Friday, 30 October 2015

The Spiral

It has been said that depression is a selfish illness, and this is true. It is a condition that causes the sufferer to fold in on themself, to shun the outside world more and more, to be concerned only about their inner thoughts - as much as they are concerned with anything.

My own particular flavour (although not unique, of course) is an especially piquant blend of depression and anxiety. As I someone put it recently, “Depression is not being able to care about anything and anxiety is caring too much about everything; having both at the same time is hell.” (I wish I could find who wrote that as it deserves attribution). Those of us  so afflicted are buffeted by constant doubt about everything - double guessing every deed, every word - paralysed by both the appalling, deathly lethargy of depression and the terror of the consequences of our own actions. All compounded by the knowledge that we are (I am) utterly worthless, that we probably deserve to feel this way and suffer all that comes with it; part of the reason it is so easy to become isolated is that we know we aren’t fit for human company.

(Even writing that I have to fight the idea that anyone reading it will think how pathetic it is, this blatant attempt to garner pity - or, worse yet, actually pity me, or feel for me; it is made easier by the thought that nobody will probably read it. Welcome down the rabbit hole that almost every single thought leads. Imagine that, constantly, endlessly, not being able to escape that).

About that selfishness; much of it seems to be caused by an over-abundance of empathy. Not just the worry about how my words and actions will be interpreted, but how they will affect others. But it isn’t just  the big things; EVERYTHING has to be weighed for its consequences, on whether it is the right / best / optimal / moral thing to do. I am crushed beneath the paving stones of good intentions.

And the more we care about someone, they more important they are to us, the harder it is. The effects are magnified, the potential harm all the greater. The knowledge that I can only hurt them by my actions and, if they are around long enough, finally I will hurt them by my exit, on that day when I ask myself “why not?” and can’t come up with a good enough answer. And this is further exacerbated by the Groucho Effect: why would I want to belong to a club that would admit someone like me? So people who do insist on getting close to us become tarnished by the illness. I mean, what are they thinking? If their judgement is so poor that they want to be around me maybe they deserve it. Which is, of course, just an excuse to chase them away, something else to to beat myself up about. Another failure to cling to, to define myself by.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

It's become a pattern

How do I do this? I keep falling in love - or think I've fallen in love. I make promises, overt or implied and, even though I say "don't get too close, I'm damaged, I can't do this, I'll hurt you", I let her get close and then I fuck it up and hurt her.

It's become a pattern. I need to stop, but how? I tell myself loneliness is easier, safer for everybody, but I am so afraid of being alone - and so afraid of being with someone. I was with someone for so long, for half my life, and when it ended it tore me apart. I don't know if I can survive that again, but why can't I just stay away from the risk? Stay safe. Stop hurting other people and opening my own wounds.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

The closed door

I’m currently in a state where I think about suicide most days. There are many days wherein I actively consider it (and I know many of the people reading this will recognise the difference); days where I hold the concept of ending my life in my hand to view it, more or less dispassionately, considering how viable an option it is.

I am not afraid of death. While many things will happen after I die, I am pretty certain that none of them will involve me. There are, of course, downsides to this course of action; it negates the possibility of improvement. The worry of the transition - the pain of the razor biting into my wrists, the panic and evacuation as the cord tightens around my neck, perhaps the few seconds of acceleration from the high roof will be stretched to an eternity by adrenaline - but these would be fleeting. The main concern is the effect on those who care for me. My friends, my sister. My son. A man now, almost 24, what effect would it have on him? A child should bury their parents, that is the natural order of things, but it hurts so much - and how much more so should that loss be at their own hand? (My mother was taken by lung cancer and, while that was caused by her habituation to cigarettes, I never blamed her for it). My father; no parent should have to bury their child, though I know millions do.

In a way this is encouraging, the fact that these things are of concern to me; there have been times in the past when they have attenuated to the thinnest thread of connection, when that particular mix of pain and numbness has meant that I have considered that any pain of losing me would be outweighed by the pain my continued existence would cause. Times when I have held that concept of ending in my hand and nodded, have stood on the brink of accepting it, seeing it as a gift (fortunately I live in a country that disallows access to firearms, or the simplicity of placing that steel barrel in my mouth or under my chin, angling it upward toward the seat of my consciousness and having to only argue against or distract my survival instinct for that brief moment to allow me to squeeze the trigger; had I not, I doubt very much I would be here, now, writing these words).

