A Different Kind of Video Game and Mental Health Article

With the recent controversial study linking video games to violence, and the media’s usual shock-and-awe reporting on video games being (dubiously) a trigger for mass murders, one might expect this article to take some shot at the issue of video games and violence. However, I will make no such attempt although I could say much. I was once an avid gamer, and although more recently I have been forced to focus my attention solely to my schoolwork, I still have a deep respect for the hobby that gave me so much.

Over the recent summer break, I purchased a game called Witcher III, mostly to pass the time, but also because it seemed like a genuinely good game. Video games are amazing things, they take you to places that could not exist, to do things you could not possibly do, and meet people that could only be in your dreams. Most importantly, video games transform you into a person you are not, they allow you to see things from someone else’s eyes. Nothing is more valuable than being able to see something from someone else’s point of view, to experience what they experience.

In Witcher III, however, I found myself not in someone else’s shoes, but in my own. For you see in Witcher III, you play a mutant, a freak, an outcast from society. You are a witcher, a mutated human reviled by many. It may sound silly, but as someone with a mental illness I knew exactly how my character felt, I had an intimate connection, I knew what it felt like to be an outcast. When people in the game called me a freak, it was as if they were calling me a freak. It is a strange and lonely feeling to be unwanted, in a game surely, but more so in real life.

That game reminded me, severely, that stigma towards those with a mental illness is alive and well in the world. It reminded me that the world saw me as dangerous, that most of the world wouldn’t want to be neighbor to me.  If this stigma were getting better, that would be one thing, but it’s not. Mental health stigma is increasing, and often it seems as if no one cares that an entire segment of our population is being cast out.

It was just a game. But the way I felt after playing it was real. It was the same way I felt when I read or heard hateful comments about people with mental illness. It’s the same way I feel right after I tell a close friend about my illness; that time between telling them and their reaction that will tell you if you’re still friends. It’s the same way I feel when I remember I have to hide my illness when at all possible, or else be known as “the crazy one”.

Unlike other forms of discrimination, racism, sexism, what have you, mental illness has no overt public face. The media and public go into a frenzy when a person of color is killed by police, yet a person undergoing a mental breakdown is killed by police every 36 hours. Where is the outrage? Where are the marches?  The truth is that until we put ourselves out there (myself included), until we force the public to look at us and acknowledge us, we will get nowhere in terms of reducing stigma. We need publicity, someone, something to stand up for us. We need our MLK.

Guest Post: Pushing Through Fear to Achieve Your Dreams

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The following is a guest post from Steven about how to overcome fear to achieve your dreams. Often we have a tendency to focus on the negative side of psychology, such as depression and anxiety. This week I thought it would be pleasant to focus on the other side of the spectrum; positive psychology and how it can help us live a more fulfilled life. Please enjoy!


I absolutely love the episode of Seinfeld where George realizes every choice he has ever made has been wrong. A series of bad moves had led to losses of jobs, women and opportunities and, from this day forward, he was going to go against every instinct he had. He began to order different food wherever he went, insult prospective bosses during job interviews and approach women “out of his league.” By the end, George had landed his dream job at the New York Yankees.

I knew that if my life was going to change I had to not fear anything. I had to trust myself and dive in with both feet. I was an out of work teacher relegated to driving a taxi to pay my bills. It is a weird experience, driving a taxi because you encounter people from all walks of life. You will drive a wealthy real estate agent from the ritzy suburbs to downtown where he is going to dine over business with lawyers and city councilmen and immediately afterwards drive a waitress from the bar across the street to the “bad” side of town. In these 15 minute rides you learn a lot about people. As much as they are the same, they care about their family and want a better tomorrow, you realize just how incredibly different we are.

If I’m afraid of something I should chase it. To get to where you want to be implies you’re not there yet and that you need to get out of your comfort zone. The waitresses would tell me their life story and lament, nonstop, that they just want to earn enough money to cover the bills, have free time to watch TV and not worry about their children’s future.

The real estate agents and lawyers would immediately ask me about myself. It became a game of 20 questions. Where did I go to school? Do I enjoy driving a taxi? What is my next plan? For a while I was speechless and would kind of giggle my way through answers trying not to be embarrassed at my complete lack of planning but one this was certain: I was not where I wanted to be. I started listening to The 4 Hour Work Week again, the Tim Ferris book that “inspired millions”, and its theme of “live rich without being rich” started hitting home. How could I live a life of adventure where my work was my vehicle to exploration?

I started throwing out resumes to fall back on my office experience, but that would make me even more miserable. I don’t think I was ever a 9-5 kind of guy and unorthodox jobs, insurance salesman, cell phone rep, wannabe freelance writer, comic book blogger, etc. were always my goal. I needed a change right now and a few Google searches later I had landed on ESL teaching in China. It was foreign, immediate openings and good pay for the region. I had never left even owned a passport up to this point.

