Life is strange.
A year ago today, I was staring at the submission page on FanFiction(dot!)net, desperately trying to ignore the nerves in my stomach. I remember being so terrified to put a little bit writing, a little bit of me, out into the world. I was so scared nobody would like it. Scared they wouldn’t like me.
Because I sure don’t.
But, I guess we should…rewind a bit. Less then two months earlier, I experienced something that dug into my heart in a way nothing else ever has. Just after all five episodes had been released, I finally sat down and played Life is Strange, the game I had heard quiet murmurs about for months. I went in completely blind, only knowing that there were some “hard” decisions to make. And I was just fucking spellbound from beginning to end, finishing it in two days. I couldn’t believe such a thing existed. Everything about it spoke to me in an inspiring and devastating way. The community at large may be polarized about the endings or certain choices made, but to me it was just perfect.
It’s kind of funny that we’ve collectively coined the term Post Life Is Strange Depression. Because, man, it really does leave you feeling aimless. Like you’ve lost something dear to you. “How do I get over this game?” is a question I’ve seen hundreds of times. And I still have no goddamn clue! And I mean, at this point…I’m really not sure I ever want to.
So, I’ve always loved writing. It’s been the one thing that, gun to my head, I’ll actually admit I might be kind of okay at. From a young age, it became an outlet for my tangled thoughts. It was the only way I could convey my emotions. I guess you could say I want to be a writer when I “grow up.” Because I’ve experienced stories that have made me feel deeply. That have left me in amazement. That have changed who I am. And there’s nothing more amazing to me than an artist opening themselves up, exposing all the gears and cogs that make them tick in an effort to show you’re never alone in the way you think or feel. I just…want to give that same comfort to someone.
2016 has become a meme in its own right, like the kind of thing you blame any and everything on. Accidentally knock something over? Ugh, 2016. Get a flat tire? Fucking 2016, amirite? But the truth is, my 2016 seemed to start a few months early, back in August of 2015. I have bipolar disorder. What that means is, I experience very extreme moods that can shift rather quickly. Sometimes I can be severely depressed, unable to get out of bed without crying at the thought of clawing my way through a new day. Sometimes the things I love are muted and I can’t draw enjoyment from them. Sometimes…I really want to kill myself. But there’s another side to it, too. Mania. And that’s…complicated. Sometimes it feels good. Sometimes it feels like you’re going to burst through your own skin. It’s not just “really happy.” It’s losing all inhibitions, shouting when you want to whisper, dancing when you should be sleeping. You feel alive with…fire. So you end up burning down everything around you without even realizing.
Sorry for the crash course! The point is, I’m sure you’ll be surprised to learn that I need to take medication in order to keep things under control. And in August 2015, there was a mistake made with my insurance. For the first time in many years, I had to experience life without my safety net. For six months, I went without. I lost my mind. And to be truthful, I’m still finding it in the smallest bits and pieces.
You may be asking yourself at this point: hey, those are some really not at all interesting anecdotes, but how does any of it connect in a coherent way?
Good question, Person-I-made-up-as-a-defense-mechanism-to-show-that-I’m-also-aware-I-tend-to-ramble-a-lot! How astute and convenient of you to ask!
It’s rare, but sometimes I can’t write. And it feels so claustrophobic, like covering up an exhaust or being bound in chains. It hurt that in this time when I was feeling such chaos in my head, I couldn’t get my fingers to form the right words. My head was rioting against me and my hands remained impartial. It’s torturous. But I found Life is Strange in a time that I really, really needed it. It made me laugh and cry and it filled me with so many deep, burning emotions that it also served as a reminder. A reminder of what I wanted to do with my life. At the time, it’s what I needed more than anything. A reminder, a reason to weather the storm.
