I Can Sleep Again

October 19th, 2014
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“I’ve been sleeping well again”, I explained to a friend during a long overdue catch up lunch. She stopped eating and looked at me questioning: “Since when were you having trouble sleeping?”

“Er, you know, since my Dad died”. She glared just a teensy bit at this. Without thinking I carried on and explained how the nightmares seemed to be well and truly gone and that I didn’t sleep with one ear constantly listening out for cries, people falling, or anything else particularly ominous. She gave me a questioning look again, this time with some concern thrown in. That was when I remembered I hadn’t actually told anyone this before, certainly not in so much detail.

Somewhere along the lines, I’d forgotten that sleeping like that wasn’t entirely normal but it became the new normal for me for a long time.

In a rare moment in which we had a truly insightful conversation, my friend and I talked about it properly. I explained how for a long time, I had nightmares, more flashbacks than anything about that night. How some nights, I’d hear every single noise and struggle to sleep. How when I did sleep, it never felt truly restful, probably because I didn’t sleep very deeply for a long time. She heard a little more about exactly how my Dad died. Her medical training helping some way, I think, in her realising just how badly it all went.

We didn’t talk about it like some huge heart to heart. We both kept eating our ridiculously oversized meals and I spoke very matter of factly. She responded in a similar manner.

I explained how I’d figured stuff out. How I was forcing myself to be braver and not shy away from stuff just because it seemed scary. I didn’t explain this part to her, but I’d realised over the past year that any kind of adrenaline made me want to run away. Even the good, exciting kind of adrenaline and I’d realised what I needed to do to sort out such triggers. I needed to suck it up and persevere.

I did tell her how once I couldn’t avoid one major trigger though. Not that long ago, my Mum was violently ill in the night (she’s been ill all year. It’s not life threatening but it is life limiting at the moment) and I was woken by the sounds of someone rushing through the house to be sick. I stayed calm under pressure and she had no idea how I felt at the time. I looked after her, cleaned things up, went back to bed a couple of hours later once she was ok to leave alone. Once I was in bed, I cried hard. It reminded me of that night far too much. The time of day, the lighting, the lack of control I felt about the situation. Everything. I didn’t sleep well that night.

For a few days after that, I felt on edge and constantly full of adrenaline. I didn’t realise fully why, as daft as that might sound, till a couple of days in I took stock of the situation and figured it out. Once I reminded myself why, I felt so much more in control of the situation.

I’ve always been one for analysing things but I always focused on the little things. The inconsequential things rather than the root of the problem. Somewhere over the past year, I figured out what I needed to focus on. What I needed to remind myself on those days that were tricky. Excluding a few minor blips, I reckon I’ve done very well.

I’ve been under a ton of stress this year. Work has increased (a good thing) and my Mum has been chronically ill since last November which has left me running mostly everything, as well as supporting her physically and emotionally. Loved ones have died, loved pets have died, and I’ve carried on. I’ve been the strong one. Not because I have to be but because I can be.

I accept, from the research I’ve conducted, that my brain will never quite be the same. I’ll always react to stress in a more heightened fashion than I once did, but acknowledging the issue goes a long way to helping me deal with that again. The constant reminder that we do get better is an important one for me.

I explained a bit of this to my friend and she summed it up the best. “Well, if you’re sleeping again and enjoying it again, I think that says all you need to know about your recovery”. She’s right. I’d genuinely forgotten how important sleeping properly was. I’m glad it’s back. Sleep and rest is awesome.

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My Games & Films of 2013

January 1st, 2014
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Another year has gone by so I felt like figuring out my favourite games and films of 2013. Note the careful use of the word favourite. This isn’t going to be necessarily the titles that I felt were the best in 2013, just the ones that I enjoyed most or felt resonated massively with me. While I’ll be keeping 2014 pretty mainstream on a gaming level, I do intend to try to watch more indie films, although I think I do a pretty good job of that anyhow.

Oh and for those who want to judge just how readily I visit the cinema, at the bottom of this post will be a list (without comment) of everything I saw at the cinema this year. It’s certainly eclectic! Also, not entirely films that I would have chosen to see, more ones that seemed like a fair compromise to go see with others *cough* The Internship and The Hangover III.

