Even when life feels like a struggle, you’re still levelling up

When our mental health isn’t doing too well, it can often feel like we are doing nothing but going in circles. Spinning our wheels. Taking two steps forward, then as many – or more – right back again. Making no forward progress and destined to sit in this same old rut, unable to live the life we want to and forever feeling heavy and trapped by the weight of the world on our shoulders.

Speaking as someone who has had, and still has, many a day like this, you don’t need me to tell you that it sucks. That’s kinda stating the obvious, right?

We all have our own experiences, and they are all unique to us. For me, it can take many forms. Depression can sap my energy and make functioning – simply getting out of bed and getting on with my day – a more exhausting struggle than Mo Farah running a marathon. Anxiety makes simple social interactions, or even leaving the house to run simple errands, a petrifying prospect. Some days my daily tasks feel like the tiniest molehills, other days they can seem like the tallest mountains.

And when just dealing with everyday life feels too much, it’s inevitable that doubts creep in. You know the ones. What am I doing with my life? Why am I not going anywhere? Why are all my friends progressing so well in their lives and I’m sat here still stuck in the same old place I’ve always been? And often, it can feel like social media is there confirming it; showing off to you your friend’s new job/car/house/engagement ring/wedding photo/pregnancy scan/baby photos – delete as appropriate. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be quite this dramatic; maybe just a glamorous dinner, selfies from a night out, adventures that you weren’t a part of.

So instead, you come home to the same home base every night, having completed as many of the day’s quests and missions that you could, levelled up your stats in small but steady ways, and head to bed to save your game and power down for the night.

Wait, what?

Think about it. How many games have you played which involve exploring an open world, building a home base that you return to after each mission, completing quests and developing your character and stats as you go? Too many to list. These quests can involve many things; liberating camps in Far Cry, exploring dungeons in The Legend Of Zelda, completing missions and heists in Grand Theft Auto, even tackling race challenges in Forza Horizon.

Ultimately though, it’s a similar formula across the board. You head out into the world each day, tackle what has to be done – and if it can’t be done today, there’s always tomorrow to try again – and come back home a different character to the one you started the day. Be it through stats levelled up, new unlocked items or experience gained, such progress might not always be tangible, but the key thing is it’s there.

In the same way that our mental health can make it hard to see what progress we make, it’s still there nonetheless.

Recently, I was prescribed medication for my depression for the first time in my life. Medication has to be right for the individual, and is not something that works across the board – one kind of medication might work amazingly for one person but not as great for another. But for me so far, it has been very useful. Taking it each morning unlocks buffs for my stamina and clarity; it helps dissipate the fog in my brain and makes taking on the day’s quests that little bit easier.

As for those quests, are they always the biggest and most significant? Far from it. But they are all important and valid nonetheless. Not every day will feature a huge mission that changes the course of your game’s storyline, but even small side-quests can grant benefits to those who complete them. If you can’t beat them today, they aren’t locked out forever; you can always retry them again tomorrow. And some days, it’s perfectly valid to just explore the overworld; mess around, edit your character, find secret areas, or heal up back at base.

Ultimately, all that matters is this; every day is a step forward no matter how small or insignificant it feels. You may feel like you are going around in circles and always coming back to the same spot, but those circles aren’t all the same size. Progress won’t always be linear; each day won’t always be bigger and more successful than the last. And that’s okay. You won’t want to tackle the main story missions every single day, and sometimes you just won’t be able to.

Sometimes side-questing to find other things to help you in the main quests are exactly what you need, and sometimes doing things not to progress the story but to simply enjoy existing in the world – i.e. self-care – is the best thing. Some days the circles will be smaller, and that’s fine, and other days they will grow bigger than they’ve ever been before as you journey further afield and conquer bigger missions and boss fights.

And no matter how big the circles are, every time you come back around to the starting point again, you’ll be different in some way. Stats will have been upgraded. New perks and items will have been unlocked to help you. You will make new allies to aid you and join your party. And the progress you’ve made so far will be preserved.

And one day, you’ll complete the game, upgrade your base to the max and get to where you want to be in life. When that day is, who can say – but I can tell you that, no matter how much it might feel meaningless, today is another step towards 100% completion.

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