By: Sebastian Mejia
I think on some level my parents always knew that I was a little off. I’d get sick a lot when I was younger—lots of nausea and stomach aches—causing me to either skip school or be picked up early. Doctors didn’t know what wrong, we didn’t know what wrong, it just … was. I seemingly grew out of it sometime in late middle-school to early high-school. I was normal, and it was cool. Then my junior year of high school it started coming back; I had no idea what was wrong and it was unsettling. I don’t remember what caused me to one day ask my parents to take me to see a psychiatrist, but I did. The reason the symptoms came back was because of the perfect storm of events that take place in the life of any junior or senior in high school: the stress of what’s next. Add into the mix my compulsive need to overachieve (student council, National Honor Society, taking college level courses at the local community college, SATs, ACTs, applying to colleges) and my hormone-soaked brain reached a breaking point. I don’t remember much about that first visit with the doctor, but I do remember two things: 1) I wasn’t lying down on a couch telling him my problems while he scribbled on a pad, it was just two people having a conversation; 2) I remember a weight lifting off my shoulders. I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and mild depression, and I was happier than I had been for a long time.
Before I knew what I was dealing with, I would do what any kid does when he has a problem: figure out a way to cope. My coping mechanism was games. My earliest memories are of sitting in a room with my brother and dad (I was probably 2) while they played Super Mario Brothers on the NES. From there, a life-long love sparked. Games provided a sense of control and stability that I needed. I knew I could jump in and make everything else fade away. Some horrible evil needed to be stopped or some princess needed rescuing; the objective didn’t matter, it was the game’s ability to make everything else white noise that I (subconsciously) cherished. Out of all the hundreds of games I’ve played, there’s one in particular that I associate with my mental illness—The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. I remember the day I got it, Christmas of 2003. I was 16 and having a bad day (Week? Month?). The holidays tend to do that sometimes, there wasn’t one thing in particular that I remember being bad, it was just one of those years where everything sucked. I was depressed—although I didn’t know it—and I just didn’t care. But later that night I remember going to my room, putting the game in, and everything else just melting away. All the bad thoughts and feelings were superfluous, I was a man on a mission. For the next few days I played constantly until I beat the game; another world saved.
I didn’t know it at the time, but games like Wind Waker were helping me to develop coping mechanisms that I still use today. Videogames grant you a sense of control that, oftentimes, seems absent from your everyday life. In a game you wield great power and do amazing things, and while you may not be able to experience the same extraordinary events in reality, you do still have control. You can choose to not let your disease dictate your life. Is it easy? No, of course not, most things aren’t. But videogames definitely helped me build a framework in my mind that said, “I can do this.” Since that initial psychiatrist consult, nearly ten years ago, I’ve stayed on a pretty regular treatment plan and developed healthy ways to cope with my anxiety and depression. However, the mornings that are the worst—where I don’t want to get out of bed and just want to give up—what gets me going is taking a second to think, “I can do this.”
It seems simple, almost too simple, but sometimes the simplest solution is the best. So the next time you’re having a rough time—maybe your holiday isn’t going too well like mine wasn’t—remember that you’re not alone and that you can do this.