Last year at around this time, I was in a bad place. My wife and I were having problems in our relationship, I was living in Las Vegas with no real network of friends I could lean on, and to top it all off, my methods of coping with these issues were often more damaging than the issues themselves. During this time, I resigned myself to the fact that I was just going to be miserable. That was my lot in life. Some people get lucky and can enjoy their existence, like their jobs, and have wonderful groups of friends that give their lives meaning. I wasn’t ever going to be one of those people. It was just the luck of the draw.
During this time, I was working for the Department of Veterans Affairs. I wasn’t a clinician, a doctor, or even a clerk that checked my fellow veterans in for their appointments. Instead, the job I held required me to answer the phone and check the statuses of pending requests for medical service that the veteran patients we’re supposed to have at hospitals and clinics outside of the VA network. The vast majority of my conversations involved telling veterans that the VA would not and could not help them with the medical issues that they were struggling with. I got cussed out, yelled at, hung up on, and even threatened. I would try and keep my cool at work, but my personal and social life paid the price.
With my diagnosed depression, anxiety, and PTSD, having a home life and a work life that were compounding these problems, I fell into a deep and prolonged period of isolation. All I would do, all I felt I could do, was lay on the couch or in bed and sleep. I slept for days at a time, only waking up to eat and go to the bathroom. I couldn’t hold a conversation, talk to friends on the phone, or even go to work more than a few times a week. It was at this point that I began thinking about suicide.
As a veteran, as well as a VA employee, I was acutely aware of the horrendous suicide rate among those who have served. Knowing this information didn’t sway me much from thinking about ending my life. I was miserable, after all. I just wanted to pain and the fear and the constant guilt to stop.
Around this time, I began to reach out to an old Army buddy, Steve Machuga. If you’re on this website, you know Steve’s story. I saw the work he was doing for his charity and thought that I could help. I began volunteering my time and getting to know what Steve’s goals were. I bought into the whole idea and dove in.
I had always been a gamer, but due to financial issues, I was forced to sell off all of my gaming hardware. Struggling with depression or anxiety while having horrible methods of coping with these demons often leads to an even worse place. But I reached out to my parents and told them that I was going to ask Steve if he could consider me for a small care package of video games and a console. My mom broke into tears. Somehow knowing that I was having such a hard time, but that video games could help in some way struck a chord with her. She insisted that I not ask Steve and that she would order me an Xbox that day.
To me, a game console wasn’t a piece of entertainment technology. No, a console was a gateway to worlds that followed the rules of their creators and things made sense. I didn’t know why I was depressed and on the verge of suicide, but I did know that Lara Croft could climb certain walls in Tomb Raider. I wasn’t sure how my life had gotten to such a low point, but I was sure that I could pass a certain part in Halo 4 if I could just get my grenade timing right. Some of the best memories of this time in my gaming life are attributed to playing four-player co-op sessions of Borderlands 2. My friends from back in Michigan would all get up early on their Sunday mornings so we could play together. Somehow, the 2,000 miles between us melted away as we blasted our way through Pandora on the hunt for Handsome Jack. We joked and told stories into our headsets as we played, even delving into more personal and introspective conversation than we ever had in person.
The power that video games have over people is something that is hard to explain. It fits squarely in that “If you get it, you get it” category. But having that power touch your life is something you’ll never forget. I jumped into gaming like never before, setting up a Twitch account and beginning to get things in order to upgrade my hardware. I suddenly realized that I wasn’t moping around in a depression anymore. I had energy again, and I wanted to talk to anyone that would listen about Destiny and League of Legends.
In relatively short order, I began feeling better and being able to venture out into the world. Instead of telling people I worked at the VA, I would instead say that I volunteer for a veterans charity that used video games to help people. My motivation and self-esteem soared and my life started to improve. I was able to get back to the things that drive me as a person: helping veterans and enjoying time with my friends and family.
My story doesn’t stop here. I directly credit my gaming renaissance with my employment for veterans non-profits. Had I not crawled out of my depressive haze, I would have never been in the position I am in today. Now, I’m able to truly help veterans that are in the same dark place I once was. Gaming has given me this power and I aim to do everything possible to help others in the same way they helped me.