health

On Empathy

Posted in health on June 23rd, 2019 by Jin Wicked – Comments Off on On Empathy

People that get to know me usually learn quickly that I loathe most television and movies. A strong component of this, until recently, has been the ADHD. I struggle to sit through a movie in the theatre when I cannot get up and walk around, pause it, or do something else simultaneously. It might also explain why I generally have an easier time watching cartoons and movies designed for children, with their shorter runtimes and faster-paced editing. Shows with repetitive music and laugh tracks also make me feel overstimulated.

Some recent experiences have caused me to take a deeper look at this.

When I emerged from my zombie-like depression in 2014, one of the issues I was consciously working on was empathy. I felt at that time I suffered from a lack of empathy; however, thanks to my therapist and the MMPI test, I better understand that I am/was burdened by egocentrism. Egocentrism, plainly put, means that it is difficult to distinguish the self from others and to view things from another person’s perspective. I think most people are egocentric to one degree or another. It becomes an issue when it interferes with your ability to function, or to maintain healthy boundaries within relationships.

I have lived a very isolated life, having few meaningful friendships or people I could trust to be myself with or honestly confide in, especially in my formative years. My parents violated my trust irreparably. Friendships with women have suffered due to lack of common interests, often, and male friendships tend to eventually deteriorate due to sexual attraction or romantic feelings. So other than my limited exposure to fiction, I spend a lot of time in my own head.

Now, I have been sort-of passively watching the series Mad Men on Netflix for the past few weeks, on one of my monitors behind my drawing tablet while I work. I am not going to spoiler a show that ended in 2015, so bail now if you must. There is a scene near the beginning of the show where Joan, the office manager, is pushed onto Don Draper’s office floor and raped by her fiancĂ©. In a later scene, she is coerced into having sex with a potential client for the ad agency in exchange for his car company’s business. Though neither scene is filmed in graphic detail, there is enough footage book-ending both acts that your mind is able to imagine the rest. Both of these scenes left me crying and nearly shaking with rage. It was after that I began to notice how emotionally-drained and exhausted these dramas made me, and I realized that the other part of not enjoying them was too much empathy with the characters.

For similar reasons, I cannot tolerate cringe-shows like The Office, where I am supposed to laugh at someone embarrassing or humiliating themselves.

My current job requires compassion and empathy daily, and has even offered me a unique window to compare my interactions with those of my coworkers. It is easy to distinguish those for whom care is “just a job” versus those who actually care about the residents. And through my observations I have seen that, other than sometimes missing social cues, I am relatively normal.

It has been painful to observe people I have known be repeatedly abused by their partner, or engage in self-destructive and self-defeating behaviour. Here I have had to learn to maintain better boundaries, or simply walk away.

And in other instances, because I cared more about not upsetting someone, or put someone else’s happiness before my own, I have endured behaviours that made me profoundly uncomfortable, or left me feeling used and violated. I have allowed other (equally, or more dysfunctional) people to tell me what is “wrong” with me when I reacted poorly, or even reasonably, to abusive or unhealthy behaviours. The further distance I am from these relationships, the more clearly I can see their toxicity; not just my own, but from the other side. I have been burdened and weighed down by a mind-breaking amount of guilt and shame that was never really mine to begin with. And for the most part, I have bitten my tongue, due to fears of retaliation or retribution. I have been fighting this dissonance between my reality as I perceive it, and what I have been told or manipulated into believing my reality “is” or “should” be.

I am wise to this trickery, and it will not work on me anymore.

I have made significant progress in recognizing and eliminating my own toxic behaviours. The quality of my close relationships has improved immensely.

Through building professional relationships with colleagues I respect, positive feedback, and constructive criticism from unbiased sources, I have gradually repaired the damage dealt to my self-confidence. I am good and have value. My work is good and has value. No one can take that away from me.

I am getting better and doing better every day.

The Road to Self-Actualization

Posted in audio, health, work on May 22nd, 2019 by Jin Wicked – Comments Off on The Road to Self-Actualization

[ Listen to this post. ↗ ]

“The key to Maslow’s writings is understanding that there are no quick routes to self-actualization: rather it is predicated on the individual having their lower deficiency needs met. Once a person has moved through feeling and believing that they are deficient, they naturally seek to grow into who they are, i.e. self-actualization. Elsewhere, however, Maslow (2011) and Carl Rogers (1980) both suggested necessary attitudes and/or attributes that need to be inside an individual as a pre-requisite for self-actualization. Among these are a real wish to be themselves, to be fully human, to fulfill themselves, and to be completely alive, as well as a willingness to risk being vulnerable and to uncover more “painful” aspects in order to learn about/grow through and integrate these parts of themselves (this has parallels with Jung’s slightly similar concept of individuation).” – from Self-actualization, Wikipedia

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

It is May 22nd. It has been cool, rainy, and silent except for the low drone of my computer fans and steady stream of passing cars outside. The breakneck pacing of the previous six months has come to a sudden halt with the end of MSP Springcon. I slept almost twelve hours Monday night. In between bursts of writing, I have been sluggishly counting books and unpacking merchandise in the solitude of my office. I have been gnawing on leftover steak.

