[UPDATE: This post was written before I started a new position. I’m happily with a company now and I couldn’t be more thrilled! That doesn’t mean I don’t want to share this post with you, my loyal readership.]
I’m not a mental health expert. I’m not a guru. I haven’t found enlightenment. But this is the story of how Pokémon Go helped me combat my anxiety.
I recently found myself out of work, worried and anxious. Painfully anxious. In the West, we have a terrible problem: we assume that our entire worth is tied to work. And since I wasn’t working…who was I? It didn’t matter that I was Amanda the Cosplayer or Amanda the Bon Viveur; what mattered was that I was out of work. I obsessed. I put in countless applications in a day. I sat by the phone and waited for it to ring. I sat and I sunk into sadness and melancholy. I fell to the call of Acedia and Tristia and I felt awful.
In my other periods of unemployment I had denied myself of any pleasures of the flesh. I shied away from games, friends, food. My task and goal were only to get back to work and that perseverance kept me usually unemployed for very brief periods of time. But in denying myself the things that help me cope and deal with stress I rather quickly found myself frazzled and stressed out.
I am fortunate enough to have a loving support system around me and a common remedy was put forward to help get me out of the house and hopefully feeling a little better: walking.
Now, for those of you who are fortunate enough to know me in real life or to have met me at a convention or during a panel this may come as a shock to you but…I am not the bastion of physical health. I’m short, chubby and an asthmatic. I wilt in high heat and shudder in the cold. My flat feet mean that great distances wear on me heavily but I am absolutely one to find brief moments of Runner’s High. Brief. Very very brief. It may also be a surprise for you to know that until owning a car, my main modes of transportation were my own two feet and the local bus system. I walked miles in a day and didn’t think anything of it. I had good shoes and a sturdy disposition so that was all that mattered. As soon as I got a car, though, I found that I was walking very little.
So I decided to take on walking. It got me out of the house, didn’t cost much and it would help me avoid rickets but walking on my own with my sad music on my sad mp3 player wouldn’t do me any good. I needed incentive.
Pokemon Go is an AR (Augmented Reality) game that was released earlier this year. It’s an app that can be downloaded onto your phone and with it you can enter the world of Pokemon easily. I love Pokemon. I’m a dedicated Nintendo girl and the idea of catching Pokemon in real life was fantastic. However, schedules and resources made it difficult to play the game during its halcyon days. I also didn’t like a lot of the tension between teams: as a Slytherin, I am very sensitive to the idea of houses or teams being opposed to each other. That being said: Team Mystic forever.
Pokemon Go ended up being a huge deal. People mentioned constantly how it was helping them deal with depression and anxiety and to be honest, I found those stories to be a little silly at first. Depression, anxiety…those are serious illnesses. How can a game help anyone realistically cope with those issues?
One day, I decided that I’d go for a walk. Well, I was told I’d go for a walk after my friends admitted some concern about my lack of sunlight: jobless or not. I opened up the game, just to take advantage of one of the PokeStops that was just too far away from my apartment to normally enjoy its bounty. I collected the items from the stop and went on my day. I did this over a few days and steadily increased my step count and eggs. I walked about a block a day for close to a week. I was running out of Pokemon in my home territory so I decided to venture out just a little farther.
Woodlawn Lake isn’t far from my apartment. It’s a short drive and somewhat short bus trip. It’s spacious, lush and full of hungry birds and lights. In my first walk at Woodlawn Lake I chased down an Onix, tried to get an Electabuzz and walked just under a mile. I complained the entire time. I hated the heat, the ducks that chased me for my bread and was angry I didn’t get the Pokemon I wanted.
The next few times I walked for longer periods of time and caught better Pokemon. I took screenshots and shared my success with my friends and hearing them cheer me on was amazing. When I crossed over a mile and a half, I was praised by my friends and showing off the rare Pokemon I had caught gave us something to talk about other than the misery of our current situations. I was happy when my eggs hatched into beneficial or beloved Pokemon. I was happy to find something new. I was happy to keep walking, feel the sun and not feel too sore. It gave me something to look forward to. It gave me something to do. It made me feel happy, even if it was for a fleeting moment.
Here are a few of the Pokemon I’ve captured on my adventures recently and some of the eggs I’ve hatched, too. [UPDATE: And these are the super early ones! I’m STILL playing Pokemon Go, I’m like level 23 now, so I’ll probably add more images later on!]
I’m a gamer by nature so I do feel the same endorphin release and feeling of accomplishment when playing a game (fun study on that here). It felt like a real achievement and was a solid reward after putting in between 5-15 applications daily during the week. I walked over a mile a few times and I was eager to keep walking. I planned my walks better, brought water with me and continued to share the photos with friends.
I struggled with the feeling at first because it did feel like I was running away, well walking away, from my problems. I felt like I was languishing in excess and distraction. But it did remind me a lot of The Oatmeal’s lovely comic on why he runs. I walked away from the concerns of the world. I walked to distract myself. I walked away and turned my back to the issues and problems of the day and it is glorious.
And even though it’s intangible, even though it’s not real, even though it’s just a game…for a while, Pokemon Go kept me going. And I’ll be grateful for a long time to the game that helped me find my sanity once more.