Welcome to my office! Aka, my brain. Think about having a filing cabinet in your room; a good solid one, that has been kicked around and sat on and opened & closed relentless times. That’s memory, right? Plus stacks of files around that are all the stuff you’re currently dealing and interacting with, and then post-it notes stuck all over the place because they’re the things that are for right now and you won’t need in five minutes. It’s a mess, but an organised one, yes?
But one of the side-effects of long-term depression is memory loss, and over the last 1o-15 years, I have been finding that I can’t recall things. Can’t find the memories. Can’t find the words. I was actually relieved when I learned that memory loss is a side effect, because it felt like my memory was draining much faster than it should have been – and despite everyone else’s “har har, yeah, I get that!” – it felt worse. It’s not bad, not yet, and I work around it, but it is worrying.
And I thought… actually, for someone who doesn’t live with this: can I explain what it feels like to not be able to access a bunch of my office-brain?
The little day-to-day stuff – I just can’t find the post-it note I need. I know that word, but where is that damn bit of bright yellow paper? Ah, here! That’s the word. Previously, I might have had it stuck to my hand, or immediately grabbable – now, it’s somewhere on my desk… and so there’s sometimes a delay as my brain hunts through the words, trying to get the right one! Although I am finding, over the past year, that the post-its are harder to find. That word I want; it used to be on the tip of my tongue, and went from being immediate, to a second or two… and now it’s more often than not failing to come, and I sometimes can’t even recall the shape of it – I substitute a pink post-it for a yellow and I get the word wrong, even if it’s the same vague association. (This is what I mean by “it’s getting worse” – I do have some sort of objective benchmarks, as well as a feeling.)
Some things have a nice, reassuring bulk of memory; friendship with a long-time friend, for example. I know I’ve got all these good memories; a bastion of warmth and tough times and good times and laughter and shared things. But I don’t need to access that; it’s a nice solid filing cabinet that I can sit on, so it doesn’t exactly matter what’s inside it. That’s not too bad; I know the cabinet is there, even if I don’t need to get into it right now.
Some things, I need to get into the cabinet, but I can’t pull the memory out. I had Thornton’s nut toffee recently, completely randomly, and it sparked… something. I know I have a memory associated with that taste, but I can’t find it. I can’t pull it out of the folder. It’s just… not accessible to me right now.
And some things, the memories simply aren’t there. I open the cabinet and it’s a blank; there might be one thing, but nothing else around it. I sometimes have a bright memory linked to a photograph, or a specific moment; but often, the surroundings will be blank. You know the way people often say “oh yes, that trip to X, we did Y and Z” – I don’t have those Y and Z memories. Or I’ll have one or two where other people have ten or twenty. The memory folder that once had a lot in has been whittled down, somehow, and just isn’t as bulky.
And some things are just blank. Gone. I know I should remember… but I don’t. Just grey emptiness. It’s not even that the cabinet is locked; it’s that it’s not even there, or the folder is completely empty. I’ve got a photo somewhere of my family on a trip; I must have taken the photo, as I have it, and I think it’s Florence… but I have no memory of that trip. Zilch. It’s just a photo that I can piece some information together from.(I actually have “Florence 2014” written on it, so that’s something… but can I remember the trip? I mean, I can’t really remember 2014!)
And, honestly, it’s just normal now. I think the terrifying thing with memory loss is that you get used to it; I’ve been learning coping mechanisms for the damn-what’s-that-word, but I can’t do much about the rest. I keep a diary, but don’t keep detailed notes – because what help are notes, if they don’t actually help you recall? And I’m lucky that it’s not yet too bad, and it’s only going slowly – so I am, objectively, fine. I can recall what I need to (mostly), and I know people and places. So I’m just working around a slight issue with wonky filing cabinets and lost post-it notes, and it’s fiiiiine.
(If you catch me pausing when I talk, or if I hesitate, the memory thing is probably why. I know the word, damnit, I just can’t actually find that goddamn bright pink post-it note right now!)
