Roleplaying With A Mental Illness

Do you remember a fellow by the name of Ed The Bard? I daresay I used to read something about the man. He was a blogger if I recall correctly. Liked talking about roleplaying games, like Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder. I haven't heard from that guy in months. I'd say he'd been eaten by wandering owlbears if not for the occasional tweet.

What happened to that guy?

Well, intrepid reader, I can tell you with no small measure of certainty that I am not only alive but somewhat sassy to boot. Yes, I am a sassy, sassy bard. And, like any good bard worth his salt, I have a story to tell. It's a personal tale, one that may seem bleak in some areas (all the best stories do), but it has a happy ending, I can assure you.

I've wanted to tell this story for some time. Since I started this beautiful blog in January of 2016. Every time I sat down to tell it though, the words didn't feel right. As a bard, I am very particular when it comes to words. Words have power. Put them in the right order and you can stir the rawest of human emotions. Sadly, I just could not for the life of me put them in an order that pleased me, so I yammered on about banshees and random encounters.

As a few of you might have noticed, I've not been the most punctual with my posts these past few months.

 "For perspective, it is June as I write this, and will be August when I publish it."

Weeks, even months have gone by in between posts with no explanation offered. Excuses have been made, of course.

I didn't have time. 

Life was too hectic. 

I was possessed by Orcus.

Surely with a full-time non-blog-related day gig, moving three times in a year, and contending with my family's school, after school, and doctors' schedules would hamper anyone's progress.

However, explain it away as much as I like, I know in my heart of hearts what the real reason is. The reason I couldn't concentrate or focus my thoughts on something that has always come so naturally to me. The reason I couldn't motivate myself or create something I loved because I didn't feel was worth reading.

I am Ed The Bard, and I suffer from severe depression. I have for quite awhile.

If you've read anything I've put out there or met me for more than five minutes, you might say that the above statement was pure, unadulterated B.S. Certainly not the jovial, brightly colored ball of joy with the boisterous demenor and booming voice.

But those of you that know someone with depression might understand completely. Depression is deceptive. It's sneaky. If it were a class it would have rolled a rogue, which seems fitting. Depression stealthily approaches, catches you unaware, and sneak attacks you with melancholy when you least expect it.

Now, there are a few folks out there (thankfully few and far between in this day and age) that would ask "What do you have to be depressed about?" What with the jet-setting lifestyle of a blogger/Game Master, there can't be that much to be depressed about.

Now we really see the despair rogue at work. Depression doesn't need to have a reason to plunge you into Downsville. Most of the time it's a result of a chemical imbalance in the brain meats. That is why you so often see very successful people with everything they could ever want or need spiral into deep, dark periods of depression.

It doesn't need a reason. It just is. A scary prospect to be sure, but what's scarier is that depression didn't just just take levels of rogue. No, sir. It decided to multiclass, like a bitch, and picked up a few levels of ranger. Now it's sneaky, deceptive, and it has a favored enemy. That's right! There is a particular type of person that depression favor when inflicting it's damage. A group of people whom it not only targets with ruthless efficiency but deals some truly terrifying damage to.

Creative types.

You know, actors, writers, artists, etc..

The Price For Imagination
Yes. It seems that the price for endless imagination can be pretty steep. Creative types are far more likely to suffer from depression and other mental illnesses. In the book The Creative Brain by neuroscientist Nancy C. Anderson, she explains that those who air on the side of creativity are more open to new experiences and that openness allows them to perceive reality in fresh new ways. This can also lead to feelings of depression and anxiety since the creative brain doesn't really have gates that allow it to shut out stimuli that might be harmful. Becuase of this, a large number or creatives tend to withdraw from society and show more introverted tendencies.

After doing further research on the subject, I discovered that those who are deemed creative types are more likely to commit suicide. An extensive study conducted over 40 years concluded that writers are twice as likely to commit suicide than members of the general population.

In fact, in that same study, it appeared that people with pre-existing mental illness including, but not limited to schizoaffective disorder, depression, anxiety syndrome, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, autism, ADHD, anorexia nervosa and suicide were more likely to be drawn to careers and pursuits of a creative nature.

Careers and pursuits of a creative nature... sound familiar?

What Does Thos Have To Do With Roleplaying?
Every person that sits down at a table and chucks dice is creative. The players create characters, create backstories, invent motivations, concoct plans, and think on the fly in order for said characters to survive the trails and tribulations of the campaign world campaign world. The Game Master writes the story, builds the world from the ground up, and plays the role of a thousand different NPCs, villains, and monsters. You would be hard-pressed to think of a more creative hobby than roleplaying.

As such, we roleplayers fall into that precarious territory of the creative brain. I am not saying every roleplayer suffers from a mental illness, but I would shock if the number isn't staggering. In fact, I recently held a poll on my twitter inquiring about the make-up of people's gaming groups. The results were sobering.

Chances are good that if you don't personally suffer from anything, you know someone that does. Mental Illness is common place, but most folks don't say anything about it. It remains something of a cultural taboo. It acts as some shameful little secret that many don't want to share, either out of embarrassment or the simple fact that they feel they might burden their friends and loved ones with the information.

Let me tell you this, friends. There is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. You are not weak, or flawed. You are not broken beyond repair. What you have to say is not a burden to your friends or loved ones. You... YOU are not alone, and you don't need to suffer alone.

