Depression & Dungeons & Dragons

If you’ve never been down in the dark, wretched pit of depression, there are simply no words to explain what it’s like.  This isn’t a matter of, “I can’t believe we’re out of my favorite cereal,” or, “My car broke down on the interstate,” or even, “I just lost my job and I can’t support my kids.”  It’s also isn’t, God help me, a matter of, “Hey, why don’t you just cheer up?”  When it comes to depression, real, actual, honest, sky-is-falling-and-life-is-ending depression, it’s a matter of bits of your brain actually missing.  It’s a physical, medical, miserable condition, where life around you stays exactly the same way, but you have lost your ability to perceive it correctly.

I’ve struggled with it for my entire conscious life, way back to when I was just a little stupid kid who would fly into rages or slip into near-catatonia.  Somebody would say something to me that a week ago would have been hilarious, but now was a trigger for a tidal wave of murderous hate, or something would happen to me that a week ago would have been an inconvenience, but now made me stare longingly at a bed or a bottle or a blade.

Depression is always destructive, exhibiting itself externally, as you drive away friends with erratic flare-ups, or internally, as you punish yourself physically or emotionally, and all the while, there’s this little piece of yourself, a tiny impotent voice of reason crying out for you to stop, please stop, you need to stop.  But that voice isn’t in control.  Not when you’re down in the pit.

Roleplaying games have always played a weirdly symbiotic/parasitic role in my depression, and to paraphrase Homer Simpson, was often the cause of, and solution to, my time in the darkness.  I could find comfort in gaming, both running and playing, as it could flood my system with endorphins, lifting me up into the light, at least for a few days, hours, or minutes.  Unfortunately, if I had my depression goggles on, I might see a successful game as a total failure, and plunge down, down, down, even deeper than I had been.

Because I’m a self-obsessed twerp who was convinced the whole world revolved around me, I was a little bit surprised to note the same sort of struggles from other gamers, and was particularly moved by Philippe-Antoine Menard (AKA Chatty DM), as he wrote about his severe depression that started during GenCon 2008.

I started wondering if there was a correlation between intelligence and creativity and gaming and depression, if maybe there were a lot of us sad-eyed tragi-bombs, creating worlds, running characters, rolling dice, and weeping quietly when no one else was looking.  I contacted Phil and asked if he’d be available for an e-mail interview, and he graciously agreed.  


Dixon Trimline: Does my description above line up with what you’ve gone through, or are depressions more like snowflakes, with no two being alike?

Chatty DM: That’s a rather accurate, if poetic way of writing one’s descent in the darkness.

I’d add that your vision of the world narrows considerably to a point where 90% of your attention is directed inwards, wallowing in self-pity and obsessive/paranoid/anxious what-if scenarios. In fact, I’ve read that what makes getting out of depression so hard is that people fall in some sort of unhealthy love with their depressive states.  Getting out of it requires some sort of voluntary “breaking out”.

Gaming for me, while definitively a means to escape, was a healthy one. Anything that made me socialize with people AND make me feel better was to be encouraged. In that sense, I’d suggest that during depressive bouts, the last thing a social gamer should do is to stop gaming.

Hell, the circle of friends should be told of the depressive gamer’s state, he/she would be surprised how much support they would get.

Lastly, the hardest, most humbling lesson that I learned to deal with depression was to seek help. Both from family, friends and health professionals. Depression can pass with time, but it’s not treatable alone. In that, RPG gamers are blessed because they are already surrounded with like-minded, and often as mentally fragile, people.

Dixon Trimline: While I acknowledge the imperative value in telling family and friends and doctors about the depression, it meant my admitting out loud and in public that there was something fundamentally wrong and broken in me. This is coming from someone who is chock-a-block full of pride! I had to get to the point where it was either declare my depression or wander off this mortal coil, and thankfully, I chose life. Not everybody does.

How would you convince a prideful jerk like me to get help?

Chatty DM: Short of dire threats and ultimatums, there’s almost no way for loved ones to convince a depressed person to seek help. For instance, I kept convincing myself that it was a temporary bout of blues, and then blamed everyone around me for not being supportive enough to pass through this “rough patch.”

The depressive person either needs to hit rock bottom or get afraid enough to lose friends and loved ones to go out and seek help. In my case, the first time it was my wife, who suffered very much through my first depression, who gave me an ultimatum. The second time, I recognized the symptoms and sought help from the same professional source before things became irreparable.

Dixon Trimline: I exhibit all the standard warning signs of an oncoming depression (irritability, exhaustion, a weird combination of loss of appetite and overeating, etc.), but my one big red flag has to be disengagement. When I start dropping out of activities, canceling games, begging off get togethers, and I’m talking about things I WANT to do, then I know that darkness is on the rise. What are your big red flags?

Chatty DM: My flags are exactly the same… And seeking to flee from what I consider to be my stressors.

Dixon Trimline: I’m neither a doctor nor do I play one on TV, but medication (Lexapro in my case, which I eased off of over time) did me a world of good to clear my vision and get me grounded. What do you recommend for fixes or treatments?

