The Lutheran Geek

The life and times of a WoW-playing, Java-programming dude in Chicago

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Therapy?

OK, I have a little secret to tell you guys. If you go to my Facebook profile (which you can probably only access if you’re an NU or Loyola student), you’ll see a lot of different artists under my “Favorite Music” section:

Shawn Colvin, U2, Beastie Boys, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Boards of Canada, DJ Shadow, Tori Amos, The White Stripes, XTC, The B-52’s, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Björk, Sugar, Bob Mould, Bruce Springsteen, Cake, Counting Crows, Indigo Girls, Joni Mitchell, Natalie Merchant, 10,000 Maniacs, The Police, R.E.M.

Pretty hip list, huh? I have a confession, though: There’s one band I’ve been listening to a lot lately; a lot more than any of the above bands. Linkin Park.

*gasp*

Well, there goes my street cred. OK, so Linkin Park has the artistic integrity of Thomas Kinkade. But listening to them is great catharsis. And no, their lyrics don’t quite stack up to Robert Frost. But here’s a bit from their song “Papercut“:

It’s like I’m paranoid lookin’ over my back
It’s like a whirlwind inside of my head
It’s like I can’t stop what I’m hearing within
It’s like the face inside is right beneath my skin

To me, that sounds like a perfect description of depression. The whirlwind inside of your head blowing all your thoughts around, scrambling your perceptions, distoring them to a darker, more sinister meaning, while evil voices inside of you egg you on – “everyone knows you’re stupid”; “just give up, it’s not worth it”; “you’re just a loser”.

Mind you, I have never been, nor am I currently, clinically depressed. I have suffered through some periods that resemble it, but never the proper, full-blown depressiveness that I’ve seen in others. But I’ve had enough troubles, especially related to my fight to find myself. Throughout college, I recognized that I didn’t do well in large crowds and/or with people I didn’t know very well. Once I got comfortable with my friends, I was able to cut loose a bit more and be me. Things started to get a little more crazy when I started LVC and it was, all of a sudden, my job to be super-social around a whole bunch of different kinds of people – kids, adults at the church, fellow volunteers. Things got steadily worse as the year dragged on. Things finally got so bad that I sought out psychological care. I was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder by a psychologist at UIC, and got a prescription for Paxil (aka paroxetine hydrochloride). To this day, I take 30 mg daily – a smallish dose that keeps me on the straight and narrow.

I also started counseling while in LVC. I started off with one guy who I saw off and on for about a year, but it never really quite worked for me. I mean, he was kind, but the counseling didn’t quite take for me. Later I saw a guy at UIC who also was the psychologist who dispensed my prescription. That was almost worse: he was very clinical, and I didn’t feel much empathy from him. After that, I gave up therapy for a while, which was just as well: things were OK at work and school, and I wasn’t feeling too much stress.

Things turned as I started a summer research assistantship at NU last summer, with the same professor who was to be my Ph. D. research advisor starting in the fall. About a month in, I realized that the work I was doing was dreadfully boring to me, and I was starting to question whether I should just cut my losses and quit school before I even started. No, that didn’t seem right. I had a free year of school ahead of me, essentially all expenses paid – why throw that away on account of a nervous tic in my stomach?

So it was time to get back into therapy/counseling/whatever-you-call-it. I set up an appointment with an on-staff psychologist at NU, who then referred me to an excellent counselor in downtown Evanston. I immediately felt much more at ease with her; within a few sessions, I was really starting to break through and be truly honest. That, of course, is the hardest thing about counseling BY FAR: being honest and saying what you’re truly thinking. When I learned that lesson, a lot of good things started to happen.

Blargh! This entry is going to take forever to finish. Perhaps I should actually go into more detail about my year at NU before finishing up the counseling side of things. Yeah. So I’ll hang this up for now….

to be continued.

posted by Peter at 3:56 pm  

Monday, July 10, 2006

Geek Love (or lack thereof)

So I’m single. Have been for about a year now, since my last relationship of any consequence, a 1-month something-or-other with a woman I met on eHarmony. One of the most frustrating parts of this past year has been having to put off dating. Who would want to hear the bitching and moaning of a guy who isn’t sure he’s doing the right thing by pursuing a Ph. D. (an endavour I’ll talk more about in a future post)? I did have a couple of eHarmony dates during the fall quarter at NU, but they fizzled, probably as much due to my own ambivalence as anything else.

Ambivalence.

I use that word a lot, since it describes a lot of what I’ve been dealing with this past year. Ambivalence about grad school – yeah, I’m smart, but do I want to do hard-core research? Ambivalence about women – what the hell do I even want out of a relationship? Ambivalance about myself – for that matter, who the hell am I?!

I have had a rather frustrating dating career. I’ve only had three relationships of any significant consequence, spaced out over seven years. I’ll spare the details out of respect for the other principals involved, but in general, each of the three relationships taught me more about myself and who I want. So who am I?

