Self Doubt, Disabled

March 23, 2016

I suffer from fibromyalgia.

It’s an invisible condition that causes pain, cognitive impairment, fatigue, insomnia, depression, and a variety of inconveniences like hot flashes and excessive sweating. It’s a condition that still isn’t recognized by many doctors because it’s assumed to be a woman’s disease, and therefor entirely psychosomatic in some way.

I have thrown objects, though, and lost entire minutes of my life to sudden paralysis and thought loss. I have experienced the wracking pain and the inability to focus on anything. I have been wrestling with the slipperiness of thoughts for the last year as I’ve mentally prepped myself to force back into writing fiction, not just working on mathematical and design projects, and starting a Patreon to motivate me to work.

I am still fighting for recognition of my condition with Social Security in California. It’s been 4 years since I started, and all they really required was my medical records to “prove” that I’m in pain. Despite me clearly shaking and having been in an accident in 2010 thanks to my condition.

If you are able-bodied, please think long and hard about how you determine if someone is “disabled” or not. How you think about people who park in disabled spots. How you look at people who use wheelchairs, canes, crutches, or walkers. How you think about people who receive disability support from Social Security or other government agencies. What do they look like? What assumptions do you make? What should they look like, in your opinion?

If you do have assumptions about the disabled, you’re probably participating in the kind of pain this article outlines. If you think that I, a nearly 30 man with long hair and martial arts experience, who can on some days move with great grace, cannot ever require a cane, then you’re wrong. I live a life like that. I exist as walking evidence. I am also not the only one.

Remember that truth is almost always stranger than fiction, and it is a strange thing indeed in this day and age to think that perhaps your fellow humans, en masse, are not lying about themselves.

Misandry Angie


Disabilities can be visible or invisible to outsiders. A white tipped cane, hearing aid, or wheelchair might make a disability more apparent to others, more visible. Certain chromosomal or genetic differences may be noticeable even without such aids. An amputated limb is visible with or without prosthetic. However, most disabilities are invisible and can’t be readily recognized by untrained lay people.

All mental illnesses are invisible. So are most cancers; the hair loss and other signs we associate with cancer are results of the treatment in many cases. Traumatic brain injuries, epilepsy, and learning disabilities are invisible. Food allergies, dietary restrictions, and most chronic pain conditions are invisible too.

Sometimes if you’re lucky, you can get a picture of your insides. A brain scan, x-ray, or MRI can give visual proof of the unseen experience, can make the invisible visible. This may not help much with strangers, coworkers, and neighbors…

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So I’m listening to Loading Ready Run’s new Temple of the Lava Bears campaign and it has me thinking about combat design, weapon design, and how combat is abstracted in D&D.

To start my line of reasoning, let’s go over the way D&D, and most RPGs, abstract combat and damage in the particular slice I’m mulling over. Combat systems and styles are fully abstracted into a simple combat value (the To-Hit roll is how it’s normally referred to) and damage is dependent on the strength or dexterity of attacker and the damage “code” for the weapon. For instance, a character’s Strength could give them a +2 bonus and they could be using a broad sword (what D&D likes to call a longsword – not a longsword) which does 1d8 (one eight sided die) in damage. When rolled, they get 4, +2 from their Strength, for a total of six points of damage. This is a fine enough abstraction from a gamification perspective, especially given the history of roleplaying games. Namely, Chainmail and tabletop war gaming.

However, it doesn’t really reflect martial arts very well. The biggest example of this, I think, is the Roman centurion. In D&D terms, the Roman centurion uses a large shield (the scutum) and a short sword (the gladius).

A Roman centurion with scutum raised and stabbing with a gladius

Roman centurion with scutum and gladius

The Roman centurion was not known to do very little damage, even against unarmored opponents. The traditional D&D abstraction also fails to account for the fact that the scutum, as a shield, is not armor. The shield is a defensive weapon. This is not unlike the use of an offhand dagger in Florentine fencing. It’s certainly heavier and more difficult to use than an offhand defensive weapon of a more traditional make but the point is the same – move the shield to intercept blows, press advantage using the shield as a means of keeping the body defended, and create openings for the striking weapon. The warrior does not simply stand and hack with their weapon and waiting for a useful opening. They instead use their weapons tactically, exploiting the strengths of their weapons to create openings. This is true with every weapon, and with every martial system that is associated with that weapon. Whether it is a pike from Renaissance Europe, a viking’s sword and round shield, the Chinese jian, or the Japanese katana. Martial arts are not merely the home of modern-day training and rediscovery, the province of Asia, or tournament systems designed for health and entertainment. Every system of martial combat, from the earliest uses of Pankration to modern military defense systems, are martial arts.