Chatty DM: Meds, while often unavoidable, aren’t enough and must be accompanied by therapy and exercise for the fastest recovery. I’m stuck with meds for the rest of my life (being bipolar) but exercise and therapy have hastened the sunrise in that long night that’s depression, and I too no longer take my anti-depressives (I was on Mirtazapine.)

Dixon Trimline: Even in the best of times with rock-solid mental health, game mastering can be enormously stressful. Would you recommend steering clear of running games during the pit time?

Chatty DM: That one’s a toughie. It really depends on how much joy the person gets from GMing. Yes, it’s work and it may cause stress and anxiety… but the effort it requires to get ready and run it may serve as that “Do at least one significant thing a day” regimen that’s necessary to kick out of the funk.

However, I’d stress that during a depressive episode, the GM should focus on going back to basics and run things he/she is comfortable running with the least amount of effort. Thus you would limit the amount of stress this may cause. However, if even that becomes too much, then it might be better to let another one GM, let another one do it for some time and, above all else, not blame yourself for not “seeing this through.”


When you get advice or direction or comfort from someone who’s never been down in that pit, they have no idea what they’re talking about, and therefore are pretty easy to ignore.  But I’ve been there.  Phil has been there.  We know what it feels like.  We know about the emptiness and the desolation, about the battle to even get up each morning, about the miseries of going to bed each night, probably to be tormented by insomnia.

Take this from someone who’s been down there in the darkness:  you need to clear your vision.  You need to get a glimpse of the world the way it really is.  You need to find someone and tell them right now what you’re going through.  You need to find a doctor who can give you the right medicine to clear your head, and the right doctor you can talk to and sort things out.

Take it all one day at a time, for every day you have coming.  I’m worth it, and so is Phil, and so are you.

Author’s Note: A truly heartfelt thanks to Chatty DM for taking time to answer my questions so honestly.  He’s one of the good guys.

Comments

  1. Taking daily time away from the information onslaught of the TV/Computer is the best way to preempt depressive episodes (for me, anyway). It also helps to acknowledge that energy and motivation will dip every few weeks and never take on too much tasks and project – it’s fun during highs, but that mountain of stuff to do can be overwhelming on a less than perfect day.

  2. Great article. Depression is a topic that’s often underestimated or kept totally silent about. I know this from my family. It took years to even recognize thats it’s was a depression going on. And then it again took time to cure which surely would have been easier if it was recognized earlier. Luckily the affected person could easily open himself and tell people about his misery.

    I’m really grateful that you and ChattyDM do speak about this topic in such a prominent location because it needs people to speak about it so other can recognize what’s happening with them and more easily find the motivation and courage to talk about it.

  3. A lucid, accurate and heartbreaking account of the “pit.” For those of you “blessed” with a brilliant brain, the cost is dear. And, the bill comes due all-too-often. But, you know that, don’t you….

  4. What I appreciate is that not only are you opening yourself up to others, letting us into your world and sharing your pain to help ease it, but you’re also helping to ease the pain of others. I’m sure that some depression exists to torment most of us on some level, so reading an article like yours naturally heals some of those wounds in all of us.

  5. What bears mentioning here is that one eventually recovers and climbs out of the Pit. Depression, especially is a temporary symptom of a treatable condition. One day, the depressive person has one little positive experience that makes him/her realize that the sun rose once again and peeks through the clouds.

    Seek those moments, they point out towards the end of the ordeal.

    Great article Dixon, thanks for asking my opinions on it, it’s a subject I no longer fear tackling because it’s a part of me I now fully embrace and accept (…and treat).

  6. I always like seeing articles like this because it can help people understand better what I go through. I’m in the same depression boat and have been for a long long time. I hope you don’t mind, but I’ll link to my own blog where I talk about mental health and gaming. Just for another perspective to see. http://phelanar.blogspot.com/2010/08/mental-health-and-gaming.html

  7. It’s gotten to the point, when I spot the warning signs I start writing a list of ‘good things’ & ‘reasons why dying right now would be bad’. I was never suicidal, but I got awfully careless of my health. Sleeping too much & not sleeping enough are both warning signs.

  8. Dixon Trimline says:

    @Yax: That’s good advice, just stepping away from the glittering technological maw, and something I’m going to have to make more of an effort to do. And schedule management is huge, since it feels like such a fine line between, “Wow, I have so much to do” and, “Wow… I have SO MUCH to do.”

    @TheClone: I agree with you absolutely, it’s much better to put this depression out in the open than try to hide it from everyone. First of all, I found out I’m terrible at hiding it! When I confessed to my wife and son, “I think I’m suffering from depression,” they said in a kind and loving way, “Well, duh!” And second, what a tremendous comfort it is knowing I’m not alone, that this isn’t some freaky illness that only I experience.

    @alexandra: I’ve found that it’s much easier to split up any bill that’s due among several people. No one should carry that particular load by him/herself.

