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My journey – By Ash Paulsen

As a gaming enthusiast and professional who has openly struggled with chronic depression throughout his life, the crossroads between the gaming community and mental health awareness that Safe in Our World represents is a deeply important and personal issue for me. As such, when my fellow Patron and dear friend Aaron told me about the then-in-the-making charity and offered me the opportunity to get involved with Safe on the ground level as one of its key team members, I was naturally ecstatic. Here was a chance to do some real good, to personally reach out to people just like me with the kind of mental health support and awareness I wish had been available to me when I was younger and more vulnerable.

And boy, do I wish it had been. Like many of us who grew up playing video games, bullying was a part of my daily life at school. I can’t think of a grade during which I wasn’t ostracized by the vast majority of my peers, and the few friends I did have were usually other victims of bullying who weren’t blessed with the size and stature I had to protect me from physical – if not emotional – abuse. Layer those wholly negative social experiences on top of the latent depression I didn’t even know I had or how to identify at the time and, well, most of my childhood and adolescence was pretty bad news – at least socially. I did, fortunately benefit from two very supportive, involved parents and a privileged home life in general, so things could certainly have been worse. But still, the emotional and mental damage persisted. I began engaging in a lot of self-hate. I would viciously berate myself for the slightest of mistakes or imperfections, which then graduated into physical self-harm and, eventually, flirtation with suicidal thoughts. And, look – I’m not here to tell you that I then found some mental health magic bullet that fixed everything and permanently ushered my depression into the rear-view mirror.

In fact, I’ll be honest: things would get worse before they got better, and I still grapple viciously with my mental health – specifically my chronic depression – today as an adult. I still experience my peaks and valleys. I still have days where I don’t feel like it’s worth getting up in the morning because what’s the point and would rather stay under the covers and disappear. The therapy and medication continue. It’s an ongoing battle – for me and for so, so many others who suffer, often silently and unknowingly to others, inside the hellscape of their own minds.

 

But I wouldn’t change a thing. Because eventually, I learned there was help and support available that could help me reframe my perspective and turn my suffering into an opportunity to understand and help others who are struggling like I have; understanding and empathy I never could have had if I’d not experienced that kind of struggling for myself. To be clear, I’m not saying victims of mental health issues are ever at fault – we and you never, ever are – but finding ways to focus on others’ struggles rather than remain fixated on your own can, weirdly and surprisingly enough, help you heal your own wounds.

 

Throughout all my grappling with chronic feelings of depression, hopelessness, and futility in life, I have fortunately managed to remain acutely aware and thankful of the fact that I am privileged. Not just by virtue of my comfortable home life growing up and the opportunities granted me by parents who could afford to send me to college, but because unlike many who struggle with their mental health, I have a platform.

Because I’m fortunate enough to been involved with the YouTube channel GameXplain since its early days, I’ve seen it grow from the meager channel it started out as into the million-plus-subscriber juggernaut it is today – and just as the channel’s audience has grown, so too has my own. Especially in the digital age and amid all the white noise of the internet, it is a true privilege, and never a right, to have lots of people stop and listen when you speak. I’m not bragging! My point in providing this context is to drive home the point that I am in a unique position, with the audience I’ve graciously been able to build, to help others whose struggles are similar to and often worse than my own. But if I had never grappled with those issues myself, I would never have developed the empathy that comes with understanding and I might not have been wise to how vitally, deeply important mental health outreach efforts like Safe are – and they are.

So while I maintain that struggling with one’s mental health is always a work-in-progress and something that isn’t necessarily ever “cured” like the common cold – at least for me – it doesn’t have to cast a shadow over your whole life and it should never be a death sentence. The reason Safe even exists is because a bunch of people who have suffered just like you and I have learned that it is possible to turn your mental health lemons into lemonade and, hopefully, help others along the way. If my story (which I’m still writing!) can help improve the situation of even a single person in need who reaches out to Safe for help, then, well, it’s all been worth it because nothing – nothing – heals the soul quite like improving the lives and experiences who need a helping hand.

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