Games of 2013
This list was delightfully simple to write up. In no particular order:
Ni No Kuni
Fire Emblem: Awakening
Saint’s Row IV
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Super Mario 3D World

supermario
There’s an honourable mention too for Gears of War: Judgment. I had a lot of fun with it, unlike other folks I know. One thing that stands out prominently is that Nintendo had a fantastic year, especially with the 3DS. I sunk literally hundreds of hours into Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and its oddly bewitchingly simplistic village life. Similarly, a significant amount of my time was spent with Fire Emblem: Awakening, one of my favourite games of not just this year but many years. Super Mario 3D World was a late entry to my favourites list, but it truly is brilliant. So good in fact that after I sent my review copy back, I had to immediately go out and buy my own copy. Something that really doesn’t happen for me usually.
ninokuni
Ni No Kuni wasn’t a perfect JRPG but it was everything I wanted it to be. The presence of Drippy, the Welsh fairy, really made it all the better too! Oh and Saints Row 4? Stupidly over the top. I loved every second of it.

Note: At the time of writing, I haven’t played enough of Assassin’s Creed 4, Zelda: A Link Between Worlds or Tearaway to consider them.

Films of 2013
My favourites are pretty mainstream which is a slight surprise given I’ve seen a few great indie darlings. That’s the problem though. Unlike with my games of the year, I really struggled to narrow the films list down. There were just so many great choices and even then, I’ve felt like I’ve missed out on some films that I suspect I would have adored. For instance, I missed out on a chance to see Blue Jasmine, although I reckon that will be a film that I’ll greatly admire but not necessarily love.

I started the year very much anticipating The World’s End as a big fan of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz so I still feel slightly bad that I don’t deem it worthy enough to reach the top five.

Anyway, again in no particular order:
Django Unchained
Iron Man 3
Captain Phillips
Don Jon
Saving Mr Banks
onlygodforgives
Honourable Mentions go out to Much Ado About Nothing and Only God Forgives. Only God Forgives is absolutely bizarre but I certainly appreciated it. It’s an acquired taste though. Much Ado About Nothing is delightful and a great reminder of how I really must read more Shakespeare. Whedon’s love of the original writing is evident throughout, and it’s just lovely. Simply put!

I hoped I’d love Django Unchained and early on in the year, I knew that it was almost certainly going to be one of my favourites of 2013. A hideous cameo from Tarantino himself damages it slightly but it’s forgivable as the rest of the film is just so good. It’s arguably the most brutal of Tarantino’s films and certainly unrelenting, but it also manages to be very darkly funny. Christoph Waltz, unsurprisingly, is the star here, but DiCaprio’s smaller role is a shining example of what a great actor he’s become.
ironman3
I think Iron Man 3 is the film of 2013 that I’ve seen the most times. The first time round, I was slightly unsure given it’s so different from any other superhero film. It’s brilliant though. Full of great acting, great action scenes, great writing, and oodles of Downey Jr’s charm. Its handling of PTSD is surprisingly touching too, and makes me love the film all the more. I wrote more about the PTSD here.

A double whammy for Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips and Saving Mr Banks are brilliant films for two very different reasons. Captain Phillips is gripping stuff from start to finish, proving immersive throughout, right down to the dying seconds. It’s genuinely a film that I felt on the edge of my seat for, and I can’t wait to see it again.

Saving Mr Banks is a very different film to that and, admittedly, Tom Hanks takes the backseat here. While his appearances are welcome, this is Emma Thompson’s film and she’s magnificent. Frequently deeply sad, it tells a great story of how Mary Poppins came to be a Disney film. Sure, it’s a little cutesy by the end, but that doesn’t stop it being full of pathos and sadness beforehand. It still manages a selection of laugh out loud moments too, with some snappy one liners and great musical numbers.
donjon
Don Jon rounds off the top five, being both thought provoking and entertaining. Joseph Gordon Levitt has demonstrated once again that he’s more than just a (very) pretty face and this is a great tale of how easy it is to objectify people, and not just sexually but emotionally too. Well worth a watch.


Here’s the list of everything I saw at the cinema. Yup, it’s a lot. Yup, it’s probably my main vice! Luckily, I hardly drink alcohol, buy coffee from various coffee shops, or do anything else that excessively pricey!