    @Tourq: Yes, exactly. There are few things more wonderful than someone stepping in to help you with a load, to lend a hand, especially if it’s unexpected and unrequested. What a comfort it’s been to me when others have helped out, offering praise or humor or just quiet love.

    @The Chatty DM: It’s a tough thing to realize, that this too shall pass. When all you can are the walls of that pit, you really do become convinced that it’s all you’ll EVER see. Your honesty on the subject really did inspire me in some dark times.

    @WolfSamurai: I’d recommend that everyone read your article (http://phelanar.blogspot.com/2010/08/mental-health-and-gaming.html), as it’s so brutally honest and utterly complete. It feels like a report from the front lines, right in the middle of the firestorm.

    @Sewicked: That’s a great idea, keeping a running reminder of why you’re worthy and why you matter. I wish we could all maintain such a list, declaring, at the very least, to ourselves, our own personal good things.

  9. The way I explain it to people is this:

    Picture in your mind the biggest loser that you have ever known. Imagine just how awful their life must be. Imagine how it must feel to be them — to know that you are worthless, a drain on your family and friends, and utterly doomed to screw up everything you come in contact with. Now imagine that you really, really care — that your screwups eat at your guts and stab at your heart.

    That’s how the bad days feel. The good days are the ones when you just don’t dwell on it.

  10. If depression is a pit, than base-level intellect is a ladder…the higher the ladder, the longer and more damaging the fall into the pit.

    But my studies into the phenomena of Emotional Intelligence and functionality, as well as my own personal believe that part of what should be judged as intelligence is actually how we avoid, mitigate and cope with our mental flaws.
    In other words, part of the whole ball of wax we call useful intelligence is how developed our coping mechanisms are. But that is just part of my opinion.

    One of the most important building blocks here is perspective. Phil makes this point well…he embraces it and treats it. This is a coping mechanism.
    Many of you mention knowledge of the signs of onset; these are also coping mechanisms.

    And these coping mechanisms, much like other forms of useful intelligence, can be trained and strengthened. And should be treated as such.

    I also believe that some parts of RPGs can be useful and helpful, and some parts can be deleterious. One of my first coping strategies is to adhere to schedule, expecially with sleep and waking, no matter how painful. And any behaviors that allow me to avoid this (any computer game will do; being online, etc) get chucked.
    Social gaming, however, is a plus and helps bring one back on track. Some of the most important benefits of gaming are the social ones.

  11. I am glad you wrote this post. I find depression is one condition that is difficult to talk about. It is a disturbing thing to look around and know objectively that life is good, but feel throughout your body the exact opposite. How can I think about death while such wonderful things are happening? It seems like such a fundamental weakness.

    RPGs are an interesting form of escape for me because it directly deals with motivation. I, Nicholas, rarely summon up the motivation to do things that look remotely challenging because I don’t want to get stressed out and get depressed halfway through. I see the mountain and think, “I’m good where I am, I guess.” But my RPG characters are motivated. They are free to take huge risks because a lot of the stressors are glossed over. An epic life is right there in front of you, no motivation needed. That’s one thing that keeps bringing me back. The real fantasy in my RPGs is not magic or elves, but the fantasy of quantifiable simplicity. If only my real life could be so clear.

  12. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I treasure my gaming experiences as opportunities to get outside my own head, and to connect with others. A few years ago when I was grinding away at some console “RPG”, alone in my basement, I realized that this wasn’t a healthy lifestyle. I turned back to tabletop games, met some new gamers, and generally found a healthier way to get out of my head.

    Yes, I have times when it’s hard to get motivated to do the gaming things I love. But then I spend time at the table, laughing and gaming with my friends, and I see a light at the end of the tunnel.

  13. Thank you for this. I’d been thinking about seeing someone about my depression. This helps me with my decision.

  14. This is an incredibly important post. Two years ago, I lost a DM to depression, & the members of my group haven’t been the same since.

    If you deal with depression, PLEASE keep your friends and family informed when the shadows come. They sometimes might be able to help you see a way out. I wish I could have done that.

    If you know someone with depressive moods, let them know they’re appreciated. It may not always work, but it could mean the difference between life and death.

    My last bit of input: part of what led my DM to do what he did was that he was feeling better, and went off his medication. The next time darkness came, he was totally exposed, and took the full brunt of it. If you are on medication, make sure your doctor knows when you decide to go off it. You might think the problem’s fixed, but it can still suprise you.

    My admiration goes out to those among us who are surviving this terrible thing.

  15. Thanks for a great article, chaps.
    My pit was revealed to me this year, and since I got some help and some meds I’m a new man.
    I urge anyone who thinks that some of these symptoms are familiar to TALK TO SOMEONE. Even realising you may have a problem and deciding to do something about it can be a tremendous relief.

  16. Really great article. Very insightful.

    My own observation is that depression acts like a pathogen–it seeks to self-perpetuate. It causes the victim to avoid the very activities most likely to end the depressive episode. The active, intensely social activity of gaming seems like it would be very helpful. The tough part, though, is getting up, getting dressed, and getting yourself to the game session. . . .

