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How Video Games, Mindfulness and Meditation Saved my Life – by Rachael Fiddis

I think I’ve been anxious all my life. When I was a child, I didn’t know there was a word for how I was feeling until I was much older. I realised that other people felt the way I did too and that there was a name for it. 

Many things contributed to my anxiety. I remember the first memory of this strange and scary feeling when I was very young, maybe 3-4 years old, due to the countless hospital visits for operations I had to undertake for years. I remember the car journey there like it was yesterday. Feeling sick and wishing I could get out and run home, but I couldn’t – I was a child with very little control over my circumstances. 

Video games have always been a huge factor in my life. Throughout my hospital stays, I was always found with my nose glued to the screen of my Gameboy or a Nintendo Game & Watch. I didn’t fully understand it then as I do now, but gaming took me away from the stressful and frightening situation of a hospital ward with its clinical furniture, strange smells and scary nurses with their big needles. Being able to slip into another word and leave the unpleasantries of the real world behind helped me cope. Not only mentally, but through physical pain too after my operations. 

Growing up, I started to hide my anxiety well enough so that most  people wouldn’t notice. I had plenty of friends and I was social, but soon I fell in with the wrong crowd where drinking and taking drugs was a regular occurrence. This marked the beginning of my struggle with mental health. I watched the mask I so tightly held onto start to slip away. 

Being at school was a nightmare and my education began to suffer. Back in the 90s, mental health wasn’t talked about as much as it is now – certainly not in high school. When it was spoken about, it was done in whispers. How the lady down the street “wasn’t right in the head”, someone to be afraid of and to stay away from.

Through years of pushing my mental health to the side and running from my problems instead of facing them, I finally broke. From years of built up anxiety and depression that had never been dealt with, my mind eventually said “enough!” and I had a break-down. This was most certainly the scariest period I have ever faced. Panic attacks crept into every nook and cranny of my waking hours and sleep didn’t offer much respite. My days were filled with hopelessness, deep sorrow and fear – so much so, that taking my life felt like the only option.

This wasn’t the first time I had thought about suicide. I had attempted it twice before, obviously unsuccessfully. But through the long NHS waiting list for mental health help and my own personal choice of not wanting to take medication, I felt like there was little hope this time. Then, one morning, I received an email on a self-help group I signed up for ages ago. It discussed mindfulness and meditation and how this practice really helped those with anxiety and depression. I didn’t have anything to lose at this stage so I looked more into it. 

Over the course of a week I practiced mindfulness every morning, followed by guided meditation. To my surprise, the dark, heavy clouds of my mind started to become slightly lighter. They were very much still there but the notion of suicide began to fade and I finally began to see things a little clearer. Through the course of a month, my panic attacks weren’t as frequent and my mood began to lift. I even used my gaming; not as a means to escape my problems and push them to the side like I had previously, but as an aid to help me recover. Games were now a part of my therapy.

I’ve come a long way in the past couple of years. This has been through my gaming and mindfulness therapy, but also through the means of self-help and learning more about how​ the mind operates as a whole. I have found that the more you learn about a scary and unknown aspect of your life, the less terrifying it becomes. This of course won’t work for everyone. People need to do what’s best for them as everyone is different, but for me this method literally saved my life. I still have bad days and I’ve learned that that’s OK. I know now that tomorrow or even the next day will be better. I know that nurturing good mental health, as much as possible, is the only goal I need to concern myself with. 

Life is hard at times, but if I had to offer one piece of advice it would be to talk. Talk to friends, family, your doctor – whoever you feel will listen. Keeping those harmful feelings and destructive thoughts to yourself will only do more damage over time. You’ve nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about, we are all just human with complex emotions. It’s OK not to be OK. Please reach out, you never need to suffer alone. ​