How gaming has helped aid my mental health recovery
Whether it’s to destress at the end of a long day at work or to hang out with your friends in a mythical land, for years gaming has been an outlet for many of us. Gaming brings people from all walks of life together, it can also bring negativity into lives through the forms of bullying and judgement. But despite all this gaming can also help people with mental illnesses.
About a year and a half ago I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as a result of an accident I had while working as a photographer. As well as the phycological injuries I also gained severe scaring and have lost feeling and movement to part of my left hand and arm. PTSD is a form of anxiety disorder that can develop after experiencing or witnessing an event which is traumatic.
Before my accident I was an avid gamer. I’d just hit prestige on the game, Overwatch – Which at the time was the new hit game, it had only been out about two months. I ran a blog which told the story of the family I had on the Sims 3 and I was obsessed with Cities Skylines. I was also super excited for the release of Rise of the Tomb Raider for PS4. After my accident for the first two weeks things seemed to be going as normal - However, I did have to learn how to navigate the controller with an arm wrapped up in bandages. After I had my bandages off and life was carrying on things started to change for me. I started not to be able to do daily tasks and the simplest of things started to cause me to get anxiety. Then the day came where I was faced with a situation similar to my accident and I had my first panic attack. This influenced my entire life, I couldn’t do my job and I had to stop my studies. It also had an effect on my gaming. I ended up losing my concentration, I couldn’t focus on any one thing for more than five minutes. And if a game had anything you had to think about in I would get stressed and it would cause an anxiety attack. However, after a few months I started to come to terms with my PTSD and started to learn ways to manage it. In doing this I have discovered that even though I struggle still with a lot of the aspects of gaming I can use it to aid my recovery.
One of the ways that gaming has helped me is with my sleep. In the first year of my diagnosis sleep eluded me. When I wasn’t lying awake riddled with anxiety I was being haunted by nightmares of my accident. Before going to sleep I started to play on mobile games. Ones that didn’t take too much brain power and didn’t take too much concentration so that if I lost focus I wouldn’t loose – Candy Crush was unfortunately not an option. I soon settled on the farming game, Hay Day. I know that they say looking at your phone screen before you go to sleep makes your sleep worse and that the lights in the screen effect your eyes or something. But honestly for me having my phone on and in bed was a life saver. Not only is it an anxiety killer, my phone is next to me so if there’s an emergency its right there but also it helped to settle my brain. It means that instead of being scared to sleep because of the demons I might face in the night, I am instead thinking about whether or not I can make all the boat orders before the time runs out. Even if I do have nightmares, I am no longer wracked with fear to go back to sleep, I can simply roll over and harvest some wheat and the fears and memories of the nightmare ebb away into the dark.
Gaming has also helped me to begin learning how to concentrate again and how to handle tasks that would pressure me and causes anxiety attacks. Games with checkpoints are especially good for this. All I have to do is concentrate on the game long enough to reach a checkpoint, so a game such as Tomb Raider, with checkpoints every two minutes was perfect. If I am struggling all I have to do is get to a checkpoint and then I can leave and go and do something else. Even if this means I have only been on the game for five minutes it is still an accomplishment as I have managed to progress further into the story. Games such as Kingdoms and Castles have taught me how to start managing pressures again to avoid an anxiety attack. K&C is a city builder game where you must figure out how to protect your city from dragon and Viking attacks. When I first started to play this, I would cry under the pressure brought on by my defences being too weak to fight off a dragon and I did have to stop playing the game for a while. However, with a bit of determination and a few more tears I managed to overcome my reactions to this small amount of pressure. Which in turn has also benefited me in real life as I am able to handle situations under pressure better.
Unfortunately, gaming can also have its negatives. Some games with higher age ratings such as Tomb Raider or Call of Duty may have scenes in that can be triggering and cause panic attacks. I did learn this the hard way and in my quest to finish a game for the first time since my accident I also set back the progress I had made in certain parts of my recovery. It ended up that my partner had to watch walkthroughs of the game to find where the triggers were and then play those parts to avoid me seeing them.
But even with negatives gaming has helped my recovery so much and without it I don’t think I’d be as far a long in my recovery than I am. So thank you to the developers, and the community of people I encounter every day.