How Xbox Live Helped Me Go Outside
Author: Alina Bradford
Just a few years ago, I was pretty much a shut-in. The clinical term is agoraphobia, but for the people around me, it looked a lot like being a hermit. I hated going anywhere.
Something as simple as going to the grocery store took days of mental preparation to psych myself up for the task. In the middle of the store, I would break out in a sweat. My face would feel like it was on fire and I always had the urge to ditch my purchase and run as fast as I could for the door. My family thought I was crazy because I always insisted on getting a cart, even if I just needed one item that I could easily carry in my hands. The truth was, I just needed something to hold on to. Something to hide behind.
The sudden need to go out, like getting a call that my child needed picked up from school was terrifying. My lungs would feel like I had just run a 10k and my limbs would suddenly feel boneless.
Along with the agoraphobia was the fear of talking to anyone who wasn’t in my immediate friends and family circle. I would hit the reject button on my phone faster than you could blink if I thought the caller was anyone outside of my circle. You can imagine how well this strategy works when you have an office job.
I distinctly remember my boss berating me at my job as a graphic designer because I didn’t pick up the phone and call my supervisor to ask where some file was on her computer. Instead, I winged it. I was wasting time by not making that “simple phone call.” Oh, if he only understood how not so easy it was for me. In the end, I realized I couldn’t hold down a “normal” job, so I ended up on disability and doing freelance work from home, communicating with my clients only through email.
I knew I was missing out. I wanted so hard to be like everyone else that could just go outside and do things.
Like many who have a debilitating mental disability, I went to a therapist. After many sessions, I finally gleaned a nugget of information that hit me like a bag of bricks. Your brain can rewire itself simply by doing things outside of your comfort zone. What a concept! I could actually change my malfunctioning brain into one that may somewhat work like a functioning adult.
Of course, going outside and doing things was too big of a jump, but I could start small, right? One of the first things I decided on trying was talking to people… sort of.
Ever since I was a toddler I’ve been a gamer. It all started with Pitfall and Asteroids on Atari using joysticks that my baby brother chewed to bits. Later on, we upgraded to Nintendo and the Mario Brothers games. As an adult, Xbox and PC gaming took over with Halo, Call of Duty, Warcraft, Diablo, Battlefield, Tekken… the list goes on and on.
After all this time, my gaming experience of choice was with Xbox, but I avoided Xbox Live like it was the plague. Play with other real life people? Ha, uh, no.
My new epiphany had me looking at the Turtle Beach headset my husband bought me a little differently, though. What if I played online and actually used that fuzz covered microphone to talk to people? It wasn’t as intimidating as talking to people face-to-face. The gamers of the world didn’t know me. If they were jerks, I could mute them.
Don’t think that this idea had me turning on my Xbox, booting up a game and signing into Xbox Live. Nope. That would have been too easy. My husband decided that I needed a push and had me join a Call of Duty game with his online friends. These were some nice guy and gal gamers that were pre-approved by someone I loved, he reasoned.
After making excuses for a few weeks, I finally gave the whole thing a try. No, I didn’t really talk much for the first few days. I mostly listened. What I heard was people having fun, teasing each other and kicking douche-canoes from the party whenever things got out of hand.
Eventually, the gamer in me overcame the agoraphobic shut-in and I started to converse with the people in my Xbox Live parties and lobbies. At first it was simple things like, “There’s a camper up in the barn loft.” Eventually, I was able to carry on full conversations and even make jokes.
This small thing, mixed with other tiny footsteps has literally brought me out of my cave.
Though I haven’t beaten my anxiety and agoraphobia completely, spending time on Xbox Live helped and continues to keep me in touch with the world outside my home. In a way, Xbox Live helped me live.