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Lost Words: Beyond The Page

Lost Words: Beyond The Page takes players on an emotional journey of love and loss. You play as Izzy, who’s grandma is unwell. Throughout the story, you’ll learn more via beautifully designed interactive diary entries. Players will also take part in a fantasy adventure written by Izzy with lots of personal choices to make along the way.

It tells the story of this particularly difficult part of life which comes when losing a loved one, but also reflects moments of hope and reflection on the happier memories you have. Modus Games have developed a title that is so utterly relatable when it comes to the process of knowing a loved one is unwell and all the emotions that come with it.

Lost Words: Beyond The Page is a charming, emotional and can hit very close to home for those who have recently experienced loss, but illustrates the tough subject of grief in a very respectful and impactful way.

Features –

  • A wonderfully handcrafted interactive journey
  • A story about love and loss that is respectful and impactful
  • An adventure game that is easy to play and fun to be a part of

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

An Interview with Rachel Clancy on A Hero’s Guide To Gardening

We sat down with Rachel Clancy of Tea Creature Studios to discuss their latest title, ‘A Hero’s Guide To Gardening’, which is available now on iOS! A Hero’s Guide To Gardening is an interactive story which teaches young players emotional literacy and covers all sorts of subjects ranging from mental health to LGBTQIA+.

 

How did you begin the journey of creating your own video game?

 

My partner (in life and game design!) Aida and I met in 2018 just as I was starting a master’s degree in Independent Games & Playable Experience Design. Hero’s Guide was originally a text adventure game called Get Closer that we created during Global Game Jam in 2019. Aida had the idea to make a game that talked about common misconceptions people have around supporting someone going through depression. My game-making skills at that point were pretty limited to HTML button clicking, but through some thoughtful personal writing and Aida’s gorgeous artwork, Get Closer was received really well for such a simple experience! 

 

What inspired the creation of A Hero’s Guide to Gardening?

 

We were invited to show Get Closer at the gaming festival EGX Rezzed in April 2019 and while we were there we met members of an organization called Gaming the Mind – a group of mental health professionals interested in the intersection between mental health and games. We got talking about the idea of “emotional literacy” (it means the same thing as emotional intelligence but literacy is used when speaking in an educational context) – and how a game like Get Closer that allows you to role-play conversations centered around feelings could be used as a teaching tool for kids. Aida has a degree in primary school teaching and had been interested in mental health education prior to any game making, so it seemed like a great jumping-off point for a bigger project. In that same year, we saw a funding opportunity in Colin Macdonald’s amazing email newsletter – the Sky Women in Technology scholarship. We used Get Closer as a proof of concept and had the incredible good fortune to be selected for the award of £25,000 to develop the game that became A Hero’s Guide to Gardening. We used the funding to hire developer Destina Connor of Tea Powered Games to bolster our game-making capabilities and the delightful Jefferson Toal as our narrative designer.

 

You went with an interactive visual story style for A Hero’s Guide to Gardening, what were the reasons to go down that path?

 

Initially, Hero’s Guide was going to be a 2D RPG-type game – not for any design-led reason, more because I had found a pretty comprehensive 30 part YouTube tutorial on how to make one and thought I could pour our idea into that format. Thankfully this idea was scrapped fairly early on in the project, mainly because as a team that was stronger in art and writing it made more sense to choose a format that played to our strengths rather than including features that didn’t necessarily support the story we were trying to tell. We decided on a format that felt like a playable comic book with character dialogues inspired by what we had tried to do in Get Closer. We looked at interactive narrative games like Florence, or purely dialogue-driven games like 7Days! For inspiration.

 

What do you want players to take away from the experience of playing A Hero’s Guide to Gardening?

 

We hope we have created memorable metaphors and illustrations of how to navigate and process the emotions of fear, anger, and sadness. There’s also an overarching message about not being afraid or embarrassed to ask for help or admit when we are struggling. When you’re a kid, you don’t have a long-lived frame of reference for what’s normal. I remember being a kid and feeling ashamed of struggling with school work and feeling embarrassed to tell my parents that I was being bullied. I thought these things were my fault, but if I had spoken up, the adults in my life could have helped take that shame away and helped me come to a solution. To that end, we’re also in the process of creating resources for parents and teachers that use the events of the game as a jumping-off point for further discussions about emotions and mental health.

