I live with my Mom. I smoke pot. I have a neck-beard. I almost never go outside. I barely make any money and rely on my family and friends for work and cash. Sometimes I smell funky. If I were fat too I'd be the epitome of the lazy stoner gamer cliche. Use that as your snapshot of who I am and I would not blame you for being disgusted and dismissive. I probably would to if I were you.
I'm not you, but I often wish I was.
[This piece is very long. I feel as though being too vague or leaving things unsaid will cloud how people view this piece so I have endeavored to be as forthcoming as I can bring myself to be. I'm not going to walk you through my medical history or every struggle but this won't be a short piece. You have been warned my friends.]
When I say shut-in, I mean it. It's not uncommon for me to go a month or longer without leaving my apartment let alone the tiny room which serves as my office and bedroom. Do I ever leave? Yes, but always for a serious reason - food, medication, doctors appointments, therapy etc. And even then I often miss appointments or turn back at the last minute. I've taken one vacation as an adult when I was 26 (I'm 32 now) and holding myself together for those 5 days was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I miss birthdays. I miss weddings. I've never met my nieces and nephews. And perhaps most crushing of all I miss funerals. I never got to say goodbye to my Grandma and with two more grandparents declining in health I cry sometimes thinking I might miss those too.
I have problems breaking down and processing food properly. My bowels are a horror show. What's it gonna be today? Diarrhea or constipation? Is that blood?! Awesome!
I also have extreme versions of commonly dismissed mental illness'. Those being ADD, OCD and Anxiety. Cold sweat soaked sheets and trembling hands are how I welcome every day. Every morning my guts hurt and I wake up terrified of what the day might bring.
I've spent the last 12 years of my life just getting by. I've made valiant, I think, attempts at both a College and University education. I've worked for the federal government more than once. I've also washed floors and cleaned bathrooms. Far as I'm concerned work is work. Contrary to popular opinion I'm no "tax dollar sucking loser". I actually prefer janitorial work because I can just listen to my music (I cannot function without music) and do my work with nobody bothering me.
As I got older and sicker work became harder and harder to hold down until it was nearly impossible. Every now and then I'll make another attempt. If only because I'm even more scared of not trying than I am of failing.
I've resisted, perhaps irrationally, attempting to collect any form of disability. Now that I am healthier and more clear headed, and much more able to see the burden I've placed on my family I have begun seeking some form of disability but as anyone can tell you, it's easier said than done.
I lived on my own or with my little brother until I was 26 and could no longer care for myself. Turns out my Mom had acquired her apartment years earlier with an extra bedroom just in case I needed it. Which I ultimately did. That's the kind of plan only a mother could have. While I had sought help for my physical problems my stubbornness left my mental health problems largely untreated until I moved in with my Mom. I was in a bad way that first day moving in.
You see I had held my family at bay and tried to tough it out on my own for years and did myself nothing but harm in the process. Maybe it's an Army brat thing. Maybe it's just a guy thing.
My Mom is the kind of mom other kids in the neighborhood would call Mom too. When I was a kid and friends would visit she'd always order pizza. Even when money was tight she always, always made sure whatever extra she had went to her kids. She's my heart.
When I have extra cash I give it to my Mom. It never equates to what I know it costs to care for me but I try my best. My father, who I never got along with as a young, wild and obnoxiously sarcastic teen, has since become a rock for me. He covers my medical bills and tries to get me out of the house every weekend. And he never gives up. Sometimes having an Army Dad is pretty bad ass. I'm a lot luckier than a lot of people and I make sure my parents know I love them every single day.
Especially once I started going to group therapy. Surrounded by grown men crushed under the weight of their lives, abandoned by everyone, just looking for a reason not to kill themselves. And sometimes one of them would stop coming and you get the news that a brother lost his battle. I see those faces when I go to sleep sometimes.
So when I'm not trying to work or get an education or dealing with my own personal hell I'm just sitting around playing video games getting high right? Wrong.
I'm not a character from Pineapple Express. I don't sit around giggling waxing philosophically about stupid shit. The fun high aspect of weed has long since stopped affecting me as it does many medical smokers. I smoke (sometimes vaporize) exactly half a gram of weed three times a day before each meal. I don't smoke to get stoned. I smoke so I can eat and so that my hands don't tremble. If there was a pill out there that made you hungry, completely curtailed nausea, cramps and shakes with no nasty side effects I'd take that. And believe me I have searched for and tried more pills than I care to remember.