As my friends, family and colleagues asked me a hundred and one questions about why I was giving up my entire life I had built I came up with the phrase “why fight so hard for something you don’t even like?” My dad would murmur “but you’re doing so well at your job!” Cab driving? Not exactly a dream. “I’m just afraid you won’t like it…” Not exactly like I’m having the time of my life in Ohio. “Not everybody loves their life.” So it’s a race to the bottom?

The fear in my head was baseless but present. I did earn a decent bit of money driving taxi, but, I had already hit my earning ceiling after six months. No one around me was ever happy. Taxi drivers can’t take days off, they had awful health and habits and it seemed like a graveyard for dreams. I could go back to substitute teaching in America, earning just enough to breathe and shackled next to my phone hoping for that phone call with $39 attached to it for a half day work, but that would be moving backwards.

For me to leave my state in life I had to always back myself by asking myself these questions over and over to conquer my fear.

1. Ask yourself “What am I afraid of losing?”

The fastest way to get out of a hole is to stop digging.

I would laugh out loud when people would try to count all that I would be “leaving behind.” I mean I had comic books, a $28,000 a year job that put my life at risk every night and a collection of Batman shirts that I had concluded weren’t attracting the ladies they way I thought they would. I am man enough to admit the decisions I had made the past few years, which included investing $4,000 in an insurance business that destroyed my life for a year and switched my university major so much I spent double the amount of time in college that I should have, were bad ones. I turned the tables and prodded them demanding to know what it was THEY were so attached to in their meandering lives of waiting for a 40 cent raise. Blank stares and mumbling followed.

2. Use your fear to turn every situation into an adventure

I never really climbed trees as a kid. Sports were a little out of my realm of Dragon Ball Z, Cheetos, and Rainbow Six. Vacationing to North Carolina, with no income coming in, just terrified me. Looking back on it I think my fears of instability fed themselves. If I didn’t take a vacation I would never learn that there is nothing to fear. You have to try to conquer.

As long as I have a good assurance I am not going to die or be paralyzed there are few things I won’t do these days. Hiking, mountain climbing, white water rafting, a week in the Amazon, tour North Korea, first man on Mars, bring it on. If I have a little bit of fear in my belly that means it’s intriguing. If you only do what you’re comfortable with your likely not to leave your couch.

3. Turn a specific goal into a broad, undefined one

Selling everything and moving to Thailand to fish sounds crazy and outlandish. Visiting Thailand to test the waters and see if it is for you is a little more sensible. If you arrive and it’s everything you dreamed of then you can send that email home that it’s ok to lock the door and drop anchor for a while. Always keep doors open and treat every action as if it has potential for your future. Every vacation I take is a research expedition into if I would want to move there for a longer period in the future.

4. Never be afraid to research

I’ve never been one for patience. I tend to rush onto the battlefield and get shot a few times with the assumption a medic can be found eventually. My move to China was a bit rocky, very rushed and I actually avoided researching my situation to “keep things fun.” I wouldn’t exactly recommend this approach as I did have a transitioning period that was longer than for other people.

I love to help anyone I meet online who is thinking of moving to China. They have a million questions to ask about food, cell phones, visas, sometimes just simple geography of the country they can look up online. I think the most common question I get relates simply to “have you died yet?”

There is no such thing as too much research. The internet gives you more than enough places to find expat experiences such as Quora and Reddit with users willing to help you out even after you arrive. Eventually you do need to take action but the smallest bit of information may be the cornerstone between being so overwhelmed you spend a day in a hotel regretting your choices and saying “Oh, deep fried rabbit head, cool” with a calm demeanor.

5. Write your story

He who has begun is halfway done.

I never had a Facebook. Never. I just never saw myself as someone with a life to share. Everyone told me to get one when I left the country just to keep up with my family. My first post was saying goodbye the pile of comic books I was selling. Second was a photo of my plane ticket to Beijing. My third post was of some books in the Narita airport in Japan. I had done it. I had started my story.

Leaving my apartment to go to the bus stop in the morning I would pass a barber, a supermarket, a chicken salesman, a tailor a half dozen noodle and rice shops and an old lady selling socks. To an American who had never left the country the most simple facets of Chinese life was shocking. Every day seemed like an adventure.

I hate to admit it, but the likes and comments were changing my entire personality. I was no longer embarrassed by my profession or looking on with jealousy at other people’s vacations. I was living a vacation! Just walking from my apartment to the street had become an alien world.

One year ago I had never owned a passport. I had lived in my hometown my entire life and my single vacation of my life was a few hours North into my neighboring states and I spent the entire time sweating about every penny I spent. I would formulate excuses why everyone was having fun except for me before I realized blaming and damning the world was the cause for my emotional instability.

