Mental Health and Gaming, your stories.

edited May 2014 in Story Games
Hey Story Games.

This discussion is going to be about mental health and how it interacts with playing and making games. After talking to the intelligent and sensitive people contributing to the Characters Driven to Suicide thread I was encouraged to open this conversation. If you intend to post here I would appreciate it if you could read the Suicide thread and help continue its peaceful tone.

What I'd like is to do is provide a place to collect the community's stories about their experiences of people suffering from mental health problems; this could be something you've experienced personally, in your friends or more distantly in your gaming circles. Was gaming a positive activity in this regard, or a negative one? What difficulties were faced, and were they overcome? Stories may be as detailed or as bite-size as you wish, although clarity is encouraged.

I've heard dozens of these stories in my time. Sometimes they are horror stories told for laughs (">this crazy guy!"). This isn't that thread. I'm hoping by letting people come together to share and constructively talk about their experiences we can find valuable spaces and generate more focused discussions on specific issues down the line. This is, in effect, a testing of the water - to hear what's being said and discover what, if anything, is important about our mental health in relation to our gaming hobbies and occupations.

I think this would work best if, when sharing these stories , we all use aliases for the people involved. I think it's probably the fairest thing to do.
If you like you may PM me your contribution and I will post it here anonymously. This might be what you want to do if you're uncomfortable about discussing personal issues online. I solemnly promise to respect your anonymity and will treat anything posted through me with total confidentiality. I had troubles with my mental health while gaming a lot and will be posting my story of that time, so I hope you place some trust in me.

I don't expect this thread to be fast growing, but I would like it to be here. I'm not going to request a [Slow Down] unless the tone in here gets uncomfortable, but I have a feeling that we won't need to call the cops.

If you don't think this will be a valuable exercise or have questions about my implementation, please feel free to post here or drop me a PM. Don't worry, I'm often quite sane. ;)

Kind regards,
Mike Burrell

Comments

  • Mike,

    I just wanted to express my thanks and admiration for going through with this. I am sure it will be a worthwhile effort, and possibly help someone in a critical situation, however directly or indirectly it may be.

    Thank you!
  • edited May 2014
    I hope this thread can have some positive impact. My own experience with it, outside of off-topic stories, is pretty limited.

    One of my longest-term players was recently diagnosed SAD, bi-polar and depressed. We've been playing together for 26 years now, but his conditions are relatively new (10-15 years or so). On the one hand he says gaming is a great outlet for him, and when he's regularly participating he certainly seems better. On the other, when he is fully down he retreats from it. I know that those ebbs cause him additional stress/guilt over his absence, and his differences, despite our continued dismissal of their impact on others. It has led to some fascinating rekindled discussions of the James Dallas Egbert situation, which we had previously addressed soon after it happened with an entirely different (and uneducated) outlook.

    From a group dynamic perspective, because we're all very close friends and aware of the situation it hardly causes even a speedbump. We just shift games to something else he isn't involved in, board or roleplaying. Upon his return we shift back. I know when new people have been brought to the group it sometimes makes him a bit more self-conscious and introverted while he's experiencing any sort of downward trend, but usually they either become good friends quickly or they move on to other groups/hobbies, so it's a minor thing.

    I can see where such a situation might cause people to second-guess their content and themes, especially in a game like Call of Cthulhu where 'sanity' and mental illness can actually play-in, but in our case it's not much of an issue. It's not a common theme or plot with our games, and even when it is our groups (including the person in question) are largely based on being the antithesis of political correctness/post-modernism, so we're more likely to just put it front and center and slap it around like a red-headed dwarf during midget-bowling season. In discussions about it he has expressed appreciation for this, as it provides continuity and lightens the overall mood surrounding it.