My brain is weird, and wonderful; and also incredibly frustrating at times. But have a small glimpse into what it’s like to have a filing cabinet that you can’t open – and post-it notes stuck everywhere!
Long time no speak! It’s felt harder and harder to update here; partly because I feel like I’ve got nothing happening, partly because a lot of what I want to say is either nebulous or Not A Good Idea or just eh, and partly I’m struggling because it’s a should… and I have enough of those in my life! (Although having said that I have Nothing Happening, this has turned into quite a long post… I should update more often!)
But February has got here, and the snowdrops are coming up, and there’s been a few slivers of sunshine, and the cat has been enjoying his radiator bed. Let’s do some Happy Things!
1.I got Animal Crossing New Horizons: Happy Home Paradise extension, which has been fun! It kept me sane over Christmas and I decorated a bunch of houses, which was great. I have been playing it a little more recently – I’m currently engaged in a war against the ever-expanding tulips, and also a minor war against Tom Nook: I refuse to pay THAT AMOUNT to extend my storage! Which means curating my storage… but then I can sell almost anything at the shop, so that’s been fun. PAY ME FOR MY RUBBISH, RACOONS!
2.Sewing! I have started cross-stitching again; using patterns mostly, but I found some mega-cute ones, so that’s fine. The pic here is from MimsiDesign on Etsy, but there’s been a bunch of cute (and mostly cat-themed…) ones that I’ve found – not sharing as some of them are going to be presents!
3.Planning holidays! My Advent Calendar for the Otter last year was Experiences, and so they’ve got vouchers for trips all over the place, ranging from small day-trips to see sheep or (lots of) otters, to a suggestion of a museum in Antwerp (hopeful for an autumn trip with my family!) and llama-trekking in Dartmoor. It’s been good to look at the year and see what we can do, and at least pencil things in.
4.Work has actually been ok! I feel like I’m settling in more; I still very much dislike Elsevier as a company and frankly it’s infuriating how badly my department is treated (we’re basically forgotten, despite doing a lot of the ‘cleaning’ work) but the work itself is relatively easy, my colleagues are lovely, my editors are lovely, and my boss is frankly amazing. (She has checked in with me every two weeks, and last week we actually discussed whether I wanted to take on more work – WHAT IS THIS CONCEPT?) I’m also currently doing some work to see if I can make myself a career, or at least figure out a learning programme for the hour a week that I’ve made sure I’ve carved out. So there’s progress?
(I didn’t end up learning Ruby, by the way, because the bit that they helpfully forgot to mention was that I needed to learn it in two weeks… with a full-time job and a part-time job? Uh, no. And it’s apparently one of the harder languages to pick up – someone’s suggestion on how to learn it was to go and learn Python first! So that was a firm no from me. Life is far too short to be confused about maths when I have other things I could be doing.)
6.Shall we do some more? MUSIC! I’ve been enjoying the compilations on AlexRainBird’s channel, and they’ve introduced me to a bunch of new artists – some of whom haven’t got much out so I’ve just been buying singles, but some have albums! I had found that listening to the same music as I’d been stressed or depressed to wasn’t helping my recovery, so trying to find new things has been great.
6.Organising! I am broke as fuck this year due to a couple of things I didn’t expect (yay taxes!) but I have a spreadsheet, and Plans, and I actually feel sort of in control? Or at least like I’m in a position to be able to make decisions based on a firm base, and I know how I’m building everything up this year. We also had a couple of house opportunities come up (one of our favourite neighbours is sadly moving) but it felt good to be able to confidently say “No, that’s not right for us” and also know where we stand if something does come up. That said, the Otter found the Best House Ever – it was filled, floor to ceiling, with books. They were a little bit sad when said lovely neighbour (who is the Sensible Person around here) pointed out that the house was unlikely to come with the books.