  17. Dixon Trimline says:

    @Michelle: That’s a vivid and painfully accurate picture. The point often missed by loved ones isn’t whether this self-image is accurate or real–these would be the “Why don’t you just snap out of it?” crew–it’s that for right now, this moment, that image IS my reality.

    @LordVreeg: I know I have assembled a toolbox of coping mechanisms myself, ranging from the tiniest, “Just get through to lunch” sort of personal challenges to the biggest, “Help me help me help me” desperate cry to those closest to me. It’s a matter of setting aside my pride, since all it does is prevent me to dealing with the depression. And schedules are huge, their automatic nature being something I can cling to (At 2 PM on Saturday, I know I’ll be at Location X playing Game Y).

    @Nicholas: Oh, I know about that perception of weakness, of failure, of “Everything’s pointing towards my being happy, satisfied, content, so this darkness inside must be my fault.” It is a good thing to be able to step into another role, even if it’s only for a little while, since my halfling rogue isn’t burdened with my miseries. The only thing he knows is drink, food, leaf, and joy.

    @anarkeith: It’s all about personal preference, but you identify the exact reason I’ve never been able to stick with console games. I don’t play to solve puzzles, beat monsters, or win the game. I play to engage in cooperative, collaborative storytelling, to step outside of myself for just a moment and be heroic with other people.

    @PhilM: I still remember the day I went to the doctor, sitting in the waiting room and listening for my name to be called. I was terrified. In a few moments, I’d have to admit all my failures to a stranger, and deal with that expected cloud of judgment. I came real close to running. But it occurred to me that I hated what I was feeling way, WAY more than any fears about what was about to happen. I went in, laid it all out, and he nodded and said, “I can help you.” And he did. Instead of being weak or cowardly, admitting your need for help is about the most courageous thing you can do in your entire life. Heroic even.

    @The Opportunist: I’m so sorry about your loss. During one of my own darkest times, my dearest friend, who was going through his own darkness, decided he couldn’t live with it anymore, and attempted suicide. Not only did he survive, he demonstrated to me the cost of the decision. I will NEVER forget seeing him in the ICU, a tube down his throat and his skin deathly pale, and knowing that it could have been me.

    I can’t thank you enough for your point about medication management. It’s way too easy to decide, “Okay, I feel better, let me get these drugs out of my life,” when just a week earlier I was convinced everyone in my life were out to get me. I’m not exactly competent to make such a decision!

    @Whitt: I’m glad your out of that pit and standing in the light. Looking back at the dark days, it almost feels like it happened to someone else, like its a story you heard about a few years ago. “Oh yeah, I remember that guy. There was something seriously wrong with him.” You’re right, you need a pair of clear eyes to evaluation your situation, and I’d never trust mine.

    @Charles Ryan: Wow, a pathogen, that’s a perfect characterization. It’s that whispery voice saying, “You really want to drive all the way to the game? You don’t even know those people. Aren’t you better here at your home? Why not skip this week and maybe think about next time?” Sometimes you have to push yourself out the door. Even if you’re not Mr. Life-Of-The-Party, at least you can be with the other humans. And dwarves. And halflings.

  18. Thanks for writing this. I’m right there with you.

    Anybody else’s therapist’s eyes light up like a Christmas tree when they found out you play roleplaying games?

  19. Philo Pharynx says:

    I know what it’s like when you can’t get your thoughts to stop racing around in the same circle, going over the same things again and again. One wonderful thing about RPG’s is that they provide structured socializing. When you’re having a hard time you can still go and participate in a way that reduces your vulnerability. You don’t have to be brilliant – some days you can just show up and roll dice and not say much. But you’ve gotten out of bed and put on clothes and you’re with other people. And sometimes you’ll get pulled out of the dark cloud and into your character. (granted that often gets my mind circling just as obsessively, but at least it’s usually not on such a negative course).

    Geeks tend to be tolerant folks. There’s a lot of ways that people are wired up and a lot of geeks feel that they aren’t at the peak of the bell curve. They can be somewhere along the depressive scale or the autistic scale or have different sexuality or religion or a million different things. I come from a family that tends to look at mental problems as being moral failings, but I know my gaming buddies will accept me for who I am, warts and all. In turn I try to be good about their issues.

    All of the people talking here are really brave to admit their problems. May you all find helping hands when you need them.

  20. Dixon Trimline says:

    @Vanir: Has that been your experience, your therapist’s eyes lighting up like a Christmas tree? Generally speaking, I keep my RPG activities deep, deep, DEEP under several bushel baskets, and feel just this side of mortified when people outside the community find out about my dirty little secret.

    @Philo Pharynx: Yeah, structured socializing, that’s a perfect way to put it. You know where you’re going to be and when, and like you say, if you’re having one of those down days, you can just roll the dice, do your thing, and be part of a group. And I have come to really appreciate the broad tolerance in this community myself. We can be snobby about what we like and what we hate, but if someone in our group gets hurt or needs help, the response is immediate and genuine.