January
Gangster Squad
Jack Reacher
Django Unchained
Zero Dark Thirty

February
Hitchcock
Lincoln
I Give It A Year
This is 40
A Good Day to Die Hard (UGH!)

March
The Guilt Trip
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Identity Thief

April
Trance
Olympus Has Fallen
Iron Man 3
The Place Beyond the Pines

May
Iron Man 3
Star Trek Into Darkness
The Hangover 3

June
Robot & Frank
Iron Man 3 (yup, three times!)
The Hangover 3 (yup, two times. :( Not my choice!)
Admission
Man of Steel

July
This is the End
Bernie
Now You See Me
The World’s End
I’m So Excited
The Internship
The World’s End

August
The Heat
Red 2
2 Guns

September
We’re the Millers
Much Ado About Nothing
R.I.P.D

October
Only God Forgives
Thanks for Sharing
White House Down
Despicable Me 2
Frances Ha
Captain Phillips

November
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa
Drinking Buddies
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Thor: The Dark World
Gravity
Don Jon

December
Saving Mr Banks
Die Hard
Anchorman 2
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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Where I’ve Been, Next Gen Plans And Current Gen Joys

June 23rd, 2013
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Erm, yeah, I’m rubbish at this blogging thing aren’t I? You’d never think I’d have once blogged every day for a year, would you?

So, what happened in the past month? Well, not a huge amount and yet quite a lot.

Games: LOTS has happened in the gaming world. Notably, E3 and the announcement of new consoles. Somewhere in that month, Microsoft managed to go from “yay MS” to “Boo, you suck” to “Oh, ok, erm, we’re not sure what to think now”. Me? Well, as I’m a big fan of owning physical copies of games and collecting them, I wasn’t so keen on what first happened. That’s despite previously being pretty heavily invested in the 360.

It’s looking more promising now, although it’s a little too late for me. I’ve pre-ordered a PS4, mostly having been tempted by the cheaper price and not being forced to have a Kinect unit. I’ll pick up an One at a later date. I’d love to pick up both at launch, but that’s looking extremely unlikely given I’ve got other expenses to deal with and the fact that I’m not made of money!

thelastofus

My love for the PS3 has grown a tad in the past week, mostly because I now have a 500gb Super Slim rather than my bulky 80gb. I can finally embrace the awesomeness of Playstation Plus, rather than just look at the download list and wish I had the space free!

Alongside the new Super Slim, I acquired The Last of Us. It’s taken a while to really gel with me and admittedly I wasn’t sure it’d be my sort of thing (excluding the first Metal Gear Solid, I really don’t have the patience or enthusiasm for stealth sequences!), but I’m enjoying it now. Is it a 10/10 game? Not for me, no. 8/10 is the figure rolling around my head. So far, I haven’t felt the same kind of emotional connection for Joel and Ellie as I have for Lee and Clementine in The Walking Dead, the most appropriate comparison. Gameplay wise: the stealth has its odd moments and crucially, nothing feels quite exceptional enough for it to stand out for me. I am enjoying it, though.

animalcrossing

What I’m loving even more, however, is Animal Crossing: New Leaf. I’ve played Animal Crossing before, on the Gamecube having imported a copy, but I missed out on Wild World as I wasn’t much of a gamer when it was released. Animal Crossing is ideal for the handheld format. It’s so easy to drop into when I’ve got a spare 5 minutes. Somehow, despite a busy week, I’ve found 14hrs to “drop” in on my village, Tentil. It’s nothing like the kind of games I normally play, and I love it for it. Every day feels slightly different, encouraging me to come back for more. How long will the love last? I’m not sure. I’ve got a feeling it’ll be like my love of The Sims. Strong but fleeting, with occasional returns at a later date. We’ll have to see, though!

Life: Besides the usual work load (which is fine), I’ve been busy trying to get the house into some kind of order, with my Mum. This is a massive undertaking. We’re both far from the tidiest of people, plus we’ve left the place a bit disheveled anyway since my Dad died. Worst of all, the garden.