 

A Hero’s Guide to Gardening touches many different subjects from representation, love, and mental health, what was your motivation for this?

 

In a Hero’s Guide to Gardening, the focus of the narrative is on the mental health message, but we do reference gender identity and family relationships as Noomi gets to know the other characters. Ranger Seta is Noomi’s camp counselor and is a non-binary character. When they first meet, Seta tells Noomi their pronouns (they/them) and Noomi tells them hers (she/her). Later when we see Seta’s clipboard up close, we see they have annotated the names of the gardeners in their department with their pronouns as well. It’s a detail that doesn’t change the course of the story but our intention is to make interactions like these a normal part of everyday life. We also make some decisions about the makeup of the families of the campers. For example, Noomi’s relationship with her guardian Astrid is left open to interpretation because we liked the idea that she could be read as fostered or adopted, and we can see in the family portraits in their home that Astrid has a female partner. 

 

If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring developer that wants to create their first game, what would you tell them?

 

Global Game Jam really got the ball rolling for us. I think for independent game makers it can be really hard to dedicate time to a passion project outside of work, but hackathons and game jams are a great way to generate a prototype in a quick and focused environment. If you’re a solo developer you might find like-minded teammates that could become future collaborators. Game making is especially tough when you’re on your own because it encompasses so many different disciplines, so meeting other designers and artists can connect you to a network of people who you can bounce ideas off of and ask for advice. Bonus piece of advice – GET ORGANISED BEFORE YOU GET STARTED! I have ADHD and am basically allergic to spreadsheets but I wish I had done more upfront to organize and track the development process – for my sake and for everyone else who worked on this project!

 

Do you have any plans for future projects in the pipeline?

 

Right now we are focused on creating extra educational content based on the events and characters of the game (which you can find on our website or our social accounts). Next on the to-do list is a card game that tackles relationship education that I’m currently hashing out with the lovely illustrator and writer Katy Edelsten. We were chatting about the limitations of sex education in schools, and realized that there is so much to learn and understand about how relationships (whether they are casual or committed) work, and what’s safe and what’s respectful that needs to happen before these very practical conversations about how not to get pregnant and how condoms work! Right now though I’m taking a bit of a break and I’m looking forward to spending some time with a soldering iron repairing some of my hardware games that have fallen into disrepair since my MA in 2019! And playing some games, I haven’t had enough time to do that as much as I’d like either!

 

Tea Creature Studios

Tea Creature Studios (@teacreaturestudios) • Instagram photos and videos

Tea Creature Studios Twitter (@TeaCreatures)

A Hero’s Guide To Gardening by Clancy on itch.io

‎A Hero’s Guide To Gardening on the App Store

 

Skills utilised:
News

Tell Me Why

DONTNOD Entertainment brings you their latest title: Tell Me Why. Follow the story of reunited twins Tyler and Alyson, who travel back to Alaska to sell their childhood home. They soon start unravelling the mystery of their past using the unique supernatural bond that they share. 

Players will be given choices throughout the story and learn more about the two very unique characters through a captivating and emotional journey. 

Key Features:

  • Uncover the truth using the twin’s unique supernatural bond. 
  • Each choice directly affects the story and relationship between the twins.
  • Master the game’s puzzles to open a window into the twin’s fantasy world. 

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

Helping Others Find The Help I Received by Nick Powell

The hard part about wanting to help remove the stigma attached to mental health is that you have to take the nerve wracking step of telling people about it.

These days I find it best to get that out of the way quickly and get onto the topic of trying to help other people that may be experiencing mental health issues rather than worry about my own. So with that said:

I first realised I was having mental health difficulties a few years ago when in rapid succession I went through the risk of redundancy following an organisational restructure, a move into a new team with more responsibility and a troubled legacy project with a very large budget attached to it. Despite dreadful anxiety, nausea, weight loss and falling asleep on the sofa as soon as I got home it took me a long time to realise that this all could be classed as a mental health issue. I simply thought that my job was getting too much for me and I was worried I was on course for failure. I had supportive colleagues and bosses around me who I was able to confide in and access to doctors and professional help at work as part of my benefits which I naturally took advantage of. 

