Outside The Wall

Technically, I do have something game-ish to write about. Quite a few things, actually. There’s some thoughts on my first game with the Retribution infantry, there’s the Mines of Moria table Hark and I are working on, there’s a Gaming Curriculum post for the first time in quite some time. Any and all of these things could have been written, but for once I feel like shivering my way past the prime directive of GAME OVER – this is Von’s blog about games, not Von’s blog about whatever happens to cross his mind on a Wednesday or Sunday morning – and saying a few quick words about something real.

Being me, of course, I can’t come right out and say it, so I’m going to talk about Pink Floyd instead. The Wall is one of my favourite albums and possibly my favourite film. Pompous, relentless and cruel, tragic and cuttingly cynical, it builds up a gifted, fragile central character, shows the slow process by which, as Larkin said, ‘they fuck you up, your mum and dad’, and in the fucking-up of you ensure that you are good for fucking up your friends, your colleagues and your lovers in turn. It pities the poor suffering rock star and savagely undermines him at the same turn; he’s fucked-up and complicit in his own fucking-up, withdrawing behind a metaphorical Wall built out of every bad thing that’s ever happened to him and cemented with his vindictive fantasies of revenge and self-punishment. And it ends with this faint, sad shadow of a song, only a minute or two long:

All alone, or in twos,
The ones who really love you
Walk up and down
Outside the Wall.
Some walk hand in hand
Some gather together in bands
The bleeding hearts, and the artistes,
Make their stand.
And when they’ve given you their all
Some stagger, and fall
After all, it’s not easy
Banging your head against some mad bugger’s Wall.
— 
Pink Floyd, ‘Outside the Wall’

I am painfully aware that this is what it’s like being friends with me sometimes. A lot of the time, actually.

I don’t mean to take refuge in this sort of thing, but it is something that you may or may not know about me; I am not well in the head. In 2008, shortly before I started all this noise and nonsense you’re reading now, I was diagnosed with cyclothymia, which – for those not in the know – is the Diet Coke of bipolar illnesses (it’s not as bad for you as the others but it’ll still rot your teeth in the end). I don’t so much ‘suffer from’ as ‘live with’ the condition, arcing gently back and forth between a ‘keep going forward, don’t get killed’ state of quiet depression, and bouts of ‘I could conquer the world and sex up a million nuns in my head without even needing to get out of bed, now FUCK OFF I’M NOT MAKING THE TEA’ manic energy.

I do know, however, that it’s not easy to live with me, or play games with me for that matter. I am volatile, moody, insecure and prone to throwing time and money at things in a hypomanic fit only to regret it a week later when I’ve coasted back to the state of two-drinks-and-an-hour’s-sleep-under-par self-detesting misery that passes for ‘normal’ around here. The condition is best treated by avoiding intoxicants and sleeping regularly and thinking positively; things which are not exactly compatible with a community of night owls engaged in a practice where luck or ineptitude can result in an experience turning negative oh so quickly.

And yet people do put up with me. People are kind enough to tolerate my constant “yes but why do you want me around when I’m rubbish at everything” prattling, and to ride out the periods when I want to do ALL THE THINGS and invariably overcommit. The thing is, I think, that I don’t behave that differently to anyone else; cyclothymia is classified as a ‘mild’ mental illness (perhaps to the detriment of those so afflicted) and most of the time I can just, well, live with it, get on with the day and not seem any different to other folks. I feel the same feelings as you, respond to the same things as you; I just feel them a little more intensely, respond to them in ways that are a little less logical.

I don’t always remember to thank people, but. Well. Thank you all. Thank you for giving me something to do with myself, something toward which I can direct that surplus energy or drag myself when I can’t be bothered to do anything. Thank you for helping me roll with the punches and encouraging me not to be at the mercy of my misfiring neurons and just give up or bully on through experiences. Thank you for helping me get past the poor choices, which I’m slightly more prone to making than you might be. Thank you for not mentioning the apparent hypocrisies inherent in the mood swings, and for being patient with me when I over- or under-react to things.

Every so often, I pass by a gap in the Wall, and I can see outside. It’s good to know you’re out there. I’m sure you’re not really waiting for me; I’m sure you’re just getting on with your lives; but I do appreciate it when you stop, and reach inside to take my hand for a while.

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7 thoughts on “Outside The Wall

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  1. Ah, Von, you dear sweet nutjob you.
    Be eezy, man.
    Light leaks in from time to time.
    Bask in it when you can, hunker down and muddle through when you have to.
    My own experience has led me to believe that life doesn’t ‘get easier,’ or cut one slack, so as much as I’d like it all to just go ‘way, and leave me alone, that’ll never happen.
    Blah.
    So that leaves me with no option other to engage in all of…this mess.
    Can’t say I’m real fond of it, and I’d happily forgo it if I could, but whatevs.
    I grab the odd moment of leaky sunshine when I can, and brood in the dark when the mood strikes me.
    For whatever reason, I am oddly comforted by the fact that I’ve got this odd support group on the Internet.
    Who woulda thunk?
    It ain’t all bad, thankfully.
    :)

    1. Of course it doesn’t get any easier. The whole rotten business goes on and on and on until you’re dead, and even THEN it goes on without you. The best you can do is not make it any worse for anyone, yourself included, and have the nicest time you can manage while you’re doing it.

