I’m 22, I graduated university over a year ago, and I was at the lowest I had ever been before: my dad was ill, and I was scared, I was miserable at my part-time retail job, and every attempt to leave was met with rejection. I felt stuck, that I was holding my partner back, that I was just bad at life. I’d given up all my hobbies too — no more attempting to get fit, no love for cooking, and no more writing.
I wanted to go somewhere that didn’t know me. I wanted a chance to forget I was who I was. By some quirk of chance, I found myself on the doors of the furry community. I knew from previous interactions on social media that the stereotype that furries were middle-aged, sex-obsessed men was wrong. Very wrong. I can’t speak for the entire community, and I don’t want to, but my own experience was that my first interactions were friendly.
I created a character, then several more, and none of them really fit me. I associated every one with a different aspect of me, and I grew apart from them. Then one day, I was talking with a person on Twitter and it hit me – I needed a character that could grow and change with me, and I made him: Riptide.
Riptide is a crocoyeen (crocodile and hyena hybrid), a robot, and he has a clear voice in my head. With support of other people I met with similar life experiences to me, I admitted myself for another round of therapy, and Riptide became the voice that reminds me of the logical argument against my feelings.
I made him as an emotionless being, and I used him as my icon on social media and forums. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the “mask” of a character was having a benefit on my well being. I was talking to strangers online and in real life without clamming up or being frightened because Riptide wouldn’t be scared. I was beginning to recognize and control aspects of my condition once again: My chest was starting to hurt (I was getting anxious), I was getting a headache (I’m starting to get stressed), I’m feeling a bit foggy (I’m starting to feel depressed, I need to separate myself and relax for a while). I was gaining confidence, and saving money, I was starting to write again, and my mum was the first person to remark that I seemed refreshed.
The furry community is a group of creatives: writers, crafters, artists, animators and even dancers. We all have our normal lives. I’ve met people who serve in the military, work my career, and even a few with jobs in security and engineering, and I’m no longer daunted or feel inadequate around them. I share their passion for this hobby. With characters between you and the person you’re talking to, you’ve already got an icebreaker, and the pressure I experience when trying to start a conversation disappears. Everyone there feels the same. We go there to share in an escape from reality, and it’s provided me that refuge to step away from my life and my troubles and enjoy the company of others.
Riptide is essentially a virtual dog: strangers stop me in my day just to ask me about him, same as people do when I walk my dogs, and sometimes it’s nice to have questions that aren’t, “What’s it like to have a panic attack?” or “Doesn’t your partner ever get bored of you being so depressed all the time?”
I found friends on my own doorstep, as well as around the world. I’ve found a support network and a little group of fans with both Riptide and my writing, and I’ve found a whole new world of people to escape to once in awhile to distance myself from a stressful situation. This community and my crocodile-sona have opened my eyes to new career options and kept my morale up when I was at my lowest. I found friends who’ve inspired me to be a better person, and I hope I can use my newfound interests to shine a positive light on both mental illness and the communities I find myself a part of.
I still work that same retail job, and my head still likes to remind me I’m stuck and there are still dark days, of course. But I’m also using my inner Riptide to inspire me to keep going. He’s reminding me that every time I feel stuck, I can change. Changes take time, and that’s OK — this is something that even a few months ago, my brain would have disregarded as fanciful rubbish.