7. We’ve also been making some household changes – we recently switched from Botley Community Larder to Oxford City, and I am IN LOVE – Botley finished at 5 and always treated me like an unwelcome nuisance for daring to Have A Job and only being able to get there at 4.45 (which also involved a lot of stress and rushing for me), and then never had much food left… and Oxford City are open until 7, had everything plus extras, plus are super nice, and I got our usual bits plus an entire box of not-quite-going-off mushrooms (seriously, they did us for four meals) and three boxes of Coco Pops and a mango and it really is the small things that make me happy! And I’ve been checking out the various subscriptions that we have, what we can get in bulk, what we actually use… I mean, I don’t think it will help much in the crazy year that’s heading for us, but at least it’s a bit of savings that we can spend on cat biscuits. (Look, I know the household priorities.)
(Also if you’re in Oxford, see what your closest larder is! There might be similar schemes in other places – it’s a community larder rather than a food bank, and the aim is to use surplus food: so anything going out of date, weird labels, overstocked, simply can’t be distributed for some reason… we ended up with a bagful of Starbucks iced lattes one week, a huge bottle of Costa chocolate syrup, Waitrose bread, more limes than anyone can do anything with, a fridge full of potatoes (not all the larder’s fault, I admit) and Christmas Pudding flavour chocolate – in amongst normal veg, tins and bread. It’s brilliant.)
8.More Oxford – going out! I’m still being careful, and have been sitting outside/going to quiet places when possible. But over the last few months I’ve been to Shin (fantastic Japanese food), Coffeesmith (best chai latte I’ve ever had), finally got into The Missing Bean (weekday lunchtimes is where that’s at – don’t even try on a Saturday!) and a friend and I have a favourite place for breakfast on Saturday, but I’m not going to tell you in case everyone starts going there. (Ok, ok, it’s the Organic Deli. They do the best pancakes.) Jamona also do great Indian, and I’m still a big fan of Taberu (Japanese – really good sushi!) I feel like I’m starting to get to know the city a bit more, which is nice.
9.I’m writing this on Valentine’s Day, so I’m going to gush: the Otter is just wonderful. Actually being able to talk to someone, and have a conversation about issues/feelings/emotions/what the problem might be/previous history that could be affecting something/how something makes you feel – both good and bad! – is really nice. It’s also really nice to be able to have discussions about anything and actually feel both listened to and responded to. So they’ve been cute, wonderful and generally adorable! (They’re also now working for the OED rather than in computer games, and so much less stressed! That’s been wonderful too.)
10.And a final one: the Grumpiest of Grumpy Cats is, you will be pleased to know, still Grumpy. We also have confirmation that he looks like a walrus (I don’t yet have a comparison pic to confirm that, but I will get one) and is thankfully less chonky than previously (he was approaching 6kg! Now 5.3, much to his disapproval.) He’s absolutely loving his life; 7am sharp is cuddles on the sofa, 9am is morning snoozes on a warm lap when the Human starts work, and then it’s a flexible schedule of radiator naps, yelling breaks, occasional trips to the biscuit-bowl to refuel, back to napping on a lap until dinner, and then a post-dinner snooze in the radiator bed until bedtime in a blanket nest on the sofa. We’re very blessed to have had lockdown with his company, although I’m starting to transition back into a day into the office every now and again, and that is going to require Explanation… (or biscuit bribes when I get home. Both work.)
And a Kate update: As you may be able to tell, I’m feeling… better? Occasionally (ok, frequently) manic, and I definitely have more energy; I spent two hours on Sunday being a whirlwind of chaos and cleaned the entire house, and still had energy after…it was a bit strange. I’m still crashing occasionally, but it’s “I need a nap” rather than a full-day crash, which is good. I’m over six months on Citalipram, and it does seem to be the right base for me; we’re experimenting with doses (I’m currently dropping it a bit, as the manic has got a little too manic) and we’re just going to see how the next few months go. (On which note, my doctor is lovely.)
