A simple story of depression, weakness, solace, and hope…
For years I’ve thought of how to properly articulate this experience as it’s neither a pleasant nor heartfelt memory, but it’s an indispensable experience that I’m ready to share. I’ll do my utmost best to not spoil the beautiful nature of the masterpiece that is Persona 4 but in order to properly convey this experience, I’ll have to touch on certain thematic elements that ultimately reflect my own personal struggles. I do apologize in advanced if I drift off topic, as this is a relatively sensitive topic, and it’ll be in my nature to deviate from the beaten path, but hopefully by the end of this, you’ll have a better understanding of who I am, why gaming is so important to me, and why I believe this medium is an unparalleled, beautiful work of art.
In 2011 I tried to commit suicide. I won’t get into the nitty gritty as to why, but let’s say mental illness isn’t a rarity in my family. A group of extremely close friends went against my intentions and desires and sought help for me, which ultimately prevented the aforementioned suicide. I was then diagnosed with Clinical Depression, was prescribed with anti-depressants, and was enforced to see a therapist. However, I wasn’t able to perceive my friends in the same manner, either I was hurt from what I perceived as betrayal or I felt association with them conjured negative memories of attempted suicide. In the end I decided to disassociate myself from them and start anew elsewhere. After everything they did for me and all the anxiety and hardship I put them through, it amounted to me dropping them like a bad-habit. Yes I was a coward riddled with the fear of dealing with a harsh reality, but I was also not of the best mindset. As some would might expect, I found solace in a girl, my current ex-girlfriend. Perhaps it was disingenuous of me to solely embrace this girl because I simply had no one else to fit the description; I told her everything, putting my entire trust and confidence in her. Slightly over a year later, I decided I would stop taking my anti-depressants as I wasn’t comfortable with idea of taking a substance in order to be accepted by societal standards. With anti-depressants, my emotions were barely stable, it was fairly difficult to not get upset over trivial matters. Without anti-depressants, calling me a mess would be a severe understatement and unfortunately for my then girlfriend, she was the sole person I could confide in. She dealt with every single emotion imaginable, good and bad. Understandably, it became too much for her and she left. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t hurt as it was the moment when I needed her the most, but I don’t hold any resentment towards her. Once again, I was alone and terrified. I had stopped taking my anti-depressants and was petrified by the thought of developing suicidal tendencies once again. This time around, I had no friends who would come to my rescue and save me. I was terrified of giving into the temptation and end it once and for all, I had reached an all-time low. I hated myself for what I had become and lost everything I cared about as I slowly began to slip further and further from the realm of sanity due to do my mental instability and was left an empty shell of who I once was. I then resorted to smoking as it temporarily helped with the anxiety and cigarettes quickly became my new best friend. Still, it felt as if my end was imminent and honestly, some part of me accepted this. I had spiraled so far down the rabbit hole that any hope whatsoever of crawling out was unfathomable, that was until November 20, 2012.
Now November 20, 2012 may have been an ordinary day for most of you, but for me, it was a day of importance like no other. I remember I was reading up on IGN, reading about a PS Vita remake of a 2008 JRPG called Persona 4; on the outside, it exuded that traditional idiosyncratic, Japanese flare that was a standard for most JRPG’s, and journalists kept praising the game unconditionally, so on a whim, I decided to grab a copy on opening day, November 20. I may not have known at that exact moment, but Persona 4 Golden was the perfect game for the perfect time. Never before have I played a game so applicable to a current situation of mine; as clichéd as it may sound, it simply was a game meant for me. Now even though Persona 4 tells a magnificent murder mystery that’s gripping from start to finish, I ultimately found solace in Persona 4’s cast of idiosyncratic hooligans. The characters of Persona 4 hide and supress their personal struggles, are confronted by their inner demons, and learn to not only accept but love their true selves. Before I realised it, I discovered thematic elements that were easily applicable to my self-hatred and began to learn from these characters as their resolutions were nothing short of inspiring. Most importantly, however, Persona 4 gave me the one thing I didn’t have: friends. The characters of Persona 4 felt real, their problems felt real, the relationships we built together were real, and just as they grew to become better individuals, so did I. Just as each character learned through their respective hardship, I began to accept my depression as a part of me, ultimately accepting the fact that it would never actually go away, but that I would learn to live with it and not allow it to impede my life. I grew attached to every single character and simplistic moments of taking motor scooters to the beach, spending a quiet Christmas with a significant other or a group of friends, or sharing a lodge full of shenanigans on a ski trip – this solidified my relationship with the Persona 4 gang and helped me realise that this was more than a game to me. Before I realised it, a week had passed. Then another. And another. Then, before I knew it, two months had passed by. At that point, not a single suicidal thought swam through my mind, all I honestly thought about was turning on my PS Vita and hanging out with my friends some more. Persona 4 helped me in a manner that no therapy could ever replicate, it gave me friends that never asked anything of me, and taught me the true values of friendship and love. I was then able to accept and love myself, depression and all, move on from the experience, and take the next step into recovery. Saying goodbye to my friends in Inaba was an extremely melancholic moment that is unanimously shared amongst every man, woman, and child; understanding that the bond you share with the ones you love will not only make you stronger but keep you together indefinitely, no matter where you are.
After saying my heartfelt goodbyes, it was time for me to move on from both the suicidal experience and Persona 4, and ultimately rebuild myself. At this point it had been nearly two years since I had disassociated myself from my friends, and although I was extremely ashamed by my actions, I knew I had to make amends for my mistakes. Some were more accepting of my apology than others, and some damage couldn’t be undone, but what mattered to me was that they knew I was done with running and wanted to rebuild my puzzled life. Whether they wanted to continue our friendship was ultimately their choice but regardless of their decision, I’d respect it nonetheless. Luckily, I’ve rekindled my friendship with a select few, and we’ve remained good friends to this day. I admittedly lost something within myself through this entire experience, and find it slightly difficult to socially interact with others, as my life is most definitely a work in progress, but the important thing is that I accept myself for who I am, and because of this, I’m able to continue my passion for music and video game writing. Even 3 years later, the experience still has taken its toll on me and I’m rebuilding on a day-to-day basis; however, even to this day, I use Persona 4’s thematic elements of acceptance, love, and friendship as a guideline for self-recovery and still cherish the relationships I built with every single character. Persona 4 picked me up when I hit rock bottom and also prevented, what could’ve been an unfortunate tragedy; it taught me the importance of the bonds we make and the true power they possess, but most importantly, Persona 4 gave me friends when I needed them the most. Whether you constitute that as pathetic is purely subjective, but the experience I shared with those characters was real to me and will forever be a part of me. Persona 4 Golden touched me in a way that no other form of entertainment could possibly mimic; simply put, a video game saved my life, Persona 4 Golden saved my life. I honestly can say that I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for that idiosyncratic JRPG. Persona 4 Golden is more than a video game to me, it’s a turning point in my life that paved the way for my self-actualization and recovery, and its importance and personal connection can never be rivaled. Hope is a rather peculiar thing as it’s inconspicuously hidden in our everyday lives and can take many forms; it can take the form of the people you love, it can take the form of a passion, it can take the form of a goal or dream, or sometimes it can take the form of a PS Vita game card.