Max's shop of horrors

Warning: imagination testing site. Enter at own risk

Month: August, 2015

Homo Sapiens (Artist’s Impression)

Being a writer is a lot like being an actor. You have to get inside the heads of your characters, figure out how they think, what they’re feeling, and why. There’s just one little problem; understanding how people besides myself think and feel is like open heart Klingon rocket surgery to me.

For a long time, I’ve wondered if this means I cannot be an effective fiction writer; whether my characters will always come across as inorganic puppets that can’t be related to. Whenever I write character development, I feel like I’m poorly imitating something I don’t understand, like I’m waddling around a paddock in a horse costume, trying to convince real horses that I’m one of them.

I’ve written 8 novels and novellas to date, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt satisfied that I’ve created believable human beings. They always feel like Frankenstein’s monsters, stitched together from my observations of other people’s behaviour.

Still, there’s a bright side to the conundrum; I can never tell when my writing doesn’t work, but I’m equally blind to when it does work. I tend to be overly critical of myself and my work, and this could simply be another example of me assuming the worst.

In the end, it’s for the readers to decide.

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Brain Sprain

Let’s speak hypothetically for a moment. Say you sprained your ankle. Maybe doing something really hardcore, like rollerskating down a mountainside in the middle of a herd of stampeding elephants. Or, you know, slipping in the shower while trying to balance the water temperature between glacial ice melt and magma.

Naturally, you’d go easy on said ankle for a while, wouldn’t you? Avoid putting too much weight on it until it’s better? Same story with a broken arm; we’d put a cast on it, so that it can heal without further damage disrupting the process.

Now, what if we apply this same principal to mental illness? Say you have OCD. If your mind is in a sensitive state, be careful about how much mental stress you take on. Don’t think of it as being weak or incapable; think of it as giving your mind time to heal, like a sprained ankle.

While the confrontation of my triggers is one of the pillars of my fight against OCD, I’ve learned that the best way to do this is in a very gradual manner. Taking on too much at once is more likely to set me back than build me up.

It’s okay to slow down, to take things a step at a time. People learning to walk again after a physical injury don’t sign up for marathons before they’re fully healed.

If you ask me, we could learn a lot from treating mental illness more like physical illness.

“So with OCD, can you like, not have sex and stuff?”

Oh that’s right, we’re gonna talk about the S-E-X word this week! Don’t be alarmed though, I won’t be going into Cosmo detail here. Heck, you can find racier stuff in Women’s Weekly. There may come a time when I try my hand at porn (sorry, couldn’t resist that one)

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And not on this blog. 😉

Okay, so here we go. The title of this entry is an actual question someone asked me once. And it’s a fair one; if merely shaking hands is a stressful ordeal for someone, how could they possibly handle physical intimacy? Indeed, there was a time, when I was 18-19, when I genuinely wondered if I would ever be able to kiss someone.

The easiest way to explain it is that it comes down to how comfortable I am with someone. It’s the same as how hugging a close friend is more comfortable than hugging a complete stranger. I have to really trust and like someone for physical contact not to be frightening.

I’m sure a lot of you without OCD would cringe at the thought of kissing certain people, but be far more willing to kiss others. It’s the same principal really, except with maybe a little more cortisol in the hormonal mix.

I can’t speak for others with OCD, but for me the fears associated with it are surmountable when outweighed by positive feelings. Trust, love, and yes, lust, can make for a heck of a liquid courage cocktail.

4 years clean of self harm

If the title wasn’t warning enough, let me emphasize right now that this will not be a G-rated article. If the topic of self-harm upsets you, please stop reading now.

When I was 21 years old, I loathed myself. I thought I was utterly pathetic for being so socially awkward, for not having many friends, for still being a virgin, for having never had a girlfriend, for often offending people without meaning to, etc. I thought I was unlikeable, ugly, and worthless.

This resentment eventually boiled over into violence. Not towards others though; I directed it inwards, at myself. I wanted to punish myself, so I did so physically. Whenever I was angry at myself for making a social gaffe, I would steal away to my room, and cut myself.

The thing about self-harm is that it can be highly addictive; not just emotionally, but chemically, in the same way as cigarettes and other drugs. It can actually release endorphins in the brain that induce feelings of relief and even pleasure. This combined with the vicious satisfaction of hurting the person I saw as being to blame for my suffering was a potent rush, and before I knew it, I was an addict.

This went on for about a year, unbeknownst to all but a handful of my closest friends and family.

Then, four years ago almost to the day, I came home drunk from a night of making a fool of myself at the University bar, and in my clumsiness and frustration, I cut too deeply.

I accidentally severed the tendon to my left thumb, and had to be rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. They were able to reattach it, and I only lost the use of my thumb for a few months, instead of for the rest of my life.

But the worst consequences weren’t physical; I was nearly kicked out of my university accommodation, which would have meant dropping out, as my Mum and step-Dad lived 5 hours away. University was one of the things that kept me going and gave me purpose during my darkest times, and the thought of losing that was terrifying.

But even worse than that was how heartbroken my Mum was. Seeing how much I’d hurt her was one of the worst feelings I have ever experienced.

I decided then and there that I would never self-harm again, and I haven’t since.

My accident forced me to confront the consequences of my actions, which in turn spurred me to quit my destructive addiction. In hindsight, it shouldn’t have taken such a drastic wakeup call; the signs right in front of me the whole time, but I was too blinded by anger to see them. I wish I’d realized sooner that I wasn’t just hurting myself, but also the people who cared about me.

Up until this blog post, I kept this element of my past a secret, and very few people knew about it. I wasn’t ashamed, but I was afraid that people might be uncomfortable around me if they knew.

It’s this stigma that prevents many people who are struggling with self-harm from speaking out and seeking help, and if sharing my experience can help pierce this veil of silence, I figure that’s worth an awkward moment or two.

I’m 26 years old now. I no longer hate myself. I have scars, but over the years, they have faded. I still struggle with social etiquette, but I’ve learned to see the good in myself, instead of just the bad. I’m happy with my life, and I’m four years clean.

21-22 year old me didn’t think this was possible. That I was possible.

It just goes to show; you can’t see the sunrise at midnight, but that doesn’t mean it’s not coming.