Last week was World Mental Health Week and that has prompted me to write a blog that I think any other time I would have just swallowed down and deleted the draft of instead. I tend to prefer that my X-Wing blog spends most of it's time talking about X-Wing rather than something like mental health. If you're looking for hot new X-Wing content this might be one article to skip over as there's going to be relatively little for you today I'm afraid.
About a year ago I threw my toys out of the pram and quit writing my blog. That broadly coincided with the beginning of a prolonged dip in my mood, a dip that recently reached what I hope will prove the low point and which I'm trying to dig my way out of. Starting to write again was a part of that because being constructive and making positive contributions into the community makes me a happier person.
Some of you who follow me across various community platforms may find words like 'constructive' or 'positive' to be pretty misleading descriptions of my behaviour, and that's probably fair. I'm one of those people who believes that black Midget Gems should still be liquorice not blackcurrant*, because the contrast of that bitterness makes everything else taste sweeter. Or if you prefer a wrestling metaphor, that it's the heel acting like a heel that makes you cheer for the good guy.
* Explanation for non-Brits: Midget Gems are little gummy sweets that come in variety of flavours and traditionally the black ones have always been liquorice. The black ones have been liquorice for like a hundred years or so but a lot of people don't like liquorice because it's a bit complicated and different, so when Maynards took over the Midget Gems brand they did some focus groups and the black ones were changed to blackcurrant. So now instead of having a bag of sweets with deep contrasts in flavour experience you've got a bag where all the fruit flavours just mush together into a headache-inducing sugar rush of indistinguishable sweetness.
As nobody else seemed to be doing it I decided to adopt the role of being the liquorice in the bag of sweets that is the X-Wing community. Stay On The Leader, the character, became deliberately scathing, snarling, acerbic and short-tempered. Now those are all traits I actually have in my actual personality mix, to be sure, but as Stay On The Leader they were thrown to the fore and dialled up to 11. It wasn't the character I was here in my blogs and it wasn't the character I was in person or in private chats about X-Wing, but on forums and reddit and Facebook you were quite likely to run into Stay On The Leader rather than David Sutcliffe. That was the mask I chose to wear.
And what a shit idea that turned out to be. As Yoda might say: backfired spectacularly, it did.
I want to be clear: it wasn't done for giggles and wanting to upset people for a laugh, it was done for deliberate effect. Being the bad guy is license to present alternate points of view, approach topics from new angles, provoke discussion when everyone else is being too nice to say "you know what, I'm not sure that's right". I would like to think that most of the time I tried to wrap a nugget of truth or insight at the core of the mailed fist of my being a prick, but as that's not how that was usually perceived by the majority of people so it has to go down as a massive failure.
I took the hits to how people perceived me without really achieving moving the debates forward, and those hits to people's perception bled over from how people saw Stay On The Leader into how they saw David Sutcliffe. People expected the person they met in the flesh to be the character they saw online, which is a reasonable expectation considering nobody else was really trying to separate the two to the extent that I was.
I didn't like feeling like I couldn't show my face at events. I didn't like feeling that if I walked away from my ships I'd come back to find more pegs snapped off.
I mostly turned off the Stay On The Leader's dickish persona a long time ago, probably around the start of the year, but it turned out the damage was done and the community has a long memory. People expected me to be a prick so would find ways to interpret what I said in a prickish way. I remember having chats with people at the System Open back in March who came to me to say they could see that it was happening: I was trying to be constructive but it was having the opposite effect no matter what I actually said or how I said it.
The brand damage was too great so, by and large, I stopped saying anything at all.
Withdrawing from the community has not been helpful for my mental health. These things don't happen in isolation, as I'm sure those who have gone through mental health issues will testify things have a way of crossing over and affecting each other. Being isolated in one area of my life, such as X-Wing, was something I could cope with so long as had other areas of my life that I could fall back on as a comfort zone, recover and recharge but around this time last I came under something more like a full court press. A couple of months ago it became obvious that I needed to change the direction of travel in a number of ways: reopen doors that I had closed or had been closed on me, and begin to dig myself out of the hole I was in.
Re-engaging with X-Wing in public: resuming writing my blogs, making more effort to get out to events, gradually reaching out to mend bridges, has all been a part of those changes in direction. Small steps, but ones I'm hopefully making in the right direction for the right reasons, and ones that I'll be able to keep making.
May the Force be with us, and thanks for reading.