And it was around this time that the aching for more LiS led me to read fanfiction, something I had never done before. I remember reading it and thinking “this is so cool, to feel like you can stay in that world a bit longer.” All at once, it clicked. I could do it too…maybe? No grand schemes or desires in play, it just seemed like a comfortable way to shake off the cobwebs. Maybe if I wrote a bit about Max and Chloe, I could write again in general. Then I got the craziest idea of all! I’d publish it online. Surely no one would read it and after I got everything figured out, I could abandon it while now also having some sense of bravery under my belt. Because as much as I adore writing, it’s very rare that I’m willing to share it. Which…is kind of ridiculous, now that I’m thinking about it…
I just in real time, while writing this, realized that what I admire most about art is the honesty of emotion and connecting with others. And that’s the part I’m most fearful of sharing with others. Do you guys see how my brain works? What an asshole.
Anyway, the moral of the story is I’m not exactly killin’ it in the self esteem game. I don’t like myself and it can be very hard for me to believe anyone actually does. I’m a very anxious person. Sharing my writing, which might as well just be my blood in an OpenOffice document, is the fastest route I can imagine to even further self-loathing. Like, “here’s the thing I’ve basically nailed my existence to, I really hope it’s not a lost cause or a waste of time!”
So, yeah…a year ago, I could feel the anxiety start to wind through me as I was about to publish my very first chapter. I managed to ignore it and…well, I did it. I then proceeded to spend the rest of the day with a nervous excitement. Like, probably the kind of feeling a normal person would get from hotwiring a fucking car. That was me just because I managed to work up enough nerve to put words online. And I remember getting my first reviews. They…weren’t bad!? Okay, keep it chill, relax. I had the first three chapters already completed before I posted the first. With that little bit of encouragement, I got all three chapters out in a matter of a day or two, and ended up with around 15 people “following” the story. Like they wanted…more? So I tinkered away, getting the fourth chapter ready to publish within the next week or so.
From there, it took on a lazy pace of growth. It was slow and some days nothing happened at all, but it was mine. Just a little while before, my wildest dreams were imagining I might hit 100 views. That’s where I dared to stop dreaming, lest I disappoint myself. Yet, as time marched on and more chapters were uploaded, so too did the number of readers grow. I started to develop a curious feeling, one that for quite a while I couldn’t figure out. It had its roots in something negative, but it also felt like something I wanted. Something that I had been searching for. Eventually, it hit me: It was fear. Fear of letting people down. But it lacked all the sharp angles my usual self-doubt carried. It wasn’t a “you’re going to let everyone down because you’re terrible,” it was more like “These people are giving you their time. They’re listening to you. They deserve your best.” It was a responsibility that I’m still not entirely comfortable with, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
And I guess that’s kind of where the magic in all of this lies. During this whole process where I was losing pieces of myself, I found something I’m not sure I ever really had before. Confidence. A smal amount of it, anyway. As I gained more readers, the belief struggled to sew itself in my brain that maybe…just maybe, writing wasn’t necessarily a dead end. It might not be a lost cause. And I truly can’t describe just how amazing that feeling is for someone like me. It was crazy to watch something I orchestrated become something people wanted in their lives. I even started to get comments that said things like the story made their day or that they were feeling down and the story made them smile. That will always be one of the highest compliments I can receive – I positively affected someone’s mood! It was just really nice to feel like I was doing something kind of…cool? It just started to feel bigger to me. It’s funny, I remember after a few months thinking “at some point, maybe I’ll even work up the courage to try and get a cover done for the story… That would make it feel so real.”
Though, throughout that time, there was something noticeably missing. Life is Strange has such an amazing community with so many talented and kind people. And I kind of…stayed away from it. Every so often I would reply to a review or comment, and I did browse the subreddit to get news and see the great new fan creations. There, I did talk to a few people, but it was a once in a blue moon kind of thing. I was still anxious to talk to people or really approach anyone. I guess like, picture that sad image of someone with their palm against the window as they watch a bunch of other kids frolic and play outside in a ray of sunshine? Except, yanno, make it entirely self inflicted. (I’d like to take a moment to say why no, I don’t think I’m a dramatic person at all.) And then one day, I was making my every-once-in-a-while snarky comment on reddit, when I get told that there’s “some website” where people have been talking about Ouroboros and that they are fans. Well, ever the glutton for positive reinforcement, I decided to go check it out. I can be a little vain sometimes.
