I’ve been in therapy quite a bit in my adult life.
You’re shocked. I can tell.
One of the most effective pieces of advice I was given by a therapist involved dealing with the internal mechanisms of my brain. Specifically, the phenomenon she called “racing thoughts.” Basically, if a notion came into my head or something bugged me, the notion itself and my thoughts on that notion would begin chasing each other around with little restraint or regard for anything I wanted to accomplish. Something would shock me or blind-side me emotionally, and I’d be a useless weepy rag of a man for at least half a day. It was bad.
Getting a grip on this problem, and by extension myself, was a lot like herding cats. Rather mangy undomesticated ones that that. My inability to properly cope with or communicate important, life-impacting information and events has lead directly to some real disasters. I’ve messed up quite a few things in my life. Some bridges have been burned, never to be repaired. I like to believe in things like redemption, forgiveness and hope, but reality is a lot colder and more harsh than the heavenly kingdom in just about any walk of faith.
See? There it goes. My mind starts chasing its own tail in a spiral of, in this case, self-loathing and regret. Nip that in the bud, mind! I’ve done bad things in my life, sure. But they weren’t all bad. And I can learn from the bad things I’ve done in the past and do better in the future. Yes, I’ve lost friends. Yes, I’ve disappointed loved ones. Who the hell hasn’t? We live on. Pain heals, chicks dig scars.
The Only Real Writer’s Block
Going back to my rosy-eyed optimism, I’m fond of telling people that they are their own biggest obstacle. Yes, the deck might be stacked against you in a certain endeavor, be it because of the success of other people or your gender or your current finances or the fact you can’t get your hands on a trained orangutan. But more often than not, the little doubts and tiny bits of self-loathing we all struggle with are the pebbles in our shoes that keep us from taking another step forward.
It’s especially true for writers. You hum along, banging out words, sending queries, pitching articles and sharing your stories with other writers. Or long-suffering spouses. Or confused pets. Or anybody within earshot. Bottom line is, six days out of seven everything’s fine as far as writing is concerned.
Then comes the bad news. Another rejection for the “I’m doing something!” pile. A disappointingly inadequate paycheck, or word that payment isn’t coming at all for another month or three. A collections call. The sound of the repo man’s tow truck hitching up to your car. Your dog leaves you a ‘present’ in your shoes. The roaches carry off the good china you haven’t managed to wash yet. You get the idea.
Whatever it is, however it comes about, you just stop cold. You doubt your worth as an artist, a writer, a human being. A little voice in your head tells you this was a bad idea. You’ll never make is as big as the people out there who have one tenth of your talent but are twenty times as wealthy and popular. You messed up somewhere, and you’ll never recover. The little bastard in the back of your brain drops a tiny bit of red matter into your heart and wham, super-massive emotional black hole. Because that feeling? Sucks.
Herding Cats While Herding Cats
Writers and artists aren’t the only folks who deal with this. Gamers also run afoul of doubt fairies. Get blasted by other players one time too many, fail in the boss fight time and again, mess up the timing necessary to get that elusive achievement after an afternoon of attempts, and the gamer rage takes hold. You fume. You cuss. You quit.
Now imagine that frustration duplicated at least a few times, in the personage of fellow gamers with whom you have direct contact, but it’s all directed at you. That’s what it means to form a guild, clan or similarly titled organization of gamers within a given game. You not only have to deal with your own anxiety and desire to get your goals across, but you also need to respond to the needs of other gamers. Some are easy to please, some are passive-aggressive in communicating what they want, some just don’t want to play by the rules and some think they’re entitled to special favors just because you’ve made the wise decision to include them in the club (which, by the way, they’re not).
Basically you’re putting yourself through the wringer not only of proving your own self-doubts wrong but weathering the slings and arrows of the outrageous expectations of others doing the same. Egos are projected. Friends become whiners. Any ideals you had get swept aside as people scramble for bits of recognition and validation. It feels like the original notion has been picked up and carried in a direction you don’t like. Red matter, center of heart, black hole, suck. The feeling that comes from herding the cats in ones’ head is aggravated by herding multiple additional cats.
So how do you wrangle these rampant felines?
Catnip for the Brain
The best advice I can give for situations like this is to keep things in perspective. As a writer, there’s nobody else in the world who can tell your story the way you want to tell it. Sure, concepts or themes or plot structures replicate themselves all the time, but the nuances, the fine details, the character ticks and turning points are all you. You’re the teller of that story, and if you don’t get out there and tell it it won’t be told.
As for gamers, games are supposed to be fun. A joy and a delight, a distraction and a touch of escape. We shouldn’t drag our personal problems into our entertainment to the degree that it stops being entertaining. That said, I’m as guilty as doing it as anybody, starting over and ragequitting with the best of them, taking a game too seriously. So I’ll be right there with you, struggling to remember that I’m in the game to have fun. The people that prevent me from having fun, that try to take that fun away to fulfill those false feelings of entitlement, are people I really shouldn’t associate with. Maybe they’ll get over it, giving the gamer form of a cat’s look of “I meant to do that.” And maybe they’ll wander off, hindquarters high in the air in that “I’m the most awesome and everybody else is an idiot” prance cats do so well.
More delicious tuna for the rest of us, I say.