Depression, Disinterest and Disappearing: The Dark Side of Escapism

I haven’t written anything in a long, long while. It’s been about five months since my last piece, and then about three months between that post and the one before it. With writing, there’s always a bit of a push and pull; there are times you feel inspired and times you don’t. It’s really hard to push yourself to write when you don’t feel inspired. Truly talented and hardworking writers work through those apathetic spells, though, actively searching for inspiration when they run out of it. If worst comes to worst, it will come back eventually, even if it takes a week or two.

Up until this last year, that’s been true for me, too. My writer’s block would usually only last about two or three weeks, though it occasionally stretched on for around a month, if I was dealing with a particularly bad case of it. Every time it hit me, I worried my inspiration might have left me for good; I thought maybe I had finally used up all the mental and emotional resources I had, and none of it was ever coming back. It always did, though. At least until recently.

I haven’t had the urge to sit down and write something for a solid six or seven months now. I have flashes of inspiration here and there, but they all slip away from me the moment I start actually writing anything. Six months is an alarming amount of time to be uninspired. Maybe not everyone can relate to that; maybe that’s a pretty normal amount of time for a person’s creative outlets to be totally dormant. I honestly don’t know. I do know it’s not normal for me, though. And it’s really scary, being so distant from this part of myself for so long. It feels like I’m losing sight of who I am.

 A lifelong quest. [Kidding aside, this game helped me a lot a while back.]
A lifelong quest. [Kidding aside, this game helped me a lot a while back.]

I’ve felt this way before, though. It’s a feeling that comes packaged in with depression, something I’ve struggled with for my entire adult life. Over the last few months, I have been mired in one of the deepest depressions I have ever experienced, and that has no doubt made my writing issue significantly worse. If my state of mind was a little less awful, maybe I would have been able to hold on tighter to those occasional flashes of inspiration. Maybe I would’ve actually committed to each of them, and written out all the words I wanted to write. Instead, I’ve been spending all my free time trying to disappear.

A while ago, I wrote about how many people, myself included, use video games as a means to escape from reality. I wrote about how there has always been some negativity associated with that kind of escapism, and went on to say that I found that attitude pretty dismissive. I said that it’s important for people to have escape outlets, pointing to my personal experiences trying to cope after an accident left me with third-degree burns. Video games gave me a world to explore when I wasn't able to explore the real one. Having that outlet was absolutely necessary for me, I think.

Ah, Zero Escape. Just what I needed. Absolutely zero escaping.
Ah, Zero Escape. Just what I needed. Absolutely zero escaping.

For the last year, though, I haven’t been using escapism as a means to try to recover from painful experiences. Instead, I have been using it as a means to avoid having painful experiences in the first place. I have kept myself buried in some video game or anime series or podcast as often as possible, only going out when absolutely necessary. When I do go outside, I put my headphones on, usually playing old episodes of my favorite podcasts because I've probably already listened to all the new ones.

As much as I hate to admit it, video games are supporting my self-destructive escapist habits right now, and they’re doing a really good job of it. For better or for worse, playing video games is one of the most effective ways to get away from the world. Unfortunately, that can mean a lot of different things, and right now it means they’re making it easier for me to stay locked up in my room. They're giving me a simulacrum of the variety of experiences that make up real life, filling the emotional void inside of me just enough so that I can continue to ignore it instead of actually doing anything about it. I have fallen into this facsimile of the human experience that—like american cheese, or mexican food at a Taco Bell—isn't a convincing enough imitation of the real thing to replace it, but can still be satisfying if you're not actually looking for the real thing in the first place.

The original Misery Mire.
The original Misery Mire.

Thankfully, while I’m honestly still not doing great, I have been doing at least a little better over the last few weeks. I know I just finished describing how I’ve been playing games as a kind of maladaptive coping mechanism, but they’re actually helping me find my way out of this miserable emotional mire, too. My brother and I have been playing co-op games here and there, which has been nice. I’ve also been playing quite a lot of Smash (specifically Melee) with my roommates, and I’m actually finding myself able to get invested and excited while playing it. It’s been hard for me to feel excited about much of anything lately, so these Melee sessions have been really refreshing. These interactions with games have left me feeling better after putting the controller down. It's totally different from the way games have usually been making me feel lately.

For the last few months, I let video games be a part of my self-destructive behavior, and they've been very good at supporting it. Still, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with video games as a medium just because of that. I mean, I do think there’s something unique about games that makes them easy to escape into, I just think that’s at least as much a positive trait as it is a negative one. Whatever it is about games that lets me use them to ignore my life… it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s exactly the same aspect of games that lets me sink into a Melee match deeply enough that I can shout and cheer and trash-talk with my roommates, even in the midst of a pretty severe depression. And as much as I have managed to isolate myself playing video games lately, they are also doing a very good job helping me start socializing again. Maybe, if I’m lucky, they’ll inspire more writing from me soon, too.

Melee, the most consistent source of joy in my life for over a decade. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration.
Melee, the most consistent source of joy in my life for over a decade. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration.

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