As promised, a talk about some personal methods for handling mental health. In order to do that, let’s explore one of the first ways I’d handled coping mechanisms In my youth.
Through finishing grad school video games had been one of my main hobbies. The first console I’d ever gotten was a Nintendo 64 around age 7 or 8, with Mario 64 and Turok included as a game duo. At that Time I was only allowed to play Mario and every so often I‘d sneak some time in with Turok, which was an M-rated/adult game. I mean, what Was a dinosaur-loving kid supposed to do with a game like that? dinosaurs were in it, so I had to play it when I could (even if it involved killing them instead of riding, befriending, and kicking butt with them).
While fun in a more cartoony way Mario had its methods of engaging the player (the a killer score / soundtrack certainly helped), primarily with different challenges for levels that need to be revisited many times in order to fully complete the game. Some of these challenges came in the form of collecting different colored coins that would unlock a star, which was another collectible needed to unlock new worlds and fight Bowser in three different forms over the course of the game. Mario 64 introduced me to delayed gratification in ways a kid can grasp, how a greater reward or accomplishment would be earned after completing lots of smaller things first. Did I ever complete it? Absolutely not. I didn’t have the discipline at that age to finish such a task. I also felt compelled to keep up with friends playing newer games and most just failed to maintain my interest. Both Mario and Turok are among many that went unresolved.
“Unresolved” is the core concept of this post and the next few to come.
I don’t remember if I’ve ever shared this, but I was raised by a single mother with the help of my grandparents. They took care of me after school through age sixteen. On the rare occasion my aunt and cousin would step in for that responsibility. Because of Mom’s work schedule we didn’t get a lot of time to spend together until high school came around. We spent many weekends together then, going to the movies and out to dinner So I feel that we made up for a lot of lost time. We’re still very close.
Much like many boys in early adulthood video games had been a big part of my life. They served as a useful distraction and helped establish a small number of friendships that still thrive today.
What were the things I was distracting myself from? School and bullying were the biggest two, the latter being a larger-scale stressor for a sizable chunk of grade- and early middle-school. Home life was stable for the most part. Once homework was done at the grandparents’ house I could do as I pleased, granted Grandpa didn’t need my Help with a construction project of his. Those were fun; I’d helped him build two of his tool sheds in their backyard, both of which are still standing despite not being used anymore. We would also climb the trees in the yard, play catch and other sporty things.
Games, however, were always there for my allotted hour of play until their exile happened at my grandparents’. At one point in grade school I’d gotten too used to pushing Mom’s rules of “1 Hour of games per day” and got grounded for a full year because of it. It had started affecting grades, so I had to start coming up with other ways to spend free time. I’d loved drawing original monsters and legendary creatures until then, though the fulfillment from that was wearing out. Why monsters? Very simple answer: they looked cool, and the stories about them from legend were fascinating. Demons (in the biblical sense) were of particular interest to me at first: believed to once have been fallen angels, now warped and twisted into fickle shadows of their former brilliance. The interest only snowballed from there.
One of my 2019 drawings of Gremnîr (an amalgamated wendigo) from my stories about him can be Seen below (mechanical pencil on staff paper), also visible on my Instagram:
When middle school came around I realized after reading a good chunk about Greek mythology that we can invent adventures and stories with writing. Finally, something new to flex a creative outlet! So I took to making fantasy tales in a thick notebook. The first I remember was about three girls raising a newborn dragon. They all lived and traveled together, carefully raising the dragon to be a kind-natured creature with an open mind. Each of the girls had sharply different personalities: one was brutally honest and fierce warrior with grey hair and yellow eyes, the second a joyous and playful trickster that liked to wear scarves and bright colors (particularly orange), and the last a sentimental and thoughtful romantic with green eyes. Each of the girls was sweet in nature while showing it differently. They butted heads often too, but they loved their adopted dragon-child And did their best to teach him something new in every story. Dragon-child had a Greek god’s name Though I can’t remember, and his main personality traits were curiosity and cuteness. If you want a visual description he looked vaguely like Icarus from the Dragonball Z anime: He was just as chubby with larger wings.
Even with a very insular set of stories like that it felt empowering to express a part of myself I didn’t know had been dormant for who knows how long. Some 11-year-old writing short stories? What could he possibly have to say? Admittedly not a lot happened in the span of 8 or so pages But it was engaging enough To keep reading. At one point I summoned enough bravery to share them with one of my English teachers, Mr. S, and had this blossoming hobby affirmed: after reading all 50 pages I’d prepared it apparently was some of the best writing he had seen from somebody my age. Moreover he wanted to see the rest when I was ready to share. “Wow! Really?”
If you’ve ever had an experience like this from a mentor, you know just how incredible it feels. For somebody whom you’re supposed to look up to to say, “Hey, you’re good at this!” can make a kid feel like Emperor Palpatine when Anakin Skywalker steps up to Mace Windu: UNLIMITED POWER! Within a few years I had similar experiences with learning to play the cello from my 8th grade orchestra teacher, and then in college as a music theory and composition major.
So how were these coping mechanisms? How are they unresolved? We’ll talk about that in the next post.
Wishing you all safety, strength and good health.
Be well, my clouds.