The holiday season can be a particularly challenging time for many people all across the globe, so I figured it’s about time I finally shared my personal journey on the mental health strugglebus. Unlike my other articles this one won’t include a clean and concise list of bullet-point takeaways, because it has been anything but. However I do hope that you find something worthwhile in the following text whether it be acknowledgment that your struggles are valid and that you’re not alone in how you feel, a continued hope for light at the end of the tunnel, a rekindling of your connection to the RPG community, or even just to get to know me (Aaron, The Alpine DM) a little bit better as a fellow human being.
I can’t tell you exactly when it started, but for the longest time I felt like I wasn’t present in my own life. It wasn’t all thunderclouds and rainstorms; in fact from the outside it probably seemed like everything was perfect. Loving and supportive family? Check. A handful of close friends? Check. Academic success? Checkity Check.
Yet there was an inescapable apathy deep within myself that I couldn’t seem to shake or explain. As fucked up as it seems, there were days when I wished a horrific tragedy upon myself. At least then, I told myself, I would have some justification for feeling this way.
It wasn’t that I wanted to die. I just didn’t particularly want to live.
In 9th grade I got introduced to Dungeons and Dragons 3.5e through my brother and some of our mutual friends from LaserTag. After spending 45 minutes laughing non-stop at how ridiculous and silly the entire premise was, it finally “clicked” and I understood the appeal. It was like playing some of my favorite video game RPGs but there weren’t any restrictions on what I could try, and I got to enjoy the story with friends.
These Friday nights became a sort of safe haven that I looked forward to greatly. There was no need to hide my nerdy interests or shy-away from the weirdo that I truly was. Naturally I didn’t openly talk about this at school because, being 14, I was concerned with trying to be popular and kiss a girl. I’m not sure where I picked it up (mainstream media in 2008? idk) but it was ingrained in my head that ‘Dungeons and Dragons is for hopeless losers. God forbid I associate myself with that publicly.
Fast forward a few years and along came drugs. It was like a light-switch turned on, “Holy shit… I feel great.” I’ll gloss over some major details but I quickly became addicted to the thrill of pushing myself to the limit – mentally, physically, and emotionally – just to see if I could get away with it. The best way to describe it is like speeding down the highway and closing your eyes while taking your hands off the wheel (Yes I’ve done this…please don’t be like me). You know everything will probably be fine, but there’s the distinct possibility that things could go catastrophically wrong at any second. However I was willing to take that risk because feeling SOMETHING seemed a whole lot better than the emptiness I had grown accustom to.
Annyyyywaaay…I wound up in the hospital (and this wouldn’t be the last time either) and got the fancypants diagnosis of polysubstance abuse. Now what exactly does that mean? Basically that I wanted to be fucked up all the time and didn’t care how, or alternatively it “refers to a type of substance dependence disorder in which an individual uses at least three different classes of substances indiscriminately and does not have a favorite drug that qualifies for dependence on its own.“
In college the pressure to “be cool” grew stronger than ever, but so did my yearning to once again play Dungeons & Dragons and feel comfortable in my own skin. For whatever reason I felt deeply ashamed of my love for the hobby and kept it hidden from virtually everyone.
Sure the non-stop crazy partying was a lot of fun (cue more ER visits…), but I wasn’t doing myself any favors in the mental health department. I could barely get out of bed in the morning and drag myself to class – in fact many days I didn’t. Just thinking about existing and interacting with the world was completely draining. “How do all of these people do this every single day?”, I distinctly remember thinking to myself.
I found some solace by hiding away in my room and rolling up different characters that I came up with. With these characters I would go on adventures, get into barfights, and explore randomly generated dungeons (all by myself of course). Eventually I was enthralled by the idea of actually playing again and decided to check out some posts in r/lfg. I continued to completely hide the fact that I was interested in playing D&D, despite now actually meeting up with people to play it regularly. Admittedly it was weird to meet up with complete strangers and start a campaign, but everyone turned out to be awesome people and it reminded me of why I loved playing D&D so much in the first place.
Despite this, things went downhill pretty quickly after graduating from college. Staying up until 4am railing lines of coke and downing bottles of champagne. By myself. Only to wake up and do a few more lines before heading to work. While avoiding something I was passionate about I had inadvertently became that which I was trying to avoid. I had become a hopeless loser.
It didn’t take too long to realize I was plummeting towards rock bottom, so I quickly started cleaning up my act and decided to move across the country for a new job. It wasn’t an easy or perfect process but through mindfulness practice, plenty of water and exercise, help from a professional, and of course slaying dragons, I was able to get myself back on the right track. Shortly after, I found a new D&D group full of awesome players and was inspired to create this website.
Could all of this have been avoided if there wasn’t such a (perceived) stigma against Dungeons & Dragons and discussing mental health? Sure, maybe. Regardless, this hobby has repeatedly connected me with new friends and continually gives me something to look forward to.
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