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How Having Health Anxiety Impacted My Ability to Game

How Having Health Anxiety Impacted My Ability to Game

Ever since I was a child, I've struggled severely with anxiety about death; as I grew older, it didn't only affect me by making me anxious those I love would die but also that I would fall ill. Unfortunately, this eventually turned into a debilitating problem, as I became convinced that any minor feeling in my body was a lethal illness or disease. Since today is World Health Day, I figured we could talk a bit about how having health anxiety (formerly known as hypochondria) might affect one's ability to game.

Of course, I won't go into too much detail, as we're not here to revisit my mental health history. Thankfully, after many years of therapy, I have been able to overcome it almost entirely! But when I was at the peak of my distress, some of my favourite games became too terrifying to play because they pumped too much adrenaline into my already alarmed body; a fantastic example of this is League of Legends. As I've said many times before, my wife and I have been playing on and off for over a decade now, and it's one of the titles we most use to bond together, as we can play as a team and spend quality time with one another. Unfortunately, when I began thinking that I was going to die, any tough team fight or 1v1 that got my heart pumping made me believe that I was going to have a heart attack. It got so bad that I began dissociating and having panic attacks during particularly difficult matches, and I eventually had to drop the game altogether until I was good enough that it wouldn't scare me when I felt adrenaline. 

Another way that health anxiety affected my gaming was due to my body's tendency to mimic symptoms; it was problematic that if I learned that a scary illness had tingling, I would begin feeling it throughout my body. Additionally, my anxiety had gotten so bad that I couldn't stand hearing about symptoms and illnesses because I would suddenly feel dread that I was going to get sick with them. Due to these two tendencies, I had to be careful about what type of media I was exposed to (such as avoiding shows like Dr. House), and this included gaming, too; one such game is 911 Operator. I was very intrigued by it, but just the idea of having to listen to people's emergency calls was enough to get me to the brink of a panic attack. I couldn't shake off the feeling that one day, I or someone I love would do the same for me as I died, and learning about how people were dying just made me aware of how I could die, too.

Before my mental health plummeted so much due to health anxiety, I used to be able to watch gory scenes in videogames and TV. As I fell further into my phobia of death, being aware of organs caused an enormous discomfort to me, and I was no longer able to bear it. While I'm not overly interested in bloody titles, even simple features like Mortal Kombat's finishers or x-ray cutscenes were terrifying. They made me feel like my body was frail, and I would end up convinced that I was going to experience something like that in real life, such as my eye popping out or an organ getting pierced.

As I said in my article about gaming with thanatophobia, even narrative-driven titles could become a hassle. Whether it was a premise that dealt with the death of a loved one (Telltale's The Walking Dead), illness (I, Hope), or growing old (The Stillness of the Wind or Old Man's Journey), it could end up spiralling me into terrible anxiety for days. Not every game reveals its narrative, however; sometimes, I'd find out the hard way when it was too late, and I was already triggered. The constant worry of suddenly having to face my fears wound up stopping me from playing anything that might have anything to do with death, illness, or loss at all.

My struggles with health anxiety and thanatophobia (which, really, are almost one of the same) ended up crippling my ability to enjoy media. I genuinely couldn't see a way through it, and I thought I could never go back to normal. What was once a vast ocean of unexplored titles began slowly being cut down one by one until I was left to play only cosy, relaxing, and PG titles. For me, as someone whose life revolved around gaming, this was truly devastating. 

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However, as I said at the beginning, I am thankfully much better; the support system, patience, and love I found in my wife got me through times I thought I was going to die, and after intense therapy, I can say I’m damn near over it. Despite all the control, sanity, and confidence I've gained back, there's still one game I haven't been able to face: The Moturary's Assistant. In spite of my progress, there's still an intense grip of anxiety when I think of seeing a body split open on the table because I know we all die and end up like that someday; I hope that as the years go on and I continue fighting my phobia, I'll be able to boot and finish it someday.

I hope this was useful in bringing to light the struggles of health anxiety. When I first saw it was World Health Day, I felt my heart heavy for everyone in the world still in the thick of the problem. It’s hard to be kind to yourself when you’re struggling with mental health, but I hope that if you or someone you love is fighting their fears, you can find compassion and love. What I thought was an impossible climb just turned out to be a very steep hike, but at least there’s a road; take it from someone who has fought tooth and nail to get her life back: it’s possible, and you can do it. 

Stay safe, stay healthy, and take care.

Violet Plata

Violet Plata

Staff Writer

Liable to jump at her own shadow.

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