“Last night a board game saved my life………”.No, really. “ (Favouritefoe, Zatu Games, October 2020)
Woah, did I really start my first ever board gaming piece with this opening line only 6 months ago?
I think I am on pretty safe ground when I say 2020 was a year unlike anything almost any of us have ever experienced. And I am also probably in uncontroversial territory when I suggest that mental health has never been more at the forefront of our minds, literally.
Without doubt, the Pandemic has affected us all. Not in the same ways, but definitely changed us. Taking inspiration from author Damian Barr, it is like we have been swimming in the same sea but travelling in different boats.
I have been incredibly blessed not to have lost anyone to Coronavirus. And my own family has been extremely fortunate to have waited for the stormiest of times to pass in a house with a garden space – many did not have that luxury. In those respects, I am acutely aware that a lot of people have lost so much more, and struggled in much more challenging environments during this crisis than me. Which, you might think, should give me clear reason to count my lucky stars and quit worrying.
However, for me, it is not that simple. It is never that simple. And that is because my own particular brand of anxiety makes every.single.waking.moment a challenge. Pandemic or not, even “normal” life is a terror-fest. And, untreated, my disorder makes it impossible for me to control fear. Impossible to dial down emotional responses. Impossible to stop. I am dizzy. I am tired. I am wound tighter than a drum.
An Emotionally Unavailable Weeble
I am, in a word, overwhelmed.
But I can’t be. I am a mummy, a wife, a friend, a lawyer, a daughter, and a host of other simultaneous things. I am in control. I have to be. Micro-managing is in my DNA. It is in direct response to anxiety whilst simultaneously making me feel more afraid of the responsibility it brings.
You see, I don’t have the option to drop, run, and hide away like every cell and synapse in my body is screaming at me to do, needs me to do. I can’t delegate or assign problems – believe me, I have tried. But the worry that somebody else will make matters worse (or at least not make them better) has played out so many times now makes giving over responsibility just as impossible as doing nothing at all.
So I stay and I fight. I stiffen up, I ball my fists, and I grit my teeth. My eyes well but I blink hot tears away. My back knots but the uncomfortable tension is necessary. It keeps me standing. Just about. I become an emotionally unavailable Weeble – in survival mode, knocked down only to come back up again. Every time.
My anxiety can make the smallest decision feels gut-wrenchingly impossible as it breaks a choice down into innumerable combinations of possibilities and consequences. And on loud days it disrupts even the most basic routines of daily life. Tea or coffee? Shirt or jumper? I don’t know. I can’t think.
But I have to think. I have to decide. There is no quit. No matter how cornered I feel by my own anxiety dragon, not functioning is not an option. It hurts. Bone-aching, brain-pounding pain. Nevertheless, through the fog and the noise, choices must be made. Bad ones probably. But choices, nonetheless.
Board Gaming Band-Aid
And therein lies the gossamer thread which keeps me connected to the ground. The patch allowing me to mentally limp into the next day. Knowing that there is a safe space where I can shut out real-life, consequence heavy choices and practice on something smaller. A single action in a limited sphere; a decision inside a board game.