For as long as I can remember, I’ve been scared of everything.
I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I’ve had it my entire life, but I’ve only recently had a name to call it by. To sum it up, my brain responds to most situations with fear and a lot of it. I’m always expecting disaster, even in the little things. I find myself drawing up game plans for everyday things like buying gas or going for a walk. If I make a telephone call, you can bet there was some form of a panic attack involved, and I’ve lashed out at too many concerned friends and loved ones for “attacking me” when they were just trying to help. My folks will tell you that when I was young I’d run inside to wash my hands whenever I touched my sandbox. I thought I’d get sick otherwise.
I had my means of dealing with what I called “bad thoughts”. I had a core group of friends that were always good for a laugh, a supportive family, a job. At the tail end of my collegiate career I met my wonderful girlfriend. When I graduated I was afraid, but like everything else I had a plan to make it my way.
2016 had different plans. Unemployment was a monkey on my back eating my dollars and change that I couldn’t shake off. My attempts at writing were short-lived and mostly spent doubting anyone would want me, which made me resent my friends who were making it. The long distance had finally taken its toll on my relationship and troubles at home had shaken my belief in family. I found myself in the real-life equivalent of when Wile E. Coyote looks down and sees the canyon floor. I was free-falling.
Enter Critical Role, Geek and Sundry’s weekly series of voice actors playing Dungeons & Dragons. D&D had always been that persona cross the room at the party for me; you want to go over and introduce yourself but you’re afraid what it will lead to. I guess you could call me a life-long nerd, though I’m not a fan of the term, but Dungeons & Dragons was that last threshold I hadn’t crossed. Maybe it was the worry about what people would say or call me, or maybe it was thinking I wouldn’t be any good? Critical Role existed outside of that fear. These weren’t kids with busted glasses in a basement hiding their adventures in shame. These were successful, fun people embracing their creative sides on a journey of improvisation, fantasy and luck together. I instantly fell in love with the game. I had to play it.
My first experience with D&D came a few months later. I got in my old Jeep and drove an hour to small comic book store. An old neighbor of mine who I had recently reconnected with was serving as “dungeon master” or the person running the game for “Adventurer’s League”. Think of it like a game of pick-up basketball but replace the dunks and tip-offs with fighting monsters. I had brought a friend with me just to have that much more of a cushion when something went wrong, as I had already convinced myself was predetermined. What I found there was more than a meeting of awkward strangers speaking with funny voices. I found a welcoming place with friendly people ready to teach and listen. I found a place where I could leave that weight I carried at the curb and just have some fun. In a time where I didn’t like being myself, the game table was where I could be someone else.
There I could be Draga Warhand, half-orc barbarian who traced his heritage to giants with a thirst of vengeance on his former enslavers and an eye for gold. I based my character on Critical Role favorite Grog Strongjaw, played by voice actor Travis Willingham. Draga was everything I didn’t think I could be: he was confident, strong, and acted without over-complicating the situation. He looked adversity in the eye and laughed while doing so because there was no challenge too great for him and his companions. Out-of-character, I found a new reason to laugh again, and the nice strangers I sat with quickly became friends.
D&D gave me the control I craved, too. Sure, there were always plenty of surprises, but being able to create this alternate personality from the ground up shut off some of the buzzers in my brain, just for a little while. On the sheet of paper with all of my designs and statistics I used to the play the game, I could decide my strengths and weaknesses. I could even decide my fears. Confidence doesn’t come from believing that you’ll never encounter a problem; it comes from knowing what you can do to face that problem. Confidence comes from knowing your worth.
Confidence has a weird way of working. It’s like gravity, really. Even if you don’t believe it’s there you’re going to end up feeling it eventually. You can’t pretend to be confident; you can just translate confidence in different ways. You can make it bigger, and my weekly session of putting my brain in the head of the most confident man in the world came with side effects that began to pop-up in the smallest ways. I could smile again. Hell, I could laugh again. I could have a phone call with my girlfriend and feel the love from miles away and appreciate our time together like the gift that it was. It didn’t take long for me to connect the pieces and find that my weekly game had become my therapy session. Playing my D&D character didn’t just give me a fun hobby; it reprogrammed me. It gave me the new jumping point I had wanted for so long.
I’ve come to find that having a support system is crucial, but my own belief in me and my happiness is just as important. I still have my bad days. There’s still plenty that I want to control, but I’m getting to a place where I can accept the bumps in the road. I’ve been creating on a consistent basis and recently started my own brand for podcasts and articles, which I’m still developing. Life isn’t so much of an inconsistency to me, anymore. It’s a big ol’ sandbox and I just want to build a castle.
I still watch Critical Role on a weekly basis. I still head out on that hour-long drive to meet up with friends and share an adventure, though now in a different location. I have a new balance to my life that wasn’t there before, and it’s held in place with love, good friends and family, and a bag full of books and magic. Dungeons & Dragons will always be my place to try a new personality and life, but after all of this time I think I’m finally ready to roll the dice and be happy as myself, again.
Thanks to Shane for sharing his journey with us. He is also a founding member of the online entertainment group Planet Buster. Check them out on Facebook and Youtube. You can also follow him on his twitter here.
Always remember you are not alone.
You are loved.
Want to submit to Dear Hope and share your story, art, or article related to mental health? Email email@example.com