  21. Go ahead and count me into Dixon’s “I don’t know what I’m talking about” crowd, since I’ve never suffered from clinical depression. I wouldn’t look to offer advice about it anyway, especially not “Just cheer up!” Geez, what an awful thing to say to someone who’s depressed… it just makes them feel worse!

    My psychiatrist has commented a few times that I have exhibited some signs of depression, but he hasn’t pursued it much beyond the comments, since it has never been that serious. I see him for a different, but possibly related condition… Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. I have a few posts about it in my blog, and I may put one or two more in there about it in the near future.

    ADD shares some aspects of Depression, but it is quite different in others. It shares the dopamine/norepinephrine problems, with ADD sufferers either having a deficiency in production/conversion or in uptake, and having a detachment from the things going on around them. It shares the stigma aspect, since it’s very misunderstood, and there’s a lot of shame dealing with the condition. The “Just cheer up!” thing had me thinking about how people with ADD are seen by “neuro-typicals”, with the “Just get your act together!” comments and so-called advice that is given, which does no amount of good at all, and just makes the ADD sufferer feel even worse because they CAN’T just get their act together.

    I’ve been suffering from ADD for over 41 years, nearly 40 of those undiagnosed. Before last year, I only had one inkling that I might have it, but a “friend” shot the idea down and I never pursued it. One reason noone had ever suggested it was because I don’t exhibit the hyperactivity part that is so common. I’m a “primarily inattentive” type, which has distraction and lack of focus as the major problems. I lost a girlfriend due to it. I likely lost chances for other relationships because of it. My grades in school sucked, although I persevered to barely scrape by and graduate with a bachelor in science, but it cost me any opportunity I might have for graduate work. My finances are in shambles, forcing my wife and I to live paycheck to paycheck. It has not been easy.

    I have never, to my knowledge, suffered from The Pit, though. I’ve had some black moods, but they’ve had concrete foci to them (mostly financial), and it was quite easy to shake them off… although it may have been more of just a loss of focus on the negative, and moving on to something else. Still, I cannot say, with any stretch of the imagination, that I know what it feels to suffer that. I tip my hat to Dixon and Phil for your perseverance with such a debilitating condition.

    ADD can be quite detrimental to a person’s life, having a large impact on relationships, academic and employment success, and as a result, self-esteem. I’ve had huge self-esteem issues over the years, and I still suffer from an “I’m not good enough” complex.

    Gaming has been a boon to me, but it has also exacerbated the problem, especially when trying to run the game. The boon comes from the creative outlet, since people with ADD are highly creative, but when trying to run the game, all the problems with focus, organization, and attention to detail crop up when planning a session, and the debilitating affect that stress has on the ADD mind can turn a good session into a complete crapfest. I’ve had that happen more than once. Pile on the tendency to take away less enjoyment from a session (due to the dopamine problems) and it’s really a struggle to keep motivated to run a game.

    Ugh, I’m rambling now. Well, I’ll leave it at that. Thanks for posting this. I’d ready Phil’s entry about his problems with depression. It’s great that the two of you are putting this out there, as it may help others to seek the help they need.

  22. Dixon Trimline says:

    @Scott: I’m particularly impressed how many of your ADD symptoms line up with my own depression symptoms, which seems to be another check in the “brain issues is brain issues” column. If I can misquote Dr. Sidney Freedman from M*A*S*H, perhaps depression turned inwards (introversion) is disengagement and even self-destruction, and depression turned outwards (extroversion) is ADD.

    As you say, both are linked to the transmission of dopamine/norepinephrine. I know during a depressive state, two of my biggest non-destructive symptoms are distraction and lack of focus, where I WANT to commit to a course of action but just can’t. It’s so much easier to do nothing at all (or perhaps do a million things and finish none of them).

    Is there a chemical solution to ADD, or is it more a matter like physical therapy, where you learn habits to apply during your distraction phases?

  23. Personally, I appreciate any kind of quote from Dr Sidney Freedman. The man was a genius. 😉

    ADD is tricky, though. I wouldn’t count my particular affliction with it as extroverted, in any way. I’m very introverted. The Hyperactive, ADHD, sufferer… definitely. I met an orthopedic surgeon last year that was ADHD. He was brilliant, but all over the place, and definitely extroverted. That seems to be the more typical expression in males. The introverted “daydreamer” type is more typical in females. Neither is exclusive though, and it’s possible that it is more evenly distributed, but people just aren’t being tested. I have the introverted “daydreamer” type. My mind is quick to wander, and it can wander far. The only “hyperactivity” I demonstrate is in talking… at times, when I’m excited about something, I’ve talked so much and so fast that I’ve actually completely run out of breath during a sentence! 🙂

    Your description of the non-destructive symptoms is bang-on for ADD, though. I’ll have 10 different things I want to do (or need to do), but I just can’t get started on them… the TV is more interesting, or refreshing websites is more interesting… or in a more insidious way, the things I want to do are interesting, and I have great ideas about them, but I just can’t get started… I can’t get my brain to take that first step… maybe there are too many things on my plate, and my brain gets confused and can’t pick one to start with, or maybe it just comes down to motivation…. sometimes it is easier just to sit and do nothing. Procrastination is definitely a big problem with ADD.