      Someone asked me once how I could believe ‘that nihilistic crap’ and still be a nice person. It’s easy. Given how generally huge and horrible the world is, how finite human life is, and how monumentally unjust the imaginary systems we’ve created to administer it can be… given all that, what kind of monster goes around being a dick to people and makes it worse?

  2. Regarding Pink Floyd’s The Wall…
    Well, it’s a classic, although I’ve always found ‘The Final Cut’ makes me lean in and pay attention more, since it lacks the catchy Dave Gilmore tracks like Comfortably Numb and Dirty Woman, and wallows in it’s own misery a little more.
    Saw the movie in the theatre when I was a lil’ burnout cheesehead 11 year old…I’ve watched it a few dozen times since then, but damn, man- that is NOT good stuff to take in regularly. Pink Floyd is entirely too depressing for daily listening.
    I listen to music constantly. It greatly influences my mood. If I was listening to Floyd every day, I likely would’ve jumped from a rooftop by now. Eesh.

    1. Yeah, The Wall may be a brilliant film but it’s not one I can sit down and just watch. There are definitely optimum conditions for consumption, in that case. Conditions like… well, the first time I watched it it was two in the morning, I was utterly visored, and slumped in a comfy armchair with a man who’d just misplaced his fiancée.

      I don’t listen to music constantly, and it tends to reflect my mood more than influence it; you can tell how rubbish I’m feeling by the choice of album to leave on repeat for four hours. The Chemical Wedding? Good day. Floodland? OK day. The Wall? BRING THE EMERGENCY TEA.

  3. He’s right you know, Pink Floyd is a powerful drug. The animation in Another Brick in the Wall used to really scare me when I was a kid. I’d hide behind the couch. And that song, “Mother” gives me shivers.

    You know what, I think we could probably talk for hours about… well anything really, but specifically about mental illnesses and how they are diagnosed and how they are perceived and what that does to people. Let alone what they feel like. I live my own life teetering on the edge of admitting to myself that there’s Something Wrong in my head. I take way too many risks and make way too many unwise decisions to ever be classified as un-fucked-up. For example, last week I quit one of the most prestigious academic Philosophy programs in the English-speaking world to pursue creative writing…

    So if I’ve ever been of help to you, I’m glad. Having you as a digitally mediated friend has in a strange way made me feel less alone at times. I feel as though we are oddly similar in many ways. And you can rest assured that you’re not the only supposedly smart person who makes “interesting” life decisions :)

    We can all trace things back to our parents, and formative experiences and all the rest: even in-born temperament plays a part, I’m sure of it. But there comes a time when you just have to sigh and say look, this is me, I may not be 100% happy about it but at least I can look myself in the eye so to speak. Not knowing you personally, I haven’t really been on the receiving end of anything too bad, and I think you have a lot to be proud of.

    Like Sin I am glad of our odd little group that has formed. I sometimes wonder how well we would all get on in real life.

    1. That’d be an interesting conversation for when I can focus on anything for ten minutes at a stretch. Suffice it to say that screwing up my soul and accurately representing how I’m feeling to a professional medical type is extraordinarily awkward and complicated for me; the urge to be on my best behaviour and not make a spectacle of myself is very, very strong. The diagnosis came as a kind of relief; “I won’t have to do that again.” Then the records went missing and I had to do that again. Twice. >.<

      You quit your PhD? I'm… not surprised, but perhaps a little confused. I'd have thought that was the right climate in which to pursue and inform creative writing… but maybe that's a bit of a fetish, a tiki-mask with a mortar-board, on the part of someone who's never been approved for one.

      What I'd like to do, someday, is to do a Bobo (the former editor of Unseen Lurker spent a year travelling the world, sofa-surfing and seeing the sights and playing games with people; although he was a rather notorious terror of the tournament circuit with well-read battle reports, while I’m an obscurity with a stupid beard). Kind of a kindness of strangers tour. See how far I can get. I never did the ‘gap year’ thing after school, just went straight into university, and I’ve never been quite sure if I regret it or not.

  4. “Then the records went missing and I had to do that again. Twice.” That sounds horrible.

    If you ever come this way you have a couch of course. And a non-entity with a beard who is an entertaining writer is at least as good as a tournament terror. It’s original research anyway :)

    Re: the PhD, yeah, you’d think it’s conducive. That’s a large part of why I ended up where I did in the first place. But for me at least, I was incapable of doing both at the same time. I just ended up flaking away from academia, returning to menial work, and guiltily writing what I actually wanted to write instead. So I guess I’m no Mieville. Once I’d faced up to that hard truth I thought fuck it, I’m going to do what I want to do; what I’ve always wanted to do but never had the balls to commit to without the safety net of academia. Some people might be able to flourish and easily manage a doctorate at the same time as doodling out creative work, but I can’t. I just didn’t want it bad enough.

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