  • A geeky guy who loves computers and occasionally likes chatting about them
  • An avid WoW enthusiast who plays not just for the challenge of competition, but the enjoyment of the company of friends
  • A compassionate, empathetic guy who cares deeply about my friends

There’s more, but that’s a good start. 🙂 As for what I’m looking for…

  • A humble, caring woman who likes to talk and is honest
  • Someone who likes many different activities – WoW optional 😉
  • Someone who is affectionate and who enjoys receiving affection
  • Did I mention caring? She should be concerned for others and willing to look outside just herself and me

OK, so I don’t mean for this to be my own little online personal or something. 😛 This is all to say that I’m still trying to work these things out.

One more thought: WoW has been an interesting horizon for me to really explore who I truly am. When freed of having to worry about certain social niceties like making my hair look nice or whatever, I can just let me be myself. It’s been a revelation – mind you, I’m not looking to be an online pimp daddy or something, though. I’m just looking to be me. On the whole, though, I’ve felt much more liberated: I can start to break free of some of the repressive feelings I’ve put on myself over the years, mostly due to my own inability to accept that, yeah, I deserve to be happy, dammit! That’s what 9 months of therapy will do – also to be described in more detail in a future entry.

So, yeah. I may stil be single, but I’m more hopeful than ever that the right woman is just around the corner, and I’ll be ready for her.

posted by Peter at 11:57 am  

Thursday, July 6, 2006

The Joy of Se… er, WoW

So, I’ve been pretty heavily into World of Warcraft for a while now. It certainly didn’t start out that way, despite how cool the game looked at first. Back in August 2004, I got my first exposure to the game when I participated in an open stress-test beta. I knew absolutely nothing about the game at the time, and yet was able to pretty painlessly level up a Tauren druid up to 16 by the end of the weekend. I spent most of my time in the Barrens, so I didn’t see too much of the game, and there were some aspects of the game that hadn’t been tweaked, including a confusing “skill point” system where you accumulated points at seemingly random intervals that you used to “purchase” weapon skills and crafting skills; this was greatly simplified to the current system.

Anyway, I loved it. The game came out in November ’04, but I deliberately didn’t go rush out and buy it since I was in the midst of my fall semester at Loyola working on my MS in computer science. I waited till winter break in early January to go pick it up, only to find that the game was so incredibly popular, there was not a copy to be found anywhere! Finally, I learned to haunt the GameStop website every morning to find which local stores had it in stock, and one crisp January morning, lo and behold, the local store in Rosemont had one in stock!

My cousin Eric had gotten the game earlier, and he and his friends had started Alliance characters on Malygos, a PvE server, so I followed them there. My first attempt at a character, stupidly, was a priest, the single hardest class to level. I got him up to about 20, and gave up in frustration. I then started on a dwarf hunter. That went a lot better, and got him up to level 41, but then I hit a wall, and let my account expire in May. Looking back now, I see what was wrong: While I had a few friends on the server (my cousin and his friends), it was just a few of us, and they were all 10+ levels higher than me, so I never really had a tight group with whom I could regularly run. Plus, Eric let his subscription lapse before mine, so I really didn’t have anyone at all to help me.

Fast forward to July. I saw a post by Scott Kurtz on PVP Online, his web comic page, asking fans to join him and his wife on the newly created Dark Iron server. I said to myself, “Self, that sounds kind of fun!” So I reactivated my account, and went to start a new character on Dark Iron.

But what would I roll? On Malygos, I’d dabbled with priests, hunters, warlocks, and druids. One class I never touched: warriors. I though, bleh, what a boring class! All you do is hack and slash – no magic, low damage (rogues are the uber-DPS melee class). Meh. But now, I though, hey, what the heck, I’ll give it a shot. Now, I’m also terrible about coming up with creative names, unlike my fellow guildies Tahri (a made-up childhood nickname), Bigguykills (an ironically-named priest), or Cheesewheel (I mean, is that a cool name or what?!). Thankfully, for us boring types, Blizzard provides us a “Generate Name” button. So I press it a few times to see what pops up, and finally I settle on one that sounds vaguely menacing, matching the snarling visage of the orc warrior on my screen. Thus was born…

Gorekras.

I started in solo – Scott’s guilds weren’t taking lowbies like me – and found that I was able to level my warrior quite quickly. In the blink of an eye, I was at level 20, and asking to join Djörk. Huzzah! I was now in a guild, a first for me. I’d played MMOs before, like Star Wars Galaxies (shudder) and City of Heroes (pretty cool), but never been in a guild. Almost instantly, I recognized the benefits of being in a group of fun people who like playing the same game. At the time I joined, there were 3 guilds that Scott and his minions were running: Panda Attack, Djörk, and Face on Fire, all named after various little inside jokes based on the PvP comic strip. From the time I started in Djörk in the early 20s, I was running every single instance I could with all-Djörk groups who were all cool, fun people. By the time I hit 40, the leadership decided it was time to merge them together under one banner: Panda Attack. I continued to hit the higher-level instances with pretty much all-Panda groups, and so blew through SM, ZF, Maraudon, etc. with really fun people.