If you are reading this right now, you are probably a roleplayer (if you aren't, try it out. It's neat). If you are a roleplayer, you are probably in a group, and if you are in a group, you are already doing all the right things.

You see, one thing the creative brain seeks is other creative brains. We seek them out like the Wyld Hunt seek out Anethma (heh, Exalted). Artist communes, writing circles, and gaming groups. We seek that camaraderie, even if we feel withdrawn and introverted.

For we roleplayers, gaming is exceedingly therapeutic. So much so that it is being utilized as a form of actual therapy to help kids build social skills. However, roleplaying therapy can offer a wide array of treatments for a multitude of mental illnesses. As mentioned above, there are aspects of socializing that takes place in the exchange between PCs and NPCs that offers a means for people to assert themselves or interact with people in ways they normally wouldn't in a consequence-free environment (in real life at least).  The feeling of reward for rescuing the princess, slaying the dragon, and getting that bitching vorpal axe are methods of positive reinforcement. Alignments act as guidelines for social etiquette.

Simply the act of being around others, having a good time, and being with a group of friends can release endorphins that help to beat back the dark thoughts that go hand and hand with depression.

In my own personal battle with depression, gaming played a major role helping me win. At the time I was at a pretty low point in my life. Due to some restructuring at work, my position was no longer available, so I was let go. I had lost a job that kept the lights on and a roof over the heads of my family and me, a roof I subsequently also lost.

With very little money we were forced to move away from our friends and home and move in with some family. The situation was not great, and all the parties involved suffered for it. Being the provider, I got hit hard and slipped into a very deep, very dark depression.

This was not my first battle with that dragon, depression, but it was my most brutal. Depression, as I mentioned earlier, is sneaky, and attacks when you are least expecting it, or when you are at your lowest. It delivered one hell of a backstab to me that left me distant, melancholy, and finding it difficult to get out of bed in the morning. It got dark friends, like an enormous shadow swallowing you alive. So dark, in fact, that I found myself questioning if my continued existence was necessary.

You see, being creative is really good for formulating new and different ideas, but it's also fantastic for justifying things. Unfortunately, depression can tap into the same tool set that you prescribe to. When asking if my loved ones would be better off without me, it answered with several creative reasons why they would. It fabricated a fantastic illusion of a world without your dear bard.

Things progressed, or rather descended, from there. I was on a path that was going to lead to something very unfortunate, and because we are all creative, I assume you know that that unfortunate something was. At the zero hour, I managed to pull back from doing anything monumentally stupid, and I did what I should have done in the first place; I talked to the people that love me and got help.

But, despite all the help, depression had its claws in me. I needed something to live for, and it had already convinced me my fiance', child, and friends were better off. I looked fondly back at my days of gaming with my friends, which were some of the warmest memories I could muster. I decided the time was right to run a little something. I gathered a group that consisted primarily of new people and I weaved a tale for them of dragons and orcs, of old knightly orders and sinister plots.

They loved it. They got into it. They begged me to run two, sometimes three times a week. They loved their characters, loved the story, and made no qualms about telling me so, and in doing this they pulled me from my wretched funk. I had something I could look forward to every week. The writing and plotting and game prep helped me ignore those dark thoughts.

In January of the following year, I started a little blog called "Ed The Bard", a further extension of my desire to put distance between myself and that dark passenger (heh, Dexter). And boy howdy, did it work.

Still, the battle isn't over forever. The dragon of depression rears its ugly head every now and then. Luckily my twice-weekly gaming group has been an excellent support system for me and keeps the scaled menace at bay. And while I might not blog as much as I used to, I intend to make a better effort to get these things out to you as much as possible.

You Have The Weapon To Slay Your Dragon
My dragon was and is depression, and the very thing I have that invites it upon me is the very weapon I can use to battle it; creativity. The creative brain needs to be exercised. It needs to create. Doing so is an amazing release, a distraction, and a means in which we can free ourselves from the dragons of mental illness that prey on us. If you are an artist, draw and paint until you can hardly keep your eyes open. If you write, write that short story that has been aching to get out of you, even if you don't plan on showing it to anyone. If you are a Game Master, take those dark feelings you have, personify them in a villain, and watch as the player characters overcome it. If you are a player, and you feel vulnerable, create a character that shares that vulnerability and allow yourself to let the other PCs to save your, or help you save yourself.

You are stronger, more resilient, and, more importantly, more creative than you give yourself credit for. You are a dragon slayer. Slay those damn dragons.

Here are a few tools for your dragon slaying arsenal...

BetterHelp - An online resource for mental health
Crisis Text Online - A resource for suicide prevention
Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-8255

If you are a player, tell your GM they are doing a good job. If you are a GM, tell your players how much you appreciate them. We're making worlds together. Let's make them good ones.

Roll well, my friends
+Ed The Bard

Do you like what you've read? Would you like to see more from Ed The Bard on a regular basis? Then hop on over to my Patreon page and pledge your support. For pennies a day you can get early access to new articles, help choose the next topics I write about, get sneak peeks into upcoming projects, and more! All by becoming my illustrious patron!

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Behold, Ed The Bard's first published adventure!
The Mines of Dhol Kuldhir, a D&D 5E adventure for first level characters, available now on the Dungeon Masters Guild for only $1.00! Give your friends the gift that keeps on giving; a plethora of potential TPKs.

Looking for a specific article? Just want to browse the archives? Wander over to my Master List, a directory of every article I've ever written, right here.

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