A weekend gaming with friends – part one Saturday Morning ‘A Penny for my Thoughts’

I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs that after I started posting about my depression, and organising having friends over to game with us, those same friends organised a weekend of gaming in Bournemouth. That was this weekend, I’ve had an amazing time and here’s the first couple of games from Saturday morning.

General content warning: a lot of the games I play are likely to bring up subjects that some people may find triggering. One of the key things for these games are ‘lines and veils’ conversations. We as a group discuss what things we’re uncomfortable with appearing in games. We’ll also discuss if there are things we don’t wish described in detail, we’ll pull a veil on such things and assume they happen behind closed doors. We also have a standing rule that if something comes up we’re not comfortable with it’s perfectly acceptable for anyone to interrupt and say as much, with the expectation that everyone else playing will respect this.

First up a quick game poem (a game poem is a short RPG that looks at one thing in detail) called Dance in which we were all at a party succumbing to the plague. It was quick, silly and fun. My favourite part was Helen delivering a great line, and immediately succumbing to the plague. It was awesome.

Content warning: The next game has the following subjects that could be triggers for some people:

Domestic abuse, murder, attempted suicide and infidelity.

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I then facilitated and played in a game of ‘A Penny for my Thoughts’. This is a game about regaining lost memories through shared treatment, with an experimental drug that allows you to pick up the others’ lost memories. In this game the key elements of your lost memories are shaped by the other players, and it makes use of Improv drama techniques.

I played this with Jess, Marc and Jay. 

We had a character whose happiest memory was a birthday with a lovely gift from her sister, followed by an unpleasant memory where her partner revealed he was having an affair with that same sister. Finally in her traumatic memory she discovered that she’d attacked, and killed her sister. This player decided not to retain these memories as they were too traumatic and didn’t want to know they’d killed their sister.
Then there was a woman whose happy memory was taking a boyfriend to meet her family for the first time. In their unpleasant memory it was years later and the house they and their children were living in was on fire – and the fire had been set deliberately. As they escaped they were watched by a man. In the final memory this man, who was her abusive ex, turned up at the new house and attacked her, she fought back and killed him. She decided to keep her memories because of her children. 

Next was a man whose happy memories were of fishing with their father. But this moved on to their mother’s funeral where their paternal uncle, who’d had an affair with their mother, turned up, and there was an altercation. In the final traumatic memory their uncle claimed they were actually their biological father. As they fled the situation for some space to think they were hit by a car. He decided not to remember, as he didn’t want to deal with the fact that his father might not actually be his father.

Finally there was my character. They started with a memory of camping with friends before going their separate ways to uni, with one friend Sarah announcing they were enlisting instead. In the second, unpleasant memory, there was a meeting with Sarah on a boat just off the beach. Sarah revealed that she had blocked his attempts to enlist as she thought it would change him for the worse. In the argument he capsized the boat, and being unable to swim started to drown – Sarah just watched. The final traumatic memory saw a final meeting with Sarah, which turned confrontational with Sarah pulling a gun and trying to kill themselves. In the struggle he got hold of the gun and turned it on himself, resulting in my amnesia. He chose to keep his memories and see if he could rebuild his life and possibly at least speak to Sarah.

I thoroughly enjoyed this game. It was very dark in places, but was an amazing experience, with great players.

I know that a lot of gamers prefer not to play this style of game, and I can understand that. They tend to cover topics that can be difficult and triggering. However with a ‘safe’ group, I find I personally get my best gaming experiences from this kind of game. They can bring tears sometimes (the game above did that for me), laughter – all sorts of feelings and personally I find nothing wrong with exploring these kind of things. In fact for me it’s incredibly healthy, as in the past I’ve struggled to express my own feelings (one side effect of this was probably a delay in recognising and seeking help with my depression), and these games have helped me find this easier.

Thanks for reading all, and stay safe.

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Depression and creativity

I can be quite a creative person, I write songs, poems and I occasionally write stories and short stories. And of course I run RPG’s which can involve a lot of creativity.

However I also get long patches where it’s gone. I just can’t write anything. If I try it dries up so quickly, and frankly it’s poor. All my descriptive abilities are gone, I overuse words and actually can’t think of new ideas. This can also impact on my gaming, I play a lot of narrative heavy games, where you frame your own scenes, or scenes for others and description is good. If I’m running games the fight scenes become – ‘they hit you, you hit them’ – hardly inspiring stuff.