I was genuinely surprised when the GP told me that not only did I have anxiety, I was also clinically depressed. I was also relieved that there was a medical term for what I had been going through and I wasn’t just ‘overwhelmed.’ I started on the medication citalopram and a CBT course almost immediately and was surprised that I was seeing very little real improvement weeks and months later. It wasn’t until my interest in the subject of Mental Health was piqued following a webinar by Andrew Shatte organised by my employer during Mental Health Awareness week on the topic of resilience that I started to get a sense of how to manage my mental health.

I am not a mental health expert, but I do know that a healthy interest in the subject has engaged my critical faculties and I’ve applied them to helping myself by studying the vast amount of material available on the topic by pre-eminent doctors and psychologists.

The real breakthroughs in my mental wellbeing have come from reading the books of Andrew Shatte and Albert Ellis (whose work Shatte references and reframes) and realising certain truths for myself: “People don’t just get upset. They contribute to their upsetness,” Albert Ellis, and “You mainly feel the way you think,” also Albert Ellis. By keeping this in mind at all times, working through CBT exercises as explained by these experts in the field, and combining it with regular exercise and daily meditation I have a much healthier internal monologue, though it’s very easy to slip back into old habits, especially during trying times. Having a mental and physical fitness routine definitely helps address this. I can also say that I have had incredible support from my amazing wife long before I first went to the GP. Being the spouse of someone going through mental health issues can be a massive challenge in itself and anyone caring for a partner going through mental health difficulties should be aware that they can also look for help and support from charities and mental health organisations.  

I can also look back at a challenging 2020 that has brought us the difficulties of living and working under lockdown, and a 2019 that saw me made redundant and find new employment, and have the satisfaction of helping roll out the Mental Health Charter at my new place of work, Curve Digital, where I have an official function as one of our Mental Health Champions. This is without doubt one of my proudest career achievements to date. I have also been off of medication for over 18 months as I have found my coping strategies mentioned above adequate to maintain my mental health. Any decision to come off of medication should be taken in conjunction with a medical professional, and just the same as there should be no stigma surrounding mental health, there should also be no stigma as to whether a person needs medication or not to maintain mental health.    

My motivation for being a Mental Health Champion is simple – I want anyone experiencing the kind of things I’ve experienced to be able to get access to even more help and support than I did. If I imagine where I’d be if I’d never heard Andrew Shatte’s webinar or read the works of Albert Ellis or been encouraged to subscribe to Headspace, well it doesn’t bear thinking about to be honest, after all you mainly feel the way you think… and my inner monologue was far from nurturing in the past.

This is why I’ve shared this story with you and why I am honoured to work with the incredible people at Safe in our World and within Curve Digital’s HR and Leadership teams to end the stigma attached to mental illness and provide more support for those in the games industry that may need it.

 

Skills utilised:
Stories

LevelUpMentalHealth: How a Supportive Work Place Helped Me Overcome My Mental Health Challenges by George Osborn

When you’re having a problem with your mental health, having a workplace that understands what you’re going through makes a world of difference to how you overcome it.

I learned this the easy way, fortunately, when I joined Ukie. I know that in terms of my public persona it’s reasonable to say that I project a certain amount of confidence, of happiness, optimism and care for others – especially in work situations.

But when I joined Ukie as their Head of Communications last year, my mental wellbeing felt far away from the outward contentment that I was projecting.

Last July, my life briefly broke apart. A long term relationship ended; I moved to London to live by myself for the first time; I then started a fantastic, but high pressure, job while I simultaneously wound down my business.

It was, in truth, a bit much. But initially, I didn’t engage with how I was feeling mentally. I constructed some defence mechanisms to keep me going in the short term. I then studiously ignored what felt like a burgeoning spot of darkness hovering just over my shoulder for as long as humanly possible in the hope it’d just go away.

By September, though, it wasn’t possible any more. A hard-working August (as all are in the games industry) and a fairly hard partying one had not washed away my feelings. Instead, I was increasingly weighed down each morning as I dealt with feelings of sadness, guilt and anxiety.

