It may be hackneyed, I know, and quite honestly, this particular phrase can be digested into a thousand meanings, both for your good and to promote selfishness… But in spite of those facts, and possibly because Hamlet is my second-favorite Shakespeare play (any guesses which is first?), I still think this quote embodies what I want to talk about today.
To thine own self be true. Be true to who you are, who you want to be, and what you intend for your life. This has been the theme of my therapy sessions for the last, oh I don’t know, forever. And guys, this is the big one, the massive post I hinted about around Thanksgiving. The post where I finally talk about gaming, shame culture, letting go of judgement, and accepting myself. So who wants to dive into the deepest recesses of my depression? ooh, ooh, me! Cool. Let’s get going.
Once upon a time, as a child, I didn’t have a lot of friends. It was pretty hard to be a girl who loved gaming, sports, fantasy, science, and reading and either no one could relate to me or everyone pretended they couldn’t. Even if I finally found a new friend I’d usually wind up losing them after only a few months when they realized I was way nerdier than they were willing to put up with. It was lonely. It was hard. It lasted until my senior year of high school. And it helped me develop a desperate need to feel wanted and accepted by those around me and an absolute fear of abandonment.
Cut to years later and I still had that overwhelming need to be liked, wanted, and praised. Because if people were praising me, liking me, wanting to be like me, and telling me that the things I did were great, then maybe that person would stick around. And while this is not healthy behavior I was always able to keep it under control because deep down, I knew I was an achiever. And the constant series of accomplishing tasks and goals in my job, hobbies, and personal life helped fill the gaps left by my loneliness.
But then the baby came. All of a sudden I was 20 pounds heavier than I’d ever been in my life (and, frankly, as a very tall girl with a medium build I’d never been good on the whole “body image” front), a mother with massive new emotional and financial responsibilities, unable to find time to do the dishes or grocery shop, and without the energy to really excel at any and all projects, professionally or personally.
And at the very moment that I started to lose myself it seemed like everyone else found themselves. It was the time when my in-laws all decided who they were going to be, where their lives were going, and somehow still had the energy to accomplish everything they wanted. It was when my sister solidified that her calling in life is to teach others and help them learn as she raised and babysat both her little girl and my son, still finding the time to seemingly have it all together. It was the time all my friends seemed to “grow up”. Everyone’s Instagram feeds were full of the “socially acceptable” adventures and hobbies they’d discovered. It was at this point that my anxiety and depression were uncontrollable by myself alone. So I found help by seeking out a trained professional and, after digging up so much of the past and pushing so much toward the future, I think I can finally say that I know who I want to be.
While it isn’t the biggest issue I’ve faced, accepting my hobbies and my love for them have been one of the major obstacles I’ve needed to overcome. You’ve seen the media, you’ve all been watching the news, and the idea that “gaming is bad” is a constant issue we, as gamers, have to face. Several of the bloggers who I really admire and look up to have done posts on this recently. One, in particular, stood out so well.
NekoJonez, some of the best emotional support you’ll ever find in a community, ranted about non-gamer’s perceptions of gamers. When people around me started deciding who their “grown up selves” were going to be I started hearing this a lot more. Or maybe I’d just never listened before, because I didn’t care that person X didn’t like my choice of hobbies. When my anxiety started coming to a head I started questioning every single hobby I’d ever had. Was it too childish? Did I need to grow up? Was I supposed to fit in the current culture and live life like literally everyone else on Instagram/Facebook/insert social media platform of your choice? How could I like games and still be accepted and appreciated? And even among gamers, how could I exclusively enjoy Nintendo and not be mocked as “childish”?
It wasn’t until my brother-in-law, an absolute saint, metaphorically sat down with me (we were on the phone), and had a long chat about the fact that he has struggled through, and come out the victor, in these exact issues that I started to feel like maybe I was going to be okay. Maybe other’s impressions of my choices and my life didn’t matter. Maybe loving something, even if other people don’t approve, was more important than being who I was “supposed” to be. By sharing his advances in determining how he wanted to play games and the benefits he derived from them, and the emotional and physical support he and his wife have showered on me, I gain confidence in my own struggles with this perception of gamers and, ultimately, of myself.
