Friday, July 15, 2016

Pokemon Go (Gently) and Health

I am a writer. 
I am a gamer.
I have Cerebral Palsy.
I use Pokemon Go to benefit my physical and mental health.

I was the last kid picked in kickball, and the first one targeted in dodgeball. I always got “valuable attitude" awards and not “valuable player” awards. But, this isn’t about the fake, golden trophies you receive when playing sports. It's about the fact that my body doesn’t always listen to what my brain tells it to do. Even on my best days, my body falls short of my expectations. 

It’s hard to explain what it’s like when I want to zig but my body zags, and when “just a little farther" feels like a painful eternity. I didn't talk about Cerebral Palsy for a long time, because I've spent my entire life running from it or brushing it under the rug. I was a master at hiding my condition and its complications (for the most part).

I felt guilty bringing it up, often thinking, “Who am I to complain when others have it far worse than I do?"

I stayed silent because I could not find others like myself.

Every time I go out, I risk tripping or injuring myself in some way. But, I don't have to worry about that when I play video games, and that's why I've always been drawn to them. I use my brain to achieve greatness, and my disability is put on hold (to an extent). 

The characters I play have no limits—-therefore I have no limits. I am immersed in the gameplay, forgetting that my very muscles tend to work against me. Pokemon provided me with the chance to be a "normal" kid: I could walk longer, I could throw and hit my mark every time, and I could ride a bike straight off ledges if I wanted. The possibilities were endless, and I was hooked.

An area near me with great Pokes and great walks.
Cue years passing, and I'm now an adult. I am still a gamer and a writer, and these outlets help me with the things I'm confronted with in my life. 

But I struggled to keep active. My thoughts contained kernels of fear and hesitation like: 

Why keep up a walking regiment if I'll wake up wanting to cry from muscle and bone pain that night? 

Why should I go hiking if I will stumble and fall, bleed and bruise?

Why even try when I will only hold others back?

Why even bother?

When Pokemon Go came out, writing about adventures was not enough. Finally, I could go on my own journey. Hooray! 

For those who are unfamiliar with the game, Pokemon Go requires players to walk around, going to real-life locations to "catch" Pokemon, get items at "Pokestops" and compete with others at "gyms." 

But when others shared their experience with Pokemon Go, my insecurities and doubts wormed their way back into my heart. I couldn't "play" the game as well as others... and I was that little girl who struggled to hit a ball from a tee-ball stand all over again. 

Enter the Twitter hashtag #PokemonGoGently.

#PokemonGoGently and Disability

For the initial few days after the app's release, I looked forward to traversing my backyard, and eventually ventured around my neighborhood streets. But when I read the sheer number of physical feats that others were performing, I questioned my abilities again.

Then a Twitter friend of mine responded to one of my tweets using the tag #PokemonGoGently, and curiosity gripped me instantly. I inquired about this interesting concept, and found a group of like-minded individuals in return. 

This tag originated from two friends, Rachel Sharp and Tiffany Rose, as a way to connect those with chronic illnesses and disabilities to Pokemon Go. Rachel Sharp commented on the tag, writing, "#PokemonGoGently seemed to include the travel mode of a wide variety of chronically ill/disabled Twitter, and also referenced 'not going gently into that good night,' as in refusing to give up (on our dreams of catching little imaginary monsters)." 

I chatted with them more, and they shared with me their own stories with the game. Tiffany wrote, "I [have] fibromyalgia so sometimes existing hurts and [makes] it harder to fully play the game and be the best like no one ever was." Here we were, miles apart from one another, but still playing the game in a similar style for different reasons. You can find her wonderful article on Pokemon Go Gently here.

I couldn't believe how alike we were, although our life paths were completely unique. Invigorated by the response I received, I expanded my search to ask for other voices in the #PokemonGoGently discussion.

Some, like me, could only walk a certain distance, while others had even more limiting mobility. Taking frequent breaks or taking days off to rest didn't have to embarrass me anymore. There were other players out there, and we were all playing in our own way.

A friend of mine who has Cerebral Palsy also uses the tag when out "training." Helike so many others with mobility issues—-must be aware of his surroundings and aware of how far he's walked. He uses Twitter to comment on his gameplay:

We may have to move slower, and we may not be able to go as far or as fast as someone else, but at least we are moving. And perhaps, for once, we are moving happily.

Pokemon Go and Mental Health

My health intertwines with my disability. Like two sides of the same coin, I can't talk about one without referencing the other. Working towards goals motivates me, and Pokemon Go is all about goals. I could find my favorite Pokemon, hatch eggs by walking, battle other Trainers at gyms etc. These activities make me excited to get out of the house to explore. And when there are days I don’t feel like getting out of bed, Pokemon Go gives me that extra push I need to get my legs moving. 

I don’t know if it is the extra sun I am getting, the exercise, or the nerd-nostalgia I get when playing the game, but I feel a little better than I did yesterday. And that—for me—is a victory all in itself. 

Many have linked mental well-being with physical activity, and Pokemon Go is the tool that works for me. I can't say how I will feel about the game a year from now, but at the present moment, I'm seeing a difference in myself that wasn't there before. 

Pokemon Go is much more than an app for many people. For those of us with disabilities, it gives us something to work toward, and it gives us gratification for our efforts. It's improved my level of physical activity, and I'm finding that it's helped my mental well-being, too. And although I've seen many reports and articles talking about the positives of the game, I've heard others make snide remarks and disparaging comments. To them, I say:

Don't tell me it's "just a game where you walk around,” and don't tell me it's "stupid" or "pointless."  

For you, walking outside may be the easiest thing in the world. 

For others, it's the bravest thing they've done all day.

Thank You

I'd like to say thank you, Pokemon Go and #PokemonGoGently for this family of players. Mystic, Valor, or Instinct, we all have the potential for greatness, no matter what form it may take.

So game on, fellow trainers, and know that there are others just like you.

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