Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Why I'm Forever Changed; To Those Suffering

I don't know if you've managed to pick up the latest issue of OXM, but if you didn't have the chance, my flagship feature, "Healing Through Games," is now available on the web. It's an article where I talked to professionals and researchers about how games can help with pain and was very candid about my own illness. It was the hardest, most emotionally draining article I've ever had to write. It was also one of the most fulfilling writing experiences I've had to date.

For a long time, I tried to hide that I was sick. I did so much suffering in the background that no one knew about – and I liked it that way. Why would I share my negative experience with the world? I'm not here to bring anybody down or garner sympathy. It was in the middle of writing Healing Through Games that something broke inside of me. I had a hard time fully opening up about my illness; there was a wall I couldn't break. Then one day, I sat and told myself: This is part of your identity now – how can you hide it with shame? The first thing I did was I ordered myself a bracelet that said the words "fibromyalgia," so I'd be forced to see it constantly. It represents that I'm not the only one dealing with a chronic illness... a constant reminder that I have to fight, too... for something more - for something better than being the girl in pain. It's one of those pivotal moments that I'll never forget. From that point forward, I would see the positive of my illness and never look back.

Do you know where I found a lot of that positive? When my article hit newsstands and people opened back up candidly, writing to OXM about their own experiences with pain and how video games helped them just as much as they had me. Many of these letters made me misty-eyed because for the first time in a long time, I didn't feel so alone. Pain can be one of the most isolating foes to enter your life. There's many times you live your life on the sidelines; you can't go out, you're stuck alone, shackled to a bed just trying to get through it. The mental toll is one thing, the physical is excruciating, and then there's the gripping fear that it's always going to be there. I always knew I wasn't alone with this, but seeing the letters… it's confirmed to me that we're all fighting to be something more than our illnesses, and that's inspiring.

My biggest goal with that article was to turn something negative (my illness) into something positive – and your responses have confirmed that. I never thought I would be sick in my 20s, but if anything it has forever altered the person I am. And dare I say – it's for the better. Having an illness so young has taught me to appreciate so many of the little things in life – when the sun is shining outside, when I can just go to dinner with my friends, having the opportunity to share my words with others, to name just a few. Somebody asked me the other day how I handle being in an industry that's so negative – I told them I don't think you can go wrong in a place where there’s passion, and this industry has a ton of it. I'm not going to sugarcoat it and say some days I don't open my twitter feed and think, "we're debating review scores again!?" But you know what? These people have also come together to help me through one of the toughest times in my life, and I've never been more thankful to find them. The majority of the people who keep me going are ones I've met in the industry – the ones willing to sit and play Mass Effect 3 multiplayer until the wee hours of the morning with me just because they know I'm having a tough day. They've been vital to my support system. They've helped me in my fight, and if anything that's what I'm trying to give back to everyone around me.

Not only do I want to show that you can still have success living with a chronic illness, but I want to inspire people to fight hard against whatever foe they combat. If that final boss keeps respawning – keep killing it each time, admire that progress you have made, and then when he re-awakens, face him just as fiercely once more. I'm not bitter about the cards I've been dealt. I'm done with focusing on the things my illness has taken from me. It's time to say I'm stronger because of this and I will keep proving what the doctors project wrong.

It's easy to get smothered by the darkness of a chronic illness – the voices in your head are constantly screaming, "you're worthless, you can't do it." The only way to survive is to wake up every day and think, "I'm still here; I can still impact this world in any way I choose." Take every day as a new possibility, watch it unfold, and if it doesn't go the way you want it to, remember that tomorrow is a new opportunity. People are beating the odds everyday - remember to wear those battle wounds with pride. Life may be forever changed for you, but it doesn't mean that it can't be for the better. Cling to what ignites you – and don't ever let go.

Thanks everyone for the support you’ve given this article. I will never be able to put into words the emotions I felt hearing your touching words. It's time to paint a pretty picture over the ugliness of chronic pain. I'm game, are you?