How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Sha

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Before I get started, I’d like to rather triumphantly announce the following:

I win!

I win!

That’s right!  My novel, Observe, was finished on November 28th, two days ahead of time, despite a 10-day delay in getting started due to that pesky hard drive failure.  To be honest, it’s pretty terrible, but I’ve got it in for editing anyway because it’s better than 50 Shades of Grey if for no other reason than the fact that I do not, at any point, use the phrase “puckered love cave.”  And also that the decapitations outnumber the sex scenes in a 15-to-1 ratio.

But now, I’d like to talk about something a little more serious, and a little more personal, and way more World of Warcraft-related.

It may come as a shock to those who don’t know me exceptionally well, but despite all of the humor and attempted badassery (which spell-check does not recognize as a word, thus causing me to point at my screen and scream “J’ACCUSE!” just now), I have spent the majority of my life battling against a winning combination of a mood disorder and PTSD, with just a touch of severe anxiety tossed in for good measure and also because some deity up there hates me.  Yes, I have truly won the mental illness lottery.

To make matters worse, for twelve years of my life I was horribly misdiagnosed with simple depression and just being a bitchy teenager.  The medication I was put on either made me prone to severe outbursts of anger, turned me into a sociopath with no concept of right and wrong, or turned me into a zombie who slept 16 hours a day, depending on which one we’re talking about (looking at you here, Paxil).  Apparently when you medicate someone for a disease or disorder that they don’t actually have, it completely screws everything up.  Imagine that!  But before I found this delicious little tidbit of information and was then put on, you know, the right medication, I was at my breaking point.  “Screw the doctors,” I said.  “I don’t need their crappy meds.”  So I quit taking them, cold turkey.

I don’t have a medical degree or anything, but I’d like to go on the record as saying DO NOT EVER DO THIS EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER OH GOD NO.  NO, NO NO NO, NO NO NO NO.

Once the withdrawals — which I can only compare to the depictions of heroin withdrawals I’ve seen on Law & Order — subsided, the first couple of weeks weren’t too bad.  I figured I was cured, that I could take on the world, and I didn’t need no stinkin’ pills.

Let’s fast forward to a few months later when my anxiety had reached the point that I was unable to answer my phone or even leave the house.  I was a complete recluse at that point.  I would be fine one minute, then huddling in a corner rocking back and forth sobbing hysterically the next, or flipping out on people over the smallest of offenses and throwing shit across the room.  I’d stay up for three days straight because I just had all this energy, man, doing things like repeatedly ripping everything out of my closet and then reorganizing it, or spending hundreds of dollars on shoes.

…Okay, so I’d do the shoe thing even on meds.  Guiiiiiilty.

Then all of that awesome energy would vanish into thin air, and I’d spend a week too depressed to get out of bed, back to sleeping more hours per day than my cat, and spending the six hours or so that I was actually conscious in tears.

I’m not sure what the breaking point was for me.  I think it might have been that by this point, The Fiance (then The Boyfriend) had sat quietly by my side through the ups and downs, never blaming me, never complaining, for a few months, and even if I didn’t love myself back then, I loved him.  I felt I owed it to him to get help, adhering to the Overlord Bunny Philosophy of “don’t just complain about it, figure out how to make it better.”  Even calling the various treatment centers around my location was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever had to do.  I was convinced that the people on the other end of the line were going to yell at me or belittle me thanks to the paranoia that comes part and parcel with PTSD, and while now if somebody’s a total dick to me I’m strong enough to be an even bigger dick right back to them, in those days it would have been enough to send me over the edge and into a very, very dark place that quite honestly, I will not go into more specifics about in public.  Come up with your own ideas about what was in that awful mess of shadows and you’re probably right, anyway.

Of course, the people were extremely nice and got me set up with a great program in a great facility because not everyone is out to get me, only about 75%.  They were the ones who explained to me that I had been misdiagnosed, probably because my particular combination of mood disorder + PTSD often looks like one illness instead of two if too shallow of a psychiatric evaluation is done in the first place.  Despite all of this, I was reticent to try any more medication.  I had already been on several, and it ended badly.  Then I saw them write “agoraphobia” in my chart and that was when it really sunk in that no, I wasn’t just sad or difficult, I was sick.  If I had been diagnosed with cancer, I would have accepted chemotherapy.  This might have been an invisible kind of illness, but it was an illness all the same, and to put it into the fantasy RPG terms I love so dearly, I had to vanquish the shit out of this dragon.

