Even if you’ve never read my blog posts before, you might want to read this one. Trigger warning: Suicidal /self-harm ideation, anxiety disorder. (Also like, super middle class privilege, good god…)
This has been a long time coming, and I have been wrestling with how to say these things for close to three months now. I even considered going to an indie games festival and giving this as a talk, but ultimately I have backed out of doing that because I want to just put a fullstop on things right now and not have to think about them, at least for a bit, while I recover.
We live in a society that is structured by layers upon layers of assumptions about how we should live and relate to each other. I know many of you struggle with this too in so many different ways, but the way I’m going to talk about today is the act of creativity, the state of being a creative person. It’s my personal belief that everyone has some creativity in them, even when people say to me that they don’t know how I create things, and that they don’t have a creative bone in their body. But what only a few people feel, and I am one, is an all-consuming drive to create things and put them out in the world, to the point of actually engaging in some pretty unhealthy behaviours to get there.
This comes from a few places. All my childhood years, I was built up to expect that I could just step into a creative career immediately out of school. My teachers, as wonderful as they all were to a bullied gifted child who struggled to make friends with her peers, perhaps didn’t realise how ill prepared I was going to be out in the world. When I did step into that world, I found that no one cared. My work, which had always been immediately praised as a child, was rejected – and this might sound funny to people who haven’t had harder lives, especially around education, but I had no idea what to do with that. My work wasn’t good enough? Then I wasn’t good enough. I might as well stop trying. So I settled into careers that were ‘good enough’, that paid the bills and were stable. For a while, this was enough (and I know how damn privileged this sounds, believe me. Boo frikking hoo.).
But things started to get bad. I realise now that most of my life I have suffered with a cognitive dissonance between where I am in my life, and the person I thought I was supposed to be. The longer I don’t live up to that image, the more it hurts every day. (Again, I get how frikking priviliged this is all sounding, but I’m just trying to paint a picture of my mental state for you, ‘kay?)
How did this present itself in behaviours? Before my child was born, it presented as filling up as much of my non-job hours as possible with my creative pursuits. Writing, acting, directing, producing theatrical productions, and then making a transition to video game production and doing practically everything myself there except for the areas I didn’t feel like I had the skill to pull off (art, music). Then after my child was born, I had a blissful balance of creativity and motherhood for a little while. But once maternity leave was over, that was when my life took the massive nosedive I didn’t see coming.
I had work, and I had being a parent. Where was creativity supposed to fit now? The answer was in all the gaps. Leaning on grandparents to babysit while I sat there on my computer, all the while completely aware that I was doing the whole workaholic thing that I recognised in my Father when I was a child. Staying up stupidly late every single night to cram in what I could, writing, programming, recording, bug fixing, whatever was needed.
Then finally, this all caught up with me, as it inevitably had to. I started experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety that seemed to completely bypass my conscious brain, which would try and logic its way out of the problem, or to control it with breathing exercises. I had gone too far, and my body was fighting back. My subconscious even gifted me an image, of me slamming the passenger side of my vehicle into a tree, so that I might be able to go to the hospital and sleep with no interruptions. That was the point where I realised I had really, royally screwed up, and reached out for help.
When you hear about people getting to that point and reaching out for help, you might imagine, as I usually do, that that’s the point where things start to turn around, and problems start to get solved. But it’s a much harder, longer journey than that sentence. It might surprise you to learn that this breakthrough was occuring in March last year, months before I launched my KickStarter campaign for Her Jentle Hi-ness. Why, why, why would I do that, if I had acknowledged that I was breaking down? Honestly, I wish I could go back in time and shake some sense into myself. But I believed that I could finish the game, that it was mostly finished away, and that I had to have some form of creative outlet, didn’t I?
I’ll speed the timeline up a little bit here. I got some therapy, and slowly things started to penetrate my stubborn head. Lockdown hit in August, therapy continued online, and my ability to do anything productive, be it my day job or my game production, froze right up. I would sit in front of my screen with my shoulders and back aching, and not be able to lift a finger. I started to break things down into tiny, tiny goals, and treat every one like a big achievement – after all, anything was better than nothing. I also started to cut corners aggressively. The biggest one was marketing myself and my games. I dropped off in my online presence, and stopped running ads on social media. They weren’t making a difference anyway. Nothing was penetrating the saturation of the market, and I didn’t have the energy to go all in, so I gave up, and focussed on what I could do, instead of worrying about what I couldn’t.