    As a light-hearted side-note I know when I go too long without playing I feel like I'm going crazy, but I suspect that's probably not clinical. 8-)
  • Nothing to contribute from personal experience, but this essay over at @mcdaldno's Imaginary Funerals seems relevant: http://imaginaryfunerals.com/mental-illness-not-a-flavor-not-an-excuse/
  • As someone with Asperger's (Whoops! DSM says it doesn't exist any more!), I have the bizarre paradox of having less understanding of other people and how to interact with them, and yet probably a greater desire to do so. This kinda' makes role-playing games harder, and yet so much more valuable for me. Getting inside a character's head and trying to act consistently, learning about their motivations and trying to figure out what someone with a different history and belief system to me would do, that has all greatly helped me understand the world from other's shoes.

    But golly, if it isn't bloody hard to even create a character who isn't just me in a different world!

    I've never played a character with a mental illness before (I don't consider Asperger's to be an "illness", per se). But I'd like to. There's no doubt I'd play them incorrectly somehow, but as long as I put some thought into it (you can't research everything that comes up in games, so you have to pick and choose, but you can take a moment to read the Wikipedia page at least), and the game stays fun, I don't think there'd really be a problem.

    Then again, I don't believe that "not-broken people" really exist. Everyone has something, simply because we have psychologists who have classified almost everything (in the same way no one dies of just "old age" any more), everything "neurotypical" has cases where it's helpful and unhelpful, and there are people with disorders who don't believe their thing is a problem.

    [end unfocussed rambling]


  • I've never played a character with a mental illness before (I don't consider Asperger's to be an "illness", per se). But I'd like to. There's no doubt I'd play them incorrectly somehow, but as long as I put some thought into it (you can't research everything that comes up in games, so you have to pick and choose, but you can take a moment to read the Wikipedia page at least), and the game stays fun, I don't think there'd really be a problem.

    Then again, I don't believe that "not-broken people" really exist. Everyone has something, simply because we have psychologists who have classified almost everything (in the same way no one dies of just "old age" any more), everything "neurotypical" has cases where it's helpful and unhelpful, and there are people with disorders who don't believe their thing is a problem.

    [end unfocussed rambling]
    I think there's a LOT that's important in this. Just a few decades ago we'd be talking about having homosexuals in our games, since that was a mental illness in the dsm. When roleplaying started 'nerd/geek' itself meant something wholly different, and they were frequently treated with as much clinical scrutiny and societal exclusion as any mental illness of the day. Introversion itself, or a number of other personality quirks/factors, are frequently cause for misdiagnosis of various conditions.

    It opens the door to broader discussions of sociology vs psychology, majority rules, and a host of other issues (not that they should be brought up here, just saying in general it leads us to question values, groupthink/individuality, and societal/cultural mores).
  • edited May 2014
    /agrees to all the above.

    I think the overlap between roleplaying and psychotherapy - both in a clinical sense and in a more freeform "people helping people become better people" sense - is tremendous and hasn't been explored enough.

    In one-shot intensive games designed for large groups I've had numerous "random hits" where a participant would later report a more flexible attitude toward life in general, or a new understanding of themselves, or more awareness of how they interact with others - which amounted to a psychological "win".

    In massive years-long campaigns with participants who know each other deeply (mostly but not exclusively in one-on-one play), I have helped friends work through suppressed complexes and feelings in ways that I could only call therapy.

    I have also experienced the negative mode of that relationship - transference - in which the gamer becomes "addicted" and views the GM as something like a designer drug manufacturer.

    IMNSHO: Being a GM requires artfulness, fortitude, resourcefulness and compassion, in addition to general knowledge and storytelling skills. When running an immersive game, you are literally playing with the contents of people's minds. For some people at least (or under certain circumstances), the experience absolutely reaches into their unconscious, and acts with real dynamic force. This can have positive effects or negative effects. It is important to recognize this. I believe a GM, like any artist, has a social and interpersonal responsibility. I believe that if we lived in a more logical world, a GM would need a therapist's license.
  • edited May 2014
    Indeed, @AsIf, I have often compared RPGs to a group form of what Jung called "active imagination"--a purposeful journeying into an imaginal space, an active form of fantasy-ing (as opposed to passive daydreaming). And just look at the archetypal nature of the contents of our fantasies! D&D for example involves a hero's journey into the underworld (the unconscious), overcoming monsters (shadow parts of ourselves, or past traumas, all the things that scare us), and returning with valuable treasure (new-found insights, self-knowledge, and ego strength). I have often wondered whether D&D appeals so much especially to adolescent males as a kind of group self-initiation for those very reasons.

