[Interview] Project Athena: An Interview with Citizens of Merciam, Lexi & JayDee

Project Athena:
An Interview with Citizens of Merciam, Lexi & JayDee

Interview conducted by Istillian

(Europeia - January 21, 2023) For the third and final publication in our series of interviews conducted under the banner of Project Athena, the Europeian Broadcasting Corporation interviewed two citizens from the region Merciam. Merciam styles itself as a Roman region, with a passionate love for the vision of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire. The first of our interviewees, Lexi, is a former Princeps Consul of Merciam, with a presence and personality that has fed life into Merciam since their joining. They are often seen socialising, debating and discussing a variety of their interests across their home region.

Our second interviewee in this joint piece, however, would be a familiar face to many citizens of Europeia, having held an abundance of titles across the entirety of NationStates. Their presence and input into community building, crafting and debating law, foreign and domestic policy, and building the structure of wherever they reside has led them to become a trusted and respected advisor, and a friend to many. This individual has been a major voice in NationStates (NS) gameplay, in regions abroad and in Europeia, but in the region of Merciam they hold the title of Emperor Jay Dee Bonaparte.

Can you tell me a little bit about your background on NationStates, and how you then got into the community in Merciam?

Lexi: I've been playing NationStates since this summer, I discovered it from a reddit reads video from a comment talking about how cool and not well known it was. I was on vacation in Washington at the time, actually. I really don't have much experience in NS outside of Merciam. I decided, for fun, I'd make an anarcho-capitalist country (that eventually got changed cause I started actually taking the nation more seriously), and after addressing a couple issues I got a recruitment [telegram] for Merciam.
It was among the others, but the bright green got my attention, at the time I was really into Roman history. I sent a response just asking something ... and joined shortly after.

JayDee: I initially found NationStates via iFunny, a user posted their Nation stats and I created my first nation-Deladara-that same day. Deladara would eventually find its way to Europeia where it would reside until just a few days ago when it CTE'd. A few months after moving into Europeia, I founded Merciam which is how I got involved. I've attempted to revive the region multiple times with varying degrees of success, the most successful one being the ongoing effort which started in late June of 2022.

Have you found any barriers to involving yourself in NationStates communities at all?

Lexi: [I felt] pressure to try out being the Princeps Consul (basically the head of state other than the emperor, like a Prime Minister) which I took up. I immediately found it overwhelming and had no motivation to do anything, so I quit pretty quickly. I get that problem with a lot of things, just no motivation. I believe the term for that would be "executive dysfunction".

JayDee: I think all of my barriers have been largely self-imposed, my story in Europeia is pretty open for anyone in the region to see. I think this leads into the part of neurodivergence and mental health in general that people often forget about, which is that we are not the only victims of our struggle. I've hurt many people physically and emotionally throughout my life in my continuous struggle to make sense of my condition. It can be easy to forget about the people we hurt, but it's important to hold myself accountable for the people I have and continue to hurt because of my neurodivergence.

What kind of work or contributions are most rewarding to you personally?

Lexi: I'm not really sure, I can't really tell if I've even contributed that much, I have trouble seeing my successes sometimes; I guess my greatest contribution to me would just be... well, being there, adding to the personality of the region, and making friends.

JayDee: I've found mentorship opportunities to be some of the most rewarding experiences, especially seeing the people I once helped surpass me. It's truly a special feeling to see those who once learned under you be able to spread their wings and succeed in their own right.

How does your neurodivergence influence the way you approach doing work on NationStates?

Lexi: Well I can definitely say I have trouble being motivated to the work, but most often I decide to just take a laid-back approach to NS and just do stuff when I feel like it or when I'm bored. I don't really see NS as something so important I absolutely have to try and overcome things for it, I just see it as something interesting to do every now and then, you know, I would say that having ADHD does make it harder to stay consistently on top of it, so I just kind of don't.

JayDee: That question is simply impossible to truly answer. It's like asking an apple what it's like to taste like an orange. I've never lived in a world where I was anything except neurodivergent, so my only experience in NS are one's where I was neurodivergent. I can give you the best estimation of how my life has been different, but I can't say for sure.

I think the first part of this answer is to differentiate how different neurodivergent conditions influence me. You'll be hard pressed to find any neurodivergent with only one condition, with several ranging from the all encompassing autism, to adhd, ocd, dyslexia, and mental health.

Can you tell me a little bit about your experience with neurodivergence?

Lexi: Really it does affect my daily life quite heavily, but it's honestly not something I think about a lot. ADHD is something that, well, it's kind of just like, the way I think is what it affects. It's so inherent that I don't even notice it if I don't look, but it definitely makes a lot of things harder, especially getting any sort of work done.

JayDee: I've always kinda known I had ADHD, but it was only a few years ago that I realized I also had anxiety/depression and even fewer years ago that I learned I also had c-PTSD-the cause of which I still haven't completely pinpointed (edited)

For me the struggle comes from understanding where one condition ends and the other begins. Each have become so intertwined with each other in a spiderweb of complexity that it's hard to really identify the dominant condition in certain moments.

