Content note: this post is about my mental health (or lack thereof), and mentions suicidal ideation, depression, the coronavirus and the fact that the entire world is a fucking mess. (It also mentions the upsetting experience of being stung by wasps in Animal Crossing.) If any of that is going to be challenging for you, go ahead and give this post a miss – your wellbeing always comes first 💙
My mum used to say to me, seemingly all the time, that “lovability and efficacy are the cornerstones of self-esteem”.
I would always roll my eyes at that, in part because she was saying it in an attempt to nudge me towards doing my part in our three-person household. I absolutely did not believe that doing a bit of washing up or moving my dirty laundry from the bathroom to the washing machine would do anything for my self-esteem, and I told her as much.
Except, actually, the time has come for me to admit that she was – and is – right.
I have been in the depths of mental illness lately. If “deep self-hatred and misery” is equivalent to treading water, I have been so much further out to sea and under the waves that I’m amazed the pressure hasn’t crushed my skull yet. I have effectively been on suicide watch for at least a week. The only reason I’ve showered in recent memory is because I had an appointment at the blood donor centre and knew that some kind phlebotomist would be getting all up in my armpits with a pressure cuff. The closest I have come to “efficacy” was when I started my Pusheen crochet project, and even that has been a challenge. You know, regular mentally ill person stuff.
This is where Animal Crossing comes in.
My Daddy and my boyfriend schemed for weeks behind my back and pooled their resources to get me the limited edition Animal Crossing Nintendo Switch, complete with the newest Animal Crossing game. They’ve called it a birthday present, even though it’s currently March and my birthday is in late July, for presumably two reasons: 1. They needed a reason to buy it for me upon its release, and couldn’t have sat on the surprise until July, and 2. I am parodically Leo in every way, boasting a deep need to be the centre of attention and to be spoiled rotten, so my birthday celebrations usually start in late spring and don’t end until the beginning of the academic year. Naturally, this means that two people I love conspiring in secret to surprise me with a very early and very fancy birthday present was already unspeakably lovely.
They didn’t know when they first started planning this endeavour that I was going to be extremely mentally unwell when my Switch arrived. (Please save all your D/s-themed Switch jokes until the end of this blog post.) They also didn’t know that Animal Crossing would be the thing that dragged me back to “treading water” levels of sanity – and nor did I.
Animal Crossing’s gameplay revolves around completing small, achievable tasks and being rewarded for it. You can’t fail at Animal Crossing – the worst thing that can ever happen is that you get stung by wasps and need to find medicine, or maybe that a villager you love moves out of town. The stakes are low, and the music is soothing.
Getting my little island set up in Animal Crossing felt good in a way that no other activity has felt good for a while. Having fictional raccoons compliment me on my work ethic felt good. Helping a fictional cat choose a spot for her tent felt good. Editing my fictional passport to say, “Be gay, do crimes <3” on it felt good.
Accomplishing things, however small and however fictional, felt so good that I found it within me to start writing a blog post. Because efficacy really is critical in maintaining one’s mental health. Feeling like you can do things, and do them well, makes a huge difference to your self-perception. Or at least, it did to mine. And feeling in control of things, even tiny things like what you have for dinner, or your fictional Animal Crossing home, is extremely healing and empowering at any time – but it’s especially healing and empowering for me, right now, because there are so many things that are beyond my control. I’m writing this in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, so you can probably imagine all the things that have spiralled out of my – or anyone’s – control recently, but I feel like this post is evergreen: there will always be times when your life seems beyond your own control. But there will also always be things that you can influence, that you can achieve, that you can feel good doing – even if it takes a good long while to find them.
The world is a shitshow at the moment. But the deserted island my Animal Crossing character inhabits is not. It’s breathtakingly pretty and rich in resources. Starlight glitters on the river as I shake trees to find branches. Dicking around on my Nintendo Switch reminded me that there are parts of the world that are beautiful, and they aren’t beyond my reach.
The pandemic and subsequent semi-lockdown that’s going on right now means that I’ve lost a lot of work opportunities (because every other fucker at my agency is snagging jobs before I can). If you also want to give me a birthday present four months early, consider buying me a coffee or commissioning transcripts or captions from me!