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  • Writer's pictureFintan Davies

Triggers and how your focus determines your reality

Pedro Pascal is a living reminder of both my past and my complicated history with The Last of Us.

What are triggers when it comes to mental health? They are a build up of dark, scary memories that hit you in quick succession. They are, simply, a reminder of a time in my life when my soul got busy dying.

How does the actor Pedro Pascal trigger my trauma? He played Joel in The Last of Us HBO TV Series which is an adaption of the gratuitously violent post-apocalyptic video game of the same name. This video game was a defining part of my life for almost a decade when it came out in 2013.

I won't say where or when, but I went to a room once and the people there watched a movie starring Pedro Pascal. Seeing and hearing him on screen triggered a floodgate in my mind of all the traumatic memories I had about The Last of Us and The Last of Us: Part II. I cried and had to leave the room. Seeing and hearing Pedro was just too much to bear.

What happened in the past to make this trigger so emotionally unbearable?

I exposed myself to so much violence in fiction for almost 20 years that it led to a mental health crisis in 2019. Why would I do this to myself? I'm autistic and because of both my sensitivity to loud noise and finding social skills difficult to learn, I relied on fiction to cope.

I started gaming and rewatching superhero movies over and over again when I was very young. I would rarely go out to see friends at weekends and I'd just stare at a screen. The world felt safer and predictable this way.

Since 2013, I played The Last of Us over a hundred times and commited grotesque acts of violence against virtual human beings and fungal zombies. When your mind is always preoccupied by a violent video game, you begin to see the world in a negative light and it just feels normal.

I eventually became a pessimist because I felt so angry in failing to fit in at University. Everyone partied and I didn't want any part of that because I could never relax and get to know someone in this kind of setting.

I felt lonely and it made me feel very bitter. My way of making sense of it was to go into Reddit and confirm what The Last of Us was about to me. That humanity is rageful, selfish and not worth saving.

I didn't realise that my soul was beginning to die.

Reddit forums such as Men Going Thier Own Way, Incel, Anti-Work and Anti-Natalism (the belief that pro-creation is morally wrong) would feed my pessimism. I would read these forums every night even when I was amongst family.

During this time, I didn't treat myself or anyone else in my life with any love or kindness. The forum, Men Going Thier Own Way, manipulated me to belive that everyone, including strangers, are out to hurt you and ruin your life.

Pessimism, in all its forms, was my focus and my reality for three years. I never opened up about my struggles and saw the real world through Joel and Ellie's eyes from The Last of Us.

However, my focus began to change after my mental health crisis in 2019.

This crisis shook me out of apathy and I began to see contradictions to my pessismistic worldviews.

The nurses and doctors cared for me and would make sure I was ok. A nurse even took me out for a walk and wanted to know more about me and what I looked forward to after I was discharged. I said I wanted to see my family and friends again. Video games were not mentioned in this conversation.

Looking back, being disconnected from video games for that one month helped me see that real life can be beautiful.

When I got discharged, I took responsibility for my recovery by asking my family to block Reddit. I knew, at that moment, that those insidious forums were telling a lie. I didn't want to be miserable again.

I would go to Recovery College courses to understand both what makes a happy life possible and what factors leads to a mental health crisis. For the first time, I was genuinely curious to learn about reality.

While I struggled to let go of video games during my recovery, I would, slowly, over the course of three years, quit playing video games for good in December 2022 thanks to Game Quitters. I quit because I found my mind chronically distracted by video games. I wanted to give my mind the space to be invested in reality... not gaming.

Doing this has made me forgetful of a lot of moments and music from The Last of Us. There are spans of time where I never think of The Last of Us and that has made me so cheerful.

Right now, my soul is getting busy living.

I'm reading non-fiction books about topics I have a blind spot on like Love from the Pink Palace by Jill Nadler and Eve: How The Female Body Drove 200 Million Years of Human Evolution by Cat Bohannon. I'm going to the gym, I'm doing Art classes, I have a busy work schedule and I'm meeting more people my age. All this has made me more confident socially and I'm genuinly happy.

I also have launched a new YouTube channel called Film and TV Without Music which showcases the nuances of acting in media such as Star Wars. It is an educational resource for music composers to create thier own music and edit them into my videos. I want to give something back to the audio community and I'm so happy I get to do this with this new YouTube channel.

My focus these last few years has been to love being with people in the real world and I can happily say that it is now my reality. It has made my social skills so much stronger than they were before my mental health crisis.

Always remember, your focus determines your reality. I enjoy being social now and that has turned my life around to one which I can happily say brings me such joy.

Image of Pedro Pascal and Joel from The Last of Us HBO TV Series and The Last of Us: Part II by PinkNews.

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