It prompted me to go and seek private help from a therapist. It’s something I’ve done before and found great value in. After all, if you’ll go see a doctor because you’re feeling physically unwell then it makes perfect sense to talk to a therapist to bring some clarity to your state of mind. Straight forward enough, I think.

Previously though, I had been able to see a therapist completely on my own time. I was self-employed on the last occasion I sought help, which meant that I could simply pick a time during the day and build my work around it.

Having just started a ‘nine to five’, I worried I might not be able to do something similar. I was concerned I would either not be able to get the help I needed at all (work comes first etc) or that I would have to cram it in around the working day in an uncomfortable way.

That’s where having a workplace with a culture of understanding mental health issues worked so well for me. I chatted with my boss extensively about my life circumstances and took the opportunity to tell her how I was feeling. I then asked if I could, quietly, book out an hour from 9-10 on a week day to have my sessions, mark it as private time and remove it when I felt ready to.

She agreed on the spot. With that came such a wave of relief. This wasn’t just caused by the fact that I could get the help I needed to at the time. It was also caused by the feeling that I was working in an environment where my mental well-being was catered for and where something sensitive to me would be managed humanely.

In the end, the arrangement didn’t last very long. The fact that I had been to therapy before, felt ready to talk and, fortunately, spoke with someone I clicked with meant I was able to come out the other side of it in three months.

However, it wasn’t the length of the experience that mattered to me. Instead, what mattered to me was that I felt I had room to deal with my mental health issues without feeling like it affected anyone’s perception of me. I was still George, I was just handling some personal stuff.

Since then, I’ve had the best working year of my life. It hasn’t been easy – it never is, unfortunately – but I’ve been able to work on a number of major campaigns and initiatives that have made a difference (including to other people’s mental health.) And I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that I wouldn’t have been able to do all this without the support I received when I needed it.

So, when you’re thinking about how you can make your workplace as welcoming as possible, always, ALWAYS think about what you can do to foster an environment where someone feels able to talk about – and take actions to improve – their mental health.

A small act of kindness from a thoughtful boss made one of the toughest years of my life much more bearable. If you can make where you work similarly kind, I encourage you wholeheartedly to do so.

Ukie has signed up as a partner to Safe in Our World’s #LevelUpMentalHealth pledge to create workplaces with an environment that is safe and supportive for their team’s mental health. You can sign up your business here: https://safeinourworld.org/level-up/

Skills utilised:
Stories

Live streaming a mental health talk show gave me a purpose – by Mxiety/Marie Shanley

In the fall of 2017, my depression and anxiety symptoms were at their worst. I had a very public panic attack at work and it had become clear that I could no longer continue with my career until I got my mental health in order. My mental illnesses, it seemed, had won and taken everything away from me. I left work defeated. I felt no control over my life anymore and saw no reason to keep going at all. 

 

The funny thing about having hit rock bottom emotionally is that it also comes with a freeing sense of having nothing to lose. Especially if you have a silly amount of optimism that tells you things can only become better when compared to how low you feel about your existence. 

In previous months, I had sought to learn more about my condition. Was I alone? Did it feel like this for other people? Were there solutions that could serve as intermediaries as I scrambled to get an appointment with my therapist again? What about my medication, was needing it, normal? 

What I found online was mostly people sharing their stories and personal experience, sometimes as facts. And then I found stories from professionals, some of which were blind to what it was actually like to live with these conditions.

With no job and a feeling that this was my hope, I decided I would try to bridge that gap. I had a background in project management, research, and science editing that was not being utilized for anything else at the moment. Along with those, I had ten years of experience having been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. I decided I would share my experience, but also try to answer the “why” of it all in a researched manner, giving researched explanations to the facts and ideas I was putting out into the world.

After years and years of telling myself I wasn’t good enough to make anything, I had found a friend who was willing to help me edit and did so kindly. So, I started a blog, which would house good sources in addition to my personal story. But that didn’t seem like enough. I wanted to communicate with people and have open discussions around these difficult topics as I was tired of pretending I was ok, when I knew others were not either. Tired of keeping to myself so as not to scare anyone and make it seem like I am just seeking attention.

