I’m Not An Asshole, I’m Just CrazyDarius JOHNSON
Many of you likely don’t know this, but May is National Mental Health Awareness month here in the good ol’ US of A. If we’re being honest, I didn’t really know either, it just happened to pop up in my news feed and since I was writing this article anyway, I figured it was a great way to get started, which is something I was having a bit of a hard time with. “DJ, you seem to always have your shit together. Why is writing this article causing you headaches?” Well, that’s because it’s a pretty personal article. When I originally started writing this a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t shared this knowledge outside of a small circle of actual, real friends.
However, some of you may already know this due to a couple of factors, one of which is due to an overzealous person feeling that “read this” means “publish this without my knowledge” and the others relating to what passes for the modern-day metagame in EVE. I almost considered just leaving it as a dead issue due to my disappointment but I think that is pretty selfish given how many people this can help. The only reason I bring up the metagame is to highlight the fact that this is a very real issue affecting people in EVE. Affecting them in ways that make our community members vulnerable for reasons that perhaps wouldn’t be directly apparent, and there’s a reason for that.
One in five Americans this year will have their daily lives impacted by a mental illness.
One in five Americans this year will have their daily lives impacted by a mental illness. In a large number of cases these illnesses are invisible and in many they are also completely debilitating disabilities. There are often no outward signs that an individual is suffering, often because the stigma associated with being open about mental illness is so great that they’ve developed coping mechanisms to mask their pain or confusion.
These coping mechanisms are as varied as is each personality, but there’s a few I’m familiar with. Stoicism, anger, fatigue, despondency and just plain vanishing for a while are all coping mechanisms I have a great deal of familiarity with because I’ve used them, subconsciously for decades. You see, I am 37 years old and in the past year I have been diagnosed as bipolar. I don’t know how long I’ve been bipolar. Certainly since I met my wife when I was 17. It’s not really something I was aware of. Before I discuss too much about my own personal experience though or how mental health is particularly relevant to EVE let’s have a chat about what being bipolar is.
most people who have had to interact with me on a regular basis just figured I had a propensity for foul mood and could just be an asshole.
The Mayo Clinic describes Bipolar Disorder in the following way: “Bipolar disorder, formerly called manic depression, causes extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). When you become depressed, you may feel sad or hopeless and lose interest or pleasure in most activities. When your mood shifts in the other direction, you may feel euphoric and full of energy. Mood shifts may occur only a few times a year or as often as several times a week.” (Additional detail here). There are two general types creatively named bipolar I and bipolar II. I don’t know which I am except to say I swing from manic to depressive pretty much constantly, sometimes multiple times in a day. Based on the description I’m most likely bipolar I but I’ll have to ask my doctor. My point isn’t to get too deep into my personal experience so much as to point out that, armchair hindsight psychiatrists aside, most people who have had to interact with me on a regular basis just figured I had a propensity for foul mood and could just be an asshole. Nobody once in my entire life said “You’re bipolar” or even “You should see a doctor because x”. I am mentally disabled and yet at the age of 37, with a very successful career, spanning 15 years, two kids and having run a giant space empire I had no idea.
When my daughter was born the year I left CCP is when my problems became unavoidable. Since 9/11 I’ve had panic attacks when I fly but that’s not all that uncommon. When my daughter was born, however, they began to happen with increasing frequency. I don’t really remember too much more from the time other than that I was really mad a lot and I was drinking way too much. You see for years and years I was suffering but, due to my own experience, I had developed subconscious coping mechanisms that interfered with the type of introspection which would normally lead one to seek out help. I soldiered through and just figured when I was depressed I was lazy or just unreasonably ashamed of nothing. When I was manic I was just high strung (basically the rest of the time). At all times I was drinking. Come to think of it I also quit smoking around this time and that particular self-medication may just be what pushed me over the top, if not the Chantix. Either way when I did finally get my ass over to a shrink I did it thinking “I’m successful so I clearly can’t be crazy. I may just have something weird going on”. It never occurred to me that I’d actually be diagnosed with a serious mental disability. It never occurred to me that the very same drive and compulsion that could keep me up for days on end hyper-focused on catching a bad guy was actually an illness. Much like Claire Daines’ character in Homeland I subconsciously channeled my illness into what felt like a superpower but staying on that razor’s edge for too long is impossible and you can’t keep the mania up for too long. Eventually there comes the crash and while that used to manifest in periods of what appeared to be laziness, which can be acceptable after a period of high performance, that’s not the case anymore.
There is no cure for bipolar. I will have it my entire life.
