Being Reminded That You Matter

2016 has been a rough year for me. I told myself I wasn’t going to write about it because I don’t want to keep reliving the events, but I feel like things have gotten better and I can talk about it now without it dragging me back down. Also, this blog post won’t make much sense without some background. If you already know the story, skip to the regular text below.

I met a guy in 2010 and things seemed great. 3 years into this relationship and our personalities divided. We started heading down different paths but we were comfortable with each other and didn’t want to give that up, so we kept trying. Despite our efforts, we were both unhappy and it was very apparent. We had started being mean to each other, being neglectful, and even cheating to try and feel something. This, along with some other unresolved stuff from my past, was creating a darkness inside me. I went and saw a doctor for depression and anxiety in Oct 2015, where they said it was very clear I was depressed and anxious, so they put me on some medication. Around February, I felt that it wasn’t working anymore so I went and made and appointment with a psychiatrist, because I really wanted to get to the bottom of this and feel happier.
She diagnosed me with Bipolar Disorder Type-2, gave me a few medicines to try, and sent me on my way. I expressed this to my ex and told him that with this diagnosis, we’d have to get some stuff in our life situated. He told me he supported me and loved me, so we tried to continue to make this work. It didn’t. So in March, after a series of frustrating events with work, friends, and our relationship, I had a nervous breakdown and ended up in the hospital for 2 weeks to do intensive therapy. During this time, I felt very scared, but I am a strong person so I mostly held it in. I learned during this time that the one person I thought I could rely on, my ex, was not there for me. While I was in the hospital trying to deal with these confusing and powerful emotions, he was angry at me for being “different” and “weird”.
After I was released, we had a long talk about it and he said that he could have done more and that moving forward, he would be way more supportive of me. That was also not true, because two days after my release, he started telling me that I was a burden, bothersome, and that he didn’t want to see me. A week after my release, I was begging him to stop putting me down and try to understand things from my point of view. But he continued to tell me that he was disappointed, that his life wasn’t where he wanted it to be, and that he couldn’t handle “us” anymore. I couldn’t take it anymore and had another nervous breakdown. My mom, concerned for my wellbeing, moved me out of his apartment in less than a day and then stayed with me for a week to make sure I was stable and okay. During this time, he was telling me that he loved me, that he hated me, that we could work through this and he just needed a break, and that he was ready to quit.
In May, I found out that he had been telling his family about parts of my situation, and getting feedback from them. They were telling him that I was a broken person and a burden on him, holding him back from the greatness that he could become. His mom, a nurse, told him that my cross was not his to carry. I felt that was a little much, considering my situation was a medical problem and she is a medical professional, but I guess that says a lot about who she is. Anyway, he let these thoughts creep into his mind and on Mother’s Day, he called it quits for good. 6 years, gone. I asked if we could try to be amicable about it and he said yes at first, but over the next two weeks he proved incapable of that. Before I knew it, he was already shacking up with some other guy, he had changed his phone number and blocked me from texting and calling him, and changed the locks on his apartment so I couldn’t get in. I e-mailed him to call him out on this, and the only reply that I got was “You are an unhealthy person and I do not want to associate with you anymore. Goodbye.”
To summarize my feelings…In 5 months I was diagnosed with depression, upgraded to Bipolar Disorder, hospitalized for self harm and substance abuse, sent to intensive therapy, put on 5 different medications that had intense side effects, and booted out of a 6 year relationship after being told that I’m a burden and unhealthy. I was not in a good place mentally. From May to July, I was experiencing some very rough effects from the events and medication. I was having horrific dreams where my ex and his family were attacking me and telling me my life didn’t matter. I was having flashbacks to arguments we had where he was telling me that I deserved to hurt, that he was better than me, and that he didn’t love me. On top of this, I was losing the ability to sleep because the medicine I was on was jacking me up. I started having muscle ticks, anxiety, and extremely high levels of rage. The lack of sleep was so bad that my mom started watching me to make sure I could get 2-3 hours of sleep without jolting awake.
During this time, I also started losing a lot of friends and pushing people away. I couldn’t trust anyone, nor were many people making any effort to be around me. I started slipping deeper and deeper into depression and told my mom I was back to the point where I wanted to end everything. She convinced me to call my doctor and be taken off the medicines. This helped tremendously, and I started having some sense of normalcy come back to my life.

It was around this time that one of my old friends reached out to my mom with concern regarding some stuff they saw on my facebook. They worked together to surprise me with a reunion over a holiday weekend, which brought a smile to my face. This is where the point of this blog will start to kick in. I promise. ūüôā

The person that reached out to my mom was someone I had grown up with. We met in 5th grade and immediately became best friends. Throughout childhood and adolescence, we saw each other almost every day. Each Tuesday we would go to their parent’s Aikido class and learn martial arts, and then every Friday we would be at one or the other’s house playing video games and having a sleepover. In our Sophomore year of high school, their parents decided to move a few states away, and I was heartbroken. My best friend was leaving me. For the next four years, we barely kept in touch and met up in person twice on vacations to kind of hang out, but I was certain over these years that our friendship was over. I was sad, but I felt that this was part of life and it was just time to move on and find new friends. I spent years trying to find someone that could understand me and tolerate me on their level, but I was continuously disappointed. This, along with a few failed relationships, and I had accepted that I would never find someone like that again in my life. This person and I were separated for 12 years.