    In games, of course, we typically play for fun, but sometimes for enlightenment, too. I do believe RPGs have quite a bit of untapped therapeutic potential, but that is a topic for another time, perhaps. And yes, bad GMs can, in my experience, create stressful and even traumatic experiences for players just as good GMs can help facilitate experiences of insight or healing--not that they should get a big head about it, as the last thing you want is a GM with what Jung called a "mana personality." Then again, transference is not always a negative phenomenon in psychotherapy, and perhaps it has its uses in gaming, too.

    With regard to my own experiences, they are quite varied. I have both played RPGs while anxious and depressed, played alongside players with mental health issues ranging from major depression to substance use disorders to autism spectrum (formerly known as Asperger's), and seen my own attitude toward my own and other player's mental health change as I have gone through graduate school and become a practicing therapist.

    On the one hand, I have noticed that I am more drawn to gaming when I am less excited about what's going on in my real life. On the other hand, if I am really depressed, I tend to withdraw from games. During times when I was suffering from severe anxiety and panic attacks, I have had to go to the bathroom, do breathing exercises, and even take pills in order to calm myself enough to return to a game (this really sucked, especially as I worried about what other players would think about why I was in the bathroom so long!).

    I have also had the experience of having a player in our group who was suffering from major depression. He told me about his struggles only after we had been playing that particular campaign for many weeks, and suddenly I understood his game play (and his character) in a whole new way. And I have to say, for better or for worse, that the compassion I felt for him changed the way I interacted with him both in and out of character.

    Finally, I have noticed that my training as a therapist (and especially my training in group therapy) has greatly improved my GMing abilities. In the last game that I GMed, I helped arbitrate an in-character relationship conflict between a real-life married couple, and I have no doubt that that in-character conflict had its origins in their real-life relationship. I have also become more sensitive to my players' personalities and feelings, and I am better at, for example, keeping more domineering, extroverted players in check long enough to draw out the more withdrawn, introverted players. If a player looks disengaged or upset, I ask what's going on. In the past, I think, I avoided talking about real-life reactions and feelings at the game table, trying to keep everything in-character, but now, I take the unspoken process aspects of play just as seriously or more seriously than the in-character content.

    I'm sorry if this post is scattered or unspecific--it does feel that way to me right now. Let's keep going with this thread; I am learning a lot from it so far.

  • edited May 2014
    I've got some experiences. They are pretty old so I'm totally comfortable sharing them but be warned they are very raw.

    When I was 19, and at college, my father committed suicide. He was a little younger than I am now so I've literally out lived him. It came out of the blue and though looking back I can see there were some risk factors, they were pretty minor. So I went to the funeral and the day after took a test. I threw myself into school and ended up with my second highest GPA. Just before a final I broke down and had to walk out - the professor let me take it the next day. I went home that summer and ran the family business ( I really don't recommend doing this!) When I got back to school that fall I was empty on all levels. Now I would call it a major depression but I wouldn't have accepted that then. I lived on the energy from the sleep I got the night before. I knew what it was like to dangle your feet over the abyss because that was my daily experience. That is where I was when gaming comes into the story. I was seeing the world in stark contrast, no romance or sentiment, and very present.

    My game of choice was Call of Cthulhu - which only a couple of years from it's first publication at the time. I didn't play it I ran it as a GM.