Some great friends worked hard on trying to get the garden into order five years ago, but my Mum and I have mostly been trying to keep up with it ever since. The problem is it’s huge. At a rough estimate, I’m guessing about 100 foot long. All hedges too. To say it’s a jungle in places is an understatement. We’ve got a plan, which involves hiring someone to tame the hedges (I can just about manage some of them, but further down, the hedges are about 9 or 10 feet high and very thick) and eventually start putting concrete slabs down and shingle to turn our once vegetable patch into something much more manageable. It’s a big job though, given all the weeds have learnt how to work their way through the sheeting we put down to stop them doing exactly that. Did I mention that my Mum has a neck disability which means she’s very limited in what she can do? And I’m only little and have increasing problems with my hands (another time, I might go into more detail there) which isn’t the greatest of combinations! It’s fun. Not. I’m learning a ton, at least.

Next up, decorating the living room! It’s going to be a busy, and expensive, year.

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For the love of the 3DS and a catch up

May 17th, 2013
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Oops, it’s been a while. Illness has knocked me for six and getting my regular workload cleared was enough of a hassle without keeping this up to date. My bad!

Games: Gaming is still struggling to maintain the allure that it should. At least, outside of iOS gaming. I’ve been utterly hooked on Can Knockdown 3 this week, to the detriment of all other games, even Resident Evil Revelations which arrived.

A brief play of NCIS and Medal of Honor: Warfighter happened too, but the 360 and PS3 have been pretty deprived. Neither title was amazing but as I have a soft spot for FPSes and CSI-style games, they passed the time well enough. I’ve got a feeling that some of it is end of generation malaise. Nothing coming up for the main two consoles has really enticed me, so I’m currently considering calling it quits and trading in a pile of games that I know I’ll never get round to wrapping up (or in some cases, starting).

The 3DS has kept me keen though, luckily. I finished Fire Emblem: Awakening and felt briefly lost, but a silly cheap copy of Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars has bridged that gap, plus finally starting on Tales of the Abyss. There’s a copy of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate waiting for me too, although I do wish I had a Circle Pad Pro and a bigger screen to truly enjoy it. I might just stick with trying to find the time for the Wii U equivalent!

dkcreturns
Either way, with the release of Donkey Kong Country Returns next week, the 3DS should prove to be my main console for a while longer. I’ve got pre-orders placed for Animal Crossing, Project X Zone and Etrian Odyssey IV too, so it’s a bright time for the little handheld. This doesn’t help my ever steady urge to upgrade to a 3DS XL though!

While ill, rather suitably, I plumped for a nostalgic play through of Theme Hospital, courtesy of GoG.com offering a Mac compatible version. It really has aged well and I’ve enjoyed every second of it again, even if playing with the sound muted means I miss out on the joys of the announcer declaring all manners of nonsense.

Work:
There’s a new MyM out in the shops at the moment. Do go buy it. My reviews of Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen and Code of Princess are in there (assuming I’ve got the right issue in mind. I’m picking it up tomorrow!). Also, I’ve written a couple of things for 148apps that I want to highlight.

First up, it was Mother’s Day in the USA last weekend, so I wrote a piece about my relationship with my mother and how iOS games and apps have made it stronger. I’m quite happy with how it worked out.

Also, having played Demon Chic, a fantastically interesting and surreal adventure game for the iPad, I interviewed one of its creators and learnt more about how it came to be. The answers were brilliant and really helped me appreciate the game all the more. It’s great to see a game look at important issues such as schizophrenia, mental health on the whole, drug use and gender identity, and something I’d love to see more of.

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“Nothing’s been the same since…”

May 4th, 2013
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(Very mild thematic spoilers for Iron Man 3. The kind that you could basically take from the trailer, rather than the film)

It’s a brave step to give one of The Avengers PTSD. Obviously, it shouldn’t be but any admission of a mental issue in this society is a brave move. Similarly, for any regular person to say they’ve had trouble is just as brave and often just as difficult to express.

When I broke my foot a few years ago, people were all too keen to sympathise and hear my woes. And, of course, my workplace didn’t expect me to go anywhere near the place until I could walk again. How do you explain to someone that you can’t face going into work because your brain feels broken and you haven’t slept properly in a long time, though? You don’t. In my case, you try to plan ahead for the tough times by taking holiday time (in my case, avoiding anniversaries and Father’s Day) and you struggle through the unexpected times. Which is ludicrous.

