My anxiety isn’t something that I hide. For one, I just can’t. For another, when I try it gets a lot worse. A few years ago I couldn’t manage it without the help of a lot of anti-anxiety pills and straight out avoiding leaving my apartment often. Which… in turn didn’t help anything because, on top of being anxious and depressed, I was incredibly lonely and missed my friends.
Around the end of 2014, I got an email from one of my friends. He was starting a new campaign for a game called Assholes in Space, and he wanted to know if I was interested in playing. I’ve never played a tabletop game. I had no experience with character creation or role-playing. The only experience I had pretending to be anyone but myself was four years of Theater in High School, followed by two years in college. This was fine. He’d help me through the process, and explain any rules that I had to know.
The character I had for that game was a Yellow Space Babe named Mina. She was klutzy, energetic and barred from ever returning to her home planet. And she was fun. With Mina, I got to pretend to be more intimidating than a puffed up chipmunk. I fought and protected people while being a bit of a dick to a lot of people. But I made a difference. My character mattered. It was a new and rather unsettling experience.
That game lasted about a year – just until the GM got kind of tired of running it. He wanted to run a different type of game. One that was a bit more serious in tone and nature, with a decent, solid committed group of players with knowledge of how to play Dungeons and Dragons. I wasn’t sure of how often I could commit to being there, and again faced the issue of never having played D&D. So I opted to sit out of this game and go observe some sessions on occasion while I read the Player’s Handbook. I missed the first session. I was informed in between the first and second that they are making a Bard for me, and I would, in fact, be in the game. Come up with a backstory, and the character sheet will be made at the start of the next session.
So I made Caelynn Nialo. A wood elf bard who ran away with a gnome she was in love with, and then witnessed his death at the hands of a dwarf. So she hated all dwarves and went with the party in order to have a better chance at exacting revenge. At the start of this year, another friend – one who was in Assholes in Space and currently in D&D – decided he wanted to run a superhero game based on and in the DC Universe. Thus, Britney Bright, also known as Diane Taylor, was born. A psychic who never learned to use her powers, with abusive parents she wants to confront, and a deep passion for protecting people.
And I’ve noticed something, as these games have progressed. I don’t feel as anxious anymore. It’s still there. I will still have panic attacks and need a day to rest and regain a level head. But I focus on looking forward to those games, how I want my character to grow and how they react to the different storylines we’ve been in. Each character has an aspect of me in them. Mina wanted to do the right thing, and often falls down and bumped into things and was just all about clumsy. Caelynn’s experiences left her with PTSD, and she works through it with the party she travels with and has overcome at least a small aspect of it. Enough to where it doesn’t eat at her. Britney Bright wants to protect people. She wants to make sure children are safe and happy and has a deep-rooted belief that everyone is, deep down, a good person.
Every session gives me a chance to be someone else. To have powers. To make a noticeable difference in the universes the characters are in. As every one of them, I protected innocents. I took down great evils. I forged relationships and had to use my head in ways that I really just never have. And they’ve been a better form of therapy for the anxiety I have than anything else. It’s been a great peace of mind – even though sometimes the characters go through some more traumatic experiences. But as they grow, I have too. I grow, I have fun, and I spend more time with my friends.
And really, I can’t ask for anything more than that.