Hopefully you read my first post about game addiction and read and watched the things linked to within. Today, I’m going to tell you my story. This is actually a little hard for me because I’ve never really looked at it before and I always have a worry in the back of my mind that these sorts of posts will be the first future employers find when they Google you to make sure you’re sound, but the fact is that I have struggled with mental health issues for years and I now have them at a controllable level and I am not ashamed. These events have shaped me as a person, and while I wish things could have been different, they weren’t.
Before World of Warcraft, I only played very basic games. I liked The Sims, and tie-in games for things I liked such as Sabrina and Harry Potter, but I hadn’t really sat down to play what some gamers might call “a proper game”. So when my now ex-boyfriend introduced me to World of Warcraft during my A levels, I took to it a duck to water. Here was a game in which I could create my own character and play as them as I progressed through levels and gained gear rewards for doing so. I was hooked. I would get home, do my homework, maybe watch a little TV and then play for a couple of hours. I eventually got to level 70 and started raiding, but thankfully I got through my A levels unscathed. It wasn’t gaming that held me back from reaching my full potential through actually revising and going to university, it was my mental health.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the origins of my depression and anxiety recently and I came to the conclusion that it must have been related to the night 7 year old me and my dad walked in on my mum kissing another man. That was pretty traumatic at the time and I became shy.. I had previously been a bubbly, confident child, but not any more. I let my friends walk over me and belittle me. And I believed them. I was fat, I dressed wrong, I was sad (sad meaning pathetic), maybe even a little boring. When I made it to my teens, I constantly worried about friends excluding me and secretly hating my presence, and it didn’t help that my mum stopped calling me so much once she had a new child, who she loved telling me all about and how I was just like them at that age. Around the age of 14, I had to call her on my own birthday. She stopped sending gifts or even cards. She just didn’t seem to care any more, and that only got worse with age. That’s gotta do something to a person’s mind. I know this seems a little offtrack but I’m getting to the point, I promise.
My dad has always been my safety net, and he supported my decision not to go to university. I was enrolled at Bath Spa in an English Literature course, but after the troubles I’d had with mental illness during my A levels, I was terrified. Surely if I struggled that much with A levels, I’d crash and burn with the work at university and being that far away from home and my at-the-time boyfriend would only make things so much worse. So I didn’t go, I would get a job in admin. I could do admin, I thought. And then my depression became worse. I started a new character and playing the shit out of this character meant that I didn’t have to think about how I felt (or perhaps didn’t). This character was Seithir, my Priest in World of Warcraft.
I was going to be a healer because they’re useful and everybody always struggled to find healers and I had my own guild which I was building with people I became friendly with during questing, general chat, and dungeon groups, which were formed through chat channels on our own servers at this time. So I was useful to groups, I wasn’t doing too badly as people weren’t dying, and I’d formed a small group of friendly people to chat to while I levelled. I was well and truly filling that void and my poor dad who has never encountered proper mental illness in his life had no idea how to handle it. He didn’t know about depression, so he’d get angry and tell me I should get out and about more, go for walks, or perhaps on his days off he’d take me to Warwick Castle or Coombe Abbey, but I wasn’t interested. I just wanted to pretend for a while that everything was okay and simultaneously I would search for jobs and deal with rejections and in many cases, non-responses, which made me revert more. My dad has since told me that sometimes back then, he’d be relieved to hear me laugh or move about to go to the toilet because it meant I was still alive. My Priest gained in levels fast and one of these friends I had made while dungeoning told me about a raiding guild he had joined and that they needed a Shadow Priest. I was still just level 67 at the time but I applied and they put the pressure on me to level and gear faster because they wanted their mana battery. I complied.
And then I started staying up even later each night, as they did also. I was already accustomed to 1-2am bedtimes. It didn’t matter, I had no reason to get up early the next day. So I joined many of my new guildies in staying up until 3-4am.. chatting and trying to 5 man Molten Core (not so easy at 70 with 5 man and Karazhan gear). And when I wasn’t playing World of Warcraft, I was crying over missing my boyfriend who had gone away to university and was drinking and making new friends. In fact, between the time he left and the time I first went to visit him, I found I had fallen out of love with him. I told him this. We spent a weekend together. And then I felt a little better. But it can’t have been more than 2 weeks later that he called me up and broke up with me and it was my dad and my friends in WoW that got me through that particularly hard week. This is also the week I really started talking to this one guy in the guild who was always pretty helpful, Ryyu. You may know him. We chatted a lot, bonded over how terrible clichés are, went onto vent with another girl in the guild, Kait. You may know her too. We got there.
Fast-forward maybe a year or two and Ryyu had moved in with me. In his way, he started doing everything for me, so I never needed to go out, or cook, I could just wake up late, turn on the computer, and play all day, not thinking about anything. I was a nightmare. I would yell at him for raiding when I was having a particularly bad night, after telling him I didn’t mind him raiding. I almost never left the house, when I did it was usually because my dad forced us out for a carvery, and I lost friends. Really good friends. Because I couldn’t deal with social interaction and I didn’t make it clear enough why I was being so distant all of the time. It wasn’t gaming that caused all of these problems, it was my mental health, but gaming became not my crutch but my zimmerframe and I gained so much weight that I’m still struggling to get it off now. This was the worst time. For two or three years, I didn’t let myself experience life.
Moving away from home and having a lot more personal space has definitely helped me with my reclusiveness and the way I take my moods out on people. I rediscovered reading a couple of years ago, which had moreorless stopped during the first three years of Warcraft play. And I have become much better at cutting hurtful things out of my destress time. But even now I use gaming to escape my mental health. I’m not sure if I will ever stop using gaming in this way because it is the perfect way to relax and feel like something you do matters. However, I no longer choose gaming over a day out, and I can happily turn it off to do something else. It’s okay to use gaming as an escape, so long as you understand that that is all it is and it should not take over the rest of your life. I still greatly struggle with my mental health but I try to deal with it in healthier ways, such as Doctor’s appointments and having a TV night with my other half. Time is precious. It is important to live while we can, even if we think we can’t.
An aside: This post was both difficult to write and took me a couple of hours to build up the courage to post. I hope it flows well because I wasn’t able to go back and rewrite anything because it’s such a difficult subject matter. If you have similar stories, know that you shouldn’t be ashamed. These things happen and the community is there for you. hugs from me to you