That, I think, is where abstraction is far more useful. Not just as a supplement to the system of abstraction of physical attributes and ‘weapon damage’, but as a replacement to it. Instead of having a weapon that does a certain amount of damage when someone is struck with it, characters instead have maneuvers and training in a martial system that requires a certain kind of weapon. So characters in this system would never have weapons that have a particular damage coding to them and, while stats have to be abstracted for other purposes, stats would be a requirement but have no impact directly on the damage delivered by martial arts maneuvers. I think that this would more accurately represent how weapons are wielded and preserve the lethality of what are traditionally seen as “weaker” weapons in RPG design. Weapons like the dagger, the short sword, and percussion weapons. These martial arts would be a network of maneuvers abstracted through bonuses and descriptive elements that tie maneuvers together. This would also include ranged systems, since English archers were commonly experienced not just with their bow but with a broadsword or single-handed sword and buckler as well.

The trick in design is writing these martial systems up, and how much mass they take up in game design, but I think it’s worth it to provide a richer and more varied play experience than “I roll to hit”. It also provides some design space for more fanciful, fantastical systems that are rooted in historical combat.


As someone with undiagnosed autism, all of this feels familiar and true.


Last night somebody shared an article on Facebook. The article was called “Things never to say to parents of a child with autism.” A comment on the article asked why there wasn’t one about things not to say to an autistic adult. I decided to write that article. It’s based on not only my experience, but also the experiences of my autistic friends.

1) “You don’t look autistic.”

My response to this would be something along the lines of what Gloria Steinem said when people told her she “looked good for 50.” She said, “This is what 50 looks like.” I say, “This is what autism looks like.” However, what I’d like to say is: “I don’t look autistic, and you don’t look ignorant. I guess we’re both wrong.”

I don’t know what people who say this mean when they say I don’t look autistic. What does autism look like?…

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This is an amazing and important piece. While I honestly do want to make a name as an author, I never want to do it at the expense of another artist. Divirsity is important for all of us, consumers and producers of art, since it brings us unheard stories and ensures that we can find the very best of the very best since everyone is included.

Dennis R. Upkins


Midnighter is not here for your white supremacy.

I am not going to be “civil.” I am not going to be “diplomatic.” I am not going to make you comfortable. I am not going to be silenced. I am not going to tolerate any questioning of my sanity, honesty, intelligence or any other victim blaming garbage blacks and other people of color endure far too often.

I will tell my story. I will speak truth.

You’ve been warned.

We need diverse books. We need diverse storytellers. What we DO NOT need are racist hypocrites like Steve Berman who actively work against me and queer readers of color and then point fingers at others for reasons I’m about to explain.

About a year or two back Steve emailed me and asked if I would consider contributing to a Civil War anthology he was editing. He stated he wanted a voice of…

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Good information for those of us that need therapists.
Especially if you’re in a non-normative relationship or gender, possibly autistic, or one of a number of other places where traditional psychological assistance tends to attack the very fundamentals of who you are.

Disrupting Dinner Parties

So, you’ve decided to finally take the plunge and find a therapist. Good for you! Your mental health is super freaking important and you deserve to get it taken care of! I’ve gone through the process several times myself, and I know it’s not always easy. Having had good therapists and bad therapists, I certainly know all therapists are not created equal. Indeed, bad experiences in therapy can even make people feel worse, not better.

To be clear, I am not a mental health professional. Lucky for me, my mother is a clinical social worker who ruthlessly screens providers for the people she loves. After observing her, I adopted a similar process once I moved away from home.  In sharing these tips with you, hopefully I can make the task of getting help run a little more smoothly for you.

First off, “therapist” is an umbrella term encompassing a variety of…

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A brilliant set of pieces that reflect a lot of my own travels through pain and disability – though I’m not diagnosed depressive, I’m more undiagnosed autistic.

Research to be Done

Introduction|Part 1: Chronic Pain|Part 2: Depression|Part 3: Ideas

From one thing, know ten thousand things.

— Miyamoto Musashi

I was going to try and write an introductory anecdote for these posts, myself, when I realized that another fantastic blogger had already written one perfectly. Before you continue reading, check out this post by Ferrett Steinmetz.

I think about the only other time I hallucinated, having dropped acid on a very hot summer’s night… and I found it disappointing. Yes, my vision was flexing and distorting, and I witnessed all sorts of curious artifacts as my brain’s visual processing center went into overload – but I quietly dissected each illusion, breaking it down into its interesting components, and in such a way I reduced what could have been a wild trip down into a series of interesting quirks.