    There are chemical solutions. Ritalin is still a very common medication. Adderoll is another. Concerta and Strattera are two more that I hear about (Strattera being the first non-stimulant med produced). I take Vyvanse, which I believe is a new time-release version of Adderoll. There are methods of dealing with it without medication, though. Exercise is always good. Your diet, especially the inclusion of Omega-3 fatty acids, is important. There are lots of tricks too.

    When I was going through university, undiagnosed, I would study with the TV on, or play music (usually with headphones). My roommates and friends thought I was crazy. I just knew I couldn’t concentrate on my work without it. I didn’t know why. I even told them that if I didn’t have some kind of background noise, I couldn’t concentrate. I needed it so that whatever part of my brain that was trying to distract me could have that, and the rest of my brain could concentrate on my studies. Sounds exactly like ADD to me now, but at the time, it was just… well… what it was. I still use that particular trick. If I’m particularly distracted at work, and my medication isn’t working so well (probably due to staying up too late the night before… bad habit), I’ll put on some music to help me concentrate.

    Another thing is organization. I’m struggling with this. I have many years worth of bad organizational habits to shed, and I need to develop new habits to replace them… beneficial ones, of course. It’s not easy.

  24. Castlemaster says:

    It’s very brave of both of you to come out and admit you have a stigmatized disease.

    I myself began struggling with depression in late 2008. Mine is partnered with anxiety and the resulting worry leads to a feeling of helplessness (60% of people with depression also have anxiety). I view my depression as a cunning clever and malicious enemy (not unlike a recurring D&D villian). Just as one might fight a desperate battle, you have to utilize every resource and be willing to abandon old systems that may no longer work.

    For those struggling, I strongly encourage you to learn as much as you can, get as much support as you can, and fight it as hard as you can.

  25. From my very egocentric point of view, it’s almost a shame that this post has been published in the Xmas holidays as I can’t keep up with the outstandingly supportive comments that were shared here.

    I’m happy to see that so many who share some of our mental foibles have found ways of tacking this in their own ways. Recognizing, accepting and dealing with a mental illness is a huge thing in and of itself, But sharing it openly with us is beyond awesome. I’m humbled that you guys and gals decided to confide in us.

    Dixon, you rule for sharing this now and know that I’m just a IM away anytime you need support.

  26. Dixon Trimline says:

    @Castlemaster: You offer some excellent advice. Do not give into the darkness, always keep fighting, but it can be deadly to take it on alone. As you say, support is crucial to survival. You need to tell others in your life, even if they already know.

    @The Chatty DM: As always, I appreciate your words, brilliance, and generous support. You were mighty excellent to share your time and insight, and I think I’m going to do what I can to make 2011 the year I actually meet you in person. Not a resolution, not a promise, certainly not a commitment, but a neat little dream of actually dragging my sorry butt to GenCon and tracking down the Chatty DM.

  27. Awesome post on depression. I am an exercise nut, and I think I cope with these manic sort of fits by being able to run, bike, or kayak. It is funny how you mention the high of endorphins from tabletop gaming, it has been one of the most under-rated highs of all time. It must be something in nerd chemistry. But for people with active and visual imagination it can be as real as morphine.
    Thanks for writing this.

  28. Dixon Trimline says:

    @keith: Exercise is SUCH a valuable treatment. I wish I pushed myself more in that area, because I have consistent, reliable, repeatable evidence that it works.

  29. Buffzilla says:

    Thanks to both you and Chatty DM and all the responses left here. I’m 41. Been depressed since I was teenager and have been rpg’ing for over 30 years. I should be gaming today, but due to two recent meltdowns triggered by events in the game, but fueled by my depression, I had to take a break. My behavior was ruining everyone else’s fun, frustrating the GM and turning me into the very type of gamer I’ve quit groups over. The Cliff notes version… we’re playing Pathfinder’s Kingmaker Adventure path. I chose to be the Ruler and a paladin to boot. The GM, with the help of another player, has been relentlessly trying to break my character’s resolve, chipping away at his ideals, the edges of his beliefs and testing his principles by setting up these torturous choices that I came to believe were designed to make him (and me) fail so that they can have a good laugh at my idiocy. Everything they were doing was making for great story, great RP, but it was driving me crazy, to the point where I believed the two of them weren’t happy unless I left every session miserable. There’s more to the story, personal issues between me and the other player, but I’ll only say that those issues weren’t helping my mood. I was losing sleep. I have, and even now as I type out this post, been obsessing over all my character’s failures, his anger, his losses, his agony. How his closest advisers (the other players) routinely just gave his edicts, orders, and laws lip service while they’d go off and do what they thought was best for the Duchy behind his back… sometimes to the point of committing treason, but in the spirit of keeping the game from completely imploding I was routinely forced to let those rebellious acts go unpunished…. another consistent source of frustration for me. Again, all rich fodder for great story, but I was and still am internalizing it all, and taking it all personally; turning this game into some kind indictment on me as a person, my own ability to lead or inspire and engender loyalty and awe, but it was feeling like it was more fun to the GM and the other players to refuse me that (despite having a 22 CHA!) and practically every social encounter resulted in the NPCs scoffing and mocking my paladin. The last meltdown happened after we had to go to great lengths to resurrect that before mentioned player (who’s character is the Duchess, my paladin’s wife, and a Druid– you can see where this is going) and one of her first actions after being resurrected (after we all nearly died several times to bring her back, neglected the Duchy for months to rescue her) was to have an affair with a priestess of the goddess of lust. Admittedly, my reaction was all meta-game, my character didn’t know about the tryst, but it was more than I could take as a player. I felt betrayed, ignored, used. And I imploded, and everyone took notice. I had to drop out, or the other player (The Duchess) was going to. Trouble is, had he dropped out (yeah, she’s played by a dude), my frustration would have continued. Yes, the game’s been rough on my character, but for me to take it all so personally, and unable to shake it between sessions, proved to me that there’s something very wrong with me right now and I needed to work on getting a hold on it all before I should go back. I love my friends. I love this hobby, but I’m not well and continuing with the game is simply unhealthy to say the least. I just hope I don’t have to stay away for too long.

