I used to be a big music fan. I spent all my money on albums, later CDs, and on live shows. I used to love reading. I read two or three books a week, traveling to and from work and in the evenings. I had much fun playing computer games, could spend hours and hours online. Until I fell ill. I had severe depression and I could not enjoy anything anymore. Music was too distracting, I needed quiet. I could not focus on books or magazines. Computer games or TV offered distraction, but the minute I turned them off, I would feel even worse than before I had started. But, in the year before, I had discovered solo gaming. And it saved the day during these dark times.
I realised I did not need distraction, I needed some brain activity that I could handle. Fortunately, this was not my first depression. Fifteen years ago logic puzzles and sudokus had kept me occupied. So I tried, but no, I’d burned out on them. But solo board games were still new. And they were exactly what I needed. A way to keep my brain working.
Then something happened that got me hospitalised in isolation, “for my own protection” as they said. I spent a month there, 23 hours a day not leaving the room. My wife brought me two games every week. Some of these I will never get rid of, ever. And when I got out, starting rather intensive therapy, I included solo board games in my recovery plans. You need something to structure your days, for as long as you can’t go back to work. And it’s good to have a hobby, something to be interested in.
I’ve spent a year learning a new game every week, while recovering from depression. It wasn’t always fun. It felt “necessary” though, as one thing you can have as a side effect of depression, is online shopping sprees. Trying to feel good by spending money. Well, it actually works, if you can afford it. But it doesn’t have any long term effect and you get a house full of stuff.
But the plan was mainly to play a game every day. And not be too hard on myself if I didn’t manage but try to find out which games work in which situations. And I found out.
There are three kinds of games that are beneficial. First there are the fillers. Games that take at most fifteen minutes. They are quick to set up and have easy to remember rules. Some may think their gameplay is more an activity than a game proper, but I don’t care. They are for when I’m tired, which is often. Depression wears you out. It also makes you get less exercise, all in all you’ll be more tired more often real quick. I am grateful for games like Herbaceous, Pocket Landship, Desolate, Mini Rogue and Ganz Schön Clever. I need a lot of filler games.
Next there are some longer games (that take, let’s say up to an hour) that have an even better effect: they give a tiny feeling of happiness. I guess it’s what other people get from sports like running. These games click with me and I enjoy the puzzle very much. I need some energy to set them up, which can be a barrier, but then it’s worth it so much. I discovered this first with Glass Road, later to be replaced by Nusfjord, that had this positive effect even more. One Deck Dungeon, Elder Sign, Street Masters and Legendary Encounters: Alien are other examples.
And one game was best. It takes me ages to make room and get everything sorted, so that will happen just a few times a year. It takes many hours to play. But when I am playing, I am in another world and I am entertained, satisfied and happy. It is Eldritch Horror. It is pure bliss.
Last year I got into depression once again. It’s bad and I don’t know how long it is going to take. Reading is still problematic, I manage some simple stuff and the newspaper. Music is mainly limited to very familiar albums as some kind of background noise. I’ve started playing Diablo on the computer. It’s alright. But these things pale in comparison to board games. They make me feel relatively “well”. So I still try to play a game every day.
And you know what? It helps. I sometimes catch myself saying "I had fun". I played Black Widow in Marvel Champions, and I had fun. I am trying to learn to play Navajo Wars, and it may take me two weeks, but I'm having fun. Then I played 15 sessions of D-Day Dice Pocket and I had fun 😄
A bit of advice, as post script. If you feel half as bad as I do: seek help. Talk about it. You'll find a way out. Okay?