On Spoons, Steampunk and Socialising

The alarm went off twice this morning. Well, I think it was twice. Maybe it was three? I cracked open an eye and cringed back into the sheets away from the sunlight streaming through the curtains. The alarm blared once more. My hand slapped the off button. I groaned and dragged myself out of bed.

I'm really not a morning person, especially after draining several days worth of spoons with an all day event. (The spoon theory is an effective way of describing how chronic illness or disability affects life. If you're not familiar with the theory, you can find out all about it here.) Friday's 13-hour celebrations for steampunk's 30th (naming) anniversary left me depleted. It was a long (but fun) day.

Socialising takes a lot of effort for me. It's exhausting. It's not you. It's me. In public, I spend most of the time trying to fight the urge to run away and hide. Anxiety does that. I usually organise my social events carefully, with a few days after to recover those precious spoons.

Fortunately it was an online event and it was celebrating something I love: steampunk. (Otherwise I would've been a gibbering mess if I'd spent all thirteen hours face-to-face with so many people without a break.) Large crowds, particularly in shopping centres with their cacophony of noises, crush me.

This got me thinking. Why do I do this to myself? Why do I do conventions? Why do I do talks...? Why do I walk out the door at all?

There's a stereotype: the starving writer (that's a whole other blog post just there) scribbling away in a lonely garret - alone, with only the artistic muse for company - locked in the struggle to create the perfect prose.  But, despite this romantic (Victorian) vision, writers need company too. I need company too. I need to experience life, not just write about it.

So why do I keep pushing myself to attend events - social or professional?

Because, deep down, I like people. I love conversations where I suddenly realise the sun is rising and we've been chatting all night. I love talking writing, science, art, Doctor Who, steampunk. I'm fine one-on-one or in a small group. Where I feel safe.

On a bad day, I push myself to do online socialising. I can cringe in the corner while I type supposedly confident words - and no one can see my fear. But I'm still engaging with the world.

A couple of years ago I found an online steampunk forum, The Steampunk Empire. Tucked away in a corner was a writers group, The Scribblers Den - a band of steampunk writers spanning the globe. We chatted about writing, steampunk (lots of steampunk), events, shared pictures and stories. I felt comfortable there.

Unfortunately, as online entities often do, it disappeared. Some of us had seen the cracks. Some of us lived in denial. On a, soon-to-be bleak, day in March I logged onto the forum and - horror of horrors - my beloved Scribblers Den had dissolved into the aether!

But, never fear, my dear Reader, we had a plan (albeit a very vague one). Soon the Refugees of Steampunk Empire assembled on Facebook. We lamented, explored a few new enclaves and finally found a new home; the Steampunk Dominion was formed. My dear Scribblers' Den had returned from exile! (Thank you to the intrepid pilgrims - especially Lee and William - who founded our new realm.) I could once again frolic in steampunky goodness and forget about my anxieties.

You can now find fellow steampunks on The Steampunk Dominion's webpage and forum, or on Facebook group - The Steampunk Dominion (our bolt hole in case of future host demises).

Creating a positive from a negative.

Dear Reader,

Today's post is late. And there's a reason.

I had originally penned my thoughts on the Australia Day debate: to change the date or not to change the date? (To boil it down to basics:  The meaning of the day is more important than sticking to a date that celebrates only part of our melting pot of cultures, and creates a day of mourning for our indigenous people - who, by the way, is the longest surviving culture in the world. Think of that. Wow! I think May8 (Maate!) sounds good. But recent worldwide events have overshadowed this (important) question.

Regular readers will know I suffer from anxiety, brought on by my previous job. After years of trying to cope with work stress and the weight of worrying about my patients, taking on their worries as my own, I broke. I took up writing, first as a distraction then a form of catharsis.

Recent global events broadcast live via social media, have re-ignited my empathy and worry - worry for refugees, worry for legitimate citizens born outside their place of residence, worry for women's rights, for gay rights, native land rights - all swept away with a stroke of a pen, defying even the courts of the land. (I was barely coping with similar things in my own country, but this latest onslaught, this is mega. This is beyond belief. This is overwhelming.)

I feel for the people of the world. I fear for the people of the world.

And Friday night I had a wake up call. I woke at 2.30am - sweating, with palpitations and pain. Stress? Migraine? Or...? My anxiety escalated.

An ECG was performed, with, shall we say, not perfect results. A blood test was ordered. Four agonising hours later, I was cleared. Not a heart attack. This time.

Tomorrow I see the doctor for a follow up and, most likely, a referral to a specialist. Was the ECG a false positive or is there something that needs attention? We'll also discuss over the counter medications and other reasons for the palpitations.

I've had another wake up call. And I've made a decision.

I will try not to dwell on the negative of the recent events but look to the positive: the resistance, the fight, the wins. Rather than share the negative posts and tweets of hell unleashed, I will endeavour to share the positive results - the solidarity and resistance.

I will try to relax and focus on the victories, my family, my friends and the good times we have. I can delve into antagonist's thought process in fiction - where I can explore them (and control them) in a safe environment and purge my soul of the anxiety. (Well, I'll try.)

Yesterday we had a few friends over to play board games. We introduced Terry to Steampunk Munchkin (she won). We were confronted by a most foul opponent of almost impossible strength:

A +5 radium-powered Robot Queen Victoria, empowered by Gear Beer and ready for a bar room brawl - defeated by the co-operation of all the players. Huzzah!

That, dear Reader, is how we can heal the world - by joining together against our common foe - hate and racism. Divided, we fall. Together we can triumph.

Photo ©2017 Karen J Carlisle All rights reserved.

A Chink in the Armour (aka anxiety sucks!)

The past few weeks have been exhausting.

Little things can rouse the black dog: library books not returned, car overheats, can't attend a friend's funeral. He pokes and prods, clawing away at my carefully constructed armour. Before long he's found that chink - a way in, allowing the smallest grain of doubt to niggle. And niggle it does. Endlessly.

The legs tick. The hand shakes. The heart thuds. With each quickened breath, the muscles stiffen and clench until the nerves complain. Pain spreads, first through the lower back, then through the chest. Grabbing. Spreading down the arm.

Worry is next. It's inevitable. No matter how much I try to distract myself, try to convince myself it is all in my head, I fail. The pain lingers, spreads, intensifies. A sense of dread.

Deep breaths. Soothing music. An overdue scrummage in the medicine cabinet - to avoid another long, bumpy ambulance ride, the swinging doors and and fluorescent lights. Each time there is a sense of guilt for wasting their time, as the nurses poke and prod me and hook me up to the machine. I feel like Frankenstein's monster waiting for the lightning to strike. Then, finally, the doctor says not to worry. All is okay.

There's a final growl from the black mutt. Self-judgement follows. Why do I feel I failed?