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How This Popular 'Nerd' Hobby Helps With My Depression

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I am a nerd. I watch lots of sci-fi and fantasy, I write, I love to read and I play Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). I also have depression. Something I wanted to explore, though, is how D&D itself — as well as the D&D community — contributes to my recovery from depression.

My depression comes in waves. I’ll be fine for a few weeks, then one small thing sets me off and I’m in a depressive episode for days. Usually, I can still (mostly) function. I get out of bed and I carry on with my life, all the while feeling a weight on my soul. Sometimes, I can’t function. I lie in bed and stare at my phone absently, let myself go hungry and wait for something to compel me to leave my bed; usually, it’s because I have lain in bed for five hours and need to pee.

D&D, however, has managed to keep me grounded. For those unfamiliar, D&D is a roleplaying game where you are placed into a fantasy world and the success or failure of your every choice is determined by dice rolls. There are rules that you have to follow (at your Dungeon Master’s discretion) and, at least for the game to be fun for those involved, you have to immerse yourself in the world and let your character take over.

Ironically, inhabiting these different characters and focusing on their problems for a few hours instead of my own has allowed me to gain perspective on my own. Comparatively, not knowing what I’m doing with my life is a much smaller problem than killing the wrong god and unleashing gibbering mouthers onto an unsuspecting island.

More seriously, when I’m playing D&D, I’m surrounded by like-minded individuals who are looking for their own kind of escape. We become different people and are allowed to be silly, outrageous and dark. Every fight is based on teamwork and communication. The relationships we build with one another and with the NPCs are genuine. As one problem is solved, another one crops up — but we (usually) level up and are granted a sense of accomplishment.

Out of character, too, we engage with one another. One of my groups is constantly talking, sharing memes, sharing art of our characters, character playlists, and enabling each other to buy more unneeded but very pretty dice. We are there for each other. Early in the year, I got into a serious episode of depression and this group pulled me out of it. They had me watch “Repo! The Genetic Opera” and the next day, we all hung out and watched “The Devil’s Carnival” together. I wasn’t hungry all day, but by the time I got home, I felt so much better and was finally able to eat. Feeling that sense of community out of our game was exactly what I had needed, and they definitely delivered.

As for my characters, each of them is going through their own issues that I have to work through, which in a way gives me practice to work through my own real-world issues, which are smaller in comparison but no less deserving of my attention.

One of my characters is an ex-slave assassin running away from her organization because of the power of friendship, but she’s traumatized every other session. She often goes into her own depression, and the other characters have helped pull her out, just like they did with me. Another character killed her own mother as part of her backstory, but in the first game, she was killed. Now she’s a ghost who has to reconcile her mistakes and is doing her best to be worthy of a non-player character (NPC) love interest. She’s not perfect, but she’s trying to be better in her own way.

I also see how D&D has helped those around me. One of my best friends had disappeared on us for a few years, but now he’s back and seeking out friendship through our D&D group. One of my Dungeon Masters has leaned on the group for support as he went through a rough breakup. We’ve gone through job losses together, depression, dating troubles and so much more, but being able to immerse ourselves in a different world has helped us cope and lean on one another.

Each storyline has taught me something, and my friends have shown me support and love, both in and out of the game. Without D&D as an outlet for my emotions, I don’t know where I’d be right now. Chances are, I’d be in the exact same spot but feeling a sore lack of community.

Photo by Corey Motta on Unsplash

Originally published: May 28, 2019
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