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  • Writer's pictureFintan Davies

What is recovery when it comes to Mental Health?

Joel and Ellie from The Last of Us were my sanctuary. My recovery is finding sanctuary within myself.

To me, recovery is about accepting myself. I've accepted that I had no control over my mental health deterioating to the point where I had to go to hospital in 2019.

How, in the span of four years, have I come to a place of acceptance? By being genuinly curious about the real world after being a video game addict for over 20 years.

When I had my mental health crisis, my brain was altered in that my thoughts were limited to my memories of The Last of Us.

My old self would come back gradually through rediscovering the joy of peace in the hospital's garden. I'll never forget when a kind nurse took me for a walk to a cafe and she asked me what I wanted most when I would be discharged. I said I wanted to see my family and friends again. I never mentioned video games in this conversation.

This need to be around loved ones again is an important aspect of my recovery because for the longest time, I was living in emotional pain.

During my second year of University at Rose Bruford College, my living situation was traumatising. I lived away from home trying to be independent but unfortunately, near where I lived, there were LOUD parties every night until 3 in the morning.

Loud is the key word here because, as someone living with autism, noise I both can't control and escape from to somewhere quiet is literal hell for me.

Unfortunately the people organising these parties ignored my pleas for them to stop and they carried on.

I was chronically sleep deprived and felt stuck in eternal torment. The only sanctuary I could find would be with the fictional world of The Last of Us, its soundtrack composed by Gustavo Santaolalla and binge eating chocolate.

Being with Joel and Ellie in The Last of Us felt like a warm hug after distressing night after distressing night.

The problem with relying on a video game like The Last of Us for sanctuary is that it is a gratuitously violent video game that involves you brutally killing virtual humans and fungal zombies.

I see now that I was commiting violent acts against humanity in a video game for catharsis. I felt this deep seething anger in my bones against the world for not respecting my needs as someone living with autism.

Also, the themes that The Last of Us explores are mostly cynical and would lead to my worldviews becoming negative. Every man for himself, killing to survive and humanity not being worth saving.

All these factors led me to question why am I being hard done by? Surely there is something or someone out there to blame for my suffering?

I would discover Reddit and fall down the rabbit hole of depressingly negative narratives about the world. These forums were Men Going Thier Own Way, Incels, Anti-Work and Anti-Natalism (The belief that pro-creation is morally wrong).

The narratives on these forums were twisted to manipulate vulnerable people like me to believe that the world is truly horrible and everyone, even strangers, are out to get you and ruin your life.

What did this all make me become? A shell of my former self. I was such a shell to the point where I was always tired and had no energy or will to do anything other than to think about and spend all my free time with Joel and Ellie in The Last of Us.

So when I left hospital, I reflected on the kindness of the doctors, nurses and staff who looked after me and it completely contradicted what I thought of humanity before my mental health crisis.

As soon as I came home, I took action and told my family to block Reddit entirely from my devices. It also meant I would never be able to connect with and contribute to The Last of Us Reddit forum ever again. I was happy with that. I didn't know it at the time, but that would be my first disconnect from the world of The Last of Us.

This journey went full speed ahead with the Early Intervention Team advising me to stop playing violent video games. I was very hesistant to do this but the irony is that, a year later in 2020, The Last of Us: Part II would emotionally disturb me so much to the point where I quit playing video games entirely in December 2022.

Being in Ellie's shoes in The Last of Us: Part II and experiencing her emotional trauma hit too close to home.

Getting to the point of moving on from gaming entirely began with Micah Edmonds' fantastic video on The Last of Us: Part II - Be Bloody or Be Nothing Worth - An Excision of The Last of Us Part II.

This video gave me questions to ponder for the very first time. Why do I engage with an art form that focuses primarily on killing? Why is The Last of Us: Part II telling me the exact same story about violence being bad? And the most important question of all... Why are we still here?

These questions posed by this video opened my eyes and led me to the conclusion that playing violent video games was detrimental to my mental health. During this time, the world was in the grip of a pandemic and I couldn't do any sound work for Theatre.

