How I Developed a Valuable Life Skill (Hint: I Beat My Brain into Submission Using Zombies)

Remember that time I wrote a book and disappeared from the internet for basically months and months, except when I would occasionally monopolize Tumblr to make everyone look at animated gifs from old horror movies and relive conversations that I had with D about counting jellyfish?

I remember that time …

Now, though. (Now!) I am back from Storyland.* I’m bright-eyed and brushed-haired and have turned my brain outward-facing again. And now, I have Things On My Mind.

And okay, yes. I’ve talked about this before—I know I have. Here, and here, and here, and kind of here. And yes, those are all vastly different posts filled with vastly different ideas, but all marginally dealing with this same kind of core … creative bizarro world?

The thing is, I really just have very poor built-in coping skills.

Seriously. You have no idea.

My life mostly goes like this: in day-to-day mode, I am placid—a doll-shaped creature made of puff pastry and frilly socks and old seasons of Dexter and pop-science books about electrodynamics. When I’m deep in the throes of a project, however, I am an I-don’t-know-what made of I-don’t-know-what. If I had to guess, I’d say Sweetarts and lightning.

I’ve known this for a long, long time.

I first discovered the depth of my non-coping-ness in high school, although I want to make it clear that at the time, I absolutely did not even understand what I was looking at.

Pro Tip: When you gradually phase out all forms of leisure until you stop sleeping altogether-yes-completely-not-even-a-little? You are not handling your life particularly well.

But I made it through my senior year and graduated and forgot about it and never even thought of it again until grad school. When, once again, I stopped sleeping altogether. Yes. Not even a little.

Which could have gotten really bad, but by then I was more of an adult and also marginally more able to step back and look at my life and my choices. In my state of constant, low-level panic, I’d retained just enough awareness to ask myself a very important question. Which was, “Hey. Self. Remember sophomore year of high school? Spring semester? Remember how you actually had a lot of work then too, and still, you totally slept sometimes? Why was that, do you think?”

As it transpires, the answer is simple, and also kind of weird.

The only thing that set 10th grade apart from all other parts of high school was that we’d just gotten a computer. It was a deeply-discounted floor model, and as such, it came with a lot of random stuff pre-installed. One of those things was an interplanetary flying game called Descent. Some of you may remember this game. Or not. Basically, you shoot increasingly durable robots who live in a sprawling network of increasingly complex mineshafts.

I played the HELL out of it.

The game was entertaining. And relaxing. And I found that, after killing a certain allocation of robots (particularly those tricky, hateful bastards with the cloaking devices that like to sneak up and peel the hull off your ship) and solving a certain allocation of increasingly difficult puzzles, I could sleep.

I developed a routine involving maze-memorization and robot-extermination and the Brenna-version of a reasonable bedtime.

It didn’t last. Eventually, I beat the game and then went right back to fidgeting and pacing and running around the neighborhood in the middle of the night and looking up the effects of snake venom on red blood cells at three o’clock in the morning, because I was completely bereft of robots.

C’est la vie and so on.

And anyway, it wasn’t like I really NEEDED to sleep that much. I mean, I was mostly coherent and usually sort of normalish and I got all my work done, even if sometimes it was totally sloppy, and I harnessed the power of pure adrenaline as best I could and ignored the rest.

All the way up until … grad school.

In grad school, you need to do all the work and have it not be sloppy. You need to present as human, ideally 100% of the time. I knew that. I got it.

And yet, at 23, here I was again, parked attentively in front of the internet at three in the morning, despite the fact that this is a semi-arid climate and I would most likely never encounter a Russell’s viper, not even a little. And I needed to just stop.

Throughout most of college, I’d casually played various games on D’s computer when he wasn’t using it for computery things. There was really no reason NOT to play games—the survey courses I was taking didn’t have a lot of homework and I totally had the time.

Throughout most of college, I had also slept … well honestly, kind of a lot. For me, I mean.

And now, even in my unraveled state, I did appreciate that correlation is not the same as causality. I got that. But correlation, damn it!

Which is how I came to design a rather grand experiment.

And by experiment, I mean I bought a bunch of secondhand horror games from this guy named Victor who managed the only used game store in town and he spent four months being a condescending jerk to me, but we got through it and later he apologized, and I was basically like, “Hey, it’s cool, never do it again to anyone though, because it is a dick move and just because I wear a lot of things involving ruffles does not mean that I’m buying these games for my boyfriend, so never say that to anyone again, okay. Now, can you find me a used copy of Siren?”

And he was like, “I can find you twenty used copies of Siren, because it is literally too scary for anyone to play, so they keep trading it in.”

And I was like, “Bullshit. Give it to me.”

And he did, but it kind of was. Too scary to play.

And that is the story of how, at 23, I began to consume games—any games, but the scarier and more complicated, the better. Freaky mutated monsters with no faces that rip open their chests and spray acid everywhere? Perfect! Puzzles and riddles and secret codes and dead ends everywhere? I love you!

