Gaming with Anxiety and OCD

Close your eyes for a second (just do me a solid, and throw me a bone on this one).

I want you to think about something you are passionate about. This could be anything; a hobby, your profession, a certain relationship; whatever.

Now, create subcategories about that passion. This could be done in multiple ways. You could make a pros and cons list, or a bullet point list breakdown of the composition of said passion.

You did that? Great! Now, take those subcategories and breakdown those. After that, then take those results, and give an outcome result for each of those. Following that, take those results, and for each one make a Venn diagram for each result.

Are you seeing a trend here?

You’re probably looking at that and thinking “well damn, I didn’t realize I was writing a graduate thesis on critical thinking in terms of ‘X'”. In following those preceding steps, while it might be rewarding for most people, it would still be time consuming right?

Now imagine doing all of that internally, in the span of seconds. Constantly. On repeat.

Doesn’t sound too interesting, especially in a positive light, does it?

It’s hard to put into words what it is like having anxiety issues, specifically related to OCD. Another way I try to explain anxiety and OCD to people is its relation to a ferris wheel. You start in one cart, and slowly it begins to load up different carts, until it is full and then just continuously revolves in the same circle over and over again. Your brain will start with one thought/idea, begin breaking down that idea, piece by piece, until you think you found the solution (or end) to it, only to then keep revolving around it.

So you’re probably asking: “How does this relate to gaming?” Well, I originally asked you to pick something you’re passionate about to evaluate. Me personally? Gaming is my passion.

I have been gaming for as long as I can remember (Big boy of 25 now. Never grow up, kids). But to answer the question on how this relates to gaming, one must travel back in time (que up that Back to the Future music, Doc) to understand how impactful gaming has been to my development into the man-child-boy I am today. There are multiple cliche answers to the “what’s your earliest memory of gaming?”, but I actually have three (just because I don’t know which one happened first, but they all had to be around the same age). The funny thing about these memories, is they all include my dad. I use that connotation, not as a negative, but in an ironic fashion, because my dad is the furthest thing from a “gamer”. He’s getting more and more acclimated to modern day technology as of late. He is now on Facebook with almost 60 friends, has a smart phone, and coming from someone who says they never wanted to be on “the grid”, he’s beginning to acclimate well; but point being, his hobbies never were based around it.

While I can’t confirm it’s for sure the first, I’m almost positive my first gaming memory is playing Kung Fu on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) with my dad. I couldn’t have been older than four. What’s weird about this scenario, is that neither of my parents were gamers but we had an NES in our home. No idea how it got there, but somehow it was there. I’m pretty sure it went to one of my grandparents’ houses shortly after, due to my next memory.

Following that was getting the Nintendo 64 for Christmas in 1997 or 1998, aka the BEST Christmas ever (outside of my fiancee and I getting engaged last Christmas season obviously…love you, don’t kill me). Even though I vaguely remember it, the one thing I do remember is my parents setting it up for me right after opening it up, and my dad and I playing Mario Kart 64 all morning. I could always tell my dad wasn’t crazy about video games, but he could tell how entranced I was over the medium, that he always was up to play with me.

The last memory may be my favorite though, due to how much of an effect this game had on me. I couldn’t have been older than five, and I had just heard about this game called the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I was at my cousin’s house, and I remember being in his room with him, and out of the corner of my eye I caught this shimmer of gold. I walk over to his pile of Nintendo 64 games, and pull out this gold painted cartridge, with a papyrus-styled label that read “the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time”. Noticing my sudden peak in curiosity, my cousin asked if I have played it yet, in which I replied no. Without even asking, he turned it on and let me play. From the moment that teal-tinted, polygon “Nintendo 64” came across the screen, followed by the patter of hooves and peaceful melody pouring from the speaking during the title screen, I was hooked. I just remember being so enthralled over just the idea of it; the storytelling, the pageantry, the mysticism (all of which I couldn’t contextualize like so until I was older). All I knew was that I needed this game. It wasn’t a want, it was a NEED. Being the obvious intellect I was at five, I already knew how to butter up my parents. So when my dad asked me to ride on the mower with him to cut grass, I instantly jumped on that 1-on-1 opportunity to do my sales pitch. I remember telling him about the game, and describing things in such detail, that any sane person would think this kid is probably crazy. But my dad, been the incredible person he is, must’ve seen how passionate I was about it. Naturally, like most parents do, he hit me with the “well, maybe if you’re good Santa Claus will bring you it.” My heart sank; not because I wouldn’t possibly get it (well, maybe a bit of that), but just because of the thought of time between that time and Christmas. It was at the latest mid-summer. That wait would’ve probably killed me. Luckily, my dad was sly enough to surprise me with it later that week. Still to this day, I hold that game as my personal favorite game of all time. Nothing touches it.