    Anyone else have similar stories? How a game got the better of you because of your depression or other mental illness issues?

    Thanks again! It’s good to know I’m not alone.

  30. Philo Pharynx says:

    Yow! I feel your pain Buffzilla. This is definitely not a healthy game to be in. I’ve had some issues myself where issues in games affected me in real life. Especially with some of the romantic issues. I know what it’s like to not sleep over something in game and when it’s happening all the time, you need to get out. I hope that you find a game with a style that’s more helpful for you. I also hope you find the strength to continue until you find that game.

  31. @Buffzilla: Thanks for sharing your story, it is a hard time for you and I feel the pain through the words. The skewedness brought by the effect of depression on our perception filters is horrible. There’s really little you can do to notice it unless you train yourself with some psychotherapy tools.

    If I may suggest, try to join/start a simpler, less charged game. Something lighter or more focused on teamwork. Something in the vein like Avatar the Next Airbender (a GREAT show to watch while depressed as it’s all about hope and overcoming hardships). Not all campaign needs to be about deep story and gnawing drama.

    Regardless of what you do, know that we are many like you who live what you live now or have in the past. I recovered, so will you.

    The sun doth rise again… get your tanning oil ready for the next time.

    Peace out!

  32. Dixon Trimline says:

    @Buffzilla: You’re telling my story, as I have gone through this myself, and it’s what I meant when I wrote that games were “often the cause of, and solution to, my time in the darkness.” For me, it was a Meetup.com game I ran, getting together with a group of strangers, many of whom were absurd parodies of the “that guy” players we all dread. At length, I realized that I just wasn’t having fun, and shut the game down, but it did leave a kind of resounding shame in my life, a sense of failure.

    Here’s the thing: regardless of the my fault / their fault thing, I needed to put the whole ugly mess behind me to protect my fragile psyche. I needed to be able to recognize that what I felt was valid but also what I felt might not be entirely REAL, in the sense that when I get deeply, deeply depressed, my perceptions are suspect. I will say that when I was on an anti-depressant, my perceptions, my interactions, my day-to-day existence became laser sharp and truthful. It didn’t make everything super fancy perfect, but at least I could take comfort in knowing that what I was feeling was real.

    @Philo Pharynx: I know what you mean, there have been games or groups that were not safe for me given my current mental health. Because of the successful endorphin rush, I continue playing, regardless of the risks of depression, but when I’m fractured, I know I have to step very carefully and avoid the dangerous situations.

    @The Chatty DM: Your recommendation for a simpler game is a great one! Something fun and clean and mentally easy, right? Of the games you’ve been playing lately, which would you recommend? Fiasco? That seems pretty immersive but also wild and reckless and full of silly laughter.

  33. @Dixon: By lighter game, I don’t necessarily mean lighter mechanics (although that’s a perfectly valid option) but rather a lighter tone. Maybe less Adventure Path and more Dungeon Crawling. Less psychodrama and more Gamma World.

    Sometimes it’s cool to have a silly, lighter hearted game… even if players usually prefer the serious stuff.

  34. Buffzilla says:

    Thanks for all the kind and supportive responses. This is exactly what I needed. I searched the web for weeks trying to find a group, a message board, anything that dealt specifically with gaming and depression without insulting either or both, so @Chatty DM, @Philo and @Dixon, when I finally came across your blogs and the dozens of responses that mirrored my story, it was like the Red Sea parting, like the eagles snatching Frodo and Sam from the lava flow…

    For the record, I am on meds and in weekly therapy (since last October — after my first meltdown) and it’s helping a lot. But I also needed to hear directly from other gamers with similar stories, because I was feeling genuinely isolated and completely alone. I needed to find people who (risking a dusty, toe-curling cliche) understood me.