My mind wanders to my parents often, this time of year. It was almost exactly three years ago that my estranged father committed suicide. He refused any help, and never recovered from my mother’s death. He entered a relationship with a woman two years my junior — a waitress at the restaurant where the three of us often ate before my mother became too sick and weak to go out. I disapproved, and that was the last straw that estranged us. She bounced between my father and her husband in/out of prison. She took advantage of my father. He spent nearly every penny he had trying to keep her happy, until he was in massive debt. He should have had a comfortable retirement. After his death, my siblings discovered that my father had rented an apartment in his name for her, her child, and her husband, because he did not want her to be homeless. For all my father’s faults, selfishness was never one of them.

Like my father, I sometimes try too hard to help those I should not.

Toward the end of 2018, due to some threats I no longer felt physically safe or secure at my day job. Out of an abundance of caution for both myself and my coworkers, I left my work as a custom picture framer which I had known and loved for twenty years, and sought to begin a new career. Based on my experience caring for my mother, I was quickly hired on at a facility as a Home Health Aide. It turned out to be a fairly serendipitous turn of events, as other than trouble with scheduling — I was not able to get any additional time off for convention season prep or Springcon, which meant a lot of shift-trading, over-time, and very, very long weeks — I enjoy the job, and leaving retail has been refreshing. The job has also, I feel, been very good for me — helping to pull me out of my own inner world to focus on others’ needs, learning to ask the right questions and use nonverbal cues to assess those needs, gaining a new perspective of what is really important in life, and exposing me to a wide variety of histories and experiences through my residents. I fancy joking that, “I wipe asses during the week, and sign autographs on the weekend!”

One evening, I was attempting to care for a late-stage dementia patient who is frequently combative, refuses medication, is resistant to his cares, is often violent, and largely non-verbal (the things he says make no sense or are not words). However, he is responsive to music. While attempting to assist him, I began singing O Danny Boy. He grew still, then silent, and by the close of the song was singing along with me. He then allowed me to admin his medication and help him. We shared a moment together. For him, it would be rapidly lost to the ravages of his disease — but for me, I will not soon forget.

My days are filled with hugs and small tender interludes — a warm “Hello!” to someone excited to hear their name, listening to proud tales of children and grandchildren, remembering how someone prefers their coffee, small favours not on my worksheet, the thankfulness whenever I can spare a few minutes to chat, appreciative families. Songs during showers, where no one cares if a melody is carried imperfectly or a voice cracks. Holding a hand. Offering words of comfort. Health and youth take so much for granted — even bending down to pick up an item from the floor can be life-threatening if a fall occurs.

Not to paint too rosy a picture, my days also frequently include mild physical or verbal assault or abuse, and casual racism. Sexual harassment and sexist abuse from male dementia patients seem to be extremely common. They do not really prepare you for this during the interviews and training classes.

I have been told I am good at working with dementia patients for someone that has not being doing this sort of thing for very long. Perhaps it is because I can inhabit their worlds almost as easily as I can inhabit my own. Perhaps it is because they rely so heavily on body language to communicate, and mine is unusually exaggerated and expressive. Perhaps it is because I have in me a well of patience that I never fully recognized or knowingly tapped into. The repetitions and odd requests that irritate many of the other aides just do not really register with me. Maybe that will change months or years from now.

Anger is something of a last resort emotion for me. Before I become angry, I usually have to exhaust an ocean of excuses and rationalizations about why I should not be. The only part of my MMPI results that genuinely surprised me was my therapist’s recommendation for assertiveness training. I have never put much thought into the degree to which I learned to suppress my anger, desires, and needs growing up. I lived in a very much “my father’s way or the highway” household. I can see now how my inability to accept my anger as a valid emotion has undermined me. My relationship with Stephen is unique in that it is the first where I felt safe enough to “fight” — that is, we disagree, things might get a bit heated, then they are eventually resolved. My aversion to conflict has lead me into mostly-dominant or mostly-submissive roles.