Yo, fuckin’ plot twist, it’s the site you’re reading this on! Alright, take a quick second to put your blown mind back together. You good? Okay, cool, so… Wait, you’re still missing some. Come on, dude.
Okay, we’re cool. So, yes, it was LifeIsStrangeFans. I guess just by some sheer luck, I was in just good enough a mood to make an account and jump into the chat. Things were pretty mellow for a little bit, but as soon as I mentioned I wrote Ouroboros, things kind of went off the rails. It turns out the guy who told me about it on reddit (now my buddy that I talk writing with often, Stevo) tends to understate things. The first few days there (…here?) were just surreal in the most terrifying but amazing way. But after it all settled down, it got even better. I realized that this place was full of incredible people that I would get to call friends. I’ve been lucky enough for the feeling to hit me a few times in my life, but still, there’s nothing quite like that wash through your body when you feel like you actually belong somewhere. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time on this website meeting and getting to know all its incredible members AND so many of the most supportive people you could possibly imagine. (And a special shout out to the gravy shift and late night therapy sessions. Those mean a lot to me.)
But, as I catch back up to the present, this whole “a look back on the year” thing would be completely wasted if I didn’t make sure I mentioned what is probably the most amazing and surprising result of this insanity. I can honestly say, the last thing I ever expected from this was that I’d end up making two of the best friends I could ever even hope to have – MaiQueti and BlackSwan. When I joined LISF, there was all this ruckus and constant references to someone named “Mai” and how they’d flip out that I joined and yes I’ll totally keep this sentence going in an attempt to embarrass her even further because as she constantly likes to remind me it was 9AM on- okay, I’ll stop. But I just remember the click of “oh shit, what?” in my head when I realized I was already a huge fan of hers as well. And remember how I was secretly so attached to the idea of getting a cover done for Ouroboros? She did it. I didn’t even have to ask. And I still catch myself staring at it in awe. But that was literally just the beginning of getting to know her and it has only gotten better. And then Swan…it’s astounding how I just knew there was something about her. She was so fucking cool and casual, it felt like back in high school when I was trying to talk to someone who I knew was way cooler than I was. But again, things work out in weird ways and she and I hit it off. She is the first person that wasn’t a close “irl” person that I shared non-Ouroboros related writing with and because of that, I’m now more comfortable sharing in general.
Okay, but seriously, you two. I will never be able to convey how incredibly lucky I am to have met you both. It’s really almost impossible to believe it’s only been a few months, because it feels like I’ve known you for as long as my memories allow. You remind me daily that I’m worth love and that all the things I feel about myself aren’t true. And even if I do need reminded, you two are the only ones who have ever…actually convinced me. And it’s starting to stick. You guys are my heroes and I love you. [Insert Lovecraftian, beating heart emoji]
What the fuck my eyes.
Well, I guess that kind of catches us up to now… You know, I consider myself a literary guy, so the irony isn’t lost on me that as I’ve journeyed through this year, the ouroboros and all it represents have become uncomfortably symbolic with my own life. A serpent eating its own tail. My thoughts are a lot like that sometimes. An eternal cycle, like swinging between horrible lows and catastrophic highs. Surviving on self-destruction. The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon is when you hear an obscure word and then start to notice it everywhere. Also known as the GTA effect because holy fuck I spent so long looking for this car and now that I have it… But that’s kind of how the ouroboros is for me now. Everything is in a cycle. Nature, history, the chemicals in my head.
It’s been a long year. It’s been a rough year for many, many people. But it feels good knowing that amidst all the shit and chaos, I’ve been involved with something that has been able to make people smile. That’s so special to me. And I’ll be honest with you guys. I’ve been having a very hard time recently. But I am fighting as best as I can, and you all have given me more reasons to do so. So for all of you who read my story, or even if you don’t but have been kind enough to take me in as a friend, I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love you all.