YouTube didn’t seem to be the best place to be able to do so. But a live stream? A live stream would be exactly the space to offer information and immediately receive feedback. Offering an open forum to those like me who were often silent.

It started with a few of my “in real life” friends offering to come on and share their stories of living with certain conditions until eventually, I was able to interview professionals in the field as well. When I wasn’t doing that, I was doing research and presenting what I found for live discussions. 

And people came to watch. Not right away (which is great because I had no idea what I was doing), but they did come and they were just as excited as I was to have a space to be themselves. Furthermore, they were more than willing to be there for others who had experienced things similar to them.

I frequently say that Mxiety is an idea of hope, which is bigger than the person who started it or any one person who supports it. It’s a space built on education and respectful discourse no matter the disagreement. 

Never in my wildest dreams, when I sat sobbing three years ago on the floor of my bathroom, wishing I could die, did I ever realize that I could incubate a whole community. When I was driving and talking myself into not ending my life, I could not fathom the number of people who had done exactly the same and were looking for someone to tell them they are not alone.

I have now returned to a full-time job, as I continue to write, host a show, and nurture a community. I take medication and am not ashamed because it saved my life. I gather information as I learn more about myself and share that with others as well. I have found my purpose–to make the world a safer place for those with mental illnesses. It’s ambitious, but it’s a purpose that is worthy of the cause.

Learn more about Marie, her blog, live streams and more via mxiety.com.

Skills utilised:
Stories

Being able to escape helped me cope – By Emily Mitchell

Winning the YGD BAFTA for my game Fractured Minds has completely changed my life! It was the first positive step in a long road of recovery, a road I’m still travelling today.

 

When I was around 12 I started to get these painful red lumps and swelling on my eyes, usually lasting for up to 8 months at a time. I had these constantly on both eyes, sometimes having three at once, which lasted for 3 or 4 years until I was about 15. They weren’t just physically painful and uncomfortable, but also very emotionally taxing. There are definitely much worse things to have, but for a self-conscious teenage girl that was starting to develop anxiety, it felt like the worst thing in the world. Secondary school can be a very unforgiving environment when it comes to things like this, random people would stare at me as I walked past them in the hallway and sometimes even stop me to ask what was wrong with my eyes. I would constantly get looks and comments and I was so exhausted, I just wanted to feel normal.

Even after they went away, I was left with very bad anxiety and extremely low self esteem. By the time I was 15 it was very very bad, I had one of the lowest attendance records in the year and missed school constantly due to my extreme anxiety. I didn’t eat very well and had too many sleepless nights to count. I would randomly have panic attacks on the way to school, I felt completely trapped and dreaded every day. I thought I was pathetic and worthless for feeling so anxious over such normal things, and I felt immense guilt and shame because of it.

But it was also during this time that I discovered my love for games! Being able to escape into whole other worlds helped me cope with my anxiety. I made many of my closest friends through our shared love of gaming, we would go round each others houses after school and play minecraft pocket edition on our phones! We began hosting our first minecraft server on PC which we had so much fun on, eventually sinking countless hours into more games like Left 4 Dead 2 and Deadspace 3. This definitely helped me during those tough years, not only as a coping mechanism for dealing with my anxiety but also as a great way of socialising with my friends.

When I was 16 I took ICT for one of my A-Levels, and quickly discovered that making games can be just as rewarding as playing them. The first course we took was game development and I remember really getting into it. The first game I ever made was called Toy Wars where you play as a toy soldier exploring a bedroom and everything is huge, that was definitely fun to make! The course only lasted for about a month and I was left wanting more, that’s when I discovered the BAFTA Young Game Designers competition. My sister suggested that I should make a game for it but I was a bit apprehensive as I didn’t think I had any chance of winning. She convinced me and so I started to plan ideas for a game I could make. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to make a game that meant something so I decided to use my own experiences with anxiety to create Fractured Minds.

This was the first time I had tried creating all of the assets myself to make a game. I made it with Unity and used Photoshop for the textures and Maya for the models and animating the monster. This was definitely tough at first but a huge learning experience as I learnt how to navigate these different software, mostly from watching youtube tutorials! In total the game took me about 9 months to make, working on it after school and in my free time. This really gave me something to focus on and I used it as a creative outlet for my stress and anxiety. I entered it into the YGD competition about 20 minutes before closing time!