Slowly, things started to get better. The game took shape and the to do list started to shrink. But the real revelations were still awaiting me. It might seem odd to you (or frankly, bloody typical of me) that I added more work to my plate, but I joined NaNoWriMo in November with a novel idea that has been haunting me in various forms for fifteen years. Why on earth would I do this? Well, surprisingly, I would write for hours every day and feel – almost unbelieveably – nothing but joy. This continued until I had a 125,000 word manuscript in my hands by Christmas, and I started to think about how I could continue this feeling.
There were two weeks I had to take off at the end of 2021/start of 2022 because my child’s daycare was on break, and I decided that those would be days where I did nothing for game dev or even novel writing, even though I enjoyed it so much. I realised two things then. First, I didn’t miss game dev at all. In fact, I was so, so grateful to myself for giving permission to not look at it for two weeks. Second, I really, really missed novel writing. I couldn’t wait to get back and start on the draft of the sequel.
Since then, there has still be some struggle, because I pretty much never go back on my word, so I was going to get Her Jentle Hi-ness out no matter what. And thankfully, towards the end, I stopped hating the process as much as I had come to. I was finally able, in the end, to say that I had done a good enough job. I haven’t done anything but a few social media posts to market the game, and while some of you marketing gurus out there in the world will be shaking your head at me, mouths agape, calling me a fool, I know. I know, that with just a little effort and some dollar spend, I could be marketing this game. But I just don’t care to do it. I’m still raw, burnt out.
And that is why I am parking all of Sky Bear Games for now. Maybe I will come back to it one day. Certainly, I will still post occasionally on here, especially to continue updating the saga of my D&D character Dirwin. But this is the last fortnightly update for the foreseeable future. There hasn’t been a new podcast episode since last year, and it will stay that way for now. And I will not be working on another video game in my precious spare time unless the creative spirit drives me with true joy and purpose to do so. Producing, writing, programming, testing, marketing, distrubuting, and all the other bits and pieces I did before now, all of that was basically like having another full time job, and I just cannot sustain it any longer. I deserve to be able to go tools down and enjoy my family and my leisure time, as does every other worker in this crazy world where the powers that be value money over lives. It’s time I stopped acting like my own capitalist nightmare boss and treated myself like a human being.
I feel the need to stress this: I haven’t recovered yet. I am still suffering from anxiety, I still have moments where I freeze up, unable to act, I still have times where I slip into my obsessive modes and need to slap myself out of it and appreciate the beauty around me. I am a work in progress. I am, we are, and we always will be.
So what’s next for me? Well, the novels, if that wasn’t obvious. I work on those every day for around twenty minutes to an hour, depending on how much time I can truly spare without encroaching on family time. I am lucky that I am a fast writer, and those twenty minutes can net me upwards of seven hundred words. I am enjoying living in this world with these characters, and I am setting off on the scary new adventure (for me) of redrafting and getting the manuscript to where I can say good enough (not perfect, never that).
What’s my rubric for success now? Weirdly, it’ll be the day when my husband reads it and goes, there, that’s it. Since we got together, he has been my most incisive and challenging critic of my creative works (also he’s a librarian, so he knows his stuff). I hated it at first (my high school friend reminded me the other day I would react reeeeeeally badly to criticism back in the day) but after years of absorbing his creative criticism, I have come to understand, and actually enjoy now, how it improves the quality of my work. So he’s the Sultan to my Scheherazade, and even if I never get officially published (though god, I would love most in the world to be surprised one day by people drawing fan art of my characters, or – god forbid – writing fan fiction!), if I can please his discerning tastes then that’ll be a major tick in the box.
To all of you who have followed this blog, thank you for your attention over the years. It’s a precious commodity in this over-saturated market. To those of you who popped in to see just this one update, thank you for taking the time, and I hope that either you don’t recognise yourself in this post and you’re living a healthy life, or if you do recognise your own self-destructive tendencies here, that this might inspire you to make some changes so that the world can enjoy your creativity without you suffering for your art. I used to feel very strongly that the only worth I had was to give the world my art, but I have realised over the last eighteen months that if I’m not careful, I could drive myself to an early grave, and thus deprive the world of what an older, wiser me might have to say one day.
This is a promise: that in whatever way it’s going to happen, see you on the other side of whatever this current mess is!