It took me a while but I finally figured it was tied into my depression. When I’m at my lowest points, other than short bursts of inspiration, there’s nothing, although I think part of this may be the lethargy and lack of drive and energy I suffer from as well. When I’m fine, running on what is as close as to what some people would consider ‘normal’ as I get, it’s the same thing. I may get the odd flash, and to be fair my game running is okay, but I can’t write as well as I sometimes do.

It’s when I’m on my way down or on my way back up that my creativity really kicks in. I’m on an upswing (I think) at the moment and was getting ready for work, and suddenly wrote a chorus for a song, not even a song I was already working on, but a brand new chorus, for a brand new song which just came to me. Over the past few days this has happened quite a bit. I now have an 8-9 track album plotted out. One old song from a few years back (downswing), a couple I wrote about 6-8 months ago (which again was a downswing now I think about it). I’ve also been re-inspired by a couple of old ideas from about 4 years ago (downswing) and one from a couple of years ago (upswing). So just by being where I am mentally my creativity is firing on all cylinders – which is brilliant, but also a little worrying. I like the creative stuff I do, but don’t really like being on downswings, and while upswings are ok, it means I’ve been down before them.

As I think about it, and track back over the peaks and troughs of my writing (be it songs, poems or stories), this seems to run true all the way back to before I was diagnosed (by quite some time). I’ve written things I’m really proud of along the way, but then gone long old periods without writing a word worth reading. Until I linked this into my depression I found really frustrating, it probably still will be but at least now I have something to link it to.

I’d never really sat down and thought about it before and it was quite a revelation to me – and one I’m not sure how to deal with. Being creative is important to me, it’s a part of me that I don’t want to lose – how do I balance that with not wanting to suffer due to my depression? I don’t know if it’s something I can wave a wand at and fix, but I do know that just as my creativity is a part of me so is my depression. The fact that they currently appear to be inextricably intertwined is something I’m going to have to live with and deal with. Hopefully I can tap into that creativity when I’m floating along at ‘normal’, in the meantime I’ll take any silver lining I can from my depression.

Watch this space and I’ll dig up some of my stuff and use it with some thoughts as blogs as we go along.

Next up will be the next part of our gaming weekend.

Thanks for reading and stay safe all.

Why I’m so open about my depression

I thought I’d talk about why I am so open about my depression today. 

There are a number of reasons, some personal, some less so, but all equally important to me.

 One is because in the past, and sometimes it’s still the case, I’ve really struggled to talk about my feelings and what I’m going through. This hasn’t helped me, and probably delayed me getting the help I needed sooner. It also makes life difficult for those around me – particularly H. If they don’t know what’s happening with me, they won’t know what to expect from me, or why I’m acting the way I am. Depression makes me uncommunicative at the best of times, but by being as open as possible at least they know I’m on a downswing, and that helps put some context around how I’m acting.

This also expands out to friends. I don’t expect any special treatment because I have depression, but it is part of who I am. I think it’s good for my friends to know that about me, to know who I am. It’s not something I go about announcing to people all over the place, but neither is it something I hide. As I said it’s part of me, and if its pertinent to a conversation I’m having I’ll mention it. I think some friends have known me quite a while without knowing I have depression, and when they’ve found out it hasn’t really made any difference to how we interact – although it has recently given rise to some actions that have made my day so much better on a few occasions recently. I guess there’s also a part of me that thinks it’s better to get it out there when I’m doing okay, so at least if these people are around me when things take a bad turn (hopefully not too bad a turn) it’s not totally out of the blue, leaving them with no idea how to respond. Is this selfish? Is it all about me? I hope not, it’s certainly not why I talk about my depression.

 This gets me onto my next reason – even now, where it’s already way better than it was when I was diagnosed – we as a society are not open enough about mental health. Some people still see a stigma attached to it, and in this country we’re a lot better than some other places. If we’re not open about mental health issues, how can we expect others to recognise when they’re affected? If it was something that had been spoken about more openly when I was younger, I may have had an idea about what I was going through earlier and sought help earlier. I’m not complaining about where my life is now – I’m incredibly happy. I have a wonderful partner in H, amazing friends, and a job I enjoy most of the time. I don’t want to change any of that, but I do wish I’d known enough to seek help earlier, because although my experiences have made me who I am today, I wouldn’t wish my lowest points on anyone.

