There are two things I find myself doing when my mental health gets to its worst place. The first thing is getting really angry. It is an effort in futility because I’m mostly mad at a nebulous concept. In February 2019, I checked myself into a rehab clinic to finally combat my addiction to alcohol. So many years later, what makes me mad is this wasn’t the magic eraser I secretly hoped it would be. Everything that happened before I got sober still happened; all the personal failings are just as real now as they were then, no matter how much I think I’ve changed. Admittedly, it’s unfair to be mad about this – but I still am! I find myself thinking, “If I’m only going to feel worse, then what was the point of getting sober?”
The second thing I do – almost like clockwork – is turn to Resident Evil 4. Something about that game comforts me. I love the game, but it’s only when things feel apocalyptic in my brain that I obsessively consume it. It’s a bizarre way to clock my mental health – when things are good, I go about my life as usual, and when things are bad, my life revolves around Resident Evil 4.
Right now, I have Game Informer’s Resident Evil 4 Super Replay open in a tab on my computer. Watching the familiar levels, combined with Jeff Cork, Kyle Hilliard, Andrew Reiner, and Tim Turi’s commentary, gives me some semblance of normalcy in a trying time. It’s almost like a grounding technique, keeping me here and now instead of oscillating between panic and depression. I’ve had to pause the video to write this piece, and I can already feel my brain starting to race.
Later tonight, after work, I’ll probably begin a new playthrough of Resident Evil 4. Hell, I may do this while watching our Super Replay. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. Last year, when I was in a similar boat, I played through Resident Evil 4 three times in less than a month. A simple comfort in a terrible time.
Part of this is, obviously, avoidance. I do not want to think about what’s going on inside my brain right now, and so I play a game I know front, back, and center because it’s familiar to me and gets my brain off of things. No matter how many periods of bad mental health you go through, and no matter how used to the feeling you get, sometimes you have to fight that familiarity with a better familiarity.
And it’s that familiarity that makes me come back to it over and over again. I’m less interested or preoccupied with how good I think the game is, and I’m just focused on the motions, flexing muscle memory and completing macro and micro-objectives until my brain finally calms down. These days I just play with the infinite rocket launcher and blow everything to kingdom come. I’m hardly paying attention to what’s on screen, I’m skipping every cutscene and just giving myself something to do. Something I like doing. Or at least something I know how to do.
I think that’s important. Not specifically a game, but I think it’s essential to have something familiar you return to at your lowest, to focus your mind on anything else. I have a lot of complicated feelings about my life post-sobriety and how I’ve dealt with that (not very well!), and while those are things I need to work on, sometimes it doesn’t do a person any good to spend every waking moment inside the worst parts of their brain. Sometimes it’s best to turn all that off, to focus on killing zombies or whatever it might be. I hope you have that thing in your life, too. And if you don’t, I hope you find it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to return to Resident Evil 4.