Have you ever been stuck in a video game? It’s quite the discouraging feeling. Perhaps a puzzle you find yourself unable to solve is serving as the wall. Or maybe you are having a hard time with a specific button combination that you have to input to overcome a particular challenge. You might even be stuck against a difficult boss that seems to defeat you over and over again. Regardless of how you get stuck, there tends to be only two possible responses. Sometimes getting stuck fills you with fierce determination to overcome the circumstances. You focus your mind, you practice your inputs, you change your strategy, and you get the job done. The challenge that once stopped you is overcome and you get a feeling of satisfaction that overcomes the block that was holding you back. Other times, you get to the point in the game where you get stuck you just…stop.
That has been my February in a nutshell, both literally in a video game and metaphorically in other aspects of my life. January felt like a good month for Adventure Rules: I got to blog about games like Super Smash Bros Ultimate and Pokemon Let’s Go that lots of people had been talking about for over a month, and I got to experience Into the Breach for the first time – a game that now is probably one of my favorites of all time. As February began and I picked up another indie title that seemed like a great fit for me, Wargroove, and I felt like another great month of gaming and posts lay ahead of me.
Then I actually played Wargroove.
My stuck-ness didn’t stop at Wargroove, though. A few weeks back I spoke about picking up Fitness Boxing for the Switch as a way to keep exercising during the cold of the winter. I felt like I needed an exercise tool that helped me make the next step in my fitness journey and based on the demo, Fitness Boxing felt like a good fit. I stayed consistent with the game for a solid two weeks and then I made a terrible mistake: I traveled. While out of town visiting family, I missed my workout and got my sleep schedule all athwack. When I returned home after the weekend away, waking up early in the morning to exercise felt impossible.
Exercise wasn’t the only healthy habit that I dropped during the month of February. I’ve spoken a little here on Adventure Rules about struggles with my mental health that started a few months back (although it was in the midst of an Ace Attorney article, so you might have missed that one). When I realized that I didn’t have the mental/emotional tools to deal with the stress that I was feeling, I started doing research to equip myself and began a couple of different practices that were helping me. I studied cognitive behavioral therapy and began to recognize the cognitive distortions that were filling my head with unhelpful thoughts. I started journaling my thoughts so I could better understand them and so that I had a private outlet for my hurtful words so they wouldn’t get directed at other people. I even tried meditation, and while the practice itself didn’t seem to help me much, the philosophies behind it expanded my understanding of my own philosophies and helped me to approach the world in a way that felt more consistent with my worldview. All of these steps were good ones that, for a time, helped me to stave off the symptoms of anger and sadness that were plaguing me.
Naturally, I stopped all that stuff too.
One of the articles I read about meditation explained that a common mistake is to quit as soon as it starts working. Folks will start it hoping to enhance their relaxation or their mindfulness, and as soon as they start to feel benefits they think they don’t need the practice any more. In reality, the practice is what was bringing about those benefits and needed to be maintained. I think this happened to me with journaling. I found this tool that really helped me do emotional triage; once I got back to “normal,” I stopped using it because I felt better. What I have come to realize, though, is that my normal is still not good. I have unhealthy coping mechanisms for stress and conflict. I am easily overcome by anger. And while I present fairly well to the outside world, I’ve had multiple evenings in the past month where stress killed my motivation to engage with the world and I gave up on activities or interactions that normally make me feel happy and fulfilled.
This discouragement, I think, reflected onto my posting schedule and my interactions over the past month. I’ve been slower to read comments and less likely to read posts from friends. Like a number of other bloggers that I’ve heard from, my numbers tanked in February, falling under 3000 to hit my lowest mark since May 2018. Even though I felt like I was writing articles that I was passionate and excited about, that didn’t seem to be reflected in my comments and views. This combined with the other ways in which I was feeling discouraged and I started to doubt whether or not I should even keep at it. I wondered what the point was if no one was reading.
But to say “no one was reading” is an unfair statement. I’m writing this article around 7:30 PM on February 28th, and just today nearly 100 people have read something on Adventure Rules. Two people commented on the article I posted, and a third shared his thoughts in a reply on Twitter. My “weak month” is still stronger than this time last year – and by the way, my numbers dropped in February 2018 too. And in February 2017. Having a decrease in monthly views during the shortest month of the year, during a month where I tend to be coming down off the boost that comes from having lots of new games during the holidays, is not a disaster. It’s an expected development.
At some point I realized that all of the discouragement I was feeling was the result of unhelpful thoughts and focusing on the negative. Like before, I was caught up in cognitive distortions that caused me not to see positive developments. Just as I thought my blog was falling apart when in reality the fall in numbers was predictable, there are understandable reasons behind all of the other discouraging things I faced over the past month; but instead of acknowledging the logical reasons, I dwelled on the negative and gave in to apathy. Getting stuck in these negative loops, I didn’t engage in activities that could have been helpful in addressing some of the very concerns that caused me stress. Once I realized that I was caught in a torrent of unhelpful thoughts, I began the work of trying to address them a bit at a time.
I began taking my journal with me to work again and writing the things that happened during my day. I looked back at previous entries and saw situations which are now firmly in the past, and could read how horrible and life-altering I thought they were at the time they happened. As much as it sucked, I woke up early one morning and made myself pick up my Joy-Cons and exercise, cruddy motion-sensors and all. To help myself be reminded more often to read posts from my fellow bloggers, I became an e-mail subscriber to many of the folks I want to support. One step at a time, I pushed myself to stay the course instead of giving up on all of the things that were helping me.
I say this not to talk about how awesome I am or how I’ve totally overcome my stress and discouragement. I didn’t exercise this morning and forgot to bring my journal to work. I had an idea for a community event for the blog and decided to give up on it because a voice in my brain said “what’s the point?” But I’m a little better today than I was yesterday, and it’s a start. Multiple days this week I didn’t let discouragement stop me from doing things I wanted to do. I thought I wasn’t going to have three articles this week. I wasn’t even sure I was going to have one. Yet here I am, writing what will be the third article of the week and the first article of the month of March.
I don’t have the perfect advice for those of you who, like me, feel like February has been a struggle. I don’t know why your numbers went down and I don’t know if March is going to be any better. All I know is that I’m going to try tomorrow to do a bit better than I did today. I’m gonna wake up and exercise, write in my journal, play some video games and write an article, too. When a discouraging thought comes around to tell me that I shouldn’t do those things, I’m going to do my best to focus on helpful thoughts that help me stay the course. Maybe I’ll mess up, but I’m choosing to believe that I’ll do better tomorrow than I am doing today. It’s not a cure, but it’s a start. And a start feels pretty good to me.