Being Agoraphobic in Massively Multiplayer Games.

This is a post that’s needed writing for a long time, and with me offering it up to many people recently, like Tauren Think Tank, and Convert to Raid, it’s time for me to finally start putting off this difficult to write post, and get on with it.  The issue is I’m not sure that I’m good enough to do the topic justice, I usually try to be passionate but lighthearted about things like this, to be optimistic, and to say ‘this will get better.’  I can’t do that as well with this, it doesn’t ‘get better’ you learn to cope and deal, and to try not to hurt when it does affect you.  You grow into understanding your limitations and sometimes you can’t make things better.

I’m agoraphobic, to those who don’t know what that is, it applies to almost two entirely separate phobias in my head, but that I can understand what links them, the fear of open or particularly public spaces.  I have a lot of issues handling more than 3 or 4 people at once, and even things like trying to stay involved in guild chat can cause panic spikes, uncomfortableness and pain.  Vent and mumble are also rough, and while I -know- it’s stupid, and psychological, and the panic is entirely irrational, I can’t stop it, or my mind literally shutting down from it at times.

It’s rough, and even my own situation I feel is unique, talking to others it’s hit or miss at whether they get triggered by online stuff, particularly text chats.  It really comes down to the perception I think, in my head chat rooms have always been a group of real people in my head, I picture them chatting to me from the same room.  Anybody that’s met me in real life from online comments that I’m exactly the same person because I see people as people no matter where they are or the medium we’re meeting in.  To those that are affected in the same way I am, I understand and some people just can’t get it.

I primarily limit myself to whispers and limited exposure to guild chat,  I started a running joke about the GM putting me back in my cage because letting me out for long times is a bad idea.  While she’s never responded to the joke, I hope she knows how grateful I am she lets me do it to kind of have an out when the nervousness overwhelms me.  Skolnick from Warcraft Less Traveled and Darkmoon Herald has been flooded quite recently by me of things I’ve discovered out in Pandaria, primarily trying to occupy myself and find some alone time away from daily hubs and the crowds.  I’ve always tried to make the best of what I have and focus my fear into while not a good thing, at least find enjoyment when I do have to step away from the crowd, less I suffer a panic attack and alienate them.

There’s one person I really have to give a special shoutout for in Reckoning, and that’s my friend Rhysa.  When I whispered her a few weeks back to really try to start my networking in the guild, she was very kind and patient, and she’s been happily willing to work with me.  We primarily talked in party and whispers and quested together, and we started voicing in mumble originally, but people randomly popping in, or large crowds forming very close to us would affect my comfort level and enjoyment of the game, particularly for longer tasks like dailies, it was do-able, but uncomfortable, like a bad pair of heels, or twisting boxers, as a metaphor for females and males respectively.  We finally worked out to talking over a slightly more private medium where people couldn’t join in unless invited, and that was Skype.

I’ve not found a way to make my fear less real, or less troubling.  I’ve not found a way to really cure the ‘always watching the party’ feeling you get because being in the crowd will irrationally terrify you, make you nervous, make your stomache churn and bubble and hurt and if you’re really unlucky, get out of control.  Cause a scene, and struggle to regain control as you shudder and shake and cry and hurt.  Lonely but unable to ever to join a group hug, is how I heard someone said it once.  But I have found things to help combat it, and make it more tolerable, at least in context of World of Warcraft though many of these tips could easily apply to other games.

  • Make sure the people ‘in authority’ know your illness and issues.  Things like guild officers or raid leaders need to know, particularly if you feel it could ever be an issue.
  • Don’t be afraid to apologize and explain your situation if it gets overwhelming.  Anybody worth the time will be understanding that you need a break from the Golden Lotus hub for a few, than force you to suffer through an anxiety attack just to quest with them.
  • Don’t be afraid to go exploring by yourself to clear your mind and lower your panic levels.  I’ve found many neat things in Pandaria doing this, listen to Warcraft Less Traveled and visit some of those spots!  It can be a lot of fun to just fly around if you let it.
  • On a day you know you’re going to have to be with lots of people like guild events or raiding, do your best to make the day as quiet and easy as possible, maybe skip dailies that day, or just turn off guild chat or don’t even play the game till raid time.
  • Have some life lines, some people you trust you can send messages to privately in some way (realid, twitter, instant messenger phone, etc. . . ) that if you do have a panic attack and have to just shut down the game, that they can explain what’s going on and find some filler.
  • Try to get to know people in whispers, small questing groups, etc. . . of people you’re likely to spend time with like the raid team.  While even 9 trusted/liked people is extremely overwhelming at times, it’s leagues better than 2 trusted and 7 aquaintances/mostly strangers.  Try to find a time when they’re questing and maybe looking for a distraction (dungeoning/raiding time is a bad time to whisper.)  Try to find things to do together, like pug while on skype/vent/mumble.

Those are just a few of the tips I have, and while some may seem like common sense I’m putting them all up here for people that may be confused, or unsure about what’s acceptable.  The best advice is to be honest, and surround yourself with people who -do- understand and that you can trust.  I’m extremely grateful to my guild on Wyrmrest Accord for being so understanding, and working with me.  I’m grateful to my lifelines, and my friends, new and old, and upcoming.

In many ways, my podcasts, videos, and this blog are in some ways therapy for this as well.  I can talk to nobody, talk at a readership I can see as a nameless faceless blob.  An audience that is a singular entity that I don’t have to think about and in a way, talk to nobody while talking to everybody.  To share my thoughts and feelings and knowledge with the world.  To be part of a community, a party, a group of people, and not worry about anxiety attacks.  I’m grateful to everyone who enjoys what I do, because it’s my way of being with you.

Happy travels everyone, I hope to return to posting regularly, because this place -is- therapy for me, and you guys are all extremely valuable to me.  Thank you for not giving up on me.




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