There is no cure for bipolar. I will have it my entire life. As much fun as it may be to lie down on a couch and bitch about my childhood it’ll do absolutely nothing for my illness. I will require medication that I must take every single day for the entirety of my existence on earth and if I deviate from it I run the risk of coming unhinged. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is something I start tomorrow, which is really just about coping mentally with the shit your brain’s giving you when it’s happening. They can try to teach me to understand when I’m a bit off and I know I’ve personally been noticing when it’s less severe or after the fact but when I’m manic I don’t often know. The best thing I’ve been able to do is to help my wife and people around me understand how to deal with me and it’s really unfair in my opinion that people in my life have to be told just not to argue with me or to kill my mean with kindness and feel they’re ceding every argument but that’s the reality and it’s one that many people can’t handle. Another option I’ve been exploring is service dogs, primarily because being non-functional isn’t an option for me. Ultimately the general idea is to layer as many treatments as are required to minimize the impact my illness has on my life.
After explaining all of that it may seem strange to hear that one of the most common problems with people who are bipolar, aside from substance abuse and misdiagnosis, is a desire to stop taking the medication that is really your only true treatment. When I watched Homeland, which is the only experience I had with the illness prior to discovering the list of symptoms could basically just be described as “my personality”, it seemed quite idiotic to me that Carrie (the character) would stop taking her medication except to harness her superpowers. My opinion on that changed once I started being treated. Firstly I was originally just diagnosed with what amounts to PTSD. I had gone in because I was having panic (chemical not mental) attacks. My psychiatrist at the time explained to me that I was strung up so high that the tiniest thing could trigger an episode. This happened quite regularly with periods of extreme moodiness that up until now had been dismissed as asshole disorder. In cases of growing frequency however it would manifest itself in the form of a panic attack which was beginning to impact my day to day life. So the doctor put me on an SSRI inhibitor, in this case Zoloft. It was great for a few weeks. At some point however due to the medication I wasn’t getting my lows that I didn’t know I needed to get and after a few weeks I was in the shrink’s office for an emergency session because I was talking at about 200 miles an hour and experiencing what I can best describe as every single possible emotion at the same time. That lead to the bipolar diagnosis.
Before I was mad and often drunk but I knew who I was and I had learned to cope with me.
After that I was switched from an SSRI inhibitor (“happy drug”) to a mood stabilizer (“stabilizer”). I have to mention at this point that none of these drugs are drugs you just take on and off or that you take one day and instantly everything’s cool. A clinical trial of a mood stabilizer is three months. This means that not only do you have to take the drug every single day but that you have no idea how much/whether it’s benefiting you until three months has passed. That makes the trial and error mind-numbing as you cycle up and down to varying degrees and the net result is that you ultimately feel worse than you did before. Before I was mad and often drunk but I knew who I was and I had learned to cope with me. Once I was on the mood stabilizer I just stopped drinking except in social situations. No need for rehabilitation or therapy because I wasn’t actually an alcoholic. I had no urges or cravings. I just stopped. What’s happened though is that now all of my normal coping mechanisms aren’t protecting me and I feel awful a great deal of the time. I went from, panic attacks aside, feeling top of the world and in control even if I upset people sometimes, to someone who doesn’t quite know what’s going on emotionally. All I know is that I don’t remember much about how I was before other than through other people’s stories and now I don’t get mad anywhere near as severely or anywhere near as often but my behavior when I crash would previously be anathema to me.
You see lowering the bar of the mania also causes me to go deeper into depression, which is actually something pretty foreign to me. I can count the number of times I’ve actually cried since I was 13 on one finger. However when I’m taking my meds I can absolutely just spontaneously burst into tears for no reason. I don’t necessarily FEEL sad mentally but I’m crying all the same. My judgement’s not impaired like it is when I’m manic and often the source of my sadness is actually ironically my behavior when I was manic. This experience is why I understand how people could come off of their meds. I don’t do this for myself. I have an insanely powerful support network in my wife/best friend, children and also my man-best-friend. If I were solitary there’s no way I would continue on these pills and I don’t think that would eventually end well. I also probably wouldn’t be any the wiser until eventually something terrible happened and it was blamed on my childhood and a lack of judgement. But, thankfully that’s not my life. I get up every single day and take these stupid damn pills specifically BECAUSE of them. You see, after having lived with my wife for 20 years I’ve never been closer with her and I didn’t realize how difficult I was until I had a magical medication take some of the wool off of my eyes. I’ve learned not to ask myself how I’m doing. I ask my wife and not only is that the most accurate barometer of my mental health but frankly, it’s the only one I care about.
I know the letter of the law is that disabled people are protected but there’s legalities and there’s realities and that means I’m always one bad episode away from ruining everything for my entire family.
