Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Limits of Human Endurance*

* - a very specific human, i.e., me.

This past weekend was BlizzCon, the gaming convention for all of those people out there (like my partner) who like to play videogames made by Blizzard with friends. I'm not as hardcore as some other players (like my partner), but as a "filthy casual" I did enjoy both the spectacle of going to BlizzCon and the chance to meet up in meatspace with folk who I've been friends with for a while. We had a fantastic time doing random stuff both at and not-at the convention, and it was, for the most part, quite enjoyable.

The trick is, I'm anxious in crowds. This didn't used to be a thing, but somewhere over the last ten years or so I've developed a pretty serious anxiety problem in groups of people; where there are crowds of any sort, I tend to not do terribly well, and when the crowds get loud and random, I get even less functional than normal. Thinking about it, when I was younger being up on stage in front of people would terrify me to no end, but being in the crowd was often quite freeing; now that I'm older, being in the crowd terrifies me but the idea of getting up on stage in front of them is if anything energizing. That's an interesting point to come back to some other time. Right now, I'm talking about my limits and crowds.

I had several moments during both days when I had to "check out", leave the convention center, and just sit and be still. Medication helped (I think without medication I couldn't have gone at all), but the ability to step away and just breathe was really important.

We also had a two-day visit to Disneyland planned, and the assumption was that Sunday would be busy but Monday (when everyone went back to school) would be OK. And Sunday wasn't bad at all; we had a very good time running around and taking rides and such with several of our friends, and I was even rather looking forward to the next day.

However, the thing we hadn't counted on was that it was Veteran's Day, and so all the schools were closed. Which meant that Disneyland on Monday was actually more crowded not just than I expected but more crowded than when we went on Sunday. This resulted in me damn near having a breakdown, saved only by the judicious application of supportive hugs from my partner and the decision to completely abandon the park for a second day. I still feel pretty bad about the wasted money, but it was either that or having a panic attack.

A point that my partner made later, which I hadn't thought about, is that crowd management (for me, at least) is obviously a finite resource (just like willpower, decision-making, and dozens of other resources that human brains use all the time), and we had manage to find my limit. Sometimes finding a limit like that is relatively easy, because a resource is ablative; other times, finding a limit is hard because it's a boolean setting. I was fine, until suddenly I wasn't. And at least part of that suddenly not being fine was the mismatch between my expectation of crowds and the reality of the crowds themselves. Sometimes that mismatch can work in my favour; if I'm expecting or remembering worse, and it's not as bad as I think, that's often a huge relief that allows me to deal with stuff better than I normally would.

Managing expectations and finding limits are both as important in the industry as they are for any human experience. Planning for failure modes isn't defeatist thinking in life any more than it's defeatist thinking to have a Disaster Recovery plan. Knowing when to say when and abandon the sunk costs is just as important as investing and committing to a plan or a technology.