I remember waking up early on a Saturday morning before my parents were awake to play Duck Hunt on the NES as a child. I wouldn’t call that my introduction gaming induced mania, but it certainly had me hooked on gaming.
By the time I was a teenager and my mood had begun to destabilize (even though I didn’t know it was bipolar disorder at the time) I found that the power I felt beating my teenage boyfriend at Mario Kart 64 on vs. mode 82 times in a row was obviously feeding something, and I didn’t quite know what it was or how to stop it -but then again I didn’t want to. It felt incredible.
By the time Everquest was in full throttle in the early 2000’s I was able to limp our computer and dial-up to a place where I could play it, and I discovered some very important things.
- I didn’t want to stop. Not to pee, not to eat, not to shower. Heaven forbid any of my family members needed to make a phone call, that was outrageous.
- The main reason I didn’t want to stop was because of how miserably depressed I felt in my daily life, and when I played Everquest I found myself feeling like a million dollars.
- Constantly choosing the sleepless mania of gaming and feeling good also seemed to have negative consequences in all other aspects of my life, but for a while I was feeling far too great to care.
After that blew up in my face I went years without playing another substantial game, I swore off of anything more rigorous than Wii bowling or Zelda. I hadn’t really displayed the ability to make good choices when engrossed in a fantasy world (particularly a social one) so I figured it would be best to let it lie.
But then, as an adult, I started dating a gamer. I started out trying to be careful, but before long I was being swept up by the Xbox 360 and then the Xbox One, feeling overwhelmingly tempted to stay up until 3 am because, well, everyone else was.
I wish I could say that the release of Pokémon Go this week didn’t rattle me, but the original debut of Pokémon landed right in the age-range sweet spot for my sister and I the first time around. We played the games, we watched the show, and our binder full of cards probably weighed a metric ton.
I knew it might be a slippery slope for me, but I had an easy out. With a windows phone I couldn’t download the Pokémon Go app, and my brand loyalty to Microsoft started out feeling like a blessing until I was sucked down into a vortex of depression. After two days of not being able to play the game everyone else around me seemed to be playing I felt miserable, and the safety of going without this game somehow transformed into a wretched despair over missing something potentially profound.
That night I couldn’t sleep, I could hardly eat breakfast, and as soon as the clock struck nine I was out the door headed to the mall. Before I had time to think, before I had time to react, really, I’d signed up for a brand new phone and spent the next eight hours setting it up so I could play Pokémon Go.
In hindsight it is hard to say if manically buying a new phone to play a Pokémon game is more or less embarrassing than last week’s manic interlude (after all, catching socially acceptable pretend creatures is probably less alienating to people on the street than collecting the dead corpses of real ones) but after the jolting, humming, rush of ecstasy subsided a day or two later I’ve been able to be a little more objective.
After spending the last five years getting to know my brand of bipolar disorder intimately and getting a grip on some of the things that trigger it for me I think I’m able to do a better job of regulating something I know can amp me up if I’m not careful. I intend to follow all of the rules I’ve set for myself playing any videogames in order to avoid issues with triggering hypomania and mania, things like:
- No games after 10 pm (11 at the latest on weekends). Part of the reason games can trigger mania for me is that I lose track of time, and without having a set time in place for me to detach myself from the games and work on winding down before bedtime I wont be able to sleep. I’ve found that anything after 11 (and I try to be safe and stick to 10 pm) only makes me more alert and is huge for triggering insomnia for me. Guess what? Insomnia breeds mania!
- Play at set times. I like to have a routine, to have structure in my day to make me feel less useless (since I’m just at home alone most days). My boyfriend and I play Xbox in the evening after dinner before we watch tv and I try to limit my Xbox time to that window (even if I am not always successful). Likewise I’m trying to limit Pokémon time to specific times of day (lunch time, walking home from an appointment (not to it or I’m likely to lose track of time), waiting for the bus, etc).
- Limit my interaction with others. Ok, this might sound odd, but if I am starting to feel amped up and then I begin talking to other players who are equally amped up, I can easily become hypomanic or manic. Being aware of my mood state before interacting with people online or in person has been really important to help me understand how much I should interact and when to just be silent.
- Food Food Food Food. I need to eat, and I need to eat more than candy and chocolate. I have to keep eating on my regular schedule, and not settle for eating a few handfulls of stale fruit loops becuase I am not willing to walk away from a game. If I don’t eat my mood gets all out of whack, and it doesn’t always mean a date with hypomania but that is one of the (less sucky) outcomes that could occur. Limiting caffeine is also huge, it has also triggered hypomania for me in the past as well as insomnia if I have any too late in the day.
As the case has been with everything lately, I’m working hard to try and find a sense of balance in as many areas of my life as possible. I want to be able to enjoy the things I want to enjoy (like catching them Pokémons) while remaining as stable as I can. It can be a tough nut to crack, but I’m hopeful that a little extra effort I can do it.