It goes without saying, this post is going to talk a fair bit about depression, anxiety and related issues. This takes up a good part of the first couple of sections of this post, but if you want to avoid the nitty gritty bits of discussing depression and get to the “This is how my roleplaying hobby helped” part, just search for “How I Discovered Roleplaying” and continue reading from there. I give an introduction to how I became interested in roleplaying games, how I started DMing and then how roleplaying ultimately gave back to me by helping me through difficult times.
The Long Battle
Even after almost two decades of an incredibly long and still ongoing battle with depression, I still couldn’t honestly tell you when it precisely “started”. One day the world just got darker, lonelier and harder to understand without any real realization on my part that anything was truly untoward. My behavior became more erratic, my emotions – what emotions I had left – more extreme and I felt an overwhelming sense of emptiness nearly every single day. That emptiness in particular became all consuming and eventually, it became so overwhelming that I slipped towards increasingly scarier places. These places my mind would slip towards were hugely isolating and eventually became extremely bad, which meant that regular thoughts of taking my own life were not uncommon.
This persistent feeling of sadness, worthlessness, anxiety and worse pain were not simply a teenage “Phase”. My depression certainly could ebb and flow a bit, with periods where it was not as severe as other times – but it was always there. Whenever I have thought that it was entirely gone and I would be “free”, it has often come back from even the smallest of openings. To compound on these problems was the fear I had about talking about how I truly felt. Other than a handful of people, I did not speak about how depressed I was and neither did I seek much help. After all, to have emotions like this – as a man in particular – was “weak” and besides, according to the terrible thoughts in my own head nobody cared or wanted to listen anyway. It was a simply self-evident fact that depression and mental illness was a sign of weakness, which you kept buried in the dark or otherwise nobody would respect you.
A refusal to engage with others about how I felt, was ultimately why the worst of my depression was able to continue affecting me and persistently threaten to consume my life entirely. Especially in the times when things became most difficult, where help was needed most and yet it was then that I began to isolate myself the most. Even many years on from this point, with a wonderful wife, a greater awareness of my own condition and a much improved ability to access support networks, my depression is still there. It is not something that can simply be defeated once and for all, but instead it has to be watched, managed and engaged with – not ignored. In saying this, even with what I know about depression and how to manage it, even writing a post like this proves to be incredibly difficult because the old stigma of “depression means you are weak” is still pervasive.
In many ways that is simply because depression is poorly understood, misconstrued and stigmatized in the media, video games and “real life”. It’s also not just a misconception of those who who don’t suffer it, as there are many who suffer from depression who have some of the worst fears or attitudes towards their own health – or even how others experience it.