 The other things I’ve found from speaking out about things is – I’m not alone. Now I’ve always known this intellectually – I used to provide Health Information for NHS Direct when it still existed, and have seen the stats and figures. But the difference between knowing that ‘1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year’ (figures from Mind.org.uk) and having people react to what I’ve said or written with things like – I get that too’ or ‘it’s like you’re in my mind’ is totally different. I’ve had those responses or similar to a lot of my blogs or recent posts on Facebook, and that sudden feeling of not being alone, that real people I actually know and interact with, online or in person, have some of the same symptoms is amazing. It makes me feel more normal, and that helps me so much. I’ve often been an outsider, I was bullied at school and became very withdrawn. The fact that we aren’t encouraged to talk about mental health   publically really reinforced this feeling for a long time. Knowing that friends are going through some of the same things just helps me feel like I belong.

 And I hope that other people reading what I’ve got to say feel the same. If it helps me, hopefully it helps others. It may just be that feeling of not being the only person going through it, or it may be that someone recognises symptoms in themselves or friends and maybe starts a conversation about what’s happening. As I’ve said in previous blogs, seeking help was one of the best things I did, and if my writing these blogs encourages someone else to do the same thing that’s great.

 Again that’s not why I write these, I’m doing these blogs because I’m genuinely enjoying writing them, I’m enjoying the creativity that’s going into them, and yes I’m enjoying the positive feedback they get as well – It’d be odd if I didn’t. I’m hoping that this might help spark my creativity in other areas as well, those which I’ve been doing less in recently – but we’ll see.

So the actions from friends I mentioned earlier? Since my original post asking for gaming memories to help me remember good things whilst on a post convention downer, one group of friends have each sent me a postcard with some of those memories on them. Totally unexpected, totally unasked for, but massively appreciated and they’ve brought a smile to my face and happy memories each time. Thanks folks, you’re amazing (the photo on this post is the frontside of the four postcards).

As ever thanks for reading and stay safe all.

Depression and clumsiness

More about my depression and some of the effects it can have on me. 
First up is clumsiness, I’m normally a pretty coordinated person. I have good reflexes – I’ve been known to catch a falling glass or scooping it up with my foot if I miss it with my hand. I can get through a busy room without knocking anyone and I tend to be very aware of my surroundings. I’m used to having good reflexes and normally am quietly proud of them. Some of the computer gaming I do is tied into these reflexes – particularly when gaming against others online, and I like to think it’s a skill I have improved and continue to improve.
However when I’m on a down swing it all goes out of the window (I feel like I’ve used that phrase with my depression before). I get clumsy, very clumsy. I can walk down the stairs of the house we’ve been in for nearly four years and smack my hip on the hand rail at the top, I’ll then misjudge the bottom step and slip on it. In fact it feels like I’m unable to walk through a door without scraping some part of my body on the edge or handle.
It’ll be the same at work, I’ll crack my knee on the desk multiple times a day. I’ll stumble getting out of my chair, and just about any desk I walk past seems to grow enough for me to knock it with my hip.
Things also break around me, or rather I break things with my clumsiness. Any number of favoured mugs and glasses have fallen victim to this. I’ll drop them when taking them to wash up, I’ll catch them with an elbow and knock them off the table. And any attempt to catch them just bounces them around a little until they fall and break – it’s very frustrating.
Finally I seem to lose the edges of my fine motor control. I’ve in the past slipped whilst slicing cheese and cut open my finger – quite badly. I’ve broken a bottle then cut open my hand trying to tidy it away and so on.
What’s particularly annoying about these incidents is my depression makes it very hard to treat them like the minor things that they are. So I broke a mug, we have plenty, it’s not the end of the world, but in my head it seems like maybe it is. I get an emotional reaction and feelings of sadness, unworthiness, stupidly and irritation towards myself way beyond what’s needed for the situation. But that’s part of what my depression does to me, it unlocks all the natural controls on negative feelings, and wipes out my sense of proportion.
Thanks for reading all, stay safe.

