Online and Never Alone
I have a hard time getting out of the house because I’m afraid of going outside. I have borderline personality disorder (BPD) and PTSD.
My diagnoses often work well together to produce an anxious and hyper-sensitive affect within me. When I think about going outside, I am also forced to think about (and over-analyse) every plausible situation I might find myself in, and all the possible ways I could blunder. I am also forced to recall the time I fainted on the platform at the train station on my way to college to write an exam.
My worst nightmare was realised that day; the total loss of control. It was not the first time I had experienced such a loss of control. Suffice it to say, this is very much in connection with my PTSD. My BPD, on the other hand, ensures that I have no idea how I will react emotionally to relatively mundane possible events. In other words, I have no idea how my day will turn out.
While my physical safety is likely to be assured, I constantly feel as though I am in emotional peril. That having been said, at different points in my life I have had and made use of a better “toolbox” (i.e., coping mechanisms) which allows me to be more resilient, to have a better sense of control. Valleys and peaks, as they say.
In those “valleys,” though, the more vulnerable and trying periods of my life I tend to withdraw from life. Indoors, tucked away from the terror of seemingly unending possibilities, feels safer. But it’s also very lonely.
While I would consider myself an introvert, I am very much a people person. People might stress me out, but that doesn’t mean that people aren’t fascinating to me. How people live, and more importantly what gives people’s lives meaning, is why I study cultural anthropology.
I love people, and I greatly value my personal relationships. I need to feel a connection with other people; we all do. The more time you spend inside, though, the less you see people you care about. And so, you could find yourself struggling immensely, wrestling with your mental health – and find yourself alone.
But thankfully, I have a computer and an internet connection. My entire life could be characterised by major ebbs and flows of social isolation.
I think I must have been around 12 or 13 years old when I played my first MMO – Tibia. I loved it, and found it absolutely freeing to be able to play and connect with other people from all around the world.
I never had many close friends growing up and for the first time I found it easy to make friends. I still stay in touch with my best friend from that game – maybe 14 years later. We’ve never met, and we likely never will, but if it weren’t for them I don’t know if I would have survived my adolescence. They were my only true friend throughout the entirety of one of the darkest periods of my life.
I fell out of gaming for a few years when I first moved from home when I was 18 simply because I had no money for a PC or consoles or anything like that.
When I was 21, during my first term of college, my dad passed away. It wasn’t sudden (he had been sick), but I was devastated. Naturally I withdrew, and at this point I had access to a computer again.
I decided to download Lord of the Rings Online, which I remembered really enjoying from years prior. It was in this game I ultimately met the small group of friends who would lift me out of grief and straight through college to graduation. I also managed to quit drinking during this period.
While the stress of school, grief, and battling alcoholism (all on top of my mental illness) would cause me to retreat from many aspects of my life and thereby greatly strained my “RL” relationships, my online friendships were constant. I should say that I am not bitter about the RL friendships which could not endure throughout what has turned out to be a very long and drawn-out “valley.” In fact, it makes me sad.
But those online friends I have made and, to the best of my ability, maintained are absolutely what has kept me afloat. My online friends have shown me an enormous amount of support, patience, love, and understanding. And I have done my best to return such kindness. Their friendship is every bit as meaningful to me as is that of my RL friendships.
I don’t really see myself and my online friends as separated by a computer monitor. Moreso, I am thankful that I was able to connect with them through a computer monitor. For without it, I would find myself very much alone.
I can’t typically get myself out the door, down the street, and onto a train to spend time with my RL friends. But my online friends are just a click away and they are always there for me. To be honest, sometimes my tendency to withdraw gets to the point that I don’t even sign onto Discord or Steam. I make myself very scarce.
But I have been able to be open enough with my online friends about my mental illness that they recognize this behaviour for what it really is. And they do the craziest thing when they see this happening; they reach out. They give me the space I need to seclude myself for a time in order to cope, but they refuse to let me completely isolate myself. I also feel motivated to get online so I can be there for them, too. Not only is the support of my friends just a click away but my ability to support them is also just a click away