is her artwork worthy of such high praise? Is she a child prodigy? Or as Huffington Post asks, “Is this child a genius or just a kid having fun?”

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Ten things I’ve learnt since turning 30

I’ve spent a few months in my 30’s now. Several things have happened since. I have come to the realization of my physical age. But it is just that, my physical age. I have never felt more like I’m 25 than I have ever been. Partly, or completely because I have shed, in the last 3 years or so, about 30 years of anxiety (thanks to CBT).

When I was 20, I remember thinking how old I felt inside. How much I wanted to be 30, so that my body would finally catch up to my head space. What I didn’t realize then was that my “old soul” was really just a “sad soul”, an “afraid soul”. The soul that had several layers of thick calloused skin to protect me from the big bad world. It was hardly exciting.

Now that I’m 30, and now that I have shed that skin, I feel anew. I have the maturity of my 30 years, surely. But I also have the curiosity of my 20’s, a period in my life so overcast with tension and fear. And this is what I’ve learnt being in this strange new space in my 30s.

1. You are crazy, and that’s the best part of you.
Our culture puts a black mark on crazy. I say we place too much importance on conformity. So much so, that the “crazy” part of us is really our most truthful self. Nobody has their shit together, so your crazy is hardly anything new. In fact, embrace your crazy, because there will ALWAYS be someone else who appreciates it. It’s probably your best trait.

2. Do stupid things.
Sometimes you really do need to do a few stupid things. And by this I don’t mean, kill someone, maim someone, maim yourself, or kill yourself. That’s not stupid, that’s suicidal. The key to doing stupid things, is to realize that in the end, you survived them. Because, trust me, when you look back, the stupid things will be markers in your life, pinpointing where you survived, and thus, where you lived.

3. You are being judged. Who cares!
We have been judged our entire lives. From the moment we are born, we have been judged. Our parents judge us, our teachers judge us, our bosses judge us, the world is a revolving carousel of judgement. Knowing that, judgement is rather meaningless. Realize that if others have problems with you, it’s ultimately THEIR problem – Not yours.

4. Be kind to yourself.
People always say, you have one mother and one father, so be kind to them. Well, get this, you only have one YOU, so be kind to yourself. Nobody can beat you up as well as you can yourself. Trust me, I know. Cut yourself some slack.

5. Do things that make you happy.
This may seem like the catch all tip, but it’s really quite singularly important. When I say “DO THINGS” I literally mean, act on the things that you want to do because they fill you with a sense of joy or excitement. If you find it enjoyable to dance around barefoot at the beach to drums, do it. If you like crafting little figurines of nude people, do it! Disclaimer: if you enjoy hurting people… that’s probably where I would draw the line. See #5. Do stupid things. 

6. Don’t value yourself on others’ criteria of success.
Just because your parents think you should be an accountant, or an engineer doesn’t mean you should. Other people’s values of success do not reflect YOUR value. This is important. Just because someone thinks being a baker is less than being a lawyer, doesn’t make it true. You are valuable because you live, you try, you love, you hurt. Value yourself for the things that give you joy, that fill your self worth.

7. Never grow up.
I guess I should clarify. You will grow up. You will go through phases in your life where responsibilities will naturally take hold of your life. And it isn’t a bad thing. But remember that it’s ok to retain the curiosity of your youth. Always hold on to your childlike curiosity of the world. If you think you’ve seen it all, trust me, you haven’t.

8. Do art.
Why art? I truly believe that making art is a fundamental act of being human. Being creative, and creating emotional artifacts that allow us to express ourselves, is an uniquely human thing. Whatever that might be for you, writing, singing, dancing, painting, drawing, filming etc. Whatever it is that allows you to express your inner demons and angels, is the act of being human.

9. Love generously, but love wisely.
Love generously. Don’t be afraid of being hurt. You will be hurt. People you love will hurt you. But that does not mean that you should ever allow anyone to disrespect you, put you down, or take advantage of you. Love generously, but love wisely. Choose your lovers with the kind of respect that you have for yourself.

10. And lastly, live the here, live the now.
We are a culture of the future, of tomorrows and what-ifs. We are a constant projecting machine. We spend more of the present forecasting the future, than living the here and now. Know that it is ok to do things in the present that satisfy you, rather than constantly preparing for future satisfaction whilst trudging through the todays with discontent. I do not believe in only the result. I have learned that the process is often more important – at least in living of life. And isn’t that all that is of real importance here?

6 Encryptions | Posted in Inspirational, Personal | Tagged , , , |

Enhancing My Demon Hunter Crossbow Part 2

This is part 2 of how I enhanced my Demon Hunter Crossbow. [See Part 1]

I’ve had a request for a more complete explanation as to how I created the crossbow. For those who are extremely good with saws and such, it is very much possible to craft the body of the bow from scratch. But given my two left thumbs, I opted instead to find a toy crossbow body to start with and customize from there.

I literally searched the entire Internet for a wood toy pistol crossbow. There were plenty of regular rifle type toy crossbows but literally no pistol toy types. Until I found a source from China at TinyDeal.com. This is the original crossbow purchased from TinyDeal. It’s actually a fully functioning toy crossbow with rubber tipped arrows. I basically painted the body of this bare bones toy to my liking with acrylic paints. I also found decorative raised stickers at Michaels (that I think are used in scrapbooking) and stuck them on the sides of the bow to embellish it further. I also bought upholstery tacks and clipped the needle point off, then hot glue gunned them to the top and sides of to both hide ugly nails on the body of the gun, as well as embellish it further.

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