Sometime while I was in my low-50s, back in late November or early December, there was a shift. A lot of Pandas had hit 60 and were starting to angle for some 40-man raiding through Molten Core. At that time, there were over 500 people in the guild, and, as I recall, the 60s were doing weekly runs through ZG, cutting their teeth on raiding. The feeling was, though, if they were to get serious about progressing through Molten Core and Blackwing Lair (and soon, AQ40 and Naxx), they would have to break off and form their own group. So a lot of 60s departed for the previously-defunct guild Djörk. Thinking I was just a noob and wouldn’t raid much anyway since I was still at NU pursuing a Ph. D., I thought nothing of it. Meanwhile, though, I continued to edge closer to level 60, only to take a 3-week break from everything (including the game) at my parents’ place in northern Minnesota around Christmas.

Coming back to Evanston in January, I finally sat down and ground myself through the last couple of levels to 60. I was amazed – holy cow, I actually had a level 60! At the time, I was a so-called “fury” warrior, meaning that I had it in my head that the only fun way to play the game was to DPS my way through. Let’s just say I was more or less an uber-n00b.Then we had yet another shift in the guild: the leftover 60s in Panda Attack decided they wanted to start raiding too. I was reluctant – wasn’t raiding a huge timesink? – but I went ahead and jumped in on the first few attempts at Onyxia and Molten Core. The main tank, Gorefast, pulled me aside and asked me if I’d consider going protection-spec, the normal spec for “tanks” in instances. At the time, I was running battlegrounds pretty regularly, and I was afraid of gimping myself in that field, but I thought raiding might be a lot more rewarding, so I went along with it. Eventually, I found myself going to every single raid, tanking alongside Gorefast, and now I’ve actually become the main tank myself now that Gorefast has respecced to Arms to do more DPS with his big axe.

It was interesting to see how fast we progressed, considering we were all completely new to raiding, with a couple exceptions. Ony got nowhere fast back in February – we just didn’t have the gear for it – so we dropped her and concentrated on getting tier 1 gear in MC. After a couple tries, we got Lucifron down for the first time in early March, then Magmadar, and over the next month, we progressed our way all the way to Majordomo Executus, getting him down in mid-April. Flush in our success, we tried Ony again a couple weeks later, and downed her on consecutive nights. It was a bit rougher after that, but she’s on farm status now more or less; but I mean, we just wiped on Shazzrah last night, so any fight can go sour, no matter how good the crew. Finally, after a few attempts, we got Ragnaros down in mid-June.

But I digress. The fights are fun and stuff, but there are two big things I learned from being in this guild:

1) I love being a tank! I’ve come to accept my goal in a fight is not to kill the bad guy, but to keep the bad guy from killing everyone else. At first, it was incredibly stressful, but once I managed to tank my way through the so-called “Crazy 8”, the 8 bosses in MC that precede Domo, as well as Domo himself, I really convinced myself I could do it, and it’s been awesome fun since then.

2) The community in a game is incredibly important. I’ve met some really cool friends through this game. Mind you, I’ve never met these people in person, but I’ve talked to them at length over Ventrilo, a sort of Internet party chat program that we use to coordinate groups, and I really feel like they’re real, fun people. Breaking down the walls to learn “real” names is key for me, too: Tahri becomes Sara, Naraktrako becomes Rebecca, Weshea becomes Danny. While we’re playing, we still call each other by our in-game names – thanks to there being another tank with a name starting with Gore, my nickname in-game is “Kras” (same as “crass”). But I still try to give my friends a call on the phone now and then, though it’s hard not to slip and call Danny “Wes” on the phone.
I’m now an officer of Panda Attack, so I have to deal with a good chunk of the drama that goes on among people in the game. But I also get to help lead raids, and my goal is now obvious: The game has to continue to be fun. There are lots of powerful raiding guilds out there that are stone-faced killers, grinding their way through MC, BWL, and so on, but the fun is left behind in favor of the loot. To what end? For me, the relationships are the key. I wouldn’t keep coming back unless I knew my friends like Meraddison, Jyandria, Bigguy, Pwenet, and so on were there to greet me and share a laugh.

So I’ll use this as a space to log my thoughts as I progress through the game. Tonight we’re going to wrap up Molten Core, hopefully taking down Ragnaros again. My hope is that, if we can’t, we still are cheerful. My only regret would be if I spent all this time playing a game, only to end up not having fun. Quite a bit of irony there.

posted by Peter at 1:18 pm  

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Howdy

Hey folks. Well, I’m trying my hand at blogging again. There’s a lot to talk about, since things have changed quite a bit for me in this past year or so, but I’ll give it my best shot.

I now work for Orbitz! I’m a “Java Test Engineer” for them, meaning I will basically be writing code that tests code. This means I need to learn everything about everything – a daunting task, but we’ll see how it works out.

More to come soon, of course. I’m glad you stopped by. 🙂

posted by Peter at 9:10 am  

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