The Threads of Connection
This is what we call a "serious post". Do not go further if you have no interest in, uhm, well TMI about me I suppose.

I was going to write an About Me page due to a very exciting invitation for an upcoming event, but I didn’t know how. Due to the nature of my subject, WoW is supposed to be the place where I can escape being me… not talk about being me. That’s why it’s a Role Playing Game.

And then I read Tam’s “serious” post, and after crying for far longer than I care to admit, it occurred to me that if a Brit can expose so much emotional underbelly, then really, as a soppy American given to truly heinous and embarrassing acts of sentimentalism, why shouldn’t I feel free to do so as well?

So here you are. The truth is, I play WoW because I am depressed.

Does that seem anti-climatic? Maybe a disappointment? Are you rolling your eyes? I don’t really blame you. It's incredibly embarrassing for me to admit it out loud, let alone broadcast it on the internet. I'd love to deny it, that I'm not one of those gamers. It sounds like the same old boring story, pathetic and clichĂ©. But it’s not. It’s a hobby I actively chose in an effort to allow myself, however ironically, to just be me – and in a very primal way, it was a last ditch attempt at survival. I used it to escape my life, but not to escape being me.

It began as a place to hide. Years later, it became the neighborhood bar I visit to catch up with friends and have fun. In “real life” I am not yet able to do this easily, but after a few years of playing WoW, I am determined to try again – with new friends. The ones I made in WoW. I want to go to Blizzcon and meet up with other bloggers. I want to take road trips to different places to visit with friends I've made in game. These are positive changes for me.

When I first started playing WoW in January of 2007, I was in a downward spiral, and this alternate universe, devoid of all the things in my life that left me feeling helpless and hopeless, provided a stepping stone to survival. No, it doesn’t really propel my life further. However, it does help me from sinking deeper. It’s the boulder jutting out from a sea of complete and utter despair that keeps me from being consumed by the hurricane in my own mind. It’s the bubble, the Divine Aegis proc. This is srs bzns.

I’m not depressed in some beautiful dystopian Picasso-blue-period sense. It’s not just a funk. It’s the clinical version, and yet there is nothing about it that feels clinical. The type that has been there your whole life, and just gets worse as you age. The kind that’s hereditary. The kind that explains why some of your relatives seem to drop off, one by one, into alcoholic or drug-induced self destruction, if they even last that long. The kind that translates into this heavy disease that calcifies into your bones, and makes the concept of moving your feet off the side of the bed and standing up on them in the morning tantamount to an Olympic competition. I know how pathetic it sounds, but this silly game is the tiny boost I sometimes need to help inspire me to at least get out of bed. After the first step, everything else gets a bit easier.

I don’t sit around feeling sorry for myself. I don’t try to bring down people around me. Every day most of my effort (and believe me when I say that every single tiny action seems like a gigantic effort) is funneled into keeping all of it contained within me, so that I don’t systematically destroy the threads that connect me to others I know I love.

If you’ve read my blog at all over the past year, you may have noticed that I take on the Happy Hippie Healer Hat. It’s true that I try to be a very cheerful and optimistic person. When changes happen in the game, I do try to look at them from the positive side, attempting to be bright, and warm and welcoming. By nature, I am a cheerful, outgoing, exuberant person. When you meet me in person I hover back and forth between giddy playfulness and self-conscious awkward moments. The first part is the genuine me, the second is the part I try to overcome. If I were to try and separate the clinically depressed version of me from the version that has trouble finding a reason to get out of bed in the morning, then this is what I get.

Tam pointed out something that really struck home with me:

And I know anonymity also makes us susceptible to the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, but there’s a flip side to this – the shy can be outspoken, the awkward can be flirtatious, the insecure can find acceptance, the followers can lead and the anti-social can be social. I don’t necessarily believe virtual spaces miraculously turns us into people other than we are, but I do think it can allow us to tap into aspects of ourselves that may not find much expression in our chosen lives.


And there you are. The person I am here, in this silly little game, over vent… that’s the real version of me. The person that others may see day in and day out, face to face? That is the diseased, sickened persona. It’s twisted and backwards and completely counter-intuitive, but there you have it.