 

When I got the email that my game had been shortlisted I was absolutely ecstatic! It was also my birthday and it was basically the best birthday present I could have got. During the rest of the month though, I was growing increasingly nervous about the awards ceremony in July, still deciding whether or not I would go because of my anxiety.

 

In the end I did decide to go and I went with my sister. As we were walking to the train station I had a very bad panic attack, one of the worst of my life. My sister helped me through it and I went to the bathroom to collect myself. I was going to go home at that point as I was in such a bad state, but I knew that if I didn’t go I would regret it for the rest of my life! So I managed to pull myself together and continue with the journey, and once we arrived, it really was the most amazing experience! I ended up winning which I can honestly say was the best feeling that I’ve ever had, and for it to go from the worst day to the best day was just incredible!

Now that my game is releasing soon on so many platforms I’m so excited and it’s honestly more than I could have ever hoped for! I’m also so happy to be part of the Safe In Our World charity which I believe can make a real positive difference in the games industry.

In the end I just wanted to create an experience that I could share that hopefully resonates with a lot of people and can help create a better understanding of what it’s like to live with a mental illness.

Thanks for reading my story!

Skills utilised:
Stories

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.

Skills utilised:
Stories

Ride the wave, ride the storm, calm seas await! – by Leo Zullo

I was an awkward kid. Painfully shy, super quiet, red cheeks; that type. People look at me now and think I am super confident, an Alpha male, that everything is all good in the hood! What is under the hood is a very different reality.

Growing up in a slightly dysfunctional house didn’t help set boundaries or teach me the way of the world either. Anti-Dad – pro-Mum. This was the tone of growing up. Silent, Introverted. Not a clue really. And sadly, growing up in an immigrant environment, where doing the ‘normal’ English family things wasn’t the norm.

I didn’t adjust well. Didn’t make friends. Moved school and had to get to know a whole load of people. I think we were also pretty poor; no pocket money, no sweets – lunch was minimal. I started developing bad habits.

I was torn really. I was showing signs of brightness, clouded by this dark moodiness and shyness. Torn, and with no-one to shine a light. So, I guess it is isn’t a surprise that as I grew up, slightly sociopathic, slightly awkward, I started following my own rules – which weren’t always the right ones.

Then I went even darker. Discovered razor blades. I used to do little minor cuts on my left arm. Little cuts but over a long period. I wonder if this period in my life holds any connection to the logo of my company being a razor blade. Then the darkness set in even more.

As you might expect from a broody, very awkward kid, the road to the dark side was never too far away. Inevitably it led to the check out day. No notes. Just firmly in mind to get the job done.

Finished school. Bedroom. 100 paracetamols, half bottle of brandy. A job done! Well, I passed out, woke up – and hell opened up. The irony of getting shouted by my mum who thought I was pissed. The anger of my dad who proceeded to force me to paint a fucking wall!

Now, if anyone has been down this road, they will know that the aftermath of a check out attempt with pills, is that…well, you puke. A lot. You puke, and you puke, and you puke, until green shit comes up. Then you puke more. So, I’m running to the toilet – puking – coming back to the forced labour – then get abuse from the pops that I’m a waste of space piss head. A 14-year-old piss head. If only he knew.

But I guess what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Wrong.

I think I have had every social issue possible whilst growing up and even throughout adulthood.

Anxiety. Depression. Addiction issues. Yes – the typical obsessive personality. The false extrovert. The larger than life bullshit character. The must do the most anyone can do attitude. Still learning, still no clue. Yet the stakes are getting higher.

I never really spoke about things. I went through life the hard way: bottled things up till they exploded. Lots of life phases later, and I’m in my late 40s. I have grey hair and lots of wisdom of dark issues, mental issues, addiction issues, psychological issues, medical issues and general life issues. I am good in a panic situation. Helpful!

I learned to escape in many ways. Music. Games. Drugs. Work. And a rolling combination of the afore mentioned. My obsessive side would always throw me into things. Never a balance. Still to this day.