So I will continue. The spectre will be kept at bay by distraction, by company and the solitude of reading, by the endorphin rush of running, by the distraction of TV, by the regularity of the day-to-day, of work and shopping and cleaning. And, hopefully, I will rise from this dip to a point where I can forget awhile that door that I know how to open, that I can step through and end all worry and speculation. Although I think that, once you are aware of that door, and have acknowledged that it is unlocked, its possibility, its promise, can never be forgotten.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Sheffield TenTenTen

My third year at the TenTenTen, a tough little two-lap 10k in SW Sheffield.

Starting on grass for the first 0.5k through Endcliffe Park then a km of tarmac along the road until a short, sharp climb takes us up the the narrow, undulating, rocky, tree-root covered earth track through Bingham Park and Whiteley Woods. The first time around the large fled makes these crowded enough that the pace in constrained - at times even running two abreast is impossible - so when we crossed Porter Brook and got back onto the wider tarmac paths I decided to push the pace whenever I could.

This meant that my time for the first half wasn't far outside my 5k PB but when I hit that climb again I was feeling the run. The field had attenuated enough that the trail was less crowded so I had less excuse to ease off.

Back on the return leg I managed to keep a fast pace, down to 4:10/km, all the way around the tarmac and then the earth path on the North side of the park but, as we hit the last grass rise for the last few tens of metres, I couldn't quite speed my legs into a sprint.

Still, just snuck in under 45 minutes - 2 minutes outside my 10k PB, but this is not a course for PBs, so very pleased.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

A right warm Yorkshire welcome - the Plusnet Yorkshire Marathon 2015

This was my first time running the York Marathon (in fact my first ever marathon) although I ran it as part of a relay team last year. To the complete lack of surprise of anyone who knows York and the surrounding area, this route is absolutely beautiful for the majority of the run: starting at the North end of the University of York campus at Heslington there is a brief stretch of suburban housing before heading into the centre of the venerable city, circling around outside the narrowest of the streets in the Shambles to pass York Minster, its bells pealing enthusiastically, before wending down Deangate and Goodramgate before passing under the city wall at Monk bar. This takes us through newer, though  still pleasant, parts of the city which quickly become spacious and tree-lined before, after another 3 km, opens up into fields.

On the map this stretch, out through Stockton-on-the-forest, looks straight and boring, but it does wend slightly and is quite lovely. A right turn takes the road on a climb and dip through a couple of delightful areas of mixed woodland, interspersed with open fields bordered with trees and hedgerows, and the tiny, lovely villages North East of York.

Getting on to halfway in, there is a long stretch of woodland, verdant in the October sun, before a hairpin into Stamford Bridge. Here, as all the other other villages we run through (along with the city itself) there is a nice turnout of spectators cheering us on and giving encouragement.

The stretch here may be the most scenic on the route. The view to the left, South East, over the fields that dipped and rose with a few fragments of the morning mist still clinging here and there, was sublime, and I ran for a while caught in a zen-like state between the beauty of the view and the meditative exertion of running.

Just after this is where I found it beginning the get testing. There is another out-and-back hairpin, but about three times the length of the one at Stamford Bridge. Perhaps due to being 27k in, there is something dispiriting about running along and seeing people coming back the other way, knowing you have to do the seem, as the kilometres clock up. It’s about 3 km each way, but felt a good sight more.

It was coming toward the end of the return that I started feeling fatigued, my legs growing heavy for the first time. I kicked them up behind me, gave myself a good talking to and sucked down an energy gel - all of which seemed to do the trick, as shortly thereafter i caught my second wind and ran the next 4k or so at under 5 min/km, compared to the 5:20-5:30/km I’d been running up until that point.

I’d started to ease off a little by the time we transitioned once more from fields into the suburbs of York, and the cheering of the crowds who had stuck around for those of us so far behind the elite pace was a welcome boost.

I was really flagging now, knowing I was so close to the finish but that this entailed a couple of sharp climbs. Plodding up the final climb, only 400 metres up University Road, i realised I might be able to break 3 hour 45 - a full 15 minutes ahead of my target time! cresting the hill there is a sharp turn and less than a kilometre downhill to the finish line so I dug deep and tried my best for a sprint but, as I passed the 500 m marker cramp bit into my left thigh. I grabbed it with one hand at kept going, crossing the line at 3:45:47, receiving a hug from a friend of mine who had finished a few minutes ahead.