    My mental state came into the game as a set of stark contrasts. The words I use to describe things were plain and with edge. The choices I put in front of people were blunt and unforgiving. When you followed the signs of the unnatural into the dark, it surrounded you, separated you, wrapped you with its danger, and presented you with unacceptable choices. I had two players in a cave, filling with water, and the ghost said "I only need one. Give me one." Both chose to drowned rather than kill the other. I made the players afraid to pass their spot hidden rolls because they would see something that would hurt them but the hurt was the death of a thousand cuts, one sanity point at a time. If you stuck with the goal you could save the world but only at great cost to yourself. The games perfectly reflected my emotional life at the time.

    That gaming experience affects me to this day in my design aesthetic: no sentimentality, very stark and with full saturated contrasting colors, were there is life and death and the transition can be sudden and harsh. There is no glory but for those willing to pay the price there is success so in the end they are optimistic. This does make it hard for me to understand or appreciate games that are full of sentimentality or romance, or even games which dive into misery that you've not experienced in your real life. I don't buy catharsis without first having the wound. It is just another form of sentimentality. Then again I wouldn't wish wounds on anyone. It's a paradox.

    It effects my game and genre choice. Dark futures and cyberpunk leave me cold, they never hold a candle to the darkness the present holds. Romantic monsters (I'm thinking Vampire White Wolf here) no, they are monsters not love objects. Sci Fi on the other hand, I love. The same for war and ghost stories. They all hold out the message of hope. You may suffer, you may die, but if you stay the course and walk through the wall of fire, you will come out the other side. When I was walking through this valley of the shadow of death for real I needed that message. Games gave it.

    One good thing that came out of that time was that I turned away from drinking - or more accurately alcoholic drinking. Gaming was a much healthier alternative to numbness. And much better things followed from it. My life is pretty good now. See, optimism!

    Hum... When I step back and look at this it seems to me that I'm throwing a piece of raw bleeding meat down on a table in front of a world that I expect to go silent. I think I want that silence more than anything else. A moment of pause and then moving on with the next thing in life feels respectful of the experience. More empathetic than any worlds of understanding. Maybe it leaves the experience there, on the surface, present now. It is energy and resources that we can pull on. I can lift up the bloody chunk and use it as a tool in the next challenge. It stops being an object of horror and becomes a part of the living now. I think that's what I want from it, acceptance rather than sentimentality. [BTW this is me in real time making sense of what I've just written. It's more for my benefit than anyone else's. I do it in the open because I believe that being open is valuable to me but it also reveals my inner process which I guess could be useful to others.]

    In the next post I talk about games from a professional stand point

    Chris Engle
  • Okay, now for a professional response. I'm a social worker and have been involved in psychotherapy both individual and group for nearly thirty years. In therapy, practitioners come from theoretical perspectives. Rapport between therapist and client is the real thing that helps people get better, but theoretical perspective lays down the therapeutic language.

    One big school of thought is psycho-dynamic. It grows out of Freud and Jung. It looks to the past to find patterns of behavior that can be corrected (childhood traumas and a corrective therapeutic experience - not quite re-parenting but something like that). They focus on issues of transference and counter-transference, insight and catharsis. Definitely the "Tell me about your childhood" approach to therapy. This isn't my school of thought.

    Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the next big school. The focus is on the here and how, the thoughts and feelings one is having now. It uses words like: self talk, cognitive dissonance, and home work. It does not look for deep meaning and is very mechanical. I like it because of its here and now nature and that it respects people's privacy rather than interpreting it.

    Some therapy is humanistic, thank you Carl Rogers, and gives people an un-directed space to talk and explore it. This is where I was at when I first started doing therapy.

    Some therapy has a spiritual approach. Maybe you talk Bible, or Quran, maybe you talk about White Buffaloes or dreams. This approach uses a lot of teaching stories and metaphors. I can talk lots of different religions because I work with clients from all over the world (I work at a college counseling center).