Problem. Solved.

Sometimes at the end of these posts, I feel it behooves me to impart some kind moral. Or … point.

So here it is.

Out of sheer desperation, I beat my hyperactive brain into submission with zombies.

Because look! I know how to cope!
But only in distinctly non-adult ways?

*That’s kind of like Wonderland, only with more coffee, fewer shoes, and way worse hair.

10 thoughts on “How I Developed a Valuable Life Skill (Hint: I Beat My Brain into Submission Using Zombies)

  1. I <3 you. :) As I recall, you were super functional in college, so I can totally back up your argument there with witness accounts. This blog post also justifies my addiction to Sims games and other so-called 'time wasters' that help me relax and clear my head. While it would be healthier to exercise, it's WAY more efficient and fun to game.

    • Lesson: You HAVE to have mental activities that are not the same activity as working! Otherwise, you’ll wind up getting kind of weird.

      Is that a lesson? I think it is.

      I feel like I could even make a chart—the primary penalty to every questionable life decision I make: “And then I got kind of weird.”

  2. Oh man, I wish this worked for me, but if a game is awesome, then I MUST BEAT IT. All at once. I will sit in the same spot and fight the same beasties until I get it right or pass out or go blind or my fingers stop moving because they’ve been wrapped around the controller for so long. And the whole time I will be imagining all those condescending jerks who are so sure the game is “too hard” for me and how I will show them! Because obviously, they’re up at 4am (somehow) watching me die in the same spot for the 37th time.

    I’m actually only realizing as I type this that I am apparently an all or nothing type, and I also have no coping skills. So… thanks for that. And for putting the image of chunky blood the consistency of jello in my head with the snake venom mention.

    Welcome back from Storyland. I’m heading there soon myself!

    • As with everything else in life—even the most-most awesome things—I eventually run out of steam and get totally distracted by, like, a bird. My brain has a built-in failsafe for this sort of obsession!

      Also, full disclosure: due to my easy distractability, I still have not beaten BioShock: Infinite, even though I got to the final battle a billion years ago (and even think I know how to take down those @#$#$@%ing zeppelins now), because I got bored with how repetitive it is.

      Re: Jello-blood-venom. You have no idea how close I got to posting a link. You have NO idea. Luckily, there is a little piece of considerate judgment that lives inside my head. It said, “No one wants to see that. No one. No, seriously, *you* do not count. You already saw it.”

  3. I needed this reminder. I have been trying to read the history of Islamic Civilizations for the last two days, and the constant reading coupled with lack of sleep is leaving me unable to think about anything clearly. I can’t read a single sentence. But video games! That’s the secret. That will recharge my brain. I wonder if I can find a download for Descent somewhere. Sounds fun.

    • Hahahaha (oh man, I love Descent, *still*) (evil robots will always have a special place in my heart)

      Also, I don’t know if this will work for you, but something that helped a lot when I had a ton of reading and not much time was to find someplace semi-private and read things out loud. I’m a really auditory learner, so that might be why, but just saying it aloud always makes a big difference for me. And of course, audiobooks when possible—<3 <3 <3 them!

  4. Sometimes I wonder what people did before video games. PMS making you wanna stab people? Stab things in virtual land! Brain won’t turn off long enough to sleep? Exhaust it with video games! Math homework melting your brain? Revive it with video games! Road rage? Video games!

    I think you get the point. They supposedly are a waste of time. But they actually help. I have a panic disorder… if I can catch it before I get to the point that flashing images make it worse, gaming will actually help the attacks stop. Because I’m focused on something outside of my thoughts. I have tasks to complete, things to kill, things to gather, places to go. And it’s safer than walking the streets at 1am.

    tl;dr: I feel you.

    • gaming will actually help the attacks stop. Because I’m focused on something outside of my thoughts.

      To this day, I do think a lot of my chronic sleeping problems have to do with a kind of anxiety that just doesn’t feel like anxiety *in the moment* but which is probably still … not good for me? I am an inveterate pacer, and especially when I’m on the phone, I will pace a million circles around the free-standing island in my kitchen, but I come by it honestly. When I was growing up, our house had an open floorplan that kind of made a circle, and my dad wore a pale spot in the carpet with all his work-call pacing.

      (Also, in high school, I was a late-night runner, which I realize is not advisable safety-wise and therefore do not recommend it. But it was just nice.) (Games. They are safer.)

  5. I really appreciated hearing you share your trying times. I felt like I could relate and am kind of going through some similar-ish stuff myself…on a much smaller and different scale however. I actually do get sleep but I put coping mechanisms in place for me to manage my normal life (there is no damn italics for me to emphasize words here – crud). I am a gamer of old and make sure that I can get together with my friends once a week to sling some dice around a table all in the hopes of killing the bad-guys, some of which are even zombies.

    Best,

    James – fellow blogger

  6. When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now
    each time a comment is added I get three e-mails with the same comment.
    Is there any way you can remove me from that service?
    Bless you!

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