Been struggling with a bout of depression lately, and long story short, it’s miserable.
Last night I had a few close girlfriends over to keep me company, and rather than talk endlessly about myself and how I feel, or sit there incapable of holding a conversation with them about the things on *their* minds, I suggested we play a game of Phase 10. Usually not my top pick for a game, but it was well-suited to the moment for a number of reasons. They’re not gamers, so I needed something they could pick up easily (and even then it took them a few phases to really understand what was going on – probably in part due to my rusty skills in explaining games to non-gamers). Also it’s one of my family games, so it’s familiar and comfortable, which was exactly what I needed at the time.
I realized partway through the game last night, and then reflecting on it this morning, that games will probably be a big part of my recovery. I didn’t have the ability to put together a coherent conversation last night, until we started playing. Then I was still sluggish, but my mind felt clearer. Having something to focus on that was strategic, and wasn’t my problems or my feelings or my fatigued body, helped me feel more like myself. And it was great.
A week and a half ago I wasn’t in that place – I skipped my usual Weds games night in favor of Netflix on the couch. But now the medication has had a small amount of time to clear some of the fog away. I’m still withdrawn from much of my life, avoiding most of the stressful things except for the ones I absolutely have to deal with (like going to work). Every day I’m feeling slightly more like myself, but it’s still a struggle. I feel like I’m rebuilding the structure of my life one stone at a time, and sometimes I need to take stones away when I realize that the supports underneath them aren’t quite stable enough yet. And games help with that – they provide a framework when the structure of my day-to-day life activities feels too overwhelming. And the social aspect is key – the framework is one that my friends are building with me, by following the rules and strategies of the game. So without even realizing that they’re doing it, the people I care about are helping restore me to health, even if they’re bad at listening or empathizing or knowing what to say.
I’m going to attempt to actually keep up with this blog again. It seems that interacting with tabletop gamers is good for my mental health (and doing it away from the information overload of Facebook is even better).
This article from Ars Technica is a great personal narrative about one man’s struggle with deep depression and how the board gaming hobby has helped bring him out of the darkness.
I have suicidal depression—and board games saved my life
This is the part I found the most fascinating:
“Board games give me something that little else does. They give freedom within a constructed framework; players are given the social space to bounce off each other like carnival bumper cars, while remaining safe and bounded. Everyone jockeys to achieve something—whether to become king, to solve the puzzle, or to save the world. The objectives and rules form a kind of joyous arena in a 1990’s-style Gladiator gameshow where the players and walls are covered in brightly colored padding. In your game you might be trying to brutally murder another player’s character, but the game will always make sure that everyone is having fun, that everyone is safe. Every rule is a safety net, letting you walk the tightrope without fear. To someone terrified and unable to deal with social situations, this web of gameplay and rules can be an unbelievable gift.”
This resonated with me – one of the things I appreciate most about the board gaming Meetup group I’m part of is how our events are welcoming to newcomers. All of us are socially awkward weirdos of one shade or another, but once we get over the initial hurdle of welcoming a new person into our midst, and they get over the hurdle of taking that first step to show up to a new place as a stranger, it’s easy to involve them in a game and bring them into the fold. The rules and boundaries of board games make for a safe and structured social encounter. No small talk needed beyond “Hello” and “What kind of games do you like?”.
When I’m having a bad day, sometimes it’s a relief to know that no one will expect me to talk about my bad mood, my worries, or my stresses. Around the game table, none of that matters. My friends will accept me exactly where I’m at and then we’ll put aside everything to immerse ourselves in a game or two for a few hours.
On the other hand, though, sometimes I do want to talk about what’s going on, and that’s where I struggle. Game night can be so focused on the games that there’s not much room for depth of relationship. It’s almost a taboo to start conversations that take away from the game playing. Anything more than light banter is a distraction from the real reason we’re there, and I find myself longing for deeper connection with these people I spend up to 13 hours of each week with.
I’d love to hear from other people about their experiences with depression and board games, or depth of relationship in gaming groups/game nights.