The games I like to play, and why

More about games today. I describe myself as a gamer and I do play different types of game – as in I play Board games, computer/console games, Table top Role Playing Games (RPGs) and Live Action Role Playing Games (LARPs). There’s also different things I get from the different types of game – or even from different games within the same type. 

So board games – for me this is all about socialising. I do have a few games that can be played solo, but that’s not the point for me. It’s all about sitting round with friends, catching up, chatting whilst playing a game. I personally find it more of a social activity than watching a film or TV show together (nothing wrong with those mind), as a game can be paused for conversation and continued much easier than a film. You don’t need to constantly rewind because one of you missed something. As to the type of game I like to play – I’ll give most things ago. Good mechanics and a good theme count for a lot for me, but I’ll happily play co-operative games or more traditional ‘versus’ games. 

 A few of my current favourites at the moment are: Star Wars: Rebellion – playing out the war between the Empire and Rebellion in the Star Wars universe, it’s asymmetric warfare, with different win conditions for each side. Star Wars: Armada (yes I’m a Star Wars fan, what of it?). This is fleet combat in the Star Wars universe, I like the way bigger ships are slower to react, and how it all fits together.

 Pandemic is an old favourite – a co-operative game for 2-4 players, where there are 4 deadly diseases out in the world and you’re trying to control them/cure them. We’ve just started to play Pandemic Legacy – which is similar to Pandemic, but you play through a year once, and the game changes as you progress, details get added, things get tougher (and sometimes you destroy game components – which goes against every grain in my gamer body) – or easier if you’re doing badly.

 This is just a few, there are many more, but regardless of the type of game, as I mention above it’s all about the socialising, spending time with like-minded people, and doing something constructive with that time. I will say from a depressive’s point of view board games really help as they keep my mind active. They also keep my mind active in different ways than playing music or reading a book. One of my problems when my mood is on a downswing is that the same task or pastime can become boring very quickly (even if normally this wouldn’t be the case) – so having access to activities that exercise my mind in different ways is very beneficial to my mental health.

 

And so on to computer games. For me computer games have always sat in the middle for why I play them. Sometimes it’s just as a stress reliever, logging on and playing a First Person Shooter (FPS) like Halo and Call of Duty is just mindless fun. I’m pushing my reaction times, and thinking about the best approaches to levels, but not really engaging a lot of my brain – that’s not the point. Then there’s computer RPG’s like the Mass Effect series, I love these games, and can and have spent hours on them. They’re an attempt to get some of the RPG enjoyment when I can’t get a game (which is a lot of the time), but they do fall short – all of the responses are scripted, so although you may get caught by surprise, there’s never that same interaction you get with other players in an RPG. My personal favourites though tend to be strategy games – particularly X-Com and currently X-Com 2. These kind of build in 2 of the things I’m looking for. The strategy aspect of the game exercises a part of my mind that work really doesn’t at the moment. And the fact that you have named troops (who you can customise and name) also gives it a bit of a role play feel as well – although again without the interaction with real people.

 Actually X-Com 2 has just taken on a new twist for me in the last week or so. I decided to go back to it after a break, and having seen a friend do the same I asked on Facebook if any of my friends wanted soldiers named after them. Lots did, and I did a couple of after mission reports which also seemed to go down well, so I continued doing the reports. Getting comments from friends on what was happening to ‘them’ in the game. Next someone asked me about streaming and now I am. So my game of X-Com has directly involved friends some of whom watch me playing it, or watch the recordings later. It’s put it in a whole different place for me – more like some kind of living computer game rather than anything else. However it’s got me much more involved with the game than ever before, and actually does have interaction with other people – albeit not first-hand.