    And there are more schools. Each school can feed into group therapy. So process groups tend to be psycho-dynamic. Exercise or psycho education groups tend to be more CBT. Self help groups tend to be more spiritual. Games would seem to be mainly group activities but they can also come into play in individual treatment.

    In the end though, the theoretical background of the therapist is irrelevant. Rapport is everything. That means figuring out what therapeutic language the client wants to use and using it. If that match can't be made, it doesn't work and they need to fire the therapist and see someone else.

    One thing that can happen in this discussion, that I hope we can avoid, is the squabbles over language and theoretical approach that plague the therapeutic community. If you rankle at my CBT wording, relax and let it go. We are talking about the same thinks and are aiming at the same goal, just using different words. If you don't connect with psycho-dynamic ideas of insight and transference, relax and let it go. I hope we can allow everyone to use their own therapeutic language to describe their own experiences rather than trying to translate everything into the one "correct" language.



    On a practical note, I do use simulation games in therapy. Bob's Brain - the game I'll be running at Games on Demand at 8pm at Origins - is one of them.

    For a game to be usable in therapy it has to fit a bunch of time and resource constraints. A therapy session is an hour. A game can only be a small part of the session so it needs to be playable in 15 to 20 minutes. The game needs to be able to be stopped at any point to discuss what has come up. The goal is not to play a fun game but to use a game to explore or teach an emotional lesson. The rules need to be VERY simple. The therapist needs to be able to bring it up and getting it running in around a minute. And after playing, the therapist needs to review what just happened to debrief the players (this is when most of the learning happens - or so says the simulation game literature.)

    Sadly very few, maybe 1%, of hobby games meet these requirements.

    Chris
  • This is an interesting thread, that I will follow. I might have things to say about the topic but I will have to think about it.
  • +1 to Chris, amazing.

    My personal case isn't too complex anyway, though I noticed some interesting side effects of roleplaying. I had broken up with a girl but we kept working at the same place, living nearby, going to the same roleplaying group and walking back home.

    As it was, real life then was the most stressfull and uncomfortable situation I've ever been into. We still had arguments everywhere, except when we sat down to play. That was the only time I could forget our differences and have a good time, not even using the game to vent out anything. I even ended up GMing a side campaing of robotech because our regular VtM GM assistance went irregular and only once she went angry and tried to kill her character, though not for in-game reasons. I talked it out with her, since that threatened to ruin the session for everyone, told her how I felt when we were playing. She understood and we went back, rewinded the game and had a good night after all.

    I can't say the game could have make our relationship work, we were just too different. But certainly did wonders to help me hold on and keep socially stable anyway.

    After that experience I became more worried about my own mental health, read a few practical books on social psychology and stabilyzed myself to the point that I rarely go depressed now. But now you all have got me thinking if there could be a way to make a game to share some of the tricks I use to keep up my mental health. Well, that's another idea for Game Chef!
  • edited May 2014
    Hey.

    I'd just like to say a big thank you for messages of support and friendly advice. I think this thread is doing well and I applaud the frankness of the contributors.

    The following is the story of one of our forum members sent to me over PM:
    Regular gaming sessions have helped with my depression, I think. They've certainly been a bulwark against it getting even worse, at the very least. Having reasons to get out and be around friends instead of being at home by myself is a positive thing.

    It also helps that gaming's a structured activity: when I go to play a game, I know that it's not going to be about me or how I'm feeling or what I did today. If I'm not feeling great on a particular game night, I don't need to put myself front-and-center and push for individual attention, I can pull back and direct my play towards supporting what other people are doing instead, and that's still fun and appreciated by everyone else.

    What I've learned that I can't do is GM a game if I'm having a bad night; I'll grab any excuse to cancel out on it, and then feel even shittier because I did that, and more inclined to cancel the next session, and so on. That, more than anything else, is why I GM games so very rarely these days. It can be a lot of fun, but I'm just not in a place where I can feel good about committing to run a game, knowing that I can be derailed so easily.


