• Maz Connolly

“A World of Make Believe” – Improving Mental Health through Escapism

Let's Pretend...

Playing dress up, pretending to be someone else and daydreaming are all normal things to do in childhood. Growing up watching princesses, superhero’s, pirates, talking animals and even scary monsters helps stimulate a child’s imagination and it’s fun and refreshing for them to leave reality behind and enter a world of make believe. Even as adults many of us describe how we “get lost” in a good movie we’ve watched or book we’ve been reading; we just ‘switch off’ from reality for a little while.

But how many of us have really thought about the benefits of using escapism like this as a way to help with #mentalhealthissues?

When we are struggling with our #mentalhealth, everything can feel completely overwhelming. The most basic activity takes too much effort; getting out of bed, dressed and leaving the house can all feel too much to cope with. Low moods make the idea of having to talk to someone seem impossible, thinking we need to pretend that everything is OK just so we don’t have to admit how bad we are actually feeling.

As our motivation to socialise drops further and further we find ourselves isolated and feelings of #loneliness and emptiness creep in and the longer this continues the more #hopelessness and despair we experience. We become trapped in our negative thoughts and ensnared by overpowering #emotions with no healthy way to release or express them, so life begins to feel unbearable, the real world becomes too much for us to handle; so why can’t we as adults find relief in ‘A World of Make Believe’?

If someone had asked me this question a year ago I would have thought it odd for an adult to get involved in a world that was made up. I’m not talking about reading a book and imagining ourselves as one of the characters, I’m talking about true immersion in a metaphorical world, a world where we can chose who we are, what we want to be and have complete control over every aspect of our characters. This is what’s possible with Live Action Role Playing (LARPing) – the freedom to forget our problems, become whoever we want and leave our real life struggles behind for a while

So what changed my mind, why do I no longer think it unusual for adults to have their own ‘World of Make Believe’? Because being able to get involved, and at times loss myself in, my own fantasy world has completely changed my life.

This time last year I was at one of the lowest points in my life. I’d torn the ligament in my knee and while waiting for surgery I was off work and trapped at home alone. My mood dropped, I had no motivation for anything and as well as having #anxiety and #depression I was majorly struggling with #anorexia nervosa. Every day felt like it was never ending, a constant battle against my own thoughts and feelings, and despite having plenty of friends and family I could have turned to for support I found it easier to just lock myself away.

Mental health illnesses can be so isolating, we don’t want to be #lonely but it’s so much easier than trying to pretend everything is fine. However, the more time I spent by myself the worse I felt until I reached a state of complete hopelessness and truly started to wonder if there was any point carrying on.

Luckily for me, it was around this time that I seen an advertisement for the ‘#Bothwell School of Witchcraft’. As a huge Harry Potter fan it caught my attention right away and as I read about the opportunity to experience a weekend at a “real live magic school” I felt something I hadn’t experienced for a while – excitement. The more I read about the experience the more intrigued I got. Of course, my decision to attend isn’t one I made lightly. The thought of going to a strange castle alone and spending the weekend with a bunch of strangers didn’t help my anxiety much - but it sounded so #magically. Weighing up the pros and cons I eventually took the plunge, bought the ticket and from that point on I found a new zest for life.

The world of Bothwell provided a distraction for me. As I began to work on my character, develop relationships with other “players” and become a part of the wider “school community” I found myself not just thinking about my fantasy world, but once again engaging in the real world. As my character took shape I realised that I was learning more and more about myself and as that #selfawareness developed so too did my ability to start focusing on my #recovery. My real life no longer seemed like it was full of doom and gloom, I once again had something that I enjoyed and that was enough to shed a little light at the end of that dark tunnel I had found myself in.

Taking part in a Live Action Role Play “game” may be taking escapism to a whole new level but my character has very much become a part of who I am today. In my ‘World of Make Believe’ I’ve had the opportunity to be playful and explore in a childlike way again. I’ve had an opportunity to take a break from the everyday pressures and problems that were impacting on my #mentalwellbeing. In essence I got to take a break from being me.

So I go back to my original question; how many of us have really taken time to think about how healthy #escapism could help us cope with mental health issues?

Children learn, grown and develop through play. They communicate through play and they become emotionally resilient while playing with others. Perhaps, just maybe, it might be time we, as adults, learn a lesson from children and allow our own 'inner child’ to help us heal?

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