Since I was born in 1985 to the time after I finished my 1-year stint in the Army in 2002, I was the picture of health. I got a black belt in Kung Fu before I was 15 years old, exercised copiously and ate very well. In 2003, I moved to Canada, and that put a strain on my mental health. My family had lost everything, we were sleeping on the floor of a 9sq-meter basement. By 2006, though, we were back on our feet: we had our own (mortgaged) house, I had a job selling musical instruments and video games at a pawn shop. Life was good. Then, in April, I felt dizzy while having lunch. That day, my life changed forever, as I developed a chronic illness that would affect literally every second of the rest of my life.
THE FIRST STAGE: IN THE DARK
My illness went undiagnosed until 2011. I´ll save the verdict on what it was for a bit later on. But those first few years were probably the toughest. I had to completely change my life, because I was so dizzy that I couldn´t go out and be a normal person. I started developing severe anxiety, mostly related to going out (due to the fact that I didn´t have any balance). In the 90´s, I was an avid SEGA gamer, and I went to the one and only arcade in my town as often as I could. Since then, though, I had mostly forgotten about games. When I got sick, I started looking into healthy ways of entertaining myself at home while I rode my illness out. I didn´t have any money to buy a console or anything (in fact, I was in debt), so I went to the internet for help. I tried everything: Tetris Friends, Ludo, some WoW alternative, I looked for more sites not on gamstop, I looked for free Flash games, free this, free that. There wasn´t much back then, certainly not as much as there is now.
But even the time that I spent playing Tetris Friends or Scrabble or whatever, despite them being simple games, helped me tremendously. I really enjoyed not being constantly worried about my health. Sure, I didn´t have any diagnosis yet, and I couldn´t go out, so my physical reality hadn´t changed. But my mental state was in a much better place. Then, 2011 happened.
THE SECOND STAGE: BREAKTHROUGH
I often recall that day as both the best, and worst, day of my life. It´s the best because I finally got a diagnosis, 5 years after I got ill. It´s the worst because I had to leave every single anxiety medication I was on for a week before doing the test that would give me that diagnosis. That meant I hadn´t slept much the past few days, I´d been throwing up for the last 48 hours, and I even threw up in bags on the short trip from my house in Brampton to the hospital in Toronto. By the time we got there, my dad had to help me walk to the testing room. Even the doctors were scared, presumably because I looked awful. And doctors are not easily scared.
But then, the diagnosis came: severe Meniere´s disease. An imbalance in the inner ear (in my case, at that time of 25% in the right ear) which meant I´d likely spend the rest of my life on medication. My dream of being a pilot, gone. But, alas, I had a diagnosis, and with it, a treatment. I started Betahistine for the Meniere´s and started doing CBT therapy to get over my anxiety.
I started going out, and I used my newly discovered love for gaming as an excuse. I started to have a small income in my bedroom recording studio, and the little money I made, I spent on games for my Nintendo 3DS, which I got used. Though I enjoyed the games, what I remember most fondly are the walks to EB Games in winter. Fresh snow, crisp, cold Canadian air, and me, not wanting to throw up for once. I even went to a Pokemon tournament organized locally to celebrate the release of Pokemon X and Y. I won!
THE THIRD STAGE: THRIVING
I had been writing about films and music, on and off, since 2007. As my interest in video games started to grow exponentially, in 2015 I decided it would be a good idea to approach outlets which focused on the stuff I liked. I was a big fan of a PS Vita, so I decided to reach out to Vita-centered sites to see if they wanted someone new in their team. After a few false starts, I landed here.
Since 2015, I have written and published over 500 pieces on the Infinite Frontiers and Vita Player network of sites. I have established relationships with some of the biggest game developers and publishers in the world, as well as some of the coolest indie ones in the galaxy. I developed a great personal friendship with Simon, the Editor-in-chief here, which is more valuable to me even than games. I´ve had the opportunity to play the greatest and latest games coming to Vita. I developed my own video game, also.
I´m now leading a normal life. Well, for a millennial, anyway. I work from home, producing different types of content for different clients. I´m married to a beautiful and talented (and extremely funny) pastry chef. We have 3 dogs, all of whom love watching movies with us. Video games have become an integral part of my life and my well-being. They have allowed me to hone the craft of writing, all the while enabling me to meet fantastic people along the way.
In my darkest time, I thought I´d never walk around anymore. But when I couldn´t go out physically, I had games to escape the bleakness of an undiagnosed, chronic illness. Now that I am better, games are giving me some of the best relationships I´ve ever had, both personal and professional.
So, next time your family asks you what´s so great about games, feel free to share this article. I know my case is very specific, but I want people to know that there´s more to gaming than just Fornite emotes. Games, like any other artform, can have a profound positive impact on anybody´s life. You just have to be willing to accept it.