    Anyway, depression definitely affected the characters I chose to play and how I played them.

    I've played a lot of characters who had been rocked by tragedies and had yet to recover from it. Dead families, epic betrayals, lingering curses, Horrors Mankind Was Not Meant To Know, all that stuff. It was easy to empathize with their sadness and grief, and comforting that they had solid external reasons for those feelings (not just a pernicious chemical defect). The possibility for them to eventually heal and move on was nice, too.

    I've played a lot of characters who had deathwishes, either secret or expressed, typically in the "looking for a good death" vein. They'd rush in to rescue kittens from burning orphan factories or jump in front of the evil wizard's death ray to save the princess or volunteer to stay behind and set off the explosives. It was pretty rare for any of them to actually succeed in dying these ways, because other characters would always pitch in and manage to find a way for us to save the day without anyone having to make a noble sacrifice, but it was an easy kind of proactive character for me to play. On a good night, my character would be involved in the plot and making things happen for all kinds of reasons; on a bad night, my character would be involved in the plot and making things happen because he was just that desperate.

    On the other side of the coin, I've also played deliberately against type with a slew of upbeat, cheerful, optimistic characters. In the midst of a particularly bad depression, it sometimes felt like playing an alien: I would be putting together how I thought a person like that might think without really feeling like I understood what I was doing, and would leave the game feeling emptied out by the whole experience. Other times it was fun make-believe, a little vicarious optimism that helped lift my spirits for a day or so afterwards.

    Oh, and there was a time when the superhero character concept I was most drawn to was immortals of the fast-healing, death-is-a-speed-bump variety. It's possible that my friends thought I didn't want my character to die in this game...but really, I wanted my character to die over and over and over again. I wanted the existential horror of a character who just kept coming back, no matter how grievous the injury, no matter how they felt about it. That was a particularly bleak period.


    These days, I'm a little less fraught, and it's been a while since I've played overly sad, seriously deathwish-y, or outrageously joyful characters in a game. I find that I'm more drawn to playing out pleasant interludes in a character's life than I used to be: I want to linger on those scenes and see what I can make them express about who that guy is, or mine them for callbacks later on during more stressful scenes to provide contrast. Not sure what that means, but there it is.
  • Interesting experiences, good thread.
  • One of my longest-term players was recently diagnosed SAD, bi-polar and depressed. We've been playing together for 26 years now, but his conditions are relatively new (10-15 years or so). On the one hand he says gaming is a great outlet for him, and when he's regularly participating he certainly seems better. On the other, when he is fully down he retreats from it. I know that those ebbs cause him additional stress/guilt over his absence, and his differences, despite our continued dismissal of their impact on others.
    What I've learned that I can't do is GM a game if I'm having a bad night; I'll grab any excuse to cancel out on it, and then feel even shittier because I did that, and more inclined to cancel the next session, and so on. That, more than anything else, is why I GM games so very rarely these days. It can be a lot of fun, but I'm just not in a place where I can feel good about committing to run a game, knowing that I can be derailed so easily.
    These experiences really ring a bell with me: depression undermines a great many things in life but nowhere is the loss more immediately painful than in the seemingly minor responsibility of GMing. "It's just a game," the Brain teases. I'm always find myself looking for the games that will support me, ones where players have more responsibility to drive play forward - perhaps?

    Seeing as this has slowed some, maybe I could ask some questions?

    Therapists and those interested in therapy, if you could what would you change about gaming to make it more beneficial in regards to mental health?
  • edited January 2016
    .....
  • edited May 2014
    This is an interesting thread, that I will follow. I might have things to say about the topic but I will have to think about it.
    Likewise. I'll come in with some comments when I've had time to read and digest the other responses, but for now I'd like to say thank you to @Potemkin for starting the thread, and to @MatrixGamer, @olepeder and others for being open about their experiences, thus I'm sure helping others who may have had similar experiences but for whatever reason feel unable to talk about them in open forum like this.

