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.

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Me as a gamer

Although this is my 2nd post in as many days I won’t keep posting that often. My aim will be   a minimum of twice a week.

My last post was a bit of background about me, what made me start posting and I guess highlighted how awesome my friends are. So today I thought I’d talk about me as a gamer.

I was thinking back through my memory trying to pin down when I first became a gamer – and I couldn’t. Like most kids (I think) I used to play make believe with my toys, I made up stories. I enjoyed board games – you know things like Snakes and Ladders, simple roll and move games.

As I got older I started to buy and build (and attempt to paint) Airfix models and figures. Soon I was making up rules for games with them, simple rules to be sure, but rules nonetheless. The only one I still remember was using drawing pins almost as dice. You ‘rolled’ a number of drawing pins, and removed figures equal to the number of points up. Simple, random but it worked.

As I grew up my love of games grew with me. Where peers were getting into music, Smash Hits magazine (damn I’m old) and I don’t know what else, I was into games and gaming. (And Star Wars, but who wasn’t?)

I remember spending what seems like hours playing Chuckie Egg on our first computer – an Acorn Electron. I was fascinated by the lead miniatures in the local toy shop. I also used to stare longingly at board games such as Axis and Allies. Eventually I bought my first Citadel  Miniatures – a beastman and the White Dwarf boxset, which included the eponymous White Dwarf, Thud the Barbarian, Gobbledegook and a figure called Livingstone the Editor (it was years later I realised this was a figure of Ian Livingstone).

Years passed and my love of gaming continued. Games Workshop was a massive part of that. I bought my first issue of White Dwarf magazine in April 1988 (it was issue 100), and continued purchasing it long after I’d stopped playing the games. I made new friends into the same stuff, and eventually we started trying RPG’s (Role Playing Games).

From memory my first RPG was Games Workshop’s Judge Dredd. If my recall is correct I managed that rare feat of rolling a Psi-Judge, although that might be my mind playing tricks on me. From there the five (I think) of us played a variety of games. DnD (Dungeons and Dragons), 2nd Edition, The TSR spy game whose name escapes me and the one I mainly ran, Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, are amongst those – oh and of course Cyberpunk 2020, which now seems very odd as that’s only 3 years away.

Alongside this we continued playing WarHammer40k and Fantasy Battles, along with most of Games Workshop’s other releases. And of course Computer/Video games. I particularly enjoyed (and still do) RPG style games with character development and story as central to the game.

And I still game – not tabletop miniature games really any more (well not much) but board games, computer/video games, RPG’s and more recently Theatre Style LARPS (Live Action Role Plays).

So when did I become a gamer? I didn’t, I don’t think I ever actually became a gamer. I think I’ve always been a gamer, and probably always will be.

Which gives me a thought – do we all start out as gamers but drift away as we age? Stop playing because peer pressure says it’s not ‘cool’ (I was never one of the cool kids)? Move away because, historically at least, society can paint playing games and make believe (outside of mainstream theatre/TV//cinema) as childish?

I don’t know, but I do know that most ‘non-gamers’ who play a board game with us really enjoy it, ask to play more and often start their own small collection of games (and I don’t mean Trivial Pursuits, Monopoly or Cluedo here). Perhaps there are no non-gamers, just lapsed gamers.

Anyway thanks for reading, ever want a game just ask, and stay safe all.

Ramblings of a depressed gamer

The start of my blog about living with a depression, from the head of an out and out gamer.

So following a few posts on Facebook H suggested I turn them into a blog. So here I am.

I’m Ben, early 40’s and work as a Real Time Analyst in a call centre in the South West of England. In my spare time amongst other things I like to game – computer games, board games and most of all RPG’s and Theatre Style LARPS.

I also suffer from Chronic Depression. I was first diagnosed in January 2005, and since then it’s had to become part of my life. On occasion a large, controlling part, but far more often something that’s just there, I’m aware of it, have to make some allowances for it, but otherwise I live a normal live. So despite the title of this blog I’m not constantly in a state of depression, but I constantly live with depression. Of the two words above I’d classify myself as a Gamer, who happens to have depression.

The idea of this blog started after a gaming Convention last weekend – I’ve always suffered ‘con-crash’, that feeling down and missing everything, when a Con finishes. However it’s always been quite pronounced for me because it feeds into my depression, and even worse again this time as I’d been a bit rocky for a few weeks. So I decided to post about my feelings and the depression on Facebook and ask friends for some gaming memories. This way I could concentrate on the positives of the experience, rather than allowing the negative to drag me further down. The response from my friends was amazing, this led to another post the following day and then a third. It was at this point H suggested I turned it into a blog – and I thought, why not?

Below is my first Facebook post from Sunday evening and a collection of the responses – anonymised of course.

 

 

‘So I’ve just got back from Contingency- which was an awesome con by the way.

 

However as many of you know I suffer from depression. Usually well under control, although I do get ups and down. For some reason the last few weeks have been particularly tough, with more lows than highs.

 

Being at Contingency has been amazing, I’ve had a brilliant time, playing brilliant games with awesome people – and bumped into other awesome people as well.

 

But now the post con comedown is hitting me hard – harder than usual in fact and I can feel myself teetering on the edge right now – which as you can imagine is not much fun.

 

Now I know all the steps I need to take to get through this, and I’m not looking for sympathy either. What would really help is bits about games we’ve played together and bits that you remember that I was involved in that you particularly enjoyed or made you laugh, or hit you in the feels. In this state I find it harder to remember the good bits, so any help with that would be wonderful.

 

Oh and above there’s a picture of me dressed for our Regency LARP last night.

 

Stay safe folks.’
And some of the responses:
I remember during a game of Never to Die, you insisted that one of the NPCs be called Barbara, just so that you could say “We’re coming to get you, Barbara!”

Also, I recall your great triumph at the LA Mayoral elections in 1933 being somewhat undermined as the whole of California became part of Faerieland moments later.

((Hugs)). It was great to see you and thanks for the invite back to the caravan. I loved your character in the LARP – you felt so period in your mannerisms and demeanour that I stopped seeing you as Ben and you were George Windham. Plus, you are so lovely and generous with your care and time to make sure others are ok, which is a wonderful thing. And finally, as ever, when I see you at cons I’m reminded of the awesome Troll Bridge game you ran at ConTroll – you just let us run with it and embraced the zaniness 😉 Look after yourself and if I can help, just let me know x

You look awesome. Only saw you briefly, but you talking so matter of factly about mental health was great for me. I get anxiety which tends to spike at cons & that was calming for me. Take care of yourself. X

X’s Cthulhu call centre game – the first time I met you and Helen and had been (in character) hitting on her for 20 mins before she introduced us… awkward!

This was followed the following day by a post asking about how we first met, again lovely responses, some from friends I’ve known since before I started school, but I’ve picked this one out as it’s linked to one of my favourite gaming experiences:
I cannot remember what was the first game we played together. But the last one was Grey Ranks and you were playing Bear. It was all very brutal and sad but also beautiful. We had ice cream and cried a bit.
So there you have it, that’s the start of my blog. Sometimes it’ll be very depression-centric, other times not. Also one thing from my personal experience – if you think you are suffering from Depression or other mental illness, the best thing you can do (and it’s far easier for me to say than to do) is talk about it. To loved ones, friends, family and ideally get professional help. My actions above help me personally, but I’m diagnosed, have had medical and talking therapies and am using coping strategies I’ve learnt along the way.