I can already hear people thinking "but I heard pot makes anxiety worse or leads to mental illness etc etc..." I was already in bad shape before I started with my weed routine and my quality of life has improved dramatically. See one of the problems when discussing medical weed is the fact that we really don't have a tenth of as much information as we do for other drugs due to its status as an illegal substance for so long. Weed affects different people different ways. Smoke or vaporize? Edible or oil? Dosage, method of ingestion, personal physiology and mental state all affect how weed will affect you.
I will say this, when I'm having a full blown panic attack I don't smoke even if I want to. When you panic like I panic smoking weed at that time is like pissing gasoline onto a camp fire. However I have found that if I keep a semi solid schedule the hour or two after I smoke is relatively calm. Things only get bad when I'm having an attack at dinner time as that's the only time I smoke. Then a spiral starts because I'm too panicked to smoke, which means I can't eat, which gives me a real reason to panic and away we go! For me my panic is not something I feel creeping up on me when I get high. It's actually the best part of my day because for at least a little while I feel normal.
See my panic is is based on input and disruption. When my little brother comes to visit for a weekend it takes me days, if not a week or two to calm down. If I get a surprise phone call I panic. I must be the only uber nerd who has never owned a real smartphone. I had two Xperia Play's for a brief period at one point but I try my best to forget about that dark time. The idea of anyone being able to talk to me at any time is too much. I use skype, which I can turn off, or email. My mom handles the house phone.
My mind bounces at light speed from terrible thought to terrible thought, while trying to obsess about every little thing and generally becoming more panicked with every new surprise or random life event. It's mentally exhausting and the more mentally tired you get the worse things will be. When I get high things slow down to normal. Is there a temptation to just stay high all day? Sure. But that's not the life I want.
And that normal feeling lasts longer than the high does. I know what it was like before weed and what it's like now. If weed comes with some negatives, I'm good with that. When you are faced with weed or a pill that comes with a chance of bleeding, uncontrollable vomiting and/or even more cramping which would you pick?
So here I am, stuck in a tiny room in my Moms apartment. I ate lunch not long ago and I'm still a little bit high. What does gaming having to do with this story? Well gaming helped give me a connection back to real life.
I have friends again. Real friends. Friends I speak to on Skype every day. Friends who share pieces of their lives with me. People I know care for me as I care for them. People who have reached out, sometimes across oceans, to help me. I've gotten jobs, gifts, education and more from the relationships I've cultivated online. Hell that one vacation I went on would have never happened without a bunch of gamers I'd never met before that trip.
My games are not a place to get lost. A place to just ignore the world. I don't think that would be healthy. I don't play games nonstop for days straight though I've binged like we all have (DAMN YOU XCOM!). Sometimes my panic is so high that even trying to play a game is too stressful.
I also don't blindly waste my money on games. I plan my purchases out months in advance and after a whole host of other considerations. The vast majority of my sizable collection has come from gifts, or the plethora of contests I obsessively enter to the never ending horror of my gmail inbox.
I podcast every week with 2 good friends. Sometimes they are the only words I speak aloud that week. Sometimes I write editorials or game reviews. I enjoy writing a lot. I'm in the midst of trying to get a cartoon series off the ground with a group of friends.
Every day I get a little bit better and I feel a little bit happier. Games did not give me my sense of pride back or allow me to hide but they did give me a bridge to the kind of human connections I desperately crave.
I can't say it's not lonely here. I don't feel angry or suicidal but I do feel sad sometimes and all too often exhausted by life. Sometimes I just cry. I've long since abandoned any sort of macho mentality when it comes to life. Sometimes you need a good, snotty, from your soul kind of cry.
But I get by. I work when I can. I give back when I can. My dream is to finally find a job I can honestly maintain and to finally do the kind of advocacy work I feel I am meant to do. You can't see what I have seen and not feel that way. I feel real love in my life and I'm starting to be able to really appreciate what I do have.
Staying home all day, every day, getting high and playing video games is not something anyone really wants. They just think they do.
[I hope you all will excuse the parts of this that are not written very well; it's hard to remember English class when you write something like this.]