I don’t really hallucinate, I don’t…

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The wind sounded mournful as it flew gracefully over the dunes and hills that made up the four miles of territory I had come to call home in the last five years. I had come here from far across the desert, from a town that still had a single, lonesome tower staring out into the darkness. Waiting and watching for the first rays of sunlight and dreading the coming cloak of night for generations. Thousands of eyes have lived and died in that tower, keeping watch so that the horrors of our world can be kept safely at bay. A tower that houses the relics of a bygone age. Gleaming steel swords. Armor made hard and fast. Shields of boughs bent to shape and sheathed in iron and leather. Relics left to be oiled by the eyes that watch now. Eyes that see the old ways and their safety but must watch, vigilant, on the new ways. On the Scourge that eats the steel, that brings diaphanous destruction where it goes.

A soft flutter, of wings beating against the wind determined to find somewhere safe from the dust and dirt, is all that it takes to alert the town to fear. That one little thing, creeping and crawling toward safety, eats steel and bone. Consumes all that it can touch with little exception. The worst of it, though, is when the damn things die. They break into a powder so fine that it seeps through denim masks, a powder that with just the right spark turns into a raging inferno in the blink of an eye. A powder that turned lush forests, rolling green hills, and verdant farmland into a desert of pain, misery, and fear.

Scrub grows now, and cacti. New plants, some engineered by alchemists and some that were here but didn’t have a purchase, didn’t have a way to get what they needed. Not until the fire burnt down all around them but left them standing. Uniquely built by the hand of fate, by the accidents of struggle and power, to withstand such intense fire.

From one of these mighty survivors, the towering trees that most call bloodwood around my little stretch of prairie, a man came down. I knew he was there. He let me know, subtly, several days ago. His name was Enrique Salvador. Most around here knew him as Abbot, though, or El Cazador. He finds initiates for the Marshals and brings them here, to the four miles of dirt and dust I call home now so that they can learn.

He climbed down slowly but carefully, not letting me see where the handholds were or where the traps were. This was his house and I was simply visiting. I heard him land with the soft whisper of well oiled leather and stilled iron. He sauntered over to me with the slow deliberation of a teacher, heavy with wisdom dewing on his tongue. He tossed me a flask, an old glass hip flask full of the damn near lethal stuff he called whiskey, and he sat down across from me by my cold fire.

A single flash, no more than a star blinking on then off in the haze of the distant sky, and he exhaled a single playful twister of smoke into the old fire pit. His fingers wove a jig for it, mixing it around to the silent waltz he heard somewhere in his mind.

“When you were a child…” His voice was old and cracked, like the leather he wore, but was measured. His tone even and thoughtful. “You learned of the gods and heroes, yes?”

The question hung in the air, pregnant like the moon. Full of possibility. Full of impertinence and childhood. Full of mistakes.

“Yeah.” I am not, as they say, good with words.

He nodded slowly and took a long drag, letting each syllable of his next sentence spin and sidle with smoke. “And what did you learn from those stories?”

I grunted, we’d done this before. We’ve had this conversation. “The big things, the things that make me, that make us, what and who we are. Honor. Bravery. Compassion. Dedication.”

He nodded thoughtfully. It was the same answer. We both knew. Word for word, pause for pause. Even the grunt was as tired as my boots.

“And when you were older…” More smoke, hanging in the air, writing out the script again. He knew what I would say. “You heard the stories again, yes? What about then?”

I sighed long and low. I let the silence fill between us again, let us both bask in the middle times, those times before the story got along to be getting along. “I learned context. Nuance. I learned that to be brave it sometimes takes sacrifice. I learned that to be wise it sometimes takes making mistakes. I learned that to have honor is to sometimes do something you never thought you’d have to do. It’s takin’ life one thing at a time and doin’ your best. Regardless of what the gods think of what you’re doin’.”

He nodded, an old sage nod like he knew the secrets of the words now that he’s heard them three hundred times. “Do you remember when you came here?”

Now this was new. Something I wasn’t expecting, not in a hundred thousand years. I shook my head, “’Course I do, you damn near killed me!”

He smiled, a knowing smile. “What did we damn near kill you with?”

I looked at him, bug eyes, from across the camp. “That big damn gun up in that keep of yours! Damn near took my head clean off and it was aiming at my hips! Killed my horse with fright, it did.”

He stood up, snapping his cigarette out, and tossed a package in front of me. “We are here to teach you something new. Things have changed.”

I unwrapped it slowly and there, in well oiled leather with a string of rounds, was my very own nine shot, single action revolver. The Big Iron. The thing that made you a Marshal.

“I’m gonna learn the creed?”

He chuckled and shook his head. “No, something more important. Something bigger than the big things.”

I looked at him as I belted the gun on. It felt good on my hip, already resting just right where I liked it. “What’s more important than somethin’ that big?”

He offered me a cigarette and took a drink. I whispered and my fingers danced, a spring of fire welling up between two of my fingers and setting the weed alight. “Nuance, Maria, nuance.”

With that he stalked off into the darkness.

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