I’m still grey, though. Nothing really gets through, and I still don’t really know how to feel with anything. I’m struggling with motivation – I can just read Reddit or play Carcassonne and it’s just… existing. Sewing has been good, because at least that’s producing something while existing, and it’s fairly mindless. But I haven’t written, don’t really read, and can’t focus long enough to watch anything – even Ghibli isn’t great. I manage some games, but can’t really get into longer ones; Patchwork and Carcassonne have been my go-tos. I’ve got a couple of projects that I’m really excited about, but I just can’t summon the enthusiasm to tackle the huge pile of obstacles to even figuring out if they’re feasible. (Sorry, Dad. I know you did loads of work on the box and I haven’t looked at anything else for that project yet!)
But then I do also wonder how much of it is the depression, how much is the fact we’re LIVING IN A FUCKING PANDEMIC, and how much is recovering from a three-year severe burnout. So I’m trying not to expect too much, and just appreciate that I’m a lot better than I was a year ago. (And very thankful to be in a better place, too; still dealing with bursts of anger and frustration, still dealing with guilt, still very upset over the whole thing. TL;DR: sucky job did some long-term damage. Quelle surprise.)
Everything is getting better, I think, or at least my energy is on an upward trajectory and I’m definitely not as bad as I was in terms of mental health. But I’m still very much just keeping going, and just putting one foot in front of another. But hey ho, sunshine is on the way! And the cat is cute (and grumpy), so that’s always a win.
All the best things come in sixes, maybe? I had a midnight flash of inspiration for more of these, so have some new character scribbles! (Standard disclaimer: very very loosely based on people at Rebellion, and not intended to be a comment on anyone at all!)
She spoke in strange tongues as she worked, littering her speech with odd syllables and unknown words. We were not sure where she had picked it up, for the language was none of the known spell-speeches, but her words often made her work go faster. None of us could replicate her effects, although our efforts caused her much amusement.
But the mystique was undone when one day a visitor laughed, and said something in the same tongue. The staccato reply made it clear that their input was not welcome, but they just laughed again.
“What did she say?” I asked them as we retreated from the sorceress muttering her alien spells to her machine.
“Oh, she is calling it a plate of… I don’t know the word. It is an insult.” The visitor shrugged. “It makes it work better.”
Hir wisdom was boundless, deep as the sea and old as the mountains; hir thoughts ran in ages and aeons, and disdained such human notions as “hours”.
Hir colleagues eventually reached a compromise on the concept of “months”, mostly by pointing out how inconvenient it would be if they passed away from old age in mid-conversation.
The story of the princes who turned into swans is not exactly inaccurate; but the stories don’t say what happened to the ordinary folk caught in the same circumstances. Those without a beautiful sister to make them sweaters with spells woven into the patterns (an ancient art in itself), or without a handy hero to see them dancing in worn-out shoes, or without anyone to remember that they were once human.
Some do remember, though. Both humans, and birds.
And so if the wildfowl on the river flock to his handfuls of bread more quickly and readily than they do anyone else, maybe it is because they alone understand his murmured words, and appreciate his remembering what they once were.
“That was a terrible joke!”
“Oh, really?” the selkie says in his broad accent, not at all offended. “Ah thought it was alreet. I’ll get mah skin.”
The machine had been built to write routine spells: put a script in one side, and get a functional spell out the other. The problem came when it somehow got infected with sarcasm, irony and an awareness of current affairs.
Everyone agreed that the resulting weekly newsletter was very good, and even won some awards; and the machine’s notably radical leanings didn’t seem to affect the reliability of the spells at all.
They kept a wary eye on the effects, though.
She was usually cheerful; round-cheeked and smiling between sips of coffee and bursts of work. But woe betide if you crossed her.
The burned holes in the roof had been patched, and the tail-smashed desks replaced: but nothing could quite erase the soot-stains in the corner, or the memory of the dragon raging in the middle of the office on the day the coffee machine had finally broken.
And whether it was repairable was rather a moot point, now that it was a charred and melted heap.
I’ve been playing a game on the Switch called Spiritfarer, which bills itself as “a cozy management game about dying”, and the couple of reviews I’d read (plus a suggestion from someone I follow) suggested it was right up my street.
