2018 Contact Sheet

I’m finally over the concussion, caught up at work, back from holidays, and still writing from time to time. I’ve got four more settings for Stranger Creations, and then another Exalted project. I also have Virtual Machine (which is a playable draft made during National Game Design Month) and Sorcerously Advanced (a version of Sufficiently Advanced set in a magical rather than scientific world) to work on, and those are taking more of my attention and energy these days. I do intend to finish the last four settings, but it’s not a priority right now.

If you’re interested in seeing some art for my upcoming projects, here’s the Contact Sheet for 2018, much like the one I made last year. Click for a larger version.

2018 Contact Sheet

Three Months Into Recovery

It has been three months since my concussion.

A month ago, I thought it might just be another week or two until I was back to normal. This wasn’t the case. Despite multiple doctors’ opinions to the contrary, the recovery has taken another two months, and it seems likely to be another month before I’m able to handle everything I once could. All in all, I was out of work completely for 2 entire weeks, and on half-time for another 11. Work has treated me very well during this time.

I’ve seen two different nurses and two different doctors at HUHS, including my PCP. I have not seen a specialist because everyone I saw uniformly recommended against seeing a specialist. One of them, Dr. Kenneth Gold, was also an incompetent moron and I recommend that anyone with a concussion avoid him. If you have an appointment and it turns out to be with him, walk out of the room and ask for your co-pay back.

I’ve been struggling with depression since week 3. Thankfully I started looking for a therapist right away, and there was an opening earlier than they expected, so I have had mental health support from about week 6. Without that I would have had a much harder time.

The most painful part of this was not the headaches, it was feeling like I wasn’t myself. In the worst days, I couldn’t do anything but sit in the dark. Ten minutes in bad lighting could turn even my best day into a bad day. That meant walking into and then right back out of restaurants, sometimes five restaurants in a row, trying to find a place where my partner and I could eat dinner, all the while slowly becoming more hungry and less able to function. It meant saying “Let’s go for a walk” and then needing to go back inside and sit in the dark instead. It was incredibly frustrating, and I’m sure it was frustrating to others as well.

(You know how Edison bulbs have become popular again in the past 2-3 years? Those aren’t actually Edison bulbs. They’re shaped LEDs rather than incandescents, so they use a lot less power and every cafe loves them. Remembering this helped me avoid a lot of bad lighting.)

While the past two weeks have been mostly good, I’m still gun-shy, waiting for a bad day to come by again. A day when I’m unable to handle any sort of light, or when I’m light-headed for hours, unable to find a comfortable place even in my own house.

I remember the day I was able to read again. I never wanted to stop. I ended up overextending myself more than once because I couldn’t bring myself to walk away from the text. There were days when I used the computer until it started to hurt, then stopped… then read until that started to hurt, then wrote a little and that didn’t work, then listened to a podcast and that started to hurt too, and then I lay down in bed and that wasn’t enough either, so I just lay there with a cloth over my eyes. My yearning to be me again was painful and damaging, and that in and of itself was also hard to deal with.

My symptoms continue to change every 5-6 days. You might remember me saying that I had become hyper-sensitive to chemical effect on my brain (like salt, sugar, caffeine, etc.), and learned to distinguish the different headaches that came from a deficit of each one. That ability disappeared in another two weeks. The sensitivity was still there – I still got headaches – I just couldn’t tell why any more.

Thankfully this has currently been replaced by an over-sensitivity to sugar in particular. It’s easier to handle. My hope is that this will change too, but until it does, I have to take my coffee without sugar and save ice cream for rare occasions in small amounts. Being hungry also puts me immediately at risk. I need to eat small meals or snacks every three hours. Executive functioning is the first thing to go when my brain crashes. Strangely, cane sugar and fruit sugar seem to act differently, with cane sugar hitting me much worse.

I have no explanation for my symptoms, and no ability to predict what changes are coming. I can only watch and try to adapt.

My sensitivity to screens has diminished substantially (I was able to write this all in one sitting). Overhead LED light can still be a problem. Fluorescents can be ok, but if they’re flickering, it’s a nightmare. (I’m looking at you, Defenders.) All of this is dependent on my blood sugar level. Light that I can handle on a full stomach becomes intolerable if I haven’t eaten.

This might all sound like it’s pretty bad, but I’ve genuinely seen a huge improvement. Right now I’m able to handle 4 hours of work almost every day, and to do other things afterward. I still can’t drive, but I can read normal books and play some video games. Comic books are still difficult, but I can read them too some days. (Current theory: they require a lot of mental interpolation for scene changes.)

I have a doctor’s appointment at the end of this week that will hopefully let me go back up to 8 hours of work on the days when I can handle it. We’ll see how it goes.

Where’s Colin?

I’ve been away for a while. I had a vacation, then a bunch of work, then a conference, so that ate up three weeks. And then I had a concussion.

I fell off a stage and hit my chin on Thursday July 27th. Luckily there’s no lasting physical damage, and my mental recovery is finally looking up this week. I want to give you an idea of what it was like.