Gaming was the only thing I knew apart from Theatre so I decided to approach it differently. I played only non-violent games and eventually designed them for my Game Design Masters Degree at Kingston University from 2020-2022.

While my Masters degree was a fantastic experience, I found I was still compusively thinking about and playing video games. They were taking a lot of time out of my life.

This is when I found the amazing website Game Quitters. It is a website that helps gamers and their families to handle video game addiction by either moderating it or abstaining from it completely.

Game Quitters gave me various resources like a hobby tool to help me focus on reading and art. These resources helped me sell my PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. I'm forever thankful that this website showed me healthier ways of living life.

I then took my next step in my recovery by seeing a therapist and, through that, to understand why gaming was my world and how I could move on from it.

Letting go of Gustavo Santaolalla's soundtracks for The Last of Us: Part I and II was one of the hardest parts of overcoming my video game addiction.

My therapist helped me become my inner friend. I would offload my struggles and he would give me the space to figure out the solutions myself.

This was especially helpful when moving on from video game soundtracks since they were such a big part of my world and why I became a sound operator for Theatre back in 2011.

I would explore genres of music I hadn't considered before and found Lofi Girl. What I love about the Lofi genre is that it is instrumental and not tied to a film, tv show or video game. I could listen to it at any time and enjoy it and think purely of real life memories that I'm fond of.

The Last of Us HBO TV Series would be my first test after quitting video games.

There have been challenges in my recovery. The Last of Us HBO TV Series would come out in January 2023, the month after I stopped playing video games. I ended up being very upset and angry that The Last of Us kept coming back into my life. I was angry that there were posters of it everywhere in London.

The marketing got to me so much that I gave up and watched the first three episodes of the series. What got me to stop watching the fourth episode was a description of an upcoming violent scene that I simply did not want to see. I didn't want to be reminded of Hannibal and The Walking Dead ever again.

This was a bad stumble but I got back up and carried on. I've left The Last of Us behind and haven't engaged, listened or watched it again.

At time of writing this blog, I haven't played a video game for an entire year! The biggest benefit I've felt from doing this is that my memories of playing and engaging with video games has been lessening over time.

There was a time when I could recite every single line from The Last of Us but now I've forgetten most of them. There are a few moments and lines that I remember vividly. They still get an emotional reaction out of me sometimes but these experiences don't feel as intense.

I also forget about Video Game YouTube Channels I used to watch obsessivly like Digital Foundry, Easy Allies, Super Bunnyhop and Wulff Den. I find it both funny and healing that for a couple of months, I completly forgot about the existence of these YouTube channels.

During this time, reading came in and filled the needs gaming used to give me. Non-Fiction books have and will continue to be one of the most excting parts of my day! Whether it's about Spirtuality with Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth, History with Tracy Borman's Anne Boleyn & Elizabeth I, Mental Health with Gabor Mate's The Myth of Normal or Society with Dan Ariely's Misbelief.

I get to engage with the past, present and future of the real world and it feels more satisfying to learn about all this compared to the fictional worlds of gaming!

My recovery has helped me gain confidence in myself both socially and in my career! A few months after quitting video games, I got my dream job working as a Sound Operator in the West End for Accidental Death of an Anarchist at The Theatre Royal Haymarket during this Summer! It was such an amazing time and proved to me that I made the right choice coming back to theatre after graduating with a Distinction for my Masters in Game Design!

I am the happiest I have been in my life and I look forward to what the future brings!

Images from The Last of Us: Part I and II by Naughty Dog.

Art of Joel and Ellie Hugging from cyberaeon on DeviantArt

Image of Gustavo Santaolalla from Wikimedia Commons

Image from The Last of Us TV Series by HBO

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Dec 18, 2023

That's quite a journey Fintan. I can only imagine the ups and downs that you have been through. To hear you're so happy now is wonderful. I'm also delighted that you're reading Eckhart Tolle and Gabor Mate. We need to feed our minds with healthy input in the same way we need to feed our bodies healthy food. Sending you lots of love. Sharon xx

Fintan Davies
Fintan Davies
Dec 18, 2023
Replying to

Thank you Sharon! 😀

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