One thing that has helped is knowing that life does get better. I got to the edge of a cliff a few times, looked over the cliff, and somehow pulled back. This has happened on many pivotal occasions. It would’ve gotten better a lot quicker if I’d had help, but I didn’t ask, so I never got it.

To those who are anxious or have other issues, talk to someone. A friend, family, or someone you trust. Maybe even a complete stranger. Help is out there, and you will be surprised that more often than not, the other person has been through something similar and can help.

Life is a like a sea. When it is calm and the sun is shining, it is beautiful. The warmth, the reflections and the calm. But note, there will be rough seas and waves and storms. It is important you know this, and when the storms are rough, they can last for what seems forever. The darkness and roughness is unforgiving, but the seas will change; it will calm down, it will become sunny again.

I found that I needed little targets to get my life back on track. This technique was developed and honed over the many years and the many ups and downs. You can’t think of the big picture. It is too far away. It is too big – too daunting. But you can set yourself little achievable goals. One step at a time, one day at a time, and the goals get bigger. After a while you will realise you have stopped thinking about it because you are through the worst. Develop your own tailored techniques, they do work. Thinking about it now, I was developing my own Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. These days, there are many proven CBT options out there; try them.

To those who are thinking of checking out… life does change. Life is full of ups and downs and life does give back great moments. Ride the storm. The pain of losing someone in this way is immense. The darkness you may feel is real, but keep trying, one day at a time. Ride the storm!

Remember this…
The joy you bring to others is unmeasurable, but the joy you must bring to yourself is more important. When you smile and are back in the moment it is evident for all to see. You will stop with the second voice in your head, and you will feel free.

Ride the wave, ride the storm, calm seas await!

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Stories

I met my partner on Minecraft and changed my life! – By Jake Smith

At the age of 12 I remember being on a football field and having this nagging in my head, I was clueless to what it was, it would just scream at me, I kept it secret. It was the early 2000’s and no one talked about mental health. 3 years later it got too much, I broke down to my parents and we arranged some help via a school councillor where we discovered I had OCD intrusive thoughts. I tried my hardest to get help, nothing really calmed it down. But I never let it stop me from getting my GCSE’s and stopping my original dream of becoming an animal keeper. In fact, it fueled it more.

Moving into College was difficult to adapt and deal with the intrusive thoughts. Sadly in college, I then developed hygiene OCD and feared being ill or killing people by not doing certain actions. It got out of control, I’d be hours late to lectures due to showering for hours. The college was on my back about attendance at the time, I tried explaining but nothing happened, I carried on and I had a little help from friends but honestly, I was really struggling. I also knew this wasn’t going to define me, this was not going to stop me from achieving my dreams. I ran into many situations where people just said no, they didn’t want to know because of my issues, or I was told I should quit and go home, but I kept fighting. In the end, I passed the course, out of so much fighting I won and went on to seek the next challenge. And yes, I got to work with animals. Which yes, was amazing!

My story doesn’t end there, however. Like many who suffer from mental health conditions, things didn’t get fixed overnight.

In the years that followed bad things were happening in the background all the time. I turned to Minecraft in the evenings and escaped. I met another gamer, we got on really well and seemed to just connect. I was getting more ill, and turning to my new friends on a Minecraft server to escape. My friend that I met online was there for me like I’ve never had someone be before. Life felt better. And, like all true rom-coms, we fell in love.


7 years later I have a lovely family and my mental health issues are a lot easier to deal with. They’re still there. But I’m learning ways to cope and sure, my story is a lot longer than this, there are sadly a lot of moments that things went against me and constant obstacles have tried to shut me down. The thing that pushes me is that I will not let the illness define me, I will not let it stop me from living my life to the best I can do and getting where I want to be. While many others may have worse or easier experiences, I truly believe if we have a goal, we must keep that goal in mind and find ways to get through it whether it be counselling, therapy, seeking help from loved ones, family or friends.


We can do this, we can fight and we can win. There is help out there. I will never give up fighting for the rights of the mentally ill, that is also my ultimate goal, I want the world to see us equally, I don’t want people going through hell to get what they want and I will forever fight for that.

And when I’m not fighting, yep, I’m still on Minecraft.

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