During the process of getting divorced, I was briefly in a relationship where I allowed my budding confidence, enthusiasm, emerging identity, and sense of self-worth to be gradually ground into a pulp over months of controlling rules and demands, moving goalposts, being made to doubt myself constantly, and attempting to please the unpleasable. This is where the title of my new book, Queen of Assholes, originates from. When a new partner begins calling you an asshole after barely a month, any individual with a healthy self-esteem would be out the door. I did not have that, and did not do that. It has taken years of flopping around like a fish, trying to reconcile my admiration with personal experience, grasping to understand why I was treated that way and “fix” my mistakes, and conciously building relationships with secure and well-adjusted individuals who genuinely care about me to help me discover my own worth. My (mostly female) coworkers have been invaluable in this process of helping me learn what kind of treatment I should not accept. And I am under the care of an impartial and competent therapist to help me remain true to myself.

That relationship broke me in exactly the ways I needed to be broken.

More will come into focus as Queen of Assholes unfolds.

This weekend was the MCBA MSP Springcon comic convention. Since arriving in Saint Paul, the convention has not only helped to give my career its second wind, but in many ways, it and its volunteers have become the family I never felt I had. The fall before I came onto the scene, the main personality running the convention, Nick Postiglione, passed away unexpectedly. He was greatly loved by all accounts, and this left not only a gigantic hole in people’s hearts, but also in the leadership of the convention. Three volunteers were selected to take his place, and in the years following Nick’s death in 2014, everyone has developed their roles to move together as a team. I began volunteering in the spring of 2016, as soon as I learned about the volunteer activities. As time went on, I showed to participate in every volunteer activity where I was allowed, except during the convention itself. I am there when the tables and tablecloths go up. I am there until the last corner of the Grandstand is swept, and the doors are rolled closed on the loaded truck. Last summer, I obtained permission to start up an Instagram account for the convention, and with the help of friend-photographers, I work almost daily to promote fellow creators and engage with the convention’s audience across all of its social media.

I do these things because I choose, rather than to criticize the convention or its management, to be an active and positive force toward helping it not just grow, but thrive as the landscape changes moving forward. The convention does not exist to be a feather in my hat or “boost my ego,” I exist to serve it. The convention does not owe me anything more or less than the free T-shirt I am promised as a volunteer. If I am granted a featured artist placement, or a free table at which to sell my books, and meals to eat, that is a gift — and for what I am given, I will be grateful. There are more creators wishing to table than available spaces, it is run completely by volunteers, and this convention is the most generous I have ever seen. I am committed to its success.

(Fellow creators, feel free to reach out to me!)

Steve has been a volunteer for the convention for over twenty years, himself, and it feels like this is the first show where we have really gelled together as a team — between volunteer work, my booth, and his small comics and toys business. Comics and conventions are my life. Sharing that is important.

All that being said, I had an excellent show this year. My table remained busy nearly the entire weekend, and we sold between 30-40 books plus a healthy amount of merchandise. My lovely assistant Jessica decided she would rather take original artwork and books in lieu of what I usually pay for the weekend, so my net for the show was about the same even though I sent some of my business upstairs to the Charity Art Auction. And my auctioned piece received the third highest bid, raising $225 to be split between the Hero Initiative and Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. I donated to the Garage Sale myself.

This week I am taking a bit of personal time for rest, and inking the Deadwood piece I started. After that I will be shifting into comics production. I would like to have a Have Tablet, Will Scribble book ready for this fall, and the intro issue of Queen of Assholes ready for next spring. Both of those will be primarily new material, but now that I am getting proper help, I believe I can do it.

MMPI Results

Posted in health on May 2nd, 2019 by Jin Wicked – Comments Off on MMPI Results

In the midst of sleep-deprived, last-minute preparations for Free Comic Book Day and MSP Springcon 2019 today, I was finally able to sit down and discuss the results of my MMPI test with my therapist. Nothing really surprising there. It was fairly in-line with my own self-assessments and existing efforts.

The therapist initially attempted to cushion? the results a bit, I suppose, but I told her that these conclusions seemed accurate to me. She replied along the lines of, “Having interpreted thousands of MMPI results, I honestly expected yours to be worse.” And we both laughed a little. She also told me much later on that I seem surprisingly well-adjusted, given many of the situations I have been/lived through. I attribute it to a lifetime of service-oriented jobs.

Full report below. Click the images to embiggen them.

MMPI Page One

MMPI Page Two

MMPI Page Three

[VIDEO BLOG] Jin’s Office Tour

Posted in health, video on April 3rd, 2019 by Jin Wicked – Comments Off on [VIDEO BLOG] Jin’s Office Tour

A short video tour because MY OFFICE IS CLEAN!

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Jin's Office

So, I have been on ADHD medication for almost two weeks now, and this has been a game-changer for me. It feels incredible to not be exhausted all of the time. This drug is also used to treat narcolepsy, which makes sense, but even with a full eight hours of sleep and multiple energy drinks in me I would often be sleepy throughout the day. I drastically reduced my caffeine intake!! Other than the first few days of caffeine withdrawal headaches, I have felt great.

