So, one of the things with my depression is my brain turns against me, and from comments on Facebook – it seems I’m not alone in this.
However gaming can sometimes really help me with this – sometimes.
What do I mean that my brain turns against me? Well that might not be the right wording, but it’s certainly what it feels like. My self-esteem drops, and I start to question things around that. Here are some examples I used on Facebook last week:
Whilst at Contingency (Role Playing Game (RPG) convention) at the weekend, I spoke to some friends about coming to Bristol some time for food and games. H and I both love gaming, and love to host and cook for others. Our house only holds a limited number of people so I only spoke to a group that could fit in the house. Everyone was very positive about it, and said to get in touch and we’d sort something out. All good.
But then halfway home (suffering from post-convention crash, which made me worse than I already was), my ‘depression’ brain kicked in. Questioning things and making me feel less sure. Basically the thoughts ran along the lines of:
You’ll never sort this out, you’re all talk and will never get it done.
Anyway they probably only said yes to make you feel better.
They only said yes because they know you’ll never get around to arranging it.
They said yes, because no might have seemed rude, it’s easier now – they can just never be free at the same time as you.
Now there was no reason for me to feel like this, but that’s what my depression does to me, and it continued. Back to work on Monday on my lunch break I messaged the same group of people about getting this off the ground. Now we’re all busy people, we all work, and aren’t sat constantly on FB messenger on our phones. But as soon as I sent the message the thoughts were back:
See, no-one’s replied.
They’ve changed their minds.
They’re trying to think of a way out of it.
Why did you bother – you’re just setting yourself up to get hurt.
See, still no-one’s replied, stop checking, it’s not going to happen.
And so on. Now being that these are friends, and they’d genuinely been up for this from the start, replies and very enthusiastic ones came in quite soon. Of course they did. But my brain didn’t stop there, every time I post something new – queries about what sort of games, when people would want to arrive, my brain does the same dance until replies start to come in. Every time the replies have actually been far quicker than rational me would expect – but depressed me doesn’t tend towards rational.
This is also true in other aspects of my life – work, on one level I know I’m very good at my job, but when my depression is gaining the upper hand I start to doubt myself. I fear that I’ve forgotten something vital and everything will go wrong. I start to question my decisions – even though I really know they’re right. I get the same with music, I start doubting my voice, in my mind I sound awful, even though I’m not. I get frustrated, little errors in playing seem so much bigger and I give up. I put the instrument down, I stop singing and I just sit around, not really doing anything.
So why does gaming help?
Firstly it helps because I tend to game predominantly with friends, or at the very least with like-minded people, who often go on to become friends. Being surrounded by people who enjoy your company, who like being with you, who are happy to see you, is great for your self-esteem. And in the moment I don’t tend to get those questioning after-thoughts (although they may come later). Also, and this may sound odd, a lot of my gaming friends are huggers, and nothing says (to me) you’re appreciated like the physical acceptance/welcoming/love of a hug. So arriving at a RPG convention seeing friends, having a hug, immediately pushes my mood up, and the entire time I’m around these people it stays up.
Secondly, running games helps me a great deal. At most RPG conventions if you wish to run a game you put up a sheet with a description of the game, your name as the person running the game, and a number of slots for players. Now although there’s a group of people I play most games with, I also try to make sure I’m offering games to the wider community, and my games fill up. If you don’t run games this may not mean much to you, but for me, with my mental health, putting up a game and having no-one sign up would do me no good at all. Now some people will sign up because you have a game with spaces on it, or it’s a system they’ve wanted to try. But I know that my name also draws some players – as I’ve had people tell me that friends have played one of my games, and recommended it, or me as a games runner to others. This is superb for my self-esteem, which is only low because of my depression. When my mental balance is good, I don’t need this to feel good (not that I mind getting it anyway).
Thirdly being a player in a game is superb. There’s the escapism, the chance to be someone else for 3-4 hours (or longer sometimes). For the duration of the game, for the time you get to play someone else, the worries and concerns of your normal life fade into the background, and you can just enjoy the moment. Something I otherwise find difficult when in the grips of depression. I would also say that a lot of the games I play aren’t pure fantasy escapism. I play some games on heavier subjects, with emotional and trying stories and outcomes. Sometimes they bring laughter, sometimes they bring tears, sometimes they bring an ice cream break. But through all of this, it’s not me personally going through it, it’s a character I’m pretending to be – I’m still getting that escape albeit into a role many people would choose not to explore themselves.
Now I get all of this enjoyment out of gaming when I’m not depressed – I think it’s a wonderful hobby that I’d recommend to anyone. But for me personally it’s become a part of my coping strategies for my depression. And that’s where there can be pitfalls. Currently I don’t get to game very often – maybe a couple of times a year and predominantly at conventions. After any convention I feel a bit down afterwards, most people who enjoy them do. It’s a return to work, stepping away from friends you may not see for another 6-8 months if not longer. And when I’m in a rockier patch with my depression, then it can come and bite me as the convention ends. I crash down harder than other people, it can put me back in the same place I was before the convention – possibly even in a worse place, and that’s where the thoughts above come into play. I’m on my way down, and the ‘depression brain’ kicks in and starts to question what just happened.
That said, I get more positives from a convention and gaming than I do negatives. This time round I’ve arranged for a group of friends to come and game later this year, and I’m going to theirs for a weekend before that to game over there. Having those gaming sessions to look forward to, and pretty well sorted now begins to undercut those nasty, sniping thoughts my depression sends my way. So despite the possible traps of relying on gaming too much, I will continue to game where I can, because overall it helps me – and most importantly I enjoy it.
Thanks for reading, and stay safe.