My apartment is like the Temple of Time from Ocarina of Time. For those of you who don’t know what the Temple of Time’s like, it’s a peaceful place where soothing music plays and white light filters in through cathedral style windows. My apartment is sacred like that. All the rooms are treated with utmost care and affection, as if they’re real people with fully developed personalities. I take pleasure in padding around on the carpeted floor with bare feet, barely making a sound as I ghost from one end of the apartment to the other. The familiar ritual of grinding my own coffee beans every morning fills me with a sense of ease. I enjoy gazing out of my bedroom window, but actually going outside is another story.
I have agoraphobia, which is the fear of leaving a safe space or avoiding a place that may trigger a panic attack. Leaving my house or staying out for a long period of time can be impossible. I have to regularly talk myself into staying at my job all day and I experience debilitating stomach cramps whenever I visit unfamiliar places. I’ve learned to hide the anxiety over the years by controlling my expression and tone of voice, but I’m in a dark place more often than I’d like to admit. Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game, distracts me from a mind that tries to convince me I’m in constant danger.
Pokémon Go isn’t the miracle cure for agoraphobia, but it occupies my mind. The game makes my day job more bearable when I have moments where I get completely overwhelmed. When dealing with a monstrous customer, it’s hard to ignore the panic building in my chest. The urge to return home and remain there for the rest of the afternoon is powerful. If I ever start to slip off the edge, I reach for my phone and farm out the nearest Pokestop for items. I’m not sure why, but there’s something calming about twirling the landmark round and round until a handful of Pokeballs spring out of it. The game does an excellent job of grounding me.
Repetitive tasks like grinding your way to a higher level in an online game may seem boring, but I don’t always mind slugging through menial jobs. Sometimes those tedious activities get me through the worst of a panic attack. The Pokestop I frequent is accessible from my work desk, so I don’t have to walk down the street to acquire more items. I retrieve items every time the Pokestop refreshes, but this mindless activity is a positive thing for me. I don’t always want to play a game where the stakes are high and the responsibility falls on my shoulders to save some faraway universe from imminent destruction. Sometimes a girl just wants to throw her feet up on a plump cushion and capture adorable creatures or spam the hell out of shop for free items.
Mindless activities in games remind me to slow down and check in with myself. When I’m in the midst of a panic attack, my thoughts spiral out of control and my body readys itself for a phantom attack. The repetition of Pokémon Go allows me to switch off my brain for a few minutes. I don’t need to think. I just need to do. I have a stubborn nature, so sometimes I will stop at nothing to get the Pokémon I want.
The other day I walked around a lake because I wanted to capture Goldeen, a goldfish Pokémon that moves with kite-like grace. If you’re near water, your chances of capturing water type Pokémon are much higher. I was driven by one purpose and that was enough to override the anxiety and fear I often feel when I’m out in the open. I’ve never been so driven by a fictional fish before, but I was thankful for it. Not only did I capture a Goldeen, I breathed in the fresh air and the sun brought out my freckles. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen my freckles.
Having agoraphobia can be really isolating. I spend more nights alone than I do in the company of friends or family, but Pokémon Go helps me connect with others. Last week I was riding the train home from work and, while I was attempting to catch a Jigglypuff, the person sitting next to me asked which team I was on. It wasn’t long before we had our phones out and were comparing Pokémon. When the train jerked to a stop, he rose up from his broken seat and shook my hand. I felt like I was making a genuine connection with someone, even if it was just for the length of a train ride.
Sometimes I’m not up for Pokémon hunting when a bad mood strikes. I have days where my nerves are shot and I have no energy to go outside or interact with others. I’m all about listening to my mind and body, but I have to occasionally force myself to go outside the house. My fiancé and I recently walked through a cemetery together hoping to catch ghost or psychic type Pokémon, but I was resistant to going out that day. Though I was silent as I walked towards the cemetery, my stomach churning, I was a different person by the time I got back to the house. I was happier and more social.
It’s easy to forget the good in life when your mind turns on you. Agoraphobia can dilute your quality of life, but I refuse to let it. Pokémon Go is lifesaving for someone like me. The game not only encourages me to go outside and connect with others, it also keeps me from going through the worst of a panic attack.
Ashley Barry writes for several pop culture websites. Her freelance work has appeared in Kill Screen, Gadgette, The Mary Sue and more. She also manages a YouTube channel called Hyrule Hyrulia, where she’s interviewed Ashly Burch, Nina Freeman, and more.