What’s been up, TK? (Part 1)
I’ve kept a lot of myself off social media for a while, especially for the last 6+ months. I’m trying to come out of the woodwork and open up more, especially with some big life changes ahead, so I wanna share what’s been happening on my end all this time, and why I’ve been pretty reclusive about personal matters. This post gets heavy, but I promise I won’t let my story end that way.
2015–2016: I’ve had growing frustrations with the mobile game industry. More and more, companies try to innovate, or claim they want to, but find that carbon-copy games with a fresh coat of paint beat all their genuine efforts. The work I had got stale, the excitement dwindled. I didn’t feel like I was giving people enjoyment anymore, as much as I was stuck working on a machine to leech money from them.
Oct 2016: After 8 months working at Storm8 (Left my previous job of 5 years for them), I decided I was through with them. They weren’t giving me interesting or challenging work, despite all my efforts to get better projects. I felt myself getting stale, mind lazy, and falling behind. I decided to bide my time, and at the end of the year, quit and try to make an indie game, with a 6-month time limit before going back to corporate.
Jan 2017: I quit Storm8! Took a little vacation for myself, till a bit after Further Confusion. I’d been busting my butt over a routine for FC. I wanted so badly to do a routine where I stopped caring about “impressive” and “judge-worthy” performances, and just focus on fun and making people smile. Despite some sudden pains that surfaced during FC, I got to perform. I poured my heart into it, and people seemed to like it. (Though personal issues had me feeling like a failure inside anyway, but I’ll get to that later). Towards the end of the con, though, I sprained my ankle, and triggered the start of the worst injury of my life so far, and hopefully ever again.
Feb 2017: The doctor I saw after FC said I’d be fine as long as I rested my foot. He was completely wrong. Pain was mild, but increasing. I kept trading more physical activity for more rest as it got worse, as per doctor’s orders. At random times, any step I took could give me a severe jolt of pain, and set me back 1–2 weeks of pain and recovery time. And that happened several times. Late Feb, my ankle had it’s last straw while gently stretching, and I collapsed from sudden intense pain. I couldn’t walk on it at all, any step was too much pain to handle. Since I quit work, I was stuck with some awful health insurance, and most doctors I saw ran the same checklist of steps without deducing anything. I wasted weeks like this, while my body slowly degraded, with no answers for what was so horribly wrong. I was stuck at home every day, rolling around the house in a chair, or on crutches, or sitting in bed. My room was more like a prison than anything else. It’s hard to describe, but going from someone who prided themselves on being independent, who considered ‘dancer’ as part of their identity, to not being able to carry food to a table at times, or even stand in the shower was just… too much. Everything kept echoing back to my years of knee issues, and kept bringing me back into the horrible dark emotional place it trapped me in so many times before.
The routine I put so much of my heart into, to try and share joy, was what took me down, and that combined with everything else was absolutely soul-crushing. I sat in my room, watching everyone else around me keep growing, while I faded into the background. I wanted to cry out… I needed help and support… But I felt like I’d already spent 3 years crying about my knees, and people had more important things to focus on than listening to me whining again. In hindsight, I know it was stupid, but I had some deep self confidence issues that I don’t think I was aware of at the time.
Mar-Apr 2017: After dishing out $$$ for a more expensive insurance plan, I finally got to see competent doctors, and got a diagnosis. In addition to the sprain, I developed tendinitis in my achilles tendon. I was told it would take 3–6 months (possibly longer) to recover, and that some people never quite get back to 100%. I started physical therapy and saw general improvement over time, with lots of patience and work. But it was a struggle. Every day was a game of pain management, trying to push hard enough to build muscle, but not too hard to trigger another relapse. I kept having setbacks and relapses despite sticking to my workout routine. Every relapse was harder to bounce back from, and harder to believe that I hadn’t lost everything again. I kept clawing towards freedom, and kept getting dragged back into my personal hell. Eventually, even though I was getting better on the whole, I started to lose faith in my own words and motivation. Every encouraging thought I wanted to give to myself or others was thrown aside along with thoughts about how full of crap I must be to think I could help anyone with ‘empty’ words.
After realizing I’d spent 3 months not doing an ounce of work, while focused on my recovery, I finally got the ball rolling. It was fun, a breath of fresh air, and needed productivity that gave me some needed validation of my programming skills, too. Though after about a month, I started to realize that working by myself in my room every day was getting lonely and kinda miserable. It wasn’t the right environment to focus in, and I work better in teams.
May 2007: I made the decision to ditch the indie game plan early. With how much time I’d lost, and the direction I saw things going in, I decided it was better to get back into a corporate job again, and maybe try again in the future, with a proper team and work location. Also was prepping for BLFC. I wanted to try to have a fun event where we bring our gaming-from-home entertainment to a live format to help more charity efforts. My ankle just wasn’t ready for the con though, and it had been a growing concern as the date drew closer. To be honest, much of BLFC was either depressing or stressful for me. I had about an hour of total walking time per day by then, and it just wasn’t enough. I pushed my standing time as much as I could without doing anything too risky, but I was stretched too thin. The little walking I had for the first 2 days was spent on the charity show, leaving nothing for myself, and the whole experience highlighted a ton that I was missing out on. I was trapped in my room for hours at a time, because I simply couldn’t stand/walk any more. I did have good times though, and even though I only got a fraction of what I wanted from a con, it did help me on the whole. I needed that connection with people again. I walked in feeling like I was too broken as a person to be seen, feeling like I’d be a disappointment to be this lesser version than what folks expected to see. But the genuine kindness and happiness I felt from others towards me was something I needed so badly.
Jun 2017: By this time, I started realizing just how depressed I had become over time. It’s hard to explain, but depression creeps in slowly. I felt like I’d been coping and managing as best as I could, and that blinded me from how much pain I had in me that I hadn’t let myself express. Everything I’ve written up to now were things that I hadn’t really spoken, written, or really thought about, plus other issues weighing me down (will save that another time). They were just bouncing around the back of my mind in ways that just clouded my thoughts and emotions, and stressed me out. I had been slowly pulling away from friends, keeping in touch with fewer people, and building a mountain of guilt over things I felt I’ve let people down on, causing me to pull away further. Between that and being away on social media for so long, it magnified the harsh self-criticism I’d been throwing at myself for years, and showed me how much I relied on others to fight my own thoughts and reassure me. I realized that I was in a whole where nearly all of my ‘pillars’ were removed. Physical health, career, social connections, emotional health. There was a lot of introspection, a lot of crying, a TON of struggling to fight the feeling that I was just a shadow of both my former self, and an image others had of me that I couldn’t live up to. There was a lot of not knowing how to believe in myself, or how to move forward. And throw in a couple months of poor quality sleep to make things harder, too. But eventually, I finally bottomed out. I hit a point when I had cried so much that a switch finally flipped in my head and said “ENOUGH”. I don’t know how else to put it, other than finally having a moment where I felt like I had some strength to decide my own fate. It was small and weak, but I found the flame inside of me that I was searching for, and I went to sleep finally feeling like I was gonna be okay with enough time and work.