(or Killing agoraphobia before it killed me)
Isolation is a horrible thing. When I’m depressed, I withdraw – as do many others. It is easy to believe when others say “You did this to yourself,” and spiral into self-loathing and loneliness. After my breakdown at 24, more and more things made me afraid – lightning, social interaction. Because of this, I withdrew, and because of my depression, I internalized the negative things people said to me about it.
By 27, I could not leave the house alone. I had to be with someone I trusted. I had long since stopped driving (because traffic was terrifying). I wanted to be around people, I needed to be but couldn’t get there on my own. By 29, doctors, grocery shopping, more doctors were all that got me out of the house – and only because I pushed myself hard to help with the grocery shopping. Still never without my fiance or family.
A year and a half ago, I mentioned my agoraphobia to my friend Josh. He said I should check out a game called Ingress. Some of you may have heard of it, it was the Niantic augmented reality game that came before Pokemon Go. Pokemon got a lot of attention for getting people outside… Ingress, however, got me outside and got me a community. It’s a lot more strategy and community based.
It’s hard to make friends as an adult if you don’t work or go to bars. It’s hard to make local friends when you don’t leave your house. I downloaded Ingress onto my phone to see what it was. It’s like a worldwide game of capture the flag but it’s also so much more. You capture these portals which, in the game are places where “exotic material” (xm) leaks into “our world”, in reality, they’re mostly places of cultural interest: churches, schools, art installations. They’re all over the world. I could see across the street there were a dozen of these portals. My fiance wouldn’t drive me there. If I wanted to capture them, I had to do it myself.
For weeks, I would drool as we drove home, but they were unreachable from the road. I kept saying, “I’m going to get those portals, they’re going to be mine.” Then one day it happened: I got dressed, took my phone and my keys (and every other thing I could possibly need in the next twelve hours even though I was walking across the street) and actually walked out the front door!
Over the next few weeks the local community told me how to contact them online and I joined our Slack (a chat platform). I started meeting these new people at the college or my fiance would drive me to meet them in nearby towns. We have get-togethers where we play cooperatively either to get better in-game items or to create large fields (linking three points together) that take sometimes dozens of players and LOTS of planning.
I have these friends now that I can’t imagine not having. My community has been so supportive they got me to Brooklyn, New York to play with thousands of others for the day without bringing a family member or my fiance. Each of us has our reasons for playing, competition, strategy, friendship, self confidence, defeating anxiety. After about eight years of agoraphobia, I finally defeated it as an Enlightened Agent of Ingress.
There are many badges (accomplishments) in the game. Even if you don’t want to contact your local community, you can use these badges to help get a sense of achievement. One of my favorites is “Trekker” – it’s for distance walked. Since I didn’t leave the house alone less than two years ago, getting increased levels in it is amazing.
I’m not selling miracle cures. What you get out of it is what you put in, but Ingress is free to download and free to play. Finding your community, leaving the house on your own, learning how to make new friends again… these are priceless. What do I get for telling you? The occasional “I tried Ingress and it really helped!” That’s the best gift, finding out we made a difference. Oh, and selfishly, I hope you choose Enlightened!
~Brutally Honest Eccentric~