The night of the injury I had a headache. I didn’t realize all of the different places I had been injured – I knew I nailed my chin, my elbow, and my toe, but didn’t notice my hip and collarbone until the next day. I iced my jaw, took some Advil PM (which might have contributed to the problem), and went to bed.

The next day I had symptoms that I recognized as being a concussion. I didn’t know how bad it would become. I took notes at the last day of the conference, which probably exacerbated things. I flew home and tried to get some rest, deciding to see a doctor if things weren’t better on Monday. They weren’t. I saw a doctor.

For those who don’t know, the symptoms of a concussion vary, but typically you have trouble with:

  • Looking at screens
  • Coming up with words
  • Remembering things
  • Thinking hard
  • Thinking quickly
  • Mental fatigue

Imagine that every time you think about something too hard, it feels like you just filled out tax forms for eight hours. Every time you have to make an effort to remember something, you get a headache.

Severe concussions (which often result in loss of consciousness) lead to cranial nerve damage and all sorts of motor-neurological things, which is why they do that test when they move a finger in front of your eyes. Mine wasn’t severe, but it was bad enough.

I tried to go into work half-time that week. I was useless after half an hour. I had to rest for at least another hour before I was useful again. It quickly got to the point where that rest time needed to be overnight.

At home, I tried to take “brain rest”, which is all they can prescribe for you when you’re recovering from a concussion. Here’s what brain rest looks like:

  • Limited screen use, including computing or watching TV or movies.
  • Limited reading.
  • Limited hard thinking.
  • Limited exercise. Don’t even walk too much or too far, as it can jar the brain.
  • No drinking – it kills brain cells and you just lost a bunch of those. Also, if you drink enough that you fall down and get another concussion, just go ahead and mark all of your symptoms as “permanent.”
  • No driving. You cannot make decisions quickly. You also can’t multitask or filter out distractions, like someone talking or music playing in the background. Do not kill someone by driving with a concussion.

I could write sometimes, but not for long, and I couldn’t read what I had written afterward. I could cook, if I didn’t need to look at a recipe. I could clean. My stove has never been cleaner. I could do martial arts forms slowly, but only the ones I remembered well. No trying to re-learn old forms.

This was the weirdest sick time I’ve ever taken in my life. Everything I would normally do while sick is on that list above. For much of the time I sat there in bed listening to podcasts until I realized that they, too, were giving me a headache. Then I just sat there in bed. Doing nothing. For hours.

The next week I took off from work entirely. (Hooray for unions and for sick time!) I went to my partner’s parents’ house in the Massachusetts countryside. I didn’t even bring my computer. Things continued to get worse for a day or two. On the worst day, I could no longer listen to music. All I could do was to sit there in a chair in the shade, with sunglasses on, watching the clouds from when they entered my field of view until they it.

They say that depression can set in about a month after a concussion. I am not surprised.

After two weeks, things finally started looking up. I was able to read a few entries in Marvel’s Guide to the Avengers without getting a headache. The next day I was able to read a few recipes. Reading from a screen was not an option, and screens are still difficult now.

I found that my symptoms varied widely while I was recovering. The feeling of pressure in my head and the fuzzy brain were common throughout. I also have trouble with fluorescent and LED lights, which are basically the only types we have in my house.

Early on I felt incredibly mentally fatigued. I slept so much that my body was probably the best-rested it has ever been. However, this was also when the sleep apnia started kicking in. If you’re not familiar with sleep apnia, it’s where your body stops breathing until your brain wakes up to kick it back into action. It can be terrifying. I found that doing 10 minutes of exercise before bed cleared this right up for me.

Once that started wearing off, I became hyper-aware of my brain chemical levels. If I was hungry, I was unable to put off eating for more than 5 minutes without getting a headache. The same was true if my blood sugar was low, if I hadn’t had enough salt recently, if I needed water, if I needed caffeine, or if I needed protein. Each of these had its own distinct type of headache that I came to recognize over the course of about a week. This is subsiding right now, but still present.

At this point, after 3 weeks of recovery, I’m back at work part-time, hoping to go up to full sometime next week. I have some special glasses that my partner got me to cut out some blue light, which helps with screens. I can think pretty well again, though my memory isn’t perfect. I can read, though I need to hold back, because I can easily read enough to give myself a headache. It’ll probably be another week or two before I’m at 100%, assuming that I get there.

90% of people recover from a concussion within a month. Of the remainder, most recover within three months. Some people never recover. I am very grateful to be on the track to recovery.

More Art from the New Project


So many Lunars 400 LUNARS

While I’m working on Beneath the White City, please enjoy a random generator I made that has 400 Lunar names, totems, and roles, which I call:

400 Lunars

And which you can find at https://colin-fredericks.github.io/ex3-400-lunars/

Perfect for when your damnfool Solars stumble across a moot of 30 irritable predator-god moon-beasts and suddenly you need to come up with 30 animals off the top of your head.

Many thanks to Sarah Lancaster for helping me come up with a substantial portion of the list.