PTSD is slowly gaining more traction. People are ready to accept it happens to soldiers and understandably so. To a lesser extent, people get that it happens to victims of terrorist attacks and other heinous crimes. The media is still all too happy to say less than a week after such an event that the family of a victim are “still” struggling to come to terms with it. As if the people involved should have figured it all out near instantly, rather than struggle to comprehend the huge and unwanted change to their life. But individuals are getting better at figuring it out, when pushed to.

Ultimately though, it can happen to anyone who has had something unwanted change their entire life forever. Not that anyone will ever talk about it. At a push, it might be discussed over a few drinks, once inhibitions have been lowered, all the less likely, someone might finally open up to a friend and then it all comes out and it turns out both parties have suffered in some way. It’s not like a physical injury though. The sympathy is entirely different and that sense and worry of being fake or overplaying one’s problems is all too apparent. It’s as if we need X-Rays of our brain to prove the problem.

Five years ago, around now, I hardly slept. I couldn’t sleep. The last time I’d gone to sleep thinking the world was an OK place, I woke up to the cries of my mother as my father had just collapsed out of bed. Then, I watched as my mother tried to resuscitate him while I was shouting at the woman at 999 why the ambulance wasn’t here yet as it was obvious my father was dying (I still feel bad for shouting at her. I wasn’t rude. Just desperate for help). I watched as he started fitting, making guttural groaning sounds that were utterly horrendous and like nothing else I’ve ever heard before. Throughout, my mother shouting to him to not leave us, to not die. I left the room when the paramedics got there. I couldn’t face seeing more. I knew it was over, anyway. I retreated to the cat. Hugged him tightly, told him things had just changed hugely but that I’d look after him. Everything did change. Nothing has been the same since that night.

Besides not sleeping because of the worry that something like that would happen again. I suffered from nightmares. Nightmares of exactly what had gone on before. I preferred not to sleep. I’d just watch mindless late night TV instead. I’d quit my job of the time, so it wasn’t like I had anything to get up for.

At some point, my Uncle (a well respected PTSD focused psychologist of all things) suggested to me and my Mum, when we briefly discussed how we were feeling, that we were probably suffering from PTSD. That was it really. It was never discussed further. I don’t blame him. It’s tough to pull out the mental threads of someone close. So I researched it. A lot. I matched mostly everything. Yet, I still felt awkward to ever state it to anyone.

The problem is, it’s just not something that’s discussed openly. It’s tough to talk about for anyone, admittedly. At times, in the past, I’ve found people near desperate to not take in what I’d sometimes like to say. Instead, keen to fob me off and just tell me I should go see a GP or find a counsellor rather than listen. Something that I suspect would never happen if it was just a niggling physical complaint. We might live in an increasingly open and sharing focused society, thanks to the wonders of Facebook and Twitter keeping us informed on every single minor detail in life, but we still don’t like to talk about the big things.

I don’t have as much trouble sleeping now as I did. This past April, I’ve slept very badly, with it having been the anniversary recently. Anxiety dreams have been the main issue, rather than nightmares of what happened. I sleep badly too, when there’s something major bothering me, such as last year when my Mum was ill. But, for the most part, it’s gradually improving. Similarly, I don’t deal with stressful times anywhere near as well as I used to, I’m waiting for the world to come crashing down again, but I’m working on it. I still struggle to ever say I’ve had depressive episodes or suffer from PTSD. There’s always that niggling worry that someone will think I’m being overly dramatic, or that I’m a fraud.

“Nothing’s been the same since New York”, resonates massively with me. I know I’m nothing like the person I was just over 5 years ago. My priorities have changed amongst many other things, much like Tony Stark’s has. And in turn, I notice stuff like the depiction of mental ailments more than I ever did before. While others might feel concern at seeing the weakness of heroes, I’m just pleased to see some humanity to them.

More so than any ‘National Mental Health Awareness Day’ across Facebook where people change their profile picture and pretend to care, it’s things like these depictions in mainstream films that will make people take note. It’s making it normal and OK to struggle to come to terms with things that happen, not something that should be hidden away and not discussed. That can only be a good thing.

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