Yet, somehow, in my time of need, we were brought back together. A military contract brought my friend back to our hometown and a chance message on facebook reunited us. I had no idea what to expect after 12 years of not seeing each other. But when they walked through the door, my entire family and I felt just like we had before they left. I was certain that things would be awkward and we had grown apart, but I quickly learned that we could easily slide back into the rhythm we had when we were younger. Despite growing up and having our experiences shape us, we still laughed at the same jokes, liked the same things, and understood each other the same way. This reunion happened in about July of this year, and since then we’ve seen each other 6 more times.

A little more history – I’ve been in therapy since May to try and deal with some stuff that happened in my life. I had two of my aunts, an uncle, and my father pass away within 1 year of each other (2006-2009), two bad breakups, and a tiny issue with growing up gay/coming out. The therapist I was seeing from May to July was not doing much for me and I took a break for a while. In October, I started seeing a psychologist who has really been pointing me in the right direction and helping me deal with things in a much more manageable way. A combination of my own willpower, help from the therapist, and the rekindled friendship brought me out of the darkest place I’ve ever been in my entire life.

This past weekend, my friend visited me again and me being a sentimental person, I made a statement regarding how happy I was that we were able to reconnected. They said something about how they had helped me overcome my anxiety and depression and I guess I was embarrassed about that, so I quite harshly shut that down and said I put in a lot of work myself to get over this stuff. It was done in a funny manner, so we laughed and moved on. After they left to go home, I was alone again and I really started thinking about what they said. It was true…they had helped me out of that darkness and I wasn’t accepting that.

What I had needed was for someone to see me, and they did. They knew that I needed someone and they were there. 12 years of distance and what I thought was a forgotten friendship, and they came swooping back in to show me that I mattered and that they love me. There is this scene in the movie Avatar by James Cameron where the characters have to learn the culture of the aliens they’re trying to communicate with, and one thing they struggle with is this bonding the aliens have where they say “I see you”. It doesn’t mean I literally see you with my eyes, but more like “I see through you”, on a spiritual level. They see through all the social constructs, years of built up emotional walls, and stifled pain. They see¬†exactly who you are, and accept it.

My friend achieved this today after I apologized about shutting down their statement of helping me out of my dark place. They said:

I know that you can’t really hide who you are from me. You can mask your pain and anxieties for a time, but I’ve known who you are for nearly as long as you’ve been that person. I have been, and always will be, your friend.

I had no idea how much I needed to hear this, and when I did, I broke down. I had to go hide in the bathroom at work for a bit because I couldn’t keep my emotions together and as I write this, I’m still crying because of the relief I feel. I had spent¬†years trying to find this understanding and comfort in someone and it was there all along in my friend who I thought was gone forever. And now I have it again…and I’m so happy. I feel like I can finally let go of everything that’s happened to me because I know for certain that someone in the world has my back. I’m going to be okay.

Anyway, this is sappy and stuff but I just want to say thank you. I had no idea how much I was missing but I’m so happy we’re back together and kicking ass. I look forward to many more years of happy memories, fun adventures, and total comfort being who we are. You truly are my best friend and I love you.

-Cody

 

The Deeper Meaning in Video Games

I think generally video games are seen as a kid’s hobby. They’ve got bright colors, immature humor, and sometimes simplistic design. Within the past 10 years or so, I think we’ve migrated a bit towards it being a more adult hobby with games like Gears of War or Call of Duty, but I think the idea of being a “gamer” is still widely seen as a childish or teenage thing. What I think people don’t get is that under this childish outward image, games often carry messages meaningful to adults too. A specific series that comes to mind for me is Final Fantasy. The games in this series pretty stereotypical as a Japanese RPG. A¬†certain hero/heroine using some kind of over sized weapon and avant-garde clothing gets thrown into some worldwide fight against a corporation or entity and they use big, flashy magic with lots of fantastical creatures. The small glimpses of the games that are shown in trailers or preview pictures do not even come close to depicting the depth of the stories that lie within.

These stories cross a myriad of themes that reach deep into the hearts of players willing to attempt the journey. Sure, you could argue that the first few games have a very simple plot – four heroes get called on by the crystals of light to save the world from a big baddie. But as the games progressed, their stories became richer and developed much deeper meanings. Final Fantasy IV focused on evolving out of one’s own darkness to pursue a path of righteousness. Final Fantasy VII focused on self actualization and dealing with grief of lost loved ones. Final Fantasy X also focused on grief, as well as challenging the authority of religion, where as it’s sequel, X-2, focused on finding hope and evolving one’s self. Growing up with this series, these characters and stories really resonated with me. I remember being about 9 or 10 years old, alone by myself in our apartment while my parents were on a date, watching my screen in utter disbelief as one of the main protagonists was murdered in Final Fantasy VII. When I was about 13, I remember feeling very empowered playing as Squall Leonhart in Final Fantasy VIII fighting against some crazy bitch that wanted to manipulate Time and take over the world. The story also pulled at my adolescent heart strings because of the hopeless¬†love story between Squall and Rinoa.

