Invalid characterset or character set not supported My Health and My Review Output

My Health and My Review Output
December 06, 2015

Today, I submitted a review for The Peanuts Movie: Snoopy's Grand Adventure on Wii U. I had been interested in the game ever since it was announced. PR sent an email giving people the chance to request a review copy, which I did. But I never heard back, so recently I finally just bought it with a discount from my wife's employer. Then I played through it while the site was down and I couldn't edit reviews like I had intended.

That review was the 17th that I've posted here at HonestGamers this year. Unless something changes and I suddenly hammer out another 7 or 8 of them, that will be the fewest reviews I've posted here during a single calendar year since the site started tracking such things in late 2001 or so. That's an average of just under 1.5 reviews per month, which is 20% of the level of output I managed during my most productive years on the site. There was a noticeable downturn in output starting in 2010, and getting worse every year thereafter, and I feel like I owe you an explanation.

Part of why you haven't seen as many reviews from me in recent years is that I've been extremely busy for a lot of that time, but that's not even the main reason. The main reason is that I've been suffering from slowly worsening depression, which I'm starting to understand is a symptom of too much stress over a long period of time.

I used to think I was terrific at handling stress. It was a point of pride, you might say. I haven't had a proper vacation since I got married in 1999. Since then, I've only taken a break from work when I was between jobs (any vacation time I built up was cashed out for money, or spent doing online work in my apartment), which was itself stressful and something I never allowed to persist for very long. Along the way, I've had a lot of financial difficulty, and I would spend any spare time working on the site instead of relaxing. Everything finally came to a head around tax time in 2014.

As I was filing taxes in 2014, I had a mild anxiety attack (or something with those symptoms) for the first time in my life. That scared me, so I scheduled a session with a therapist, and I made some changes to my lifestyle and saw some immediate improvement. Then I went back to my old habits and worked myself silly and even took on a day job besides my freelancing, figuring it would help me to have financial stability. My freelancing chose that moment to suddenly pick up again, which was exciting but meant that suddenly I was as busy as ever. Things came to a head once more when Robin Williams died of an apparent suicide, and the second time around was considerably worse. I was an absolute emotional wreck for days and even had to bow out of a freelance assignment for Joystiq at the time. I was barely able to get through the day, let alone be productive. I began seeing a therapist again--regularly, now--and I cut as much stress out of my life as I could, including the day job.

Shortly after that, my wife began complaining about a lump behind her ear. When it became clear that the lump wasn't going away, I took her to the doctor. He referred her to a specialist, and she had some tests done. Those tests couldn't rule out cancer, so surgery followed, and then a second surgery when the first surgery determined that my wife had cancer. The second surgery fixed the problem (she has now been deemed cancer free), but that added a lot of stress and debt on top of everything else and kept me busy in late 2014 and during the first half of this year.

Fortunately, I'm back to doing pretty good again and as an added bonus, my wife and I are happier in many respects than we have been in a long time. I'm forcing myself to take things as easy as I reasonably can. I spend a lot of time reading in the evenings, time I formerly would have spent playing games, and my sleep schedule has evolved (so that it's more normal and less like a college kid's). I try to eat better and I get a lot of exercise when the weather permits. I even began attending classes at the local community college, which has turned out to be very stressful and is beginning to manifest as familiar physical symptoms that I used to simply put down to bad luck. It turns out that I'm not nearly as good as I thought I was at handling stress.

The good news is that I'm almost through this term and will have a few weeks to mostly relax, if nothing else changes. That will let me recuperate and then I can get through the next term and then the one after that and I will have an Associate's degree. From there, I hope to attend online classes and get a degree that will allow me to find a job teaching high school English, which will provide a significantly more stable source of income than freelancing ever can. So as long as I can get through all of that, which is by no means certain, I can look forward to a less stressful, more comfortable future. In theory, anyway.

What does that mean for HonestGamers? Not a lot, but I'd like to emphasize that I have no plans to abandon the site. Just the opposite, actually. The site has been a huge part of my life for the last 17 years and that remains true.

