Everyone experiences some sort of anxiety either in their every day lives or during a specific moment where it has effected them. However, others like myself experience anxiety on a level that prevents them from doing simple everyday things such as just going to the grocery store to grab a few things for dinner. Sometimes you simply cannot convince yourself to get out the door, while other times an anxiety attack surfaces out of nowhere to completely shut you down. This is how a video game, primarily World of Tanks, helped me get on the path to finally tackle my severe anxiety and to eventually overcome it.
Growing up I did not experience anxiety that would lead you to expect anything out of the ordinary. Moments such as a school play during grade school where you get that nervous rush prior to taking the stage or being overwhelmed while doing new things I experienced anxiety but nothing comparable to what was about to come. After reaching middle school(8th grade to be exact) something changed. During that year I experienced multiple traumatic events that changed me and until a couple years ago I hadn’t realized what had caused my anxiety. That year I had broken my knee in front of half of my grade, experienced being food poisoned, and also was blinded/hospitalized by a rouge wasp for 2 weeks(luckily it just missed my eye). To top it all off most of the people around me, aside from my close friends, seemed to think that these events were somehow funny and repeatedly brought them up throughout the next few years. Combine all of these together and it triggered some part of my mind to cause me to have severe anxiety and panic attacks in many areas of my life.
“Why do I have such bad luck”
“Can’t people just leave it alone? It’s not like I wanted this all to happen”
“Oh great, I’m now known as cripple”
“Why do I feel nauseous going to school and when I go out now?”
Shortly after breaking my knee(which was the last to happen) I found myself not wanting to go out as much and do things a normal teenage boy would do in a small town. Granted, for several months I was rehabilitating but even so I still had no desire to do things. When it came time for me to return to school(after surgery) I found myself unable to do so without experiencing anxiety attacks prior/during school and also becoming ill because of the anxiety attacks. Every morning was a struggle and it took until entering high school the following year for me to learn how to partially cope with my newly acquired anxiety to just be able to attend school daily. Every morning was still a struggle and I was unable to eat prior to school every single morning, and it wasn’t until 10th grad that I was able to eat lunch at school.
During these first couple years of my anxiety(8th-9th grade) I found myself getting more into video games and specifically online multiplayer games. I still did things with friends, but only those close friends who I felt comfortable with and fortunately most of them also enjoyed video games as well. Back then(shocking that this all began in 2004) online games were not really “mainstream” and I played a game called Shattered Galaxy on PC primarily along with other console games that were mainly single player. Shattered Galaxy allowed me to slowly build my confidence that was severely shaken by letting me interact with thousands of people, even if it was simply a text based chat system in-game. I dabbled in co-leading a regiment(clan) and helped coordinate and call battles which built my confidence up since I was managing dozens of people I wasn’t familiar with. Remember, this was before games like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare which came out in 2007 .
“I’ll be ok”
“There is nothing to worry about”
“I’ve done this plenty of times before, why do I feel like I’m going to vomit!?”
This continued throughout high school and even throughout college(2006-2011). All those years it was hard for me to do even the simplest tasks and I had no clue what things would cause me to experience anxiety attacks. It’s not like I was not trying since I did do to see a psychologist which did not help in the least bit and possibly made things worse since they were not able to help me. Throughout this time period I focused on “segmenting” my life and working to improve my anxiety in specific areas. Places such as work, going out with family, and seeing friends every now and then slowly improved and in certain cases my anxiety become better. However, in the grand scheme of things I was still unable to fix the problem that started all those years ago and in public settings/new places/speaking to people I was extremely uncomfortable. Throughout high school, college, and the years after my interest in technology and gaming increased. I found myself playing more games, getting more involved, participating on forums, and using a microphone sparingly while playing online games.
“How am I going to fix me”
“Am I going to be like this forever”
“I hate myself”
“This is hopeless”
Fast forward to early 2012. I was still experiencing debilitating anxiety that was preventing me from staying in touch with friends and actually go out in public without feeling awkward and most times nauseous. For those who do not experience some kind of anxiety disorder it feel like you cannot breath, you are sweaty, and you constantly feel like you are going to throw up. I was still doing great as far as work and certain activities but overall I wasn’t improving. At this point I started to play World of Tanks(surprise surprise since this is a World of Tanks website) and in early 2012 I started a free blogger site as well as a YouTube account. I also started to see a therapist(on my own terms not my families) to help me slowly figure out how to tackle my anxiety.