It’s a tough road, guys. There’s so much out there telling you that you’re unhealthy, lazy, wasting time, childish, promoting whatever gaming is supposed to be ruining nowadays, addicted, a part of the problem with society, missing the fullness of life, not enough of a gamer, not the right kind of gamer, not playing the right things, etc… Whatever mean thing someone can think of, trust me, they will. If they can shame you into feeling like you’re not good enough, hey, maybe you’ll change and validate their lifestyle. It’s so hard not to buy into what they’re saying. They have the support of the current societal norms on their side, after all. How can we overcome this bombardment on our personal choices?
So, while I don’t need to go into all the gory details, let’s talk about how I’ve learned to cope with these fears and stressors. Because ultimately, this post isn’t so I can tell you all my personal life stories. It’s to help others who may be feeling the same fears and thoughts. Who may be going through their own young, mid-life crisis.
There is NOTHING wrong with your hobbies. Gaming or otherwise. There’s nothing wrong with choosing to continue gaming, or choosing new hobbies, or heck, doing both! Nostalgia Trigger, a fantastic blog you should definitely follow, wrote an incredible post about a year ago talking about these very things. Gaming is a hobby, it isn’t a lifestyle. And so is every other passion and pursuit you turn to. Yeah, it can consume you, it can be your number one thing, but it doesn’t define who you are, what you stand for, and your value as a human being. It’s a hobby. And it’s just fine to fall in love with your hobby. Everyone has them. And no one hobby is better than another. So accept yourself, accept your hobbies, and be happy that you’ve found things you love to do. Not everyone has.
Just because you found something (or somethings) you’re passionate about at a young age doesn’t make them childish. It makes you lucky. 4 out of my 5 favorite hobbies are things I adored as a child. Gaming is one of them. My entire family are gamers, it’s something we did as a family, something we pursued on our own, and something nearly all of us have continued as we’ve grown. Just because it’s something I did as a child does not make it childish. I’ve had decades of loving who I am and enjoying one of my favorite hobbies. That’s years longer than so many people. How lucky am I? Decades of refining my tastes, discovering my niche, and really knowing what’s worth my time and what isn’t. That isn’t childish, that’s maturity.
Stop the comparison, take away the judgement. One of my biggest problems is that I judge myself incredibly harshly. I compare and, instead of being jealous, I simply find some way of turning that comparison into a criticism of who I am/am not. I find ways to devalue myself based on these perfect boundaries I’ve decided I have to fit inside. Well guess what? No one is perfect. Which means I constantly break those boundaries and rules and, when I do, I leave myself open to me saying some of the meanest things anyone has ever said of me. Do you have this problem? Are you, quite literally, your harshest critic? While it’s 1000% easier said than done, stop the criticism and take away the judgement. Everyone makes mistakes, you face problems you can’t overcome or set-backs that completely take you away. But instead of turning it into a rant about the horrible, terrible human being you aren’t, take away the judgement and make it about accepting you for your faults and the growth that you achieve when you fail. No one achieved anything through perfect success. It’s only through failure that we learn.
So what if so-and-so thinks you’re silly for gaming? Instead of taking what they’ve said to heart simply accept any critiques that may be true and throw the rest in the garbage. Don’t use it as fuel on your fire to be harsh and unkind to yourself. Instead of judging ourselves on whether we spent 6 hours doing playing a game or 6 hours doing any other hobby, simply accept that you did something that brought you pure joy and move one. Instead of allowing someone’s belief about how you should spend your time ruin your night simply brush it aside and do the things you love. Accept that you are who you are and leave the judgement where it belongs-nowhere near you.
It’s taken me a full and solid year to finally start comprehending some of these facts. I love video games. I love tabletop games. I’d rather spend every night of my week watching Overwatch League than anything else. I’m obsessed with the Legend of Zelda and have an entire shelf of LoZ games and books to prove it. I’m proud of the fact that one of my son’s favorite things is Mario.
