Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Back in the saddle...?

Back in the saddle...?
A fortnight since my last post and regular readers might be wondering what's up. I'd say I'm sorry not to have posted for so long, but I can't really. That is to say: I am sorry that this blog has lain fallow for so long, but it's not something I would want to apologise for. My reason for this is simply that I'm ill. Reading this, you might be asking yourself what kind of illness could prevent me from posting a short article to a blog now and then. So I might as well tell you.

I suffer from bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression. This means that for some 20 years or so I have been subject to an annual cycle of mood-swings, flipping between highs and lows lasting several months at a time. There is no prospect of remission for me, and I require daily medication to stay well enough to avoid long-term hospitalisation.This medication doesn't cure me, it just limits the intensity of the mood swings.

And so it is that, towards the end of October, I slumped into my depressive down-swing. One result of this was that I was unable to maintain my blog (another was that I was unfit to GM last Sunday). As my bloglag lengthened I found myself confronting the unspoken question 'Where have you been?' when I was to resume posting. The idea of handwaving this away was deeply painful to me. This is no abstraction or metaphor: the mentally ill endure not only the suffering of our affliction; we also bear the burden of stigma. Internalising this stigma because of fear- eg. by hiding the cause of my long bloglag- actually contributes to our suffering. Long experience has taught me that the best way to deal with this is to be up front about my illness, to save everyone as much bother as possible.

And that is why I've gone into so much detail about such a deeply personal matter. I'm not trying to turn this blog into a confessional for my sufferings. Rather, it's that the alternative- ie. passing over the matter in silence- could well have turned my bloglag into a blogging black hole.

Incidentally, manic depression is something that is handled very badly in rpg's, if it features at all. I remember once seeing a rule for a manic depressive disadvantage which involved rolling for mood swings whenever the afflicted character was in a stressful situation. Roleplaying being what it is, this would be combat more often than not. The results would've been something like this: roll a downswing, and you can't be bothered defending yourself, even against puny kobolds; roll an upswing, and you're invulnerable- you'll attack anything, especially the army of the Invincible Overlord, from which the rest of the party are beating a stealthy 'tactical' retreat. What a crock!

One noteworthy exception to this is Call of Cthulhu. The core rulebook has very credible capsule descriptions of the condition. Also, some well-meaning waffle in the insanity rules aside, the rules enjoy the merit that they don't reduce everything to some kind of willpower rolls to avoid instantaneous mood swings. In fact Chaosium have worked so hard on their account of insanity- which is, after all, the defining feature of the game- that Unseen Masters won the '2001 Mary Seeman Award in the area of Psychiatry and Humanities for the background given on mental health and addiction', awarded by the University of Toronto School of Psychiatry. Pretty good going for a rpg scenario pack I'd say.
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