In the early days of blogging for World of Tanks I was drawing crude guides to point out weak spots, review tanks, and provide tips for the game. My videos on YouTube(which you can still find) were 100% game play and I did not talk during them since that was unthinkable back then. Later on in 2012 I made the jump to setting up my own website, getting a url, and renting a server. At this point I also made the jump shortly after to a more serious clan and started to use my microphone more in-game. People were loving my guides and I worked hard to improve them to the point you see today(where some guides take several hours) which gave me a huge boost in confidence. My videos I started to speak in and did live commentary(unlike voice overs) since by doing this it helped me improve outside of the game with my anxiety with talking to most people.
At this point every time I logged into World of Tanks people would private message me, thank me, and I would play the game while being on Team Speak talking with people. Most of those who have every played with me or watched my videos from this time period probably never would have guessed that I had anxiety as bad as I had. Often times I would still feel anxious while playing and especially during clan wars/competitions. Outside the game I was getting more confident and was slowly starting to push myself into uncomfortable situations(with help from my therapist to give me someone to talk to).
“This is really helping me”
“If I can run a website and do this well online, I certainly can do the same here”
“Why is this happening again!?!”
“I give up”
It wasn’t as easy as just starting a website, talking to people in my clan on Team Speak, and doing videos. I still was struggling to make the improvements I was looking for and things such as meeting new people and something as simple as hanging out with friends became difficult. Anxiety was kicking my ass and when I did “challenge” myself I often failed. However, I kept up with improving this World of Tanks website and loved that I was able to help people even if it is just a video game. The boost in confidence lead me to take on taking on more in the clan I was in and I ended up becoming a field commander(calling battles). Just like in Shattered Galaxy I was now in the same spot, however this time I was coordinating 15+ people almost every night and not with text but rather with my voice. After doing this for a few months in the winter(which is when where I live is in it’s off season) I was at the point where I could talk to almost anyone without to many nervous breakdowns. I kept saying to myself that, “if I can command 15 people strangers and thousands of people with my videos then I can talk to this person in front of me.”
“I’m almost there”
“Wow, this feels great”
“Can I do this?”
“What if this doesn’t work?”
After the winter I decided to leave the clan I was with for several reasons that related to World of Tanks but more importantly to free me from most commitments I had with having to organize things for World of Tanks on a nightly basis. At this point it was now around a year from where I had started a website and started to see a therapist. I was still going to see the therapist every few weeks to a month to talk about how I was trying to tackle my anxiety and what was/wasn’t working. I had started on alprazolam with the lowest dosage, but followed the advice of my therapist to only use it if I absolutely had to. When everything was over I had only needed alprazolam in a few situations and it was merely a “safety net” instead of a crutch. This was in early summer 2013 and at this point there was no “growth” left for me except to make huge jumps on my own in real life(gulp). Without the confidence I had from running a website with thousands of readers per day, doing live commentary videos, and the overall positive feedback I was receiving I would never have been able to make my next step.
I decided one day that I was going to go all in and not let the anxiety get the better of me. I made myself get out even if it meant just doing something in public by myself. I was still playing World of Tanks daily(albeit less) to give me something to keep me motivated and to blow off stress. Most importantly I finally used all of the advancements in the past year+ to start talking to this girl who I worked with. Weeks went by, and after everyday it was getting easier to talk to her, my friends, and to get out of the house to do small things like errands. Before where I would feel anxious just going to get a quick bite of eat, I was now starting to feel “normal” which I hadn’t felt in almost a decade since this all started. After a little over of month of talking to my fellow co-worker I mustered up the confidence to ask her out and she said yes. After that it was all down hill with each “date” and from there everyday became less anxious in every facet of life.
All of this might seem silly to think that I credit video games(specifically World of Tanks) for helping me overcome my severe anxiety. Without video games however I would never have had an outlet to slowly build up my confidence and “find my voice”. Yes, starting a website and pursuing that route definitely helped me since you(yes you) the readers supported me throughout the years and have kept me motivated to continue producing content. Without video games which started back with Shattered Galaxy I would have never had, had that “safety net” to help me relax and slowly build up confidence to tackle my anxiety disorder.
It’s now been almost a year fully anxiety free for me. There are moments where I feel that pit in my stomach, however unlike before I am able to get over myself and continue on. The anxiety that once felt like it was consuming my life is now inline with what you should feel when you are anxious instead of being something that completely shuts you down both mentally and physically(getting ill). The reason why I am posting this article is that for many years I felt like everything was hopeless and that I would have to live with anxiety that most people didn’t understand forever. It’s a difficult road to travel but the best advice I can give is that even doing little things such as talking to people on an online video game add up over time. Slowly but surely you will chip away at the boulder looming over you at all times and get it to a point where its just a small pebble.
“I’m glad I didn’t give up this time”
“I haven’t felt like this in years”
“I finally have my life back”
(Sigh of relief)