A Therapeutic Escape

A Therapeutic Escape

I like to think of myself as a fairly stable guy emotionally. Sure I have had ups and downs like everyone else but I have always been able to get through the other side of these periods with very little mental scarring. I have been blessed in that I haven’t suffered any mental disorders like Anxiety or Depression like so many others have, in fact I have often been able to use my stability to help those people that I care about suffering from these problems. Recently however that stability was fractured. One day, just going about my business I found a lump where there shouldn’t be one ( I will leave it to your imagination as to where that lump was). As I am sure you can imagine this rocked my foundations more than a little and my mind was immediately imagining all the worst case scenarios. Now when something like this happens it isn’t a simple matter of heading to your GP and finding out if you have cancer. Nope there are tests and test results take time to come through, then there are weekends which hold up test results even longer. So in all from the time I found the lump until I found out it wasn’t cancerous I had a 6 day period for my mind to play nasty tricks on me. So I turned to the one thing I knew that could take my overworking brain off the idea of cancer and that was video games.

A Therapeutic Escape
My current mental escape is Xcom 2

Grabbing a game and immersing myself in it was about the only way I could escape the torment my emotions were putting me through. For the first time in my life I felt truly fragile, like I could break at any moment so I needed something to divert my attention. Travelling to a distant world where the universe’s fate was in my hands was my way of coping with a much more real situation in my everyday life. I could pour all of my attention into shooting zombies and ignore the maddening delays in getting my test results. It was my therapy when perhaps for the first time in my life I legitimately needed some. I am not a psychiatrist and I have no idea if it was a healthy form of assistance but it worked and frankly that was all I cared about at the time.

Once I received the all clear result I started to think about other stressful times in my life and I realised that video games have always been my particular way of coping. During my teen angst years I would escape to a game of Doom or Dark Forces after an argument with my parents. When I was an exchange student living in Chile I played games to give myself a break from the difficulty of learning a new language and culture. After my Nan passed away I booted up Mass Effect and used it to simply forget, for just a moment, that she was gone. The list of examples in my life is almost endless and it is only just now that I have realised how much I have come to rely on gaming to get me through the harsher realities of life.

A Therapeutic Escape
Mass Effect 2 helped me through the loss of my Nan.

I am sure my non-gaming friends and family will struggle to understand this. I mean after all games are just for fun aren’t they, a harmless way to spend some free time? That makes it hard to explain why gaming means so much to me. It is simply more than some light entertainment. It is a hobby, a passion and a coping mechanism all in one. It helps me to cope with life’s ups and downs in a way that is not self-destructive and surely that is a good thing.

The other major gift to my sanity that gaming has brought me is the people. Some of the people I have met through gaming have gone on to become my best friends. I am certainly closer to many of them then folks I originally met in real life. These gaming friends of mine are always willing to lend an ear, hand or whatever body part I may need to help me (or others) through a tough spot. The amount of genuinely good, kind and caring folk I have met through gaming is amazing and it warms my heart just to think that these people exist and are happy to help me if I need them.

A Therapeutic Escape
Shooting imps guided me through many teen bouts of anger.

So in the end I have to come to the conclusion that, in part at least, the reason I have been blessed with such a stable level of mental health is Video games. Of course this probably isn’t going to be true for anyone else, this is after all just my personal tale, and I cannot deny that having an amazing family and group of friends has a major influence. However I think it does highlight that having a passion for a hobby can be a very important piece of the Mental Health puzzle. It can provide an escape, a respite and even a moment of joy during the toughest times in life, times that we all face in one way or another. As for my mysterious lump, it still looks like may still need surgery which is something I am not particularly keen on. Luckily I have some new games to get me through.

Matt Hewson

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