I have struggled all my life with depression. At times, it has been chronic and crippling, to the point where me brushing my teeth was a major accomplishment. Right now, I would say I have a low-grade enduring depression that flares up into serious depression from time to time. It’s my go-to when I’m under stress, and the difference is how alien the encompassing depression feels now as in comparison to how comfortable it was back when I was in the middle of it day-to-day-to-day.
I would love to say that I worked on my depression and that’s why I’ve gotten better. I would love to be able to give a list of things you can do to feel better. I would love nothing more, but I can’t because that’s not how I emerged from the suffocating embrace of depression. Sure, I did my due diligence by seeking out therapy and medication through therapy, then starting taiji which has helped a great deal, but it was an outcome, not the main intent, but nothing I did consciously to help my depression mattered as much as the indirect results of other behavior such as the aforementioned therapy and taiji.
However, I’ve been in and out of therapy for the past thirty years, and I’ve been practicing taiji for almost nine years. Neither are an easy or quick solution, and I didn’t go into taiji with the intention of easing my mental health issues. That’s just been a nice side bonus. I will say, however, it makes me more aware now how fragile my mental health balance is. I went through a period recently of deep depression, not as bad as it was before, but still pretty intense. I knew it wasn’t from within me, which made it almost worse. Rationally, I knew there was no reason I should be depressed, but I also knew I couldn’t talk myself out of it. It lasted a few weeks, and I just gritted my teeth and powered my way through it. I was terrified it would last forever, but it faded after two or so weeks.
On Saturday, I had to get up early to pick up Ian from the airport. Without thinking, I checked my social media. Then, I remembered that it was my day not to be on social media, and I quit. I felt bad, but not too bad. I can’t tell you how much better I feel on the days when I stay offline. I don’t think it’s viable for day-to-day life, but it’s nice to get a break twice a week. It’s too easy to get overwhelmed while scrolling through my TL, thinking that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. I mean, it is, but not more so than it has been in the past. There is a lot of shit in this world, and there always has been. Having it flash past my eyes on a continuous basis leaves me in a state of numb depression. It’s something I’ve railed about before–how overwhelming all the bad news can be. It’s easy to feel hopeless about the state of the world and think that there’s nothing you can do to alleviate the pain.
Today, Ian and I cleaned out the garage for a few hours, and afterwards, we went to a Mediterranean buffet for lunch–which was fucking delicious, thank you very much. Then, we went to Target to pick up some things, and by the time we got home, we felt quite accomplished. It may not seem much to people who are energetic on a regular basis, but for someone like me who finds it too easy to cocoon on the couch, only getting up to eat, smoke, feed my cat treats, and go to the bathroom. Doing actual physical activity does make me feel better, not just physically, but mentally as well. My body is pleasurably achy (I’m about to take a nap, yo), and my legs are tingly. The great thing about physical labor is that I can’t be depressed when I do it. I’m too focused on what I need to get done. The problem is summoning the energy to be able to actually do the work, not the work itself. It’s the same when I’m going to go out and do something fun. It’s hard for me to get up off my ass and actually make myself go to the thing. Once I do, I usually enjoy it, but then I’m relieved to go back home again.
That’s one of the problems with depression. It saps the ability to enjoy things in a normal fashion. I have to plan things carefully so I won’t run out of energy on any given day. I don’t like to leave the house more than once in a day, and when I do have to leave again, it makes me tense, upset, and irritable. There are times when I’m doing something late at night, and I’m in tears because my ability to can has run out. I’m more aware of my limitations than I have been in the past, but there are still times when I get caught unawares, and I snap.
The video I’ve posted above is how one person dealt with depression by playing Dark Souls. He had some serious bouts of depression, and they resulted in him trying to kill himself. The one thing he could do when he was depressed was play video games. He said Dark Souls resonated with him for many reasons. One, it doesn’t revolve around the player. In many games, you’re a badass and a hero, and you go through the game mowing down everything in your path. In DS, you’re insignificant, but a speck in this vast, desolated world. You’re weak and almost helpless, and every movement forward is fraught with danger. There is a debate in the Souls community as to whether the game is mean or not. The common belief is that the game hates you (the player) and wants you to die. My personal belief is that the game is indifferent to you and doesn’t care about you one way or the other. Hamish (from the aforementioned video) maintains that the game wants you to succeed, albeit after you fail many, many times. He sees it as a celebration of life and perseverance over many obstacles. His main point is that you have to make progress one baby step at a time. You can’t focus on the bigger picture or what your ultimate goal is. You just take each section as it comes, then you can look back at the end of an area and see how far you’ve come. He likens it to depression in that when you’re depressed, you have to use your personal agency in any way you can, even if it’s a small step like brushing your teeth. I know I made the same comparison, but brushing your teeth is really the minimum you can do in a day. Since most people brush their teeth every day, it’s an easy way to show how consuming depression can be.
I’ve written before how playing Dark Souls has helped me change my way of approaching difficult tasks. In real life, if I come up against something I don’t do well, my first impulse is to quit and never do it again. The first few hours I played Dark Souls, I was miserable the whole time. I didn’t know what I was doing or where I was going, and I was shitty at the combat. It wasn’t fun at all, and I didn’t know why I was playing it. The one feeling I had while making my way through the Undead Burg was pure frustration. I died so many times and in so many different ways, it was ridiculous. By the time I made it to the Bell Gargoyles, the first real heat check, I was worn the fuck out. After dying to them several times, I was ready to quit the game. I didn’t know why I was playing it, and I was ready to give up. I had one humanity left, so I decided I’d call in Solaire one last time and if I died, I would give up the game forever.
I beat them with the help of Solaire, and the jubilation I felt was indescribable. Much later in the game, when I went back to the Undead Burg, I marveled at how easy it was to traipse through it. I killed the hollows so easily, it was a joke. When I finished the entire game, I started NG+ just for laughs, and my romp through the Undead Burg was an absolute joy. I couldn’t believe I had ever died to these scrubs, and I backstabbed them into oblivion. I had such a sense of pride, and I couldn’t believe I had beaten the whole game. It was such a sense of accomplishment, even though it was just a video game.
I don’t know if I agree with Hamish that Dark Souls is a celebration of life, but I do agree with his assertion that taking it slowly and breaking it down in chunks is the best way to play Souls and to deal with life itself. Watching his video has helped me understand why I’m attracted to the Souls series and why it’s resonates so much with me. I’m still struggling with my depression as Hamish is his, and I’m glad that I have something like the Souls series to see me through some dark times, no pun intended. Now, I just need another game to fill the hole until the next Miyazaki game comes out.