If any of this speaks to you, if you want to grow out of your shell, out of your comfort zone, ask yourself “what are you afraid of losing?” I lost a comic book collection that I had to haul from house to house and that never gave me a dividend. I lost a mind-numbing workaholic schedule that kept me from taking a week off and seeing the ocean. I lost 30 pounds and an inability to run a mile. What can you stand to lose?



About the Author

Steven is an ESL teacher in China. In the past year he has traveled to Italy, Switzerland, France, Mongolia and Vietnam. He blogs about his travels and experiences at http://theculturebum.com where he also runs a podcast discussing life adventures with people he meets along the way. He can be reached at theculturebum@gmail.com

Understanding Psychosis

The word “psychotic” is perhaps one of the most misunderstood words in the mental health repertoire. To the public, who are used to hearing it in movies and other media to refer to a violent, remorseless, person, attribute it’s meaning to just that. Someone who is psychotic, by this definition, may be violent, violently “crazy”, or simply lacking empathy and remorse, capable of any wrong and evil doing. But, as so often is the case, Hollywood and the media have gotten it wrong, and in the case of psychosis, they’ve gotten it completely and dangerously wrong. This incorrect usage has led to irreparable stigma for those suffering from actual psychosis, the sufferers of which are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crime. In this article I will tell you, dear reader, about the real story of psychosis.

According to NAMI, psychosis occurs in about 3% of the population. Psychosis is a debilitating mental condition that affects the way we perceive reality. In a way, people undergoing a psychotic episode live in an “alternate reality”, different from what healthy people experience. They may believe, perceive, and understand things that are not actually in existence, to the sufferer however, this “alternate reality” is as real as the ground beneath our feet.

What is Psychosis?

Psychosis is often called a “break from reality” due to the reasons I described above. There are hallmark symptoms of psychosis that healthcare providers look for when diagnosing a person, such as…

Hallucinations: Seeing, feeling, tasting, and especially hearing things that are not actually there. The most common hallucination is auditory hallucinations, or “voices”. The voices may tell a person to harm themselves and say other negative things.

Delusions: Strong beliefs that do not change despite opposing evidence. For example, a person may believe that someone is stealing their thoughts, that they are being watched or followed, or that they are God.

Causes

Psychosis, like so many things having to do with the mind, is  hard to pin down to a single cause. There are several, intermingling factors that affect someone’s likelihood of developing psychosis.

Drugs: Psychedelic drugs, or even lighter drugs like marijuana, have been shown to trigger or worsen psychotic episodes.

Genetics: Many studies have been carried out that link psychosis and other mental illnesses to genetics. If your parents, family, or siblings have experienced psychosis, you are more likely to experience it.

Illness: Some illnesses and diseases, such as brain cancer, can cause psychosis, or what appears to be psychosis, in a person.

Stress: Stress and trauma can bring on or worsen psychosis.

Warning Signs

There are several early warning signs for psychosis which can be noticed by others, they include the following…

  • Difficulty in school or work
  • Isolation from others
  • Decline in personal hygiene
  • Lack of clear or coherent thoughts

Psychosis and Mental Illness

Psychosis itself is not a mental illness. It is, however, a component, or possible component, of many mental illnesses. It should then, be seen as a symptom rather than an illness. Many illnesses can include psychosis, including post traumatic stress disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, the last of which has psychosis as a hallmark symptom.

Treatments

Treatment is paramount for those suffering from an acute psychotic episode. There are a variety of treatments for psychosis, some of which I shall list  below.

Hospitalization: For someone undergoing an acute psychotic episode, the hospital may be the best option. The goal of any psychiatric hospital is to stabilize and rehabilitate enough so that a person may undergo further treatment after discharge.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is used in a variety of disorders to identify and change thought patterns. In psychosis, CBT can help a person identify triggers, manage symptoms, and identify strategies for getting through it all.

Medication: Medication for psychosis is referred to as antipsychotics, these drugs work by reducing dopamine (a neurotransmitter involved in psychosis) in the brain. While often effective, they can have detrimental side effects. Newer antipsychotics however, called atypical, have less side effects and are more tolerable to take than older drugs.

To Wrap it Up…

Psychosis is a serious mental condition that requires care as soon as possible. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most misunderstood mental conditions in our society today. This makes reaching out for help difficult for those who suffer, the stigma is real and is felt by sufferers every time they turn on the TV to a headline of “psychotic killer”. As someone who has experienced psychosis first-hand, I can tell you that getting help is possible, and it does help…it saved my life.

If you believe you or someone you know is undergoing a psychotic episode, please reach out for professional help, it will improve your life tenfold, and may just save it. Some crisis numbers can be found here.