I often think of depression like a cancer. It’s this tumor that grows and manifests in weird ways. It covers up portions of your true self. The tendrils of that tumor intertwine into my very nature until even I start to get confused, and I don’t know where I end and the tumor begins. It’s like a snobold on my head. You see the snobold, and maybe you confuse that snobold with me. I wish I could ask all the DPS to switch to the snobold on my head, take it down, and everything would be alright.

This is why I get frustrated when I hear people say that depression isn’t real, that it’s just people feeling sorry for themselves. It is real, it does exist, and pretending it’s not has lead to an epidemic of people seeking alternate realities in which they can escape the tumor. Some people chose alcohol, others drugs. Well. I chose World of Warcraft. When I felt like I was collapsing, I reached out and grasped onto something that would still allow me, in some strange way, to connect to other people.

I’m not a Psychologist. But it does seem to me, from my 25 years of experience with this disorder, that depression has a physicality associated with it. By that I mean that it manifests differently depending on the environment. We pick and choose our comfort zones, and in certain comfort zones, we can “trick” the tumor. We can escape from beneath its heady weight, and breathe freely. The weightlessness is like flying. I can be in top form in a raid, without getting caught up in worrying that others are thinking my gestures too wide, my face too animated, my exuberance too obnoxious. While I still retain some of my self-conscious nature, it is not as extreme. Occasionally my fiancĂ© tells me I laugh too loud in vent, but that’s about as far as it goes. Can you ever really laugh too loud or too much? When you don’t find yourself laughing much on a day to day basis, then you treasure each chuckle.

In Azeroth, we’re all on an even playing field. It is very clear what is reality, and what is not. The world in which we play is a fantasy, it is not a true translation of the world in which we actually exist. However, the social interactions within are – or at least, can be if you choose to make them so. You might be a former cheerleader in the real world, working at a fashion magazine, whereas I could be an overgrown goth chick, who works a sex hotline number in off peak hours (well, okay, I'm not, but the point stands). But none of that really matters, because you tank, and I heal, and somehow, despite all the real world details that would keep us from becoming friends, we both chose to roll female Dwarves. So we must have something in common. And somewhere along the line, we became friends. What might have stood between us IRL is no longer there in game.

Anything can be self-destructive, if taken to the extreme. What some people call an addiction is actually a propensity to latch on to one thing and focus on it, single-mindedly, for a great length of time, to the detriment of all other facets of your life. One summer I was so wrapped up in my own misery, I tucked in with yet another Tolstoy epic and refused to speak to anyone… or sleep… or eat… until I felt like I wanted to jump under the train with Anna Karenina herself. Many years later, during one particularly devastating winter of personal failure, I latched on to World of Warcraft to keep myself from going back to my self-destructive Anna Karenina obsession. At least if I sank down into Azeroth, I wouldn’t be alone.

I’ve known a great many number of people who, in their downward spirals, grasped a bottle of Vodka in one hand, and a drug dealer in the other, and sank deeper and deeper until they simply disintegrated. Depression lends itself to self-destructive behavior simply because subconsciously (and sometimes consciously) you do want to destroy yourself. You want to push everyone else out, be alone, and just dissolve. I never allowed myself to get sucked into a drug or drink binge; instead I opted for an alternate reality that still enabled me to keep people in my life. The game forced me into social situations, without the physical awkwardness that usually inhibits me.

It doesn’t matter where the threads of connection between you and other people take place; What matters is that they exist, somewhere. I don’t need my Pally Tank BFF to talk to me about how I had yet another grotesque nightmare and today is officially a Bad Day. I don’t need her to come over and have beers with me to cheer me up. What matters is that she’s there, somehow, some way. That is a thread of connection that sustains me; It is an obligation to another human being, and an unspoken expectation from them that I keep on keeping on.

I'm not writing this to procure pity or sympathy, or even understanding from others. But I know I'm not the only one who has used WoW as a way to stay afloat. I suspect I speak for many people when I explain why I believe that MMOs don't make us depressed - we come to them when we are already depressed. I want you to know - you aren't alone.

It is, after all, just a game. But the relationships within it are real. And trust me when I say, it’s not the game mechanics that help me stay afloat in some small way. It’s the social threads that hold me up.
29 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    Thank you for writing this. I think that this describes more of the community then people want to admit.


  2. Keredria Says:

    Wow, just wow. What an incredibly raw, open, eloquent, and moving post. You are seriously giving Tam a run for his money, which benefits all of us readers.