It’s okay to love yourself. It’s okay to be yourself. You don’t have to look like person X, because you never will. You’re not them, from your DNA to your beliefs. So stop trying. Just accept who you are, pants size and everything. It’s okay to enjoy gaming. No one person’s hobbies will ever be better than another’s. They are a portion of all the wonderful things that make you who you are. They shape your ability to change your world. The world needs gamers, and hikers, and readers, and sports enthusiasts, and every other possible hobby. Because those things help build a civilization that works. Embrace the differences and accept yourself. Because you are, and will always be the very best at being you.
22 thoughts on “To Thine Own Self Be True”
Hi, Teri Mae,
I wanted to let you know you’ve been specifically nominated for Super Specific Sunshine Award. 🙂 https://normalhappenings.com/2018/04/24/super-specific-sunshine-award-ii/
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Thank you! I honestly was so excited I may have already written and posted my response…
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Awesome post! I relate to it a lot. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It’s taken me a long time, but I’m finally starting to accept me for me, and not wish I was someone else. Games have always been a big part of my life, and they will continue to be for as long as I can hold a controller 🙂
Love this!! Especially that last paragraph. Wow. So proud of you for working hard on this journey! Very, very proud of you for seeking professional help when you needed it. And I LOVE that you’re a gamer mom (I didn’t know you have a kid, that’s awesome!!)–I am, too! In fact, we use games as incentives for potty training. 😀 And the boys are downstairs playing Wii Sports with their dad right now!
Also I just want to say I’m really sorry you were shunned by your peers and lonely most of your life. 😦 I have some of that in my background, too, but not as much (not shunning so much as isolation/loneliness). And I just think that’s a crying shame no one saw how COOL you were and appreciated it. Just because they didn’t recognize your worth and awesomeness doesn’t mean it wasn’t or isn’t there. Cause it DEFINITELY is. I mean, I totally would have been over to your house for gaming sleepovers every week!! Honestly my memories of gaming with my family and friends are some of my absolute best from growing up. I wish I could share that with you! And I’m just hoping and praying you toward more and more success in enjoying that part of yourself and sharing it with others who really appreciate it. ❤
Excellent piece! I always found it pretty funny (not in like a “haha” way, mind you) how Nintendo falls out of good graces with the ~14-18 demographic, because you’re trying so hard to be cool, spending all your time wondering what the idiots of the world think about you. Then once you hit mid-college and realize that nobody actually cares, ya get right back into it.
It’s unfortunately a part of the maturing process, getting your confidence to a point where you can say “I don’t care what other people think” and actually mean it. For some, they figure it out when they’re still young. Others, it takes a long time. This particular group of people (so, gamers) are more introverted (speaking in generalities) and so I think it generally takes a longer time, compared to people who, I don’t know, want to be chefs or something. Can’t picture a bunch of chefs on an online forum talking about being accepted as loving food!
I never understood the judging of others’ hobbies. Unless the hobby is making lampshades out of other people, it isn’t affecting anyone’s lives. Folks who spend their time railing other hobbies need their own darn hobbies!
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It’s funny (you’re kind of funny), but it never occurred to me to be embarrassed that I play Nintendo games. Just gaming in general. It’s hilarious that people think that some games are “better” than others. It’s a major trend being thrown around nowadays when we, as gamers, should show solidarity and not divisiveness.
I think you’ve got a point. My natural introvert made feeling rejected and lonely that much easier. I was perfectly content to find solo activities but never learned to brush off other’s opinions. I’d love to see the forum where chef’s express their insecurities! It’d be hilarious.
Thanks for your amazing input. You’re so smart. I’ve always admired your posts, and, as you well know, one of them was a major inspiration to me to finally get this stuff figured out. Thanks for that!
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I can’t really think of any other hobby where otherwise like-minded people are so vigilant about their version of the hobby being the best. It’s bizarre!