—Spoiler Alert—

As I got older, my interest in the series waned a bit and the stories diluted in my mind. Around 2007, I decided to get back into the series and, being 20 years old, the stories started resonating more with me. I started feeling the pain of Zidane in Final Fantasy IX, being different than everyone else but trying his best to fit in and keep a smile on his face. Final Fantasy X is the one that really did me in. The story in Final Fantasy 10 focuses on Yuna, a summoner and priestess of Yevon, the equivalent of God in our world. Her mission is to go on a pilgrimage with her guardians, learn how to summon all of the celestial beings called Aeons, and use them in a battle against a giant beast called Sin, which, surprisingly, is a manifestation of humanity’s sin. On her journey, her innocent heart is exposed to things such as racism, tragedy, lying, and manipulation. She learns that no matter how hard she fights, in the end of our journey she, along with one of her guardians, will perform the Final Summoning and perish before Sin. This act does not even kill Sin, but rather holds it at bay for a few years before it gathers enough strength to come back and create more chaos. Tidus, the other main character, is not from her world (you can look that plot point up) and he challenges the idea of their religion. He encourages her team to change their standards and fight back against this idea, because he believes that this type of fruitless sacrifice is stupid, not noble.

With Tidus’ encouragement, Yuna’s guardians and the Aeons actually challenge Yevon. Take that in for a moment – the game’s final battle is a group of people fighting against¬†God¬†himself. After weakening Sin, Yuna performs the Sending, a ritual dance to send the spirits of the fallen through to the Farplane (Heaven). This Sending, due to it’s size and power, causes¬†a chain reaction, releasing all of the Fayth (spirits) from Spira (Earth). All of these memories of those that have passed from Sin start dissipating and moving on to the Farplane,¬†one of which is clearly depicted as none other than Tidus, Yuna’s guardian and new found love. Up to this point in the game, Tidus has helped Yuna grow¬†so much, he has supported her no matter what the odds were against them, and because of this, the two fell deeply in love with each other. Tidus knew he was going to be sent to the Farplane upon Yuna performing her Final Sending, but in order to keep her vigilance to fight Sin, he kept this to himself. As the team realizes that Tidus is disappearing, Yuna is in total denial. She can do nothing as she watches him turn into energy and embrace his destiny.

The feelings really hit at 1:39 when the piano starts.

 

This is where I find the beauty and meaning in games. I played Final Fantasy X in the summer of 2007 and unfortunately, my father passed away in the spring of 2008. I had just finished my shift at work when I got a call from my mom saying that my dad’s health took a turn for the worst and he wasn’t going to make it through the night. I had my friend drive me to the hospital and my dad had been mostly unresponsive until I got there. My whole family was there trying to talk to him and say their goodbyes, and when I showed up he managed to move his eyes a little bit to show that he felt me hold his hand and heard me say my goodbye to him and that I loved him. That was the last time I saw my dad.¬†He looked nothing like the man who raised me. The man who had a strong will, a deep voice, and a great laugh. He taught me to have a thicker skin, he pushed me to be a better person, and he always wanted the best for me. And here he was, lying in the hospital bed with tubes in his nose and mouth, his face sunken in, his eyes barely open, and ragged breathing. I watched my dad leave this world and all I could think about was this scene from Final Fantasy X. How I was powerless, like Yuna, in the face of destiny to stop him from leaving. How my dad was like Tidus saying “I’m sorry I couldn’t take you to see Zanarkand” (a promise he made to Yuna at the beginning of the game.). Despite his body giving out, I believe that my dad was¬†conscious inside his head, scared…or maybe at peace, and thinking “I’m sorry that I couldn’t show you more of the world, my son.” Then he was gone. He accepted his fate and left us, much like Tidus leaping off of the airship to join the rest of his friends and family in the Farplane.

I must have listened to the song that plays during this scene in the game for at least 3 months after my dad passed because it was so vivid in my heart and mind. All I could do was cry and think about how much I miss him and how powerless I was, because no one can stop death. That’s one downside to being a heavy gamer – sometimes you can get a little delusional about living forever. To this day, this scene makes me cry because it’s so beautiful to me. Beautiful, yet painful because I can’t help but think of the night my dad left us. Hopefully in reading this, you can see why some people have a deeper appreciation for games past the superficial idea of “it’s a time passer!” Games have evolved from bouncing a digital ball between two paddles to deep, involved stories that cross boundaries and push people to think outside of their own worlds. I also hope that if you have a narrow view of what video games are, perhaps this can help you think of them as something else: art.

Thanks for reading!