I was a tiny nipper when I first sat hypnotised by the lanky form of Mowgli. I’d been sitting in front of the Mega Drive Jungle Book game, one that my Dad had rented out from Blockbuster for me (and what an odd concept renting out games is these days). I was absolutely engrossed and completely incompetent, failing in every conceivable way to make progress across the simulated jungle. It’s a memory I look back on with a faint feeling of satisfaction when, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see the fire kindle in my younger eyes, engaging in a hobby that would envelop my spare time for years to come.
Cut to an older and vehemently not wiser Scott slouching in a flat in St Andrews, emotionally exhausted from the tears and physically exhausted from the long weeks of very little sleep. I wasn’t aware that I had a condition at that time. I’d been wandering the dark mean streets each night, not that St Andrews has any dark mean streets, but by God, there are some distinctly less well-lit streets there. I’d been trying to tire myself out enough to finally pass out and gain some much-needed relief from the blackness that seemed to encompass me entirely. It didn’t stop it and it didn’t help alleviate it and I didn’t understand what it was that was happening to me. I got a hint or two a few nights later, when what I was dealing with became as clear as could be.
I understand that the following might make some of you uncomfortable. Telling you something this personal, you stranger on the internet, isn’t comfortable for me either, but I don’t and shouldn’t feel shame in admitting this. I’m not confessing this to gain sympathy nor to inject drama into the sufferings of a young depressive but to emphasise the most important point to take from this rather maudlin tale. It’s something I’m not proud of, but I did consider (for the only time in my life) the most extreme option open to me. It was a time of terrible, terrible weakness. There was a game that helped though. I’d love to sit here and tell you what saved me was Planescape‘s take on redemption or even the potential of mankind detailed in Xenogears, something with a bit of philosophical meat to it. Something I could be proud and pretentious about. It wasn’t. The game that saved me was Borderlands.
Yeah, I know. But Borderlands helped. It’s loot then shoot then loot then shoot then you’re done. There was something compelling about the slow acquisition of loot and the repetition of gun-play and something almost mind-numbing in the opportunity the game provided to just let go and focus on the swapping in and out and in and out of weapons and enemies and quests. There was something in the simplicity of the concept that appealed to a man who needed desperately to be taken outside of the confines of his own skull. I was crumbling and becoming weaker and the world seemed a darker place to have to live in, but Borderlands gave me Pandora.
Pandora was a bright, life-filled expanse of cheerful robots and crude banditry to kill. Where I felt weak and powerless, my character only got stronger with each passing hour, bolstered by explosions of XP. I could barely read another word of Nozick and couldn’t see any justice ahead for me and it was so easy to live in Pandora, where all that was required of me was the ability to judge which number was larger and point a gun in the right direction. The heartbeat rhythm of crouch, headshot, reload became all I needed to keep my own mind from collapsing on itself and causing my body to follow. I can draw a map of almost every area in Pandora you can think of, just from the rote-learned knowledge I gained during this time. I don’t think I can do the same for the area I was actually living in.
Not being me for that one night was all I needed. That evening led into the night into the morning and I was still playing, but as the sun rose I knew that the worst of it was over. By dint of being someone else for those long hours, I’d passed the worst and while thousands of bandits had passed away in that time, I’d live. Looking back on it, I can’t put myself back in that mindset, knowing all I’d miss out on. Meeting the woman I love, reconnecting with old friends, discovering a new passion for writing. Those are things I almost stole from myself and I can’t tell you this in strong enough terms, if you’re reading this and suffering the way I did: the depression may feel like it’ll never end, but life goes on and life gets better and life will become worth living again. I promise you.
Eventually, I was forced to drop out of university. The insomnia and depression didn’t gel well with long lectures or reading thick tomes of metaphysics or talking to people or eating properly or living. It was a hell purpose-built for one. I spoke to my family and we made the decision that it would be best for me to move home, a decision enforced by my breakdown and tears in the middle of Bell Street. Checking up with my old doctor and my new psychiatrist, there was a consensus as to the likely cause. I was suffering from clinical depression.
That’s not the end of the story though and I doubt there ever will be an end. I was finally diagnosed and given the counselling and medication to help me through it, but I’d been snatched from a place I felt a kinship with, away from the good friends who became my family there and away from a subject I felt deeply passionate about. There was a lot to be depressed about. But as I discovered, there was a lot more to be happy about in my future. After all, there would always be Borderlands 2.
If you suffer from depression or just need someone to talk to, please contact the Samaritans. They’re a non-religious and confidential service and I recommend them greatly. Don’t go through it alone.