In addition to being on the whole a lovely, scenic course, the route is quite flat with an overall ascent of only 160m. The event is extremely well organised - we started at the arranged 9.30 point on the dot; there are water points every three miles (including isotonic drinks at every other station, and gels supplied a couple of times in the second half of the race). The starting areas, baggage drop, toilets and other facilities were well signposted on the University campus. And the atmosphere was excellent - large crowds at the start, the finish and in the city centre, and what seemed like the majority of the inhabitants of the villages coming out on their Sunday morning to wish us well, often bearing jelly babies. Even the weather couldn’t have been better; bright and still and not too warm.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Game Review: World War Cthulhu: The Darkest Hour

Reviewing a roleplaying game (RPG) book is quite different than reviewing a fiction or non-fiction book; they are still storybooks in a way, but also instruction manuals, rule books, reference tomes and guidebooks to the setting - the world in which the game takes place. It would be unusual to read it cover to cover, you would tend to read sections some several times and dip into others, returning later for reference. The criteria by which they are judged is, therefore, quite unique.

World War Cthulhu: The Darkest Hour is a primary setting guide for a pre-existing game. Call of Cthulhu is a bona fide classic of the genre, one of the first games to move roleplaying away from the hack n slash of Dungeons and Dragons and its ilk into a more investigative, thinky, character-driven milieu. It is based of the Cthulhu Mythos writings (primarily by H.P. Lovecraft, but expanded by others) and I don't think it's any coincidence that it is since that games' 1981 launch that Lovecraft's work has been rediscovered by an ever wider audience.

The primary setting for the original Call of Cthulhu is, as with Lovecraft's stories, New England in the 1920s (with adventures in exotic places such as Antarctica and the Amazon), though the horrors can be transplanted to any era or locale, and there are many supplemental books that do so. World War Cthulhu, as you can probably guess, is a guide for adventures in World War II, and is excellently done. As well as their standard military roles (for the Allied forces, naturally) the characters are agents for a shadowy civil servant who tasks them with investigating potential extra-dimensional spookiness - at the same time as having to survive the very real horror of the bloodiest conflict in the history of humanity.

As such, the game can be run leaning either way; classic Cthulhu-style, using the war as a backdrop, or primarily focusing on the war itself with occasional added horror (imagine some other terror invading the trenches, like the zombies in the movie Deathwatch) or some mixture of the two.

As a supplement to Call of Cthulhu, this is excellent. There is lots of great background on the various intelligence agencies (there is, understandably, a push to make the characters intelligence operatives rather than straightforward soldiers, as investigation - often behind enemy lines is such a large part of the game) and great short summaries of the theatres across war-torn Europe and North Africa.; general information on the status of various countries as well at least three or four adventure ideas for each as well as a list of "Fortean events" through out the period for extra inspiration. There are, of course, equipment guides (description and statistics for a wide range of WWII weapons, prices for both legal and black market goods, etc), background on some historical figures and how they might be connected (Ian Fleming, Dennis Wheatley, Kim Philby, Aleister Crowley, and others) and, of course, an update of the Dark, Lamentable Catalogue - a guide the Elder Gods and other entities, as well as various Earthly factions and cults. As is now usual, the book ends with a fully fledged adventure to get you going - although extra supplements, including adventures, have already begun to appear. i have not yet run this adventure, entitled The God in the Woods, as I have a couple of my devising to get the group into the swing of things, but it's always good to have one as back up and it looks to be a good one.

The book is very well put together - a solid, attractive hardback (build quality is a consideration for RPG books, as they will get a lot of handling while using for reference) with a good contents page and index, something that many RPGs still lack, an unforgivable omission for any sort of reference book - with good artwork and layout, double columned throughout with good placement of tables and highlighted boxes for important text and examples (again, the number of game books where a table turns up many pages away from the section to which it refers is quite astounding. There is an old joke that RPG designers have an excellent vocabulary that unfortunately doesn't include the word 'proofreader'). The writing itself is solid and, importantly, clear.

This book is produced by a company called Cubicle 7, from whom I have bought quite a few books in the past (they produce the utterly superb Laundry Files RPG, based on Charles Stross' wonderful books) and they have quickly gained a reputation for quality and attention to detail. There's always a good amount of free downloadable content on the website (character sheets, tables and even adventures) and I can personally vouch for their superb customer service; when you buy the physical book you get a PDF as well and they one time I had to chase up the link I received an immediate response.

A great advantage to this setting, of course, is the vast amount of material available online. I have researched locales and buildings (I needed a ruined castle in Poland for my adventure) along with timelines of the war to plan my campaign and the location of adventures.

Highly recommended for your insanity inducing, squamous horror laden, world changing conflict pleasure.