When you’ve had a rough day and your job has been stressful, where do you escape to? We all have some way of escaping, of running away, of leaving the troublesome reality of life behind and just getting lost in another place for a time where we can forget about the things that have been weighing us down and stressing us out. Some people go to the gym or play a sport, take a walk, do yoga or meditate to get their minds off their problems for a while. Other people like to relax with a book or a hobby, creating art or music. Video games, computer games and role-playing are other popular ways to take your mind off your troubles. Then there are the more dangerous and addictive means of forgetting your worries – alcohol, drugs, and gambling are certainly distractions that make you forget your problems for a while but they’re very risky and can be quite costly in more ways than just money. Regardless of which way works best, most everyone has an ‘escape’ that they use to help ease the stress of their hard days and take the worries off their minds for a while. For the average person, the time for an escape is usually a weekend activity, but for those of us struggling with a mental illness like clinical depression, seeking out an escape can be a daily routine or even one that lasts for days or weeks on end. The use of an escape is not necessarily a bad thing, it can be therapeutic and can help us cope with situations that are difficult to overcome. Sometimes an escape can allow us to take our minds to a place where we feel safe enough to face our fears and defeat them. But there can be a risk in going to the escape too often or for too long if it begins to take on its own sense of reality. The danger of getting lost in an imaginary place in our mind is very real and can happen easier than you think, especially when you are already someone who is trying to cope with a fragile mind and raw emotions.
Now, I know you may think, “How can a person get lost in their own mind?”, and I assure you that it is possible, even if you’re not Alice and you don’t have a white rabbit to follow. The mind is a very amazing and complex thing. Doctors and scientists know only a little about it even after all the advances in medicine and technology that we have today. It is a powerful force and yet it can be easily fooled and manipulated if the right stimuli are presented to it. When a person begins to create an imaginary place in their mind to which they seek refuge from things in their daily life that are upsetting or stressful, that imaginary place can become a very important and very real place to that person. Even though in reality they know the place doesn’t actually exist, their mind has come to accept that it is somehow still a real place that they can go to when they need to hide away from things they don’t want to face in their life. If they continue to go to this place more and more often, it will continue to become more and more real to them until the line between reality and imaginary starts to blur and soon they become lost in the imaginary world and no longer recognize the real world as reality. This is what happens in instances of people who become delusional. For a person suffering from mental illness, their imaginary is their reality and when someone tries to take that from them, whether by telling them they’re imagining or they’re wrong, they’re making things up, or seeing things, they will react in the only rational way they can – by defending their imagined “reality”, by getting angry, frightened and upset, just as anyone would if put in the same position. This is only one of the many reasons why a person suffering from mental illness needs compassion and understanding, patience and kindness.
So, I’m sure at this point, you’re wondering what my ‘escape’ is. To be honest, I have more than one. I like to get lost in a book sometimes, trashy romance novels are my favorites but not ordinary modern romance, I like historic romance and mystery or gothic romance. Sometimes I like to crochet, the repetitive motion of a pattern is a good way to refocus my mind on something mundane and keep it from focusing on something that is bothering me. I like doing jigsaw puzzles on the computer too. And of course you know I like to write. These are all great ways of taking my mind off stressful things and I enjoy them all, but sometimes they’re very solitary and I feel like I need to interact with people who understand what I’m going through and how I feel. That’s when I escape into the world of role-play. It’s not complicated, but it does take a quick mind and sometimes good research to write a well-executed role-play character. It can be very intense and intriguing, entertaining and fun, as well as sad and heartbreaking at times. For those of you not familiar with it, role-play is exactly what it seems: you create a fictional character for yourself and you act out life as that character online through a platform such as Twitter, Tumbler or Facebook. I use Twitter. You find a group within which your character interacts to create a story with other characters. You make friends and relationships between your character and others and, in turn, with the people who are the writers behind those characters. Typically, you and your friends ‘meet’ online around the same time each day to ‘continue’ your group or individual story, and after your time is up you leave the story ‘to be continued’ the next day. It’s a great way to loose yourself in imaginary worlds for a while, pretending to be whoever you want to be, wherever and whenever in time you like. You can be the hero in your own story, face your demons and defeat them.
It sounds a little crazy, I know, and maybe it is a little, but through it I’ve met some truly amazing and gifted people, talented and wonderfully creative folks who have taken little pieces of my heart and made homes in them. I’ve also learned a lot about writing and researching through role-play that has helped me immensely in my own pursuit of novel-writing. On the negative side, however, I’ve fallen in love with imaginary people in my mind, I’ve broken my own heart over stories in my head, I’ve cried myself to sleep because of heartbreak from relationships that weren’t real. I’d allowed the imaginary to become reality. In my need to get away from the stress and fears and rotten dark days, I’d gotten lost in my ‘escape’ and let my mind be tricked into believing the fantasy too much. I’m lucky that I recognized how far I had let my mind wander before it was too far. I was able to take a step back, take a deep breath and clear my head, remind myself that it’s not reality, it’s only an ‘escape’ and that it’s meant to be fun, entertaining and relaxing. In doing that, I’ve given back to myself the safety of writing role-play again. I’ve given back to myself my ‘escape’. I’m a little wiser now, a little less soft around the edges, a little more tough, but I can still let my mind hide away in make-believe for a while with people I share so much in common, who have become dear friends, and who help me cope with the dark days in our own way of forgetting.
I realize that avoiding and escaping are not dealing and coping with problems. I also realize that escaping is not therapy and doesn’t help me develop the skills I need to learn to deal with my depression. But (…here’s my excuse and self defense) I have a new therapist who is teaching me coping skills, I see her every two weeks, and I have every reason to believe that she and I will find a way for me to get through the dark days and I’ll learn to cope, to fight back the demons, to pull myself out of the deep hole and find the sunshine when all I see are clouds. In the meantime, I still need to have an escape to get away from the bad days, a place to spend relaxing down time just to give my brain a little break from stressful thinking and have fun interacting with friends. I know the dangers of allowing my imagination to get carried away and I know not to let that happen again. I can still escape into the realm of fantasy in role-play without getting lost in my mind. It’s all good. Because everyone needs to have an escape. What’s yours?
“We don’t create a fantasy world to escape reality. We create it to be able to stay.” – Lynda Barry
PS. There are five new poems in the Poetry pages, including the two below: “Corners” and “When We Were Young” 🙂