Month: September 2016

Hacking Life: Gamification

Recently, Pokemon Go was credited with causing a significant increase in physical activity. Frequent flyer programs such as Air Miles and Aeroplan have taken off (pun intended) due to the fact that they promote increased spending. Pain Squad is an app developed by a Toronto hospital to track pain in cancer patients. So what is gamification, and why am I writing about it on a mental health blog? I’ll answer the first part first; gamification is essentially using some sort of reward (points, badges, etc) to promote a particular behaviour. Example: When you hit 10 000 steps on your fitbit, you get a badge. Theoretically, that should motivate people to hit that many steps again to receive the badge, regardless of if it means anything or not.

Why am I writing about it? Well, we’ve already seen people gamify dealing with depression or other mental illnesses to get through the day. I did the same thing (see: One Fun Thing). Gamification allows little rewards for doing something unpleasant, and it’s built upon the fundamental psychology theory of positive reinforcement. In simpler words, do something good and you’ll get something good in return. Now, most of the ways dealing with depression is gamified is on a micro level. Got out of bed? 10 points. Took a shower? 20 points. But these points don’t really mean anything, and I got bored of them quickly.

I needed something more. Those little points or rewards don’t make the intrusive thoughts or suicidal tendencies go away. They don’t make me believe life isn’t futile or negate many of the warped ideas depression puts in my head disappear.

Recently, I’ve been struggling with my mental health, and have been questioning a lot about my life. I thought that it was something that would go away if I had the right job, a good apartment, or money. Obviously, that isn’t the case. I started to wonder why I got through those slumps before and I realized something: I was gamifying life. I kept pushing and pushing, because I wanted to reach the next level, and ending the game wasn’t going to allow me to do that.

What if we didn’t just gamify life on a micro level? What if we did it on a much bigger scale? Up until now, my entire life has been a game of levels I needed to pass. Level 1: Learn to walk and talk. Level 2: Go to kindergarten. Level 3: Graduate from school. Level 4: Get a degree. Level 5: Get a career.

These levels always gave me a goal to work towards. They were a sign of something not being permanent, because you finished the task and then moved onto the next. It’s something to keep working at to make it to the next stage, and it means that if a part of life is really hard (ie, this particular level), it won’t last forever because eventually you’ll get to the next level. And if I followed that mentality, it gave me hope that things would get better, that something else was out there after this and the struggle would be worth it for the reward.

So what happens now? I passed those levels. I have a career, and the permanence that comes with that is terrifying. Even for someone like me who loves stability and security, I find myself asking, what’s the next level? When is the next reward? Or is this it?

I don’t know what the next level is, and that scares me and makes me feel more vulnerable, but maybe now it means I determine what my next goal is instead of it being set out for me by society. I naively believed that if I got to the next level, my mental health wouldn’t be a concern; if I beat the level fast enough, and racked up enough “rewards” (money, friends, material things), I would be immune to the mental health struggles I face. That’s not how the game works, though. And depression makes the game a lot harder. It feels like everyone else keeps winning power ups and you keep failing challenges. Depression tells you you’re bad at the game, and pathetic for continuously trying to win a game you’ll never stand a chance at. It tells you that even if you did get power ups or rewards it wouldn’t matter because you’d never win.

But if you quit the game, you’ll never know how awesome the next level is, and you’ll never be able to enjoy the level you’re playing. So keep playing the game. Even if it isn’t fun right now, or this level is really really hard, keep playing.

Keep Surviving by Living.

WSPD: Have a Day

Today is important for me for two main reasons. On this day, three years ago, I was staying in a psych ward in Vancouver because of a suicide attempt. Today also happens to be World Suicide Prevention Day. It’s an important day to remember not only those we have lost to suicide, but to consider how many we still could lose. For some people, this may be the only day of the year they think about suicide – it’s not a fun topic to think about, so today may be uncomfortable for some. But for many other people, suicide is something they think about every day. I wish I could say I no longer have suicidal thoughts, but that would be a lie. It’s something I still have to be careful of. Problems like suicide don’t just go away – it requires hard work, support, love, and most of all, it requires hope. Hope that there is a way out, or that the future is worth waiting for, or that maybe these feelings won’t last forever. Imagine feeling alone, isolated, helpless, worthless, stupid, invisible, or worse, nothing. Imagine feeling like no matter what you do, the only way out is to no longer be here.

As a community, we have a responsibility to ourselves, and to the people we love, to remain vigilant and aware of the risk of suicide. Every 40 seconds someone dies by suicide. That means 788 500 die by suicide per year. That’s 788 500 too many. That number can change though, and it all starts with one conversation. Call one person and tell them you love them. Reach out to someone and ask how they really are. Text a friend or loved one to let them know you’re thinking of them. Keep an eye out for the signs of suicidal tendencies. Remember that sometimes these signs don’t show up. Suicide awareness needs to be on our radar more than just one day a year, it needs to be something we learn about in schools. Emotional first aid is just as important as physical first aid. You have the power to save a life just by showing you care.

I don’t like remembering my time in the hospital, but it also makes me remember that I was given another chance. Every one of my suicide attempts was terrifying and something I hate thinking about, but they were also an opportunity for me to realize that many people aren’t as fortunate. They don’t get a second chance…or third, or fourth, or any other chance like I get every day.

I’m not saying that everyone who has attempted suicide or has been suicidal needs to be happy every day. I’m not saying every day needs to be a good day. All I’m saying is to just have a day. And then have another one. And then keep having days. You’re loved, you’re wanted, and suicide is not the answer. Try and stay with us, and if you can’t stay safe by yourself that’s okay too, as long as you reach out because there is help available. All you have to do is pick up the phone. I still have to pick up the phone and call for help sometimes, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of – if anything, it’s something to be incredibly proud of.

So today, on World Suicide Prevention Day, I ask you to have a day.

Keep Surviving by Living.