It’s been a while since those dark days, and I’m happy to report that said dragon may not be totally vanquished, but he sure as Hell isn’t going to be burninating any peasants for a while.  I still struggle with anxiety once in a while, but I can leave my house without having a panic attack the moment I step over the threshold.  My head is clear, meaning I can write and do art things even better (and more often) than before.  NaNoWriMo was a test for myself to see how far I had really come, if I could accept the challenges of a creative gig, such as deadlines, progress reports, working through the nights when I absolutely felt as if I had no words to put onto paper… and I succeeded.  Friends and family congratulated me, sure, but none of them realized just how huge of a victory this was for a woman who, previously, was only able to celebrate the smallest of things, like putting my feet on the floor in the morning.  It proved to me that I could do the type of things that I wanted to do for the rest of my life, the things that I wanted to make a career out of.

So I gathered up my portfolio, typed up a bitchin’ resume, and did what I had been too nervous to actually do up to this point — I submitted my application to Blizzard.  If I don’t get the position I applied for this time, then there will eventually be others.  I will keep putting myself out there over and over again, no tears, no giving up.  Because I, Overlord Bunny, have already won in the eyes of the person who matters most.

Me.

And honestly, I have Blizzard, specifically World of Warcraft, to thank for part of my continued recovery.

The Mists of Pandaria expansion introduced new mobs to fight known as the Shas.  While the main Shas (Fear, Doubt, Anger, Despair, Hatred, and Violence) are typically raid and dungeon bosses, some smaller Sha-like baddies exist in the world as regular “kill x amount of these” mobs.  They appear in every zone, some of them at random, such as the Haunt of Fear that sometimes spawns when disturbing Dreadspore Bulbs in the Dread Wastes, or the Ancient Horrors lurking in dig sites that reward additional archaeology fragments upon their unceremonious smiting.  Players will find entire villages under attack, in one quest having to exorcise them from the bodies of innocent guards.

The first time I fought the Sha of Doubt, I remember thinking how being forced to fight shadowy versions of myself was rather poignant, especially with my history.  I actually came away from that particular boss fight feeling somehow lighter and stronger.

When I began doing daily quests for the August Celestials, one quest in particular that pitted me against mini-Shas called Lingering Doubts made me have to quit the game for an hour or two.  It wasn’t a negative response; it wasn’t based in frustration with difficulty or boredom with the actual quest itself.  It was because when attacked, the Doubts would whisper things to me that echoed perfectly the anxieties I still fight with on a daily basis.  I regret not being able to directly quote them myself, and there does not seem to be any record of these quotes in the various World of Warcraft databases I visit, but they spoke of feelings of not being good enough, or successful enough, or the fear that no one really likes me.  It caught me by surprise, like a slap in the face.  The wordings, everything… I am, quite honestly, convinced that at least one person on whatever specific team it was that developed the concept of these Shas has battled anxiety and/or depression themselves at some point in their lives.  They’re simply too accurate to be completely fabrication.  I won’t lie, when I gathered myself enough to log back in and finish the quest, I teared up a couple of times, muttering “fuck you” under my breath while I Halo’d a huge pack of them to death.  My life bar would quickly start to shrink as they all rushed to me and began attacking and whispering at once, but even when I didn’t manage to get to Power Word: Shield in time, Angelic Bulwark would pop up and give me a few more critical seconds to heal up.  No matter how many Lingering Doubts were on me, I knew exactly what buttons to hit to prevent them from taking me down.

And when I stood there, Objective Complete, surrounded by dead doubts, I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried.

