An unfortunate part of roleplaying games is that they’re inherently reliant upon a single person for them to work: The DM/GM/Keeper/Storyteller (etc). I say this is unfortunate, because while the reactivity and ability to think on the fly of a human GM is their best part, it’s something that can lead to the game falling apart. Most frequently there are multiple reasons for this, with the most common by far being the GM simply burns out and can’t get the motivation to run anymore. Another common reason is the dreaded “Real-Life”, which sometimes rears its ugly head to derail the GM and their plans.
Recently this happened to me. This is the major reason why I haven’t updated the guild with my usual stories of player based shenanigans. When I finally did cull my games for the moment, until I was in a better place and more capable of running them I felt pretty bad. I’ve played with a lot of these people for a long time and it very much felt like letting everyone down. On the other hand, I have had a lot of disruption and changes in life recently, including moving an entire city so change was difficult to adjust to. In the end, I had to make a decision about what to do for myself and my players.
If you haven’t already heard, today is “R U OK?” day here in Australia. “R U OK?” is a simple initiative, which asks people to consider if those around them may be struggling with their mental health. It’s actually a very simple question to ask someone else “Are you okay?”, but often the answers can be very complicated and even frightening. Usually it’s a surprise to many how often it turns out their friends, loved ones and colleagues are in fact dealing with some kind of mental illness, significant stress or other complication. Very often the best way to deal with these issues is to start talking about them, or at the very least let others know that you are there should they need to do so. In the most serious cases however, where someone sounds very imminently down and may be in real trouble, you should be prepared to recommend professionals or seek further advice yourself.
For a long time I have dealt with depression and found methods of coping, as I wrote about on the guild before. I am eternally thankfully for people in my life, who have helped to keep me here and assist in making the pain I go through every day bearable. Unfortunately, I also have known a great many people who have been so badly affected and never truly reached out to others. In some cases, they are no longer here anymore and it is always those who are left behind who are left to figure out the “why” of things. That “Why” encapsulates an extremely painful set of questions and issues, which frequently become all anyone has to remember them by. Worst of all is the lingering question of “If someone who had been capable of helping had started a suitable conversation with them, before it got too late, would they still be here right now?” Sadly, I don’t have such answers and there is no simple “This always works!” method to dealing with this.
What I can tell you is that patience and a willingness to listen matter in these cases. Being able to handle everything that someone who is suffering mentally may be going through is not easy, it’s frequently unpleasant and it’s even more frustrating on top of that, but it can do the world of good. Remember that if you aren’t sure, able or willing to help, that doesn’t make you a bad person! It simply means that you need to find someone else who can help, then ensure that they can reach the person who is suffering so they can begin working on a solution. So consider today to ask people you know, even if they aren’t showing outward signs of any pain, “Are you okay?”. The only way to find a suitable path to recovery, is to first start a conversation about where to begin looking for it.
So, are you okay? And if you’re not, then do you need help? Remember that alone there can seem to be no way out, but with another helping hand to pull you up, there is often a solution.
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.