People have been going bonkers for the Pokemon Go app. According to the Pokemon Go tech team, there were 47, 302, 242 people playing the game around the globe two weeks after its release. There are people running out buying new phones and battery packs to be able to play the game (myself included!). So why is it so popular? Generally, it would be safe to say that nostalgia has a lot to do with it. There’s an entire generation of adults getting excited over the game because they grew up watching Pokemon, and the augmented reality aspect of it makes it feel like they’re finally living in the world they dreamed of when they were younger. However, there’s a lot more to it than that. For some, Pokemon Go is more than just a game.
There has been an abundance of people attesting to the game significantly helping them with their mental health, particularly from people who suffer from depression and/or anxiety. I can personally vouch for this. It took me probably about fifteen minutes of playing the game on my friend’s phone to become absolutely, 110% sure that I needed the app in my life, even though it meant upgrading my phone. I’ve been living with depression and anxiety for ten years now, so out of necessity I’ve learnt how to affectively self-care, and I recognised instantly the value of Pokemon Go. The point of the game is to go outside and exercise. You find different types of Pokemon in various places, and can hatch eggs by walking a certain distance. Now, it has been scientifically proven that exercising regularly vastly improves your mental health, so anything that’ll motivate me to leave the house is a great asset to have.
I know what a lot of you may be thinking; “Why do you need an app to exercise? Just go for a walk! Do some yoga! Go swimming!” If I had a dollar for every time somebody told me that all I needed to do was “go for a walk” to feel better, I would have enough money to build an entire gym in my house and proceed to never use it. This is because depression is a little more complicated than that. Sure, I know that exercise helps me A LOT. And I know that I really love exercising, that I want to be able to do it every day. But wanting something and having the motivation to actually do it are two completely different things. The thing about depression is that it drains all of your motivation, to the point where simply getting out of bed can seem practically impossible.
If you’ve never experienced depression, it can be incredibly difficult to imagine, much in the same way that I’ve felt this way for so long that I can’t really imagine what it would be like to not live with the depression. So for anyone who doesn’t know what it’s like, I’m going to try and describe it as best as I can. First of all, imagine someone has shifted your gravity so that your body’s center is in your feet. Now, imagine they’ve manacled both of your ankles, and dumped two 10kg bags of flour on each shoulder. They’ve then told you that you wouldn’t notice the weight if you just went on a fifteen minute walk. It’s hard, right? No matter how much you want to move, your entire body resists. But we’re not done. Picture in your head something that you absolutely love doing, something you’re completely passionate about, your absolute favourite thing. Now imagine that overnight your passion for that thing has completely dissipated, and it’s about as appealing to you as watching paint dry (unless that IS your passion, in which case imagine something you don’t enjoy). And it’s not just your favourite thing, but absolutely anything that used to bring you joy. So not only is it physically difficult for you to get up and go for that walk, but you have absolutely no will or desire to push through the pain.
That might sound like an exaggeration, but it’s honestly not. Depression affects you physically just as much as it affects you mentally. So you can imagine how frustrated I’ve been, not just with body for betraying me, but with everyone telling me to “just go for a walk”, like it was that easy. And believe me, I’ve tried. I made a resolution to take my dog on a fifteen minute walk every day, but I found when I did this, I became so exhausted that I spent the following two days in bed. My depression had taken such an intense toll on me physically that I spent the better half of this year wondering if I had chronic fatigue. Not to mention, I had become so anxious about leaving the house that I was bordering on agoraphobia; the world just seemed so vast and threatening, and the only place I felt safe was under the blankets in my comfy, warm bed.
And then I got Pokemon Go. It was as though that little Charmander I chose as my starter jumped out of the screen, took the flour off my shoulders, took the manacles off of my ankles, fixed my gravity, took me by the hand and lead me to the outside world, which suddenly looked shiny, new and friendly. Overnight, I had gone from only managing to leave the house for YGLAM twice a week (and finding that to be increasingly difficult), to walking for hours around my neighbourhood, the city, wherever I could! The first day I had it, I went on three separate walks, where the shortest one was half an hour. The next day I met up with some friends and spent all day wandering around the city. Not only am I getting more exercise, but I’m becoming more social. A large problem with my mental illness is feeling like the best thing to do is to isolate myself, because spending time with people takes so much energy, mentally and physically. I put pressure on myself to appear happy and “healthy”, otherwise I start to feel like a burden and become overridden with guilt. But with Pokemon Go, socialising is easy. It takes no mental effort, and I don’t have to pretend to be happy because I’m genuinely feeling it. And the thing about socialising is, the more you do it the easier it becomes. Sure, I’ve got several “Pokemon adventures” booked with various friends, but I’m also finding it so much easier to catch up with people in general, without needing the game as a buffer. And although I’m feeling the occasional muscle ache that comes when you move your body in a way that it’s not used to being moved (in my case, moving it at all), I’m not feeling bogged down and completely exhausted like I was. What’s more, it’s helping with other aspects of my life, kind of like a positive snowball affect. Other symptoms of my depression were complete loss of appetite and insomnia, both of which are gradually improving because of the amount of exercise I’m getting. And being so excited about the game, I’m no longer dwelling on the horrible, negative, traumatic thoughts that had been haunting me, consciously and subconsciously, no matter how hard I tried to take my mind off it.
In only a couple of days, Pokemon Go helped my mental and physical health more than anti-depressants or years of therapy. It’s more than just a game to me; it’s life. I’m finally able to live again and I couldn’t be happier. I’m not claiming that one app will magically “cure” a mental illness; certainly, I still feel the affects of the depression often and deeply. But what it can do is push the mental illness from the forefront of your mind to the background, to allow you a break, some relief. And that in itself is completely invaluable.
Written by K.C.
Illustration by Charlie Osborne