Now, I’m willing to admit that this probably makes me the biggest nerd in the world for finding more success in treating my mental illness with a video game than even going to therapy sessions, but specific types of video games are already being used to treat military PTSD sufferers with success.  It stands to reason that for those of us who never served, but still suffer from this awful affliction, different types of games could be used for the same effect.  Of course, I’m not telling people to stop taking their meds and start playing World of Warcraft instead, but I will say that when I’m having a hard time, I log on and kill a few Sha, and it legitimately improves my mood.  By killing the anxieties or the shadowy self on a screen, I’m kicking its ass in my brain, too.  Was this the intent with the particular design of the Shas?  It’s hard to say, but even if it’s completely by accident, I cannot deny that it does have a positive effect.  My bad days are fewer and further between.  When problems arise in my life, they’re no longer crippling or destructive.  I can handle them completely on my own, even without having to rely on the Sha.

In addition, there is a gimmick/fan account on Twitter that has popped up recently, the Sha of Happiness (who also has a really touching and sweet blog).  As far as I know, the writer’s identity has not been established, and a debate rages on as to whether it’s a Blizzard employee or just a kindhearted fan.  Regardless of who is behind the cute and smiley mask, the Sha of Happiness takes it upon themselves to intervene whenever someone is having a rough time.  They’ve spread the word about individuals battling chronic illness, or just needing a little extra love and support. From time to time they post reminders that every single one of us, no matter how damaged or awful we think we might be, matters, and that none of us are truly alone.  I’ve seen plenty of people tweeting @ShaofHappiness whenever they just need a little pick-me-up, and said Sha in shining armor is never far behind to oblige.  Hell, I’ve summoned them at least once since discovering the account, and the response truly did brighten my day.  Whoever the creator might be, they are truly doing a wonderful service for the World of Warcraft community, and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank them for what they do every day.  I daresay they might just be the greatest hero in Azeroth.

Some people may be horrified at the fact that I’m speaking so candidly about such a taboo subject as mental illness.  “Aren’t you afraid it’ll hurt your chances of employment?” I’ve been asked before.  The answer?  Of course.  I’d be an idiot not to be concerned that the mere existence of this blog post will land me on some blacklist as a liability if hired.  But more important than that is removing the stigma surrounding it.  Too many people die every year because they’re afraid to ask for help when they really need it, out of fear that they’ll lose their jobs, or friends, or family.  Quite frankly, the attitude towards mental illnesses and disorders in this day and age is bullshit.  It’s depressingly Draconian.  You’re on Prozac?  Clearly you’re an unfit parent or spouse and should be locked away, if the majority of society is to be believed.  And sadly, it is, all too often.

The truth is, no one chooses to be mentally ill.  If I could trade my brain for a “normal” one (whatever that means), I’d do it without a second thought.  Nobody chooses to have cancer or diabetes or heart defects, either, and sufferers of these illnesses are not met with any kind of dirty looks.  If somebody wearing a head scarf because they’ve lost their hair from chemo walks past you on the street, you’re not going to pull your kids closer to yourself, or start walking on a different part of the sidewalk.  In most cases, you’ll never even know that the person standing next to you suffers from crippling depression, or schizophrenia, or any other kind of mental illness.  Chances are that someone you know very well is fighting a secret battle with something and is too afraid to speak up because of the social consequences that can arise from doing so.

I, on the other hand, am a loudmouth.  I’m not scared to say that anyone bashing the mentally ill is an ignorant dumbass.  We are capable of the same things that anyone else is, we just may need to take a little longer for it, or do it in a different way.  If you are suffering from any form of mental illness and are ashamed or scared to admit that something is wrong, stop.  The truly fucked up people are the ones who are making you feel bad over it.  If you’re having thoughts of suicide or need someone to talk to, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 in the US or, if you live in a different country, here is an international list of hotlines that you can call.  If phones aren’t your thing, there are chat-only versions available.

And remember that you can fight your own Shas, and win.

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20 responses »

  1. This entry is so moving and inspiring and I’m so glad that you’re speaking up and helping to break the stigma around mental illness. Thank you. You are so wonderful. ❤

    • Thank you! I do what I can, not only for myself, but for the people I know who have to go through the dog and pony show every day and live in fear of losing their friends, family, and jobs because of something that isn’t their fault.

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  9. Daaaammnnn, this makes me miss WoW a lot. I quit it soon after MoP came out because I was using it as a crutch – it was a place where I felt I could *accomplish* something.

    What you said about the Sha quests…wow, I know I choked up a bit too when doing the quest where you had to rescue Thrall from himself.

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