‘Bipolar Disorder: A Board Gamer’s Story’ Guest Blog by Jeremy Howard
Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic depression, is a mental disorder that causes periods of depression and periods of elevated mood. The elevated mood is significant and is known as mania or hypomania, depending on its severity, or whether symptoms of psychosis are present.
I want to be upfront about the reason for this post. This is not an attempt to bring attention to myself or grab a bunch of likes or followers. I want to share my love of board games and how it helps me with my mental illness. I feel like our society needs to be aware of the struggles of people with bipolar disorder and see it in a positive perspective. We all know there is a daily struggle I go through, but it’s not all negative. Here is my story.
My name is Jeremy Tyson Howard and I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder around the age of 25. I knew mental illness was in my blood, but I denied it and walked around an uncontrolled, unmedicated young man for too long. Now that I’m a 39-year-old family man, living a stable life and using healthier options to express myself and fill up my tank. Playing board games, painting minis, running events, meeting people, and having a blog have all had a positive impact on my life. This hobby is a huge outlet for my creativity and another way to help me through some really rough moments. I found ways to steer me the wrong way in the past, but I have finally figured out how to embrace what I enjoy in a positive way.
I was an only child, so playing by myself and getting lost in my imagination was never a problem. I remember playing checkers and chess by myself and projecting all kinds of imaginary opponents. I always won, of course. Sort of like playing basketball and calling your own game-winning shot. When I came back to the hobby, I sought out solitaire and co-op games first. Mage Knight was my first modern board game and I think about the imagination and immersion I tapped into, just like when I was a kid. I think we all feel a sense of adventure when playing a solo game, that feeling of wanting to be totally immersed in something. For me, sometimes I probably went a little too deep into the world.
What’s that mean? I may play for around 5 hours a day for weeks. I would close myself off the second I got home. I would compulsively think about the game or talk to my wife about it for no reason at all. Now my wife knows what she is dealing with, she’s a social worker by trade, but she can tell when I’m in too deep. I refer to this as spiking and in my disorder, it’s called mania or hypomania.
I didn’t come back into the hobby for the all right reasons. I was going through a bit of a rut with my day job and my anger was building for some reason I couldn’t put my finger on. No one would ever know it because I’m usually the minister of good fun and positivity for everyone.
I needed an outlet.
My wife and many counselors have shown me plenty of ways to release tension, without relying on my previous uninhibited forms of expression. I chose buying impulsively instead, I chose Kickstarter. Buying board games fueled this high and temporarily filled some kind of hole I probably created for myself. Sometimes I’d go completely overboard on Kickstarter. I remember backing like $800 in a month and not saying a word to my wife about it. Thankfully I later cancelled them after the campaigns……then found some way to buy back in. There’s is an impulse inside of me I have to be mindful of. Now I have talks with her about my purchases and I’m thankful for her being a great communicator and an even better listener than anyone I’ve ever known. Most importantly, she isn’t a push over who tolerates my impulsivity. My family is worth more than Kingdom Death Monster, Gloomhaven, and 7th Continent pledges combined, I know this. It’s so easy to buy in and ride that temporary wave. I have support, I make better decisions, but it will never ever be easy.
The most positive thing board games has done for me is driving my connection with people. When I speak to others about board games or teach random people, I love that feeling. I has some days where I don’t want to leave the house or talk to ANYONE, but I have a scheduled event at my local store to teach games. I know if I can make it to the door and into the store, a wave of positivity activates inside. I want you at my table, with me.
You might see it as another store event or game night, but for me, it means so much more. When I play with my son or with my wife, those moments keep me on cloud nine. When I lose my faith in my blog and I want to just scrap it, I engage with some awesome followers and content creators and that keeps me from tilting.
I want to share this story from Gencon 50 that stays with me. I was working for Chip Theory Games, running demos and tournaments. I had to deal with a player who questioned me on the rules and argued all the way until the last turn of the final match. When he was about to lose, he decided not to finish and he threatened the soon to be winner. I cancelled the finals and awarded the winner, but the look in this player’s eyes showed signs of something deeper…mentally. His eyes began to blink uncontrollably, his speech was off, and he started to fidget. I sat talked with him for about 30 minutes and tried to calm him down. It sort of worked and he stormed off. The next day, he sees me again, and tells me thank you and hugs me. He shared his disorder and I did the same. Then he hugs me again and says something like, “I could have had a terrible and destructive day after that, but I’m glad we talked, you really helped me.” Moments like this are part of the reason I’m writing this. I know some of you are out there, people who need one second of acknowledgement. Gamers who walk around these Cons and try to find someone to play with. I don’t care if you have a disorder or not, please come and play a game with me. You are all invited.
I hope you’re still reading this. It took a lot of thought for me to be completely vulnerable like this, but I wanted to share my truth. Thanks for your time.
You can follow Jeremy on Twitter here: Jambalaya Plays Games