When PhDre and [Deepest House] were grilling me for deleting poll results, I was later able to identify that the topic had been triggering my fight-or-flight response from my struggle with PTSD. At the time, I didn't realize I had PTSD so I wasn't able to make sense of my anger even as every rational thought screamed at me to stop.

However, there are other times when it's a lot more difficult to figure out what I'm feeling. There are often times when I feel a general sense of boredom/hopelessness and start falling inactive. The cause is a lot harder to identify because ADHD, Depression, and PTSD can all come with their own struggles of executive dysfunction

What are your biggest struggles in an online environment, and on the flip-side, what do you think helps you most about being in an online environment?

Lexi: That's a tough one... honestly my biggest struggle is just the intangibility of it, everything feels less urgent and important and real when you can't see it with your own eyes or touch it with your own hands. What helps me the most? Honestly, I'm not sure!

JayDee: The biggest struggle is absolutely the lack of nonverbal communication. At this point, people know I'm generally pulling everyone's leg when I say something a bit prickly, but that's not obvious at first. It can also be hard to tell with people who I barely know, especially in my younger years when I was very timid and frightened by anything and everything.

The thing that helps though is how easy it is to step away from a situation. If something is getting heated I can easily let it rest for as long as I need before coming back to it. There is little expectation for immediate gratification, especially on the forum where communication is slow anyway.

Contrast that with real life where it's much harder to step away from a situation or slow something down to allow everyone to gather their breath. Only a few months ago, I had another episode where I got mad at my best friend.

It wasn't screaming or yelling, but it was the same case where I felt like a spectator to my own actions with no agency over what I was saying. I ended up hurting him pretty bad and it's still a work-in-progress to repair the relationship. It goes back to what I said in my second answer, we are rarely the only victims of our conditions. I am accountable for what I said, even if I didn't feel like I was in control.

So what would you say that people need to be aware of most, both online and in real life, about people that are neurodivergent?

Lexi: They're not less smart, they're not any less people, they just think a little differently. Just be patient and understanding.

JayDee: Each struggle is different, we all have a different history of pain that we've had to overcome to get where we are today. Just like we have a duty to be accountable for what we say and do, the people in our lives have a duty to understand our condition and how to help us.

The relationship between a neurotypical and divergent is just like any relationship, it's a two way street that requires open communication and understanding. Be open to a person's story and don't assume you know more about a person's struggle because you read about ADHD in a textbook.

Do you think working in a community in NationStates is different if people know that you are a player that is neurodivergent, and do you see any barriers to participating in the game?

Lexi: For me, personally, I don't think it makes much of a difference if people know that I'm neurodivergent, but it might help for them to know that I am to understand why I am the way that I am. Honestly I don't see any barriers to participating to me, really. Just the fact that I have trouble participating in the first place.

JayDee: I haven't felt like expectations have ever been different from me, nor have I felt like I've been given clemency for my actions. I've always felt like I've only been held to the standard that one would expect of anyone else in a similar position.

Can you tell me what your aspirations and goals are on NationStates for the future?

Lexi: Honestly I'm just looking to play it casually, make a nice nation, have some fun, connect with people.

JayDee: I don't know, I used to want to be President of Europeia, but I hurt too many people in my younger days. Now I just don't really have the time/energy for it so I don't have any particular goals or ambitions. If a time comes where I could build a career in Europeia I'd probably try, but I no longer feel like a failure because I didn't meet my initial aspirations.

I wanted to leave a legacy that would outlive me after I left NS, I like to think I've done that. It may not be the big dazzling story that I thought I wanted, but it's mine all the same.

Are there any changes you'd like to see across NationStates that reflect on how neurodiverse individuals are treated in the game?

Lexi: Honestly, not really that I can think of. As far as I've seen, people treat each other well regardless. NS is just very welcoming.

JayDee: Better understanding of our condition. Studies of neurodivergence are still quite new. What people used to think was all schizophrenia has only within the past 50 years been properly diagnosed as conditions like PTSD, depression, dyspraxia, etc.

Things like ADHD used to be called ADD. Autism used to be misdiagnosed as schizophrenia. It wasn't until WWI that trauma psychosis and autism started being differentiated. All this research is still very fresh, and academics in any discipline are always incredibly slow to catch up with general knowledge.

Is there any kind of advice that you would give to people that are on the neurodivergent spectrum when playing NationStates?

Lexi: Just try to have a good time, meet some nice people, and try not to stress too much about NationStates! It's just a silly little nation simulator, I don't see any reason why it needs to take up all your free time or keep you stressed all the time.

JayDee: It's impossible to say it too many times so I'll say it again. You and you alone are responsible for your actions and reactions. You are responsible for the people you hurt. You are responsible for the relationships you destroy.

Yes, other people should be empathetic to our struggle, but it starts with us. Do not remain a victim to your struggle, once you understand your condition it becomes your responsibility to hold yourself accountable.

But! Never be afraid to ask for help. Never be afraid to reach out to others. You deserve help. You deserve to have people who care about you. You are not alone. Ever.