I had the pleasure to be invited on the Dragon Talk podcast, which posted last week through Wizards of the Coast. They gave me the opportunity to talk about my charity efforts with Limitless Adventures to raise money for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). The book we created, No Assembly Required, remains available for $5 and all money goes to AFSP. My motivation for raising awareness and funds for this cause goes back to my brother ending his life by suicide in 2017, and you can learn more about how AFSP uses donations to educate the public, advocate for better policy, support survivors, and fund additional research on suicide through my interview with AFSP’s New Jersey Director. I appreciated the opportunity to discuss all of this and more on the Dragon Talk podcast.
The episode of Dragon Talk can be accessed through iTunes.
Speaking openly about mental health issues is not a frequent thing in our society. Topics such as anxiety, depression and suicide are not accepted as widely as conversations about medical issues like diabetes or cancer. Because of this, I want to offer my sincere gratitude to hosts Greg Tito and Shelly Mazzanoble in addition to everyone involved at Wizards of the Coast that allowed me to speak on Dragon Talk.
I previously interviewed Greg on my Ego Check podcast in December 2017 about his role as Senior Communications Manager for Dungeons & Dragons. He spoke lovingly about tabletop role-playing games and provided a compelling answer to the question, “What is D&D?” We had a nice conversation about the staff of 25 or so individuals that bring D&D products to life in addition to how the explosion of streaming and video delivery services has allowed the tabletop industry to expand its audience. Greg and I have stayed in contact periodically since that time, and I eventually asked him if I could come on his podcast, Dragon Talk, to talk about mental health and gaming.
Greg and Shelly were wonderful leading up to the interview as they wanted to ensure they were respectful of the topics being discussed. I was also aware that my discussion about mental health issues and gaming could come across as preachy, and that was not my intention. I believe we avoided any number of potential pitfalls during our hour-long conversation, and I again thank Greg and Shelly for committing to the topics.
Gaming and Self-Care
One thing I disclosed during the episode is how negative thoughts and emotions can interfere with my willingness to engage in activities that I know I enjoy – like playing Dungeons & Dragons. After my brother ended his life by suicide, it was quite easy to find excuses not to play for a while. My personal anxiety can get in the way of running games as worries related to not being good enough spin around and around in my brain. And depressive symptoms also interfere because hosting and running a game is a lot work, and I simply don’t have the physical or mental energy to do it at times. I have responded to this anxiety and depression in the past by rescheduling or cancelling gaming sessions.
I know I’ll have fun if I play, and that my mood will be better for it.
Knowing and doing are two separate things though!
We discuss these topics openly during Dragon Talk, and the hosts share some of their challenges with anxiety as well. I offer some general health and well-being advice, and advocate for everyone to engage in more self-care and seek out professional treatment. One thing I emphasize is that mental health services are not only for individuals coping with severe symptoms; these services can improve mild and moderate symptoms as well. I have previously shared publicly that I meet with a therapist, and find the sessions quite beneficial. Near the conclusion of the episode, I offer some suggestions for how to get connected to local mental health services.
Demons & Voids
Early in the show, Greg introduced our discussion of mental health and gaming by referencing “demons.” I spoke about the language that we all (myself included) use to talk about mental health and how that language increases the stigma associated with mental health symptoms and treatments. In the episode, I attempt to normalize suffering. Our brains are fantastically good at suffering! We are all suffering with something. And to use the language Greg provided, we all have “demons.” The goal of therapy (in my eyes) is not to vanquish the demons or pretend they do not exist; instead, the goal is to reach out and grab those demons by the hand and take them along for the ride.
Live your life. Do what you enjoy. Bring the anxiety, depression, pain, guilt, sadness and those “demons” with you.
There was a moment during the show when Greg asked how often my brother played D&D. I wanted to laugh. Although my brother and his friends introduced me to D&D at a young age, he never played as an adult. He teased me about my nerdy interests and passions such as Star Wars, D&D and “the internet.” He referred to my blog as “The I.D. DM” as he could never absorb that the “I.D.” was “Id” no matter how often I tried to explain it to him. The thought of me getting him to sit still long enough to play D&D still brings a bit of a chuckle and sadness to my face.
I should have ran a one-shot adventure for him and his sons during one of my visits back home. I should have interviewed him for my podcast – about anything. Greg’s question touched on this grief; the notion that whatever history I had with my brother is set in stone.
There is no adding to it now.
In some ways, my brother and I seemed to function on different planes of existence. He was an athletic, physically-imposing character with maxed out charisma and constitution stats, and I traditionally hung my hat on being the quiet, level-headed one in the family with some intelligence and wisdom. We hadn’t lived in the same state since 1998, though we spoke often by phone and had a close relationship over the last 20 years. We were there for each other when needed, and I got back to New Jersey about twice or more each year to spend time with him and the rest of my family.
It was always a celebration when we saw each other, and I knew this skewed reality for both of us.
And we were also brothers with wildly different perspective on all manners of topics that butted heads and argued. “How are you two related?” would sometimes be asked by others. Well, we were brothers.
Leading up to the interview, my brother was on my mind more often. I’ve had some dreams involving him over the past week, and while it feels strange to wake up and go on about the day, it’s somewhat nice to “see” him again in those dreams. I had a long conversation about him with a mutual friend earlier this week, and we shared our grief while acknowledging that it’ll be two years this June since he was alive.
It does not seem real, and yet we all know it is.
I made the comment on Dragon Talk that depression and suicide doesn’t choose. What I meant was – it doesn’t happen to them over there. It happens all over the place. It happens to people you know. It happens to people who are rich, who are famous, who are adored, who are loved. It happens to anyone and everyone. It does not only happen to people on the margins of society – them over there – it happens to all of us.
I’m thankful for having the opportunity to reach a wider audience with this discussion. Please consider listening and sharing the episode of Dragon Talk with whatever forum you have to offer. My hope is that mental health issues are spoken about more frequently and with less hesitation. I think mental health care should be taught in schools; we have tools that we know help with depression and anxiety. We should learn about them at all levels of our educational system.
If you’re on the fence about seeing a therapist or checking in with a friend you’re concerned about, do it. Don’t assume things will get better because “time heals all wounds.” You know what heals wounds more effectively?
(I’m allowing myself to be more preachy in this article than the interview.)
If you want to get connected with mental health services, then consult with your primary care physician and/or insurance provider. If you’re a student, then go to your school’s counseling center. If you’re in an immediate crisis, then contact 1-800-273-8255 for assistance.
A final thank you to everyone that continues to read my articles and podcasts. Thank you for the support and encouragement.
Take care of yourself and each other.