I've managed to get a lot of coding done around my stress and depression. There have been enough "good" days during the last year and a half that things are now in pretty good shape in that respect. The database could use more work, but that can always wait. What's exciting is that we're seeing a lot of activity and contributions from newcomers to the site, thanks primarily to EmP's work on recruiting. And we have a community manager, Taylor, who can handle more promotion on Twitter and such so that content reaches a wider audience and I have to spend less of my own time on Twitter. Those developments should theoretically allow me to spend more time writing and building the community (with Taylor and EmP), and we've been seeing some exciting stuff happening lately.

In 2016, I hope to spend considerably more time playing games and a lot less time on social media. I think social media has done me more harm than good, actually (I apparently can't resist joining in arguments that just stress me out because I get too involved), so I hope to spend more time playing and writing about games, both because it's good for the site and because I believe it's good for me. It's looking like I'll have produced fewer than 20 reviews over the preceding 12 months by the time 2015 ends, but I hope to write a lot more in the months to follow. You know... for my health!

Most recent blog posts from Jason Venter...

wolfqueen001 wolfqueen001 - December 06, 2015 (02:49 PM)
Sorry to hear about your rough year (and longer), Jason. Life has a way of kicking you in the ass sometimes, but I'm glad you've found a way to get through it, and hopefully you'll find yourself in a better place over the course of the next few months/ years.

I'm glad your wife seems to be doing well, also. I can only imagine how awful that had to be to deal with from an emotional perspective.
JoeTheDestroyer JoeTheDestroyer - December 06, 2015 (03:07 PM)
I'm sorry to hear that your hear was unsatisfactory, to say the least, but it's great that you're on the upswing!

I know what you mean about social media. I've barely been on Facebook over the last couple of days and have even deleted the FB app on my phone because the political climate there (not just the opinions, but they manner in which they're expressed) is becoming unbearable. I've already deactivated my Twitter account and I'm thinking of doing something similar with my FB one, too. I think it's more likely that I'll create an alter ego and only allow a select few on board.

I've also struggled with depression and anxiety over the last couple of years, but probably not to the extent you have, by the sounds of it. Part of my stress came from working as an hourly retain manager, which I terminated by becoming a transporter for one of the hospitals here in Spokane. Bad move. It's a very stressful job, partly because everyone you work with is on edge and understandably not always the easiest to get along with, and partly because the things you see have a habit of imprinting themselves on your memory, regardless of how seemingly little they affected you when you first saw/experienced them.

I left transport almost two years ago, and that has helped considerably, but I still have a long way to go. I think, as you indicated, a wiser diet, some exercise, and taking it easy would be best for me.
honestgamer honestgamer - December 06, 2015 (03:33 PM)
Thanks, WQ!

And Joe, I think we're mostly on the same page. The Internet and social media in particular tend to focus on (and even celebrate) negative information and interactions. With the current political climate (in particular, the upcoming election), sometimes I get angry even at how people who I like and agree with present their opinions, and it's not always worth the grief. I don't plan to close either of my social media accounts, because they're useful in some respects, but I will be making a conscious effort to use them less often. Some days I'm sure I'll do better at that than others.

I think it's important to appreciate positive things in life, and I believe entertainment is important and reviews and criticism serve a key role. But even when it comes to games, productive discussion can be difficult because a vocal minority want to tie current games to their political views or agenda or personal crusades, and from there it's all too easy to get wrapped up in discussion that only tangentially relates to the games in question and often devolves into name calling.

