It was the summer of 1998, with schools closed for the summer I was bored and looking for something to do. Thankfully, my best friend Ian had invited me over to his house to play DnD for the first time. With his help I rolled my first character (a human paladin) and we got settled into the game. I was enthralled and we continued to play together for several years. I even started to dip my toe into other TTRPG systems after picking up a copy of Cyberpunk 2020 from Virgin Megastores.
Of course life started to get in the way as I became an older teenager. Girls, partying, drink…they all seemed more real and more important then the worlds we built around the table. Ian and I became more distant as events started to complicate our friendship. I’m sure many of you reading this will be all too familiar with this tale. We are taught that as we grow older we should put our toys and games away…”adulting” becomes the order of the day.
I have always looked fondly back at those years, rose-tinted glasses mean that I not only envision the time I spent playing with joyful reverence but I also look back at the person I was with awe at how vibrant and alive I was. I have worked many different jobs since that time, I’ve started and built a loving family around me. I am a husband and a father but I still yearned to capture that vibrancy I once had.
Depression (yes, that horrid word) first entered my life in my early twenties and it has never really left my side. Most of my adult life I have felt like I had been cast adrift in a stormy sea, struggling against the rolling waves to keep my head above the water. This sea of chaos has been my home now for over 20 years and although I can experience months or even years where I can comfortably tread water I know that the next storm is always just over the horizon.
The past few years have been particularly fraught. In fact, I’ve probably been at my lowest. Talking, they say, is the best thing to do in these situations. Talking however is something I find very difficult. When all your energy is going to treading water and waves are crashing over your head the last thing you want to do is swallow the rancid water. It pains me to admit this as I’ve only ever told one person (and that was an “occupational therapist”) but I found myself sitting outside my work place trying to figure out if my life insurance would pay out in the event of suicide. Now, this isn’t something I’m proud of as I have witnessed the effects that suicide has on loved ones but it shook me to my core.
I reached out, I contacted people. I may not have told these people what I was going through but that didn’t matter. In an astonishing coincidence, Ian contacted me during this time. He was moving back into the area and wanted to catch up. As soon as he was settled in I drove over, had a cuppa and played some Magic The Gathering. Soon afterwards, he told me of his plans to open Candlekeep. It didn’t take long for us to organise our first DnD session in over 20 years. It was only a one-shot but that didn’t matter. That feeling that I once felt seemed to be growing inside of me again….we decided to start to run a weekly campaign, and I was hooked again.
Playing DnD gives me the ability to work through my problems indirectly in a safe space. It allows me to play around with different versions of myself. I can fight my demons, be victorious and above all it gives me the confidence to seek help with the real problems I face. This past 12 months have been very difficult for a lot of people. Social distancing has meant that many of us haven’t been able to hang out with friends and there are reports of a mental health crisis brewing under the surface. I would ask anyone reading this that feel lonely or isolated, please reach out to the community that Ian has built up around the shop. We have many good and decent people who are willing to drop what they are doing to listen and to talk. I encourage everyone to play at least one session of DnD in their life, it saved mine..it may save yours too.
If you’re in crisis and need to speak to someone:
- Call NHS 111 (for when you need help but are not in immediate danger)
- Contact your GP and ask for an emergency appointment
- Contact the Samaritans 116 123 (free to call from within the UK and Ireland), 24 hours a day
- Use the ‘Shout’ crisis text line – text SHOUT to 85258