Now that all of that mumbo-jumbo is out of the way, let’s be real: What does that have to do with anything? It’s video games, who cares. Well, in terms of my personal composition, it actually has a lot to do with it. Since that first memory, I haven’t stopped gaming. Like I said, my parents weren’t gamers. They thought everything was either Mario or “Pokemans” (I grew up in the 90s and early 2000s, their assumption had a solid chance of being right more times than not, if I’m being honest); but they never discouraged my love for gaming. Did they limit it so I could focus on homework and for playing sports, hanging with friends, etc? Obviously. Every parent should, and I always did have other interests as well, but they never discouraged my passions. They always supported them, and as I continued to grow, gaming stayed as that passion and grew with me. From the Nintendo 64 to the Playstation 2 and PC gaming, to the Xbox and my love for a little unknown series called Halo, to then the Xbox 360 and Wii, to now the current generation (I own all platforms now. Being an adult with a decent income has some positives. Suck it, nerdz!); my passion for this beautiful expression of interactivity continued to blossom.

Let’s fast forward a bit now, to a ripe and fresh out of high school Travis. A few years ago, I was going through some changes. After my freshman year, I decided to transfer to a school closer to home, for a multitude of reason. During this process, I suffered from my first true battle with vivid and serious depression. Depression is funny, it doesn’t work like most illnesses do. It will sit and lay low, but fester consistently in the back of your head, like a parasite, sucking the happiness out of you (I promise this story gets better and isn’t that dark). Never have I ever been to the point where I wanted to take my own life, nor will I ever get to that point, but even though I never think that is the right choice to make, I can see why depression pushes people to that level. It’s like a blanket that can suffocate you at times. Over the past few years though, I’ve found out that I have had anxiety related issues that have been causing me this, and a lot of it leads to the condition known as obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD.

Most people have probably heard of OCD. In all seriousness, it is an extremely common condition, that many people go un-diagnosed with and can live completely normal lives. I’d like to think I’m one of those people. Mental illnesses, for the most part, aren’t like a broken bone, or high blood pressure, where doctors can visible see through various metrics what is causing the issues you are having. Now, everything comes with exceptions, and in some cases one visible thing could be playing into various mental illness issues, but more often than not, a doctor can’t just take a peak at you and say “yup, you’re depressed” or “oh yeah, you definitely have anxiety related issues”. It just doesn’t work like that.

It’s something that is addressed via a multitude of methods. The biggest thing you can do is to talk to someone. Period. Holding back just helps inhabit and grow the issues at hand. You specifically see this in males, where you’re taught to be strong and that talking about your feeling or showing emotions at times makes you a “pussy” or a “bitch”. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m grateful that I have parent who have always taught me to never be ashamed to express what you’re feeling; that nothing is ever as bad as you think it is. The first time I talked to a therapist about my depression and anxiety related issues in 2012, I stopped going after the second session. I went in the next session on a “up” day and felt that I had defeated whatever it was that was making me feel anxious and depressed, when in all reality I just didn’t want to talk about how I was truly feeling. Don’t do that, don’t stop after one try. It takes time, because guess what? Those feelings? Yeah, they came back (shocker, I know).

Then, there’s medication. There might be a bigger misconception over anti-depressive medication comparative to everything else in this ecosystem. People think you just pop a pill and you’re good in a day or two. Yeah, that’s just not the way it works. Straight up not the case, at all. Most anti-depressives take months to see changes in mood or anxiety levels, and due to our instant-gratification-oriented society, many never stay with it long enough to see those results. Not to mention there are like seven trillion different kinds. This one helps with mood swings, but you can’t get an erection. This one lowers anxiety levels, but you can’t sleep (most do help with sleep…you get what I’m trying to say). If you think you’re experiencing issues with your mental health, don’t expect to find the right medication for you right off the bat (at least more often than not. Remember, there’s always an exception). Both therapy and medication are only useful if you’re willing to let them work, and that all relies on talking and opening up.

For as long as I can remember, gaming has been the way I cope with my mental health issues. If I ever feel like I’ve had a long day, or that I’m stressed about something, I chill out, pop a game in and zone out for a couple of hours. But sometimes, that can work against you. I will start obsessing over time. How much time am I spending playing games? Is that enough? Is that too much? Am I not doing something I should be? What do people think about me liking this? Am I not doing what people think I should be doing? All of this is over my favorite entertainment medium. It sucks. While I know those are all irrational things and methods of logically addressing things, the way that my brain diagnoses these situations is in the ferris wheel metaphor; a continuous loop. In these instances, I will crunch numbers and overreact to the clock, as if it was a race to a certain time limit that I have, instead of enjoying this art (yes, video games are a form of art, quote me) that the developers, publisher, marketing teams, etc have dumped thousands of hours into making.