Tuesday last week, I completed the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) so my therapist can do more of a general evaluation, and help me develop more effective strategies to accomplish my goals. Since beginning my medication I have been on time to my day job every day, knocked out a list of over-due errands, cleaned and organized my office and supplies, and created that past-due watercolour commission in a week instead of a month. (Actually less, because I painted it once, was not satisfied, and redid the whole thing.) The lower dose is sufficient to keep my head in the game at my day job, but I did need more to keep my ass at the table while I was inking and painting. It feels so good to just DO WHAT I WANT TO DO, rather than chase every stray thought or shiny object in the periphery of my brain. And I found even as the medication wears off for the day, or the days of “break” I have taken when it is not needed (recommended by the doctor to help reduce tolerance), I feel less overwhelmed. I can listen when people talk to me, it does not turn into gobbledegook after five minutes! I can remember things for longer than thirty seconds! I CAN READ A BOOK. WITH THE PAGES. IN ORDER.

Golden Hour after Bill Watterson

Golden Hour after Bill Watterson

So, yeah, game-changer. I am also back on my carb-free protein shakes, and in the gym four or five days per week. Sadly I did lose some of my gainz. I am working out harder and more frequently than before, and eating more. Now I get to really learn how quickly I can build muscle. On to Swolehalla!!!

Here we go!

Posted in health on March 24th, 2019 by Jin Wicked – Comments Off on Here we go!

No vlog this week — I am still feeling a little under the weather, mostly with a persistent cough. I do not really feel bad otherwise, so it may be some form of allergies, as Spring is breaking out here. Regardless, I will not subject you to my mouth full of lozenges and occasional sneezing. I also want to locate a couple of items before I record a “video tour” of my workspace.

Thursday morning I met with my psychiatrist, and after speaking with her for about an hour and a half, I left with a prescription for the lowest dosage of an extended-release ADHD stimulant medication. Thursday felt weird. By the evening, I was in an exceptionally crabby mood, which improved after eating. I was able to stay at my computer desk and edit about seventy photographs along with the video for my Dugsi Academy visit, including the corresponding posts and uploads. That took roughly ten hours with a working dinner break. Friday and Saturday, I worked at my day job. Friday I felt very “awake” and definitely noticed the crash about eight hours in. However, I am also reducing myself down from a high caffeine intake, and one Excedrin gave me a second wind about an hour later. Saturday was “smoother” and my co-workers were surprised to see me show up a few minutes early for my shift. I did not really make any extra effort, but it is easier to be punctual when not distracted by everything, constantly. Time will tell if this dose is effective long-term, though she did give me her permission to double-up if I feel I need it. I suspect that may be necessary for my most tedious projects, especially inking.

Saturday evening I also noticed I felt much less compelled to check my phone constantly, or respond to messages instantly. In my interview the psychiatrist did bring up OCD, which I have long suspected I have a mild degree of. Door locking and checking repetitively is the big one, related to childhood traumas, but primarily the type centered around rumination. (This is, in fact, where the title of my blog comes from, sharing a title with this series of comics — which in retrospect is more accurately an illustration of ADHD.) She commented that I seem quite analytical and offered me to take the MMPI if I would like to, so I am going to complete that this week as scheduling permits, before I see her and the therapist again. They both seem significantly more insightful than the therapist I saw for anxiety issues in 2016, which was a waste of time.

The best I can describe what it has been like “inside” my head until this point is to imagine yourself locked in a room with a dozen televisions and countless radios, playing different and sometimes contradictory channels at full volume, constantly. It creates a mental “fog” that demands a huge amount of energy and deliberate effort to stick with one track of thought, even manifesting into physical exhaustion. The bursts of hyperfocus on projects I am excited about are where I have traditionally gotten big things accomplished. Of course, that can be, rarely, artificially-induced by procrastinating until deadlines, etc.

By Friday and Saturday, I started to feel the “fog” clear, as if putting on the correct pair of eye-glasses for the first time. It is a strangely calm, quiet, and peaceful sensation, nothing like the lethargy and sluggishness characteristic of anxiety drugs I have taken in the past like lorazepam. I am confident that with the combination of medication, feedback from my therapist, and lifestyle modifications (such as using earplugs to fight overstimulation), my struggles with productivity can finally be overcome. I have seven books to finish.

Five years ago, I accepted a commission for a watercolour piece “in the style of Bill Watterson” or as closely as I can emulate it. I still cannot recall why?! I accepted this fool’s errand to begin with, but I decided I am ready to tackle it at this time. How quickly I can complete this is going to be the first real test of the efficacy of my ADHD medication. Let the experiment begin.