Thank you for the shout-out and the kind words as well! I always enjoy your writing and it made me blush reading my site name up there! 🙂 you are too kind.
Anxiety, self degradation, the “need” to fit in… These are topics that strike very close to home for me and for some of my loved ones. Fake it till you make it was my attitude for a long time and all that pretending can weigh you down.
Your experiences, good and bad, have helped to shape you into a beautiful and talented person and your willingness to share with the community speaks for itself.
“Embrace the differences and accept yourself. Because you are, and will always be the very best at being you.” Beautifully written, well thought out and touching.
Thank you so much!
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I relied so heavily on other people’s approval I didn’t even realize there was a problem until my perception of their approval disappeared. Once I started to rely on my own opinion of myself I fell apart. I truly hope that things with you and yours keep getting better. It’s taken a long time for me to progress even a little and I couldn’t do it without the community we have! Thanks for being a part of it and for making that community a better place!
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A wonderfully written post. While I was at some points chastized for playing games as a kid (particularly from my parents), I had and still have a wonderful set of friends who shared my geeky interests and were my multiplayer pals.
At the same time, I’ve had crisis points during the years where I’ve wondered if gaming was simply not a valuable way to spend my time. At the end of the day though, as you say, it’s just a hobby. It’s what makes us happy and provides some much-needed downtime. Just like any other hobby though, it requires balance with other aspects of life, and I’ve struggled with that at various points too.
I guess what I’m trying to say is – life is hard 🙂
I think gaming enthusiasts get stigmatized because it’s the absolute worst that the cameras tend to focus on. A person who games as a hobby, has a thriving social circle, and contributes to the community is the norm, but they’re not going to make the news because they don’t fit the narrative society has carved out for them. The outlier who may have been inspired by video games (except not really) to commit a serious crime does fit that narrative society has carved out for them so that truth, no matter how tenuous, is the one that’s accepted.
The worst part is when people in the industry internalize that stigmatization. It could be a reason why AAA developers are so quick to treat their audience with contempt – even they’ve bought into it. I think that attitude will change with time though – especially as the medium continues to evolve.
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Thank you for posting this and sharing. I can relate to what you have said. It can be difficult when you are being shown that this thing (whatever it may be) is acceptable and grown up but I’d rather stick with my hobbies and things I enjoy than turn into someone else. That said I have a lot of questions myself with things going on at the moment which makes me question a lot but gaming for example is not something I question as I enjoy it and it brings me a lot of positives.
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I’m so glad that gaming brings you plenty of positives in your life! It’s so important to find the time to “treat yo self” and taking time to do things you really love is part of that! I hope whatever things you’re questioning can get worked out soon. Just remember that no one gets a say in who you choose to be and the life you want to lead. Be yourself and things will work out. Easier said than done, though, right?
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It is definitely easier said than done but I am hoping to keep going and work things out in time.
Thank you for being brave and wonderful and honest. You’ve worked so hard to get to this point and I know you’ll keep going. Thanks for helping the rest of us learn from the hard-fought lessons you’ve had to go through.
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Thanks. I hope the things I write can resonate with people and help those who feel liek they aren’t to a place where they can discuss it openly yet
Thank you for sharing this! It’s very relatable and well said! I’m very glad that I’ve always been quite nonchalant about gaming as a hobby, I don’t care that people might think it’s childish and I think that’s helped me get to a stage where I don’t care what people think about my personal life any more (well, not that much anyway, depends on the people that are judging). Like you said, I see it more as a sign of maturity than anything else, judging someone else’s hobbies is very childish though.
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Thank you! I can’t wait to get to the point where I don’t care what people think! Baby steps, right? But I think you’re right-it’s all about the true definition of maturity. The Well-Red Mage and I talk about it all the time but there’s a C.S. Lewis quote that perfectly encapsulates the difference between being an “adult” and being mature.
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Ooh! What’s the quote? C.S.L.–man, we have even more in common! 🙂