 

LARPs – these are fairly new for me. H and I did our first two LARPS at a Convention a few years back, since then we’ve both done 1 whole day LARP, a whole LARP convention and one or two more at other conventions. I’m surprised it took me so long to get into LARPs really – it ticks a lot of my interests and I used to do amateur dramatics including a lot of improvisation, which is basically what a LARP is. There are different types of LARP – some involve foam weapons, or laser weapons and running around outdoors – sounds like it could be fun but I’m not there yet. The ones I prefer are often called ‘Theatre Style’ LARPs, and concentrate on character interaction, rather than physical altercations, and can explore many weird and wonderful things. As I said they’re a lot like improv drama, and you generally have goals for your own character, which may be helped or hindered by the other players depending on their goals. I get a lot out of these games – I get to be someone else for a while, which is always great. Lots of interaction with other people, without danger of putting myself out there personally (which I still find incredibly difficult at times). Of course sometimes the themes will be triggers for me and my depression – but it doesn’t seem to matter, maybe because I’m not being me. And in the aftermath I can look at those triggers and maybe it gives me a handle on them for my actual life. The funny thing about this is that I am actually putting myself out there – not as the character but by being there and in the socials before and after games – but that illusion of it not being me makes it a lot easier so that’s all to the good.
Last, but not least, Role Playing Games. Over the years I’ve played many different games, from many different genres, with many different approaches to rules. I’ve enjoyed, if not every game I’ve played, at least most system types. However in more recent years I’ve found myself drifting away from the more dice heavy, traditional style games, towards what’s often called the ‘Indie’ end of the market. ‘Indie’ is actually something of a misnomer, as technically it means independently published, and therefore can include quite dice/system heavy games. The games I prefer these days are fairly or completely dice light (on the whole). They tend more towards the drama of a situation and collaborative story, rather than the more traditional Games Master describing the world/telling the story and the players reacting. In many way these games are more like LARPs – we just tend to stay sitting down.

 So given that, what games do I like? The answer is quite a few, but I’ll pick some of my current favourites out – this changes all the time.

 Ribbon Drive – this is a game about exploring relationships during a road trip. It’s powered by music, and that’s almost all the rules there are (at least the way we play it). It’s about using a road trip, and the conversations you have to decide your future. Absolutely superb game that I’m always creating new playlists for. Just can’t see myself getting bored by this game.

 Grey Ranks – not a game to play often due to content. It’s about Child Soldiers in the Warsaw uprising of WW2. It will not end well, the game is set up so it won’t end well. This can be a heavy game, but deeply moving and satisfying. It’s not unusual to get tears during a game of this, and I fully appreciate it’s not for everyone. I personally get a lot out of it.

 Sanctuary – a game written by a friend, exploring relationships between a group of people who survived an apocalypse (you determine what in play) and trying to reach the titular Sanctuary. Along the way you will build friendships, betray your group, and all bar one of you will never find Sanctuary. I still get a lot out of this game, even though I’ve had characters follow some quite mentally challenging paths (depression and suicide in one case).

 There’s more, there’s lots more, but those three are currently my favourites (I think). 

 Now you may think – some of those themes and ways of playing could be quite triggering, and you’re right. They can be. You can be playing a Ribbon Drive game and have a song come up that harks back to the darkest of times. Depression, suicide and the like are not unlikely to come up in those types of games as well. However it is a game not real life, and for me that’s one distinction. The other is that I’m now in such a place mentally, that I can hit one of these triggers – hear that song from the darkest of times, and say to myself. 

 ‘Yes you hit that point. Yes that was a bad time, one you don’t want to go back to. But, and this is the important part, – I’m still here. I got through these things and am in a better place than I ever thought possible back then. And things can continue to get better.’

 That’s one hell of a powerful message to be able to give myself – and although I play these sort of games because I enjoy them I really don’t mind getting that out of them as well.

 So that’s some of the games I play and why I play them, thanks for reading all.

 Stay safe.

Activity and inactivity

My mood when depressed is strange. 

I’ve been living with depression for over 12 years now, and recently very successfully. However at times when it’s worse it’s not always a constant feeling of being down.

It seems to come down to activity and inactivity.

If I’m busy, if I’ve got something to do – I feel ok. And it really doesn’t matter what the activity is – even things that I’d normally see as a chore, and something to put off are mentally better for me than having nothing to do. This is something I didn’t used to recognise, and when I don’t it can become a dangerous cycle for me, pulling me further into the depths of my depression. Nowadays if I spot what’s happening soon enough I can take steps to stop the cycle early.