    I completely understand when you stay that it is the social relationship within the game that holds you up when you are using this game as a refuge. Its the very reason why my tank Jess and I have the relationship that we have today.. because Jess was there for me at the hardest year of my life, in a way that no other person was.

    Thanks again for sharing. <3


  3. jenn Says:

    I'm never the type to comment on blogs. But this post was open and intelligent and... yeah. Great post.


  4. River Says:

    Usually this is where I say something stupid, witty, or mention a body part.

    Not today.

    I have to say. It's hard to open yourself like that, I applaud you. And I give you much credit, as one who battled depression before I can understand where you are coming from. I don't want to say I won the battle over it, cause like an Imp it's always hanging around.

    Much Kudos to you. I'm glad your on my blogroll, I'm proud to have you there.


  5. Edainne Says:

    Thank you for being a beautiful person who is incredibly brave to be so open and honest with what so many others would consider strangers (though I'd argue you're even braver for admitting it to friends).

    I couldn't agree more about how important and meaningful the relationships we have in the game (and, for that matter, in the blogosphere) are.

    Thank you.

    With love and hugs (I hope that doesn't make it sound trivial...I just know sometimes I appreciate hugs however far away they may be coming from),
    Eda


  6. Anonymous Says:

    I feel like I'm looking into the mirror.


  7. Mongrr Says:

    Wow. This, was a great post, with a lot more truth to it than many folks probably care to admit.

    The relationships you make in-game are indeed very real. I've gone on road trips to meet friends from in-game, and believe me, I've taken some flack from folks who don't play that just didn't *get* why I would do that... and you know what? Those folks that I've gone to meet at guild get-togethers are some of the best and closest friends that I've ever had the pleasure of knowing.

    One such guildy even asked that I be a part of his wedding earlier this year... a guy I met online, in a video game. The fact that he thought of me in such a way as to be involved in such a huge part of his life was deeply moving.

    The social aspect, and the relationship factor of playing a game like this is what keeps me playing a game that I likely would have quit playing long ago if they were not there. It's the difference between playing other online games that are popular like Call of Duty or even Warcraft III.

    Kudos for having the courage to actually make a post like this. I don't think I would have been able to do so.


  8. Eversor Says:

    Thank you for a very thoughtful and revealing post. I think there is often a misunderstanding or misperception of what true clinical depression is. Much like diabetes which prohibits proper endocrine function, depression chemically prohibits proper emotional function. Can a depressed person smile, laugh, go to the beach, have fun, be in love? Of course! It's just that the depression affects all of those activities. Every second of every day it's there. And as you mentioned (and so many others do!), it's a struggle every morning just to get up out of bed. While I work in occupational medicine now, I was in family practice before and that experience truly helped me to appreciate the constant struggle that people with depression have. Thanks again for writing such an open and thoughtful piece. It put into words what I wish I could have for many past patients.


  9. Eli Says:

    Miss Medicina,

    I'm not sure what brought me to your blog in the first place, and I'm not sure what keeps me here as I am not a priest nor have i ever had any desire to play one, but after reading this post i recognize what keeps me coming back... though i think i could never admit this IRL, WoW saved my life, or at least raid nights and general tomfoolery with my guild gave me enough reason to keep on persevering until RL seemed worth being a part of again. To read so much of my experience so eloquently put into words by you was a truly moving experience. Keep up the good work, and know that this post has moved me solidly from "occasional reader" to "loyal follower."


  10. /hug

    I don't think it was oversharing or too much information. I think you were brave enough to admit what a lot of people are too afraid to put into words.


  11. Mister K Says:

    /hug
    As someone who has dealt with depression I totally know where you're coming from. Being able to interact with people who all share a common goal and you enjoy spending time with is for me the best part of this game. I have made some amazing friends who I wouldn't know otherwise and they are really important to me. My guild members and the people who have read and commented on my blog are some of the most amazing people I have ever known.

    Keep up the great work you are doing here. Some people may just think its a blog about a silly game but the relationships are real and what you get out of it is whats really important.


  12. Zan Says:

    Hey, thanks for sharing this.

    You're not alone out there, there are others who feel and are the exact same way you are (I am), and we understand exactly where you're coming from.