That's something we've mostly avoided here, thanks to the site's area of focus--just reviews and not a lot of "think pieces" or whatever--and also thanks to the people who are on board. For that I am grateful. I believe it was Germ who referred to the site as an "oasis," and that's what it often is for me, so I hope to get more out of that in the months ahead. Whether or not I actually follow through remains to be seen, but it has been on my mind a lot lately.
dementedhut dementedhut - December 06, 2015 (05:35 PM)
Good to hear that you're feeling better after all that stuff. Stress sucks. I've had my share of stress over the past decade, and there have been weeks that felt like I somehow aged five years. Here's hoping 2016 is a good year for you!
JoeTheDestroyer JoeTheDestroyer - December 06, 2015 (09:41 PM)
I remember Germ saying that, and I think "oasis" describes this place perfectly.
Masters Masters - December 07, 2015 (11:04 AM)
Good to hear that you're bouncing back, Jason. It's never a good sign when even the fun stuff isn't fun anymore.
joseph_valencia joseph_valencia - December 07, 2015 (01:39 PM)
Spending less time on social media is a good idea, but I think getting it out of your life might be a better one. I deleted both my Twitter and Facebook long ago, and I've never looked back. It's all just an overwhelming stream of mostly useless information, not to mention the drama that comes with it. Facebook you might want to keep to stay in touch with certain people, but Twitter is really just junk.
sashanan sashanan - December 07, 2015 (01:59 PM)
Glad to hear you're doing well after a lot of roughness - and that your wife's doing well, also. Sounds like that will have been a big scare for both of you.

I hear you on social media. Twitter I've never done and don't expect to ever do, and my Facebook is largely restricted to talking to the people I know. That and having many people on my friends list only through the various games I play on it, but not only do I not share my non-game posts with them, I'm also increasingly having to unfollow them to keep them from clogging my newsfeed. Especially in times like these when things get increasingly political and I find myself getting worked up by political posts about a country I don't even live in.
honestgamer honestgamer - December 07, 2015 (02:03 PM)
Social media helps me find freelance work sometimes, Joseph, and I do occasionally have awesome interactions with people I might not otherwise ever interact with (on Twitter). And Facebook is good for keeping up on what friends, family, and old classmates are doing these days, which I like. But yeah, there's a lot of grief, so all of that is something I'll be trying to do in small doses... which has the added benefit of leaving me with more time to play and write about games. I hope.
overdrive overdrive - December 07, 2015 (02:40 PM)
I use social media to keep in touch with people and find info and all that stuff. I've gotten to the point I just ignore any political stuff, regardless of whether I agree/disagree/whatever on FB/Twitter. It's usually people posting random links or spewing off nonsense that seemingly came from about 0.17654 seconds of research and thought. Not worth the time to say anything AND, from what I gather about FB's ways of gleaning info, if you "like" and comment on posts of a certain nature, the site will make sure that stuff is always prominent in your feed.

Stress in general sucks, though. I've been good at being stress-free (or relatively so) for a few years, but did go through a period of high stress before that and it wasn't fun. Seemed to give me more anxiety than depression, but that wasn't exactly good, since I was a good bit overweight at that time and being anxious and feeling my heart pounding made me worry about my health (blood pressure, heart attack, etc.) which added to the stress in a vicious circle. So I definitely hope you continue to work your way past that stuff.
Germ Germ - December 08, 2015 (03:53 AM)
Hey, I think I did say something like that back in good old Chatter! Glad that stuck in some minds and that others feel the same. I'm also thrilled to hear that your wife is cancer free! I hope you achieve your longterm goals, Jason, and in the meantime I look forward to reading more of your reviews.
honestgamer honestgamer - December 13, 2015 (12:53 PM)
I should have another one on the way soon. I'm working through a game I look forward to reviewing, but it's a big one!
Nightfire Nightfire - December 13, 2015 (02:36 PM)
Stress is quite possibly the largest source of disease we have in modern society. Stress lowers the immune system, causes adrenal fatigue, and inhibits the healing process. The longer the stress is endured, the worse the results.

As someone who has gone through similar experiences to yours and experienced depression over long periods of time, I would like to recommend a book to you; it's called Mind Over Medicine by Dr. Lissa Rankin. I read it recently and it really opened my eyes about just how damaging stress is to our overall health, both mental and physical. I'm generally very wary of saying a book "changed my life", but this one certainly changed mine. It might help you, too.
honestgamer honestgamer - December 13, 2015 (03:55 PM)
Thanks for the suggestion, Nightfire. I might look into that one!

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