    The guy who plays the Duchess is also a neighbor of mine and we see each other a lot, and just the fact that he still wants to be a friend to me after how I’ve been behaving is a huge help, too. I haven’t pushed anyone away. This is a self-appointed exile, it’s for the best, and he knows that and supports it.

    I try to equate my depression with a chronic cough that just never seems to go away. And while it’s not contagious, it still makes me no fun to be around. It’s not my fault I have this affliction. And while I can’t control feelings, I can control behavior and how I respond to those feelings. I do want to go back to this game. My paladin is unbelievably powerful in a fight, it’s just all the in-between RP that’s been the agitation. But I’m not going to go back until I’ve built for myself a psychological infrastructure designed to separate what’s happening to my paladin from what’s happening to me and that there’s a giant chasm between the two. The players are my friends as is the GM. All the characters and NPCs (expect for two… his mother- who’s a powerful priestess of the same goddess, and an unflinchingly loyal ex-paladin turned barbarian– who may wind up becoming his gay lover… not yet sure about that 😉 [don’t judge! everyone needs love, right?]) hate my stuffy, kill-joy paladin (until combat starts, then they oh, so love him) but that doesn’t mean my friends hate ME. They’re not out to get ME. The GM is rolling his eyes at my CHARACTER, not at ME. And on and on. So stupidly simple. But that’s depression, I guess. We can turn the simple into the simply unbearable.

    I’ll keep ya’ll posted.

    Thanks again, guys! You have no idea how helpful you’ve been.

  35. Buffzilla says:

    Wanted to let you all know that I took your advice. I took a long, long break from that game that was driving me nuts and got involved with a game focused more on real teamwork and a very simple, clear goal that everyone’s on board with. No secret back stories. No betrayal. No undermining. After months of therapy and popping the meds, I’m feeling much much better about pretty much everything. So, last week I dipped my toe back into the game that triggered my meltdown. I wanted to see how far I’ve come (or if I hadn’t moved an inch). I wanted to see if all the old toxic obsessions would return, and if they did, I promised myself and all the other players, that was I out. I wanted to have fun playing hero, hanging out with my friends and eating crappy food…and that’s it. Well, something very promising happened about around the 10th hour of play (these games go on for a very, very long time) The thought and feeling settled into me and hasn’t really left since. “I’m having a blast hanging out with my friends. The game, meh, I can take it or leave it at this point.” No weirdness. No mind-grating obsessiveness. No anxiety. Nothing. I was having fun… but I could leave this game and it would be ok. And for that reason, I stayed and plan on returning to see the game to its conclusion.

    Thanks again everyone for sharing your stories! It’s been extremely encouraging and genuinely therapeutic.

    My best to you all.

Trackbacks

  1. Depression & Dungeons & Dragons from Critical Hits » RPG http://goo.gl/fb/IQUdE #RPG

  2. Very moving read! Gamers on Depression – D&D&D on Critical Hits http://t.co/oiVR902

  3. Depression & Dungeons & Dragons: If you’ve never been down in the dark, wretched pit of depression, there are si… http://bit.ly/dJbwXq

  4. Depression & Dungeons & Dragons : Critical Hits: If you’ve never been down in the dark, wretched pit of depressi… http://bit.ly/i9d4Wv

  5. Depression & Dungeons & Dragons : Critical Hits: If you’ve never been down in the dark, wretched pit of depressi… http://bit.ly/hfTZIu

  6. “@criticalhits: Depression & Dungeons & Dragons http://critical-hits.com/2010/12/27/depression-dungeons-dragons/” Thanks for this one. 🙂

  7. RT @criticalhits: New Critical Hit: Depression & Dungeons & Dragons http://critical-hits.com/2010/12/27/depression-dungeons-dragons/

  8. Time to get all serious: http://is.gd/jze4p Critical Hits article on depression, with many thanks to @chattydm.

  9. Great article about Gamers and Depression on @criticalhits by @dixontrimline: http://is.gd/jze4p (with input by yours truly)

  10. RT @ChattyDM: Great article about Gamers and Depression on @criticalhits by @dixontrimline: http://is.gd/jze4p (with input by yours truly)

  11. RT @ChattyDM: Great article about Gamers and Depression on @criticalhits by @dixontrimline: http://is.gd/jze4p (with input by yours truly)

  12. Depression & Dungeons & Dragons : Critical Hits – http://goo.gl/7jiyF (even if you’re not a roleplayer, this is still a very good article)

  13. RT @chattydm Great article about Gamers and Depression on @criticalhits by @dixontrimline: http://is.gd/jze4p (with input by yours truly)

  14. RT @dixontrimline: Time to get all serious: http://is.gd/jze4p Critical Hits article on depression, with many thanks to @chattydm.

  15. Depression & Dungeons & Dragons http://t.co/l36DWBN via @criticalhits

  16. @dixontrimline @chattydm Thanks for that depression post. I hope the people who need to see it do. http://tinyurl.com/22ts4uo

  17. […] the missing balance and happiness that has been missing in my life for so long. This article on Depression and Dungeons and Dragons posted on Critical-Hits.com explains the issues I am facing the best way – it is literally […]