    Oh, there's one thing:
    In the guidelines for this year's Game Chef on G+, @Macdaldno made this comment:

    Bigoted or hateful language is not welcome here. This includes language that is racist, misogynist, ableist, or intentionally hurtful. Before posting, look over what you’ve written. Did you happen to fall back on ableist language (words like “lame” or “crazy”) to communicate your ideas? Now’s a good time to edit those words out. The language we use shapes how welcoming and accepting our community is.

    I'll leave that out there as an example of how we sometimes unwittingly reinforce stereotypes of mental illness by the words we use. Like probably most people here, I'm not in favour of excessive policing of this sort of thing, but... the next time you find yourself about to describe someone at the gaming table who you don't know very well as nuts, maybe think again? That person could, unbeknownst to you, be silently struggling with a mental condition of some kind, which the use of such a word might well exacerbate. And yes, I've done it myself [blush].
  • I'll leave that out there as an example of how we sometimes unwittingly reinforce stereotypes of mental illness by the words we use. Like probably most people here, I'm not in favour of excessive policing of this sort of thing, but... the next time you find yourself about to describe someone at the gaming table who you don't know very well as nuts, maybe think again? That person could, unbeknownst to you, be silently struggling with a mental condition of some kind, which the use of such a word might well exacerbate. And yes, I've done it myself [blush].
    Just re-read this and it sounds a bit pompous. I guess what I'm saying is just be careful with use of language is all.

  • This thread is a powerful reminder of the need for people to lend an ear. Start a conversation and listen.

    Something important, something potentially beautiful, will happen.
  • I've struggled with depression for the last half-decade or so, spending a few of those years fairly well immobilized by it. While I can't say my gaming was any sort of effective therapy (therapy has been a very effective therapy, though!), there was a period in the middle where my depression really expressed itself.

    It was a stretch where my regular character - conceived and characterized before my worst years, he was an endlessly cheerful fellow - disappeared for an extended period. I brought in a temporary replacement character with some direction from the DM, a putative servant of a villain who was helping the PCs for a while. He was a terminally dolorous sort, given to accept the inevitable bleakness that he perceived.

    At some point, I realized that he was giving voice to my depression. I mean, he wasn't talking about being worthless or being unable to perceive his value, but his pervasive belief in his inability to effect change was him channeling my own self-perception. I don't want to blow this out of proportion: It was therapy that has helped me, not playing D&D. But it was a definite moment of self-awareness assisted by gaming.

    This isn't mental illness, but it feels related: Early in the five-year lifespan of that campaign, my sister died at the unfortunate age of 21. I asked the DM to make my character's family off limits for tragedy because of the feelings I felt it might trigger. He readily agreed, and over those five years, Oleander Fellswallow's family was always safe. And I felt safe at the table, too. Again, it's not mental illness, but it was an emotional vulnerability that we were able to manage through mutual support.

    Thanks, Potemkin, for starting the thread and giving me the opportunity to share.

    yrs,
    Peter
  • edited May 2014
    The larp club that as my "home" as a grew up as player and game designer was started by a mom trying to create a positive community when her young teenage daughter was struggling with mental health and abuse problems. It was a great and a bit off gaming community when it came to demographics. Lead by middle aged women and aimed at trouble working class teens. I'm came from a wealthy family, and felt like a economically privileged odd ball at times. But in that gaming community it as okay to have problems. Economic problems, mental health problems, physical health problems. It handle it with supportive acceptance.

    People could play character with mental health problems, or even "crazy" characters in good ways, even from an early age. Because people with mental health problems was never "the other" but normal part of the community and people was very open about it in that community.

  • I just wanted to write that I appreciate the fuck outta this, but I cannot approach it currently with a 50' pole nor a barrel of pickled herring.

    Two months ago, I had a friend commit suicide and this month a friend die from cancer.
    I'll get back to you in a bit.