So after all of that shit to the point. I didn’t share my story because I want pity or attention. Really this isn’t an easy thing for me to do. Some of it is pride but really it has more to do with the stigma that I’m sure many (one in five!) of you understand. My work is very high stress. Had I told an employer or been public about this 15 years ago would people have been able to see past the disability? I have no idea but even today I worry about it a bit. I know the letter of the law is that disabled people are protected but there’s legalities and there’s realities and that means I’m always one bad episode away from ruining everything for my entire family. Part of that is the insecurity that comes from not quite being comfortable with myself anymore (hard to explain) and part of that is worry that I’ll just be less effective. If I look around me though and allow myself to listen and I mean REALLY listen, beyond the tears and insecurity is the best life I’ve ever had. Even in EVE, with a small core of people but with people who are familiar with me nonetheless, it is obvious that I’m just a better person to be around. I share my story because I’m at least a moderately known commodity in the EVE community and I hope that it can help someone else find the help that they need.
I’ve never even considered it but between 25-50% of those who are diagnosed as bipolar will try to kill themselves. Many will do so having never known they had a condition to treat due to a number of factors including societal stigma and misdiagnosis. Many folks, security people, cops, pilots and doctors are going untreated because of the fear or very reality that they could lose their jobs. In EVE the pigs who wallow in the New Metagame of doxxing and public humiliation have clearly decided that this type of thing has become fair game. That same lack of perspective or “sociopathic” detachment that allows someone to feel it’s ok to ruin a person’s real life over their space ships adds pressures above and beyond those outside of the game because frankly CCP does nothing about it other than offer lip service or token temporary bans when these things happen to slip out over youtube. Sending money to your favorite charity is cathartic but when you have the power in your hands to end a problem are you not morally obligated? Part of why I know it’s so easy to dismiss these problems is that prior to treating my own I was also an unsympathetic character and I look back at that ashamed of not just my inaction but my callousness in dealing with people who were in pain.
There’s many reasons people don’t come forward that aren’t EVE or work. Often it’s because we’re just embarrassed but often it’s because we don’t know we need help until it’s too late or we don’t have the right support infrastructure to handle it. I have no idea what I’d do without my family. We stay silent and soldier through all manner of invisible disabilities because we’re stoic or afraid or simply lost. Ultimately I share my story because I feel like it’s worked out well for me and I’m hoping that at least someone out there will read it and seek help they really and truly need even if they don’t quite know it.
One of the beautiful things, even if it’s also the ugliest of things, about EVE is the community.
One of the beautiful things, even if it’s also the ugliest of things, about EVE is the community. Sometimes it’s so toxic you want to stab a baby but other times it’s tremendously warm and supportive. EVE has been involved in providing aid to numerous righteous causes and charities including tsunami relief. When I was at CCP we took the Rockband shit we used for Fanfest and donated it to a local children’s hospital. That could have just gone in the trash or ended up in someone’s office but it didn’t because someone somewhere cared. Well now I’m saying I care and I’m frankly not the right person to man a suicide hotline or anything like that but the community itself has spawned a number of people who are, in the form of Broadcast 4 Reps. I’m sharing this in the hopes that someone will read it and realize they care about or know someone who needs help and have the courage to speak to them about it, but I’m also sharing this in the hopes that if you’re reading it and it speaks to you and your own personal situation that you seek help. There’s no shame in it and you won’t be judged. If you don’t know where to start head over the the Broadcast 4 Reps discord or talk to a friend.
If you’re not directly ill don’t be so judgemental or dismissive.
If you’re not directly ill don’t be so judgemental or dismissive. I’m guilty of being rude and judgemental myself of people who are ill so I know I’m a hypocrite. I’m also not too proud to beg so I will, please keep your inability to distinguish between reality and a video game out of people’s lives. I’m not against getting into the trenches but some people are in pain and you have no idea how damaging your ridiculous and selfish need for validation can be to the 1-in-5 people that includes you. Instead of being crude make a new friend or at the very least introduce them to someone with the capacity to do so.
If you aren’t sure if you are ill but feel you may be then reach out anyway. I think you’ll find that while there are a small and rather disgustingly vocal group of people out there in the world who are dedicated to keeping you down the vast majority of us care a great deal and would be happy to help carry ANYONE who was struggling. If I’m available in any way please even reach out to me (no kissing) and I’ll at least try to help even if I’m just going to send you to someone more helpful. No matter what reach out. It can be painful and scary but there’s a lot of joy to be had on the other side no matter who you are unless you are Stoffer Ninjapirate. He is irredeemable. You are not.
This article is property of the person behind the character Darius JOHNSON who maintains all intellectual property rights. The program may be linked to but not re-posted in wholesale without the author’s EXPLICIT WRITTEN permission. Any prior permission is null and void.