Let’s start with the good bits. It’s got beautiful graphics, is adorably drawn, and it’s pretty easy to move around/do things. The first quarter of the story – the first four characters – is lovely; you’re led pretty easily through how to play, the base resources you can get, customising your boat, sailing places, all as you do tasks for the characters and make sure they’re comfortable… and when those character arcs are done, you can take them to the Everdoor, and usher them onwards. It hits all the right bittersweet notes, and one of them did make me cry. So for the first couple of hours, it’s a really nice, sweet, find-resources-and-do-quests game.
And then let’s move on to the things that made me repeatedly (over several gaming sessions) swear, want to throw the controller across the room, and finally actually give up on the fucking game.
First; whoever designed the plot/game mechanics apparently never even considered that someone might not do things in the “right” order. I actually had to restart after 5-6 hours gameplay because I got the “wrong” skill, and couldn’t progress; after I’d restarted and got past that same point, I then spent 8-10 hours almost running in circles, because what I needed to do to progress any of my quests was. Not. Fucking. Obvious.
I usually hate looking up answers, but I hit my limit. I accessed walk-throughs. I asked the same questions many other players had asked. I tried to guess and second-guess if I’d missed something. Each time, I did eventually manage to figure out what I’d missed – but when it’s several things, in different areas, and that had happened multiple times… I was done.
Constantly second-guessing a game IS NOT FUN.
Fun is knowing something is up there but not being able to get to it yet, or mashing buttons frantically because you just have to get that jump riiiiight oh fuck, ok, do it again. Fun is exploring and finding new things, new quest lines, and even if you can’t do one or two there’s still plenty that you can follow. Fun is being able to see what you can do and what your aims are, even if you can’t currently do it/don’t want to/feel like chasing comets instead.
Fun is not being led, gently, along a path, and then being pushed off it – and having no idea if you can’t do a thing because you don’t have the skill, or you missed something, or there’s a bug. Fun is not being frustrated enough to have to research every single character you can pick up in the game to figure out which one you should get now, with the (apparently limited) skills, and realising that the answer is “none”… which can’t be right. Fun is not HAVING TO FUCKING RESTART because the devs apparently didn’t even consider that someone might not follow the game with the plot structure they had in their heads, and then have no way to remedy it.
Place that alongside some decisions not to signpost resources or provide any help in-game, and to only signpost some access points and not others (eg. places where you can jump are sometimes obvious… and sometimes very not obvious) and it’s a recipe for a fucking frustrating game. There was one instance with a high ladder, where one iteration of it is relatively easy to jump onto; it just requires the right position/skill. There’s a similar iteration where I must have tried 15-20 times, no luck – so I assumed, not unreasonably, that it required a skill I didn’t have. Apparently what it actually requires is the stars to align and a pink elephant to fly past, and you can climb up this ladder – I have no idea what I did differently to get there, but it was annoying. Times that by about ten different things, and it’s infuriating.
The paragraphs above don’t really convey the sheer annoyance of all of this, but my partner will assure you that I was PISSED OFF. And I would also like to point out that it’s not me being stupid; the decisions were pretty obvious, generally, and the game definitely didn’t point to one being needed before the other, or to where I could find more information – it did really seem like whoever designed this had merrily trundled along, assuming you’d do The Right Thing and just… not thinking about if you, maybe, didn’t or couldn’t do That Thing.
I want to love this game. I want to say it’s sweet, and cute, and fun, and it made me cry (which it did, twice.) I want to say it’s a neat little game about collecting resources and taking your passengers out for dinner and talking to rude passers-by and delivering lemons. I want to say that it’s a thoughtful, gentle story about life and death, and friends making their way into the afterlife, and about how we deal with death and loss and memories, and that it tugs all the right heartstrings.
I want to love it.
But, honestly: it is all of that – it is sweet and lovely and heart-tugging – and that’s not enough to overcome the flaws.
My real takeaway? Don’t buy this. Don’t bother playing. You’ll make the wrong plot decision, or not be able to do something, or choose the wrong action, and frankly – unless you like aimlessly drifting around a map while frantically Google’ing to see what you missed and where you should go next – it’s not worth it.
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