by Daniel Delargy
Since graduating from UEA, things kind of went downhill for me. I graduated with the grade I wanted, but I was stuck as to what to do next. I had no job, no sense of personal accomplishment, deteriorating relationships, and to top it all off I moved back in with my parents and felt ashamed because as the eldest child, I had this expectation that I had to be this success story which my siblings could look up to.
My old habits started returning. I tried to get back into an old hobby of mine, running – but quickly dismissed it. I hid myself away.
New Year’s came, and with it things started to get better. I got diagnosed officially with depression, made the decision to try to forget about stigma of mental health and to take medication and go see a professional. I decided to return to university to do things I enjoyed, to study a subject I cared about, and to look into it as a possible occupation. I got accepted into both courses I applied for, and this brought me a moment of joy. However, doubts also arose. So again, I slowly began to sink.
As someone with autism, my social skills have always left me feeling like I was never saying the right thing. I never expected myself to find common ground with people, and making social connections was incredibly hard for me. At university it became easier as time went on – but because the Masters degree was only a year, I was afraid that it wouldn’t be enough time to make connections, especially with my disadvantages. It’s a different university, in a different city, with different tutors and students. How was I going to cope? I needed something to reassure me, and to take my mind off my worries.
So, I had been aware of Pokémon Go since the trailer. The idea was a nineties child’s ultimate dream come true. In school, Pokémon had been something which had helped me to connect with friends, whether it be over the cartoon, the video games, the card games, or collectibles. As I grew up, I found out a lot more about the series – about creator Satoshi Tajiru, and how he also had autism, drawing inspiration from his childhood obsession with collecting insects to create this ever expanding world.
I saw Pokémon Go being released across the world, and when it eventually made its way to the UK I instantly downloaded it and booted it up. I found myself wandering out of the house, and before I knew it I was at the edge of my village. This was the furthest I had ever gone from my house in months, and I was stunned. I also saw my battery was about to die, so I scooted back home. But all the way down, I was thinking – just one app got me to go outside. It got my mind off the fear of the unknown, what might happen, and even off the general stuff which bugs me throughout the day and can have me spiralling and crashing.
It got my mind off the fear of the unknown, what might happen, and even off the general stuff which bugs me throughout the day and can have me spiralling and crashing.
The next day I went out again. And the next day. And the next. I devised a route which took me from my house to the edge of town, and every day I added little detours to help me explore more of my village and to see if there were different Pokémon hiding in the unexplored regions of my home. I had a conversation with a man who had finished his shift and was catching Jigglypuff for his daughter, helped a biker find a rare spawn, taught some kids I babysit information not taught in the app itself. I have troubles with talking to people, especially complete strangers, but our similar interests made it easy to chat and socialise.
I was talking, I was walking, I was feeling better than I had in ages. And I’m not the only one. Several news outlets have reported how Pokémon Go has been improving the lives of people living with mental disabilities everywhere.
My mother worked closely with several other mothers of children with autism, and heard several stories of children who – without prompting from parents or siblings – made the choice to step outside of the familiar territory for a while. I want to repeat that, to put emphasis on the words; they made that choice. To me, someone who knows that there is safety and familiarity in staying at home, it is absolutely incredible and heartwarming to hear that young children with autism make the decision to go outside their comfort zones and to be so welcomed. This app provides an attainable reward that is more appealing than my anxiety, and that of others like me, is daunting.
As I write this, I am on holiday in Italy with my family, in an environment which is completely foreign to me, and I am doing things I have never done on my own before. I went for a walk to a nearby town, visited a Villa, went walking over a mountain, bought a cappuccino… all in one day, and all by myself. Had I even wanted to do so much as one of those things in a day last year, I would have had to have gone with someone else or waited for them to ask if anyone wanted to join them as they went for a walk. I went with Pokémon Go in my pocket, but I still was able to appreciate the area. It didn’t distract me, and I only stopped enjoying the scenery when I felt my phone buzz in my pocket to signal that a Pokémon had spawned nearby.
Pokémon Go has allowed me to step outside of the walls I built to protect myself, and I am finding it easier to be happier each day.
In the last couple of weeks, Pokémon Go has contributed to keeping me active and outside and positive. Would I say that it is entirely responsible? No. But it has gotten me out of the house, it has gotten me to enjoy walking about again, and it has me talking and interacting with people I would never have the courage to interact with at all. It has me looking forward to moving to London, and seeing what I will experience when I get there. I now know that I have something to help combat the anxiety that will arise, and I know that there are already communities in London which are bringing Pokémon Go players together.
Pokémon Go has allowed me to step outside of the walls I built to protect myself, and I am finding it easier to be happier each day. I may not catch ‘em all, but I’ll definitely be searching far and wide for other people who have had similar experiences.