Hello, and thank you, to everyone who has shown an interest in my research! I’m back, and I owe you all an apology for falling off the face of the Earth a few months ago. I had some major health issues last semester that forced me to take a medical leave of absence, which I’ll get into soon. What’s important, though, is that I am feeling better now, and I am back on the thesis horse (it neighs in footnotes). I have managed to get into this semester’s thesis seminar class, and I am stoked to continue working on my research.
Allow me to get real for a moment.
I have a bit of fear talking about this subject, as it may make me seem less desirable as a professional in my future career. Some people might feel like I won’t make a reliable professor, and they’re entitled to that opinion, as much as it might pain me. I feel it is worth talking about, however, as like it or not, it is a part of me, and I am not going to feel ashamed. I’m the one who gets to decide if my issues make me unfit for academia, not anyone else, and this is my way of saying to the academic community “Yes, I have these challenges, and yes, I am still a competent scholar and educator. Deal with it.”
Since the age of about 17 I have struggled with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Major Depression. It has affected every facet of my life, and last semester’s leave of absence was due to a severe flare-up, or relapse, or whatever you want to call it, of my symptoms. This was caused by the stress of grad school, and the fact that the medications I had been taking for years had lost their efficacy (yes, that’s a thing that happens). During my absence, I went into an acute partial hospital program, where I received intensive group and individual therapy, and medication management. I continue to see my therapist on a weekly basis, and my psychiatrist on a monthly basis. That is something I will need to do perhaps indefinitely. I need to structure my life around this sort of routine care so I don’t wind up in crisis again. I get into trouble when I stop participating in routine mental health care because I feel as if I have somehow “outgrown” my mental illnesses, or that I am “too smart” to be feeling the way I do. OCD has nothing to do with maturity; it has nothing to do with willpower, or intelligence. And neither does Depression. To think/act otherwise is like someone trying to force their way out of Type 1 Diabetes by claiming they’re too adult to go into a hypoglycemic coma. I am still able to achieve and succeed; I just have to be careful about how I do it, and I must be aware of things that make me vulnerable to my mind’s irrational self-cruelty.
I’ll get off my soapbox now, and I thank you all for hanging with me through that little speech. A lot of that was important for me to verbalize, even if it may not seem directly relevant to my research.
Now, let’s get to the good stuff.
During my recovery process I was able to continue doing some informal research on closed species communities. In fact, becoming a more active participant in the Griffia community was a big part of my healing. It’s amazing how therapeutic the features of participatory cultures can be when one is tackling serious mental health struggles. According to Jenkins (2009) these features are as follows:
- Relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement
- Strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations with others
- Some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices
- Members believe that their contributions matter
- Members feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least they care what other people think about what they have created)
Now allow me to explain how each of these features was beneficial to me.
- The low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement allowed me to participate in the Griffia community without pressure or guilt. Some days I didn’t feel like logging in at all; my mind just wasn’t in the right place to do much of anything. Other days I was able to make a quick piece of art work or enter a simple event, like a raffle or game of chance. I never felt like I had to do anything special to earn the right to participate or be heard. I knew that whatever I did was enough, and that helped me to rebuild my creative identity and self-esteem.
- The strong support for creating and sharing made me feel like I had something to offer. Part of Depression is feeling like one is worthless or a disappointment. It was harder to feel that way when what artwork I was able to post received favorites and positive comments from people all over the world.
- The informal mentorship aspect made me feel like I was continuing to learn and achieve. There were some prompts I did where the creator of the Griffia species allowed community members to use her personal characters. They were grateful and encouraging to those who made art of said characters, myself included. To earn praise from someone I admired at a time when I felt unworthy of praise really meant a lot.
- I definitely believed that my contributions mattered. Around December I began making random gift art for others in the community, and it made me feel like I was helping others instead of just receiving help. Yeah, they were just drawings, but they made people happy. Instead of feeling like I was taking, taking, taking, as is common when one is receiving health care, I felt like I was able to give and make somebody’s day just a little brighter.
- I felt my social connections with other members of the community begin to strengthen the more I participated. I began to recognize certain names and characters, and that allowed me to feel more grounded and in-control of that part of my net life. Gaining better control of that one part of my life gave me the momentum and confidence to take control of other, more important, parts of my life.
These effects might be subjective and limited only to me, but I doubt it. It actually makes me really curious about any other research that might exist that examines the connection between participatory cultures and mental health recovery… I may look into that…
Some other stuff I thought was cool:
Firstly, I learned about a Tumblr blog that exists specifically to highlight and react to “drama” that occurs in CS communities. I think this blog will be very useful for me when it comes time to discuss opposing viewpoints. I may think CS communities are the best things since sliced bread, but a lot of other people don’t. By reading through the criticisms posted at this massively-multi-authored blog, I can get a better sense of the negatives people find within CS communities.
Secondly, there is this. A lot of events and activities in the Griffia community rely on a Random Number Generator (RNG) to determine results. In light of this, a lot of community members began to jokingly pray to the RNG gods whenever they entered raffles, or other similar activities.
Presumably drawing on this community-wide joke, the creator of Griffia actually made a personified representation of the Random Number Generator into a diety for their fantasy world. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty damn cool! It’s a great example of member participation influencing the story of a species/world, and one of the things that excites me so much about these communities.
And there you have it.
My return to research blogging has been a bit all-over-the-place, from mental health to Random Number Generators, but it still feels great to be back. I will begin posting here more regularly as I continue my work.
Once again, thank you all for sticking with me. I will do my best to make you proud with this thesis.