*TRIGGER WARNING: Mentions of depression, self-harm, suicide*
So far in my “impactful literature” series of blogs, I’ve examined two of my favorite literary works. The Horse and His Boy taught me about the power of personal agency, looking beneath the surface to fine something’s true nature, and the hope that we’ll always find where we belong; The Mortal Instruments empowered me as a writer through its portrayal of words as magical, and empowers me as a person by giving me the motivation to fight battles I know to be important. Normally, this would be the part where I would be telling you about another book that taught me important life lessons or gave me strength, but this time, I’m going to go a little deeper. Gamer Girl, a young adult novel written by Mari Mancusi, didn’t simply teach me something or strengthen me; it may have helped save my life.
When I first stumbled across this book, I was in the 8th grade. Earlier in that school year, my parents and I had moved far away from my former home in Harrogate, TN, to a new state and city, and thus far away from most of my family, friends, and any sense of comfort and familiarity I may have had. The first part of that year at my new school went without a hitch, but that changed when my only good friend from that school transferred somewhere else; effectively alone in a sea of students, I found company in books instead. On a trip to Barnes & Noble (practically my sanctuary during that period of life) with my dad, I found a book that drew me in with its anime-style cover art immediately: none other than Gamer Girl. Intrigued by the beautiful artwork and nerdy-sounding summary, I bought the book immediately and devoured it in one sitting. The story was about a sixteen-year-old girl named Maddy Starr, an anime fan and gamer like myself, who was forced from her home by a move and relocated to a high school where she was either ignored or ridiculed by her fellow students. In order to cope, she withdraws to an online game called Fields of Fantasy and lives out a better life as her online Elven alter-ego, even finding her love interest there. Eventually, Maddy finds a group of friends, learns to rock her talents as a gamer and a Japanese-style comic artist, and kicks back at the “Haters” who were making her IRL world miserable. At first, I read this book as nothing more than an awesome and empowering story about a girl who had the same interests that I did.
When I switched schools again after moving up to ninth grade, however, my perspective changed. What I thought was going to be a fresh start and series of exciting opportunities for me, quickly morphed into the beginning of Maddy’s story. As one of the new kids in a scene of students who had been in established groups with each other since middle school, I had no friends to speak of. I was treated more like a student ID number than a person by the school itself, and the only people who seemed to be interested in interacting with me were the more kindhearted half of my teachers. By the second or third day of the school year, I was unable to make it through a class period without crying. I was an absolute emotional wreck, and it wasn’t long until it started showing outwardly; my grades began to slip, I lost interest in trying to interact with anyone. I didn’t just feel sad, I felt empty – a waste of space, not needed by anyone or the world. More than once, I contemplated harming myself, but then wondered what good it would do except add to my pain; wouldn’t just ending the pain be easier? If anyone had checked my internet search history back then, they would have found multiple wordings of the general idea “how to commit suicide painlessly”.
Eventually, my state became apparent to my parents, who asked if I wanted to see a counselor. I accepted, and lo and behold was diagnosed with severe depression. Somehow I felt relieved, having a label for what I was feeling, but naming a sickness definitely doesn’t make it go away. At that point, all I wanted to do was survive the year, so that was what I set out to do. Along with hiding my feelings from everyone aside from my counselor, I also looked for ways to distract myself from them, ways to fill the void. I ended up keeping myself sane by reading, and reading frequently – I was never without a book at school. Gamer Girl, now that I could relate to the protagonist in a whole new way, was one of the books I went back to and carried with me so often, that I can now safely say it’s one of the most well-worn books I own. I even derived one of my coping mechanisms from the book: Maddy withdrew from her miserable situation by writing a manga about her MMORPG character’s adventures, and this inspired me to begin doing the same thing with my chosen craft: creative writing. I began writing a story about a girl in a situation just as bad as I perceived mine to be, who did everything I was too afraid to do: she hurt herself physically to numb her emotional pain, she openly expressed how angry and despairing she was, how much she hated living. But I also gave her everything that I wanted for myself: genuine friends, a conflict where she was actually able to fight back against her pain and conquer it. I wanted a happy ending like Maddy’s story had, and if I couldn’t have it in real life, I would create it for myself in my imagination. Through escaping into the fictional world that I had created, I was able to keep the pain of the real world at bay. In a way, I tried to become Maddy Starr, become the girl from my story – anything to ensure I didn’t have to keep being my ill and sad self.
As I began to heal, I eventually managed to come out from behind the fictions I was living through. Looking back on my illness now, I realize that hiding wasn’t the way I should have handled it. I would have been able to have gotten help so much faster if I had made my pain known from the beginning, flung myself onto the floor crying and told my parents how much I hated life the moment I began feeling that way. The past can’t be changed and my decisions can’t be undone; however, one good thing did come of hiding behind that young adult novel I couldn’t put down. Gamer Girl gave me hope – hope that things would get better for me just like they did for Maddy. Eventually, they did, but even now that period of life still haunts me. Hopeless feelings, feelings of worthlessness, feelings of wanting everything to stop, creep back into my mind more frequently than I’d like to admit, and I can never tell if it’s just “one of those days” or if I’m slipping back into places I swore I’d never go again. But now I know how to recognize those feelings, how to talk about them to others, and how to get help if I need it.
Besides, what kind of gamer girl would I be if I gave up on the MMO of life when I’ve barely left the first zone?
If you are a student at LMU and you feel as if you may be struggling with depression or any other such illness, please don’t hesitate to contact Jason Kishpaugh, the university Director of Counseling and ADA. If you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide and need help, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline in the U.S. is 1-800-273-8255.