A Brief Interlude to Discuss Mental Health

Hi, folks. I know Monday is normally my day to discuss Mobile Suit Gundam, but I wanted to put that on hold for a minute and instead write about where I’m at, mentally. Reading about the experiences of creators I admire helped me deal with some of my own mental health issues, and I feel like having honest discussions about this stuff helps destigmatize it a bit, so… I guess I’m just going to dive in.

First off, some background. I spent a lot of years feeling depressed and anxious, but I didn’t do anything about it because I thought it was normal. I was in high school, it was stressful, everyone feels like this, right? And then after high school, hey, it was college, it was a new experience, new people–again, it was only natural that I was feeling miserable, right? And then after college, well, I didn’t like where I was working, so of course I was depressed all the time…

Some periods were darker than others. There were certainly long stretches where I was feeling pretty good, but there were also points where I was as low as could be. While I never actually made an attempt, there were a couple of nights where the stress of my job at the time, combined with feelings of isolation from a recent move, made me feel suicidal. That was when I first realized that hey, maybe these feelings weren’t normal after all.

Even so, I didn’t end up doing anything about it for another few years. I changed jobs, and that helped, but I didn’t start seeing a counselor until much later–and when I did, it wasn’t for depression, it was for anxiety.

I’ve always been a very nervous person. I am, generally speaking, afraid of meeting new people because I’m worried that either A) I won’t like them, or B) they’ll be very cool but they won’t like me. Even when things do seem to be going well, I often have a little voice saying, “They’re just being polite. They don’t actually like you.” I end up making a lot of unnecessary apologies because I’m worried what I said came out wrong, and then I feel like I’m being annoying by letting my anxieties show.

Anyway, I used to be better at keeping all that under control. But a few years ago, some switch flipped and I just… couldn’t anymore. I was invited to a party to celebrate the launch of a new video game that my friends and I were excited for, and I found myself having deep anxiety about attending. Why? Because there would be one person there that I didn’t know. That’s it. I ended up attending only to panic and leave about ten minutes in. That’s when I started seriously considering counseling.

Even after that, it took me another few months to actually make an appointment with a counselor. What finally did it? I had a very minor illness and, as a result, some swollen lymph nodes. Totally normal! And I was absolutely convinced that I had cancer. That part’s, uh, not so normal. I knew, logically, that I was being ridiculous… but that didn’t make the intrusive thoughts go away. So, I started seeing a counselor. And you know what? It really helped. Not just with the anxiety, either–depression and anger issues were also frequent topics, and my counselor, Kim, helped me work through a lot of stuff. She even encouraged me to go after the big promotion at work that I wanted but was too afraid to put my name in for. Thanks to her, I applied and ended up getting it.

One of the other things that was hugely helpful? Gundam (ha! I brought it back! Now I can still call this a #MobileSuitMonday). See, when I was a little kid, I liked to build models. There was a brief period in the early- to mid-aughts where Gundam models were popping up in places like Target, and that coincided with when I learned about the franchise from my friend Geoff. I built several kits when I was younger, but then kits became hard to find and I didn’t really pursue Gundam past that. But around the time I started going to counseling, I also started getting into Gundam.

The main reason was that I decided I needed a hobby that was just mine. Most of my hobbies are group activities: tabletop games, board games, video games, etc. The problem with that is that I… okay, this is going to sound way sadder than I mean for it to, but I can’t think of another way to phrase it: I don’t have a lot of friends. I’m not saying that for sympathy, and I’m not trying to cast myself as some sad, unlovable loser. I don’t have a ton of friends primarily because, as I said earlier, I don’t really put myself out there and meet new people. As a result, my gaming group is pretty much the small circle of folks I made friends with as a kid and have stayed in touch with post-school. They’re great and I dearly love them, but we all have lives and it can be tough to get people together to game consistently. I found that a major source of frustration for me was that, if none of my friends were free to hang out on a night I was feeling down, I didn’t feel like there was anything I could do to cheer myself up.

That’s when I remembered my youthful love of model kits. I started looking into gunpla and discovered that, these days, it’s really easy to get your hands on most any kit you could want. I threw myself into that hobby full-force and haven’t looked back. From there, I started actually watching Gundam and found that I love the franchise. If I’m stressed out or sad, I find it really soothing to sit down with a kit, pop on a podcast or some music, and just forget about everything except building for a bit. It’s almost meditative for me.

That brings me to today, and why I’m writing this post.

I just moved again. It was a big move in a lot of ways; new town, new job for my wife, new roommate. It’s been really exciting! The only real issue is that we moved from a big house in the country to a small apartment, so we had to condense our belongings a bit. A lot of stuff got thrown out and a lot more got put in a storage space. Among the stuff to go into storage? My model kits and their display cabinet. There’s just not room in our new place for those. I’ve been a little sad about it for a bit now, but nothing major. Until last night.

Yesterday was a good day. I woke up, got some tasty donuts, and watched a horror-comedy with my wife and our roommate. It was fun! I went grocery shopping, I did some preliminary work on Starfinder, I played Super Smash Bros. with my buddy. All good stuff. And then I sat down to actually plan out a tabletop game session and I just hit a brick wall. It’s been a few months since I ran anything and I felt like I just didn’t know where to start. That frustration spiraled out into full-on depression–the first bout I’ve had since starting medication a couple months ago.

Normally, when I start to feel like that, I go to my office and work on a model for a bit. Distract myself, focus on something I enjoy. The problem is, now I don’t have an office and there’s no room in the new place for any kits I build. So instead I just, uh, crawled into bed and scrolled through Twitter for hours. Not the healthiest way to cope!

So, why am I writing all this? A few reasons. First off, like I said at the top, my hope is that by being open about my own mental health journey, I can help destigmatize some of this stuff. Second, laying it all out helps me process stuff better; now that I’ve taken the time to reflect on this stuff, I can see that I really need to prioritize finding a new counselor in my new location so that I can start dealing with this stuff in a healthy way again. It’s also making me realize that “I can’t do model kits because my apartment is too small” is a pretty lazy, Depression Brain excuse–I’m positive that if I took the time to figure it out, I could definitely find a way to keep up on my hobby here. And third, it’s cathartic! Writing makes me feel better, and this definitely helped.

Well, if you read this far, thanks for sticking around! This was nice. It felt good to talk about stuff, you know? And if you’re feeling sad or scared or anxious or whatever, please, reach out to someone. Tell a supportive friend or family member. Make an appointment with a counselor–they really help! And if you don’t like your counselor, get a new one, but don’t give up on counseling altogether. I’ve been through three counselors myself; Kim retired, and I really didn’t gel with the lady I saw after that. But I told the office I’d like to see someone else and they set me up with a new counselor who was fantastic.

Okay, running out of steam now. But again, thanks for sticking around! This definitely helped me, and I hope it maybe helped some of you, too.

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