I have not really planned out this post, so forgive me as this may meander to and fro.
This is a somewhat difficult topic for me to talk about because I suffer from depression. I first started to get that feeling when I was sixteen years old and my older brother had finished secondary school and had gone to college, leaving me on my own for the last two years of secondary school. The hardest thing was that most of the friends I had at school were my brother’s friends so when he graduated so did they, leaving me as the lone fish in a pond.
I find it difficult to talk to people and therefore was never really that great at making friends. Even now, I can count all the friends I have on one hand and I don’t even need to use all my fingers. It’s like a constant fear that if I say the wrong thing then people will be angry with me or hate me, so I feel best saying nothing at all and just play the part of the wallflower. I just sit watch and watch the room and someone once put it to me, watch how people interact with each other and in my own way wonder “why can’t I do that? It looks so simple”
I actually find it far easier to chat to someone via Facebook Messenger or Gtalk or Twitter then I do in real life. I think it could be down to the fact that I have the ability to think and then over think what I am about to say. Far too often I have said the wrong thing when talking face to face with someone, so at least these afford me the ability to stop and think.
A few years ago I came across a video by Danny O’Dwyer on Gamespot where he discusses depression and video games and how people can use them as a form or escapism or coping mechanism; and the video really did get me to think, did I do the same? It was really the first time that the concept came across my mind.
To some extent I do use forms of media as my escape from everything and everyone. I think it’s a ratio of 60:40 in favour of films over games; I have been gaming since I was four years old but only became serious about films when I was fifteen. I usually turn to one when I have become bored with the other. It’s how I try to keep things feeling fresh, new and worth exploring.
I think the reason I have both of these as my escapism is that I am able to become obsessed with them, from playing a game to find every little secret or replaying it on a harder difficulty, or just watching a film over and over to the point that I have learned the cinematic language of the film. When I was in my teens I heard my mother say many times “You’re not watching Star Wars again are you?” or when a big film was coming out that I was hyped for (Lord Of The Rings for example) I would make sure I would have my ticket booked well in advance and have it placed in a labelled envelope and would only open the envelope when the ticket was requested by the cinema manager to let you into the screening. Or my weird obsession at the time of collecting cinema stubs and placing them next to the reviews in Empire Magazine, which is something I did for nearly five years straight, until they changed the cinema ticket from small square slightly cardboard tickets to print outs.
Games to me have always been a constant in my life, I can barely remember a time when they went present in my life. From seeing Barbarian on the C64 to playing Super Mario Bros. for the first time on the NES. That wonderful feeling of escaping into another world and exploring it. Sure games were more basic back in the 80’s but as technology would advance the deeper my escapism would become.
When I was seventeen years old and a fourth year at St Flannans College in Ennis, I was going through a serious bad patch, my brother and his friends had graduated and moved on with their lives, and it was then that what can best described as physical bulling began. Up to then it had always been verbal, been call a prick or a faggot or gay, I always just chose to ignore it, water off a ducks back and so on.
It’s only when it became physical, from being random punched in the shoulder or back while walking down the hall to a class or being thrown up against a locker repeatedly, till a teacher came around the corner and then I would be shoved away and told to fuck off or they would do something worse when the teacher was out of sight and ear shoot.
I still remember the day when I was walking by the back alleys in Flannans and I was pretty much jumped upon. At first it was punches to the legs and arms, and then I was held down. The sleeve of my jumper and shirt were pulled back, and then had a cigarette extinguish on the top of my right forearm, about an inch from where the forearm meets the elbow. I can still feel his sweaty palm over my mouth to hide the scream, and when it was over, it was punctuated with a few kicks to my right slide as I lay on the ground in tears.
Sometimes I would just phone home and tell my mom that I wasn't feeling too well and that I wanted to come home. Sometimes it worked, most times it didn't. I was seventeen when the above happened and afterwards spent about six weeks or so contemplating suicide. I wasn't planning anything elaborate, just something easy, and something that looked like an accident, so who the whole shame and stigma of suicide wouldn't be thrust upon the rest of my family. An accident, which would just be a tragic loss, something that sadly happens from time to time is how I would justify it to myself.
My plan was simple. The school I was attending was next to an extremely busy public road. Simply step out in front of a bus or truck and let physics do the rest. I stood at the side of the road one day during our hour lunch break and just watched the traffic whiz past. I still don’t fully know why I didn't step out. There were plenty of opportunities to just step or run out and end it all.
At the time I always believe that no one would even miss me (outside of my family of course). Why would people care about what happens to me, most people didn't even know my name? I do think that it was maybe my OCD nature that did save me, I had started Metal Gear Solid a few weeks before on the PS1 and I really wanted to finish that game. I felt it was the perfect blend of both cinema and games, so a win-win in my books. Maybe I just chickened out; maybe it was my fear of the unknown that stopped me. I guess I’ll never really know as it’s a moment in my life that I don’t wish to relive or think deeply about.
Thankfully I have never really reached that low since. Sure I’ve had my good moments and bad moments. I still find it terrible to talk to people, but it’s something I’ve learned to live with. Depression is something that I live with day in and day out. It’s a fact of my life. I doubt I’ll ever be rid of it, but it’s something through escapism I have managed to control and not get the better of me.
So now I am a single guy in his early thirties who plays video games and has depression, I'm still debating which one has the bigger social stigma.