In a weird way though, my OCD tenancies have made me more detail oriented (not worth the headaches though, trust me). I’m inclined to finish more games in a complete fashion now. I go out of my way to try to be perfect in an area. I try to get all of the collectibles, if it isn’t a drag to do. Little things like that, which force me to get more out of the game and appreciate all of the detail the developer put into the product. Along with that, I focus on trying to get more trophies (Playstation) and achievements (Xbox). I love pulling up a trophy/achievement list for a game and just setting goals for myself to achieve. It’s one of the weirdly gratifying feelings in games, that you normally don’t get anything from; you can’t spend Xbox gamerscore on anything, same with Playstation trophies. It’s just one of those things that scratches that completionist itch I have now. Recently, the PS4 exclusive Mavel’s Spider-Man, by Insomniac Games, was so awe-inspiring and captivating, that I went out of my way to make sure I got the Platinum trophy (100%ing the base game). That was my first platinum trophy. Honestly, I never thought I’d want to do that. It always seemed to long and drawn out, but with the always evolving games industry, more games are becoming deeper and more polished that it makes you want to explore each nook and cranny. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I finish ever game I buy (although I am more buyer conscious now). As my guy Greg Miller, the IGN legend and Kinda Funny ring leader (check them out, they’re amazing) says “there’s too many games and no time for bad games”.

But how do I handle when anxiety and my OCD get in the way of enjoying my passions? Just like I do with most of my problems: talk it out. And if there is no one there to do that, guess what? Talk to yourself. No, I’m serious, talk to yourself. People will think that sounds crazy, but don’t lie, we’ve all done it. Christ, I think I talk to myself more than anyone on the planet. I think that’s why I enjoy streaming so much when I have the time to do so. I get at MOST 10 people watching at a time (I think my average is 5 or something. I know, big shit poppin’ homie). A lot of the time I’m just talking to talk; to be heard in some capacity, even if it’s just by big old T-White himself. Just getting something that is stuck in your head out that is bothering you does wonders, man. Kinda like in that Spongebob episode where his breath stinks and he thinks he is ugly and doing the “I’m ugly and I’m proud!” yell (I’ll embed that video below just because Spongebob is the man). And if you’re pissed off, grab a pillow and scream as loud as you can into the sum bitch. Let it out. It feels amazing, man.

Most importantly, you know what the biggest thing suggestion I can make for what I do (and sometimes need to do more of) to help in these situation? It’s simple: Do whatever you do that makes YOU happy. Not anyone else. If beat-boxing is your thing, you do you. If working out and eating clean (personally , Team Fat lifetime member here, but I respect you), you do you. If playing the fiddle naked is your thing (while probably illegal to do outdoors, keep it inside cuzzo), you do you. Personally, I’m a big old nerd. I love playing video games. It’s hands down, my favorite entertainment mediums, and right now we are in a new golden age of gaming (remember, there are always exceptions). There are so many beautifully crafted stories and worlds, realized at an impeccable level of detail and grandeur, that there is no time better start or continue gaming. Gaming is my thing, and guess what? I don’t give a shit what anyone thinks, and neither should anyone else about anything you like. YOU. DO. YOU.

I’ll be honest, I’m not completely sure why I wrote this. I for sure wasn’t looking for any kind of sympathy. I guess it was to just let people know that if you’re struggling from a mental health related issue, and it is affecting the things you love, that you’re not alone; and that it sucks, and I may not have the answers, but I know somethings work for me and may work for you. In any capacity, mental health awareness should be at an all time high right now. It’s real. It’s not a joke. Suicide in relation to mental illness is even realer. We as a society need to wake up and realize what is going on, and reach out a hand.

No matter what though, always remember:

You are NEVER alone.

You are ALWAYS worth it.

Things are NEVER as bad as they seem.

Things will ALWAYS get better.

You are ALWAYS loved.

It is OK to be NOT OK.

And most importantly, it is OK to enjoy the things you enjoy.

Author: Travis White

Editor-In-Chief & Creator of Bonus Accessory. When not publishing on Bonus Accessory, Travis also host the Game Pass Gamecast podcast, centered around Xbox & PC gaming. He also knows that Ubisoft will eventually make another mainline Splinter Cell title (may not be until he's 50, but hey, he'll take it).

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