So, the downward cycle. Basically I lose motivation, and I mean for everything. I don’t feel like picking up a book and reading – yet normally I love reading. I can’t be bothered with any of my console/computer games. I can’t be bothered to watch TV, and any of the things I have to do around the house are right out. So I sit there, feeling unmotivated. Nothing gets done – and I get more down because I’m wasting time and not achieving anything. Predictably this is the cyclic part, I do nothing, I feel more down, I’m less motivated, less gets done and so on.

 At its worst this is incredibly debilitating. At one point I drove H to work, got home, sat down for 5 minutes, and suddenly H was phoning me because they were on their lunch – four and a half hours of my day gone and I hadn’t even noticed. I recalled nothing of the time, no thoughts, no dreams (I don’t believe I was actually asleep), I just zoned out totally and lost track of everything. When I did come to, I then felt awful, I’d wasted most of the day, I’d achieved nothing. Guess what – this didn’t help my afternoon.

So inactivity – bad for my depression. Very bad in fact. Yet it’s often caused by my depression. Whole lotta Catch 22 going on there.

The flipside of that is activity is very good for my mental health – any activity. Those same little chores I hate to do and struggle to get motivated for, can turn my day around – and I know this. This means when I’ve got a handle on what’s happening, when I (or often Helen) spot the symptoms of me hitting a downward swing, I can make sure I get things done before I fall into the trap above.

So I’ll get up and immediately empty the dishwasher. That’s a job done, a silly, easy, but necessary job done. I can then look around the kitchen and think – some of this needs to go in the dishwasher – let’s load it up. So I do. That’s something else achieved, and the kitchen looks better too. I can then say to myself – well if you wash up those few bits that can’t go in the dishwasher, that surface will be clear, and so on. Just by getting up and making myself do that first task before the lethargy kicks in, I can keep going. But I do need to keep going – not necessarily tasks, but something constructive/creative. It might be practise a song on the guitar, watch an episode of one of my shows, prepare dinner – anything. Once I’ve got started I find it easier to keep going, and everything I achieve is a way of saying – look I’m doing some good here, I am achieving – I am worthy.

And that ‘I am worthy’ is the important part for me – because the opposite end of that becomes, ‘I have no worth. What’s the point’ which can then all too easily become – ‘Why bother trying’, and once I hit that point, things all get a lot darker for me, and I’ve on (thankfully rare) occasions reached the point of – ‘why keep going?’ Now that was many years ago (pre-Helen in fact), I have a better handle on things – but it’s still a shadow in my mind, I know I got there once or twice (I never got further than the thought), and the thought of being there again terrifies me.

So I keep myself busy, I aim for activity over inactivity. I set myself small achievable goals, and make them happen (as best I can). Yet I have to be careful, because if I fail those goals, the downward swing can kick in very quickly. Hell, I have to make sure I move from one thing to the next quite quickly. Even today, with a handle on things, I can sit down after a task, and suddenly feel my mood dip. Sometimes I can feel the animation drain from my face. And if I don’t get up and do something else quickly, it’ll be 30 minutes or more later and I’m still in exactly the same place.

I have to say though, that gaming is still a big part of my self-care. Housework is boring, it needs doing, but it’s boring. However we have friends coming over at the end of March to game, and ever since we were flooded 15 months ago one of the bedrooms and a lot of other space has been unavailable, and we’ll need that space in March. Tying those chores into something that will lead to more gaming, makes me want to do them more than if they were just needing doing, and that helps. I’ve also started getting a lot of enjoyment from one of my console games (possibly more on that another time), so knowing I’ve got that to look forward to after other tasks are finished helps me get and maintain motivation.

 So for me, being able to recognise my symptoms is a great help, but doesn’t end there, I need to take actions to deal with what’s happening to me. The reason I can do this – I finally sought help, I saw my GP, I eventually (after a lot of pushing) got CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) which worked wonders for me. So again, if you’re suffering please try to ask for help somewhere – it’s a difficult step to take, but it can make all the difference.

 Oh and if you’re ever around me and you see me suddenly go still, see the animation drop from my face (unless its obvious characterisation in a game) please feel free to give me a metaphorical kick. Engage me in conversation, anything – it shouldn’t take much to get me going again, and even if I’m a bit ‘meh’, it’s better than the alternative.

 Thanks for reading and stay safe all.

 Ben

Things my brain says, and how gaming can help

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.