    My brother(as GM)force-bubbled my not-so-zen archer, who attempted to shoot himself with an arrow using geometry and self-loathing. I was... 17 or18?
  • Background: I've dealt with depression for most of my adult life. I was first diagnosed more than 20 years ago, and am currently on medication which has been declining in efficacy over the last 10 months or so. I also am someone who need a lot of "input" to keep going - I'm not a social person, but solitude is non-productive for me. If I try to read a book in my "comfy chair" at home, I will fall asleep, so since I was quite young I've read, worked, and mostly "lived" in public spaces, and pumped media into my head pretty much constantly.

    So, last week was not a good one. I recently learned that a project I'd been counting on for $$ has been cancelled due to funding drying up, and I'm very underemployed. One day last week, I woke up with nothing money-making to do and nothing creative that I could convince myself to care about. I was tempted to just stay in bed all day, which would have been a recipe for a night of wakefulness and anxiety to follow. If I'd had a face-to-face RPG session scheduled, or dinner with a friend, I'd have cancelled.

    Here's what got me out of bed, of all things. There were posts waiting for me in Play-by-Post games, and good, clever, talented people behind those posts. These were ongoing, not a session as-yet unstarted, but the next moves in these slow but persistent games. So, I got my ass up, showered, and went out to a coffee shop to type a few paragraphs each for a few games. And that small act of paying off a creative debt to others was a wedge that helped open the crack into a day that became, if not productive, at least not entirely wasted.
  • I detailed my experiences a few years ago on a thread here, you can search for it. Here's something I wrote today trying to capture my experience.

    The Mental Health Moves

    The passive move

    When you **contemplate a course of action** or **try to sit idle**, inform the MC. Each of your demons will offer an option.

    If you take any of them, you will get a momentary feeling of relief and you take +1 forward into the first action required by your demons' advice.

    The demon whose option was chosen marks 1 manifest point.

    Demons and Manifest points

    Demons must spend all manifest points in the month they are earned.

    Demons can spend 1 manifest point to interrupt and demand to be consulted on a course of action, per the contemplate rules.

    Demons can also spend 1 manifest point to give a -2 to an action that goes against their counsel.

    Intervention

    When a PC's support circle intervenes, they spend their scarce resources, including time and attention, to help the PC against their demons.

    If a particular demon is targeted, this demon loses any stored manifest points. Then choose one to three of the following depending on your gauge of resources the community can spare.

    1) the relationship between an intervener and the subject is irreparably damaged, due to trust, resentment, self-protection, and exhaustion (by either party, ask the player for ideas)
    2) the targeted demon evolves (add a new special manifest ability and rephrase the demon's desire)
    3) the subject is not aided so much as penned and scared into a better approximation of normalcy. The subject can add a new demon or take a permanent -1 forward against interacting with authorities, or demons, or both (MC's choice)
  • When my mother died, I had this urge to run one of Chaosium's darker campaigns, Tatters of the King. It seemed to help, and I had very good players. But, this is relatively tame -- I was aware of what was going on in my head enough to know that what I wanted to run was not coincidental. My mother's death was not a surprise. (And the whole complex story of my parents' last few years is way too long and mostly off topic here.) I was also aware and able to make sure I was covered -- with people when I felt I needed to be, that sort of thing.

    One gamer I know explained to me (I am paraphrasing, not quoting): When I'm depressed, it's obvious to you that something's wrong. What you need to understand is that when I'm manic, it looks like I'm better, but I'm not normal. I'm just swinging in the opposite direction.

    And I comprehend that intellectually. I just need to keep remembering it.

    Another gamer informed me that he'd had a panic attack during a one shot session, hoped we hadn't noticed (I hadn't -- I can be thick), and apologized regardless. I don't think he has anything to apologize for here, but it did make me realize that I have no idea how to tell when someone's having a panic attack or what to do if that happens.
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