    The emotions and feelings people feel when playing online are very real.

    Regarding the depression:
    You have the right to feel better.

    If you are lucky enough to have access to medical care (medical insurance in the US is getting rarer and rarer), it might be worth talking to a professional. Going on meds probably won't change what you enjoy, but it might make the time in meatspace more tolerable.

    If you lack medical insurance, consider doing clinical trials for depression meds. They treat you, they see you frequently, they do tests to make sure you don't have some other cause of depression (thyroid, diabetes), you help test meds that may help people in the future, and you get paid for it.


  13. Anonymous Says:

    Thank you.


  14. Exanna Says:

    Hey, there. Enjoyed your post, and I am certain it will help a lot of folks- maybe even people who may not know they are clinically depressed. They may just think they are crazy or something. They are not, and you are not. And like the previous post says you have a right to feel better. You have a right to live and feel free and good. I hope you will come out of this healthier and free of the heditary bonds that may bind you now. You don't have to live the life your relatives have lived. Oprah says Live Your Best Life.. I say CHOOSE to live your best life for yourself, your loved ones- and for your readers. :)


  15. Anonymous Says:

    Thank you thank you thank you so much. You have said everything that I have wanted to say about myself but with much more elegant wording. I just wish i had the gift of words like you have.


  16. Jeff Says:

    I used to share a flat with TWO depressives. If you have it as bad as they did, then just staying focussed enough to raid is a hell of a feat.

    But much more than that, the fact that you write so well and so often says to me that you're handling it with aplomb, even if it may not feel like it to you. And you have a ton of people out here who think you're awesome even though you don't know us.


  17. Poneria Says:

    "I want you to know - you aren't alone."

    I'd like to say this^ back to you. This entire post, really, but especially this line. From what little I've read of this blog, you're a totally sock-rocking awesome person, Miss Medicina, and with this post I feel less alone. :)


  18. Anonymous Says:

    Thank you for putting into words feelings I've had for years. Your honesty seared through this fog in my head like not very much has in a while.


  19. Tufva Says:

    In this blog you do come across as a very positive, chirpy person.

    And I cannot believe that there is such a thing as laughing too much. :-)

    /hug


  20. crankyhealer Says:

    I read this about 3 times over the weekend. It really moved me. Thank you.


  21. Sierro Says:

    Whenever someone in a PuG starts ranting and raving about gearscore or bad players.

    Whenever a friend mocks me for playing WoW.

    Whenever a family member says I waste my time playing that silly game.

    Whenever I'd rather stay in and attend a guild raid rather than go to the pub to watch the match.

    Whenever any of these sort of things happen, I'm just gonna quote you.

    "It is, after all, just a game. But the relationships within it are real."

    Very thought provoking post, thank you for taking the time to write it.


  22. Dharmabhum Says:

    Thanks. That was brave, and raw, and true, and right. I hope it helps you as much as it helps all of us.

    From one hippie healer to another: lets keep on keepin on, and sharing that which makes us great, in order to help everyone see and realise their own aspirations!


  23. Anonymous Says:

    Thank you for so eloquently countering the very pervasive idea that depression is what happens to you when you lose your job and your car is broken and your dog died.

    I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, which triggers a sleep disorder, and I've had it my whole life. My parents told me, and I thought for years that I was lazy and undisciplined because I sometimes couldn't force myself out of bed, and I was angry with myself for not trying harder. Now I know the difference between me when I'm healthy and me sick. I still have to try hard, but I can forgive myself for failing.


  24. Shayzani Says:

    There's a lot I could say about this but I think other comments pretty much have things covered. Instead, I'll just say thank you for posting this and I wish you all the best.


  25. Adeanna Says:

    i just wanted to say thank you for such a great post and for sharing it.



  26. Beth Says:

    *fist bump* Thank you and keep it going from another priest depressive (depressionist?).


  27. Jaedia Says:

    As I posted on Tam's post, sorry I missed this one before..

    I wish I could word my answer as well as the two of you but I really don't think I could. Besides, I think that you have managed to word what I'd say almost perfectly. The only thing I'm missing in WoW is a place to belong, which is where the blogging and twitter community come in.

    Thank you, for this post.


  28. Talanna Says:

    Thank you for this great post. It's always good to know you are not alone.


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